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Hoowie stood at the kitchen door, staring intently as the horses moved steadily along the road away from them, and towards the Tower in the distance. The party of six, two to each horse, were making steady progress in the brash Spring sunshine.
“They’ll be alright, old love”, said Adam, who had been watching him from over by the stove.
“Julian should have stopped them going”, said Hoowie.
“I don’t think he could’ve done”, said Adam “Not with Bardin and Hillyard both being so keen”.
“But they don’t know what’s over there!” Hoowie exclaimed.
Adam forbore to answer. He had heard this plaintive remark several times over the past 24 hours from several different people. He simply didn’t feel like making reassuring noises all over again. Instead he passed Hoowie a broom.
“Why don’t you go and sweep out the dining-room?” he said “It’ll help keep you occupied until they get back”.
Halfway along the road they stopped to give the horses a little rest, and to take stock of their surroundings. It was by no means a bleak landscape which surrounded them, although there was a marked lack of vegetation. The mountains rose up bare and unwooded, and the edged of the road - now that the permafrost had finally gone - was rough shingle. In spite of that there was birdsong though, and red eagles whirled majestically overhead.
“There should be hunting to be found in this area”, said Hillyard, as they snacked on hard-boiled eggs and coffee.
“Mieps would know”, said Bengo “We should’ve brought her along”.
“There’ll be plenty of time for that”, said Bardin “After we’ve sussed the place out”.
“It’s weird to think this is exactly where that stick thing walked”, said Bengo.
“Yeah, thanks for pointing that one out, mate!” said Joby.
“After all these years I still can’t get over the silence you can find in this world”, said Kieran “In our time there would usually have been the din of traffic somewhere in the distance”.
“Or planes and trains”, said Joby.
“It’s as if the world has come to a stop”, said Kieran.
“Perhaps it has”, said Bardin “At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any way for us to find out”.
The Tower was in front of them, looming up several storeys high. A pigeon was perched in a glass window above them, completely indifferent to their presence.
“It’s derelict”, said Joby “Hasn’t been used in years, perhaps centuries”.
“Look at the main door”, said Hillyard “It’s hanging off its hinges. Just like the one at the house was”.
Leaving the others with the horses, Bardin and Ransey stepped over the threshold into the ground floor of the Tower. Kieran stood in the doorway.
“There’s nothing here”, he said, emphatically.
“We’ll still look anyway”, said Bardin, who wasn’t entire sure he trusted the way Kieran was so insistent on the matter.
There were six rooms in total, each piled on top of the other, like children’s building bricks. Each was identical. Octagonal-shaped, with a fireplace in the western wall, and a circular stone staircase cut into the north-facing wall. There was no sign, no indication at all, as to what it had been used for, except perhaps on the two uppermost floors, which had iron bars at the windows.
“More for health and safety than for prison purposes I expect”, said Ransey “What’s the matter? Out-of-breath after all those stairs?”
“I’m a trained acrobat”, said Bardin, affronted.
“A long time ago”, Ransey teased “Perhaps you’re out of condition”. “I’m as fit as a fiddle”, said Bardin “And scarcely a victim of too much soft living!”
“Kieran was right though”, said Ransey “There’s nothing here”.
“I thought he was saying that just to stop us coming in here”, said Bardin “Are you sure it can’t have been used as a prison?”
“How could you secure these upper floors?” said Ransey “There are no internal doorways in this place. The stairs connect each floor with no doors on them. No, the bars are there to stop people from falling out”.
Bardin peered out at the sheer drop below. The other four were stood chatting amongst the horses.
“So what the hell was it used for?” said Bardin, pulling back into the room.
“My guess is a watch-tower of some kind”, said Ransey “Or it could be a bothy, an overnight shelter for people hunting in the mountains, though it seems a bit elaborate for that”.
Bardin thumped the wall, as if expecting to find it was a flimsy partition and there were hidden rooms beyond. It was solid external stone.
“Come on”, said Ransey “Let’s go back down. There’s nothing to see here”.
Bardin emerged from the broken door of the Tower and, with a true showman’s flourish, exclaimed “nothing!”
“Just an empty Tower”, said Ransey, following him out in a more prosaic fashion “I feel more convinced than ever that it was just used as a watchtower”.
“A watchtower for what though?” said Hillyard “What were they watching out for?”
“More to the point”, said Bengo “Don’t you think that whatever tore that door off its hinges was the same ting that did it up at our house too?”
“Yeah, thanks for that”, said Joby.
“I know”, said Bengo “Bardy’s always telling me I get intelligent at the wrong times!”
An extraordinary sound came from the direction of the mountains behind them. It was a deep bass groan, like a very large animal expressing its displeasure. It seemed to ring out all over the countryside.
“What the …?” Bardin looked all around him, as though expecting the creature to suddenly appear at the roadside.
“I have a feeling, fellers”, said Hillyard “That we’ve found out what it is that goes around ripping doors off round here”.
“You mean that … thing?” said Bengo, pointing vaguely at the mountains.
“Fucking hell”, said Joby.
They lost no time in getting back to the house. The sun was setting as they arrived. Bardin ordered the horses to be taken back down to the galleon, and then went into the kitchen where he found Rumble, with one tea-towel wrapped round his head and another round his waist, scanning a list of handwritten instructions Adam had bequeathed to them.
“Is this all about looking the part then?” said Bardin.
“You’re back!” said Rumble.
“Didn’t you hear that noise earlier?” said Bardin.
“An almighty growling noise. It rang out over the whole area. Where is everybody?”
“All over the place”, said Rumble “Adam’s having a chat with Julian upstairs”.
Bardin tore off several items of clothing, and left them in a sweaty heap on the floor.
“I’ll go and find them”, he said.
“Good heavens Bardin, how lovely to see you”, said Adam, when Bardin - clad only in his absolute essentials - presented himself in Julian’s bedroom.
“Did you lose your clothing on the trip?” said Julian, who was sitting with Adam on the windowseat “I wish I’d insisted on coming along now!”
“I got very sweaty”, said Bardin “Look we haven’t got time for all the usual smut talk”.
“Something happened at the Tower?” said Adam, suddenly serious.
“No … the Tower … there was nothing there”, said Bardin “Nothing at all. Just an empty building. It was the noise we heard. Oh God, I can’t believe no one here heard it. It was all over the valley!”
“Perhaps we didn’t put any significance on it”, said Julian “One hears a lot of wild animals out here. We heard wolves in the distance the other night”.
“And perhaps it was a lot louder where you were, Bardin”, said Adam.
“We still need to have a meeting about it”, said Bardin, pulling a dressing-gown off the back of a chair and whirling out of the room.
“I might have known we’d have a meeting at some point!” said Adam.
“And the little bugger’s pinched Hoowie’s dressing-gown”, said Julian.
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