I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
William Blake - Songs of Innocence and Experience
When Marisa Coulter returns to her world it is near exactly a year and a half to the day she last saw it.
She steps through a window that leads on to the Oxford green where in summer herds of ponies graze. It's a spring night, judging by the soft young grass and the drizzle. The world Oberyn and her have come from was an arctic desert, so Marisa actually feels a flush of warmth. She sheds the rough woollen parka she stole from a village three worlds back. She has to set Oberyn down to do it, and though he doesn't whine audibly, she feels his panic.
Only a lost tail, and a lost Asriel and they are right back to where they were.
(Marisa, thirteen, and taking step after determined step away from the wardrobe she's locked Oberyn in. A daily exercise. She still hears his screeches on the other side of the lacquered wood.)
All that practice, lost, because Oberyn tried to lunge for Stelmaria in the void, and had grazed his tail on the waterfall of dust around them in the process. Had he meant to save the snow leopard? Or to push her? Marisa's still not sure. She will not give Oberyn the satisfaction of asking.
But she does pick him up again, and lets his arms come around her neck, before considering her surroundings.
Lyra. She must find Lyra.
The usual porter of St. Sophia's college, hare-lipped Mr Phillips, who could always be counted upon to look the other way when she returned past curfew while writing her thesis, is not at the door.
Marisa Van Zee's education had been an ornamental thing for everyone but the eighteen-year old herself. Only an excuse to set her like a pretty china figurine among the fertile hunting grounds of Oxford. 'Every Prime Minister the country ever had passed through there' Maman used to say. Marisa had met Edward Coulter at a horse gala in London so the whole thing had been a waste of time. She'd met Asriel while she wrote her thesis. It had taken months of calculated manipulation to trick Edward into thinking her Masters degree was his idea. She'd taken an airship for three days at a time. Asriel and her wouldn't have said one word to each other if they hadn't been so fiercely interested in the same subject.
Instead of the porter a woman in an mannish dressing gown finally answers her knocks. Marisa remembers her vaguely, her worried profile hovers behind Lyra's candle-lit face that night in Jordan College's dining hall. Her marmoset daemon leaps up to her shoulder, and Marisa thinks many years before even that she might have even been to this dour creature's house. She remembers tea with too much sugar in it, a gawping boy and the endless rain outside.
"Mrs Coulter?" The woman's glasses flash as she adjusts them. Her monkey is kneading his paws into the woman's shoulder nervously. A plain thing just like his counterpart. Renouf? Ralph? Relf. That was it. Dame Hannah Relf, head of St. Sophia's.
"I was wondering if I might have use of a room" Marisa smiles thinly, wondering how long Dame Relf intends to keep her standing out in the rain. "Just for a night or two" Her travelling clothes are soiled, her daemon is maimed and all she wants is a glass of something hot and a bed.
It would have been better to catch the last airship to London. There was one that left at midnight. She could remake herself in her penthouse. Peel up all the layers until she was Marisa Coulter again. Half the work of charming people lay in simple things. Expensive fabrics. A visit to the salon. The hint of jasmine in her perfume.
But Lyra. Her stomach drops again. It was easier to ignore when she was travelling. She had to keep on her toes, outpace the angels buttoning up the rips in reality like an overzealous troop of seamstresses. But now only the essential question mark remains. Lyra. She doesn't even know if the child survived. She doesn't dare to dwell on this possibility. She'll go to Jordan first thing in the morning, she had to force herself not to go there now, bang on the doors and demand to see her daughter- it had been years. If Lyra had returned, she would keep another night.
Care. That was the key now. She mustn't startle the girl. She couldn't bear to lose her again. Another kind of pain joins the first at this well-worn thought.
The woman still stares at her."I'm sorry to have disturbed you Dame Relf, I assumed the porter would be here" Even though she is grimy and tired, Marisa feels the other half of her charm settle over her like a sparkling cloak. She wets her lips, and tilts her head a little. Dame Relf swallows visibly. Oh, Marisa thinks, but that is too easy. She lifts her hand carefully, and touches the woman's arm. "I'm sorry to have woken you, but it's an emergency."
Dame Relf frowns at her, but opens the door a little wider.
Marisa wakes at noon, and even then has to fight her way up through a thick fog of sleep. In her old life she used to wake up clear as a bell before the sun had risen. Touching the abyss had something to do with it, she's half sure. She has to concentrate not to let the world grow over her like ivy. Not to simply be reabsorbed like a baby crocodile in the womb.
Oberyn watches her from beside the bed. When he's sure she's out of the woods, he turns, taking slow cautious steps across the little, chilly room the high and mighty Hannah Relf assigned her. He only sways slightly, the mangled cropped nub where is tail used to be twitching with every step. But when he attempts to jump up to the little washbasin he misses the ledge and falls with a screech. Marisa laughs. He looks at her with loathing.
She slides out of bed, touching the clothes she hung to dry on the window ledge. Still damp, but passable. Outside the glass is a pretty spring day.
Marisa skips lunch and buys clothes in town with a loan haggled from the college bursar. A suit made of cheap silk. Hose to keep the chill from her legs and a brown coat cut in a flattering style. A pair of sensible low heeled shoes. She looks like any other female scholar as far as she can tell. Plain and uninteresting. She walks towards Jordan College, Oberyn cradled in her arms, slowing them down. She does not rush. She even looks into some store-fronts.
Jordan, like all old colleges of Oxford is unchanged. Servants cross the green. Some wheel trolleys heavy with cutlery for lunch. Others carry arms full of flowers. They are flushed and excited, young kitchen boys and old manservants alike.
"Never thought I'd see the day" An older footman marvels, emerging from a little domed door just as Marisa considers crossing the lawn herself, and for a moment she tenses. He's quite forgotten his cigarette, rheumy eyes caught by the activity all around him.
"There's even talk that there'll be a May Queen again" A red-faced woman whispers back, falling into step with him, just in front of Marisa. Her hair is thin and floats around her face. Marisa can see the girl she once was, and the old woman she is becoming. "First time in fifty years"
"Near pagan is what it is" The old man answers, and Marisa hears the wonder in his voice.
She pulls the collar of her coat up and takes care to walk in the shadow of the building.
Lyra's room had been pointed out to her by the girl herself when she came to collect her. It's strange to think of that time. She was curious more than anything about the child, but not really interested.
Lyra at worst was someone to send off to boarding school, and at best an eventual asset to her research. Certainly not someone intriguing enough to set foot in a messy bedroom for, no matter how hard the girl in question hinted. She'd sent her off with a calculated touch to her cheek. The child drank up physical affection like a plant. And Marisa had found herself not adverse to giving it. Pack and meet me at the airfield tomorrow. And her daughter had been so excited. Excited by the prospect of the North, of London, and mostly of Marisa herself.
The corridor is empty, so Marisa leans against the chipped wooden door, and fumbles with pins until she hears a soft click. She steps inside quickly closing the door behind her.
Lyra is not in the room. But someone lives here. There's a rumpled pair of grey tights on the floor, and a half drunk cup of tea stands forgotten on the writing desk. The air is still warm. Certainly warmer than Marisa's arctic chamber at St. Sophia's. But the room is still shabby. The bed is narrow and covered with knitted blankets of various vintages. Someone has scribbled on the wall. Marisa leans closer and sees that next to a cheap newsprint cut-out of a armoured bear, a younger Lyra has drawn a map of Svaalbard. Her desk is piled with school books. Arithmetic, Geology, Latin- Marisa feels a phantom twinge near her eyebrow when she recalls herself attempting to teach Lyra these subjects.
Her nightstand only has one book on it. Marisa recognises it even before she turns it over. It's her own book, written while pregnant and angry. Lyra's used a crumpled receipt as a bookmark. She's about half way through.
She sits on Lyra's bed. Thinks on her daughter for a moment before she reaches into the gap between the bed an wall. Lyra, ever predictable in her ways, has stuffed an old tin between the mattress and the wall. For a moment Marisa hesitates. She remembers another tin, another room, Lyra slipping out of her hands-
But this one opens easily. Inside, is a spray of cloud-pine in a little bottle, a thin bundle of postcards written in Asriel's hand, and a cloth drawstring bag. She leaves the postcards and the bottle well alone, and opens the bag. The gleam of gold confirms her suspicions. She prises the lid of the Alethiometer open and looks at the small symbols. Traces her nail along the delicate gold in-lays. Oberyn caws softly. Their eyes meet.
Marisa puts it back into the bag, then closes the lid and carefully repositions the box.
"She's alive." She whispers, mostly needing to say it out loud. Oberyn touches her leg, and she reaches down, letting him swing up and allowing his soft weight to settle on her lap. "She's alive" Marisa says again into his silky fur, and feels his shiver of delight.
Marisa waits for Lyra to return until the afternoon.
She tidies her daughters room while she waits. Folds up loose articles of clothing and even sweeps with a little broom she finds shoved into the back of Lyra's wardrobe. Remakes the bed. Reads a little of her own juvenile book, trying to see it through Lyra's eyes. If there is a rote way of approaching a daughter who hates one, Marisa would like to know it. Oberyn is restless, prowling along the desk, then on the window shelf. She's sure Dame Relf has informed the Master of Jordan by now that Marisa has survived and is in Oxford. She wonders if they'll spirit Lyra away. She doubts it. They are like children in their own way- always believing in archaic concepts like autonomy and choice while the real world closes its jaws all around them.
Finally she cannot stand it anymore. "Alright" She says, meeting the monkey's little black eyes and pushing down the urge to shove him off the desk. He's right of course. Lyra and Pantalaimon would not take well to finding her here unannounced. It would be better to meet them quite outside of their usual orbit.
It would be a concession.
Town has an air of a holiday.
Occasionally she hears the rapport of a firecracker, the hoot of laughter of a large group of young people. Every street corner, and every cafe and every lawn seems to be filled with people and their daemons, drinking and laughing. She buys a cup of choclat at a outside table of a canal edged pub and walks along the water, taking measured sips.
No one approaches her. She is a splinter in their happiness. She makes no move to hide this, scowling at any man who tip their hats to her, and letting Oberyn's snarls take care of the rest.
The very people enjoying their new found freedom would have had no problem casting Asriel to the wolves. Asriel who was more alive every minute than these dullards are their whole lives. She'd felt his smile as he pushed her back towards the edge. He knew she would pull herself out. He knew that her love was a shallow dish, and that her self-preservation would kick in. How she wanted to prove him wrong. How she wanted to cling to him and prove herself to be as good as any silly girl more in love with a man than with life itself.
But she'd thought of Lyra.
That had been her undoing. What if Lyra was hurt? What if she needed Marisa- just one last time? She couldn't take the risk. Asriel had plunged away from her, so smug in the knowledge that she was what he thought after all, and Marisa long to reach for him and pull him up with her- because he was of the physical world more than anyone she'd ever met. No hope for an afterlife- just always in the glorious now- and for him to fall forever into nothingness- with no hope of return-
I will find him.
The thought has the same feeling as all really good ideas of her have. It feels like a clear bell. At twenty-one she knew she'd write her thesis on Dust. At twenty-nine she drew the first plans for Bolvanger. At thirty-five she knew she'd die for Lyra. And now she knows she'll find Asriel and pull him out of the abyss.
A hush falls over the grove of trees she's wandered into. It's off the path a little and shielded on all sides by willows. An empty field opens up across the canal. Marisa looks up to see the cause. A girl has walked in from the path opposite, in her holiday clothes, gingerly holding an older boys hand. Her goldfinch daemon flutters nervously, but Marisa looks again to the lumbering boy. He has no daemon at all.
The group of brickworkers that had claimed the spot stumble to collect their beer tankards, even as the boy lowers himself near the bank with great care, and begins to fuss over the wooden soldier. Everyone seems to find something to do that requires them to leave. His sister glances at Marisa. She's a scowling little thing, her frayed ribbon has already come undone from its perch in her hair and her dress is a overly-frilly cheap affair. She's younger than Marisa had ever seen Lyra, but she has the same kind of steely look. Marisa smiles quite without meaning to.
"That's a very pretty dress" She widens her eyes and smiles, placing the boy finally. One of the fifth lot. The machine had left survivors then, but they'd been imbeciles. The Doctor had said the blade had neutered something in their frontal lobes.
The child still eyes her suspiciously but her daemon noses his way forward as a chipmunk. "I knew a princess once, and you look just like her"
This was true enough. The Princess Kosmova had been Marisa's assigned roommate in boarding school. A stupid girl who wore white lace with everything, drank too much and got herself shipped back to Rusland in shame. Marisa hadn't had to have a roommate after that.
"En't no princess" The girl says slowly "I'm a witch. I'm gonna fly to the north and get Snuff back."
Marisa tilts her head "Was Snuff your brother's daemon?"
The girl nods. She looks at her brother for a moment. He doesn't notice, still absorbed in his slow game.
"She used to give Buttercup pony rides, Snuff did" She says, half-proudly and half-angry "She was the only daemon I ever seen turn into such a big animal"
Marisa takes a few steps closer to the water's edge, smoothing her skirt. "May I join you?" She asks the boy. He looks up at her, no better than a dumb animal himself, and she feels ... nothing at all.
She doesn't remember him very well, but then the Station had so many failures. And still, the Dust of the abyss had caressed her as she fell, like she was someone who'd never intended to do it harm. It had formed a braided chord between her and Asriel, and it was not shameful, seeing her sin articulated like that. No more shameful than Lyra, jumping on the mattress of her new bed in the penthouse, so happy and ordinary that Marisa could not quite believe how much grief had come of her. She blinks both memories away.
"And what are you two planning for today?"
The girl scowls again "Ma just wants him out of the house" She scratches her stick into the ground "He scares her- he scares everyone. And he ain't even any fun to tease anymore. See?" She hits her brother over his head. "Nothing. Sometimes Dad hits him hard enough that his eyes swell shut. He doesn't do anything."
"Would you like me to help him?"
The girl eyes her suspiciously. "How? Are you a witch?"
Marisa considers this, then nods her head. "Yes, I'm here in secret, on a mission for the witch consul." She looks at the boy again. If this is what mercy feels like she's not sure. Lyra wouldn't like it. Asriel would say it was sentimental. "And I can help him if you'd like."
"What will you do?"
"That's a secret too." Marisa smiles conspiratorially at the girl again. Touches her cheek. "I'd have to take him with me. And you might not see him again. Ever."
"But he'll be better?" The girl asks slowly. "He'll get Snuff back?"
"Yes" Marisa smiles "I promise. But you mustn't look for him. You must tell your parents he's run away. And when we find Snuff, he'll come back."
The girl squints at her. Distrust still lines her face. And suddenly the boy comes back to her, not himself, but his report. The sub-section titled known-daemon forms. Not many could turn into horses. "I'll tell you a secret that only a witch could know"
They duck their heads together "Snuff used to turn into a horse you said?" The girl nods "Her other favourite shape used to be a rabbit- but your brother was ashamed of that and never showed it to any other kids his age."
The girl nods once. Hard. And Marisa is reminded again of Lyra. She doesn't kiss her brother goodbye. Just stares at him, before turning around and tearing off through the underbrush.
The boy is still turned away from Marisa, playing with his toy soldier. He's big for his age. If he still had a daemon he could snap Marisa in half. As it is, she runs a hand gently along his neck. It's warm from the sun and slightly sweaty. He smells of mouldy clothes and urine. He flinches away from her but she whispers "It's alright' and he relaxes again.
She waits until he's absorbed in his game once more.
Then she makes the sharp movement Asriel taught her, all those years ago. The boy slumps in her arms. She fills his pockets with heavy stones that Oberyn collects for her, and rolls him into the water. He bobs once above the surface, then sinks down as the slow current takes him.
Marisa watches the sun-dappled surface of the canal a moment longer. She really must make a move soon.
Dinner at St. Sophia's is predictably bland, both in food and company. Marisa makes a point to smile icily at any of the younger female scholars who try to draw her into conversation. Once, she would have gleaned more enjoyment over watching them stammer and flush. The young footman who taps her shoulder bearing a folded note, nearly receives the same treatment. Marisa reads through the summons over her rapidly cooling plate, and resolves to leave immediately, rudeness be damned.
The Master of Jordan is still wearing his ceremonial robes, and his raven daemon is slightly puffed up and glossy in the low firelight, when she is let into his study an hour later. As if that will make her afraid of either of them.
"The Magisterium is no more Mrs Coulter" He begins as if that signifies anything, or is a polite way to begin a conversation.
"Debatable" She drawls, knowing that he's right.
"It is but a husk" The Master answers, gesturing to the candle on the table "Still standing until the slightest breeze" He blows and the candle extinguishes "Nothing."
She's not in the mood to play tired old charades with a tired old man, but she makes herself blink slowly anyway. It was Stelmaria who pointed out this particular trick of hers. It's what cats do when they feel safe she'd said, even as Asriel slept next to Marisa, and she licked Oberyn's face. It shows that they trust you. But you've never trusted another creature in your whole life have you Marisa?
"Where is Lyra?" She asks, quite sweetly, remembering herself a lifetime ago in this same study, asking the same question, and tearing apart his college when she didn't get the answer she wanted. How little of desperation she knew back then.
He stares at her. Her stomach drops. Perhaps Lyra didn't make it after all. A room could be a shrine. And besides how could she have? She was feral and wonderful, and Marisa discovers she can't abide the thought of a world with neither Asriel or their daughter flashing like marsh-fire across it - so intensely alive and themselves-
"You will not see her."
Marisa blinks. The air bursts back into her lungs. She sees by his frown that the Master is as useless at reading her as ever, so she makes it a tad more obvious for him. She lets out a shuddering breath. Even lets the lump in her throat rise as tears in her eyes.
"Lord Asriel and I fought the Authority's regent himself to keep her safe" There's no surprise in his face. So word of that has filtered back into this world? She really does have to move on soon. Whatever is left of the Magisterium will be looking for her soon enough. "What makes you think you'd be able to stop me?"
Here, he laughs.
"Do you not understand Mrs Coulter?" He shakes his head "The Magisterium left is nothing but factions- the Order of St Paul, the League of Alexander even the followers of the last Bishop-" He swats his hands as though clearing the air of flies. "Dogs tearing at a thin scrap of meat, while for the first time in decades Brytain awakens. Look around you! Even now a republic is forming quite outside your realm of influence." He steeples his fingers, and regards her over his glasses "Your crimes will be brought to trial soon enough Mrs Coulter. The ironic part is that you yourself abolished the only power that would keep you safe."
Mrs Coulter thinks of Metatron and frowns. He would have as likely killed her as kept her safe.
"Scholastic Sanctuary" The Master says "You set the bill in motion to abolish it. Your days at St. Sophia's are numbered I'm afraid."
He leans back.
"So no Mrs Coulter, I won't be delivering Lyra to you again. If I could, I'd make it so she wouldn't have to hear your name for the rest of her life."
There's righteousness in his voice. Marisa is familiar with this tone in men. It's the same note that infused Edward's voice when he spoke of enemies of the Magisterium. Boreal used to affect it when her affair with Asriel was mentioned, however obliquely. Her daughter seems to invoke it in every other adult she meets. If it weren't so irritating, Marisa might be proud. Lyra at least will never want for people to protect her. But Marisa thinks of the half drunk cup of tea, the hidden postcards from Asriel and her own book on her daughters bed. Protection is very fine, but a child needs more- needs guidance- and a connection exists between them whether they wanted it or not-
"I am her mother" Something in the ferocity of the Master's expression falters. Marisa follows this thread, lying better with the truth than she ever could with falsehoods. "She would want to see me. You know she would."
Something troubled passes over the Master's face.
"She wants very little that's simple these days." He looks at his daemon "The child is gone and the woman stands in her place" The raven caws softly "And we can but tremble."
Mrs Coulter narrows her eyes. To talk about Lyra in abstraction was to not understand her. Whenever Marisa thinks of her she thinks of a child. Ordinary and slightly grubby. She'd thought the Master understood her- but maybe she was wrong- maybe scholars were just a shade away from cardinals- stern old men who couldn't help a young girl with anything-
"Let me see her" She slips down to the scratchy carpet quite before she realises she means to do it. Begging someone on their knees. An image out of a romantic ballad. "Please." She's beyond caring that she's begging. Lyra has crossed out everything she thought about herself, so what is one quality more? Marisa Coulter does not beg. Marisa Coulter begs. "I'll go. I'll leave Oxford, but I must see her. You're right. I am guilty of monstrous crimes. But never to her. Never to Lyra."
She clasps the Master's hands. Her fingers are pale and beautiful against his. She admires them even as she breathes "Let me see her just the once. To know that it was all worth it. Asriel's death, the void - that endless void-"
She's nearly got him. The waver in her voice had come out just right. Just then a firecracker goes off outside. The Master shakes himself, pulling free of the spell she's woven all around him.
"It is not my decision Mrs Coulter" He says, not unkindly, extracting his hands out of her grasp "I'll send word to her. Stay another night at St. Sophia's. We will not alert the authorities just yet. But I warn you- she's her own person. She's not the same Lyra I put into your care." He frowns down at her "If she wants to see you, she will."
The night is alive with bangs and laughter as Marisa walks. There's a hint of fog in the air, mingling with the smell of smoke. The streetlights are all surrounded by fuzzy halos of light and a circus of moths.
Twice she thinks she spots Lyra. The first girl steps under the streetlight and Marisa sees her nose is all wrong and she's too old. Her friend is a handsome boy with tawny hair. He twirls her under the cone of light, and not-Lyra laughs, hair glossy in the anbaric glare, still too shy to do anything else. They notice Marisa and walk on, arms looped together against the chill, daemons frolicking ahead of them.
The second is a girl sitting in a cafe window, nibbling at a frosted tea cake and staring across the street where Marisa walks. Her daemon is a polecat, a form Pantalaimon favoured, and that snags Oberyn's eye. He's leapt out of her arms and crossed the flow of foot-traffic before she sees that the girl is sitting with her family. Her mother frowns at a daemon so far from its counterpart, and Marisa walks on quickly.
"I can't possibly think about food" Lyra had said, stiff and uncomfortable in her new dress, sitting across from her at the Arctic institute. She'd pushed her sweetmeats around her plate just like the girl in the cafe, face set in a bland expression, and Marisa had wondered how a wash of rage could be accompanied almost by pain. Why would the girl not eat when asked? Why could Marisa not quite breathe until Lyra smiled at her again?
She bypasses the clusters of giggling undergraduates in the courtyard of St. Sophia's and lets herself quietly back into her room. The feeling is back. When she washes her face she can't quite escape the feeling that her hands might pass straight through the porcelain. It's an unsettling notion no matter how used to it she is becoming. Her lone naptha lamp illuminates only the idea of her little room. She might as well still be in the abyss, a lonely bubble of light, falling into nothing. Oberyn sits on the bed, facing away from her, dusty from the days travels.
"Oh come here" She lifts him and dips the cloth back into the warm water. He closes his eyes when she wipes along his head with the same motion Stel used to lick. She hums a little nonsense melody, one she used to sing to Lyra in the cave, and lets him curl into her arms.
Her bed is hard and smells like mothballs, but Marisa falls asleep almost the second her head hits the pillow.
The Magdalene choir wakes Marisa the next morning.
Oxford on May Day is always a spectacle, but this year it has a near unhinged quality to it. Men and women, crowned with flowers laugh and jostle past her as she walks to the air field. The Magisterium is no more the Master had said, and today is the first time Marisa begins to appreciate what that means. She avoids town, hearing the distant murmur and ruckus of the parade. The two afternoon airship tickets to London take the very last of her loaned money, but she doesn't worry about going without breakfast. She wanders back towards St. Sophia's, playing with the vague idea of charming Hannah Relf into taking her to Lyra, keeping half an an eye on the new fashions some of the more well-to-do women are wearing -
When she does spot Lyra, just as she turns into a narrow cobbled street, the moment is so ordinary that Marisa almost misses her.
Lyra is buying roasted nuts from a street vendor. She's in a dark-blue school uniform, flanked by a dowdy classmate and an Indian boy in a maroon blazer. Marisa's daughter takes the wrapped package, cupping her hands around it. Then Marisa sees Pantalaimon, sniffing at the wax-paper, perched on her shoulder. Oberyn tenses, but she doesn't need this hint to see that the edges of Lyra's daemon no longer flicker.
Pantalaimon has settled as a pine marten.
Marisa feels a twinge of near primal unease. Oberyn had changed until she was sixteen. It meant something to have a settled daemon at thirteen. It meant ridicule, and loneliness, and the hint of something sinister. Something sordid.
But they are healthy and whole. And turning to walk towards the green. The boy likes her, but Lyra's gaze slides right over him. She's apart from them somehow. Marisa stares at them, and notices that her daughter only smiles when they look at her. The day around her seems muted suddenly. Only Lyra is in focus.
Marisa follows at a distance, just drinking in the sight of her daughter. She looks more like Asriel than ever. It would have enraged Marisa once. Now she looks for herself only as accent in the harmony of her daughter's physical form. Lyra's knees are shaped like hers. Knobbly, and not at all good for praying. Around her jaw there's something of Maman, but Marisa can't seem to work out what. Maybe the shape of her upper lip. The little trio of school-friends walk through the park, and packed as it is, Mrs Coulter can follow them quite closely.
They meet more boys on the green, boys who've brought a ball and look at Lyra and her friend with interest, but Lyra makes a few regretful gestures, then wanders on alone, quickly forgotten by them. She walks through the taller elms, past the ponds of ducks, only bending over once to pluck a cowslip from the grass. Finally, she climbs the empty high curved bridge that leads to the country lanes.
"I know you're there" Lyra turns at the zenith of the bridge and regards Marisa. With the sunlight framing her, and her flower still clasped loosely in her hands, Lyra looks like an illustration of a minor saint from a children's book. She doesn't seem shocked, or angry. Just quiet. "I was still thinking about whether I'd come to see you"
"You wouldn't have" Marisa says, smiling to show that there's no hard feelings. Her voice comes out tiny and strangled. She takes another few steps up the bridge. She wonders what expression is on her face. She seems to have no control over it.
Here Lyra cocks her head. Pan mirrors the action. Lyra's hair has gotten long and strands of copper in it are picked out by the sun. Marisa remembers washing it in the blissful weeks they'd lived together. Remembers its thin texture, and how Lyra had closed her eyes, trusting Marisa.
"I might have surprised you" Lyra says in a milder tone than Marisa's ever heard her use.
Here Pan stands up on his hind legs. He says something to Lyra, then turns, and in a flash of reddish fur is gone from sight.
Marisa gasps, hand finding Oberyn's calloused paw, eyes finding Lyra again. Her daughter doesn't seem hurt. Just resigned. Another new expression on her.
"Let's take a walk"
"- and then I couldn't read it no more."
Marisa nods, wondering how much of the truth Lyra has left out. They've walked quite a ways into the countryside, and are cresting a hill bordered by wheat fields. A fallen tree lays across the path. The sky has turned a delicate lilac and the sound of crickets fills the silence. Pan is still nowhere in sight. Oberyn grunts nervously from his spot on Marisa's shoulder.
Lyra, for her part, looks around, seeming a little startled by how dark it is.
"I should get back" She says "Can't miss dinner again. They don't take kindly to it."
Lyra looks at her. Her eyes are very clear. Marisa wants to tell her a great many things, but can't quite fit her mouth around the shape of them.
"I have a question for you." Marisa, setting Oberyn down on the flint-littered ground, gestures to the fallen tree for want of a better alternative. Lyra, to her surprise, sits. Marisa sees the twelve year old once again, nearly brimming over with excitement over the idea of the north, the idea of Mrs Coulter. She sees the memory like a country she's had to leave behind- a homeland that will never exist again.
"This is likely the last time I'll be in Oxford, if not Brytain for a long time and-"
Lyra's expectant face arrests her.
"-And I wanted to ask whether you'd come with me."
Lyra blinks "As what? Your assistant?" She scowls, and Marisa wants to kiss the dear and familiar expression.
"As my daughter" Marisa steps forward and touches Lyra's face. She can't help it. She never could. "As anything you want."
Lyra stares at her, wide-eyed. And for a moment Marisa feels the future opening up between them. The two of them in a London-bound airship, awkward but together. Lyra, safely asleep in her bed in a hotel room in a tropical place. The hot sand around them, Lyra in cream coloured slacks to match her own, making notes in a book while Marisa probed at another rip in reality. The two of them finding Asriel at last, hauling him out of a swirl of dust- finally together- as they should have been the second Lyra first quickened within her-
Then the undergrowth snaps. Pan has returned. He looks at Oberyn for the first time. He bares his little pearl-like teeth. Oberyn stares back dumbly, full of dark emotion- ugly, possessive emotions- but sitting so very still by her feet. Then Pan trots closer to Lyra who picks him up. It soothes something in Marisa to see them finally together again. "You're not seriously considering it?" He whispers. Oberyn longs to touch him. Marisa can feel it in her teeth.
Then Lyra shakes her head. A tiny movement, but one that hurts.
Lyra turns away, and walks a little ways up the hill. It's the same solid stomp she had as a child. She's had no Maman to force her to take dainty steps. And yet she's become a woman all on her own while Marisa was stumbling through the dark in search of a child. The Master was right after all.
Lyra stops and turns, Pantalaimon still cradled in her arms.
"Write to me" She says so quietly that an errant gust of wind could have carried the words off. But the evening is still and the words hang between them.
Marisa wants to say 'I will' but can only nod. Lyra lingers for a moment, listing forward, before turning around and walking up the path. Marisa watches her go until she disappears between the country hedges.
The monkey caws. On the stump behind her, Lyra has left her little wax-paper bag of nuts, and her picked cowslip.