A/N: In Emperor Mage, Daine wears a pair of sapphire earbobs that she said were a Mindwinter gift from Numair. So that's what inspired this little drabble. It's Daine's first Midwinter in Tortall - I'm not sure if that's when he gave her the earbobs, but for my purposes, it is! Please read and review!
Characters: Daine, Numair, others
Time: Midwinter of Wild Magic-ish
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to Tamora Pierce, not me.
Daine smiled throughout the Midwinter Feast, awed and amazed to be surrounded by so many friends. Though she was dressed in a fine blue gown of Thayet's design, across her chest she wore a very plain satchel, which guarded the one gift she had painstakingly made by hand. Most of her gifts had been easy to pick out and give. With her wages, she bought a small red stone for Onua that Numair said would enhance her protective charms, a Player's tall and extravagant hat for Evin, and a pretty necklace of seashells for Miri, to remind her of home.
But for a long time, she couldn't figure out for the life of her what she should get for Numair. How could anything adequately thank the man who was teaching her so much? Not only that, but it was Numair. He was so well off already, and so confident and assured, that surely he already had anything he could want. So somehow she had to find something for him that only she could give.
She was flipping through the book on mammalian anatomy that he had given her when she finally got an idea. This book is all well and good, and very right, but it doesn't say why, she reflected. Why wolves live in packs and foxes don't. Or why horses all built the same inside can have such different spirits. Or anything about the People that aren't mammals… like how some songbirds that have narrow beaks and some big fat ones.
Then she knew. It's because only I could know those things, she thought. Only I can talk to them.
Quickly, before the inspiration left her, she scrambled around in her little basement room and found her neatest bits of parchment and a quill. She was glad she'd learned her letters in Snowsdale, and even more glad Numair had been teaching her vocabulary and grammar. With her most careful script, she began to write, and even draw pictures, filling every corner of every page with as much information as she could about all the People she loved. Information that she knew wasn't written anywhere else.
So, what with all that hard work, it was no wonder that she guarded her gift so carefully that evening. She wanted to give it to him tonight, but the Midwinter Feast was a dangerous place. Food all around, mugs overflowing with ale, so much dancing and carelessness… She hugged her satchel close as she laughed with all her companions. Evin offered her a mug of ale, and she tasted the bitter liquid but decided it wasn't worth it.
"You'll grow into it," he teased, and Daine stuck her tongue out at him.
Finally, the people at the feast began to dissipate, some in giggling couples and some more soberly alone. Daine caught up with Numair as he was heading toward the candelit hallway. He had chatted with her and their Rider friends for the first part of the night, but then Alanna had pulled him away to dance, and after that the ladies never left him alone. Daine was pleased to see, though, that he wasn't being accompanied by one of them now.
"Numair," she called, waving to get his attention. The mage stopped, smiling when he turned around and saw her.
"I was just looking for you. I thought you'd left already."
She fell into step beside him, not even noticing really where they were headed. She ran a hand back and forth over the strap of her satchel. What if he didn't like her gift? He had so many books already, maybe he wouldn't appreciate her scribbles.
"Did you like the feast?" Numair continued. "I imagine you didn't ever see something like that in Snowsdale."
"Oh, no. All we did was eat a meal specially big. Sometimes with a neighbor or two. But usually just me and ma and grandda. Nothing like this, with all the food and dresses and dancing and kissing…" Daine made a face. Kissing for Midwinter luck was one thing with your ma and grandda, quite another when you were surrounded by eager squires and trainees and everyone.
Numair laughed, warm and deep. "I forgot." Swiftly he bent and kissed her on the cheek before Daine could protest. "Midwinter luck, Daine!"
"You dolt," she said, but she couldn't help the smile on her lips.
They ended up in the courtyard, with the almost-full moon bright enough above them that Daine could see near as well as day. If I give it to him now, she thought, he'll be able to read it by the light, so I should do it before we go back inside. But as she took a deep breath and opened her mouth, Numair beat her to it.
"I have something for you, magelet," he said. "Look at me a moment?"
Daine turned to face him. He bent a bit so their faces were level and grinned.
"Well, no. I don't," he said, spreading his empty palms. Then he touched her hair right above her ears. With a flourish that she saw only out of the corner of her eye, he produced two sparkling blue objects and presented them to her. "But you do. Happy Midwinter, Daine."
Daine gasped. In his hands were two brilliantly wrought sapphire earbobs, the stones big and clear and deep blue like the sea. They were set in shining silver, clean and simple, and here in the moonlight they were more beautiful than any jewels Daine had ever seen, even ones the queen wore. "They're for me?" she breathed in awe.
"Well, I saw them and I thought they would match your eyes," Numair said, and Daine was tickled to hear that he sounded almost bashful. "Being the doltish man that I am, I didn't know you had your ears pierced till Alanna told me. You never wore earbobs. So when I saw these, I thought perhaps…"
"Numair, they're gorgeous," she said, picking them up and touching their smooth surfaces. "I – I love them, but they're too good for me, I'm just a - "
"Nonsense," he said. "A girl of your beauty deserves jewels to match, does she not? Let me help you."
With his assistance, Daine donned the earrings, relishing their weight on her ears. Numair stepped back to look at her as she beamed.
"I was right," he said cheerfully. "They do match your eyes. You look lovely, magelet."
"Thanks," she said, and for a moment she was so happy that she almost forgot about her gift. "Oh! I – have something for you, too." Quickly she fumbled in her satchel and pulled it out. "It's not much, but I thought…"
She clutched the parcel to her chest. Once she had finished writing on each piece of parchment, she had pressed three holes through the edge of every page and bound them all together with heavy twine, creating a makeshift book. Blushing, Daine thrust it toward him. He took it with curious eyes that soon grew wide as he began to flip through the pages.
"You wrote all this for me?" he said, sounding as awestruck as she had been when she saw the jewels. "Daine, this is… All these things you know are incredibly new to the academic world! This information is invaluable – I know you know it all, but to share it with me… Daine, I can't thank you enough."
"It's only for you," she specified as he continued to look at every page with an ever-growing expression of delight, like a child with a big bag of sweets. "I mean, you can tell other people, your colleagues, I guess, but… the book is just for you."
"I am honored," he said, and he sounded so sincere that Daine blushed even harder. Suddenly he laughed and swept her up in a hug. "All I can say is that it was a gift from the gods when you and Onua met on the road and you decided to come here with us. This palace is a better place with you in it, Daine."
"You've done too much flattering tonight, master mage. You're still in the habit," she teased. Before he put her down, she pressed a fleeting kiss to his cheek as well, sure that her whole face, not just her cheeks, were bright red.
"Midwinter luck, Numair."