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A Picture-Book North

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‘Lyra would love to be up here, you know,’

‘Gee Hester, you sure are full of the helpful insights today,’

Lee sighed. He was rarely snappy with his dæmon, and she rarely with him; recent events had clearly taken somewhat of an emotional toll on the both of them. He was generally a rather calm person (if a little rash, or rather more than that if you asked Hester). Yet what with the disappearance of Lyra, and the following freakish storms appearing out of nowhere and tearing his balloon from its course, it was no wonder his nerves were feeling raw.

He had to admit that this time Hester was right though: Lyra really would have loved this view.

It was truly the picture-book version of The North. Fluffy white banks of snow stretching out in every direction. The early morning sky such a pale blue it was almost silver, streaked with the faintest slivers of pink. Far, far away – too far for his dæmon’s hare eyes to be able to make out - he thought he could see some of the witches he had been flying with before the storm… Though at this distance, they were really no more than purple bruises on the horizon. The dark smudges could easily have been birds. Or cliff-ghasts. Or worse.

Lee tried to banish those particular thoughts from his mind. He did not like the strangeness that had been stirring up in these northern parts, and he was wary of the things that may blow in from the rumoured other worlds.

No, these rumours did not please Lee at all. No, thank you, he thought. His own world held enough wonders ten times over to suit his curiosity. And Lee was a curious man indeed, so that was saying something.

Lyra however… now there was somebody he knew would be entranced by the possibilities. Where Lee was like air, ever seeking freedom and glorying in the beauty of the world around him, Lyra was wildfire. She burned so brightly, ever hungry for more knowledge. Lee was not a devout man, but in that moment, he prayed so dearly that Lyra was staying out of trouble, despite knowing in his heart of hearts that it could not possibly be the case. That simply wasn’t how Lyra was.

But if anything happened to her… Please, he begged, let nothing happen to her.

It was not precisely that he had taken to thinking of Lyra as his own daughter. Of course, he loved her more than anyone, and would protect her at any cost. But Lee had never been one to want children – how would he find the time? He couldn’t exactly imagine himself leaving his aeronautical days behind. And he certainly was not interested in finding himself a wife to settle down with. If anything, he guessed the void which Lyra filled in his life was that of a niece. A strange, more than half-feral niece, no doubt, but what less could be expected of a niece of his?

He was so deep in these thoughts, he had lost all consciousness of his actions, performing the motions of getting his balloon in order without a trace of thought: a silent automaton at work.

‘You oughta be more careful, Lee,’ Hester yelled, as the wind began to pick up, buffeting around them.

‘If we had it your way, we’d be so mighty careful we would never even have left the ground,’

‘Well at least we might have had a warm bed for the night once in a while, not to mention some company to talk to,’

‘Yeah, then some other poor sods could have had you talk their ear off for a change,’

‘Before or after you’d rob them blind cheating at cards?’

The back and forth continued in this vein for some time.

But despite the good-natured bickering, there was a mutual understanding that neither regretted their adventures for one moment. Truly this was where they belonged. In the sky. In the North. Lee scratched Hester’s head, grinning, and thought to himself about all the people he had met in his years of aeronautics. Lyra, obviously. Iorek too. And countless others, from bars, inns, the strange odds-and-ends of employment he’d picked up here and there. These were his people. Sure it was different to his sunny childhood, but his heart knew this was his home, as overly-sentimental as the thought may be.

Goodness, it had been a long while since Lee had thought about his own childhood. A vague memory was stirred up in his mind: golden sunlight, a handmade toy catapult, running around lawns with grazed and grubby knees, playing cowboys. Perhaps he’d have been as great a terror as Lyra if he’d had her parent-less upbringing. He chuckled at the idea.

‘Nah, Lee, deep down you’re too law-abiding for such hijinks, even if you pretend to be such a devilish rogue’

‘Shut up Hester,’

Whistling an old, faintly hopeful tune that neither of them could quite remember where they had heard, they drifted onwards through the sky, cheerfully greeting the new day, and the adventures it would bring.