Inkheart, p.32
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       Inkheart, p.32

         Part #1 of Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke
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  A Dark Place

  ‘Jim, old boy,’ said Lukas … in a rough voice. ‘That was a short journey. I’m sorry that you must share my fate now.’

  Jim swallowed.

  ‘We’re friends,’ he said quietly, biting his lower lip to keep it from trembling so hard.

  The scribes chuckled again, and the bonzes nodded at each other, grinning.

  ‘Jim Button,’ said Lukas, ‘you really are the best little fellow I ever met in all my life.’

  ‘Take them to the place of execution!’ commanded the Head Bonze, and the soldiers seized Lukas and Jim to drag them away.

  Michael Ende,

  Jim Button and Lukas the Engine Driver

  Dustfinger had expected Capricorn to leave him and Resa dangling in those dreadful nets until their execution, but they spent only a single if very long night there. In the morning, as soon as the sun cast its bright light on the red walls inside the church, Basta had them brought down. For a few horrible moments Dustfinger thought Capricorn had decided to put an end to them in some quick and inconspicuous way instead, and when he felt solid ground under his feet again he didn’t know which made him weaker at the knees – that fear or his night in the net. Whichever it was, he could hardly stand upright.

  Basta set his mind at rest for the time being, although that was certainly not his intention. ‘Personally, I’d have liked to leave you dangling up there a while longer,’ he said as his men dragged Dustfinger out of the net. ‘But for some reason or other Capricorn’s decided to lock the two of you in the crypt for what’s left of your miserable lives.’

  Dustfinger did his best to hide his relief. So death was still a little way off. ‘I expect it bothers Capricorn to have an audience when he’s discussing his filthy plans with the rest of you,’ he said. ‘Or perhaps he just wants us to be able to walk to our execution on our own two legs.’ One more night in that net and Dustfinger wouldn’t even have known he still had legs. His bones ached so much after that first night that he was moving like an old man as Basta took him and Resa down to the crypt. Resa stumbled once or twice on the stairs, and seemed to be feeling even worse than he was, but she made not a sound, and when Basta took her arm after she had slipped on one step she shook herself free, giving him such an icy look that he let her go on by herself.

  The crypt below the church was a damp, cold place even on days like this when the sun was practically melting the tiles on the houses outside. It smelled of mould and mouse droppings and other things Dustfinger didn’t want to think about. Soon after arriving in the deserted village Capricorn had had gratings fitted over the narrow niches where long-dead priests slept in their stone tombs. ‘What could be more fitting than to make the condemned sleep on coffins?’ he had said at the time, with a laugh. He had always had his own peculiar sense of humour.

  Impatiently, Basta pushed them down the last few steps. He was in a hurry to get back to the light of day, away from the dead and their ghosts. His hand shook as he hung his lantern on a hook and opened the grating over the first cell. There was no electric light down here, no heating either, or any other comforts, only the quiet tombs and the mice scurrying over the cracked flagstones of the floor.

  ‘Oh, aren’t you going to give us the pleasure of your company a little longer?’ asked Dustfinger as Basta pushed them into the cell. They had to duck. They couldn’t stand upright under the old vaults here. ‘We could tell ghost stories. I know some nice new ones.’

  Basta growled like a dog. ‘We won’t be needing any coffin for you, dirtyfingers!’ he said as he closed the grating again.

  ‘No, indeed! An urn perhaps, a jam jar, but no coffin.’ Dustfinger took a step back from the bars so as to be out of reach of Basta’s knife. ‘I see you have a new amulet,’ he called. Basta had almost reached the steps. ‘Another rabbit’s foot, is it? Didn’t I tell you they attract White Ladies? You could see the White Ladies in our old world. You don’t see them here, which isn’t very practical, but of course they’re still around with their whispering and their icy fingers.’

  Basta was standing at the foot of the steps with his fists clenched, his back still turned. Dustfinger was always surprised to find how easily you could scare the man with a few words. ‘Remember how they come for their victims?’ he went on softly. ‘They whisper your name, “Bastaaa!” and next thing you know you’re freezing cold, and then—’

  ‘They’ll soon be whispering your name, dirtyfingers!’ Basta interrupted, his voice shaking. ‘Yours and yours alone.’ And he hurried up the steps as if the ghosts of the White Ladies were already after him.

  The sound of his footsteps died away, and Dustfinger was alone – with the silence, with death, and with Resa. They were obviously the only prisoners. Now and then Capricorn had some poor fellow locked in the crypt just to give him a good fright, but most of those who came here and wrote their names on the tombs disappeared some dark night and were never seen again.

  Their own departure from this world was going to be rather more spectacular.

  My last performance, in a way, thought Dustfinger. Perhaps it will turn out that all this was only a bad dream, and I just had to die to get home again? A nice idea, if only he could have believed in it.

  Resa had seated herself on a sarcophagus. It was a plain stone coffin, with a cracked lid, and the name that was once on it could no longer be deciphered. It didn’t seem to frighten Resa to be so near the dead. Dustfinger felt differently. He was not afraid of ghosts and White Ladies, like Basta. If a White Lady had appeared he would have passed the time of day with her. No – he was afraid of death. He thought he heard death itself breathing down here, breathing so deeply that no air was left for anyone else. His chest felt as if a huge and ugly animal were sitting on it. Perhaps it hadn’t been so bad up there in the net after all. At least they’d had air to breathe.

  He sensed Resa watching him. She beckoned him over and patted the lid of the coffin. Hesitantly, he sat down beside her. She put her hand into the pocket of her dress, brought out a candle and held it up to him with an enquiring look. Dustfinger had to smile. Yes, of course he had matches on him. It was child’s play to conceal something as small as a few matches from Basta and the other idiots.

  Resa fixed the flickering candle to the coffin with a little of its own wax. She loved candles – coloured candles and stones. She always had both in her pockets. But perhaps today she had lit the candle just for him, because she knew how he loved fire.

  ‘I’m sorry. I should have looked for the book on my own,’ he said, passing a finger through the bright flame. ‘Forgive me.’

  She put her fingers on his mouth. Presumably she was saying there was nothing to forgive. What a sweet, silent lie. She took her hand away, and Dustfinger cleared his throat. ‘You – you didn’t find it, did you?’ Not that it would make any difference now, but he had to know.

  Resa shook her head and shrugged her shoulders regretfully.

  ‘That’s what I thought.’ He sighed. The silence was terrible, worse than a thousand voices. ‘Tell me a story, Resa!’ he said quietly, moving closer to her. Please, he added in his thoughts. Chase my fear away. It’s crushing my chest. Take us somewhere else, somewhere better.

  Resa could do that. She knew endless numbers of stories, just how she knew them she had never told him, but of course he knew. He knew exactly who had once read her those stories, for he had recognised her face the instant he first saw her in Capricorn’s house. After all, Silvertongue had shown him the photograph often enough.

  Resa took a piece of paper out of her inexhaustible pockets. They contained more than just candles and stones. Just as Dustfinger always carried the means of lighting a fire, she always had a number of things with her: candle stumps, a few pebbles, some paper and a pencil – her wooden tongue, she called it. Obviously none of these things had seemed to Capricorn’s men dangerous enough to be taken away from her. When Resa told one of her stories she sometimes wrote only half a sen
tence, and Dustfinger had to finish it. It went faster that way, and the story developed surprising twists and turns. But this time it seemed she didn’t want to tell him a story, although he had never needed one so badly.

  ‘Who is the girl?’ wrote Resa.

  Of course. Meggie. Should he lie? Why not? But he didn’t, although he didn’t know why not. ‘She’s Silvertongue’s daughter – How old? – Twelve, I think.’

  It was the right answer. He saw that in her eyes. They were Meggie’s eyes. Perhaps rather wearier.

  ‘What does Silvertongue look like? I think you’ve asked me that before. Well, he isn’t scarred like me.’ He tried to smile, but Resa remained grave. The candlelight flickered on her face. You know his face better than you know mine, thought Dustfinger, but I’m not going to say so. He’s taken a whole world from me, why shouldn’t I take his wife from him?

  Rising to her feet, she put her hand in the air above her head.

  ‘Yes, he’s tall. Taller than you, taller than me.’ Why didn’t he lie to her? ‘Yes, he has dark hair, but I don’t want to talk about him now!’ He heard the petulance in his own voice. ‘Please!’ Reaching for her hand, he drew her down beside him. ‘Tell me a story. The candle will soon go out, and the light Basta’s left us is enough to see these wretched coffins but not to read letters.’

  She looked at him thoughtfully, as if she were trying to guess at his thoughts and uncover the words he didn’t say. But Dustfinger could guard his face better than Silvertongue, much better. He could make it impenetrable, a shield to keep his heart from prying eyes. What business was it of anyone else to know what was in his heart?

  Resa bent over the paper again and began to write.

  ‘Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild,’ she wrote.

  Dustfinger smiled. ‘The Dog was wild,’ he whispered. ‘And the Horse was wild, and the Sheep was wild, and the Pig was wild – as wild as wild could be – and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him. ‘

  Resa always knew what story he needed at any given moment. She was a stranger in this world, just like him. It couldn’t be that she belonged to Silvertongue.


  Farid’s Report

  ‘All right,’ said Spiff. ‘Now this is what I say, anyone who thinks they’ve got a better plan can say so afterwards.’

  Michael de Larrabeiti,

  The Borribles Go for Broke

  When Farid came back Silvertongue was waiting for him. Elinor was asleep under the trees, her face flushed by the midday heat, but Silvertongue was still standing where Farid had left him. Relief spread over his face as he saw the boy coming up the hill.

  ‘We heard shots!’ he called. ‘I thought we’d never see you again.’

  ‘They were shooting at cats,’ replied Farid, letting himself drop on to the grass. Silvertongue’s concern made Farid feel awkward. He wasn’t used to people being concerned for his safety. What kept you? Where have you been all this time? That was the kind of reception he was used to. Even Dustfinger’s face had always been closed to him, as uncommunicative as a barred door. But with Silvertongue’s face it was different. Anxiety, joy, anger, pain, love – it was all plain to see, written on his brow, even when he tried to hide it, just as he was now trying not to ask the question that must have been on the tip of his tongue ever since he saw Farid approaching.

  ‘Your daughter’s all right,’ said Farid. ‘And she got your message, though she’s shut up on the top floor of Capricorn’s house. But Gwin is a wonderful climber, even better than Dustfinger, and that’s saying something.’ He heard Silvertongue breathe a sigh of relief, as if all the cares in the world had been lifted from his shoulders.

  ‘I’ve even brought an answer.’ Farid took Gwin out of the rucksack, held him firmly by the tail and untied Meggie’s note from his collar. Silvertongue unfolded the paper as carefully as if he feared his fingers might wipe away the words. ‘An endpaper,’ he murmured. ‘She must have torn it out of a book.’

  ‘What does she say?’

  ‘Have you tried to read it?’

  Farid shook his head and took a piece of bread out of his trouser pocket. Gwin had earned a reward. But the marten had disappeared, probably to catch up on his long overdue daytime sleep.

  ‘You can’t read, is that it?’


  ‘Well, not many people could read this anyway. It’s the same secret writing that I used. As you saw, not even Elinor can decipher it. ‘Silvertongue smoothed out the paper. It was a dull yellow like desert sand. He read – and then suddenly raised his head. ‘Good heavens!’ he murmured. ‘Imagine that!’

  ‘Imagine what?’ Farid bit into the bread he had been keeping for the marten. It was stale; they’d have to steal some more soon.

  ‘Meggie can do it too!’ Silvertongue shook his head incredulously and stared at the note in his hand.

  Farid propped one elbow on the grass. ‘I know. They’re all talking about it – I heard them. They say she can work magic like you, and now Capricorn doesn’t have to wait for you any more. He doesn’t need you now.’

  Silvertongue looked at him as if this idea hadn’t yet crossed his mind. ‘True,’ he murmured. ‘Now they’ll never let her go. Not of their own accord.’ He stared at the words his daughter had written on the paper. To Farid they looked like the tracks left by snakes slithering across the sand.

  ‘What else does she say?’

  ‘They’ve caught Dustfinger, and Meggie is to read someone out of the book to come … and kill him. Tomorrow, when it gets dark.’ He lowered the note and ran his hand through his hair.

  ‘Yes, I heard about that too.’ Farid pulled up a blade of grass and tore it into tiny pieces. ‘It seems they’ve locked him in the crypt under the church. What else is in that note? Doesn’t your daughter say who it is she’s to fetch out for Capricorn?’

  Silvertongue shook his head, but Farid saw that he knew more about it than he was saying.

  ‘Come on, you can tell me! Some kind of executioner, am I right? A man who knows all about cutting off heads.’

  Silvertongue acted as if he hadn’t heard him.

  ‘I saw something like that once,’ said Farid, ‘so it’s all right for you to tell me about it. If the executioner is good with a sword it’s all over quite fast.’

  Silvertongue looked at him for a moment, astonished, and then shook his head. ‘It’s not an executioner,’ he said. ‘At least, not a man with a sword. Not a man at all.’

  Farid turned pale. ‘Not a man?’

  Silvertongue shook his head. It was some time before he went on. ‘They call him the Shadow,’ he said in an expressionless voice. ‘I don’t remember the exact words describing him in the book, all I know is that I pictured him to myself as a figure made completely of burning ashes, red and grey. And without a face.’

  Farid stared at him. For a moment he wished he hadn’t asked.

  ‘They – they’re all looking forward to this execution,’ he said in a faltering voice. ‘Those Black Jackets are in a really good mood. They’re going to kill the woman Dustfinger was visiting as well. Because she tried to find the book for him.’ He burrowed his bare toes into the earth. Dustfinger had tried to get him used to wearing shoes because of the snakes, but when you wore shoes you felt as if someone was pinching your toes, so in the end he’d thrown them on the fire.

  ‘What woman? One of Capricorn’s maids?’ Silvertongue looked at him with a gleam in his eyes.

  Farid nodded. He rubbed his toes. They were covered with ant bites. ‘She can’t talk. Dumb as a sand-fly. Dustfinger has a photo of her in his rucksack. She’s probably helped him quite often. And I think he’s in love with her.’

  It hadn’t been difficult for Farid to explore the village. There were lots of boys there no older than him. They was
hed the cars for the Black Jackets, cleaned their boots and their guns, delivered love letters. He’d delivered love letters himself in that other life. He hadn’t had to clean boots, but weapons, yes – and he’d had to shovel camel dung. Polishing cars was much lighter work.

  Silvertongue looked up at the sky. Tiny clouds were drifting by, pale as a heron’s feathers, ruffled like acacia flowers. Clouds often passed across this sky. Farid liked that. The desert sky he had known before was always empty.

  ‘Tomorrow,’ murmured Silvertongue. ‘What am I to do? How am I going to get her out of Capricorn’s house? Perhaps I can get in somehow by night. I’d need one of those black suits the—’

  ‘I’ve brought you one.’ Farid took first the jacket, then the trousers out of the rucksack. ‘Stole them off a washing line. And a dress for Elinor.’

  Silvertongue looked at him with such obvious admiration that Farid blushed. ‘What an extraordinary fellow you are! Perhaps I should ask you how I’m going to get Meggie out of this village?’

  Farid smiled awkwardly and looked at his toes. Ask him? No one had ever asked him for his ideas before. He had always been the scout, the tracker dog. Others had made the plans for robberies, raids, revenge. You didn’t ask the dog’s opinion. You beat the dog if he didn’t obey. ‘There are only two of us, and there are at least twenty of them down there,’ he said. ‘It won’t be easy …’

  Silvertongue looked over at their camp site and the woman asleep under the trees. ‘Aren’t you counting Elinor? You should! She’s much fiercer than I am, and just at the moment she is very, very angry.’

  Farid had to smile. ‘All right, three!’ he said. ‘Three against twenty.’

  ‘Yes, I know, that doesn’t sound good.’ Silvertongue stood up, sighing. ‘Come on, let’s tell Elinor what you’ve found out,’ he said, but Farid stayed where he was in the grass. He picked up one of the dry branches lying everywhere. First-class firewood. There was any amount of it here. In his old life, people would have gone a long, long way for wood like this. They’d have given good money for it. Farid looked at the wood, rubbed his finger over the rough bark, and looked at Capricorn’s village.

  ‘We could get fire to help us,’ he said.

  Silvertongue looked at him blankly. ‘What do you mean?’

  Farid picked up another stick, and another. He heaped them all up, all the dry twigs and branches. ‘Dustfinger showed me how to tame fire. It’s like Gwin: it bites if you don’t know how to handle it, but if you treat it properly it does as you want. That’s what Dustfinger taught me. If we use it at the right time, in the right place …’

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