Huzzah! I've been working on this all week. It's set post-RotG and pre-FT, so Daine and Numair are public and living together. Jon and Thayet are hosting a banquet celebrating the end of the Immortals War.
A bassadance was a popular slowdance from the Rennaissance/Medieval era. I couldn't tell you a thing about it--but Wikipedia can!
Thanks to the awesome Rainstorm Amaya for betaing this! She also came up with the title, because I am absolute crap at titles.
This fic is dedicated to my darling friend Jade Sabre from LiveJournal, who promised me a Zuko/Azula Avatar fic in exchange. I also had to ask her what the count mentioned on Wiki for a bassadance meant, so if the "one-two-three" thing is wrong, it is all her fault. Loev you, Jade! 3
Disclaimer: If I owned Tortall, I wouldn't be writing fanfiction. And I could give you a whole list of men who would be mine.
"Master Salmalín," Lady Sylven of Southsdale says imperiously as Numair bends to kiss her fingertips. "it is so good to see you here tonight. Truly it is a sign that peace has come at last, if you are able to idle with civilians, even if it is at a celebratory ball for the war's end."
"My presence signifies nothing, Lady Sylven," Numair says with a gracious smile. Inside, he is calculating the time--in heartbeats, first slow, then fast--until he can safely escape to his rooms. If there is one thing Numair is willing to thank Ozorne for, it's for bringing him into a court full of social cannibals; the Carthaki court taught him to completely detach his mind from conversation and still give the outward impression of charm and consideration. "Only perhaps that the King was forced to threaten me with a royal injunction for me to leave my experiments."
The Southsdale matriarch chuckles, a closed fan held in her hands. Behind her stands a meek, pretty girl of about seventeen or eighteen, dressed in the latest court fashion (or, in other words, exactly like the queen). She glances shyly up at Numair, meets his eyes, and looks back down, the picture of a demure maiden. This occurs at least twelve times before Numair stops counting.
"Pray, tell me, Master Salmalín," Lady Sylven says, "after your great deeds in service to the realm during the war, are you to be ennobled?"
Numair blinks. Lady Sylven's young charge continues to glance up at him. Numair wonders absently if she has a headache yet from all that eye-flicking. "Not to my knowledge, my lady," he responds. "Even if he should make an offer, I doubt I would accept. I would make a very poor overlord; I am too often engrossed in academe to notice much else."
"A shame." The old woman's mouth thins almost imperceptibly. She is calculating his fortune, no doubt, and deciding whether rank, in this case, is of consequence. Apparently not, because she beckons her shadow forward. "May I introduce my grand-neice to you." It is not a question. "Master Salmalín, Lady Melanine of Southsdale." The girl dips into a curtsy, a degree or two too low for a commoner, even a blackrobe, and straightens, still looking up at him through her eyelashes (which are, he thinks, too short for his tastes). Numair bows in return. "Lady Melanine is the third daughter of my niece Lady Marriah."
How pleasant, Numair thinks. Vultures.
"A pleasure," he murmurs as he kisses the girl's pale, dainty, manicured hands. They're softer than butter. Long finished calculating time, he has moved on, instead, to calculating his velocity of descent from the top of Balor's Needle.
"One, two, three. One, two, three." Jonathan leads Daine in a slow, basic bassadance in the middle of the dance floor.
"I think I have it," Daine says with a smile, just before she trips. Jonathan keeps her on her feet with ease, but he has to hold her up as she nearly falls over laughing. "Or I did have it!"
Jonathan smiles. "You're doing well."
"You're just trying to be gallant. But I warn you, it shan't work with me!"
"No, sir. I am immune."
Jonathan's mouth quivers with suppressed laughter. "You spend far too much time with the queen and Alanna."
Thayet passes close by, dancing with Gareth (the Younger). "Education must be offered to all people of Tortall, regardless of birth. It is the king's law."
Anyone less dignified would stick out his tongue; the king merely grins at his wife and resumes dancing with the Wildmage. Soon she is able to dance without having the steps counted aloud, although she occasionally must pick up the count silently. When the song ends, the couples step apart and applaud the minstrels, who pause for a moment before picking up a much livelier tune. Jonathan excuses himself and is dragged into a spirited dance by his eleven-year-old daughter Kalasin.
As Daine moves to leave the floor, she finds her path blocked by George, who gives her the deepest bow she's ever seen in all her (admittedly short) time at court. "If I may have the pleasure, m'lady," he says smoothly, like a Player. Oh, he's good, Daine thinks. He'd give Evin a run for his money.
"Of course, my lord," she says, copying his tone and dipping into her deepest curtsey. George takes her hands and they begin to spin, hop, skip, and twirl; unlike the slower dances, Daine is already accustomed to a few of the faster ones.
"So, lass," George says conversationally, not the slightest bit out of breath, "I hear you're a hero now."
Daine grins. "I hear you are, too."
George's lips twitch. "Not me, lass. I'm but the lowly common-born baron what lives in his lady Lioness's shadow."
"Oh, fah," Daine says emphatically. "Because palace gossip is always right. And besides, when did you start caring what people say?"
"True enough," George agrees with a grin. He nods to a spot some way down the near wall. "It looks as if the lady of Southsdale is tryin' to secure a match for her young niece in our noble master blackrobe."
Daine follows his gaze and sees Numair standing with a silver-haired, commanding sort of woman and a pretty, buxom blonde a few years older than herself. Numair stands straight-backed, his arms tucked into the sleeves of his ceremonious black mage robe, a polite, charming smile on his dark face as the blonde talks animatedly and hides her laugh behind her fan.
The sight nearly makes Daine want to laugh. "Poor Numair! He looks so uncomfortable."
"Shall we gallop in on white horses and save him?" George suggests. Daine flashes him a wide, wolfish grin. Never losing step, they begin to weave their way through the other couples until they reach the edge of the dance floor.
Daine has to stifle a laugh as Lady Sylven stiffens visibly when she sees them approach. "Excuse us, Lady Sylven," George says politely, bowing to the trio. "Only my daughter wishes for a dance with me, and as she is queen of my heart, I must be called away. But as I don't wish to look like a total brute, here I am to deliver Mistress Sarrasri to her escort."
On the word escort, Lady Sylven's lips nearly disappear altogether, so thin her mouth is pressed; however, she says nothing as George hands Daine off to Numair, and leaves after a round of curtsies and bows.
Numair makes a mental note of the debt he owes George as he smiles at Daine, then turns back to the other members of their party. "My ladies of Southsdale, I don't believe you've had the pleasure of meeting the realm's very own Wildmage. Daine, if I may present Lady Sylven and Lady Melanine."
"Charmed," Lady Sylven says tightly as Daine curtsies. "Mistress Sarrasri--"
"Oh, please, my lady," Daine interrupts, "do call me Daine. I am, after all, only a hedgewitch's daughter from a small mountain village in Galla. And in any case, you seem to be such particular friends of Numair's. I really must insist."
Lady Melanine's lip quivers, and she looks down at her hands, which twist a fan between them. She must be blessing that convent for teaching her how not to cry, Daine thinks.
"Mistress Sarrasri," Lady Sylven continues as if she had never been interrupted, and Daine notices that the knuckles on her hands are stark white, "before you joined us, we were discussing the recent developments in the realm. Master Salmalín says that he is often sent out by the Crown to aid in troubles with these Immortal creatures. With your particular talents, I should think you would be, as well."
"Daine is sent out nearly more often than I," Numair says with a smile. "Often we work best together, but there are also all too common cases where we must attend separate tasks."
"Do you often travel alone in such cases?" Lady Sylven asks Daine, her face a mask of shock.
"Yes, my lady," Daine assents. "As a shapeshifter, it is often easier and safer for me to travel alone than it would be for a whole company of the King's Own."
"Dear me," the elder woman murmurs, her tone slightly snide. "And yet you are so modern in your dress. One would not think you to have the time to follow the fashions of court with the Crown sending you everywhere at once."
"Oh, I wouldn't," Daine agrees. "But Her Majesty always has me in for fittings when important occasions come 'round. It's fair generous of her, but then, she is a generous woman."
"Indeed," Lady Sylven sniffs. "Unfortunately, I must take my leave of you; I must pay my respects to the Duke of Naxen. Come, Melanine." The two women curtsy to Numair and leave, Melanine's lip still quivering and her eyes still flicking constantly up at Numair.
Poor girl, Daine thinks cheerily. Perhaps I overdid it. She presses her hand to her mouth to stifle her giggles; Numair holds up her weight, a grin on his face. "I am sorry to say, Magelet, that only nobles may be knights. You did a fine job, however."
Daine smiles up at him. "That's all right. If I turned out as good with a sword as I am with a bow, I can't imagine how Alanna would react."
On the upper balcony, the minstrels begin another slow song. Throughout the room, people pair off and take to the floor in a waltz in which, traditionally, only married couples and fiancés take part. "We have at least another half hour before we can escape," Numair says as he leads Daine out. "Let us be productive."
"How do you figure?" she asks. He lifts an eyebrow.
"Neither Raoul nor Buri has left yet."
Daine laughs, because, as absurd as his reasoning is, it's an absolute truth--Raoul and Buri are always the first two people to make an escape (Daine has often heard George and Alanna making wagers on who would get out first).
Numair is patient as he leads her through steps that she has only just learned, but she is a quick study, and soon they are moving with ease. They are so utterly in tune with one another that they fall into step easily. As they whirl past Alanna and George, Alanna meets Daine's eye and grins, nodding towards the corner. Daine sees Lady Sylven and a number of other conservatives standing together, whispering, with looks ranging from shock to horror to outright disgust. She hears Numair's low chuckle; he sees them, too.
"Huh," Daine remarks. "You'd think they'd caught us in bed or something, from the way they stare."
They are twirling past the opening onto the veranda when Numair's grip on her hand suddenly changes, and he is leading them outside. The night is warm and humid, but there is a pleasant breeze that picks up, playing with the loose curls framing Daine's face and tugging her satin skirts against her body. The steps leading off the balcony give way to gravel pathways and a large, simple garden. Nocturnal birds call greetings from the trees.
Numair is tugging at his high collar when she turns to him. "I wish court finery weren't so uncomfortable," he remarks with frustration.
She takes his hand, smiling. "Oh, I don't know. Give me breeches and a shirt most days, but Thayet once said that a good appearance makes a woman feel confident, and I feel inclined to agree."
A smile tugs at Numair's lips. "Rest assured, magelet, you are beautiful no matter what you do or do not wear. But I do like seeing you like this; there is something to be said for a woman in a nice dress."
"Breeches are easier to get off," Daine says with a grin.
Numair's smile widens as he pulls her to him. He presses his lips to her hair, tamed and pinned violently into place against her head; she can feel his voice rumbling through her. "True--but only in comparison to courtly dress. Plain gowns and shifts are simple enough."
His lips travel down the side of her face until they reach her mouth. After a moment, he pulls back, and she is left feeling altogether light-headed.
"Marry me, magelet," he says, his voice low and intense. She smiles dreamily up at him.
"I've already told you--someday."
She pulls him back down to her until their lips meet again. Inside, the song ends, and the guests break into applause.