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By Sarah Hapgood

The next morning Bardin organised a group to clean up the decks, which had got drenched during the deluge. Meanwhile, Ransey and Hillyard set-to repairing the hole in Julian’s cabin ceiling.

“Bardin, mate”, said Hillyard, straightening up “It might be a big help if you went and stood somewhere else”.

Fortunately (for Hillyard that is) Bardin espied Kieran on the other side of the main deck, peering through a pair of binoculars at the headline where the lights had been glimpsed the night before.

“What are you doing?” Bardin barked.

“Well now”, said Kieran “I thought you might have been able to figure that one out for yourself, Bardin”.

“Don’t give me all that”, said Bardin “You’re cooking something up in your head”.

“I am not, I’m just being curious”, said Kieran “Jayz, Bardin, sometimes you’re as bad as Ransey!”

Kieran thrust the binoculars at him and stamped down the quarterdeck steps. At the bottom he practised some boxing moves.

“What’s all that about?” said Joby, standing in the galley door.

“That was good”, said Bengo “I’ve seen professional ones like that”.

“Bloody Bardin”, said Kieran “One day I’m going to push him over and jump up and down on him!”

Bengo burst out laughing.

“I might’ve known”, Joby groaned “What’s the old wotsit done now?”

“Kicked up a stinking fuss just because I was using a pair of binoculars”, said Kieran “Anyone’d think I was chucking hand-grenades around!”

Bengo was now really helpess with laughter. Kieran calmed down though.

“Sorry Bengo”, he said “I know it can’t be nice to hear me mouthing off like that about your partner”.

“Eh?” said Joby “This is Bengo and Bardin we’re talking about here!”

“Don’t worry about it”, said Bengo “If I wasn’t devoted to Bardy I’d never be able to put up with him!”

“Great men are never easy to live with”, said Adam.

“Don’t I know it!” said Joby.

“Oh don’t go telling Bardy he’s a great man, he already knows it!”

There was the sound of footsteps descending the steps, and a pair of slim legs came into view.

“Hey-up, watch out”, said Joby.

“Bardy”, said Bengo, sternly “Have you been upsetting Kieran?”

“Be quiet”, said Bardin “Haven’t got time for all that. Something’s appeared in the distance. A massive plume of smoke”.

They all raced up on deck. Adam checked everything in the galley was safe before following at a more sedate pace.

An awesome funnel-shaped plume of smoke had appeared, billowing up behind the mountains on the eastern side of the lake. It was staining the clouds above a deep, ominous black.

“It’s a volcanic eruption”, said Adam, gazing up at it with an artist’s awe “It’s beautiful”.

“Beautiful?” said Ransey.

“Yes, sorry, old love, I’m being a poncey art-fart aren’t I?” said Adam, unrepentantly.

“Whether it’s beautiful or not”, said Ransey “It means we’d better pull in somewhere. We’re soon not going to be able to see a thing if it wafts over our way”.

“And we’ll get covered in ash”, said Bardin.

“Oh good”, said Hal “Not point in carrying on cleaning then!”

“You’ll have plenty to clean up afterwards”, said Bardin, through gritted teeth “I promise you!”

The galleon weighed anchor and sailed placidly through the serene water of the lake. Another river opened up between the sheer rocks of the lakeside, and the galleon was taken down this offshoot.

“What’s he playing at?” said Hillyard “This is taking us in the direction of the volcano!”

“Look”, said Ransey, handing the binoculars to him “There’s a beach at the side there. We can pull in until this blows over”.

The water was beautiful, like sheet glass, mirroring everything that surrounded it perfectly. It was hard to believe that there was chaos brewing in the background. The mountains around them were wooded on the lower slopes, and bare at the tops.

“God, it’s beautiful here”, said Hillyard, in a rare moment of sentiment.

“Just a shame about the big ash-cloud that’s going to blow over us in the next couple of days”, said Ransey.

“The wind direction might be in our favour”, said Hillyard “It might go the other way, and even if it does come over us, it’ll carry on wafting past. We’ll just have some cleaning up to do that’s all”.

“Horrible-looking thing”, said Joby, as he and Adam took a short tea-break up on deck that afternoon. The ash-plume was continuing to grow in the far distance.

“Don’t you think it has a strange beauty to it?” said Adam.

“No I don’t”, said Joby “It reminds me of the old mushroom-shaped cloud from a nuclear blast, and don’t tell me it’s a different shape to that, because I know it’s a different shape!”

Joby chucked the rest of his tea over the side of the ship. Adam, who had a pathological horror of wasting anything at the moment, went to protest, but Joby had headed scrappily down the quarterdeck steps. Adam caught up with him in the galley.

“I think you should go and have a lie-down, old love”, he said, putting his hands on Joby’s shoulder “You’re very tired”.

“No I won’t be able to rest”, said Joby “I wanna stay here and work”.

“Well normally that would be music to my ears”, said Adam “But I’m not sure …”

“And don’t keep going on about waste all the time”, said Joby “I know we’re not exactly a superstore but there’s no need to turn into such an old Scrooge as you’ve been lately”.

“I shall try and bear that in mind”, said Adam.

“You’ll do more ‘en bvear it in mind, you’ll try to keep to it”, said Joby.

“Yes alright, don’t get carried away!” said Adam “I shall remember this conversation the next time I have to virtually crowbar you out of bed!”

“Darkness at noon”, was Julian’s apt comment when the ash-cloud hit, blanketing everything in its path.

Noon on a summer’s day that far north which was now as dark as an underground mine. The galleon was thickly coated in the fall-out. This mole-like existence lasted for a couple of days, before the ash-cloud stealthily moved on in its journey.

“I can write my name in it, look”, said Bengo, etching his name on the surface of the main-deck with the end of a broom.

“He can write his name, guys, look!” Farnol laughed.

“You haven’t got time for larking about”, said Bardin, sternly.

“Oh come off it, Bardin, man”, said Farnol “That’s one thing we’re not short of, us lot, time!”

“Bengo, hand him that broom”, said Bardin “We need to get cleaned up”.

Back downstairs Bengo found Adam alone in the galley.

“I’ve just insisted Joby go off-duty for a while”, said Adam “I can’t take anymore of his doom-laden prophecies for the time being”.

“Oh no”, said Bengo “It wasn’t anything Bardy said was it?”

“No”, Adam laughed at Bengo’s instant assumption that Bardin must be behind it all “He’s got very crochety with the ash-cloud, and then last night he went and lost very heavily at a dice game with Umbert”.

“Well it can’t have been real money”, said Bengo “He hasn’t got any, not unless he’s got some more secretly hidden in his socks”.

“It was matchsticks”, said Adam “But that won’t make any difference to Joby, it’s the great principle of the thing you see”.

Kieran was in the middle of changing the sheets on the bunk when Joby walked in.

“I’ve been fired”, he announced, hanging his pinny ceremoniously on the back of the cabin door.

“Adam’s fired you?” said Kieran, in disbelief “After all these years?”

“Oh only for a couple of hours”.

“You can’t be fired for a couple of hours!”

“Adam can”, said Joby “He makes up his own rules”.

He plonked himself down on the sofa, and Kieran fetched the whisky out of the cupboard under the washstand.

“I spose I should make the most of it really”, said Joby.

“That’s the spirit”, said Kieran, joining him on the sofa.

“He’s driving me fucking mad”, said Joby “He carries on like some tutty old woman fretting about food waste all the time. I’m surprised he hasn’t taken to walking around with the keys to the food stores hanging round his waist!”

“There aren’t any keys to the food stores are there?” said Kieran.

“No”, Joby conceded (slightly) “But if there was he’d be wearing ’em, like Mrs bleedin’ Danvers! And he’d have us doing inventories every 5 minutes. Even Ransey’s getting fed up with him constantly wanting checklists for everything!”

“Ach now that is bad”, said Kieran.

There was the sound of someone shouting in the far distance.

“What was that?” said Kieran.

“Probably just one of the others”, said Joby.

“No, it’s further off, listen”, said Kieran.

“Sounds like a woman”, said Joby “Oh God, I hope it’s not the Cyanide Sisters again!”

“We’ve moved on too far for them surely”, said Kieran “Let’s go and look”.

On the far shore a woman was sitting side-saddle on a shaggy pony. She wore what vaguely looked like a nun’s habit: a long white robe with loose hanging sleeves, and a burkha-like headdress. She was shouting across to them and pointing in an easterly direction, the one in which they had been vaguely planning on heading.

“I think she wants us to follow her”, said Bardin.

“She’s the first person we’ve seen since the old bats”, said Joby.

“She can’t be one of them though”, said Bardin “Not after all this distance”.

“She does seem to be trying to help us”, said Adam.

Bardin waved his arms and pointed to indicate they would follow. The woman appeared satisfied with this because she deftly turned the pony’s head and ambled off in the direction from which she had come.

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