Title: for what it's worth
Disclaimer: Not mine, never mine, and I promise to put them back when I'm done.
Summary: Once a year the Master of Jordan would send Lord Asriel a picture of his daughter. He never thought to wonder what happened to them.
AN – People, and indeed the world in general, are being particularly irritating today. I'm going to be unjustifiably rude to someone in a minute, and that would be a Bad Thing.
Every year the Domestic Bursar at Jordan would send for Lyra - or have her tracked down and caught - and have a photogram taken. Lyra submitted indifferently, and scowled at the camera; it was just one of the things that happened. It didn't occur to her to ask where the pictures went. As a matter of fact, they all went to Lord Asriel, but he would never have let her know.
Standing at the bottom of the sweeping gravel drive, Mary realises she really has no idea what she's doing. But from the moment the small article in the local paper caught her eye a week ago, she's not been able to get it out of her head. It was nothing special, tucked between a photo of smiling school-children and an article about a local butcher who'd won an award, but the contents of the home of Sir Charles Lantrum will be sold in an open auction next week had painted itself in red across her eyeballs, and here she was.
There aren't many other people about at this time of day; the keen collectors have been and gone, the curious and nosy are mostly still at work, leaving just a few older couples, a group of men who might be antique dealers, a snooty man in a suit who peers down his nose at her when he offers her the catalogue.
And Mary herself.
She passes through most of the rooms without interest; upstairs first, bathrooms, bedrooms, and it is impossible to tell which belonged to the man himself. Each has the air of guestroom about it, but then, she thinks, that's all he was, really. Downstairs, kitchen, dining room, front living room, all polished wood and shining leather, shelves of books that look like they've never been read.
Until, at the back of the house, a smaller room, maybe a study, and still the wood and the leather, yes, but it's different in here. The books are slightly worn, there's a picture on the wall of a landscape that Mary is certain doesn't exist in this universe, and in glass cases all round the room are delicate little instruments, ticking and clicking. There's a gap in one of them (but "he wanted the alethiometer" Lyra had said. "Not to use. Just to…have."), and here, she suddenly realises, here Will was, once, not so long ago, that must be the couch he'd hidden behind, and there, the windows where Lyra had thrown the pebbles.
Mary can't help herself; she crouches down, looking about, reaching out with one hand to feel for something she knows she won't find – Will closed these windows, after all, he told her so himself.
Will, she knows, sometimes walks across the city to a road lined with hornbeam trees just to see what isn't there, and maybe this is a bit like that.
The desk catches her eye, standing at the back of the room, not quite fitting with the rest of it; the wood is the wrong colour in this house where everything matches, the surface too worn – someone used this desk, used it a great deal, and it wasn't Sir Charles, of that Mary is somehow certain. And yet he did not strike her as a man to ever take that which had been discarded by others.
She runs her hands over the surface, admiring, while Salus hops from her shoulder to the desktop and walks across it, peering at the wood interestedly with a beady eye.
"Where do you think he got it?" he asks.
"Nowhere in this world," Mary whispers in reply, and her daemon agrees. The wood, the workmanship…no, it is not from their universe.
The drawers are empty, but still she pulls them open and runs her hands around the insides. She laughs at herself as she does so – what does she think she's doing, searching for hidden compartments, false bottoms? And of course, it is at that exact moment that her fingers find a small depression in the wood and Sal, who had been tapping at the wood with his beak with interest, suddenly jumps back in surprise. A slight whirring noise, and then a thin shelf of wood shoots out from the front of the desk; if Mary were sitting in the overly stuffed leather seat, it would have come to rest neatly above her lap.
"Sorry," mutters Sal, ruffling his feathers.
Mary shakes her head, smiling slightly – of course there was a secret compartment, it would be almost sacrilegious for a desk like this not to have one – and lifts out the small bundle of papers inside. The ribbon that binds them comes apart easily (definitely not from this world, she thinks, who still ties letters with ribbon?) and she unfolds the thick blank parchment to reveal the contents.
Lyra's face stares back up at her, fierce and scowling.
She nearly drops the bundle in shock, while Sal, not so easily starled by such things, flew to her shoulder and gazed with interest at the photograph.
"Oh," he says, blinking his beady eyes.
"Oh indeed," agrees Mary.
Fumbling slightly, fingers trembling – excitement? Inexplicable nerves? She couldn't say – Mary begins to leaf through the small pile. They're not in any order, three-year-old Lyra scrunching her nose with boredom next to ten-year-old Lyra refusing to even look at the camera, but they're all dated, and each one is accompanied by a short letter written in a neat, sloping hand and addressed, quite formally, to Lord Asriel. There is no mention of his connection to the child; she is described as neither daughter nor niece, only once, in a letter sent when Lyra was about ten, in many ways, she is very like her father.
The author too does not vary over the years. Lyra spoke warmly of the Master of her college and it seems the fondness was not one-sided, for he writes with evident affection of the five-year-olds stubbornness, the seven-year-olds new kitchen boy friend, the eleven-year-olds misadventure on a Gyptian boat.
Mary rather suspects that the old man knew a great deal more about Lyra's activities than the girl had ever suspected.
Voices in the hallway remind her that she isn't alone, and almost without thinking she wraps the letters and pictures back up and slipped them into her bag. It isn't theft, not really; they belong no more to the auctioneers than they had to Sir Charles, and she knows someone with a far greater claim.
Later that evening, sitting at the kitchen table with Will after dinner, Mary can't concentrate. She is acutely aware of the small package in the bag by her feet, and though she makes every show of working, head bent, occasionally marking a sentence or paragraph with her pen, her mind is not on the words in front of her. Sal cannot settle; he hops from chair to tabletop and back, head bobbing anxiously, and finally Mary can take it no longer. She takes the parcel out of her bag and slides it across the table to Will without a word.
He looks up, surprised.
"I went to Charles Lantrum's house today," she explains awkwardly. Will's eyebrows shoot up, but he doesn't interrupt. "It's being sold. I'm not sure why I went, really, but I found that, and I think they're yours before they're anyone else's."
"What…" begins Will, but she shakes her head.
"Just open it."
Frowning, Will obediently pulls off the ribbon Mary had awkwardly retied earlier and takes out the first picture.
He stares at it in silence for several minutes, Mary is just starting to wonder if she should leave, give the boy and his daemon some privacy, when he looks back up again, his eyes wide, face pale.
"How…" he begins, apparently unable to form a more articulate sentence.
Mary shrugs. "I don't know. I found them in the study. Sir Charles must have taken them from Lord Asriel somehow, and bought them here. Who knows why."
"Lord Asriel?" frowns Will; he has not yet moved beyond the top picture or seen the letters.
"Yes. There are a few photos, and the letters that go with them. One a year from when Lyra was a baby. They're all from the Master of Jordan College to Lord Asriel."
Will nods absently, his eyes on the picture again, and Mary slips quietly from the room, Sal on her shoulder, leaving the boy and his daemon to their thoughts.
(Will put the photos and letters in the wooden box he kept the shards of the Knife in. He carried it with him all his life; he didn't need the contents to remember, of course not, but they were proof and memory and reminders of a promise.
Years later he took them out and showed them to a girl as he told her the story that went with them, of other worlds and haunted, empty cities, angels and daemons and tiny people with deadly spurs, a golden lady, a clever scientist, a castle in the sky, the feisty, angry girl who never gave up.
And when he was done, she looked at him and saw the man who used to be the boy who loved the girl with the dirty knees and torn skirt.
And said yes.)
A bit farfetched, maybe, but hey. That's what fanfiction is for.
Reviews are love.