‘Back to your room!’ the Magpie snapped at the girl behind him. ‘Why are you still standing around?’
Dustfinger heard the rustle of a dress, and a door closed abruptly.
Basta’s knife was still at his throat, but just as he was about to let the tip of it wander a little higher the Magpie seized his arm. ‘That’s enough!’ she commanded. ‘You can stop your little game now, Basta.’
‘That’s right, the boss said we were to bring him in uninjured.’ Flatnose’s voice made it clear how little he thought of this order.
Basta let the knife wander over Dustfinger’s throat one last time. Then, with a swift movement, he snapped it shut again.
‘What a shame!’ said Basta.
Dustfinger felt the man’s breath on his own skin. Basta’s breath smelled of mint, fresh and sharp. Apparently a girl he’d once wanted to kiss had told him he had bad breath. The girl had regretted it, but ever since then Basta chewed peppermint leaves from morning to night. ‘You’ve always given good sport, Dustfinger,’ he said as he stepped back, still holding the closed flick-knife.
‘Take him to the church!’ Mortola ordered. ‘I’ll go and tell Capricorn.’
‘Did you know the boss is very angry with your mute girlfriend?’ whispered Flatnose to Dustfinger as he and Basta dragged him between them. ‘She was always quite a favourite of his.’
For a split second Dustfinger felt almost happy.
So Resa hadn’t given him away.
All the same, he never ought to have asked her for help. Never.
A Quiet Voice
She liked his tears so much that she put out her beautiful finger and let them run over it.
Her voice was so low that at first he could not make out what she said. Then he made it out. She was saying that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies.
Meggie did try her plan. As soon as it was dark she hammered on the door with her fist. Fenoglio woke with a start, but before he could stop her Meggie had called to the guard outside the door that she had to go to the loo. The man who had relieved Flatnose was a short-legged fellow with jug ears, who was amusing himself by swatting moths with a rolled-up newspaper. Over a dozen insects were already smeared on the white wall when he let Meggie out into the corridor.
‘I need to go too!’ cried Fenoglio, perhaps intending to dissuade Meggie from carrying out her plan, but the guard closed the door in his face. ‘One at a time!’ he grunted at the old man. ‘And if you can’t wait, you’ll just have to pee out of the window.’
Taking his newspaper with him as he escorted Meggie to the lavatory, he killed three more moths and a butterfly that was fluttering helplessly from wall to bare wall. Finally, he pushed a door open, the last door before the staircase to the ground floor. Just a few more steps, thought Meggie. I’m sure I can run downstairs faster than he can.
‘Please, Meggie, you must forget about running away!’ Fenoglio had kept whispering in her ear. ‘You’ll get lost. There’s nothing outside but wild country for miles! Your father would be furious if he knew what you were planning.’
Oh no, he wouldn’t, Meggie had thought. But when she was in the little room which contained nothing but a lavatory and a bucket her courage almost failed her. It was so dark outside, so terribly dark. And it was still a long way to the door of Capricorn’s house.
I must try, she whispered to herself before she opened the door. I must, I must!
The guard caught up with her on the fifth stair. He carried her back over his shoulder, like a sack of potatoes. ‘And next time I’ll take you to the boss!’ he said before pushing her back into the room. ‘He’ll think up a good punishment for you.’
She cried for almost half an hour, while Fenoglio sat beside her staring unhappily into space. ‘It’s all right,’ he kept murmuring, but nothing was all right, nothing at all.
‘We don’t even have a light in here,’ she finally sobbed. ‘And they’ve taken my books away.’
At that Fenoglio reached under his pillow and put a torch on her lap. ‘I found it under my mattress,’ he whispered. ‘With a few books too. Who would have thought someone had hidden them there?’
Darius, the reader. Meggie could remember how the thin little man had come hurrying up the nave of Capricorn’s church with his pile of books. The torch must surely be his. How long had Capricorn kept him prisoner in this bare little room?
‘There was a blanket in the cupboard as well,’ whispered Fenoglio. ‘I put it on the top bunk for you. Can’t get up there myself, I’m afraid – when I tried the whole thing swayed like a ship at sea.’
‘I’d rather sleep in the top bunk anyway,’ murmured Meggie, rubbing her sleeve over her face. She didn’t want to cry any more. It was no good anyway.
Fenoglio had put some of Darius’s books on the bunk along with the blanket for her. Meggie carefully laid them out side by side. They were almost all books for grown-ups: a well-worn thriller, a book about snakes, another about Alexander the Great, the Odyssey. The only books for children were a collection of fairy tales and Peter Pan – and she had read Peter Pan at least half a dozen times already.
Outside, the guard struck out with his newspaper again, and below her Fenoglio tossed and turned restlessly on the narrow bunk. Meggie knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep, so there was no point even trying. Once again she looked at the strange books. Closed doors, all of them. Which should she open? Behind which of them would she forget all of this, Basta and Capricorn, Inkheart, herself, everything? She put aside the thriller and the book about Alexander the Great, hesitated – and picked up the Odyssey. It was a worn little volume; Darius must have liked it very much. He had even underlined some passages, one of them so hard that his pencil had almost gone through the paper: But hard as he tried, he could not save his friends. Undecidedly, Meggie leafed through the worn pages, then closed the book and put it down. No. She knew the story well enough to realise that she was almost as afraid of the Greek heroes as she was of Capricorn’s men. She wiped a lingering tear away from her cheek, and let her hand hover over the other books. Fairy tales. She wasn’t particularly fond of fairy tales, but the book looked attractive. The pages rustled as Meggie browsed through them. They were thin as tracing paper and covered with tiny print. There were wonderful illustrations of dwarves and fairies, and the stories told tales of mighty beings tall as giants, strong as bears, even immortal, but they were all malignant: the giants ate human beings, the dwarves were greedy for gold, the fairies were malicious and bore a grudge. No. Meggie turned the torch on the last book. Peter Pan.
The fairy in that book wasn’t very nice either, but at least Meggie knew the world awaiting her between its covers very well. Perhaps it was just the thing for such a dark night. An owl screeched outside, but otherwise all was still in Capricorn’s village. Fenoglio murmured something in his sleep and began to snore. Meggie snuggled down under the scratchy blanket, took Mo’s sweater out of her rucksack and put it under her head.
‘Please,’ she whispered as she opened the book, ‘please get me out of here just for an hour or so, please take me far, far away.’ Outside, the guard muttered something to himself. He was probably bored to death. The floorboards creaked under his tread as he paced up and down outside the locked door.