Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 6 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Daine woke up and wondered why she felt so... odd.

The day was as cold and grey as ever, and she was lying in her cell with her body throbbing from yet another beating. A flock of birds were roosting on the roof, and she could hear them buzzing in her mind like a swarm of bees. Normally she would wake up feeling dull, angry, irritable. But today... there was an irresistible lightness about waking up, and she didn’t feel cold, or lonely, or broken.

She blinked, and realised that she hadn’t had any nightmares. Not one. For the first time since coming here, her sleep had been free from clawing hands and accusing eyes. She moved to rub the sleep from her eyes, and realised that she was holding on to something else. Someone’s hand. And then, with a rush of happiness, she remembered why today was different.

“Good morning,” Numair said in her ear.

Daine smiled and squeezed his hand. If she hadn’t known it would hurt him she might have hugged him, but she squashed the impulse that told her to do so. She suddenly felt slightly foolish, as if she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t. He’d just let her share the bed because she was hurt, and because he felt guilty for tricking her. She was so cut off from the real world that the smallest display of kindness made her want to throw herself into a complete stranger’s arms!

The thought wasn’t fair to either of them, or even true, but it still made her flush.

She was about to let go of his hand when she realised something. Biting her lip, she sat up stiffly and reached over to take his other hand. She rested it against her cheek and then smiled. His hands were warm – the fever was passing. When she checked the wound it was still raw, still fragile, but the angry red lines that had webbed his stomach were fading and heat no longer radiated from it.

“Good news?” The man asked, and the playful note in his voice couldn’t hide his own relief. She grinned at him, climbing down from the bed to fetch the alcohol and willow bark. For the first time, she collected them with a sense that they might actually do something, and changed the bandages for fresh ones with good humour. When she had finished she portioned out some of the food that they had been left and handed him his share, glaring at him when he looked like he would refuse it.

“The little one is determined to get me well, even if it kills me.” Numair muttered to his stale bread, then sighed and ate it with a dramatic, long-suffering look. Daine smirked at him and ate her own food, watching him with narrowed eyes to make sure he ate every crumb of cheese and every piece of bread, then handing him the willow tea with a triumphant look. After he drank she took a sip too, avoiding his eyes for the first time. She didn’t want to talk about what had happened yesterday, and she knew he could read her eyes far too well.

After that, there was nothing left to do. Daine put the canister down next to the bed and lay down next to him again, telling herself it was because she was aching and tired, and not because her heart felt warmer when he immediately took her hand and held it. Now that his hands weren’t frozen it was harder to think of him as the demon. Daine thought the demon must be the strange magical creature she’d seen trying to escape from him, the one with black feathers and screaming fire in its eyes. She wondered if he’d been cursed. As a man, as Numair, the Hawk Mage was no more threatening than a farmyard cat.

He told her one story after another in a soft, easy lilt, enjoying his own memories and glancing at her from time to time for a nod or a shrug, or a glare if she thought he was teasing her. They passed most of the day like that, with Daine making more tea or building up the fire, and Numair describing Carthak. Each time Daine lay down more easily, and by the afternoon all the awkwardness she felt had gone, along with most of her pain. The affectionate gestures the man made- holding her hand, or touching her arm- had made her shrink away at first. She soon realised that they seemed almost absentminded on his part, and she found she liked the easiness of it.

Numair started to describe the Carthaki palace, and she closed her eyes to see the pictures more clearly in her mind. Vast rooms full of books. Endless corridors paved in gilded tiles. Men and women in silk clothes so fine they made no sound when they danced. And they danced in ballrooms whose ceilings were so high the candlelight couldn’t reach them. A hundred, a thousand candles, like bright stars in the endless desert nights, lighting up spinning figures adorned in shining red, and blue, and gold and green.

Daine didn’t think people and places like that could really exist. They were stories – beautiful, wonderful stories! – but real? She hid her face against the man’s shoulder so the light couldn’t steal the beautiful pictures away from her.

Numair stopped talking and gently stroked her hair. His eyes were strange as he looked at her, an odd mixture of gentle kindness and hopeless confusion. It was the first time that she’d seen them without the sick light of fever making them unfocused and quick. She thought perhaps he would ask her why she was cuddling up to him, but his bafflement was about something much worse.

“Little one,” he started, and then pressed on without letting himself think about it, “What... what did you do?”

She stiffened, and he could feel her preparing to draw away. He shook his head and stroked the side of her face, where the bruise had nearly healed into nothing. “I’m not accusing you of anything, sweet. Really I’m not. I just don’t understand how someone like you can end up in a place like this.”

Sweet? Daine’s mind rested on the word briefly, then fluttered away like a bird. She knew, with absolute certainty, that if he knew what she’d done he’d never speak to her again. And... and besides, what would she tell him? She could barely remember herself, just the colours and the sounds, and then the mob screaming for her blood.

She knew she must have done the terrible things they were screaming about, or else why would they blame her? She’d looked down at her hands as she stood on the charred platform, and had seen the blood. It had dried by then, rust-like in the grooves of her palms.

Her lungs were filled with smoke and her back ached from standing upright, but it was important, so important, that she stayed on her hind legs. She’d promised. She’d promised so faithfully, and it was important. It was only when they led the pony - looking so small and frightened but still stubbornly dragging her hooves – into the butcher’s yard that she’d finally screamed, screamed her last smoke-choked breath into their deaf ears and lost her footing. It was only then that she broke her promise. It was only then that she could remember being the monster, tearing through them with sharp claws and blood slavered teeth in her sobbing fury.

One of the officials had told her that the massacre had saved her life. After Cloud, she was to have been executed. They were arguing over whether to use a noose or an axe, but she had made the decision for them. Such a creature, he said, should never be slaughtered. It should be captured. It should be tamed. Until that moment, they hadn’t believed the creature existed. After she killed so many of the townspeople, her slavery had been assured.

Yes, he said, coiling a finger in her hair until it dragged painfully against her scalp. Yes. We saved your life.

No, she thought suddenly, her thoughts dragging her back into the present. They didn’t save my life. They just stopped my death. This... this isn’t life. This is a cage. If they wanted to punish me they would have killed me back then, and had done with it. That was what I deserved.

Daine raised her hand and looked at it as if for the first time, seeing the swollen fingers where she’d raised it to protect herself. She remembered the sick look of savage glee on the face of the official as he raised the stick, the way he’d panted in sadistic gluttony every time it fell.

This... this has nothing to do with me, or what I did. It’s all to do with what they want, and what they know they can get away with.

She wondered where the thought had come from, and vaguely remembered angry voices, raised in a fevered dream of pain.

Not voices. A voice.

She looked up, and remembered. She realised what Numair had done. What they had said. How he had fought for her. And even though she still couldn’t answer his question, for the first time in six years she found words she wanted to say. They came out slowly, hesitantly, but she meant every last one of them.

“I’m not... animal.”

Numair wrapped his arm clumsily around her shoulders and held her very closely for a long moment, eyes shut. “Oh sweetheart, I know. I know that.”

She choked back a sob of relief, and when he opened his eyes she was stunned to see that he was blinking back his own tears. She reached up with shaking fingers and brushed those tears away, wondering if they were the first ones anyone had ever shed for the slave girl. But just like he wasn’t the Hawk Mage but Numair, she realised, she wasn’t the slave girl either.

“I’m Daine.” She smiled, feeling her throat already aching at so many words. He repeated the name back slowly, as if he were testing it, making it fit the face of the girl beside him.

“Daine,” He smiled. “You know, it suits you. It’s a very pretty name! Thank you for telling me, Daine.”

How strange, to hear her own name again! It was probably easier for him to remember it than it was for her to recognise it as her own. She wanted him to say it again. She wanted to hear it spoken a thousand times in that soft, deep voice.

“Daine, can I tell you a story?” He said hesitantly, as if he hadn’t just spent the whole day doing exactly that. She looked sidelong at him, thinking that she would listen to anything if it meant that she could stay here, with her friend, hearing her name and feeling his arm around her shoulders.

But her few fleeting words had been spent, and she found she had no more of them. She nodded instead, knowing that next time the silence wouldn’t be so hard to scare away. He took a deep breath, his arm tightening for a moment as if he was scared she would leave, and then started:

“This is... this is the story of what did.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 6 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>