The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Volume 2) (10 page)

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“Us?” said Lyra. “And
all this
—what is
all this
? I’m sorry, Dr. Polstead, but I don’t understand. Are you involved in this somehow? And the other day—what Mrs. Lonsdale, Alice, what she said about you—that took me by surprise too, and for the same reason. You know something about me that I don’t, and that’s not right. So how are
you
involved?”

“That’s one of the things we’re going to tell you this afternoon,” he said. “It’s why Hannah asked me to come. Shall I start?” he asked, turning to the lady, who nodded. “If I leave out anything important, I know Hannah will remind me.”

Lyra leant back, feeling tense. Pan climbed onto her lap. Alice was watching them both seriously.

“It began around the time Hannah mentioned just now,” Dr. Polstead began, “when I found something that was meant for her, and she found me. I was about eleven, and I was living with my parents at the Trout in Godstow….”

The story that unfolded was stranger than Lyra could have guessed, and listening to it felt like standing on a mountaintop as a wind blew away clouds of fog and mist and disclosed a panorama completely unsuspected only a few minutes before. There were parts of it that were utterly new and unknown, but also there were other parts that had been visible through the fog in a phantasmagoria, and now stood clearly in the sunlight. There was a memory of a night when someone was walking up and down in a moonlit garden, whispering as he held her close, with a great quiet leopard walking alongside. And another memory of a different nighttime garden, with lights in all the trees, and of laughing and laughing for pure happiness, and a little boat. And of a storm and a thunderous knocking at a door in the darkness, but in Dr. Polstead’s account there was no horse….

“I thought there was a horse,” Lyra said.

“No horse,” said Alice.

“Asriel flew us here in a gyropter and landed in Radcliffe Square,” Malcolm went on. “And then he put you in the Master’s arms and invoked the law of scholastic sanctuary. That law had never been repealed.”

“What’s scholastic sanctuary? Is it what it sounds like?”

“It was a law that protected Scholars from persecution.”

“But I wasn’t a Scholar!”

“Oddly enough, that was just what the Master said. So your father said, ‘You’ll have to make her into one, then, won’t you?’ And then he left.”

Lyra sat back, her heart full, her mind whirling. So much to understand! She hardly knew what to ask about first.

Hannah, who had been listening quietly, leant forward to put another log on the fire. Then she got up to draw the curtains against the darkness outside.

“Well,” said Lyra, “I suppose…Thank you. I don’t mean to sound ungracious or anything. Thank you for saving me from the flood, and everything. This is all so strange. And the alethiometer—this one—”

She reached into her bag and tugged it out, unfolding the black velvet to let it rest on her knee. It glowed in the lamplight.

“The man Bonneville, the one with the hyena dæmon who was chasing you, had it?” she said. “It’s so much to take in. Where did he get it from?”

“We found out much later,” said Hannah. “He stole it from a monastery in Bohemia.”

“Then—shouldn’t it go back there?” Lyra said, but her heart sank at the thought of losing this most precious thing, this instrument that had helped her find her way into and out of the world of the dead, that had told her the truth about Will (“He is a murderer”) in the only way that would have let her trust him, that had saved their lives and restored the bear king’s armor and done a hundred other extraordinary things. Her hands involuntarily tightened around it, and she returned it to the safety of her bag.

“No,” said Hannah. “The monks had stolen it themselves from a traveler who made the mistake of taking shelter with them. I took a month once to investigate the provenance of your alethiometer, and it seems to have passed from one set of thieves to another for centuries. When Malcolm pushed it in among your blankets, it was the first time it had changed hands honestly for hundreds of years. And I think that broke the pattern.”

“It was stolen from me, once,” said Lyra. “And we had to steal it back.”

“It’s yours, and unless you choose to give it away, it’ll be yours for life,” said Dr. Polstead.

“And all those other things you told me…that fairy: Did you really mean a
fairy
? Or was it that you imagined…It can’t have been
true
?”

“It was,” said Alice. “She was called Diania. She put you to the breast and suckled you. You’ve drunk fairy milk, and you’d be with her still if Malcolm hadn’t fooled her and got us away.”

“The flood brought a lot of strange things to light,” said Malcolm.

“But why didn’t you tell me before?”

He looked a little abashed. How mobile his face was, Lyra thought. He looked like a stranger; it was as if she’d never seen him before.

“We—Alice and I—always said to each other that we would,” he said, “but the time never seemed to be right. Besides, Dr. Carne made us both promise never to talk to you about Bonneville or anything connected with him. It was part of the sanctuary business. We didn’t understand then, but we did later. It was to protect you. But things are changing fast. Now I’ll hand over to Hannah.”

“When I first met Malcolm,” the lady said, “I did something rather reckless. It turned out that he was very well placed to pick up the kind of information I was interested in, and I encouraged him to do that. He sometimes overheard things in his parents’ pub, or elsewhere, that were worth noting. He took messages for me, or collected them from other places. He was able to tell me about an abominable organization called the League of St. Alexander, which recruited schoolchildren to inform on their parents to the Magisterium.”

“It sounds like…,” Lyra said. “I don’t know. A spy story or something. It’s not very easy to believe.”

“I suppose it does. The point was that a lot of the political arguments and struggles that were going on then had to be carried out surreptitiously, anonymously. It was a dangerous time.”

“Was that what you were doing? Political things?”

“That sort of thing. It didn’t stop. It hasn’t stopped. And in some ways things are even more difficult now. For example, there’s a bill before Parliament at the moment called the Rectification of Historical Anomalies Bill. It’s portrayed as a simple tidying-up measure, to do away with a lot of old statutes that don’t make sense anymore or are irrelevant to modern life, such as benefit of clergy, or the right of certain livery companies to catch and eat herons and swans, or the gathering of tithes by monastic bodies that are long gone—ancient privileges that no one’s used for years. But tucked away among the obsolete provisions to be abolished is the right of scholastic sanctuary, which is what still protects you.”

“Protects me from what?” Lyra found that her voice was shaky.

“From the Magisterium.”

“But why would they want to hurt me?”

“We don’t know.”

“But why hasn’t anyone in Parliament noticed this? Isn’t anyone arguing against it?”

“It’s a very complicated and long-winded piece of legislation—my sources tell me that it was introduced on the urging of an organization gaining power in Geneva:
La Maison Juste.
More to them than you’d think at first, but they’re connected to the CCD, I believe. Anyway, it was cleverly done, and you need the eyes of an eagle and the patience of a snail to fight something like that. There was an MP called Bernard Crombie leading the fight against it, but he was killed recently, supposedly in a road accident.”

“I read about it,” said Lyra. “It was here in Oxford. He was knocked down, and the driver didn’t stop. You don’t mean he was murdered?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Dr. Polstead. “We know what happened, but we can’t prove it in court. The point is that the protection that’s been around you since Lord Asriel put you in the Master’s arms is now, slowly and deliberately, being dismantled.”

“And what the new Master said to you last night,” said Hannah, “just confirms it.”

“So he—Dr. Hammond—he’s on the other side? Whatever that is?”

“He’s no Scholar,” said Alice decisively. “He’s only a businessman.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Polstead. “His background is relevant. We’re not sure yet how it all connects, but if that law’s passed, it’ll give business corporations the chance to help themselves to a good deal of property, for example, whose ownership was never clearly established. If there’s any dispute, it’ll be resolved in favor of money and power. Even the ruins of Godstow Priory will be up for sale.”

“There were men there just the other day measuring things,” said Alice.

“The changes Dr. Hammond told you about last night are part of a bigger pattern,” said Hannah. “It makes you even more vulnerable.”

Lyra couldn’t speak. She held Pantalaimon close and looked into the fire. “But he did say…,” she began very quietly, and then spoke up: “He did say the college would pay for the rest of my education…my time at St. Sophia’s….So what does he
want
? Does he want me to finish and get my degree, or—or what? I just don’t understand—I can’t take this in.”

“I’m afraid there’s more,” said Hannah. “The money that was left you by Dr. Carne—the money Hammond said was all used up—Malcolm can tell you about that.”

“In his old age, Dr. Carne was easily confused,” said Dr. Polstead, “and money and figures weren’t his strong point, in any case. What seems to have happened is that he did put a considerable sum aside—we don’t know how much, but there would have been plenty left still—only he was persuaded to invest it in a fund that crashed. It simply failed—very badly managed or deliberately ruined. The money wasn’t in the hands of the college solicitor, no matter what Dr. Hammond told you; in fact, the solicitor tried hard to prevent the old Master from investing in that fund, but of course, he had to do what his client wanted. You might know the college solicitor: a very tall man, quite old now. His dæmon is a kestrel.”

“Oh yes!” Lyra remembered him: she had never known exactly who he was, but he had always been kind and courteous to her and genuinely interested in her progress.

“They timed it well,” Alice put in. “It wasn’t long before the old Master began to lose his way, poor old boy. Forgetting things…”

“I remember,” Lyra said. “It was so sad…I loved him.”

“Many people did,” said Hannah. “But once he’d become unable to manage his affairs, the solicitor had to take power of attorney. If Dr. Carne had wanted to invest the money in the bad fund at that stage, it could have been prevented.”

“Just a minute,” Lyra said. “Alice said, ‘They timed it well.’ You don’t mean it was intentional—you don’t mean
they,
the other side—they lost his money on purpose?”

“It looks very like it,” said Dr. Polstead.

“But why?”

“To damage you. You wouldn’t even have been aware of it till—well, till now.”

“They were—while the old Master was still alive—they were deliberately trying to hurt…”

“Yes. We’ve only just found that out, and it was the thing that prompted us to call you here and tell you about this.”

Now she really couldn’t speak. It was Pantalaimon who spoke for her.

“But
why
?” he said.

“We have no idea,” said Hannah. “For some reason the other side needs you vulnerable, and for the sake of everything good and valuable, we need you safe. But you’re not the only one. There are other Scholars protected by scholastic sanctuary. It’s been a guarantee of intellectual freedom, and it looks as if it’s being torn down.”

Lyra ran her hands through her hair. She kept thinking about the man she’d never heard of till then, the man with the three-legged hyena dæmon who had been so determined to get her into his power when she was less than a year old.

“That Bonneville man,” she said. “Was he part of the other side too? Is that why he wanted me?”

An expression of contempt and disgust passed over Alice’s face, just for a moment.

“He was a complicated man, in a complicated situation,” said Hannah. “He seems to have been a spy, but an independent one, like an independent scholar. He was originally an experimental theologian, a physicist, and entirely on his own, he’d penetrated to the heart of the Magisterium’s Geneva headquarters and discovered all kinds of things—an extraordinary amount of material. It was in the rucksack that Malcolm rescued—”

“Stole,” he said.

“All right, stole. And Malcolm brought it all back to Oxford. But Bonneville had become a sort of renegade; he was psychotic, or obsessed, or something….He was obsessed with you, with you as a baby, for some reason.”

“I think he wanted to use you as a bargaining chip,” said Dr. Polstead. “But then—well, at the end he just seemed mad. Deranged. He…”

Lyra was astonished at the depth of pain in his face. He was looking directly at Alice, who was returning his gaze with a similar expression. Dr. Polstead seemed unable to speak for a moment. He looked down at the carpet.

Alice said huskily, “This is another reason it’s been hard to tell you, dear. You see, Bonneville raped me. He might have done more, but Malcolm…Malcolm came to my rescue and…well, he did the only thing he could do. We was at the end of our strength, we thought we was at the end of our lives, everything was so horrible and…”

She couldn’t say any more. Her dæmon, Ben, put his head on her lap and she stroked his ears with a trembling hand. Lyra wanted to put her arms around her, but she couldn’t move. Pan was stock-still by her feet.

“The only thing he could do?” she whispered.

Malcolm’s dæmon, Asta, said, “Malcolm killed him.”

Lyra couldn’t speak. Dr. Polstead was still looking down at the floor. He rubbed the heel of his hand across his eyes.

Alice said, “You was bundled up in the boat and he didn’t want to leave you there alone, so Asta stayed with you and Malcolm came up to the place where Bonneville was…attacking me, and Asta stayed to look after you.”

“You separated?” Lyra said. “And you
killed
him?”

“I hated every second of it.”


How
old were you?”

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