Authors: Eva Ibbotson
With a single snip, the King cut the string, unwound it, loosened the top of the sack. The Queen helped him ease it over the boy’s shoulders. Then with a sudden slurp like a grub coming out of an egg, the wriggling figure of Raymond Trottle fell out on the sand.
He wasn’t just wriggling; he was yelling, he was howling, he was kicking. Snot ran from his nose as he tried to fight off the Queen’s gentle hands.
‘I want my Mummy! I want my Mummy! I want to go home!’ sobbed Raymond Trottle.
The nurses stepped forward, their unzipped bananas in their hands – and stepped back, zipping them up again. And a great worry fell over the watchers on the shore because even from a distance they could see the Prince kicking out at his parents and hear his screams, and now as the King set him firmly on his feet, they saw his piggy, swollen face and the hiccuping sobs that came from him. Would the Queen not be terribly hurt at the way her son was carrying on?
They needn’t have worried. The Queen had straightened herself; and as she lifted her face, they saw that she was looking most wonderfully and radiantly happy . The years fell away from her and she might have been a girl of seventeen. Then the King followed her gaze and the watching crowd saw this brave man become transfigured too and change into the carefree ruler they had known.
On the ground, the boy the harpies had brought continued to kick and scream and the Queen very politely moved her skirt away from him, but she did not run. She moved the way people do in dreams, half gliding, half dancing, as though there was all the time and happiness in the wide world – and the King moved with her, his hand under her arm.
Only then did the onlookers turn their heads to the mouth of the cave and see two figures standing there. One was the little hag, Odge Gribble. The other was a boy.
A boy who for an instant stood quite still with a look of wonder on his face. Then he let go of Odge’s hand and he
run. He ran like the wind, scarcely touching the ground – nor did he stop when he reached the King and Queen, but threw himself into their arms as though all his life had led to this moment.
And now the three figures became one, and as the King and Queen held him and encircled him, the watchers heard the same words repeated again and again.
‘My son! My son! My
Odge Gribble had moved into the nurses’ cave. A week had passed since Ben had gone to the palace to live and she hadn’t heard a single word from him. Now she was going to retire from the world and become a hermit. She had left a note for her mother and her sisters and she was settling in.
The nurses had eaten burnt toast and slept on stones and poked sticks into their ears, but the things Odge was going to do were much more interesting than that. She was going to sleep on rusty spikes and eat slime and raw jellyfish. She wasn’t going to talk to a living soul ever again and every day and in every way she was going to get more awful and fearful and hag-like. By the time she was grown up, she would be known as Odge of the Cave, or Odge of the Ocean, or just Odge the Unutterable. The cave would be full of frogs she had coughed;
her teeth would be blue, and the bump on her left foot would have turned not into one extra toe, but into seven of them at least.
Now she unpacked her suitcase. It was the one the mistmaker had travelled in, but of course Ben had taken the mistmaker with him to the palace. It was her pet really , b ut Ben hadn’t cared; he’d just gone off with his parents to be a prince and never given her another thought. They said that when people became grand and famous they forgot their friends and Ben certainly proved it.
She found a flat boulder which would do as a table and decided to have mouldy bladderwrack for lunch. She wouldn’t eat with a knife and fork either; she’d eat with her fingers so as to become disgusting as quickly as possible. Now that the nurses did nothing but guzzle beautiful bananas and parade around in frilled dresses which they washed three times a day, it was time someone remembered sorrow and awfulness.
She found the bladderwrack all right; it even had some little worms crawling on it, but she decided to have lunch a bit later. Not that she was going to be beaten; she’d eat it in the end, all of it. She wasn’t going to be beaten by
. No one was going to hurt her again and she wasn’t going back to school either. She had enjoyed school, but she wasn’t going to enjoy anything any more
and that would show them!
But as she sat with her toes in an icy pool, waiting for them to turn blue and perhaps even drop off with frost-bite, she couldn’t help thinking how cruel and unfair life was. For it was she who had brought Ben through the gump and if she hadn’t made him open his grandmother’s letter as the taxi took them to King’s Cross, he might still have argued about coming and perhaps not being welcome on the Island.
Odge could remember every word that Nanny Brown had written.
‘Dear Ben,’ the letter began. ‘I have to tell you that something very bad was done to you when you were little. You see, you were kidnapped by Mrs Trottle. She snatched you from your basket near King’s Cross Station and carried you off to Switzerland, meaning to pass you off as her own child. But when she got there she found she was expecting a baby of her own and after Raymond was born to her, she turned against you and would have sent you away, only I wouldn’t let her. No one knows who your real parents are, but they must have loved you very much because you were wearing the most beautiful clothes and the comforter in your mouth was on a golden ring.
So you must go to the police at
, Ben, and tell them the truth and ask them to help you find your family – and please forgive me for the lies I told you all those years.’
The whole thing had made sense to Odge at once. Ben must have been so much nicer to look at than Raymond, and cleverer, and better able to do things. No wonder Mrs Trottle had got annoyed and tried to send him away.
nice – he was as nice as Raymond was nasty – so that it hurt all the more that he had forgotten her. Tr u e, the King and Queen had hugged her and the other rescuers and said how grateful they were – and it was true too that the short time between Ben coming through and the Closing had been incredibly busy. Raymond had had to be packed up and thrown into one of the last of the wind baskets that went up to King’s Cross, and what the ghosts of the gump thought when they saw him was anybody’s guess. And just as Raymond went up, there was a great surge of last-minute people coming down: the Plodger with a bundle of wet cloths which turned out to be his niece Melisande, and the troll called Henry Prender-gast, and two of the banshees who’d got wind of the fact that Raymond wasn’t the Prince and decided to come to the Island after all.
Even so, Odge had at first not believed that she was forgotten. Every day she had waited at least to be asked to tea at the palace, or thought Ben might ride by her home and ask how she was. Everyone told stories about him – about his white pony , his intelligence, the great wolf hound his father had given him, and the happiness of the Queen who looked so beautiful that the King had had to post a special guard at the palace gates to take in the bunches of flowers which besotted young men left for her.
Well, that’s nothing to do with me, thought Odge. I shall stay here in the darkness and the cold and get shrivelled and old and one day they’ll find a heap of bones in the corner – and then they’ll be sorry .
She was sitting in the mouth of the cave, her hands round her knees, and coughing, when she saw a boy picking his way between the mistmakers on the sands. As he came closer she saw who it was, but she didn’t take any notice, she just went on coughing.
‘Hello!’ said Ben. He looked incredibly well and incredibly happy . S he’d have liked to see him wearing silly clothes to show he was royal but he wasn’t – he wore a blue shirt and cotton trousers, and he’d come alone.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Ben, surprised.
‘I’m trying to cough frogs, if you really want to know,’ said Odge. ‘Not that it’s any business of yours.’
Ben looked round to see if there were any frogs there, but there weren’t.
‘Odge, I don’t know why you’re so keen on coughing them. What would you do with them if you did cough them? Ten to one, they’d start thinking they were enchanted princes and wanting you to kiss them and what then?’
Odge sniffed. ‘I haven’t the slightest idea why you’ve come,’ she said. ‘As you see, I’ve moved in here and I’m going to live here for the rest of my life.’
‘Why?’ asked Ben, sitting down beside her.
Odge drew her hair round her face and disappeared. ‘Because I want to be alone. I don’t want to live in the world which is full of ingratitude and pain. And I can’t help wondering what you’re doing sitting on the ground? Why didn’t you bring your throne, an important prince like you?’
Ben looked at her amazed. ‘What on earth’s got into you?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. I told you, I’m going to live here for the rest of my life.’
But Ben had seen, in a chink between her hair, the glint of tears. ‘I see. Well that’s rather a waste because we’ve spent a whole week decorating your room and furnishing it so as to be a surprise. I suppose I shall just have to tell my parents that you don’t want to come, but they’ll be terribly disappointed.’
‘What room?’ asked Odge faintly .
‘Your room; I’ve told you. The next one to mine in the palace. It was painted pink and we didn’t think that was right for a hag so my mother chose a midnight blue wallpaper with a frieze of bats, and she put a cat door in for the mistmaker and you’ve got a huge bed stuffed with raven’s feathers – the ravens
their feathers because you’re a heroine. It’s pretty nice. And my mother drove over to your mother this morning to ask if you could come and live and your mother said it was all right as long as you visit once a week. So it’s kind of a pity about the cave.’
He waited. Odge turned her head. Her green eye appeared; then her brown one as she shook back her hair.
‘Really? You want me to live with you?’
‘Of course. We decided it on the first day, my parents and I,’ said Ben, and when he said ‘my parents’ his whole face seemed to light up. ‘Perhaps we should have told you, only I love surprises and I thought maybe you do too.’
‘Well, yes, I do actually . ’ S he scuffed her shoes on the sand. ‘Only . . . what if I don’t turn out to be . . . you know . . . mighty and fearful? Would they want to have a hag that’s just . . . ordinary . . . living in a palace? I mean, I may
get an extra toe?’
Ben got to his feet. ‘Don’t be silly , O dge,’ he said. Yo u’re
and it’s you we want.’
Odge blew her nose and put her pyjamas back in the suitcase. Then she gave Ben her hand, and together they walked along the shore towards the welcoming roofs of the palace.