I wake up lying on my back with the sun shining in my eyes.
I blink. Am I not dead, after all? Did someone interrupt the She-demon before She could kill me? Or did I fight Her in those last dreadful moments, and win?
If that is the case, how did I make my way outside? The soil beneath me feels wet and unpleasant. And there is a smell that I cannot quite—
I roll over and try to stand up, but I am shakier than a newborn kitten, and my legs will not hold me.
Somewhere above my head, a familiar voice says, ‘You see, Your Excellency? He is exhausted from the slaughter.’
A dog yaps.
‘He is indeed,’ says a second voice (also familiar). ‘Who would have thought that such a scruffy creature could cause such damage? It is just as well little Benjamin was shut in the kitchen, or he too might have been killed. Might you not, Benji?’
The dog yaps again.
I wonder who the men are talking about. And what is this ‘slaughter’? I try to raise my head, but it is too heavy. And the ground is sticky, as well as wet. My fur feels as if I have not cleaned it for a month. My eyes are sticky too.
What is that smell—?
‘You were right to show me, Montagu,’ says the second voice. ‘Such a crime cannot go unpunished.’
Montagu. Where have I heard that name? My head feels as fuzzy and stupid as a half-shaved dog, and the stink of brimstone lingers in my nostrils. I groan.
‘I would advise you to take a step back, Your Excellency. He is clearly mad.’
‘Have you sent for the regiment?’
‘I have, Your Excellency. They will be here shortly. And then he will be punished for his crimes.’
‘Well done, Montagu.’
Montagu. I am sure I know that name. If only my head did not ache so badly. Montagu … Montagu …
Montagu! It all comes back to me in a flash, and despite my weakness, I lurch upright.
‘Careful, Your Excellency!’ cries Montagu. ‘He may be preparing for another rampage!’
I hear the tramp of military feet. Something is happening and I do not understand what. I force my eyes open.
The ground around me is red. My paws are red too, and there are red and white feathers tucked between my toes. There is another feather between my teeth. I spit it out and gape at it. Did I kill the great She-demon, after all? Is it possible?
No. Her feathers are made of lightning and iron filings. Whereas these are just ordinary feathers—
Except for the fact that they are covered in blood.
My paws are covered in blood too. And my beautiful fur. And the pile of corpses that surrounds me.
The military feet come closer. Montagu is shouting, ‘Here he is, lads! This is the villain! He has slain all His Excellency’s chickens!’
I shake my head, trying to work out what is happening. This is all wrong. I did not kill the chickens – did I?
I stare up at Montagu and see the gleam in his eye, and the small head leering from his pocket.
‘Seize him!’ cries Montagu (though it is really the vampire mouse talking through him).
And just as I begin to understand what is happening, a dozen hands take hold of me. I scratch and bite and kick, and four of the hands let go, their owners cursing me. But the others keep hold for long enough to bundle me into a sack.
Montagu whispers through the hessian, so quietly that only I can hear him. ‘She could have slain you last night, Harry-le-beau. But She does not want you dead, not straight away. She wants you humiliated first. She wants you imprisoned as a common chicken killer, and mocked for being too stupid to leave the scene of your crime. And then—’
He doesn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he backs away and says loudly, ‘Take him to the penitentiary, lads. Lock him up nice and tight. On Monday the lieutenant governor will try him for his crimes. And then he will be hanged by the neck until dead.’