Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 49 of 69

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The voice was a harsh, almost shocked whisper, and hearing her real name pulled her out of her fitful sleep more rapidly than any shouted curse might have done. She blinked and sat up, rubbing her eyes against the bright sunlight that streamed through her window, and peered blearily at the speaker.

He stood frozen by the door, his hands splayed at his sides as if he had no idea how to move. Daine recognised him slowly as the guard who followed Dakinn around: the one who had given her bread and meat and a warm blanket when she was caring for Numair. Then, in a sleepy haze, she remembered his name, and the conversation they’d had over the pig bucket.

Ronan was staring at her in something close to horror, and she blushed and looked down at her hands. The distraction didn’t work, because under his burning gaze she saw them as if for the first time. They were thinner than they should be, almost skeletal, with fingers which were swollen and blackened and a livid bruise spreading over one wrist. She glanced up at the horrified guard, and tucked her hand into her lap.

“I don’t want to know what I look like, Ronan.” she said, her voice soft. “I don’t. Please don’t tell me. Please don’t look at me like that. I don’t need your pity. I don’t want it. I can’t bear it. So don’t.”

“Daine.” He seemed to relax, stepping closer to her and kneeling down on the rug as if she were his equal. Dane had to remind herself that he was; the longer she stayed here, the more she started thinking like a slave again.

Still, the healer’s words were soft and rapid, and she smiled at even that simple gentleness as he continued.

“I’ve been sent to heal you. I… I volunteered. Dakinn didn’t want to come all the way along the trail to the north lookout tower, and the others said…” he closed his mouth with a snap and shrugged ruefully at her expression. “Well, you already know how things are done around here. How they think. I’m so sorry.”

There was so much more in his words than their simple meaning. Daine knew he was telling her the same thing as he had when she’d been locked up before: he was sorry that he couldn’t help her. And yet he was giving her information, too.

She knew where she was, now. The lookout towers loomed on the cliff tops above the keeps, balanced precariously with solid foundations cut into the rock of the craggy mountains. A long time ago they had been built to watch the next valley, but now they were abandoned. It was too much trouble to send someone along the long trails between the keeps and their towers just to stare out into the sky in the freezing wind. She blinked, and belatedly realised what Ronan had said.

“Of all the people in here,” she said, “You’ve got the least to apologise for, I reckon. And that includes me, so don’t be apologising to me, either. Can we talk? You used my real name, so I guess the listening spells are turned off.”

He smiled thinly and nodded, reaching for her hands. When she instinctively flinched and drew back his eyes narrowed and some of his sympathetic manner faded.

“If you don’t want to be healed that’s fair enough, but you should know I’m on a schedule, girl. They don’t want me in here for long.”

“In case I corrupt you?” She responded tartly, letting him take her hand and watching as he bowed his head over it. Butter yellow magic seeped into her skin for a moment, and then he frowned as if he’d just heard her question.

“No, you idiot. It’s fair foolish of you to make fun of Orsille. Perhaps ‘protective’ is the wrong word, but he damn sure doesn’t want another person to come anywhere near you.”

“Protective?” she repeated the syllables, and smiled mockingly at her bruised skin. “Yes, I’m basking in his loving protection. Can’t you tell?”

“I can’t heal all of this damage.” He ignored her, drawing his magic back as he finished scanning her body and speaking briskly. “I will heal anything that might hurt the child… and your ribs, there’re two that are broken, and so are a few of your fingers. I guess he was feeling particularly loving, the rat-faced bastard. Is there anything else you’d like me to try?”

“I didn’t realise it was that bad,” she whispered, and wrapped her hands around herself, feeling suddenly cold. “Do you have enough magic?”

“It’s time that’s in short supply.” He said curtly. “I’ll take that as a no, then. Lie down and for the gods’ sake, don’t wriggle.”

She did as he asked, moving painfully, and then glanced up at him to see that he was watching her with an odd expression on his face. She recognised pity, and hated it, and decided to ignore the anger which she was sure wasn’t directed at her. Even so, seeing it on the face of someone she still instinctively thought of as a guard mage made her shiver. It was the third emotion that made her pause, and realise that some of his coldness, at least, was defensive. He hesitated when she lay down, unable to touch her, and she decided to rescue him.

“Is it hard to decide where to start? Please heal my baby first,” she said softly, and took his hand to press it against the curve of her stomach. He glanced at her, mouth open to make some retort, and she let her hand drop away as if she’d been scolded. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tell you what to do.”

“Is it Orsille’s?” He asked, bowing his head again to meditate. He swatted at her when she flinched at the idea. “Stay still, idiot. Do you want me to accidentally heal your eyelashes?”

“It’s Numair’s.” She said simply, and then thought to add, “The hawk mage they had me heal.”

“I know who Numair is, girl. Do you think I listened in with my ears closed?” He rolled his eyes and finished his healing, then moved his hands to her ribs and glanced at her. “This will hurt a little.”

She was silent for a moment, catching her breath at the sharp pain of her ribs clicking into place, before she said. “He knows about the baby.”

“No surprise there,” the healer said tartly. “I assume he was present at its creation, for a start.”

“Did they teach you that at healer class?” She returned, irritable because of the risk she was about to take in trusting this man. He was close to being a stranger, but he was also someone who she had silently known for years, and who had been kind to her when it was a risk to his own safety. She took another breath, winced as the final rib fused into wholeness, and then said. “Well, I told him. Yesterday.”

“Mm.” He pressed a finger to a bruise absently, watching it fade, and then looked up with wide eyes. His coarse voice cracked in surprise.“Yesterday?”

“It’s a good thing there are no listening spells today, huh?” She asked, and smiled wickedly at the expression in his eyes. “Yesterday. Yes. I can’t tell you how. But you did ask me to warn you before we burned this place to the ground.”

“You’ve been locked up in this tower, or in your cell, for five months, Daine.” He said intensely. “How on earth are you talking to someone outside?”

“Well, for a start, when I tell them I can’t tell them something, they don’t waste time asking me about it.” She said, making a mental note of the timeframe.

He reddened a little, and she continued urgently, “Can I speak? I’m asking you for your help. Please. If you stay here, then my friends will hurt you. If you leave, then the officials will hurt your family. If you help me, even a little, perhaps together we can find a way to break this place open from the inside. I have a plan. I'll need your help. If you really can’t then I understand, but please don’t tell anyone. I... I can keep going on my own.”

“Do you want to get yourself killed?” He hissed, and grabbed her broken hand in a strong grip. She cursed broadly at the pain even as he shook her and let go. “This is what that man does to people when he likes them, Daine! You haven’t seen anything close to his anger, not yet. The man isplaying with you. Do you want to push him over the edge?”

“Yes.” She said, and meant it. “I really do.”


“The girl is sure to miscarry.” Ronan said flatly, his head ducked down respectfully even though he had gone to the official’s office un-summoned the next morning. Orsille was silent, so the healer decided to fill the gap.

“I’m not sayin’ you need to stop… um, your meetings with her, er… sir. But if you want to carry on as you are then she’ll need healing more often. Regular, like. I don’t know if you care about the brat she’s carrying, but she’s a hostage, isn’t she? If she loses the baby it’s fair likely she’ll die, with it. She’s weaker than she looks. In a few weeks we could probably reverse some of the damage, but it’ll take some work. I don’t mind doing it. It’s annoying, but I guess I’m the one who couldn’t think of a way to fix her quickly.”

Orsille scratched his chin thoughtfully.

He doesn’t even look ashamed. Ronan thought with a flash of hatred, keeping his expression carefully respectful. He’s just been told he’s tortured a pregnant woman to the point of death, and he doesn’t give a damn.

It hadn’t been a lie, either. That was what made it so easy to follow Daine’s plan. She’d suggested the story as a way to let them speak more often, and the healer had to stop himself from demanding to know how she was so calm if she knew how sick she was. He’d stopped himself when he realised that she didn’t know. As far as Daine was concerned, it was a lie. Ronan didn’t want her to know the truth when there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

He agreed to her story and then suggested that she try sleeping more. Daine laughed with genuine amusement, and asked him what on earth else he thought she had to do all day. Ronan scowled sourly at being teased, and had left her without another word.

“They’re planning something,” Orsille said, his voice slow as he stared out of the window towards the pass. Now that spring was blossoming into summer the road was alive with flowers and insects, and the birds were so loud that their voices seemed to echo around the valley.

No-one in the keep could remember a year when so many birds had flocked to roost in their walls. Some were even calling it auspicious, knowing that the Tortallan army was gathering on the other side of the valley walls. The birds, they said, were hailing the Gallan victory. Let’s see how many roost in their camp!

“Then you’ll need leverage, I guess,” Ronan made himself shrug, and his words were cold. “It’d be easier to just let her die, mind. I’m sure they’ll believe she died from the child. Happens to women all the time.”

“No.” The official’s voice was curt, and the healer breathed a mental sigh of relief. “No, I want... we need her alive. Take the key from Dakinn and go in the mornings, if you must go at all. I don’t want to see you there. But let me remind you that she’s a prisoner, just like the others. We will not make a special concession for this woman simply because she’s breeding. She’s here to be punished, not pampered. I won’t have her getting spoiled. Save your magic and only heal her if it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Surely any physical damage…” Ronan started, trying to speak with the indisputable voice of a healer. Orsille interrupted him with the greater authority of an official.

“Since when does a whore need her hands to carry a brat to term?” He sneered crudely, his voice barbed when he lingered on the words ‘hands’.

Ronan paled, realising then how close he’d come to infuriating the man. Of all the officials in the keep, Orsille had the power to send the soldiers out after anyone’s family with the sure knowledge that no-one would dare to challenge him. Most people didn’t get the chance to cross the man twice.

“You placed no restrictions on her healing, sir.” He said stiffly. “I had no orders until now, and of course I’ll follow them from now on.”

“See that you do.” Orsille sighed and turned away from the window, shaking his head as if the healer were an ignorant child he had to correct. “It saddens me, though, that our employees don’t seem to be able to think clearly. Did it not occur to you that I do all things for good reasons? She’s a wild mage, you idiot. She’s trained the birds to carry notes for her to her friends in the Tortallan camp. I can’t kill every sparrow in Galla. That would be ridiculous, but I can stop her from holding a piece of charcoal.”

“That’s…” Ronan started, and then closed his mouth with a snap. “Why didn’t you just tell her to stop, sir?”

“Tell her?” Orsille grinned, and the points of his teeth showed clearly against his purplish lip. “Why on earth would I do that? I want to see what she’ll try next! In fact…” he looked thoughtful, a smile playing around his eyes, and then looked up and waved a hand irritably. “Ah, be off with you. Get the spare key from Dakinn, and for the gods’ sake, try to have an intelligent thought between now and the winter.”

Ronan left in a dark mood, and walked into a woman who was opening the door to the office as he was leaving. He flinched back and bowed, recognising the woman from her fine silks and haughty expression. She raised an eyebrow at him, said nothing, and waited for him to leave before clicking the door shut behind her.

Ronan hesitated, and then leaned against the wall. Casting a small spell on one ear, he edged as close to the door as he dared, and listened with increased hearing as the woman spoke.


“Karenna!” There was a rustle of fabric, and the sound of the man kissing his daughter’s cheek. His voice was different, strangely jovial. “My dear, what are you doing here?”

“Perhaps I came to see you!” She retorted, with a hint of mischief in her cultured voice. The official laughed softly, and Ronan heard him pulling the chair out so his daughter could sit down. She thanked him, and then sighed dramatically. “In truth, papa, I... things aren’t working too well. I can’t make him believe me.”

“Perhaps you should try harder,” the man replied, and there was a warning tone in his words. Karenna seemed not to notice, or at any rate her light voice didn’t change much when she answered.

“Well, you... we... kidnapped that girl, and he adores her, so of course he doesn’t trust us. He thinks it’s a trick.”

“How astute of him.” Orsille’s voice was almost amused, and Karenna laughed.

“Yes, well. I was wondering if there was anything else that you knew about that girl, things that could make the difference. I... there was a moment when there was real doubt in his eyes, you know? I think I can use it. I think I can convince him, but I need to know more than just a... a second-hand story.”

The official was quiet for a long moment, and then his voice was slow. “I don’t know anything like that to tell you. I never asked her. Frankly, I don’t care what goes on inside her head, and besides, she’d only lie about it.”

“That doesn’t help me, father.”

“Well, why don’t you speak to her yourself? Find out whatever you can that way?”

“Ugh, do I have to?” Ronan could almost imagine the refined lady wrinkling her nose in disgust. Orsille’s footsteps became heavier, as if he were slightly annoyed as he paced the room.

“I don’t think,” he said impatiently, “That you quite grasp what’s going on here. My army is quite evenly matched with that... that knight’s. My mages will be strong enough to stop her magic, legendary as she is. But the hawk? Who knows what he can do?”

Orsille slammed his hand on something so loudly that Ronan had to stop himself from jumping, knowing that if he made a sound he would be found out.

“Karenna, he slaughtered half the officials in this valley with the same amount of effort it takes you to get dressed in the morning. No-one saw him enter or leave their houses, but they damn well saw what he did to them. And then he stopped. He just stopped. Why, Karenna? What is he planning?” He was breathing heavily, and his voice grew intense. “I need to know. It could change this war. So if it takes you swallowing your pride and talking to my slave for half an hour, then you’ll damn well do it.”

Karenna’s voice was sulky. “You don’t have to blame me for all those deaths. You said yourself that those men were stupid.”

He relented slightly. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, my dear. It’s not so much of a chore. I’ll buy you a new dress when we get home, how about that? That thing you’re wearing is quite travel stained.”

The girl was silent for a moment, but Ronan heard the relief in her father’s voice when he said, “There, that’s better. Who could resist that smile? I’m sure you’ll have the hawk eating out of your hand before long.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 49 of 69

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