Return to Waiting for Dani Chapter One



Waiting for Dani
CHAPTER TWO: LESSONS

Author: JustSkipIt
Rating: PG
Feedback: 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.


I can never remember a time when Dani wasn't with me. She and I and Donnie and later the three of us and Faith and Anne. We two rolled and played in my rooms before we could crawl, crawled when we could, and walked within days of each other: me late for my months and she early. When they were born Anne and Faith were placed in my rooms, on my rugs and the four of us happily slept, ate, and grew together. Even later with Donnie in his rooms, Dani and I in mine, and Anne and Faith in theirs, it seemed the five of us were constantly together.

As a child, I could detect no difference in my father's treatment or love for any of us. I don't even think I understood for many years our various relationships. And while Melanie was only mother to the twins, she cared for, loved, and instructed all of us. I certainly didn't notice that my clothes were finer, more ornate than the other chlidrens' nor that Dani's were the least ornate. We five toddled through the manor terrorizing servants, breaking crystals left within our reach, and pulling on the dogs' and cats' tails with wild abandon. It never occurred to us that someone had to clean up in our wake and I'm not entirely sure that Anne understands this truth now.

The kitchens were a haven for us. We ran in and through them playing hiding games from each other or in escaping Melanie, D'Shel, D'rs, or a host of other guardians and would-be guardians. The cooks were always a soft touch for a drink of sweet goat milk, a hot bun, or a nibble of sausage and they found Dani so charming that we would set her up to go in the kitchen as we hid beneath the table before she understood the words we trained her to say. Her bright red-hair, such contrast to our blondes and brown, brought her renown and adoration in the house. Occasionally I heard mutterings of a Northern land and mystery.

Donnie was oldest and a boy and my father would take him for long rides in the forest teaching him hunting and tracking. And none of our lessons had begun formally yet. Yet, it seemed that every action was a sort of lesson. As we walked we began to understand who was who in the house and how to detect a person's rank by observing others behavior toward him. We saw D'rs, Melanie, and my father deal with service people, vendors, and other land-holders. Even Melanie's girl, D'elam, showed us how to interact with the other mark-bound servants. She after all had four marks, second only to father's man and D'rs.

Donnie's lessons began and a tutor came from town every day on his horse and met with the young boy in Donnie's rooms. The rest of us saw less of him from then on but after his lessons he always came to play with us.

Before my own lessons started, my father came to my rooms one day. Dani and I were playing a dress-up game and when my father came in he stopped in the doorway and watched us. Dani spotted him first and ran to him. He picked her up and swung her in the air before hiding her behind his back. "Tara, where did Dani go?"

"She's behind your back," I shouted as I jumped up and down on my feet, waiting for my turn to be swung into his arms.

He smiled and turned a complete circle, exposing a giggling redheaded child to my view but not finding her himself. "I didn't see her," he insisted.

"Daddy," I yelled pulling on his shirt, "you're holding her behind your back. You will have to set her down to see her again."

"Dani!" he yelled. "Where are you?"

Everyone said that I had a wonderful pout and I decided to put it to great use. "Daddy. Please give her back to me. She's mine and I can't live without her." I stuck out my lip and sat down on the floor pretending to cry. At six I couldn't have imagined the truth of either of those statements.

My father swung Dani back over his head and set her in front of me. "Well, then Miss Tara Maclay, daughter of T'rese Maclay, I can no more deny you that which you love than I could myself. Here is your Dani."

What had begun as a game with my father had turned into an emotional event for me. I reached up to grasp Dani and pull her to me, running my small hands through her hair and whispering to her that she could never leave me. She turned toward me and embraced me back vowing that she would never even think of it.

Comforted I jumped to my feet and took my father's hands in my own. He repeated his actions, swinging me in the air and hiding me behind his back. Dani pleaded for my return and he finally did so but without quite the ceremony.

Then he leaned on the doorframe and smiled his smile. "I have a present for you my daughter, in honor of your lessons beginning next week."

I jumped up and down clapping my hands before extending them and closing my eyes. "I want it. I want it," I chanted.

"Come then." He picked me up in one arm and Dani in the other and carried us through the castle.

"Lord Maclay," Melanie interrupted our journey, "I can not find your youngest child anywhere."

My father laughed. "She's probably in a tree again. If I see her, I'll shoot her down and send the pieces home."

Melanie returned my father's infectious laughter. "Please catch her as she falls then. She is supposed to be napping with Anne."

My father didn't break stride in carrying us out through the kitchen, snagging three sweet buns on our way and passing one to each of us. The servants bowing down to him returned to their duties as soon as we were out of the room.

My father was a wonderful tease and he decided to start as we walked. "I said to myself, 'self. What should I get my oldest daughter? Would she like a ship?'"

I interrupted excitedly. "There is no water here. I would have no place to sail." Besides Donnie, myself, and the twins, I don't think anyone else would have been impertinent or stupid enough to interrupt my father, even if he was just teasing. But I had no idea of this. Many years later, I remember that Dani never once interrupted him and wonder how she knew so early this boundary.

My father just continued. "Then I said to myself, 'what about a dragon? They are quite plentiful this time of year and I could get a very good deal on one in the next village.'" Dani and I laughed at the mental image of my father bringing a dragon home on a leash like a new hunting dog. "Or a flying machine so she could traverse the lands in moments?"

All laughing, we arrived at the corral. I could feel Dani's trembling as she reached her hand behind my father's back and took mine. In the corral stood two ponies, each saddled with leather bearing the Maclay family crest. My father set us on the top rail and climbed over into the corral, bringing the horses close to allow us to pet their noses. "What are their names?" I wanted to know.

He looked genuinely curious about this question. "I didn't ask them. Blasted." He leaned over and mock-whispered in the horses' ears, allowing us to hear this very question. Then he put his ear near their mouths and laughed. "They said they have no names yet and you should give them names."

I leaned over and whispered into Dani's ear for a conference on the names of the horses. She was either too scared of them or otherwise too reticent and insisted that I name both horses. I looked a long time at my companion and considered many names-Beauty, Baby Girl, Love-but couldn't think of saying those to my horse. Finally I announced my choice. "This one is Dream and this one is Hope."

The ponies whinnied and my father declared that to be their approval. "Are you ready?"

I nodded and Dani did too but I could tell she was very afraid. "Maybe we could ride together this time?"

He glanced at Dani and nodded his approval of the idea. Then he placed us on the horse, me behind and Dani in front of the pommel and wrapped my hands around her small waist. He handed me the reins and put a hand on the pony's bridle. "Hold on," he instructed as he began to lead us about the corral, leaving the second horse standing at the fence.

Dani trembled in my arms and I attempted to comfort her. I remembered once we had snuck off during a celebration for Donnie and she was convinced that one of the ponies had tried to bite her arm off. I argued with her that he just wanted some of the cake crumbs on her shoulder but she would have none of that explanation-still won't. I leaned forward in the saddle to press my body against hers and placed my mouth near her ear to begin whispering to her. I don't know what came over me but I began to chant a melody that I'd never heard. I could imagine colors coming from my mouth and filling her body with relaxation and it seemed to be working. I noticed my father looking at me curiously and then nodding but he said nothing. I didn't have any understanding of the meaning of my song. All I knew was that this, her, us, was what should be. That we should always be together, the two of us and that nothing could separate us and that I wanted most in the world for her to be happy with me. I wanted her to be mine forever.

As I was melting into a fantasy of my Dani, we suddenly all jerked our heads up as we heard a shout from the side of the corral. Faith leapt down from her perch on a low tree branch and ran for the fence, quickly scaling it and jumping onto the other pony's back. She grabbed the reins and gave a kick and the pony trotted around the circuit as Faith whooped and hollered. My father stood and watched dumbfounded as his youngest child went around the corral like she had been born on that horse.

I felt Dani's body tense and I suddenly picked up an impression from her mind. I don't know any better way to describe it. I could feel her fear. She was afraid to be on the horse but more than that, she was afraid that Faith and I would now ride without her, leaving her behind. I leaned forward and attempted to reassure her. "She's just my baby sister. You are my girl."

My father's attention was on our dark-haired hellion and Dani leaned slightly to the side and placed a soft kiss on my cheek. I still remember coherent thoughts at the time leaving me completely to be replaced by wishes that she would do nothing but that for the rest of time.

Laughing my father shouted across the corral. "You are supposed to be napping with Anne."

Faith rode alongside the fence and mounted the top rail without stopping the pony before shouting back. "Anne needs her beauty sleep. I don't." She was up the nearest tree and out of sight before any of us could answer.

"I don't know whether to be proud as hell at her or appalled at the way she runs free." My father shook his head and slapped his knee before telling us that it was getting late and we needed to wash up for dinner.

I don't want to give the impression that Dani never learned to ride. She wasn't like Faith but no one has ever been like Faith. Within months of starting, and father had to get Faith her pony or Dani would never have had one to ride, she could outride all us children and most of the adults. By the time I had twelve summers, only father's best hunters, the very men who had been with him when he met my mother, could equal her at riding or tracking.

Dani was a perfectly adequate rider once she got over her initial reluctance. We rode virtually every day following lessons and agreed that it was a good chance for me to rest my brain. Sometimes I led and sometimes she did and sometimes we just allowed the horses to wander. Most frequently we rode for a while, then stopped as Dani climbed from her horse to mine leaving Hope to graze as we rode together into the waning sun. I don't think she was scared any longer but we both craved the closeness of our rides and wouldn't be without them.

My lessons began the week after father gave me the horses. A tutor came from town every day on a horse, usually greeted first by Faith in bare feet, and met me in my rooms. Sometimes Dani was with me during the lessons, resting on her pad or straightening the room and sometimes she was not. I didn't know where she was and didn't think to ask. It was, I guess, an example of my self-absorption that I didn't acknowledge that she had any existence apart from me. While I sat in attention at my desks as the tutor repeated and repeated the lessons, Dani was in the room or elsewhere and I didn't give any conscious thought to her whereabouts.

One day, my tutor and I left for a walk around the grounds to take in the beautiful spring weather. We were working on Latin verbs and I felt that their staleness was particularly good for a long walk. I came back to my rooms quite tired from so much intense thought. Once I'd bid the tutor from my outer room, I wandered into my bed chamber. There, to my surprise, stood a large four-poster bed. Until this time, Dani and I had slept on a small mattress on the floor. Children flop about quite violently and it was tradition in our household to use mattresses such as this to avoid injuries in the night. Rather than replacing the bed, I found my mattress folded in half and still at the foot of the bed. After dinner, I returned to my rooms and prepared for sleeping. Dani set my hair, helped me into my nightgown, and kissed my cheek before lying down on the mat.

"Dani," I said, "what are you doing?"

"Going to bed, Miss," she answered. "As should you." She waved her small hand at my new bed which looked the size of the ocean and just as lonely to me.

"But I can't sleep up here alone," I protested.

Dani stood up and led me by my hands to the bed. She helped me under the covers and then promised that she would stay with me until I was asleep. She was a terrible singer but what she made up for in tone, she had in determination. She began singing and I was soon asleep. I woke in the morning to find myself alone in the bed. I cast my hand about to find the bed cold except for the spot where I slept. Dani was not in the room but when I climbed down, I felt the floor pad and found it warm from her tiny body.

I sat on the bed trying to understand what I was missing. It was as if many people were in collaboration on a set of rules that I had yet to comprehend.

Not much later, perhaps a few weeks, I was studying in my room and Dani was brushing my clothes. I was reciting (Latin verbs again). "Amo, amas, amat, amatis, amamus, amant. Amo, amas, amat, amatis, amamus, amant." I closed my eyes and continued repeating the declination. When I opened them I glanced down to see Dani kneeling at my side. She was facing the same direction as me with her eyes cast toward the floor. I laughed at first thinking that she was having a joke on me.

"Ok, Dani, what are you doing?" She didn't answer and I repeated her name. Still no answer. Finally, I tapped her on the shoulder repeating her name.

Dani sat up and addressed me. "Miss Tara? I believe you have the verbs out of order. It should be Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant." I still felt befuddled about this new and very strange kneeling behavior not to mention that she had now called me "Miss" twice. I shook my head and opened my Latin grammar. She was right, of course. I thanked her and then asked her to sit with me.

We moved to the bed where she sat on the edge and did not make good eye contact. "Please look at me, Dani." She did exactly as I asked. "What is going on? Why were you kneeling?"

She squinched her eyebrow down in a way that made her look even younger than her seven years. "I have lessons too, Miss Tara."

I still didn't quite understand her. "You have lessons with who? Is that why you're not here for my lessons? I thought you wanted to learn with me. Where have you been?"

"I see D'elam every day," Dani explained as if she thought I should know this already.

"D'elam? Why D'elam?" My face must have been a picture of puzzlement.

"Perhaps you should speak to Miss Melanie?" Dani looked away and I saw a moment of pure pain and embarrassment in her eyes.

It was a look I never wanted to see again and I couldn't help but lean over and press my lips to her cheek. "You're my Dani," I whispered as I let my fingertips fall through her beautiful hair.

"I know," she said and there was something in her tone that I couldn't identify.

After dinner, I went to Melanie's rooms. D'elam met me and allowed me inside. Melanie welcomed me and gave me a kiss on each cheek before inviting me to sit at her table. D'elam brought us each a cup of tea and I thought about the fact that no one ever seemed to ask how I liked my tea, nor Melanie for that matter, yet it always seemed completely perfect. I didn't know how to start so I just blurted out what came to my mind. "Dani has been very weird lately."

Melanie took a long sip of tea and seemed to study me intently. "Weird how?"

"Well when I got the bed, she was strange, calling me 'Miss' and not getting into bed with me and today she kneeled, actually kneeled down to tell me something." I didn't say that Dani knew the verb declination correctly while I did not.

Melanie nodded her head. "That's good. Her lessons are progressing nicely then. I shall have to let D'elam know." She took a breath and muttered that D'elam would correct her about the kneeling though.

"What lessons? What is progressing?" I shook my head trying to understand if everyone in the house had suddenly gone mad or something.

"How old are you, Miss Tara?"

"What?" I shuddered at the strangeness of the question. "I ..." I drew myself up to my full seated height. "I have nearly eight summers."

Melanie nodded again and set down her tea cup. She leaned across and took my hands. "Miss Tara, each of us has a role in life. Your role is to be Lady of this estate or of another estate if you choose to marry so. Your destiny was created many years ago."

I had heard my parents' legend many times. "I've heard the legend."

"It could be very soon, as soon as four or five summers that you will be ready to take your marks, Miss Tara."

I nodded.

"When you are ready to take them, Dani will need to be ready too." Melanie's words didn't make any sense to me.

"Dani's marks?" I shook my head. "What marks are you talking about? I thought only we," I waved my hand between Melanie and myself, "took marks."

Melanie pursed her lips. Just at that instant Anne came bounding through the door followed by Faith. "She took my doll!" the blonde wailed.

D'elam quickly corralled both girls and admonished them before sending them with one of the other servants to have their baths. Then she returned to our room and waited patiently.

"D'elam, do you mind?" Melanie asked.

"Not at all, Miss." D'elam approached the table and stood with her right side closer to the edge. Melanie reached out and gently pulled up on her cover and down on the waistband of her trousers. I tilted my eye to look at her hip. As I did, Melanie put her right hand on the table. The marks matched perfectly. Every aspect of Melanie's palm's decoration was mirrored on D'elam's hip. You could even see the four fingerprints, looking almost as if someone had grasped her too tightly and left a bruise.

I tilted my head as I looked between the two marks. I could feel a slight tingling. Like the static after a rainstorm or when you shuffle your feet on the rugs and then touch metal.

"Thank you, D'elam," Melanie said. D'elam adjusted her clothing, bowed slightly and retreated from the room.

"I don't understand," I told my aunt.

"D'elam is my mark-bonded servant." I stared at her. "She has been bonded to me since I took my marks."

"We have many servants in the house," I said. I still didn't understand what this had to do with Dani or her strange behavior.

"Yes, we have many servants but not all are mark-bonded to one of us." I took another sip of my tea trying to understand this explanation. Melanie took a deep breath. "Your mother could have done a better job with this explanation. We need... someone who is loyal to us. To each of us personally. Someone to serve and accompany us always. A servant of the family is just that. But you, a member of the nobility need someone to serve you personally. This is what it means to be mark-bonded."

"Dani?"

"Once your servant is mark-bonded to you, it would be literally impossible for her to leave you. To cross you. To fail you. Actually impossible." She leaned down her head, trying to see my eyes beneath the veil of my hair. "Dani is yours, Miss Tara."

I could feel hot tears rising to my eyes even though I wasn't sure why. "But sh-sh-she's my friend. I love her."

Melanie brushed my hair away from my eyes and behind my ears. "As you should. And you will take care of her, Miss Tara. Bonded to you she will have five marks. It is the greatest honor, the greatest protection we can offer those we hold." She took a breath. "You will always take care of her as you would your most valuable possession and in return, she will serve you with her every breath and movement."

I wanted to cry but I didn't want to do it here. The strange thought crossed my mind that Dani would hold me if I asked her. That she would have to. I thought of asking Melanie if this meant that Dani didn't love me as I loved her but I knew that wasn't the right question. Melanie leaned over and took my hands. "Miss Tara, you have your lessons and Dani has hers. You are very complimentary and will make a good pair."

She stood and the interview was very obviously over.

I bowed quickly and left her rooms, making my way back to my own, I have no idea how. By the time I was inside my bed chamber, hot tears were streaming down my face. I stumbled forward, seeing Dani sitting up on her mattress and opening her arms toward me. I fell into them, wiping my face on her nightgown and muttering to her. "It's not true. It can't be true." I kept repeating it over and over.

"It's ok, Miss Tara." Dani leaned against the bed, stroking my hair and face and back and whispering to me until I relaxed and fell asleep.

I woke in my own bed, alone and immediately felt both hurt and angry. I quelled those feelings and sat up. The instant I sat up, Dani came in. She bowed and walked over to the bed. "How are you feeling, Miss Tara?" she asked. "Would you like to wash before breakfast?"

I grabbed her hands and pulled her onto the bed with me. "Dani." She didn't look me in the eye so I said her name again, more forcefully. "Dani. Please look at me." She looked up and I noticed the red rims around her eyelids. I leaned forward and kissed each tender eyelid. "My girl, you've been crying." I hugged her tight. "It's ok, Dani. It just means we can't be parted."

She swallowed and nodded. "I know, Miss Tara. We'll never be parted." I hugged her again and after a few minutes she again prodded me to get up and moving for the day.

I was so na´ve. I had no understanding. None at all. And... and I loved her so fiercely. I remember actually feeling that I would stop breathing without her. That if she were not in the world, I could not be either. And that depth of feeling was before we were mark-bonded. That was how I felt at eight summers. I look back on it now and am ashamed of myself. I had no understanding of her feelings. No hint of empathy for her.

I wonder if she has any empathy for me now.


Continue to Waiting for Dani Chapter Three


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