Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 45 of 69

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Orsile burst into Daine’s cell in a red haze of anger. Words had spilled out of him unheeded. There were more words, more names, than he had ever volunteered before. Daine tried not to let her interest show on her face as he ranted about a group of soldiers who had intercepted one of the spies he had sent into Tortall.

It had been a mage – an older woman who had been promised freedom if she managed to plant a listening spell in the tents of the knights and captains. As soon as the woman was away from the valley, it seemed, she had raised her hands and walked down the pass in full view, surrendering to the baffled scouts who saw her coming. That had been the last any of the Gallans had seen of her.

“Traitorous bitch!” Orsille raged, screwing up the note that he still held in his skeletal hand. Daine watched in silence, fascinated by his lack of control. He threw the note into the fireplace, cast a vicious haze of mage fire after it, and spat onto the ashes for good measure. The hiss of evaporating spittle underlined his petulant hiss: “How dare she!”

“Why are you surprised?” Daine asked, not able to stop herself from smiling. She rested her cheek on one hand and grinned at him, openly enjoying his fury. “Did you really think she’d trust you? We all know that you see us as cattle. Your idea of freedom is just... expecting us to mill around after you until you send us off to die. She saw her chance to escape and took it. And so will all the others.”

“She hasn’t escaped.” Orsille’s voice was dangerous. “She still has her chain. I will make an example of her. The others don’t have to trust me. They can fear me. Every single one who rebels against me will share in her pain, I swear it.”

Daine blinked at that and curled her fingers around her own chain, feeling the charms beat against her wrist. She knew the trick the official was going to use. A few people had escaped, in the years she had been imprisoned, and the result was always the same.

The officials gathered everyone, and said a few words, and every prisoner screamed and clutched their arms as their chains grew red hot, burning lines of blisters into their skin. The officials would snap their fingers, and the pain would stop. Over the chorus of whimpers and moans, they would calmly tell the mages that the chain the escaped prisoner wore was still burning. It would keep burning until the mage’s blood boiled, and their skin withered, and they burst into flames.

“It’s a better death.” Daine said, and her words were so gentle that Orsille stopped pacing and stared at her. She barely seemed to notice, as she turned the links of her chain over in her fingertips. “She chose it herself. That’s her freedom. I’m happy for her.”

She looked up then, and there was a curious peacefulness in her grey eyes. “Punishing everyone else for it won’t make them afraid of you, Orsille. It will just make them hate you. It will make you weaker.”

“Weaker.” He echoed the word in a black tone, and she nodded.

“We all know you’re mortal.” She said, and smiled wolfishly. “And now we know you’re afraid of us.”

“I am afraid of nothing.” He reached forward to grab her by the collar, raising her up to meet his eyes, and dropped her heavily to the ground when she simply laughed in his face.

“Yes you are!” She giggled, “You’re terrified!”

He kicked her sharply, feeling only fury at her cry of pain and then hearing a roaring in his ears when she started laughing again. She shouldn’t be laughing. She should be cowering, frightened, broken. His outrage at the escaped mage and her laughter fused in his mind, and he struck out in a blind haze of absolute madness. It was only when the sun set and he couldn’t see any more that some of the fire cleared, and he wondered if the bitch was dead. She was silent, unconscious, but when he lowered his hand to her face he felt her breathe shallowly.

“You’re lucky.” He told her.

Orsille reeled as he stood upright. When he scrubbed his face with one shaking hand it came away covered in greasy sweat and spittle, and his eyes stung with saltwater. It was impossible to collect his thoughts. He’d never snapped like that before, and not being able to see into the black blur of his memories was unsettling.

He twitched and clutched his arms around himself for a moment. Blinking frantically would not clear the stubborn spots from his eyes any more than he could stop his heart from racing.

“You deserved it.” He told the unconscious girl, but there was less certainty in his rough voice.

He scrubbed at his puling forehead again. Looking at her made something curl up in his stomach. He couldn’t recognise the emotion at all. He just knew that it was wrong. Normally his eyes would linger over her bruises as comforting dark pleasure pooled in his veins, but his heart still raced and for some reason he couldn’t look at her at all. If she opened those sharp, mocking eyes again he knew he would have to kill the girl before she would look away.

He looked around and built up the fire, not looking at the girl until his mind stopped racing. The wash of anger eventually left a cold emptiness in his stomach, and he sat beside the blaze for a moment, staring at it. Then he pressed his hand to the girl’s stomach in a petulant haste, casting a flood of healing magic through her body and striding from the room in four rapid steps. The door slammed behind him. 
Daine struggled back to consciousness, dragged awake by the pull of the gift, and rolled painfully onto her side. She sighed in relief when she heard his quick footfalls fading into the distance.

He’s weak, she thought. She lowered her hands to her stomach and marvelled at the odd tingle of healing magic dancing across her fingers. He can be pushed to the edge. It works.

She didn’t tell Numair, though. Of all the notes she could write, one that declared her plan to antagonise Orsille would be the most foolish. That night she settled for a rather ambiguous note, writing clumsily with stiff and bruised fingers: The leader has a weakness. I think I can use it.

Alanna and Numair passed the note to each other and then stared at the bird. A cautious look passed between the two humans before they nodded.

“Don’t put yourself in danger, Daine.” Alanna said, her words careful. “I know things are bad for you, but... you’re a hostage. They won’t kill you, not if you don’t provoke them. We’re doing plenty out here, you know. We're doing everything we can for you. Just wait.”

Numair’s eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth to say something before the lady knight sharply jabbed her elbow into his ribs and shook her head. He scowled, but closed his mouth with a snap and folded his arms.

Daine sighed and nodded that she understood – once again, they couldn’t tell her their plans. She knew that Alanna had to put the safety of Tortall before the rescue of one Gallan girl, but she couldn’t help feeling hurt that not one of the hundreds of soldiers could be sent to help try to find her. When the bird looked up at Numair, Daine saw her own helpless anger clearly echoed in his eyes.

The sight made her shiver. She still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with him, despite every single sparrow warming to him instantly. It was as they said: he was like a bird. Only Daine realised what that fact meant for him as a human.

Orsille arrived earlier than usual the next day, and the girl pressed herself into the corner and watched him with silent, wary eyes. He looked unsure of himself - almost ashamed. Kneeling beside the fireplace, he drew some hardwood logs from the basket he’d brought up and used his magic to light a warm, bright fire. Daine shivered in her corner and her eyes flicked longingly to the heat. The spring rains had been lashing against the window with a vengeance, and she couldn’t remember how it felt to touch something that wasn’t damp, cold and clammy.

“Come here.” The man ordered her, and Daine moved forward with a combination of reluctance and need. He glanced up at her, rolled his eyes at her nervousness and shifted back so she could sit beside the fire without touching him. When she cautiously knelt down beside the blaze he handed her something else from the basket – a piece of roasted chicken, wrapped in a fragrant, seasoned cabbage leaf and still warm from the oven. She stared at him wide-eyed for a second and then fell on the meat in starving glee.

This, she realised as she slowly finished the food and licked grease from her fingers, was his way of apologising. For all of his viciousness he didn’t want to kill her. What had happened had been an accident, and one which the man couldn’t even justify to himself. She threw the bone into the fire and looked at him, seeing him with new eyes as she recognised the half-shame on his otherwise placid face.

“We’re at a strange pass, you and I.” He understood her expression, and there was a glint of self-mockery in his words. Daine nodded and looked at the fire, not sure how to respond. This truce was doubtless as fragile as glass.

“Why… why do you keep me here?” She asked him one of the questions that had been burning in her mind. Her voice was softer than he had ever heard it. “Why lock me away? I’d be just as much your prisoner if you made me work in the kitchens or in the farms.”

“Because I chose to. But perhaps I was wrong.” He tilted his head to one side and his eyes narrowed speculatively. For the first time he spoke to her as an equal. “I thought I could possess every part of you. Everything that was stolen from me when you ran away would be returned to me. No man has ever stolen from me before. I swore I would take it back. Not just my slave, but every tear my daughter shed over him and every drop of blood which he spilled from my men. I thought I would return the favour.”

“And… did you? Have you?” She breathed, wondering if he might actually be thinking about letting her go. It would explain why he was suddenly acting so strangely. He sighed and waved his hand at the fire, nudging the logs into better stacks with his gift.

“Not yet.” He looked up at her and his eyes held an odd kind of frank honesty Daine hadn’t seen before. “You’ve repaid your own debt. You can’t help your vile nature. But his debt? For every scrap of vengeance I get over that man I think of a hundred other reasons to loathe the man. You submit to me now, but he still fights me. Hundreds of my soldiers have fallen to his blasted Gift, and hundreds more are afraid of that madness that crawls through his mind. Hundreds, girl, and each deserter demands repayment . I keep you here because it’s impossible for you to give me what I want – at least while that bastard is out there. You can thank him for all this. But regardless… there is still a debt owing, and so you will stay here.”

A small voice at the back of her mind knew what he was doing. He was trying to make her blame Numair for her imprisonment. But the girl heard it another way. The war, for Daine, was being fought between Orsille and Numair. The rest of it didn’t matter to her. It was only when one or other of those two men had triumphed that her own future would be decided. She was a prize for the victor, whoever he happened to be. In the meantime she was supposed to wait while Numair and Orsille played out their stupid battles.

She suddenly, violently, wanted nothing to do with it – no more spying, no more writing notes, no more baiting. She could be selfish. She deserved that. She didn’t want anyone to win or lose the war, she just wanted to get out of her cage.

With Orsille as her jailor that was impossible. She would be here until the war ended, and that was that. He was telling her that she was repaying some debt to be cruel, not to be sympathetic or to explain why he was such a monster to her.

“I don’t understand what else you want.” She said, and rested her cheek on her folded knees to gaze into the flames. Her words were bitter. “There’s nothing you haven’t taken from me. There’s nothing left.”

“No.” He reached out and patted her knee. There was little tenderness within the man, but for once his hands felt less like claws and more like a caress. “There is. I can see it.”

“There’s nothing else.” She repeated, and felt her eyes well up with tears as she pulled away from a comfort that she desperately needed, but from anyone else but this man. “Nothing. I have nothing left.”

“Oh, my sweet little wolf cub,” he sighed, and wrapped warm arms around her. “Don’t you know you have everything that you ever deserved?”

For the first time she felt that he might be reasoned with, pleaded with, and she clutched at his back with shaking hands. “Please, please…” she whispered. “Please… if you want anything from me you can have it. Just let me go back to the kitchen. Don’t keep me here. You can take whatever you want. You can… you can have whatever you want. I’ll do any disgusting thing you ask. Just let me see the sky again.” 
His voice rumbled in his chest and she realised he was laughing. “You don’t deserve that.”

She sobbed aloud then and he made a tutting sound, rocking her in his embrace. “Ssh, ssh now you silly child. If you start crying I’ll get angry again.”

The girl couldn’t help it. With his warm arms holding her so gently it was easy to imagine herself in Numair’s embrace, being comforted after so many hopeless weeks. Orsille wasn’t Numair; he was as far from the man she loved as night from day, and yet he was the only one who held her when she needed some fragment of human kindness. She buried her face in his shoulder and held him tightly, shaking with the effort of biting back her sobs.

Orsille stroked her hair for a moment, and then his hand stilled and he raised her chin to meet her eyes. What he saw there made his amused expression darken, and he pushed her back.

“Don’t pretend I’m him.” He snarled, and shoved her sprawling away from the comfort of the fire. The damp stone ceiling dripped cold water on her bare feet. He seized her ragged sleeve and dragged her back, his nails ragged and sharp. Daine kicked at him and yanked herself away, pressing her back against the manacle in the wall.

“Pretend you’re him?” She mimicked, and laughed hysterically. She raised a shaking hand to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “As if you could ever be half the man he is. I’d sooner compare you to a… a rat.”

“A rat would have more value than that creature.” The official snapped, and there was something cloying in the words, as if they were rotting before he could even speak them. “I won’t be compared with that murderer. Gods, of course he had you. You threw yourself at the only creature on this earth that’s lower than you.”

“I love him.” Her temper flared. Although she clutched fearfully at her chain with whitened knuckles her words were more forceful than he’d ever heard. “However much you hate us, what you think doesn’t matter to me. Not one bit.”

“Then you’re a fool.” He said, and his words were suddenly very distant. She shook her head stubbornly and then realisation hit her like a tide of cold water. She giggled and looked up.

“That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what you can’t have. You can’t take that away from me. My love and my memories… you can’t touch them.”

“Who would want them?” He scoffed the words but there was something defensive, guarded in his tone. Daine rounded on him, taunting him with the one thing she still possessed, and she saw him whiten. She spoke with dark, vicious pleasure.

“You can hurt every part of me except my heart, because it’s not locked up in this room. I gave it to him. You’ll never be able to reach it.”

“How touching.” He sneered, recovering some of his normal sarcastic humour as he looked at her. There was something approving in his voice. “My little cub has learned how to bite. And such a passionate performance! Very well: I’ll let you keep your mewling love for the Hawk Mage. It’s just such a shame he doesn’t love you back.”

“He does… “ Daine tripped over her retort, blinked at the certainty in his voice, and knew that the apparently empty gibe had something cruel lurking within it. “Why do you…?”

“He didn’t make the deal, my petal!” The man crowed, and handed out a handkerchief to her. She stared at it blankly, and he waved the scented fabric grandly before her. “’Tis enough to spring tears from a barren brook! As soon as they replied I had to rush and tell you, darling girl, and hope the warmth of the fire would be enough to dry your eyes. All I asked was one little retreat. One troop of soldiers sent back to Tortall… one hundred men out of one thousand, my dear. One pass cleared for my men to reclaim, and your disgusting lover could have crushed you in his wings once more! But they refused.”

Daine told herself he was lying, but she whitened. She instinctively believed that it could be true. Alanna was too cunning a strategist simply to surrender land, and now the snows were melting some of the passes would be invaluable. They would have known how important the pass must be to Orsille if he was prepared to trade hostages for it. They would have had to refuse. To give their enemy valuable land before a battle would be a deadly error.

But now, looking at the official’s mocking face, Daine knew that the pass was probably worthless. He had tricked the Tortallans into bartering over fruitless soil, and now he could crow over how they refused to surrender so little for their friend.

Still, either story made her throat close up. They would have argued, she knew, and one of them would have had to back down. She remembered Numair’s folded arms, Alanna’s scowl as she forced him to be silent. Why wouldn’t Numair fight to the bitter end? Either there was something very wrong with him or Orsille was right. Numair had forced her to stay in this vile place for a small strategic advantage.

She looked up at the official and could see no lie written on his face. He knew she would spot a lie. He knew she would want it to be a lie, and so he attacked her with the truth.

Whether or not it had been a trick, her friends had been given the chance to save her and they had turned it down. Numair had turned it down. She was worth less to them… to him… than a pathetic patch of frozen wasteland.

A hand gently brushed her cheek and then she felt Orsille’s fleshy lips pressing against her skin, tasting the salt of her tears. She hadn’t even realised she was crying.

“You see?” He murmured, “I can hurt your heart, after all.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 45 of 69

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