‘That’s right.’ Silvertongue went so close to the guard that the man took a step back. ‘Come on, you know Capricorn doesn’t like to be kept waiting.’
The guard nodded sullenly. ‘Yes, yes, all right,’ he muttered, looking over to the church. ‘There’s no point standing guard here anyway. What do they think will happen? Do they expect the fire-eater to come and steal the gold? That fellow was always lily-livered, he’ll be well away by now, he—’ But suddenly, while the guard was still looking at the church, Silvertongue seized the gun and hit him on the head with the butt. Then he dragged him round behind Capricorn’s house where it was pitch dark.
‘Did you hear what he said?’ Farid had quickly gagged the guard and was expertly tying a rope round the man’s legs. ‘Dustfinger must have escaped! He said “he’ll be well away”. He can’t have meant anyone else!’
‘Yes, I heard. But my daughter is still here.’ Silvertongue gave him the rucksack and looked round, but the square was now so deserted and quiet it was as if they were the only people left in Capricorn’s village. Not a sound was heard from the guard up in the church tower. No doubt tonight he had eyes for nothing but the events taking place on the brightly lit football field.
Farid took two torches and the bottle of inflammable liquid from Dustfinger’s rucksack. He got away, he was thinking, he got away! He could almost have laughed out loud.
Silvertongue went back to Capricorn’s house, peered into several windows, and finally broke one of them, taking off his jacket and pressing it against the glass to muffle the sound when it broke. Laughter and music drifted up from the car park.
‘The matches! I can’t find them!’ Farid rummaged among Dustfinger’s things until Silvertongue took the rucksack from his hand.
‘Give it to me!’ he whispered. ‘You get the torches ready.’
Farid did as he was told. He carefully soaked the cotton wool in the acrid-smelling spirits. Dustfinger will come back, he thought, he’ll come back to look for Gwin, and then he’ll fetch me. Voices came from one of the alleys. Men’s voices. For a few terrible moments they seemed to be coming closer, but they died away again, swallowed up by the music coming from the car park and filling the night like a foul smell.
Silvertongue was still looking for the matches. ‘Ugh!’ he said, swearing softly and removing his hand from the rucksack. Marten droppings were smeared over his thumb. He wiped them off on the nearest wall, put his hand in the rucksack again and threw Farid a box of matches. Then he took something else out – the little book that Dustfinger kept in a side pocket he had sewn inside. Farid had often looked at it. It had pictures stuck in it, cut-out pictures of fairies and witches, trolls and dragons, brownies, nymphs and ancient trees. Silvertongue flicked through it while Farid was soaking the second torch. A photograph was lying between the pages – the photograph of Capricorn’s maid, the woman who had tried to help Dustfinger and was to die for it tonight! Or had she escaped with him? Silvertongue was staring at the photograph and suddenly it was as if nothing else in the world existed.
‘What’s the matter?’ Farid put the match to the dripping torch. The flame flared up, hissing and hungry. How beautiful it was! Farid licked his finger and passed it through the flame. ‘Here, take this.’ He held the torch out to Silvertongue. It would be best for him, as the taller of them, to throw it through the window. But Silvertongue just stood there gazing at the photo.
‘That’s the woman who helped Dustfinger,’ said Farid. ‘The one they caught too. I think he’s in love with her. Here.’ Once again he held the burning torch out to Silvertongue. ‘What are you waiting for?’
Silvertongue looked at him as if he had been woken from a dream. ‘In love … in love,’ he murmured as he took the torch from Farid’s hand. Then he put the photograph in the breast pocket of his shirt, cast another glance at the empty square, and threw the torch through the broken window into Capricorn’s house.
‘Give me a leg up! I want to see it burning!’ cried Farid. Silvertongue did as he asked. The room seemed to be some kind of office. Farid saw paper, a desk, a picture of Capricorn on the wall. Someone here could write after all. The burning torch lay among the sheets of paper covered with writing, it licked and gulped, it whispered with delight at such a feast, flared up and leaped on, from the desk to the curtains at the window. Greedily, it consumed the dark fabric. The whole room was filled with red and yellow. Smoke billowed out of the broken window, stinging Farid’s eyes.
‘I must go!’ Silvertongue put him down abruptly. The music had stopped. Suddenly it was eerily quiet. Silvertongue ran off along the street leading down to the car park. Farid watched him go. He had something more to do. He waited until the flames were shooting out of the window, then he began shouting. ‘Fire! Capricorn’s house is on fire!’ His voice echoed over the empty square.
Heart thudding, he ran to the corner of the big house and looked up at the church tower. The guard there had leaped to his feet. Farid lit the second torch and threw it at the church porch. The air began to smell of smoke. The guard froze, turned, and – at last – he rang the bell.
And Farid ran off to follow Silvertongue.
Treachery, Loose Talk, and Stupidity
Then he said, ‘Without a doubt, I must perish; there is no way I can get out of this narrow prison.’
Tales from the Thousand and One Nights
Elinor thought she was showing considerable courage. Of course she still did not know exactly what fate awaited her – and if her niece knew more than she did, she hadn’t told her – but she could be sure it would be nothing pleasant. Nor did Teresa give the men who came to take them up from the crypt the satisfaction of seeing her shed tears. She couldn’t curse them or shout at them anyway; her voice was gone, like a garment she no longer wore. Luckily, she had two pieces of paper with her, crumpled, dirty scraps, much too small for all the words unspoken over nine years. She had filled the paper with tiny writing until there wasn’t space for a single word more. She didn’t want to say anything about herself and what had happened to her, and just waved Elinor’s whispered questions impatiently away. There were questions of her own she wanted to ask, question after question about her daughter and her husband. Elinor whispered the answers into her ear, very quietly so Basta in the adjoining cell would not realise that the two women who were about to die with him had known each other ever since the younger one had learned to walk holding on to Elinor’s endless bookshelves.
Basta was not in a good way. Whenever they looked at him they saw his hands clinging to the bars, knuckles white under his sun-tanned skin. Once, Elinor thought she heard him weeping, but when they were taken out of the cells his face was as vacant as a dead man’s, and when their guards locked them up in that unspeakable cage he crouched on the floor in a corner, and sat as motionless as a doll that no one wants to play with.
The cage smelled of dogs and raw meat, and indeed it did look like a dog pound. Several of Capricorn’s men ran the butts of their shotguns along the silvery grey bars before sitting down on the benches that had been made ready for them. Basta in particular was the object of enough scorn and derision for ten men, and from his failure to react at all one could only guess at the depths of his despair. All the same, Elinor and Teresa kept as far away from him as they could in the same cage. They also kept away from the bars, from all the fingers poking through, the faces the men made at them, and the burning cigarettes flicked at them. They stood close together, both glad and sorry to be with one another.