They were in the Rolls-Royce, driving up through Oxford. Sir Charles sat in the front, half-turned around, and Will and Lyra sat in the back, with Pantalaimon a mouse now, soothed in Lyra’s hands.
“Someone who has no more right to the knife than I have to the alethiometer,” said Sir Charles. “Unfortunately for all of us, the alethiometer is in my possession, and the knife is in his.”
“How do you know about that other world anyway?”
“I know many things that you don’t. What else would you expect? I am a good deal older and considerably better informed. There are a number of doorways between this world and that; those who know where they are can easily pass back and forth. In Cittàgazze there’s a Guild of learned men, so called, who used to do so all the time.”
“You en’t from this world at all!” said Lyra suddenly. “You’re from there, en’t you?”
And again came that strange nudge at her memory. She was almost certain she’d seen him before.
“No, I’m not,” he said.
Will said, “If we’ve got to get the knife from that man, we need to know more about him. He’s not going to just give it to us, is he?”
“Certainly not. It’s the one thing keeping the Specters away. It’s not going to be easy by any means.”
“The Specters are afraid of the knife?”
“Very much so.”
“Why do they attack only grownups?”
“You don’t need to know that now. It doesn’t matter. Lyra,” Sir Charles said, turning to her, “tell me about your remarkable friend.”
He meant Pantalaimon. And as soon as he said it, Will realized that the snake he’d seen concealed in the man’s sleeve was a dæmon too, and that Sir Charles must come from Lyra’s world. He was asking about Pantalaimon to put them off the track: so he didn’t realize that Will had seen his own dæmon.
Lyra lifted Pantalaimon close to her breast, and he became a black rat, whipping his tail around and around her wrist and glaring at Sir Charles with red eyes.
“You weren’t supposed to see him,” she said. “He’s my dæmon. You think you en’t got dæmons in this world, but you have. Yours’d be a dung beetle.”
“If the Pharaohs of Egypt were content to be represented by a scarab, so am I,” he said. “Well, you’re from yet another world. How interesting. Is that where the alethiometer comes from, or did you steal it on your travels?”
“I was given it,” said Lyra furiously. “The Master of Jordan College in my Oxford gave it to me. It’s mine by right. And you wouldn’t know what to do with it, you stupid, stinky old man; you’d never read it in a hundred years. It’s just a toy to you. But I need it, and so does Will. We’ll get it back, don’t worry.”
“We’ll see,” said Sir Charles. “This is where I dropped you before. Shall we let you out here?”
“No,” said Will, because he could see a police car farther down the road. “You can’t come into Ci’gazze because of the Specters, so it doesn’t matter if you know where the window is. Take us farther up toward the ring road.”
“As you wish,” said Sir Charles, and the car moved on. “When, or if, you get the knife, call my number and Allan will come to pick you up.”
They said no more till the chauffeur drew the car to a halt. As they got out, Sir Charles lowered his window and said to Will, “By the way, if you can’t get the knife, don’t bother to return. Come to my house without it and I’ll call the police. I imagine they’ll be there at once when I tell them your real name. It is William Parry, isn’t it? Yes, I thought so. There’s a very good photo of you in today’s paper.”
And the car pulled away. Will was speechless.
Lyra was shaking his arm. “It’s all right,” she said, “he won’t tell anyone else. He would have done it already if he was going to. Come on.”
Ten minutes later they stood in the little square at the foot of the Tower of the Angels. Will had told her about the snake dæmon, and she had stopped still in the street, tormented again by that half-memory. Who was the old man? Where had she seen him? It was no good; the memory wouldn’t come clear.
“I didn’t want to tell him,” Lyra said quietly, “but I saw a man up there last night. He looked down when the kids were making all that noise . . . . ”
“What did he look like?”
“Young, with curly hair. Not old at all. But I saw him for only a moment, at the very top, over those battlements. I thought he might be . . . You remember Angelica and Paolo, and Paolo said they had an older brother, and he’d come into the city as well, and she made Paolo stop telling us, as if it was a secret? Well, I thought it might be him. He might be after this knife as well. And I reckon all the kids know about it. I think that’s the real reason why they come back in the first place.”
“Mmm,” he said, looking up. “Maybe.”
She remembered the children talking earlier that morning. No children would go in the tower, they’d said; there were scary things in there. And she remembered her own feeling of unease as she and Pantalaimon had looked through the open door before leaving the city. Maybe that was why they needed a grown man to go in there. Her dæmon was fluttering around her head now, moth-formed in the bright sunlight, whispering anxiously.
“Hush,” she whispered back, “there en’t any choice, Pan. It’s our fault. We got to make it right, and this is the only way.”
Will walked off to the right, following the wall of the tower. At the corner a narrow cobbled alley led between it and the next building, and Will went down there too, looking up, getting the measure of the place. Lyra followed. Will stopped under a window at the second-story level and said to Pantalaimon, “Can you fly up there? Can you look in?”
He became a sparrow at once and set off. He could only just reach it. Lyra gasped and gave a little cry when he was at the windowsill, and he perched there for a second or two before diving down again. She sighed and took deep breaths like someone rescued from drowning. Will frowned, puzzled.
“It’s hard,” she explained, “when your dæmon goes away from you. It hurts.”
“Sorry. Did you see anything?” he said.
“Stairs,” said Pantalaimon. “Stairs and dark rooms. There were swords hung on the wall, and spears and shields, like a museum. And I saw the young man. He was . . . dancing.”
“Moving to and fro, waving his hand about. Or as if he was fighting something invisible . . . I just saw him through an open door. Not clearly.”
“Fighting a Specter?” Lyra guessed.
But they couldn’t guess any better, so they moved on. Behind the tower a high stone wall, topped with broken glass, enclosed a small garden with formal beds of herbs around a fountain (once again Pantalaimon flew up to look); and then there was an alley on the other side, bringing them back to the square. The windows around the tower were small and deeply set, like frowning eyes.
“We’ll have to go in the front, then,” said Will.
He climbed the steps and pushed the door wide. Sunlight struck in, and the heavy hinges creaked. He took a step or two inside, and seeing no one, went in farther. Lyra followed close behind. The floor was made of flagstones worn smooth over centuries, and the air inside was cool.
Will looked at a flight of steps going downward, and went far enough down to see that it opened into a wide, low-ceilinged room with an immense cold furnace at one end, where the plaster walls were black with soot; but there was no one there, and he went up to the entrance hall again, where he found Lyra with her finger to her lips, looking up.
“I can hear him,” she whispered. “He’s talking to himself, I reckon.”
Will listened hard, and heard it too: a low crooning murmur interrupted occasionally by a harsh laugh or a short cry of anger. It sounded like the voice of a madman.
Will blew out his cheeks and set off to climb the staircase. It was made of blackened oak, immense and broad, with steps as worn as the flagstones: far too solid to creak underfoot. The light diminished as they climbed, because the only illumination was the small deep-set window on each landing. They climbed up one floor, stopped and listened, climbed the next, and the sound of the man’s voice was now mixed with that of halting, rhythmic footsteps. It came from a room across the landing, whose door stood ajar.