Before Meggie could answer that one, Elinor bent to pick up a piece of paper lying on the carpet beside her bed. It was Meggie’s goodbye note. She must have dropped it when she saw the book in Elinor’s arms.
‘What on earth’s this?’ asked Elinor, when she had read it, frowning. ‘You were planning to go and look for your father? Where, for heaven’s sake? You’re even more foolish than I thought.’
Meggie pressed Inkheart close to her. ‘Who else is going to look for him?’ she said. Her lips began to tremble, and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.
‘Well then, we’ll just have to go and look for him together!’ replied Elinor, sounding annoyed. ‘But first let’s give him a chance to come back. Do you think he’ll be pleased to get back here only to find you’ve disappeared, gone looking for him in the big wide world?’
Meggie shook her head. Elinor’s carpet was swimming before her eyes. A tear ran down her nose.
‘Right, that’s all settled, then,’ growled Elinor, offering Meggie a cotton handkerchief. ‘Blow your nose and then we’ll have breakfast.’
She wouldn’t let Meggie out of the house before she had eaten a roll and swallowed a glass of milk.
‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,’ she announced, buttering her own third slice of bread. ‘And what’s more, when your father gets back I don’t want you telling him I’ve been starving you. Like the wicked stepmother in the fairy tale, you know.’
An answer sprang to the tip of Meggie’s tongue, but she swallowed it along with the last of her roll, and took the book outside.
The Lion’s Den
Look. (Grown-ups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending, I already said in the very first line how it was my favourite in all the world. But there’s a lot of bad stuff coming.
The Princess Bride
Meggie sat on the bench behind the house. Dustfinger’s burnt-out torches were still stuck in the ground beside it. She didn’t usually hesitate so long before opening a book, but she was afraid of what was waiting for her inside this one. That was a brand-new feeling. She had never before been afraid of what a book would tell her. Far from it. Usually, she was so eager to let it lead her into an undiscovered world, one she had never been to before, that she often started to read at the most unsuitable moments. Both she and Mo often read at breakfast and, as a result, he had more than once taken her to school late. And she used to read under the desk at school too, and late at night in bed until Mo pulled back the covers and threatened to take all the books out of her room so that she’d get enough sleep for once. Of course he would never have done such a thing, and he knew she knew he wouldn’t, but for a few days after such a threat she would put her book under her pillow around nine in the evening and let it go on whispering to her in her dreams, so 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.’