Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 50 of 69

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“This is it.” The man’s voice sounded like he was trying too hard to be indifferent as he took a bronze key out of his pocket and opened the heavy lock on the ancient door.

Karenna couldn’t stop herself from peering through the doorway curiously, barely seeing anything in the darkness. As her eyes cleared, she saw that it was a large room with nothing more than a single fireplace and a tiny barred window in it. The floor was lined with a thick carpet which looked bizarrely out of place against the dark, dingy room. The place smelled of copper and of mildew, and it was completely silent.
For a confused second Karenna thought that there was no-one in there, and her heart raced as she thought the girl had managed to escape. Then her father took three steps across the room and into the shadows, and hauled something to its feet in a harsh rattle of iron chains. Grey eyes caught the dim light, and Karenna found herself lowering her gaze so she didn’t have to meet the other girl’s glare.

“Creature,” Orsille drawled in a voice completely alien to the one Karenna knew. “My daughter wants to speak with you.”

The eyes flicked upwards, but Daine said nothing. Karenna took a breath to ask something, and then gasped when her father raised his hand. She cringed back from the sound of the blow, her own eyes stinging with tears as the other girl raised her head dizzily and glared at the official. He pulled her closer.

“You will show respect.” He hissed.

“Father, don’t...” the girl started, her voice a hoarse croak which stopped with a squeak when her father dropped the girl roughly to the floor and looked around. She barely recognised the father she loved in the twisted expression she saw. She was almost backing away when a small voice cut across the breathless silence.

“Lady Karenna,” Daine said softly, and bowed her head in a shadow of the elegant manner she had learned from Hazelle. “You’re wearing a new belt.”

Karenna blinked, and looked down at the plain leather girdle which encircled her waist. She realised the other woman’s meaning straight away, and bit back a hysterical laugh.

She knows! If I had believed father’s story then of course I’d be wearing it... gloating over her.

She blushed at the memory of her childish pettiness, and forced her lips into a thin line. “What I wear is none of your business, slave.”

Orsille’s face twisted into an approving smile, and he looked almost amenable again as he slowly released Daine’s arm. “Creature,” he said, “My daughter has some questions for you, about your little confession. You were complaining about having no-one to talk to, weren’t you? So I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say.”

“I’d almost rather you beat it out of me than make me talk to that bitch.” Daine said flatly, but there was something off about her words. Her eyes flickered to meet Karenna’s in something close to an apology, before returning to glare stubbornly at Orsille. Karenna felt almost sick at the seething fury on her father’s face, but Daine laughed mockingly at his expression. “Oh, what’s this? Your darling little daughter doesn’t know you at all, does she?”

“Karenna,” Orsille said in a dangerous voice, “Wait outside.”

“No,” the girl breathed, and stepped forward to lay a soothing hand on her father’s arm. “Father, it’s just because... because you’re here. I’m sure if you left us I could speak to her. Please, let me try.”

He blinked, and drew a ragged breath. “If she speaks to you like that again, or says anything...”

“I’ll tell you.” Karenna insisted, and gently drew her father’s hand into her own to walk him to the door. She lowered her voice so Daine couldn't hear her, knowing full well that the other woman honestly had no reason to believe she was there to help. “Please, father, let me do this. You said it was important. I can tell that the more you threaten her, the less she’ll tell us. She’s being a… a stubborn bitch because you're here. Please let me try.”

He smiled and patted her hand, his black mood seemingly gone. “You’re a good girl, Karenna.” He raised his voice, and the pleasant words held so little malice that both woman shivered. “I’ll see you later tonight, Annette.”

“I hope you rot in chaos.” Daine spat after him, holding her bruised face. He laughed.

Karenna waited for the door to click shut behind her father before she rushed forward to the girl, and stopped short when Daine held up a hand with a warning look in her eyes. She tilted her head sideways, listening intently, and it was only when the last footstep had faded into the distance that she opened her eyes and nodded that it was safe for them to talk.

“Your real name is Daine, and Leto... he’s really called Numair.” Karenna said in a quick, soft voice. “You told father a lie, but he believes it. You knew Numair wouldn’t believe a word of it. I don’t believe it either. But I’m pretending I do, so I have an excuse to speak to you, and go back to the Tortallans, without my father realising that I... I want his plan to fail.” She twisted her hands together awkwardly and walked to the window, not looking around. “And... I’m sorry for everything I said before. There. That’s all of it.”

There was a long pause, and she heard the other girl draw a surprised breath as if to speak, and then stop herself. There was a rustle of cloth on stone as Daine sat down and leaned wearily against the wall, pressing her aching head to the stone wall to numb the bruise Orsille had given her. The birds sang outside, and Daine listened to them as she thought.

“I never would have guessed,” She eventually said, “That you would react like this. Never. Out of all the things I planned, I would never have dreamed that you’d actually want to help me.”

“It isn’t just about you,” Karenna couldn’t stop her voice from sounding haughty, but it was more a habit than anything else. She sat down on the floor next to the other girl, tucking her legs gracefully under her and explaining about her mother. Daine listened in sympathetic silence but didn’t say anything, fiddling with the tattered edge of her green dress with stiff hands that were oddly coloured and swollen. Karenna forced herself not to wince or look away.

“Why are you here?” Daine asked eventually, looking up. “I can understand you going to talk to Numair. I knew you would, that was the whole idea! But why come here?”

The other woman looked around the room, taking in the dark blood stains on the rug now that her eyes had adjusted to the light and could see past the dark shadows. Now that she was here, the bright world outside and the plans she had made in it seemed feeble. She searched for a word. “Doesn't it bring you comfort?”

Daine smiled sardonically and wrapped her arms around her knees, the gesture slightly awkward because of the curve of her pregnancy. “How very kind of you, mistress Karenna. I am truly comforted.” Her voice took on a serious note, as she leaned forward urgently, “Tell me – please, I mean... how is Numair? I mean, really? When he thinks people can’t see him, how does he look? I’m worried about him.”

Karenna frowned and steepled her fingers, feeling decidedly uncomfortable as she realised she was turning into a courier between a man she had loved and a woman she had loathed. “He’s more worried about you. He sent me with a message.”

“But I can...” Daine sounded confused, “I’ll hear it myself.”

“Yes, through the birds, right?” She cut across the younger girl’s words, and Daine’s eyes opened wide in shock.

“You know about that?”

Karenna smiled, feeling slightly smug at being part of the conspiracy. “He thought you might need some proof that you can trust me. He knows you can’t cast a truth spell on me, like he and the lady Alanna did. So he told me a secret instead.” The lightness in her voice faded. “He says you’re to stop doing it. He doesn’t know how you’re doing it, but he says that it has to be dangerous, and with the baby...” her eyes drifted unconsciously to the swell of Daine’s belly, and she looked away uncomfortably. Daine took a sharp breath and looked away.

“Fine,” she said, “Tonight I’ll...”

“No, not tonight. You’re not to do it ever again. He said that.” Karenna persisted. “Don’t you understand? Are you stupid? It’s too dangerous!”

“But I...” Daine’s voice grew quiet, and she rested her forehead on her knees helplessly. “But I... how else can I see him? I know something’s wrong. I just know it. There’s something... I can’t...” her shoulders moved unconsciously, and Karenna realised that she was trying not to cry. “I want to see him. I have to know he’s alright. It’s the only thing I ha... have left, Karenna. Why is he t...taking it away from me?”

“I’m sorry,” Karenna moved forward instinctively and rested her hand on the girl’s head, feeling her shake as she tried not to sob out loud. Daine said nothing, and without thinking Karenna wrapped her arms around the girl and let her cry, her own eyes filling with tears.

In that moment she realised that Annette, the girl she’d been jealous of for so many months, was completely imaginary. This Daine was a real person, with thoughts and feelings of her own. It was too much for Karenna to bear. It had been easy enough to think in plans and conspiracies and messages, but she felt her heart twist at the idea that out of everything vile had been thrown at this girl, the only thing she couldn’t bear was being separated from the man she loved. It made Karenna’s whimsical affections seem pitiful. She stroked Daine’s hair, not caring that her silk dress was being marked with tears.

“I thought you didn’t cry,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “They all say...”

Daine sniffled and wiped her eyes, “I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to.” She looked up, and there was an odd defiance in her eyes. “I can’t show weakness. Not here. If your father saw...” her expression twisted and she looked away, seeing the expression in the other woman’s eyes.

“I know what he does to you.” Karenna said, not knowing why she felt the need to say the bitter words. Seeing this room made her father’s twisted monstrosities seem more real. Daine shrugged and swallowed as if she felt sick, not meeting the girl’s sympathetic look.

“You don’t.” She said shortly, and her voice sounded like it was coming from someone completely different. The words were filled with disgust, with pain, and with something that was almost guilt. “You don’t know any of it. Not a bit. What do you think you see – a few drops of blood and a new bruise on my face? Please.” She laughed scornfully and twisted her slave chain around her wrist so violently her skin went red. “Your precious father’s lust for me is the only thing that keeps me alive. The vile things I’ve done to keep that lust burning torture me far more than he ever could. And he knows that. Do you know that? He thinks it’s funny.”

“No. No, I didn’t know…”

“No, you don’t. Do you want to know more? Since you want to pretend to understand your father’s little slave?” Daine’s voice rose, and tears shone in her furious eyes even though this time she obstinately refused shed a single one. “How about I tell you about the sky? I’m not allowed to see it, you know. I can’t even see out of that window. I have to earn it. If he’s feeling generous your bastard of a father chains my wrists to those bars and I can look out of them all I please while he takes his damn payment, and afterwards I have to thank him or else he won’t bring me water for days afterwards. And how do you think I have to say thank you, Karenna? Tell me, since you know what he does to me.”

“I don’t know. I don’t. I’m so sorry. I just meant that I… I know you’re alive.” Karenna said in a voice filled with tears. “That’s more than the others he did this to. But I know that’s not… not enough.”

Daine bit off her retort and forced her blazing eyes to the floor. She took a deep breath and Karenna watched as her placid mask slowly returned to her bruised face. When the girl was calm again she looked up.

“Did you tell Numair?” She asked, and smiled when Karenna hesitated and shook her head. “Good. Then please don’t.”

“But he asked me to report back...” Karenna stopped as Daine shook her head curtly and rose to her feet, the chain clinking around her ankle as she walked to the window and stared out at the sunset-lit bars.

“And what good will that do, Karenna? He knows things are bad. He doesn’t need to know how bad. It will only make him angry, and... and if I’m right and the Hawk is...” Daine blinked and stopped talking abruptly. She held her hand out, and Karenna watched in wonder as a tiny starling squeezed through the window and flew into the girl’s palm. Daine smiled at the creature and stroked its back with a gentle finger, her eyes softening.

“I suppose I... I’m not so very alone.” She said in gentle tones.

“You won’t be for much longer, anyway.” Karenna said, standing up to look more closely at the bird with wide eyes. “Not if his plan works. That’s the other reason why I’m here. He said, uhm...” she pursed her lips, and smiled at the curious expression on Daine’s face. “We’re going to carry on with your story, Daine. I can come and go from here, and take messages if you like. I won’t be searched. They wouldn’t dare!” She pulled a fierce face for a moment, and grinned when Daine choked back a laugh.

“Does this mean we’re going to be friends?” Daine asked in a teasing voice, smiling as she raised her hand to the window and watched the bird fly away. Karenna shrugged.

“Well, you’re a lot nicer when you’re not pretending to be a noble,” she said, and although her voice was serious her eyes laughed.

Daine looked sidelong at her. “So are you.”

Karenna hid a grimace, and the other girl grinned at the offended expression. The genuine smile transformed her whole bearing. Suddenly she seemed more confident, and her words were bright.

“Okay,” she said, “So what’s the plan? I refuse to believe the high and mighty lady Karenna is happy to just be a messenger!”

Karenna looked at her feet, forcing herself to say the words she’d been dreading since Alanna and Numair had decided on them. “Father wants Numair on his side. He’s offered him a deal – if he comes back here, and willingly puts one of those chain things on, then he’ll be treated well. Like an official, you know? The chain wouldn’t even be real, it’d just be for show. Numair thinks he can gain father’s trust by betraying the Tortallans... or at least, looking like he is. So it will take a few days for me to ‘convince’ him, and then he’ll turn himself over to my father. When Alanna attacks, he’ll be able to fight from inside the keep.”

Daine covered her face with her hand for a moment, and took a deep breath. “They won’t torture him? They promise that?”

“Father says he's too valuable.” Karenna’s voice showed exactly how much she trusted her father, but Daine looked reassured by the words. She smiled shakily and lowered her hand, resting it unconsciously on her stomach as she thought.

“Well,” she said, “I should think of some secrets to confess to you. He’ll need to be very convincing.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 50 of 69

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