فصل 07-09

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: دوربین کهربایی / فصل 3

فصل 07-09

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7 … Last / Rose as in Dance the stately Trees, and spred Thir branches hung with copious Fruit …


MARY, ALONE Almost at the same time, the tempter whom Father Gomez was setting out to follow was being tempted herself.

“Thank you, no, no, that’s all I need, no more, honestly, thank you,” said Dr. Mary Malone to the old couple in the olive grove as they tried to give her more food than she could carry.

They lived here isolated and childless, and they had been afraid of the Specters they’d seen among the silver-gray trees; but when Mary Malone came up the road with her rucksack, the Specters had taken fright and drifted away. The old couple had welcomed Mary into their little vine-sheltered farmhouse, had plied her with wine and cheese and bread and olives, and now didn’t want to let her go.

“I must go on,” said Mary again, “thank you, you’ve been very kind—I can’t carry—oh, all right, another little cheese—thank you—”

They evidently saw her as a talisman against the Specters. She wished she could be. In her week in the world of Cittàgazze, she had seen enough devastation, enough Specter-eaten adults and wild, scavenging children, to have a horror of those ethereal vampires. All she knew was that they did drift away when she approached; but she couldn’t stay with everyone who wanted her to, because she had to move on.

She found room for the last little goat’s cheese wrapped in its vine leaf, smiled and bowed again, and took a last drink from the spring that bubbled up among the gray rocks. Then she clapped her hands gently together as the old couple were doing, and turned firmly away and left.

She looked more decisive than she felt. The last communication with those entities she called shadow particles, and Lyra called Dust, had been on the screen of her computer, and at their instruction she had destroyed that. Now she was at a loss. They’d told her to go through the opening in the Oxford she had lived in, the Oxford of Will’s world, which she’d done—to find herself dizzy and quaking with wonder in this extraordinary other world. Beyond that, her only task was to find the boy and the girl, and then play the serpent, whatever that meant.

So she’d walked and explored and inquired, and found nothing. But now, she thought, as she turned up the little track away from the olive grove, she would have to look for guidance.

Once she was far enough away from the little farmstead to be sure she wouldn’t be disturbed, she sat under the pine trees and opened her rucksack. At the bottom, wrapped in a silk scarf, was a book she’d had for twenty years: a commentary on the Chinese method of divination, the I Ching.

She had taken it with her for two reasons. One was sentimental: her grandfather had given it to her, and she had used it a lot as a schoolgirl. The other was that when Lyra had first found her way to Mary’s laboratory, she had asked: “What’s that?” and pointed to the poster on the door that showed the symbols from the I Ching; and shortly afterward, in her spectacular reading of the computer, Lyra had learned (she claimed) that Dust had many other ways of speaking to human beings, and one of them was the method from China that used those symbols.

So in her swift packing to leave her own world, Mary Malone had taken with her the Book of Changes, as it was called, and the little yarrow stalks with which she read it. And now the time had come to use them.

She spread the silk on the ground and began the process of dividing and counting, dividing and counting and setting aside, which she’d done so often as a passionate, curious teenager, and hardly ever since. She had almost forgotten how to do it, but she soon found the ritual coming back, and with it a sense of that calm and concentrated attention that played such an important part in talking to the Shadows.

Eventually she came to the numbers that indicated the hexagram she was being given, the group of six broken or unbroken lines, and then she looked up the meaning. This was the difficult part, because the Book expressed itself in such an enigmatic style.

She read:

Turning to the summit For provision of nourishment Brings good fortune. Spying about with sharp eyes Like a tiger with insatiable craving.

That seemed encouraging. She read on, following the commentary through the mazy paths it led her on, until she came to: Keeping still is the mountain; it is a bypath; it means little stones, doors, and openings.

She had to guess. The mention of “openings” recalled the mysterious window in the air through which she had entered this world; and the first words seemed to say that she should go upward.

Both puzzled and encouraged, she packed the book and the yarrow stalks away and set off up the path.

Four hours later she was very hot and tired. The sun was low over the horizon. The rough track she was following had petered out, and she was clambering with more and more discomfort among tumbled boulders and smaller stones. To her left the slope fell away toward a landscape of olive and lemon groves, of poorly tended vineyards and abandoned windmills, lying hazy in the evening light. To her right a scree of small rocks and gravel sloped up to a cliff of crumbling limestone.

Wearily she hoisted her rucksack again and set her foot on the next flat stone—but before she even transferred her weight, she stopped. The light was catching something curious, and she shaded her eyes against the glare from the scree and tried to find it again.

And there it was: like a sheet of glass hanging unsupported in the air, but glass with no attention-catching reflections in it: just a square patch of difference. And then she remembered what the I Ching had said: a bypath … little stones, doors, and openings.

It was a window like the one in Sunderland Avenue in Oxford. She could only see it because of the light: with the sun any higher it probably wouldn’t show up at all.

She approached the little patch of air with passionate curiosity, because she hadn’t had time to look at the first one: she’d had to get away as quickly as possible. But she examined this one in detail, touching the edge, moving around to see how it became invisible from the other side, noting the absolute difference between this and that, and found her mind almost bursting with excitement that such things could be.

The knife bearer who had made it, at about the time of the American Revolution, had been too careless to close it, but at least he’d cut through at a point very similar to the world on this side: next to a rock face. But the rock on the other side was different, not limestone but granite, and as Mary stepped through into the new world she found herself not at the foot of a towering cliff but almost at the top of a low outcrop overlooking a vast plain.

It was evening here, too, and she sat down to breathe the air and rest her limbs and taste the wonder without rushing.

Wide golden light, and an endless prairie or savanna, like nothing she had ever seen in her own world. To begin with, although most of it was covered in short grass in an infinite variety of buff-brown-green-ocher-yellow-golden shades, and undulating very gently in a way that the long evening light showed up clearly, the prairie seemed to be laced through and through with what looked like rivers of rock with a light gray surface.

And secondly, here and there on the plain were stands of the tallest trees Mary had ever seen. Attending a high-energy physics conference once in California, she had taken time out to look at the great redwood trees, and marveled; but whatever these trees were, they would have overtopped the redwoods by half again, at least. Their foliage was dense and dark green, their vast trunks gold-red in the heavy evening light.

And finally, herds of creatures, too far off to see distinctly, grazed on the prairie. There was a strangeness about their movement that she couldn’t quite work out.

She was desperately tired, and thirsty and hungry besides. Somewhere nearby, though, she heard the welcome trickle of a spring, and only a minute later she found it: just a seepage of clear water from a mossy fissure, and a tiny stream that led away down the slope. She drank long and gratefully, and filled her bottles, and then set about making herself comfortable, for night was falling rapidly.

Propped against the rock, wrapped in her sleeping bag, she ate some of the rough bread and the goat’s cheese, and then fell deeply asleep.

She awoke with the early sun full in her face. The air was cool, and the dew had settled in tiny beads on her hair and on the sleeping bag. She lay for a few minutes lapped in freshness, feeling as if she were the first human being who had ever lived.

She sat up, yawned, stretched, shivered, and washed in the chilly spring before eating a couple of dried figs and taking stock of the place.

Behind the little rise she had found herself on, the land sloped gradually down and then up again; the fullest view lay in front, across that immense prairie. The long shadows of the trees lay toward her now, and she could see flocks of birds wheeling in front of them, so small against the towering green canopy that they looked like motes of dust.

Loading her rucksack again, she made her way down onto the coarse, rich grass of the prairie, aiming for the nearest stand of trees, four or five miles away.

The grass was knee-high, and growing among it were low-lying bushes, no higher than her ankles, of something like juniper; and there were flowers like poppies, like buttercups, like cornflowers, giving a haze of different tints to the landscape; and then she saw a large bee, the size of the top segment of her thumb, visiting a blue flower head and making it bend and sway. But as it backed out of the petals and took to the air again, she saw that it was no insect, for a moment later it made for her hand and perched on her finger, dipping a long needle-like beak against her skin with the utmost delicacy and then taking flight again when it found no nectar. It was a minute hummingbird, its bronze-feathered wings moving too fast for her to see.

How every biologist on earth would envy her if they could see what she was seeing!

She moved on and found herself getting closer to a herd of those grazing creatures she had seen the previous evening, whose movement had puzzled her without her knowing why. They were about the size of deer or antelopes, and similarly colored, but what made her stop still and rub her eyes was the arrangement of their legs. They grew in a diamond formation: two in the center, one at the front, and one under the tail, so that the animals moved with a curious rocking motion. Mary longed to examine a skeleton and see how the structure worked.

For their part, the grazing creatures regarded her with mild, incurious eyes, showing no alarm. She would have loved to go closer and take time to look at them, but it was getting hot, and the shade of the great trees looked inviting; and there was plenty of time, after all.

Before long she found herself stepping out of the grass onto one of those rivers of stone she’d seen from the hill: something else to wonder at.

It might once have been some kind of lava-flow. The underlying color was dark, almost black, but the surface was paler, as if it had been ground down or worn by crushing. It was as smooth as a stretch of well-laid road in Mary’s own world, and certainly easier to walk on than the grass.

She followed the one she was on, which flowed in a wide curve toward the trees. The closer she got, the more astounded she was by the enormous size of the trunks—as wide, she estimated, as the house she lived in, and as tall—as tall as … She couldn’t even make a guess.

When she came to the first trunk, she rested her hands on the deeply ridged red-gold bark. The ground was covered ankle-deep in brown leaf skeletons as long as her hand, soft and fragrant to walk on. She was soon surrounded by a cloud of midgelike flying things, as well as a little flock of the tiny hummingbirds, a yellow butterfly with a wingspread as broad as her hand, and too many crawling things for comfort. The air was full of humming and buzzing and scraping.

She walked along the floor of the grove feeling much as if she were in a cathedral: there was the same stillness, the same sense of upwardness in the structures, the same awe within herself.

It had taken her longer than she thought it would to walk here. It was getting on toward midday, for the shafts of light coming down through the canopy were almost vertical. Drowsily Mary wondered why the grazing creatures didn’t move under the shade of the trees during this hottest part of the day.

She soon found out.

Feeling too hot to move any farther, she lay down to rest between the roots of one of the giant trees, with her head on her rucksack, and fell into a doze.

Her eyes were closed for twenty minutes or so, and she was not quite asleep, when suddenly, from very close by, there came a resounding crash that shook the ground.

Then came another. Alarmed, Mary sat up and gathered her wits, and saw a movement that resolved itself into a round object, about three feet across, rolling along the ground, coming to a halt, and falling on its side.

And then another fell, farther off; she saw the massive thing descend, and watched it crash into the buttress-like root of the nearest trunk and roll away.

The thought of one of those things falling on her was enough to make her take her rucksack and run out of the grove altogether. What were they? Seedpods?

Watching carefully upward, she ventured under the canopy again to look at the nearest of the fallen objects. She pulled it upright and rolled it out of the grove, and then laid it on the grass to look at it more closely.

It was perfectly circular and as thick as the width of her palm. There was a depression in the center, where it had been attached to the tree. It wasn’t heavy, but it was immensely hard and covered in fibrous hairs, which lay along the circumference so that she could run her hand around it easily one way but not the other. She tried her knife on the surface; it made no impression at all.

Her fingers seemed smoother. She smelled them; there was a faint fragrance there, under the smell of dust. She looked at the seedpod again. In the center there was a slight glistening, and as she touched it again, she felt it slide easily under her fingers. It was exuding a kind of oil.

Mary laid the thing down and thought about the way this world had evolved.

If her guess about these universes was right, and they were the multiple worlds predicted by quantum theory, then some of them would have split off from her own much earlier than others. And clearly in this world evolution had favored enormous trees and large creatures with a diamond-framed skeleton.

She was beginning to see how narrow her scientific horizons were. No botany, no geology, no biology of any sort—she was as ignorant as a baby.

And then she heard a low thunder-like rumble, which was hard to locate until she saw a cloud of dust moving along one of the roads—toward the stand of trees, and toward her. It was about a mile away, but it wasn’t moving slowly, and all of a sudden she felt afraid.

She darted back into the grove. She found a narrow space between two great roots and crammed herself into it, peering over the buttress beside her and out toward the approaching dust cloud.

What she saw made her head spin. At first it looked like a motorcycle gang. Then she thought it was a herd of wheeled animals. But that was impossible. No animal could have wheels. She wasn’t seeing it. But she was.

There were a dozen or so. They were roughly the same size as the grazing creatures, but leaner and gray-colored, with horned heads and short trunks like elephants’. They had the same diamond-shaped structure as the grazers, but somehow they had evolved, on their front and rear single legs, a wheel.

But wheels did not exist in nature, her mind insisted; they couldn’t; you needed an axle with a bearing that was completely separate from the rotating part, it couldn’t happen, it was impossible—

Then, as they came to a halt not fifty yards away, and the dust settled, she suddenly made the connection, and she couldn’t help laughing out loud with a little cough of delight.

The wheels were seedpods. Perfectly round, immensely hard and light—they couldn’t have been designed better. The creatures hooked a claw through the center of the pods with their front and rear legs, and used their two lateral legs to push against the ground and move along. While she marveled at this, she was also a little anxious, for their horns looked formidably sharp, and even at this distance she could see intelligence and curiosity in their gaze.

And they were looking for her.

One of them had spotted the seedpod she had taken out of the grove, and he trundled off the road toward it. When he reached it, he lifted it onto an edge with his trunk and rolled it over to his companions.

They gathered around the pod and touched it delicately with those powerful, flexible trunks, and she found herself interpreting the soft chirrups and clicks and hoots they were making as expressions of disapproval. Someone had tampered with this: it was wrong.

Then she thought: I came here for a purpose, although I don’t understand it yet. Be bold. Take the initiative.

So she stood up and very self-consciously called:

“Over here. This is where I am. I looked at your seedpod. I’m sorry. Please don’t harm me.”

Instantly their heads snapped around, trunks held out, glittering eyes facing forward. Their ears had all flicked upright.

She stepped out of the shelter of the roots and faced them directly. She held out her hands, realizing that such a gesture might mean nothing to creatures with no hands themselves. Still, it was all she could do. Picking up her rucksack, she walked across the grass and stepped onto the road.

Close up—not five steps away—she could see much more about their appearance, but her attention was held by something lively and aware in their gaze, by an intelligence. These creatures were as different from the grazing animals nearby as a human was from a cow.

Mary pointed to herself and said, “Mary.”

The nearest creature reached forward with its trunk. She moved closer, and it touched her on the breast, where she had pointed, and she heard her voice coming back to her from the creature’s throat: “Merry.”

“What are you?” she said.

“Watahyu?” the creature responded.

All she could do was respond. “I am a human,” she said.

“Ayama yuman,” said the creature, and then something even odder happened: the creatures laughed.

Their eyes wrinkled, their trunks waved, they tossed their heads—and from their throats came the unmistakable sound of merriment. She couldn’t help it: she laughed, too.

Then another creature moved forward and touched her hand with its trunk. Mary offered her other hand as well to its soft, bristled, questing touch.

“Ah,” she said, “you’re smelling the oil from the seedpod …”

“Seepot,” said the creature.

“If you can make the sounds of my language, we might be able to communicate, one day. God knows how. Mary,” she said, pointing to herself again.

Nothing. They watched. She did it again: “Mary.”

The nearest creature touched its own breast with its trunk and spoke. Was it three syllables, or two? The creature spoke again, and this time Mary tried hard to make the same sounds: “Mulefa,” she said tentatively.

Others repeated, “Mulefa” in her voice, laughing, and even seemed to be teasing the creature who had spoken. “Mulefa!” they said again, as if it were a fine joke.

“Well, if you can laugh, I don’t suppose you’ll eat me,” Mary said. And from that moment, there was an ease and friendliness between her and them, and she felt nervous no more.

And the group itself relaxed: they had things to do, they weren’t roaming at random. Mary saw that one of them had a saddle or pack on its back, and two others lifted the seedpod onto it, making it secure by tying straps around it, with deft and intricate movements of their trunks. When they stood still, they balanced with their lateral legs, and when they moved, they turned both front and back legs to steer. Their movements were full of grace and power.

One of them wheeled to the edge of the road and raised its trunk to utter a trumpeting call. The herd of grazers all looked up as one and began to trot toward them. When they arrived, they stood patiently at the verge and let the wheeled creatures move slowly through them, checking, touching, counting.

Then Mary saw one reach beneath a grazer and milk it with her trunk; and then the wheeled one rolled over to her and raised her trunk delicately to Mary’s mouth.

At first she flinched, but there was an expectation in the creature’s eye, so she came forward again and opened her lips. The creature expressed a little of the sweet, thin milk into her mouth, watched her swallow, and gave her some more, again and again. The gesture was so clever and kindly that Mary impulsively put her arms around the creature’s head and kissed her, smelling the hot, dusty hide and feeling the hard bones underneath and the muscular power of the trunk.

Presently the leader trumpeted softly and the grazers moved away. The mulefa were preparing to leave. She felt joy that they had welcomed her, and sadness that they were leaving; but then she felt surprise as well.

One of the creatures was lowering itself, kneeling down on the road, and gesturing with its trunk, and the others were beckoning and inviting her … No doubt about it: they were offering to carry her, to take her with them.

Another took her rucksack and fastened it to the saddle of a third, and awkwardly Mary climbed on the back of the kneeling one, wondering where to put her legs—in front of the creature’s, or behind? And what could she hold on to?

But before she could work it out, the creature had risen, and the group began to move away along the highway, with Mary riding among them.

because he’s Will.”


I have been a stranger in a strange land.



Balthamos felt the death of Baruch the moment it happened. He cried aloud and soared into the night air over the tundra, flailing his wings and sobbing his anguish into the clouds; and it was some time before he could compose himself and go back to Will, who was wide awake, knife in hand, peering up into the damp and chilly murk. They were back in Lyra’s world.

“What is it?” said Will as the angel appeared trembling beside him. “Is it danger? Get behind me—”

“Baruch is dead,” cried Balthamos, “my dear Baruch is dead—”

“When? Where?”

But Balthamos couldn’t tell; he only knew that half his heart had been extinguished. He couldn’t keep still: he flew up again, scouring the sky as if to seek out Baruch in this cloud or that, calling, crying, calling; and then he’d be overcome with guilt, and fly down to urge Will to hide and keep quiet, and promise to watch over him tirelessly; and then the pressure of his grief would crush him to the ground, and he’d remember every instance of kindness and courage that Baruch had ever shown, and there were thousands, and he’d forgotten none of them; and he’d cry that a nature so gracious could never be snuffed out, and he’d soar into the skies again, casting about in every direction, reckless and wild and stricken, cursing the very air, the clouds, the stars.

Finally Will said, “Balthamos, come here.”

The angel came at his command, helpless. Shivering inside his cloak, in the bitter cold gloom of the tundra, the boy said to him, “You must try to keep quiet now. You know there are things out there that’ll attack if they hear a noise. I can protect you with the knife if you’re nearby, but if they attack you up there, I won’t be able to help. And if you die, too, that’ll be the end for me. Balthamos, I need you to help guide me to Lyra. Please don’t forget that. Baruch was strong—be strong, too. Be like him for me.”

At first Balthamos didn’t speak, but then he said, “Yes. Yes, of course I must. Sleep now, Will, and I shall stand guard, I shan’t fail you.”

Will trusted him; he had to. And presently he fell asleep again.

When he woke up, soaked with dew and cold to his bones, the angel was standing nearby. The sun was just rising, and the reeds and the marsh plants were all tipped with gold.

Before Will could move, Balthamos said, “I’ve decided what I must do. I shall stay with you day and night, and do it cheerfully and willingly, for the sake of Baruch. I shall guide you to Lyra, if I can, and then I shall guide you both to Lord Asriel. I have lived thousands of years, and unless I am killed, I shall live many thousands of years more; but I never met a nature that made me so ardent to do good, or to be kind, as Baruch’s did. I failed so many times, but each time his goodness was there to redeem me. Now it’s not, I shall have to try without it. Perhaps I shall fail from time to time, but I shall try all the same.”

“Then Baruch would be proud of you,” said Will, shivering.

“Shall I fly ahead now and see where we are?”

“Yes,” said Will, “fly high, and tell me what the land’s like farther on. Walking on this marshland is going to take forever.”

Balthamos took to the air. He hadn’t told Will everything he was anxious about, because he was trying to do his best and not worry him; but he knew that the angel Metatron, the Regent, from whom they’d escaped so narrowly, would have Will’s face firmly imprinted on his mind. And not only his face, but everything about him that angels were able to see, including parts of which Will himself was not aware, such as that aspect of his nature Lyra would have called his dæmon. Will was in great danger from Metatron now, and at some time Balthamos would have to tell him; but not quite yet. It was too difficult.

Will, reckoning that it would be quicker to get warm by walking than by gathering fuel and waiting for a fire to catch, simply slung the rucksack over his shoulders, wrapped the cloak around everything, and set off toward the south. There was a path, muddy and rutted and potholed, so people did sometimes come this way; but the flat horizon was so far away on every side that he had little sense of making progress.

Sometime later, when the light was brighter, Balthamos’s voice spoke beside him.

“About half a day’s walk ahead, there is a wide river and a town, where there’s a wharf for boats to tie up. I flew high enough to see that the river goes a long way directly south and north. If you could get a passage, then you could move much more quickly.”

“Good,” said Will fervently. “And does this path go to the town?”

“It goes through a village, with a church and farms and orchards, and then on to the town.”

“I wonder what language they speak. I hope they don’t lock me up if I can’t speak theirs.”

“As your dæmon,” said Balthamos, “I shall translate for you. I have learned many human languages; I can certainly understand the one they speak in this country.”

Will walked on. The toil was dull and mechanical, but at least he was moving, and at least every step took him closer to Lyra.

The village was a shabby place: a huddle of wooden buildings, with paddocks containing reindeer, and dogs that barked as he approached. Smoke crept out of the tin chimneys and hung low over the shingled roofs. The ground was heavy and dragged at his feet, and there had obviously been a recent flood: walls were marked with mud to halfway up the doors, and broken beams of wood and loose-hanging sheets of corrugated iron showed where sheds and verandas and outbuildings had been swept away.

But that was not the most curious feature of the place. At first he thought he was losing his balance—it even made him stumble once or twice—for the buildings were two or three degrees out of the vertical, all leaning the same way. The dome of the little church had cracked badly. Had there been an earthquake?

Dogs were barking with hysterical fury, but not daring to come close. Balthamos, being a dæmon, had taken the form of a large snow white dog with black eyes, thick fur, and tight-curled tail, and he snarled so fiercely that the real dogs kept their distance. They were thin and mangy, and the few reindeer Will could see were scabby-coated and listless.

Will paused in the center of the little village and looked around, wondering where to go, and as he stood there, two or three men appeared ahead and stood staring at him. They were the first people he had ever seen in Lyra’s world. They wore heavy felt coats, muddy boots, and fur hats, and they didn’t look friendly.

The white dog changed into a sparrow and flew to Will’s shoulder. No one blinked an eye at this: each of the men had a dæmon, Will saw, dogs, most of them, and that was how things happened in this world. On his shoulder, Balthamos whispered: “Keep moving. Don’t look them in the eye. Keep your head down. That is the respectful thing to do.”

Will kept walking. He could make himself inconspicuous; it was his greatest talent. By the time he got to them, the men had already lost interest in him. But then a door opened in the biggest house in the road, and a voice called something loudly.

Balthamos said softly, “The priest. You will have to be polite to him. Turn and bow.”

Will did so. The priest was an immense, gray-bearded man, wearing a black cassock, with a crow dæmon on his shoulder. His restless eyes moved over Will’s face and body, taking everything in. He beckoned.

Will went to the doorway and bowed again.

The priest said something, and Balthamos murmured, “He’s asking where you come from. Say whatever you like.”

“I speak English,” Will said slowly and clearly. “I don’t know any other languages.”

“Ah, English!” cried the priest gleefully in English. “My dear young man! Welcome to our village, our little no-longer-perpendicular Kholodnoye! What is your name, and where are you going?”

“My name is Will, and I’m going south. I have lost my family, and I’m trying to find them again.”

“Then you must come inside and have some refreshment,” said the priest, and put a heavy arm around Will’s shoulders, pulling him in through the doorway.

The man’s crow dæmon was showing a vivid interest in Balthamos. But the angel was equal to that: he became a mouse and crept into Will’s shirt as if he were shy.

The priest led him into a parlor heavy with tobacco smoke, where a cast-iron samovar steamed quietly on a side table.

“What was your name?” said the priest. “Tell me again.”

“Will Parry. But I don’t know what to call you.”

“Otyets Semyon,” said the priest, stroking Will’s arm as he guided him to a chair. “Otyets means Father. I am a priest of the Holy Church. My given name is Semyon, and the name of my father was Boris, so I am Semyon Borisovitch. What is your father’s name?”

“John Parry.”

“John is Ivan. So you are Will Ivanovitch, and I am Father Semyon Borisovitch. Where have you come from, Will Ivanovitch, and where are you going?”

“I’m lost,” Will said. “I was traveling with my family to the south. My father is a soldier, but he was exploring in the Arctic, and then something happened and we got lost. So I’m traveling south because I know that’s where we were going next.”

The priest spread his hands and said, “A soldier? An explorer from England? No one so interesting as that has trodden the dirty roads of Kholodnoye for centuries, but in this time of upheaval, how can we know that he will not appear tomorrow? You yourself are a welcome visitor, Will Ivanovitch. You must stay the night in my house and we will talk and eat together. Lydia Alexandrovna!” he called.

An elderly woman came in silently. He spoke to her in Russian, and she nodded and took a glass and filled it with hot tea from the samovar. She brought the glass of tea to Will, together with a little saucer of jam with a silver spoon.

“Thank you,” said Will.

“The conserve is to sweeten the tea,” said the priest. “Lydia Alexandrovna made it from bilberries.”

The result was that the tea was sickly as well as bitter, but Will sipped it, nonetheless. The priest kept leaning forward to look closely at him, and felt his hands to see whether he was cold, and stroked his knee. In order to distract him, Will asked why the buildings in the village sloped.

“There has been a convulsion in the earth,” the priest said. “It is all foretold in the Apocalypse of St. John. Rivers flow backward … The great river only a short way from here used to flow north into the Arctic Ocean. All the way from the mountains of central Asia it flowed north for thousands and thousands of years, ever since the Authority of God the Almighty Father created the earth. But when the earth shook and the fog and the floods came, everything changed, and then the great river flowed south for a week or more before it turned again and went north. The world is turned upside down. Where were you when the great convulsion came?”

“A long way from here,” Will said. “I didn’t know what was happening. When the fog cleared, I had lost my family and I don’t know where I am now. You’ve told me the name of this place, but where is it? Where are we?”

“Bring me that large book on the bottom shelf,” said Semyon Borisovitch. “I will show you.”

The priest drew his chair up to the table and licked his fingers before turning the pages of the great atlas.

“Here,” he said, pointing with a dirty fingernail at a spot in central Siberia, a long way east of the Urals. The river nearby flowed, as the priest had said, from the northern part of the mountains in Tibet all the way to the Arctic. He looked closely at the Himalaya, but he could see nothing like the map Baruch had sketched.

Semyon Borisovitch talked and talked, pressing Will for details of his life, his family, his home, and Will, a practiced dissembler, answered him fully enough. Presently the housekeeper brought in some beetroot soup and dark bread, and after the priest had said a long grace, they ate.

“Well, how shall we pass our day, Will Ivanovitch?” said Semyon Borisovitch. “Shall we play at cards, or would you prefer to talk?”

He drew another glass of tea from the samovar, and Will took it doubtfully.

“I can’t play cards,” he said, “and I’m anxious to get on and keep traveling. If I went to the river, for example, do you think I could find a passage on a steamer going south?”

The priest’s huge face darkened, and he crossed himself with a delicate flick of the wrist.

“There is trouble in the town,” he said. “Lydia Alexandrovna has a sister who came here and told her there is a boat carrying bears up the river. Armored bears. They come from the Arctic. You did not see armored bears when you were in the north?”

The priest was suspicious, and Balthamos whispered so quietly that only Will could hear: “Be careful.” And Will knew at once why he’d said it: his heart had begun to pound when Semyon Borisovitch mentioned the bears, because of what Lyra had told him about them. He must try to contain his feelings.

He said, “We were a long way from Svalbard, and the bears were occupied with their own affairs.”

“Yes, that is what I heard,” said the priest, to Will’s relief. “But now they are leaving their homeland and coming south. They have a boat, and the people of the town will not let them refuel. They are afraid of the bears. And so they should be—they are children of the devil. All things from the north are devilish. Like the witches—daughters of evil! The Church should have put them all to death many years ago. Witches—have nothing to do with them, Will Ivanovitch, you hear me? You know what they will do when you come to the right age? They will try to seduce you. They will use all the soft, cunning, deceitful ways they have, their flesh, their soft skin, their sweet voices, and they will take your seed—you know what I mean by that—they will drain you and leave you hollow! They will take your future, your children that are to come, and leave you nothing. They should be put to death, every one.”

The priest reached across to the shelf beside his chair and took down a bottle and two small glasses.

“Now I am going to offer you a little drink, Will Ivanovitch,” he said. “You are young, so not very many glasses. But you are growing, and so you need to know some things, like the taste of vodka. Lydia Alexandrovna collected the berries last year, and I distilled the liquor, and here in the bottle is the result, the only place where Otyets Semyon Borisovitch and Lydia Alexandrovna lie together!”

He laughed and uncorked the bottle, filling each glass to the rim. This kind of talk made Will hideously uneasy. What should he do? How could he refuse to drink without discourtesy?

“Otyets Semyon,” he said, standing, “you have been very kind, and I wish I could stay longer to taste your drink and to hear you talk, because what you tell me has been very interesting. But you understand I am unhappy about my family, and very anxious to find them again, so I think I must move on, much as I would like to stay.”

The priest pushed out his lips, in the thicket of his beard, and frowned; but then he shrugged and said, “Well, you shall go if you must. But before you leave, you must drink your vodka. Stand with me now! Take it, and down all in one, like this!”

He threw back the glass, swallowing it all at once, and then hauled his massive body up and stood very close to Will. In his fat, dirty fingers the glass he held out seemed tiny; but it was brimming with the clear spirit, and Will could smell the heady tang of the drink and the stale sweat and the food stains on the man’s cassock, and he felt sick before he began.

“Drink, Will Ivanovitch!” the priest cried, with a threatening heartiness.

Will lifted the glass and unhesitatingly swallowed the fiery, oily liquid in one gulp. Now he would have to fight hard to avoid being sick.

There was one more ordeal to come. Semyon Borisovitch leaned forward from his great height, and took Will by both shoulders.

“My boy,” he said, and then closed his eyes and began to intone a prayer or a psalm. Vapors of tobacco and alcohol and sweat came powerfully from him, and he was close enough for his thick beard, wagging up and down, to brush Will’s face. Will held his breath.

The priest’s hands moved behind Will’s shoulders, and then Semyon Borisovitch was hugging him tightly and kissing his cheeks, right, left, right again. Will felt Balthamos dig tiny claws into his shoulder, and kept still. His head was swimming, his stomach lurching, but he didn’t move.

Finally it was over, and the priest stepped back and pushed him away.

“Go, then,” he said, “go south, Will Ivanovitch. Go.”

Will gathered his cloak and the rucksack, and tried to walk straight as he left the priest’s house and took the road out of the village.

He walked for two hours, feeling the nausea gradually subside and a slow, pounding headache take its place. Balthamos made him stop at one point, and laid his cool hands on Will’s neck and forehead, and the ache eased a little; but Will made himself a promise that he would never drink vodka again.

And in the late afternoon the path widened and came out of the reeds, and Will saw the town ahead of him, and beyond it an expanse of water so broad it might have been a sea.

Even from some way off, Will could see that there was trouble. Puffs of smoke were erupting from beyond the roofs, followed a few seconds later by the boom of a gun.

“Balthamos,” he said, “you’ll have to be a dæmon again. Just keep near me and watch out for danger.”

He walked into the outskirts of the scruffy little town, where the buildings leaned even more perilously than the village, and where the flooding had left its mud stains on the walls high above Will’s head. The edge of the town was deserted, but as he made his way toward the river, the noise of shouting, of screams, and of the crackle of rifle fire got louder.

And here at last there were people: some watching from upper-floor windows, some craning anxiously around the corners of buildings to look ahead at the waterfront, where the metal fingers of cranes and derricks and the masts of big vessels rose above the rooftops.

An explosion shook the walls, and glass fell out of a nearby window. People drew back and then peered around again, and more cries rose into the smoky air.

Will reached the corner of the street and looked along the waterfront. When the smoke and dust cleared a little, he saw one rusting vessel standing offshore, keeping its place against the flow of the river, and on the wharf a mob of people armed with rifles or pistols surrounding a great gun, which, as he watched, boomed again. A flash of fire, a lurching recoil, and near the vessel, a mighty splash.

Will shaded his eyes. There were figures in the boat, but—he rubbed his eyes, even though he knew what to expect—they weren’t human. They were huge beings of metal, or creatures in heavy armor, and on the foredeck of the vessel, a bright flower of flame suddenly bloomed, and the people cried out in alarm. The flame sped into the air, rising higher and coming closer and shedding sparks and smoke, and then fell with a great splash of fire near the gun. Men cried and scattered, and some ran in flames to the water’s edge and plunged in, to be swept along and out of sight in the current.

Will found a man close by who looked like a teacher, and said:

“Do you speak English?”

“Yes, yes, indeed—”

“What is happening?”

“The bears, they are attacking, and we try to fight them, but it is difficult, we have only one gun, and—”

The fire thrower on the boat hurled another gout of blazing pitch, and this time it landed even closer to the gun. Three big explosions almost immediately afterward showed that it had found the ammunition, and the gunners leapt away, letting the barrel swing down low.

“Ah,” the man lamented, “it’s no good, they can’t fire—”

The commander of the boat brought the vessel’s head around and moved in toward the shore. Many people cried out in alarm and despair, especially when another great bulb of flame burst into being on the foredeck, and some of those with rifles fired a shot or two and turned to flee; but this time the bears didn’t launch the fire, and soon the vessel moved broadside on toward the wharf, engine beating hard to hold it against the current.

Two sailors (human, not bears) leapt down to throw ropes around the bollards, and a great hiss and cry of anger rose from the townsfolk at these human traitors. The sailors took no notice, but ran to lower a gangplank.

Then as they turned to go back on board, a shot was fired from somewhere near Will, and one of the sailors fell. His dæmon—a seagull—vanished as if she’d been pinched out of existence like a candle flame.

The reaction from the bears was pure fury. At once the fire thrower was relit and hauled around to face the shore, and the mass of flame shot upward and then cascaded in a hundred spilling gouts over the rooftops. And at the top of the gangway appeared a bear larger than any of the others, an apparition of ironclad might, and the bullets that rained on him whined and clanged and thudded uselessly, unable to make the slightest dent in his massive armor.

Will said to the man beside him, “Why are they attacking the town?”

“They want fuel. But we have no dealings with bears. Now they are leaving their kingdom and sailing up the river, who knows what they will do? So we must fight them. Pirates—robbers—”

The great bear had come down the gangway, and massed behind him were several others, so heavy that the ship listed; and Will saw that the men on the wharf had gone back to the gun and were loading a shell into the breech.

An idea came, and he ran out onto the quayside, right into the empty space between the gunners and the bear.

“Stop!” he shouted. “Stop fighting. Let me speak to the bear!”

There was a sudden lull, and everyone stood still, astonished at this crazy behavior. The bear himself, who had been gathering his strength to charge the gunners, stayed where he was, but every line of his body trembled with ferocity. His great claws dug into the ground, and his black eyes glowed with rage under the iron helmet.

“What are you? What do you want?” he roared in English, since Will had spoken in that language.

The people watching looked at one another in bewilderment, and those who could understand translated for the others.

“I’ll fight you, in single combat,” cried Will, “and if you give way, then the fighting has to stop.”

The bear didn’t move. As for the people, as soon as they understood what Will was saying, they shouted and jeered and hooted with mocking laughter. But not for long, because Will turned to face the crowd, and stood cold-eyed, contained, and perfectly still, until the laughter stopped. He could feel the blackbird-Balthamos trembling on his shoulder.

When the people were silent, he called out, “If I make the bear give way, you must agree to sell them fuel. Then they’ll go on along the river and leave you alone. You must agree. If you don’t, they’ll destroy all of you.”

He knew that the huge bear was only a few yards behind him, but he didn’t turn; he watched the townspeople talking, gesticulating, arguing, and after a minute, a voice called, “Boy! Make the bear agree!”

Will turned back. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath and called:

“Bear! You must agree. If you give way to me, the fighting has to stop, and you can buy fuel and go peacefully up the river.”

“Impossible,” roared the bear. “It would be shameful to fight you. You are as weak as an oyster out of its shell. I cannot fight you.”

“I agree,” said Will, and every scrap of his attention was now focused on this great ferocious being in front of him. “It’s not a fair contest at all. You have all that armor, and I have none. You could take off my head with one sweep of your paw. Make it fairer, then. Give me one piece of your armor, any one you like. Your helmet, for example. Then we’ll be better matched, and it’ll be no shame to fight me.”

With a snarl that expressed hatred, rage, and scorn, the bear reached up with a great claw and unhooked the chain that held his helmet in place.

And now there was a deep hush over the whole waterfront. No one spoke—no one moved. They could tell that something was happening such as they’d never seen before, and they couldn’t tell what it was. The only sound now was the splashing of the river against the wooden pilings, the beat of the ship’s engine, and the restless crying of seagulls overhead; and then the great clang as the bear hurled his helmet down at Will’s feet.

Will put his rucksack down and hoisted the helmet up on its end. He could barely lift it. It consisted of a single sheet of iron, dark and dented, with eyeholes on top and a massive chain underneath. It was as long as Will’s forearm, and as thick as his thumb.

“So this is your armor,” he said. “Well, it doesn’t look very strong to me. I don’t know if I can trust it. Let me see.”

And he took the knife from the rucksack and rested the edge against the front of the helmet, and sliced off a corner as if he were cutting butter.

“That’s what I thought,” he said, and cut another and another, reducing the massive thing to a pile of fragments in less than a minute. He stood up and held out a handful.

“That was your armor,” he said, and dropped the pieces with a clatter onto the rest at his feet, “and this is my knife. And since your helmet was no good to me, I’ll have to fight without it. Are you ready, bear? I think we’re well matched. I could take off your head with one sweep of my knife, after all.”

Utter stillness. The bear’s black eyes glowed like pitch, and Will felt a drop of sweat trickle down his spine.

Then the bear’s head moved. He shook it and took a step backward.

“Too strong a weapon,” he said. “I can’t fight that. Boy, you win.”

Will knew that a second later the people would cheer and hoot and whistle, so even before the bear had finished saying the word win, Will had begun to turn and call out, to keep them quiet:

“Now you must keep the bargain. Look after the wounded people and start repairing the buildings. Then let the boat tie up and refuel.”

He knew that it would take a minute to translate that and let the message spread out among the watching townsfolk, and he knew, too, that the delay would prevent their relief and anger from bursting out, as a net of sandbanks baffles and breaks up the flow of a river. The bear watched and saw what he was doing and why, and understood more fully than Will himself did what the boy had achieved.

Will put the knife back in the rucksack, and he and the bear exchanged another glance, but a different kind this time. They approached, and behind them as the bears began to dismantle their fire thrower, the other two ships maneuvered their way to the quayside.

Onshore some of the people set about clearing up, but several more came crowding to see Will, curious about this boy and the power he had to command the bear. It was time for Will to become inconspicuous again, so he performed the magic that had deflected all kinds of curiosity away from his mother and kept them safe for years. Of course it wasn’t magic, but simply a way of behaving. He made himself quiet and dull-eyed and slow, and in under a minute he became less interesting, less attractive to human attention. The people simply became bored with this dull child, and forgot him and turned away.

But the bear’s attention was not human, and he could see what was happening, and he knew it was yet another extraordinary power at Will’s command. He came close and spoke quietly, in a voice that seemed to throb as deeply as the ship’s engines.

“What is your name?” he said.

“Will Parry. Can you make another helmet?”

“Yes. What do you seek?”

“You’re going up the river. I want to come with you. I’m going to the mountains and this is the quickest way. Will you take me?”

“Yes. I want to see that knife.”

“I will only show it to a bear I can trust. There is one bear I’ve heard of who’s trustworthy. He is the king of the bears, a good friend of the girl I’m going to the mountains to find. Her name is Lyra Silvertongue. The bear is called Iorek Byrnison.”

“I am Iorek Byrnison,” said the bear.

“I know you are,” said Will.

The boat was taking fuel on board; the railcars were hauled alongside and tilted sideways to let coal thunder down the chutes into the hold, and the black dust rose high above them. Unnoticed by the townspeople, who were busy sweeping up glass and haggling over the price of the fuel, Will followed the bear-king up the gangway and aboard the ship.


A shade upon the mind there passes / As when on Noon A Cloud the mighty Sun encloses …


UPRIVER “Let me see the knife,” said Iorek Byrnison. “I understand metal. Nothing made of iron or steel is a mystery to a bear. But I have never seen a knife like yours, and I would be glad to look at it closely.”

Will and the bear-king were on the foredeck of the river steamer, in the warm rays of the setting sun, and the vessel was making swift progress upstream; there was plenty of fuel on board, there was food that Will could eat, and he and Iorek Byrnison were taking their second measure of each other. They had taken the first already.

Will held out the knife toward Iorek, handle first, and the bear took it from him delicately. His thumb claw opposed the four finger claws, letting him manipulate objects as skillfully as a human, and now he turned the knife this way and that, bringing it closely to his eyes, holding it to catch the light, testing the edge—the steel edge—on a piece of scrap iron.

“This edge is the one you cut my armor with,” he said. “The other is very strange. I cannot tell what it is, what it will do, how it was made. But I want to understand it. How did you come to possess it?”

Will told him most of what had happened, leaving out only what concerned him alone: his mother, the man he killed, his father.

“You fought for this, and lost two fingers?” the bear said. “Show me the wound.”

Will held out his hand. Thanks to his father’s ointment, the raw surfaces were healing well, but they were still very tender. The bear sniffed at them.

“Bloodmoss,” he said. “And something else I cannot identify. Who gave you that?”

“A man who told me what I should do with the knife. Then he died. He had some ointment in a horn box, and it cured my wound. The witches tried, but their spell didn’t work.”

“And what did he tell you to do with the knife?” said Iorek Byrnison, handing it carefully back to Will.

“To use it in a war on the side of Lord Asriel,” Will replied. “But first I must rescue Lyra Silvertongue.”

“Then we shall help,” said the bear, and Will’s heart leapt with pleasure.

Over the next few days Will learned why the bears were making this voyage into Central Asia, so far from their homeland.

Since the catastrophe that had burst the worlds open, all the Arctic ice had begun to melt, and new and strange currents appeared in the water. Since the bears depended on ice and on the creatures who lived in the cold sea, they could see that they would soon starve if they stayed where they were; and being rational, they decided how they should respond. They would have to migrate to where there was snow and ice in plenty: they would go to the highest mountains, to the range that touched the sky, half a world away but unshakable, eternal, and deep in snow. From bears of the sea they would become bears of the mountains, for as long as it took the world to settle itself again.

“So you’re not making war?” Will said.

“Our old enemies vanished with the seals and the walruses. If we meet new ones, we know how to fight.”

“I thought there was a great war coming that would involve everyone. Which side would you fight for in that case?”

“The side that gave advantage to the bears. What else? But I have some regard for a few among humans. One was a man who flew a balloon. He is dead. The other is the witch Serafina Pekkala. The third is the child Lyra Silvertongue. First, I would do whatever serves the bears. Second, whatever serves the child, or the witch, or avenges my dead comrade Lee Scoresby. That is why I will help you rescue Lyra Silvertongue from the abominable woman Coulter.”

He told Will of how he and a few of his subjects had swum to the river mouth and paid for the charter of this vessel with gold, and hired the crew, and turned the draining of the Arctic to their own advantage by letting the river take them as far inland as it could—and as it had its source in the northern foothills of the very mountains they sought, and as Lyra was imprisoned there, too, things had fallen out well so far.

So time went past.

During the day Will dozed on deck, resting, gathering strength, because he was exhausted in every part of his being. He watched as the scenery began to change, and the rolling steppe gave way to low grassy hills and then to higher land, with the occasional gorge or cataract; and still the boat steamed south.

He talked to the captain and the crew, out of politeness, but lacking Lyra’s instant ease with strangers, he found it difficult to think of much to say; and in any case they were little interested in him. This was only a job, and when it was over they would leave without a backward glance, and besides, they didn’t much like the bears, for all their gold. Will was a foreigner, and as long as he paid for his food, they cared little what he did. Besides, there was that strange dæmon of his, which seemed so like a witch’s: sometimes it was there, and sometimes it seemed to have vanished. Superstitious, like many sailors, they were happy to leave him alone.

Balthamos, for his part, kept quiet, too. Sometimes his grief would become too strong for him to put up with, and he’d leave the boat and fly high among the clouds, searching for any patch of light or taste of air, any shooting stars or pressure ridges that might remind him of experiences he had shared with Baruch. When he talked, at night in the dark of the little cabin Will slept in, it was only to report on how far they had gone, and how much farther ahead the cave and the valley lay. Perhaps he thought Will had little sympathy, though if he’d sought it, he would have found plenty. He became more and more curt and formal, though never sarcastic; he kept that promise, at least.

As for Iorek, he examined the knife obsessively. He looked at it for hours, testing both edges, flexing it, holding it up to the light, touching it with his tongue, sniffing it, and even listening to the sound the air made as it flowed over the surface. Will had no fear for the knife, because Iorek was clearly a craftsman of the highest accomplishment; nor for Iorek himself, because of the delicacy of movement in those mighty paws.

Finally Iorek came to Will and said, “This other edge. It does something you have not told me about. What is it, and how does it work?”

“I can’t show you here,” said Will, “because the boat is moving. As soon as we stop, I’ll show you.”

“I can think of it,” said the bear, “but not understand what I am thinking. It is the strangest thing I have ever seen.”

And he gave it back to Will, with a disconcerting, unreadable long stare out of his deep black eyes.

The river by this time had changed color, because it was meeting the remains of the first floodwaters that had swept down out of the Arctic. The convulsions had affected the earth differently in different places, Will saw; village after village stood up to its roofs in water and hundreds of dispossessed people tried to salvage what they could with rowboats and canoes. The earth must have sunk a little here, because the river broadened and slowed, and it was hard for the skipper to trace his true course through the wide and turbid streams. The air was hotter, and the sun higher in the sky, and the bears found it hard to keep cool; some of them swam alongside as the steamer made its way, tasting their native waters in this foreign land.

But eventually the river narrowed and deepened again, and soon ahead of them began to rise the mountains of the great central Asian plateau. Will saw a rim of white on the horizon one day and watched as it grew and grew, separating itself into different peaks and ridges and passes between them, and so high that it seemed that they must be close at hand—only a few miles. But they were far off still; it was just that the mountains were immense, and with every hour that they came closer, they seemed yet more inconceivably high.

Most of the bears had never seen mountains, apart from the cliffs on their own island of Svalbard, and fell silent as they looked up at the giant ramparts, still so far off.

“What will we hunt there, Iorek Byrnison?” said one. “Are there seals in the mountains? How shall we live?”

“There is snow and ice,” was the king’s reply. “We shall be comfortable. And there are wild creatures there in plenty. Our lives will be different for a while. But we shall survive, and when things return to what they should be, and the Arctic freezes once more, we shall still be alive to go back and claim it. If we had stayed there, we would have starved. Be prepared for strangeness and for new ways, my bears.”

Eventually the steamer could sail no farther, because at this point the riverbed had narrowed and become shallow. The skipper brought the vessel to a halt in a valley bottom that normally would have been carpeted with grass and mountain flowers, where the river would have meandered over gravel beds; but the valley was now a lake, and the captain insisted that he dared not go past it. Beyond this point, he explained, there would be not enough depth below the keel, even with the massive flood from the north.

So they drew up to the edge of the valley, where an outcrop of rock formed a sort of jetty, and disembarked.

“Where are we now?” said Will to the captain, whose English was limited.

The captain found a tattered old map and jabbed at it with his pipe, saying, “This valley here, we now. You take, go on.”

“Thank you very much,” Will said, and wondered if he ought to offer to pay; but the captain had turned away to supervise the unloading.

Before long all thirty or so bears and all their armor were on the narrow shore. The captain shouted an order, and the vessel began to turn ponderously against the current, maneuvering out into midstream and giving a blast on the whistle that echoed for a long time around the valley.

Will sat on a rock, reading the map. If he was right, the valley where Lyra was captive, according to the shaman, lay some way to the east and the south, and the best way there led through a pass called Sungchen.

“Bears, mark this place,” said Iorek Byrnison to his subjects. “When the time comes for us to move back to the Arctic, we shall assemble here. Now go your ways, hunt, feed, and live. Do not make war. We are not here for war. If war threatens, I shall call for you.”

The bears were solitary creatures for the most part, and they only came together in times of war or emergency. Now that they were at the edge of a land of snow, they were impatient to be off, each of them, exploring on their own.

“Come, then, Will,” said Iorek Byrnison, “and we shall find Lyra.”

Will lifted his rucksack and they set off.

It was good walking for the first part of their journey. The sun was warm, but the pines and the rhododendrons kept the worst of the heat off their shoulders, and the air was fresh and clear. The ground was rocky, but the rocks were thick with moss and pine needles, and the slopes they climbed were not precipitous. Will found himself relishing the exercise. The days he had spent on the boat, the enforced rest, had built up his strength. When he had come across Iorek, he had been at the very last of it. He didn’t know that, but the bear did.

And as soon as they were alone, Will showed Iorek how the other edge of the knife worked. He opened a world where a tropical rain forest steamed and dripped, and where vapors laden with heavy scent drifted out into the thin mountain air. Iorek watched closely, and touched the edge of the window with his paw, and sniffed at it, and stepped through into the hot, moist air to look around in silence. The monkey shrieks and birdcalls, the insect scrapings and frog croakings, and the incessant drip-drip of condensing moisture sounded very loud to Will, outside it.

Then Iorek came back and watched Will close the window, and asked to see the knife again, peering so closely at the silver edge that Will thought he was in danger of cutting his eye. He examined it for a long time and handed it back with hardly a word, only saying, “I was right: I could not have fought this.”

They moved on, speaking little, which suited them both. Iorek Byrnison caught a gazelle and ate most of it, leaving the tender meat for Will to cook; and once they came to a village, and while Iorek waited in the forest, Will exchanged one of his gold coins for some flat, coarse bread and some dried fruit, and for boots of yak leather and a waistcoat of a kind of sheepskin, for it was becoming cold at night.

He also managed to ask about the valley with the rainbows. Balthamos helped by assuming the form of a crow, like the dæmon of the man Will was speaking to; he made the passage of understanding easier between them, and Will got directions, which were helpful and clear.

It was another three days’ walk. Well, they were getting there.

And so were others.

Lord Asriel’s force, the squadron of gyropters and the zeppelin fuel tanker, had reached the opening between the worlds: the breach in the sky above Svalbard. They had a very long way to go still, but they flew without pause except for essential maintenance, and the commander, the Afric King Ogunwe, kept in twice-daily touch with the basalt fortress. He had a Gallivespian lodestone operator aboard his gyropter, and through him he was able to learn as quickly as Lord Asriel himself about what was going on elsewhere.

The news was disconcerting. The little spy, the Lady Salmakia, had watched from the shadows as the two powerful arms of the Church, the Consistorial Court of Discipline and the Society of the Work of the Holy Spirit, agreed to put their differences aside and pool their knowledge. The Society had a swifter and more skillful alethiometrist than Fra Pavel, and thanks to him, the Consistorial Court now knew exactly where Lyra was, and more: they knew that Lord Asriel had sent a force to rescue her. Wasting no time, the Court commandeered a flight of zeppelins, and that same day a battalion of the Swiss Guard began to embark aboard the zeppelins waiting in the still air beside the Lake of Geneva.

So each side was aware that the other was also making its way toward the cave in the mountains. And they both knew that whoever got there first would have the advantage, but there wasn’t much in it: Lord Asriel’s gyropters were faster than the zeppelins of the Consistorial Court, but they had farther to fly, and they were limited by the speed of their own zeppelin tanker.

And there was another consideration: whoever seized Lyra first would have to fight their way out against the other force. It would be easier for the Consistorial Court, because they didn’t have to consider getting Lyra away safely. They were flying there to kill her.

The zeppelin carrying the President of the Consistorial Court was carrying other passengers as well, unknown to him. The Chevalier Tialys had received a message on his lodestone resonator, ordering him and the Lady Salmakia to smuggle themselves aboard. When the zeppelins arrived at the valley, he and the Lady were to go ahead and make their way independently to the cave where Lyra was held, and protect her as well as they could until King Ogunwe’s force arrived to rescue her. Her safety was to come above every other consideration.

Getting themselves aboard the zeppelin was hazardous for the spies, not least because of the equipment they had to carry. Apart from the lodestone resonator, the most important items were a pair of insect larvae, and their food. When the adult insects emerged, they would be more like dragonflies than anything else, but they were not like any kind of dragonfly that the humans of Will’s world, or Lyra’s, would have seen before. They were very much larger, for one thing. The Gallivespians bred these creatures carefully, and each clan’s insects differed from the rest. The Chevalier Tialys’s clan bred powerful red-and-yellow-striped dragonflies with vigorous and brutal appetites, whereas the one the Lady Salmakia was nurturing would be a slender, fast-flying creature with an electric blue body and the power of glowing in the dark.

Every spy was equipped with a number of these larvae, which, by feeding them carefully regulated amounts of oil and honey, they could either keep in suspended animation or bring rapidly to adulthood. Tialys and Salmakia had thirty-six hours, depending on the winds, to hatch these larvae now—because that was about the time the flight would take, and they needed the insects to emerge before the zeppelins landed.

The Chevalier and his colleague found an overlooked space behind a bulkhead, and made themselves as safe as they could while the vessel was loaded and fueled; and then the engines began to roar, shaking the light structure from end to end as the ground crew cast off and the eight zeppelins rose into the night sky.

Their kind would have regarded the comparison as a mortal insult, but they were able to conceal themselves at least as well as rats. From their hiding place, the Gallivespians could overhear a good deal, and they kept in hourly touch with Lord Roke, who was aboard King Ogunwe’s gyropter.

But there was one thing they couldn’t learn any more about on the zeppelin, because the President never spoke of it: and that was the matter of the assassin, Father Gomez, who had been absolved already of the sin he was going to commit if the Consistorial Court failed in their mission. Father Gomez was somewhere else, and no one was tracking him at all.

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