فصل 23-25

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 9

فصل 23-25

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23

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

• ST. JOHN •

NO WAY OUT

“Will,” said Lyra, “what d’you think the harpies will do when we let the ghosts out?”

Because the creatures were getting louder and flying closer, and there were more and more of them all the time, as if the gloom were gathering itself into little clots of malice and giving them wings. The ghosts kept looking up fearfully.

“Are we getting close?” Lyra called to the Lady Salmakia.

“Not far now,” she called down, hovering above them. “You could see him if you climbed that rock.”

But Lyra didn’t want to waste time. She was trying with all her heart to put on a cheerful face for Roger, but every moment in front of her mind’s eye was that terrible image of the little dog-Pan abandoned on the jetty as the mist closed around him, and she could barely keep from howling. She must, though; she must be hopeful for Roger; she always had been.

When they did come face to face, it happened quite suddenly. In among the press of all the ghosts, there he was, his familiar features wan but his expression as full of delight as a ghost could be. He rushed to embrace her.

But he passed like cold smoke through her arms, and though she felt his little hand clutch at her heart, it had no strength to hold on. They could never truly touch again.

But he could whisper, and his voice said, “Lyra, I never thought I’d ever see you again—I thought even if you did come down here when you was dead, you’d be much older, you’d be a grownup, and you wouldn’t want to speak to me—”

“Why ever not?”

“Because I done the wrong thing when Pan got my dæmon away from Lord Asriel’s! We should’ve run, we shouldn’t have tried to fight her! We should’ve run to you! Then she wouldn’t have been able to get my dæmon again, and when the cliff fell away, my dæmon would’ve still been with me!”

“But that weren’t your fault, stupid!” Lyra said. “It was me that brung you there in the first place, and I should’ve let you go back with the other kids and the gyptians. It was my fault. I’m so sorry, Roger, honest, it was my fault, you wouldn’t’ve been here otherwise …”

“Well,” he said, “I dunno. Maybe I would’ve got dead some other way. But it weren’t your fault, Lyra, see.”

She felt herself beginning to believe it; but all the same, it was heartrending to see the poor little cold thing, so close and yet so out of reach. She tried to grasp his wrist, though her fingers closed in the empty air; but he understood and sat down beside her.

The other ghosts withdrew a little, leaving them alone, and Will moved apart, too, to sit down and nurse his hand. It was bleeding again, and while Tialys flew fiercely at the ghosts to force them away, Salmakia helped Will tend to the wound.

But Lyra and Roger were oblivious to that.

“And you en’t dead,” he said. “How’d you come here if you’re still alive? And where’s Pan?”

“Oh, Roger—I had to leave him on the shore—it was the worst thing I ever had to do, it hurt so much—you know how it hurts—and he just stood there, just looking, oh, I felt like a murderer, Roger—but I had to, or else I couldn’t have come!”

“I been pretending to talk to you all the time since I died,” he said. “I been wishing I could, and wishing so hard … Just wishing I could get out, me and all the other dead ’uns, ’cause this is a terrible place, Lyra, it’s hopeless, there’s no change when you’re dead, and them bird-things … You know what they do? They wait till you’re resting—you can’t never sleep properly, you just sort of doze—and they come up quiet beside you and they whisper all the bad things you ever did when you was alive, so you can’t forget ’em. They know all the worst things about you. They know how to make you feel horrible, just thinking of all the stupid things and bad things you ever did. And all the greedy and unkind thoughts you ever had, they know ’em all, and they shame you up and they make you feel sick with yourself … But you can’t get away from ’em.”

“Well,” she said, “listen.”

Dropping her voice and leaning closer to the little ghost, just as she used to do when they were planning mischief at Jordan, she went on:

“You probably don’t know, but the witches—you remember Serafina Pekkala—the witches’ve got a prophecy about me. They don’t know I know—no one does. I never spoke to anyone about it before. But when I was in Trollesund, and Farder Coram the gyptian took me to see the Witches’ Consul, Dr. Lanselius, he gave me like a kind of a test. He said I had to go outside and pick out the right piece of cloud-pine out of all the others to show I could really read the alethiometer.

“Well, I done that, and then I came in quickly, because it was cold and it only took a second, it was easy. The Consul was talking to Farder Coram, and they didn’t know I could hear ’em. He said the witches had this prophecy about me, I was going to do something great and important, and it was going to be in another world …

“Only I never spoke of it, and I reckon I must have even forgot it, there was so much else going on. So it sort of sunk out of my mind. I never even talked about it with Pan, ’cause he would have laughed, I reckon.

“But then later on Mrs. Coulter caught me and I was in a trance, and I was dreaming and I dreamed of that, and I dreamed of you. And I remembered the gyptian boat mother, Ma Costa—you remember—it was their boat we got on board of, in Jericho, with Simon and Hugh and them—”

“Yes! And we nearly sailed it to Abingdon! That was the best thing we ever done, Lyra! I won’t never forget that, even if I’m down here dead for a thousand years—”

“Yes, but listen—when I ran away from Mrs. Coulter the first time, right, I found the gyptians again and they looked after me and … Oh, Roger, there’s so much I found out, you’d be amazed—but this is the important thing: Ma Costa said to me, she said I’d got witch-oil in my soul, she said the gyptians were water people but I was a fire person.

“And what I think that means is she was sort of preparing me for the witch-prophecy. I know I got something important to do, and Dr. Lanselius the Consul said it was vital I never found out what my destiny was till it happened, see—I must never ask about it … So I never did. I never even thought what it might be. I never asked the alethiometer, even.

“But now I think I know. And finding you again is just a sort of proof. What I got to do, Roger, what my destiny is, is I got to help all the ghosts out of the land of the dead forever. Me and Will—we got to rescue you all. I’m sure it’s that. It must be. And because Lord Asriel, because of something my father said … ‘Death is going to die,’ he said. I dunno what’ll happen, though. You mustn’t tell ’em yet, promise. I mean you might not last up there. But—”

He was desperate to speak, so she stopped.

“That’s just what I wanted to tell you!” he said. “I told ’em, all the other dead ’uns, I told them you’d come! Just like you came and rescued the kids from Bolvangar! I says, Lyra’ll do it, if anyone can. They wished it’d be true, they wanted to believe me, but they never really did, I could tell.

“For one thing,” he went on, “every kid that’s ever come here, every single one, starts by saying, ‘I bet my dad’ll come and get me,’ or ‘I bet my mum, as soon as she knows where I am, she’ll fetch me home again. If it en’t their dad or mum, it’s their friends, or their grandpa, but someone’s going to come and rescue ’em. Only they never do. So no one believed me when I told ’em you’d come. Only I was right!”

“Yeah,” she said, “well, I couldn’t have done it without Will. That’s Will over there, and that’s the Chevalier Tialys and the Lady Salmakia. There’s so much to tell you, Roger …”

“Who’s Will? Where’s he come from?”

Lyra began to explain, quite unaware of how her voice changed, how she sat up straighter, and how even her eyes looked different when she told the story of her meeting with Will and the fight for the subtle knife. How could she have known? But Roger noticed, with the sad, voiceless envy of the unchanging dead.

Meanwhile, Will and the Gallivespians were a little way off, talking quietly.

“What are you going to do, you and the girl?” said Tialys.

“Open this world and let the ghosts out. That’s what I’ve got the knife for.”

He had never seen such astonishment on any faces, let alone those of people whose good opinion he valued. He’d acquired a great respect for these two. They sat silent for a few moments, and then Tialys said:

“This will undo everything. It’s the greatest blow you could strike. The Authority will be powerless after this.”

“How would they ever suspect it?” said the Lady. “It’ll come at them out of nowhere!”

“And what then?” Tialys asked Will.

“What then? Well, then we’ll have to get out ourselves, and find our dæmons, I suppose. Don’t think of then. It’s enough to think of now. I haven’t said anything to the ghosts, in case … in case it doesn’t work. So don’t you say anything, either. Now I’m going to find a world I can open, and those harpies are watching. So if you want to help, you can go and distract them while I do that.”

Instantly the Gallivespians urged their dragonflies up into the murk overhead, where the harpies were as thick as blowflies. Will watched the great insects charging fearlessly up at them, for all the world as if the harpies were flies and they could snap them up in their jaws, big as they were. He thought how much the brilliant creatures would love it when the sky was open and they could skim about over bright water again.

Then he took up the knife. And instantly there came back the words the harpies had thrown at him—taunts about his mother—and he stopped. He put the knife down, trying to clear his mind.

He tried again, with the same result. He could hear them clamoring above, despite the ferocity of the Gallivespians; there were so many of them that two fliers alone could do little to stop them.

Well, this was what it was going to be like. It wasn’t going to get any easier. So Will let his mind relax and become disengaged, and just sat there with the knife held loosely until he was ready again.

This time the knife cut straight into the air—and met rock. He had opened a window in this world into the underground of another. He closed it up and tried again.

And the same thing happened, though he knew it was a different world. He’d opened windows before to find himself above the ground of another world, so he shouldn’t have been surprised to find he was underground for a change, but it was disconcerting.

Next time he felt carefully in the way he’d learned, letting the tip search for the resonance that revealed a world where the ground was in the same place. But the touch was wrong wherever he felt. There was no world anywhere he could open into; everywhere he touched, it was solid rock.

Lyra had sensed that something was wrong, and she jumped up from her close conversation with Roger’s ghost to hurry to Will’s side.

“What is it?” she said quietly.

He told her, and added, “We’re going to have to move somewhere else before I can find a world we can open into. And those harpies aren’t going to let us. Have you told the ghosts what we were planning?”

“No. Only Roger, and I told him to keep it quiet. He’ll do whatever I tell him. Oh, Will, I’m scared, I’m so scared. We might not ever get out. Suppose we get stuck here forever?”

“The knife can cut through rock. If we need to, we’ll just cut a tunnel. It’ll take a long time, and I hope we won’t have to, but we could. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah. You’re right. Course we could.”

But she thought he looked so ill, with his face drawn in pain and with dark rings around his eyes, and his hand was shaking, and his fingers were bleeding again; he looked as sick as she felt. They couldn’t go on much longer without their dæmons. She felt her own ghost quail in her body, and hugged her arms tightly, aching for Pan.

Meanwhile, the ghosts were pressing close, poor things, and the children especially couldn’t leave Lyra alone.

“Please,” said one girl, “you won’t forget us when you go back, will you?”

“No,” said Lyra, “never.”

“You’ll tell them about us?”

“I promise. What’s your name?”

But the poor girl was embarrassed and ashamed: she’d forgotten. She turned away, hiding her face, and a boy said:

“It’s better to forget, I reckon. I’ve forgotten mine. Some en’t been here long, and they still know who they are. There’s some kids been here thousands of years. They’re no older than us, and they’ve forgotten a whole lot. Except the sunshine. No one forgets that. And the wind.”

“Yeah,” said another, “tell us about that!”

And more and more of them clamored for Lyra to tell them about the things they remembered, the sun and the wind and the sky, and the things they’d forgotten, such as how to play; and she turned to Will and whispered, “What should I do, Will?”

“Tell them.”

“I’m scared. After what happened back there—the harpies—”

“Tell them the truth. We’ll keep the harpies off.”

She looked at him doubtfully. In fact, she felt sick with apprehension. She turned back to the ghosts, who were thronging closer and closer.

“Please!” they were whispering. “You’ve just come from the world! Tell us, tell us! Tell us about the world!”

There was a tree not far away—just a dead trunk with its bone white branches thrusting into the chilly gray air—and because Lyra was feeling weak, and because she didn’t think she could walk and talk at the same time, she made for that so as to have somewhere to sit. The crowd of ghosts jostled and shuffled aside to make room.

When she and Will were nearly at the tree, Tialys landed on Will’s hand and indicated that he should bend his head to listen.

“They’re coming back,” he said quietly, “those harpies. More and more of them. Have your knife ready. The Lady and I will hold them off as long as we can, but you might need to fight.”

Without worrying Lyra, Will loosened the knife in its sheath and kept his hand close to it. Tialys took off again, and then Lyra reached the tree and sat down on one of the thick roots.

So many dead figures clustered around, pressing hopefully, wide-eyed, that Will had to make them keep back and leave room; but he let Roger stay close, because he was gazing at Lyra, listening with a passion.

And Lyra began to talk about the world she knew.

She told them the story of how she and Roger had climbed over Jordan College roof and found the rook with the broken leg, and how they had looked after it until it was ready to fly again; and how they had explored the wine cellars, all thick with dust and cobwebs, and drunk some canary, or it might have been Tokay, she couldn’t tell, and how drunk they had been. And Roger’s ghost listened, proud and desperate, nodding and whispering, “Yes, yes! That’s just what happened, that’s true all right!”

Then she told them all about the great battle between the Oxford townies and the clayburners.

First she described the claybeds, making sure she got in everything she could remember, the wide ocher-colored washing pits, the dragline, the kilns like great brick beehives. She told them about the willow trees along the river’s edge, with their leaves all silvery underneath; and she told how when the sun shone for more than a couple of days, the clay began to split up into great handsome plates, with deep cracks between, and how it felt to squish your fingers into the cracks and slowly lever up a dried plate of mud, trying to keep it as big as you could without breaking it. Underneath it was still wet, ideal for throwing at people.

And she described the smells around the place, the smoke from the kilns, the rotten-leaf-mold smell of the river when the wind was in the southwest, the warm smell of the baking potatoes the clayburners used to eat; and the sound of the water slipping slickly over the sluices and into the washing pits; and the slow, thick suck as you tried to pull your foot out of the ground; and the heavy, wet slap of the gate paddles in the clay-thick water.

As she spoke, playing on all their senses, the ghosts crowded closer, feeding on her words, remembering the time when they had flesh and skin and nerves and senses, and willing her never to stop.

Then she told how the clayburners’ children always made war on the townies, but how they were slow and dull, with clay in their brains, and how the townies were as sharp and quick as sparrows by contrast; and how one day all the townies had swallowed their differences and plotted and planned and attacked the claybeds from three sides, pinning the clayburners’ children back against the river, hurling handfuls and handfuls of heavy, claggy clay at one another, rushing their muddy castle and tearing it down, turning the fortifications into missiles until the air and the ground and the water were all mixed inextricably together, and every child looked exactly the same, mud from scalp to sole, and none of them had had a better day in all their lives.

When she’d finished, she looked at Will, exhausted. Then she had a shock.

As well as the ghosts, silent all around, and her companions, close and living, there was another audience, too: the branches of the tree were clustered with those dark bird forms, their women’s faces gazing down at her, solemn and spellbound.

She stood up in sudden fear, but they didn’t move.

“You,” she said, desperate, “you flew at me before, when I tried to tell you something. What’s stopping you now? Go on, tear at me with your claws and make a ghost out of me!”

“That is the least we shall do,” said the harpy in the center, who was No-Name herself. “Listen to me. Thousands of years ago, when the first ghosts came down here, the Authority gave us the power to see the worst in every one, and we have fed on the worst ever since, till our blood is rank with it and our very hearts are sickened.

“But still, it was all we had to feed on. It was all we had. And now we learn that you are planning to open a way to the upper world and lead all the ghosts out into the air—”

And her harsh voice was drowned by a million whispers, as every ghost who could hear cried out in joy and hope; but all the harpies screamed and beat their wings until the ghosts fell silent again.

“Yes,” cried No-Name, “to lead them out! What will we do now? I shall tell you what we will do: from now on, we shall hold nothing back. We shall hurt and defile and tear and rend every ghost that comes through, and we shall send them mad with fear and remorse and self-hatred. This is a wasteland now; we shall make it a hell!”

Every single harpy shrieked and jeered, and many of them flew up off the tree and straight at the ghosts, making them scatter in terror. Lyra clung to Will’s arm and said, “They’ve given it away now, and we can’t do it. They’ll hate us—they’ll think we betrayed them! We’ve made it worse, not better!”

“Quiet,” said Tialys. “Don’t despair. Call the harpies back and make them listen to us.”

So Will cried out, “Come back! Come back, every one of you! Come back and listen!”

One by one the harpies, their faces eager and hungry and suffused with the lust for misery, turned and flew back to the tree, and the ghosts drifted back as well. The Chevalier left his dragonfly in the care of Salmakia, and his little tense figure, green-clad and dark-haired, leapt to a rock where they could all see him.

“Harpies,” he said, “we can offer you something better than that. Answer my questions truly, and hear what I say, and then judge. When Lyra spoke to you outside the wall, you flew at her. Why did you do that?”

“Lies!” the harpies all cried. “Lies and fantasies!”

“Yet when she spoke just now, you all listened, every one of you, and you kept silent and still. Again, why was that?”

“Because it was true,” said No-Name. “Because she spoke the truth. Because it was nourishing. Because it was feeding us. Because we couldn’t help it. Because it was true. Because we had no idea that there was anything but wickedness. Because it brought us news of the world and the sun and the wind and the rain. Because it was true.”

“Then,” said Tialys, “let’s make a bargain with you. Instead of seeing only the wickedness and cruelty and greed of the ghosts that come down here, from now on you will have the right to ask all the ghosts to tell you the stories of their lives, and they will have to tell the truth about what they’ve seen and touched and heard and loved and known in the world. Every one of these ghosts has a story; every single one that comes down in the future will have true things to tell you about the world. And you’ll have the right to hear them, and they will have to tell you.”

Lyra marveled at the nerve of the little spy. How did he dare speak to these creatures as if he had the power to give them rights? Any one of them could have snapped him up in a moment, wrenched him apart in her claws or carried him high and then hurled him down to the ground to smash in pieces. And yet there he stood, proud and fearless, making a bargain with them! And they listened, and conferred, their faces turning to one another, their voices low.

All the ghosts watched, fearful and silent.

Then No-Name turned back.

“That’s not enough,” she said. “We want more than that. We had a task under the old dispensation. We had a place and a duty. We fulfilled the Authority’s commands diligently, and for that we were honored. Hated and feared, but honored, too. What will happen to our honor now? Why should the ghosts take any notice of us, if they can simply walk out into the world again? We have our pride, and you should not let that be dispensed with. We need an honorable place! We need a duty and a task to do, one that will bring us the respect we deserve!”

They shifted on the branches, muttering and raising their wings. But a moment later Salmakia leapt up to join the Chevalier, and called out:

“You are quite right. Everyone should have a task to do that’s important, one that brings them honor, one they can perform with pride. So here is your task, and it’s one that only you can do, because you are the guardians and the keepers of this place. Your task will be to guide the ghosts from the landing place by the lake all the way through the land of the dead to the new opening out into the world. In exchange, they will tell you their stories as a fair and just payment for this guidance. Does that seem right to you?”

No-Name looked at her sisters, and they nodded. She said:

“And we have the right to refuse to guide them if they lie, or if they hold anything back, or if they have nothing to tell us. If they live in the world, they should see and touch and hear and learn things. We shall make an exception for infants who have not had time to learn anything, but otherwise, if they come down here bringing nothing, we shall not guide them out.”

“That is fair,” said Salmakia, and the other travelers agreed.

So they made a treaty. And in exchange for the story of Lyra’s that they’d already heard, the harpies offered to take the travelers and their knife to a part of the land of the dead where the upper world was close. It was a long way off, through tunnels and caves, but they would guide them faithfully, and all the ghosts could follow.

But before they could begin, a voice cried out, as loudly as a whisper could cry. It was the ghost of a thin man with an angry, passionate face, and he cried:

“What will happen? When we leave the world of the dead, will we live again? Or will we vanish as our dæmons did? Brothers, sisters, we shouldn’t follow this child anywhere till we know what’s going to happen to us!”

Others took up the question: “Yes, tell us where we’re going! Tell us what to expect! We won’t go unless we know what’ll happen to us!”

Lyra turned to Will in despair, but he said, “Tell them the truth. Ask the alethiometer, and tell them what it says.”

“All right,” she said.

She took out the golden instrument. The answer came at once. She put it away and stood up.

“This is what’ll happen,” she said, “and it’s true, perfectly true. When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your dæmons did. If you’ve seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your dæmons en’t just nothing now; they’re part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they’ve gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They’ll never vanish. They’re just part of everything. And that’s exactly what’ll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You’ll drift apart, it’s true, but you’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again.”

No one spoke. Those who had seen how dæmons dissolved were remembering it, and those who hadn’t were imagining it, and no one spoke until a young woman came forward. She had died as a martyr centuries before. She looked around and said to the other ghosts:

“When we were alive, they told us that when we died we’d go to Heaven. And they said that Heaven was a place of joy and glory and we would spend eternity in the company of saints and angels praising the Almighty, in a state of bliss. That’s what they said. And that’s what led some of us to give our lives, and others to spend years in solitary prayer, while all the joy of life was going to waste around us and we never knew.

“Because the land of the dead isn’t a place of reward or a place of punishment. It’s a place of nothing. The good come here as well as the wicked, and all of us languish in this gloom forever, with no hope of freedom, or joy, or sleep, or rest, or peace.

“But now this child has come offering us a way out and I’m going to follow her. Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing. We’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was.

“So I urge you: come with the child out to the sky!”

But her ghost was thrust aside by the ghost of a man who looked like a monk: thin and pale, with dark, zealous eyes even in his death. He crossed himself and murmured a prayer, and then he said:

“This is a bitter message, a sad and cruel joke. Can’t you see the truth? This is not a child. This is an agent of the Evil One himself! The world we lived in was a vale of corruption and tears. Nothing there could satisfy us. But the Almighty has granted us this blessed place for all eternity, this paradise, which to the fallen soul seems bleak and barren, but which the eyes of faith see as it is, overflowing with milk and honey and resounding with the sweet hymns of the angels. This is Heaven, truly! What this evil girl promises is nothing but lies. She wants to lead you to Hell! Go with her at your peril. My companions and I of the true faith will remain here in our blessed paradise, and spend eternity singing the praises of the Almighty, who has given us the judgment to tell the false from the true.”

Once again he crossed himself, and then he and his companions turned away in horror and loathing.

Lyra felt bewildered. Was she wrong? Was she making some great mistake? She looked around: gloom and desolation on every side. But she’d been wrong before about the appearance of things, trusting Mrs. Coulter because of her beautiful smile and her sweet-scented glamour. It was so easy to get things wrong; and without her dæmon to guide her, maybe she was wrong about this, too.

But Will was shaking her arm. Then he put his hands to her face and held it roughly.

“You know that’s not true,” he said, “just as well as you can feel this. Take no notice! They can all see he’s lying, too. And they’re depending on us. Come on, let’s make a start.”

She nodded. She had to trust her body and the truth of what her senses told her; she knew Pan would have.

So they set off, and the numberless millions of ghosts began to follow them. Behind them, too far back for the children to see, other inhabitants of the world of the dead had heard what was happening and were coming to join the great march. Tialys and Salmakia flew back to look and were overjoyed to see their own people there, and every other kind of conscious being who had ever been punished by the Authority with exile and death. Among them were beings who didn’t look human at all, beings like the mulefa, whom Mary Malone would have recognized, and stranger ghosts as well.

But Will and Lyra had no strength to look back; all they could do was move on after the harpies, and hope.

“Have we almost done it, Will?” Lyra whispered. “Is it nearly over?”

He couldn’t tell. But they were so weak and sick that he said, “Yes, it’s nearly over, we’ve nearly done it. We’ll be out soon.”

24

As is the mother, so is her daughter.

• EZEKIEL •

MRS. COULTER IN GENEVA

Mrs. Coulter waited till nightfall before she approached the College of St. Jerome. After darkness had fallen, she brought the intention craft down through the cloud and moved slowly along the lakeshore at treetop height. The College was a distinctive shape among the other ancient buildings of Geneva, and she soon found the spire, the dark hollow of the cloisters, the square tower where the President of the Consistorial Court of Discipline had his lodging. She had visited the College three times before; she knew that the ridges and gables and chimneys of the roof concealed plenty of hiding places, even for something as large as the intention craft.

Flying slowly above the tiles, which glistened with the recent rain, she edged the machine into a little gully between a steep tiled roof and the sheer wall of the tower. The place was only visible from the belfry of the Chapel of the Holy Penitence nearby; it would do very well.

She lowered the aircraft delicately onto the roof, letting its six feet find their own purchase and adjust themselves to keep the cabin level. She was beginning to love this machine: it sprang to her bidding as fast as she could think, and it was so silent; it could hover above people’s heads closely enough for them to touch, and they’d never know it was there. In the day or so since she’d stolen it, Mrs. Coulter had mastered the controls, but she still had no idea how it was powered, and that was the only thing she worried about: she had no way of telling when the fuel or the batteries would run out.

Once she was sure it had settled, and that the roof was solid enough to support it, she took off the helmet and climbed down.

Her dæmon was already prizing up one of the heavy old tiles. She joined him, and soon they had lifted half a dozen out of the way, and then she snapped off the battens on which they’d been hung, making a gap big enough to get through.

“Go in and look around,” she whispered, and the dæmon dropped through into the dark.

She could hear his claws as he moved carefully over the floor of the attic, and then his gold-fringed black face appeared in the opening. She understood at once and followed him through, waiting to let her eyes adjust. In the dim light she gradually saw a long attic where the dark shapes of cupboards, tables, bookcases, and furniture of all kinds had been put into storage.

The first thing she did was to push a tall cupboard in front of the gap where the tiles had been. Then she tiptoed to the door in the wall at the far end and tried the handle. It was locked, of course, but she had a hairpin, and the lock was simple. Three minutes later she and her dæmon were standing at one end of a long corridor, where a dusty skylight let them see a narrow staircase descending at the other.

And five minutes after that, they had opened a window in the pantry next to the kitchen two floors below and climbed out into the alley. The gatehouse of the College was just around the corner, and as she said to the golden monkey, it was important to arrive in the orthodox way, no matter how they intended to leave.

“Take your hands off me,” she said calmly to the guard, “and show me some courtesy, or I shall have you flayed. Tell the President that Mrs. Coulter has arrived and that she wishes to see him at once.”

The man fell back, and his pinscher dæmon, who had been baring her teeth at the mild-mannered golden monkey, instantly cowered and tucked her tail stump as low as it would go.

The guard cranked the handle of a telephone, and under a minute later a fresh-faced young priest came hastening into the gatehouse, wiping his palms on his robe in case she wanted to shake hands. She didn’t.

“Who are you?” she said.

“Brother Louis,” said the man, soothing his rabbit dæmon, “Convener of the Secretariat of the Consistorial Court. If you would be so kind—”

“I haven’t come here to parley with a scrivener,” she told him. “Take me to Father MacPhail. And do it now.”

The man bowed helplessly and led her away. The guard behind her blew out his cheeks with relief.

Brother Louis, after trying two or three times to make conversation, gave up and led her in silence to the President’s rooms in the tower. Father MacPhail was at his devotions, and poor Brother Louis’s hand shook violently as he knocked. They heard a sigh and a groan, and then heavy footsteps crossed the floor.

The President’s eyes widened as he saw who it was, and he smiled wolfishly.

“Mrs. Coulter,” he said, offering his hand. “I am very glad to see you. My study is cold, and our hospitality is plain, but come in, come in.”

“Good evening,” she said, following him inside the bleak stone-walled room, allowing him to make a little fuss and show her to a chair. “Thank you,” she said to Brother Louis, who was still hovering, “I’ll take a glass of chocolatl.”

Nothing had been offered, and she knew how insulting it was to treat him like a servant, but his manner was so abject that he deserved it. The President nodded, and Brother Louis had to leave and deal with it, to his great annoyance.

“Of course you are under arrest,” said the President, taking the other chair and turning up the lamp.

“Oh, why spoil our talk before we’ve even begun?” said Mrs. Coulter. “I came here voluntarily, as soon as I could escape from Asriel’s fortress. The fact is, Father President, I have a great deal of information about his forces, and about the child, and I came here to give it to you.”

“The child, then. Begin with the child.”

“My daughter is now twelve years old. Very soon she will approach the cusp of adolescence, and then it will be too late for any of us to prevent the catastrophe; nature and opportunity will come together like spark and tinder. Thanks to your intervention, that is now far more likely. I hope you’re satisfied.”

“It was your duty to bring her here into our care. Instead, you chose to skulk in a mountain cave—though how a woman of your intelligence hoped to remain hidden is a mystery to me.”

“There’s probably a great deal that’s mysterious to you, my Lord President, starting with the relations between a mother and her child. If you thought for one moment that I would release my daughter into the care—the care!—of a body of men with a feverish obsession with sexuality, men with dirty fingernails, reeking of ancient sweat, men whose furtive imaginations would crawl over her body like cockroaches—if you thought I would expose my child to that, my Lord President, you are more stupid than you take me for.”

There was a knock on the door before he could reply, and Brother Louis came in with two glasses of chocolatl on a wooden tray. He laid the tray on the table with a nervous bow, smiling at the President in hopes of being asked to stay; but Father MacPhail nodded toward the door, and the young man left reluctantly.

“So what were you going to do?” said the President.

“I was going to keep her safe until the danger had passed.”

“What danger would that be?” he said, handing her a glass.

“Oh, I think you know what I mean. Somewhere there is a tempter, a serpent, so to speak, and I had to keep them from meeting.”

“There is a boy with her.”

“Yes. And if you hadn’t interfered, they would both be under my control. As it is, they could be anywhere. At least they’re not with Lord Asriel.”

“I have no doubt he will be looking for them. The boy has a knife of extraordinary power. They would be worth pursuing for that alone.”

“I’m aware of that,” said Mrs. Coulter. “I managed to break it, and he managed to get it mended again.”

The President wondered why she was smiling. Surely she didn’t approve of this wretched boy?

“We know,” he said shortly.

“Well, well,” she said. “Fra Pavel must be getting quicker. When I knew him, it would have taken him a month at least to read all that.”

She sipped her chocolatl, which was thin and weak; how like these wretched priests, she thought, to take their self-righteous abstinence out on their visitors, too.

“Tell me about Lord Asriel,” said the President. “Tell me everything.”

Mrs. Coulter settled back comfortably and began to tell him—not everything, but he never thought for a moment that she would. She told him about the fortress, about the allies, about the angels, about the mines and the foundries.

Father MacPhail sat without moving a muscle, his lizard dæmon absorbing and remembering every word.

“And how did you get here?” he asked.

“I stole a gyropter. It ran out of fuel and I had to abandon it in the countryside not far from here. The rest of the way I walked.”

“Is Lord Asriel actively searching for the girl and the boy?”

“Of course.”

“I assume he’s after that knife. You know it has a name? The cliff-ghasts of the north call it the god-destroyer,” he went on, crossing to the window and looking down over the cloisters. “That’s what Asriel is aiming to do, isn’t it? Destroy the Authority? There are some people who claim that God is dead already. Presumably, Asriel is not one of those, if he retains the ambition to kill him.”

“Well, where is God,” said Mrs. Coulter, “if he’s alive? And why doesn’t he speak anymore? At the beginning of the world, God walked in the Garden and spoke with Adam and Eve. Then he began to withdraw, and he forbade Moses to look at his face. Later, in the time of Daniel, he was aged—he was the Ancient of Days. Where is he now? Is he still alive, at some inconceivable age, decrepit and demented, unable to think or act or speak and unable to die, a rotten hulk? And if that is his condition, wouldn’t it be the most merciful thing, the truest proof of our love for God, to seek him out and give him the gift of death?”

Mrs. Coulter felt a calm exhilaration as she spoke. She wondered if she’d ever get out alive; but it was intoxicating, to speak like that to this man.

“And Dust?” he said. “From the depths of heresy, what is your view of Dust?”

“I have no view of Dust,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. No one does.”

“I see. Well, I began by reminding you that you are under arrest. I think it’s time we found you somewhere to sleep. You’ll be quite comfortable; no one will hurt you; but you’re not going to get away. And we shall talk more tomorrow.”

He rang a bell, and Brother Louis came in almost at once. “Show Mrs. Coulter to the best guest room,” said the President. “And lock her in.”

The best guest room was shabby and the furniture was cheap, but at least it was clean. After the lock had turned behind her, Mrs. Coulter looked around at once for the microphone and found one in the elaborate light-fitting and another under the frame of the bed. She disconnected them both, and then had a horrible surprise.

Watching her from the top of the chest of drawers behind the door was Lord Roke.

She cried out and put a hand on the wall to steady herself. The Gallivespian was sitting cross-legged, entirely at his ease, and neither she nor the golden monkey had seen him. Once the pounding of her heart had subsided, and her breathing had slowed, she said, “And when would you have done me the courtesy of letting me know you were here, my lord? Before I undressed, or afterwards?”

“Before,” he said. “Tell your dæmon to calm down, or I’ll disable him.”

The golden monkey’s teeth were bared, and all his fur was standing on end. The scorching malice of his expression was enough to make any normal person quail, but Lord Roke merely smiled. His spurs glittered in the dim light.

The little spy stood up and stretched.

“I’ve just spoken to my agent in Lord Asriel’s fortress,” he went on. “Lord Asriel presents his compliments and asks you to let him know as soon as you find out what these people’s intentions are.”

She felt winded, as if Lord Asriel had thrown her hard in wrestling. Her eyes widened, and she sat down slowly on the bed.

“Did you come here to spy on me, or to help?” she said.

“Both, and it’s lucky for you I’m here. As soon as you arrived, they set some anbaric work in motion down in the cellars. I don’t know what it is, but there’s a team of scientists working on it right now. You seem to have galvanized them.”

“I don’t know whether to be flattered or alarmed. As a matter of fact, I’m exhausted, and I’m going to sleep. If you’re here to help me, you can keep watch. You can begin by looking the other way.”

He bowed and faced the wall until she had washed in the chipped basin, dried herself on the thin towel, and undressed and got into bed. Her dæmon patrolled the room, checking the wardrobe, the picture rail, the curtains, the view of the dark cloisters out of the window. Lord Roke watched him every inch of the way. Finally the golden monkey joined Mrs. Coulter, and they fell asleep at once.

Lord Roke hadn’t told her everything that he’d learned from Lord Asriel. The allies had been tracking the flight of all kinds of beings in the air above the frontiers of the Republic, and had noticed a concentration of what might have been angels, and might have been something else entirely, in the west. They had sent patrols out to investigate, but so far they had learned nothing: whatever it was that hung there had wrapped itself in impenetrable fog.

The spy thought it best not to trouble Mrs. Coulter with that, though; she was exhausted. Let her sleep, he decided, and he moved silently about the room, listening at the door, watching out of the window, awake and alert.

An hour after she had first come into the room, he heard a quiet noise outside the door: a faint scratch and a whisper. At the same moment a dim light outlined the door. Lord Roke moved to the farthest corner and stood behind one of the legs of the chair on which Mrs. Coulter had thrown her clothes.

A minute went by, and then the key turned very quietly in the lock. The door opened an inch, no more, and then the light went out.

Lord Roke could see well enough in the dim glow through the thin curtains, but the intruder was having to wait for his eyes to adjust. Finally the door opened farther, very slowly, and the young priest Brother Louis stepped in.

He crossed himself and tiptoed to the bed. Lord Roke prepared to spring, but the priest merely listened to Mrs. Coulter’s steady breathing, looked closely to see whether she was asleep, and then turned to the bedside table.

He covered the bulb of the battery light with his hand and switched it on, letting a thin gleam escape through his fingers. He peered at the table so closely that his nose nearly touched the surface, but whatever he was looking for, he didn’t find it. Mrs. Coulter had put a few things there before she got into bed—a couple of coins, a ring, her watch—but Brother Louis wasn’t interested in those.

He turned to her again, and then he saw what he was looking for, uttering a soft hiss between his teeth. Lord Roke could see his dismay: the object of his search was the locket on the gold chain around Mrs. Coulter’s neck.

Lord Roke moved silently along the skirting board toward the door.

The priest crossed himself again, for he was going to have to touch her. Holding his breath, he bent over the bed—and the golden monkey stirred.

The young man froze, hands outstretched. His rabbit dæmon trembled at his feet, no use at all: she could at least have kept watch for the poor man, Lord Roke thought. The monkey turned over in his sleep and fell still again.

After a minute poised like a waxwork, Brother Louis lowered his shaking hands to Mrs. Coulter’s neck. He fumbled for so long that Lord Roke thought the dawn would break before he got the catch undone, but finally he lifted the locket gently away and stood up.

Lord Roke, as quick and as quiet as a mouse, was out of the door before the priest had turned around. He waited in the dark corridor, and when the young man tiptoed out and turned the key, the Gallivespian began to follow him.

Brother Louis made for the tower, and when the President opened his door, Lord Roke darted through and made for the prie-dieu in the corner of the room. There he found a shadowy ledge where he crouched and listened.

Father MacPhail was not alone: Fra Pavel, the alethiometrist, was busy with his books, and another figure stood nervously by the window. This was Dr. Cooper, the experimental theologian from Bolvangar. They both looked up.

“Well done, Brother Louis,” said the President. “Bring it here, sit down, show me, show me. Well done!”

Fra Pavel moved some of his books, and the young priest laid the gold chain on the table. The others bent over to look as Father MacPhail fiddled with the catch. Dr. Cooper offered him a pocketknife, and then there was a soft click.

“Ah!” sighed the President.

Lord Roke climbed to the top of the desk so that he could see. In the naphtha lamplight there was a gleam of dark gold: it was a lock of hair, and the President was twisting it between his fingers, turning it this way and that.

“Are we certain this is the child’s?” he said.

“I am certain,” came the weary voice of Fra Pavel.

“And is there enough of it, Dr. Cooper?”

The pale-faced man bent low and took the lock from Father MacPhail’s fingers. He held it up to the light.

“Oh yes,” he said. “One single hair would be enough. This is ample.”

“I’m very pleased to hear it,” said the President. “Now, Brother Louis, you must return the locket to the good lady’s neck.”

The priest sagged faintly: he had hoped his task was over. The President placed the curl of Lyra’s hair in an envelope and shut the locket, looking up and around as he did so, and Lord Roke had to drop out of sight.

“Father President,” said Brother Louis, “I shall of course do as you command, but may I know why you need the child’s hair?”

“No, Brother Louis, because it would disturb you. Leave these matters to us. Off you go.”

The young man took the locket and left, smothering his resentment. Lord Roke thought of going back with him and waking Mrs. Coulter just as he was trying to replace the chain, in order to see what she’d do; but it was more important to find out what these people were up to.

As the door closed, the Gallivespian went back into the shadows and listened.

“How did you know where she had it?” said the scientist.

“Every time she mentioned the child,” the President said, “her hand went to the locket. Now then, how soon can it be ready?”

“A matter of hours,” said Dr. Cooper.

“And the hair? What do you do with that?”

“We place the hair in the resonating chamber. You understand, each individual is unique, and the arrangement of genetic particles quite distinct … Well, as soon as it’s analyzed, the information is coded in a series of anbaric pulses and transferred to the aiming device. That locates the origin of the material, the hair, wherever she may be. It’s a process that actually makes use of the Barnard-Stokes heresy, the many-worlds idea …”

“Don’t alarm yourself, Doctor. Fra Pavel has told me that the child is in another world. Please go on. The force of the bomb is directed by means of the hair?”

“Yes. To each of the hairs from which these ones were cut. That’s right.”

“So when it’s detonated, the child will be destroyed, wherever she is?”

There was a heavy indrawn breath from the scientist, and then a reluctant “Yes.” He swallowed, and went on, “The power needed is enormous. The anbaric power. Just as an atomic bomb needs a high explosive to force the uranium together and set off the chain reaction, this device needs a colossal current to release the much greater power of the severance process. I was wondering—”

“It doesn’t matter where it’s detonated, does it?”

“No. That is the point. Anywhere will do.”

“And it’s completely ready?”

“Now we have the hair, yes. But the power, you see—”

“I have seen to that. The hydro-anbaric generating station at Saint-Jean-les-Eaux has been requisitioned for our use. They produce enough power there, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes,” said the scientist.

“Then we shall set out at once. Please go and see to the apparatus, Dr. Cooper. Have it ready for transportation as soon as you can. The weather changes quickly in the mountains, and there is a storm on the way.”

The scientist took the little envelope containing Lyra’s hair and bowed nervously as he left. Lord Roke left with him, making no more noise than a shadow.

As soon as they were out of earshot of the President’s room, the Gallivespian sprang. Dr. Cooper, below him on the stairs, felt an agonizing stab in his shoulder and grabbed for the banister; but his arm was strangely weak, and he slipped and tumbled down the whole flight, to land semiconscious at the bottom.

Lord Roke hauled the envelope out of the man’s twitching hand with some difficulty, for it was half as big as he was, and set off in the shadows toward the room where Mrs. Coulter was asleep.

The gap at the foot of the door was wide enough for him to slip through. Brother Louis had come and gone, but he hadn’t dared to try and fasten the chain around Mrs. Coulter’s neck: it lay beside her on the pillow.

Lord Roke pressed her hand to wake her up. She was profoundly exhausted, but she focused on him at once and sat up, rubbing her eyes.

He explained what had happened and gave her the envelope.

“You should destroy it at once,” he told her. “One single hair would be enough, the man said.”

She looked at the little curl of dark blond hair and shook her head.

“Too late for that,” she said. “This is only half the lock I cut from Lyra. He must have kept back some of it.”

Lord Roke hissed with anger.

“When he looked around!” he said. “Ach—I moved to be out of his sight—he must have set it aside then …”

“And there’s no way of knowing where he’ll have put it,” said Mrs. Coulter. “Still, if we can find the bomb—”

“Shh!”

That was the golden monkey. He was crouching by the door, listening, and then they heard it, too: heavy footsteps hurrying toward the room.

Mrs. Coulter thrust the envelope and the lock of hair at Lord Roke, who took it and leapt for the top of the wardrobe. Then she lay down next to her dæmon as the key turned noisily in the door.

“Where is it? What have you done with it? How did you attack Dr. Cooper?” said the President’s harsh voice as the light fell across the bed.

Mrs. Coulter threw up an arm to shade her eyes and struggled to sit up.

“You do like to keep your guests entertained,” she said drowsily. “Is this a new game? What do I have to do? And who is Dr. Cooper?”

The guard from the gatehouse had come in with Father MacPhail and was shining a torch into the corners of the room and under the bed. The President was slightly disconcerted: Mrs. Coulter’s eyes were heavy with sleep, and she could hardly see in the glare from the corridor light. It was obvious that she hadn’t left her bed.

“You have an accomplice,” he said. “Someone has attacked a guest of the College. Who is it? Who came here with you? Where is he?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. And what’s This …?”

Her hand, which she’d put down to help herself sit up, had found the locket on the pillow. She stopped, picked it up, and looked at the President with wide-open sleepy eyes, and Lord Roke saw a superb piece of acting as she said, puzzled, “But this is my … what’s it doing here? Father MacPhail, who’s been in here? Someone has taken this from around my neck. And—where is Lyra’s hair? There was a lock of my child’s hair in here. Who’s taken it? Why? What’s going on?”

And now she was standing, her hair disordered, passion in her voice—plainly just as bewildered as the President himself.

Father MacPhail took a step backward and put his hand to his head.

“Someone else must have come with you. There must be an accomplice,” he said, his voice rasping at the air. “Where is he hiding?”

“I have no accomplice,” she said angrily. “If there’s an invisible assassin in this place, I can only imagine it’s the Devil himself. I dare say he feels quite at home.”

Father MacPhail said to the guard, “Take her to the cellars. Put her in chains. I know just what we can do with this woman; I should have thought of it as soon as she appeared.”

She looked wildly around and met Lord Roke’s eyes for a fraction of a second, glittering in the darkness near the ceiling. He caught her expression at once and understood exactly what she meant him to do.

25

A bracelet of bright hair about the bone …

• JOHN DONNE •

SAINT-JEAN-LES-EAUX

The cataract of Saint-Jean-les-Eaux plunged between pinnacles of rock at the eastern end of a spur of the Alps, and the generating station clung to the side of the mountain above it. It was a wild region, a bleak and battered wilderness, and no one would have built anything there at all had it not been for the promise of driving great anbaric generators with the power of the thousands of tons of water that roared through the gorge.

It was the night following Mrs. Coulter’s arrest, and the weather was stormy. Near the sheer stone front of the generating station, a zeppelin slowed to a hover in the buffeting wind. The searchlights below the craft made it look as if it were standing on several legs of light and gradually lowering itself to lie down.

But the pilot wasn’t satisfied; the wind was swept into eddies and cross-gusts by the edges of the mountain. Besides, the cables, the pylons, the transformers were too close: to be swept in among them, with a zeppelin full of inflammable gas, would be instantly fatal. Sleet drummed slantwise at the great rigid envelope of the craft, making a noise that almost drowned the clatter and howl of the straining engines, and obscuring the view of the ground.

“Not here,” the pilot shouted over the noise. “We’ll go around the spur.”

Father MacPhail watched fiercely as the pilot moved the throttle forward and adjusted the trim of the engines. The zeppelin rose with a lurch and moved over the rim of the mountain. Those legs of light suddenly lengthened and seemed to feel their way down the ridge, their lower ends lost in the whirl of sleet and rain.

“You can’t get closer to the station than this?” said the President, leaning forward to let his voice carry to the pilot.

“Not if you want to land,” the pilot said.

“Yes, we want to land. Very well, put us down below the ridge.”

The pilot gave orders for the crew to prepare to moor. Since the equipment they were going to unload was heavy as well as delicate, it was important to make the craft secure. The President settled back, tapping his fingers on the arm of his seat, gnawing his lip, but saying nothing and letting the pilot work unflustered.

From his hiding place in the transverse bulkheads at the rear of the cabin, Lord Roke watched. Several times during the flight his little shadowy form had passed along behind the metal mesh, clearly visible to anyone who might have looked, if only they had turned their heads; but in order to hear what was happening, he had to come to a place where they could see him. The risk was unavoidable.

He edged forward, listening hard through the roar of the engines, the thunder of the hail and sleet, the high-pitched singing of the wind in the wires, and the clatter of booted feet on metal walkways. The flight engineer called some figures to the pilot, who confirmed them, and Lord Roke sank back into the shadows, holding tight to the struts and beams as the airship plunged and tilted.

Finally, sensing from the movement that the craft was nearly anchored, he made his way back through the skin of the cabin to the seats on the starboard side.

There were men passing through in both directions: crew members, technicians, priests. Many of their dæmons were dogs, brimming with curiosity. On the other side of the aisle, Mrs. Coulter sat awake and silent, her golden dæmon watching everything from her lap and exuding malice.

Lord Roke waited for the chance and then darted across to Mrs. Coulter’s seat, and was up in the shadow of her shoulder in a moment.

“What are they doing?” she murmured.

“Landing. We’re near the generating station.”

“Are you going to stay with me, or work on your own?” she whispered.

“I’ll stay with you. I’ll have to hide under your coat.”

She was wearing a heavy sheepskin coat, uncomfortably hot in the heated cabin, but with her hands manacled she couldn’t take it off.

“Go on, now,” she said, looking around, and he darted inside the breast, finding a fur-lined pocket where he could sit securely. The golden monkey tucked Mrs. Coulter’s silk collar inside solicitously, for all the world like a fastidious couturier attending to his favorite model, while all the time making sure that Lord Roke was completely hidden in the folds of the coat.

He was just in time. Not a minute later a soldier armed with a rifle came to order Mrs. Coulter out of the airship.

“Must I have these handcuffs on?” she said.

“I haven’t been told to remove them,” he replied. “On your feet, please.”

“But it’s hard to move if I can’t hold on to things. I’m stiff—I’ve been sitting here for the best part of a day without moving—and you know I haven’t got any weapons, because you searched me. Go and ask the President if it’s really necessary to manacle me. Am I going to try and run away in this wilderness?”

Lord Roke was impervious to her charm, but interested in its effect on others. The guard was a young man; they should have sent a grizzled old warrior.

“Well,” said the guard, “I’m sure you won’t, ma’am, but I can’t do what I en’t been ordered to do. You see that, I’m sure. Please stand up, ma’am, and if you stumble, I’ll catch hold of your arm.”

She stood up, and Lord Roke felt her move clumsily forward. She was the most graceful human the Gallivespian had ever seen; this clumsiness was feigned. As they reached the head of the gangway, Lord Roke felt her stumble and cry out in alarm, and felt the jar as the guard’s arm caught her. He heard the change in the sounds around them, too; the howl of the wind, the engines turning over steadily to generate power for the lights, voices from somewhere nearby giving orders.

They moved down the gangway, Mrs. Coulter leaning heavily on the guard. She was speaking softly, and Lord Roke could just make out his reply.

“The sergeant, ma’am—over there by the large crate—he’s got the keys. But I daren’t ask him, ma’am, I’m sorry.”

“Oh well,” she said with a pretty sigh of regret. “Thank you anyway.”

Lord Roke heard booted feet moving away over rock, and then she whispered: “You heard about the keys?”

“Tell me where the sergeant is. I need to know where and how far.”

“About ten of my paces away. To the right. A big man. I can see the keys in a bunch at his waist.”

“No good unless I know which one. Did you see them lock the manacles?”

“Yes. A short, stubby key with black tape wound around it.”

Lord Roke climbed down hand over hand in the thick fleece of her coat, until he reached the hem at the level of her knees. There he clung and looked around.

They had rigged a floodlight, which made the wet rocks glisten brilliantly. But as he looked down, casting around for shadows, he saw the glare begin to swing sideways in a gust of wind. He heard a shout, and the light went out abruptly.

He dropped to the ground at once and sprang through the dashing sleet toward the sergeant, who had lurched forward to try and catch the falling floodlight.

In the confusion Lord Roke leapt at the big man’s leg as it swung past him, seized the camouflage cotton of the trousers—heavy and sodden with rain already—and kicked a spur into the flesh just above the boot.

The sergeant gave a grunting cry and fell clumsily, grasping his leg, trying to breathe, trying to call out. Lord Roke let go and sprang away from the falling body.

No one had noticed: the noise of the wind and the engines and the pounding hail covered the man’s cry, and in the darkness his body couldn’t be seen. But there were others close by, and Lord Roke had to work quickly. He leapt to the fallen man’s side, where the bunch of keys lay in a pool of icy water, and hauled aside the great shafts of steel, as big around as his arm and half as long as he was, till he found the one with the black tape. And then there was the clasp of the key ring to wrestle with, and the perpetual risk of the hail, which for a Gallivespian was deadly: blocks of ice as big as his two fists.

And then a voice above him said, “You all right, Sergeant?”

The soldier’s dæmon was growling and nuzzling at the sergeant’s, who had fallen into a semi-stupor. Lord Roke couldn’t wait: a spring and a kick, and the other man fell beside the sergeant.

Hauling, wrestling, heaving, Lord Roke finally snapped open the key ring, and then he had to lift six other keys out of the way before the black-taped one was free. Any second now they’d get the light back on, but even in the half-dark they could hardly miss two men lying unconscious—

And as he hoisted the key out, a shout went up. He hauled up the massive shaft with all the strength he had, tugging, heaving, lifting, crawling, dragging, and hid beside a small boulder just as pounding feet arrived and voices called for light.

“Shot?”

“Didn’t hear a thing—”

“Are they breathing?”

Then the floodlight, secure again, snapped on once more. Lord Roke was caught in the open, as clear as a fox in the headlights of a car. He stood stockstill, his eyes moving left and right, and once he was sure that everyone’s attention was on the two men who had fallen so mysteriously, he hauled the key to his shoulder and ran around the puddles and the boulders until he reached Mrs. Coulter.

A second later she had unlocked the handcuffs and lowered them silently to the ground. Lord Roke leapt for the hem of her coat and ran up to her shoulder.

“Where’s the bomb?” he said, close to her ear.

“They’ve just begun to unload it. It’s the big crate on the ground over there. I can’t do anything till they take it out, and even then—”

“All right,” he said, “run. Hide yourself. I’ll stay here and watch. Run!”

He leapt down to her sleeve and sprang away. Without a sound she moved away from the light, slowly at first so as not to catch the eye of the guard, and then she crouched and ran into the rain-lashed darkness farther up the slope, the golden monkey darting ahead to see the way.

Behind her she heard the continuing roar of the engines, the confused shouts, the powerful voice of the President trying to impose some order on the scene. She remembered the long, horrible pain and hallucination that she’d suffered at the spur of the Chevalier Tialys, and didn’t envy the two men their waking up.

But soon she was higher up, clambering over the wet rocks, and all she could see behind her was the wavering glow of the floodlight reflected back from the great curved belly of the zeppelin; and presently that went out again, and all she could hear was the engine roar, straining vainly against the wind and the thunder of the cataract below.

The engineers from the hydro-anbaric station were struggling over the edge of the gorge to bring a power cable to the bomb.

The problem for Mrs. Coulter was not how to get out of this situation alive: that was a secondary matter. The problem was how to get Lyra’s hair out of the bomb before they set it off. Lord Roke had burned the hair from the envelope after her arrest, letting the wind take the ashes away into the night sky; and then he’d found his way to the laboratory and watched as they placed the rest of the little dark golden curl in the resonating chamber in preparation. He knew exactly where it was, and how to open the chamber, but the brilliant light and the glittering surfaces in the laboratory, not to mention the constant coming and going of technicians, made it impossible for him to do anything about it there.

So they’d have to remove the lock of hair after the bomb was set up.

And that was going to be even harder, because of what the President intended to do with Mrs. Coulter. The energy of the bomb came from cutting the link between human and dæmon, and that meant the hideous process of intercision: the cages of mesh, the silver guillotine. He was going to sever the lifelong connection between her and the golden monkey and use the power released by that to destroy her daughter. She and Lyra would perish by the means she herself had invented. It was neat, at least, she thought.

Her only hope was Lord Roke. But in their whispered exchanges in the zeppelin, he’d explained about the power of his poison spurs: he couldn’t go on using them continually, because with each sting, the venom weakened. It took a day for the full potency to build up again. Before long his main weapon would lose its force, and then they’d only have their wits.

She found an overhanging rock next to the roots of a spruce tree that clung to the side of the gorge, and settled herself beneath it to look around.

Behind her and above, over the lip of the ravine and in the full force of the wind, stood the generating station. The engineers were rigging a series of lights to help them bring the cable to the bomb: she could hear their voices not far away, shouting commands, and see the lights wavering through the trees. The cable itself, as thick as a man’s arm, was being hauled from a gigantic reel on a truck at the top of the slope, and at the rate they were edging their way down over the rocks, they’d reach the bomb in five minutes or less.

At the zeppelin Father MacPhail had rallied the soldiers. Several men stood guard, looking out into the sleet-filled dark with rifles at the ready, while others opened the wooden crate containing the bomb and made it ready for the cable. Mrs. Coulter could see it clearly in the wash of the floodlights, streaming with rain, an ungainly mass of machinery and wiring slightly tilted on the rocky ground. She heard a high-tension crackle and hum from the lights, whose cables swung in the wind, scattering the rain and throwing shadows up over the rocks and down again, like a grotesque jump rope.

Mrs. Coulter was horribly familiar with one part of the structure: the mesh cages, the silver blade above. They stood at one end of the apparatus. The rest of it was strange to her; she could see no principle behind the coils, the jars, the banks of insulators, the lattice of tubing. Nevertheless, somewhere in all that complexity was the little lock of hair on which everything depended.

To her left the slope fell away into the dark, and far below was a glimmer of white and a thunder of water from the cataract of Saint-Jean-les-Eaux.

There came a cry. A soldier dropped his rifle and stumbled forward, falling to the ground, kicking and thrashing and groaning with pain. In response the President looked up to the sky, put his hands to his mouth, and uttered a piercing yell.

What was he doing?

A moment later Mrs. Coulter found out. Of all unlikely things, a witch flew down and landed beside the President as he shouted above the wind:

“Search nearby! There is a creature of some kind helping the woman. It’s attacked several of my men already. You can see through the dark. Find it and kill it!”

“There is something coming,” said the witch in a tone that carried clearly to Mrs. Coulter’s shelter. “I can see it in the north.”

“Never mind that. Find the creature and destroy it,” said the President. “It can’t be far away. And look for the woman, too. Go!”

The witch sprang into the air again.

Suddenly the monkey seized Mrs. Coulter’s hand and pointed.

There was Lord Roke, lying in the open on a patch of moss. How could they not have seen him? But something had happened, for he wasn’t moving.

“Go and bring him back,” she said, and the monkey, crouching low, darted from one rock to another, making for the little patch of green among the rocks. His golden fur was soon darkened by the rain and plastered close to his body, making him smaller and less easy to see, but all the same he was horribly conspicuous.

Father MacPhail, meanwhile, had turned to the bomb again. The engineers from the generating station had brought their cable right down to it, and the technicians were busy securing the clamps and making ready the terminals.

Mrs. Coulter wondered what he intended to do, now that his victim had escaped. Then the President turned to look over his shoulder, and she saw his expression. It was so fixed and intense that he looked more like a mask than a man. His lips were moving in prayer, his eyes were turned up wide open as the rain beat into them, and altogether he looked like some gloomy Spanish painting of a saint in the ecstasy of martyrdom. Mrs. Coulter felt a sudden bolt of fear, because she knew exactly what he intended: he was going to sacrifice himself. The bomb would work whether or not she was part of it.

Darting from rock to rock, the golden monkey reached Lord Roke.

“My left leg is broken,” said the Gallivespian calmly. “The last man stepped on me. Listen carefully—”

As the monkey lifted him away from the lights, Lord Roke explained exactly where the resonating chamber was and how to open it. They were practically under the eyes of the soldiers, but step by step, from shadow to shadow, the dæmon crept with his little burden.

Mrs. Coulter, watching and biting her lip, heard a rush of air and felt a heavy knock—not to her body, but to the tree. An arrow stuck there quivering less than a hand’s breadth from her left arm. At once she rolled away, before the witch could shoot another, and tumbled down the slope toward the monkey.

And then everything was happening at once, too quickly: there was a burst of gunfire, and a cloud of acrid smoke billowed across the slope, though she saw no flames. The golden monkey, seeing Mrs. Coulter attacked, set Lord Roke down and sprang to her defense, just as the witch flew down, knife at the ready. Lord Roke pushed himself back against the nearest rock, and Mrs. Coulter grappled directly with the witch. They wrestled furiously among the rocks, while the golden monkey set about tearing all the needles from the witch’s cloud-pine branch.

Meanwhile, the President was thrusting his lizard dæmon into the smaller of the silver mesh cages. She writhed and screamed and kicked and bit, but he struck her off his hand and slammed the door shut quickly. The technicians were making the final adjustments, checking their meters and gauges.

Out of nowhere a seagull flew down with a wild cry and seized the Gallivespian in his claw. It was the witch’s dæmon. Lord Roke fought hard, but the bird had him too tightly, and then the witch tore herself from Mrs. Coulter’s grasp, snatched the tattered pine branch, and leapt into the air to join her dæmon.

Mrs. Coulter hurled herself toward the bomb, feeling the smoke attack her nose and throat like claws: tear gas. The soldiers, most of them, had fallen or stumbled away choking (and where had the gas come from? she wondered), but now, as the wind dispersed it, they were beginning to gather themselves again. The great ribbed belly of the zeppelin bulked over the bomb, straining at its cables in the wind, its silver sides running with moisture.

But then a sound from high above made Mrs. Coulter’s ears ring: a scream so high and horrified that even the golden monkey clutched her in fear. And a second later, pitching down in a swirl of white limbs, black silk, and green twigs, the witch fell right at the feet of Father MacPhail, her bones crunching audibly on the rock.

Mrs. Coulter darted forward to see if Lord Roke had survived the fall. But the Gallivespian was dead. His right spur was deep in the witch’s neck.

The witch herself was still just alive, and her mouth moved shudderingly, saying, “Something coming—something else—coming—”

It made no sense. The President was already stepping over her body to reach the larger cage. His dæmon was running up and down the sides of the other, her little claws making the silver mesh ring, her voice crying for pity.

The golden monkey leapt for Father MacPhail, but not to attack: he scrambled up and over the man’s shoulders to reach the complex heart of the wires and the pipe work, the resonating chamber. The President tried to grab him, but Mrs. Coulter seized the man’s arm and tried to pull him back. She couldn’t see: the rain was driving into her eyes, and there was still gas in the air.

And all around there was gunfire. What was happening?

The floodlights swung in the wind, so that nothing seemed steady, not even the black rocks of the mountainside. The President and Mrs. Coulter fought hand to hand, scratching, punching, tearing, pulling, biting, and she was tired and he was strong; but she was desperate, too, and she might have pulled him away, but part of her was watching her dæmon as he manipulated the handles, his fierce black paws snapping the mechanism this way, that way, pulling, twisting, reaching in—

Then came a blow to her temple. She fell stunned, and the President broke free and hauled himself bleeding into the cage, dragging the door shut after him.

And the monkey had the chamber open—a glass door on heavy hinges, and he was reaching inside—and there was the lock of hair: held between rubber pads in a metal clasp! Still more to undo; and Mrs. Coulter was hauling herself up with shaking hands. She shook the silvery mesh with all her might, looking up at the blade, the sparking terminals, the man inside. The monkey was unscrewing the clasp, and the President, his face a mask of grim exultation, was twisting wires together.

There was a flash of intense white, a lashing crack, and the monkey’s form was flung high in the air. With him came a little cloud of gold: was it Lyra’s hair? Was it his own fur? Whatever it was, it blew away at once in the dark. Mrs. Coulter’s right hand had convulsed so tightly that it clung to the mesh, leaving her half-lying, half-hanging, while her head rang and her heart pounded.

But something had happened to her sight. A terrible clarity had come over her eyes, the power to see the most tiny details, and they were focused on the one detail in the universe that mattered: stuck to one of the pads of the clasp in the resonating chamber, there was a single dark gold hair.

She cried a great wail of anguish, and shook and shook the cage, trying to loosen the hair with the little strength she had left. The President passed his hands over his face, wiping it clear of the rain. His mouth moved as though he were speaking, but she couldn’t hear a word. She tore at the mesh, helpless, and then hurled her whole weight against the machine as he brought two wires together with a spark. In utter silence the brilliant silver blade shot down.

Something exploded, somewhere, but Mrs. Coulter was beyond feeling it.

There were hands lifting her up: Lord Asriel’s hands. There was nothing to be surprised at anymore; the intention craft stood behind him, poised on the slope and perfectly level. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the craft, ignoring the gunfire, the billowing smoke, the cries of alarm and confusion.

“Is he dead? Did it go off?” she managed to say.

Lord Asriel climbed in beside her, and the snow leopard leapt in, too, the half-stunned monkey in her mouth. Lord Asriel took the controls and the craft sprang at once into the air. Through pain-dazed eyes Mrs. Coulter looked down at the mountain slope. Men were running here and there like ants; some lay dead, while others crawled brokenly over the rocks; the great cable from the generating station snaked down through the chaos, the only purposeful thing in sight, making its way to the glittering bomb, where the President’s body lay crumpled inside the cage.

“Lord Roke?” said Lord Asriel.

“Dead,” she whispered.

He pressed a button, and a lance of flame jetted toward the tossing, swaying zeppelin. An instant later the whole airship bloomed into a rose of white fire, engulfing the intention craft, which hung motionless and unharmed in the middle of it. Lord Asriel moved the craft unhurriedly away, and they watched as the blazing zeppelin fell slowly, slowly down on top of the whole scene—bomb, cable, soldiers, and all—and everything began to tumble in a welter of smoke and flames down the mountainside, gathering speed and incinerating the resinous trees as it went, until it plunged into the white waters of the cataract, which whirled it all away into the dark.

Lord Asriel touched the controls again and the intention craft began to speed away northward. But Mrs. Coulter couldn’t take her eyes off the scene; she watched behind them for a long time, gazing with tear-filled eyes at the fire, until it was no more than a vertical line of orange scratched on the dark and wreathed in smoke and steam, and then it was nothing.

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