فصل 03-06

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 2

فصل 03-06

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3

The knights bones are dust, / And his good sword rust;— His soul is with the saints, I trust.

• S. T. COLERIDGE •

SCAVENGERS

Serafina Pekkala, the clan queen of the witches of Lake Enara, wept as she flew through the turbid skies of the Arctic. She wept with rage and fear and remorse: rage against the woman Coulter, whom she had sworn to kill; fear of what was happening to her beloved land; and remorse … She would face the remorse later. Meanwhile, looking down at the melting ice cap, the flooded lowland forests, the swollen sea, she felt heartsick.

But she didn’t stop to visit her homeland, or to comfort and encourage her sisters. Instead, she flew north and farther north, into the fogs and gales around Svalbard, the kingdom of Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear.

She hardly recognized the main island. The mountains lay bare and black, and only a few hidden valleys facing away from the sun had retained a little snow in their shaded corners; but what was the sun doing here anyway, at this time of year? The whole of nature was overturned.

It took her most of a day to find the bear-king. She saw him among the rocks off the northern edge of the island, swimming fast after a walrus. It was harder for bears to kill in the water: when the land was covered in ice and the great sea-mammals had to come up to breathe, the bears had the advantage of camouflage and their prey was out of its element. That was how things should be.

But Iorek Byrnison was hungry, and even the stabbing tusks of the mighty walrus couldn’t keep him at bay. Serafina watched as the creatures fought, turning the white sea-spray red, and saw Iorek haul the carcass out of the waves and onto a broad shelf of rock, watched at a respectful distance by three ragged-furred foxes, waiting for their turn at the feast.

When the bear-king had finished eating, Serafina flew down to speak to him. Now was the time to face her remorse.

“King Iorek Byrnison,” she said, “please may I speak with you? I lay my weapons down.”

She placed her bow and arrows on the wet rock between them. Iorek looked at them briefly, and she knew that if his face could register any emotion, it would be surprise.

“Speak, Serafina Pekkala,” he growled. “We have never fought, have we?”

“King Iorek, I have failed your comrade, Lee Scoresby.”

The bear’s small black eyes and bloodstained muzzle were very still. She could see the wind ruffling the tips of the creamy white hairs along his back. He said nothing.

“Mr. Scoresby is dead,” Serafina went on. “Before I parted from him, I gave him a flower to summon me with, if he should need me. I heard his call and flew to him, but I arrived too late. He died fighting a force of Muscovites, but I know nothing of what brought them there, or why he was holding them off when he could easily have escaped. King Iorek, I am wretched with remorse.”

“Where did this happen?” said Iorek Byrnison.

“In another world. This will take me some time to tell.”

“Then begin.”

She told him what Lee Scoresby had set out to do: to find the man who had been known as Stanislaus Grumman. She told him about how the barrier between the worlds had been breached by Lord Asriel, and about some of the consequences—the melting of the ice, for example. She told of the witch Ruta Skadi’s flight after the angels, and she tried to describe those flying beings to the bear-king as Ruta had described them to her: the light that shone on them, the crystalline clarity of their appearance, the richness of their wisdom.

Then she described what she had found when she answered Lee’s call.

“I put a spell on his body to preserve it from corruption,” she told him. “It will last until you see him, if you wish to do that. But I am troubled by this, King Iorek. Troubled by everything, but mostly by this.”

“Where is the child?”

“I left her with my sisters, because I had to answer Lee’s call.”

“In that same world?”

“Yes, the same.”

“How can I get there from here?”

She explained. Iorek Byrnison listened expressionlessly, and then said, “I shall go to Lee Scoresby. And then I must go south.”

“South?”

“The ice has gone from these lands. I have been thinking about this, Serafina Pekkala. I have chartered a ship.”

The three little foxes had been waiting patiently. Two of them were lying down, heads on their paws, watching, and the other was still sitting up, following the conversation. The foxes of the Arctic, scavengers that they were, had picked up some language, but their brains were so formed that they could only understand statements in the present tense. Most of what Iorek and Serafina said was meaningless noise to them. Furthermore, when they spoke, much of what they said was lies, so it didn’t matter if they repeated what they’d heard: no one could sort out which parts were true, though the credulous cliff-ghasts often believed most of it, and never learned from their disappointment. The bears and the witches alike were used to their conversations being scavenged as well as the meat they’d finished with.

“And you, Serafina Pekkala?” Iorek went on. “What will you do now?”

“I’m going to find the gyptians,” she said. “I think they will be needed.”

“Lord Faa,” said the bear, “yes. Good fighters. Go well.”

He turned away and slipped into the water without a splash, and began to swim in his steady, tireless paddle toward the new world.

And some time later, Iorek Byrnison stepped through the blackened undergrowth and the heat-split rocks at the edge of a burned forest. The sun was glaring through the smoky haze, but he ignored the heat as he ignored the charcoal dust that blackened his white fur and the midges that searched in vain for skin to bite.

He had come a long way, and at one point in his journey, he had found himself swimming into that other world. He noticed the change in the taste of the water and the temperature of the air, but the air was still good to breathe, and the water still held his body up, so he swam on, and now he had left the sea behind and he was nearly at the place Serafina Pekkala had described. He cast around, his black eyes gazing up at the sun-shimmering rocks and the wall of limestone crags above him.

Between the edge of the burned forest and the mountains, a rocky slope of heavy boulders and scree was littered with scorched and twisted metal: girders and struts that had belonged to some complex machine. Iorek Byrnison looked at them as a smith as well as a warrior, but there was nothing in these fragments he could use. He scored a line with a mighty claw along a strut less damaged than most, and feeling a flimsiness in the quality of the metal, turned away at once and scanned the mountain wall again.

Then he saw what he was looking for: a narrow gully leading back between jagged walls, and at the entrance, a large, low boulder.

He clambered steadily toward it. Beneath his huge feet, dry bones snapped loudly in the stillness, because many men had died here, to be picked clean by coyotes and vultures and lesser creatures; but the great bear ignored them and stepped up carefully toward the rock. The going was loose and he was heavy, and more than once the scree shifted under his feet and carried him down again in a scramble of dust and gravel. But as soon as he slid down, he began to move up once more, relentlessly, patiently, until he reached the rock itself, where the footing was firmer.

The boulder was pitted and chipped with bullet marks. Everything the witch had told him was true. And in confirmation, a little Arctic flower, a purple saxifrage, blossomed improbably where the witch had planted it as a signal in a cranny of the rock.

Iorek Byrnison moved around to the upper side. It was a good shelter from an enemy below, but not good enough; for among the hail of bullets that had chipped fragments off the rock had been a few that had found their targets and lay where they had come to rest, in the body of the man lying stiff in the shadow.

He was a body still, and not a skeleton, because the witch had laid a spell to preserve him from corruption. Iorek could see the face of his old comrade drawn and tight with the pain of his wounds, and see the jagged holes in his garments where the bullets had entered. The witch’s spell did not cover the blood that must have spilled, and insects and the sun and the wind had dispersed it completely. Lee Scoresby looked not asleep, nor at peace—he looked as if he had died in battle—but he looked as if he knew that his fight had been successful.

And because the Texan aeronaut was one of the very few humans Iorek had ever esteemed, he accepted the man’s last gift to him. With deft movements of his claws, he ripped aside the dead man’s clothes, opened the body with one slash, and began to feast on the flesh and blood of his old friend. It was his first meal for days, and he was hungry.

But a complex web of thoughts was weaving itself in the bear-king’s mind, with more strands in it than hunger and satisfaction. There was the memory of the little girl Lyra, whom he had named Silvertongue, and whom he had last seen crossing the fragile snow bridge across a crevasse in his own island of Svalbard. Then there was the agitation among the witches, the rumors of pacts and alliances and war; and then there was the surpassingly strange fact of this new world itself, and the witch’s insistence that there were many more such worlds, and that the fate of them all hung somehow on the fate of the child.

And then there was the melting of the ice. He and his people lived on the ice; ice was their home; ice was their citadel. Since the vast disturbances in the Arctic, the ice had begun to disappear, and Iorek knew that he had to find an icebound fastness for his kin, or they would perish. Lee had told him that there were mountains in the south so high that even his balloon could not fly over them, and they were crowned with snow and ice all year round. Exploring those mountains was his next task.

But for now, something simpler possessed his heart, something bright and hard and unshakable: vengeance. Lee Scoresby, who had rescued Iorek from danger in his balloon and fought beside him in the Arctic of his own world, had died. Iorek would avenge him. The good man’s flesh and bone would both nourish him and keep him restless until blood was spilled enough to still his heart.

The sun was setting as Iorek finished his meal, and the air was cooling down. After gathering the remaining fragments of Lee’s body into a single heap, the bear lifted the flower in his mouth and dropped it in the center of them, as humans liked to do. The witch’s spell was broken now; the rest of the body was free to all who came. Soon it would be nourishing a dozen different kinds of life.

Then Iorek set off down the slope toward the sea again, toward the south.

Cliff-ghasts were fond of fox, when they could get it. The little creatures were cunning and hard to catch, but their meat was tender and rank.

Before he killed this one, the cliff-ghast let it talk, and laughed at its silly babble.

“Bear must go south! Swear! Witch is troubled! True! Swear! Promise!”

“Bears don’t go south, lying filth!”

“True! King bear must go south! Show you walrus—fine fat good—”

“King bear go south?”

“And flying things got treasure! Flying things—angels—crystal treasure!”

“Flying things—like cliff-ghasts? Treasure?”

“Like light, not like cliff-ghast. Rich! Crystal! And witch troubled—witch sorry—Scoresby dead—”

“Dead? Balloon man dead?” The cliff-ghast’s laugh echoed around the dry cliffs.

“Witch kill him—Scoresby dead, king bear go south—”

“Scoresby dead! Ha, ha, Scoresby dead!”

The cliff-ghast wrenched off the fox’s head, and fought his brothers for the entrails.

they will come, they will!”

“But where are you, Lyra?”

And that she couldn’t answer. “I think I’m dreaming, Roger,” was all she could find to say.

Behind the little boy she could see more ghosts, dozens, hundreds, their heads crowded together, peering close and listening to every word.

“And that woman?” said Roger. “I hope she en’t dead. I hope she stays alive as long as ever she can. Because if she comes down here, then there’ll be nowhere to hide, she’ll have us forever then. That’s the only good thing I can see about being dead, that she en’t. Except I know she will be one day …”

Lyra was alarmed.

“I think I’m dreaming, and I don’t know where she is!” she said. “She’s somewhere near, and I can’t

4

She lay as if at play— / Her life had leaped away— Intending to return— / But not so soon—

• EMILY DICKINSON •

AMA AND THE BATS

Ama, the herdsman’s daughter, carried the image of the sleeping girl in her memory: she could not stop thinking about her. She didn’t question for a moment the truth of what Mrs. Coulter had told her. Sorcerers existed, beyond a doubt, and it was only too likely that they would cast sleeping spells, and that a mother would care for her daughter in that fierce and tender way. Ama conceived an admiration amounting almost to worship for the beautiful woman in the cave and her enchanted daughter.

She went as often as she could to the little valley, to run errands for the woman or simply to chatter and listen, for the woman had wonderful tales to tell. Again and again she hoped for a glimpse of the sleeper, but it had only happened once, and she accepted that it would probably never be allowed again.

And during the time she spent milking the sheep, or carding and spinning their wool, or grinding barley to make bread, she thought incessantly about the spell that must have been cast, and about why it had happened. Mrs. Coulter had never told her, so Ama was free to imagine.

One day she took some flat bread sweetened with honey and walked the three-hour journey along the trail to Cho-Lung-Se, where there was a monastery. By wheedling and patience, and by bribing the porter with some of the honey bread, she managed to gain an audience with the great healer Pagdzin tulku, who had cured an outbreak of the white fever only the year before, and who was immensely wise.

Ama entered the great man’s cell, bowing very low and offering her remaining honey bread with all the humility she could muster. The monk’s bat dæmon swooped and darted around her, frightening her own dæmon, Kulang, who crept into her hair to hide, but Ama tried to remain still and silent until Pagdzin tulku spoke.

“Yes, child? Be quick, be quick,” he said, his long gray beard wagging with every word.

In the dimness the beard and his brilliant eyes were most of what she could see of him. His dæmon settled on the beam above him, hanging still at last, so she said, “Please, Pagdzin tulku, I want to gain wisdom. I would like to know how to make spells and enchantments. Can you teach me?”

“No,” he said.

She was expecting that. “Well, could you tell me just one remedy?” she asked humbly.

“Maybe. But I won’t tell you what it is. I can give you the medicine, not tell you the secret.”

“All right, thank you, that is a great blessing,” she said, bowing several times.

“What is the disease, and who has it?” the old man said.

“It’s a sleeping sickness,” Ama explained. “It’s come upon the son of my father’s cousin.”

She was being extra clever, she knew, changing the sex of the sufferer, just in case the healer had heard of the woman in the cave.

“And how old is this boy?”

“Three years older than me, Pagdzin tulku,” she guessed, “so he is twelve years old. He sleeps and sleeps and can’t wake up.”

“Why haven’t his parents come to me? Why did they send you?”

“Because they live far on the other side of my village and they are very poor, Pagdzin tulku. I only heard of my kinsman’s illness yesterday and I came at once to seek your advice.”

“I should see the patient and examine him thoroughly, and inquire into the positions of the planets at the hour when he fell asleep. These things can’t be done in a hurry.”

“Is there no medicine you can give me to take back?”

The bat dæmon fell off her beam and fluttered blackly aside before she hit the floor, darting silently across the room again and again, too quickly for Ama to follow; but the bright eyes of the healer saw exactly where she went, and when she had hung once more upside down on her beam and folded her dark wings around herself, the old man got up and moved around from shelf to shelf and jar to jar and box to box, here tapping out a spoonful of powder, there adding a pinch of herbs, in the order in which the dæmon had visited them.

He tipped all the ingredients into a mortar and ground them up together, muttering a spell as he did so. Then he tapped the pestle on the ringing edge of the mortar, dislodging the final grains, and took a brush and ink and wrote some characters on a sheet of paper. When the ink had dried, he tipped all the powder onto the inscription and folded the paper swiftly into a little square package.

“Let them brush this powder into the nostrils of the sleeping child a little at a time as he breathes in,” he told her, “and he will wake up. It has to be done with great caution. Too much at once and he will choke. Use the softest of brushes.”

“Thank you, Pagdzin tulku,” said Ama, taking the package and placing it in the pocket of her innermost shirt. “I wish I had another honey bread to give you.”

“One is enough,” said the healer. “Now go, and next time you come, tell me the whole truth, not part of it.”

The girl was abashed, and bowed very low to hide her confusion. She hoped she hadn’t given too much away.

Next evening she hurried to the valley as soon as she could, carrying some sweet rice wrapped in a heart-fruit leaf. She was bursting to tell the woman what she had done, and to give her the medicine and receive her praise and thanks, and eager most of all for the enchanted sleeper to wake and talk to her. They could be friends!

But as she turned the corner of the path and looked upward, she saw no golden monkey, no patient woman seated at the cave mouth. The place was empty. She ran the last few yards, afraid they had gone forever—but there was the chair the woman sat in, and the cooking equipment, and everything else.

Ama looked into the darkness farther back in the cave, her heart beating fast. Surely the sleeper hadn’t woken already: in the dimness Ama could make out the shape of the sleeping bag, the lighter patch that was the girl’s hair, and the curve of her sleeping dæmon.

She crept a little closer. There was no doubt about it—they had gone out and left the enchanted girl alone.

A thought struck Ama like a musical note: suppose she woke her before the woman returned …

But she had hardly time to feel the thrill of that idea before she heard sounds on the path outside, and in a shiver of guilt she and her dæmon darted behind a ridge of rock at the side of the cave. She shouldn’t be here. She was spying. It was wrong.

And now that golden monkey was squatting in the entrance, sniffing and turning his head this way and that. Ama saw him bare his sharp teeth, and felt her own dæmon burrow into her clothes, mouse-formed and trembling.

“What is it?” said the woman’s voice, speaking to the monkey, and then the cave darkened as her form came into the entrance. “Has the girl been? Yes—there’s the food she left. She shouldn’t come in, though. We must arrange a spot on the path for her to leave the food at.”

Without a glance at the sleeper, the woman stooped to bring the fire to life, and set a pan of water to heat while her dæmon crouched nearby watching over the path. From time to time he got up and looked around the cave, and Ama, getting cramped and uncomfortable in her narrow hiding place, wished ardently that she’d waited outside and not gone in. How long was she going to be trapped?

The woman was mixing some herbs and powders into the heating water. Ama could smell the astringent flavors as they drifted out with the steam. Then came a sound from the back of the cave: the girl was murmuring and stirring. Ama turned her head: she could see the enchanted sleeper moving, tossing from side to side, throwing an arm across her eyes. She was waking!

And the woman took no notice!

She heard all right, because she looked up briefly, but she soon turned back to her herbs and the boiling water. She poured the decoction into a beaker and let it stand, and only then turned her full attention to the waking girl.

Ama could understand none of these words, but she heard them with increasing wonder and suspicion:

“Hush, dear,” the woman said. “Don’t worry yourself. You’re safe.”

“Roger,” the girl murmured, half-awake. “Serafina! Where’s Roger gone … Where is he?”

“No one here but us,” her mother said, in a singsong voice, half-crooning. “Lift yourself and let Mama wash you … Up you come, my love …”

Ama watched as the girl, moaning, struggling into wakefulness, tried to push her mother away; and the woman dipped a sponge into the bowl of water and mopped at her daughter’s face and body before patting her dry.

By this time the girl was nearly awake, and the woman had to move more quickly.

“Where’s Serafina? And Will? Help me, help me! I don’t want to sleep—No, no! I won’t! No!”

The woman was holding the beaker in one steely-firm hand while her other was trying to lift Lyra’s head.

“Be still, dear—be calm—hush now—drink your tea—”

But the girl lashed out and nearly spilled the drink, and cried louder:

“Leave me alone! I want to go! Let me go! Will, Will, help me—oh, help me—”

The woman was gripping her hair tightly, forcing her head back, cramming the beaker against her mouth.

“I won’t! You dare touch me, and Iorek will tear your head off! Oh, Iorek, where are you? Iorek Byrnison! Help me, Iorek! I won’t—I won’t—”

Then, at a word from the woman, the golden monkey sprang on Lyra’s dæmon, gripping him with hard black fingers. The dæmon flicked from shape to shape more quickly than Ama had ever seen a dæmon change before: cat-snake-rat-fox-bird-wolf-cheetah-lizard-polecat-

But the monkey’s grip never slackened; and then Pantalaimon became a porcupine.

The monkey screeched and let go. Three long quills were stuck shivering in his paw. Mrs. Coulter snarled and with her free hand slapped Lyra hard across the face, a vicious backhand crack that threw her flat; and before Lyra could gather her wits, the beaker was at her mouth and she had to swallow or choke.

Ama wished she could shut her ears: the gulping, crying, coughing, sobbing, pleading, retching was almost too much to bear. But little by little it died away, and only a shaky sob or two came from the girl, who was now sinking once more into sleep—enchanted sleep? Poisoned sleep! Drugged, deceitful sleep! Ama saw a streak of white materialize at the girl’s throat as her dæmon effortfully changed into a long, sinuous, snowy-furred creature with brilliant black eyes and black-tipped tail, and laid himself alongside her neck.

And the woman was singing softly, crooning baby songs, smoothing the hair off the girl’s brow, patting her hot face dry, humming songs to which even Ama could tell she didn’t know the words, because all she could sing was a string of nonsense syllables, la-la-la, ba-ba-boo-boo, her sweet voice mouthing gibberish.

Eventually that stopped, and then the woman did a curious thing: she took a pair of scissors and trimmed the girl’s hair, holding her sleeping head this way and that to see the best effect. She took one dark blond curl and put it in a little gold locket she had around her own neck. Ama could tell why: she was going to work some further magic with it. But the woman held it to her lips first … Oh, this was strange.

The golden monkey drew out the last of the porcupine quills and said something to the woman, who reached up to snatch a roosting bat from the cave ceiling. The little black thing flapped and squealed in a needle-thin voice that pierced Ama from one ear to the other, and then she saw the woman hand the bat to her dæmon, and she saw the dæmon pull one of the black wings out and out and out till it snapped and broke and hung from a white string of sinew, while the dying bat screamed and its fellows flapped around in anguished puzzlement. Crack—crack—snap—as the golden monkey pulled the little thing apart limb by limb, and the woman lay moodily on her sleeping bag by the fire and slowly ate a bar of chocolate.

Time passed. Light faded and the moon rose, and the woman and her dæmon fell asleep.

Ama, stiff and painful, crept up from her hiding place and tiptoed out past the sleepers, and didn’t make a sound till she was halfway down the path.

With fear giving her speed, she ran along the narrow trail, her dæmon as an owl on silent wings beside her. The clean cold air, the constant motion of the treetops, the brilliance of the moon-painted clouds in the dark sky, and the millions of stars all calmed her a little.

She stopped in sight of the little huddle of stone houses and her dæmon perched on her fist.

“She lied!” Ama said. “She lied to us! What can we do, Kulang? Can we tell Dada? What can we do?”

“Don’t tell,” said her dæmon. “More trouble. We’ve got the medicine. We can wake her. We can go there when the woman’s away again, and wake the girl up, and take her away.”

The thought filled them both with fear. But it had been said, and the little paper package was safe in Ama’s pocket, and they knew how to use it.

wake up, I can’t see her—I think she’s close by—she’s hurt me—”

“Oh, Lyra, don’t be frightened! If you’re frightened, too, I’ll go mad—”

They tried to hold each other tight, but their arms passed through the empty air. Lyra tried to say what she meant, whispering close to his little pale face in the darkness:

“I’m just trying to wake up—I’m so afraid of sleeping all my life and then dying—I want to wake up first! I wouldn’t care if it was just for an hour, as long as I was properly alive and awake. I don’t know if this is real or not, even—but I will help you, Roger! I swear I will!”

“But if you’re dreaming, Lyra, you might not believe it when you wake up. That’s what I’d do, I’d just think it was only a dream.”

“No!” she said fiercely, and

5 … with ambitious aim / against the throne and monarchy of God rais’d impious war in Heav’n and battel proud …

• JOHN MILTON •

THE ADAMANT TOWER A lake of molten sulphur extended the length of an immense canyon, releasing its mephitic vapors in sudden gusts and belches and barring the way of the solitary winged figure who stood at its edge.

If he took to the sky, the enemy scouts who had spotted him, and lost him, would find him again at once; but if he stayed on the ground, it would take so long to get past this noxious pit that his message might arrive too late.

He would have to take the greater risk. He waited until a cloud of stinking smoke billowed off the yellow surface, and darted upward into the thick of it.

Four pairs of eyes in different parts of the sky all saw the brief movement, and at once four pairs of wings beat hard against the smoke-fouled air, hurling the watchers forward to the cloud.

Then began a hunt in which the pursuers couldn’t see the quarry and the quarry could see nothing at all. The first to break out of the cloud on the far side of the lake would have the advantage, and that might mean survival, or it might mean a successful kill.

And unluckily for the single flier, he found the clear air a few seconds after one of his pursuers. At once they closed with each other, trailing streams of vapor, and dizzy, both of them, from the sickening fumes. The quarry had the best of it at first, but then another hunter flew free of the cloud. In a swift and furious struggle, all three of them, twisting in the air like scraps of flame, rose and fell and rose again, only to fall, finally, among the rocks on the far side. The other two hunters never emerged from the cloud.

At the western end of a range of saw-toothed mountains, on a peak that commanded wide views of the plain below and the valleys behind, a fortress of basalt seemed to grow out of the mountain as if some volcano had thrust it up a million years ago.

In vast caverns beneath the rearing walls, provisions of every sort were stored and labeled; in the arsenals and magazines, engines of war were being calibrated, armed, and tested; in the mills below the mountain, volcanic fires fed mighty forges where phosphor and titanium were being melted and combined in alloys never known or used before.

On the most exposed side of the fortress, at a point deep in the shadow of a buttress where the mighty walls rose sheer out of the ancient lava-flows, there was a small gate, a postern where a sentry watched day and night and challenged all who sought to enter.

While the watch was being changed on the ramparts above, the sentry stamped once or twice and slapped his gloved hands on his upper arms for warmth, for it was the coldest hour of the night, and the little naphtha flare in the bracket beside him gave no heat. His relief would come in another ten minutes, and he was looking forward to the mug of chocolatl, the smokeleaf, and most of all his bed.

To hear a hammering at the little door was the last thing he expected.

However, he was alert, and he snapped open the spy hole, at the same time opening the tap that allowed a flow of naphtha past the pilot light in the buttress outside. In the glare it threw, he saw three hooded figures carrying between them a fourth whose shape was indistinct, and who seemed ill, or wounded.

The figure in front threw back his hood. He had a face the sentry knew, but he gave the password anyway and said, “We found him at the sulphur lake. Says his name is Baruch. He’s got an urgent message for Lord Asriel.”

The sentry unbarred the door, and his terrier dæmon quivered as the three figures maneuvered their burden with difficulty through the narrow entrance. Then the dæmon gave a soft involuntary howl, quickly cut off, as the sentry saw that the figure being carried was an angel, wounded: an angel of low rank and little power, but an angel, nevertheless.

“Lay him in the guardroom,” the sentry told them, and as they did so, he turned the crank of the telephone bell and reported what was happening to the officer of the watch.

On the highest rampart of the fortress was a tower of adamant: just one flight of steps up to a set of rooms whose windows looked out north, south, east, and west. The largest room was furnished with a table and chairs and a map chest, another with a camp bed. A small bathroom completed the set.

Lord Asriel sat in the adamant tower facing his spy captain across a mass of scattered papers. A naphtha lamp hung over the table, and a brazier held burning coals against the bitter chill of the night. Inside the door, a small blue hawk was perching on a bracket.

The spy captain was called Lord Roke. He was striking to look at: he was no taller than Lord Asriel’s hand span, and as slender as a dragonfly, but the rest of Lord Asriel’s captains treated him with profound respect, for he was armed with a poisonous sting in the spurs on his heels.

It was his custom to sit on the table, and his manner to repel anything but the greatest courtesy with a haughty and malevolent tongue. He and his kind, the Gallivespians, had few of the qualities of good spies except, of course, their exceptional smallness: they were so proud and touchy that they would never have remained inconspicuous if they had been of Lord Asriel’s size.

“Yes,” he said, his voice clear and sharp, his eyes glittering like droplets of ink, “your child, my Lord Asriel: I know about her. Evidently I know more than you do.”

Lord Asriel looked at him directly, and the little man knew at once that he’d taken advantage of his commander’s courtesy: the force of Lord Asriel’s glance flicked him like a finger, so that he lost his balance and had to put out a hand to steady himself on Lord Asriel’s wineglass. A moment later Lord Asriel’s expression was bland and virtuous, just as his daughter’s could be, and from then on Lord Roke was more careful.

“No doubt, Lord Roke,” said Lord Asriel. “But for reasons I don’t understand, the girl is the focus of the Church’s attention, and I need to know why. What are they saying about her?”

“The Magisterium is alive with speculation; one branch says one thing, another is investigating something else, and each of them is trying to keep its discoveries secret from the rest. The most active branches are the Consistorial Court of Discipline and the Society of the Work of the Holy Spirit, and,” said Lord Roke, “I have spies in both of them.”

“Have you turned a member of the Society, then?” said Lord Asriel. “I congratulate you. They used to be impregnable.”

“My spy in the Society is the Lady Salmakia,” said Lord Roke, “a very skillful agent. There is a priest whose dæmon, a mouse, she approached in their sleep. My agent suggested that the man perform a forbidden ritual designed to invoke the presence of Wisdom. At the critical moment, the Lady Salmakia appeared in front of him. The priest now thinks he can communicate with Wisdom whenever he pleases, and that she has the form of a Gallivespian and lives in his bookcase.”

Lord Asriel smiled and said, “And what has she learned?”

“The Society thinks that your daughter is the most important child who has ever lived. They think that a great crisis will come before very long, and that the fate of everything will depend on how she behaves at that point. As for the Consistorial Court of Discipline, it’s holding an inquiry at the moment, with witnesses from Bolvangar and elsewhere. My spy in the Court, the Chevalier Tialys, is in touch with me every day by means of the lodestone resonator, and he is letting me know what they discover. In short, I would say that the Society of the Work of the Holy Spirit will find out very soon where the child is, but they will do nothing about it. It will take the Consistorial Court a little longer, but when they do, they will act decisively, and at once.”

“Let me know the moment you hear any more.”

Lord Roke bowed and snapped his fingers, and the small blue hawk perching on the bracket beside the door spread her wings and glided to the table. She had a bridle, a saddle, and stirrups. Lord Roke sprang on her back in a second, and they flew out of the window, which Lord Asriel held wide for them.

He left it open for a minute, in spite of the bitter air, and leaned on the window seat, playing with the ears of his snow-leopard dæmon.

“She came to me on Svalbard and I ignored her,” he said. “You remember the shock … I needed a sacrifice, and the first child to arrive was my own daughter … But when I realized that there was another child with her, so she was safe, I relaxed. Was that a fatal mistake? I didn’t consider her after that, not for a moment, but she is important, Stelmaria!”

“Let’s think clearly,” his dæmon replied. “What can she do?”

“Do—not much. Does she know something?”

“She can read the alethiometer; she has access to knowledge.”

“That’s nothing special. So have others. And where in Hell’s name can she be?”

There was a knock at the door behind him, and he turned at once.

“My lord,” said the officer who came in, “an angel has just arrived at the western gate—wounded—he insists on speaking to you.”

And a minute later, Baruch was lying on the camp bed, which had been brought through to the main room. A medical orderly had been summoned, but it was clear that there was little hope for the angel: he was wounded sorely, his wings torn and his eyes dimmed.

Lord Asriel sat close by and threw a handful of herbs onto the coals in the brazier. As Will had found with the smoke of his fire, that had the effect of defining the angel’s body so he could see it more clearly.

“Well, sir,” he said, “what have you come to tell me?”

“Three things. Please let me say them all before you speak. My name is Baruch. My companion Balthamos and I are of the rebels’ party, and so we were drawn to your standard as soon as you raised it. But we wanted to bring you something valuable, because our power is small, and not long ago we managed to find our way to the heart of the Clouded Mountain, the Authority’s citadel in the Kingdom. And there we learned …”

He had to stop for a moment to breathe in the smoke of the herbs, which seemed to steady him. He continued:

“We learned the truth about the Authority. We learned that he has retired to a chamber of crystal deep within the Clouded Mountain, and that he no longer runs the daily affairs of the Kingdom. Instead, he contemplates deeper mysteries. In his place, ruling on his behalf, there is an angel called Metatron. I have reason to know that angel well, though when I knew him …”

Baruch’s voice faded. Lord Asriel’s eyes were blazing, but he held his tongue and waited for Baruch to continue.

“Metatron is proud,” Baruch went on when he had recovered a little strength, “and his ambition is limitless. The Authority chose him four thousand years ago to be his Regent, and they laid their plans together. They have a new plan, which my companion and I were able to discover. The Authority considers that conscious beings of every kind have become dangerously independent, so Metatron is going to intervene much more actively in human affairs. They intend to move the Authority secretly away from the Clouded Mountain, to a permanent citadel somewhere else, and turn the mountain into an engine of war. The churches in every world are corrupt and weak, he thinks, they compromise too readily … He wants to set up a permanent inquisition in every world, run directly from the Kingdom. And his first campaign will be to destroy your Republic …”

They were both trembling, the angel and the man, but one from weakness and the other from excitement.

Baruch gathered his remaining strength, and went on:

“The second thing is this. There is a knife that can cut openings between the worlds, as well as anything in them. Its power is unlimited, but only in the hands of the one who knows how to use it. And that person is a boy …”

Once again the angel had to stop and recover. He was frightened; he could feel himself drifting apart. Lord Asriel could see the effort he made to hold himself together, and sat tensely gripping the arms of his chair until Baruch found the strength to go on.

“My companion is with him now. We wanted to bring him directly to you, but he refused, because … This is the third thing I must tell you: he and your daughter are friends. And he will not agree to come to you until he has found her. She is—”

“Who is this boy?”

“He is the son of the shaman. Of Stanislaus Grumman.”

Lord Asriel was so surprised he stood up involuntarily, sending billows of smoke swirling around the angel.

“Grumman had a son?” he said.

“Grumman was not born in your world. Nor was his real name Grumman. My companion and I were led to him by his own desire to find the knife. We followed him, knowing he would lead us to it and its bearer, intending to bring the bearer to you. But the boy refused to …”

Once again Baruch had to stop. Lord Asriel sat down again, cursing his own impatience, and sprinkled some more herbs on the fire. His dæmon lay nearby, her tail sweeping slowly across the oaken floor, her golden eyes never leaving the angel’s pain-filled face. Baruch took several slow breaths, and Lord Asriel held his silence. The slap of the rope on the flagpole above was the only sound.

“Take your time, sir,” Lord Asriel said gently. “Do you know where my daughter is?”

“Himalaya … in her own world,” whispered Baruch. “Great mountains. A cave near a valley full of rainbows …”

“A long way from here in both worlds. You flew quickly.”

“It is the only gift I have,” said Baruch, “except the love of Balthamos, whom I shall never see again.”

“And if you found her so easily—”

“Then any other angel may, too.”

Lord Asriel seized a great atlas from the map chest and flung it open, looking for the pages that showed the Himalaya.

“Can you be precise?” he said. “Can you show me exactly where?”

“With the knife …” Baruch tried to say, and Lord Asriel realized his mind was wandering. “With the knife he can enter and leave any world at will … Will is his name. But they are in danger, he and Balthamos … Metatron knows we have his secret. They pursued us … They caught me alone on the borders of your world … I was his brother … That was how we found our way to him in the Clouded Mountain. Metatron was once Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel … Enoch had many wives. He was a lover of the flesh … My brother Enoch cast me out, because I … Oh, my dear Balthamos …”

“Where is the girl?”

“Yes. Yes. A cave … her mother … valley full of winds and rainbows … tattered flags on the shrine …”

He raised himself to look at the atlas.

Then the snow-leopard dæmon got to her feet in one swift movement and leapt to the door, but it was too late: the orderly who had knocked had opened without waiting. That was the way things were done; it was no one’s fault; but seeing the expression on the soldier’s face as he looked past him, Lord Asriel turned back to see Baruch straining and quivering to hold his wounded form together. The effort was too much. A draft from the open door sent an eddy of air across the bed, and the particles of the angel’s form, loosened by the waning of his strength, swirled upward into randomness and vanished.

“Balthamos!” came a whisper from the air.

Lord Asriel put his hand on his dæmon’s neck; she felt him tremble, and stilled him. He turned to the orderly.

“My lord, I beg your—”

“Not your fault. Take my compliments to King Ogunwe. I would be glad if he and my other commanders could step here at once. I would also like Mr. Basilides to attend, with the alethiometer. Finally I want No. 2 Squadron of gyropters armed and fueled, and a tanker zeppelin to take off at once and head southwest. I shall send further orders in the air.”

The orderly saluted and, with one more swift uneasy glance at the empty bed, went out and shut the door.

Lord Asriel tapped the desk with a pair of brass dividers, and crossed to open the southern window. Far below, the deathless fires put out their glow and smoke on the darkling air, and even at this great height the clang of hammers could be heard in the snapping wind.

“Well, we’ve learned a lot, Stelmaria,” he said quietly.

“But not enough,” she replied.

There came another knock at the door, and the alethiometrist came in. He was a pale, thin man in early middle age; his name was Teukros Basilides, and his dæmon was a nightingale.

“Mr. Basilides, good evening to you,” said Lord Asriel. “This is our problem, and I would like you to put everything else aside while you deal with it …”

He told the man what Baruch had said, and showed him the atlas.

“Pinpoint that cave,” he said. “Get me the coordinates as precisely as you can. This is the most important task you have ever undertaken. Begin at once, if you please.”

stamped her foot so hard it even hurt her in the dream. “You don’t believe I’d do that, Roger, so don’t say it. I will wake up and I won’t forget, so there.”

She looked around, but all she could see were wide eyes and hopeless faces, pale faces, dark faces, old faces, young faces, all the dead cramming and crowding, close and silent and sorrowful.

Roger’s face was different. His expression was the only one that contained hope.

She said, “Why d’you look like that? Why en’t you miserable, like them? Why en’t you at the end of your hope?”

And he said, “Because

6 … Reliques, Beads, / Indulgences, Dispenses, Pardons, Bulls, The sport of Winds …

• JOHN MILTON •

PREEMPTIVE ABSOLUTION

“Now, Fra Pavel,” said the Inquirer of the Consistorial Court of Discipline, “I want you to recall exactly, if you can, the words you heard the witch speak on the ship.”

The twelve members of the Court looked through the dim afternoon light at the cleric on the stand, their last witness. He was a scholarly-looking priest whose dæmon had the form of a frog. The Court had been hearing evidence in this case for eight days already, in the ancient high-towered College of St. Jerome.

“I cannot call the witch’s words exactly to mind,” said Fra Pavel wearily. “I had not seen torture before, as I said to the Court yesterday, and I found it made me feel faint and sick. So exactly what she said I cannot tell you, but I remember the meaning of it. The witch said that the child Lyra had been recognized by the clans of the north as the subject of a prophecy they had long known. She was to have the power to make a fateful choice, on which the future of all the worlds depended. And furthermore, there was a name that would bring to mind a parallel case, and which would make the Church hate and fear her.”

“And did the witch reveal that name?”

“No. Before she could utter it, another witch, who had been present under a spell of invisibility, managed to kill her and escape.”

“So on that occasion, the woman Coulter will not have heard the name?”

“That is so.”

“And shortly afterwards Mrs. Coulter left?”

“Indeed.”

“What did you discover after that?”

“I learned that the child had gone into that other world opened by Lord Asriel, and that there she has acquired the help of a boy who owns, or has got the use of, a knife of extraordinary powers,” said Fra Pavel. Then he cleared his throat nervously and went on: “I may speak entirely freely in this court?”

“With perfect freedom, Fra Pavel,” came the harsh, clear tones of the President. “You will not be punished for telling us what you in turn have been told. Please continue.”

Reassured, the cleric went on:

“The knife in the possession of this boy is able to make openings between worlds. Furthermore, it has a power greater than that—please, once again, I am afraid of what I am saying … It is capable of killing the most high angels, and what is higher than them. There is nothing this knife cannot destroy.”

He was sweating and trembling, and his frog dæmon fell from the edge of the witness stand to the floor in her agitation. Fra Pavel gasped in pain and scooped her up swiftly, letting her sip at the water in the glass in front of him.

“And did you ask further about the girl?” said the Inquirer. “Did you discover this name the witch spoke of?”

“Yes, I did. Once again I crave the assurance of the court that—”

“You have it,” snapped the President. “Don’t be afraid. You are not a heretic. Report what you have learned, and waste no more time.”

“I beg your pardon, truly. The child, then, is in the position of Eve, the wife of Adam, the mother of us all, and the cause of all sin.”

The stenographers taking down every word were nuns of the order of St. Philomel, sworn to silence; but at Fra Pavel’s words there came a smothered gasp from one of them, and there was a flurry of hands as they crossed themselves. Fra Pavel twitched, and went on:

“Please, remember—the alethiometer does not forecast; it says, ‘If certain things come about, then the consequences will be …,’ and so on. And it says that if it comes about that the child is tempted, as Eve was, then she is likely to fall. On the outcome will depend … everything. And if this temptation does take place, and if the child gives in, then Dust and sin will triumph.”

There was silence in the courtroom. The pale sunlight that filtered in through the great leaded windows held in its slanted beams a million golden motes, but these were dust, not Dust—though more than one of the members of the Court had seen in them an image of that other invisible Dust that settled over every human being, no matter how dutifully they kept the laws.

“Finally, Fra Pavel,” said the Inquirer, “tell us what you know of the child’s present whereabouts.”

“She is in the hands of Mrs. Coulter,” said Fra Pavel. “And they are in the Himalaya. So far, that is all I have been able to tell. I shall go at once and ask for a more precise location, and as soon as I have it, I shall tell the Court; but …”

He stopped, shrinking in fear, and held the glass to his lips with a trembling hand.

“Yes, Fra Pavel?” said Father MacPhail. “Hold nothing back.”

“I believe, Father President, that the Society of the Work of the Holy Spirit knows more about this than I do.”

Fra Pavel’s voice was so faint it was almost a whisper.

“Is that so?” said the President, his eyes seeming to radiate his passion as they glared.

Fra Pavel’s dæmon uttered a little frog whimper. The cleric knew about the rivalry between the different branches of the Magisterium, and knew that to get caught in the cross fire between them would be very dangerous; but to hold back what he knew would be more dangerous still.

“I believe,” he went on, trembling, “that they are much closer to finding out exactly where the child is. They have other sources of knowledge forbidden to me.”

“Quite so,” said the Inquirer. “And did the alethiometer tell you about this?”

“Yes, it did.”

“Very well. Fra Pavel, you would do well to continue that line of investigation. Whatever you need in the way of clerical or secretarial help is yours to command. Please stand down.”

Fra Pavel bowed, and with his frog dæmon on his shoulder, he gathered his notes and left the courtroom. The nuns flexed their fingers.

Father MacPhail tapped a pencil on the oak bench in front of him.

“Sister Agnes, Sister Monica,” he said, “you may leave us now. Please have the transcription on my desk by the end of the day.”

The two nuns bowed their heads and left.

“Gentlemen,” said the President, for that was the mode of address in the Consistorial Court, “let’s adjourn.”

The twelve members, from the oldest (Father Makepwe, ancient and rheumy-eyed) to the youngest (Father Gomez, pale and trembling with zealotry), gathered their notes and followed the President through to the council chamber, where they could face one another across a table and talk in the utmost privacy.

The current President of the Consistorial Court was a Scot called Hugh MacPhail. He had been elected young. Presidents served for life, and he was only in his forties, so it was to be expected that Father MacPhail would mold the destiny of the Consistorial Court, and thus of the whole Church, for many years to come. He was a dark-featured man, tall and imposing, with a shock of wiry gray hair, and he would have been fat were it not for the brutal discipline he imposed on his body: he drank only water and ate only bread and fruit, and he exercised for an hour daily under the supervision of a trainer of champion athletes. As a result, he was gaunt and lined and restless. His dæmon was a lizard.

Once they were seated, Father MacPhail said:

“This, then, is the state of things. There seem to be several points to bear in mind.

“Firstly, Lord Asriel. A witch friendly to the Church reports that he is assembling a great army, including forces that may be angelic. His intentions, as far as the witch knows, are malevolent toward the Church, and toward the Authority himself.

“Secondly, the Oblation Board. Their actions in setting up the research program at Bolvangar, and in funding Mrs. Coulter’s activities, suggest that they are hoping to replace the Consistorial Court of Discipline as the most powerful and effective arm of the Holy Church. We have been outpaced, gentlemen. They have acted ruthlessly and skillfully. We should be chastised for our laxity in letting it happen. I shall return to what we might do about it shortly.

“Thirdly, the boy in Fra Pavel’s testimony, with the knife that can do these extraordinary things. Clearly we must find him and gain possession of it as soon as possible.

“Fourthly, Dust. I have taken steps to find out what the Oblation Board has discovered about it. One of the experimental theologians working at Bolvangar has been persuaded to tell us what exactly they discovered. I shall talk to him this afternoon downstairs.”

One or two of the priests shifted uncomfortably, for “downstairs” meant the cellars below the building: white-tiled rooms with points for anbaric current, soundproofed and well-drained.

“Whatever we do learn about Dust, though,” the President went on, “we must bear our purpose firmly in mind. The Oblation Board sought to understand the effects of Dust; we must destroy it altogether. Nothing less than that. If in order to destroy Dust we also have to destroy the Oblation Board, the College of Bishops, every single agency by which the Holy Church does the work of the Authority—then so be it. It may be, gentlemen, that the Holy Church itself was brought into being to perform this very task and to perish in the doing of it. But better a world with no Church and no Dust than a world where every day we have to struggle under the hideous burden of sin. Better a world purged of all that!”

Blazing-eyed, Father Gomez nodded passionately.

“And finally,” said Father MacPhail, “the child. Still just a child, I think. This Eve, who is going to be tempted and who, if precedent is any guide, will fall, and whose fall will involve us all in ruin. Gentlemen, of all the ways of dealing with the problem she sets us, I am going to propose the most radical, and I have confidence in your agreement.

“I propose to send a man to find her and kill her before she can be tempted.”

“Father President,” said Father Gomez at once, “I have done preemptive penance every day of my adult life. I have studied, I have trained—”

The President held up his hand. Preemptive penance and absolution were doctrines researched and developed by the Consistorial Court, but not known to the wider Church. They involved doing penance for a sin not yet committed, intense and fervent penance accompanied by scourging and flagellation, so as to build up, as it were, a store of credit. When the penance had reached the appropriate level for a particular sin, the penitent was granted absolution in advance, though he might never be called on to commit the sin. It was sometimes necessary to kill people, for example; and it was so much less troubling for the assassin if he could do so in a state of grace.

“I had you in mind,” said Father MacPhail kindly. “I have the agreement of the Court? Yes. When Father Gomez leaves, with our blessing, he will be on his own, unable to be reached or recalled. Whatever happens to anyone else, he will make his way like the arrow of God, straight to the child, and strike her down. He will be invisible; he will come in the night, like the angel that blasted the Assyrians; he will be silent. How much better for us all if there had been a Father Gomez in the Garden of Eden! We would never have left paradise.”

The young priest was nearly weeping with pride. The Court gave its blessing.

And in the darkest corner of the ceiling, hidden among the dark oak beams, sat a man no larger than a hand span. His heels were armed with spurs, and he heard every word they said.

In the cellars the man from Bolvangar, dressed only in a dirty white shirt and loose trousers with no belt, stood under the bare light bulb clutching the trousers with one hand and his rabbit dæmon with the other. In front of him, in the only chair, sat Father MacPhail.

“Dr. Cooper,” the President began, “do sit down.”

There was no furniture except the chair, the wooden bunk, and a bucket. The President’s voice echoed unpleasantly off the white tiles that lined the wall and ceiling.

Dr. Cooper sat on the bunk. He could not take his eyes off the gaunt and gray-haired President. He licked his dry lips and waited to see what new discomfort was coming.

“So you nearly succeeded in severing the child from her dæmon?” said Father MacPhail.

Dr. Cooper said shakily, “We considered that it would serve no purpose to wait, since the experiment was due to take place anyway, and we put the child in the experimental chamber, but then Mrs. Coulter herself intervened and took the child to her own quarters.”

The rabbit daemon opened her round eyes and gazed fearfully at the President, and then shut them again and hid her face.

“That must have been distressing,” said Father MacPhail.

“The whole program was intensely difficult,” said Dr. Cooper, hastening to agree.

“I am surprised you did not seek the aid of the Consistorial Court, where we have strong nerves.”

“We—I—we understood that the program was licensed by … It was an Oblation Board matter, but we were told it had the approval of the Consistorial Court of Discipline. We would never have taken part otherwise. Never!”

“No, of course not. And now for another matter. Did you have any idea,” said Father MacPhail, turning to the real subject of his visit to the cellars, “of the subject of Lord Asriel’s researches? Of what might have been the source of the colossal energy he managed to release on Svalbard?”

Dr. Cooper swallowed. In the intense silence a drop of sweat fell from his chin to the concrete floor, and both men heard it distinctly.

“Well …” he began, “there was one of our team who observed that in the process of severance there was a release of energy. Controlling it would involve enormous forces, but just as an atomic explosion is detonated by conventional explosives, this could be done by focusing a powerful anbaric current … However, he wasn’t taken seriously. I paid no attention to his ideas,” he added earnestly, “knowing that without authority they might well be heretical.”

“Very wise. And that colleague now? Where is he?”

“He was one of those who died in the attack.”

The President smiled. It was so kindly an expression that Dr. Cooper’s dæmon shivered and swooned against his breast.

“Courage, Dr. Cooper,” said Father MacPhail. “We need you to be strong and brave! There is great work to be done, a great battle to be fought. You must earn the forgiveness of the Authority by cooperating fully with us, by holding nothing back, not even wild speculation, not even gossip. Now I want you to devote all your attention to what you remember your colleague saying. Did he make any experiments? Did he leave any notes? Did he take anyone else into his confidence? What equipment was he using? Think of everything, Dr. Cooper. You’ll have pen and paper and all the time you need.

“And this room is not very comfortable. We’ll have you moved to somewhere more suitable. Is there anything you need in the way of furnishing, for example? Do you prefer to write at a table or a desk? Would you like a typewriting machine? Perhaps you would rather dictate to a stenographer?

“Let the guards know, and you shall have everything you need. But every moment, Dr. Cooper, I want you to think back to your colleague and his theory. Your great task is to recall, and if necessary to rediscover, what he knew. Once you know what instruments you require, you shall have those as well. It is a great task, Dr. Cooper! You are blessed to be entrusted with it! Give thanks to the Authority.”

“I do, Father President! I do!”

Grasping the loose waistband of his trousers, the philosopher stood up and bowed almost without realizing it, again and again, as the President of the Consistorial Court of Discipline left his cell.

That evening the Chevalier Tialys, the Gallivespian spy, made his way through the lanes and alleys of Geneva to meet his colleague, the Lady Salmakia. It was a dangerous journey for both of them: dangerous for anyone or anything that challenged them, too, but certainly full of peril for the small Gallivespians. More than one prowling cat had met its death at their spurs, but only the week before, the Chevalier had nearly lost an arm to the teeth of a mangy dog; only the Lady’s swift action had saved him.

They met at the seventh of their appointed meeting places, among the roots of a plane tree in a shabby little square, and exchanged their news. The Lady Salmakia’s contact in the Society had told her that earlier that evening they had received a friendly invitation from the President of the Consistorial Court to come and discuss matters of mutual interest.

“Quick work,” said the Chevalier. “A hundred to one he doesn’t tell them about his assassin, though.”

He told her about the plan to kill Lyra. She was not surprised.

“It’s the logical thing to do,” she said. “Very logical people. Tialys, do you think we shall ever see this child?”

“I don’t know, but I should like to. Go well, Salmakia. Tomorrow at the fountain.”

Unsaid behind that brief exchange was the one thing they never spoke of: the shortness of their lives compared with those of humans. Gallivespians lived to nine years or ten, rarely more, and Tialys and Salmakia were both in their eighth year. They didn’t fear old age—their people died in the full strength and vigor of their prime, suddenly, and their childhoods were very brief—but compared with their lives, the life of a child like Lyra would extend as far into the future as the lives of the witches extended past Lyra’s own.

The Chevalier returned to the College of St. Jerome and began to compose the message he would send to Lord Roke on the lodestone resonator.

But while Tialys was at the rendezvous talking to Salmakia, the President sent for Father Gomez. In his study they prayed together for an hour, and then Father MacPhail granted the young priest the preemptive absolution that would make his murder of Lyra no murder at all. Father Gomez seemed transfigured; the certainty that ran through his veins seemed to make his very eyes incandescent.

They discussed practical arrangements, money, and so forth; and then the President said, “Once you leave here, Father Gomez, you will be completely cut off, forever, from any help we can give. You can never come back; you will never hear from us. I can’t offer you any better advice than this: don’t look for the child. That would give you away. Instead, look for the tempter. Follow the tempter, and she will lead you to the child.”

“She?” said Father Gomez, shocked.

“Yes, she,” said Father MacPhail. “We have learned that much from the alethiometer. The world the tempter comes from is a strange one. You will see many things that will shock and startle you, Father Gomez. Don’t let yourself be distracted by their oddness from the sacred task you have to do. I have faith,” he added kindly, “in the power of your faith. This woman is traveling, guided by the powers of evil, to a place where she may, eventually, meet the child in time to tempt her. That is, of course, if we do not succeed in removing the girl from her present location. That remains our first plan. You, Father Gomez, are our ultimate guarantee that if that falls through, the infernal powers will still not prevail.”

Father Gomez nodded. His dæmon, a large and iridescent green-backed beetle, clicked her wing cases.

The President opened a drawer and handed the young priest a folded packet of papers.

“Here is all we know about the woman,” he said, “and the world she comes from, and the place she was last seen. Read it well, my dear Luis, and go with my blessing.”

He had never used the priest’s given name before. Father Gomez felt tears of joy prick his eyes as he kissed the President farewell.

you’re Lyra.”

Then she realized what that meant. She felt dizzy, even in her dream; she felt a great burden settle on her shoulders. And to make it even heavier, sleep was closing in again, and Roger’s face was receding into shadow.

“Well, I … I know … There’s all kinds of people on our side, like Dr. Malone … You know there’s another Oxford, Roger, just like ours? Well, she … I found her in … She’d help … But there’s only one person really who …”

It was almost impossible now to see the little boy, and her thoughts were spreading out and wandering away like sheep in a field.

“But we can trust him, Roger, I swear,” she said with a final effort,

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