فصل 20-03 بخش 01

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: قطب نمای طلایی / فصل 15

فصل 20-03 بخش 01

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20

MORTAL COMBAT

Fights between bears were common, and the subject of much ritual. For a bear to kill another was rare, though, and when that happened it was usually by accident, or when one bear mistook the signals from another, as in the case of Iorek Byrnison. Cases of straightforward murder, like Iofur’s killing of his own father, were rarer still.

But occasionally there came circumstances in which the only way of settling a dispute was a fight to the death. And for that, a whole ceremonial was prescribed.

As soon as Iofur announced that Iorek Byrnison was on his way, and a combat would take place, the combat ground was swept and smoothed, and armorers came up from the fire mines to check Iofur’s armor. Every rivet was examined, every link tested, and the plates were burnished with the finest sand. Just as much attention was paid to his claws. The gold leaf was rubbed off, and each separate six-inch hook was sharpened and filed to a deadly point. Lyra watched with a growing sickness in the pit of her stomach, for Iorek Byrnison wouldn’t be having this attention; he had been marching over the ice for nearly twenty-four hours already without rest or food; he might have been injured in the crash. And she had let him in for this fight without his knowledge. At one point, after Iofur Raknison had tested the sharpness of his claws on a fresh-killed walrus, slicing its skin open like paper, and the power of his crashing blows on the walrus’s skull (two blows, and it was cracked like an egg), Lyra had to make an excuse to Iofur and go away by herself to weep with fear.

Even Pantalaimon, who could normally cheer her up, had little to say that was hopeful. All she could do was consult the alethiometer: he is an hour away, it told her, and again, she must trust him; and (this was harder to read) she even thought it was rebuking her for asking the same question twice.

By this time, word had spread among the bears, and every part of the combat ground was crowded. Bears of high rank had the best places, and there was a special enclosure for the she-bears, including, of course, Iofur’s wives. Lyra was profoundly curious about she-bears, because she knew so little about them, but this was no time to wander about asking questions. Instead she stayed close to Iofur Raknison and watched the courtiers around him assert their rank over the common bears from outside, and tried to guess the meaning of the various plumes and badges and tokens they all seemed to wear. Some of the highest-ranking, she saw, carried little manikins like Iofur’s rag-doll dæmon, trying to curry favor, perhaps, by imitating the fashion he’d begun. She was sardonically pleased to notice that when they saw that Iofur had discarded his, they didn’t know what to do with theirs. Should they throw them away? Were they out of favor now? How should they behave?

Because that was the prevailing mood in his court, she was beginning to see. They weren’t sure what they were. They weren’t like Iorek Byrnison, pure and certain and absolute; there was a constant pall of uncertainty hanging over them, as they watched one another and watched Iofur.

And they watched her, with open curiosity. She remained modestly close to Iofur and said nothing, lowering her eyes whenever a bear looked at her.

The fog had lifted by this time, and the air was clear; and as chance would have it, the brief lifting of darkness toward noon coincided with the time Lyra thought Iorek was going to arrive. As she stood shivering on a little rise of dense-packed snow at the edge of the combat ground, she looked up toward the faint lightness in the sky, and longed with all her heart to see a flight of ragged elegant black shapes descending to bear her away; or to see the Aurora’s hidden city, where she would be able to walk safely along those broad boulevards in the sunlight; or to see Ma Costa’s broad arms, to smell the friendly smells of flesh and cooking that enfolded you in her presence.… She found herself crying, with tears that froze almost as soon as they formed, and which she had to brush away painfully. She was so frightened. Bears, who didn’t cry, couldn’t understand what was happening to her; it was some human process, meaningless. And of course Pantalaimon couldn’t comfort her as he normally would, though she kept her hand in her pocket firmly around his warm little mouse-form, and he nuzzled at her fingers.

Beside her, the smiths were making the final adjustments to Iofur Raknison’s armor. He reared like a great metal tower, shining in polished steel, the smooth plates inlaid with wires of gold; his helmet enclosed the upper part of his head in a glistening carapace of silver-gray, with deep eye slits; and the underside of his body was protected by a close-fitting sark of chain mail. It was when she saw this that Lyra realized that she had betrayed Iorek Byrnison, for Iorek had nothing like it. His armor protected only his back and sides. She looked at Iofur Raknison, so sleek and powerful, and felt a deep sickness in her, like guilt and fear combined.

She said “Excuse me, Your Majesty, if you remember what I said to you before …”

Her shaking voice felt thin and weak in the air. Iofur Raknison turned his mighty head, distracted from the target three bears were holding up in front for him to slash at with his perfect claws.

“Yes? Yes?”

“Remember, I said I’d better go and speak to Iorek Byrnison first, and pretend—”

But before she could even finish her sentence, there was a roar from the bears on the watchtower. The others all knew what it meant and took it up with a triumphant excitement. They had seen Iorek.

“Please?” Lyra said urgently. “I’ll fool him, you’ll see.”

“Yes. Yes. Go now. Go and encourage him!”

Iofur Raknison was hardly able to speak for rage and excitement.

Lyra left his side and walked across the combat ground, bare and clear as it was, leaving her little footprints in the snow, and the bears on the far side parted to let her through. As their great bodies lumbered aside, the horizon opened, gloomy in the pallor of the light. Where was Iorek Byrnison? She could see nothing; but then, the watchtower was high, and they could see what was still hidden from her. All she could do was walk forward in the snow.

He saw her before she saw him. There was a bounding and a heavy clank of metal, and in a flurry of snow Iorek Byrnison stood beside her.

“Oh, Iorek! I’ve done a terrible thing! My dear, you’re going to have to fight Iofur Raknison, and you en’t ready—you’re tired and hungry, and your armor’s—” “What terrible thing?”

“I told him you was coming, because I read it on the symbol reader; and he’s desperate to be like a person and have a dæmon, just desperate. So I tricked him into thinking that I was your dæmon, and I was going to desert you and be his instead, but he had to fight you to make it happen. Because otherwise, Iorek, dear, they’d never let you fight, they were going to just burn you up before you got close—” “You tricked Iofur Raknison?”

“Yes. I made him agree that he’d fight you instead of just killing you straight off like an outcast, and the winner would be king of the bears. I had to do that, because—” “Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue,” he said. “To fight him is all I want. Come, little dæmon.”

She looked at Iorek Byrnison in his battered armor, lean and ferocious, and felt as if her heart would burst with pride.

They walked together toward the massive hulk of Iofur’s palace, where the combat ground lay flat and open at the foot of the walls. Bears clustered at the battlements, white faces filled every window, and their heavy forms stood like a dense wall of misty white ahead, marked with the black dots of eyes and noses. The nearest ones moved aside, making two lines for Iorek Byrnison and his dæmon to walk between. Every bear’s eyes were fixed on them.

Iorek halted across the combat ground from Iofur Raknison. The king came down from the rise of trodden snow, and the two bears faced each other several yards apart.

Lyra was so close to Iorek that she could feel a trembling in him like a great dynamo, generating mighty anbaric forces. She touched him briefly on the neck at the edge of his helmet and said, “Fight well, Iorek my dear. You’re the real king, and he en’t. He’s nothing.” Then she stood back.

“Bears!” Iorek Byrnison roared. An echo rang back from the palace walls and startled birds out of their nests. He went on: “The terms of this combat are these. If Iofur Raknison kills me, then he will be king forever, safe from challenge or dispute. If I kill Iofur Raknison, I shall be your king. My first order to you all will be to tear down that palace, that perfumed house of mockery and tinsel, and hurl the gold and marble into the sea. Iron is bear-metal. Gold is not. Iofur Raknison has polluted Svalbard. I have come to cleanse it. Iofur Raknison, I challenge you.” Then Iofur bounded forward a step or two, as if he could hardly hold himself back.

“Bears!” he roared in his turn. “Iorek Byrnison has come back at my invitation. I drew him here. It is for me to make the terms of this combat, and they are these: if I kill Iorek Byrnison, his flesh shall be torn apart and scattered to the cliff-ghasts. His head shall be displayed above my palace. His memory shall be obliterated. It shall be a capital crime to speak his name.…” He continued, and then each bear spoke again. It was a formula, a ritual faithfully followed. Lyra looked at the two of them, so utterly different: Iofur so glossy and powerful, immense in his strength and health, splendidly armored, proud and kinglike; and Iorek smaller, though she had never thought he would look small, and poorly equipped, his armor rusty and dented. But his armor was his soul. He had made it and it fitted him. They were one. Iofur was not content with his armor; he wanted another soul as well. He was restless while Iorek was still.

And she was aware that all the other bears were making the comparison too. But Iorek and Iofur were more than just two bears. There were two kinds of beardom opposed here, two futures, two destinies. Iofur had begun to take them in one direction, and Iorek would take them in another, and in the same moment, one future would close forever as the other began to unfold.

As their ritual combat moved toward the second phase, the two bears began to prowl restlessly on the snow, edging forward, swinging their heads. There was not a flicker of movement from the spectators: but all eyes followed them.

Finally the warriors were still and silent, watching each other face to face across the width of the combat ground.

Then with a roar and a blur of snow both bears moved at the same moment. Like two great masses of rock balanced on adjoining peaks and shaken loose by an earthquake, which bound down the mountainsides gathering speed, leaping over crevasses and knocking trees into splinters, until they crash into each other so hard that both are smashed to powder and flying chips of stone: that was how the two bears came together. The crash as they met resounded in the still air and echoed back from the palace wall. But they weren’t destroyed, as rock would have been. They both fell aside, and the first to rise was Iorek. He twisted up in a lithe spring and grappled with Iofur, whose armor had been damaged by the collision and who couldn’t easily raise his head. Iorek made at once for the vulnerable gap at his neck. He raked the white fur, and then hooked his claws beneath the edge of Iofur’s helmet and wrenched it forward.

Sensing the danger, Iofur snarled and shook himself as Lyra had seen Iorek shake himself at the water’s edge, sending sheets of water flying high into the air. And Iorek fell away, dislodged, and with a screech of twisting metal Iofur stood up tall, straightening the steel of his back plates by sheer strength. Then like an avalanche he hurled himself down on Iorek, who was still trying to rise.

Lyra felt her own breath knocked out of her by the force of that crashing fall. Certainly the very ground shook beneath her. How could Iorek survive that? He was struggling to twist himself and gain a purchase on the ground, but his feet were uppermost, and Iofur had fixed his teeth somewhere near Iorek’s throat. Drops of hot blood were flying through the air: one landed on Lyra’s furs, and she pressed her hand to it like a token of love.

Then Iorek’s rear claws dug into the links of Iofur’s chain-mail sark and ripped downward. The whole front came away, and Iofur lurched sideways to look at the damage, leaving Iorek to scramble upright again.

For a moment the two bears stood apart, getting their breath back. Iofur was hampered now by that chain mail, because from a protection it had changed all at once into a hindrance: it was still fastened at the bottom, and trailed around his rear legs. However, Iorek was worse off. He was bleeding freely from a wound at his neck, and panting heavily.

But he leaped at Iofur before the king could disentangle himself from the clinging chain mail, and knocked him head over heels, following up with a lunge at the bare part of Iofur’s neck, where the edge of the helmet was bent. Iofur threw him off, and then the two bears were at each other again, throwing up fountains of snow that sprayed in all directions and sometimes made it hard to see who had the advantage.

Lyra watched, hardly daring to breathe, and squeezing her hands together so tight it hurt. She thought she saw Iofur tearing at a wound in Iorek’s belly, but that couldn’t be right, because a moment later, after another convulsive explosion of snow, both bears were standing upright like boxers, and Iorek was slashing with mighty claws at Iofur’s face, with Iofur hitting back just as savagely.

Lyra trembled at the weight of those blows. As if a giant were swinging a sledgehammer, and that hammer were armed with five steel spikes …

Iron clanged on iron, teeth crashed on teeth, breath roared harshly, feet thundered on the hard-packed ground. The snow around was splashed with red and trodden down for yards into a crimson mud.

Iofur’s armor was in a pitiful state by this time, the plates torn and distorted, the gold inlay torn out or smeared thickly with blood, and his helmet gone altogether. Iorek’s was in much better condition, for all its ugliness: dented, but intact, standing up far better to the great sledgehammer blows of the bear-king, and turning aside those brutal six-inch claws.

But against that, Iofur was bigger and stronger than Iorek, and Iorek was weary and hungry, and had lost more blood. He was wounded in the belly, on both arms, and at the neck, whereas Iofur was bleeding only from his lower jaw. Lyra longed to help her dear friend, but what could she do?

And it was going badly for Iorek now. He was limping; every time he put his left forepaw on the ground, they could see that it hardly bore his weight. He never used it to strike with, and the blows from his right hand were feebler, too, almost little pats compared with the mighty crushing buffets he’d delivered only a few minutes before.

Iofur had noticed. He began to taunt Iorek, calling him broken-hand, whimpering cub, rust-eaten, soon-to-die, and other names, all the while swinging blows at him from right and left which Iorek could no longer parry. Iorek had to move backward, a step at a time, and to crouch low under the rain of blows from the jeering bear-king.

Lyra was in tears. Her dear, her brave one, her fearless defender, was going to die, and she would not do him the treachery of looking away, for if he looked at her he must see her shining eyes and their love and belief, not a face hidden in cowardice or a shoulder fearfully turned away.

So she looked, but her tears kept her from seeing what was really happening, and perhaps it would not have been visible to her anyway. It certainly was not seen by Iofur.

Because Iorek was moving backward only to find clean dry footing and a firm rock to leap up from, and the useless left arm was really fresh and strong. You could not trick a bear, but, as Lyra had shown him, Iofur did not want to be a bear, he wanted to be a man; and Iorek was tricking him.

At last he found what he wanted: a firm rock deep-anchored in the permafrost. He backed against it, tensing his legs and choosing his moment.

It came when Iofur reared high above, bellowing his triumph, and turning his head tauntingly toward Iorek’s apparently weak left side.

That was when Iorek moved. Like a wave that has been building its strength over a thousand miles of ocean, and which makes little stir in the deep water, but which when it reaches the shallows rears itself up high into the sky, terrifying the shore dwellers, before crashing down on the land with irresistible power—so Iorek Byrnison rose up against Iofur, exploding upward from his firm footing on the dry rock and slashing with a ferocious left hand at the exposed jaw of Iofur Raknison.

It was a horrifying blow. It tore the lower part of his jaw clean off, so that it flew through the air scattering blood drops in the snow many yards away.

Iofur’s red tongue lolled down, dripping over his open throat. The bear-king was suddenly voiceless, biteless, helpless. Iorek needed nothing more. He lunged, and then his teeth were in Iofur’s throat, and he shook and shook this way, that way, lifting the huge body off the ground and battering it down as if Iofur were no more than a seal at the water’s edge.

Then he ripped upward, and Iofur Raknison’s life came away in his teeth.

There was one ritual yet to perform. Iorek sliced open the dead king’s unprotected chest, peeling the fur back to expose the narrow white and red ribs like the timbers of an upturned boat. Into the rib cage Iorek reached, and he plucked out Iofur’s heart, red and steaming, and ate it there in front of Iofur’s subjects.

Then there was acclamation, pandemonium, a crush of bears surging forward to pay homage to Iofur’s conqueror.

Iorek Byrnison’s voice rose above the clamor.

“Bears! Who is your king?”

And the cry came back, in a roar like that of all the sea-smooth pebbles in the world in an ocean-battering storm:

“Iorek Byrnison!”

The bears knew what they must do. Every single badge and sash and coronet was thrown off at once and trampled contemptuously underfoot, to be forgotten in a moment. They were Iorek’s bears now, and true bears, not uncertain semi-humans conscious only of a torturing inferiority. They swarmed to the palace and began to hurl great blocks of marble from the topmost towers, rocking the battlemented walls with their mighty fists until the stones came loose, and then hurling them over the cliffs to crash on the jetty hundreds of feet below.

Iorek ignored them and unhooked his armor to attend to his wounds, but before he could begin, Lyra was beside him, stamping her foot on the frozen scarlet snow and shouting to the bears to stop smashing the palace, because there were prisoners inside. They didn’t hear, but Iorek did, and when he roared they stopped at once.

“Human prisoners?” Iorek said.

“Yes—Iofur Raknison put them in the dungeons—they ought to come out first and get shelter somewhere, else they’ll be killed with all the falling rocks—” Iorek gave swift orders, and some bears hurried into the palace to release the prisoners. Lyra turned to Iorek.

“Let me help you—I want to make sure you en’t too badly hurt, Iorek dear—oh, I wish there was some bandages or something! That’s an awful cut on your belly—” A bear laid a mouthful of some stiff green stuff, thickly frosted, on the ground at Iorek’s feet.

“Bloodmoss,” said Iorek. “Press it in the wounds for me, Lyra. Fold the flesh over it and then hold some snow there till it freezes.”

He wouldn’t let any bears attend to him, despite their eagerness. Besides, Lyra’s hands were deft, and she was desperate to help; so the small human bent over the great bear-king, packing in the bloodmoss and freezing the raw flesh till it stopped bleeding. When she had finished, her mittens were sodden with Iorek’s blood, but his wounds were stanched.

And by that time the prisoners—a dozen or so men, shivering and blinking and huddling together—had come out. There was no point in talking to the professor, Lyra decided, because the poor man was mad; and she would have liked to know who the other men were, but there were many other urgent things to do. And she didn’t want to distract Iorek, who was giving rapid orders and sending bears scurrying this way and that, but she was anxious about Roger, and about Lee Scoresby and the witches, and she was hungry and tired.… She thought the best thing she could do just then was to keep out of the way.

So she curled up in a quiet corner of the combat ground with Pantalaimon as a wolverine to keep her warm, and piled snow over herself as a bear would do, and went to sleep.

Something nudged her foot, and a strange bear voice said, “Lyra Silvertongue, the king wants you.”

She woke up nearly dead with cold, and couldn’t open her eyes, for they had frozen shut; but Pantalaimon licked them to melt the ice on her eyelashes, and soon she was able to see the young bear speaking to her in the moonlight.

She tried to stand, but fell over twice.

The bear said, “Ride on me,” and crouched to offer his broad back, and half-clinging, half-falling, she managed to stay on while he took her to a steep hollow, where many bears were assembled.

And among them was a small figure who ran toward her, and whose dæmon leaped up to greet Pantalaimon.

“Roger!” she said.

“Iorek Byrnison made me stay out there in the snow while he came to fetch you away—we fell out the balloon, Lyra! After you fell out, we got carried miles and miles, and then Mr. Scoresby let some more gas out and we crashed into a mountain, and we fell down such a slope like you never seen! And I don’t know where Mr. Scoresby is now, nor the witches. There was just me and Iorek Byrnison. He come straight back this way to look for you. And they told me about his fight.…” Lyra looked around. Under the direction of an older bear, the human prisoners were building a shelter out of driftwood and scraps of canvas. They seemed pleased to have some work to do. One of them was striking a flint to light a fire.

“There is food,” said the young bear who had woken Lyra.

A fresh seal lay on the snow. The bear sliced it open with a claw and showed Lyra where to find the kidneys. She ate one raw: it was warm and soft and delicious beyond imagining.

“Eat the blubber too,” said the bear, and tore off a piece for her. It tasted of cream flavored with hazelnuts. Roger hesitated, but followed her example. They ate greedily, and within a very few minutes Lyra was fully awake and beginning to be warm.

Wiping her mouth, she looked around, but Iorek was not in sight.

“Iorek Byrnison is speaking with his counselors,” said the young bear. “He wants to see you when you have eaten. Follow me.”

He led them over a rise in the snow to a spot where bears were beginning to build a wall of ice blocks. Iorek sat at the center of a group of older bears, and he rose to greet her.

“Lyra Silvertongue,” he said. “Come and hear what I am being told.”

He didn’t explain her presence to the other bears, or perhaps they had learned about her already; but they made room for her and treated her with immense courtesy, as if she were a queen. She felt proud beyond measure to sit beside her friend Iorek Byrnison under the Aurora as it flickered gracefully in the polar sky, and join the conversation of the bears.

It turned out that Iofur Raknison’s dominance over them had been like a spell. Some of them put it down to the influence of Mrs. Coulter, who had visited him before Iorek’s exile, though Iorek had not known about it, and given Iofur various presents.

“She gave him a drug,” said one bear, “which he fed secretly to Hjalmur Hjalmurson, and made him forget himself.”

Hjalmur Hjalmurson, Lyra gathered, was the bear whom Iorek had killed, and whose death had brought about his exile. So Mrs. Coulter was behind that! And there was more.

“There are human laws that prevent certain things that she was planning to do, but human laws don’t apply on Svalbard. She wanted to set up another station here like Bolvangar, only worse, and Iofur was going to allow her to do it, against all the custom of the bears; because humans have visited, or been imprisoned, but never lived and worked here. Little by little she was going to increase her power over Iofur Raknison, and his over us, until we were her creatures running back and forth at her bidding, and our only duty to guard the abomination she was going to create.…” That was an old bear speaking. His name was Søren Eisarson, and he was a counselor, one who had suffered under Iofur Raknison.

“What is she doing now, Lyra?” said Iorek Byrnison. “Once she hears of Iofur’s death, what will her plans be?”

Lyra took out the alethiometer. There was not much light to see it by, and Iorek commanded that a torch be brought.

“What happened to Mr. Scoresby?” Lyra said while they were waiting. “And the witches?”

“The witches were attacked by another witch clan. I don’t know if the others were allied to the child cutters, but they were patrolling our skies in vast numbers, and they attacked in the storm. I didn’t see what happened to Serafina Pekkala. As for Lee Scoresby, the balloon soared up again after I fell out with the boy, taking him with it. But your symbol reader will tell you what their fate is.” A bear pulled up a sledge on which a cauldron of charcoal was smoldering, and thrust a resinous branch into the heart of it. The branch caught at once, and in its glare Lyra turned the hands of the alethiometer and asked about Lee Scoresby.

It turned out that he was still aloft, borne by the winds toward Nova Zembla, and that he had been unharmed by the cliff-ghasts and had fought off the other witch clan.

Lyra told Iorek, and he nodded, satisfied.

“If he is in the air, he will be safe,” he said. “What of Mrs. Coulter?”

The answer was complicated, with the needle swinging from symbol to symbol in a sequence that made Lyra puzzle for a long time. The bears were curious, but restrained by their respect for Iorek Byrnison, and his for Lyra, and she put them out of her mind and sank again into the alethiometric trance.

The play of symbols, once she had discovered the pattern of it, was dismaying.

“It says she’s … She’s heard about us flying this way, and she’s got a transport zeppelin that’s armed with machine guns—I think that’s it—and they’re a flying to Svalbard right now. She don’t know yet about Iofur Raknison being beaten, of course, but she will soon because … Oh yes, because some witches will tell her, and they’ll learn it from the cliff-ghasts. So I reckon there are spies in the air all around, Iorek. She was coming to … to pretend to help Iofur Raknison, but really she was going to take over power from him, with a regiment of Tartars that’s a coming by sea, and they’ll be here in a couple of days.

“And as soon as she can, she’s going to where Lord Asriel is kept prisoner, and she’s intending to have him killed. Because … It’s coming clear now: something I never understood before, Iorek! It’s why she wants to kill Lord Asriel: it’s because she knows what he’s going to do, and she fears it, and she wants to do it herself and gain control before he does.… It must be the city in the sky, it must be! She’s trying to get to it first! And now it’s telling me something else.…” She bent over the instrument, concentrating furiously as the needle darted this way and that. It moved almost too fast to follow; Roger, looking over her shoulder, couldn’t even see it stop, and was conscious only of a swift flickering dialogue between Lyra’s fingers turning the hands and the needle answering, as bewilderingly unlike language as the Aurora was.

“Yes,” she said finally, putting the instrument down in her lap and blinking and sighing as she woke out of her profound concentration. “Yes, I see what it says. She’s after me again. She wants something I’ve got, because Lord Asriel wants it too. They need it for this … for this experiment, whatever it is …” She stopped there, to take a deep breath. Something was troubling her, and she didn’t know what it was. She was sure that this something that was so important was the alethiometer itself, because after all, Mrs. Coulter had wanted it, and what else could it be? And yet it wasn’t, because the alethiometer had a different way of referring to itself, and this wasn’t it.

“I suppose it’s the alethiometer,” she said unhappily. “It’s what I thought all along. I’ve got to take it to Lord Asriel before she gets it. If she gets it, we’ll all die.” As she said that, she felt so tired, so bone-deep weary and sad, that to die would have been a relief. But the example of Iorek kept her from admitting it. She put the alethiometer away and sat up straight.

“How far away is she?” said Iorek.

“Just a few hours. I suppose I ought to take the alethiometer to Lord Asriel as soon as I can.”

“I will go with you,” said Iorek.

She didn’t argue. While Iorek gave commands and organized an armed squad to accompany them on the final part of their journey north, Lyra sat still, conserving her energy. She felt that something had gone out of her during that last reading. She closed her eyes and slept, and presently they woke her and set off.

21

LORD ASRIEL’S WELCOME

Lyra rode a strong young bear, and Roger rode another, while Iorek paced tirelessly ahead and a squad armed with a fire hurler followed guarding the rear.

The way was long and hard. The interior of Svalbard was mountainous, with jumbled peaks and sharp ridges deeply cut by ravines and steep-sided valleys, and the cold was intense. Lyra thought back to the smooth-running sledges of the gyptians on the way to Bolvangar; how swift and comfortable that progress now seemed to have been! The air here was more penetratingly chill than any she had experienced before; or it might have been that the bear she was riding wasn’t as lightfooted as Iorek; or it might have been that she was tired to her very soul. At all events, it was desperately hard going.

She knew little of where they were bound, or how far it was. All she knew was what the older bear Søren Eisarson had told her while they were preparing the fire hurler. He had been involved in negotiating with Lord Asriel about the terms of his imprisonment, and he remembered it well.

At first, he’d said, the Svalbard bears regarded Lord Asriel as being no different from any of the other politicians, kings, or troublemakers who had been exiled to their bleak island. The prisoners were important, or they would have been killed outright by their own people; they might be valuable to the bears one day, if their political fortunes changed and they returned to rule in their own countries; so it might pay the bears not to treat them with cruelty or disrespect.

So Lord Asriel had found conditions on Svalbard no better and no worse than hundreds of other exiles had done. But certain things had made his jailers more wary of him than of other prisoners they’d had. There was the air of mystery and spiritual peril surrounding anything that had to do with Dust; there was the clear panic on the part of those who’d brought him there; and there were Mrs. Coulter’s private communications with Iofur Raknison.

Besides, the bears had never met anything quite like Lord Asriel’s own haughty and imperious nature. He dominated even Iofur Raknison, arguing forcefully and eloquently, and persuaded the bear-king to let him choose his own dwelling place.

The first one he was allotted was too low down, he said. He needed a high spot, above the smoke and stir of the fire mines and the smithies. He gave the bears a design of the accommodation he wanted, and told them where it should be; and he bribed them with gold, and he flattered and bullied Iofur Raknison, and with a bemused willingness the bears set to work. Before long a house had arisen on a headland facing north: a wide and solid place with fireplaces that burned great blocks of coal mined and hauled by bears, and with large windows of real glass. There he dwelt, a prisoner acting like a king.

And then he set about assembling the materials for a laboratory.

With furious concentration he sent for books, instruments, chemicals, all manner of tools and equipment. And somehow it had come, from this source or that; some openly, some smuggled in by the visitors he insisted he was entitled to have. By land, sea, and air, Lord Asriel assembled his materials, and within six months of his committal, he had all the equipment he wanted.

And so he worked, thinking and planning and calculating, waiting for the one thing he needed to complete the task that so terrified the Oblation Board. It was drawing closer every minute.

Lyra’s first glimpse of her father’s prison came when Iorek Byrnison stopped at the foot of a ridge for the children to move and stretch themselves, because they had been getting dangerously cold and stiff.

“Look up there,” he said.

A wide broken slope of tumbled rocks and ice, where a track had been laboriously cleared, led up to a crag outlined against the sky. There was no Aurora, but the stars were brilliant. The crag stood black and gaunt, but at its summit was a spacious building from which light spilled lavishly in all directions: not the smoky inconstant gleam of blubber lamps, nor the harsh white of anbaric spotlights, but the warm creamy glow of naphtha.

The windows from which the light emerged also showed Lord Asriel’s formidable power. Glass was expensive, and large sheets of it were prodigal of heat in these fierce latitudes; so to see them here was evidence of wealth and influence far greater than Iofur Raknison’s vulgar palace.

Lyra and Roger mounted their bears for the last time, and Iorek led the way up the slope toward the house. There was a courtyard that lay deep under snow, surrounded by a low wall, and as Iorek pushed open the gate they heard a bell ring somewhere in the building.

Lyra got down. She could hardly stand. She helped Roger down too, and, supporting each other, the children stumbled through the thigh-deep snow toward the steps up to the door.

Oh, the warmth there would be inside that house! Oh, the peaceful rest!

She reached for the handle of the bell, but before she could reach it, the door opened. There was a small dimly lit vestibule to keep the warm air in, and standing under the lamp was a figure she recognized: Lord Asriel’s manservant Thorold, with his pinscher dæmon Anfang.

Lyra wearily pushed back her hood.

“Who …” Thorold began, and then saw who it was, and went on: “Not Lyra? Little Lyra? Am I dreaming?”

He reached behind him to open the inner door.

A hall, with a coal fire blazing in a stone grate; warm naphtha light glowing on carpets, leather chairs, polished wood … It was like nothing Lyra had seen since leaving Jordan College, and it brought a choking gasp to her throat.

Lord Asriel’s snow-leopard dæmon growled.

Lyra’s father stood there, his powerful dark-eyed face at first fierce, triumphant, and eager; and then the color faded from it; his eyes widened, in horror, as he recognized his daughter.

“No! No!”

He staggered back and clutched at the mantelpiece. Lyra couldn’t move.

“Get out!” Lord Asriel cried. “Turn around, get out, go! I did not send for you!”

She couldn’t speak. She opened her mouth twice, three times, and then managed to say:

“No, no, I came because—”

He seemed appalled; he kept shaking his head, he held up his hands as if to ward her off; she couldn’t believe his distress.

She moved a step closer to reassure him, and Roger came to stand with her, anxious. Their dæmons fluttered out into the warmth, and after a moment Lord Asriel passed a hand across his brow and recovered slightly. The color began to return to his cheeks as he looked down at the two.

“Lyra,” he said. “That is Lyra?”

“Yes, Uncle Asriel,” she said, thinking that this wasn’t the time to go into their true relationship. “I came to bring you the alethiometer from the Master of Jordan.” “Yes, of course you did,” he said. “Who is this?”

“It’s Roger Parslow,” she said. “He’s the kitchen boy from Jordan College. But—”

“How did you get here?”

“I was just going to say, there’s Iorek Byrnison outside, he’s brought us here. He came with me all the way from Trollesund, and we tricked Iofur—”

“Who’s Iorek Byrnison?”

“An armored bear. He brought us here.”

“Thorold,” he called, “run a hot bath for these children, and prepare them some food. Then they will need to sleep. Their clothes are filthy; find them something to wear. Do it now, while I talk to this bear.” Lyra felt her head swim. Perhaps it was the heat, or perhaps it was relief. She watched the servant bow and leave the hall, and Lord Asriel go into the vestibule and close the door behind, and then she half-fell into the nearest chair.

Only a moment later, it seemed, Thorold was speaking to her.

“Follow me, miss,” he was saying, and she hauled herself up and went with Roger to a warm bathroom, where soft towels hung on a heated rail, and where a tub of water steamed in the naphtha light.

“You go first,” said Lyra. “I’ll sit outside and we’ll talk.”

So Roger, wincing and gasping at the heat, got in and washed. They had swum naked together often enough, frolicking in the Isis or the Cherwell with other children, but this was different.

“I’m afraid of your uncle,” said Roger through the open door. “I mean your father.”

“Better keep calling him my uncle. I’m afraid of him too, sometimes.”

“When we first come in, he never saw me at all. He only saw you. And he was horrified, till he saw me. Then he calmed down all at once.”

“He was just shocked,” said Lyra. “Anyone would be, to see someone they didn’t expect. He last saw me after that time in the Retiring Room. It’s bound to be a shock.” “No,” said Roger, “it’s more than that. He was looking at me like a wolf, or summing.”

“You’re imagining it.”

“I en’t. I’m more scared of him than I was of Mrs. Coulter, and that’s the truth.”

He splashed himself. Lyra took out the alethiometer.

“D’you want me to ask the symbol reader about it?” Lyra said.

“Well, I dunno. There’s things I’d rather not know. Seems to me everything I heard of since the Gobblers come to Oxford, everything’s been bad. There en’t been nothing good more than about five minutes ahead. Like I can see now, this bath’s nice, and there’s a nice warm towel there, about five minutes away. And once I’m dry, maybe I’ll think of summing nice to eat, but no further ahead than that. And when I’ve eaten, maybe I’ll look forward to a kip in a comfortable bed. But after that, I dunno, Lyra. There’s been terrible things we seen, en’t there? And more a coming, more’n likely. So I think I’d rather not know what’s in the future. I’ll stick to the present.” “Yeah,” said Lyra wearily. “There’s times I feel like that too.”

So although she held the alethiometer in her hands for a little longer, it was only for comfort; she didn’t turn the wheels, and the swinging of the needle passed her by. Pantalaimon watched it in silence.

After they’d both washed, and eaten some bread and cheese and drunk some wine and hot water, the servant Thorold said, “The boy is to go to bed. I’ll show him where to go. His Lordship asks if you’d join him in the library, Miss Lyra.” Lyra found Lord Asriel in a room whose wide windows overlooked the frozen sea far below. There was a coal fire under a wide chimneypiece, and a naphtha lamp turned down low, so there was little in the way of distracting reflections between the occupants of the room and the bleak starlit panorama outside. Lord Asriel, reclining in a large armchair on one side of the fire, beckoned her to come and sit in the other chair facing him.

“Your friend Iorek Byrnison is resting outside,” he said. “He prefers the cold.”

“Did he tell you about his fight with Iofur Raknison?”

“Not in detail. But I understand that he is now the king of Svalbard. Is that true?”

“Of course it’s true. Iorek never lies.”

“He seems to have appointed himself your guardian.”

“No. John Faa told him to look after me, and he’s doing it because of that. He’s following John Faa’s orders.”

“How does John Faa come into this?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me something,” she said. “You’re my father, en’t you?”

“Yes. So what?”

“So you should have told me before, that’s what. You shouldn’t hide things like that from people, because they feel stupid when they find out, and that’s cruel. What difference would it make if I knew I was your daughter? You could have said it years ago. You could’ve told me and asked me to keep it secret, and I would, no matter how young I was, I’d have done that if you asked me. I’d have been so proud nothing would’ve torn it out of me, if you asked me to keep it secret. But you never. You let other people know, but you never told me.” “Who did tell you?”

“John Faa.”

“Did he tell you about your mother?”

“Yes.”

“Then there’s not much left for me to tell. I don’t think I want to be interrogated and condemned by an insolent child. I want to hear what you’ve seen and done on the way here.” “I brought you the bloody alethiometer, didn’t I?” Lyra burst out. She was very near to tears. “I looked after it all the way from Jordan, I hid it and I treasured it, all through what’s happened to us, and I learned about using it, and I carried it all this bloody way when I could’ve just given up and been safe, and you en’t even said thank you, nor showed any sign that you’re glad to see me. I don’t know why I ever done it. But I did, and I kept on going, even in Iofur Raknison’s stinking palace with all them bears around me I kept on going, all on me own, and I tricked him into fighting with Iorek so’s I could come on here for your sake.… And when you did see me, you like to fainted, as if I was some horrible thing you never wanted to see again. You en’t human, Lord Asriel. You en’t my father. My father wouldn’t treat me like that. Fathers are supposed to love their daughters, en’t they? You don’t love me, and I don’t love you, and that’s a fact. I love Farder Coram, and I love Iorek Byrnison; I love an armored bear more’n I love my father. And I bet Iorek Byrnison loves me more’n you do.” “You told me yourself he’s only following John Faa’s orders. If you’re going to be sentimental, I shan’t waste time talking to you.”

“Take your bloody alethiometer, then, and I’m going back with Iorek.”

“Where?”

“Back to the palace. He can fight with Mrs. Coulter and the Oblation Board, when they turn up. If he loses, then I’ll die too, I don’t care. If he wins, we’ll send for Lee Scoresby and I’ll sail away in his balloon and—” “Who’s Lee Scoresby?”

“An aeronaut. He brought us here and then we crashed. Here you are, here’s the alethiometer. It’s all in good order.”

He made no move to take it, and she laid it on the brass fender around the hearth.

“And I suppose I ought to tell you that Mrs. Coulter’s on her way to Svalbard, and as soon as she hears what’s happened to Iofur Raknison, she’ll be on her way here. In a zeppelin, with a whole lot of soldiers, and they’re going to kill us all, by order of the Magisterium.” “They’ll never reach us,” he said calmly.

He was so quiet and relaxed that some of her ferocity dwindled.

“You don’t know,” she said uncertainly.

“Yes I do.”

“Have you got another alethiometer, then?”

“I don’t need an alethiometer for that. Now I want to hear about your journey here, Lyra. Start from the beginning. Tell me everything.”

So she did. She began with her hiding in the Retiring Room, and went on to the Gobblers’ taking Roger, and her time with Mrs. Coulter, and everything else that had happened.

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