Blood was trickling from Mo’s sleeve. Meggie felt herself turn faint at the sight of it. Dustfinger bound up the wound with a red silk scarf that soaked up the blood. ‘It’s not as bad as it looks,’ he assured Meggie, as she came closer, feeling weak at the knees.
‘Got anything else in your rucksack that we can use to tie him up?’ asked Mo, nodding at the still unconscious Flatnose.
‘Our friend with the knife here will need some packaging too,’ said Elinor. Basta glared at her viciously. ‘Don’t stare at me like that,’ she said, jamming the barrel of the gun into his chest. ‘I’m sure a gun like this can do as much damage as a knife, and believe you me, that gives me some very unpleasant ideas.’
Basta twisted his mouth scornfully, but he never took his eyes off Elinor’s forefinger, which was still on the trigger.
There was a length of cord in Dustfinger’s rucksack, strong if not particularly thick. ‘It won’t be enough for both of them,’ Dustfinger said.
‘Why do you want to tie them up?’ enquired Farid. ‘Why not kill them? That’s what they were going to do to us!’
Meggie looked at him in horror, but Basta laughed. ‘Well, fancy that!’ he mocked. ‘We could have used that boy after all! But who says we were going to kill you? Capricorn wants you alive. Dead men can’t read aloud.’
‘Oh, really? And weren’t you planning to cut off some of my fingers?’ asked Dustfinger, tying the cord round Flatnose’s legs.
Basta shrugged. ‘Since when does a man die of that?’
Elinor jabbed the barrel of the gun into his ribs so hard that he stumbled back. ‘Hear that? I think the boy’s right. Maybe we really ought to shoot these thugs.’
But of course they didn’t. They found a rope in the rucksack that Flatnose had brought with him, and it gave Dustfinger obvious pleasure to tie Basta up. Farid helped him. He clearly knew something about tying up prisoners.
Then they put Basta and Flatnose in the ruined house. ‘Nice of us, right? The snakes won’t find you quite so soon,’ said Dustfinger as they carried Basta through the narrow doorway. ‘Of course it’ll get pretty hot in here around midday, but maybe someone will have found you by then. We’ll let the dogs go. If they have any sense they won’t return to the village, but dogs don’t often have much sense – so the whole gang will probably be out searching for you by this afternoon at the latest.’
Flatnose did not come round until he was lying beside Basta under the ruined roof. He rolled his eyes furiously and went purple in the face, but neither he nor Basta could utter a sound because Farid had gagged them both, again very expertly.
‘Wait a minute,’ said Dustfinger, before they left the two men to their fate. ‘There’s something else – something I’ve always wanted to do.’ And to Meggie’s horror he drew Basta’s knife from his belt and went over to the prisoners.
‘What’s the idea?’ asked Mo, barring his way. Obviously the same thought had occurred to him as to Meggie, but Dustfinger only laughed.
‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to cut a pattern in his face the way he decorated mine,’ he said. ‘I only want to scare him a little.’
And he bent down to cut through the leather thong that Basta wore round his neck. It had a little bag tied with a red drawstring hanging from it. Dustfinger leaned over Basta and swung the bag back and forth in front of his face. ‘I’m taking your luck, Basta!’ he said softly straightening up. ‘Now there’s nothing to protect you from the Evil Eye and the ghosts and demons, black cats and all the other things you’re afraid of.’
Basta tried to kick out with his bound legs, but Dustfinger avoided him easily. ‘This is goodbye for ever, I hope, Basta!’ he said. ‘And if our paths should ever cross again, then I’ll have this.’ He tied the leather thong around his own neck. ‘I expect there’s a lock of your hair in it, right? No? Well, then perhaps I’ll take one. Doesn’t burning someone’s hair have a terrible effect on him?’
‘That’s enough!’ said Mo, urging him away. ‘Let’s get out of here. Who knows when Capricorn will realise these two are missing? By the way, did I tell you that he didn’t burn quite all the books? There’s one copy of Inkheart left.’
Dustfinger stopped as suddenly as if a snake had bitten him.
‘I thought I ought to tell you,’ said Mo. ‘Even if it does put stupid ideas in your head.’
Dustfinger just nodded. Then without a word he walked on.
‘Why don’t we take their van?’ suggested Elinor when Mo headed back to the path. ‘They must have left it on the road?’
‘Too dangerous,’ said Dustfinger. ‘How do we know who might be waiting for us down there? And going back to it would take us longer than going on to the nearest village. A van like that is easily spotted, too. Do you want to set Capricorn on our trail?’
Elinor sighed. ‘It was just a thought,’ she murmured, massaging her aching ankles. Then she followed Mo.
They kept to the path, because the snakes were already moving through the tall grass. Once a thin black snake wriggled over the yellow soil in front of them. Dustfinger pushed a stick under its scaly body and threw it back into the thorn bushes. Meggie had expected the snakes to be bigger, but Elinor assured her that the smallest were the most dangerous. Elinor was limping, but she did her best not to hold the others up. Mo too was walking more slowly than usual. He tried to hide it, but the dog-bite obviously hurt.
Meggie walked close to him, and kept looking anxiously at the red scarf Dustfinger had used to bandage the wound. At last they came to a paved road. A truck with a load of rusty gas cylinders was coming towards them. They were too tired to hide, and anyway it wasn’t coming from the direction of Capricorn’s village. Meggie saw the surprised expression of the man at the wheel as he passed them. They must look very disreputable in their dirty clothes, which were drenched with sweat and torn by all the thorn bushes.
Soon afterwards they passed the first houses. There were more and more of them on the slopes now, brightly colour-washed, with flowers growing outside their doors. Trudging on, they came to the outskirts of a fairly large town. Meggie saw multi-storey buildings, palm trees with dusty leaves and suddenly, still far away but shining silver in the sun, a glimpse of the sea.
‘Heavens, I hope they’ll let us into a bank,’ said Elinor. ‘We look as if we’d fallen among thieves.’
‘Well, so we have,’ said Mo.
The slow days drifted on, and each left behind a slightly lightened weight of apprehension.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
They did let Elinor into the bank, despite her torn tights. Before that, however, she had disappeared into the ladies’ room of the first café they came to. Meggie never did find out exactly where Elinor hid her valuables, but when she returned her face was washed, her hair not quite as tangled, and she was triumphantly waving a gold credit card in the air. Then she ordered breakfast for everyone.
It was an odd feeling to be suddenly sitting in a café having breakfast, watching perfectly ordinary people outside in the street, going to work, shopping, or just standing about chatting. Meggie could hardly believe they had spent just two nights and a day in Capricorn’s village, and that all this – the bustle of ordinary life going on outside the window – hadn’t stood still the whole time.