Page 16

 Cornelia Funke

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"Heavens above, that was a close thing!" whispered Fenoglio as they led the horse to the stables. "I don’t want to have to remind you again: You’re here as a bookbinder!
Play the Bluejay just once more and you’re a dead man! Damn it, Mortimer, I ought never to have agreed to bring you here. Look at all those soldiers. It’s like being in the Castle of Night!"
"Oh no, I assure you there’s a difference," Mo replied quietly, trying not to look up at the heads impaled on pikes that adorned the walls. Two belonged to a couple of the Black Prince’s men although he wouldn’t have recognized them if the Strong Man hadn’t told him about their fate. ‘Although I didn’t imagine the castle quite like this from your original description in Inkheart," he whispered to Fenoglio.
"You’re telling me?" Fenoglio murmured. "First Cosimo had it all rebuilt, now the Milksop’s leaving his mark on the place. He’s had the gold-mockers’ nests torn down, and look at all the shacks they’ve put up to hoard their loot! I wonder if the Adderhead’s noticed yet how little of it ever reaches the Castle of Night. If he has, his brother-in-law will soon be in trouble."
"Yes, the Milksop is pretty brazen about it." Mo lowered his head as a couple of grooms came toward them. Even they were armed His knife wouldn’t be much use if anyone actually did recogize him. "We stopped a few convoys intended for the Castle of Night," he continued quietly when they had passed, "and the Contents of the chests always proved rather disappointing."
Fenoglio stared at him. "You’re really doing it?"
"Doing what?"
The old man looked nervously around, but no one seemed to be taking any notice of them. "Well, all the things they sing about!" he whispered. "I mean . . . most of the songs are poor stuff, badly written, but the Bluejay is still my character, so what does it feel like? What does it feel like, playing him?"
A maid carried two slaughtered geese past them, The birds’ blood dripped onto the courtyard paving stones. Mo turned his head away. "Playing? Is that what it still feels like to you some kind of game?" His reply sounded touchier than he had intended.
Sometimes he’d really have given anything to read the thoughts in Fenoglio’s head.
And, who knew, maybe he would indeed read them some day in black and white, and find himself there on the page with words spun around him, like a fly caught in an old spider’s web.
"I admit it’s turned into a dangerous game, but I’m really glad you took the part!
Because wasn’t I right? This world needs the Blue —"
Mo interrupted Fenoglio and put his fingers to his lips. A troop of soldiers passed them, and Fenoglio bit back the name he had first written down on a piece of parchment not so long ago. But the smile with which he watched the soldiers pass was the smile of a man who had hid an explosive device in his enemies’ house and was enjoying mingling with them knowing they had no idea he had planted that bomb.
Wicked old man.
Mo realized that the Inner Castle didn’t look as Fenoglio had described it anymore, either. He quietly repeated the words he had once read: "The Laughing Prince's wife had laid out the garden because she was tired of the gray stones all around her. She planted flowers from foreign lands, and when they came into bloom they made her dream of distant seas, strange cities, and mountains where dragons lived. She allowed gold-breasted birds to breed, birds that perched in the trees like feathered fruits, and planted a seedling from the Way less Wood, a tree with leaves that could talk to the moon."
Fenoglio looked at him in surprise.
"Oh, I know your book by heart," said Mo. "Have you forgotten how often I read aloud from it after your words had swallowed up my wife?"
The gold-breasted birds had left the Inner Courtyard, too. The Milksop’s statue was reflected in a stone basin, and if the tree that talked to the moon ever existed, then it had been felled. Dog pens stood where there had once been a garden, and the new lord of Ombra’s hounds pressed their noses to the silvered wire fencing. It’s a long time since this was your story, old man, thought Mo as he and Fenoglio walked toward the Inner Castle. But, then, who was telling it now? Orpheus, maybe? Or had the Adderhead taken over as narrator, using blood and iron instead of pen and ink?
Tulli0 took them to Balbulus; Tullio the furry-faced servant said in Fenoglio’s book to be the offspring of a brownie father and a moss woman mother.
"How are you?" Fenoglio asked him as Tullio led them down the corridors As if it had ever interested him how his creations Were doing.
Tullio answered with a shrug of his shoulders. "They hunt me," he said his voice barely audible. "Our new master’s friends and he has a lot of them. They chase me along the passages and shut me in with the hounds, but Violante protects me. She protects me even though her son is one of the worst of them."
"Her son?" Mo asked.
"Yes, didn’t Meggie tell you about him?" Fenoglio whispered back. "Jacopo, a real little devil. His grandfather in miniature, although he’s getting to look more like his father every day. Not that he ever shed a tear for Cosimo. Far from it. They say he daubed Cosimo’s bust in the crypt with Balbulus’s paints, and in the evenings he sits beside the Milksop or on Sootbird’s lap instead of keeping his mother company. It’s said he even spies on her for his grandfather, the Adderhead."
Mo had read nothing in Fenoglio’s book about the door outside which Tullio finally stopped, rather breathless after climbing so many steep flights of stairs. He instinctively put out his hand to stroke the letters that covered it. "They’re so beautiful, Mo," Meggie had murmured as the two of them sat high in their prison in the Castle of Night. "Intertwined as if someone had written them on the wood in liquid silver."
Tullio raised his small, furry fist and knocked. The voice calling them in could belong to no one but Balbulus. Cold, self-satisfied, arrogant. . . The words Meggie had used to describe the best illuminator in this world were not nice ones. Tullio stood on tiptoe, took hold of the door handle — and then let go of it again in alarm.
"Tullio!" The voice echoing up the staircase sounded very young, but it seemed used to giving orders. "Where are you, Tullio? You must come and hold the torches for Sootbird."
"Jacopo!" Tullio breathed the word as if it were the name of an infectious illness. He ducked and instinctively tried to shelter behind Mo’s back.
A boy of perhaps six or seven came running upstairs. MO had never seen Cosimo the Fair. The Milksop had had all his statues smashed, but Battista still had a few coins with his picture on them. A face almost too beautiful to be real, that was how everyone described him. His son had obviously inherited that beauty, although as yet it was only developing on his still round, childish face. But it was not an endearing face. The boy’s eyes were watchful, and his mouth was as sullen as an old man’s. His black tunic had an embroidered pattern showing his grandfather’s emblematic adder with its flickering tongue, and even his belt was set with silver snakes, but around his neck dangled a silver nose — the Piper’s trademark.
Fenoglio cast Mo a glance of alarm and stood in front of him, as if that would hide him from the boy.