DISCLAIMER: I own some fish, some books, and five million plot bunnies. Save me. The characters and settings belong to Tamora Pierce.
The cold blade touched the soft skin on the back of his neck once, taking aim, and then again, and Arram Draper knew no more.
The village fought them back, and Daine, her Ma and her Grandda watched the bandits flee. Grinning and cheering, they returned to the Village Square for a celebration. After a few hours of celebrating with their village, they went home and Daine's Ma made some of her famous pie, causing Grandda to swing a laughing thirteen-year-old Daine in his arms. Ma laughed, and told him to sit down; he was too old to do that sort of thing. The two bickered, and Daine listened, scratching Mammoth, their head dog, behind one ear. The pie was baked, eaten and the leftovers given to the delighted dog.
Daine, her Ma and Grandda went to sleep, safe in their beds, and never were they harmed nor killed by bandits. Two of them slept soundly.
Daine did not. Her dreams were plagued with nightmares, her Ma and Grandda dead, never to laugh and sing with her again. She sat and asked a dying Mammoth what happened, and he told her, and then the lights went out of his eyes, and he died. She buried the animals, her Ma and Grandda, took her pony, her only surviving relative, and found the wolves. They hunted down those bandits that dared harm her family.
Daine woke, gasping with fear and the feel of blood on her hands.
Hush, murmured Mammoth, you are safe, little one.
Daine gulped. "Mammoth?"
I am here.
"You were dead... and Ma and Grandda..."
Shhhh. You are safe.
Daine shivered, and joined Mammoth on the floor, curling next to the enormous shaggy and slightly smelly dog. "Ma would have our hides if she knew you were sleeping inside," Daine whispered, comforted by the animal's presence. Mammoth chuckled. Yes, she would. That is why I plan to sneak out before the sun rises. Is that all right?
"Just stay until I fall asleep, please," Daine whispered, shivering at the memory of her dream. It had been so real...
I'm right here. Sleep, Daine.
Sighing, Daine slept.
Later that year, monsters appeared. All feared to go into the forest, and that included Daine. Whispers ran rampant: whispers of creatures that were half-human, half-metal bird, the creatures that Grandda called spidrins, real and deadly, and unicorns and flying horses and horse-people that ate human flesh. The whispers said that most had appeared in Tortall, the land of lady knights.
Daine was worried.
Ever since the day that they chased away the bandits, she had been having dreams. Dreams so vivid, that now she could hardly tell which was real and which was her dream. The only thing that told her which was which was the fact that she went to sleep in Snowsdale; she did not go to sleep in her "other life." Or at least, not often. Daine felt a connection to Tortall; she desperately wanted to go there.
One night, she had a horrifying dream, one that stood out among the others she had had that year.
A fief called Pirate's Swoop was under attack. Raiders, from Carthak, her friends had told her. Scenes flashed through her head – dampening spells, the creatures called Stormwings, and catapults with liquid fire, dragons and a huge creature from the sea called a Kraken.
But what stood out the most vividly in her mind were the words spoken by a man, a man that was her friend.
Six months after this dream, the one that seemed to stand out most, Daine heard one of the town gossips. A fief called Pirate's Swoop, the gossip said, the home of the Lioness, had fallen to Carthaki raiders, and Tortall's Champion, the famed Lady Knight, had died.
Daine had cried, but not for Alanna. She had cried for the Champion, the chance to become a lady knight lost, and she had cried for the Lioness in her dreams.
She did not know to cry for Alanna.
The next year, Tortall was taken over by Carthak, because of treason in a place called Dunlath. Again Daine had been upset, but she did not know the real Tortall. She only knew her dreams, and in her dreams, Tortall existed. She had seen it. She had stopped the treason in Dunlath, and later, she had gone to Carthak. In her dreams, she had adventures and was brave, and was not the bastard of Snowsdale.
But in the waking world, she remained Sarrasri, fatherless but useful, for she had a way with animals. She spent many of her days with Hakkon falconer, training his falcons, and with the shepherd. Her mother had a small farm, which had grown in size. At home, they had quite a business, now, as the horses were well trained, and well bred. The cow and goat's milk was some of the best in Galla, some said. They even had sheep, now. Their wool was excellent, and wool was valuable, these days.
But her life was dull, compared to her dreams.
In her dreams, she was taught about Wild Magic, by her teacher, Numair Salmalìn, who was quickly becoming one of her closest friends. Alanna the Lioness was alive and her friend as well. Her family was dead, but she had another family, and the people accepted her. Daine was torn between which was better, her real or dream live. In her dream-life, she had magic. She could heal!
She learned, soon, that her dream-teacher had a point. She began to meditate during her waking hours, and started trying to heal as dream- Numair taught her, and it worked. Her Ma was ecstatic.
Some years flew by, and Galla, too, was taken over by Carthak. The town, Snowsdale, had known better than to fight such a great army. When Galla was conquered, the people of Snowsdale were not made slaves, for they didn't fight. Daine was grateful.
But not particularly. In her waking hours, she had become sad and lonely. She had no friends, in Snowsdale. She had a few people she talked to, but it wasn't the same as the people of her dreams. She could always turn to Alanna, who, in reality, was dead. And Numair – she had fallen in love with him. She was living with him! She had never met a man so sweet and gentle with her. Life in dream-Tortall was happy. She was content.
But it was not so in the real world. Her Grandda had died last year and Ma had married, under the Carthaki law. They were moving to the capital, in a few days.
She was leaving the farm behind.
She was allowed to keep Mammoth. And Cloud, although old, was now her favorite pony. Cloud knew all about her dreams. She had convinced Ma's new husband, a rich merchant's second son from Carthak, to let her keep her two favorite "pets." He was a good man. She and Ma were lucky.
Or, rather, Ma was. She would have to marry, in a few years, one at the least, three at the most. She was afraid – she loved Numair!
But he was only a dream.
The day after they left Snowsdale, there had been an earthquake, and all the game in the area had fled. Something, although the townspeople did not know what, had displeased the hunt-god.
Three months later, in Carthak, Daine had learned that she was to marry a man from that same merchant guild as her mother's husband. Apparently, she was to marry younger than she thought. Worried, she had left the house, claiming that she'd needed fresh air.
So she was walking, alone except for Mammoth, when she saw a gate. Curious, she'd opened it, and found that it lead to the graves of the criminals of Carthak. Facinated despite herself, she began to walk among them. They were only stones, with a name and a crime. As she walked back, the crimes got worse, theft, attempted murder, murder, assassination of a lord. As she reached the end of the graveyard, there was only one grave, with no crime. She suspected that it was too awful to write. She read the name.
She stared at it for a while, then left, sighing as she thought of what was to come. So, she would marry a random merchant. What would become of her then?
When she had seen the grave, there had been no emotional response except for the idle wondering of what "Arram Draper" did. There was no knowledge that Arram was the Numair from her dream, or that he had died for something he didn't do.
Her hope that she would someday meet Numair, that he was perhaps the man she was marrying didn't know to be lost. Her heart didn't know to break.