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By Sarah Hapgood

There was a large stone bunker-like house built into the hillside. From its main entrance of two massive wooden double doors, a flight of broad stone steps led down to the lake itself. The woman had tethered her shaggy pony to a convenient post by the steps, and was standing patiently near it, her hands tucked into the sleeves of her robe.

“She must be a nun surely”, said Adam to Joby, up on the main deck “Her clothes and her posture would suggest it”.

“Oh great”, said Joby, unenthusiastically.

“I know we had a spot of bother with Sister Fleur …” Adam began.

“It wasn’t her we had trouble with”, said Joby “It was Kieran, the argumentative, bolshy little bastard! He’d better not start up any trouble here, or I’ll really tan his backside good and hard”.

“And he would still enjoy it”, Adam quipped.

“Yeah that’s the trouble”, Joby agreed.

When they had anchored step-side, Bardin selected Bengo, Adam and Ransey to accompany him up to the house.

“Don’t forget to take your cap off when we get inside”, said Adam “It’s good manners”.

“Yes alright!” Bardin snapped.

The four of them trod slowly up the steps, which were thickly coated in volcanic ash. As they climbed the woman continued to watch them, her face largely obscured by her hood.

When they neared the top of the steps though she suddenly turned, hitched up her skirts a little and began to climb up the slope which led up past the house.

“W-what?” said Bardin “I haven’t even said anything yet!”

“Perhaps she’s not allowed to speak to us”, said Adam “It might be a rule of the Order”.

“Well this is going to be a fun visit then isn’t it!” snapped Bardin.

They noticed that one of the main double doors was swinging inwards slightly, and they headed towards it. Inside was a cavernous stone-built room sparsely, yet comfortably, furnished with deep leather sofa’s, a wood-burning stove, and a side table enticingly arrayed with bottles of exotic-looking liqueurs.

“Looks like our kind of Order”, joked Bengo, nervously.

“Hm, not sure what Patsy will make of the décor though”, said Adam.

The walls were covered in dead bear-skins and deer-heads. Hunters trophies.

“It’s only to be expected up here”, said Ransey.

“Hello!” Bardin shouted, impatiently.

Answer came there none.

“Really, this isn’t good enough”, he said, as though he was a holiday guest turning up at a hotel, only to find no one there to greet him.

“What are we supposed to do now?” said Bengo.

“I hope this doesn’t turn out to be yet another abandoned place”, said Adam.

“It doesn’t look very abandoned though”, said Bengo.

“The best thing to do is go back outside and try and find that nun who led us here”, said Ransey.

They all agreed that this was the best thing to do, and retraced their steps outdoors. The shaggy pony on which the nun had ridden, and which she had left tethered to a post, had slipped his moorings, and was now cantering gaily across the ash-cloaked mountainside.

“She went up this way”, said Bardin, striding up the slope which ran up the side of the house.

The house was cut deep into the mountainside though, and there was no external entrance to the back of it. The mountainside rose up beyond them, forbiddingly steep, and free of any entrances, caves, crevices, or thickets of trees cut into it, through which the woman could have disappeared.

“This is ridiculous”, said Bardin “She led us here!”

“She must be in the house somewhere”, said Ransey “Though I can’t see how she could’ve got in without us seeing her”.

“She might be a ghost”, said Adam.

“That is not helpful!” snapped Bardin.

“Sorry old love”, said Adam “But it’s a possibility we have to consider”.

“And was the pony a ghost too?!” said Bardin, gesticulating wildly “That seems real enough!”

“I’m not so sure about that, Bardy”, said Bengo “Just because we can still se it doesn’t mean it’s not”.

“This is neither the time nor the place for metaphysical discussions”, said Ransey “I suggest we get a few more of us up here and explore the house. Safety in numbers”.

“Oh you mean I’m actually allowed to come over?” exclaimed Kieran, back over on the galleon “I’m not going to be locked in the cellar out of sight?!”

“We haven’t got a bleedin’ cellar”, said Joby “Stop being so dramatic! When was the last time we locked you up?”

“I don’t know, but it’s been known”, said Kieran.

“If you keep complaining you can stay here”, said Joby “Which’d be a nuisance as the others say you might be useful for spiritual protection, as we don’t know what’s over there”.

Kieran brightened up at these words, and scurried to find his tote-bag with the necessary requirements of Bible and crucifixes.

Bardin stood at the bottom of a broad flight of stairs which swept upwards in a curve from the main room of the house.

“I’ll have a look up here first”, he said, and he began sprinting up the steps.

“Does he have to be quite so energetic all the time?” said Adam.

“He loves exploring things”, said Bengo, gloomily.

“Bengo, come along!” Bardin shouted down from halfway up the stairs.

Bengo ran up after him. Adam, Joby and Kieran followed at a more leisurely pace.

“I’ll look around down here”, shouted Julian.

“Yes, in the close vicinity of the drinks table no doubt”, muttered Adam “Trust Julian to make himself at home the moment he arrives”.

“Don’t complain”, said Joby “Keeps him out of the way”.

Upstairs consisted of a landing and 3 rooms. Two small ones, which had evidently been used for storage, as they were full of packing-cases, and a large bedroom, which contained an impressive carved wooden bed.

“These look fresh to me”, said Bardin, yanking back the bedclothes and running his hand along the bottom sheet “Newly made-up”.

“How very very curious”, said Adam “Put them back, Bardin. This is someone’s bedroom after all”.

“Yes, but whose?” said Bardin, impatiently, re-making the bed “Nothing makes any sense round here”.

“Pretty par for the course with places we find!” said Hillyard, ambling in with his hands in his pockets “Come back downstairs, before Julian thinks he’s got the booze all to himself!”

“I refuse to believe we’ve come across yet another empty house”, said Julian, ensconced downstairs.

“It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not, Jules”, said Adam “This appears to be the case”.

“Bloody ridiculous”, said Julian.

“We’ve run out of glasses, Julian”, said Hoowie, who had been put in charge of dispensing drinks.

“Try that wooden cupboard thing”, said Julian.

The wooden cupboard thing yielded a shelf full of polished glasses.

“Don’t drop them”, said Bardin.

“I will if you bark at me like that!” said Hoowie.

“But there’s something different about this place”, said Kieran, who was pacing around.

“There’s something different about every fuffing place we come across!” said Joby, sitting in a corner of one of the sofa’s, nursing a large glass of brandy “It’s another empty house, just like the last one!”

“But this isn’t abandoned and neglected like that one was”, said Kieran.

“No it’s rather nice”, said Adam “For something stuck up here in the middle of nowhere anyway”.

“It’s been prepared for us”, said Kieran.

“Do you mind!” said Joby “You’re giving me the creeps”.

“We were meant to come here”, said Kieran “We’ve been expected”.

“Kieran!” said Joby “I knew it was a bloody big mistake bringing you over here!”

“No he’s right”, said Bardin “After all, that nun did seem to be directing us here”.

“And this whole journey’s felt fated”, said Adam.

“Oh for crying out loud!” said Joby “We were just dawdling along, like we always do, with no idea where we were going!”

“Those lights we saw on the headland during the storm”, said Bardin “I thought they were trying to lure us in at the time”.

“Yes, in an evil way, you said”, said Bengo.

“That could still be the case, we have to be cautious”, said Bardin.

“Did you say there were packing-cases upstairs?” said Ransey “What was in them?”

“I don’t know”, said Adam “We didn’t look”.

Ransey gave tut of annoyance and headed up the stairs.

“Oh and there seems to be some sort of kitchen area down there”, said Julian “Very basic”.

He pointed to a short flight of 3 steps which led down to a door set deep into the wall.

“Well he was right about the basic”, said Adam, ducking under a low beam just inside the door.

The kitchen was windowless, short and narrow with a barrel ceiling. It was cut into the hillside, and the weight of the surrounding landscape could be felt in here.

“The chimney must come out of a hole in the hill”, said Joby, peering up inside the fireplace “But I didn’t see it from outside”.

“It’s gonna feel very claustrophobic working in here”, said Bengo “Far worse than the galley”.

“I don’t think we will if we can possibly help it”, said Adam “They can eat on the galleon as usual. This is horribly pokey”.

“And yet there’s all that space going to waste in the other room!” said Joby.

“The house was probably built by some outrageous old sod like Julian”, said Adam “Who wouldn’t have taken his cook’s feeling into consideration!”

“Well you’ve got your fresh supplies at last”, said Ransey, from the doorway.

“Fresh fruit and vegetables up here?” said Adam “Surely not?!”

“No, not that”, said Ransey “But tons of tinned and packet stuff, all in those packing-cases upstairs”.

“Anymore drink?” said Joby, bluntly.

“Yes, that too”, said Ransey.

“Quite a bit of it”, said Kieran, standing behind him.

“Good, let’s get as much as we can over to the galleon”, said Joby.

“And what if the owner suddenly turns up?” said Adam.

“Their fault”, said Joby “Shouldn’t leave everything unattended and easy for us to get at”.

“Joby, you have a burglar’s mentality”, said Adam.

“He’s showing his working-class roots”, said Kieran.

“Oh and I spose the Irish would NEVER do anything like that!” said Joby.

“Now that’s quite enough”, said Adam “Let’s not start hurling insults at each other the moment we arrive”.

“You’ve insulted Julian”, Joby pointed out.

“That doesn’t count”, said Adam.

A bass baritone shouting went up from the next room.

“That’s Lonts”, said Bengo.

“It’s never!” said Joby.

Lonts was standing in one of the corners of the room, peering down through what had previously been a shuttered window. He had pulled the shutters open and had found an internal courtyard, situated slightly below them down the hillside. It was camouflaged from outside by a large set of double wooden doors.

“So?” said Joby, joining Lonts at the window “What about it?”

“Joby, look at the walls around the courtyard”, said Lonts.

The walls were peppered with hooks and chains.

“I wonder who was kept down there”, said Joby, with a shudder.

“Animals were kept down there”, Lonts boomed, indignantly “It’s where the dogs were kept chained up, I expect. Well no one’s doing that to OUR dogs!”

“No one’s going to are they!” said Joby, stamping out of the main entrance “I’m going back over to the ship. This place is too bloody claustrophobic for me. Kieran!”

“Now calm down”, said Kieran, once they were back in their cabin “Nothing bad has happened”.

“Yet”, said Joby, who was changing his clothes, as though the set he had worn over to the house had become contaminated in some way “I don’t like this latest development, Kiel”.

“Joby, you never like any latest development!” said Kieran “Anyway, at least it’s not all decaying like the last place, and we haven’t found any dead bodies this time”.

“Oh well be grateful for small mercies eh?” said Joby, sarcastically “The whole thing’s dead creepy. Who was that woman on the pony, and why’s she led us here?”

“Perhaps she was offering us Sanctuary”, said Kieran “She might be a guardian of the area in some way, as in ancient folklore”.

“Doesn’t that all sound a bit Pagan?” Joby teased.

“Possibly”, said Kieran “But I’m open to it as an explanation. Anyway, look at the fresh supplies we’ve found”.

“Yeah, and that’s gonna be a headache as well”, said Joby.

“How for fock’s sake?” Kieran cried, in exasperation.

“Adam”, said Joby “He’ll get his grubby little hands on as much of it as he can, whilst all the time wailing that we’re breaking some great moral code. It’s gonna do my ruddy head in!”

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