Excerpt from La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust #1

by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman X
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2019, 464 pages

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Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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He whispered again. Then there was a minute—two minutes, perhaps—in which nothing happened; and then Sister Fenella's thin arms held out the little bundle, and Asriel took it with infinite delicacy. His leopard dæmon stood up to put her forepaws on his waist, and Asriel held the baby down so she could whisper to Lyra's dæmon.

How had he persuaded Sister Fenella? Malcolm could only wonder. He watched the man lift the baby again and walk along the grass between one bare flower bed and the next, holding the bundle high so he could whisper to her, rocking her gently, strolling along slowly in the brilliant moonlight. At one point he seemed to be showing the moon to Lyra, pointing up at it and holding her so she could see, or perhaps he was showing Lyra to the moon; at any rate he looked like a lord in his own domain, with nothing to fear and all the silvery night to enjoy.

Up and down he strolled with his child. Malcolm thought of Sister Fenella waiting in fear—in case Lord Asriel didn't bring her back, in case his enemies attacked, in case Sister Benedicta suspected something was up. But there was no sound from the priory, no sound from the road, no sound from the man and his baby daughter in the moonlight.

At one point the leopard dæmon seemed to hear something. Her tail lashed once, her ears pricked, her head turned to face the bridge. Malcolm and Asta turned immediately, ears and eyes tightly focused on the bridge, every separate stone of which was clearly outlined in black and silver; but nothing moved, and there was no sound but the call of a hunting owl half a mile away.

Presently the leopard dæmon's statue-like stillness melted, and she moved away once more, lithe and silent. Malcolm realized that that was true of the man as well—during their journey over the river and through the meadow, into the orchard and up to the priory wall, he had not heard the slightest sound of footsteps. Asriel might as well have been a ghost, for all the sound he made.

He was turning now at the end of the walk and making for Sister Fenella's window again. Malcolm watched the bridge, the garden, what he could see of the road, and saw nothing wrong; and when he turned, Asriel was handing the little bundle up through the window, whispering a word or two, and silently swinging the shutter closed.

Then he beckoned, and Malcolm joined him. It was very difficult to make no noise at all, even on grass, and Malcolm watched to see how the man set his feet down: there was something leopardlike about it—something to practice himself, anyway.

Back through the orchard, back to the hedge, through the brambles, into the meadow, across to the willow stump—

Then a stronger, yellower light than the moon stabbed the sky. Someone on the bridge had a searchlight, and Malcolm heard the sound of a gas engine.

"There they are," said Asriel quietly. "Leave me here, Malcolm."

"No! I got a better idea. Take my canoe and go down the river. Just get me back across to the other side first."

The idea occurred to Malcolm in the same moment he said it.

"You sure?"

"You can go downstream a long way. They'll never think of that. Come on!"

He stepped in and untied the painter, holding the boat tight to the bank while Asriel got in too; then Malcolm paddled swiftly and as quietly as he could across to the inn garden, though the current wanted to whirl him out into the open water, where they'd be visible from the bridge.

Asriel caught hold of the fixed line on the little jetty while Malcolm got out; then he let Malcolm hold the boat while he got in the right way round, took the paddle, and held out his hand to shake.

"I'll get her back to you," he said, and then he was gone, speeding with long, powerful strokes down the river on the swollen current, the leopard daemon like a great figurehead at the prow. La Belle Sauvage had never gone so fast, Malcolm thought.<

Excerpted from The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) by Philip Pullman. Copyright © 2017 by Philip Pullman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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