A/N: Hello again. My final exams are over now, so I have time to continue writing. This is just a little warm up one-shot I wrote while I was thinking about getting back into 'Musings of a Great Mind', I hope it gets the ball rolling again! I wrote it all today so it's not much, but I hope you enjoy it. As a little note, Numair has feelings for Daine in this and is hiding them away, it kinda occurs after the first chapter of 'Musings'. For my reviewers, you are the reason I keep writing, so thank you if you decide to leave a comment.

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Tamora Pierce, as always. I practically stole one line from The Emperor Mage, but that's just between you and me. Hush hush.

Midwinter's Bite


Came the soft enquiry, accompanied by a light knock on the sturdy wood of her bedchamber door. Veralidaine Sarrasri stood up so suddenly that Zek the marmoset practically flew from her lap. That voice, the light tenor she had secretly come to love. Even through her closed door it had the same effect on her, sending a tingling up her spine, making her heart beat just that little bit faster. It struck her that the only similar feeling she had experienced was while preparing to mind-speak to a family of griffins on the road to Pirates Swoop. When the pressure of the moment builds inside you, and you manage to wind it in under your skin, a thousand tendrils of fear, shot with equal measures of adrenalin laced excitement, the whole thing gripping tightly to your heart and knocking the breath from your lungs. Well, it was the same feeling now. It had been for months. Numair had been there for her, with the griffins. His presence a calming force preventing her from trembling at the impact the he-griffins mind-speech had on her magical senses. Well, now things were certainly turned on their heads, it was her teacher who made her tremble, every look he sent her made her stomach feel as though it'd been trampled by an entire herd of moody ponies.

She couldn't possibly tell him how she felt. He would smile and laugh it off, just as he had done every time an allusion had been made that their relationship was more than platonic. And each time he did laugh, it pained her a little more, that he would think the idea so ridiculous. Although, the Wildmage thought with a frown, she did feel slightly ridiculous tonight. Alanna had insisted that she make her first appearance at court after the expedition to Carthak, one that the foreign courtiers would remember, and hopefully take word to their respective masters that Tortall would not tolerate rebellion.

So after long appointments with Mistress Weaver, a suitable dress had been procured for the King's formal address. Daine was sure she had been stuck with more pins than that unfortunate day when she'd accidentally half-shifted into a porcupine in order to prove to Perin that they weren't as dangerous as they look, and the stupid dolt had been so surprised by the shape-shift that he'd knocked her over and she'd landed on her own sharp quills. She'd had spine marks on her arms for weeks afterward, luckily the gown covered most of the remaining few, she was fair sure she'd exhausted all her believable excuses.

This evening, when she'd stepped out from behind her changing screen, Kitten had turned a buttery yellow and revealed in a series of whistles and clucks that she thought her ma looked very beautiful, as far as humans are concerned. When Zek first saw her in the delicate gown, his reaction was not as comforting. He'd only admitted he was used to seeing her in breeches, not a lady's things, which had lifted her confidence slightly, as marmosets were not renowned for their fashion expertise. In Zek's opinion, the Wildmage was at her best in marmoset form, he also let slip that he thought her tail was by far the most impressive he had ever encountered for a female and muttered something under his breath about the importance of tails and aerodynamics. If Daine were a marmoset, she supposed it would be a compliment, so she'd offered him a grape for his kind words anyway.

Peering at herself in the glass she stood stock still, disbelieving for a moment that such a transformation could take place in so little time. Only this afternoon she had been drilling the newest trainee recruits on the importance of maintaining friendly relationships with their mounts, else they end up finding their backsides in the dirt, instead of on horseback. She had finally retired to her rooms in a mess of wayward curls, sweat and horse dung, now only a few hours later she found herself dressed to face royalty with pride. The gown clung tightly to her arms and upper body, falling softly from her hips to the floor in a cascade of midnight blue. Cinched around her small waist was the silver scarf Numair had given her, highlighting the delicate silver beading around the dress' neckline and hem. Daine admitted the dress was well enough, as gowns go, but it was definitely no good for doing the things she was used to, else it'd end up like Thayet's jewel encrusted gown, which was ruined in a bandit attack. It had cost more than most people, including nobles, could ever possibly afford. It brought a smile to her face thinking of her astonishment at the complete lack of King Jonathan's anger when he was informed the gown was lost.

Cheered slightly, Daine continued on the walk to her door, secretly delighted at the noise her many skirts made as they brushed softly across the polished floor. Tugging the heavy door open, revealed the mage Numair Salmalin, her teacher, friend and she added with false cheer, perhaps one day her lo…

"There you are, Mithros Bless, you look beautiful."

Numair waved a hand toward the Carthaki silk scarf he had gifted upon her the previous day, she blushed slightly, casting her eyes toward the floor for a moment before meeting his own. He must've noted her embarrassment as the corners of his soft lips tilted up slightly in a knowing half smile, as a swarm of butterflies launched into flight in Daine's stomach. His eyes, Goddess, in that moment his eyes were darker than she had ever seen them. If she looked hard enough, it was almost as if they were burning… She frowned slightly in thought, not for her surely? Could it be he actually…

"How do I look?"
She was startled from her next thought by his question. He clears his throat and flourishes her a sweeping bow, face hidden for a heartbeat before he rises again with a grin. Curse him and his endless vanity…biting her bottom lip to suppress a grin at his antics, she looks her friend over.

He was dressed head to heel in a black robe, the greatest symbol of power a mage could hope to display. An emerald silk shirt peeked out from under the sweeping darkness of the robe's collar while his dark hair was bound in a low horsetail above the strength of his shoulders. From beneath her lashes she studies his face, she sighed inwardly, he was delectable, as usual. And she could never tell him so. A wild bastard from Snowsdale had no business with his like anyway. The servants whispered it often enough, perhaps eventually it would ring true in her mind as well.

If her mood was beginning to turn sour, it was worsened by the fact that the Lady Valentina of Lysle's Bluff had just stepped elegantly into the doorframe, and into the crook of Numair's arm. Odds Bobs! Daine knew of her beauty from the various rumours surrounding her name at court, yet in person…the Wildmage was sure she had turned such a violent shade of green it might actually be clashing with the midnight of her dress. Tonight the Lady Valentina was practically poured into a ruby red velvet gown cut in the latest court fashion, falling slightly off her creamy shoulders, and exposing a vast amount of bosom. It fit to her body as though it were a second skin.

"It's pleasure indeed to meet you at last Veralidaine, Numair has told me so much about you. You're the assistant horsemistress, how charming. Such hard work, I can see it must have taken quite some time for you to prepare for this occasion" Valentinas voice was smooth, and she spoke with her rouged lips arranged in a perfect smile, but her words were coated with venom, and Daine found the lady was definitely more snake than swan. Standing that little bit taller, Daine smiled sweetly and nodded politely in reply, already mind-speaking to Zek, asking if he would like to come to court tonight for a little mischief making. There is a certain lady in red who would surely make the worst marmoset he will ever see.

Numair guesses what she has done, and his face is unreadable as he offers Daine his other arm. Perhaps she has just confirmed that she will always be too young for him, she can feel her heart plummet as she pulls the door shut behind her. But he takes her hand before leading her and the Lady Valentina away, and she manages an innocent smile for him, though her heart has already endured that familiar pony stampede a good hundred times since he arrived at her door.

Previously, caught up in her thoughts, Daine did not see Numair's look of approval when she appeared at the door, looking as magnificent as he had ever seen her. She missed him study the perfect curve of her neck and hips, keeping his face low in a players bow in an effort to regain control of his reeling emotions. And now, while speaking to the Lady of Lysle's Bluff about the unpredictability of the weather the mages hand shook slightly as it held her own, perhaps it was just the chill, Daine could not guess. Even if she succeeded in making Valentinas night a little more uncomfortable, Numair's lips were never so close to her own ear as they were to the Lady's in this moment. Daine had never felt the slide of his fingers round her waist, or tasted his lips as they claimed her own, and tonight she would certainly not be the one who clung to him in passion, as they moved as one. That feeling belonged to another, it would never…could never, be hers. At his side, even the warmth of Numair so close beside her could not ward off the icy sting of jealousy creeping though her veins, and the bite of midwinter's chill as it settled firmly around her heart.