Dusk was falling as the dark grey outline of Jeroboam came into view. The Ickabog’s party made a brief stop on a hill overlooking the city. Martha handed the Ickabog the big bunch of snowdrops. Then everyone made sure they were holding their signs the right way up and the four friends shook hands, because they’d sworn to each other, and to the Ickabog, that they would protect it, and never stand aside, even if people threatened them with guns.
So down the hill towards the winemaking city the Ickabog marched, and the guards at the city gates saw it coming. They raised their guns to fire, but Daisy stood up on the Ickabog’s shoulder, waving her arms, and Bert and Roderick held their signs aloft. Rifles shaking, the guards watched fearfully as the monster walked closer and closer.
‘The Ickabog has never killed anyone!’ shouted Daisy.
‘You’ve been told lies!’ shouted Bert.
The guards didn’t know what to do, because they didn’t want to shoot the four young people. The Ickabog shuffled ever closer, and its size and strangeness were both terrifying. But it had a kindly look in its enormous eyes, and was holding snowdrops in its paw. At last, reaching the guards, the Ickabog came to a halt, bent down, and offered each of them a snowdrop.
The guards took the flowers, because they were afraid not to. Then the Ickabog patted each of them gently on the head, as it had done to the sheep, and walked on into Jeroboam.
There were screams on every side: people fled before the Ickabog, or dived to find weapons, but Bert and Roderick marched resolutely in front of it, holding up their signs, and the Ickabog continued offering snowdrops to passers-by, until at last a young woman bravely took one. The Ickabog was so delighted it thanked her in its booming voice, which made more people scream, but others edged closer to the Ickabog, and soon a little crowd of people was clustered around the monster, taking snowdrops from its paw and laughing. And the Ickabog was starting to smile too. It had never expected to be cheered or thanked by people.
‘I told you they’d love you if they knew you!’ Daisy whispered in the Ickabog’s ear.
‘Come with us!’ shouted Bert at the crowd. ‘We’re marching south, to see the king!’
And now the Jeroboamers, who’d suffered so much under Spittleworth’s rule, ran back to their houses to fetch torches, pitchforks, and guns, not to harm the Ickabog, but to protect it. Furious at the lies they’d been told, they clustered around the monster, and off they marched through the gathering darkness, with only one short detour.
Daisy insisted on stopping at the orphanage. Though the door was of course firmly locked and bolted, a kick from the Ickabog soon put that right. The Ickabog helped Daisy gently down, and she ran inside to fetch all the children. The little ones scrambled up into the wagon, the Hopkins twins fell into the arms of their parents, and the larger children joined the crowd, while Ma Grunter screamed and stormed and tried to call them back. Then she saw the Ickabog’s huge hairy face squinting at her through a window and, I’m happy to tell you, she passed out cold on the floor.
Then the delighted Ickabog continued down the main street of Jeroboam, collecting more and more people as it went, and nobody noticed Basher John watching from a corner as the crowd passed. Basher John, who’d been drinking in a local tavern, hadn’t forgotten the bloody nose he’d received from Roderick Roach on the night the two boys stole his keys. He realised at once that if these troublemakers, with their overgrown marsh monster, reached the capital, anybody who’d made pots of gold from the myth of the dangerous Ickabog would be in trouble. So instead of returning to the orphanage, Basher John stole another drinker’s horse from outside the tavern.
Unlike the Ickabog, which was moving slowly, Basher John was soon galloping south, to warn Lord Spittleworth of the danger marching on Chouxville.
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