Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 67 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Daine woke up, gasping and trying to flinch away from the sharp pain that stabbed across her stomach.

"No, no...!" she whimpered, raising her hands in the darkness to fight off whoever was attacking her. "No, please...!"

She opened her eyes, straining to see in the darkness, and groaned as the pain deepened into a spreading ache. Sitting up, she wrapped her hands around her stomach and gritted her teeth, riding out the pain, and realised that the skirt of her shift was soaked.

"Oh gods..." she whispered. She hadn't expected it to be so soon. She didn't think the others would have, either. Even through the wash of pain her foremost thought was for Numair, and she caught his icy hand up between her own. "I didn't have time to tell you..."

The contraction settled in the middle of her back, and she caught her breath, trying not to feel as alone as she did. For a moment, as the pain slowly ebbed away she rested her forehead against Numair's.

"I'm scared," she whispered, pretending that he could hear her, and then she kissed him tearfully. "Be brave for us both, my love."

Struggling to her feet, she stumbled through the dark room and managed to find the main door. The pain had nearly ebbed away but she was shaking too much to unfasten the bolts. She forced herself to calm down enough to draw the lock back and turn the handle. Clinging to the heavy wood door, she looked out into the torch-lit corridor. It was deserted.

Daine picked a direction at random and struggled onwards for a few minutes, searching for anyone who could help. She nearly sobbed aloud when she finally saw one of the pages who was still on duty. His eyes were sinking sleepily shut, but they flew open when the girl grabbed his arm.

"Help me," she pleaded, "Please, you have to..."

"Milady?" He looked her up and down and blanched. With the presence of mind of most adolescents, he panicked and fluttered his hands wildly in the air. "Ma'am, you're...! I'll get a healer. I'll get one of the ladies, uhm...!"

"No!" Daine stopped him impatiently, feeling sick as the ominous dull ache of another contraction started crossing her stomach. "Get the king!"

"The king?" He touched her forehead. "Do you have a fever, ma'am? He blesses babies after they're born, not when they're... I'll get you a lady, ma'am. And some hot water. Women need hot water, don't they? I... I heard that... somewhere."

"Get the king. And... and then the Lioness. Both of them." She said through gritted teeth, and then shuddered and clutched at the wall in pain. He stared at her, still trying to refuse, and she summoned up all the pain into one screamed word. "Now!"

The boy gulped and fled, nodding wildly even when he was almost out of sight. Daine sagged against the wall, breathing rapidly until the pain passed. She stayed there, pressing her face against the cool stone and willing herself to calm down. Panicking wouldn't help. She thought that she should go back to Numair and explain things to him, not stay here in the empty hallway. But she couldn't make herself move. Now that she really needed him she finally felt like Numair had gone forever. The thought of being on her own terrified her, but even if she went back and spoke to his shell, so what?

He couldn't hear her. He couldn't comfort her. She had been pretending to know his thoughts for weeks, but now all of that just seemed like the foolish daydreams of a besotted child. Daine felt so utterly alone that she couldn't move, and she sank her fingertips into the gaps between the stones in the wall and tried not to cry.

A bead of silvery light glimmered across her hand for a second, and she stared at it numbly. The daydreaming Daine would have wondered if it was a sign, she thought, but it's probably just a stray ember from the torches. Still, she stared at it as it drifted across her skin, breathing evenly, and feeling a little calmer.

"Daine," the voice was soft, and she looked up hazily at the speaker. It was a woman she didn't recognise, so beautiful that even with sleepy eyes, tousled hair and a wrinkled nightshirt she was captivating. The woman's red lips curved in a smile, and she gently laid a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Daine, I'm Thayet. I've come to help. The page has gone to find Alanna but she's…well, she's Alanna. So it might take a while, and I thought you'd want someone here."

"I'm here." Another tired voice said tartly. Thayet smiled and her eyes flashed with wry humour as she glanced around.

"I meant a woman, dear. She needs someone who'll be thinking about sensible things, instead of just magical sparkly things."

"I don't just…" the other voice broke off to yawn, and Daine looked up to see the king looked just as unkempt as the beautiful woman. His dark hair was standing up in wild tufts. He waved a hand in greeting to Daine even as he smothered another yawn. "I planned to introduce you two later today, but…"

"You're the queen." Daine figured out in a hoarse whisper, and then choked back a laugh as another pain started darting across her back. Thayet squeezed her shoulder comfortingly until it passed, and then asked when the pains had started. Nodding at Daine's answer, she looked up at her husband.

"Jon, can you leave us alone for a moment? Perhaps go and find that midwife?"

"What about the magic?" Daine asked, grabbing desperately at the queen's hands even as the king nodded and left. "He has to do it now, or…!"

"You have a long while yet, Daine." Thayet said reassuringly. Her voice was musical and soothing, and she stroked Daine's hair back from her forehead. "Calm down. Jon can't do anything until Alanna gets here anyway, not with Numair's magic being as strong as it is. We need to take care of you first."

"But…" Daine started, and the queen's eyes narrowed.

"If you argue with me again I'll get angry." She spoke like a queen, as if her word was her command, but then her voice softened. "Jon may seem a little… vague, I know. But you have to trust him, Daine. He knows exactly what he's doing. And you can trust me, as well. Honestly, you have hours to go yet. Your contractions are still a long way apart, right? So take a deep breath and let us take care of everything. Have you eaten breakfast?"

Daine blinked, and her voice sounded sheepish even to her own ears as she answered the unexpected question. "No? It's early."

"Isn't it!" Thayet rolled her eyes at the dark sky outside the windows, and then laughed. "Well, that's a good place to start, isn't it?" She beckoned someone over, and Daine blearily realised that an entourage of curious looking servants had followed the monarchs from their room. Thayet told one of them to bring food, another to defend the first from the wrath of the grumpy cook, and the last one to fetch water and clean cloths. When they had all darted away she smiled and yawned, suddenly more relaxed. Looping an arm companionably around Daine's shoulders, she walked the girl back into her room.

Daine hesitated on the threshold, wondering what she should do. She was so used to keeping people away from Numair that welcoming another person into the room made her feel cold. But the beautiful woman smiled encouragingly and stepped into the room without staring at Numair, as most other people had. Instead, she lightly touched the man's hand in greeting.

"It's been a long time, Numair," she said softly, and there was no doubt in her voice that the man could hear her. Daine hugged her arms around herself, feeling oddly comforted by the woman's behaviour. Some cynical part of her mind wondered how much of it had been trained into her, like the ladylike behaviour Hazelle had taught to Daine, but Thayet seemed genuinely sincere in everything that she did.

"He talked about you," Daine blurted out suddenly, and waved a hand awkwardly when Thayet looked around. "He talked about everyone here. About how much he wanted to see you all again. He used to tell me stories…" she stopped, paling at her use of the past tense, and sat down at the table with a thud.

"He likes telling stories." She corrected herself, trying not to sound defensive.

"When he wakes up, we'll find out how many of them were true." Thayet acted like she hadn't noticed the slip, and when she made her joke she winked. Daine smiled shakily and the queen nodded. "There, that's better." She grinned when the servants came back into the room with great trays filled with food, and laughed at the steaming plates. "The poor cooks get a royal order and panic, I swear! Well, it's rather rude of us, but I think we can ignore our friend over there for now. Now, Daine, I want you to eat, not just pick at your food, and… and tell me something that makes you feel happy."

Daine didn't think she'd ever had such a strange meal in her life. The queen invited the servants to eat with them, and they swapped silly stories while they ate a bizarre mixture of kippers, porridge, bacon, toast and even beautiful small cakes which Thayet wryly pointed out were supposed to be for the courtiers to eat at a ball that night, "But we'll probably cancel that, Jon will be tired and I'm not spending hours with boring old men staring at me without having someone to pull faces at," she muttered, taking a delicate bite from a cake with yellow icing.

The servants dug in with wide grins on their faces, teasing each other and bickering over the larger pieces of bacon. Daine first tried to shrink away shyly into her seat, but after a few minutes of Thayet's odd questions and strange jokes she found herself relaxing enough that even when she had to catch her breath at the dull pain of her contractions, the sharp aching didn't seem so horrible any more. After a while she realised, with a wry lack of surprise, that distracting her had probably been the queen's plan all along.

"You'd be surprised what a tea party can do." Thayet murmured, seeing the girl's look of realisation and reading it correctly. "I had a strange education, you see, but some of it is surprisingly good for emergencies."

"I'll have a story to tell Numair, this time." Daine replied, and laughed shortly. "I thought he was exaggerating about you."

"Numair? Exaggerate? Never." The voice came from near the door, and Thayet nodded a greeting to Alanna as she surveyed the scene. "Thayet, one day you'll have to tell me the secret of how on earth you can produce a banquet out of thin air. George will think I've finally learned how to run a household."

Daine smiled as the rest of them laughed, but she looked down at her hands in her lap and felt them unconsciously constricting. If Alanna noticed her nervousness she didn't comment on it, but she leant against the back of the girl's chair and ruffled her hair in brusque affection as she reached past her to take a cake. "Good morning, Daine. You have shocking timing."

"It's not like you were sleeping. You were doing drills off gods-know-where." Thayet's voice was tart, and Alanna shrugged.

"You should kick your husband out of bed earlier so we can spar." She commented through a mouthful of cake. "His mid-section blocks are pathetic."
"I have a champion so I don't have to fight." Jonathan said from the doorway. He was holding the door open gallantly for the midwife, who was looking at the general chaos with an expression of horror. Alanna opened her mouth to make a retort, and then shrugged and finished off the rest of her cake.

"Well then," she mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs. "Shall we get started?"

Daine started laughing hysterically. She couldn't help it, even when all of the others turned to look at her in confusion. She shook her head and gulped back her giggles, finally managing to say, "I'm sorry! It's like you're going to a… a picnic, or something! Aren't you taking this seriously?"

"Extremely," Jon said, helping the midwife carry her bag across the room. "But we don't want you to…" He stopped and shook his head at Thayet's warning look, and shrugged with a charming half-smile. "Well, never mind."

"Never mind what?" Daine asked, and then demanded, suddenly suspicious, "What shouldn't I do?"

Alanna rolled her eyes and clouted the king across the back of the head, obviously irritated with him. "Nice going, Jon." She muttered.

"Daine, you just need to concentrate on having the baby." Thayet said in what was probably meant to be a soothing voice. "Everything else – everything else – should be left to Jon and Alanna. You're… well, no matter what happens, you can't try to help them."

“Don’t talk to me like I’m a baby.” Daine said through gritted teeth.

"We're working with your magic and Numair's bound up together, and his magic might well attack us. He told me that in Galla. We'll have to defend ourselves." Alanna said bluntly. "If you get in the middle of that you'll both get hurt. Maybe even killed."

"But…" Daine started, and then doubled over as a particularly sharp contraction bit into her stomach.

But he said that about the Hawk, and the hawk has gone! She thought, trying to catch her breath so she could explain. Numair said those things because he knew the Hawk would attack them, but he would never

"It's alright, Daine," Thayet was saying in a soft voice, one hand on the girl's shoulder, "They know what they're doing."

Daine looked up, trying to push back her rising feeling of unease. Who was she to argue with some of the most powerful mages in the world? She nodded mutely and leaned back into her chair, pushing her plate away with a sudden loss of appetite. The midwife pushed a glass of water back, and she stared at it for a moment.

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Jon and Alanna moving to sit in tailor seats on the bed, one on either side of Numair. Alanna was carelessly resting her booted feet over the unconscious man's legs. Almost in unison they closed their eyes and began breathing steadily, matching each other's rhythm for a few minutes.

Jon's blue eyes flashed open, his pupils dilated as he stared from Numair to Daine. His voice sounded as if it were coming from a long way away as he whispered to Thayet: "I've never seen anything like… we're going to start untying it now. Don't let them touch, Thayet. They're linked… who knows what will happen…" and then, like a sleepwalker, his eyes slid shut again and he was still.

The girl shivered, and then cried out and clutched at her stomach as sharper pains started tearing into her. The midwife pressed a hand to her stomach and pursed her lips, glaring up at the mages and then meeting Thayet's eyes.

"Your majesty," She said sharply, "I don't know what they're doing, but…"

Daine gasped and grabbed at the woman's hand, writhing in agony as the pain deepened into a sensation of being pulled, as if every cell in her body was being dragged out of her by force. "No, no…" she whimpered, wanting the woman to stop interfering. "They're… helping him…"

"Your majesty?" The midwife demanded, "If she…"

Daine stiffened in the woman's hold and screamed, and for a moment her skin glowed with a sickening mixture of whirling black and bronze magic. The colours bled in and out of each other like oils, stretching and warping with every harsh breath the girl took. Thayet whitened and looked around at her husband, whose forehead was strained with effort despite his placid meditative poise. Alanna looked more serene, but her nails were digging in to her hands so tightly they had bitten into her palms.

"Make them stop." The midwife said, and there was a note of panic in her voice as she tried to calm Daine down. "This shouldn't be happening."

"N…no!" Daine opened tear-rimmed eyes and glared at her, "It's the... only… way…"

The pain started ebbing away, like a more vicious version of her other contractions, and she tried frantically to catch her breath and uncurl her clawlike fingers from the woman's hand. She had left red marks, she saw in an oddly detached way, and she was wondering whether or not to apologise when a sound made her blood run cold.

Just as she had, Numair was seized in agony, hands clutching with agonised roughness at his head, his heart. A low, harsh cry came from his lips and he twisted against the bed so violently that Alanna's eyes flew open.

"Dammit," she muttered, and grabbed his hands. "Numair, stop it. Stop fighting us!"

"Numair…" Daine cried, her voice hoarse as she instinctively reached for him. Thayet grabbed her hands and held her still just as Alanna closed her eyes again, and a wash of purple light flooded from her grasping hands into the man's flailing hands. As soon as the light touched him he was still, and the pain flooded back into the girl again. She groaned and curled up, pulling her hands away from both the women to clutch at her stomach. The black swirl of sick magic crystallised for a moment across her hands, and to her horror she saw the viscous light forming the shapes of clumsy feathers. She tore at them wildly, not realising she couldn't touch the light.

"Don't… hurt the.. baby… Numair." She sobbed, "You… p…promised."

"What is she talking about?" The midwife demanded, staring at the deformed feathered magic in shock. "What's doing that?"

"I don't know, Jon didn't say anything about that…" Thayet whispered, and her eyes were huge as she stared at the girl.

Unnoticed, summoned by the wild flares of magic, scores of the castle's stray cats had crept through the windows into the room. Some of them were pawing at Daine anxiously, while others were hissing at the drifting light in the room. One of them yowled loudly at a swooping patch of darkness, and swatted at it with outstretched claws. There was an odd rush of air, and suddenly the magic was gone and Numair was crying out again.

Daine's eyes snapped open, and she gulped in a mouthful of air. "They're hurting him," she whispered, and she fixed the man in her frantic gaze. She realised what was happening even as her lips formed a plea. "Numair, stop fighting them! Stop it!"

Both Jon and Alanna were struggling now, their hands clutched around the man's writhing arms as they wrestled with the freed tendrils of his gift. Each tendril drifted free as the mages broke its connection to Daine, and the strands of magic tangled and clashed with one another with a noise like the dead roar of lightning. Daine was deaf to all of that.

All she knew were the small fragments of magic, those that were drifting free and outside of Numair's control. The ones that had claws and wings and bleeding black feathers. The longer tendrils reached out and choked as many birds as they could, but Numair's control over them wasn't strong enough. Several of the birds had already evaded the tendrils and were settling smugly over the man's heart. Every wash of magic from the other two made them clearer, darker, stronger.

They'll think it's just his gift returning. Daine realised, seeing the way the hawk was binding itself to Numair forever. She struggled to sit up, ignoring the dull ache of a blessedly normal contraction. Her eyes filled with tears as she saw his friends lovingly casting the magic that would destroy him. She fought her way to her feet.

"Daine, don't…!" Thayet grabbed for her hands, but the girl shook them off and reached tearfully for Numair.

"Stop it, stop it!" She sobbed, trying desperately to get to him. "You're hurting him!"

Thayet grabbed at her again, but the girl wriggled free and hurled herself towards the bed.

Behind her, almost unnoticed, the castle animals flooded around the queen and the midwife and formed a growling, hissing barrier that stopped them from moving. Daine didn't notice; she was close enough now to see that dark shadows were drifting over all of Numair's skin, like oil on water, and some of them were starting to form shapes that were horrifyingly like feathers. The man made a sound from deep in his throat that was more animal than human, a sound of desperate pain.

"It's just his gift, it's always been dark…" Thayet was saying, but Daine shook her head.

"You don't understand," she insisted, "It's trying to come back. We can't let it. There's got to be something…"

She froze, remembering Jon's warning before he'd sunk into his meditation. Don't let them touch. Who knows what will happen… but as she stared at the dark shadows moving across the man's skin, she knew that Jon and Alanna wouldn't understand enough to fight off the Hawk. They would think that the dark tendrils were a normal part of his gift. They would try to save it.

"This is the last time," she said, almost to herself. The dull ache intensified across her back and then sharpened so dramatically that she cried out and fell to her knees.

"Daine," the queen's voice was cold, not pleading any more but stating a fact. "If you touch him, he will die."

The girl's mind cleared, and she reached up and curled her fingers around the edge of the bed, hesitating barely an inch away from the man's hand.

"No." she said, and her own voice was furious. "That's what he wanted... his choice. And that's why he's fighting them. He wants to die. But I'm not going to let him."

She reached out and felt the coolness of skin under her fingers, the softness of the hairs on his wrist against her palm. She felt the soft beat of his pulse, and then she closed her fingers tightly around his hand.

The room suddenly filled with a blinding silver light, and she heard everyone in the room cry out as they were thrown back from Numair's body, but by then even the sounds were far away. The light tore the mortal world away and then fled.

Daine followed the path of the light to the brightness of the stars.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 67 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>