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You must come and hold the torches for Sootbird. Now what, Mo? He instinctively glanced down the stairs, but Jacopo had come alone, and this castle was large. His hand went to his belt all the same.
"Who’s that?" Only the defiance in the clear voice sounded like a little boy’s. Jacopo was breathing heavily from all that stair-climbing.
"He’s.. . er. . . he’s the new bookbinder, my prince!" replied Fenoglio, bowing. "I’m sure you remember how often Balbulus has complained of the clumsiness of our local bookbinders!"
"And this one’s better?" Jacopo folded his little arms. "He doesn’t look like a bookbinder. Bookbinders are old and all pale because they sit indoors the whole time."
"Oh, we go out now and then, too," replied Mo. "We go out to buy the best leather, new stamps, good knives, or to dry parchment in the sun if it’s damp.
He found it difficult to feel afraid of the boy, although he had heard much that was bad about him. Cosimo’s son reminded him of a boy he had known at school who was unlucky enough to be the headmaster’s son. He used to stalk around the school yard like a Copy of his father — and he was afraid of everything and everyone in the world. That’s all very well, Mortimer, Mo told himsel€ but he was only a headmaster’s son. This is the grandson of the Adderhead, so take care.
Jacopo frowned and looked disapprovingly at him. Obviously, he didn’t like the fact that Mo was so much taller than he was. "You didn’t bow! You have to bow to me."
Mo felt Fenoglio’s warning glance and bowed his head. "My prince." It was difficult.
He would rather have chased Jacopo along the castle corridors in fun, the way he used to chase Meggie in Elinor’s house, just to see if the child in him would emerge, carefully hidden as it was behind his grandfather’s mannerisms.
Jacopo acknowledged his bow with a magnanimous nod, and Mo bowed his head again so that the boy wouldn’t see his smile.
"My grandfather is having trouble with a book," remarked Jacopo in his arrogant voice. "A lot of trouble. Perhaps you can help him."
Trouble with a book. Mo felt his heart miss a beat. In his mind’s eye he saw the Book before him again, felt the paper between his fingers. All those blank pages.
"My grandfather has had lots of bookbinders hanged already because of that book."
Jacopo looked at Mo as if working out the size of the noose to fit his neck. "He even had one flayed because the man had promised he could make the book better. Will you try all the same? But you’d have to ride to the Castle of Night with me so that my grandfather can see I was the one who found you not the Milksop."
Mo managed to get out of answering that as the door covered with letters opened and a man came out, an expression Of annoyance on his face.
"What’s all this?" he snapped at Tullio. "First there’s a knock but no one comes in, then so much talk that my brush slips. So, as you all clearly have not come to see me, I would be greatly obliged if you’d continue your conversation somewhere else.
There are more than enough rooms in this castle where no real work is done."
Balbulus. . . Meggie had described him very well. The slight lisp, the short nose and plump cheeks, the dark brown hair already receding from his forehead, although he was still quite a young man. An illuminator — and from what Mo had seen of his work, one of the best there had ever been, in either this world or his own. Mo forgot Jacopo and Fenoglio, he forgot the pillory and the boy in it, the soldiers down in the courtyard, and even Sootbird. All he wanted was to go through that door. Even the glimpse of the workshop that he caught over Balbulus’s shoulder made his heart beat as fast as a schoolboy’s. He felt the same excitement as when he first held a book illustrated by Balbulus in his hand, when he was a prisoner threatened with death in the Castle of Night. This man’s work had made him forget all that. Letters flowing as easily as if there were no more natural occupation for the human hand than writing, and then the pictures. Living, breathing parchment!
"I’ll talk to people where and when I like! I’m the Adderhead’s grandson!" Jacopo’s voice was shrill. "I’m going to tell my uncle how impertinent you’ve been again. I’m going to tell him this minute! I’ll say he ought to take all your brushes away from you!" With One last glance at Balbulus he turned. "Come on, Tullio. Or I’ll shut you in with the hounds!"
The little servant went to Jacopo’s side, head hunched between his Shoulders, and the Adderhead’s grandson inspected Mo again from head to foot before turning and hurrying down the stairs again suddenly just a child after all, in a hurry to see a show.
"We ought to get out, Mortimer!" Fenoglio whispered to him. "You should never have come to this place! Sootbird is here. It’s not good, not good at all."
But Balbulus was already impatiently beckoning the new bookbinder into his workshop. What did Mo care about Sootbird? He could think of nothing but what awaited him behind the door with the silver letters all over it.
He had spent so many hours of his life poring over the art of illumination, bending close to stained pages until his back ached, following every brushstroke with a magnifying glass and wondering how such marvels could be captured on parchment.
All the tiny faces, all the fantastic creatures, landscapes, flowers, miniature dragons, insects, so real that they seemed to be crawling off the pages. Letters as artfully entwined as if their lines had begun to grow only on that parchment.
Was all that waiting for him on the desks in there?
Maybe. But Balbulus stood in front of his work as if he were its guardian, and his eyes were so expressionless that Mo wondered how a man who bent so cold a gaze on the world could paint such pictures. Pictures so full of strength and fire.
"Inkweaver." Balbulus nodded to Fenoglio with a look that seemed to sum him up: the unshaven chin, the bloodshot eyes, the weariness in the old man’s heart. And what, Mo wondered, will he see in me?
"So you’re the bookbinder?" Balbulus inspected him as thoroughly as if he planned to capture him on parchment. "Fenoglio tells me truly wonderful things about your skill."
"Oh, does he?" Mo couldn’t help sounding distracted. He wanted to see those pictures at long last, but once again the illuminator barred his way as if by chance.
What did this mean? Let me see your work, thought Mo. You ought to feel flattered that I’ve risked my neck to come here for its sake. Good heavens, those brushes really were incredibly fine. And then there were the paints. . . .
Fenoglio dug a warning elbow into his ribs, and Mo reluctantly tore himself away from the sight of all these wonders and looked into Balbulus’s expressionless eyes.
"I’m sorry. Yes, I’m a bookbinder, and I am sure you will want to see a sample of my work. I didn’t have particularly good materials available, but. . ." He put his hand under the cloak that Battista had made (stealing so much black fabric couldn’t have been easy), but Balbulus shook his head.
"You don’t have to show me any evidence of what you can do," he said, never taking his eyes off Mo. "Taddeo, the librarian in the Castle of Night, has told me at length how impressively you proved your abilities there."