Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 69 of 69

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"Numair, you're awake!"

"Jon?" The mage blinked blearily at the king, and said the first thing in his mind. "Where are your clothes?"

"Daine woke us up early." Jon explained, and was about to add something else when Numair sat bolt upright and grabbed at the other man's nightshirt sleeve.

"Daine's here? She's alright?" He demanded, and then pressed long fingers to his head as a wave of dizziness punished him for moving too quickly. Through his confusion he could hear her voice, wonderfully familiar, wonderfully close.

"I'm fine, Numair." She laughed, almost hysterically. "You're awa…!" the word was cut off as she suddenly cried out. Numair wrenched his eyes open and saw that she was huddled on the floor against the bed. Her eyes were tightly shut and her hands were wrapped around her stomach in pain. Some part of his confusion cleared, only to be replaced by absolute disbelief.

"Daine, are you having the baby now?" He asked, his voice childishly baffled. Another person laughed.

"No, she always welcomes people back to the mortal realm by screaming at them." Alanna said tartly, and made eye contact with Jon for a second before carefully wrapping her arm around the girl's back and helping her to stand up. "Jon, she should be on the bed."

"Well, it won't matter if they touch now." Jon shrugged and dusted off his hands, his happiness at the spell working slightly marred when he glanced at the girl. "Not that Daine would listen to us even if it did matter."

"I'm sorry," she whispered, struggling to get her breath back. "But you were... I had to…"

"You're cussed lucky to be alive." The king snapped, and then sighed when Thayet put her hand on his shoulder with a warning expression. Relaxing a little, he shrugged and rolled his head as if his neck ached. "It worked, I suppose. I don't know how it worked. I don't know what you did. But I don't know how you linked yourselves together in the first place, either."

"So you won't be able to explain what happened? The small things, I mean… like how I'm alive?!" Numair demanded, and then looked up. His eyes softened, and even through his confused frustration he found himself smiling irresistibly before he spoke, "Daine? I know you know."

"You left me," she said, almost hysterical as she looked at him – alive, awake, wonderfully angry – and felt such love and happiness that it came out as sharp, accusing words. "You left me. You left me all alone. How could you do that?"

"Okay, that's enough shouting. You need to sit down." Thayet said, gently taking her other arm. Daine blinked at her, stunned into idiocy, and the queen smiled gently as they helped her to the bed. "You've fought with magic and with the king of Tortall already today, Daine, not to mention sending every blasted cat in the castle to hiss at me… and it's not even lunch time. If you're going to pick another fight I'd wait until tomorrow."

"And be ready to explain all of this," Alanna added, her voice impatient. "What was that odd light? We gave the magic back and suddenly there were thorns everywhere! And feathers! They shoved us right out of Numair's mind and I don't think they were even trying. How did you know the right magic to fight them off?"

"I don't understand any of this. What magic? When did we suddenly get to Corus? And…" Numair's voice took on a suspicious note. "Wait, how long was I asleep?"

"A month," Alanna and Jon echoed each other, and shot one another a tired glance. Numair gaped at them.

"A month? I thought… a week at the most! A month? When I used my magic before, I only…"

"You didn't use your magic." Daine interrupted, "You died. On purpose." She looked at him, at the hopeless bewilderment on his face, and in a heartbeat all of her anger at him faded away. She started laughing wildly, covering her face with her hands so that no-one could see the hot tears that spilled down her cheeks. "You died!" she sobbed, and started laughing again when she felt warm hands gently stroking her hair, drawing her closer so she could cry against his chest.

"You wouldn't wake up without getting your magic back… and you'd given it all to Daine and the baby. So we… we broke your magic away." Jon said quietly, explaining as simply as he could. "But we had to wait until Daine…"

"Oh." Numair understood the train of thought quicker than Jon could explain it, and looked shamefacedly down at the girl he held in his arms. Daine curled up against Numair, her breath hitching in pained gasps, and when he took her hand she looked up, her eyes stained with tears.

"I hate you so much!" She gasped, kissing him and squeezing his hand painfully in equal measure. He flushed and stroked her cheek.

"I'm so sorry I messed up the magic," he started, and she shook her head wildly, laughing.

"Not the magic, you dolt!" She cried out and clutched at her stomach, then glared at him balefully. "You are having the next baby! This hurts!"

"Ignore her. They all say things like that." They had all forgotten the midwife was there, and looked around in some surprise. The woman seemed unflappable now that all the magic was finished, and was calmly sorting through her bag. Numair didn't answer, keeping his attention focused on Daine. Even though he'd been asleep for weeks he found that he was already shaking from weariness. The girl's contraction passed, and he held her with loving tenderness as she fought to catch her breath.

"I'll have to get my strength back first." He said gently, smoothing a coil of her hair behind her ear. "But there might be a spell that could let me do that."

"Don't tease her," Thayet said sternly. Daine shook her head.

"He's not teasing. He's wondering if there really is a spell." She said sourly, and then laughed and raised Numair's hand to kiss it. "Oh, I missed you so much!"

"Are you sure you didn't just want someone's hand to crush?" He grinned at her expression and shook out his aching fingers. "If you hadn't given me my magic back I think you'd've turned my poor bones into splinters, magelet."

"Okay, now you're teasing me." She pointed out. "The queen will tell you off, and then you'll be sorry. You'll be sad you ever woke up."

"Not at all. Never. I think I'll be happy for the rest of my life." He kissed her warmly, unable to stop smiling. "I don't know how you did it, Daine, but..."

"Alanna did it. And Jon." She said, "Maybe you should kiss them."

Numair raised an eyebrow at her, then at the king. "Jon?"

"I'll pass, if it's all the same." The other man said. He clapped Alanna on the shoulder and nodded towards the door, the motion drained and heavy. "I think we should leave, my dear Lioness, before that ecstatic idiot gets any more bright ideas." He crossed the room and gripped Numair's shoulder for a moment. "It is wonderful to see you again, Numair. I hope to talk soon." He turned to Daine and kissed her cheek. "And you too, Daine. Good luck."

"Thank you," she whispered, "For everything. I am sorry, honestly I am."

He nodded his head in easy acceptance of her tearful words. Thayet kissed her cheek too, forgiving her just as easily, and followed her husband from the room.

Alanna took her leave rather less gracefully, cuffing Numair' shoulder with a gruff, "S'good you're awake." For all the happiness in her violet eyes, it was clear that she was still angry at the mage. Numair frowned as he watched her go, looking down at his hands for a moment and tracing the space where the feather mark had once tattooed his skin.

"I did apologise to her, like you said," Daine offered when the door shut. She looked at her hands too, trying not to dwell on that conversation. For the first few days after she'd rejoined the Tortallans she hadn't dared to meet the Lioness's eyes. She barely knew what she would say. Most days she still wanted to scream at the knight for leaving her as a prisoner. It had been very difficult to explain everything that had happened and Daine didn't bother softening her accusations, but coldly recited every way that Alanna could have stopped things from becoming so hopeless. At every twist in the story the knight had stormed away from the tent in a blind rage. Daine would hear her yelling at her poor soldiers in a voice half full of outrage, half full of something that was almost guilt.

Alanna had calmed down since they had reached the city, but she'd seemed to take Numair's coma as a personal insult. Daine tried to explain that to the man. "Alanna has... well, she… she's been trying to wake you up for weeks. She said it was to get a proper apology, but she really does care. She's just angry, that's all."

"It's alright." He said peacefully. He lowered his hand and caught hers. "I wasn't expecting her to forgive me that easily. Dying might have done it, but you seem to have stopped that."

"It really wasn't me." She glanced at him, wondering if he was accusing her of anything. He looked more tired than anything, but when he caught up her hand she had to make sure. She blurted out, "I didn't use any magic, I swear. I promised you I wouldn't."

She explained what had happened, or at least she tried. She had to stop every few sentences to catch her breath, gritting her teeth against her contractions and clinging to his hand so tightly that she was surprised he let her hold on to it. When she could speak she couldn't tell the story, either. Instead, she found herself trying to answer all the many questions he interrupted her with until she finally grew impatient and pressed her lips together, refusing to continue.

He opened his mouth to ask another question and she snapped, "Look, if you keep asking me questions I'm fair sure I'll never get to the end, and it's difficult enough to think at the moment as it is, you know."
He blushed and looked away, curbing his curiosity with a shamefaced look. "I'm sorry. I thought it might distract you."

"No you didn't, you insufferable liar. You just wanted answers!" She smiled at his expression and kissed his cheek. "I understand. I'd want to know, too. It must be odd, losing a month all in one go."

"I'm not entirely sure I'm actually awake." He said. "I dreamed about you. I dreamed you were talking to me."

She blushed. "I was. I didn't know if you could hear me." She gasped in a breath and writhed away from him for a moment, coming out of her pain slowly to find a warm hand gently holding her face. She kept her eyes shut for a moment, trying to think of that touch and nothing more. He spoke gently so the midwife couldn't hear.

"I heard you. You said you were scared." He said, stroking her cheek. "You're doing fine, sweetling. Really you are. If you want me to stop asking questions and just be here for you then that's fine. I'm not going anywhere. I mean, you brought me back from the dead, so even if I wanted to leave I don't think I'd get very far before you found some way to bring me back!"

"She's not going to be fetching you from anywhere, Master Salmalin. There'll be no more magic in this room, thank you kindly! But it would be best if you did leave. You shouldn't really be here." The midwife's words held a vein of iron, as if someone had filled the woman's soft voice with starch and let it dry hard and emotionless. Both Daine and Numair looked up, seeing the midwife's stony expression and realising that she was used to being obeyed.

"I'm not going to leave." Numair said, and when that didn't make the woman's stony expression change he tried to offset his harsh words with a feeble joke, "My legs are too wobbly."

"I want him to stay," Daine whispered. Her eyes were widening in something close to panic. She didn't want to be alone, but more than that, she felt like if she let Numair leave the room he might vanish away forever. She unconsciously tightened her grip on his hand, and her voice was stubborn when she said, "I don't want him to leave me."

The midwife frowned, uncomfortable at raising a delicate matter in front of a man in a realm that she thought should be populated only by women. She might have realised Daine would be trouble, though, and she sighed at the thought. The strange little creature had been a thorn in the woman's side since she'd arrived. The king had ordered that she receive only the best attention. The midwife was used to looking after duchesses and ladies, not waif-like strays. It wasn't in her to be harsh with any woman who was in pain, but she couldn't stop her voice from sounding a little clipped.

"It's not proper, dear. He's not your husband."

"He will be." Daine retorted, clinging more tightly to Numair's hand and feeling him start with surprise. She laughed suddenly and met his stunned eyes. "Well, that's alright with you, isn't it?"

He laughed hoarsely. "Yes, yes... gods yes, a thousand times over." He shook his head in frank disbelief and kissed her fiercely. "You're not convincing me that I'm not still dreaming, beautiful."

"If you think I look beautiful right now then maybe you are." She muttered, but couldn't keep her eyes from shining. She looked up at the midwife and her eyes held a challenge. "So, he's staying."

The woman threw up her hands in an expression of wry defeat and ducked out of the room for a moment, muttering to herself. Numair bit back a laugh at her retreating form, and murmured, "Another enemy vanquished, magelet?"

"She'll be back." Daine muttered. She winced and doubled over her stomach, gritting her teeth until the pain passed. "It won't be long now, thank the gods, so… she'll be back." She struggled into a more upright posture so she could cuddle up against the man's shoulder.

They stayed like that for a while, each lost in their own thoughts, each trying to get used to being together again. If it wasn't for the regular, ominously-quickening pains in her stomach she would have felt peaceful, loved, held safely close and seeing the afternoon sun slowly moving across the window. Still, the pain brought her back, and even though it made her cry out and twist against her own body, she realised that he still didn't want to escape into the sky. She blinked at the window, at the distant forest she had stared out at every morning she had been in Corus, and knew that she would never need to daydream her mind away again.

"Numair," she asked softly in the next lull, weaving her fingers through his. He smiled down at her, and she couldn't stop herself from smiling back for a moment before she remembered what she was going to say. "Numair, there's one more thing I have to tell you. I got a letter yesterday."

"A letter?" he paused, and then very carefully said, "It has to be from Galla, then. You don't know anyone else."

"It was from Karenna," she confirmed. She understood his wariness and loved him for it, knowing what words he would form next.

"I thought you'd want to leave all that behind," he matched her guess exactly, but his next words were a little more surprising. "Did she ask you about the pit people?"

"The…?" Daine started, and caught her breath at another contraction. When it passed she'd worked out what he meant. He was talking about the slaves from the pit who had fought and turned the tide of battle against the Gallans. Most of them had fled from the battle, and it hadn't occurred to Daine that they would be some of the dangerous prisoners Karenna was asking her to hunt. The thought had come instantly to Numair, though, and she looked up at him curiously. "Why do you ask?"

"They fought for their freedom." He said, and there was a note of determination in his voice when he added, "They deserve to keep it, but I don't think they'll all know what to do with it."

"Karenna's asked me to find them." Daine said, and then laughed shortly. "But I don't know if that's what I want to do with my freedom, you see."

"Let me guess. You were going to explore the world?" He asked, and she heard the playful note in his voice before she thought to cuff him for teasing her. She couldn't resist the gibe though, and although she replied in the same whimsical tone she was quite serious.

"Well at first, yes. And then I was thinking of having more children, and a home, and getting married… can you think of anyone who might be interested in that?"

"I'm sure I know someone." He retorted, and then hesitated and said, "You'd have to be very sure he's the right person."

"Oh, I am sure. I never doubted it for a second! I'm just waiting for him to ask me properly. He'd have to be sure I was the right person, too, you see." She stopped teasing him and said, more slowly, "But if I… if I decide to help Karenna, things might not be as peaceful as all that. If I say yes I don't think my life will ever really be peaceful or… or normal. The mages are clever enough to find out who's hunting for them, and then they'll hunt for me, too. And for you, because I love you, and for… for…" she winced and pressed a hand to her stomach, and smiled weakly. "Well, if this one ever decides to actually be born rather than just torturing me…"

"I can protect you both." Numair's voice was quiet but decisive. "Whatever you decide, Daine, I can promise you that."

"But this is the rest of our lives," She persisted, "Not just a few years, it will take forever. You've met the mages. You know how clever they are, how many there are, and … and how much they want to stay free. It won't just take months. We'll be hunting, and hunted, for as long as we can draw breath. We'll never be able to forget what happened to us in Galla. We won't be able to leave it behind."

"Then say no," he said, and yawned sleepily. She looked up at him and rolled her eyes.

"You're impossible." She muttered. "Are you really letting me make this choice on my own?"

"It's yours to make. Karenna didn't ask me." He said, flatly refusing to influence her decision. Daine gaped at him.

"That's because she thought you were dead!"

"Well, she was half right." He yawned again and rested his chin against her head, relenting slightly. "Let's say, hypothetically, that you decide to hunt for the mages. How would you find them? The dangerous ones will probably give themselves away eventually, but what about the others?"

She blinked. "I hadn't thought… I guess I'd ask the birds to look first, and then when I find them I'd… well, I'd just ask them what they plan to do."

"And if they say 'go on a mad rampage'?" He asked, teasing her. She laughed and shook her head.

"Honestly, I don't think they will. I think they'll want the same things I want. Just to be themselves, and to be people, not creatures, for the first time in their lives. I think that's what they'll say. Whatever they did to get put in that prison they've paid for it by now. I want them to have a chance to… to make the world right, even if it's just their own corner of it."

"Then take the job," Numair said gently. "We can make our own corner of the world better, too. We can catch the dangerous ones and stop Karenna from finding out about any of the others."

Daine smiled, not agreeing yet, but her voice took on a rueful note. "I owe Hazelle an apology," she muttered, "I told her you'd tell me not to do it."

"I'm not telling you anything. I wouldn't dare!" He sounded a little offended, and added in a wry voice when she doubled over again, "I think even Hazelle, with her constantly scheming mind, would tell you that this is not the right time to be making any decisions."

"It's the perfect time," Daine replied when the contraction passed. She turned in his embrace and stroked his cheek with simple honesty shining in her eyes. "Before we meet our beautiful baby and lose our minds entirely, we should know what we want to do with the rest of our lives."

They met each other's eyes, and for a long heartbeat they spoke with a silence that held more love than could ever be put into words.

The rest of our lives.

The slave and the madman who had been thrown together in a frozen cell were gone; the wolf and the hawk had been torn away. Every false name and word was erased.

All that was left were a woman and a man who looked at each other through clear, loving eyes and loved every flaw they found. In that heartbeat of soft time they knew each other's hearts far more deeply than their own. Silent and haunted memories drifted away like sun-bleached smoke, and all that truly mattered were the years that waited, patiently, before them.

"What do you want?" The man called Numair asked.

The woman called Daine smiled and kissed him. There was no need to answer. He already knew.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 69 of 69

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