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The first glimmerings of Spring saw them still at the monastery. As the Arch-Pater had said when they had first arrived, it was the ideal place for them. Both its isolation and its quiet, steady routine were what they needed. Even Bardin calmed down eventually. Julian took him over to the library nearly every day and they spent many hours trawling through the books, maps and pictures stored there.
They discovered that the Lebicca region had always been a troubled one. The Governor of Abbus Isle had once painted a rose-tinted image of how he had known it in his childhood, but, according to the monastery records, it had rarely known peace in the 300 years or so since the town had been founded. Its history was a relentlessly grim one of never-ending rebellion, grinding poverty, sickness and persecution. One regime after another ruling through fear, intimidation and superstition.
“You could almost believe the place was cursed”, said Bardin, after reading a concise history of the town “There doesn’t seem to have ever been any let-up in its misery”.
“The population are kept badly educated so that they can easily be ruled by superstition and paranoia”, said Julian, who was sitting next to him “Deprived of the ability to think or reason for themselves, they will believe any old guff that they’re told”.
“It’s not just the population who are badly educated”, said Bardin “If what I’ve just read is true, the head of the police force is practically illiterate!”
There was a loud clanging noise coming from the main vestibule area of the monastery. This meant that someone was tugging on the big brass bell which hung outside the main doors. This was quite an event, as this door was only used on set days of the year, when the monastery welcomed pilgrims for blessing ceremonies. This was NOT one of the designated days of the year though.
Julian and Bardin went out into the foyer, and watched as one of the monks operated the complicated door mechanism. The door slowly swung open to reveal a small band of people who looked almost dead from exhaustion and malnourishment. At the head of them was Lady Pegotty.
“Your hair has grown”, she said, now ensconced in the Arch-Pater’s study. The rest of her little band had been taken to the refectory, all except her husband, the Governor, who sat mutely beside her.
Bardin was astonished that, with everything else that had happened, Pegotty had noticed that his hair was longer. Pegotty’s hair had outgrown its artificial blackness, and was now wholly its natural grey. She wore it swept back off her face.
“I keep meaning to cut it”, said Bardin.
“Don’t”, said Pegotty “It suits you”.
The Governor was unnervingly silent the whole time. They were soon to find out that he hadn’t uttered a word in months. Some kind of severe nervous breakdown had robbed him of the power of speech. He relied on Pegotty to act as his interpreter to the outside world. This fragile, emaciated man was a far cry from the grand, formal figure they had once known.
“What happened to you?” said Bardin, when Julian had passed his hip-flask round.
“It’s rather a long story”, said Pegotty, as though they were engaging in idle tea-time chit-chat “We were told about this place by a nomad we met out in the countryside. He said the monks were very hospitable to people in need, provided one could negotiate the rope-bridge adequately. We decided to take that risk”.
“What happened on the island?” said Bardin “We’ve been so worried”.
“The people who arrived with us are the only ones left of the island”, said Pegotty “The others were unable to get out in time”/
The Governor began to weep silent tears. It was a deeply upsetting sight.
“OK”, said Julian “You need to rest. There will be plenty of time to talk later”.
Pegotty seemed reluctant to talk about the fate of the Island. At first the Indigo-ites had thought she simply found the subject too painful to talk about, or that she didn’t want to discuss it in front of the Governor. Eventually they realised she was doing it to spare THEM!
“What an extraordinary woman she is“, said Adam, as he sat with Julian, watching Hillyard and Tamaz graze the goats in the monastery garden.
“She’s certainly got a lot of juice”, said Julian “She’s led them all the way here from Abbus Isle, that takes some doing”.
“But what on earth happened?” said Adam “All I can get out of her is that the Lebiccan air-buggy got wrecked trying to land in that awful storm, and that the occupants were killed”.
“The storm’s the key to all of it”, said Julian “Something came out of the llake whilst it was raging and laid waste to the Island. A few of them managed to get away in the Governor’s yacht, but that’s all we’ve been told so far”.
“And they had to abandon the yacht when it sprang a leak, and travel overland”, said Adam “If only we had known where they were!”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this!” Kieran slammed his hand down so hard on the Arch-Pater’s desk that the ornamental ink-well nearly spilt over “For a monastery, it is one of your duties to offer refuge and sanctuary to those that need it. You’ve seen the state of those people, you can’t chuck them out. It would be inhuman!”
“They are refugees”, said the Arch-Pater, with a helpless air “Refugees from the Lebiccan government. If it were known that we were being partisan in any way …”
“And who is to know?” said Kieran, horrified to discover that a man whom he had so far respected was displaying a total lack of balls “Nobody here is going to broadcast it to the outside world …”
“If it should get out”, said the Arch-Pater, but he got no further.
“If you throw them out now”, said Kieran “It will certainly be the death of some of them. And it would most certainly be the death of the Governor. Do you want that on your conscience … or haven’t you got a conscience?”
“There is no need to become abusive!” said the Arch-Pater “I also have everyone here to consider. If the Lebiccan government were to hear we were sheltering the islanders, they might take it upon themselves to get aggressive towards us. They are a firmly atheistic regime, we are a religious order, there are all sorts of permutations here. And if they were to find out YOU were here …”
“If it would be safer for you if I wasn’t then I’ll go”, said Kieran “And I’ll take the islanders with me. You only have to say the word. But I will say this: I think they need a period of rest and stillness first. But if that’s not possible …”
“You make life very difficult for me”, said the Arch-Pater.
Like anyone else who feels he has the moral upper hand in an argument, Kieran fleetingly felt like a hero. The moment passed when he realised just how impractical he was being. It was all very noble and generous to go offering the islanders refuge on the galleon, but even Kieran could see this was not going to work in practice. They were already bursting at the seams on the boat. There was no room for the islanders to sleep below deck, which left only topside. Not very practical if they were considering going sailing up into the Arctic regions. Kieran was left with the depressing feeling that his posturing had all been for nothing.
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