‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Basta stared at Fenoglio’s notes as if they would strike him with plague on the spot.
‘Best to hide them where she won’t find them!’ was all that Fenoglio replied as he propelled Basta towards the door.
‘If it doesn’t work, old man,’ growled Basta before he closed the door behind him, ‘I shall decorate your face to match Dustfinger’s.’ Then he was gone, and Fenoglio leaned against the closed door with a satisfied smile.
‘But it won’t work!’ whispered Meggie.
‘So? Three days are a long time,’ replied Fenoglio, sitting down at the table again. ‘And I hope we shan’t need that long. After all, we want to prevent an execution tomorrow evening, don’t we?’
He spent the rest of the day alternately staring into space and writing like a man possessed. More and more of the white sheets were covered with his large handwriting, scrawled impatiently over the paper. Meggie didn’t disturb him. She sat by the window with the tin soldier, looking at the hills and wondering exactly where Mo was hiding among all the branches and leaves there. The tin soldier sat beside her, his leg stretched straight out in front of him, looking with fear in his eyes at the world that was so entirely new to him.
Perhaps he was thinking of the paper ballerina he loved so much, or perhaps he wasn’t thinking at all. He said not a single word.
Woken in the Dead of Night
‘Let us use our magic and enchantments to conjure up a woman out of flowers.’ … Math and Gwydyon took the flowers of oak and broom and meadowsweet and from these conjured up the loveliest and most beautiful girl anyone had seen; they baptized her with the form of baptism that was used then, and named her Blodeuedd.
‘Math Son of Mathonwy’,
from The Mabinogion,
translated by Jeffrey Gantz
Night had fallen long ago, but Fenoglio was still writing. Under the table lay the sheets of paper he had crumpled up or torn. He had discarded many more pages than he had laid aside, collecting those few pages very carefully, as if the words themselves might slip off the paper. When one of the maids, a skinny little thing, brought their supper Fenoglio hid the written sheets he had kept beneath the covers of his bed. Basta did not return that evening. Perhaps he was too busy hiding Fenoglio’s magic charms.
Meggie did not go to bed until everything outside was so dark that she couldn’t distinguish the hills from the sky. She left the window open. ‘Good-night,’ she whispered into the dark, as if Mo could hear her. Then she took the tin soldier and clambered up to her bed. She put the little soldier by her pillow. ‘You’re better off than Tinker Bell, honestly!’ she whispered to him. ‘Basta has her in his room because he thinks fairies bring good luck, and if we ever get out of here I promise I’ll make you a ballerina just like the one in your story.’
The tin soldier said nothing in reply to that either. He just looked at her with his sad eyes, then, barely perceptibly, he nodded. Has he lost his voice too, wondered Meggie, or could he never speak? His mouth did look as if he had never once opened it. If I had the book here, she thought, I could read the story and find out, or I could try to bring the ballerina out of it for him. But the Magpie had the book. She had taken all the books away.
The tin soldier leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. No, the ballerina would only break his heart, thought Meggie before she fell asleep. The last sound she heard was Fenoglio’s pen scribbling over the paper, writing word after word as fast as a weaver’s shuttle turning threads into colourfully patterned cloth …
Meggie did not dream of monsters that night – not even a spider scurried through her dream. Even though she dreamed of a room that appeared to be the bedroom in Elinor’s house, she knew that she was at home. Mo was there, too, and so was her mother. She looked like Elinor, but Meggie knew she was the woman who had been in the net hanging beside Dustfinger in Capricorn’s church. You know a great many things in dreams, often despite the evidence of your eyes. You just know them. She was about to sit down next to her mother on the old sofa surrounded by Mo’s bookshelves when someone suddenly whispered her name. ‘Meggie!’ Again and again: ‘Meggie!’ She didn’t want to hear it, she wanted the dream to go on and on, but the voice kept calling to her. Meggie recognised it. Reluctantly, she opened her eyes. Fenoglio was standing by her bed, his ink-stained fingers as black as the night beyond the open window.
‘What’s the matter? Let me sleep.’ Meggie turned her back to him. She wanted to return to her dream. Perhaps it was still somewhere there behind her closed eyelids. Perhaps a little of its happiness still clung like gold dust to her lashes. Don’t dreams in fairy tales sometimes leave a token behind? The tin soldier was still asleep, with his head sunk on his chest.
‘I’ve finished!’ Fenoglio whispered. Even with the guard’s snores reverberating through the door, she couldn’t ignore it.
Meggie yawned and sat up.
A thin pile of handwritten sheets of paper lay on the table in the light of the flickering candle.
‘We’re going to try an experiment!’ whispered Fenoglio. ‘Let’s see whether your voice and my words can change what happens in a story. We’re going to try to send the little soldier back.’ He quickly picked up the hand-written sheets and put them on her lap. ‘It’s not the best of ideas to try the experiment with a story I didn’t write myself, but that can’t be helped. What do we have to lose?’
‘Send him back? But I don’t want to send him back!’ said Meggie, horrified. ‘He’ll die if he goes back. The little boy throws him into the stove and he melts. And the ballerina burns up.’ Among the ashes lay the metal spangle from the ballerina’s dress; it had been burned as black as coal.
‘No, no!’ Fenoglio impatiently tapped the sheets of paper on her lap. ‘I’ve written him a new story with a happy ending. That was your father’s idea: changing what happens in stories! He just wanted to get your mother back, he wanted Inkheart rewritten to give her up again. But if the idea really works, Meggie – if you can change the fate of a character you read out of a book by adding new words to his story, then maybe you can change everything about it: who comes out, who goes in, how it ends, who’s happy and who’s unhappy afterwards. Do you understand? It’s just a trial run, Meggie! If the tin soldier disappears, then believe me, we can change Inkheart too! I still have to work out just how, but for now, will you read this aloud. Please!’ Fenoglio took the torch out from under the pillow and put it in Meggie’s hand.
Hesitantly, she turned the beam on the first densely written page. Suddenly her mouth went dry. ‘Does it really end well?’ She ran her tongue over her lips and looked at the sleeping tin soldier. She thought she heard a tiny snore.
‘Yes, yes, I’ve written a truly sentimental happy ending.’ Fenoglio nodded impatiently. ‘He moves into the toy castle with the ballerina and they live happily ever after – no melted heart, no burnt paper, nothing but their blissful love.’
‘Your writing is difficult to read.’
‘What? I went to endless trouble!’
‘It’s difficult all the same.’