By Sarah Hapgood

As with most villages the bar of the ‘Moon and Stars’ was the focal-point of all knowledge, pertaining to the local area that is. It was in there that Bardin found out about the old mill-house in the forest, about a quarter-of-a-mile away.

“It’s an old saw-mill”, he said to Bengo “The owner’s had to move into the village, for health reasons, and he wants to get rid of it. I knew we’d find somewhere”.

“What do we know about running a saw-mill?” said Bengo.

“For God’s sake, we knew nothing about running a bar until we went to live in Zilligot Bay did we!” said Bardin “Anyway it’s only a little saw-mill. He just made a living selling firewood and kindling to the villages”.

“Can’t have been much of a living!” said Bengo.

“You don’t need much out here!” said Bardin “And since when did you get such expensive tastes anyway!”

The following morning, as the sun rose on another bitterly cold landscape, Bardin arranged to go out to view the property. One of the horses was harnessed up to a dog-cart, and he intended to take with him Ransey (to do all the official business), Hillyard (to look at the saw-mill and stables), and Adam (to run an eye over the domestic side of things). Naturally, everyone else was thoroughly peeved that they hadn’t been asked out there too. Bengo more than anybody, after Bardin had high-handedly told him that he would live where he was told and lump it.

“It doesn’t look very big”, said Adam, when the house first hove into view “I mean, it looks absolutely delightful, but it doesn’t look very big. There are 18 of us, Bardin”.

“Eighteen?” said Bardin “Who’s the other one?”

“Hegley”, said Adam “Oh come on, be reasonable! We can’t leave the poor little thing to fend for himself!”

“Why not?” said Bardin “He seems pretty good at it!”

“All on his own in a strange place?” said Adam “If we abandon him he’ll only have the Sades, the other clowns and Piers and Josh. Oh really, what a crowd to abandon him with!”

“Does Julian know about this?” said Bardin.

“What on earth has Julian got to do with it?” said Adam “I thought you were Captain these days!”

“At this moment I get the distinct impression that YOU’RE Captain!” said Bardin.

“Are we going to look at this place or not?” said Ransey.

The person who was the local house and land agent met them at the front door. The house was, as Adam had said, quite delightful, full of carved wood, leaded windows and a big fireplace, and the rooms were very spacious … except that there was only three of them. A big room on the ground floor which served as a kitchen, hallway and living-room combined (although a stone sink was tucked away in a sort of alcove), and up the stairs a small bedroom overlooking the front door, and a cavernous attic-cum-bedroom.

“Actually I take it all back”, said Adam “This COULD work. After all this room is about the size of the cabin on the sloop”.

“And there’s also the other bedroom across the landing”, said Ransey.

“I expect Julian will commandeer that one”, said Bardin.

“Why on earth should he?” said Adam “Don’t let him. As soon as we arrive here to move in, you take your bags up there and put them down authoritatively. Don’t give him a chance to take it over!”

Back downstairs again Adam had been intending to look at the stove, but he was completely distracted by the double glass doors at the back of the room, which opened out onto a large stone patio, commanding an awesome view of the mountains to the north-west.

“Now this has sold it to me”, he gasped “Can you imagine this in the summer? We could eat out here, sit out here …”

“It’s a bit hard to imagine that at the moment!” said Hillyard, watching his breath wafting in the icy air.

“Oh men!” said Adam “You have absolutely no imagination sometimes, no romance in your souls!”

Ransey and the house-agent returned from up some covered stone steps which descended from the left-hand side of the terrace.

“Where does that go, Ransey?” asked Bardin.

“That’s your department down there”, said Ransey to Hillyard.

“Why, what’s down there?” said Hillyard, suspiciously.

“The stables and the saw-shed”, said Ransey.

The others went down the narrow stairway into a large courtyard, which also contained a watering-trough and a pump.

“This is the water-supply for the house”, said the house-agent.

“Oh lor”, said Adam “I can hear Joby complaining already, ‘I spend all day going up and down those pissing steps fetching water1’ Do you remember he was like that at Tomce’s cottage, Hillyard? It was the first time he had ever come across a pump, he was quite outraged by it!”

Adam and Bardin left the others to investigate the wonders of the saw-shed, and went back up into the house.

“He’ll let us have it on a lease”, said Bardin “Which is a relief, as we haven’t got the money to buy it outright, not until Hillyard gets back ALL the money that Codlik pinched anyway”.

“That could take some while”, said Adam, opening the door to the bread oven, peering inside and then shutting it again “That needs a good clean”.

“Good”, said Bardin “Nice little job for Bengo, serve him right for chewing my ear off about moving out here!”

“Oh don’t worry about that, Bardin”, said Adam “He’ll love it when he sees this place, it’s like something out of a fairy-tale. I’m taken with it and I remember Marlsblad Forest as it was in the old days!”

“When Tamaz’s mother haunted the place”, said Bardin.

“It was entirely a place of terror then”, said Adam “No one would go near it after dark, and of course the Winter Palace is only a few miles from here, though that is hard to believe now”.

“Well any bogeymen, or bogeywomen come to that, won’t stand a chance when we all move in!” said Bardin.

On their return to the village the four of them went with the house-agent to his office, a cramped, paper-filled little room opening straight onto the street, to sort out the necessary documentation. The house-agent said the owner would be delighted with the lease. His condition was terminal, and he was increasingly debilitated. He wanted to spend his remaining months, or weeks, in the village, where there was plenty of human life at close hand to help him. Until the Indigo-ites arrival he had had no hope that anyone would want to take the mill-house off his hands.

Meanwhile, back at the ‘Moon and Stars’, Bengo and Hegley were sitting on a high-backed wooden bench in the bar, enjoying a couple of mugs of mulled wine.

“I hope it’s gonna be alright about me moving in with you all”, said Hegley “I know not everyone’s gonna like it”.

“You’ll be o.k”, said Bengo “It’s not as if you take up much room is it! And if you’re that worried then just lose yourself in the crowd for a few days, that’s easy enough to do sometimes with so many of us. Gawd, sometimes I’ve even gone days at a time without even noticing Hoowie! I wish it was as easy not to notice Bardy!”

Joby, Lonts, Kieran and Tamaz returned from taking the dogs for a walk round the village. Kieran had been called into the telegraph room at the back of the inn to receive a message.

“Who is it?” asked Joby, when Kieran returned to him in the lobby.

“Father Levka”, said Kieran.

“Rasputin?” said Joby “What does he want now? Typical bloody churchman, always on the scrounge!”

“He says he’s worried about me, being up here in a place with such a long reputation for evil”, said Kieran.

“For crying out loud, he sounds like your mum!” said Joby.

“He does a bit!” Kieran laughed “He says he wants to come up here himself”.

“Oh bloody marvellous!” said Joby.

“It’s alright, don’t panic”, said Kieran “There’s not another train due up this way until after Christmas, we’ll be safe until then”.

“Yeah”, said Joby “It’ll be a nice little treat to look forward to in the New Year!”

“It’s a free world, Joby”, said Kieran “I can’t stop him coming up here if he insists”.

“No but by then we’ll hopefully be in the old mill-house”, said Joby “We can at least stop him from staying with us!”

“I doubt there’d be any room!” said Kieran “From what I’ve heard about that place, we’re going to need a shoe-horn to get ourselves in it, let alone anybody else! Where’s Tamaz?”

“That’s a point”, said Joby.

He quickly unearthed Tamaz behind a screen at the entrance to the bar, where some of the jars, bottles and cutlery were stored. Tamaz was helping himself from a jar of picililli with a teaspoon.

“What are you doing?” Joby exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper “That’s stealing that is!”

“This?!” said Tamaz “It’s a jar!”

“That don’t matter”, said Joby “Put it down! Christ, I thought we’d taught you some civilised behaviour, it seems I was wrong don’t it! Come out of here before someone catches you!”

Tamaz hissed indignantly.

“If you can’t behave yourself”, said Joby “You’ll be staying up in our room until we move to the old mill-house!”

“Hey!” Josh burst upon them “I want a word with you. You never think of me do you?”

“I try not to, it’s too depressing!” said Joby.

“That lot have just come back from the old mill-house”, said Josh “Oh they’re really full of it ent they!”

“I didn’t hear ‘em pull up”, said Joby.

“No, ‘cos you were too busy having a go at me!” said Tamaz.

“And with good reason and all!” said Joby “Look Josh, if this is about what I think it is about then I don’t owe you anything. You’re big enough and downright ugly enough to look after yourself. I didn’t ask you to come up here with us, you insisted, and if you wanna stay here then you find yourself somewhere to live!”

Joby pushed past him, dragging Tamaz with him. Josh, clearly rather annoyed (as Adam might put it), looked dangerously close to starting another fight. Tamaz though turned and gave him a look which was strongly reminiscent of his late mother. In that brief moment he gave Josh a clear understanding that he wouldn’t hesitate to use his formidable powers on Josh, if a suitable opportunity arose. Josh shoved past everybody and charged out of the building, pushing past Adam in the main doorway as he did so.

Out on the forecourt in front of the inn Julian was feeding the horse some mints whilst talking to Hillyard.

“Has he been bothering Joby again?” said Hillyard, watching Josh run across the street to the annexe.

“That will all change when we move”, said Julian “He can get in here whenever he wants because it’s a public house, once we’re on our property he can be kept out”.

“I hope so!” said Hillyard “Or I can see me and him are going to have to have Words!”

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