Page 36

    "Oh, didn't she?" Fear made Elinor's legs so heavy that she stopped walking until the wardrobe-man impatiently pushed her on. But before she could ask what Mortola was planning to do instead of shooting them, Basta was already opening the door of her library and ushering them in with an ironic bow.

    Mortola was sitting enthroned in Elinor's favourite armchair. Scarcel...ace away from her la...og with running eyes an...ead broad enough for you to res...late on it. Its forelegs were bandaged, like Mortola's own legs, and there wa...andage around its belly, too...og! In her library! Elinor tightened her lips. This is probably the least of your worries right now, Elinor, she told herself. You'd better just ignore it.

    Mortola's stick was leaning against one of the glass cases in which Elinor kept her most valuable books. The moonfaced man stood beside the old woman. Orpheus – what did the fool think he was doing, claiming suc...ame for himself? Or had his parents in all seriousness given it to him? At any rate, he looked as if he, too, had passe...leepless night, which gave Elino...ertain grim satisfaction.

    "My son always said revenge wa...ish best eaten cold," observed Mortola, as she looked at her prisoners' exhausted faces. There wa...leased expression on her own. "I admi...asn't in any mood to take that advice yesterday. I'd have liked to see you all dead there and then, but the little witch's disappearing act has given me time to think, and I've decided to postpone my revenge fo...hile, so tha...an enjoy it all the more, and in cold blood."

    "Hear, hear!" muttered Elinor, earnin...hrust from the butt of Basta's rifle. But Mortola turned her birdlike gaze on Mortimer. She seemed to be seeing no one else: not Resa, not Darius, not Elinor, just him.

    "Silvertongue!" She spoke the name with scorn. "How many have you killed with your velvet voice...ozen? Cockerell, Flatnose, and finally, your crowning achievement, my son." The bitterness in Mortola's voice was as raw as if Capricorn had died only last night, instead of ove...ear ago. "And you will die for killing him. You will die as sure as I'm sitting here, an...hall watch, a...ad to watch the death of my son. But sinc...now from personal experience that nothing hurts more, in this or any other world, than the death of one's own child...ant you to see your daughter die before you die yourself."

    Mortimer stood there and didn't tur...air. Usually you could see all his feelings in his face, but at this moment even Elinor couldn't have said what was going on inside him.

    "She's gone, Mortola," was all he said, hoarsely. "Meggie's gone, an...on't think you can bring her back, or you'd have done it long ago, wouldn't you?"

    "Who said anything about bringing her back?" Mortola's narrow lips twisted int...oyless smile.

    "Do you thin...ntend to stay in this stupid world of yours any longer now tha...ave the book?

    Why should I? No, I'm going to look for your daughter in my own world, where Basta will catch her lik...ittle bird. And then I'll give the two of you to my son a...resent. There'll be more festivities, Silvertongue, but this time Capricorn will not die. Oh no. He'll sit beside me and hold my hand while Death takes first your daughter, and then you. Yes, that's how it will be!"

    Elinor glanced at Darius and saw in his face the incredulous astonishment that she herself felt.

    But Mortola was smiling superciliously.

    "Why are you staring at me like that? You think Capricorn is dead?" Mortola's voice almost cracked. "Nonsense. Yes, he died here, but what does that mean? This world i...oke...asquerade such as the strolling players perform in marketplaces.

    In our world, the real world, Capricorn is still alive. That's wh...ot the book back from that fire-eater. The little witch said it herself, the night you killed him: He'll always be there as long as the book exists. Yes...now she meant the fire-eater, but what's true of him is most certainly true of my son! They're still there, all of them: Capricorn and Flatnose, Cockerell and the Shadow!"

    She looked triumphantly from one to another of them, but they all remained silent. Except for Mortimer. "That's nonsense, Mortola!" he said. "And you know it better than anyone. You were in the Inkworld yourself when Capricorn disappeared from it, together with Basta and Dustfinger."

    "So? He went away, that's all." Mortola's voice was shrill. "And then he didn't come back, but that means nothing. My son was always traveling on business. The Adderhead sometimes sent hi...essenger in the middle of the night when he needed his services, and then he'd be gone the next morning. But he's back now. Back and waiting for me to bring his murderer to his fortress in the Wayless Wood."

    Elinor fel...razy urge to laugh, but fear closed her throat. There's no doubt about it, she thought, the old Magpie's lost her wits! Unfortunately, that didn't make her any less dangerous. "Orpheus!"

    Mortola impatiently beckoned the moonface to her side. Very slowly, as if to show that he obeyed her by no means as willingly as Basta did, he strolled over to her, takin...heet of paper out of the inside pocket of his jacket as he did so. Wit...elf-important expression, he unfolded it and laid it on the glass case with Mortola's stick leaning on it. The dog, panting, watched every movement he made.

    "It won't be easy!" observed Orpheus as he leaned over the dog, affectionately patting its ugly head. "I've never tried reading so many people over all at once before. Perhaps it would b...etter idea to do it one by one –"

    "No!" Mortola brusquely interrupted him. "No, you'll read us all over at once, as we agreed."

    Orpheus shrugged. "Very well, just as you like. A...aid, it's risky because –"

    "Be quiet...on't want to hear this." Mortola dug her bony fingers into the arms of the chair...'ll never be able to sit in it again without thinking of her, thought Elinor.) "Ma...emind you of that cell...as the one who paid for its door to open...ord from me and you'll end up back there, without books or so much a...ingle sheet of paper. And, believe me, I'll make sure you do just that if you fail. After all, you read the fire-eater over without much trouble, according to Basta."

    "Yes, but that was easy, very easy! Like putting something back in its proper place." Orpheus looked out of Elinor's window as dreamily as if he were seeing Dustfinger vanish again, this time from the lawn outside. Frowning, he turned back to Mortola. "It's different with him," he said, pointing to Mortimer. "It's not his story. He doesn't belong in it."

    "Nor did his daughter. Are you saying she reads better than you?"

    "Of course not!" Orpheus stood up very straight. "No one reads better than me. Haven'...roved that? Didn't you yourself say Dustfinger spent ten years looking for someone to read him back?"

    "Yes, very well. No more talk, then." Mortola picked up her stick and rose to her feet, with difficulty. "Wouldn't it be amusing i...erocious cat slipped out of the pages, like the one that came through when the fire-eater left? Basta's hand hasn't healed yet, and he ha...nife and the dog to help him." She gave Elinor and Dariu...asty look.

    ...
Previous Index Next