“Yeah! We're different from them all right….Like bears. They're strange, en't they, bears? You think they're like a person, and then suddenly they do something so strange or ferocious you think you'll never understand them….But you know what lorek said to me, he said that his armor for him was like what a daemon is for a person. It's his soul, he said. But that's where they're different again, because he made this armor his-self. They took his first armor away when they sent him into exile, and he found some sky iron and made some new armor, like making a new soul. We can't make our daemons. Then the people at Trollesund, they got him drunk on spirits and stole it away, and I found out where it was and he got it back….But what I wonder is, why's he coming to Svalbard? They'll fight him. They might kill him….I love lorek. I love him so much I wish he wasn't coming.”
“Has he told you who he is?”
“Only his name. And it was the consul at Trollesund who told us that.”
“He is highborn. He is a prince. In fact, if he had not committed a great crime, he would be the king of the bears by now.”
“He told me their king was called lofur Raknison.”
“lofur Raknison became king when lorek Byrnison was exiled. lofur is a prince, of course, or he wouldn't be allowed to rule; but he is clever in a human way; he makes alliances and treaties; he lives not as bears do, in ice forts, but in a new-built palace; he talks of exchanging ambassadors with human nations and developing the fire mines with the help of human engineers….He is very skillful and subtle. Some say that he provoked lorek into the deed for which he was exiled, and others say that even if he didn't, he encourages them to think he did, because it adds to his reputation for craft and subtlety.”
“What did lorek do? See, one reason I love lorek, it's because of my father doing what he did and being punished. Seems to me they're like each other. lorek told me he'd killed another bear, but he never said how it came about.”
“The fight was over a she-bear. The male whom lorek killed would not display the usual signals of surrender when it was clear that lorek was stronger. For all their pride, bears never fail to recognize superior force in another bear and surrender to it, but for some reason this bear didn't do it. Some say that lofur Raknison worked on his mind, or gave him confusing herbs to eat. At any rate, the young bear persisted, and lorek Byrnison allowed his temper to master him. The case was not hard to judge; he should have wounded, not killed.”
“So otherwise he'd be king,” Lyra said. “And I heard something about lofur Raknison from the Palmerian Professor at Jordan, 'cause he'd been to the North and met him. He said… I wish I could remember what it was….I think he'd tricked his way on to the throne or something….But you know, lorek said to me once that bears couldn't be tricked, and showed me that I couldn't trick him. It sounds as if they was both tricked, him and the other bear. Maybe only bears can trick bears, maybe people can't. Except…The people at Trollesund, they tricked him, didn't they? When they got him drunk and stole his armor?”
“When bears act like people, perhaps they can be tricked,” said Serafina Pekkala. “When bears act like bears, perhaps they can't. No bear would normally drink spirits. lorek Byrnison drank to forget the shame of exile, and it was only that which let the Trollesund people trick him.”
“Ah, yes,” said Lyra, nodding. She was satisfied with that idea. She admired lorek almost without limit, and she was glad to find confirmation of his nobility. “That's clever of you,” she said. “I wouldn't have known that if you hadn't told me. I think you're probably cleverer than Mrs. Coulter.”
They flew on. Lyra chewed some of the seal meat she found in her pocket.
“Serafina Pekkala,” she said after some time, “what's Dust? 'Cause it seems to me that all this trouble's about Dust, only no one's told me what it is.”
“I don't know,” Serafina Pekkala told her. “Witches have never worried about Dust. All I can tell you is that where there are priests, there is fear of Dust. Mrs. Coulter is not a priest, of course, but she is a powerful agent of the Magisterium, and it was she who set up the Oblation Board and persuaded the Church to pay for Bolvangar, because of her interest in Dust. We can't understand her feelings about it. But there are many things we have never understood. We see the Tartars making holes in their skulls, and we can only wonder at the strangeness of it. So Dust may be strange, and we wonder at it, but we don't fret and tear things apart to examine it. Leave that to the Church.”
“The Church?” said Lyra. Something had come back to her: she remembered talking with Pantalaimon, in the fens, about what it might be that was moving the needle of the alethiometer, and they had thought of the photomill on the high altar at Gabriel College, and how elementary particles pushed the little vanes around. The Intercessor there was clear about the link between elementary particles and religion. “Could be,” she said, nodding. “Most Church things, they keep secret, after all. But most Church things are old, and Dust en't old, as far as I know. I wonder if Lord Asriel might tell me….”
“I better lie down,” she said to Serafina Pekkala, “else I'll probably freeze. I been cold down on the ground, but I never been this cold. I think I might die if I get any colder.”
“Then lie down and wrap yourself in the furs.”
“Yeah, I will. If I was going to die, I'd rather die up here than down there, any day. I thought when they put us under that blade thing, I thought that was it….We both did. Oh, that was cruel. But we'll lie down now. Wake us up when we get there,” she said, and got down on the pile of furs, clumsy and aching in every part of her with the profound intensity of the cold, and lay as close as she could to the sleeping Roger.
And so the four travelers sailed on, sleeping in the ice-encrusted balloon, toward the rocks and glaciers, the fire mines and the ice forts of Svalbard.
Serafina Pekkala called to the aeronaut, and he woke at once, groggy with cold, but aware from the movement of the basket that something was wrong. It was swinging wildly as strong winds buffeted the gas bag, and the witches pulling the rope were barely managing to hold it. If they let go, the balloon would be swept off course at once, and to judge by his glance at the compass, would be swept toward Nova Zembla at nearly a hundred miles an hour.
“Where are we?” Lyra heard him call. She was half-waking herself, uneasy because of the motion, and so cold that every part of her body was numb.
She couldn't hear the witch's reply, but through her half-closed hood she saw, in the light of an anbaric lantern, Lee Scoresby hold on to a strut and pull at a rope leading up into the gas bag itself. He gave a sharp tug as if against some obstruction, and looked up into the buffeting dark before looping the rope around a cleat on the suspension ring.
“I'm letting out some gas!” he shouted to Serafina Pekkala. “We'll go down. We're way too high.”
The witch called something in return, but again Lyra couldn't hear it. Roger was waking too; the creaking of the basket was enough to wake the deepest sleeper, never mind the rocking and bumping. Roger's daemon and Pantalaimon clung together like marmosets, and Lyra concentrated on lying still and not leaping up in fear.
'“S all right,” Roger said, sounding much more cheerful than she was. “Soon's we get down we can make a fire and get warm. I got some matches in me pocket. I pinched 'em out the kitchen at Bolvangar.”
The balloon was certainly descending, because they were enveloped a second later in thick freezing cloud. Scraps and wisps of it flew through the basket, and then everything was obscured, all at once. It was like the thickest fog Lyra had ever known. After a moment or two there came another cry from Serafina Pekkala, and the aeronaut unlooped the rope from the cleat and let go. It sprang upward through his hands, and even over the creak and the buffeting and the howl of wind through the rigging Lyra heard or felt a mighty thump from somewhere far above.
Lee Scoresby saw her wide eyes.
“That's the gas valve!” he shouted. “It works on a spring to hold the gas in. When I pull it down, some gas escapes outta the top, and we lose buoyancy and go down.”
“Are we nearly—”
She didn't finish, because something hideous happened. A creature half the size of a man, with leathery wings and hooked claws, was crawling over the side of the basket toward Lee Scoresby. It had a flat head, with bulging eyes and a wide frog mouth, and from it came wafts of abominable stink. Lyra had no time to scream, even, before lorek Byrnison reached up and cuffed it away. It fell out of the basket and vanished with a shriek.