Chapter 32

A Flaw in the Plan

When Mr and Mrs Tenderloin’s neighbours woke up the next day and found chickens all over the road, they hurried to tell Tubby his birds had escaped. Imagine the neighbours’ horror when they found the enormous footprints, the blood and the feathers, the broken-down back door and no sign of either husband or wife.

Before an hour had passed, a huge crowd had congregated around Tubby’s empty house, all examining the monstrous footprints, the smashed-in door, and the wrecked furniture. Panic set in, and within a few hours, news of the Ickabog’s raid on a Baronstown butcher’s house was spreading north, south, east and west. Town criers rang their bells in the city squares, and within a couple of days, only the Marshlanders would be ignorant of the fact that the Ickabog had slunk south overnight and carried off two people.

Spittleworth’s Baronstown spy, who’d been mingling with the crowds all day to observe their reactions, sent word to his master that his plan had worked magnificently. However, in the early evening, just as the spy was thinking of heading off to the tavern for a celebratory sausage roll and a pint of beer, he noticed a group of men whispering together as they examined one of the Ickabog’s giant footprints. The spy sidled over.

‘Terrifying, isn’t it?’ the spy asked them. ‘The size of its feet! The length of its claws!’

One of Tubby’s neighbours straightened up, frowning.

‘It’s hopping,’ he said.

‘Excuse me?’ said the spy.

‘It’s hopping,’ repeated the neighbour. ‘Look. It’s the same left foot, over and over again. Either the Ickabog’s hopping, or…’

The man didn’t finish his sentence, but the look on his face alarmed the spy. Instead of heading for the tavern, he mounted his horse again, and galloped off towards the palace.

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