Author Exclusives
Author Exclusives

The Ickabog Chapters 3-8!

May 28, 2020
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We’re thrilled that J.K. Rowling has just 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.

If you need to catch up, click to link to read chapters one and two. We won’t keep you any longer… chapters 3-8 are below!

3. Death of a Seamstress

The Beamish and Dovetail families both lived in a place called the City-Within-The-City. This was the part of Chouxville where all the people who worked for King Fred had houses. Gardeners, cooks, tailors, pageboys, seamstresses, stonemasons, grooms, carpenters, footmen, and maids: all of them occupied neat little cottages just outside the palace grounds.

The City-Within-The-City was separated from the rest of Chouxville by a high white wall, and the gates in the wall stood open during the day, so that the residents could visit friends and family in the rest of Chouxville, and go to the markets. By night, the sturdy gates were closed, and everyone in the City-Within-The-City slept, like the king, under the protection of the Royal Guard.

Major Beamish, Bert’s father, was head of the Royal Guard. A handsome, cheerful man who rode a steel-grey horse, he accompanied King Fred, Lord Spittleworth, and Lord Flapoon on their hunting trips, which usually happened five times a week. The king liked Major Beamish, and he also liked Bert’s mother, because Bertha Beamish was the king’s own private pastry chef, a high honour in that city of world-class bakers. Due to Bertha’s habit of bringing home fancy cakes that hadn’t turned out absolutely perfectly, Bert was a plump little boy, and sometimes, I regret to say, the other children called him ‘Butterball’ and made him cry.

Bert’s best friend was Daisy Dovetail. The two children had been born days apart, and acted more like brother and sister than playmates. Daisy was Bert’s defender against bullies. She was skinny but fast, and more than ready to fight anyone who called Bert ‘Butterball’.

Daisy’s father, Dan Dovetail, was the king’s carpenter, repairing and replacing the wheels and shafts on his carriages. As Mr Dovetail was so clever at carving, he also made bits of furniture for the palace.

Daisy’s mother, Dora Dovetail, was the Head Seamstress of the palace – another honoured job, because King Fred liked clothes, and kept a whole team of tailors busy making him new costumes every month.

It was the king’s great fondness for finery that led to a nasty incident which the history books of Cornucopia would later record as the beginning of all the troubles that were to engulf that happy little kingdom. At the time it happened, only a few people within the City-Within-The-City knew anything about it, though for some, it was an awful tragedy.

What happened was this.

The King of Pluritania came to pay a formal visit to Fred (still hoping, perhaps, to exchange one of his daughters for a lifetime’s supply of Hopes-of-Heaven) and Fred decided that he must have a brand-new set of clothes made for the occasion: dull purple, overlaid with silver lace, with amethyst buttons, and grey fur at the cuffs.

Now, King Fred had heard something about the Head Seamstress not being quite well, but he hadn’t paid much attention. He didn’t trust anyone but Daisy’s mother to stitch on the silver lace properly, so gave the order that nobody else should be given the job. In consequence, Daisy’s mother sat up three nights in a row, racing to finish the purple suit in time for the King of Pluritania’s visit, and at dawn on the fourth day, her assistant found her lying on the floor, dead, with the very last amethyst button in her hand.

The king’s Chief Advisor came to break the news, while Fred was still having his breakfast. The Chief Advisor was a wise old man called Herringbone, with a silver beard that hung almost to his knees. After explaining that the Head Seamstress had died, he said:

‘But I’m sure one of the other ladies will be able to fix on the last button for Your Majesty.’

There was a look in Herringbone’s eye that King Fred didn’t like. It gave him a squirming feeling in the pit of his stomach.

While his dressers were helping him into the new purple suit later that morning, Fred tried to make himself feel less guilty by talking the matter over with Lords Spittleworth and Flapoon.

‘I mean to say, if I’d known she was seriously ill,’ panted Fred, as the servants heaved him into his skin-tight satin pantaloons, ‘naturally I’d have let someone else sew the suit.’

‘Your Majesty is so kind,’ said Spittleworth, as he examined his sallow complexion in the mirror over the fireplace. ‘A more tender-hearted monarch was never born.’

‘The woman should have spoken up if she felt unwell,’ grunted Flapoon from a cushioned seat by the window. ‘If she’s not fit to work, she should’ve said so. Properly looked at, that’s disloyalty to the king. Or to your suit, anyway.’

‘Flapoon’s right,’ said Spittleworth, turning away from the mirror. ‘Nobody could treat his servants better than you do, sire.’

‘I do treat them well, don’t I?’ said King Fred anxiously, sucking in his stomach as the dressers did up his amethyst buttons. ‘And after all, chaps, I’ve got to look my blasted best today, haven’t I? You know how dressy the King of Pluritania always is!’

‘It would be a matter of national shame if you were any less well-dressed than the King of Pluritania,’ said Spittleworth.

‘Put this unhappy occurrence out of your mind, sire,’ said Flapoon. ‘A disloyal seamstress is no reason to spoil a sunny day.’

And yet, in spite of the two lords’ advice, King Fred couldn’t be quite easy in his mind. Perhaps he was imagining it, but he thought Lady Eslanda looked particularly serious that day. The servants’ smiles seemed colder, and the maids’ curtsies a little less deep. As his court feasted that evening with the King of Pluritania, Fred’s thoughts kept drifting back to the seamstress, dead on the floor, with the last amethyst button clutched in her hand.

Before Fred went to bed that night, Herringbone knocked on his bedroom door. After bowing deeply, the Chief Advisor asked whether the king was intending to send flowers to Mrs Dovetail’s funeral.

‘Oh – oh, yes!’ said Fred, startled. ‘Yes, send a big wreath, you know, saying how sorry I am and so forth. You can arrange that, can’t you, Herringbone?’

‘Certainly, sire,’ said the Chief Advisor. ‘And – if I may ask – are you planning to visit the seamstress’s family, at all? They live, you know, just a short walk from the palace gates.’

‘Visit them?’ said the king pensively. ‘Oh, no, Herringbone, I don’t think I’d like – I mean to say, I’m sure they aren’t expecting that.’

Herringbone and the king looked at each other for a few seconds, then the Chief Advisor bowed and left the room.

Now, as King Fred was used to everyone telling him what a marvellous chap he was, he really didn’t like the frown with which the Chief Advisor had left. He now began to feel cross rather than ashamed.

‘It’s a bally pity,’ he told his reflection, turning back to the mirror in which he’d been combing his moustaches before bed, ‘but after all, I’m the king and she was a seamstress. If I died, I wouldn’t have expected her to—’

But then it occurred to him that if he died, he’d expect the whole of Cornucopia to stop whatever they were doing, dress all in black and weep for a week, just as they’d done for his father, Richard the Righteous.

‘Well, anyway,’ he said impatiently to his reflection, ‘life goes on.’

He put on his silk nightcap, climbed into his four-poster bed, blew out the candle and fell asleep.

4. The Quiet House

Mrs Dovetail was buried in the graveyard in the City-Within-The-City, where generations of royal servants lay. Daisy and her father stood hand-in-hand, looking down at the grave, for a long time. Bert kept looking back at Daisy as his tearful mother and grim-faced father led him slowly away. Bert wanted to say something to his best friend, but what had happened was too enormous and dreadful for words. Bert could hardly bear to imagine how he’d feel if his mother had disappeared forever into the cold, hard earth.

When all their friends had gone, Mr Dovetail moved the purple wreath sent by the king away from Mrs Dovetail’s headstone, and put in its place the small bunch of snowdrops that Daisy had collected that morning. Then the two Dovetails walked slowly home to a house they knew would never be the same again.

A week after the funeral, the king rode out of the palace with the Royal Guard to go hunting. As usual, everyone along his route came rushing out into their gardens to bow, curtsy, and cheer. As the king bowed and waved back, he noticed that the front garden of one cottage remained empty. It had black drapes at the windows and the front door.

‘Who lives there?’ he asked Major Beamish.

‘That – that’s the Dovetail house, Your Majesty,’ said Beamish.

‘Dovetail, Dovetail,’ said the king, frowning. ‘I’ve heard that name, haven’t I?’

‘Er… yes, sire,’ said Major Beamish. ‘Mr Dovetail is Your Majesty’s carpenter and Mrs Dovetail is – was – Your Majesty’s Head Seamstress.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said King Fred hurriedly, ‘I – I remember.’

And spurring his milk-white charger into a canter, he rode swiftly past the black-draped windows of the Dovetail cottage, trying to think of nothing but the day’s hunting that lay ahead.

But every time the king rode out after that, he couldn’t help but fix his eyes on the empty garden and the black-draped door of the Dovetail residence, and every time he saw the cottage, the image of the dead seamstress clutching that amethyst button came back to him. Finally, he could bear it no longer, and summoned the Chief Advisor to him.

‘Herringbone,’ he said, not looking the old man in the eye, ‘there’s a house on the corner, on the way to the park. Rather a nice cottage. Large-ish garden.’

‘The Dovetail house, Your Majesty?’

‘Oh, that’s who lives there, is it?’ said King Fred airily. ‘Well, it occurs to me that it’s rather a big place for a small family. I think I’ve heard there are only two of them, is that correct?’

‘Perfectly correct, Your Majesty. Just two, since the mother—’

‘It doesn’t really seem fair, Herringbone,’ King Fred said loudly, ‘for that nice, spacious cottage to be given to only two people, when there are families of five or six, I believe, who’d be happy with a little more room.’

‘You’d like me to move the Dovetails, Your Majesty?’

‘Yes, I think so,’ said King Fred, pretending to be very interested in the tip of his satin shoe.
‘Very well, Your Majesty,’ said the Chief Advisor, with a deep bow. ‘I shall ask them to swap with Roach’s family, who I’m sure would be glad of more space, and I shall put the Dovetails in the Roaches’ house.’

‘And where is that, exactly?’ asked the king nervously, for the last thing he wanted was to see those black drapes even nearer the palace gates.

‘Right on the edge of the City-Within-The-City,’ said the Chief Advisor. ‘Very close to the graveyard, in f—’

‘That sounds suitable,’ interrupted King Fred, leaping to his feet. ‘I have no need of details. Just make it happen, Herringbone, there’s a good chap.’

And so, Daisy and her father were instructed to swap houses with the family of Captain Roach, who, like Bert’s father, was a member of the king’s Royal Guard. The next time King Fred rode out, the black drapes had vanished from the door and the Roach children – four strapping brothers, the ones who’d first christened Bert Beamish ‘Butterball’ – came running into the front garden and jumped up and down, cheering and waving Cornucopian flags. King Fred beamed and waved back at the boys. Weeks passed, and King Fred forgot all about the Dovetails, and was happy again.

5. Daisy Dovetail

For some months after Mrs Dovetail’s shocking death, the king’s servants were divided into two groups. The first group whispered that King Fred had been to blame for the way she’d died. The second preferred to believe there’d been some kind of mistake, and that the king couldn’t have known how ill Mrs Dovetail was before giving the order that she must finish his suit.

Mrs Beamish, the pastry chef, belonged to the second group. The king had always been very nice to Mrs Beamish, sometimes even inviting her into the dining room to congratulate her on particularly fine batches of Dukes’ Delights or Folderol Fancies, so she was sure he was a kind, generous, and considerate man.

‘You mark my words, somebody forgot to give the king a message,’ she told her husband, Major Beamish. ‘He’d never make an ill servant work. I know he must feel simply awful about what happened.’

‘Yes,’ said Major Beamish, ‘I’m sure he does.’

Like his wife, Major Beamish wanted to think the best of the king, because he, his father, and his grandfather before him had all served loyally in the Royal Guard. So even though Major Beamish observed that King Fred seemed quite cheerful after Mrs Dovetail’s death, hunting as regularly as ever, and though Major Beamish knew that the Dovetails had been moved out of their old house to live down by the graveyard, he tried to believe that the king was sorry for what had happened to his seamstress, and that he’d had no hand in moving her husband and daughter.

The Dovetails’ new cottage was a gloomy place. Sunlight was blocked out by the high yew trees that bordered the graveyard, although Daisy’s bedroom window gave her a clear view of her mother’s grave, through a gap between dark branches. As she no longer lived next door to Bert, Daisy saw less of him in her free time, although Bert went to visit Daisy as often as possible. There was much less room to play in her new garden, but they adjusted their games to fit.

What Mr Dovetail thought about his new house, or the king, nobody knew. He never discussed these matters with his fellow servants, but went quietly about his work, earning the money he needed to support his daughter and raising Daisy as best he could without her mother.

Daisy, who liked helping her father in his carpenter’s workshop, had always been happiest in overalls. She was the kind of person who didn’t mind getting dirty and she wasn’t very interested in clothes. Yet in the days following the funeral, she wore a different dress every day to take a fresh posy to her mother’s grave. While alive, Mrs Dovetail had always tried to make her daughter look, as she put it, ‘like a little lady’, and had made her many beautiful little gowns, sometimes from the offcuts of material that King Fred graciously let her keep after she’d made his superb costumes.

And so a week passed, then a month, and then a year, until the dresses her mother had sewn her were all too small for Daisy, but she still kept them carefully in her wardrobe. Other people seemed to have forgotten what had happened to Daisy, or had got used to the idea of her mother being gone. Daisy pretended that she was used to it too. On the surface, her life returned to something like normal. She helped her father in the workshop, did her schoolwork and played with her best friend, Bert, but they never spoke about her mother, and they never talked about the king. Every night, Daisy lay with her eyes fixed on the distant white headstone shining in the moonlight, until she fell asleep.

6. The Fight in the Courtyard

There was a courtyard behind the palace where peacocks walked, fountains played, and statues of former kings and queens kept watch. As long as they didn’t pull the peacocks’ tails, jump in the fountains, or climb the statues, the children of the palace servants were allowed to play in the courtyard after school. Sometimes Lady Eslanda, who liked children, would come and make daisy chains with them, but the most exciting thing of all was when King Fred came out onto the balcony and waved, which made all the children cheer, bow, and curtsy as their parents had taught them.

The only time the children fell silent, ceased their games of hopscotch, and stopped pretending to fight the Ickabog, was when the lords Spittleworth and Flapoon passed through the courtyard. These two lords weren’t fond of children at all. They thought the little brats made far too much noise in the late afternoon, which was precisely the time when Spittleworth and Flapoon liked to take a nap between hunting and dinner.

One day, shortly after Bert and Daisy’s seventh birthdays, when everyone was playing as usual between the fountains and the peacocks, the daughter of the new Head Seamstress, who was wearing a beautiful dress of rose-pink brocade, said:

‘Oh, I do hope the king waves at us today!’

‘Well, I don’t,’ said Daisy, who couldn’t help herself, and didn’t realise how loudly she’d spoken.

The children all gasped and turned to look at her. Daisy felt hot and cold at once, seeing them all glaring.

‘You shouldn’t have said that,’ whispered Bert. As he was standing right next to Daisy, the other children were staring at him too.

‘I don’t care,’ said Daisy, colour rising in her face. She’d started now, so she might as well finish. ‘If he hadn’t worked my mother so hard, she’d still be alive.’

Daisy felt as though she’d been wanting to say that out loud for a very long time.

There was another gasp from all the surrounding children, and a maid’s daughter actually squealed in terror.

‘He’s the best king of Cornucopia we’ve ever had,’ said Bert, who’d heard his mother say so many times.

‘No, he isn’t,’ said Daisy loudly. ‘He’s selfish, vain, and cruel!’

‘Daisy!’ whispered Bert, horrified. ‘Don’t be – don’t be silly!

It was the word ‘silly’ that did it. ‘Silly’, when the new Head Seamstress’s daughter smirked and whispered behind her hand to her friends, while pointing at Daisy’s overalls? ‘Silly’, when her father wiped away his tears in the evenings, thinking Daisy wasn’t looking? ‘Silly’, when to talk to her mother she had to visit a cold white headstone?

Daisy drew back her hand, and smacked Bert right around the face.

Then the oldest Roach brother, whose name was Roderick and who now lived in Daisy’s old bedroom, shouted, ‘Don’t let her get away with it, Butterball!’ and led all the boys in shouts of ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’

Terrified, Bert gave Daisy’s shoulder a half-hearted shove, and it seemed to Daisy that the only thing to do was to launch herself at Bert, and everything became dust and elbows until suddenly the two children were pulled apart by Bert’s father, Major Beamish, who’d come running out of the palace on hearing the commotion, to find out what was going on.

‘Dreadful behaviour,’ muttered Lord Spittleworth, walking past the major and the two sobbing, struggling children.

But as he turned away, a broad smirk spread over Lord Spittleworth’s face. He was a man who knew how to turn a situation to good use, and he thought he might have found a way to banish children – or some of them, anyway – from the palace courtyard.

7. Lord Spittleworth Tells Tales

That night, the two lords dined, as usual, with King Fred. After a sumptuous meal of Baronstown venison, accompanied by the finest Jeroboam wine, followed by a selection of Kurdsburg cheeses and some of Mrs Beamish’s featherlight Fairies’ Cradles, Lord Spittleworth decided the moment had come. He cleared his throat, then said:

‘I do hope, Your Majesty, that you weren’t disturbed by that disgusting fight among the children in the courtyard this afternoon?’

‘Fight?’ repeated King Fred, who’d been talking to his tailor about the design for a new cloak, so had heard nothing. ‘What fight?’

‘Oh dear… I thought Your Majesty knew,’ said Lord Spittleworth, pretending to be startled. ‘Perhaps Major Beamish could tell you all about it.’

But King Fred was amused rather than disturbed.

‘Oh, I believe scuffles among children are quite usual, Spittleworth.’

Spittleworth and Flapoon exchanged looks behind the king’s back, and Spittleworth tried again.

‘Your Majesty is, as ever, the very soul of kindness,’ said Spittleworth.

‘Of course, some kings,’ Flapoon muttered, brushing crumbs off the front of his waistcoat, ‘if they’d heard that a child spoke of the crown so disrespectfully…’

‘What’s that?’ exclaimed Fred, the smile fading from his face. ‘A child spoke of me… disrespectfully?’ Fred couldn’t believe it. He was used to the children shrieking with excitement when he bowed to them from the balcony.

‘I believe so, Your Majesty,’ said Spittleworth, examining his fingernails, ‘but, as I mentioned… it was Major Beamish who separated the children… he has all the details.’

The candles sputtered a little in their silver sticks.

‘Children… say all manner of things, in fun,’ said King Fred. ‘Doubtless the child meant no harm.’

‘Sounded like bally treason to me,’ grunted Flapoon.

‘But,’ said Spittleworth swiftly, ‘it is Major Beamish who knows the details. Flapoon and I may, perhaps, have misheard.’

Fred sipped his wine. At that moment, a footman entered the room to remove the pudding plates.

‘Cankerby,’ said King Fred, for such was the footman’s name, ‘fetch Major Beamish here.’

Unlike the king and the two lords, Major Beamish didn’t eat seven courses for dinner every night. He’d finished his supper hours ago, and was getting ready for bed when the summons from the king arrived. The major hastily swapped his pyjamas for his uniform, and dashed back to the palace, by which time King Fred, Lord Spittleworth, and Lord Flapoon had retired to the Yellow Parlour, where they were sitting on satin armchairs, drinking more Jeroboam wine and, in Flapoon’s case, eating a second plate of Fairies’ Cradles.

‘Ah, Beamish,’ said King Fred, as the major made a deep bow. ‘I hear there was a little commotion in the courtyard this afternoon.’

The major’s heart sank. He’d hoped that news of Bert and Daisy’s fight wouldn’t reach the king’s ears.

‘Oh, it was really nothing, Your Majesty,’ said Beamish.

‘Come, come, Beamish,’ said Flapoon. ‘You should be proud that you’ve taught your son not to tolerate traitors.’

‘I… there was no question of treachery,’ said Major Beamish. ‘They’re only children, my lord.’

‘Do I understand that your son defended me, Beamish?’ said King Fred.

Major Beamish was in a most unfortunate position. He didn’t want to tell the king what Daisy had said. Whatever his own loyalty to the king, he quite understood why the motherless little girl felt the way she did about Fred, and the last thing he wanted to do was to get her into trouble. At the same time, he was well aware that there were twenty witnesses who could tell the king exactly what Daisy had said, and was sure that, if he lied, Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon would tell the king that he, Major Beamish, was also disloyal and treacherous.

‘I… yes, Your Majesty, it’s true that my son Bert defended you,’ said Major Beamish. ‘However, allowance must surely be made for the little girl who said the… the unfortunate thing about Your Majesty. She’s passed through a great deal of trouble, Your Majesty, and even unhappy grown-ups may talk wildly at times.’

‘What kind of trouble has the girl passed through?’ asked King Fred, who couldn’t imagine any good reason for a subject to speak rudely of him.

‘She… her name is Daisy Dovetail, Your Majesty,’ said Major Beamish, staring over King Fred’s head at a picture of his father, King Richard the Righteous. ‘Her mother was the seamstress who—’

‘Yes, yes, I remember,’ said King Fred loudly, cutting Major Beamish off. ‘Very well, that’s all, Beamish. Off you go.’

Somewhat relieved, Major Beamish bowed deeply again and had almost reached the door when he heard the king’s voice.

‘What exactly did the girl say, Beamish?’

Major Beamish paused with his hand on the doorknob. There was nothing else for it but to tell the truth.

‘She said that Your Majesty is selfish, vain, and cruel,’ said Major Beamish.

Not daring to look at the king, he left the room.

8. The Day of Petition

Selfish, vain, and cruel. Selfish, vain, and cruel.

The words echoed in the king’s head as he pulled on his silk nightcap. It couldn’t be true, could it? It took Fred a long time to fall asleep, and when he woke in the morning he felt, if anything, worse.

He decided he wanted to do something kind, and the first thing that occurred to him was to reward Beamish’s son, who’d defended him against that nasty little girl. So he took a small medallion that usually hung around the neck of his favourite hunting dog, asked a maid to thread ribbon through it, and summoned the Beamishes to the palace. Bert, whom his mother had pulled out of class and hurriedly dressed in a blue velvet suit, was struck speechless in the presence of the king, which Fred enjoyed, and he spent several minutes speaking kindly to the boy, while Major and Mrs Beamish nearly burst with pride in their son. Finally, Bert returned to school, with his little gold medal around his neck, and was made much of in the playground that afternoon by Roderick Roach, who was usually his biggest bully. Daisy said nothing at all and when Bert caught her eye, he felt hot and uncomfortable, and shoved the medal out of sight beneath his shirt.

The king, meanwhile, still wasn’t entirely happy. An uneasy feeling stayed with him, like indigestion, and again, he found it hard to sleep that night.

When he woke the next day, he remembered that it was the Day of Petition.

The Day of Petition was a special day held once a year, when the subjects of Cornucopia were permitted an audience with the king. Naturally, these people were carefully screened by Fred’s advisors before they were allowed to see him. Fred never dealt with big problems. He saw people whose troubles could be solved with a few gold coins and a few kind words: a farmer with a broken plough, for instance, or an old lady whose cat had died. Fred had been looking forward to the Day of Petition. It was a chance to dress up in his fanciest clothes, and he found it so touching to see how much he meant to the ordinary people of Cornucopia.

Fred’s dressers were waiting for him after breakfast, with a new outfit he’d requested just the previous month: white satin pantaloons and matching doublet, with gold and pearl buttons; a cloak edged with ermine and lined in scarlet; and white satin shoes with gold and pearl buckles. His valet was waiting with the golden tongs, ready to curl his moustaches, and a pageboy stood ready with a number of jewelled rings on a velvet cushion, waiting for Fred to make his selection.

‘Take all that away, I don’t want it,’ said King Fred crossly, waving at the outfit the dressers were holding up for his approval. The dressers froze. They weren’t sure they’d heard correctly. King Fred had taken an immense interest in the progress of the costume, and had requested the addition of the scarlet lining and fancy buckles himself. ‘I said, take it away!’ he snapped, when nobody moved. ‘Fetch me something plain! Fetch me that suit I wore to my father’s funeral!’

‘Is… is Your Majesty quite well?’ enquired his valet, as the astonished dressers bowed and hurried away with the white suit, and returned in double-quick time with a black one.

‘Of course I’m well,’ snapped Fred. ‘But I’m a man, not a frivolling popinjay.’

He shrugged on the black suit, which was the plainest he owned, though still rather splendid, having silver edging to the cuffs and collar, and onyx and diamond buttons. Then, to the astonishment of the valet, he permitted the man to curl only the very ends of his moustaches, before dismissing both him and the pageboy bearing the cushion full of rings.

There, thought Fred, examining himself in the mirror. How can I be called vain? Black definitely isn’t one of my best colours.

So unusually speedy had Fred been in getting dressed, that Lord Spittleworth, who was making one of Fred’s servants dig earwax out of his ears, and Lord Flapoon, who was guzzling a plate of Dukes’ Delights which he’d ordered from the kitchens, were caught by surprise, and came running out of their bedrooms, pulling on their waistcoats and hopping as they put on their boots.

‘Hurry up, you lazy chaps!’ called King Fred, as the two lords chased him down the corridor. ‘There are people waiting for my help!’

And would a selfish king hurry to meet simple people who wanted favours from him? thought Fred. No, he wouldn’t!

Fred’s advisors were shocked to see him on time, and plainly dressed, for Fred. Indeed, Herringbone, the Chief Advisor, wore an approving smile as he bowed.

‘Your Majesty is early,’ he said. ‘The people will be delighted. They’ve been queuing since dawn.’

‘Show them in, Herringbone,’ said the king, settling himself on his throne, and gesturing to Spittleworth and Flapoon to take the seats on either side of him.

The doors were opened, and one by one, the petitioners entered.

Fred’s subjects often became tongue-tied when they found themselves face-to-face with the real, live king, whose picture hung in their town halls. Some began to giggle, or forgot what they’d come for, and once or twice people fainted. Fred was particularly gracious today, and each petition ended with the king handing out a couple of gold coins, or blessing a baby, or allowing an old woman to kiss his hand.

Today, though, while he smiled and handed out gold coins and promises, the words of Daisy Dovetail kept echoing in his head. Selfish, vain, and cruel. He wanted to do something special to prove what a wonderful man he was – to show that he was ready to sacrifice himself for others. Every king of Cornucopia had handed out gold coins and trifling favours on the Day of Petition: Fred wanted to do something so splendid that it would ring down the ages, and you didn’t get into the history books by replacing a fruit farmer’s favourite hat.

The two lords on either side of Fred were becoming bored. They’d much rather have been left to loll in their bedrooms until lunchtime than sit here listening to peasants talking about their petty troubles. After several hours, the last petitioner passed gratefully out of the Throne Room, and Flapoon, whose stomach had been rumbling for nearly an hour, heaved himself out of his chair with a sigh of relief.

‘Lunchtime!’ boomed Flapoon, but just as the guards were attempting to close the doors, a kerfuffle was heard, and the doors flew open once more.

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