Page 4

 Cornelia Funke

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The anxiety in his dark face touched Mo, and for a moment he was almost tempted to give the bundle back to Battista. But only almost.
When the Prince had gone, Mo hid the shirt and his bloodstained trousers in the former bakehouse, now converted into his workshop, and put on the black clothes.
They fit perfectly, and he was wearing them as he slipped back into the house just as the morning made its way in through the unglazed windows.
Meggie and Resa were still asleep. A fairy had lost her way in the gloom of Meggie’s room. Mo lured her to his hand with a few quiet words. "Will you look at that?"
Snapper always used to say. "Even the damn fairies love his voice. Looks like I’m the only person not to fall under its spell."
Mo carried the fairy over to the window and let her flutter out. He pulled Meggie’s blanket up over her shoulders, the way he used to on all those nights when he and she had only each other, and he glanced at her face. How young she still looked when she was asleep. Awake, she seemed so much more grown-up. She whispered a name in her sleep. "Farid." Was it when you fell in love for the first time that you grew up?
"Where have you been?"
Mo spun around. Resa was standing in the open doorway, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"Watching the fairies’ morning dance. The nights are getting colder now. Soon they’ll hardly leave their nests at all."
It wasn’t exactly a lie. And the sleeves of the black tunic were long enough to hide the cut on his forearm. "Come with me, or we’ll wake this big daughter of ours."
He drew her with him into the bedroom where they slept.
"What kind of clothes are those?"
"A bookbinder’s outfit. Battista made it for me. Black as ink, Suitable, don’t you think? I’ve asked him to make you and Meggie something, too. You’ll be needing another dress soon.
He put his hand on her belly. You couldn’t see it yet. A new child brought with them from the old world, although they had found out only in this one. It was barely a week since Resa had told him. "Which would you like," she’d asked, "a daughter or a son?"
"Can I choose?" he had replied, trying to imagine what it would be like to hold tiny fingers in his hand again, so tiny that they could scarcely grasp his thumb. It was just the right time before Meggie was so grown-up that he could hardly call her a child at all.
"The sickness is getting worse. I’ll ride over to see Roxane later. She’s sure to know what to do for it."
"Yes, she’s sure to know." Mo took her in his arms, Peaceful days. Nights of blood.
Of course Orpheus did none of the digging himself. He stood there in his fine clothes watching Farid sweat. He had made him dig in two places already, and the hole Farid was excavating now was already deep enough to come up to his chest. The dirt was moist and heavy. It had rained a great deal these last few days, and the shovel was useless. In addition, there was a hanged man dangling right above Farid’s head. The cold wind swung the body back and forth on its rotting rope. Suppose it fell, and buried him under its decaying bones?
Three more somber figures swung from the gallows on Farid ‘s right. Milksop, the new governor, liked hanging people. Folk said that he had his wigs made from the hair of executed men and women and the widows in Ombra whispered that this was the reason why so many women had been condemned to hang.
"How much longer are you going to take? It’s getting light! Hurry up, dig faster!"
Orpheus snapped, kicking a skull down into the pit. Skulls lay beneath the gallows like terrible fruits.
It was true that day was beginning to dawn. Damn that Cheeseface! He’d had Farid digging almost all night long. If only he could wring the man’s pale neck!
"Faster? Get your fine bodyguard to do some digging for a change!" Farid shouted up to him. "Then his muscles would at least be some use!"
The Chunk folded his bulky arms and smiled down with derision. Orpheus had found the giant working for a physician in the marketplace, holding down the man’s customers while he pulled out their rotten teeth. "What on earth are you going on about now?" was all Orpheus had said, condescendingly, when Farid asked why he needed another servant. "Even the rag-and-bone men in Ombra have bodyguards to protect them from the riffraff roaming the streets. And I’m a good deal richer than they are!" In this he was certainly right—and as Orpheus offered better pay than the physician, and the Chunk’s ears hurt from listening to all those screams of agony, he went with them without a word. He called himself Oss, a very short name for such a large fellow, but it suited a man who spoke so seldom that at first Farid could have sworn he had no tongue in his ugly mouth. However, that mouth worked overtime at eating, and more and more frequently the Chunk would devour what Orpheus’s maids put in front of Farid, too. At first he had complained, but after Oss lay in wait for him on the cellar steps one night, Farid preferred to sleep on an empty stomach or steal something from the marketplace.
The Chunk had made life in Orpheus’s service even worse. A handful of pieces of broken glass inside Farid’s straw mattress, a leg stuck out to trip him up at the bottom of a staircase, a sudden rough hand grasping his hair.. . he had to be on his guard against Oss all the time. There was no peace from him except at night, when the man slept outside Orpheus’s bedroom, docile as a dog.
"Bodyguards don’t dig!" Orpheus explained in a weary tone, pacing impatiently up and down between the holes Farid had dug. "And if you go on dawdling like that we really will need a bodyguard. They’re bringing two poachers here to hang before noon!"
"Well, there you are, then! I keep telling you: Let’s just look for buried treasure behind your house!" The hills where gallows stood, graveyards, burned-out farms . . .
Orpheus loved places that sent a shiver down Farid’s spine. Cheeseface certainly wasn’t afraid of ghosts, you had to give him that. Farid wiped the sweat out of his eyes. "You might at least write a more detailed description of which damn gallows the treasure’s under. And why does it have to be buried so deep, for heaven’s sake?"
"Why buried so deep? Why not behind my house?" Orpheus pursed his girlishly soft lips scornfully. "What an original idea! Does that sound as if it belongs in this story?
Even Fenoglio wouldn’t fall for such nonsense. But why do I bother to keep explaining? You wouldn’t understand anyway.
"Oh no?" Farid drove his shovel so deep into the damp soil that it stuck. "Well, there’s one thing I understand very well. While you’re writing yourself treasure after treasure, acting the rich merchant and chasing every maid in Ombra, Dustfinger still lies among the dead!"
Farid felt tears come to his eyes yet again. The pain was as fresh now as it had been on the night when Dustfinger died for him. If he could only forget that still face! If he could only remember Dustfinger as he was in life! But he kept seeing him lying in the abandoned mine, cold and silent, his heart frozen.
"I’m sick and tired of being your servant!" he shouted up at Orpheus. In his fury he even forgot the hanged men, whose ghosts certainly wouldn’t like so much shouting in the place where they had died. "You haven’t kept your end of the bargain! Instead of bringing Dustfinger back, you’ve made yourself as comfortable in this world as a maggot in a side of bacon. You’ve buried him, like all the others! Fenoglio’s right, you’re about as much use as a perfumed pig’s bladder! I’m going to tell Meggie to send you back again. And she’ll do it, just you wait and see!"