The Amber Spyglass Chapter 37 The Dunes

The Amber Spyglass Chapter 37 The Dunes

Next day Will and Lyra went out by themselves again, speaking little, eager to be alone with each other. They looked dazed, as if some happy accident had robbed them of their wits; they moved slowly; their eyes were not focused on what they looked at.

They spent all day on the wide hills, and in the heat of the afternoon, they visited their gold-and-silver grove. They talked, they bathed, they ate, they kissed, they lay in a trance of happiness murmuring words whose sound was as confused as their sense, and they felt they were melting with love.

In the evening they shared the meal with Mary and Atal, saying little, and because the air was hot they thought they’d walk down to the sea, where there might be a cool breeze. They wandered along the river until they came to the wide beach, bright under the moon, where the low tide was turning.

They lay down in the soft sand at the foot of the dunes, and then they heard the first bird calling.

They both turned their heads at once, because it was a bird that sounded like no creature that belonged to the world they were in. From somewhere above in the dark came a delicate trilling song, and then another answered it from a different direction. Delighted, Will and Lyra jumped up and tried to see the singers, but all they could make out was a pair of dark skimming shapes that flew low and then darted up again, all the time singing and singing in rich, liquid bell tones an endlessly varied song.

And then, with a flutter of wings that threw up a little fountain of sand in front of him, the first bird landed a few yards away.

Lyra said, “Pan…?”

He was formed like a dove, but his color was dark and hard to tell in the moonlight; at any rate, he showed up clearly on the white sand. The other bird still circled overhead, still singing, and then she flew down to join him: another dove, but pearl white, and with a crest of dark red feathers.

And Will knew what it was to see his daemon. As she flew down to the sand, he felt his heart tighten and release in a way he never forgot. Sixty years and more would go by, and as an old man he would still feel some sensations as bright and fresh as ever: Lyra’s fingers putting the fruit between his lips under the gold-and-silver trees; her warm mouth pressing against his; his daemon being torn from his unsuspecting breast as they entered the world of the dead; and the sweet rightfulness of her coming back to him at the edge of the moonlit dunes.

Lyra made to move toward them, but Pantalaimon spoke.

“Lyra,” he said, “Serafina Pekkala came to us last night. She told us all kinds of things. She’s gone back to guide the gyptians here. Farder Coram’s coming, and Lord Faa, and they’ll be here…”

“Pan,” she said, distressed, “oh, Pan, you’re not happy – what is it? What is it?”

Then he changed, and flowed over the sand to her as a snow-white ermine. The other daemon changed, too – Will felt it happen, like a little grip at his heart – and became a cat.

Before she moved to him, she spoke. She said, “The witch gave me a name. I had no need of one before. She called me Kirjava. But listen, listen to us now…”

“Yes, you must listen,” said Pantalaimon. “This is hard to explain.”

Between them, the daemons managed to tell them everything Serafina had told them, beginning with the revelation about the children’s own natures: about how, without intending it, they had become like witches in their power to separate and yet still be one being.

“But that’s not all,” Kirjava said.

And Pantalaimon said, “Oh, Lyra, forgive us, but we have to tell you what we found out…”

Lyra was bewildered. When had Pan ever needed forgiving? She looked at Will, and saw his puzzlement as clear as her own.

“Tell us,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

“It’s about Dust,” said the cat daemon, and Will marveled to hear part of his own nature telling him something he didn’t know. “It was all flowing away, all the Dust there was, down into the abyss that you saw. Something’s stopped it flowing down there, but – “

“Will, it was that golden light!” Lyra said. “The light that all flowed into the abyss and vanished… And that was Dust? Was it really?”

“Yes. But there’s more leaking out all the time,” Pantalaimon went on. “And it mustn’t. It mustn’t all leak away. It’s got to stay in the world and not vanish, because otherwise everything good will fade away and die.”

“But where’s the rest leaving from?” said Lyra.

Both daemons looked at Will, and at the knife.

“Every time we made an opening,” said Kirjava – and again Will felt that little thrill: She’s me, and I’m her – “every time anyone made an opening between the worlds, us or the old Guild men, anyone, the knife cut into the emptiness outside. The same emptiness there is down in the abyss. We never knew. No one knew, because the edge was too fine to see. But it was quite big enough for Dust to leak out of. If they closed it up again at once, there wasn’t time for much to leak out, but there were thousands that they never closed up. So all this time, Dust has been leaking out of the worlds and into nothingness.”

The understanding was beginning to dawn on Will and Lyra. They fought it, they pushed it away, but it was just like the gray light that seeps into the sky and extinguishes the stars: it crept past every barrier they could put up and under every blind and around the edges of every curtain they could draw against it.

“Every opening,” Lyra said in a whisper.

“Every single one – they must all be closed?” said Will.

“Every single one,” said Pantalaimon, whispering like Lyra.

“Oh, no,” said Lyra. “No, it can’t be true – “

“And so we must leave our world to stay in Lyra’s,” said Kirjava, “or Pan and Lyra must leave theirs and come to stay in ours. There’s no other choice.”

Then the full bleak daylight struck in.

And Lyra cried aloud. Pantalaimon’s owl cry the night before had frightened every small creature that heard it, but it was nothing to the passionate wail that Lyra uttered now. The daemons were shocked, and Will, seeing their reaction, understood why: they didn’t know the rest of the truth; they didn’t know what Will and Lyra themselves had learned.

Lyra was shaking with anger and grief, striding up and down with clenched fists and turning her tear-streaming face this way and that as if looking for an answer. Will jumped up and seized her shoulders, and felt her tense and trembling.

“Listen,” he said, “Lyra, listen: what did my father say?”

“Oh,” she cried, tossing her head this way and that, “he said – you know what he said – you were there, Will, you listened, too!”

He thought she would die of her grief there and then. She flung herself into his arms and sobbed, clinging passionately to his shoulders, pressing her nails into his back and her face into his neck, and all he could hear was, “No – no – no – “

“Listen,” he said again, “Lyra, let’s try and remember it exactly. There might be a way through. There might be a loophole.”

He disengaged her arms gently and made her sit down. At once Pantalaimon, frightened, flowed up onto her lap, and the cat daemon tentatively came close to Will. They hadn’t touched yet, but now he put out a hand to her, and she moved her cat face against his fingers and then stepped delicately onto his lap.

“He said – ” Lyra began, gulping, “he said that people could spend a little time in other worlds without being affected. They could. And we have, haven’t we? Apart from what we had to do to go into the world of the dead, we’re still healthy, aren’t we?”

“They can spend a little time, but not a long time,” Will said. “My father had been away from his world, my world, for ten years. And he was nearly dying when I found him. Ten years, that’s all.”

“But what about Lord Boreal? Sir Charles? He was healthy enough, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but remember, he could go back to his own world whenever he liked and get healthy again. That’s where you saw him first, after all, in your world. He must have found some secret window that no one else knew about.”

“Well, we could do that!”

“We could, except that…”

“All the windows must be closed,” said Pantalaimon. “All of them.”

“But how do you know?” demanded Lyra.

“An angel told us,” said Kirjava. “We met an angel. She told us all about that, and other things as well. It’s true, Lyra.”

“She?” said Lyra passionately, suspicious.

“It was a female angel,” said Kirjava.

“I’ve never heard of one of them. Maybe she was lying.”

Will was thinking through another possibility. “Suppose they closed all the other windows,” he said, “and we just made one when we needed to, and went through as quickly as we could and closed it up immediately – that would be safe, surely? If we didn’t leave much time for Dust to go out?”

“Yes!”

“We’d make it where no one could ever find it,” he went on, “and only us two would know…”

“Oh, it would work! I’m sure it would!” she said.

“And we could go from one to the other, and stay healthy – “

But the daemons were distressed, and Kirjava was murmuring, “No, no.”

And Pantalaimon said, “The Specters… She told us about the Specters, too.”

“The Specters?” said Will. “We saw them during the battle, for the first time. What about them?”

“Well, we found out where they come from,” said Kirjava. “And this is the worst thing: they’re like the children of the abyss. Every time we open a window with the knife, it makes a Specter. It’s like a little bit of the abyss that floats out and enters the world. That’s why the Citt?¤gazze world was so full of them, because of all the windows they left open there.”

“And they grow by feeding on Dust,” said Pantalaimon. “And on daemons. Because Dust and daemons are sort of similar; grown-up daemons anyway. And the Specters get bigger and stronger as they do…”

Will felt a dull horror at his heart, and Kirjava pressed herself against his breast, feeling it, too, and trying to comfort him.

“So every time I’ve used the knife,” he said, “every single time, I’ve made another Specter come to life?”

He remembered Iorek Byrnison, in the cave where he’d forged the knife again, saying, “What you don’t know is what the knife does on its own. Your intentions may be good. The knife has intentions, too.”

Lyra’s eyes were watching him, wide with anguish.

“Oh, we can’t, Will!” she said. “We can’t do that to people – not let other Specters out, not now we’ve seen what they do!”

“All right,” he said, getting to his feet, holding his daemon close to his breast. “Then we’ll have to – one of us will have to – I’ll come to your world and…”

She knew what he was going to say, and she saw him holding the beautiful, healthy daemon he hadn’t even begun to know; and she thought of his mother, and she knew that he was thinking of her, too. To abandon her and live with Lyra, even for the few years they’d have together – could he do that? He might be living with Lyra, but she knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

“No,” she cried, jumping up beside him, and Kirjava joined Pantalaimon on the sand as boy and girl clung together desperately. “I’ll do it, Will! We’ll come to your world and live there! It doesn’t matter if we get ill, me and Pan – we’re strong, I bet we last a good long time – and there are probably good doctors in your world – Dr. Malone would know! Oh, let’s do that!”

He was shaking his head, and she saw the brilliance of tears on his cheeks.

“D’you think I could bear that, Lyra?” he said. “D’you think I could live happily watching you get sick and ill and fade away and then die, while I was getting stronger and more grown-up day by day? Ten years… That’s nothing. It’d pass in a flash. We’d be in our twenties. It’s not that far ahead. Think of that, Lyra, you and me grown up, just preparing to do all the things we want to do – and then… it all comes to an end. Do you think I could bear to live on after you died? Oh, Lyra, I’d follow you down to the world of the dead without thinking twice about it, just like you followed Roger; and that would be two lives gone for nothing, my life wasted like yours. No, we should spend our whole lifetimes together, good, long, busy lives, and if we can’t spend them together, we… we’ll have to spend them apart.”

Biting her lip, she watched him as he walked up and down in his distracted anguish.

He stopped and turned, and went on: “D’you remember another thing he said, my father? He said we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are. He said that for us there isn’t any elsewhere. That’s what he meant, I can see now. Oh, it’s too bitter. I thought he just meant Lord Asriel and his new world, but he meant us, he meant you and me. We have to live in our own worlds…”

“I’m going to ask the alethiometer,” Lyra said. “That’ll know! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.”

She sat down, wiping her cheeks with the palm of one hand and reaching for the rucksack with the other. She carried it everywhere; when Will thought of her in later years, it was often with that little bag over her shoulder. She tucked the hair behind her ears in the swift movement he loved and took out the black velvet bundle.

“Can you see?” he said, for although the moon was bright, the symbols around the face were very small.

“I know where they all are,” she said, “I got it off by heart. Hush now…”

She crossed her legs, pulling the skirt over them to make a lap. Will lay on one elbow and watched. The bright moonlight, reflected off the white sand, lit up her face with a radiance that seemed to draw out some other radiance from inside her; her eyes glittered, and her expression was so serious and absorbed that Will could have fallen in love with her again if love didn’t already possess every fiber of his being.

Lyra took a deep breath and began to turn the wheels. But after only a few moments, she stopped and turned the instrument around.

“Wrong place,” she said briefly, and tried again.

Will, watching, saw her beloved face clearly. And because he knew it so well, and he’d studied her expression in happiness and despair and hope and sorrow, he could tell that something was wrong; for there was no sign of the clear concentration she used to sink into so quickly. Instead, an unhappy bewilderment spread gradually over her: she bit her lower lip, she blinked more and more, and her eyes moved slowly from symbol to symbol, almost at random, instead of darting swiftly and certainly.

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head, “I don’t know what’s happening… I know it so well, but I can’t seem to see what it means…”

She took a deep, shuddering breath and turned the instrument around. It looked strange and awkward in her hands. Pantalaimon, mouse-formed, crept into her lap and rested his black paws on the crystal, peering at one symbol after another. Lyra turned one wheel, turned another, turned the whole thing around, and then looked up at Will, stricken.

“Oh, Will,” she cried, “I can’t do it! It’s left me!”

“Hush,” he said, “don’t fret. It’s still there inside you, all that knowledge. Just be calm and let yourself find it. Don’t force it. Just sort of float down to touch it…”

She gulped and nodded and angrily brushed her wrist across her eyes, and took several deep breaths; but he could see she was too tense, and he put his hands on her shoulders and then felt her trembling and hugged her tight. She pulled back and tried again. Once more she gazed at the symbols, once more she turned the wheels, but those invisible ladders of meaning down which she’d stepped with such ease and confidence weren’t there. She just didn’t know what any of the symbols meant.

She turned away and clung to Will and said desperately:

“It’s no good – I can tell – it’s gone forever – it just came when I needed it, for all the things I had to do, for rescuing Roger, and then for us two, and now that it’s over, now that everything’s finished, it’s just left me… It’s gone, Will! I’ve lost it! It’ll never come back!”

She sobbed with desperate abandon. All he could do was hold her. He didn’t know how to comfort her, because it was plain that she was right.

Then both the daemons bristled and looked up. Will and Lyra sensed it, too, and followed their eyes to the sky. A light was moving toward them: a light with wings.

“It’s the angel we saw,” said Pantalaimon, guessing.

He guessed correctly. As the boy and the girl and the two daemons watched her approach, Xaphania spread her wings wider and glided down to the sand. Will, for all the time he’d spent in the company of Balthamos, wasn’t prepared for the strangeness of this encounter. He and Lyra held each other’s hands tightly as the angel came toward them, with the light of another world shining on her. She was unclothed, but that meant nothing. What clothes could an angel wear anyway? Lyra thought. It was impossible to tell if she was old or young, but her expression was austere and compassionate, and both Will and Lyra felt as if she knew them to their hearts.

“Will,” she said, “I have come to ask your help.”

“My help? How can I help you?”

“I want you to show me how to close the openings that the knife makes.”

Will swallowed. “I’ll show you,” he said, “and in return, can you help us?”

“Not in the way you want. I can see what you’ve been talking about. Your sorrow has left traces in the air. This is no comfort, but believe me, every single being who knows of your dilemma wishes things could be otherwise; but there are fates that even the most powerful have to submit to. There is nothing I can do to help you change the way things are.”

“Why – ” Lyra began, and found her voice weak and trembling – “why can’t I read the alethiometer anymore? Why can’t I even do that? That was the one thing I could do really well, and it’s just not there anymore – it just vanished as if it had never come…”

“You read it by grace,” said Xaphania, looking at her, “and you can regain it by work.”

“How long will that take?”

“A lifetime.”

“That long…”

“But your reading will be even better then, after a lifetime of thought and effort, because it will come from conscious understanding. Grace attained like that is deeper and fuller than grace that comes freely, and furthermore, once you’ve gained it, it will never leave you.”

“You mean a full lifetime, don’t you?” Lyra whispered. “A whole long life? Not… not just… a few years…”

“Yes, I do,” said the angel.

“And must all the windows be closed?” said Will. “Every single one?”

“Understand this,” said Xaphania: “Dust is not a constant. There’s not a fixed quantity that has always been the same. Conscious beings make Dust – they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on.

“And if you help everyone else in your worlds to do that, by helping them to learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious… Then they will renew enough to replace what is lost through one window. So there could be one left open.”

Will trembled with excitement, and his mind leapt to a single point: to a new window in the air between his world and Lyra’s. And it would be their secret, and they could go through whenever they chose, and live for a while in each other’s worlds, not living fully in either, so their daemons would keep their health; and they could grow up together and maybe, much later on, they might have children, who would be secret citizens of two worlds; and they could bring all the learning of one world into the other, they could do all kinds of good –

But Lyra was shaking her head.

“No,” she said in a quiet wail, “we can’t, Will – “

And he suddenly knew her thought, and in the same anguished tone, he said, “No, the dead – “

“We must leave it open for them! We must!”

“Yes, otherwise…”

“And we must make enough Dust for them, Will, and keep the window open – “

She was trembling. She felt very young as he held her to his side.

“And if we do,” he said shakily, “if we live our lives properly and think about them as we do, then there’ll be something to tell the harpies about as well. We’ve got to tell people that, Lyra.”

“The true stories, yes,” she said, “the true stories the harpies want to hear in exchange. Yes. So if people live their whole lives and they’ve got nothing to tell about it when they’ve finished, then they’ll never leave the world of the dead. We’ve got to tell them that, Will.”

“Alone, though…”

“Yes,” she said, “alone.”

And at the word alone, Will felt a great wave of rage and despair moving outward from a place deep within him, as if his mind were an ocean that some profound convulsion had disturbed. All his life he’d been alone, and now he must be alone again, and this infinitely precious blessing that had come to him must be taken away almost at once. He felt the wave build higher and steeper to darken the sky, he felt the crest tremble and begin to spill, he felt the great mass crashing down with the whole weight of the ocean behind it against the iron-bound coast of what had to be. And he found himself gasping and shaking and crying aloud with more anger and pain than he had ever felt in his life, and he found Lyra just as helpless in his arms. But as the wave expended its force and the waters withdrew, the bleak rocks remained; there was no arguing with fate; neither his despair nor Lyra’s had moved them a single inch.

How long his rage lasted, he had no idea. But eventually it had to subside, and the ocean was a little calmer after the convulsion. The waters were still agitated, and perhaps they would never be truly calm again, but the great force had gone.

They turned to the angel and saw she had understood, and that she felt as sorrowful as they did. But she could see farther than they could, and there was a calm hope in her expression, too.

Will swallowed hard and said, “All right. I’ll show you how to close a window. But I’ll have to open one first, and make another Specter. I never knew about them, or else I’d have been more careful.”

“We shall take care of the Specters,” said Xaphania. Will took the knife and faced the sea. To his surprise, his hands were quite steady. He cut a window into his own world, and they found themselves looking at a great factory or chemical plant, where complicated pipe work ran between buildings and storage tanks, where lights glowed at every corner, where wisps of steam rose into the air.

“It’s strange to think that angels don’t know the way to do this,” Will said.

“The knife was a human invention.”

“And you’re going to close them all except one,” Will said. “All except the one from the world of the dead.”

“Yes, that is a promise. But it is conditional, and you know the condition.”

“Yes, we do. Are there many windows to close?” “Thousands. There is the terrible abyss made by the bomb, and there is the great opening Lord Asriel made out of his own world. They must both be closed, and they will. But there are many smaller openings, too, some deep under the earth, some high in the air, which came about in other ways.”

“Baruch and Balthamos told me that they used openings like that to travel between the worlds. Will angels no longer be able to do that? Will you be confined to one world as we are?”

“No; we have other ways of traveling.”

“The way you have,” Lyra said, “is it possible for us to learn?”

“Yes. You could learn to do it, as Will’s father did. It uses the faculty of what you call imagination. But that does not mean making things up. It is a form of seeing.”

“Not real traveling, then,” said Lyra. “Just pretend…”

“No,” said Xaphania, “nothing like pretend. Pretending is easy. This way is hard, but much truer.”

“And is it like the alethiometer?” said Will. “Does it take a whole lifetime to learn?”

“It takes long practice, yes. You have to work. Did you think you could snap your fingers, and have it as a gift? What is worth having is worth working for. But you have a friend who has already taken the first steps, and who could help you.”

Will had no idea who that could be, and at that moment he wasn’t in the mood to ask.

“I see,” he said, sighing. “And will we see you again? Will we ever speak to an angel once we go back to our own worlds?”

“I don’t know,” said Xaphania. “But you should not spend your time waiting.”

“And I should break the knife,” said Will.

“Yes.”

While they had been speaking, the window had been open beside them. The lights were glowing in the factory, the work was going on; machines were turning, chemicals were combining, people were producing goods and earning their livings. That was the world where Will belonged.

“Well, I’ll show you what to do,” he said.

So he taught the angel how to feel for the edges of the window, just as Giacomo Paradisi had shown him, sensing them at his fingers’ ends and pinching them together. Little by little the window closed, and the factory disappeared.

“The openings that weren’t made by the subtle knife,” Will said, “is it really necessary to close them all? Because surely Dust only escapes through the openings the knife made. The other ones must have been there for thousands of years, and still Dust exists.”

The angel said, “We shall close them all, because if you thought that any still remained, you would spend your life searching for one, and that would be a waste of the time you have. You have other work than that to do, much more important and valuable, in your own world. There will be no travel outside it anymore.”

“What work have I got to do, then?” said Will, but went on at once, “No, on second thought, don’t tell me. I shall decide what I do. If you say my work is fighting, or healing, or exploring, or whatever you might say, I’ll always be thinking about it. And if I do end up doing that, I’ll be resentful because it’ll feel as if I didn’t have a choice, and if I don’t do it, I’ll feel guilty because I should. Whatever I do, I will choose it, no one else.”

“Then you have already taken the first steps toward wisdom,” said Xaphania.

“There’s a light out at sea,” said Lyra.

“That is the ship bringing your friends to take you home. They will be here tomorrow.”

The word tomorrow fell like a heavy blow. Lyra had never thought she would be reluctant to see Farder Coram, and John Faa, and Serafina Pekkala.

“I shall go now,” said the angel. “I have learned what I needed to know.”

She embraced each of them in her light, cool arms and kissed their foreheads. Then she bent to kiss the daemons, and they became birds and flew up with her as she spread her wings and rose swiftly into the air. Only a few seconds later she had vanished.

A few moments after she had gone, Lyra gave a little gasp.

“What is it?” said Will.

“I never asked her about my father and mother – and I can’t ask the alethiometer, either, now… I wonder if I’ll ever know?”

She sat down slowly, and he sat down beside her.

“Oh, Will,” she said, “what can we do? Whatever can we do? I want to live with you forever. I want to kiss you and lie down with you and wake up with you every day of my life till I die, years and years and years away. I don’t want a memory, just a memory…”

“No,” he said, “memory’s a poor thing to have. It’s your own real hair and mouth and arms and eyes and hands I want. I didn’t know I could ever love anything so much. Oh, Lyra, I wish this night would never end! If only we could stay here like this, and the world could stop turning, and everyone else could fall into a sleep…”

“Everyone except us! And you and I could live here forever and just love each other.”

“I will love you forever, whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again…”

“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight…”

They lay side by side, hand in hand, looking at the sky.

“Do you remember,” she whispered, “when you first came into that cafe in Ci’gazze, and you’d never seen a daemon?”

“I couldn’t understand what he was. But when I saw you, I liked you straightaway because you were brave.”

“No, I liked you first.”

“You didn’t! You fought me!”

“Well,” she said, “yes. But you attacked me.”

“I did not! You came charging out and attacked me.”

“Yes, but I soon stopped.”

“Yes, but,” he mocked softly.

He felt her tremble, and then under his hands the delicate bones of her back began to rise and fall, and he heard her sob quietly. He stroked her warm hair, her tender shoulders, and then he kissed her face again and again, and presently she gave a deep, shuddering sigh and fell still.

The daemons flew back down now, and changed again, and came toward them over the soft sand. Lyra sat up to greet them, and Will marveled at the way he could instantly tell which daemon was which, never mind what form they had. Pantalaimon was now an animal whose name he couldn’t quite find: like a large and powerful ferret, red-gold in color, lithe and sinuous and full of grace. Kirjava was a cat again. But she was a cat of no ordinary size, and her fur was lustrous and rich, with a thousand different glints and shades of ink black, shadow gray, the blue of a deep lake under a noon sky, mist-lavender-moonlight-fog… To see the meaning of the word subtlety, you had only to look at her fur.

“A marten,” he said, finding the name for Pantalaimon, “a pine marten.”

“Pan,” Lyra said as he flowed up onto her lap, “you’re not going to change a lot anymore, are you?”

“No,” he said.

“It’s funny,” she said, “you remember when we were younger and I didn’t want you to stop changing at all… Well, I wouldn’t mind so much now. Not if you stay like this.”

Will put his hand on hers. A new mood had taken hold of him, and he felt resolute and peaceful. Knowing exactly what he was doing and exactly what it would mean, he moved his hand from Lyra’s wrist and stroked the red-gold fur of her daemon.

Lyra gasped. But her surprise was mixed with a pleasure so like the joy that flooded through her when she had put the fruit to his lips that she couldn’t protest, because she was breathless. With a racing heart she responded in the same way: she put her hand on the silky warmth of Will’s daemon, and as her fingers tightened in the fur, she knew that Will was feeling exactly what she was.

And she knew, too, that neither daemon would change now, having felt a lover’s hands on them. These were their shapes for life: they would want no other.

So, wondering whether any lovers before them had made this blissful discovery, they lay together as the earth turned slowly and the moon and stars blazed above them.