Home > The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2)(11)

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2)(11)
Author: Philip Pullman

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

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

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

Serafina said, “Have you been married, Mr. Scoresby? Have you any children?”

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

“Thank you, Mr. Scoresby,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I shall search for Lord Asriel, and learn what he’s doing from his own lips. And it seems that the way he’s gone is northward too. May I come the first part of the journey with you, sister?”

“You may, and welcome,” said Serafina, who was glad to have her company.

So they agreed.

But soon after the council had broken up, an elderly witch came to Serafina Pekkala and said, “You had better listen to what Juta Kamainen has to say, Queen. She’s headstrong, but it might be important.”

The young witch Juta Kamainen—young by witch standards, that is; she was only just over a hundred years old—was stubborn and embarrassed, and her robin dæmon was agitated, flying from her shoulder to her hand and circling high above her before settling again briefly on her shoulder. The witch’s cheeks were plump and red; she had a vivid and passionate nature. Serafina didn’t know her well.

“Queen,” said the young witch, unable to stay silent under Serafina’s gaze, “I know the man Stanislaus Grumman. I used to love him. But I hate him now with such a fervor that if I see him, I shall kill him. I would have said nothing, but my sister made me tell you.”

She glanced with hatred at the elder witch, who returned her look with compassion: she knew about love.

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

“Yes, Queen,” said the young witch humbly.

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



Lyra was awake early.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked at her plate and said, “No, I’ll have some cereal. There’s still some milk in the fridge that’s all right. They can’t have been gone very long, the people who lived here.”

She watched him shake corn flakes into a bowl and pour milk on them—something else she’d never seen before.

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

“Over a bridge. My father made this bridge, and . . . I followed him across. But he’s gone somewhere else, I don’t know where. I don’t care. But while I was walking across there was so much fog, and I got lost, I think. I walked around in the fog for days just eating berries and stuff I found. Then one day the fog cleared, and we was up on that cliff back there—”

She gestured behind her. Will looked along the shore, past the lighthouse, and saw the coast rising in a great series of cliffs that disappeared into the haze of the distance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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