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By Sarah Hapgood

“Do we have to keep rushing about, Bardy?” said Bengo, trailing behind his partner as they headed to the top of the main staircase.

“Yes!” said Bardin “We have to have a plan in place for dealing with whatever that thing is that we heard”.

“How?” said Bengo “When we don’t know what it is! Oh God, I’m really stiff from riding all day”.

Halfway down the stairs he rebelliously sat down and held onto the banisters, as though Bardin was going to forcibly prise him away from them. Bardin sat down next to him, gathering the folds of Hoowie’s dressing-gown around him.

“Now Bengo listen to me”, he said “You can’t be unreasonable about this. Whatever that thing is it’s capable of wrenching bloody great doors off their hinges”.

“I know”, said Bengo, miserably.

“So we can’t carry on as though it’s not around”, said Bardin “For all we know that might be the reason why there seems to be nobody left around here!”

“Are we having this meeting or not?” Ransey shouted at the bottom of the stairs.

“Are you alright, mate?” said Hoowie, who was already sitting at the dining-room table.

“Nothing that a hot bath and watching Bardy being spanked wouldn’t cure”, said Bengo, sliding onto the chair next to him.

“That should be compulsory viewing everyday”, Hoowie whispered “Good for morale”.

Bengo giggled.

Bardin swanned to the top of the table.

“Hey, that’s my dressing-gown you’ve got on!” said Hoowie.

Bardin gave him a fierce look and then rapped imperiously on the table.

“There’s no need for formalities, Bardin”, said Ransey, impatiently “We install a watch at all times, and carry a gun”.

“I’m not carrying a gun”, said Adam “And certainly not in the kitchen”.

He said it in a way that implied carrying a gun in a kitchen was like committing sacrilege in a temple.

“So what are you going to do if it breaks in then?” said Ransey “Bash it with a frying-pan?”

“If needs be”, said Adam “I don’t see why guns have to be a last resort as far as you’re concerned all the time”.

“Because I can’t think of anything more effective!” said Ransey “Short of bringing Tamaz up here”.

“We’re not using him unless it’s really necessary”, said Joby “It ent fair on him”.

“Then it has to be the funs”, said Ransey “It’s either that or just have Kieran praying for us”.

“That might still yet be the most effective way”, said Kieran, serenely.

Ransey gave a longsuffering sigh.

“In the meantime”, said Bardin, raising his voice firmly to stop an unseemly squabble breaking out “I’ll draw up some night watch rota’s, both here and for the galleon”.

Supper was surprisingly light-hearted, although as the evening grew dark and more oppressive the atmosphere shifted into a different gear. Mieps came up from the galleon to help out with the first night-watch, which Hillyard had insisted on doing, in spite of having had his long day in the saddle.

“Well I can’t die of exhaustion can I!” was his retort.

“Oh of course not”, said Adam “I hadn’t thought of that”.

“Maybe not”, said Bardin “But we do need maximum alertness …”

“Look I’m pretty certain I’ll be awake enough to hear that Thing if it sounds off again”, said Hillyard “It might even drown you out!”

Adam and Bengo bundled Bardin into the kitchen out of harm’s way, where (to Bengo’s inestimable delight Adam gave Bardin a good, sound spanking by the kitchen stove.

Bengo slowly came to consciousness. At first he felt a drowsy delight at feeling Bardin’s breath on his shoulder. Bardin had fallen asleep with his mouth open, up against Bengo. Then Bengo realised there was the sound of rushing footsteps outside their door and excitable voices. Something had clearly happened. He gave a groan of despair.

“W-what?” said Bardin, drowsily “Is something happening?”

“Yes”, Bengo snapped “We don’t even get a night off for good behaviour!”

“You sounded just like Joby then”, said Bardin.

“Because I feel just like Joby!” said Bengo.

Julian came through the door which connected their room with his.

“Not up immediately, Bardin?” he said, tweaking Bardin’s big toe “Tush. Jump to it”.

He carried on walking through to the landing.

“You’d better go and wait with Hoowie in there”, said Bardin, reaching for his clothes.

Bengo blew a raspberry in response.

“Benje!” cried Hoowie “Come on in”.

He pulled back the cover and patted the mattress. Bengo slid in next to him.

“So what’s out there then?” said Hoowie.

“Something that stopped me being relaxed in bed”, Bengo grumbled.

“I can barely hear it”, said Hoowie, as they struggled to hear a growling noise in the very far distance “It could be on the far side of the mountains”.

“It probably is”, said Bengo, staring at a patch on the wall where some plaster had fallen off “So do you like this room now then?”

“Yeah yeah it’s alright”, said Hoowie “It’s got more room than our cabin on the galleon, and it’s nice when the sun shines in in the afternoons”.

The door crashed open and Kieran peered round.

“Alright the show’s getting good”, he said “Come and have a look what’s up out there”.

They ran into Kieran and Joby’s room.

“Hey”, said Hoowie, boisterously elbowing Joby, who was sitting on the window-seat “We seem to have been on this kick before!”

“Yeah, different weird spectacle this time though”, said Joby.

“What? Not the automated trousers this time?” said Hoowie.

It was nigh-on impossible to make out what was going on outside. The night was very dark for one ting, and the mountains loomed up as ominous jet black shapes, cutting huge chunks out of the sky. An indecipherable silvery shape was flitting across the mountains at high speed, so fast in fact that it was impossible to keep track entirely of its movements.

“This place just gets weirder and weirder”, said Joby.

“What the hell is it?” said Bengo.

“Dunno”, said Joby “But I tell yer, I’ve seen footage of UFOs moving like that, back in our time I mean”.

“And that’s what’s making the weird noise?” said Bengo.

“How?” said Hoowie, like a precocious small child demanding that inconsistencies in a bedtime story be cleared up.

“I don’t know!” Joby exclaimed.

“Then how do we know it’s that light that’s making the noise?” said Hoowie.

“Because there’s nothing else out there”, said Joby.

“How can you tell in this light?” said Hoowie.

“Why don’t you go back to bed!” said Joby.

The dogs were barking downstairs, and several voices could be heard. The others had been watching the moving light from the kitchen and dining-room windows. Bengo went to the top of the stairs and yelled for Bardin to come up.

Bardin nimbly sprinted up the stairs towards him.

“What’s up?” he asked, when he got to the top.

“There is no need for you to be up, Bardy”, said Bengo “The night-watch can manage everything. Now come back to bed, and don’t give me all that guff about your being Captain!”

“So what happened?” said Bardin, as he and Ransey did a complete circuit of the outside of the house a few hours later, to check for anything out of place.

“Nothing”, said Ransey “It just carried on like that until daybreak, and then everything got back to normal. We kept watching it but it was almost soporific. Even the growling wasn’t very disturbing once you got used to it. It gradually became just as if we were hearing distant thunder”.

Bardin noticed that there were odd patches of water scattered randomly across the rough ground, almost perfectly circular in appearance.

“Did it rain in the night?” he asked.

“No”, said Ransey “I’ve no idea what those are, although I’ve seen them round here before”.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Adam was bemoaning the food situation.

“It would be nice to get some fresh produce for a change”, he said “Other than eggs”.

“Well Mieps was gonna go and fetch some road kill at some point”, said Joby.

“I was rather thinking more along the lines of fresh fruit and vegetables”, said Adam.

“For that we need a garden”, said Joby, tartly “And even if everything was normal round here I’d have a hard job getting a decent garden up and running out there”.

“Perhaps the forest might yield something”, said Adam, wishing he didn’t sound quite so vague about it “Particularly now the summer’s coming on. We should make more of an effort to …”

Bardin drifted in from the hallway, looking somewhat dreamy and thoughtful.

“Are you alright, old love?” said Adam.

“This house is confusing me”, said Bardin “It’s impossible to work out how long it had been abandoned for when we came here”.

“Well the bodies we found in here didn’t seem to have been decayed for a very long time”, said Adam “For less than a year I would have said”.

“Exactly”, said Bardin “And if the house had been abandoned a long time it would be falling apart far more than it is. The whole fabric would be collapsing in on itself. And yet the books in the library don’t seem to have been touched in centuries”.

“Perhaps they didn’t like reading”, said Joby “Or dusting”.

“Or perhaps they were nouveau riche”, said Adam “They just bought a job lot of books to make the library look impressive”.

“I wouldn’t say the toffs were known as big readers either!” Joby retorted.

“Oh look we’re getting off subject”, Bardin complained.

“I’ll make us all a nice cup of tea”, said Adam, squeezing Bardin’s shoulder.

“Where’s Bengo?” said Bardin.

“He took Julian’s coffee in to him”, said Adam “In the mysterious library”.

“In spite of all the weirdness happening round here”, said Julian, sitting at the desk in the library “We have got to start making this place work for us. It’s got endless practical possibilities. If we can just stop your girlfriend from running around in hysterics all the time. I mean, the tower has now been sussed out, and there’s clearly nothing there”.

“Oh don’t worry about Bardy”, said Bengo, strolling around the centre of the room, swinging his arms in a carefree manner “I’ll keep him under control”.

“It’s ironic that when I encouraged you two to get together all those years ago”, said Julian “That it was because I wanted Bardin to keep YOU under control!”

“He still does”, Bengo laughed.

“I’m relieved to hear it”, said Julian “We don’t’ want our sweet Bengo to turn into some kind of dictatorial monster”.

“No chance of that”, said Bengo “Bardy’d shove a pie into my kisser if I did!”

Bengo plonked himself on Julian’s lap.

“Hello juicy one”, said Julian, squeezing Bengo’s flesh “I can’t remember the last time you did this. Bardin’s a very lucky man having you in his bed at night”.

“Ooh”, said Bengo.

The big door creaked open and Bardin came in.

“Oh Bardin, what’s the matter now?!” said Bengo, crossly.

“Nothing”, said Bardin “Can’t I come and look for you without something being wrong?”

“I was just saying to Bengo that we need to start treating this place like home”, said Julian.

“I thought we were”, said Bardin.

“I don’t just mean getting the kitchen stove going and sleeping in the beds”, said Julian “I mean being relaxed in it. Short of someone suddenly appearing and claiming it - which I feel is very unlikely - it’s ours now. We should put our stamp on it”.

“We could have a party, a house-warming”, Bardin suggested “Get everybody up here”.

“That would be a vast improvement on creeping around in trepidation all the time”, said Julian.

“And I could finally get round to spanking you in the dining-room, Bardy”, said Bengo, cheerfully.

“I got rather enough of that last night”, said Bardin.

“I know, it was great”, said Bengo “If you didn’t wanna be spanked Bardy, you wouldn’t wear starchy knickers. You know you’re asking for it in them!”

“Alright”, said Bardin “But I don’t want a massed audience for it”.

“I am going to be criminally altruistic here”, said Julian “And suggest you two should be alone then, even though I’m undoubtedly depriving myself of a huge pleasure!”

“I definitely don’t want Hoowie there!” said Bardin “The little sod will find some way of spying on me”.

“No he won’t”, said Julian “I shall keep him fully occupied elsewhere”.

“Hey a party, a party!” said Bengo, getting to his feet and executing a little dance round the desk “It’s just what this grim old mausoleum needs!”

“Sort of kill or cure really”, said Bardin.

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