Inkheart, p.30
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       Inkheart, p.30

         Part #1 of Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke
 

  Capricorn sighed heavily. ‘It really is a shame,’ he said, turning to Dustfinger. ‘Why did you have to pick on her, of all people? Couldn’t you have persuaded one of the others to go nosing around for you? I really have had a weakness for her, ever since that useless Darius read her out of the book for me. It never bothered me that she lost her voice in the process. No, far from it, I stupidly assumed that meant I could trust her more. Did you know her hair used to look like spun gold?’

  ‘Yes, I remember that,’ said Dustfinger hoarsely. ‘But in your presence it’s turned darker.’

  ‘Nonsense!’ Capricorn frowned with annoyance. ‘Maybe we should try fairy dust. Sprinkled with a little fairy dust, they say, even brass will look like gold. Perhaps it works on a woman’s hair as well.’

  ‘Hardly worth the trouble!’ said the Magpie mockingly. ‘Unless you want her to look particularly beautiful for her execution.’

  ‘Oh, never mind.’ Capricorn turned abruptly and went back to the steps. Meggie hardly noticed. She was looking up at the strange woman. Capricorn’s words were working away feverishly in her mind: hair like spun gold … that useless reader Darius … no, it couldn’t be true. She stared up, narrowing her eyes to see the face better through the ropes, but it was hidden in dark shadows.

  ‘Good.’ Capricorn dropped into his chair again with another heavy sigh. ‘How long shall we need for the preparations? It all ought to be done properly, I think.’

  ‘Two days.’ The Magpie climbed the steps and took up her position behind him. ‘If you want to summon the men from the other bases, that is.’

  Capricorn frowned. ‘Yes, why not? It’s time to set everyone a little example. Discipline has left much to be desired recently.’ He looked at Basta as he said this, and Basta bowed his head as if all the misdemeanours of the last few days weighed heavily on him. ‘The day after tomorrow, then,’ Capricorn went on. ‘When darkness falls. I want Darius to carry out another experiment with the girl first. Get her to read something out of a book, anything – I just want to make sure that fairy didn’t turn up by pure chance.’

  Basta had wrapped Tinker Bell in his jacket again. Meggie wanted to put her hands over her ears so as not to hear the feeble tinkling sounds the fairy was making. She pressed her lips together to stop them trembling, and looked up at Capricorn.

  ‘But I won’t read aloud for you!’ she said. Her voice rang out through the church at twice its usual volume. ‘Not a word! I won’t read you out any treasure, and I certainly won’t read out some kind of – of executioner!’ She spat the word into Capricorn’s face.

  But Capricorn only toyed with the belt of his dressing gown, looking bored. ‘Take her away,’ he told Basta. ‘It’s late. The child must get some sleep.’

  Basta prodded Meggie in the back. ‘You heard. Go on, get moving.’

  Meggie looked up at Dustfinger one last time, and then walked uncertainly down the nave ahead of Basta. When she had passed below the second net she looked up again. The unknown woman’s face was still hidden, but she thought she could make out her eyes, and a slender nose … and if she imagined the hair rather lighter in colour—

  ‘Go on, I said!’ snapped Basta.

  Meggie obeyed, but she kept looking back. ‘I won’t do it!’ she cried when she had almost reached the church porch. ‘I swear! I won’t read anyone here. Ever!’

  ‘Oh, don’t swear oaths you can’t keep!’ whispered Basta as he pushed the door open and led her out into the brightly floodlit square.

  40

  The Black Horse of the Night

  He bent down and lifted Sophie from his pocket … She was still in her nightie and her feet were bare. She shivered and stared around her at the swirling mists and ghostly vapours.

  ‘Where are we?’ she asked.

  ‘We is in Dream Country,’ the BFG said. ‘This is where all dreams is beginning.’

  Roald Dahl,

  The BFG

  Fenoglio was lying on his bed when Basta pushed Meggie in through the door.

  ‘What have you done to her?’ he demanded of Basta, swiftly getting to his feet. ‘She’s white as a sheet!’

  But Basta had already closed the door behind him. ‘You’ll be relieved in two hours,’ Meggie heard him tell the guard. Then he was gone.

  Fenoglio put his hands on Meggie’s shoulders and looked into her face with concern. ‘Come on, tell me. What did they want you for? Is your father here?’

  Meggie shook her head. ‘They’ve caught Dustfinger,’ she said. ‘And a woman.’

  ‘What woman? Heavens, what a state you’re in!’ Fenoglio drew her over to the bed, and Meggie sat down beside him.

  ‘I think she’s my mother,’ she whispered.

  ‘Your mother?’ Fenoglio looked at her in astonishment. His eyes were bloodshot from his sleepless night.

  Distractedly, Meggie smoothed down her skirt. It was dirty and crumpled. No wonder, she’d been sleeping in it for days. ‘Her hair’s darker now,’ she stammered, ‘and of course Mo’s photo of her is nine years old … Capricorn has her in a net, and Dustfinger too. He’s going to have them both executed in two days’ time, and I’m supposed to read someone out of Inkheart to do it – that friend, as Capricorn calls him. I told you. Mo was supposed to be going to do it. You wouldn’t tell me who the friend was, but now you must!’ She looked pleadingly at Fenoglio.

  The old man closed his eyes. ‘Merciful heaven!’ he murmured.

  Outside, it was still dark. The moon hung in the sky in front of their window, with a cloud drifting past it like a tattered dress.

  ‘I’ll tell you tomorrow,’ said Fenoglio. ‘That’s a promise.’

  ‘No! Tell me now.’

  He looked at her thoughtfully. ‘It’s not a story for this hour of the night. You’ll have bad dreams afterwards.’

  ‘Tell me!’ Meggie repeated.

  Fenoglio sighed. ‘Oh dear. I know that look from my grandchildren,’ he said. ‘Very well, then.’ He helped her up to her bunk, put Mo’s sweater under her head and pulled the blanket up to her chin. ‘I’ll tell it to you the way I wrote it in Inkheart,’ he said quietly. ‘I know that passage almost by heart. I was very proud of it at the time.’ He cleared his throat before he began, whispering the words into the night. ‘But one being was feared even more than Capricorn’s men. He was known as the Shadow, and he appeared only when Capricorn called him. Sometimes he was red as fire, sometimes as grey as the ashes into which fire turns all that it devours. He leaped from the ground like flame flickering up from wood. His touch and even his breath brought death. He rose up at his master’s feet, soundless and faceless, scenting the air like a dog on the trail, waiting to be shown his victim.’ Fenoglio swept a hand over his forehead and looked at the window. It was some time before he went on, as if he were recalling the words to mind from long ago. ‘They say,’ he continued at last, ‘that Capricorn had the Shadow made from his victims’ ashes by a troll, or by the dwarves who know all that fire and smoke can do. No one was certain, for it was said that Capricorn had those who had brought the Shadow to life killed afterwards. But everyone knew one thing: the Shadow was immortal and invulnerable, and as pitiless as his master.’

  Fenoglio fell silent. And Meggie, her heart beating fast, gazed out at the night.

  ‘Yes, Meggie,’ Fenoglio said at last in a low voice. ‘I think Capricorn wants you to fetch him the Shadow. And God have mercy on us if you succeed. There are many monsters in this world, most of them human and all of them mortal. I would not like to have an immortal monster on my conscience, a monster spreading fear and terror here for all time. Your father had an idea when he came to see me – I’ve already mentioned it to you, and it may be our only chance, but I just don’t know how it will work yet. I must think hard. We don’t have much time, and you ought to get some sleep now. When did you say this is to happen – the day after tomorrow?’

  Meggie nodded. ‘As soon as dusk falls,’ she whispered.

  Fenoglio
passed a weary hand over his face. ‘Don’t worry about the woman,’ he said. ‘You may not want to hear this, but I don’t think she can possibly be your mother, much as you may wish she were. How could she have come here?’

  ‘It was Darius!’ Meggie buried her face in Mo’s sweater. ‘The stupid man who can’t read aloud well enough. Capricorn said so: he read her back out of Inkheart and she lost her voice coming out of the book. She’s back, I’m sure she is, and Mo doesn’t know! He thinks she’s still stuck in the story.’

  ‘Well, if you’re right, then I wish she really were still there,’ muttered Fenoglio, pulling the blanket up over her shoulders again with a sigh. ‘I still think you’re wrong, but believe what you like! And now go to sleep.’

  But of course Meggie couldn’t sleep. She lay there with her face to the wall, listening to her own heart. Fear and joy mingled there like two colours running into each other. Whenever she closed her eyes she saw the nets and the two faces there among the cords, Dustfinger’s and the other face, blurred as an old photograph. Hard as she tried to see it more clearly, it always faded again.

  Dawn was breaking outside by the time she finally fell asleep, but the nightmares hadn’t finished with her yet. They grew especially fast in the grey time between night and day, spinning an eternity out of seconds. One-eyed ogres and giant spiders stole into Meggie’s sleep, hounds of hell, witches who ate children, all the bugbears she had ever met in stories. They crept out of the box that Mo had made her and jumped from the pages of her favourite books. Even the monsters came out of the picture books that Mo had given her before she knew the alphabet. They danced through Meggie’s dream, brightly coloured and shaggy, their wide mouths smiling, baring their pointed little teeth. There was the Cheshire Cat she had always been so afraid of, and here came the Wild Things that Mo liked so much he had hung a picture of them in his workshop. How huge their teeth were! Dustfinger would be crunched between those fangs like crispbread. But just as one of them was stretching out his claws, the one with eyes as big as saucers, a new figure came out of the grey void, hissing like a flame, ashen-grey and faceless, seized the Wild Thing and tore it into scraps of paper.

  ‘Meggie!’

  The monsters vanished, and the sun was shining on Meggie’s face. Fenoglio was standing beside her bed. ‘You were dreaming.’

  Meggie sat up. The old man’s face looked as if he hadn’t closed his eyes all night and he had several new wrinkles. ‘Where’s my father, Fenoglio?’ she asked. ‘Oh, why doesn’t he come?’

  41

  Farid

  Ali Baba … was surprised to see a well-lighted and spacious chamber … filled with all sorts of provisions, rich bales of silks, embroideries, and valuable tissues, piled upon one another, gold and silver ingots in great heaps, and money in bags. The sight of all these riches made him suppose that this cave must have been occupied for ages by robbers, who had succeeded one another.

  ‘The Story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’,

  from The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments,

  tr. Edward William Lane

  Farid stared at the dark until his eyes hurt, but Dustfinger did not return. Sometimes Farid thought he saw his scarred face among the low-growing branches. Sometimes he thought he heard his almost silent footsteps on the dead leaves, but he was always wrong. Farid was used to listening to the sounds of the night. He had spent endless hours doing so back in his other life, when the world around him was not green but brown and yellow; his eyes had often let him down, but he had always been able to rely on his ears.

  All the same, Farid listened in vain that night, the longest night of his life. Dustfinger didn’t come back. When day began to dawn above the hills Farid went to the two captives, gave them water, a little of the dry bread they still had left, and a few olives.

  ‘Come on, Farid, untie us!’ said Silvertongue as Farid put the bread in his mouth. ‘Dustfinger should have been back by now, you know he should.’

  Farid said nothing. He loved to hear Silvertongue’s voice. It had lured him out of his old, wretched life, but it seemed that Dustfinger didn’t like it any more, he didn’t know why – and Dustfinger had told him to keep watch on the prisoners. He had said nothing about untying them.

  ‘Look, you’re a clever lad,’ said the woman, ‘so use your head for a moment, will you? Are you going to sit here until Capricorn’s men come and find us? What a sight we’ll be: a boy watching two captives who can’t lift a finger to help him. They’ll fall about laughing.’

  What was she called again? Eli-nor. Farid had difficulty remembering the name. It was awkward as a pebble on his tongue, and sounded like the name of an enchantress from a far-distant land. He thought her unnatural; she looked at him as a man might look, without timidity or fear, and her voice could be very loud and as angry as a lion’s roar.

  ‘We have to get down to the village, Farid!’ said Silvertongue. ‘We must find out what’s happened to Dustfinger – and where my daughter is.’

  Yes, the girl – the girl with the clear, bright eyes, little pieces of sky fallen to the earth and caught in her dark lashes. Farid poked the ground with a stick. An ant was carrying a breadcrumb bigger than itself past his toes.

  ‘Perhaps he doesn’t understand what we’re saying,’ said Elinor.

  Farid raised his head and cast her a glance of annoyance. ‘Yes, I do. I understand everything.’ And so he had, from the first moment, as if he had never heard any other language. He remembered the red church. Dustfinger had explained that it was a church, although Farid had never seen such a building before. He also remembered the man with the knife. There had been a great many such men in his old life. They loved their knives and did terrible things with them.

  ‘You’ll run off if I untie you.’ Farid looked uncertainly at Silvertongue.

  ‘No, I won’t. Do you think I’d leave my daughter down there with Basta and Capricorn?’

  Basta and Capricorn. Yes, those had been the names. The knife-man and the man with the eyes as colourless as water. A robber, a murderer … Farid knew all about him. Dustfinger had told him a great deal as they sat together by the fire in the evening. They had exchanged sad stories, although both of them longed for one with a happy ending.

  Now this story, too, was growing darker with each day that passed.

  ‘It’ll be better if I go alone.’ Farid dug the stick so hard into the ground that it broke in his fingers. ‘I’m used to slinking into strange villages, strange palaces and houses – it was my job in the old days. If you know what I mean.’

  Silvertongue nodded.

  ‘They always sent me,’ Farid went on. ‘Who’d be afraid of a thin young boy? I could sniff around everywhere without arousing suspicion. When did the guards change? Which was the best way of escape? Where did the richest man in the village live? If all went well they gave me enough to eat. If it did not they beat me like a dog.’

  ‘They?’ asked Elinor.

  ‘The thieves,’ replied Farid.

  The two adults fell silent. And Dustfinger still wasn’t back. Farid looked towards the village and saw the first rays of the sun rising above its rooftops.

  ‘Very well. You may be right,’ said Silvertongue. ‘You go down alone and find out what we need to know, but first untie us. If you don’t we won’t be able to help you if they do catch you. And I don’t fancy sitting here tied up like this when the first snake wriggles past.’

  The woman looked as frightened as if she already heard it rustling through the dead leaves. But Farid looked thoughtfully at Silvertongue’s face, trying to decide whether his eyes could trust him as his ears already did. Finally he stood up without a word, took the knife Dustfinger had given him from his belt, and cut them both free.

  ‘My God, I’m never letting anyone tie me up like that again!’ said Elinor, rubbing her arms and legs. ‘I feel as numb as a rag doll. How are you, Mortimer? Can you still feel your feet?’

  Farid looked at her curiously. ‘You don
t look like his wife. Are you his mother?’ he asked, nodding in Silvertongue’s direction.

  Elinor’s face came out in more red blotches than a toadstool. ‘Good Lord above, no! What makes you think that? Do I really look so old?’ Glancing down at herself, she sighed. ‘Yes, I probably do. All the same, I’m not his mother. I’m not Meggie’s mother either, in case that’s your next question. My children were all made of paper and printer’s ink, and that man,’ she said, pointing to the rooftops of Capricorn’s village shining through the trees, ‘that man down there destroyed a great many of them. Believe me, he’ll regret it.’

  Farid looked at her doubtfully. He couldn’t imagine Capricorn being afraid of a woman, certainly not one who got out of breath when she climbed a hill and was scared of snakes. No, if the man with the pale eyes feared anything it would be what most people feared – death. And Elinor didn’t look as if she knew much about killing. Nor did Silvertongue.

  ‘The girl …’ Farid hesitated before asking, ‘Where is her mother?’

  Silvertongue went over to the cold fireplace and took a piece of the bread lying among the soot-blackened stones. ‘She went away long ago,’ he said. ‘Meggie was just three. What about your own mother?’

  Farid shrugged his shoulders and looked up at the sky. It was as blue as if the night had never been. ‘I’d better go now,’ he said, putting his knife away and picking up Dustfinger’s rucksack. Gwin was sleeping close to it, curled up between the roots of a tree. Farid picked him up and put him in the rucksack. The marten sleepily protested, but Farid tickled his head and strapped the rucksack up.

  ‘Why are you taking that marten?’ asked Elinor in surprise. ‘The smell of him could give you away.’

  ‘He may come in useful,’ replied Farid, pushing the tip of Gwin’s bushy tail into the rucksack too. ‘He’s clever. Cleverer than a dog or a camel, anyway. He understands what you say to him, and maybe he’ll find Dustfinger.’

  ‘Farid.’ Silvertongue was searching his pockets, and took out a piece of paper. ‘I don’t know whether you’ll be able to find out where they’re keeping Meggie prisoner,’ he said, hastily scribbling something with the stump of a pencil, ‘but if possible can you try to see she gets this note?’

  Farid took the piece of paper and looked at it. ‘What does it say?’ he asked.

  Elinor took the note from his hand. ‘Heavens above, Mortimer, what’s
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