Disclaimer: I own nothing. Sure wish I had created these wonderful characters
A/N: My copy of "Wild Magic" lists Alanna's war horse as a stallion. I have been told that he is described as a gelding. Obviously the former can sire a foal, the latter cannot. Since there is dispute as to what he is, I can only assume that this detail was changed at some point. My copy is a paperback of recent print, which means mine is probably the updated one. But there may also be a difference in the versions from other countries.
Daine stroked Angel's nose gently. The horse had just given birth to her first foal. It was large foal and the mare might have been in serious trouble if Daine had not been there. But now mama and baby were resting normally. Daine smiled to Alanna, who patted her head in gratitude.
Nearly two weeks had passed since Uusoae's exile and clean up was still underway. Daine and Numair had avoided telling the whole story of their trip through the Realms of the Gods so far, but were being pressed constantly by King Jonathan. Numair was also quietly coaxing Daine for an answer to his proposal as each sun set. But when the sun had risen that morning, Numair was nowhere to be found. Daine could have used her magic to ask the animals to find him, but she was grateful for the break. It wasn't that she didn't want to marry Numair. In fact, that was the problem. Except she kept thinking back to that fear that one day he would turn to her and see a baby where he wanted to see a woman. She kept dreaming about a debutant who looked amazingly like Varice, sweeping in on Numair's arm and laughing at the "little girl" who was trying desperately to draw Numair's attentions.
If only she could ask someone for advice. But Numair and Daine had not even discussed how to tell their friends about their romance. It wasn't exactly going to be easy. And Daine was afraid they would come up with so many reasons the two shouldn't be together that she would be unable to argue. Then her nightmare might come true.
When Onua had urged her to the stable, she saw the opportunity she was looking for. Alanna's stallion had sired the foal that Angel labored to deliver. The three women would be in the stable for a while longer to make sure there were no further complications from the tough birth. Daine thought that if she was careful about how she said things, she might be able to get a little advice and leave the advisors none the wiser.
The three women sat back and waited. They started chattering about normal things and catching up on the more normal events of life in Pirates Swoop. Daine's heart almost leapt when they started to talk about Miri's engagement to Evin Larse. It would not be hard to bring this around to her. "I always kind of thought they were suited," remarked Alanna with a smirk.
Daine tried to look unsettled, which really wasn't that hard. All she had to do was think about how confused she was over Numair. It worked like a charm. "Daine, are you alright?" Onua asked. "You have a lost look about you."
"Um-hmm," Daine answered slowly. "But it's fair strange. Miri and I are almost the same age. How can she really know he's the one?"
Alanna and Onua shared a significant look. "I like to think that Goddess has it all planned out," the Lioness replied. "Then, if we simply listen to our hearts enough, the answer comes."
"But is there always someone for everyone?" Daine asked earnestly. At the curious looks on the two women's faces Daine explained, "Well, umm, Onua your first marriage can't possibly have been something the Goddess wanted for you. But you've never remarried and don't think you've plans now with.." At the look on Onua's face, Daine covered her mouth with her hands. She walked over to Onua looking remorseful. "I'm so sorry, Onua. Is it painful to talk about the past?"
"It's alright, honey. I know you wouldn't hurt me on purpose and you didn't really. You just -- you said something I think about a lot. As hard as that part of my life was, it led me someplace good -- here. And I guess I've decided that maybe not every one of us is meant for marriage."
"But that doesn't mean you won't find someone someday, Daine," Alanna interjected. "You're a beautiful girl and we all see heads turn when you walk in a room. Or haven't you noticed?"
Daine blushed deeply. "That also doesn't mean I'll find the right one either. I never used to think it was a possibility at all. You see, all my life I've heard that no respectable man would marry Sarra's bastard. And now that I know who my father is, which is strange -- and Miri and Evin are getting married, and I could -- now I could think about it. And if someone – if there was someone – how would I know? How do they know?"
Alanna gave Daine a strange, searching look. "Is there someone?"
Onua looked thoughtful. "There have been a few beaus, but I didn't know you were serious about anyone. Is there someone, Daine?"
Daine's blush intensified. This was dangerous ground if she wanted advice without giving anything away.
Alanna chuckled softly. "So maybe there's a little more to this then?"
"But it's any of those swains of last year," blurted Daine. Silently she scolded herself.
"But there is someone?" Onua asked, almost teasingly. "How serious is the someone? You haven't talked about marriage or…" Daine blushed like she had never blushed before and suddenly all eyes were on her.
"Was there a proposal?" Alanna asked.
Daine was trapped. If she were any good at lying she might be able to fake her way out of this. But she wasn't. And she knew by their expressions that her face had already given that all away. "I didn't give him an answer."
"But who….," Alanna and Onua asked simultaneously.
"Well, I'd rather not say – it's complicated – and he's not here. You know, since I haven't given him an answer it seems wrong to reveal his name when he can't be part of it, especially when I'm not sure what to do. You understand, right?"
"Yes, I suppose," Alanna said. Onua nodded agreement. "Still, this young man has left you confused and I'm not sure why. I assume you love him?"
Daine nodded shakily, afraid to open her mouth.
"Of course, there was a time when love wasn't enough for me. I suppose I was hesitant because some part of me knew I was with the wrong man."
Daine's jaw dropped as Alanna nodded.
She was silent for a moment before saying, "If, say, he was the right one for me, then how do I know marriage is right for him? If he feels something now, how do I know it will stay?"
"That's the meaning of the 'right one', youngling. So you're confused about several things -- whether you even want marriage?"
"Not exactly. I've – it's just not something I thought would ever be an option. There's so much to consider. And my mother never married, so I guess as a young girl I never really got to see a proper example. And then, it can be so bad if it isn't the right person. There's so much I just don't know..." She broke off and looked up at Alanna. She had been speaking to her shoes.
Alanna bit her bottom lip as if she were considering something. A long moment of silence passed between the three women. Finally she asked, "Does Numair know?"
Surprised, Daine answered before she really thought, "Yes, of course."
"Did he – what was his reaction?"
Onua looked sharply at Alanna as if the two women were sharing a conversation in the silence. Daine didn't answer. She wasn't sure what to say without revealing that Numair was the one who had left her so confused.
Alanna seemed to take her silence as a confirmation of some fear she was fighting. "Daine," Alanna began softly, "How do you feel about Numair?"
"I love him dearly," Daine burst and then tried to cover her disclosure by adding, "Naturally", as if it was. "There is no one in the world I trust more. But…"
Alanna smiled and Onua nodded. Daine relaxed. They shared some knowing glance that left Daine feeling like she'd missed something important.
Alanna sighed as if resigning herself to something and plowed forward. "Have you ever considered Numair in that way -- romantically?" There was a long silence. "How would you feel if he told you that he was in love with you -- hypothetically?" Onua looked at Alanna surprised.
Onua spoke first. "Could that be?" Daine shifted uncomfortably.
Alanna approached Daine and put her hand on her shoulder. "Please, hear me out, Daine. While no one can truly know someone else's heart, I believe Numair IS in love with you." Daine blanched. Alanna patted her in a motherly way and when Daine opened her mouth to try to put an end to this conversation, Alanna placed her finger to her lips and said, "If I don't explain, a terrible mistake might be made. So I must."
Onua closed the circle almost conspiratorially. The two women seemed to be preparing to support Daine as if she was about to receive a great shock. Daine wasn't sure what to do or how to get out of the situation she'd put herself in. She was so focused on trying to figure a way out that she didn't even hear Cloud say that Numair was walking toward the stable. Numair was just in time to hear something that made him freeze outside the door.
"I have thought Numair was in love with you since we went to Carthak, Daine." Alanna nodded when Onua's eyes widened. She continued, "I overheard an odd conversation as we arrived in port the very first day." Looking to Onua, Alanna explained, "Numair told Daine that she looked pretty." She smiled reminiscently. "The fiend actually criticized my looks and suggested that Daine might rival Thayet." All three women laughed at that.
Alanna held up one finger, and then a second, as if counting off the points. "Shortly after that, I saw you help Numair out of an embarrassing situation. He has a delicate stomach when he's traveling as we all know." Again they all laughed.
"So you saw me send the dog to help him eat all that fancy food that Varice piled on his plate? She may be fancy, but she isn't very considerate," Daine added a bit too venomously.
Onua and Alanna looked at each other and smiled. Alanna's eyes danced as she answered, "Yes, my dear, I saw that. But I also saw the odd expression that passed his face when you turned away. I don't think he had ever quite encountered that before. You thought of and met his need without the blink of an eye. That is the kind of intimate knowledge that a husband and wife usually share. But you are only his student. He looked a little unsettled."
Daine looked at her shoes and said, "Sorry."
"Oh, don't be. I didn't mean to make you self-conscious. I'm only pointing this out to add the proper weight to my next piece of evidence." She held up a third finger. "You saw an exchange between Numair and Emperor Ozorne. Numair had gone to the aviary seeking you but couldn't find you. Weren't you in bird form?"
"Yeah," she said blushing at the memory. "That was when Ozorne accused Numair of bedding me and Numair tried to hit him."
"No!" laughed Onua. "Why didn't I hear about this before?"
Alanna shook her head. "Daine, you didn't realize what it meant did you?"
"It was just weird," she replied. "That kind of accusation had been made before. Usually Numair just laughed. That day he got really mad."
"Now why should it make him angry? Either he couldn't stand for someone to insult you or it hit a little too close to home? Maybe Numair had just started to realize you were a young woman. There is nothing like having your deepest desires stripped bare for all to see. And it wouldn't help that it was Ozorne who was accusing. Worse, you were missing and he was concerned."
Staring into the distance, Daine said, "I never saw it that way."
"I know. When I heard you tell Numair that he shouldn't have tried to hit Ozorne I couldn't imagine what could have precipitated it. Then I went and talked to you about the situation. I was suddenly glad I had insisted on being a chaperone. I started wondering if I shouldn't be there more often. Shortly after that Numair warned Kaddar off of leading you on."
Now Alanna put up a fourth finger. "And then, Ozorne kidnapped you. It was a strained situation for those of us being pushed out of Carthak. Ozorne had provided a note that claimed you left to help slaves revolt and forced us to leave. Numair was beside himself. I was upset and wanted to do something to help. But I was nothing compared to Numair. He was absolutely inconsolable. He did a spell that gave me information to pass to King Jonathan and rushed away without even saying goodbye. But by the time Numair found you and Ozorne, you had wreaked your own havoc."
"I thought he'd killed Numair."
"I know you did," Alanna chided. "And we will get back to the extent of your reaction in a moment."
Alanna held up a fifth finger. "But the most impressive evidence happened after the barrier fell last winter. Do you remember when you got the unicorn fever?"
Daine nodded and shifted her feet nervously. Did Alanna know about the bracelet? Daine couldn't imagine that Alanna would know something Numair had guarded so closely.
Alanna continued, "What you didn't know was that you probably should have died. I was on my way back with the King's own when it happened. It was terrible. I was a long way away but Numair was desperate to save you. He did a speaking spell to find me and brought you to me using a teleportation spell. Numair used every ounce of his magic to try to save you.
"I never knew," Daine paled as she said it. Onua nodded sympathetically.
"Oh, but it gets worse. You were weak. I did all I could for you and told him you would have to fight the rest. It wasn't good enough for Numair. As a war mage without healing magic, he couldn't give you strength normally. But there is one way he can transfer power to someone who is sick. He had taken a lock of your hair with him to rest. Every time so much as a sliver of his gift returned, he poured it into the focus to help you fight the fever. When I checked on him, he was very weak. His skin was almost grey with exhaustion and despite the fact that he was only 29, he had managed to put some white streaks in his hair. He could have killed himself that way. But he told me he couldn't let you die."
Daine had not realized tears were rolling down her cheeks until Onua pulled a handkerchief and offered it. Outside the door, Numair suddenly realized he shouldn't be eavesdropping on this. He considered slipping away, but Cloud blocked his path. Cloud pushed him with her muzzle toward the door, as if she felt he should go in.
"That sounds like love to me," Onua said and patted Daine's shoulder.
"Which brings me to you, Daine," Alanna said sternly. "I don't know anything about the young man who brought you seek our advice. I respect your decision not to tell while he isn't present. But, you see, you have done your fair share of acting more like a lover than a student to Numair. And while you're wondering how to know if you're with the right person, you may be overlooking the right one."
Alanna place a hand on each of Daine's shoulders. "When you thought Numair had been executed, you more than lost your temper didn't you?" Daine nodded and looked at her shoes. "Your rage ripped up an entire castle and cost the lives of the fools who stood in the way."
Shame rolled like flames over Daine. "I was not there to see your reunion with Numair, but I've heard that you instantly returned to yourself with no thought to clothing. There were two other men in the room, weren't there?"
Daine flushed scarlet and Onua shook her head, smiling.
"Then, after Numair's battle with Hadensra, I understand you went looking for Numair when you were in no state to go."
"I tried to slow her down," Onua told Alanna, "and Cloud almost bit me."
"Young lady, I am a knight," scolded Alanna. "I know that there are things you don't do by yourself when you are exhausted. You probably couldn't have pulled that bow to defend yourself in the state you were in."
"I had to know if he was alright!" Daine cried in her own defense.
"I know, I know!" Alanna patted Daine again. "But this is why I have divulged a secret of one of my dearest friends. If Numair hasn't told you by now how he feels, I don't think he will. He has a strong sense of honor and will worry that he will somehow trick you into feeling something you don't. He will stand back at the cost of his own heart if he thinks you might be happier with whoever has proposed to you. And then I'm not sure what will become of him. If I thought you didn't feel the same, I might not say anything either. But I think you do. Before you decide anything, search your heart. Remember your own words when I asked you how you felt about Numair. You said, 'I love him dearly.' You said you trust him more than anyone else in the world. I doubt very much whether your young suitor would like you having such a strong feeling about another man."
Uncomfortable once again, Daine shuffled her feet and asked slyly, "So you don't think the age difference is too great?"
Alanna smiled warmly. "I would be the last person to suggest that an age difference should keep two people apart when they are in love. But Daine, you know your own heart better than anyone else can. I think you should go find Numair and talk to him. Confront him if you have to, but if you love him as much as I think you do, you must take the chance. And then please, send him back to me so I can apologize for not keeping this secret."
Onua nodded encouragingly. Daine seemed rooted to the spot. She didn't know what to say. Since she already knew that Numair loved her and that she loved him as well, she couldn't exactly go running to tell him.
"Don't look so lost, little one," Onua said. "You have adored Numair since you met him. When we brought the ponies in and he went to leave, you got misty. Do you remember that? There was a time when I migth have thought it was a bad idea. The thing is Daine, the two of you work. There aren't many women that will put up with his strange addiction to studies or his long lists. Somehow you bring out the practicality in him. And there aren't many men who will understand you greeting wolves in a familiar way. You can't tell me that your magic doesn't scare some men away. Numair helps you fit in with the rest of us. You balance each other well. So I think that the Gods made both of you the way you are. Maybe they also made you to go together."
"Oh and by the way," Alanna jumped in with a finger wagging, "No matter which you choose, you should realize that George and I feel a bit responsible for you. You don't have parents here in the mortal world for your betrothed to declare his intentions to. But George and I would be happy to provide you a wedding."
"You might have to fight Jonathan and Thayet in that regard," Onua joked.
The three had not even noticed when Numair had entered the room. He had stood there, irresolute for nearly four minutes when Onua finally saw him and gasped, "Numair, we – uhhh – how long have you been standing there?"
There was a strange look on his face as he walked slowly closer. Alanna started, "Oh, Numair, this shouldn't have – I know I spoke out of turn – I…" But the silence stretched until she cursed and cried, "Say something!"
He took Alanna's hands in his and kissed the back of each in turn. "You are truly a lady and a friend. I know only your best intentions would make you break a confidence." Turning to Onua, he grasped her shoulder affectionately and said, "That extends to you as well. Thank you." And then he turned to Daine "But Daine already knows I love her desperately."
Both Onua and Alanna turned back to Daine with confused expressions. Whatever they had expected Numair to say, it wasn't this. Daine shrugged hopelessly. It was Alanna who caught on first and with eyes open very wide she said, "Ohh! When – how…"
"When we were in the Realms of the Gods," Numair explained, "we had a difficult trip to the dragon lands. There was a point when I was attacked by some living rocks and while I fought them off, Daine fell off a cliff." Onua gasped.
He paused and seemed to shrink a little. "I cannot begin to express how I felt when I saw what had happened. I didn't even think. I used a spell to find her and went to her. She was in the web of Spidrens and I thought…" Numair swallowed hard at the memory. "I couldn't see if she was alright but it didn't seem like she could be. It was such a long fall and then there were three Spidrens. I blew the first one up, but I had drained my gift. I started to beat another with my staff. I was so filled with rage that I just kept striking him until his head was crushed. The third had been suffocated by the darkings. And then there was no foe left to battle and I couldn't look. I couldn't bare the thought." He seemed lost in the memory.
"It was strange," Daine continued the story, "he seemed frozen. He stood there with his back to me. He slumped on his staff. So I thought he might be hurt. He didn't even respond when I called his name. So I stood up, which by the way, was not easy. But that time when I spoke to him, he turned."
"There she was alive and joking about it. I think something burst inside me. The next thing I knew she was in my arms and we were kissing. After that, I could hardly deny there were feelings."
The corners of Alanna's mouth twitched and she put her hands on her hips. Turning to Daine she said, "And you just let me go on and on and on."
Daine looked remorseful as she said, "I didn't know what to do. You jumped to a conclusion and I didn't want to tell you it was Numair and then you started telling me all these things that I never really realized and…"
Onua started to laugh. Alanna struggled against it succeeding in a stifled chuckle. Then she turned to Numair. "Well I assume you are treating our girl with respect then and not taking advantage of her?" She sounded stern.
"I have been a gentleman, although she hasn't always made that very easy." His eyes danced mischievously. Turning to Daine he asked, "I assume you are still trying to decide if you'll have me?" His tone was teasing but Daine noticed uncomfortably that there was a pleading look in his eyes.
Then Numair turned abruptly back to Alanna and said, "I'm so sorry I didn't realize you would want me to declare my intentions to you. I actually realized only today that her real father might want that show of respect. I've been to Weiryn's temple to ask his blessing. It might be a bad idea to court the daughter of a God and forget to show your respect."
Onua laughed and said, "That could be bad, alright."
"But it may all be moot if Daine doesn't think I'm worthy of her."
"It's not that, I --" Daine reached for Numair and when he looked into her eyes she said, "You know I love you. I just –I don't want you to be trapped."
"Magelet, I won't be trapped. I'll be blessed."
"Well," Alanna said, "It's always fun discovering I've put my foot in my mouth." The foal was up now and nursing. His mother was looking stronger. Alanna patted the mare.
Onua tilted her head slightly and looked at Daine as she was curious about something. "You were fishing for advice weren't you?"
Daine nodded and tried not to look into Numair's eyes.
"You love him and he loves you. I'm not sure what's holding you back. I think you simply ought to pick a date. You can wait a bit if you like, I think Numair would understand if you wanted to be little older than you are now. Although it isn't uncommon for girls to marry at 14 and you are 16."
Numair nodded agreement. He reached a large hand out and brushed Daine's cheek tenderly. "It's alright, Magelet. I'm sorry I've been pushing. Take all the time you need. I'll still love you no matter what."
Both Alanna and Onua sighed approval. Then suddenly Onua's expression changed to something Daine couldn't describe. "I also know that if Numair asked ME to marry him, I wouldn't wait a second to say yes."
Daine, Alanna and Numair all looked a little shocked. Daine struggled with a big lump in her throat and stared at Onua. Did this mean that Onua had feelings for Numair? But then she saw Onua wink to her.
"Don't look so surprised. Both Alanna and I have seen you naked," she wiggled her eyebrows and continued, "My fine, fine, sometimes feathered friend." She looked Numair over in a very scrutinizing way and chided, "Mmm, mmm!" She held off laughing long enough to watch Numair turn crimson in a blush that Daine felt certain went all the way to his toes. And Alanna laughed herself right out the door.