Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 52 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Word got around, in quick whispers and nervous gasps of laughter. The notorious Hawk mage was going to show Lord Orsille his magic. How exciting! Both men and women whispered to each other from behind trembling hands, their faces split into grins of anticipation as they headed for the courtyard to watch. Oh, they knew it was dangerous. They had heard that someone might be killed. But the lure of the show was too strong, and so they came in droves to crowd into the square.

Their leader walked through them, answering questions, and smiled at them benevolently. He climbed the steps to the curtain wall, joining the other people who waited at the top. The waiting crowd recognised some of them - the healer Dakinn and his assistant Ronan were there, and of course the lady in the gorgeous shining silk dress was Lord Orsille’s daughter.

They were so busy staring in awe at the last man – a tall, thin man who looked inscrutably back down at them – that they barely noticed the skinny girl who Ronan was holding upright. A few barbed comments were jeered up at her when the guard mages recognised the wolf creature, but most of them were fixated on the Hawk.

“Send them away.” Numair’s voice was harsh, and he took a step towards Orsille. “Please, I’m begging you. It’s dangerous. There’s too many of them, and they don’t... they won’t know how to defend themselves.”

“Then it’s about time they learned.” The official turned away, not caring, and cursed when Numair caught hold of his sleeve.

“Then give me Annette.” The mage’s voice was low, intense. “You don’t want your people hurt. You need them to fight this war. She can stop me from losing control. Please. I don’t want to kill these people.”

“Annette is mine.” For a moment, the official’s face turned ugly, and his iron control wavered. Numair let go of his sleeve as if he’d been burned. The man glared at him, then strode over to Ronan and tore the fainting girl away from him.

Daine stumbled as Orsille shoved her forward, hearing the jeers of the crowd as she fell to her knees. She didn’t have the strength to look up, but her face burned in shame as she heard the official shouting out to the crowd.

“You see her? You see this creature? This man says she’s a witch! He says she’s got magic that’s strong enough to tame demons! Who thinks she could stop the Hawk Mage? Look at the state of her!”

A thousand eyes turned to leer at Daine, and a chorus of mocking shouts sang up to the battlements. Orsille laughed broadly and joined in with the jeers, his voice crowing out across the courtyard as he pointed at Numair.

“She came here pregnant with his bastard, the whore! It didn’t take more than a few weeks before she was lifting her skirts for anyone else who asked, and far more besides! Tell them it’s true, wolf cub.” He suddenly hauled her to her feet and pressed his hand to her throat, holding her up so that the crowd could stare at her.

“You sold yourself to me, didn’t you?” He asked, raising his voice so that the crowd would be able to hear every word. Daine bit back bitter tears and nodded, not daring to open her eyes.

Orsilles voice grew richer, darker, pitched so that only Numair could hear. “Open your eyes and look at your precious Hawk, my petal. Tell him how you drank water from my hands. Tell him how you would lick the shit from my boots if I asked. Tell him how quickly you agreed to spread your legs to protect his bastard for a few pathetic months. Look him in those pretty eyes and show him exactly what kind of creature you are.”

Daine sobbed and shook her head, but his hand pressed against her throat again, and she had to obey. She couldn’t speak, but as soon as her eyes met Numair’s she knew he could see how much of it was true. He was white as a sheet but she couldn’t bear the thought of trying to lie to him. Not now. He knew everything now, and if he hated her half as much as she hated herself he would never want to see her again. Orsille let her go and she fell back to the ground, hiding her face behind her short hair and sobbing silently against the stones.

The official rounded on Numair and said furiously, “Do you understand now, slave?”

The crowd grew louder as some of them applauded mockingly. Numair stared back at the official in breathless, white-hot fury for a heartbeat, and then crouched down next to Daine and picked her up. She flinched away for a moment, but when she realised that he wasn’t disgusted by her she gripped his hand so tightly it hurt.

Don’t do it, she pleaded with him the moment he touched her, feeling their silent link flare for the first time in months and using all her remaining strength to speak. Please, please don’t be the Hawk.

I made my own deal. With the Hawk. I think I can do it. He said, his mind-voice too calm and deliberately reassuring to be anything but terrifying. He carried her back to Ronan and hesitated, pretending he needed to shift her weight before handing her over. Daine rested her head against his shoulder for a too-brief second.

I’m so sorry. She said, and even to her the words sounded weak, exhausted. He held her tighter for a fleeting second but made no reply. Then she was back in Ronan’s hold, and the healer was setting her gently on her feet. The crowd turned into a buzz of wordless noise in her ears as she watched Numair walk away and stand on the very edge of the curtain wall. He looked back at Orsille for a second, waiting for the official’s arrogant nod, before his eyes narrowed and he jumped.

The crowd screamed in horror, and then their screams turned to cries of shock as a great black creature streamed back up the wall into the sky. Above their cries, the Hawk shrieked a long note of pure ecstasy. It span in the sunlight, flying in the daytime for the first time in months, and glided effortlessly around the towers of the keep.

“Wonderful,” Orsille breathed, stepping to the edge of the wall and gripping the battlement with whitening knuckles. His lips curved into a smile as he took in the creature’s distorted size, the long claws that grew from emaciated fingers. Not human, not a bird, the creature danced in the air and screamed at the people who milled below it like corralled cattle. They started laughing, pointing at the soaring creature with wondering eyes and telling each other how they were sure to beat the Tortallans now! And then their laughter slowly turned to murmurs. The hawk had stopped shrieking and started circling, making lazy loops over them as it gradually drifted closer and closer.

“What’s he going to do?” Ronan asked Daine softly, knowing Orsille was too captivated to hear him. She shook her head tearfully, her heart filled with dread as she managed to take the few steps towards the edge of the wall. She looked down to see the people, and for every soldier or mage there was a servant or a laundry maid looking innocently up into the sky.

The Hawk did nothing. It circled, and circled, and glared down with black baleful eyes at the silent crowd. They stared back, frozen, unable to move. Then the creature made a sound.

It wasn’t a laugh. Laughter was a pleasant sound, and this had nothing good in it. It was a curdled cry of mocking hatred, and it echoed through the silent stone courtyard until it sounded like it had come from a thousand warped throats. A few people whimpered, and Orsille leaned forward breathlessly to see more clearly.

The creature circled one last time. It took a deep breath. Without warning, a dense glow of black fire flared out around it, making the air crackle with burning heat. The hawk screamed another mocking laugh and sent a bolt of pure fire down into the courtyard. The fire splashed in the courtyard, raining down like water on the people who screamed and ran, only to find that they were trapped by their own numbers. And still the hawk circled lower, eying the people like a hunting bird of prey and still screaming that mocking laugh. The fire kept burning, caught in the supplies of hay and the small wooden stands the fletchers had been using. A man darted around the blaze, heedless of a wounded woman’s grasping fingers at his feet as he fled only to find himself being lifted into the air in the hold of vicious claws. He screamed and grabbed at the claws, and the hawk let him go over the curtain wall.

The man crashed into the wall with a horrible sound, and Karenna shrieked as her dress was covered in gore. She stared at the twitching body in horror, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly, and then she fainted to the ground. The hawk laughed loudly and flew merrily over the corpse.

The sight of seeing his daughter pass out seemed to change something in Orsille. Before, he had been staring at his new weapon in pure glee, licking his lips at every move the creature made and grinning whenever it laughed. But now he looked around, distracted, at Karenna. He whitened, and then he seemed to notice the chaos in the courtyard for the first time.

“No,” he muttered. “That’s enough!”

The last words were shouted up to the hawk, who screamed back at him and then swooped away to pour more of that liquid fire onto one of the towers. Some of the soldiers cried out, and raised their longbows to try to shoot the creature down. Their arrows fell short, and the creature laughed mockingly and spat down at them. They screamed and fled as if the spittle had burned them when it landed.

Orsille ran to Daine, pulling her back from the battlements impatiently.

“You!” He demanded. “He said you could make him stop. Do it!”

The girl blinked, and then laughed in silent hysteria and dropped to the ground. She plucked at the collar of her dress, looking up at the panicked official in dizzy mockery as the runes burned her fingers. Orsille swore and snapped his fingers, and Daine dropped her hand as the spell on her dress flared into red-hot light. Then the light faded, and her head cleared. It was as if she had been under water, and now she could hear again. She looked up, confused, and realised that she hadn’t dreamed it all. She was wide awake and she could think again.

“Fix this.” Orsille said through gritted teeth.

For the first time Daine didn’t fight him. She nodded and stood up, resting her hand on the rough stone of the battlement as she looked around for the Hawk. It was roosting on top of the burning tower, watching something. With a rush of sickness the girl realised it was a woman, who the hawk had carried onto the smouldering roof. The woman was crying and begging the Hawk to take her down even as she slipped down the tiles towards the fall.

Daine took a deep breath and called her magic, slamming the pure power into the Hawk’s mind in a single command. Save her!

The Hawk shrieked and clawed at its ears, drawing blood, but it drew itself up and caught the woman in none-too-gentle claws. It dropped her to the ground from a safe height, and then swooped towards the bronze human in a wave of absolute fury. It skimmed towards the wall, and Daine was aware of the other humans diving for cover as she stood, perfectly still, waiting. The hawk raised his claws to strike, and she held up her hand.

“No.” She whispered, and the creature recoiled as if it had hit a wall. She felt her heart twist as it cried out in pain. It fluttered to the bloodstained curtain wall and cradled its head as if the flare of bronze magic still burned it.

“Poor thing,” she murmured, walking towards it with slow, careful steps. The creature spun and snapped at her, but she poured all the comfort and reassurance she could find into her gift, and when she reached out to touch its oversized wing she felt it shiver. “Poor thing, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

The hawk made a growling noise and snapped at her, but Daine stood her ground. She felt the claws passing inches from her skin as it slashed at her, but she didn’t move.

“Sssh, sssh, my love.” She stroked its feathers. “I’m not going to run. I’m not your prey. I’m not a threat. I’m just here. I’ll make it right again.”

The creature shivered, almost relaxing for a moment, and then it tensed and screamed in fury. Daine flinched and looked around, and then turned back and pressed her cheek against the Hawk’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around it as far as she could reach to stop it from leaping forward at the official.

“Go and hide, Orsille.” She said, her voice quiet but sharp as she tried to find her calmness again. “You’re making it worse. If you don’t want to be killed for starting this nightmare then you should leave. Now. Walk, don’t run, or he’ll chase you. I won't stop him.” She smiled up at the Hawk, knowing that it shared her hatred of the official. Her voice caressed the last few words that she called out to Orsille. “He wants to kill you.”

She knew when the man had gone because the Hawk relaxed, and its feathers gradually began to lie flat against its skin. Daine waited for a long time, breathing evenly and simply holding the creature, feeling it grow more peaceful with every moment that passed. The courtyard was nearly empty now, with the only sound being the cries of the people who the healers were dragging away. A soft breeze played over the battlements.

“Did you have fun?” She asked eventually, not looking up. She didn’t want to know what expression the Hawk wore when it thought about the people it had killed. “I promised you that you could play, didn’t I? But I think Numair promised you something too, right? And you made a promise back?”

The Hawk made a noise. It wasn’t an agreement, but there was something in it. It was some hint of disappointment, like a child being told to go to bed early. Daine breathed a sigh of relief and looked up, to see the Hawk’s black eyes looking back at her.

“Wassss... goinnnggg... to...!” it whined, its voice petulant. “But funnnnn... fiiiiiirst...?”

“Well, that’s just not fair.” She told it sternly. “I’m fair sure Numair kept his side of the deal.”

The Hawk blinked, and then it laughed its horrible rattle of sadistic glee. “He.... will!”

Before she could demand to know what it meant by that, the Hawk shuddered, and shrank in a blaze of black light. Daine gasped and let go of it, feeling the magic against her skin like a rush of cool wind. The light faded, and Numair stumbled to his knees. She threw her arms around him, sobbing and laughing in turns, kissing his cheek and his forehead and shaking hysterically.

“Oh, I thought you weren’t coming back!” She sobbed, and kissed him again. “I thought they would kill you first!”

“Daine...” he whispered, his voice hoarse with confusion. “Daine, what happened?”

“No,” she pleaded, knowing the massacre would horrify him. She was glad that they were huddled in the lee of the wall, hidden from the towers and unable to see into the courtyard at all. “Don’t ask that, not yet. Not...”

“Are you alright?” He persisted, cupping her cheek with one hand. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

She nestled against his hand, feeling him relax at the tender gesture. “I’m fine,” She said. “They took the spell off me when they panicked. I didn’t even have to use much magic on you to make you stop. The hawk decided to honour your deal... whatever that is.”

He frowned, ignoring her pointed question. “When they panicked?” she looked away, and he shook his head. “No, don’t do that. Tell me, magelet.”

“The Hawk killed some people.” She said slowly. “And set the keep on fire. And laughed a lot.”

Numair shivered and looked like he was going to be sick. “I told Orsille this would happen. Why did he make me do it?”

“Why did you agree?” She retorted. “Why did you come back? I told you not to, you dolt! They would have tortured you! I had to tell Orsille...”

“I know.” He interrupted her, his voice soft as he stopped her tirade. He caught her hands and held them still, gently avoiding the swollen bruises around her fingers. “I know you’re angry, sweetling. I really do understand. But I couldn’t stay in the camp. It was bad enough before, but when you told me...” he looked away and took a deep breath. “Well, it was unthinkable to stay in safety doing nothing while you were here with that monster.”

Daine didn’t say anything for a long time, staring at their linked hands. Numair didn’t ask her about what Orsille had said about her, and she wondered if he’d forgotten that along with the rest of the Hawk’s memories. Deep down she knew that he hadn’t, that the tension in his body hid some deep hurt, but she didn’t dare ask what it was. Perhaps he felt the same way. The pattern of a feather trailed up one of his hands, running from his wrist to the base of his little finger in a mocking black line. She traced it gently with one finger, and he flinched.

“You aren’t safe.” She said, “I felt it, when the birds flew for me. The Hawk is stronger now, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” his voice was blunt, and he didn’t look away from her slightly accusing eyes. “Much stronger. But it will let me shapeshift and come back to a human shape for a few more weeks. That was the deal. By then Alanna will have attacked, and either way... either way, we won’t be able to make much difference.”

“So after a few weeks, you won’t be able to ever shapeshift again?” Daine asked, not understanding. Numair thought about correcting her, but then he took in the thinness of her face, and the starved look in her shining eyes that needed hope, and love, more than anything else in the world. He smiled and brushed a curl of her hair behind her ear.

“That’s right, sweetling.”

“A few weeks,” she said, sighing at the amount of time but brightening at the idea of the hawk being banished forever. She cuddled up against him, wrapping her hands around his so that the feather mark was lost under her bruised fingers.

Numair kissed her forehead and held her tightly, pushing away all his questions and secrets obstinately. Without those dark voices gloating in his mind he was almost overwhelmed with the feeling of finally being able to hold the woman he loved in his arms. He marvelled at every breath she took, the warm weight where she pressed against him and the way that her eyes softened when she looked at him, as if she could hardly believe he was really there. Something made her smile sweetly, and she entwined her hand into his own – the hand without the feather – and pressed it to the curve of her stomach.

“Can you feel that? It started kicking,” Daine whispered, feeling Numair catch his breath when the baby moved. He looked down at her with shining eyes, and she smiled. “I wanted to tell you, but you wouldn’t let me send the birds.”

He looked at her with a question half-formed in his eyes, but something in her expression stopped him from asking how she’d been using her magic. Besides, another question was leaping into his mind, and he asked it in a rush before he said something he might regret.

“This is real, isn’t it? It feels like I’m dreaming.”

She smiled ruefully and traced the shape of his face with light fingertips, memorising it. Her words were bitter as she forced herself to look away towards the nearest tower, where she knew Orsille was hiding. “if we are dreaming then he’ll be coming to wake us up soon.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t kiss you, then.” He teased, “Since I always wake up in the best parts of my dreams.”

Instead of retorting to that, Daine leaned forward, placing an infinitely tender kiss on his forehead like a blessing. “I love you,” she whispered, not drawing back and feeling his arms tighten around her back. “I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to tell you that again. Whatever Orsille tells you... whatever I’ve done, I just wanted you to know that. Because if this is the last time we’re alone...”

“It won’t be.” He interrupted her. “We’re getting out of here. Together.”

She stared at him, and knew that he could see the doubt in her eyes. But she was also thinking of the last time they had been locked up. She had thought everything was hopeless. He’d promised to take her away, and he had.

She hadn’t believed him then. She would force herself to believe him now.

She smiled and nodded, and if she hesitated then he didn’t comment on it. He kissed her instead, drawing her closer so slowly, so tenderly, that the world seemed to fade away. There wasn’t a prison, or a war. The sounds of the fire and the howl of the mountain wind were quietened. The fear and the Hawk fled. All that was left was the loving embrace of his arms moving across her shoulders and around her back, the softness of his hair under her hands, and the warmth of his lips pressed against hers.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 52 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>