Resa bent over the paper again and began to write.
‘Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild,’ she wrote.
Dustfinger smiled. ‘The Dog was wild,’ he whispered. ‘And the Horse was wild, and the Sheep was wild, and the Pig was wild – as wild as wild could be – and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him. ‘
Resa always knew what story he needed at any given moment. She was a stranger in this world, just like him. It couldn’t be that she belonged to Silvertongue.
‘All right,’ said Spiff. ‘Now this is what I say, anyone who thinks they’ve got a better plan can say so afterwards.’
Michael de Larrabeiti,
The Borribles Go for Broke
When Farid came back Silvertongue was waiting for him. Elinor was asleep under the trees, her face flushed by the midday heat, but Silvertongue was still standing where Farid had left him. Relief spread over his face as he saw the boy coming up the hill.
‘We heard shots!’ he called. ‘I thought we’d never see you again.’
‘They were shooting at cats,’ replied Farid, letting himself drop on to the grass. Silvertongue’s concern made Farid feel awkward. He wasn’t used to people being concerned for his safety. What kept you? Where have you been all this time? That was the kind of reception he was used to. Even Dustfinger’s face had always been closed to him, as uncommunicative as a barred door. But with Silvertongue’s face it was different. Anxiety, joy, anger, pain, love – it was all plain to see, written on his brow, even when he tried to hide it, just as he was now trying not to ask the question that must have been on the tip of his tongue ever since he saw Farid approaching.
‘Your daughter’s all right,’ said Farid. ‘And she got your message, though she’s shut up on the top floor of Capricorn’s house. But Gwin is a wonderful climber, even better than Dustfinger, and that’s saying something.’ He heard Silvertongue breathe a sigh of relief, as if all the cares in the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
‘I’ve even brought an answer.’ Farid took Gwin out of the rucksack, held him firmly by the tail and untied Meggie’s note from his collar. Silvertongue unfolded the paper as carefully as if he feared his fingers might wipe away the words. ‘An endpaper,’ he murmured. ‘She must have torn it out of a book.’
‘What does she say?’
‘Have you tried to read it?’
Farid shook his head and took a piece of bread out of his trouser pocket. Gwin had earned a reward. But the marten had disappeared, probably to catch up on his long overdue daytime sleep.
‘You can’t read, is that it?’
‘Well, not many people could read this anyway. It’s the same secret writing that I used. As you saw, not even Elinor can decipher it. ‘Silvertongue smoothed out the paper. It was a dull yellow like desert sand. He read – and then suddenly raised his head. ‘Good heavens!’ he murmured. ‘Imagine that!’
‘Imagine what?’ Farid bit into the bread he had been keeping for the marten. It was stale; they’d have to steal some more soon.
‘Meggie can do it too!’ Silvertongue shook his head incredulously and stared at the note in his hand.
Farid propped one elbow on the grass. ‘I know. They’re all talking about it – I heard them. They say she can work magic like you, and now Capricorn doesn’t have to wait for you any more. He doesn’t need you now.’
Silvertongue looked at him as if this idea hadn’t yet crossed his mind. ‘True,’ he murmured. ‘Now they’ll never let her go. Not of their own accord.’ He stared at the words his daughter had written on the paper. To Farid they looked like the tracks left by snakes slithering across the sand.
‘What else does she say?’
‘They’ve caught Dustfinger, and Meggie is to read someone out of the book to come … and kill him. Tomorrow, when it gets dark.’ He lowered the note and ran his hand through his hair.
‘Yes, I heard about that too.’ Farid pulled up a blade of grass and tore it into tiny pieces. ‘It seems they’ve locked him in the crypt under the church. What else is in that note? Doesn’t your daughter say who it is she’s to fetch out for Capricorn?’
Silvertongue shook his head, but Farid saw that he knew more about it than he was saying.
‘Come on, you can tell me! Some kind of executioner, am I right? A man who knows all about cutting off heads.’
Silvertongue acted as if he hadn’t heard him.
‘I saw something like that once,’ said Farid, ‘so it’s all right for you to tell me about it. If the executioner is good with a sword it’s all over quite fast.’
Silvertongue looked at him for a moment, astonished, and then shook his head. ‘It’s not an executioner,’ he said. ‘At least, not a man with a sword. Not a man at all.’
Farid turned pale. ‘Not a man?’
Silvertongue shook his head. It was some time before he went on. ‘They call him the Shadow,’ he said in an expressionless voice. ‘I don’t remember the exact words describing him in the book, all I know is that I pictured him to myself as a figure made completely of burning ashes, red and grey. And without a face.’
Farid stared at him. For a moment he wished he hadn’t asked.
‘They – they’re all looking forward to this execution,’ he said in a faltering voice. ‘Those Black Jackets are in a really good mood. They’re going to kill the woman Dustfinger was visiting as well. Because she tried to find the book for him.’ He burrowed his bare toes into the earth. Dustfinger had tried to get him used to wearing shoes because of the snakes, but when you wore shoes you felt as if someone was pinching your toes, so in the end he’d thrown them on the fire.
‘What woman? One of Capricorn’s maids?’ Silvertongue looked at him with a gleam in his eyes.
Farid nodded. He rubbed his toes. They were covered with ant bites. ‘She can’t talk. Dumb as a sand-fly. Dustfinger has a photo of her in his rucksack. She’s probably helped him quite often. And I think he’s in love with her.’
It hadn’t been difficult for Farid to explore the village. There were lots of boys there no older than him. They washed the cars for the Black Jackets, cleaned their boots and their guns, delivered love letters. He’d delivered love letters himself in that other life. He hadn’t had to clean boots, but weapons, yes – and he’d had to shovel camel dung. Polishing cars was much lighter work.
Silvertongue looked up at the sky. Tiny clouds were drifting by, pale as a heron’s feathers, ruffled like acacia flowers. Clouds often passed across this sky. Farid liked that. The desert sky he had known before was always empty.
‘Tomorrow,’ murmured Silvertongue. ‘What am I to do? How am I going to get her out of Capricorn’s house? Perhaps I can get in somehow by night. I’d need one of those black suits the—’
‘I’ve brought you one.’ Farid took first the jacket, then the trousers out of the rucksack. ‘Stole them off a washing line. And a dress for Elinor.’