Ama climbed the path to the cave, as she'd done for many days now, bread and milk in the bag on her back, a heavy puzzlement in her heart. How in the world could she ever manage to reach the sleeping girl? Would the woman never leave the cave for more than a few minutes?
Ama came to the rock where the woman had told her to leave the food since she wasn't allowed in the cave anymore. She put down the bag, but she didn't go straight home; she climbed a little farther, up past the cave and through the thick rhododendrons, and farther up still to where the trees thinned out and the rainbows began.
This part of the valley was where the streams and cascades ran most confusingly: shafts of green-white water would sink into potholes and emerge a little lower down, or gush upward in splintered fountains, or divide into myriad streamlets, or swirl round and round trapped in a whirlpool. When the world was frozen, spears and shelves and columns of glassy ice grew over every surface, and under it all, the water could still be heard gushing and tinkling, and spray still escaped to the air for the rainbows to form.
Ama and her daemon climbed up over the rock shelves and around the little cataracts, past the whirlpools and through the spectrum-tinted spray, until her hair and her eyelids and his squirrel fur were beaded all over with a million tiny pearls of moisture. The game was to get to the top without wiping your eyes, despite the temptation, and the sunlight sparkled and fractured into red, yellow, green, blue, and every color between right in front of Ama's eyes, but she mustn't wipe her hand across to see better until she got right to the top, or the game would be lost.
Kulang, her daemon, sprang to a rock near the top of the little waterfall, and she knew he would turn at once to watch and make sure she didn't brush the moisture off her eyelashes - except that he didn't.
Instead he clung there, gazing forward.
Ama wiped her eyes, because the game was canceled by the surprise her daemon was feeling. As she pulled herself up to look over the edge, she gasped and fell still, because she had never seen a creature like this one: a bear, but four times the size of the black bears in the forest, and ivory white, with a black nose and black eyes that glared down from the top of the waterfall, only an arm's length away from her.
"Who's that?" said the voice of a boy, and while Ama couldn't understand the words, she caught the sense easily enough.
After a moment the boy appeared next to the bear: fierce-looking, with frowning eyes and a jutting jaw. And was that a daemon beside him, bird-shaped? It was unlike any daemon she'd seen before, but there was nothing else it could be. It flew to Kulang and chirruped briefly: Friends. We shan't hurt you.
The great white bear had not moved at all.
"Come up," said the boy, and again her daemon made sense of it for her.
Watching the bear with superstitious awe, she scrambled up to the top of the little waterfall and stood shyly on the rocks beside them. Kulang became a butterfly and settled for a moment on her cheek, but left it to flutter around the other daemon, who sat still on the boy's hand.
"Will," he said, pointing to himself.
She responded, "Ama."
Each said the other's name, and very soon she grew less nervous, though Ama remained frightened of the boy almost more than of the bear: he had a horrible wound: two of his fingers were missing. She felt dizzy when she saw it.
The bear turned away and trod along the milky stream, occasionally lying down as if to cool himself in the water, which was so close to his own color. The boy's daemon took to the air and darted and fluttered with Kulang among the rainbows, and slowly they began to understand each other.
Excerpted from The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman Copyright© 2000 by Philip Pullman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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