Sitting between Mo and her mother under one of the old oaks surrounding the car park, Meggie thought for a moment of Dustfinger, and wondered whether perhaps Capricorn had been telling the truth after all. Maybe he really was dead and buried somewhere in the hills. I may never find out what’s happened to him, she thought, as one of the blue fairies rocked back and forth on a twig above her, its face bland and happy.
The whole village seemed to be enchanted that night. The air was full of buzzing and murmuring, and the figures wandering round the car park looked as if they had escaped from the dreams of children and not the words of an old man. That was something else Meggie kept asking herself during the night: where was Fenoglio now, and did he like it in his own story? She so much hoped so. But she knew he would miss his grandchildren and their games of hide-and-seek in his kitchen cupboard.
Before Meggie’s eyes closed, she saw Elinor walking about among the trolls and fairies, looking happier than she had ever seen her. And her own parents were sitting to the left and right of Meggie, her mother was writing and writing, on leaves from the trees, on the fabric of her dress, in the sand. There were so many words, so many tales to tell.
Yet Bastian knew he couldn’t leave without the book. It was clear to him that he had only come to the shop because of this book. It had called him in some mysterious way, because it wanted to be his, because it had somehow always belonged to him.
The Neverending Story
Dustfinger watched it all from a rooftop far enough from the scene of Capricorn’s festivities for him to feel safe from the Shadow, but close enough for him to see everything through the binoculars he had found in Basta’s house. At first he had meant to stay in hiding. He had seen the Shadow kill too often already. Yet a strange feeling, as irrational as Basta’s good-luck charms, had driven him out: a feeling that he could protect the book just by his presence. When he slipped into the alley he felt something else too. He didn’t like to admit it to himself, but he wanted to see Basta die through the same binoculars that Basta himself had so often turned on his future victims.
So he sat on the tiles of a dilapidated roof, his back against the cold chimney, his face blackened with soot (for the face is treacherously pale by night), and watched smoke rise into the sky from Capricorn’s house. He saw Flatnose set out with several men to extinguish the fire. He saw the Shadow emerge from the ground, he saw the old man disappear with an expression of infinite amazement on his face, and he saw Capricorn die the death he himself had summoned. Unfortunately Basta did not die as well, which was really annoying. Dustfinger saw him running away. And he saw the Magpie follow him.
He, Dustfinger the spectator, saw it all.
He had often been just a spectator, and this was not his story. What were they to him, Silvertongue and his daughter, the boy, the bookworm, and the woman who was another man’s wife once more? She could have escaped with him, but she had stayed in the crypt with her daughter, so he had thrust her out of his heart as he always did with anyone who tried to stay there too long. He was glad that the Shadow hadn’t taken them all, but they were none of his business any more. From now on Resa would be telling Silvertongue all the wonderful stories that drove away loneliness and homesickness and fear again. Why should it bother him?
But what about the fairies and the brownies suddenly stumbling around the scene of Capricorn’s festivities? They were as out of place in this world as he was – and they too wouldn’t let him forget that he was still here for one reason alone. He was interested only in the book, nothing but the book, and when he saw Silvertongue hide it under his jacket he decided to get it back. The book at least would be his. It must be his. He would stroke the pages, and if he closed his eyes at the same time he would be home again.
The old man was there now, the old man with the wrinkled face. Crazy. If only you hadn’t been so afraid, Dustfinger, he thought bitterly. But you’re a coward and you always will be. Why wasn’t it you standing beside Capricorn? Why didn’t you venture down? Then perhaps you would have disappeared back into the book instead of the old man.
The fairy with the butterfly wings and milky white face had flown after him. She was a vain little thing. Whenever she caught sight of her reflection in a window she lingered, smiling in front of it, oblivious to all else. She turned and preened in the air, ran her fingers through her hair and examined herself as if delighted by her own beauty all over again. The fairies he had known had not been particularly vain. On the contrary, sometimes they positively enjoyed smearing their tiny faces with mud or pollen, and then asked him, giggling, to guess which of them it was behind all the muck.
Perhaps I ought to catch myself one, thought Dustfinger. They could make me invisible. It would be wonderful to be invisible now and then. Or a troll – I could make him part of my show. Everyone would think he was just a little human being in a furry suit. No one can stand on his head as long as a troll, no one can make faces so well either, and those funny little dances they do – yes, why not?
When the moon had travelled half-way across the sky and Dustfinger was still sitting on the roof, the fairy with the butterfly wings grew impatient. Her tinkling sounded shrill and angry as she flew round him. What did she want? Did she want him to take her back where she came from, back to the place where all fairies had butterfly wings and people understood their language?
‘You’ve picked the wrong man here,’ he told her quietly. ‘See that girl down there, and the man beside the woman with the dark blonde hair? They’re what you need, but I might as well warn you: they’re very good at luring people into their world, and not so good at sending them home again. Still, you can try! Maybe you’ll have better luck than me.’
The fairy turned in the air, looked down, cast him a final injured glance and flew away. Dustfinger saw her brightness mingle with the light of the other fairies flying around and chasing each other through the branches of the trees. They were so forgetful. No grief or sorrow lived longer than a day in their little heads – and, who knows, perhaps the mild night air had already made them forget that this was not their own story.
Faint light was coming into the sky by the time they were all asleep down there. Only the boy kept watch. He was a suspicious boy, always on his guard, always careful except when he played with fire. Dustfinger couldn’t help smiling when he thought of Farid’s eager face, and the way he had burned his lips when he secretly took the torches from his rucksack. The boy would be no problem, no, none at all.
Silvertongue and Resa were asleep under a tree with Meggie between them, sheltered like a young bird in a warm nest. Elinor was sleeping not far away, and smiling in her sleep. Dustfinger had never seen her look so happy. One of the fairies was lying curled up like a caterpillar on her breast, with Elinor’s hand around it. The fairy’s face was not much bigger than the ball of her thumb, and her fairy light shone between Elinor’s strong fingers like the light of a captive star.
Farid stood up as soon as he saw Dustfinger coming. He had a shotgun in his hand. It must have belonged to one of Capricorn’s men.
‘You—you’re not dead?’ Farid breathed incredulously. He still wore no shoes, which was hardly surprising, for he had always been falling over the shoelaces, and tying a bow had presented him with problems.