Edit April 2010: FFN decided to eat all the scene dividers so I'm having to go back and add them all in again. I'm also removing the review responses. NOTHING ELSE HAS BEEN ALTERED; if you've read this story before, you don't need to read it again (although you're more than welcome to).
A few of my regulars seem to have disappeared. You're all still alive, I hope? This is the final chapter of this story.
That afternoon found Numair in the stables. In theory he was keeping an eye on his still-unconscious student; in reality he simply didn't have anything else to do – except get on his friends' nerves until he'd been unceremoniously ordered to go away. Still a little shaky and tired from the exertions of the past week, he was quite enjoying the chance to do nothing for a while. All too soon they would have to head back to Corus and start trying to deal with any repercussions of this mess; right now it seemed a better idea to just sit and let his mind wander. Besides, Daine would be waking soon; she'd gone from the near-coma of the magically exhausted to a more natural sleep.
Half-dozing and thinking vaguely about dragons, it startled him when Daine stirred and started coughing. Reacting automatically, he picked up the canteen of water he'd brought with him and crouched by her cot, helping her sit up and holding it to her lips. "Drink!" he told her mock-sternly, amused to realise how this paralleled the earlier scene in his own room when she'd had to help him hold the water glass. Much as he had, she drained it before settling back.
"How long?" she asked him; he looked her over critically. She seemed all right, as far as he could tell.
"The rest of the day the kraken arrived, then yesterday and today." He handed over a honey cake; she ate it rapidly and accepted another before looking up at him.
"I have to go out."
"Don't be silly. You're weak. You're staying here."
"That's where you're wrong," she retorted, standing up and pretending not to feel dizzy; Numair calculated his chances of winning this argument and decided that while Daine wasn't going to listen to him, it wouldn't be difficult to make her stay put – if he was willing to use force, which he wasn't. Sighing, he stood and turned away to let her get dressed.
"My friends," she said suddenly, a new note to her voice. "The woods creatures – "
Well, if she was awake enough to worry about them, she was possibly awake enough to get up. Alanna was probably going to skin him for allowing it, though. "Some were killed," he admitted softly, keeping his voice gentle. "Once the enemy were driven off, we found the injured ones. They've been cared for. There weren't as many casualties as you'd think. You gave them the right advice," he added reassuringly, turning back in time to see her relax.
He made a final attempt to persuade her to stay put. "You need to rest and eat. I'm still weak on my pins myself," he admitted.
Pulling on her boots, she ignored him completely. "There's something I have to take care of. Now."
Something in her tone caught at him and he hesitated. Whatever it was, it was important to her. Really, it came back to trust, and he'd trusted her this far. All right, magelet, you win. Again. "Then wait a moment," he told her, trying to appear as though he wasn't giving in but had decided of his own accord. "We need an armed escort. There may still be enemies out there. And let's get horses. Where are we going?" Until he'd said it he didn't realise he was inviting himself on this mad excursion, but it didn't occur to him to stay behind.
Daine closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. "Northwest," she said finally. "Along the cliff. We have to hurry," she added.
Numair had hoped for something slightly more specific than that, but he'd find out soon enough. He smiled and moved towards the door, knowing that Alanna would be nearby. "Then we'll hurry."
Outside the stable, he collared the first trainee in sight – Miri – and told her to help Daine saddle Cloud, before giving rapid instructions to the stable hands; as expected, Alanna wasn't pleased to hear that Daine insisted on going out so soon after waking up, but Numair emphatically refused all responsibility for this particular stupid idea. Within a short space of time a group of the Own had assembled and followed Daine out of the Swoop and along the cliffs, none of them with any real idea of what they were doing or why.
They trotted along the cliff-path for a while; Alanna and Daine were talking softly, leaving Numair with time to reflect that neither he nor his student should really be moving around this much yet. Still, his curiosity had been aroused, and even if he was half-dead he wouldn't have stayed behind now. Eventually Daine raised her hand, and they stopped; dismounting, she began walking cautiously towards the cliff edge, her head on one side as though listening.
Numair shrugged in response to Alanna's inquiring look and slid awkwardly out of the saddle to follow. "What are we looking for, exactly?" he asked. Turning to answer him, the ground gave way beneath her and he barely stopped himself falling after her; he was glad Alanna was there, since at the moment his control wasn't good enough to have seized Daine in time.
After a moment she asked shakily, "Can you set me down in there? I found it." He struggled not to laugh; typical Daine.
Alanna chuckled. "You have a unique way of finding things," she said dryly, lowering Daine into the hole. Now desperately curious, Numair moved to kneel gingerly at the edge and peered in, his eyes widening in surprise as he saw the occupant of the little cave. Every time he thought he was through being surprised by his student, she managed to prove him wrong.
Daine carefully picked up the baby dragon and stood, looking up at him and the others. "The dragon had a little one," she explained. "She's hungry."
Everyone might have been scared of the big dragon, but the small version drew fascinated attention, and by the time Daine had managed to feed the little creature she had quite an audience. Kalasin gingerly touched the sleeping dragonet's flank; along with everyone else, Numair had taken his own turn petting her, and agreed as the girl whispered, "She's so soft. What's her name?"
"Skysong," Daine replied promptly, then blinked and frowned as if she hadn't meant to say it, or hadn't known she was going to. "I guess her ma passed that on to me too, before she – died." Numair decided that Skysong was definitely a name the dragon would need to grow into; right now the tiny immortal didn't look anywhere near impressive enough for such a pretty name. Daine's voice broke into his reverie as she looked at Onua. "I don't think I can stay with the Riders past the summer. My duty's to this little one, now."
Thayet spoke quietly. "You can still make your home with us. That is, if you wish. I know my lord and I would prefer to have you in the palace."
To Numair's amusement, Daine looked bewildered. "Me?"
"You," the queen replied gravely, her eyes smiling as she reached for Daine's hand. "Veralidaine Sarrasri, you saved my life and the lives of my children. A home is the very least we can offer you."
She went absolutely scarlet, and Numair tried desperately not to laugh. It really had never occurred to her to see it like that, he knew.
"But we want her to live here," George objected. "Surely we're more suited as a home, bein' on the sea and near Master Numair and all." He grinned. "And bein's how our girl's made so many friends in our woods."
"I don't see why she can't live in my tower," Numair protested, belatedly realising that this was an important decision he should probably participate in. "She is my apprentice, after all."
"A girl's got to have females to talk to," Alanna told him tartly, her voice effectively dismissing him as a possibility, which he didn't think was particularly fair. "You haven't even gotten a new housekeeper since the last one interrupted one of your experiments."
I never wanted one in the first place, that's why. He held his tongue; Alanna had been the one to arrange the hiring of the woman, without consulting him. Thus far he was reasonably certain that she hadn't guessed he'd deliberately 'encouraged' the housekeeper to leave. He wasn't completely helpless and was quite capable of keeping most of the tower perfectly tidy and well maintained, with the exception of his study and library. And work room. And his bedroom. All right, so maybe she has a point. I suppose I'm out of the running, then. Caught between feeling sulky and amused, he sat back and watched his friends fighting over the right to shelter Daine.
"Come live in the palace," Roald begged.
His sister joined in. "We'll be good for ever and ever if you will."
The newly-named Skysong shifted in Daine's lap, apparently sneezing in her sleep, and Maude scowled at her charges. "Shh. You'll wake the baby."
"You don't have to decide right now," Onua pointed out. "I don't see why rearing Skysong should interfere with helping me this summer."
By this point Daine was looking more than a little overwhelmed, staring from face to face. Numair saw the expression in her eyes and understood, a little; he was fairly certain nobody but her family had ever really wanted her around before, and now everyone was fighting for the privilege of having her live with them. Finally she seemed to decide that it was all too much, starting to laugh. "It's fair funny," she explained breathlessly, proving him right. "I've gone from having no home to having too many!"
Everyone laughed, and Alanna put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Welcome to Tortall."
Numair phrased it slightly differently, in the privacy of his own head, smiling at his student and friend. He knew what she was going through right now. He remembered feeling it himself – how long had it been now? Six years ago; he still felt it today, come to that. Being an exile, unable to return to where you had lived for most of your life, being in this strange place with these strange and wonderful people, and suddenly being offered a place to belong. Welcome home.
What can I say, I like happy endings!
Well, that's all, folks – for this story, at any rate. I want to say a huge thank you to all my readers. To those who took the time to review my work, especially. To the many others who added me to Story Alert or Author Alert, thank you as well – maybe next time you could drop me a review too, eh? And thank you to everyone who put Teacher on their Favourite Stories list, too.
Seriously, so many of you have told me how much you look forward to my updates and how accurate you think my portrayal of Numair has been throughout this story. I never dreamed I would get a response like that, and I can't even begin to tell you what it means to me. You've all made me very happy; long may it continue.
With that in mind, my next update will be a new story, as we begin Wolf-Speaker, in which Numair actually gets to do things by himself for a change. I sincerely hope I will see you all there.