Chapter 27

Kidnapped

When Daisy arrived home from school that afternoon, playing with her bandalore as she went, she headed as usual to her father’s workshop to tell him about her day. However, to her surprise, she found the workshop locked up. Assuming that Mr Dovetail had finished work early and was back in the cottage, she walked in through the front door with her schoolbooks under her arm.

Daisy stopped dead in the doorway, staring around. All the furniture was gone, as were the pictures on the walls, the rug on the floor, the lamps, and even the stove.

She opened her mouth to call her father, but in that instant, a sack was thrown over her head and a hand clamped over her mouth. Her schoolbooks and her bandalore fell with a series of thuds to the floor. Daisy was lifted off her feet, struggling wildly, then carried out of the house, and slung into the back of a wagon.

‘If you make a noise,’ said a rough voice in her ear, ‘we’ll kill your father.’

Daisy, who’d drawn breath into her lungs to scream, let it out quietly instead. She felt the wagon lurch, and heard the jingling of a harness and trotting hooves as they began to move. By the turn that the wagon took, Daisy knew that they were heading out of the City-Within-The-City, and by the sounds of market traders and other horses, she realised they were moving into wider Chouxville. Though more frightened than she’d ever been in her life, Daisy nevertheless forced herself to concentrate on every turn, every sound, and every smell, so she could get some idea of where she was being taken.

After a while, the horse’s hooves were no longer falling on cobblestones, but on an earthy track, and the sugar-sweet air of Chouxville was gone, replaced by the green, loamy smell of the countryside.

The man who’d kidnapped Daisy was a large, rough member of the Ickabog Defence Brigade called Private Prodd. Spittleworth had told Prodd to ‘get rid of the little Dovetail girl’, and Prodd had understood Spittleworth to mean that he was to kill her. (Prodd was quite right to think this. Spittleworth had selected Prodd for the job of murdering Daisy because Prodd was fond of using his fists and seemed not to care whom he hurt.)

However, as he drove through the countryside, passing woods and forests where he might easily strangle Daisy and bury her body, it slowly dawned on Private Prodd that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. He happened to have a little niece around Daisy’s age, of whom he was very fond. In fact, every time he imagined himself strangling Daisy, he seemed to see his niece Rosie in his mind’s eye, pleading for her life. So instead of turning off the dirt track into the woods, Prodd drove the wagon onwards, racking his brains as to what to do with Daisy.

Inside the flour sack, Daisy smelled the sausages of Baronstown mingling with the cheese fumes of Kurdsburg, and wondered which of the two she was being taken to. Her father had occasionally taken her to buy cheese and meat in these famous cities. She believed that if she could somehow give the driver the slip when he lifted her down from the wagon, she’d be able to make her way back to Chouxville in a couple of days. Her frantic mind kept returning to her father, and where he was, and why all the furniture in their house had been removed, but she forced herself to concentrate on the journey the wagon was making instead, to be sure of finding her way home again.

However, hard as she listened out for the sound of the horse’s hooves on the stone bridge over the Fluma that connected Baronstown and Kurdsburg, it never came, because instead of entering either city, Private Prodd passed them by. He’d just had a brainwave about what to do with Daisy. So, skirting the city of sausagemakers, he drove on north. Slowly, the meat and cheese smells disappeared from the air and night began to fall.

Private Prodd had remembered an old woman who lived on the outskirts of Jeroboam, which happened to be his hometown. Everyone called this old woman Ma Grunter. She took in orphans, and was paid one ducat a month for each child she had living with her. No boy or girl had ever succeeded in running away from Ma Grunter’s house, and it was this that made Prodd decide to take Daisy there. The last thing he wanted was Daisy finding her way back home to Chouxville, because Spittleworth was likely to be furious that Prodd hadn’t done what he was told.

Though so scared, cold and uncomfortable in the back of the wagon, the rocking had lulled Daisy to sleep, but suddenly she jerked awake again. She could smell something different on the air now, something she didn’t much like, and after a while she identified it as wine fumes, which she recognised from the rare occasions when Mr Dovetail had a drink. They must be approaching Jeroboam, a city she’d never visited. Through the small holes in the sack she could see daybreak. The wagon was soon jolting over cobblestones again, and after a while it came to a halt.

At once, Daisy tried to wriggle out of the back of the wagon onto the ground, but before she’d hit the street, Private Prodd seized her. Then he carried her, struggling, to the door of Ma Grunter’s, which he pounded with a heavy fist.

‘All right, all right, I’m coming,’ came a high, cracked voice from inside the house.

There came the noise of many bolts and chains being removed and Ma Grunter was revealed in the doorway, leaning heavily on a silver-topped cane – though, of course, Daisy, being still in the sack, couldn’t see her.

‘New child for you, Ma,’ said Prodd, carrying the wriggling sack into Ma Grunter’s hallway, which smelled of boiled cabbage and cheap wine.

Now, you might think Ma Grunter would be alarmed to see a child in a sack carried into her house, but in fact, the kidnapped children of so-called traitors had found their way to her before. She didn’t care what a child’s story was; all she cared about was the one ducat a month the authorities paid her for keeping them. The more children she packed into her tumbledown hovel, the more wine she could afford, which was really all she cared about. So she held out her hand and croaked, ‘Five ducat placement fee,’ – which was what she always asked for, if she could tell somebody really wanted to get rid of a child.

Prodd scowled, handed over five ducats, and left without another word. Ma Grunter slammed the door behind him.

As he climbed back onto his wagon, Prodd heard the rattle of Ma Grunter’s chains and the scraping of her locks. Even if it had cost him half his month’s pay, Prodd was glad to have got rid of the problem of Daisy Dovetail, and he drove off as fast as he could, back to the capital.

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