Chapter 36

Cornucopia Hungry

A year passed… then two… then three, four, and five.

The tiny kingdom of Cornucopia, which had once been the envy of its neighbours for its magically rich soil, for the skill of its cheesemakers, winemakers and pastry chefs, and for the happiness of its people, had changed almost beyond recognition.

True, Chouxville was carrying on more or less as it always had. Spittleworth didn’t want the king to notice that anything had changed, so he spent plenty of gold in the capital to keep things running as they always had, especially in the City-Within-The-City. Up in the northern cities, though, people were struggling. More and more businesses – shops, taverns, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, farms, and vineyards – were closing down. The Ickabog tax was pushing people into poverty, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, everyone feared being the next to receive a visit from the Ickabog – or whatever it was that broke down doors and left monster-like tracks around houses and farms.

People who voiced doubts about whether the Ickabog was really behind these attacks were usually next to receive a visit from the Dark Footers. That was the name Spittleworth and Roach had given to the squads of men who murdered unbelievers in the night, leaving footprints around their victims’ houses.

Occasionally, though, the Ickabog doubters lived in the middle of a city, where it was difficult to fake an attack without the neighbours seeing. In this case, Spittleworth would hold a trial, and by threatening their families, as he had with Goodfellow and his friends, he made the accused agree that they’d committed treason.

Increasing numbers of trials meant Spittleworth had to oversee the building of more jails. He also needed more orphanages. Why did he need orphanages, you ask?

Well, in the first place, quite a number of parents were being killed or imprisoned. As everyone was now finding it difficult to feed their own families, they weren’t able to take in the abandoned children.

In the second place, poor people were dying of hunger. As parents usually fed their children rather than themselves, children were often the last of the family left alive.

And in the third place, some heartbroken, homeless families were giving up their children to orphanages, because it was the only way they could make sure their children would have food and shelter.

I wonder whether you remember the palace maid, Hetty, who so bravely warned Lady Eslanda that Captain Goodfellow and his friends were about to be executed?

Well, Hetty used Lady Eslanda’s gold to take a coach home to her father’s vineyard, just outside Jeroboam. A year later, she married a man called Hopkins, and gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.

However, the effort of paying the Ickabog tax was too much for the Hopkins family. They lost their little grocery store, and Hetty’s parents couldn’t help them, because shortly after losing their vineyard, they’d starved to death. Homeless now, their children crying with hunger, Hetty and her husband walked in desperation to Ma Grunter’s orphanage. The twins were torn, sobbing, from their mother’s arms. The door slammed, the bolts banged home, and poor Hetty Hopkins and her husband walked away, crying no less hard than their children, and praying that Ma Grunter would keep them alive.

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