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Bardin ordered a cautious sail up the lake. Everyone was to be on the alert for any slightest change in the atmosphere, or sign of life on the shore.
On the North side of the lake the trees cleared, and a house, set at the top of a slope, appeared. It was a substantial dwelling-place, made distinctive by the bottle green boarding that surrounded it’s edges. To one side was a large conservatory area, which had most of it’s glass blown out.
A woman in a pair of well-worn hand-made shorts and shirt ran down the slope towards them, waving her arms to attract their attention. Bardin ordered the galleon to move into the jetty, which stuck out into the still waters of the lake.
The woman skipped down the concrete steps cut into the bank, and waited patiently for them to moor.
“Thank goodness”, she cried “There are other people still left in the world!”
“If we’d known someone was this close, we’d have sailed up yesterday”, Bardin called down, as he waited for the gangplank to be lowered.
“Did you see that awful blast last night?” she shielded her eyes with her hand to look up at him “It blew some of our windows out”.
Bardin was stunned by this news. He would have guessed that they were still too far away for it to make that kind of impact.
It was easier to invite her onto the boat, than for everyone to try and crowd onto the jetty. She introduced herself as Hannah. She said she had always lived by the lake.
“Things have been very hard in recent years”, she said “And we haven’t seen anyone from the outside world for so long now. No one passes by on the lake anymore. You have no idea what an event this is for us”.
“It’s a pretty big event for us too”, said Bardin “Finally we might get to find out where we are, and what’s been going on”.
Hannah lived with her brother Jonathan at the house. They had been there all their lives, but until recent years had run a sort of tea-garden for passing sailors and tourists on the lake. For quite some time though now they had seen nobody, and what little information they could glean about the outside world was ominous to say the least.
“We did think of moving on”, said Jonathan “But where would we go? And would anywhere else be safer than here?”
“In all honesty, probably not”, said Adam.
He and Bardin had followed Jonathan up to a room on the first-floor of the house, where he had some maps which might be of interest to Bardin. Outside, everyone else from the two ships were frolicking on the lawn, watched over by Hannah, who was literally clapping her hands with joy at seeing so many people there once again.
“Look at her”, said Jonathan, staring out of the landing window “It’s been awful for her, stuck here with just me all this time. Hannah likes people. She’s that rare person. She enjoys making others happy. Of course it can make her too trusting. It worried my parents when we were children. She would run up to complete strangers and talk to them as if she’d known them for years”.
He led them into a room at the front (non-lakeside) of the house. Bardin strolled over to the window, which overlooked a dusty lane. Beyond it was a lightly-wooded landscape. Jonathan was busy unlocking some glass cabinets in which were stored maps and other rolled-up documents.
“My father always used to say maps were irrelevant in this world”, he said “But it didn’t stop him collecting them. Spend as long as you like on them. We’re hoping you will stay for a little while”.
“Well we would like to pump you for any information you may have “, said Adam “I expect that may take a while”.
That evening everyone met for dinner, which wa served on trestle tables on the lawn. They had pooled supplies from both ships and the house. With lamps lit at strategic intervals around the grass, it was hard to believe there was any violence or terror in the world.
“We get the impression things are imploding a little for Them”, said Adam, who was sitting near the head of the table, surrounded by Jonathan, Kieran, Joby, Ransey and Tamaz.
“In many ways, that was inevitable”, said Jonathan “You can’t keep destroying and destroying without putting anything back, and expect it all to last forever. It beggars belief that none of Them seemed to foresee that, but it seems that that is the case. The last we heard was that They had run out of money. Completely”.
“How can They run out of money?” asked Tamaz “That’s not possible”.
“I’m afraid it is”, said Jonathan “They played fast and loose with it. Gambling and speculating. There was a huge financial crash. Caused untold misery everywhere. The Ministry printed more and more money, but of course that just made it worthless. Wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on in the end. People were using banknotes to light kitchen stoves with”.
“The bloody fools”, said Ransey.
“Poverty, disease, endless wars ….” said Jonathan.
“Who were They warring with?” said Kieran.
“I think many of us would like to know that!” said Jonathan “Anyone who wasn’t them basically. Anyone who didn’t think like them, didn’t fit into their mindset. It’s been terrible”.
“We saw the scorched lands to the south of here”, said Kieran “We were told it was to destroy vampires”.
“Very likely it was”, said Jonathan “They don’t discriminate. It isn’t just normality they hate and despise, but the other Evil too”.
“We also heard They were rounding up people”, said Kieran, leaning his elbows on the table “Summoning them to containment centres. We picked that up on the ship’s wireless”.
“W-we hadn’t heard that”, said Jonathan, visibly shaken by this news “We don’t have a wireless here. Ours broke some time ago. Oh dear, perhaps we should have fled after all. It can only be a matter of time before They come and get us here”.
“Not necessarily”, said Kieran “And frankly, nowhere is entirely safe, so you might as well stick it out here in your own home. And particularly after seeing that blast last night, you could end up heading into unknown danger”.
“I’ll come over in the morning and help you secure the place”, said Hillyard.
“You won’t be moving on just yet will you?” said Hannah.
“Not for a little while I expect”, said Adam.
The following morning saw a hive of activity at the house by the lake. A makeshift marquee, made out of old tarpaulin sheets, was set up on the front lawn, and Kieran used it to groom the horses in. Hillyard meanwhile went over to the house to patch up the conservatory. Hannah hovered nearby to talk to him, but kept breaking off to stand pensively, staring out across the countryside in an easterly direction.
“You OK?” said Hillyard, coming to stand by her.
“Yes, sorry, I often get distracted by the road to the woods”, said Hannah “It must seem strange to such a well-travelled man as you, but I haven’t been up that road in years. And yet, ever since all the trouble started, I keep expecting something to appear from there”.
“I can understand that”, said Hillyard.
“Sometimes Jonathan and I have talked about dusting the bus off, and driving up there, to reassure ourselves”, said Hannah.
“You have a bus?” Hillyard’s ears pricked up, ever alert to the mention of any vehicle.
“Yes, we have a number of vehicles”, said Hannah.
Hillyard almost fainted with joy.
“W-would you mind if I could have a look at them?” he asked.
“Of course”, said Hannah “Come with me”.
“We haven’t used any for a long while”, she said, throwing open the double doors of a large outbuilding “Well we haven’t been anywhere. When our parents were still around, we used to run this place as a guest-house, and we would sometimes drive our visitors about”.
“Bloody hell, Hannah”, said Hillyard “This is a treasure-trove”.
“You think so?”
“I know so”.
Hillyard wandered into the shed, and prowled around the several vehicles stored in there. Hannah followed him, smiling at his delight.
“My father loved anything mechanical”, she explained “And we became quite well-known for our oddball collection”.
Hillyard patted the side of an ageing tin caravan and joked “we could put the clowns in here”.
“Well we did get it from a travelling circus”, said Hannah “They were looking for somewhere to offload. Said it was so decrepit that it was bad for their image”.
“Balls”, said Hillyard “All it needs is a wash and brush-up”.
The star of the collection though (in Hillyard’s mind anyway) was an ancient double-decker bus, which had part of it’s front dented in. He went inside to explore it, and found a couple of makeshift beds on the top deck.
“Oh this was a bit of fun”, said Hannah “A couple of the guests gave us this idea when they said they’d like to sleep outside. We didn’t think it was safe for them to camp on the lawn - wild animals y’know - so we fitted a couple of beds up here”.
“It’s brilliant”, said Hillyard “Sort of place we’d have lived in years ago, before there was so many of us”.
He went into a brief reverie, remembering himself, Adam, Kieran, Joby and Lonts in the very early days, travelling down from Kiskev to Marlsblad.
“This might be the answer to our dreams”, he said “Sometimes it’s felt lately that we’ve been a bit hampered by having to stick to the river, and we’re quite conspicuous on the galleon”.
“It’d be a tight fit to put you all in the bus”, said Hannah.
“No, just some of us would go”, said Hillyard “The rest would stay here and mind the ship”.
“But how far would you go?” said Hannah “We don’t know what’s out there”.
“That’s what we have to find out”, said Hillyard.
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