by Grey Bard
"Ranna... the first, the smallest bell. Ranna the sleepbringer, the sweet, low sound that brought silence in its wake."
It is an odd fact that being Queen is rather easier when one is the Abhorsen, Sabriel noted. For one thing, the Abhorsen is in far greater demand.
Simple enough to say that the King married the Queen and the Old Kingdom returned from anarchy, but that elides years of battle and hard honest work. That ignores the bloody role of the Abhorsen.
Today, for example, the militia of Belisaere would once again be crossing the aqueduct to raid the upper city filled with Dead. The running water kept the lower part of the capital city safe for the living, but that still left the other half of the city filled with spirits bound to various forms and beings returned from death. True, having a King of the blood in place strengthened the magic that held them all back, but the Dead won't simply vanquish themselves, after all.
So, to work.
But first Sabriel would have to get out of bed.
Even uncrowned and without a palace, being married to the King gets one a very good bed. And the King himself put out a great deal of warmth. Getting up to fight legions of Dead could hardly seem less attractive. Between the hideous attrition rate and getting out of bed on a winter morning, no wonder recruiting was so difficult.
"Mosrael was the waker... the bell whose sound was a seesaw, throwing the ringer further into Death, as it brought the listener into Life."
Sabriel looked down into the courtyard, at the milling mass of forces.
Recruiting a militia to fight necromancers and the Dead after about two hundred years of avoidance and dying by inches was hard. The crown loyalists who would follow the first king in two centuries anywhere, the Charter mages fully understood the cost of letting the rot creep further and of course, the Clayr, were more than willing. Still, it wasn't nearly enough.
Which is why Touchstone had some quiet words with the scavengers who were already in the habit of raiding the upper city. As, firstly, they were used to venturing into the hordes of Dead already with far less backup and secondly, would like the Crown not to look to closely into their past histories (the words slavery and human bait came to mind) provided they now lived a blameless life, life as cannon fodder was more attractive to them than it might be otherwise. Theoretically, they might get a respectable life out of this. The added offer of whatever plunder they chose from the long-deserted streets undoubtedly helped.
On the up side, they had a source of skilled fighters. On the downside, they couldn't be trusted any more than a trapped spirit. Less, actually. They weren't worth a hundredth of the late Colonel Horyse or even the girls she had gone to school with, but they would serve their purpose. Maybe they would even live.
She belted on her bell-bandolier and sword.
"I was made for Abhorsen, to slay those already Dead," the writing on the blade read. It would do its job today.
"Kibeth, the walker. A bell of several sounds, a difficult and contrary bell. It could give freedom of movement to one of the dead or walk them through the next gate."
Touchstone - for Touchstone he still was, even as King, even as he flew his own banner - was speaking to their men. He would not be following today, he was not to be risked so lightly, but he would do what he could. Once more going over the plan. She was grateful. Sabriel was not that kind of leader. Far better to be Abhorsen than Queen. The Dead seldom require speeches.
The plan was simple enough. Gather and strike, slay or bind as many as possible, try not to die. Perhaps they would even catch a necromancer today instead of merely their creatures. Keep a retreat route open, then escape in good order.
It was like thinning dandelions from a field. There was nothing to do but to keep coming back, to remove as many as possible, until one day there were none left.
Sabriel signaled her husband. She was ready to move as soon as possible.
He could make them listen, but they would follow her into Death if need be.
"Dyrim was the voice that the Dead so often lost. But Dyrim could also still a tongue that moved too freely."
The ill-sending raised one great shadow paw to Sabriel and clouted her across the shoulder. She stumbled and spat and sliced it with a great back-handed blow of her heavy sword.
As it howled, she grabbed for the bell Saraneth. Back, forth and around in a circuit, she swung it, sounding sweet and deep and low.
"Who sent you? What master bound you to this form?"
It snarled. "The veiled one, the pale one, do you think I know her name? I am nothing to her, I am a knife to your throat."
She caressed the case of the bell Kibeth with the side of her sword hand. The being snarled again, but the snarl was also a whimper at the end.
"I cannot give you that, no. No, Abhorsen. But I can serve you in other ways! Bind me, keep me, but do not send me back into Death."
Sabriel sheathed her sword and reached for Kibeth.
"I know things! I can tell you of the other dead! I can tell you of your father!"
"Another tricksome bell, that sought to ring of its own accord. Belgaer was the thinking bell, the bell that most necromancers scorned to use. It could restore independent thought, memory and all the patterns of a living person. Or, slipping in a careless hand, erase them."
A door in the Long Cliffs answers to Mosrael. Beyond the door is a tunnel, and beyond the tunnel lies Abhorsen's Bridge. On the other side of the bridge lies Abhorsen's House.
At the door of the tunnel is a Charter sending, a harsh and kindly one. It eternally guards the gate to the home of the Abhorsen. It also wears a coat of black patterned with silver keys, as the Abhorsen always has. It has many faces, but some of them resemble Sabriel.
It offered to tell her of her father, but Sabriel never cared to know what happened to Abhorsens once they have died truly and finally. Some things are better not known.
The being moved to speak, but Kibeth was replaced in a moment by Belgaer. A look of horror crossed what passed for its face, shadowed the burning eyes, but before it could move Belgaer rang quietly in her hand, up down and to the side.
Whatever it would say, false or true, was gone.
"The deepest, lowest bell. The sound of strength. Saraneth was the binder, the bell that shackled the Dead to the wielder's will."
As she rejoined the mages and the militia, as she fought her way out of the warren of toppled homes, Sabriel tried not to think too hard about her father. Slash, burn and wade in and out of the currents of Death.
Sabriel tried not to think of what happens to Abhorsens, not because of her father or herself, but for another reason.
She carried the heir to the throne now, all unannounced, for when there would be a throne, but one day she would carry her own heir. No, the tide of battle was kinder than thinking on the fate of Abhorsens.
"Astarael, the Sorrowful... Astarael was the banisher, the final bell. Properly rung, it cast everyone who heard it into Death. Everyone, including the ringer."
They returned before nightfall, and she reinforced the protections as she went. The wind flutes were once more bound to sing their song of rest.
"Do you know," said Touchstone, when she returned, "that the current crop of Clayr are devilishly clever? Jassl has been going over plans with me for infrastructure - for after we retake the upper city, you know. It might just be better than before. Look them over tomorrow and see what you think."
Sabriel nodded and tried not to yawn, as she slipped out of her armor, preparing for a bath.
Death would come to all of them. But not here, and not tonight.