فصل 18-19

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 7

فصل 18-19

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18

O that it were possible we might But hold some two days conference with the dead …

• JOHN WEBSTER •

THE SUBURBS Of THE DEAD

Lyra was awake before dawn, with Pantalaimon shivering at her breast, and she got up to walk about and warm herself up as the gray light seeped into the sky. She had never known such silence, not even in the snow-blanketed Arctic; there was not a stir of wind, and the sea was so still that not the tiniest ripple broke on the sand; the world seemed suspended between breathing in and breathing out.

Will lay curled up fast asleep, with his head on the rucksack to protect the knife. The cloak had fallen off his shoulder, and she tucked it around him, pretending that she was taking care to avoid his dæmon, and that she had the form of a cat, curled up just as he was. She must be here somewhere, Lyra thought.

Carrying the still sleepy Pantalaimon, she walked away from Will and sat down on the slope of a sand dune a little way off, so their voices wouldn’t wake him.

“Those little people,” Pantalaimon said.

“I don’t like ’em,” said Lyra decisively. “I think we should get away from ’em as soon as we can. I reckon if we trap ’em in a net or something, Will can cut through and close up and that’s it, we’ll be free.”

“We haven’t got a net,” he said, “or something. Anyway, I bet they’re cleverer than that. He’s watching us now.”

Pantalaimon was a hawk as he said that, and his eyes were keener than hers. The darkness of the sky was turning minute by minute into the palest ethereal blue, and as she looked across the sand, the first edge of the sun just cleared the rim of the sea, dazzling her. Because she was on the slope of the dune, the light reached her a few seconds before it touched the beach, and she watched it flow around her and along toward Will; and then she saw the hand-high figure of the Chevalier Tialys, standing by Will’s head, clear and wide awake and watching them.

“The thing is,” said Lyra, “they can’t make us do what they want. They got to follow us. I bet they’re fed up.”

“If they got hold of us,” said Pantalaimon, meaning him and Lyra, “and got their stings ready to stick in us, Will’d have to do what they said.”

Lyra thought about it. She remembered vividly the horrible scream of pain from Mrs. Coulter, the eye-rolling convulsions, the ghastly, lolling drool of the golden monkey as the poison entered her bloodstream … And that was only a scratch, as her mother had recently been reminded elsewhere. Will would have to give in and do what they wanted.

“Suppose they thought he wouldn’t, though,” she said, “suppose they thought he was so coldhearted he’d just watch us die. Maybe he better make ’em think that, if he can.”

She had brought the alethiometer with her, and now that it was light enough to see, she took the beloved instrument out and laid it on its black velvet cloth in her lap. Little by little, Lyra drifted into that trance in which the many layers of meaning were clear to her, and where she could sense intricate webs of connectedness between them all. As her fingers found the symbols, her mind found the words: How can we get rid of the spies?

Then the needle began to dart this way and that, almost too fast to see, and some part of Lyra’s awareness counted the swings and the stops and saw at once the meaning of what the movement said.

It told her: Do not try, because your lives depend on them.

That was a surprise, and not a happy one. But she went on and asked: How can we get to the land of the dead?

The answer came: Go down. Follow the knife. Go onward. Follow the knife.

And finally she asked hesitantly, half-ashamed: Is this the right thing to do?

Yes, said the alethiometer instantly. Yes.

She sighed, coming out of her trance, and tucked the hair behind her ears, feeling the first warmth of the sun on her face and shoulders. There were sounds in the world now, too: insects were stirring, and a very slight breeze was rustling the dry grass stems growing higher up the dune.

She put the alethiometer away and wandered back to Will, with Pantalaimon as large as he could make himself and lion-shaped, in the hope of daunting the Gallivespians.

The man was using his lodestone apparatus, and when he’d finished, Lyra said:

“You been talking to Lord Asriel?”

“To his representative,” said Tialys.

“We en’t going.”

“That’s what I told him.”

“What did he say?”

“That was for my ears, not yours.”

“Suit yourself,” she said. “Are you married to that lady?”

“No. We are colleagues.”

“Have you got any children?”

“No.”

Tialys continued to pack the lodestone resonator away, and as he did so, the Lady Salmakia woke up nearby, sitting up graceful and slow from the little hollow she’d made in the soft sand. The dragonflies were still asleep, tethered with cobweb-thin cord, their wings damp with dew.

“Are there big people on your world, or are they all small like you?” Lyra said.

“We know how to deal with big people,” Tialys replied, not very helpfully, and went to talk quietly to the Lady. They spoke too softly for Lyra to hear, but she enjoyed watching them sip dewdrops from the marram grass to refresh themselves. Water must be different for them, she thought to Pantalaimon: imagine drops the size of your fist! They’d be hard to get into; they’d have a sort of elastic rind, like a balloon.

By this time Will was waking, too, wearily. The first thing he did was to look for the Gallivespians, who looked back at once, fully focused on him.

He looked away and found Lyra.

“I want to tell you something,” she said. “Come over here, away from—”

“If you go away from us,” said Tialys’s clear voice, “you must leave the knife. If you won’t leave the knife, you must talk to each other here.”

“Can’t we be private?” Lyra said indignantly. “We don’t want you listening to what we say!”

“Then go away, but leave the knife.”

There was no one else nearby, after all, and certainly the Gallivespians wouldn’t be able to use it. Will rummaged in the rucksack for the water bottle and a couple of biscuits, and handing one to Lyra, he went with her up the slope of the dune.

“I asked the alethiometer,” she told him, “and it said we shouldn’t try and escape from the little people, because they were going to save our lives. So maybe we’re stuck with ’em.”

“Have you told them what we’re going to do?”

“No! And I won’t, either. ’Cause they’ll only tell Lord Asriel on that speaking-fiddle and he’d go there and stop us—so we got to just go, and not talk about it in front of them.”

“They are spies, though,” Will pointed out. “They must be good at listening and hiding. So maybe we better not mention it at all. We know where we’re going. So we’ll just go and not talk about it, and they’ll have to put up with it and come along.”

“They can’t hear us now. They’re too far off. Will, I asked how we get there, too. It said to follow the knife, just that.”

“Sounds easy,” he said. “But I bet it isn’t. D’you know what Iorek told me?”

“No. He said—when I went to say good-bye—he said it would be very difficult for you, but he thought you could do it. But he never told me why …”

“The knife broke because I thought of my mother,” he explained. “So I’ve got to put her out of my mind. But … it’s like when someone says don’t think about a crocodile, you do, you can’t help it …”

“Well, you cut through last night all right,” she said.

“Yeah, because I was tired, I think. Well, we’ll see. Just follow the knife?”

“That’s all it said.”

“Might as well go now, then. Except there’s not much food left. We ought to find something to take with us, bread and fruit or something. So first I’ll find a world where we can get food, and then we’ll start looking properly.”

“All right,” said Lyra, quite happy to be moving again, with Pan and Will, alive and awake.

They made their way back to the spies, who were sitting alertly by the knife, packs on their backs.

“We should like to know what you intend,” said Salmakia.

“Well, we’re not coming to Lord Asriel anyway,” said Will. “We’ve got something else to do first.”

“And will you tell us what that is, since it’s clear we can’t stop you from doing it?”

“No,” said Lyra, “because you’d just go and tell them. You’ll have to come along without knowing where we’re going. Of course you could always give up and go back to them.”

“Certainly not,” said Tialys.

“We want some kind of guarantee,” said Will. “You’re spies, so you’re bound to be dishonest, that’s your trade. We need to know we can trust you. Last night we were all too tired and we couldn’t think about it, but there’d be nothing to stop you waiting till we were asleep and then stinging us to make us helpless and calling up Lord Asriel on that lodestone thing. You could do that easily. So we need to have a proper guarantee that you won’t. A promise isn’t enough.”

The two Gallivespians trembled with anger at this slur on their honor.

Tialys, controlling himself, said, “We don’t accept one-sided demands. You must give something in exchange. You must tell us what your intentions are, and then I shall give the lodestone resonator into your care. You must let me have it when I want to send a message, but you will always know when that happens, and we shall not be able to use it without your agreement. That will be our guarantee. And now you tell us where you are going, and why.”

Will and Lyra exchanged a glance to confirm it.

“All right,” Lyra said, “that’s fair. So here’s where we’re going: we’re going to the world of the dead. We don’t know where it is, but the knife’ll find it. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The two spies were looking at her with openmouthed incredulity.

Then Salmakia blinked and said, “What you say doesn’t make sense. The dead are dead, that’s all. There is no world of the dead.”

“I thought that was true, as well,” said Will. “But now I’m not sure. At least with the knife we can find out.”

“But why?”

Lyra looked at Will and saw him nod.

“Well,” she said, “before I met Will, long before I was asleep, I led this friend into danger, and he was killed. I thought I was rescuing him, only I was making things worse. And while I was asleep I dreamed of him and I thought maybe I could make amends if I went where he’s gone and said I was sorry. And Will wants to find his father, who died just when he found him before. See, Lord Asriel wouldn’t think of that. Nor would Mrs. Coulter. If we went to him we’d have to do what he wants, and he wouldn’t think of Roger at all—that’s my friend who died—it wouldn’t matter to him. But it matters to me. To us. So that’s what we want to do.”

“Child,” said Tialys, “when we die, everything is over. There is no other life. You have seen death. You’ve seen dead bodies, and you’ve seen what happens to a dæmon when death comes. It vanishes. What else can there be to live on after that?”

“We’re going to go and find out,” said Lyra. “And now we’ve told you, I’ll take your resonator lodestone.”

She held out her hand, and leopard-Pantalaimon stood, tail swinging slowly, to reinforce her demand. Tialys unslung the pack from his back and laid it in her palm. It was surprisingly heavy—no burden for her, of course, but she marveled at his strength.

“And how long do you think this expedition will take?” said the Chevalier.

“We don’t know,” Lyra told him. “We don’t know anything about it, any more than you do. We’ll just go there and see.”

“First thing,” Will said, “we’ve got to get some water and some more food, something easy to carry. So I’m going to find a world where we can do that, and then we’ll set off.”

Tialys and Salmakia mounted their dragonflies and held them quivering on the ground. The great insects were eager for flight, but the command of their riders was absolute, and Lyra, watching them in daylight for the first time, saw the extraordinary fineness of the gray silk reins, the silvery stirrups, the tiny saddles.

Will took the knife, and a powerful temptation made him feel for the touch of his own world: he had the credit card still; he could buy familiar food; he could even telephone Mrs. Cooper and ask for news of his mother—

The knife jarred with a sound like a nail being drawn along rough stone, and his heart nearly stopped. If he broke the blade again, it would be the end.

After a few moments he tried again. Instead of trying not to think of his mother, he said to himself: Yes, I know she’s there, but I’m just going to look away while I do this …

And that time it worked. He found a new world and slid the knife along to make an opening, and a few moments later all of them were standing in what looked like a neat and prosperous farmyard in some northern country like Holland or Denmark, where the stone-flagged yard was swept and clean and a row of stable doors stood open. The sun shone down through a hazy sky, and there was the smell of burning in the air, as well as something less pleasant. There was no sound of human life, though a loud buzzing, so active and vigorous that it sounded like a machine, came from the stables.

Lyra went and looked, and came back at once, looking pale.

“There’s four”—she gulped, hand to her throat, and recovered—“four dead horses in there. And millions of flies …”

“Look,” said Will, swallowing, “or maybe better not.”

He was pointing at the raspberry canes that edged the kitchen garden. He’d just seen a man’s legs, one with a shoe on and one without, protruding from the thickest part of the bushes.

Lyra didn’t want to look, but Will went to see if the man was still alive and needed help. He came back shaking his head, looking uneasy.

The two spies were already at the farmhouse door, which was ajar.

Tialys darted back and said, “It smells sweeter in there,” and then he flew back over the threshold while Salmakia scouted further around the outbuildings.

Will followed the Chevalier. He found himself in a big square kitchen, an old-fashioned place with white china on a wooden dresser, and a scrubbed pine table, and a hearth where a black kettle stood cold. Next door there was a pantry, with two shelves full of apples that filled the whole room with fragrance. The silence was oppressive.

Lyra said quietly, “Will, is this the world of the dead?”

The same thought had occurred to him. But he said, “No, I don’t think so. It’s one we haven’t been in before. Look, we’ll load up with as much as we can carry. There’s sort of rye bread, that’ll be good—it’s light—and here’s some cheese …”

When they had taken what they could carry, Will dropped a gold coin into the drawer in the big pine table.

“Well?” said Lyra, seeing Tialys raise his eyebrows. “You should always pay for what you take.”

At that moment Salmakia came in through the back door, landing her dragonfly on the table in a shimmer of electric blue.

“There are men coming,” she said, “on foot, with weapons. They’re only a few minutes’ walk away. And there is a village burning beyond the fields.”

And as she spoke, they could hear the sound of boots on gravel, and a voice issuing orders, and the jingle of metal.

“Then we should go,” said Will.

He felt in the air with the knifepoint. And at once he was aware of a new kind of sensation. The blade seemed to be sliding along a very smooth surface, like a mirror, and then it sank through slowly until he was able to cut. But it was resistant, like heavy cloth, and when he made an opening, he blinked with surprise and alarm: because the world he was opening into was the same in every detail as the one they were already standing in.

“What’s happening?” said Lyra.

The spies were looking through, puzzled. But it was more than puzzlement they felt. Just as the air had resisted the knife, so something in this opening resisted their going through. Will had to push against something invisible and then pull Lyra after him, and the Gallivespians could hardly make any headway at all. They had to perch the dragonflies on the children’s hands, and even then it was like pulling them against a pressure in the air; their filmy wings bent and twisted, and the little riders had to stroke their mounts’ heads and whisper to calm their fears.

But after a few seconds of struggle, they were all through, and Will found the edge of the window (though it was impossible to see) and closed it, shutting the sound of the soldiers away in their own world.

“Will,” said Lyra, and he turned to see that there was another figure in the kitchen with them.

His heart jolted. It was the man he’d seen not ten minutes before, stark dead in the bushes with his throat cut.

He was middle-aged, lean, with the look of a man who spent most of the time in the open air. But now he was looking almost crazed, or paralyzed, with shock. His eyes were so wide that the white showed all around the iris, and he was clutching the edge of the table with a trembling hand. His throat, Will was glad to see, was intact.

He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. All he could do was point at Will and Lyra.

Lyra said, “Excuse us for being in your house, but we had to escape from the men who were coming. I’m sorry if we startled you. I’m Lyra, and this is Will, and these are our friends, the Chevalier Tialys and the Lady Salmakia. Could you tell us your name and where we are?”

This normal-sounding request seemed to bring the man to his senses, and a shudder passed over him, as if he were waking from a dream.

“I’m dead,” he said. “I’m lying out there, dead. I know I am. You ain’t dead. What’s happening? God help me, they cut my throat. What’s happening?”

Lyra stepped closer to Will when the man said I’m dead, and Pantalaimon fled to her breast as a mouse. As for the Gallivespians, they were trying to control their dragonflies, because the great insects seemed to have an aversion for the man and darted here and there in the kitchen, looking for a way out.

But the man didn’t notice them. He was still trying to understand what had happened.

“Are you a ghost?” Will said cautiously.

The man reached out his hand, and Will tried to take it, but his fingers closed on the air. A tingle of cold was all he felt.

When he saw it happen, the man looked at his own hand, appalled. The numbness was beginning to wear off, and he could feel the pity of his state.

“Truly,” he said, “I am dead … I’m dead, and I’m going to Hell …”

“Hush,” said Lyra, “we’ll go together. What’s your name?”

“Dirk Jansen I was,” he said, “but already I … I don’t know what to do … Don’t know where to go …”

Will opened the door. The barnyard looked the same, the kitchen garden was unchanged, the same hazy sun shone down. And there was the man’s body, untouched.

A little groan broke from Dirk Jansen’s throat, as if there were no denying it anymore. The dragonflies darted out of the door and skimmed over the ground and then shot up high, faster than birds. The man was looking around helplessly, raising his hands, lowering them again, uttering little cries.

“I can’t stay here … Can’t stay,” he was saying. “But this ain’t the farm I knew. This is wrong. I got to go …”

“Where are you going, Mr. Jansen?” said Lyra.

“Down the road. Dunno. Got to go. Can’t stay here …”

Salmakia flew down to perch on Lyra’s hand. The dragonfly’s little claws pricked as the Lady said, “There are people walking from the village—people like this man—all walking in the same direction.”

“Then we’ll go with them,” said Will, and swung his rucksack over his shoulder.

Dirk Jansen was already passing his own body, averting his eyes. He looked almost as if he were drunk, stopping, moving on, wandering to left and right, stumbling over little ruts and stones on the path his living feet had known so well.

Lyra came after Will, and Pantalaimon became a kestrel and flew up as high as he could, making Lyra gasp.

“They’re right,” he said when he came down. “There’s lines of people all coming from the village. Dead people …”

And soon they saw them, too: twenty or so men, women, and children, all moving as Dirk Jansen had done, uncertain and shocked. The village was half a mile away, and the people were coming toward them, close together in the middle of the road. When Dirk Jansen saw the other ghosts, he broke into a stumbling run, and they held out their hands to greet him.

“Even if they don’t know where they’re going, they’re all going there together,” Lyra said. “We better just go with them.”

“D’you think they had dæmons in this world?” said Will.

“Can’t tell. If you saw one of ’em in your world, would you know he was a ghost?”

“It’s hard to say. They don’t look normal, exactly … There was a man I used to see in my town, and he used to walk about outside the shops always holding the same old plastic bag, and he never spoke to anyone or went inside. And no one ever looked at him. I used to pretend he was a ghost. They look a bit like him. Maybe my world’s full of ghosts and I never knew.”

“I don’t think mine is,” said Lyra doubtfully.

“Anyway, this must be the world of the dead. These people have just been killed—those soldiers must’ve done it—and here they are, and it’s just like the world they were alive in. I thought it’d be a lot different …”

“Will, it’s fading,” she said. “Look!”

She was clutching his arm. He stopped and looked around, and she was right. Not long before he had found the window in Oxford and stepped through into the other world of Cittàgazze, there had been an eclipse of the sun, and like millions of others Will had stood outside at midday and watched as the bright daylight faded and dimmed until a sort of eerie twilight covered the houses, the trees, the park. Everything was just as clear as in full daylight, but there was less light to see it by, as if all the strength were draining out of a dying sun.

What was happening now was like that, but odder, because the edges of things were losing their definition as well and becoming blurred.

“It’s not like going blind, even,” said Lyra, frightened, “because it’s not that we can’t see things, it’s like the things themselves are fading …”

The color was slowly seeping out of the world. A dim green gray for the bright green of the trees and the grass, a dim sand gray for the vivid yellow of a field of corn, a dim blood gray for the red bricks of a neat farmhouse …

The people themselves, closer now, had begun to notice, too, and were pointing and holding one another’s arms for reassurance.

The only bright things in the whole landscape were the brilliant red-and-yellow and electric blue of the dragonflies, and their little riders, and Will and Lyra, and Pantalaimon, who was hovering kestrel-shaped close above.

They were close to the first of the people now, and it was clear: they were all ghosts. Will and Lyra took a step toward each other, but there was nothing to fear, for the ghosts were far more afraid of them and were hanging back, unwilling to approach.

Will called out, “Don’t be afraid. We’re not going to hurt you. Where are you going?”

They looked at the oldest man among them, as if he were their guide.

“We’re going where all the others go,” he said. “Seems as if I know, but I can’t remember learning it. Seems as if it’s along the road. We’ll know it when we get there.”

“Mama,” said a child, “why’s it getting dark in the daytime?”

“Hush, dear, don’t fret,” the mother said. “Can’t make anything better by fretting. We’re dead, I expect.”

“But where are we going?” the child said. “I don’t want to be dead, Mama!”

“We’re going to see Grandpa,” the mother said desperately.

But the child wouldn’t be consoled and wept bitterly. Others in the group looked at the mother with sympathy or annoyance, but there was nothing they could do to help, and they all walked on disconsolately through the fading landscape as the child’s thin cries went on, and on, and on.

The Chevalier Tialys had spoken to Salmakia before skimming ahead, and Will and Lyra watched the dragonfly with eyes greedy for its brightness and vigor as it got smaller and smaller. The Lady flew down and perched her insect on Will’s hand.

“The Chevalier has gone to see what’s ahead,” she said. “We think the landscape is fading because these people are forgetting it. The farther they go away from their homes, the darker it will get.”

“But why d’you think they’re moving?” Lyra said. “If I was a ghost I’d want to stay in the places I knew, not wander along and get lost.”

“They feel unhappy there,” Will said, guessing. “It’s where they’ve just died. They’re afraid of it.”

“No, they’re pulled onward by something,” said the Lady. “Some instinct is drawing them down the road.”

And indeed the ghosts were moving more purposefully now that they were out of sight of their own village. The sky was as dark as if a mighty storm were threatening, but there was none of the electric tension that comes ahead of a storm. The ghosts walked on steadily, and the road ran straight ahead across a landscape that was almost featureless.

From time to time one of them would glance at Will or Lyra, or at the brilliant dragonfly and its rider, as if they were curious. Finally the oldest man said:

“You, you boy and girl. You ain’t dead. You ain’t ghosts. What you coming along here for?”

“We came through by accident,” Lyra told him before Will could speak. “I don’t know how it happened. We were trying to escape from those men, and we just seemed to find ourselves here.”

“How will you know when you’ve got to the place where you’ve got to go?” said Will.

“I expect we’ll be told,” said the ghost confidently. “They’ll separate out the sinners and the righteous, I dare say. It’s no good praying now. It’s too late for that. You should have done that when you were alive. No use now.”

It was quite clear which group he expected to be in, and quite clear, too, that he thought it wouldn’t be a big one. The other ghosts heard him uneasily, but he was all the guidance they had, so they followed without arguing.

And on they walked, trudging in silence under a sky that had finally darkened to a dull iron gray and remained there without getting any darker. The living ones found themselves looking to their left and right, above and below, for anything that was bright or lively or joyful, and they were always disappointed until a little spark appeared ahead and raced toward them through the air. It was the Chevalier, and Salmakia urged her dragonfly ahead to meet him, with a cry of pleasure.

They conferred and sped back to the children.

“There’s a town ahead,” said Tialys. “It looks like a refugee camp, but it’s obviously been there for centuries or more. And I think there’s a sea or a lake beyond it, but that’s covered in mist. I could hear the cries of birds. And there are hundreds of people arriving every minute, from every direction, people like these—ghosts …”

The ghosts themselves listened as he spoke, though without much curiosity. They seemed to have settled into a dull trance, and Lyra wanted to shake them, to urge them to struggle and wake up and look around for a way out.

“How are we going to help these people, Will?” she said.

He couldn’t even guess. As they moved on, they could see a movement on the horizon to the left and right, and ahead of them a dirty-colored smoke was rising slowly to add its darkness to the dismal air. The movement was people, or ghosts: in lines or pairs or groups or alone, but all empty-handed, hundreds and thousands of men and women and children were drifting over the plain toward the source of the smoke.

The ground was sloping downward now, and becoming more and more like a rubbish dump. The air was heavy and full of smoke, and of other smells besides: acrid chemicals, decaying vegetable matter, sewage. And the farther down they went, the worse it got. There was not a patch of clean soil in sight, and the only plants growing anywhere were rank weeds and coarse grayish grass.

Ahead of them, above the water, was the mist. It rose like a cliff to merge with the gloomy sky, and from somewhere inside it came those bird cries that Tialys had referred to.

Between the waste heaps and the mist, there lay the first town of the dead.

19

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

• WILLIAM BLAKE •

LYRA AND HER DEATH Here and there, fires had been lit among the ruins. The town was a jumble, with no streets, no squares, and no open spaces except where a building had fallen. A few churches or public buildings still stood above the rest, though their roofs were holed or their walls cracked, and in one case a whole portico had crumpled onto its columns. Between the shells of the stone buildings, a mazy clutter of shacks and shanties had been put together out of lengths of roofing timber, beaten-out petrol cans or biscuit tins, torn plastic sheeting, scraps of plywood or hard-board.

The ghosts who had come with them were hurrying toward the town, and from every direction came more of them, so many that they looked like the grains of sand that trickle toward the hole of an hourglass. The ghosts walked straight into the squalid confusion of the town, as if they knew exactly where they were going, and Lyra and Will were about to follow them; but then they were stopped.

A figure stepped out of a patched-up doorway and said, “Wait, wait.”

A dim light was glowing behind him, and it wasn’t easy to make out his features; but they knew he wasn’t a ghost. He was like them, alive. He was a thin man who could have been any age, dressed in a drab and tattered business suit, and he was holding a pencil and a sheaf of papers held together with a clip. The building he’d stepped out of had the look of a customs post on a rarely visited frontier.

“What is this place?” said Will. “And why can’t we go in?”

“You’re not dead,” said the man wearily. “You have to wait in the holding area. Go farther along the road to the left and give these papers to the official at the gate.”

“But excuse me, sir,” said Lyra, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how can we have come this far if we en’t dead? Because this is the world of the dead, isn’t it?”

“It’s a suburb of the world of the dead. Sometimes the living come here by mistake, but they have to wait in the holding area before they can go on.”

“Wait for how long?”

“Until they die.”

Will felt his head swim. He could see Lyra was about to argue, and before she could speak, he said, “Can you just explain what happens then? I mean, these ghosts who come here, do they stay in this town forever?”

“No, no,” said the official. “This is just a port of transit. They go on beyond here by boat.”

“Where to?” said Will.

“That’s not something I can tell you,” said the man, and a bitter smile pulled his mouth down at the corners. “You must move along, please. You must go to the holding area.”

Will took the papers the man was holding out, and then held Lyra’s arm and urged her away.

The dragonflies were flying sluggishly now, and Tialys explained that they needed to rest; so they perched on Will’s rucksack, and Lyra let the spies sit on her shoulders. Pantalaimon, leopard-shaped, looked up at them jealously, but he said nothing. They moved along the track, skirting the wretched shanties and the pools of sewage, and watching the never-ending stream of ghosts arriving and passing without hindrance into the town itself.

“We’ve got to get over the water, like the rest of them,” said Will. “And maybe the people in this holding place will tell us how. They don’t seem to be angry anyway, or dangerous. It’s strange. And these papers …”

They were simply scraps of paper torn from a notebook, with random words scribbled in pencil and crossed out. It was as if these people were playing a game, and waiting to see when the travelers would challenge them or give in and laugh. And yet it all looked so real.

It was getting darker and colder, and time was hard to keep track of. Lyra thought they walked for half an hour, or maybe it was twice as long; the look of the place didn’t change. Finally they reached a little wooden shack like the one they’d stopped at earlier, where a dim bulb glowed on a bare wire over the door.

As they approached, a man dressed much like the other one came out holding a piece of bread and butter in one hand, and without a word looked at their papers and nodded.

He handed them back and was about to go inside when Will said, “Excuse me, where do we go now?”

“Go and find somewhere to stay,” said the man, not unkindly. “Just ask. Everybody’s waiting, same as you.”

He turned away and shut his door against the cold, and the travelers turned down into the heart of the shanty town where the living people had to stay.

It was very much like the main town: shabby little huts, repaired a dozen times, patched with scraps of plastic or corrugated iron, leaning crazily against each other over muddy alleyways. At some places, an anbaric cable looped down from a bracket and provided enough feeble current to power a naked lightbulb or two, strung out over the nearby huts. Most of what light there was, however, came from the fires. Their smoky glow flickered redly over the scraps and tatters of building material, as if they were the last remaining flames of a great conflagration, staying alive out of pure malice.

But as Will and Lyra and the Gallivespians came closer and saw more detail, they picked out many more figures sitting in the darkness by themselves, or leaning against the walls, or gathered in small groups, talking quietly.

“Why aren’t those people inside?” said Lyra. “It’s cold.”

“They’re not people,” said the Lady Salmakia. “They’re not even ghosts. They’re something else, but I don’t know what.”

The travelers came to the first group of shacks, which were lit by one of those big weak anbaric bulbs on a cable swinging slightly in the cold wind, and Will put his hand on the knife at his belt. There was a group of those people-shaped things outside, crouching on their heels and rolling dice, and when the children came near, they stood up: five of them, all men, their faces in shadow and their clothes shabby, all silent.

“What is the name of this town?” said Will.

There was no reply. Some of them took a step backward, and all five moved a little closer together, as if they were afraid. Lyra felt her skin crawling, and all the tiny hairs on her arms standing on end, though she couldn’t have said why. Inside her shirt Pantalaimon was shivering and whispering, “No, no, Lyra, no, go away, let’s go back, please …”

The “people” made no move, and finally Will shrugged and said, “Well, good evening to you anyway,” and moved on. They met a similar response from all the other figures they spoke to, and all the time their apprehension grew.

“Will, are they Specters?” Lyra said quietly. “Are we grown up enough to see Specters now?”

“I don’t think so. If we were, they’d attack us, but they seem to be afraid themselves. I don’t know what they are.”

A door opened, and light spilled out on the muddy ground. A man—a real man, a human being—stood in the doorway, watching them approach. The little cluster of figures around the door moved back a step or two, as if out of respect, and they saw the man’s face: stolid, harmless, and mild.

“Who are you?” he said.

“Travelers,” said Will. “We don’t know where we are. What is this town?”

“This is the holding area,” said the man. “Have you traveled far?”

“A long way, yes, and we’re tired,” said Will. “Could we buy some food and pay for shelter?”

The man was looking past them, into the dark, and then he came out and looked around further, as if there were someone missing. Then he turned to the strange figures standing by and said:

“Did you see any death?”

They shook their heads, and the children heard a murmur of “No, no, none.”

The man turned back. Behind him, in the doorway, there were faces looking out: a woman, two young children, another man. They were all nervous and apprehensive.

“Death?” said Will. “We’re not bringing any death.”

But that fact seemed to be the very thing they were worried about, because when Will spoke, there was a soft gasp from the living people, and even the figures outside shrank away a little.

“Excuse me,” said Lyra, stepping forward in her best polite way, as if the housekeeper of Jordan College were glaring at her. “I couldn’t help noticing, but these gentlemen here, are they dead? I’m sorry for asking, if it’s rude, but where we come from it’s very unusual, and we never saw anyone like them before. If I’m being impolite I do beg your pardon. But you see, in my world, we have dæmons, everyone has a dæmon, and we’d be shocked if we saw someone without one, just like you’re shocked to see us. And now we’ve been traveling, Will and me—this is Will, and I’m Lyra—I’ve learned there are some people who don’t seem to have dæmons, like Will doesn’t, and I was scared till I found out they were just ordinary like me really. So maybe that’s why someone from your world might be just a bit sort of nervous when they see us, if you think we’re different.”

The man said, “Lyra? And Will?”

“Yes, sir,” she said humbly.

“Are those your dæmons?” he said, pointing to the spies on her shoulder.

“No,” said Lyra, and she was tempted to say, “They’re our servants,” but she felt Will would have thought that a bad idea; so she said, “They’re our friends, the Chevalier Tialys and the Lady Salmakia, very distinguished and wise people who are traveling with us. Oh, and this is my dæmon,” she said, taking mouse-Pantalaimon out of her pocket. “You see, we’re harmless, we promise we won’t hurt you. And we do need food and shelter. We’ll move on tomorrow. Honest.”

Everyone waited. The man’s nervousness was soothed a little by her humble tone, and the spies had the good sense to look modest and harmless. After a pause the man said:

“Well, though it’s strange, I suppose these are strange times … Come in, then, be welcome …”

The figures outside nodded, one or two of them gave little bows, and they stood aside respectfully as Will and Lyra walked into the warmth and light. The man closed the door behind them and hooked a wire over a nail to keep it shut.

It was a single room, lit by a naphtha lamp on the table, and clean but shabby. The plywood walls were decorated with pictures cut from film-star magazines, and with a pattern made with fingerprints of soot. There was an iron stove against one wall, with a clotheshorse in front of it, where some dingy shirts were steaming, and on a dressing table there was a shrine of plastic flowers, seashells, colored scent bottles, and other gaudy bits and pieces, all surrounding the picture of a jaunty skeleton with a top hat and dark glasses.

The shanty was crowded: as well as the man and the woman and the two young children, there was a baby in a crib, an older man, and in one corner, in a heap of blankets, a very old woman, who was lying and watching everything with glittering eyes, her face as wrinkled as the blankets. As Lyra looked at her, she had a shock: the blankets stirred, and a very thin arm emerged, in a black sleeve, and then another face, a man’s, so ancient it was almost a skeleton. In fact, he looked more like the skeleton in the picture than like a living human being; and then Will, too, noticed, and all the travelers together realized that he was one of those shadowy, polite figures like the ones outside. And all of them felt as nonplussed as the man had been when he’d first seen them.

In fact, all the people in the crowded little shack—all except the baby, who was asleep—were at a loss for words. It was Lyra who found her voice first.

“That’s very kind of you,” she said, “thank you, good evening, we’re very pleased to be here. And like I said, we’re sorry to have arrived without any death, if that’s the normal way of things. But we won’t disturb you any more than we have to. You see, we’re looking for the land of the dead, and that’s how we happened to come here. But we don’t know where it is, or whether this is part of it, or how to get there, or what. So if you can tell us anything about it, we’ll be very grateful.”

The people in the shack were still staring, but Lyra’s words eased the atmosphere a little, and the woman invited them to sit at the table, drawing out a bench. Will and Lyra lifted the sleeping dragonflies up to a shelf in a dark corner, where Tialys said they would rest till daylight, and then the Gallivespians joined them on the table.

The woman had been preparing a dish of stew, and she peeled a couple of potatoes and cut them into it to make it go farther, urging her husband to offer the travelers some other refreshment while it cooked. He brought out a bottle of clear and pungent spirit that smelled to Lyra like the gyptians’ jenniver, and the two spies accepted a glass into which they dipped little vessels of their own.

Lyra would have expected the family to stare most at the Gallivespians, but their curiosity was directed just as much, she thought, at her and Will. She didn’t wait long to ask why.

“You’re the first people we ever saw without a death,” said the man, whose name, they’d learned, was Peter. “Since we come here, that is. We’re like you, we come here before we was dead, by some chance or accident. We got to wait till our death tells us it’s time.”

“Your death tells you?” said Lyra.

“Yes. What we found out when we come here, oh, long ago for most of us, we found we all brought our deaths with us. This is where we found out. We had ’em all the time, and we never knew. See, everyone has a death. It goes everywhere with ’em, all their life long, right close by. Our deaths, they’re outside, taking the air; they’ll come in by and by. Granny’s death, he’s there with her, he’s close to her, very close.”

“Doesn’t it scare you, having your death close by all the time?” said Lyra.

“Why ever would it? If he’s there, you can keep an eye on him. I’d be a lot more nervous not knowing where he was.”

“And everyone has their own death?” said Will, marveling.

“Why, yes, the moment you’re born, your death comes into the world with you, and it’s your death that takes you out.”

“Ah,” said Lyra, “that’s what we need to know, because we’re trying to find the land of the dead, and we don’t know how to get there. Where do we go then, when we die?”

“Your death taps you on the shoulder, or takes your hand, and says, ‘Come along o’ me, it’s time.’ It might happen when you’re sick with a fever, or when you choke on a piece of dry bread, or when you fall off a high building; in the middle of your pain and travail, your death comes to you kindly and says, ‘Easy now, easy, child, you come along o’ me,’ and you go with them in a boat out across the lake into the mist. What happens there, no one knows. No one’s ever come back.”

The woman told a child to call the deaths in, and he scampered to the door and spoke to them. Will and Lyra watched in wonder, and the Gallivespians drew closer together, as the deaths—one for each of the family—came in through the door: pale, unremarkable figures in shabby clothes, just drab and quiet and dull.

“These are your deaths?” said Tialys.

“Indeed, sir,” said Peter.

“Do you know when they’ll tell you it’s time to go?”

“No. But you know they’re close by, and that’s a comfort.”

Tialys said nothing, but it was clear that he felt it would be anything but a comfort. The deaths stood politely along the wall, and it was strange to see how little space they took up, and to find how little notice they attracted. Lyra and Will soon found themselves ignoring them altogether, though Will thought: Those men I killed—their deaths were close beside them all the time—they didn’t know, and I didn’t know …

The woman, Martha, dished the stew onto chipped enamel plates and put some in a bowl for the deaths to pass among themselves. They didn’t eat, but the good smell kept them content. Presently all the family and their guests were eating hungrily, and Peter asked the children where they’d come from, and what their world was like.

“I’ll tell you all about it,” said Lyra.

As she said that, as she took charge, part of her felt a little stream of pleasure rising upward in her breast like the bubbles in champagne. And she knew Will was watching, and she was happy that he could see her doing what she was best at, doing it for him and for all of them.

She started by telling about her parents. They were a duke and duchess, very important and wealthy, who had been cheated out of their estate by a political enemy and thrown into prison. But they managed to escape by climbing down a rope with the baby Lyra in her father’s arms, and they regained the family fortune, only to be attacked and murdered by outlaws. Lyra would have been killed as well, and roasted and eaten, had not Will rescued her just in time and taken her back to the wolves, in the forest where he was being brought up as one of them. He had fallen overboard as a baby from the side of his father’s ship and been washed up on a desolate shore, where a female wolf had suckled him and kept him alive.

The people ate up this nonsense with placid credulity, and even the deaths crowded close to listen, perching on the bench or lying on the floor close by, gazing at her with their mild and courteous faces as she spun out the tale of her life with Will in the forest.

He and Lyra stayed with the wolves for a while, and then moved to Oxford to work in the kitchens of Jordan College. There they met Roger, and when Jordan was attacked by the brickburners who lived in the clay beds, they had to escape in a hurry; so she and Will and Roger captured a gyptian narrow boat and sailed it all the way down the Thames, nearly getting caught at Abingdon Lock, and then they’d been sunk by the Wapping pirates and had to swim for safety to a three-masted clipper just setting off for Hang Chow in Cathay to trade for tea.

And on the clipper they’d met the Gallivespians, who were strangers from the moon, blown down to the earth by a fierce gale out of the Milky Way. They’d taken refuge in the crow’s nest, and she and Will and Roger used to take turns going up there to see them, only one day Roger lost his footing and plunged down into Davy Jones’s locker.

They tried to persuade the captain to turn the ship around and look for him, but he was a hard, fierce man only interested in the profit he’d make by getting to Cathay quickly, and he clapped them in irons. But the Gallivespians brought them a file, and …

And so on. From time to time she’d turn to Will or the spies for confirmation, and Salmakia would add a detail or two, or Will would nod, and the story wound itself up to the point where the children and their friends from the moon had to find their way to the land of the dead in order to learn, from her parents, the secret of where the family fortune had been buried.

“And if we knew our deaths, in our land,” she said, “like you do here, it would be easier, probably; but I think we’re really lucky to find our way here, so’s we could get your advice. And thank you very much for being so kind and listening, and for giving us this meal, it was really nice.

“But what we need now, you see, or in the morning maybe, is we need to find a way out across the water where the dead people go, and see if we can get there, too. Is there any boats we could sort of hire?”

They looked doubtful. The children, flushed with tiredness, looked with sleepy eyes from one grownup to the other, but no one could suggest where they could find a boat.

Then came a voice that hadn’t spoken before. From the depths of the bedclothes in the corner came a dry-cracked-nasal tone—not a woman’s voice—not a living voice: it was the voice of the grandmother’s death.

“The only way you’ll cross the lake and go to the land of the dead,” he said, and he was leaning up on his elbow, pointing with a skinny finger at Lyra, “is with your own deaths. You must call up your own deaths. I have heard of people like you, who keep their deaths at bay. You don’t like them, and out of courtesy they stay out of sight. But they’re not far off. Whenever you turn your head, your deaths dodge behind you. Wherever you look, they hide. They can hide in a teacup. Or in a dewdrop. Or in a breath of wind. Not like me and old Magda here,” he said, and he pinched her withered cheek, and she pushed his hand away. “We live together in kindness and friendship. That’s the answer, that’s it, that’s what you’ve got to do, say welcome, make friends, be kind, invite your deaths to come close to you, and see what you can get them to agree to.”

His words fell into Lyra’s mind like heavy stones, and Will, too, felt the deadly weight of them.

“How should we do that?” he said.

“You’ve only got to wish for it, and the thing is done.”

“Wait,” said Tialys.

Every eye turned to him, and those deaths lying on the floor sat up to turn their blank, mild faces to his tiny, passionate one. He was standing close by Salmakia, his hand on her shoulder. Lyra could see what he was thinking: he was going to say that this had gone too far, they must turn back, they were taking this foolishness to irresponsible lengths.

So she stepped in. “Excuse me,” she said to the man Peter, “but me and our friend the Chevalier, we’ve got to go outside for a minute, because he needs to talk to his friends in the moon through my special instrument. We won’t be long.”

And she picked him up carefully, avoiding his spurs, and took him outside into the dark, where a loose piece of corrugated iron roofing was banging in the cold wind with a melancholy sound.

“You must stop,” he said as she set him on an upturned oil drum, in the feeble light of one of those anbaric bulbs that swung on its cable overhead. “This is far enough. No more.”

“But we made an agreement,” Lyra said.

“No, no. Not to these lengths.”

“All right. Leave us. You fly on back. Will can cut a window into your world, or any world you like, and you can fly through and be safe, that’s all right, we don’t mind.”

“Do you realize what you’re doing?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t. You’re a thoughtless, irresponsible, lying child. Fantasy comes so easily to you that your whole nature is riddled with dishonesty, and you don’t even admit the truth when it stares you in the face. Well, if you can’t see it, I’ll tell you plainly: you cannot, you must not risk your death. You must come back with us now. I’ll call Lord Asriel and we can be safe in the fortress in hours.”

Lyra felt a great sob of rage building up in her chest, and stamped her foot, unable to keep still.

“You don’t know,” she cried, “you just don’t know what I got in my head or my heart, do you? I don’t know if you people ever have children, maybe you lay eggs or something, I wouldn’t be surprised, because you’re not kind, you’re not generous, you’re not considerate—you’re not cruel, even—that would be better, if you were cruel, because it’d mean you took us serious, you didn’t just go along with us when it suited you … Oh, I can’t trust you at all now! You said you’d help and we’d do it together, and now you want to stop us—you’re the dishonest one, Tialys!”

“I wouldn’t let a child of my own speak to me in the insolent, high-handed way you’re speaking, Lyra—why I haven’t punished you before—”

“Then go ahead! Punish me, since you can! Take your bloody spurs and dig ’em in hard, go on! Here’s my hand—do it! You got no idea what’s in my heart, you proud, selfish creature—you got no notion how I feel sad and wicked and sorry about my friend Roger—you kill people just like that”—she snapped her finger—“they don’t matter to you—but it’s a torment and a sorrow to me that I never said good-bye to him, and I want to say sorry and make it as good as I can—you’d never understand that, for all your pride, for all your grown-up cleverness—and if I have to die to do what’s proper, then I will, and be happy while I do. I seen worse than that. So if you want to kill me, you hard man, you strong man, you poison bearer, you Chevalier, you do it, go on, kill me. Then me and Roger can play in the land of the dead forever, and laugh at you, you pitiful thing.”

What Tialys might have done then wasn’t hard to see, for he was ablaze from head to foot with a passionate anger, shaking with it; but he didn’t have time to move before a voice spoke behind Lyra, and they both felt a chill fall over them. Lyra turned around, knowing what she’d see and dreading it despite her bravado.

The death stood very close, smiling kindly, his face exactly like those of all the others she’d seen; but this was hers, her very own death, and Pantalaimon at her breast howled and shivered, and his ermine shape flowed up around her neck and tried to push her away from the death. But by doing that, he only pushed himself closer, and realizing it, he shrank back toward her again, to her warm throat and the strong pulse of her heart.

Lyra clutched him to her and faced the death directly. She couldn’t remember what he’d said, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see Tialys quickly preparing the lodestone resonator, busy.

“You’re my death, en’t you?” she said.

“Yes, my dear,” he said.

“You en’t going to take me yet, are you?”

“You wanted me. I am always here.”

“Yes, but … I did, yes, but … I want to go to the land of the dead, that’s true. But not to die. I don’t want to die. I love being alive, and I love my dæmon, and … Dæmons don’t go down there, do they? I seen ’em vanish and just go out like candles when people die. Do they have dæmons in the land of the dead?”

“No,” he said. “Your dæmon vanishes into the air, and you vanish under the ground.”

“Then I want to take my dæmon with me when I go to the land of the dead,” she said firmly. “And I want to come back again. Has it ever been known, for people to do that?”

“Not for many, many ages. Eventually, child, you will come to the land of the dead with no effort, no risk, a safe, calm journey, in the company of your own death, your special, devoted friend, who’s been beside you every moment of your life, who knows you better than yourself—”

“But Pantalaimon is my special and devoted friend! I don’t know you, Death, I know Pan and I love Pan and if he ever—if we ever—”

The death was nodding. He seemed interested and kindly, but she couldn’t for a moment forget what he was: her very own death, and so close.

“I know it’ll be an effort to go on now,” she said more steadily, “and dangerous, but I want to, Death, I do truly. And so does Will. We both had people taken away too soon, and we need to make amends, at least I do.”

“Everyone wishes they could speak again to those who’ve gone to the land of the dead. Why should there be an exception for you?”

“Because,” she began, lying, “because there’s something I’ve got to do there, not just seeing my friend Roger, something else. It was a task put on me by an angel, and no one else can do it, only me. It’s too important to wait till I die in the natural way, it’s got to be done now. See, the angel commanded me. That’s why we came here, me and Will. We got to.”

Behind her, Tialys put away his instrument and sat watching the child plead with her own death to be taken where no one should go.

The death scratched his head and held up his hands, but nothing could stop Lyra’s words, nothing could deflect her desire, not even fear: she’d seen worse than death, she claimed, and she had, too.

So eventually her death said:

“If nothing can put you off, then all I can say is, come with me, and I will take you there, into the land of the dead. I’ll be your guide. I can show you the way in, but as for getting out again, you’ll have to manage by yourself.”

“And my friends,” said Lyra. “My friend Will and the others.”

“Lyra,” said Tialys, “against every instinct, we’ll go with you. I was angry with you a minute ago. But you make it hard …”

Lyra knew that this was a time to conciliate, and she was happy to do that, having gotten her way.

“Yes,” she said, “I am sorry, Tialys, but if you hadn’t got angry, we’d never have found this gentleman to guide us. So I’m glad you were here, you and the Lady, I’m really grateful to you for being with us.”

So Lyra persuaded her own death to guide her and the others into the land where Roger had gone, and Will’s father, and Tony Makarios, and so many others; and her death told her to go down to the jetty when the first light came to the sky, and prepare to leave.

But Pantalaimon was trembling and shivering, and nothing Lyra could do could soothe him into stillness, or quiet the soft little moan he couldn’t help uttering. So her sleep was broken and shallow, on the floor of the shack with all the other sleepers, and her death sat watchfully beside her.

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