“But unless I’m mistaken, sir, I heard the village headman say that I had come to take you to another world. Did I get it wrong, or is that truly what he said? And one more question for you, sir: What was that name he called you by? Was that some kind of tribal name, some magician’s title?”
Grumman smiled briefly, and said, “The name he used is my own true name, John Parry. Yes, you have come to take me to the other world. And as for what brought you here, I think you’ll find it was this.”
And he opened his hand. In the palm lay something that Lee could see but not understand. He saw a ring of silver and turquoise, a Navajo design; he saw it clearly and he recognized it as his own mother’s. He knew its weight and the smoothness of the stone and the way the silversmith had folded the metal over more closely at the corner where the stone was chipped, and he knew how the chipped corner had worn smooth, because he had run his fingers over it many, many times, years and years ago in his boyhood in the sagelands of his native country.
He found himself standing. Hester was trembling, standing upright, ears pricked. The osprey had moved without Lee’s noticing between him and Grumman, defending her man, but Lee wasn’t going to attack. He felt undone; he felt like a child again, and his voice was tight and shaky as he said, “Where did you get that?”
“Take it,” said Grumman, or Parry. “Its work is done. It summoned you. Now I don’t need it.”
“But how—” said Lee, lifting the beloved thing from Grumman’s palm. “I don’t understand how you can have—did you—how did you get this? I ain’t seen this thing for forty years.”
“I am a shaman. I can do many things you don’t understand. Sit down, Mr. Scoresby. Be calm. I’ll tell you what you need to know.”
Lee sat again, holding the ring, running his fingers over it again and again.
“Well,” he said, “I’m shaken, sir. I think I need to hear what you can tell me.”
“Very well,” said Grumman, “I’ll begin. My name, as I told you, is Parry, and I was not born in this world. Lord Asriel is not the first by any means to travel between the worlds, though he’s the first to open the way so spectacularly. In my own world I was a soldier and then an explorer. Twelve years ago I was accompanying an expedition to a place in my world that corresponds with your Beringland. My companions had other intentions, but I was looking for something I’d heard about from old legends: a rent in the fabric of the world, a hole that had appeared between our universe and another. Well, some of my companions got lost. In searching for them, I and two others walked through this hole, this doorway, without even seeing it, and left our world altogether. At first we didn’t realize what had happened. We walked on till we found a town, and then there was no mistaking it: we were in a different world.
“Well, try as we might, we could not find that first doorway again. We’d come through it in a blizzard. You are an old Arctic hand—you know what that means.
“So we had no choice but to stay in that new world. And we soon discovered what a dangerous place it was. It seemed that there was a strange kind of ghoul or apparition haunting it, something deadly and implacable. My two companions died soon afterward, victims of the Specters, as the things are called.
“The result was that I found their world an abominable place, and I couldn’t wait to leave it. The way back to my own world was barred forever. But there were other doorways into other worlds, and a little searching found the way into this.
“So here I came. And I discovered a marvel as soon as I did, Mr. Scoresby, for worlds differ greatly, and in this world I saw my dæmon for the first time. Yes, I hadn’t known of Sayan Kötör here till I entered yours. People here cannot conceive of worlds where dæmons are a silent voice in the mind and no more. Can you imagine my astonishment, in turn, at learning that part of my own nature was female, and bird-formed, and beautiful?
“So with Sayan Kötör beside me, I wandered through the northern lands, and I learned a good deal from the peoples of the Arctic, like my good friends in the village down there. What they told me of this world filled some gaps in the knowledge I’d acquired in mine, and I began to see the answer to many mysteries.
“I made my way to Berlin under the name of Grumman. I told no one about my origins; it was my secret. I presented a thesis to the Academy, and defended it in debate, which is their method. I was better informed than the Academicians, and I had no difficulty in gaining membership.
“So with my new credentials I could begin to work in this world, where I found myself, for the most part, greatly contented. I missed some things about my own world, to be sure. Are you a married man, Mr. Scoresby? No? Well, I was; and I loved my wife dearly, as I loved my son, my only child, a little boy not yet one year old when I wandered out of my world. I missed them terribly. But I might search for a thousand years and never find the way back. We were sundered forever.
“However, my work absorbed me. I sought other forms of knowledge; I was initiated into the skull cult; I became a shaman. And I have made some useful discoveries. I have found a way of making an ointment from bloodmoss, for example, that preserves all the virtues of the fresh plant.
“I know a great deal about this world now, Mr. Scoresby. I know, for example, about Dust. I see from your expression that you have heard the term. It is frightening your theologians to death, but they are the ones who frighten me. I know what Lord Asriel is doing, and I know why, and that’s why I summoned you here. I am going to help him, you see, because the task he’s undertaken is the greatest in human history. The greatest in thirty-five thousand years of human history, Mr. Scoresby.
“I can’t do very much myself. My heart is diseased beyond the powers of anyone in this world to cure it. I have one great effort left in me, perhaps. But I know something Lord Asriel doesn’t, something he needs to know if his effort is to succeed.
“You see, I was intrigued by that haunted world where the Specters fed on human consciousness. I wanted to know what they were, how they had come into being. And as a shaman, I can discover things in the spirit where I cannot go in the body, and I spent much time in trance, exploring that world. I found that the philosophers there, centuries ago, had created a tool for their own undoing: an instrument they called the subtle knife. It had many powers—more than they’d guessed when they made it, far more than they know even now—and somehow, in using it, they had let the Specters into their world.
“Well, I know about the subtle knife and what it can do. And I know where it is, and I know how to recognize the one who must use it, and I know what he must do in Lord Asriel’s cause. I hope he’s equal to the task. So I have summoned you here, and you are to fly me northward, into the world Asriel has opened, where I expect to find the bearer of the subtle knife.
“That is a dangerous world, mind. Those Specters are worse than anything in your world or mine. We shall have to be careful and courageous. I shall not return, and if you want to see your country again, you’ll need all your courage, all your craft, all your luck.
“That’s your task, Mr. Scoresby. That is why you sought me out.”
And the shaman fell silent. His face was pallid, with a faint sheen of sweat.
“This is the craziest damn idea I ever heard in my life,” said Lee.
He stood up in his agitation and walked a pace or two this way, a pace or two that, while Hester watched unblinking from the bench. Grumman’s eyes were half-closed; his dæmon sat on his knee, watching Lee warily.
“Do you want money?” Grumman said after a few moments. “I can get you some gold. That’s not hard to do.”
“Damn, I didn’t come here for gold,” said Lee hotly. “I came here . . . I came here to see if you were alive, like I thought you were. Well, my curiosity’s kinda satisfied on that point.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“And there’s another angle to this thing, too,” Lee added, and told Grumman of the witch council at Lake Enara, and the resolution the witches had sworn to. “You see,” he finished, “that little girl Lyra . . . well, she’s the reason I set out to help the witches in the first place. You say you brought me here with that Navajo ring. Maybe that’s so and maybe it ain’t. What I know is, I came here because I thought I’d be helping Lyra. I ain’t never seen a child like that. If I had a daughter of my own, I hope she’d be half as strong and brave and good. Now, I’d heard that you knew of some object, I didn’t know what it might be, that confers a protection on anyone who holds it. And from what you say, I think it must be this subtle knife.