His Dark Materials ; Lord Asriel (Asriel/Marisa) ; PG-13 ; 1400 words
Asriel has never believed in destiny.
Written for Canoptic in the Yuletide '08 exchange, with many thanks to glass_icarus for the read-through. Originally archived here.
The morning sun was pleasant and warm on Asriel's shoulders as he considered the marketplace. It was disordered and wonderful, full of smells he did not recognise and people he didn't know. He smiled broadly, took a breath, and looked at Stelmaria beside him.
"Are you just going to look at it?" she asked, and he laughed.
When they walked in amongst the stalls it was as though the whole rhythm of Asriel's life had been rewritten. Unknown and unremarkable, he walked freely from stall to stall, where merchants shouted out to him, selling fabrics and eels and earthenware pots. He bumped into bustling strangers, parents with small children clinging to them, and young couples too wrapped up in each other to notice where they were going. A group of children Asriel's own age were huddled around one stand.
"Wow," a girl breathed.
There was a scuttling sound from the depths, and half of the audience jumped back in horror, laughing at themselves for their own timidity.
Asriel wondered who they were, which families they came from. He felt a sudden and intense desire to know everything about these people and what had brought them here today. Stelmaria fluttered up beside him, a sparrow. "Look, there's so much more over there. Let's go!"
They kept exploring. There was a blacksmith's at the edge of the square, smoke pumping out of the back while a man stood at the front, selling swords that gleamed. Three stalls down, and there was a small wooden affair with bright beads strewn across the front counter, with all manner of jewellery strung up on the hangings either side. Asriel selected a brooch from the counter, holds it up admiringly as the amber stone glowed.
"Buying for someone in particular?" the girl behind the counter asked.
"Mmm, my mother," Asriel murmured absently, still looking at the brooch.
"Well, I can't tell you a great deal about the wares here, I'm just minding the place 'til my pa's finished trading with Coram, he'll be back soon enough. But I'll promise you good quality and a fair price."
"I don't doubt it." She smiled and watched him as he picked up some of the other pieces, and Asriel's focus of interest changed. "You work here, then?" he asked her.
She shrugged. "I help my pa, help the family where it's needed. We'll be back on the water soon enough."
Asriel's eyes widened. "Oh, you're Gyptian?"
She laughed. "Heavens, boy, who did you think we were? 'Sides, you won't see fine craftwork like this from landlopers - no offence, you understand."
He laughed too. "None whatsoever. Think your kind have the right ideas about things."
"Feeling landlocked?" she asked. "It happens, your age - mind, your daemon's not settled yet - maybe when she does, you'll find your place, find roots too."
Asriel shook his head. "No, I know I want to go everywhere there is, see everything, this whole world."
She considered him for a moment. She couldn't have been much older than Asriel, but he suddenly felt young in a way he wasn't used to. Stelmaria came to perch still on his shoulder.
"Maybe you will. What's your name, kid?"
"Well, I'm Sarah Costa, and maybe when you've finished your purchases you'll join me for a cup of something."
Asriel looked around him, thought about his parents waiting for him back at the estate. His father, anxious and disapproving, his mother, insisting that he take charge of his life, and he nodded to Sarah. "I'd be honoured."
Stelmaria flew from his shoulders and found the ground again, a snow leopard now. She'd been favouring that form more and more of late.
"I was a brat of a child when I met you," Asriel said to Ma Costa, later. "What on earth made you give me the time of day?"
"You've got destiny running through you, Asriel, could see that right from the off. Seemed worth getting to know someone like that."
"I don't believe in destiny."
Sarah shrugged. "I said nothing about belief. It's just facts, strands of life that burn brighter than others. You are for mighty deeds."
Asriel thought too highly of her to express his doubts aloud, but she caught him anyway.
"Oh, I don't mean your research and your scholarships, your theology and all of that. There's something else coming, and you know it just as well as I do."
The stars above the fens shone dimly through the clouds, a greater brightness obscured, and Asriel wondered.
Asriel leaned down to kiss the hollow of Marisa's throat. She smiled, a little dazed, then manoeuvred him away.
"That was . . ." she started. "That was almost certainly the worst idea I've ever had."
"I've had some spectacularly awful ideas in my time," Asriel replied. "You're not one of them."
"Asriel --" Marisa sounded pained.
He propped himself up, better to see the flush of her cheeks, the gleam in her eyes she hadn't hidden away again yet.
"Edward will be home soon," she said. "I have to be home to meet him."
"I don't care. I'll duel him for your honour, anything."
She laughed, scornful. "You wouldn't. Besides, he'd kill you."
He dipped down again, pressing his mouth against the line of her jaw until her breath caught. "Stay with me."
"Stay. Come on, Marisa, this feels right." A kiss. "We feel right."
Marisa looked up at him. "Don't give me that. I don't believe in fate, neither do you."
She wrapped an arm around Asriel's neck and kissed him again anyway.
Fate came catching up with him, sold him out to church and state and took his daughter away. As Stelmaria walked along the edges of their cell, he decided it was more than time he made his own destiny.
"We should go North," he said.
Stelmaria agreed. "We'll find Lyra, make sure she's safe. We've got things we have to do."
Asriel's head fell back against the cold stone, and he burned with a slow and simmering anger. He could use that.
Asriel felt he had been examining these battle plans for days. It seemed absurd to parse the chaos and horror of war into charts and figures on a page, but it was the only way he knew to grasp anything, to turn it into a study. He was an explorer, a warrior, a leader of armies now, but at heart still a scholar, and he poured over the maps once again.
"Asriel, come." King Ogunwe stood beside him. "You must get some rest or you shall be no good to any of us."
Asriel had to bite back a haughty retort. These past months, he had forgotten how to give concessions to others. These past years, truth be told, stretching back and back through the Oblation Board and the Magesterium and imprisonment, the whole world wrong and fatally flawed in their vision, leaving Asriel to become an army of one, rewriting the universe with no one but Stelmaria at his side. But Ogunwe was a better man than Asriel, and wanted the same things as he did.
Asriel exhaled slowly, no relief but a small respite. "I know this can work," he said, gesturing at the papers spread before them. "But all the fates are against us, it seems."
"I hadn't taken you for a fatalistic man," Ogunwe answered.
"Oh, I don't believe in destiny," Asriel agreed. "But then, I don't believe in God either."
Ogunwe stared at him, and Asriel started to laugh more heartily than he had in the longest time.
"I don't believe," he said again, a little short of breath -- because really, he was waging war on God, and battle fatigue speaking or not, the humour was unavoidable. "I don't believe in God or angels or destiny, but it doesn't change the fact of them. The witches speak of prophecies, things written in the stars that dictate all our lives. Angels that travel in war machines, a God who is unknown and unseen with his most beloved workers wreaking havoc across a thousand worlds."
Ogunwe nodded, both men solemn again.
"That's what fate has brought us," Asriel continued. "That's what destiny is, and that's why we must put an end to it."