Sabriel does not sleep well. She dreams, always, of running water.
Lirael can feel her golden hand, even if it’s not attached to her. Sam taps the knuckles lightly and she feels the ghost of the pressure, at the end of her arm where her hand should be.
“Make a fist for me?” He asks, bent over Lirael’s hand at his work desk as Lirael lounges on his bed, cradling the stump of her hand carefully.
Operating the hand when she isn’t wearing it requires an odd trick of the mind, believing in the phantom feeling of her severed hand while simultaneously thinking of moving the golden hand which she can clearly see several feet away on Sam’s desk. The golden fingers of her hand twitch and then clench into a fist as Lirael sits up, holding her injured arm by the elbow.
“Good, good,” murmurs Sam, more to himself than to her. He presses delicately at the knuckles, his touch sending the charter marks of the surface rippling. Lirael had thought that the marks would decay with time, the delicate spells making permanence difficult, but her hand is almost a charter stone in itself, in much the same way as Sam, and the spells stay strong, even as the hinges of the finger joints get squeaky.
Sam, without warning, suddenly draws the symbol for Sycel, smoothness, and lets the sibilance drop off his tongue. The mark floats from his fingers to Lirael’s knuckles, embedding itself within the ever-changing pattern of marks. The sensation is odd; one of being dunked in cold water, without any of the corresponding wetness. She hisses and jerks in surprise, dropping her arm.
“Sorry,” Sam says hastily. “Are you alright?.”
“No, it’s fine. Just odd.” Lirael says, rotating her shoulders against the sudden chill.
“Here, you can put it back on now,” Sam says.
Lirael rises from his bed and reaches her severed wrist out for the hand. Sam picks it up and holds it against her stump with both hands.
“Saren, Myan, Lyse,” she murmurs, drawing the minor marks of binding with her free hand. Her forehead mark flares hot and then subsidies as the hand joins to her arm. Sam leans back in his chair and smiles at her, his eyes losing the unfocused quality they gain while he works. Lirael flexes her new fingers idly.
“I don’t think they’ll freeze up again,” Sam says, meaning her fingers. “But if anything else happens, bring it to me and I’ll fix it. The central spell thread is pretty adaptable, so if I can’t be there you can probably make additions or changes yourself. Just don’t try anything too drastic, like shooting flames or something.”
Lirael chuckles and sits back down, rotating her golden hand at the wrist.
“You said you wanted to show me your plans for the gates at Hafmet?” She says when no one speaks for a moment.
“Oh, yeah!” Sam says, throwing one hand up. He pivots in his chair, digging in the accumulated piles of paper that litter his work desk. “I figured out a spell for light that I think will repel the lesser Dead but I didn’t know if it would work against Gore Crows? They might be outside its range?” He says, still digging. Lirael smiles lightly and clasps her hands together, readying herself for another enjoyable work session with Sam. She likes these, when Sam comes to her with a problem and they work through it together.
The gold of her hand has already warmed to her body temperature.
Lirael is learning about paperwork. She had thought that being Abhorsen meant other people did Sabriel’s paperwork but apparently Sabriel has her own study for that. It is large, the walls plastered over in a light yellow that reflects Belisaere’s sunlight. Lirael wonders if she could get her own study.
Sabriel’s desk is huge solid-oak, stretching the length of the long wall. Lirael’s librarian’s fingers, both flesh and gold, itch to touch the hundreds of exquisite writing tools.
Sabriel is sitting at her desk, bent studiously over a letter. Lirael stands at the corner of her desk, hands clasped behind her back. She isn’t quite sure why she’s been summoned. Sabriel has been kind to her since she came to Belisaere but in a distant, distracted way. Lirael has spent the majority of her time with Sam or, when Sam is too deep in his work to speak to, training with the Queen’s bodyguards.
Sabriel waves a hand vaguely.
“Please, sit down,” She says without looking up. “This is fiddly; I’ll just be a moment.”
There is a wooden chair angled towards Sabriel a few feet away from Lirael and she perches, carefully, on the edge. Sabriel has beautiful calligraphy, although it takes Lirael a moment to recognize the way the words change shape after they’ve been written. It’s a Charter-spelled code, she realises, and the words hide their meaning as soon as they’re written. Anyone else who hadn’t spent their adolescence studying ancient Charter books probably wouldn’t be able to recognize the subtle shift in light that the code causes. Lirael doesn’t know if Sabriel realises this, if she knows that Lirael can read the state secrets that Sabriel is slowly spelling out.
Sabriel signs the letter with a flick of her finely made pen and folds the letter over, sealing it quickly with soft wax. She turns to look at Lirael, smiling slightly in the distant, distracted way Lirael has quickly become accustomed to, and hands her a folded letter while she slowly waves the coded letter to dry the wax.
“This came by messenger today. It was addressed to the Abhorsen but it’s about time you started getting included in the official correspondence,” Sabriel says. Lirael unfolds the letter carefully. “It’s a copy of one that arrived from Ancelstierre. It disintegrated once it crossed the wall but the messenger made copies.”
The letter must once have been official but now the messenger’s scratchy handwriting simply communicates news of a vote in Ancelstierre’s Moot about allowing more immigration into the Old Kingdom.
“They’re hoping to relax the borders,” Lirael says, not quite a question. She wonders briefly if Nick will come north then, if he will choose to, finally, leave his family and cross the wall. Sabriel sighs.
“That is their aim. Ancelstierre’s own immigration problems have not gone away and they hope to lessen the pressure by convincing immigrants to keep heading north.” Sabriel says, shaking her head. “Of course, they will be no more welcomed here than in Ancelstierre.”
Lirael lays the letter on Sabriel’s desk.
“Will the vote pass?” She asks. Lirael only has a very basic understanding of Ancelstierre’s government. It had not been part of her education with the Clayr. Sabriel shrugs.
“We don’t know. But it can’t be allowed to.” Sabriel says, standing. She runs a hand through her hair nervously. “Touchstone has already asked me to go but I would like you to accompany me.”
Lirael looks up at her quickly, suddenly puzzled.
“You would like me to come with you? To Ancelstierre?” Lirael asks slowly. Sabriel nods.
“Touchstone and I, we understand now that we cannot both leave the kingdom. There is too much that could go wrong at any one time. I am loath to take both Abhorsens from the kingdom but we are as stable as we will ever be and Sam is capable of entering Death, even if it does cost him.” Sabriel pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs, before turning to smile at Lirael. “Besides, you are technically my apprentice. I have been neglecting my duties recently and I apologize for that. I would welcome the opportunity to get to know you better. Sam speaks very highly of you.”
Lirael feels oddly divorced from what Sabriel is saying. Everything seems too formal, too pre-approved and arranged. Lirael clasps her hands in front of her and nods.
“I very much like to come with you,” she says.
The journey to the perimeter is several days long. Lirael and Sabriel ride alongside their carriage, bandoliers across their body. Their entourage is mainly soldiers, eight men and two women trained with both guns and swords. They speak very little, although Sabriel seems to have already established a careful companionship with most of them.
The last time Lirael made this journey she was travelling by Paperwing in response to a very garbled message about a Free Magic being trying to cross the wall. It was also the last time she’d seen Nick. Now, she’s riding a large placid mare alongside a carriage she knows is full of clothes and other assorted items that a queen requires to impress a foreign country.
Once they pass the Abhorsen’s house, everyone is on their guard. The Borderlands have always been difficult to tame, although Sabriel and Touchstone have made some headway. No Charter Stone is allowed to lie broken, especially here, and the road is lined with wind flutes, beginning within several miles of the Wall. Their group reaches the crest of a small hill, laying out the view of the Wall for miles.
It is night in the Old Kingdom. The moon is high in the sky and Lirael knows that it is near midnight. The morning sunshine of Ancelstierre does not shine far over the wall, the change in light drawing a distinct line. The curved lines of the Perimeter’s barbed wire glint in the sun for miles as far as the eye can see.
Sabriel sits up taller in her saddle and squares her shoulders.
“Did you know that in Ancelstierre, they believe they built the Wall to protect them from us?” Sabriel asks, looking across at Lirael. Lirael shakes her head.
“I didn’t know that Abhorsen.”
“The greatest threats to the Kingdom have always come from Ancelstierre. The Wallmakers built the Wall to protect us.”
Their convoy comes to a halt far in front of the Crossing Point gate across the perimeter and the riders dismount. Sabriel draws her sword a few inches from the scabbard and allows one hand to rest on Saraneth. Lirael feels for the Charter and allows one hand to rest on Ranna, prepared to draw. Sabriel steps closer to her and Lirael is reminded of soldiers closing ranks.
“Be prepared.” Sabriel whispers through her teeth. “The Crossing Point Scouts are indebted to the Abhorsens but Old Kingdom creatures have done much damage here. We are not always welcome.”
Lirael says nothing but moves to put her weight on one leg, shifting her sword scabbard onto her forward leg. Sabriel raises a hand and draws in the air a large simple charter mark for sound.
“I am Queen Sabriel of The Old Kingdom, Abhorsen and Restorer of the Charter. I request safe passage through the Perimeter, by the laws of both our lands and the debt owed to the Abhorsen.” She declares, the charter mark carrying her voice beyond the wall.
There is the sound of tramping feet running towards them and Ancelstierrean soldiers appear in the arch of the gate. They quickly form an arrow-head formation, guns and bayonets held forward. No one moves for a very long, drawn out moment.
Suddenly, a man rounds the corner and appears at the tail end of the arrow-head. His uniform doesn’t scream officer but he walks with a veteran’s steady limp Sabriel’s hand immediately falls away from her sword.
“Commander, I didn’t know you were back on rotation!” She says, her voice imbued with her wide smile. Replacing Saraneth in her bandolier, she takes several long strides and clasps arms with who Lirael presumes is the commanding officer.
“Well,” the officer says gruffly, “It doesn’t seem like they’ve been able to do much without me.”
Lirael does not like this side of the Wall. Sabriel declares that they will walk their horses to Wyverley College and a few of the Crossing Point Scouts accompany them, their commanding officer chatting with Sabriel at the head of their convoy. Lirael doesn’t recognize any of them from the Red Lake, although some of them may have been there. She had been distracted.
Sabriel seems more at ease here. She doesn’t flinch when a motor car drives by and she smiles more quickly. Lirael does not like the noise of the motor car. She doesn’t like the way the people in the village stare. She doesn’t like that the further she walks, the less she can feel the Charter.
It’s an utterly alien feeling, the Charter weakening in her senses. Her hand twitches, wanting to draw marks in the air but unable to recall the shape of them anymore. She grits her teeth against it but her skin still crawls.
Wyverley College reminds Lirael, in a rather odd way, of the Clayr’s glacier. The girls are all dressed the same and everything is regimented strictly, although Sabriel and Lirael are guests for the night and allowed to wander as they please.
It’s rather less serene though. The hallways are full of shouting girls, running this way or the other, and Lirael is forced to take refuge in the garden, thankfully devoid of schoolgirls.
Sabriel finds her there several hours later, as the sun is beginning to inch its way down towards the horizon. Lirael stands, pulling herself from her cross-legged position in the grass to clasp her arms behind her back.
“This is where Touchstone proposed to me,” Sabriel says without preamble, looking out over the garden. Lirael hears herself half-gasp, a quick intake of breath, surprised as she is by the sudden information. Sabriel continues, eyes unfocused on the middle distance. “It was fall, nearly winter, and it was the first day I could walk without my crutches. He took me out here, practically carried me, and I remember thinking ‘what could be so important that it can’t wait?” and then he got on one knee and asked me to marry him, to be his Queen, to retake our land from the Dead, to restore the Charter with him.”
Lirael says nothing but she thinks that she can see it. Or perhaps, feel it, the ghost of the love that came to fruition in this peaceful garden one fall morning. Sabriel is smiling.
“I agreed to much more than a marriage when I said yes. I agreed to war, to battles for the rest of my life, to children I barely knew and a lifetime of Death.” She pauses. “But that was given to me when my, I mean, our father died.” Sabriel closes her eyes and breathes in deeply before turning to look at Lirael.
“You do look very much like him.” She says sadly. “Father always said I looked like my mother.”
Lirael looks away.
“I never knew my mother.” She says simply. Sabriel’s smile twists sideways bitterly and she sits, patting the ground next to her welcomingly. Lirael sits too, crossing her legs, about an arm’s length away.
“I never knew mine either, not in life. Our father, he left me a Charter sending of her, on this side of the First Gate. She disintegrated many years ago though.” Sabriel shrugs and then wraps her arms around her drawn-up knees. Lirael is struck by how small she looks, not like a Queen or Abhorsen at all. “I do not think I have been a very good sister to you at all, Lirael.” She pauses and runs a hand over her face. “It’s no excuse but it was such a shock. I had always thought of Father as only mine. Abhorsen to others but only Father to me. To learn he had another child, to learn I had a sister? It was a surprise.” Sabriel finishes, trailing off at the end.
Lirael allows herself a moment to think before replying.
“With the Clayr,” she says carefully, “everyone is your sister. Your family is also everyone else’s family. I, I was glad, I think, to have a family that was only mine.”
Sabriel turns her head sideways, smiling gently at Lirael.
“Father left many secrets behind when he died,” She says. “I only wish he had told me of you earlier, I would have liked to have a sister to share my battles with.”
Lirael has no response to that. Sabriel shakes herself, casting off her maudlin thoughts like a dog casts off water. She is still smiling, although it is rather more strained now.
“I don’t think anyone ever told you but the final battle with Kerrigor happened here. Some very brave girls gave their lives for the Kingdom.” Sabriel gestures gracefully at a tasteful stone obelisk at the corner of the garden. “My best friend, Ellimere, died here. Her name is on that stone and in my daughter.” She sighs.
“It’s exceedingly rare for Abhorsens to marry.” Sabriel says. “I am the first in over a hundred years.” She fingers her silver wedding ring, twisting it unconsciously. “But, then, it is so rare for the line to be so diminished. There are so few who can inherit the title now.” She pauses, rubbing at both her eyes as if to dispell sleep. “The line nearly died here, with me. It was far before you were old enough to inherit and there was no one else. Did you know that the Abhorsen cannot die while no other lives to inherit the bells?”
“I did not know that, Abhorsen.” Lirael says quietly. The garden is growing dark. It is nearly dusk. Sabriel stands, brushing grass off her trousers before she extends a hand to Lirael.
“If we are to be sisters, you should call me Sabriel.”
Lirael does not like the motor car they take from Wyverley College but it does take considerably less time to travel from the Perimeter to Ancelstierre’s polluted and noisy capital. (Lirael continues to not like this side of the Wall.)
The first few days are a whirl of garden parties, carefully orchestrated dinners and official meetings. Lirael does not understand half of what is going on, although she does understand that Sabriel is using their combined titles to intimidate most people into submission.
Lirael catches Nick’s eye across a crowd of people at a garden party, but he is distracted by small blonde woman and Lirael is needed to join a slightly stilted conversation with a minister, in which she plays the part of exotic foreigner.
Sabriel has given her a list of pre-approved descriptions for Old Kingdom life. The Charter is a religion, not a near-living magical construct. The Clayr are a religious order, not seers. The Abhorsen is an inherited title and the Dead cannot rise again. Lirael plays nice.
The Queen and Princess of the exotic and half-taboo Old Kingdom are guests of honour and, as expected by everyone except Lirael, a ball is thrown in their honour.
Lirael, as an unmarried woman, is required to be accompanied by an escort. Sabriel helps her write the small card that accepts the request of Nicholas Sayre.
Unfortunately, a ball requires that they dress up. Sabriel dresses in red and gold, the stitching of her skirt cleverly imitating the golden tower of the royal family and the silver keys of the Abhorsen. She wears a gold tiara, braided into her hair intricately.
Lirael hates the primping.
“Believe me, I despise this as much as you do,” Sabriel says, carefully finishing her braids in front of a mirror. “But we are outsiders here and we must gather as much respect to us as possible. Nick’s friendship will go some way towards that but we are royalty and Ancelstierre expects royalty to act a certain way. That includes tiaras and dresses.”
Lirael’s dress is blue and silver, with a satin grey underskirt. The neckline is flat and wide and the sleeves are semi-transparent blue fabric that hangs down from her wrists, cleverly covering her hand. The hem of the skirt is sewn with the design of the Abhorsen’s keys.
Sabriel rises gracefully from their room’s vanity table, relinquishing the table and mirror to Lirael, who has not yet fully figured out how to sit in the large skirt. While Lirael starts to braid her own hair, Sabriel looks for something in her bags. Lirael has almost finished her hair when Sabriel says “I have something for you.”
Lirael half-turns in her seat, allowing her hands to fall from her braids, and Sabriel places a tiara in them.
“By all rights, this is yours to wear.” She says. “You’re a princess, by marriage at the very least.”
“I’m not a princess, Abhorsen Sabriel” Lirael says quickly, looking down at the tiara, glittering in the dimness of the electric right. “This isn’t mine to wear.”
“You’re technically Touchstone’s sister-in-law. After Ellimere and Sameth, you’re next in line for the throne.”
Lirael blanches obviously. Sabriel chuckles quietly.
“Don’t worry, I don’t believe Ellimere has any intention of dying.”
Lirael doesn’t laugh.
“No one intends to die, Sabriel,” she says. Sabriel’s smile falls away and her jaw tightens, not quite a frown.
“Yes, well, Touchstone and I will have no more children. We have done everything we can to secure the throne. Ellimere is as strong as we could make her and made stronger still by her own battles.” She says quietly.
Lirael says nothing for a moment.
“The Clayr consider children a gift from The Charter.” She says quietly. Sabriel sighs.
“My battles have long caught up with me and Death has never been kind to those who carry life within them.”
Lirael stands behind the very beautiful doors, hands clasped in front of her while she waits for the footman to call her name. She looks down and the sleeves of her dress obscure her hands enough that it almost appears as if they are both are intact. Sabriel waits alongside her, her head held high. Sabriel’s tiara is gold. Lirael’s is silver.
“Princess of The Old Kingdom, Abhorsen-In-Waiting, Daughter of the Clayr and Remembrancer, Princess Lirael Goldenhand,” declares the imperious voice of the footman on the other side of the doors. They swing open and the sound of applause filters through as Lirael takes her first hesitant step. The long sweeping white staircase seems too long and with every step Lirael fears she will trip, fall and make a fool of herself in front of the clapping crowd. She does not realise until the final step that Nick is waiting for her.
He bows and, as he does, brushes his hair away from his forehead in a way that appears almost casual. In the moment before his hair falls back, Lirael sees clearly the shape of his charter mark, whole and uncorrupted. She had not realised that she was so tense until the sight of his mark lets her shoulders relax. Nick smiles at her and extends his arm to her, guiding her down the final step. She moves carefully, terrified of dislodging the tiara fixed so tightly to her coiled hair.
“May I have the honour of your first dance, Princess?” Nick asks. Lirael looks at him sharply but she thinks the slight upturn at the corner of his mouth means he’s joking about the “Princess” thing.
“Nick,” Lirael hisses under her breath, as the two of them walk past smiling and clapping dancers. “Nick, I don’t know how to dance.”
Nick smiles at the crowd insincerely.
“The dancing won’t start until Abhorsen Sabriel chooses a partner,” he says, out of the side of his mouth. “She’s the guest of honour.” Nick stops gracefully next to a delicate chair and walks Lirael around his body to guide her into it.
“What am I then?” Lirael asks, looking up into Nick’s handsome face. He blushes but maintains eye contact
“My beautiful partner for this dance, I hope” He says fondly. Lirael blushes and looks away from him, out at the crowd of Ancelstierrens. She realizes, quite suddenly, that Nick, Sabriel and her are the only people in the entire hall with charter marks. The thought of it makes Lirael’s skin crawl. So many people, unprotected, who will not be guarded by the Charter when they walk, finally, past the Ninth Gate. She is glad for her hand, to be able to feel the Charter with her, even this far from the Wall.
“Nick,” she says, not looking up. “Can you feel the Charter?”
Nick shakes his head. “Not this far from the wall, even with a good wind. We’re too far south.”
Sabriel, through some unknown skills of charm that Lirael has not yet mastered, has managed to carefully organize a dinner party at their suite of rooms, largely of Moot ministers and their insipid wives. Nick comes and sits next to Lirael the entire meal, nominally as her escort.
Lirael makes stilted conversation with old men, always blindingly aware of Nick’s presence next to her, until they are thankfully interrupted.
“Madame Abhorsen, there is a telegraph for you,” says the butler, leaning forward with a silver tray. A small white card lies in the centre. Sabriel reaches over and unfolds the card. She pauses, freezing in a way that Lireal recognizes as sudden and deep shock.
“Lirael, could you look at this please?” She says, her voice betraying only the slightest waver. Lirael leans over, taking the telegram and opening it slowly.
SOMETHING ATTEMPTS WALL CROSSING STOP
FOUR MARKS DEAD STOP
SEND ABHORSEN SEND ABHORSEN SEND ABHORSEN
“This is from the Ancelstierre command at the Wall.” Sabriel says, in a quiet whisper. “I know the commander, he wouldn’t send for me unless it was urgent. Four marks means that four of their mages are dead.”
Lirael’s feels her eyes cut across to the dinner party guests, who are trying to eavesdrop as non-obtrusively as possible.
“What about the vote?” she asks. Sabriel shakes her head.
“This is more important. Whatever it is, we can’t let it cross, whatever direction it’s going.”
“I’ll pack the bags,” she says.
The trip back to the Wall is rather more frantic than the trip from. Nick manages to come along simply by coincidentally not leaving Lirael’s side.
She’s glad for it when he helps her pack, separating weapons and bandoliers from official papers and jewellery. She throws on her sword and slings her bandolier across her before she’s thrust into a bumpy ride, at alarming speed, heading north, north to the Wall.
Sabirel’s soldiers drive on a rota system. Lirael dozes, never fully asleep, her hand always resting on her sword. Next to her, Nick’s leg bounces nervously whenever he is awake.
The car breaks down in Bain. The wind is southerly and Lirael thinks she can smell Free Magic on it, the metallic tang of blood. They walk, sometimes run, the rest of the way, swords drawn. Everyone’s doors are closed; their windows shuttered. The sun is setting and it casts everything in a dull greyish light.
Suddenly, when they’re within sight of the Perimeter, the night is filled with a colossal bang and a great flash of red light.
“Flares,” Sabriel says tensely. “They won’t do anything against a Free Magic creature.”
One of Sabriel’s soliders draws another sword.
“Makes killing it easier, when we can see it.” He says with bitter humour. Sabriel presses her lips together in a thin, tense line but says nothing else.
They pass stretcher bearers in their run across the Perimeter, carrying wounded away from the Wall, and Sabriel’s tense frown becomes tighter and tighter.
Suddenly, something roars and Lirael can feel the presence of Free Magic, as if is was right next to her. Their group roads the corner of a barbed wire fence, only to come to a skidding halt.
Lirael, rather clinically, recognizes the creature. It’s a Sinard, a rare Free Magic creature made of fire and blood, coalesced around a heart of charcoal. Its outer skin is tough and leathery but it is vulnerable around the neck and at its heart, which is located close to the skin of its back.
“Holy shit,” Nick says, when the creature breathes fire at a group of Scouts desperately trying to fire their jamming rifles.
Lirael turns, jerking her neck she turns so fast. She has not realised that Nick has come with them past Bain.
“What are you doing here?” She shouts, over the sound of screaming and roaring fire. Nick’s eyes are wide with fear and adrenalin-rush, the shape of his Charter Mark standing out in the light cast by the creature’s internal fires. “Get him out of here!” She shouts to their entourage, gesturing with her sword, before the heat of the Sinard’s fires forces her to turn
Lirael aches for Nehima, for the way the blade fit perfectly into her hand. She hefts her sword, hand worked by Sam in the forges of Belisaere.
Sabriel begins to chant a binding spell, drawing huge fiery Charter Marks in the air with her sword.
The creature swivels, distracted from the easy prey of fleeing Crossing Point Scouts and its bright red eyes meet Lirael’s. Nick, to her left, raises one hand shakily. He has not left and she remembers suddenly that, for all his Charter mark, Nick does not know the shapes. Sabriel hefts Saraneth and Belgaer, fingers curled over the clappers as she readies herself to ring them.
“Come with me,” the creature hisses as its long tongue lolls in its mouth. Lirael does not know who it is addressing. “Come with me, Mage. Come with me, there are wonders for us beyond the wall. Come with me.”
Nick’s back straightens suddenly.
“I have been tempted by creatures far greater than you and resisted.” He says confidently. “I doubt I will submit now.”
Wihout warning, the creature charges. Sabriel hefts her bells, her spell dying on her lips, and Lirael raises her sword and hand, ready to resume it if she can but, at the last possible moment, the Sinard changes direction. Its claws scrap in the mud, crunching over a corpse, and it is suddenly heading towards Nicholas and their Old Kingdom soliders.
“Nick!” Lirael hears herself scream. Nick half-turns, as if to run, before realizing he doesn’t have the time and then raises a trembling hand as a pitiful defence. The creature’s charge takes it closer and closer. Lirael raises her sword and screams the mark for fire. It burns her throat on the way up, the unstoppable energy of the Charter moving through her arm, down the blade and exploding out of the tip of her sword. It flies towards the creature and Nick but it’s too slow, too slow to save him.
The creature is within arm’s reach of Nick when he shudders, a full body tremor that brings him to his knees in the churned, bloody mud of the perimeter. Something shifts in the air and a Charter Mark, huge and filled with a blinding light, bursts from Nick’s body and collides with the creature.
At the same moment, Lirael’s torrent of fire connects with its back and, with a great bang, it’s thrown up and backward, into the air. In a rather detached way, Lirael’s last memory, as her vision greys, is of the tiny licks of fire falling to the crowd as the creature explodes.
Lirael wakes up to Sabriel and Nick’s concerned faces hovering over her. There is mud in her hair and her throat is burning with the last remnants of her spell.
“Are you alright, Lirael?” Sabriel asks.
It hurts too much to speak. Lirael nods instead and smiles, despite the blisters at the corner of her mouth.
“It’s dead,” Nick says, sounding shell-shocked and still looking down at her. “I killed it.”
Lirael nods again.
“Can we cross the wall now?” She rasps.