||The Subtle Knife: Excerpts
Chapter Two - Among the Witches
The witch Serafina Pekkala, who had rescued Lyra and the other children from
the experimental station at Bolvangar and flown with her to the island
of Svalbard, was deeply troubled.
In the atmospheric
disturbances that followed Lord Asriel's escape from his exile on Svalbard,
she and her companions were blown far from the island and many miles out
over the frozen sea. Some of them managed to stay with the damaged balloon
of Lee Scoresby, the Texan aeronaut, but Serafina herself was tossed high
into the banks of fog that soon came rolling in from the gap that Lord
Asriel's experiment had torn in the sky.
found herself able to control her flight once more, her first thought
was of Lyra; for she knew nothing of the fight between the false bear-king
and the true one, Iorek Byrnison, nor of what had happened to Lyra after
So she began
to search for her, flying through the cloudy gold-tinged air on her branch
of cloud-pine, accompanied by her dæmon, Kaisa the snow goose. They
moved back toward Svalbard and south a little, soaring for several hours
under a sky turbulent with strange lights and shadows. Serafina Pekkala
knew from the unsettling tingle of the light on her skin that it came
from another world.
time had passed, Kaisa said, "Look! A witch's dæmon, lost..."
Pekkala looked through the fog banks and saw a tern, circling and crying
in the chasms of misty light. They wheeled and flew toward him. Seeing
them come near, the tern darted up in alarm, but Serafina Pekkala signaled
friendship, and he dropped down beside them.
Pekkala said, "What clan are you from?"
he told her. "My witch is captured. Our companions have been driven away!
I am lost!"
captured your witch?"
with the monkey dæmon, from Bolvangar....Help me! Help us! I am
clan allied with the child cutters?"
we found out what they were doing. After the fight at Bolvangar they drove
us off, but my witch was taken prisoner. They have her on a ship....What
can I do? She is calling to me and I can't find her! Oh, help, help me!"
said Kaisa, the goose dæmon. "Listen down below."
lower, listening with keen ears, and Serafina Pekkala soon made out the
beat of a gas engine, muffled by the fog.
navigate a ship in fog like this," Kaisa said. "What are they doing?"
smaller engine than that," said Serafina Pekkala, and as she spoke there
came a new sound from a different direction: a low, brutal, shuddering
blast, like some immense sea creature calling from the depths. It roared
for several seconds and then stopped abruptly.
foghorn," said Serafina Pekkala.
low over the water and cast about again for the sound of the engine. Suddenly
they found it, for the fog seemed to have patches of different density,
and the witch darted up out of sight just in time as a launch came chugging
slowly through the swathes of damp air. The swell was slow and oily, as
if the water was reluctant to rise.
around and above, the tern dæmon keeping close like a child to its
mother, and watched the steersman adjust the course slightly as the foghorn
boomed again. There was a light mounted on the bow, but all it lit up
was the fog a few yards in front.
Pekkala said to the lost dæmon: "Did you say there are still some
witches helping these people?"
so - a few renegade witches from Volgorsk, unless they've fled too," he
told her. "What are you going to do? Will you look for my witch?"
stay with Kaisa for now."
Pekkala flew down toward the launch, leaving the dæmons out of sight
above, and alighted on the counter just behind the steersman. His seagull
dæmon squawked, and the man turned to look.
your time, en't you?" he said. "Get up ahead and guide us in on the port
off again at once. It had worked: they still had some witches helping
them, and he thought she was one. Port was left, she remembered, and the
port light was red. She cast about in the fog until she caught its hazy
glow no more than a hundred yards away. She darted back and hovered above
the launch calling directions to the steersman, who slowed the craft down
to a crawling pace and brought it in to the ship's gangway ladder that
hung just above the water line. The steersman called, and a sailor threw
a line from above, and another hurried down the ladder to make it fast
to the launch.
Pekkala flew up to the ship's rail, and retreated to the shadows by the
lifeboats. She could see no other witches, but they were probably patrolling
the skies; Kaisa would know what to do.
passenger was leaving the launch and climbing the ladder. The figure was
fur-swathed, hooded, anonymous; but as it reached the deck, a golden monkey
dæmon swung himself lightly up on the rail and glared around, his
black eyes radiating malevolence. Serafina caught her breath: the figure
was Mrs. Coulter.
man hurried out on deck to greet her, and looked around as if he were
expecting someone else as well.
- " he began.
Coulter interrupted: "He has gone on elsewhere. Have they started the
Coulter," was the reply, "but - "
them to wait," she snapped. "Have they taken to disobeying me? Perhaps
there should be more discipline on this ship."
her hood back. Serafina Pekkala saw her face clearly in the yellow light:
proud, passionate, and, to the witch, so young.
the other witches?" she demanded.
from the ship said, "All gone, ma'am. Fled to their homeland."
"But a witch
guided the launch in," said Mrs. Coulter. "Where has she gone?"
shrank back; obviously the sailor in the launch hadn't heard the latest
state of things. The cleric looked around, bewildered, but Mrs. Coulter
was too impatient, and after a cursory glance above and along the deck,
she shook her head and hurried in with her dæmon through the open
door that cast a yellow nimbus on the air. The man followed.
Pekkala looked around to check her position. She was concealed behind
a ventilator on the narrow area of decking between the rail and the central
superstructure of the ship; and on this level, facing forward below the
bridge and the funnel, was a saloon from which windows, not portholes,
looked out on three sides. That was where the people had gone in. Light
spilled thickly from the windows onto the fog-pearled railing, and dimly
showed up the foremast and the canvas-covered hatch. Everything was wringing
wet and beginning to freeze into stiffness. No one could see Serafina
where she was; but if she wanted to see any more, she would have to leave
her hiding place.
too bad. With her pine branch she could escape, and with her knife and
her bow she could fight. She hid the branch behind the ventilator and
slipped along the deck until she reached the first window. It was fogged
with condensation and impossible to see through, and Serafina could hear
no voices, either. She withdrew to the shadows again.
one thing she could do; she was reluctant, because it was desperately
risky, and it would leave her exhausted; but it seemed there was no choice.
It was a kind of magic she could work to make herself unseen. True invisibility
was impossible, of course: this was mental magic, a kind of fiercely held
modesty that could make the spell worker not invisible but simply unnoticed.
Holding it with the right degree of intensity, she could pass through
a crowded room, or walk beside a solitary traveler, without being seen.
So now she
composed her mind and brought all her concentration to bear on the matter
of altering the way she held herself so as to deflect attention completely.
It took some minutes before she was confident. She tested it by stepping
out of her hiding place and into the path of a sailor coming along the
deck with a bag of tools. He stepped aside to avoid her without looking
at her once.
ready. She went to the door of the brightly lit saloon and opened it,
finding the room empty. She left the outer door ajar so that she could
flee through it if she needed to, and saw a door at the far end of the
room that opened on to a flight of stairs leading down into the bowels
of the ship. She descended, and found herself in a narrow corridor hung
with white-painted pipework and illuminated with anbaric bulkhead lights,
which led straight along the length of the hull, with doors opening off
it on both sides.
quietly along, listening, until she heard voices. It sounded as if some
kind of council was in session.
the door and walked in.
or so people were seated around a large table. One or two of them looked
up for a moment, gazed at her absently, and forgot her at once. She stood
quietly near the door and watched. The meeting was being chaired by an
elderly man in the robes of a Cardinal, and the rest of them seemed to
be clerics of one sort or another, apart from Mrs. Coulter, who was the
only woman present. Mrs. Coulter had thrown her furs over the back of
the chair, and her cheeks were flushed in the heat of the ship's interior.
Pekkala looked around carefully and saw someone else in the room as well:
a thin-faced man with a frog dæmon, seated to one side at a table
laden with leather-bound books and loose piles of yellowed paper. She
thought at first that he was a clerk or a secretary, until she saw what
he was doing: he was intently gazing at a golden instrument like a large
watch or a compass, stopping every minute or so to note what he found.
Then he would open one of the books, search laboriously through the index,
and look up a reference before writing that down too and turning back
to the instrument.
looked back to the discussion at the table, because she heard the word
something about the child," said one of the clerics. "She confessed that
she knows something. All the witches know something about her."
"I am wondering
what Mrs. Coulter knows," said the Cardinal. "Is there something she should
have told us before, I wonder?"
have to speak more plainly than that," said Mrs. Coulter icily. "You forget
I am a woman, Your Eminence, and thus not so subtle as a prince of the
Church. What is this truth that I should have known about the child?"
expression was full of meaning, but he said nothing. There was a pause,
and then another cleric said almost apologetically:
that there is a prophecy. It concerns the child, you see, Mrs. Coulter.
All the signs have been fulfilled. The circumstances of her birth, to
begin with. The gyptians know something about her too - they speak of
her in terms of witch oil and marsh fire, uncanny, you see - hence her
success in leading the gyptian men to Bolvangar. And then there's her
astonishing feat of deposing the bear-king Iofur Raknison--this is no
ordinary child. Fra Pavel can tell us more, perhaps...."
at the thin-faced man reading the alethiometer, who blinked, rubbed his
eyes, and looked at Mrs. Coulter.
be aware that this is the only alethiometer left, apart from the one in
the child's possession," he said. "All the others have been acquired and
destroyed, by order of the Magisterium. I learn from this instrument that
the child was given hers by the Master of Jordan College, and that she
learned to read it by herself, and that she can use it without the books
of readings. If it were possible to disbelieve the alethiometer, I would
do so, because to use the instrument without the books is simply inconceivable
to me. It takes decades of diligent study to reach any sort of understanding.
She began to read it within a few weeks of acquiring it, and now she has
an almost complete mastery. She is like no human Scholar I can imagine."
she now, Fra Pavel?" said the Cardinal.
other world," said Fra Pavel. "It is already late."
knows!" said another man, whose muskrat dæmon gnawed unceasingly
at a pencil. "It's all in place but for the witch's testimony! I say we
should torture her again!"
this prophecy?" demanded Mrs. Coulter, who had been getting increasingly
angry. "How dare you keep it from me?"
over them was visible. The golden monkey glared around the table, and
none of them could look him in the face.
Cardinal did not flinch. His dæmon, a macaw, lifted a foot and scratched
has hinted at something extraordinary," the Cardinal said. "I dare not
believe what I think it means. If it's true, it places on us the most
terrible responsibility men and women have ever faced. But I ask you again,
Mrs. Coulter--what do you know of the child and her father?"
had lost her flush. Her face was chalk-white with fury.
you interrogate me?" she spat. "And how dare you keep from me what you've
learned from the witch? And, finally, how dare you assume that I am keeping
something from you? D'you think I'm on her side? Or perhaps you think
I'm on her father's side? Perhaps you think I should be tortured like
the witch. Well, we are all under your command, Your Eminence. You have
only to snap your fingers and you could have me torn apart. But if you
searched every scrap of flesh for an answer, you wouldn't find one, because
I know nothing of this prophecy, nothing whatever. And I demand that you
tell me what you know. My child, my own child, conceived in sin and born
in shame, but my child nonetheless, and you keep from me what I have every
right to know!"
said another of the clerics nervously. "Please, Mrs. Coulter, the witch
hasn't spoken yet; we shall learn more from her. Cardinal Sturrock himself
says that she's only hinted at it."
the witch doesn't reveal it?" Mrs. Coulter said. "What then? We guess,
do we? We shiver and quail and guess?"
said, "No, because that is the question I am now preparing to put to the
alethiometer. We shall find the answer, whether from the witch or from
the books of readings."
long will that take?"
his eyebrows wearily and said, "A considerable time. It is an immensely
witch would tell us at once," said Mrs. Coulter.
rose to her feet. As if in awe of her, most of the men did too. Only the
Cardinal and Fra Pavel remained seated. Serafina Pekkala stood back, fiercely
holding herself unseen. The golden monkey was gnashing his teeth, and
all his shimmering fur was standing on end.
swung him up to her shoulder.
us go and ask her," she said.
and swept out into the corridor. The men hastened to follow her, jostling
and shoving past Serafina Pekkala, who had only time to stand quickly
aside, her mind in a turmoil. The last to go was the Cardinal.
took a few seconds to compose herself, because her agitation was beginning
to make her visible. Then she followed the clerics down the corridor and
into a smaller room, bare and white and hot, where they were all clustered
around the dreadful figure in the center: a witch bound tightly to a steel
chair, with agony on her gray face and her legs twisted and broken.
stood over her. Serafina took up a position by the door, knowing that
she could not stay unseen for long; this was too hard.
about the child, witch," said Mrs. Coulter.
is more suffering to come. We have a thousand years of experience in this
Church of ours. We can draw out your suffering endlessly. Tell us about
the child," Mrs. Coulter said, and reached down to break one of the witch's
fingers. It snapped easily.
cried out, and for a clear second Serafina Pekkala became visible to everyone,
and one or two of the clerics looked at her, puzzled and fearful; but
then she controlled herself again, and they turned back to the torture.
was saying, "If you don't answer I'll break another finger, and then another.
What do you know about the child? Tell me."
Please, please, no more!"
another sickening crack, and this time a flood of sobbing broke from the
witch. Serafina Pekkala could hardly hold herself back. Then came these
words, in a shriek:
I'll tell you! I beg you, no more! The child who was to come...The witches
knew who she was before you did....We found out her name...."
her name. What name do you mean?"
name! The name of her destiny!"
this name? Tell me!" said Mrs. Coulter.
Found out how?"
a test....If she was able to pick out one spray of cloud-pine from many
others, she would be the child who would come, and it happened at our
consul's house at Trollesund, when the child came with the gyptian men....The
child with the bear..."
gave a little exclamation of impatience, and there came a loud slap, and
was your prophecy about this child?" Mrs. Coulter went on, and her voice
was all bronze now, and ringing with passion. "And what is this name that
will make her destiny clear?"
Pekkala moved closer, even among the tight throng of men around the witch,
and none of them felt her presence at their very elbows. She must end
this witch's suffering, and soon, but the strain of holding herself unseen
was enormous. She trembled as she took the knife from her waist.
was sobbing. "She is the one who came before, and you have hated and feared
her ever since! Well, now she has come again, and you failed to find her....She
was there on Svalbard--she was with Lord Asriel, and you lost her. She
escaped, and she will be - "
she could finish, there came an interruption.
the open doorway there flew a tern, mad with terror, and it beat its wings
brokenly as it crashed to the floor and struggled up and darted to the
breast of the tortured witch, pressing itself against her, nuzzling, chirruping,
crying, and the witch called in anguish, "Yambe-Akka! Come to me, come
No one but
Serafina Pekkala understood. Yambe-Akka was the goddess who came to a
witch when she was about to die.
was ready. She became visible at once and stepped forward smiling happily,
because Yambe-Akka was merry and lighthearted and her visits were gifts
of joy. The witch saw her and turned up her tear-stained face, and Serafina
bent to kiss it and slid her knife gently into the witch's heart. The
tern dæmon looked up with dim eyes and vanished.
Serafina Pekkala would have to fight her way out.
were still shocked, disbelieving, but Mrs. Coulter recovered her wits
almost at once.
Don't let her go!" she cried, but Serafina was already at the door, with
an arrow nocked in her bowstring. She swung up the bow and loosed the
arrow in less than a second, and the Cardinal fell choking and kicking
to the floor.
the corridor to the stairs, turn, nock, loose, and another man fell; and
already a loud jarring bell was filling the ship with its clangor.
Up the stairs
and out onto the deck. Two sailors barred her way, and she said, "Down
there! The prisoner has got loose! Get help!"
enough to puzzle them, and they stood undecided, which gave her time to
dodge past and seize her cloud-pine from where she had hidden it behind
came a cry in Mrs. Coulter's voice from behind, and at once three rifles
fired, and the bullets struck metal and whined off into the fog as Serafina
leaped on the branch and urged it up like one of her own arrows. A few
seconds later she was in the air, in the thick of the fog, safe, and then
a great goose shape glided out of the wraiths of gray to her side.
away," she said. "I want to get the stench of these people out of my nose."
she didn't know where to go or what to do next. But there was one thing
she knew for certain: there was an arrow in her quiver that would find
its mark in Mrs. Coulter's throat.
south, away from that troubling other-world gleam in the fog, and as they
flew a question began to form more clearly in Serafina's mind. What was
Lord Asriel doing?
all the events that had overturned the world had their origin in his mysterious
was that the usual sources of her knowledge were natural ones. She could
track any animal, catch any fish, find the rarest berries; and she could
read the signs in the pine marten's entrails, or decipher the wisdom in
the scales of a perch, or interpret the warnings in the crocus pollen;
but these were children of nature, and they told her natural truths.
about Lord Asriel, she had to go elsewhere. In the port of Trollesund,
their consul Dr. Lanselius maintained his contact with the world of men
and women, and Serafina Pekkala sped there through the fog to see what
he could tell her. Before she went to his house she circled over the harbor,
where wisps and tendrils of mist drifted ghostlike on the icy water, and
watched as the pilot guided in a large vessel with an African registration.
There were several other ships riding at anchor outside the harbor. She
had never seen so many.
As the short
day faded, she flew down and landed in the back garden of the consul's
house. She tapped on the window, and Dr. Lanselius himself opened the
door, a finger to his lips.
Pekkala, greetings," he said. "Come in quickly, and welcome. But you had
better not stay long." He offered her a chair at the fireside, having
glanced through the curtains out of a window that fronted the street.
"You'll have some wine?"
the golden Tokay and told him of what she had seen and heard aboard the
think they understood what she said about the child?" he asked.
I think. But they know she is important. As for that woman, I'm afraid
of her, Dr. Lanselius. I shall kill her, I think, but still I'm afraid
said. "So am I."
listened as he told her of the rumors that had swept the town. Amid the
fog of rumor, a few facts had begun to emerge clearly.
that the Magisterium is assembling the greatest army ever known, and this
is an advance party. And there are unpleasant rumors about some of the
soldiers, Serafina Pekkala. I've heard about Bolvangar, and what they
were doing there - cutting children's dæmons away, the most evil
work I've ever heard of. Well, it seems there is a regiment of warriors
who have been treated in the same way. Do you know the word zombi? They
fear nothing, because they're mindless. There are some in this town now.
The authorities keep them hidden, but word gets out, and the townspeople
are terrified of them."
the other witch clans?" said Serafina Pekkala. "What news do you have
gone back to their homelands. All the witches are waiting, Serafina Pekkala,
with fear in their hearts, for what will happen next."
do you hear of the Church?"
in complete confusion. You see, they don't know what Lord Asriel intends
I," she said, "and I can't imagine what it might be. What do you think
he's intending, Dr. Lanselius?"
rubbed the head of his serpent dæmon with his thumb.
"He is a
scholar," he said after a moment, "but scholarship is not his ruling passion.
Nor is statesmanship. I met him once, and I thought he had an ardent and
powerful nature, but not a despotic one. I don't think he wants to rule....I
don't know, Serafina Pekkala. I suppose his servant might be able to tell
you. He is a man called Thorold, and he was imprisoned with Lord Asriel
in the house on Svalbard. It might be worth a visit there to see if he
can tell you anything; but, of course, he might have gone into the other
world with his master."
That's a good idea....I'll do it. And I'll go at once."
farewell to the consul and flew up through the gathering dark to join
Kaisa in the clouds.
journey to the north was made harder by the confusion in the world around
her. All the Arctic peoples had been thrown into panic, and so had the
animals, not only by the fog and the magnetic variations but by unseasonal
crackings of ice and stirrings in the soil. It was as if the earth itself,
the permafrost, were slowly awakening from a long dream of being frozen.
In all this
turmoil, where sudden shafts of uncanny brilliance lanced down through
rents in towers of fog and then vanished as quickly, where herds of muskox
were seized by the urge to gallop south and then wheeled immediately to
the west or the north again, where tight-knit skeins of geese disintegrated
into a honking chaos as the magnetic fields they flew by wavered and snapped
this way and that, Serafina Pekkala sat on her cloud-pine and flew north,
to the house on the headland in the wastes of Svalbard.
found Lord Asriel's servant, Thorold, fighting off a group of cliff-ghasts.
the movement before she came close enough to see what was happening. There
was a swirl of lunging leathery wings, and a malevolent yowk-yowk-yowk
resounding in the snowy courtyard. A single figure swathed in furs fired
a rifle into the midst of them with a gaunt dog dæmon snarling and
snapping beside him whenever one of the filthy things flew low enough.
know the man, but a cliff-ghast was an enemy always. She swung around
above and loosed a dozen arrows into the melee. With shrieks and gibberings,
the gang - too loosely organized to be called a troop - circled, saw their
new opponent, and fled in confusion. A minute later the skies were bare
again, and their dismayed yowk-yowk-yowk echoed distantly off the mountains
before dwindling into silence.
flew down to the courtyard and alighted on the trampled, blood-sprinkled
snow. The man pushed back his hood, still holding his rifle warily, because
a witch was an enemy sometimes, and she saw an elderly man, long-jawed
and grizzled and steady-eyed.
"I am a
friend of Lyra's," she said. "I hope we can talk. Look: I lay my bow down."
the child?" he said.
world. I'm concerned for her safety. And I need to know what Lord Asriel
the rifle and said, "Step inside, then. Look: I lay my rifle down."
exchanged, they went indoors. Kaisa glided through the skies above, keeping
watch, while Thorold brewed some coffee and Serafina told him of her involvement
always a willful child," he said when they were seated at the oaken table
in the glow of a naphtha lamp. "I'd see her every year or so when his
lordship visited his college. I was fond of her, mind - you couldn't help
it. But what her place was in the wider scheme of things, I don't know."
Lord Asriel planning to do?"
think he told me, do you, Serafina Pekkala? I'm his manservant, that's
all. I clean his clothes and cook his meals and keep his house tidy. I
may have learned a thing or two in the years I been with his lordship,
but only by picking 'em up accidental. He wouldn't confide in me any more
than in his shaving mug."
me the thing or two you've learned by accident," she insisted.
was an elderly man, but he was healthy and vigorous, and he felt flattered
by the attention of this young witch and her beauty, as any man would.
He was shrewd, though, too, and he knew the attention was not really on
him but on what he knew; and he was honest, so he did not draw out his
telling for much longer than he needed.
tell you precisely what he's doing," he said, "because all the philosophical
details are beyond my grasp. But I can tell you what drives his lordship,
though he doesn't know I know. I've seen this in a hundred little signs.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the witch people have different gods from
ours, en't that right?"
know about our God? The God of the Church, the one they call the Authority?"
Asriel has never found hisself at ease with the doctrines of the Church,
so to speak. I've seen a spasm of disgust cross his face when they talk
of the sacraments, and atonement, and redemption, and suchlike. It's death
among our people, Serafina Pekkala, to challenge the Church, but Lord
Asriel's been nursing a rebellion in his heart for as long as I've served
him, that's one thing I do know."
against the Church?"
aye. There was a time when he thought of making it an issue of force,
but he turned away from that."
the Church too strong?"
the old servant, "that wouldn't stop my master. Now this might sound strange
to you, Serafina Pekkala, but I know the man better than any wife could
know him, better than a mother. He's been my master and my study for nigh
on forty years. I can't follow him to the height of his thought any more
than I can fly, but I can see where he's a-heading even if I can't go
after him. No, it's my belief he turned away from a rebellion against
the Church not because the Church was too strong, but because it was too
weak to be worth the fighting."
is he doing?"
he's a-waging a higher war than that. I think he's aiming a rebellion
against the highest power of all. He's gone a-searching for the dwelling
place of the Authority Himself, and he's a-going to destroy Him. That's
what I think. It shakes my heart to voice it, ma'am. I hardly dare think
of it. But I can't put together any other story that makes sense of what
sat quiet for a few moments, absorbing what Thorold had said.
could speak, he went on:
anyone setting out to do a grand thing like that would be the target of
the Church's anger. Goes without saying. It'd be the most gigantic blasphemy,
that's what they'd say. They'd have him before the Consistorial Court
and sentenced to death before you could blink. I've never spoke of it
before and I shan't again; I'd be afraid to speak it aloud to you if you
weren't a witch and beyond the power of the Church; but that makes sense,
and nothing else does. He's a-going to find the Authority and kill Him."
possible?" said Serafina.
life has been filled with things that were impossible. I wouldn't like
to say there was anything he couldn't do. But on the face of it, Serafina
Pekkala, yes, he's stark mad. If angels couldn't do it, how can a man
dare to think about it?"
What are angels?"
of pure spirit, the Church says. The Church teaches that some of the angels
rebelled before the world was created, and got flung out of heaven and
into hell. They failed, you see, that's the point. They couldn't do it.
And they had the power of angels. Lord Asriel is just a man, with human
power, no more than that. But his ambition is limitless. He dares to do
what men and women don't even dare to think. And look what he's done already:
he's torn open the sky, he's opened the way to another world. Who else
has ever done that? Who else could think of it? So with one part of me,
Serafina Pekkala, I say he's mad, wicked, deranged. Yet with another part
I think, he's Lord Asriel, he's not like other men. Maybe...if it was
ever going to be possible, it'd be done by him and by no one else."
will you do, Thorold?"
here and wait. I'll guard this house till he comes back and tells me different,
or till I die. And now I might ask you the same question, ma'am."
to make sure the child is safe," she said. "It might be that I have to
pass this way again, Thorold. I'm glad to know that you will still be
budge," he told her.
Thorold's offer of food, and said good-bye.
or so later she joined her goose dæmon again, and the dæmon
kept silence with her as they soared and wheeled above the foggy mountains.
She was deeply troubled, and there was no need to explain: every strand
of moss, every icy puddle, every midge in her homeland thrilled against
her nerves and called her back. She felt fear for them, but fear of herself,
too, for she was having to change. These were human affairs she was inquiring
into, this was a human matter; Lord Asriel's god was not hers. Was she
becoming human? Was she losing her witchhood?
If she were,
she could not do it alone.
she said. "We must talk to our sisters, Kaisa. These events are too big
for us alone."
sped through the roiling banks of fog toward Lake Enara and home.
In the forested
caves beside the lake they found the others of their clan, and Lee Scoresby,
too. The aeronaut had struggled to keep his balloon aloft after the crash
at Svalbard, and the witches had guided him to their homeland, where he
had begun to repair the damage to his basket and the gasbag.
I'm very glad to see you," he said. "Any news of the little girl?"
Scoresby. Will you join our council tonight and help us discuss what to
blinked with surprise, for no man had ever been known to join a witch
greatly honored," he said. "I may have a suggestion or two of my own."
that day the witches came, like flakes of black snow on the wings of a
storm, filling the skies with the darting flutter of their silk and the
swish of air through the needles of their cloud-pine branches. Men who
hunted in the dripping forests or fished among melting ice floes heard
the skywide whisper through the fog, and if the sky was clear, they would
look up to see the witches flying, like scraps of darkness drifting on
a secret tide.
the pines around the lake were lit from below by a hundred fires, and
the greatest fire of all was built in front of the gathering cave. There,
once they had eaten, the witches assembled. Serafina Pekkala sat in the
center, the crown of little scarlet flowers nestling among her fair hair.
On her left sat Lee Scoresby, and on her right, a visitor: the queen of
the Latvian witches, whose name was Ruta Skadi.
arrived only an hour before, to Serafina's surprise. Serafina had thought
Mrs. Coulter beautiful, for a short-life; but Ruta Skadi was as lovely
as Mrs. Coulter, with an extra dimension of the mysterious, the uncanny.
She had trafficked with spirits, and it showed. She was vivid and passionate,
with large black eyes; it was said that Lord Asriel himself had been her
lover. She wore heavy gold earrings and a crown on her black curly hair
ringed with the fangs of snow tigers. Serafina's dæmon, Kaisa, had
learned from Ruta Skadi's dæmon that she had killed the tigers herself
in order to punish the Tartar tribe who worshiped them, because the tribesmen
had failed to do her honor when she had visited their territory. Without
their tiger gods, the tribe declined into fear and melancholy and begged
her to allow them to worship her instead, only to be rejected with contempt;
for what good would their worship do her? she asked. It had done nothing
for the tigers. Such was Ruta Skadi: beautiful, proud, and pitiless.
was not sure why she had come, but made the queen welcome, and etiquette
demanded that Ruta Skadi should sit on Serafina's right. When they were
all assembled, Serafina began to speak.
You know why we have come together: we must decide what to do about these
new events. The universe is broken wide, and Lord Asriel has opened the
way from this world to another. Should we concern ourselves with it, or
live our lives as we have done until now, looking after our own affairs?
Then there is the matter of the child Lyra Belacqua, now called Lyra Silvertongue
by King Iorek Byrnison. She chose the right cloud-pine spray at the house
of Dr. Lanselius: she is the child we have always expected, and now she
two guests, who will tell us their thoughts. First we shall hear Queen
stood. Her white arms gleamed in the firelight; her eyes glittered so
brightly that even the farthest witch could see the play of expression
on her vivid face.
she began, "let me tell you what is happening, and who it is that we must
fight. For there is a war coming. I don't know who will join with us,
but I know whom we must fight. It is the Magisterium, the Church. For
all its history - and that's not long by our lives, but it's many, many
of theirs--it's tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And
when it can't control them, it cuts them out. Some of you have seen what
they did at Bolvangar. And that was horrible, but it is not the only such
place, not the only such practice. Sisters, you know only the north; I
have traveled in the south lands. There are churches there, believe me,
that cut their children too, as the people of Bolvangar did--not in the
same way, but just as horribly. They cut their sexual organs, yes, both
boys and girls; they cut them with knives so that they shan't feel. That
is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy,
obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes, and the Church is on
one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies
we find ourselves bound to.
propose is that our clans join together and go north to explore this new
world, and see what we can discover there. If the child is not to be found
in our world, it's because she will have gone after Lord Asriel already.
And Lord Asriel is the key to this, believe me. He was my lover once,
and I would willingly join forces with him, because he hates the Church
and all it does.
what I have to say."
spoke passionately, and Serafina admired her power and her beauty. When
the Latvian queen sat down, Serafina turned to Lee Scoresby.
is a friend of the child's, and thus a friend of ours," she said. "Would
you tell us your thoughts, sir?"
got to his feet, whiplash-lean and courteous. He looked as if he were
not conscious of the strangeness of the occasion, but he was. His hare
dæmon, Hester, crouched beside him, her ears flat along her back,
her golden eyes half closed.
he said, "I have to thank you all first for the kindness you've shown
to me, and the help you extended to an aeronaut battered by winds that
came from another world. I won't trespass long on your patience.
was traveling north to Bolvangar with the gyptians, the child Lyra told
me about something that happened in the college she used to live in, back
in Oxford. Lord Asriel had shown the other scholars the severed head of
a man called Stanislaus Grumman, and that kinda persuaded them to give
him some money to come north and find out what had happened.
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.
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."
said, "Have you been married, Mr. Scoresby? Have you any children?"
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."
Mr. Scoresby," she said.
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
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."
you, ma'am," he said, surprised. He took the little flower and tucked
it carefully into his breast pocket.
shall call up a wind to help you to Nova Zembla," Serafina Pekkala told
him. "Now, sisters, who would like to speak?"
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.
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.
you, Queen Ruta Skadi?" Serafina said finally. "What are your plans?"
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?"
and welcome," said Serafina, who was glad to have her company.
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."
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.
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."
with hatred at the elder witch, who returned her look with compassion:
she knew about love.
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."
said the young witch humbly.
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.
Copyright ©1997 by Philip Pullman
Continue to Chapter Three...