Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 48 of 69

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Numair was confused when the captain told him, in an oddly surly voice, that he had visitors. He had heard nothing from Hazelle to suggest she might be travelling to the camp, and there was no-one else he knew who would travel over the mountain trail. He put down the sheet of glass-like stone that he was dragging away from the cave entrance and wiped sweat from his forehead, leaving a trail of sparkling dust. The days were growing hot as the imminent summer drew closer, and the men were digging out the cave in a chorus of curses and frayed tempers.

Numair was working as hard as he usually did, but this time he had a plan. The men swapped shifts in the hour after noon, and for a few minutes he knew all would be chaos. That, he had decided, would be the perfect time to slip away. If he was lucky, he could make it up the trail without anyone spotting him. The glare of the sun against the grass was perfect, as most people had to squint to see their hand in front of their face.

He had just been planning the route he would take when the captain arrived and for a horrified moment the mage thought that he’d been discovered. How? Someone might have overheard what he’d said to Daine the night before, but he doubted it. Apart from Rain, the men all kept their distance from him. The stories of the murderous hawk, it seemed, had made it as far as Tortall.

“Visitors?” He echoed, his voice baffled. The captain nodded curtly.

“Womenfolk. Two of ‘em. I hope you’re not going to make a habit of bringing ladies into camp, sir. The men are already restless enough as it is...”

Numair shook his head wearily and let the captain’s words about morale and rules fade into a drone in the background. It must be Hazelle, he thought.

After Daine had been kidnapped, some of the old woman’s energy seemed to have drained away. Hazelle had spent a few days in stunned silence, hiding away in her solar. When she emerged she looked tired and drawn, and announced that she was going to travel to Corus and speak to Jonathan herself.

It was too dangerous, she said, to stay in the valley, and she could give the king a better account of what was going on than a courier ever could. Numair was sure it was down to her that so many soldiers were pouring into the camp each day. Hazelle could be very convincing when she wanted to be, and if she was telling Jonathan that the valley held a threat then he would surely believe her.

Hazelle had said that she might return after her message was delivered. Numair was so sure that the visitor would be the old lady that he stopped short, with a surprised sound, when he saw that two figures waited for him in the large, communal mess tent. They were both young, not bent with age, and wore travel-stained cloaks that were nonetheless made from the very finest material.

“Who are...” Numair started, and then flinched when one of them turned around, seeing the flash of tired blue eyes. “Karenna?”

“Leto.” She smiled the dazzling smile that had made so many men sigh after her, and then the expression faded to something uncertain when he made a violent movement towards her. He stopped himself with abrupt decision, hands shaking in fists at his sides. The woman opened her mouth to speak, looked away from his thunderous expression, and smiled ruefully. “I don’t quite... know how to begin.”

“Begin.” He repeated flatly, folding his arms and tilting his head to one side. She glanced at her maidservant, and then flashed an irritated look at him.

“Yes, begin! I’ve not been in this position before. You can just be patient, Leto, and wait for me to find the right words, or I may lose my nerve altogether.”

“Lose your nerve? Have you gone mad?” He couldn’t believe his ears. “What on earth are you doing here, Karenna? After... after everything, how dare you think that...? How dare you!” Some of his fury faded, and a note of uncertainty crept into his voice as he asked, “Did your father send you? Do you have a message?”

“No! Well, yes, I mean, he did send me. But...” She stumbled over the words, and then batted her eyelashes in a childish expression of confusion that was only partly for show. “He thinks I’m here for one reason, but... I’m not. I think he’s wrong, and I don’t know what to do, and that’s why I’m here. I can be here without him thinking I’ve betrayed him, even if I don’t say the things he told me to say... oh, hag’s bones!” She cursed, and then flushed. “You see? You rushed me, and now it’s all in a tangle.”

“Somewhere in there is an apology.” He said darkly, taking a step closer to her and seeing her blanch at the expression on his face. “For your part in all this. Start with that, or I won’t stay to listen to the rest of this nonsense. I’ll hand you over to Alanna, and then we’ll have a hostage of our own.”

“Oh, I am sorry.” She said quickly, and bit her lip. “I really am, as well. That’s the strange thing. I was so angry at her, and then she said... things. And I didn’t know what to think. I cried myself to sleep, and that’s the truth. But when I woke up, it was like... suddenly, some of the things she said made sense. And... and I thought then that she... she’s younger than I am. She’s been locked up for half her life by my father, but she knows so much more than I do about some things. I mean, I...”

She waved a hand around her awkwardly, and scuffed her foot on the dusty ground. “I take a single step outside of a banqueting hall, and I don’t know how to behave any more. I don’t know what to do now. I want to help you, Leto, and... and her. But I don’t even know how to tell you that, because you’re so angry at me. And I’m so angry at me. And at... at father.” She shuddered and took a deep breath. “Look, can I just tell you from the beginning?”

Numair stared at her levelly, trying to level out the thousand arguing voices in his mind. A single thought surfaced, and he couldn’t help saying it out loud, in some shock: “You really didn’t know what was going on, did you? We thought it was an act. We were sure that you knew.”

She smiled sardonically and perched on the edge of a table, swinging her feet as if they ached. “Now, don’t be painting me like some kind of innocent child, my dear.” She said with a trace of her old flirtatious voice. “I was told. Of course I was. But it was never real. It was more like a story, like it was happening to other people, far away. The father who kissed my forehead every night when I was a child was a different person to the one who spent his days in the prison.”

“And now?” Numair demanded. She looked at the floor, and her skin turned pale.

“Well, now... he...” 

He arrived home later and later each day, and the servants began to whisper. Mama seemed a little relieved, but then she was always happier when father was away from the house.

Karenna had always assumed, in her lazy accepting way, that it was because her mother enjoyed having all the power in the house. She did enjoy being the lady, the great mistress, ordering her servants around and choosing everyone’s food, and bedding, and clothes, and even hairstyles. Karenna decided, as a child, that she would run her household with the same iron control when she was a wife.

Still, when father arrived home late, they never quite knew how they should approach him. Sometimes he was tired, and spoke endlessly of the numbers of soldiers, and the patterns of strategy, and other things that made Karenna’s head hurt. Sometimes he came home in a cheerful blur, and Karenna enjoyed those nights. She didn’t like his new mood. He came home in increasingly odd moods, staring thoughtfully into the air and barely noticing when people spoke to him. He looked like he was trying to work something out, some great puzzle where the answer was just out of his reach.

“It’s that bitch in the prison.” Karenna had overheard her grandmother’s bitter words to her maid and had stopped short, shocked at hearing her grandmother swear. “The soldiers are saying that she’s an evil witch... and I don’t mean like all the others. She’s cast some thrall on him, I swear it. Isn’t it enough that she destroyed my only grandchild’s chance at happiness? But now...”

Karenna flushed and ducked away, tucking her flouncing petticoats behind the wall as she hid, and bit her lip. She was starting to wish she had never said anything to her parents after she’d visited the prison. She had been furious, slandering the slave to anyone who would listen, and inventing a thousand hurts because she couldn’t quite remember what Annette had even said to her, just the excruciating insult of seeing pity in the girl’s grey eyes. Her ranting had last for weeks, until finally Orsille summoned her to his office and asked his daughter what had upset her. He had listened silently, his eyes narrowing, and he had left without a word once his daughter’s rage had spent itself, and she had run out of things to say.

“Karenna,” her mother had pulled her aside when he had left, and her voice had been unusually serious. “My love, don’t say any more to him, I beg of you. He’s already angry enough. Don’t make it worse. You do know that he’s going to hurt her?”

The younger woman tossed her head and snorted derisively. “She deserves it.”

Lady Orsille had bit her lip, and for a moment Karenna’s anger had faded, and she had seen the vulnerability that her mother usually kept so strongly concealed behind her housekeeping and social plans. The older woman had tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and then raised a hand to touch Karenna’s cheek.

“Beloved, try to think like a human being.” She said, her voice soft. “I know you’re hurting, and you’re angry, but I promise you it will heal. You’ll find someone else to love, child. And this girl might have offended you, but didn’t she have as much right to fall in love as you did?”

“No, of course she doesn’t.” Karenna’s voice was sulky, “She’s just a slave.”

Lady Orsille sighed, and her hand dropped away. She rubbed at it absently, running her hand along the odd scar that covered her palm. Her daughter couldn’t remember her graceful mother ever cutting herself, so she had always thought her mother had been born with the mark, just like the strawberry mark that darkened one of Karenna’s knees. Her mother always ran her fingers along the scar when she was nervous, or when she was worried, but never when her husband was around.

“Karenna,” she said, “Don’t wish hurt on anyone. No-one deserves that. Your father loves you, and you’ve made him angry enough. I’m asking you: please don’t tell him any more lies about that girl. No-one deserves what he will do to her, not even a slave.”

Karenna had flounced away at that, hardly hearing her mother’s words, and it was only after she heard her grandmother swearing about Annette that she remembered what she’d been told. Why was her mother so keen to defend the girl if Annette was callously casting a thrall on her husband? She bit her lip and drifted down the corridor, unused to the storm of thoughts that were crossing her mind.

No-one deserves what he will do to her, she thought back over her mother’s words, and felt an icy chill run down her spine. It hadn’t been, No-one deserves to be hurt, or No-one deserves to be punished. Her mother hadn’t meant that at all. Lady Orsille’s ire was directed, very specifically, at the man she was married to. And as she spoke, her hand had twisted around the swollen scar that deformed it.

That night, when her father came home, Karenna didn’t race into his arms but silently watched him from the balcony, seeing the care with which he stored his coat and tunic in the chest by the door before making his way into the main hall, where a fire blazed merrily. It was always his first action when he returned home, and his daughter was forbidden from opening the chest. It had become a joke, said in a scolding voice: That’s servant’s work, my dear!

With a flash of inspiration unusual to her, the woman realised that if there was any clue about her father’s life outside the home, then it would be in that chest. And so Karenna waited until he was gone, and then made her way down the stairs on feet which might have been quieter if she hadn’t moved so impatiently.

She hauled the lid up off the chest and winced when it creaked. Gods, but it sounded so much louder than it should! She made a snap decision, and lifted the tunic out of the chest and rapidly closed the lid, running away with her prize to her room so she could inspect it in peace, in front of a roaring fire. She didn’t know what she expected to see. The tunic was damp with the spring rains, and tacky with mud under her manicured fingers. She threw herself in front of her fire and studied it in the strong, burning light. Her eyes widened in horror, and she had to stop herself from retching.

It was blood. Red, tacky blood, still fresh and drying on her father’s clothes. His undershirt had been clean, she remembered that, so it wasn’t his own blood. No, this was someone else’s. And it didn’t seem so unusual to him, to return home covered in blood and hide the clothes away until the servants could collect them. He hadn’t seemed to notice. There had been no disgust on his face when he peeled the clothes away from his skin, just the absentminded happiness of a man returning home after a long day’s work.

“Blood,” she whispered, and hurled the tunic across the room. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked, feeling her throat close up in horror as she couldn’t stop repeating, “Blood, blood, blood, blood...”

A hand fell on her shoulder, and she gripped at it in mute terror as she recognised the twisted hand of her mother. “Oh, mama,” she wept, “I saw father put his clothes in the chest, and I looked, and...”

Lady Orsille silently crossed the room and picked up the tunic. She studied it for a moment, and when she spoke her musical voice was cold and pitiless.

“Yes.” She said, and held the tunic up so her daughter had to look directly at it, and her words were merciless. “Look, you got your revenge. Tonight every drop of it was shed for you. Are you proud of what you’ve done?”

“It wasn’t me!” Karenna gulped and buried her face in her knees, remembering the childish bitterness she had lied with, and the expression in her father’s eyes as he listened to her. She remembered the way he had rested his hand on her head, comforting the poor, wounded daughter with the same hand that she now knew had... had...

She felt warmth press against her side as her mother sat down, and heard the woman’s thoughtful words as if they were coming from another person. Another woman, who Karenna had never met before, and who she was almost afraid of, spoke.

“I married a demon.” The woman said in a voice veined with iron. “It’s time you knew the truth about your father, my love. It’s time for everything to change, and it will start with you, in this room, listening to me for the first time in your silly life. Do you hear me, Karenna?”

“Yes, mama.” Karenna whispered, wiping away tears and looking at her mother in some wonder. The older woman smiled, and the expression was unsettling.

“For twenty five years there has been nothing to do but wait, and act like everything is fine, and watch, and bide my time.” She held up the tunic. “There have been other girls, before this one, and other bloodstained clothes brought into my home with no more explanation than a snide remark. But this girl, Karenna... this one is different. She’s the first one he’s not able to kill, and he’s fascinated by her.” Her face hardened and she stared at the fire, a nerve twitching in her cheek. “I pray to the gods, Karenna, that you never find out what a torment his fascination is. I pray every night. And I pray for her, too. The slave girl.”

“The Tortallans are gathering an army.” Karenna breathed, and her mother nodded.

“If I go to them, and offer to help them, well...” she took a deep breath, “Your father would know in an instant that I had betrayed him. It only took him hours to find out the last time I tried to run away.” She held up her scarred hand, and Karenna flinched. “But you... he wants you to go to their camp. You have a reason to go. And he wants you to use it to spy on them, and ingratiate yourself with them.”

“He... what?” The woman’s head spun, and she sat up straight. “Mama, I can’t take this in. Can’t I have some time to think? He’s still my... my papa. He...” she caught sight of the tunic again, and her mother’s hand, and sobbed. “Oh gods, why did you tell me? No... I mean, why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Would you have believed me?” Lady Orsille said, and her smile was twisted. “No-one else ever has. Why should I think you would be any different? He bought you with pretty dresses and fine jewels, just as he bought me with his fine smiles and clever words. He made us into what we are. But you’re not just his. You’re my child too, Karenna. You can be so much more than his creature, if you choose. And you must make that choice, and soon. Lives depend on it.”

“My father called me the next morning, and he said...” Karenna looked up at Numair, and decided not to tell him the other half of her story. Not yet. It was enough that the hatred in his eyes had faded through disgust, to horror, to outrage, and finally to some kind of sympathetic cynicism. She didn’t think that repeating back the story that her father had gleefully told her about Annette would make him trust her any more. “He sent me here.” She finished lamely, and waved a hand. “As far as father’s concerned, I’m only here to talk to you. I’m... I’m chasing down the heir of Hazelle’s estate to woo him and win him. Annette told him that. She said...”

Numair blinked, and then looked away with an odd expression on his face. Karenna couldn’t understand the mixture of anger, amusement and frustration that played across his eyes as he choked back a strange laugh.

Well played, Daine, he thought with irony, remembering how violently the bird had argued with him the night before. I might have known you’d find a way to stop me surrendering. Clever trick, little one...

He looked around, and asked, quietly and deliberately, “What, exactly, did she tell your father?”

Karenna looked uncomfortable, and glanced away for a second. Numair knew she was deciding what to share with him, and curbed his impatience to stop himself from pushing her. In the end, her words were quite simple:

“He thinks that your place in the war is all the Lady Alanna and Hazelle’s doing, and that if you knew... well, it was just a story about Annette. A lie, I suppose. But he thinks it’s true, and he told me that if I told you it then... then you might change sides. Fight for him. He likes the idea of... of owning you.”

Numair rolled his eyes at that, but his mind was racing too fast to challenge her on his apparent heritage. “So your father has Daine?”

“I suppose so. Is her real name Daine? I didn’t know that. Father was at the other keep when I saw her, and she was locked in the room of that man she killed. The other men said they would be moving her somewhere else when they’d...they'd broken her, so I don’t know where she is now.” Karenna bit her lip, but the vile word had already been said, and Numair looked at her accusingly.

“You saw her? You spoke to her?”

“She laughed at me, and said she felt sorry for me. She was chained up, but she felt sorry for me!” Karenna still felt the sting of those words, and was a little offended when the mage blinked at her, and then started laughing.

“Well, I may doubt the rest of your story, but I know that must be true.” He said, relaxing for the first time since he’d seen the visiting woman. “I can just imagine her saying that. She probably meant it in a kind enough way.”

“You don’t believe me?” Karenna hesitated, and then held something out to him. “Here. Lord Parsey gave this to me. He stole it from her. When I saw her, she saw I was wearing it. She told me it had been a… a gift from you after the first night you spent together. I don’t think anyone else would know that, would they? So that proves I actually spoke to her, at least. But I can’t keep this. If I return it to her they’ll take it away again, so I thought that you should have it.”

He frowned and took the belt, not letting his emotions be read on his stony face.

“Karenna,” he said, his voice odd. “Will you tell us – Alanna and the other knights and I – the whole story, from the beginning, under the cast of a truth spell? Not just why you’re here and where Daine is, but what happened in the keep, too, and anything you know about the soldiers your father commands?”

“Gladly.” She said, and thought of the bloodstained tunic and her mother’s mutilated hand. Her voice held new determination as she agreed wholeheartedly to betray her father. “Anything.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 48 of 69

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