فصل 12-14 بخش 01

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: قطب نمای طلایی / فصل 9

فصل 12-14 بخش 01

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12

THE LOST BOY

They traveled for several hours and then stopped to eat. While the men were lighting fires and melting snow for water, with Iorek Byrnison watching Lee Scoresby roast seal meat close by, John Faa spoke to Lyra.

“Lyra, can you see that instrument to read it?” he said.

The moon itself had long set. The light from the Aurora was brighter than moonlight, but it was inconstant. However, Lyra’s eyes were keen, and she fumbled inside her furs and tugged out the black velvet bag.

“Yes, I can see all right,” she said. “But I know where most of the symbols are by now anyway. What shall I ask it, Lord Faa?”

“I want to know more about how they’re defending this place, Bolvangar,” he said.

Without even having to think about it, she found her fingers moving the hands to point to the helmet, the griffin, and the crucible, and felt her mind settle into the right meanings like a complicated diagram in three dimensions. At once the needle began to swing round, back, round and on further, like a bee dancing its message to the hive. She watched it calmly, content not to know at first but to know that a meaning was coming, and then it began to clear. She let it dance on until it was certain.

“It’s just like the witch’s dæmon said, Lord Faa. There’s a company of Tartars guarding the station, and they got wires all round it. They don’t really expect to be attacked, that’s what the symbol reader says. But Lord Faa …” “What, child?”

“It’s a telling me something else. In the next valley there’s a village by a lake where the folk are troubled by a ghost.”

John Faa shook his head impatiently, and said, “That don’t matter now. There’s bound to be spirits of all kinds among these forests. Tell me again about them Tartars. How many, for instance? What are they armed with?” Lyra dutifully asked, and reported the answer:

“There’s sixty men with rifles, and they got a couple of larger guns, sort of cannons. They got fire throwers too. And … Their dæmons are all wolves, that’s what it says.” That caused a stir among the older gyptians, those who’d campaigned before.

“The Sibirsk regiments have wolf dæmons,” said one.

John Faa said, “I never met fiercer. We shall have to fight like tigers. And consult the bear; he’s a shrewd warrior, that one.”

Lyra was impatient, and said, “But Lord Faa, this ghost—I think it’s the ghost of one of the kids!”

“Well, even if it is, Lyra, I don’t know what anyone could do about it. Sixty Sibirsk riflemen, and fire throwers … Mr. Scoresby, step over here if you would, for a moment.” While the aeronaut came to the sledge, Lyra slipped away and spoke to the bear.

“Iorek, have you traveled this way before?”

“Once,” he said in that deep flat voice.

“There’s a village near, en’t there?”

“Over the ridge,” he said, looking up through the sparse trees.

“Is it far?”

“For you or for me?”

“For me,” she said.

“Too far. Not at all far for me.”

“How long would it take you to get there, then?”

“I could be there and back three times by next moonrise.”

“Because, Iorek, listen: I got this symbol reader that tells me things, you see, and it’s told me that there’s something important I got to do over in that village, and Lord Faa won’t let me go there. He just wants to get on quick, and I know that’s important too. But unless I go and find out what it is, we might not know what the Gobblers are really doing.” The bear said nothing. He was sitting up like a human, his great paws folded in his lap, his dark eyes looking into hers down the length of his muzzle. He knew she wanted something.

Pantalaimon spoke: “Can you take us there and catch up with the sledges later on?”

“I could. But I have given my word to Lord Faa to obey him, not anyone else.”

“If I got his permission?” said Lyra.

“Then yes.”

She turned and ran back through the snow.

“Lord Faa! If Iorek Byrnison takes me over the ridge to the village, we can find out whatever it is, and then catch the sledges up further on. He knows the route,” she urged. “And I wouldn’t ask, except it’s like what I did before, Farder Coram, you remember, with that chameleon? I didn’t understand it then, but it was true, and we found out soon after. I got the same feeling now. I can’t understand properly what it’s saying, only I know it’s important. And Iorek Byrnison knows the way, he says he could get there and back three times by next moonrise, and I couldn’t be safer than I’d be with him, could I? But he won’t go without he gets Lord Faa’s permission.” There was a silence. Farder Coram sighed. John Faa was frowning, and his mouth inside the fur hood was set grimly.

But before he could speak, the aeronaut put in:

“Lord Faa, if Iorek Byrnison takes the little girl, she’ll be as safe as if she was here with us. All bears are true, but I’ve known Iorek for years, and nothing under the sky will make him break his word. Give him the charge to take care of her and he’ll do it, make no mistake. As for speed, he can lope for hours without tiring.” “But why should not some men go?” said John Faa.

“Well, they’d have to walk,” Lyra pointed out, “because you couldn’t run a sledge over that ridge. Iorek Byrnison can go faster than any man over that sort of country, and I’m light enough so’s he won’t be slowed down. And I promise, Lord Faa, I promise not to be any longer than I need, and not to give anything away about us, or to get in any danger.” “You’re sure you need to do this? That symbol reader en’t playing the fool with you?”

“It never does, Lord Faa, and I don’t think it could.”

John Faa rubbed his chin.

“Well, if all comes out right, we’ll have a piece more knowledge than we do now. Iorek Byrnison,” he called, “are you willing to do as this child bids?”

“I do your bidding, Lord Faa. Tell me to take the child there, and I will.”

“Very well. You are to take her where she wishes to go and do as she bids. Lyra, I’m a commanding you now, you understand?”

“Yes, Lord Faa.”

“You go and search for whatever it is, and when you’ve found it, you turn right round and come back. Iorek Byrnison, we’ll be a traveling on by that time, so you’ll have to catch us up.” The bear nodded his great head.

“Are there any soldiers in the village?” he said to Lyra. “Will I need my armor? We shall be swifter without it.”

“No,” she said. “I’m certain of that, Iorek. Thank you, Lord Faa, and I promise I’ll do just as you say.”

Tony Costa gave her a strip of dried seal meat to chew, and with Pantalaimon as a mouse inside her hood, Lyra clambered onto the great bear’s back, gripping his fur with her mittens and his narrow muscular back between her knees. His fur was wondrously thick, and the sense of immense power she felt was overwhelming. As if she weighed nothing at all, he turned and loped away in a long swinging run up toward the ridge and into the low trees.

It took some time before she was used to the movement, and then she felt a wild exhilaration. She was riding a bear! And the Aurora was swaying above them in golden arcs and loops, and all around was the bitter arctic cold and the immense silence of the North.

Iorek Byrnison’s paws made hardly any sound as they padded forward through the snow. The trees were thin and stunted here, for they were on the edge of the tundra, but there were brambles and snagging bushes in the path. The bear ripped through them as if they were cobwebs.

They climbed the low ridge, among outcrops of black rock, and were soon out of sight of the party behind them. Lyra wanted to talk to the bear, and if he had been human, she would already be on familiar terms with him; but he was so strange and wild and cold that she was shy, almost for the first time in her life. So as he loped along, his great legs swinging tirelessly, she sat with the movement and said nothing. Perhaps he preferred that anyway, she thought; she must seem a little prattling cub, only just past babyhood, in the eyes of an armored bear.

She had seldom considered herself before, and found the experience interesting but uncomfortable, very like riding the bear, in fact. Iorek Byrnison was pacing swiftly, moving both legs on one side of his body at the same time, and rocking from side to side in a steady powerful rhythm. She found she couldn’t just sit: she had to ride actively.

They had been traveling for an hour or more, and Lyra was stiff and sore but deeply happy, when Iorek Byrnison slowed down and stopped.

“Look up,” he said.

Lyra raised her eyes and had to wipe them with the inside of her wrist, for she was so cold that tears were blurring them. When she could see clearly, she gasped at the sight of the sky. The Aurora had faded to a pallid trembling glimmer, but the stars were as bright as diamonds, and across the great dark diamond-scattered vault, hundreds upon hundreds of tiny black shapes were flying out of the east and south toward the north.

“Are they birds?” she said.

“They are witches,” said the bear.

“Witches! What are they doing?”

“Flying to war, maybe. I have never seen so many at one time.”

“Do you know any witches, Iorek?”

“I have served some. And fought some, too. This is a sight to frighten Lord Faa. If they are flying to the aid of your enemies, you should all be afraid.”

“Lord Faa wouldn’t be frightened. You en’t afraid, are you?”

“Not yet. When I am, I shall master the fear. But we had better tell Lord Faa about the witches, because the men might not have seen them.”

He moved on more slowly, and she kept watching the sky until her eyes splintered again with tears of cold, and she saw no end to the numberless witches flying north.

Finally Iorek Byrnison stopped and said, “There is the village.”

They were looking down a broken, rugged slope toward a cluster of wooden buildings beside a wide stretch of snow as flat as could be, which Lyra took to be the frozen lake. A wooden jetty showed her she was right. They were no more than five minutes from the place.

“What do you want to do?” the bear asked.

Lyra slipped off his back, and found it hard to stand. Her face was stiff with cold and her legs were shaky, but she clung to his fur and stamped until she felt stronger.

“There’s a child or a ghost or something down in that village,” she said, “or maybe near it, I don’t know for certain. I want to go and find him and bring him back to Lord Faa and the others if I can. I thought he was a ghost, but the symbol reader might be telling me something I can’t understand.” “If he is outside,” said the bear, “he had better have some shelter.”

“I don’t think he’s dead,” said Lyra, but she was far from sure. The alethiometer had indicated something uncanny and unnatural, which was alarming; but who was she? Lord Asriel’s daughter. And who was under her command? A mighty bear. How could she possibly show any fear?

“Let’s just go and look,” she said.

She clambered on his back again, and he set off down the broken slope, walking steadily and not pacing any more. The dogs of the village smelled or heard or sensed them coming, and began to howl frightfully; and the reindeer in their enclosure moved about nervously, their antlers clashing like dry sticks. In the still air every movement could be heard for a long way.

As they reached the first of the houses, Lyra looked to the right and left, peering hard into the dimness, for the Aurora was fading and the moon still far from rising. Here and there a light flickered under a snow-thick roof, and Lyra thought she saw pale faces behind some of the windowpanes, and imagined their astonishment to see a child riding a great white bear.

At the center of the little village there was an open space next to the jetty, where boats had been drawn up, mounds under the snow. The noise of the dogs was deafening, and just as Lyra thought it must have wakened everyone, a door opened and a man came out holding a rifle. His wolverine dæmon leaped onto the woodstack beside the door, scattering snow.

Lyra slipped down at once and stood between him and Iorek Byrnison, conscious that she had told the bear there was no need for his armor.

The man spoke in words she couldn’t understand. Iorek Byrnison replied in the same language, and the man gave a little moan of fear.

“He thinks we are devils,” Iorek told Lyra. “What shall I say?”

“Tell him we’re not devils, but we’ve got friends who are. And we’re looking for … Just a child. A strange child. Tell him that.”

As soon as the bear had said that, the man pointed to the right, indicating some place further off, and spoke quickly.

Iorek Byrnison said, “He asks if we have come to take the child away. They are afraid of it. They have tried to drive it away, but it keeps coming back.”

“Tell him we’ll take it away with us, but they were very bad to treat it like that. Where is it?”

The man explained, gesticulating fearfully. Lyra was afraid he’d fire his rifle by mistake, but as soon as he’d spoken he hastened inside his house and shut the door. Lyra could see faces at every window.

“Where is the child?” she said.

“In the fish house,” the bear told her, and turned to pad down toward the jetty.

Lyra followed. She was horribly nervous. The bear was making for a narrow wooden shed, raising his head to sniff this way and that, and when he reached the door he stopped and said: “In there.” Lyra’s heart was beating so fast she could hardly breathe. She raised her hand to knock at the door and then, feeling that that was ridiculous, took a deep breath to call out, but realized that she didn’t know what to say. Oh, it was so dark now! She should have brought a lantern.… There was no choice, and anyway, she didn’t want the bear to see her being afraid. He had spoken of mastering his fear: that was what she’d have to do. She lifted the strap of reindeer hide holding the latch in place, and tugged hard against the frost binding the door shut. It opened with a snap. She had to kick aside the snow piled against the foot of the door before she could pull it open, and Pantalaimon was no help, running back and forth in his ermine shape, a white shadow over the white ground, uttering little frightened sounds.

“Pan, for God’s sake!” she said. “Be a bat. Go and look for me.…”

But he wouldn’t, and he wouldn’t speak either. She had never seen him like this except once, when she and Roger in the crypt at Jordan had moved the dæmon-coins into the wrong skulls. He was even more frightened than she was. As for Iorek Byrnison, he was lying in the snow nearby, watching in silence.

“Come out,” Lyra said as loud as she dared. “Come out!”

Not a sound came in answer. She pulled the door a little wider, and Pantalaimon leaped up into her arms, pushing and pushing at her in his cat form, and said, “Go away! Don’t stay here! Oh, Lyra, go now! Turn back!” Trying to hold him still, she was aware of Iorek Byrnison getting to his feet, and turned to see a figure hastening down the track from the village, carrying a lantern. When he came close enough to speak, he raised the lantern and held it to show his face: an old man with a broad, lined face, and eyes nearly lost in a thousand wrinkles. His dæmon was an arctic fox.

He spoke, and Iorek Byrnison said:

“He says that it’s not the only child of that kind. He’s seen others in the forest. Sometimes they die quickly, sometimes they don’t die. This one is tough, he thinks. But it would be better for him if he died.” “Ask him if I can borrow his lantern,” Lyra said.

The bear spoke, and the man handed it to her at once, nodding vigorously. She realized that he’d come down in order to bring it to her, and thanked him, and he nodded again and stood back, away from her and the hut and away from the bear.

Lyra thought suddenly: what if the child is Roger? And she prayed with all her force that it wouldn’t be. Pantalaimon was clinging to her, an ermine again, his little claws hooked deep into her anorak.

She lifted the lantern high and took a step into the shed, and then she saw what it was that the Oblation Board was doing, and what was the nature of the sacrifice the children were having to make.

The little boy was huddled against the wood drying rack where hung row upon row of gutted fish, all as stiff as boards. He was clutching a piece of fish to him as Lyra was clutching Pantalaimon, with her left hand, hard, against her heart; but that was all he had, a piece of dried fish; because he had no dæmon at all. The Gobblers had cut it away. That was intercision, and this was a severed child.

13

FENCING

Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no dæmon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense.

So Lyra clung to Pantalaimon and her head swam and her gorge rose, and cold as the night was, a sickly sweat moistened her flesh with something colder still.

“Ratter,” said the boy. “You got my Ratter?”

Lyra was in no doubt what he meant.

“No,” she said in a voice as frail and frightened as she felt. Then, “What’s your name?”

“Tony Makarios,” he said. “Where’s Ratter?”

“I don’t know …” she began, and swallowed hard to govern her nausea. “The Gobblers …” But she couldn’t finish. She had to go out of the shed and sit down by herself in the snow, except that of course she wasn’t by herself, she was never by herself, because Pantalaimon was always there. Oh, to be cut from him as this little boy had been parted from his Ratter! The worst thing in the world! She found herself sobbing, and Pantalaimon was whimpering too, and in both of them there was a passionate pity and sorrow for the half-boy.

Then she got to her feet again.

“Come on,” she called in a trembling voice. “Tony, come out. We’re going to take you somewhere safe.”

There was a stir of movement in the fish house, and he appeared at the door, still clutching his dried fish. He was dressed in warm enough garments, a thickly padded and quilted coal-silk anorak and fur boots, but they had a secondhand look and didn’t fit well. In the wider light outside that came from the faint trails of the Aurora and the snow-covered ground he looked more lost and piteous even than he had at first, crouching in the lantern light by the fish racks.

The villager who’d brought the lantern had retreated a few yards, and called down to them.

Iorek Byrnison interpreted: “He says you must pay for that fish.”

Lyra felt like telling the bear to kill him, but she said, “We’re taking the child away for them. They can afford to give one fish to pay for that.”

The bear spoke. The man muttered, but didn’t argue. Lyra set his lantern down in the snow and took the half-boy’s hand to guide him to the bear. He came helplessly, showing no surprise and no fear at the great white beast standing so close, and when Lyra helped him to sit on Iorek’s back, all he said was: “I dunno where my Ratter is.”

“No, nor do we, Tony,” she said. “But we’ll … we’ll punish the Gobblers. We’ll do that, I promise. Iorek, is it all right if I sit up there too?”

“My armor weighs far more than children,” he said.

So she scrambled up behind Tony and made him cling to the long stiff fur, and Pantalaimon sat inside her hood, warm and close and full of pity. Lyra knew that Pantalaimon’s impulse was to reach out and cuddle the little half-child, to lick him and gentle him and warm him as his own dæmon would have done; but the great taboo prevented that, of course.

They rose through the village and up toward the ridge, and the villagers’ faces were open with horror and a kind of fearful relief at seeing that hideously mutilated creature taken away by a girl and a great white bear.

In Lyra’s heart, revulsion struggled with compassion, and compassion won. She put her arms around the skinny little form to hold him safe. The journey back to the main party was colder, and harder, and darker, but it seemed to pass more quickly for all that. Iorek Byrnison was tireless, and Lyra’s riding became automatic, so that she was never in danger of falling off. The cold body in her arms was so light that in one way he was easy to manage, but he was inert; he sat stiffly without moving as the bear moved, so in another way he was difficult too.

From time to time the half-boy spoke.

“What’s that you said?” asked Lyra.

“I says is she gonna know where I am?”

“Yeah, she’ll know, she’ll find you and we’ll find her. Hold on tight now, Tony. It en’t far from here.…”

The bear loped onward. Lyra had no idea how tired she was until they caught up with the gyptians. The sledges had stopped to rest the dogs, and suddenly there they all were, Farder Coram, Lord Faa, Lee Scoresby, all lunging forward to help and then falling back silent as they saw the other figure with Lyra. She was so stiff that she couldn’t even loosen her arms around his body, and John Faa himself had to pull them gently open and lift her off.

“Gracious God, what is this?” he said. “Lyra, child, what have you found?”

“He’s called Tony,” she mumbled through frozen lips. “And they cut his dæmon away. That’s what the Gobblers do.”

The men held back, fearful; but the bear spoke, to Lyra’s weary amazement, chiding them.

“Shame on you! Think what this child has done! You might not have more courage, but you should be ashamed to show less.”

“You’re right, Iorek Byrnison,” said John Faa, and turned to give orders. “Build that fire up and heat some soup for the child. For both children. Farder Coram, is your shelter rigged?” “It is, John. Bring her over and we’ll get her warm.…”

“And the little boy,” said someone else. “He can eat and get warm, even if …”

Lyra was trying to tell John Faa about the witches, but they were all so busy, and she was so tired. After a confusing few minutes full of lantern light, woodsmoke, figures hurrying to and fro, she felt a gentle nip on her ear from Pantalaimon’s ermine teeth, and woke to find the bear’s face a few inches from hers.

“The witches,” Pantalaimon whispered. “I called Iorek.”

“Oh yeah,” she mumbled. “Iorek, thank you for taking me there and back. I might not remember to tell Lord Faa about the witches, so you better do that instead of me.” She heard the bear agree, and then she fell asleep properly.

When she woke up, it was as close to daylight as it was ever going to get. The sky was pale in the southeast, and the air was suffused with a gray mist, through which the gyptians moved like bulky ghosts, loading sledges and harnessing dogs to the traces.

She saw it all from the shelter on Farder Coram’s sledge, inside which she lay under a heap of furs. Pantalaimon was fully awake before she was, trying the shape of an arctic fox before reverting to his favorite ermine.

Iorek Byrnison was asleep in the snow nearby, his head on his great paws; but Farder Coram was up and busy, and as soon as he saw Pantalaimon emerge, he limped across to wake Lyra properly.

She saw him coming, and sat up to speak.

“Farder Coram, I know what it was that I couldn’t understand! The alethiometer kept saying bird and not, and that didn’t make sense, because it meant no dæmon and I didn’t see how it could be.… What is it?” “Lyra, I’m afraid to tell you this after what you done, but that little boy died an hour ago. He couldn’t settle, he couldn’t stay in one place; he kept asking after his dæmon, where she was, was she a coming soon, and all; and he kept such a tight hold on that bare old piece of fish as if … Oh, I can’t speak of it, child; but he closed his eyes finally and fell still, and that was the first time he looked peaceful, for he was like any other dead person then, with their dæmon gone in the course of nature. They’ve been a trying to dig a grave for him, but the earth’s bound like iron. So John Faa ordered a fire built, and they’re a going to cremate him, so as not to have him despoiled by carrion eaters.

“Child, you did a brave thing and a good thing, and I’m proud of you. Now we know what terrible wickedness those people are capable of, we can see our duty plainer than ever. What you must do is rest and eat, because you fell asleep too soon to restore yourself last night, and you have to eat in these temperatures to stop yourself getting weak.…” He was fussing around, tucking the furs into place, tightening the tension rope across the body of the sledge, running the traces through his hands to untangle them.

“Farder Coram, where is the little boy now? Have they burned him yet?”

“No, Lyra, he’s a lying back there.”

“I want to go and see him.”

He couldn’t refuse her that, for she’d seen worse than a dead body, and it might calm her. So with Pantalaimon as a white hare bounding delicately at her side, she trudged along the line of sledges to where some men were piling brushwood.

The boy’s body lay under a checkered blanket beside the path. She knelt and lifted the blanket in her mittened hands. One man was about to stop her, but the others shook their heads.

Pantalaimon crept close as Lyra looked down on the poor wasted face. She slipped her hand out of the mitten and touched his eyes. They were marble-cold, and Farder Coram had been right; poor little Tony Makarios was no different from any other human whose dæmon had departed in death. Oh, if they took Pantalaimon from her! She swept him up and hugged him as if she meant to press him right into her heart. And all little Tony had was his pitiful piece of fish.… Where was it?

She pulled the blanket down. It was gone.

She was on her feet in a moment, and her eyes flashed fury at the men nearby.

“Where’s his fish?”

They stopped, puzzled, unsure what she meant; though some of their dæmons knew, and looked at one another. One of the men began to grin uncertainly.

“Don’t you dare laugh! I’ll tear your lungs out if you laugh at him! That’s all he had to cling onto, just an old dried fish, that’s all he had for a dæmon to love and be kind to! Who’s took it from him? Where’s it gone?” Pantalaimon was a snarling snow leopard, just like Lord Asriel’s dæmon, but she didn’t see that; all she saw was right and wrong.

“Easy, Lyra,” said one man. “Easy, child.”

“Who’s took it?” she flared again, and the gyptian took a step back from her passionate fury.

“I didn’t know,” said another man apologetically. “I thought it was just what he’d been eating. I took it out his hand because I thought it was more respectful. That’s all, Lyra.” “Then where is it?”

The man said uneasily, “Not thinking he had a need for it, I gave it to my dogs. I do beg your pardon.”

“It en’t my pardon you need, it’s his,” she said, and turned at once to kneel again, and laid her hand on the dead child’s icy cheek.

Then an idea came to her, and she fumbled inside her furs. The cold air struck through as she opened her anorak, but in a few seconds she had what she wanted, and took a gold coin from her purse before wrapping herself close again.

“I want to borrow your knife,” she said to the man who’d taken the fish, and when he’d let her have it, she said to Pantalaimon: “What was her name?”

He understood, of course, and said, “Ratter.”

She held the coin tight in her left mittened hand and, holding the knife like a pencil, scratched the lost dæmon’s name deeply into the gold.

“I hope that’ll do, if I provide for you like a Jordan Scholar,” she whispered to the dead boy, and forced his teeth apart to slip the coin into his mouth. It was hard, but she managed it, and managed to close his jaw again.

Then she gave the man back his knife and turned in the morning twilight to go back to Farder Coram.

He gave her a mug of soup straight off the fire, and she sipped it greedily.

“What we going to do about them witches, Farder Coram?” she said. “I wonder if your witch was one of them.”

“My witch? I wouldn’t presume that far, Lyra. They might be going anywhere. There’s all kinds of concerns that play on the life of witches, things invisible to us: mysterious sicknesses they fall prey to, which we’d shrug off; causes of war quite beyond our understanding; joys and sorrows bound up with the flowering of tiny plants up on the tundra.… But I wish I’d seen them a flying, Lyra. I wish I’d been able to see a sight like that. Now drink up all that soup. D’you want some more? There’s some pan-bread a cooking too. Eat up, child, because we’re on our way soon.” The food revived Lyra, and presently the chill at her soul began to melt. With the others, she went to watch the little half-child laid on his funeral pyre, and bowed her head and closed her eyes for John Faa’s prayers; and then the men sprinkled coal spirit and set matches to it, and it was blazing in a moment.

Once they were sure he was safely burned, they set off to travel again. It was a ghostly journey. Snow began to fall early on, and soon the world was reduced to the gray shadows of the dogs ahead, the lurching and creaking of the sledge, the biting cold, and a swirling sea of big flakes only just darker than the sky and only just lighter than the ground.

Through it all the dogs continued to run, tails high, breath puffing steam. North and further north they ran, while the pallid noontide came and went and the twilight wrapped itself again around the world. They stopped to eat and drink and rest in a fold of the hills, and to get their bearings, and while John Faa talked to Lee Scoresby about the way they might best use the balloon, Lyra thought of the spy-fly; and she asked Farder Coram what had happened to the smokeleaf tin he’d trapped it in.

“I’ve got it tucked away tight,” he said. “It’s down in the bottom of that kit bag, but there’s nothing to see; I soldered it shut on board ship, like I said I would. I don’t know what we’re a going to do with it, to tell you the truth; maybe we could drop it down a fire mine, maybe that would settle it. But you needn’t worry, Lyra. While I’ve got it, you’re safe.” The first chance she had, she plunged her arm down into the stiffly frosted canvas of the kit bag and brought up the little tin. She could feel the buzz it was making before she touched it.

While Farder Coram was talking to the other leaders, she took the tin to Iorek Byrnison and explained her idea. It had come to her when she remembered his slicing so easily through the metal of the engine cover.

He listened, and then took the lid of a biscuit tin and deftly folded it into a small flat cylinder. She marveled at the skill of his hands: unlike most bears, he and his kin had opposable thumb claws with which they could hold things still to work on them; and he had some innate sense of the strength and flexibility of metals which meant that he only had to lift it once or twice, flex it this way and that, and he could run a claw over it in a circle to score it for folding. He did this now, folding the sides in and in until they stood in a raised rim and then making a lid to fit it. At Lyra’s bidding he made two: one the same size as the original smokeleaf tin, and another just big enough to contain the tin itself and a quantity of hairs and bits of moss and lichen all packed down tight to smother the noise. When it was closed, it was the same size and shape as the alethiometer.

When that was done, she sat next to Iorek Byrnison as he gnawed a haunch of reindeer that was frozen as hard as wood.

“Iorek,” she said, “is it hard not having a dæmon? Don’t you get lonely?”

“Lonely?” he said. “I don’t know. They tell me this is cold. I don’t know what cold is, because I don’t freeze. So I don’t know what lonely means either. Bears are made to be solitary.” “What about the Svalbard bears?” she said. “There’s thousands of them, en’t there? That’s what I heard.”

He said nothing, but ripped the joint in half with a sound like a splitting log.

“Beg pardon, Iorek,” she said. “I hope I en’t offended you. It’s just that I’m curious. See, I’m extra curious about the Svalbard bears because of my father.” “Who is your father?”

“Lord Asriel. And they got him captive on Svalbard, you see. I think the Gobblers betrayed him and paid the bears to keep him in prison.”

“I don’t know. I am not a Svalbard bear.”

“I thought you was.…”

“No. I was a Svalbard bear, but I am not now. I was sent away as a punishment because I killed another bear. So I was deprived of my rank and my wealth and my armor and sent out to live at the edge of the human world and fight when I could find employment at it, or work at brutal tasks and drown my memory in raw spirits.” “Why did you kill the other bear?”

“Anger. There are ways among bears of turning away our anger with each other, but I was out of my own control. So I killed him and I was justly punished.”

“And you were wealthy and high-ranking,” said Lyra, marveling. “Just like my father, Iorek! That’s just the same with him after I was born. He killed someone too and they took all his wealth away. That was long before he got made a prisoner on Svalbard, though. I don’t know anything about Svalbard, except it’s in the farthest North.… Is it all covered in ice? Can you get there over the frozen sea?” “Not from this coast. The sea is sometimes frozen south of it, sometimes not. You would need a boat.”

“Or a balloon, maybe.”

“Or a balloon, yes, but then you would need the right wind.”

He gnawed the reindeer haunch, and a wild notion flew into Lyra’s mind as she remembered all those witches in the night sky; but she said nothing about that. Instead she asked Iorek Byrnison about Svalbard, and listened eagerly as he told her of the slow-crawling glaciers, of the rocks and ice floes where the bright-tusked walruses lay in groups of a hundred or more, of the seas teeming with seals, of narwhals clashing their long white tusks above the icy water, of the great grim iron-bound coast, the cliffs a thousand feet and more high where the foul cliff-ghasts perched and swooped, the coal pits and the fire mines where the bearsmiths hammered out mighty sheets of iron and riveted them into armor … “If they took your armor away, Iorek, where did you get this set from?”

“I made it myself in Nova Zembla from sky metal. Until I did that, I was incomplete.”

“So bears can make their own souls …” she said. There was a great deal in the world to know. “Who is the king of Svalbard?” she went on. “Do bears have a king?” “He is called Iofur Raknison.”

That name shook a little bell in Lyra’s mind. She’d heard it before, but where? And not in a bear’s voice, either, nor in a gyptian’s. The voice that had spoken it was a Scholar’s, precise and pedantic and lazily arrogant, very much a Jordan College voice. She tried it again in her mind. Oh, she knew it so well!

And then she had it: the Retiring Room. The Scholars listening to Lord Asriel. It was the Palmerian Professor who had said something about Iofur Raknison. He’d used the word panserbjørne, which Lyra didn’t know, and she hadn’t known that Iofur Raknison was a bear; but what was it he’d said? The king of Svalbard was vain, and he could be flattered. There was something else, if only she could remember it, but so much had happened since then … “If your father is a prisoner of the Svalbard bears,” said Iorek Byrnison, “he will not escape. There is no wood there to make a boat. On the other hand, if he is a nobleman, he will be treated fairly. They will give him a house to live in and a servant to wait on him, and food and fuel.” “Could the bears ever be defeated, Iorek?”

“No.”

“Or tricked, maybe?”

He stopped gnawing and looked at her directly. Then he said, “You will never defeat the armored bears. You have seen my armor; now look at my weapons.”

He dropped the meat and held out his paws, palm upward, for her to look at. Each black pad was covered in horny skin an inch or more thick, and each of the claws was as long as Lyra’s hand at least, and as sharp as a knife. He let her run her hands over them wonderingly.

“One blow will crush a seal’s skull,” he said. “Or break a man’s back, or tear off a limb. And I can bite. If you had not stopped me in Trollesund, I would have crushed that man’s head like an egg. So much for strength; now for trickery. You cannot trick a bear. You want to see proof? Take a stick and fence with me.” Eager to try, she snapped a stick off a snow-laden bush, trimmed all the side shoots off, and swished it from side to side like a rapier. Iorek Byrnison sat back on his haunches and waited, forepaws in his lap. When she was ready, she faced him, but she didn’t like to stab at him because he looked so peaceable. So she flourished it, feinting to right and left, not intending to hit him at all, and he didn’t move. She did that several times, and not once did he move so much as an inch.

Finally she decided to thrust at him directly, not hard, but just to touch the stick to his stomach. Instantly his paw reached forward and flicked the stick aside.

Surprised, she tried again, with the same result. He moved far more quickly and surely than she did. She tried to hit him in earnest, wielding the stick like a fencer’s foil, and not once did it land on his body. He seemed to know what she intended before she did, and when she lunged at his head, the great paw swept the stick aside harmlessly, and when she feinted, he didn’t move at all.

She became exasperated, and threw herself into a furious attack, jabbing and lashing and thrusting and stabbing, and never once did she get past those paws. They moved everywhere, precisely in time to parry, precisely at the right spot to block.

Finally she was frightened, and stopped. She was sweating inside her furs, out of breath, exhausted, and the bear still sat impassive. If she had had a real sword with a murderous point, he would have been quite unharmed.

“I bet you could catch bullets,” she said, and threw the stick away. “How do you do that?”

“By not being human,” he said. “That’s why you could never trick a bear. We see tricks and deceit as plain as arms and legs. We can see in a way humans have forgotten. But you know about this; you can understand the symbol reader.” “That en’t the same, is it?” she said. She was more nervous of the bear now than when she had seen his anger.

“It is the same,” he said. “Adults can’t read it, as I understand. As I am to human fighters, so you are to adults with the symbol reader.”

“Yes, I suppose,” she said, puzzled and unwilling. “Does that mean I’ll forget how to do it when I grow up?”

“Who knows? I have never seen a symbol reader, nor anyone who could read them. Perhaps you are different from others.”

He dropped to all fours again and went on gnawing his meat. Lyra had unfastened her furs, but now the cold was striking in again and she had to do them up. All in all, it was a disquieting episode. She wanted to consult the alethiometer there and then, but it was too cold, and besides, they were calling for her because it was time to move on. She took the tin boxes that Iorek Byrnison had made, put the empty one back into Farder Coram’s kit bag, and put the one with the spy-fly in it together with the alethiometer in the pouch at her waist. She was glad when they were moving again.

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