Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 51 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

It was early in the morning when the door creaked open a week later. Daine barely stirred, used enough to Ronan coming to heal her that hearing the door open didn’t make her feel the same rush of wakeful terror that haunted her evenings. A hand lightly brushed her hair away from her face.

“Wake up, petal.” Orsille said, grinning when she flinched away. “I’ve brought you a gift.”

It was a dress, made of a greenish-yellow fabric. Daine blinked at it, wondering if she was still asleep as the official held it out with a patient smile.

“It’s very becoming, my dear. Don’t you want it?” He asked, with the same expression playing about his face. Daine pushed herself upright and further away, wrapping her arms around her knees and trying to break through her absolute bafflement. Her back thudded against a bucket, and she smelled hot soapy water.

“From you? No.” She croaked. He grinned and folded the dress neatly before putting it down beside her.

“You need it, though. You’ve torn your own dress to shreds. You remember? You used it to send messages to your friends.”

Daine paled, and then collected herself with a wry, mocking smile. “What messages? Are you so mad that you’re imagining things, now?”

He sighed and sat down, copying her posture with a playfulness that matched his voice. “I’m not angry with you. It’s been easier to watch which way the birds fly than to send scouts over the entire valley. You’ve been most helpful. Now, don’t you want to go outside?”

“Outside?” She echoed, and felt her eyes being drawn irresistibly towards the window that she’d never been able to reach. Her voice became quiet, almost tearfully wistful. “Yes, I... I want to go outside.”

“Then get washed and dressed.” He stood up briskly and dusted off his clothes, ignoring her stunned expression. “We’re going for a walk.”

The dress was beautiful. Daine wondered if Orsille was making some twisted point, dressing her in a mockery of the clothes she had worn outside of the walls, or perhaps it was one of Karenna’s old dresses. The soft underdress has had gracefully tapered sleeves that fastened at her wrists with tiny bead buttons, while the overdress was a deeper green which was held shut in an empire-line by a brown cord edged with yellow shells. She scrubbed the dirt from her body and hair and drew the fabric on.

The overdress felt oddly scratchy as she slipped it over her head, and she frowned and pulled the neckline away from her chest. The underside of the fabric seemed to shimmer in front of her eyes for a moment, and then it faded to look like normal fabric. The hemline, unlike the rest of the garment, was sewn with clumsy, hasty stitches. Something about it made Daine frown. Some of the stitches looked almost like…

“Are you done?” Orsille’s voice was impatient, and she jumped and quickly tied the dress shut with aching fingers. She was tempted to goad him, to tell him she’d be quicker if he’d allowed Ronan to heal her hands, but she pressed her lips tightly together. The last thing she wanted was for him to change his mind. The thought of walking in the sunlight and feeling the breeze on her skin was too much to resist. She finished the last tie and nodded.

He looked her up and down and then raised his fingers to her cheek, pursing his lips as he studied the remains of the livid bruise he’d given her. His magic flared for a moment, and Daine shut her eyes against the brightness of it.

“You’re healing me?” She asked incredulously. “You found out I’ve been sending notes to your enemies and you cure me?”

“Don’t move.” He ordered flatly, and moved to cure her swollen hands. A small wan smile crossed his face when she winced at the bones moving into place. “I always found it very ironic that I was born a healer. I imagine the gods are enjoying a joke at my expense.”

“Perhaps it was a hint.” She muttered, but the man ignored her. Letting go of her hands, he took a step back and looked her critically up and down.

“Well, you still look like a cheap whore to me, but I know that idiot won’t be able to tell the difference.”

“He who?” Daine could hardly whisper the words, because it felt like her throat had suddenly closed up. The official smiled broadly and unlocked the chain from her ankle, leaving the heavy iron manacle around her leg and pocketing the key with a cheerful whistle.

Being freed from the tower was everything Daine had dreamed about, and more. If it hadn’t been for the official pushing her impatiently down the path she would have stopped, stunned by the sweet scent of summer flowers and the softness of dust under her feet. She would have dawdled and stared at the grass-velveted mountains, and the dancing bees in the air. As it was, she stumbled down the trail whenever Orsille shoved her, and took deep breaths of the fresh air. She barely even noticed where they were going, until the trail became paved underfoot, and the shadow of stone walls fell across her face.

The keep was a lot busier than she had ever known it. The courtyard was full of people: men who sharpened blades and fletched arrows, mages who muttered under their breath and fiddled with the chains that looped their wrists. There were far more servants than she had seen before, too, running around with flasks of ale and baskets of food for the soldiers. Daine covered her ears, unable to hear the noise after so many weeks of solitude. She saw a few of the other slaves look at her with curiosity, and some of the soldiers whispering behind their hands when they saw who she was with, but Orsille pushed her through the crowd before she could understand what they were saying.

“Here we are,” he said, his voice still eerily cheerful. “Just up the stairs, sweet creature, and we’ll be there. I expect you’re feeling tired from that walk!”

Daine didn’t answer, but she had to be careful not to stumble as she raised her feet to climb the long spiral staircase. Orsille was right. Perhaps it had been the sunlight, or the exercise, or the sudden darkness of the stairwell, but she felt heavy and sluggish as if she’d run for miles instead of walking. She climbed steadily, not letting herself slow down, and reeled when a beam of sunlight shone through a window and hit her eyes. It seemed too bright to her tired mind, and she had to stop and catch her breath.

She looked back to ask the official if they could wait a moment, so she could rest, but when she opened her mouth no sound came out. She took a sharp breath, panic flooding through her, but before she could try again the man impatiently caught the crook of her elbow and dragged her up the stairs. When they reached the landing he let her drop to the ground, ignoring her as she cradled her head in her hands and tried desperately to make a sound.

“What’s wrong with her?” The light voice echoed in the stone room, and Daine looked up to see Karenna frowning at her. The woman stood with her hands on her hips, foot extended as if she’d been pacing across the floor. Orsille laughed softly and Daine slowly lowered her hands from her mouth as she understood what had happened.

The dress. She thought, and plucked mutely at the roughly-sewn collar. The runes stitched into the fabric tickled when they fell back against her skin, and she glared accusingly at the official, who simply laughed more and patted his daughter’s shoulder reassuringly.

“I didn’t break my word, my dear. I wouldn’t dare cross that man!” His voice became heavily sarcastic for a moment, and he grinned widely. “She’s just tired. I said I wouldn’t hurt her, and I didn’t. She won’t run. She won’t make plans. He asked to see her. He didn’t say how.”

Karenna shivered, and wrapped her arms around herself as if it had been the draught biting through her silk dress. “If you say so,” she said doubtfully, her eyes nervous as she couldn’t help looking at Daine.


“You’re too soft-hearted.” There was no reproach in the man’s tone, but it was clear that the conversation was over. Karenna shut her mouth with an audible snap, and crossed to the window to peer out into the courtyard.

“We should go out to meet him.” She said, her voice soft. “Who knows what your brutes of soldiers will do if you’re not there to control them?”

Orsille made some nothing-reply and they left in a rustle of silks. Daine sank slowly to the ground, feeling her arms tremble as they took her weight. The cool stone floor kept her awake, not letting her get comfortable, and she was grateful. She raised a hand to her chest and picked at the collar, trying to destroy some of the stitches. When her nails caught one of the spelled patterns a shock ran through her fingers, as if she’d been caught by static electricity. She gasped and shook her numbed hand, but she knew that trying to destroy the spell was hopeless. When she tried to until the dress, or tug it off, the same thing happened.

Curse you, Orsille.She thought bitterly, crawling on rubbery limbs to the wall so she could lean against it. The open window was just above her head, but she couldn’t find the energy to pull herself up to look out of it. She could hear the people speaking outside, and knew something must be happening, but she might as well have been chained to the wall in her old room. She was just as trapped as before!

Her mind refused to work. She was still trying to work out who the man could be that Orsille had made a deal with, her bleary mind skipping between thoughts that danced like dreams, when the door creaked open. With an effort, she raised her head, and her heart almost stopped.

It was Numair. Numair, standing in the doorway in his travelling clothes, one hand on the door handle, the other tucked in his pocket. Their eyes met, and for a heartbeat they stared at each other in frozen, breathless silence. Then there was a laugh – too bright, too shrill – and Karenna cheerfully pushed Numair forwards through the doorway.

“Get a move on, silly!” she giggled in the fake voice she had used at Hazelle’s parties. The shove seemed to shake the man from his shock, and he stepped forward, drawing a single harsh breath.

“I am sorry, Mistress Karenna. It’s dark in here.” He said in a respectful tone. He edged closer to Daine, apparently giving the other woman room to move through the doorway. Orsille stepped through behind her, his eyes keenly fixed on Numair, and the mage stopped short halfway across the room.

“Well, Leto?” The official drawled, leaning against the door frame. “You see? We kept our word. There the girl is, safe and sound. Do you trust us, now?”

Daine pressed her face to the wall, wishing the room would stop spinning so she could focus. She could see the glint of gold out of the corner of her eye, and realised that Numair had a gold chain wrapped around his wrist.

He surrendered. She thought, seeing the warning look in Karenna’s eyes when she looked up, and understanding it. They’re testing him.

She looked away. Better that they never make eye contact again than Numair betray himself with a single look.

“What’s wrong with her?” Numair was speaking too loudly for Daine’s aching head. He couldn’t disguise the harshness in his voice, and his hands twitched as if he longed to reach out to her. Orsille raised an eyebrow and inspected his fingernails with careful nonchalance.

“Out of everyone in this room, my dear Hawk Mage, she is the only one who didn’t choose to be here. She’s a runaway, silly creature.” He sighed, as if Daine were a child he was disappointed in, and then he stood up a little straighter. “We didn’t want her running away before you had a chance to see her, did we?”

“Are you hurt?”

Daine blinked in a daze of darkness. She slowly realised that Numair had asked her the question directly, and looked up. Even in her spell-addled state the sight of him made her want to laugh irresistibly, but she couldn’t make a sound. She raised a clumsy hand towards him, wishing the air didn’t feel like treacle. Perhaps he would disappear if he touched her. It had happened before, in more dreams than she could possibly count. In a slow, timeless haze she waited for her desperate, pleading fingers to brush against the abyss.

“I don’t know why you care.” The sharp voice was Karenna’s. The woman stepped forward and slapped Daine’s hand away, making sure the blow was loud rather than painful. Her eyes apologised to Daine even as she rounded on the man in fury. “Why? Why are you asking her? She’s a slave! And... and after what she did to you? The lies! And the way she tricked you...!”

“Granted.” Numair replied in a voice that dripped with heavy patience. “And you’re right. I don’t care. Would I be here if I did? You’re right, she’s just a slave. But that slave is still carrying my child, Mistress Karenna, and I do want to know if it’s unharmed. I made one condition for my surrender, and only one. If the girl is hurt then who’s to say what will happen to my child? So, in the circumstances, can you understand why I asked her? I won’t be tricked by you as well as by her.”

Karenna scowled, folded her arms and nudged at Daine with her toe. The girl shrank back, and the woman pulled her foot away as if she’d been burned. Her voice was over-harsh, as if to cover her guilty movement. “Wake up, slave. You were asked a question.”

Orsille sniggered. He had been watching the exchange with wry humour, and now he wandered idly towards Daine and patted her bowed head like she was a dog. “She won’t answer you, Hawk. Wolves don’t speak, and as you can see, I’ve trained this one to hold her lying tongue.”

Numair glared at him. “I see nothing funny about this. Muting spells are illegal for a reason. She found it difficult enough to speak as it is. You can’t just…”

“You’re getting ideas above your station.” Orsille waved a hand vaguely. “I said I would show you the girl, and I have. I said she would be unhurt, and she is. I never said you could speak to her. And besides...” he leaned forward, and all the humour dripped from his voice in an instant. “You still need to prove that you’re going to keep your end of the bargain.”

“Father,” Karenna started, sounding uneasy as she glanced at Daine. “I don’t think...”

“Show me.” The official’s eyes gleamed as he stepped closer to the mage. Numair looked back with pure hatred in his eyes, and then he looked over at Daine one last time and a mask of impassiveness spread over his features. He shrugged.

“You have a new pet mage, I guess. Do you want me to cast magic for you?”

“No.” Orsille spat on the floor, and for a moment he looked like the monster Daine saw in her nightmares. Even Karenna took a step back, but Numair sighed and stuck his hands back in his pockets as the other man said, “I want to see the Hawk. Now.”

“I can’t control it.” Numair’s voice was flat. “I might kill your soldiers, since they’re nearby. I might kill you. I’m not saying I won’t keep my end of the bargain, sir, just that I think that’s an idiotic way to ask me to prove it. With all due respect.”

Orsille stared at him for a moment, and looked out of the window with an expression that was as close to a mental shrug as a lifted shoulder. A grin spread slowly across his face, until the points of all his teeth were visible.

“No. The Hawk.” He repeated in a voice rich with greed. “Show me.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 51 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>