After the disaster of the runaway mail coach, Lord Spittleworth took steps to make sure such a thing would never happen again. A new proclamation was issued, without the king’s knowledge, which allowed the Chief Advisor to open letters to check them for signs of treason. The proclamation notices helpfully listed all the things that were now considered treason in Cornucopia. It was still treason to say that the Ickabog wasn’t real, and that Fred wasn’t a good king. It was treason to criticise Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon, treason to say the Ickabog tax was too high, and, for the first time, treason to say that Cornucopia wasn’t as happy and well fed as it had always been.
Now that everybody was too frightened to tell the truth in their letters, mail and even travel to the capital dwindled to almost nothing, which was exactly what Spittleworth had wanted, and he started on phase two of his plan. This was to send a lot of fan mail to Fred. As these letters couldn’t all have the same handwriting, Spittleworth had shut up a few soldiers in a room with a stack of paper and lots of quills, and told them what to write.
‘Praise the king, of course,’ said Spittleworth, as he swept up and down in front of the men in his Chief Advisor’s robes. ‘Tell him he’s the best ruler the country’s ever had. Praise me, too. Say that you don’t know what would become of Cornucopia without Lord Spittleworth. And say you know the Ickabog would have killed many more people, if not for the Ickabog Defence Brigade, and that Cornucopia’s richer than ever.’
So Fred began to receive letters telling him how marvellous he was, and that the country had never been happier, and that the war against the Ickabog was going very well indeed.
‘Well, it appears everything’s going splendidly!’ beamed King Fred, waving one of these letters over lunch with the two lords. He’d been much more cheerful since the forgeries had started to arrive. The bitter winter had frozen the ground so that it was dangerous to go hunting, but Fred, who was wearing a gorgeous new costume of burnt-orange silk, with topaz buttons, felt particularly handsome today, which added to his cheerfulness. It was quite delightful, watching the snow tumble down outside the window, when he had a blazing fire and his table was piled high, as usual, with expensive foodstuffs.
‘I had no idea so many Ickabogs had been killed, Spittleworth! In fact – come to think of it – I didn’t even know there was more than one Ickabog!’
‘Er, yes, Sire,’ said Spittleworth, with a furious glance at Flapoon, who was stuffing himself with a particularly delicious cream cheese. Spittleworth had so much to do, he’d given Flapoon the job of checking all the forged letters before they were sent to the king. ‘We didn’t wish to alarm you, but we realised some time ago that the monster had, ah—’
He coughed delicately.
‘I see,’ said Fred. ‘Well, it’s jolly good news you’re finishing them off at such a rate. We should have one stuffed, you know, and hold an exhibition for the people!’
‘Er… yes, sire, what an excellent idea,’ said Spittleworth, through gritted teeth.
‘One thing I don’t understand, though,’ said Fred, frowning over the letter again. ‘Didn’t Professor Fraudysham say that every time an Ickabog dies, two grow in its place? By killing them like this, aren’t you in fact doubling their numbers?’
‘Ah… no, sire, not really,’ said Spittleworth, his cunning mind working furiously fast. ‘We’ve actually found a way of stopping that happening, by – er – by—’
‘Banging them over the head first,’ suggested Flapoon.
‘Banging them over the head first,’ repeated Spittleworth, nodding. ‘That’s it. If you can get near enough to knock them out before killing them, sire, the, er, the doubling process seems to… seems to stop.’
‘But why didn’t you tell me of this amazing discovery, Spittleworth?’ cried Fred. ‘This changes everything – we might soon have wiped Ickabogs from Cornucopia forever!’
‘Yes, sire, it is good news, isn’t it?’ said Spittleworth, wishing he could smack the smile off Flapoon’s face. ‘However, there are still quite a few Ickabogs left…’
‘All the same, the end seems to be in sight at last!’ said Fred joyfully, setting the letter aside and picking up his knife and fork again. ‘How very sad that poor Major Roach was killed by an Ickabog just before we began to turn the tables on the monsters!’
‘Very sad, sire, yes,’ agreed Spittleworth, who, of course, had explained away Major Roach’s sudden disappearance by telling the king he’d laid down his life in the Marshlands, trying to prevent the Ickabog coming south.
‘Well, this all makes sense of something I’ve been wondering about,’ said Fred. ‘The servants are constantly singing the national anthem, have you heard them? Jolly uplifting and all that, but it does become a bit samey. But this is why – they’re celebrating our triumph over the Ickabogs, aren’t they?’
‘That must be it, sire,’ said Spittleworth.
In fact, the singing was coming from the prisoners in the dungeons, not the servants, but Fred was unaware that he had fifty or so people trapped in the dungeons beneath him.
‘We should hold a ball in celebration!’ said Fred. ‘We haven’t had a ball for a very long time. It seems an age since I danced with Lady Eslanda.’
‘Nuns don’t dance,’ said Spittleworth crossly. He stood up abruptly. ‘Flapoon, a word.’
The two lords were halfway towards the door when the king commanded:
Both turned. King Fred looked suddenly displeased.
‘Neither of you asked permission to leave the king’s table.’
The two lords exchanged glances, then Spittleworth bowed and Flapoon copied him.
‘I crave Your Majesty’s pardon,’ said Spittleworth. ‘It’s simply that if we are to act on your excellent suggestion of having a dead Ickabog stuffed, sire, we must act quickly. It might, ah, rot, otherwise.’
‘All the same,’ said Fred, fingering the golden medal he wore around his neck, which was embossed with the picture of the king fighting a dragonish monster, ‘I remain the king, Spittleworth. Your king.’
‘Of course, sire,’ said Spittleworth, bowing low again. ‘I live only to serve you.’
‘Hmm,’ said Fred. ‘Well, see that you remember it, and be quick about stuffing that Ickabog. I wish to display it to the people. Then we shall discuss the celebration ball.’
Previous writing: « The Ickabog – Chapter 54: The Song of the Ickabog
Next writing: The Ickabog – Chapter 56: The Dungeon Plot »