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The Ickabog – Chapter 62: The Bornding

Index ID: ICKB62 — Publication date: July 9th, 2020

And now several things happened at almost the same time, so nobody watching could possibly keep up, but luckily, I can tell you about all of them.

Lord Flapoon’s bullet went flying towards the Ickabog’s opening belly. Both Bert and Roderick, who’d sworn to protect the Ickabog no matter what, flung themselves into the path of that bullet, which hit Bert squarely in the chest, and as he fell to the ground, his wooden sign, bearing the message THE ICKABOG IS HARMLESS, shattered into splinters.

Then a baby Ickabog, which was already taller than a horse, came struggling out of its Icker’s belly. Its Bornding had been a dreadful one, because it had come into the world full of its parent’s fear of the gun, and the first thing it had ever seen was an attempt to kill it, so it sprinted straight at Flapoon, who was trying to reload.

The soldiers who might have helped Flapoon were so terrified of the new monster bearing down upon them that they galloped out of its path without even trying to fire. Spittleworth was one of those who rode away fastest, and he was soon lost to sight. The baby Ickabog let out a terrible roar that still haunts the nightmares of those who witnessed the scene, before launching itself at Flapoon. Within seconds, Flapoon lay dead upon the ground.

All of this had happened very fast; people were screaming and crying, and Daisy was still holding onto the dying Ickabog, which lay in the road beside Bert. Roderick and Martha were bending over Bert, who, to their amazement, had opened his eyes.

‘I – I think I’m all right,’ he whispered, and feeling beneath his shirt, he pulled out his father’s huge silver medal. Flapoon’s bullet was buried in it. The medal had saved Bert’s life.

Seeing that Bert was alive, Daisy now buried her hands in the hair on either side of the Ickabog’s face again.

‘I didn’t see my Ickaboggle,’ whispered the dying Ickabog, in whose eyes there were again tears like glass apples.

‘It’s beautiful,’ said Daisy, who was also starting to cry. ‘Look… here…’

A second Ickaboggle was wriggling out of the Ickabog’s tummy. This one had a friendly face and wore a timid smile, because its Bornding had happened as its parent was looking into Daisy’s face, and had seen her tears, and understood that a human could love an Ickabog as though it was one of their own family. Ignoring the noise and clamour all around it, the second Ickaboggle knelt beside Daisy in the road and stroked the big Ickabog’s face. Icker and Ickaboggle looked at each other and smiled, and then the big Ickabog’s eyes gently closed, and Daisy knew that it was dead. She buried her face in its shaggy hair and sobbed.

‘You mustn’t be sad,’ said a familiar booming voice, as something stroked her hair. ‘Don’t cry, Daisy. This is the Bornding. It is a glorious thing.’

Blinking, Daisy looked up at the baby, which was speaking with exactly the voice of its Icker.

‘You know my name,’ she said.

‘Well, of course I do,’ said the Ickaboggle kindly. ‘I was Bornded knowing all about you. And now we must find my Ickabob,’ which, Daisy understood, was what Ickabogs call their siblings.

Daisy stood up and saw Flapoon lying dead in the road, and the first-born Ickaboggle surrounded by people holding pitchforks and guns.

‘Climb up here with me,’ said Daisy urgently to the second baby, and hand-in-hand the two of them mounted the wagon. Daisy shouted at the crowd to listen. As she was the girl who’d ridden through the country on the shoulder of the Ickabog, the nearest people guessed that she might know things worth hearing, so they shushed everyone else, and at last Daisy was able to speak.

‘You mustn’t hurt the Ickabogs!’ were the first words out of her mouth, when at last the crowd was silent. ‘If you’re cruel to them, they’ll have babies who are born even crueller!’

‘Bornded cruel,’ corrected the Ickaboggle beside her.

‘Bornded cruel, yes,’ said Daisy. ‘But if they’re Bornded in kindness, they will be kind! They eat only mushrooms and they want to be our friends!’

The crowd muttered, uncertain, until Daisy explained about Major Beamish’s death on the marsh, how he’d been shot by Lord Flapoon, not killed by an Ickabog, and that Spittleworth had used the death to invent a story of a murderous monster on the marsh.

Then the crowd decided that they wanted to go and talk to King Fred, so the bodies of the dead Ickabog and Lord Flapoon were loaded onto the wagon, and twenty strong men pulled it along. Then the whole procession set off for the palace, with Daisy, Martha, and the kind Ickaboggle arm-in-arm at the front, and thirty citizens with guns surrounding the fierce, first-born Ickaboggle, which otherwise would have killed more humans, because it had been Bornded fearing and hating them.

But after a quick discussion, Bert and Roderick vanished, and where they went, you’ll find out soon.


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The Ickabog – Chapter 61: Flapoon Fires Again

Index ID: ICKB61 — Publication date: July 8th, 2020

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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The Ickabog – Chapter 60: Rebellion

Index ID: ICKB60 — Publication date: July 7th, 2020

Sometimes – I don’t know how – people who live many miles apart seem to realise the time has come to act. Perhaps ideas can spread like pollen on the breeze. In any case, down in the palace dungeon, the prisoners who’d hidden knives and chisels, heavy saucepans and rolling pins beneath their mattresses and stones in their cell walls, were ready at last. At dawn on the day the Ickabog approached Kurdsburg, Captain Goodfellow and Mr Dovetail, whose cells were opposite each other, were awake, pale, tense, and sitting on the edges of their beds, because today was the day they’d vowed to escape, or die.

Several floors above the prisoners, Lord Spittleworth, too, woke early. Completely unaware that a prison break-out was brewing beneath his feet, or that a real live Ickabog was at that very moment advancing on Chouxville, surrounded by an ever-growing crowd of Cornucopians, Spittleworth washed, dressed in his Chief Advisor’s robes, then headed out to a locked wing of the stables, which had been under guard for a week.

‘Stand aside,’ Spittleworth told the soldiers on guard, and he unbolted the doors.

A team of exhausted seamstresses and tailors were waiting beside the model of a monster inside the stable. It was the size of a bull, with leathery skin, and was covered in spikes. Its carved feet bore fearsome claws, its mouth was full of fangs and its angry eyes glowed amber in its face.

The seamstresses and tailors watched fearfully as Spittleworth walked slowly around their creation. Close up, you could see the stitching, tell that the eyes were made of glass, that the spikes were really nails pushed through the leather, and that the claws and fangs were nothing but painted wood. If you prodded the beast, a trickle of sawdust ran from the seams. Nevertheless, by the dim light of the stables, it was a convincing piece of work and the seamstresses and tailors were thankful to see Spittleworth smile.

‘It will do, by candlelight, at least,’ he said. ‘I’ll simply have to make the dear king stand well back as he looks at it. We can say the spikes and fangs are still poisonous.’

The workers exchanged relieved looks. They’d been working all day and all night for a week. Now at last they’d be able to go home to their families.

‘Soldiers,’ said Spittleworth, turning to the guards waiting in the courtyard, ‘take these people away. If you scream,’ he added lazily, as the youngest seamstress opened her mouth to do so, ‘you’ll be shot.’

While the team that had made the stuffed Ickabog was dragged away by the soldiers, Spittleworth went upstairs, whistling, to the king’s apartments, where he found Fred wearing silk pyjamas and a hairnet over his moustaches, and Flapoon tucking a napkin beneath his many chins.

‘Good morning, Your Majesty!’ said Spittleworth with a bow. ‘I trust you slept well? I have a surprise for Your Majesty today. We have succeeded in having one of the Ickabogs stuffed. I know Your Majesty was eager to see it.’

‘Wonderful, Spittleworth!’ said the king. ‘And after that, we might send it around the kingdom, what? To show the people what we’re up against?’

‘I would advise against that, sire,’ said Spittleworth, who feared that if anybody saw the stuffed Ickabog by daylight, they’d be sure to spot it as a fake. ‘We wouldn’t want the common folk to panic. Your Majesty is so brave that you can cope with the sight—’

But before Spittleworth could finish, the doors to the king’s private apartments flew open and in ran a wild-eyed, sweaty Basher John, who’d been delayed on the road by not one, but two sets of highwaymen. After getting lost in some woods and falling off his horse while jumping a ditch, then being unable to catch it again, Basher John hadn’t managed to reach the palace much ahead of the Ickabog. Panicking, he’d forced entry to the palace through a scullery window, and two guards had pursued him through the palace, both of them prepared to run him through with their swords.

Fred let out a scream and hid behind Flapoon. Spittleworth pulled out his dagger and jumped to his feet.

‘There’s – an – Ickabog,’ panted Basher John, falling to his knees. ‘A real – live –Ickabog. It’s coming here – with thousands of people – the Ickabog – is real.’

Naturally, Spittleworth didn’t believe this story for a second.

‘Take him to the dungeons!’ he snarled at the guards, who dragged the struggling Basher John from the room and closed the doors again. ‘I do apologise, sire,’ said Spittleworth, who was still holding his dagger. ‘The man will be horsewhipped, and so will the guards who let him break into the pal—’

But before Spittleworth could finish his sentence, two more men came bursting into the king’s private apartments. These were Spittleworth’s Chouxville spies who’d had word from the north about the Ickabog’s approach, but as the king had never laid eyes on them before, he let out another terrified squeal.

‘My – lord,’ panted the first spy, bowing to Spittleworth, ‘there’s – an – Ickabog, coming – this – way!’

‘And it’s got – a crowd – with it,’ panted the second. ‘It’s real!

‘Well, of course the Ickabog’s real!’ said Spittleworth, who could hardly say anything else with the king present. ‘Notify the Ickabog Defence Brigade – I shall join them shortly in the courtyard, and we’ll kill the beast!’

Spittleworth ushered the spies to the door and thrust them back into the passageway, trying to drown out their whispers of, ‘My lord, it’s real, and the people like it!’, and, ‘I saw it, my lord, with my own two eyes!’

‘We shall kill this monster as we’ve killed all the others!’ said Spittleworth loudly, for the king’s benefit, and then under his breath he added, ‘Go away!’

Spittleworth closed the door firmly on the spies and returned to the table, disturbed, but trying not to show it. Flapoon was still tucking into some Baronstown ham. He had a vague idea that Spittleworth must be behind all these people rushing in and talking about live Ickabogs, so he wasn’t frightened in the slightest. Fred, on the other hand, was quivering from head to foot.

‘Imagine the monster showing itself in daylight, Spittleworth!’ he whimpered. ‘I thought it only ever came out at night!’

‘Yes, it’s getting far too bold, isn’t it, Your Majesty?’ said Spittleworth. He had no idea what this so-called real Ickabog could be. The only thing he could imagine was that some common folk had rigged up some kind of fake monster, possibly to steal food, or force gold out of their neighbours – but it would still have to be stopped, of course. There was only one true Ickabog, and that was the one Spittleworth had invented. ‘Come, Flapoon – we must prevent this beast from entering Chouxville!’

‘You’re so brave, Spittleworth,’ said King Fred in a broken voice.

‘Tish, pish, Your Majesty,’ said Spittleworth. ‘I would lay down my life for Cornucopia. You should know that by now!’

Spittleworth’s hand was on the door handle when yet more running footsteps, this time accompanied by shouting and clanging, shattered the peace. Startled, Spittleworth opened the door to see what was going on.

A group of ragged prisoners was running towards him. At the head of them was the white-haired Mr Dovetail, who held an axe, and burly Captain Goodfellow, who carried a gun clearly wrestled from the hands of a palace guard. Right behind them came Mrs Beamish, her hair flying behind her as she brandished an enormous saucepan, and hot on her heels came Millicent, Lady Eslanda’s maid, who held a rolling pin.

Just in time, Spittleworth slammed and bolted the door. Within seconds, Mr Dovetail’s axe had smashed through the wood.

‘Flapoon, come!’ shouted Spittleworth, and the two lords ran across the room to another door, which led to a staircase down to the courtyard.

Fred, who had no idea what was going on, who’d never even realised that there were fifty people trapped in the dungeon of his palace, was slow to react. Seeing the faces of the furious prisoners appear at the hole Mr Dovetail had hacked in the door, he jumped up to follow the two lords, but they, interested only in their own skins, had bolted it from the other side. King Fred was left standing in his pyjamas with his back to the wall, watching the escaped prisoners hack their way into his room.


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The Ickabog – Chapter 59: Back to Jeroboam

Index ID: ICKB59 — Publication date: July 6th, 2020

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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The Ickabog – Chapter 58: Hetty Hopkins

Index ID: ICKB58 — Publication date: July 6th, 2020

When Daisy first told the others her plan, Bert refused to be part of it.

‘Protect that monster? I won’t,’ he said fiercely. ‘I took a vow to kill it, Daisy. The Ickabog murdered my father!’

‘Bert, it didn’t,’ Daisy said. ‘It’s never killed anyone. Please listen to what it’s got to say!’

So that night in the cave, Bert, Martha, and Roderick drew close to the Ickabog for the first time, always having been too scared before, and it told the four humans the story of the night, years before, when it had come face-to-face with a man in the fog.

‘… with yellow face hair,’ said the Ickabog, pointing at its own upper lip.

‘Moustaches?’ suggested Daisy.

‘And a twinkly sword.’

‘Jewelled,’ said Daisy. ‘It must have been the king.’

‘And who else did you meet?’ asked Bert.

‘Nobody,’ said the Ickabog. ‘I ran away and hid behind a boulder. Men killed all my ancestors. I was afraid.’

‘Well, then, how did my father die?’ demanded Bert.

‘Was your Icker the one who was shot by the big gun?’ asked the Ickabog.

‘Shot?’ repeated Bert, turning pale. ‘How do you know this, if you’d run away?’

‘I was looking out from behind the boulder,’ said the Ickabog. ‘Ickabogs can see well in fog. I was frightened. I wanted to see what the men were doing on the marsh. One man was shot by another man.’

‘Flapoon!’ burst out Roderick, at last. He’d been afraid to tell Bert before now, but he couldn’t hold it in any longer. ‘Bert, I once heard my father tell my mother he owed his promotion to Lord Flapoon and his blunderbuss. I was really young… I didn’t realise what he meant, at the time… I’m sorry I never told you, I… I was afraid of what you’d say.’

Bert said nothing at all for several minutes. He was remembering that terrible night in the Blue Parlour, when he’d found his father’s cold, dead hand and pulled it from beneath the Cornucopian flag for his mother to kiss. He remembered Spittleworth saying that they couldn’t see his father’s body, and he remembered Lord Flapoon spraying him and his mother with pie crumbs, as he said how much he’d always liked Major Beamish. Bert put a hand to his chest, where his father’s medal lay close against his skin, turned to Daisy, and said in a low voice:

‘All right. I’m with you.’

So the four humans and the Ickabog began to put Daisy’s plan into operation, acting quickly, because the snow was melting fast, and they feared the return of the soldiers to the Marshlands.

First, they took the enormous, empty wooden platters that had borne the cheese, pies, and pastries they’d already eaten, and Daisy carved words into them. Next, the Ickabog helped the two boys pull the wagon out of the mud, while Martha collected as many mushrooms as she could find, to keep the Ickabog well fed on the journey south.

At dawn on the third day, they set out. They’d planned things very carefully. The Ickabog pulled the wagon, which was loaded up with the last of the frozen food, and with baskets of mushrooms. In front of the Ickabog walked Bert and Roderick, who were each carrying a sign. Bert’s read: THE ICKABOG IS HARMLESS. Roderick’s said: SPITTLEWORTH HAS LIED TO YOU. Daisy was riding on the Ickabog’s shoulders. Her sign read: THE ICKABOG EATS ONLY MUSHROOMS. Martha rode in the wagon along with the food and a large bunch of snowdrops, which were part of Daisy’s plan. Martha’s sign read: UP WITH THE ICKABOG! DOWN WITH LORD SPITTLEWORTH!

For many miles, they met nobody, but as midday approached, they came across two ragged people leading a single, very thin sheep. This tired and hungry pair were none other than Hetty Hopkins, the maid who’d had to give her children to Ma Grunter, and her husband. They’d been walking the country trying to find work, but nobody had any to give them. Finding the starving sheep in the road, they’d brought it along with them, but its wool was so thin and stringy that it wasn’t worth any money.

When Mr Hopkins saw the Ickabog, he fell to his knees in shock, while Hetty simply stood there with her mouth hanging open. When the strange party came close enough, and the husband and wife were able to read all the signs, they thought they must have gone mad.

Daisy, who’d expected people to react like this, called down to them:

‘You aren’t dreaming! This is the Ickabog, and it’s kind and peaceful! It’s never killed anyone! In fact, it saved our lives!’

The Ickabog bent down carefully, so that it wouldn’t dislodge Daisy, and patted the thin sheep on the head. Instead of running away, it baaa-ed, quite unafraid, then returned to eating the thin, dry grass.

‘You see?’ said Daisy. ‘Your sheep knows it’s harmless! Come with us – you can ride on our wagon!’

The Hopkinses were so tired and hungry that, even though they were still very scared of the Ickabog, they heaved themselves up beside Martha, bringing their sheep too. Then off trundled the Ickabog, the six humans, and the sheep, heading for Jeroboam.


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The Ickabog – Chapter 57: Daisy’s Plan

Index ID: ICKB57 — Publication date: July 3rd, 2020

Up in the Marshlands, where the snow still lay thick upon the ground, the Ickabog was no longer pushing the boulder in front of the cave mouth when it went out with its baskets. Instead, Daisy, Bert, Martha, and Roderick were helping it collect the little marsh mushrooms it liked to eat, and during these outings they also prised more frozen food from the abandoned wagon, which they took back to the cave for themselves.

All four humans were growing stronger and healthier by the day. The Ickabog, too, was growing fatter and fatter, but this was because its Bornding time was drawing ever closer. As the Bornding was when the Ickabog said it intended on eating the four humans, Bert, Martha, and Roderick weren’t very happy about the Ickabog’s growing belly. Bert, in particular, was certain the Ickabog meant to kill them. He now believed he’d been wrong about his father having an accident. The Ickabog was real so, clearly, the Ickabog had killed Major Beamish.

Often, on their mushrooming trips, the Ickabog and Daisy would draw a little ahead of the others, having their own private conversation.

‘What d’you think they’re talking about?’ Martha whispered to the two boys, as they searched the bog for the small white mushrooms the Ickabog particularly liked.

‘I think she’s trying to make friends with it,’ said Bert.

‘What, so it’ll eat us instead of her?’ said Roderick.

‘That’s a horrible thing to say,’ said Martha sharply. ‘Daisy looked after everyone at the orphanage. Sometimes she took punishments for other people, too.’

Roderick was taken aback. He’d been taught by his father to expect the worst of everybody he met and that the one way to get on in life was to be the biggest, the strongest, and the meanest in every group. It was hard to lose the habits he’d been taught, but with his father dead, and his mother and brothers doubtless in prison, Roderick didn’t want these three new friends to dislike him.

‘Sorry,’ he muttered, and Martha smiled at him.

Now, as it happened, Bert was quite right. Daisy was making friends with the Ickabog, but her plan wasn’t only to save herself, or even her three friends. It was to save the whole of Cornucopia.

As she and the monster walked through the bog on this particular morning, drawing ahead of the others, she noticed that a few snowdrops had managed to force their way up through a patch of melting ice. Spring was coming, which meant soldiers would soon be returning to the edge of the marsh. With a funny seasick feeling in her stomach, because she knew how important it was that she got this right, Daisy said:

‘Ickabog, you know the song you sing every night?’

The Ickabog, who was lifting a log to see whether there were any mushrooms hiding beneath it, said:

‘If I didn’t know it, I couldn’t sing it, could I?’

It gave a wheezy little chuckle.

‘Well, you know how you sing that you want your children to be kind, and wise, and brave?’

‘Yes,’ agreed the Ickabog, and it picked up a small silvery-grey mushroom and showed it to Daisy. ‘That’s a good one. You don’t get many silver ones on the marsh.’

‘Lovely,’ said Daisy, as the Ickabog popped the mushroom into its basket. ‘And then, in the last chorus of your song, you say you hope that your babies will kill people,’ said Daisy.

‘Yes,’ said the Ickabog again, reaching up to pull a small bit of yellowish fungus off a dead tree, and showing it to Daisy. ‘This is poisonous. Never eat this kind.’

‘I won’t,’ said Daisy, and drawing a deep breath she said, ‘but d’you really think a kind, wise, brave Ickabog would eat people?’

The Ickabog stopped in the act of bending to pick up another silvery mushroom and peered down at Daisy.

‘I don’t want to eat you,’ it said, ‘but I have to, or my children will die.’

‘You said they need hope,’ said Daisy. ‘What if, when the Bornding time comes, they saw their mother – or their father – I’m sorry, I don’t quite know—’

‘I will be their Icker,’ said the Ickabog. ‘And they’ll be my Ickaboggles.’

‘Well, then, wouldn’t it be wonderful if your – your Ickaboggles saw their Icker surrounded by people who love it, and want it to be happy, and to live with them as friends? Wouldn’t that fill them with more hope than anything else could do?’

The Ickabog sat down on a fallen tree trunk, and for a long time it said nothing at all. Bert, Martha, and Roderick stood watching from a distance. They could tell something very important was happening between Daisy and the Ickabog, and although they were extremely curious, they didn’t dare approach.

At last the Ickabog said:

‘Perhaps… perhaps it would be better if I didn’t eat you, Daisy.’

This was the first time the Ickabog had called her by her name. Daisy reached out and placed her hand in the Ickabog’s paw, and for a moment the two smiled at each other. Then the Ickabog said:

‘When my Bornding comes, you and your friends must surround me, and my Ickaboggles will be Bornded knowing you’re their friends, too. And after that, you must stay with my Ickaboggles here on the marsh, forever.’

‘Well… the problem with that is,’ said Daisy cautiously, still holding the Ickabog’s paw, ‘that the food on the wagon will run out soon. I don’t think there are enough mushrooms here to support the four of us and your Ickaboggles, too.’

Daisy found it strange to be talking like this about a time when the Ickabog wouldn’t be alive, but the Ickabog didn’t seem to mind.

‘Then what can we do?’ it asked her, its big eyes anxious.

‘Ickabog,’ said Daisy cautiously, ‘people are dying all over Cornucopia. They’re starving to death, and even being murdered, all because some evil men made everyone believe you wanted to kill people.’

‘I did want to kill people, until I met you four,’ said the Ickabog.

‘But now you’ve changed,’ said Daisy. She got to her feet and faced the Ickabog, holding both of its paws. ‘Now you understand that people – most people, anyway – aren’t cruel or wicked. They’re mostly sad, and tired, Ickabog. And if they knew you – how kind you are, how gentle, how all you eat is mushrooms, they’d understand how stupid it is to fear you. I’m sure they’d want you and your Ickaboggles to leave the marsh, and go back to the meadows where your ancestors lived, where there are bigger, better mushrooms, and for your descendants to live with us as our friends.’

‘You want me to leave the marsh?’ said the Ickabog. ‘To go among men, with their guns and their spears?’

‘Ickabog, please listen,’ begged Daisy. ‘If your Ickaboggles are Bornded surrounded by hundreds of people, all wanting to love and protect them, wouldn’t that feed them more hope than any Ickaboggle ever had, in history? Whereas, if the four of us stay here on the marsh and starve to death, what hope will remain for your Ickaboggles?’

The monster stared at Daisy, and Bert, Martha, and Roderick watched, wondering what on earth was happening. At last, a huge tear welled in the Ickabog’s eye, like a glass apple.

‘I’m afraid to go among the men. I’m afraid they’ll kill me and my Ickaboggles.’

‘They won’t,’ said Daisy, letting go of the Ickabog’s paw and placing her hands instead on either side of the Ickabog’s huge, hairy face, so her fingers were buried in its long marshweedy hair. ‘I swear to you, Ickabog, we’ll protect you. Your Bornding will be the most important in history. We’re going to bring Ickabogs back… and Cornucopia, too.’


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The Ickabog – Chapter 56: The Dungeon Plot

Index ID: ICKB56 — Publication date: July 2nd, 2020

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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The Ickabog – Chapter 55: Spittleworth Offends the King

Index ID: ICKB55 — Publication date: July 2nd, 2020

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.

‘—reproduced.’

‘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:

‘Wait.’

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.’


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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:

‘Ickerish.’

‘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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The Ickabog – Chapter 53: The Mysterious Monster

Index ID: ICKB53 — Publication date: June 30th, 2020

It was several days before Daisy, Bert, Martha, and Roderick plucked up the courage to do anything other than eat the frozen food that the Ickabog brought them from the wagon, and watch the monster eat the mushrooms it foraged for itself. Whenever the Ickabog went out (always rolling the enormous boulder into the mouth of the cave, to stop them escaping) they discussed its strange ways, but in low voices, in case it was lurking on the other side of the boulder, listening.

One thing they argued about was whether the Ickabog was a boy or a girl. Daisy, Bert, and Roderick all thought it must be male, because of the booming depth of its voice, but Martha, who’d looked after sheep before her family had starved to death, thought the Ickabog was a girl.

‘Its belly’s growing,’ she told them. ‘I think it’s going to have babies.’

The other thing the children discussed, of course, was exactly when the Ickabog was likely to eat them, and whether they were going to be able to fight it off when it tried.

‘I think we’ve got a bit of time yet,’ said Bert, looking at Daisy and Martha, who were still very skinny from their time at the orphanage. ‘You two wouldn’t make much of a meal.’

‘If I got it round the back of the neck,’ said Roderick, miming the action, ‘and Bert hit it really hard in the stomach—’

‘We’ll never be able to overpower the Ickabog,’ said Daisy. ‘It can move a boulder as big as itself. We’re nowhere near strong enough.’

‘If only we had a weapon,’ said Bert, standing up and kicking a stone across the cave.

‘Don’t you think it’s odd,’ said Daisy, ‘that all we’ve seen the Ickabog eat is mushrooms? Don’t you feel as though it’s pretending to be fiercer than it really is?’

‘It eats sheep,’ said Martha. ‘Where did all this wool come from, if it hasn’t eaten sheep?’

‘Maybe it just saved up wisps of wool caught on brambles?’ suggested Daisy, picking up a bit of the soft, white fluff. ‘I still don’t understand why there aren’t any bones in here, if it’s in the habit of eating creatures.’

‘What about that song it sings every night?’ said Bert. ‘It gives me the creeps. If you ask me, that’s a battle song.’

‘It scares me too,’ agreed Martha.

‘I wonder what it means?’ said Daisy.

A few minutes later, the giant boulder at the mouth of the cave shifted again, and the Ickabog reappeared with its two baskets, one full of mushrooms as usual, and the other packed with frozen Kurdsburg cheeses.

Everyone ate without talking, as they always did, and after the Ickabog had tidied away its baskets and poked up the fire, it moved, as the sun was setting, to the mouth of the cave, ready to sing its strange song, in the language the humans couldn’t understand.

Daisy stood up.

‘What are you doing?’ whispered Bert, grabbing her ankle. ‘Sit down!’

‘No,’ said Daisy, pulling herself free. ‘I want to talk to it.’

So she walked boldly to the mouth of the cave, and sat down beside the Ickabog.


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