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The Grasping Goblin

Copyright © Ian Irvine, 2010.


Chapter 1


The Grasping Goblin

You Fool!

Why couldn’t Ike have kept his mouth shut?

Things were going to get really bad anyway,
about as bad as things can get. But if only he had kept silent,
Ike would not have had to poke an imp’s purple brain back in through
its ear hole with his finger.

He would not have gone blind, then been carried
by an enraged demon called Spleen, upside down and with his bum
hanging out, all the way across Grimmery.

He would not have been turned into a night-gaunt,
the creature he feared more than anything in the world. Nor would
he – it – have attacked his best friend.

And, most definitely, he would not have died.

Oh, yes, Ike dies in this story.

Dead as a doughnut, he is at one stage.





Chapter 2


Nothing Can Stop Us Now

They were nearly home and Ike, knowing that
nothing could possibly go wrong now, ran his daydream through again.

From the top of Ghast Gizzard Gap, the hundred
silver and sapphire towers of Ambra, the capital of Grimmery, shone
in the distance. Before nightfall Ike, Mellie and Monty would be
escorting Princess Aurora into the city in triumph. No one was
calling him useless Ike now.
Ike was a true hero.

That very night, on the dais beside the princess,
he would shake hands with the Lord Chancellor and the nobles of
Grimmery. In the city square, the common folk would roar, ‘Ike,
Ike, Ike!’ He might even get a medal. After all, it wasn’t every
day that one rescued a princess from the Fey Queen, Emajicka, who
was trying to kill her and take over her country.

Moreover, the blonde, blue-eyed princess was
exceedingly pretty – she was the loveliest girl Ike had ever
seen. At the thought of standing beside her Ike felt a heavy, choking
feeling in his chest.

Perhaps (and Ike knew he was fantasising now)
Aurora would give him a kiss on the cheek. He had never been kissed
by a girl, and wasn’t sure how he felt about that kind of thing,
but . she was a princess.
And so sad, for Emajicka had murdered her mother, the queen, just
ten days ago.

‘What’s the matter, Ike?’ said his friend Mellie.
‘You’ve gone all red in the face.’

Ike felt his cheeks burning. ‘Nothing.’

‘Really?’ She chuckled knowingly.

He strode up to the princess, who was riding
Naggerly, Lord Monty’s red-eyed, sabre-toothed and wickedly carnivorous

‘Nothing can stop us now, Princess,’ said Ike.
‘We’ll have you back at the palace for dinner.’

Aurora ignored him. She was staring at a stone
obelisk beside the track, knotting her pale fingers around the

‘Why did you have to say that?’ said Mellie,
limping up to Ike. She had twisted her ankle during the rescue
three days ago, but it was beneath the princess’s dignity to walkand
let Mellie ride Naggerly. ‘You’ve jinxed us now.’

‘Rubbish,’ said Ike cheerfully. ‘Princess,
would you like me to lead the way into the city?’

Aurora wrenched on the reins. ‘You, boy?’

Mellie exchanged glances with Monty, the headless
highwayman. At least, Mellie looked at the hat sitting on sword-hacked
stump of Monty’s neck, and the hat’s crown crinkled meaningfully.

‘Is something the matter, Princess?’ said Monty
in the squeaking and rumbling voice that always made Ike smile.

Aurora looked as if she’d smelled something
unpleasant, as was probably the case. Having no head, Lord Monty
had no choice but to use the lower orifice. His speech was, inevitably,
accompanied by the emission of a flux of gas though, out of politeness,
everyone pretended that he spoke like other people.

Almost everyone. The vicious guard-imp Nuckl
had delighted in drawing attention to Monty’s disability. But,
thankfully, Nuckl would never find them.

‘I cannot do it!’ cried Aurora.

‘What can’t you do, my dear Princess?’ said
Monty. ‘If there’s any way –’

She looked down her nose at him. ‘I must become
queen. The survival of Grimmery depends on me.’

‘And the sooner you’re back in the palace –’
Monty began.

‘How can I return to Ambra escorted by you
lot?’ Aurora said wildly. ‘I will be a laughing stock.’

Mellie hurled her bag to the ground. Ike caught
her arm, afraid she was going to explode again, for Mellie had
a fiery temper.

She slapped his hand away, counted to seventeen,
then said, stiffly, ‘What do you mean, Princess?’

‘Some escort,’ sneered the princess. ‘A headless
highwayman who speaks via his sphincter –’

‘Oh, I say!’ cried Monty, scandalised. ‘Princess,
in polite circles –’

‘Smelly Mellie,’ Aurora went on, ‘a pint-sized
pickpocket who steals her clothes from scarecrows –’

That was unfair. Mellie was normally neat and
pixie-pretty, but after a week on the road, battling firewyrms
and wading through troll-bottom swamps, a degree of wear and tear
had to be expected.

‘Mellie is really nice,’ Ike cried helplessly.

‘Nice?’ Mellie muttered. ‘My best friend bats
his eyelashes at the princess day and night, and all he can say
about me is I’m nice?’

Aurora took several deep breaths, winding herself
up for another onslaught. ‘As for the horse –’

Naggerly’s black head swung round and one grapefruit-sized
eye fixed on her. He bared the sabre teeth that he used for disembowelling
hares, small deer and, occasionally, annoying riders. ‘Yes, Princess?’

‘Nothing,’ she said hastily.

Aurora reached out to pat his muzzle. Snap! She
was lucky to save her fingers. Lifting his club-tail, Naggerly
expressed his disdain with a steaming dollop of oniony manure.

As the princess turned towards Ike, the warmth
faded from the sun. She’d saved him till last.

‘Least of all,’ she said with shrivelling scorn,
‘the colossal dunderpate who betrayed me in the first place. A
cretin so … cretaceous he
must have been drenched in night-gaunt’s blood at birth.’

Mellie let out a strangled gasp.

‘The lallygagging lardhead who lost the precious
Book of Grimmery,’ Aurora went on, ‘though he knew I could not
be crowned without it.’

‘I didn’t lose it,’ Ike whispered. ‘Emajicka
blasted it out of your hand, then spell-hid it.’

‘I ordered you to get it back!’ she snapped.

‘The queen and the night-gaunt were attacking.
And Nuckl.’

‘It’s always excuses with you.’ Aurora put
on a pathetic, whining voice. ‘Sorry, Princess, I didn’t mean to
betray you to death. Princess,
it was too hard to get the book back, so I didn’t try.’

Ike was not good with words and did not know
how to defend himself. He was going
to get the book back – he had given his word to Monty – though
Ike did not know where to begin.

‘That’s a disgusting lie,’ said Mellie. ‘Ike
did his best.’

The princess lowered her voice, aiming each
word like a knife stroke. ‘How would you know? You had already
run like the cowardly thief you are.’

‘That’s not true,’ Ike burst out. ‘Mellie is
the bravest person I know.’

‘Considering the trash you hang around with,’
sniffed the princess, ‘that is not saying much.’ She swept one
hand in a circle, as if winding herself up, then went on.

‘And then – then you drew that magic
door on the troll’s backside and dragged me into its huge, flabby
. stinking . ugh!’ Aurora turned away, gagging, then swung back,
her blue eyes bright with fury. ‘You’re a treacherous Gate Guardian,
just like your dead, traitor parents.’

Ike wasn’t taking that from anyone. ‘I am like
my parents,’ he said proudly. ‘I’m the last Gate Guardian, and
I’m going to clear their names.’

Though he had no idea where to begin there




Chapter 3

Cat Fight


‘When I am queen,’ hissed Aurora, ‘you will
get a life sentence, shovelling pig dung. It is all you are good

Ike reeled at her fury. His first blunder had left
Aurora in Emajicka’s hands, though since then he had risked his
life many times to save the princess. However, in the face of her
rage, he could not get a word out.

Not so Mellie. ‘You vile, vicious, stuck-up
snot! How dare you attack my friends!’

‘Your friends reflect you.’ Aurora stood tall
in the saddle to intimidate the smaller girl. ‘Grubby little thief.’

‘Smelly sewer swabber! You’re not royal at
all – you’re commoner than I am.’

Aurora paled. ‘Watch your tongue. Grimmery
has to have a queen.’

‘Not you! Once I tell the Lord Chancellor what
you’ve done, he won’t crown you even if the survival of Grimmery
depends on it.’

‘Mellie?’ said Monty feebly. ‘Princess? Can’t
you shake hands –’

Aurora shrieked and launched herself out of
Naggerly’s saddle at Mellie, who was nearly a head shorter but
equally fierce. Mellie shook the princess until her sinuses squeaked.

They fell to the ground, screeching and clawing.
Aurora rubbed Mellie’s nose in the dirt. Mellie tore out a clump
of blonde hair, roots and all. Aurora thumped her.

‘Girls, er, Princess,’ said Monty, tottering
back and forth. Though he had fought pirates, defended castles
and even robbed the Fey Queen’s personal courier, he was helpless
here. He lifted the princess to her feet. ‘Aurora, please.’

‘Unhand me, you domeless dolt!’

‘Princess, I must protest –’

Aurora buried her fist in his belly, up to
the wrist.

It was a toss-up who was more surprised, Lord
Monty or the princess. He doubled over, the hat flew off, and a
series of groaning pops issued from his trouser end. Monty turned
away hastily, his stump flushing scarlet.

‘You disrespectful trugg!’ roared Mellie, swinging
at the princess.

Aurora ducked, then slapped Mellie across the
face. Mellie kicked the princess’s legs from under her, caught
her by the feet and heaved her towards Naggerly’s steaming manure.

‘No,’ Aurora wailed. ‘Please. You can have
anything you want.’

‘Anything at all?’ Mellie kept dragging her.

‘When I become queen, I will make you a princess.’

‘What about Ike?’ said Mellie.

‘Reward him?
sneered Aurora. ‘I’d sooner die.’

‘That can be arranged.’ Mellie gave Aurora
another heave. Then another, until the manure mound was breathing
foetid fumes on her hair.

‘Mellie?’ Ike said hoarsely.

She ignored him.

‘Mellie, it’s all right,’ lied Ike. ‘I don’t
mind being called a dung shoveller, really.’

‘Shut up!’ snarled Mellie. ‘Stand up for yourself,
for once.’ Another heave.

‘All right!’ sobbed Aurora. ‘I will make him
one too.’

‘A princess?’ said Mellie, left eyebrow raised.

‘Yes! No! A prince,

Aurora crossed her fingers as she said it,
and Mellie noticed. ‘I’ll give you Smelly Mellie,’ she snarled,
and heaved the princess on to the mound of manure.

‘Noooo!’ Aurora bawled.

After dragging the princess back and forth
until she was weeping with humiliation, Mellie turned away.

‘There’s a horrible smell around here,’ she
said to Ike. ‘Wait, it must be the guttersnipe who wants us to
think she’s a princess.’

The princess forced herself to her feet, the
gruesome gunge gliding down her garments. ‘Oh, how you’re going
to pay!’

She snatched the black burglar’s wand Mellie
had stolen from her father, pointed it at Mellie and Ike and, with
a sizzle of fire, they were tossed off their feet.

Aurora passed the wand tip over her clothes
and the worst of the stains vanished. ‘Once I am queen,’ she said
with an imperious sniff, ‘I will hang every member of your family,
by their intestines.’

She heaved herself on to Naggerly and sent
a blast of fire singing over his head, to bounce off the obelisk
and shoot up like a beacon. The great horse reared, whinnying furiously,
then bolted down the track into the wind-twisted trees.