Work Header

We Learned By Going Where We Had To Go

Work Text:

A Gazetteer of the Old Kingdom, as composed by Mogget, once Yrael, in his all too infrequent off hours and times of release from the binding of Saraneth and Ranna, being also an informal musing on the life of a 'servant' to the Abhorsens over many centuries and changes and injustices of captivity.

From an ancient voice to distant futures, Unseen and unimagined, to a time when we are unremembered or firmly forgotten, at the end of all things, Greetings.

"You don't think that's just a little bit over-dramatic, Mogget?"

The little white cat flexes its paws across the manuscript, flicking out his claws so that a drop of black ink falls at one corner. Over the pale hearthstone his shadow shimmers, waxing taller and broader with the flames of the fire, then waning down to something that looks, or seems to look, like the little creature stretched out on the rug. Its fur is a pure, inviting kind of white; the kind that, if it belonged to any other cat, the questioner would not be able to reach out and touch. The firelight turns the tips of the outer hairs a glowing red, like embers. Its eyes too are reddened by the fire, instead of their usual green, and seem amused. There is not, anymore, a collar around the cat's neck.

"I don't remember asking for your opinion, Prince, but since you mention it, it is my opinion that a little drama adds savour to the best tale."

Prince Sameth rolls his eyes and continues to warm his hands over the fire.

"Same old Mogget," he says, under his breath. A little louder: "I suppose there's half of Belisaere's fish market in this for you, if you get it finished?"

"The Abhorsen-in-Waiting had what is, as far as I can remember, the best idea she has ever had -- which I know is not saying so very much -- and, since it happened to coincide with a plan of my own devising, I agreed. I also mean that this Book should last."

"Your final legacy to the Kingdom?" Sam says, not bothering to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

"I may as well be ... useful," Mogget says, flexing his claws again, ponderingly, or so it seems to Sameth. He looks up at Sam, reddish eyes half-lidded, "A bad habit I can't seem to get rid of."

Sameth smiles, rubs his hands together for a final time and then sits down on the hearth rug beside the cat.

"How far have you got?" he asks.


Terciel, 51st Abhorsen
In appearance, tall, dark, grim of visage. In personality, dour, with a quick kind of humour [usually at my expense] which tended towards manifestations of a dark, gallows-heavy kind. Inherited the position of Abhorsen from the aunt who had been his guardian as a child. Terciel himself, having witnessed the fall of the Regency was, for a time when still quite young, a wanderer of the Kingdom -- a condition to which he was forced to return as Abhorsen in the years of the interregnum.

Married ( ---- ) in the last year of the Regency, with issue of one child -- Sabriel [52nd Abhorsen, and Abhorsen at the time of this Gazetteer's writing.]

The 51st Abhorsen and myself had a more equitable relationship than I have experienced with most of my erstwhile 'masters'. Permitting me the Dwarf form allowed both greater autonomy for me (although catching fish is less complicated when existing as a cat, eating the product of the hunt is certainly simplified by the use of a pair of hands, though I do prefer the fish raw) and greater opportunity for the Abhorsen to make use of (take advantage of, we may even say) my assistance. This included both such fascinating duties as making a catalogue (an up to date catalogue -- the original was out by some two hundred years) of the library of Abhorsen's House, as well as more 'thrilling' duties which I would have been just as glad to be spared.

I was unbound in his presence only three times (they were enough) -- two of which ending in or brought about some further disaster. A precedence of excellence which his daughter has followed.

Less reckless than that successor, he may be judged a good servant of his particular bloodline, aiding the putting to rest of a Great Evil (now sleeping in the cellar of the House in which I write this). He died with honour.


The manuscript itself is many pages of uneven handwoven pages of irregular size and quality, either bound together by a length of red ribbon (which Sam has not yet worked out how Mogget ties up and unbinds) or held down by a large stone on which Charter Marks dance and sparkle. The pages are clearly of different ages -- some new and fresh, the linen still shiny-smooth to the touch; some ancient, brown and red and, occasionally, blackened at the edges as though by a mysterious fire. But all the writing is Mogget's own: a delicate, twisting script that cuts across the pages as sharply as the claw that made the mark. That it is claws doing the writing, and not a quill or pen, not an instrument held between fingers, doesn't seem to worry Mogget.

The cat form is his own now, his own choice, or so it seems. Household opinion is divided on the motive and validity of this choice: Touchstone and Ellimere suspicious in a vague, undirected way; Sam himself mildly baffled as to why any creature as ancient and powerful as a Bright Shiner would choose to have its incarnation in the form of a small, rather delicate cat; Sabriel more accepting but still puzzled; only Lirael seeming to have any feeling for Mogget's choice: she says that, she thinks, somehow, the cat is more Mogget than anything could be, wilder, more full of bright, crisp life -- hunting and eating and sleeping and taking as little interest in the wider affairs of the Kingdom as possible. It's true, Sam thinks: it is impossible to imagine him as anything else, now, though how much of that is the habit of their travel together, Sam isn't sure. He thinks Lirael might be thinking about something else -- someone else -- though, in coming to her opinion. Mogget isn't the best substitute for the Disreputable Dog but, whether out of grief or desperation or something more genuine, Lirael does seem to have become quite fond of him. Whether or not the feeling is mutual, Sameth finds it impossible to say.

He came back last winter, one year since his Unbinding. The preceding season had produced many Dead around the borderlands along the Old North Road and Sabriel, having spent most of the autumn crossing between one makeshift camp after another to the House, suggested that the family spent the Midwinter Festival at Abhorsen's House rather than the Castle. So they had all been there to witness Mogget's snow-bound, ill-tempered return, standing in a gathering pool of melting ice in the House kitchen, watching the little cat shake the weather off his paws and give off a series of sneezes that dispersed the sendings, who had crowded around the intruder as soon as he appeared, with what Sam had seen as a thoroughly dismayed alacrity.

Sam had expected the first words out of Mogget's mouth to be a request for food but, after he was finished with sneezing, what he actually did was to approach Sabriel with a look of guarded respect flashing in his eyes and, to everyone's astonishment, inclined his head in a gesture that looked -- or would have looked, to someone who had never met Mogget before -- like a bow.

"Abhorsen," he had said, his voice the familiar high purr that managed to spread sarcasm over every syllable. Then, his eyes gliding over Touchstone, Sameth and Ellimere, and over Lirael, "Greetings. The whole family present and correct, well well. I have arrived at the right moment."

Touchstone started off the inevitable backlash with, "And I suppose you think you can just appear here whenever you -- "

And Ellimere continued it with, "And how did you get in here anyway? There are wards around this house that -- "

And Sabriel, more gently and with, as Sam saw when he turned to look at her, a wry smile on her face, "Some kind of ... warning would have been appreciated, Mogget."

Lirael just said, "Where have you been, Mogget?"

And Sam couldn't think of anything to say at all.


Abhorsen's House
The dwelling of all the Abhorsens, first to latest. The House sits hard by the Ratterlin waterfall, which provides it a effective defence against the Dead. The House is on three stories, with an observatory tower, kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms, armouries, and a small library. It is protected by wards stronger than any elsewhere in the Kingdom. None shall pass the door who are not welcome.

I believe that I have spent more time in the House than any other being in the Kingdom. This has, as you may imagine, not always been the most entertaining of ways to spend one's time. Following my re-binding with the Bell Ranna my time was spent in sleep, but when I was bound with Saraneth I spent many tiresome hours eluding the ancient sendings and not getting enough to eat.

And yet, it is the closest thing to a 'home' which I have ever had. Until I gained my freedom this was of little account to me, as a slave is still a slave no matter how pleasant his prison, but now I find differently. The hearth is warm, the fish are good. I will sleep well tonight.


The removal of Ranna from his collar, along with the collar itself, had not diminished Mogget's ability to sleep and, for the first few hours after his impromptu interruption to their Midwinter celebrations, that was exactly what he did. Curled up beside the fire that Lirael had laid in the study he slept for hours, well past dinner and into the middle evening until the common, if unspoken, consensus among the family was that, although they were desperate to know where he had been and why he had come back, it was best just to leave him to his sleep. They would only get a small, spitting mouthful of abuse each, anyway.

Eventually Sam lost patience with the whole affair, took two of the fresh fish they had caught that morning in the icy river, and dangled them above Mogget's sleeping head.

The change was dramatic, and amusing. Doing the little half-twist common to all cats awaking from sleep abruptly, Mogget had flipped over and opened his eyes, casting a jealous glance around the room as if to check for rivals for his fish supper, and then riveting his gaze directly on the shining scales of the cod Sam was wafting close to his nose. He had followed, as Sam stood up and inched backwards across the room, with his mouth open and his tongue pink and eager.

"Are you ready to tell us ... well, anything about where you've been?"

As Sam switched his attention to Mogget's reaction, rather than the distance between the temptation and the temptee, the smaller fish was twitched from between his fingers, and devoured in three neat gulps by the cat.

Mogget licked his lips, and gave Sam a look of amusement enhanced by the delicate savour of the Ratterlin cod that had just disappeared down his throat. "The bribe was welcome, but unnecessary. I was merely indulging a nostalgic desire to sleep brought upon me by these ... pleasant surroundings."

Sam had rolled his eyes, and then smiled. There was, evidently, no point in expecting Mogget to be a different creature than he had been, or at any rate not an entirely different one; his long nap proved that on its own. Form, shape, the overwhelming memories imposed by surroundings -- all these seemed to be combining to bring them back the Mogget of old, and Sam was surprised to find that he didn't mind this anything like as much as he would have thought.

After Sam had gathered the family (some of whom had fallen into a comfortable sleep of their own and were not as eager as Sam to learn the content of Mogget's adventures), and some more fish, Mogget had allowed what appeared to be the greater part of his story to be known.

The story was one of wandering, of chaotic adventure around the Kingdom. It had been, as Mogget said himself, many centuries since he had last had a free run of the country, since had not needed permission to disappear into its lesser known corners and hunt birds and catch fish and, and as he formed this prologue his voice became deeper, velvet and enchanted again by the idea of unrestricted freedom, to explore, to see the trees and test the water and taste the air. Sam had seen Touchstone raise his eyebrows, discreetly, hidden by the shadows flickering around the corners of the study, at this evidence of poetic feeling. But Sam had not been surprised himself, not really.

In any case, poetry or not, Mogget had given them an idea of what these adventures had consisted of. He seemed to have decided to divide the Kingdom into quarters, using the Ratterlin as the North-South line, and the Westway as the East-West, and delved into those quarters with intense interest -- discovering, and remembering, Sam supposed, the places that his binding had kept him from. He had stalked the forest floor of the Great Sickle Wood, and frolicked (Sam could see him, almost, sand flying up from his claws as he battled with crabs and the braver fish) at the Ratterlin Delta. He had discovered and explored the caves that lie at the foot of the Bay of Mountains, caves that had not been so deep at the time of his binding, and had spent an amusing week riding in the pack of a traveller going along the Westway towards High Bridge (quite like old times, Sam had thought, grinning, and feeling sorry for the man), before disappearing and testing the winding road that leads to the higher ranges of Mount Aunden.

He had, he said, with a careful look at Lirael, approached the lower reaches of the Clayr's Glacier but had not ventured inside knowing, as he admitted, that the Seers would find him, and probably throw him into the snow without a thought for his sensitive paws.

Sam thought that Lirael looked disappointed at this, a little, as though she would have appreciated even a little news of the Glacier, or some reassurance that it had not changed. Though she does not show it, Sam suspects that a part of Lirael, even if just in dreams, feels the loss of her first home like a banishment and, then, hardly a year after losing the Dog, the separation was painful to her, if she let herself think about it.

Perhaps to give herself something else to think about, Lirael had been the one to ask about the huge and untidy sheaf of papers that materialised, quite without fanfare, next to Mogget's feet. It was, of course, the draft version -- contained over many pages which had been copied and lost and copied again, from memory and in the aftermath of intense experience, and compressed and secreted by Charter Magic, secured like a second collar around Mogget's neck -- of the Gazetteer itself.

In that iteration it had been less the Gazetteer that it has become and more of a haphazard memoir or diary, recording both Mogget's year of freedom and the long and hazy memories of his binding. It was, again, Lirael who prodded and directed, in a strangely awkward way which concealed a skill in extracting information that Sam didn't notice until it was all over, the idea that the loose collection of experiences and knowledge might be catalogued. Might be useful.

Sam expected Mogget to be deeply scornful of the idea, to suggest that Lirael might want to make a more thorough exploration of some of the Kingdom's libraries instead of taking up the precious time of powerful beings who had better things to do with the impossible task of imposing order on both the knowledge contained in the papers, and the knowledge and memories of the one who had written them. But he hadn't. Picking at the last pieces of flesh on the second fish carcass, Mogget had seemed to ponder. Sam could see ideas grow and blossom in the cat's mind, and schemes turn over, and pride rise to the surface of everything like the cream on milk.

"Yes," he had said. "I believe that could be ... possible."

But as for answers to all questions concerning the reasons for his return, beyond boredom and the need for witnesses to his bad behaviour ("it's just more fun that way"), and for his unexpected responsiveness to Lirael's suggestion, Mogget would not be drawn.


Spring arrived, in its desultory way, and the Gazetteer seemed to be nowhere near its end. Sabriel and Lirael were required elsewhere in the Kingdom to put down an unexpected rising of the Dead near Ganel; Touchstone and Ellimere had already returned to Belisaere. This had left Sam unsure about what he should do next -- stay at the House with Mogget, keeping an eye on him while making use of the small library in the study, learning in the snippets and whispers he had by then become accustomed to, more about his destiny as the inheritor of the Wallmakers, or, return to Belisaere and to his workshop in the castle, to making and learning by making.

Eventually, he decided on a compromise -- an extra few weeks at the House, cramming from the books, instructing the sendings to keep a quiet eye on Mogget, and letting Mogget himself know that, should he get the Gazetteer finished, he should make his way up to Belisaere. He would have thought this a risky strategy, before, but now he knows, and is aware that the others agree by unspoken consent, that he cannot direct Mogget's movements anymore, even to the strained degree that was possible before. It isn't fair to, not anymore. He chose to come back, and that will have to be enough.

Sam spent three weeks reading, making notes, trying spells and learning marks, and leaving Mogget more or less to his own devices. The cat slept, ate, ambled around the highest level of the Tower, watching the many small, unreachable creatures in the waterfall enviously, and wrote.

They talked most at mealtimes, though 'talked' was perhaps not the most accurate description. Sam tried to tease out information about the essential mysteries -- the reasons for the return, the nature of the creature that had made the return -- but Mogget was either too clever for him (Sam didn't want to admit it, even to himself, but he suspected that this was the most likely option) or, possibly, didn't even know himself. Mogget's answers, or his evasions, were almost too slick, as if concealing motivations opaque by their very nature. It made all made Sam want to ask whether, somewhere in the middle of the Gazetteer, there was an entry on Mogget himself, and what it said.

But, at the end of three weeks, Sam hadn't asked and Mogget hadn't answered, and they said goodbye at the Paperwing platform. Sam didn't see him again for some months.


The Bright Shiners


Once one of the Nine Bright Shiners, now lost, though she may return, as she has done before. Kibeth gives her name to the third Bell of the Abhorsens, the 'Walker'. ...

Not my greatest advocate. A strong believer in the idea of principles and the idea of sticking to them, unless it interferes with her wishes for that day, Kibeth has a long memory, and a prodigious ability to hold grudges. And yet I think we are quite alike, just unable to admit it. Duty pulls her one way, and yet disobedience ('disreputability', even) still tugs at her metaphorical sleeve; I am only more honest in my motivations.

It puzzles me that I appear to regret the lack of her presence, in whatever form she may choose to take (though I, for one, think that the shape of the dog -- or any other domestic animal -- is a choice which has now run its course). It would be agreeable to have someone around to whom one can talk intelligently ...

The last of the Shiners still known by name in the Kingdom, though few still know her true significance. Neither present, nor lost, she exists in name, in spirit, in memory. She is not forgotten. Astarael gives her name to the seventh and last Bell of the Abhorsens, the 'Weeper' ...

I cannot forget the Weeper, but neither can I give an account of my meeting with her. Her name, though it inspires fear and grieving in many, will ever be strangely dear to me, for I owe her much.


In a quiet corner of the castle, Lirael and Sam are talking. As it has tended to be lately, the conversation is about Mogget, and the Gazetteer.

"I think he wants to be remembered," Lirael says, quietly.

"He hasn't gone anywhere yet!" Sam says. "How does an ancient and possibly immortal being worry about his legacy?"

"Maybe he will go somewhere. One day." Lirael stares at the fingernails of her golden hand, watching the Charter marks fizzle in and out of the light. "And he doesn't have a bell, does he? Like the others."

Sam makes a sound that might indicate agreement and might not. Lirael sighs and shakes her head a little, side to side. She knows, knows really, that she has no more idea than any of the others about Mogget's reasons for coming back to the House that night, for offering to help (or at least not finding some way of wriggling out of a request that he should help), for still being who and what he was, before. She knows she believes some of the things she believes about him because she misses the Dog and even work, destiny, and a real family, cannot burn up the low lake of stagnant grief in her chest that, every morning, when she wakes, makes it hard even to draw breath.

And yet -- she also knows that Mogget has his claws more firmly in the fabric of Life than any uncorrupted creature she has ever encountered, and she does not believe that being forgotten is any part of his plans for the future and, grief or not, she cannot begrudge him his bid for immortality.

And, lastly, smiling, she thinks: something in me is still a Librarian, and I like the idea of a catalogue of the knowledge of one of the most ancient beings in the Kingdom. Though we will have to do something about the quality of the manuscript bindings.

"What are you smiling about?" Sam asks, matching her smile with his own.

"I'm just ... remembering, I suppose."

She can feel a blush growing in her cheeks; despite how close she and Sameth have become, despite the strange sense that she gets, every so often, when she flexes the golden muscles of her magical hand, that he is with her even if he is a hundred miles away, she is still shy of some things.

"It's silly, really," Lirael says. "I was thinking of the Library. I miss it. Sometimes."

Sam grins. "Well, there's enough there to keep any Abhorsen-in-Waiting busy, from what you've told me! An excellent training, I would have thought."

"I don't think I could go back ... now," Lirael says, thinking of the Dog, both surprised and not that the tears do not come; the time for tears is over, she knows, and there are other ways of containing grief.

"Well," Sam says, slowly, as though he is teasing out a thought, "You could always take Mogget. I mean, if that doesn't sound too much like a punishment! The Clayr's Library should really have a copy of the Gazetteer, once it's finished. The library at the House is all right, but, well, rather specialised and the library here isn't even that good, really. Well, you already know that."

Lirael nods. Her first visit to the library at the castle had been rather an anti-climax, full of the hope that the castle librarian would throw open a secret and concealed door that lead to untold riches of books, papers, old manuscripts, hidden corners and obscure dangers -- what a library should be, to her mind. But he hadn't, only, rather apologetically, shown her around the meagre stacks and explained that the King and Queen hadn't had much time for replenishing the stocks that were ravaged by the decline of the Kingdom, but that he was sure that they would, one day. Lirael had felt sorry for the little man and his apologetic manner, dust on his clothes and nothing to do all day but dream of the books he might one day have charge of.

"And of course we should have a copy at the castle. You could take one over to the Glacier quite easily, from here."

Lirael smiles, a little. Sam is using the voice -- the gentle, understanding voice -- that accompanies his Little Suggestions, as she always thinks of them. The things he suggests in order to cheer her up, or take her out of herself. What actually works best for this purpose is tracking and banishing the Dead with Sabriel, but she hasn't had the heart to tell him that yet.

"Yes," she says, "I suppose I could."

"I don't suppose you would think to ask my opinion before you make these plans?" says a thin voice from the doorway.

Sam and Lirael exchange a look, and then a grin.

"Don't you miss the adventure, Mogget?" Sam says, in what Lirael supposes he thinks is a sly voice. "Wouldn't you like to go on a little trip?"

"Your attempts at manipulation have not improved, Prince," Mogget says, tilting his head slightly as if to indicate withering, if lazy, scorn, "But your comments regarding the quality of the library at the castle are, remarkably, accurate."

"How do you -- " Sam starts, then stops. "No, of course you've been all round it. Naturally."

Mogget stretches his forelegs languorously, and scratches his claws ineffectually over the surface of the fine carpet in the study.

"Naturally. How else do you think I could write the definitive entry on it, and its ... disappointing contents, in my Gazetteer?"

"So you agree," Lirael says, quickly, not wanting the conversation to get derailed by the mounting anger in Sam, "That a copy of your Gazetteer for both the castle library and the Clayr's Library would be a good idea?"

"Very possibly."

"And will you come with me to deliver them?"

"If you feel you need the company, Abhorsen, then I will certainly accompany you," Mogget says, not bothering to conceal the disdain in his voice, not bothering to such an extent, Lirael thinks, that it must be concealing something else.

She nods. "Then when you are finished, we will go."


The Great Library of the Clayr
The largest gathering of books and other repositories of knowledge and records in the Kingdom, guarded and maintained by the Clayr, whose business is knowledge [when they can tell tomorrow from yesterday, that is ...]

My own visits to the Library have not been many. The trouble of wading through endless snow, freezing ones paws on the ice, and then trying to negotiate a clear sentence with one of the Clayr (those those Clayr inclined towards Library service do, on the whole, have a tighter grip on reality, albeit the kind of reality that exists best in books), all make one feel that one would rather stay at home and not read a book. However, and at the risk of sounding like a guidebook, the Library is a place which it would benefit all those who live in the Kingdom to visit at least once, though of course they can't, or won't.

I have lost myself in the Library on four occasions in the last millennia. Various previous Abhorsens have, in their time, required more in the way of researches than my own knowledge could provide and, in that event, the more obscure corners of the Library have proven very useful, if rather cold. There is also, in addition to ancient volumes, a steady supply of rats and mice which were very much appreciated.


In the end, Sam comes with them, too. Having never been to the Glacier for more than a brief rendezvous, still less to the Library that Lirael, through hints and half-stories, the memories and hauntings of her own time there as a librarian, has -- she thinks -- made him eager to see, both Sabriel and Touchstone regard the trip as a good opportunity for him to gain some more, much-needed knowledge about his destiny as the inheritor of the Wallmakers. For, as Lirael confirmed herself, the Great Library of the Clayr contained much that was ancient, and mysterious, and liable to appear to one who needed it most.

As they are making the journey from the castle and not from Abhorsen's House, it is a slower, more leisurely adventure, interrupted only by occasional snow flurries that become more frequent as they get closer to the Glacier. Lirael finds herself covering the ground quickly, every step feeling natural; every step seeming to give her a strange kind of confidence, wrapping her up in the fabric -- the cold winds, the clay-filled earth, the thinning clumps of trees, and the Glacier itself rising in the distance -- of the Kingdom, telling her she belongs. Her Bell bandoleer thumps gently against her chest and back as she walks, and she feels its weight like a friendly hand around her shoulder.

Sam moves slower, more dreamily, she thinks. He looks around himself, through the trees, into the little streams they pass. He picks up rocks and stones and looks at them, plays games with them -- transforming them for a minute or two into patterns of light or sound. He listens, Lirael thinks. He is listening to the land, as I am, but to a different end. He seems lost in thought for the first few days, and doesn't say much, as though his mind is fixed on a point in the future, and cannot yet make its way back.

Mogget rides in Sam's backpack. As before, he sleeps for a great deal of the time (as much to get away from the biting winds as anything else, or so he claims), but when he pokes his nose out of the pack what Lirael and Sam get by way of conversation is not the combination of sarcastic commentary plus occasional useful advice, but a kind of account of the land they are passing through, and Mogget's experiences within in. With, Lirael has to admit to herself, more than the usual amount of sarcastic asides but, without that, would it be Mogget? She smiles, to herself, and knows it would not.


Endnotes, Memoir of Mogget, once Yrael

Having found myself in possession (finally) of an unbound, emancipated life, I discovered, after indulging a year-long impulse for wandering, that I missed the society, the trouble, the irritation, of Astarael's get, the Abhorsens. The bell wielded by Prince Sameth must either have done me more good than I have had in the last thousand years, or more ill -- I cannot tell. But having expended so much energy and effort to save this Kingdom, this world, I find that I cannot only lose myself in it as I thought I would. Fish, fowl, the pattering fieldmice and the small, furry creatures who hide among the fallen leaves in the Great Sickle Wood, are the height of life's joy, but they are not quite enough. Not quite.

These notes end this Gazetteer and the makeshift memoir it has made. For now. I may yet find myself once again in a dark corner of the Great Library with ink on my claws.