بخش 04

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: چاقوی ظریف / فصل 4

بخش 04

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As soon as Angelica and the little boy had vanished, Pantalaimon appeared from Lyra’s pocket, his mouse head ruffled and bright-eyed.

He said to Will, “They don’t know about this window you found.”

It was the first time Will had heard him speak, and he was almost more startled by that than by anything else he’d seen so far. Lyra laughed at his astonishment.

“He—but he spoke! Do all dæmons talk?” Will said.

“ ’Course they do!” said Lyra. “Did you think he was just a pet?”

Will rubbed his hair and blinked. Then he shook his head. “No,” he said, addressing Pantalaimon. “You’re right, I think. They don’t know about it.”

“So we better be careful how we go through,” Pantalaimon said.

It was strange for only a moment, talking to a mouse. Then it was no more strange than talking into a telephone, because he was really talking to Lyra. But the mouse was separate; there was something of Lyra in his expression, but something else too. It was too hard to work out, when there were so many strange things happening at once. Will tried to bring his thoughts together.

“You got to find some other clothes first,” he said to Lyra, “before you go into my Oxford.”

“Why?” she said stubbornly.

“Because you can’t go and talk to people in my world looking like that; they wouldn’t let you near them. You got to look as if you fit in. You got to go about camouflaged. I know, see. I’ve been doing it for years. You better listen to me or you’ll get caught, and if they find out where you come from, and the window, and everything … Well, this is a good hiding place, this world. See, I’m … I got to hide from some men. This is the best hiding place I could dream of, and I don’t want it found out. So I don’t want you giving it away by looking out of place or as if you don’t belong. I got my own things to do in Oxford, and if you give me away, I’ll kill you.” She swallowed. The alethiometer never lied: this boy was a murderer, and if he’d killed before, he could kill her, too. She nodded seriously, and she meant it.

“All right,” she said.

Pantalaimon had become a lemur, and was gazing at him with disconcerting wide eyes. Will stared back, and the dæmon became a mouse once more and crept into Lyra’s pocket.

“Good,” he said. “Now, while we’re here, we’ll pretend to these other kids that we just come from somewhere in their world. It’s good there aren’t any grownups about. We can just come and go and no one’ll notice. But in my world, you got to do as I say. And the first thing is you better wash yourself. You need to look clean, or you’ll stand out. We got to be camouflaged everywhere we go. We got to look as if we belong there so naturally that people don’t even notice us. So go and wash your hair for a start. There’s some shampoo in the bathroom. Then we’ll go and find some different clothes.” “I dunno how,” she said. “I never washed my hair. The housekeeper done it at Jordan, and then I never needed to after that.”

“Well, you’ll just have to work it out,” he said. “Wash yourself all over. In my world people are clean.”

“Hmm,” said Lyra, and went upstairs. A ferocious rat face glared at him over her shoulder, but he looked back coldly.

Part of him wanted to wander about this sunny silent morning exploring the city, and another part trembled with anxiety for his mother, and another part was still numb with shock at the death he’d caused. And overhanging them all was the task he had to do. But it was good to keep busy, so while he waited for Lyra, he cleaned the working surfaces in the kitchen, and washed the floor, and emptied the rubbish into the bin he found in the alley outside.

Then he took the green leather writing case from his tote bag and looked at it longingly. As soon as he’d shown Lyra how to get through the window into his Oxford, he’d come back and look at what was inside; but in the meanwhile, he tucked it under the mattress of the bed he’d slept in. In this world, it was safe.

When Lyra came down, clean and wet, they left to look for some clothes for her. They found a department store, shabby like everywhere else, with clothes in styles that looked a little old-fashioned to Will’s eye, but they found Lyra a tartan skirt and a green sleeveless blouse with a pocket for Pantalaimon. She refused to wear jeans, refused even to believe Will when he told her that most girls did.

“They’re trousers,” she said. “I’m a girl. Don’t be stupid.”

He shrugged; the tartan skirt looked unremarkable, which was the main thing. Before they left, Will dropped some coins in the till behind the counter.

“What you doing?” she said.

“Paying. You have to pay for things. Don’t they pay for things in your world?”

“They don’t in this one! I bet those other kids en’t paying for a thing.”

“They might not, but I do.”

“If you start behaving like a grownup, the Specters’ll get you,” she said, but she didn’t know whether she could tease him yet or whether she should be afraid of him.

In the daylight, Will could see how ancient the buildings in the heart of the city were, and how near to ruin some of them had come. Holes in the road had not been repaired; windows were broken; plaster was peeling. And yet there had once been a beauty and grandeur about this place. Through carved archways they could see spacious courtyards filled with greenery, and there were great buildings that looked like palaces, for all that the steps were cracked and the doorframes loose from the walls. It looked as if rather than knock a building down and build a new one, the citizens of Ci’gazze preferred to patch it up indefinitely.

At one point they came to a tower standing on its own in a little square. It was the oldest building they’d seen: a simple battlemented tower four stories high. Something about its stillness in the bright sun was intriguing, and both Will and Lyra felt drawn to the half-open door at the top of the broad steps; but they didn’t speak of it, and they went on, a bit reluctantly.

When they reached the broad boulevard with the palm trees, he told her to look for a little café on a corner, with green-painted metal tables on the pavement outside. They found it within a minute. It looked smaller and shabbier by daylight, but it was the same place, with the zinc-topped bar, the espresso machine, and the half-finished plate of risotto, now beginning to smell bad in the warm air.

“Is it in here?” she said.

“No. It’s in the middle of the road. Make sure there’s no other kids around.”

But they were alone. Will took her to the grassy median under the palm trees, and looked around to get his bearings.

“I think it was about here,” he said. “When I came through, I could just about see that big hill behind the white house up there, and looking this way there was the café there, and …” “What’s it look like? I can’t see anything.”

“You won’t mistake it. It doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen.”

He cast up and down. Had it vanished? Had it closed? He couldn’t see it anywhere.

And then suddenly he had it. He moved back and forth, watching the edge. Just as he’d found the night before, on the Oxford side of it, you could only see it at all from one side: when you moved behind it, it was invisible. And the sun on the grass beyond it was just like the sun on the grass on this side, except unaccountably different.

“Here it is,” he said when he was sure.

“Ah! I see it!”

She was agog, she looked as astounded as he’d looked himself to hear Pantalaimon talk. Her dæmon, unable to remain inside her pocket, had come out to be a wasp, and he buzzed up to the hole and back several times, while she rubbed her still slightly wet hair into spikes.

“Keep to one side,” he told her. “If you stand in front of it people’d just see a pair of legs, and that would make ’em curious. I don’t want anyone noticing.” “What’s that noise?”

“Traffic. It’s a part of the Oxford ring road. It’s bound to be busy. Get down and look at it from the side. It’s the wrong time of day to go through, really; there’s far too many people about. But it’d be hard to find somewhere to go if we went in the middle of the night. At least once we’re through we can blend in easy. You go first. Just duck through quickly and move out of the way.” She had a little blue rucksack that she’d been carrying since they left the café, and she unslung it and held it in her arms before crouching to look through.

“Ah!” She gasped. “And that’s your world? That don’t look like any part of Oxford. You sure you was in Oxford?”

“ ’Course I’m sure. When you go through, you’ll see a road right in front of you. Go to the left, and then a little farther along you take the road that goes down to the right. That leads to the city center. Make sure you can see where this window is, and remember, all right? It’s the only way back.” “Right,” she said. “I won’t forget.”

Taking her rucksack in her arms, she ducked through the window in the air and vanished. Will crouched down to see where she went.

And there she was, standing on the grass in his Oxford with Pan still as a wasp on her shoulder, and no one, as far as he could tell, had seen her appear. Cars and trucks raced past a few feet beyond, and no driver, at this busy junction, would have time to gaze sideways at an odd-looking bit of air, even if they could see it, and the traffic screened the window from anyone looking across from the far side.

There was a squeal of brakes, a shout, a bang. He flung himself down to look.

Lyra was lying on the grass. A car had braked so hard that a van had struck it from behind, and knocked the car forward anyway, and there was Lyra, lying still—

Will darted through after her. No one saw him come; all eyes were on the car, the crumpled bumper, the van driver getting out, and on the little girl.

“I couldn’t help it! She ran out in front,” said the car driver, a middle-aged woman. “You were too close,” she said, turning toward the van driver.

“Never mind that,” he said. “How’s the kid?”

The van driver was addressing Will, who was on his knees beside Lyra. Will looked up and around, but there was nothing for it; he was responsible. On the grass next to him, Lyra was moving her head about, blinking hard. Will saw the wasp Pantalaimon crawling dazedly up a grass stem beside her.

“You all right?” Will said. “Move your legs and arms.”

“Stupid!” said the woman from the car. “Just ran out in front. Didn’t look once. What am I supposed to do?”

“You still there, love?” said the van driver.

“Yeah,” muttered Lyra.

“Everything working?”

“Move your feet and hands,” Will insisted.

She did. There was nothing broken.

“She’s all right,” said Will. “I’ll look after her. She’s fine.”

“D’you know her?” said the truck driver.

“She’s my sister,” said Will. “It’s all right. We just live around the corner. I’ll take her home.”

Lyra was sitting up now, and as she was obviously not badly hurt, the woman turned her attention back to the car. The rest of the traffic was moving around the two stationary vehicles, and as they went past, the drivers looked curiously at the little scene, as people always do. Will helped Lyra up; the sooner they moved away, the better. The woman and the van driver had realized that their argument ought to be handled by their insurance companies and were exchanging addresses when the woman saw Will helping Lyra to limp away.

“Wait!” she called. “You’ll be witnesses. I need your name and address.”

“I’m Mark Ransom,” said Will, turning back, “and my sister’s Lisa. We live at twenty-six Bourne Close.”

“Postcode?”

“I can never remember,” he said. “Look, I want to get her home.”

“Hop in the cab,” said the van driver, “and I’ll take you round.”

“No, it’s no trouble. It’d be quicker to walk, honest.”

Lyra wasn’t limping badly. She walked away with Will, back along the grass under the hornbeam trees, and turned at the first corner they came to.

They sat on a low garden wall.

“You hurt?” Will said.

“Banged me leg. And when I fell down, it shook me head,” she said.

But she was more concerned about what was in the rucksack. She felt inside it, brought out a heavy little bundle wrapped in black velvet, and unfolded it. Will’s eyes widened to see the alethiometer; the tiny symbols painted around the face, the golden hands, the questing needle, the heavy richness of the case took his breath away.

“What’s that?” he said.

“It’s my alethiometer. It’s a truth teller. A symbol reader. I hope it en’t broken.…”

But it was unharmed. Even in her trembling hands the long needle swung steadily. She put it away and said, “I never seen so many carts and things. I never guessed they was going so fast.” “They don’t have cars and vans in your Oxford?”

“Not so many. Not like these ones. I wasn’t used to it. But I’m all right now.”

“Well, be careful from now on. If you go and walk under a bus or get lost or something, they’ll realize you’re not from this world and start looking for the way through.…” He was far more angry than he needed to be. Finally he said, “All right, look. If you pretend you’re my sister, that’ll be a disguise for me, because the person they’re looking for hasn’t got a sister. And if I’m with you, I can show you how to cross roads without getting killed.” “All right,” she said humbly.

“And money. I bet you haven’t—well, how could you have any money? How are you going to get around and eat and so on?”

“I have got money,” she said, and shook some gold coins out of her purse.

Will looked at them incredulously.

“Is that gold? It is, isn’t it? Well, that would get people asking questions, and no mistake. You’re just not safe. I’ll give you some money. Put those coins away and keep them out of sight. And remember—you’re my sister, and your name’s Lisa Ransom.” “Lizzie. I pretended to call myself Lizzie before. I can remember that.”

“All right, Lizzie then. And I’m Mark. Don’t forget.”

“All right,” she said peaceably.

Her leg was going to be painful; already it was red and swollen where the car had struck it, and a dark, massive bruise was forming. What with the bruise on her cheek where he’d struck her the night before, she looked as if she’d been badly treated, and that worried him too—suppose some police officer should become curious?

He tried to put it out of his mind, and they set off together, crossing at the traffic lights and casting just one glance back at the window under the hornbeam trees. They couldn’t see it at all. It was quite invisible, and the traffic was flowing again.

In Summertown, ten minutes’ walk down the Banbury Road, Will stopped in front of a bank.

“What are you doing?” said Lyra.

“I’m going to get some money. I probably better not do it too often, but they won’t register it till the end of the working day, I shouldn’t think.”

He put his mother’s bank card into the automatic teller and tapped out her PIN number. Nothing seemed to be going wrong, so he withdrew a hundred pounds, and the machine gave it up without a hitch. Lyra watched open-mouthed. He gave her a twenty-pound note.

“Use that later,” he said. “Buy something and get some change. Let’s find a bus into town.”

Lyra let him deal with the bus. She sat very quietly, watching the houses and gardens of the city that was hers and not hers. It was like being in someone else’s dream. They got off in the city center next to an old stone church, which she did know, opposite a big department store, which she didn’t.

“It’s all changed,” she said. “Like … That en’t the Cornmarket? And this is the Broad. There’s Balliol. And Bodley’s Library, down there. But where’s Jordan?” Now she was trembling badly. It might have been delayed reaction from the accident, or present shock from finding an entirely different building in place of the Jordan College she knew as home.

“That en’t right,” she said. She spoke quietly, because Will had told her to stop pointing out so loudly the things that were wrong. “This is a different Oxford.” “Well, we knew that,” he said.

He wasn’t prepared for Lyra’s wide-eyed helplessness. He couldn’t know how much of her childhood had been spent running about streets almost identical with these, and how proud she’d been of belonging to Jordan College, whose Scholars were the cleverest, whose coffers the richest, whose beauty the most splendid of all. And now it simply wasn’t there, and she wasn’t Lyra of Jordan anymore; she was a lost little girl in a strange world, belonging nowhere.

“Well,” she said shakily. “If it en’t here …”

It was going to take longer than she’d thought, that was all.

4 TREPANNING

As soon as Lyra had gone her way, Will found a pay phone and dialed the number of the lawyer’s office on the letter he held.

“Hello? I want to speak to Mr. Perkins.”

“Who’s calling, please?”

“It’s in connection with Mr. John Parry. I’m his son.”

“Just a moment, please …”

A minute went by, and then a man’s voice said, “Hello. This is Alan Perkins. To whom am I speaking?”

“William Parry. Excuse me for calling. It’s about my father, Mr. John Parry. You send money every three months from my father to my mother’s bank account.”

“Yes …”

“Well, I want to know where my father is, please. Is he alive or dead?”

“How old are you, William?”

“Twelve. I want to know about him.”

“Yes … Has your mother … is she … does she know you’re phoning me?”

Will thought carefully.

“No,” he said. “But she’s not in very good health. She can’t tell me very much, and I want to know.”

“Yes, I see. Where are you now? Are you at home?”

“No, I’m … I’m in Oxford.”

“On your own?”

“Yes.”

“And your mother’s not well, you say?”

“No.”

“Is she in hospital or something?”

“Something like that. Look, can you tell me or not?”

“Well, I can tell you something, but not much and not right now, and I’d rather not do it over the phone. I’m seeing a client in five minutes. Can you find your way to my office at about half past two?” “No,” Will said. It would be too risky; the lawyer might have heard by then that he was wanted by the police. He thought quickly and went on. “I’ve got to catch a bus to Nottingham, and I don’t want to miss it. But what I want to know, you can tell me over the phone, can’t you? All I want to know is, is my father alive, and if he is, where I can find him. You can tell me that, can’t you?” “It’s not quite as simple as that. I can’t really give out private information about a client unless I’m sure the client would want me to. And I’d need some proof of who you were, anyway.” “Yes, I understand, but can you just tell me whether he’s alive or dead?”

“Well … that wouldn’t be confidential. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anyway, because I don’t know.”

“What?”

“The money comes from a family trust. He left instructions to pay it until he told me to stop. I haven’t heard from him from that day to this. What it boils down to is that he’s … well, I suppose he’s vanished. That’s why I can’t answer your question.” “Vanished? Just … lost?”

“It’s a matter of public record, actually. Look, why don’t you come into the office and—”

“I can’t. I’m going to Nottingham.”

“Well, write to me, or get your mother to write, and I’ll let you know what I can. But you must understand, I can’t do very much over the phone.”

“Yes, I suppose so. All right. But can you tell me where he disappeared?”

“As I say, it’s a matter of public record. There were several newspaper stories at the time. You know he was an explorer?”

“My mother’s told me some things, yes.”

“Well, he was leading an expedition, and it just disappeared. About ten years ago. Maybe more.”

“Where?”

“The far north. Alaska, I think. You can look it up in the public library.

Why don’t you—”

But at that point Will’s money ran out, and he didn’t have any more change. The dial tone purred in his ear. He put the phone down and looked around.

What he wanted above all was to speak to his mother. He had to stop himself from dialing Mrs. Cooper’s number, because if he heard his mother’s voice, it would be very hard not to go back to her, and that would put both of them in danger. But he could send her a postcard.

He chose a view of the city, and wrote: “DEAR MUM, I AM SAFE AND WELL, AND I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN SOON. I HOPE EVERYTHING IS ALL RIGHT. I LOVE YOU. WILL.” Then he addressed it and bought a stamp and held the card close to him for a minute before dropping it in the mailbox.

It was midmorning, and he was in the main shopping street, where buses shouldered their way through crowds of pedestrians. He began to realize how exposed he was; for it was a weekday, when a child of his age should have been in school. Where could he go?

It didn’t take him long to hide. Will could vanish easily enough, because he was good at it; he was even proud of his skill. Like Serafina Pekkala on the ship, he simply made himself part of the background.

So now, knowing the sort of world he lived in, he went into a stationery shop and bought a ballpoint, a pad of paper, and a clipboard. Schools often sent groups of pupils off to do a shopping survey, or something of the sort, and if he seemed to be on a project like that he wouldn’t look as if he was at a loose end.

Then he wandered along, pretending to be making notes, and kept his eyes open for the public library.

Meanwhile, Lyra was looking for somewhere quiet to consult the alethiometer. In her own Oxford there would have been a dozen places within five minutes’ walk, but this Oxford was so disconcertingly different, with patches of poignant familiarity right next to the downright outlandish: why had they painted those yellow lines on the road? What were those little white patches dotting every sidewalk? (In her own world, they had never heard of chewing gum.) What could those red and green lights mean at the corner of the road? It was all much harder to read than the alethiometer.

But here were St. John’s College gates, which she and Roger had once climbed after dark to plant fireworks in the flower beds; and that particular worn stone at the corner of Catte Street—there were the initials SP that Simon Parslow had scratched, the very same ones! She’d seen him do it! Someone in this world with the same initials must have stood here idly and done exactly the same.

There might be a Simon Parslow in this world.

Perhaps there was a Lyra.

A chill ran down her back, and mouse-shaped Pantalaimon shivered in her pocket. She shook herself; there were mysteries enough without imagining more.

The other way in which this Oxford differed from hers was in the vast numbers of people swarming on every sidewalk, in and out of every building; people of every sort, women dressed like men, Africans, even a group of Tartars meekly following their leader, all neatly dressed and hung about with little black cases. She glared at them fearfully at first, because they had no dæmons, and in her world they would have been regarded as ghasts, or worse.

But (this was the strangest thing) they all looked fully alive. These creatures moved about cheerfully enough, for all the world as though they were human, and Lyra had to concede that human was what they probably were, and that their dæmons were inside them as Will’s was.

After wandering about for an hour, taking the measure of this mock-Oxford, she felt hungry and bought a bar of chocolatl with her twenty-pound note. The shopkeeper looked at her oddly, but he was from the Indies and didn’t understand her accent, perhaps, although she asked very clearly. With the change she bought an apple from the Covered Market, which was much more like the proper Oxford, and walked up toward the park. There she found herself outside a grand building, a real Oxford-looking building that didn’t exist in her world at all, though it wouldn’t have looked out of place. She sat on the grass outside to eat, and regarded the building approvingly.

She discovered that it was a museum. The doors were open, and inside she found stuffed animals and fossil skeletons and cases of minerals, just like the Royal Geological Museum she’d visited with Mrs. Coulter in her London. At the back of the great iron-and-glass hall was the entrance to another part of the museum, and because it was nearly deserted, she went through and looked around. The alethiometer was still the most urgent thing on her mind, but in this second chamber she found herself surrounded by things she knew well: there were showcases filled with Arctic clothing, just like her own furs; with sledges and walrus-ivory carvings and seal-hunting harpoons; with a thousand and one jumbled trophies and relics and objects of magic and tools and weapons, and not only from the Arctic, as she saw, but from every part of this world.

Well, how strange. Those caribou-skin furs were exactly the same as hers, but they’d tied the traces on that sledge completely wrong. But here was a photogram showing some Samoyed hunters, the very doubles of the ones who’d caught Lyra and sold her to Bolvangar. Look! They were the same men! And even that rope had frayed and been reknotted in precisely the same spot, and she knew it intimately, having been tied up in that very sledge for several agonizing hours.… What were these mysteries? Was there only one world after all, which spent its time dreaming of others?

And then she came across something that made her think of the alethiometer again. In an old glass case with a black-painted wooden frame there were a number of human skulls, and some of them had holes in them: some at the front, some on the side, some on the top. The one in the center had two. This process, it said in spidery writing on a card, was called trepanning. The card also said that all the holes had been made during the owners’ lifetimes, because the bone had healed and grown smooth around the edge. One, however, hadn’t: the hole had been made by a bronze arrowhead which was still in it, and its edges were sharp and broken, so you could tell it was different.

This was just what the northern Tartars did. And what Stanislaus Grumman had had done to himself, according to the Jordan Scholars who’d known him. Lyra looked around quickly, saw no one nearby, and took out the alethiometer.

She focused her mind on the central skull and asked: What sort of person did this skull belong to, and why did they have those holes made in it?

As she stood concentrating in the dusty light that filtered through the glass roof and slanted down past the upper galleries, she didn’t notice that she was being watched.

A powerful-looking man in his sixties, wearing a beautifully tailored linen suit and holding a Panama hat, stood on the gallery above and looked down over the iron railing.

His gray hair was brushed neatly back from his smooth, tanned, barely wrinkled forehead. His eyes were large, dark and long-lashed and intense, and every minute or so his sharp, dark-pointed tongue peeped out at the corner of his lips and flicked across them moistly. The snowy handkerchief in his breast pocket was scented with some heavy cologne like those hothouse plants so rich you can smell the decay at their roots.

He had been watching Lyra for some minutes. He had moved along the gallery above as she moved about below, and when she stood still by the case of skulls, he watched her closely, taking in all of her: her rough, untidy hair, the bruise on her cheek, the new clothes, her bare neck arched over the alethiometer, her bare legs.

He shook out the breast-pocket handkerchief and mopped his forehead, and then made for the stairs.

Lyra, absorbed, was learning strange things. These skulls were unimaginably old; the cards in the case said simply BRONZE AGE, but the alethiometer, which never lied, said that the man whose skull it was had lived 33,254 years before the present day, and that he had been a sorcerer, and that the hole had been made to let the gods into his head. And then the alethiometer, in the casual way it sometimes had of answering a question Lyra hadn’t asked, added that there was a good deal more Dust around the trepanned skulls than around the one with the arrowhead.

What in the world could that mean? Lyra came out of the focused calm she shared with the alethiometer and drifted back to the present moment to find herself no longer alone. Gazing into the next case was an elderly man in a pale suit, who smelled sweet. He reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t think who.

He became aware of her staring at him, and looked up with a smile.

“You’re looking at the trepanned skulls?” he said. “What strange things people do to themselves.”

“Mm,” she said expressionlessly.

“D’you know, people still do that?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Hippies, you know, people like that. Actually, you’re far too young to remember hippies. They say it’s more effective than taking drugs.”

Lyra had put the alethiometer in her rucksack and was wondering how she could get away. She still hadn’t asked it the main question, and now this old man was having a conversation with her. He seemed nice enough, and he certainly smelled nice. He was closer now. His hand brushed hers as he leaned across the case.

“Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? No anesthetic, no disinfectant, probably done with stone tools. They must have been tough, mustn’t they? I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. I come here quite a lot. What’s your name?” “Lizzie,” she said comfortably.

“Lizzie. Hello, Lizzie. I’m Charles. Do you go to school in Oxford?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer.

“No,” she said.

“Just visiting? Well, you’ve chosen a wonderful place to look at. What are you specially interested in?”

She was more puzzled by this man than by anyone she’d met for a long time. On the one hand he was kind and friendly and very clean and smartly dressed, but on the other hand Pantalaimon, inside her pocket, was plucking at her attention and begging her to be careful, because he was half-remembering something too; and from somewhere she sensed, not a smell, but the idea of a smell, and it was the smell of dung, of putrefaction. She was reminded of Iofur Raknison’s palace, where the air was perfumed but the floor was thick with filth.

“What am I interested in?” she said. “Oh, all sorts of things, really. Those skulls I got interested in just now, when I saw them there. I shouldn’t think anyone would want that done. It’s horrible.” “No, I wouldn’t enjoy it myself, but I promise you it does happen. I could take you to meet someone who’s done it,” he said, looking so friendly and helpful that she was very nearly tempted. But then out came that little dark tongue point, as quick as a snake’s, flick-moisten, and she shook her head.

“I got to go,” she said. “Thank you for offering, but I better not. Anyway, I got to go now because I’m meeting someone. My friend,” she added. “Who I’m staying with.” “Yes, of course,” he said kindly. “Well, it was nice talking to you. Bye-bye, Lizzie.”

“Bye,” she said.

“Oh, just in case, here’s my name and address,” he said, handing her a card. “Just in case you want to know more about things like this.”

“Thank you,” she said blandly, and put it in the little pocket on the back of her rucksack before leaving. She felt he was watching her all the way out.

Once she was outside the museum, she turned in to the park, which she knew as a field for cricket and other sports, and found a quiet spot under some trees and tried the alethiometer again.

This time she asked where she could find a Scholar who knew about Dust. The answer she got was simple: it directed her to a certain room in the tall square building behind her. In fact, the answer was so straightforward, and came so abruptly, that Lyra was sure the alethiometer had more to say: she was beginning to sense now that it had moods, like a person, and to know when it wanted to tell her more.

And it did now. What it said was: You must concern yourself with the boy. Your task is to help him find his father. Put your mind to that.

She blinked. She was genuinely startled. Will had appeared out of nowhere in order to help her; surely that was obvious. The idea that she had come all this way in order to help him took her breath away.

But the alethiometer still hadn’t finished. The needle twitched again, and she read: Do not lie to the Scholar.

She folded the velvet around the alethiometer and thrust it into the rucksack out of sight. Then she stood and looked around for the building where her Scholar would be found, and set off toward it, feeling awkward and defiant.

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