فصل 37-38

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 14

فصل 37-38

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37

My soul, do not seek eternal life, but exhaust the realm of the possible.

• PINDAR •

THE DUNES

Next day Will and Lyra went out by themselves again, speaking little, eager to be alone with each other. They looked dazed, as if some happy accident had robbed them of their wits; they moved slowly; their eyes were not focused on what they looked at.

They spent all day on the wide hills, and in the heat of the afternoon, they visited their gold-and-silver grove. They talked, they bathed, they ate, they kissed, they lay in a trance of happiness murmuring words whose sound was as confused as their sense, and they felt they were melting with love.

In the evening they shared the meal with Mary and Atal, saying little, and because the air was hot they thought they’d walk down to the sea, where there might be a cool breeze. They wandered along the river until they came to the wide beach, bright under the moon, where the low tide was turning.

They lay down in the soft sand at the foot of the dunes, and then they heard the first bird calling.

They both turned their heads at once, because it was a bird that sounded like no creature that belonged to the world they were in. From somewhere above in the dark came a delicate trilling song, and then another answered it from a different direction. Delighted, Will and Lyra jumped up and tried to see the singers, but all they could make out was a pair of dark skimming shapes that flew low and then darted up again, all the time singing and singing in rich, liquid bell tones an endlessly varied song.

And then, with a flutter of wings that threw up a little fountain of sand in front of him, the first bird landed a few yards away.

Lyra said, “Pan …?”

He was formed like a dove, but his color was dark and hard to tell in the moonlight; at any rate, he showed up clearly on the white sand. The other bird still circled overhead, still singing, and then she flew down to join him: another dove, but pearl white, and with a crest of dark red feathers.

And Will knew what it was to see his dæmon. As she flew down to the sand, he felt his heart tighten and release in a way he never forgot. Sixty years and more would go by, and as an old man he would still feel some sensations as bright and fresh as ever: Lyra’s fingers putting the fruit between his lips under the gold-and-silver trees; her warm mouth pressing against his; his dæmon being torn from his unsuspecting breast as they entered the world of the dead; and the sweet rightfulness of her coming back to him at the edge of the moonlit dunes.

Lyra made to move toward them, but Pantalaimon spoke.

“Lyra,” he said, “Serafina Pekkala came to us last night. She told us all kinds of things. She’s gone back to guide the gyptians here. Farder Coram’s coming, and Lord Faa, and they’ll be here—”

“Pan,” she said, distressed, “oh, Pan, you’re not happy—what is it? What is it?”

Then he changed, and flowed over the sand to her as a snow-white ermine. The other dæmon changed, too—Will felt it happen, like a little grip at his heart—and became a cat.

Before she moved to him, she spoke. She said, “The witch gave me a name. I had no need of one before. She called me Kirjava. But listen, listen to us now …”

“Yes, you must listen,” said Pantalaimon. “This is hard to explain.”

Between them, the dæmons managed to tell them everything Serafina had told them, beginning with the revelation about the children’s own natures: about how, without intending it, they had become like witches in their power to separate and yet still be one being.

“But that’s not all,” Kirjava said.

And Pantalaimon said, “Oh, Lyra, forgive us, but we have to tell you what we found out …”

Lyra was bewildered. When had Pan ever needed forgiving? She looked at Will, and saw his puzzlement as clear as her own.

“Tell us,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

“It’s about Dust,” said the cat dæmon, and Will marveled to hear part of his own nature telling him something he didn’t know. “It was all flowing away, all the Dust there was, down into the abyss that you saw. Something’s stopped it flowing down there, but—”

“Will, it was that golden light!” Lyra said. “The light that all flowed into the abyss and vanished … And that was Dust? Was it really?”

“Yes. But there’s more leaking out all the time,” Pantalaimon went on. “And it mustn’t. It mustn’t all leak away. It’s got to stay in the world and not vanish, because otherwise everything good will fade away and die.”

“But where’s the rest leaving from?” said Lyra.

Both dæmons looked at Will, and at the knife.

“Every time we made an opening,” said Kirjava—and again Will felt that little thrill: She’s me, and I’m her—“every time anyone made an opening between the worlds, us or the old Guild men, anyone, the knife cut into the emptiness outside. The same emptiness there is down in the abyss. We never knew. No one knew, because the edge was too fine to see. But it was quite big enough for Dust to leak out of. If they closed it up again at once, there wasn’t time for much to leak out, but there were thousands that they never closed up. So all this time, Dust has been leaking out of the worlds and into nothingness.”

The understanding was beginning to dawn on Will and Lyra. They fought it, they pushed it away, but it was just like the gray light that seeps into the sky and extinguishes the stars: it crept past every barrier they could put up and under every blind and around the edges of every curtain they could draw against it.

“Every opening,” Lyra said in a whisper.

“Every single one—they must all be closed?” said Will.

“Every single one,” said Pantalaimon, whispering like Lyra.

“Oh, no,” said Lyra. “No, it can’t be true—”

“And so we must leave our world to stay in Lyra’s,” said Kirjava, “or Pan and Lyra must leave theirs and come to stay in ours. There’s no other choice.”

Then the full bleak daylight struck in.

And Lyra cried aloud. Pantalaimon’s owl cry the night before had frightened every small creature that heard it, but it was nothing to the passionate wail that Lyra uttered now. The dæmons were shocked, and Will, seeing their reaction, understood why: they didn’t know the rest of the truth; they didn’t know what Will and Lyra themselves had learned.

Lyra was shaking with anger and grief, striding up and down with clenched fists and turning her tear-streaming face this way and that as if looking for an answer. Will jumped up and seized her shoulders, and felt her tense and trembling.

“Listen,” he said, “Lyra, listen: what did my father say?”

“Oh,” she cried, tossing her head this way and that, “he said—you know what he said—you were there, Will, you listened, too!”

He thought she would die of her grief there and then. She flung herself into his arms and sobbed, clinging passionately to his shoulders, pressing her nails into his back and her face into his neck, and all he could hear was, “No—no—no …”

“Listen,” he said again, “Lyra, let’s try and remember it exactly. There might be a way through. There might be a loophole.”

He disengaged her arms gently and made her sit down. At once Pantalaimon, frightened, flowed up onto her lap, and the cat dæmon tentatively came close to Will. They hadn’t touched yet, but now he put out a hand to her, and she moved her cat face against his fingers and then stepped delicately onto his lap.

“He said—” Lyra began, gulping, “he said that people could spend a little time in other worlds without being affected. They could. And we have, haven’t we? Apart from what we had to do to go into the world of the dead, we’re still healthy, aren’t we?”

“They can spend a little time, but not a long time,” Will said. “My father had been away from his world, my world, for ten years. And he was nearly dying when I found him. Ten years, that’s all.”

“But what about Lord Boreal? Sir Charles? He was healthy enough, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but remember, he could go back to his own world whenever he liked and get healthy again. That’s where you saw him first, after all, in your world. He must have found some secret window that no one else knew about.”

“Well, we could do that!”

“We could, except that …”

“All the windows must be closed,” said Pantalaimon. “All of them.”

“But how do you know?” demanded Lyra.

“An angel told us,” said Kirjava. “We met an angel. She told us all about that, and other things as well. It’s true, Lyra.”

“She?” said Lyra passionately, suspicious.

“It was a female angel,” said Kirjava.

“I’ve never heard of one of them. Maybe she was lying.”

Will was thinking through another possibility. “Suppose they closed all the other windows,” he said, “and we just made one when we needed to, and went through as quickly as we could and closed it up immediately—that would be safe, surely? If we didn’t leave much time for Dust to go out?”

“Yes!”

“We’d make it where no one could ever find it,” he went on, “and only us two would know—”

“Oh, it would work! I’m sure it would!” she said.

“And we could go from one to the other, and stay healthy—”

But the dæmons were distressed, and Kirjava was murmuring, “No, no.”

And Pantalaimon said, “The Specters … She told us about the Specters, too.”

“The Specters?” said Will. “We saw them during the battle, for the first time. What about them?”

“Well, we found out where they come from,” said Kirjava. “And this is the worst thing: they’re like the children of the abyss. Every time we open a window with the knife, it makes a Specter. It’s like a little bit of the abyss that floats out and enters the world. That’s why the Cittàgazze world was so full of them, because of all the windows they left open there.”

“And they grow by feeding on Dust,” said Pantalaimon. “And on dæmons. Because Dust and dæmons are sort of similar; grown-up dæmons anyway. And the Specters get bigger and stronger as they do …”

Will felt a dull horror at his heart, and Kirjava pressed herself against his breast, feeling it, too, and trying to comfort him.

“So every time I’ve used the knife,” he said, “every single time, I’ve made another Specter come to life?”

He remembered Iorek Byrnison, in the cave where he’d forged the knife again, saying, “What you don’t know is what the knife does on its own. Your intentions may be good. The knife has intentions, too.”

Lyra’s eyes were watching him, wide with anguish.

“Oh, we can’t, Will!” she said. “We can’t do that to people—not let other Specters out, not now we’ve seen what they do!”

“All right,” he said, getting to his feet, holding his dæmon close to his breast. “Then we’ll have to—one of us will have to—I’ll come to your world and …”

She knew what he was going to say, and she saw him holding the beautiful, healthy dæmon he hadn’t even begun to know; and she thought of his mother, and she knew that he was thinking of her, too. To abandon her and live with Lyra, even for the few years they’d have together—could he do that? He might be living with Lyra, but she knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

“No,” she cried, jumping up beside him, and Kirjava joined Pantalaimon on the sand as boy and girl clung together desperately. “I’ll do it, Will! We’ll come to your world and live there! It doesn’t matter if we get ill, me and Pan—we’re strong, I bet we last a good long time—and there are probably good doctors in your world—Dr. Malone would know! Oh, let’s do that!”

He was shaking his head, and she saw the brilliance of tears on his cheeks.

“D’you think I could bear that, Lyra?” he said. “D’you think I could live happily watching you get sick and ill and fade away and then die, while I was getting stronger and more grown-up day by day? Ten years … That’s nothing. It’d pass in a flash. We’d be in our twenties. It’s not that far ahead. Think of that, Lyra, you and me grown up, just preparing to do all the things we want to do—and then … it all comes to an end. Do you think I could bear to live on after you died? Oh, Lyra, I’d follow you down to the world of the dead without thinking twice about it, just like you followed Roger; and that would be two lives gone for nothing, my life wasted like yours. No, we should spend our whole lifetimes together, good, long, busy lives, and if we can’t spend them together, we … we’ll have to spend them apart.”

Biting her lip, she watched him as he walked up and down in his distracted anguish.

He stopped and turned, and went on: “D’you remember another thing he said, my father? He said we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are. He said that for us there isn’t any elsewhere. That’s what he meant, I can see now. Oh, it’s too bitter. I thought he just meant Lord Asriel and his new world, but he meant us, he meant you and me. We have to live in our own worlds …”

“I’m going to ask the alethiometer,” Lyra said. “That’ll know! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.”

She sat down, wiping her cheeks with the palm of one hand and reaching for the rucksack with the other. She carried it everywhere; when Will thought of her in later years, it was often with that little bag over her shoulder. She tucked the hair behind her ears in the swift movement he loved and took out the black velvet bundle.

“Can you see?” he said, for although the moon was bright, the symbols around the face were very small.

“I know where they all are,” she said, “I got it off by heart. Hush now …”

She crossed her legs, pulling the skirt over them to make a lap. Will lay on one elbow and watched. The bright moonlight, reflected off the white sand, lit up her face with a radiance that seemed to draw out some other radiance from inside her; her eyes glittered, and her expression was so serious and absorbed that Will could have fallen in love with her again if love didn’t already possess every fiber of his being.

Lyra took a deep breath and began to turn the wheels. But after only a few moments, she stopped and turned the instrument around.

“Wrong place,” she said briefly, and tried again.

Will, watching, saw her beloved face clearly. And because he knew it so well, and he’d studied her expression in happiness and despair and hope and sorrow, he could tell that something was wrong; for there was no sign of the clear concentration she used to sink into so quickly. Instead, an unhappy bewilderment spread gradually over her: she bit her lower lip, she blinked more and more, and her eyes moved slowly from symbol to symbol, almost at random, instead of darting swiftly and certainly.

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head, “I don’t know what’s happening … I know it so well, but I can’t seem to see what it means …”

She took a deep, shuddering breath and turned the instrument around. It looked strange and awkward in her hands. Pantalaimon, mouse-formed, crept into her lap and rested his black paws on the crystal, peering at one symbol after another. Lyra turned one wheel, turned another, turned the whole thing around, and then looked up at Will, stricken.

“Oh, Will,” she cried, “I can’t do it! It’s left me!”

“Hush,” he said, “don’t fret. It’s still there inside you, all that knowledge. Just be calm and let yourself find it. Don’t force it. Just sort of float down to touch it …”

She gulped and nodded and angrily brushed her wrist across her eyes, and took several deep breaths; but he could see she was too tense, and he put his hands on her shoulders and then felt her trembling and hugged her tight. She pulled back and tried again. Once more she gazed at the symbols, once more she turned the wheels, but those invisible ladders of meaning down which she’d stepped with such ease and confidence weren’t there. She just didn’t know what any of the symbols meant.

She turned away and clung to Will and said desperately:

“It’s no good—I can tell—it’s gone forever—it just came when I needed it, for all the things I had to do—for rescuing Roger, and then for us two—and now that it’s over, now that everything’s finished, it’s just left me … It’s gone, Will! I’ve lost it! It’ll never come back!”

She sobbed with desperate abandon. All he could do was hold her. He didn’t know how to comfort her, because it was plain that she was right.

Then both the dæmons bristled and looked up. Will and Lyra sensed it, too, and followed their eyes to the sky. A light was moving toward them: a light with wings.

“It’s the angel we saw,” said Pantalaimon, guessing.

He guessed correctly. As the boy and the girl and the two dæmons watched her approach, Xaphania spread her wings wider and glided down to the sand. Will, for all the time he’d spent in the company of Balthamos, wasn’t prepared for the strangeness of this encounter. He and Lyra held each other’s hands tightly as the angel came toward them, with the light of another world shining on her. She was unclothed, but that meant nothing. What clothes could an angel wear anyway? Lyra thought. It was impossible to tell if she was old or young, but her expression was austere and compassionate, and both Will and Lyra felt as if she knew them to their hearts.

“Will,” she said, “I have come to ask your help.”

“My help? How can I help you?”

“I want you to show me how to close the openings that the knife makes.”

Will swallowed. “I’ll show you,” he said, “and in return, can you help us?”

“Not in the way you want. I can see what you’ve been talking about. Your sorrow has left traces in the air. This is no comfort, but believe me, every single being who knows of your dilemma wishes things could be otherwise; but there are fates that even the most powerful have to submit to. There is nothing I can do to help you change the way things are.”

“Why—” Lyra began, and found her voice weak and trembling—“why can’t I read the alethiometer anymore? Why can’t I even do that? That was the one thing I could do really well, and it’s just not there anymore—it just vanished as if it had never come …”

“You read it by grace,” said Xaphania, looking at her, “and you can regain it by work.”

“How long will that take?”

“A lifetime.”

“That long …”

“But your reading will be even better then, after a lifetime of thought and effort, because it will come from conscious understanding. Grace attained like that is deeper and fuller than grace that comes freely, and furthermore, once you’ve gained it, it will never leave you.”

“You mean a full lifetime, don’t you?” Lyra whispered. “A whole long life? Not … not just … a few years …”

“Yes, I do,” said the angel.

“And must all the windows be closed?” said Will. “Every single one?”

“Understand this,” said Xaphania: “Dust is not a constant. There’s not a fixed quantity that has always been the same. Conscious beings make Dust—they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on.

“And if you help everyone else in your worlds to do that, by helping them to learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious … Then they will renew enough to replace what is lost through one window. So there could be one left open.”

Will trembled with excitement, and his mind leapt to a single point: to a new window in the air between his world and Lyra’s. And it would be their secret, and they could go through whenever they chose, and live for a while in each other’s worlds, not living fully in either, so their dæmons would keep their health; and they could grow up together and maybe, much later on, they might have children, who would be secret citizens of two worlds; and they could bring all the learning of one world into the other, they could do all kinds of good—

But Lyra was shaking her head.

“No,” she said in a quiet wail, “we can’t, Will—”

And he suddenly knew her thought, and in the same anguished tone, he said, “No, the dead—”

“We must leave it open for them! We must!”

“Yes, otherwise …”

“And we must make enough Dust for them, Will, and keep the window open—”

She was trembling. She felt very young as he held her to his side.

“And if we do,” he said shakily, “if we live our lives properly and think about them as we do, then there’ll be something to tell the harpies about as well. We’ve got to tell people that, Lyra.”

“The true stories, yes,” she said, “the true stories the harpies want to hear in exchange. Yes. So if people live their whole lives and they’ve got nothing to tell about it when they’ve finished, then they’ll never leave the world of the dead. We’ve got to tell them that, Will.”

“Alone, though …”

“Yes,” she said, “alone.”

And at the word alone, Will felt a great wave of rage and despair moving outward from a place deep within him, as if his mind were an ocean that some profound convulsion had disturbed. All his life he’d been alone, and now he must be alone again, and this infinitely precious blessing that had come to him must be taken away almost at once. He felt the wave build higher and steeper to darken the sky, he felt the crest tremble and begin to spill, he felt the great mass crashing down with the whole weight of the ocean behind it against the iron-bound coast of what had to be. And he found himself gasping and shaking and crying aloud with more anger and pain than he had ever felt in his life, and he found Lyra just as helpless in his arms. But as the wave expended its force and the waters withdrew, the bleak rocks remained; there was no arguing with fate; neither his despair nor Lyra’s had moved them a single inch.

How long his rage lasted, he had no idea. But eventually it had to subside, and the ocean was a little calmer after the convulsion. The waters were still agitated, and perhaps they would never be truly calm again, but the great force had gone.

They turned to the angel and saw she had understood, and that she felt as sorrowful as they did. But she could see farther than they could, and there was a calm hope in her expression, too.

Will swallowed hard and said, “All right. I’ll show you how to close a window. But I’ll have to open one first, and make another Specter. I never knew about them, or else I’d have been more careful.”

“We shall take care of the Specters,” said Xaphania.

Will took the knife and faced the sea. To his surprise, his hands were quite steady. He cut a window into his own world, and they found themselves looking at a great factory or chemical plant, where complicated pipe work ran between buildings and storage tanks, where lights glowed at every corner, where wisps of steam rose into the air.

“It’s strange to think that angels don’t know the way to do this,” Will said.

“The knife was a human invention.”

“And you’re going to close them all except one,” Will said. “All except the one from the world of the dead.”

“Yes, that is a promise. But it is conditional, and you know the condition.”

“Yes, we do. Are there many windows to close?”

“Thousands. There is the terrible abyss made by the bomb, and there is the great opening Lord Asriel made out of his own world. They must both be closed, and they will. But there are many smaller openings, too, some deep under the earth, some high in the air, which came about in other ways.”

“Baruch and Balthamos told me that they used openings like that to travel between the worlds. Will angels no longer be able to do that? Will you be confined to one world as we are?”

“No; we have other ways of traveling.”

“The way you have,” Lyra said, “is it possible for us to learn?”

“Yes. You could learn to do it, as Will’s father did. It uses the faculty of what you call imagination. But that does not mean making things up. It is a form of seeing.”

“Not real traveling, then,” said Lyra. “Just pretend …”

“No,” said Xaphania, “nothing like pretend. Pretending is easy. This way is hard, but much truer.”

“And is it like the alethiometer?” said Will. “Does it take a whole lifetime to learn?”

“It takes long practice, yes. You have to work. Did you think you could snap your fingers, and have it as a gift? What is worth having is worth working for. But you have a friend who has already taken the first steps, and who could help you.”

Will had no idea who that could be, and at that moment he wasn’t in the mood to ask.

“I see,” he said, sighing. “And will we see you again? Will we ever speak to an angel once we go back to our own worlds?”

“I don’t know,” said Xaphania. “But you should not spend your time waiting.”

“And I should break the knife,” said Will. “Yes.”

While they had been speaking, the window had been open beside them. The lights were glowing in the factory, the work was going on; machines were turning, chemicals were combining, people were producing goods and earning their livings. That was the world where Will belonged.

“Well, I’ll show you what to do,” he said.

So he taught the angel how to feel for the edges of the window, just as Giacomo Paradisi had shown him, sensing them at his fingers’ ends and pinching them together. Little by little the window closed, and the factory disappeared.

“The openings that weren’t made by the subtle knife,” Will said, “is it really necessary to close them all? Because surely Dust only escapes through the openings the knife made. The other ones must have been there for thousands of years, and still Dust exists.”

The angel said, “We shall close them all, because if you thought that any still remained, you would spend your life searching for one, and that would be a waste of the time you have. You have other work than that to do, much more important and valuable, in your own world. There will be no travel outside it anymore.”

“What work have I got to do, then?” said Will, but went on at once, “No, on second thought, don’t tell me. I shall decide what I do. If you say my work is fighting, or healing, or exploring, or whatever you might say, I’ll always be thinking about it. And if I do end up doing that, I’ll be resentful because it’ll feel as if I didn’t have a choice, and if I don’t do it, I’ll feel guilty because I should. Whatever I do, I will choose it, no one else.”

“Then you have already taken the first steps toward wisdom,” said Xaphania.

“There’s a light out at sea,” said Lyra.

“That is the ship bringing your friends to take you home. They will be here tomorrow.”

The word tomorrow fell like a heavy blow. Lyra had never thought she would be reluctant to see Farder Coram, and John Faa, and Serafina Pekkala.

“I shall go now,” said the angel. “I have learned what I needed to know.”

She embraced each of them in her light, cool arms and kissed their foreheads. Then she bent to kiss the dæmons, and they became birds and flew up with her as she spread her wings and rose swiftly into the air. Only a few seconds later she had vanished.

A few moments after she had gone, Lyra gave a little gasp.

“What is it?” said Will.

“I never asked her about my father and mother—and I can’t ask the alethiometer, either, now … I wonder if I’ll ever know?”

She sat down slowly, and he sat down beside her.

“Oh, Will,” she said, “what can we do? Whatever can we do? I want to live with you forever. I want to kiss you and lie down with you and wake up with you every day of my life till I die, years and years and years away. I don’t want a memory, just a memory …”

“No,” he said, “memory’s a poor thing to have. It’s your own real hair and mouth and arms and eyes and hands I want. I didn’t know I could ever love anything so much. Oh, Lyra, I wish this night would never end! If only we could stay here like this, and the world could stop turning, and everyone else could fall into a sleep …”

“Everyone except us! And you and I could live here forever and just love each other.”

“I will love you forever, whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again …”

“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you … We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams … And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight …”

They lay side by side, hand in hand, looking at the sky.

“Do you remember,” she whispered, “when you first came into that café in Ci’gazze, and you’d never seen a dæmon?”

“I couldn’t understand what he was. But when I saw you, I liked you straightaway because you were brave.”

“No, I liked you first.”

“You didn’t! You fought me!”

“Well,” she said, “yes. But you attacked me.”

“I did not! You came charging out and attacked me.”

“Yes, but I soon stopped.”

“Yes, but,” he mocked softly.

He felt her tremble, and then under his hands the delicate bones of her back began to rise and fall, and he heard her sob quietly. He stroked her warm hair, her tender shoulders, and then he kissed her face again and again, and presently she gave a deep, shuddering sigh and fell still.

The dæmons flew back down now, and changed again, and came toward them over the soft sand. Lyra sat up to greet them, and Will marveled at the way he could instantly tell which dæmon was which, never mind what form they had. Pantalaimon was now an animal whose name he couldn’t quite find: like a large and powerful ferret, red-gold in color, lithe and sinuous and full of grace. Kirjava was a cat again. But she was a cat of no ordinary size, and her fur was lustrous and rich, with a thousand different glints and shades of ink black, shadow gray, the blue of a deep lake under a noon sky, mist-lavender-moonlight-fog … To see the meaning of the word subtlety, you had only to look at her fur.

“A marten,” he said, finding the name for Pantalaimon, “a pine marten.”

“Pan,” Lyra said as he flowed up onto her lap, “you’re not going to change a lot anymore, are you?”

“No,” he said.

“It’s funny,” she said, “you remember when we were younger and I didn’t want you to stop changing at all … Well, I wouldn’t mind so much now. Not if you stay like this.”

Will put his hand on hers. A new mood had taken hold of him, and he felt resolute and peaceful. Knowing exactly what he was doing and exactly what it would mean, he moved his hand from Lyra’s wrist and stroked the red-gold fur of her dæmon.

Lyra gasped. But her surprise was mixed with a pleasure so like the joy that flooded through her when she had put the fruit to his lips that she couldn’t protest, because she was breathless. With a racing heart she responded in the same way: she put her hand on the silky warmth of Will’s dæmon, and as her fingers tightened in the fur, she knew that Will was feeling exactly what she was.

And she knew, too, that neither dæmon would change now, having felt a lover’s hands on them. These were their shapes for life: they would want no other.

So, wondering whether any lovers before them had made this blissful discovery, they lay together as the earth turned slowly and the moon and stars blazed above them.

38

THE BOTANIC GARDEN

The gyptians arrived on the afternoon of the following day. There was no harbor, of course, so they had to anchor the ship some way out, and John Faa, Farder Coram, and the captain came ashore in a launch with Serafina Pekkala as their guide.

Mary had told the mulefa everything she knew, and by the time the gyptians were stepping ashore onto the wide beach, there was a curious crowd waiting to greet them. Each side, of course, was on fire with curiosity about the other, but John Faa had learned plenty of courtesy and patience in his long life, and he was determined that these strangest of all people should receive nothing but grace and friendship from the lord of the western gyptians.

So he stood in the hot sun for some time while Sattamax, the old zalif, made a speech of welcome, which Mary translated as best she could; and John Faa replied, bringing them greetings from the Fens and the waterways of his homeland.

When they began to move up through the marshes to the village, the mulefa saw how hard it was for Farder Coram to walk, and at once they offered to carry him. He accepted gratefully, and so it was that they came to the gathering ground, where Will and Lyra came to meet them.

Such an age had gone past since Lyra had seen these dear men! They’d last spoken together in the snows of the Arctic, on their way to rescue the children from the Gobblers. She was almost shy, and she offered her hand to shake, uncertainly; but John Faa caught her up in a tight embrace and kissed both her cheeks, and Farder Coram did the same, gazing at her before folding her tight to his chest.

“She’s growed up, John,” he said. “Remember that little girl we took to the north lands? Look at her now, eh! Lyra, my dear, if I had the tongue of an angel, I couldn’t tell you how glad I am to set eyes on you again.”

But she looks so hurt, he thought, she looks so frail and weary. And neither he nor John Faa could miss the way she stayed close to Will, and how the boy with the straight black eyebrows was aware every second of where she was, and made sure he never strayed far from her.

The old men greeted him respectfully, because Serafina Pekkala had told them something of what Will had done. For Will’s part, he admired the massive power of Lord Faa’s presence, power tempered by courtesy, and he thought that that would be a good way to behave when he himself was old; John Faa was a shelter and a strong refuge.

“Dr. Malone,” said John Faa, “we need to take on fresh water, and whatever in the way of food your friends can sell us. Besides, our men have been on board ship for a fair while, and we’ve had some fighting to do, and it would be a blessing if they could all have a run ashore so they can breathe the air of this land and tell their families at home about the world they voyaged to.”

“Lord Faa,” said Mary, “the mulefa have asked me to say they will supply everything you need, and that they would be honored if you could all join them this evening to share their meal.”

“It’ll be our great pleasure to accept,” said John Faa.

So that evening the people of three worlds sat down together and shared bread and meat and fruit and wine. The gyptians presented their hosts with gifts from all the corners of their world: with crocks of genniver, carvings of walrus ivory, silken tapestries from Turkestan, cups of silver from the mines of Sveden, enameled dishes from Corea.

The mulefa received them with delight, and in return offered objects of their own workmanship: rare vessels of ancient knot wood, lengths of the finest rope and cord, lacquered bowls, and fishing nets so strong and light that even the Fen-dwelling gyptians had never seen the like.

Having shared the feast, the captain thanked his hosts and left to supervise the crew as they took on board the stores and water that they needed, because they meant to sail as soon as morning came. While they were doing that, the old zalif said to his guests:

“A great change has come over everything. And as a token, we have been granted a responsibility. We would like to show you what this means.”

So John Faa, Farder Coram, Mary, and Serafina went with them to the place where the land of the dead opened, and where the ghosts were coming out, still in their endless procession. The mulefa were planting a grove around it, because it was a holy place, they said; they would maintain it forever; it was a source of joy.

“Well, this is a mystery,” said Farder Coram, “and I’m glad I lived long enough to see it. To go into the dark of death is a thing we all fear; say what we like, we fear it. But if there’s a way out for that part of us that has to go down there, then it makes my heart lighter.”

“You’re right, Coram,” said John Faa. “I’ve seen a good many folk die; I’ve sent more than a few men down into the dark myself, though it was always in the anger of battle. To know that after a spell in the dark we’ll come out again to a sweet land like this, to be free of the sky like the birds, well, that’s the greatest promise anyone could wish for.”

“We must talk to Lyra about this,” said Farder Coram, “and learn how it came about and what it means.”

Mary found it very hard to say good-bye to Atal and the other mulefa. Before she boarded the ship, they gave her a gift: a lacquer phial containing some of the wheel tree oil, and most precious of all, a little bag of seeds.

They might not grow in your world, Atal said, but if not, you have the oil. Don’t forget us, Mary.

Never, Mary said. Never. If I live as long as the witches and forget everything else, I’ll never forget you and the kindness of your people, Atal.

So the journey home began. The wind was light, the seas were calm, and although they saw the glitter of those great snow white wings more than once, the birds were wary and stayed well clear. Will and Lyra spent every hour together, and for them the two weeks of the voyage passed like the blink of an eyelid.

Xaphania had told Serafina Pekkala that when all the openings were closed, then the worlds would all be restored to their proper relations with one another, and Lyra’s Oxford and Will’s would lie over each other again, like transparent images on two sheets of film being moved closer and closer until they merged—although they would never truly touch.

At the moment, however, they were a long way apart—as far as Lyra had had to travel from her Oxford to Cittàgazze. Will’s Oxford was here now, just a knife cut away. It was evening when they arrived, and as the anchor splashed into the water, the late sun lay warmly on the green hills, the terra-cotta roofs, that elegant and crumbling waterfront, and Will and Lyra’s little café. A long search through the captain’s telescope had shown no signs of life whatsoever, but John Faa planned to take half a dozen armed men ashore just in case. They wouldn’t get in the way, but they were there if they were needed.

They ate a last meal together, watching the darkness fall. Will said good-bye to the captain and his officers, and to John Faa and Farder Coram. He had hardly seemed to be aware of them, and they saw him more clearly than he saw them: they saw someone young, but very strong, and deeply stricken.

Finally Will and Lyra and their dæmons, and Mary and Serafina Pekkala, set off through the empty city. And it was empty; the only footfalls and the only shadows were their own. Lyra and Will went ahead, hand in hand, to the place where they had to part, and the women stayed some way behind, talking like sisters.

“Lyra wants to come a little way into my Oxford,” Mary said. “She’s got something in mind. She’ll come straight back afterwards.”

“What will you do, Mary?”

“Me—go with Will, of course. We’ll go to my flat—my house—tonight, and then tomorrow we’ll go and find out where his mother is, and see what we can do to help her get better. There are so many rules and regulations in my world, Serafina; you have to satisfy the authorities and answer a thousand questions; I’ll help him with all the legal side of things and the social services and housing and all that, and let him concentrate on his mother. He’s a strong boy … But I’ll help him. Besides, I need him. I haven’t got a job anymore, and not much money in the bank, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the police are after me … He’ll be the only person in my whole world that I can talk to about all this.”

They walked on through the silent streets, past a square tower with a doorway opening into darkness, past a little café where tables stood on the pavement, and out onto a broad boulevard with a line of palm trees in the center.

“This is where I came through,” said Mary.

The window Will had first seen in the quiet suburban road in Oxford opened here, and on the Oxford side it was guarded by police—or had been when Mary tricked them into letting her through. She saw Will reach the spot and move his hands deftly in the air, and the window vanished.

“That’ll surprise them next time they look,” she said.

It was Lyra’s intention to go into Will and Mary’s Oxford and show Will something before returning with Serafina, and obviously they had to be careful where they cut through; so the women followed on behind, through the moonlit streets of Cittàgazze. On their right a wide and graceful parkland led up to a great house with a classical portico as brilliant as icing sugar under the moon.

“When you told me the shape of my dæmon,” Mary said, “you said you could teach me how to see him, if we had time … I wish we had.”

“Well, we have had time,” Serafina said, “and haven’t we been talking? I’ve taught you some witch-lore, which would be forbidden under the old ways in my world. But you are going back to your world, and the old ways have changed. And I, too, have learned much from you. Now then: when you spoke to the Shadows on your computer, you had to hold a special state of mind, didn’t you?”

“Yes … just as Lyra did with the alethiometer. Do you mean if I try that?”

“Not only that, but ordinary seeing at the same time. Try it now.”

In Mary’s world they had a kind of picture that looked at first like random dots of color but that, when you looked at it in a certain way, seemed to advance into three dimensions: and there in front of the paper would be a tree, or a face, or something else surprisingly solid that simply wasn’t there before.

What Serafina taught Mary to do now was similar to that. She had to hold on to her normal way of looking while simultaneously slipping into the trancelike open dreaming in which she could see the Shadows. But now she had to hold both ways together, the everyday and the trance, just as you have to look in two directions at once to see the 3-D pictures among the dots.

And just as it happens with the dot pictures, she suddenly got it.

“Ah!” she cried, and reached for Serafina’s arm to steady herself, for there on the iron fence around the parkland sat a bird: glossy black, with red legs and a curved yellow bill: an Alpine chough, just as Serafina had described. It—he—was only a foot or two away, watching her with his head slightly cocked, for all the world as though he was amused.

But she was so surprised that her concentration slipped, and he vanished.

“You’ve done it once, and next time it will be easier,” Serafina said. “When you are in your world, you will learn to see the dæmons of other people, too, in the same way. They won’t see yours or Will’s, though, unless you teach them as I’ve taught you.”

“Yes … Oh, this is extraordinary. Yes!”

Mary thought: Lyra talked to her dæmon, didn’t she? Would she hear this bird as well as see him? She walked on, glowing with anticipation.

Ahead of them Will was cutting a window, and he and Lyra waited for the women to pass through so that he could close it again.

“D’you know where we are?” Will said.

Mary looked around. The road they were in now, in her world, was quiet and tree-lined, with big Victorian houses in shrub-filled gardens.

“Somewhere in north Oxford,” Mary said. “Not far from my flat, as a matter of fact, though I don’t know exactly which road this is.”

“I want to go to the Botanic Garden,” Lyra said.

“All right. I suppose that’s about fifteen minutes’ walk. This way …”

Mary tried the double-seeing again. She found it easier this time, and there was the chough, with her in her own world, perching on a branch that hung low over the pavement. To see what would happen, she held out her hand, and he stepped onto it without hesitation. She felt the slight weight, the tight grip of the claws on her finger, and gently moved him onto her shoulder. He settled into place as if he’d been there all her life.

Well, he has, she thought, and moved on.

There was not much traffic in the High Street, and when they turned down the steps opposite Magdalen College toward the gate of the Botanic Garden, they were completely alone. There was an ornate gateway, with stone seats inside it, and while Mary and Serafina sat there, Will and Lyra climbed over the iron fence into the garden itself. Their dæmons slipped through the bars and flowed ahead of them into the garden.

“It’s this way,” said Lyra, tugging at Will’s hand.

She led him past a pool with a fountain under a wide-spreading tree, and then struck off to the left between beds of plants toward a huge many-trunked pine. There was a massive stone wall with a doorway in it, and in the farther part of the garden, the trees were younger and the planting less formal. Lyra led him almost to the end of the garden, over a little bridge, to a wooden seat under a spreading, low-branched tree.

“Yes!” she said. “I hoped so much, and here it is, just the same … Will, I used to come here in my Oxford and sit on this exact same bench whenever I wanted to be alone, just me and Pan. What I thought was that if you—maybe just once a year—if we could come here at the same time, just for an hour or something, then we could pretend we were close again—because we would be close, if you sat here and I sat just here in my world—”

“Yes,” he said, “as long as I live, I’ll come back. Wherever I am in the world, I’ll come back here—”

“On Midsummer Day,” she said. “At midday. As long as I live. As long as I live …”

He found himself unable to see, but he let the hot tears flow and just held her close.

“And if we—later on—” she was whispering shakily, “if we meet someone that we like, and if we marry them, then we must be good to them, and not make comparisons all the time and wish we were married to each other instead … But just keep up this coming here once a year, just for an hour, just to be together …”

They held each other tightly. Minutes passed; a waterbird on the river beside them stirred and called; the occasional car moved over Magdalen Bridge.

Finally they drew apart.

“Well,” said Lyra softly.

Everything about her in that moment was soft, and that was one of his favorite memories later on—her tense grace made tender by the dimness, her eyes and hands and especially her lips, infinitely soft. He kissed her again and again, and each kiss was nearer to the last one of all.

Heavy and soft with love, they walked back to the gate. Mary and Serafina were waiting.

“Lyra—” Will said.

And she said, “Will.”

He cut a window into Cittàgazze. They were deep in the parkland around the great house, not far from the edge of the forest. He stepped through for the last time and looked down over the silent city, the tiled roofs gleaming in the moonlight, the tower above them, the lighted ship waiting out on the still sea.

He turned to Serafina and said as steadily as he could, “Thank you, Serafina Pekkala, for rescuing us at the belvedere, and for everything else. Please be kind to Lyra for as long as she lives. I love her more than anyone has ever been loved.”

In answer the witch queen kissed him on both cheeks. Lyra had been whispering to Mary, and then they, too, embraced, and first Mary and then Will stepped through the last window, back into their own world, in the shade of the trees of the Botanic Garden.

Being cheerful starts now, Will thought as hard as he could, but it was like trying to hold a fighting wolf still in his arms when it wanted to claw at his face and tear out his throat; nevertheless, he did it, and he thought no one could see the effort it cost him.

And he knew that Lyra was doing the same, and that the tightness and strain in her smile were the signs of it.

Nevertheless, she smiled.

One last kiss, rushed and clumsy so that they banged cheekbones, and a tear from her eye was transferred to his face; their two dæmons kissed farewell, and Pantalaimon flowed over the threshold and up into Lyra’s arms; and then Will began to close the window, and then it was done, the way was closed, Lyra was gone.

“Now—” he said, trying to sound matter-of-fact, but having to turn away from Mary all the same, “I’ve got to break the knife.”

He searched the air in the familiar way until he found a gap, and tried to bring to mind just what had happened before. He had been about to cut a way out of the cave, and Mrs. Coulter had suddenly and unaccountably reminded him of his mother, and the knife had broken because, he thought, it had at last met something it couldn’t cut, and that was his love for her.

So he tried it now, summoning an image of his mother’s face as he’d last seen her, fearful and distracted in Mrs. Cooper’s little hallway.

But it didn’t work. The knife cut easily through the air and opened into a world where they were having a rainstorm: heavy drops hurtled through, startling them both. He closed it again quickly and stood puzzled for a moment.

His dæmon knew what he should do, and said simply, “Lyra.”

Of course. He nodded, and with the knife in his right hand, he pressed with his left the spot where her tear still lay on his cheek.

And this time, with a wrenching crack, the knife shattered and the blade fell in pieces to the ground, to glitter on the stones that were still wet with the rain of another universe.

Will knelt to pick them up carefully, Kirjava with her cat eyes helping to find them all.

Mary was shouldering her rucksack.

“Well,” she said, “well, listen now, Will. We’ve hardly spoken, you and I … So we’re still strangers, largely. But Serafina Pekkala and I made a promise to each other, and I made a promise to Lyra just now, and even if I hadn’t made any other promises, I’d make a promise to you about the same thing, which is that if you’ll let me, I’ll be your friend for the rest of our lives. We’re both on our own, and I reckon we could both do with that sort of … What I mean to say is, there isn’t anyone else we can talk to about all this, except each other … And we’ve both got to get used to living with our dæmons, too … And we’re both in trouble, and if that doesn’t give us something in common, I don’t know what will.”

“You’re in trouble?” said Will, looking at her. Her open, friendly, clever face looked back directly.

“Well, I smashed up some property in the lab before I left, and I forged an identity card, and … It’s nothing we can’t deal with. And your trouble—we can deal with that, too. We can find your mother and get her some proper treatment. And if you need somewhere to live, well, if you wouldn’t mind living with me, if we can arrange that, then you won’t have to go into, whatever they call it, into care. I mean, we’ll have to decide on a story and stick to it, but we could do that, couldn’t we?”

Mary was a friend. He had a friend. It was true. He’d never thought of that.

“Yes!” he said.

“Well, let’s do it. My flat’s about half a mile away, and you know what I’d like most of all in the world? I’d like a cup of tea. Come on, let’s go and put the kettle on.”

Three weeks after the moment Lyra had watched Will’s hand closing his world away forever, she found herself seated once more at that dinner table in Jordan College where she had first fallen under the spell of Mrs. Coulter.

This time it was a smaller party: just herself and the Master and Dame Hannah Relf, the head of St. Sophia’s, one of the women’s colleges. Dame Hannah had been at that first dinner, too, and if Lyra was surprised to see her here now, she greeted her politely, and found that her memory was at fault: for this Dame Hannah was much cleverer, and more interesting, and kindlier by far than the dim and frumpy person she remembered.

All kinds of things had happened while Lyra was away—to Jordan College, to England, to the whole world. It seemed that the power of the Church had increased greatly, and that many brutal laws had been passed, but that the power had waned as quickly as it had grown: upheavals in the Magisterium had toppled the zealots and brought more liberal factions into power. The General Oblation Board had been dissolved; the Consistorial Court of Discipline was confused and leaderless.

And the colleges of Oxford, after a brief and turbulent interlude, were settling back into the calm of scholarship and ritual. Some things had gone: the Master’s valuable collection of silver had been looted; some college servants had vanished. The Master’s manservant, Cousins, was still in place, however, and Lyra had been ready to meet his hostility with defiance, for they had been enemies as long as she could remember. She was quite taken aback when he greeted her so warmly and shook her hand with both of his: was that affection in his voice? Well, he had changed.

During dinner the Master and Dame Hannah talked of what had happened in Lyra’s absence, and she listened in dismay, or sorrow, or wonder. When they withdrew to his sitting room for coffee, the Master said:

“Now, Lyra, we’ve hardly heard from you. But I know you’ve seen many things. Are you able to tell us something of what you’ve experienced?”

“Yes,” she said. “But not all at once. I don’t understand some of it, and some makes me shudder and cry still; but I will tell you, I promise, as much as I can. Only you have to promise something, too.”

The Master looked at the gray-haired lady with the marmoset dæmon in her lap, and a flicker of amusement passed between them.

“What’s that?” said Dame Hannah.

“You have to promise to believe me,” Lyra said seriously. “I know I haven’t always told the truth, and I could only survive in some places by telling lies and making up stories. So I know that’s what I’ve been like, and I know you know it, but my true story’s too important for me to tell if you’re only going to believe half of it. So I promise to tell the truth, if you promise to believe it.”

“Well, I promise,” said Dame Hannah.

The Master said, “And so do I.”

“But you know the thing I wish,” Lyra said, “almost—almost more than anything else? I wish I hadn’t lost the way of reading the alethiometer. Oh, it was so strange, Master, how it came in the first place and then just left! One day I knew it so well—I could move up and down the symbol meanings and step from one to another and make all the connections—it was like …” She smiled, and went on, “Well, I was like a monkey in the trees, it was so quick. Then suddenly—nothing. None of it made sense; I couldn’t even remember anything except just basic meanings, like the anchor means hope and the skull means death. All those thousands of meanings … Gone.”

“They’re not gone, though, Lyra,” said Dame Hannah. “The books are still in Bodley’s Library. The scholarship to study them is alive and well.”

Dame Hannah was sitting opposite the Master in one of the two armchairs beside the fireplace, Lyra on the sofa between them. The lamp by the Master’s chair was all the light there was, but it showed the expressions of the two old people clearly. And it was Dame Hannah’s face that Lyra found herself studying. Kindly, Lyra thought, and sharp, and wise; but she could no more read what it meant than she could read the alethiometer.

“Well, now,” the Master went on. “We must think about your future, Lyra.”

His words made her shiver. She gathered herself and sat up.

“All the time I was away,” Lyra said, “I never thought about that. All I thought about was just the time I was in, just the present. There were plenty of times when I thought I didn’t have a future at all. And now … Well, suddenly finding I’ve got a whole life to live, but no … but no idea what to do with it, well, it’s like having the alethiometer but no idea how to read it. I suppose I’ll have to work, but I don’t know at what. My parents are probably rich, but I bet they never thought of putting any money aside for me. And anyway, I think they must have used all their money up by now, so even if I did have a claim on it, there wouldn’t be any left. I don’t know, Master. I came back to Jordan because this used to be my home, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I think King Iorek Byrnison would let me live on Svalbard, and I think Serafina Pekkala would let me live with her witch clan; but I’m not a bear and I’m not a witch, so I wouldn’t really fit in there, much as I love them. Maybe the gyptians would take me in … But really I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m lost, really, now.”

They looked at her: her eyes were glittering more than usual, her chin was held high with a look she’d learned from Will without knowing it. She looked defiant as well as lost, Dame Hannah thought, and admired her for it; and the Master saw something else—he saw how the child’s unconscious grace had gone, and how she was awkward in her growing body. But he loved the girl dearly, and he felt half-proud and half in awe of the beautiful adult she would be, so soon.

He said, “You will never be lost while this college is standing, Lyra. This is your home for as long as you need it. As for money—your father made over an endowment to care for all your needs, and appointed me executor; so you needn’t worry about that.”

In fact, Lord Asriel had done nothing of the sort, but Jordan College was rich, and the Master had money of his own, even after the recent upheavals.

“No,” he went on, “I was thinking about learning. You’re still very young, and your education until now has depended on … well, quite frankly, on which of our scholars you intimidated least,” he said, but he was smiling. “It’s been haphazard. Now, it may turn out that in due course your talents will take you in a direction we can’t foresee at all. But if you were to make the alethiometer the subject of your life’s work, and set out to learn consciously what you could once do by intuition—”

“Yes,” said Lyra definitely.

“—then you could hardly do better than put yourself in the hands of my good friend Dame Hannah. Her scholarship in that field is unmatched.”

“Let me make a suggestion,” said the lady, “and you needn’t respond now. Think about it for a while. Now, my college is not as old as Jordan, and you’re too young yet to become an undergraduate in any case, but a few years ago we acquired a large house in north Oxford, and we decided to set up a boarding school. I’d like you to come and meet the headmistress and see whether you’d care to become one of our pupils. You see, one thing you’ll need soon, Lyra, is the friendship of other girls of your age. There are things that we learn from one another when we’re young, and I don’t think that Jordan can provide quite all of them. The headmistress is a clever young woman, energetic, imaginative, kindly. We’re lucky to have her. You can talk to her, and if you like the idea, come and make St. Sophia’s your school, as Jordan is your home. And if you’d like to begin studying the alethiometer systematically, you and I could meet for some private lessons. But there’s time, my dear, there’s plenty of time. Don’t answer me now. Leave it until you’re ready.”

“Thank you,” said Lyra, “thank you, Dame Hannah, I will.”

The Master had given Lyra her own key to the garden door so she could come and go as she pleased. Later that night, just as the porter was locking the lodge, she and Pantalaimon slipped out and made their way through the dark streets, hearing all the bells of Oxford chiming midnight.

Once they were in the Botanic Garden, Pan ran away over the grass chasing a mouse toward the wall, and then let it go and sprang up into the huge pine tree nearby. It was delightful to see him leaping through the branches so far from her, but they had to be careful not to do it when anyone was looking; their painfully acquired witch power of separating had to stay a secret. Once she would have reveled in showing it off to all her urchin friends, and making them goggle with fear, but Will had taught her the value of silence and discretion.

She sat on the bench and waited for Pan to come to her. He liked to surprise her, but she usually managed to see him before he reached her, and there was his shadowy form, flowing along beside the riverbank. She looked the other way and pretended she hadn’t seen him, and then seized him suddenly when he leapt onto the bench.

“I nearly did it,” he said.

“You’ll have to get better than that. I heard you coming all the way from the gate.”

He sat on the back of the bench with his forepaws resting on her shoulder.

“What are we going to tell her?” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s only to meet this headmistress, anyway. It’s not to go to the school.”

“But we will go, won’t we?”

“Yes,” she said, “probably.”

“It might be good.”

Lyra wondered about the other pupils. They might be cleverer than she was, or more sophisticated, and they were sure to know a lot more than she did about all the things that were important to girls of their age. And she wouldn’t be able to tell them a hundredth of the things that she knew. They’d be bound to think she was simple and ignorant.

“D’you think Dame Hannah can really do the alethiometer?” said Pantalaimon.

“With the books, I’m sure she can. I wonder how many books there are? I bet we could learn them all, and do without. Imagine having to carry a pile of books everywhere … Pan?”

“What?”

“Will you ever tell me what you and Will’s dæmon did while we were apart?”

“One day,” he said. “And she’ll tell Will, one day. We agreed that we’d know when the time had come, but we wouldn’t tell either of you till then.”

“All right,” she said peaceably.

She had told Pantalaimon everything, but it was right that he should have some secrets from her, after the way she’d abandoned him.

And it was comforting to think that she and Will had another thing in common. She wondered whether there would ever come an hour in her life when she didn’t think of him—didn’t speak to him in her head, didn’t relive every moment they’d been together, didn’t long for his voice and his hands and his love. She had never dreamed of what it would feel like to love someone so much; of all the things that had astonished her in her adventures, that was what astonished her the most. She thought the tenderness it left in her heart was like a bruise that would never go away, but she would cherish it forever.

Pan slipped down to the bench and curled up on her lap. They were safe together in the dark, she and her dæmon and their secrets. Somewhere in this sleeping city were the books that would tell her how to read the alethiometer again, and the kindly and learned woman who was going to teach her, and the girls at the school, who knew so much more than she did.

She thought, They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to be my friends.

Pantalaimon murmured, “That thing that Will said …”

“When?”

“On the beach, just before you tried the alethiometer. He said there wasn’t any elsewhere. It was what his father had told you. But there was something else.”

“I remember. He meant the Kingdom was over, the Kingdom of Heaven, it was all finished. We shouldn’t live as if it mattered more than this life in this world, because where we are is always the most important place.”

“He said we had to build something …”

“That’s why we needed our full life, Pan. We would have gone with Will and Kirjava, wouldn’t we?”

“Yes. Of course! And they would have come with us. But—”

“But then we wouldn’t have been able to build it. No one could if they put themselves first. We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we’ve got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds, and then we’ll build …”

Her hands were resting on his glossy fur. Somewhere in the garden a nightingale was singing, and a little breeze touched her hair and stirred the leaves overhead. All the different bells of the city chimed, once each, this one high, that one low, some close by, others farther off, one cracked and peevish, another grave and sonorous, but agreeing in all their different voices on what the time was, even if some of them got to it a little more slowly than others. In that other Oxford where she and Will had kissed good-bye, the bells would be chiming, too, and a nightingale would be singing, and a little breeze would be stirring the leaves in the Botanic Garden.

“And then what?” said her dæmon sleepily. “Build what?”

“The Republic of Heaven,” said Lyra.

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