Even a hero must suffer the occasional setback. Even a hero will be mocked by those who do not understand. When I smell the emu roasting at the front of the cave, I drag my poor bruised body out of hiding, and limp towards the fire.
I know that Matty and his ruffians will laugh at me, and Sarah will snigger. But the mockery will fade eventually, and in the meantime I will preserve my dignity and say nothing.
I stumble into the light.
‘Here he is,’ cries Matty, waving a brown bottle in the air. ‘The hero of the hunt!’
I do not reply to his jest. These poor excuses for men may think me a figure of fun, but I know my true worth. And the unfortunate episode with the emu will-
‘What a ride!’ Jonesy leaps to his feet. ‘We all saw it, didn’t we, mates? Snookums may be a little feller, but he’s got the heart of a lion!’
Matty takes a swig from his bottle and cries, ‘Heart of a lion? What are you talking about, Jonesy? Heart of a dozen lions, more like it!’
Their mockery pierces my heart, but I will not show it. I will be strong. And for consolation, there is always the roast emu.
But as I edge towards it, hoping they will forget about me and leave me to eat in peace, Sarah snatches me up. ‘Oh Snookums,’ she says, ‘I was that afraid for you! I’ve never seen such a thing as your ride. How did you do it? How did you dare?’
I gaze up at her, sure that she too is making fun of me. But her blue eyes are full of admiration. She is serious!
‘He dared because he’s a hero!’ shouts Matty. ‘He’s the boldest bushranger in Van Diemen’s Land! Dropped straight onto that emu’s back, with never a thought for his own safety. Here, give him a drink.’
Someone puts a bowl in front of me and fills it with brown liquid. Someone else hacks off a leg of emu and puts it next to the bowl.
I stare at them. They are all serious!
‘Well,’ I say, ‘thank you, gentlemen and Sarah.’ And I sip politely at the vile brown liquid, before tucking into the emu.
‘Hooray!’ they shout. ‘He’s one of us! Hooray for Snookums! What a cat!’
‘It was nothing,’ I say modestly, in between mouthfuls. ‘Why, compared with the Giant Worm of Edinburgh-’
‘Drink! Drink!’ they cry.
One must not disappoint one’s admirers. I sip a little more. Then I take another mouthful of the meat (which is tough but tasty) and say, ‘Of course, I knew it would be dangerous. Stories of the giant flesh-eating emu have spread to every corner of the globe. But was I daunted? No! A hero such as I-’
‘Did I ever tell you about the rogue piskies of Dublin? Vicious creatures with sharpened teeth. No one else dared face them, but a hero such as I-’
‘A hero such as I-’
‘Here, fill his bowl, Jonesy, he’s run out.’
‘A brilliant hero sush as I-’
‘Hooray for Snookums! Hooray! Drink up, Snookums!’
‘Did I ever tell you about the Great Bathil- The Great Basik- The Grape Baskiliks of Warsaw?’
‘Snookums?’ says Sarah, peering down at me. ‘Maybe you’ve had enough.’
‘Enough?’ I cry. ‘There is no sush thing as enough for Hairy- For Harry-le-mo- That’s le-beau. Whish means hanshum. That’sh me, hanshum an bold. Cos I conqu- I conk- I beat the giant emu. And now I eat the giant emu. Thassa poem, see? Beat. Then eat. Hahahahaha. Ahaha- Oops!’
‘I think I’m going to be sick …’