Authors: Alan MacDonald
ggy didn't dare breathe â not that it was easy to breathe when you were buried under a mountain of stones and skulls. He knew that if he twitched or moved a muscle he would start a landslide and give them away. The footsteps came closer then halted. Peeping out, he glimpsed a pair of dirty, reddish feet. For a Henna warrior they were remarkably small and not in the least hairy.
âIggy? You there?' called a nervous voice he recognised immediately.
Iggy's head emerged from the pile, followed by his neck and shoulders. A moment later Hubba and Snark surfaced too, panting for breath. They crawled out of the heap.
âWhat are you doing here?' said Iggy.
Oosha glanced behind, worried that she might have been followed. She set down the sack she was carrying.
âIggy, you not stay here,' she warned. âYou must hurry!'
âOr they're going to eat us?' said Iggy.
Oosha didn't answer.
âYou knew this would happen, didn't you?' said Iggy. âYou brought us here deliberately!'
Oosha shook her head. âNo! I not bring you â you bring
. I scare to come back.'
âScared â why?'
âBecause I scare this happen! I cross with Pappa! “Bad Pappa,” I say, “you not eat Iggy. He save Oosha life.”'
âDid he listen?'
âNo, he have big temper. Shout, roar, stump his feets. Say Urgs make good stew!'
Iggy nodded. No wonder Oosha had seemed worried when they talked about returning home. Having a cannibal for a father was enough to make anyone worried. He looked around.
âHow much time do we have?'
âYou go now,' said Oosha. âWhen Shani sleep they come.'
âGod of Sun.'
When the sun slept â that probably meant they had until sunset. Iggy tried to think. There was only one way out of the cave and that was back the way they'd come, but with guards watching the entrance, how could they escape?
Oosha emptied out the contents of the sack on the floor. Luckily she'd remembered to bring Iggy's boo and arrow. Not so luckily it came with a big pile of mud.
âQuick! You hurry,' repeated Oosha.
âYou want us to throw mud at them?'
âNot throw. Make painty face, like this.' She smeared her face with mud, rubbing it into her cheeks. Iggy understood â it was a disguise! Maybe not a brilliant disguise but the best one they had. If they daubed themselves with red mud, the guards might mistake them for Henna and let them past.
Ten minutes later they crept along the winding passage towards the cave entrance. Iggy wished the mud had had more time to dry but it was too late to worry about that now. He had his boo and arrows hidden in the sack, hoping that he wouldn't need them.
As they neared the mouth of the cave he could hear the two guards talking in low voices. Outside daylight was fading â sunset couldn't be far off.
âWait!' said Iggy. âOosha, come with us.'
Oosha looked down. She shook her head sadly.
âThis my home. I must take care my father.'
âHe eats people!' said Iggy.
Oosha sighed. âStill my father. Maybe he learn? I teach him cook vegetable.'
Iggy tried to imagine Karratop and the Henna sitting down to one of Oosha's nut-leaf stews. It might even happen one day. Hubba was pulling at his arm.
âIggy! We need to go!'
Oosha put a finger to her lips. âI go first. Let me do talk. Goodbye, Iggy.' She kissed him lightly on his muddy cheek and was gone. Iggy turned to find the other two sniggering helplessly and glared at them. Hubba had rather overdone the disguise so that he looked like he'd crawled out of a bog. Worse still was Snark, whose furs rattled like a biscuit tin every time he moved. There was no time to worry now â Oosha was already speaking to the guards. Iggy and the others followed behind, trying not to look like three muddy Urks intent on escape. Oosha was talking in her own language. Iggy had no idea what she was saying but the guards roared with laughter and turned to look at them.
' they said, beckoning them forward. Iggy held his breath.
âI tell them you my sisters,' whispered Oosha.
One of the guards was eyeing Hubba. â
,' he said to his friend, shaking his head.
Ay ay. Oogla boogla
,' agreed the other.
Oosha tapped her head to explain that her sisters were not very bright. The guards laughed again and stepped aside to let them pass.
âWe made it,' murmured Hubba as they hurried on by.
âJust keep walking,' said Iggy. âAnd don't look back.'
They had gone only a few steps when they heard a horrible sound.
Iggy's heart sank. He turned round to see Snark looking down in horror. There was a gaping hole in his furs through which dozens of firestones were spilling out.
âOops!' said Snark.
The guards glared at him and saw the trail of muddy red footprints on the ground.
They raised their spears.
Iggy looked at Hubba. There was only one thing to do and it was the thing that Urks did best â they ran.
ggy slowed to a halt and leaned against a tree trunk.
âYou think . . . we lost them?' he panted.
âMust have,' said Hubba.
They stood for a minute, bent over and gasping for breath, too exhausted to speak. Hubba hadn't run this fast since the time that girl Uglips tried to kiss him. The angry shouts they'd heard earlier seemed to have died away. With any luck their pursuers had given up the chase. Iggy looked up, struck by a worrying thought.
âWhere's Snark? I thought he was with us!'
Iggy put a hand to his head. This was terrible. In the panic of their escape he'd forgotten all about Snark.
âWhat if they caught him?' he said.
âHe can look after hisself,' said Hubba. âAnyway, what can we do?'
Iggy met his eyes.
âNo,' said Hubba. âForget it. Let's go.'
He turned and marched off through the trees in the rough direction of home. After a minute he stopped and looked back. Iggy hadn't moved.
âWe can't just
him!' said Iggy.
âIt's Snark!' said Hubba. âHe's a noggerhead! You reckon he'd go back for us?'
Iggy shook his head. âThat's not the point. I still have to try and help him.'
âYou're mad! Stark, staring mad. They'll kill you!'
âMaybe,' said Iggy. âIf you don't want to come, just say.'
âI don't want to come,' said Hubba.
âFine. I'll go by myself.'
âRight. Good luck!'
Hubba sighed deeply. At times like this he wished he'd picked someone else as his best friend â someone who enjoyed, say, collecting birds' eggs.
By the time they reached the Henna camp a fierce red sun was setting in the west. Iggy remembered Oosha had said that the feast would begin when Shani, the Sun god, slept. The two Urks crept down the mountainside and hid behind some rocks where they could watch from a safe distance. The Henna tribe were standing still as statues, their faces turned towards the setting sun. It was as if they were under some kind of spell.
âWhat they doing?' whispered Hubba.
âSearch me,' said Iggy. âWaiting for something.'
The fire in the middle of the camp had been built up higher, sending smoke and sparks swirling into the sky. Close by sat a large earthen pot, ready to cook. Snark hung upside down, bound by his arms and legs to a wooden pole resting across two uprights. He was stripped to the waist and basted in nut oil to improve his flavour. Even from this distance Iggy could tell he was terrified.
He calculated the odds. They weren't good. Two Urks against one hundred Henna warriors (if you counted the hairier women). If he was lucky, he might pick off one or two with his arrows, but that wouldn't change the outcome.
The sun was setting. A long loud blast on a mammoth horn split the air. It echoed off the mountains and had a startling effect. The Henna fell on their faces as if struck by a thunderbolt, bowing low with their noses in the dust.
âThey're worshipping!' said Iggy. âCome on!'
âWhere we going?'
âTo rescue Snark!'
They scrambled and slid down the mountain, stirring up clouds of dust. If any of the Henna had looked round, they would surely have spotted them, but fortunately the tribe seemed to be lost in a trance.
Reaching the edge of the camp, Iggy stole closer to the fire, keeping to the shadows. He prayed that the sun would take its time setting. Reaching Snark, he began to loosen the leather knots tying his wrists.
âNo! Please!' whimpered Snark.
âIt's me, you fool!' hissed Iggy.
Snark twisted his head round to look at him. Hanging upside down, he looked even uglier than usual. His face had gone bright pink and was running with sweat.
âWhere has you been?' he moaned. âGet me down!'
âI'm trying!' said Iggy. âThey're granny knots!'
He tugged at the leather cords feverishly. The sun was now little more than a thin red blot on the horizon. In a few minutes it would be gone altogether.
âHurry up!' muttered Hubba.
Snark groaned. âFor Urk's sake! Use your axe!'
âI don't have an axe!' snapped Iggy.
At last he had one of the knots undone â but this didn't improve matters much. Snark swung by his feet, cracking his head on the ground.
âShut up! They'll hear!'
âIGGY!' moaned Hubba, his voice rising in panic.
âNo, Iggy . . .
Iggy glanced up, sensing something was wrong. The air had turned colder and a terrible silence had fallen. The Henna were no longer bowed in the dust, they were eyeing them like hungry wolves that have just spotted two rabbits hopping into view. Chief Karratop took a step towards the fire and pulled a dagger from his belt.
Iggy glanced at Hubba. âDo something!' he whispered.
âYes! Distract them any way you can. I've got a plan.'
Hubba swallowed â his mind was a blank. The Henna were closing in slowly, certain that this time their enemies had nowhere to run. There was only one thing he could do. Hubba looked down and found three small rocks in the dust.
âHey! Watch this!' he cried.
He tossed one rock high into the air, followed by a second and a third. The rocks flew round, higher and higher in a blur of speed.
gasped the Henna. They had never seen juggling before.
Beads of sweat ran down Hubba's face. He'd never performed in front of an audience, and certainly not one that wanted to eat him. He tried not to think about what Iggy was doing by the fire or what would happen if he dropped the rocks. All he had to do was concentrate and . . .
A rock hit him on the head and bounced off. He lost his rhythm and fumbled the other two. The spell was broken. The Henna growled â this wasn't magic after all, it was just someone throwing rocks about. They surged forward. Hubba looked round, hoping that Iggy's brilliant plan was ready. Snark was on his feet. Iggy stepped into the firelight armed with his boo. He had a single arrow fitted to the string â curiously the pointed end seemed to be on fire.