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The Ickabog – Chapter 54: The Song of the Ickabog

Index ID: ICKB54 — Publication date: July 1st, 2020

The Ickabog had just drawn breath, with its usual sound of an inflating bagpipe, when Daisy said:

‘What language do you sing in, Ickabog?’

The Ickabog looked down at her, startled to find Daisy so close. At first, Daisy thought it wasn’t going to answer, but at last it said in its slow, deep voice:


‘And what’s the song about?’

‘It’s the story of Ickabogs – and of your kind, too.’

‘You mean, people?’ asked Daisy.

‘People, yes,’ said the Ickabog. ‘The two stories are one story, because people were Bornded out of Ickabogs.’

It drew in its breath to sing again, but Daisy asked: ‘What does “Bornded” mean? Is it the same as born?’

‘No,’ said the Ickabog, looking down at her, ‘Bornded is very different from being born. It’s how new Ickabogs come to be.’

Daisy wanted to be polite, seeing how enormous the Ickabog was, so she said cautiously:

‘That does sound a bit like being born.’

‘Well, it isn’t,’ said the Ickabog, in its deep voice. ‘Born and Bornded are very different things. When babies are Bornded, we who have Bornded them die.’

‘Always?’ asked Daisy, noticing how the Ickabog absent-mindedly rubbed its tummy as it spoke.

‘Always,’ said the Ickabog. ‘That is the way of the Ickabog. To live with your children is one of the strangenesses of people.’

‘But that’s so sad,’ said Daisy slowly. ‘To die when your children are born.’

‘It isn’t sad at all,’ said the Ickabog. ‘The Bornding is a glorious thing! Our whole lives lead up to the Bornding. What we’re doing and what we’re feeling when our babies are Bornded gives them their natures. It is very important to have a good Bornding.’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Daisy.

‘If I die sad and hopeless,’ explained the Ickabog, ‘my babies won’t survive. I’ve watched my fellow Ickabogs die in despair, one by one, and their babies survived them only by seconds. An Ickabog can’t live without hope. I’m the last Ickabog left, and my Bornding will be the most important Bornding in history, because if my Bornding goes well, our species will survive, and if not, Ickabogs will be gone forever…

‘All our troubles began from a bad Bornding, you know.’

‘Is that what your song’s about?’ asked Daisy. ‘The bad Bornding?’

The Ickabog nodded, its eyes fixed on the darkening, snowy marsh. Then it took yet another deep bagpipe breath, and began to sing, and this time it sang in words that the humans could understand.

‘At the dawn of time, when only

Ickabogs existed, stony

Man was not created, with his

Cold, flint-hearted ways,

Then the world in its perfection

Was like heaven’s bright reflection.

No one hunted us or harmed us

In those lost, beloved days.

Oh Ickabogs, come Bornding back,

Come Bornding back, my Ickabogs.

Oh Ickabogs, come Bornding back,

Come Bornding back, my own.

Then tragedy! One stormy night

Came Bitterness, Bornded of Fright,

And Bitterness, so tall and stout,

Was different from its fellows.

Its voice was rough, its ways were mean,

The likes of it had not been seen

Before, and so they drove it out

With angry blows and bellows.

Oh Ickabogs, be Bornded wise,

Be Bornded wise, my Ickabogs.

Oh Ickabogs, be Bornded wise,

Be Bornded wise, my own.

A thousand miles from its old home,

Its Bornding time arrived, alone

In darkness, Bitterness expired

And Hatred came to being.

A hairless Ickabog, this last,

A beast sworn to avenge the past.

With bloodlust was the creature fired,

Its evil eye far-seeing.

Oh Ickabogs, be Bornded kind,

Be Bornded kind, my Ickabogs.

Oh Ickabogs, be Bornded kind,

Be Bornded kind, my own.

 Then Hatred spawned the race of man,

’Twas from ourselves that man began,

From Bitterness and Hate they swelled

To armies, raised to smite us.

In hundreds, Ickabogs were slain,

Our blood poured on the land like rain.

Our ancestors like trees were felled,

And still men came to fight us.

 Oh Ickabogs, be Bornded brave,

Be Bornded brave, my Ickabogs.

Oh Ickabogs, be Bornded brave,

Be Bornded brave, my own.

Men forced us from our sunlit home,

Away from grass to mud and stone,

Into the endless fog and rain.

And here we stayed and dwindled,

’Til of our race there’s only one

Survivor of the spear and gun

Whose children must begin again

With hate and fury kindled.

Oh Ickabogs, now kill the men,

Now kill the men, my Ickabogs.

Oh Ickabogs, now kill the men,

Now kill the men, my own.’

Daisy and the Ickabog sat in silence for a while after the Ickabog had finished singing. The stars were coming out now. Daisy fixed her eyes on the moon as she said:

‘How many people have you eaten, Ickabog?’

The Ickabog sighed.

‘None, so far. Ickabogs like mushrooms.’

‘Are you planning on eating us when your Bornding time comes?’ Daisy asked. ‘So your babies are born believing Ickabogs eat people? You want to turn them into people killers, don’t you? To take back your land?’

The Ickabog looked down at her. It didn’t seem to want to answer, but at last it nodded its huge, shaggy head. Behind Daisy and the Ickabog, Bert, Martha, and Roderick exchanged terrified glances by the light of the dying fire.

‘I know what it’s like to lose the people you love the most,’ said Daisy quietly. ‘My mother died, and my father disappeared. For a long time, after my father went away, I made myself believe that he was still alive, because I had to, or I think I’d have died as well.’

Daisy got to her feet to look up into the Ickabog’s sad eyes.

‘I think people need hope nearly as much as Ickabogs do. But,’ she said, placing her hand over her heart, ‘my mother and father are both still in here, and they always will be. So when you eat me, Ickabog, eat my heart last. I’d like to keep my parents alive as long as I can.’

She walked back into the cave, and the four humans settled down on their piles of wool again, beside the fire.

A little later, sleepy though she was, Daisy thought she heard the Ickabog sniff.

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