She looked at the newcomer with surprise. He was a tall, lean man with a thin black moustache and narrow blue eyes, and a perpetual expression of distant and sardonic amusement. She felt strongly about him at once, but she wasn't sure whether it was liking she felt, or dislike. His daemon was a shabby hare as thin and tough-looking as he was.
He held out his hand and she shook it warily.
“Lee Scoresby,” he said.
“The aeronaut!” she exclaimed. “Where's your balloon? Can I go up in it?”
“It's packed away right now, miss. You must be the famous Lyra. How did you get on with lorek Byrnison?”
“You know him?”
“I fought beside him in the Tunguska campaign. Hell, I've known lorek for years. Bears are difficult critters no matter what, but he's a problem, and no mistake. Say, are any of you gentlemen in the mood for a game of hazard?”
A pack of cards had appeared from nowhere in his hand. He riffled them with a snapping noise.
“Now I've heard of the card power of your people,” Lee Scoresby was saying, cutting and folding the cards over and over with one hand and fishing a cigar out of his breast pocket with the other, “and I thought you wouldn't object to giving a simple Texan traveler the chance to joust with your skill and daring on the field of pasteboard combat. What do you say, gentlemen?”
Gyptians prided themselves on their ability with cards, and several of the men looked interested and pulled their chairs up. While they were agreeing with Lee Scoresby what to play and for what stakes, his daemon flicked her ears at Pantalaimon, who understood and leaped to her side lightly as a squirrel.
She was speaking for Lyra's ears too, of course, and Lyra heard her say quietly, “Go straight to the bear and tell him direct. As soon as they know what's going on, they'll move his armor somewhere else.”
Lyra got up, taking her spice cake with her, and no one noticed; Lee Scoresby was already dealing the cards, and every suspicious eye was on his hands.
In the dull light, fading through an endless afternoon, she found her way to the sledge depot. It was something she knew she had to do, but she felt uneasy about it, and afraid, too.
Outside the largest of the concrete sheds the great bear was working, and Lyra stood by the open gate to watch. lorek Byrnison was dismantling a gas-engined tractor that had crashed; the metal covering of the engine was twisted and buckled and one runner bent upward. The bear lifted the metal off as if it were cardboard, and turned it this way and that in his great hands, seeming to test it for some quality or other, before setting a rear paw on one corner and then bending the whole sheet in such a way that the dents sprang out and the shape was restored. Leaning it against the wall, he lifted the massive weight of the tractor with one paw and laid it on its side before bending to examine the crumpled runner.
As he did so, he caught sight of Lyra. She felt a bolt of cold fear strike at her, because he was so massive and so alien. She was gazing through the chain-link fence about forty yards from him, and she thought how he could clear the distance in a bound or two and sweep the wire aside like a cobweb, and she almost turned and ran away; but Pantalaimon said, “Stop! Let me go and talk to him.”
He was a tern, and before she could answer he'd flown off the fence and down to the icy ground beyond it. There was an open gate a little way along, and Lyra could have followed him, but she hung back uneasily. Pantalaimon looked at her, and then became a badger.
She knew what he was doing. Daemons could move no more than a few yards from their humans, and if she stood by the fence and he remained a bird, he wouldn't get near the bear; so he was going to pull.
She felt angry and miserable. His badger claws dug into the earth and he walked forward. It was such a strange tormenting feeling when your daemon was pulling at the link between you; part physical pain deep in the chest, part intense sadness and love. And she knew it was the same for him. Everyone tested it when they were growing up: seeing how far they could pull apart, coming back with intense relief.
He tugged a little harder.
But he didn't stop. The bear watched, motionless. The pain in Lyra's heart grew more and more unbearable, and a sob of longing rose in her throat.
Then she was through the gate, scrambling over the icy mud toward him, and he turned into a wildcat and sprang up into her arms, and they were clinging together tightly with little shaky sounds of unhappiness coming from them both.
“I thought you really would—”
“I couldn't believe how much it hurt—”
And then she brushed the tears away angrily and sniffed hard. He nestled in her arms, and she knew she would rather die than let them be parted and face that sadness again; it would send her mad with grief and terror. If she died, they'd still be together, like the Scholars in the crypt at Jordan.
Then girl and daemon looked up at the solitary bear. He had no daemon. He was alone, always alone. She felt such a stir of pity and gentleness for him that she almost reached out to touch his matted pelt, and only a sense of courtesy toward those cold ferocious eyes prevented her.
“lorek Byrnison,” she said.
“Lord Faa and Farder Coram have gone to try and get your armor for you.”
He didn't move or speak. It was clear what he thought of their chances.
“I know where it is, though,” she said, “and if I told you, maybe you could get it by yourself, I don't know.”
“How do you know where it is?”
“I got a symbol reader. I think I ought to tell you, lorek Byrnison, seeing as they tricked you out of it in the first place. I don't think that's right. They shouldn't've done that. Lord Faa's going to argue with the sysselman, but probably they won't let you have it whatever he says. So if I tell you, will you come with us and help rescue the kids from Bolvangar?”
“I…” She didn't mean to be nosy, but she couldn't help being curious. She said, “Why don't you just make some more armor out of this metal here, lorek Byrnison?”
“Because it's worthless. Look,” he said, and, lifting the engine cover with one paw, he extended a claw on the other hand and ripped right through it like a can opener. “My armor is made of sky iron, made for me. A bear's armor is his soul, just as your daemon is your soul. You might as well take him away” —indicating Pantalaimon—”and replace him with a doll full of sawdust. That is the difference. Now, where is my armor?”
“Listen, you got to promise not to take vengeance. They done wrong taking it, but you just got to put up with that.”
“All right. No vengeance afterwards. But no holding back as I take it, either. If they fight, they die.”
“It's hidden in the cellar of the priest's house,” she told him. “He thinks there's a spirit in it, and he's been a trying to conjure it out. But that's where it is.”
He stood high up on his hind legs and looked west, so that the last of the sun colored his face a creamy brilliant yellow white amid the gloom. She could feel the power of the great creature coming off him like waves of heat.
“I must work till sunset,” he said. “I gave my word this morning to the master here. I still owe a few minutes' work.”
“The sun's set where I am,” she pointed out, because from her point of view it had vanished behind the rocky headland to the southwest.
He dropped to all fours.
“It's true,” he said, with his face now in shadow like hers. “What's your name, child?”
“Then I owe you a debt, Lyra Belacqua,” he said.
He turned and lurched away, padding so swiftly across the freezing ground that Lyra couldn't keep up, even running. She did run, though, and Pantalaimon flew up as a seagull to watch where the bear went and called down to tell her where to follow.
Iorek Byrnison bounded out of the depot and along the narrow street before turning into the main street of the town, past the courtyard of the sysselman's residence where a flag hung in the still air and a sentry marched stiffly up and down, down the hill past the end of the street where the witch consul lived. The sentry by this time had realized what was happening, and was trying to gather his wits, but lorek Byrnison was already turning a corner near the harbor.
People stopped to watch or scuttled out of his careering way. The sentry fired two shots in the air, and set off down the hill after the bear, spoiling the effect by skidding on the icy slope and only regaining his balance after seizing the nearest railings. Lyra was not far behind. As she passed the syssel-man's house, she was aware of a number of figures coming out into the courtyard to see what was going on, and thought she saw Farder Coram among them; but then she was past, hurtling down the street toward the corner where the sentry was already turning to follow the bear.