Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 65 of 69

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It was a month later.

The sun was just beginning to cool enough to make the nights bearable. Daine still slept without blankets. She was so used to years in her frozen cell in the stone mountains that the sun-warmed stones of Corus felt like an oven to her. The mornings were the coolest time of the day but she still woke up every morning feeling miserably hot, feeling her shift tangling around her distended stomach and sweat pooling in the aching small of her back.

Today was no better, and she dragged herself from her dreams with a groan when she heard the soft patter of rain on the shutters. It would cool down the morning air, but by evening the same rain would evaporate into a sticky haze which would make drifting off to sleep impossible. Daine kept her eyes shut for a moment, as she had every morning since she'd arrived in the city, and repeated the same prayer.

Let today be the day. Oh please, goddess, let today be the day.

Then, as she did every morning, she opened her eyes and raised herself up awkwardly on her elbow so she could study Numair's face. The dragging weight of disappointment was as familiar as her prayer, and she fell back against the pillow with a frustrated half-sob. He hadn't moved. His eyes were still shut, and his face was as still and deathlike as it had been on that horrible day a month ago when they had escaped.

(Was she even surprised anymore? Hope came as easily as nightmares in the night. If Numair was going to wake up it would be in the morning, after she made her wish, if all was as it should be. Let that be the end of her story (please goddess, and while we’re at it, thank you for forcing me to believe that the impossible can happen, you pitiless bitch).

After the first stab of frustrated hope her practical self would emerge and scold her. She might have answered it, if she cared enough about her reasons… which she didn’t, not really. Why was she surprised every morning? Well, because there was nothing practical about being so helplessly in love, and so the impractical hope felt fair comfortable to her, thank you very much.)

Sighing, she kissed Numair's icy cheek and struggled out of bed.

The first thing Daine always did next was open the shutters, letting the light pour into the room and resting her forearms on the warm wooden window frame. She stood there for a while, barely noticing her aching back as she drank in the sight of the distant Royal Forest. It shone like a jewel in the dawn light with no bars covering its lush green beauty. She had never been there, of course, but the point was that someday she might.That made all the difference.

She turned away and now she moved briskly, yanking her dress on over her head and irritably dragging a comb through her unruly hair. It was too short to tie up, too long to pin, and she didn't dare wear a scarf over it in this heat. Stray tendrils made her neck itch. The baby moved fretfully and she rested a hand on her stomach.

"You're awake too, huh?" She asked softly, feeling the odd dimples as fingers and toes met the skin under her palm.

Recently it had been all elbows – uncomfortable, but not the heavy kind of discomfort that a few more days would bring. Daine wondered at the outline of a clumsy foot and stroked at it in what she hoped was a soothing way. "It's too hot to come out today, little one. I'd have a nap, if I were you."

Perhaps the baby understood, because by the time she'd washed her face and poured out two glasses of creamy milk from a sweating clay pitcher it was moving more gently. Daine drained the first glass and then took the second to Numair, cradling his head in the crook of her arm so she could slowly tip the cool liquid into his mouth. While she held him she spoke softly to him. When the glass was empty she tenderly kissed him and then lay him back down against the pillow. For a few minutes she stayed, silently watching him, smoothing his hair into neatness with her fingertips.

"I love you," she said, just as she did every morning.

If this was like every day of the past month, the girl would have spent the rest of the morning in the palace library, trawling through magic books, or else talking earnestly to mages or priests. Today she decided on the library, for the simple reason that the dark catacombs were deep enough under the castle that they might actually be cool. That was a definite improvement over the bright, hot incense-filled chambers of the priests, even if the library was filled with greasy smoke from covered lamps. She was just collecting the books that she had borrowed the night before to return to the surly librarians when someone knocked on the door.

This did not happen every morning. Frowning, Daine moved towards the door.

She still thought of moving as walking, but Alanna had rather snidely described her awkward pregnant gait as waddling when they'd eaten dinner together a few days ago, and although the word was meant as a joke the girl couldn't help thinking it was sadly true. However they described it, Daine thought, it was certainly annoying to have to move at such a snail's pace!

She pressed her hand to her stomach. "Perhaps you should say hello today," she muttered to the baby.

She opened the door. It was someone she didn't recognise: a young sandy-haired boy. He was wearing the bright clothes Hazelle had described as the pages uniform. After so many years living around people dressed in brown rags, Daine couldn't see the bicoloured tunics without thinking of the tumblers Numair had shown her in the fair. Still, the page boys seemed serious and good natured enough, despite their clownish attire. This one held a sealed parchment out to her, but when Daine stared at him blankly he bowed.

"Mistress Sarrasri," he said formally, "The king summons you."

"The... king?" She echoed, her eyebrows drawing together. He nodded, pointing at the parchment.

"That's his majesty’s official seal there, see? In the wax? Proves it's really his orders." He craned his head past her when she frowned down at the seal. His eyes went wide at the sight of the still silhouette lying on the bed. "Say, ma'am, is that Master Salmali..."

"Don't stare. It's rude." She said shortly, and shut the door behind her. Irritation made her a little curt. "I don't know where the king lives. You'll have to show me. I only know the kitchens, the libraries and some of this guest wing."

The page gaped at her. He was clearly disappointed that he'd missed his chance to see the unconscious mage, and some of his disappointment came out as scorn. "Well, he lives in the royal suite, obviously!"

"Obviously." She smiled humourlessly and then leaned a little closer to his freckled face. "Show me where that is, or I swear by Mithros I'll volunteer you to be my midwife's assistant."

He blanched and blushed simultaneously, and took off so quickly that Daine couldn't keep up. He returned after a moment, a little calmer, and offered her his arm so he could escort her more respectfully through the palace. She accepted, hiding a smile.

At their slow pace it took them more than ten minutes to make their way through the vast castle. Daine was a little relieved when they moved away from the guest wing into the depths of the ancient building, where the stone was a lot cooler and she could think more clearly. Still, by the time they reached the ornate doors of the royal suite she was nervous. She hadn't had a chance to read the letter the king had sent, and when the page left her she cracked open the seal and ran her eye over the terrible handwriting.

He didn't explain what he wanted, he simply requested her presence. Requested! It said please, of all things.

Daine drew a deep breath, and nodded at one of the pages outside the door to announce her. He smiled reassuringly at her and tapped on the wooden door in a cheerfully informal rhythm. The doors swung open, revealing a surprisingly normal-looking room with a hideous but comfortable looking set of furniture scattered around a central desk. Daine blinked and walked through the door.

"Ah, Mistress Sarrasri!" The voice was genuinely cheerful, and a dark haired man grabbed her hands in a delighted greeting. "I'm so pleased to finally meet you! Please, do sit down. You look about ready to drop! It is a long walk through the palace, isn't it? And Thayet told me when she was carrying our Roald that she was going to make me strap sand bags to my stomach and walk around for a week with them, just to share the suffering, so I got the pages to bring you some extra cushions. And some juice."

He led her to one of the chairs and handed her a goblet, pressing it into her hand when she stared at him in frozen bewilderment.

"I don't understand," she managed, "I was summoned here! Where's the king?"

"Oh, I'm the king." He waved a hand dismissively, and she gaped at him.

"You're joking!"

"I'd show you my crown as proof, but one of my children dropped it into the pigsty last week and my jeweller's still hammering the dents out." He smiled openly at her expression and gestured to the goblet.


She took a sip. Someone had put ice in it from the icehouse, and it was deliciously cool. "Oh! Thank you." She said awkwardly, and he ducked his head in acknowledgement. Belatedly, Daine realised that she was probably supposed to bow, or something. But the king was already sitting down behind his desk, and the girl knew from experience that standing up was a difficult task, so she stayed put.

"How do you like your rooms?" He asked, folding his hands under his chin and staring at her in a curious, bright-eyed way. She blinked.

"Very nice," she croaked, and then smiled with wry humour. "Bigger than I'm used to."

"Yes, I know." He said the words lightly, almost blasé as he waved a hand. Daine realised in a flash that he knew everything about her. Well, of course he did. He had let her live under his roof, after all, and he and Alanna were close. Alanna must have told him everything – about the prison, and the battle, and perhaps even the fragments of the dusty journey back through Tortall that Daine could barely remember.

She thought back to the trusting way Alanna had spoken about Jon and relaxed a little. Still, the fact that he knew her story made her feel uneasy, as if the officials had followed her back here to this safe place.

She knew they hadn't, of course. Like Hazelle and Alanna had guessed, the king of Galla had feigned ignorance of Orsille's entire plan, and had declared that all the men who had played a part in forming the army of mages were traitors. The ones who weren't already dead were being tortured. None of them would have made it across the border to Tortall. Still, Daine hoped that she had left her own twisted history burning in the keeps, and so it was chilling to have it follow her.

The kings next question didn’t help either, because he leaned forward and asked, “And your health? Are you recovered from... from your wounds?”

"Is that why you summoned me?" She asked, "To ask about that?"

"No," he looked almost shocked. "Why would I do that? I know enough. I wouldn't make you remember something as terrible as that just to get your side of the story. It would be, well... cruel. No, it's not that at all. I truthfully want to know if you were well, and if you like your rooms. They're yours as long as you want them, you know. And there's an annuity – I have the paperwork somewhere. I did ask my Lord Chamberlain to tell you, but I wanted to thank you personally as well. We – all of us, and my country – owe you a great debt, Mistress Sarrasri."

"You don't owe me anything. I didn't do it for your country." She said, and put down the goblet. Staring at her hands, she calmly told the king of Tortall, "I did it for myself. And I did it for him. And now I'm here for him, too, not because I wanted rooms or money but because I thought they might be able to help him. You owe me nothing, and I have work to do. Did you summon me here to make small talk?" She struggled to stand up. "I have better things to do, your majesty."

The king hesitated, and then he said something that Daine wouldn't have expected in a thousand years. "So I take that to mean that Numair still hasn't woken up?"

She blinked, and realised that the surprise was obvious on her face when he laughed shortly.

"I'm sorry, Mistress Sarrasri, that was rather an abrupt question! Please sit back down. I promise not to make any more small talk, since it offends you so much. The fact is, I’m anxious to know how Numair's doing, and between you, Alanna and Hazelle he seems to have some very loyal guards. Even my nosiest gossips can't get a look at him. I hear he was stabbed?"

"Yes," she said stupidly, and then blushed at the thought of misleading a king. She was going to have to lie. She was sure that was technically treason, even though she doubted he'd care. This particular king looked like he would wade into a tavern brawl, lose, and then cheerfully buy a round for the winners.

But she would have to lie, because even though she had been there when it had happened even she could barely believe how Numair's life had been saved. She bit her lip at the memory and blurted out a rather tongue-tied answer to his question, although her first sentence was as vague as she could make it.

"He was stabbed by Ors... by an official and he nearly bled out, but... but he got healed. Then he wouldn't wake up. And Alanna said to bring him to a main called Baird here in Corus, and I thought he would wake up in the journey, maybe, but he didn't. And the man..."

"Duke Baird." The king corrected her gently, and Daine blushed. He waved a hand apologetically, motioning for her to continue. She pulled a face as she repeated the name.

"Yes, Duke Baird, well, he looked at Numair and said he didn't know what was wrong, but it wasn't something that could be healed, and that I should just wait. Numair's fine – healthy, I mean. He just won't wake up. Sometimes Alanna tries yelling at him or... or waving bacon around." She smiled slightly at the ridiculous memory of what the knight had genuinely considered to be a good idea at the time, and then shrugged. "We tried a lot of things, but he still won't wake up."

"Who healed him in Galla?" Jon asked, jumping on the one point Daine had hoped he wouldn't ask. She flinched and looked away, and he shook his head. "No, I'm sorry but I have to insist on an answer to that one. It's clearly related to the problem."

"And you're the person to solve it, your majesty?" She retorted. To her surprise he reddened a little, and shrugged.

"Perhaps not as a king, Mistress Sarrasri. You're quite right. I'm asking as a healer, and as one of Numair's friends. If I can do anything to help then of course I want to try."

She looked away quickly, surprised at his honest answer, and then looked back. He was fiddling with the edge of his tunic, she noticed, and the paper on the table in front of him was covered in scores of notes. There were rows and rows of magical symbols and incantations that had been irritably scratched out and then carefully rewritten over and over again. Even upside down Daine recognised some the marks that had been on her chain, and some of the words Numair had taught her those in their magic lessons. She knew others that were used as incantations for protection, and for healing, from her time in the healer’s wing when they first arrived in Corus.

A spell. He was inventing a spell.

"You've been speaking to the others." She worked out, and covered a smile. For some reason, the thought that the actual king of Tortall was trying to help made her want to laugh incredulously.
He glanced at the notes and smiled wryly, pushing them to one side.

"Alanna and Hazelle both work for me, you know. They reported to me while you were in the healers’ wing. They both think you're hiding something." He said frankly, leaning forwards. "But they also both told me that you're probably doing it for a good reason, and they refused to pry. Alanna kindly pointed out that I'm a nosy busybody with nothing better to do than poke my nose into other peoples' business, and so I volunteered as the best person to ask you."

"Ask me?" She echoed, hearing the cynicism in her own tone. He nodded, his expression utterly without guile.

"Yes. If you have a good reason for not telling us what happened then of course you should keep your secret. We trust you." He took in her expression, her defiantly folded arms, and he spread his hands in a gesture of openness. "I really do want to help. I miss my friend. I'm sure you do, too."

"Yes, I do." she whispered, and then took a deep breath. "Look, I don't think you'll believe a word of this."

"Mistress Sarrasri, my champion has had adventures that are so bizarre they sing songs about them in taverns. Plus, I’m really quite unbelievably gullible. I swear I'll believe anything you tell me."

She hid a smile behind her hand. "Please call me Daine, your majesty."

"Daine." He echoed it seriously, and then took her hand and kissed it with a formal, over-pompous and exaggerated mannerism that made her giggle. "I'm Jon."

"Jon." She bowed her head. It was hard for her to find the words, and she swallowed a few times before she started, but as soon as Daine opened her mouth to speak the memories poured back so clearly it was as if she were really there.

"This is what happened.

We were in the woods, and he just fell down, and that was how I found out he was hurt. Badly hurt, I mean. We were both fair battered from all the fighting, but not dangerously bad, you know? And at first I thought it was just that he was tired from using his magic until I saw the blood, and then... then I knew he was dying. And he was dying, your maj... Jon. He said goodbye, and his eyes shut, and he stopped breathing, and I just wanted to die with him.

There was nothing I could do. I... I tried to heal him through our link, but he stopped me because of the baby, and there was no time to try anything else.

He died. I swear that it’s true. I felt it when he died, a real pain when something snapped in my heart and I... I couldn’t...

I don't know how long I... we were there for. I didn't know anything, or hear anything, or see anything for what seemed like years. But then there was a light. Like the light from my arrows, so bright that I had to shut my eyes.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. I don’t know how long I’d been there for but I remember all this like a painting, it was so bright in my mind but I didn’t dare look up, and every sound was clear as a bell. A voice told me, "Everything's going to be fine, daughter."

Then there was another voice, one which sounded almost angry, a man's voice it was. It said, "Fine? You've let Weiryn's pleas go to your head, sister! How dare this mortal assume to choose?"
"He had no choice. We gave him no other path." That was the first voice, your majesty.

So regal, it was, but it was also comforting, like it really cared. But it felt like thunder crackling through the ground as well, and I was too frightened to say anything. Then the thunder faded and her voice changed. It was almost... almost mortal, I suppose. The hand left my shoulder, as if she was turning away, and she spoke to a third person who I hadn't heard at all.

She said, "He did it out of love, my dear Pigeon. Don't lead him home just yet, I beseech you. Make it my Midsummer gift."

"Weiryn's Midsummer gift."

If anything, I swear the angry voice was sulking. The woman sighed, and all the thunder came back into her voice, and it was like the air was getting heavier.

"We have to agree. Even at the solstice, brother, we have to agree."

There was a pause, and I didn't dare look up, your majesty. But I think they must have agreed, all three of them, because the hand rested on my head for a moment, and I felt a peace, like all my sadness had just gone. And the woman's voice was soft, but there was something deep in it, like the sound of wind in the mountains, you know?

She said, "We won't accept this death, daughter."

Then she touched Numair's forehead, and I saw her hand. Her skin was so white, so pure, and I had to close my eyes because it was too beautiful. There was a light, so bright that I could see it even through closed eyes.

I didn't know what all their words meant, or what they were arguing about. I still don't, Jon. Not at all. After a while I couldn't even think to ask them.

It was just light, and the voices, and a feeling like... when you're almost awake, but mostly asleep, and everything is warm and gentle and quiet around you. I can't describe it. I don't have many words for things like this. But I knew they wouldn't hurt me, even though they sounded angry."

Daine looked up, blinking as if the same light was still blinding her eyes, and laughed harshly at the expression on the man’s face.

"Well, that's my story. Do you believe me?"

The king unfolded his arms and pursed his lips, looking more thoughtful than incredulous. When he spoke the words were very carefully chosen. "Daine, you said it was like your arrows. Alanna said you got your bow and arrows from a god."

"Yes, but that was a man. This was a woman, and the angry man wasn't the same person at all. I could look right at the man in the market, but I couldn't see them. I didn't dare look up. I just held Numair close in my arms, and suddenly he wasn't cold any more, he was warm, and breathing. I couldn't believe it. Why would they...?"

"Best not to ask." Jon said gently, pushing her goblet back towards her. "If they want you to know the answers then they'll tell you in their own time."

She nodded and took a sip in mute obedience. The sharp juice burned her throat and she coughed to clear it.

"When I could see again they were gone. Numair’s wound had all healed up, but he wouldn't wake up. I sent the birds to fetch help as best they could, and after a few hours some soldiers found us and carried him back to the camp. Alanna came and looked at him after a few days of talking to Kare... to the Lady Orsille about who owns the keep. When she realised he wasn't just asleep she swore at him a lot and tried lots of magic, but that didn't work either. So she said that I should come back here with her and ask other people."

"Yes, I know that part. I also know that Alanna told me that the scar from the stab wound was in the wrong place to kill him." Jon said bluntly. "He'd bound it properly, and you said it wasn't bleeding badly until you both reached Tortall.”

“Yes.” Daine’s voice was a little flat. “I didn’t tell her anything else.”

“Why?” Jon looked surprised, even a little confused. "I was sure you would have confided in her. Don't you trust her?"

The girl met his eyes for a moment, and there was a fierce light in them which belied the softness of her face.

“I’m sure you know the answer to that, your majesty, since you know everything else that happened in Galla. You know that she left me locked up with a sadist rather than lose a mile of ground. You know that she stopped Numair from trying to help me.”

“I do know that. I also know that I have a thousand other refugees from that valley who wouldn’t have escaped without her help,” Jon said, and then he leaned forward. Daine flinched away and then bit her lip guiltily, seeing no threat in the man’s earnest expression. He shook his head and kept speaking, “I also know that since you returned to Corus every report I’ve received from Alanna has asked after both of you. She does care, Daine. She just has to see the bigger picture. That’s her job.”

“It wasn’t our job, though.” Daine muttered obstinately, “I don’t see why we had to get caught up in it. I don't see why we had to suffer for it. It shouldn't have been her choice to make.”

Jon sighed and looked like he was about to say something else, then he made a noncommittal gesture. “We won’t agree on this, and I wouldn’t argue with Alanna even by proxy, so let’s return to our more pressing problem.”

“Why won’t Numair wake up?” Daine finished for him in a low voice. Jon nodded.

“Perhaps we're looking in the wrong place for answers. We can't argue that his healers were first rate!" he winked at her, and then sobered, "So the problem must be in the original injury. What, exactly, killed him?"

"He wanted to die." Daine answered flatly, and nodded as she heard his intake of breath. "I know what it sounds like, but it's the truth. He chose it. He said the hawk would only die if... if he was powerless. I thought he just meant his magic, but he meant everything."

"His magic?"

She nodded, speaking more quickly now that she was caught up in her story.

"Yes, he gave me his magic before he... before we left the fort. He said it would protect me, and that he wouldn't take it back, or else the hawk would come back. It was still there then, you could tell because it marked his hands with a feather thing."

She traced a shape on her left hand, and then her eyes brightened. "But it died when he did, and the feather hasn't come back. Do you think if I found a way to give his magic back...?"

"How are you not burning up?" Jon looked at her narrowly. He gasped in a breath as a thought occurred to him, and then he laughed helplessly. He held up a hand to stop her asking what was so funny, and when he caught his breath he said, "That's it! You have two people's magic inside of you, but of course, you are two people!"

She bit her lip and rested her hand on her stomach defensively. "Do you mean that... my baby has it?"

He grinned and knelt down next to her, and then stopped himself with a slightly embarrassed laugh when she flinched away. "I'm sorry, may I?"

Daine nodded, feeling foolish for the surge of fear that still blazed in her whenever someone got too close to her. The king pressed his hand to her stomach, smiling when the baby kicked at him. "Well, nice to meet you too, little warrior!"

He shut his eyes and breathed in even intervals as his gift washed through the woman's stomach. For a moment he frowned, and then he abruptly cried out and dragged his hand away, pressing it over his eyes in pain.

Daine gasped and dragged herself to her feet, ready to call for help, but before she could draw another breath the king stood up, shaking his head dizzily at her. Waving weakly for her to sit back down, Jonathan smiled.

"Baird's a good healer, but he's not a politician." He said smugly, rubbing his eyes. "He was looking in the wrong place for his answers, that's all."

"Don't be so pleased with yourself." She said tartly, unable to stop smiling back. Then her hopeful expression faded. "How do we... fix this? I'm not a good mage. Not at all. I can't control my own magic, let alone Numair's. It's too strong. I don't know how to give it back."

"Well, at the moment it's all shielding the baby, protecting it. There are so many different protection spells on you that they nearly blinded me. Congratulations, you have the safest child in the whole of Tortall, if not the world! But they're all linked to you, too. So..." he looked a little uneasy, as if he was awkward asking the question. "When is the baby due, exactly?"

"Exactly?" She blushed and laughed. She looked just as embarrassed as him as she thought back to some rather nice memories. "I'm not sure. There were... quite a few times when we could have made it. But very soon..." She looked down at the dress covering her distended stomach with a wry smile. "...obviously."

"Right." His tone was quite professional, even if his pale skin was flaring an embarrassed red. "So these spells are linked to both you and the baby. Being the unbearable know-it-all that he is, Numair probably planned for how to protect you both once it's born. Before they flared at me I saw that the spells are made to be adaptable... I mean, they'll reshape themselves. But we need to get them away from you to give the magic back. They're pretty much unbreakable now, and they probably will be when the baby's born, too, but..."

"But they'll be weak when I'm in labour." She guessed, and sighed as she worked out the rest of his plan. "Why can't anything ever be simple when Numair's involved? If this works, remind me to slap him when he wakes up."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 65 of 69

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