فصل 10-12

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 4

فصل 10-12

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10

There ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a mans hand.

I KINGS WHEELS

“Yeah,” said the red-haired girl, in the garden of the deserted casino. “We seen her, me and Paolo both seen her. She come through here days ago.”

Father Gomez said, “And do you remember what she looked like?”

“She look hot,” said the little boy. “Sweaty in the face, all right.”

“How old did she seem to be?”

“About …” said the girl, considering, “I suppose maybe forty or fifty. We didn’t see her close. She could be thirty, maybe. But she was hot, like Paolo said, and she was carrying a big rucksack, much bigger than yours, this big …”

Paolo whispered something to her, screwing up his eyes to look at the priest as he did so. The sun was bright in his face.

“Yeah,” said the girl impatiently, “I know. The Specters,” she said to Father Gomez, “she wasn’ afraid of the Specters at all. She just walked through the city and never worried a bit. I ain’ never seen a grownup do that before, all right. She looked like she didn’ know about them, even. Same as you,” she added, looking at him with a challenge in her eyes.

“There’s a lot I don’t know,” said Father Gomez mildly.

The little boy plucked at her sleeve and whispered again.

“Paolo says,” she told the priest, “he thinks you’re going to get the knife back.”

Father Gomez felt his skin bristle. He remembered the testimony of Fra Pavel in the inquiry at the Consistorial Court: this must be the knife he meant.

“If I can,” he said, “I shall. The knife comes from here, does it?”

“From the Torre degli Angeli,” said the girl, pointing at the square stone tower over the red-brown rooftops. It shimmered in the midday glare. “And the boy who stole it, he kill our brother, Tullio. The Specters got him, all right. You want to kill that boy, that’s okay. And the girl—she was a liar, she was as bad as him.”

“There was a girl, too?” said the priest, trying not to seem too interested.

“Lying filth,” spat the red-haired child. “We nearly killed them both, but then there came some women, flying women—”

“Witches,” said Paolo.

“Witches, and we couldn’ fight them. They took them away, the girl and boy. We don’ know where they went. But the woman, she came later. We thought maybe she got some kind of knife, to keep the Specters away, all right. And maybe you have, too,” she added, lifting her chin to stare at him boldly.

“I have no knife,” said Father Gomez. “But I have a sacred task. Maybe that is protecting me against these—Specters.”

“Yeah,” said the girl, “maybe. Anyway, you want her, she went south, toward the mountains. We don’ know where. But you ask anyone, they know if she go past, because there ain’ no one like her in Ci’gazze, not before and not now. She be easy to find.”

“Thank you, Angelica,” said the priest. “Bless you, my children.”

He shouldered his pack, left the garden, and set off through the hot, silent streets, satisfied.

After three days in the company of the wheeled creatures, Mary Malone knew rather more about them, and they knew a great deal about her.

That first morning they carried her for an hour or so along the basalt highway to a settlement by a river, and the journey was uncomfortable; she had nothing to hold on to, and the creature’s back was hard. They sped along at a pace that frightened her, but the thunder of their wheels on the hard road and the beat of their scudding feet made her exhilarated enough to ignore the discomfort.

And in the course of the ride she became more aware of the creatures’ physiology. Like the grazers’ skeletons, theirs had a diamond-shaped frame, with a limb at each of the corners. Sometime in the distant past, a line of ancestral creatures must have developed this structure and found it worked, just as generations of long-ago crawling things in Mary’s world had developed the central spine.

The basalt highway led gradually downward, and after a while the slope increased, so the creatures could freewheel. They tucked their side legs up and steered by leaning to one side or the other, and hurtled along at a speed Mary found terrifying—though she had to admit that the creature she was riding never gave her the slightest feeling of danger. If only she’d had something to hold on to, she would have enjoyed it.

At the foot of the mile-long slope, there was a stand of the great trees, and nearby a river meandered on the level grassy ground. Some way off, Mary saw a gleam that looked like a wider expanse of water, but she didn’t spend long looking at that, because the creatures were making for a settlement on the riverbank, and she was burning with curiosity to see it.

There were twenty or thirty huts, roughly grouped in a circle, made of—she had to shade her eyes against the sun to see—wooden beams covered with a kind of wattle-and-daub mixture on the walls and thatch on the roofs. Other wheeled creatures were working: some repairing a roof, others hauling a net out of the river, others bringing brushwood for a fire.

So they had language, and they had fire, and they had society. And about then she found an adjustment being made in her mind, as the word creatures became the word people. These beings weren’t human, but they were people, she told herself; it’s not them, they’re us.

They were quite close now, and seeing what was coming, some of the villagers looked up and called to each other to look. The party from the road slowed to a halt, and Mary clambered stiffly down, knowing that she would ache later on.

“Thank you,” she said to her … her what? Her steed? Her cycle? Both ideas were absurdly wrong for the bright-eyed amiability that stood beside her. She settled for—friend.

He raised his trunk and imitated her words:

“Anku,” he said, and again they laughed, in high spirits.

She took her rucksack from the other creature (“Anku! Anku!”) and walked with them off the basalt and on to the hard-packed earth of the village.

And then her absorption truly began.

In the next few days she learned so much that she felt like a child again, bewildered by school. What was more, the wheeled people seemed to be just as wonderstruck by her. Her hands, to begin with. They couldn’t get enough of them: their delicate trunks felt over every joint, searching out thumbs, knuckles, and fingernails, flexing them gently, and they watched with amazement as she picked up her rucksack, conveyed food to her mouth, scratched, combed her hair, washed.

In return, they let her feel their trunks. They were infinitely flexible, and about as long as her arm, thicker where they joined the head, and quite powerful enough to crush her skull, she guessed. The two finger-like projections at the tip were capable of enormous force and great gentleness; the creatures seemed to be able to vary the tone of their skin on the underside, on their equivalent of fingertips, from a soft velvet to a solidity like wood. As a result, they could use them for both a delicate task like milking a grazer and the rough business of tearing and shaping branches.

Little by little, Mary realized that their trunks were playing a part in communication, too. A movement of the trunk would modify the meaning of a sound, so the word that sounded like “chuh” meant water when it was accompanied by a sweep of the trunk from left to right, rain when the trunk curled up at the tip, sadness when it curled under, and young shoots of grass when it made a quick flick to the left. As soon as she saw this, Mary imitated it, moving her arm as best she could in the same way, and when the creatures realized that she was beginning to talk to them, their delight was radiant.

Once they had begun to talk (mostly in the wheeled people’s language, although she managed to teach them a few words of English: they could say “anku” and “grass” and “tree” and “sky” and “river,” and pronounce her name, with a little difficulty) they progressed much more quickly. Their word for themselves as a people was mulefa, but an individual was a zalif. Mary thought there was a difference between the sounds for he-zalif and she-zalif, but it was too subtle for her to imitate easily. She began to write it all down and compile a dictionary.

But before she let herself become truly absorbed, she took out her battered paperback and the yarrow stalks, and asked the I Ching: Should I be here doing this, or should I go on somewhere else and keep searching?

The reply came: Keeping still, so that restlessness dissolves; then, beyond the tumult, one can perceive the great laws.

It went on: As a mountain keeps still within itself, thus a wise man does not permit his will to stray beyond his situation.

That could hardly be clearer. She folded the stalks away and closed the book, and then realized that she’d drawn a circle of watching creatures around her.

One said, Question? Permission? Curious.

She said, Please. Look.

Very delicately their trunks moved, sorting through the stalks in the same counting movement she’d been making, or turning the pages of the book. One thing they were astonished by was the doubleness of her hands: by the fact that she could both hold the book and turn the pages at the same time. They loved to watch her lace her fingers together, or play the childhood game of “This is the church, and this is the steeple,” or make that over-and-over thumb-to-opposite forefinger movement that was what Ama was using, at exactly the same moment in Lyra’s world, as a charm to keep evil spirits away.

Once they had examined the yarrow stalks and the book, they folded the cloth over them carefully and put them with the book into her rucksack. She was happy and reassured by the message from ancient China, because it meant that what she wanted most to do was exactly, at that moment, what she should do.

So she set herself to learning more about the mulefa, with a cheerful heart.

She learned that there were two sexes, and that they lived monogamously in couples. Their offspring had long childhoods—ten years at least—growing very slowly, as far as she could interpret their explanation. There were five young ones in this settlement, one almost grown and the others somewhere in between, and being smaller than the adults, they could not manage the seedpod wheels. The children had to move as the grazers did, with all four feet on the ground, but for all their energy and adventurousness (skipping up to Mary and shying away, trying to clamber up tree trunks, floundering in the shallow water, and so on), they seemed clumsy, as if they were in the wrong element. The speed and power and grace of the adults was startling by contrast, and Mary saw how much a growing youngster must long for the day when the wheels would fit. She watched the oldest child, one day, go quietly to the storehouse where a number of seedpods were kept, and try to fit his foreclaw into the central hole; but when he tried to stand up, he fell over at once, trapping himself, and the sound attracted an adult. The child struggled to get free, squeaking with anxiety, and Mary couldn’t help laughing at the sight, at the indignant parent and the guilty child, who pulled himself out at the last minute and scampered away.

The seedpod wheels were clearly of the utmost importance, and soon Mary began to see just how valuable they were.

The mulefa spent much of their time, to begin with, in maintaining their wheels. By deftly lifting and twisting the claw, they could slip it out of the hole, and then they used their trunks to examine the wheel all over, cleaning the rim, checking for cracks. The claw was formidably strong: a spur of horn or bone at right angles to the leg, and slightly curved so that the highest part, in the middle, bore the weight as it rested on the inside of the hole. Mary watched one day as a zalif examined the hole in her front wheel, touching here and there, lifting her trunk up in the air and back again, as if sampling the scent.

Mary remembered the oil she’d found on her fingers when she had examined the first seedpod. With the zalif’s permission she looked at her claw, and found the surface more smooth and slick than anything she’d felt on her world. Her fingers simply would not stay on the surface. The whole of the claw seemed impregnated with the faintly fragrant oil, and after she had seen a number of the villagers sampling, testing, checking the state of their wheels and their claws, she began to wonder which had come first: wheel or claw? Rider or tree?

Although of course there was a third element as well, and that was geology. Creatures could only use wheels on a world that provided them with natural highways. There must be some feature of the mineral content of these stone roads that made them run in ribbon-like lines over the vast savanna, and be so resistant to weathering or cracking. Little by little, Mary came to see the way everything was linked together, and all of it, seemingly, managed by the mulefa. They knew the location of every herd of grazers, every stand of wheel trees, every clump of sweet grass, and they knew every individual within the herds, and every separate tree, and they discussed their well-being and their fate. On one occasion she saw the mulefa cull a herd of grazers, selecting some individuals and herding them away from the rest, to dispatch them by breaking their necks with a wrench of a powerful trunk. Nothing was wasted. Holding flakes of razor-sharp stone in their trunks, the mulefa skinned and gutted the animals within minutes, and then began a skillful butchery, separating out the offal and the tender meat and the tougher joints, trimming the fat, removing the horns and the hooves, and working so efficiently that Mary watched with the pleasure she felt at seeing anything done well.

Soon strips of meat were hanging to dry in the sun, and others were packed in salt and wrapped in leaves; the skins were scraped clear of fat, which was set by for later use, and then laid to soak in pits of water filled with oak bark to tan; and the oldest child was playing with a set of horns, pretending to be a grazer, making the other children laugh. That evening there was fresh meat to eat, and Mary feasted well.

In a similar way the mulefa knew where the best fish were to be had, and exactly when and where to lay their nets. Looking for something she could do, Mary went to the net-makers and offered to help. When she saw how they worked, not on their own but two by two, working their trunks together to tie a knot, she realized why they’d been so astonished by her hands, because of course she could tie knots on her own. At first she felt that this gave her an advantage—she needed no one else—and then she realized how it cut her off from others. Perhaps all human beings were like that. And from that time on, she used one hand to knot the fibers, sharing the task with a female zalif who had become her particular friend, fingers and trunk moving in and out together.

But of all the living things the wheeled people managed, it was the seedpod trees that they took most care with.

There were half a dozen groves within the area looked after by this group. There were others farther away, but they were the responsibility of other groups. Each day a party went out to check on the well-being of the mighty trees, and to harvest any fallen seedpods. It was clear what the mulefa gained; but how did the trees benefit from this interchange? One day she saw. As she was riding along with the group, suddenly there was a loud crack, and everyone came to a halt, surrounding one individual whose wheel had split. Every group carried a spare or two with it, so the zalif with the broken wheel was soon remounted; but the broken wheel itself was carefully wrapped in a cloth and taken back to the settlement.

There they prized it open and took out all the seeds—flat pale ovals as big as Mary’s little fingernail—and examined each one carefully. They explained that the seedpods needed the constant pounding they got on the hard roads if they were to crack at all, and also that the seeds were difficult to germinate. Without the mulefa’s attention, the trees would all die. Each species depended on the other, and furthermore, it was the oil that made it possible. It was hard to understand, but they seemed to be saying that the oil was the center of their thinking and feeling; that young ones didn’t have the wisdom of their elders because they couldn’t use the wheels, and thus could absorb no oil through their claws.

And that was when Mary began to see the connection between the mulefa and the question that had occupied the past few years of her life.

But before she could examine it any further (and conversations with the mulefa were long and complex, because they loved qualifying and explaining and illustrating their arguments with dozens of examples, as if they had forgotten nothing and everything they had ever known was available immediately for reference), the settlement was attacked.


Mary was the first to see the attackers coming, though she didn’t know what they were.

It happened in midafternoon, when she was helping repair the roof of a hut. The mulefa only built one story high, because they were not climbers; but Mary was happy to clamber above the ground, and she could lay thatch and knot it in place with her two hands, once they had shown her the technique, much more quickly than they could.

So she was braced against the rafters of a house, catching the bundles of reeds thrown up to her, and enjoying the cool breeze from the water that was tempering the heat of the sun, when her eye was caught by a flash of white.

It came from that distant glitter she thought was the sea. She shaded her eyes and saw one—two—more—a fleet of tall white sails, emerging out of the heat haze, some way off but making with a silent grace for the river mouth.

Mary! called the zalif from below. What are you seeing?

She didn’t know the word for sail, or boat, so she said tall, white, many.

At once the zalif gave a call of alarm, and everyone in earshot stopped work and sped to the center of the settlement, calling the young ones. Within a minute all the mulefa were ready to flee.

Atal, her friend, called: Mary! Mary! Come! Tualapi! Tualapi!

It had all happened so quickly that Mary had hardly moved. The white sails by this time had already entered the river, easily making headway against the current. Mary was impressed by the discipline of the sailors: they tacked so swiftly, the sails moving together like a flock of starlings, all changing direction simultaneously. And they were so beautiful, those snow white slender sails, bending and dipping and filling—

There were forty of them, at least, and they were coming upriver much more swiftly than she’d thought. But she saw no crew on board, and then she realized that they weren’t boats at all: they were gigantic birds, and the sails were their wings, one fore and one aft, held upright and flexed and trimmed by the power of their own muscles.

There was no time to stop and study them, because they had already reached the bank, and were climbing out. They had necks like swans, and beaks as long as her forearm. Their wings were twice as tall as she was, and—she glanced back, frightened now, over her shoulder as she fled—they had powerful legs: no wonder they had moved so fast on the water.

She ran hard after the mulefa, who were calling her name as they streamed out of the settlement and onto the highway. She reached them just in time: her friend Atal was waiting, and as Mary scrambled on her back, Atal beat the road with her feet, speeding away up the slope after her companions.

The birds, who couldn’t move as fast on land, soon gave up the chase and turned back to the settlement.

They tore open the food stores, snarling and growling and tossing their great cruel beaks high as they swallowed the dried meat and all the preserved fruit and grain. Everything edible was gone in under a minute.

And then the tualapi found the wheel store, and tried to smash open the great seedpods, but that was beyond them. Mary felt her friends tense with alarm all around her as they watched from the crest of the low hill and saw pod after pod hurled to the ground, kicked, rasped by the claws on the mighty legs, but of course no harm came to them from that. What worried the mulefa was that several of them were pushed and shoved and nudged toward the water, where they floated heavily downstream toward the sea.

Then the great snow-white birds set about demolishing everything they could see with brutal, raking blows of their feet and stabbing, smashing, shaking, tearing movements of their beaks. The mulefa around her were murmuring, almost crooning with sorrow.

I help, Mary said. We make again.

But the foul creatures hadn’t finished yet; holding their beautiful wings high, they squatted among the devastation and voided their bowels. The smell drifted up the slope with the breeze; heaps and pools of green-black-brown-white dung lay among the broken beams, the scattered thatch. Then, their clumsy movement on land giving them a swaggering strut, the birds went back to the water and sailed away downstream toward the sea.

Only when the last white wing had vanished in the afternoon haze did the mulefa ride down the highway again. They were full of sorrow and anger, but mainly they were powerfully anxious about the seedpod store.

Out of the fifteen pods that had been there, only two were left. The rest had been pushed into the water and lost. But there was a sandbank in the next bend of the river, and Mary thought she could spot a wheel that was caught there; so to the mulefa’s surprise and alarm, she took off her clothes, wound a length of cord around her waist, and swam across to it. On the sandbank she found not one but five of the precious wheels, and passing the cord through their softening centers, she swam heavily back, pulling them behind her.

The mulefa were full of gratitude. They never entered the water themselves, and only fished from the bank, taking care to keep their feet and wheels dry. Mary felt she had done something useful for them at last.

Later that night, after a scanty meal of sweet roots, they told her why they had been so anxious about the wheels. There had once been a time when the seedpods were plentiful, and when the world was rich and full of life, and the mulefa lived with their trees in perpetual joy. But something bad had happened many years ago—some virtue had gone out of the world—because despite every effort and all the love and attention the mulefa could give them, the wheel-pod trees were dying.

11

A truth that’s told with bad intent Beats all the lies you can invent.

• WILLIAM BLAKE •

THE DRAGONFLIES

Ama climbed the path to the cave, bread and milk in the bag on her back, a heavy puzzlement in her heart. How in the world could she ever manage to reach the sleeping girl?

She came to the rock where the woman had told her to leave the food. She put it down, but she didn’t go straight home; she climbed a little farther, up past the cave and through the thick rhododendrons, and farther up still to where the trees thinned out and the rainbows began.

There she and her dæmon played a game: they climbed up over the rock shelves and around the little green-white cataracts, past the whirlpools and through the spectrum-tinted spray, until her hair and her eyelids and his squirrel fur were beaded all over with a million tiny pearls of moisture. The game was to get to the top without wiping your eyes, despite the temptation, and soon the sunlight sparkled and fractured into red, yellow, green, blue, and all the colors in between, but she mustn’t brush her hand across to see better until she got right to the top, or the game would be lost.

Kulang, her dæmon, sprang to a rock near the top of the little waterfall, and she knew he’d turn at once to make sure she didn’t brush the moisture off her eyelashes—except that he didn’t.

Instead, he clung there, gazing forward.

Ama wiped her eyes, because the game was canceled by the surprise her dæmon was feeling. As she pulled herself up to look over the edge, she gasped and fell still, because looking down at her was the face of a creature she had never seen before: a bear, but immense, terrifying, four times the size of the brown bears in the forest, and ivory white, with a black nose and black eyes and claws the length of daggers. He was only an arm’s length away. She could see every separate hair on his head.

“Who’s that?” said the voice of a boy, and while Ama couldn’t understand the words, she caught the sense easily enough.

After a moment the boy appeared next to the bear: fierce-looking, with frowning eyes and a jutting jaw. And was that a dæmon beside him, bird-shaped? But such a strange bird: unlike any she’d seen before. It flew to Kulang and spoke briefly: Friends. We shan’t hurt you.

The great white bear hadn’t moved at all.

“Come up,” said the boy, and again her dæmon made sense of it for her.

Watching the bear with superstitious awe, Ama scrambled up beside the little waterfall and stood shyly on the rocks. Kulang became a butterfly and settled for a moment on her cheek, but left it to flutter around the other dæmon, who sat still on the boy’s hand.

“Will,” said the boy, pointing to himself.

She responded, “Ama.” Now that she could see him properly, she was frightened of the boy almost more than the bear: he had a horrible wound: two of his fingers were missing. She felt dizzy when she saw it.

The bear turned away along the milky stream and lay down in the water, as if to cool himself. The boy’s dæmon took to the air and fluttered with Kulang among the rainbows, and slowly they began to understand each other.

And what should they turn out to be looking for but a cave, with a girl asleep?

The words tumbled out of her in response: “I know where it is! And she’s being kept asleep by a woman who says she is her mother, but no mother would be so cruel, would she? She makes her drink something to keep her asleep, but I have some herbs to make her wake up, if only I could get to her!”

Will could only shake his head and wait for Balthamos to translate. It took more than a minute.

“Iorek,” he called, and the bear lumbered along the bed of the stream, licking his chops, for he had just swallowed a fish. “Iorek,” Will said, “this girl is saying she knows where Lyra is. I’ll go with her to look, while you stay here and watch.”

Iorek Byrnison, foursquare in the stream, nodded silently. Will hid his rucksack and buckled on the knife before clambering down through the rainbows with Ama. The mist that filled the air was icy. He had to brush his eyes and peer through the dazzle to see where it was safe to put his feet.

When they reached the foot of the falls, Ama indicated that they should go carefully and make no noise, and Will walked behind her down the slope, between mossy rocks and great gnarled pine trunks where the dappled light danced intensely green and a billion tiny insects scraped and sang. Down they went, and farther down, and still the sunlight followed them, deep into the valley, while overhead the branches tossed unceasingly in the bright sky.

Then Ama halted. Will drew himself behind the massive bole of a cedar, and looked where she was pointing. Through a tangle of leaves and branches, he saw the side of a cliff, rising up to the right, and partway up—

“Mrs. Coulter,” he whispered, and his heart was beating fast.

The woman appeared from behind the rock and shook out a thick-leaved branch before dropping it and brushing her hands together. Had she been sweeping the floor? Her sleeves were rolled, and her hair was bound up with a scarf. Will could never have imagined her looking so domestic.

But then there was a flash of gold, and that vicious monkey appeared, leaping up to her shoulder. As if they suspected something, they looked all around, and suddenly Mrs. Coulter didn’t look domestic at all.

Ama was whispering urgently: she was afraid of the golden monkey dæmon; he liked to tear the wings off bats while they were still alive.

“Is there anyone else with her?” Will said. “No soldiers, or anyone like that?”

Ama didn’t know. She had never seen soldiers, but people did talk about strange and frightening men, or they might be ghosts, seen on the mountainsides at night … But there had always been ghosts in the mountains, everyone knew that. So they might not have anything to do with the woman.

Well, thought Will, if Lyra’s in the cave and Mrs. Coulter doesn’t leave it, I’ll have to go and pay a call.

He said, “What is this drug you have? What do you have to do with it to wake her up?”

Ama explained.

“And where is it now?”

In her home, she said. Hidden away.

“All right. Wait here and don’t come near. When you see her, you mustn’t say that you know me. You’ve never seen me, or the bear. When do you next bring her food?”

Half an hour before sunset, Ama’s dæmon said.

“Bring the medicine with you then,” said Will. “I’ll meet you here.”

She watched with great unease as he set off along the path. Surely he didn’t believe what she had just told him about the monkey dæmon, or he wouldn’t walk so recklessly up to the cave.

Actually, Will felt very nervous. All his senses seemed to be clarified, so that he was aware of the tiniest insects drifting in the sun shafts and the rustle of every leaf and the movement of the clouds above, even though his eyes never left the cave mouth.

“Balthamos,” he whispered, and the angel dæmon flew to his shoulder as a bright-eyed small bird with red wings. “Keep close to me, and watch that monkey.”

“Then look to your right,” said Balthamos tersely.

And Will saw a patch of golden light at the cave mouth that had a face and eyes and was watching them. They were no more than twenty paces away. He stood still, and the golden monkey turned his head to look in the cave, said something, and turned back.

Will felt for the knife handle and walked on.

When he reached the cave, the woman was waiting for him.

She was sitting at her ease in the little canvas chair, with a book on her lap, watching him calmly. She was wearing traveler’s clothes of khaki, but so well were they cut and so graceful was her figure that they looked like the highest of high fashion, and the little spray of red blossom she’d pinned to her shirtfront looked like the most elegant of jewels. Her hair shone and her dark eyes glittered, and her bare legs gleamed golden in the sunlight.

She smiled. Will very nearly smiled in response, because he was so unused to the sweetness and gentleness a woman could put into a smile, and it unsettled him.

“You’re Will,” she said in that low, intoxicating voice.

“How do you know my name?” he said harshly.

“Lyra says it in her sleep.”

“Where is she?”

“Safe.”

“I want to see her.”

“Come on, then,” she said, and got to her feet, dropping the book on the chair.

For the first time since coming into her presence, Will looked at the monkey dæmon. His fur was long and lustrous, each hair seeming to be made of pure gold, much finer than a human’s, and his little face and hands were black. Will had last seen that face, contorted with hate, on the evening when he and Lyra stole the alethiometer back from Sir Charles Latrom in the house in Oxford. The monkey had tried to tear at him with his teeth until Will had slashed left-right with the knife, forcing the dæmon backward, so he could close the window and shut them away in a different world. Will thought that nothing on earth would make him turn his back on that monkey now.

But the bird-shaped Balthamos was watching closely, and Will stepped carefully over the floor of the cave and followed Mrs. Coulter to the little figure lying still in the shadows.

And there she was, his dearest friend, asleep. So small she looked! He was amazed at how all the force and fire that was Lyra awake could look so gentle and mild when she was sleeping. At her neck Pantalaimon lay in his polecat shape, his fur glistening, and Lyra’s hair lay damp across her forehead.

He knelt down beside her and lifted the hair away. Her face was hot. Out of the corner of his eye, Will saw the golden monkey crouching to spring, and set his hand on the knife; but Mrs. Coulter shook her head very slightly, and the monkey relaxed.

Without seeming to, Will was memorizing the exact layout of the cave: the shape and size of every rock, the slope of the floor, the exact height of the ceiling above the sleeping girl. He would need to find his way through it in the dark, and this was the only chance he’d have to see it first.

“So you see, she’s quite safe,” said Mrs. Coulter.

“Why are you keeping her here? And why don’t you let her wake up?”

“Let’s sit down.”

She didn’t take the chair, but sat with him on the moss-covered rocks at the entrance to the cave. She sounded so kindly, and there was such sad wisdom in her eyes, that Will’s mistrust deepened. He felt that every word she said was a lie, every action concealed a threat, and every smile was a mask of deceit. Well, he would have to deceive her in turn: he’d have to make her think he was harmless. He had successfully deceived every teacher and every police officer and every social worker and every neighbor who had ever taken an interest in him and his home; he’d been preparing for this all his life.

Right, he thought. I can deal with you.

“Would you like something to drink?” said Mrs. Coulter. “I’ll have some, too … It’s quite safe. Look.”

She cut open some wrinkled brownish fruit and pressed the cloudy juice into two small beakers. She sipped one and offered the other to Will, who sipped, too, and found it fresh and sweet.

“How did you find your way here?” she said.

“It wasn’t hard to follow you.”

“Evidently. Have you got Lyra’s alethiometer?”

“Yes,” he said, and let her work out for herself whether or not he could read it.

“And you’ve got a knife, I understand.”

“Sir Charles told you that, did he?”

“Sir Charles? Oh—Carlo, of course. Yes, he did. It sounds fascinating. May I see it?”

“No, of course not,” he said. “Why are you keeping Lyra here?”

“Because I love her,” she said. “I’m her mother. She’s in appalling danger and I won’t let anything happen to her.”

“Danger from what?” said Will.

“Well …” she said, and set her beaker down on the ground, leaning forward so that her hair swung down on either side of her face. When she sat up again, she tucked it back behind her ears with both hands, and Will smelled the fragrance of some scent she was wearing combined with the fresh smell of her body, and he felt disturbed.

If Mrs. Coulter saw his reaction, she didn’t show it. She went on: “Look, Will, I don’t know how you came to meet my daughter, and I don’t know what you know already, and I certainly don’t know if I can trust you; but equally, I’m tired of having to lie. So here it is: the truth.

“I found out that my daughter is in danger from the very people I used to belong to—from the Church. Frankly, I think they want to kill her. So I found myself in a dilemma, you see: obey the Church, or save my daughter. And I was a faithful servant of the Church, too. There was no one more zealous; I gave my life to it; I served it with a passion.

“But I had this daughter …

“I know I didn’t look after her well when she was young. She was taken away from me and brought up by strangers. Perhaps that made it hard for her to trust me. But when she was growing up, I saw the danger that she was in, and three times now I’ve tried to save her from it. I’ve had to become a renegade and hide in this remote place, and I thought we were safe; but now to learn that you found us so easily—well, you can understand, that worries me. The Church won’t be far behind. And they want to kill her, Will. They will not let her live.”

“Why? Why do they hate her so much?”

“Because of what they think she’s going to do. I don’t know what that is; I wish I did, because then I could keep her even more safe. But all I know is that they hate her, and they have no mercy, none.”

She leaned forward, talking urgently and quietly and closely.

“Why am I telling you this?” she went on. “Can I trust you? I think I have to. I can’t escape anymore, there’s nowhere else to go. And if you’re a friend of Lyra’s, you might be my friend, too. And I do need friends, I do need help. Everything’s against me now. The Church will destroy me, too, as well as Lyra, if they find us. I’m alone, Will, just me in a cave with my daughter, and all the forces of all the worlds are trying to track us down. And here you are, to show how easy it is to find us, apparently. What are you going to do, Will? What do you want?”

“Why are you keeping her asleep?” he said, stubbornly avoiding her questions.

“Because what would happen if I let her wake? She’d run away at once. And she wouldn’t last five days.”

“But why don’t you explain it to her and give her the choice?”

“Do you think she’d listen? Do you think even if she listened she’d believe me? She doesn’t trust me. She hates me, Will. You must know that. She despises me. I, well … I don’t know how to say it … I love her so much I’ve given up everything I had—a great career, great happiness, position and wealth—everything, to come to this cave in the mountains and live on dry bread and sour fruit, just so I can keep my daughter alive. And if to do that I have to keep her asleep, then so be it. But I must keep her alive. Wouldn’t your mother do as much for you?”

Will felt a jolt of shock and rage that Mrs. Coulter had dared to bring his own mother in to support her argument. Then the first shock was complicated by the thought that his mother, after all, had not protected him; he had had to protect her. Did Mrs. Coulter love Lyra more than Elaine Parry loved him? But that was unfair: his mother wasn’t well.

Either Mrs. Coulter did not know the boil of feelings that her simple words had lanced, or she was monstrously clever. Her beautiful eyes watched mildly as Will reddened and shifted uncomfortably; and for a moment Mrs. Coulter looked uncannily like her daughter.

“But what are you going to do?” she said.

“Well, I’ve seen Lyra now,” Will said, “and she’s alive, that’s clear, and she’s safe, I suppose. That’s all I was going to do. So now I’ve done it, I can go and help Lord Asriel like I was supposed to.”

That did surprise her a little, but she mastered it.

“You don’t mean—I thought you might help us,” she said quite calmly, not pleading but questioning. “With the knife. I saw what you did at Sir Charles’s house. You could make it safe for us, couldn’t you? You could help us get away?”

“I’m going to go now,” Will said, standing up.

She held out her hand. A rueful smile, a shrug, and a nod as if to a skillful opponent who’d made a good move at the chessboard: that was what her body said. He found himself liking her, because she was brave, and because she seemed like a more complicated and richer and deeper Lyra. He couldn’t help but like her.

So he shook her hand, finding it firm and cool and soft. She turned to the golden monkey, who had been sitting behind her all the time, and a look passed between them that Will couldn’t interpret.

Then she turned back with a smile.

“Good-bye,” he said.

And she said quietly, “Good-bye, Will.”

He left the cave, knowing her eyes were following, and he didn’t look back once. Ama was nowhere in sight. He walked back the way he’d come, keeping to the path until he heard the sound of the waterfall ahead.

“She’s lying,” he said to Iorek Byrnison thirty minutes later. “Of course she’s lying. She’d lie even if it made things worse for herself, because she just loves lying too much to stop.”

“What is your plan, then?” said the bear, who was basking in the sunlight, his belly flat down in a patch of snow among the rocks.

Will walked up and down, wondering whether he could use the trick that had worked in Oxford: use the knife to move into another world and then go to a spot right next to where Lyra lay, cut back through into this world, pull her through into safety, and then close up again. That was the obvious thing to do: why did he hesitate?

Balthamos knew. In his own angel shape, shimmering like a heat haze in the sunlight, he said, “You were foolish to go to her. All you want to do now is see the woman again.”

Iorek uttered a deep, quiet growl. At first Will thought he was warning Balthamos, but then with a little shock of embarrassment he realized that the bear was agreeing with the angel. The two of them had taken little notice of each other until now—their modes of being were so different—but they were of one mind about this, clearly.

And Will scowled, but it was true. He had been captivated by Mrs. Coulter. All his thoughts referred to her: when he thought of Lyra, it was to wonder how like her mother she’d be when she grew up; if he thought of the Church, it was to wonder how many of the priests and cardinals were under her spell; if he thought of his own dead father, it was to wonder whether he would have detested her or admired her; and if he thought of his own mother … He felt his heart grimace. He walked away from the bear and stood on a rock from which he could see across the whole valley. In the clear, cold air he could hear the distant tok-tok of someone chopping wood, he could hear a dull iron bell around the neck of a sheep, he could hear the rustling of the treetops far below. The tiniest crevices in the mountains at the horizon were clear and sharp to his eyes, as were the vultures wheeling over some near-dead creature many miles away.

There was no doubt about it: Balthamos was right. The woman had cast a spell on him. It was pleasant and tempting to think about those beautiful eyes and the sweetness of that voice, and to recall the way her arms rose to push back that shining hair …

With an effort he came back to his senses and heard another sound altogether: a far-distant drone.

He turned this way and that to locate it, and found it in the north, the very direction he and Iorek had come from.

“Zeppelins,” said the bear’s voice, startling Will, for he hadn’t heard the great creature come near. Iorek stood beside him, looking in the same direction, and then reared up high, fully twice the height of Will, his gaze intent.

“How many?”

“Eight of them,” said Iorek after a minute, and then Will saw them, too: little specks in a line.

“Can you tell how long it will take them to get here?” Will said.

“They will be here not long after nightfall.”

“So we won’t have very much darkness. That’s a pity.”

“What is your plan?”

“To make an opening and take Lyra through into another world, and close it again before her mother follows. The girl has a drug to wake Lyra up, but she couldn’t explain very clearly how to use it, so she’ll have to come into the cave as well. I don’t want to put her in danger, though. Maybe you could distract Mrs. Coulter while we do that.”

The bear grunted and closed his eyes. Will looked around for the angel and saw his shape outlined in droplets of mist in the late afternoon light.

“Balthamos,” he said, “I’m going back into the forest now, to find a safe place to make the first opening. I need you to keep watch for me and tell me the moment she comes near—her or that dæmon of hers.”

Balthamos nodded and raised his wings to shake off the moisture. Then he soared up into the cold air and glided out over the valley as Will began to search for a world where Lyra would be safe.


In the creaking, thrumming double bulkhead of the leading zeppelin, the dragonflies were hatching. The Lady Salmakia bent over the splitting cocoon of the electric blue one, easing the damp, filmy wings clear, taking care to let her face be the first thing that imprinted itself on the many-faceted eyes, soothing the fine-stretched nerves, whispering its name to the brilliant creature, teaching it who it was.

In a few minutes the Chevalier Tialys would do the same to his. But for now, he was sending a message on the lodestone resonator, and his attention was fully occupied with the movement of the bow and his fingers.

He transmitted:

“To Lord Roke:

“We are three hours from the estimated time of arrival at the valley. The Consistorial Court of Discipline intends to send a squad to the cave as soon as they land.

“It will divide into two units. The first unit will fight its way into the cave and kill the child, removing her head so as to prove her death. If possible, they will also capture the woman, though if that is impossible, they are to kill her.

“The second unit is to capture the boy alive.

“The remainder of the force will engage the gyropters of King Ogunwe. They estimate that the gyropters will arrive shortly after the zeppelins. In accordance with your orders, the Lady Salmakia and I will shortly leave the zeppelin and fly directly to the cave, where we shall try to defend the girl against the first unit and hold them at bay until reinforcements arrive.

“We await your response.”

The answer came almost immediately.

“To the Chevalier Tialys:

“In the light of your report, here is a change of plan.

“In order to prevent the enemy from killing the child, which would be the worst possible outcome, you and the Lady Salmakia are to cooperate with the boy. While he has the knife, he has the initiative, so if he opens another world and takes the girl into it, let him do so, and follow them through. Stay by their side at all times.”

The Chevalier Tialys replied:

“To Lord Roke:

“Your message is heard and understood. The Lady and I shall leave at once.”

The little spy closed the resonator and gathered his equipment together.

“Tialys,” came a whisper from the dark, “it’s hatching. You should come now.”

He leapt up to the strut where his dragonfly had been struggling into the world, and eased it gently free of the broken cocoon. Stroking its great fierce head, he lifted the heavy antennae, still moist and curled, and let the creature taste the flavor of his skin until it was entirely under his command.

Salmakia was fitting her dragonfly with the harness she carried everywhere: spider-silk reins, stirrups of titanium, a saddle of hummingbird skin. It was almost weightless. Tialys did the same with his, easing the straps around the insect’s body, tightening, adjusting. It would wear the harness till it died.

Then he quickly slung the pack over his shoulder and sliced through the oiled fabric of the zeppelin’s skin. Beside him, the Lady had mounted her dragonfly, and now she urged it through the narrow gap into the hammering gusts. The long, frail wings trembled as she squeezed through, and then the joy of flight took over the creature, and it plunged into the wind. A few seconds later Tialys joined her in the wild air, his mount eager to fight the swift-gathering dusk itself.

The two of them whirled upward in the icy currents, took a few moments to get their bearings, and set their course for the valley.

12

Still as he fled, his eye was backward cast, As if his fear still followed him behind.

EDMUND SPENSER

THE BREAK

As darkness fell, this was how things stood.

In his adamant tower, Lord Asriel paced up and down. His attention was fixed on the little figure beside the lodestone resonator, and every other report had been diverted, every part of his mind was directed to the news that came to the small square block of stone under the lamplight.

King Ogunwe sat in the cabin of his gyropter, swiftly working out a plan to counter the intentions of the Consistorial Court, which he’d just learned about from the Gallivespian in his own aircraft. The navigator was scribbling some figures on a scrap of paper, which he handed to the pilot. The essential thing was speed: getting their troops on the ground first would make all the difference. The gyropters were faster than zeppelins, but they were still some way behind.

In the zeppelins of the Consistorial Court, the Swiss Guard were attending to their kit. Their crossbows were deadly over five hundred yards, and an archer could load and fire fifteen bolts a minute. The spiral fins, made of horn, gave the bolt a spin and made the weapon as accurate as a rifle. It was also, of course, silent, which might be a great advantage.

Mrs. Coulter lay awake in the entrance to the cave. The golden monkey was restless, and frustrated: the bats had left the cave with the coming of darkness, and there was nothing to torment. He prowled about by Mrs. Coulter’s sleeping bag, scratching with a little horny finger at the occasional glowflies that settled in the cave and smearing their luminescence over the rock.

Lyra lay hot and almost as restless, but deep, deep asleep, locked into oblivion by the draught her mother had forced down her only an hour before. There was a dream that had occupied her for a long time, and now it had returned, and little whimpers of pity and rage and Lyratic resolution shook her breast and her throat, making Pantalaimon grind his polecat teeth in sympathy.

Not far away, under the wind-tossed pines on the forest path, Will and Ama were making their way toward the cave. Will had tried to explain to Ama what he was going to do, but her dæmon could make no sense of it, and when he cut a window and showed her, she was so terrified that she nearly fainted. He had to move calmly and speak quietly in order to keep her nearby, because she refused to let him take the powder from her, or even to tell him how it was to be used. In the end he had to say simply, “Keep very quiet and follow me,” and hope that she would.

Iorek, in his armor, was somewhere close by, waiting to hold off the soldiers from the zeppelins so as to give Will enough time to work. What neither of them knew was that Lord Asriel’s force was also closing in: the wind from time to time brought a far-distant clatter to Iorek’s ears, but whereas he knew what zeppelin engines sounded like, he had never heard a gyropter, and he could make nothing of it.

Balthamos might have been able to tell them, but Will was troubled about him. Now that they’d found Lyra, the angel had begun to withdraw back into his grief: he was silent, distracted, and sullen. And that, in turn, made it harder to talk to Ama.

As they paused on the path, Will said to the air, “Balthamos? Are you there?”

“Yes,” said the angel tonelessly.

“Balthamos, please stay with me. Stay close and warn me of any danger. I need you.”

“I haven’t abandoned you yet,” said the angel.

That was the best Will could get out of him.

Far above in the buffeting midair, Tialys and Salmakia soared over the valley, trying to see down to the cave. The dragonflies would do exactly as they were told, but their bodies couldn’t easily cope with cold, and besides, they were tossed about dangerously in the wild wind. Their riders guided them low, among the shelter of the trees, and then flew from branch to branch, taking their bearings in the gathering dark.

Will and Ama crept up in the windy moonlight to the closest point they could reach that was still out of sight of the cave mouth. It happened to be behind a heavy-leaved bush just off the path, and there he cut a window in the air.

The only world he could find with the same conformation of ground was a bare, rocky place, where the moon glared down from a starry sky onto a bleached bone-white ground where little insects crawled and uttered their scraping, chittering sounds over a wide silence.

Ama followed him through, fingers and thumbs moving furiously to protect her from the devils that must be haunting this ghastly place; and her dæmon, adapting at once, became a lizard and scampered over the rocks with quick feet.

Will saw a problem. It was simply that the brilliant moonlight on the bone-colored rocks would shine like a lantern once he opened the window in Mrs. Coulter’s cave. He’d have to open it quickly, pull Lyra through, and close it again at once. They could wake her up in this world, where it was safer.

He stopped on the dazzling slope and said to Ama: “We must be very quick and completely silent. No noise, not even a whisper.”

She understood, though she was frightened. The little packet of powder was in her breast pocket: she’d checked it a dozen times, and she and her dæmon had rehearsed the task so often that she was sure they could do it in total darkness.

They climbed on up the bone-white rocks, Will measuring the distance carefully until he estimated that they would be well inside the cave.

Then he took the knife and cut the smallest possible window he could see through, no larger than the circle he could make with thumb and forefinger.

He put his eye to it quickly to keep the moonlight out and looked through. There it all was: he’d calculated well. He could see the cave mouth ahead, the rocks dark against the night sky; he could see the shape of Mrs. Coulter, asleep, with her golden dæmon beside her; he could even see the monkey’s tail, trailing negligently over the sleeping bag.

Changing his angle and looking closer, he saw the rock behind which Lyra was lying. He couldn’t see her, though. Was he too close? He shut that window, moved back a step or two, and opened again.

She wasn’t there.

“Listen,” he said to Ama and her dæmon, “the woman has moved her and I can’t see where she is. I’m going to have to go through and look around the cave to find her, and cut through as soon as I’ve done that. So stand back—keep out of the way so I don’t accidentally cut you when I come back. If I get stuck there for any reason, go back and wait by the other window, where we came in.”

“We should both go through,” Ama said, “because I know how to wake her, and you don’t, and I know the cave better than you do, too.”

Her face was stubborn, her lips pressed together, her fists clenched. Her lizard dæmon acquired a ruff and raised it slowly around his neck.

Will said, “Oh, very well. But we go through quickly and in complete silence, and you do exactly what I say, at once, you understand?”

She nodded and patted her pocket yet again to check the medicine.

Will made a small opening, low down, looked through, and enlarged it swiftly, getting through in a moment on hands and knees. Ama was right behind him, and altogether the window was open for less than ten seconds.

They crouched on the cave floor behind a large rock, with the bird-formed Balthamos beside them, their eyes taking some moments to adjust from the moon-drenched brilliance of the other world. Inside the cave it was much darker, and much more full of sound: mostly the wind in the trees, but below that was another sound, too. It was the roar of a zeppelin’s engine, and it wasn’t far away.

With the knife in his right hand, Will balanced himself carefully and looked around.

Ama was doing the same, and her owl-eyed dæmon was peering this way and that; but Lyra was not at this end of the cave. There was no doubt about it.

Will raised his head over the rock and took a long, steady look down toward the entrance, where Mrs. Coulter and her dæmon lay deep in sleep.

And then his heart sank. There lay Lyra, stretched out in the depths of her sleep, right next to Mrs. Coulter. Their outlines had merged in the darkness; no wonder he hadn’t seen her.

Will touched Ama’s hand and pointed.

“We’ll just have to do it very carefully,” he whispered.

Something was happening outside. The roar of the zeppelins was now much louder than the wind in the trees, and lights were moving about, too, shining down through the branches from above. The quicker they got Lyra out, the better, and that meant darting down there now before Mrs. Coulter woke up, cutting through, pulling her to safety, and closing again.

He whispered that to Ama. She nodded.

Then, as he was about to move, Mrs. Coulter woke up.

She stirred and said something, and instantly the golden monkey sprang to his feet. Will could see his silhouette in the cave mouth, crouching, attentive, and then Mrs. Coulter herself sat up, shading her eyes against the light outside.

Will’s left hand was tight around Ama’s wrist. Mrs. Coulter got up, fully dressed, lithe, alert, not at all as if she’d just been asleep. Perhaps she’d been awake all the time. She and the golden monkey were crouching inside the cave mouth, watching and listening, as the light from the zeppelins swung from side to side above the treetops and the engines roared, and shouts, male voices warning or calling orders, made it clear that they should move fast, very fast.

Will squeezed Ama’s wrist and darted forward, watching the ground in case he stumbled, running fast and low.

Then he was at Lyra’s side, and she was deep asleep, Pantalaimon around her neck; and then Will held up the knife and felt carefully, and a second later there would have been an opening to pull Lyra through into safety—

But he looked up. He looked at Mrs. Coulter. She had turned around silently, and the glare from the sky, reflected off the damp cave wall, hit her face, and for a moment it wasn’t her face at all; it was his own mother’s face, reproaching him, and his heart quailed from sorrow; and then as he thrust with the knife, his mind left the point, and with a wrench and a crack, the knife fell in pieces to the ground.

It was broken.

Now he couldn’t cut his way out at all.

He said to Ama, “Wake her up. Do it now.”

Then he stood up, ready to fight. He’d strangle that monkey first. He was tensed to meet its leap, and he found he still had the hilt of the knife in his hand; at least he could use it to hit with.

But there was no attack either from the golden monkey or from Mrs. Coulter. She simply moved a little to let the light from outside show the pistol in her hand. In doing so, she let some of the light shine on what Ama was doing: she was sprinkling a powder on Lyra’s upper lip and watching as Lyra breathed in, helping it into her nostrils by using her own dæmon’s tail as a brush.

Will heard a change in the sounds from outside: there was another note now as well as the roar of the zeppelins. It sounded familiar, like an intrusion from his own world, and then he recognized the clatter of a helicopter. Then there was another and another, and more lights swept across the ever-moving trees outside, in a brilliant green scatter of radiance.

Mrs. Coulter turned briefly as the new sound came to her, but too briefly for Will to jump and seize the gun. As for the monkey dæmon, he glared at Will without blinking, crouched ready to spring.

Lyra was moving and murmuring. Will bent down and squeezed her hand, and the other dæmon nudged Pantalaimon, lifting his heavy head, whispering to him.

Outside there was a shout, and a man fell out of the sky, to land with a sickening crash not five yards from the entrance to the cave. Mrs. Coulter didn’t flinch; she looked at him coolly and turned back to Will. A moment later there came a crack of rifle fire from above, and a second after that, a storm of shooting broke out, and the sky was full of explosions, of the crackle of flame, of bursts of gunfire.

Lyra was struggling up into consciousness, gasping, sighing, moaning, pushing herself up only to fall back weakly, and Pantalaimon was yawning, stretching, snapping at the other dæmon, flopping clumsily to one side as his muscles failed to act.

As for Will, he was searching the cave floor with the utmost care for the pieces of the broken knife. No time to wonder how it had happened, or whether it could be mended; but he was the knife bearer, and he had to gather it up safely. As he found each piece, he lifted it carefully, every nerve in his body aware of his missing fingers, and slipped it into the sheath. He could see the pieces quite easily, because the metal caught the gleam from outside: seven of them, the smallest being the point itself. He picked them all up and then turned back to try and make sense of the fight outside.

Somewhere above the trees, the zeppelins were hovering, and men were sliding down ropes, but the wind made it difficult for the pilots to hold the aircraft steady. Meanwhile, the first gyropters had arrived above the cliff. There was only room for them to land one at a time, and then the African riflemen had to make their way down the rock face. It was one of them who had been picked off by a lucky shot from the swaying zeppelins.

By this time, both sides had landed some troops. Some had been killed between the sky and the ground; several more were wounded and lay on the cliff or among the trees. But neither force had yet reached the cave, and still the power inside it lay with Mrs. Coulter.

Will said above the noise:

“What are you going to do?”

“Hold you captive.”

“What, as hostages? Why should they take any notice of that? They want to kill us all anyway.”

“One force does, certainly,” she said, “but I’m not sure about the other. We must hope the Africans win.”

She sounded happy, and in the glare from outside, Will saw her face full of joy and life and energy.

“You broke the knife,” he said.

“No, I didn’t. I wanted it whole, so we could get away. You were the one who broke it.”

Lyra’s voice came urgently: “Will?” she muttered. “Is that Will?”

“Lyra!” he said, and knelt quickly beside her. Ama was helping her sit up. “What’s happening?” Lyra said. “Where are we? Oh, Will, I had this dream …”

“We’re in a cave. Don’t move too fast, you’ll get dizzy. Just take it carefully. Find your strength. You’ve been asleep for days and days.”

Her eyes were still heavy, and she was racked by deep yawns, but she was desperate to be awake, and he helped her up, putting her arm over his shoulder and taking much of her weight. Ama watched timidly, for now that the strange girl was awake, she was nervous of her. Will breathed in the scent of Lyra’s sleepy body with a happy satisfaction: she was here, she was real.

They sat on a rock. Lyra held his hand and rubbed her eyes.

“What’s happening, Will?” she whispered.

“Ama here got some powder to wake you up,” he said, speaking very quietly, and Lyra turned to the girl, seeing her for the first time, and put her hand on Ama’s shoulder in thanks. “I got here as soon as I could,” Will went on, “but some soldiers did, too. I don’t know who they are. We’ll get out as soon as we can.”

Outside, the noise and confusion were reaching a height; one of the gyropters had taken a fusillade from a zeppelin’s machine gun while the riflemen were jumping out on the cliff top, and it burst into flames, not only killing the crew but also preventing the remaining gyropters from landing.

Another zeppelin, meanwhile, had found a clear space farther down the valley, and the crossbow men who disembarked from it were now running up the path to reinforce those already in action. Mrs. Coulter was following as much as she could see from the cave mouth, and now she raised her pistol, supporting it with both hands, and took careful aim before firing. Will saw the flash from the muzzle, but heard nothing over the explosions and gunfire from outside.

If she does that again, he thought, I’ll rush and knock her over, and he turned to whisper that to Balthamos; but the angel was nowhere near. Instead, Will saw with dismay, he was cowering against the wall of the cave, back in his angel form, trembling and whimpering.

“Balthamos!” Will said urgently. “Come on, they can’t hurt you! And you have to help us! You can fight—you know that—you’re not a coward—and we need you—”

But before the angel could reply, something else happened.

Mrs. Coulter cried out and reached down to her ankle, and simultaneously the golden monkey snatched at something in midair, with a snarl of glee.

A voice—a woman’s voice—but somehow minute—came from the thing in the monkey’s paw:

“Tialys! Tialys!”

It was a tiny woman, no bigger than Lyra’s hand, and the monkey was already pulling and pulling at one of her arms so that she cried out in pain. Ama knew he wouldn’t stop till he’d torn it off, but Will leapt forward as he saw the pistol fall from Mrs. Coulter’s hand.

And he caught the gun—but then Mrs. Coulter fell still, and Will became aware of a strange stalemate.

The golden monkey and Mrs. Coulter were both utterly motionless. Her face was distorted with pain and fury, but she dared not move, because standing on her shoulder was a tiny man with his heel pressed against her neck, his hands entwined in her hair; and Will, through his astonishment, saw on that heel a glistening horny spur and knew what had caused her to cry out a moment before. He must have stung her ankle.

But the little man couldn’t hurt Mrs. Coulter anymore, because of the danger his partner was in at the hands of the monkey; and the monkey couldn’t harm her, in case the little man dug his poison spur into Mrs. Coulter’s jugular vein. None of them could move.

Breathing deeply and swallowing hard to govern the pain, Mrs. Coulter turned her tear-dashed eyes to Will and said calmly, “So, Master Will, what do you think we should do now?”

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