Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 8 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

"You seem... different."

Daine stared down at her plate dully for a moment, before realising she was being spoken to and flushing darkly. A week ago... she scolded herself, a few days ago... she knew she would have given nothing away. The guard would have grown bored with his questions, because it was like speaking to a stone wall. He might have beaten her, petulant at being ignored, but there would be no malice in it. And now...

Now, she realised, she simply couldn't pretend any more. She couldn't pretend that she didn't hear people talking to her. She couldn't pretend she was someone else, somewhere else. With the whisper of the word escape had come a breath of cold air into her stifling world, and suddenly she couldn't tear herself away from the cold reality of the prison. Food had flavour again, and the other people had faces, and voices, and names. They'd been shooed away today, annoying the guard with their giggling and shocked questions about the Hawk Mage until he'd threatened to call an official. They'd skulked off sulkily. Daine had waited, staring meekly at the floor, until the guard returned and cursed loudly at the empty kitchen.

"They've gone and left us with all the sortin' to do." He muttered, but something seemed insincere about his anger. Daine looked up at him through the corner of her eye, and saw that his frown didn't meet his eyes. She looked away quickly as he cut his eyes towards her, and she heard him say, "Well, you have to eat, I reckon. Can't all be livin' off that bird food. We'll see if they come back."

Before she knew it, she was sitting at the end of the long kitchen table, mutely watching him pile cold meat and fresh bread and even some freshly churned butter in front of her. He sat down opposite, took a healthy share and gestured for her to help herself with an impatient expression. Daine hesitated over the unheard of feast, and then noticed one corner of the bread was burned. The cook wouldn't miss it, just the pigs. She moved to tear it off.

The guard snatched the bread away from her, rapidly sawed off a thick slice, spread it with butter and handed it to her. His fingertips were rough against hers when she took it. She met his eyes for a moment in silent thanks, and that was when he told her that she seemed different. The words made her blood run cold. Was the word escape written so clearly on her thoughts that the man could see it? She dropped the bread numbly on her plate and felt her nails dig into her palms as she nervously clenched her fists in her lap.

The guard's voice held none of the gentleness of Numair's. He cut off each sentence with abrupt finality. But Daine could hardly believe her ears when he spoke again, and when she looked up the kindness that he couldn't hold in his voice was soft in his expression.

"Mithros' spear, girl, I'm not going to beat you for eating a piece of bread. I figured you'd earned an hour away and some food, that's all. But just an hour, mind..." he looked away, and muttered the last part to himself, "Dakinn will be back after that."

Dakinn? Daine had worked out that this guard was the healer's personal assistant, since he always seemed to be following the man around. She'd never heard the healer's name, though. Dakinn. She repeated it to herself a few times as she tore off a corner of her bread and chewed it self-consciously. It was good, fresh bread, and the butter was rich and deliciously salted. If he hadn't been watching her so closely she might have smiled with pleasure.

As it was she couldn't help glancing up curiously, asking silently what had changed, and why the guard was breaking the rules for her. He caught the expression and held her eyes for a moment, his own expression curious until she had to look away. The bread was warm and crackled between her fingers when she tore through the crust.

"I have a sister your age." The guard said in that same absent voice. "I... the night that you were first locked in with the Hawk Mage I went home for a visit. Ellianna was arguing with my ma the whole time I was home. She wanted to go walking with a drover from the next village over. Nice lad, you know, fair pleasant company. Ma wouldn't let her go, though- not alone. She said she was too foolish, too addle-headed to know what she was getting into. Too young." He repeated the words, and then looked over at Daine. The girl was staring at him blankly, her eyes clearly baffled. He cut some meat and cheese for her and piled it on her plate.

"What... what they do to you. I've never thought it was right. The Hawk Mage was right." Daine looked up sharply, and saw the guard was frowning, hands fiddling with the knife he'd cut the meat with. "They brought you here as a child. Children make mistakes, so why did they decide that you have to make amends like an adult? They have a slip of a prisoner who they lock up with an insane killer, a young girl who they beat and starve and rape and call it justice... but those same men would probably agree that my sister is too young to go walking with her drover. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

If Daine looked blank it was because she genuinely had no sensible thoughts in her head. Something in her mind refused to believe that someone was actually speaking to her about this- it had to be some kind of trick or an elaborate trap. The guard's eyes were sharp. He caught her chin with the flat of his knife when she finally looked up, stopping her from looking away.

"The only person listening in on the things that man tells you is me...Daine." He said in an intense whisper.

Daine swallowed and felt the point of the blade pricking her throat. Listening spells! Of course the room was spelled. They never bothered with her room anymore, because they knew she didn't speak. But the others... she remembered the mage guards refreshing the spells every few weeks and shuddered. Of course they would listen to the Hawk Mage. As soon as he sounded well enough they would want to snap the chain around his wrist. They wouldn't trust her to make that decision, but they would trust their own ears.

The guard knew that Numair was planning to fight. He knew that she had been offered a chance to escape. He knew her name. Daine felt herself growing cold and fought against the urge to shove herself away from the food and run. This wasn't a friendly gesture, this was a last meal. The guard was going to kill her, and this was just his chance to gloat. She stared at him in horror, and through her haze she realised that there was no malice in his face. He held the knife to her throat simply because it was the easiest way he knew to make her look up, and his words were rapid.

"If anyone else... say, Dakinn... thought that you were talking about anything interesting, then they'd take over as quick as you please." The guard snapped the fingers on his free hand. "But they have no taste for stories about golden palaces and rooms full of dusty bones. I think your friend is cleverer than they give him credit for. So... I have nothing to report to them again today, and I'm sure that whatever I hear over the next few days won't be interesting to them, either."

She blinked at him, and he slowly took the knife away from her throat.

"I can't help you." He said, and for the first time there was some insecurity in his voice. "I want to, but I can't. They choose people whose families live nearby for a reason. But I can give you a few days."

"Why?" She whispered, the word hurting her throat. He started, and barked out a short laugh. He already knew she could speak, so she might as well ask the question, but Daine saw in his eyes an oddly pleased expression. He leaned back and waved a hand in the air, speaking more comfortably with that one word shared between them than he had managed before.

"I've only been here a few years. You were here before me. I remember the first time I saw you- a tiny chit of a girl, with those big, scared eyes too large for your face, dressed in rags and completely mute. Among all the murderers and psychopaths here, all the ones who have hatred written on their faces... there was a little girl. I couldn't believe it! I thought, maybe you were someone's daughter, or some scullery maid. You couldn't be one of them. So... so I asked the officials."

She met his eyes levelly, knowing exactly what he'd been told. The murders... first the ones in the forest, and then the ones in the town. The madness. The ragged, bloodstained wolf claws that grew from her fingertips when she was angry. The mindless rage that took over, primal and terrifying as it pounced. He was a fool if he hadn't believed them, but she couldn't imagine him speaking to her at all if he had believed it. She sighed and waited for him to make excuses for her crimes, and then looked up in surprise at his careful words. He watched her expression, and seemed to read her thoughts.

"Yes, they told me everything about you. What you did. I don't think you realise that, compared to most of the people we have here, it's very little. The other prisoners... I've met them. They've done... horrible, terrible things. And they meant to do them. They laugh and boast about it. Compared to them, you're practically innocent. The officials don't care about a village full of people, it's nothing to them. They keep you here because they're scared of what you could do if you had your magic back. Compared to most people here, it's a lot. And it's power that the officials want to keep. To use for themselves. That's why you were brought here."

What? Daine couldn't believe her ears. That can't be true! They want mages like Numair, or like the guard mages. I'm nothing to them. They wouldn't care if I died!

The guard was watching her closely. "Of course, they soon realised you wouldn't use your magic for them. You're scared of it, aren't you? You don'twant to use it, not like the ones who laughed when they melted the flesh from their children's bones. So a decision was made, and things became the way they are now."

Daine remembered Numair's words then, and knew that in a few brief days he'd worked out more than she ever had.

He'd tried to tell her the same story as this guard. She felt deeply ashamed of her anger at him. What had he said? I can't let things carry on as they are. These people are vile. I have to stop them. He hadn't been talking about the guards, or the healer. He hadn't meant that the guards were vile for keeping him captive, or for beating her. He'd been talking about the officials. The people who ran the keep. The ones who wanted power.

And again, another fragment of that rough, broken voice spoke to her thoughts: Some people are greedy, and they want more, and they don't care who they hurt to get it. You should understand that more than most people. Do you really think the people who run this place would happily tell other Gallans what they're up to?

I should understand that more than most people. Daine thought, and felt her hands clenching into fists. Numair had stopped her from letting her mind escape into the sunset, but now it was trapped with her in the keep and it was furious. The silver chain around her wrist was scorched with strange, dark fire for a split second, and with a loud crack a dark fracture ran across the face of one of the charms.

She looked up, eyes burning, and the guard smiled crookedly. "A few days." He repeated, and waited for her sharp nod before turning away with an odd expression on his face. "Just remember me when you burn this place to the ground, okay?"


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 8 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>