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“How long do we give the before we go after them?” said Hoowie.
“Until daybreak”, said Julian, wishing he still smoked “Which won’t be far off now”.
The horses were still gently cropping at the woodland grass, as though nothing was amiss. “We haven’t got a clue what’s happening in there”, said Hoowie “Could be anything”.
“Bardin’s said that if anything goes truly pear-shaped they’ll find some way of smuggling Bengo out to us to tell us what’s happened”, said Julian.
“Yeah, if he gets a chance”, said Hoowie.
There was a loud bang from the direction of the castle.
“Fucking hell”, said Hoowie “Now what?”
“Let’s hope that was one of Kieran’s efforts”, said Julian.
“HELLO!” a woman’s voice called out through the trees.
“Oh my God, what’s that?” said Hoowie “Could it be a trap of some kind?”
“HELLO!” the voice came again.
A light bobbed through the trees, and Cloris emerged, carrying a lantern. Jane was right behind her.
“What in God’s name are you girls doing here?” Julian stared at them in alarm.
“Girls! I like that”, said Jane “We’ve come all the way up from Hannah’s Sanctuary to help you! We’ve been hearing disturbing stuff about this area, and we were concerned”.
“Are all of you here?” said Julian.
“No, just us, Glynis, and Lord Robert”, said Cloris “They’re back on the yacht. We’ve been very worried”.
“What the hell is going on over there?” said Jane, looking at the glow of the fire in the distance.
“That’s what we’d like to know”, said Julian “Look, I’m serious. This really isn’t a place to meet up again. The others have gone to the castle, and we haven’t got a clue what’s going on. This forest is a weird place. It isn’t safe”.
“I know, that’s why we’ve come to help you”, said Cloris.
“They can help, Julian”, said Hoowie “They can mind the horses whilst we go after the others”.
The women looked somewhat disgruntled at this suggestion.
“Look OK”, said Julian “Hoowie, you and Jane stay here. Cloris, come with me, as I can see you’re armed quite copiously”.
Lonts stood in the rose garden, which remained hauntingly still, in spite of the conflagration going on behind him. Somewhere in the nearby building came the sound of a woman wailing in an eerie, ghostly way.
“C’mon Lonts, don’t just stand around”, said Joby, coming up to him “We’ve got time to brood on all this later”.
“There’s something odd about this garden, Joby”, said Lonts.
“Something odd about this entire fucking place!” said Joby.
“OUT!” Kieran ran out of the building “OUT! What are you standing around for? This place is burning, and some of those creatures are still around. One’s pulled off her mask, for crissake!”
“Oh shit”, said Joby.
“The fire will get her”, said Bardin, running up behind him “But she’ll try and get us first”.
“Run, and don’t look back, whatever you do”, said Kieran.
“Well you heard him”, Bardin clapped his hands “Go on!”
“I get the distinct impression they weren’t altogether pleased to see us”, said Cloris, now back on the yacht.
“Well we didn’t exactly turn up at the most convenient time”, said Jane, pulling off her jacket, and tossing it onto a nearby couch.
“Will the whole forest burn?” said Glynis, the only other person in the room.
“It could well do”,, said Cloris “There’s no way to damp down the fire, or stop it from spreading. But from everything we’ve heard about his place recently, that should be a good thing”.
“Anyway, we need to move the boat away from the shore”, said Cloris “And douse it with water. We’d better get cracking on that”.
“Everything stinks of smoke”, said Adam, as he and Joby stripped off their clothes and dumped them in a heap outside the galley door.
“Bound to innit”, said Joby.
All around them were the racket of the horses, as Bardin ordered the galleon to be completely drenched in water.
“Hopefully this’ll cleanse the area”, said Joby.
“I’m sure it will”, said Adam “Though a bloody shame it’s had to come to this”.
“Trees can grow again”, said Joby “But it ll had to be flushed out. Oh God, I sound like Kieran!”
“Make some tea!” Bardin shouted, as he went into his cabin.
“Yes alright!” Adam replied “Go and have a wash, you look like a chimney-sweep”.
“Where do we go after this?” Bengo asked. He was pouring a jug of cold water into a bowl in their cabin.
“We do a complete circuit of the lake in a few hours time”, said Bardin, beginning to undress.
“Do we have to go into that house again?”
“Well hopefully it’ll be a smoking ruin, so there’ll be no need”.
“What a mess”, said Bengo “We don’t even know if any escaped”.
“No we don’t”, said Bardin “”But we’ve destroyed their base, so that’s something”.
“Were they a nest of Gorgons?”
“Amongst other things I suspect”.
“If you want tea”, Joby shouted from the doorway “Come into the dining-room and get it!”
Adam was helping Limal to stow away his few belongings in the wireless room.
“I’m so sorry you had to abandon your little home”, said Adam “I feel so bad about it. It was such a beautiful area too”.
“Yeah well”, said Limal, looking stunned “I suppose you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, as the saying goes. We were living in the shadow of that place all the time. It couldn’t go on”.
“Well your things will be perfectly safe here”, said Adam.
“Adam!” Glynis called, from the bottom of the quarterdeck steps “Can I have a word?”
Adam had to stifle a sigh of weariness.
“OK old love”, he called back.
He steered her around the heaps of smoke-soiled clothes in the passageway and into the galley.
“I know this isn’t a good time”, said Glynis “Two things: one is that Matthew and Limal can come onto our yacht, we have more spare room than you. And the other is that we are actually on our way to the City”.
“A bit of a dog-leg detour isn’t it?” said Adam.
“We wanted to see you first”, said Glynis “I was hoping for one of our dinner-table chats, but we’re in the midst of total chaos”.
“Yes I’m afraid so”, said Adam “We might have a chance to catch up when we get to the top of the lake. I’ll pass on your idea to Matthew and Limal”.
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