In another world, Lyra sat rubbing her temples, blinking several times as the room came back into focus around her.
She was sitting in the library at St. Sophia's, staring out the circular green window that overlooked the school grounds. Everything was tinged sea green, and she felt as though she was underwater, her senses murky from the self-induced trance and from the play of light shimmering through the glass.
"Lyra?" said Pantalaimon, jumping into her lap. Her dæmon looked up at her with curious black eyes. "What does it say?"
"I'm not sure, Pan," Lyra said, stroking Pan's red marten fur coat. "I… I think it's warning me."
"It's hazy, though… it en't clear." The golden alethiometer's arrows were still spinning, pointing first to the hourglass with the skull, then to a baby, a bird, and a camel, and then around so quickly that it was nearly impossible to tell.
"Is it about Serafina or Iorek?" Pan asked.
"I don't think so… but it's not about me. Or at least not all the way," Lyra said, squinting. "The hourglass means time's short, or death's coming… and the baby means a new life… but that doesn't make sense. I'm not sure what level of meaning I'm supposed to be looking at."
Lyra opened the dusty tome beside her, flicking through the yellowed pages until she found an entry detailing the baby symbol, though she already knew it by heart.
"First meaning, the future. Second meaning, malleability. Third meaning, helplessness… fourth meaning, beginnings. But I think the alethiometer is trying to say more than one level is at work, but I've never seen it do that before…"
Pan put his nose to the device and looked back at Lyra. "Where else did it stop?"
Lyra licked her lips, and thought she tasted dust. "The bird… meaning soul, spring, and marriage. But it's the strangest thing… I think it means soul and marriage."
Pan's claws dug into the wooden desk. "You en't going to say yes, are you?"
"Of course not," Lyra said absently, looking up the meanings of the camel. "The first meaning is Asia, but I'm sure it doesn't mean that. The second is summer, and the third is perseverance. I think it means summer and perseverance, but it feels more like a warning than advice."
"Maybe it's warning you not to marry Rodin," Pan said.
"It wouldn't have to warn me about that," Lyra said. "Besides, that's not what I asked it."
"What did you ask?"
"I was just practicing for my lesson with Dame Hannah tomorrow, and I thought I'd ask it an easy question. But instead…" Lyra bit her lip and looked down at the alethiometer, which was still spinning.
"What did you ask it?" Pan said again, fluffing his ears importantly.
"I asked it if I was ready to leave this spring," Lyra admitted. "I felt sure it would say yes, and I placed the arrows on the beehive for productive work, and the thunderbolt for fate, and the apple for knowledge… but none of it makes sense."
"Could you be reading it wrong?"
"Maybe," Lyra said, though she and Pan both knew that wasn't the problem. "It's more like I've asked a question that's too dependent on future events for it to answer," Lyra said, tasting the words as she said them to see how true they were. "I thought it would have been simple… I just meant my lessons with Dame Hannah would be over, and I could leave St. Sophia's and begin the real work."
Lyra's voice drifted off, and she recalled with a bruising sweetness the work she knew she must do: build the Republic of Heaven. She had studied the alethiometer under Dame Hannah's tutelage for eleven years, and she had finally regained some of the skill she'd had as a child—though it was not nearly so effortless now, at twenty-four, than it had been at thirteen.
Lyra pushed her sandy blonde hair away from her forehead and put the alethiometer away in its black velvet case. Though Pan did not have to follow her, they needed to keep up pretenses; if anyone saw Lyra without her dæmon there would be a lot of uncomfortable questions that Lyra definitely did not want to answer.
"When's Rodin coming?" Pan asked, and jumped down from her lap.
Lyra pulled out her silver pocketwatch. "Ten minutes ago," she sighed, and gathered her skirt to rush down the library's wooden steps to the first floor, where she knew he'd be waiting for her.
Rodin, officially known as Spiritual Lord Rodin Winton of Winchester, was the Bishop of Winchester and was working to bring down the Magisterium from the inside. Dame Hannah, who had several useful contacts within the House of Lords, had put Lyra in touch with Rodin five years before.
After a series of letters they met for the first time over a formal dinner in St. Sophia's Masters' chambers, where tenured professors and scholars ate. Lyra had not expected Rodin to be handsome; he was tall, with auburn hair and startling green eyes. He had the commanding presence of her father, Lyra had thought, but he had a softer edge. After that first dinner, Lyra never associated Rodin with Asriel again, though both stood out to her as men of power.
The one man Lyra would never consciously compare Rodin to was Will. She had made a promise to Will, before the last window between their worlds was closed. It wasn't fair, she knew, though in her heart she suspected that was the only thing keeping her from saying yes to Rodin's proposal.
She wasn't comparing the two men, because comparison was impossible when it came to Will Parry. No other man could hope to claim any part of Lyra's heart, because it all belonged to him. She spent long nights reliving those too few days they'd spent as teens, barely past the cusp of puberty and fumbling naively with one another in a forest golden with Dust.
As she grew older, Lyra imagined every conceivable scenario—alone in the forest, with dappled sunlight falling over their pale skin. Or in her room at St. Sophia's, while her roommates were asleep, Lyra would imagine Will climbing through the window and laying next to her, a finger to his lips and dark intensity flashing in his eyes.
Pan, sensing her thoughts, rushed around her legs in an attempt to distract her.
"Pan," Lyra laughed, scooping him up in her arms and cuddling him close to her chest. She kissed the top of his head and finished the walk to the school's entryway, determinedly not thinking about Will. She heard the sounds of Rodin waiting before she saw him; while Rodin himself was perfectly silent, a group of girls stood in a corner, giggling and taking it in turns to flutter handkerchiefs to the ground.
Rodin, seemingly unaware of the gaggle's attentions, smiled when he saw Lyra and bowed.
"Good afternoon," he said, and kissed her hand before straightening. Rodin's dæmon, an Atlas moth, fluttered her giant red wings around Pantalaimon before perching on Rodin's shoulder.
Lyra smiled at him, and Pan circled Rodin in a friendly way, sniffing him and sending the smells of travel carriages and cobblestone roads back to Lyra.
"You're here directly from London?" Lyra said, slightly alarmed.
"Why don't we take a turn around the garden," Rodin said, offering Lyra his arm. She accepted it and followed him outside the heavy oak door of St. Sophia's and into the gardens where topiaries of past Headmistress's dæmons were in full bloom. They passed a large jungle cat, a porcupine, and a dove before arriving at the fountain, where the tinkling splash of water would mask their words to any passerby.
"I will be leaving London shortly," Rodin said, glancing around casually as though he were admiring the beautiful May weather.
"Have you been found out?" Lyra gasped. Pantalaimon, who was pretending to hop playfully along the fountain's rim, felt Lyra's shock and lost his balance, toppling headfirst into the fountain.
The fall broke some of the tension and they laughed while Pantaliamon climbed out of the fountain, dripping wet. "I should stick to trees," he said, and shook out his fur.
"The Archbishop is still unaware of my true allegiances," Rodin said. His dæmon fluttered over to Pantaliamon and flapped her giant fourteen inch wings to help dry his fur.
"Why are you leaving, then?" Lyra said, relieved. Even if she was not in love with Rodin, she loved him nonetheless, and the thought of any ill befalling him made her chest ache.
leaving for a holiday. I'm still young enough to get away with a
small number of flights of fancy," Rodin said. Though he was
twenty-nine years old, his strong jaw and quick eyes often caused
people to forget his youth, instead prescribing him the knowledge and
forbearance of an elder.
Lyra, who was more perceptive than most people, saw this quality in him and recognized a fellow leader. She nodded, and then said, "And the real reason?"
"Ask your alethiometer," Rodin said, a genuine glint of mischievousness coming over him. "I'm curious as to what it will say."
They sometimes played this game, and Lyra pulled it out of its black case, though she did so with some misgivings. Hoping she would have an easier time reading the alethiometer now than she had earlier, she placed one arrow on the ant, for hard work, the second on the moon, for mystery, and the final arrow on the globe, for politics.
Lyra submerged her conscious mind and climbed down the mental ladder of meanings, feeling each rung tentatively with her toes before stepping down into lower levels of the symbols.
After a minute she looked up, blue eyes clear with understanding. "You're going to speak with the witches. You seek an alliance."
Rodin smiled. "Right, as usual. There are several witch clans who have been tempted by the Magisterium's new promise of power for those aligned with the church. I want to stop the faction from gaining any new allies."
"There's more," Lyra began, tucking a blonde strand behind an ear and gazing up at Rodin. "Tell me what the gyptians have to do with this."
Rodin broke into a true smile and laughed, shaking his head as he sat down on the ridge of the fountain. "Again, Lyra Silvertongue, you are too smart for your own good. They should call you Lyra Quicksilver."
"The gyptians?" Lyra prompted, sitting down beside him. She let her rose-colored skirt fall around her like a fan, the etiquette of St. Sophia's so ingrained in her that it was automatic. She didn't notice the way Rodin's eyes flickered to her calves.
"A new upstart named Billy Costa thinks he can overthrow the missionaries in the North," Rodin said, his attention focused again on Lyra's face.
"Ma Costa's son!" Lyra said, eyes growing round. "I haven't seen him in ages!"
"You know him?" Rodin said, surprised. "How?"
"I used to play with him as a child, when I lived at Jordan College," Lyra said. She didn't mention their meeting in the North after being kidnapped by the Gobblers.
"It's imperative that I meet with him," Rodin said. "He's got the right idea, but he's going about it the wrong way. I want to ally myself with him as well, and hopefully advise him against the rash course of action he's presently taking."
"Billy has his reasons for hating the Magisterium," Lyra said.
"Don't we all," Rodin murmured. "But if you know him, you may be able to help me more directly."
"More directly?" Lyra said, and her heart sped up. Pantalaimon's ears perked, and the moth circled around the fountain, making sure no eavesdroppers were in sight.
"I want you to come with me," Rodin said quietly. "I know it may damage your reputation to accompany an unmarried man on such a trip, so it would require a chaperone—"
"I am not having a chaperone," Lyra interrupted, her cheeks flushing slightly. "I am an independent young woman and I en't concerned about what other people think."
"Lord Asriel's daughter—" Rodin began, but Lyra cut him off.
"You never knew my father, so don't pretend you know anything about him," Lyra snapped. "You need my help, and my time here is over in spring. I'm coming with you, Rodin. A chaperone would just be an added liability that we don't need."
Rodin looked cross for a moment, but was unable to stay mad at Lyra, especially when her blush made her freckles look even more fetching. "All right," Rodin sighed. He looked into Lyra's eyes, and for a moment allowed his features to soften. "Have you reconsidered my offer?"
Lyra wanted to look away from his gaze, but forced herself to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry, Rodin," she said.
"The trouble is," Rodin said, "I really think you are sorry. I just can't reason why. You said there was someone else, but you've never mentioned him. And no one knows of any gentleman you've met."
"You've been spying, have you?" Lyra said lightly, though she felt the raw emotion behind Rodin's words and regretted her flippant tone immediately. Lyra didn't have much experience with relationships since her first and only heartbreak, and she wanted to be honest with Rodin.
Of course, that was impossible.
Rodin saw her sad smile and nodded his head. "My apologies. I have crossed the line."
Lyra reached out to touch his arm, but pulled it back before reaching him. "There's no lines between us, Rodin," she said. "You're my best friend, and as long as we're working towards the same end, there should be no secrets between us."
"I was wrong," Rodin said, abruptly standing. "I'll send a letter within the week about the details of our trip. I know you won't be able to leave until after midsummer—your mysterious annual engagement still stands, I presume?"
Lyra nodded, then asked as Rodin began walking away: "You were wrong about what?"
Rodin turned around, his red hair like a halo against the sun, his moth's burgundy wings a dark blot in the sky. "Silvertongue does suit you," he said simply, and walked away.
Author's Note: I need a beta who's familiar with the trilogy! If you're interested, please let me know!! :)