I've had a couple of comments on Numair's age as I've presented it in this story. I'm basing their age difference on a response from Tamora Pierce about the Numair/Daine pairing which puts Numair at 27 and Daine at 16. .com/2009/04/29/dainenumair-and-reactions/
Disclaimer: The amazing Tamora Pierce owns all the characters and settings.
The war was over. Two months earlier, the Immortal's War, as it was being called, had reached it's turning point in Port Legann, thanks to the defection of some very odd spies created by the former Emperor Ozorne. All summer, Tortall's rulers and commanders had felt as if they were racing to put out fires without truly finding the cause. This changed shortly after Midsummer when, while fighting creatures called Skinners, the mage Numair Salmalin and his student, Veralidaine Sarrasi, were pulled into the Divine Realms. Throughout the course of their journey, Numair and Daine, as she preferred to be called, were able to help their monarchs turn the tide in that fateful battle.
At the moment, Daine was in Corus sitting in the palace's banquet hall. This was the first time King Jonathon's court had been fully convened since the beginning of the war. While the kingdom was still in mourning for those who had been lost, the court wore their finest in grays, blacks and lavenders, traditional colors of mourning. Daine herself wore a satin dress in a pale gray that set off the blue of her eyes. The cut was simple, with a dark purple sash at her slender waist and a back and neckline that dipped to show a silver badger claw on a chain. The claw had been a gift from her father's friend the Badger god who watched over her in the mortal world. Her curly brown hair was mostly pinned up while a few curls fell to brush her bare shoulders and frame her face.
Daine sat at a table with friends from the Queen's Rider groups. These were small groups of warriors who lived in the saddle and depended heavily on their ponies. She often worked with the Riders and their horse mistress Onua Chamtong as Daine was the greatest Wild Mage in known history. She was able to not only communicate with animals but to take their shapes as her own, heal them and bend them to her will if necessary though she never did without great need. The tall blonde man beside her laughed at his own joke along with the other table mates. Noticing her silence, Evin Larse turned his blue eyes on Daine with a questioning look. Daine smiled and shook her head to assure him nothing was wrong and turned back to picking at her food. Despite the expertise of the palace chefs, most of it went to the few mice brave enough to join her in her lap.
The cause of her lack of appetite sat at the king's table at the head of the hall. Numair Salmalin was Daine's teacher and the only living expert on wild magic, as many mages didn't even believe it existed. Numair was a black robed mage, one of only seven in the world powerful enough to hold that title. He had swarthy skin and a long nose he often tugged at when thinking, as he did now. His shoulder length black hair was tied carefully into a horsetail and he wore a single black opal ear bob in one ear. Though he seldom wore the black robe he had worked so hard for, tonight he wore it open over a crisp white linen shirt and black breeches. King Jonathon had wanted Numair to be at the king's table to talk with visiting mages though from the looks of it, the King's Champion, Alanna the Lioness was doing most of the talking. As she was a supremely Gifted healer, the foreign mages were quite content.
Daine and Numair had been nearly inseparable since first meeting four years earlier. At first it was because Numair was the only one who could teach her to control and use her wild magic. During the war, Daine's abilities and dragonet charge, Skysong, were as invaluable to the kingdom as Numair's immense power. They were often sent to deal with hostile immortals that attacked with the human enemies. It was during one such mission that they were dragged into the Divine Realms where Daine discovered the identity of her lost father, Weiryn, the hunt god. During their travels through that realm, Daine discovered Numair's love for her and that she loved him in return. Because of the war and the situation they were in, they had agreed to figure out what to do about their feelings when things were more settled.
In the two months since the final battle, Daine and Numair had been kept almost as busy before. Once he had recovered from his epic battle with an enemy mage, Numair had been sent to deal with magical surprises while Daine had been assigned to Lord Raoul of the King's Own so her friends among the animals could help coordinate search parties sent to rid any lingering pockets of enemy soldiers. Though they were often together, Daine felt as if they never had real time to sit and work things out. The most they could do was steal a kiss in the dark when the King's Own camped at night. On the road, Daine had almost wondered if Numair had been avoiding her but chalked it up to being over tired. Now that they were back in Tortall, her suspicions were raised once again, as they never seemed to manage to be alone together.
Daine looked up from her food to look at Numair and felt her stomach flip and her heart ache. His head was down and his long legs were stretched out in front of him. He was ignoring his food and while his friend, Alanna, occasionally glanced at him, she let him be.
Once again, Evin laughed and Daine was brought back to herself with a thump. "Daine, you must tell Dorin here about the griffins. He's never heard the story!"
Evin's glee made Daine smile as she looked at the other Rider she knew only vaguely. Evin had told him already about how the recruits that summer, which included Evin, and their commanders had been searching the emptied town so Daine picked up with her part in the story. When she got to the part about how Numair had shielded her from the griffin's painful voices, she glanced at the head table and found his chair empty. She automatically tensed, waiting for the tap on the shoulder to tell her they would be off again but Alanna was still deep in conversation and King Jonathon looked at ease with a wine goblet in his hands talking with his wife, Queen Thayet. Forcing herself to relax, Daine finished her story to whoops and applause. Smiling, she excused herself to both her human and animal table companions and left the banquet hall, having it in mind to go find Numair and settle this silliness once and for all.
Once outside the hall, Daine paused, trying to decide where to look. Remembering one of the first stories she'd heard about her teacher, she headed out of the palace towards the king's forest. Shivering as the cool autumn air hit her bare skin and the dewy grass soaked her thin court shoes, she made her way to the small hills that separated the woods from the palace. She changed her eyes to that of a cat to give herself better night vision. Receiving confirmation of her suspicions from various night creatures, she called greetings to her animal friends with promises to visit another time. On the third hill away from the main path she found him. Daine paused just out of sight and took him in.
Numair was laying on the hill, hands clasped behind his head looking at the night sky. His long legs were crossed in front of him and his mage's robe was crumpled underneath him. He seemed deeply engrossed, staring at the night sky with a furrowed look on his face. Daine ached at the familiar look. It was one she saw often on his dear face when presented with problems to solve. Finally, she couldn't bear standing there any longer. She stepped out of the shadows cast by the trees and said lightly, "So the stories are true. Hours to press your clothes and get ready to look your best and you spoil it by sitting on the grass staring at the stars."
Sitting up, startled, Numair turned and looked at her. "Magelet, you startled me," he said, using his pet name for her.
Daine snorted, "That's not hard to do when you get distracted. I could have ridden in with a dozen of the King's Own and you probably wouldn't have twitched a muscle." She came and stood just below him on the hill, looking up at him. Her heart twisted as she saw his face bathed in moonlight. She so badly wanted to touch his cheek and feel his warm lips on hers. Just thinking about it made her shiver.
Numair smiled, flashing white teeth against dark skin, not denying her comment and hooked his arms around his legs as if holding himself together. "Were you tired of the party already? It's been quite awhile since you've seen Evin and Mirim. I'd have thought you'd want to stay and catch up."
"They will be here for a few weeks while their groups recover and Her Majesty thinks of new trouble to get them into. I'll see them enough." Daine paused and looked at Numair who was studying his hands. "It was you I've been wanting to talk to."
He looked up at her swiftly and then back down again. "I concluded it might be. What can your humble servant do for you?"
For a moment, Daine wanted to cry. There was none of the warmth and love she remembered from their time in the Divine Realms. Though Numair had worried Daine would feel trapped with a man 11 years her senior, she had worried that he may feel beholden to a child, as most of the women he looked to at court were older women. Instead of crying, Daine crossed her arms and snapped "I want to know why you've been avoiding me, ever since we returned. Even out with the King's Own I felt like you had surrounded yourself with others."
Startled by the anger in her voice, Numair looked up at her. Even angry at him, she was beautiful. Though her blue-gray eyes snapped with anger, her soft mouth quivered and more curls had managed to escape their pins. Sighing to himself at the pain he had caused her, Numair leaned forward, caught one of her hands, smoothly pulled her down onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her. Though still angry, Daine leaned her head on his chest and enjoyed the warmth of his arms. Numair lay his head on top of hers and held her close.
"Do you know what I was thinking, after I had killed that spidren?" Numair asked after a moment. Surprised at the turn in the conversation, Daine thought back to that moment in the Divine Realms. She thought she was about to be turned over to her enemy, Ozorne, after being trapped in a spidren web when Numair had literally blasted through the giant spider like creatures. After the death of the female, the web had dissolved, leaving her free. She remember seeing Numair leaning heavily on his staff, staring at the corpse of one of the males. She shook her head, knowing he would feel it. "I was wishing I hadn't killed him. The thought that he and his mates had killed you was almost more than I could bear, but I wish I hadn't killed him so that he could kill me too. I thought I could at least see you occasionally in the Peaceful Realms as you walked the Divine with your parents. Life without you…" Here Numair's arms closed around her so tight, Daine could hardly breath. She felt his breath in her hair. "…Daine, it wasn't worth living."
This was what she had been waiting for. All these weeks, that tone of voice, that love he showed her was what kept her going. Why had he closed himself away from her again? If he truly felt this way, why keep her out? Daine sighed, "Numair, that still doesn't explain…" Daine shivered again and she felt Numair's hand touch her bare shoulders. Suddenly he pushed her away and looked at her. Really looked at her. "Daine! Why in the Goddess' name didn't you wear a cloak? You must be freezing! Are you trying to catch your death? Don't you realize it's nearly winter?"
Despite her protestations, Numair set Daine on her feet, wrapped his mage's robe around her shivering form and lead her back inside the castle. He made his way up to his palace rooms and opened the door to the main room. Daine looked at the familiar space with its table, fireplace and chairs. Bookshelves lined the walls as well as a few cabinets for daily necessities. She had spent many a winter's evening studying with Numair and other friends at the palace. A closed door on one side of the fireplace lead to Numair's private workrooms. On the other side, the door was ajar and Daine could see into Numair's sleeping quarters. Everything was neatly stored, though Daine knew that to be to the credit of a clever housekeeping spell, rather than Numair's own efforts.
While it still had the feel of an unused space due to his long absences, Numair quickly set Daine in a chair near the fire place and set the logs aflame with his Gift. Despite her previous arguments, Daine wrapped herself tighter in Numair's cloak and soaked in the warmth. His unique smell of soaps, spices and clean clothes wrapped around her as she watched him set out things for tea and for a moment she was content. Suddenly, she remembered the whole reason for chasing after him and sat up letting the cloak fall from her shoulders, determined to make him see straight.
"Why what?" he asked back lightly, as if forgetting their previous conversation, and continued setting cups onto a tray.
"Why have you been avoiding spending any time alone with me since Port Legann? Don't you still love me?" Daine hated herself for sounding like an empty headed court flirt wheedling for her desired answer but couldn't take the words back now.
Numair went very still, his back to Daine. She could see his shoulders hunched over the tray as if waiting for a blow. And well he might, thought Daine wryly. If he says something foolish like he wanted to protect me, I may just hit him.
The silence stretched long but Daine was determined not to break it. Instead she fiddled with the edge of her sash and waited. Finally, Numair replied softly "I wanted to give you time."
Now Daine was confused. "Time for what exactly? And no more of your diplomat answers, please, I want a straight response."
As if trying desperately to speak as if the words meant nothing to him, Numair said "Time to realize that I am not the only man in the world. Time to realize that someone your own age might be better suited to you. I didn't want you to be swept up in the moment and excitement of war and realize later that you'd made a mistake in me."
Daine's jaw dropped open and for a moment she did seriously consider hitting him. Or shaking him. Something to make him realize what a fool he was being. She loved him, hadn't she said so? Hadn't she shown him every possible moment she could? After a moment, she realized Numair was still hunched over the tray and sighed. She stood up, walked over to him and stood in front of him ignoring his robe which drifted over to hang itself on a peg. "Idiot." Startled, he looked up. This was obviously not the reaction he was expecting. Daine took advantage of his surprise and wrapped her arms around his waist. He automatically put his arms around her in return and held her to him. She pulled away slightly and looked up at him. Hesitantly, as if waiting for her to stop him, Numair leaned down and kissed her gently on the mouth. The sweetness from his kiss banished the last of the cold Daine felt from her ill advised trip outside. She returned his kiss eagerly, wrapping her arms around his neck as his fingers traced patterns on her bare skin. Shivering deliciously, Daine pulled reluctantly away. For a moment, Numair's hands tightened on her before releasing her. He kept his hands on her waist and she kept her arms around him. Their faces were inches apart.
"Idiot," Daine whispered again. "How could you think I would ever want another man? I gave up my godhood for you. You are all I could ever want or need in this life. I choose you. I choose to spend my days with you and my nights with you." Here Daine felt Numair's hands grip her waist convulsively but she put it out of her mind for the moment. "I choose to live my life with you and bear our children. I love you, Numair Salmalin, heart, mind, body and soul. I swear by the Goddess, by Mithros by Minoss, Shakith and the Horse Lords and any other gods who care to take my vow that you are all I could every want in life." Daine knew she had tears streaming down her face, just as Numair did but she didn't care. "You are no passing fancy, Master Salmalin. You are my life."
Daine watched as a dam seemed to burst behind Numair's eyes. As he kissed her this time, there was no hesitancy. There was no restraint. He kissed her mouth, her nose, her eyes, her hair and her forehead. When he felt he couldn't kiss her well enough, he lifted her into his arms and kissed her again, reaching for places he couldn't before. Daine returned his kisses until she could merely hang in his arms and hope he didn't let go.
Finally, he slowed and eased her down until her feet touched the floor. As she gained her sense of equilibrium back, Daine undid her sash and let the gown fall from her shoulders and slip to the floor. For a moment Numair just stood there. Then gathering her tenderly up in his arms he kissed her sweetly, gently, lovingly and carried her into his sleeping quarters.
Numair awoke with a start. For a moment he couldn't remember where he was until his eyes focused on the lamps still blazing. Daine was curled into a ball on the bed next to him, breathing deeply in sleep. Wonderingly, he leaned over her and brushed an errant curl out of her eyes. She smiled in her sleep and snuggled in deeper to the blankets. How this wonderful and amazing woman could ever love him was beyond Numair's vast understanding but for the moment, he had no desire to question, merely to enjoy. Glancing over to the window, Numair saw the cause of his disturbed slumber. Daine's dragon charge, Skysong, had let herself into his rooms Our rooms, he thought smiling and had curled up on the window seat. Seeing him look at her, Kitten, as she was usually called, gave a soft trill and tucked her head under a wing.
Numair smiled. If Kitten approved, he had nothing to worry about. Banishing the lamps with his Gift, he pulled Daine closer to him, fitting her into the curve of his body. Resting his hand on her bare skin, he sighed and smiled, completely at peace as he drifted off to sleep.