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Brother Monene left the Indigo at daybreak. He was subdued, but evidently relieved to be going. He felt cowardly, but after what had happened to Ketts he had no wish to tangle with Dalman, Tamaz or the forces of darkness any longer.
It was a miserable, cheerless morning, with a persistent drizzle blanketing the flat, featureless marshland on either side of them. After Monene had gone Julian had taken down his umbrella and got back to the quarterdeck, where he found Adam in the galley, preparing bacon sandwiches and tea for everyone's breakfast.
"Has he gone?" Adam asked.
"Yes, we're safe once more", said Julian "No priests on-board".
"I wonder if he shouldn't have taken Toppy with him", said Adam "I'm concerned about taking such a young boy into goodness knows what".
"He's better off with us than some yellow-bellied priest", said Julian, and he noticed Bengo streak into the heads "Although there are some that could've deserved such a fate!"
Joby was also subdued, and it was worrying Kieran. Julian suggested, rather heartily, that Joby wasn't getting enough exercise. Being cooped up on the Indigo was making him brood, and it would do him good to get off and walk for a while. He could take Lonts with him, as he had too much energy as usual.
Adam was sceptical, but Ransey supported the idea, saying that they'd be able to see anything dubious coming from a mile off in this flatland, and he would keep an eye on them from the poop-deck anyway. He would never allow them to get too far behind.
"It's eerie here", said Lonts, walking alongside Joby "Don't you think so?"
"Yeah", said Joby "Keep hold of my hand. I don't wanna have to keep telling you".
"There's no need to be so grumpy, Joby".
"I know, I'm sorry", Joby sighed.
"And I think it's mean the way you're upsetting Kieran".
"I know I know, I'm not sure what's the matter with me at the moment".
"Joby!" Lonts suddenly screamed.
"What is it?"
"The Indigo's disappeared!"
Joby hardly dared look. It was true. The Indigo was nowhere in sight. It had apparently evaporated into thin air, because there was just nowhere else it could have gone. The river stretched many miles to the distant horizon, and it didn't dip or wind out of sight anywhere along the way. There were no turnings either.
"Joby, what's happened?" Lonts's voice began to rise to an hysterical pitch "I don't understand. Where is everybody?"
"We'll run towards it", said Joby "Where it should be I mean. Keep hold of me. Come on".
The two of them stumbled across the boggy land. All the while Joby tried to keep calm for Lonts's sake, but he began to have the very real fear that if the Indigo didn't reappear soon he would lose his sanity completely.
Fortunately it did appear again, as silently as it had evaporated, like an image being pasted onto a picture of a river. The Indigo was a cacophony of noise. Above the welcome sound of its engine Ransey was yelling like a madman.
"What happened?" he bellowed, as Joby and Lonts hit the deck once more "You two just seemed to walk into some invisible doorway. I watched you do it".
Lonts was screaming, and Joby looked as though he was going to faint from shock.
"Adam, get the boy below", said Julian.
Adam was crying with relief, and he half-carried Lonts down to the quarterdeck. Meanwhile the engine stopped, directed by Ransey shouting down a voice-tube to Hillyard in the hold.
"Kiel", Joby allowed himself to be hugged by Kieran "I'm sorry mate, I am really, I don't know what's been the matter with me lately".
"It doesn't matter", said Kieran "Really it doesn't".
"If it's all the same to you, Kieran", said Julian "I suggest we turn back".
"I'm in full agreement", said Kieran, still holding Joby "That was just too close for comfort. This whole area could be alive with time-cusps opening up. It could be a complete minefield".
"We can't go back", said Ransey, quietly "Look behind us".
The river, about half-a-mile behind them, had disappeared. It was as if it had healed up, and the marshland had grown over it.
"Simply not possible", said Julian, grabbing the binoculars.
"Anything's possible here", said Kieran "This place is obviously like the Forest of Deception near Marlsblad. There the trees changed shape and position. This is the same. It means we're in dire trouble".
Julian called everyone into the saloon shortly afterwards. By now Lonts was calmer, but still weepy, and Joby looked as though he'd quite happily howl the place down.
"It looks as if for the present time", said Julian "We have to play this game by Tamaz's rules. We can't go back or sideways, so we have to keep moving forward".
"You think he's doing it then?" said Ransey.
"A possibility", said Julian "My impression of it all is that he's pulling us forward, as effectively as if he had a hook on our prow. We just have to sit tight and keep moving for the time being. No one is to leave this ship under any circumstances short of a serious fire. That way we might all stand a chance of staying together. Likewise I think it would be best if we tried to make sure we are never alone. On a boat this size, and with ten of us here, that shouldn't be too much of a problem".
"Even in the heads?" said Joby.
"A sudden attack of modesty, Joby?" said Adam.
"Particularly avoid being alone up on deck", Julian continued "I don't want to be sensationalist, but we don't know what's out here. That'll be all for the time being".
The atmosphere was tense for the rest of the day. They resumed moving, and it was noticed that the river automatically healed up always at a half-mile distance behind them. This was unnerving to say the least, and Adam remarked at one stage that it felt as if Tamaz was playing some kind of computerised chess game with them, sealing up the squares as he moved the ship of pawns ever forward.
Around mid-afternoon a fight broke out in the gangway between Lonts and Toppy. It had all started because Toppy had plaintively asked why they didn't just abandon the Indigo and walk back. Lonts was furious at this suggestion. The Indigo was their home, he screamed, still tormented by the memory of it disappearing so suddenly. In his rage he had shoved Toppy roughly up and down the gangway.
Julian saw what was going on as he was coming down the steps from the forward deck, and had split them up angrily. Toppy had wailed that Lonts was picking on him, and Lonts said Toppy was nothing but a whining little sneak. Julian was inclined to agree with this character reference.
"I don't want anymore talk about abandoning the Indigo", he snapped at Toppy "And if I catch you trying to leave you're in serious trouble".
He had then taken off his deck-shoe and whacked Toppy on the bottom with it a couple of times. Toppy was almost pulverised with shock by this. He had never been struck before in his life, and he retreated to the saloon like a whipped puppy.
Adam kept Lonts in the galley with him for the next couple of hours, where Lonts raged bitterly that Toppy was spoilt.
"How on earth do you figure that out?" said Adam.
"Because if it'd been me in the wrong, Julian would have smacked me dozens of times", Lonts protested "But Toppy gets only two. I don't think that's fair. Toppy should've got a proper spanking".
"Don't be such a little sadist", Adam laughed "And has it never occurred to you that you would have got whacked more because it takes a lot more to get through to you!"
"For crying out loud", Finia climbed out of his bunk, where he had been trying to sleep for some time "Can't you stop snivelling for five minutes?"
Toppy looked up from his sodden pillow. Finia looked almost phantom-like, standing in his white nightgown by the glow of the oil-lamp on the chest of drawers.
"I've never been humiliated as badly as that. Ever", the boy cried.
"Lucky old you", said Finia "If that's your idea of a bad humiliation! Now put a sock in it!"
Julian came to bed soon after, and wasn't surprised to find his two room-mates still awake.
"Finia", he said, leaning down towards Finia's bunk "Perhaps you and the boy could get in with me tonight".
Finia's eyebrows shot up so far they almost disappeared into his bandanna.
"Oh no funny business, don't be absurd", Julian sighed "Just a bit of close human contact that's all".
It was a tight-fit, but the three felt snug and safe together. Julian felt as though he had two human hot-water bottles in with him. The night passed without incident, but come the morning they were still surrounded by dreary marshland, and the horizon seemed as far off as ever.
"It could go on like this forever", said Ransey, standing at the wheel "Perhaps this is Tamaz's ultimate joke on us. We just keep moving forever, with the river closing off behind us. And the only way we can get off this fun-fair ride is by abandoning the Indigo".
"For what?" said Julian, sharply "What's the betting that oily little guttersnipe then finds some way of closing the land off behind us too?"
"I don't fancy taking my chances out there anyway", Ransey shuddered "Not after what I saw with Lonts and Joby yesterday".
"It's like some concept of Hell isn't it?" said Adam, who was standing nearby "All of us trapped on a boat in nothing land".
"It could be Hell for all we know", said Ransey "From what I remember of it there was this flat two-dimensional feel, and it played tricks, like this place is doing".
"I'd better get back below", said Adam, despondently "It's a full-time job keeping Lonts and Toppy apart at the moment".
"Tell the little buggers if they don't behave it's the razor-strop for them", said Julian.
"I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that", said Adam.
The situation between Lonts and Toppy was even worse than it had been the day before. Toppy was a timid boy who'd led an unnaturally sheltered life. He was courteous and well-behaved by nature, but he had the hideously mistaken idea that he could only be popular by currying favour, and Lonts's opinion of him as a sneak was a fair approximation. It wasn't helped by Toppy's innate fear of just about everybody he came into contact with, and there were times when he feared Lonts as much as he feared Julian.
Lonts was about as different to the refined, decorous Toppy as it was possible to get. Being a Kiskevian he was a hard-core peasant to his fingertips, reared in one of the wildest and most inhospitable places on Earth. Capable of enormous love and affection, he was also bluntly primitive and unforgiving to those who incurred his dislike. Toppy's innocent remarks about abandoning the Indigo, combined with his general attitude of prissiness, only made Lonts want to ritually humiliate him as much as possible, and today he decided to embark on an extensive programme devoted to this aim. He started by upending a pail of soggy potato peelings, originally intended for the boiler, over Toppy's head.
Much to Lonts's satisfaction, Toppy had immediately burst into tears. Joby, who had been the only other person in the galley at the time, shook Lonts like a duster.
"What did you do that for?" he bellowed "He wasn't doing you any harm. Now sit down and behave, or you'll get a bloody good smack off me!"
"That's not fair", said Lonts "You're my friend Joby, not his".
"You carry on like that and you won't have any friends", said Joby "Now you'd better hope we get this cleared up before Adam or Julian comes in, because you needn't think I'm gonna lie for you".
"You don't have to", Lonts retorted "Toppy will go and tell them everything anyway. He's such a little sneak".
"Then if you already knew that, why did you do it?" said Joby, his voice cracking with exasperation "You're beyond belief sometimes. Even Kieran in his younger days made more sense than you".
"I hate Toppy", said Lonts, mulishly "I hate him, hate him, hate him!"
"What's going on in here?" said Adam, coming into the room to find Joby picking potato-peelings out of Toppy's hair. Toppy was still weeping.
"Ask your little darling", said Joby "And see if you can get any sense out of him, 'cos I can't".
"Did you do this to Toppy, Lo-Lo?" asked Adam.
"Yes I did", said Lonts, defensively "And I'd do it again and again. He's a sneak and a whiner, and he's so neat all the time I just want to mess him up".
"I think I should warn you Lonts that Julian will not be at all pleased to hear about this", said Adam, sternly "He's already threatened to take the razor-strop to you".
"Oh he's always saying that", said Lonts, brassily "He never does it. Not properly".
"Well Julian will be very interested to hear that", said Adam, turning as though to leave "He likes a challenge".
"No!" Lonts ran to the door, knocking over two chairs in his path.
"You have got to start accepting Toppy", said Adam, jabbing him in the chest "He's one of us now, and likely to be with us for some time to come. Have you collected all the scraps, Joby?"
"Yeah, that's the lot", said Joby, chucking the last potato-peeling in the bucket.
"Right", Adam took it off him "Now Lonts, tempted though I am to chuck this over you, I won't, because I don't want the hassle of picking them all up again. So take this down to Hillyard, o.k?"
Lonts nodded and went on his way with the bucket.
"Are you alright now, Toppy?" asked Adam.
"Yes", Toppy mumbled.
"What Lo-Lo did was wrong, I admit", said Adam "But you really have got to start defending yourself, old love. Or he'll keep picking on you. He's like Julian, or as I was in my younger days, I'm ashamed to say".
"I can't believe you were ever a bully", Toppy sniffed.
"He was worse than anyone", said Joby.
"Thanks Joby", said Adam.
"How can I defend myself against Lonts though?" Toppy protested.
"Give him a good thump", said Adam "It's the only way to deal with Lo-Lo when he's being so utterly impossible".
"But he's bigger than me", said Toppy.
"Angel was bigger than Kieran, but it didn't stop him giving a good account of himself", said Joby "Mind you, anyone of the world's population's bigger than Kieran!"
"We've got a problem", said Ransey, standing in Julian's cabin, after they had dropped anchor for the night "Hillyard's just told me we're running out of fuel".
"Then we'll just have to take the saloon door off its hinges and chop it up for kindling", said Julian "Now don't look so wretched! If all the doors have to come off, and half the floorboards come up, it's not a tragedy. We can always have them replaced when we get back to Toondor Lanpin".
"I know", said Ransey "But it feels like chopping up a real person, hacking the Indigo about".
"It's either that or we get stuck here", said Julian "We'll get started on it after supper. Was there anything else?"
"No that was it".
Ransey met up with Adam in the doorway, who was just coming into the room as he was going out.
"Supper will be ready shortly, Jules. I thought it best if we all ate in the saloon", he said, and looked astonished as Julian started turning his closet out "What are you looking for now?"
"Something I bought back in Toondor Lanpin", said Julian, ferreting around in a cardboard box "I bought it whilst Joby was locked up with Tamaz. I intended to get the little wretch with it when we finally caught up with him, Tamaz that is, not Joby, but of course in all the panic I left it behind".
He pulled out a long horse-whip and coiled it up like a lasso.
"And just what do you intend that for?" said Adam.
"I'm concerned that as time goes on morale might start getting low on this ship", said Julian.
"And you walking around cracking a whip like some deranged lion-tamer is going to make it better is it?" said Adam, dubiously.
"In times of trouble men appreciate confidant leadership", said Julian "And a firm hand on the tiller. Look at how Captain Cook was held in such high regard, and he was always ordering floggings".
"Jules!" Adam exclaimed "I won't let you start flogging people. It's not ethical".
"Oh don't worry I won't. The threat should be enough. Men enjoy working under the whip. It does them good".
"And when we get forcibly put ashore tomorrow and left behind I'll remind you of that!" said Adam, sarcastically "Now come along and eat your supper".
The saloon door was taken off and chopped up, amidst a surprising amount of good cheer. Even Julian suddenly appearing with a whip at his side didn't antagonise anyone. In fact they all found it cause for hilarity. Kieran jokingly asked if he was intending to put them all on leading-reins.
"Don't think the thought hasn't crossed my mind", said Julian.
The only who didn't laugh was Toppy, who looked paralysed with terror. That night though he again slept in Julian's bunk with Finia, and this pattern looked set to continue. Although terrified of Julian he needed and was grateful for his presence at night.
For several days they continued in much the same way. The weather was overcast and drizzly, the landscape flat and marshy, the horizon as far off as ever. It was interminable. Adam and Julian pulled out all the stops to try and ensure that morale stayed high on the Indigo. Julian unearthed a cask of mature whisky that he had kept back for "unforeseen circumstances". This helped them get through a couple of evenings. Likewise Hillyard had some sachets of hashish stowed away, that he had originally bought in Toondor Lanpin.
When anyone showed signs of crankiness or depression, Julian walked around flexing his whip. It didn't do much to intimidate anyone (apart from Toppy, and Bengo - who knew Julian would like to torture him if he could get away with it), but dodging it became a game in itself.
"I feel I have to fight down hysteria sometimes", said Julian, standing one evening on the forward deck with Adam "I keep thinking perhaps Ransey was right. We're trapped like this forever".
"You're doing very well, Jules", Adam squeezed his arm "I haven't heard any criticism of your leadership at all".
"Oh it's easy enough", Julian smiled "I walk around flexing my whip during the day, and fill my bed with the brats at night. I get by".
"Tamaz has got to get sick of this game sooner or later", said Adam "Surely he has".
"We just have to keep going until then", said Julian "For as long as it takes".
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.
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