This is it, everybody. Thank you so much for the encouragement and the commentary. The green amethysts (also called prasiolite) that Daine wears are in honor of my amazing fiancé and my brand-new-as-of-today engagement ring.

From Scanra With Love
Chapter Eleven: The Spy Who Loved Me

Daine needed to decide between the realm of the gods and the mortal realm, and somehow her decision all depended on someone else. She had friends in Alanna and Thayet and Cloud alike, besides the dozens of other folk from Tortall that she had met, but she wanted something more with Numair. She wanted to know that he wouldn't reject every last advance and attempt she made and she would only have one night to ask him for an answer. Beltane was the next day. She needed to decide just which place would be her home.

Eardrops dangled from her newly pierced ears. She hadn't asked just how much the faintly green stones cost, just as she hadn't asked the price of the winking light green stones that sparkled at her throat and wrists. Daine had thought they were an odd contrast to her dark silver gown until she saw the way that the touch of green brought an entirely different depth to the grey silk bodice and the rustling silk layer that draped over several light-as-a-cloud petticoats.

Beneath the grand dress and the green amethyst-anointed comb in her hair, Daine was wearing her leather boots that had taken her from Snowsdale to Tortall's capital. She had expected Thayet to be upset when Daine insisted on not wearing the matching slippers that pinched at her feet, but the queen had kissed Daine's cheek and called her a woman after her own heart.

As the ball was in her honor, Daine had been given the opportunity of inviting anyone she had liked. She chose the pages and squires in place of the typical lords and ladies. Daine was told that it would curry no favor with the nobles, but Thayet had laughed in the Master of Ceremonies' face. "Not these nobles," the queen had corrected. "My dear Master Oakbridge, you'll win the battle to lose the war. Imagine an entire generation of nobles with good feelings for Lady Daine!"

After that, Master Oakbridge had been very deferential in allowing Daine to help with the preparations for what might be her only ball.

Numair had managed to vanish with startling regularity when Daine tried to confront him with emotions or logistics or even the weather. Alanna continually offered to fetch him back, but Daine let it be. Numair had promised her that he would be at the ball. She did know it would be too much to expect him to walk her in, so she wasn't surprised when George Cooper was her escort for the night.

The expansive dinner tasted like nothing when she sat with the king and queen, as the guest of honor, and Numair sat with Alanna and George. She made it through the meal thanks to Prince Roald's quiet, steady conversation that frequently featured stories about Numair that Daine had never heard before. After dinner, George shoved Numair at Page Keladry. Roald handed Daine off to Page Nealan, who gamely whirled Daine around the floor even when she stepped on his toes in her solid leather boots. Daine grinned at her partner as she handed him over to Alanna. The Lioness could heal the damage Daine had done before it turned to bruises."

Daine had only been alone for a minute when Princess Kalasin tapped her on the shoulder.

"H'lo, Daine." The princess's lips barely moved. "Kel and I want to let you know that we know that the silly mage likes you." Kally nodded her chin toward a tall couple on the opposite side of the floor. "Cut in on Kel to get Numair back. I'll find another tall boy for her."

Daine barely had time to smile in thanks before the princess had turned to make gracious small-talk with the ambassadors that had been ten feet away.

Daine followed through on Kalasin's gambit by stalking across the floor and stealing Numair right from the page's arms. "I'll make it up to you, Kel," Daine promised as she pulled Numair away and into the dance.

Numair flushed under her purposeful regard. "I suppose I should be glad you didn't make Cloud be the one to fetch me, Daine."

Daine's irritation melted away when she realized just how ill at ease her mage was. "The pages arranged it, Numair, but you're right about the pony. She'd've left marks and drawn blood," she agreed. "I'm not in much mood to do either, though, so can we have a word in the gardens?"

The garden path was empty thanks to a sudden chill in the air. The cold meant nothing to a mountain-raised girl holding hands with one of the most powerful mages in the world. Numair set magic swirling around them that warmed the air and kept out all sounds but the music and the night animals.

"I don't know what to say, Daine."

"I don't, neither." Daine almost winced at the country phrase that Numair might not even understand. Her feeling gained more weight when he didn't reply, and grew steadily stronger and stronger as the quiet between them grew.

"It comes down to you," Daine blurted out when the silence became too much to bear. "I want to stay, but I want to stay for you. I don't want to spend months trying to forget how I feel about you because you think that I'm too immature." She was nearly sure that she loved him. She'd never been in love before, and she had blushed scarlet at the romance scroll Alanna had loaned her for its explicit detail about canoodling, but she did want Numair around for good, for canoodling and otherwise.

"I don't want you to see an old man, someday," Numair whispered. "I'm fourteen years older, Daine, and you're beautiful."

"Maybe, but I scare most men straight away. You'll notice that Nealan was the only one to dance with me." There hadn't been time to dance with anyone else, truthfully, but no one else had been interested. "Well, and Prince Roald, but I lost him near straightaway to a title-chaser."

"In time, someone would see what I do."

"Then they'd be too late. Numair, I'm serious about this, and serious about you." Daine couldn't hold back the words. The thought of losing him had cemented the idea in her mind. "I love you, you daft mage, and that's not the kind of thing that someone as stubborn as me can go forgetting."


Daine took heart that Numair looked stunned instead of unhappy. "Me."

Daine bit her lip as the silence stretched on again, just as it had when she admitted that she couldn't decide if she should stay or go. "It wouldn't be the same to only be able to watch. Making me a new goddess is a big thing, since it doesn't happen often, and I'd not leave my da's lands for a hundred years. You'd be gone." It was the first time that she had been able to say the words out loud. "So maybe I was lying, earlier, but I know what I need to do. I'm staying. I couldn't find enough to do with my time spending decades as a third wheel on a two-wheeled cart. My ma and da spent long enough not being together. I saw how miserable it could be, sometimes."

"I'm not the kind of person worth that much regard, Daine. If you knew what I've done, all the secrets I've kept, you might change your mind." Despite his words, Numair was staring at her with new eyes. Hopeful eyes.

"Then we'll try for a year," Daine said decisively. "The offer for me is still open, after all, and not something to rush. If you get tired of me…" Her noble manners honed by weeks as part of King Jonathan's court entirely failed her. She could talk properly when she was a goddess, but she wasn't coming to Numair as a goddess. She wanted him to think of Sarra's bastard daughter with regard and, in time, with love. "I'd let you walk off, Numair, honest I would. I'd not stand for makin' you stay."

Very slowly, Numair reached to take her hands in his, looking all the while as if she would turn away in disgust. "I'm many things, Daine, but I like to think that I'm not a fool. I could never grow tired of someone like you."

Daine felt like she was flying between his hands around hers and the look in his dark eyes. Like some kind of premonition, she could see them together. She could see children with his absent-minded brilliance and with the stubbornness that would come from both sides. She could see herself coaxing Numair out of his lonely tower to come live with her at Berrywood, and she could see all the times that she'd go fetch him out of books to come eat a meal after half a day had passed.

"We'll agree, then." She was still shocked that he'd agree, and not quite ready for something so drastic as kissing. She was quite sure that she'd not want to stop for some time, and there was the matter of the ball in her honor. She'd hate to miss dancing with him. Instead, she stepped close enough to embrace him. With his arms around her, she was quite sure that there was nothing that could think to hurt her. "I'm fair glad that you came to Snowsdale, Numair Salmalín."

"As am I, Veralidaine Sarrasri." There was no odd inflection on the name, no reservations for Sarra's daughter.

Daine wouldn't be a goddess. She'd be something better: happy, and sure of her decision. As they walked back to the ball, with his arm solidly around her shoulders, she felt as though she would never stop smiling. She'd left Snowsdale after all, and for an entire host of people that respected her. Even better, they liked her, and that was still a novelty just as much as teasing a queen and talking with a king as an equal. Daine had found a home that she had never expected, and better yet, she had found someone to share it with.