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The Amber Spyglass Chapter 1 The Enchanted Sleeper

The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;

The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;

The bones of death, the cov’ring clay, the sinews shrunk dry’d

Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing, awakening,

Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds bars are burst.

Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field,

Let him look up into the heavens laugh in the bright air;

Let the inchained soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,

Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,

Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;

And let his wife and children return from the oppressor’s scourge.

They look behind at every step believe it is a dream,

Singing: “The Sun has left his blackness has found a fresher morning,

And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear cloudless night;

For Empire is no more, and now the Lion Wolf shall cease.

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from “America: A Prophecy” by William Blake

O stars,

isn’t it from you that the lover’s desire for the face of his beloved arises? Doesn’t his secret insight into her pure features come from the pure constellations?

from “The Third Elegy” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Fine vapors escape from whatever is doing the living.

The night is cold and delicate and full of angels

Pounding down the living. The factories are all lit up,

The chime goes unheard.

We are together at last, though far apart.

from “The Ecclesiast” by John Ashbery

Chapter 1. The Enchanted Sleeper

In a valley shaded with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with meltwater splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves that clustered below.

The woods were full of sound: the stream between the rocks, the wind among the needles of the pine branches, the chitter of insects and the cries of small arboreal mammals, as well as the birdsong; and from time to time a stronger gust of wind would make one of the branches of a cedar or a fir move against another and groan like a cello.

It was a place of brilliant sunlight, never undappled. Shafts of lemon-gold brilliance lanced down to the forest floor between bars and pools of brown-green shade; and the light was never still, never constant, because drifting mist would often float among the treetops, filtering all the sunlight to a pearly sheen and brushing every pine cone with moisture that glistened when the mist lifted. Sometimes the wetness in the clouds condensed into tiny drops half mist and half rain, which floated downward rather than fell, making a soft rustling patter among the millions of needles.

There was a narrow path beside the stream, which led from a village – little more than a cluster of herdsmen’s dwellings – at the foot of the valley to a half-ruined shrine near the glacier at its head, a place where faded silken flags streamed out in the perpetual winds from the high mountains, and offerings of barley cakes and dried tea were placed by pious villagers. An odd effect of the light, the ice, and the vapor enveloped the head of the valley in perpetual rainbows.

The cave lay some way above the path. Many years before, a holy man had lived there, meditating and fasting and praying, and the place was venerated for the sake of his memory. It was thirty feet or so deep, with a dry floor: an ideal den for a bear or a wolf, but the only creatures living in it for years had been birds and bats.

But the form that was crouching inside the entrance, his black eyes watching this way and that, his sharp ears pricked, was neither bird nor bat. The sunlight lay heavy and rich on his lustrous golden fur, and his monkey hands turned a pine cone this way and that, snapping off the scales with sharp fingers and scratching out the sweet nuts.

Behind him, just beyond the point where the sunlight reached, Mrs. Coulter was heating some water in a small pan over a naphtha stove. Her daemon uttered a warning murmur and Mrs. Coulter looked up.

Coming along the forest path was a young village girl. Mrs. Coulter knew who she was: Ama had been bringing her food for some days now. Mrs. Coulter had let it be known when she first arrived that she was a holy woman engaged in meditation and prayer, and under a vow never to speak to a man. Ama was the only person whose visits she accepted.

This time, though, the girl wasn’t alone. Her father was with her, and while Ama climbed up to the cave, he waited a little way off.

Ama came to the cave entrance and bowed.

“My father sends me with prayers for your goodwill,” she said.

“Greetings, child,” said Mrs. Coulter.

The girl was carrying a bundle wrapped in faded cotton, which she laid at Mrs. Coulter’s feet. Then she held out a little hunch of flowers, a dozen or so anemones bound with a cotton thread, and began to speak in a rapid, nervous voice. Mrs. Coulter understood some of the language of these mountain people, but it would never do to let them know how much. So she smiled and motioned to the girl to close her lips and to watch their two daemons. The golden monkey was holding out his little black hand, and Ama’s butterfly daemon was fluttering closer and closer until he settled on a horny forefinger.

The monkey brought him slowly to his ear, and Mrs. Coulter felt a tiny stream of understanding flow into her mind, clarifying the girl’s words. The villagers were happy for a holy woman, such as herself, to take refuge in the cave, but it was rumored that she had a companion with her who was in some way dangerous and powerful.

It was that which made the villagers afraid. Was this other being Mrs. Coulter’s master, or her servant? Did she mean harm? Why was she there in the first place? Were they going to stay long? Ama conveyed these questions with a thousand misgivings.

A novel answer occurred to Mrs. Coulter as the daemon’s understanding filtered into hers. She could tell the truth. Not all of it, naturally, but some. She felt a little quiver of laughter at the idea, but kept it out of her voice as she explained:

“Yes, there is someone else with me. But there is nothing to be afraid of. She is my daughter, and she is under a spell that made her fall asleep. We have come here to hide from the enchanter who put the spell on her, while I try to cure her and keep her from harm. Come and see her, if you like.”

Ama was half-soothed by Mrs. Coulter’s soft voice, and half-afraid still; and the talk of enchanters and spells added to the awe she felt. But the golden monkey was holding her daemon so gently, and she was curious, besides, so she followed Mrs. Coulter into the cave.

Her father, on the path below, took a step forward, and his crow daemon raised her wings once or twice, but he stayed where he was.

Mrs. Coulter lit a candle, because the light was fading rapidly, and led Ama to the back of the cave. Ama’s eyes glittered widely in the gloom, and her hands were moving together in a repetitive gesture of finger on thumb, finger on thumb, to ward off danger by confusing the evil spirits.

“You see?” said Mrs. Coulter. “She can do no harm. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Ama looked at the figure in the sleeping bag. It was a girl older than she was, by three or four years, perhaps; and she had hair of a color Ama had never seen before – a tawny fairness like a lion’s. Her lips were pressed tightly together, and she was deeply asleep, there was no doubt about that, for her daemon lay coiled and unconscious at her throat. He had the form of some creature like a mongoose, but red-gold in color and smaller. The golden monkey was tenderly smoothing the fur between the sleeping daemon’s ears, and as Ama looked, the mongoose creature stirred uneasily and uttered a hoarse little mew. Ama’s daemon, mouse-formed, pressed himself close to Ama’s neck and peered fearfully through her hair.

“So you can tell your father what you’ve seen,” Mrs. Coulter went on. “No evil spirit. Just my daughter, asleep under a spell, and in my care. But, please, Ama, tell your father that this must be a secret. No one but you two must know Lyra is here. If the enchanter knew where she was, he would seek her out and destroy her, and me, and everything nearby. So hush! Tell your father, and no one else.”

She knelt beside Lyra and smoothed the damp hair back from the sleeping face before bending low to kiss her daughter’s cheek. Then she looked up with sad and loving eyes, and smiled at Ama with such brave, wise compassion that the little girl felt tears fill her gaze.

Mrs. Coulter took Ama’s hand as they went back to the cave entrance, and saw the girl’s father watching anxiously from below. The woman put her hands together and bowed to him, and he responded with relief as his daughter, having bowed both to Mrs. Coulter and to the enchanted sleeper, turned and scampered down the slope in the twilight. Father and daughter bowed once more to the cave and then set off, to vanish among the gloom of the heavy rhododendrons.

Mrs. Coulter turned back to the water on her stove, which was nearly at the boil.

Crouching down, she crumbled some dried leaves into it, two pinches from this bag, one from that, and added three drops of a pale yellow oil. She stirred it briskly, counting in her head till five minutes had gone by. Then she took the pan off the stove and sat down to wait for the liquid to cool.

Around her there lay some of the equipment from the camp by the blue lake where Sir Charles Latrom had died: a sleeping bag, a rucksack with changes of clothes and washing equipment, and so on. There was also a case of canvas with a tough wooden frame, lined with kapok, containing various instruments; and there was a pistol in a holster.

The decoction cooled rapidly in the thin air, and as soon as it was at blood heat, she poured it carefully into a metal beaker and carried it to the rear of the cave. The monkey daemon dropped his pine cone and came with her.

Mrs. Coulter placed the beaker carefully on a low rock and knelt beside the sleeping Lyra. The golden monkey crouched on her other side, ready to seize Pantalaimon if he woke up.

Lyra’s hair was damp, and her eyes moved behind their closed lids. She was beginning to stir: Mrs. Coulter had felt her eyelashes flutter when she’d kissed her, and knew she didn’t have long before Lyra woke up altogether.

She slipped a hand under the girl’s head, and with the other lifted the damp strands of hair off her forehead. Lyra’s lips parted and she moaned softly; Pantalaimon moved a little closer to her breast. The golden monkey’s eyes never left Lyra’s daemon, and his little black fingers twitched at the edge of the sleeping bag.

A look from Mrs. Coulter, and he let go and moved back a hand’s breadth. The woman gently lifted her daughter so that her shoulders were off the ground and her head lolled, and then Lyra caught her breath and her eyes half-opened, fluttering, heavy.

“Roger,” she murmured. “Roger… where are you… I can’t see…”

“Shh,” her mother whispered, “shh, my darling, drink this.”

Holding the beaker in Lyra’s mouth, she tilted it to let a drop moisten the girl’s lips. Lyra’s tongue sensed it and moved to lick them, and then Mrs. Coulter let a little more of the liquid trickle into Lyra’s mouth, very carefully, letting her swallow each sip before allowing her more.

It took several minutes, but eventually the beaker was empty, and Mrs. Coulter laid her daughter down again. As soon as Lyra’s head lay on the ground, Pantalaimon moved back around her throat. His red-gold fur was as damp as her hair. They were deeply asleep again.

The golden monkey picked his way lightly to the mouth of the cave and sat once more watching the path. Mrs. Coulter dipped a flannel in a basin of cold water and mopped Lyra’s face, and then unfastened the sleeping bag and washed Lyra’s arms and neck and shoulders, for Lyra was hot. Then her mother took a comb and gently teased out the tangles in Lyra’s hair, smoothing it back from her forehead, parting it neatly.

She left the sleeping hag open so the girl could cool down, and unfolded the bundle that Ama had brought: some flat loaves of bread, a cake of compressed tea, some sticky rice wrapped in a large leaf. It was time to build the fire. The chill of the mountains was fierce at night. Working methodically, she shaved some dry tinder, set the fire, and struck a match. That was something else to think of: the matches were running out, and so was the naphtha for the stove; she must keep the fire alight day and night from now on.

Her daemon was discontented. He didn’t like what she was doing here in the cave, and when he tried to express his concern, she brushed him away. He turned his back, contempt in every line of his body as he flicked the scales from his pine cone out into the dark. She took no notice, but worked steadily and skillfully to build up the fire and set the pan to heat some water for tea.

Nevertheless, his skepticism affected her, and as she crumbled the dark gray tea brick into the water, she wondered what in the world she thought she was doing, and whether she had gone mad, and, over and over again, what would happen when the Church found out. The golden monkey was right. She wasn’t only hiding Lyra: she was hiding her own eyes.

Out of the dark the little boy came, hopeful and frightened, whispering over and over:

“Lyra, Lyra, Lyra…”

Behind him there were other figures, even more shadowy than he was, even more silent. They seemed to be of the same company and of the same kind, but they had no faces that were visible and no voices that spoke; and his voice never rose above a whisper, and his face was shaded and blurred like something half-forgotten.

“Lyra… Lyra…”

Where were they?

On a great plain, where no light shone from the iron-dark sky, and where a mist obscured the horizon on every side. The ground was bare earth, beaten flat by the pressure of millions of feet, even though those feet had less weight than feathers; so it must have been time that pressed it flat, even though time had been stilled in this place; so it must have been the way things were. This was the end of all places and the last of all worlds.

“Lyra…”

Why were they there?

They were imprisoned. Someone had committed a crime, though no one knew what it was, or who had done it, or what authority sat in judgment.

Why did the little boy keep calling Lyra’s name?

Hope.

Who were they?

Ghosts.

And Lyra couldn’t touch them, no matter how she tried. Her baffled hands moved through and through, and still the little boy stood there pleading.

“Roger,” she said, but her voice came out in a whisper. “Oh, Roger, where are you? What is this place?”

He said, “It’s the world of the dead, Lyra, I dunno what to do, I dunno if I’m here forever, and I dunno if I done bad things or what, because I tried to be good, but I hate it, I’m scared of it all, I hate it…”

And Lyra said, “I’ll get us out of here, Roger, I promise. And Will’s coming, I’m sure he is!”

He didn’t understand. He spread his pale hands and shook his head.

“I dunno who that is, and he won’t come here,” he said, “and if he does, he won’t know me.”

“He’s coming to me,” she said “and me and Will, oh, I don’t know how Roger but I swear we’ll help. And don’t forget there’s others on our side. There’s Serafina and there’s Iorek, and they will come, the will!”

“But where are you Lyra?”

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