There was a note under Gwin’s collar. It was dirty, and had been folded very small and tied in place with a piece of tape.
‘Why are you opening the window? The air outside is even hotter than in here. We—’ Fenoglio broke off and stared in amazement at the animal in Meggie’s arms. She quickly put a warning finger to her lips. Then, holding the struggling Gwin tight, she removed the note from under his collar. The marten chattered crossly and snapped at her fingers again. He didn’t like being held too long, and would even bite Dustfinger if he tried it.
‘What have you got there – a rat?’ Fenoglio came closer. Meggie let go of the marten, and Gwin immediately leaped back to the windowsill.
‘A marten!’ cried the astonished Fenoglio. ‘Where did that come from?’ Meggie looked anxiously at the door, but obviously the guard outside had heard nothing. Fenoglio pressed his hand to his mouth, and looked again at Gwin in such amazement that Meggie almost laughed. ‘He’s got horns!’ he whispered.
‘Of course! That’s the way you wrote him!’ she whispered back.
Gwin was still sitting on the windowsill, blinking uncomfortably at the sun. He didn’t like bright light and preferred to sleep through the day. So how had he got here?
Meggie put her head out of the window, but there were still only the maids down in the yard. Hastily, she moved back into the room and unfolded the note.
‘A message?’ Fenoglio leaned over her shoulder. ‘Is it from your father?’
Meggie nodded. She had recognised the writing at once, although it wasn’t as steady as usual. Her heart began dancing inside her. She traced the letters with her eyes as longingly as if they were a path with Mo waiting for her at the end of it.
‘What on earth does it say? I can’t make out a word of it!’ whispered Fenoglio.
Meggie smiled. ‘It’s elvish writing!’ she whispered. ‘Mo and I have been using it as our secret writing ever since I read The Lord of the Rings, but he’s probably rather out of practice. He’s made quite a lot of mistakes.’
‘Well, what does it say?’
Meggie read it to him.
‘Farid – who’s he?’
‘A boy. Mo read him out of The Thousand and One Nights, but that’s another story. You saw him – when Dustfinger ran away from you Farid was with him.’ Meggie folded the note up again and looked out of the window once more. One of the maids had straightened up. She was brushing the earth off her hands and looking up at the high wall as if she dreamed of flying away over it. Who had brought Gwin here? Mo? Or had the marten found his way by himself? That was most unlikely. He certainly wouldn’t be wandering round in broad daylight unless someone else had a hand in it.
Meggie hid the note in the sleeve of her dress. Gwin was still sitting on the windowsill. Sleepily, he stretched his neck and sniffed at the wall outside. Perhaps he could smell the pigeons who sometimes settled outside the window. ‘Feed him some bread so he won’t run away!’ Meggie whispered to Fenoglio, and then went over to the bed and got her rucksack down. Where was that pencil? She was sure she had a pencil. Yes, there it was, although it was only a small stump. Now, what about paper? She took one of Darius’s books out from under the mattress and carefully tore out one of the endpapers. She had never done such a thing before – fancy tearing a page out of a book! – but now she had to. Kneeling on the floor, she began to write in the same curly script that Mo had used for his message. She knew the letters off by heart: We’re all right and I can do it too, Mo! I read Tinker Bell out of her book, and when it gets dark tomorrow Capricorn wants me to bring the Shadow out of ‘Inkheart’ to come and kill Dustfinger. She didn’t mention Resa. Not a word to show that she thought she had seen her mother, and if Capricorn had his way that she too had only two days to live. A message like that wouldn’t fit on a piece of paper no matter how large it was.
Gwin was greedily nibbling the bread Fenoglio had given him. Meggie folded up the endpaper and tied it to his collar. ‘Take care!’ she whispered to Gwin, and then threw the rest of the bread down into Capricorn’s yard. The marten scurried down the wall of the house as if it was the easiest thing in the world. One of the maids screamed as he scampered between her legs, and called out to the others. She was probably alarmed for Capricorn’s chickens, but Gwin had already disappeared over the wall.
‘Good. Excellent. So your father’s here,’ Fenoglio whispered to Meggie, standing beside her by the open window. ‘Somewhere out there. Very good indeed. And you’ll get the tin soldier back. Who was it said that all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds?’ He rubbed the tip of his nose and blinked out at the dazzling sunlight. ‘So the next thing to do,’ he murmured, ‘is to play on Basta’s superstitions. What a good thing I gave him that little weakness. It was a clever move.’
Meggie had no idea what he was talking about, but that didn’t matter to her. She had only one thought in her head: Mo was here.
A Dark Place
‘Jim, old boy,’ said Lukas … in a rough voice. ‘That was a short journey. I’m sorry that you must share my fate now.’
‘We’re friends,’ he said quietly, biting his lower lip to keep it from trembling so hard.
The scribes chuckled again, and the bonzes nodded at each other, grinning.
‘Jim Button,’ said Lukas, ‘you really are the best little fellow I ever met in all my life.’
‘Take them to the place of execution!’ commanded the Head Bonze, and the soldiers seized Lukas and Jim to drag them away.
Jim Button and Lukas the Engine Driver
Dustfinger had expected Capricorn to leave him and Resa dangling in those dreadful nets until their execution, but they spent only a single if very long night there. In the morning, as soon as the sun cast its bright light on the red walls inside the church, Basta had them brought down. For a few horrible moments Dustfinger thought Capricorn had decided to put an end to them in some quick and inconspicuous way instead, and when he felt solid ground under his feet again he didn’t know which made him weaker at the knees – that fear or his night in the net. Whichever it was, he could hardly stand upright.
Basta set his mind at rest for the time being, although that was certainly not his intention. ‘Personally, I’d have liked to leave you dangling up there a while longer,’ he said as his men dragged Dustfinger out of the net. ‘But for some reason or other Capricorn’s decided to lock the two of you in the crypt for what’s left of your miserable lives.’
Dustfinger did his best to hide his relief. So death was still a little way off. ‘I expect it bothers Capricorn to have an audience when he’s discussing his filthy plans with the rest of you,’ he said. ‘Or perhaps he just wants us to be able to walk to our execution on our own two legs.’ One more night in that net and Dustfinger wouldn’t even have known he still had legs. His bones ached so much after that first night that he was moving like an old man as Basta took him and Resa down to the crypt. Resa stumbled once or twice on the stairs, and seemed to be feeling even worse than he was, but she made not a sound, and when Basta took her arm after she had slipped on one step she shook herself free, giving him such an icy look that he let her go on by herself.