فصل 06-08 بخش 02

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: قطب نمای طلایی / فصل 5

فصل 06-08 بخش 02

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Finally John Faa shook his head and became serious again.

“I were saying, Lyra, as we knew about you from a child. From a baby. You oughter know what we know. I can’t guess what they told you at Jordan College about where you came from, but they don’t know the whole truth of it. Did they ever tell you who your parents were?” Now Lyra was completely dazed.

“Yes,” she said. “They said I was—they said they—they said Lord Asriel put me there because my mother and father died in an airship accident. That’s what they told me.” “Ah, did they. Well now, child, I’m a going to tell you a story, a true story. I know it’s true, because a gyptian woman told me, and they all tell the truth to John Faa and Farder Coram. So this is the truth about yourself, Lyra. Your father never perished in no airship accident, because your father is Lord Asriel.” Lyra could only sit in wonder.

“Here’s how it came about,” John Faa went on. “When he was a young man, Lord Asriel went exploring all over the North, and came back with a great fortune. And he was a high-spirited man, quick to anger, a passionate man.

“And your mother, she was passionate too. Not so well born as him, but a clever woman. A Scholar, even, and those who saw her said she was very beautiful. She and your father, they fell in love as soon’s they met.

“The trouble was, your mother was already married. She’d married a politician. He was a member of the king’s party, one of his closest advisers. A rising man.

“Now when your mother found herself with child, she feared to tell her husband the child wasn’t his. And when the baby was born—that’s you, girl—it was clear from the look of you that you didn’t favor her husband, but your true father, and she thought it best to hide you away and give out that you’d died.

“So you was took to Oxfordshire, where your father had estates, and put in the care of a gyptian woman to nurse. But someone whispered to your mother’s husband what had happened, and he came a flying down and ransacked the cottage where the gyptian woman had been, only she’d fled to the great house; and the husband followed after, in a murderous passion.

“Lord Asriel was out a hunting, but they got word to him and he came riding back in time to find your mother’s husband at the foot of the great staircase. Another moment and he’d have forced open the closet where the gyptian woman was hiding with you, but Lord Asriel challenged him, and they fought there and then, and Lord Asriel killed him.

“The gyptian woman heard and saw it all, Lyra, and that’s how we know.

“The consequence was a great lawsuit. Your father en’t the kind of man to deny or conceal the truth, and it left the judges with a problem. He’d killed all right, he’d shed blood, but he was defending his home and his child against an intruder. On t’other hand, the law allows any man to avenge the violation of his wife, and the dead man’s lawyers argued that he were doing just that.

“The case lasted for weeks, with volumes of argument back and forth. In the end the judges punished Lord Asriel by confiscating all his property and all his land, and left him a poor man; and he had been richer than a king.

“As for your mother, she wanted nothing to do with it, nor with you. She turned her back. The gyptian nurse told me she’d often been afeared of how your mother would treat you, because she was a proud and scornful woman. So much for her.

“Then there was you. If things had fallen out different, Lyra, you might have been brought up a gyptian, because the nurse begged the court to let her have you; but we gyptians got little standing in the law. The court decided you was to be placed in a priory, and so you were, with the Sisters of Obedience at Watlington. You won’t remember.

“But Lord Asriel wouldn’t stand for that. He had a hatred of priors and monks and nuns, and being a high-handed man he just rode in one day and carried you off. Not to look after himself, nor to give to the gyptians; he took you to Jordan College, and dared the law to undo it.

“Well, the law let things be. Lord Asriel went back to his explorations, and you grew up at Jordan College. The one thing he said, your father, the one condition he made, was that your mother shouldn’t be let see you. If she ever tried to do that, she was to be prevented, and he was to be told, because all the anger in his nature had turned against her now. The Master promised faithfully to do that; and so time passed.

“Then come all this anxiety about Dust. And all over the country, all over the world, wise men and women too began a worrying about it. It weren’t of any account to us gyptians, until they started taking our kids. That’s when we got interested. And we got connections in all sorts of places you wouldn’t imagine, including Jordan College. You wouldn’t know, but there’s been someone a watching over you and reporting to us ever since you been there. ’Cause we got an interest in you, and that gyptian woman who nursed you, she never stopped being anxious on your behalf.” “Who was it watching over me?” said Lyra. She felt immensely important and strange, that all her doings should be an object of concern so far away.

“It was a kitchen servant. It was Bernie Johansen, the pastry cook. He’s half-gyptian; you never knew that, I’ll be bound.”

Bernie was a kindly, solitary man, one of those rare people whose dæmon was the same sex as himself. It was Bernie she’d shouted at in her despair when Roger was taken. And Bernie had been telling the gyptians everything! She marveled.

“So anyway,” John Faa went on, “we heard about you going away from Jordan College, and how it came about at a time when Lord Asriel was imprisoned and couldn’t prevent it. And we remembered what he’d said to the Master that he must never do, and we remembered that the man your mother had married, the politician Lord Asriel killed, was called Edward Coulter.” “Mrs. Coulter?” said Lyra, quite stupefied. “She en’t my mother?”

“She is. And if your father had been free, she wouldn’t never have dared to defy him, and you’d still be at Jordan, not knowing a thing. But what the Master was a doing letting you go is a mystery I can’t explain. He was charged with your care. All I can guess is that she had some power over him.” Lyra suddenly understood the Master’s curious behavior on the morning she’d left.

“But he didn’t want to …” she said, trying to remember it exactly. “He … I had to go and see him first thing that morning, and I mustn’t tell Mrs. Coulter.… It was like he wanted to protect me from her …” She stopped, and looked at the two men carefully, and then decided to tell them the whole truth about the Retiring Room. “See, there was something else. That evening I hid in the Retiring Room, I saw the Master try to poison Lord Asriel. I saw him put some powder in the wine and I told my uncle and he knocked the decanter off the table and spilled it. So I saved his life. I could never understand why the Master would want to poison him, because he was always so kind. Then on the morning I left he called me in early to his study, and I had to go secretly so no one would know, and he said …” Lyra racked her brains to try and remember exactly what it was the Master had said. No good; she shook her head. “The only thing I could understand was that he gave me something and I had to keep it secret from her, from Mrs. Coulter. I suppose it’s all right if I tell you.…” She felt in the pocket of the wolfskin coat and took out the velvet package. She laid it on the table, and she sensed John Faa’s massive simple curiosity and Farder Coram’s bright flickering intelligence both trained on it like searchlights.

When she laid the alethiometer bare, it was Farder Coram who spoke first.

“I never thought I’d ever set eyes on one of them again. That’s a symbol reader. Did he tell you anything about it, child?”

“No. Only that I’d have to work out how to read it by myself. And he called it an alethiometer.”

“What’s that mean?” said John Faa, turning to his companion.

“That’s a Greek word. I reckon it’s from aletheia, which means truth. It’s a truth measure. And have you worked out how to use it?” he said to her.

“No. Least, I can make the three short hands point to different pictures, but I can’t do anything with the long one. It goes all over. Except sometimes, right, sometimes when I’m sort of concentrating, I can make the long needle go this way or that just by thinking it.” “What’s it do, Farder Coram?” said John Faa. “And how do you read it?”

“All these pictures round the rim,” said Farder Coram, holding it delicately toward John Faa’s blunt strong gaze, “they’re symbols, and each one stands for a whole series of things. Take the anchor, there. The first meaning of that is hope, because hope holds you fast like an anchor so you don’t give way. The second meaning is steadfastness. The third meaning is snag, or prevention. The fourth meaning is the sea. And so on, down to ten, twelve, maybe a never-ending series of meanings.” “And do you know them all?”

“I know some, but to read it fully I’d need the book. I seen the book and I know where it is, but I en’t got it.”

“We’ll come back to that,” said John Faa. “Go on with how you read it.”

“You got three hands you can control,” Farder Coram explained, “and you use them to ask a question. By pointing to three symbols you can ask any question you can imagine, because you’ve got so many levels of each one. Once you got your question framed, the other needle swings round and points to more symbols that give you the answer.” “But how does it know what level you’re a thinking of when you set the question?” said John Faa.

“Ah, by itself it don’t. It only works if the questioner holds the levels in their mind. You got to know all the meanings, first, and there must be a thousand or more. Then you got to be able to hold ’em in your mind without fretting at it or pushing for an answer, and just watch while the needle wanders. When it’s gone round its full range, you’ll know what the answer is. I know how it works because I seen it done once by a wise man in Uppsala, and that’s the only time I ever saw one before. Do you know how rare these are?” “The Master told me there was only six made,” Lyra said.

“Whatever the number, it en’t large.”

“And you kept this secret from Mrs. Coulter, like the Master told you?” said John Faa.

“Yes. But her dæmon, right, he used to go in my room. And I’m sure he found it.”

“I see. Well, Lyra, I don’t know if we’ll ever understand the full truth, but this is my guess, as good as I can make it. The Master was given a charge by Lord Asriel to look after you and keep you safe from your mother. And that was what he did, for ten years or more. Then Mrs. Coulter’s friends in the Church helped her set up this Oblation Board, for what purpose we don’t know, and there she was, as powerful in her way as Lord Asriel was in his. Your parents, both strong in the world, both ambitious, and the Master of Jordan holding you in the balance between them.

“Now the Master’s got a hundred things to look after. His first concern is his College and the scholarship there. So if he sees a threat to that, he has to move agin it. And the Church in recent times, Lyra, it’s been a getting more commanding. There’s councils for this and councils for that; there’s talk of reviving the Office of Inquisition, God forbid. And the Master has to tread warily between all these powers. He has to keep Jordan College on the right side of the Church, or it won’t survive.

“And another concern of the Master is you, child. Bernie Johansen was always clear about that. The Master of Jordan and the other Scholars, they loved you like their own child. They’d do anything to keep you safe, not just because they’d promised to Lord Asriel that they would, but for your own sake. So if the Master gave you up to Mrs. Coulter when he’d promised Lord Asriel he wouldn’t, he must have thought you’d be safer with her than in Jordan College, in spite of all appearances. And when he set out to poison Lord Asriel, he must have thought that what Lord Asriel was a doing would place all of them in danger, and maybe all of us, too; maybe all the world. I see the Master as a man having terrible choices to make; whatever he chooses will do harm, but maybe if he does the right thing, a little less harm will come about than if he chooses wrong. God preserve me from having to make that sort of choice.

“And when it come to the point where he had to let you go, he gave you the symbol reader and bade you keep it safe. I wonder what he had in mind for you to do with it; as you couldn’t read it, I’m foxed as to what he was a thinking.” “He said Uncle Asriel presented the alethiometer to Jordan College years before,” Lyra said, struggling to remember. “He was going to say something else, and then someone knocked at the door and he had to stop. What I thought was, he might have wanted me to keep it away from Lord Asriel too.” “Or even the opposite,” said John Faa.

“What d’you mean, John?” said Farder Coram.

“He might have had it in mind to ask Lyra to return it to Lord Asriel, as a kind of recompense for trying to poison him. He might have thought the danger from Lord Asriel had passed. Or that Lord Asriel could read some wisdom from this instrument and hold back from his purpose. If Lord Asriel’s held captive now, it might help set him free. Well, Lyra, you better take this symbol reader and keep it safe. If you kept it safe so far, I en’t worried about leaving it with you. But there might come a time when we need to consult it, and I reckon we’ll ask for it then.” He folded the velvet over it and slid it back across the table. Lyra wanted to ask all kinds of questions, but suddenly she felt shy of this massive man, with his little eyes so sharp and kindly among their folds and wrinkles.

One thing she had to ask, though.

“Who was the gyptian woman who nursed me?”

“Why, it was Billy Costa’s mother, of course. She won’t have told you, because I en’t let her, but she knows what we’re a talking of here, so it’s all out in the open.

“Now you best be getting back to her. You got plenty to be a thinking of, child. When three days is gone past, we’ll have another roping and discuss all there is to do. You be a good girl. Goodnight, Lyra.” “Goodnight, Lord Faa. Goodnight, Farder Coram,” she said politely, clutching the alethiometer to her breast with one hand and scooping up Pantalaimon with the other.

Both old men smiled kindly at her. Outside the door of the parley room Ma Costa was waiting, and as if nothing had happened since Lyra was born, the boat mother gathered her into her great arms and kissed her before bearing her off to bed.

8 FRUSTRATION

Lyra had to adjust to her new sense of her own story, and that couldn’t be done in a day. To see Lord Asriel as her father was one thing, but to accept Mrs. Coulter as her mother was nowhere near so easy. A couple of months ago she would have rejoiced, of course, and she knew that too, and felt confused.

But, being Lyra, she didn’t fret about it for long, for there was the fen town to explore and many gyptian children to amaze. Before the three days were up she was an expert with a punt (in her eyes, at least) and she’d gathered a gang of urchins about her with tales of her mighty father, so unjustly made captive.

“And then one evening the Turkish Ambassador was a guest at Jordan for dinner. And he was under orders from the Sultan hisself to kill my father, right, and he had a ring on his finger with a hollow stone full of poison. And when the wine come round he made as if to reach across my father’s glass, and he sprinkled the poison in. It was done so quick that no one else saw him, but—” “What sort of poison?” demanded a thin-faced girl.

“Poison out of a special Turkish serpent,” Lyra invented, “what they catch by playing a pipe to lure out and then they throw it a sponge soaked in honey and the serpent bites it and can’t get his fangs free, and they catch it and milk the venom out of it. Anyway, my father seen what the Turk done, and he says, Gentlemen, I want to propose a toast of friendship between Jordan College and the College of Izmir, which was the college the Turkish Ambassador belonged to. And to show our willingness to be friends, he says, we’ll swap glasses and drink each other’s wine.

“And the Ambassador was in a fix then, ’cause he couldn’t refuse to drink without giving deadly insult, and he couldn’t drink it because he knew it was poisoned. He went pale and he fainted right away at the table. And when he come round they was all still sitting there, waiting and looking at him. And then he had to either drink the poison or own up.” “So what did he do?”

“He drunk it. It took him five whole minutes to die, and he was in torment all the time.”

“Did you see it happen?”

“No, ’cause girls en’t allowed at the High Table. But I seen his body afterwards when they laid him out. His skin was all withered like an old apple, and his eyes were starting from his head. In fact, they had to push ’em back in the sockets.…” And so on.

Meanwhile, around the edges of the fen country, the police were knocking at doors, searching attics and outhouses, inspecting papers and interrogating everyone who claimed to have seen a blond little girl; and in Oxford the search was even fiercer. Jordan College was scoured from the dustiest box-room to the darkest cellar, and so were Gabriel and St. Michael’s, till the heads of all the colleges issued a joint protest asserting their ancient rights. The only notion Lyra had of the search for her was the incessant drone of the gas engines of airships crisscrossing the skies. They weren’t visible, because the clouds were low and by statute airships had to keep a certain height above fen country, but who knew what cunning spy devices they might carry? Best to keep under cover when she heard them, or wear the oilskin sou’wester over her bright distinctive hair.

And she questioned Ma Costa about every detail of the story of her birth. She wove the details into a mental tapestry even clearer and sharper than the stories she made up, and lived over and over again the flight from the cottage, the concealment in the closet, the harsh-voiced challenge, the clash of swords— “Swords? Great God, girl, you dreaming?” Ma Costa said. “Mr. Coulter had a gun, and Lord Asriel knocked it out his hand and struck him down with one blow. Then there was two shots. I wonder you don’t remember; you ought to, little as you were. The first shot was Edward Coulter, who reached his gun and fired, and the second was Lord Asriel, who tore it out his grasp a second time and turned it on him. Shot him right between the eyes and dashed his brains out. Then he says cool as paint, ‘Come out, Mrs. Costa, and bring the baby,’ because you were setting up such a howl, you and that dæmon both; and he took you up and dandled you and sat you on his shoulders, walking up and down in high good humor with the dead man at his feet, and called for wine and bade me swab the floor.” By the end of the fourth repetition of the story Lyra was perfectly convinced she did remember it, and even volunteered details of the color of Mr. Coulter’s coat and the cloaks and furs hanging in the closet. Ma Costa laughed.

And whenever she was alone, Lyra took out the alethiometer and pored over it like a lover with a picture of the beloved. So each image had several meanings, did it? Why shouldn’t she work them out? Wasn’t she Lord Asriel’s daughter?

Remembering what Farder Coram had said, she tried to focus her mind on three symbols taken at random, and clicked the hands round to point at them, and found that if she held the alethiometer just so in her palms and gazed at it in a particular lazy way, as she thought of it, the long needle would begin to move more purposefully. Instead of its wayward divagations around the dial it swung smoothly from one picture to another. Sometimes it would pause at three, sometimes two, sometimes five or more, and although she understood nothing of it, she gained a deep calm enjoyment from it, unlike anything she’d known. Pantalaimon would crouch over the dial, sometimes as a cat, sometimes as a mouse, swinging his head round after the needle; and once or twice the two of them shared a glimpse of meaning that felt as if a shaft of sunlight had struck through clouds to light up a majestic line of great hills in the distance—something far beyond, and never suspected. And Lyra thrilled at those times with the same deep thrill she’d felt all her life on hearing the word North.

So the three days passed, with much coming and going between the multitude of boats and the Zaal. And then came the evening of the second roping. The hall was more crowded than before, if that was possible. Lyra and the Costas got there in time to sit at the front, and as soon as the flickering lights showed that the place was crammed, John Faa and Farder Coram came out on the platform and sat behind the table. John Faa didn’t have to make a sign for silence; he just put his great hands flat on the table and looked at the people below, and the hubbub died.

“Well,” he said, “you done what I asked. And better than I hoped. I’m a going to call on the heads of the six families now to come up here and give over their gold and recount their promises. Nicholas Rokeby, you come first.” A stout black-bearded man climbed onto the platform and laid a heavy leather bag on the table.

“That’s our gold,” he said. “And we offer thirty-eight men.”

“Thank you, Nicholas,” said John Faa. Farder Coram was making a note. The first man stood at the back of the platform as John Faa called for the next, and the next, and each came up, laid a bag on the table, and announced the number of men he could muster. The Costas were part of the Stefanski family, and naturally Tony had been one of the first to volunteer. Lyra noticed his hawk dæmon shifting from foot to foot and spreading her wings as the Stefanski money and the promise of twenty-three men were laid before John Faa.

When the six family heads had all come up, Farder Coram showed his piece of paper to John Faa, who stood up to address the audience again.

“Friends, that’s a muster of one hundred and seventy men. I thank you proudly. As for the gold, I make no doubt from the weight of it that you’ve all dug deep in your coffers, and my warm thanks go out for that as well.

“What we’re a going to do next is this. We’re a going to charter a ship and sail north, and find them kids and set ’em free. From what we know, there might be some fighting to do. It won’t be the first time, nor it won’t be the last, but we never had to fight yet with people who kidnap children, and we shall have to be uncommon cunning. But we en’t going to come back without our kids. Yes, Dirk Vries?” A man stood up and said, “Lord Faa, do you know why they captured them kids?”

“We heard it’s a theological matter. They’re making an experiment, but what nature it is we don’t know. To tell you all the truth, we don’t even know whether any harm is a coming to ’em. But whatever it is, good or bad, they got no right to reach out by night and pluck little children out the hearts of their families. Yes, Raymond van Gerrit?” The man who’d spoken at the first meeting stood up and said, “That child, Lord Faa, the one you spoke of as being sought, the one as is sitting in the front row now. I heard as all the folk living around the edge of the fens is having their houses turned upside down on her account. I heard there’s a move in Parliament this very day to rescind our ancient privileges on account of this child. Yes, friends,” he said, over the babble of shocked whispers, “they’re a going to pass a law doing away with our right to free movement in and out the fens. Now, Lord Faa, what we want to know is this: who is this child on account of which we might come to such a pass? She en’t a gyptian child, not as I heard. How comes it that a landloper child can put us all in danger?” Lyra looked up at John Faa’s massive frame. Her heart was thumping so much she could hardly hear the first words of his reply.

“Now spell it out, Raymond, don’t be shy,” he said. “You want us to give this child up to them she’s a fleeing from, is that right?”

The man stood obstinately frowning, but said nothing.

“Well, perhaps you would, and perhaps you wouldn’t,” John Faa continued. “But if any man or woman needs a reason for doing good, ponder on this. That little girl is the daughter of Lord Asriel, no less. For them as has forgotten, it were Lord Asriel who interceded with the Turk for the life of Sam Broekman. It were Lord Asriel who allowed gyptian boats free passage on the canals through his property. It were Lord Asriel who defeated the Watercourse Bill in Parliament, to our great and lasting benefit. And it were Lord Asriel who fought day and night in the floods of ’53, and plunged headlong in the water twice to pull out young Ruud and Nellie Koopman. You forgotten that? Shame, shame on you, shame.

“And now that same Lord Asriel is held in the farthest coldest darkest regions of the wild, captive, in the fortress of Svalbard. Do I need to tell you the kind of creatures a guarding him there? And this is his little daughter in our care, and Raymond van Gerrit would hand her over to the authorities for a bit of peace and quiet. Is that right, Raymond? Stand up and answer, man.” But Raymond van Gerrit had sunk to his seat, and nothing would make him stand. A low hiss of disapproval sounded through the great hall, and Lyra felt the shame he must be feeling, as well as a deep glow of pride in her brave father.

John Faa turned away, and looked at the other men on the platform.

“Nicholas Rokeby, I’m a putting you in charge of finding a vessel, and commanding her once we sail. Adam Stefanski, I want you to take charge of the arms and munitions, and command the fighting. Roger van Poppel, you look to all the other stores, from food to cold-weather clothing. Simon Hartmann, you be treasurer, and account to us all for a proper apportionment of our gold. Benjamin de Ruyter, I want you to take charge of spying. There’s a great deal we ought to find out, and I’m a giving you the charge of that, and you’ll report to Farder Coram. Michael Canzona, you’re going to be responsible for coordinating the first four leaders’ work, and you’ll report to me, and if I die, you’re my second in command and you’ll take over.

“Now I’ve made my dispositions according to custom, and if any man or woman seeks to disagree, they may do so freely.”

After a moment a woman stood up.

“Lord Faa, en’t you a taking any women on this expedition to look after them kids once you found ’em?”

“No, Nell. We shall have little space as it is. Any kids we free will be better off in our care than where they’ve been.”

“But supposing you find out that you can’t rescue ’em without some women in disguise as guards or nurses or whatever?”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of that,” John Faa admitted. “We’ll consider that most carefully when we retire into the parley room, you have my promise.”

She sat down and a man stood up.

“Lord Faa, I heard you say that Lord Asriel is in captivity. Is it part of your plan to rescue him? Because if it is, and if he’s in the power of them bears as I think you said, that’s going to need more than a hundred and seventy men. And good friend as Lord Asriel is to us, I don’t know as there’s any call on us to go as far as that.” “Adriaan Braks, you’re not wrong. What I had it in my mind to do was to keep our eyes and ears open and see what knowledge we can glean while we’re in the North. It may be that we can do something to help him, and it may not, but you can trust me not to use what you’ve provided, man and gold, for any purpose outside the stated one of finding our children and bringing ’em home.” Another woman stood up.

“Lord Faa, we don’t know what them Gobblers might’ve been doing to our children. We all heard rumors and stories of fearful things. We hear about children with no heads, or about children cut in half and sewn together, or about things too awful to mention. I’m truly sorry to distress anyone, but we all heard this kind of thing, and I want to get it out in the open. Now in case you find anything of that awful kind, Lord Faa, I hope you’re a going to take powerful revenge. I hope you en’t going to let thoughts of mercy and gentleness hold your hand back from striking and striking hard, and delivering a mighty blow to the heart of that infernal wickedness. And I’m sure I speak for any mother as has lost a child to the Gobblers.” There was a loud murmur of agreement as she sat down. Heads were nodding all over the Zaal.

John Faa waited for silence, and said:

“Nothing will hold my hand, Margaret, save only judgment. If I stay my hand in the North, it will only be to strike the harder in the South. To strike a day too soon is as bad as striking a hundred miles off. To be sure, there’s a warm passion behind what you say. But if you give in to that passion, friends, you’re a doing what I always warned you agin: you’re a placing the satisfaction of your own feelings above the work you have to do. Our work here is first rescue, then punishment. It en’t gratification for upset feelings. Our feelings don’t matter. If we rescue the kids but we can’t punish the Gobblers, we’ve done the main task. But if we aim to punish the Gobblers first and by doing so lose the chance of rescuing the kids, we’ve failed.

“But be assured of this, Margaret. When the time comes to punish, we shall strike such a blow as’ll make their hearts faint and fearful. We shall strike the strength out of ’em. We shall leave them ruined and wasted, broken and shattered, torn in a thousand pieces and scattered to the four winds. Don’t you worry that John Faa’s heart is too soft to strike a blow when the time comes. And the time will come under judgment. Not under passion.

“Is there anyone else who wants to speak? Speak if you will.”

But no one did, and presently John Faa reached for the closing bell and rang it hard and loud, swinging it high and shaking the peals out of it so that they filled the hall and rang the rafters.

John Faa and the other men left the platform for the parley room. Lyra was a little disappointed. Didn’t they want her there too? But Tony laughed.

“They got plans to make,” he said. “You done your part, Lyra. Now it’s for John Faa and the council.”

“But I en’t done nothing yet!” Lyra protested, as she followed the others reluctantly out of the hall and down the cobbled road toward the jetty. “All I done was run away from Mrs. Coulter! That’s just a beginning. I want to go north!” “Tell you what,” said Tony, “I’ll bring you back a walrus tooth, that’s what I’ll do.”

Lyra scowled. For his part, Pantalaimon occupied himself by making monkey faces at Tony’s dæmon, who closed her tawny eyes in disdain. Lyra drifted to the jetty and hung about with her new companions, dangling lanterns on strings over the black water to attract the goggle-eyed fishes who swam slowly up to be lunged at with sharp sticks and missed.

But her mind was on John Faa and the parley room, and before long she slipped away up the cobbles again to the Zaal. There was a light in the parley room window. It was too high to look through, but she could hear a low rumble of voices inside.

So she walked up to the door and knocked on it firmly five times. The voices stopped, a chair scraped across the floor, and the door opened, spilling warm naphtha light out on the damp step.

“Yes?” said the man who’d opened it.

Beyond him Lyra could see the other men around the table, with bags of gold stacked neatly, and papers and pens, and glasses and a crock of jenniver.

“I want to come north,” Lyra said so they could all hear it. “I want to come and help rescue the kids. That’s what I set out to do when I run away from Mrs. Coulter. And before that, even, I meant to rescue my friend Roger the kitchen boy from Jordan who was took. I want to come and help. I can do navigation and I can take anbaromagnetic readings off the Aurora, and I know what parts of a bear you can eat, and all kind of useful things. You’d be sorry if you got up there and then found you needed me and found you’d left me behind. And like that woman said, you might need women to play a part—well, you might need kids too. You don’t know. So you oughter take me, Lord Faa, excuse me for interrupting your talk.” She was inside the room now, and all the men and their dæmons were watching her, some with amusement and some with irritation, but she had eyes only for John Faa. antalaimon sat up in her arms, his wildcat eyes blazing green.

John Faa said, “Lyra, there en’t no question of taking you into danger, so don’t delude yourself, child. Stay here and help Ma Costa and keep safe. That’s what you got to do.” “But I’m learning how to read the alethiometer, too. It’s coming clearer every day! You’re bound to need that—bound to!”

He shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I know your heart was set on going north, but it’s my belief not even Mrs. Coulter was going to take you. If you want to see the North, you’ll have to wait till all this trouble’s over. Now off you go.” Pantalaimon hissed quietly, but John Faa’s dæmon took off from the back of his chair and flew at them with black wings, not threateningly, but like a reminder of good manners; and Lyra turned on her heel as the crow glided over her head and wheeled back to John Faa. The door shut behind her with a decisive click.

“We will go,” she said to Pantalaimon. “Let ’em try to stop us. We will!”

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