Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 64 of 69

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Karenna was sobbing, ringing her hands with helpless uselessness as she knelt down next to them. Although she was frantically shaking Daine's shoulder, she was trying to stay as far away as possible from Numair, and as a result she was stretching out her arm in a spider-like manner.

Daine opened her eyes first, and hissed between her teeth at the pain of a thousand cuts biting into her mortal form. The weeping girl half-shrieked and threw her arms around Daine, apologising in a flurry of tears when Daine winced away from her embrace.

"Oh, you're alive! I thought..." she blurted out, and then burst into tears again. She turned away and hid her face, obviously glad that the night-time darkness covered her tears. The orange glow from the many distant fires still lit the droplets as they fell, making them glow red like fresh blood.

Daine thought to try to comfort the hysterical woman, but when she tried to move she found that Numair was lying heavily on top of her.

"Numair," she said softly, as if she were waking him up after a night's sleep. It was a ridiculous thought; they were both covered in drying blood, lying as they'd fallen with their clothes torn and their bodies bruised from fighting each other. She could tell even in the darkness that Numair was hurt, but she had no idea how badly, and she pushed away her guilt. She ran her hand gently through his hair, shocked by how cold he felt. "Numair, my love, it's time to wake up now."

He groaned and shifted slightly, and then woke up with a sudden gasp of pain. Eyes whirling wildly, he sat bolt upright and curled up, shuddering. Daine caught her breath and touched his shoulder tentatively.

"Are you alright? Is it... is it from losing the magic? Are you hurting?" She babbled, trying to get him to open his eyes. He breathed deeply for a few moments, rasping out the air almost as soon as he'd drawn it in, and when he finally looked at her his eyes were shadowed in the darkness.

"It's... yes. I'll be... fine." He whispered, still shuddering. "Just wasn't ready for... for coming back."

"I'm sorry," she said, thinking he meant that she'd dragged them back to their bodies too quickly. She still couldn't control the magic he'd given her, and even her head was reeling after carrying them back out of her core. He shook his head, squeezing his eyes tightly shut again for a moment and trying to breathe evenly.

"Is it still the Hawk?" The voice was Karenna's, less tearful now and more cold. Daine looked at her, pursing her lips in something between confusion and disgust at the way the girl had phrased her question.

"No, he isn't." She snapped, not taking her hand away from Numair's shoulder. Karenna scooted a little further away across the hay, and her voice was accusing.

"It killed my father."

Daine blinked, and stared wide-eyed at Numair. Now she could see that most of the blood that coated his tunic couldn't be from him – and, now she looked properly, the tunic was familiar. She looked down breathlessly for a moment, torn by a sudden, fierce rush of vengeful happiness.

"Orsille's dead?"

"Couldn't be deader." Numair croaked, nodding across the darkness towards a deformed, barely-human shape. It lay completely still, outlined by the orange glow of the distant fires. Numair looked up with eyes that were still ringed with pain, meeting Daine's gaze and sharing in her dark glee for a second before moving on to look at Karenna.

His voice was completely cold when he told her, "I hope you're not expecting us to feel sorry about that. He was a monster."

"You are a monster." She retorted. "He did some bad things, but he was still my father. I loved him."

"Then mourn him, and tell yourself whatever lies you like. Just keep them to yourself. It's none of our concern." Numair struggled to his feet and reached a hand down to Daine, helping her to stand up and ignoring his own pain.

She was still staring with huge eyes at the bloody mess which had been Orsille. Her hands moved slightly. He remembered every nightmare she had fought against when lying in his arms, and gently caught one of her clenched hands to kiss her fingers. Her skin felt icy against his lips.

“It’s really over,” she whispered, and she covered her eyes with her other hand.

Numair touched the girl’s hair tenderly. His voice was weak, but every word which he directed at Karenna was fierce, "If I could keep a single one of the Hawk's memories it would be killing that sadistic monster. I'd love to know how it felt. I'm just sorry I didn't do it myself."

"You did." She insisted, standing up to face him and stamping her foot like a child. "No wonder they locked you up! You really are insane. You really are the Hawk. I can't believe I was fooled by you! You have everyone fooled! Daine, you were unconscious, you don't know what he..."

"No, I do know. But you're wrong, Karenna. It was the Hawk." Daine said softly.

She let go of Numair's hand and walked up to the other woman, touching her tense arm soothingly. "Karenna, we need to go. This is still a battle ground. Whether they're Gallan or Tortallan, if we stay here the next people to find us will attack us. It'll be fair hard to explain to a soldier or a mage or even a slave what's happened here, and none of us are strong of us to defend ourselves. I know you're grieving, but now's not the time to be blaming us for this. We can explain later, if you want to listen, but right now we have to escape from this nightmare. And you... you need to come with us."

"No." She folded her arms obstinately. "I won't."

"There isn't time to argue." Daine found herself matching the girl's stubbornness. She grit her teeth and tried to resist putting her hands on her hips, knowing it would just provoke the idiot to keep bickering. Karenna tapped her fingers impatiently against her elbows and licked her lips.

"No." She repeated, "I'm staying here. My father’s dead. It's my castle now. My inheritance. If your Tortallan friends want it they can have it, but they need someone to negotiate with, and I'm the only one who's left. They're... they're waiting for me. I'll surrender gladly, but I won't have my father's dream overrun with madmen and... and mages."

She glared at Numair for a moment, and then looked away. Her voice was terse. "Daine, I'm glad you're alive. And you're right, you should leave. Straight away. And you should never come back."

"Why would we want to?" Numair muttered, but it was quiet enough for Karenna to pretend she hadn't heard it. Daine felt a little sorry for the girl, and before she returned to Numair's side she squeezed Karenna's shoulder reassuringly, feeling the tension that defied the noble arrogance that the woman wore like armour.

"If you ever want to come to Tortall, I'd like us to be friends." She said quietly, feeling the woman shiver and smiling ruefully. "I understand if you want to forget you ever met us, but... you'll always be welcome."

Karenna smiled tearfully, the expression almost meeting her eyes, and then in a whirl of filthy, tattered silk skirts she turned and was gone.

They could see her, walking regally through the courtyard as if half the keep wasn't ablaze, and the passages weren't filled with fighting men and women and vengeful maniacs. As she walked an escort of soldiers gathered around her, drifting out from where they'd been watching her. Some wore Gallan uniforms, and some Tortallan, but all of them guarded the woman with the same grim concentration.

"Perhaps she will do it," Daine said, almost to herself. "She's got enough courage and stubbornness to see it through."

"Why did you ask her to come with us?" Numair asked, sounding genuinely confused. "I'd be happy never to see her again."

Daine sighed and ran a hand through her hair, wincing at the blood clots tangled in the short strands. "She didn't ask to be a part of this any more than we did. And she doesn't have anyone to help her through it, like we do."

She looked up at him and looped her arm around his waist, carefully taking some of his weight as they started walking away from the bailey. "I only survived because of you. When I wanted to give up, or I felt completely hopeless, I told myself that if I didn't keep fighting I would never see you again. I can't imagine living without you, you see. So I don't know how Karenna kept going. After betraying her father she didn’t have anyone."

"Daine," he started, and then shook his head when she looked up curiously. He smiled ruefully and stopped walking so that he could kiss her, holding her hands gently between his own to stop her from accidentally touching his stab wound. When he pulled away his voice was teasing, and he hoped that she couldn't hear the shadows in his words. Let her think it was a joke. "You have to learn how to live without me sooner or later, you know."

"Later, please." She returned, and when she kissed him Numair could feel the warm tears on her cheeks.

They made it out of the keep without being attacked. In the end they just walked brazenly across the opened drawbridge which crossed the border, seeing that the portcullis had been completely blasted from its frame by someone's magic. All the fighters were so intent on getting inside the walls, joining in the fray of battle in the burning buildings, that two ragged strangers going in the opposite direction were hardly noticed. Those who did notice them guessed that they were escaping prisoners or servants, and ignored them.

They walked for miles along the open road and then, following a route that Numair had been told by Alanna, along the first trail they found in the darkness. The sounds of battle faded gradually behind them, as if the people fighting were becoming quieter instead of drawing further away. The acrid stench of smoke dispersed when the wind changed.

When the sun started to rise Daine caught her first proper sight of Tortall. They paused, exhausted, at the crest of a mountain trail to see the sun rising over the lush forest. Without speaking, they curled up together on the warm dust next to a trail marker, and looked over the land which promised them the freedom they had never had, heads rested against each other's as they watched the sun rise.

"We're heading about another ten miles to the South," Numair pointed away from the valley into the forest, where an outcrop of rocks made a natural marker. "There's a camp there, Alanna says, for reinforcements. Soldiers, healers…" he grinned, "…food…"

When he lowered his arm he became aware of the slow, ominous trickle of blood, and realised that it was starting to seep through his tunic in a horribly wide, dark patch. It must have soaked the bandage he'd hastily tied, and the shirt that covered it, and even several hours it clearly hadn't healed.

He had been oblivious to it, with adrenalin and anger fuelling his every move in the keep, but in this peaceful dawn he had a moment of awful clarity. It was still bleeding, and with a cold, sickening feeling Numair realised that it was the kind of wound that was never going to stop. No wonder the Hawk was keeping its distance. He had weakened himself deliberately.

Without the strength it normally drew from the magic which ran through his veins, his body didn't even have the strength to stop a wound from bleeding.

Careful not to let Daine think something was wrong, he walked around to her other side and cheerfully took her arm, helping her to stand up when her swollen stomach made her move clumsily, and hoping she wouldn't think he was stopping her from seeing his side for a reason. "Welcome to Tortall, magelet!"

She rested her head against his shoulder briefly, looking around at the forest with tired eyes but only smiling when she finally met his gaze. "You're here. I like it."

"It has other virtues," he teased her, "Not many are as compelling, admittedly…" and he started telling her stories as they walked down the mountain, both of them trying not to slow the other one down as the summer day began in earnest, and the woods filled with the chatter of the morning chorus.

Numair had to swallow heavily a few times, not sure if he could hear real birds or if the ringing was in his ears. He knew that he was stumbling too often, and that Daine was looking at him with concern, but there was still a chance that they could reach the camp, he thought, and he made them press on.

"Are you sure?" Daine asked, "We've been fighting all night and you're fair tired. We can stop and rest. It's safe enough here. If any mages or soldiers come I can scare them off…"

"No," he whispered, and then repeated himself more strongly. "No. The closer we get to the camp, the safer you are."

"We are," she corrected him, looking worried. He smiled, kissed her fleetingly, and nodded.

"Yes, you're right. We are."

They'd covered half of the remaining distance when Numair checked his tunic again, and had to stop himself from hissing through his teeth at the blood that soaked it. His eyes weren't focusing properly any more, but he could see enough to tell that the blood had completely soaked through the tunic, and must have been dripping onto the trail behind them for the last mile.

The next mile seemed to drift past while he swam in a feverish daze. It was only when he was falling that he realised his legs had finally given way under him.

He fell heavily to the ground. He couldn't help crying out and clutching in pain at his side when the shock reached the wound and started a new, heavier flow of blood. Daine yelped and grabbed at him, almost falling with him in her rush to help.

"What is it?" She gasped. Numair shook his head, but she had seen his hand twitching at his side, and the dark blood, and she pulled his tunic aside to see the gaping wound. The shirt under it looked like it had been dyed dark brown where the first flow of blood had dried, but it now shone bright red where fresh blood seeped through the fabric. Numair caught her hands, but she cursed at him and pressed her hands to the bleeding. They both knew it was hopeless. It was clear that there was nothing to be done.

"You idiot," she said tearfully, barely able to look at him as she choked back a sob. "Why didn't you tell me you were hurt? We could have… we should have gone back and found a healer…"

"The hawk only left me because it knew it was hopeless." He said gently, not making an effort to hide his pain now that she knew. "This was best, sweetheart."

"Best!" She did look at him, then, and her glare was bright with tears. "Best! Oh, you… you…"

"Idiot?" He finished for her, and smiled when she looked at him incredulously. Even with eyes reddened by tears, he thought, she was still breathtaking. He reached up a hand and ran it through her cropped hair, memorising the softness of it under his fingers.

"Numair, you're dying," she whispered, and he knew that she had to say the words to believe them, because as soon as she had spoken her skin whitened and her hands shook against his side. He could feel her panic and her racing heartbeat in the palms of her hands, but his own pain seemed to have gone. He wasn't even scared.

"I know. I knew." He grinned with dark humour and tapped her nose with his fingertip. The dark feather that marked his hand faded as another rush of weakness flooded through his veins, and he smiled at the sight. "I told you, little one! It's best. Nothing can hurt you. Not now. Not even me."

"Don't…" Daine bit her lip, and looked down at her hands. They were red with blood, and even the grass that he was lying on was stained now with the persistent flow. She struggled to speak. "D…don't say things like that. You can't die. You can't. I won't let you!"

She took a deep breath and spread out her fingers over the wound, covering it as much as possible before she started meditating. It was hard to focus her breathing. As soon as she saw the glimmer of her gift she found herself being torn away from it, as if strong hands were hurling her backwards, and she clawed furiously at the waning black fire as she was slammed back into her own body.

"Don't do that!" She gasped. She opened her eyes to glare furiously at Numair, and then squeezed them tightly shut to try again. "I can heal you! I did it before!"

"No." His voice held a vein of iron, and he reached out to hold her hands away from him. His fingers felt icy cold around her wrists, and she shuddered and looked back at him as he told her, "I won't let you. It would take too much magic, sweet, more than you can give… and you know you can't control it."

"I don't care." She was crying now, unable to wipe away the tears that streamed down her cheeks while he held her wrists. "I won't let you die."

"I won't let you kill our child." He matched her intensity, and knew the dart had struck home when she stopped trying to free her hands and her eyes met his in horrified, silent realisation of what she might have done. He let her go, knowing he couldn't hold on to her for much longer anyway, and said in a quieter voice, "Don't argue with me, Daine. Please. Not now. I chose this."

She blinked away a tear and reached out a shaking hand to him, trying to warm his frozen fingers in her warm hands.

"What can I do?" She whispered, looking up frantically for the outcrop as if she could possibly run and get help in time. Numair knew it was impossible, and shook his head when she opened her mouth to suggest it. He reached up and stroked her face, gently brushing the traces of tears from her cheeks.

"Stay with me," he said, and she hesitated, clearly still wanting to try and fetch help. He didn't say the word please, but his eyes pleaded with her. She nodded silently and turned her head to kiss his palm, holding his hand between her own and trying not to tremble when she felt how sluggish his heartbeat was.

"Of course, my love."

She stayed kneeling beside him for a few minutes, letting him memorise her face and nestling her cheek against his palm until his hand shook and he lowered it slowly, too weak to raise it again. Then she moved so she could draw his head into her lap, gently brushing a few blades of grass from his hair and shoulders and running her fingertips through his hair.

He smiled and his eyes shut sleepily for a moment. "Does it make me look sophisticated, magelet?"

"Just less like a trapper." She kissed his forehead. "You always look fair wondrous to me, but… not so much with grass in your hair."

He laughed and shifted in her lap, and then winced as the movement jarred his wound. Daine caught his hand before he could touch the fresh flow of blood, and interlinked his dusky fingers in her own, dully realising that the blood that covered her own hands was already drying. She made sure he couldn't see the blood, and stopped his other hand before he could feel his life bleeding out onto the forest floor.

Numair paled, and for the first time a glimmer of fear shone in his eyes.

"Don't think about it," she murmured, kissing his hand. "You're fine. You're safe. You're here, and I'm here with you, and… and we're free. And you did that."

"And you, and Alanna," he replied, his quiet voice wry. "Better give her some credit, too."

"When I see her."

"Tell her…" he paused for a moment. Thinking seemed a little more difficult now, as if the world had slowed down. Daine squeezed his hand and some part of his mind swam back into focus. "Tell her I'm grateful, and I'm… I'm sorry. She'll have a thousand ideas of things I should apologise for, I'm sure but… but this time she'll know what you mean, I think."

"I will." Daine stroked his face with her free hand, her fingertips warm against his skin. He felt very cold. "Is there anything else I should say?"

"To the baby," he hesitated, and felt her unbidden movement when she couldn't hold back a sob. For some reason the sound made him want to smile, to reassure her. "Oh sweetling, please don't cry."

"I'm not," she sounded choked, but her voice steadied. "To the baby?"

"To our baby," he smiled, "That I love them… I loved them… even before they were born. I know the baby will be… be beautiful, and clever, and brave, because their mother is… is all of those things. Tell them… tell them that. And… try not to blush when you… describe yourself as beautiful, Daine. I'll be… be watching…!"

"Dolt." He could hear the tearful smile in her voice, and he clung to it when the darkness tried to swallow him up.

I'm not ready yet, he prayed, thinking the dark god might answer his prayer. He felt that the gods owed him at least one prayer, just this once.

The darkness retreated a little, and he realised the colours on his eyelids were from the sun shining through the leaves. He could still feel Daine's fingers on his cheek, and the soft rise and fall of her body as she breathed, but the rest of the world seemed so distant now.

"Open your eyes," she said, her voice almost inaudible. He did, seeing only the distant blur of green and blue as he saw the sky for the last time. Then he saw Daine, and focused on the love in her grey eyes. She took his hand to rest his palm gently on the curve of her stomach, and then kissed him with infinite gentleness.

"We love you so much." She whispered, and he saw the sun catch the tear that fell from her cheek before his eyes finally closed.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 64 of 69

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