As soon as Spittleworth and Flapoon were out of earshot of the king, Spittleworth rounded on Flapoon.
‘You were supposed to check all those letters before giving them to the king! Where am I supposed to find a dead Ickabog to stuff?’
‘Sew something,’ suggested Flapoon with a shrug.
‘Sew something? Sew something?’
‘Well, what else can you do?’ said Flapoon, taking a large bite of the Dukes’ Delight he’d sneaked from the king’s table.
‘What can I do?’ repeated Spittleworth, incensed. ‘You think this is all my problem?’
‘You were the one who invented the Ickabog,’ said Flapoon thickly, as he chewed. He was getting very bored of Spittleworth shouting at him and bossing him about.
‘And you’re the one who killed Beamish!’ snarled Spittleworth. ‘Where would you be now, if I hadn’t blamed the monster?’
Without waiting for Flapoon’s response, Spittleworth turned and headed down to the dungeons. At the very least, he could stop the prisoners singing the national anthem so loudly, so the king might think the war against the Ickabogs had taken a turn for the worse again.
‘Quiet – QUIET!’ bellowed Spittleworth, as he entered the dungeon, because the place was ringing with noise. There was singing and laughter, and Cankerby the footman was running between the cells fetching and carrying kitchen equipment for all the different prisoners, and the smell of Maidens’ Dreams, fresh from Mrs Beamish’s oven, filled the warm air. The prisoners all looked far better fed than the last time Spittleworth had been down here. He didn’t like this, didn’t like it at all. He especially didn’t like to see Captain Goodfellow looking as fit and strong as ever he had. Spittleworth liked his enemies weak and hopeless. Even Mr Dovetail looked as though he’d trimmed his long white beard.
‘You are keeping track, aren’t you,’ he asked the panting Cankerby, ‘of all these pots, and knives and whatnots you’re handing out?’
‘Of – of course, my lord,’ gasped the footman, not liking to admit that he was so confused by all the orders Mrs Beamish was giving him, that he had no idea which prisoner had what. Spoons, whisks, ladles, saucepans, and baking trays had to be passed between the bars, to keep up with the demand for Mrs Beamish’s pastries, and once or twice Cankerby had accidentally passed one of Mr Dovetail’s chisels to another prisoner. He thought he collected everything in at the end of each night, but how on earth was he to be sure? And sometimes Cankerby worried that the warder of the dungeon, who was fond of wine, might not hear the prisoners whispering to each other, if they took it into their heads to plot anything after the candles were snuffed out at night. However, Cankerby could tell that Spittleworth was in no mood to have problems brought to him, so the footman held his tongue.
‘There will be no more singing!’ shouted Spittleworth, his voice echoing through the dungeon. ‘The king has a headache!’
In fact, it was Spittleworth whose head was beginning to throb. He forgot the prisoners as soon as he turned his back on them, and fell back to pondering how on earth he was going to make a convincing stuffed Ickabog. Perhaps Flapoon was onto something? Might they take the skeleton of a bull, and kidnap a seamstress to stitch a dragonish covering over the bones, and pad it out with sawdust?
Lies upon lies upon lies. Once you started lying, you had to continue, and then it was like being captain of a leaky ship, always plugging holes in the side to stop yourself sinking. Lost in thoughts of skeletons and sawdust, Spittleworth had no idea that he’d just turned his back on what promised to be his biggest problem yet: a dungeon full of plotting prisoners, each of whom had knives and chisels hidden beneath their blankets, and behind loose bricks in their walls.
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