Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 41 of 69

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Daine woke up because gentle arms were cradling her, and holding her upright while sweet tea was gently tipped into her mouth. She swallowed a few sips instinctively while her sleep-drugged eyes struggled to open. She nestled closer to the man who held her, sleepily leaning her head against his chest and trying to work out why Numair was holding her so strangely. It didn’t feel like his embrace at all! Then she remembered that it wasn’t, that it couldn’t possibly be him, and her eyes flew open.

“You’re quite affectionate when you want to be, aren’t you?” The man’s voice was amused but deliberately too loud, and she winced when her head ached. Then she recognised the speaker, and dragged herself away from him so violently that she heard the crash as the cup he had been holding went flying.

“Clearly you’re not thirsty.” The official said dryly, and she stared at him in breathless panic as he shrugged and drew out a handkerchief to wipe the traces of tea from his hand. He shook a stray drop daintily away. “I won’t give you any more water for a few days, then.”

Daine stood up and backed away against the wall, raising her hands to defend herself and looking around for something to use as a weapon. Disorientation made her head spin. This wasn’t the room Dakinn had summoned her to; in fact, it didn’t look like any part of the keep she’d ever seen before. The solid grey stone of the keep’s walls was gone, and instead there was a greyish rock which felt clammy and slimy under her shaking fingers. Apart from the stone there were no other clues as to where she might be.

The room was almost empty: a square room with a small barred window with no glass in the ancient panes. Light streamed in mutilated shapes onto the floor, where a thick, rich blue rug covered most of the stone. There was no other furniture; the official was still kneeling on the rug and the cup had smashed against an iron ring in the wall beside a tiny fireplace. The ring held a new, thick chain, and the girl dully realised that the other end of the chain was bolted to a manacle that wrapped around her ankle.

“Stay away from me, Orsille,” Daine snapped, returning to the one thing she could understand. Her voice came out as a parched croak. She reeled for a moment, pressing a hand to her head and wondering how long she’d been asleep this time. The man raised an eyebrow.

“This is not a good start. But I’m feeling generous, so I’ll let you look at that chain on your wrist and reconsider.”

She blinked and automatically looked down at her hand. The charms didn’t chime against each other. When she looked more closely, she saw that it was because they were more spread out than they had been before. She frowned. About half of them had been taken away, and when she risked a look inside her core she saw that the flare of her magic was barely enough to make her ill now that it had so much less to fight against. It certainly wouldn’t kill her, as she’d promised Parsey.

Her weapon was gone. Any power she had enjoyed was gone with it. Daine slumped tearfully back against the wall and wished with all her heart that the slippery grey slate would swallow her up.

Orsille had stood up without her noticing, and he took her limp hand. She shuddered as his thin fingers bit into the flesh between her thumb and palm, missing the chain with delicate precision. It was a gentle hold, but tense with restrained strength.

“Your game is over.” He said in a voice that almost held pity for her. “You were doing very well, I admit. It’s been entertaining watching a little girl toying with my officials, but I’m afraid playtime’s over.” He leaned closer, and she could see the odd smattering of freckles under one eye and the fastidious neatness of his silvery beard. “Do you understand, girl? You’ve made a fool of all of them. Well, fine. If you refuse to co-operate with them, then you’ll just have to speak directly to me.”

“I co-operated.” She muttered.

“No. You did what you wanted to do, and nothing more.” He waved a hand dismissively. “They were supposed to make you talk, not talk back. Co-operating would mean that on the day I returned I could summon you to sing for me like a little brown bird.”

“Sing?” Daine almost laughed. “What…?”

“Sing.” There was no humour in his reply; his eyes sharpened. “Sing me the song about the Tortallan ambushes, Annette. Where are they? Or perhaps the one about the Lady Knight – what is she afraid of?”

“I don’t know any of those things. Why would they tell me? I didn’t care.” She did laugh this time, drawing herself a little more upright so she could look him in the eyes. He met her gaze levelly, and she had to look away first. His blue eyes were unsettling, so cold they looked like pure clear water.

“No? Then what about the Hawk Mage? I’m sure you could sing a pretty song about him. What is he afraid of?”

Daine paled and looked away, instinctively shaking her head. Orsille laughed and the sound sent a chill down her spine.

“I’ll make a deal with you, Annette.” He said, his voice honeyed. “You think you can bargain with me because I need you alive. There are lots of very unpleasant ways to stay alive, Annette. Didn’t it occur to you that I could have kept you asleep? I imagine you’ve had a lot of fun playing with the others while I’ve been away. How long did you think it would last, out of interest?”

She refused to reply. He absently stroked her hand with his free fingers, not releasing his grip for a second. “You and I have been here before, remember? The other officials might not know what to do with you, but then most of my colleagues don’t even know the difference between an unconscious woman and one that thinks… feels…” he tightened his fingers, and smiled thickly when she cried out and fell to her knees. “…and screams.” He finished, and dragged her to her feet.

Daine yanked herself away, panting in pain, eyes wide as she stared at him. He lounged nonchalantly against the wall and inspected his fingernails.

“Before the Hawk ripped his lungs out, that idiot Parsey told me that you threatened to kill yourself,” he said nonchalantly, and didn’t bother looking up. “I know that you won’t. So you can stop that silliness right now.”

“You don’t know anything.” The girl spat, catching her breath. She tried to remember all her carefully made plans, but they whirled sickly under the work ‘Hawk’. She flatly refused to believe that Numair had become the Hawk, not after all the promises he’d made and the stories he’d told her about the creature’s grotesque rampages. She searched Orsille’s face for a hint of a lie, and he shrugged.

“I know you’re carrying that murderer’s bastard.” The barbed words were said with such blank carelessness that she blinked, unsure if he’d even said them or she’d just imagined her worst nightmare happening in front of her eyes. Despite herself one hand curved around her stomach, as if she could protect the baby from this monster with just a hand.

“How?” She breathed, and mentally cursed herself before her thoughts could all be spoken aloud. I was so careful. I didn’t let them see me throwing up, or… or…

“Dakinn.” Orsille named the healer with a smirk and a wave of his hand. “I asked him to take away enough charms to make that chain less of a… a weapon, if you will. He asked which charms were expendable… and he told me which ones were redundant.”

Daine flinched and looked again at the new chain, and with a jolt she realised what was strange about it. She could feel her magic. She could hear the chatter of wild voices, and feel the soft pulse of her core. If she chose, she had no doubt that she could cast any magic she chose.

Why? The chain was supposed to stop her magic, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything apart from trapping it under her skin, and making it fitful. She remembered Numair saying that her magic was different from his, and wondered if perhaps it meant it couldn’t be held in the same way. The dramatic tangle of charms they had bound her with might have stopped it, but now that so many of them had been taken away the chain seemed useless.

I can use my magic, she thought, dazed. Dakinn would never have done that. It must have been... would Ronan have done it? Did he make the chain useless on purpose? Orsille doesn’t know that!

Daine bit her lip. So what? She couldn’t use her magic, not really. She couldn’t risk losing her mind in the shape of an animal when she had a child to protect. Her words were cautious when she asked:

“What was the deal you wanted to make?”

Orsille smiled thinly. “There are two options. First: You fight, and plot, and try to run away, and we leave you in a pit to rot until the war ends. We’ll give you enough food to keep you alive, even if it’s just… barely. Even if it’s just you. Or…”

“Or..?” She echoed, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. He nodded approvingly and took a step closer.

“Or, my little wolf cub, you behave yourself. Things go back to the way they were before. No trips to the farms, though, or time in the kitchens… we can’t have you picking up more knives, can we? You’ll stay right here, where I can keep a close, close eye on you and hear every song you keep in that dainty little head. If you had anything interesting for me, I’m sure I can find a little more food for you, and perhaps we might even heal you every once in a while. We wouldn’t want you to lose the baby, would we?”

“Heal me?” Daine whispered, but she knew what was coming. Before his hand crashed into her side, she knew what he was going to do. Her nightmares always started like this. Orsille smiled with friendly openness one minute, and struck her the next. He had always been so unpredictable that even his smiles were terrifying. She fell heavily to the floor and tried to catch her breath, feeling pain blossoming from broken ribs as she coughed up blood.

“Either way,” Orsiille’s voice was suddenly dark and utterly merciless, “You and that demon hurt my daughter, and I swear I will make you pay for it. You have to learn that you’re nothing. We could have killed you years ago. You owe every breath you’ve taken for the last six years to us, you ungrateful bitch. The fact that you even spoke to Karenna is enough for me to throw you in the pit. I’d love to see you rot away in the darkness, I really would. And that’s before we even think about the lying, flitting about in pretty dresses and acting like you had any right to speak to normal people. I could lock you away for a thousand years and you would still deserve more, and by the gods, I will make you rue every moment you spent outside of these walls. How dare you?”

“I’m a person too.” She choked out.

“No. You’re not a person. You’re a liar, and a bastard, and a murderess, and a whore.”

“Yes,” she didn’t look up to see his fury at being interrupted. It was what she wanted, his anger, and yet even the thought of it still made her feel violently sick. Her quiet voice echoed from the wall.

“You’re right. I am. I guess I’m all those things. But it was you who made me that way. You must be stupid, thinking I chose to be who I am. Outside of these walls I was becoming… no, I was, a better person.”

Her voice took on the odd note of truth, and Orsille stared at her as she said, “I didn’t lie to the people that mattered. They knew what I am, just like you do, but they wanted to help me. They taught me to… to find a way to make it better. Here I’ve spent my whole life being told I’ll never be better, that I have to give myself to disgusting creatures like you just to survive for another month in chains and darkness. If you really cared about making me pay for my crimes, then why bring me back to them? I may be a whore, but you’re an idiot.”

The man was silent for a long while and she kept staring at the floor, hands clenching and unclenching into nervous fists. She had no idea how he would react. She had never actually spoken to him before. But his changeability scared her, as did his silence. He could be silent, or kind, or gentle for hours, proving that he was capable of all of those things, before…

….before his booted foot crashed into her side, and she felt a stab of pain dart across her stomach. She screamed and curled around, hands clutching at the pain even as terror flooded through her for the unborn child. His voice was curt, petulant as he hissed in her ear and his warm spittle flecked her face.

“You have until nightfall to reflect on what your life will be like without a healer. Choose.”

She wrenched her head up to glare at him, and he laughed before the door locked behind him. As soon as it clicked she hauled herself to her feet, gritting her teeth at the pain and fitfully wiping the blood and spit from her chin. To her relief the pain soon faded. To take her mind off it, she counted the number of steps she could take before the chain bit into her ankle: she could touch the corners of the wall she was chained to, and take four steady paces forward towards the door.

She wondered that Orsille bothered to lock it at all; even if she stretched out her arms and reached as far as her fingers could go, she was still too far away to touch the iron-barred wood.

She tried the other two walls. The bare stones of the interior wall didn’t interest her, but the window did. She could almost reach the near edge of it when the chain stopped her, and with a twisting feeling she realised she couldn’t see out. She could see the edge of the sky, though: a cold blue grey which had yellow rainclouds scattered on it. When she reached out she could just loop her fingers around the rusted bars that crossed the window, and even though the flakes of rust on the ancient metal hurt her hands, she held on and felt the breeze dance across her fingertips.

It’s spring. She thought, It’s spring, and the birds are singing, and you have time to think. Calm down.

She sat down next to the fire, relishing the last few embers of warmth they might let her feel, and curled her feet under the tattered remains of her dress. Now then, Daine. Think about this properly. You’ve been in the keep for weeks, that’s fair certain. And how long have you been asleep? It could even be months.

Despite herself, her hand reached down to where the dress was beginning to feel a little tight, and she ran her fingertips carefully along the shape of her stomach. She wasn’t a midwife’s daughter for nothing, and although her memory was clouded, she knew how quickly a baby grew. What had been a hidden but sure knowledge in Hazelle’s home had been a slight roundness when she’d been working in the kitchens. Now it was almost noticeable enough to be seen through her dress. After a few more weeks Orsille wouldn’t have had to ask Dakinn to know that she didn’t need a pregnancy charm.

Why did I think I could hide it? She thought, pressing her head against the cool stone of the wall. Her second thought was bitter:
Why didn’t I tell Numair?

She had tried to tell him. No, perhaps that wasn’t quite true. She had thought that the odd queasiness which had haunted her last weeks of freedom had been the result of eating unfamiliar rich food. She had pushed her breakfast away each morning without thinking – food which she would wolf down in seconds if she had it now. It had been a long time before she had let herself wonder if the sickness was something else.

With that thought had come a hundred others. She remembered that she had locked herself into her own room and sat in the window seat, pressing her head against the panes until it left a red mark.

Is this what I want? She had thought over and over again, until the words had twisted into:

Is this what we want?

Then it had become: Is this what he wants?

They had made so many plans together. They both had so many things they wanted to do with their freedom that Numair had jokingly said they should write a list in case they forget their hundred-and-one-wishes. But neither of them, Daine thought, had planned for a child. They wanted to roam the world and see beautiful things without a single command to tie them down. They wanted to be safe, and warm, and secure behind unbolted doors. They wanted to climb mountains and sleep under unfamiliar stars.

In a confused hypocritical tumble their future had grown wings, and now, Daine had thought, she had to chain them both back to the ground.

Of course, several months later with an iron manacle biting into her ankle, Daine was damned sure that literal chains were a lot worse than metaphorical chains.

Still, when she had tried to tell Numair that she thought she was carrying his child her words had failed her. On the last day she had spent with her lover her mind was wholly eclipsed by a hopeless tangle of guilt and hope and love and worry. She had reached out to him and lied to him with her kisses and embraces and in a thoughtless adoration which she now remembered as a heartless deceit.

I should have told him. I was scared. A coward. I am a liar, just like Orsille said.

Her heart rose in her throat. She pushed the unfriendly memory away and forced herself to listen to the cold, practical voice in her head.

So, you’ve been here for months. And you’ve not been rescued. You can’t just keep thinking that the others are going to come and take you away. The real world doesn’t work that way, girl, and you know it! So… what are you going to do?

“Things could go back to the way they were before,” she whispered one of her options out loud, looking at the fire with wry humour at the official’s words. Oh, she knew how he was thinking, and she could just imagine talking herself back into the life of the slave. It was almost comforting to hear the sardonic voice in her mind.

Daine, you survived here for six years. After a while you can’t feel anything anymore, so it doesn’t hurt. You’ve had a fun little outing, and you know a little more of the world, and now things are… well… normal again.

Except they’re not. And it’s because of Numair. He changed you. Do you remember how angry you were at him when you realised he was doing it? He gave you hope… the ability to feel… and you knew then that it meant you could never survive this place again.

No… things won’t be the same as they were. But…

…Orsille doesn’t know how much I’ve changed, only that I have. I need to make him angry. So I need to think about this. Think about Orsille. He wants…

…I know what he wants.

Daine wrapped her arms around herself and shivered, keenly aware of the dimming light outside the window, and forced herself to remember the last time Orsille had made her into his plaything.

You and I have been here before.

These weren’t the vague memories that seeing him in a dark winter’s night had recalled. She made herself remember his face, seeing his laughter and anger and lust and disgust and every expression in between. Back then she had been little more than a child, confused and lost in a world that only Orsille seemed to know the rules to. His fascination with her had soon faded – not because his anger or lust had diminished, but because she had stopped caring if she lived or died.

He had thrown her into the communal cell called the ‘pit’ with the other slaves in petulant disgust, and it was then that she had met Anja, the murderous witch with the long dreadlocked hair and eerily bright laughter. Back then, the woman had been almost caring, stroking back the child’s hair with her emaciated fingers and crooning songs to her. She chased away the other prisoners, hissing at them like a snake and laughing hoarsely at their fear.

When Daine had healed enough to care about where she was, Anja had started to tell her stories. Some were sweet, simple stories of fairies and sprites. Then, in the same gentle voice, she told stories about the girls she had cared for in her laundry. They had been servants that she found in the gutter, and slaves with nowhere else to go. They were the other girls who Anja had sang to, and loved, and caressed, and finally strangled with sodden linen sheets when they grew old enough, or bold enough, to want to leave.

Daine pulled away from her at that, her eyes wide and accusing even in her muteness, and Anja laughed as if the whole thing were a joke.

“You show fear tooooooo much, little grey-eyes.” She sang out, absently twisting a filthy dreadlock in her nails. “That’s why he likes you. Don’t let on that you’re afraid, not ever-never-never-no, my pet. Let the bastards do what they like, but don’t let them see your fear, or your tears, and you’ll be right as rain.”

And that was the truth, Daine realised. The last time this had happened Orsille couldn’t make her afraid of him, and so he had lost interest in her. She had been careful not to draw attention to herself after that, and he never called for her again. Until now.

If I'm going to bait him I need to keep him interested in me, she thought, and smiled bitterly. Well, it won’t be hard to convince him that I’m frightened of him. He terrifies me. What else am I afraid of? Her hands warmed her stomach, and she smiled sadly at her body’s instinctive maternal reaction. Yes, she sighed, I can’t lose you, dear one. He’ll use that against us. But it’s a fear that will last, at least, and that buys us time…

She was asking herself what-on-earth would extra time do for her, locked up here in this empty room, when a sparrow hopped through the metal bars of the window and cheerfully peeped a greeting at her. She jumped and cautiously returned the greeting, wary of using any magic without Numair around to safeguard her mind.

-This is a strange place to roost,- The bird commented in a cheeky voice, fluttering around the room fearlessly. She smiled and held out a hand for it to perch on, and the creature nuzzled against her cheek.

“If I could roost somewhere else,” she told it, “I would. I wish I could fly out of the window with you.”

-Why don’t you?- The bird didn’t seem to think her size was important, and she scared a peep from him when she shrugged.

“I won’t be able to go back to human. I’ll lose myself, and… and I don’t want that for my baby.”

The bird ruffled its feathers in awkward laughter and said, -We felt you, my mate and I. We have chicks growing outside the window. Fine chicks.- His chest puffed out in pride, and she smiled and congratulated him. He tilted his head to one side, and looked at her quizzically. –Well, I said I would meet you. See what creature you were. And I’ve done it.-

“Yes.” She said solemnly, and hesitated. “Is your whole flock nearby?”

-Aye. Loud buggers they are, too.- He retorted, and she felt a stab of quick humour at hearing the Gallan phrase in a wild voice. She knew the sparrows wouldn’t all be nesting, and many would be bored, so she thought there might be some chance and asked,

“Do you think you might convince them to… to help me?”

She explained what she wanted, and the bird croaked his understanding before saying he would try to convince them. –When would you want to start?-

“Tonight,” she said, and breathed in sharply as she realised what else she would have to agree to. “A… another human will come here tonight, and he’ll… he’ll…”

I have to think about it, she told herself, and curled her hands into fists. He’s playing one of his sick tricks on me. I don’t really have a choice. Even if I don’t agree to his deal he’ll still knock me down and force himself on me.

She thought about the last way that Numair had changed her, and wondered if he fully understood what it had meant to her to be shown love and gentleness when all she had known before was the careless and clumsy pawing of drunken officials, and the petty roughness of cruel men. Orsille, she thought with a sick rush of irony, had been right. Such men didn’t care if she was awake or asleep.

But Orsille wasn’t like the others. She understood now, with clear eyes and with the memory of the gentle hands of her lover, that the official enjoyed inflicting pain almost as much as he enjoyed the act itself. And, as horrible as it sounded, and as much as the thought made her run to the fireplace and retch into the cooling hearth, it meant that she was lucky that he was the one who had decided to toy with her. If it had been one of the other men she wouldn’t have been able to predict what they would do, and her terror would have stopped her from trying.

He was predictable, and she smiled, because she could use it to destroy him. Everything he did to her, she vowed to herself with vicious hatred, she would have revenge for. He would be digging his own grave.

“I can’t just escape in your mind,” she whispered to the bird, “Because I’ll lose myself. I have to… have to… remember what it is to be human. The other human will… he’ll keep me here. He’ll want me to feel every second of it. He’ll make sure of that. And so… so that’s when we will fly.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 41 of 69

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