Firstly I'd like to make an apology. If you live, or have lived, or will someday live in Blackbird Leys, then I'm sorry if you feel I have insulted you. I appreciate that the people who live there are doing their best right now to turn Blackbird Leys into a decent place.

Apart from my gross libel on a south Oxford housing estate, all the other places mentioned in this story are as real as I can make them. I mean you'll be able to find them on a map – the places in our world, anyway.

This is really a science fiction story, set in the HDM universe and using its characters. The Internet-enabled wide-bandwidth videophones that Will, Mary and Judy have seem perfectly reasonable for eight years hence; the surgical nanotechnology rather less so. As for running up a tokamak with a bloody great lump of metal inside it – I don't think so! But why let the facts get in the way?

Characters, names, places and situations from HIS DARK MATERIALS belong to Philip Pullman. The angel Remiel is the property of DC Comics – his name is, anyway. Everything else is mine, mine, all mine, and copyright © 2002, Ceres Wunderkind.

Thanks go to those readers who supported me as I wrote and posted this yarn, especially Morpherkidvb, who reviewed nearly every chapter as it came out. If this story has an emotional core it's in Chapter 12, and MKVB's generous review of it came close to melting this particular writer's heart. I'd also like to offer a special thank you to the anonymous contributor (who prefers to remain anonymous) who gave me the phrase "St Tullio of the Knife", told me I had to write a Ci'gazze story to go with it, and insisted that I mention the Last Redoubt. Not forgetting the proprietors of the Babel Fish, for its assistance with English/Italian translations. Of course, it's not the Fish's fault if I got anything wrong.

As ever, there are windows left open, though which stories may freely stream out into the Void beyond. Do Will and Judy have any prospects of future happiness together? Will Giancarlo be able to show the people of the world of Cittagazze how to make a proper life for themselves? What will Lizzie and Miss Morley do now? How was it that Judy was able to see Kirjava and recognise Skaven so quickly? Was the Subtle Knife really destroyed, or was it (intentionally) transformed into something altogether new?

That is, as they say, another story. You can read about what happens next in THE KING'S COUNCILLOR, also on FF.NET.

Ceres Wunderkind, May 2002

P.S. One other thing – there's something about the Subtle Knife that's been bothering me for ages. We know, because Philip Pullman tells us, that the Knife is very sharp indeed. So sharp that it can cut through anything that is made of ordinary matter with, apparently no effort at all. So far, so wonderful.

There's a problem, though. The Knife is infinitely sharp, true. But it's not infinitely thin. So when it makes a cut, it has to push aside the two halves of the thing it cuts, just as if it were a wedge being driven between them. (I'll let the Knife be frictionless, although PP doesn't say it is.)

This isn't a problem if at least one end of the thing being cut is free to move, like the lamppost Will cuts through in the present story. Even so, the Knife lifts a lamppost that probably weighed a sizeable fraction of a ton as it passes through it, if only by a quarter of an inch. But, in THE SUBTLE KNIFE, Will cut through the bars of an iron fence at Sir Charles Latrom's house. Which means that the Knife pushed apart most of the fence, or if not, cracked or broke one or the other of the end-points of the bars, or bent them aside. That would have taken real energy and real effort to accomplish.

It seems that there are, after all, limits to what the Knife, wielded by a human, can cut.