Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 9 of 69

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Daine rushed to the bed as soon as the door locked behind her. Words spilled from her lips unbidden.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm so stupid! I didn't realise...!" She stopped herself, clapping her hands over her mouth as tears started in her eyes.

When the room stopped swimming she saw that the man in the bed was smiling, a gentle expression which forgave everything as easily as breathing. He reached out a hand and took one of hers, and held it in companionable silence. Daine dried her eyes and smiled feebly, unable to stop her eyes darting to the bandage that she hadn't changed since she'd reopened his wound the night before. Dark blood stained the fabric, and she had to swallow back another apology. If she started apologising she wouldn't be able to stop, and he had given his unconditional forgiveness so quickly she thought the words might only offend him.

Why was he like that? She thought back to his story, and wondered if it had something to do with the madness he'd described. He seemed so ashamed of what he did, even though he had no knowledge of it, that this patient charity might be some way to make amends. Somehow, though, she didn't think so. There was something natural about it, as if it were his nature to want to help people – even stubborn, hurtful girls! She realised that she was studying his face and looked away, blushing.

"Daine," he said quietly, breaking the silence, "What happened to your chain?"

My chain? She hadn't realised that was the hand that he held, but now he was studying it with wide eyes. Last time he'd seen it he'd worked out what it was for in a few moments; this time, he was asking her. She fiddled with the broken charm that hung, blackened, beside the others.

"I... was angry. Angry like fire. It burned it." She said.

His eyes widened even further, and then narrowed to stare more intently at the broken link. Unbelievably, he started laughing! It was nicer than the strange croaking sound he'd made before, but it still made fresh red blood stain his bandage. Daine yanked her hand away and pressed it over his mouth as she had before, wanting him to stop – and then gasped when he held her hand and kissed it.

"Oh, Daine, that's fantastic!" He said warmly. "I'm so pleased!"

He must be feverish. Daine thought, her head spinning. She fetched him the willow bark tea to bring down his temperature. He understood her reasoning straight away and burst into another fit of painful giggles. Pulling a face at her warning glare, he drank some of the tea and cleared his throat.

"Look," he said in a voice which was almost conversational. "If you can break it without even thinking about it, then you can destroy it easily."

She blinked and wrapped her fingers around her chained wrist uneasily. Break it off?

She bit her lip and felt the links bite into her skin when she instinctively tightened her grip. Fear made her step away, and she pretended she'd thought to build up the fire. If I break it, then won't the voices come back?

"Don't you want to get rid of it?" Numair sounded incredulous.

She could just imagine the expression on his face! When she turned around he had pushed himself up on his arms, shaking at the effort but needing to make his point. She scowled and went to shove him back, but her action was a lot gentler than she had meant. She couldn't force herself to be harsh with him. The man obediently lay back down, but he caught her hands as she moved them from his shoulders, and pulled her down with him so she was half-lying beside him on the bed. He probably just meant to stop her from turning away again. He wanted her to answer him, and that was all. But for a moment all she could feel was embarrassment that he might feel the pulse racing in her veins.

She met his eyes for a moment, and then felt a tingling blush starting in her stomach and looked away.

"I..." she started, and then closed her mouth with a snap. He waited patiently, holding her wrists close to his chest. She could feel his heart beating. It made her feel warm and cold at the same time, as the icy thought of the madness came back and she remembered what she would do if it returned. "I shouldn't. Mustn't. My magic is..." she couldn't find the words! In frustration she closed her eyes.

A gentle hand brushed lightly along her hair, and stroked down her cheek. She kept her eyes shut, head bowed.

"I know. It's frightening." Numair's voice was soft, comforting. His hand stopped, warm palm resting against her cheek. Daine had to stop herself from nuzzling against it, and opened her eyes. He looked back at her, his eyes intense as he looked into her eyes, through her eyes, as if he could see what she was feeling, and the girl blushed. He smiled slightly and brushed her cheek with his thumb.

"I can see your gift." He told her. "It's... wild and unruly, but you can tame it. You shouldn't be scared of it. It's a part of you, just like your brown hair or those lovely grey eyes. And even with that thing on your wrist it's still there, it's just trapped... waiting. It's not going to go away because you're scared of it, or because they are."

"I lose myself." She whispered, and wasn't sure if she was talking about the madness or the way her thoughts were flitting about when he touched her. His smile was rueful.

"I can relate. But... well, I can help you with that. If you'll let me."

She gasped, "You can make the voices go away?"

He shrugged and winced when the movement dragged on his wound. "Didn't I tell you I was a powerful mage? Ah, my poor deflated ego... all the effort it put into making those boasts, and the fair damsel wasn't even listening!"

She didn't mind his teasing, her mind was racing. "So it can be fixed?" She demanded, needing to know. "It's... it's not my fault?"

"Fault?" He looked away then, for the first time, but not before she caught the glimpse of genuine pain in his eyes. "No, Daine." He said quietly. "It's not your fault."

She touched his pale cheek gently with her fingertips, wishing she could see inside his head the way he could look into hers. She wished that she knew how to help him. There was a click from the door, and she jumped and yanked her hand away as if she'd been caught doing something wrong. It was just someone catching the door as they made their way along the outside corridor, but it took her long moments to calm her racing heartbeat down. Stopping her mind from spinning was another matter entirely.

She gathered up her needle and the alcohol and braced herself to face what she'd done, cringing at the bruises of blood that her hands had printed onto his stomach. She cleaned the blood away gently, every dab a tender apology, and let him to grip her free hand before she began the torture of sewing back the damage. The infection was gone, and she would have felt happier about that if the cruel marks of her petty anger hadn't been so obvious.

"Thank you." He whispered when she'd finished, and she turned away in self-loathing. She expected him to fall asleep again then, like he had done every time she treated his wound, but he fought off the haze of pain for a moment and gripped the edge of her tunic with one bony hand. "Decide what you want. I won't choose for you. Not again."

"Again?" Daine whispered, but he'd passed out.

The man slept for nearly two whole days. Daine paced the tiny room, her own bruises fading as she chewed anxiously on her fingernails and watched the sun drift by the tiny slit of a window. Time was slipping by so quickly – the guard would have nothing to hide, let alone to listen to. And what would she tell Numair when he woke up? Hag's teeth, everyone seemed to want her to escape! As the hours trickled by she wondered how it had happened that the main thing trapping her was her own fear.

By the time Numair opened his eyes, she had made her decision. He accepted the food she gave him sleepily, not meeting her eyes, and ate until he was more awake. For the first time, he lowered his hands uncertainly to the bandages and touched them, a slow smile crossing his face when he saw that the bleeding had stopped. For the first time, the cloth was white, not stained with infection or blood.

"Well done, little healer!" He said in a voice that barely croaked. She handed him the willow tea, but he shook his head and asked if she'd help him to sit up. The girl looked at him dubiously, but he really did seem better. She reluctantly wrapped an arm around his back and let him pull himself upright against the other, slipping the hessian bag behind him so that the knots of his spine wouldn't scrape against the wall. He paled and reeled dizzily for a moment, but looked down at his hands as they were folded in his lap and breathed steadily, eyes serene. The dizziness seemed to fade, and he smiled as he opened his eyes.

"That's better." He said, "I can see you properly now! Hello, beautiful!"

Daine reddened. She couldn't think of the words to respond to his teasing, but made a pantomime of checking his forehead for a fever. He understood the joke and laughed.

"Did it ever occur to you that I might be sincere?" he asked her. Daine paused and shook her head, making sure her incredulous expression didn't waver, no matter how much her heart skipped a beat.

"You: Same words, all women."

"You're right about that. You wouldn't believe how well they work," he said, his voice intense as he leaned forward. "Most women would run screaming from an anthropomorphic bird-monster, but as soon as you compliment them, well..." He sighed and leaned back, "...they still run away screaming."

"Not because of monster-ness. Bad compliments." Daine felt rather proud of herself when that startled a laugh from him. She held out her hand with petulant decision and kept it suspended in the air between them, charms chiming softly. "Take this off, please."

His smile faded a little, although his eyes met her own with warm approval. Instead of taking her hand, he surprised her by asking if he could have the willow tea. She handed him the flask dubiously.

"If you're not well..." she began, and he shook his head impatiently.

"This isn't for me. I need to keep my head clear. As clear as possible, anyway." He muttered the last part and tugged at his nose fretfully as he considered the thin watery liquid in the container.

While she watched, fascinated, the man held a hand above the flask and whispered a stream of words. They sounded like raindrops hissing, soft words which poured from his lips into his outstretched palm, and gracefully spun down into the murky depths of the tea in glittering black magic. The tea glowed for a single second like a candle flame, and then faded back to its normal brown colour. He handed it back to her with shaking hands, sweat dewing his forehead.

"There." He said. He bit back a weak laugh when she curiously tilted it towards the fire, wanting to see if it would glitter with magic in the firelight. "You're supposed to drink it, not stare at it! Oh, but sit down first."

"It?" Daine asked, sitting on the edge of the mattress next to him. The man made a mystical gesture in the air.

"The magic potion!" he declaimed like a player, and then relented. "Well, it's willow tea. I just put some dormant gift into it. Your... the chain won't let you use your gift; it's linked to your body. And it won't let someone else use their gift to take it off, or to use magic on you. The healer told me that. I don't think he meant to, but... well, he's an idiot. I reasoned that, if you drink it, we have a way to get someone else's magic inside you. The chain won't fight it from the inside, and it won't recognise it as outside magic until it's already in your stomach. It'd be really easy to break the chain from there. You have the power to fight it, you just have to want the magic to fight for you and it will."

"Will it work?" She asked doubtfully, sniffing at the tea. It smelled bitter, chalky. Numair looked embarrassed by the question, and his answer was quiet.

"Yes. I made sure. I tested it."

She blinked, and then worked it out. "You said you just made me sleep."

"I lied." He looked at her, his eyes artless, unapologetic. "I knew it wouldn't hurt you. It was only a little. Enough to crack one charm, it seems." She looked down into the flask, and he tapped the metal with one long finger. "This is stronger, a lot stronger. But you still have to call the magic once you've drunk it."

"It's your magic!" she replied, not sure how she felt. She was sure that she didn't know how to do any of the things he was telling her. "You call it."

He smiled wanly and looked away. His voice echoed back from the stone wall, and she couldn't read his expression. "My magic won't listen to me anymore, Daine."

She hesitated for a brief moment, and then raised the flask to her lips. By the time he looked back around, she had drunk every drop of the tea and was pulling a face at the bitter willow-taste. She couldn't feel anything. She had thought perhaps she'd feel the heat of his magic burning her throat, or a rush of strength as if she'd just had a nap. But there was nothing- just the chalky tea.

The girl shut her eyes and tried to work out if she felt any different. Every time her skin itched or a breeze raised goosebumps she wondered if it was the spell. Then she tried asking it, like he'd said. She spoke inside her head, asking it nicely to help her. She nudged her thoughts towards her wrist and imagined it falling off. She used words, describing melting metal and crumbling coins.


She looked dully at the chain, wondering if Numair was wrong. Why had she felt so hopeful? This was hopeless! She might as well plead with the gods to kidnap her away. At least they would actually listen! She coiled a link of the chain around one finger and felt like a failure.

"You have to call it." Numair said gently. She looked around, her eyes wide and childlike.

"I don't know how!"

He couldn't hide the odd expression which flitted across his face for a moment, although she had no idea what it meant. He hesitated, and then pushed himself across the bed so she could sit comfortably beside him.

"I'll show you. Help you. Of course these idiots didn't teach you anything." He muttered the last part with bitter irony and took the flask from her. "Daine, I thought that you would be able to... because you did it before. That was my mistake, and it's not your fault. But it means that this won't be as easy as... as I described it."

She raised an eyebrow but, honestly, wasn't surprised. If she thought she could escape her chains by drinking willow tea she'd have stripped every tree of its bark from here to Carthak! Still, his expression was oddly fearful, and he flexed his fingers unconsciously as he folded them in his lap.

"You have to promise me," he said, "That if I... if... if anything happens, you won't hesitate to fight back. There'll be no point in pleading with me. I don't understand human words, and I won't recognise you. If you have to kill me to save yourself, then don't hesitate. You'll have your magic back, and you can use it to escape from this place."

She stared at him, aghast, realising that he was more worried about her escaping than his own safety. She'd thought - even if she'd refused to admit it – that he was using her to make it easier for him to escape. Even if he didn't care about her, he'd need her on his side if he was to get strong enough to fight his way free. She was caring for him, feeding him, bringing him water to drink. All she had to do was snap the gold chain around his wrist and he'd be trapped here forever. She hadn't let herself believe he was nurturing their friendship for anything other than selfish reasons. Not truly.

He misread her stunned expression and took hold of her hand, meaning the gesture to be reassuring. "It's alright, little one." He said, "You don't have to do this. If it's too much – too dangerous – then I understand. You're allowed to change your mind, you know!"

His hand was warm in hers, and she couldn't breathe. Without thinking about it, she leaned forward and kissed him, feeling him freeze in complete surprise. Flushing, she moved to pull away, only to find that his hand had crept up to the nape of her neck, and he was drawing her closer. Where her kiss had been impulsive and fleeting, his was slow and infinitely gentle. He hesitated and drew back for a moment, as if he was going to ask something, and then his lips met hers and there were no more words.

Daine shivered as her skin burned everywhere he was touching her, wanting to hold on to the moment forever. For the first time in her adult life she felt cherished, understood, even though she knew more about her guards than about the man whose hair felt like silk when she tangled her hands in it. She drowned in light, in warmth and darkness, until the traitor thought dragged her back to the surface.

He doesn't love me. He thinks he's going to die. The cold voice said, and she dragged herself back, blushing furiously. Of course he doesn't love me. Why would I even think that? I shouldn't be hurt by the idea that he doesn't.

Numair was stroking the soft hair at the nape of her neck, and her skin tingled deliciously even as she made an effort to square her shoulders and find the kind of words she knew how to say.

"I won't change my mind. Ever. I'm not afraid if you're not."

"I'm terrified." He said softly. Daine smiled weakly at the admission and bowed her head.

"Me too." She sighed and kissed his cheek, feeling the roughness of stubble under her lips and the heartbeat racing beneath it. "Show me the magic."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 9 of 69

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