The last sentence worried Meggie, but when she looked anxiously at her mother, Teresa smiled and reached for her hand. I was far, far more homesick for you two, she wrote on the palm of it, and Meggie closed her fingers over the words as if to hold them fast. She read them again and again on the long drive back to Elinor’s house, and it was many days before they faded.
Elinor hadn’t been able to reconcile herself to the idea of another walk all the way down through the thorny hills where the snakes lived. ‘Do you think I’m crazy?’ she said crossly. ‘My feet hurt at the mere thought of it.’ So she and Meggie had set off again in search of a telephone. It was a strange feeling to walk through the village – a truly deserted village now – past Capricorn’s smoke-blackened house and the half-charred church porch. Water lay in the square outside. The blue sky was reflected in it, and made it look almost as if the square had turned into a lake overnight. The hoses Capricorn’s men had used to save their master’s house lay like huge snakes in the pools of water. In fact the fire had ravaged only the ground floor, but all the same Meggie would not go in, and when they had searched over a dozen other houses in vain Elinor bravely went through the charred door on her own. Meggie told her where to find the Magpie’s room, and Elinor took a gun just in case the old woman had come back to save what she could of her own and her robber son’s treasures. But the Magpie was long gone, just like Basta, and Elinor came back with a triumphant smile on her lips, carrying a cordless phone.
They called a taxi. It was rather difficult to persuade the driver that he must ignore the road barrier when he came to it, but luckily he had never believed any of the sinister stories that were told of the village. They arranged to wait for him by the roadside, so he wouldn’t see any of the fairies and trolls. Meggie and her mother stayed in the village while Mo and Elinor went in the taxi to the nearest town, and came back a few hours later driving the two small buses they had hired. For Elinor had decided to offer a home, or ‘asylum’, as she put it, to all the strange creatures who had landed in her world. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘many people here have little enough patience or understanding for their fellow human beings who are only superficially different to them – so how would it be for little people with blue skins who can fly?’
It took some time for them all to understand Elinor’s offer – which was, of course, also made to the men, women and children out of the book – but most of them decided to stay in Capricorn’s village. It obviously reminded them of a home that their earlier death had almost made them forget, and of course they could use the treasure that Meggie told the children must still be lying in the cellars of Capricorn’s house. It would probably be enough to keep them all for the rest of their lives. The birds, dogs and cats who had emerged from the Shadow had not hung about, but had long ago disappeared into the surrounding hills, while a few fairies and two of the little glass men, enchanted by the broom blossoms, the scent of rosemary, and the narrow alleys where the ancient stones whispered their stories to them, decided to make the once sinister village their home.
In the end, however, forty-three blue-skinned fairies with dragonfly wings fluttered into the buses and settled on the backs of the grey-patterned seats. Capricorn had obviously swatted fairies as carelessly as other people swat flies. Tinker Bell was among those who didn’t come, which did not particularly trouble Meggie, for she had realised that Peter Pan’s fairy was very self-centred. Her tinkling really got on your nerves, too, and she tinkled almost all the time if she didn’t get what she wanted.
In addition to four trolls who looked like very small and hairy human beings, thirteen little glass men and women climbed into Elinor’s buses – and so did Darius, the unhappy stammering reader. There was nothing to keep him in the village with its new inhabitants, and it held too many painful memories for him. He offered to help Elinor build up her library again, and she accepted. Meggie suspected that she was secretly toying with the idea of getting Darius to read aloud again, now that Capricorn’s malevolent presence no longer left him tongue-tied.
Meggie looked back for a long time as they left Capricorn’s village behind them. She knew she would never forget the sight of it, just as you never forget many stories even though – or perhaps because – they have scared you.
Before they left Mo had asked her, with concern in his voice, whether she minded if they drove to Elinor’s first. Meggie did not mind at all. Oddly enough, she felt more homesick for Elinor’s house than for the old farmhouse where she and Mo had lived for the last few years.
The scar left by the bonfire was still to be seen on the lawn behind the house, where Capricorn’s men had piled up the books and burned them. But before Elinor had the ashes taken away, she had filled a jam jar with the fine grey dust, and it stood on the bedside table in her room.
Many of the books that Capricorn’s men had only swept off the shelves were already back in their old places, others were waiting on Mo’s workbench to be rebound, but the library shelves were empty, and as they stood looking at them Meggie saw the tears in Elinor’s eyes, even though she was quick to wipe them away.
Elinor did a great deal of buying over the next few weeks. She bought books. She travelled all over Europe in search of them. Darius was always with her, and sometimes Mo went with them too. But Meggie stayed in the big house with her mother. They would sit together at a window looking out at the garden where the fairies were building themselves nests, gently glowing globes that hung among the branches of the trees. The glass men and women settled into Elinor’s attic, and the trolls dug caves among the big old trees which grew in abundance in Elinor’s garden. She told them all that if possible they should never leave her property, warning them urgently of the dangers of the world beyond the hedges that enclosed it, but soon the fairies were flying down to the lake by night, the trolls were walking along its banks and stealing into the sleeping villages, and the little glass people would disappear into the tall grass that covered the slopes of the mountains around the lake.
‘Don’t worry too much,’ said Mo, whenever Elinor bewailed their stupidity. ‘After all, the world they came from wasn’t without its dangers.’
‘But it was different!’ cried Elinor. ‘There were no cars – suppose the fairies fly into a windscreen? And there were no hunters with rifles shooting at anything that moves, just for the fun of it.’
By now Elinor knew everything about the world of Inkheart. Meggie’s mother had needed a great deal of paper to write down her memories of it. Every evening Meggie asked her to tell more stories, and then they sat together while Teresa wrote and Meggie read the words, and sometimes even tried to paint pictures of what her mother described.
The days went by, and Elinor’s shelves filled up with wonderful new books. Some of them were in poor condition, and Darius, who had begun to draw up a catalogue of Elinor’s printed treasures, kept interrupting his own work to watch Mo at his. He sat there wide-eyed as Mo freed a badly worn book from its old cover, fixed loose pages back, glued the spines in place and did whatever else was necessary to preserve the books for many more years to come.
Long after all this, Meggie couldn’t have said exactly when they had decided to stay on with Elinor. Perhaps not for many weeks, or perhaps they had known from the first day they were back. Meggie was given the room with the bed that was much too big for her, and which still had her book-box standing under it. She would have loved to read aloud to her mother from her own favourite books, but of course she understood why Mo very seldom did so, even now. And one night when she couldn’t get to sleep, because she thought she saw Basta’s face out in the dark, she sat down at the desk in front of her window and began to write, while the fairies played in Elinor’s garden and the trolls rustled in the bushes. For Meggie had a plan: she wanted to learn to make up stories like Fenoglio. She wanted to learn to fish for words so that she could read aloud to her mother, without worrying about who might come out of the stories and look at her with homesick eyes. So Meggie decided that words would be her trade.