The Amber Spyglass Chapter 5 The Adamant Tower
A lake of molten sulphur extended the length of an immense canyon, releasing its mephitic vapors in sudden gusts and belches and barring the way of the solitary winged figure who stood at its edge.
If he took to the sky, the enemy scouts who had spotted him, and lost him, would find him again at once; but if he stayed on the ground, it would take so long to get past this noxious pit that his message might arrive too late.
He would have to take the greater risk. He waited until a cloud of stinking smoke billowed off the yellow surface, and darted upward into the thick of it.
Four pairs of eyes in different parts of the sky all saw the brief movement, and at once four pairs of wings beat hard against the smoke-fouled air, hurling the watchers forward to the cloud.
Then began a hunt in which the pursuers couldn’t see the quarry and the quarry could see nothing at all. The first to break out of the cloud on the far side of the lake would have the advantage, and that might mean survival, or it might mean a successful kill.
And unluckily for the single flier, he found the clear air a few seconds after one of his pursuers. At once they closed with each other, trailing streams of vapor, and dizzy, both of them, from the sickening fumes. The quarry had the best of it at first, but then another hunter flew free of the cloud. In a swift and furious struggle, all three of them, twisting in the air like scraps of flame, rose and fell and rose again, only to fall, finally, among the rocks on the far side. The other two hunters never emerged from the cloud. At the western end of a range of saw-toothed mountains, on a peak that commanded wide views of the plain below and the valleys behind, a fortress of basalt seemed to grow out of the mountain as if some volcano had thrust it up a million years ago.
In vast caverns beneath the rearing walls, provisions of every sort were stored and labeled; in the arsenals and magazines, engines of war were being calibrated, armed, and tested; in the mills below the mountain, volcanic fires fed mighty forges where phosphor and titanium were being melted and combined in alloys never known or used before.
On the most exposed side of the fortress, at a point deep in the shadow of a buttress where the mighty walls rose sheer out of the ancient lava-flows, there was a small gate, a postern where a sentry watched day and night and challenged all who sought to enter.
While the watch was being changed on the ramparts above, the sentry stamped once or twice and slapped his gloved hands on his upper arms for warmth, for it was the coldest hour of the night, and the little naphtha flare in the bracket beside him gave no heat. His relief would come in another ten minutes, and he was looking forward to the mug of chocolate, the smokeleaf, and most of all his bed.
To hear a hammering at the little door was the last thing he expected. However, he was alert, and he snapped open the spy hole, at the same time opening the tap that allowed a flow of naphtha past the pilot light in the buttress outside. In the glare it threw, he saw three hooded figures carrying between them a fourth, whose shape was indistinct, and who seemed ill, or wounded.
The figure in front threw back his hood. He had a face the sentry knew, but he gave the password anyway and said, “We found him at the sulphur lake. Says his name is Baruch. He’s got an urgent message for Lord Asriel.”
The sentry unbarred the door, and his terrier daemon quivered as the three figures maneuvered their burden with difficulty through the narrow entrance. Then the daemon gave a soft involuntary howl, quickly cut off, as the sentry saw that the figure being carried was an angel, wounded: an angel of low rank and little power, but an angel, nevertheless.
“Lay him in the guardroom,” the sentry told them, and as they did so, he turned the crank of the telephone bell and reported what was happening to the officer of the watch. On the highest rampart of the fortress was a tower of adamant: just one flight of steps up to a set of rooms whose windows looked out north, south, east, and west. The largest room was furnished with a table and chairs and a map chest, another with a camp bed. A small bathroom completed the set.
Lord Asriel sat in the adamant tower facing his spy captain across a mass of scattered papers. A naphtha lamp hung over the table, and a brazier held burning coals against the bitter chill of the night. Inside the door, a small blue hawk was perching on a bracket.
The spy captain was called Lord Roke. He was striking to look at: he was no taller than Lord Asriel’s hand span, and as slender as a dragonfly, but the rest of Lord Asriel’s captains treated him with profound respect, for he was armed with a poisonous sting in the spurs on his heels.
It was his custom to sit on the table, and his manner to repel anything but the greatest courtesy with a haughty and malevolent tongue. He and his kind, the Gallivespians, had few of the qualities of good spies except, of course, their exceptional smallness: they were so proud and touchy that they would never have remained inconspicuous if they had been of Lord Asriel’s size.
“Yes,” he said, his voice clear and sharp, his eyes glittering like droplets of ink, “your child, my Lord Asriel: I know about her. Evidently I know more than you do.”
Lord Asriel looked at him directly, and the little man knew at once that he’d taken advantage of his commander’s courtesy: the force of Lord Asriel’s glance flicked him like a finger, so that he lost his balance and had to put out a hand to steady himself on Lord Asriel’s wineglass. A moment later Lord Asriel’s expression was bland and virtuous, just as his daughter’s could be, and from then on Lord Roke was more careful.
“No doubt, Lord Roke,” said Lord Asriel. “But for reasons I don’t understand, the girl is the focus of the Church’s attention, and I need to know why. What are they saying about her?”
“The Magisterium is alive with speculation; one branch says one thing, another is investigating something else, and each of them is trying to keep its discoveries secret from the rest. The most active branches are the Consistorial Court of Discipline and the Society of the Work of the Holy Spirit, and,” said Lord Roke, “I have spies in both of them.”
“Have you turned a member of the Society, then?” said Lord Asriel. “I congratulate you. They used to be impregnable.”
“My spy in the Society is the Lady Salmakia,” said Lord Roke, “a very skillful agent. There is a priest whose daemon, a mouse, she approached in their sleep. My agent suggested that the man perform a forbidden ritual designed to invoke the presence of Wisdom. At the critical moment, the Lady Salmakia appeared in front of him. The priest now thinks he can communicate with Wisdom whenever he pleases, and that she has the form of a Gallivespian and lives in his bookcase.”
Lord Asriel smiled and said, “And what has she learned?” “The Society thinks that your daughter is the most important child who has ever lived. They think that a great crisis will come before very long, and that the fate of everything will depend on how she behaves at that point. As for the Consistorial Court of Discipline, it’s holding an inquiry at the moment, with witnesses from Bolvangar and elsewhere. My spy in the Court, the Chevalier Tialys, is in touch with me every day by means of the lodestone resonator, and he is letting me know what they discover. In short, I would say that the Society of the Work of the Holy Spirit will find out very soon where the child is, but they will do nothing about it. It will take the Consistorial Court a little longer, but when they do, they will act decisively, and at once.”
“Let me know the moment you hear any more.” Lord Roke bowed and snapped his fingers, and the small blue hawk perching on the bracket beside the door spread her wings and glided to the table. She had a bridle, a saddle, and stirrups. Lord Roke sprang on her back in a second, and they flew out of the window, which Lord Asriel held wide for them. He left it open for a minute, in spite of the bitter air, and leaned on the window seat, playing with the ears of his snow-leopard daemon.
“She came to me on Svalbard and I ignored her,” he said. “You remember the shock… I needed a sacrifice, and the first child to arrive was my own daughter… But when I realized that there was another child with her, so she was safe, I relaxed. Was that a fatal mistake? I didn’t consider her after that, not for a moment, but she is important, Stelmaria!”
“Let’s think clearly,” his daemon replied. “What can she do?”
“Do – not much. Does she know something?”
“She can read the alethiometer; she has access to knowledge.”
“That’s nothing special. So have others. And where in Hell’s name can she be?”
There was a knock at the door behind him, and he turned at once.
“My lord,” said the officer who came in, “an angel has just arrived at the western gate, wounded, he insists on speaking to you.”
And a minute later, Baruch was lying on the camp bed, which had been brought through to the main room. A medical orderly had been summoned, but it was clear that there was little hope for the angel: he was wounded sorely, his wings torn and his eyes dimmed.
Lord Asriel sat close by and threw a handful of herbs onto the coals in the brazier. As Will had found with the smoke of his fire, that had the effect of defining the angel’s body so he could see it more clearly.
“Well, sir,” he said, “what have you come to tell me?”
“Three things. Please let me say them all before you speak. My name is Baruch. My companion Balthamos and I are of the rebels’ party, and so we were drawn to your standard as soon as you raised it. But we wanted to bring you something valuable, because our power is small, and not long ago we managed to find our way to the heart of the Clouded Mountain, the Authority’s citadel in the Kingdom. And there we learned…”
He had to stop for a moment to breathe in the smoke of the herbs, which seemed to steady him. He continued:
“We learned the truth about the Authority. We learned that he has retired to a chamber of crystal deep within the Clouded Mountain, and that he no longer runs the daily affairs of the Kingdom. Instead, he contemplates deeper mysteries. In his place, ruling on his behalf, there is an angel called Metatron. I have reason to know that angel well, though when I knew him…”
Baruch’s voice faded. Lord Asriel’s eyes were blazing, but he held his tongue and waited for Baruch to continue.
“Metatron is proud,” Baruch went on when he had recovered a little strength, “and his ambition is limitless. The Authority chose him four thousand years ago to be his Regent, and they laid their plans together. They have a new plan, which my companion and I were able to discover. The Authority considers that conscious beings of every kind have become dangerously independent, so Metatron is going to intervene much more actively in human affairs. They intend to move the Authority secretly away from the Clouded Mountain, to a permanent citadel somewhere else, and turn the mountain into an engine of war. The churches in every world are corrupt and weak, he thinks, they compromise too readily… He wants to set up a permanent inquisition in every world, run directly from the Kingdom. And his first campaign will be to destroy your Republic…”
They were both trembling, the angel and the man, but one from weakness and the other from excitement.
Baruch gathered his remaining strength, and went on:
“The second thing is this. There is a knife that can cut openings between the worlds, as well as anything in them. Its power is unlimited, but only in the hands of the one who knows how to use it. And that person is a boy…”
Once again the angel had to stop and recover. He was frightened; he could feel himself drifting apart. Lord Asriel could see the effort he made to hold himself together, and sat tensely gripping the arms of his chair until Baruch found the strength to go on.
“My companion is with him now. We wanted to bring him directly to you, but he refused, because… This is the third thing I must tell you: he and your daughter are friends. And he will not agree to come to you until he has found her. She is – “
“Who is this boy?”
“He is the son of the shaman. Of Stanislaus Grumman.” Lord Asriel was so surprised he stood up involuntarily, sending billows of smoke swirling around the angel.
“Grumman had a son?” he said.
“Grumman was not born in your world. Nor was his real name Grumman. My companion and I were led to him by his own desire to find the knife. We followed him, knowing he would lead us to it and its bearer, intending to bring the bearer to you. But the boy refused to…”
Once again Baruch had to stop. Lord Asriel sat down again, cursing his own impatience, and sprinkled some more herbs on the fire. His daemon lay nearby, her tail sweeping slowly across the oaken floor, her golden eyes never leaving the angel’s pain-filled face. Baruch took several slow breaths, and Lord Asriel held his silence. The slap of the rope on the flagpole above was the only sound.
“Take your time, sir,” Lord Asriel said gently. “Do you know where my daughter is?”
“Himalaya… in her own world,” whispered Baruch. “Great mountains. A cave near a valley full of rainbows…”
“A long way from here in both worlds. You flew quickly.”
“It is the only gift I have,” said Baruch, “except the love of Balthamos, whom I shall never see again.”
“And if you found her so easily – “
“Then any other angel may, too.”
Lord Asriel seized a great atlas from the map chest and flung it open, looking for the pages that showed the Himalaya.
“Can you be precise?” he said. “Can you show me exactly where?”
“With the knife…” Baruch tried to say, and Lord Asriel realized his mind was wandering. “With the knife he can enter and leave any world at will… Will is his name. But they are in danger, he and Balthamos… Metatron knows we have his secret. They pursued us… They caught me alone on the borders of your world… I was his brother… That was how we found our way to him in the Clouded Mountain. Metatron was once Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel… Enoch had many wives. He was a lover of the flesh… My brother Enoch cast me out, because I… Oh, my dear Balthamos…”
“Where is the girl?”
“Yes. Yes. A cave… her mother… valley full of winds and rainbows… tattered flags on the shrine…” He raised himself to look at the atlas.
Then the snow-leopard daemon got to her feet in one swift movement and leapt to the door, but it was too late: the orderly who had knocked had opened without waiting. That was the way things were done; it was no one’s fault; but seeing the expression on the soldier’s face as he looked past him, Lord Asriel turned back to see Baruch straining and quivering to hold his wounded form together. The effort was too much. A draft from the open door sent an eddy of air across the bed, and the particles of the angel’s form, loosened by the waning of his strength, swirled upward into randomness and vanished. “Balthamos!” came a whisper from the air. Lord Asriel put his hand on his daemon’s neck; she felt him tremble, and stilled him. He turned to the orderly.
“My lord, I beg your – “
“Not your fault. Take my compliments to King Ogunwe. I would be glad if he and my other commanders could step here at once. I would also like Mr. Basilides to attend, with the alethiometer. Finally I want No. 2 Squadron of gyropters armed and fueled, and a tanker zeppelin to take off at once and head southwest. I shall send further orders in the air.”
The orderly saluted and, with one more swift uneasy glance at the empty bed, went out and shut the door.
Lord Asriel tapped the desk with a pair of brass dividers, and crossed to open the southern window. Far below, the deathless fires put out their glow and smoke on the darkling air, and even at this great height the clang of hammers could be heard in the snapping wind.
“Well, we’ve learned a lot, Stelmaria,” he said quietly.
“But not enough,” she replied.
There came another knock at the door, and the alethiometrist came in. He was a pale, thin man in early middle age; his name was Teukros Basilides, and his daemon was a nightingale.
“Mr. Basilides, good evening to you,” said Lord Asriel. “This is our problem, and I would like you to put everything else aside while you deal with it…”
He told the man what Baruch had said, and showed him the atlas.
“Pinpoint that cave,” he said. “Get me the coordinates as precisely as you can. This is the most important task you have ever undertaken. Begin at once, if you please,”
stamped her foot so hard it even hurt her in the dream. “You don’t believe I’d do that, Roger, so don’t say it. I will wake up and I won’t forget, so there.”
She looked around, but all she could see were wide eyes and hopeless faces, pale faces, dark faces, old faces, young faces, all the dead cramming and crowding, close and silent and sorrowful.
Roger’s face was different. His expression was the only one that contained hope.
She said, “Why d’you look like that? Why en’t you miserable, like them? Why en’t you at the end of your hope?”
And he said, “Because you’re Lyra”
Then she realized what that meant. She felt dizzy, even in her dreams; she felt a great burden settle on her shoulders. And to make it even heavier, sleep was closing in again, and Roger’s face was receding into shadow.
“Well, I…I know…There’s all kinds of people on our side, like Dr. Malone…You know there’s another Oxford, Roger, just like ours? Well, she…I found her in…She’d help…But there’s only one person really who…”
It was almost impossible now to see the little boy, and her thoughts were spreading out and wandering away like sheep in a field.
“But we can trust him, Roger, I swear,” she said with a final effort, “because he’s Will”