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The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) – Episode 14
The fact that the gyptians had heard or seen nothing of Mrs. Coulter worried Farder Coram and John Faa more than they let Lyra know; but they weren’t to know that she was worried too. Lyra feared Mrs. Coulter and thought about her often. And whereas Lord Asriel was now “father,” Mrs. Coulter was never “mother.” The reason for that was Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, the golden monkey, who had filled Pantalaimon with a powerful loathing, and who, Lyra felt, had pried into her secrets, and particularly that of the alethiometer.
And they were bound to be chasing her; it was silly to think otherwise. The spy-fly proved that, if nothing else.
But when an enemy did strike, it wasn’t Mrs. Coulter. The gyptians had planned to stop and rest their dogs, repair a couple of sledges, and get all their weapons into shape for the assault on Bolvangar. John Faa hoped that Lee Scoresby might find some ground gas to fill his smaller balloon (for he had two, apparently) and go up to spy out the land. However, the aeronaut attended to the condition of the weather as closely as a sailor, and he said there was going to be a fog; and sure enough, as soon as they stopped, a thick mist descended. Lee Scoresby knew he’d see nothing from the sky, so he had to content himself with checking his equipment, though it was all in meticulous order. Then, with no warning at all, a volley of arrows flew out of the dark.
Three gyptian men went down at once, and died so silently that no one heard a thing. Only when they slumped clumsily across the dog traces or lay unexpectedly still did the nearest men notice what was happening, and then it was already too late, because more arrows were flying at them. Some men looked up, puzzled by the fast irregular knocking sounds that came from up and down the line as arrows hurtled into wood or frozen canvas.
The first to come to his wits was John Faa, who shouted orders from the center of the line. Cold hands and stiff limbs moved to obey as yet more arrows flew down like rain, straight rods of rain tipped with death.
Lyra was in the open, and the arrows were passing over her head. Pantalaimon heard before she did, and became a leopard and knocked her over, making her less of a target. Brushing snow out of her eyes, she rolled over to try and see what was happening, for the semidarkness seemed to be overflowing with confusion and noise. She heard a mighty roar, and the clang and scrape of lorek Byrnison’s armor as he leaped fully clad over the sledges and into the fog, and that was followed by screams, snarling, crunching and tearing sounds, great smashing blows, cries of terror and roars of bearish fury as he laid them waste.
But who was them? Lyra had seen no enemy figures yet. The gyptians were swarming to defend the sledges, but that (as even Lyra could see) made them better targets; and their rifles were not easy to fire in gloves and mittens; she had only heard four or five shots, as against the ceaseless knocking rain of arrows. And more and more men fell every minute.
Oh, John Faa! she thought in anguish. You didn’t foresee this, and I didn’t help you!
But she had no more than a second to think that, for there was a mighty snarl from Pantalaimon, and something – another daemon – hurtled at him and knocked him down, crushing all the breath out of Lyra herself; and then hands were hauling at her, lifting her, stifling her cry with foul-smelling mittens, tossing her through the air into another’s arms, and then pushing her flat down into the snow again, so that she was dizzy and breathless and hurt all at once. Her arms were hauled behind till her shoulders cracked, and someone lashed her wrists together, and then a hood was crammed over her head to muffle her screams, for scream she did, and lustily:
“lorek! lorek Byrnison! Help me!”
But could he hear? She couldn’t tell; she was hurled this way and that, crushed onto a hard surface which then began to lurch and bump like a sledge. The sounds that reached her were wild and confused. She might have heard lorek Byrnison’s roar, but it was a long way off, and then she was jolting over rough ground, arms twisted, mouth stifled, sobbing with rage and fear. And strange voices spoke around her.
“I’m here, shh, I’ll help you breathe. Keep still…”
His mouse paws tugged at the hood until her mouth was freer, and she gulped at the frozen air.
“Who are they?” she whispered.
“They look like Tartars. I think they hit John Faa.”
“No – ”
“I saw him fall. But he should have been ready for this sort of attack. We know that.”
“But we should have helped him! We should have been watching the alethiometer!”
“Hush. Pretend to be unconscious.”
There was a whip cracking, and the howl of racing dogs. From the way she was being jerked and bounced about, Lyra could tell how fast they were going, and though she strained to hear the sounds of battle, all she made out was a forlorn volley of shots, muffled by the distance, and then the creak and rush and soft paw thuds in the snow were all there was to hear.
“They’ll take us to the Gobblers,” she whispered.
The word severed came to their mind. Horrible fear filled Lyra’s body, and Pantalaimon nestled close against her.
“I’ll fight,” he said.
“So will I. I’ll kill them.”
“So will lorek when he finds out. He’ll crush them to death.”
“How far are we from Bolvangar?”
Pantalaimon didn’t know, but he thought it was less than a day’s ride.
After they had been driving along for such a time that Lyra’s body was in torment from cramp, the pace slackened a little, and someone roughly pulled off the hood.
She looked up at a broad Asiatic face, under a wolverine hood, lit by flickering lamplight. His black eyes showed a glint of satisfaction, especially when Pantalaimon slid out of Lyra’s anorak to bare his white ermine teeth in a hiss. The man’s daemon, a big heavy wolverine, snarled back, but Pantalaimon didn’t flinch.
The man hauled Lyra up to a sitting position and propped her against the side of the sledge. She kept falling sideways because her hands were still tied behind her, and so he tied her feet together instead and released her hands.
Through the snow that was falling and the thick fog she saw how powerful this man was, and the sledge driver too, how balanced in the sledge, how much at home in this land in a way the gyptians weren’t.
The man spoke, but of course she understood nothing. He tried a different language with the same result. Then he tried English.
Pantalaimon bristled warningly, and she knew what he meant at once. So these men didn’t know who she was! They hadn’t kidnapped her because of her connection with Mrs. Coulter; so perhaps they weren’t in the pay of the Gobblers after all.
“Lizzie Brooks,” she said.
“Lissie Broogs,” he said after her. “We take you nice place. Nice peoples.”
“Who are you?”
“Samoyed peoples. Hunters.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“Nice place. Nice peoples. You have panserbjorne?”
“No good! Ha, ha, bear no good! We got you anyway!”
He laughed loudly. Lyra controlled herself and said nothing.
“Who those peoples?” the man asked next, pointing back the way they had come.
“Traders…What they trade?”
“Fur, spirits,” she said. “Smokeleaf.”
“They sell smokeleaf, buy furs?”
He said something to his companion, who spoke back briefly. All the time the sledge was speeding onward, and Lyra pulled herself up more comfortably to try and see where they were heading; but the snow was falling thickly, and the sky was dark, and presently she became too cold to peer out any longer, and lay down. She and Pantalaimon could feel each other’s thoughts, and tried to keep calm, but the thought of John Faa dead…And what had happened to Farder Coram? And would lorek manage to kill the other Samoyeds? And would they ever manage to track her down?
For the first time, she began to feel a little sorry for herself.
After a long time, the man shook her by the shoulder and handed her a strip of dried reindeer meat to chew. It was rank and tough, but she was hungry, and there was nourishment in it. After chewing it, she felt a little better. She slipped her hand slowly into her furs till she was sure the alethiometer was still there, and then carefully withdrew the spy-fly tin and slipped it down into her fur boot. Pantalaimon crept in as a mouse and pushed it as far down as he could, tucking it under the bottom of her reindeer-skin legging.
When that was done, she closed her eyes. Fear had made her exhausted, and soon she slipped uneasily into sleep.
She woke up when the motion of the sledge changed. It was suddenly smoother, and when she opened her eyes there were passing lights dazzling above her, so bright she had to pull the hood further over her head before peering out again. She was horribly stiff and cold, but she managed to pull herself upright enough to see that the sledge was driving swiftly between a row of high poles, each carrying a glaring anbaric light. As she got her bearings, they passed through an open metal gate at the end of the avenue of lights and into a wide open space like an empty marketplace or an arena for some game or sport. It was perfectly flat and smooth and white, and about a hundred yards across. Around the edge ran a high metal fence.
At the far end of this arena the sledge halted. They were outside a low building, or a range of low buildings, over which the snow lay deeply. It was hard to tell, but she had the impression that tunnels connected one part of the buildings with another, tunnels humped under the snow. At one side a stout metal mast had a familiar look, though she couldn’t say what it reminded her of.
Before she could take much more in, the man in the sledge cut through the cord around her ankles, and hauled her out roughly while the driver shouted at the dogs to make them still. A door opened in the building a few yards away, and an anbaric light came on overhead, swiveling to find them, like a searchlight.
Lyra’s captor thrust her forward like a trophy, without letting go, and said something. The figure in the padded coal-silk anorak answered in the same language, and Lyra saw his features: he was not a Samoyed or a Tartar. He could have been a Jordan Scholar. He looked at her, and particularly at Pantalaimon.
The Samoyed spoke again, and the man from Bolvangar said to Lyra, “You speak English?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Does your daemon always take that form?”
Of all the unexpected questions! Lyra could only gape. But Pantalaimon answered it in his own fashion by becoming a falcon, and launching himself from her shoulder at the man’s daemon, a large marmot, which struck up at Pantalaimon with a swift movement and spat as he circled past on swift wings.
“I see,” said the man in a tone of satisfaction, as Pantalaimon returned to Lyra’s shoulder.
The Samoyed men were looking expectant, and the man from Bolvangar nodded and took off a mitten to reach into a pocket. He took out a drawstring purse and counted out a dozen heavy coins into the hunter’s hand.
The two men checked the money, and then stowed it carefully, each man taking half. Without a backward glance they got in the sledge, and the driver cracked the whip and shouted to the dogs; and they sped away across the wide white arena and into the avenue of lights, gathering speed until they vanished into the dark beyond.
The man was opening the door again.
“Come in quickly,” he said. “It’s warm and comfortable. Don’t stand out in the cold. What is your name ?”
His voice was an English one, without any accent Lyra could name. He sounded like the sort of people she had met at Mrs. Coulter’s: smart and educated and important.
“Lizzie Brooks,” she said.
“Come in, Lizzie. We’ll look after you here, don’t worry.”
He was colder than she was, even though she’d been outside for far longer; he was impatient to be in the warm again. She decided to play slow and dim-witted and reluctant, and dragged her feet as she stepped over the high threshold into the building.
There were two doors, with a wide space between them so that not too much warm air escaped. Once they were through the inner doorway, Lyra found herself sweltering in what seemed unbearable heat, and had to pull open her furs and push back her hood.
They were in a space about eight feet square, with corridors to the right and left, and in front of her the sort of reception desk you might see in a hospital. Everything was brilliantly lit, with the glint of shiny white surfaces and stainless steel. There was the smell of food in the air, familiar food, bacon and coffee, and under it a faint perpetual hospital-medical smell; and coming from the walls all around was a slight humming sound, almost too low to hear, the sort of sound you had to get used to or go mad.
Pantalaimon at her ear, a goldfinch now, whispered, “Be stupid and dim. Be really slow and stupid.”
Adults were looking down at her: the man who’d brought her in, another man wearing a white coat, a woman in a nurse’s uniform.
“English,” the first man was saying. “Traders, apparently.”
“Usual hunters? Usual story?”
“Same tribe, as far as I could tell. Sister Clara, could you take little, umm, and see to her?”
“Certainly, Doctor. Come with me, dear,” said the nurse, and Lyra obediently followed.
They went along a short corridor with doors on the right and a canteen on the left, from which came a clatter of knives and forks, and voices, and more cooking smells. The nurse was about as old as Mrs. Coulter, Lyra guessed, with a brisk, blank, sensible air; she would be able to stitch a wound or change a bandage, but never to tell a story. Her daemon (and Lyra had a moment of strange chill when she noticed) was a little white trotting dog (and after a moment she had no idea why it had chilled her).
“What’s your name, dear?” said the nurse, opening a heavy door. “Lizzie.” “Just Lizzie?” “Lizzie Brooks.” “And how old are you?” “Eleven.”
Lyra had been told that she was small for her age, whatever that meant. It had never affected her sense of her own importance, but she realized that she could use the fact now to make Lizzie shy and nervous and insignificant, and shrank a little as she went into the room.
She was half expecting questions about where she had come from and how she had arrived, and she was preparing answers; but it wasn’t only imagination the nurse lacked, it was curiosity as well. Bolvangar might have been on the outskirts of London, and children might have been arriving all the time, for all the interest Sister Clara seemed to show. Her pert neat little daemon trotted along at her heels just as brisk and blank as she was.
In the room they entered there was a couch and a table and two chairs and a filing cabinet, and a glass cupboard with medicines and bandages, and a wash basin. As soon as they were inside, the nurse took Lyra’s outer coat off and dropped it on the shiny floor.
“Off with the rest, dear,” she said. “We’ll have a quick little look to see you’re nice and healthy, no frostbite or sniffles, and then we’ll find some nice clean clothes. We’ll pop you in the shower, too,” she added, for Lyra had not changed or washed for days, and in the enveloping warmth, that was becoming more and more evident.
Pantalaimon fluttered in protest, but Lyra quelled him with a scowl. He settled on the couch as one by one all Lyra’s clothes came off, to her resentment and shame; but she still had the presence of mind to conceal it and act dull-witted and compliant.
“And the money belt, Lizzie,” said the nurse, and untied it herself with strong fingers. She went to drop it on the pile with Lyra’s other clothes, but stopped, feeling the edge of the alethiometer.
“What’s this?” she said, and unbuttoned the oilcloth.
“Just a sort of toy,” said Lyra. “It’s mine.”
“Yes, we won’t take it away from you, dear,” said Sister Clara, unfolding the black velvet. “That’s pretty, isn’t it, like a compass. Into the shower with you,” she went on, putting the alethiometer down and whisking back a coal-silk curtain in the corner.
Lyra reluctantly slipped under the warm water and soaped herself while Pantalaimon perched on the curtain rail. They were both conscious that he mustn’t be too lively, for the daemons of dull people were dull themselves. When she was washed and dry, the nurse took her temperature and looked into her eyes and ears and throat, and then measured her height and put her on some scales before writing a note on a clipboard. Then she gave Lyra some pajamas and a dressing gown. They were clean, and of good quality, like Tony Makarios’s anorak, but again there was a secondhand air about them. Lyra felt very uneasy.
“These en’t mine,” she said.
“No, dear. Your clothes need a good wash.”
“Am I going to get my own ones back?”
“I expect so. Yes, of course.”
“What is this place?”
“It’s called the Experimental Station.”
That wasn’t an answer, and whereas Lyra would have pointed that out and asked for more information, she didn’t think Lizzie Brooks would; so she assented dumbly in the dressing and said no more.
“I want my toy back,” she said stubbornly when she was dressed.
“Take it, dear,” said the nurse. “Wouldn’t you rather have a nice woolly bear, though? Or a pretty doll?”
She opened a drawer where some soft toys lay like dead things. Lyra made herself stand and pretend to consider for several seconds before picking out a rag doll with big vacant eyes. She had never had a doll, but she knew what to do, and pressed it absently to her chest.
“What about my money belt?” she said. “I like to keep my toy in there.”
“Go on, then, dear,” said Sister Clara, who was filling in a form on pink paper.
Lyra hitched up her unfamiliar skirt and tied the oilskin pouch around her waist.
“What about my coat and boots?” she said. “And my mittens and things?”
“We’ll have them cleaned for you,” said the nurse automatically.
Then a telephone buzzed, and while the nurse answered it, Lyra stooped quickly to recover the other tin, the one containing the spy-fly, and put it in the pouch with the alethiometer.
“Come along, Lizzie,” said the nurse, putting the receiver down. “We’ll go and find you something to eat. I expect you’re hungry.”
She followed Sister Clara to the canteen, where a dozen round white tables were covered in crumbs and the sticky rings where drinks had been carelessly put down. Dirty plates and cutlery were stacked on a steel trolley. There were no windows, so to give an illusion of light and space one wall was covered in a huge photogram showing a tropical beach, with bright blue sky and white sand and coconut palms.
The man who had brought her in was collecting a tray from a serving hatch.
“Eat up,” he said.
There was no need to starve, so she ate the stew and mashed potatoes with relish. There was a bowl of tinned peaches and ice cream to follow. As she ate, the man and the nurse talked quietly at another table, and when she had finished, the nurse brought her a glass of warm milk and took the tray away.
The man came to sit down opposite. His daemon, the marmot, was not blank and incurious as the nurse’s dog had been, but sat politely on his shoulder watching and listening.
“Now, Lizzie,” he said. “Have you eaten enough?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I’d like you to tell me where you come from. Can you do that?”
“London,” she said.
“And what are you doing so far north?”
“With my father,” she mumbled. She kept her eyes down, avoiding the gaze of the marmot, and trying to look as if she was on the verge of tears.
“With your father? I see. And what’s he doing in this part of the world?”
“Trading. We come with a load of New Danish smokeleaf and we was buying furs.”
“And was your father by himself?”
“No. There was my uncles and all, and some other men,” she said vaguely, not knowing what the Samoyed hunter had told him.
“Why did he bring you on a journey like this, Lizzie?”
” ‘Cause two years ago he brung my brother and he says he’ll bring me next, only he never. So I kept asking him, and then he did.”
“And how old are you?”
“Good, good. Well, Lizzie, you’re a lucky little girl. Those huntsmen who found you brought you to the best place you could be.”
“They never found me,” she said doubtfully. “There was a fight. There was lots of ’em and they had arrows….”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I think you must have wandered away from your father’s party and got lost. Those huntsmen found you on your own and brought you straight here. That’s what happened, Lizzie.”
“I saw a fight,” she said. “They was shooting arrows and that….I want my dad,” she said more loudly, and felt herself beginning to cry.
“Well, you’re quite safe here until he comes,” said the doctor.
“But I saw them shooting arrows!”
“Ah, you thought you did. That often happens in the intense cold, Lizzie. You fall asleep and have bad dreams and you can’t remember what’s true and what isn’t. That wasn’t a fight, don’t worry. Your father is safe and sound and he’ll be looking for you now and soon he’ll come here because this is the only place for hundreds of miles, you know, and what a surprise he’ll have to find you safe and sound! Now Sister Clara will take you along to the dormitory where you’ll meet some other little girls and boys who got lost in the wilderness just like you. Off you go. We’ll have another little talk in the morning.”
Lyra stood up, clutching her doll, and Pantalaimon hopped onto her shoulder as the nurse opened the door to lead them out.
More corridors, and Lyra was tired by now, so sleepy she kept yawning and could hardly lift her feet in the woolly slippers they’d given her. Pantalaimon was drooping, and he had to change to a mouse and settle inside her dressing-gown pocket. Lyra had the impression of a row of beds, children’s faces, a pillow, and then she was asleep.
Someone was shaking her. The first thing she did was to feel at her waist, and both tins were still there, still safe; so she tried to open her eyes, but oh, it was hard; she had never felt so sleepy.
“Wake up! Wake up!”
It was a whisper in more than one voice. With a huge effort, as if she were pushing a boulder up a slope, Lyra forced herself to wake up.
In the dim light from a very low-powered anbaric bulb over the doorway she saw three other girls clustered around her. It wasn’t easy to see, because her eyes were slow to focus, but they seemed about her own age, and they were speaking English.
“They gave her sleeping pills. Must’ve…”
“What’s your name?”
“Lizzie,” Lyra mumbled.
“Is there a load more new kids coming?” demanded one of the girls.
“Dunno. Just me.”
“Where’d they get you then?”
Lyra struggled to sit up. She didn’t remember taking a sleeping pill, but there might well have been something in the drink she’d had. Her head felt full of eiderdown, and there was a faint pain throbbing behind her eyes.
“Where is this place?”
“Middle of nowhere. They don’t tell us.”
“They usually bring more’n one kid at a time….”
“What do they do?” Lyra managed to ask, gathering her doped wits as Pantalaimon stirred into wakefulness with her.
“We dunno,” said the girl who was doing most of the talking. She was a tall, red-haired girl with quick twitchy movements and a strong London accent. “They sort of measure us and do these tests and that – ”
“They measure Dust,” said another girl, friendly and plump and dark-haired.
“You don’t know,” said the first girl.
“They do,” said the third, a subdued-looking child cuddling her rabbit daemon. “I heard ’em talking.”
“Then they take us away one by one and that’s all we know. No one comes back,” said the redhead.
“There’s this boy, right,” said the plump girl, “he reckons – ”
“Don’t tell her that!” said the redhead. “Not yet.”
“Is there boys here as well?” said Lyra.
“Yeah. There’s lots of us. There’s about thirty, I reckon.”
“More’n that,” said the plump girl. “More like forty.”
“Except they keep taking us away,” said the redhead. “They usually start off with bringing a whole bunch here, and then there’s a lot of us, and one by one they all disappear.”
“They’re Gobblers,” said the plump girl. “You know Gobblers. We was all scared of ’em till we was caught….”
Lyra was gradually coming more and more awake. The other girls’ daemons, apart from the rabbit, were close by listening at the door, and no one spoke above a whisper. Lyra asked their names. The red-haired girl was Annie, the dark plump one Bella, the thin one Martha. They didn’t know the names of the boys, because the two sexes were kept apart for most of the time. They weren’t treated badly.
“It’s all right here,” said Bella. “There’s not much to do, except they give us tests and make us do exercises and then they measure us and take our temperature and stuff. It’s just boring really.”
“Except when Mrs. Coulter comes,” said Annie.
Lyra had to stop herself crying out, and Pantalaimon fluttered his wings so sharply that the other girls noticed.
“He’s nervous,” said Lyra, soothing him. “They must’ve gave us some sleeping pills, like you said, ’cause we’re all dozy. Who’s Mrs. Coulter?”
“She’s the one who trapped us, most of us, anyway,” said Martha. “They all talk about her, the other kids. When she comes, you know there’s going to be kids disappearing.”
“She likes watching the kids, when they take us away, she likes seeing what they do to us. This boy Simon, he reckons they kill us, and Mrs. Coulter watches.”
“They kill us?” said Lyra, shuddering.
“Must do. ‘Cause no one comes back.”
“They’re always going on about daemons too,” said Bella. “Weighing them and measuring them and all…”
“They touch your daemons?”
“No! God! They put scales there and your daemon has to get on them and change, and they make notes and take pictures. And they put you in this cabinet and measure Dust, all the time, they never stop measuring Dust.”
“What dust?” said Lyra.
“We dunno,” said Annie. “Just something from space. Not real dust. If you en’t got any Dust, that’s good. But everyone gets Dust in the end.”
“You know what I heard Simon say?” said Bella. “He said that the Tartars make holes in their skulls to let the Dust in.”
“Yeah, he’d know,” said Annie scornfully. “I think I’ll ask Mrs. Coulter when she comes.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” said Martha admiringly.
“When’s she coming?” said Lyra.
“The day after tomorrow,” said Annie.
A cold drench of terror went down Lyra’s spine, and Pantalaimon crept very close. She had one day in which to find Roger and discover whatever she could about this place, and either escape or be rescued; and if all the gyptians had been killed, who would help the children stay alive in the icy wilderness?
The other girls went on talking, but Lyra and Pantalaimon nestled down deep in the bed and tried to get warm, knowing that for hundreds of miles all around her little bed there was nothing but fear.
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