CHAPTER 42

The Rat King was a giant of a man, a good head taller than anyone else. He had long stringy black hair with a touch of grey that fell off his great shoulders. His square chin jutted out like a granite cliff. His eyes, set deep in his skull, looked like deep pools of blackness.

Joshua watched the great figure as it moved towards them. He heard a voice prattle behind him. It was Sophie.

“The Rat King. No one knows his real name. But he was a cruel hulk of a man. He took a young girl as his wife. One day he beat her to death. His enraged neighbors chased him into the sewers and there he stayed.”

Why is she telling that story now?

Joshua heard a thump. He turned back to the Rat King. He walked towards them slowly. The sound was his enormous boot as it came down on the stone floor. Another loud thump echoed throughout the underground hall as the King took another step.

Sophie continued her story.

“For years after that, people would disappear, men women, children. They all said it was cutthroats or foreigners. But in reality it was the Rat King, building his kingdom one victim at a time. The meanest and cruelest of his captives he made into his minions. The others cowered in the tunnels as his servants, afraid to even look him in the eye, lest he crush their skulls with his bare hands.”

Joshua was about to tell her to be quiet. But he saw the panic in her face. She told the story because somehow she hoped that she could control it some way.

The Rat King lumbered towards them. He towered above them and leered down.

Sophie finished in a hushed voice.

“And so he rules the sewers beneath the city to this day. He’s a fearsome figure. Powerful and cruel. But he keeps his word.”

The last bit she said as a kind of a prayer.

The Rat King pointed at Joshua who was prostrate before him.

“You,” he bellowed. “Are you the boy who can cook?”

Joshua swallowed hard before he answered.

“I am.”

“Good,” said the Rat King. His voice rumbled like an earthquake. “I have a very big appetite. I eat five meals a day.”

He waved his hand.

The pathetic crowd on the outer edge scurried away. They quickly returned with baskets which they dumped before the throne. Old cabbages, moldy potatoes, stinking fish bones and half empty cans.

“But this is what I have to eat. Day in and day out.”

He grabbed Joshua by the back of the shirt and with one hand lifted him off the ground. Joshua yelled as the Rat King swung him over the pile of stinking garbage.

The Rat King roared, “You will make me a feast. A feast worthy of a king.”

The huge arm swung back like a crane and the massive hand let go. Joshua landed next to Sophie and Lucinda. He wanted to stay down on the floor.

I have to get up. I have to do something to help the others. But what?

Sophie whispered to him, “He keeps his word.”

He stood. His voice was small from fright but he managed to cough loudly. The Rat King stopped his lumbering and swung back around towards him.

“Well?”

“Great king, you have me. Please allow my friends to leave.”

“No one leaves!” The Rat King roared back.

“If I make you this great feast, do you promise we won’t be hurt?”

“No harm will come to you,” The Rat King swore.

“And, if it pleases you, will my friends be allowed to return?”

“No!” The Rat King shouted. “Once you’re here there is no leaving. There is no more sky. There is no more sun. You are here forever.”

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