Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 54 of 69

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The other prisoners vanished into the honeycomb of tunnels, and although they caught glimpses of them from time to time, neither Daine nor Numair could coax them to speak to them. Some of the men and women were beyond speech, gibbering like maniacs as they chewed strips of moss they’d peeled from the walls. Some of them stared blankly at the new prisoners, their eyes as bleak and empty as the snowfields of the north.

Even the ones who spoke, who tried to bargain for stories, kept their distance. They had no way to break the chains, and although they brought them a few handfuls of clean, brackish water from one of the tiny streams in the cave, they mainly kept their distance.

“Tell me what happened to you.” Numair said after they awoke a third time in that same darkness. His voice was odd, as if he’d had to work up the courage to ask. “Tell me all of it, Daine.”

“Why? I already told you I won’t do it. It’ll hurt you to hear it. What good will knowing it do you?”

“None, really. You’re right.” He was silent for a long time and then said even more slowly, “Please tell me what happened, Daine. Hurt me if you have to, but let me know that some of my nightmares, at least, aren’t true.”

“I don’t know your nightmares.” She sighed and rested her hands on her knees, leaning her cheek against the cool pillar. Her eyes shut uselessly against the darkness, she recounted as much as she could bear to remember, starting with the way Parsey had blackmailed her into submitting to him and ending with the way she had tricked Orsille.

“You did both of those things for me,” Numair’s voice sounded a little hollow. Daine shrugged, feeling as if her skin had become some kind of callous shell. She hadn’t told him about her plan with the People.

“Are we going to point fingers? You betrayed Alanna for me, and you came back even knowing that Orsille wouldn’t honour his deal with you further than he could spit. How noble of both of us!” Her voice took on a mocking note. “And let’s not forget you turned into the Hawk and murdered old men in their beds, and that you sold me for a useless stretch of land. But I’m no better, am I? I… I sold myself, I risked my child’s life and I sent Alanna secrets which told her where to send soldiers. They burned Gallan soldiers alive in their beds, I know it. We’re both vile. Noble and vile. And I guess that makes us the same. We’re even, Hawk Mage.”

“Don’t call me that. There was a reason...”

“Oh, reasons! There was a reason why I lifted my skirts for Orsille.” Daine said, deliberately crude. “I’m fair certain that knowing that reason doesn’t make you feel the least bit better about the fact that I did it.”

“No.” He admitted, and for the first time he let the raw anger in his voice break through. “No, it doesn’t. I can’t… I don’t know how to understand. I don’t know how to forgive you for it. There were so many other things you might have done instead.”

“Yes.” She whispered, “And I could say exactly the same thing to you.” Her throat closed up for a moment, and the tears in her words bubbled up like laughter. “Dear gods, Numair, a few months ago we had the same mind and the same heartbeat and now we even hate each other the same!”

“This isn’t hate. It hurts too much. I can’t hate you any more than I can forgive you.”

She curled up beside him and felt the strength in the arm that immediately circled around her, the fire which days of darkness couldn’t extinguish. He was warm and living and his breath hitched unevenly in his chest, but his heart raced in the same upset pattern that hers did.

“You belong to me,” she told him, “Not the version of you that I have in my head, all noble and courageous and always doing the right thing. That one couldn’t ever belong to me. It’s just a story. But this one… this you, the one who I hate and love all at the same time, the one who I can’t understand or forgive… this one belongs to me. Just like I belong to you. I didn’t give you the perfect version of myself any more than you gave your perfect self to me. It’s just you, and just me, and that’s what we are and all we’ll ever be. That’s what we have.”

He turned a little, and Daine felt a hand at the side of her face. Gentle, cautious fingertips softly traced the outline of her face, then caressed her cheek before falling away. That was all. For hours afterwards neither of them said another word.

Time passed, and as their wounds healed so did their hearts. Their anger faded more slowly, in silence and lingering blame. Both of them knew that there were questions that the other would never answer, and other things that they hoped they would never be asked.

Forgiveness came even more cautiously, but when it arrived they both accepted it with lighter hearts. Underneath all of the arguments and accusations they hurled at one another, they both knew that they loved each other. That was enough to survive on, just as the thin moss and brackish water they traded for stories with the other prisoners was enough to keep them alive.

They survived as rats might in a frozen warren, needing the comfort of another warm body for company and warmth and nothing beyond that. They rebuilt their closeness in silent feral stupor.

Days passed, and they slowly realised that they could be forgotten in this place for the rest of their lives. One night the light that ringed the door was amber-orange with candlelight rather than bright with firelight, and then it was snuffed out entirely. The shock was instant; in the grey darkness of the pit they shuddered and bit back harshly drawn breaths. They both felt like they would never see light again. That night they clung to each other in something close to desperation, and if their clumsy lovemaking was heard by the other prisoners they barely cared. They needed to feel alive and vibrant, but without the light to sustain them they felt like they were fading away. They hungered for something to mark one endless dark minute from the next, but the lurking darkness heedlessly crept back over their entwined limbs and swallowed them whole.

They could only tell how long they’d been locked in the eternal night by the growing hunger pains in their stomachs. After a while the cold and the damp seemed to seep into their bones, and although they huddled together they couldn’t stop shivering. The only escape from the cold and the hunger was in sleep, and when they finally closed their eyes they were both haunted by nightmares. They woke up, blind in the darkness. Their breath came in sobbing gasps, and even that sound echoed eerily from the walls.

Numair dreamed of the Hawk. It lurked in his nightmares, not bothering to hide any more, sadistically showing him every gruesome sight that it could remember. He would wake up with his teeth clenched so tightly together that they ached. He would be shaking, with the laughter of the Hawk echoing in his ears. But every time, Daine would gently reach up and kiss his frozen cheek, stroking his hair soothingly. Her voice was never frightened, but warm and soft.

“Ssh, my love, it’s alright.” She said over and over again, until his panicking mind could focus on the words. “You’re fine, you’re here. You’re safe. You’re you.” And slowly he would remember, and believe her, and he would realise that he’d been almost crushing her in his arms as he fought the creature away.

“Don’t I scare you?” He asked once, when he’d got his breath back. She smiled gently and shook her head.

“I’ll never be scared of you.” She said. “I know you’ll never hurt me.”

Numair smiled and kissed her forehead, but his thoughts were troubled. He’d heard the dark crow of the monster in his mind, and felt the deep hatred that the Hawk held for Daine. When the Hawk had asked Orsille to kill her it hadn’t been a trick or a sadistic game the creature was playing; it really meant it. As much as the creature had reluctantly agreed to their deal, the Hawk seemed to realise that if Daine was simply gone, it would be able to take over his mind without the copper fire resisting it.

The mage frowned and rested his chin on the top of Daine’s head, feeling her breathing more evenly as she drifted back to sleep. He didn’t have to ask what she had nightmares about, any more than she had to ask him. Daine always curled up defensively in her sleep with one hand protecting the curve of her stomach. Her nightmares were silent, and he could never tell if she was having one until she fought to escape it. She shifted in his arms and then whimpered, tearing at his hands as if she could fight him off.

“It’s me, sweetling.” He murmured, not trying to catch her hands or hold her still. He’d tried that once and she’d panicked. Now he let her fight. She suddenly gasped and stared at him, her eyes widening in surprise, and then shame.

“I’m sorry.” She said. He shook his head and caught one of her shaking hands.

“Don’t be.”

She flushed and looked away, her breath still too quick. “Even when I’m with you he won’t leave me alone.” She said bitterly. “Do I even have to dream about him?”

He had no answer, so he held her closely and stroked her hair until the tangled curls lay smoothly across her forehead, telling her stories until her eyes flickered shut. Orsille’s malevolent ghost only haunted her dreams, but he taunted Numair’s waking thoughts until the grey light that was the only hint of day crept in through the edges of the door.

It could have been days later, or weeks, when Daine was awoken from a restless sleep by a hand roughly dragging at her shoulder. She squeaked and her eyes flew open to see one of the nameless guards, who yanked her out of the warm shelter of Numair’s arms. He kept a hold of her shoulder as he unlocked her manacle and tucked the key in his pocket.

“What...?” Daine gasped, still half asleep. She reached out and her clutching fingers found Numair’s hand. The guard scowled and pulled her away.

“Where are you taking her?” Numair demanded, his own voice rough with weariness. The guard flinched and took a step back, then found some bravado.

“Don’t take that tone with me. You may be the Hawk Mage, but you’re still just a slave.” He sneered. “My Lord Orsille wants this one to apologise for what she said.”

Daine froze, and her face went bone-white. Still, her stubborn will helped her to stand still for a second. Then the guard took her arm and her resolve seemed to shatter. She yanked her arm away and wrapped her fingers around an iron loop on the pillar, knuckles whitened with strain.

“Please,” she whispered, “Please don’t make me go. He’s so angry. He’ll hurt me. He’ll kill me.”

“He’s allowed to.” The guard’s voice was flat, emotionless as he gripped her wrist a second time. Daine shook her head frantically, tears starting in her eyes.

“But I’m scared.” Her whisper was hoarse, and she blinked back tears as she looked up at the guard. “Please, sir, he’s never been this angry with me before. I don’t want him to hurt my baby. I... I know it was my fault, and... and he’s fair right to be angry at me, but not... not my...” She sobbed and fell to her knees, the sudden fall surprising the guard enough to make him let go. She grabbed at him senselessly, grasping at his hands and his tunic and begging until finally the man shoved her backwards, and she fell against Numair.

Don’t defend me, she said quickly, feeling him tense as the guard stepped towards them. Numair’s arm tightened protectively around her for a moment, and she shook her head. There was a wry humour in her mind-voice which was completely at odds from the way she’d been speaking to the guard, and Numair’s eyes narrowed.

What’s going on? He asked, realising she was pretending. She didn’t answer, but he felt something cold and metallic being pressed into his hand.

I never got you a midwinter present, She quipped, and then the guard dragged her away. Numair reached after her instinctively, but his fingers caught only the tattered edge of her dress before the other man shoved her through the door. Before it slammed shut and took the yellow light away, the mage looked down at the thing Daine had given him.

It was the key.


Daine called the birds to her the moment that she was free of the pit, barely feeling the tight grip of the guard’s hand on her arm as she concentrated.

Ronan might have believed that she did nothing except sleep while she’d been locked in the tower, but in fact Daine had been so busy that there had hardly been enough hours in the day. Every morning, as soon as she woke up, she had called a new bird to her and greeted it when it slipped through the bars. The creatures would nestle on her shoulder as she spoke to them, patiently describing her plan to each one until she was sure that they understood.

They carried messages, each bird remembering the few simple things he had been taught, until her mind buzzed with the voices of the People in the mountains. Foxes, badgers, birds and lizards, they all clamoured to ask questions and offer their ideas. And every morning the faithful birds took her quiet answers back. She even spoke to the disease-ridden mice that scurried around the tower, filling their ravenous scavenger minds with more than the desire to gnaw. She used as little magic as possible, just her words, and slowly every creature in the valley grew to know her voice.

Being buried deep underground in the pit had been a kind of torture that even Orsille wouldn’t have thought of. Daine had to grit her teeth and wait, knowing that every day the birds might forget a detail, or the foxes might think of some grand plan of their own, or they might simply get bored and wander away.

As soon as the door shut behind her, she sent her magic out in a flare so bright that every animal for miles stopped in their tracks to listen. And it was two simple words: be ready.

The rush of escaping magic made her stagger as it left her body, leaving her legs feeling leaden and useless. The guard scowled at her and then yanked her forward, obviously thinking she was afraid.

Well, she wasn’t. Daine found her feet and straightened her back, walking with her chin held high as Hazelle had taught her. If the guard looked confused she didn’t notice, because she was answering the rapid questions that the People were shouting at her, and reminding them of their jobs. A small flock of starlings sang out a shrill greeting as they streamed past a window, and then flitted away to another part of the castle. Daine smiled slightly, and didn’t bother hiding the expression.

“I think it would be wise for me to wash my face and hands before I see Orsille.” She said, her voice refined and elegant. “Don’t you agree?”

The guard blinked in confusion. “I was just told to bring you.”

“Yes, and you know why he wants me.” She didn’t bother acknowledging the flush of colour that darkened his cheeks, but smiled serenely. “I’m filthy. He won’t like that.”

The man shrugged, but when they had passed a few more doors he abruptly opened one, and pushed her through into one of the guards’ mess rooms. It was just a table and some stools, but a large bucket of water sat in one corner. The guard pushed her forwards again, but since she had started speaking to him his manner had become more uncertain, and the push was almost gentle.

“Be quick,” he said.

She smiled and nodded, and knelt next to the bucket. Scum floated on the surface, but she dashed it away and quickly scrubbed dirt from her face. The cold of the water made her shiver as she plunged her arms into it up to the elbows. Numair had told her once, in an offhanded way, that cold water would help amplify the gift. As soon as she felt her magic dance into wakefulness her mind was already racing away. She sent herself flying outwards, latching onto the first bird mind that she met and soaring with it around the keep as, like all the other birds, the creature circled the castle.

-The others will be so jealous that you picked me.- the bird said smugly. Daine smiled, but her eyes had already caught sight of the glint of metal.

There, she said, and the bird swooped down. This close to attacking, the armoury was almost overflowing with pristine metal, fletched arrows and strung bows. The birds skimmed through it quickly, and then away again. Daine kept the picture of the wooden building in her mind, and sent that same image to the animals who waited in the mountains outside, and in the keep itself.

Here. She said, This is the place. All of you. Be safe! Be quick!

And then she was being pulled backwards, both in her mind and her body as the guard dragged her away from the bucket.

“Stop fooling around, you daydreaming idiot.” he growled, all uncertainty gone. He wrapped his hand around her wrist and pulled her after him almost at a run. “Now we’re going to be late.”

Now we just have to kill time. Daine thought in reply, and had to hide a smile. She could hear the calls of the animals as they crept into the armoury, and their laughter as they excitedly started fooling the humans who lived behind stone walls. She heard their delight at being allowed to chew through sacks of grain, stuffing themselves with food and hoarding as much of it away as they could before spoiling and spilling the rest. She heard their curses as they tried to chew through the thick tanned leather of saddles and quivers, and the waxed wood of spears and bows.

Daine almost hated tearing her mind away, shutting out their voices so she could speak to the birds who wheeled around the windows, following her and singing in the evening light. The second part of her plan would use more magic than the first, and she hesitated before opening her mind to the People. Her gift flared and fought behind its cage, and she could almost hear the wolf waking up.

Numair would be angry, but then it had been him who had given her the idea. Left in the tower, alone with nothing but her memories, she had remembered every word he’d said.

“You were that cat. I know it was you.”

She remembered the savoury smell of the soup, the dryness of the bread she was anxiously crumbling between her fingers, and the softness of the bed she was lying in. She remembered her headache, which made her reply sharp.

“No, it was the cat. Just a cat. Nothing magical, nothing sinister. Just a grumpy, arrogant cat. He let me see through his eyes. I wanted to see if I could do it, so I tried.”

He hadn’t met her eyes. “I wouldn’t let Hazelle know that’s what you were doing. She would try to use it. I’m sure you could spy on anyone, if you found the right animal to help you, couldn’t you? You could hear anything.”


Daine had repeated the word to herself over and over, and slowly the plan had formed itself. Now, the birds cheeped their understanding as she greeted them, and spun away from their flock to scatter around the grounds. Under them, in the walls and rafters of the kitchens and stables, every single mouse and rat who lurked in the keep passed on the message, and crept out of hiding.

One for every person in the castle, Daine thought, feeling hundreds of wild voices starting to whisper in her mind. I can spy on anything. I can spy on all of them.

She raised her chin and walked forward strongly, gathering her dignity around her like the thin fabric of her cursed dress. Her gift writhed fretfully and she willed it into stillness, praying that it would hold out for long enough.

Orsille was in one of the luxurious rooms at the top of the keep, one of the ones with wide windows to let in the light and walls which drank in the warm sun. The guard shoved her through the door and scowled at her vengefully when the official snapped at him for being slow. The door clicked shut, and Daine drew herself upright. She opened her eyes and focused on the man who sat calmly at a heavy oak desk, watching her. He was holding something which caught the evening sunlight: a knife. It was a jewelled dagger which he had been sharpening to an almost audible shine with a small whetstone, which he now fiddled with in his other hand. He looked at her in silence, wearing an odd half-smile and waiting for her to speak.

Usually it was a trick which unnerved her, as she knew that he wouldn’t move until she broke the horrible, tense silence.

Today, even looking at the knife he held, Daine raised her chin and felt no fear. She wanted to smile. She could hear the voices of the People in her mind as they ran through the walls of the keep, and she knew that she had outsmarted him.

She smiled. Her voice was soft, challenging. “Let’s play this game. You begin.”

He smiled back, a friendly, open expression which belied the way his fingers tightened around the hilt of the dagger. His eyes were intrigued. “If that’s what the lady wishes, then I am happy to oblige. Tell me, Annette, how are you planning to leave this room alive? Did you really think I’d forgive you?” He dropped the whetstone onto the desk and tested the edge of the blade with his thumb. She ignored it.

“That doesn’t matter.” She waved a hand, dismissing him, and to her surprise he fell silent. She wasn’t afraid any more, and she let him see it. There was no tremor in her voice, and nothing in her eyes when she looked at him except hatred. “I couldn’t count all the wrongs you’ve done me if you gave me an abacus. I’m not going to apologise for telling you the truth. I’d rather play dice with the Hag.”

“So you won’t apologise.” He shrugged, hiding his surprise at the complete change in the way she spoke to him.

“No. You will apologise to me, but not yet.” She grinned. “You’ll crawl forwards on bleeding knees and sob at my feet. You will beg for my forgiveness. But not yet. First, I have to give you a gift.”

He stepped around the desk, his head tilted to one side as he stared at her. Where before he had been watching her like a cat looking at its prey, now he was staring at her with almost incredulous curiosity. “My dear, pathetic little flower, I think you’ve actually gone mad.”

She laughed, and the bright, cheerful sound made the man flinch. “Don’t you want this gift, my dear little petal? My flower? You’ll find it very useful. It’s a list.” She listened to the voices in her mind, and her eyebrows rose, “It’s a very long list.”

“List?” His brows drew together. He might be whimsical when he was trying to scare her, but he took the idea of information very seriously. “Of what?”

“Why, of all the people who will betray you, my lord.”

She ignored his cursed retort and carried on speaking, tilting her head to one side instinctively as she filtered through the stream of messages from the birds and mice who peered through windows and cracks in doors.

“The guard room is full, but they’re not guarding, they’re playing cards. They’re talking about what they would do with their winnings. Where they would go. None of them seem to want to stay here. Oh, their captain is coming! Surely he will restore order. But, no... they haven’t hidden the cards. He’s told them to be sure not to get caught by one of the... the 'brainwashed bastards'. That’s a good phrase, don’t you think? They’re dealing him in.”

She tilted her head the other way and hid a laugh badly behind one hand. “Another guard is... oh dear, and with one of the maids. I’m sure that’s a sentry tower. Your lookout isn’t looking out, my lord. And then... well, if you looked into the officials’ rooms, you might be surprised. There’s a bag hidden in the white-haired official’s water closet, filled with shiny things. Gold and silver. Perhaps he’s hoarding slave chains for the prisoners of war to wear – what do you think? He couldn’t possibly be planning to sell it all as soon as he can sneak it out of the valley, now, could he?

"And... under the drawbridge, where the frogs are sheltering from the sun, there’s a trapdoor from the dungeon. Those aren’t prisoners escaping, my lord. Those are soldiers, disguised in rags, and their families are with them. Maids, servants, hostlers... quite a lot of them, and it’s only one night, my lord. It seems that fear isn’t enough to keep them here. The pass into Tortall is guarded by Alanna’s soldiers, but they let refugees past gladly, and it looks like there are a lot of refugees. They come from the forts and from the towns. Are you planning to attack soon, my lord, while you still have an army?”

“That’s enough.” Orsille said, his voice dangerously soft. “They’re people. Human beings. I don’t expect them to be perfect.”

“Of course not, my flower! But don’t you expect them to be loyal? They’re not slaves, after all!” She asked sweetly, looping her hands around her elbows like a child. “Don’t you want to hear what they say about you? I can’t think of a single one who wouldn’t turn and run away if you asked him to lay his life down for you. They talk about how you have their families, or how you have your mages. They want to be free almost as much as your slaves, my lord. You’re going to be king of an empty prison.”

He stared at her, and she forced herself not to close her eyes in weariness. The stream of voices was starting to make her head spin. She carefully closed off her mind, feeling very alone when the mind voices of the People were gone. The next part of the plan was the most dangerous, and despite her iron control she couldn’t help herself resting her hand against her stomach protectively.

“The sad thing is,” she said, “That you don’t trust your own soldiers. You talked to a slave about your plans more than to your generals, and you know I’m not lying to you now. Why would I? I know lying won’t protect me, and you know I can’t tell anyone your secrets. I've always been just a thing to you. A slave. A creature. But that changed, didn’t it?”

She took a step forward, and started drawing on her magic with slow, deliberate purpose. Orsille’s face was flushed, and the line of his jaw was tense where he was gritting his teeth. Daine walked as close to him as she dared, ignoring the sharp blade he held between them, and looked him dead in the eye.

“You don’t want to kill me because you’re angry. You want to kill me because, for the first time, the guards have started listening to the things I said. I know too much, and it makes me dangerous.”

“So that’s your plan?” Orsille demanded, his face white. “Reminding me why I should kill you is how you’re going to save yourself?”

“No,” she murmured, and smiled. “Saving myself was never the plan.”

He struck out at her, the blade flashing red in the light as he shouted furiously, but he was too slow. Daine released all the magic she’d summoned in one go. The walls seemed to tremble and shrink, and the blade stabbed through nothing but air as she fell to all fours and snarled. Orsille yelped and fell backwards, shouting out to the guards to protect him as she snapped at him with teeth which grew and shrank as she fought with her gift. There was a second when she stumbled, awkward in the new body with its grossly swollen stomach, and that was enough for the guard to grab her by the scruff of the neck and throw her against the wall.

The wolf yelped and struggled to its feet, glaring with yellow-brown eyes at the official who cowered behind the guard. Perhaps they thought she would attack, but even though the wolf longed to tear his throat out, Daine had kept enough of her iron will to force it to stop. She could see the chain mail beneath the guard’s tunic, and the sharp blades both men carried.

We don’t want to fight. She told the wolf, forcing her will onto it the same way she could control animals with her gift and reminding it of the way its belly was heavy with young. Even as a wild creature it must respect that, and she felt something in it's furious mind draw back at the maternal realisation. That's right, my beauty. Don't fight. This is a diversion.

Something fought against her for a second, and she snarled and leapt forward. The guard kicked her viciously, and she spun away from the blow to latch her teeth around his exposed wrist. He yelped and slashed at her with his knife. The blade cut through mostly fur, but the pain of it cutting into her shoulder made her yelp. She let go, and ran under his legs to trip him up. He stopped her with another well-timed kick, sending her whimpering into the corner. Then the guard shouted something and she came back to herself, turning and running out of the open door.

“Kill it!” Orsille screamed, his voice shrill. “Kill it! I order you to...!”

His voice faded into the distance as she ran, trusting her nose to lead her to the battlements. She smelled the sweetness of fresh air and crashed through that door. As soon as she was outside she shouted out to the People. 


Their voices rang in her mind as they answered, and she ran onwards, panting in the hot sunlight. The stones were cool under her paws, but she was already growing tired as she rounded the curtain wall and saw the soldiers gathering below. They opened the portcullis and darted outside the keep, raising bows to fire at her from both sides of the wall. Then they all turned, shouting in confusion as the doors of the stables crashed open, and every single horse who had been tied up burst out and galloped towards them.

They streamed through the open gate, their hooves clattering like thunder on the drawbridge as they sped away down the mountain. Without men on their backs, with their halters chewed away, even the heaviest stallions were fast enough to escape. The soldiers shouted to each other and ran after them, waving their arms futilely. Daine stopped to catch her breath, panting and watching the other animals stream out of the stables through the now-empty courtyard, escaping into the woods.

Thank you, she called after them, and shuddered as even that use of magic made the wolf roar in her mind. No... she thought, and lay down on the cold stone. No, I won’t let you.

The cold brought her back to herself a little, and she shut her eyes in weariness. When she opened them again it was because she felt colder, and when she raised a paw in front of her face she saw that the fur was shrinking away.

“No...” she whispered, and realised she was human enough to speak. “Not yet. I still have to...”

Footsteps thundered along the wall behind her, and she raised herself on shaking arms to look around at the guards. They skidded to a halt, staring at her in bewilderment and looking past her.

“Where’s the wolf?” One of them demanded. “Did it attack you?”

“No,” she whispered, struggling to sit upright. “Not this time.” For some reason the thought made her giggle, and she hid her face in her hands.

“You’re the girl that controls the hawk, aren’t you?” One of them asked, his voice young and curious. Daine nodded, and he tripped forward to help her stand up, his hands gentle and respectful. “Thank you, miss. That would have been much worse if you hadn’t done something. We can’t... we can’t believe that Sir Orsille would do something like that. But we’re fair grateful to you.”

A few of the other men nodded, and one of them sheathed his drawn sword and asked, “What are you doing up here?”

Daine drew a deep breath. It was a risk, but then her legs shook under her, and she knew that she didn’t have much time. “I’m hiding. Orsille wants to kill me.” She whispered. “I’m one of his slaves. I ran up here to get away from him. He had a knife. He wants to kill me.”

“But... he can’t!” The young man blurted out, and then flushed when one of the older soldiers hushed him. “No, sir, it’s not right. She was only trying to help people. And what if that Hawk creature comes back? You know he’s going to use the Hawk. He's going to use all the mages, they’re the best weapon we...”

“You know what Orsille’s like with his slaves.” One of the men rumbled from the back of the group, and then his voice became defensive as someone glanced at him. “Oh, you’ve heard the same stories I have. Look at the girl. She can barely stand! You tell me she’s been well treated. Looks half starved to me.”

“She is a slave,” another pointed out. “You lot are all new, but you must know that all the slaves are here because they deserve it. They’re murderers, all of them.”

“The only person I’ve seen killing anyone recently is Orsille, and he’s eating three meals a day.” The man scowled, and took a step forward to grip Daine’s shoulder. “Look, girl, we’ll speak up for you. We’re attacking those Tortallan bastards tomorrow, so the last thing the officials want is us disputin’ something.”

“The horses!” Someone yelled, and the guards looked down at the soldier who shouted up to Orsille’s window. After a few moments the official appeared, striding into the courtyard and looking around with wary eyes. The soldiers watched with interest, muttering to themselves about the leader never being quite the same since the hawk attack.

“The horses have escaped!” The soldier was babbling loudly, wringing his hands and pointing through the wide-open portcullis. “Sir, what do we do? If we’re attacking tomorrow...”

“What! Damn it to the dark realms.” Orsille spat bitterly on the floor, and then caught sight of the soldiers staring at him curiously from the battlements. “You! Men! Did you kill the wolf?”

“No sir, we think it escaped.” One of the men shouted back, “We didn’t see it, and this next door’s not been opened. Probably fell into the moat, or something. The others all went after the horses, so maybe they shot it?”

“And why aren’t you going after the horses?” The man shouted back poisonously. The soldier flushed and then caught Daine around the shoulders, moving her forward so the official could see her. He looked up with eyes filled with hatred and fear, and she smiled sweetly back at him.

“We found this girl, sir.” The soldier said, his arm still protectively around her shoulders. “She says she ran away. Should we lock her up with that hawk mage, in case he goes mad again? All the soldiers are talking about it, you know. We’re fair happy you’ve got her to control that creature.”

Orsille opened his mouth furiously, and then stopped and studied Daine for a moment. She swayed dizzily, even under the soldier’s arm, and a slight smiled spread over his face. Only Daine saw the slight movement of his fingers, the tiny glimmer of his gift, because she was expecting him to try something.

“Yes, lock her back up in the pit, and then get after those horses.” He said nonchelantly, and turned away.

The guards might have mistaken his wave for a sarcastic farewell, but as soon as his hand moved Daine felt ghostly hands closing on her arms, pulling her forward over the low surrounding wall. To the soldiers it might have looked like she’d fainted, or stumbled, but as she shrieked and held her arms out to stop herself from falling she knew it was useless. The magical hands yanked her violently over the edge, and after that she could only remember falling.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 54 of 69

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