THE TOWER OF THE ANGELS

Will said, "Who is this man who's got the knife?"

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 do not. 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 Cittagazze 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 do not need to know that now. It does not 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 daemon too, and that Sir Charles must come from Lyra's world. He was asking about Pantalaimon to put them off the track: so he did not realize that Will had seen his own daemon.

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 were not supposed to see him," she said. "He's my daemon. You think you en't got daemons 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 would not 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, do not 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 not come into Ci'gazze because of the Specters, so it does not 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 not get the knife, do not 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, is not 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 will not 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 daemon, 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 would not come clear.

"I did not 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 daemon 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 Panta-laimon, "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 daemon 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."

"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 could not 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 coal 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.

Will tiptoed to it and pushed it open another few inches so he could see.

It was a large room with cobwebs thickly clustered on the ceiling. The walls were lined with bookshelves containing badly preserved volumes with the bindings crumbling and flaking, or distorted with damp. Several of them lay thrown off the shelves, open on the floor or the wide dusty tables, and others had been thrust back higgledy-piggledy.

In the center of the room, a young man was-dancing. Pantalaimon was right: it looked exactly like that. He had his back to the door, and he'd shuffle to one side, then to the other, and all the time his right hand moved in front of him as if he were clearing a way through some invisible obstacles. In that hand was a knife, not a special-looking knife, just a dull blade about eight inches long, and he'd thrust it forward, slice it sideways, feel forward with it, jab up and down, all in the empty air .

He moved as if to turn, and Will withdrew. He put a finger to his lips and beckoned to Lyra, and led her to the stairs and up to the next floor.

"What's he doing?" she whispered.

He described it as well as he could.

"He sounds mad," said Lyra. "Is he thin, with curly hair?"

"Yes. Red hair, like Angelica's. He certainly looks mad. I do not know-I think this is odder than Sir Charles said. Let's look farther up before we speak to him."

She did not question, but let him lead them up another staircase to the top story. It was much lighter up there, because a white-painted flight of steps led up to the roof-or, rather, to a wood-and-glass structure like a little greenhouse. Even at the foot of the steps they could feel the heat it was absorbing.

And as they stood there they heard a groan from above.

They jumped. They'd been sure there was only one man in the tower. Pantalaimon was so startled that he changed at once from a cat to a bird and flew to Lyra's breast. Will and Lyra realized as he did so that they'd seized each other's hand, and let go slowly.

"Better go and see," Will whispered. "I'll go first."

"I ought to go first," she whispered back, "seeing it's my fault."

"Seeing it's your fault, you got to do as I say."

She twisted her lip but fell in behind him.

He climbed up into the sun. The light in the glass structure was blinding. It was as hot as a greenhouse, too, and Will could neither see nor breathe easily. He found a door handle and turned it and stepped out quickly, holding his hand up to keep the sun out of his eyes.

He found himself on a roof of lead, enclosed by the battle-mented parapet. The glass structure was set in the center, and the lead sloped slightly downward all around toward a gutter inside the parapet, with square drainage holes in the stone for rainwater.

Lying on the lead, in the full sun, was an old man with white hair. His face was bruised and battered, and one eye was closed, and as they saw when they got closer, his hands were tied behind him.

He heard them coining and groaned again, and tried to turn over to shield himself.

"It's all right," said Will quietly. "We are not going to hurt you. Did the man with the knife do this?"

"Mmm," the old man grunted. "Let's undo the rope. He has not tied it very well..." It was clumsily and hastily knotted, and it fell away quickly once Will had seen how to work it. They helped the old man to get up and took him over to the shade of the parapet

"Who are you?" Will said. "We did not think there were two people here. We thought there was only one."

"Giacomo Paradisi," the old man muttered through broken teeth. "I am the bearer. No one else. That young man stole it from me. There are always fools who take risks like that for the sake of the knife. But this one is desperate. He is going to kill me."

"No, he en't," Lyra said. "What's the bearer? What's that mean?"

"I hold the subtle knife on behalf of the Guild. Where has he gone?"

"He's downstairs," said Will. "We came up past him. He did not see us. He was waving it about in the air."

'Trying to cut through. He will not succeed. When he- "

"Watch out," Lyra said.

Will turned. The young man was climbing up into the little wooden shelter. He had not seen them yet, but there was nowhere to hide, and as they stood up he saw the movement and whipped around to face them.

Immediately Pantalaimon became a bear and reared up on his hind legs. Only Lyra knew that he would not be able to touch the other man, and certainly the other blinked and stared for a second, but Will saw that he had not really registered it. The man was crazy. His curly red hair was matted, his chin was flecked with spit, and the whites of his eyes showed all around the pupils.

And he had the knife, and they had no weapons at all. Will stepped up the lead, away from the old man, crouching, ready to jump or fight or leap out of the way.

The young man sprang forward and slashed at him with the knife-left, right, left, coming closer and closer, making Will back away till he was trapped in the angle where two sides of the tower met.

Lyra was scrambling toward the man from behind, with the loose rope in her hand. Will darted forward suddenly, just as he'd done to the man in his house, and with the same effect: his antagonist tumbled backward unexpectedly, falling over Lyra to crash onto the lead. It was all happening too quickly for Will to be frightened. But he did have time to see the knife fly from the man's hand and sink at once into the lead some feet away, point first, with no more resistance than if it had fallen into butter. It plunged as far as the hilt and stopped suddenly.

And the young man twisted over and reached for it at once, but Will flung himself on his back and seized his hair. He had learned to fight at school; there had been plenty of occasion for it, once the other children had sensed that there was something the matter with his mother. And he'd learned that the object of a school fight was not to gain points for style but to force your enemy to give in, which meant hurting him more than he was hurting you. He knew that you had to be willing to hurt someone else, too, and he'd found out that not many people were, when it came to it; but he knew that he was.

So this was not unfamiliar to him, but he had not fought against a nearly grown man armed with a knife before, and at all costs he must keep the man from picking it up now that he'd dropped it.

Will twisted his fingers into the young man's thick, damp hair and wrenched back as hard as he could. The man grunted and flung himself sideways, but Will hung on even tighter, and his opponent roared with pain and anger. He pushed up and then threw himself backward, crushing Will between himself and the parapet, and that was too much; all the breath left Will's body, and in the shock his hands loosened. The man pulled free.

Will dropped to his knees in the gutter, winded badly, but he could not stay there. He tried to stand-and in doing so, he thrust his foot through one of the drainage holes. His fingers scraped desperately on the warm lead, and for a horrible second he thought he would slide off the roof to the ground. But nothing happened. His left leg was thrust out into empty space; the rest of him was safe.

He pulled his leg back inside the parapet and scrambled to his feet. The man had reached his knife again, but he did not have time to pull it out of the lead before Lyra leaped onto his back, scratching, kicking, biting like a wildcat. But she missed the hold on his hair that she was trying for, and he threw her off. And when he got up, he had the knife in his hand.

Lyra had fallen to one side, with Pantalaimon a wildcat now, fur raised, teeth bared, beside her. Will faced the man directly and saw him clearly for the first time. There was no doubt: he was Angelica's brother, all right, and he was vicious. All his mind was focused on Will, and the knife was in his hand.

But Will was not harmless either.

He'd seized the rope when Lyra dropped it, and now he wrapped it around his left hand for protection against the knife. He moved sideways between the young man and the sun, so that his antagonist had to squint and blink. Even better, the glass structure threw brilliant reflections into his eyes, and Will could see that for a moment he was almost blinded.

He leaped to the man's left, away from the knife, holding his left hand high, and kicked hard at the man's knee. He'd taken care to aim, and his foot connected well. The man went down with a loud grunt and twisted away awkwardly.

Will leaped after him, kicking again and again, kicking whatever parts he could reach, driving the man back and back toward the glass house. If he could get him to the top of the stairs. . .

This time the man fell more heavily, and his right hand with the knife in it came down on the lead at Will's feet. Will stamped on it at once, hard, crushing the man's fingers between the hilt and the lead, and then wrapped the rope more tightly around his hand and stamped a second time. The man yelled and let go of the knife. At once Will kicked it away, his shoe connecting with the hilt, luckily for him, and it spun across the lead and came to rest in the gutter just beside a drainage hole. The rope had come loose around his hand once more, and there seemed to be a surprising amount of blood from somewhere sprinkled on the lead and on his own shoes. The man was pulling himself up-

"Look out!" shouted Lyra, but Will was ready.

At the moment when the man was off balance, he threw himself at him, crashing as hard as he could into the man's midriff. The man fell backward into the glass, which shattered at once, and the flimsy wooden frame went too. He sprawled among the wreckage half over the stairwell, and grabbed the doorframe, but it had nothing to support it anymore, and it gave way. He fell downward, and more glass fell all around him.

And Will darted back to the gutter, and picked up the knife, and the fight was over. The young man, cut and battered, clambered up the step, and saw Will standing above him holding the knife; he stared with a sickly anger and then turned and fled.

"Ah," said Will, sitting down. "Ah."

Something was badly wrong, and he had not noticed it. He dropped the knife and hugged his left hand to himself. The tangle of rope was sodden with blood, and when he pulled it away-

"Your fingers!" Lyra breathed. "Oh, Will-"

His little finger and the finger next to it fell away with the rope.

His head swam. Blood was pulsing strongly from the stumps where his fingers had been, and his jeans and shoes were sodden already. He had to lie back and close his eyes for a moment. The pain was not that great, and a part of his mind registered that with a dull surprise. It was like a persistent, deep hammer thud more than the bright, sharp clarity when you cut yourself superficially.

He'd never felt so weak. He supposed he had gone to sleep for a moment. Lyra was doing something to his arm. He sat up to look at the damage, and felt sick. The old man was somewhere close by, but Will could not see what he was doing, and meanwhile Lyra was talking to him.

"If only we had some bloodmoss," she was saying, "what the bears use, I could make it better, Will, I could. Look, I'm going to tie this bit of rope around your arm, to stop the bleeding , cause I can not tie it around where your fingers were, there's nothing to tie it to. Hold still. "

He let her do it, then looked around for his fingers. There they were, curled like a bloody quotation mark on the lead. He laughed.

"Hey," she said, "stop that. Get up now. Mr. Paradisi's got some medicine, some salve, I dunno what it is. You got to come downstairs. That other man's gone-we seen him run out the door. He's gone now. You beat him. Come on, Will- come on- "

Nagging and cajoling, she urged him down the steps, and they picked their way through the shattered glass and splintered wood and into a small, cool room off the landing. The walls were lined with shelves of bottles, jars, pots, pestles and mortars, and chemists 'balances. Under the dirty window was a stone sink, where the old man was pouring something with a shaky hand from a large bottle into a smaller one.

"Sit down and drink this," he said, and filled a small glass with a dark golden liquid.

Will sat down and took the glass. The first mouthful hit the back of his throat like fire. Lyra took the glass to stop it from falling as Will gasped.

"Drink it all," the old man commanded.

"What is it?"

"Plum brandy. Drink."

Will sipped it more cautiously. Now his hand was really beginning to hurt.

"Can you heal him?" said Lyra, her voice desperate.

"Oh, yes, we have medicines for everything. You, girl, open that drawer in the table and bring out a bandage."

Will saw the knife lying on the table in the center of the room, but before he could pick it up the old man was limping toward him with a bowl of water.

"Drink again," the old man said.

Will held the glass tightly and closed his eyes while the old man did something to his hand It stung horribly, but then he felt the rough friction of a towel on his wrist, and something mopping the wound more gently. Then there was a coolness for a moment, and it hurt again.

"This is precious ointment," the old man said. "Very difficult to obtain. Very good for wounds."

It was a dusty, battered tube of ordinary antiseptic cream, such as Will could have bought in any pharmacy in his world. The old man was handling it as if it were made of myrrh. Will looked away.

And while the man was dressing the wound, Lyra felt Pan-talaimon calling to her silently to come and look out the window. He was a kestrel perching on the open window frame, and his eyes had caught a movement below. She joined him, and saw a familiar figure: the girl Angelica was running toward her elder brother, Tullio, who stood with his back against the wall on the other side of the narrow street waving his arms in the air as if trying to keep a flock of bats from his face. Then he turned away and began to run his hands along the stones in the wall, looking closely at each one, counting them, feeling the edges, hunching up his shoulders as if to ward off something behind him, shaking his head.

Angelica was desperate, and so was little Paolo behind her, and they reached their brother and seized his arms and tried to pull him away from whatever was troubling him.

And Lyra realized with a jolt of sickness what was happening: the man was being attacked by Specters. Angelica knew it, though she could not see them, of course, and little Paolo was crying and striking at the empty air to try and drive them off; but it did not help, and Tullio was lost. His movements became more and more lethargic, and presently they stopped altogether. Angelica clung to him, shaking and shaking his arm, but nothing woke him; and Paolo was crying his brother's name over and over as if that would bring him back.

Then Angelica seemed to feel Lyra watching her, and she looked up. For a moment their eyes met. Lyra felt a jolt as if the girl had struck her a physical blow, because the hatred in her eyes was so intense, and then Paolo saw her looking and looked up too, and his little boy's voice cried, "We'll kill you! You done this to Tullio! We gonna kill you, all right! "

The two children turned and ran, leaving their stricken brother; and Lyra, frightened and guilty, withdrew inside the room again and shut the window. The others had not heard. Gia-como Paradisi was dabbing more ointment on the wounds, and Lyra tried to put what she'd seen out of her mind, and focused on Will.

"You got to tie something around his arm," Lyra said, "to stop the bleeding. It will not stop otherwise."

"Yes, yes, I know," said the old man, but sadly.

Will kept his eyes averted while they did up a bandage, and drank the plum brandy sip by sip. Presently he felt soothed and distant, though his hand was hurting abominably.

"Now," said Giacomo Paradisi, "here you are, take the knife, it is yours."

"I do not want it," said Will. "I do not want anything to do with it."

"You have not got the choice," said the old man. "You are the bearer now."

"I thought you said you was," said Lyra.

"My time is over," he said. "The knife knows when to leave one hand and settle in another, and I know how to tell. You do not believe me? Look!"

He held up his own left hand. The little finger and the finger next to it were missing, just like Will's.

"Yes," he said, "me too. I fought and lost the same fingers, the badge of the bearer. And I did not know either, in advance."

Lyra sat down, wide-eyed. Will held on to the dusty table with his good hand. He struggled to find words.

"But I-we only came here because-there was a man who stole something of Lyra's, and he wanted the knife, and he said if we brought him that, then he'd-"

"I know that man. He is a liar, a cheat. He will not give you anything, make no mistake. He wants the knife, and once he has it, he will betray you. He will never be the bearer. The knife is yours by right. "

With a heavy reluctance, Will turned to the knife itself. He pulled it toward him. It was an ordinary-looking dagger, with a double-sided blade of dull metal about eight inches long, a short crosspiece of the same metal, and a handle of rosewood. As he looked at it more closely, he saw that the rosewood was inlaid with golden wires, forming a design he did not recognize till he turned the knife around and saw an angel, with wings folded. On the other side was a different angel, with wings upraised. The wires stood out a little from the surface, giving a firm grip, and as he picked it up he felt that it was light in his hand and strong and beautifully balanced, and that the blade was not dull after all. In fact, a swirl of cloudy colors seemed to live just under the surface of the metal: bruise purples, sea blues, earth browns, cloud grays, the deep green under heavy-foliaged trees, the clustering shades at the mouth of a tomb as evening falls over a deserted graveyard. . . . If there was such a thing as shadow-colored, it was the blade of the subtle knife.

But the edges were different. In fact, the two edges differed from each other. One was clear bright steel, merging a little way back into those subtle shadow-colors, but steel of an incomparable sharpness. Will's eye shrank back from looking at it, so sharp did it seem. The other edge was just as keen, but silvery in color, and Lyra, who was looking at it over Will's shoulder, said: "I seen that color before! That's the same as the blade they was going to cut me and Pan apart with -that's just the same! "

"This edge," said Giacomo Paradisi, touching the steel with the handle of a spoon, "will cut through any material in the world. Look."

And he pressed the silver spoon against the blade. Will, holding the knife, felt only the slightest resistance as the tip of the spoon's handle fell to the table, cut clean off.

"The other edge," the old man went on, "is more subtle still. With it you can cut an opening out of this world altogether. Try it now. Do as I say-you are the bearer. You have to know. No one can teach you but me, and I have not much time left. Stand up and listen. "

Will pushed his chair back and stood, holding the knife loosely. He felt dizzy, sick, rebellious.

"I do not want-" he began, but Giacomo Paradisi shook his head.

"Be silent! You do not want-you do not want... You have no choice! Listen to me, because time is short. Now hold the knife out ahead of you-like that. It's not only the knife that has to cut, it's your own mind. You have to think it So do this: Put your mind out at the very tip of the knife. Concentrate, boy. Focus your mind. Do not think about your wound. It will heal. Think about the knife tip. That is where you are. Now feel with it, very gently. You're looking for a gap so small you could never see it with your eyes, but the knife tip will find it, if you put your mind there. Feel along the air till you sense the smallest little gap in the world... "

Will tried to do it. But his head was buzzing, and his left hand throbbed horribly, and he saw his two fingers again, lying on the roof, and then he thought of his mother, his poor mother. . . . What would she say? How would she comfort him? How could he ever comfort her? And he put the knife down on the table and crouched low, hugging his wounded hand, and cried. It was all too much to bear. The sobs racked his throat and his chest and the tears dazzled him, and he should be crying for her, the poor frightened unhappy dear beloved-he'd left her, he'd left her. . . .

He was desolate. But then he felt the strangest thing, and brushed the back of his right wrist across his eyes to find Pan-talaimon's head on his knee. The daemon, in the form of a wolfhound, was gazing up at him with melting, sorrowing eyes, and then he gently licked Will's wounded hand again and again, and laid his head on Will's knee once more.

Will had no idea of ??the taboo in Lyra's world preventing one person from touching another's daemon, and if he had not touched Pantalaimon before, it was politeness that had held him back and not knowledge. Lyra, in fact, was breathtaken. Her daemon had done it on his own initiative, and now he withdrew and fluttered to her shoulder as the smallest of moths. The old man was watching with interest but not incredulity. He'd seen dasmons before, somehow; he'd traveled to other worlds too.

Pantalaimon's gesture had worked. Will swallowed hard and stood up again, wiping the tears out of his eyes.

"All right," he said, "I'll try again. Tell me what to do."

This time he forced his mind to do what Giacomo Paradisi said, gritting his teeth, trembling with exertion, sweating. Lyra was bursting to interrupt, because she knew this process. So did Dr. Malone, and so did the poet Keats, whoever he was, and all of them knew you could not get it by straining toward it But she held her tongue and clasped her hands.

"Stop," said the old man gently. "Relax. Do not push. This is a subtle knife, not a heavy sword. You're gripping it too tight. Loosen your fingers. Let your mind wander down your arm to your wrist and then into the handle, and out along the blade. No hurry, go gently, do not force it. Just wander. Then along to the very tip, where the edge is sharpest of all. You become the tip of the knife. Just do that now. Go there and feel that, and then come back. "

Will tried again. Lyra could see the intensity in his body, saw his jaw working, and then saw an authority descend over it, calming and relaxing and clarifying. The authority was Will's own-or his daemon's, perhaps. How he must miss having a daemon! The loneliness of it. . . No wonder he'd cried; and it was right of Pantalaimon to do what he'd done, though it had felt so strange to her. She reached up to her beloved daemon, and, ermine-shaped, he flowed onto her lap.

They watched together as Will's body stopped trembling. No less intense, he was focused differently now, and the knife looked different too. Perhaps it was those cloudy colors along the blade, or perhaps it was the way it sat so naturally in Will's hand, but the little movements he was making with the tip now looked purposeful instead of random. He felt this way, then turned the knife over and felt the other, always feeling with the silvery edge; and then he seemed to find some little snag in the empty air.

"What's this? Is this it?" he said hoarsely.

"Yes. Do not force it. Come back now, come back to yourself."

Lyra imagined she could see Will's soul flowing back along the blade to his hand, and up his arm to his heart. He stood back, dropped his hand, blinked.

"I felt something there," he said to Giacomo Paradisi. "The knife was just slipping through the air at first, and then I felt it..."

"Good. Now do it again. This time, when you feel it, slide me knife in and along. Make a cut. Do not hesitate. Do not be surprised. Do not drop the knife."

Will had to crouch and take two or three deep breaths and put his left hand under his other arm before he could go on. But he was intent on it; he stood up again after a couple of seconds, the knife held forward already.

This time it was easier. Having felt it once, he knew what to search for again, and he felt the curious little snag after less than a minute. It was like delicately searching out the gap between one stitch and the next with the point of a scalpel. He touched, withdrew, touched again to make sure, and then did as the old man had said, and cut sideways with the silver edge.

It was a good thing that Giacomo Paradisi had reminded him not to be surprised. He kept careful hold of the knife and put it down on the table before giving in to his astonishment. Lyra was on her feet already, speechless, because there in the middle of the dusty little room was a window just like the one under the hornbeam trees: a gap in midair through which they could see another world.

And because they were high in the tower, they were high above north Oxford. Over a cemetery, in fact, looking back toward the city. There were the hornbeam trees a little way ahead of them; there were houses, trees, roads, and in the distance the towers and spires of the city.

If they had not already seen the first window, they would have thought this was some kind of optical trick. Except that it was not only optical; air was coming through it, and they could smell the traffic fumes, which did not exist in the world of Cit-tagazze. Pantalaimon changed into a swallow and flew through, delighting hi the open air, and then snapped up an insect before darting back through to Lyra's shoulder again.

Giacomo Paradisi was watching with a curious, sad smile. Then he said, "So much for opening. Now you must learn to close."

Lyra stood back to give Will room, and the old man came to stand beside him.

"For this you need your fingers," he said. "One hand will do. Feel for the edge as you felt with the knife to begin with. You will not find it unless you put your soul into your fingertips. Touch very delicately; feel again and again till you find the edge. Then you pinch it together. That's all. Try. "

But Will was trembling. He could not get his mind back to the delicate balance he knew it needed, and he got more and more frustrated. Lyra could see what was happening.

She stood up and took his right arm and said, "Listen, Will, sit down, I'll tell you how to do it. Just sit down for a minute, 'cause your hand hurts and it's taking your mind off it. It's bound to. It'll ease off in a little while. "

The old man raised both his hands and then changed his mind, shrugged, and sat down again.

Will sat down and looked at Lyra. "What am I doing wrong?" he said.

He was bloodstained, trembling, wild-eyed. He was living on the edge of his nerves: clenching his jaw, tapping his foot, breathing fast.

"It's your wound," she said. "You en't wrong at all. You're doing it right, but your hand will not let you concentrate on it. I do not know an easy way of getting around that, except maybe if you did not try to shut it out. "

"What d'you mean?"

"Well, you're trying to do two things with your mind, both at once. You're trying to ignore the pain and close that window. I remember when I was reading the alethiometer once when I was frightened, and maybe I was used to it by that time, I do not know, but I was still frightened all the time I was reading it. Just sort of relax your mind and say yes, it does hurt, I know. Do not try and shut it out. "

His eyes closed briefly. His breathing slowed a little.

"All right," he said. "I'll try that."

And this time it was much easier. He felt for the edge, found it within a minute, and did as Giacomo Paradisi had told him: pinched the edges together. It was the easiest thing in the world. He felt a brief, calm exhilaration, and then the window was gone. The other world was shut.

The old man handed him a leather sheath, backed with stiff horn, with buckles to hold the knife hi place, because the slightest sideways movement of the blade would have cut through the thickest leather. Will slid the knife into it and buckled it as tight as he could with his clumsy hand.

"This should be a solemn occasion," Giacomo Paradisi said. "If we had days and weeks I could begin to tell you the story of the subtle knife, and the Guild of the Torre degli Angeli, and the whole sorry history of this corrupt and careless world. The Specters are our fault, our fault alone . They came because my predecessors, alchemists, philosophers, men of learning, were making an inquiry into die deepest nature of things. They became curious about the bonds that held the smallest particles of matter together. You know what I mean by a bond? Something that binds?

"Well, this was a mercantile city. A city of traders and bankers. We thought we knew about bonds. We thought a bond was something negotiable, something that could be bought and sold and exchanged and converted... But about these bonds , we were wrong. We undid them, and we let the Specters in. "

Will asked, "Where do the Specters come from? Why was the window left open under those trees, the one we first came in through? Are there other windows in the world?"

"Where the Specters come from is a mystery-from another world, from the darkness of space... Who knows? What matters is that they are here, and they have destroyed us. Are there other windows into this world? Yes, a few, because sometimes a knife bearer might be careless or forgetful, without time to stop and close as he should. And the window you came through, under the hornbeam trees... I left that open myself, in a moment of unforgivable foolishness. There is a man I am afraid of, and I thought to tempt him through and into the city, where he would fall victim to the Specters. But I think that he is too clever for a trick like that. He wants the knife. Please , never let him get it. "

Will and Lyra shared a glance.

"Well," the old man finished, spreading his hands, "all I can do is hand the knife on to you and show you how to use it, which I have done, and tell you what the rules of the Guild used to be , before it decayed. First, never open without closing. Second, never let anyone else use the knife. It is yours alone. Third, never use it for a base purpose. Fourth, keep it secret. If there are other rules, I have forgotten them, and if I've forgotten them it is because they do not matter. You have the knife. You are the bearer. You should not be a child. But our world is crumbling, and the mark of the bearer is unmistakable. I do not even know your name. Now go. I shall die very soon, because I know where there are poisonous drugs, and I do not intend to wait for the Specters to come in, as they will once the knife has left. Go. "

"But, Mr. Paradisi-" Lyra began.

But he shook his head and went on: "There is no time. You have come here for a purpose, and maybe you do not know what that purpose is, but the angels do who brought you here. Go. You are brave, and your friend is clever. And you have the knife. Go. "

"You en't really going to poison yourself?" said Lyra, distressed.

"Come on," said Will.

"And what did you mean about angels?" she went on.

Will tugged her arm.

"Come on," he said again. "We got to go. Thank you, Mr. Paradisi."

He held out his bloodstained, dusty right hand, and the old man shook it gently. He shook Lyra's hand, too, and nodded to Pantalaimon, who lowered his ermine head in acknowledgment.

Clutching the knife in its leather sheath, Will led the way down the broad dark stairs and out of the tower. The sunlight was hot in the little square, and the silence was profound. Lyra looked all around, with immense caution, but the street was empty. And it would be better not to worry Will about what she'd seen; there was quite enough to worry about already. She led him away from the street where she'd seen the children, where the stricken Tullio was standing, as still as death.

"I wish-" Lyra said when they had nearly left the square, stopping to look back up. "It's horrible, thinking of... And his poor teeth was all broken, and he could hardly see out his eye... He's just going to swallow some poison and die now, and I wish-"

She was on the verge of tears.

"Hush," said Will. "It will not hurt him. He'll just go to sleep. It's better than the Specters, he said."

"Oh, what we going to do, Will?" she said. "What we going to do? You're hurt so bad, and that poor old man... I hate this place, I really do, I'd burn it to the ground. What we going to do now?"

"Well," he said, "that's easy. We've got to get the alethio-meter back, so we'll have to steal it. That's what we're going to do."

NINE

THEFT

First they went back to the cafe, to recover and rest and change their clothes. It was clear that Will could not go everywhere covered in blood, and the time of feeling guilty about taking things from shops was over; so he gathered a complete set of new clothes and shoes, and Lyra, demanding to help, and watching in every direction for the other children, carried them back to the cafe.

Lyra put some water on to boil, and Will took it up to the bathroom and stripped to wash from head to foot. The pain was dull and unrelenting, but at least the cuts were clean, and having seen what the knife could do, he knew that no cuts could be cleaner; but the stumps where his fingers had been were bleeding freely. When he looked at them he felt sick, and his heart beat faster, and that in turn seemed to make the bleeding even worse. He sat on the edge of the bath and closed his eyes and breathed deeply several times.

Presently he felt calmer and set himself to washing. He did the best he could, drying himself on the increasingly bloodied towels, and then dressed in his new clothes, trying not to make them bloody too.

"You're going to have to tie my bandage again," he said to Lyra. "I do not care how tight you make it as long as it stops the bleeding."

She tore up a sheet and wrapped it around and around, clamping it down over the wounds as tight as she could. He gritted his teeth, but he could not help the tears. He brushed them away without a word, and she said nothing.

When she'd finished, he said, "Thank you." Then he said, "Listen. I want you to take something in your rucksack for me, in case we can not come back here. It's only letters. You can read them if you want."

He went to the bedroom, took out the green leather writing case, and handed her the sheets of airmail paper.

"I will not read them unless-"

"I do not mind. Else I would not have said."

She folded up the letters, and he lay on the bed, pushed the cat aside, and fell asleep.

Much later that night, Will and Lyra crouched in the lane that ran along beside the tree-shaded shrubbery in Sir Charles's garden. On the Cittagazze side, they were in a grassy park surrounding a classical villa that gleamed white in the moonlight. They'd taken a long time to get to Sir Charles's house, moving mainly in Cittagazze, with frequent stops to cut through and check their position in Will's world, closing the windows as soon as they knew where they were.

Not with them but not far behind came the tabby cat. She had slept since they'd rescued her from the stone-throwing children, and now that she was awake again she was reluctant to leave them, as if she thought that wherever they were, she was safe. Will was far from sure about that, but he had enough on his mind without the cat, and he ignored her. All the time he was growing more familiar with the knife, more certain in his command of it; but his wound was hurting worse than before, with a deep, unceasing throb, and the bandage Lyra had freshly tied after he woke up was already soaked.

He cut a window in the air not far from the white-gleaming villa, and they came through to the quiet lane in Headington to work out exactly how to get to the study where Sir Charles had put the alethiometer. There were two floodlights illuminating his garden, and lights were on in the front windows of the house, though not in the study. Only moonlight lit this side, and the study window was dark.

The lane ran down through trees to another road at the far end, and it was not lighted. It would have been easy for an ordinary burglar to get unobserved into the shrubbery and thus to the garden, except that there was a strong iron fence twice as high as Will, with spikes on the top, running the length of Sir Charles's property. However, it was no barrier to the subtle knife.

"Hold this bar while I cut it," Will whispered. "Catch it when it falls."

Lyra did as he said, and he cut through four bars altogether, enough for them to pass through without difficulty. Lyra laid them one by one on the grass, and then they were through, and moving among the bushes.

Once they had a clear sight of the side of the house, with the creeper-shaded window of the study facing them across the smooth lawn, Will said quietly, "I'm going to cut through into Ci'gazze here, and leave the window open, and move in Ci'gazze to where I think the study is, and then cut back through to this world. Then I'll take the alethiometer out of that cabinet thing and I'll close that window and then I'll come back to this one. You stay here in this world and keep watch. As soon as you hear me call you, you come through this window into Ci'gazze and then I'll close it up again. All right? "

"Yeah," she whispered. "Both me and Pan'11 look out."

Her daemon was a small tawny owl, almost invisible in the dappled shadows under the trees. His wide pale eyes took in every movement.

Will stood back and held out the knife, searching, touching the air with the most delicate movements, until after a minute or so he found a point at which he could cut. He did it swiftly, opening a window through into the moonlit land of Ci'gazze, and then stood back, estimating how many steps it would take him in that world to reach the study, and memorizing the direction.

Then without a word he stepped through and vanished.

Lyra crouched down nearby. Pantalaimon was perched on a branch above her head, turning this way and that, silent. She could hear traffic from Headington behind her, and the quiet footsteps of someone going along the road at the end of the lane, and even the weightless movement of insects among the twigs and leaves at her feet.

A minute went by, and another. Where was Will now? She strained to look through the window of the study, but it was just a dark mullioned square overhung with creeper. Sir Charles had sat inside it on the window seat only that morning, and crossed his legs, and arranged the creases in his trousers. Where was the cabinet in relation to the window? Would Will get inside without disturbing anyone in the house? Lyra could hear her heart beating, too.

Then Pantalaimon made a soft noise, and at the same moment a different sound came from the front of the house, to Lyra's left. She could not see the front, but she could see a light sweeping across the trees, and she heard a deep crunching sound: the sound of tires on gravel, she guessed. She had not heard the car's engine at all.

She looked for Pantalaimon, and he was already gliding ahead silently, as far as he could go from her. He turned in the darkness and swooped back to settle on her fist.

"Sir Charles is coming back," he whispered. "And there's someone with him."

He took off again, and this time Lyra followed, tiptoeing over the soft earth with the utmost care, crouching down behind the bushes, finally going on hands and knees to look between the leaves of a laurel.

The Rolls-Royce stood in front of the house, and the chauffeur was moving around to the passenger side to open the door. Sir Charles stood waiting, smiling, offering his arm to the woman who was getting out, and as she came into view Lyra felt a blow at her heart, the worst blow since she'd escaped from Bolvangar, because Sir Charles's guest was her mother , Mrs. Coulter.

Will stepped carefully across the grass in Cittagazze, counting his paces, holding in his mind as clearly as he could a memory of where the study was and trying to locate it with reference to the villa, which stood nearby, stucco-white and columned in a formal garden with statues and a fountain. And he was aware of how exposed he was in this moon-drenched parkland.

When he thought he was in the right spot, he stopped and held out the knife again, feeling forward carefully. These little invisible gaps were anywhere, but not everywhere, or any slash of the knife would open a window.

He cut a small opening first, no bigger than his hand, and looked through. Nothing but darkness on the other side: he could not see where he was. He closed that one, turned through ninety degrees, and opened another. This time he found fabric in front of him-heavy green velvet: the curtains of the study. But where were they in relation to the cabinet? He had to close that one too, turn the other way, try again. Time was passing.

The third time, he found he could see the whole of the study in the dim light through the open door to the hall. There was the desk, the sofa, the cabinet! He could see a faint gleam along the side of a brass microscope. And there was no one in the room, and the house was silent. It could not be better.

He carefully estimated the distance, closed that window, stepped forward four paces, and held up the knife again. If he was right, he'd be in exactly the right spot to reach through, cut through the glass in the cabinet, take out the alethiometer and close the window behind him.

He cut a window at the right height. The glass of the cabinet door was only a handsbreadth in front of it. He put his face close, looking intently at this shelf and that, from top to bottom.

The alethiometer was not there.

At first Will thought he'd got the wrong cabinet. There were four of them in the room. He'd counted that morning, and memorized where they were-tall square cases made of dark wood, with glass sides and fronts and velvet-covered shelves, made for displaying valuable objects of porcelain or ivory or gold. Could he have simply opened a window in front of the wrong one? But on the top shelf was that bulky instrument with the brass rings: he'd made a point of noticing that. And on the shelf in the middle, where Sir Charles had placed the alethiometer, there was a space. This was the right cabinet, and the alethiometer was not there.

Will stepped back a moment and took a deep breath.

He'd have to go through properly and look around. Opening windows here and there at random would take all night. He closed the window in front of the cabinet, opened another to look at the rest of the room, and when he'd taken careful stock, he closed that one and opened a larger one behind the sofa through which he could easily get out in a hurry if he needed to.

His hand was throbbing brutally by this time, and the bandage was trailing loose. He wound it around as best he could and tucked the end in, and then went through into Sir Charles's house completely and crouched behind the leather sofa, the knife in his right hand, listening carefully.

Hearing nothing, he stood up slowly and looked around the room. The door to the hall was half-open, and the light that came through was quite enough to see by. The cabinets, the bookshelves, the pictures were all there, as they had been that morning, undisturbed.

He stepped out on the silent carpet and looked into each of the cabinets in turn. It was not there. Nor was it on the desk among the neatly piled books and papers, nor on the mantelpiece among the invitation cards to this opening or that reception, nor on the cushioned window seat, nor on the octagonal table behind the door.

He moved back to the desk, intending to try the drawers, but with the heavy expectation of failure; and as he did so, he heard the faint crunch of tires on gravel. It was so quiet that he half-thought he was imagining it, but he stood stock-still, straining to listen. It stopped.

Then he heard the front door open.

He went at once to the sofa again, and crouched behind it, next to the window that opened onto the moon-silvered grass in Cittagazze. And no sooner had he got there than he heard footsteps in that other world, lightly running over the grass, and looked through to see Lyra racing toward him. He was just in time to wave and put his finger to his lips, and she slowed, realizing that he was aware Sir Charles had returned.

"I have not got it," he whispered when she came up. "It was not there. He's probably got it with him. I'm going to listen and see if he puts it back. Stay here."

"No! It's worse!" she said, and she was nearly in a genuine panic. "She's with him-Mrs. Coulter-my mother! I dunno how she got here, but if she sees me, I'm dead, Will, I'm lost- and I know who he is now! I remember where I seen him before! Will, he's called Lord Boreal! I seen him at Mrs. Coulter's cocktail party, when I ran away! And he must have known who I was, all the time... "

"Shh. Do not stay here if you're going to make a noise."

She mastered herself, and swallowed hard, and shook her head.

"Sorry. I want to stay with you," she whispered. "I want to hear what they say."

"Hush now..."

Because he could hear voices in the hall. The two of them were close enough to touch, Will in his world, she in Cit-tagazze, and seeing his trailing bandage, Lyra tapped him on the arm and mimed tying it up again. He held out his hand for her to do it, crouching meanwhile with his head cocked sideways, listening hard.

A light came on in the room. He heard Sir Charles speaking to the servant, dismissing him, coming into the study, closing the door.

"May I offer you a glass of Tokay?" he said.

A woman's voice, low and sweet, replied, "How kind of you, Carlo. I have not tasted Tokay for many years."

"Have the chair by the fireplace."

There was the faint glug of wine being poured, a tinkle of decanter on glass rim, a murmur of thanks, and then Sir Charles seated himself on the sofa, inches away from Will.

"Your good health, Marisa," he said, sipping. "Now, suppose you tell me what you want."

"I want to know where you got the alethiometer."

"Why?"

"Because Lyra had it, and I want to find her."

"I can not imagine why you would. She is a repellent brat."

"I'll remind you that she's my daughter."

"Then she is even more repellent, because she must have resisted your charming influence on purpose. No one could do it by accident."

"Where is she? '

"I'll tell you, I promise. But you must tell me something first."

"If I can," she said, in a different tone that Will thought might be a warning. Her voice was intoxicating: soothing, sweet, musical, and young, too. He longed to know what she looked like, because Lyra had never described her, and the face that went with this voice must be remarkable. "What do you want to know?"

"What is Asriel up to?"

There was a silence then, as if the woman were calculating what to say. Will looked back through the window at Lyra, and saw her face, moonlit and wide-eyed with fear, biting her lip to keep silent and straining to hear, as he was.

Finally Mrs. Coulter said, "Very well, I'll tell you. Lord Asriel is gathering an army, with the purpose of completing the war that was fought in heaven eons ago."

"How medieval. However, he seems to have some very modern powers. What has he done to the magnetic pole?"

"He found a way of blasting open the barrier between our world and others. It caused profound disturbances to the earth's magnetic field, and that must resonate in this world too... But how do you know about that? Carlo, I think you should answer some questions of mine. What is this world? And how did you bring me here? "

"It is one of millions. There are openings between them, but they're not easily found. I know a dozen or so, but the places they open into have shifted, and that must be due to what Asriel's done. It seems that we can now pass directly from this world into our own, and probably into many others too. When I looked through one of the doorways earlier today, you can imagine how surprised I was to find it opening into our world, and what's more, to find you nearby. Providence, dear lady!

The change meant that I could bring you here directly, without the risk of going through Cittagazze. "

"Cittagazze? What is that?"

"Previously, all the doorways opened into one world, which was a sort of crossroads. That is the world of Cittagazze. But it's too dangerous to go there at the moment."

"Why is it dangerous?"

"Dangerous for adults. Children can go there freely."

"What? I must know about this, Carlo," said the woman, and Will could hear her passionate impatience. "This is at the heart of everything, this difference between children and adults! It contains the whole mystery of Dust! This is why I must find the child. And the witches have a name for her-I nearly had it, so nearly, from a witch in person, but she died too quickly. I must find the child. She has the answer, somehow, and I must have it. "

"And you shall. This instrument will bring her to me-never fear. And once she's given me what I want, you can have her. But tell me about your curious bodyguards, Marisa. I've never seen soldiers like that. Who are they? "

"Men, that's all. But... They've undergone intercision. They have no daemons, so they have no fear and no imagination and no free will, and they'll fight til] they're torn apart."

"No daemons... Well, that's very interesting. I wonder if I might suggest a little experiment, if you can spare one of them? I'd like to see whether the Specters are interested in them."

"Specters? What are they?"

"I'll explain later, my dear. They are the reason adults can not go into that world. But if they're no more interested in your bodyguards than they are in children, we might be able to travel in Cittagazze after all . Dust-children-Specters- daemons-intercision... Yes, it might very well work. Have some more wine. "

"I want to know everything," she said, over the sound of wine being poured. "And I'll hold you to that. Now tell me: What are you doing in this world? Is this where you came when we thought you were in Brasil or the Indies?"

"I found my way here a long time ago," said Sir Charles. "It was too good a secret to reveal, even to you, Marisa. I've made myself very comfortable, as you can see. Being part of the Council of State at home made it easy for me to see where the power lay here .

"As a matter of fact, I became a spy, though I never told my masters all I knew. The security services in this world were preoccupied for years with the Soviet Union-we know it as Muscovy. And although that threat has receded, there are still listening posts and machines trained in that direction, and I'm still in touch with those who run the spies. "

Mrs. Coulter sipped her Tokay. Her brilliant eyes were fixed unblinkingly on his.

"And I heard recently about a profound disturbance in the earth's magnetic field," Sir Charles continued. 'The security services are alarmed. Every nation that does research into fundamental physics-what we call experimental theology-is turning to its scientists urgently to discover what's going on. Because they know that something is happening. And they suspect it has to do with other worlds.

"They do have a few clues to this, as a matter of fact. There is some research being done into Dust. Oh, yes, they know it here as well. There is a team in this very city working on it. And another thing: There was a man who disappeared ten or twelve years ago, in the north, and the security services think he was in possession of some knowledge they badly need- specifically, the location of a doorway between the worlds, such as the one you came through earlier today. The one he found is the only one they know about: you can imagine I have not told them what I know. When this new disturbance began, they set out to look for this man.

"And naturally, Marisa, I myself am curious. And I am keen to add to my knowledge."

Will sat frozen, with his heart thudding so hard he was afraid the adults would hear it. Sir Charles was talking about his own father!

But all the time, he was conscious of something else in the room as well as the voices of Sir Charles and the woman. There was a shadow moving across the floor, or that part of it he could see beyond the end of the sofa and past the legs of the little octagonal table. But neither Sir Charles nor the woman was moving. The shadow moved in a quick darting prowl, and it disturbed W


THE CAT AND | THE HORNBEAM TREES | AMONG THE WITCHES | A CHILDREN'S WORLD | TREPANNING | AIRMAIL PAPER | LIGHTED FLIERS | THE BELVEDERE | SCREEN LANGUAGE | AESAHAETTR |

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