Chapter 53

The Mysterious Monster

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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