Direktlänk till inlägg 5 maj 2011

an advance party

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 5 maj 2011 07:48

They're in complete confusion. You see, they don't know what Lord Asriel intends to do." "Nor do I," she said, "and I can't imagine what it might be. What do you think he's intending, Dr. Lanselius?" He gently rubbed the head of his serpent daemon with his thumb. "He is a scholar," he said after a moment, "but scholarship is not his ruling passion. Nor is statesmanship. I met him once, and I thought he had an ardent and powerful nature, but not a despotic one. I don't think he wants to rule… I don't know, Serafina Pekkala. I suppose his servant might be able to tell you. He is a man called Thorold, and he was imprisoned with Lord Asriel in the house on Svalbard. It might be worth a visit there to see if he can tell you anything; but, of course, he might have gone into the other world with his master." "Thank you. That's a good idea… I'll do it. And I'll go at once." She said farewell to the consul and flew up through the gathering dark to join Kaisa in the clouds. Serafina's journey to the north was made harder by the confusion in the world around her. All the Arctic peoples had been thrown into panic, and so had the animals, not only by the fog and the magnetic variations but by unseasonal crackings of ice and stirrings in the soil. It was as if the earth itself, the permafrost, were slowly awakening from a long dream of being frozen. In all this turmoil, where sudden shafts of uncanny brilliance lanced down through rents in towers of fog and then vanished as quickly, where herds of muskox were seized by the urge to gallop south and then wheeled immediately to the west or the north again, where tight-knit skeins of geese disintegrated into a honking chaos as the magnetic fields they flew by wavered and snapped this way and that, Serafina Pekkala sat on her cloud-pine and flew north, to the house on the headland in the wastes of Svalbard. There she found Lord Asriel's servant, Thorold, fighting off a group of cliff-ghasts. She saw the movement before she came close enough to see what was happening. There was a swirl of lunging leathery wings, and a malevolent yowk-yowk-yowk resounding in the snowy courtyard. A single figure swathed in furs fired a rifle into the midst of them with a gaunt dog daemon snarling and snapping beside him whenever one of the filthy things flew low enough. She didn't know the man, but a cliff-ghast was an enemy always. She swung around above and loosed a dozen arrows into the melee. With shrieks and gibberings, the gang—too loosely organized to be called a troop—circled, saw their new opponent, and fled in confusion. A minute later the skies were bare again, and their dismayed yowk-yowk-yowk echoed distantly off the mountains before dwindling into silence. Serafina flew down to the courtyard and alighted on the trampled, blood-sprinkled snow. The man pushed back his hood, still holding his rifle warily, because a witch was an enemy sometimes, and she saw an elderly man, long-jawed and grizzled and steady-eyed. "I am a friend of Lyra's," she said. "I hope we can talk. Look: I lay my bow down." "Where is the child?" he said. "In another world. I'm concerned for her safety. And I need to know what Lord Asriel is doing." He lowered the rifle and said, "Step inside, then. Look: I lay my rifle down." The formalities exchanged, they went indoors. Kaisa glided through the skies above, keeping watch, while Thorold brewed some coffee and Serafina told him of her involvement with Lyra. "She was always a willful child," he said when they were seated at the oaken table in the glow of a naphtha lamp. "I'd see her every year or so when his lordship visited his college. I was fond of her, mind—you couldn't help it. But what her place was in the wider scheme of things, I don't know." "What was Lord Asriel planning to do?" "You don't think he told me, do you, Serafina Pekkala? I'm his manservant, that's all. I clean his clothes and cook his meals and keep his house tidy. I may have learned a thing or two in the years I been with his lordship, but only by picking 'em up accidental. He wouldn't confide in me any more than in his shaving mug." "Then tell me the thing or two you've learned by accident," she insisted. Thorold was an elderly man, but he was healthy and vigorous, and he felt flattered by the attention of this young witch and her beauty, as any man would. He was shrewd, though, too, and he knew the attention was not really on him but on what he knew; and he was honest, so he did not draw out his telling for much longer than he needed. "I can't tell you precisely what he's doing," he said, "because all the philosophical details are beyond my grasp. But I can tell you what drives his lordship, though he doesn't know I know. I've seen this in a hundred little signs. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the witch people have different gods from ours, en't that right?" "Yes, that's true." "But you know about our God? The God of the Church, the one they call the Authority?" "Yes, I do." "Well, Lord Asriel has never found hisself at ease with the doctrines of the Church, so to speak. I've seen a spasm of disgust cross his face when they talk of the sacraments, and atonement, and redemption, and suchlike. It's death among our people, Serafina Pekkala, to challenge the Church, but Lord Asriel's been nursing a rebellion in his heart for as long as I've served him, that's one thing I do know." "A rebellion against the Church?" "Partly, aye. There was a time when he thought of making it an issue of force, but he turned away from that." "Why? Was the Church too strong?" "No," said the old servant, "that wouldn't stop my master. Now this might sound strange to you, Serafina Pekkala, but I know the man better than any wife could know him, better than a mother. He's been my master and my study for nigh on forty years. I can't follow him to the height of his thought any more than I can fly, but I can see where he's a-heading even if I can't go after him. No, it's my belief he turned away from a rebellion against the Church not because the Church was too strong, but because it was too weak to be worth the fighting." "So… what is he doing?" "I think he's a-waging a higher war than that. I think he's aiming a rebellion against the highest power of all. He's gone a-searching for the dwelling place of the Authority Himself, and he's a-going to destroy Him. That's what I think. It shakes my heart to voice it, ma'am. I hardly dare think of it. But I can't put together any other story that makes sense of what he's doing." Serafina sat quiet for a few moments, absorbing what Thorold had said. Before she could speak, he went on: "'Course, anyone setting out to do a grand thing like that would be the target of the Church's anger. Goes without saying. It'd be the most gigantic blasphemy, that's what they'd say. They'd have him before the Consistorial Court and sentenced to death before you could blink. I've never spoke of it before and I shan't again; I'd be afraid to speak it aloud to you if you weren't a witch and beyond the power of the Church; but that makes sense, and nothing else does. He's a-going to find the Authority and kill Him." "Is that possible?" said Serafina. "Lord Asriel's life has been filled with things that were impossible. I wouldn't like to say there was anything he couldn't do. But on the face of it, Serafina Pekkala, yes, he's stark mad. If angels couldn't do it, how can a man dare to think about it?" "Angels? What are angels?" "Beings of pure spirit, the Church says. The Church teaches that some of the angels rebelled before the world was created, and got flung out of heaven and into hell. They failed, you see, that's the point. They couldn't do it. And they had the power of angels. Lord Asriel is just a man, with human power, no more than that. But his ambition is limitless. He dares to do what men and women don't even dare to think. And look what he's done already: he's torn open the sky, he's opened the way to another world. Who else has ever done that? Who else could think of it? So with one part of me, Serafina Pekkala, I say he's mad, wicked, deranged. Yet with another part I think, he's Lord Asriel, he's not like other men. Maybe… if it was ever going to be possible, it'd be done by him and by no one else." "And what will you do, Thorold?" "I'll stay here and wait. I'll guard this house till he comes back and tells me different, or till I die. And now I might ask you the same question, ma'am." "I'm going to make sure the child is safe," she said. "It might be that I have to pass this way again, Thorold. I'm glad to know that you will still be here." "I won't budge," he told her. She refused Thorold's offer of food, and said good-bye. A minute or so later she joined her goose daemon again, and the daemon kept silence with her as they soared and wheeled above the foggy mountains. She was deeply troubled, and there was no need to explain: every strand of moss, every icy puddle, every midge in her homeland thrilled against her nerves and called her back. She felt fear for them, but fear of herself, too, for she was having to change. These were human affairs she was inquiring into, this was a human matter; Lord Asriel's god was not hers. Was she becoming human? Was she losing her witchhood? If she were, she could not do it alone.

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Mrs. Coulter had lost her flush. Her face was chalk-white with fury. "How dare you interrogate me?" she spat. "And how dare you keep from me what you've learned from the witch? And, finally, how dare you assume that I am keeping something from you? D'you think I'm on her side? Or perhaps you think I'm on her father's side? Perhaps you think I should be tortured like the witch. Well, we are all under your command, Your Eminence. You have only to snap your fingers and you could have me torn apart. But if you searched every scrap of flesh for an answer, you wouldn't find one, because I know nothing of this prophecy, nothing whatever. And I demand that you tell me what you know. My child, my own child, conceived in sin and born in shame, but my child nonetheless, and you keep from me what I have every right to know!" "Please," said another of the clerics nervously. "Please, Mrs. Coulter, the witch hasn't spoken yet; we shall learn more from her. Cardinal Sturrock himself says that she's only hinted at it." "And suppose the witch doesn't reveal it?" Mrs. Coulter said. "What then? We guess, do we? We shiver and quail and guess?" Fra Pavel said, "No, because that is the question I am now preparing to put to the alethiometer. We shall find the answer, whether from the witch or from the books of readings." "And how long will that take?" He raised his eyebrows wearily and said, "A considerable time. It is an immensely complex question." "But the witch would tell us at once," said Mrs. Coulter. And she rose to her feet. As if in awe of her, most of the men did too. Only the Cardinal and Fra Pavel remained seated. Serafina Pekkala stood back, fiercely holding herself unseen. The golden monkey was gnashing his teeth, and all his shimmering fur was standing on end. Mrs. Coulter swung him up to her shoulder. "So let us go and ask her," she said. She turned and swept out into the corridor. The men hastened to follow her, jostling and shoving past Serafina Pekkala, who had only time to stand quickly aside, her mind in a turmoil. The last to go was the Cardinal. Serafina took a few seconds to compose herself, because her agitation was beginning to make her visible. Then she followed the clerics down the corridor and into a smaller room, bare and white and hot, where they were all clustered around the dreadful figure in the center: a witch bound tightly to a steel chair, with agony on her gray face and her legs twisted and broken. Mrs. Coulter stood over her. Serafina took up a position by the door, knowing that she could not stay unseen for long; this was too hard. "Tell us about the child, witch," said Mrs. Coulter. "No!" "You will suffer." "I have suffered enough." "Oh, there is more suffering to come. We have a thousand years of experience in this Church of ours. We can draw out your suffering endlessly. Tell us about the child," Mrs. Coulter said, and reached down to break one of the witch's fingers. It snapped easily. The witch cried out, and for a clear second Serafina Pekkala became visible to everyone, and one or two of the clerics looked at her, puzzled and fearful; but then she controlled herself again, and they turned back to the torture. Mrs. Coulter was saying, "If you don't answer I'll break another finger, and then another. What do you know about the child? Tell me." "All right! Please, please, no more!" "Answer then." There came another sickening crack, and this time a flood of sobbing broke from the witch. Serafina Pekkala could hardly hold herself back. Then came these words, in a shriek: "No, no! I'll tell you! I beg you, no more! The child who was to come… The witches knew who she was before you did… We found out her name…" "We know her name. What name do you mean?" "Her true name! The name of her destiny!" "What is this name? Tell me!" said Mrs. Coulter. "No… no…" "And how? Found out how?" "There was a test… If she was able to pick out one spray of cloud-pine from many others, she would be the child who would come, and it happened at our consul's house at Trollesund, when the child came with the gyptian men… The child with the bear…" Her voice gave out. Mrs. Coulter gave a little exclamation of impatience, and there came a loud slap, and a groan. "But what was your prophecy about this child?" Mrs. Coulter went on, and her voice was all bronze now, and ringing with passion. "And what is this name that will make her destiny clear?" Serafina Pekkala moved closer, even among the tight throng of men around the witch, and none of them felt her presence at their very elbows. She must end this witch's suffering, and soon, but the strain of holding herself unseen was enormous. She trembled as she took the knife from her waist. The witch was sobbing. "She is the one who came before, and you have hated and feared her ever since! Well, now she has come again, and you failed to find her… She was there on Svalbard—she was with Lord Asriel, and you lost her. She escaped, and she will be—" But before she could finish, there came an interruption. Through the open doorway there flew a tern, mad with terror, and it beat its wings brokenly as it crashed to the floor and struggled up and darted to the breast of the tortured witch, pressing itself against her, nuzzling, chirruping, crying, and the witch called in anguish, "Yambe-Akka! Come to me, come to me!" No one but Serafina Pekkala understood. Yambe-Akka was the goddess who came to a witch when she was about to die. And Serafina was ready. She became visible at once and stepped forward smiling happily, because Yambe-Akka was merry and lighthearted and her visits were gifts of joy. The witch saw her and turned up her tear-stained face, and Serafina bent to kiss it and slid her knife gently into the witch's heart. The tern daemon looked up with dim eyes and vanished. And now Serafina Pekkala would have to fight her way out. The men were still shocked, disbelieving, but Mrs. Coulter recovered her wits almost at once. "Seize her! Don't let her go!" she cried, but Serafina was already at the door, with an arrow nocked in her bowstring. She swung up the bow and loosed the arrow in less than a second, and the Cardinal fell choking and kicking to the floor. Out, along the corridor to the stairs, turn, nock, loose, and another man fell; and already a loud jarring bell was filling the ship with its clangor. Up the stairs and out onto the deck. Two sailors barred her way, and she said, "Down there! The prisoner has got loose! Get help!" That was enough to puzzle them, and they stood undecided, which gave her time to dodge past and seize her cloud-pine from where she had hidden it behind the ventilator. "Shoot her!" came a cry in Mrs. Coulter's voice from behind, and at once three rifles fired, and the bullets struck metal and whined off into the fog as Serafina leaped on the branch and urged it up like one of her own arrows. A few seconds later she was in the air, in the thick of the fog, safe, and then a great goose shape glided out of the wraiths of gray to her side. "Where to?" he said. "Away, Kaisa, away," she said. "I want to get the stench of these people out of my nose." In truth, she didn't know where to go or what to do next. But there was one thing she knew for certain: there was an arrow in her quiver that would find its mark in Mrs. Coulter's throat. They turned south, away from that troubling other-world gleam in the fog, and as they flew a question began to form more clearly in Serafina's mind. What was Lord Asriel doing? Because all the events that had overturned the world had their origin in his mysterious activities. The problem was that the usual sources of her knowledge were natural ones. She could track any animal, catch any fish, find the rarest berries; and she could read the signs in the pine marten's entrails, or decipher the wisdom in the scales of a perch, or interpret the warnings in the crocus pollen; but these were children of nature, and they told her natural truths. For knowledge about Lord Asriel, she had to go elsewhere. In the port of Trollesund, their consul Dr. Lanselius maintained his contact with the world of men and women, and Serafina Pekkala sped there through the fog to see what he could tell her. Before she went to his house she circled over the harbor, where wisps and tendrils of mist drifted ghostlike on the icy water, and watched as the pilot guided in a large vessel with an African registration. There were several other ships riding at anchor outside the harbor. She had never seen so many. As the short day faded, she flew down and landed in the back garden of the consul's house. She tapped on the window, and Dr. Lanselius himself opened the door, a finger to his lips. "Serafina Pekkala, greetings," he said. "Come in quickly, and welcome. But you had better not stay long." He offered her a chair at the fireside, having glanced through the curtains out of a window that fronted the street. "You'll have some wine?" She sipped the golden Tokay and told him of what she had seen and heard aboard the ship. "Do you think they understood what she said about the child?" he asked. "Not fully, I think. But they know she is important. As for that woman, I'm afraid of her, Dr. Lanselius. I shall kill her, I think, but still I'm afraid of her." "Yes," he said. "So am I." And Serafina listened as he told her of the rumors that had swept the town. Amid the fog of rumor, a few facts had begun to emerge clearly. "They say that the Magisterium is assembling the greatest army ever known, and this is an advance party. And there are unpleasant rumors about some of the soldiers, Serafina Pekkala. I've heard about Bolvangar, and what they were doing there—cutting children's daemons away, the most evil work I've ever heard of. Well, it seems there is a regiment of warriors who have been treated in the same way. Do you know the word zombi? They fear nothing, because they're mindless. There are some in this town now. The authorities keep them hidden, but word gets out, and the townspeople are terrified of them." "What of the other witch clans?" said Serafina Pekkala. "What news do you have of them?" "Most have gone back to their homelands. All the witches are waiting, Serafina Pekkala, with fear in their hearts, for what will happen next." "And what do you hear of the Church?"

 
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Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 11 maj 2011 08:16

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