And this time Elinor would be with them, she promised herself. She never again wanted to feel as utterly deserted as she had this night. ‘What are you planning to do next?’ she asked.
‘Farid’s idea was to start a fire. I thought that would be too dangerous, but we’re running short of time.’
‘Fire?’ Elinor felt as if the word would burn her tongue. Ever since she had found the ashes of her books, the mere sight of a matchstick had caused her to panic.
‘Dustfinger’s taught the boy something about handling fire, and anyway, as we know, even the biggest fool can start one. If we were to send Capricorn’s house up in flames—’
‘Are you crazy? Suppose it spreads to the hills?’
Mo bowed his head and stroked his hand over the barrel of the gun. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘but I can’t see any other way. The fire will create a diversion, Capricorn’s men will be kept busy putting it out, and in all the confusion I’ll try to get through to Meggie while Farid releases Dustfinger.’
‘You’re mad!’ This time Elinor couldn’t help her voice rising. Farid muttered something in his sleep, put his hand nervously to the bandage round his head, then turned over.
Mo straightened the boy’s blanket and leaned back against the tree trunk. ‘That’s our plan, all the same, Elinor,’ he said. ‘Believe me, I’ve been racking my brains till I thought I’d go crazy. But there’s no other way. And if none of that is any use I’ll set fire to his damn church as well. I’ll melt down his gold and reduce his whole damned village to dust and ashes, but I’ll have my daughter back.’
Elinor had no answer to that. She lay down and pretended to be asleep even though she couldn’t sleep a wink. When day dawned, she persuaded Mortimer to get a little rest himself while she kept watch. Before long he was fast asleep. As soon as his breath sounded peaceful and regular, Elinor took off the stupid dress, got into her own clothes, combed her tousled hair and wrote him a note. Gone to get help. Back around midday. Please don’t do anything until then. Elinor.
She put the note into his half-opened hand, so that he would see it as soon as he woke up. As she tip-toed past the boy she saw that the marten was back. He was curled up beside Farid, licking his paws. His black eyes stared at Elinor as she bent over the boy to adjust his bandage. Uncanny little beast, she could never take to him, but Farid loved him like a dog. Sighing, she straightened up. ‘Look after them both, will you?’ she whispered, then set off. The car was still where she had hidden it under the trees. It was a good hiding-place; the branches hung so low that she missed the car herself at first. The engine caught immediately. Elinor listened anxiously to the sounds of the morning for a moment, but there was nothing to be heard apart from the birds greeting the day as exuberantly as if it were their last.
The nearest village, the last village through which she and Mortimer had driven, was scarcely half an hour’s drive away. There was sure to be a police station there.
But they woke him with words, their cruel, bright weapons.
The Book of Merlin
It was still quite early when Meggie heard Basta’s voice out in the corridor. She hadn’t touched the breakfast one of the maids brought them. When she had asked what had happened last night, what the shots meant, the girl had just stared at her, terrified, shook her head and scurried out of the door. She probably thought Meggie was a witch.
Fenoglio hadn’t eaten any breakfast either. He was writing. He wrote and wrote without stopping, filling sheet after sheet of paper, tearing up what he’d written, beginning again, putting one sheet aside and starting another, frowning, crumpling up the paper – and starting once more. Hours and hours passed like this, until there were only three sheets of paper he hadn’t torn up. Just three. At the sound of Basta’s voice he hastily hid them under his mattress, kicking the crumpled pieces of paper under the bed with his foot. ‘Quick, Meggie! Help me get them under the bed!’ he whispered. ‘He mustn’t find any – not a single one.’ Meggie obeyed, but all she could think about was why Basta was here. Was he going to tell her something? Did he want to see her face when he told her not to expect Mo any more?
Fenoglio had sat down at the table again in front of a blank sheet of paper and was rapidly scribbling a few words on it when the door opened.
Meggie held her breath as if that would hold back the words which were about to come out of Basta’s mouth and stab her in the heart. Fenoglio put down his pen and went to stand beside her. ‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘I’m to fetch her,’ said Basta. ‘Mortola wants to see her.’ He sounded angry, as if it were beneath his dignity to carry out such a trivial task.
Mortola? The Magpie? Meggie looked at Fenoglio. What did this mean? But the old man only shrugged his shoulders, at a loss.
‘This little pigeon’s to take a look at what she’s to read this evening,’ Basta explained. ‘So she won’t stumble over the words like Darius and spoil everything.’ He beckoned impatiently to Meggie. ‘Come on.’
Meggie took a step towards him but then stopped. ‘First, I want to know what happened last night,’ she asked. ‘I heard shots.’
‘Oh, that!’ Basta smiled. His teeth were almost as white as his shirt. ‘I’ve an idea your father was planning to visit you, but Cockerell wouldn’t let him in.’
Meggie stood there as if rooted to the spot. Basta took her arm and pulled her roughly away with him. Fenoglio tried to follow them, but Basta slammed the door in his face. Fenoglio called something after her, but Meggie couldn’t hear what it was. There was a rushing sound in her ears as if she were listening to her own blood running far too fast through her veins.
‘He managed to get away, if that makes you feel any better,’ said Basta, shoving her towards the staircase. ‘Not that that means much, come to think of it. When Cockerell shoots at the cats, they seem to dodge the bullets too. He’s such a useless shot. But they’re usually found dead in a corner somewhere later.’
Meggie kicked his shin with all her might, and raced away down the stairs, but Basta soon caught up with her. His face distorted with pain, he grabbed her by the hair and hauled her back in front of him. ‘Don’t you try that again, sweetheart!’ he hissed. ‘You can think yourself lucky you’re the main attraction at our festivities this evening, or I’d wring your skinny little neck here and now.’
Meggie did not try it again. Even if she had wanted to she wouldn’t have had the chance. Basta kept hold of her hair, pulling her along behind him as if she were a disobedient dog. The pain brought tears to Meggie’s eyes, but she kept her face turned away so that Basta couldn’t see them. He took her down to the cellars. She hadn’t been in this part of Capricorn’s house before. The ceiling was even lower than the one in the shed where she, Mo and Elinor had first been imprisoned. The walls were whitewashed, like the walls in the upper storeys of the house, and there were just as many doors. Most of them looked as if it was a long time since they’d been opened, and heavy padlocks hung in front of some of them. Meggie thought of the safes Dustfinger had talked about, and the gold Mo had brought tumbling into Capricorn’s church. They didn’t get him, she thought. Of course not. The man with the limp doesn’t shoot well. Basta said so himself.