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The Golden Compass Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen

Fencing

Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no daemon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense.

So Lyra clung to Pantalaimon and her head swam and her gorge rose, and cold as the night was, a sickly sweat moistened her flesh with something colder still.

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“Ratter,” said the boy. “You got my Ratter?”

Lyra was in no doubt what he meant.

“No,” she said in a voice as frail and frightened as she felt. Then, “What’s your name?”

“Tony Makarios,” he said. “Where’s Ratter?”

“I don’t know…” she began, and swallowed hard to govern her nausea. “The Gobblers…” But she couldn’t finish. She had to go out of the shed and sit down by herself in the snow, except that of course she wasn’t by herself, she was never by herself, because Pantalaimon was always there. Oh, to be cut from him as this little boy had been parted from his Ratter! The worst thing in the world! She found herself sobbing, and Pantalaimon was whimpering too, and in both of them there was a passionate pity and sorrow for the half-boy.

Then she got to her feet again.

“Come on,” she called in a trembling voice. “Tony, come out. We’re going to take you somewhere safe.”

There was a stir of movement in the fish house, and he appeared at the door, still clutching his dried fish. He was dressed in warm enough garments, a thickly padded and quilted coal-silk anorak and fur boots, but they had a secondhand look and didn’t fit well. In the wider light outside that came from the faint trails of the Aurora and the snow-covered ground he looked more lost and piteous even than he had at first, crouching in the lantern light by the fish racks.

The villager who’d brought the lantern had retreated a few yards, and called down to them.

lorek Byrnison interpreted: “He says you must pay for that fish.”

Lyra felt like telling the bear to kill him, but she said, “We’re taking the child away for them. They can afford to give one fish to pay for that.”

The bear spoke. The man muttered, but didn’t argue. Lyra set his lantern down in the snow and took the half-boy’s hand to guide him to the bear. He came helplessly, showing no surprise and no fear at the great white beast standing so close, and when Lyra helped him to sit on lorek’s back, all he said was:

“I dunno where my Ratter is.”

“No, nor do we, Tony,” she said. “But we’ll…we’ll punish the Gobblers. We’ll do that, I promise. lorek, is it all right if I sit up there too?”

“My armor weighs far more than children,” he said.

So she scrambled up behind Tony and made him cling to the long stiff fur, and Pantalaimon sat inside her hood, warm and close and full of pity. Lyra knew that Pantalaimon’s impulse was to reach out and cuddle the little half-child, to lick him and gentle him and warm him as his own daemon would have done; but the great taboo prevented that, of course.

They rose through the village and up toward the ridge, and the villagers’ faces were open with horror and a kind of fearful relief at seeing that hideously mutilated creature taken away by a girl and a great white bear.

In Lyra’s heart, revulsion struggled with compassion, and compassion won. She put her arms around the skinny little form to hold him safe. The journey back to the main party was colder, and harder, and darker, but it seemed to pass more quickly for all that. lorek Byrnison was tireless, and Lyra’s riding became automatic, so that she was never in danger of falling off. The cold body in her arms was so light that in one way he was easy to manage, but he was inert; he sat stiffly without moving as the bear moved, so in another way he was difficult too.

From time to time the half-boy spoke.

“What’s that you said?” asked Lyra.

“I says is she gonna know where I am?”

“Yeah, she’ll know, she’ll find you and we’ll find her. Hold on tight now, Tony. It en’t far from here….”

The bear loped onward. Lyra had no idea how tired she was until they caught up with the gyptians. The sledges had stopped to rest the dogs, and suddenly there they all were, Farder Coram, Lord Faa, Lee Scoresby, all lunging forward to help and then falling back silent as they saw the other figure with Lyra. She was so stiff that she couldn’t even loosen her arms around his body, and John Faa himself had to pull them gently open and lift her off.

“Gracious God, what is this?” he said. “Lyra, child, what have you found?”

“He’s called Tony,” she mumbled through frozen lips. “And they cut his daemon away. That’s what the Gobblers do.”

The men held back, fearful; but the bear spoke, to Lyra’s weary amazement, chiding them.

“Shame on you! Think what this child has done! You might not have more courage, but you should be ashamed to show less.”

“You’re right, lorek Byrnison,” said John Faa, and turned to give orders. “Build that fire up and heat some soup for the child. For both children. Farder Coram, is your shelter rigged?”

“It is, John. Bring her over and we’ll get her warm….”

“And the little boy,” said someone else. “He can eat and get warm, even if…”

Lyra was trying to tell John Faa about the witches, but they were all so busy, and she was so tired. After a confusing few minutes full of lantern light, woodsmoke, figures hurrying to and fro, she felt a gentle nip on her ear from Pantalaimon’s ermine teeth, and woke to find the bear’s face a few inches from hers.

“The witches,” Pantalaimon whispered. “I called lorek.”

“Oh yeah,” she mumbled. “lorek, thank you for taking me there and back. I might not remember to tell Lord Faa about the witches, so you better do that instead of me.”

She heard the bear agree, and then she fell asleep properly.

When she woke up, it was as close to daylight as it was ever going to get. The sky was pale in the southeast, and the air was suffused with a gray mist, through which the gyptians moved like bulky ghosts, loading sledges and harnessing dogs to the traces.

She saw it all from the shelter on Farder Coram’s sledge, inside which she lay under a heap of furs. Pantalaimon was fully awake before she was, trying the shape of an arctic fox before reverting to his favorite ermine.

lorek Byrnison was asleep in the snow nearby, his head on his great paws; but Farder Coram was up and busy, and as soon as he saw Pantalaimon emerge, he limped across to wake Lyra properly.

She saw him coming, and sat up to speak.

“Farder Coram, I know what it was that I couldn’t understand! The alethiometer kept saying bird and not, and that didn’t make sense, because it meant no daemon and I didn’t see how it could be….What is it?”

“Lyra, I’m afraid to tell you this after what you done, but that little boy died an hour ago. He couldn’t settle, he couldn’t stay in one place; he kept asking after his daemon, where she was, was she a coming soon, and all; and he kept such a tight hold on that bare old piece of fish as if…Oh, I can’t speak of it, child; but he closed his eyes finally and fell still, and that was the first time he looked peaceful, for he was like any other dead person then, with their daemon gone in the course of nature. They’ve been a trying to dig a grave for him, but the earth’s bound like iron. So John Faa ordered a fire built, and they’re a going to cremate him, so as not to have him despoiled by carrion eaters.

“Child, you did a brave thing and a good thing, and I’m proud of you. Now we know what terrible wickedness those people are capable of, we can see our duty plainer than ever. What you must do is rest and eat, because you fell asleep too soon to restore yourself last night, and you have to eat in these temperatures to stop yourself getting weak….”

He was fussing around, tucking the furs into place, tightening the tension rope across the body of the sledge, running the traces through his hands to untangle them.

“Farder Coram, where is the little boy now? Have they burned him yet?”

“No, Lyra, he’s a lying back there.”

“I want to go and see him.”

He couldn’t refuse her that, for she’d seen worse than a dead body, and it might calm her. So with Pantalaimon as a white hare bounding delicately at her side, she trudged along the line of sledges to where some men were piling brushwood.

The boy’s body lay under a checkered blanket beside the path. She knelt and lifted the blanket in her mittened hands. One man was about to stop her, but the others shook their heads.

Pantalaimon crept close as Lyra looked down on the poor wasted face. She slipped her hand out of the mitten and touched his eyes. They were marble-cold, and Farder Coram had been right; poor little Tony Makarios was no different from any other human whose daemon had departed in death. Oh, if they took Pantalaimon from her! She swept him up and hugged him as if she meant to press him right into her heart. And all little Tony had was his pitiful piece offish….

Where was it?

She pulled the blanket down. It was gone.

She was on her feet in a moment, and her eyes flashed fury at the men nearby.

“Where’s his fish?”

They stopped, puzzled, unsure what she meant; though some of their daemons knew, and looked at one another. One of the men began to grin uncertainly.

“Don’t you dare laugh! I’ll tear your lungs out if you laugh at him! That’s all he had to cling onto, just an old dried fish, that’s all he had for a daemon to love and be kind to! Who’s took it from him? Where’s it gone?”

Pantalaimon was a snarling snow leopard, just like Lord Asriel’s daemon, but she didn’t see that; all she saw was right and wrong.

“Easy, Lyra,” said one man. “Easy, child.”

“Who’s took it?” she flared again, and the gyptian took a step back from her passionate fury.

“I didn’t know,” said another man apologetically. “I thought it was just what he’d been eating. I took it out his hand because I thought it was more respectful. That’s all, Lyra.”

“Then where is it?”

The man said uneasily, “Not thinking he had a need for it, I gave it to my dogs. I do beg your pardon.”

“It en’t my pardon you need, it’s his,” she said, and turned at once to kneel again, and laid her hand on the dead child’s icy cheek.

Then an idea came to her, and she fumbled inside her furs. The cold air struck through as she opened her anorak, but in a few seconds she had what she wanted, and took a gold coin from her purse before wrapping herself close again.

“I want to borrow your knife,” she said to the man who’d taken the fish, and when he’d let her have it, she said to Pantalaimon: “What was her name?”

He understood, of course, and said, “Ratter.”

She held the coin tight in her left mittened hand and, holding the knife like a pencil, scratched the lost daemon’s name deeply into the gold.

“I hope that’ll do, if I provide for you like a Jordan Scholar,” she whispered to the dead boy, and forced his teeth apart to slip the coin into his mouth. It was hard, but she managed it, and managed to close his jaw again.

Then she gave the man back his knife and turned in the morning twilight to go back to Farder Coram.

He gave her a mug of soup straight off the fire, and she sipped it greedily.

“What we going to do about them witches, Farder Coram?” she said. “I wonder if your witch was one of them.”

“My witch? I wouldn’t presume that far, Lyra. They might be going anywhere. There’s all kinds of concerns that play on the life of witches, things invisible to us: mysterious sicknesses they fall prey to, which we’d shrug off; causes of war quite beyond our understanding; joys and sorrows bound up with the flowering of tiny plants up on the tundra….But I wish I’d seen them a flying, Lyra. I wish I’d been able to see a sight like that. Now drink up all that soup. D’you want some more? There’s some pan-bread a cooking too. Eat up, child, because we’re on our way soon.”

The food revived Lyra, and presently the chill at her soul began to melt. With the others, she went to watch the little half-child laid on his funeral pyre, and bowed her head and closed her eyes for John Faa’s prayers; and then the men sprinkled coal spirit and set matches to it, and it was blazing in a moment.

Once they were sure he was safely burned, they set off to travel again. It was a ghostly journey. Snow began to fall early on, and soon the world was reduced to the gray shadows of the dogs ahead, the lurching and creaking of the sledge, the biting cold, and a swirling sea of big flakes only just darker than the sky and only just lighter than the ground.

Through it all the dogs continued to run, tails high, breath puffing steam. North and further north they ran, while the pallid noontide came and went and the twilight wrapped itself again around the world. They stopped to eat and drink and rest in a fold of the hills, and to get their bearings, and while John Faa talked to Lee Scoresby about the way they might best use the balloon, Lyra thought of the spy-fly; and she asked Farder Coram what had happened to the smokeleaf tin he’d trapped it in.

“I’ve got it tucked away tight,” he said. “It’s down in the bottom of that kit bag, but there’s nothing to see; I soldered it shut on board ship, like I said I would. I don’t know what we’re a going to do with it, to tell you the truth; maybe we could drop it down a fire mine, maybe that would settle it. But you needn’t worry, Lyra. While I’ve got it, you’re safe.” The first chance she had, she plunged her arm down into the stiffly frosted canvas of the kit bag and brought up the little tin. She could feel the buzz it was making before she touched it.

While Farder Coram was talking to the other leaders, she took the tin to lorek Byrnison and explained her idea. It had come to her when she remembered his slicing so easily through the metal of the engine cover.

He listened, and then took the lid of a biscuit tin and deftly folded it into a small flat cylinder. She marveled at the skill of his hands: unlike most bears, he and his kin had opposable thumb claws with which they could hold things still to work on them; and he had some innate sense of the strength and flexibility of metals which meant that he only had to lift it once or twice, flex it this way and that, and he could run a claw over it in a circle to score it for folding. He did this now, folding the sides in and in until they stood in a raised rim and then making a lid to fit it. At Lyra’s bidding he made two: one the same size as the original smokeleaf tin, and another just big enough to contain the tin itself and a quantity of hairs and bits of moss and lichen all packed down tight to smother the noise. When it was closed, it was the same size and shape as the alethiometer.

When that was done, she sat next to lorek Byrnison as he gnawed a haunch of reindeer that was frozen as hard as wood.

“lorek,” she said, “is it hard not having a daemon? Don’t you get lonely?”

“Lonely?” he said. “I don’t know. They tell me this is cold. I don’t know what cold is, because I don’t freeze. So I don’t know what lonely means either. Bears are made to be solitary.”

“What about the Svalbard bears?” she said. “There’s thousands of them, en’t there? That’s what I heard.”

He said nothing, but ripped the joint in half with a sound like a splitting log.

“Beg pardon, lorek,” she said. “I hope I en’t offended you. It’s just that I’m curious. See, I’m extra curious about the Svalbard bears because of my father.”

“Who is your father?”

“Lord Asriel. And they got him captive on Svalbard, you see. I think the Gobblers betrayed him and paid the bears to keep him in prison.”

“I don’t know. I am not a Svalbard bear.”

“I thought you was….”

“No. I was a Svalbard bear, but I am not now. I was sent away as a punishment because I killed another bear. So I was deprived of my rank and my wealth and my armor and sent out to live at the edge of the human world and fight when I could find employment at it, or work at brutal tasks and drown my memory in raw spirits.”

“Why did you kill the other bear?”

“Anger. There are ways among bears of turning away our anger with each other, but I was out of my own control. So I killed him and I was justly punished.”

“And you were wealthy and high-ranking,” said Lyra, marveling. “Just like my father, lorek! That’s just the same with him after I was born. He killed someone too and they took all his wealth away. That was long before he got made a prisoner on Svalbard, though. I don’t know anything about Svalbard, except it’s in the farthest North….Is it all covered in ice? Can you get there over the frozen sea?”

“Not from this coast. The sea is sometimes frozen south of it, sometimes not. You would need a boat.”

“Or a balloon, maybe.”

“Or a balloon, yes, but then you would need the right wind.”

He gnawed the reindeer haunch, and a wild notion flew into Lyra’s mind as she remembered all those witches in the night sky; but she said nothing about that. Instead she asked lorek Byrnison about Svalbard, and listened eagerly as he told her of the slow-crawling glaciers, of the rocks and ice floes where the bright-tusked walruses lay in groups of a hundred or more, of the seas teeming with seals, of narwhals clashing their long white tusks above the icy water, of the great grim iron-bound coast, the cliffs a thousand feet and more high where the foul cliff-ghasts perched and swooped, the coal pits and the fire mines where the bearsmiths hammered out mighty sheets of iron and riveted them into armor…

“If they took your armor away, lorek, where did you get this set from?”

“I made it myself in Nova Zembla from sky metal. Until I did that, I was incomplete.”

“So bears can make their own souls…” she said. There was a great deal in the world to know. “Who is the king of Svalbard?” she went on. “Do bears have a king?”

“He is called lofur Raknison.”

That name shook a little bell in Lyra’s mind. She’d heard it before, but where? And not in a bear’s voice, either, nor in a gyptian’s. The voice that had spoken it was a Scholar’s, precise and pedantic and lazily arrogant, very much a Jordan College voice. She tried it again in her mind. Oh, she knew it so well!

And then she had it: the Retiring Room. The Scholars listening to Lord Asriel. It was the Palmerian Professor who had said something about lofur Raknison. He’d used the word panserbj0rne, which Lyra didn’t know, and she hadn’t known that lofur Raknison was a bear; but what was it he’d said? The king of Svalbard was vain, and he could be flattered. There was something else, if only she could remember it, but so much had happened since then….

“If your father is a prisoner of the Svalbard bears,” said lorek Byrnison, “he will not escape. There is no wood there to make a boat. On the other hand, if he is a nobleman, he will be treated fairly. They will give him a house to live in and a servant to wait on him, and food and fuel.”

“Could the bears ever be defeated, lorek?”

“No.”

“Or tricked, maybe?”

He stopped gnawing and looked at her directly. Then he said, “You will never defeat the armored bears. You have seen my armor; now look at my weapons.”

He dropped the meat and held out his paws, palm upward, for her to look at. Each black pad was covered in horny skin an inch or more thick, and each of the claws was as long as Lyra’s hand at least, and as sharp as a knife. He let her run her hands over them wonderingly.

“One blow will crush a seal’s skull,” he said. “Or break a man’s back, or tear off a limb. And I can bite. If you had not stopped me in Trollesund, I would have crushed that man’s head like an egg. So much for strength; now for trickery. You cannot trick a bear. You want to see proof? Take a stick and fence with me.”

Eager to try, she snapped a stick off a snow-laden bush, trimmed all the side shoots off, and swished it from side to side like a rapier. lorek Byrnison sat back on his haunches and waited, forepaws in his lap. When she was ready, she faced him, but she didn’t like to stab at him because he looked so peaceable. So she flourished it, feinting to right and left, not intending to hit him at all, and he didn’t move. She did that several times, and not once did he move so much as an inch.

Finally she decided to thrust at him directly, not hard, but just to touch the stick to his stomach. Instantly his paw reached forward and flicked the stick aside.

Surprised, she tried again, with the same result. He moved far more quickly and surely than she did. She tried to hit him in earnest, wielding the stick like a fencer’s foil, and not once did it land on his body. He seemed to know what she intended before she did, and when she lunged at his head, the great paw swept the stick aside harmlessly, and when she feinted, he didn’t move at all.

She became exasperated, and threw herself into a furious attack, jabbing and lashing and thrusting and stabbing, and never once did she get past those paws. They moved everywhere, precisely in time to parry, precisely at the right spot to block.

Finally she was frightened, and stopped. She was sweating inside her furs, out of breath, exhausted, and the bear still sat impassive. If she had had a real sword with a murderous point, he would have been quite unharmed.

“I bet you could catch bullets,” she said, and threw the stick away. “How do you do that?”

“By not being human,” he said. “That’s why you could never trick a bear. We see tricks and deceit as plain as arms and legs. We can see in a way humans have forgotten. But you know about this; you can understand the symbol reader.”

“That en’t the same, is it?” she said. She was more nervous of the bear now than when she had seen his anger.

“It is the same,” he said. “Adults can’t read it, as I understand. As I am to human fighters, so you are to adults with the symbol reader.”

“Yes, I suppose,” she said, puzzled and unwilling. “Does that mean I’ll forget how to do it when I grow up?”

“Who knows? I have never seen a symbol reader, nor anyone who could read them. Perhaps you are different from others.” He dropped to all fours again and went on gnawing his meat. Lyra had unfastened her furs, but now the cold was striking in again and she had to do them up. All in all, it was a disquieting episode. She wanted to consult the alethiome-ter there and then, but it was too cold, and besides, they were calling for her because it was time to move on. She took the tin boxes that lorek Byrnison had made, put the empty one back into Farder Coram’s kit bag, and put the one with the spy-fly in it together with the alethiometer in the pouch at her waist. She was glad when they were moving again.

The leaders had agreed with Lee Scoresby that when they reached the next stopping place, they would inflate his balloon and he would spy from the air. Naturally Lyra was eager to fly with him, and naturally it was forbidden; but she rode with him on the way there and pestered him with questions. “Mr. Scoresby, how would you fly to Svalbard?” “You’d need a dirigible with a gas engine, something like a zeppelin, or else a good south wind. But hell, I wouldn’t dare. Have you ever seen it? The bleakest barest most inhospitable godforsaken dead end of nowhere.”

“I was just wondering, if lorek Bymison wanted to go back…” “He’d be killed. lorek’s in exile. As soon as he set foot there, they’d tear him to pieces.”

“How do you inflate your balloon, Mr. Scoresby?” “Two ways. I can make hydrogen by pouring sulfuric acid onto iron filings. You catch the gas it gives off and gradually fill the balloon like that. The other way is to find a ground-gas vent near a fire mine. There’s a lot of gas under the ground here, and rock oil besides. I can make gas from rock oil, if I need to, and from coal as well; it’s not hard to make gas. But the quickest way is to use ground gas. A good vent will fill the balloon in an hour.”

“How many people can you carry?”

“Six, if I need to.”

“Could you carry lorek Byrnison in his armor?”

“I have done. I rescued him one time from the Tartars, when he was cut off and they were starving him out – that was in the Tunguska campaign; I flew in and took him off. Sounds easy, but hell, I had to calculate the weight of that old boy by guess-work. And then I had to bank on finding ground gas under the ice fort he’d made. But I could see what kind of ground it was from the air, and I reckoned we’d be safe in digging. See, to go down I have to let gas out of the balloon, and I can’t get airborne again without more. Anyway, we made it, armor and all.”

“Mr. Scoresby, you know the Tartars make holes in people’s heads?”

“Oh, sure. They’ve been doing that for thousands of years. In the Tunguska campaign we captured five Tartars alive, and three of them had holes in their skulls. One of them had two.”

“They do it to each other?”

“That’s right. First they cut partway around a circle of skin on the scalp, so they can lift up a flap and expose the bone. Then they cut a little circle of bone out of the skull, very carefully so they don’t penetrate the brain, and then they sew the scalp back over.”

“I thought they did it to their enemies!”

“Hell, no. It’s a great privilege. They do it so the gods can talk to them.”

“Did you ever hear of an explorer called Stanislaus Grumman?”

“Grumman? Sure. I met one of his team when I flew over the Yenisei River two years back. He was going to live among the Tartar tribes up that way. Matter of fact, I think he had that hole in the skull done. It was part of an initiation ceremony, but the man who told me didn’t know much about it.”

“So…If he was like an honorary Tartar, they wouldn’t have killed him?”

“Killed him? Is he dead then?”

“Yeah. I saw his head,” Lyra said proudly. “My father found it. I saw it when he showed it to the Scholars at Jordan College in Oxford. They’d scalped it, and all.”

“Who’d scalped it?”

“Well, the Tartars, that’s what the Scholars thought….But maybe it wasn’t.”

“It might not have been Grumman’s head,” said Lee Scoresby. “Your father might have been misleading the Scholars.”

“I suppose he might,” said Lyra thoughtfully. “He was asking them for money.”

“And when they saw the head, they gave him the money?”

“Yeah.”

“Good trick to play. People are shocked when they see a thing like that; they don’t like to look too close.”

“Especially Scholars,” said Lyra.

“Well, you’d know better than I would. But if that was Grumman’s head, I’ll bet it wasn’t the Tartars who scalped him. They scalp their enemies, not their own, and he was a Tartar by adoption.”

Lyra turned that over in her mind as they drove on. There were wide currents full of meaning flowing fast around her; the Gobblers and their cruelty, their fear of Dust, the city in the Aurora, her father in Svalbard, her mother….And where was she? The alethiometer, the witches flying northward. And poor little Tony Makarios; and the clockwork spy-fly; and lorek Byrnison’s uncanny fencing…

She fell asleep. And every hour they drew closer to Bolvangar.

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