Inkspell (Inkworld #2)

by Cornelia Funke

Chapter 1 – Words Made to Measure

He has been trying to sing

Love into existence again

And he has failed.

– Margaret Atwood, “Orpheus 2”, Eating Fire

Twilight was gathering, and Orpheus still wasn’t here.

Farid’s heart beat faster, as it always did when day left him alone with the darkness. Curse that Cheeseface! Where could he be? The birds were falling silent in the trees, as if the approach of night had stifled their voices, and the nearby mountains were turning black. You might have thought the setting sun had singed them. Soon the whole world would be black as pitch, even the grass beneath Farid’s bare feet, and the ghosts would begin to whisper. Farid knew only one place where he felt safe from them: right behind Dustfinger, so close that he could feel his warmth. Dustfinger wasn’t afraid of the night. He liked it.

“Hearing them again, are you?” he asked, as Farid pressed close to him. “How many times do I have to tell you? There aren’t any ghosts in this world. One of its few advantages.” Dustfinger stood there leaning against an oak tree, looking down the lonely road. In the distance, a streetlamp cast its light on the cracked asphalt where a few houses huddled by the roadside.

There were scarcely a dozen of them, standing close together as if they feared the night as much as Farid.

The house where Cheeseface lived was the first on the road. There was a light on behind one of its windows. Dustfinger had been staring at it for more than an hour. Farid had often tried standing motionless like that, but his limbs simply would not keep still.

“I’m going to find out where he is!”

“No, you’re not!” Dustfinger’s face was as expressionless as ever, but his voice gave him away.

Farid heard the impatience in it .. and the hope that refused to die, although it had been disappointed so often before. “Are you sure he said Friday?” “Yes, and this is Friday, right?”

Dustfinger just nodded, then pushed his shoulder-length hair back from his face. Farid had tried growing his own hair long, but it was so curly, tangled, and unruly that in the end he cut it short again with his knife.

“Friday outside the village at four o’clock,’ that’s what he said. While that dog of his growled at me as if it really craved a nice crunchy boy to eat!” The wind blew through Farid’s thin sweater, and he rubbed his arms, shivering. A good warm fire, that’s what he’d have liked now, but Dustfinger wouldn’t let him light so much as a match in this wind. Four o’clock .. Cursing quietly, Farid looked up at the darkening sky. He knew it was well past four, even without a watch.

“I tell you, he’s making us wait on purpose, the stuck-up idiot!”

Dustfinger’s thin lips twisted into a smile. Farid was finding it easier and easier to make him smile. Perhaps that was why he’d promised to take Farid, too .. supposing Orpheus really did send Dustfinger back. Back to his own world, created from paper, printer’s ink, and an old man’s words.

Oh, come on! thought Farid. How would Orpheus, of all people, succeed where all the others had failed? So many had tried it .. the Stammerer, Golden Eyes, Raventongue. Swindlers who had taken their money.

The light went out behind Orpheus’s window, and Dustfinger abruptly straightened up. A door closed. The sound of footsteps echoed through the darkness: rapid, irregular footsteps. Then Orpheus appeared in the light of the single streetlamp. Farid had privately nicknamed him Cheeseface because of his pale skin and the way he sweated like a piece of cheese in the sun.

Breathing heavily, he walked down the steep slope of the road, with his hellhound beside him.

It was ugly as a hyena. When Orpheus saw Dustfinger standing by the roadside he stopped, smiled broadly, and waved to him.

Farid grasped Dustfinger’s arm. “Look at that silly grin. False as fool’s gold!” he whispered. “How can you trust him?” “Who says I trust him? And what’s the matter with you?

You’re all jittery. Would you rather stay here? Cars, moving pictures, canned music, light that keeps the night away –”

Dustfinger clambered over the knee-high wall beside the road. “You like all that. You’ll be bored to death where I want to go.” What was he talking about? As if he didn’t know perfectly well that there was only one thing Farid wanted: to stay with him. He was about to reply angrily, but a sharp crack, like boots treading on a twig, made him spin around. Dustfinger had heard it, too.

He had stopped and was listening. But there was nothing to be seen among the trees, only the branches moving in the wind, and a moth, pale as a ghost, that fluttered in Farid’s face.

“I’m sorry, it took longer than I expected!” cried Orpheus as he approached them.

Farid still couldn’t grasp the fact that such a voice could emerge from that mouth. They had heard about Orpheus’s voice in several villages, and Dustfinger had set out at once in search of it, but not until a week ago had they found the man himself in a library, reading fairy tales to a few children. None of the children seemed to notice the dwarf who suddenly slipped out from behind one of the shelves crammed with well-thumbed books. But Dustfinger had seen him. He had lain in wait for Orpheus, approaching him just as he was about to get into his car again, and finally he’d shown him the book – the book that Farid had cursed more often than anything else on earth.

“Oh, I know that book!” Orpheus had breathed. “And as for you,” he had added almost devoutly, looking at Dustfinger as if to stare the scars from his cheeks, “I know you, too! You’re the best thing in it. Dustfinger! The fire-eater! Who read you here into this saddest of all stories? No, don’t say anything! You want to go back, don’t you? But you can’t find the door, the door hidden among the letters on the page! Never mind! I can build you a new one, with words made to measure! For a special price, between friends – if you’re really the man I take you for.”

A special price between friends? What a laugh! They’d had to promise him almost all their money, and then wait for him for hours in this godforsaken spot, on this windy night that smelled of ghosts.

“Is the marten in there?” Orpheus shone his flashlight on Dustfinger’s backpack. “You know my dog doesn’t like him.” “No, he’s finding something to eat.” Dustfinger’s eyes wandered to the book under Orpheus’s arm. “Well? Have you . . done it?”

“Of course!” As Orpheus spoke, the hellhound bared its teeth and glared at Farid. “To start with, the words were rather hard to find. Perhaps because I was so excited. As I told you at our first meeting, this book, Inkheart” – Orpheus stroked the volume “was my favourite when I was a child. I was eleven when I last saw it. I kept borrowing it from our run-down library until it was stolen. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been brave enough to steal it myself, and then someone else did, but I never forgot it. This book taught me, once and for all, how easily you can escape this world with the help of words! You can find friends between the pages of a book, wonderful friends!

Friends like you, fire-eaters, giants, fairies .. ! Have you any idea how bitterly I wept when I read about your death? But you’re alive, and everything will be all right! You will retell the story –”