فصل 34-36

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 13

فصل 34-36

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34

Shew you all alive The world, where every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.

• WILLIAM BLAKE •

THERE IS NOW

Mary couldn’t sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, something made her sway and lurch as if she were at the brink of a precipice, and she snapped awake, tense with fear.

This happened three, four, five times, until she realized that sleep was not going to come; so she got up and dressed quietly, and stepped out of the house and away from the tree with its tentlike branches under which Will and Lyra were sleeping.

The moon was bright and high in the sky. There was a lively wind, and the great landscape was mottled with cloud-shadows, moving, Mary thought, like the migration of some herd of unimaginable beasts. But animals migrated for a purpose; when you saw herds of reindeer moving across the tundra, or wildebeest crossing the savanna, you knew they were going where the food was, or to places where it was good to mate and bear offspring. Their movement had a meaning. These clouds were moving as the result of pure chance, the effect of utterly random events at the level of atoms and molecules; their shadows speeding over the grassland had no meaning at all.

Nevertheless, they looked as if they did. They looked tense and driven with purpose. The whole night did. Mary felt it, too, except that she didn’t know what that purpose was. But unlike her, the clouds seemed to know what they were doing and why, and the wind knew, and the grass knew. The entire world was alive and conscious.

Mary climbed the slope and looked back across the marshes, where the incoming tide laced a brilliant silver through the glistening dark of the mudflats and the reed beds. The cloud-shadows were very clear down there; they looked as if they were fleeing something frightful behind them, or hastening to embrace something wonderful ahead. But what that was, Mary would never know.

She turned toward the grove where her climbing tree stood. It was twenty minutes’ walk away; she could see it clearly, towering high and tossing its great head in a dialogue with the urgent wind. They had things to say, and she couldn’t hear them.

She hurried toward it, moved by the excitement of the night, and desperate to join in. This was the very thing she’d told Will about when he asked if she missed God: it was the sense that the whole universe was alive, and that everything was connected to everything else by threads of meaning. When she’d been a Christian, she had felt connected, too; but when she left the Church, she felt loose and free and light, in a universe without purpose.

And then had come the discovery of the Shadows and her journey into another world, and now this vivid night, and it was plain that everything was throbbing with purpose and meaning, but she was cut off from it. And it was impossible to find a connection, because there was no God.

Half in exultation and half in despair, she resolved to climb her tree and try once again to lose herself in the Dust.

But before she’d even gone halfway to the grove she heard a different sound among the lashing of the leaves and the streaming of the wind through the grass. Something was groaning, a deep, somber note like an organ. And above that, the sound of cracking—snapping and breaking—and the squeal and scream of wood on wood.

Surely it couldn’t be her tree?

She stopped where she was, in the open grassland, with the wind lashing her face and the cloud-shadows racing past her and the tall grasses whipping her thighs, and watched the canopy of the grove. Boughs groaned, twigs snapped, great balks of green wood snapped off like dry sticks and fell all the long way to the ground, and then the crown itself—the crown of the very tree she knew so well—leaned and leaned and slowly began to topple.

Every fiber in the trunk, the bark, the roots seemed to cry out separately against this murder. But it fell and fell, all the great length of it smashed its way out of the grove and seemed to lean toward Mary before crashing into the ground like a wave against a breakwater; and the colossal trunk rebounded up a little way, and settled down finally, with a groaning of torn wood.

She ran up to touch the tossing leaves. There was her rope; there were the splintered ruins of her platform. Her heart thudding painfully, she climbed in among the fallen branches, hauling herself through the familiar boughs at their unfamiliar angles, and balanced herself as high up as she could get.

She braced herself against a branch and took out the spyglass. Through it she saw two quite different movements in the sky.

One was that of the clouds, driven across the moon in one direction, and the other was that of the stream of Dust, seeming to cross it in quite another.

And of the two, the Dust was flowing more quickly and at much greater volume. In fact, the whole sky seemed to be flowing with it, a great inexorable flood pouring out of the world, out of all the worlds, into some ultimate emptiness.

Slowly, as if they were moving themselves in her mind, things joined up.

Will and Lyra had said that the subtle knife was three hundred years old at least. So the old man in the tower had told them.

The mulefa had told her that the sraf, which had nurtured their lives and their world for thirty-three thousand years, had begun to fail just over three hundred years ago.

According to Will, the Guild of the Torre degli Angeli, the owners of the subtle knife, had been careless; they hadn’t always closed the windows they opened. Well, Mary had found one, after all, and there must be many others.

Suppose that all this time, little by little, Dust had been leaking out of the wounds the subtle knife had made in nature …

She felt dizzy, and it wasn’t only the swaying and rising and falling of the branches she was wedged among. She put the spyglass carefully in her pocket and hooked her arms over the branch in front, gazing at the sky, the moon, the scudding clouds.

The subtle knife was responsible for the small-scale, low-level leakage. It was damaging, and the universe was suffering because of it, and she must talk to Will and Lyra and find a way to stop it.

But the vast flood in the sky was another matter entirely. That was new, and it was catastrophic. And if it wasn’t stopped, all conscious life would come to an end. As the mulefa had shown her, Dust came into being when living things became conscious of themselves; but it needed some feedback system to reinforce it and make it safe, as the mulefa had their wheels and the oil from the trees. Without something like that, it would all vanish. Thought, imagination, feeling, would all wither and blow away, leaving nothing but a brutish automatism; and that brief period when life was conscious of itself would flicker out like a candle in every one of the billions of worlds where it had burned brightly.

Mary felt the burden of it keenly. It felt like age. She felt eighty years old, worn out and weary and longing to die.

She climbed heavily out of the branches of the great fallen tree, and with the wind still wild in the leaves and the grass and her hair, set off back to the village.

At the summit of the slope she looked for the last time at the Dust stream, with the clouds and the wind blowing across it and the moon standing firm in the middle.

And then she saw what they were doing, at last: she saw what that great urgent purpose was.

They were trying to hold back the Dust flood. They were striving to put some barriers up against the terrible stream: wind, moon, clouds, leaves, grass, all those lovely things were crying out and hurling themselves into the struggle to keep the shadow particles in this universe, which they so enriched.

Matter loved Dust. It didn’t want to see it go. That was the meaning of this night, and it was Mary’s meaning, too.

Had she thought there was no meaning in life, no purpose, when God had gone? Yes, she had thought that.

“Well, there is now,” she said aloud, and again, louder: “There is now!”

As she looked again at the clouds and the moon in the Dust flow, they looked as frail and doomed as a dam of little twigs and tiny pebbles trying to hold back the Mississippi. But they were trying, all the same. They’d go on trying till the end of everything.

How long she stayed out, Mary didn’t know. When the intensity of her feeling began to subside, and exhaustion took its place, she made her way slowly down the hill toward the village.

And when she was halfway down, near a little grove of knot-wood bushes, she saw something strange out on the mudflats. There was a glow of white, a steady movement: something coming up with the tide.

She stood still, gazing intently. It couldn’t be the tualapi, because they always moved in a flock, and this was on its own. But everything about it was the same—the sail-like wings, the long neck—it was one of the birds, no doubt about it. She had never heard of their moving about alone, and she hesitated before running down to warn the villagers, because the thing had stopped, in any case. It was floating on the water close to the path.

And it was coming apart … No, something was getting off its back.

The something was a man.

She could see him quite clearly, even at that distance; the moonlight was brilliant, and her eyes were adjusted to it. She looked through the spyglass, and put the matter beyond doubt: it was a human figure, radiating Dust.

He was carrying something: a long stick of some kind. He came along the path quickly and easily, not running, but moving like an athlete or a hunter. He was dressed in simple dark clothes that would normally conceal him well; but through the spyglass he showed up as if he were under a spotlight.

And as he came closer to the village, she realized what that stick was. He was carrying a rifle.

She felt as if someone had poured icy water over her heart. Every separate hair on her flesh stirred.

She was too far away to do anything: even if she’d shouted, he wouldn’t have heard. She had to watch as he stepped into the village, looking to the left and right, stopping every so often to listen, moving from house to house.

Mary’s mind felt like the moon and the clouds trying to hold back the Dust as she cried out silently: Don’t look under the tree—go away from the tree—

But he moved closer and closer to it, finally stopping outside her own house. She couldn’t bear it; she put the spyglass in her pocket and began to run down the slope. She was about to call out, anything, a wild cry, but just in time she realized that it might wake Will or Lyra and make them reveal themselves, and she choked it back.

Then, because she couldn’t bear not knowing what the man was doing, she stopped and fumbled for the spyglass again, and had to stand still while she looked through it.

He was opening the door of her house. He was going inside it. He vanished from sight, although there was a stir in the Dust he left behind, like smoke when a hand is passed through it. Mary waited for an endless minute, and then he appeared again.

He stood in her doorway, looking around slowly from left to right, and his gaze swept past the tree.

Then he stepped off the threshold and stood still, almost at a loss. Mary was suddenly conscious of how exposed she was on the bare hillside, an easy rifle shot away, but he was only interested in the village; and when another minute or so had gone by, he turned and walked quietly away.

She watched every step he took down the river path, and saw quite clearly how he stepped onto the bird’s back and sat cross-legged as it turned to glide away. Five minutes later they were lost to sight.

35

The birthday of my life Is come, my love is come to me.

• CHRISTINA ROSSETTI •

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY

“Dr. Malone,” said Lyra in the morning, “Will and me have got to look for our dæmons. When we’ve found them, we’ll know what to do. But we can’t be without them for much longer. So we just want to go and look.”

“Where will you go?” said Mary, heavy-eyed and headachy after her disturbed night. She and Lyra were on the riverbank, Lyra to wash, and Mary to look, surreptitiously, for the man’s footprints. So far she hadn’t found any.

“Don’t know,” said Lyra. “But they’re out there somewhere. As soon as we came through from the battle, they ran away as if they didn’t trust us anymore. Can’t say I blame them, either. But we know they’re in this world, and we thought we saw them a couple of times, so maybe we can find them.”

“Listen,” Mary said reluctantly, and told Lyra about the man she’d seen the night before.

As she spoke, Will came to join them, and both he and Lyra listened, wide-eyed and serious.

“He’s probably just a traveler and he found a window and wandered through from somewhere else,” Lyra said when Mary had finished. “Like Will’s father did. There’s bound to be all kinds of openings now. Anyway, if he just turned around and left, he can’t have meant to do anything bad, can he?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t like it. And I’m worried about you going off on your own—or I would be if I didn’t know you’d already done far more dangerous things than that. Oh, I don’t know. But please be careful. Please look all around. At least out on the prairie you can see someone coming from a long way off …”

“If we do, we can escape straight away into another world, so he won’t be able to hurt us,” Will said.

They were determined to go, and Mary was reluctant to argue.

“At least,” she said, “promise that you won’t go in among the trees. If that man is still around, he might be hiding in a wood or a grove and you wouldn’t see him in time to escape.”

“We promise,” said Lyra.

“Well, I’ll pack you some food in case you’re out all day.”

Mary took some flat bread and cheese and some sweet, thirst-quenching red fruits, wrapped them in a cloth, and tied a cord around it for one of them to carry over a shoulder.

“Good hunting,” she said as they left. “Please take care.”

She was still anxious. She stood watching them all the way to the foot of the slope.

“I wonder why she’s so sad,” Will said as he and Lyra climbed the road up to the ridge.

“She’s probably wondering if she’ll ever go home again,” said Lyra. “And if her laboratory’ll still be hers when she does. And maybe she’s sad about the man she was in love with.”

“Mmm,” said Will. “D’you think we’ll ever go home?”

“Dunno. I don’t suppose I’ve got a home anyway. They probably couldn’t have me back at Jordan College, and I can’t live with the bears or the witches. Maybe I could live with the gyptians. I wouldn’t mind that, if they’d have me.”

“What about Lord Asriel’s world? Wouldn’t you want to live there?”

“It’s going to fail, remember,” she said.

“Why?”

“Because of what your father’s ghost said, just before we came out. About dæmons, and how they can only live for a long time if they stay in their own world. But probably Lord Asriel, I mean my father, couldn’t have thought about that, because no one knew enough about other worlds when he started … All that,” she said wonderingly, “all that bravery and skill … All that, all wasted! All for nothing!”

They climbed on, finding the going easy on the rock road, and when they reached the top of the ridge, they stopped and looked back.

“Will,” she said, “supposing we don’t find them?”

“I’m sure we will. What I’m wondering is what my dæmon will be like.”

“You saw her. And I picked her up,” Lyra said, blushing, because of course it was a gross violation of manners to touch something so private as someone else’s dæmon. It was forbidden not only by politeness, but by something deeper than that—something like shame. A quick glance at Will’s warm cheeks showed that he knew that just as well as she did.

They walked on side by side, suddenly shy with each other. But Will, not put off by being shy, said, “When does your dæmon stop changing shape?”

“About … I suppose about our age, or a bit older. Maybe more sometimes. We used to talk about Pan settling, him and me. We used to wonder what he’d be—”

“Don’t people have any idea?”

“Not when they’re young. As you grow up you start thinking, well, they might be this or they might be that … And usually they end up something that fits. I mean something like your real nature. Like if your dæmon’s a dog, that means you like doing what you’re told, and knowing who’s boss, and following orders, and pleasing people who are in charge. A lot of servants are people whose dæmons are dogs. So it helps to know what you’re like and to find what you’d be good at. How do people in your world know what they’re like?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know much about my world. All I know is keeping secret and quiet and hidden, so I don’t know much about … grownups, and friends. Or lovers. I think it’d be difficult having a dæmon because everybody would know so much about you just by looking. I like to keep secret and stay out of sight.”

“Then maybe your dæmon’d be an animal that’s good at hiding. Or one of those animals that looks like another—a butterfly that looks like a wasp, for disguise. They must have creatures like that in your world, because we have, and we’re so much alike.”

They walked on together in a friendly silence. All around them the wide, clear morning lay limpid in the hollows and pearly blue in the warm air above. As far as the eye could see, the great savanna rolled, brown, gold, buff-green, shimmering toward the horizon, and empty. They might have been the only people in the world.

“But it’s not empty really,” Lyra said.

“You mean that man?”

“No. You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do. I can see shadows in the grass … maybe birds,” Will said.

He was following the little darting movements here and there. He found it easier to see the shadows if he didn’t look at them. They were more willing to show themselves to the corners of his eye, and when he said so to Lyra, she said, “It’s negative capability.”

“What’s that?”

“The poet Keats said it first. Dr. Malone knows. It’s how I read the alethiometer. It’s how you use the knife, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose it is. But I was just thinking that they might be the dæmons.”

“So was I, but …”

She put her finger to her lips. He nodded.

“Look,” he said, “there’s one of those fallen trees.”

It was Mary’s climbing tree. They went up to it carefully, keeping an eye on the grove in case another one should fall. In the calm morning, with only a faint breeze stirring the leaves, it seemed impossible that a mighty thing like this should ever topple, but here it was.

The vast trunk, supported in the grove by its torn-up roots and out on the grass by the mass of branches, was high above their heads. Some of those branches, crushed and broken, were themselves as big around as the biggest trees Will had ever seen; the crown of the tree, tight-packed with boughs that still looked sturdy, leaves that were still green, towered like a ruined palace into the mild air.

Suddenly Lyra gripped Will’s arm.

“Shh,” she whispered. “Don’t look. I’m sure they’re up there. I saw something move and I swear it was Pan …”

Her hand was warm. He was more aware of that than of the great mass of leaves and branches above them. Pretending to gaze vacantly at the horizon, he let his attention wander upward into the confused mass of green, brown, and blue, and there—she was right!—there was a something that was not the tree. And beside it, another.

“Walk away,” Will said under his breath. “We’ll go somewhere else and see if they follow us.”

“Suppose they don’t … But yes, all right,” Lyra whispered back.

They pretended to look all around; they set their hands on one of the branches resting on the ground, as if they were intending to climb; they pretended to change their minds, by shaking their heads and walking away.

“I wish we could look behind,” Lyra said when they were a few hundred yards away.

“Just go on walking. They can see us, and they won’t get lost. They’ll come to us when they want to.”

They stepped off the black road and into the knee-high grass, swishing their legs through the stems, watching the insects hovering, darting, fluttering, skimming, hearing the million-voiced chorus chirrup and scrape.

“What are you going to do, Will?” Lyra said quietly after they’d walked some way in silence.

“Well, I’ve got to go home,” he said.

She thought he sounded unsure, though. She hoped he sounded unsure.

“But they might still be after you,” she said. “Those men.”

“We’ve seen worse than them, after all.”

“Yes, I suppose … But I wanted to show you Jordan College, and the Fens. I wanted us to …”

“Yeah,” he said, “and I wanted … It would be good to go to Cittàgazze again, even. It was a beautiful place, and if the Specters are all gone … But there’s my mother. I’ve got to go back and look after her. I just left her with Mrs. Cooper, and it’s not fair on either of them.”

“But it’s not fair on you to have to do that.”

“No,” he said, “but that’s a different sort of not fair. That’s just like an earthquake or a rainstorm. It might not be fair, but no one’s to blame. But if I just leave my mother with an old lady who isn’t very well herself, then that’s a different kind of not fair. That would be wrong. I’ve just got to go home. But probably it’s going to be difficult to go back as we were. Probably the secret’s out now. I don’t suppose Mrs. Cooper will have been able to look after her, not if my mother’s in one of those times when she gets frightened of things. So she’s probably had to get help, and when I go back, I’ll be made to go into some kind of institution.”

“No! Like an orphanage?”

“I think that’s what they do. I just don’t know. I’ll hate it.”

“You could escape with the knife, Will! You could come to my world!”

“I still belong there, where I can be with her. When I’m grown up I’ll be able to look after her properly, in my own house. No one can interfere then.”

“D’you think you’ll get married?”

He was quiet for a long time. She knew he was thinking, though.

“I can’t see that far ahead,” he said. “It would have to be someone who understands about … I don’t think there’s anyone like that in my world. Would you get married?”

“Me too,” she said. “Not to anyone in my world, I shouldn’t think.”

They walked on steadily, wandering toward the horizon. They had all the time in the world: all the time the world had.

After a while Lyra said, “You will keep the knife, won’t you? So you could visit my world?”

“Of course. I certainly wouldn’t give it to anyone else, ever.”

“Don’t look—” she said, not altering her pace. “There they are again. On the left.”

“They are following us,” said Will, delighted.

“Shh!”

“I thought they would. Okay, we’ll just pretend now, we’ll just wander along as if we’re looking for them, and we’ll look in all sorts of stupid places.”

It became a game. They found a pond and searched among the reeds and in the mud, saying loudly that the dæmons were bound to be shaped like frogs or water beetles or slugs; they peeled off the bark of a long-fallen tree at the edge of a string-wood grove, pretending to have seen the two dæmons creeping underneath it in the form of earwigs; Lyra made a great fuss of an ant she claimed to have trodden on, sympathizing with its bruises, saying its face was just like Pan’s, asking in mock sorrow why it was refusing to speak to her.

But when she thought they were genuinely out of earshot, she said earnestly to Will, leaning close to speak quietly:

“We had to leave them, didn’t we? We didn’t have a choice really?”

“Yes, we had to. It was worse for you than for me, but we didn’t have any choice at all. Because you made a promise to Roger, and you had to keep it.”

“And you had to speak to your father again …”

“And we had to let them all out.”

“Yes, we did. I’m so glad we did. Pan will be glad one day, too, when I die. We won’t be split up. It was a good thing we did.”

As the sun rose higher in the sky and the air became warmer, they began to look for shade. Toward noon they found themselves on the slope rising toward the summit of a ridge, and when they’d reached it, Lyra flopped down on the grass and said, “Well! If we don’t find somewhere shady soon …”

There was a valley leading down on the other side, and it was thick with bushes, so they guessed there might be a stream as well. They traversed the slope of the ridge till it dipped into the head of the valley, and there, sure enough, among ferns and reeds, a spring bubbled out of the rock.

They dipped their hot faces in the water and swallowed gratefully, and then they followed the stream downward, seeing it gather in miniature whirlpools and pour over tiny ledges of stone, and all the time get fuller and wider.

“How does it do that?” Lyra marveled. “There’s no more water coming into it from anywhere else, but there’s so much more of it here than up there.”

Will, watching the shadows out of the corner of his eye, saw them slip ahead, leaping over the ferns to disappear into the bushes farther down. He pointed silently.

“It just goes slower,” he said. “It doesn’t flow as fast as the spring comes out, so it gathers in these pools … They’ve gone in there,” he whispered, indicating a little group of trees at the foot of the slope.

They looked at each other, a curiously formal and serious look, before setting off to follow the stream. The undergrowth got thicker as they went down the valley; the stream went into tunnels of green and emerged in dappled clearings, only to tumble over a lip of stone and bury itself in the green again, and they had to follow it as much by hearing as by sight.

At the foot of the hill, it ran into the little wood of silver-barked trees.

Father Gomez watched from the top of the ridge. It hadn’t been hard to follow them; despite Mary’s confidence in the open savanna, there was plenty of concealment in the grass and the occasional thickets of string-wood and sap-lacquer bushes. The two young people had spent a lot of time earlier looking all around as if they thought they were being followed. He had had to keep some distance away, but as the morning passed, they became more and more absorbed in each other and paid less attention to the landscape.

The one thing he didn’t want to do was hurt the boy. He had a horror of harming an innocent person. The only way to make sure of his target was to get close enough to see her clearly, which meant following them into the wood.

Quietly and cautiously he moved down the course of the stream. His dæmon the green-backed beetle flew overhead, tasting the air; her eyesight was less good than his, but her sense of smell was acute, and she caught the scent of the young people’s flesh very clearly. She would go a little ahead, perch on a stem of grass, and wait for him, then move on again; and as she caught the trail in the air that their bodies left behind, Father Gomez found himself praising God for his mission, because it was clearer than ever that the boy and the girl were walking into mortal sin.

He watched them go in among the trees. They hadn’t looked back once since coming over the top of the ridge, but he still kept low, moving down the stream at a crouch, holding the rifle in one hand, balancing with the other.

He was so close to success now that for the first time he found himself speculating on what he would do afterward, and whether he would please the Kingdom of Heaven more by going back to Geneva or staying to evangelize this world. The first thing to do here would be to convince the four-legged creatures, who seemed to have the rudiments of reason, that their habit of riding on wheels was abominable and Satanic, and contrary to the will of God. Break them of that, and salvation would follow.

He reached the foot of the slope, where the trees began, and laid the rifle down silently.

He gazed into the silver-green-gold shadows, and listened, with both hands behind his ears to catch and focus any quiet voices through the insect chirping and the trickle of the stream. Yes: there they were. They’d stopped.

He bent to pick up the rifle—

And found himself uttering a hoarse and breathless gasp, as something clutched his dæmon and pulled her away from him.

But there was nothing there! Where was she? The pain was atrocious. He heard her crying, and cast about wildly to left and right, looking for her.

“Keep still,” said a voice from the air, “and be quiet. I have your dæmon in my hand.”

“But—where are you? Who are you?”

“My name is Balthamos,” said the voice.

Will and Lyra followed the stream into the wood, walking carefully, saying little, until they were in the very center.

There was a little clearing in the middle of the grove, which was floored with soft grass and moss-covered rocks. The branches laced across overhead, almost shutting out the sky and letting through little moving spangles and sequins of sunlight, so that everything was dappled with gold and silver.

And it was quiet. Only the trickle of the stream, and the occasional rustle of leaves high up in a little curl of breeze, broke the silence.

Will put down the package of food; Lyra put down her little rucksack. There was no sign of the dæmon shadows anywhere. They were completely alone.

They took off their shoes and socks and sat down on the mossy rocks at the edge of the stream, dipping their feet in the cold water and feeling the shock of it invigorate their blood.

“I’m hungry,” Will said.

“Me too,” said Lyra, though she was also feeling more than that, something subdued and pressing and half-happy and half-painful, so that she wasn’t quite sure what it was.

They unfolded the cloth and ate some bread and cheese. For some reason their hands were slow and clumsy, and they hardly tasted the food, although the bread was floury and crisp from the hot baking-stones, and the cheese was flaky and salty and very fresh.

Then Lyra took one of those little red fruits. With a fast-beating heart, she turned to him and said, “Will …”

And she lifted the fruit gently to his mouth.

She could see from his eyes that he knew at once what she meant, and that he was too joyful to speak. Her fingers were still at his lips, and he felt them tremble, and he put his own hand up to hold hers there, and then neither of them could look; they were confused; they were brimming with happiness.

Like two moths clumsily bumping together, with no more weight than that, their lips touched. Then before they knew how it happened, they were clinging together, blindly pressing their faces toward each other.

“Like Mary said,” he whispered, “you know straight away when you like someone—when you were asleep, on the mountain, before she took you away, I told Pan—”

“I heard,” she whispered, “I was awake and I wanted to tell you the same and now I know what I must have felt all the time: I love you, Will, I love you—”

The word love set his nerves ablaze. All his body thrilled with it, and he answered her in the same words, kissing her hot face over and over again, drinking in with adoration the scent of her body and her warm, honey-fragrant hair and her sweet, moist mouth that tasted of the little red fruit.

Around them there was nothing but silence, as if all the world were holding its breath.

Balthamos was terrified.

He moved up the stream and away from the wood, holding the scratching, stinging, biting insect dæmon, and trying to conceal himself as much as he could from the man who was stumbling after them.

He mustn’t let him catch up. He knew that Father Gomez would kill him in a moment. An angel of his rank was no match for a man, even if that angel was strong and healthy, and Balthamos was neither of those; besides which, he was crippled by grief over Baruch and shame at having deserted Will before. He no longer even had the strength to fly.

“Stop, stop,” said Father Gomez. “Please keep still. I can’t see you—let’s talk, please—don’t hurt my dæmon, I beg you—”

In fact, the dæmon was hurting Balthamos. The angel could see the little green thing dimly through the backs of his clasped hands, and she was sinking her powerful jaws again and again into his palms. If he opened his hands just for a moment, she would be gone. Balthamos kept them closed.

“This way,” he said, “follow me. Come away from the wood. I want to talk to you, and this is the wrong place.”

“But who are you? I can’t see you. Come closer—how can I tell what you are till I see you? Keep still, don’t move so quickly!”

But moving quickly was the only defense Balthamos had. Trying to ignore the stinging dæmon, he picked his way up the little gully where the stream ran, stepping from rock to rock.

Then he made a mistake: trying to look behind him, he slipped and put a foot into the water.

“Ah,” came a whisper of satisfaction as Father Gomez saw the splash.

Balthamos withdrew his foot at once and hurried on—but now a wet print appeared on the dry rocks each time he put his foot down. The priest saw it and leapt forward, and felt the brush of feathers on his hand.

He stopped in astonishment: the word angel reverberated in his mind. Balthamos seized the moment to stumble forward again, and the priest felt himself dragged after him as another brutal pang wrenched his heart.

Balthamos said over his shoulder, “A little farther, just to the top of the ridge, and we shall talk, I promise.”

“Talk here! Stop where you are, and I swear I shan’t touch you!”

The angel didn’t reply: it was too hard to concentrate. He had to split his attention three ways: behind him to avoid the man, ahead to see where he was going, and on the furious dæmon tormenting his hands.

As for the priest, his mind was working quickly. A truly dangerous opponent would have killed his dæmon at once, and ended the matter there and then; this antagonist was afraid to strike.

With that in mind he let himself stumble, and uttered little moans of pain, and pleaded once or twice for the other to stop—all the time watching closely, moving nearer, estimating how big the other was, how quickly he could move, which way he was looking.

“Please,” he said brokenly, “you don’t know how much this hurts—I can’t do you any harm—please can we stop and talk?”

He didn’t want to move out of sight of the wood. They were now at the point where the stream began, and he could see the shape of Balthamos’s feet very lightly pressing the grass. The priest had watched every inch of the way, and he was sure now where the angel was standing.

Balthamos turned around. The priest raised his eyes to the place where he thought the angel’s face would be, and saw him for the first time: just a shimmer in the air, but there was no mistaking it.

The angel wasn’t quite close enough to reach in one movement, though, and in truth the pull on his dæmon had been painful and weakening. Maybe he should take another step or two …

“Sit down,” said Balthamos. “Sit down where you are. Not a step closer.”

“What do you want?” said Father Gomez, not moving.

“What do I want? I want to kill you, but I haven’t got the strength.”

“But are you an angel?”

“What does it matter?”

“You might have made a mistake. We might be on the same side.”

“No, we’re not. I have been following you. I know whose side you’re on—no, no, don’t move. Stay there.”

“It’s not too late to repent. Even angels are allowed to do that. Let me hear your confession.”

“Oh, Baruch, help me!” cried Balthamos in despair, turning away.

And as he cried out, Father Gomez leapt for him. His shoulder hit the angel’s, and knocked Balthamos off balance; and in throwing out a hand to save himself, the angel let go of the insect dæmon. The beetle flew free at once, and Father Gomez felt a surge of relief and strength. In fact, it was that which killed him, to his great surprise. He hurled himself so hard at the faint form of the angel, and he expected so much more resistance than he met, that he couldn’t keep his balance. His foot slipped; his momentum carried him down toward the stream; and Balthamos, thinking of what Baruch would have done, kicked aside the priest’s hand as he flung it out for support.

Father Gomez fell hard. His head cracked against a stone, and he fell stunned with his face in the water. The cold shock woke him at once, but as he choked and feebly tried to rise, Balthamos, desperate, ignored the dæmon stinging his face and his eyes and his mouth, and used all the little weight he had to hold the man’s head down in the water, and he kept it there, and kept it there, and kept it there.

When the dæmon suddenly vanished, Balthamos let go. The man was dead. As soon as he was sure, Balthamos hauled the body out of the stream and laid it carefully on the grass, folding the priest’s hands over his breast and closing his eyes.

Then Balthamos stood up, sick and weary and full of pain.

“Baruch,” he said, “oh, Baruch, my dear, I can do no more. Will and the girl are safe, and everything will be well, but this is the end for me, though truly I died when you did, Baruch, my beloved.”

A moment later, he was gone.


In the bean field, drowsy in the late afternoon heat, Mary heard Atal’s voice, and she couldn’t tell excitement from alarm: had another tree fallen? Had the man with the rifle appeared?

Look! Look! Atal was saying, nudging Mary’s pocket with her trunk, so Mary took the spyglass and did as her friend said, pointing it up to the sky.

Tell me what it’s doing! said Atal. I can feel it is different, but I can’t see.

The terrible flood of Dust in the sky had stopped flowing. It wasn’t still, by any means; Mary scanned the whole sky with the amber lens, seeing a current here, an eddy there, a vortex farther off; it was in perpetual movement, but it wasn’t flowing away anymore. In fact, if anything, it was falling like snowflakes.

She thought of the wheel trees: the flowers that opened upward would be drinking in this golden rain. Mary could almost feel them welcoming it in their poor parched throats, which were so perfectly shaped for it, and which had been starved for so long.

The young ones, said Atal.

Mary turned, spyglass in hand, to see Will and Lyra returning. They were some way off; they weren’t hurrying. They were holding hands, talking together, heads close, oblivious to everything else; she could see that even from a distance.

She nearly put the spyglass to her eye, but held back, and returned it to her pocket. There was no need for the glass; she knew what she would see; they would seem to be made of living gold. They would seem the true image of what human beings always could be, once they had come into their inheritance.

The Dust pouring down from the stars had found a living home again, and these children-no-longer-children, saturated with love, were the cause of it all.

36

But Fate does iron wedges drive, And alwaies crouds it self betwixt.

• ANDREW MARVELL •

THE BROKEN ARROW

The two dæmons moved through the silent village, in and out of the shadows, padding cat-formed across the moonlit gathering-floor, pausing outside the open door of Mary’s house.

Cautiously they looked inside and saw only the sleeping woman; so they withdrew and moved through the moonlight again, toward the shelter tree.

Its long branches trailed their fragrant corkscrew leaves almost down to the ground. Very slowly, very careful not to rustle a leaf or snap a fallen twig, the two shapes slipped in through the leaf curtain and saw what they were seeking: the boy and the girl, fast asleep in each other’s arms.

They moved closer over the grass and touched the sleepers softly with nose, paw, whiskers, bathing in the life-giving warmth they gave off, but being infinitely careful not to wake them.

As they checked their people (gently cleaning Will’s fast-healing wound, lifting the lock of hair off Lyra’s face), there was a soft sound behind them.

Instantly, in total silence, both dæmons sprang around, becoming wolves: mad light eyes, bare white teeth, menace in every line.

A woman stood there, outlined by the moon. It was not Mary, and when she spoke, they heard her clearly, though her voice made no sound.

“Come with me,” she said.

Pantalaimon’s dæmon heart leapt within him, but he said nothing until he could greet her away from the sleepers under the tree.

“Serafina Pekkala!” he said joyfully. “Where have you been? Do you know what’s happened?”

“Hush. Let’s fly to a place where we can talk,” she said, mindful of the sleeping villagers.

Her branch of cloud-pine lay by the door of Mary’s house, and as she took it up, the two dæmons changed into birds—a nightingale, an owl—and flew with her over the thatched roofs, over the grasslands, over the ridge, and toward the nearest wheel tree grove, as huge as a castle, its crown looking like curds of silver in the moonlight.

There Serafina Pekkala settled on the highest comfortable branch, among the open flowers drinking in the Dust, and the two birds perched nearby.

“You won’t be birds for long,” she said. “Very soon now your shapes will settle. Look around and take this sight into your memory.”

“What will we be?” said Pantalaimon.

“You’ll find out sooner than you think. Listen,” said Serafina Pekkala, “and I’ll tell you some witch-lore that none but witches know. The reason I can do that is that you are here with me, and your humans are down there, sleeping. Who are the only people for whom that is possible?”

“Witches,” said Pantalaimon, “and shamans. So …”

“In leaving you both on the shores of the world of the dead, Lyra and Will did something, without knowing it, that witches have done since the first time there were witches. There’s a region of our north land, a desolate, abominable place, where a great catastrophe happened in the childhood of the world, and where nothing has lived since. No dæmons can enter it. To become a witch, a girl must cross it alone and leave her dæmon behind. You know the suffering they must undergo. But having done it, they find that their dæmons were not severed, as in Bolvangar; they are still one whole being; but now they can roam free, and go to far places and see strange things and bring back knowledge.

“And you are not severed, are you?”

“No,” said Pantalaimon. “We are still one. But it was so painful, and we were so frightened …”

“Well,” said Serafina, “the two of them will not fly like witches, and they will not live as long as we do; but thanks to what they did, you and they are witch in all but that.”

The two dæmons considered the strangeness of this knowledge.

“Does that mean we shall be birds, like witches’ dæmons?” said Pantalaimon.

“Be patient.”

“And how can Will be a witch? I thought all witches were female.”

“Those two have changed many things. We are all learning new ways, even witches. But one thing hasn’t changed: you must help your humans, not hinder them. You must help them and guide them and encourage them toward wisdom. That’s what dæmons are for.”

They were silent. Serafina turned to the nightingale and said, “What is your name?”

“I have no name. I didn’t know I was born until I was torn away from his heart.”

“Then I shall name you Kirjava.”

“Kirjava,” said Pantalaimon, trying the sound. “What does it mean?”

“Soon you will see what it means. But now,” Serafina went on, “you must listen carefully, because I’m going to tell you what you should do.”

“No,” said Kirjava forcefully.

Serafina said gently, “I can hear from your tone that you know what I’m going to say.”

“We don’t want to hear it!” said Pantalaimon.

“It’s too soon,” said the nightingale. “It’s much too soon.”

Serafina was silent, because she agreed with them, and she felt sorrowful. She was the wisest one there, and she had to guide them to what was right; but she let their agitation subside before she went on.

“Where did you go, in your wanderings?” she said.

“Through many worlds,” said Pantalaimon. “Everywhere we found a window, we went through. There are more windows than we thought.”

“And you saw—”

“Yes,” said Kirjava, “we looked closely, and we saw what was happening.”

“We saw many other things. We met an angel,” said Pantalaimon quickly. “And we saw the world where the little people come from, the Gallivespians. There are big people there, too, who try and kill them.”

They told the witch more of what they’d seen, and they were trying to distract her, and she knew it; but she let them talk, because of the love each one had for the other’s voice.

But eventually they ran out of things to tell her, and they fell silent. The only sound was the gentle, endless whisper of the leaves, until Serafina Pekkala said:

“You have been keeping away from Will and Lyra to punish them. I know why you’re doing that; my Kaisa did just the same after I came through the desolate barrens. But he came to me eventually, because we loved each other still. And they will need you soon to help them do what has to be done next. Because you have to tell them what you know.”

Pantalaimon cried aloud, a pure, cold owl cry, a sound never heard in that world before. In nests and burrows for a long way around, and wherever any small night creature was hunting or grazing or scavenging, a new and unforgettable fear came into being.

Serafina watched from close by, and felt nothing but compassion until she looked at Will’s dæmon, Kirjava the nightingale. She remembered talking to the witch Ruta Skadi, who had asked, after seeing Will only once, if Serafina had looked into his eyes; and Serafina had replied that she had not dared to. This little brown bird was radiating an implacable ferocity as palpable as heat, and Serafina was afraid of it.

Finally Pantalaimon’s wild screaming died away, and Kirjava said:

“And we have to tell them.”

“Yes, you do,” said the witch gently.

Gradually the ferocity left the gaze of the little brown bird, and Serafina could look at her again. She saw a desolate sadness in its place.

“There is a ship coming,” Serafina said. “I left it to fly here and find you. I came with the gyptians, all the way from our world. They will be here in another day or so.”

The two birds sat close, and in a moment they had changed their forms, becoming two doves.

Serafina went on: “This may be the last time you fly. I can see a little ahead; I can see that you will both be able to climb this high as long as there are trees this size; but I think you will not be birds when your forms settle. Take in all that you can, and remember it well. I know that you and Lyra and Will are going to think hard and painfully, and I know you will make the best choice. But it is yours to make, and no one else’s.”

They didn’t speak. She took her branch of cloud-pine and lifted away from the towering treetops, circling high above, feeling on her skin the coolness of the breeze and the tingle of the starlight and the benevolent sifting of that Dust she had never seen.

She flew down to the village once more and went silently into the woman’s house. She knew nothing about Mary except that she came from the same world as Will, and that her part in the events was crucial. Whether she was fierce or friendly, Serafina had no way of telling; but she had to wake Mary up without startling her, and there was a spell for that.

She sat on the floor at the woman’s head and watched through half-closed eyes, breathing in and out in time with her. Presently her half-vision began to show her the pale forms that Mary was seeing in her dreams, and she adjusted her mind to resonate with them, as if she were tuning a string. Then with a further effort Serafina herself stepped in among them. Once she was there, she could speak to Mary, and she did so with the instant easy affection that we sometimes feel for people we meet in dreams.

A moment later they were talking together in a murmured rush of which Mary later remembered nothing, and walking through a silly landscape of reed beds and electrical transformers. It was time for Serafina to take charge.

“In a few moments,” she said, “you’ll wake up. Don’t be alarmed. You’ll find me beside you. I’m waking you like this so you’ll know it’s quite safe and there’s nothing to hurt you. And then we can talk properly.”

She withdrew, taking the dream-Mary with her, until she found herself in the house again, cross-legged on the earthen floor, with Mary’s eyes glittering as they looked at her.

“You must be the witch,” Mary whispered.

“I am. My name is Serafina Pekkala. What are you called?”

“Mary Malone. I’ve never been woken so quietly. Am I awake?”

“Yes. We must talk together, and dream talk is hard to control, and harder to remember. It’s better to talk awake. Do you prefer to stay inside, or will you walk with me in the moonlight?”

“I’ll come,” said Mary, sitting up and stretching. “Where are the others?”

“Asleep under the tree.”

They moved out of the house and past the tree with its curtain of all-concealing leaves, and walked down to the river.

Mary watched Serafina Pekkala with a mixture of wariness and admiration: she had never seen a human form so slender and graceful. She seemed younger than Mary herself, though Lyra had said she was hundreds of years old; the only hint of age came in her expression, which was full of a complicated sadness.

They sat on the bank over the silver-black water, and Serafina told her that she had spoken to the children’s dæmons.

“They went looking for them today,” Mary said, “but something else happened. Will’s never seen his dæmon. He didn’t know for certain that he had one.”

“Well, he has. And so have you.”

Mary stared at her.

“If you could see him,” Serafina went on, “you would see a black bird with red legs and a bright yellow beak, slightly curved. A bird of the mountains.”

“An Alpine chough … How can you see him?”

“With my eyes half-closed, I can see him. If we had time, I could teach you to see him, too, and to see the dæmons of others in your world. It’s strange for us to think you can’t see them.”

Then she told Mary what she had said to the dæmons, and what it meant.

“And the dæmons will have to tell them?” Mary said.

“I thought of waking them to tell them myself. I thought of telling you and letting you have the responsibility. But I saw their dæmons, and I knew that would be best.”

“They’re in love.”

“I know.”

“They’ve only just discovered it …”

Mary tried to take in all the implications of what Serafina had told her, but it was too hard.

After a minute or so Mary said, “Can you see Dust?”

“No, I’ve never seen it, and until the wars began, we had never heard of it.”

Mary took the spyglass from her pocket and handed it to the witch. Serafina put it to her eye and gasped.

“That is Dust … It’s beautiful!”

“Turn to look back at the shelter tree.”

Serafina did and exclaimed again. “They did this?” she said.

“Something happened today, or yesterday if it’s after midnight,” Mary said, trying to find the words to explain, and remembering her vision of the Dust flow as a great river like the Mississippi. “Something tiny but crucial … If you wanted to divert a mighty river into a different course, and all you had was a single pebble, you could do it, as long as you put the pebble in the right place to send the first trickle of water that way instead of this. Something like that happened yesterday. I don’t know what it was. They saw each other differently, or something … Until then, they hadn’t felt like that, but suddenly they did. And then the Dust was attracted to them, very powerfully, and it stopped flowing the other way.”

“So that was how it was to happen!” said Serafina, marveling. “And now it’s safe, or it will be when the angels fill the great chasm in the underworld.”

She told Mary about the abyss, and about how she herself had found out.

“I was flying high,” she explained, “looking for a landfall, and I met an angel: a female angel. She was very strange; she was old and young together,” she went on, forgetting that that was how she herself appeared to Mary. “Her name was Xaphania. She told me many things … She said that all the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. She and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed. She gave me many examples from my world.”

“I can think of many from mine.”

“And for most of that time, wisdom has had to work in secret, whispering her words, moving like a spy through the humble places of the world while the courts and palaces are occupied by her enemies.”

“Yes,” said Mary, “I recognize that, too.”

“And the struggle isn’t over now, though the forces of the Kingdom have met a setback. They’ll regroup under a new commander and come back strongly, and we must be ready to resist.”

“But what happened to Lord Asriel?” said Mary.

“He fought the Regent of Heaven, the angel Metatron, and he wrestled him down into the abyss. Metatron is gone forever. So is Lord Asriel.”

Mary caught her breath. “And Mrs. Coulter?” she said.

As an answer the witch took an arrow from her quiver. She took her time selecting it: the best, the straightest, the most perfectly balanced.

And she broke it in two.

“Once in my world,” she said, “I saw that woman torturing a witch, and I swore to myself that I would send that arrow into her throat. Now I shall never do that. She sacrificed herself with Lord Asriel to fight the angel and make the world safe for Lyra. They could not have done it alone, but together they did it.”

Mary, distressed, said, “How can we tell Lyra?”

“Wait until she asks,” said Serafina. “And she might not. In any case, she has her symbol reader; that will tell her anything she wants to know.”

They sat in silence for a while, companionably, as the stars slowly wheeled in the sky.

“Can you see ahead and guess what they’ll choose to do?” said Mary.

“No, but if Lyra returns to her own world, then I will be her sister as long as she lives. What will you do?”

“I …” Mary began, and found she hadn’t considered that for a moment. “I suppose I belong in my own world. Though I’ll be sorry to leave this one; I’ve been very happy here. The happiest I’ve ever been in my life, I think.”

“Well, if you do return home, you shall have a sister in another world,” said Serafina, “and so shall I. We shall see each other again in a day or so, when the ship arrives, and we’ll talk more on the voyage home; and then we’ll part forever. Embrace me now, sister.”

Mary did so, and Serafina Pekkala flew away on her cloud-pine branch over the reeds, over the marshes, over themudflats and the beach, and over the sea, until Mary could see her no more.


At about the same time, one of the large blue lizards came across the body of Father Gomez. Will and Lyra had returned to the village that afternoon by a different route and hadn’t seen it; the priest lay undisturbed where Balthamos had laid him. The lizards were scavengers, but they were mild and harmless creatures, and by an ancient understanding with the mulefa, they were entitled to take any creature left dead after dark.

The lizard dragged the priest’s body back to her nest, and her children feasted very well. As for the rifle, it lay in the grass where Father Gomez had laid it down, quietly turning to rust.

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