فصل 06-08 بخش 01

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فصل 06-08 بخش 01

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She walked quickly away from the river, because the embankment was wide and well lit. There was a tangle of narrow streets between there and the Royal Arctic Institute, which was the only place Lyra was sure of being able to find, and into that dark maze she hurried now.

If only she knew London as well as she knew Oxford! Then she would have known which streets to avoid; or where she could scrounge some food; or, best of all, which doors to knock on and find shelter. In that cold night, the dark alleys all around were alive with movement and secret life, and she knew none of it.

Pantalaimon became a wildcat and scanned the dark all around with his night-piercing eyes. Every so often he’d stop, bristling, and she would turn aside from the entrance she’d been about to go down. The night was full of noises: bursts of drunken laughter, two raucous voices raised in song, the clatter and whine of some badly oiled machine in a basement. Lyra walked delicately through it all, her senses magnified and mingled with Pantalaimon’s, keeping to the shadows and the narrow alleys.

From time to time she had to cross a wider, well-lit street, where the tram-cars hummed and sparked under their anbaric wires. There were rules for crossing London streets, but she took no notice, and when anyone shouted, she fled.

It was a fine thing to be free again. She knew that Pantalaimon, padding on wildcat paws beside her, felt the same joy as she did to be in the open air, even if it was murky London air laden with fumes and soot and clangorous with noise. Sometime soon they’d have to think over the meaning of what they’d heard in Mrs. Coulter’s flat, but not yet. And sometime eventually they’d have to find a place to sleep.

At a crossroads near the corner of a big department store whose windows shone brilliantly over the wet pavement, there was a coffee stall: a little hut on wheels with a counter under the wooden flap that swung up like an awning. Yellow light glowed inside, and the fragrance of coffee drifted out. The white-coated owner was leaning on the counter talking to the two or three customers.

It was tempting. Lyra had been walking for an hour now, and it was cold and damp. With Pantalaimon a sparrow, she went up to the counter and reached up to gain the owner’s attention.

“Cup of coffee and a ham sandwich, please,” she said.

“You’re out late, my dear,” said a gentleman in a top hat and white silk muffler.

“Yeah,” she said, turning away from him to scan the busy intersection. A theater nearby was just emptying, and crowds milled around the lighted foyer, calling for cabs, wrapping coats around their shoulders. In the other direction was the entrance of a Chthonic Railway station, with more crowds pouring up and down the steps.

“Here you are, love,” said the coffee stall man. “Two shillings.”

“Let me pay for this,” said the man in the top hat.

Lyra thought, why not? I can run faster than him, and I might need all my money later. The top-hatted man dropped a coin on the counter and smiled down at her. His dæmon was a lemur. It clung to his lapel, staring round-eyed at Lyra.

She bit into her sandwich and kept her eyes on the busy street. She had no idea where she was, because she had never seen a map of London, and she didn’t even know how big it was or how far she’d have to walk to find the country.

“What’s your name?” said the man.


“That’s a pretty name. Let me put a drop of this into your coffee … warm you up …”

He was unscrewing the top of a silver flask.

“I don’t like that,” said Lyra. “I just like coffee.”

“I bet you’ve never had brandy like this before.”

“I have. I was sick all over the place. I had a whole bottle, or nearly.”

“Just as you like,” said the man, tilting the flask into his own cup. “Where are you going, all alone like this?”

“Going to meet my father.”

“And who’s he?”

“He’s a murderer.”

“He’s what?”

“I told you, he’s a murderer. It’s his profession. He’s doing a job tonight. I got his clean clothes in here, ’cause he’s usually all covered in blood when he’s finished a job.” “Ah! You’re joking.”

“I en’t.”

The lemur uttered a soft mewing sound and clambered slowly up behind the man’s head, to peer out at her. She drank her coffee stolidly and ate the last of her sandwich.

“Goodnight,” she said. “I can see my father coming now. He looks a bit angry.”

The top-hat man glanced around, and Lyra set off toward the theater crowd. Much as she would have liked to see the Chthonic Railway (Mrs. Coulter had said it was not really intended for people of their class), she was wary of being trapped underground; better to be out in the open, where she could run, if she had to.

On and on she walked, and the streets became darker and emptier. It was drizzling, but even if there’d been no clouds the city sky was too tainted with light to show the stars. Pantalaimon thought they were going north, but who could tell?

Endless streets of little identical brick houses, with gardens only big enough for a dustbin; great gaunt factories behind wire fences, with one anbaric light glowing bleakly high up on a wall and a night watchman snoozing by his brazier; occasionally a dismal oratory, only distinguished from a warehouse by the crucifix outside. Once she tried the door of one of these places, only to hear a groan from the bench a foot away in the darkness. She realized that the porch was full of sleeping figures, and fled.

“Where we going to sleep, Pan?” she said as they trudged down a street of closed and shuttered shops.

“A doorway somewhere.”

“Don’t want to be seen though. They’re all so open.”

“There’s a canal down there.…”

He was looking down a side road to the left. Sure enough, a patch of dark glimmer showed open water, and when they cautiously went to look, they found a canal basin where a dozen or so barges were tied up at the wharves, some high in the water, some low and laden under the gallows-like cranes. A dim light shone in one window of a wooden hut, and a thread of smoke rose from the metal chimney; otherwise the only lights were high up on the wall of the warehouse or the gantry of a crane, leaving the ground in gloom. The wharves were piled with barrels of coal spirit, with stacks of great round logs, with rolls of cauchuc-covered cable.

Lyra tiptoed up to the hut and peeped in at the window. An old man was laboriously reading a picture-story paper and smoking a pipe, with his spaniel dæmon curled up asleep on the table. As she looked, the man got up and brought a blackened kettle from the iron stove and poured some hot water into a cracked mug before settling back with his paper.

“Should we ask him to let us in, Pan?” she whispered, but he was distracted; he was a bat, an owl, a wildcat again; she looked all round, catching his panic, and then saw them at the same time as he did: two men running at her, one from each side, the nearer holding a throwing net.

Pantalaimon uttered a harsh scream and launched himself as a leopard at the closer man’s dæmon, a savage-looking fox, bowling her backward and tangling with the man’s legs. The man cursed and dodged aside, and Lyra darted past him toward the open spaces of the wharf. What she mustn’t do was get boxed in a corner.

Pantalaimon, an eagle now, swooped at her and cried, “Left! Left!”

She swerved that way and saw a gap between the coalspirit barrels and the end of a corrugated iron shed, and darted for it like a bullet.

But those throwing nets!

She heard a hiss in the air, and past her cheek something lashed and sharply stung, and loathsome tarred strings whipped across her face, her arms, her hands, and tangled and held her, and she fell, snarling and tearing and struggling in vain.

“Pan! Pan!”

But the fox dæmon tore at the cat Pantalaimon, and Lyra felt the pain in her own flesh, and sobbed a great cry as he fell. One man was swiftly lashing cords around her, around her limbs, her throat, body, head, bundling her over and over on the wet ground. She was helpless, exactly like a fly being trussed by a spider. Poor hurt Pan was dragging himself toward her, with the fox dæmon worrying his back, and he had no strength left to change, even; and the other man was lying in a puddle, with an arrow through his neck— The whole world grew still as the man tying the net saw it too.

Pantalaimon sat up and blinked, and then there was a soft thud, and the net man fell choking and gasping right across Lyra, who cried out in horror: that was blood gushing out of him!

Running feet, and someone hauled the man away and bent over him; then other hands lifted Lyra, a knife snicked and pulled and the net strings fell away one by one, and she tore them off, spitting, and hurled herself down to cuddle Pantalaimon.

Kneeling, she twisted to look up at the newcomers. Three dark men, one armed with a bow, the others with knives; and as she turned, the bowman caught his breath.

“That en’t Lyra?”

A familiar voice, but she couldn’t place it till he stepped forward and the nearest light fell on his face and the hawk dæmon on his shoulder. Then she had it. A gyptian! A real Oxford gyptian!

“Tony Costa,” he said. “Remember? You used to play with my little brother Billy off the boats in Jericho, afore the Gobblers got him.”

“Oh, God, Pan, we’re safe!” she sobbed, but then a thought rushed into her mind: it was the Costas’ boat she’d hijacked that day. Suppose he remembered?

“Better come along with us,” he said. “You alone?”

“Yeah. I was running away.…”

“All right, don’t talk now. Just keep quiet. Jaxer, move them bodies into the shadow. Kerim, look around.”

Lyra stood up shakily, holding the wildcat Pantalaimon to her breast. He was twisting to look at something, and she followed his gaze, understanding and suddenly curious too: what had happened to the dead men’s dæmons? They were fading, that was the answer; fading and drifting away like atoms of smoke, for all that they tried to cling to their men. Pantalaimon hid his eyes, and Lyra hurried blindly after Tony Costa.

“What are you doing here?” she said.

“Quiet, gal. There’s enough trouble awake without stirring more. We’ll talk on the boat.”

He led her over a little wooden bridge into the heart of the canal basin. The other two men were padding silently after them. Tony turned along the waterfront and out onto a wooden jetty, from which he stepped on board a narrowboat and swung open the door to the cabin.

“Get in,” he said. “Quick now.”

Lyra did so, patting her bag (which she had never let go of, even in the net) to make sure the alethiometer was still there. In the long narrow cabin, by the light of a lantern on a hook, she saw a stout powerful woman with gray hair, sitting at a table with a paper. Lyra recognized her as Billy’s mother.

“Who’s this?” the woman said. “That’s never Lyra?”

“That’s right. Ma, we got to move. We killed two men out in the basin. We thought they was Gobblers, but I reckon they were Turk traders. They’d caught Lyra. Never mind talk—we’ll do that on the move.” “Come here, child,” said Ma Costa.

Lyra obeyed, half happy, half apprehensive, for Ma Costa had hands like bludgeons, and now she was sure: it was their boat she had captured with Roger and the other collegers. But the boat mother set her hands on either side of Lyra’s face, and her dæmon, a hawk, bent gently to lick Pantalaimon’s wildcat head. Then Ma Costa folded her great arms around Lyra and pressed her to her breast.

“I dunno what you’re a doing here, but you look wore out. You can have Billy’s crib, soon’s I’ve got a hot drink in you. Set you down there, child.”

It looked as if her piracy was forgiven, or at least forgotten. Lyra slid onto the cushioned bench behind a well-scrubbed pine table top as the low rumble of the gas engine shook the boat.

“Where we going?” Lyra asked.

Ma Costa was setting a saucepan of milk on the iron stove and riddling the grate to stir the fire up.

“Away from here. No talking now. We’ll talk in the morning.”

And she said no more, handing Lyra a cup of milk when it was ready, swinging herself up on deck when the boat began to move, exchanging occasional whispers with the men. Lyra sipped the milk and lifted a corner of the blind to watch the dark wharves move past. A minute or two later she was sound asleep.

She awoke in a narrow bed, with that comforting engine rumble deep below. She sat up, banged her head, cursed, felt around, and got up more carefully. A thin gray light showed her three other bunks, each empty and neatly made, one below hers and the other two across the tiny cabin. She swung over the side to find herself in her underclothes, and saw the dress and the wolfskin coat folded at the end of her bunk together with her shopping bag. The alethiometer was still there.

She dressed quickly and went through the door at the end to find herself in the cabin with the stove, where it was warm. There was no one there. Through the windows she saw a gray swirl of fog on each side, with occasional dark shapes that might have been buildings or trees.

Before she could go out on deck, the outer door opened and Ma Costa came down, swathed in an old tweed coat on which the damp had settled like a thousand tiny pearls.

“Sleep well?” she said, reaching for a frying pan. “Now sit down out the way and I’ll make ye some breakfast. Don’t stand about; there en’t room.”

“Where are we?” said Lyra.

“On the Grand Junction Canal. You keep out of sight, child. I don’t want to see you topside. There’s trouble.”

She sliced a couple of rashers of bacon into the frying pan, and cracked an egg to go with them.

“What sort of trouble?”

“Nothing we can’t cope with, if you stay out the way.”

And she wouldn’t say any more till Lyra had eaten. The boat slowed at one point, and something banged against the side, and she heard men’s voices raised in anger; but then someone’s joke made them laugh, and the voices drew away and the boat moved on.

Presently Tony Costa swung down into the cabin. Like his mother, he was pearled with damp, and he shook his woollen hat over the stove to make the drops jump and spit.

“What we going to tell her, Ma?”

“Ask first, tell after.”

He poured some coffee into a tin cup and sat down. He was a powerful, dark-faced man, and now that she could see him in daylight, Lyra saw a sad grimness in his expression.

“Right,” he said. “Now you tell us what you was doing in London, Lyra. We had you down as being took by the Gobblers.”

“I was living with this lady, right …”

Lyra clumsily collected her story and shook it into order as if she were settling a pack of cards ready for dealing. She told them everything, except about the alethiometer.

“And then last night at this cocktail party I found out what they were really doing. Mrs. Coulter was one of the Gobblers herself, and she was going to use me to help her catch more kids. And what they do is—” Ma Costa left the cabin and went out to the cockpit. Tony waited till the door was shut, and cut in:

“We know what they do. Least, we know part of it. We know they don’t come back. Them kids is taken up north, far out the way, and they do experiments on ’em. At first we reckoned they tried out different diseases and medicines, but there’d be no reason to start that all of a sudden two or three years back. Then we thought about the Tartars, maybe there’s some secret deal they’re making up Siberia way; because the Tartars want to move north just as much as the rest, for the coal spirit and the fire mines, and there’s been rumors of war for even longer than the Gobblers been going. And we reckoned the Gobblers were buying off the Tartar chiefs by giving ’em kids, cause the Tartars eat ’em, don’t they? They bake children and eat ’em.” “They never!” said Lyra.

“They do. There’s plenty of other things to be told, and all. You ever heard of the Nälkäinens?”

Lyra said, “No. Not even with Mrs. Coulter. What are they?”

“That’s a kind of ghost they have up there in those forests. Same size as a child, and they got no heads. They feel their way about at night and if you’re a sleeping out in the forest they get ahold of you and won’t nothing make ’em let go. Nälkäinens, that’s a northern word. And the Windsuckers, they’re dangerous too. They drift about in the air. You come across clumps of ’em floated together sometimes, or caught snagged on a bramble. As soon as they touch you, all the strength goes out of you. You can’t see ’em except as a kind of shimmer in the air. And the Breathless Ones …” “Who are they?”

“Warriors half-killed. Being alive is one thing, and being dead’s another, but being half-killed is worse than either. They just can’t die, and living is altogether beyond ’em. They wander about forever. They’re called the Breathless Ones because of what’s been done to ’em.” “And what’s that?” said Lyra, wide-eyed.

“The North Tartars snap open their ribs and pull out their lungs. There’s an art to it. They do it without killing ’em, but their lungs can’t work anymore without their dæmons pumping ’em by hand, so the result is they’re halfway between breath and no breath, life and death, half-killed, you see. And their dæmons got to pump and pump all day and night, or else perish with ’em. You come across a whole platoon of Breathless Ones in the forest sometimes, I’ve heard. And then there’s the panserbjørne—you heard of them? That means armored bears. They’re great white bears, and—” “Yes! I have heard of them! One of the men last night, he said that my uncle, Lord Asriel, he’s being imprisoned in a fortress guarded by the armored bears.”

“Is he, now? And what was he doing up there?”

“Exploring. But the way the man was talking I don’t think my uncle’s on the same side as the Gobblers. I think they were glad he was in prison.”

“Well, he won’t get out if the armored bears are guarding him. They’re like mercenaries, you know what I mean by that? They sell their strength to whoever pays. They got hands like men, and they learned the trick of working iron way back, meteoric iron mostly, and they make great sheets and plates of it to cover theirselves with. They been raiding the Skraelings for centuries. They’re vicious killers, absolutely pitiless. But they keep their word. If you make a bargain with a panserbjørn, you can rely on it.” Lyra considered these horrors with awe.

“Ma don’t like to hear about the North,” Tony said after a few moments, “because of what might’ve happened to Billy. We know they took him up north, see.” “How d’you know that?”

“We caught one of the Gobblers, and made him talk. That’s how we know a little about what they’re doing. Them two last night weren’t Gobblers; they were too clumsy. If they’d been Gobblers we’d’ve took ’em alive. See, the gyptian people, we been hit worse than most by these Gobblers, and we’re a coming together to decide what to do about it. That’s what we was doing in the basin last night, taking on stores, ’cause we’re going to a big muster up in the fens, what we call a roping. And what I reckon is we’re a going to send out a rescue party, when we heard what all the other gyptians know, when we put our knowledge together. That’s what I’d do, if I was John Faa.” “Who’s John Faa?”

“The king of the gyptians.”

“And you’re really going to rescue the kids? What about Roger?”

“Who’s Roger?”

“The Jordan College kitchen boy. He was took same as Billy the day before I come away with Mrs. Coulter. I bet if I was took, he’d come and rescue me. If you’re going to rescue Billy, I want to come too and rescue Roger.” And Uncle Asriel, she thought; but she didn’t mention that.


Now that Lyra had a task in mind, she felt much better. Helping Mrs. Coulter had been all very well, but Pantalaimon was right: she wasn’t really doing any work there, she was just a pretty pet. On the gyptian boat, there was real work to do, and Ma Costa made sure she did it. She cleaned and swept, she peeled potatoes and made tea, she greased the propeller shaft bearings, she kept the weed trap clear over the propeller, she washed dishes, she opened lock gates, she tied the boat up at mooring posts, and within a couple of days she was as much at home with this new life as if she’d been born gyptian.

What she didn’t notice was that the Costas were alert every second for unusual signs of interest in Lyra from the waterside people. If she hadn’t realized it, she was important, and Mrs. Coulter and the Oblation Board were bound to be searching everywhere for her. Indeed, Tony heard from gossip in pubs along the way that the police were making raids on houses and farms and building yards and factories without any explanation, though there was a rumor that they were searching for a missing girl. And that in itself was odd, considering all the kids that had gone missing without being looked for. Gyptians and land folk alike were getting jumpy and nervous.

And there was another reason for the Costas’ interest in Lyra; but she wasn’t to learn that for a few days yet.

So they took to keeping her below decks when they passed a lockkeeper’s cottage or a canal basin, or anywhere there were likely to be idlers hanging about. Once they passed through a town where the police were searching all the boats that came along the waterway, and holding up the traffic in both directions. The Costas were equal to that, though. There was a secret compartment beneath Ma’s bunk, where Lyra lay cramped for two hours while the police banged up and down the length of the boat unsuccessfully.

“Why didn’t their dæmons find me, though?” she asked afterward, and Ma showed her the lining of the secret space: cedarwood, which had a soporific effect on dæmons; and it was true that Pantalaimon had spent the whole time happily asleep by Lyra’s head.

Slowly, with many halts and detours, the Costas’ boat drew nearer the fens, that wide and never fully mapped wilderness of huge skies and endless marshland in Eastern Anglia. The furthest fringe of it mingled indistinguishably with the creeks and tidal inlets of the shallow sea, and the other side of the sea mingled indistinguishably with Holland; and parts of the fens had been drained and dyked by Hollanders, some of whom had settled there; so the language of the fens was thick with Dutch. But parts had never been drained or planted or settled at all, and in the wildest central regions, where eels slithered and waterbirds flocked, where eerie marsh fires flickered and waylurkers tempted careless travelers to their doom in the swamps and bogs, the gyptian people had always found it safe to muster.

And now by a thousand winding channels and creeks and watercourses, gyptian boats were moving in toward the byanplats, the only patch of slightly higher ground in the hundreds of square miles of marsh and bog. There was an ancient wooden meeting hall there with a huddle of permanent dwellings around it, and wharves and jetties and an eelmarket. When the gyptians called a byanroping—a summons or muster of families—so many boats filled the waterways that you could walk for a mile in any direction over their decks; or so it was said. The gyptians ruled in the fens. No one else dared enter, and while the gyptians kept the peace and traded fairly, the landlopers turned a blind eye to the incessant smuggling and the occasional feuds. If a gyptian body floated ashore down the coast, or got snagged in a fishnet, well—it was only a gyptian.

Lyra listened enthralled to tales of the fen dwellers, of the great ghost dog Black Shuck, of the marsh fires arising from bubbles of witch oil, and began to think of herself as gyptian even before they reached the fens. She had soon slipped back into her Oxford voice, and now she was acquiring a gyptian one, complete with Fen-Dutch words. Ma Costa had to remind her of a few things.

“You en’t gyptian, Lyra. You might pass for gyptian with practice, but there’s more to us than gyptian language. There’s deeps in us and strong currents. We’re water people all through, and you en’t, you’re a fire person. What you’re most like is marsh fire, that’s the place you have in the gyptian scheme; you got witch oil in your soul. Deceptive, that’s what you are, child.” Lyra was hurt.

“I en’t never deceived anyone! You ask …”

There was no one to ask, of course, and Ma Costa laughed, but kindly.

“Can’t you see I’m a paying you a compliment, you gosling?” she said, and Lyra was pacified, though she didn’t understand.

When they reached the byanplats it was evening, and the sun was about to set in a splash of bloody sky. The low island and the Zaal were humped blackly against the light, like the clustered buildings around; threads of smoke rose into the still air, and from the press of boats all around came the smells of frying fish, of smokeleaf, of jenniver spirit.

They tied up close to the Zaal itself, at a mooring Tony said had been used by their family for generations. Presently Ma Costa had the frying pan going, with a couple of fat eels hissing and sputtering and the kettle on for potato powder. Tony and Kerim oiled their hair, put on their finest leather jackets and blue spotted neckerchiefs, loaded their fingers with silver rings, and went to greet some old friends in the neighboring boats and drink a glass or two in the nearest bar. They came back with important news.

“We got here just in time. The Roping’s this very night. And they’re a saying in the town—what d’you think of this?—they’re saying that the missing child’s on a gyptian boat, and she’s a going to appear tonight at the Roping!” He laughed loudly and ruffled Lyra’s hair. Ever since they’d entered the fens he had been more and more good tempered, as if the savage gloom his face showed outside were only a disguise. And Lyra felt an excitement growing in her breast as she ate quickly and washed the dishes before combing her hair, tucking the alethiometer into the wolfskin coat pocket, and jumping ashore with all the other families making their way up the slope to the Zaal.

She had thought Tony was joking. She soon found that he wasn’t, or else that she looked less like a gyptian than she’d thought, for many people stared, and children pointed, and by the time they reached the great doors of the Zaal they were walking alone between a crowd on either side, who had fallen back to stare and give them room.

And then Lyra began to feel truly nervous. She kept close to Ma Costa, and Pantalaimon became as big as he could and took his panther shape to reassure her. Ma Costa trudged up the steps as if nothing in the world could possibly either stop her or make her go more quickly, and Tony and Kerim walked proudly on either side like princes.

The hall was lit by naphtha lamps, which shone brightly enough on the faces and bodies of the audience, but left the lofty rafters hidden in darkness. The people coming in had to struggle to find room on the floor, where the benches were already crowded; but families squeezed up to make space, children occupying laps and dæmons curling up underfoot or perching out of the way on the rough wooden walls.

At the front of the Zaal there was a platform with eight carved wooden chairs set out. As Lyra and the Costas found space to stand along the edge of the hall, eight men appeared from the shadows at the rear of the platform and stood in front of the chairs. A ripple of excitement swept over the audience as they hushed one another and shoved themselves into spaces on the nearest bench. Finally there was silence and seven of the men on the platform sat down.

The one who remained was in his seventies, but tall and bull necked and powerful. He wore a plain canvas jacket and a checked shirt, like many gyptian men; there was nothing to mark him out but the air of strength and authority he had. Lyra recognized it: Uncle Asriel had it, and so did the Master of Jordan. This man’s dæmon was a crow, very like the Master’s raven.

“That’s John Faa, the lord of the western gyptians,” Tony whispered.

John Faa began to speak, in a deep slow voice.

“Gyptians! Welcome to the Roping. We’ve come to listen and come to decide. You all know why. There are many families here who’ve lost a child. Some have lost two. Someone is taking them. To be sure, landlopers are losing children too. We have no quarrel with landlopers over this.

“Now there’s been talk about a child and a reward. Here’s the truth to stop all gossip. The child’s name is Lyra Belacqua, and she’s being sought by the landloper police. There is a reward of one thousand sovereigns for giving her up to them. She’s a landloper child, and she’s in our care, and there she’s going to stay. Anyone tempted by those thousand sovereigns had better find a place neither on land nor on water. We en’t giving her up.” Lyra felt a blush from the roots of her hair to the soles of her feet; Pantalaimon became a brown moth to hide. Eyes all around were turning to them, and she could only look up at Ma Costa for reassurance.

But John Faa was speaking again:

“Talk all we may, we won’t change owt. We must act if we want to change things. Here’s another fact for you: the Gobblers, these child thieves, are a taking their prisoners to a town in the far North, way up in the land of dark. I don’t know what they do with ’em there. Some folk say they kill ’em, other folk say different. We don’t know.

“What we do know is that they do it with the help of the landloper police and the clergy. Every power on land is helping ’em. Remember that. They know what’s going on and they’ll help it whenever they can.

“So what I’m proposing en’t easy. And I need your agreement. I’m proposing that we send a band of fighters up north to rescue them kids and bring ’em back alive. I’m proposing that we put our gold into this, and all the craft and courage we can muster. Yes, Raymond van Gerrit?” A man in the audience had raised his hand, and John Faa sat down to let him speak.

“Beg pardon, Lord Faa. There’s landloper kids as well as gyptians been taken captive. Are you saying we should rescue them as well?”

John Faa stood up to answer.

“Raymond, are you saying we should fight our way through every kind of danger to a little group of frightened children, and then say to some of them that they can come home, and to the rest that they have to stay? No, you’re a better man than that. Well, do I have your approval, my friends?” The question caught them by surprise, for there was a moment’s hesitation; but then a full-throated roar filled the hall, and hands were clapped in the air, fists shaken, voices raised in excited clamor. The rafters of the Zaal shook, and from their perches up in the dark a score of sleeping birds woke up in fear and flapped their wings, and little showers of dust drifted down.

John Faa let the noise continue for a minute, and then raised his hand for silence again.

“This’ll take a while to organize. I want the heads of the families to raise a tax and muster a levy. We’ll meet again here in three days’ time. In between now and then I’m a going to talk with the child I mentioned before, and with Farder Coram, and form a plan to put before you when we meet. Goodnight to ye all.” His massive, plain, blunt presence was enough to calm them. As the audience began to move out of the great doors into the chilly evening, to go to their boats or to the crowded bars of the little settlement, Lyra said to Ma Costa: “Who are the other men on the platform?”

“The heads of the six families, and the other man is Farder Coram.”

It was easy to see who she meant by the other man, because he was the oldest one there. He walked with a stick, and all the time he’d been sitting behind John Faa he’d been trembling as if with an ague.

“Come on,” said Tony. “I’d best take you up to pay your respects to John Faa. You call him Lord Faa. I don’t know what you’ll be asked, but mind you tell the truth.” Pantalaimon was a sparrow now, and sat curiously on Lyra’s shoulder, his claws deep in the wolfskin coat, as she followed Tony through the crowd up to the platform.

He lifted her up. Knowing that everyone still in the hall was staring at her, and conscious of those thousand sovereigns she was suddenly worth, she blushed and hesitated. Pantalaimon darted to her breast and became a wildcat, sitting up in her arms and hissing softly as he looked around.

Lyra felt a push, and stepped forward to John Faa. He was stern and massive and expressionless, more like a pillar of rock than a man, but he stooped and held out his hand to shake. When she put hers in, it nearly vanished.

“Welcome, Lyra,” he said.

Close to, she felt his voice rumbling like the earth itself. She would have been nervous but for Pantalaimon, and the fact that John Faa’s stony expression had warmed a little. He was treating her very gently.

“Thank you, Lord Faa,” she said.

“Now you come in the parley room and we’ll have a talk,” said John Faa. “Have they been feeding you proper, the Costas?”

“Oh, yes. We had eels for supper.”

“Proper fen eels, I expect.”

The parley room was a comfortable place with a big fire, sideboards laden with silver and porcelain, and a heavy table darkly polished by the years, at which twelve chairs were drawn up.

The other men from the platform had gone elsewhere, but the old shaking man was still with them. John Faa helped him to a seat at the table.

“Now, you sit here on my right,” John Faa said to Lyra, and took the chair at the head of the table himself. Lyra found herself opposite Farder Coram. She was a little frightened by his skull-like face and his continual trembling. His dæmon was a beautiful autumn-colored cat, massive in size, who stalked along the table with upraised tail and elegantly inspected Pantalaimon, touching noses briefly before settling on Farder Coram’s lap, half-closing her eyes and purring softly.

A woman whom Lyra hadn’t noticed came out of the shadows with a tray of glasses, set it down by John Faa, curtsied, and left. John Faa poured little glasses of jenniver from a stone crock for himself and Farder Coram, and wine for Lyra.

“So,” John Faa said. “You run away, Lyra.”


“And who was the lady you run away from?”

“She was called Mrs. Coulter. And I thought she was nice, but I found out she was one of the Gobblers. I heard someone say what the Gobblers were, they were called the General Oblation Board, and she was in charge of it, it was all her idea. And they was all working on some plan, I dunno what it was, only they was going to make me help her get kids for ’em. But they never knew …” “They never knew what?”

“Well, first they never knew that I knew some kids what had been took. My friend Roger the kitchen boy from Jordan College, and Billy Costa, and a girl out the covered market in Oxford. And another thing … My uncle, right, Lord Asriel. I heard them talking about his journeys to the North, and I don’t reckon he’s got anything to do with the Gobblers. Because I spied on the Master and the Scholars of Jordan, right, I hid in the Retiring Room where no one’s supposed to go except them, and I heard him tell them all about his expedition up north, and the Dust he saw, and he brought back the head of Stanislaus Grumman, what the Tartars had made a hole in. And now the Gobblers’ve got him locked up somewhere. The armored bears are guarding him. And I want to rescue him.” She looked fierce and stubborn as she sat there, small against the high carved back of the chair. The two old men couldn’t help smiling, but whereas Farder Coram’s smile was a hesitant, rich, complicated expression that trembled across his face like sunlight chasing shadows on a windy March day, John Faa’s smile was slow, warm, plain, and kindly.

“You better tell us what you did hear your uncle say that evening,” said John Faa. “Don’t leave anything out, mind. Tell us everything.”

Lyra did, more slowly than she’d told the Costas but more honestly, too. She was afraid of John Faa, and what she was most afraid of was his kindness. When she’d finished, Farder Coram spoke for the first time. His voice was rich and musical, with as many tones in it as there were colors in his dæmon’s fur.

“This Dust,” he said. “Did they ever call it anything else, Lyra?”

“No. Just Dust. Mrs. Coulter told me what it was, elementary particles, but that’s all she called it.”

“And they think that by doing something to children, they can find out more about it?”

“Yes. But I don’t know what. Except my uncle … There’s something I forgot to tell you. When he was showing them lantern slides, there was another one he had. It was the Roarer—” “The what?” said John Faa.

“The Aurora,” said Farder Coram. “Is that right, Lyra?”

“Yeah, that’s it. And in the lights of the Roarer there was like a city. All towers and churches and domes and that. It was a bit like Oxford, that’s what I thought, anyway. And Uncle Asriel, he was more interested in that, I think, but the Master and the other Scholars were more interested in Dust, like Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal and them.” “I see,” said Farder Coram. “That’s very interesting.”

“Now, Lyra,” said John Faa, “I’m a going to tell you something. Farder Coram here, he’s a wise man. He’s a seer. He’s been a follering all what’s been going on with Dust and the Gobblers and Lord Asriel and everything else, and he’s been a follering you. Every time the Costas went to Oxford, or half a dozen other families, come to that, they brought back a bit of news. About you, child. Did you know that?” Lyra shook her head. She was beginning to be frightened. Pantalaimon was growling too deep for anyone to hear, but she could feel it in her fingertips down inside his fur.

“Oh, yes,” said John Faa, “all your doings, they all get back to Farder Coram here.”

Lyra couldn’t hold it in.

“We didn’t damage it! Honest! It was only a bit of mud! And we never got very far—”

“What are you talking about, child?” said John Faa.

Farder Coram laughed. When he did that, his shaking stopped and his face became bright and young.

But Lyra wasn’t laughing. With trembling lips she said, “And even if we had found the bung, we’d never’ve took it out! It was just a joke. We wouldn’t’ve sunk it, never!” Then John Faa began to laugh too. He slapped a broad hand on the table so hard the glasses rang, and his massive shoulders shook, and he had to wipe away the tears from his eyes. Lyra had never seen such a sight, never heard such a bellow; it was like a mountain laughing.

“Oh, yes,” he said when he could speak again, “we heard about that too, little girl! I don’t suppose the Costas have set foot anywhere since then without being reminded of it. You better leave a guard on your boat, Tony, people say. Fierce little girls round here! Oh, that story went all over the fens, child. But we en’t going to punish you for it. No, no! Ease your mind.” He looked at Farder Coram, and the two old men laughed again, but more gently. And Lyra felt contented, and safe.

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