Author Exclusives
Author Exclusives

The Ickabog Chapters 18-23

June 8, 2020
Buy Now
0
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

We’re thrilled that J.K. Rowling has released 5 more chapters of her new children’s fairytale, The Ickabog! She’ll be releasing a new installment every weekday through July, and we’re already counting down the hours until tomorrow. We’ve loved reading it so much that we’ve started re-reading Harry Potter!

Remember to post your children’s artwork on Twitter with the hashtag #TheIckabog for a chance for their artwork to be featured in the published book coming in November.

We won’t keep you any longer… chapters 18-23 are below!

18. End of an Advisor

No sooner had the guardsmen got to their feet to return home, than Lord Flapoon came bursting into the room, looking worried.

‘What now?’ groaned Spittleworth, who very much wanted his bath and bed.

‘The – Chief – Advisor!’ panted Flapoon.

And sure enough, Herringbone, the Chief Advisor, now appeared, wearing his dressing gown and an expression of outrage.

‘I demand an explanation, my lord!’ he cried. ‘What stories are these that reach my ears? The Ickabog, real? Major Beamish, dead? And I’ve just passed three of the king’s soldiers being dragged away under sentence of death! I have, of course, instructed that they be taken to the dungeons to await trial instead!’

‘I can explain everything, Chief Advisor,’ said Spittleworth with a bow, and for the third time that evening, he related the tale of the Ickabog attacking the king, and killing Beamish, and then the mysterious disappearance of Nobby Buttons who, Spittleworth feared, had also fallen prey to the monster.

Herringbone, who’d always deplored the influence of Spittleworth and Flapoon on the king, waited for Spittleworth to finish his farrago of lies with the air of a wily old fox who waits at a rabbit hole for his dinner.

‘A fascinating tale,’ he said, when Spittleworth had finished. ‘But I hereby relieve you of any further responsibility in the matter, Lord Spittleworth. The advisors will take charge now. There are laws and protocols in Cornucopia to deal with emergencies such as these.

‘Firstly, the men in the dungeons will be given a proper trial, so that we can hear their version of events. Secondly, the lists of the king’s soldiers must be searched, to find the family of this Nobby Buttons, and inform them of his death. Thirdly, Major Beamish’s body must be closely examined by the king’s physicians, so that we may learn more about the monster that killed him.’

Spittleworth opened his mouth very wide, but nothing came out. He saw his whole glorious scheme collapsing on top of him, and himself trapped beneath it, imprisoned by his own cleverness.

Then Major Roach, who was standing behind the Chief Advisor, slowly put down his rifle and took a sword from the wall. A look like a flash of light on dark water passed between Roach and Spittleworth, who said:

‘I think, Herringbone, that you are ripe for retirement.’

Steel flashed, and the tip of Roach’s sword appeared out of the Chief Advisor’s belly. The soldiers gasped, but the Chief Advisor didn’t utter a word. He simply knelt, then toppled over, dead.

Spittleworth looked around at the soldiers who’d agreed to believe in the Ickabog. He liked seeing the fear on every face. He could feel his own power.

‘Did everybody hear the Chief Advisor appointing me to his job before he retired?’ he asked softly.

The soldiers all nodded. They’d just stood by and watched murder, and felt too deeply involved to protest. All they cared about now was escaping this room alive, and protecting their families.

‘Very well, then,’ said Spittleworth. ‘The king believes the Ickabog is real, and I stand with the king. I am the new Chief Advisor, and I will be devising a plan to protect the kingdom. All who are loyal to the king will find their lives run very much as before. Any who stand against the king will suffer the penalty of cowards and traitors: imprisonment – or death.

‘Now, I need one of you gentlemen to assist Major Roach in burying the body of our dear Chief Advisor – and be sure and put him where he won’t be found. The rest of you are free to return to your families and inform them of the danger threatening our beloved Cornucopia.’

19. Lady Eslanda

Spittleworth now marched off towards the dungeons. With Herringbone gone, there was nothing to stop him killing the three honest soldiers. He intended to shoot them himself. There would be time enough to invent a story afterwards – possibly he could place their bodies in the vault where the crown jewels were kept, and pretend they’d been trying to steal them.

However, just as Spittleworth put his hand on the door to the dungeons, a quiet voice spoke out of the darkness behind him.

‘Good evening, Lord Spittleworth.’

He turned and saw Lady Eslanda, raven-haired and serious, stepping down from a dark spiral staircase.

‘You’re awake late, my lady,’ said Spittleworth, with a bow.

‘Yes,’ said Lady Eslanda, whose heart was beating very fast. ‘I – I couldn’t sleep. I thought I’d take a little stroll.’

This was a fib. In fact, Eslanda had been fast asleep in her bed when she was woken by a frantic knocking on her bedroom door. Opening it, she found Hetty standing there: the maid who’d served Spittleworth his wine, and heard his lies about Nobby Buttons.

Hetty had been so curious about what Spittleworth was up to after his story about Nobby Buttons, that she’d crept along to the Guard’s Room and, by pressing her ear to the door, heard everything that was going on inside. Hetty ran and hid when the three honest soldiers were dragged away, then sped upstairs to wake Lady Eslanda. She wanted to help the men who were about to be shot. The maid had no idea that Eslanda was secretly in love with Captain Goodfellow. She simply liked Lady Eslanda best of all the ladies at court, and knew her to be kind and clever.

Lady Eslanda hastily pressed some gold into Hetty’s hands and advised her to leave the palace that night, because she was afraid the maid now might be in grave danger. Then Lady Eslanda dressed herself with trembling hands, seized a lantern, and hurried down the spiral staircase beside her bedroom. However, before she reached the bottom of the stairs she heard voices. Blowing out her lantern, Eslanda listened as Herringbone gave the order for Captain Goodfellow and his friends to be taken to the dungeons instead of being shot. She’d been hiding on the stairs ever since, because she had a feeling the danger threatening the men might not yet have passed – and here, sure enough, was Lord Spittleworth, heading for the dungeons with a pistol.

‘Is the Chief Advisor anywhere about?’ Lady Eslanda asked. ‘I thought I heard his voice earlier.’

‘Herringbone has retired,’ said Spittleworth. ‘You see standing before you the new Chief Advisor, my lady.’

‘Oh, congratulations!’ said Eslanda, pretending to be pleased, although she was horrified. ‘So it will be you who oversees the trial of the three soldiers in the dungeons, will it?’

‘You’re very well informed, Lady Eslanda,’ said Spittleworth, eyeing her closely. ‘How did you know there are three soldiers in the dungeons?’

‘I happened to hear Herringbone mention them,’ said Lady Eslanda. ‘They’re well-respected men, it seems. He was saying how important it will be for them to have a fair trial. I know King Fred will agree, because he cares deeply about his own popularity – as he should, for if a king is to be effective, he must be loved.’

Lady Eslanda did a good job of pretending that she was thinking only of the king’s popularity, and I think nine out of ten people would have believed her. Unfortunately, Spittleworth heard the tremor in her voice, and suspected that she must be in love with one of these men, to hurry downstairs in the dead of night, in hope of saving their lives.

‘I wonder,’ he said, watching her closely, ‘which of them it is whom you care about so much?’

Lady Eslanda would have stopped herself blushing if she could, but unfortunately, she couldn’t.

‘I don’t think it can be Ogden,’ mused Spittleworth, ‘because he’s a very plain man, and in any case, he already has a wife. Might it be Wagstaff? He’s an amusing fellow, but prone to boils. No,’ said Lord Spittleworth softly, ‘I think it must be handsome Captain Goodfellow who makes you blush, Lady Eslanda. But would you really stoop so low? His parents were cheesemakers, you know.’

‘It makes no difference to me whether a man is a cheesemaker or a king, so long as he behaves with honour,’ said Eslanda. ‘And the king will be dishonoured, if those soldiers are shot without trial, and so I’ll tell him, when he wakes.’

Lady Eslanda then turned, trembling, and climbed the spiral staircase. She had no idea whether she’d said enough to save the soldiers’ lives, so she spent a sleepless night.

Spittleworth remained standing in the chilly passage until his feet were so cold he could barely feel them. He was trying to decide what to do.

On the one hand, he really did want to get rid of these soldiers, who knew far too much. On the other, he feared Lady Eslanda was right: people would blame the king if the men were shot without trial. Then Fred would be angry at Spittleworth, and might even take the job of Chief Advisor away from him. If that happened, all the dreams of power and riches that Spittleworth had enjoyed on the journey back from the Marshlands would be dashed.

So Spittleworth turned away from the dungeon door and headed to his bed. He was deeply offended by the idea that Lady Eslanda, whom he’d once hoped to marry, preferred the son of cheesemakers. As he blew out his candle, Spittleworth decided that she would pay, one day, for that insult.

20. Medals for Beamish and Buttons

When King Fred woke next morning and was informed that his Chief Advisor had retired at this critical moment in the country’s history, he was furious. It came as a great relief to know that Lord Spittleworth would be taking over, because Fred knew that Spittleworth understood the grave danger facing the kingdom.

Though feeling safer now that he was back in his palace, with its high walls and cannon-mounted turrets, its portcullis and its moat, Fred was unable to shake off the shock of his trip. He stayed shut up in his private apartments, and had all his meals brought to him on golden trays. Instead of going hunting, he paced up and down on his thick carpets, re-living his awful adventure in the north and meeting only his two best friends, who were careful to keep his fears alive.

On the third day after their return from the Marshlands, Spittleworth entered the king’s private apartments with a sombre face, and announced that the soldiers who’d been sent back to the marsh to find out what happened to Private Nobby Buttons had discovered nothing but his bloodstained shoes, a single horseshoe and a few well-gnawed bones.

The king turned white and sat down hard on a satin sofa.

‘Oh, how dreadful, how dreadful… Private Buttons… Remind me, which one was he?’

‘Young man, freckles, only son of a widowed mother,’ said Spittleworth. ‘The newest recruit to the Royal Guard, and such a promising boy. Tragic, really. And the worst of it is, between Beamish and Buttons, the Ickabog has developed a taste for human flesh – precisely as Your Majesty predicted. It is really astonishing, if I may say so, how Your Majesty grasped the danger from the first.’

‘B-but what is to be done, Spittleworth? If the monster is hungry for more human prey…’

‘Leave it all to me, Your Majesty,’ said Spittleworth soothingly. ‘I’m Chief Advisor, you know, and I’m at work day and night to keep the kingdom safe.’

‘I’m so glad Herringbone appointed you his successor, Spittleworth,’ said Fred. ‘What would I do without you?’

‘Tish, pish, Your Majesty, ’tis an honour to serve so gracious a king.

‘Now, we ought to discuss tomorrow’s funerals. We’re intending to bury what’s left of Buttons next to Major Beamish. It is to be a state occasion, you know, with plenty of pomp and ceremony, and I think it would be a very nice touch if you could present the Medal for Outstanding Bravery Against the Deadly Ickabog to relatives of the dead men.’

‘Oh, is there a medal?’ said Fred.

‘Certainly there is, sire, and that reminds me – you haven’t yet received your own.’

From an inner pocket, Spittleworth pulled out a most gorgeous gold medal, almost as large as a saucer. Embossed upon the medal was a monster with gleaming ruby eyes, which was being fought by a handsome, muscular man wearing a crown. The whole thing was suspended from a scarlet velvet ribbon.

‘Mine?’ said the king, wide-eyed.

‘But of course, sire!’ said Spittleworth. ‘Did Your Majesty not plunge your sword into the monster’s loathsome neck? We all remember it happening, sire!’

King Fred fingered the heavy gold medal. Though he said nothing, he was undergoing a silent struggle.

Fred’s honesty had piped up, in a small, clear voice: It didn’t happen like that. You know it didn’t. You saw the Ickabog in the fog, you dropped your sword and you ran away. You never stabbed it. You were never near enough!

But Fred’s cowardice blustered louder than his honesty: You’ve already agreed with Spittleworth that that’s what happened! What a fool you’ll look if you admit you ran away!

And Fred’s vanity spoke loudest of all: After all, I was the one who led the hunt for the Ickabog! I was the one who saw it first! I deserve this medal, and it will stand out beautifully against that black funeral suit.

So Fred said:

‘Yes, Spittleworth, it all happened just as you said. Naturally, one doesn’t like to boast.’

‘Your Majesty’s modesty is legendary,’ said Spittleworth, bowing low to hide his smirk.

The following day was declared a national day of mourning in honour of the Ickabog’s victims. Crowds lined the streets to watch Major Beamish and Private Buttons’ coffins pass on wagons drawn by plumed black horses.

King Fred rode behind the coffins on a jet-black horse, with the Medal for Outstanding Bravery Against the Deadly Ickabog bouncing on his chest and reflecting the sunlight so brightly that it hurt the eyes of the crowd. Behind the king walked Mrs Beamish and Bert, also dressed in black, and behind them came a howling old woman in a ginger wig, who’d been introduced to them as Mrs Buttons, Nobby’s mother.

‘Oh, my Nobby,’ she wailed as she walked. ‘Oh, down with the awful Ickabog, who killed my poor Nobby!’

The coffins were lowered into graves and the national anthem was played by the king’s buglers. Buttons’ coffin was particularly heavy, because it had been filled with bricks. The odd-looking Mrs Buttons wailed and cursed the Ickabog again while ten sweating men lowered her son’s coffin into the ground. Mrs Beamish and Bert stood quietly weeping.

Then King Fred called the grieving relatives forward to receive their men’s medals. Spittleworth hadn’t been prepared to spend as much money on Beamish and the imaginary Buttons as he’d spent on the king, so their medals were made of silver rather than gold. However, it made an affecting ceremony, especially as Mrs Buttons was so overcome that she fell to the ground and kissed the king’s boots.

Mrs Beamish and Bert walked home from the funeral and the crowds parted respectfully to let them pass. Only once did Mrs Beamish pause, and that was when her old friend Mr Dovetail stepped out of the crowd to tell her how sorry he was. The two embraced. Daisy wanted to say something to Bert, but the whole crowd was staring, and she couldn’t even catch his eye, because he was scowling at his feet. Before she knew it, her father had released Mrs Beamish, and Daisy watched her best friend and his mother walk out of sight.

Once they were back in their cottage, Mrs Beamish threw herself face down on her bed where she sobbed and sobbed. Bert tried to comfort her, but nothing worked, so he took his father’s medal into his own bedroom and placed it on the mantelpiece.

Only when he stood back to look at it did he realise that he’d placed his father’s medal right beside the wooden Ickabog that Mr Dovetail had carved for him so long ago. Until this moment, Bert hadn’t connected the toy Ickabog with the way his father had died.

Now he lifted the wooden model from its shelf, placed it on the floor, picked up a poker, and smashed the toy Ickabog to splinters. Then he picked up the remnants of the shattered toy and threw them into the fire. As he watched the flames leap higher and higher, he vowed that one day, when he was old enough, he’d hunt down the Ickabog, and revenge himself upon the monster that had killed his father.

21. Professor Fraudysham

The morning after the funerals, Spittleworth knocked on the door of the king’s apartments again and entered, carrying a lot of scrolls, which he let fall onto the table where the king sat.

‘Spittleworth,’ said Fred, who was still wearing his Medal for Outstanding Bravery Against the Deadly Ickabog, and had dressed in a scarlet suit, the better to show it off, ‘these cakes aren’t as good as usual.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Your Majesty,’ said Spittleworth. ‘I thought it right for the widow Beamish to take a few days off work. These are the work of the under pastry chef.’

‘Well, they’re chewy,’ said Fred, dropping half his Folderol Fancy back on his plate. ‘And what are all these scrolls?’

‘These, sire, are suggestions for improving the kingdom’s defences against the Ickabog,’ said Spittleworth.

‘Excellent, excellent,’ said King Fred, moving the cakes and the teapot aside to make more room, as Spittleworth pulled up a chair.

‘The very first thing to be done, Your Majesty, was to find out as much as we could about the Ickabog itself, the better to discover how to defeat it.’

‘Well, yes, but how, Spittleworth? The monster is a mystery! Everyone’s thought it a fantasy all these years!’

‘That, forgive me, is where Your Majesty is wrong,’ said Spittleworth. ‘By dint of ceaseless searching, I’ve managed to find the foremost Ickabog expert in all of Cornucopia. Lord Flapoon is waiting with him in the hall. With Your Majesty’s permission—’

‘Bring him in, bring him in, do!’ said Fred excitedly.

So Spittleworth left the room and returned shortly afterwards with Lord Flapoon and a little old man with snowy white hair and spectacles so thick that his eyes had vanished almost into nothingness.

‘This, sire, is Professor Fraudysham,’ said Flapoon, as the mole-like little man made a deep bow to the king. ‘What he doesn’t know about Ickabogs isn’t worth knowing!’

‘How is it that I’ve never heard of you before, Professor Fraudysham?’ asked the king, who was thinking that if he’d known the Ickabog was real enough to have its own expert, he’d never have gone looking for it in the first place.

‘I live a retired life, Your Majesty,’ said Professor Fraudysham, with a second bow. ‘So few people believe in the Ickabog that I’ve formed the habit of keeping my knowledge to myself.’

King Fred was satisfied with this answer, which was a relief to Spittleworth, because Professor Fraudysham was no more real than Private Nobby Buttons or, indeed, old Widow Buttons in her ginger wig, who’d howled at Nobby’s funeral. The truth was that beneath the wigs and the glasses, Professor Fraudysham and Widow Buttons were the same person: Lord Spittleworth’s butler, who was called Otto Scrumble, and looked after Lord Spittleworth’s estate while he lived at the palace. Like his master, Scrumble would do anything for gold, and had agreed to impersonate both the widow and the professor for a hundred ducats.

‘So, what can you tell us about the Ickabog, Professor Fraudysham?’ asked the king.

‘Well, let’s see,’ said the pretend professor, who’d been told by Spittleworth what he ought to say. ‘It’s as tall as two horses—’

‘If not taller,’ interrupted Fred, whose nightmares had featured a gigantic Ickabog ever since he’d returned from the Marshlands.

‘If, as Your Majesty says, not taller,’ agreed Fraudysham. ‘I should estimate that a medium-sized Ickabog would be as tall as two horses, whereas a large specimen might reach the size of – let’s see—’

‘Two elephants,’ suggested the king.

‘Two elephants,’ agreed Fraudysham. ‘And with eyes like lamps—’

‘Or glowing balls of fire,’ suggested the king.

‘The very image I was about to employ, sire!’ said Fraudysham.

‘And can the monster really speak in a human tongue?’ asked Fred, in whose nightmares the monster whispered, ‘The king… I want the king… Where are you, little king?’ as it crept through the dark streets towards the palace.

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Fraudysham, with another low bow. ‘We believe the Ickabog learnt to speak Human by taking people prisoner. Before disembowelling and eating its victims, we believe it forces them to give it English lessons.’

‘Suffering Saints, what savagery!’ whispered Fred, who’d turned pale.

‘Moreover,’ said Fraudysham, ‘the Ickabog has a long and vengeful memory. If outwitted by a victim – as you outwitted it, sire, by escaping its deadly clutches – it has sometimes sneaked out of the marsh under cover of darkness, and claimed its victim while he or she slept.’

Whiter than the snowy icing on his half-eaten Folderol Fancy, Fred croaked:

‘What’s to be done? I’m doomed!’

‘Nonsense, Your Majesty,’ said Spittleworth bracingly. ‘I’ve devised a whole raft of measures for your protection.’

So saying, Spittleworth took hold of one of the scrolls he’d brought with him and unrolled it. There, covering most of the table, was a coloured picture of a monster that resembled a dragon. It was huge and ugly, with thick black scales, gleaming white eyes, a tail that ended in a poisonous spike, a fanged mouth large enough to swallow a man, and long, razor-sharp claws.

‘There are several problems to be overcome, when defending against an Ickabog,’ said Professor Fraudysham, now taking out a short stick and pointing in turn to the fangs, the claws, and the poisonous tail. ‘But the most difficult challenge is that killing an Ickabog causes two new Ickabogs to emerge from the corpse of the first.’

‘Surely not?’ said Fred faintly.

‘Oh, yes, Your Majesty,’ said Fraudysham. ‘I’ve made a lifelong study of the monster, and I can assure you that my findings are quite correct.’

‘Your Majesty might remember that many of the old tales of the Ickabog make mention of this curious fact,’ interjected Spittleworth, who really needed the king to believe in this particular trait of the Ickabog, because most of his plan relied on it.

‘But it seems so – so unlikely!’ said Fred weakly.

‘It does seem unlikely on the face of it, doesn’t it, sire?’ said Spittleworth, with another bow. ‘In truth, it’s one of those extraordinary, unbelievable ideas that only the very cleverest people can grasp, whereas common folk – stupid folk, sire – giggle and laugh at the notion.’

Fred looked from Spittleworth to Flapoon to Professor Fraudysham; all three men seemed to be waiting for him to prove how clever he was, and naturally he didn’t want to seem stupid, so he said: ‘Yes… well, if the professor says it, that’s good enough for me… but if the monster turns into two monsters every time it dies, how do we kill it?’

‘Well, in the first phase of our plan, we don’t,’ said Spittleworth.

‘We don’t?’ said Fred, crestfallen.

Spittleworth now unrolled a second scroll, which showed a map of Cornucopia. The northernmost tip had a drawing of a gigantic Ickabog on it. All around the edge of the wide marsh stood a hundred little stick figures, holding swords. Fred looked closely to see whether any of them was wearing a crown, and was relieved to see that none were.

‘As you can see, Your Majesty, our first proposal is a special Ickabog Defence Brigade. These men will patrol the edge of the Marshlands, to ensure that the Ickabog can’t leave the marsh. We estimate the cost of such a brigade, including uniforms, weapons, horses, wages, training, board, lodging, sick pay, danger money, birthday presents, and medals to be around ten thousand gold ducats.’

‘Ten thousand ducats?’ repeated King Fred. ‘That’s a lot of gold. However, when it comes to protecting me – I mean to say, when it comes to protecting Cornucopia—’

‘Ten thousand ducats a month is a small price to pay,’ finished Spittleworth.

‘Ten thousand a month!’ yelped Fred.

‘Yes, sire,’ said Spittleworth. ‘If we’re to truly defend the kingdom, the expense will be considerable. However, if Your Majesty feels we could manage with fewer weapons—’

‘No, no, I didn’t say that—’

‘Naturally, we don’t expect Your Majesty to bear the expense alone,’ continued Spittleworth.

‘You don’t?’ said Fred, suddenly hopeful.

‘Oh, no, sire, that would be grossly unfair. After all, the entire country will benefit from the Ickabog Defence Brigade. I suggest we impose an Ickabog tax. We’ll ask every household in Cornucopia to pay one gold ducat a month. Of course, this will mean the recruitment and training of many new tax collectors, but if we raise the amount to two ducats, we’ll cover the cost of them, too.’

‘Admirable, Spittleworth!’ said King Fred. ‘What a brain you have! Why, two ducats a month – people will barely notice the loss.’

22. The House with No Flags

And so a monthly tax of two gold ducats was imposed on every household in Cornucopia, to protect the country from the Ickabog. Tax collectors soon became a common sight on the streets of Cornucopia. They had large, staring white eyes like lamps painted on the back of their black uniforms. These were supposed to remind everybody of what the tax was for, but people whispered in the taverns that they were Lord Spittleworth’s eyes, watching to make sure everybody paid up.

Once they’d collected enough gold, Spittleworth decided to raise a statue to the memory of one of the Ickabog’s victims, to remind people what a savage beast it was. At first Spittleworth planned a statue of Major Beamish, but his spies in the taverns of Chouxville reported that it was Private Buttons’s story that had really captured the public imagination. Brave young Buttons, who’d volunteered to gallop off into the night with the news of his major’s death, only to end up in the Ickabog’s jaws himself, was generally felt to be a tragic, noble figure deserving of a handsome statue. Major Beamish, on the other hand, seemed merely to have died by accident, blundering unwisely across the foggy marsh in the dark. In fact, the drinkers of Chouxville felt quite resentful towards Beamish, as the man who’d forced Nobby Buttons to risk his life.

Happy to bow to the public mood, Spittleworth had a statue of Nobby Buttons made, and placed it in the middle of the largest public square in Chouxville. Seated on a magnificent charger, with his bronze cloak flying out behind him and a look of determination on his boyish face, Buttons was forever frozen in the act of galloping back to the City-Within-The-City. It became fashionable to lay flowers around the statue’s base every Sunday. One rather plain young woman, who laid flowers every day of the week, claimed she’d been Nobby Buttons’ girlfriend.

Spittleworth also decided to spend some gold on a scheme to keep the king diverted, because Fred was still too scared to go hunting, in case the Ickabog had sneaked south somehow and pounced on him in the forest. Bored of entertaining Fred, Spittleworth and Flapoon had come up with a plan.

‘We need a portrait of you fighting the Ickabog, sire! The nation demands it!’

‘Does it really?’ said the king, fiddling with his buttons, which that day were made of emeralds. Fred remembered the ambition he’d formed, the morning he’d first tried on battledress, of being painted killing the Ickabog. He liked this idea of Spittleworth’s very much, so he spent the next two weeks choosing and being fitted for a new uniform, because the old one was much stained by the marsh, and having a replacement jewelled sword made. Then Spittleworth hired the best portrait painter in Cornucopia, Malik Motley, and Fred began posing for weeks on end, for a portrait large enough to cover an entire wall of the Throne Room. Behind Motley sat fifty lesser artists, all copying his work, so as to have smaller versions of the painting ready to deliver to every city, town, and village in Cornucopia.

While he was being painted, the king amused Motley and the other artists by telling them the story of his famous fight with the monster, and the more he told the story, the more he found himself convinced of its truth. All of this kept Fred happily occupied, leaving Spittleworth and Flapoon free to run the country, and to divide up the trunks of gold left over each month, which were sent in the dead of night to the two lords’ estates in the country.

But what, you might ask, of the eleven other advisors, who’d worked under Herringbone? Didn’t they think it odd that the Chief Advisor had resigned in the middle of the night, and never been seen again? Didn’t they ask questions, when they woke up to find Spittleworth in Herringbone’s place? And, most importantly of all: did they believe in the Ickabog?

Well, those are excellent questions, and I’ll answer them now.

They certainly muttered among themselves that Spittleworth shouldn’t have been allowed to take over, without a proper vote. One or two of them even considered complaining to the king. However, they decided not to act, for the simple reason that they were scared.

You see, royal proclamations had now gone up in every town and village square in Cornucopia, all written by Spittleworth and signed by the king. It was treason to question the king’s decisions, treason to suggest that the Ickabog might not be real, treason to question the need for the Ickabog tax and treason not to pay your two ducats a month. There was also a reward of ten ducats if you reported someone for saying the Ickabog wasn’t real.

The advisors were frightened of being accused of treason. They didn’t want to be locked up in a dungeon. It really was much more pleasant to keep living in the lovely mansions which came with the job of advisor, and to continue wearing their special advisor robes, which meant they were allowed to go straight to the head of the queue in pastry shops.

So they approved all the expenses of the Ickabog Defence Brigade, who wore green uniforms, which Spittleworth said hid them better in the marsh weed. The Brigade soon became a common sight, parading through the streets of all of Cornucopia’s major cities.

Some might wonder why the Brigade was riding through the streets waving at people, instead of remaining up in the north, where the monster was supposed to be, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. Meanwhile, most of their fellow citizens competed with each other to demonstrate their passionate belief in the Ickabog. They propped up cheap copies of the painting of King Fred fighting the Ickabog in their windows, and hung wooden signs on their doors, which bore messages like PROUD TO PAY THE ICKABOG TAX and DOWN WITH THE ICKABOG, UP WITH THE KING! Some parents even taught their children to bow and curtsy to the tax collectors.

The Beamish house was decorated in so many anti-Ickabog banners that it was hard to see what the cottage beneath looked like. Bert had returned to school at last, but to Daisy’s disappointment, he spent all his breaks with Roderick Roach, talking about the time when they would both join the Ickabog Defence Brigade and kill the monster. She’d never felt lonelier, and wondered whether Bert missed her at all.

Daisy’s own house was the only one in the City-Within-The-City that was entirely free of flags and signs welcoming the Ickabog tax. Her father also kept Daisy inside whenever the Ickabog Defence Brigade rode past, rather than urging her to run into the garden and cheer, like the neighbours’ children.

Lord Spittleworth noticed the absence of flags and signs on the tiny cottage beside the graveyard, and filed that knowledge away in the back of his cunning head, where he kept information that might one day prove useful.

23. The Trial

I’m sure you haven’t forgotten those three brave soldiers locked up in the dungeons, who’d refused to believe in either the Ickabog or in Nobby Buttons.

Well, Spittleworth hadn’t forgotten them either. He’d been trying to think up ways to get rid of them, without being blamed for it, ever since the night he’d imprisoned them. His latest idea was to feed them poison in their soup, and pretend they’d died of natural causes. He was still trying to decide on the best poison to use, when some of the soldiers’ relatives turned up at the palace gates, demanding to speak to the king. Even worse, Lady Eslanda was with them, and Spittleworth had the sneaking suspicion she’d arranged the whole thing.

Instead of taking them to the king, Spittleworth had the group shown into his splendid new Chief Advisor’s office, where he invited them politely to sit down.

‘We want to know when our boys are going to stand trial,’ said Private Ogden’s brother, who was a pig farmer from just outside Baronstown.

‘You’ve had them locked up for months now,’ said the mother of Private Wagstaff, who was a barmaid in a Jeroboam tavern.

‘And we’d all like to know what they’re charged with,’ said Lady Eslanda.

‘They’re charged with treason,’ said Spittleworth, wafting his scented handkerchief under his nose, with his eyes on the pig farmer. The man was perfectly clean, but Spittleworth meant to make him feel small, and I’m sorry to say he succeeded.

‘Treason?’ repeated Mrs Wagstaff in astonishment. ‘Why, you won’t find more loyal subjects of the king anywhere in the land than those three!’

Spittleworth’s crafty eyes moved between the worried relatives, who so clearly loved their brothers and sons very deeply, and Lady Eslanda, whose face was so anxious, and a brilliant idea flashed into his brain like a lightning strike. He didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it before! He didn’t need to poison the soldiers at all! What he needed was to ruin their reputations.

‘Your men will be put on trial tomorrow,’ he said, getting to his feet. ‘The trial will take place in the largest square in Chouxville, because I want as many people as possible to hear what they have to say. Good day to you, ladies and gentlemen.’

And with a smirk and a bow, Spittleworth left the astonished relatives and proceeded down into the dungeons.

The three soldiers were a lot thinner than the last time he’d seen them, and as they hadn’t been able to shave or keep very clean, they made a miserable picture.

‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ said Spittleworth briskly, while the drunken warder snoozed in a corner. ‘Good news! You’re to stand trial tomorrow.’

‘And what exactly are we charged with?’ asked Captain Goodfellow suspiciously.

‘We’ve been through this already, Goodfellow,’ said Spittleworth. ‘You saw the monster on the marsh, and ran away instead of staying to protect your king. You then claimed the monster isn’t real, to cover up your own cowardice. That’s treason.’

‘It’s a filthy lie,’ said Goodfellow, in a low voice. ‘Do what you like to me, Spittleworth, but I’ll tell the truth.’

The other two soldiers, Ogden and Wagstaff, nodded their agreement with the captain.

‘You might not care what I do to you,’ said Spittleworth, smiling, ‘but what about your families? It would be awful, wouldn’t it, Wagstaff, if that barmaid mother of yours slipped on her way down into the cellar, and cracked open her skull? Or, Ogden, if your pig-farming brother accidentally stabbed himself with his own scythe, and got eaten by his own pigs? Or,’ whispered Spittleworth, moving closer to the bars, and staring into Goodfellow’s eyes, ‘if Lady Eslanda were to have a riding accident, and break her slender neck.’

You see, Spittleworth believed that Lady Eslanda was Captain Goodfellow’s lover. It would never occur to him that a woman might try and protect a man to whom she’d never even spoken.

Captain Goodfellow wondered why on earth Lord Spittleworth was threatening him with the death of Lady Eslanda. True, he thought her the loveliest woman in the kingdom, but he’d always kept that to himself, because cheesemakers’ sons didn’t marry ladies of the court.

‘What has Lady Eslanda to do with me?’ he asked.

‘Don’t pretend, Goodfellow,’ snapped the Chief Advisor. ‘I’ve seen her blushes when your name is mentioned. Do you think me a fool? She has been doing all that she can to protect you and, I must admit, it is down to her that you’re still alive. However, it is the Lady Eslanda who’ll pay the price if you tell any truth but mine tomorrow. She saved your life, Goodfellow: will you sacrifice hers?’

Goodfellow was speechless with shock. The idea that Lady Eslanda was in love with him was so marvellous that it almost eclipsed Spittleworth’s threats. Then the captain realised that, in order to save Eslanda’s life, he would have to publicly confess to treason the next day, which would surely kill her love for him stone-dead.

From the way the colour had drained out of the three men’s faces, Spittleworth could see that his threats had done the trick.

‘Take courage, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘I’m sure no awful accidents will happen to your loved ones, as long as you tell the truth tomorrow…’

So notices were pinned up all over the capital announcing the trial, and the following day, an enormous crowd packed itself into the largest square in Chouxville. Each of the three brave soldiers took it in turns to stand on a wooden platform, while their friends and families watched, and one by one they confessed that they’d met the Ickabog on the marsh, and had run away like cowards instead of defending the king.

The crowd booed the soldiers so loudly that it was hard to hear what the judge (Lord Spittleworth) was saying. However, all the time Spittleworth was reading out the sentence – life imprisonment in the palace dungeons – Captain Goodfellow stared directly into the eyes of Lady Eslanda, who sat watching, high in the stands, with the other ladies of the court. Sometimes, two people can tell each other more with a look than others could tell each other with a lifetime of words. I will not tell you everything that Lady Eslanda and Captain Goodfellow said with their eyes, but she knew, now, that the captain returned her feelings, and he learnt, even though he was going to prison for the rest of his life, that Lady Eslanda knew he was innocent.

The three prisoners were led from the platform in chains, while the crowd threw cabbages at them and then dispersed, chattering loudly. Many of them felt Lord Spittleworth should have put the traitors to death, and Spittleworth chuckled to himself as he returned to the palace, for it was always best, if possible, to seem a reasonable man.

Mr Dovetail had watched the trial from the back of the crowd. He hadn’t booed the soldiers, nor had he brought Daisy with him, but had left her carving in his workshop. As Mr Dovetail walked home, lost in thought, he saw Wagstaff’s weeping mother being followed along the street by a gang of youths, who were booing and throwing vegetables at her.

‘You follow this woman any further, and you’ll have me to deal with!’ Mr Dovetail shouted at the gang, who, seeing the size of the carpenter, slunk away.



You might also like...