All these charries belong to the fabulously talented Tamora Pierce. Blah Blah Blah Disclaimer Blah. Mastiff SPOILERS; seriously, go read the book. I just finished it myself and needed to get some of my feelings about it out. Tunstall has amazing depth, layers upon layers. I did my best to be true to the character and capture those layers. Like an onion, I only got to a few before I started crying and couldn't take it anymore. Oh and also, I'm looking for a Beta. Just throwing that out there before you read. Enjoy.
"You can get so confused
that you'll start into a race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, for a most useless place."
- Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You'll Go
I was cold; the kind of cold a man does not walk away from, particularly when said man cannot walk. The anger I felt towards Cooper for her well-place blow was a half-hearted one. I had seen the tears in her eyes before she clenched them shut to deliver the second blow to my knees. She was always a practical mot, my partner. And law abiding. She wouldn't kill me, nor allow me to finish the job myself. The law said that I was destined for a Magistrate in Corus, and I'd bet the Black God himself Beka would do anything to get me there, even if it would mean having to speak in front of a court without me there to help her. Her efforts would be futile, however. I felt surer than I'd felt in months: death was coming for me, if the cold was anything to go by. Not for me a pauper's grave on Traitor's Hill, though by all rights I deserved one, with my cracked brain on a spike next to the Conté's fluttering flag. I wondered if the Black God would take me gentle, but more than like I thought not. The gods, as Master Constellation had indicated, considered this time a crossroad and I had interfered. In addition, gods don't usually take kind to people betraying and/or trying to kill their priestesses. I'd never asked Cooper if there was a place aside the Peaceful Realms, where those who had done evil went to be punished by the Gods for their actions. I'd never had a reason to ask before. Now I wished I had, for if it were so then I was surely destined for it.
The world was blurring more as time passed, but my head was clearer than it had been in weeks – months really. Pain and shock had emptied my head of all the cracked things I was thinking. Regrets filled me to the brim, drowning out a lot of the anger I was still feeling towards to world. When it came to it, I wasn't sure if I could have killed that child; or, if I had, if I could have live with it. He was as small and malnourished as any lad or gixie from the cesspool I had saved in my countless years of work. Anger fought back. I could have done it. The brother of the Prince who wanted to take my Lady; a blue-blood perpetuating the very system that kept me from her! I could see her blurred form in the camp down wind, and knew I was still fooling myself. As a baron, all I would have been fit for was being allowed in the royal court, just close enough to see Prince Baird marry the woman I'd had no hope to. No, Mattes, you're still fooling yourself. The Lady Sabine would have died defending her royals, the loyal knight to the end. Presumably she would have taken me out first, the killer of the rightful heir.
Oh Sabine. I never deserved you, I thought, wishing for any other emotion besides longing, shame, and regret to cross my mind. I'd had enough of that as of late. I hoped the Black God's embrace would smother thought and drown out emotion, because I had no desire to be aware in the void beyond for all of time. I hoped he took me before My Lady (I did not deserve to call her Sabine, nor any of the countless other words lovers speak to each other in the dark of night) came over to see me. I had many things I wanted to say, but not to say to her. I couldn't bear it if she came at me with questions, to have her tell me how cracknobbed I am. I had got enough of that from Cooper already.
And then there was Beka. Any feverous form of peace I'd made with killing her had reversed itself when I got some sense knocked into my knees. I could have killed her. In fact, I believed I would have. Pox rot it, I had already sliced her up pretty good, killing her if there hadn't been the irritatingly capable Farmer around to save her. I was ready. Dogs die all the time. Cooper was capable, but not infallible. Anyone who remembered the Fishpuppy, or even Port Caynn, would have understood that when she was on the scent, she rushed into things far too quickly. Who would have questioned that she was pushing herself too far, stumbled, and fell? Them there was blow itself. Well, she'd proven herself capable enough to beat me, but if I really had meant to kill her, I would have. Besides, she had killed me, hadn't she, when all was said and done? I as sure that I was for death as I had been about anything, and that young mot's well deserved blows had sent me there. A rush of bitterness and resentment swept over me, convincing me more so that I would have been able to follow through with the deed. A Dog, even a traitorous one like me, does not shirk from hardship. No, what really would have gotten me is those eyes. Everyone talks about them: Cooper and her ghost eyes. I have had that ice glare pierce me to my core and survived. I've seen them determined, angry, miffed, and warm. I have no desire to see them dead. I fear the emptiness behind them would leave only cold anger in her wake, an expression of betrayal leaving my brain as cracked as the corn the mot feeds her pigeons.
I wallowed in my regrets for a while longer, reliving memories with Sab – with my Lady that had been tainted with my actions, thinking of Goodwin, of Cooper, of Gershom, and of all those who would know and have to live with the things I'd done while I would be dead and (hopefully) buried. Cold seeped into everything, a cold so deep I could no longer feel pain, only numbness. I think that was a blessing. I could only hope the numbness would reach my emotions soon. The world around was swimming now, so much so that the shapes of camp I had seen earlier had disappeared into the swatches of color I saw all around in varying shades of green and brown. It was slightly disorientating, like my eyes had suddenly aged to that of an elder. They were tired from straining themselves to see. I closed them, feeling the heaviness I had not before noticed. Things stopped swimming, and finally everything went dark, like I had been expecting it to for some time. And still I waited. For something. Anything. Sleep would not take me for all I must have been losing blood. I neither blacked out, nor died the death I wished to pass. Hours may have passed, and I would not have noticed it. My sense of time was skewed. Every moment had seemed stuck in a still, every second ticking away at the speed of the gods.
Movement stirred me, and for a moment I thought someone had come, like Farmer had earlier to splint my legs and feed me a little. I believe he did it for Beka, rather than for me, but I would never know as neither of us spoke. I of shame, anger, and resentment. He of that ceaseless patience. I would never know. But no, as I opened my eyes and tried to move my head, searching for the source, I knew it was not footfalls but rather some type of creature. I had not thought of the possibility of animals attempting to eat my carcass prematurely. To that I might even refer a death on the gently sloping hill with nothing gentle about it. The movement caught my eye, though I could hardly turn my head to see it. It came into focus sharply, sharper than I could see the boots on my feet. More sharp than I feel I'd ever seen anything in my whole life, as if my eyes – so dim to the world around – were hypersensitive to this creature. I could see every shadow underneath each individual feather, see the shades of pink and white that gently faded to gray. Each speck of blackness in its beady eyes was discernible from the other to me with an intensity that was almost like pain behind my eyes. The pigeon cocked its head, like it was thinking, eying me to see if I had any worth about me. I told the fair lady, who was surely my ride out of the blurred mortal world around me, that I had none. Her feathers flapped and she trotted alongside my body, poking her beak in promising looking areas. A few threads of my tunic were inspected by her unblinking gaze after she pulled them out of a tear in the material. She set them aside, perhaps to use for a nest of some sort. I watched with a swirl of wordless thought in the back of my brain, waiting. The claws were sharp pinpricks on my chest as she hopped up, still investigating me, as normal as any bird I had seen among the cesspool streets. Her tail feathers twitched and her wings shifted along her body like arms swinging as a cove or a mot walked. Finally she turned to me and cocked her head again. She might as well have been scratching her head, deciding what to do with me.
Did all folk get carried away by a pigeon? I'd thought it was only those who wanted to stay behind, who had sommat to say. I had no desire to stay in this bleak, blurred world which held nothing for me but wasted years and empty promises. I had imagined people just sort of…slipping away, sinking into the ground to enter the domain of the Black God. No, I had no need of this creature, sharply beautiful as she was. She pecked me. Take me out of here, I thought, not trusting my lips. I have naught to say. The sizable bird stepped closer to my face in a series of sharp clawed movements, and then proceeded to bite my nose. Somehow I imagined the process to be much more poetic than this, which was crackbrained of me. After all, who knew better than a dying, treacherous guard that death was messy? The bird let go of my nose and poked my cheek with her beak, prodding me. Again I shook my head. There was nothing left. The only one who would hear me was Cooped, and I had naught to say to her I had not already said.
Peirce, as I'd started to call her in my mind, stepped back away from my nose, I feeling the appropriateness of my name on my chest once more. Her head turned upwards, toward the sky and her wings fluttered against my ribs. She stayed like this for a moment, still brilliantly clear among the now nearly indiscernible mortal world. Suddenly anew pain erupted in my mind, surprising me for I had almost forgotten what pain felt like. In fact I was sure I had forgotten what pain felt like, for this was like no worldly pain I had ever experienced before. It was a more extreme version of the intensity I felt when first gazing upon Peirce, expanding and multiplying a hundredfold until it was a weight squeezing my head from all directions. I wished my brain would burst out of my skull, that my forehead would explode from the force of the pressure in my brain.
Peirce pecked my lips, gently this time, and cocked her heard questioningly. I understood the message. Perhaps I was unworthy to be spoken too, but obviously someone thought I owed my Friend an explanation. I closed my heavy eyelids in an acceptance that felt much more like a defeat. The pain vanished, leaving only a memory I'd never wished to have. I had too many of those as of late, but perhaps it was time to get used to being god-touched. Peirce shuffled forward again, but I kept my eyes closed. The curved point of a beak pressed in the furrow between my eyes, and I felt movement. My body sank and rose, a world I could not see beyond my eyelids swiveled. The feeling of numbness vanished into nothingness as the movement stopped. I felt the rustle of wings once again, but could not tell how I felt them. A distant kind of fear gripped me, like I was ivory soap that emotions simply could not get a firm grasp on. Peirce wiggled her neck a bit, a signal I understood as a nudge.
I opened my eyes, and the world resettled itself. Everything had come back into focus, perhaps a little sharper than I remembered, but normal enough to where I could see things once again. The shift was like that of a pure glass mirror where I had been placed behind it. My face was slack in death, the bruised and sorry mug of a traitor who might have just been sleeping. Peirce kept still a moment, waiting for me. I nudged her with a body that didn't exist anymore, and she spread her wings.
We flew off to a nearby tree, Peirce to search for food and I to wait for Cooper.
I am very much planning to complete this, all the way until Mattes leaves this realm for the Peaceful ones. I decided to break it up into two parts because if I don't publish something I'll never publish anything, and this seemed like a good breaking I mentioned, I'm also looking for a beta, one who is versed in many subjects (see my profile) and more importantly understands grammar since I clearly don't. Thank the gods for spellcheck. Love, Ginger.