Disclaimer: The following story is based on the fine work of Ms. Tamora Pierce. Most characters, places and magical rules are the product of her imagination. I own nothing.
A/N: This story is the sequel to Enemies. You can expect to see kisses from Perin, unicorn fever and many things that were mentioned in RotG but never elaborated on. My idea of unicorn fever likely differs from most everyone else's . Also, Perin and Daine will have a rough break-up. The rating has been set accordingly.
Chapter 1 – Fever
Daine woke up shivering violently. A number of rabbits, which had been keeping her warm, protested in the mind-speak that had become familiar to Daine. She was camping outdoors in January, but with that many friends she should have been very comfortable. She also had the heat rock that Numair had given her before bed. She felt it and it still seemed warm.
There was no longer any point in denying what was wrong and she knew Numair was going to be upset with her for not speaking sooner. She had been dizzy and nauseous all morning. Duke Baird had drilled into their heads the early signs of unicorn fever because it was so important to get to a healer right away. But she had ignored them because her relationship with her best friend and teacher had been so off lately. She had grown used to the affectionate touches Numair offered. They were comforting and reassuring and since Mid-Winter they had ceased abruptly.
Three days earlier they had faced a new immortal – flying monkeys. These strange creatures had the ability to produce a magical fog and they had swarmed in out of no where. Daine had been captured by one of them while in hawk form and could easily have been killed if it were not for fast thinking. Her safe return was the kind of thing that almost always earned her a warm embrace from her tall and powerful friend. This time he had not so much as tweaked her nose. He only nodded with his hands clasped behind his back and told her he was glad she was safe.
Daine had tried to convince herself that it was because the riders were there. They had been traveling with the 2nd rider group. The king had sent them to investigate another batch of unknown immortals and see what they could do to help the people of the small village of Willow Creek. When they arrived they found the monkeys and signs that Willow Creek had been abandoned. The monkeys were quite vicious and Numair had thrown fire at most of them. The 2nd riders were assigned to remain there and Numair and Daine had headed back toward Pirate's Swoop for their next task.
It had only been 15 days since the barrier fell but it felt like much longer. The barrier, a magical fence that had kept immortals trapped in the Realms of the Gods for 400 years, had disintegrated on the Winter Solstice. In the years prior, enemies had opened gates along the barrier repeatedly to allow immortals in. The barrier had been weakened so much that there was no repairing it, and they lacked what was necessary to rebuild it. Daine had expected that immortals would descend upon them in droves after the barrier evaporated and that was exactly what had happened. In the fortnight since, Daine and Numair had not stopped traveling. They were sent after one beastie or another until she was exhausted. She had told herself that the dizziness of that morning was nothing more than too much fighting. She had been flying a lot to scout ahead and she had been running from one place to another. It seemed reasonable.
Furthermore, it had been a year since the fever had run rampant through Corus. It was a devastating illness. It had taken the Royal University months to determine a cause and find a way to treat it. Many people had died in the meantime. Unicorn fever was so named because it originated from people eating the meat of a unicorn. There were two types of these immortals. The flesh-eating unicorns which Daine had fought with her friends in December, had a different biology than those that were pretty horses with horns. The previous winter, a herd of the latter had moved in to the royal forest. Since their horns, manes and tails had magical qualities, it was not long until people began to hunt them. Like most immortals, killing them was trickier than killing a regular animal. But bespelled knives and crossbows began to pop up in the market place and soon a trade was growing in the magical by-products. Obviously someone also decided the meat should be used, and sold it as jerky in the market place. Those who actually ate the unicorn meat died within days and nothing could stop it. But then, the illness spread contagiously to those who had never eaten the meat at all. They merely had to be near someone who had gotten sick.
Daine didn't know how she could have contracted it. She couldn't imagine anyone fool enough to eat the meat again, although she knew that there were dishonest people who would sell such a thing as unicorn jerky just to turn a profit. She couldn't remember being near anyone who was sick. She brushed her sweat-soaked chestnut curls out of her eyes and tied them back. She could no longer avoid asking for help. She would have to see a healer before spots appeared. Once spots emerged on someone suffering the illness, it was almost always fatal.
Daine wrapped herself in her blankets and crawled from her tent. Numair's tent was set right next to hers. She could hear him moan softly in his sleep and murmur "I love you." Great, she thought, not only do I have to wake him up with news that I've been stupid, I get to embarrass him in the process.
She moved into the tent staying as far away from him as she could. "Numair!" she called loudly. "Wake up!"
His eyes opened abruptly. Daine kept her eyes on the ground, trying not to humiliate him. But misreading the flush in her cheeks he said, "Oh Goddess, Daine, please tell me I don't talk in my sleep." She looked up and realized he was very red and had bunched the coverings in his lap. In another circumstance, the whole thing would be comical. But now she was too sick to even smile and she was too heartsick over the strain in their friendship to want to be in any position remotely like this one.
"A little," she admitted weakly. "But you only said, 'I love you'. No names." She saw his hand cover his mouth and she looked at the ground again. "I'm sorry to wake you like this. I can't -- I can't get warm."
His humiliated expression evaporated, replaced with a look of concern. He reached a large hand out and brushed her forehead. "Mithros! You're burning up." When she looked up at him, his eyes seemed to bore into hers as if his mind was sorting through causes for her illness. "Have you been dizzy and nauseous?"
She only nodded repentantly. Then he asked, "Daine, why didn't you say something? Didn't Duke Baird drill us and drill us about this last year?"
"You've been so distant and I – I thought maybe I was just tired. We've been going so hard."
"What do you mean that I've been distant?" There was obvious hurt in his brown eyes.
"You –You've been quiet and you haven't so much as bumped my arm in two weeks. I thought maybe I'd done something wrong." She shivered despite the blankets around her and unbidden tears began to run down her face. She couldn't tell him that she lived for the little touches because their relationship wasn't like that and could never be. She was merely a child to him. But those affectionate signs had always warmed her heart. It was part of his personality and it had been taken away. And she was far too sick to allow herself these thoughts right now.
"I've been – Gods, I'm sorry, Magelet. You've done nothing wrong," He reached for her and pulled her into his arms, pressing her teary face into his bare shoulder. He added his own blankets to hers and rubbed her arms vigorously, trying to make her shivers subside. Suddenly he stopped and looked at her face with a terrified expression on his own. "Have you any spots?" he asked urgently.
"None that I have seen," she answered. She was starting to feel a little warmer. That really didn't make sense because the rabbits had been warm. It was probably his presence and her desire to be allowed this close. But what if she gave him the fever? "I might be contagious, Numair." She tried to pull away.
"You would have been contagious all day, Magelet. Now hush and let me help you the only way I can. I have no healing magic." He was silent for a minute. "Isn't there a healer in the 2nd Riders?"
"Yes, Rose has healing magic."
"Good. Let's get you to her. They need to be warned anyway." He paused a moment and said, "I'm sorry, Magelet. I – things were said and I thought I had been inappropriate with you. I never meant to make you think – I would tell you if you had done something that upset or angered me. You know you're far too important to me to…" he stopped midsentence and remained silent for a moment. "If you're warm enough for a few minutes, I'll pack us up."
At her nod, he crawled out of the tent, dragging his clothes and pack with him. He had been sleeping in breeches and she knew he hated to be cold. It was a sign of how worried he was that he didn't put his coat on first. Daine snuggled into his bedding, missing his body heat. She resumed shivering violently.
In what seemed like an amazingly short amount of time, he was back, taking the tent down around her. When he saw her he picked her up and held her against him for a minute again. "Poor Magelet, you're so cold. This is a very high fever." She wrapped her arms around his neck in gratitude for his warmth. "Spots didn't get much rest, but if you think he can manage us both, I'll hold you to keep you warm." He was referring to the very patient gelding that was his mount. "I can move all the saddle bags to Cloud. She let me saddle her. I think she's worried. Can you ask Spots?"
"He says he can," she answered after quickly consulting the horse. He set her down for a moment to remove every extra bit of weight from Spots' tack. Cloud, meanwhile was worrying. Daine's gray mountain pony began to lip her affectionately. –He said you're very sick and he's afraid for you. Is it bad?-
"I'm going to be alright, Cloud," she answered aloud. "Numair will help." Numair smiled at her. For a moment she felt like she usually did, feeling her stomach flip at his handsome smile. He picked her up again and placed her on Spots. He climbed up behind her and clicked his tongue to urge Spots on. Between the numerous blankets and Numair's very warm body, Daine drifted off to sleep.
Numair worried as they rode. The unicorn fever was a very serious illness. He hoped that this was something else and that the symptoms were just a coincidence. He also hoped that Rose was a talented healer. He still couldn't believe that she had held off telling him because he was being distant. If she died because of his coolness, how could he live with himself? She was right. He had been stand-offish. But it was hardly because he was upset with her. The truth was that he had realized he was in love with his pretty student the day the barrier fell.
He couldn't tell her of his feelings. He was fourteen years her senior and he was her teacher. He had promised himself that he would behave appropriately and that he would not do anything to mislead her. It never occurred to him that those tiny shows of affection were so important to her. He supposed he should have realized it. Her family had died when she was twelve. Daine had hunted the perpetrators with the help of some wolves. In the process, her own village hunted her, deciding she was mad. She needed human contact. Touches probably reminded her that she was still welcome in the human world. If he had thought about that he would have realized he couldn't just stop the way he had always behaved around her.
His mind drifted back to the moment he first woke up and his realization that Daine was present while he had been dreaming about her. For a moment, he had been convinced by her flushed skin that she knew the entire contents of his dream. In the darkness he felt himself blush again at the memory. Part of him sincerely hoped that she never gave the incident much thought and that she hadn't noticed his arousal. She might put together the guilt on his face and realize the truth. In his dreams, Daine could know how he felt about her and return his affections without thought to their age difference or student/teacher relationship. In sleep more private touches were allowed and he could be carried away by passion. Currently he preferred life in his sleeping state to the real world.
Daine snuggled against him. He doubted if she could be comfortable this way. With regret, he realized that he would probably never hold his Magelet this close to him for any other reason. He pressed his lips to her very hot forehead. "Hang on, Daine, we'll be there soon," he whispered to her sleeping form.
They reached the riders as soon as expected, but not in the way he had anticipated at all. Every last one of them was dead. He walked through the bodies, most of which were all huddled in blankets around the fire. They looked to have been sick too, so much so that they had never realized an enemy was upon them. Only one of the riders had drawn a sword to fight but had died by a magic that could only be stormwing power. It was a bad sign that stormwings were attacking rather than feeding off the kills of others.
Daine awoke and he rushed back to where he had set her down to try to block the sight. He could tell by her face there was no point. Tears began to pour down her face. "They were fr – friends," she sobbed, her voice shaking from both fever and despair.
"I know, Sweet, I know," he soothed, not even noticing the pet name he'd used aloud as he held her close. Cloud lipped her hair and looked at Numair with worried eyes. He didn't have to be able to speak to animals to know exactly what Cloud was thinking. Daine's fever was far too high and sorrow would not help her body fight the illness. "I'm going to bury them with a little magic and do what I can to find the nearest healer. Alanna is somewhere between Corus and here. I'll find her and we'll go. And you'll get better."
Cloud nudged the girl as Numair stepped away to tend to the bodies. Daine wrapped her arms around the mare and sobbed into her neck.