Runner-up the I Am You Know award for Best Plot and Best Drama.

Waiting for Dani

Author: JustSkipIt
Rating: PG
Feedback: Yes, please. Please leave feedback on the Waiting for Dani thread on the Kitten Board.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own Willow and Tara and the Buffyverse. I'm not saying this universe is totally original but I didn't steal it from any author or creator that I know of. No copyright infringement is meant by this fic and I will not make any money from it.
Distribution: Kitten Board, Through the Looking Glass, Mystic Muse. Everyone else, send me a note.
Summary: Tara waits. As she does, she explains why.
Note: I expect this story will have 7-10 total updates. Right now I have four written and intend to post every week to start then possibly will drop to every other week.
I don't like the title very much but I think that I like it better than my alternative title: "My girl'. If you have a suggestion, PM me and maybe I'll use yours and give you credit.
If you have any questions, please ask.
I love you, Rachel and Asher.

I sit in the dark, my knees pulled up high in front of me and my arms wrapped around them. I am looking out the window into the darkness but not seeing. I could light a candle or twenty but I can't work up the will to do it. My girl, my new girl, will be up shortly. She will, no doubt, make haste in putting the room to order-light the lamps, pull me from my chair and tidy my hair and dress, fold down the bed, take me from the room and offer me any number of delicacies. The quail have been quite rich and plentiful this season or there's always duck. She whistles as she works which is more irritating than it should be.

Everything is in question. And that I, being who I am, is sitting in this state is against everything I've known. Against my family and breeding and what is so in this world. Maclays don't sit in the darkness waiting for their destiny to come to them. Maclays go after their destiny. Hunt it down. Own their destiny. For always and ever. But not this Maclay and not this day.

Perhaps I should explain who I am.

I am Tara Maclay.

I am Lady T'ra Maclay, magic practitioner and daughter of Lady T'rese Maclay, magic practitioner and daughter of Lady T'bitha Moster, magic practitioner. First daughter to Lady T'rese Maclay through Lord D'vid Maclay, first son of Lady T'my Maclay, magic practitioner.

If I were attending a coronation, ball, or other formal event, my title would be longer but I think you get the picture, as it were.

I have 20 summers to my age and most of this autumn season behind me. A few months ago I would have been out riding or hunting at this time of day. But the days are short and the air has turned cold and the chill has crept into this room. Oh yes, I'm sure my girl will stoke the fire when she comes.

Speaking of the devil, I hear her heavy step on the stairs now. I must remember to train her to tread more lightly. Or ask D'ni to do it.

But then, if D'ni was here, I wouldn't be sitting in the dark now would I?

My father's love for my mother was legendary. Literally. The song, which I heard from before I could walk or talk or crawl, before I took my first breath in this world, tells of their first meeting and subsequent second meeting.

My grandfather, Lord D'mitri Maclay, was six moons still from the heart spasm which killed him and placed my father as Lord Maclay. The estate was in good order, the skies were clear, and my father decided to go hunting in the afternoon, taking with him only three men-one his mark-bonded servant-the other two gamesmen of the estate. They began by tracking a stag but realized after a few hours that they were not the predators from which the stag flew. Rather, they found themselves chasing an elusive blue panther-so named for the fur so black it appeared blue in the sunlight. Eventually they dismounted and left my father's man with the horses, instructing him to follow closely enough that he could hear them. My father's man, unlike this new girl, could lead four horses through dense forest without so much as snapping a twig.

The wood wound and wound in on itself in such a way that at times the men felt they had entered a fairy world. At others they felt sure they should be back to where they started, but everywhere they looked, they saw something new. My father had hunted and explored these woods many times as had each of his companions. He considered the land his flesh, the trees his bones, and the rivers his blood so much a part of the Maclay family was it. But this was an entirely new land-one on which he was sure he'd never ventured before. All three men began to feel that the large cat was playing a game with them, leading them to some unknown destination. If not for the position of the sun, they would have sworn that they had been days or weeks in the wood. Their rations had run out and they now sought fresh water along with their prey. They were not only unwilling to give up the chase but suspected that they were also unable.

One of the gamesmen passed close to a towering oak tree and tore his heavy leather jacket, suffering a deep cut on his arm. He swore the rest of his life that the tree had moved to bite him and that only his quick movement allowed him to keep his arm.

My father could feel the fear building in his hunting party and knowing his responsibilities in such a situation, he did as he felt required: he reassured them that the cat had a purpose and that to doubt that purpose was to doubt The Creator herself. More than once, he stopped the group to offer supplication to the forest and sky. He vowed that when they found water he would know his life entire. All three men agreed that when he made this vow, the cat turned slowly around and looked at him. Then it turned and bounded away once again.

Discarding any thoughts of keeping quiet, the men set off at a run to chase the cat. Their bows and arrows were safely tucked into the quivers on their backs and each had a scabbard with a short dagger in his boot. While the woods were generally safe, one could never be completely assured of the safety of the Lord's son. Why in the past few months they had heard rumblings of a land battle in the Northern territories. It had not happened yet, but those who followed such things expected a battle in the next few seasons.

The men ran and ran, bounding up a winding path and climbing higher and higher into the side of a cliff. Blood seeped from the injured man's arm to the ground but there was no stopping. Finally all four men, my father's servant having abandoned any pretense of following quietly, burst into a clearing. They stopped smartly, their shock evident on their faces.

In the clearing, at the edge of a crystal clear stream sat a girl-my mother it should be no surprise. Her right hand, she extended palm side toward the men, showing her mark. The panther was nestled against her knee as if he was a harmless housecat and her left hand was just in front of the panther's mouth. Suspended in mid-air in front of the panther and obviously extending from my mother's power was a small bowl, made of nothing but crystal clear water. A waterfall came from her left hand into the bowl and the spill-over from the bowl fell into the stream.

My father and his men immediately bowed deeply and held their position for three heart-beats. The one mark-bound servant, D'rek, fell to his knees, bowed, and stayed there. The others extended their left hands in a mirror of my mother's action. While the marks on my father's hand were extensive and elaborate, indicating his great wealth and lineage, they paled to those he saw before him. He quickly assessed, seeing that she was third in a direct line of magic users, unmarried, first daughter of a Lord and Lady. My mother assessed a similar strength in his marks and then both seemed to take in all of the other: faces, bodies, the very air around them.

"Prrr says that you came between her and her dinner," my mother said quietly. The panther's name sounded more like the sound a big cat makes than a name but my father and his men understood.

Again he bowed deeply. "Please let her know that we are very sorry. We did not know she lived in this wood."

My mother looked at the cat for a few moments, then smiled and nodded. "This is not our usual way but the wood looked so beautiful that we decided to ... explore." As she spoke she moved her hand and the bowl slowly dissolved into the stream from which it had come. She dropped both hands into her lap. After a moment she stood and straightened her skirt, brushing the grass and dirt from it.

"Please," my father asked, "may we see you home?"

The cat and my mother each let out a small giggle at the request but did not insult my father with an outright laugh. "I would be honored but we may move faster than you can keep up. Please come Thursday next." Before my father could answer, she and the cat had vanished into the trees.

None of the men spoke although my father motioned that his man could get up as he stared at the spot where the woman had disappeared. "Everyone saw that right?" He turned to his companions. When they nodded he smiled. "I'm going to marry that woman."

His hunting partners guffawed and clapped him on the back. "Of course you are young Maclay! Hip hip!" Seeing that my father would have nothing to think of but this woman until he saw her again, they gave up their holiday and mounted their horses for home.

Once home, my father could speak of nothing but the beautiful and powerful woman he had met. He hadn't even found out her name or given his but he knew that they could meet again. The next Thursday a traveling expedition set out from my grandfather's estate. The processional included my grandfather and grandmother, my father and his three brothers, his sister T'solde, a crew of over 20 free men and mark-bound servants, and the most highly regarded bard in all the land. All rode the finest horses, in full dress regalia. They brought with them a meal of 7 pigs, 30 chickens, 3 cows, countless bushels of corn, wheat, and berries. Wagons in the rear brought barrels of ale and bottles of fine wine, the finest made on my grandfather's estate.

My grandmother, Lady T'my Maclay, a powerful magic practitioner, led the expedition from a perch atop her elephant. She asked no direction from my father nor communicated any information regarding their journey. Just behind my grandmother rode my father's sister T'Solde, now Lady of a neighboring Estate and herself a powerful force of magic. Following her was my grandfather, then my father and his brothers on their horses. Each woman and man's mark-bound servant rode along side him or her, horse-lengths back. The rest of the caravan was comprised of the servants and free-men who worked for my family.

At high noon exactly according to the family astronomer, my grandmother atop her elephant stepped into the same clearing in which my father had met my mother. She stopped her animal and waited as the rest of the processional assumed appropriate positions next to or behind her, mark-bound servants bowing their heads to the ground. Those who possessed noble marks on their hands extended their hands in front of them to display their position and introduce their arrival.

Arrayed in front of them, in every piece of finery they seemed to possess, was my mother's family. My maternal grandmother, Lady T'bitha Moster, stood a position of honor and leadership mirroring my father's mother. To her immediate right was my mother and next to her, my mother's sister, Melanie. To her left, her husband, Lord Moster (my grandfather), and their sons. Like my father's family, my mother's had brought numerous employees and mark-bound servants.

The assemblage stood still for a number of minutes, studying the marks on each other's hands. As now, then, the practice of reading marks of nobility served as an introduction. By studying the elaboration, design, and extent of the marks, you can learn a person's nobility, rank, lineage, and power. My grandfathers could note each other's rank as Lord not only by the elaboration and decoration of their family crest but by the dark prints on each of their fingertips and thumb. My grandmothers likewise held five prints as well as indication of their magical power and lineage. My mother's hand showed even greater magical power and lineage than her mother's but only four prints, indicating a non-Lady but magic practitioner. My father's hand also showed four prints, declaring him to be the future Lord Maclay as did my mother's oldest brother. Others--my uncles and aunts--held three prints.

I can remember as a child studying my hand. I would turn the right palm toward myself and trace it with the fingertips of my left hand. What would my marks look like? When would I get them? How would they appear? Before I understood what it would take to receive them, I thought they would spontaneously appear. At my father's knee as he read a story, I held and studied the marks on his left hand, tracing each line and curlicue with my fingertips. Now I can trace the marks which completely fill my palm and fingers. Unmarried, still I have been Lady Maclay - holding five prints - since the taking of my marks. I've seen reproductions of my mother's marks and they were beautiful indeed. Mine is more elaborate still than either of my parents as befits a fourth-generation magic practitioner, Lady of the estate, first daughter of the Lord of the estate. The closest mark I've ever seen is that on the back of my father's hand-the marriage marks which intertwined his marks with my mothers. Mine are more elaborate still than those. Even now, I'm not sure I fully understand the magic bound within the marks.

And D'ni's marks? So like mine, but not on her hand. She took her marks shortly after mine. But that's another tale. For another time.

The inspection completed and marks obviously approved, my grandmother's servant sensed her wishes and quickly placed a step next to her elephant so that my grandmother could dismount. The rest of the party followed suit and as one bowed to their counterparts, holding the bow for the necessary and respectful three heartbeats. When they stood again, my mother's family returned the honor-their action indicating an acceptance of the meeting.

At the command of my grandmothers and their mark-bound servants, the servants and workers quickly dispersed to their duties in preparing the lodging and feast. My father's and mother's brothers gathered and mounted a hunting expedition. My father and both of my grandfathers touched marks and introduced themselves verbally using their full formal titles before stepping to the side and taking the seats which their servants placed for them.

Finally my grandmothers stepped together and joined their palms as they verbally introduced themselves giving their full formal titles. My mother's mother introduced her followed by my aunt Melanie. This introduction was the first time my father had heard my mother's first name: T'rese. My father's mother, in turn introduced her daughter, my aunt T'solde, and herself.

As the other women waited, Melanie stepped to the side and drew a circle. Once complete, she sat outside the circle. My grandmothers, mother, and Aunt T'solde stepped into the circle and completed the casting.

Magic is a rarity in our society. In order for a woman to possess active magic, to be able to harness and grow its power, she must have three characteristics. First, she must have a magic user in her direct maternal lineage. Her mother, grandmother, or farther back must have been a magic user. It is not enough to have a sister or aunt who was a magic user. Second, she must have a magic practitioner in her paternal lineage. Again, his mother, grandmother or farther back must have had magic. And third, she must be her father's first female issue. Any prior female issue, legitimate or illegitimate, magic user or non-magic user will cause the child to be a carrier of the magical gene but not a magic practitioner.

So my aunt Melanie could not cast although she carries a strong magical tradition and could pass it on to her daughters. No man could cast either although my father passed his magic on to me and my brother, D'nnie can pass his magic on to his first daughter. Likewise, my sisters-while not active magic practitioners-can pass their magic on to their daughters depending on their respective husband's lineage. Because magic was initially a characteristic only of nobility, it is still concentrated chiefly among our ranks. Some believe that a free-woman of no rank and certainly a mark-bound servant can not be a magic practitioner.

I once asked Melanie as she conducted my lesson how it felt to not be able to perform the simplest spell in spite of knowing how to do it all and the look of pain and sadness on her face made me, even the impertinent child I was, swear regret for such a question.

But really, my brother, my sisters, Melanie teaching me magic? That again comes later in this tale. And it will because we must get back to D'ni and why I'm waiting, listening to those too loud steps on the stair.

As my father, grandfathers, and Melanie watched the four women in the circle began a joint spell to demonstrate the power and delicacy of their magic. Taking turns they conjured water from air, fountains of swans floating in the grass before floating to the skies. They brought rains from heaven and stopped it over their heads, caused grapes and berries to sprout from beneath their seats. My grandmother conjured the illusion of a herd of elephants and my mother brought her familiar, Prr, into the circle to be petted by each of the others. Lights filled the sky, illuminating the gathering dusk enough to allow work on the feast to continue. T'solde caused music to begin to roll from the trees and servants danced as they worked.

While the rest of the gathering met, danced, ate, and eventually slept, the women remained in the circle creating greater and greater magic.

My father bowed down before my grandfather, Lord Moster, promising that the first daughter born him by my mother would be a powerful magician. He swore on his honor and the drawing of his breath that there was no chance that he had another. My grandfather, Lord Maclay, added his own vow to strengthen his son's.

At daybreak, a thousand doves rose from the lines of the circle and flew over the clearing before dispersing.

My grandmothers broke the circle and took my mother by the hand. My father's sister and Melanie each placing her right hand on my mother's shoulder blades. They crossed the clearing to where my father waited. My mother's mother took my father's hands, my father's mother my mother's hands and they placed their marks palm to palm as they introduced my parents.

My parents were joined eight moons later, the original date postponed following my grandfather's sudden departure from this world and my father's ascension to Lord of the estate. The magic performed at the joining ceremony made that at my parents's second meeting look like the work of a toddler. In all, the wedding boasted eight active magic practitioners and the ensuing celebration lasted seven days. My father, his marks freshly augmented with his ascension to Lord of the estate accepted his wedding marks with nothing but smiles and my mother could be seen to cry tears of joy as the Maclay marks were intertwined with her own. Their mark-bound servants accompanied them to the tent to accept their own elevated-fifth level-marks.

My brother, D'nnie, was born ten and a half moons after the wedding celebration. His birth was no disappointment given that my parents knew they could and would have more children. Within a twelve-month, my mother was pregnant again. This time, however, she had more pain, more discomfort, and even the greatest healers in the land could not help her. At eight moons, she struggled many hours to birth me. Her energy was only enough that she held me once and kissed my forehead and right hand before leaving this world forever.

My father bellowed like a wounded and tortured animal. Then he walked into the room and took me from my mother's grasp. He leaned over to kiss her on the lips and whispered to her. Then he looked in my eyes and promised me every happiness he had felt since the moment he had first seen my mother.

I can only begin, now sitting in this chair in the darkness, to start to understand the gravity of my father's pain in that moment. To love so deeply, so purely, so completely and have that taken from you so quickly... I don't know how he bore it all these years, nor how I will if that is the will of The Creator.

I've never known if my father and Melanie were brought together by politics or grief. Did they love each other? Do they? Is it the love of my mother which binds them together even now? Their wedding was rushed and private, my father taking on no greater marks although Melanie took on the Maclay ones as well as her fourth finger. I've never felt jealousy from her although she'll never take on that fifth mark. Even if I'd never ascended to my Ladyship, it would go to Donnie's wife.

The twins were born 18 moons after me-Anne so much like Melanie and Faith so much like father.

And D'ni?

I've never asked her because she would know no better than I how she came to be here. I've asked Melanie and D'Shel the story over and over. Each time, I've varied questions slightly, wanting to understand the shadings of the tale. Although it is not such a tale as mine, I suspect it is highly important. How could it not be?

I was two months old, tended by one of the servants. She was mark-bound to the house, having been formerly bound to my grandmother. While she still retained her five marks and all the rights of them, she was no longer my grandmother's to command with my grandmother gone. In attempting to decide who was the most appropriate caretaker for me, my father and T'solde had settled on D'rs. We were in the kitchen, where apparently I enjoyed the heat of the ovens and the noise of the many cooks. There was a knock at the back door and D'rs answered it, allowing in a woman, dressed in rags but clean and respectful. The woman dropped to her knees and addressed D'rs appropriately, begging for an audience with the Lord of the estate.

Taking pity on the poor soul, D'rs allowed her into the kitchen and quickly had someone bring her stew and bread. The woman accepted them and ate hungrily. When she thanked D'rs she explained that her baby had not had much to eat in the last few days and leaned back to show her rounded belly. D'rs fed her again and allowed her to tidy up before leading D'Shel into my father's study.

The woman bowed to my father and awaited his attention which he quickly and compassionately gave. Then she very honestly explained her situation. She claimed to be from The Estate of Roses, to the far North, was with child, as D'rs had seen, and wanted only safety and the best possible placement for her daughter (for she was sure to have a daughter she vowed). She had heard of my father's unending love for my mother and for his baby (this being me). Tears leaked from her eyes as she explained that she had milk for a baby but no baby to nurse and could nourish me.

Without taking details from her but accepting her honesty and desperation, my father agreed to take the two souls into his household. D'Shel accepted her marks that very night although both she and my father swear he did not take his marks-rights, then or ever.

It was of course understood that if born a girl, the child would be mine. When my D'ni was born she was placed at D'Shel's other breast and into my crib.

Continue to Waiting for Dani Chapter Two

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