Inkheart / Page 76

Page 76



‘Has my father come?’ Meggie did not resist as he forced her out of the door.

Basta shook his head and looked ironically at her. ‘Him? No, he hasn’t turned up yet,’ he said. ‘Obviously he thinks more of his own skin than yours. I wouldn’t be best pleased with him if I were you.’

Meggie felt two emotions at once – disappointment as sharp as a prickle, and relief.

‘I’ll admit I’m rather disappointed in him,’ Basta continued. ‘I swore he’d come looking for you, but I guess we don’t need him any more. Right?’ He shook his jacket, and Meggie thought she heard a quiet, desperate tinkling.

‘Lock the old man in,’ Basta told the guard. ‘And if you’re snoring again when I get back it will be the worse for you!’

Then he hauled Meggie down the corridor.

39

The Punishment for Traitors

‘What about you?’ enquired Lobosch. ‘You’re not afraid, are you, Krabat?’

‘More than you guess,’ said Krabat. ‘And not for myself alone.’

Otfried Preussler,

The Satanic Mill

Meggie’s shadow followed her like an evil spirit as she and Basta crossed the square outside the church. The glaring floodlights made the moon look faded.

It was not so bright inside the church. Capricorn’s statue, looking down on them in the gloom, was pale and half swallowed up by the shadows. Between the columns it was as dark as if night had fled there to escape the floodlights. Only the place where Capricorn sat, leaning back in his armchair with a contemptuous expression and wrapped in a silk dressing gown that shimmered like peacock feathers, was illuminated by a single lamp. The Magpie stood behind him, appearing little more than a washed-out face above a black dress in the dim light. A fire was burning in one of the braziers at the foot of the steps. The smoke stung Meggie’s eyes, and the flickering firelight danced on the red walls and columns as if the whole church were ablaze.

‘Hang the rags outside his children’s window as a final warning.’ Capricorn’s voice echoed in Meggie’s ears, although he kept it lowered. ‘And soak them with petrol until it’s seeping out,’ he told Cockerell, who was standing at the foot of the steps with two other men. ‘When that smell reaches the fool’s nostrils first thing in the morning, perhaps he’ll finally realise that my patience is at an end.’

Cockerell received the order with a brief nod, turned on his heel and signalled to the other two to follow him. Their faces were blackened with soot, and each of the three wore a red rooster’s feather in his buttonhole. ‘Ah, Silvertongue’s daughter!’ growled Cockerell sarcastically as he limped past Meggie. ‘Well, well, hasn’t your father come for you yet? Doesn’t seem very keen to see you, does he?’ The other two laughed, and Meggie couldn’t help the hot blood rising to her face.

‘At last!’ cried Capricorn, as Basta stopped at the foot of the steps with his prisoner. ‘What kept you so long?’ Something like a smile passed over the Magpie’s face. She had pushed her lower lip out slightly, which gave her thin face a look of great satisfaction. It troubled Meggie much more than Capricorn’s mother’s usual dark looks.

‘The guard couldn’t find the right key,’ replied Basta irritably. ‘And then – well, I had to catch something.’ The fairy began moving again as he held up his jacket, and its fabric bulged with her frenzied attempts to struggle free.

‘What’s that?’ Capricorn’s voice sounded impatient. ‘Have you taken to catching bats these days?’

Basta’s lips quivered with annoyance, but he bit back his reply and, without a word, put his hand under the black cloth. Suppressing a curse, he produced the fairy. ‘Devil take these flickery little things!’ he said angrily. ‘I’d quite forgotten how hard they can bite!’

One of Tinker Bell’s wings was fluttering frantically, the other was held between Basta’s fingers. Meggie couldn’t watch. She was terribly ashamed of herself for luring this fragile little creature out of her book.

Capricorn looked at the fairy with an expression of distaste. ‘Where did that come from? And what kind is it? I never saw one with wings like that before.’

Basta took Peter Pan out of his waistband and put the book down on the steps. ‘I think it comes out of here,’ he said. ‘Look at the picture on the cover. There are more pictures of her inside. And guess who read her out of it.’ He squeezed Tinker Bell so hard that she gulped silently for air, while he laid his other hand on Meggie’s shoulder. She tried to shake his fingers off, but Basta merely tightened his grip.

‘The girl?’ Capricorn sounded incredulous.

‘Yes, and it seems as though she’s as good at it as her father. Look at this fairy.’ Basta grabbed Tinker Bell’s slender legs and dangled her up in the air. ‘Seems perfectly all right, doesn’t she? She can fly and scold and make tinkling sounds, all the things those stupid fairies do.’

‘Interesting. Yes, very interesting indeed.’ Capricorn rose from his chair, tightened the belt of his dressing gown and came down the steps. He stopped beside the book that Basta had put down on them. ‘So it runs in the family!’ he murmured as he bent to pick it up. Frowning, he looked at the cover. ‘Peter Pan,’ he read. ‘Why, that’s one of the books my old reader Darius particularly liked. Yes, now I remember. He once read to me from it. The idea was to lure out one of those pirates, but he failed miserably. He fetched a load of stinking fish and a rusty grappling iron into my bedroom instead. Didn’t we punish him by making him eat the fish?’

Basta laughed. ‘Yes, but he was even more upset that you had his books taken away. He must have hidden this one.’

‘So he must.’ Capricorn went over to Meggie, looking thoughtful. She would have liked to bite his fingers when he put his hand under her chin, turning her face so that she had to look straight into his lifeless eyes. ‘See how she looks at me, Basta?’ he remarked mockingly. ‘Just as obstinate as her father always was. Better save that look for him, sweetheart. You’re very angry with your father, I’m sure. But I couldn’t care less where he is. Because from now on I have you, my new, my wonderfully talented reader – whereas you, well, you must hate him for abandoning you, right? Don’t be ashamed of it. Hatred can be very inspiring. I never liked my own father either.’

Meggie turned her head aside when Capricorn finally let go of her chin. Her face was burning with shame and fury, and she could still feel his fingers as if they had left marks on her skin.

‘Did Basta tell you why he was to bring you here so late at night?’

‘To meet someone.’ Meggie tried to make her voice sound bold and unafraid, but she didn’t succeed. The sobs in her throat would let only a whisper emerge.

‘That’s right!’ Capricorn gave the Magpie a signal. She came down the steps and disappeared into the dark beyond the columns. A little later there was a creaking sound above Meggie’s head, and when she looked up to the roof in alarm she saw something being lowered from the darkness: a net, no, two nets such as she had seen in fishing boats. They stopped and hung there about five metres above the floor, just over Meggie’s head, and only then did she see human figures caught in the coarse ropes – like birds entangled in the netting over a fruit tree. Meggie was feeling dizzy just from looking up. What must it be like to be dangling there, held only by a few cords?


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