The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Volume 2) (61 page)

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

“What treasure? What are you talking about?”

“You don’t know?”

“Again, what are you talking about? Where is this treasure? You don’t mean her dæmon?”

“Of course not. The treasure is three thousand miles to the east, and as I said, no one can get it but her.”

“And you want her to get it so you can have it?”

“What do you think?”

“Why should I care what you want? I don’t want treasure from three thousand miles away. What I want is what she has now.”

“And if you take that, she will never find the treasure. Listen to me: I speak to you harshly, but I have to admire you. You are resourceful, courageous, hardy, inventive. I like all those qualities, and I want to see them rewarded. But at the moment you are like the wolf in the fable who seizes the nearest lamb and arouses the shepherd. Your attention is in the wrong place. Wait, and watch, and learn, and then kill the shepherd, and you will be able to have the entire flock.”

“You’re speaking in riddles.”

“I am speaking in metaphor. You are intelligent enough to understand that.”

Bonneville was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “What is this treasure, then?”

Ionides began to talk, quietly, confidently, confidentially. In the fable that Bonneville knew, it was a fox, but he enjoyed being compared to a wolf, and above all else he enjoyed the praise of older men. As the moon rose higher, as Lyra in the distance slowly made her solitary way into the dead and dæmon-haunted town, Ionides went on talking, and Bonneville listened. When he looked at the dead city again, Lyra had vanished.

* * *

She was out of sight because she’d turned to avoid a broken mass of gleaming marble that had once been a temple. There she found herself at one end of a colonnade, which cast black bars of shadow across the snow-white stone of the path.

And there was a girl sitting on a fallen piece of masonry, a girl of sixteen or so, of North African appearance and shabby dress. She wasn’t a phantom: she cast a shadow, as Lyra herself did, and like her, she had no dæmon. She stood up as soon as she saw Lyra. In the moonlight she looked tense and full of fear.

“You are Miss Silvertongue,” she said.

“Yes,” said Lyra, astonished. “Who are you?”

“Nur Huda el-Wahabi. Come on, come quickly. We have been waiting for you.”

“We? Who—? You don’t mean…?”

But Nur Huda tugged urgently at Lyra’s right hand, and they hurried together along the colonnade, towards the heart of the ruins.

Thus she there waited untill eventyde,

Yet living creature none she saw appeare:

And now sad shadowes gan the world to hyde,

From mortall vew, and wrap in darkenesse dreare;

Yet nould she d’off her weary armes, for feare

Of secret daunger, ne let sleepe oppresse

Her heavy eyes with natures burdein deare,

But drew her selfe aside in sickernesse,

And her welpointed wepons did about her dresse.

The Faerie Queene,

To be concluded…


I owe many people thanks for their help in writing this story, and I’ll acknowledge them all in full at the end of the final book. But there are three debts I would like to pay now. One is to the great work of Katharine Briggs,
Folk Tales of Britain,
where I first read the story of the dead moon. The second is to the poet and painter Nick Messenger, from whose account of a voyage in the schooner
in his poem
I have borrowed the story of the phosphor-bronze propeller. The third is to Robert Kirk (1644–1692), whose wonder-filled book
The Secret Commonwealth, or an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the Most Part) Invisible People Heretofore Going Under the Names of Fauns and Fairies, or the Like, Among the Low Country Scots as Described by Those Who Have Second Sight
has been an inspiration in many ways, not least in reminding me of the value of a good title. So I stole it, or some of it.

There are three characters in this novel whose names are those of real people whose friends wanted to remember them in a work of fiction. One is Bud Schlesinger, whom we saw first in
La Belle Sauvage;
the second is Alison Wetherfield, whom we shall see again in the final book; and the third is Nur Huda el-Wahabi, who was one of the victims of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. I’m privileged to be able to help commemorate them.

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