WELCOME TO THE CITY
The house was one of the best in Belisaere, high on the eastern slope of Beshill. It boasted five floors, each with a broad balcony facing east, and on top there was a pleasant roof garden which delivered a view over the lesser houses on the slope below, and past them across the red roofs of the buildings that clustered closely on the valley floor on either side of the Winter Road. Beyond the houses was the seven-tiered Great Eastern Aqueduct and its lesser companion, the city wall. The eastern wall had its feet almost in the water, beyond it lay the glittering expanse of the Sea of Saere, now dotted with those slower, straggling fishing boats that were coming late to Fish Harbor, hours after the rest of the fleet had returned to unload their catch with the dawn.
Clariel stood at the intricately carved marble railing on the edge of the roof garden, with the sun on her face and the cool sea breeze ruffling her shorn-at-the-neck jet-black hair, and wondered why she couldn’t like the view, the house, or indeed, the whole city of Belisaere.
She was seventeen years old, two months shy of being eighteen, and up until their arrival in the city three days before had lived her entire life in the much smaller town of Estwael in the far northwest of the Old Kingdom, and more importantly to her in recent years, in and about the Great Forest that surrounded Estwael.
But Estwael and the Great Forest had been left behind, despite Clariel’s entreaties to her parents. She’d asked to remain, to become a Borderer, one of the wardens who patrolled the forests and woods of the kingdom. But her parents refused, and anyway the Borderers did not recruit youths, as Sergeant Penreth in Estwael had told Clariel numerous times, though always with a matter-of-fact kindness, for they were long acquaintances, if not friends. Nor would her parents accept any of her various other reasons for being allowed to stay behind.
Typically, Clariel’s mother, Jaciel, had simply ignored her daughter’s request, refusing to even discuss the matter. Jaciel’s mind was rarely focused on her family. A goldsmith of rare talent, all her attention was typically on whatever beautiful gold or silver object she was currently making, or on the one that was taking shape in her head.
Harven, Clariel’s father and manager of all practical matters in their family life, had patiently explained to his daughter that besides being too young to join the Borderers it was very likely that in a year she would not want to anyway. He had then added insult to injury by telling Clariel the move to Belisaere was as much for her benefit as it was for her mother, who had been accorded the honor of being invited to join the High Guild of Goldsmiths in the capital.
There would be many more opportunities for her in Belisaere, Clariel had been told repeatedly. She could be apprenticed herself, straight into a High Guild or one of the Great Companies. There might be a business the family could buy for her. Or she might make an advantageous marriage.
But none of these “opportunities” interested Clariel, and she knew they never would have left Estwael just for her benefit. Any advantage she might receive would be entirely incidental to her mother’s desire for a much larger workshop, a greater variety of better metals, gems, and other materials to work with, and an increased labor force, doubtlessly including at least half a dozen more pimply apprentices who would try to look down the front of Clariel’s dress at dinner.
A meaningful cough behind her made Clariel turn around. Her father smiled at her, the weak smile that she knew was a harbinger of bad news. It had made a frequent appearance in the last few months, the smile. When people first met Harven they would think him strong, until his mouth turned up. He had a weak, giving-in smile. He was a goldsmith too, but was not particularly gifted in the actual craft. He was much better at managing the business of his wife’s work.
“Have you come to tell me that by some stroke of good fortune I am to be allowed to go home?” asked Clariel.
“This is our home now,” said Harven.
“It doesn’t feel like it,” said Clariel. She looked over the railing again, across all the white stone buildings with their red tiled roofs, and then back again at the ornamental shrubs in the terra-cotta boxes that made up their own roof garden, shrubs with pale bark and small, weak-looking yellow leaves. “There is nothing green here. I haven’t seen a single proper tree. Everything is ordered, and tamed, and put between walls. And there are too many people.”
“There are lots of big trees in the gardens on Palace Hill,” said Harven. “We just can’t see them from here.”
Clariel nodded glumly. A few trees too distant to be seen, across miles and miles of houses and workshops and other buildings, and thousands and thousands of people, rather proved her point, she thought.
“Did you come to tell me something?” she asked, knowing that he had, and she wasn’t going to like whatever it was. His smile gave that away.
“Ah, your mother had a meeting with Guildmaster Kilp yestereve, and he made her aware of an opportunity for you that she . . . we desire you to take up.”
“An opportunity?” asked Clariel, her heart sinking. “For me?”
“Yes, an opportunity,” continued her father, raising his hands and lifting his shoulders to emphasize what a good opportunity he was about to reveal. “The Goldsmiths, the Merchant Venturers, the Spicers, the Northwestern Trading Company . . . all the High Guilds and most of the great companies, they send their children to the Belisaere Select Academy—”
“A school?” interrupted Clariel. “I’ve been to school! And I’m not a child!”
Clariel had indeed attended school in Estwael, from the age of eight to fourteen, and had been taught how to calculate using an abacus; keep accounts; write formal letters; supervise servants; ride in the great hunt with hounds and hawks; fight with dagger, sword, and bow; and play the psalter, zittern, and reed pipe.
She had also been been baptized with the forehead Charter mark shortly after her birth and taught the rudiments of Charter Magic, that highly organized and difficult sorcery that drew upon the endless array of symbols that collectively made up the magical Charter that described, contained, and connected all things upon, below, above, within, and beyond the world.
Indeed, it would have been very surprising if she had not been taught Charter Magic, given she was a granddaughter of the Abhorsen. The Abhorsen, chief of the family of the same name, both an office and a bloodline, descended from the remnants of the ancient powers who had made the Charter, codifying and ordering the Free Magic that had once been such a threat to all living things in its arbitrary and selfish nature.
The Abhorsens, like their cousins in the Royal Family and also the glacier-dwelling, future-gazing Clayr, were as deeply a part of the foundations and beginnings of the Charter as the more physical underpinnings: the Great Charter Stones beneath the royal palace in Belisaere; the Wall that defined the borders of the Old Kingdom to the south; and the Great Rift to the north.
In addition to the dame school in the town, Clariel had attended another, more informal educational institution, largely without her parents’ knowledge. Since she’d turned twelve Clariel visited her aunt Lemmin whenever she had a day free. Lemmin was a herbalist who lived on the fringe of the forest, in a comfortable house surrounded by her enormous, high-walled garden. Her parents assumed that Clariel stayed within those walls. But her visits to her relative rarely encompassed more than a hug and a greeting, for with her aunt’s good-natured connivance, Clariel would go on out through the forest door, out to follow the Borderers into the deeper forest, or to join the hunters from the lodge. From them all she had learned the habits of animals, the nature of trees, and how to track, and hunt, and snare, to forage, to gut and skin, and make and mend, and live in the wild.
The wild . . . that was where she should be, Clariel thought. Not imprisoned here behind the great maze of walls, roped in by the vast net of streets, caught up in the thrashings of the multitudes of people likewise trapped—
“It’s not like your old school,” her father said, interrupting Clariel’s thoughts. “It is a new thing, that they call a polishing . . . no, I mean finishing . . . a finishing school. And it’s not for children as such . . . it’s for the young men and women of the senior Guild members. You’ll meet the best people in the city and learn how to mix with them.”
“I don’t want to meet the ‘best people’ in the city!” protested Clariel. “I don’t particularly want to meet anyone. I’m quite happy by myself. Or at least, I was, back home. Besides, who is going to help you?”
Clariel had assisted her father for several days each week for a long time, working on all the aspects of being a goldsmith that Jaciel ignored, which included money-changing, some minor loans and financial dealings, and the administration of the workshop, particularly the detailed accounts of the raw materials bought, how they were used, what they were made into, and how much profit they returned when sold. She had liked doing this, mostly because she was left alone, and it had been quiet and peaceful in Harven’s old study, a high tower room with tall windows that gave a wonderful view of the forested hills that surrounded Estwael. It also only took her a dozen hours a week, leaving her plenty of time to wander in the green world beyond the town.