A/N: Congratulations, you made it! You, reader, have my sincere admiration. When I first drafted an outline of this story it was supposed to be only five chapters about the making of Abhorsen's sword – so much for that! Then when I got around to typing up and posting it, I meant to limit myself to twenty-five chapters, maximum. Then thirty-seven. And now… well, let me just repeat that you have my deep admiration and gratitude for sticking with this all the way through. This chapter has been a long time coming, and I hope that it is worth the wait.
Neryl quietly emerged from her tent. She yawned, stretched her tired old limbs, and ignited a Charter mark that moved to hover lazily above her head. The sky was dark, and Neryl was stunned to see the entire Wall lit up by lanterns and torches, practically glowing in the deep grey before dawn. Few people were stirring at this hour, and Neryl took advantage of the unusual silence to drink in the sight of the Wall itself. Over the height of six men, it had been constructed of solid stone blocks and sculpted into crenulations along the top. At this end, a single low arched tunnel cut through to Ancelstierre, gated with oak and iron. Neryl's aging eyes could just pick out Charter marks floating lazily over the surface, flittering over stone and leaking out of the mortar. She turned to her right and let her gaze follow the lantern-lit Wall, stretching off into the distance and eventually disappearing in a tiny thread of gold over the distant wooded hills.
The Voice of the Clayr stood alone, savouring the cold and quiet. Although she had become accustomed to living with her large family over the years, she could still remember a time when she had wandered the Kingdom alone, reading signs in the stars for coins. It had been a hard living for a young woman travelling from village to village, and she had refused the help of her family. Now, older and somewhat wiser, Neryl reflected that she had chosen the life of a vagrant for the wrong reasons. She had not been doing something daring or adventurous; she had been running away from the pressures at home, the expectations that she would succeed her mother as Clayr. Perhaps more pertinently, she had been running away from the pain of her barrenness, her inability to keep a husband and thus maintain a home. It was ironic that now, well over fifty, she was the Voice of the Clayr and living in close quarters with fourteen nieces – one of whom had just had a baby.
She moved closer to the Wall and was surprised to see figures huddled in groups among the scaffolding, half-hidden in the shadows. There were not many Wallmakers, nowhere near the bustling populace she remembered from previous visits. In fact, in the dim light she could only count about twenty people until she lost sight of them.
Two figures broke away from the nearest group and approached her. As the figures came closer she recognized them as Master Wallmakers Felio and Nehima. In the pre-dawn gloom with torchlight at their back, Neryl thought that they looked something like legends, wearing their worn leather vests with an air of pride and bravado. Neryl knew that it must be a show to mask their fear for the unknown fate that awaited them at sunrise. Her sisters had assumed a similar manner before being given the power of Mosrael. A blinding flash –
"Good morning," said Nehima with a wide smile. Neryl blinked, the vision gone.
"It is not morning yet," the Clayr said, then inwardly winced. She knew as well as they what the dawn would bring. "Is anybody else awake?" she asked quickly.
Felio gave a brief smile, acknowledging her avoidance of the delicate subject. "The Wallmakers have all arisen," he answered, scanning the Wall. "At present the King has crossed over to Ancelstierre to have a few words with Chief Minister Tralusan." His voice was mild, but Neryl could only imagine what "a few words" between those two men could amount to. "He is accompanied by Captain Javen, but the rest of the Royal Family is still within, I believe."
Nehima was looking at something behind her. "And it would appear that Abhorsen senior and junior will be joining us, and their servant too."
Neryl turned to see Cassiel and Vichael standing outside of their blue tent, stifling yawns and stretching their arms above their sleep-tousled heads. That strange albino dwarf was poking his head around Cassiel's legs. Neryl's mother had told her that Gabriel Abhorsen had never been a morning person. It seemed his son and grandson shared this condition.
"Good morning," said Cassiel as he joined the group. His Charter marks floated up to hers and they drifted in a lazy circling dance. In the brighter light the shadows under his bloodshot eyes could be seen, and he hadn't shaved either. But he and his son were wearing clean blue surcoats that Neryl supposed had been brought for this very occasion. She herself was clad in spotless white.
Cassiel hooked his thumbs into his swordbelt, and looked up and down the Wall. "Not as many Wallmakers as I was expecting," he muttered, voicing Neryl's earlier observation. The dwarf, uninterested, wandered away in the direction of the Wallmaker's hut.
"We have spread out along the Wall," Felio explained, and Neryl shaded her eyes to look inland. "The houses and forges were dismantled, and we set up camps at regular intervals." Neryl knew about the recalling of the Kingdom's Wallmakers to the Wall over the past few years. Huts had once been widespread in the Kingdom, and there had been a great deal of protesting over their removal: people had become used to having a Wallmaker in their village. "We have a few Masters at each camp in charge of things, so it should all go smoothly." Felio was gazing pensively along the Wall, but from the look in his grey eyes he wasn't really seeing it.
"And are the Wallmakers all going to...?" Neryl looked at Vichael, whose voice trailed off uncertainly as the two Masters turned to him.
Nehima smiled. "We stopped recruiting several years ago," she explained. "There are no Apprentices now, only Masters and Craftsmen, and we have all spent some time working on the Wall. When you help to make something like this you put part of yourself into it, and once you do that you cannot leave your work unfinished. So yes, all of the Wallmakers are going to help complete the Wall. We have to."
Vichael still looked a bit upset, and Neryl sensed that the boy felt things more acutely than his father did. Felio spoke up. "What you have to understand, young Abhorsen, is that all of us want to do this." He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. "This – all of this – was the reason for being a Wallmaker. It is why we are here. We are honoured to be a part of it, and pity those of us who were not lucky enough to have lived this long." Cassiel's son was looking at the couple in slight awe, and Neryl exchanged a smile with the Abhorsen. A blinding flash of light, painful –
Rustling sounds and muffled voices brought Neryl back to the present; the rest of the Clayr and the Royal Family were starting to come out of their tents. And at her back, Neryl could sense a larger crowd beginning to stir. It began like the rumble of distant thunder, until eventually distinct voices and words could be made out. Gradually, they became conscious of an increasingly angry mob gathering behind the lines of the Royal Guards.
"Here we go," said Nehima, a look of intense dislike upon her face.
They watched as the more courageous protesters began to push against the guards, and within minutes they were hurling clods of earth and yelling abuse.
"Don't mind them," said Nehima to Vichael, who was looking apprehensive. "They've been here for days. You should have seen them yesterday. Tralusan was giving some sort of speech up on a platform, but we couldn't hear him for all their cheering. And there are even more of them on the other side."
"Eventually they will realize that nothing is happening, and will quiet down," said Felio. And true to his word, the protesters became gradually less enthusiastic. In the light of the torches and lanterns and Charter lights, it was obvious that the completion of the Wall would have to wait for some time more. The protesters sat down, grumbling and murmuring amongst themselves as they awaited the main event.
Neryl was pleased to see, beyond the protesters, some people watching curiously who had apparently travelled to witness history in the making. Many had come, from all over the Kingdom, and Neryl wondered if Tralusan stood with a similar assembly on the Ancelstierran side of the Wall. It was quite amusing, actually, the thought that all along this Wall there were two vast crowds of people facing each other without actually being able to see one another. The spectators talked amongst themselves quietly in the pre-dawn gloom, and some watched in silence, but beneath it all was an air of veiled excitement. A bard strummed a traditional children's song on his harp to pass the time. Sitting on a rock was his apprentice, a youngster of about eleven years old. A ring of children dancing around a Charter Stone –
The flash of vision ended in time for Neryl to see the door of the hut swing open. Ghidreth emerged, leaning on her stick. It was time.
Neryl's breath caught in her throat when she realized what was going to happen. She possessed the gift of Sight, but when things came to pass they still surprised her. She soundlessly embraced Felio, then Nehima, and Abhorsen and his son did the same. There were no words to say. There was no time to say what she wanted, to express what she felt, to these people. She felt tears stinging her eyes, and put a stop to it at once. She did not want the Wallmakers' last memory of the Voice of the Clayr to be of a blubbering idiot. Instead Neryl managed to smile, encouraging and sad.
She turned lastly to put her arms around frail Ghidreth, being careful of the aged body. "Thank you," she whispered in her ear. The Wallmaker nodded. A blinding flash of light, painfully radiant, a dazzling glare –
As Felio and Nehima helped Ghidreth to the Wall, Neryl walked with Cassiel and his son to stand with the Clayr and the Royal Family. A swift headcount assured her that all of the Clayr were present, and that she needn't check the tent for late risers. There were twenty of them including Sitri, and the baby made twenty-one. Twenty women and girls in white dresses and moonstone circlets, and one white-clad baby. Twenty-one... Three sets of seven. Three Bloodlines. Seven Shining Ones. Seven bells. Seven Daughters of the Clayr. Coincidence? Neryl had Seen too much to believe in coincidence.
Neryl moved to stand beside Penemue, her younger sister by a year. It was still difficult to believe that Pen was married to the King. The two sisters had been close in their youth, raised by their grandmother while their mother was living in Belisaere and causing scandal. Neryl had always been able to count upon her to help watch over their younger sisters. Strange that sweet, gentle Pen had been chosen to succeed her mother as Clayr and had become the Queen instead. Stranger still that Neryl, stronger by far in the Sight, had forsaken her place for a life no better than a beggar's, but was now the Voice of the Clayr. No matter how they tried, it seemed that they had been set upon different paths since birth. What was it that Cassiel had written in that remarkable book? Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?
"Here he comes," Penemue murmured, and Neryl looked up to see Dantalion emerging from the tunnel in the Wall. Beside him was a broad-shouldered, bearded man dressed in black and silver. Chief Minister Tralusan.
Neryl glanced over at her eldest niece, and saw Captain Javen rest his left hand – the real one – on the Crown Princess' shoulder. Beyond them, Andromis was muttering something to Lady Zavebe.
Felio and Nehima had made it to the Wall with Ghidreth walking between them. A change seemed to come over the Wallmakers standing at the bottom of the Wall. Neryl could almost see the energy rising from them. They were nervous and excited and afraid and thrilled. And ready.
Dantalion and the Chief Minister reached their group, and Neryl maintained a civil manner as she greeted the Minister on behalf of the Clayr. Cassiel followed suit. Neryl couldn't help but observe that Tralusan's advisors were exchanging glares with the Clayr and Royal Family, but they weren't entirely to blame. The pre-dawn atmosphere was so charged with tension already, and the clouds of Charter marks casting light over all seemed to make the Ancelstierrans even more uncomfortable.
A slight murmuring arose from the spectators as the door to the Wallmaker's hut creaked open and Kibeth dramatically emerged. She glanced over at the Abhorsen's servant, who was scowling, and trotted over to the group, the dwarf following sulkily.
Tralusan stared at the dog, then the dwarf, and turned to Dantalion with a scornful smile on his face. "Is this some kind of joke?" he demanded, and Neryl could hear the laughter in his voice.
"What's wrong?" asked Kibeth with a doggy grin. "Have you never seen a short albino man before?" The Abhorsen's servant hissed.
Tralusan's mouth dropped open, and some of his advisors gasped. But to the Minister's credit he recovered from his surprise quickly. "Witchery," he said to Dantalion. "I have seen this done before in public houses over a bottle of ale. Illusions, throwing voices. I think you've taken this joke far enough."
"It is not a joke!" Kibeth burst out. "But I do know the one about the man who went to see a Healer with a chicken on his head." Neryl heard a couple of her nieces laugh, and she quelled them with a general warning glance at the group.
Tralusan was looking deeply affronted and Dantalion stepped in quickly. "I apologize, Chief Minister, for Kibeth's behaviour. Alas I am not responsible for the Shining One's sense of humour."
The delegation from Ancelstierre turned as one to gape at the dog like a many-headed monster. "This is a Shining One," Tralusan stated flatly.
"And the dwarf?"
Cassiel stepped forward. "He is the Eighth Shiner who was bound to serve the Charter, Chief Minister."
The bearded man threw up his hands. "And I suppose that baby is Belgaer?" Isodell scowled and held her daughter closer.
"Belgaer is preparing himself inside the Wallmaker's hut," said Kibeth. "He and I and Ghidreth had a nice chat." She turned to Dantalion and bent her front leg in what was unmistakeably a bow. "By your leave, Your Majesty."
Dantalion nodded, and Kibeth snuck a mischievous glance at the Ancelstierre delegation. She appeared to be blurring at the edges, dissolving, swelling, and finally dramatically ballooning out into her large form. Gasps arose from the delegation, and the protesters stopped their chanting and dropped their signs to stare in wonder. Kibeth was larger than a carthorse. Liquid fire blazed over her black coat, and red flames flickered in her mouth. She wagged her tail, showering yellow sparks all over the ground. As she trotted over to the Wall, Neryl could swear that the ground shook beneath her giant paws.
In the ensuing hush, Cassiel turned to the King and bowed. "By your leave, my King."
At Dantalion's signal the Abhorsen knelt down and let his hand hover over the dwarf's red belt. "Remember your promise to the Wallmaker. You will do your part."
"Yes, Abhorsen," the little albino said mockingly. Cassiel sighed, gave a shrug, and removed the belt. The red leather dissolved in his hands, tiny Charter marks streaming through his fingers like dust and fading away. There was a flash of brilliant light, and when Neryl could look again she saw a column of white fire that swirled into a human-like shape. The thing that used to be Mogget looked pointedly at the stunned Ancelstierre delegation before flowing over to the Wall after Kibeth.
It was so quiet that Neryl could hear snatches of conversation from the other side of the Wall. Then a shadow emerged from the Wallmaker's hut. It was the figure of a man, impossible tall and graceful, bending almost double to pass through the doorway. The inky-black body seemed to be cut from the night sky, but the ends of his long arms faded into cloudy smoke, and an unearthly aura of green surrounded him. His feet trailed black mist as he approached the group.
"Well met, Belgaer," said the King, inclining his crowned head. Tralusan was looking up – up – up at where the Shining One's face would have been. Neryl imagined what they must seem to Belgaer. An insignificant crowd of faces green-lit by his aura and staring up at him.
"Astarael and Ranna are on the west end of the Wall," he said in a booming voice that shook Neryl to the bones. He looked from person to person. "Who among you is it that questions my will?"
Neryl looked at Tralusan, who was licking his lips and saying nothing. It was Cassiel who plucked up the courage to speak. "Belgaer, this is Chief Minister Tralusan of Ancelstierre. He was concerned that you were perhaps being – er – forced to participate in the completion of the Wall." The young man gave a small shrug as if to acknowledge how ridiculous that was, and Neryl had to agree that it was ridiculous. Standing here in the presence of a Bright Shiner, it was impossible to imagine him doing anything against his will.
Belgaer turned to Tralusan, who flinched. "Know that I chose this path." The Chief Minister nodded weakly, unable to reply. "I thank the Wallmakers for this opportunity," the Thinker continued, addressing the group at large. "And I charge you all to remember."
The word drove itself into Neryl's brain; she knew that she would never forget this day.
As Belgaer drifted to the Wall, Dantalion turned to Tralusan. "Do I have your leave to continue, Chief Minister?" he asked. The words were a mere formality, but Tralusan gave his permission to continue. Neryl, Cassiel, Vichael, and the King and Queen escorted him and his delegation to the tunnel, and watched them returned to Ancelstierre.
Meanwhile, the Wallmakers had been spacing themselves along the top of the Wall, taking up positions at places marked with chalk. Ghidreth ascended a rough wooden ladder and was pulled onto the top of the Wall by helping hands. It was as Neryl had Seen it, years ago in a cave of ice, the briefest flicker of vision when Mosrael had given the Clayr his power. Felio and Nehima ensured that everyone was in their place before ascending the Wall themselves, and the scaffolding was removed by the Guards.
Everyone watched as the Wallmakers stood, tall and proud, stationed fifty paces apart. There had to be thousands of them, perhaps tens of thousands, to stretch along the Wall from east to western sea. Belgaer, Yrael, and Kibeth stood at the end, with Ghidreth, Felio, and Nehima. Waiting. The sky, once so black, was noticeably grey. Torches, candles, and Charter marks were slowly being extinguished. There was a restless stirring in the surrounding forest. The world was waking up.
In the pre-dawn gloom, Neryl held her breath as if in the presence of something sacred. Beside her, Cassiel stirred. "I wish my father could have seen this," he whispered.
Dantalion glanced at the Abhorsen. "I know what you mean." Penemue smiled sadly at Neryl as they thought of their mother.
The sun rose over the ocean in the east – the signal!
Charter marks flowed from Belgaer in a golden font, streaming down into the Wall. Yrael, and then Kibeth, began casting marks in a raging torrent so that their bodies were almost obscured by the marks. Ghidreth reached out with a gnarled hand and placed it on Kibeth's flank. Instantly they connected, and the Charter marks flowed from the Shiner to the Wallmaker and down into the stones.
Ghidreth raised her left arm and held out her palm. Fifty paces away Felio did the same, then Nehima, on and on and on. Charter marks overflowed in a wave, golden lines of light connecting the Wallmakers' outstretched hands, flashing east to west with the rising sun.
Neryl reached out blindly and grabbed Cassiel's hand. The man's nails were digging into her flesh, but she said nothing. It was building. It was coming. And then...
A blinding flash of light, painfully radiant, a dazzling glare, made her throw up her arms to shield her eyes. All around her were shouts of surprise. She had Seen it. She was living it. Telling herself to have courage, she lowered her arms and cracked open her eyes. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks as she looked into the burning light, but she forced herself to watch, to watch the Wallmakers fading away, evaporating, vanishing, as all of their being was poured into the Wall.
The light went out. It was done. They were gone.
Neryl found herself standing in the early morning light before the Wall. The sun had risen. "The stones," Penemue whispered. Neryl followed her sister. "They are alive," said the Queen, reaching out with her hand but not touching the surface, under which they could see the multitudinous Charter marks twisting, turning, and sliding in constant rearrangement.
"I did not feel any deaths," said Cassiel in a low voice, coming up behind them. "Neither did Vichael."
Neryl looked to the King for guidance, but he was staring at the end of the Wall where a dog and a dwarf were jumping down. The world was silent. Then a bird sang.
As if on a signal, everyone burst out talking, from the Royal guards to the protesters to the people who had camped out to witness this historic event. The babble swelled to a delighted roar. People were clapping and cheering, strangers were kissing strangers, and from the other side of the Wall came an answering elated clamour. "They did it," gasped Penemue, and Neryl embraced her sister. The rest of the Clayr were drawing near, running, and soon they were lost in a crowd of friends and family.
As the day wore on, however, and the rest of the Kingdom continued to celebrate, the members of the Bloodlines grew sombre. There was less smiling among them as they quietly prepared to go, and Neryl looked around at the faces dearest to her. The Royal Family would go back to the Palace, and Cassiel Abhorsen and his son would go back to their House. They must all return to their respective work. For Cassiel and his son there were necromancers to stop, Dead to put to rest, and one of the Greater Dead to find. For the Royal Family, there was the interminable task of guiding a Kingdom that was still young into its future. And for Neryl and her family, there were visions to be Seen, prophecies to be made, and the icy halls of the Glacier to wander. Home.
Someone tapped Neryl on the shoulder, and she turned to see young Vichael. Beyond him, Cassiel was preoccupied with readying their two horses for travel. "We're going soon," said the youth. Neryl nodded. This boy wanted to ask her something, and she waited with patience. "You're the Voice of the Clayr," he was saying awkwardly, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I couldn't help but wonder... will people remember the Wallmakers, like Belgaer told us to? Or will they one day look at the Wall and wonder how it got there? Because if that's what the future holds, then it's not fair. Those Wallmakers, thousands of them, giving up their – their lives, to –" He stopped and shook his head, unable to articulate his thoughts.
Neryl looked at him sadly. Music reached her ears, and she scrutinized the celebrating crowd. Her eyes finally landed on the bard she had noticed earlier. He was strumming his harp and humming a tune, watched by his young apprentice. A ring of children dancing around a Charter Stone – and another – and another. Overlapping images, flashes, visions of children for years and years, stretching on for countless generations, dancing around the stones and singing a song which blended together despite the shifting accents of different regions and eras...
Neryl came out of her vision, and the voices of the children faded from her ears to unify with the words being sung by the bard. She smiled.
"Lady Clayr?" Vichael was looking at her in concern. The other Clayr were waving from their wagon train and calling that it was time to leave.
Neryl turned back to Vichael. "Yes," she said. "The Wallmakers will be remembered."
She moved to join her family on the wagon, and Gressa shook the rains and clicked her tongue. They set off along the dirt road that led to the port, from which they would take a ship north, and home. Neryl listened to the bard. And over the rattle of the wheels she could hear him sing:
"Five Great Charters knit the land,
Together linked, hand in hand.
One in the people who wear the crown,
Two in the folk who keep the Dead down.
Three and Five became stone and mortar,
Four sees all in frozen water."
A/N: It has been quite a journey, hasn't it? (Cameo in this chapter by rockster_11, the bard's apprentice described as a youngster sitting on a rock – get it? Ah, I crack myself up...)
I owe huge thanks to everyone who reviewed for your encouragement, compliments, complaints, suggestions, questions, corrections, digressions, criticisms, witticisms, insight, foresight, hindsight, and jokes. You guys have been fabulous. For my own curiosity, and to improve my writing, I'd love to hear from you all. Tell me about your favourite moments/ descriptions/ characters, or anything that you believe needs improvement. Writing this story has been a wonderful experience for me, with its ups and downs. Again, thank you all for reading, and I hope that your patience and dedication have been rewarded.