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By Sarah Hapgood

“I’m glad they took up the offer”, said Adam, after Limal and Matthew had decamped to the yacht “I don’t think I could look at Limal without feeling guilty all the time”.

“He seems reasonably alright about it”, said Joby “He knows what’s what”.

“Yes I know, but even so”, said Adam “This has been his home for some while now”.

“Blimey, you could give Kieran lessons in guilt-tripping!” said Joby “Anyway, we didn’t really have any room for ‘em on here”.

The galleon was moving slowly up the lake, closely followed by Lord Robert’s yacht. The sky had turned a deep orange and crimson, as the fire burnt on the east side of the lake. Suddenly a terrified cry went up from the main deck.

“Now what?” said Joby.

He and Adam dashed to the bottom of the quarterdeck steps. Bardin appeared above them.

“Don’t come up!” he yelled “Everybody but Kieran get below. Someone yell at Lord Robert’s yacht, but do it out of the Saloon window!”

There was a gorgon’s severed head hanging from a wooden gibbet structure standing on a jetty sticking out of the lake They would have to sail right past this gruesome, and extremely hazardous, relic. A towing rope was chucked over to the yacht.

“What if we can’t find a way out of this lake and we have to turn back though?” asked Bengo “And go past it again?”

Bardin pulled off his own cap and clouted bengo round the head with it.

“Ok OK!” said Bengo, dodging the blows “The thought just occurred to me that’s all”.

“It’s always bloody dangerous when you decide to start thinking!” said Bardin “We’ll cross that fucking bridge if we come to it!”

“OK!” said Bengo.

They powered on through a network of interconnecting lakes, until the Gorgon House was well out of sight. It was only then that both ships anchored in the middle of the lake. There was very much a feel of “getting a breather”. The atmosphere for miles around was still thick with the smog and stench of the forest fire.

Bardin, determined to prove Bengo’s gloomy prognostications wrong, grabbed every map he could lay his hands on.

“Right, if Cloris and her gang want to get to the City, which from what Glynis said, back at Hannah’s Sanctuary, is their aim”, he said “Then there should be a way of doing so a little further on from here. We will eventually hook up again with the river that ran past Aimee’s old tavern”.

It was also the first chance they’d had to discuss what had happened at the Gorgon’s Nest.

“I suppose we have to ask”, said Bardin “What was the old bag on about with all that Sleet Cold stuff?”

“Ah now I can help you there”, said Kieran, who was wandering around the table, holding a mug of tea and nibbling on a crust of bread “Hel of Sleet Cold is from Norse mythology”.

“You what?” said Bardin, looking disgusted at the prospect of a long story ahead.

“I’ll explain what Norse mythology is some other time”, said Kieran.

“Yes, no rush on that one”, said Bardin, earning a sharp nudge in the ribs from Bengo.

“Hel was supposed to be a goddess”, said Kieran “She ruled over a realm called Sleet Cold, which was every bit as appealing as it sounds. She was often depicted as being half-human and half-decomposing corpse”.

“Nice”, said Bardin “I don’t think I’m in any hurry to meet her”.

“I don’t understand”, said Bengo “Is she real? But you said she’s a myth, Kieran”.

“I don’t know what all that was all about yet”, said Kieran “I’m just explaining who Hel of Sleet Cold was. Who she is in this context I don’t know”.

“Sleet Cold sounds like the Snow Lake area in Winter-time”, said Joby.

“Let’s not get too carried away with all that”, said Kieran “It could just have been a stupid joke, something to make us all go chasing our tails needlessly. I’m sure we’ll find out in due course if she’s real or not”.

A feeling of total exhaustion fell over the two vessels over the next couple of days. A torrential rainstorm helped to dampen down the forest fires, but it was still far from comfortable sailing. Bardin exhaustively studied the maps, to try and navigate their way out of the network of lakes and rivers throughout the area.

Occasionally they caught fleeting glimpses of odd figures through the trees. Some seemed to be standing a short distance from the shore, merely watching them as they glided past. It was hard sometimes not to get the unsettling feeling that the world’s land surface had become out-of-bounds, and they would have to spend the rest of eternity on water.

There was also the feeling that they were dragging Lord Robert’s yacht around with them like a dead weight.

“I suppose we shouldn’t complain too much”, said Adam, sounding far from certain about this “They have given Limal and Matthew a home”.

“Yeah, we don’t want ‘em getting in the way round here”, said Joby, rather more bluntly “Got enough to bleedin’ well cope with. How are we gonna think straight with guests clogging the place up?”

“And I can’t seem then becoming permanent with us somehow”, said Adam.

“I bloody hope not!” said Joby “We’re bursting at the seams as it is. Can you see those two being at ease with some of our antics?!”

“Well no, not really”, said Adam.

“There are probably houses like that all over the world now”, said Kieran, who was chatting to Bardin in his cabin.

“Gorgon Dens?” said Bardin.

“Well not just them”, said Kieran “But monster conclaves of all kinds I suspect. That was just one version of them”.

“Have we got to exterminate the whole damn lot?” Bardin exclaimed.

“I don’t think it’s possible for us to know where the whole damn lot are”, said Kieran “We deal with them as and when”.

“We go around the world seeking them out?” said Bardin, and he gave a sigh “Well I guess you’ll really earn your keep as Vanquisher of Evil”.

“Ach don’t”, said Kieran “Joby got all snarky and called me The Crusader. Seemed to imply I’d enjoy it, when the truth be told I’d love us to find an island somewhere, where we could all enjoy the contemplative life together”.

Bardin thought of all the colossal amount of spanking he’d receive in such an environment and gave a wistful smile. His bottom tingled pleasurably at the thought of it.

“Meanwhile”, he said, dragging himself forcibly back to earth “What do we do about the ones riding shotgun with us?”

“Try and get Glynis to continue with their plan of going to the City”, said Kieran “I suspect she wants to find her children anyway. I know Cloris and Jane are game girls, but I think we’d be better doing what we have to do without … well frankly speaking, having outsiders along. I know they’re dear friends of ours but …”

“They’re not part of the Indigo Brotherhood”, said Bardin.

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