“No. ’Cause the Master would have poisoned Lord Asriel, and that would’ve been the end of it.”
“Yeah, I suppose . . . . Who d’you think Will’s father is, though? And why’s he important?”
“That’s what I mean! We could find out in a moment!”
And she looked wistful. “I might have done once,” she said, “but I’m changing, I think, Pan.”
“No you’re not.”
“You might not be . . . . Hey, Pan, when I change, you’ll stop changing. What’re you going to be?”
“A flea, I hope.”
“No, but don’t you get any feelings about what you might be?”
“No. I don’t want to, either.”
“You’re sulking because I won’t do what you want.”
He changed into a pig and grunted and squealed and snorted till she laughed at him, and then he changed into a squirrel and darted through the branches beside her.
“Who do you think his father is?” Pantalaimon said. “D’you think he could be anyone we met?”
“Could be. But he’s bound to be someone important, almost as important as Lord Asriel. Bound to be. We know what we’re doing is important, after all.”
“We don’t know it,” Pantalaimon pointed out. “We think it is, but we don’t know. We just decided to look for Dust because Roger died.”
“We know it’s important!” Lyra said hotly, and she even stamped her foot. “And so do the witches. They come all this way to look for us just to be my guardians and help me! And we got to help Will find his father. That’s important. You know it is, too, else you wouldn’t have licked him when he was wounded. Why’d you do that, anyway? You never asked me if you could. I couldn’t believe it when you did that.”
“I did it because he didn’t have a dæmon, and he needed one. And if you were half as good at seeing things as you think you are, you’d’ve known that.”
“I did know it, really,” she said.
They stopped then, because they had caught up with Will, who was sitting on a rock beside the path. Pantalaimon became a flycatcher, and as he flew among the branches, Lyra said, “Will, what d’you think those kids’ll do now?”
“They won’t be following us. They were too frightened of the witches. Maybe they’ll just go back to drifting about.”
“Yeah, probably. They might want to use the knife, though. They might come after us for that.”
“Let them. They’re not having it, not now. I didn’t want it at first. But if it can kill the Specters . . . ”
“I never trusted Angelica, not from the beginning,” Lyra said virtuously.
“Yes, you did,” he said.
“Yeah. I did, really . . . . I hated it in the end, that city.”
“I thought it was heaven when I first found it. I couldn’t imagine anything better than that. And all the time it was full of Specters, and we never knew . . . . ”
“Well, I won’t trust kids again,” said Lyra. “I thought back at Bolvangar that whatever grownups did, however bad it was, kids were different. They wouldn’t do cruel things like that. But I en’t sure now. I never seen kids like that before, and that’s a fact.”
“I have,” said Will.
“When? In your world?”
“Yeah,” he said, awkwardly. Lyra waited and sat still, and presently he went on. “It was when my mother was having one of her bad times. She and me, we lived on our own, see, because obviously my father wasn’t there. And every so often she’d start thinking things that weren’t true. And having to do things that didn’t make sense—not to me, anyway. I mean she had to do them or else she’d get upset and afraid, and so I used to help her. Like touching all the railings in the park, or counting the leaves on a bush—that kind of thing. She used to get better after a while. But I was afraid of anyone finding out she was like that, because I thought they’d take her away, so I used to look after her and hide it. I never told anyone.
“And once she got afraid when I wasn’t there to help her. I was at school. And she went out and she wasn’t wearing very much, only she didn’t know. And some boys from my school, they found her, and they started . . . ”
Will’s face was hot. Without being able to help it he found himself walking up and down and looking away from Lyra because his voice was unsteady and his eyes were watering. He went on: “They were tormenting her just like those kids at the tower with the cat . . . . They thought she was mad and they wanted to hurt her, maybe kill her, I wouldn’t be surprised. She was just different and they hated her. Anyway, I found her and I got her home. And the next day in school I fought the boy who was leading them. I fought him and I broke his arm and I think I broke some of his teeth—I don’t know. And I was going to fight the rest of them, too, but I got in trouble and I realized I better stop because they’d find out—I mean the teachers and the authorities. They’d go to my mother and complain about me, and then they’d find out about how she was and take her away. So I just pretended to be sorry and told the teachers I wouldn’t do it again, and they punished me for fighting and I still said nothing. But I kept her safe, see. No one knew apart from those boys, and they knew what I’d do if they said anything; they knew I’d kill them another time. Not just hurt them. And a bit later she got better again. No one knew, ever.
“But after that I never trusted children any more than grownups. They’re just as keen to do bad things. So I wasn’t surprised when those kids in Ci’gazze did that.
“But I was glad when the witches came.”
He sat down again with his back to Lyra and, still not looking at her, he wiped his hand across his eyes. She pretended not to see.
“Will,” she said, “what you said about your mother . . . and Tullio, when the Specters got him . . . and when you said yesterday that you thought the Specters came from your world . . . ”
“Yes. Because it doesn’t make sense, what was happening to her. She wasn’t mad. Those kids might think she was mad and laugh at her and try to hurt her, but they were wrong; she wasn’t mad. Except that she was afraid of things I couldn’t see. And she had to do things that looked crazy; you couldn’t see the point of them, but obviously she could. Like her counting all the leaves, or Tullio yesterday touching the stones in the wall. Maybe that was a way of trying to put the Specters off. If they turned their back on something frightening behind them and tried to get really interested in the stones and how they fit together, or the leaves on the bush, like if only they could make themselves find that really important, they’d be safe. I don’t know. It looks like that. There were real things for her to be frightened of, like those men who came and robbed us, but there was something else as well as them. So maybe we do have the Specters in my world, only we can’t see them and we haven’t got a name for them, but they’re there, and they keep trying to attack my mother. So that’s why I was glad yesterday when the alethiometer said she was all right.”
He was breathing fast, and his right hand was gripping the handle of the knife in its sheath. Lyra said nothing, and Pantalaimon kept very still.
“When did you know you had to look for your father?” she said after a while.
“A long time ago,” he told her. “I used to pretend he was a prisoner and I’d help him escape. I had long games by myself doing that; it used to go on for days. Or else he was on this desert island and I’d sail there and bring him home. And he’d know exactly what to do about everything—about my mother, especially—and she’d get better and he’d look after her and me and I could just go to school and have friends and I’d have a mother and a father, too. So I always said to myself that when I grew up I’d go and look for my father . . . . And my mother used to tell me that I was going to take up my father’s mantle. She used to say that to make me feel good. I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded important.”
“Didn’t you have friends?”
“How could I have friends?” he said, simply puzzled. “Friends . . . They come to your house and they know your parents and . . . . Sometimes a boy might ask me around to his house, and I might go or I might not, but I could never ask him back. So I never had friends, really. I would have liked . . . I had my cat,” he went on. “I hope she’s all right now. I hope someone’s looking after her.”