بخش 03

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: چاقوی ظریف / فصل 3

بخش 03

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They turned south, away from that troubling other-world gleam in the fog, and as they flew a question began to form more clearly in Serafina’s mind. What was Lord Asriel doing?

Because all the events that had overturned the world had their origin in his mysterious activities.

The problem was that the usual sources of her knowledge were natural ones. She could track any animal, catch any fish, find the rarest berries; and she could read the signs in the pine marten’s entrails, or decipher the wisdom in the scales of a perch, or interpret the warnings in the crocus pollen; but these were children of nature, and they told her natural truths.

For knowledge about Lord Asriel, she had to go elsewhere. In the port of Trollesund, their consul Dr. Lanselius maintained his contact with the world of men and women, and Serafina Pekkala sped there through the fog to see what he could tell her. Before she went to his house she circled over the harbor, where wisps and tendrils of mist drifted ghostlike on the icy water, and watched as the pilot guided in a large vessel with an African registration. There were several other ships riding at anchor outside the harbor. She had never seen so many.

As the short day faded, she flew down and landed in the back garden of the consul’s house. She tapped on the window, and Dr. Lanselius himself opened the door, a finger to his lips.

“Serafina Pekkala, greetings,” he said. “Come in quickly, and welcome. But you had better not stay long.” He offered her a chair at the fireside, having glanced through the curtains out of a window that fronted the street. “You’ll have some wine?” She sipped the golden Tokay and told him of what she had seen and heard aboard the ship.

“Do you think they understood what she said about the child?” he asked.

“Not fully, I think. But they know she is important. As for that woman, I’m afraid of her, Dr. Lanselius. I shall kill her, I think, but still I’m afraid of her.” “Yes,” he said. “So am I.”

And Serafina listened as he told her of the rumors that had swept the town. Amid the fog of rumor, a few facts had begun to emerge clearly.

“They say that the Magisterium is assembling the greatest army ever known, and this is an advance party. And there are unpleasant rumors about some of the soldiers, Serafina Pekkala. I’ve heard about Bolvangar, and what they were doing there—cutting children’s dæmons away, the most evil work I’ve ever heard of. Well, it seems there is a regiment of warriors who have been treated in the same way. Do you know the word zombi? They fear nothing, because they’re mindless. There are some in this town now. The authorities keep them hidden, but word gets out, and the townspeople are terrified of them.” “What of the other witch clans?” said Serafina Pekkala. “What news do you have of them?”

“Most have gone back to their homelands. All the witches are waiting, Serafina Pekkala, with fear in their hearts, for what will happen next.”

“And what do you hear of the Church?”

“They’re in complete confusion. You see, they don’t know what Lord Asriel intends to do.”

“Nor do I,” she said, “and I can’t imagine what it might be. What do you think he’s intending, Dr. Lanselius?”

He gently rubbed the head of his serpent dæmon with his thumb.

“He is a scholar,” he said after a moment, “but scholarship is not his ruling passion. Nor is statesmanship. I met him once, and I thought he had an ardent and powerful nature, but not a despotic one. I don’t think he wants to rule.… I don’t know, Serafina Pekkala. I suppose his servant might be able to tell you. He is a man called Thorold, and he was imprisoned with Lord Asriel in the house on Svalbard. It might be worth a visit there to see if he can tell you anything; but, of course, he might have gone into the other world with his master.” “Thank you. That’s a good idea.… I’ll do it. And I’ll go at once.”

She said farewell to the consul and flew up through the gathering dark to join Kaisa in the clouds.

Serafina’s journey to the north was made harder by the confusion in the world around her. All the Arctic peoples had been thrown into panic, and so had the animals, not only by the fog and the magnetic variations but by unseasonal crackings of ice and stirrings in the soil. It was as if the earth itself, the permafrost, were slowly awakening from a long dream of being frozen.

In all this turmoil, where sudden shafts of uncanny brilliance lanced down through rents in towers of fog and then vanished as quickly, where herds of muskox were seized by the urge to gallop south and then wheeled immediately to the west or the north again, where tight-knit skeins of geese disintegrated into a honking chaos as the magnetic fields they flew by wavered and snapped this way and that, Serafina Pekkala sat on her cloud-pine and flew north, to the house on the headland in the wastes of Svalbard.

There she found Lord Asriel’s servant, Thorold, fighting off a group of cliff-ghasts.

She saw the movement before she came close enough to see what was happening. There was a swirl of lunging leathery wings, and a malevolent yowk-yowk-yowk resounding in the snowy courtyard. A single figure swathed in furs fired a rifle into the midst of them with a gaunt dog dæmon snarling and snapping beside him whenever one of the filthy things flew low enough.

She didn’t know the man, but a cliff-ghast was an enemy always. She swung around above and loosed a dozen arrows into the melee. With shrieks and gibberings, the gang—too loosely organized to be called a troop—circled, saw their new opponent, and fled in confusion. A minute later the skies were bare again, and their dismayed yowk-yowk-yowk echoed distantly off the mountains before dwindling into silence.

Serafina flew down to the courtyard and alighted on the trampled, blood-sprinkled snow. The man pushed back his hood, still holding his rifle warily, because a witch was an enemy sometimes, and she saw an elderly man, long-jawed and grizzled and steady-eyed.

“I am a friend of Lyra’s,” she said. “I hope we can talk. Look: I lay my bow down.”

“Where is the child?” he said.

“In another world. I’m concerned for her safety. And I need to know what Lord Asriel is doing.”

He lowered the rifle and said, “Step inside, then. Look: I lay my rifle down.”

The formalities exchanged, they went indoors. Kaisa glided through the skies above, keeping watch, while Thorold brewed some coffee and Serafina told him of her involvement with Lyra.

“She was always a willful child,” he said when they were seated at the oaken table in the glow of a naphtha lamp. “I’d see her every year or so when his lordship visited his college. I was fond of her, mind—you couldn’t help it. But what her place was in the wider scheme of things, I don’t know.” “What was Lord Asriel planning to do?”

“You don’t think he told me, do you, Serafina Pekkala? I’m his manservant, that’s all. I clean his clothes and cook his meals and keep his house tidy. I may have learned a thing or two in the years I been with his lordship, but only by picking ’em up accidental. He wouldn’t confide in me any more than in his shaving mug.” “Then tell me the thing or two you’ve learned by accident,” she insisted.

Thorold was an elderly man, but he was healthy and vigorous, and he felt flattered by the attention of this young witch and her beauty, as any man would. He was shrewd, though, too, and he knew the attention was not really on him but on what he knew; and he was honest, so he did not draw out his telling for much longer than he needed.

“I can’t tell you precisely what he’s doing,” he said, “because all the philosophical details are beyond my grasp. But I can tell you what drives his lordship, though he doesn’t know I know. I’ve seen this in a hundred little signs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the witch people have different gods from ours, en’t that right?” “Yes, that’s true.”

“But you know about our God? The God of the Church, the one they call the Authority?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, Lord Asriel has never found hisself at ease with the doctrines of the Church, so to speak. I’ve seen a spasm of disgust cross his face when they talk of the sacraments, and atonement, and redemption, and suchlike. It’s death among our people, Serafina Pekkala, to challenge the Church, but Lord Asriel’s been nursing a rebellion in his heart for as long as I’ve served him, that’s one thing I do know.” “A rebellion against the Church?”

“Partly, aye. There was a time when he thought of making it an issue of force, but he turned away from that.”

“Why? Was the Church too strong?”

“No,” said the old servant, “that wouldn’t stop my master. Now this might sound strange to you, Serafina Pekkala, but I know the man better than any wife could know him, better than a mother. He’s been my master and my study for nigh on forty years. I can’t follow him to the height of his thought any more than I can fly, but I can see where he’s a-heading even if I can’t go after him. No, it’s my belief he turned away from a rebellion against the Church not because the Church was too strong, but because it was too weak to be worth the fighting.” “So … what is he doing?”

“I think he’s a-waging a higher war than that. I think he’s aiming a rebellion against the highest power of all. He’s gone a-searching for the dwelling place of the Authority Himself, and he’s a-going to destroy Him. That’s what I think. It shakes my heart to voice it, ma’am. I hardly dare think of it. But I can’t put together any other story that makes sense of what he’s doing.” Serafina sat quiet for a few moments, absorbing what Thorold had said.

Before she could speak, he went on:

“ ’Course, anyone setting out to do a grand thing like that would be the target of the Church’s anger. Goes without saying. It’d be the most gigantic blasphemy, that’s what they’d say. They’d have him before the Consistorial Court and sentenced to death before you could blink. I’ve never spoke of it before and I shan’t again; I’d be afraid to speak it aloud to you if you weren’t a witch and beyond the power of the Church; but that makes sense, and nothing else does. He’s a-going to find the Authority and kill Him.” “Is that possible?” said Serafina.

“Lord Asriel’s life has been filled with things that were impossible. I wouldn’t like to say there was anything he couldn’t do. But on the face of it, Serafina Pekkala, yes, he’s stark mad. If angels couldn’t do it, how can a man dare to think about it?” “Angels? What are angels?”

“Beings of pure spirit, the Church says. The Church teaches that some of the angels rebelled before the world was created, and got flung out of heaven and into hell. They failed, you see, that’s the point. They couldn’t do it. And they had the power of angels. Lord Asriel is just a man, with human power, no more than that. But his ambition is limitless. He dares to do what men and women don’t even dare to think. And look what he’s done already: he’s torn open the sky, he’s opened the way to another world. Who else has ever done that? Who else could think of it? So with one part of me, Serafina Pekkala, I say he’s mad, wicked, deranged. Yet with another part I think, he’s Lord Asriel, he’s not like other men. Maybe … if it was ever going to be possible, it’d be done by him and by no one else.” “And what will you do, Thorold?”

“I’ll stay here and wait. I’ll guard this house till he comes back and tells me different, or till I die. And now I might ask you the same question, ma’am.”

“I’m going to make sure the child is safe,” she said. “It might be that I have to pass this way again, Thorold. I’m glad to know that you will still be here.” “I won’t budge,” he told her.

She refused Thorold’s offer of food, and said good-bye.

A minute or so later she joined her goose dæmon again, and the dæmon kept silence with her as they soared and wheeled above the foggy mountains. She was deeply troubled, and there was no need to explain: every strand of moss, every icy puddle, every midge in her homeland thrilled against her nerves and called her back. She felt fear for them, but fear of herself, too, for she was having to change. These were human affairs she was inquiring into, this was a human matter; Lord Asriel’s god was not hers. Was she becoming human? Was she losing her witchhood?

If she were, she could not do it alone.

“Home now,” she said. “We must talk to our sisters, Kaisa. These events are too big for us alone.”

And they sped through the roiling banks of fog toward Lake Enara and home.

In the forested caves beside the lake they found the others of their clan, and Lee Scoresby, too. The aeronaut had struggled to keep his balloon aloft after the crash at Svalbard, and the witches had guided him to their homeland, where he had begun to repair the damage to his basket and the gasbag.

“Ma’am, I’m very glad to see you,” he said. “Any news of the little girl?”

“None, Mr. Scoresby. Will you join our council tonight and help us discuss what to do?”

The Texan blinked with surprise, for no man had ever been known to join a witch council.

“I’d be greatly honored,” he said. “I may have a suggestion or two of my own.”

All through that day the witches came, like flakes of black snow on the wings of a storm, filling the skies with the darting flutter of their silk and the swish of air through the needles of their cloud-pine branches. Men who hunted in the dripping forests or fished among melting ice floes heard the sky-wide whisper through the fog, and if the sky was clear, they would look up to see the witches flying, like scraps of darkness drifting on a secret tide.

By evening the pines around the lake were lit from below by a hundred fires, and the greatest fire of all was built in front of the gathering cave. There, once they had eaten, the witches assembled. Serafina Pekkala sat in the center, the crown of little scarlet flowers nestling among her fair hair. On her left sat Lee Scoresby, and on her right, a visitor: the queen of the Latvian witches, whose name was Ruta Skadi.

She had arrived only an hour before, to Serafina’s surprise. Serafina had thought Mrs. Coulter beautiful, for a short-life; but Ruta Skadi was as lovely as Mrs. Coulter, with an extra dimension of the mysterious, the uncanny. She had trafficked with spirits, and it showed. She was vivid and passionate, with large black eyes; it was said that Lord Asriel himself had been her lover. She wore heavy gold earrings and a crown on her black curly hair ringed with the fangs of snow tigers. Serafina’s dæmon, Kaisa, had learned from Ruta Skadi’s dæmon that she had killed the tigers herself in order to punish the Tartar tribe who worshiped them, because the tribesmen had failed to do her honor when she had visited their territory. Without their tiger gods, the tribe declined into fear and melancholy and begged her to allow them to worship her instead, only to be rejected with contempt; for what good would their worship do her? she asked. It had done nothing for the tigers. Such was Ruta Skadi: beautiful, proud, and pitiless.

Serafina was not sure why she had come, but made the queen welcome, and etiquette demanded that Ruta Skadi should sit on Serafina’s right. When they were all assembled, Serafina began to speak.

“Sisters! You know why we have come together: we must decide what to do about these new events. The universe is broken wide, and Lord Asriel has opened the way from this world to another. Should we concern ourselves with it, or live our lives as we have done until now, looking after our own affairs? Then there is the matter of the child Lyra Belacqua, now called Lyra Silvertongue by King Iorek Byrnison. She chose the right cloud-pine spray at the house of Dr. Lanselius: she is the child we have always expected, and now she has vanished.

“We have two guests, who will tell us their thoughts. First we shall hear Queen Ruta Skadi.”

Ruta Skadi stood. Her white arms gleamed in the firelight; her eyes glittered so brightly that even the farthest witch could see the play of expression on her vivid face.

“Sisters,” she began, “let me tell you what is happening, and who it is that we must fight. For there is a war coming. I don’t know who will join with us, but I know whom we must fight. It is the Magisterium, the Church. For all its history—and that’s not long by our lives, but it’s many, many of theirs—it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out. Some of you have seen what they did at Bolvangar. And that was horrible, but it is not the only such place, not the only such practice. Sisters, you know only the north; I have traveled in the south lands. There are churches there, believe me, that cut their children too, as the people of Bolvangar did—not in the same way, but just as horribly. They cut their sexual organs, yes, both boys and girls; they cut them with knives so that they shan’t feel. That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes, and the Church is on one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies we find ourselves bound to.

“What I propose is that our clans join together and go north to explore this new world, and see what we can discover there. If the child is not to be found in our world, it’s because she will have gone after Lord Asriel already. And Lord Asriel is the key to this, believe me. He was my lover once, and I would willingly join forces with him, because he hates the Church and all it does.

“That is what I have to say.”

Ruta Skadi spoke passionately, and Serafina admired her power and her beauty. When the Latvian queen sat down, Serafina turned to Lee Scoresby.

“Mr. Scoresby is a friend of the child’s, and thus a friend of ours,” she said. “Would you tell us your thoughts, sir?”

The Texan got to his feet, whiplash-lean and courteous. He looked as if he were not conscious of the strangeness of the occasion, but he was. His hare dæmon, Hester, crouched beside him, her ears flat along her back, her golden eyes half closed.

“Ma’am,” he said, “I have to thank you all first for the kindness you’ve shown to me, and the help you extended to an aeronaut battered by winds that came from another world. I won’t trespass long on your patience.

“When I was traveling north to Bolvangar with the gyptians, the child Lyra told me about something that happened in the college she used to live in, back in Oxford. Lord Asriel had shown the other scholars the severed head of a man called Stanislaus Grumman, and that kinda persuaded them to give him some money to come north and find out what had happened.

“Now, the child was so sure of what she’d seen that I didn’t like to question her too much. But what she said made a kind of memory come to my mind, except that I couldn’t reach it clearly. I knew something about this Dr. Grumman. And it was only on the flight here from Svalbard that I remembered what it was. It was an old hunter from Tungusk who told me. It seems that Grumman knew the whereabouts of some kind of object that gives protection to whoever holds it. I don’t want to belittle the magic that you witches can command, but this thing, whatever it is, has a kind of power that outclasses anything I’ve ever heard of.

“And I thought I might postpone my retirement to Texas because of my concern for that child, and search for Dr. Grumman. You see, I don’t think he’s dead. I think Lord Asriel was fooling those scholars.

“So I’m going to Nova Zembla, where I last heard of him alive, and I’m going to search for him. I cain’t see the future, but I can see the present clear enough. And I’m with you in this war, for what my bullets are worth. But that’s the task I’m going to take on, ma’am,” he concluded, turning back to Serafina Pekkala. “I’m going to seek out Stanislaus Grumman and find out what he knows, and if I can find that object he knows of, I’ll take it to Lyra.” Serafina said, “Have you been married, Mr. Scoresby? Have you any children?”

“No, ma’am, I have no child, though I would have liked to be a father. But I understand your question, and you’re right: that little girl has had bad luck with her true parents, and maybe I can make it up to her. Someone has to do it, and I’m willing.” “Thank you, Mr. Scoresby,” she said.

And she took off her crown, and plucked from it one of the little scarlet flowers that, while she wore them, remained as fresh as if they had just been picked.

“Take this with you,” she said, “and whenever you need my help, hold it in your hand and call to me. I shall hear you, wherever you are.”

“Why, thank you, ma’am,” he said, surprised. He took the little flower and tucked it carefully into his breast pocket.

“And we shall call up a wind to help you to Nova Zembla,” Serafina Pekkala told him. “Now, sisters, who would like to speak?”

The council proper began. The witches were democratic, up to a point; every witch, even the youngest, had the right to speak, but only their queen had the power to decide. The talk lasted all night, with many passionate voices for open war at once, and some others urging caution, and a few, though those were the wisest, suggesting a mission to all the other witch clans to urge them to join together for the first time.

Ruta Skadi agreed with that, and Serafina sent out messengers at once. As for what they should do immediately, Serafina picked out twenty of her finest fighters and ordered them to prepare to fly north with her, into the new world that Lord Asriel had opened, and search for Lyra.

“What of you, Queen Ruta Skadi?” Serafina said finally. “What are your plans?”

“I shall search for Lord Asriel, and learn what he’s doing from his own lips. And it seems that the way he’s gone is northward too. May I come the first part of the journey with you, sister?” “You may, and welcome,” said Serafina, who was glad to have her company.

So they agreed.

But soon after the council had broken up, an elderly witch came to Serafina Pekkala and said, “You had better listen to what Juta Kamainen has to say, Queen. She’s headstrong, but it might be important.” The young witch Juta Kamainen—young by witch standards, that is; she was only just over a hundred years old—was stubborn and embarrassed, and her robin dæmon was agitated, flying from her shoulder to her hand and circling high above her before settling again briefly on her shoulder. The witch’s cheeks were plump and red; she had a vivid and passionate nature. Serafina didn’t know her well.

“Queen,” said the young witch, unable to stay silent under Serafina’s gaze, “I know the man Stanislaus Grumman. I used to love him. But I hate him now with such a fervor that if I see him, I shall kill him. I would have said nothing, but my sister made me tell you.” She glanced with hatred at the elder witch, who returned her look with compassion: she knew about love.

“Well,” said Serafina, “if he is still alive, he’ll have to stay alive until Mr. Scoresby finds him. You had better come with us into the new world, and then there’ll be no danger of your killing him first. Forget him, Juta Kamainen. Love makes us suffer. But this task of ours is greater than revenge. Remember that.” “Yes, Queen,” said the young witch humbly.

And Serafina Pekkala and her twenty-one companions and Queen Ruta Skadi of Latvia prepared to fly into the new world, where no witch had ever flown before.

3 A CHILDREN’S WORLD

Lyra was awake early.

She’d had a horrible dream: she had been given the vacuum flask she’d seen her father, Lord Asriel, show to the Master and Scholars of Jordan College. When that had really happened, Lyra had been hiding in the wardrobe, and she’d watched as Lord Asriel opened the flask to show the Scholars the severed head of Stanislaus Grumman, the lost explorer; but in her dream, Lyra had to open the flask herself, and she didn’t want to. In fact, she was terrified. But she had to do it, whether she wanted to or not, and she felt her hands weakening with dread as she unclipped the lid and heard the air rush into the frozen chamber. Then she lifted the lid away, nearly choking with fear but knowing she had to—she had to do it. And there was nothing inside. The head had gone. There was nothing to be afraid of.

But she awoke all the same, crying and sweating, in the hot little bedroom facing the harbor, with the moonlight streaming through the window, and lay in someone else’s bed clutching someone else’s pillow, with the ermine Pantalaimon nuzzling her and making soothing noises. Oh, she was so frightened! And how odd it was, that in real life she had been eager to see the head of Stanislaus Grumman, and had begged Lord Asriel to open the flask again and let her look, and yet in her dream she was so terrified.

When morning came, she asked the alethiometer what the dream meant, but all it said was, It was a dream about a head.

She thought of waking the strange boy, but he was so deeply asleep that she decided not to. Instead, she went down to the kitchen and tried to make an omelette, and twenty minutes later she sat down at a table on the pavement and ate the blackened, gritty thing with great pride while the sparrow Pantalaimon pecked at the bits of shell.

She heard a sound behind her, and there was Will, heavy-eyed with sleep.

“I can make omelette,” she said. “I’ll make you some if you like.”

He looked at her plate and said, “No, I’ll have some cereal. There’s still some milk in the fridge that’s all right. They can’t have been gone very long, the people who lived here.” She watched him shake corn flakes into a bowl and pour milk on them—something else she’d never seen before.

He carried the bowl outside and said, “If you don’t come from this world, where’s your world? How did you get here?”

“Over a bridge. My father made this bridge, and … I followed him across. But he’s gone somewhere else, I don’t know where. I don’t care. But while I was walking across there was so much fog, and I got lost, I think. I walked around in the fog for days just eating berries and stuff I found. Then one day the fog cleared, and we was up on that cliff back there—” She gestured behind her. Will looked along the shore, past the lighthouse, and saw the coast rising in a great series of cliffs that disappeared into the haze of the distance.

“And we saw the town here, and came down, but there was no one here. At least there were things to eat and beds to sleep in. We didn’t know what to do next.”

“You sure this isn’t another part of your world?”

“ ’Course. This en’t my world, I know that for certain.”

Will remembered his own absolute certainty, on seeing the patch of grass through the window in the air, that it wasn’t in his world, and he nodded.

“So there’s three worlds at least that are joined on,” he said.

“There’s millions and millions,” Lyra said. “This other dæmon told me. He was a witch’s dæmon. No one can count how many worlds there are, all in the same space, but no one could get from one to another before my father made this bridge.” “What about the window I found?”

“I dunno about that. Maybe all the worlds are starting to move into one another.”

“And why are you looking for dust?”

She looked at him coldly. “I might tell you sometime,” she said. “All right. But how are you going to look for it?”

“I’m going to find a Scholar who knows about it.”

“What, any scholar?”

“No. An experimental theologian,” she said. “In my Oxford, they were the ones who knew about it. Stands to reason it’ll be the same in your Oxford. I’ll go to Jordan College first, because Jordan had the best ones.” “I never heard of experimental theology,” he said.

“They know all about elementary particles and fundamental forces,” she explained. “And anbaromagnetism, stuff like that. Atomcraft.”

“What-magnetism?”

“Anbaromagnetism. Like anbaric. Those lights,” she said, pointing up at the ornamental streetlight. “They’re anbaric.”

“We call them electric.”

“Electric … that’s like electrum. That’s a kind of stone, a jewel, made out of gum from trees. There’s insects in it, sometimes.”

“You mean amber,” he said, and they both said, “Anbar …”

And each of them saw their own expression on the other’s face. Will remembered that moment for a long time afterward.

“Well, electromagnetism,” he went on, looking away. “Sounds like what we call physics, your experimental theology. You want scientists, not theologians.”

“Ah,” she said warily. “I’ll find ’em.”

They sat in the wide clear morning, with the sun glittering placidly on the harbor, and each of them might have spoken next, because both of them were burning with questions; but then they heard a voice from farther along the harbor front, toward the casino gardens.

Both of them looked there, startled. It was a child’s voice, but there was no one in sight.

Will said to Lyra quietly, “How long did you say you’d been here?”

“Three days, four—I lost count. I never seen anyone. There’s no one here. I looked almost everywhere.”

But there was. Two children, one a girl of Lyra’s age and the other a younger boy, came out of one of the streets leading down to the harbor. They were carrying baskets, and both had red hair. They were about a hundred yards away when they saw Will and Lyra at the café table.

Pantalaimon changed from a goldfinch to a mouse and ran up Lyra’s arm to the pocket of her shirt. He’d seen that these new children were like Will: neither of them had a dæmon visible.

The two children wandered up and sat at a table nearby.

“You from Ci’gazze?” the girl said.

Will shook his head.

“From Sant’Elia?”

“No,” said Lyra. “We’re from somewhere else.”

The girl nodded. This was a reasonable reply.

“What’s happening?” said Will. “Where are the grownups?”

The girl’s eyes narrowed. “Didn’t the Specters come to your city?” she said.

“No,” Will said. “We just got here. We don’t know about Specters. What is this city called?”

“Ci’gazze,” the girl said suspiciously. “Cittàgazze, all right.”

“Cittàgazze,” Lyra repeated. “Ci’gazze. Why do the grown-ups have to leave?”

“Because of the Specters,” the girl said with weary scorn. “What’s your name?”

“Lyra. And he’s Will. What’s yours?”

“Angelica. My brother is Paolo.”

“Where’ve you come from?”

“Up the hills. There was a big fog and storm and everyone was frightened, so we all run up in the hills. Then when the fog cleared, the grownups could see with telescopes that the city was full of Specters, so they couldn’t come back. But the kids, we ain’ afraid of Specters, all right. There’s more kids coming down. They be here later, but we’re first.” “Us and Tullio,” said little Paolo proudly.

“Who’s Tullio?”

Angelica was cross: Paolo shouldn’t have mentioned him, but the secret was out now.

“Our big brother,” she said. “He ain’ with us. He’s hiding till he can … He’s just hiding.”

“He’s gonna get—” Paolo began, but Angelica smacked him hard, and he shut his mouth at once, pressing his quivering lips together.

“What did you say about the city?” said Will. “It’s full of Specters?”

“Yeah, Ci’gazze, Sant’Elia, all cities. The Specters go where the people are. Where you from?”

“Winchester,” said Will.

“I never heard of it. They ain’ got Specters there?”

“No. I can’t see any here, either.”

“ ’Course not!” she crowed. “You ain’ grown up! When we grow up, we see Specters.”

“I ain’ afraid of Specters, all right,” the little boy said, thrusting forward his grubby chin. “Kill the buggers.”

“En’t the grownups going to come back at all?” said Lyra.

“Yeah, in a few days,” said Angelica. “When the Specters go somewhere else. We like it when the Specters come, ’cause we can run about in the city, do what we like, all right.” “But what do the grownups think the Specters will do to them?” Will said.

“Well, when a Specter catch a grownup, that’s bad to see. They eat the life out of them there and then, all right. I don’t want to be grown up, for sure. At first they know it’s happening, and they’re afraid; they cry and cry. They try and look away and pretend it ain’ happening, but it is. It’s too late. And no one ain’ gonna go near them, they on they own. Then they get pale and they stop moving. They still alive, but it’s like they been eaten from inside. You look in they eyes, you see the back of they heads. Ain’ nothing there.” The girl turned to her brother and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt.

“Me and Paolo’s going to look for ice creams,” she said. “You want to come and find some?”

“No,” said Will, “we got something else to do.”

“Good-bye, then,” she said, and Paolo said, “Kill the Specters!”

“Good-bye,” said Lyra.

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