The Clayr’s Glacier was very different to the House or the Tower, Sansa knew that if she knew nothing else. She approved of the bridges, criss-crossing the narrow fury of the newborn River Ratterlin deep down in the gorge, approved of the cleverly hidden marks that would raise sendings should anything Dead or Free Magic prove too strong for the running water to repel.
The Clayr themselves were not what Sansa had hoped for but precisely what her mother had told her to expect. The twinned Voices of the Nine Day Watch greeted her, golden hair gleaming and green eyes flashing.
Mother and Father both had been suspicious of Cersei and Jaime – while it was never acknowledged that the Clayr had divided into warring factions within the Glacier, Sansa knew that they had, and that Cersei and Jaime, powerful in the Sight though they were, were part of the dangerous faction headed by their father who sought to extend the power of the Clayr beyond what had always been theirs. There had been a rumour that their father had even put Cersei forward as a potential bride for the King when he ascended to the throne, but he had chosen Lady Elia (of another faction within the Clayr) and that, too, had apparently created tensions within the Clayr.
“Welcome to the Clayr’s Glacier, little dove,” Cersei said, her smile a brittle thing as cold as the ice she Saw the future in but twice as beautiful. “It is an honour to have a member of the Abhorsen’s family here with us.”
Sansa bit back a sigh of irritation at that – that was all she ever was, as far as anyone was concerned. It was so easy for Robb and Bran, Abhorsen-in-Waiting and Wallmaker, and for Arya and Rickon who were so clearly warriors, meant for great adventures and great glories.
And then there was Sansa, who liked dresses which apparently (in Arya’s mind, anyways, and because everyone must listen to every word Arya said, in everyone else’s minds too) meant that she must be no use for anything else at all. Never mind that Sansa was a better Charter mage than any of her siblings save maybe Bran, better than Father at everything but that strange magic specific to the Wallmakers. Never mind that Sansa was as proficient a swordswoman as possible, given that she was the one pulled away from her lessons and her practice time whenever there was a guest, because of course she couldn’t possibly need to properly learn to wield her sword and should be the one forced to spend hours on end listening to boring men come from Belisaere to ask that Mother take up a place at court, even though that was entirely impossible given how busy she had been in recent years.
(Never mind that Sansa was the only one who was ever given a surcoat of blue silk and silver keys, only silver keys, when even Robb’s keys were quartered with the Wallmaker’s trowel. Sansa had an opinion about that, a theory, one that she kept carefully secret because to say it aloud would be akin to blasphemy within the family.)
“It is a pleasure and an honour to be here,” Sansa said firmly, because it was a pleasure, a pleasure to be somewhere that she would have the luxury of directing her own studies to a large extent. “I am sure I will enjoy my stay.”
Cersei smiled again and beckoned someone from the far side of the great entrance hall.
“My son, Joffrey, will act as your guide,” she said as the boy – man, maybe, he seemed about Sansa’s age even if the set of his mouth was that of a sulky child – came forward. “He will take you to your rooms now, and then perhaps to the Refectory?”
“I ate on the way,” Sansa assured them, “but thank you. The baths, I think, though?”
After a thoroughly unpleasant walk with Joffrey (Sansa wondered if he was merely unpleasant for no good reason or if he felt jilted because, as far as Sansa could glean, he was not very powerful in the Sight), they reached her rooms.
The Clayr, Sansa knew, ranked near everyone in order of how strong they were in the Sight, how clear and frequent their visions of the future were – Cersei and Jaime were strong individually, she had heard, but stronger combined, for example – and children were counted as adults as soon as they Awakened, as soon as they were Seen to wear the white robes and silver-and-moonstone circlet of an Awakened Clayr and therefore Seen to have the Sight, regardless of their age. Sansa had heard stories of children of seven or eight Awakening and being treated as adults, while ten, eleven, twelve year old were treated as babes.
Sansa knew how that felt. It was her life every day, seeing Arya being brought along with Mother and Robb when they flew out to fight Dead things because Arya was strong and a gifted swordswoman, whereas Sansa was expected to sit at home in the Abhorsen’s House as though the millions of sendings needed guidance to tend the house and gardens, to do that which they had been created to do.
Sansa sighed with relief when at last she reached the baths, because it was an excuse to rid herself of Joffrey’s uncomfortable company.
“I will find my way back to my rooms myself, thank you,” she said with a smile, expecting him to leave.
Instead, he hesitated.
“It’s been Seen that you marry one of us,” he said. “A Clayr. Me, maybe.”
She blinked in shock, and backed away towards the door.
“I- I am rather young to be marrying,” she joked weakly. “Um. Goodbye.”
She slammed the door before he could speak, stomach churning. Was that the only reason the Clayr had invited her to study in their Library? Because she had been seen wed to one of them and they wanted to choose who it was?
She couldn’t believe that. She refused to believe that she really was nothing more than a pretty face to be used to make people smile, as Arya seemed to think. Only Aunt Lyanna seemed to understand, Aunt Lyanna who had not left the Wallmaker’s Tower on Barhedrin Ridge since she’d borne the King’s bastard son over twenty years before.
Everyone had expected Arya and Aunt Lyanna to be close, Sansa reflected as she stripped off and slid into the gently steaming pool of hot water. Arya looked like the Wallmakers, the dark hair and eyes and the long face, and Father always fondly remembered Aunt Lyanna as being wild, like Arya, before her affair with the King. Arya found Lyanna boring, though, hated that Lyanna would not speak of her life before Jon’s birth, resented her for it. Sansa thought that maybe she understood – Lyanna saw too much of herself in Arya, maybe resented Arya a little for that.
But Aunt Lyanna knew what it was to have one thing expected of you, even if that was not what you wanted for yourself. Sansa had never wanted to be the pretty one, the one who was useless for anything but being sweet. Aunt Lyanna was never as talented at creating as Father and Uncle Brandon, and Sansa knew that her aunt had been betrothed to some man from one of the powerful families in Belisaere, that that had in part prompted Lyanna’s rebelliousness because she hadn’t wanted that life for herself.
Sansa didn’t want the life of a noblewoman, which was all she would have if she married a Clayr and accepted the place her family (and, apparently, the Seers) thought was hers. Sansa wanted to do something of worth, something of note, something that would make her parents look on her with something other than distracted fondness, because she was the quiet one and how could they focus on her when there was Robb and Arya and Bran and Rickon?
When she was dressing, she touched the pattern of silver keys stitched into the cuffs of her deep blue woollen dress and sighed. Arya had sneered at her for that, both for sewing in the first place and for sewing keys but no trowels, but Sansa didn’t care. She’d never felt a Wallmaker at all, so she didn’t see why she should pretend to it – Bran never wore anything stitched with keys, after all, and Arya never belittled him for that.
She checked that she had her knife strapped to her thigh (it would be rude to carry her sword here in the Glacier, after all), called up the marks to dry her hair, and then quickly plaited it and tied it off with silver ribbon.
She gathered up her writing box and smiled.
“To the Library then,” she announced to her empty room, pushing aside her previous train of thought and relishing instead the freedom that was now hers. “To the Library.”
The Great Library of the Clayr was famed throughout the land (and beyond it, up into the far north from whence came the barbarian warlords, and even they sent their learned folk south to study in the Clayr’s Library) and, now that she was here, Sansa could see why.
She knew that it was shaped like a nautilus shell, a spiral that sloped ever deeper and wider into the mountain that they Clayr had made their home in (she’d often wondered why the glacier and the mountains that held it were altogether called the Clayr’s Glacier, considering the mountains had perfectly serviceable names of their own, Starmount and Sunfall). She knew that it was considered the greatest repository of knowledge in the known world.
She just hadn’t expected it to be quite so large, somehow.
“You must be the Abhorsen’s daughter. Welcome to the Library.”
She spun in surprise, casting about only to find…
“Yes, I am a dwarf,” the little man with the mop of untidy white-blonde hair said with a smile, holding out a hand. “Deputy Librarian Tyrion. I believe you met my brother and sister, and my detestable nephew…?”
Sansa shook his hand, casting a glance at his gleaming white waistcoat before his words struck her.
“Sansa,” she offered. “Cersei and Jaime…?”
“Yes, my older siblings,” he said with something that was neither smile nor frown but somehow both as well. “And Joffrey was assigned as your guide, I believe, but you are somehow free of him.” He shrugged then, motioned for her to follow him. “Come, come – you are free to study as you choose, of course, provided you don’t attempt to access the lower levels, but you will need someone to help you find your way around until you get used to the cross-referencing system we have in place.”
They emerged from the main spiral of the library into a huge, high-ceilinged chamber lined with more bookshelves than Sansa had ever seen, more books and knowledge than she had ever hoped to have access to.
“This is the main Reading Room,” Tyrion told her, gesturing for her to walk on ahead of him. “You’ll become used to us Librarians running about, I suppose – more than a week and I suppose you’ll pick up our shift rotations. Some of us will be in and out at seemingly random intervals for Watch business, and… Oh, the gong will sound for mealtimes. I don’t think there’s anything else, really. Here’s your guide now.”
Her guide was a man several years her senior, as tall as Tyrion was small, with a shock of unruly chestnut-brown curls and a blue waistcoat (Abhorsen blue, she noted absently, just like that waistcoat is Wallmaker yellow and that one is Royal red).
“Tyrion?” he said, rising with the help of a long cane (rowan, Sansa thought, it looked like rowan, useful for binding Free Magic things and Dead things). “How might I help?”
“This is Sansa,” Tyrion said. “She is here to study with us.”
The man held out his free hand and smiled shyly, his hair falling forward over his brow.
“A pleasure,” he said warmly. “I am First Assistant Librarian Willas. Welcome to the Library.”
Sansa smiled back. She thought she might come to like the Clayr’s Library very much.
It was hard work, in some ways, because no matter how Willas protested he couldn’t manage all the books she wanted as well as his cane, so she found herself lugging enormous tomes up the spiral to the Reading Room because she always worried that the sendings would have more important things to do.
He was very helpful, as was Tyrion – it was delightful that they didn’t judge her in relation to her mother, her father, her brothers, but rather as one more scholar (because even without their physical limitations, Sansa was certain both Tyrion and Willas would spend most of their time in the Library just because they enjoyed knowledge) who enjoyed their domain as much as they did.
The other librarians were a mix of that attitude and the one Sansa had feared – some of them seemed to defer to her because of who her parents were, some seemed to expect her to have revelatory knowledge of combative or creative magic, some scorned her for being neither Abhorsen-in-Waiting nor a Wallmaker.
And some, like Tyrion’s nephew, pursued her because of this damned vision the Nine Day Watch had had of her wedding a man in Clayr green-and-silver. She’d asked Willas and Tyrion about it, had found Tyrion had been in the Watch that day (he often was, she’d noticed, because his Sight was very strong), and she’d been told that that was literally all that had been seen – her hand tied with a man’s hand, a man wearing green edged with silver nine-pointed stars.
“It might not even be a marriage, then!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in frustration. “There are magics that require handfasting, old magics but who knows, mayhaps we will have need of them?”
“I tried to tell them,” Tyrion said, rolling his eyes, “but they were quite insistent, and of course the rumour spread despite Watch business being supposed to remain Watch business.”
“Every young man in the Glacier has been clamouring to meet you since you arrived,” Willas added, looking at her over the top of his book. “The Library hasn’t been so busy in years.”
Sansa gritted her teeth, tears of anger stinging her eyes.
“I can speak with Grandfather if it is bothering you,” Willas offered, setting aside his books and moving to stand. “I’m sure there’s something he can do-“
“No!” Sansa insisted, waving him back down. Willas’ grandfather was Chief Librarian, and if there was anyone who could keep fools who thought to marry her away it would be him, but Sansa did not want to cause trouble – she could ignore them, just as she had always ignored Arya’s jibes and Bran’s attempts at bolstering her spirits which, while well intentioned, had often left her feeling miserable and guilty. “No, it is… It is not a problem.”
It became a problem as she noticed the idiots trying to woo her for the first time – woo her with gifts of roses and pretty scraps of handkerchiefs and hair ribbons, all in colours she didn’t like and patterns that annoyed her. There hadn’t been anyone with the right to wear silver keys and stars together since the Abhorsen Lirael, over two centuries ago, and their foolishness in presuming to have the right to do so just because her sigil was the key and, if she married a Clayr – if – his sigil would be the stars…
“A Remembrancer,” she gasped as the realisation struck her while she lay half-asleep in bed. “If I wed a Clayr, my children could be Remembrancers.”
Remembrancers were rarer even than unions between Clayr and Abhorsen, because not every such match resulted in a Remembrancer – born of Future and Death, with the ability to See the past. In fact, Sansa only knew of one such child.
Abhorsen Lirael, raised a Clayr to become an Abhorsen the likes of which had rarely been seen. She who broke the Destroyer, only to later wed Its host. Goldenhand.
Sansa’s great-times-several grandmother.
“A Remembrancer,” Tyrion said thoughtfully when she raised the issue with him. “Do you know, I hadn’t even considered that? But I suppose it would be a crossing of the necessary bloodlines… Intriguing.”
“Has it been Seen?” Sansa asked fretfully, the idea of her whole life being laid out before her that way making her feel sick. The idea that she was nothing more than a means to an end, a producer for the next Remembrancer, it made her wonder – what if Arya was right? What if she was meant for nothing more than marriage?
“I do not know,” Tyrion admitted. “There are… tensions among the Clayr, Sansa, and regardless of how separate I keep myself from my siblings and my father, I am not told everything – it may have been Seen when I was not in the Watch. I do not know.”
She sat down heavily, wrapping her arms around herself.
“What am I?” she asked bitterly. “My brother is Abhorsen-in-Waiting, though he refuses to believe that study is as important as training and has only survived thus far through Mother’s skill and sheer dumb luck. My other brother is the finest Wallmaker since Prince Sameth, and my sister and our youngest brother are so gifted with the martial arts that they could have served in the Royal Guard since they were ten or eleven, or at least so says my uncle. What am I? A breeding mare?”
“Clever,” Tyrion said enigmatically, and then he left her to her reading.
Mother wrote regularly to ask how Sansa’s studies were progressing, and Bran wrote near as often to ask her to look up this or that or the other. She much preferred Bran’s letters, if only because there was no intimation that she was misbehaving in her brother’s letters.
Mother had been against Sansa coming to the Glacier, had been right from the moment the message hawk had arrived at the House. Arya had been jealous, had pitched a fit that had caused Mother to raise her voice – a rare occurrence – and Robb had been offended that the Clayr had never explicitly offered him the use of the Library as they usually did to all Abhorsens and Abhorsens-in-Waiting.
Father had been anxious, wary of leaving her alone with the Clayr, many of whom he distrusted so much (partially, Sansa thought, because of their failure to See what was to transpire between Aunt Lyanna and the King). Bran had been elated on her behalf, though, the only one to be happy for her to have an opportunity to do something for herself.
Mother’s letters always, always asked when Sansa was coming home, when she was going to be done with her “studies” (the scepticism was implied, if never explicit), when she was going to leave the Clayr and return to her rightful place.
Sansa did not want to return to the Abhorsen’s House, the home she had known all her life, that island on the waterfall at the Long Cliffs, that prison, because the only other place she had ever been was the Wallmaker’s Tower. Her brothers and sister had all seen more, done more, even Rickon who was barely more than a child, because he travelled with Bran when Bran went on his trips.
“It is almost as if they don’t trust me,” she grumbled under her breath as she shot arrow after arrow to try and vent her frustration. “As if they think I’m too weak or silly to be left alone-“
“Well, you are talking to yourself.”
She spun, arrow still poised for release, and quickly lowered her bow when she saw it was Willas standing behind her, a book bound in strange grey-white leather under his arm.
“I- Um. Pardon me-“
“It’s no trouble,” he told her with a smile. “I only came looking for you because I thought this might interest you – a book of particular historical interest.”
She looked up at him curiously, but he only smiled and held out the book.
“It’s handwritten?” she said, frowning as she turned the pages. “But-“
“It’s a journal,” he said. “Apparently, according to my research, it belonged to Nicholas Sayre – Lirael Goldenhand’s husband.”
Sansa’s head snapped up, and she couldn’t help but laugh.
“We have some samples of his handwriting – verified ones, I mean, ones that he signed – and I’ve compared this journal to those…”
“Why are you so interested in them?” she asked, flipping through, breath catching when she saw Wallmaker marks and marks used to ward against the taint of the Free Magic used in Death to cross the Precincts, and strange marks that she didn’t recognise that were cited as possible alternatives to those same Free Magic spells.
“He liked to understand how things worked,” Willas said, and when she looked up he was blushing under his beard. “I can relate to that, somewhat. I often wonder what it is that directs and guides the Sight, but given present tensions, it is unlikely I will ever be allowed to study anyone besides myself and my few volunteers to try and understand.”
Sansa crossed the yard (yard, they said, yards did not have ceilings) and sat down on the bench along the wall, entranced by the book Willas had given her.
“You’d like my brother,” she offered absently. “Bran. I sometimes think that being a Wallmaker is less about creating things and more about taking them apart to find out why they do what they do. When we were small, he wanted to break apart Mother’s bells to try and figure out why the Abhorsen’s bells must be forged in a Charter fire in Death.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Danger has never worried-“
She stopped, fingers tracing over a sketch of a woman with long dark hair and large dark eyes sitting by the telescope in the Observatory in the House. Sansa knew the shape of her fingers, the slant of her cheekbones, the tilt of her head, because they were the same as her own.
“Lirael Goldenhand,” she breathed.
“You look quite like her,” Willas said, obviously surprised. “Your colouring is different, but otherwise you are quite like her.”
“She is my ancestress,” Sansa pointed out, turning the page only to find another sketch of the same woman, this time with a child with fair hair (well, uncoloured, so she assumed fair) balanced on her hip, standing right on the very edge of the island on which the Abhorsen’s House stood, looking down the Long Cliffs through the mist of the waterfall. “Arielle, too,” she added, touching the child’s face.
There were several pages of sketches – Nicholas Sayre had obviously taken great pleasure in capturing his wife and children and in-laws on paper – and then more strange marks, made-up marks and combinations of marks she knew and so many marks she didn’t know at all-
“Arya cast that mark once,” Sansa said, tracing the familiar and forbidden shape with the tip of her finger. “It nearly killed her. She spent three weeks in bed, and she couldn’t speak for three times as long. Mother and Father were amazed she survived, and half the library in the House was locked to us from then on.”
“A great tragedy for you, I imagine,” Willas teased, taking a seat at her side. “All that knowledge at your fingertips, and yet also miles away, somehow.”
“I was never encouraged into the library as my brothers and Arya were,” Sansa said without thinking, breath catching once more as she saw her own Charter mark drawn there on the page.
Willas traced the mark this time, long fingers barely touching the vellum page.
“That is a great shame,” he said softly, and when she looked up he was blushing again. “I think there are great unplumbed depths within you, Sansa.”
“Why do you work in the Library, Willas?” she asked suddenly, snapping the book shut. “You are so clever, surely there is other work…?”
He was shaking his head already, a small bitter smile that Sansa thought she recognised from her mirror tugging at his lips.
“I was a Paperwing pilot,” he said. “That’s what happened my leg – a storm came down while I was on patrol out north, and my Paperwing crashed. The Queen’s younger brother, Oberyn, was with me, but I was flying the thing so I took the worst of the crash – Oberyn has an impressive scar from some of the fuselage cutting into his side, but he’s still allowed to fly. I was forbidden from ever taking to the air again.”
“I didn’t know.”
“How could you? I have never spoken of it to you. If I were stronger in the Sight – say, as strong as my youngest brother or my sister – it would have been a worse thing for the Clayr, because they might have lost someone valuable. There are so many of us that worrying about one reasonably strong individual among many is not something that we need to do.”
“That’s how life is here in the Glacier,” he said with a shrug. “Tyrion has always wondered if he would ever have made it past Third Assistant Librarian had he not been as strong as he is in the Sight.”
“Is he very strong?”
“As strong as his brother and sister, I think, but I am no expert on such things. He Sees many things that escape the Watch, though – he says that it is because of his height, that it gives him a different perspective.”
Sansa smiled at the joke, stroked her fingers over the cover of the book in her lap, and sighed.
“He was the one who Saw you, you know,” Willas said. “Both coming to the Library and… And the rest. The handfasting. His father was furious when he found out that I knew – I was with Tyrion when he had the vision.”
“He- What did he actually See? Did he See anything that might have given any hint as to who it was with me?”
Willas shrugged. “He didn’t even See anything to really say it was your wedding – the ribbons for the handfasting were hidden under your sleeves, so they may not even have been handfasting ribbons at all.”
“Gold and white,” she said softly, thinking of the braid of ribbon that her mother wore tied around her bandoleer, between Saraneth and Astarael, a narrow braid of gold and white ribbon to match the other half, the half Father wore threaded through the spare loops of his sword belt. “They could have been anything at all, then? If they couldn’t be seen?”
“Anything,” Willas assured her. “Tyrion said all he Saw was you holding someone’s hand, and whoever it was wore Clayr green edged with our stars, and they were male.”
Sansa frowned down at the floor, at her slippers peeking out from under the hem of her dress.
“It is not that I do not wish to marry,” she said quietly. “It is just that I wish to be more than just a wife.”
“I can understand that,” Willas said, just as quietly. “My sister, Margaery – she is the most powerful of us four in the Sight, but she would like to be more than just a Clayr, if that makes sense. I would like it too, if I could manage it – I would like to have something for myself. Being a Clayr… It reduces your individuality to some extent. We are told to model ourselves on our ancestors, but how can we when we are being pushed to be politically active beyond the Glacier? The Clayr of the past offered guidance, but did not attempt to guide as my father and grandmother or Tywin and the twins do. We are not the Clayr of the past, and that is both good and bad, I think, but it is foolish that we’re somehow expected to be what my father wants of us and what our ancestors were.”
He blushed again.
“Pardon me,” he said. “I got rather carried away, didn’t I?”
“It is no trouble,” Sansa said, patting his hand. “It is nice to have someone agree with me. I feel as though I am not able to say such things at home. Mother would be upset if she thought I was unhappy, and none of them would believe me if I said that I thought the bells weren’t-“
She clenched her mouth shut, turning away with her cheeks burning. She could not say that, could not finish that thought, because it was wrong and not allowed.
“The bells weren’t?” Willas prompted, and because this was something she’d hidden for so long, and he’d been so kind in the near three months since she’d arrived at the Glacier, she hoped that she could trust him. She needed to tell someone, needed to know that she wasn’t mad.
“The bells weren’t meant for Robb,” she whispered. “He- the sendings laid out the bells at the House, and everyone assumed that they were meant for Robb because he is the eldest and has never shown any great talent for Father’s type of magic, but he- I know that he-“
“Robb hasn’t read the Book of the Dead the whole way through,” she blurted out. “It unnerves him, he says he can’t read it, but he must if he is to be Abhorsen someday.”
“Well, mayhaps he will read it-“
They both turned to the door, and Sansa briefly wondered if Willas felt as flustered as she did herself before focusing on the beautiful woman with night-dark hair and rich dark eyes in the white robes, silver-and-moonstones glistening on her brow, a long ivory-tipped wand in her hand.
The Voice of the Nine Day Watch.
“There is a letter for you, Sansa,” Arianne said, holding out a folded piece of parchement sealed with the keys. “Your mother.”
Sansa guessed that the Watch must have seen what was in this letter and that is must have been important – why else would the Voice be delivering it to her personally? – so she stood and took it and bowed just slightly before turning away to open it.
You must come home.
Robb is dead.
Mother says come quickly.
“My condolences,” Tyrion said, and Sansa paused in packing up her things in the Library to thank him.
“I don’t know… I don’t know what happened yet,” she said quietly. “Arya’s letter only said that I’m to come home right away, that Robb is… Well.”
“You will learn when you reach home,” he offered. “How are you to travel?”
“I’ve been offered the use of a Paperwing, and a pilot – Willas’ brother volunteered, I think. The youngest one.”
“Ah, Loras,” Tyrion said with a grin, hefting himself up onto the chair beside her. “He is a good pilot – as good as Willas was, maybe. Of course, he’s also an arrogant little shit, so ignore most of what he says.”
“He volunteered,” Sansa said, “but he will not be flying me south. The present Voice’s brother will – Quentyn, I think?”
Tyrion blinked in surprise at that, and then smiled bitterly.
“My brother probably volunteered as well, or my nephew? They’re still competing over you – I wish that I’d never Seen you, you know. Chances are you wouldn’t have been invited here if I hadn’t, and-“
“Then I am glad you Saw me,” she said firmly, snapping her case shut. “Thank you, Tyrion – you have been kinder than there was any need for you to be.”
“I was as kind as you deserved and no more,” he corrected. “The Great Library of the Clayr will always be open to you, Sansa.”
She touched his hand and smiled in final farewell, and then she left. She had a sinking feeling that it would be a very long while before she could return to the Library.
As it turned out, Tyrion’s nephew was the one to pilot the Paperwing that was to bring Sansa home – she almost asked if she could sail down the Ratterlin instead, anything to avoid spending time alone with Joffrey, who had the unnerving habit of just watching her all of the time, and only speaking to paint himself as considerably more attractive than he actually was.
Sansa had seen enough of him to be sure that he wasn’t attractive at all, beyond his lovely golden-blonde hair. He was cruel to the children (easy to spot in their blue tunics), particularly the older ones who hadn’t yet Awakened, and behaved as though he were considerably more important than his strength in the Sight actually made him just because his mother was so often Voice of the Nine Day Watch, and his grandfather was envoy to the King.
Tyrion and Willas had both come to see her off, and she was surprised by how much she was going to miss them – it had been nice to have friends who didn’t see her mother or Robb when they looked at her. Joffrey sneered at his uncle when he saw who Sansa was saying goodbye to, and ignored Willas, so Sansa ignored him until he called for her to climb aboard the Paperwing.
Tyrion had told Sansa how rarely Joffrey was actually called up to the Watch (he was a terrible gossip-monger, him and Willas both, and Sansa was sure she knew more about the Clayr than the Clayr themselves did), and she knew that that meant that he was quite weak – not that it stopped him bumming and blowing about all the things he’d Seen, shouting back at her over the wind as they flew south.
(He’d forgotten to whistle up a wind, so Sansa did that for him while he was distracted.)
“You’ll miss her,” Tyrion said to Willas as they stood on the landing platform and watched as Sansa and Joffrey disappeared into the sky. “I think you might be a little in love with her.”
Willas laughed, shielded his eyes against the sun with one hand and flexed his other hand on the top of his cane.
“If only it were just a little, Tyrion,” he said. “Or that she wasn’t quite so oblivious to my feelings. Come on, then – it’s bloody cold up here. I have a bottle of that disgustingly alcoholic brandy they make near Roble’s Town that’s crying out to be shared. Fancy a dram?”
“If by dram, you mean half a bottle, then alright,” Tyrion said with a grin. “I’ll try and convince you to write a love letter and send it to the Abhorsen’s House while we’re drunk.”
“I’ll shoot you if you do.”
It took them near a full day to reach the Long Cliffs, and then Joffrey far overshot the island and had to circle back around from the south, which meant Sansa had to frantically whistle the wind into compliance so they were actually able to land at the Abhorsen’s House.
For all her talk of wanting to escape, Sansa was glad to be home in some ways – doubly so when she saw the yellow-and-gold Paperwings that meant Father’s family were here, come from the Wallmaker’s Tower to bid Farewell to Robb.
But, unfortunately, she couldn’t expect Joffrey to turn right around and leave for the Glacier again as soon as she’d taken her things from the Paperwing, so she had to invite him inside for food and offer him a bed for the night.
“This way,” she said tiredly, swinging her bags up onto her shoulders and carrying her writing case against her chest, ignoring the ache of her shoulders from hunching in the back of the Paperwing for so many hours. “We’ll not cut through the gardens, I’m in no humour to hack through the roses.”
“Surely they cannot be so untended?”
“They guard Astarael’s Well,” Sansa said shortly. “And it is never wise to risk waking her.” Sansa did not mention that Astarael had not woken since the Destroyer’s coming, not unless someone was foolish enough to venture down into her well. “We will not cut through the roses. We will stay on the paths – the lawns are probably muck at the moment, after the spring rains.”
Joffrey scowled and retrieved his own bag, following her with his head down and shoulders slumped petulantly. She sighed with relief as they turned the corner onto the main path, as they came within sight of the front door.
She might have complained about wanting to escape, about feeling trapped and unvalued here, but the Abhorsen’s House always had been and always would be Sansa’s home, and nothing could change that.
The door opened just as she reached it, and she dipped her head in greeting to the sending behind it before turning towards the stairs.
“Mother?” she called. “Father? I’m home!”
Nobody seemed entirely certain how to react to Joffrey, who was as brashly over-confident here as he was in the Glacier, and Sansa had to explain in whispers to Father just precisely who he was.
Aunt Lyanna and Bran seemed happiest of everyone to see her – Mother was full of anger, Sansa could see that, although she wasn’t sure why precisely that was, and she and Arya had never managed to get along for more than half an hour, and Father as usual was trying to keep a leash on Arya and Rickon. Sansa had always been slightly frightened of her grandfather and her uncles, intimidated by the incredible feats of magic of which they were capable, but even they were happier to see her than Arya, and Mother’s brother and sister and nephew would not be arriving till morning.
Mother disappeared early in the evening, but Sansa knew where she would be – so she ignored how tired she was, made the long climb up and up and up to the Observatory, and then stood awkwardly just beyond the trap door, watching Mother stare blindly down the telescope, pointed out over the cliffs.
“He died fighting a Shadow Hand,” Mother said, and Sansa shuddered at the thought of those creatures, Dead spirits not bound by a corpse to house them and strong enough to withstand all but the brightest sunshine. “He… He needed to use either Kibeth or Ranna with Saraneth, but he wouldn’t draw his bells. He kept using Charter spells against them…”
The Abhorsen’s bells were the hallmark of their trade – seven bells of a metal that wasn’t quite silver, ranging in size from a pillbox to the palm of Sansa’s hand. Bells of spelled metal, metal that contained Free Magic within Charter magic, that took a necromancer’s power over Death and the Dead and inverted it, made it a tool for good rather than darkness.
Seven bells. Ranna, the Sleeper, smallest and sweetest of the bells, which soothed the listener into slumber. Mosrael, the Waker, which seesawed the wielder into Death while swinging Dead spirits into life – Sansa had never known her mother to wield Mosrael. It was a necromancer’s bell, with no real use for an Abhorsen, but an incomplete set of bells was a dangerous thing. Kibeth was the Walker, used to give movement to Dead in the hands of a necromancer and to make the Dead return to Death by an Abhorsen. Dyrim was a strange bell, used to give speech or take it away, called the Talker. Belgaer, Thinker, had the same effect on the mind, able to restore thought and memory or remove it completely. Saraneth was the favoured bell of all Abhorsens, strong and steady, the Binder, so useful in their work.
And the last bell, the Sorrowful, the Weeper. Astarael, who cast all who heard her far, far into Death when rung properly.
“The sendings took Robb’s bells,” Mother said absently, still staring blindly into the mist and fog of the waterfall. “I imagine they will be given to- to whichever of you is to take his place after his Farewell.”
Given to Arya, Sansa thought bitterly. That is what you were going to say, isn’t it?
“He was… You cannot see him before his Farewell,” Mother said after a long moment. “I was fighting the necromancer, and Robb… I was too late.”
Sansa’s stomach twisted both with horror at how terrible Robb’s corpse must be and with sympathy for Mother – she and Robb had always been so close, so alike, and for her to see him so, for her to outlive him…
“I am sorry, Mother,” she said gently, crossing the room and wrapping her arms around Mother. “We will all miss Robb.”
“Death is a part of life,” Mother said, hugging Sansa back. “It was… It was Robb’s time. We may miss him, but we must not mourn him.”
“We are of the Abhorsen’s line,” Sansa agreed.
“Still,” Mother said bracingly, pulling away and straightening up. “You are home now. We will have Robb’s Farewell tomorrow, and then… Then we will go on, as we always do. Death waits for no one, and so we must not delay.”
Sansa stayed in the Observatory, the highest room in the tower on the southern face of the House, a room that at first glance appeared to have no walls but upon further investigation did indeed have walls of some queer clear material that swam with Charter marks, showing the magic that had gone into making it, that had sustained it these hundreds of years since the House had been built. Sansa had always liked the Observatory, had liked coming up here to look at the stars with Father and Bran when she was younger.
Sansa cast one glance skyward, picking out the Reaper, and then turned to climb back down into the House proper. She’d probably done something to offend Arya in the scant two hours since her arrival, anyways.
Joffrey left early the following morning, directly after breakfast, and not without one last ditch attempt to convince Sansa that he had been the one Tyrion Saw holding her hand.
“My family are powerful allies to have,” he added, not bothering to keep his voice down and ensuring that she would have to explain everything to her parents. “Do not turn down my proposal lightly.”
“I am turning it down because we would be a poor match,” Sansa said tightly. “Goodbye, Joffrey. Thank you for flying me home.”
He scowled fiercely and climbed up into the cockpit without looking back. She was not sorry to see him go.
“What did he mean, “I could be the one you were Seen with,” Sansa?” Father asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and guiding her back towards the House. “Did the Clayr See you…?”
“They did,” she admitted. “I was Seen holding the hand of someone wearing a green surcoat edged with nine-pointed stars. It… It looked like a handfasting, according to the Clayr who Saw it.”
“You sound doubtful.”
“I was pursued by many eligible young Clayr while I was studying in the Library,” she said wryly, a bitter smile twisting her mouth. “They think a marriage to the Abhorsen’s daughter would be… Useful, I think.”
“Possibly the Abhorsen-in-Waiting,” Father said, but there was a teasing tone in his voice that showed his disbelief in that possibility, which annoyed Sansa. “You’re too good for him, anyways. There’s a sort of a wrongness about him, as if he was made badly. Your grandfather felt it last night at dinner, and Bran as well.”
Sansa frowned at that, wondering how a person could be badly made – and Joffrey was a person, bearing an uncorrupted Charter mark, else he would never have been able to cross the wards that bounded the House – as Father guided her up the steps to the front door.
“Arya has taken Robb’s death badly,” he said quietly. “Be gentle with her, please?”
“She should have better control of herself,” Sansa said firmly. “She is not a child anymore, Father – she is nineteen years old, and she has Abhorsen blood. Rickon is taking it better than her, as far as I can see.”
“Is in a mood because the sendings did not leave Robb’s bells in her room this morning when they were laying out her clothes,” Sansa said. “She assumes that she will be Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and is angry that the sendings have not confirmed that yet.”
“It is not just the sendings-“
“Oh, they always know,” Sansa said, waving a careless hand. “Everyone knows that, Father. Uncle Brynden wasn’t Great-Grandmother’s natural heir, and nobody would have chosen him as her heir at the time, but he was her Abhorsen-in-Waiting because the sendings marked him out, not Grandfather, and Brynden was an excellent Abhorsen till the day he died.”
“You feel very strongly about this.”
“I just think Arya is being brattish. Mother herself said that the new Abhorsen-in-Waiting will be chosen after Robb’s Farewell, but Arya is being Arya, which means she is being impatient.”
“That is not always a bad thing,” Aunt Lyanna called as she descended the stairs. “But I am inclined to agree with Sansa in this instance.”
“Take it from someone who understands impetuousness, Ned,” Lyanna said with a small, grim smile. “It will not serve Arya well.”
Father flinched at the memory of Lyanna’s “impetuousness,” and while he was thus distracted, Lyanna looped her arm through Sansa’s and pulled her towards the dining hall.
“Arya will behave,” Lyanna promised. “My Jon is watching her.”
“How funny that I am the one told to be gentle, instead of Arya being told to behave as befits her blood,” Sansa grumbled. “She may be entirely wild, Aunt Lya, but she is half-Abhorsen-“
“I know, sweet girl,” Lyanna soothed, “but she has been indulged, just as I was. Give her time – she will mature either all at once or never at all.”
Sansa had never dared ask the truth of her aunt’s affair with the King, twenty-five years ago and buried in the Kingdom’s past so thoroughly that there were some who didn’t even know who Jon’s father was, but she knew that the girl her father spoke of before Jon’s birth was very different to the woman Sansa knew.
“Have some tea,” Lyanna said, pouring a cup for each of them and pressing Sansa’s into her hand. “Sansa, I know that you find it difficult here sometimes, but.. Be patient.”
“I am always patient.”
“I know that, sweetheart, but… I do understand better than you think, Sansa. Arya might have my foolhardiness, but you have more than a touch of my arrogance. I ran away and ended up with the shame of the realm on my shoulders and a fatherless son in my arms. I don’t want you to make a similar mistake.”
They drank their tea in silence, and then it was time to go.
Time for Robb’s Farewell.
Far away to the north and the east, in a city built on hills, in a palace of light and laughter, a King looks up from an ancient scroll with the light of revelation in his violet-blue eyes.
“I must write to the Abhorsen,” he announced, standing up. “At once, I must write her to now.”
His Queen, small and lithe and cinnamon-skinned, looked up sceptically.
“She has just lost her son, Rhaegar,” Elia said cautiously. “Surely whatever it is that has struck you can wait?”
“No!” Rhaegar declared, striding up and down before the huge window that overlooked Belisaere, capital city of the Old Kingdom. “No, I must- Aegon must marry one of her daughters!”
“We must combine all four bloodlines!” he exclaimed, a feverish light in his eyes that Elia had not seen in twenty-five years, since he had taken the Wallmaker girl and pursued the now-Aborsen, in his attempt to create some sort of saviour for whatever it was he thought was to come. “All four in one person – Clayr and royal from Aegon, Wallmaker and Abhorsen from one of the Abhorsen’s daughters. Surely you see it too, Elia?”
I can see a brilliant man brought to madness by his obsession, Elia thought darkly, but she said nothing. She would write to her brothers and ask if the Clayr had seen anything of this new foolishness of Rhaegar’s, and maybe they would know how best to avert another crisis.
Robb’s ashes mixed with the mist thrown up by the waterfall as it hurled itself over the cliffs, and Mother’s hands shook as she sketched the marks for the final blessing in the air. Sansa stood a little way back, between Father and Bran, holding tight to Bran’s hand.
“Go beyond the Ninth Gate, and do not tarry,” Mother intoned, and they all echoed her words.
She called for them to wait a moment before they went back inside, and they stood in the cool damp air on the tiny skirt of land outside the walls that protected the House and gardens.
“Tomorrow, I suspect the sendings will lay out bells for my heir,” she said, eyes flashing to Arya and away. “I do not want to hear a single word about it until then. Am I understood?”
Arya scowled and pouted, clearly put out that she could not boast of her inevitable ascension to Abhorsen-in-Waiting, but she did not argue with Mother.
Sansa followed Bran to his workshop on the south lawn (built by Prince Sameth over two centuries past, first of the new Wallmakers) and sat with him for the rest of the day, him telling her stories of his adventures far to the south, in the Wallmaker’s Tower and along the Borderlands, her telling him stories of her time in the far north, in the Clayr’s Glacier and their wonderful Library.
Bran was late down to breakfast the following morning (he hadn’t meant to stay up quite so late, but he’d found a book on construction magic while he and Sansa were poking about the Library and-), and was surprised to find only one of his sisters present.
“Is Sansa not down yet?” he asked. “Unlike her.”
“She’s probably sulking over something,” Arya said with a smile before biting into her sausage. “You know how she is.”
Bran sometimes wondered if his sisters knew each other at all – Sansa was sulking, yes, but Bran thought he might sulk too, if he was overlooked entirely in Rickon’s favour the way Mother had overlooked Sansa for Arya every time she mentioned the new Abhorsen-in-Waiting. Arya was in a good mood this morning, despite apparently not having been given bells, because nobody else seemed to have been given bells, either.
“I’m going to look for her,” he declared, pushing away from the table. “It isn’t like her to miss breakfast.”
“I’ll come with you,” Aunt Lya volunteered, and of course as soon as she stood up so did Uncle Brandon and Jon. “She wouldn’t have gone for a walk, would she?”
“I don’t know,” Bran admitted. “Maybe one of you checks the gardens, someone else check the library and her room, and I’ll check the Observatory?”
“Is she likely to be there?” Uncle Brandon asked sceptically. “The library, yes, but the Observatory?”
“I’ll check it and see,” Bran said calmly. “It won’t take long.”
So he climbed up and up, four sets of stairs curling around the tower, then up the ladder to the trapdoor and into the Observatory.
Sansa was sitting in the middle of the floor, a bandoleer of seven bells and creamy-looking leather strapped across her chest, a book bound in greenish leather with tarnished silver clasps balanced in her hands.
“Abhorsen-in-Waiting,” Bran called respectfully, “you’re missing breakfast.”
She glanced up, smiled, and looked back to the book.
“I’ll be down in a moment,” she promised, her voice distant. She was frowning just slightly as she said, “I remember the book differently.”
The book in her hands was the Book of the Dead, the Abhorsen’s guidebook – a grimoire of sorts, containing all the spells needed to safely traverse Death, the methods of binding Dead and Free Magic creatures to your will with the bells, every scrap of knowledge collected by all the Abhorsens on necromancy and counter-necromancy since the Beginning.
A book that could only be opened by someone with an innate knowledge of necromancy, of Death-magic, and closed by a Charter mage with an unsullied mark. It was considered the most dangerous book in the world, spelled to blind and burn and bind any who tried to open it in the wrong.
And Sansa had apparently read it before.
“You’ve known from the moment Robb died that you would be Abhorsen-in-Waiting,” Bran guessed, folding his legs and sitting down in front of her.
“I’ve never had any Wallmaker in me,” Sansa said absently, turning one wafery page and humming in interest. “Is it really so surprising that I am Abhorsen-in-Waiting?”
Bran considered it, considered everything he knew of his sisters and remaining brother, and realised that no, it wasn’t surprising at all that Sansa was heir to their mother’s office.
“I suppose not,” he admitted. “Would you like me to send up some breakfast for you?”
“I’ll be down in a short while,” she promised. “I’ve been here since before dawn – I’m almost finished.”
Brandon, Lyanna and Jon were all standing at the bottom of the main staircase when Bran made his way back down, looking worried.
“She was in the Observatory,” he said with a smile. “She’ll be down in a little while – she has some reading to do.”
Sansa descended from the sanctuary of the Observatory slowly, the Book of the Dead tucked into the pouch on the belt the sendings had left for her, the bandoleer heavy, but not uncomfortably so, across her chest.
Her skirts swirled around her ankles as she skipped down the stairs, one arm pressed across the bells lest they make a sound. There was no need to wear the bandoleer here in the House – no Dead thing could cross the boundaries, she knew that, everyone knew that – not without the Abhorsen’s permission, at least.
Still, Sansa had no intention of taking off her bandoleer – her bells – just yet. It was… She felt horribly guilty for thinking it, but it was confirmation of what she’d suspected since Robb had first laid claim to the bells, nearly five years ago. They were meant for me, not for him.
The whole family – all her uncles, both her aunts, Grandfather Rickard, Mother and Father, her brothers and Arya and Jon and Robin – were all in the dining hall when she walked in, intending to find something to eat.
Arya, of course, was the first to notice the bandoleer, and her face paled.
“Why are you wearing that?” she demanded, standing up so sharply that she knocked her chair over.
“I wanted to know if it was as heavy as it looked,” Sansa said. “It’s not, which is a relief – I always wondered if the bandoleer made fighting or shooting uncomfortable or difficult, but I can’t see that it would.”
“Don’t you know how dangerous it is?!” Arya shouted. “You’re not Abhorsen, you shouldn’t-“
“I am Abhorsen-in-Waiting, though,” Sansa said calmly. “The sendings would not have laid out the bells and the Book of the Dead for me if I was not, after all.”
Bran was grinning, and Father looked pleasantly surprised, but everyone else seemed stunned.
“You, Abhorsen-in-Waiting?” Arya spluttered. “But you-“
“Have as much Abhorsen blood as you, Arya,” Mother said sternly. She seemed surprised, but she rose from her seat and moved to embrace Sansa. “I cannot say that I am unsurprised, but the sendings always know – congratulations, sweetling.”
“You cannot believe that Sansa is the true Abhorsen-in-Waiting!” Arya exclaimed, clearly horrified. “She- what does she know of anything?!”
“Arya,” Mother said, tone sharp and eyes hard. “Enough.”
“What do you think I spent three months in the Clayr’s Library doing, Arya?” Sansa asked. “Reading fairytales? I was studying there – studying magic.”
“But you hate riding and swordplay and-“
“Has it ever occurred to you, Arya, that I don’t hate riding so much as riding with you?” Sansa spat. “If things were different, would you like it if I were constantly belittling you for having no interest in dressing nicely or behaving properly-“
“Now you’re being stupid, the Abhorsen can’t wear skirts-“
“Enough,” Mother said in a voice that would cut through steel. “Both of you are embarrassing yourselves – Arya, whether you like it or not, Sansa is Abhorsen-in-Waiting now, and that will not change.” She turned to Sansa then, and there was disappointment in her eyes. “This was not an auspicious start to your tenure as my apprentice, Sansa.”
“My apologies, Mother,” Sansa gritted out, wondering why it was that she was being reprimanded while Arya was being appeased. “May I be excused? I seem to have lost my appetite.”
She strode away, stiff-shouldered and her hands fisted tightly at her sides. She had to clamp her jaw shut to keep from screaming – how was it Arya managed to ruin everything?! Just because she was unhappy with Sansa having been made Abhorsen-in-Waiting…
“So there is a new Abhorsen-in-Waiting,” Tywin said. “And we have no idea how she will behave? She lived here for three months.”
“She lived in the Library for three months,” Cersei sniffed, twirling the silver and ivory wand of the Voice of the Nine Day Watch in one hand and lifting her cup of wine with the other. “Ask the Imp.”
“Tyrion says she’s a quiet girl,” Jaime offered from the far side of the room. “More interested in magic and history than politics.”
“Not her mother’s daughter, then,” Tywin said. “What else did he say?”
Jaime shrugged. “Pleasant enough, if a bit unsure of herself. He was not her guide, so he didn’t spend that much time with her.”
“Who was her guide?”
“Willas – the crippled one, the one who works in the Library with Tyrion.”
“Olenna’s grandson,” Tywin gritted out – it was the worst kept secret in the Glacier that Tywin and Olenna, one of the oldest among the Clayr, who spent most of her time in a Dreaming Room because her Sight was so active, so fractured, but who still controlled her branch of the family with an iron fist, hated one another. “Tyrion assigned him to the Abhorsen’s daughter?”
“The Librarians don’t partake in politics if they can help it,” Jaime said. “The Old Man would never allow them to – he’d take their heads with Binder if he thought they were playing games, especially with someone like the Abhorsen’s daughter. Besides, the crippled chap is old Leyton’s grandson, Tyrion probably had nothing to do with choosing him as the girl’s guide.”
“An Abhorsen, a Wallmaker and a reluctant Princess,” Cersei said thoughtfully. “Quite the brood Abhorsen Catelyn has raised.”
Arya was still not speaking to Sansa a week after Robb’s Farewell, and while that had not been a problem while their extended family was still at the House, now there was only the two of them, Mother and Rickon, and it was awkward.
Even more so when Mother called them into her study.
“I have had a letter from the King,” she said, unfolding a great sheaf of paper. “Condolences for Robb’s death, congratulations to Sansa on her appointment as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and something very interesting indeed.”
“What’s that?” Arya asked, flinging herself down into the chair opposite Mother’s and leaving Sansa with no option but to stand.
Mother cleared her throat and began to read.
“As I am sure you know, I have long been working with certain of the Clayr to discern the nature of whatever it is that is pushing the Northern tribesmen south. We are certain that, whatever it is, it is magical in origin, and in studying certain old texts I have come to a conclusion – a saviour of sorts is needed, someone literally born to fight whatever this creature or being might be.”
“I thought the Northerners were coming south because their fertile land has been freezing over?” Sansa said, confused. So she had been taught, anyways, and it had been Mother and Father who had guided those lessons.
Mother merely grimaced before continuing.
“It is my belief that the Charter has presented us with the perfect opportunity to create this saviour within one generation – the marriage of my son, Aegon, to one of your daughters would combine all four of the Bloodlines, and I would like to see the match made by the Midwinter’s Festival.”
Sansa blinked in amazement – the notion of combining all four Bloodlines was ludicrous, nobody truly manifested the gifts of any more than one bloodline, not purely – and then laughed.
“Surely he cannot be serious?” she asked, genuinely stunned. “The children of such a match will still be children, no more or no less – they will not be some prophesied heroes!”
“This is an order from the King,” Mother said tiredly. “But there is more.”
“What more could there be?”
“I have one condition for you to bear in mind when choosing which of your daughters is to wed my son – there has not been an Abhorsen Queen since Sabriel, and I would keep it that way. Whichever of your daughters is to be Queen, she cannot also be Abhorsen-in-Waiting.”
“What a pity that you must give up the bells so soon, Sansa,” Arya sighed mockingly. “While it is a wrench, I suppose-“
“Sansa is not giving up her bells,” Mother said. “She is not marrying Prince Aegon.”
Arya froze, half out of the chair, and turned to Mother in shock.
“You cannot expect me to marry him!”
“I can, and I do,” Mother said. “The King has ordered one of you to marry the prince, and Sansa is Abhorsen-in-Waiting-“
“She was never meant to be Abhorsen-in-Waiting!” Arya shrieked. “She-“
“Is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and throwing a tantrum will not change that.”
All three of them turned to the door, startled by the sudden appearance of the little white cat with the violently green eyes.
“Mogget,” Mother said, eyeing the cat suspiciously. “We were not expecting you.”
Mogget’s smile was too human for his feline face, but then, he wasn’t really a cat at all – Sansa had studied what little was known of Mogget and still knew only that he was an immensely powerful Free Magic creature from the Beginning, and that while there had been more lore on him it had mysteriously disappeared. Once, he had been bound to the service of the Abhorsens, caught under Saraneth’s spell and then Ranna’s, but now he was free to come and go as he chose – he tended to come to the House when there was a fishing party, but otherwise he roamed as he pleased.
“Oh, I had to come and greet the new Abhorsen-in-Waiting,” he purred, leaping up onto the desk at Sansa’s hand. “She’s much better suited than the last one, you know.”
Mother’s mouth tightened into a thin line.
“Why are you here, Mogget?”
“The King is a fool for thinking that combining all four Bloodlines will create a saviour,” he said shortly, licking one dainty paw with his sharp pink tongue. “But he is the King, which makes him a dangerous fool – one of you must go to Belisaere and wed the prince, of that there can be no doubt.”
“I was not finished speaking,” he said, cutting off all of their protests. “I do not doubt that he thinks this marriage will bring forth a child with the royal… whatever it is that makes them so very good at ruling, the Clayr’s Sight, the Abhorsen’s dominion over Death and the Wallmaker’s talent for creation and building. He is that sort of fool.”
“The child will be a child,” Sansa said. “Just a child, surely? It is impossible for all four Bloodlines to be present in such a way-“
“The child will be heir to the throne,” Mogget said, shrugging bony shoulders and stretching. “But you must understand that it was Seen that a hero would be born of the King’s parents’ line, and clearly it is not him.”
“That still doesn’t explain why I have to marry the prince instead of Sansa,” Arya huffed.
“It is as your mother said,” Mogget said peevishly. He and Arya had never gotten on – he’d always been fondest of Bran of all of them. Sansa had sometimes seen the little cat-thing looking at her brother almost wistfully, as if Bran reminded him of someone long gone. “She is Abhorsen-in-Waiting. You are not, and never would have been unless the entirety of the Abhorsen’s bloodline was erased aside from yourself and your mother.”
“Well, aside from the Wallmaker, of course,” Mogget agreed, rolling his eyes. “He is hardly Abhorsen at all, for all he has your mother’s hair.”
“I am not suited-“
“You will have to become suited to such a life,” Mother said sharply. “We cannot defy the King, Arya – for all that he needs us, Abhorsens and Wallmakers alike, we need him, too. Besides, it is not as though you are to be Queen – Princess Rhaenys is her father’s heir, is she not?”
“The King said in the letter that there has not been an Abhorsen Queen in a very long time,” Arya said. “Why would he say such a thing if Prince Aegon is not to take the throne in his place?”
“I am not suited to being Queen,” Arya said angrily, and suddenly she had a lapful of white fur.
“For the sake of your family,” Mogget said sweetly, his fur seeming to crackle and spark as his claws, longer and sharper than those of any other cat Sansa had ever known, dug into Arya’s thighs, “you will make yourself suited to being Queen. King Rhaegar is a decent King – I have seen many much worse – but he is not a forgiving man when his eccentricities are not indulged.”
“Mogget has the right of it,” Mother admitted. “You will go to Belisaere and you will marry the prince. We do not have a choice.”
“What is this threat the King speaks of? Something coming from the North? It must be something indeed to send the Northerners running south,” Sansa put in, worried more about that than Arya’s fate in Belisaere – she had heard plenty of talk about the royal family while she was with the Clayr from the Queen’s brother, Oberyn, a Paperwing pilot who spent as much time in the Library as in the air, and while she knew that as their uncle he was biased, he had had nothing but praise for Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon. This threat to the Northerners…
The lands beyond the Clayr’s Glacier to the north were wild and inhospitable, and the people who lived there were tough and rough and, above all, fearless. Touchstone I, first king after the Interregnum, had been the bastard son of the last Queen and her Northern lover, and his berserker blood had been passed down through the royal line in varying concentrations – it was said that the current King’s father had had too much of it, had been mad with it. It ran in the Wallmakers, too, because Prince Sameth had been the first Wallmaker and King Touchstone his father.
“Old magic,” Mogget said, something soft in his voice. “Those lands were beyond the Charter even at the Beginning – the mountains where the Clayr made their home formed a natural barrier.”
“So Free Magic, then? A sorcerer?”
“Not Free Magic as you know it,” Mogget said, shaking his head. “Something more… Elemental. But just as hungry for life as the Dead, if my guess is right.”
Sansa had never heard of Mogget’s guesses being wrong. She shuddered.
Mother was not happy when she learned that Sansa had read the Book of the Dead twice, once before she was Abhorsen-in-Waiting.
“Robb was away with you, and he left it behind him,” Sansa argued. “No harm came to me, so what is the problem?”
“The problem is harm could have come to you!” Mother shouted. “Sansa, that book is no plaything, any more than the bells are! It could have killed you, you know that!”
“Well, it didn’t,” Sansa said with a shrug. “And it won’t – not unless I turn away from the Charter and my mark becomes corrupted, which I won’t.”
Studying with Mother was difficult for Sansa, in some ways, because her time in the Great Library had left her used to guiding her own learning, and Mother kept a tight rein on what Sansa could and couldn’t read. She remembered wistfully the bracelet of emeralds all the Librarians wore, bracelets that acted as keys – the higher your rank within the Library, the more emeralds and, eventually, rubies were lit by the Charter spells they held and, therefore, the more doors you could open – sometimes when Mother forbade her from looking up this bestiary or that grimoire. She had been forbidden very little in the Great Library, and she longed for that freedom.
It was four weeks – a full month – after Robb’s Farewell before Mother decided Sansa was ready to come with her to work, to fight something Dead or Free Magic, as was the Abhorsen’s duty.
Sansa nearly threw up twice before climbing into the Paperwing behind her mother, and her bells felt crushingly heavy against her chest as she gathered up enough breath to sing down the wind they needed while Mother whistled to the Paperwing.
“It is a Mordicant,” Mother called back over her shoulder as they flew west. “That’s my guess.”
Sansa bit back a murmur of fear. Mordicants were Greater Dead creatures, sentient to a degree, big and strong and fast and clever – and, worst of all, they could travel back and forth between Life and Death, and seemed to have an uncanny knack of finding the right place to emerge from Death to find a specific location in Life.
Or perhaps the worst of them was that because their bodies were moulded from bog clay and human blood, because the body had to be infused with Free Magic before it could host the Dead spirit within, it meant that there was a necromancer about, too, one that had not yet been reported.
Sansa knew that this was what she was meant to do with her life, but she thought it only normal that the idea of facing her first necromancer frightened her.
Still, it did sound like a Mordicant – people had been going missing, and there had been seemingly random fires, usually somewhere near where the missing person had last been seen. Mordicants practically dripped flames in their wake, after all.
“Remember,” Mother said as they climbed down from the Paperwing – the journey that would have taken them four days ahorse had taken them just six hours by air – and strapped on bells and swords. Mother had the Abhorsen’s sword, of course, with the green stone in the pommel, but Sansa was carrying the Abhorsen-in-Waiting’s sword, Nehima, inscribed simply with Remember Nehima on the blade (nobody seemed to know who or what Nehima had been, of course, but the sword had been in the family for generations). “Let me take the lead-“
“I know, Mother,” Sansa promised. “Abhorsen, I mean.”
“Come along then, Abhorsen-in-Waiting,” Mother said, starting for the biggest house in the village, where the local leader would live, boots squelching softly in the mud. “Let us go about our business, hmm?”
The people of the village – one of the countless nameless villages that were spotted across the plains above the Long Cliffs – were anxious, and the spokesman insisted on testing both Sansa’s and Mother’s Charter marks, even though everyone knew what the Abhorsen’s colours were, everyone knew no necromancer would ever wear the silver keys. Still, when tensions were high people had a tendency to fear the bells, an instrument of evil in any hands but an Abhorsen’s, so Sansa stood and accepted the testing without complaint. It did not do to cause discord among people who were already half-frantic with fright, who she and Mother needed if they were to do their work.
“Elia says it’s the younger of the Abhorsen’s girls that Aegon’s to marry, not the one you fancy,” Oberyn said, sliding down the ladder with three heavy books tucked under his arm. “The Abhorsen-in-Waiting is still free, and has been Seen to wed one of us. Who knows, it might even be you.”
Willas harrumphed, trying to ignore the blush burning under his beard, and took the books from Oberyn.
“The Abhorsen-in-Waiting has more important things to worry about than a potential future,” he said, motioning for Oberyn to follow him as he turned back up the spiral. “Fighting Dead things, for example, and learning her trade from her mother.”
“She’s also just barely twenty-one,” Oberyn pointed out, “and by all reports she’s never had a chance for… Romantic adventure.”
“Oh yes, a crippled Clayr librarian over ten years her senior is precisely the sort of romantic adventure she needs,” Willas laughed, rolling his eyes. “You are a cad, Oberyn.”
“And you’re a fool, Willas,” Tyrion called as Willas and Oberyn rounded the bend and entered the main Reading Room. “You’re only nine years older than Sansa.”
“Still teasing poor Willas about the lovely Abhorsen-in-Waiting, little brother?”
All three turned to see Jaime coming towards them, ivory-and-steel wand in hand, little pouch of ivory tokens hanging from his belt.
“Jaime,” Tyrion said, raising an eyebrow. “The Voice of the Nine Day Watch is all Clayr and none – can you and her even have a little brother?”
Jaime rolled his eyes and passed a token down to Tyrion.
“You’ve been Seen in the Observatory,” he said. “As have both of you,” he added, passing tokens to Willas and Oberyn, frowning just slightly. “The Watch is being expanded.”
“Still no luck in Seeing to the north?” Oberyn asked, surprised. “I had heard…?”
“No,” Jaime said grimly. “And with Prince Aegon’s looming marriage, the King grows impatient with us – he seems to believe that the fault lies with us personally rather than with the Sight.”
Willas sniffed derisively, and knew that the other three agreed – what did an UnSighted know of the Sight? Charter, Willas had Awakened when he was eleven, nearly twenty years ago, and he still didn’t truly understand the Sight.
“Come, then,” Oberyn said, still frowning. “We’d better change – I doubt the rest of the Watch would appreciate us turning up in waistcoats or flying gear, what do you think?”
The Mordicant was a lot bloody bigger than the Book of the Dead had led Sansa to believe it would be, and the necromancer was a lot more brazen than Mother had thought she would be.
Sansa hadn’t even heard what the necromancer was calling herself, because she and Mother had barely crossed the stream that guarded the village on its western fringe but the Mordicant had been on them, and then the necromancer had appeared so of course Mother had turned to deal with her.
Leaving Sansa with an enormous beast of bog clay and shadow and flame and hatred, a beast that’s attacking her so quickly she can only just keep Nehima between herself and its fiery claws-
In a moment’s respite, she manages to loose a bell, not knowing which it is until she pulls it from her bandoleer and her fingers wrap properly around the mahogany handle – and it’s not Saraneth, damn it, it’s Kibeth, but she doesn’t have time to worry about not being able to bind the Mordicant so for now she swings Kibeth in a sharp, repetitive loop, keeping her left hand low at her hip as Nehima’s blade sparked Charter-gold and sank into the Mordicant’s swiping arm, and-
It would have been comical, seeing the huge creature jerk and spasm as it fought against Kibeth’s jolly, furious chime, seeing the great feet dance awkwardly ever closer to the stream. Sansa’s own foot tapped in time to the music of the Walker, a bell she’d been warned to be wary of, and she swung Kibeth out into a loose figure-of-eight in front of herself, the music shifting and changing.
The Mordicant staggered arhythmically towards the stream, and Sansa sheathed Nehima (she’d have to scrub the blade later, it was filthy) and used her free hand to draw Saraneth, the Binder, the strongest bell save one.
Swinging both bells together, forcing her will into the ringing, forcing the Mordicant to Walk and Binding it back into Death, she drove it back towards the stream, further and further and-
It disappeared into Death, a flash of darkness, and Sansa huffed angrily and immediately reached out for that cold pull that was never far away, reached out for the river that never stopped flowing, sheathing Kibeth and switching Saraneth to her left hand before drawing Nehima once more even as ice gathered on her eyelashes and the world shifted around her.
The Mordicant was waiting for her right on the border between Life and Death, larger even here than it was in Life, the flames that swam greasily across its flesh darker and hotter, the metallic stench of Free Magic that had been drowned by forest and stream in Life overwhelming now in the flat greyness of Death.
Sansa didn’t dare scream – to scream was to risk discordance with Saraneth’s knell as she lifted the bell high over her head and rang it in a simple circle, somehow managing not to lose her rhythm as the Mordicant rushed her, as she forced Nehima up just in time and ducked to avoid having her head taken clean from her shoulders – her body may still have been in Life, but a wound in Death was as lethal if not more so than a wound taken in Life.
The beast screeched as Saraneth wound its bonds around it, as Sansa bent it to her will through the bell. It fought harder than before, but its movements were sluggish, its fires dimmer, and Sansa could feel her triumph coming.
“Go now,” she said, and she barely recognised her own voice – she sounded like Mother, like Uncle Brynden, like every other Abhorsen before her had sounded while taking control of their domain. “Go beyond the Ninth Gate. Do not tarry. Do not falter. Do not stop.”
The Mordicant was cowering now, a lump of darkness in the grey water of the river, so Sansa dared sheath Nehima in order to draw Kibeth once more. Binder and Walker sang together, a rapid quickstep that the Mordicant had no choice but to obey, and Sansa kept ringing her bells until the First Gate roared in the distance and she sensed that she was as much alone as possible in Death.
She sheathed her bells with a deep breath, looking about herself for a moment. The grey river of Death stretched as far as she could see in all directions, which wasn’t really all that far, considering the strange haze that distorted her vision after twenty yards or so. She could hear the roar of the First Gate, a waterfall, in the distance.
Death was split into nine Precints, each with their own perils. Sansa had never been further than the Third Precinct, but she knew well that she may someday have to go much deeper into Death to fight some of the Greater Dead. Mother had said-
“Mother!” she exclaimed, feeling for the border with Life and leaping back into the dull afternoon, ice and frost falling from her hands and bandoleer and sword and braid, because she had to move, but-
Mother had the tip of the Abhorsen’s sword pressed to the throat of the necromancer who seemed no older than Sansa, whose Charter mark was only very slightly corrupted. Sansa wondered if that meant the woman could be saved, that she could be returned to the Charter, but Mother’s face was cold, her eyes complete without mercy.
“I name you Muriel,” Mother said, and Sansa noticed Saraneth in her hand for the first time, Mother’s hand inside the mouth of the bell to still the clapper. Even as Sansa watched, though, Mother tossed the bell into the air and caught the handle, swinging into an easy back-and-forth motion without pause. “You will lay down your bells and never wield them again. You will forsake Free Magic. You will go to Belisaere and seek a new Baptism in the Charter on the Great Charter Stones. You will not tarry in this duty.”
Saraneth told, and Muriel wailed, struggling against the bell and Mother’s indomitable will alike, but it was futile. Mother had been Abhorsen for fifteen years, since Uncle Brynden died, and Abhorsen-in-Waiting for many long years before that – this necromancer, this Muriel, was still wet behind the ears.
She stood, stripped off her bells, and then she waited, trembling and her jaw set in absolute fury, as Mother calmly tidied away bell and sword and tucked her hair back behind her ear.
“The Mordicant?” she asked Sansa, smiling tiredly.
“Gone beyond the Ninth Gate,” Sansa assured her. “What do we do with…?”
“Kill me,” Muriel gritted out. “I will not bend to the Charter again-“
“You will bend, as you put it,” Mother said firmly, “or the King will execute you. He is not so kind as I am.”
Sansa remembered the stories of what the King had done to the man Aunt Lya had been promised to before Jon was born, a nobleman from the lands just south of Belisaere who had been a great friend of Father’s. He had objected to the King taking Lyanna as his lover, which Sansa thought was fair enough, and the King had simply executed him.
No, the King was not reputed to be a kind man, or even a merciful one. He was terrifyingly, implacably just.
Muriel seemed aware of this, because her eyes went wide and her mouth opened into a perfect “o” of horror.
“Please,” she begged. “Kill me now. They say he tortures-“
“You should have considered that before you turned away from the Charter,” Mother said. “Come, we will walk back to the village, and from there we will escort you to the nearest Guardpost.”
Sansa made sure all of her own bells were secure and safe before stepping forward to pick up Muriel’s – the necromancers stank of Free Magic, metallic and hot and sour, and there was an uncomfortable heat emanating even from the leather of the bandoleer when Sansa lifted it. Perversions of Charter marks swam across the blackened wood of the handles, and Sansa had no wish to ever look upon the bare silver of the bells.
“What will we do with these?” she asked, holding them gingerly.
“Bring them to the Tower,” Mother said. “Your uncle Brandon has a gift for unmaking such things – he will cleanse them of the Free Magic and reforge the silver into something useful. Something non-magical, just to be safe.”
Muriel made another horrible noise, something like a wail, and Sansa flinched because it felt as though heat throbbed through Muriel’s bells at the sound.
Mother drew Dyrim, rang it once, sharply, and Muriel’s voice choked to a gargle in her throat.
“You have been branded with a dangerous mark,” Mother said firmly, replacing Dyrim and gesturing to Muriel’s ruined Charter mark, glowing sickly red-gold on her forehead. “That which lies far north beyond the Clayr’s Glacier abhors life. It would have done you no good to serve it.”
Muriel’s face twisted with anger again, and she sprang forward – but Mother was ready, a Charter spell already in her hand that she flung out, a net of soft golden marks that expanded and bound Muriel.
“The Others come,” Mother said, and there was a despair in her voice that shocked Sansa. “They come, and they must be turned back, but fools like you make that difficult.”
Sansa had ample opportunity to ponder what these “Others” Mother had mentioned might be, because she was left to fortify the village against future attacks while Mother flew Muriel to the nearest Guardpost in the Paperwing.
She became aware, as she sang her next round of marks of protection into the low stone wall that bordered the northern edge of the village, clearing her throat before reaching for the near-painfully high note of the master mark, that she was being watched. She sang the note, sealed the mark into the stone (she’d always found it easiest to work magic by singing it, something that had always annoyed Arya to no end), and then she turned to her audience.
It was three young men, her own age or a little older, and two women of the same age, all dark and lithe and striking. Sansa knew that the Plains above the Long Cliffs had been given to the Southerlings – two hundred years could not erase the memory of the only mass immigration in the history of the Old Kingdom – which explained why she stuck out sorely among the villagers.
“May I help you?”
“We were told the Abhorsen-in-Waiting was a man,” said the tallest of the men, folding his arms and eyeing her bandoleer suspiciously. “The Abhorsen’s son.”
“He was,” Sansa said shortly. “And he died. He was my brother. I am Abhorsen-in-Waiting now – is that a problem?”
The two women looked at one another briefly before shaking their heads.
“No, ma’am,” the one with her hair pinned back said. “We meant no offence-“
“I will be finished soon,” Sansa said. “I can speak with you then, if you would not mind?”
They hesitated – the three men obviously did have a problem with her as Abhorsen-in-Waiting – but they left, and Sansa moved on to the copse of trees to the east of the village. She had more singing to do, but it was hard to line up the Charter marks for the spells in her head when all she could think of was Robb.
Robb was honourable and brave and strong, and he was dead before his time because he thought he was the Abhorsen-in-Waiting
Sansa hoped that her fears would prove untrue, but she knew now – I will bear his shadow all my life she thought as she pressed her hand to the trunk of the stoutest tree she could find, burning the marks into place under her palm. I will never be fully accepted as Abhorsen-in-Waiting because people except a man, expect Robb, expect another Uncle Brynden. They don’t want me, because I don’t seem strong like Mother – I sing my magic, and I wear my tunic too long, and my hair is too long too, and I like to be clean and neat and…
And that’s Arya talking, she told herself sternly, singing the marks for protection into the outermost trees, nearest the village. I am the one for this job. The sendings would not have left out the bells for me if I wasn’t. The Book of the Dead would have killed me. Mogget would not have given me his blessing.
Sansa paused and touched her fingers to the crest on the breast of her surcoat – the same silver keys on deep blue field that she had worn all her life. Robb, Arya and Rickon had all always worn silver Abhorsen’s keys quartered with the gold Wallmaker’s trowel, and Bran had always worn golden trowel on yellow field, as Wallmaker as Father.
But Sansa’s keys had never been quartered. Never once had the sendings laid anything out for her in Wallmaker yellow, with a pattern of trowels. She wore blue, she wore navy, she wore black, she wore keys.
It annoyed her more than she would ever care to admit that Mother and the rest of them (except Bran and Aunt Lyanna, and maybe Uncle Edmure, because he never seemed to build up perceptions of anyone until they did something impressive in some way) had completely ignored that, had discounted her entirely from the family in all the ways that mattered – they had always thought her useless for anything save… Well, useless things.
Sansa knew Mother didn’t think that of her anymore – if she had before, today would certainly have negated that opinion – but she knew that she could save the world from some ancient evil and Arya would probably still resent her for being Abhorsen-in-Waiting, for being, as Arya saw it, the cause of her having to marry Prince Aegon.
Sansa sighed, straightened up, and sighed again. She was tired – she’d twisted her wrist badly while fighting the Mordicant, and hadn’t the energy to use a little magic to soothe the pain – and she longed for nothing more than home and a bath, or maybe a chance to curl up in a big chair with a big book and a cup of tea.
She sniffed, wrinkled her nose, and shook her head.
Maybe a bath, and then a book and tea.
First, though, she had to wait for Mother to return with the Paperwing, which meant waiting in the village. Which meant facing those who felt that a male Abhorsen-in-Waiting might be better.
“You honestly expect all four of the bloodlines to manifest in Aegon’s children by the Abhorsen’s daughter?”
Rhaegar nodded absently, and Elia sighed. She had told him of what she had Seen – not the girl with the red Abhorsen hair, as Rhaegar expected, but the girl who looked just like Lyanna, the Wallmaker who had borne Rhaegar’s bastard, a girl with grey eyes and untidy dark hair and a pouty, frowny, petulant mouth. She’d been dressed in rich Abhorsen blue edged with Wallmaker gold, and Aegon had seemed as unhappy as she was, although he’d placed the circlet of twisted gold on her head without complaint.
But Rhaegar was convinced that the Abhorsen would send her eldest girl, the one Oberyn had written of, who had visited the Glacier, who was supposed to be something of a beauty, like her mother. Elia liked the Abhorsen, found the quietly confident and frighteningly competent woman to be good company and excellent at her job, and if the Abhorsen thought that her eldest daughter was best suited to be Abhorsen-in-Waiting, well, Elia trusted her judgement.
Rhaegar had no place interfering in Abhorsen and Wallmaker and Clayr business. He seemed to think that any child of Aegon’s and- what was the girl’s name? Oh, Arya, that was it – any child of Aegon’s and Arya’s would have the strongest Sight of any Clayr, would be ideal Abhorsen-in-Waiting, would be the finest Wallmaker since Prince Sameth himself, would be an excellent king or queen.
Elia had asked Oberyn and Doran to watch for any children, and they had agreed – no new princes or princesses had yet been Seen, and that only made Elia worry more that Rhaegar’s plans were complete and utter folly.
Daenerys poked her head around the door, glanced at Rhaegar, rolled her eyes, and slipped back out. Elia almost laughed at her sister-in-law’s antics, but she understood Dany’s frustrations well – the princess was supposed to be marrying in just a few weeks, but Rhaegar had hardly paid a moment’s attention to his sister or her intended since sending that letter to the Abhorsen’s House.
He hadn’t paid a moment’s attention to anything since sending that Charter-damned letter to the Abhorsen’s House.
Mother healed Sansa’s wrist – which had swollen up nicely purple by the time she returned – as soon as they’d said their farewells to the villagers.
Sansa had decided against telling Mother about the strange looks she’d gotten, the questions about Robb, the implication that Sansa couldn’t possibly be as competent as her brother had been. Mother would just get angry, and Sansa was too tired for that.
The fight in Death, using the bells – that had tired her more than the Charter magic she’d cast to ward the village against Dead. Forcing her will into the ringing of the bells had been much harder than she’d anticipated, and the balance between Free and Charter magics in them was so much more precarious than she could ever have imagined.
“Are you hungry?” Mother asked as Sansa clambered up into the passenger seat at the back of the Paperwing, Nehima and bells tucked safely at her side.
“I ate already,” Sansa said, shaking her head. “Mother, what you said to that necromancer – the Others? What are they?”
Mother’s mouth went small, and she sighed.
“Not here,” she said. “Back at the House, where it’s safe.”
She stowed her sword and bells and climbed up, and then they whistled and sang the Paperwing into the air and started their journey home.