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By Philip Pullman
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on 2017-10-19
FICTION / Fantasy, TEEN AND YOUNG ADULT / Fiction, FICTION / Science Fiction
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VOLUME ONE LA BELLE SAUVAGE
ALSO BY PHILIP PULLMAN His Dark Materials The Golden Compass The Subtle Knife The Amber Spyglass Lyra's Oxford Once Upon a Time in the North The Collectors (an e-story) The Golden Compass Graphic Novel h Sally Lockhart Mysteries The Ruby in the Smoke The Shadow in the North The Tiger in the Well The Tin Princess h The Broken Bridge The White Mercedes Count Karlstein I Was a Rat! The Scarecrow and His Servant Spring-Heeled Jack Two Crafty Criminals
VOLUME ONE LA BELLE SAUVAGE PHILIP PULLMAN ALFRED A. KNOPF NEW YORK
this is a borzoi book published by alfred a. knopf This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Text copyright ? 2017 by Philip Pullman Jacket art and interior illustrations copyright ? 2017 by Chris Wormell All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Visit us on the Web! GetUnderlined.com Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com Library of Congress CataloginginPublication Data is available upon request. ISBN 978- 0- 375- 81530- 0 (trade) ? ISBN 978- 0- 553- 51072- 0 (lib. bdg.) ? ISBN 978- 0- 553- 51073- 7 (ebook) The text of this book is set in 11.5- point Goudy Old Style. Printed in the United States of America October 2017 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 First Edition Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural.' .' .' . ''Louis MacNeice, 'Snow'
CONTENTS ONE? The Terrace Room? 1 TWO? The Acorn? 14 THREE? Lyra? 33 FOUR? Uppsala? 45 FIVE? The Scholar? 63 SIX? Glazing Sprigs? 80 SEVEN? Too Soon? 97 EIGHT? The League of St. Alexander? 106 NINE? Counterclockwise? 115 TEN? Lord Asriel? 131 ELEVEN? Three Legs? 151 TWELVE? Alice Talks? 171 THIRTEEN? The Bologna Instrument? 193 FOURTEEN? Lady with Monkey? 211 FIFTEEN? The Potting Shed? 229 SIXTEEN? The Pharmacy? 247
SEVENTEEN? Pilgrims? Tower? 280 EIGHTEEN? Lord Murderer? 290 NINETEEN? The Poacher? 310 TWENTY? The Sisters of Holy Obedience? 330 TWENTY-'ONE? The Enchanted Island? 358 TWENTY-'TWO? Resin? 377 TWENTY-'THREE? Ancientry? 401 TWENTY-'FOUR? The Mausoleum? 411 TWENTY-'FIVE? A Quiet Rode? 429
VOLUME ONE LA BELLE SAUVAGE
ONE THE TERRACE ROOM Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout. The inn was an old stone-'built rambling, comfortable sort of place. There was a terrace above the river, where peacocks (one called Norman and the other called Barry) stalked among the drinkers, helping themselves to snacks without the slightest hesitation and occasionally lifting their heads to utter ferocious and meaningless screams. There was a saloon bar where the gentry, if college scholars count as gentry, took their ale and smoked their pipes; there was a public bar where watermen and farm laborers sat by the fire or played darts, or stood at the bar gossiping, or arguing, or simply getting quietly drunk; there was a kitchen where the
landlord's wife cooked a great joint every day, with a complicated arrangement of wheels and chains turning a spit over an open fire; and there was a potboy called Malcolm Polstead. Malcolm was the landlord's son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his d'mon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name la belle sauvage. A witty acquaintance thought it amusing to scrawl an s over the v, and Malcolm patiently painted it out three times before losing his temper and knocking the fool into the water, at which point they declared a truce. Like every child of an innkeeper, Malcolm had to work around the tavern, washing dishes and glasses, carrying plates of food or tankards of beer, retrieving them when they were empty. He took the work for granted. The only annoyance in his life was a girl called Alice, who helped with washing the dishes. She was about sixteen, tall and skinny, with lank dark hair that she scraped back into an unflattering ponytail. Lines of self-'discontent were already gathering on her forehead and around her mouth. She teased Malcolm from the day she arrived: 'Who's your girlfriend, Malcolm? En't you got a girlfriend? Who was you out with last night? Did you kiss her? En't you ever been kissed'? He ignored that for a long time, but finally rat-formed Asta leapt at Alice's scrawny jackdaw d'mon, knocking him into the washing-'up water and then biting and biting the sodden creature till Alice screamed for pity. She complained bitterly to Malcolm's mother, who said, 'Serves you right. I got no sympathy for you. Keep your nasty mind to yourself.' From then on she did. She and Malcolm took not the slightest notice of each other; he put the glasses on the draining board, she
washed them, and he dried them and took them back to the bar without a word, without a glance, without a thought. But he enjoyed the life of the inn. He especially enjoyed the conversations he overheard, whether they concerned the venal rascality of the River Board, the helpless idiocy of the government, or more philosophical matters, such as whether the stars were the same age as the earth. Sometimes Malcolm became so interested in the latter sort of conversation that he'd rest his armful of empty glasses on the table and join in, but only after having listened intently. He was known to many of the scholars and other visitors, and was generously tipped, but becoming rich was never an aim of his; he took tips to be the generosity of providence, and came to think of himself as lucky, which did him no harm in later life. If he'd been the sort of boy who acquired a nickname, he would no doubt have been known as Professor, but he wasn't that sort of boy. He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either. Malcolm's other constituency lay just over the bridge outside the tavern, in the gray stone buildings set among green fields and neat orchards and kitchen gardens of the Priory of St. Rosamund. The nuns were largely self-'sufficient, growing their vegetables and fruit, keeping their bees, sewing the elegant vestments they sold for keenly bargained gold, but from time to time there were errands a useful boy could run, or there was a ladder to be repaired under the supervision of Mr. Taphouse, the aged carpenter, or some fish to bring from Medley Pond a little way down the river. La Belle Sauvage was frequently employed in the service of the good nuns; more than once Malcolm had ferried Sister Benedicta to the Royal Mail zeppelin station with a precious parcel of stoles or copes or ? chasubles for the bishop of London, who seemed to wear his
? vestments very hard, for he got through them unusually quickly. Malcolm learned a lot on these leisurely voyages. 'How d'you make them parcels so neat, Sister Benedicta'? he said one day. 'Those parcels,' said Sister Benedicta. 'Those parcels. How d'you make 'em so neat'? 'Neatly, Malcolm.' He didn't mind; this was a sort of game they had. 'I thought 'neat? was all right,' he said. 'It depends on whether you want the idea of neatness to modify the act of tying the parcel, or the parcel itself, once tied.' 'Don't mind, really,' said Malcolm. 'I just want to know how you do 'em. Them.' 'Next time I have a parcel to tie, I promise I'll show you,' said Sister Benedicta, and she did. Malcolm admired the nuns for their neat ways in general, for the manner in which they laid their fruit trees in espaliers along the sunny wall of the orchard, for the charm with which their delicate? voices combined in singing the offices of the Church, for their little kindnesses here and there to many people. He enjoyed the conversations he had with them about religious matters. 'In the Bible,' he said one day as he was helping elderly Sister Fenella in the lofty kitchen, 'you know it says God created the world in six days'? 'That's right,' said Sister Fenella, rolling some pastry. 'Well, how is it that there's fossils and things that are millions of years old'? 'Ah, you see, days were much longer then,' said the good sister. 'Have you cut up that rhubarb yet? Look, I'll be finished before you will.' 'Why do we use this knife for rhubarb but not the old ones? The old ones are sharper.'
'Because of the oxalic acid,' said Sister Fenella, pressing the pastry into a baking tin. 'Stainless steel is better with rhubarb. Pass me the sugar now.' 'Oxalic acid,' said Malcolm, liking the words very much. 'What's a chasuble, Sister'? 'It's a kind of vestment. Priests wear them over their albs.' 'Why don't you do sewing like the other sisters'? Sister Fenella's squirrel d'mon, sitting on the back of a nearby chair, uttered a meek 'Tut-'tut.' 'We all do what we're good at,' said the nun. 'I was never very good at embroidery''look at my great fat fingers!''but the other sisters think my pastry's all right.' 'I like your pastry,' said Malcolm. 'Thank you, dear.' 'It's almost as good as my mum's. My mum's is thicker than what yours is. I expect you roll it harder.' 'I expect I do.' Nothing was wasted in the priory kitchen. The little pieces of pastry Sister Fenella had left after trimming her rhubarb pies were formed into clumsy crosses or fish shapes, or rolled around a few currants, then sprinkled with sugar and baked separately. They each had a religious meaning, but Sister Fenella ('My great fat fingers!') wasn't very good at making them look different from one another.' Malcolm was better, but he had to wash his hands thoroughly first. 'Who eats these, Sister'? he said. 'Oh, they're all eaten in the end. Sometimes a visitor likes something to nibble with their tea.' The priory, situated as it was where the road crossed the river, was popular with travelers of all kinds, and the nuns often had visitors to stay. So did the Trout, of course, and there were usually two or three guests staying at the inn overnight whose breakfast
? Malcolm had to serve, but they were generally fishermen or commercials, as his father called them: traders in smokeleaf or hardware or agricultural machinery. The guests at the priory were people from a higher class altogether: great lords and ladies, sometimes, bishops and lesser clergy, people of quality who didn't have a connection with any of the colleges in the city and couldn't expect hospitality there. Once there was a princess who stayed for six weeks, but Malcolm only saw her twice. She'd been sent there as a punishment. Her d'mon was a weasel who snarled at everyone. Malcolm helped with these guests too: looked after their horses, cleaned their boots, took messages for them, and was occasionally tipped. All his money went into a tin walrus in his bedroom. You pressed its tail and it opened its mouth and you put the coin in between its tusks, one of which had been broken off and glued back on. Malcolm didn't know how much money he had, but the walrus was heavy. He thought he might buy a gun once he had enough, but he didn't think his father would allow him to, so that was something to wait for. In the meantime, he got used to the ways of travelers, both common and rare. There was probably nowhere, he thought, where anyone could learn so much about the world as this little bend of the river, with the inn on one side and the priory on the other. He supposed that when he was grown up he'd help his father in the bar, and then take over the place when his parents grew too old to continue. He was fairly happy about that. It would be much better running the Trout than many other inns, because the great world came through, and scholars and people of consequence were often there to talk to. But what he'd really have liked to do was nothing like that. He'd have liked to be a scholar himself, maybe an astronomer or an experimental theologian, making discoveries about the deepest nature of
things. To be a philosopher's apprentice''now, that would be a fine thing. But there was little likelihood of that; Ulvercote Elementary School prepared its pupils for craftsmanship or clerking, at best, before passing them out into the world at fourteen, and as far as Malcolm knew, there were no openings in scholarship for a bright boy with a canoe. One evening in the middle of winter, some visitors came to the Trout who were out of the usual kind. Three men arrived by anbaric car and went into the Terrace Room, which was the smallest of all the dining rooms in the inn and overlooked the terrace and the river and the priory beyond. It lay at the end of the corridor and wasn't much used either in winter or summer, having small windows and no door out to the terrace, despite its name. Malcolm had finished his meager homework (geometry) and wolfed down some roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, followed by a baked apple and custard, when his father called him to the bar. 'Go and see what those gents in the Terrace Room want,' he said. 'Likely they're foreign and don't know about buying their drinks at the bar. Want to be waited on, I expect.' Pleased by this novelty, Malcolm went down to the little room and found three gentlemen (he could tell their quality at a glance) all standing at the window and stooping to look out. 'Can I help you, gentlemen'? he said. They turned at once. Two of them ordered claret, and the third wanted rum. When Malcolm came back with their drinks, they asked if they could get a dinner here, and if so, what the place had to offer. 'Roast beef, sir, and it's very good. I know because I just had some.' 'Oh, le patron mange ici, eh'? said the oldest of the gentlemen
as they drew up their chairs to the little table. His d'mon, a handsome black-'and-'white lemur, sat calmly on his shoulder. 'I live here, sir. The landlord's my father,' said Malcolm. 'And my mother's the cook.' 'What's your name'? asked the tallest and thinnest of the visitors, a scholarly-'looking man with thick gray hair, whose d'mon was a greenfinch. 'Malcolm Polstead, sir.' 'What's that place over the river, Malcolm'? said the third, a man with large dark eyes and a black mustache. His d'mon, whatever she was, lay curled up on the floor at his feet. It was dark by then, of course, and all they could see on the other side of the river were the dimly lit stained-'glass windows of the oratory and the light that always shone over the gatehouse. 'That's the priory, sir. The sisters of the Order of St. Rosamund.' 'And who was St. Rosamund'? 'I never asked them about St. Rosamund. There's a picture of her in the stained glass, though, sort of standing in a great big rose. I 'spect she's named after it. I'll have to ask Sister Benedicta.' 'Oh, you know them well, then'? 'I talk to 'em every day, sir, more or less. I do odd jobs around the priory, run errands, that sort of thing.' 'And do these nuns ever have visitors'? said the oldest man. 'Yes, sir, quite often. All sorts of people. Sir, I don't want to interfere, but it's ever so cold in here. Would you like me to light the fire? Unless you'd like to come in the saloon. It's nice and warm in there.' 'No, we'll stay here, thank you, Malcolm, but we'd certainly like a fire. Do light it.' Malcolm struck a match, and the fire caught at once. His father was good at laying fires; Malcolm had often watched him. There were enough logs to last the evening, if these men wanted to stay. 'Lot of people in tonight'? said the dark-'eyed man.
'I suppose there'd be a dozen or so, sir. About normal.' 'Good,' said the oldest man. 'Well, bring us some of that roast beef.' 'Some soup to start with, sir? Spiced parsnip today.' 'Yes, why not? Soup all round, followed by your famous roast beef. And another bottle of this claret.' Malcolm didn't think the beef was really famous; that was just a way of talking. He left to get some cutlery and to place the order with his mother in the kitchen. In his ear, Asta, in the form of a goldfinch, whispered, 'They already knew about the nuns.' 'Then why were they asking'? Malcolm whispered back. 'They were testing us, to see if we told the truth.' 'I wonder what they want.' 'They don't look like scholars.' 'They do, a bit.' 'They look like politicians,' she insisted. 'How d'you know what politicians look like'? 'I just got a feeling.' Malcolm didn't argue with her; there were other customers to attend to, so he was busy, and besides, he believed in Asta's feelings. He himself seldom had that sort of feeling about people''if they were nice to him, he liked them''but his d'mon's intuitions had proved reliable many times. Of course, he and Asta were one being, so the intuitions were his anyway, as much as his feelings were hers. Malcolm's father carried the food in to the three guests and opened their wine. Malcolm hadn't learned to manage three hot plates at once. When Mr. Polstead came back to the main bar, he beckoned Malcolm with a finger and spoke quietly. 'What did those gentlemen say to you'? he said. 'They were asking about the priory.'
10 'They want to talk to you again. They said you were a bright boy. Mind your manners, now. You know who they are'? Malcolm, wide-'eyed, shook his head. 'That's Lord Nugent, that is''the old boy. He used to be the lord chancellor of England.' 'How d'you know that'? 'I recognized him from his picture in the paper. Go on now. Answer all their questions.' Malcolm set off down the corridor, with Asta whispering, 'See? Who was right, then? The lord chancellor of England, no less!' The men were tucking into their roast beef (Malcolm's mother had given them an extra slice each) and talking quietly, but they fell silent as soon as Malcolm came in. 'I came to see whether you'd like another light, gentlemen,' he said. 'I can bring a naphtha lamp for the table, if you like.' 'In a minute, Malcolm, that would be a very good idea,' said the man who was the lord chancellor. 'But tell me, how old are you'? 'Eleven, sir.' Perhaps he should have said my lord, but the ex''lord chancellor of England had seemed quite content with sir. Perhaps he was traveling incognito, in which case he wouldn't like to be given his right form of address anyway. 'And where do you go to school'? 'Ulvercote Elementary, sir, just across Port Meadow.' 'What are you going to do when you grow up, d'you think'? 'Most probably I'll be an innkeeper, like my father, sir.' 'Jolly interesting occupation, I should think.' 'I think it is too, sir.' 'All sorts of people passing through, and so on.' 'That's right, sir. There's scholars from the university come here, and watermen from all over.'
11 'You see a lot of what's going on, eh'? 'Yes, we do, sir.' 'Traffic up and down the river, and such.' 'It's mostly on the canal that there's the interesting stuff, sir. There's gyptian boats going up and down, and the horse fair in July''the canal's full of boats and travelers then.' 'The horse fair? .' .' . Gyptians, eh'? 'They come from all over to buy and sell horses.' The scholarly man said, 'The nuns in the priory. How do they earn a living? Do they make perfumes, anything like that'? 'They grow a lot of vegetables,' Malcolm said. 'My mum always buys her vegetables and fruit from the priory. And honey. Oh, and they sew and embroider things for clergymen to wear. Chasubles and that. I reckon they must get paid a lot for them. They must have a bit of money because they buy fish from Medley Pond, down the river.' 'When the priory has visitors,' said the ex''lord chancellor, 'what sort of people would they be, Malcolm'? 'Well, ladies, sometimes? .' .' . young ladies? .' .' . Sometimes an old priest or bishop, maybe. I think they come here for a rest.' 'For a rest'? 'That's what Sister Benedicta told me. She said in the old days, before there was inns like this, and hotels, and specially hospitals, people used to stay at monasteries and priories and suchlike, but nowadays it was mostly clergymen or maybe nuns from other places and they were convales''conva''? 'Convalescing,' said Lord Nugent. 'Yes, sir, that's it. Getting better.' The last man to finish his roast beef put his knife and fork together decisively. 'Anyone there at the moment'? he said. 'I don't think so, sir. Unless they're indoors a lot. Usually ? visitors
12 like to walk about in the garden, but the weather en't been very nice, so? .' .' . Would you like your pudding now, gentlemen'? 'What is it'? 'Baked apple and custard. Apples from the priory orchard.' 'Well, we can't pass up a chance to try those,' said the scholarly man. 'Yes, bring us some baked apples and custard.' Malcolm began to gather their plates and cutlery. 'Have you lived here all your life, Malcolm'? said Lord Nugent. 'Yes, sir. I was born here.' 'And in all your long experience of the priory, did you ever know them to look after an infant'? 'A very young child, sir'? 'Yes. A child too young to go to school. Even a baby. Ever known that'? Malcolm thought carefully and said, 'No, sir, never. Ladies and gentlemen, or clergymen anyway, but never a baby.' 'I see. Thank you, Malcolm.' By gathering the wineglasses together, their stems between his fingers, he managed to take all three of them as well as the plates. 'A baby'? whispered Asta on the way to the kitchen. 'That's a mystery,' said Malcolm with satisfaction. 'Maybe an orphan.' 'Or worse,' said Asta darkly. Malcolm put the plates on the draining board, ignoring Alice as usual, and gave the order for pudding. 'Your father,' said Malcolm's mother, dishing up the apples, 'thinks one of those guests used to be the lord chancellor.' 'You better give him a nice big apple, then,' said Malcolm. 'What did they want to know'? she said, ladling hot custard over the apples. 'Oh, all about the priory.'
13 'Are you going to manage those? They're hot.' 'Yeah, but they're not big. I can do 'em, honest.' 'You better. If you drop the lord chancellor's apple, you'll go to prison.' He managed the bowls perfectly well, even though they were getting hotter and hotter. The gentlemen didn't ask any questions this time, just ordering coffee, and Malcolm brought them a naphtha lamp before going through to the kitchen to set the cups up. 'Mum, you know the priory has guests sometimes? Did you ever know them to look after a baby'? 'What d'you want to know that for'? 'They were asking. The lord chancellor and the others.' 'What did you tell 'em'? 'I said I didn't think so.' 'Well, that's the right answer. Now go on''get out and bring in some more glasses.' In the main bar, under cover of the noise and laughter, Asta whispered, 'She was startled when you asked that. I saw Kerin wake up and prick his ears.' Kerin was Mrs. Polstead's d'mon, a gruff but tolerant badger. 'It's just 'cause it was surprising,' said Malcolm. 'I 'spect you looked surprised when they asked me.' 'I never. I was inscrutable.' 'Well, I 'spect they saw me being surprised.' 'Shall we ask the nuns'? 'Could do,' said Malcolm. 'Tomorrow. They need to know if someone's been asking questions about 'em.'
14 TWO THE ACORN Malcolm's father was right: Lord Nugent had been lord chancellor, but that had been under a previous government, a more liberal body than the present one, and ruling at a more liberal time. These days the prevailing fashion in politics was one of obsequious submissiveness to the religious authorities, and ultimately to Geneva. As a consequence, some organizations of the favored religious kind found their power and influence greatly enhanced, while officials and ministers who had supported the secular line that was now out of favor had either to find other things to do, or to work surreptitiously, and at continuous risk of discovery. Such a man was Thomas Nugent. To the world, to the press, to the government, he was a retired lawyer of fading distinction, yesterday's man, of no interest. In fact, he was directing an organization that functioned very like a secret service, which not many years before had been part of the security and intelligence services of the Crown. Now, under Nugent, its activities were devoted to frustrating the work of the religious authorities, and to remaining obscure and apparently harmless. This took ingenuity, courage, and luck, and so far they had remained undetected. Under an innocent
15 and misleading name, Nugent's organization carried out all kinds of missions, dangerous, complicated, tedious, and sometimes downright illegal. But it had never before had to deal with keeping a six-? month-'old baby out of the hands of those who wanted to kill her. On Saturday, Malcolm was free, once he'd done his morning tasks at the Trout, to cross the bridge and call at the priory. He knocked on the kitchen door and went in to find Sister Fenella scraping some potatoes. There was a neater way to deal with potatoes, as he knew from his mother's example, and given a sharp knife, Malcolm could have shown the good nun, but he held his peace. 'Have you come to help me, Malcolm'? she said. 'If you like. But I was really going to tell you something.' 'You could prepare those Brussels sprouts.' 'All right,' said Malcolm, finding the sharpest knife in the drawer and pulling several sprout stalks across the table in the pale February sunlight. 'Don't forget the cross in the base,' said Sister Fenella. She had told him once that this put the mark of the Savior on each sprout and made sure the Devil couldn't get in. Malcolm was impressed by that at the time, but he knew now that it was to help them cook all the way through. His mother had explained that, and said, 'But don't you go and contradict Sister Fenella. She's a sweet-'hearted old lady, and if she wants to think that, don't upset her.' Malcolm would have put up with a good deal rather than upset Sister Fenella, whom he loved with a deep and uncomplicated ? devotion. 'Now, what were you going to tell me'? she said as Malcolm settled on the old stool beside her. 'You know who we had in the Trout the other night? There was
16 three gentlemen taking their dinner, and one of them was Lord Nugent, the lord chancellor of England. Ex''lord chancellor. And that's not all. They were looking across here to the priory and they were ever so curious. They asked all kinds of questions''what sort of nuns you were, whether you had any guests here, what kind of people they were''and finally they asked if you'd ever had a baby staying''? 'An infant,' put in Asta. 'Yeah, an infant. Have you ever had an infant staying here'? Sister Fenella stopped scraping. 'The lord chancellor of England'? she said. 'Are you sure'? 'Dad was, because he saw his picture in the paper and recognized him. They wanted to eat by theirselves in the Terrace Room.' 'The lord chancellor himself'? 'Ex''lord chancellor. Sister Fenella, what does the lord chancellor do'? 'Oh, he's very high up, very important. I wouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with the law. Or the government. Was he very grand and proud'? 'No. He was a gentleman, all right, it was easy to tell that, but he was nice and friendly.' 'And he wanted to know? .' .' .' 'If you'd ever had an infant staying at the priory. I 'spect he meant staying here to be looked after.' 'And what did you tell him, Malcolm'? 'I said I didn't think so. Have you, ever'? 'Not in my time. Goodness me! I wonder if I ought to tell Sister Benedicta.' 'Prob'ly. What I thought was, he might be looking for somewhere to put an important infant, if it was convalescing, maybe. Maybe there's a royal infant that we don't know about because it was ill, right, or maybe got bitten by a snake'''
17 'Why bitten by a snake'? ''Cause its nursemaid wasn't paying attention, prob'ly reading a magazine or talking to someone, and this snake comes along and there's a sudden scream and she turns round and there's the baby with a snake hanging off it. She'd be in awful trouble, the nursemaid''she might even go to prison. And when the baby was cured of the snakebite, it'd still need convalescing. So the king and the prime minister and the lord chancellor would all be looking for somewhere to convalesce it. And naturally they wouldn't want a place that had no experience of babies.' 'Yes, I see,' said Sister Fenella. 'That all makes sense. I think I really ought to tell Sister Benedicta, at least. She'll know what to do.' 'I should think that if they were serious, they'd come and ask here. I mean, we see a lot in the Trout, but the real people to ask would be here, wouldn't they'? 'Unless they didn't want us to know,' said Sister Fenella. 'But they asked if I ever spoke to you, and I said I did, quite a lot, being as how I work for you. So they'd expect me to say something, and they didn't ask me not to.' 'That's a good point,' said Sister Fenella, and she dropped the last scraped potato into the big saucepan. 'It does sound curious, though. Perhaps they'll write to the Lady Prioress rather than call in person. I wonder if it's really sanctuary they're asking about.' 'Sanctuary'? Malcolm liked the sound of the word, and he could see how to spell it already, in his imagination. 'What's that'? 'Well, if somebody broke the law and was being hunted by the authorities, they could go into an oratory and claim sanctuary. That means that they'd be safe from arrest as long as they stayed there.' 'But that baby couldn't have broken the law. Not yet anyway.' 'No. But it was for refugees too. People who were in danger through no fault of their own. No one could arrest them if they
18 were in sanctuary. Some of the colleges used to be able to give sanctuary to scholars. I don't know if they still do.' 'It wouldn't be a scholar either''the baby, I mean. D'you want me to do all these sprouts'? 'All but two stalks. We'll keep them for tomorrow.' Sister Fenella gathered up the discarded sprout leaves and cut the stalks in half a dozen pieces and put them in a bin for stock. 'What are you going to do today, Malcolm'? she said. 'I'm going to take my canoe out. The river's a bit high, so I'll prob'ly have to be careful, but I want to clean it out and make it shipshape.' 'Are you planning any long voyages'? 'Well, I'd like to. But I can't leave Mum and Dad, because they need my help.' 'They'd be anxious about you too.' 'I'd send letters.' 'Where would you go'? 'Down the river all the way to London. Maybe as far as the sea. I don't suppose my boat'd be very good at a sea voyage, though. She might overturn in a big wave. I might have to tie her up and go on in a different boat. I will one day.' 'Will you send us a postcard'? 'Course I will. Or you could come with me.' 'Who'd cook for the sisters, then'? 'They could have picnics. Or eat at the Trout.' She laughed and clapped her hands. In the weak light that came through the dusty windows, Malcolm saw how chapped and cracked the skin of her fingers was, how red and raw. Every time she puts them in hot water it must hurt, he thought, but he had never heard her complaining. * * *
19 That afternoon, Malcolm went to the lean-'to beside the house and hauled the tarpaulin off his canoe. He inspected it from stem to stern, scraping off the green slime that had accumulated during the winter, examining every inch. Norman the peacock came along to see if there was anything to eat, and shook his feathers with a rattle of displeasure when he found there wasn't. All the timbers of La Belle Sauvage were sound, though the paint was beginning to peel, and Malcolm thought he might scrape off the old name and go over it again, better. It was in green, but red would stand out more clearly. Maybe he could do a few odd jobs for the boatyard at Medley in exchange for a small tin of red paint. He pulled the canoe down the sloping lawn to the river's edge and half thought of going down the river right then and bargaining, but put that aside for another day and instead paddled upstream a little way before turning right into Duke's Cut, one of the streams that connected the river and the Oxford Canal. He was in luck: there was a narrowboat about to enter the lock, so he slipped in beside it. Sometimes he'd had to wait for an hour, trying to persuade Mr. Parsons to operate the lock just for him, but the lockkeeper was a stickler for the regulations, as well as for not doing more work than was necessary. He didn't mind Malcolm having a ride up or down if there was another boat going through, though. 'Where you off to, Malcolm'? he called down as the water gushed out at the far end and the level sank. 'Going fishing,' Malcolm called back. It was what he usually said, and sometimes it was true. Today, though, he couldn't get that tin of red paint out of his mind, and he thought he'd paddle along to the chandlery in Jericho, just to get an idea of the price. Of course, they might not have any, but he liked the chandlery anyway.
20 Once on the canal, he paddled steadily down past garden allotments and school playing fields until he came to the northern edge of Jericho: small terraces of brick houses where the workers from the Fell Press or the Eagle Ironworks lived with their families. The area was half-'gentrified now, but it still held old corners and dark alleys, an abandoned burial ground and a church with an Italianate campanile standing guard over the boatyard and the chandlery. There was a towpath on the western side of the water'? Malcolm's right''but it needed clearing. Water plants grew thickly at the edge, and as Malcolm slowed down, his eye was caught by a movement among the reeds. He let the canoe drift to a halt and then silently slipped in among the stiff stems and watched as a great crested grebe scrambled up onto the towpath, waddled ungracefully across, and then dropped into the little backwater on the other side. Keeping as quiet as he could and moving very slowly, Malcolm wedged the canoe even deeper into the reeds and watched the bird shake its head and paddle across the water to join its mate. Malcolm had heard that there were great crested grebes here, but he'd only half believed it. Now he had proof. He'd definitely come back a little later in the year and see if they were breeding. The reeds were taller than he was as he sat in the canoe, and if he kept very still, he thought he probably couldn't be seen. He heard voices behind him, a man's and a woman's, and sat like a statue as they walked past, absorbed in each other. He'd passed them further back: two lovers strolling hand in hand, their d'- mons, two small birds, flying ahead a little way, pausing to whisper together, and flying on again. Malcolm's d'mon, Asta, was a kingfisher just then, perching on the gunwale of the canoe. When the lovers had passed, she flew up to his shoulder and whispered, 'The man just along there''watch.' .' .' .' Malcolm hadn't seen him. A few yards ahead on the towpath,
21 just visible through the reed stems, a man in a gray raincoat and trilby hat was standing under an oak tree. He looked as if he was sheltering from the rain, except that it wasn't raining. His coat and hat were almost exactly the color of the late afternoon: he was almost as hard to see as the grebes''harder, in fact, thought Malcolm, because he didn't have a crest of feathers. 'What's he doing'? whispered Malcolm. Asta became a fly and flew as far as she could from Malcolm, stopping when it began to hurt, and settled at the very top of a bulrush so she could watch the man clearly. He was trying to remain inconspicuous, but being so awkward and unhappy about it that he might as well have been waving a flag. Asta saw his d'mon''a cat''moving among the lowest branches of the oak tree while he stood below and looked up and down the towpath. Then the cat made a quiet noise, the man looked up, and she jumped down to his shoulder''but in doing so, she dropped something out of her mouth. The man uttered a little grunt of dismay, and his d'mon scrambled to the ground. They began to cast around, looking under the tree, at the edge of the water, among the scrubby grass. 'What did she drop'? Malcolm whispered. 'Like a nut. About the size of a nut.' 'Did you see where it went'? 'I think so. I think it bounced off the bottom of the tree and went under the bush there. Look, they're pretending not to look for it.' .' .' .' They were too. Someone else was coming along the path, a man and his dog d'mon, and while the man in the raincoat waited for them to pass, he pretended to be looking at his watch, shaking his wrist, listening to it, shaking his wrist again, taking the watch off, winding it.' .' .' . As soon as the other man had gone past, the raincoat man fastened the watch on his wrist again and went back to
22 looking for the object his d'mon had dropped. He was anxious'? it was easy to see that''and his d'mon had apology in every line of her body. Between the two of them, they looked the picture of distress. 'We could go and help,' said Asta. Malcolm was torn. He could still see the grebes, and he very much wanted to watch them, but the man seemed as if he needed help, and Malcolm was sure Asta's eyes would find the thing, whatever it was. It would only take a minute or so. But before he had the chance to do anything, the man bent and scooped up his cat d'mon and made off quite quickly down the towpath, as if he'd decided to go and get help. At once Malcolm backed the canoe out of the reeds and sped towards the spot under the oak tree where the man had been standing. A moment later he'd jumped out, holding the painter, and Asta in the shape of a mouse shot across the path and under the bush. A rustling of leaves, a silence, more rustling, more silence while Malcolm watched the man reach the little iron footbridge to the piazza and climb the steps. Then a squeak of excitement told Malcolm that Asta had found it, and squirrel-'formed, she came racing back, up his arm and onto his shoulder, and dropped something into his hand. 'It must be this,' she said. 'It must be.' At first sight it was an acorn, but it was oddly heavy, and when he looked more closely, he saw that it was carved out of a piece of tight-'grained wood. Two pieces, in fact: one for the cup, whose surface was carved into an exact replica of the rough overlapping scales of a real one and stained very lightly with green, and one for the nut, which was polished and waxed a perfect glossy light brown. It was beautiful, and she was right: it had to be the thing the man had lost. 'Let's catch him before he gets across the bridge,' he said, and put his foot down into the canoe, but Asta said, 'Wait. Look.'
23 She'd become an owl, which she always did when she wanted to see something clearly. Her flat face was looking down the canal, and as Malcolm followed her gaze, he saw the man reach the middle of the footbridge and hesitate, because another man had stepped up from the other side, a stocky man dressed in black with a lightstepping vixen d'mon, and Malcolm and Asta could see that the second man was going to stop the raincoat man, and the raincoat man was afraid. They saw him turn and take a hasty step or two and then stop again, because a third man had appeared on the bridge behind him. He was thinner than the other man, and he too was dressed in black. His d'mon was a large bird of some kind on his shoulder. Both of the men looked full of confidence, as if they had plenty of time to do whatever they wanted. They said something to the raincoat man, and each took one of his arms. He struggled for a futile moment or two, and then seemed to sag downwards, but they held him up and walked him across the bridge, into the little piazza below the church tower, and away out of sight. His cat d'mon hurried after them, abject and desperate. 'Put it in your insidest pocket,' Asta whispered. Malcolm put the acorn into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and then sat down very carefully. He was trembling. 'They were arresting him,' he whispered. 'They weren't police.' 'No. But they weren't robbers. They were sort of calm about it, as if they were allowed to do anything they wanted.' 'Just go home,' said Asta. 'In case they saw us.' 'They weren't even bothering to look,' said Malcolm, but he agreed with her: they should go home. They spoke quietly together while he paddled quickly back towards Duke's Cut. 'I bet he's a spy,' she said.
24 'Could be. And those men''? 'CCD.' 'Shh!' The CCD was the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an agency of the Church concerned with heresy and unbelief. Malcolm didn't know much about it, but he knew the sense of sickening terror the CCD could produce, through hearing some customers once discuss what might have happened to a man they knew, a journalist; he had asked too many questions about the CCD in a series of articles and had suddenly vanished. The editor of his paper had been arrested and jailed for sedition, but the journalist himself had never been seen again. 'We mustn't say anything about this to the sisters,' said Asta. 'Specially not to them,' Malcolm agreed. It was hard to understand, but the Consistorial Court of Discipline was on the same side as the gentle sisters of Godstow Priory, sort of. They were both parts of the Church. The only time Malcolm had seen Sister Benedicta distressed was when he'd asked her about it one day. 'These are mysteries we mustn't inquire into, Malcolm,' she'd said. 'They're too deep for us. But the Holy Church knows the will of God and what must be done. We must continue to love one another and not ask too many questions.' The first part was easy enough for Malcolm, who was fond of most things he knew, but the second part was harder. However, he didn't ask any more about the CCD. It was nearly dark when they reached home. Malcolm dragged La Belle Sauvage out of the water and under the lean-'to at the side of the inn and hurried inside, his arms aching, and raced up to his? bedroom. Dropping his coat on the floor and kicking his shoes under the
25 bed, he switched on the bedside light while Asta struggled to pull the acorn out of the insidest pocket. When Malcolm had it in his hand, he turned it over and over, examining it closely. 'Look at the way this is carved!' he said, marveling. 'Try opening it.' He was doing that as she spoke, gently twisting the acorn in its cup without any success. It didn't unscrew, so he tried harder, and then tried to pull it, but that didn't work either. 'Try twisting the other way,' said Asta. 'That would just do it up tighter,' he said, but he tried, and it worked. The thread was the opposite way. 'I never seen that before,' said Malcolm. 'Strange.' So neatly and finely made were the threads that he had to turn it a dozen times before the two parts fell open. There was a piece of paper inside, folded up as small as it could go: that very thin kind of paper that Bibles were printed on. Malcolm and Asta looked at each other. 'This is someone else's secret,' he said. 'We ought not to read it.' He opened it all the same, very carefully so as not to tear the delicate paper, but it wasn't delicate at all: it was tough. 'Anyone might have found it,' said Asta. 'He's lucky it was us.' 'Luckyish,' said Malcolm. 'Anyway, he's lucky he hadn't got it on him when he was arrested.' Written on the paper in black ink with a very fine pen were the words: We would like you to turn your attention next to another matter. You will be aware that the existence of a Rusakov field implies the existence of a related particle, but so far such a particle has eluded us. When we try measuring one way,
26 our substance evades it and seems to prefer another, but when we try a different way, we have no more success. A suggestion from Tokojima, although rejected out of hand by most official bodies, seems to us to hold some promise, and we would like you to inquire through the alethiometer about any connection you can discover between the Rusakov field and the phenomenon unofficially called Dust. We do not have to remind you of the danger should this research attract the attention of the other side, but please be aware that they are themselves beginning a major program of inquiry into this subject. Tread carefully. 'What does it mean'? said Asta. 'Something to do with a field. Like a magnetic field, I s'pose. They sound like experimental theologians.' 'What d'you think they mean by 'the other side''? 'The CCD. Bound to be, since it was them chasing the man.' 'And what's an aleth''an althe''? 'Malcolm!' came his mother's voice from downstairs. 'Coming,' he called, and folded the paper back along the same creases before putting it carefully back in the acorn and screwing it shut. He put it inside one of the clean socks in his chest of drawers and ran down to start the evening's work. Saturday evening was always busy, of course, but today conversation was subdued: there was a mood of nervous caution in the place, and people were quieter than usual as they stood at the bar or sat at their tables playing dominoes or shove-'ha'penny. In a moment of pause, he asked his father why. 'Shh,' said his father, leaning over the bar. 'Those two men by the fire. CCD. Don't look now. Mind what you say near them.'
27 Malcolm felt a shiver of fear that was almost audible, like the tip of a drumstick drawn across a cymbal. 'How d'you know that's what they are'? 'The colors of his tie. Anyway, you can just tell. Watch other people around them? Yes, Bob, what can I get you'? While his father pulled a couple of pints for a customer, Malcolm gathered empty glasses in a suitably inconspicuous manner, and he was glad to see that his hands remained steady. Then he felt a little jolt of Asta's fear. She was a mouse on his shoulder, and she had looked directly at the men by the fire and seen that they were looking at her, and they were the men from the bridge. And then one of them beckoned with a crooked finger. 'Young man,' he said. He was addressing Malcolm. Malcolm turned his head and looked at them properly for the first time. The speaker was a stoutish man with deep brown eyes: the first man from the bridge. 'Yes, sir'? 'Come here a minute.' 'Can I get you anything, sir'? 'Maybe, maybe not. I'm going to ask a question now, and you're going to tell me the truth, aren't you'? 'I always do, sir.' 'No, you don't. No boy always tells the truth. Come here'? come a bit closer.' He wasn't speaking loudly, but Malcolm knew that everyone nearby''and his father, especially''would be listening intently. He went where the man beckoned and stood near his chair, noticing the scent of cologne that emanated from him. The man was wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, with a navy-'blue-'and-'ocher-? striped tie. His vixen d'mon lay at his feet, her eyes wide open and? watching.
28 'Yes, sir'? 'I reckon you notice most people who come in here, don't you'? 'I reckon so, sir.' 'You know the regulars'? 'Yes, sir.' 'You'd know a stranger'? 'Probably I would, sir.' 'Now, then, a few days ago, I wonder if you saw this man come into the Trout.' He held up a photogram. Malcolm recognized the face at once. It was one of the men who'd come with the lord chancellor: the dark-'eyed man with the black mustache. So perhaps this wasn't going to be about the man on the towpath and the acorn. He kept his expression stolid and bland. 'Yes, I saw him, sir,' said Malcolm. 'Who was he with'? 'Two other men, sir. One oldish, and one tall and sort of scholarly.' 'Did you recognize either of them? Seen them in the paper, anything like that'? 'No, I didn't, sir,' said Malcolm, slowly shaking his head. 'I didn't recognize any of them.' 'What did they talk about'? 'Well, I don't like to listen to customers? conversations, sir. My dad told me it's rude, so'? ? 'You can't help overhearing things, though, can you'? 'No, that's true.' 'So what did you overhear them say'? The speaker's tone had become quieter and quieter, drawing Malcolm closer. Conversation at the nearby table had nearly ceased, and he knew that everything he said would be audible as far as the bar.
29 'They talked about the claret, sir. They said how good it was. They ordered a second bottle with their dinner.' 'Where were they sitting'? 'In the Terrace Room, sir.' 'And where's that'? 'Down that corridor. It's a bit cold in there, so I said they might like to come in here by the fire, but they didn't want to.' 'And did you think that a bit odd'? 'Customers do all kinds of things, sir. I don't think about it much.' 'So they wanted a bit of privacy'? 'It might have been that, sir.' 'Have you seen any of the men since'? 'No, sir.' The man tapped his fingers on the table. 'And what's your name'? he said after a pause. 'Malcolm, sir. Malcolm Polstead.' 'All right, Malcolm. Off you go.' 'Thank you, sir,' said Malcolm, trying to keep his voice steady. Then the man raised his voice a little and looked around. As soon as he spoke, everyone else fell silent in a moment, as if they'd been waiting for it to happen. 'You've heard what I've been asking young Malcolm here. There's a man we're eager to trace. I'm going to pin his picture up on the wall beside the bar in a minute, so you can all have a look at it. If any of you know anything about this man, get in touch with me. My name and address are on the paper too. Mind what I say. This is an important matter. You understand that. Anybody wants to talk to me about this man, they can come and do so once they've looked at the picture. I'll be sitting here.' The other man took the piece of paper and pinned it on the corkboard, where the notices of dances, auction sales, whist drives,
30 and so on were displayed. To make room, he tugged down a couple of other notices without looking at what they were. 'Hey,' said a man standing nearby, whose big dog d'mon was bristling. 'You put them notices back up, what you just pulled down.' The CCD man turned to look at him. His crow d'mon opened her wings and uttered a soft 'Kaark.' 'What did you say'? said the first CCD man, the one who'd stayed by the fire. 'I said to your mate, Put them notices back, what you just pulled down. This is our notice board in here, not yours.' Malcolm drew back towards the wall. The customer who'd spoken was called George Boatwright, a high-'colored and truculent boatman whom Mr. Polstead had had to throw out of the Trout half a dozen times; but he was a fair man, and he'd never spoken roughly to Malcolm. The silence in the bar now was profound, and even customers in other parts of the inn had become aware that something was happening, and had come to the doorway to watch. 'Steady, George,' murmured Mr. Polstead. The first CCD man took a sip of his brantwijn. Then he looked at Malcolm and said, 'Malcolm, what's that man's name'? But before Malcolm could even think what to say, Boatwright himself answered in a loud, hard voice: 'George Boatwright is my name. Don't try and put the boy on the spot. That's the way of a coward.' 'George'? ? said Mr. Polstead. 'No, Reg, I'll speak for meself,' said Boatwright. 'And I'll do this too,' he added, 'since your sour-'faced friend don't seem to have heard me.' He reached up to the wall, tore down the paper, and crumpled it up before throwing it into the fire. Then he stood, swaying slightly,
31 in the middle of the room and glared at the chief CCD man. Malcolm admired him greatly at that moment. Then the CCD man's vixen d'mon stood up. She trotted elegantly out from under the table and stood with her brush sticking straight out behind her and her head perfectly still, looking Boatwright's d'mon in the eye. Boatwright's d'mon, Sadie, was much bigger. She was a tough-? looking mongrel, part Staffordshire terrier, part German shepherd'? part wolf, for all Malcolm knew''and now, by the look of things, spoiling for a fight. She stood close by Boatwright's legs with all her fur bristling, her lips drawn back, her tail slowly swinging, a deep growl like distant thunder coming from her throat. Asta crept inside Malcolm's collar. Fights between grown-'up d'mons were not unknown, but Mr. Polstead never allowed anything to get that far inside the inn. 'George, you better leave now,' he said. 'Go on, hop it. Come back when you're sober.' Boatwright turned his head blurrily, and Malcolm saw to his dismay that the man was indeed a little drunk, because he was slightly off balance and had to take a step to right himself''but then every? one saw the same thing: it wasn't the drink in Boatwright, it was the fear in his d'mon. Something had terrified her. That brutal bitch whose teeth had met in the pelts of several other d'mons was cowering, quivering, whimpering, as the vixen slowly advanced. Boatwright's d'mon fell to the floor and rolled over, and Boatwright was cringing back, trying to hold his d'mon, trying to avoid the deadly white teeth of the vixen. The CCD man murmured a name. The vixen stood still, and then backed away a step. Boatwright's d'mon lay curled up on the floor, trembling, and Boatwright's expression was piteous. In fact,
32 after one glance Malcolm preferred not to look, so as not to see Boatwright's shame. The trim little vixen trotted neatly back to the table and lay down. 'George Boatwright, go and wait outside,' said the CCD man, and such was the dominance he had now that no one thought for a moment that Boatwright would disobey and take off. Stroking and half lifting his d'mon, who snapped at him and drew blood from his trembling hand, Boatwright made his miserable way to the door and through to the dark outside. The second CCD man produced another notice from his briefcase and pinned it up like the first one. Then the two of them finished their drinks, taking their time, and gathered their coats before going out to deal with their abject prisoner. No one said a? word.
33 THREE LYRA It turned out that instead of waiting obediently for the CCD men to come out and take him away, George Boatwright had vanished. Good for him, thought Malcolm, but no one talked about it or wondered aloud what had happened to him. That was the way of things with the CCD: it was better not to ask, better not to think about it. The atmosphere in the Trout was subdued for some days afterwards. Malcolm went to school, did his homework, fetched and carried at the inn, and read over and over again the secret message in the acorn. It wasn't an easy time; everything seemed hung about with an unhappy air of suspicion and fear, quite unlike the normal world, as Malcolm thought of it, the place he was used to living in, where everything was interesting and happy. Besides, the CCD man had been asking about the lord chancellor's companion, and his interest had been in the matter of whether the priory had ever looked after an infant; and Malcolm thought that the care of infants was probably not the sort of thing the CCD usually bothered with. Acorns containing secret messages, perhaps, but they hadn't mentioned anything like that. It was all very'? puzzling.
34 * * * In the hope of seeing someone else either leaving or collecting a message from the oak tree, Malcolm went there several times over the next few days, covering up his interest in that little stretch of the canal by watching the great crested grebes. The other thing he did was to hang about in the chandlery. It was a good place to watch the piazza; people were always going back and forth or stopping to drink coffee in the caf? opposite. They sold all kinds of boat-'related stuff in the chandlery, including red paint, of which he bought a small tin and a fine brush to go with it. The woman behind the counter soon realized that his interest didn't stop at red paint. 'What else you looking for, Malcolm'? she said. Her name was Mrs. Carpenter, and she'd known him ever since he was allowed to go out in the canoe on his own. 'Some cotton cord,' he said. 'I showed you what we've got yesterday.' 'Yes, but maybe there's another reel somewhere? .' .' .' 'I don't understand what's wrong with the one I showed you.' 'It's too thin. I want to make a lanyard, and it's got to be a bit heavier than that.' 'You could always double it. Use two strands instead of one.' 'Oh, yeah. I suppose I could.' 'How much d'you want, then'? 'About four fathoms.' 'Doubled, or single'? 'Well, eight fathoms. That should be enough if I double it.' 'I should think it would be,' she said, and measured the cord and cut it. It was a good thing Malcolm had plenty of money in his tin walrus. Once he'd got the cord stowed away tidily in a big paper
35 bag, he peered out the window, looking left and right, as he'd been doing for the previous quarter of an hour. 'Don't mind me asking,' said Mrs. Carpenter, and her drake d'mon murmured in agreement, 'but what are you looking for? You been staring out there for ever such a long time. You meeting someone? They not turned up'? 'No! No. Actually? .' .' .' If he couldn't trust Mrs. Carpenter, he thought, he couldn't trust anyone. 'Actually, I'm looking for someone. A man in a gray coat and hat. I saw him the other day and he dropped something and we found it, and I want to give it back to him, but I haven't seen him since.' 'That's all you can tell me about him? A gray coat and hat? How old was he'? 'I didn't see him clearly. I suppose he was about the same age as my dad. He was kind of thin.' 'Where did he drop this thing you've got? Along the canal'? 'Yes. Under a tree back down the towpath? .' .' . It's not important.' 'It's not this chap, is it'? Mrs. Carpenter brought the latest Oxford Times out from under the counter and folded it back to an inside page before holding it out for Malcolm to see. 'Yes, I think that's him.' .' .' . What's happened? What's? .' .' . He's been drowned'? 'They found him in the canal. Looked as if he'd just slipped in, apparently. You know how rainy it's been, and they don't look after the towpath as they ought to''he's not the first to lose his footing and fall in. Whatever he lost, it's too late to give it back now.' Malcolm was reading the story with wide eyes, gulping the words down. The man's name was Robert Luckhurst, and he'd been a scholar of Magdalen College, an historian. He was unmarried, and
36 was survived by his widowed mother and a brother. There would be an inquest in due course, but there were no signs that his death was anything other than an accident. 'What was it he dropped'? said Mrs. Carpenter. 'Just a little ornament kind of thing,' said Malcolm in a steady voice, though his heart was thumping. 'He was throwing it up and catching it as he went along, and then he dropped it. He looked for it a bit, and then it started raining and he left.' 'What were you doing'? 'I was watching the great crested grebes. I don't suppose he saw me. But when he left, I went to see if I could find it and I did, so I've been looking for him ever since to give it back. But I can't now.' 'What day was it you saw him'? 'I think? .' .' .' Malcolm had to think quite hard. He looked at the paper again to see if it said when the man's body had been discovered. The Oxford Times was a weekly, so it could have been any day in the past five or six. With a jolt, he realized that Luckhurst's body had been found the day after he had seen him being arrested by the CCD men. They couldn't have killed him, could they? 'No, it was a few days before this,' he lied with great assurance. 'I don't suppose it was connected at all. There's lots of people who walk along the towpath. He might have done it every day, like for exercise. He wasn't very bothered about losing it, because he left as soon as it started raining.' 'Oh, well,' said Mrs. Carpenter. 'Poor man. Perhaps they'll take a bit more care of the towpath now it's too late.' A customer came in, and Mrs. Carpenter turned to deal with him. Malcolm wished he hadn't told her about the man and the thing he'd dropped; if he'd had his wits about him, he could have pretended that he'd been looking for a friend. But then she'd never
37 have told him about the story in the paper. This was all very difficult. 'Bye, Mrs. Carpenter,' he said as he left, and she waved vaguely as she listened to the other customer. 'I wish we could ask her not to say anything,' Malcolm said as they turned the canoe round. 'Then she'd think it was even more worth noticing, and remember it specially,' said Asta. 'That was a good lie you told.' 'I didn't know I could do that. Best to do it as little as possible.' 'And remember exactly what we've said each time.' 'It's raining again. . . .' He paddled steadily up the canal, with Asta perching close to his ear so they could whisper together. 'Did they kill him'? she said. 'Unless he killed himself . . .' 'It might have been an accident.' 'It's not likely, though. Not after the way they got hold of him.' 'And what they did to Mr. Boatwright . . . They'd do anything. Torture, anything, I bet.' 'So what could the message mean'? They came back to that again and again. Malcolm had copied it so that he didn't have to keep unfolding the paper in the acorn, but even writing the words out himself didn't help make much sense of them. Someone was asking someone else to ask a question, and it was about measuring something, but more than that was hard to work out. And then there was the word Dust, with a capital D, as if it wasn't ordinary dust but something special. 'D'you think if we went to Magdalen College and asked the other scholars . . .' 'Asked them what'? 'Well, sort of detective questions. Work out what he did? '
38 'He was a historian. That's what it said.' 'An historian. We could work out what else he did. What friends he had. Maybe talk to his students, or some of them, if we could find them. Whether he came back to college that evening after we saw them grab hold of him, or whether that was the last anyone saw of him. That sort of thing.' 'They wouldn't tell us even if they knew. We don't look like detectives. We look like a schoolkid. And then there's the danger.' 'The CCD? .' .' .' 'Of course. If they hear we've been asking about him, wouldn't they get suspicious? Then they'd come and search the Trout and find the acorn, and then we'd be in real trouble.' 'Some of the students who come in the Trout wear college scarves. If we knew what the Magdalen one was like? .' .' .' 'That's a good idea! Then if we ask anything, it could seem like just being nosy. Or gossip.' It was raining even harder now, and Malcolm found it difficult to see ahead. Asta became an owl and perched on the prow, her feathers shedding the water in a way she'd discovered when she was trying to become an animal that didn't yet exist. The best she could do so far was to take one animal and add an aspect of another, so now she was an owl with duck's feathers; but she only did it when no one but Malcolm was looking. Guided by her big eyes, he paddled as fast as he could, stopping to bail out the canoe when the rain had filled it to his ankles. When they got home, he was soaked, but all she had to do was shake herself and she was dry again. 'Where've you been'? said his mother, but not crossly. 'Watching an owl. What's for supper'? 'Steak and kidney pie. Wash your hands. Look at you! You're soaking wet! You make sure you change into something dry after you've eaten. And don't leave your wet things on the bedroom? floor.'
39 Malcolm rinsed his hands under the kitchen tap and wiped them perfunctorily on a tea towel. 'Have they found Mr. Boatwright yet'? he said. 'No. Why'? 'They were all talking about something exciting in the bar. I could tell something was up, but I couldn't hear any details.' 'There was a famous man in earlier. You could have waited on him if you weren't watching your blooming owls.' 'Who was it'? said Malcolm, helping himself to mashed potato. 'Lord Asriel, the explorer.' 'Oh,' said Malcolm, who hadn't heard of him. 'Where's he ? explored'? 'The Arctic mostly, so they say. But you remember what the lord chancellor was asking about'? 'Oh, the infant? If the sisters had ever had an infant to look after'? 'That's right. It turns out it's Lord Asriel's child. His love child. A little baby girl.' 'Did he tell people that'? 'Course not! He never said a word about that. Well, he wouldn't go blabbing about that in a public bar, would he'? 'I dunno. Prob'ly not. So how d'you know'? ? 'Oh, you just put two and two together! The story about how Lord Asriel killed Mr. Coulter, the politician''that was in the papers a month back.' 'If he killed someone, why en't he'? ? 'Eat your pie. He en't in prison because it was a matter of honor. Mr. Coulter's wife had the baby, Lord Asriel's baby, and then Mr. Coulter came charging down to Lord Asriel's estate and burst in, threatening to kill him, and they fought and Lord Asriel won and it turned out there's a law allowing a man to defend himself and his
40 kin''that'd be the child, the baby'? so he wasn't put in gaol nor hanged, but they fined him all his fortune, near enough. Eat your pie''come on, for goodness? sake!' Malcolm was enthralled by this tale, and plied his knife and fork with only half his attention. 'But how d'you know he's come here to put his infant with the sisters'? 'Well, I don't, but it must be that. You can ask Sister Fenella next time you see her. And stop calling it an infant. No one talks like that. She's a baby still. Must be''oh, six months old, I suppose. Maybe a bit more.' 'Why isn't her mother looking after her'? 'Lord, I don't know. Some say she never wanted anything more to do with the child, but maybe that's just gossip.' 'The nuns won't know how to look after her, if they've never done it before.' 'Well, they won't be short of advice. Give me your plate. There's rhubarb and custard on the side there.' As soon as possible, which was three days later, Malcolm hurried to the priory to learn more about the child of the famous explorer. Sister Fenella was his first port of call, and as the rain flung itself against the window, they sat at the kitchen table and kneaded some dough for the priory's bread. After Malcolm had washed his hands three times, making little change to their appearance, Sister Fenella gave up telling him. 'What is that in your fingernails'? she said. 'Tar. I was repairing my canoe.' 'Well, if it's only tar? .' .' . They say it's healthy,' she said doubtfully. 'There's coal-'tar soap,' Malcolm pointed out.
41 'True enough. But I don't think it's that color. Never mind, the rest is clean enough. Knead away.' As he pulled and pushed at the dough, Malcolm pressed the nun with questions. Was it true, about Lord Asriel's baby? 'Well, and what have you heard about a baby'? 'That you're looking after it because he killed a man and the court took all his money away. And that was why the lord chancellor was asking about it in the Trout the other day. So is it true'? 'Yes, it is. A little baby girl.' 'What's her name'? 'Lyra. I don't know why they didn't give her a good saint's name.' 'Will she be here till she's grown up'? 'Oh, I don't know, Malcolm.' .' .' . Harder with that now. Teach it who's boss.' 'Did you see Lord Asriel'? 'No. I tried to peep along the corridor, but Sister Benedicta had the door firmly closed.' 'Is she the person who's in charge of her'? 'Well, she was the sister who spoke to Lord Asriel.' 'So who looks after the baby and feeds her and all that'? 'We all do.' 'How do you know how to do all those things? I wondered because? .' .' .' 'Because we're all maiden ladies'? 'Well, it's not the usual thing you get nuns doing.' 'You'd be surprised at what we know,' she said, and her elderly squirrel d'mon laughed, and so did Asta, so Malcolm did too. 'But, you know, Malcolm, you mustn't say anything about the baby. It's a great secret that she's here. You mustn't breathe a word about it.' 'Lots of people know already. My mum and dad know, and ? customers? .' .' . They've all been talking about it.'