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).
Author's Note: Well, folks, here it is as promised – Wolf-Speaker, written from Numair's perspective. This isn't my regular update day, as my readers will know, but I'm in a fantastic mood and I wanted to share it, so I'm giving you a treat. This chapter is pretty short, more of a prologue than a chapter; the book itself starts next time.
As I think I've mentioned before, Wolf-Speaker is my least favourite of the four. Mostly that's because Numair isn't in a lot of it. I like Daine, but on her own she gets a little monotonous. Even so, I'm pretty happy with this story. There's a lot in here that you won't find in the book, naturally; poor Numair spends a week on his own. I'm hoping none of it seems too glaringly unrealistic.
This story is dedicated to everyone who reviewed Teacher (my version of Wild Magic, written from Numair's perspective). You guys really understood what I was trying to say, and forgave me when I didn't quite manage it. Thank you.
Obligatory Disclaimer: Unsurprisingly, still not mine.
It took some time for the knock on his door to cut through his dreams and wake him. Numair opened his eyes with some difficulty; it was the middle of the night, and judging by how heavy his eyelids felt he'd only had a couple of hours of sleep. Yawning, he dragged himself out of bed and grabbed a shirt on his way to the door; this had better be important. "Who is it?"
"It's me," Daine answered. Running his fingers through his hair, Numair frowned blankly at the door before opening it.
"I told you before, you can just come in," he scolded gently, stifling another yawn as he looked his student over; the wards around his rooms would let her through if she needed to talk to him. She didn't seem to be accompanied by any animals this time, which left him a little confused as to what she wanted from him at this time of night. "Is something wrong?"
"I – No, not really. I'm sorry to wake you. It's just..." She hesitated, then shook her head, looking down. "Never mind. It doesn't matter."
"Obviously it does matter, or you wouldn't be here," he retorted, standing back to let her in. "I'm up now, so you might as well tell me." More gently, he added, "It's me, Daine. What's wrong?"
She bit her lip, still looking at the floor, and finally glanced at him uncertainly. "It's complicated... Can you – can you come with me, please?"
"Down past the stables. There's – there's someone you should see."
Now desperately curious, he shook off his weariness and nodded, grabbing his boots and following her. "Where's Kitten, by the way?"
"Still asleep," she muttered, sounding edgy; Numair wondered what on earth she had to tell him that was so bad. It had been a long time since he'd seen her so worried about anything.
He had a good imagination, but the last thing he had expected was to encounter a pair of wolves just inside the fringes of the Royal Forest. Somewhat startled, he glanced quizzically at Daine before stepping forward and crouching to their eye level, the same as he would for any of her animal friends, holding still as they stepped forward to sniff his hands warily. He'd never seen wolves before, although he'd heard them howling many times.
"This is Fleetfoot and Russet," Daine said quietly, coming forward to the two wolves, hugging the nearest one and reaching to stroke the other. "They're – they're part of the Snowsdale pack."
Ah. Now I understand. Numair cautiously reached out towards the closest wolf, the one he guessed must be Russet since it seemed lighter in colour than the other even in the dark. No wonder Daine had been worried; it hadn't been a full year yet since she'd told him about running wild with these wolves, killing bandits with them. The wolf sniffed his fingers, then licked his hand, making him smile before pushing aside his usual fascination with a new animal; there was more to this than just meeting old friends. Daine wouldn't have woken him in the middle of the night unless it was urgent. "What are they doing here?"
"That's the complicated part," she said in a small voice. "After I went, they left Snowsdale; had to, really, hunters were after them. They found somewhere new to live, but now there's some – some problem there, they say humans are... They want my help, Numair. I need to go with them."
He blinked slowly, meeting the calm, curious amber eyes of the two wolves before sitting back on his heels and absently tugging at his nose, thinking. These wolves had saved Daine's life, and helped her avenge her family. They were her friends, and they had asked for her help. Daine was like him, she'd do anything for her friends; that made things pretty simple, really. "When do we leave, and where are we going?"
"We?" she repeated, startled. Looking at her, Numair grinned.
"Of course. You didn't think I'd let you go alone?"
"No 'buts', magelet. I'm coming with you. Unless you don't want my company?" he added teasingly.
"Of course I do – I just – I didn't think you'd want to..." Daine trailed off.
"Don't be silly," he told her mildly. "Even if I didn't want to help your friends, Alanna and Jon would be furious with me if I let you go haring off across the country on your own. So where are we going?"
Staring at him, she finally shook her head and turned back to the wolves, who were both watching them curiously. "North east," she replied finally, struggling to translate what the animals were telling her into more human terms. "Near the border, but still in Tortall, I think. There's a valley in the mountains, with a lake, and a castle on an island."
Numair hastily reviewed what he knew of the area as she sketched a crude map in the dirt. "That looks familiar," he said slowly. "I... I think that's Fief Dunlath. If it is, things just became a lot easier; Jon was saying something about rumours of trouble in that area yesterday. It shouldn't be too difficult to persuade him to let us go and investigate." Still looking at the map, he almost fell over as she hugged him fiercely, then did fall over when the wolves joined in.
Laughing, she shooed them off and helped him up. "Thank you."
He smiled wryly. "Thank you for talking to me. I would have been extremely unhappy to find you'd run off with the wolves in the night without telling anyone." Daine blushed scarlet and he knew he'd guessed right; she very nearly had done just that. Giving her a reproving look, he stretched and looked at the sky. "It's still a few hours until dawn. I don't recommend waking Jon this early if we want a favour from him. He's not as forgiving as I am," he added, gently teasing, rewarded by her smile before sitting down once more. "So, tell me more about your friends here. Fleetfoot and Russet, you said?"
The lesson here seems to be that sleepy men are more likely to agree to things. I feel this is a useful piece of knowledge! Anyway, this is a short prologue rather than a real chapter, just trying to set the scene. I wanted to emphasise Numair's attitude; I honestly don't think he would have hesitated for a minute before agreeing to this. Isn't he a sweetheart? The next chapter will be the start of the canon material. I don't know what day I will be updating, since this has thrown my routine off, but I'll be sticking to two updates a week – with luck.
At the moment I'm heavily rewriting a lot of what I had for Realms of the Gods. It should keep me occupied for a while.
So, reviews please.