Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 5 of 69

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“Is she dead?”

Numair swam up from the dark oblivion of pain that passed for sleep these days and tried to get his eyes to focus. He could hear perfectly, even though most of what he could hear was his blood pounding in his ears. The voice wasn’t curious at all; it sounded like it simply didn’t care. That made him angry enough to tear his eyes open and fix the man in a glare.

To his surprise, the healer took a step back and gripped the edge of the doorframe with his stubby fingers. The mage wondered what on earth they thought a dying man could possibly do to them. Then he remembered that the twisted body of the girl was lying on the floor between them, soaked in blood. He looked down at her, and after a moment saw the slight rise of her chest as she breathed. Cold, clear relief flooded through him like water, and his spinning head focused in his anger.

“Heal her.” He said out loud, wishing his broken voice had the same strength he was used to. The other man leaned against the door frame, raising an eyebrow enquiringly.

“Why should I?”

“Why should you? Are you really that stupid? That heartless? She’s a person! A human being!” He was furious, but the shouted words came out as a harsh croak. The healer laughed and nudged the girl with his foot.

“You know, you’re wrong about that.” His voice was almost serious. “She’s not. She’s an animal, a wild creature. They were calling her a werewolf when we caught her – isn’t that a good name? Only an animal would have done what she did. They wanted to slaughter her, to see what her true shape would be when she died. We told them that she was immortal, that she could only be destroyed by silver.” He smirked and looked up, meeting Numair’s eyes as the sick man stared back at him in revulsion. “Well, that much was true enough.”

“And then you brought her here?” The mage demanded, “To... to this?”

“We collect rarities.” The healer drawled, losing interest in telling stories. “But she really is an animal. She’s even lost the ability to speak. We’re starting to think someone hexed their pet dog, honestly. Six years, we’ve had her, and she’s just getting worse.”

“And you... you think that makes what you’re doing to her... somehow acceptable?” Even the nonchalant healer took a step back at the pure fury in the mage’s voice. It crackled in his eyes with black fire, and the air seemed to breathe in around him. The healer clung to the door frame with white knuckles which blistered as the air heated with every accusation. “I don’t think you believe any of that for a second. You know she’s human. You took a little girl, a child, and made up a pathetic excuse to lock her away...”

He looked for a second like he was going to blast the healer with the fire which burned in his eyes, and the flames even licked up his fingertips for a breathless second, blackening the mage’s fingertips as the healer shrieked and ducked behind the stone wall. Then, with a choking gasp, Numair clutched desperately at his own hands as the fingers darkened and lengthened into satiny dark feathers. Forcing his eyes shut, he forced himself to calm down, shuddering, until the feathers shrank back into his skin. The healer watched with some interest, but his voice was cold when he finally spoke.

“We didn’t have to make up an excuse. Every prisoner we have is here because they deserve it. You might think on what that means for you, Hawk Mage.” He nodded to someone outside the door.

The guard lugged in a new basket of wood and another hessian bag of food and supplies. Unlike the healer, the man stopped short as he saw the girl, his eyes shocked at the sight of her. The healer scowled and shoved at the man’s shoulder, hurrying him up. For a split second the guard looked like he would obey without question, setting the bag next to the bed and the basket beside the fire. Then, impulsively, he leaned down to pick the girl up and carried her limp body over to the fireplace, where he laid her down carefully, if not too gently. Before he returned to the doorway the man threw another log onto the fire and waited for it to catch.

“Help her.” Numair heard his voice pleading. He felt his head spinning. He didn’t know if it was his fever returning after using his magic, or his confused thoughts torturing him. The guard looked at the healer, who shook his head.

“I can’t. The chains make it impossible. And I wouldn’t want to, anyway.” He scowled at the guard reprovingly as the man dusted off his hands and left the room. “We only heal people who deserve it.”

“What’s her name?” The mage whispered, raising his fingertips dizzily to his head. Without the willow bark tea the gash across his stomach had started throbbing hotly, sending nausea and pain into every cell of his body. The healer’s face spun in front of him, eyes blank.

“She doesn’t have one. Never told us. Never speaks.” He seemed to relent slightly and bent down over the huddled body, resting one stubby hand against the girl’s throat. “Stop your whining, Hawk Mage. She’ll live. You, on the other hand, are fair set to feed the worms. If this twisted protection game you’ve got going has any teeth, you’re going to have to be more selfish and look to your own wounds.” He laughed and waved cheerily, then left the room.

It might have been hours later, but Numair was still conscious enough to realise that even minutes would feel like hours with this pain, when the spinning slowed down a little. He forced his hands not to wander towards the wound, knowing that he might feel enough fresh blood seeping through the bandages to make him panic. Instead, he pulled the hessian bag closer, wincing at the small movement, and unpicked the string that held it shut. Wrapped in a scrap of cloth at the mouth of the bag were a wealth of pieces of bark, and he nearly wept in relief. He crammed a large chunk in his mouth and chewed until his jaw ached. The fire subsided, and he sighed in relief.

A pair of accusing grey eyes were staring at him, reflecting the flames from the fire. He took the bark out of his mouth and set it aside carefully. He moved slowly, as if she were a frightened kitten, and then hated himself for even making the comparison. She wasn’t an animal, that was just the healer’s depraved idea.

“Did you sleep well?” He asked, “Are you feeling better?”

She didn’t answer. Her eyes narrowed. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair awkwardly.

“Look, you had to sleep. You needed to heal. I just put you to sleep, I swear it. I should have told you I spelled the tea, but it was cursed difficult to get you to drink it even without that!”

The girl reached up painfully to the top of the fireplace and dragged herself upright. She hissed between her teeth, but only once, and steadied herself against the water barrel. Ignoring the man, she looked down into the water.

How can they think she’s mute? Don’t they ever watch her? Even she doesn’t know how much she gives away! Numair thought, watching her trying not to flinch away from her reflection.

He knew it was sheer stubborn pride which gave her the strength to stagger over to the table, to pick up a rag, to return to the water. She soaked the rag and cleaned off the blood, at first methodically, then scrubbing at it with a kind of fury. Her gaze shifted from the reflection to her clothes, and without even bothering to look around she began to wrench the fabric from her skin. The man quickly turned his face away and shut his eyes. Something told him that she’d never forgive him for seeing her like that – and he didn’t mean her bruised, bared skin. If she thought he’d seen the raw, naked emotions written on her face, in her tense shoulders and shaking hands, then any tentative connection they might have would be gone forever.

He heard uneven footsteps and the hiss of fabric as she picked the blanket up off the floor to wrap around herself. Then there was silence. He looked around, and saw that she was sorting through the hessian bag. All traces of emotion had been wiped from her face, and her eyes were as cold as ice. The men had left a clean, patched tunic in the bottom of the bag, and she slid it on without pausing.

She knew it would be there. Numair realised, and the thought made him want to retch. This has happened before.

She wouldn’t have been with another person afterwards, though. They’d’ve left her in some locked room, on her own, until she healed. She could shut herself away behind those cold eyes and keep all the pain and anger to herself, and no-one would ever hear how loudly she was screaming on the inside. And I guess there’s a kind of dignity in that- in dealing with it on your own, and having something to own, even if it is just your own pride and it makes you mute. And now I’m here, and she can’t even do that.

Without really thinking about it, the mage reached out to the girl who sat on the floor beside his bed, and stroked her hair. It was damp from the rain barrel. He almost expected her to flinch and run away, but she sat quite still, head bowed, waiting blankly for him to finish so she could move again. He flushed and stopped.

She changed his bandages in the same blank silence, wincing a few times at some action but never looking at him. He had to talk, then, if only to distract himself from the pain when she frowned and started rethreading her needle.

“Am I forgiven, little one?”

She didn’t even bother looking up. He mentally shrugged and tried another tactic. “Look, we’re kind of stuck with each other here. We can’t just sit around all day in complete silence. Well, maybe you can!” he laughed shortly, and had to hide a genuine grin when she couldn’t help flashing a glare his way. Sure, the movement had probably started him bleeding again, but there was a kind of giddiness in his head which was gleefully trying to break through her shell. He chattered on inanely, occasionally winning a sidelong look or another glare, but nothing really worked until he had almost given up.

“I think I surrender.” He sighed, “You know, I went to university? I’ve had debates with some of the most brilliant thinkers in the world. If they knew I’d been defeated by the silent treatment they’d laugh at me until they were sick. Well done, I guess.” He looked up, expecting her to be looking away, but she was actually meeting his eyes with something close to curiosity. For the first time she didn’t rapidly look away, but raised her eyebrows in a question before tying off the last knot on his bandage.

“What do you want to know about? People laughing at me? You’re a bully.”

The corners of her eyes lightened in something close to laughter, and he smiled in reply. “You want to hear about the university?” She nodded, and pointed out of the window. When he looked confused she rolled her eyes and pointed at herself, then at the ground, then at him, then to the distant horizon.

“Yes, it was far away, in Carthak.” He understood, “You’ve never left Galla?”

She shrugged, then shook her head. He started to ask another question, but she scowled at him and went to prepare some more willow bark tea and unpack the food from the bag before making an odd gesture that asked him to speak again. He guessed she didn’t make the gesture very often, and she looked embarrassed for even asking.

“Do you forgive me?” He asked, and then when she looked away he pressed, “It’s important to me. I can’t think straight when my friends are angry with me.”

She had looked irritated when he started speaking, but she spun around with eyes impossibly wide by the end of his sentence. Did he imagine it, or did her lips move to shape the word? Either way, she formed a question that was nearly incredulous. He smiled warmly and held a hand out to her. “We are friends, aren’t we?”

If the frank disbelief in her eyes had been any brighter she would have lit up the room. As it was, she stared at him for a long time in paralysed wonder, and the brightness gradually became a simple, childlike happiness as she realised he was serious. When she took his hand in agreement she smiled, and the genuine expression glowed with a strange beauty so unlike her usual thin, waif-like expression that he was taken aback. He kept hold of her hand, and after a moment realised that she was shaking from tiredness and pain.

He painfully pushed himself closer to the wall, thanking the gods that they were both so thin, and cleared a space for her on the bed. “Lie down, little one.” He said quietly, “It’s more comfortable than the floor, and you need good sleep as much as I do!” She hesitated and he smiled crookedly. “Don’t make me witch you again! Come on, I’ll tell you about Carthak.”

That seemed to decide her. She smiled a thank-you and banked the fire, picked up the blanket, and lay down next to him. Her eyes shone in the firelight when Numair described the jewelled palaces of distant lands, but he’d barely started his story before her eyes fluttered shut. The mage sighed and stared at the ceiling, finding that sleep was very far from his mind. His thoughts demanded to be spoken, and so he whispered them to the girl curled up beside him. She stirred in her dream but did not wake, but it didn’t matter if she heard the thought or not. Numair’s soft, simple words held a deadly promise.

“I’m going to get you out of this place. I swear it.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 5 of 69

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