The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials 2) - Page 42

“Here,” he said to Lyra.

She took it. With shaking hands he slid the knife back into its sheath. Then he lay down trembling in all his limbs and closed his eyes, and felt the moonlight bathing him with silver, and felt Lyra undoing his bandage and tying it up again with delicate, gentle movements.

“Oh, Will,” he heard her say. “Thank you for what you done, for all of it . . . . ”

“I hope the cat’s all right,” he muttered. “She’s like my Moxie. She’s probably gone home now. In her own world again. She’ll be all right now.”

“You know what I thought? I thought for a second she was your dæmon. She done what a good dæmon would have done, anyway. We rescued her and she rescued us. Come on, Will, don’t lie on the grass, it’s wet. You got to come and lie down in a proper bed, else you’ll catch cold. We’ll go in that big house over there. There’s bound to be beds and food and stuff. Come on, I’ll make a new bandage, I’ll put some coffee on to cook, I’ll make some omelette, whatever you want, and we’ll sleep . . . . We’ll be safe now we’ve got the alethiometer back, you’ll see. I’ll do nothing now except help you find your father, I promise . . . . ”

She helped him up, and they walked slowly through the garden toward the great white-gleaming house under the moon.



Lee Scoresby disembarked at the port in the mouth of the Yenisei River, and found the place in chaos, with fishermen trying to sell their meager catches of unknown kinds of fish to the canning factories; with shipowners angry about the harbor charges the authorities had raised to cope with the floods; and with hunters and fur trappers drifting into town unable to work because of the rapidly thawing forest and the disordered behavior of the animals.

It was going to be hard to make his way into the interior along the road, that was certain; for in normal times the road was simply a cleared track of frozen earth, and now that even the permafrost was melting, the surface was a swamp of churned mud.

So Lee put his balloon and equipment into storage and with his dwindling gold hired a boat with a gas engine. He bought several tanks of fuel and some stores, and set off up the swollen river.

He made slow progress at first. Not only was the current swift, but the waters were laden with all kinds of debris: tree trunks, brushwood, drowned animals, and once the bloated corpse of a man. He had to pilot carefully and keep the little engine beating hard to make any headway.

He was heading for the village of Grumman’s tribe. For guidance he had only his memory of having flown over the country some years before, but that memory was good, and he had little difficulty in finding the right course among the swift-running streams, even though some of the banks had vanished under the milky-brown floodwaters. The temperature had disturbed the insects, and a cloud of midges made every outline hazy. Lee smeared his face and hands with jimsonweed ointment and smoked a succession of pungent cigars, which kept the worst at bay.

As for Hester, she sat taciturn in the bow, her long ears flat against her skinny back and her eyes narrowed. He was used to her silence, and she to his. They spoke when they needed to.

On the morning of the third day, Lee steered the little craft up a creek that joined the main stream, flowing down from a line of low hills that should have been deep under snow but now were patched and streaked with brown. Soon the stream was flowing between low pines and spruce, and after a few miles they came to a large round rock, the height of a house, where Lee drew in to the bank and tied up.

“There was a landing stage here,” he said to Hester. “Remember the old seal hunter in Nova Zembla who told us about it? It must be six feet under now.”

“I hope they had sense enough to build the village high, then,” she said, hopping ashore.

No more than half an hour later he laid his pack down beside the wooden house of the village headman and turned to salute the little crowd that had gathered. He used the gesture universal in the north to signify friendship, and laid his rifle down at his feet.

An old Siberian Tartar, his eyes almost lost in the wrinkles around them, laid his bow down beside it. His wolverine dæmon twitched her nose at Hester, who flicked an ear in response, and then the headman spoke.

Lee replied, and they moved through half a dozen languages before finding one in which they could talk.

“My respects to you and your tribe,” Lee said. “I have some smokeweed, which is not worthy, but I would be honored to present it to you.”

The headman nodded in appreciation, and one of his wives received the bundle Lee removed from his pack.

“I am seeking a man called Grumman,” Lee said. “I heard tell he was a kinsman of yours by adoption. He may have acquired another name, but the man is European.”

“Ah,” said the headman, “we have been waiting for you.”

The rest of the villagers, gathered in the thin steaming sunlight on the muddy ground in the middle of the houses, couldn’t understand the words, but they saw the headman’s pleasure. Pleasure, and relief, Lee felt Hester think.

The headman nodded several times.

“We have been expecting you,” he said again. “You have come to take Dr. Grumman to the other world.”

Lee’s eyebrows rose, but he merely said, “As you say, sir. Is he here?”

“Follow me,” said the headman.

The other villagers fell aside respectfully. Understanding Hester’s distaste for the filthy mud she had to lope through, Lee scooped her up in his arms and shouldered his pack, following the headman along a forest path to a hut ten long bowshots from the village, in a clearing in the larches.

The headman stopped outside the wood-framed, skin-covered hut. The place was decorated with boar tusks and the antlers of elk and reindeer, but they weren’t merely hunting trophies, for they had been hung with dried flowers and carefully plaited sprays of pine, as if for some ritualistic purpose.

“You must speak to him with respect,” the headman said quietly. “He is a shaman. And his heart is sick.”

Suddenly Lee felt a shiver go down his back, and Hester stiffened in his arms, for they saw that they had been watched all the time. From among the dried flowers and the pine sprays a bright yellow eye looked out. It was a dæmon, and as Lee watched, she turned her head and delicately took a spray of pine in her powerful beak and drew it across the space like a curtain.

The headman called out in his own tongue, addressing the man by the name the old seal hunter had told him: Jopari. A moment later the door opened.

Standing in the doorway, gaunt, blazing-eyed, was a man dressed in skins and furs. His black hair was streaked with gray, his jaw jutted strongly, and his osprey dæmon sat glaring on his fist.

The headman bowed three times and withdrew, leaving Lee alone with the shaman-academic he’d come to find.

“Dr. Grumman,” he said. “My name’s Lee Scoresby. I’m from the country of Texas, and I’m an aeronaut by profession. If you’d let me sit and talk a spell, I’ll tell you what brings me here. I am right, ain’t I? You are Dr. Stanislaus Grumman, of the Berlin Academy?”

“Yes,” said the shaman. “And you’re from Texas, you say. The winds have blown you a long way from your homeland, Mr. Scoresby.”

“Well, there are strange winds blowing through the world now, sir.”

“Indeed. The sun is warm, I think. You’ll find a bench inside my hut. If you help me bring it out, we can sit in this agreeable light and talk out here. I have some coffee, if you would care to share it.”

“Most kind, sir,” said Lee, and carried out the wooden bench himself while Grumman went to the stove and poured the scalding drink into two tin cups. His accent was not German, to Lee’s ears, but English, of England. The Director of the Observatory had been right.

When they were seated, Hester narrow-eyed and impassive beside Lee and the great osprey dæmon glaring into the full sun, Lee began. He started with his meeting at Trollesund with John Faa, lord of the gyptians, and told how they recruited Iorek Byrnison the bear and journeyed to Bolvangar, and rescued Lyra and the other children; and then he spoke of what he’d learned both from Lyra and from Serafina Pekkala in the balloon as they flew toward Svalbard.

“You see, Dr. Grumman, it seemed to me, from the way the little girl described it, that Lord Asriel just brandished this severed head packed in ice at the scholars there and frightened them so much with it they didn’t look closely. That’s what made me suspect you might still be alive. And clearly, sir, you have a kind of specialist knowledge of this business. I’ve been hearing about you all along the Arctic seaboard, about how you had your skull pierced, about how your subject of study seems to vary between digging on the ocean bed and gazing at the northern lights, about how you suddenly appeared, like as it might be out of nowhere, about ten, twelve years ago, and that’s all mighty interesting. But something’s drawn me here, Dr. Grumman, beyond simple curiosity. I’m concerned about the child. I think she’s important, and so do the witches. If there’s anything you know about her and about what’s going on, I’d like you to tell me. As I said, something’s given me the conviction that you can, which is why I’m here.