“No!” she cried, and tried to move toward it, but was driven back by a spasm of nausea. Even in her sickened distress, Lena Feldt could see that Mrs. Coulter had more force in her soul than anyone she had ever seen. It didn’t surprise her to see that the Specter was under Mrs. Coulter’s power; no one could resist that authority. Lena Feldt turned back in anguish to the woman.
“Let him go! Please let him go!” she cried.
“We’ll see. Is the child with you? The girl Lyra?”
“And a boy, too? A boy with a knife?”
“Yes—I beg you—”
“And how many witches have you?”
“Twenty! Let him go, let him go!”
“All in the air? Or do some of you stay on the ground with the children?”
“Most in the air, three or four on the ground always—this is anguish—let him go or kill me now!”
“How far up the mountain are they? Are they moving on, or have they stopped to rest?”
Lena Feldt told her everything. She could have resisted any torture but what was happening to her dæmon now. When Mrs. Coulter had learned all she wanted to know about where the witches were, and how they guarded Lyra and Will, she said, “And now tell me this. You witches know something about the child Lyra. I nearly learned it from one of your sisters, but she died before I could complete the torture. Well, there is no one to save you now. Tell me the truth about my daughter.”
Lena Feldt gasped, “She will be the mother—she will be life—mother—she will disobey—she will—”
“Name her! You are saying everything but the most important thing! Name her!” cried Mrs. Coulter.
“Eve! Mother of all! Eve, again! Mother Eve!” stammered Lena Feldt, sobbing.
“Ah,” said Mrs. Coulter.
And she breathed a great sigh, as if the purpose of her life was clear to her at last.
Dimly the witch saw what she had done, and through the horror that was enveloping her she tried to cry out: “What will you do to her? What will you do?”
“Why, I shall have to destroy her,” said Mrs. Coulter, “to prevent another Fall . . . . Why didn’t I see this before? It was too large to see . . . . ”
She clapped her hands together softly, like a child, wide-eyed. Lena Feldt, whimpering, heard her go on: “Of course. Asriel will make war on the Authority, and then . . . . Of course, of course. As before, so again. And Lyra is Eve. And this time she will not fall. I’ll see to that.”
And Mrs. Coulter drew herself up, and snapped her fingers to the Specter feeding on the witch’s dæmon. The little snow bunting dæmon lay twitching on the rock as the Specter moved toward the witch herself, and then whatever Lena Feldt had undergone before was doubled and trebled and multiplied a hundredfold. She felt a nausea of the soul, a hideous and sickening despair, a melancholy weariness so profound that she was going to die of it. Her last conscious thought was disgust at life; her senses had lied to her. The world was not made of energy and delight but of foulness, betrayal, and lassitude. Living was hateful, and death was no better, and from end to end of the universe this was the first and last and only truth.
Thus she stood, bow in hand, indifferent, dead in life.
So Lena Feldt failed to see or to care about what Mrs. Coulter did next. Ignoring the gray-haired man slumped unconscious in the canvas chair and his dull-skinned dæmon coiled in the dust, the woman called the captain of the soldiers and ordered them to get ready for a night march up the mountain.
Then she went to the edge of the water and called to the Specters.
They came at her command, gliding like pillars of mist across the water. She raised her arms and made them forget they were earthbound, so that one by one they rose into the air and floated free like malignant thistledown, drifting up into the night and borne by the air currents toward Will and Lyra and the other witches; but Lena Feldt saw nothing of it.
The temperature dropped quickly after dark, and when Will and Lyra had eaten the last of their dry bread, they lay down under an overhanging rock to keep warm and try to sleep. At least Lyra didn’t have to try; she was unconscious in less than a minute, curled tightly around Pantalaimon, but Will couldn’t find sleep, no matter how long he lay there. It was partly his hand, which was now throbbing right up to the elbow and uncomfortably swollen, and partly the hard ground, and partly the cold, and partly utter exhaustion, and partly his longing for his mother.
He was afraid for her, of course, and he knew she’d be safer if he was there to look after her; but he wanted her to look after him, too, as she’d done when he was very small. He wanted her to bandage him and tuck him into bed and sing to him and take away all the trouble and surround him with all the warmth and softness and mother-kindness he needed so badly; and it was never going to happen. Part of him was only a little boy still. So he cried, but he lay very still as he did, not wanting to wake Lyra.
But he still wasn’t asleep. He was more awake than ever. Finally he uncurled his stiff limbs and got up quietly, shivering; and with the knife at his waist he set off higher up the mountain, to calm his restlessness.
Behind him the sentry witch’s robin dæmon cocked his head, and she turned from the watch she was keeping to see Will clambering up the rocks. She reached for her pine branch and silently took to the air, not to disturb him but to see that he came to no harm.
He didn’t notice. He felt such a need to move and keep moving that he hardly noticed the pain in his hand anymore. He felt as if he should walk all night, all day, forever, because nothing else would calm this fever in his breast. And as if in sympathy with him, a wind was rising. There were no leaves to stir in this wilderness, but the air buffeted his body and made his hair stream away from his face; it was wild outside him and wild within.
He climbed higher and higher, hardly once thinking of how he might find his way back down to Lyra, until he came out on a little plateau almost at the top of the world, it seemed. All around him, on every horizon, the mountains reached no higher. In the brilliant glare of the moon the only colors were stark black and dead white, and every edge was jagged and every surface bare.
The wild wind must have been bringing clouds overhead, because suddenly the moon was covered, and darkness swept over the whole landscape—thick clouds, too, for no gleam of moonlight shone through them. In less than a minute Will found himself in nearly total darkness.
And at the same moment Will felt a grip on his right arm.
He cried out with shock and twisted away at once, but the grip was tenacious. And Will was savage now. He felt he was at the very end of everything; and if it was the end of his life, too, he was going to fight and fight till he fell.
So he twisted and kicked and twisted again, but that hand wouldn’t let go; and since it was his right arm being held, he couldn’t get at the knife. He tried with his left, but he was being jerked around so much, and his hand was so painful and swollen, that he couldn’t reach; he had to fight with one bare, wounded hand against a grown man.
He sank his teeth into the hand on his forearm, but all that happened was that the man landed a dizzying blow on the back of his head. Then Will kicked again and again, and some of the kicks connected and some didn’t, and all the time he was pulling, jerking, twisting, shoving, and still the grip held him fast.
Dimly he heard his own panting and the man’s grunts and harsh breathing; and then by chance he got his leg behind the man’s and hurled himself against his chest, and the man fell with Will on top of him, heavily. But never for a moment did that grip slacken, and Will, rolling around violently on the stony ground, felt a heavy fear tighten around his heart: this man would never let him go, and even if he killed him, his corpse would still be holding fast.
But Will was weakening, and now he was crying, too, sobbing bitterly as he kicked and tugged and beat at the man with his head and feet, and he knew his muscles would give up soon. And then he noticed that the man had fallen still, though his hand still gripped as tight as ever. He was lying there letting Will batter at him with knees and head; and as soon as Will saw that, the last of his strength left him, and he fell helpless beside his opponent, every nerve in his body ringing and dizzy and throbbing.
Will hauled himself up painfully, peered through the deep darkness, and made out a blur of white on the ground beside the man. It was the white breast and head of a great bird, an osprey, a dæmon, and it was lying still. Will tried to pull away, and his feeble tug woke a response from the man, whose hand hadn’t loosened.