Dustfinger saw the tears in her eyes, although she quickly turned her face aside, and suddenly something like sympathy did awake in him. Perhaps she was more like him than he’d thought: her home too had consisted of paper and printer’s ink. She probably felt as lost as he did in the real world. He didn’t let her see his sympathy, of course, but hid it behind a mask of mockery and indifference, just as she hid her despair behind rage. ‘What did you expect? Capricorn knew where you lived. Anyone could foresee that he’d send his men out when you’ve escaped him. He always takes revenge.’
‘Oh yes, and who told him where I live? You did!’ Elinor swung her arm back with her fist clenched, but Farid caught it. He had grazed his knee on the road. ‘He didn’t give anything away!’ he cried. ‘Nothing at all. He’s only here to steal something.’
Elinor lowered her arm.
‘So that’s it!’ Silvertongue went up to them. ‘You’re here to get hold of the book. That’s crazy!’
‘Well, how about you? What are you planning to do?’ Dustfinger looked at him scornfully. ‘You’re just going to walk into Capricorn’s church and ask for your daughter back, are you?’
Silvertongue did not reply.
‘He won’t hand her over and you know it!’ Dustfinger went on. ‘She’s only the bait, and as soon as you’ve swallowed it the pair of you will be Capricorn’s prisoners – for the rest of your lives, most likely.’
‘I wanted to call the police!’ Elinor freed her arm crossly from Farid’s brown hands. ‘But Mortimer was against it.’
‘Sensible of him! Capricorn would have abandoned Meggie up in the mountains and you’d never have seen her again.’
Silvertongue looked up at the nearby mountains looming dark behind their foothills. ‘Wait until I’ve stolen the book!’ said Dustfinger. ‘I’m going to creep into the village again tonight. I won’t be able to get your daughter out the way I did last time, because Capricorn has trebled the guards, and the whole village is lit up at night now, brighter than a jeweller’s shop window, but perhaps I can find out where they’re keeping her prisoner. Then you can do what you like with the information. And in return for my trouble you could try reading me back into the book. What about it?’
Dustfinger considered this a very reasonable proposition, but Silvertongue thought it over only briefly before shaking his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, I’m sorry, I can’t wait any longer. Meggie needs me.’ With these words he turned and went back to the car, but before he could get in Dustfinger barred his way.
‘I’m sorry too,’ he said, snapping open Basta’s knife. ‘You know I don’t like these things, but sometimes people have to be protected from their own stupidity. I’m not going to let you stumble into the village like a rabbit into a trap, just for Capricorn to shut you and your magic voice away. It won’t help your daughter and it certainly won’t help me.’
At Dustfinger’s signal, Farid had drawn his knife too. Dustfinger had bought it for him in the village by the sea; it was a ridiculous little thing, but Farid pressed it into Elinor’s ribs so hard that she grimaced. ‘Good God, are you planning to slit me open, you little wretch?’ she snapped at him. The boy jumped, but he did not remove his knife.
‘Move the car off the road, Silvertongue!’ ordered Dustfinger. ‘And don’t get any silly ideas: the boy will keep his knife pressed at your bookworm friend’s chest until you’re back here with us.’
Silvertongue obeyed. Of course. What else could he do? They tied him and Elinor to the trees just behind the burnt-out cottage, only a few paces from their own makeshift camp. Elinor scolded even louder than Gwin when he was pulled out of the rucksack by his tail.
‘Stop that!’ Dustfinger told her. ‘It won’t do any of us any good for Capricorn’s men to find us here.’ That worked. She fell silent at once, as if she had swallowed her tongue. Silvertongue had leaned his head back against the tree trunk and closed his eyes. Farid checked all the knots again carefully, but then Dustfinger beckoned him over.
‘I want you to keep a watch on those two when I go down to the village tonight,’ he whispered. ‘And don’t start carrying on about ghosts again. After all, you won’t be alone this time.’
The boy looked at him with an injured expression, as if Dustfinger had taken his hand and thrust it into the fire. ‘But they’re tied up!’ he protested. ‘So what is there to watch? No one’s ever managed to undo my knots. Word of honour. Please. I want to go with you! I can be your look-out or distract the guards. I can even get into Capricorn’s house! I’m quieter than Gwin!’
But Dustfinger shook his head. ‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘Tonight I’m going alone. If I want someone following me wherever I go I’ll get myself a dog.’ And with that he left the boy.
It was a hot day. The sky above the hills was blue and cloudless, and there were hours yet to pass before darkness fell.
In Capricorn’s House
‘It’s the place that worries you,’ said Hazel. ‘I don’t like it myself, but it won’t go on for ever.’
Two narrow metal bunks, one above the other against a whitewashed wall, a cupboard, a table by the window, a chair, an empty shelf with nothing but a candle on it. Meggie had hoped to be able to see the road or at least the car park through the window, but the only view was of the yard below. A couple of Capricorn’s maids were bending over the vegetable patch pulling out weeds, and chickens were pecking about in a wire-netting run in one corner. The walls surrounding the kitchen garden were high enough for a prison.
Fenoglio was sitting on the lower bed, staring gloomily at the dusty floor. The wooden floorboards creaked whenever they stepped on them. Outside the door, Flatnose was protesting to Basta.
‘You want me to do what? No, find someone else for the job, dammit! I’d rather go over to the next village, put petrol-soaked rags outside someone’s door or hang a dead rooster from the window-frame. Or run round outside the house with a devil mask on, like Cockerell had to do last month, but I’m not cooling my heels here just to keep watch on an old man and a little girl! Get one of the lads. They’ll be glad to have a change from cleaning cars.’
But Basta wasn’t open to persuasion. ‘You’ll be relieved after supper,’ he said, and then he was gone. Meggie heard his footsteps retreating down the long corridor. There were five doors to pass, then go down the staircase, at the foot of the stairs turn left for the front door … She had carefully taken note of the way. But how was she to get past Flatnose? She went over to the window again and opened it. Just looking out made her feel dizzy. No, she couldn’t climb down. She’d break her neck.
‘Leave the window open,’ said Fenoglio behind her. ‘It’s so hot in here I feel as if I might melt.’
Meggie sat down on the bed beside him. ‘I’m going to run away,’ she whispered. ‘As soon as it gets dark.’
The old man looked at her incredulously, shaking his head very firmly. ‘Are you mad? It’s much too dangerous!’