He bent down and lifted Sophie from his pocket … She was still in her nightie and her feet were bare. She shivered and stared around her at the swirling mists and ghostly vapours.
‘Where are we?’ she asked.
‘We is in Dream Country,’ the BFG said. ‘This is where all dreams is beginning.’
Fenoglio was lying on his bed when Basta pushed Meggie in through the door.
‘What have you done to her?’ he demanded of Basta, swiftly getting to his feet. ‘She’s white as a sheet!’
But Basta had already closed the door behind him. ‘You’ll be relieved in two hours,’ Meggie heard him tell the guard. Then he was gone.
Fenoglio put his hands on Meggie’s shoulders and looked into her face with concern. ‘Come on, tell me. What did they want you for? Is your father here?’
Meggie shook her head. ‘They’ve caught Dustfinger,’ she said. ‘And a woman.’
‘What woman? Heavens, what a state you’re in!’ Fenoglio drew her over to the bed, and Meggie sat down beside him.
‘I think she’s my mother,’ she whispered.
‘Your mother?’ Fenoglio looked at her in astonishment. His eyes were bloodshot from his sleepless night.
Distractedly, Meggie smoothed down her skirt. It was dirty and crumpled. No wonder, she’d been sleeping in it for days. ‘Her hair’s darker now,’ she stammered, ‘and of course Mo’s photo of her is nine years old … Capricorn has her in a net, and Dustfinger too. He’s going to have them both executed in two days’ time, and I’m supposed to read someone out of Inkheart to do it – that friend, as Capricorn calls him. I told you. Mo was supposed to be going to do it. You wouldn’t tell me who the friend was, but now you must!’ She looked pleadingly at Fenoglio.
The old man closed his eyes. ‘Merciful heaven!’ he murmured.
Outside, it was still dark. The moon hung in the sky in front of their window, with a cloud drifting past it like a tattered dress.
‘I’ll tell you tomorrow,’ said Fenoglio. ‘That’s a promise.’
‘No! Tell me now.’
He looked at her thoughtfully. ‘It’s not a story for this hour of the night. You’ll have bad dreams afterwards.’
‘Tell me!’ Meggie repeated.
Fenoglio sighed. ‘Oh dear. I know that look from my grandchildren,’ he said. ‘Very well, then.’ He helped her up to her bunk, put Mo’s sweater under her head and pulled the blanket up to her chin. ‘I’ll tell it to you the way I wrote it in Inkheart,’ he said quietly. ‘I know that passage almost by heart. I was very proud of it at the time.’ He cleared his throat before he began, whispering the words into the night. ‘But one being was feared even more than Capricorn’s men. He was known as the Shadow, and he appeared only when Capricorn called him. Sometimes he was red as fire, sometimes as grey as the ashes into which fire turns all that it devours. He leaped from the ground like flame flickering up from wood. His touch and even his breath brought death. He rose up at his master’s feet, soundless and faceless, scenting the air like a dog on the trail, waiting to be shown his victim.’ Fenoglio swept a hand over his forehead and looked at the window. It was some time before he went on, as if he were recalling the words to mind from long ago. ‘They say,’ he continued at last, ‘that Capricorn had the Shadow made from his victims’ ashes by a troll, or by the dwarves who know all that fire and smoke can do. No one was certain, for it was said that Capricorn had those who had brought the Shadow to life killed afterwards. But everyone knew one thing: the Shadow was immortal and invulnerable, and as pitiless as his master.’
Fenoglio fell silent. And Meggie, her heart beating fast, gazed out at the night.
‘Yes, Meggie,’ Fenoglio said at last in a low voice. ‘I think Capricorn wants you to fetch him the Shadow. And God have mercy on us if you succeed. There are many monsters in this world, most of them human and all of them mortal. I would not like to have an immortal monster on my conscience, a monster spreading fear and terror here for all time. Your father had an idea when he came to see me – I’ve already mentioned it to you, and it may be our only chance, but I just don’t know how it will work yet. I must think hard. We don’t have much time, and you ought to get some sleep now. When did you say this is to happen – the day after tomorrow?’
Meggie nodded. ‘As soon as dusk falls,’ she whispered.
Fenoglio passed a weary hand over his face. ‘Don’t worry about the woman,’ he said. ‘You may not want to hear this, but I don’t think she can possibly be your mother, much as you may wish she were. How could she have come here?’
‘It was Darius!’ Meggie buried her face in Mo’s sweater. ‘The stupid man who can’t read aloud well enough. Capricorn said so: he read her back out of Inkheart and she lost her voice coming out of the book. She’s back, I’m sure she is, and Mo doesn’t know! He thinks she’s still stuck in the story.’
‘Well, if you’re right, then I wish she really were still there,’ muttered Fenoglio, pulling the blanket up over her shoulders again with a sigh. ‘I still think you’re wrong, but believe what you like! And now go to sleep.’
But of course Meggie couldn’t sleep. She lay there with her face to the wall, listening to her own heart. Fear and joy mingled there like two colours running into each other. Whenever she closed her eyes she saw the nets and the two faces there among the cords, Dustfinger’s and the other face, blurred as an old photograph. Hard as she tried to see it more clearly, it always faded again.
Dawn was breaking outside by the time she finally fell asleep, but the nightmares hadn’t finished with her yet. They grew especially fast in the grey time between night and day, spinning an eternity out of seconds. One-eyed ogres and giant spiders stole into Meggie’s sleep, hounds of hell, witches who ate children, all the bugbears she had ever met in stories. They crept out of the box that Mo had made her and jumped from the pages of her favourite books. Even the monsters came out of the picture books that Mo had given her before she knew the alphabet. They danced through Meggie’s dream, brightly coloured and shaggy, their wide mouths smiling, baring their pointed little teeth. There was the Cheshire Cat she had always been so afraid of, and here came the Wild Things that Mo liked so much he had hung a picture of them in his workshop. How huge their teeth were! Dustfinger would be crunched between those fangs like crispbread. But just as one of them was stretching out his claws, the one with eyes as big as saucers, a new figure came out of the grey void, hissing like a flame, ashen-grey and faceless, seized the Wild Thing and tore it into scraps of paper.
The monsters vanished, and the sun was shining on Meggie’s face. Fenoglio was standing beside her bed. ‘You were dreaming.’
Meggie sat up. The old man’s face looked as if he hadn’t closed his eyes all night and he had several new wrinkles. ‘Where’s my father, Fenoglio?’ she asked. ‘Oh, why doesn’t he come?’
Ali Baba … was surprised to see a well-lighted and spacious chamber … filled with all sorts of provisions, rich bales of silks, embroideries, and valuable tissues, piled upon one another, gold and silver ingots in great heaps, and money in bags. The sight of all these riches made him suppose that this cave must have been occupied for ages by robbers, who had succeeded one another.