Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 47 of 69

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Numair showed Daine’s notes to Alanna. The knight was deeply sympathetic but it didn’t make her change her mind. Numair was to keep working on the tunnels with Rain, and any other activities were strictly forbidden. Numair grit his teeth and kept tunnelling, wishing that the savage laughter would return so something would distract him from his worrying. He had no idea whether Daine was being silent because she was badly hurt or furious. She might even be dead.

Weeks passed and there was absolutely no word from her. Numair watched the skies, and noticed something very odd. The birds no longer flew in aimless flocks as they used to. Instead, they skimmed across the valley with clear purpose, not stopping to scoop up insects but making lines across the valley. They perched on the heads of horses and sat still there as the horse flicked its ears, or they sang out merrily to animals that they saw in the woods. Over the next few weeks, scores of animals seemed to make friends with one another and then dart away from the camp towards the forts.

Numair had absolutely no doubt that Daine was behind it. He just had no idea why, or how. He also knew that she must be mobilizing the creatures near the camp deliberately, showing him that she could easily reach the camp and then refusing to speak or send any word. At least she wasn’t dead. He felt the punishment keenly and accepted it as his due, but he couldn’t help staring impatiently at the birds every night and cursing when they made their silent flight back to their nests.

He nearly laughed out loud when a tiny starling finally flew into his tent and perched on the end of the bedroll. She had forgiven him, or at least she was willing to talk again.

“I hope you’re well,” Numair managed to croak. He looked around at the starling, which ruffled its feathers and tilted its head to one side. Despite himself a humourless laugh burst from his lips, and he smothered it with one hand. “Gods, what a stupid thing for me to say! I know you’re not. But I… I pray that things aren’t as bad as…” He swallowed and stopped babbling. “I’m sorry, I know you’ve been angry but I’ve been so worried about you.”

Worry won’t help. They heal me. Her first note in weeks read a little curtly.

Numair read it with narrowed eyes, and then he asked the question which the conscious mind behind the bird’s eyes had been dreading for weeks, “Why are they healing you? They never did that before. Tell me why, sweetheart.”

The reply was written in a rushed hand, but the words were hesitantly thought out: I made a bargain. No choice. Obedience in exchange for protection for our baby.

Numair took a sharp breath when he read the note, and the bird cheeped and fluttered in panic at the human’s unbidden motion. The sharp intelligence behind its eyes quietened it, and after a long moment seemed to convince the tiny sparrow to flutter up to the human and perch gently on his wrist. He blinked at it, and stopped his harsh laugh before he could scare the creature away entirely.

“I suspected you might be pregnant.” He said quietly, “Well, I… I even hoped. Doesn’t that seem selfish, now? But I did. And I can’t… how can I explain how I feel?” He did laugh then, an oddly hopeless sound. “Daine, if you were here I would kiss you and laugh and smile and I would hold you close, and I would never want to let you go. But you’re not. You’re alone, and I know everything that you’re not telling me, about what they’re doing to you. We’ll be making the final attack in a few weeks, sweetling, and Alanna talks about it like we’re rushing! But… a few weeks, when it’s already been months…”

The bird peeped softly, and rested its satiny head against his thumb for a second. He stared at it, and seemed to come to a decision.

“I’ll surrender to them,” he said with ferocious determination in his eyes. “Gods curse it, but I should have done it months ago. I know now that if I stay here Alanna won’t let me do a single thing to free you. I’ll never be able to change her mind. Compared to the war you’re just not important to her. Even when she saw your notes, Daine, she wouldn’t have any pity.”

The bird started and then screamed at him, and he shook his head. “I decided this weeks ago , Daine. Alanna didn’t want me to tell you, but I killed most of those officials I found – all the ones we met at Hazelle’s, although there are dozens more in the keeps. They wouldn’t tell me anything. But if they take me prisoner then maybe they’ll start bragging and tell me where they’ve hidden you. I can find you and then together we will burn their damned keeps down around their ears. Yes, I’ll surrender. Two people on the inside are better than one.”

A harsh croak came from the bird, and it fluttered its wings at him frantically. Numair scowled, understanding the argument instinctively. “No, you don’t understand. They won’t kill me. They’ll need every mage they can get to fight Alanna, and they know it.”

The bird made an odd noise, and the man waved a hand in an empty gesture. “No, I don’t mean I want to fight Alanna, or that I will. But... but if they think that I might...”

This time the wild creature flew at him, a blinding whir of feathers and claws which the human made no attempt to defend himself from. A stubborn line appeared between Numair’s eyes and his jaw set, and there was no gentleness in his next words, just pure steel.

“Stop it, Daine. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and now I’ve… I’ve decided. You’re not the only one who can make a deal. And the next time they let their insane mages out of their cages you won’t be alone. I have to protect you. Both of you.”

The bird shrieked at him, and then its head whipped around abruptly, and the human mind that lurked behind its eyes fled into the night sky.


She opened her eyes with tears streaming down her cheeks, and fought to catch her breath. Orsille clapped his hand over her mouth, muffling her sobs while his lips curled back from his teeth. Daine shut her eyes, but that brought back the image of Numair, grimly declaring that he was going to betray Alanna to help her, and she whimpered and wrenched her eyes open again. 
It was too soon, too unexpected! She’d been so careful making her plans with the People that she’d never expected anything to change. She’d been trapped for so long now that the very idea of something changing in her monotonous life was laughable. And now, so suddenly, Numair had made a decision that would upset everything and put him back in danger and… and…

What can I do? She thought desperately. She could write a note to Alanna, but even if she could explain the problem in a few words, by the time she could write another note and smuggle it out of the room it would be too late. She looked up at Orsille, and her thoughts whirled sickly.

Numair wanted to betray Alanna. He wanted to surrender to Orsille. He would burn all his bridges to the ground in one stupid decision. And for what?

Daine had seen the keep’s torture room once, with the racks and spiked chests and oddly-shaped, precise blades. They’d taken her there to scare her, and laughed when she’d fled from the darkened room in terror. The man who had been caught stealing food scraps from the pigs hadn’t followed her out. They heard his screams long into the night.

Orsille loathed Numair. He would want to punish him far more than a pig boy.

Daine sobbed at the thought, trying to turn her face away and gagging when the man grinned and licked the salt from her cheek. “Forgotten how to daydream, have you?” He whispered, and she could hear the sick heat growing in his voice.

“You’re disgusting.” She spat at him, and turned her face into the indigo-dyed rug. How ridiculous the man was, to have such a ruinously expensive rug in a room he only used for… for this! And then she realised, with sudden hope, that perhaps there was a chance she could do something after all. The official was led by his greed, for countries and for money and for power and revenge. If she could use that…

Orsille groaned. His fingers bit into her hips as his movement sped up, and then he shuddered and lay still on top of her for a moment. Daine caught her breath at the audacity of what she was about to do, and sent a silent apology to Numair before she could talk herself out of doing it.

Before the official could pull away with his usual arrogant indifference, she raised a hand and tangled it in the man’s hair, then slid her other arm around his back and entwined one leg over his. She forced herself not to flinch as her hand slipped in the sweat that coated his clammy skin. He froze and stared at her blankly as she fought down a wave of nausea at what she was doing.

“Please… please, Orsille, don’t go,” she said, and kept her voice soft, pleading, “I want to talk to you.”

His eyes narrowed, but he looked intrigued, as she’d hoped he would. “That’s the first thing you’ve said that’s not an insult for weeks, creature.”

“Well, I have no-one else to talk to. You keep me locked up in here, waiting for you, and I can’t talk to anyone, and… well…” she sighed, and looked away so he couldn’t see the self-disgust in her eyes at the words. She’d mimicked the courtly nonsense-tone Hazelle had taught her so well that she almost hated the woman for teaching it to her, but when she pressed on she knew it was working.

“I have to talk to someone. Anyone. Even if it’s you. If I don’t I think I’ll go mad. I really am very sorry for what I did, but Karenna wouldn’t… oh!” she clapped a hand over her face, grateful for the excuse to move it from his hair, and she saw his eyes sharpen.

“Karenna?” He repeated in a dangerous tone. She nodded, and made her voice sad.

“I want to apologise to her. Will you let me do that? I’m so sorry for what I did to her. If Leto found out, he would never forgive me. He’d go back to her in an instant. I mean, he would be so horrified if he found out what I… what I did. Hazelle said I should pretend to be his cousin, and she was so, so glad to get her nephew back. There was an argument about land, you know. He inherited so much, and she didn’t even care that he was the Hawk Mage if it kept it in the family. But they had to keep me too, because I helped him escape. And I… I knew they would cast me out as soon as… as…”

“As soon as they found out that you’re the murderous bastard daughter of a peasant whore?” He finished crudely, his voice pleasant enough to hide the genuine interest in his tone. She swallowed and nodded, hoping he would read her nervousness as contrition or anxiety to be honest. He raised a hand, and she flinched until she realised that he was only smoothing a coil of her hair behind her ear.

“So the hawk mage really is Hazelle’s nephew?” He asked, and his voice was fascinated. Daine nodded, her eyes wide. 
“Why else would she take us in? And then she called that woman that she’s friends with.”

“Alanna.” He smiled thinly. “Champion of Tortall.”

Daine shrugged, making her voice stupidly vague. “I didn’t care, not really. It’s politics, and I don’t know anything about things like that, you know. I just wanted them to… to keep me. I didn’t think they would once Alanna arrived. So I…”

“You decided to seduce him.” Orsille finished, and raised an eyebrow. “Karenna told me that much.”

“No. She tried to seduce him.” Daine mentally begged for forgiveness for the lie she was about to tell: “I thought I was smarter than her. I was living in the same house as him. It was easy enough to… well, our rooms were close together. I told him that I had a pregnancy charm, but I didn’t. It was the broken one from my old chain. I got pregnant on purpose. When I was ill, and Karenna said she lost her hold on him? That was the night when I… I told him.”

“Clever you. What a shame it didn’t work, and you had to return to us.” Orsille didn’t sound convinced. When he ran his hand down to her stomach and tapped his fingertips against the swollen curve of it she realised why he thought she was lying. She pushed his hand away with an instinctive terror, and he laughed. “So why, my petal, do you still want to protect this abomination?”

“Because it’s mine.” She felt her eyes fill with tears. Real tears. Convincing tears. “It’s the only thing I have that’s mine. Everything else belongs to you.”

He laughed louder at that. “You’re welcome to keep it for a few more months, but then it will be mine, too.” His voice took on a greedy edge. “The brat of a werewolf and the hawk mage? Why on earth would I let you keep something so valuable? I’m not even going to let you near it once it’s born.”

She shuddered and tried to pull away from him at that, but he gripped her arms until she stopped struggling and then he leaned so close that she could smell the stale sweat drying on his skin.

“Now,” he said, his voice dangerous, “You were telling me why you were wasting my time, telling me this pathetic story.”

She took a deep breath, pushing down her horror at the thought of this monster taking her baby, and the rest of her lie came out in a rush. “I want to apologise to Karenna. I tricked Leto, and if he knew… if he knew anything about what I did… then he would go back to Karenna in an instant, and she could be happy. She could live in that beautiful castle in the mountains, and… and inherit Lady Hazelle’s house, when she dies… and she wouldn’t have to come near this horrible place again.” She thought her tears had stopped, but she let them flow again at the thought of Hazelle dying.

“If anyone can escape from this horrible place, they should.” She sobbed, and meant it. “Even silly, selfish, spoiled-rotten prissy court ladies. I can’t bear the thought that I stopped someone from getting away from here… even if it’s K…K…Karenna…”

Orsille watched her with baffled fascination clear on his face. “That,” he said, “Is quite possibly the strangest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

His eyes went distant as he thought, and Daine could clearly see the gleam when he realised she’d named Leto as Hazelle’s heir. Every official at the parties had expressed envy over the woman’s wealth, and the slave girl had just handed it to Orsille’s family on a silver platter. Even if he would never let Karenna marry the man that he loathed Orsille knew he had enough leverage over Leto to control his money, if not the madness.

“Are you lying?” His voice was deadly quiet, and he crushed his full weight against the girl for long enough for her to lose the air from her lungs. She shook her head urgently, and he let up. “Good. Because if you are lying to me, I’ll take every word of it back out of your flesh.” He stood up and glanced at the chain on her wrist absently, and then shrugged his thin frame into his sumptuous clothes.

“This changes nothing. Why should I reward you for telling me that you’re a whore? We both already knew that.” He glanced at the chain again, and shrugged with forced indifference. “I’ll send a healer to you tomorrow, and that’s where my gratitude ends.” He said, and the lock clicked shut behind him.

Daine pushed herself upright and curled her arms around her stomach, thinking more rapidly than she ever had before in her life. He’ll go to Karenna now, and if I know that woman like I think I do she’ll soon find a way to talk to Numair. She thought, and smiled slowly, And he won’t be able to do anything except play along. He won’t be able to surrender. And even if he does… she covered her smile with her hand, They won’t dare torture the heir of Hazelle’s estate.

Numair, she prayed urgently, Don’t you dare mess this up!


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 47 of 69

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