The early evening sun was low in the sky, canvasing it a soft orange and pink. The marketplace was slowly packing up, several merchants calling out prices, their voices booming across the the murmurs, in hopes of selling a little more of their wares before the evening. People hurried about, shoes and horses loudly clattering against the cobblestones as many of them headed home for the day. Few of them called out to Daine in recognition, familiar greetings as she moved past them, enjoying the long walk back to the palace.
She had spent most of the day dealing with some sick mares at the horse market as a favor to Onua. While the mares are doing better, she was ready to take a long soaking bath and check up on Numair and Rikash. If she's quick enough, maybe she can make it before Rikash falls asleep.
She's turning on the main road towards the castle when she hears them.
“It's the woman they say who can speak to animals,” a man whispers loudly behind her.
“It's unnatural,” someone else—a women replies even louder.
“Unnatural” is something Daine has heard long and often before she came to Tortall. She's heard of people speak of her in whispers, eyes following her in suspicion. Crazy, dangerous, cursed being muttered sometimes when she walked in cities outside of Tortall where people recognized her from the rumors and stories that traveled. Sometimes there are some who would ward against her, hands forming the sign of evil or clasping little Mithros's medallions as if a piece of bronze coin could protect them.
She's more amused than anything else. Their accents peg them as Scanrans, it's become almost unconscious to pick up on after all these years. Easily ignoring this, Daine thinks ruefully, must mean I've gotten used to it now. Though Mithros would've thought that I am less of an oddity these days compared to everything else that has happened these past few years.
“Like those immortals, those dirty Stormwings,” the woman continues a moment later.
“Do you know what his sort do?” she had asked Maura. “They befoul the dead who fall in battle. They live on human fear and anger. They're monsters!”
She had been so convinced both then and earlier, her bow clenched tightly in her hands, the arrow pulled back taunt ready to released at any moment. But Cloud had pulled her back earlier, and Maura had just shrugged her shoulders and said, “They can't help how they're made Daine.”
“Dirty Stormwings” is the part that makes her flinch, the woman's disgust curling around her. Her footsteps faltering for a step before she continues down the path. She feels her face flushing in anger, her hands briefly clenching into fists before she takes a deep breath. Ten years ago, maybe she would've turned around in righteous anger, would've tried to do something. She's not sure what she would've done. Rikash Moonsword had been an exception, that she also knew.
“If it counts for anything---though I'm not sure that it does---you have my gratitude. And things aren't as bad as you think. You might look around.”
It was only later that Daine remembered the first part of the comment, at first too lost in her non-human form, then the grief and eventual shock and joy at finding Numair alive.
“You found yourself a strange ally,” Numair had mused to her when she had told him about it later. Daine had wrinkled her nose, frowning, but found herself strangely pleased nonetheless.
Their voices fade away, but there's a line of tension across the back of her shoulders and suddenly she's more exhausted than she was five minutes ago. Despite the steady truce Tortall had with the Stormwings, people still reacted the same. It wasn't a surprise exactly---he had said that she understood humans just as well as Stormwings and she knew human cruelty and fear better than most--was it guilt then? Or was it disappointment?
When Daine comes into their suite, Numair looks up at her concernedly, his dark hair in haphazard mess as it usually is whenever he's reading up on complicated spells. She knows she must look angry, but she shakes her head at him though the tension from her shoulder had started to ease as soon as she had entered the palace and even more so when she entered their rooms. She pats him on the shoulder, leaning in to give him a quick kiss on the forehead, before waving him towards his text. Daine's already looking to see where Kitten and Rikash are tucked away.
They're in Kitten's room sprawled across the floor. Coming upon Rikash playing happily with Kitten though, she can't help but smile, her earlier anger momentarily forgotten.
Daine can't help but settle down on the floor with them, pulling Rikash close to kiss him on his cheeks, his dark eyes lighting up when he sees her, "Mama."
She doesn't think about it as she moves around washing up and getting Rikash to eat. In the corner of her eye though she sees Numair glancing every so often at her. Fondness tugs at heart, it usually takes more than this to pull him away from whatever spell he's working on.
Numair gives her space as they move around setting the table, but she knows he is wondering what she had been upset about.
"I'm grateful," she says as they sit together eating supper. Daine leans just so that she can take comfort in his presence, even if she isn't touching him.
He arches an eyebrow at that.
"For friendships I might've missed out on and didn't" Daine says softly, then adds, "And being here, with you. And Kitten and Rikash of course."
"Really?" Numair teases, but he's happy, eyes warm as he looks at her.
"Really," she replies smiling, honest and certain.
Later that evening, while Numair is reading in his study and Kitten is happily tucked in and sleeping peacefully, Daine thinks about it again. When she holds Rikash close to her chest while he's sleeping, she can't help but think about her own initial reaction when meeting Rikash Moonsword. Thinking about the scorn and disgust she heard in the people's voices she overheard, it makes her feel both bittersweet and grateful.
“Rikash---no!” someone cried in a voice that cracked as it rose. “No! No! Nooooo!” It was her voice. If she screamed loud enough, long enough, he would live. She can still hear his words from earlier over the roar of her scream, "I am getting sentimental, but I would hate to see anything happen to either of you."
When Ozorne and the gods had been dealt with and rebuilding around Port Legann had already started to go underway, Tkaa found her on a hill overlooking the the eastern road. He sat down beside her, quiet as he surveyed the the damage caused by the serpent. The cold wind blew sharply, but Daine hadn't been able to feel it against the ache of numbness that seemed to be sunken into her skin.
“Why is it that it's always after someone is gone that you realize there were so many things you never had the chance to tell them? Or that you didn't realize what they were until they're gone?” she asked after a long moment, her voice low.
Tkaa shifted beside her. He takes even longer to respond.
“I think that they always know when you care from them. Whether it's immortals or mortals, sometimes words aren't needed."
Daine thought about the tap of cold metal against her skin in goodbye, "Maybe you're right."
They sat there for awhile longer until the sun was but a blur line of reddish gold in the horizon. When they do get up, she felt the wind, harsh against her face.
There are day she still has nightmares of the Immortals War. Sometimes it's about losing Numair or her friends. Seeing Onua or Alanna get hurt. Or sometimes her dear wolves, Kitten, her many non-human friends getting killed as they try to protect her. On the rare occasion she dreams of seeing her son fall out of the sky, slamming against a boulder by a flick of a serpent head. Except they are less nightmares and more her memories of what happened over Port Legann. That it's not her own son, but Rikash Moonsword tumbling down, down and her own horrified scream as she watched unable to do anything.
Looking down at her son, she wonders what she will tell of him of his namesake.
Rikash's fond smile for Maura as he gently chided her comes to mind. Or his sharp humor when he teased Numair, mocking without malice. His fierce honor and his sentimentality. She knows what she will tell her son one day when he asks.
He would've loved her son, she thinks, she knows. She knows it as much as she knows she loves her child, small and soft in her arms. The Stormwing would've been amused, probably secretly delighted.
"Is that wise?" she could imagine him asking, but his eyes would've been soft as he peered at her son, the bones woven into the braids of his hair clicking loudly.
“Since when are humans wise?” she would've replied. He would've laughed at that.
It had been a wise choice. An easy one--an honor, she hopes he would think.
When her son asks her to tell him about his name, she will smile, eyes fond, the ache against her breastbone faded by time and held on by memory.
Somewhere there's a flash of steel wings, a sardonic grin, and amused green eyes.
“It's a long story,” she'll say, pulling him close, curling her arm around his shoulders, her voice soft, “that started long before the Immortals Wars, when the Immortals first spilled from the sky and one of the many were the Stormwings.”