Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 61 of 69

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To Daine's surprise, rather taking her to one of the main rooms, or to a jail cell, Orsille shoved her up several winding flights of stairs to a room at the top of one of the smaller towers. She had never been there before, but she noticed as she climbed that the walls were stronger, the windows more deep-set and the stones older than many of the other towers.

This one must be the original bailey: the tower that was built when the keep was defensive rather than a prison. She hid a smile. Despite her frantic fear it was nice to know that the official was nervous enough to want to be in a strongly defended place. The stairs were guarded by several sentries, all of whom saluted smartly as they went past, but every man's eyes were guarded.

He really is losing. Daine thought, almost wanting to laugh. They're all nervous, and he's shoring up here where he can defend himself if the main walls are breached.

When they reached the room at the top of the tower Orsille turned and locked the heavy wooden door behind them, and even slotted a bar across the wood. Daine wondered if he was scared of the hawk breaking in, rather than Alanna's army, but for the first time she didn't say anything. She didn't want to goad him into killing her sooner than he planned. Every minute was another chance for Alanna to break through his defences and help her. She blinked in the dark room, which only had one window to let in the light, and noticed another shape in the corner.

"How's your head, dearest?" Orsille asked in a soft voice Daine barely recognised. The shape raised a dainty hand to a bruise on the side of her face, and scowled.

"I can't believe that oaf hit me." She sniffed, and looked away. "And you rewarded him...!"

"Don't start arguing again." The official's voice was strained. "He brought you to me, so I could keep you safe. That was his only mission, and he had my full permission to do whatever needed doing! He... well, we can talk later, if you're still angry about that treacherous maid..."

"She wasn't..." Karenna started, and then threw up her hands when her father turned away. Her face took on the slightly odd look it got when she was being deceitful. Daine wondered how Orsille hadn't realised his daughter was a spy; she was such a bad liar! Regardless, her words were typically snobbish, even if just the implication was enough to send chills down Daine's spine.

Karenna shrugged and lowered her hand from her head with false nonchalance. "Well, it was just a maid, I suppose, and people die in wars all the time."

"Just so." Orsille chewed on his fingernail, apparently forgetting that either of them were in the room with him, and stared out of the window. He fingered the knife at his belt absently, muttering under his breath, and Karenna walked up to him.

"Are you worried, father? You were winning when I left!" Karenna said, but Orsille scowled and shook his head.

"You missed the reinforcements, beloved. They've been very enthusiastically taking out my mages. The lady knight somehow freed all the maniacs from the pit. Well, all of them except for that one." He spat in Daine's general direction, ignoring his daughter's moue of polite distaste. "And the hawk mage, of course. He'll come running after her, just you watch."

"Tell her he's been told to come as the hawk, or not at all." Daine retorted, hating the gloating note in the official's voice. "How desperate are you, Orsille, that you're wagering your victory on a creature you can't even speak to, let alone command?"

The official shrugged, manically cheerful in his insane optimism. "It doesn't matter. None of it matters. The hawk is the key in this battle, and everyone knows it. As soon as he's seen they'll know it's for me, and all of my soldiers will fight harder. The slave mages will fight loyally, because they'll know I'm going to win. And he... he will obliterate that red-headed bitch, and her pathetic army of escaped maniacs."

"He won't fight for you." Daine persisted, knowing she was sounding childish but unable to stop herself from repeating fervently her fervent prayer. "He won't."

"Of course he will." Orsille smiled confidently at her, the expression hollow and threatening even as Karenna stared at him in confusion. "After all, I have a rather good incentive for him, don't I Annette?"

"You're going to mutilate and kill my unborn child." Daine interrupted his cheerful words dully, hearing Karenna's horrified gasp. She knew that Orsille had simply wanted to gloat. He didn't want his daughter to know details, but now the words were out he couldn't avoid her shocked, tear-filled eyes.

"Father, is that... you wouldn't really...?"

"Of course I would. Why are you surprised? You already knew I would happily give permission to a soldier to beat you, my dearest one, in order to get you away from the battlefield."

Orsille sounded impatient, but he didn't look at his daughter as he spoke, and his words were clipped. "Both of these things are necessary. They got results. You're here and safe; the hawk will obey me. The world isn't all pretty dresses and parties, you see. To rule, you must be prepared to be strong. It's time you learned what kind of man I am, daughter."

"I already knew." Karenna whispered, but Orsille had already turned away. He heard something and, with an odd look of triumph, he moved to look out of the window. Daine heard the distant noises too, and stood beside him, her hands clenching into fists.

With a piercing scream, the hawk burst out of one of the towers and soared into the sky. Its wings were ragged from flying through the close tunnels of the pit and the narrow corridors of the keep, and it spun in the air dizzily for a moment as if the sun had blinded it. Then it circled higher, so high that it was barely a dot in the air, apparently scouting the horizon before tearing off towards the distant smoke of the battlefield.

The people who had screamed and ducked their heads when the creature first appeared almost relaxed, pointing towards it, when it suddenly changed direction and plummeted towards the ground with wings tucked, so fast that the air tore around it. The people cried out and scattered, but just like before they tripped over one another in their fear. This time there was no-one to protect them, or to tell the hawk to stop, so the creature tore through them with wild feral glee.

The courtyard was red with blood by the time it soared back up into the air, and when the creature let the drops fall from its claws they burned with black fire and made even the stone cobbles smoulder where they fell.

After its first rampage the hawk slowed down, but not from weariness. It chuckled softly to itself as it circled the keep, starting to drift lower as it slowed its wing beats. Eyes narrowed, it began to circle each building in turn, sniffing and glaring at each opening and window as it passed them.

A few times it stopped, cawing something close to laughter as it disappeared into a building. There would be shrieks, always female, always terrified. Every time the hawk reappeared with a furious expression and horribly reddened claws, sometimes dragging the bodies of the women with it out of the windows in petulant ire.

He's looking for me, Daine corrected herself with a sick rush of bitterness. No, it's not him. It's the hawk. He's not there. He wouldn't be doing... doing that. But... it's looking for me. Why...?

She thought back to the hawk, remembering the way it had sneered at her on the battlements the last time Orsille had released it. She remembered the feeling of its claws sinking into her arm on the night she had spoken to it on the frozen mountain side. She remembered the cold hatred in its voice when it had hissed in barely-formed words: Kill her. I will dance in her blood.

Numair never knew how much the hawk hates me, She realised, drawing back from the window and realising her nails had bitten into her own palms. I never told him. I couldn't bear to. He would have shapeshifted thinking the hawk would attack the Gallans, not the Tortallans. Not... not me.

She forced herself to move back, to keep watching the creature as it circled the keep with eyes narrowed. It seemed different than before. She blinked and squinted against the glare of the sun, seeing how the creature was more streamlined than before.

It was as if all the human flaws that had made the bird weaker had been erased. It moved with stronger wing-beats, its bones lighter and its feathers longer, and the aquiline face that held those piercing black eyes was more bird than human. She could hardly recognise Numair in the creature. She had never seen a creature more empty, more devoid of humanity.

Numair said he made a deal with it. She realised, her heart racing. He said that he would stop shape shifting. I thought... I thought...

She looked at the creature, and tried not to sob out loud. For all she knew, the thing would be able to hear her.

The thing that wasn't Numair anymore. The thing that would never be Numair again. She stared up at it, and knew without any doubt that trying to save her had been the last loving choice the man called Numair would ever make.

He planned this! She slumped to the floor, feeling lost and stupid and utterly helpless. He made that deal with the Hawk before he even... I knew something was wrong, but I didn't... I never thought...

"Oh, you idiot!" She whispered fiercely, and barely knew if she was talking about herself or the man she loved. Had loved. No, still loved. She forced herself to think that. She forced herself not to think of the word gone.

"Cheer up, flower. It looks like it was true love, at least."

The snide voice was jubilant, and Daine looked up with sudden burning fury in her eyes. In her horror she had forgotten that there was anyone else in the room. But of course there was. Orsille watched her reaction with the same amount of smug satisfaction that he'd had on his face when the Hawk had first shrieked its way into the courtyard, while Karenna was staring out of the window with something close to horror, the livid bruise on her head stark against her pale skin.

When the wealthy woman's stunned eyes finally looked around they met Daine's, and she saw something there which made her take a step back. Karenna shook her head frantically, but already knew what the other girl was going to do. Daine smiled viciously, an expression that looked like it had been cut across her face rather than consciously chosen. Her eyes flashed furiously, like storm clouds full of lightning. She pulled herself deliberately to her feet. Ignoring the shrieks of the people outside, she faced Orsille for the last time.

"I never finished my list." She said, every harsh breath ringing heavily in her ears. The manic smile still slashed across her face when she raised her chin and spoke with every regal note that Hazelle had ever taught her in her voice. "You deserve to know who the traitors are. You deserve to know everyone who betrayed you."

"Daine, don't..." Karenna breathed, almost without thinking. Orsille whirled around, his eyes wide with shock as his daughter covered her mouth with one shaking hand. It was too late; she'd spoken aloud, and in that one true name he realised the truth.

"No..." he said, his voice hoarse as he started to shake his head. Karenna took a step backwards, trembling so much now that she almost tripped over the skirt of her dress.

"Daine, how could you..?" She started.

Her eyes filled with tears, and her father tore his gaze away from the young woman as if he couldn't bear to look at her. All of the blood had drained from his face. He had been gloating a moment before, still convinced of his own invincibility, and the slave's words had cut him to the quick. For the first time his cunning mind could not settle on one thought. He found that he was almost afraid of what Daine would say next. Beside him, the daughter he had adored swallowed back a sob, and the sound started a slow burning fury in his stomach.

"You... you're lying." He snapped at the slave, but he was unable to find the savage voice that had terrified her for so many months. Daine took a step forward. She could feel only broken coldness as he backed away from her.

"Does it hurt?" She spat, "I hope it hurts."

"It's not true!" Karenna tried to protest, her voice too high. "Papa, Dai... the slave is lying! She's trying to turn you against me! She's trying to confuse you!"

"Your soldiers are all deserting. Your mages are being wiped out. Your daughter betrayed you." Daine's voice was merciless, her eyes almost fiery as she backed her torturer towards the wall. He stopped when he reached the window, gripping the sill with white knuckles and staring at her with the same stunned fury on his face.

Daine stumbled over what she said next, but only slightly, and the words were raw as they poured out of her. "Num... the hawk's not going to fight for you. It's not going to fight for me, either. It just wants blood and it hates us both. You've lost, Orsille. And I hope it hurts. I hope it feels like your heart is being torn in half."

She stopped speaking, shaking, and pressed her fists to her chest in a gesture of unspeakable pain. "I hope it hurts you even half as much as you've hurt me."

"You..." he echoed the word, eyes narrowing. Daine took a breath, ready for him to reach out and attack her, but he spun and grabbed at Karenna instead. She shrieked in surprise and dragged herself backwards, unable to pull herself away from his bruising grip.

He shook her so savagely her head cracked back against the window frame, froth flying from the corners of his mouth. "You bitch! How could you do this to me? How? I gave you everything! I loved you!"

"Stop it!" Daine threw herself between them, slamming her full body weight into his arms. She heard something snap, and he let go of his daughter with a yelp. Karenna reeled backwards, stunned.

Daine clawed at the man, almost strangling him in her violent fury. Her words came out in violent sobs, almost torn from her throat. "Leave her alone! I won't let you hurt another person! Never!"

"Daine...!" Karenna shrilled from where she'd fallen, one trembling hand pointing out of the window. "Look...!"

Daine's head snapped around just as Orsille's hand closed around her wrist.

A dark shadow suddenly blocked out all the light in the tower, a shadow with shining claws and blazing eyes, and the official screamed as savage talons bit into his shoulders and dragged him backwards through the window. His hand constricted, and Daine scrabbled helplessly at his clutching fingers as she was yanked forwards with him. The hawk screeched out a laugh as it hauled them both clear of the stonework, and then let them fall with a mocking shriek.

They fell for what seemed like eternity, and felt like a single heartbeat, before they both crashed into the mouldy hay that was piled around the base of the tower. Daine shook her head, half-stunned, and then blinked in confusion at the straw. As she struggled to free herself from the whiskery strands, she heard the odd crackling sound of flames, and then she understood.

They're burning the keep. She thought, hearing the insane laughter of the escaped prisoners. They must have piled straw from the stables around all the stonework and lit it, but this pile was too damp and mouldy to do anything except smoulder. For a moment her heart lifted.

They've broken through the defences. Orsille really has lost!

Orsille. In the word she remembered her current danger, and looked around frantically. She couldn't see the man in the messily stacked piles of hay, but she doubted the fall had killed him.

She heard a scream and her heart sank. Of course. The hawk had dropped them here on purpose. The hawk had known full well that it wouldn't kill them, and now it was screaming towards the hay with mocking claws outstretched, reaching for its victims to tear and maim at their mortal flesh.

Please, please don't! She screamed at it, drawing from every scrap of her magic.

It ignored her, and in that moment she knew that Numair was entirely gone. Whatever the creature was, there was nothing there which cared for her, or would listen to her words.

The bronze cord which had bound their gifts together had burned away, as if it had never existed. She could no more talk to the Hawk than she could fight it off.

Daine looked around anyway, hoping for a discarded weapon, a hayfork or even a jagged piece of wood, but there was nothing. There was just hay and the stone cobbles of the keep.

The creature swooped down and gathered its wings around it regally, like a twisted cloak of ragged black feathers. Even standing on its clawed feet it towered over her, taking Numair's height and stretching it with the elongated horror of the birdlike form. It tilted its head from side to side, clearly relishing the moment as it moved towards its prey. Daine palmed a stone, backing away from the creature, and hefted it. It laughed at her pitiful weapon.

"No, my love," she whispered, "You're right. It wouldn't even slow you down. But I have to try."

The hawk tilted its head. There was the emptiness in its eyes, terrifying and bleak in its placid hatred of her, and its utter indifference to anything but its focus on its prey. Daine stumbled clumsily backwards through the hay. The creature laughed as she felt the fire-warmed stone of the bailey pressing against her back. She looked up into its feral eyes, and saw the black shadow of her death in the hawk's hollow gaze.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 61 of 69

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