Actions

Work Header

Empty-Handed

Work Text:

Lirael spent a lot of time in the library at the Abhorsen’s House in the week following Orannis’ rebinding. The King and the Abhorsen had set up their camp at Barhedrin, just north of the Wall, to deal simultaneously with the Southerlings who would be granted land in the Old Kingdom’s depopulated southern areas, as well as with the Ancelstierrans whose inquiries about Orannis’ manifestation had to be deflected politely while transit protocols for the Southerlings were hammered out.

Sameth had been needed there initially, since he had made the Southerlings various promises on the Kingdom’s behalf, but Lirael had felt painfully shy, and she’d been glad to accede to the Abhorsen’s—Sabriel’s—suggestion that she take one of the Paperwings back to the House to rest in the care of the family servants. Lirael knew, even though a one-handed Abhorsen-in-Waiting was of only limited use, that she ought to stay and live up to her office, but her tendency to fall asleep every ten minutes had been hard to dispute.

Now, a week later, she felt much more awake, and much more determined to find out whether she was the first Abhorsen who had had to learn to wield the bells with only one hand. It would be difficult, she knew, and she was secretly afraid that it might prove impossible. But she had to try. She would have to start by becoming a much stronger whistler…

So, after a solitary and slow-paced breakfast in the wood-paneled dining room—it was becoming easier not to glance up the table and see her mother and father sitting there in her mind’s eye—Lirael took herself off to the equally handsome and capacious library. She’d already determined that the collections followed no particular order, unless it was something that only made sense to sendings, and she had every intention of putting that to rights as soon as she could. But for the moment, the search was her first priority.

She’d spent the entire first day, two days ago, wishing she could just ask Mogget, and remembering anew that Yrael was gone, and so was the Dog. Even Nick had gone back to Ancelstierre—and who wouldn’t want to go home, if they had one? Or if someone were waiting for them there? Lirael was alone again, and she would have to adjust to it, and to having a hand missing, permanently.

She’d already adjusted to the way the Charter lights brightened and dimmed ahead and behind her as she walked through the House, and of course the sendings didn’t make any noise, so when she saw that the library doors had been thrown open to the corridor, and heard the distant thumps and thuds of books being shifted around within, she realized that the House’s—her—guest had gotten up before her.

“Hello, Sam,” Lirael said loudly when she stepped through the doors, and a head with curly hair as dark as her own popped around one of the shelves on the upper storey.

“Hi, Lirael,” her half-nephew called down. Like her, Prince Sameth wore trousers, a loose shirt and house slippers, but the sendings had either found or made him a queer floor-length, coat-like garment, belted at the waist, of scarlet cloth trimmed with the golden trowels of his office: the Wallmaker. “I hope you don’t mind,” he continued, gesturing vaguely around the room with one hand; “I couldn’t get back to sleep because I was thinking too much, so I thought I might just as well get started.”

“Well, it’s your House too,” Lirael said quietly, feeling a little embarrassed.

“Really it’s not,” said Sam seriously. “I mean, I’m family, so the sendings let me enter, but it’s yours, and Mother’s. She and Dad send their regards, by the way, did I mention that?”

Sam had arrived from Barhedrin the night before, deeply tired. Lirael had understood that what remained to be done was best left to Ellimere, and also probably that the King or the Abhorsen or both would be going south again soon, to level charges of corruption, collusion and conspiracy against the government of the Old Kingdom upon several Ancelstierran politicians, whatever a “politician” was.

“You did,” she said.

“Oh good,” said Sam, sounding relieved, but he was already turning back to the shelves.

“Sam,” Lirael said, before her courage failed her.

He looked back over his shoulder. “Yes?”

“What is that you’re wearing?”

He looked down at the coat-thing. “This? It’s a dressing gown.”

“A dressing gown?” Lirael repeated. “But—it’s not a gown.”

Sam shrugged. “That’s what they’re called in Ancelstierre, anyway.”

“It must be a strange place,” Lirael said again. “No magic—I couldn’t imagine it.”

“They don’t have the Dead, either,” Sam said flatly.

Lirael didn’t say anything; she knew Sam hated and feared the Dead, as most people who were not Abhorsens did. She herself felt only pity for them, and she knew too that necromancers abusing Free Magic, bringing back the Dead to walk in life, was the price the Old Kingdom paid for Charter Magic. She thought the Dead a fair price to pay, even if they would eventually would take her life, as she had thought it would be taken a week ago.

Lirael spent the morning reading the diary of the thirty-seventh Abhorsen, who had broken an arm in a fight against one of the Greater Dead and had worn a sling for four months on account of the wound becoming infected beyond the Sixth Gate. But it seemed her solution had been mostly to avoid, manipulate, and cheat fights she couldn’t win during her convalescence: she did mention that she’d found the combination of whistling and bells a poor substitute for the more complicated two-handed bell-ringing.

That was Lirael’s best plan so far, and after a few hours her spirits had sunk low enough that leaving the library to heed the rumbling in her stomach seemed like a good idea. Only when she carefully closed the diary, first marking her place and then closing the cover with the same hand, did she realize that Sam was sitting on the other side of the table, engrossed in a leather-bound volume of his own. He’d probably gotten it from one of the tall stacks of books on either side of him. Lirael, who could only manage a few books at a time in the crook of her right arm, lacking a hand to brace them against, reminded herself again that she was glad to be alive.

He looked up at her after a few seconds, as if he’d felt her watching. “How goes it?” Sam asked. “—I say, I’m hungry.”

“Yes, I was thinking it was probably time for lunch,” said Lirael. “How is your research going?”

Sam marked his place in the book with a blue silk ribbon and closed the volume carefully with his other hand, then sat back and stretched. “Truthfully, I’m not finding as much as I’d hoped,” he said. “You said you were a librarian at the Clayr’s Glacier, right? I think I’ll need to go there soon. There’s not much left in the Palace library; a lot of it burned when the last regent died. Well, she set fire to it and threw herself in, as a matter of fact.”

“Second Assistant Librarian,” Lirael corrected automatically. The idea of going back to the Glacier so soon after she’d left it chilled her even in the noon sun, though she knew she was being silly; the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, who did not fear Death, afraid of the Clayr! “I—that is, yes, the collections are vast. I imagine they’ll have at least something on what you’re looking for. Actually, what are you looking for?”

Sam blinked at her. “You mean I didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?” said Lirael, trying not to feel irrationally cross. She really did need to eat something.

Sam took a deep breath. “I think I can make you a new hand.”

Lirael was too shocked to speak. She could only stare at him, and after a minute he colored. “I mean, it will take a while,” he muttered. “I’ve only just started being a Wallmaker, and hands are very complicated, and it won’t—it won’t be just like before. It will be different. But it will work like a flesh-and-blood hand, only made of magic and metal, and I’ll finish it as soon as I possibly can. I promise you, Aunt Lirael.”

“A new hand?” Lirael’s voice almost squeaked, and she forced herself to swallow. “You—you can do that? You would do that? For me?”

Sameth frowned. “Of course I would! I mean, you’re the Abhorsen-in-Waiting! And I’m the Wallmaker! And besides, we’re family. This is what families do.”

“Oh,” said Lirael. “I never—that is, I mean, Sam, thank you.”