Inkheart, p.8
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       Inkheart, p.8

         Part #1 of Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke
 

  that Mo could feel he was being a really good father.

  She wouldn’t have put this book under her pillow, for fear of what it might whisper to her. For the very first time in her life Meggie wasn’t sure that she wanted to enter the world waiting for her between the covers of a book. All the bad things that had happened over the last three days seemed to have come out of this book, and perhaps they were only a faint reflection of what still awaited her inside it.

  All the same, she had to begin. Where else was she to look for Mo? Elinor was right; there was no point in simply running off at random. She had to look for Mo’s trail among the printed letters in Inkheart. But she had hardly opened it at the first page when she heard footsteps behind her.

  ‘You’ll get sunstroke if you carry on sitting in the full sunlight,’ said a familiar voice. Meggie spun round.

  Dustfinger made her a bow. Of course his face wore its usual smile. ‘Well, what a surprise!’ he said, leaning over her shoulder and looking at the open book on her lap. ‘So it’s here after all. You’ve got it.’

  Meggie was still looking uncomprehendingly at his scarred face. How could he stand there acting as if nothing had happened? ‘Where’ve you been?’ she snapped. ‘Didn’t they take you too? And where’s Mo? Where have they taken him?’ She couldn’t get the words out fast enough.

  But Dustfinger took his time over answering. He examined the bushes all around as if he had never seen anything like them before. He was wearing his coat, although the day was so hot that perspiration stood out in gleaming little beads on his forehead. ‘No, they didn’t take me too,’ he said at last, turning to face Meggie again. ‘But I saw them drive off with your father. I ran after them, right through the undergrowth, a couple of times I thought I’d break my neck going down that wretched slope, but I got to the gate just in time to see them driving off south. Naturally I recognised them at once. Capricorn had sent his best men. Even Basta was with them.’

  Meggie was staring at his lips as if she could make the words come out of them faster. ‘Do you know where they’ve taken Mo?’ Her voice shook with impatience.

  ‘To Capricorn’s village, I think. But I wanted to be sure,’ said Dustfinger, taking off his coat and draping it over the bench, ‘so I ran after them. I know it sounds silly to run after a car,’ he added, when Meggie frowned in disbelief, ‘but I was so furious. It had all been for nothing – me warning you, the three of us coming here … Well, I managed to hitch a lift to the next village. They’d filled up the fuel tank there, four men in black, not very friendly. And they hadn’t been gone long. So I … er … borrowed a moped and tried to go on after them. Don’t look at me like that – you can set your mind at rest – I took the moped back later. It wasn’t particularly fast, but luckily the roads are very, very winding here, and I eventually saw them again far down in the valley, while I was still making my way round the bends above them. Then I was sure they were taking your father to Capricorn’s headquarters. Not to one of his hideouts further north, but straight to the lion’s den.’

  ‘The lion’s den,’ Meggie repeated. ‘Where is it?’

  ‘About three hundred kilometres south of here, I’d say.’ Dustfinger sat down on the bench beside her and blinked as he peered at the sun. ‘Not far from the coast.’ Once again, he looked at the book still lying on Meggie’s lap. ‘Capricorn’s not going to be pleased when his men bring him the wrong book,’ he said. ‘I only hope he doesn’t take his disappointment out on your father.’

  ‘But Mo didn’t know it was the wrong book! Elinor swapped them round in secret.’ There they came again, those infuriating tears! Meggie wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Dustfinger wrinkled his brow, looking at her as if he wasn’t sure whether to believe her.

  ‘She says she just wanted to look at it! She had it in her bedroom. Mo knew the secret place where she’d hidden it, and because the book they took was wrapped in brown paper he never noticed it was the wrong one! And Capricorn’s men didn’t check either.’

  ‘Of course not. How could they?’ Dustfinger’s voice was full of scorn. ‘They can’t read. One book is much like any other to them, just printed paper. Anyway, they’re used to being given anything they want.’

  Meggie’s voice was shrill with fear. ‘You must take me to that village! Please!’ She looked pleadingly at Dustfinger. ‘I’ll explain everything to Capricorn, and give him the book, and then he’ll let Mo go. All right?’

  Dustfinger blinked up at the sun again. ‘Yes, of course,’ he said, without looking at Meggie. ‘That’s probably the only solution …’

  But before he could say any more they heard Elinor’s voice calling from the house. ‘Well, well, what have we here?’ she cried, leaning out of her open window. Its pale yellow curtain flapped in the wind as if a ghost were caught in it. ‘If it isn’t our friend the matchstick-swallower!’

  Meggie jumped up and ran over the lawn towards her. ‘Elinor, he knows where Mo is!’ she cried.

  ‘Does he indeed?’ Elinor leaned on the windowsill and scrutinised Dustfinger through narrowed eyes. ‘Put that book down!’ she snapped at him. ‘Meggie, take the book away from him.’

  Taken aback, Meggie turned round. Dustfinger really was holding Inkheart, but when Meggie looked at him he quickly put it back down on the bench. Then, with a nasty glance in Elinor’s direction, he beckoned her over. Hesitantly, Meggie went to him.

  ‘Yes, all right, I’ll take you to your father, even though it may be dangerous for me,’ whispered Dustfinger when she was beside him. ‘But she stays here, understand?’ He slyly nodded his head in Elinor’s direction.

  Meggie looked uncertainly at the house.

  ‘Like me to guess what he whispered to you?’ called Elinor across the lawn.

  Dustfinger cast Meggie a warning glance, but she ignored it. ‘He’s going to take me to Mo!’ she called back.

  ‘A good idea,’ called Elinor, ‘but I’m coming too. Even if the pair of you might prefer to do without my company!’

  ‘We certainly might!’ muttered Dustfinger, smiling guilelessly at Elinor. ‘But who knows, perhaps we can swap her for your father? I dare say Capricorn could do with another maidservant. I know she’s no good at cooking, but perhaps she can do the laundry – even if that’s not something you learn from books.’

  Meggie had to laugh – although she couldn’t tell from Dustfinger’s face if he was joking or meant it seriously.

  11

  A Coward

  Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way.

  Kenneth Grahame,

  The Wind in the Willows

  Dustfinger did not steal into Meggie’s room until he was quite sure she was asleep. She had locked her door. Undoubtedly Elinor had persuaded her to do that, because she didn’t trust him and because Meggie had refused to give Inkheart back to her. Dustfinger couldn’t help smiling as he inserted the thin wire into the lock. What a stupid woman she was, in spite of all those books she’d read! Did she really think such an ordinary lock was any obstacle? ‘Well, perhaps it might be for fat fingers like yours, Elinor!’ he whispered to himself as he opened the door. ‘But my fingers play with fire, and it’s made them quick and skilful.’

  His liking for Silvertongue’s daughter was a more serious obstacle, and his guilty conscience didn’t make matters any easier. Yes, Dustfinger did have a guilty conscience as he crept into Meggie’s room, although he hadn’t come to steal the book. Naturally Capricorn still wanted it – the book and Silvertongue’s daughter too, those were his new orders. But that must wait. Tonight, Dustfinger was there for a different reason. Tonight, something that had been gnawing at his heart for years drove him to Meggie’s room.

  He stood thoughtfully beside the bed, looking at the sleeping girl. Betraying her father to Capricorn had not been particularly difficult, but with her it would be different. Her face reminded Dustfinger o
f another one, although no grief had yet left dark shadows on Meggie’s childish features. Strange, every time the girl looked at him he felt a wish to show her that he didn’t deserve the distrust he always saw in her eyes, even when she was smiling at him. She looked at her father in a very different way – as if he could protect her from all the dark and evil in the world. What a stupid, stupid idea! No one would be able to protect her from that.

  Dustfinger stroked the scars on his face and frowned. Enough of such useless thoughts. He would take Capricorn what he wanted: the girl and the book. But not tonight.

  Gwin moved on his shoulder, trying to wriggle out of his collar, which he liked as little as he liked the dog’s leash Dustfinger always carried with him. He wanted to go hunting, but Dustfinger wasn’t letting him out. Last night the marten had run away from him while he was talking to Basta. The furry little devil was still afraid of Basta. Dustfinger couldn’t blame him.

  Meggie was sleeping soundly, her face buried in a grey sweater, probably her father’s. She murmured something in her sleep but Dustfinger couldn’t make out what. Once again his guilty conscience stirred, but he pushed the tiresome feeling away. He couldn’t do with that kind of thing, not now and not later. The girl was nothing to do with him, and he was quits with her father now. Yes, quits. He had no reason to feel like a miserable double-dealing villain.

  He looked round the dark room, in search of something. Where would Meggie put the book? There was a red box beside her bed. Dustfinger lifted the lid. Gwin’s chain clinked softly as he leaned forward.

  The box was full of books – wonderful books. Dustfinger took out the torch from under his coat and shone it on them. ‘Look at that!’ he murmured. ‘What beauties! Like a party of ladies dressed in their best to go to a prince’s ball.’ Silvertongue had probably rebound them after Meggie’s little fingers had worn out the old bindings. Yes, of course, there was his sign, the unicorn’s head. Each book bore it, and each was bound in a different colour. All the hues of the rainbow were gathered together in that box.

  The book Dustfinger was looking for was right at the bottom. With its silvery green binding it looked plain, a poor thing among all the other grand and lordly volumes.

  It didn’t surprise Dustfinger that Silvertongue had given this book such a plain dress to wear. Very likely Meggie’s father hated it as much as he loved it. Dustfinger carefully extracted it from the other books. It was almost nine years since he last had it in his hands. At the time it had still had a cardboard binding and a torn paper dust-jacket.

  Dustfinger raised his head. Meggie sighed, and moved until her sleeping face was turned his way. How unhappy she looked. She must be having a nightmare. Her lips quivered, and her hands clutched the sweater as if she were looking for something – or someone – to give her security. But you are usually alone in nightmares, dreadfully alone. Dustfinger remembered many of his own bad dreams and, for a moment, he was tempted to put out his hand and wake Meggie. What a soft-hearted fool he was!

  He turned his back to the bed. Out of sight, out of mind. Then he opened the book hastily before he could think better of it. His breathing was heavy – as if he had filled his mouth with liquid in preparation for breathing fire. He leafed through the first few pages, and began to read, slowly turning page after page after page. But with every page his fingers hesitated a little longer, until suddenly he closed the book. Moonlight was seeping through the cracks in the shutters. He had no idea how long he had been standing there, his eyes lost in the labyrinth of letters. He had always been a very slow reader …

  ‘Coward!’ he whispered. ‘Oh, what a coward you are, Dustfinger!’ He bit his lips until they hurt. ‘Come on!’ he told himself. ‘This may be your last chance, you fool! Once Capricorn has the book he’ll never let you look at it again.’ Once more, he opened the book, leafed rapidly through to about the middle – and closed it again, with a sound loud enough to make Meggie give a little start in her sleep and bury her head under the covers. Dustfinger waited motionless beside the bed until she was breathing regularly again, then leaned over her treasure chest with a deep sigh and put the book back under the others.

  Soundlessly, he closed the lid.

  ‘Did you see that, Gwin?’ he whispered to the marten. ‘I just dare not look. Wouldn’t you rather find a braver master? Think it over.’ Gwin chattered softly in his ear, but if that was an answer Dustfinger didn’t understand it.

  For a moment he went on listening to Meggie’s quiet breathing, then stole back to the door. ‘Well, what does it matter?’ he muttered when he was out in the corridor. ‘Who wants to know the end of a story in advance?’

  He climbed up to the attic bedroom Elinor had given him and lay down on the narrow bed with the crates of books towering around it. But he could not sleep until morning came.

  12

  Going Further South

  The Road goes ever on and on

  Down from the door where it began.

  Now far ahead the Road has gone,

  And I must follow, if I can,

  Pursuing it with weary feet,

  Until it joins some larger way

  Where many paths and errands meet.

  And whither then? I cannot say.

  J.R.R. Tolkien

  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

  After breakfast next morning Elinor spread a crumpled road map out on the kitchen table. ‘Right, three hundred kilometres south of here,’ she said with a wary glance at Dustfinger. ‘So show us exactly where we have to look for Meggie’s father.’

  Meggie looked at Dustfinger, her heart thudding. There were dark shadows round his eyes, as if he had slept very badly. Hesitantly, he came over to the table, rubbing his stubbly chin. He bent over the map, scrutinised it for what seemed an eternity, and finally pointed with his finger.

  ‘There,’ he said. ‘Capricorn’s village is just there.’

  Elinor looked over his shoulder. ‘Liguria,’ she said. ‘Aha. And what is the name of this village, if I may ask? Capricornia?’ She was examining Dustfinger’s face as if tracing his scars with her eyes.

  ‘It doesn’t have a name.’ Dustfinger responded to her gaze with unconcealed dislike. ‘I expect it had one once, but the name was already forgotten before Capricorn settled there. You won’t find it on this map, or any other either. To the rest of the world the village is just a collection of tumbledown houses reached along what can hardly be called a road.’

  ‘Hmm.’ Elinor bent closer to the map. ‘I’ve never been in that region. I was in Genoa once. I bought a very fine edition of Alice in Wonderland there, in good condition and for half what it was worth.’ She looked enquiringly at Meggie. ‘Do you like Alice in Wonderland?’

  ‘Not particularly,’ said Meggie, staring at the map. Elinor shook her head at such childish folly, and turned back to Dustfinger.

  ‘What does this Capricorn do when he’s not stealing books and abducting people’s fathers?’ she asked. ‘If I understand Meggie correctly, you know him pretty well.’

  Dustfinger avoided her eyes and ran his finger along a blue river winding its way through the green and pale brown of the map. ‘We come from the same place,’ he said. ‘But apart from that we don’t have much in common.’

  Elinor looked at him so penetratingly that Meggie would not have been surprised to see a hole suddenly appear in his forehead. ‘There’s one thing that strikes me as strange,’ she said. ‘Meggie’s father wanted to keep Inkheart safe from this Capricorn. So why bring the book here to me? He was practically running into Capricorn’s arms!’

  Dustfinger shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, perhaps he just thought your library would be the safest hiding-place.’

  A memory stirred in Meggie’s mind. At first, she couldn’t identify it, but then it all came flooding back to her, perfectly clearly, as vivid as a picture in a book. She saw Dustfinger standing beside their camper van at the gate of the farmhouse, and it was almost as if she heard his voice
again …

  She looked at him in horror. ‘You told Mo that Capricorn was in the north!’ she said. ‘He specially asked, and you said you were sure of it.’

  Dustfinger examined his fingernails.

  ‘Well, yes … yes, that’s right,’ he admitted, without looking at Meggie or Elinor. He just went on staring at his nails. Finally, he rubbed them on his sweater as if to remove an ugly mark. ‘You don’t trust me,’ he said hoarsely, still without looking at them. ‘Neither of you trust me. I—I can understand that, but I wasn’t lying. Capricorn has two main headquarters, and several smaller hideouts in case things get too hot for him, or one of his men needs to disappear for a while. He usually spends the summer months in the north and doesn’t come south until October, but this year he’s obviously spending the summer down in the south. How would I know why? Perhaps he had trouble with the police in the north? Perhaps he has business of some kind in the south and wants to see to it personally?’ His voice sounded injured, like the voice of a child unjustly accused. ‘In any case, his men drove south with Meggie’s father, I saw them go myself, and when Capricorn is in the south he always does anything of importance in that village. He feels safe in it, safer than anywhere else. He’s never had any trouble with the police there, he can act like a king, as if the whole world belonged to him. He makes the laws, he decides what happens, he can do or not do anything he likes. His men take care of that. Believe you me, I understand these things.’ Dustfinger smiled. It was a bitter smile. It seemed to be saying: if only you knew! But you don’t know anything. You don’t understand anything.

  Meggie felt unease spread through her again. It was not caused by what Dustfinger said, but by what he wasn’t saying. Nothing is more frightening than a fear you cannot name.

  Elinor seemed to be feeling the same. ‘For heaven’s sake, don’t make such a mystery of it!’ she snapped. ‘I’m asking you again, what does this Capricorn do? How does he earn his money?’

  Dustfinger crossed his arms. ‘You won’t get any more information out of me. Ask him yourself. Even taking you to his village could cost me dear, so am I going to tell you about Capricorn’s business? Not likely!’ He shook his head. ‘I warned Meggie’s father. I advised him to take Capricorn the book of his own free will, but he wouldn’t listen. If I hadn’t warned him, Capricorn’s men would have found him much sooner. Ask Meggie! She was there when I warned him. Right, I didn’t tell him everything I knew. So what? I talk about Capricorn as little as possible, I try not even to think of him, and you take my word for it, once you know him you’ll feel the same.’

  Elinor wrinkled her nose as if such an idea were too ridiculous for her to waste a single word on it. ‘So I assume you can’t tell me why he’s so keen to get hold of this book?’ she asked, folding up the road map. ‘Is he some kind of collector?’

  Dustfinger ran his finger along the edge of the table. ‘All I’m going to tell you is that he wants this book. And that’s why you’d better give it to him. I once knew his men to stand outside a man’s house for four nights running just because Capricorn took a fancy to the man’s dog.’

 
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