Disclaimer: Everything recognisable from the books belongs to Tamora Pierce.
A/N: I can't believe how helpful and supportive everyone was after the second part of this story. I've missed the TP fandom; I think the D/N shippers are the nicest on the net. Hugs everyone who loves D/N! Thank you so much, seriously, for everyone's who stuck with reading my stuff, when I've become one of the worst people at updating! I don't think I've ever been this busy in my life, but I miss writing too, and I've got a six week holiday coming up in a couple of months. So I'm aiming to have updated Spirits Cry before then, but to finish it during that time. Heaps of hugs and thanks to everyone who read this, but especially to:
Dragon and the Wild Mage
Tortalls Resident Wildchild
Goddess of Imaginary Life
Queen of the Theives
lost goddess of the shadows
gigles the friends of Lyzz aka frizzy
I really, really appreciated all of your reviews, and I hope I didn't miss anyone there:) Thanks again!
Daine gazed at the heavy wooden door of her chamber, and wondered if it would be utterly cowardly to slide the bolt across. She could just lock the door, crawl into bed – alone – and feign sleep until dawn. Numair would go away eventually, and her friends might never know…
And likely, Numair never touch her again, and she'd grow into an old, grey, maiden lady.
She left the bolt alone, and dropped into Kitten's favourite – and temporarily vacated – chair, smiling half-heartedly at a field mouse as it skittered past. Shadows were starting to creep into the room; the light a vibrant red. It was nearly sundown. Daine's stomach roiled nervously, and she cursed Alanna aloud. Aye, it'd been Thayet's idea, but the Lioness had taken it to it with a revolting fervor, in her opinion.
It wasn't the notion that their grand plan might succeed that worried Daine. It was the almost certainty that it would not, and that she was about to make an almighty fool of herself, that was prodding moths into flight in her belly.
A polite knock sounded, and Daine fair deposited her luncheon on the floor. She hadn't been able to face supper – or Numair. Goddess bless, her hands were shaking. She shook her head in self-disgust and climbed reluctantly to her feet. Hauling in a wobbly breath, she pasted an unconvincing smile on her face and pulled the door ajar.
The smile fell from her face.
"Oh!" She blinked at the man before her. He was tall and dark, and very handsome indeed, but he wasn't the one she loved. "Can I…help you?"
The young courtier beamed at her appreciatively. "Mistress Sarrasri?" he questioned, natural shyness slipping into masculine appreciation as his eyes scanned her tumbled curls and simple gown.
Daine blushed slightly, tugging at the silken cloth. She was dressed for the gaze of another, and felt inexplicably embarrassed by the man's presence. "Yes, I'm Daine Sarrasri."
"It's an honour to meet you, Mistress," he told her sincerely, reddening at her instinctive request to be addressed as 'Daine'. There was something rather familiar about his face, she realised, as the original surprise began to recede. He continued, "Please forgive my impudence in approaching you thus, but Onua has requested that I relay news to you."
That was it – she'd seen him before, in the stables. Concern immediately crumpled Daine's brow. "Is there a problem with the horses?" she questioned anxiously.
"Oh, no," the man assured her. "Rhinehold's Lady has just birthed a very bonny foal, but both are doing just fine. Onua spoke of your concern for the mare; she was adamant that you should be informed; that your mind should be put at ease."
Daine frowned. She had been concerned about Rhinehold's Lady, who had been lethargic for several days, but why would Onua send a busy courtier to her bedchamber, for mage's sake? She was thrilled about the foal, but there was no danger. The news could've waited till morning.
"Master Salmalin, sire!"
The deferential greeting made her jump. Turning in surprise, Daine saw Numair standing at a short distance, gazing at her visitor in disbelief. As she watched, the shock leached from his face, to be replaced with a stony anger that he rarely expressed. A dangerous glint lit his dark eyes.
"Dawkins," Numair returned coldly. "How unexpected to find you here…outside Mistress Sarrasri's bedchamber."
Daine's eyebrows shot up. He couldn't be implying that…
The simmering fury in the mage's stare was not lost on the younger man. Dawkins took a wary step back, glancing hastily from one to the other.
"I was…asked to relate to Daine…" He trailed off momentarily as Numair scowled. "Er…Mistress Sarrasri…news from the stables, Master Salmalin. Sire."
"Indeed." Numair's voice was frostier than ever.
Dawkins gulped audibly, and tugged at a lock of loose hair. "Yes…quite. But I've done that now…so, if you'll excuse me, Dai…Mistress! Er – excuse me."
The poor boy turned and fled.
Daine stared after him in amazement. What in…
"Numair!" she exclaimed, exasperated. "Why were you so…"
A hot mouth came crashing down on hers. Unable to hold back a muffled sound, she closed her eyes instinctively and wound both arms around his back. Numair slid his hands forcefully into her hair, the urgency of the kiss pushing her head back into his palms. Daine shuddered as his lips moved across her cheek, his teeth scraping gently against her skin, nipping at her lobe. Words of love, of possessiveness, of desire, were muttered fiercely into her ear. Stunned by the unexpected embrace, all she could do was tighten her grip and savour the familiar feel and taste of him. It might have frightened her – the ferocity in the passion – had it been anyone else. But everything about Numair communicated safety to her body: the tracing fingertips, the seeking mouth, the rough scrape of an unshaven jaw.
When he finally drew back, looking down at her intensely, Daine could do little more than pant for breath. Large hands stroked comfortingly down her arms, wrapping steadily about her fingers.
"Daine," Numair spoke hoarsely. "We need to talk."
He was going to withdraw from her again.
It was at that moment – feeling torn between desire and frustration – that Daine determined she would go through with tonight's plan…no matter how mortifying it was.
"Yes," she agreed slowly, the word wavering a little. Stepping back through the open doorway, she gestured for him to follow her. He did so, his large form immediately rendering her chamber to uncomfortably small proportions. Wiping her hands surreptitiously against her bodice, Daine exhaled shortly and closed the door. Turning, she leaned against it and closed her eyes, in preparation for whatever mental blow he cast.
"Daine." Numair's voice was gentle. "Open your eyes, sweetling. You look as if you're to have a tooth pulled." His tone altered, becoming more serious. "You know I'd never hurt you."
Letting her lashes part, still feeling rather sick with nerves and hopelessness, Daine looked up at him. Perhaps seeing her misery, he at once reached for her, pulling her into a loose embrace and resting his cheek on her hair.
"Don't look like that," Numair murmured softly. "Everything's just fine, my magelet. That's what I wanted to talk to you about…"
At a second knock on the door, they both frowned and pulled apart slightly. Numair directed a questioning frown at her.
"Were you expecting someone?"
Daine suddenly had a horrible premonition, and found that she was unable to speak.
"I swear to Mithros, if that's him back again…" Numair strode to the entrance, and yanked on the latch.
The wood fell back to reveal a tooth-filled smile. An elderly palace aide sketched a salute at the mage.
"How do, sir, how do?" he announced jovially, before swinging a bright gaze in Daine's direction. "I've brought the young lady's ale, as requested," he nodded, waving a full tray about precariously.
Numair looked back at Daine, his expression a blend of curiosity, amusement and slight disapproval. "Since when do you drink ale in your chambers?" he asked, warily accepting the flask and goblets.
Daine's mouth opened and closed again. She shook her head, fighting the desire to laugh off her nerves. Goddess, this was going to be a disaster. She could feel it in her blood.
Numair had pressed a handful of coins on the overly grateful servant, and was attempting to bid him good tidings. Finally managing to close the door, he let out an exaggerated sigh of relief and grinned at her.
"I was afraid he might become a permanent fixture in your room! Very friendly people you've got supplying your secret ale habit."
"It's a gift from Alanna," Daine explained weakly, and at least semi-truthfully. "She thought I might enjoy it."
Numair's gaze had sharpened and he looked suspiciously at the flask in his hand. "Did she, indeed," he said mildly. Setting the goblets carefully aside, he flicked a glance at her, then plucked out the cork and raised the drink to his nose. "Mithros!" he exclaimed, head jerking back. "That certainly isn't ale. If I didn't know our Champion so well, I'd think she was trying to get you under the weather, magelet." He was still frowning at the pomegranate concoction, and so missed the flush creeping up her neck.
Consequences be damned. She was going to flog Alanna and Thayet the first chance she got…
Numair placed the flask on the windowsill and quirked a rueful eyebrow. "Perhaps I should have a word with Alanna about appropriate 'gifts'. I think she's been keeping company with George far too long."
"You wouldn't like some, then," Daine surmised half-heartedly, feeling more relieved than anything else.
The mage took another doubtful look at the offering. "Not right now, no," he returned, definite humour in his voice now. "Would you like to try it?"
"No!" she refused, too quickly. "No…thank you."
Although it might not have been a bad idea, if it made people feel less uncomfortable. Daine shifted, distinctly ill-at-ease. She wished the whole evening was over with. Actually, if things became any more awkward, she would be wishing she'd never come to Tortall at all.
"Well," Numair reached out and laced his fingers back through hers. "As I was saying, magelet…"
"Are you hungry?" Daine blurted, interrupting him. She couldn't stand the thought of another conversation about how inappropriate their togetherness was to other people.
He looked faintly taken aback. "Hungry?"
Breaking free of his hold, she walked to the trinket table by the window and lifted a second tray. "I asked for some food to be sent up," she explained, blushing slightly under his inquisitive look. "I…missed supper."
"So did I," Numair offered absently.
"You'll want something to eat then," Daine persisted, eyeing the platters that Thayet had prepared herself. She wasn't exactly certain what it was, and was pretty sure she didn't want to know. It didn't look too bad though. She'd had to push Kitten away from it earlier, and the young dragon had developed notoriously fussy tastes lately.
Smiling at her and shrugging slightly, Numair reached for a plate.
Several hours later, Daine stood outside Alanna's chambers, seething. She was embarrassed and she was furious. And the Lioness was darned lucky that she had a healing Gift, and that several inches of solid oak stood between them.
This was entirely the fault of her friends, Daine decided crossly. She hadn't even wanted to buy the gods-cursed arrowroot! And the reaction it provoked in Numair had hardly been the one she'd nervously expected – had been told to expect.
She'd never seen someone's throat swell up that fast before.
The door opened a crack and Alanna peered warily around the opening. Seeing Daine's glare, she began to speak hastily.
"Numair's fine. He'll be out in just a moment."
Daine's scowl grew more aggressive.
"All right," Alanna conceded. "The arrowroot may not have been the best idea."
"The best idea? I almost killed him!" Daine snapped.
"No more ideas!" the girl continued fiercely. "I'd rather that nobody ever touched me again!"
"Oh, I don't know if I like the sound of that," Numair protested lightly, following Alanna into the hallway. His voice was still rough, the ruddy skin of his throat a little red. "Seems like a tragic waste to me," he teased.
Daine slipped into his open arms. "Are you all right?" she asked anxiously, running one palm over his hard chest, feeling the movement of his breaths.
He hugged her to him. "I'm fine, magelet. It's been a rather more dramatic evening than I'd envisioned, but I'm perfectly recovered." He nodded at Alanna over Daine's curly head. "Thank you."
Alanna at least had the grace to look embarrassed. She coughed, and muttered an unintelligible reply.
Numair pressed his lips to Daine's forehead briefly. "We ought to leave Alanna to her other patients."
Daine nodded and, as he picked up her hand, cast one last look of mortification at the Lioness. Alanna's face was frankly apologetic. She tried to nod reassuringly but neither of them could call the plan a success thus far.
Sarra had oftentimes said that things got worse before they got better. If that was true, Daine thought, as she scanned the ruins of her bedchamber with dismay, she hoped that things got a lot better, and hastily.
Her blankets were piled in disarray on the bed; stuffing slipping from the mattress to the floor. Shirts and breeches were tossed with abandonment about the room, and smeared with a mysterious substance. A puddle of water from an overturned decanter spread slowly along the floorboards.
"What in Mithros…" Numair bent to lift a candelabrum from the floor, still-glowing candles clinging to their posts.
Thayet coughed quietly from behind them, meeting Daine's overwhelmed glance with a slight wince.
"Was there an attack?" Numair demanded, stepping closer to Daine.
"No, no," the queen refuted hastily. She bit her lip once, before forcing a small chuckle. "Unfortunately, Daine, it seems that Zek found your flask of…ale. He became a little…rambunctious."
"Rambunctious…" Numair repeated dazedly; eyes sweeping the chaotic scene.
"Is Zek all right?" Daine asked, horrified.
"Oh, yes," Thayet confirmed quickly, seemingly relievedto havesomething positive to contribute. "He's fast asleep in Kalasin's room. Snoring away," she added with false cheer.
Daine closed her eyes and tried to think of simpler things. Like spidren assaults. Or battles with deranged, flying egomaniacs.
"I'll just leave you to it," Thayet continued, staring warily at the silent girl. "My attendants are preparing a new bedchamber for you. Or, of course, there's nothing wrong with Numair's room."
With that audacious statement, the queen darted away, leaving two goggling mages behind her.
Numair closed his mouth and the door at the same time.
"Magelet," he began cautiously, tugging on his horsetail with one hand. "What in Chaos' name is going on?"
And, at that very moment, the music began.
As the melody drifted up through the open window, Numair's entire body stiffened. With shadowed eyes, he stalked toward the window and peered out at the courtyard below.
She dropped to the edge of the disheveled bed and leaned forward, pressing her forehead to her knees.
"Yes?" she asked despondently.
"Do you know why there's a fiddler playing the Carthaki execution ballad outside of your window?"
"What?" Daine looked up in disbelief.
Numair's mouth was taut. "This is the song that Ozorne liked to have played at public executions." He unlatched the window and pulled it closed, dimming the sound of the strings below.
Of course it was.
Face bright red, Daine jerked to her feet and glared at nothing in particular.
"I don't believe this!" she half-shouted, humiliated and aggravated beyond belief. "I told them this was a half-witted idea! I knew I should never have gone along with it!"
Numair took a step toward her, but stopped at her angry movement. "Gone along with what?" he asked carefully.
"The plan? The plan for what?" The mage's face was concerned.
"Your seduction!" Daine blurted out, then paused, feeling her cheeks heat further violently.
Numair went perfectly still. His throat worked a few times. When he spoke, his voice was expressionless. "My…seduction?" He looked about the ruined room. "You were trying to seduce me?"
Daine glared at him silently, daring him to mock her.
Numair met her gaze, and they watched each other for long minutes. Then he nodded slowly, removed his outer robes and dropped down to take her previous seat on the bed.
"All right, then," he said blandly. "Commence whenever you're ready."
Daine blinked, unsure how to take this sudden turn in the exchange. "Commence…with what?"
"Seducing me." Numair sounded unconcerned. "Although you didn't need to go to all this trouble, you know. You could seduce me just by looking at me, sweetling."
She was momentarily speechless. Then ire sparked in her eyes. "This isn't funny, Numair!"
His expression changed at once, and Daine stood, transfixed by the love she saw there.
"No, it isn't funny," he agreed somberly, reaching out to tug her gently to the bed beside him. "It isn't funny at all that I've made you so miserable. And it certainly isn't funny that I've let people I don't care a damn about dictate my relationship with the woman I love so much."
Daine's hands moved in his, and she watched his face.
"And I do love you, magelet. More than I can believe sometimes." Numair cupped her jaw and pressed a firm kiss to her mouth. "That's what I came here to tell you tonight." His mouth quirked then, and a faint flush lit his cheeks. "Well…that, and the fact that I won't let other people's opinions matter anymore."
Daine looked up at him quickly, feeling redness creep up her own neck.
"You mean…" she hesitated.
"I mean," Numair said firmly, his hands gently shaping her hips and sliding up her back. "That if anyone has any comment to make about us, they'll have to deal with you."
She laughed spontaneously. "Me?" she asked teasingly.
He grinned. "Of course. You're the scarier one. I'm only mildly ashamed to admit it."
Daine gently nibbled at his chin. "I don't know," she murmured. "I think poor Dawkins might disagree."
Numair's black brows immediately snapped together. "Yes…Dawkins…"
"Is entirely innocent and probably very confused now," she stated matter-of-factly.
He paused, nuzzling her neck. "I think I should have a word with Alanna tomorrow." Then he tipped Daine backward onto the mussed covers, rolling swiftly atop her. Starting to trail a line of burning kisses down her throat, he slid his fingers along her belly in a tender caress, before reaching for the laces of her bodice. Grinning into her bright, desire-clouded eyes, he finished: "I need to thank her."
And, by the time the sun rose on two entwined bodies, flickering over lazy limbs and loving kisses, Daine could only agree.