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By Sarah Hapgood

There followed a golden few days of pure escapism. Like a long-awaited holiday. The two crews met up for a game of cricket on the shore one afternoon, which was conducted in a chilly breeze, offset by tinny sunshine. Malachi came ashore to sit in a deck-chair. In the harsh sunlight he seemed older and frailer than ever. Whereas everyone else was weatherbeaten from their constant exposure to fresh air, he seemed to have spent his life in a tomb below ground.

Kieran, who was sitting cross-legged on the grass nearby, noticed that Malachi was staring fixedly towards the horizon. Kieran looked in the direction of where he was staring. There was a figure clad from head to foot in black standing at a near distance away. Kieran knew instantly that the figure wasn’t real, not in the flesh and blood sense anyway, and none of the others gave any sign that they had seen it.

“Malachi”, said Kieran, crouching down by his deckchair “Who is that?”

“I’ve seen her before”, said Malachi “The night before I left home to join the yacht. She appeared in the desert”.

“Who is she?” said Kieran

“All I know is that she is a prophetess of doom”, said Malachi, softly.

“Why did you not tell me about seeing her before?” said Kieran.

“I didn’t want to alarm you”, said Malachi “Please believe me, I kept it from you with the very best of intentions”.

“OK I understand”, Kieran patted his hand “But if it happens again, please tell me, Malachi. Otherwise I have to go telling the others later, and then everyone makes too much of it”.

“Are you alright, Malachi?” Cloris appeared, the sun behind her head.

Malachi reassured her he was fine. Joby and Hillyard had watched this little scene from their deckchairs on the poop-deck.

“Wonder what that was all about”,said Joby.

“Don’t know”, said Hillyard “I thought he’d been taken ill for a moment”.

“I spose we’ll find out later”, said Joby, gloomily.

Kieran did tell them the latest development at the dinner-table, but instead of hysterics was greeted with bored indifference.

“It was probably Beatrix in a long black veil come back to haunt us”, said Bardin “Nothing would bloody surprise me where she was concerned”.

“So no one’s bothered about the spectre of doom then?” said Kieran.

“No. Siddown”, said Julian “And tell Malachi he’s being a bloody old fool if he’s worrying about it”.

“I can’t tell him that!” Kieran protested “You insensitive upper-class English twat!”

“I really don’t care what you tell him”, said Julian “A portent of doom is hardly a great surprise at the moment, with the world in the state it’s in, is it!”

“OK OK”, Kieran held up his hands, as if in surrender, and took his seat “No need to have a stroke on me. I just wanted to check that everyone was fine”.

“Why shouldn’t we be?” said Bardin, from the top of the table.

“Alright, I give up!” said Kieran.

The next day Mutton Broth was swabbing the floor at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps when Joby cannoned into the bucket he had left lying around

“Damnit!” Joby erupted “Do you want me to break my neck?!”

“Oh don’t have a go at me, Joby”, Mutton Broth looked on the verge of tears “If Bardin hears he’ll have a go at me”.

“Yeah alright, calm down”, said Joby “I was just letting off steam. Strewth! Sometimes I think everybody’s gone stark, staring mad round here”.

“It’s just I don’t think I could stand it at the moment”, Mutton Broth went on regardless “I’ve only gotta have a blast of his sarcasm and I’ll go right over the edge”.

“Yeah alright, calm down!” said Joby.

“What’s going on?” said Adam, emerging from the galley.

“Mutton’s having a nervous breakdown at the thought of Bardin”, said Joby.

“You know what he can be like, Adam”, said Mutton.

“Don’t distress yourself, old love”, said Adam “If Bardin gives you a hard time we’ll just smack his bottom again”.

“That never seems to have any effect on him, Adam”, Mutton wailed in despair.

“He would be a damn sight worse without it!” said Adam.

“Oi!” Hillyard shouted from the top of the steps “Stop bickering and come up here! The scenary’s changing”.

“About bleedin’ time”, Joby growled.

The river widened out into a huge lake, which was peppered with several small islands, many of which were heavily wooded. For the rest of the day the two ships sailed amongst them, scanning them for signs of human life. There didn’t appear to be any.

“Which one do you want?” Bardin shouted across to Cloris from the poop-deck of the galleon “You choose first”.

“Are you having a neighbouring one?” Cloris called back.

“We can do”, said Bardin, although he had every intention of hiding the galleon out of sight of them for a while.

The islands were a perfect resting-place for a while. The one the Indigo-ites chose had a small sliver of beach and rocky pools around it’s perimeter. The centre of the island was dense with trees. A thorough examination of it revealed no trace that anyone had lived there at any time.

“The only thing wrong with it is it’s not perfect for exercising the animals”, said Bardin to Julian, up on the main deck.

“Not a place for a good canter”, said Julian “No matter. We can take them for a walk along the beach. It’ll do for the time being”.

For several days the two little communities stayed cocooned on their own separate islands. For the Indigo-ites it was heavenly. They were able to recreate the fishing holiday in the Snow Lake region. Tamaz occupied himself setting nets in the rock-pools. Ransey, Hillayrd and Mieps thoroughly inspected the interior of the island, but were unable to find any wildlife, so instead they concentrated on fishing.

Being out of sight of the “neighbours” they were finally free to do as they wished above deck, to go naked when they wanted. Bardin ordered an old mattress to be fetched from the hold again and taken up on deck, so that everyone could enjoy the warmer weather.

To the delight of his fellow Indigo-ites Bardin appeared in his “tropical” garb of starched shorts and sleeveless shirt. Adam spanked him severely, and the unexpected holiday was made.

Nursing a sore behind, Bardin felt thoroughly chastened, and was pleasantly subdued for the rest of the day.

“Keep that up, Ad”, said Hillyard, approvingly.

“Poor old Bardin”, Adam laughed “That was quite a walloping I gave him”.

“You only used your hand, he’ll be alright”, said Hillyard “If he calms down enough, he might let us stay here for a while”.

Bengo was chewing over the same thought, and confronted Bardin with it when Bardin was having a wash down in their cabin.

“We’ll take each day as it comes”, said Bardin, drying himself off and then putting his shirt back on “I can’t say anymore than that. Now stop mithering. I’m as sore as hell”.

“Good”, said Bengo “That was a really good whacking he gave you”.

Bardin picked up the soapy flannel and slapped it into Bengo’s face as if it was a custard pie, leaving Bengo snort as soap went up his nose and into his mouth.

“Just to make sure I’m not the only one who gets the humiliation round here”, said Bardin.

Bengo chucked the flannel at him, hitting him on the behind. Bardinn laughed.

“Bardy”, Bengo went over to him “Do you think we could spend tonight here, in our own room?”

“Yes”, said Bardin “We can have supper here too if you like”.

To Adam’s dismay, Ransey wanted to take advantage of the lull in their adventures to do a full inventory of their supplies. Reluctantly Adam agreed that it was a good idea.

“I don’t know how you do it”, said Ransey to him in the hold “Keep producing meals day-after-day. Sometimes I think you magic them out of thin air”.

“Not quite”, said Adam “But it’s amazing what you can do with a few ingredients sometimes, even it does always to be same old few! I won’t lie, we get sick of it. Sometimes I think I could go berserk with a full shop of goods at my disposal. Haven’t had that since the covered market at Snow Lake”.

“Snow Lake”, said Ransey “Everything always comes back to Snow Lake. The last time we ever really knew any peace. How long ago that was I have no idea. I stopped keeping track of time quite some way back”.

“I wonder if we’ll ever know normal times again”, said Adam “Oh I know that sounds a bit fanciful, but I can’t help it. The world seems to have descended into some kind of terrible dark pit”.

“It’s not fanciful”, said Ransey “I often wonder if we have a stark choice. Find a safe haven, and try to create a pocket of civilisation there, or go and confront the Evil in the City. My head says we should do the confronting. That Kieran is special, and that’s probably what he’s here for. We shouldn’t keep him for our own ends. But at the same time … well we’re a family. Why can’t we selfishly live out somewhere and not bother anyone else?”

“Yes, it’s a vexed question”, said Adam “I suppose we just have to keep following our instincts for a while”.

“Sometimes, just sometimes”, said Ransey, taking up his clipboard once more “i can quite see why Lord Robert has gone off his head. Lucky bastard!”

Bengo and Bardin ate supper off their laps in front of the unlit fire in their cabin.

“We’ll have a few more days here”, said Bardin “Everyone needs some catching-up time, but then I think we have to sail on”.

“Why?” Bengo barked.

“You sounded just like Tamaz there”, said Bardin “He reacted exactly the same way earlier”.

“Well he’s got a point”, said Bengo “Why do we have to move on?”

“Practicalities if nothing else”, said Bardin “This place is great for a holiday, but not long term. Nowhere to give the horses a good workout, and no one’s going to want to live off fish forevermore”.

“No I see”, said Bengo, glumly.

“That doesn’t mean we might not find somewhere else!” Bardin cajoled.

“We’re heading in the direction of the City”, Bengo pointed out.

“God know show far away that is! Or where we might turn off before we get there. Stop fretting, Bengo. We didn’t come in here for listen to you whingeing all night”.

“Ooh, I hope your backside is still sore!”

“My backside is permanently sore”, said Bardin.

The weather held for the next few days. In fact it was nigh-on perfect. In the heat of the afternoon they either retreated below deck, or sought out the shade of the woods. The area was astoundingly peaceful, but for once not in any sinister way. It was a charmed, enchanted area. They fished, ate and drank, had the odd musical evening, or card-games, and Bardin was spanked on a regular basis. So much so that he almost became docile.

“If you do it often enough he might forget we have to move on”, said Joby to Adam.

“There’s a chance I suppose”, Adam replied “But it’s not very likely”.

In spite of everything he had said, Bardin still showed no great rush to move on. For the time being, he was taking the attitude that if they didn’t draw attention to themselves, the neighbours might forget they were around. It was not to be.

One morning a skiff appeared starboard side, containing Jane, Cloris and Tomas. Bardin, who had been planning to go for a walk in the woods, had to hurtle below deck to put his trousers on.

“Bloody nuisance”, he said, pulling them on at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps.

“I suppose we knew it was going to happen sooner or later”, said Adam.

“The idyll is over”, said Bengo.

“What ARE you on about?” said Bardin “Where did you pick up a word like that?”

“Adam”, said Bengo “I get all my intelligent words from him”.

“I might’ve known”, said Bardin.

There was the sound of women’s voices directly overhead.

“I’d better make some tea I suppose”, Adam sighed.

Hillyard, who had been lounging at the dining-table with his feet up, sprang into alertness when he heard the women on the stairs Quickly he swept up various discarded items of clothing, which had been left abandoned around the room, and dumped them into a heap in the corner by the piano. The yacht party came into the room, reminding Hillyard of a prison group coming to deliver a captive to his executioner.

“Oh dear”, Cloris gave a rueful smile “I feel like the bearer of bad news”.

“Nah”, said Hillyard “Sit down. Sorry about the mess. We’ve been lounging around a lot”.

Bardin came in, followed by Bengo bearing a tea-tray. Bardin bossily directed him to put it on the table.

“Yes alright Bardy”, Bengo hissed “I should know what to do by now”.

“Did you have a plan in mind, Bardin?” asked Jane.

Bardin looked momentarily thrown.

“No, not really”, he said “Haven’t given it much thought to be honest”.

“Haven’t you been talking about it then?” said Jane, in astonishment.

“No”, Bardin admitted.

He, Bengo and Hillyard exchanged sheepish looks, like naughty schoolboys who had been caught slacking.

“I am surprised, Bardin”, said Cloris “I thought you’d have been on it”.

“What’s there to be on?” said Bardin, who objected to being put on the spot on his ship “The plan was always to keep along this river for us as long as is practical. Unless you have other ideas”.

“No, no”, said Cloris “It’s just we’re getting uneasy about staying in this area. We think we’ve been watched recently”.

“Where from?” said Bardin.

“From the shore, the mainland”, said Cloris “We couldn’t see who it was, just the reflection from a telescope lens, or a pair of binoculars”.

“OK”, said Bardin, resignedly “We’ll keep an eye out for them”.

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