The Siege of Pugglemunt Pt 9 (shark)

Chapter Five: In Which I Fist A Shark Right In Its Snout

The sludge was around our waists and everybody was panicking and somebody was letting out an absolutely ear-piercing scream that went on for ages and I went to tell them to knock it off but when I said “Oh pack it in would you” the screaming stopped too and I realised it had been me doing it. I raised my eyebrows at myself. I really don’t know what goes on in my head sometimes.

My soldiers were useless: the toxic fumes had driven them into a stupor. And not just any stupor: full-whack. Captain Plug was splashing around in the filth and Sir Pip Senior was just singing Lady Blanket’s theme tune over and over again and doing a little dance with his hands.

“Lads! And also woman! With me! We must uncrank the wheel! We must unclog!”

I pulled my velvet gloves on once more and waded through the soupy horror, slapping it away from me with disgust. I gave the crank a shove; it moved but an inch.

“Aid thine King!” I squawked. “AID HIM.”

It was no use. My words were muffled by my little bubble helmet, and anyway my knights were all busy doing a jolly conga line around the gondola. With a sigh that could have extinguished a bonfire, I set about heaving the crank all by myself.

“UNCLOG!” I bellowed, more for my own motivation than anything. I repeated it like a war chant, working myself up into a frenzy of exertion and Kingly brawn. “UNCLOG! UNCLOG! UNCLOG! UNCLOG!”

The sludge had risen to my throat by now. Captain Plug, who was several inches shorter than me, would have been completely under had she not been floating on her back like a starfish. I shoved and I shoved, I heaved and I hoed, I wheezed and winced and gurned and wrestled and groaned.

“WATER BOY! I’M THIRSTY,” I howled, as the sloshing roared in my ears, before remembering I was in a sewer and my Water Boy was miles away. Note to self: bring him everywhere.

I could no longer see my knights: they had sunk. With one final great shriek of exertion, I thrust my pelvis as hard as I could against the crank, and with a great ungainly crunch, it twisted another two inches. The Sewer Dam creaked open – just the tiniest sliver at first, then with a horrid grinding noise that hurt my ears, it blew open like a hammer flying through a window. The sludge-river crashed overhead, I went ‘HghhhhhhgghAAAAAAAA’, and everything went black.

Five stars.


I dreamt a dream. 

I was in a meadow, as naked as the day I sprang from my mother’s womb. The sky overhead was sunny, deep blue with pudgy white clouds, and a flock of yellow birds wheeled through the air above. I began to walk, and the grass tickled my thighs and made me laugh. I stooped to let my hands brush lightly over the tops of the wheat (there was also wheat), and decided to run – great, big, jovial strides, that soon turned into bounds — leaps — prances! Oh it was merry! O! I dove forward into the grasses and began to swim around in them, breaching like a whale, flinging my body carelessly through the air, splashing back down into a bath of petals. From the long grasses, lambs sprang, and on their shoulders they bore me – giggling, thrashing, running my hands through their wool. Bluetits flew down to drape me in pink ribbons, and a friendly coven of bears emerged from a nearby thicket and waved to me with big happy paws. The lambs and the bears tossed me to and fro, and I yelped with delight to feel the pads of their great paws launch me into the sky. Weeee! Weeeee! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee—

I woke up caked in shite on a rocky beach.

I tried to move and winced; every piece of my flesh ached. I had a horrible taste in my mouth, and the sea was lapping gently against my feet. As I groaned and squirmed, someone stood over me, blocking the sun. I looked up at the figure: it was a finely dressed woman.

“Unclog?” I mumbled, gazing up at her through blurry eyes.

“King Athelstan, I presume?” said the woman.

I sat up with an ugly shunt of effort. I couldn’t quite make out the stranger’s face and realised I was still in my fish bowl.

“Ugh,” I said.

My helmet came off with a loud squelchy ‘pock’. As a forgiving breeze doused my poor face, I set down the enchanted bowl and looked around. The glop-clad, recumbent forms of Captain Plug, Sir Pip Senior and the other soldiers were strewn around the beach, snoring off their fume binge.

Cripes, how far had we been washed out? I turned around – my neck, my back and my shoulders made a series of loud but actually rather satisfying cracking sounds – and I saw the walls and spires of Pugglemunt in the distance. Hmm.

The mysterious lady coughed. I turned back to her.


She frowned at me.

“Is that how the King of this realm chooses to address strangers?”

I blew a raspberry and heaved myself halfway to my feet.

“Look, mysterious lady, I’ve just been exploded out of the sewer of my own castle, I’m covered in faeces, and I need to go and resuscitate all my knights. So if you’d kindly, you know —”

I made a little ‘shoo’ gesture with my hand. The woman’s eyes blazed fire, and she shoved me back onto my bottom.

“King Athelstan, do you know who I am?”

I looked at her for a long moment. Then I noticed that a shark had flopped up onto the shore and was busy trying to drag Sir Pip Senior away by his leg.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the woman. “Give me one second.”

I stumbled across the beach and batted the shark on its snout.

“Get off,” I snapped.

With a grumpy teenage snort, the shark let go of my knight and sank away into the surf. Grunting with exertion, I rolled Sir Pip Senior back up the sand and heaped him on top of the other soldiers.

“Sorry,” I said, returning to the mysterious woman. “What’s the matter?”

She looked very cross.

“Is this seriously how— how can— you mean to say you are King Athelstan?”

“Erm, yes?”

She looked me up and down as though I were — well, she looked me up and down with probably the exact amount of disgust you’d expect, really, given my circumstances.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not having a very nice day. We’ve got this horde arriving tomorrow and I’m trying to— wait, who did you say you were?”

The lady (who was quite pretty, now that I’d given my eyes a scrub) gave me a strange look.

“A horde, you say?”

Something about the way she said this made me feel uneasy.

“Yes?” I said, tentatively.

She drew herself to her full height (about 5’4) and smiled.

“King Athelstan, I am the emissary of Chief Bloodpunch.”

My blood ran cold (which was actually quite nice because it was very hot on the beach).

“I had been sent here to parley with the King of Pugglemunt. I thought I was going to be meeting with a great leader, not —” she gestured broadly to me and my slumbering knights, “this. But it matters not. I will relay to you my Chieftain’s message.”

She was, now that I was paying more attention, actually very pretty. Her eyes were big and lovely and she had a sweet nose and cheeks like soft little hills that you just wanted to roll around on. Her voice had a honey-like quality to it, which I know is silly because honey doesn’t sound like anything, except perhaps bees, but for some reason the way she talked reminded me of the way honey moves when you put a spoon in it and then let it gently gloop off. Oh, gloop isn’t the right word – I’ve made it sound like she has a cold. It was less of a gloop and more of a flow. But with a certain tangy edge to it as well, like sugar that stings your teeth because you got greedy and ate too much. And her eyes were big too – did I mention that? And she was wearing a lovely dress with little flowers on it that reminded me of the meadow I’d just been dancing about in before I woke up and had to punch that shark back into the water.

As I looked up at this strange woman, I felt a gentle smile make a nest on my lips. The sun was shining through her hair; it almost looked as if she were glowing.

“Did you listen to anything I just said?” said the lady.

I blinked.

“I’m sorry — what?”

“My message, you idiot. What did I just say?”

A zap of lightning went through my body. Nobody had ever called me an idiot before (except for Burton sodding Ginger and he doesn’t count). I suddenly felt quite drunk on the thrill of it.

With an eye roll that could have unspooled the threads of a tapestry, she turned to walk away.

“Wait,” I cried, scrambling after her. “What message? I’ll listen this time, I promise, it’s a bad habit I’m trying to—OWWW.”

I trod on my helmet and the glass went right in my heel. I stumbled, teetered, hopped, and fell flat on my face with a dirty wet ‘splodge’.

When I awoke, I was back in the Great Hall of Pugglemunt.

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