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By Sarah Hapgood

The following morning he was up early, impatiently ready for the overhauling of the galleon to begin. In the cool light of dawn he went up on deck for a breath of fresh air. Nobody ever seemed to sleep much in The Village Of Stairs, and even at this early hour there were several people about on the quayside.

Bardin watched as a pony-drawn cart sedately rolled into view bearing a cheap, plain coffin. A man walked at the side of it, tolling a bell at periodic intervals in a funereal fashion. Bringing up the rear were a small gaggle of assorted mourners, all looking suitably subdued.

People paused and watched respectfully as the humble little cortege passed by. Bardin stepped down onto the jetty and doffed his cap.

“I don’t understand though”, he said to a man who had been working nearby “The cemetery’s at the other end of the town. They’re going in the opposite direction”.

“It’s full”, said the man, bluntly “Or damn near nearly. If you’ve got the money to waste on death they can squeeze you in, at a suitable price. But everyone else gets taken out to the caves and left there”.

“The caves?” said Bardin “But wouldn’t the coffins get swept out at high tide?”

“They tend to secure ’em well”, said the man “Anyway, what’s wrong with a burial at sea, eh?”

“Nothing I suppose”, said Bardin, suddenly faced with the unsettling thought that if they had all been mortal that was how they would probably have had to dispose of each other.

It was a gloomy thought, and he was glad when the tolling of a town clock brought him back to the practicalities of the here and now.

Bardin was feeling out of sorts. The progress of the maintenance work on the galleon was going far too slowly, he said (actually it was proceeding remarkably smoothly, all things considered), and he continually griped about how changed The Village Of Stairs was, and how it didn’t feel like their town anymore. Bengo was rather more pragmatic.

“Why should we care?” he said “We’ve been much happier since we left it!”

“But it’s what defines us”, said Bardin “Makes us what we are”.

“Oh cobblers, Bardy”, was Bengo’s robust response.

He thought Bardin’s problem was that he was moping too much. The gloom and horror of the Gold River had got too much into him. Once again, Bengo joined forces with Farnol and Rumble and they took Bardin out round the town once more.

A new cathedral was being built, and they went to see it, in order to give a full report back to Kieran. It was clearly going to be magnificent when it was finished, but they were disconcerted to find a small wall-painting of Kieran in one of the completed side chapels.

“Better warn him not to come here”, said Rumble, in a low voice “In case he gets recognised”.

This at least snapped Bardin out of his mawkishness. It was now even more imperative than ever that they move on as quickly as possible.

The need to move on happened sooner than expected too. One of the maintenance workers had gone looking for the heads, and prowling about the boat, had bumped into Kieran coming out of his cabin. This would still not have been so bad if the man hadn’t gone into a state of gibbering shock, as though he had seen a ghost.

Kieran was completely nonplussed by the whole thing. It didn’t bother him whether he was recognised or not. Up until now they had been reasonably lucky, in that those who did recognise him hadn’t tended to make too much of a hoo-hah about it. In a world where bizarre things happened every day, Kieran’s longevity was (on the whole) accepted as a matter of course.

Unfortunately, the building of the new cathedral in The Village Of Stairs had recently changed all that. During the process of it a new sort of cult had grown up around Kieran, and (unbeknown to Kieran and any of the others) many members of the church-going public had been ardently awaiting his return.

And so now things threatened to get rather tedious indeed.

With ruthless determination, like a surgeon severing a diseased limb, they immediately fled The Village Of Stairs, even cutting short the maintenance work on the galleon. They hadn’t prepared for such a sudden exodus, and so had no idea where to go. Back up the Gold River was completely out of the question, so Bardin directed them in a northwards direction.

Bereft of any other ideas, they seemed to be heading vaguely in the direction of The Bay. This had once been their natural home, but many of the Indigo-ites had an uneasy feeling that returning there was about as sensible as staying in The Village Of Stairs would be.

The beginning of December though saw them being taken in by a closed order of monks who had built a new monastery on a cliff-top to the north of The Village. The fact that it was a closed order was extremely important, as it meant the monks would not relish any contact with people seeking out Kieran. And here they sought sanctuary.

The galleon was moored at the foot of the cliffs, and could be reached by an underground tunnel leading down from the monastery (much like the old Governor’s House at Aspiriola). The only LAND access to the monastery was via a rope bridge that spanned a deep gorge. On set days of the year pilgrims would tackle this daunting crossing to pay homage at the monastery, but otherwise it was undisturbed..

The monks were gravely respectful towards them, and the Indigo-ites valued their lack of sensationalism. The only time one of the brethren got excited was when one of the younger ones confided to Adam that it brightened the place to have Kieran here.

Adam found this very believable. The monastery was rather a dark and austere building, and Kieran’s mop of yellow hair alone did much to brighten the endless gloomy corridors.

The Indigo-ites had been given basic but comfortable rooms at one end of the building to use in addition to the galleon, and they were grateful for this generosity. They were allowed free roam of the monastery, but they confined their usual high-spirited behaviour to the galleon and their own apartments.

The monastery boasted a fine library. A massive room crammed with bookshelves, which Joby said reminded him of the setting for a Victorian ghost story.

“They’ve got books in here that go back centuries”, Julian whispered, as he escorted Adam round it.

“Anything from our time?” said Adam.

“Not quite THAT far back”, said Julian.

“It reminds me of the monastery in ’The Name Of The Rose’”, said Adam.

“Are you hoping there’s going to be an Escher-style staircase hidden behind the walls?” said Julian.

“That might be rather fun”, said Adam “Have you shown Hoowie round here?”

“He won’t come”, said Julian “I think the sight of all these books scares him”.

“It makes me so angry when I think of what an appalling education they were given”, said Adam “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bengo write anything other than his own name!”

“Well schooling would have got in the way of them earning money”, said Julian “Doubtless that was the cynical attitude amongst the powers-that-be in the theatrical world”.

They paused by one of the tall arched windows which looked out over the ocean, and watched as a heavy blanket of sea-fog gradually climbed its way up towards them.

“I’ve seen that happen so many times”, said Adam “And yet it’s still magical”.

It was ale-brewing day at the monastery and a strong aroma of yeast began to seep out from the kitchen quarters.

“That reminds me”, said Adam “I’d better go and make some bread. See you later”.

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