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The Golden Compass

The Subtle Knife

The Amber Spyglass

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Lyra’s Oxford

The Science of
Philip Pullman’s
His Dark Materials



The Amber Spyglass

Excerpt One - Will and Miss Coulter

The Break

Ama climbed the path to the cave, as she'd done for many days now, bread and milk in the bag on her back, a heavy puzzlement in her heart. How in the world could she ever manage to reach the sleeping girl? Would the woman never leave the cave for more than a few minutes?

Ama came to the rock where the woman had told her to leave the food since she wasn't allowed in the cave anymore. She put down the bag, but she didn't go straight home; she climbed a little farther, up past the cave and through the thick rhododendrons, and farther up still to where the trees thinned out and the rainbows began.

This part of the valley was where the streams and cascades ran most confusingly: shafts of green-white water would sink into potholes and emerge a little lower down, or gush upward in splintered fountains, or divide into myriad streamlets, or swirl round and round trapped in a whirlpool. When the world was frozen, spears and shelves and columns of glassy ice grew over every surface, and under it all, the water could still be heard gushing and tinkling, and spray still escaped to the air for the rainbows to form.

Ama and her dæmon climbed up over the rock shelves and around the little cataracts, past the whirlpools and through the spectrum-tinted spray, until her hair and her eyelids and his squirrel fur were beaded all over with a million tiny pearls of moisture. The game was to get to the top without wiping your eyes, despite the temptation, and the sunlight sparkled and fractured into red, yellow, green, blue, and every color between right in front of Ama's eyes, but she mustn't wipe her hand across to see better until she got right to the top, or the game would be lost.

Kulang, her dæmon, sprang to a rock near the top of the little waterfall, and she knew he would turn at once to watch and make sure she didn't brush the moisture off her eyelashes - except that he didn't.

Instead he clung there, gazing forward.

Ama wiped her eyes, because the game was canceled by the surprise her dæmon was feeling. As she pulled herself up to look over the edge, she gasped and fell still, because she had never seen a creature like this one: a bear, but four times the size of the black bears in the forest, and ivory white, with a black nose and black eyes that glared down from the top of the waterfall, only an arm's length away from her.

"Who's that?" said the voice of a boy, and while Ama couldn't understand the words, she caught the sense easily enough.

After a moment the boy appeared next to the bear: fierce-looking, with frowning eyes and a jutting jaw. And was that a dæmon beside him, bird-shaped? It was unlike any dæmon she'd seen before, but there was nothing else it could be. It flew to Kulang and chirruped briefly: Friends. We shan't hurt you.

The great white bear had not moved at all.

"Come up," said the boy, and again her dæmon made sense of it for her.

Watching the bear with superstitious awe, she scrambled up to the top of the little waterfall and stood shyly on the rocks beside them. Kulang became a butterfly and settled for a moment on her cheek, but left it to flutter around the other dæmon, who sat still on the boy's hand.

"Will," he said, pointing to himself.

She responded, "Ama."

Each said the other's name, and very soon she grew less nervous, though Ama remained frightened of the boy almost more than of the bear: he had a horrible wound: two of his fingers were missing. She felt dizzy when she saw it.

The bear turned away and trod along the milky stream, occasionally lying down as if to cool himself in the water, which was so close to his own color. The boy's dæmon took to the air and darted and fluttered with Kulang among the rainbows, and slowly they began to understand each other.

And what should the boy be looking for but a cave, with a girl asleep?

The words tumbled out of her in response. "I know! I know where it is! And she's been kept asleep by a woman who says she is her mother, but no mother would be so cruel, would she? She makes her drink something to keep her asleep, but I have some herbs to make her wake up, if only I could get to her!"

She spoke so quickly that Will could only shrug and spread his hands. It took the dæmons a minute or more of talking before the understanding came into Will's mind.

"Iorek," he called, and the bear lumbered along the bed of the stream, licking his chops, for he had just swallowed a fish. "Iorek," Will said, "I think this girl is saying she knows where Lyra is. What I'll do is go with her to have a look, while you stay here and watch."

Iorek Byrnison said nothing, but stood foursquare in the stream as Will concealed his rucksack behind a rock and buckled on the knife before clambering down through the rainbows with Ama. Will had to brush his eyes frequently and peer through the dazzle to see where it was safe to put his feet, and the mist that filled the air was icy. No wonder Iorek was enjoying the water; Will could only imagine how much he had suffered from the heat of the journey.

When they reached the foot of the falls, Will settled the knife more comfortably at his waist and wiped the moisture out of his eyes once more. Ama indicated that they should go carefully and make no noise, and they walked in single file down the slope, between mossy rocks and great gnarled pine trunks where the dappled light danced intensely green and a billion tiny insects scraped and sang. Down, and farther down, and still the sunlight followed them, deep into the valley, while overhead the branches tossed unceasingly in a bright sky.

Then Ama halted. Will drew himself behind the massive bole of a cedar, and looked where she was pointing.

Through a tangle of leaves and branches he saw the side of a cliff rising up to the right, and partway up -

"Mrs. Coulter," he whispered, and his heart was beating fast.

It was just a brief movement, but he waited a moment, and then he saw her fully. She came out from behind a buttress in the rock and made a gesture as if she were throwing ashes or dust away, and then she reached forward and shook out a thick-leaved branch. Had she been sweeping the floor with it? Her hair was bound round with a scarf and her sleeves were rolled up. Will could never have imagined her looking so domestic.

But there was a flash of gold, and that vicious monkey appeared, leaping up to the woman's shoulder. Together, as if they suspected something, they looked all around, and suddenly Mrs. Coulter did not look domestic at all.

Ama was whispering urgently, and Will understood. She was afraid of the golden monkey, because he was so greedy and cruel; he liked to catch bats in the cave and tear their wings off while they were alive; and Ama wouldn't go near the cave when the woman was there - but she never left! What could they do?

"Does she have anyone else with her? No soldiers, or anything like that?" he said.

But Ama didn't know. She had never seen soldiers, but people did talk about strange and frightening men, or they might be ghosts, seen on the mountainsides at night...But there had always been ghosts in the mountains, everyone knew that. So they might not have anything to do with the woman. But she did have a pistol.

Well, thought Will, if she doesn't leave the cave and Lyra's in there, I'll have to go and pay a call.

He said, "What is this drug you have? What do you have to do with it to wake her up?"

Ama explained.

"And where is it now?"

In her home, she said. Hidden away.

"All right. Wait here and don't come near. She mustn't know that I know about you, and you mustn't say that you know me. When do you next bring her food?"

Half an hour before sunset, Ama's dæmon said.

"Bring the herbs with you then," said Will. "I'll meet you here."

She watched with great unease as he set off along the path. Surely he didn't believe what she had just told him about the monkey dæmon, or he wouldn't walk so recklessly up to the cave.

Actually, Will felt very nervous. All the noises of the forest seemed to be very clear as he walked along the path, and all his senses seemed to be purified, so that he was aware of the tiniest insects drifting in the sun shafts and the movement of the clouds above, even though all his attention was fixed on the cave mouth.

"Balthamos," he whispered, and the angel dæmon flew to his shoulder as a bright-eyed small bird with red wings. "Keep close to me, and watch that monkey."

"Then look to your right," said Balthamos tersely.

And Will saw a patch of golden light at the cave mouth that had a face and eyes and was watching them. They were no more than twenty paces away. He stood still, and the golden monkey turned his head to look in the cave, said something, and turned back.

Will felt for the knife handle and walked on.

When he reached the cave, the woman was waiting for him.

She was sitting at her ease in the little canvas chair, with a book on her lap, watching him calmly. She was wearing traveler's clothes of khaki, but so well were they cut and so graceful was her figure that they looked like the highest of high fashion, and the little spray of red blossom she'd pinned to her shirt front looked like the most elegant of jewels. Her hair shone and her dark eyes glittered, and her bare legs gleamed golden in the sunlight.

She smiled. Will very nearly smiled in response, because her expression was so kindly. He was so unused to the sweetness and gentleness a woman could put into a smile that it almost unsettled him completely.

"You're Will," she said in that low, intoxicating voice.

"How do you know my name?" he said harshly.

"Lyra says it in her sleep."

"Where is she?"

"Safe."

"I want to see her."

"Come on, then," she said, and got to her feet, dropping the book on the chair.

For the first time since coming into her presence, Will looked at the monkey dæmon. His fur was long and lustrous, each hair seeming to be made of pure gold, much finer than a human's, and his little face and hands were black. Will remembered that face well from the evening when he and Lyra stole the alethiometer back from Sir Charles Latrom in the house in Headington: contorted with hate, the monkey had tried to tear him apart with his teeth until Will had slashed left-right with the knife and forced him backward, so that he could close the window and shut away Mrs. Coulter and her dæmon in a different world. Will thought that nothing on earth would make him turn his back on that monkey now.

But Balthamos was watching the creature closely, and Will stepped carefully over the rocky floor of the cave and followed Mrs. Coulter to the little still figure lying in the shadows.

And there she was, his dearest friend, asleep. So small she looked! He was amazed at how all that force and fire that was Lyra awake could look so gentle and mild when she was sleeping. At her neck Pantalaimon lay in his polecat shape, his fur glistening, and Lyra's hair lay damp across her forehead.

He knelt down beside her and lifted the hair away. Her forehead was hot. Out of the corner of his eye, Will saw the golden monkey crouching to spring, and set his hand on the knife; but Mrs. Coulter shook her head very slightly, and the monkey let the tension go.

Without seeming to, Will was memorizing the exact layout of the cave: the shape and size of every rock, the slope of the floor, the exact height of the ceiling above the sleeping girl. He would need to find his way through it in the dark, and this was the only chance he'd have to see it first.

"So you see, she's quite safe," said Mrs. Coulter.

"Why are you keeping her here? And why don't you let her wake up?"

"Let's sit down."

She didn't take the chair, but sat with him on the moss-covered rocks at the entrance to the cave. She sounded so kindly, and there was such sad wisdom in her eyes, that Will's mistrust deepened. He'd been on guard, of course, ever since he'd come into her presence, but now he felt that every word she said was a lie, every action concealed a threat, and every smile masked an impulse of deceit. He would have to be doubly, trebly on guard, and he'd have to deceive her as well. But maybe (he thought with a little thrill of pleasure) his own life had been preparing him for this all the time; for he knew no one as good at deceiving as he had had to be.

Right, he thought. I can deal with you.

"Would you like something to drink?" she said. "Look, I'll have some too...It's quite safe. Look."

She cut open some brownish, wrinkled fruit and pressed the cloudy green juice into two small beakers. She sipped one and offered the other to Will, who had watched so closely he knew she could have put nothing in it; so he sipped as well, and found it fresh and astringent.

"How did you find your way here?" she said.

"It wasn't hard to follow you."

"Evidently. Have you got Lyra's alethiometer?"

"Yes," he said, and let her work out for herself whether or not he could read it.

"And you've got a knife, I understand."

"Sir Charles told you that, did he?"

"Sir Charles? Oh - Carlo, of course. Yes, he did. It sounds fascinating. May I see it?"

"No, of course not," he said. "Why are you keeping Lyra here?"

"To keep her safe," she said, "because I love her. I'm her mother. She's in appalling danger and I won't let anything happen to her."

"Danger from what?" said Will stolidly.

"Well...," she said, and set her beaker down on the ground, leaning forward so that her hair swung down on either side of her face. When she sat up again, she tucked it back behind her ears with both hands, and Will smelled the fragrance of some scent she was wearing combined with the fresh smell of her body, and he felt disturbed and embarrassed.

Mrs. Coulter gave no indication that she'd noticed, and went on: "Look, I'm going to do something unlikely. Will, I'm going to tell you the complete truth. I don't know how you came to be mixed up with my daughter, and I don't know what you know already, and I certainly don't know if I can trust you; but equally, I'm tired of having to lie. So here it is: the complete and utter truth.

"I found out that my daughter is in danger from the very people I used to belong to - from the Church. Frankly, I think they would even kill her if they knew where she was. And I found myself in a dilemma, you see: obey the Church, or save my daughter. I was a faithful servant of the Church, too. There was no one more zealous; I gave my life to it; I served it with a passion.

"But I had this daughter...

"She knows better than anyone that I didn't look after her well when she was young. She was taken away from me and brought up by strangers. Perhaps that made it hard for her to trust me. But when she was growing up, I saw the danger that she was in, and three times I've tried to save her from it. This is the third time. I've had to become a renegade and hide in this remote place, and now to learn that you found us so easily - well, you can understand, that worries me. The Church won't be far behind. And they want to kill her, Will. They will not let her live."

"Why? Why do they hate her so much?"

"Because of what they think she's going to do. I don't know what that is; I wish I did, because then I could keep her even more safe. But all I know is that they hate her, and they have no mercy, none."

She leaned forward, talking urgently and quietly and closely.

"Why am I telling you this?" she went on. "Can I trust you? I think I have to. I can't escape anymore, there's nowhere else to go. And you might be a friend. If you're a friend of Lyra's, you might be my friend too. And I do need friends, I do need help. Everything's against me now. The Church will destroy me too, as well as Lyra, if they find us. Asriel, Lyra's father, has no interest in me anymore. I'm alone, Will, just me in a cave with my daughter, and all the forces of all the worlds are trying to track us down. And here you are, to show how easy it is to find us, apparently. What are you going to do, Will? What do you want?"

"Why are you keeping her asleep?" he said, stubbornly avoiding her questions.

"Because what would happen if I let her wake? She'd run away at once. And she wouldn't last five days."

"Yes," said Will. "But why don't you explain it to her and give her the choice?"

"Do you think she'd listen? Do you think even if she listened she'd believe me? She doesn't trust me. She hates me, Will. You must know that. She despises me. I, well...I don't know how to say it...I love her so much I've given up everything I had - a great career, great happiness, position and wealth - everything, to come to this cave in the mountains and live on dry bread and sour fruit, just so I can keep my daughter alive. And if to keep her alive I have to keep her asleep, then so be it. But I must keep her alive. Wouldn't your mother do as much for you?"

Will felt a jolt of shock and rage that Mrs. Coulter had dared to bring his own mother in to support her argument. Then the first shock was complicated by Will's knowledge that his mother, after all, had not protected him; he had had to protect her. Did Mrs. Coulter love her child more than Elaine Parry loved hers? But that was unfair: his mother wasn't well.

Either Mrs. Coulter did not know the boil of feelings that her simple words had lanced, or she was monstrously clever. Her sad and beautiful eyes watched blandly as Will reddened and then shifted uncomfortably; and for a moment Mrs. Coulter looked uncannily like her daughter.

"But what are you going to do?" she said.

"Well, I've seen Lyra now," Will said, "and she's alive, that's clear, and she's safe, I suppose. That's all I was going to do. So now I've done it I can go and help Lord Asriel like I was supposed to."

That did surprise her a little, but she mastered it. "You don't mean - I thought you might help us," she said quite calmly, not pleading but questioning. "With the knife. I saw what you did at Sir Charles's house. You could make it safe for us, couldn't you? You could help us get away?"

"I'm going to go now," Will said, standing up.

She held out her hand. A rueful smile, a shrug, and a nod as if to a skillful opponent who'd made a good move at the chessboard: that was what her body said. He was very nearly captivated. He liked her, because she was brave, and because she seemed like a more complicated and richer and deeper Lyra. He couldn't help but like her.

So he shook her hand, finding it firm and cool and soft. She turned to the golden monkey, who had been sitting behind her all the time, and a look passed between them that Will couldn't interpret.

Then she turned back with a smile.

"Good-bye," he said.

She said quietly, "Good-bye, Will."

He left the cave, knowing her eyes were following, and he didn't look back once. Ama was nowhere in sight. He walked back the way he'd come, keeping to the path until he heard the sound of the waterfall ahead.

* * *

"She's lying," he said to Iorek Byrnison thirty minutes later. "Of course she's lying. She'd lie even if it made things worse for herself, because she just loves lying too much to stop."

"What is your plan, then?" said the bear, who was basking in the sunlight, his belly flat down in a patch of snow among the rocks.

Will walked up and down, wondering whether he could use the trick that had worked in Headington: use the knife to move into another world and then go to a spot right next to where Lyra lay, cut through into this world, pull her through into safety, and then close up again. That was the obvious thing to do, why did he hesitate?

Balthamos knew. In his own angel shape, shimmering like a heat haze in the sunlight, he said, "You were foolish to go to her. All you want to do now is see the woman again."

Will scowled, but it was true. He had been captivated by Mrs. Coulter. All his thoughts referred to her: when he thought of Lyra, it was to wonder how like her mother she'd be when she grew up; if he thought of the Church, it was to wonder how many of the priests and cardinals were under her spell; if he thought of his own dead father, it was to wonder whether he would have detested her or admired her; and if he thought of his own mother...

He felt his heart grimace. He walked away from the bear and stood on a rock from which he could see across the whole valley. In the clear cold air he could hear the distant tok-tok of someone chopping wood, he could hear a dull iron bell around the neck of a sheep, he could hear the rustling of the treetops far below. The tiniest crevices in the mountains at the horizon were clear and sharp to his eyes, as were the vultures wheeling over some near-dead creature many miles away.

There was no doubt about it: Balthamos was right. The woman had cast a spell on him. Nevertheless, it was pleasant and tempting to think about those beautiful eyes and the sweetness of that voice, and to recall the way her arms rose to push back that shining hair...

With an effort he came back to his senses and heard another sound altogether: a far-distant drone.

He turned this way and that to locate it and found it in the north, the very direction he and Iorek had come from.

"Zeppelins," said the bear's voice, startling Will, for he hadn't heard the great creature come near. Iorek stood beside him looking in the same direction and then reared up high, fully twice the height of Will, his gaze intent.

"How many?"

"Eight of them," said Iorek after a minute, and then Will saw them too: little specks in a line.

"Can you tell how long it will take them to get here?" Will said.

"They will be here not long after nightfall."

"So we won't have very much darkness. That's a pity."

"What is your plan?"

"To make an opening and take Lyra through into another world, and close it again before her mother follows. The girl has a drug to wake Lyra up, but I can't understand what she says about how to use it, so she'll have to come into the cave as well. I don't want to put her in danger, though. Maybe you could distract Mrs. Coulter while we do that."

The bear grunted and closed his eyes. Will looked around for the angel and saw his shape outlined in droplets of mist in the late afternoon light.

"Balthamos," he said, "I'm going back into the forest now, to find a safe place to make the first opening. I need you to keep watch for me and tell me the moment she comes near - her or that dæmon of hers."

Balthamos nodded and raised his wings to shake off the moisture. Then he soared up into the cold air and glided down toward the treetops as Will clambered down below him to search for a world where Lyra would be safe.

* * *

In the creaking, thrumming double bulkhead of the leading zeppelin, the dragonflies were hatching. The Lady Salmakia bent over the splitting cocoon of the electric blue one, easing the damp, filmy wings clear, taking care to let her face be the first thing that imprinted itself on the many-faceted eyes, soothing the fine-stretched nerves, whispering its name to the brilliant creature, teaching it who it was.

In a few minutes, the Chevalier Tialys would do the same to his. It was very nearly ready to be born. But for now, he was sending a message on the lodestone resonator, and his attention was fully occupied with the bow and his fingers as they played over the heavy stone.

He transmitted:

"To Lord Roke:

"We are three hours from the estimated time of arrival at the valley. The Consistorial Court of Discipline intends to send a squad to the cave as soon as they land. It will divide into two units.

"The first unit will fight their way into the cave and kill the child, removing her head so as to prove her death and bringing it back. As a secondary objective they are to capture the woman, though if that is impossible they are to kill her.

"The second unit is to capture the boy alive and bring him back to the zeppelins.

"The remainder of the force will engage the gyropters of King Ogunwe. They estimate that the gyropters will arrive shortly after the zeppelins. In accordance with your orders, the Lady Salmakia and I will shortly leave the zeppelin and fly directly to the cave, where we shall try to defend the girl against the first unit and hold them at bay until reinforcements arrive.

"We await your response."

The answer came almost immediately.

"To the Chevalier Tialys:

"In the light of your report, here is a change of plan.

"In order to prevent the enemy from killing the child, which would be the worst possible outcome, you and the Lady Salmakia are to involve the boy in your plans. If this involves allowing him to open another world and take her into it, then let him do so, and follow them through. Stay by their side at all times."

The Chevalier Tialys replied:

"To Lord Roke:

"Your message is heard and understood. The Lady and I shall leave at once."

The little spy closed the resonator and gathered his equipment together.

"Tialys," came a whisper from the dark, "it's hatching. You should come now."

He leapt up to the strut where his dragonfly had been struggling into the world and eased it gently free of the broken silk. Stroking its great fierce head, he lifted the heavy antennae, still moist and curled, and let the creature taste the flavor of his skin until it was entirely under his command.

Then he quickly slung the pack over his shoulder and sliced through the oiled fabric of the zeppelin's skin. Beside him, the lady had mounted her dragonfly, and now she urged it through the narrow gap into the hammering gusts. The long, frail wings trembled as she squeezed through, and then the joy of flight took over the creature, and it plunged into the wind. A few seconds later Tialys joined her in the wild air, his mount eager to fight the swift-gathering dusk itself.

The two of them whirled upward in the icy currents, took a few moments to get their bearings, and set their course for the valley.

* * *

As darkness fell, this was how things stood.

In his adamant tower, Lord Asriel paced up and down. His attention was fixed on the little figure beside the lodestone resonator, and every other report had been diverted, every part of his mind was directed to the news that came to the small square block of stone under the lamplight.

King Ogunwe sat in the cabin of his gyropter, swiftly working out a plan to counter the intentions of the Consistorial Court, which he'd just learned about from the Gallivespian in his own aircraft. The navigator was scribbling some figures on a scrap of paper, which he handed to the pilot. The essential thing, Ogunwe knew, was speed: getting his own troops on the ground first would make all the difference. The gyropters were faster in the air than zeppelins, but they were still some way behind.

Strapped into their seats in the zeppelins, the grenadiers of the Swiss Guard were attending to their kit. Their crossbows were deadly over five hundred yards, and with the help of the newly developed Lanzspring lever, an archer could load and fire fifteen bolts a minute. The spiral fins, made of horn, slotted automatically into grooves that gave the bolt a spin and made the weapon as accurate as a rifle. It was also, of course, silent, which in a situation like this was a great advantage.

Mrs. Coulter lay awake in the entrance to the cave. The golden monkey was restless, and frustrated: the bats had left the cave with the coming of darkness, and there was nothing to torment. He prowled about by Mrs. Coulter's sleeping bag, scratching with a little horny finger at the occasional glow-flies that settled in the cave and smeared their luminescence over the rock.

Lyra lay hot and almost as restless, but deep, deep asleep, locked into oblivion by the draught her mother had forced down her only an hour before. There was a dream that had occupied her for a long time, and now it had returned, and little whimpers of pity and sorrow and rage and Lyratic resolution shook her breast and her throat, making Pantalaimon grind his polecat teeth in sympathy.

Not far away, under the wind-tossed pines on the forest path, Will and Ama were making their way toward the cave. Will had tried to explain to Ama what he was going to do, but her dæmon could make no sense of it, and when he cut a window and showed her, she was so terrified that she nearly fainted. He had to move calmly and speak quietly in order to keep her nearby, because she refused to let him take the powder from her, or even to tell him how it was to be used. In the end he had to say simply, "Keep very quiet and follow me," and hope that she would.

Iorek, in his armor, was somewhere close by, waiting to hold off the soldiers from the zeppelins so as to give Will enough time to work. What neither of them knew was that there was another force also closing in: the wind from time to time brought a far-distant clatter to Iorek's ears, but whereas he knew what zeppelin engines sounded like, he had never heard a gyropter, and he could make nothing of it.

Balthamos might have been able to tell them, but Will was troubled about him. The angel had been withdrawing farther into his grief: he had been silent, distracted, and sullen for some time. It made talking to Ama harder too.

As they paused on the path, Will said to the air, "Balthamos? Are you there?"

"Yes," said the angel tonelessly.

"Balthamos, please stay with me. Stay close and warn me of any danger. I need you."

"I haven't abandoned you yet," said the angel.

That was the best Will could get out of him.

And in the buffeting midair, Tialys and Salmakia soared over the valley, trying to see down to the cave. The dragonflies would do exactly as they were told, but their bodies couldn't easily cope with cold, and besides, they were tossed about dangerously in the wild wind. Their riders guided them low, among the shelter of the trees, and then flew from branch to branch, taking their bearings in the gathering dark.

* * *

Part of Will's reason for going to the cave that afternoon, of course, had been to see how the land lay and where he might best cut through, just as he'd done in Sir Charles's study in Headington.

So now he and Ama crept up in the windy moonlight to the closest point they could reach that was still out of sight of the cave mouth. It happened to be behind a heavy-leaved bush just off the path, and there he cut a window in the air.

Since he could now find his way into several different worlds, he tried five times before finding one that had the same conformation of ground. It was a bare, rocky place, where the moon glared down from a starry sky onto a bleached bone-white ground where little insects crawled and uttered their scraping, chittering sounds over a world-wide silence.

Ama followed him through, fingers and thumbs moving furiously to protect her from the devils that must be haunting this ghastly place; and her dæmon, adapting at once, became a lizard and scampered over the rocks with sharp feet.

Will saw a problem. It was simply that the brilliant moonlight on the bone-colored rocks would shine like a lantern once he opened the window in Mrs. Coulter's cave. He'd have to open it quickly, pull Lyra through, and close it again at once. They could wake her up in this world, where it was safer.

He stopped on the dazzling slope and said to Ama, "We must be very quick and completely silent. No noise, not even a whisper."

She understood, though she was frightened. The little packet of powder was in her breast pocket, she'd checked it a dozen times, and she and her dæmon had rehearsed what they should do so often that she thought they could do it in total darkness.

They climbed on, Will measuring it all carefully until he estimated that they would be well inside the cave.

Then he took the knife and cut the smallest possible window he could see through, no larger than the circle he could make with thumb and forefinger.

He put his eye to it quickly to keep the moonlight out and looked through. There it all was: he'd calculated well. He could see the cave mouth ahead, the rocks dark against the night sky; he could see the shape of Mrs. Coulter, asleep, with her golden dæmon beside her; he could even see the monkey's tail, trailing negligently over the sleeping bag.

Changing his angle and looking closer, he saw the rock behind which Lyra was lying. He couldn't see her, though. Was he too close? He shut that window, moved back a step or two, and opened again.

She wasn't there.

"Listen," he said to Ama, "the woman has moved her and I can't see where she is. I'm going to have to go through and look around the cave to find her, and cut through as soon as I've done that. So stand back - keep out of the way so I don't accidentally cut you when I come back. If I get stuck there for any reason, go back and wait by the other window, where we came in."

"We should both go through," Ama said, "because I know how to wake her, and you don't, and I know the cave better than you do too."

Her face was stubborn, her lips pressed together, her fists clenched. Her lizard dæmon acquired a ruff and raised it slowly around his neck.

Will said, "Oh, very well. But we go through very quickly and in complete silence, and you do exactly what I say, at once, you understand?"

She nodded and patted her pocket yet again to check the herbs.

Will made a small opening low down, looked through, and enlarged it swiftly, getting through in a moment on hands and knees. Ama was right behind him, and altogether the window was open for less than ten seconds.

They crouched on the cave floor behind a large rock, with Balthamos beside them, their eyes taking some moments to adjust from the moon-drenched brilliance of the other world. Inside the cave it was much darker, and much more full of sound: the wind in the trees, largely, but below that another sound, too. It was the roar of a zeppelin's engine, and it wasn't far away.

With the knife in his right hand, Will balanced himself carefully and looked around.

Ama was doing the same, and her owl-shaped dæmon was peering this way and that; but Lyra was not at this end of the cave. There was no doubt about it.

Will raised his head over the rock and took a long, steady look down toward the entrance, where Mrs. Coulter and her dæmon lay deep in sleep.

Then his heart lurched. There lay Lyra, stretched out in the depths of her sleep, right next to Mrs. Coulter. Their outlines had merged in the darkness; no wonder he hadn't seen her.

Will touched Ama's hand and pointed.

"We'll just have to do it very carefully," he whispered.

Something was happening outside. The roar of the zeppelins was now much louder than the wind in the trees, and lights were moving about too, shining down through the branches from above. The quicker they got Lyra out, the better, and that meant darting down there now before Mrs. Coulter woke up, cutting through, pulling her to safety, and closing again.

He whispered that to Ama. She nodded.

Then, as he was about to move, Mrs. Coulter woke up.

She stirred and said something, and instantly the golden monkey sprang up. Will could see his silhouette against the lights outside, crouching, attentive, and then Mrs. Coulter herself sat up, shading her eyes to look outside.

Will's left hand was tight around Ama's wrist. Mrs. Coulter got up, fully dressed, lithe, alert, not at all as if she'd just been asleep. Perhaps she'd been awake all the time. She and the golden monkey were crouching inside the cave mouth, watching and listening, as the light from the zeppelins swung from side to side above the treetops and the engines roared, and shouts, male voices warning or calling orders, made it clear that they should move fast, very fast.

He squeezed Ama's wrist and darted forward under the cover of the sounds from the sky, watching the ground in case he stumbled, running fast and low.

Then he was at Lyra's side, and she was deep asleep, Pantalaimon around her neck; and then Will held up the knife and felt carefully, and a second later there would have been an opening to pull Lyra through into safety -

But he looked up. He looked at Mrs. Coulter. She had turned around silently, and the glare from the sky, reflected off the damp cave wall, hit her face, and for a moment it wasn't her face at all; it was his own mother's face, reproaching him, and his heart quailed from sorrow; and then as he thrust with the knife, his mind left the point, and with a wrench and a crack, the knife fell in pieces to the ground.

Copyright ©2000 by Philip Pullman


Continue to Chapter Two...