‘This had better be worth my while,’ snapped Spittleworth five minutes later, as he entered the Blue Parlour, where the spy was waiting.
‘Your – Lordship,’ said the breathless man, ‘they’re saying – the monster’s – hopping.’
‘They’re saying what?’
‘Hopping, my lord – hopping!’ he panted. ‘They’ve noticed – all the prints – are made by the same – left – foot!’
Spittleworth stood speechless. It had never occurred to him that the common folk might be clever enough to spot a thing like that. Indeed, he, who’d never had to look after a living creature in his life, not even his own horse, hadn’t stopped to consider the fact that a creature’s feet might not all make the same prints in the ground.
‘Must I think of everything?’ bellowed Spittleworth, and he stormed out of the parlour and off to the Guard’s Room, where he found Major Roach drinking wine and playing cards with some friends. The major leapt to his feet at the sight of Spittleworth, who beckoned him to come outside.
‘I want you to assemble the Ickabog Defence Brigade immediately, Roach,’ Spittleworth told the major, in a low voice. ‘You’re to ride north, and be sure to make plenty of noise as you go. I want everyone from Chouxville to Jeroboam to see you passing by. Then, once you’re up there, spread out, and mount a guard over the border of the marsh.’
‘But—’ began Major Roach, who’d got used to a life of ease and plenty at the palace, with occasional rides around Chouxville in full uniform.
‘I don’t want “buts”, I want action!’ shouted Spittleworth. ‘Rumours are flying that there’s nobody stationed in the north! Go, now, and make sure you wake up as many people as possible as you go – but leave me two men, Roach. Just two. I have another small job for them.’
So the grumpy Roach ran off to assemble his troops, and Spittleworth proceeded alone to the dungeon.
The first thing he heard when he got there was the sound of Mr Dovetail, who was still singing the national anthem.
‘Be quiet!’ bellowed Spittleworth, drawing his sword and gesturing to the warder to let him into Mr Dovetail’s cell.
The carpenter appeared quite different to the last time Lord Spittleworth had seen him. Since learning that he wasn’t to be let out of the dungeon to see Daisy, a wild look had appeared in Mr Dovetail’s eye. Of course, he hadn’t been able to shave for weeks either, and his hair had grown rather long.
‘I said, be quiet!’ barked Spittleworth, because the carpenter, who didn’t seem able to help himself, was still humming the national anthem. ‘I need another three feet, d’you hear me? One more left foot, and two right. Do you understand me, carpenter?’
Mr Dovetail stopped humming.
‘If I carve them, will you let me out to see my daughter, my lord?’ he asked in a hoarse voice.
Spittleworth smiled. It was clear to him that the man was going slowly mad, because only a madman would imagine he’d be let out after making another three Ickabog feet.
‘Of course I will,’ said Spittleworth. ‘I shall have the wood delivered to you first thing tomorrow morning. Work hard, carpenter. When you’re finished, I’ll let you out to see your daughter.’
When Spittleworth emerged from the dungeons, he found two soldiers waiting for him, just as he’d requested. Spittleworth led these men up to his private apartments, made sure Cankerby the footman wasn’t skulking about, locked the door, and turned to give the men their instructions.
‘There will be fifty ducats for each of you, if you succeed in this job,’ he said, and the soldiers looked excited.
‘You are to follow the Lady Eslanda, morning, noon, and night, you understand me? She must not know you are following her. You will wait for a moment when she is quite alone, so that you can kidnap her without anyone hearing or seeing anything. If she escapes, or if you are seen, I shall deny that I gave you this order, and put you to death.’
‘What do we do with her once we’ve got her?’ asked one of the soldiers, who no longer looked excited, but very scared.
‘Hmm,’ said Spittleworth, turning to look out of the window while he considered what best to do with Eslanda. ‘Well, a lady of the court isn’t the same as a butcher. The Ickabog can’t enter the palace and eat her… No, I think it best,’ said Spittleworth, a slow smile spreading over his crafty face, ‘if you take Lady Eslanda to my estate in the country. Send word when you’ve got her there, and I’ll join you.’