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03 February 2008 @ 02:47 am
Best Laid Plans  
Title: Best Laid Plans
By: wrinkling
For: ittykat!
Rating: PG
Prompt: A deleted scene where Asriel and John Parry meet.
Summary: A tortured boy brings together two men from very different worlds, but very similar aspirations.
Notes: Based on Lord Asriel and John Parry's notes as seen in the 10th anniversary editions.



Best Laid Plans



The steamboat sailed perilously in the freezing waters of the Lena River. There was not a boulder or a rock in sight amidst the all engulfing fog. She was alone at sea. If she would capsize or sink, nobody would hear or see them. Only when the fog clears and only when weeks and months have passed can the rubble of the ship be seen, likely with everyone inside it dead.

It was during the final days of the short Arctic summer and the seafarer was braving all odds to get through a fishing port, which housed a clinic. But the likelihood of making use of the port's medical facility was becoming slim, judging by their slow progress.

Slim was still far better than none, because the boat had a shaman passenger present for any urgent treatment, even if it was out of his way.

He prepared a concoction which he just finished mixing. In the cabin laid a peasant barely 16 years, a victim allegedly of gruesome torture which was said to have been dealt by the Tartars. Nobody knew why they would bother going out of their way to harm a mere peasant. The shaman had his theories. How he saw it, the peasant must have done something to displease a powerful body, something like the Church, which would clearly lead to such a fate. Theirs was an unmistakable deadly alliance...

If it were not for the shaman and some sympathetic onlookers, the peasant would have been deserted and left profusely bleeding for dead.

"I hear," The shaman, dressed in thick skins and fur, told one of the Muscovites seamen onboard who was assisting his heal work. "That the boy was recruited into shipping some ores..."

"They're doing something in Svalbard" Said the Muscovite. "Transporting large amounts of iron ores. It sounds like a heavy project. This little fellow got foolish."

The shaman gently opened the boy's mouth and placed a small amount of the mixture where the boy's tongue should have been. His osprey daemon used her claws to wrap the boy's weasel daemon with a thick blanket.

It was inconceivable, the kind of pain the boy was in. And to be unable to vocalize it was even more unbearable.

"Courageous is what I would call him." The shaman differed, "You don't meet those anywhere, people who muster enough strength to go against the Magisterium."

The Muscovite drew him to a sharp whisper, shushing him and cautiously looking around, "You'll never know if they're on board..." Another glance behind, "This fellow is lucky. He's got a healer like you, and a big person who got us this boat."

"Yes," The shaman eyed the Muscovite quizzingly, "You never told me who our great benefactor is. Stop turning around, you look more suspicious this way."

But he could not blame the Muscovite. Their world was wrapped with paranoia, on land, on sea, on air...The shaman learned this after he became familiar of the political system holding the world in its tight iron fist. Perhaps it was because he came from another world, or because of what the Yenisei told him...the shaman continued to live on with such calmness and ease.

"Lord Asriel." The Muscovite uttered beneath his teeth, "He refuses to identify himself, but he dwells inside the captain's cabin. He arranged for this boat when he knew about the boy..."

Another forbidden name to speak around those places. The shaman recognized the name either spoken with strong and vehement disapproval, or with fear and trepidation. To speak his name was as good as speaking the devil's.

Yet, the shaman knew another side to Lord Asriel that most scholars should probably not know. After all, not everyone could venture into the witch lands to find this side out (And not that anyone was allowed to tread these places. The lands reeked of 'evil and malice'). In the witch lands, Asriel's name was spoken with admiration, pride and fondness for he was a brave vigilant who dared the Authority and constantly risked death in the name of freedom.

As expected of his ever inquisitive nature, which already got him involved in several complications in more ways than one, the shaman could not help but pass the captain's cabin that night before he would retreat to his own quarters. The door was closed and there was only a faint light showing through the cracks. It crossed the shaman's mind to report on the boy's situation.

The osprey flapped her wings and landed on his shoulder. She called his attention, sensing a movement.

Before he knew it he was staring face to face at a man who appeared behind the door, swiftly yanked open. There was no doubt from the intensity in the man's eyes, his stern features and a broad stance only perfected by aristocrats and so chiseled by experience ...The man was Lord Asriel.

"Stanislaus Grumman." Asriel said expectantly, offering a hand, "I had known it was you."

The shaman, who was indeed Dr. Stanislaus Grumman in name, shook the hand, trying not to appear bewildered at the welcome so instantly and casually given to him. "Lord Asriel."

"Please, no need to be so formal. Come in." Asriel stepped aside. By instinct, the osprey daemon flew first to look around.

It was a cabin that could have been larger than the ordinary except it had too much objects inside it still remained claustrophobic. A bed untouched, an overworked heater, a small round window the size of a plate and a dim light bulb swaying along with the currents of the river. There was a desk which barely had any room for Asriel's notes, books, maps, and indistinguishable materials spread across.

Most of all, a snow leopard laid by the bed's side, her steely eyes kept still at the osprey.

"This is my daemon, Stelmaria." Asriel gestured towards the leopard and continued to speak with such...'mastery' of the situation. Stanislaus wondered if Asriel was watching him all along, "There's a stool over there. Would you care for some Chocolatl?"

"She is Sayan Kotor," Stanislaus said by way of introducing his daemon. He lowered his fur-lined hood, "And ...yes, that would be very generous."

Asriel poured into one of the mugs, steam lifting itself from the brim, "I knew I recognized your face in the harbor and I was quite pleased. I had been eager to meet you. Would you fancy something to eat? I have some smoked fish."

"No, I have eaten," Stanislaus said, carefully taking his seat on the low stool, "One of the Muscovites informed me that you were responsible for the boat. I wanted to extend my gratitude in behalf of the boy."

"I prefer to have people like him alive. Otherwise, it would be a regrettable loss. Who knows what he could do one day? What medicine did you give him?" Asriel handed the mug of Chocolatl, "I recognized the formula from somewhere, I just could not put a finger to it."

"A bloodmoss ointment," Stanislaus gratefully sipped into the hot beverage, "It was shared to me by the Yenisei tribe elders."

"Ah, of course," Asriel did not prepare himself his own mug. He preferred to simply sit and talk instead, "And you stayed with them, did you not? They were behind the trepanation?"

Stanislaus smirked, "And not from the Tartars as it is so oftenly passed around by the scholars."

"You have to admit it makes a more interesting story. Your trepanned skull, does it in fact attract more Dust?" Asriel did not disappoint Stanislaus in wasting no time. He was as bold and aggressive as he was described to be. Dust was such a novel and controversial idea. No one else he knew in the Berlin Academy would talk so openly about it, or in greater lengths.

"Quite honestly," Stanislaus shook his head, "I could not say just yet. Perhaps when it enlightens my solar observations some more and when I complete my Berlin thesis then I suppose," He chuckled as Sayan Kotor landed on his wrist, "I don't feel any different... I will delve more into the scholarship of Dust after I'm accepted in the Academy...and after the boy is safe and sound. And you, Asriel? What brings you here?"

Asriel did not seem as optimistic and excited as the shaman was. Somewhere there in his unslept bed, his scattered notes and gloomy light was an exhausted sigh waiting to come out. "I'm already on my way back to London. I'm still figuring out if I could pass by Svalbard."

Stanislaus's lifted mug lowered slightly, "Do you know anything about the project over there?"

"Hrm," Asriel shrugged, "I have an idea, but I want to see it myself. They are building a station...a laboratory. They want to look into Dust themselves, with their own twisted version of dealing with it. It's bound to be interesting. I still have hopes that the boy could disclose a few details as soon as he is well."

Urgent knocks rapped on the door, catching Asriel's attention. Excusing himself, Asriel did not wait to see who it was. He simply grabbed his furcoat, opened the door and closed it behind him with the snow leopard trailing him along. On the shutting of the door, Stanislaus Grumman turned to his daemon in curiosity.

"He would leave his cabin to complete strangers?" His daemon asked, "What do you think of him? His daemon had been watching us constantly."

"I don't think he means any harm," Stanislaus shook his head, "Nor does he think us strangers. He planned this...and if I'd go so far to suspect that he summoned us."

Sayan Kotor bent her head, "He too has a power to call?"

"There are many things this man can do," Was Stanislaus's reply, eyes turning to Asriel's desk of strewn papers, "We are only seeing the tip of an iceberg."

The osprey hovered over the papers, unabashedly peering over the notes, "Expenses. Names of Scholars. What he requires is an enormous sum...There are sketches over here..."

Stanislaus stayed by the door, waiting for it to spring open, "Of what?"

"A city...in the sky. A device..."

Upon hearing those, Stanislaus was already onto the papers himself. His daemon first found her footing on his shoulder, then she decided to take over the door watching.

Instead of scrutinizing the sketches though, there was something else that caught Stanislaus's eye on the table. It stood out because it had nothing to do with Asriel's studies. It was a picture of a little girl. Younger than ten, the girl glared at the photogram taker, looking very irritated to have to sit down properly on the chair with her hair painstakingly and thoroughly brushed. No clever posing would hide the marks of mud on her dress and not any amount of washing or cosmetic intervention could remove the scrapes around her arms.

"John---"

When the door burst opened, Stanislaus was still holding the photogram, unable to tear his eyes away.

Asriel muttered a pardon for disappearing and removed his coat, "Oh. That is my daughter."

Stanislaus nodded in understanding, "I have a son who must be at her age."

"She has an impressive photogram series." Asriel hung the coat on the hanger and walked towards the table where he fumbled through a leather bag of personal belongings. There he showed Stanislaus his daughter's pictures in several phases. Each wore the same annoyed face, if just a little change in facial angle and structure over time.

"Already a budding rebel." Stanislaus commented, noting how the child could not be a witch's and somehow remembering one of the stories whispered around the hallways of Berlin Academy about a scandal between Asriel and some politician's wife.

"Already driving the Master of Jordan and the scholars mad," Asriel laughed, somewhat harshly, with unmistakable pride, "Where is your son?"

The conversation's tone must have become so casual and nonchalant. Stanislaus answered without apprehension, "The other side of the window with his mother."

Needless to say, it caught Asriel's complete attention. The explorer's eyebrows quirked, "What do you mean?"

"I came from one," Stanislaus found himself revealing. There was nothing to lose. He was talking to a man who could use information and the shaman saw that he was in a position (and a responsibility) to provide this. "In Alaska."

"Do you still know where to find it?" Asriel asked avidly.

The question hit the shaman for it brought a wave of feelings and images. Primarily, memories of home and the faces of his wife and son that were once vivid and clear to him. All because...

Stanislaus shook his head, a sad accepting smile. "I could not find it anymore. This is the price paid. I doubt I will ever find a way out."

"It will take a lifetime to find these invisible passages," Asriel agreed, setting the pictures aside, "Unless I finally find out how to open one."

The devices, Stanislaus realized, That was what they have been about.

"And then..." Stanislaus asked, "What?"

"And then..." Asriel's eyes must have gleamed, "Nothing can stop us anymore."

The next days proved to be very trying for the boy. He was convulsing, requiring more bloodmoss ointments after losing more blood...there was little faith among the seafarers in the ship if he would ever make it. The shaman watched him fight for the life violently taken from him. Asriel's cause had never become so monumental more than ever: To face head on the people who had been responsible for such brutality.

The boy had such difficulty in groaning, still not used to being rendered a mute.

It was Asriel's task to take them on land as fast and as safe as possible. Stanislaus saw the change among the pessimistic and bitter-hearted Muscovites crew. For Lord Asriel to man the ship allowed a tiny spark to hope to burn even in the direst circumstances. There Grumman had no more doubts that this man could wage the greatest war ever fought.

And somehow, they would make it. In that small simple way, Asriel allowed them all to challenge fate and defy the destiny of a sure and certain death.

Much later, the fishing port became visible and they were taken to the clinic in no time. While Stanislaus could stay a little longer to watch over the boy before resuming his activity, Lord Asriel was forced to depart earlier in order to catch a ship that could take him to Svalbard. The peasant boy had been eager to repay the two explorers for their efforts to save him and was greatly indebted. The shaman accepted nothing in return, but Lord Asriel, who was always up to something, had a small, strange request (as the explorer was already typical to ask). He wanted Stanislaus and the boy to pose for a photogram.