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At sunrise they set off on foot up the mountain path behind the village, having left the horses with a sherpa to take back to Bandorra. This part of the journey was very easy, and the biggest problem was avoiding the rocks dotted about amongst the grass. At the end of the day's walking they pitched camp beside a mountain stream, and worked out that sometime during the following day they should reach the vicinity of the fabled lost colony. So far there was nothing to indicate that they were close to anything remotely extraordinary. The only signs that all was not as it should be was the sherpa's reluctance in the village to find anyone, including himself, to accompany them as a guide.
"We're not the only ones who've trodden this path by any means", said Ransey, kicking a tangled mass of empty beer cans lying nearby.
"A load of other hapless jerks in search of a mythical village", said Joby.
"Maybe", Ransey sighed.
He went down to the stream where he found Finia wringing out some clothes. Finia was wearing a shocking-pink frilled wrapper, which would have looked more at home in a beauty salon than up a mountain.
"Not much fun for you all this is it?" said Ransey, sitting down beside him.
Finia shrugged indifferently.
"You must get sick of being dragged everywhere Julian goes", Ransey went on.
"What's the alternative?" said Finia.
"It must make you feel like you've been sold into slavery sometimes".
"No", said Finia "I know all about slavery, because I once worked in a brothel as a child whore. I can assure you it's nothing like this".
"I'm sorry", Ransey mumbled "There are some peculiar men in this world, who get their kicks in ways I don't understand".
"Sleeping with eunuchs you mean?" said Finia, tartly.
"No, no, I meant using people and ... and not treating them as people. That's what I meant".
"What have you got against eunuchs then?"
"N-Nothing", said Ransey "Nothing at all. Why do you think I have?"
"Because I can't understand why an attractive man like you should choose to be celibate", said Finia "There are plenty of men who can't stomach the thought of going with other men. That's why we serve a purpose. Even if we do get mistreated for it. Men treat us in ways they wouldn't dream of doing to men who still had their cocks".
"From what I can gather they were like that with women", said Ransey "I guess I'm celibate b-because ... well I don't know really. It's just easier this way".
"Easier for who?" said Finia "Not you that's for sure. You've been in a terrible state a lot of the time lately. I recognise the signs. You're all brittle and defensive".
"Amateur psychology part of your duties at this brothel was it?" Ransey snapped.
"Fuck you baby", said Finia, and rose to his feet.
"No, stop!" Ransey stood up to face him "I-I'm sorry. I know you were only trying to be kind. It's never been easy for me to discuss my feelings you see".
"It never is for lifelong celibates", said Finia.
"This is very pretty isn't it?" said Ransey, touching a pink frill on Finia's robe "You always dress very nicely. I often notice what you wear".
"I'm glad somebody does", said Finia.
"H-Have you ever thought of having breast implants, like some eunuchs do?"
"Would you rather I had breasts then?"
"No, no, it's just I wondered that's all", said Ransey "Actually I think you look better without them. More streamlined, if you know what I mean".
Ransey glanced down Finia's body, as if trying to see through the pink wrapper to the sleek coffee-coloured skin below.
"Do you want to touch my castration scar Ransey?" said Finia "A lot of men do. They have a morbid fascination for it".
"Were you scared just before they ... er ...?" said Ransey "I've seen castration ceremonies in the street sometimes. The boys always look scared".
"Wouldn't you be!"
"Why did you have it done then?"
"It was who I wanted to be".
"You've never regretted it?"
"I am who I am", said Finia, in a way that brooked no argument.
"I'm very glad you're who you are", said Ransey "It's nice to have a bit of colour in the family. I meant your clothes and wigs when I said that, n-not your skin. I'm sorry, I'm saying it all wrong. It's just that it's nice to have someone around who doesn't spend all their time in grubby shirts and vests, like the rest of us".
"Well if we find women, you'll be alright then won't you?"
"You'd sure be able to teach them about style", said Ransey "Sometimes with your looks I'm surprised we haven't adopted you as the family mascot".
"That's Baby Lonts's department", said Finia, savagely "I can't compete with him. After all, coloured eunuchs are a pretty common sight, whereas there is only one Kiskev Survivor, isn't there?"
"He's a good-looking boy", said Ransey "Although I'll be glad when we've got out of public life, as I don't think the media coverage he gets is healthy. All this emphasis on the baby bit".
"You lot started it".
"That's different, we call it him because he's the baby of the family. But the public's using him as a surrogate child. It's all wrong. It'll be much better when we're all at the Castle for good", said Ransey "Does Lonts still bug you then?"
"I expect you think I'm a spiteful bitch?" said Finia.
"You've had a hard life that's all".
"It's not so bad these days", said Finia "I'm pretty comfortable, apart from when we're travelling like this. And nobody pays money just for the privilege of abusing me these days, and the work I do for Julian isn't exactly hard labour".
"Polishing his teapots?"
"That sort of thing", Finia laughed, but soft tears rolled down his cheeks at the same time "It's just I've never kicked the loneliness thing I guess".
"Then stop trying to", said Ransey, and he stroked away Finia's tears with the tips of this thumbs.
"It's like one of those old adventure films this", said Joby, sitting with the others round the camp-fire "A bunch of rugged individualists in search of a lost world".
"Rugged individualists?" Kieran exclaimed, as he circled the group with a coffee-pot like the vicar's wife at a tea-party.
"Oh lor, Indiana Joby!" said Adam.
"Alright, have it your own way", said Joby "A bunch of poofs in search of a lost world".
"We need a few dinosaurs on the scene then", said Kieran.
"No, we brought those along with us", said Adam "Hello Julian!"
"Anyway", said Kieran "In that case shouldn't we have some gorgeous but dim-witted piece of crumpet along who's always needing to be got out of trouble?"
"We have", said Joby "It's called Lonts".
"I don't think that's very funny Joby", Lonts scowled, and went back to sucking on his thumb angrily.
"Finia and Ransey are standing close together", said Julian, who was staring at the said couple through a pair of binoculars.
"So?" said Adam "The way you carry on sometimes Jules, I don't know why you don't draw a chalk circle around Finia and forbid anyone to enter it!"
"I have to watch out for him", said Julian, stiffly "I am his guardian".
"Rubbish", said Adam "You're just terrified you'll lose your house-boy".
"You'll have to get hitched to him yourself Julian", said Hillyard "That'd solve all your problems".
"Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind", said Julian "Although I could just threaten to cut him out of my will".
"That's hardly a threat Julian", said Adam "The average life expectancy in your family is about 260! All of us, including Finia, will be pushing up daisies long before you throw in the towel!"
"Did his lot go barking mad instead?" said Joby.
"Quite common amongst the English aristocracy I believe", said Kieran.
"The reason his lot lived so long", said Adam "Is because they got everyone else to do all the work. They just sat there in their leather chairs issuing orders. Nothing much has changed really. The most strenuous activity they could manage was a bit of frenzied fornication to keep their blood circulating on cold winter's nights, and that was only because they were too bloody mean to put the heating on!"
"My family were not mean", said Julian "My father once made the 'Sunday Times' list of the top 500 richest people in Britain".
"Yes", said Adam "And the only reason he got there was because your family had been hoarding their schekels since the Roman invasion. I'll never forget the sight of you in a pub making a bag of crisps last an entire evening because it saved ordering a meal! Or your Great Aunt Lucy going completely euphoric once because she'd discovered she could buy half-price Christmas decorations at the local newsagents in January!"
"Lucy was a bit peculiar", said Julian.
"Yes and you take after her", said Adam.
"That'd be a good nickname for you Julian", said Joby "Great Aunt Lucy".
"Now look what you've started Adam", Julian snarled.
"I have to put up with you calling me Goofy", said Joby.
"And me Tinkerbell", said Kieran.
"You've been getting at me all the time on this trip Joby", said Lonts, rather suddenly "I'm not dim-witted, and I'm not always in trouble".
"Lonts, we've moved on from that part of the conversation", said Joby "Bloody typical of you that is. About three verses behind everyone else. I'd hate to have you in the audience if I was a stand-up comedian!"
"I'm going to bed", said Lonts, as he began to unpack his bed-roll "One day I'll have to rescue you from something Joby, and then I'll never let you forget it".
"No I don't suppose you will", said Joby.
"At least you'll be able to laugh about it though", Kieran whispered, as he noticed Angel staring at him in his usual predatory way.
When Kieran went to pee in the bushes before turning in he found Hirrid sitting alone on a fallen tree trunk.
"I wondered where you'd got to", said Kieran "It's probably best not to wander off alone round here. We get fed up with saying that on every trip, but it's a good rule".
"I just needed a bit of space", said Hirrid "I'm sorry, Your Grace".
"What's all this Your Grace nonsense?" said Kieran "We're not back at the Ministry now. 'Your Grace' sounds a bit absurd in these surroundings".
"Can I have a quick word with you alone ... K-Kieran?"
"Fire away", said Kieran "I'll always try and help if I can".
"So much of your job is about listening to people", said Hirrid "You must hear some strange things at times".
"I'm often the last resort for a lot of men", said Kieran, sitting down next to him on the tree trunk "They come to me when all other avenues fail them".
"H-Have you ever wanted to kill someone?"
"I wouldn't be human if I hadn't ever felt the urge", said Kieran, trying to fight down a sudden feeling of unease.
"It's wrong isn't it?"
"There's a world of difference between thinking and doing. Thoughts can't kill if they're just left as thoughts".
"Have you ever hated and loved someone at the same time?"
"Are we talking about Hillyard by any chance?"
"I had a disturbing feeling earlier", said Hirrid "We had come here to be alone. We were just sitting here, and he lay on the ground with his head in my lap. I was stroking his hair, and I suddenly wondered what it would be like to stab him in the throat. What it would be really like".
"There'd be no more Hillyard", said Kieran, soberly "Is that really what you want?"
"At least when someone's dead that's it, it's all over", said Hirrid "They can't hurt you anymore, and they can't ever belong to anyone else".
"What has Hillyard done so wrong that you should feel this way about him?"
"He won't commit himself", said Hirrid "Oh I know I've been a fool. The signs were always there. But the first time he asked me out for dinner I just couldn't resist. Whilst he was talking to me he was stroking my back. It was wonderful".
"Hillyard is a very tactile person".
"We had such a wonderful evening", Hirrid continued "And at the end of it, as he left my room, he said 'we must do it again'. I know he meant it, but he didn't make any firm plans. No dates, no times, no places. Nothing. No commitment you see".
"But he kept his word", said Kieran "He carried on seeing you, it wasn't a one-off".
"He sees me when it suits him, when he's got nothing better to do".
"He sees you because he enjoys your company", said Kieran "But Hillyard is scared of commitment. I've talked about this with him. He's frightened he can't live up to it. To be committed to someone you have to be sure there's no mistakes, because the outcome of such a mistake can be so painful. Hillyard hasn't got the confidence in himself to throw himself into such a relationship".
"Oh I bet he'd have it if Joby was the one offering the relationship", said Hirrid "It's him he wants! Sometimes I'd like to kill him as well, be rid of his shadow over our life together".
"You even attempt such a despicable thing", said Kieran "And I will turn you inside out. You can't make people love you Hirrid. And if you persist in involving Joby in these dark thoughts of yours, then you can leave my employ as of now".
"Don't sack me!" Hirrid threw himself into Kieran's arms "Not after all these years, please!"
Kieran disentangled himself.
"I appreciate that you're going through a dark night of the soul Hirrid", he said "But sometimes you have to be satisfied with what people can offer. They may not be able to offer any more, and if you want more you have to look for it elsewhere. That's a fact you're going to have to deal with, if you want to keep your reason".
When he got back to the camp he found the others had already bedded down in their tents. Under canvas Joby was lying on his side, facing away from him. Kieran gave him a hard smack on the buttocks as he settled down next to him.
"What the ... ?" Joby exclaimed, and rolled over "What was that for?"
"You go shaking it at anyone else and you'll get a damn sight more than that", Kieran whispered.
"What are you talking about?" said Joby, his voice cracking under the strain of keeping it low.
"Stay away from Hirrid", said Kieran, moving up very close to him to whisper in his ear.
"What, for good?" said Joby "Gonna be a bit difficult back home isn't it, when he's our room steward?"
"I'm not sure he will be", said Kieran "He's not well Joby. He's having some kind of breakdown".
"That's all we need", Joby groaned.
"He's got a grudge against you Joby, so if you could possibly tone down your licentious behaviour until we're safely back in civilisation I would very much appreciate it".
"You've got a bloody nerve", said Joby "If you're talking about me and Hillyard, I can tell you it's only a bit of fun".
"Hirrid's not seeing it that way".
"It's you who's really the idol of Hillyard's dreams", said Joby.
"I'm exactly that to Hillyard, fantasy", said Kieran "Hirrid doesn't feel threatened by me, but he does by you. And it's worrying me. I'm going to have to build this cottage of ours with fifteen feet thick walls, just to keep you out of trouble!"
"Is Hirrid dangerous, Kiel?"
"Could well be".
"Hirrid?" said Joby, in disbelief "He can't be though, he knits his own jumpers!"
"It took me by surprise too", said Kieran "In all the years I've known him I've never heard him even fret about anything, let alone come out with what I heard from him this evening".
"It's all bloody Hillyard's fault", said Joby, settling back down again "He always did play with fire. I mean, look how many attacks of gonorrhea he's had over the years. I swear he only gets it because it gives him a thrill to get his dick out at the doctors! Back in our time he'd probably ... well it don't bear thinking about".
"This whole family needs cleaning up if you ask me", said Kieran, pulling the blanket up over his shoulders.
"Who'd have thought it a few years back?" said Joby "You lecturing me on behaving meself! Quite funny really".
"I won't find it very funny if I have to dig Hirrid's knitting needles out of your chest", Kieran hissed "Just for the duration of this trip can't you find a way of making Hillyard dislike you?"
"Well if being me usual charming self doesn't work, nothing will".
"Try! The best solution at the moment would be if you got Hillyard so narked that he started slagging you off to Hirrid. Once Hirrid's safely seeing a therapist, then you can tell Hillyard it was all a ruse".
"It's all a bit drastic isn't it?"
"You bet it is", said Kieran "But somehow we've got to try and defuse that situation before it blows completely".
Kieran awoke at dawn and instantly knew that something was wrong, or at least different. His feeling of foreboding magnified considerably when he discovered that someone had actually crept into their tent during the night and hacked off a lock of his hair. Bewildered, he stumbled out to breakfast to be greeted with the news that Angel had disappeared.
"He's taken his backpack with him", said Adam "So he went willingly".
"Well no one in their right mind would want to abduct him would they?" said Joby.
"It must be him who cut my hair", said Kieran.
"What does he want with it though?" said Joby.
"God knows", said Kieran, wearily "Probably to do some hocus-pocus Black Magic with. Eye of newt, tongue of toad, that sort of thing. He's probably further up the mountain somewhere, stirring his cauldron as we speak".
"Patsy, it's not funny", said Adam "That maniac was in your tent in the middle of the night, unbeknown to any of us, armed with a pair of scissors! You're lucky all you lost was a lock of hair!"
"I know that Adam", said Kieran "That cheering thought had crossed my mind too. In fact it's given me the heebie-jeebies so much my legs keep wobbling!"
"Do we go looking for the little bastard then?" said Ransey.
"No we don't", said Kieran "We leave him where he is. He wants me more than I want him, so he's going to have to fin us again if he wants any satisfaction. We press on to the lost colony for the time being".
"Oh God", Adam roared in frustration "What wouldn't I give for a week in Bournemouth!"
As the day's journey wore on the plant-life around them grew bigger and wilder, until at times it resembled something out of the 'Sleeping Beauty', or psychedelic artwork. The atmosphere was unusually humid for a mountain, and the further they climbed the more it began to steam. It was like wading through chicken soup, and Kieran worried about how Adam would hold up against it. Adam in fact seemed to be coping just fine, and when Kieran asked him how he was, he replied that the steaming air seemed to be clearing his tubes, rather like a sauna would.
"It's so bloody quiet", said Joby "No birds or anything".
"If all this foliage gets much thicker the path'll disappear", said Ransey, who was walking at the front of the single-file procession.
When the lost village finally appeared it came upon them, rather than the other way round. The steaming plants gave way abruptly to a small hill which led down to a row of neat dwelling-places which lined a narrow trackway. At the far end of the settlement was a huge stone wall, easily thirty feet high, and cut into the natural folds of the mountain.
"Doesn't look very lived in, this village", said Kieran.
"It's not", said Ransey "There's no sign of life at all. No smoke, no dogs and chickens, nothing. And everything's so immaculate it looks like a life-size scale-model in an exhibition".
"I spose we'd better have a look round now we're here", said Joby, gloomily.
"Right", said Kieran, unstrapping his pack "No need for us all to go down. Some can stay here and mind our things, start setting up camp too, although I think we might be able to commandeer one of those huts if the village is as deserted as we think. We'll go and have a look round".
"Who's we?" said Adam.
"Me, Joby, Hillyard and Ransey", said Kieran "We'll be the scouting-party".
"I wonder what's lurking behind the wall", said Joby, removing his pack "King Kong?"
"Who?" said Hillyard.
"An enormous gorilla", said Joby "Very partial to nubile young maidens".
"Another weird thing from your time", Hillyard groaned "Sometimes I don't know what was real in your time and what wasn't".
"We never knew half the time", said Joby.
"Stop it Joby", Kieran whispered, heatedly "You two are getting on far too well!"
"Give me a break", Joby hissed back "I can't ignore him all the time".
"What's going on?" said Adam "I keep hearing you two exchanging heated whispers".
"Nothing Addy", said Kieran.
"Well don't tell me then", Adam exclaimed "Keep me out of everything. After all, I'm only fit to be put out to pasture these days".
"Why can't I come down too?" said Lonts.
"He'd better not start", said Joby.
"Because we want to make sure everything's safe first Lonts", said Kieran.
"But I wouldn't be any trouble", Lonts protested.
"That'd be a first then", said Joby.
"You stay with Adam, Lonts", said Kieran, firmly "Do you understand me?"
"Oh I'm glad I'm not too old and decrepit to be entrusted with something", said Adam, tartly.
"It'll be nice to get down there for a bit of peace", said Ransey "See you later Adam. Have the kettle on for us when we get back!"
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