Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 38 of 69

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Daine was terrified to open her eyes.

She was horrified to feel the softness of cloth under her fingertips and the warm weight of blankets against her body. Her nightmares had been honest, too blunt to be anything but true, and this felt too much like another one of their disgusting games. She had forced open her drugged eyes so many times to see dingy hidden rooms, dark basements and bare and frozen stone cells, but never the comfort of a bed. This had to be a trick, and so it terrified her.

The girl knew that this time she had been unconscious for a long time because the blow that had hurled her into darkness had been underscored by the mocking howl of a snowstorm. Now the birds had started to sing outside. It was a gentle sound, and her waking dreams had been coloured the soft green of spring. They weren’t always so pleasantly hued; while she drifted in and out of consciousness her dreaming flesh was bruised violet and green, and hot red blood trickled down her frozen white skin. 
Had she been asleep, though? She had heard the insults and the curses that were thrown at her as viciously as the booted feet which kicked her with every word. Even worse, she had heard her own voice rising shrilly from the darkness like some faceless ghast: fully conscious, forced to confront every agony which her dreaming shade fled from.

Split in two, she knew that the men had taken their sick pleasure with her body while her mind drifted in darkness. She knew that the voice they had torn from her soul had screamed and cried out in agony, but that she had never given them the pleasure of seeing her weep. She never shed a single tear. Disgusted at her drugged bovine idiocy, they had finally shaved her head and left her naked and bleeding on the icy stone floor, letting the cold bite her hands and feet until they were twisted and ached.

Daine knew that they had done these things. Her stomach recoiled as more and more twisted faces leered at her, and she had to haul herself to the edge of the soft mattress to vomit bile onto the hearthstones. Her body felt unclean, so vile under her shaking fingers that she felt as if she should tear her own limbs away and hurl them into the fire.

“Not again not again not again…” she whispered, scratching at her chained hands dizzily. The words were a desperate plea, a nonsense of sobbed fear. “No not again no no no please… please gods, gods, not this not here, please… please help me, help me…”

She forced her stomach to be still and squeezed her eyes tightly shut, willing herself to stop shaking. Cold dread felt heavy on her shoulders. It pressed her down like rough hands, and she tore her way frantically back under the thick blankets.

“Numair…” she whispered, muffling the final word with her own frozen hands. The word burned. The name of the one person who should have helped her. The one person who hadn’t. Who wasn’t here. Who hadn’t stopped them.

A thousand new thoughts whirled in her mind and she screamed silently, twisted against the sheets. Was he hurt? Had they caught him? Had he tried to save her? Had he (oh gods oh gods no please) died trying to rescue her?

Darkness crashed back over her, and she let it take her.

When Daine next awoke in the soft warm darkness she lay perfectly still. Now that she was fully awake she had to think about what was going on – and she was utterly bewildered. She told herself that the warm comfort she had awakened in couldn’t possibly be real. She squeezed her eyes shut again and then opened them so wide they ached, pushing the blanket impulsively away and staring about her in confusion. The floor had been cleaned and shone spotlessly. There was a fire, and there was a carpet on the floor, and heavy curtains were hung against the windows.

She sat up and felt the chain cutting into her palm when she pressed it against the bed. The silver bracelet had always felt cold but the gold had warmed to the temperature of her skin, and the delicate links felt almost alive when they moved across her hand. She shuddered and pushed herself backwards, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them defensively. Her muscles trembled with the pain of being unused for so long.

She recognised this room. If she took a deep breath she could probably still smell the coppery tartness of blood. The last time she had been in this room she had been standing over the body of an official, and a stained knife had dripped cooling, curdling blood onto her bare feet.

It was a sick joke, and it worked. She felt as small and helpless as she had on that night, when she’d realised they would have no other choice but to kill her. She ached all over and her head pounded horribly, but more than anything else she couldn’t help thinking that she was in the wrong place, and she would be punished. The officials never did anything without a reason. She knew them well enough to realise that any kindness would be harshly credited; she would owe them a debt of blood and pain, and they were more than happy to demand their repayment.

If she had awoken in her cell then she would have known how to act and what to expect. Waking up in the room of an official, tucked up cosily in bed with a fire roaring merrily in the hearth, she felt such terror that she could barely breathe. She tucked her head down, willing her hands not to tremble even as the knuckles turned white.

Without thinking about it, her breathing slipped into the peaceful rhythm of meditation and she found herself drifting into her core. She had no idea what she would find there, now that there was a new chain trapping her magic. It hadn’t burned her this time, and when she looked at her magic she understood why. Before, the flares of her gift had struggled to escape, not caring that she was hurt as they writhed against the chain.

Now, half-tamed, her magic waited impatiently. It pulsed against her core like a tide, pushing at the odd greenish cords of magic which were surely from the charms, but it didn’t lash out wildly. Every time her magic flared the wash of black fire which drifted peacefully through her core washed over the bronze, forcing it into stillness.

Daine blinked at the sight, and felt a sudden rush of tearful joy. Numair was here. He was helping her, even when she had been torn away from him. Seeing his magic was almost like sitting beside him and feeling him taking her hand, pressing it to his heart. It’s okay, sweetling. You’re fine. You can deal with this. I’m here. I’m helping you. I’m with you.

She opened her eyes and blinked away a tear. Crying wouldn’t help. She tried to think about what her friends would say. Not just Numair: she could imagine him rolling his eyes in his quick, impetuous way and coming up with a plan so complicated that it made her head spin, while to him it seemed perfectly straightforward. She couldn’t think like that.

Daine lay back against the bed, pressing a cool hand to her headache. She tried to think like her other friends, but struggled.

She couldn’t think like Hazelle or strategize like Alanna. She was neither a spy nor a knight.

I’m a bit of everything, really. She thought wryly, and felt her lips twitch in something close to a laugh. The nervous tic turned into a scowl when she thought more slowly, Yes, that’s right – I’ve changed. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve learned from all of them, and I’m stronger for it. The officials don’t know that. I can use that. I can… I can…

Her eyes fluttered shut as she thought, and a memory began… 

“I think I worried them.” Numair told her, and then he laughed.

She remembered that his fingers had traced gentle lines along the scars that latticed her back. It was an odd sensation. They lay entwined in sheets which were in a hopeless tangle from their lovemaking. The naked skin on her back was cool from the night air, but it burned wherever he touched her. She had mirrored his gesture with sleepy slowness, feeling smooth, warm skin across his spine where her own was marred, and couldn’t help asking how he’d escaped being beaten. Daine had laughed incredulously at his response.

“That’s the stupidest answer I’ve ever heard!” Daine’s reply was soft, teasing, but her expression was genuinely confused. “It doesn’t explain why they didn’t hurt you. I’m fair glad that they didn’t, but you laughed at them! You… well, I refuse to believe that you didn’t argue with them. And I once saw them drag a boy off for sneezing too loudly. I just don’t understand.”

He had been silent for a moment, eyes thoughtful, and had suddenly grinned. He sat up and then pulled her up to join him, ignoring her sleepy protest.

“It’s easier if I show you,” he said, and then covered her cheeks and forehead with scores of tickling feather light kisses until she laughed and pushed him away.

“Alright, you dolt. You win! I’m awake!” She raised an eyebrow and folded her arms. “What’s this demons-stray-tion then?”

“I refuse to believe you didn’t butcher that word on purpose.” His voice was dry, “But regardless… have I told you how beautiful you are today?”

“Is it after midnight?” She asked, but the playful words were half lost when she tried not to blush. He caught her hand when she tried to cover a smile, and held it tightly.

“You see? You always do this,” he told her. “I know how you’ll react. I know that you won’t be… well, sad, or angry, and you won’t be afraid. You’ll smile, and you’ll look away as if you can’t believe I’m not speaking about someone standing behind you.”

“I can’t help it,” she said shyly.

“I know – that’s why it makes a good demonstration.” He exaggerated the word a little, and Daine pulled a face.

“Did you tell the officials they were beautiful, too?” She asked in a tart voice. He shook his head, and a good deal of his playfulness fell away as his memories returned to the keep.

“No. They were in control. And they knew it. I couldn’t do anything except react. I couldn’t speak about something if they didn’t want to hear it, and I couldn’t move an inch unless they unchained me. So every interaction I had with them was them trying to make me react. They wanted me to be afraid, or angry, so they chose words which they thought would make me lash out.”

“But… you didn’t.” Daine finished, working it out like a puzzle.

“No.” He looked away for a moment. “I didn’t. How could they scare me when I wanted to die? How could they make me angry when all my fury was directed at the Hawk? They only got close once, and it was when they told me you’d died. I thought I’d killed you, and for a few horrible moments I wanted to lash out at them… but I laughed. Like a child who hears a funny story. And, you know…”

He looked back at her, and gently followed the shape of her eye along her cheek with his thumb. “As soon as I thought it might be a made up story, I realised that it had to be the truth. Because otherwise, why would they tell me? They play with power, but at the end of the day they can only use what we give them. Our tears, our pain, our loneliness… that’s what they want. So why give us the truth? Lies are much more effective.”

“So they didn’t understand you.” The girl said slowly, “They wanted to goad you into breaking a rule, but they didn’t know how. And when you did laugh at them it was… confusing, not infuriating, so they couldn’t beat you, because they didn’t know why you’d done it in the first place. Is that it?”

“Mm. I’m rather relieved we escaped when we did, if I’m honest,” Numair’s voice took on a serious note. “I’m not sure I’d be able to laugh as easily under a whip. Risking our lives to get away seems easy by comparison.”

“I’m just relieved we escaped!” Daine replied fervently, but her eyes were mischievous as she lay back down and pulled him irresistibly towards her. He didn’t answer, but she felt his heart racing when he kissed the side of her neck, and then the hot softness of his breath against the cool skin of her shoulder, her collarbone, her breast. Her words fled from her mind like birds; she could only make soft whimpers of pleasure as she arched up under him.

They made love so gently that it felt like a dream. Daine shut her eyes against the languid pleasure-pain of it and felt the soft brush of his lips on her eyelids.

“Open your eyes,” he whispered. She did; she focused on him and saw more love than lust in his dark gaze. Daine knew then that her lover would never be able to hide the tenderness between them, not with those artlessly adoring eyes. She only realised that there were still words to be said when he murmured them into her ear, and every soft syllable was coloured with wondering sincerity.

“I would have risked death a thousand more times if it meant we could be together.”

Daine’s eyes flew open, startled by the sound of something clattering. A pair of terrified brown eyes glanced at her from the hearth, and the boy rapidly scraped the scattered coals back into the tipped-over pail.

I must have fallen asleep, Daine thought, blushing at the dream she’d been having. She smiled shakily at the boy. “Hello.”

He jumped and his eyes widened for a moment, and then he was gone, fleeing in a crash of door hinges and unsteady footsteps.

The girl blinked after him, rubbed her eyes, and then realised with mortifying insight that it was how she would have acted if someone had greeted her just a few short months ago. It's how she had acted. She remembered how Numair's greeting had sent her cowering into the mouldy straw of his sickroom and bit back an embarrassed cough at the way she had behaved.

That’s what they expect me to be like. She thought, and there was sudden strength in the words. Well, that wasn’t even Daine. That was the Slave. That’s not who I am any more. I can be whatever I want to be.

She sat up in the bed, and instead of looping her arms around her knees she swung her legs around to the side and sat up straight, making sure her head was raised and her shoulders were squared. She lowered feet that didn’t try to cringe away from frozen stone floors, and rested them gently on the blood stained carpet. Forcing herself not to wince at the sharp pains that darted across her bruised ribs at the movement, she raised her hands to her shorn head and smoothed the soft, cropped hair into neatness.

Then she stood up and gathered the leaf-green dress about her as if it were a ball gown made of finest Yamani silk. It was still beautiful even though someone had torn off the valuable amber buttons and stolen away the matching necklace and earbobs that Hazelle had let her borrow. Even the belt that Numair had given her was missing. That fact made her feel a twisting pain and she held her breath for a second to chase it away.

Daine raised her head with false arrogance and shut her eyes.

This is not a game. She told herself, and for one last moment she let herself feel afraid. It’s not like being in Hazelle’s house. If they realise for a second that you’re pretending then it won’t work.

She raised her head imperiously, and looked at the corner where the odd light-warping glimmer of a listening spell was badly hidden among the beams. Her words were refined, light, and held just the right level of annoyance.

“I have been kept waiting!”

And then, because she knew they would be distracted by hearing her voice, the girl let her hands fall to her stomach. Her lips shaped a fervent prayer for the tiny spark of life that she desperately hoped was still there.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 38 of 69

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