Wow! I can’t believe I last updated this site in AUGUST. This year, huh?
As many of you know, I’ve been coping with 2020 through discovering the joy of fanfiction! I thought it would be a quick, one and done kind of deal, but I’ve been bitten by the fanfic bug, so I thought I’d share The Ties That Bind, a Hawksong fanfic, with you all here. Enjoy!
They say the first of my kind was a woman named Alasdair, a human raised by hawks. She learned the language of the birds, and was gifted with their form.
It is a pretty myth, I admit, but few actually believe it. No record remains of her life.
No record except for the feathers in every avian’s hair, even when otherwise we appear human, and the wings I can grow when I choose–and of course the beautiful golden hawk’s form that is as natural to me as the legs and arms I wear normally.
This myth is one of the stories we hear as children, but it says nothing of reality or the hard lessons we are taught later.
Almost before a child learns to fly, she learns to hate. She learns of war. She learns of the race that calls itself the serpiente. She learns that they are untrustworthy, that they are liars and loyal to no one. She learns to fear the garnet eyes of their royal family even though she will probably never see them.
Of course, I have.
I have seen them look to me in fear and pain, a young prince’s final moments. I have seen them look at me in consideration, a new ruler sizing up the woman who would be his enemy.
And I have seen them beneath me, cushioned on a pillow of down, soft as my own hair.
They taught me how to hate those eyes.
No one taught me how to read them.
Danica Shardae, Tuuli Thea
The Mistari Disa spoke to the entire hall as she concluded, “The best advice I can offer is this: Tie the two royal families. Make the two sides into one. If you are willing to trust each other, and willing to put aside your anger and your hatred, then Zane Cobriana, take Danica Shardae as your mate. Danica Shardae, have Zane Cobriana as your alistair.”
The Disa’s words rang in my head as I dressed for bed, numb and mechanical. The serpiente prince had cried out as vehemently as the rest, as I had sat in shocked silence. The rest had reacted; I had observed. I watched garnet eyes flash with temper, right alongside normally sedate avian gold. But I also watched Zane’s face crumple as the Disa kicked us out, his desperate hand reaching as if he could see the fleeting peace slipping through his fingers even as he struggled to grasp it.
Take Zane Cobriana as your alistair.
I still couldn’t process the idea. “Alistair” was a word that meant so many things to me, none of which matched the fiery cobra. My first alistair, Vasili, had been taken from me too young to truly remember him. And after that, alistair was a word most often followed by the ragged grief of a newly made widow.
It was not a word I could fathom associating with Zane Cobriana.
I realized my hands had been working the same button over and over. I shook myself, trying to return to reality, to keep moving through this latest shock. My composure was shot to hell, and I jumped when a knock sounded at my door.
The familiar voice of long-time personal guard–oh, hell, my best friend, sounded through the door. Rei had been the most outspoken at the Disa’s suggestion, and he hardly sounded calmer now, though at least he was hiding it better. Shaky, and craving the comfort of his familiar presence in this unfamiliar place, I bid him enter.
He paused in the doorway, and I watched his face as a thousand thoughts chased their way behind his eyes. Already I felt better, just seeing him as shaken as I. Rei had been my friend since childhood, and was the only person I ever truly relaxed around. I had seen him in his grief for his father, lost when he was but a boy of twelve. He had seen me cry over countless deaths, until I had grown up enough to no longer let the tears show. We knew the shape of each other’s grief; and we knew how important it was to have somewhere safe to let it out, to be weak. He was weak with me now, and I sank into that uncertainty gratefully.
“Dani,” he breathed, only after the door was closed firmly behind him. “I’m sorry I lost my temper in the hall today. It’s my fault we were banned from further discussion.”
I straightened my shoulders, gathering my strength as he fell apart. We did this in turns, my Rei and me, being rock and crash wave alike.
“I don’t believe you were the only one shouting,” I said lightly, fighting back the shiver that threatened at the memory of those flashing garnet eyes. Zane had been exquisite in his anger, a fine, shimmering thing. It had been beautiful, and terrifying, like a lightning strike. I wrapped my arms around myself, unable to stop my reaction.
Rei mistook the gesture for fear, and I suppose that was in there too, and placed his hands over mine. It was utterly too forward, unspeakably inappropriate, and far from the first time. Rei and I had always been each other’s exceptions, our refuge for strength and comfort. I leaned into him, resting my forehead against his chest. His arms encircled me, fitting around me perfectly through years of habit. I had grown since that first night we’d curled up together, frightened and alone and crying ourselves to sleep, and so had he. But we’d grown together, and his arms still fit around mine as I held myself and tried to keep from falling apart.
This. This was what an alistair should be. This feeling of warmth, of solidness, of safety.
Rei would be my alistair, and I would grow to love him in that way, in time. And even if I never did, friendship was still well worth protecting.
My thoughts flashed on Zane Cobriana again, reaching out for the fleeting dream of piece. He was willing to fight for that dream. And I was cowering in the arms of a man I was too afraid to love, for fear of losing him.
Losing him to the war we were here to stop.
I must have tensed, because Rei pulled back, searching my face.
“Dani… You know I care for you, and I’ll always protect you. The thought of the snake coming anywhere near you…”
His hands flexed on mine, grip growing uncomfortably tight. I pulled away and he let me go, falling back into that careful soldier’s ready. The moment had passed. Time to put our weakness away.
“We’ll find a way, Shardae. I should go, let you sleep. Things will look brighter in the morning.”
I wished I had the courage to ask him to stay, to tell him that a night in his arms would bring me more comfort than the tossing and turning I knew was sure to come. I always slept better in Rei’s arms. But we hadn’t done that in years. And until I was ready to declare formally what the entire court already knew, he would keep his careful distance, expect in rare moments like this.
I closed my eyes, and I wished I could remember how to cry.
I began to undress again, but a flicker of movement caught my eye–
And suddenly I was face to face with garnet.
Zane Cobriana stood in my room, stepping elegantly from shadows and moonlight.
His hand was on my mouth before I could draw breath, the other cradling the back of my head.
“Please, I’m terribly sorry, but we need to talk, and so I need you not to scream.”
I stared at him wide-eyed, eyes lingering on impossible details–the stray strands of hair that fell across his face, the thick, sweeping curve of his stunningly dark lashes–as the world paused between one heartbeat and the next. I was utterly frozen, drowning deep in radiant red, the hypnotic gaze of the Cobriana garnet.
My people told stories of this gaze, the near-demonic power to enchant and posses. I forgot to breathe, drinking down those eyes, edges tight with pain. Pain… Zane Cobriana looked pained. It was barely there, just a tightness around the eyes, but his eyes were all I could see. We were not but a breath apart, and all I could do was gaze into those eyes, and nod.
Zane nodded to, head moving with mine as if uncertain of the motion’s meaning. Finally, he gave one certain shake, mind made up. He sprang away from me, leaping to the far side of the room as he released me, falling into a warrior’s ready. I just stared, mind refusing to process. Zane Cobriana had snuck into my room, and he was crouched and on guard against me.
“What…. what do you want?”
My mouth was cotton dry as I struggled to speak, tongue darting out to wet paper lips. They tingled with the memory of Zane’s fingers, soft and cool, so delicate, but so firm…
He hedged his words, carefully controlled and guarded, just like his posture. But when I didn’t scream, or really react in any way, he relaxed, pulling himself up into a liquid, wary posture. Those elegant hands disappeared into pockets, but the underlying tension in his shoulder belied the casual gesture. He was a coiled spring, and no amount of leaning carelessly against the wall would disguise that.
I shook myself mentally, trying to come to grips with this fevered dream. No, no dream. In my dreams, I was often painfully aware I was dreaming, and able to pull together my careful avian reserve. Here, in this moonlit room, I was wide awake, and utterly lost.
“Won’t… won’t you sit down?”
Internally, I shrieked at myself. The mortal enemy of me and my kind had broken into my room for goddess knows what purpose, and I was observing social niceties. Won’t you sit down? What was the matter with me?
Zane smirked, a sardonic twist of his sculpted lips. My mind kept focusing on the most inane details–the perfect press of his cupid’s bow, the strong line of his jaw–as he folded himself elegantly onto a cushion. His long legs glittered in the moonlight and for a moment I thought he must have been in armoured form. But no, merely snakeskin pants. My gut filled with ice. The prince of the serpiente in snakeskin pants. Yikes.
“Why thank you, Danica. May I call you Danica?”
Mutely I nodded, sinking down onto my own sleeping pallet. I watched myself in bemused horror, like an out of body nightmare, as I sat and calmly waited for the prince of the serpiente to say his piece.
Then again, compared to his dramatic entrance to my bedroom, this behavior was rather sedate. Formal even. The manners between us seemed almost absurd.
“Then you must call me Zane,” he insisted. I realized this casual chatter was his own nervousness, as my mute manners were mine. Neither of us really knew how to handle one another, and that somehow gave me courage. If he was shaken too, that somehow put us on more even foot.
“Alright… Zane. What did you come to talk about?”
He chuckled, the sound rolling through the dark like velvet. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself, and madly, half expected Rei to wrap his hands around mind. Had only been moments ago that Rei had been in my room? If Zane had come any sooner–
“We were thrown out of the Mistari hall quite abruptly. And in all likelihood the same will happen tomorrow unless we have a chance to properly discuss their suggestion beforehand,” he said lightly, cutting through my thoughts. They scattered like early morning fog, as thin and ephemeral and impossible to hold onto. If he thought we were going to make any more progress here than we had in the hall, he was sorely mistaken. I couldn’t think my way out of an egg like this. If I’d been able to, I probably would have screamed for my guards by now. Really, it was only the utter bizarreness of the situation that had kept me from doing so already. We never trained for what I should do in the event of a security breach. In the Keep, it was unthinkable. And in the fields, I was quite literally surrounded at all times.
Zane had found my security’s one weak spot.
My blood ran cold.
“Are you here to kill me?”
Zane gave me a tired look and sighed.
“I just said I was here to discuss peace with you, Danica.” He shook his head. “What is even the point. How can they possibly expect us to entertain marriage when you’re too frightened to even talk to me?”
I snapped without thinking, pride pricked. He’d broken into my room, assaulted me–of course I was startled, I was also exhausted. At his chagrined look, I realized I’d actually spoken those thoughts aloud.
“Of course. It’s late. I apologize for any offense.”
I laughed. “Offense? Offense? Offensive was the way you acted so utterly repulsed at the mere thought of marrying me. This? I don’t believe there are words to cover what this is.”
Zane snorted. “I suppose that’s fair. If it was only a matter of your lovely body, well.” His eyes flicked up and down my frame, and I felt my cheeks turn scarlet. “And I’ve seen you have no trouble with mine, either.”
At that my face caught fire, enough that surely the room should have been ablaze with light. I clenched my fists in my lap and locked my gaze to the floor, counting slowly to ten. Shouting at him would bring my guards crashing in here for sure. And he had a point; we did need to talk. If we broke into a shouting match tomorrow, the Disa would simply kick us out again.
“Comments like that are also why we could never work,” I said hotly. “An avian alistair defends his pair bond’s virtue, not mocks it.”
“And is your pretty guard captain to be your pair bond, then?”
At that my eyes flew to his in complete shock. “Wha–“
“Oh don’t play coy, pretty Danica. I saw the way he held you. That is not a man unfamiliar with your body.”
I could only stare at him in open mouthed horror. Zane went on as if he didn’t notice.
“It’s not a deal breaker for me. I’m sure you don’t expect me to come to you as pure as the driven snow either. Keep him, for all I care. We both have heirs to produce, after all.”
Again, I must have spoken aloud, because Zane seemed to stop midthought, changing his words at the last moment.
“You’re the only Shardae left,” he said softly. “I at least have my sister and… her child.”
His gaze felt, soft and uncertain.
“Her announcement is what finally convinced me. I’ve already lost one sister with child to a soldier’s knife. I cannot bear to lose another. Irene was so frightened when she told me–“
His voice cut off with emotion. The strangled sound reminded me too much of Gregory.
I rose, not certain what I intended, but it was lost to Zane’s reaction anyways. The serpiente was off the wall and crouched almost before I’d finished standing, and his speed took my breath away. I cried out in spite of myself– and the guards came pouring in.
Zane’s form flashed to lightning black, the shift to his cobra form nigh instantaneous. I threw myself forward, blocking Rei’s movement into the room, shielding him from Zane’s attack. It was utterly stupid, and pure instinct. I threw myself between the man that would be my protector, and the man who would pay lip service to the job in the name of peace.
But Zane did not attack, rather doing on the evasive than the offensive. His liquid form shot between the soliders’ legs, gone and lost in the shadows before anyone could truly tell what had happened.
Rei stared into my eyes, lost in utter bewilderment. Neither of us knew what to make of my throwing myself before him, breaking every rule of our working relationship. I hadn’t acted as his queen. I’d acted as his dearest friend.
Rei reacted as my guard, pushing me aside and scouring the room with his eyes. Checking to make sure the room was secure before checking to be certain I was unhurt. The guards scattered around the room and hall, people spilling out at the noise and ruckus. Zane appeared behind a wall of guards, Mistari standing firm between the avians and serpiente. The tigers ushered us all back into our rooms, effectively placing us all under arrest.
Locking me into the room with Rei.