“Well, Dr. Grumman,” he said, “I don’t know about you, but I feel better in the air. I wish that poor man had let go of the rope, though. It’s so damned easy to do, and if you don’t let go at once there’s no hope for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Scoresby,” said the shaman. “You managed that very well. Now we settle down and fly. I would be grateful for those furs; the air is still cold.”
In the great white villa in the park Will slept uneasily, plagued with dreams that were filled with anxiety and with sweetness in equal measure, so that he struggled to wake up and yet longed for sleep again. When his eyes were fully open, he felt so drowsy that he could scarcely move, and then he sat up to find his bandage loose and his bed crimson.
He struggled out of bed and made his way through the heavy, dust-filled sunlight and silence of the great house down to the kitchen. He and Lyra had slept in servants’ rooms under the attic, not feeling welcomed by the stately four-poster beds in the grand rooms farther down, and it was a long unsteady walk.
“Will—” she said at once, her voice full of concern, and she turned from the stove to help him to a chair.
He felt dizzy. He supposed he’d lost a lot of blood; well, there was no need to suppose, with the evidence all over him. And the wounds were still bleeding.
“I was just making some coffee,” she said. “Do you want that first, or shall I do another bandage? I can do whichever you want. And there’s eggs in the cold cabinet, but I can’t find any bake beans.”
“This isn’t a baked beans kind of house. Bandage first. Is there any hot water in the tap? I want to wash. I hate being covered in this . . . ”
She ran some hot water, and he stripped to his underpants. He was too faint and dizzy to feel embarrassed, but Lyra became embarrassed for him and went out. He washed as best he could and then dried himself on the tea towels that hung on a line by the stove.
When she came back, she’d found some clothes for him, just a shirt and canvas trousers and a belt. He put them on, and she tore a fresh tea towel into strips and bandaged him tightly again. She was badly worried about his hand; not only were the wounds bleeding freely still, but the rest of the hand was swollen and red. But he said nothing about it, and neither did she.
Then she made the coffee and toasted some stale bread, and they took it into the grand room at the front of the house, overlooking the city. When he’d eaten and drunk, he felt a little better.
“You better ask the alethiometer what to do next,” he said. “Have you asked it anything yet?”
“No,” she said. “I’m only going to do what you ask, from now on. I thought of doing it last night, but I never did. And I won’t, either, unless you ask me to.”
“Well, you better do it now,” he said. “There’s as much danger here as there is in my world, now. There’s Angelica’s brother for a start. And if—”
He stopped, because she began to say something, but she stopped as soon as he did. Then she collected herself and went on. “Will, there was something that happened yesterday that I didn’t tell you. I should’ve, but there was just so many other things going on. I’m sorry . . . ”
And she told him everything she’d seen through the window of the tower while Giacomo Paradisi was dressing Will’s wound: Tullio being beset by the Specters, Angelica seeing her at the window and her look of hatred, and Paolo’s threat.
“And d’you remember,” she went on, “when she first spoke to us? Her little brother said something about what they were all doing. He said, ‘He’s gonna get—’ and she wouldn’t let him finish; she smacked him, remember? I bet he was going to say Tullio was after the knife, and that’s why all the kids came here. ’Cause if they had the knife, they could do anything, they could even grow up without being afraid of Specters.”
“What did it look like, when he was attacked?” Will said. To her surprise he was sitting forward, his eyes demanding and urgent.
“He . . . ” She tried to remember exactly. “He started counting the stones in the wall. He sort of felt all over them . . . . But he couldn’t keep it up. In the end he sort of lost interest and stopped. Then he was just still,” she finished, and seeing Will’s expression she said, “Why?”
“Because . . . I think maybe they come from my world after all, the Specters. If they make people behave like that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they came from my world. And when the Guild men opened their first window, if it was into my world, the Specters could have gone through then.”
“But you don’t have Specters in your world! You never heard of them, did you?”
“Maybe they’re not called Specters. Maybe we call them something else.”
Lyra wasn’t sure what he meant, but she didn’t want to press him. His cheeks were red and his eyes were hot.
“Anyway,” she went on, turning away, “the important thing is that Angelica saw me in the window. And now that she knows we’ve got the knife, she’ll tell all of ’em. She’ll think it’s our fault that her brother was attacked by Specters. I’m sorry, Will. I should’ve told you earlier. But there was just so many other things.”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t suppose it would have made any difference. He was torturing the old man, and once he knew how to use the knife he’d have killed both of us if he could. We had to fight him.”
“I just feel bad about it, Will. I mean, he was their brother. And I bet if we were them, we’d have wanted the knife too.”
“Yes,” he said, “but we can’t go back and change what happened. We had to get the knife to get the alethiometer back, and if we could have got it without fighting, we would.”
“Yeah, we would,” she said.
Like Iorek Byrnison, Will was a fighter truly enough, so she was prepared to agree with him when he said it would be better not to fight; she knew it wasn’t cowardice that spoke, but strategy. He was calmer now, and his cheeks were pale again. He was looking into the middle distance and thinking.
Then he said, “It’s probably more important now to think about Sir Charles and what he’ll do, or Mrs. Coulter. Maybe if she’s got this special bodyguard they were talking about, these soldiers who’d had their dæmons cut away, maybe Sir Charles is right and they’ll be able to ignore the Specters. You know what I think? I think what they eat, the Specters, is people’s dæmons.”
“But children have dæmons too. And they don’t attack children. It can’t be that.”
“Then it must be the difference between children’s dæmons and grownups’,” Will said. “There is a difference, isn’t there? You told me once that grownups’ dæmons don’t change shape. It must be something to do with that. And if these soldiers of hers haven’t got dæmons at all, maybe the Specters won’t attack them either, like Sir Charles said . . . . ”
“Yeah!” she said. “Could be. And she wouldn’t be afraid of Specters anyway. She en’t afraid of anything. And she’s so clever, Will, honest, and she’s so ruthless and cruel, she could boss them, I bet she could. She could command them like she does people and they’d have to obey her, I bet. Lord Boreal is strong and clever, but she’ll have him doing what she wants in no time. Oh, Will, I’m getting scared again, thinking what she might do . . . . I’m going to ask the alethiometer, like you said. Thank goodness we got that back, anyway.”
She unfolded the velvet bundle and ran her hands lovingly over the heavy gold.
“I’m going to ask about your father,” she said, “and how we can find him. See, I put the hands to point at—”
“No. Ask about my mother first. I want to know if she’s all right.”
Lyra nodded, and turned the hands before laying the alethiometer in her lap and tucking her hair behind her ears to look down and concentrate. Will watched the light needle swing purposefully around the dial, darting and stopping and darting on as swiftly as a swallow feeding, and he watched Lyra’s eyes, so blue and fierce and full of clear understanding.