‘Don’t look like that!’ whispered Dustfinger, seeing Farid’s anxious glance. ‘We can trust her. Quite a few of the women aren’t too fond of Capricorn and his men – many of them didn’t even come here of their own free will. But they’re all afraid of him: afraid they’ll lose their job, afraid he’ll burn the roofs over the heads of their families if they talk about what goes on here, or perhaps send Basta to call on them with his knife. Resa doesn’t have to worry about that kind of thing. She has no family.’ Not any more, he added to himself silently.
The door behind the grating opened, and Resa’s anxious face appeared behind the bars. It looked pale beneath her dark blonde hair.
‘How are you?’ Dustfinger went over to the grating and put his hand through the bars. Smiling, Resa pressed it, and nodded at the boy.
‘This is Farid.’ Dustfinger lowered his voice. ‘You could say he’s adopted me. But you can trust him. He doesn’t care for Capricorn any more than we do.’
Resa nodded, looked at him reproachfully and shook her head.
‘Yes, I know it wasn’t sensible to come back. You heard what happened?’ Dustfinger couldn’t prevent something like pride creeping into his voice. ‘They thought I’d put up with anything, but they were wrong. There’s still one copy of the book left, and I’m going to get my hands on it. Don’t look at me like that. Do you know where Capricorn keeps it?’
Resa shook her head. There was a rustling behind them and Dustfinger spun round, but it was only a mouse scurrying over the quiet yard. Resa took a pencil and a piece of paper out of her dressing-gown pocket. She wrote slowly and neatly, knowing that Dustfinger found it easier to read capital letters. She had taught him to read and write so that they could communicate with one another.
As usual, it took some time for the letters to make sense to Dustfinger. He felt a fresh sense of pride every time those spindly symbols finally fitted together into words and he could prise their secret out of them. ‘I’ll look around,’ he read softly. ‘Good. But be careful. I don’t want you risking your pretty neck.’ He bent over the paper again. ‘What do you mean, The Magpie has Basta’s keys now?’
He gave her the note back. Farid watched Resa writing, as spellbound as if he were watching someone work magic. ‘I think you’ll have to teach him too!’ Dustfinger whispered through the bars. ‘See how he’s staring at you?’
Resa looked up and smiled at Farid. Awkwardly, he looked away. Resa passed her finger round her face.
‘You think he’s a nice boy?’ Dustfinger twisted his mouth in a teasing smile, while Farid felt so embarrassed he didn’t know where to look. ‘And what about me? Beautiful as the moon, am I? Hmm, what am I to make of that as a compliment? You mean I have almost as many craters?’
Resa pressed her hand over her lips. It was easy to amuse her; she laughed like a young girl. That was the only time you could hear her voice.
Shots rang out in the night. Resa clung to the bars, and Farid, terrified, crouched down at the foot of the wall. Dustfinger pulled him to his feet again. ‘It’s nothing!’ he whispered. ‘Just the guards taking pot-shots at cats. They always do that when they’re bored.’
The boy looked at him with disbelief, but Resa went on writing. ‘She took the keys away to punish him,’ Dustfinger read. ‘Basta won’t like that at all. The way he acted with those keys, you’d have thought he was looking after Capricorn’s most treasured possession.’
Resa mimed taking a knife from her belt, looking so grim that Dustfinger almost laughed out loud. He quickly glanced around, but the yard was silent as the grave between its high walls. ‘Oh yes, I can well imagine that Basta’s furious,’ he whispered. ‘In that mood he’ll do anything to please Capricorn – slit throats, gash faces open, anything.’
Resa reached for the paper again, and once more it took him a painfully long time to decipher her clear, neat writing. ‘Oh, so you’ve heard about Silvertongue. You want to know who he is? Well, but for me he’d still be locked up in Capricorn’s sheds. What else? Ask Farid. Silvertongue plucked the boy out of his own story, too, like a ripe apple. Luckily, he didn’t bring out any of the ghouls the boy keeps carrying on about. Yes, he reads aloud very well indeed, much better than Darius. As you can see, Farid doesn’t limp, his face probably always looked the way it does now, and he still has his voice too – even if you might not think so at the moment.’
Farid cast him a angry glance.
‘What does Silvertongue look like? Well, I can at least tell you that Basta hasn’t decorated his face yet.’
A shutter creaked above them. Dustfinger pressed close to the grating. Only the wind, he thought, nothing but the wind. Farid was staring at him, eyes wide with fear. No doubt the creaking sounded to him like a demon, but the figure who leaned out of the window above them was a creature of flesh and blood: Mortola, or the Magpie as she was secretly nicknamed. She was in charge of all the maids, and nothing was safe from the Magpie’s eyes and ears, not even the secrets the women whispered to each other in their bedrooms at night. Even Capricorn’s strongboxes had better accommodation than his maidservants. They all slept in his house, four to a room, crammed in like sardines (except for those who had struck up a relationship with one of his men and moved to another house).
The Magpie leaned over the windowsill and breathed in the cool night air. She stayed there for what seemed an endless time, so long that Dustfinger could happily have wrung her neck, but finally she appeared to have filled every inch of her body with fresh air and closed the window.
‘I must go, but I’ll be back tomorrow evening. Maybe you’ll have found out something about the book by then.’ Dustfinger squeezed Resa’s hand. Her fingers were rough from laundry work and cleaning. ‘I know I’ve said it before, but all the same – be careful, and keep away from Basta.’ Resa shrugged her shoulders. How else could she respond to such unnecessary advice? Almost all the women in the village kept away from Basta, but he didn’t keep away from them.
Dustfinger waited outside the grating until Resa was back in her room. She signalled to him through the window with a candle.
The guard in the car park still had his earphones on. Deep in his own thoughts, he was dancing among the cars, shotgun in his outstretched arms as if he were dancing with a girl. By the time he finally looked their way, the night had already swallowed up Dustfinger and Farid.
They met no one on the way back to their hiding-place, only a fox who slunk away with hunger in his eyes. Gwin was eating a bird inside the walls of the burnt-out cottage. Its feathers were shadows in the darkness.
‘Has she always been mute?’ asked the boy as Dustfinger lay down under the trees to sleep.
‘As long as I’ve known her,’ replied Dustfinger, turning his back to the boy. Farid lay down beside him. He had made this his habit from the first, and however often Dustfinger moved away the boy was always close beside him when he woke up.
‘The photograph in your rucksack,’ he said. ‘It is her.’
The boy did not reply.
‘If you’ve taken a fancy to her,’ Dustfinger mocked him, ‘forget it. She’s one of Capricorn’s favourite maids. She’s even allowed to take his breakfast and help him get dressed.’