In the morning Attis leads us to the small space he and Mirlin share in Normur. It will mean a few days to have copies of the map made, and we do not have coin enough to remain at the inn.
It is a hovel and I barely mask my shudder when Attis beams at us. For a boy alone out in the big world, it is no doubt a sanctuary. I would rather take to the road again and sleep under a tree than accept this, but then, I am a country girl.
“Thank you, Attis,” I murmur.
The boy dips his head. “I’ll be back at sunset with a platter. Madam allows me a meal, and I’ll just heap a bit extra.” Winking, he vanishes back into the awakening streets.
Damin is staring at me. “You are a snob, Lyra.”
“Why? Because I have standards?”
“Fortunately I am one too,” he says, grinning at my snappishness. I give him the finger and he collapses in laughter. His gusts of mirth from the edge of Attis’ cot go on … until I realise he has started weeping.
“Damin?” I whisper, kneeling before him.
“So many dead,” he gargles. “Many of them friends. Those poor kids, one day running the boards, the next floating in filthy …”
“Hush,” I murmur, taking him into my arms. This is the Damin I grew up with, the one ever compassionate, feeling others’ pain as if it was his own.
With his head on my shoulder, Damin mumbles through his tears. “Do you know what a mind is at the moment of death, Lyra? A knot of fear. Red suns become entangled with black strings and hurtle about a purple vessel … the kids … they become calm … small blue flowers …”
I hold him.