Hunting

Tamora Pierce/Immortals Fanfiction.

Blurb: Sarralyn cannot remember a time when she wasn't hiding from the mysterious man who hunts her mother. Sick of living the life of a coward, she runs away and tries to find out the truth, not knowing that her own deadly curse is hunting her down. D/N

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3. Chapter 3: Daine

 

 

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Chapter 3: Daine

 

Am I glad she’s gone? I dream about her and wake up with my cheeks wet with guilty tears, but during the day the guilt fades away. I worry about her, but deep down I know she can look after herself. It’s just hard to convince myself of that. It’s hard not to imagine her as a child, lost and alone. I think: it’s for the best. It’s a new chance. We both needed something to happen, and it has.

I sometimes think I’m going mad. It doesn’t seem like fifteen years, and I don’t feel any different than I did back then. It’s as if, one day, I blinked and opened my eyes to find the world had moved on without me. And the world has changed. The war ended years ago. For months after that final battle I waited with my heart racing, hoping against hope that it also meant the end of my exile. We were cursed for a reason, and when the war ended that reason no longer existed. And yet, the curse lived on. I could see it, murky in our veins, blazing whenever Numair was too close.

Sarralyn never understood how I knew that he was nearby. As a child she trusted me, but when she got older she started hurling her words against me. Paranoid, frightened, coward. She doesn’t know how many of her own fears are false. I raised her to fear her father, because it was the only way to be sure she would be safe.

The longest time we ever spent in one place was three months. We were far in the north, and the snows were settling into the passes. As the weeks drifted by I started to hope. Maybe, maybe this time he’d given up. Maybe he had stopped looking for us, and he would have a normal life again. Sarralyn and I could settle down, and stay in one place. She could make friends with children her own age, the seven and eight year olds who sledded down the drifts on rough planks of wood. I watched her playing with them, and imagined a life where she wouldn’t have to hide any more. But then my thoughts turned against me, and I began to have nightmares. While Numair was following me, at least I knew he was safe. At least I knew he was alive. He could have been trapped in a snowstorm, or he could be ill. Something twisted in my heart, and the thoughts continued: why should he keep looking? He could have found someone else. He could have other children, a mistress to make up for his runaway wife. While he was following me, at least I knew that he still loved me.

Sarralyn came home that day to find me curled up in the corner, awash with tears. The room we were renting was tiny, barely more than a fireplace and a bed which we shared, and she stood helplessly beside me in innocent bewilderment.

“Mama,” she said, her words still carefully shaped in the way young children speak, “Mama, what’s wrong?”

I couldn’t tell her. If ever I wanted to tell her the truth, it was on that day. But I couldn’t. She looked at me with such clear eyes, already clever beyond her years, and I loved her too much to hurt her like that. She wrapped her arms around my shoulders and nuzzled against my cheek, almost crying herself in her confusion.

“Mama, don’t be sad,” she said, when I still sobbed uncontrollably. “Don’t cry, mama. What’s wrong?”

I tried to choke the words out, to explain. “Your father...” I started, and then stopped at the expression on her face. Her sweet eyes narrowed in anger. She heard ‘father’ as someone to be feared and hated, not as someone to cry for. Had I done that?

“Don’t cry, mama,” she said with more strength in her lilting voice. “I won’t let him hurt you, never-ever-ever, mama. He’ll never find us.”

I hugged her back and stopped crying, and the next week when the link started glowing again, I returned us to our nomad life with relief. He was still looking. He still loved me. Perhaps it was selfish to still want that, but in my heart I was glad.

He started searching for us more systematically after the war. When I first ran away he looked for us frantically, desperately. It must have terrified him, that we could not be seen through scrying or with the sight, or found by using a focus. He only knew that we were alive, and that we were gone. He would have thought in the words of war: kidnapped, hurt, enslaved. It would have been months, years even, before he would believe that I left on my own two feet. In those first years I honestly think he would have found us, if he had realised that we were hiding rather than trapped. But he searched with the riders and with our friends, looking for enemies who were strong enough to hold me. They looked for the blaze of the gift and strong prison walls, while we hid in stables and hedgerows. By the time they thought to look there, I was more skilled at hiding, and I could outsmart them.

I look under my skin, and see the dark purple lurking among the copper. The curse creeps through my magic like a snake, twining around my core and hiding me from the world. That was the great skill behind the curse; a secret magic which hides itself from all other mages. A thin cord darts from my heart, stretching across the miles, and I know the other end is linked to Numair. It always makes me feel closer to him, knowing that we are always linked, although he cannot see it.  If he could see it, he would understand. He would stop tracking me. But the only other person who can see this spell is the man who cast it on us. That is the other thing the curse tells me: the mage is still alive.

And while he is alive, I will hunt him down.

I stretch my hands towards the sky, feeling strangely light. Now that Sarralyn has gone, it is almost too easy to hide. Two people will argue, or chat, or discuss where to build a fire, while a lone person can live silently and safely. I don’t have to worry anymore about leaving her sleeping by the fire, while I sneak off to hunt the trails for the mage’s scent. He is always nearby, always a few miles ahead, and he hides with the skill of a snake. For years he and I have watched each other, wary with mutual hatred, and we have been at a stalemate. Now Sarralyn has gone, and I can confront him.

 

Numair

 

She is still scared of me. She watches me from the corner of her eyes, always tense, even when she is lost in one of her stories. She doesn’t know who I am; she didn’t react at all when I told her my name. The others listen to her stories as if they’re great mysteries to be solved, not realising that the girl who tells them is a mystery herself. Her name, her age, even the way she speaks... they’re all an act. I can see the faint glimmer of hedge magic in her hair, shading it a strange russet colour, just as I can see the wary way she glances at the door every time a stranger walks in. I know she’s not who she says she is.

She is alone here, that much is clear. I spoke to the woman who owns this inn, asking casual questions behind the glitter of coin. I have plenty of money, and she knows it. When I rented my room here, I told her my business in the town. It is always best to make sure someone knows it, or else what I do can look quite suspicious! I drift from town to town, speaking to the local guards and helping them to find people who have escaped the law. It’s not too exciting- mostly asking questions from the disguise of a nosy stranger, or using my gift to hunt down hiding bandits. Sometimes I am sent to towns with a detachment of soldiers or riders, hunting down murderers who have killed to escape from justice. But usually I am alone, which I prefer. Alone, I can ask my own questions.

Jon was shocked when I volunteered for the job, expecting one of the dour academy mages to volunteer. He said I would be wasted in such a task. But in truth it makes me happy. I like trying to outwit the clever criminals who set traps, and I like having the freedom to drift from town to town without reporting to the king. I told him, I don’t want to rot alone in a peaceful castle when I can be out there, helping people. He heard the truth: I refuse to give up.

The innkeeper glances at the girl- Lilith- across the circle of women. My casual questions made her suspicious, and I wonder if she’s going to demand that Lilith tell her the truth. Maybe she thinks she’s one of the criminals I hunt, although I doubt it. Lilith is too good a liar to look suspicious. But if she starts accusing her, then Lilith might well run away. She has the wide-eyed look of a runaway: the deliberate, defiant way of looking at the world as if it can be made less frightening by sheer bravado.

I’d been staying at the inn for a few days before I noticed Lilith. She was just one of the many kitchen maids, who flocked about the place like sparrows and chattered in the hallways. I knew they told stories in the evenings and so deliberately avoided the hall. It’s strange to hear your own life being reduced to a whimsical tale. But I couldn’t sleep that night, and my room was cold with the first bitter chill of autumn, so I gritted my teeth and trudged down the frozen hallways towards that tempting fire. Most of the seats were already taken by men and women who leaned forward, rapt, to listen to the skinny girl who moved her hands in the air as she spoke. I didn’t mean to listen, but a few words caught my attention. It wasn’t the way she spoke, or the story itself, but the names she was using. I had heard the same stories told before by people who made up their own names for Daine’s animals, or just called them by their species. This skinny girl named them all with perfect accuracy.

I looked up, shocked into listening to her as she kept speaking. She recited as if she was telling a simple folk story, but every single word was completely true. She knew things that no-one else would even guess at. She described the rooms of Carthak like a mirror reflecting the actual stones.

How could she know these things? For the first time in years I felt a genuine surge of hope as I stared at her. She must have spoken to Daine. They must have been here, not in the town nearby where people were still whispering about them. They must have stayed at this very inn, and told their stories to this girl, knowing that to her they would just be stories.

The girl looked up and faltered, meeting my gaze with eyes that were as black as my own, and in a heartbeat I knew the truth. She hadn’t been told the stories by a passing stranger, she’d been told them by her mother. I gripped the arms of my chair, forcing myself not to jump up and scare her. Did she already know who I was? She stopped her story halfway through, still looking at me with something close to terror, and left the room. I had to stop myself from following her, recognising the trapped look of someone ready to flee. Instead, I questioned the innkeeper about her.

She was here alone. That was the first thing my frantic mind retained: Daine wasn’t with her. They couldn’t remember another woman being here, the new maid had just turned up on her own and started working the next morning. A twinge of doubt, and I was suddenly unsure again. A story is easily remembered, and black eyes aren’t as rare as some people believe. I half expected her to have fled in the night, but she was there the next morning with her chin raised stubbornly against whatever fear had chased her away the night before. Before she could see me, I left the inn and went about my day’s work.

If the girl truly was Sarralyn, then why was she alone? Daine would never abandon her- or, at least, I amended, the Daine I knew would never do that. I resolved to watch her, to decide one way or another.

The next time she told a story, it was a children’s tale and frustratingly banal. I couldn’t decide on such evidence! So I collared the innkeeper and paid her more than a week’s worth of rent to get her to recite another story. I listed a few I knew, thinking that if Daine had told the girl these stories she would know all of them, and if she didn’t then I was obviously mistaken.

She told the story perfectly, and I couldn’t help smiling. She recited with defiant brilliance. The next day, I spoke to her for the first time, and tested her stories again. If she had made up the names, perhaps she would change them this second time. She didn’t, and I knew it was her. After years of searching, I had found my daughter in the least likely place I could expect.

I told her my name, and she didn’t know me. I decided then not to tell her who I really was. She’d been running away from me her whole life, and the stark flashes of fear that lit up her eyes proved that she was poised to run again at the slightest threat. And yet... there was something else there, that stubbornness which had made her take my arm in the marketplace. I had no doubt that she had run away from Daine, and I wondered where she was planning to run to. From the way she looked at the other maids, it was clear she detested working there.

After that first conversation, I thought that it would be easier to talk to her. I was wrong; I always seemed to say the wrong thing! Although we settled into a wary truce, I was constantly afraid that something I said would make her disappear again. It was so strange. She was my daughter, and yet I hardly knew her. Every word we exchanged was a lie. I bought her the blue ribbon she’d been gazing hungrily at in the market, and she refused to take it from me. She would shyly avoided speaking to me in the inn, but then raise her head to meet my eyes with contrary courage.

She didn’t know that it was me that she had spent her life hiding from, and I had no idea why she was hiding in the first place. There have been precious few clues in the years since Daine disappeared, and all of them as confusing as each other! It stood to reason that, now that Sarralyn had appeared, she wouldn’t even tell me her real name. I knew she would never tell me anything about her life, or her mother, if she didn’t trust me. I finished my work in the town as quickly as I could, and then realised that I’d have to leave sooner because of it. There was no way I was going to leave Sarralyn here, alone. I had to think of a way to bring her home.

 

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