Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 4 of 69

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Daine asked for, and received, a length of fine-spun thread and a sharp needle. The guard hesitated before giving her the needle, but he seemed to know why she needed it, and left in a squeamish hurry. The girl threaded the needle almost as soon as the door slammed shut, then dropped it into the alcohol bottle to make sure it was clean. Among the other things the guard had brought her was more willow bark, and she picked out the biggest piece.

Numair was asleep, one hand still hanging over the edge of the bed. She hesitated before waking him up, but the last thing she wanted was to think he was passed out, only to then have him move suddenly and hurt himself more. She didn’t like the idea of him being awake for this, though, and impulsively she took hold of his hand and squeezed it. His eyes fluttered open, dimmed by sleep, but his first reaction on seeing her was to smile.

Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t remember him ever not looking pleased to see her. It was a strange realisation; something stirred in her stomach at the idea of being wanted even as she wanted to shrink away from the attention. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to smile back. She showed him the needle and thread, and he paled slightly as he understood, but nodded when she handed him the piece of willow bark and bit down on it.

It seemed to take an age to sew the gash shut, and Daine thought she might hear the man’s anguished cries for the rest of her life. The swollen, infected flesh cracked and bled at the slightest touch, and she had to make several stitches in some places as his skin simply broke away. A few times she had to turn her face away, retching at the sight of it and at his pain, before steeling herself to keep going. She didn’t know how he stayed conscious through it, but finally, finally, it was over and she could cover the tortured flesh with a new bandage.

Numair slumped back against the bed, breathless in agony. She was about to take his hand again, to help him through this, when he started glowing. Black sparks drifted over his skin, and settled on his fingertips. For a few moments the fingers shuddered into points, fusing into feathered wings, as the mage bit down sharply on the piece of bark and shut his eyes. Shaking with the effort, he forced himself to breathe evenly, deeply, and the sparks began to fade away. His wings turned back into clenched fists. When he was fully human again he breathed out once, suddenly, harshly.

For a horrible moment Daine thought he had died. She darted forward, willing him to breathe again, and when he did she nearly laughed out loud. She wondered what had happened, though. She’d thought he’d meant to shapeshift all those times, and had told her being human was difficult out of... stupidity, or cowardice. But this... this was different from that. He really looked like he hadn’t had a choice.

She caught his hand and barely winced when he crushed it in his fingers. That was as unconscious as his transformation had been. Gradually, as the pain lessened, his hand relaxed. Daine might have pulled it away, then, but it didn’t seem needed. His black eyes opened and focused, taking in the silver of the chain which he held along with her hand and gradually frowning in something other than pain.

“What is this?” He asked. Daine didn’t say anything, but nor did she pull away. She turned her wrist slightly so he could see the string of tiny charms. She didn’t know what they meant, but they said that the Hawk Mage was clever. Perhaps he could work it out. The line between his eyes deepened as he saw the magical signs carved into the metal, and he moved his eyes slowly from one to the other. When he spoke, he still hadn’t let go of her hand, but his thumb gently stroked her wrist.

“What is this place, little one?” He asked in a quiet voice. “Why have they done this to you?”

Why do you care? Daine thought, feeling her throat ache with unshed tears. He shouldn’t. He mustn’t. It hurt her too much to think about it. It hurt her too much to receive any kindness, not when she knew the real world waited outside that door. She bit her lip and showed him the solder which bound the chain to her forever. The solder which said, almost shouted, the word ‘slave’. She waited for him to understand that, to drop her worthless hand and demand to be nursed by someone higher than dirt.

He didn’t. He looked at her with eyes which burned with compassion. He looked like he cared about her, when only minutes before she was close to killing him. He doesn’t understand. She showed him the pregnancy charm, which was still looking slightly newer than the other charms. Let him understand that, at least. If anything, the admission that she was a thing, not a person, made him pity her even more. She wanted to drink that pity up like rainwater, but at the same time a wave of hate rose up inside her. What right did he have to pity her? He didn’t know anything. He didn’t realise that she deserved it.

“I understand now.” He said, his voice soft and full of sadness for her. “I wouldn’t want to talk, either.”

The hatred boiled inside her, and she yanked her hand away. With petulant anger she grabbed the gold chain from the rickety table and hurled it at him.

“Then don’t!” She screamed, and dissolved into hysterical tears.


What could they do except continue as they had been before? Daine emerged from her crying fit cloaked in her silence, and Numair knew better than to try to get her to speak. She wondered at those words. She’d screamed them in anger, but her voice was like a stranger’s even to her ears. It was a voice as harsh as a crow’s, unused and ignored for so long that she’d forgotten it. But while she was crying she’d realised why her own voice had started this flood of sorrow: from her own lips, she had heard her ma’s voice.

Numair had slipped back into an uneasy sleep, awoken every so often by stabs of pain as his body fought against the thread. Daine boiled more willow bark and fed it to him whenever he woke up, not caring that the liquid was too hot to comfortably drink, or that the canister was burning her hands. She drifted through the afternoon in a mindless haze and tried to remember anything about her ma. Now that she remembered the woman’s voice she realised that she’d blocked out the colour of her hair and the shape of her smile. A few times she caught the mage looking at her quizzically, and chased away whatever nostalgic expression was haunting her face without a word.

Numair was just stirring for the fifth time when the rattle of keys in the door shocked him into wakefulness. Daine jumped too, not expecting the guard to return until the next morning. But it wasn’t the guard or the healer, but one of the coarser soldiers who guarded the officials – the faceless men who made decisions about this place, and reported back to the king. Daine’s heart sank as she realised why this man was here, and she had to turn away and take a deep breath to stop herself from being sick.

The man barely looked around the room. “Ah, they said you’d be here. Get a move on.” He said, his voice brash and threatening. Daine stood up straight, then took the canister over to Numair so he could help himself. She slowly turned to leave with the soldier.

“Wait... wait!” Numair had made an effort to speak loudly enough to be acknowledged, and the guard glared at him. The mage caught Daine’s wrist in his hand, and she blinked at it dully. “Where are you taking her?”

“You’ll have her back in an hour.” The man drawled. “Maybe.”

Daine could see the soldier’s hand twitching at the stick at his belt, and inwardly cringed. He was the sort to beat any prisoner for any offence. Numair didn’t even seem to realise he was a prisoner yet – although seeing the gold chain had certainly scared him – and he definitely wouldn’t survive a beating. She looked down at him and made a decision. Taking his hand in both of hers, she squeezed it reassuringly and nodded, smiling as if everything was fine before letting it go. His eyes narrowed.

“You liar. You never smile.” He whispered, so low the soldier couldn’t hear. She gestured to the bruise which was still livid on her cheek, then pointed at him. While he was working that out, his fever-addled eyes growing more horrified, she pulled away and left.

The rooms of the officials were always warm. They had carpets, as well, and every time she was taken there Daine forced herself to be happy about that. Half an hour passed where she tried to remember what her ma’s favourite colour was, and it was only dimly afterwards that she realised the man was speaking to her. She sat up, dully pulling her tattered tunic around herself. She sat with her hands looped around her knees and listened in some astonishment. The officials never spoke to her.

“He’s a lunatic, you know.” This one was saying conversationally, and smirked at her expression. “Oh, I know they’ve got you caring for him. You wild animals, looking out for each other, right? But he’ll turn on you, you mark my words, and you’ll be sorry.”

Daine swung her legs around to the side of the bed, using it as an excuse not to look at him. Normally she’d have left by now, her mind still a perfect blank. The more he spoke, the more she could feel the gradual reminder of the hurt he’d just done her. The more he spoke, the more she wanted to claw his eyes out. Normally this hit her when she was locked back in her room, and she could sob out her anger in frustrated peace. She clenched her fists and tried to remember what kind of food ma had liked.

“Tell me what he’s like.” The man ordered. “No-one will believe we actually caught the Hawk Mage if we can’t describe him!”
Daine stared at him. Even if she’d wanted to speak, she didn’t want to waste her mother’s voice on this slimy creature. And she had no idea how she would describe Numair, apart from, well... dying.

Caring. The second voice volunteered the only word that made being trapped in this room worse. She swallowed and looked at the floor, losing her grip on her emotionless mask for a brief second. The official leered at her, catching the fleeting moment, and grabbed hold of her chin so she couldn’t look away.

“Handsome, is he? Is that how it is? Being a good little nurse, are you?” He saw the pain in her eyes, and something close to triumph glowered in his expression. In three years, it was the first time anyone had ever gotten a rise from the stupid, dull-witted wolf girl. He giggled. “I suppose it’s only natural, it’s in your blood. Your mother was a whore, too, wasn’t she?”

Daine slapped him. Her palm made a ringing sound as the chains cut into his face, and he fell back with a bellow. She didn’t know which of them was more surprised by what she’d done. It only took her a second to drag herself out of her paralysed fear, but it was a second too long. She stood to run, and the guard who had been waiting outside grabbed her around the waist with the point of his knife digging into her ribs. She struggled, desperately trying to break free.

“Oh no,” the official said, ignoring the thin blood trickling down his face as he advanced on her. “You’re not going anywhere until you’ve apologised.”

The girl’s mouth shaped the words I’m sorry desperately, but it was too late. “No, that’s not good enough.” Said the man lazily, drawing the guard’s stick from his belt and hefting it. “Not good enough at all.”


The door burst open and they shoved the girl through. She fell as soon as they let her go, landing heavily against the stone floor with no effort to stop her fall. Vicious feet kicked her legs out of the way of the door, and then it slammed behind them and they were gone, laughing in the echoing corridor.

Numair had been shocked into wakefulness by the sound, but it was the silence which kept his drug-bewildered mind working. For a long, horrible moment he couldn’t tell if the girl was breathing, and then she took a shuddering breath and pushed herself up on shaking arms. She pulled herself along the floor, agonisingly slowly, until she reached the bed. Then she stopped, exhausted, one hand still reaching out. The man reached down and took it, holding it firmly in both hands. It seemed to be what she wanted; she stopped shaking and lay still, drifting into an uneasy unconsciousness.

“What did they do to you?” Numair whispered, aghast. The small movement made daggers of white-hot pain shudder through his body, but he managed to lean down enough to kiss her hand. The fingertips curled around his, but she didn’t reply.

Daine had no idea how much later it was before daylight broke into the soft darkness of her dreamless sleep. It must have been long hours, though, because the fire was a few pitiful embers and it was no longer night. She moved and was slowly aware that the blanket lay across her back. One emaciated hand was still gripping a part of the fabric, as if the mage had fallen asleep with the effort of giving her the heavy fabric. His other hand held hers tightly. When she moved his eyes flashed open, and he gripped her hand more tightly.

“Don’t move. You’re hurt.” He whispered in a voice cracked by thirst. He clumsily located the canister of willow bark and handed it to her. “Drink.”

She shook her head, feeling the movement send stabs of pain down her body. I made that for you, dolt! Her mental voice was scathing, realising that the man must have been saving the day’s medicine for her, rather than drinking it himself.

“Ah, but you can make more medicine,” he said lightly, as if he had read her thoughts. “I wouldn’t have a clue how to even start! So it’s only logical, really.”

She didn’t answer. He sighed, and for the first time she heard a vein of iron in his voice. “If you don’t drink it, I’ll pour it on the floor.”

What?! She wrenched her head around, eyes wide, and saw that his expression was completely serious. When she went to grab the canister away from him he held on to it stubbornly, with that same surprising strength that had run through his voice. As if to apologise, he stroked her cheek gently with his other hand, carefully avoiding the bruise.

“Drink, little one.” He said quietly, supporting her head and bringing the canister to her lips. She looked into his calm, dark eyes and obeyed.

The mixture was stronger than she’d thought, and the ebbing relief from her pain made her feel sleepy. Or was it... she saw the black glint of his magic weaving lazily through the liquid, and sudden panic made her choke.

He’s witching me!

And then it was too late, too late to fight or throw the cursed potion away, or even vomit it up. She wrenched herself away from him, from demon hands which had seemed to caring a few moments before, and the spell hurled her into oblivion.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 4 of 69

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