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Sunset. The galleon was moored at the side of a river, the yacht alongside it. It was a gloomy, heavily overcast evening, offset by the Moon looming large in the sky.
“We’ve got a supermoon”, said Adam, coming over to join Julian on the main deck.
“Seems quite appropriate for this spartan landscape”, said Julian.
“What I want to know is why we didn’t keep on going South”, said Hillyard, leaning on the bulwark “I thought everyone was keen to see the Bay area again”.
“Not when it came down to it”, said Julian “If we went to the Bay, and it was as we remembered it, then we might be tempted to stay. And we can’t settle anywhere until all this is sorted out. Crowley was only the inspiration behind it all. The real bastards ….”
“Are in the City”, said Hillyard.
“Possibly”, said Julian “Actually, I would find it quite unbearable to go back to the Bay at the present time. All those memories of a more carefree era”.
“There were bad things around then too”, said Hillyard “Bloody Codlik for a start. Yet I know what you mean. There wasn’t this … miasma hanging over the world like there is now. This reminds me of the bad old days when the vampires were in charge. Never thought to see all that back again”.
“The perils of living a long time”, said Julian “You run the risk of seeing the same bad old shit reappearing. We always have some mistaken assumption that the human race keeps steadily progressing. As a time-crosser I know that’s not the case”.
“We just keep hoping I suppose”, said Hillyard.
“If we lost that”, said Julian “Goddamnit, we’d have nothing”.
Down below, Cloris and Jane were paying a visit on Adam in the galley. Cloris was tired, and looked emotionally drained.
“It’s intolerable on our ship at the moment”, said Cloris, sitting slumped by the stove “A horrible atmosphere. Apart from Jane, I feel I have no support from anyone”.
“From what you’ve told me it sounds like Beatrix and Kitty are being poisonous”, said Adam.
“Mainly Beatrix”, said Jane.
“That woman is monstrous”, said Adam “She made life incessantly difficult for us too. The very moment we find a safe settlement of any kind, I suggest you put her ashore”.
“IF we find a safe settlement”, said Cloris.
“Of course we will”, said Adam “Just keep looking ahead to that time. How is Lord Robert these days?”
“Hopeless”, said Jane.
Cloris gave a mild protest, but Jane continued.
“No I’m sorry, Cloris”, she said “But there’s no point pretending otherwise”.
“Is he still in bed?” said Adam.
“Well he gets up occasionally”, said Cloris.
“And a fat lot of good he is when he does”, said Jane “He seems to think we’re back on Fire Island. I haven’t the time or the inclination to deal with him at the moment. I suppose some would say that makes me a bad person”.
“Only the kind of people whose opinion doesn’t matter”, said Adam “We haven’t the luxury of introspection and analysis at the moment. That will all come afterwards”.
“What’s going on there?” said Bardin, hacking off a slice of bread and smearing it with butter.
“The girls are having a conflab with Adam”, said Bengo, putting out a couple of pots of jam on the dining-room table “They look pretty unhappy, so don’t you go saying anything shitty to them”.
“I wasn’t going to”, said Bardin, through a mouthful of bread.
“Don’t speak with your mouth full”, said Joby, slapping him on the behind.
“Why does everyone think I’m going to say something shitty all the time?” said Bardin.
“I can’t imagine!” said Joby.
Lonts hooted with laughter.
There was a murmur of voices outside the door, as Adam showed the girls up the quarterdeck steps.
“How are they?” said Bardin, when Adam came into the dining-room.
“One word. Beatrix”, said Adam.
“Do you want me to turn her to stone?” said Tamaz, somewhat unexpectedly.
Bardin spat out his tea. Adam replied in a wavery voice: “That sounds a rather drastic solution, Freaky”.
“Why?” said Tamaz “I’ve been listening to you lot moaning about her for years. She’s been nothing but trouble. I bet you’d have no problem with it if she was a vampire or a demon”.
“Yes, but she isn’t is she”, said Adam “She’s a human being”.
“So?” said Tamaz.
“This is a very silly argument”, said Adam.
“Huh, you always say that when you’re losing”, said Tamaz. He got up from his chair in an imperious fashion, prior to leaving the room “I’ll remember all this next time you moan about her. Which won’t be long now I suspect”.
Bardin was dosing alone in the communal bed the next morning. He was lying sprawled on his front, snoring into his pillow. He looked so peaceful that Bengo was loath to wake him. He knelt on the bed beside him, and gently scooped up a lock of his hair before blowing into his ear. Bardin gave a start and woke up, squinting in the unaccustomed sunlight.
“Wassup?” he asked “Are we moving?”
“Yes”, said Bengo “You were well away. We didn’t want to wake you. I wouldn’t have woken you now. You might have stayed asleep all morning …”
“Yes alright”, said Bardin “So what’s happened then?” I take it something has?”
“A house has appeared”, said Bengo “Just up the river a bit. I take it you want to stop and see who’s there?”
“Not half”, said Bardin.
A deputation of them set off to approach the house. Julian and Bardin rode on horseback, the others were on foot. As they neared the building they could see it was no dilapidated ruin, but a substantial-looking place which seemed to be in a reasonably good state of repair. It also appeared to be inhabitable. There was smoke coming from a chimney at the back, and horse-dripping in the courtyard to the side.
Julian and Bardin dismounted from their own horses and led them to a hitching-post, before joining the others by the front door.
Hillyard gave an impressive rap on the thick wooden panel. There seemed to be the sound of muffled giggling coming from somewhere far within.
The door was opened softly by a slender older man wearing an impeccably-cut lilac-coloured suit. His hair slightly bouffant-ish, and waved as immaculately as that of any rich dowager.
It was safe to say that he was the last kind of person they expected to see.
“How marvellous to see you”, he exclaimed, in a fruity voice “You must come inside out of this cold wind”.
“W-we’ve left our horses …” Bardin gestured behind him, thrown by this bouffant vision.
“Oh yes, they will be perfectly safe there”, said the man in the lilac suit “Come in come in, do”.
Adam and Julian exchanged a look and a shrug.
“You two should feel right at home here”, Joby muttered.
“Be quiet”, said Adam.
They went through a baronial hallway and into a charming, sunlit sitting-room, incongruously decorated with fragile-looking ornaments and cream-coloured furnishings.
“Isn’t this an absolutely splendid room”, Lilac Suit enthused, as if he was showing round potential house-buyers.
“Well yes”, said Adam “Quite charming”.
“I tell you if this turns out to be some kind of silly plot twist …” Bardin muttered.
“Oh my dear boy”, said Lilac Suit “We are all perfectly normal here I can assure you. We are refugees from the world, I suppose is how you might describe us. This place is our little haven. Please, make yourselves at home”.
“I feel we can’t”, said Cloris, acutely aware of her shop-soiled waterproof jacket “We have been at sea for some time now, and this place is very clean and refined”.
“If it will make you feel more comfortable”, said Lilac Suit “Follow me”.
He took them all back out into the hallway and then into a room at the back of the house. Although it was a well-stocked library, the furniture felt less pristine and delicate than in the white sitting-room. Everyone visibly relaxed.
The window at the rear of them looked out over spartan landscape, which rolled away to the horizon, unbroken by any trees or fencing.
“You don’t seem at all surprised at us turning up like this”, said Adam.
“Not at all”, said Lilac Suit “We always hoped you would one day. There aren’t many of us here. We have just taken in refugees as and when they have appeared. They have been few and far between, BUT we are always here. That is the main thing”.
“Is this your place?” said Bengo “I mean, do you own it?”
“I have always lived here”, said Lilac Suit “When the horror and Evil in the outside world began to take hold, I dedicated myself to providing a haven for lovers of beauty and peace. But i’m neglecting my duties as host. Let me get you some drinks”.
No one was going to violently object to that idea. As he went to leave the room Lilac Suit turned and gave a sweeping bow to Kieran, who gave him a courteous nod in return.
“Well I think that settles it that he really does know who we are”, said Adam.
“More importantly”, said Julian “I think we’ve finally found somewhere to unload Beatrix”.
“Is that all you can think of, Jules?” said Adam, impatiently.
“It is my primary concern, yes”, said Julian “We’ve been lugging that damn woman around like a sack of old spanners for far too long. I’m sure Cloris appreciates the idea”.
“Well yes”, said Cloris.
“That’s if they’ll have her”, said Joby, darkly.
“Trust you, Jobe”, said Hillyard.
“I’m just saying don’t raise your hopes too much, that’s all”, said Joby.
“Fat chance of that with you around”, said Hillyard.
Lilac Suit returned to the room carrying a tray holding two bottles of sherry. Behind him a small, slender girl with long, dark hair and mournful eyes carried another tray holding cut-glass crystal glasses. The whole thing looked very precarious, and Adam itched to take the tray off her, but had a feeling this wouldn’t go down well.
“This is my niece, Melissa”, said Lilac Sit, and then he addressed her gently “Thank you dear. That’s very nice”.
Melissa cast a sad eye over all of them, before turning to leave the room.
“A lovely girl”, said Lilac Suit “And a very talented musician too. Her parents were taken away by the Ministry when she was only a little girl”.
“Why?” said Joby “Why were they taken away?”
“They were scientists”, said Lilac Sit “Working on eradicating hereditary diseases. The Ministry arrested them many years ago, and we haven’t heard anything of them since”.
“Were they taken to the City?” asked Ransey.
“We think so, but have no absolute proof of that”, he replied “Melissa was a little girl when it happened. She was on the stairs watching, as they were taken away”.
The door opened and a portly, barrel-shaped woman appeared. She had a pretty, beaming face, and smiled at them all.
“This is my sister Harriet”, he said.
“I am so pleased to see you all”, said Harriet “We hope you will take sanctuary with us for a while”.
“Well there’s a lot to find out”, said Bardin “We’ve got a lot of talking to do”.
“It seems as though the Dark days are back”, Ransey said to Hillyard, as everyone milled around in the hallway, preparatory to leaving “I was hoping they were gone for good”.
“Oh come off it”, said Hillyard “We’ve always had shits popping up”.
“Yes, but the Ministry have gone back to being so corrupt”, said Ransey.
“One of the problems of longevity”, said Kieran, who was standing nearby “Is that you see people making the same mistakes you thought had been banished to history. It’s a problem. We expect the human race to constantly progress forward. It doesn’t always do so”.
“That is apparent”, Ransey snapped “Sorry, I’m not getting at you, Kieran”.
“I know that”, said Kieran.
“I’m worried that there are plenty in the outside world who might take the same attitude”, said Ransey “All this shouldn’t be happening again, that sort of thing”.
“And blame me”, said Kieran.
“Let’s not go running to meet trouble halfway”, said Adam, coming over to them “How many times do I have to keep telling you all that?”
“Agreed”, Ransey sighed “Come on, let’s turn in”.
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