‘How long has she been with him?’
‘Five years,’ said Dustfinger. ‘And in all that time Capricorn has never once let her leave the village. She can’t even go out of the house very often. She ran away twice, but she never got far. One of those times a snake bit her. She never told me how Capricorn punished her, but I know she never tried to run away again.’
There was a rustling behind them. Farid jumped, but it was only Gwin. The marten was licking his muzzle as he leaped and landed on the boy’s stomach. Laughing, Farid plucked a feather out of his fur. Gwin snuffled busily around the boy’s chin and nose, as if he had missed him, and then he disappeared into the night again.
‘He really is a nice marten!’ whispered Farid.
‘No, he’s not,’ said Dustfinger, pulling his thin blanket up to his chin. ‘He probably likes you because you smell like a girl.’
Farid’s only answer was a long silence.
‘She looks like her,’ he said at last, just as Dustfinger was dropping off to sleep. ‘Silvertongue’s daughter, I mean. She has the same mouth and the same eyes, and she laughs in the same way.’
‘Nonsense!’ said Dustfinger. ‘There’s not the slightest resemblance. They both have blue eyes, that’s all. It’s not unusual here. Hurry up and go to sleep.’
The boy obeyed. He wrapped himself in the sweater that Dustfinger had given him and turned his back to his companion. Soon he was breathing as peacefully as a baby. But Dustfinger lay awake all night, staring at the stars.
‘If I were to be made a knight,’ said the Wart, staring dreamily into the fire, ‘I should … pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.’
‘That would be extremely presumptuous of you,’ said Merlin, ‘and you would be conquered, and you would suffer for it.’
The Sword in the Stone
Capricorn received Meggie and Fenoglio in the church. About a dozen of his men were with him. He was sitting in the new black leather armchair they had installed under Mortola’s supervision, and this time, for once, his suit was not red but pale yellow, like the morning daylight filtering in through the windows. He had them brought to him early, while the mist still hung above the hills, with the sun swimming in it like a ball floating in murky water.
‘By all the letters of the alphabet!’ whispered Fenoglio as he and Meggie walked down the nave of the church with Basta close behind them. ‘He really does look exactly the way I imagined him. “Colourless as a glass of milk.” I think that’s how I put it.’
He began walking faster, as if he couldn’t wait to see his creation at close quarters. Meggie could hardly keep up with him, and Basta held him back before he had reached the steps. ‘Here, what’s the idea?’ he hissed. ‘Not so fast – and bow, understand?’
Fenoglio merely glanced scornfully at him and remained perfectly upright. Basta raised his hand, but when Capricorn almost imperceptibly shook his head he lowered it again like a rebuked child. Mortola was standing beside Capricorn’s chair, her arms folded like wings behind her back.
‘You know, Basta, I still wonder what you were thinking of not to bring her father too!’ said Capricorn, letting his gaze wander from Meggie to Fenoglio’s turtle-like face.
‘He wasn’t there. I told you.’ Basta sounded injured. ‘Was I supposed to sit about waiting for him like a toad beside a pond? He’ll soon be here of his own accord! We all know how besotted he is with his daughter. I’ll bet my knife he’ll be here by tomorrow at the latest!’
‘Your knife? But you’ve already mislaid your knife once recently.’ The mockery in Mortola’s voice made Basta grind his teeth.
‘You’re slipping, Basta!’ remarked Capricorn. ‘Your hot temper clouds your judgement. But let’s move on to this other souvenir of yours.’
Fenoglio had never taken his eyes off Capricorn. He was looking at him like a painter seeing one of his pictures again after many long years, and judging by the expression on his face what he saw pleased him. Meggie couldn’t see a trace of fear in his eyes, just incredulous curiosity, and satisfaction – with himself. She also saw that Capricorn did not care for that expression at all. He wasn’t used to being inspected as fearlessly as this old man was scrutinising him now, not even by his men.
‘Basta has told me some strange things about you, Signor …?’ ‘Fenoglio.’
Meggie was watching Capricorn’s face. Had he ever read the name on the cover of Inkheart just below the title itself?
‘Even his voice sounds the way I imagined!’ Fenoglio whispered to her. She thought he was captivated, like a child looking at a caged lion – except that Capricorn wasn’t in a cage. At a signal from him Basta jammed his elbow into the old man’s back so roughly that Fenoglio was left gasping for air.
‘I don’t like whispering in my presence,’ Capricorn said softly, while Fenoglio was still struggling to get his breath back. ‘As I said, Basta has told me a strange story – he says you claimed to be the man who wrote a certain book – what was its name again?’
‘Inkheart.’ Fenoglio rubbed his aching back. ‘Its title is Inkheart because it’s about a man whose wicked heart is black as ink, filled with darkness and evil. I still like the title.’
Capricorn raised his eyebrows – and smiled. ‘And how am I supposed to take that? As a compliment, maybe? After all, it’s my story you’re talking about.’
‘No, no, it’s mine. You just appear in it.’
Meggie saw Basta look enquiringly at Capricorn, but he shook his head again very slightly, and Fenoglio’s back was spared for the time being.
‘How interesting. So you’re sticking to your lies.’ Capricorn uncrossed his legs and rose from his chair. With slow strides, he came down the steps.
Fenoglio smiled conspiratorially at Meggie.
‘What are you grinning for?’ Capricorn’s voice was as sharp as Basta’s knife now. He stopped right in front of Fenoglio.
‘Oh, I was only thinking that vanity is one of the qualities I gave you, vanity and –’ Fenoglio paused for effect before continuing – ‘and a few other weaknesses that I expect you’d rather I didn’t mention in front of your henchmen.’
Capricorn examined him in silence, a silence that seemed to last an eternity. Then he smiled. It was a faint, thin smile, little more than a lift at the corners of his mouth, while his eyes scanned the church as if he had entirely forgotten Fenoglio. ‘You’re a shameless old man,’ he said. ‘And a liar into the bargain. But if you hope to impress me with your bare-faced lying and boasting the way you’ve impressed Basta, I must disappoint you. Your claims are ridiculous, just as you are, and it was more than stupid of Basta to bring you here, because now we have to get rid of you somehow.’
Basta turned pale. He hurried over to Capricorn, head lowered in submission. ‘But suppose he isn’t lying?’ Meggie heard him whisper to Capricorn. ‘They both say we shall all die if we touch the old man.’