The Siege of Pugglemunt Pt 5 (dungeons!)

Chapter Two

My great great grandmother, Queen Ethelstar, built the Pugglemunt dungeons. They weren’t built to be dungeons, however — she just wanted somewhere to run around on an evening free from prying eyes, and, much like a woodlouse, dormouse or snail, she was fond of dank, windswept spaces. Don’t ask me why, I never met her — all I have of hers is a little bronze trudgeon she used to whack people with and a tapestry depicting her swinging from the chandelier in her nightie at a banquet (she was a good egg but mad as a hatful of butterflies).

Rumour has it, during Ethelstar’s reign she used to sprint through the great vaulted chambers all night going ‘weeeeeee’ and doing cartwheels. She actually planned the chambers with small, circular windows built into the hillside, so she could look out at the stars and do little moon dances and curses and whatnot. This meant that her giggles and ‘woohoo!’s often drifted down to the city, and for a while everybody thought there was a rogue banshee running about. But of course it was just my granny going crackers, bless her.

Eventually, when Ethelstar finally turned to dust, her children decided that leaving the gigantic chambers beneath the keep empty was a bit silly. At first my great grandfather attempted to turn them into subterranean tennis courts, but nobody could see the ball in the dark and this plan was soon abandoned. The nets are still there though; every now and then I get tangled in one when I go down to throw water over a prisoner. I always think it’s a big spider web and I hate it because I have a deep fear of one going in my mouth.

After the ball-sport debacle, the dungeons were left alone for a half-century, and when my grandfather, King Aedelwhiz, finally wandered down there one afternoon when he had nothing better to do, he found them inhabited by a lonely goblin who introduced himself as Knobber. Knobber told him a complex history of the dungeons; how his family had moved in several decades before, how they’d initially thrived and created an entire industry based around moss and lichen and pigeon guano, how they’d innovated and created, established a social hierarchy and their own monarchy, and eventually how greed and jealousy had led this order into a drawn-out civil war between the various goblin factions in which all but Knobber were finally slain. This actually helped explain a long-standing palace mystery: namely, where all that shouting was coming from.

My grandfather listened to this speech but he could never remember any specifics when he told it to me years later, because he said he was distracted by Knobber’s body and face, which were fantastically ugly because he’s a goblin. In the end my grandfather came to pity Knobber and took him up above ground, into his court, to join his entourage of advisors. Unfortunately goblins can’t go out in the sunlight without going mental and Knobber instantly burst into flames and vanished in a puff of smoke.

After that my father decided to just make the chamber into a dungeon and be done with it.

Now. If you’re lucky enough not to have been slung in my dungeon yet (looking at you, Norm the Hair-Messer, Old Man Noggin, Riddle the Creep, the entirety of the Peach Gang, Todger Jack, Baroness Foulsides and Burton sodding Ginger — we’ll catch all of you one of these days, I VOW IT), let me give you a little guided tour via my words.

The staircase to the dungeon is around the back of the Great Hall – you go out the far right door, through the kitchens, and then there’s a suit of armour in the corridor and you have to rap him on the chest three times and then he swings back to reveal — actually, you know what, don’t worry about that bit. Probably best not to put that sort of information out there.

Anyway, you go down the hidden passageway and pow, you’re in the dungeon. The chamber is really massive and spooky, so you have to take a candle off a little table at the entrance. Unfortunately, a few years ago our regular dungeon keeper got eaten by a ghost. I had to hire a new one, and because I was in a rush (I had a bath waiting that was getting cold) I hired the first person to turn in an application, which was a cursed scarecrow named Roy. It is one of my most muscular regrets.

I hate Roy. He’s not a bad person, but he’s eerie and gross and when he moves you can hear him creak, and if you point at something behind him he doesn’t turn around like a normal person, he just swivels his big sack-head 180 degrees. He has no eyebrows so you can’t tell what he’s thinking, and his hands are twigs so he can’t hold a pen or hand you a cup of coffee without getting it everywhere. Mice live in him too, and sometimes they poke their heads out when he’s talking to you and he doesn’t realise. And once every six months he needs to be re-stuffed, and when you stuff him he makes the most ghastly noises, as though he’s enjoying it – he says these are just normal scarecrow sounds but I don’t believe him. Anyway unfortunately Queen Ethelstar put in labour laws which made it illegal to fire anybody simply because they’re disgusting to look at.

“Roy,” I said, avoiding eye contact as I entered the dungeon.

“Good afternoon, Sire,” said Roy. To be fair to the bedraggled crow-spooker, the curse that gave him sentience gifted him with a rather lovely baritone; his only redeeming feature.

“Is Mr Wiggle down here?”

“Indeed, my King. He ventured down to commune with the ghosts not one hour ago.”

“Alright. I’ll go and find him. Can I have a candle please?”

“Of course Sire. Follow me. I will lead you to him.”

“Oh, ah, I wouldn’t worry about that. I know the dungeons well enough. You just man the table and, er…”

“T’is no trouble Sire. I would be honoured to accompany you. Your visits are the highlight of my life.”

“Er, that’s nice of thee Roy, but I really think that—”

Too late. He’d already creaked up out of his seat – straw falling everywhere, sleeping mice waking with a start and leaping out of his torso – and nudged a candle towards me across the table. If he’d been a human I’d have told him to sit back down, but, like a very old dog, it takes him such a lot of effort to get up that I always feel I ought to make it worth his while.

“Ah. A fine afternoon for an adventure,” he said, as we walked side-by-side in the gloom.


“How are things above ground, Sire? In the land of flesh and hair and pumping ventricles?”

I wished he wouldn’t say things like that.

“Oh they’re, um, not bad thank you.”

I let this hang for a while, determined that the conversation should die, but I could tell he was waiting for me to ask him in return. He was looking at me expectantly as he walked: it was too dark to see him in my peripheral vision, but I heard the swivel of his neck. I pinched the bridge of my nose between finger and thumb, sighed powerfully, and gave in.

“How fairest things down here, Roy?”

“Oh I’m glad you inquired, my liege! My straw has been a bit damp for the last fortnight, after I fell over in a puddle and got stuck there for three days. Of course, this has meant that my mice have been quite uncomfortable, and they get very restless when they’re damp. I’ve been trying to cram a few bits of old paper into myself to give them a little extra bedding, but there’s not much paper left down here beyond the—”


Tennis net.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *