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The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) – Episode 11
Chapter Eleven, Episode Eleven, Part Eleven.
When they returned to the ship, Farder Coram and John Faa and the other leaders spent a long time in conference in the saloon, and Lyra went to her cabin to consult the alethiome-ter. Within five minutes she knew exactly where the bear’s armor was, and why it would be difficult to get it back.
She wondered whether to go to the saloon and tell John Faa and the others, but decided that they’d ask her if they wanted to know. Perhaps they knew already.
She lay on her bunk thinking of that savage mighty bear, and the careless way he drank his fiery spirit, and the loneliness of him in his dirty lean-to. How different it was to be human, with one’s daemon always there to talk to! In the silence of the still ship, without the continual creak of metal and timber or the rumble of the engine or the rush of water along the side, Lyra gradually fell asleep, with Pantalaimon on her pillow sleeping too.
She was dreaming of her great imprisoned father when suddenly, for no reason at all, she woke up. She had no idea what time it was. There was a faint light in the cabin that she took for moonlight, and it showed her new cold-weather furs that lay stiffly in the corner of the cabin. No sooner did she see them than she longed to try them on again.
Once they were on, she had to go out on deck, and a minute later she opened the door at the top of the compan-ionway and stepped out.
At once she saw that something strange was happening in the sky. She thought it was clouds, moving and trembling under a nervous agitation, but Pantalaimon whispered:
Her wonder was so strong that she had to clutch the rail to keep from falling.
The sight filled the northern sky; the immensity of it was scarcely conceivable. As if from Heaven itself, great curtains of delicate light hung and trembled. Pale green and rose-pink, and as transparent as the most fragile fabric, and at the bottom edge a profound and fiery crimson like the fires of Hell, they swung and shimmered loosely with more grace than the most skillful dancer. Lyra thought she could even hear them: a vast distant whispering swish. In the evanescent delicacy she felt something as profound as she’d felt close to the bear. She was moved by it; it was so beautiful it was almost holy; she felt tears prick her eyes, and the tears splintered the light even further into prismatic rainbows. It wasn’t long before she found herself entering the same kind of trance as when she consulted the alethiometer. Perhaps, she thought calmly, whatever moves the alethiometer’s needle is making the Aurora glow too. It might even be Dust itself. She thought that without noticing that she’d thought it, and she soon forgot it, and only remembered it much later.
And as she gazed, the image of a city seemed to form itself behind the veils and streams of translucent color: towers and domes, honey-colored temples and colonnades, broad boulevards and sunlit parkland. Looking at it gave her a sense of vertigo, as if she were looking not up but down, and across a gulf so wide that nothing could ever pass over it. It was a whole universe away.
But something was moving across it, and as she tried to focus her eyes on the movement, she felt faint and dizzy, because the little thing moving wasn’t part of the Aurora or
of the other universe behind it. It was in the sky over the roofs of the town. When she could see it clearly, she had come fully awake and the sky city was gone.
The flying thing came closer and circled the ship on outspread wings. Then it glided down and landed with brisk sweeps of its powerful pinions, and came to a halt on the wooden deck a few yards from Lyra.
In the Aurora’s light she saw a great bird, a beautiful gray goose whose head was crowned with a flash of pure white. And yet it wasn’t a bird: it was a daemon, though there was no one in sight but Lyra herself. The idea filled her with sickly fear.
The bird said:
“Where is Farder Coram?”
And suddenly Lyra realized who it must be. This was the daemon of Serafina Pekkala, the clan queen, Farder Coram’s witch friend.
She stammered to reply:
“I – he’s – I’ll go and get him….”
She turned and scampered down the companionway to the cabin Farder Coram occupied, and opened the door to speak into the darkness:
“Farder Coram! The witch’s daemon’s come! He’s waiting on the deck! He flew here all by hisself – I seen him coming in the sky – ”
The old man said, “Ask him to wait on the afterdeck, child.”
The goose made his stately way to the stern of the ship, where he looked around, elegant and wild simultaneously, and a cause of fascinated terror to Lyra, who felt as though she were entertaining a ghost.
Then Farder Coram came up, wrapped in his cold-weather gear, closely followed by John Faa. Both old men bowed respectfully, and their daemons also acknowledged the visitor.
“Greetings,” said Farder Coram. “And I’m happy and proud to see you again, Kaisa. Now, would you like to come inside, or would you prefer to stay out here in the open?”
“I would rather stay outside, thank you, Farder Coram. Are you warm enough for a while?”
Witches and their daemons felt no cold, but they were aware that other humans did.
Farder Coram assured him that they were well wrapped up, and said, “How is Serafina Pekkala?”
“She sends her greetings to you, Farder Coram, and she is well and strong. Who are these two people?”
Farder Coram introduced them both. The goose daemon looked hard at Lyra.
“I have heard of this child,” he said. “She is talked about among witches. So you have come to make war?”
“Not war, Kaisa. We are going to free the children taken from us. And I hope the witches will help.”
“Not all of them will. Some clans are working with the Dust hunters.”
“Is that what you call the Oblation Board?” “I don’t know what this board may be. They are Dust hunters. They came to our regions ten years ago with philosophical instruments. They paid us to allow them to set up stations in our lands, and they treated us with courtesy.” “What is this Dust?”
“It comes from the sky. Some say it has always been there, some say it is newly falling. What is certain is that when people become aware of it, a great fear comes over them, and they’ll stop at nothing to discover what it is. But it is not of any concern to witches.”
“And where are they now, these Dust hunters?” “Four days northeast of here, at a place called Bolvangar. Our clan made no agreement with them, and because of our longstanding obligation to you, Farder Coram, I have come to show you how to find these Dust hunters.”
Farder Coram smiled, and John Faa clapped his great hands together in satisfaction.
“Thank you kindly, sir,” he said to the goose. “But tell us this: do you know anything more about these Dust hunters? What do they do at this Bolvangar?”
“They have put up buildings of metal and concrete, and some underground chambers. They burn coal spirit, which they bring in at great expense. We don’t know what they do, but there is an air of hatred and fear over the place and for miles around. Witches can see these things where other humans can’t. Animals keep away too. No birds fly there; lemmings and foxes have fled. Hence the name Bolvangar: the fields of evil. They don’t call it that. They call it ‘the station.’ But to everyone else it is Bolvangar.”
“And how are they defended?”
“They have a company of Northern Tartars armed with rifles. They are good soldiers, but they lack practice, because no one has ever attacked the settlement since it was built. Then there is a wire fence around the compound, which is filled with anbaric force. There may be other means of defense that we don’t know about, because as I say they have no interest for us.”
Lyra was bursting to ask a question, and the goose dasmon knew it and looked at her as if giving permission.
“Why do the witches talk about me?” she said.
“Because of your father, and his knowledge of the other worlds,” the daemon replied.
That surprised all three of them. Lyra looked at Farder Coram, who looked back in mild wonder, and at John Faa, whose expression was troubled.
“Other worlds?” John Faa said. “Pardon me, sir, but what worlds would those be? Do you mean the stars?”
“Perhaps the world of spirits?” said Farder Coram.
“Is it the city in the lights?” said Lyra. “It is, en’t it?”
The goose turned his stately head toward her. His eyes were black, surrounded by a thin line of pure sky-blue, and their gaze was intense.
“Yes,” he said. “Witches have known of the other worlds for thousands of years. You can see them sometimes in the Northern Lights. They aren’t part of this universe at all; even the furthest stars are part of this universe, but the lights show us a different universe entirely. Not further away, but interpenetrating with this one. Here, on this deck, millions of other universes exist, unaware of one another….”
He raised his wings and spread them wide before folding them again.
“There,” he said, “I have just brushed ten million other worlds, and they knew nothing of it. We are as close as a heartbeat, but we can never touch or see or hear these other worlds except in the Northern Lights.”
“And why there?” said Farder Coram.
“Because the charged particles in the Aurora have the property of making the matter of this world thin, so that we can see through it for a brief time. Witches have always known this, but we seldom speak of it.”
“My father believes in it,” Lyra said. “I know because I heard him talking and showing pictures of the Aurora.”
“Is this anything to do with Dust?” said John Faa.
“Who can say?” said the goose daemon. “All I can tell you is that the Dust hunters are as frightened of it as if it were deadly poison. That is why they imprisoned Lord Asriel.”
“But why?” Lyra said.
“They think he intends to use Dust in some way in order to make a bridge between this world and the world beyond the Aurora.”
There was a lightness in Lyra’s head.
She heard Farder Coram say, “And does he?”
“Yes,” said the goose daemon. “They don’t believe he can, because they think he is mad to believe in the other worlds in the first place. But it is true: that is his intention. And he is so powerful a figure that they feared he would upset their own plans, so they made a pact with the armored bears to capture him and keep him imprisoned in the fortress of Svalbard, out of the way. Some say they helped the new bear king to gain his throne, as part of the bargain.”
Lyra said, “Do the witches want him to make this bridge? Are they on his side or against him?”
“That is a question with too complicated an answer. Firstly, the witches are not united. There are differences of opinion among us. Secondly, Lord Asriel’s bridge will have a bearing on a war being waged at the present between some witches and various other forces, some in the spirit world. Possession of the bridge, if it ever existed, would give a huge advantage to whoever held it. Thirdly, Serafina Pekkala’s clan – my clan – is not yet part of any alliance, though great pressure is being put on us to declare for one side or another. You see, these are questions of high politics, and not easily answered.”
“What about the bears?” said Lyra. “Whose side are they on?”
“On the side of anyone who pays them. They have no interest whatever in these questions; they have no daemons; they are unconcerned about human problems. At least, that is how bears used to be, but we have heard that their new king is intent on changing their old ways….At any rate, the Dust hunters have paid them to imprison Lord Asriel, and they will hold him on Svalbard until the last drop of blood drains from the body of the last bear alive.”
“But not all bears!” Lyra said. “There’s one who en’t on Svalbard at all. He’s an outcast bear, and he’s going to come with us.”
The goose gave Lyra another of his piercing looks. This time she could feel his cold surprise.
Farder Coram shifted uncomfortably, and said, “The fact is, Lyra, I don’t think he is. We heard he’s serving out a term as an indentured laborer; he en’t free, as we thought he might be, he’s under sentence. Till he’s discharged he won’t be free to come, armor or no armor; and he won’t never have that back, either.”
“But he said they tricked him! They made him drunk and stole it away!”
“We heard a different story,” said John Faa. “He’s a dangerous rogue, is what we heard.”
“If – ” Lyra was passionate; she could hardly speak for indignation. ” – if the alethiometer says something, I know it’s true. And I asked it, and it said that he was telling the truth, they did trick him, and they’re telling lies and not him. I believe him, Lord Faa! Farder Coram – you saw him too, and you believe him, don’t you?”
“I thought I did, child. I en’t so certain of things as you are.”
“But what are they afraid of? Do they think he’s going to go round killing people as soon’s he gets his armor on? He could kill dozens of ’em now!”
“He has done,” said John Faa. “Well, if not dozens, then some. When they first took his armor away, he went a rampaging round looking for it. He tore open the police house and the bank and I don’t know where else, and there’s at least two men who died. The only reason they didn’t shoot to kill him is because of his wondrous skill with metals; they wanted to use him like a laborer.”
“Like a slave!” Lyra said hotly. “They hadn’t got the right!”
“Be that as it may, they might have shot him for the killings he done, but they didn’t. And they bound him over to labor in the town’s interest until he’s paid off the damage and the blood money.”
“John,” said Farder Coram, “I don’t know how you feel, but it’s my belief they’ll never let him have that armor back. The longer they keep him, the more angry he’ll be when he gets it.”
“But if we get his armor back, he’ll come with us and never bother ’em again,” said Lyra. “I promise, Lord Faa.”
“And how are we going to do that?”
“I know where it is!”
There was a silence, in which they all three became aware of the witch’s daemon and his fixed stare at Lyra. All three turned to him, and their own daemons too, who had until then affected the extreme politeness of keeping their eyes modestly away from this singular creature, here without his body.
“You won’t be surprised,” said the goose, “to know that the alethiometer is one other reason the witches are interested in you, Lyra. Our consul told us about your visit this morning. I believe it was Dr. Lanselius who told you about the bear.”
“Yes, it was,” said John Faa. “And she and Farder Coram went theirselves and talked to him. I daresay what Lyra says is true, but if we go breaking the law of these people we’ll only get involved in a quarrel with them, and what we ought to be doing is pushing on towards this Bolvangar, bear or no bear.”
“Ah, but you en’t seen him, John,” said Farder Coram. “And I do believe Lyra. We could promise on his behalf, maybe. He might make all the difference.”
“What do you think, sir?” said John Faa to the witch’s daemon.
“We have few dealings with bears. Their desires are as strange to us as ours are to them. If this bear is an outcast, he might be less reliable than they are said to be. You must decide for yourselves.”
“We will,” said John Faa firmly. “But now, sir, can you tell us how to get to Bolvangar from here?”
The goose daemon began to explain. He spoke of valleys and hills, of the tree line and the tundra, of star sightings. Lyra listened awhile, and then lay back in the deck chair with Pantalaimon curled around her neck, and thought of the grand vision the goose daemon had brought with him. A bridge between two worlds…This was far more splendid than anything she could have hoped for! And only her great father could have conceived it. As soon as they had rescued the children, she would go to Svalbard with the bear and take Lord Asriel the alethiometer, and use it to help set him free; and they’d build the bridge together, and be the first across….
Sometime in the night John Faa must have carried Lyra to her bunk, because that was where she awoke. The dim sun was as high in the sky as it was going to get, only a hand’s breadth above the horizon, so it must be nearly noon, she thought. Soon, when they moved further north, there would be no sun at all.
She dressed quickly and ran on deck to find nothing very much happening. All the stores had been unloaded, sledges and dog teams had been hired and were waiting to go; everything was ready and nothing was moving. Most of the gyp-tians were sitting in a smoke-filled cafe facing the water, eating spice cakes and drinking strong sweet coffee at the long wooden tables under the fizz and crackle of some ancient anbaric lights.
“Where’s Lord Faa?” she said, sitting down with Tony Costa and his friends. “And Farder Coram? Are they getting the bear’s armor for him?”
“They’re a talking to the sysselman. That’s their word for governor. You seen this bear, then, Lyra?”
“Yeah!” she said, and explained all about him. As she talked, someone else pulled a chair up and joined the group at the table.
“So you’ve spoken to old lorek?” he said.
She looked at the newcomer with surprise. He was a tall, lean man with a thin black moustache and narrow blue eyes, and a perpetual expression of distant and sardonic amusement. She felt strongly about him at once, but she wasn’t sure whether it was liking she felt, or dislike. His daemon was a shabby hare as thin and tough-looking as he was.
He held out his hand and she shook it warily.
“Lee Scoresby,” he said.
“The aeronaut!” she exclaimed. “Where’s your balloon? Can I go up in it?”
“It’s packed away right now, miss. You must be the famous Lyra. How did you get on with lorek Byrnison?”
“You know him?”
“I fought beside him in the Tunguska campaign. Hell, I’ve known lorek for years. Bears are difficult critters no matter what, but he’s a problem, and no mistake. Say, are any of you gentlemen in the mood for a game of hazard?”
A pack of cards had appeared from nowhere in his hand. He riffled them with a snapping noise.
“Now I’ve heard of the card power of your people,” Lee Scoresby was saying, cutting and folding the cards over and over with one hand and fishing a cigar out of his breast pocket with the other, “and I thought you wouldn’t object to giving a simple Texan traveler the chance to joust with your skill and daring on the field of pasteboard combat. What do you say, gentlemen?”
Gyptians prided themselves on their ability with cards, and several of the men looked interested and pulled their chairs up. While they were agreeing with Lee Scoresby what to play and for what stakes, his daemon flicked her ears at Pantalaimon, who understood and leaped to her side lightly as a squirrel.
She was speaking for Lyra’s ears too, of course, and Lyra heard her say quietly, “Go straight to the bear and tell him direct. As soon as they know what’s going on, they’ll move his armor somewhere else.”
Lyra got up, taking her spice cake with her, and no one noticed; Lee Scoresby was already dealing the cards, and every suspicious eye was on his hands.
In the dull light, fading through an endless afternoon, she found her way to the sledge depot. It was something she knew she had to do, but she felt uneasy about it, and afraid, too.
Outside the largest of the concrete sheds the great bear was working, and Lyra stood by the open gate to watch. lorek Byrnison was dismantling a gas-engined tractor that had crashed; the metal covering of the engine was twisted and buckled and one runner bent upward. The bear lifted the metal off as if it were cardboard, and turned it this way and that in his great hands, seeming to test it for some quality or other, before setting a rear paw on one corner and then bending the whole sheet in such a way that the dents sprang out and the shape was restored. Leaning it against the wall, he lifted the massive weight of the tractor with one paw and laid it on its side before bending to examine the crumpled runner.
As he did so, he caught sight of Lyra. She felt a bolt of cold fear strike at her, because he was so massive and so alien. She was gazing through the chain-link fence about forty yards from him, and she thought how he could clear the distance in a bound or two and sweep the wire aside like a cobweb, and she almost turned and ran away; but Pantalaimon said, “Stop! Let me go and talk to him.”
He was a tern, and before she could answer he’d flown off the fence and down to the icy ground beyond it. There was an open gate a little way along, and Lyra could have followed him, but she hung back uneasily. Pantalaimon looked at her, and then became a badger.
She knew what he was doing. Daemons could move no more than a few yards from their humans, and if she stood by the fence and he remained a bird, he wouldn’t get near the bear; so he was going to pull.
She felt angry and miserable. His badger claws dug into the earth and he walked forward. It was such a strange tormenting feeling when your daemon was pulling at the link between you; part physical pain deep in the chest, part intense sadness and love. And she knew it was the same for him. Everyone tested it when they were growing up: seeing how far they could pull apart, coming back with intense relief.
He tugged a little harder.
But he didn’t stop. The bear watched, motionless. The pain in Lyra’s heart grew more and more unbearable, and a sob of longing rose in her throat.
“Pan – ”
Then she was through the gate, scrambling over the icy mud toward him, and he turned into a wildcat and sprang up into her arms, and they were clinging together tightly with little shaky sounds of unhappiness coming from them both.
“I thought you really would – ”
“No – ”
“I couldn’t believe how much it hurt – ”
And then she brushed the tears away angrily and sniffed hard. He nestled in her arms, and she knew she would rather die than let them be parted and face that sadness again; it would send her mad with grief and terror. If she died, they’d still be together, like the Scholars in the crypt at Jordan.
Then girl and daemon looked up at the solitary bear. He had no daemon. He was alone, always alone. She felt such a stir of pity and gentleness for him that she almost reached out to touch his matted pelt, and only a sense of courtesy toward those cold ferocious eyes prevented her.
“lorek Byrnison,” she said.
“Lord Faa and Farder Coram have gone to try and get your armor for you.”
He didn’t move or speak. It was clear what he thought of their chances.
“I know where it is, though,” she said, “and if I told you, maybe you could get it by yourself, I don’t know.”
“How do you know where it is?”
“I got a symbol reader. I think I ought to tell you, lorek Byrnison, seeing as they tricked you out of it in the first place. I don’t think that’s right. They shouldn’t’ve done that. Lord Faa’s going to argue with the sysselman, but probably they won’t let you have it whatever he says. So if I tell you, will you come with us and help rescue the kids from Bolvangar?”
“I…” She didn’t mean to be nosy, but she couldn’t help being curious. She said, “Why don’t you just make some more armor out of this metal here, lorek Byrnison?”
“Because it’s worthless. Look,” he said, and, lifting the engine cover with one paw, he extended a claw on the other hand and ripped right through it like a can opener. “My armor is made of sky iron, made for me. A bear’s armor is his soul, just as your daemon is your soul. You might as well take him away” – indicating Pantalaimon – “and replace him with a doll full of sawdust. That is the difference. Now, where is my armor?”
“Listen, you got to promise not to take vengeance. They done wrong taking it, but you just got to put up with that.”
“All right. No vengeance afterwards. But no holding back as I take it, either. If they fight, they die.”
“It’s hidden in the cellar of the priest’s house,” she told him. “He thinks there’s a spirit in it, and he’s been a trying to conjure it out. But that’s where it is.”
He stood high up on his hind legs and looked west, so that the last of the sun colored his face a creamy brilliant yellow white amid the gloom. She could feel the power of the great creature coming off him like waves of heat.
“I must work till sunset,” he said. “I gave my word this morning to the master here. I still owe a few minutes’ work.”
“The sun’s set where I am,” she pointed out, because from her point of view it had vanished behind the rocky headland to the southwest.
He dropped to all fours.
“It’s true,” he said, with his face now in shadow like hers. “What’s your name, child?”
“Then I owe you a debt, Lyra Belacqua,” he said.
He turned and lurched away, padding so swiftly across the freezing ground that Lyra couldn’t keep up, even running. She did run, though, and Pantalaimon flew up as a seagull to watch where the bear went and called down to tell her where to follow.
Iorek Byrnison bounded out of the depot and along the narrow street before turning into the main street of the town, past the courtyard of the sysselman’s residence where a flag hung in the still air and a sentry marched stiffly up and down, down the hill past the end of the street where the witch consul lived. The sentry by this time had realized what was happening, and was trying to gather his wits, but lorek Byrnison was already turning a corner near the harbor.
People stopped to watch or scuttled out of his careering way. The sentry fired two shots in the air, and set off down the hill after the bear, spoiling the effect by skidding on the icy slope and only regaining his balance after seizing the nearest railings. Lyra was not far behind. As she passed the syssel-man’s house, she was aware of a number of figures coming out into the courtyard to see what was going on, and thought she saw Farder Coram among them; but then she was past, hurtling down the street toward the corner where the sentry was already turning to follow the bear.
The priest’s house was older than most, and made of costly bricks. Three steps led up to the front door, which was now hanging in matchwood splinters, and from inside the house came screams and the crashing and tearing of more wood. The sentry hesitated outside, his rifle at the ready; but then as passers-by began to gather and people looked out of windows from across the street, he realized that he had to act, and fired a shot into the air before running in.
A moment later, the whole house seemed to shake. Glass broke in three windows and a tile slid off the roof, and then a maidservant ran out, terrified, her clucking hen of a daemon flapping after her.
Another shot came from inside the house, and then a full-throated roar made the servant scream. As if fired from a cannon, the priest himself came hurtling out, with his pelican daemon in a wild flutter of feathers and injured pride. Lyra heard orders shouted, and turned to see a squad of armed policemen hurrying around the corner, some with pistols and some with rifles, and not far behind them came John Faa and the stout, fussy figure of the sysselman.
A rending, splintering sound made them all look back at the house. A window at ground level, obviously opening on a cellar, was being wrenched apart with a crash of glass and a screech of tearing wood. The sentry who’d followed lorek Byrnison into the house came running out and stood to face the cellar window, rifle at his shoulder; and then the window tore open completely, and out climbed lorek Byrnison, the bear in armor.
Without it, he was formidable. With it, he was terrifying. It was rust-red, and crudely riveted together: great sheets and plates of dented discolored metal that scraped and screeched as they rode over one another. The helmet was pointed like his muzzle, with slits for eyes, and it left the lower part of his jaw bare for tearing and biting.
The sentry fired several shots, and the policemen leveled their weapons too, but lorek Byrnison merely shook the bullets off like raindrops, and lunged forward in a screech and clang of metal before the sentry could escape, and knocked him to the ground. His daemon, a husky dog, darted at the bear’s throat, but lorek Byrnison took no more notice of him than he would of a fly, and dragging the sentry to him with one vast paw, he bent and enclosed his head in his jaws. Lyra could see exactly what would happen next: he’d crush the man’s skull like an egg, and there would follow a bloody fight, more deaths, and more delay; and they would never get free, with or without the bear.
Without even thinking, she darted forward and put her hand on the one vulnerable spot in the bear’s armor, the gap that appeared between the helmet and the great plate over his shoulders when he bent his head, where she could see the yellow-white fur dimly between the rusty edges of metal. She dug her fingers in, and Pantalaimon instantly flew to the same spot and became a wildcat, crouched to defend her; but lorek Byrnison was still, and the riflemen held their fire.
“lorek!” she said in a fierce undertone. “Listen! You owe me a debt, right. Well, now you can repay it. Do as I ask. Don’t fight these men. Just turn around and walk away with me. We want you, lorek, you can’t stay here. Just come down to the harbor with me and don’t even look back. Farder Coram and Lord Faa, let them do the talking, they’ll make it all right. Leave go this man and come away with me….”
The bear slowly opened his jaws. The sentry’s head, bleeding and wet and ash-pale, fell to the ground as he fainted, and his dsmon set about calming and gentling him as the bear stepped away beside Lyra.
No one else moved. They watched the bear turn away from his victim at the bidding of the girl with the cat daemon, and then they shuffled aside to make room as lorek Byrnison padded heavily through the midst of them at Lyra’s side and made for the harbor.
Her mind was all on him, and she didn’t see the confusion behind her, the fear and the anger that rose up safely when he was gone. She walked with him, and Pantalaimon padded ahead of them both as if to clear the way.
When they reached the harbor, lorek Byrnison dipped his head and unfastened the helmet with a claw, letting it clang on the frozen ground. Gyptians came out of the cafe, having sensed that something was going on, and watched in the gleam of the anbaric lights on the ship’s deck as lorek Byrnison shrugged off the rest of his armor and left it in a heap on the quayside. Without a word to anyone he padded to the water and slipped into it without a ripple, and vanished.
“What’s happened?” said Tony Costa, hearing the indignant voices from the streets above, as the townsfolk and the police made their way to the harbor.
Lyra told him, as clearly as she could.
“But where’s he gone now?” he said. “He en’t just left his armor on the ground? They’ll have it back, as soon’s they get here!”
Lyra was afraid they might, too, for around the corner came the first policemen, and then more, and then the sysselman and the priest and twenty or thirty onlookers, with John Faa and Farder Coram trying to keep up.
But when they saw the group on the quayside they stopped, for someone else had appeared. Sitting on the bear’s armor with one ankle resting on the opposite knee was the long-limbed form of Lee Scoresby, and in his hand was the longest pistol Lyra had ever seen, casually pointing at the ample stomach of the sysselman.
“Seems to me you ain’t taken very good care of my friend’s armor,” he said conversationally. “Why, look at the rust! And I wouldn’t be surprised to find moths in it, too. Now you just stand where you are, still and easy, and don’t anybody move till the bear comes back with some lubrication. Or I guess you could all go home and read the newspaper. ‘S up to you.”
“There he is!” said Tony, pointing to a ramp at the far end of the quay, where lorek Byrnison was emerging from the water, dragging something dark with him. Once he was up on the quayside he shook himself, sending great sheets of water flying in all directions, till his fur was standing up thickly again. Then he bent to take the black object in his teeth once more and dragged it along to where his armor lay. It was a dead seal.
“lorek,” said the aeronaut, standing up lazily and keeping his pistol firmly fixed on the sysselman. “Howdy.”
The bear looked up and growled briefly, before ripping the seal open with one claw. Lyra watched fascinated as he laid the skin out flat and tore off strips of blubber, which he then rubbed all over his armor, packing it carefully into the places where the plates moved over one another.
“Are you with these people?” the bear said to Lee Scoresby as he worked.
“Sure. I guess we’re both hired hands, lorek.”
“Where’s your balloon?” said Lyra to the Texan.
“Packed away in two sledges,” he said. “Here comes the boss.”
John Faa and Farder Coram, together with the sysselman, came down the quay with four armed policemen.
“Bear!” said the sysselman, in a high, harsh voice. “For now, you are allowed to depart in the company of these people. But let me tell you that if you appear within the town limits again, you will be treated mercilessly.”
lorek Byrnison took not the slightest notice, but continued to rub the seal blubber all over his armor, the care and attention he was paying the task reminding Lyra of her own devotion to Pantalaimon. Just as the bear had said: the armor was his soul. The sysselman and the policemen withdrew, and slowly the other townspeople turned and drifted away, though a few remained to watch.
John Faa put his hands to his mouth and called: “Gyptians!”
They were all ready to move. They had been itching to get under way ever since they had disembarked; the sledges were packed, the dog teams were in their traces.
John Faa said, “Time to move out, friends. We’re all assembled now, and the road lies open. Mr. Scoresby, you all a loaded?”
“Ready to go, Lord Faa.”
“And you, lorek Byrnison?”
“When I am clad,” said the bear.
He had finished oiling the armor. Not wanting to waste the seal meat, he lifted the carcass in his teeth and flipped it onto the back of Lee Scoresby’s larger sledge before donning the armor. It was astonishing to see how lightly he dealt with it: the sheets of metal were almost an inch thick in places, and yet he swung them round and into place as if they were silk robes. It took him less than a minute, and this time there was no harsh scream of rust.
So in less than half an hour, the expedition was on its way northward. Under a sky peopled with millions of stars and a glaring moon, the sledges bumped and clattered over the ruts and stones until they reached clear snow at the edge of town. Then the sound changed to a quiet crunch of snow and creak of timber, and the dogs began to step out eagerly, and the motion became swift and smooth.
Lyra, wrapped up so thickly in the back of Farder Coram’s sledge that only her eyes were exposed, whispered to Pantalaimon:
“Can you see lorek?”
“He’s padding along beside Lee Scoresby’s sledge,” the daemon replied, looking back in his ermine form as he clung to her wolverine-fur hood.
Ahead of them, over the mountains to the north, the pale arcs and loops of the Northern Lights began to glow and tremble. Lyra saw through half-closed eyes, and felt a sleepy thrill of perfect happiness, to be speeding north under the Aurora. Pantalaimon struggled against her sleepiness, but it was too strong; he curled up as a mouse inside her hood. He could tell her when they woke, and it was probably a marten, or a dream, or some kind of harmless local spirit; but something was following the train of sledges, swinging lightly from branch to branch of the close-clustering pine trees, and it put him uneasily in mind of a monkey.
To be continued….
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