The two lords dashed out into the palace courtyard to find the Ickabog Defence Brigade already mounted and armed, as Spittleworth had ordered. However, Major Prodd (the man who’d kidnapped Daisy years before, who’d been promoted after Spittleworth shot Major Roach) was looking nervous.
‘My lord,’ he said to Spittleworth, who was hastily mounting his horse, ‘there’s something happening inside the palace – we heard an uproar—’
‘Never mind that now!’ snapped Spittleworth.
A sound of shattering glass made all the soldiers look up.
‘There are people in the king’s bedroom!’ cried Prodd. ‘Shouldn’t we help him?’
‘Forget the king!’ shouted Spittleworth.
Captain Goodfellow now appeared at the king’s bedroom window. Looking down, he bellowed:
‘You won’t escape, Spittleworth!’
‘Oh, won’t I?’ snarled the lord, and kicking his thin yellow horse, he forced it into a gallop and disappeared out of the palace gates. Major Prodd was too scared of Spittleworth not to follow, so he and the rest of the Ickabog Defence Brigade charged after His Lordship, along with Flapoon, who’d barely managed to get onto his horse before Spittleworth set off, bouncing along at the rear, holding onto his horse’s mane for dear life and trying to find his stirrups.
Some men might have considered themselves beaten, what with escaped prisoners taking over the palace and a fake Ickabog marching through the country and attracting crowds, but not Lord Spittleworth. He still had a squad of well-trained, well-armed soldiers riding behind him, heaps of gold hidden at his mansion in the country, and his crafty brain was already devising a plan. Firstly, he’d shoot the men who’d faked this Ickabog, and terrify the people back into obedience. Then he’d send Major Prodd and his soldiers back to the palace to kill all the escaped prisoners. Of course, the prisoners might have killed the king by that time, but in truth, it might be easier to govern the country without Fred. As he galloped along, Spittleworth thought bitterly that if only he hadn’t had to put so much effort into lying to the king, he might not have made certain mistakes, like letting that wretched pastry chef have knives and saucepans. He also regretted not hiring more spies, because then he might have found out that someone was making a fake Ickabog – a fake, by the sound of it, that was far more convincing than the one he’d seen that morning in the stables.
So the Ickabog Defence Brigade charged through the surprisingly empty cobbled streets of Chouxville and out onto the open road that led to Kurdsburg. To Spittleworth’s fury, he now saw why the Chouxville streets had been empty. Having heard the rumour that an actual Ickabog was walking towards the capital with a large crowd, the citizens of Chouxville had hurried out to catch a glimpse of it with their own eyes.
‘Out of our way! OUT OF OUR WAY!’ screamed Spittleworth, scattering the common people before him, furious to see them looking excited rather than scared. He spurred his horse onwards until its sides were bleeding, and Lord Flapoon followed, now green in the face, because he hadn’t had time to digest his breakfast.
At last, Spittleworth and the soldiers spotted the huge crowd advancing in the distance, and Spittleworth hauled at his poor horse’s reins, so that it skidded to a halt in the road. There, in the midst of the thousands of laughing and singing Cornucopians, was a giant creature as tall as two horses, with eyes glowing like lamps, covered in long greenish-brown hair like marsh weed. On its shoulder rode a young woman, and in front of it marched two young men holding up wooden signs. Every now and then, the monster stooped down and – yes – it seemed to be handing out flowers.
‘It’s a trick,’ muttered Spittleworth, so shocked and scared he hardly knew what he was saying. ‘It must be a trick!’ he said more loudly, craning his scrawny neck to try and see how it was done. ‘There are obviously people standing on each other’s shoulders inside a suit of marsh weed – guns at the ready, men!’
But the soldiers were slow to obey. In all the time they’d been supposedly protecting the country from the Ickabog, the soldiers had never seen one, nor had they really expected to, yet they weren’t at all convinced they were watching a trick. On the contrary, the creature looked very real to them. It was patting dogs on the head, and handing out flowers to children, and letting that girl sit on its shoulder: it didn’t seem fierce at all. The soldiers were also scared of the crowd of thousands marching along with the Ickabog, who all seemed to like it. What would they do if the Ickabog was attacked?
Then one of the youngest soldiers lost his head completely.
‘That’s not a trick. I’m off.’
Before anybody could stop him, he’d galloped away.
Flapoon, who had at last found his stirrups, now rode up front to take his place beside Spittleworth.
‘What do we do?’ asked Flapoon, watching the Ickabog and the joyful, singing crowd drawing nearer and nearer.
‘I’m thinking,’ snarled Spittleworth, ‘I’m thinking!’
But the cogs of Spittleworth’s busy brain seemed to have jammed at last. It was the joyful faces that upset him most. He’d come to think of laughter as a luxury, like Chouxville pastries and silk sheets, and seeing these ragged people having fun frightened him more than if they’d all been carrying guns.
‘I’ll shoot it,’ said Flapoon, raising his gun and taking aim at the Ickabog.
‘No,’ said Spittleworth, ‘look, man, can’t you see we’re outnumbered?’
But at that precise moment, the Ickabog let out a deafening, blood-curdling scream. The crowd that had pressed around it backed away, their faces suddenly scared. Many dropped their flowers. Some broke into a run.
With another terrible screech the Ickabog fell to its knees, almost shaking Daisy loose, though she clung on tightly.
And then a huge dark split appeared down the Ickabog’s enormous, swollen belly.
‘You were right, Spittleworth!’ bellowed Flapoon, raising his blunderbuss. ‘There are men hiding inside it!’
And as people in the crowd began to scream and flee, Lord Flapoon took aim at the Ickabog’s belly, and fired.
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