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“He’s a beautiful pony”, said Cloris, patting the little white horse “What’s his name?”
“Zany-Hoo”, said Hillyard “We named him after Hoowie, because he gets a bit too excited sometimes”.
“Hoowie’s always so subdued around us”, said Cloris.
“Be glad about that”, said Hillyard “He’s a bit of a handful when he’s losing the plot. Do you want to take him for a bit of a gallop? The pony I mean, not Hoowie”.
“I’d love to”, said Cloris “This is a perfect place for it”.
“Yeah, don’t go out of sight though”, said Hillyard.
“I don’t think I can”, said Cloris “Jane says there are rocks at the bottom of the mountains, we’d have to clamber over them to get beyond”.
“Perhaps we’ll do that sometime”, said Hillyard “We’re staying here for a bit”
“Anyway, don’t worry”, Cloris whispered, conspiratorially “I’m packing my pistol”.
Hillyard helped her up into the saddle. Joby and Bardin watched from deckchairs up on the main deck of the galleon.
“We staying here for a while I hope?” said Joby “We can do summat here. It’s got more possibilities for survival than the islands had, and being bang out in the middle of this huge space, we should see anything approaching a mile off”.
“Unless it flies over”, said Bardin, glumly, from under his cap.
“I thought I was sposed to be the miserable one!” said Joby.
“No I think I’ve been talking to Ransey too much”, said Bardin “He’s been picking up stuff on the wireless, says we should be able to get something soon. I’m not sure I want to hear it. Though I guess that’s cowardly”.
“No one could accuse you of being a coward, mate”, said Joby “Adam and Bengo have suggested I try and start up a little deck garden. Should’ve done that before really”.
“It’s a good idea”, said Bardin “Will you have time, on top of everything else?”
“I’ll make time”, said Joby.
“She sits a horse well don’t she?” said Hillyard, coming up to join them, and referring to Cloris, who was galloping around in the background.
“Yeah alright, calm down”, said Joby “Lord Robert’s still on the scene y’know, even if he is a completely useless sack of shit at the moment”.
“Nah, I was just saying”, said Hillyard “This is a stunning area. The air’s like wine”.
“Seems to be having that effect on everyone”, said Bardin.
Very early the next morning, Ransey ran the length of the ship, and careered into the big saloon, where all the others were slumbering on the communal bed.
“Come on, wake up, you lazy sods!” he said, hurling shoes onto the bed.
“What the hell is it?” said Julian, propping himself up on his elbow.
“The wireless”, said Ransey “I’m getting information”.
“Is that all?” said Julian “Christ, I thought we were under attack, the way you’re carrying on!”
“It’s important, Julian”, said Ransey.
“OK OK I’ll come”, said Bardin, drowsily pulling himself off the bed.
“Can you hear it?” said Ransey, as Bardin stood with the headphone clamped round his ears.
“Something about regions”, said Bardin “Internment camps for each region. I don’t like the sound of that. He seems to be reading out one for each area. Might help I suppose if I recognised any of the place names”.
“That’s not important at the moment”, said Ransey “It’s the Ministry we’re hearing. They’re rounding up people”.
“Well … perhaps they’re trying to round up survivors”, said Bardin “For protection”.
“Stick with what you originally said”, said Ransey “I don’t like the sound of that. This is not for anybody’s good, I can assure you of that”.
“Shit”, said Bardin.
The headphones let out an earsplitting shriek, and Ransey switched the wireless off.
“I’ll try again later”, he said.
“But what are they rounding people up for though?” said Bardin.
“My guess is”, said Ransey “The powers-that-be are running of food, fodder, whatever. So they’re rounding up the ones that are left”.
“Perhaps they should’ve thought about that before they started telling everyone off, or infecting them with diabolical diseases!” said Bardin, angrily.
“They don’t think like we do”, said Ransey “Look, I’ll keep an eye on things”.
“OK, but don’t obsess over it”, said Bardin “Just check in every few hours or so. Meanwhile, we must try and carry on as normal. Let this area work it’s magic as best we can”.
After breakfast, Bardin went and lay briefly on his bunk. Adam found him there.
“I’ve made you some tea, old love”, he said, putting the cup down on the floor “Bengo told me to come and talk sense to you. He’s worried you might be upsetting yourself”
“Only as far as what we do next”, said Bardin “Ransey said earlier we can’t directly take on the Ministry, we can’t match them for power. And anyway, as I see it, we’re a spiritual order, not an army. If only perhaps we had an air-buggy. We could fly over some regions. See what’s what from safe up in the air”.
“And most likely risk being shot down”, said Adam “Patsy believes we can utilise this area’s positive energy to throw a sort of cordon around ourselves”.
“Sometimes I wish I had his profound belief in that”, said Bardin.
“Believe it as much as you can”, said Adam.
“They are rounding up and interning the healthy ones that are left”, said Bardin “Is there anyway we can send coded messages to the survivors to come here?”
“The Ministry would be onto it like a shot”, said Adam.
“I had a feeling you would say that”, said Bardin.
“Ransey told me that’s why he won’t access the wireless anymore often than you recommended”, said Adam “He’s concerned they might be able to detect us that way. Now stop trying to find answers all at once. We must concentrate on surviving at the moment”.
He got to his feet.
“There’s also a strong argument for not going any further for the time being”, he continued.
“You’ve all made that decision already, as far as I can see”, said Bardin.
“We’ll talk about it more later”, said Adam, patting his hand.
To Bengo’s delight, Bardin did stop obsessing over what they were to do next. The general agreement that they should all stay in the Great Plain - as they nicknamed the area - was so obviously sensible that even Bardin had to go along with it. There was a calmness here, and a lack of brooding menace, that they hadn’t encountered anywhere else in a very long time.
“Possibilities are endless here”, Hillyard enthused “We could turn our hands to just about anything”.
“Yeah alright, Davy Crockett”, said Joby.
“I always knew you were a rugged pioneer at heart, Hilly”, said Adam.
“We’ll have a look over the rocks soon”, said Hillyard “See what’s on the other side. But we’ve not heard a sound of anything since we’ve been here. Meanwhile, keep Bardin from getting restless”.
“I don’t think he will”, said Adam.
Bardin showed no restlessness at all in fact. He brooded sometimes, but as most of them experienced brooding moments these days, that wasn’t terribly surprising. Quietly, Bardin was as excited by the idea of them building a new life here as everyone else was. He didn’t interfere much with everybody’s plans, and on the whole he exhibited a calmness that was at complete variance to the old, permanently excitable Bardin of his younger days.
He ordered Kieran to carry out as many Blessings and prayer meetings as he wanted, which practically made Kieran ecstatic, even if it caused Joby to groan.
It must have helped a lot that Bardin was spanked as often as was humanly possible. Nothing could happen above deck - due to the close proximity of their neighbours - but safely below Adam put him over his knee regularly. Bardin’s permanent “fuzzy behind”, as he called it, helped him to achieve some level of serenity. The spankings were firm and thorough.
“Funny how I smack your butt more slowly when you’re wearing your baggier shorts”, said Adam “I don’t know why”.
“Perhaps the tighter ones excite you more”, said Bardin, rubbing his behind “I’ll put them on tomorrow”.
“You can go without your trousers on deck you know”, said Hillyard “You look perfectly respectable in your starchy drawers”.
“No, these are private”, said Bardin.
As such, his trousers usually hung permanently at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps, or from the handle of the dining-room door.
One humid day, a large party of them rode out to the horizon, to get a better idea of their bearings. There, they clambered over the large boulders at the foot of the mountains, and looked through a crevice. Another great plain spread to another distant horizon.
“And what’s the betting there’s another one beyond that?” said Joby.
“Oh well, if we move on”, said Cloris, running a hankie round her neck “I suspect we’ll stick with the river anyway”.
“Bit hard to do otherwise”, said Bardin “Short of abandoning our ships”.
“What’s that noise?” said Jane, instinctively peering up into the sky.
An odd buzzing sound was coming and going at regular intervals, and yet the cloudless sky yielded no clue as to what it could be coming from.
“It doesn’t sound like the drone of an air-buggy”, said Joby “So that’s summat anyway”.
“Let’s get back home”, said Bardin “We’ve seen all there is to see around here”.
Back at the river, Bardin had set the other clowns to work building a makeshift fence on an area near the riverbank, so that the chickens could meander around freely for a few hours a day, and stay safe from local predators.
The clowns had been working in a desultory fashion in the heat, but had a sudden miraculous burst of energy when Bardin hove into view. He ignored them all though, and went immediately below deck.
“Everything OK, old love?” said Adam, appearing in the galley doorway.
“It went fine”, said Bardin, stripping off his clothes, and leaving them on the floor at the foot of the quarterdeck steps “Too bloody hot out there though. I’m going to have a lie-down on my bunk”.
“Yes of course”, said Adam “Are you sure everything’s alright?”
“I just didn’t want to hang around on deck”, said Bardin “Jane keeps wanting to chat about our old showbiz days, and I’m not in the mood”.
“Not like you and Bengo to pass up on the chance for some theatrical reminiscing”, said Adam.
“Well Bengo can do it then”, said Bardin, going into his cabin “I’ve got too much to think about in the here and now”.
Bengo thumped down the steps, looking sweaty and red in the face.
“I’ll make a him a drink”, he said to Adam “It’s this heat. It’s not nice to be out in”.
The heat wasn’t much more bearable indoors either. The air on-board that evening was close and sultry.
“I can’t sit in here too long”, said Ransey, putting down the wireless headphones wearily.
“Then don’t”, said Adam, standing in the doorway of the little cubby-hole “I’m sure the rest of us aren’t terribly bothered”.
“I’m not sure I am either”, said Ransey, taking off his glasses and rubbing his face “I bet that’s shocked you”.
“Not really”, said Adam “It’s been a long day”.
“It must have been over 40 degrees out there today”, said Ransey “You’d think we’d be used to hot temperatures, after all that time we spent on the river but …”
“That was a different type of heat”, said Adam “Tropical heat. This is dry heat. Personally I think it’s much more brutal. Or perhaps I’ve just forgotten how bad the humidity could feel”.
“Does Joby really want to hang around here?” said Ransey “I can’t imagine he’s going to grow much in these temperatures”.
“That was before the worst of this heat kicked in”, said Adam “He won’t put up much of a fight if we move on”.
“Damnit, there seems to be a problem with everywhere we come across”, said Ransey.
“It won’t always be like that”, said Adam.
Ransey got up and stretched.
“We should head back to Snow Lake”, he said “We keep talking about it, and never doing it. Make a firm decision to do so, and stick to it”.
“Well”, Adam smiled “You’d better have a word with Bardin then”.
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