Serafina Pekkala, the clan queen of the witches of Lake Enara, wept as she flew through the turbid skies of the Arctic. She wept with rage and fear and remorse: rage against the woman Coulter, whom she had sworn to kill; fear of what was happening to her beloved land; and remorse… She would face the remorse later.
Meanwhile, looking down at the melting ice cap, the flooded lowland forests, the swollen sea, she felt heartsick.
But she didn’t stop to visit her homeland, or to comfort and encourage her sisters. Instead, she flew north and farther north, into the fogs and gales around Svalbard, the kingdom of Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear.
She hardly recognized the main island. The mountains lay bare and black, and only a few hidden valleys facing away from the sun had retained a little snow in their shaded corners; but what was the sun doing here anyway, at this time of year? The whole of nature was overturned.
It took her most of a day to find the bear-king. She saw him among the rocks off the northern edge of the island, swimming fast after a walrus. It was harder for bears to kill in the water: when the land was covered in ice and the great sea-mammals had to come up to breathe, the bears had the advantage of camouflage and their prey was out of its element. That was how things should be.
But Iorek Byrnison was hungry, and even the stabbing tusks of the mighty walrus couldn’t keep him at bay. Serafina watched as the creatures fought, turning the white sea-spray red, and saw Iorek haul the carcass out of the waves and onto a broad shelf of rock, watched at a respectful distance by three ragged-furred foxes, waiting for their turn at the feast.
When the bear-king had finished eating, Serafina flew down to speak to him. Now was the time to face her remorse.
“King Iorek Byrnison,” she said, “please may I speak with you? I lay my weapons down.”
She placed her bow and arrows on the wet rock between them. Iorek looked at them briefly, and she knew that if his face could register any emotion, it would be surprise.
“Speak, Serafina Pekkala,” he growled. “We have never fought, have we?”
“King Iorek, I have failed your comrade, Lee Scoresby.”
The bear’s small black eyes and bloodstained muzzle were very still. She could see the wind ruffling the tips of the creamy white hairs along his back. He said nothing.
“Mr. Scoresby is dead,” Serafina went on. “Before I parted from him, I gave him a flower to summon me with, if he should need me. I heard his call and flew to him, but I arrived too late. He died fighting a force of Muscovites, but I know nothing of what brought them there, or why he was holding them off when he could easily have escaped. King Iorek, I am wretched with remorse.”
“Where did this happen?” said Iorek Byrnison.
“In another world. This will take me some time to tell.”
She told him what Lee Scoresby had set out to do: to find the man who had been known as Stanislaus Grumman. She told him about how the barrier between the worlds had been breached by Lord Asriel, and about some of the consequences – the melting of the ice, for example. She told of the witch Ruta Skadi’s flight after the angels, and she tried to describe those flying beings to the bear-king as Ruta had described them to her: the light that shone on them, the crystalline clarity of their appearance, the richness of their wisdom.
Then she described what she had found when she answered Lee’s call.
“I put a spell on his body to preserve it from corruption,” she told him. “It will last until you see him, if you wish to do that. But I am troubled by this, King Iorek. Troubled by everything, but mostly by this.”
“Where is the child?”
“I left her with my sisters, because I had to answer Lee’s call.”
“In that same world?”
“Yes, the same.”
“How can I get there from here?”
She explained. Iorek Byrnison listened expressionlessly, and then said, “I shall go to Lee Scoresby. And then I must go south.”
“The ice has gone from these lands. I have been thinking about this, Serafina Pekkala. I have chartered a ship.”
The three little foxes had been waiting patiently. Two of them were lying down, heads on their paws, watching, and the other was still sitting up, following the conversation. The foxes of the Arctic, scavengers that they were, had picked up some language, but their brains were so formed that they could only understand statements in the present tense. Most of what Iorek and Serafina said was meaningless noise to them. Furthermore, when they spoke, much of what they said was lies, so it didn’t matter if they repeated what they’d heard: no one could sort out which parts were true, though the credulous cliff-ghasts often believed most of it, and never learned from their disappointment. The bears and the witches alike were used to their conversations being scavenged as well as the meat they’d finished with.
“And you, Serafina Pekkala?” Iorek went on. “What will you do now?”
“I’m going to find the gyptians,” she said. “I think they will be needed.”
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