Notes: Written for the Yuletide
Challenge, 2004. Thank you to Livia for the excellent beta.
Since their battle with Kerrigor in Ancelstierre, Sabriel and Touchstone had begun a slow journey back to Belisaere where they planned to wed and begin reconstruction of the palace. Along the way, they had banished as much of the evil left over from Kerrigor's treachery as they could, but the work was slow and dangerous, and there was still much left to do.
Anyone who had seen the competent and calm manner with which Sabriel dispatched the murderous dead spirits she battled would be shocked to discover her, mere hours before her wedding flung across her bed at the Sign of the Three Lemons inn, crying as if her heart would break.
Sabriel was not normally given to hysterics and fits of weeping. Nor was she the type of young woman who liked to admit that she had indulged in girlish fantasies of her wedding day. And yet, now that the day of her marriage had finally arrived, she inwardly confessed that her fantasies had always included two key elements: a handsome young prince at her side and her father happily looking on. The cold realization that she would only have one had filled her with a profound grief.
The difficult and unceasing work had left Sabriel little time to mourn, and this quiet moment was one of the first she'd had to truly contemplate her loss and give in to her uncharacteristic tears.
A sudden sharp pain in her left arm made Sabriel jump and lift her head. Startlingly green and feline eyes met her gaze, and she realized the pain was from a set of claws digging into her bare arm.
"Mogget!" Sabriel exclaimed. Tears flowing faster now, but tears of relief, for she had feared he might never wake. "You're awake."
"Yes," Mogget yawned, "I am."
"I was afraid you'd sleep f-for-"
"Oh do stop your sniveling," he cut her off crossly. He batted at her arm again, but at least kept his claws in this time. "Is this any way for an Abhorsen to behave?"
"But, Mogget," a cold fear suddenly gripped her, "if you're awake does that mean . . .?"
"No. Kerrigor is safe. Ranna holds him firmly in slumber, and the supplemental spells you cast will hold for the time being. But so long as so many broken Charter Stones remain his sleep is uneasy. You must take him to Abhorsen's house. There in the deepest cellar you can work stronger binding magic to ensure that he sleeps forever. There is no time to delay. We'll leave right after the ceremony."
"But we were planning to honeymoon in High Bridge," Sabriel protested.
"You can conceive the next Abhorsen just as easily at the house as you can in High Bridge," Mogget replied testily, provoking a deep blush to stain Sabriel's cheeks.
Sabriel prepared to say something cutting to hide her embarrassment, but the words died on her lips as Mogget shocked her by doing something he had never done before. He stood on his hind legs, placing his paws on Sabriel's shoulder and butted his soft, furry head against her cheek, drying the tracks of her tears as if by accident.
The gesture was brief and swift as a hawk taking flight. Sabriel could scarcely believe it had happened, and her hand faltered forward, intending to pet him, but drew back quickly when Mogget's mouth opened wide, thinking he was going to bite her. Mogget only yawned and dug his claws into the bedclothes, arching his back in a languorous stretch. "Calm your sorrows; calm your fears. Clap three times and dry you tears," he muttered sleepily, yawned again, and went back to sleep.
That had been the rhyme her father used to soothe her when she was a small child. Or perhaps it was Mogget's rhyme, and her father had learned it from him. She hadn't heard it in many years, possibly not since she went over the wall to Ancelstierre for schooling.
Sabriel resisted the rhyme's directive for a moment, then changed her mind, clapping her hands and drying the tears on her other cheek with the back of her hand. The old ritual soothed her, and she felt a gentle peace unfolding from the center of her being. Perhaps there was some magic in it, or perhaps it was simply the power of her memories from a happier time. She could not tell.
Sabriel rose from the bed and lifted her dress from its box. The heavy silk brocade rustled like moths wings. She held it against her chest in the mirror, admiring the white fabric embroidered with the silver keys of the Abhorsen.
Another bit of verse came back to her. From time to time Sabriel would catch her father studying her intently. On these occasions he would say, "Rejoice, oh mean and poorly father. For thou hast made a lovely daughter."
Sabriel smiled, feeling certain that was what he would say if he were here now. "Thank you," she said, inclining her head as she always did in response to the compliment.
Her back was turned, so she did not see when Mogget's tail twitched in response.
Vacations were a rare luxury for the Abhorsen and the King of the Old Kingdom, but on a bright spring day in the fourth year of the Restoration Sabriel and Touchstone were relaxing at the Abhorsen's house, enjoying a sunny picnic by the river.
A slight rustle in the grass behind her caused Sabriel to turn around and notice a flash of white coming towards them. "Mogget! You're awake!"
Mogget let out a mew that sounded like a sigh, "You do like to make that observation."
Touchstone turned and almost smiled before he noticed the scales Mogget was delicately cleaning from his whiskers. "You've eaten my fish!" he shouted.
Mogget sniffed and replied haughtily, "It wasn't much of a fish. Barely good enough to use as bait. I'm surprised you didn't throw it back."
"Why don't you go back to sleep." Touchstone snapped.
"Why don't you catch another fish?"
"That bloody cat of yours is too big for his boots," Touchstone muttered from between clenched teeth. "Too big by half."
Mogget ignored him. He had located a thick clump of grass in a convenient shaft of sunlight and was circling round and round to form a nest.
Sabriel was always a gentle child, but she had slapped her schoolfriend, Sulyn, once. They were only eight years old, and they had foolishly attempted to sneak out to see a Sunday matinee in Bain. Instead, they had gotten hopelessly lost, wandering along deserted cow paths as dusk fell and the countryside around them became increasingly dark and threatening.
In retrospect, knowing the danger that lurked in Wyverly village, Sabriel was amazed that they had emerged from the experience unscathed. The only harm they had suffered was a terrible scare when a bat suddenly swooped low, flapping right past Sulyn's ear at the same moment its prey, a small field mouse, let out a dreadful shriek.
Sabriel had jumped and shuddered as she felt the mouse's death ever so slightly brush against her consciousness, but Sulyn had burst into tears. "I want my mother," she'd bawled.
At their school it was common enough to hear the younger girls, either homesick or ill, calling out for their mothers, and the words had never failed to ignite this senseless rage in Sabriel. On that occasion, frightened and shaken as she already was, she'd let the rage run free. She had lashed out, striking Sulyn with her open palm.
The perspective of adulthood told Sabriel that of course her anger was born of her jealousy. She had no mother to cry out for, and she resented the girls who did. But this knowledge did nothing to prepare her for the disorienting effects of hearing the words wailed by her own, four-year-old son. A small part of the hurt child still raged within her. She was annoyed in some dark corner of her soul that Sam would carry on so, but most of her being was taken over by her maternal instincts. She longed to go to her child, take him in her arms and comfort and protect him.
And yet, she knew she could not. The spell to banish Sameth's fever was not complicated, but it would cost strength Sabriel could ill afford to squander. A powerful Mordicant was terrorizing the costal villages near Ganel, and Sabriel needed to be in top form to defeat it.
"You should hurry," Touchstone observed from the doorway of the upper parlor where Sabriel was preparing for her journey. He gestured to the window where the sun was past its zenith, beginning to sink in the sky.
He was right. Sabriel gauged that she only had another four hours of sunlight in which to travel. The sendings had laid out all the necessary supplies, and she strapped her sword to her side, listening to Sameth's crying still audible from his nearby bedroom. "I want my mother," he wailed again, and her hands faltered in the act of fastening her bandolier of bells across her chest.
Touchstone took in her hesitation and sighed, "Just go. I'll look after him."
Touchstone was fully capable of casting the spell himself and had already left the room to do so, but still she remained. The guilt of simply walking away from her crying babe twined about her legs like parasitic vines on tree trunks, binding her in place.
"Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?"
Sabriel jumped as the familiar sardonic voice spoke the familiar question. "Mogget! Do you always have to make such a dramatic entrance?" she asked irritably.
"So it would seem," the cat replied. Though she hadn't seen or heard him come in, he was seated only a few feet away on the thick blue carpet, licking his left paw. "Perhaps a good start is what you need. Why do you delay when the dead whom you are sworn to bind are wreaking havoc in your kingdom?"
Sabriel gestured helplessly in the direction of Sameth's still audible crying. "Ellimere was never like this," she said plaintively. It was true. From her earliest childhood Ellimere had been extremely susceptible to concepts of honor and duty. Her mother's hasty departure from her fourth birthday party, even, had caused no more fuss than a grave kiss on the cheek and a murmured, "be careful, mother."
"And your father never sat around wringing his hands when there was work to be done, either. Each Abhorsen is different.
"It's a difficult irony," he continued in his half-mew, half-purr tone, "that those of the Charter bloodlines, most obligated to beget progeny are also those most ill-suited to act as parents. I always thought your father was cruel to abandon you to be raised by those ignorant fools beyond the wall."
"But he was protecting me," she defended her father hotly. "It was too dangerous for me to stay in the Old Kingdom."
Mogget jumped onto the window seat closer to Sabriel. "How better to protect you than to stay by your side?" he asked.
"He was always there when I needed him most," she objected. "How could he look after me and fulfill his other responsibilities? He only did what was necessary."
"Then what prevents you from following his example?" Mogget fixed her in his steady green gaze, "You know where your duty lies, Abhorsen. The child must also learn the nature of his path. You do not aid him by shielding him from reality."
Sabriel nodded, acknowledging the truth of Mogget's words. She finished securing the bandolier across her chest and took a moment to feel each bell in its pouch. The mahogany handles seemed to warm and respond to her touch. She could feel the fortitude of countless generations of Abhorsens running through her veins, as if the bells had the power to communicate their presence.
It was true her father was often absent during her childhood, but she had always carried a sense that he was watching over her somehow. She still did. And she could never doubt his love.
Sabriel fastened her cloak and lifted her pack to her shoulders. She tiptoed across the hall and quietly cracked open the door to Sameth's room. His face was still flushed from the fever, looking unnaturally red against the white of his pillow, but he was sleeping peacefully. His breath came slow and even, and the sight of his innocent relaxed face warmed her heart. She began to draw the door closed, but a flash of white in the corner of her eye made her pause. Sabriel stuck her head farther into the room and saw Mogget, a white circle of fur nestled closely at Sam's feet.
Sabriel adjusted the weight of her pack to sit more comfortably on her shoulders. She had many miles to travel before the day was out. There were many people in need of her aid.
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