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The Ickabog – Chapter 26: A Job for Mr Dovetail

Index ID: ICKB26 — Publication date: June 11th, 2020

Daisy had gone to school, and Mr Dovetail was busy in his workshop next morning, when Major Roach knocked on the carpenter’s door. Mr Dovetail knew Roach as the man who lived in his old house, and who’d replaced Major Beamish as head of the Royal Guard. The carpenter invited Roach inside, but the major declined.

‘We’ve got an urgent job for you at the palace, Dovetail,’ he said. ‘A shaft on the king’s carriage has broken and he needs it tomorrow.’

‘Already?’ said Mr Dovetail. ‘I only mended that last month.’

‘It was kicked,’ said Major Roach, ‘by one of the carriage horses. Will you come?’

‘Of course,’ said Mr Dovetail, who was hardly likely to turn down a job from the king. So he locked up his workshop and followed Roach through the sunlit streets of the City-Within-The-City, talking of this and that, until they reached the part of the royal stables where the carriages were kept. Half a dozen soldiers were loitering outside the door, and they all looked up when they saw Mr Dovetail and Major Roach approaching. One soldier had an empty flour sack in his hands, and another, a length of rope.

‘Good morning,’ said Mr Dovetail.

He made to walk past them, but before he knew what was happening, one soldier had thrown the flour sack over Mr Dovetail’s head and two more had pinned his arms behind his back and tied his wrists together with the rope. Mr Dovetail was a strong man – he struggled and fought, but Roach muttered in his ear:

‘Make one sound, and it’ll be your daughter who pays the price.’

Mr Dovetail closed his mouth. He permitted the soldiers to march him inside the palace, though he couldn’t see where he was going. He soon guessed, though, because they took him down two steep flights of stairs and then onto a third, which was made of slippery stone. When he felt a chill on his flesh, he suspected that he was in the dungeon, and he knew it for sure when he heard the turning of an iron key, and the clanking of bars.

The soldiers threw Mr Dovetail onto the cold stone floor. Somebody pulled off his hood.

The surroundings were almost completely dark, and at first, Mr Dovetail couldn’t make out anything around him. Then one of the soldiers lit a torch, and Mr Dovetail found himself staring at a pair of highly polished boots. He looked up. Standing over him was a smiling Lord Spittleworth.

‘Good morning, Dovetail,’ said Spittleworth. ‘I have a little job for you. If you do it well, you’ll be home with your daughter before you know it. Refuse – or do a poor job – and you’ll never see her again. Do we understand each other?’

Six soldiers and Major Roach were lined up against the cell wall, all of them holding swords.

‘Yes, my lord,’ said Mr Dovetail in a low voice. ‘I understand.’

‘Excellent,’ said Spittleworth. Moving aside, he revealed an enormous piece of wood, a section of a fallen tree as big as a pony. Beside the wood was a small table, bearing a set of carpenter’s tools.

‘I want you to carve me a gigantic foot, Dovetail, a monstrous foot, with razor-sharp claws. On top of the foot, I want a long handle, so that a man on horseback can press the foot into soft ground, to make an imprint. Do you understand your task, carpenter?’

Mr Dovetail and Lord Spittleworth looked deep into each other’s eyes. Of course, Mr Dovetail understood exactly what was going on. He was being told to fake proof of the Ickabog’s existence. What terrified Mr Dovetail was that he couldn’t imagine why Spittleworth would ever let him go, after he’d created the fake monster’s foot, in case he talked about what he’d done.

‘Do you swear, my lord,’ said Mr Dovetail quietly, ‘do you swear that if I do this, my daughter won’t be harmed? And that I’ll be permitted to go home to her?’

‘Of course, Dovetail,’ said Spittleworth lightly, already moving to the door of the cell. ‘The quicker you complete the task, the sooner you’ll see your daughter again.

‘Now, every night, we’ll collect these tools from you, and every morning they’ll be brought back to you, because we can’t have prisoners keeping the means to dig themselves out, can we? Good luck, Dovetail, and work hard. I look forward to seeing my foot!’

And with that, Roach cut the rope binding Mr Dovetail’s wrists, and rammed the torch he was carrying into a bracket on the wall. Then Spittleworth, Roach and the other soldiers left the cell. The iron door closed with a clang, a key turned in the lock, and Mr Dovetail was left alone with the enormous piece of wood, his chisels and his knives.

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