Lyra’s Oxford

December 29

This is Lyra’s Oxford: a city of sun-glazed spires and villages of chimneys. I catch Lyra and Roger weaving between weathervanes, playing hide-and-seek behind flying buttresses, and sliding down slate tiles slick as dragonscales. Their dæmons tease the gargoyles, gurning at ogres, lions, ocelots, owls, draclings, gryphons, winged rams, and feral cherubim. Roger and Lyra chase each other round the hour of the Radcliffe Camera’s balcony ring. South of Radcliffe’s dome, dawnlight skewers between Oxford’s frozen towers, strewing the dust of shattered sunbeams over the city. Rays catch in the mullioned windows, turning the panes into mosaics of sunlight shards.

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In the alleyways slouch the Gobblers, hooded figures too friendly with the shadows. They wait for children to lope down the cobbled gullet where high walls swallow screams. Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey swings between iced cupolas, clutching a sparrow whose boy never learned fear. Twined in ivy, secret-keeping wooden doors seal up stone walls. Lyra and Roger stitch in and out of stalls in the Covered Market, pinching a polished apple and a steaming pocket pie before disappearing down a lattice-canopied lane.

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The children escape beyond the college ramparts, racing past sun-drizzled stone walls and brick cottages roofed in moss and frost. Above the bastions, the domes of Christ Church rise like Lee Scoresby’s balloon, blue as smoke and rabbits.

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