Lyra, wrapped up so thickly in the back of Farder Coram's sledge that only her eyes were exposed, whispered to Pantalaimon:
“Can you see lorek?”
“He's padding along beside Lee Scoresby's sledge,” the daemon replied, looking back in his ermine form as he clung to her wolverine-fur hood.
Ahead of them, over the mountains to the north, the pale arcs and loops of the Northern Lights began to glow and tremble. Lyra saw through half-closed eyes, and felt a sleepy thrill of perfect happiness, to be speeding north under the Aurora. Pantalaimon struggled against her sleepiness, but it was too strong; he curled up as a mouse inside her hood. He could tell her when they woke, and it was probably a marten, or a dream, or some kind of harmless local spirit; but something was following the train of sledges, swinging lightly from branch to branch of the close-clustering pine trees, and it put him uneasily in mind of a monkey.
The Lost Boy
They traveled for several hours and then stopped to eat. While the men were lighting fires and melting snow for water, with lorek Byrnison watching Lee Scoresby roast seal meat close by, John Faa spoke to Lyra.
“Lyra, can you see that instrument to read it?” he said.
The moon itself had long set. The light from the Aurora was brighter than moonlight, but it was inconstant. However, Lyra's eyes were keen, and she fumbled inside her furs and tugged out the black velvet bag.
“Yes, I can see all right,” she said. “But I know where most of the symbols are by now anyway. What shall I ask it, Lord Faa?”
“I want to know more about how they're defending this place, Bolvangar,” he said.
Without even having to think about it, she found her fingers moving the hands to point to the helmet, the griffin, and the crucible, and felt her mind settle into the right meanings like a complicated diagram in three dimensions. At once the needle began to swing round, back, round and on further, like a bee dancing its message to the hive. She watched it calmly, content not to know at first but to know that a meaning was coming, and then it began to clear. She let it dance on until it was certain.
“It's just like the witch's daemon said, Lord Faa. There's a company of Tartars guarding the station, and they got wires all round it. They don't really expect to be attacked, that's what the symbol reader says. But Lord Faa…”
“It's a telling me something else. In the next valley there's a village by a lake where the folk are troubled by a ghost.”
John Faa shook his head impatiently, and said, “That don't matter now. There's bound to be spirits of all kinds among these forests. Tell me again about them Tartars. How many, for instance? What are they armed with?”
Lyra dutifully asked, and reported the answer:
“There's sixty men with rifles, and they got a couple of larger guns, sort of cannons. They got fire throwers too. And… Their daemons are all wolves, that's what it says.”
That caused a stir among the older gyptians, those who'd campaigned before.
“The Sibirsk regiments have wolf daemons,” said one.
John Faa said, “I never met fiercer. We shall have to fight like tigers. And consult the bear; he's a shrewd warrior, that one.”
Lyra was impatient, and said, “But Lord Faa, this ghost—I think it's the ghost of one of the kids!”
“Well, even if it is, Lyra, I don't know what anyone could do about it. Sixty Sibirsk riflemen, and fire throwers…Mr. Scoresby, step over here if you would, for a moment.”
While the aeronaut came to the sledge, Lyra slipped away and spoke to the bear.
“lorek, have you traveled this way before?”
“Once,” he said in that deep flat voice.
“There's a village near, en't there?”
“Over the ridge,” he said, looking up through the sparse trees.
“Is it far?”
“For you or for me?”
“For me,” she said.
“Too far. Not at all far for me.”
“How long would it take you to get there, then?” “I could be there and back three times by next moonrise.” “Because, lorek, listen: I got this symbol reader that tells me things, you see, and it's told me that there's something important I got to do over in that village, and Lord Faa won't let me go there. He just wants to get on quick, and 1 know that's important too. But unless I go and find out what it is, we might not know what the Gobblers are really doing.”
The bear said nothing. He was sitting up like a human, his great paws folded in his lap, his dark eyes looking into hers down the length of his muzzle. He knew she wanted something.
Pantalaimon spoke: “Can you take us there and catch up with the sledges later on?”
“I could. But I have given my word to Lord Faa to obey him, not anyone else.”
“If I got his permission?” said Lyra. “Then yes.”
She turned and ran back through the snow. “Lord Faa! If lorek Byrnison takes me over the ridge to the village, we can find out whatever it is, and then catch the sledges up further on. He knows the route,” she urged. “And I wouldn't ask, except it's like what I did before, Farder Coram, you remember, with that chameleon? I didn't understand it then, but it was true, and we found out soon after. I got the same feeling now. I can't understand properly what it's saying, only I know it's important. And lorek Byrnison knows the way, he says he could get there and back three times by next moonrise, and I couldn't be safer than I'd be with him, could I? But he won't go without he gets Lord Faa's permission.”
There was a silence. Farder Coram sighed. John Faa was frowning, and his mouth inside the fur hood was set grimly.
But before he could speak, the aeronaut put in:
“Lord Faa, if lorek Byrnison takes the little girl, she'll be as safe as if she was here with us. All bears are true, but I've known lorek for years, and nothing under the sky will make him break his word. Give him the charge to take care of her and he'll do it, make no mistake. As for speed, he can lope for hours without tiring.”
“But why should not some men go?” said John Faa.
“Well, they'd have to walk,” Lyra pointed out, “because you couldn't run a sledge over that ridge. lorek Byrnison can go faster than any man over that sort of country, and I'm light enough so's he won't be slowed down. And I promise, Lord Faa, I promise not to be any longer than I need, and not to give anything away about us, or to get in any danger.”
“You're sure you need to do this? That symbol reader en't playing the fool with you?”
“It never does, Lord Faa, and I don't think it could.”
John Faa rubbed his chin.
“Well, if all comes out right, we'll have a piece more knowledge than we do now. lorek Byrnison,” he called, “are you willing to do as this child bids?”
“I do your bidding, Lord Faa. Tell me to take the child there, and I will.”
“Very well. You are to take her where she wishes to go and do as she bids. Lyra, I'm a commanding you now, you understand?”
“Yes, Lord Faa.”
“You go and search for whatever it is, and when you've found it, you turn right round and come back. lorek Byrnison, we'll be a traveling on by that time, so you'll have to catch us up.”
The bear nodded his great head.
“Are there any soldiers in the village?” he said to Lyra.
“Will I need my armor? We shall be swifter without it.” “No,” she said. “I'm certain of that, lorek. Thank you, Lord Faa, and I promise I'll do just as you say.”
Tony Costa gave her a strip of dried seal meat to chew, and with Pantalaimon as a mouse inside her hood, Lyra clambered onto the great bear's back, gripping his fur with her mittens and his narrow muscular back between her knees. His fur was wondrously thick, and the sense of immense power she felt was overwhelming. As if she weighed nothing at all, he turned and loped away in a long swinging run up toward the ridge and into the low trees.
It took some time before she was used to the movement, and then she felt a wild exhilaration. She was riding a bear! And the Aurora was swaying above them in golden arcs and loops, and all around was the bitter arctic cold and the immense silence of the North.
lorek Byrnison's paws made hardly any sound as they padded forward through the snow. The trees were thin and stunted here, for they were on the edge of the tundra, but there were brambles and snagging bushes in the path. The bear ripped through them as if they were cobwebs.