"…quietly turning to rust."

February 3rd, 2012 1:00 pm by Kelly Garbato

“Dinosauria, We (blue man)”: CC image via flickr user danielofredorota.
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Father Gomez

I.

He came out at sunset on a little headland beside a shallow bay. If they had tides in this sea, the tide was high, because there was only a narrow fringe of soft white sand above the water.

And floating in the calm bay were a dozen or more. Father Gomez had to stop and think carefully. A dozen or more enormous snow-white birds, each the size of a rowboat, with long, straight wings that trailed on the water behind them: very long wings, at least two yards in length. Were they birds? They had feathers, and heads and beaks not unlike swans’, but those wings were situated one in front of the other, surely…

Suddenly they saw him. Heads turned with a snap, and at once all those wings were raised high, exactly like the sails of a yacht, and they all leaned in with the breeze, making for the shore.

Father Gomez was impressed by the beauty of those wing-sails, by how they were flexed and trimmed so perfectly, and by the speed of the birds. Then he saw that they were paddling, too: they had legs under the water, placed not fore and aft like the wings but side by side, and with the wings and the legs together, they had an extraordinary speed and grace in the water.

As the first one reached the shore, it lumbered up through the dry sand, making directly for the priest. It was hissing with malice, stabbing its head forward as it waddled heavily up the shore, and the beak snapped and clacked. There were teeth in the beak, too, like a series of sharp incurved hooks.

Father Gomez was about a hundred yards from the edge of the water, on a low grassy promontory, and he had plenty of time to put down his rucksack, take out the rifle, load, aim, and fire.

The bird’s head exploded in a mist of red and white, and the creature blundered on clumsily for several steps before sinking onto its breast. It didn’t die for a minute or more; the legs kicked, the wings rose and fell, and the great bird beat itself around and around in a bloody circle, kicking up the rough grass, until a long, bubbling expiration from its lungs ended with a coughing spray of red, and it fell still.

The other birds had stopped as soon as the first one fell, and stood watching it, and watching the man, too. There was a quick, ferocious intelligence in their eyes. They looked from him to the dead bird, from that to the rifle, from the rifle to his face.

He raised the rifle to his shoulder again and saw them react, shifting backward clumsily, crowding together. They understood.

They were fine, strong creatures, large and broad-backed, like living boats, in fact. If they knew what death was, thought Father Gomez, and if they could see the connection between death and himself, then there was the basis of a fruitful understanding between them. Once they had truly learned to fear him, they would do exactly as he said. […]

 

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A sketch of a tualapi (left) and a mulefa (right); fanart via Bridge to the Stars.
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II.

Quietly and cautiously he moved down the course of the stream. His daemon the green-backed beetle flew overhead, tasting the air; her eyesight was less good than his, but her sense of smell was acute, and she caught the scent of the young people’s flesh very clearly. She would go a little ahead, perch on a stem of grass, and wait for him, then move on again; and as she caught the trail in the air that their bodies left behind, Father Gomez found himself praising God for his mission, because it was clearer than ever that the boy and the girl were walking into mortal sin.

And there it was: the dark-blonde movement that was the girl’s hair. He moved a little closer, and took out the rifle. There was a telescopic sight: low-powered, but beautifully made, so that looking through it was to feel your vision clarified as well as enlarged. Yes, there she was, and she paused and looked back so that he saw the expression on her face, and he could not understand how anyone so steeped in evil could look so radiant with hope and happiness.

His bewilderment at that made him hesitate, and then the moment was gone, and both children had walked in among the trees and out of sight. Well, they wouldn’t go far. He followed them down the stream, moving at a crouch, holding the rifle in one hand, balancing with the other.

He was so close to success now that for the first time he found himself speculating on what he would do afterward, and whether he would please the Kingdom of Heaven more by going back to Geneva or staying to evangelize this world. The first thing to do here would be to convince the four-legged creatures, who seemed to have the rudiments of reason, that their habit of riding on wheels was abominable and Satanic, and contrary to the will of God. Break them of that, and salvation would follow.

He reached the foot of the slope, where the trees began, and laid the rifle down silently.

He gazed into the silver-green-gold shadows, and listened, with both hands behind his ears to catch and focus any quiet voices through the insect chirping and the trickle of the stream. Yes: there they were. They’d stopped.

He bent to pick up the rifle…

And found himself uttering a hoarse and breathless gasp, as something clutched his daemon and pulled her away from him. […]

 

“Lay down your arms”: CC image via flickr user gorbould.
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III.

At about the same time, one of the large blue lizards came across the body of Father Gomez. Will and Lyra had returned to the village that afternoon by a different route and hadn’t seen it; the priest lay undisturbed where Balthamos had laid him. The lizards were scavengers, but they were mild and harmless creatures, and by an ancient understanding with the mulefa, they were entitled to take any creature left dead after dark.

The lizard dragged the priest’s body back to her nest, and her children feasted very well. As for the rifle, it lay in the grass where Father Gomez had laid it down, quietly turning to rust.

– Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials (The Amber Spyglass)

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One Response to “"…quietly turning to rust."”

  1. iFaery Says:

    I read these books a thousand times when I was a kid. Still my favorites and still so eye opening. HDM is definitely a series that could change the world by abolishing religion and sexism. Anyhow, Theyre breathtaking. Thanks for sharing!!

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