The evening before setting off down through the forest with the Indigo-ites, Brock entertained his friends at ‘The Wild Man’. Being of such an avowedly heterosexual disposition Brock felt it incumbent on himself to jokingly voice his fears about going off on a trip with such a crowd. There were lots of music hall-style jokes about not dropping your hat, or you’ll have to kick it away before you could pick it up, that sort of thing. Brock said it felt it was very possible that he would end up having to nursemaid them. His friends all concurred with this definite probability.
Very early the next morning Brock, suffering under a vile hangover, wound his way up to Wolf Castle, the front entrance of which was clogged with people, mules and baggage. Adam was handing a collection of billy-cans to Bengo, who had been put in sole charge of cookhouse duties for the duration of the journey. Bengo was suffused with pride at being given a such a leading role, even if the culinary skills that would probably be required of him consisted of nothing more than emptying the contents of various tins into a saucepan over the fire. Toppy was running around like a ferret in a pair of trousers, making sure that everyone had all they required. Tamaz was busy selecting his mule. It was hardly the surprise of the decade that he was coming too. He had complained and sulked so much about the possibility of being left out that the clowns had nicknamed him Baby Grumpling, a moniker that looked in grave danger of sticking.
It was only after numerous emotional farewells (which only served to cement Brock’s fears) that the party set off across the lawn towards the forest. The chilly early spring had turned into a bleak, and very damp one. Cold rain pattered down dispiritingly. It was about the worst weather to set off into a dark forest. Brock, naturally, led the way. Ransey rode in front of Kieran, and Hillyard brought up the rear, a position which Joby joked he was well used to. Once in the forest the Indigo-ites rode silently, which surprised Brock. In fact it began to feel like a Medieval religious procession. They stopped briefly at mid-day, when Bengo bustled round everyone with flasks of hot soup. Bardin meanwhile had been marking trees at suitable intervals as they journeyed along, as a map for the others when they would set out a couple of days later. Even if Angel, as Kieran had feared, might decide to cause mischief by erasing them, Brock would still meet up with them on his journey back again.
The unnerving silence was broken late afternoon by Ransey announcing that it would be getting dark soon, and they needed to make camp for the night, when a suitable clearing was found. Usually on a hunting trip Brock was master of all he surveyed, he was the one who issued orders, so he was somewhat nonplussed when Bardin delegated all duties when they finally stopped. In fact Bardin had already ruthlessly drawn up duty-rostas back at the Castle, and had drummed it into the others what would be expected of them. So as soon as they stopped Joby and Hillyard unpacked the mules and gave them their nose-bags, Bengo and Tamaz gathered sticks for the fire, and the others set about putting up the tepee. Brock watched all this with some disgruntlement. He was also more confused than ever by Kieran, whom clearly the whole group revolved around, and yet their attitude towards him was more one of protection and rough tenderness, than rapt adoration (except for Bengo that is, who clearly adored Kieran to a quite dazzling effect). Brock watched as Hillyard lifted Kieran (still very sore from Joby’s recent attentions) down from his saddle.
“You want to get your tent up, mate”, Hillyard said to Brock “You don’t want to be doing it in the dark, if you’ll pardon the expression!”
“Isn’t he coming in with us then?” Kieran whispered to Hillyard.
“Nah”, said Hillyard “Made a big thing about bringing his own. Perhaps he’s scared he’ll catch something!”
“Heck that’s a relief!” said Kieran “I thought we might have to be on our best behaviour!”
“You’d never manage it!” Hillyard chuckled.
Kieran went over to help Bengo with the fire.
“This used to be my job back in the old days”, he said “I was the firestarter. I even learnt how to do it without matches. Forgotten all that now though, I’ll have to try and relearn it when we get down to the Retreat House”.
“Are you putting it there?” Tamaz barked imperiously at Brock, who was setting out his ground-sheet nearby “You’re going to be right in the way of my stick-gathering”.
“Tamaz, don’t go too far into the trees”, said Kieran “I don’t know how close Angel is at the moment”.
“I could finish him off once and for all if you’d let me”, said Tamaz.
“It’s not that simple”, said Kieran.
“It never is with you!” said Tamaz.
“It won’t work because I don’t think Angel can be destroyed that way”, said Kieran “He’s like me in that respect”.
Tamaz looked dumbfounded by this. It simply hadn’t occurred to him that Angel might be as immune to his powers as Kieran was.
“Cheer up now”, said Kieran, patting his arm.
“Why is he like that?” said Tamaz, in exasperation “I know what it’s like to be evil, but then I think of the time when you stopped the Ministry from locking me up underground, or executing me, and …”
“Ssh”, said Kieran “Don’t think about all that. Angel is the way he is that’s all, and you were never in his vile league. I’ve told you that before”.
“Kieran!” Joby shouted, from outside the tepee “Come in here”.
Tamaz resumed his stick-gathering, and Kieran went into the tepee.
“I thought I’d put some cream on you”, said Joby, hanging a hurricane lamp from the pole in the middle of the tent “Now we’ve got a bit of privacy. Shed your trousers”.
“If Brock wasn’t with us you could put it on me by the fire”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, if you want a fast-track to pleurisy!” said Joby.
When Kieran and Joby had drawn up the new rules for their relationship back at Christmas, Joby had made one condition, that he would never humiliate Kieran in public, or in front of outsiders. Kieran’s only request had been that whatever they were doing in the name of punishment, whether it be the spanking itself, or the massaging afterwards, he wanted always to be put across Joby’s knees.
“I’m not gonna be able to do that in here though”, said Joby “There ent room, you’ll have to get down on all fours”.
Kieran did so and Joby began the massaging in of the cream. He had to stop though almost as soon as he began.
“What’s the matter?” Kieran laughed “Is my arse getting too much for you?!”
“Behave yourself!” said Joby.
Kieran sat back on his haunches, and Joby kissed him.
“Oops sorry”, said Hillyard, coming in with two mugs of tea “I thought you was rubbing cream in. I didn’t know you was getting down to it”.
“We’re not getting down to it!” Joby snapped.
“Looked like it to me”, said Hillyard, observing that Kieran was growing an erection.
Joby pushed Kieran back onto all fours.
“Can’t I have me tea?” said Kieran.
“When I’ve finished”, said Joby “How’s old Muscles out there? He seems to be in a bit of sulk”.
“Hillyard’s cramping his style I expect”, said Kieran.
“No it’s not that”, said Hillyard “I think we’re not letting him have his own way enough”.
“Well he gets to lead the way don’t he!” said Joby “He doesn’t have to put up with Bardin’s mule farting in front of him all the way like I do. It’s like being the rear end of a pantomime horse!”
“I wish he’d reconsider sleeping alone tonight”, said Kieran, sitting back up and taking his tea “I’ll have to remember putting a charmed circle around him before we turn in, him and the mules. They’d all be sitting targets for Angel otherwise”.
During supper the rain began to patter down once more, and the billy-cans were hastily collected up as soon as everyone had eaten. Kieran borrowed some salt from Bengo and put a blessing around the animals. He then moved onto Brock’s tent. Brock watched this uneasily and then went over to Ransey, who was having a masochistic wash in a bowl of cold water.
“What is it about him?” Brock asked him in a whisper, referring to Kieran.
“I don’t know what you mean”, said Ransey.
“Well what made you decide to throw in your lot with him?” said Brock.
Ransey shrugged and held up his hands.
“I think I just wanted to look after him”, he said “Let’s face it he’s no damn good at looking after himself, he’s completely irresponsible when it comes to his own safety! I felt if I didn’t, there was no knowing what danger he might fall into”.
“But what makes him different?” said Brock “It can’t just be good looks or there’d be a lot of vanquishers of evil around!”
“Yes and I’ve met plenty of pretenders, believe me!” said Ransey “Ones who were dying to be regarded as potential Kierans. But they’ve never had what he’s got. I have never met a person quite so completely devoid of ego as he is. Oh he can be dogmatic and bloody argumentative, he can be wilful. But he has no ego. He simply hungers for love, whether to receive it or give it out, he just wants to spin more and more of it”.
Brock was surprised at Ransey’s eloquence, so far he had only heard him speak to snap impatience at one of the others. Feeling somewhat bothered by it all Brock retired to his tent for the night. Kieran came out of the tepee, wearing his oilskin over his underclothes.
“I thought I’d call in on Brock one last time before turning in”, he said.
“Can’t you put some trousers on?” said Ransey.
“There scarcely seems much point just to walk two feet across the clearing and then back again!” said Kieran.
“What do you want to see him for?” said Ransey, in the tone of voice which clearly implied Kieran was trying to cause trouble.
“Try and persuade him to sleep in our tent”, Kieran whispered “I’m a wee bit concerned, with him being the only mortal and all”.
“I’ll wait for you out here”, said Ransey.
In spite of his whispering Brock had clearly heard what he had said, and was even more unnerved. He jumped when Kieran came into his tent.
“We’re bothering you aren’t we?” said Kieran “Any time you decide you’ve had enough of us just say so and head back to the village, you’ll still be able to collect your fee in full from the bank”.
“No one knows this forest better than me”, said Brock “I’ll see the job through until the end. I’ll take you as far as I know, that’s what I said I’d do, and I’ll do it”.
Kieran could see there was no point trying to persuade him to change his sleeping arrangements, so he reached into the inside pocket of his oilskin and drew out a pistol.
“Keep this with you”, he said.
“I’ve got my own”, said Brock.
“Not like this you haven’t”, said Kieran “It’s loaded with silver charms”.
“In case this thing, this creature you say is following us, tries to get me is that it?” said Brock “I heard you just now. Are you lot immortal?”
Kieran simply smiled impassively, and handed him the gun before leaving the tent.
“Good grief”, said Joby, when Ransey entered the tepee with a scarf draped over his head “It’s Nanook of the North!”
“You’re not doing a very good job of keeping him under control”, said Ransey, meaning Kieran “He’s now gone and let it be known to Brock that we’re immortal”.
“I was whispering!” Kieran protested.
“You do have a bit of a gate on you at times, Kieran”, said Joby, and he tripped over Mieps’s leg, who let out a loud “Ow!”
“Can’t you look where you’re going?” she cried.
“Well don’t stick it right out where I can trip over it!” said Joby.
“I was trying to give it some air”, said Mieps.
Bardin blew his whistle to stop this angry altercation going any further, and only succeeded in waking up Bengo, who had been quietly dozing off.
“When we get to that lake I’m going to throw that damn thing in!” he said, crossly.
“I’ve got a spare”, said Bardin.
“I don’t know which all this is reminding me of more”, said Joby, getting into his bed-roll “’The Blair Witch Project’ or ‘The Wendigo’”.
“The what?” said Hillyard, who was already lying down.
“It’s a classic horror story”, said Joby “Set in Canada”.
“Where?” said Hillyard.
“A big, remote place with lots of wild bits in it!” said Joby, impatiently “These blokes all go off on this mousse-hunting expedition. One of ‘em is really nervous …”
“There’s always one”, said Kieran.
“He’s convinced they’re being followed by this monstrous creature from folklore”, said Joby “And then he disappears”.
“Does he ever come back again?” said Hillyard.
“Yeah, eventually”, said Joby.
“Well what’s the problem then?” said Hillyard.
“I don’t know why I bother telling you a story”, said Joby “You’re worse than Lonts!”
“What did this thing look like then?” said Hillyard.
“I can’t remember”, said Joby “Sort of very tall, higher than the tree-tops, and well not very defined really”.
“Sounds silly”, said Bengo.
“No bloody dafter than some of the things we’ve had to put up with since we came into this time!” said Joby “I dunno what laws govern this world we’re now in, but it’s bloody crazy at times!”
Kieran awoke in the night to hear something creeping around the camp. Whatever it was was clearly having a good poke around. He listened out for any noise from Brock’s tent, but there was none. First thing in the morning he checked up on him, but found him simply a bit stressed from an unsatisfactory night’s sleep.
“I’m a wee bit concerned about you, being the outpost of the empire like this”, said Kieran, taking off his crucifix and handing it to him “You’d better wear this”.
“I don’t need a superstitious bauble!” Brock snapped.
“Ah now don’t call it that, it’s not nice”, said Kieran “Better safe than sorry now”.
When they set off after breakfast Joby decided that he and Kieran would walk, and the others would lead their mules. It would help spread the load on the animals a bit. Ostensibly it was all to help ease Kieran’s saddle-soreness, in private though it’s because Joby wanted to have a go at him.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, you little scrote”, he said, when they were walking along together “You’re trying to scare the crap out of Brock!”
“I was looking out for him!” Kieran protested “That’s all the thanks I get!”
“You’re trying to unsettle him”, said Joby “And from what I’ve seen you’re doing a bloody good job!”
“Well he gets on me nerves”, said Kieran “He carries on as though he owns the entire forest, and has carte blanche to tear everything in it limb from limb if he so chooses”.
“Look he’s helping us”, said Joby “So ease up on the old vegetarian’s lib bit! I haven’t forgotten the way you behaved to Hegley, and now you’re doing it to Brock!”
“Don’t you lecture me about Hegley!” said Kieran “You were the one who threw him out of the kitchen back at the Castle!”
“Well you’re the one who’s behaving like a brat now!” Joby retorted “If we wasn’t out in the middle of bleedin’ nowhere you’d get a bloody good hiding and be sent to bed!”
“Is that what you’re going to do to me at the retreat house?” Kieran laughed.
“Yeah, and you won’t enjoy it I promise you that much”, said Joby “You’ll cry”.
“I cried when you beat me with the wooden paddle too”, said Kieran “But I still enjoyed it”.
“You’re out of this world you are!” said Joby.
“There’s no one else quite like me”, said Kieran.
“Bloody good job too!” said Joby.
“Have you noticed how quiet it is round here?” said Kieran “I can’t hear any birds, and we haven’t seen any small animals either”.
“Perhaps they’re still hibernating”, said Joby.
“Like hell”, said Kieran “They should be out of bed by now!”
“I’d have a stern word with ‘em if I was you!” said Joby.
Mieps rode towards them on a mule. Unlike the others, who all wore oilskin jackets, she wore a fleece, and it was looking decidedly bedraggled in the dank air.
“There’s a mist coming down”, she said “I’ve been sent to tell you that we’ll have to set up camp soon”.
“What already?” said Joby, in dismay “It’s gonna take forever to get down through the forest at this rate!”
“It can’t be helped”, said Mieps “This looks as though it could be thick one, we can’t afford to get disorientated in it”.
She turned her mule round, and prepared to go back the way she had come.
“Don’t dawdle”, she said, over her shoulder “I don’t want to have to come and search for you!”
“Alright”, said Joby “Keep your tits on!”
By the time they reached the new camp the tepee had been set up, and Bengo had built a very satisfactory fire. To Joby’s intense annoyance Kieran homed in on Brock immediately, and was closeted with him in a far corner of the camp. Joby dragged their bags into the tepee and began to empty out what was needed, in a fine fit of bad temper.
“Here, steady on”, said Hillyard “You’ll have the tent down slamming about like that, and we’ve only just put it up!”
“Sorry”, Joby mumbled “But that horrid little scrote’s really driving me mad. He went straight over to Brock as soon as we got here. It doesn’t matter how much how lecture him, or I could tan his backside until Kingdom Come, he’ll still do exactly what I said he shouldn’t!”
“Don’t you know Kieran yet after all this time?” said Hillyard “He does that because he knows he’ll get just the reaction he wants out of you. Anyway, why the hell should you care what Brock feels? He looks quite big enough to take care of himself to me”.
“Fair enough”, Joby mumbled.
“I can’t get worked up about his feelings”, Hillyard continued “He’s been winding Ransey up today. Been saying things to him that you just don’t say to Ransey”.
“Like what?” said Joby, looking alarmed.
“Oh does he secretly fancy Kieran, all that sort of thing”, said Hillyard “Ransey’s been practically chewing the trees about it. Going on that some people don’t know the meaning of words like service, duty and loyalty, and all that jazz”.
“What’s his problem?” said Joby “Brock’s I mean. He seems obsessed with everybody’s sex drives!”
“Perhaps he’s not getting any of his own”, said Hillyard.
“That’s not what I’ve heard”, said Joby “The reputation he’s got in the village you’d think he was the only bloke for miles around with a dick that works!”
“Yeah but I’ve met blokes like him before”, said Hillyard “You’d be amazed how much of it is pure blag, hot air”.
“You think that’s the case with him?” said Joby.
“All I’m saying is don’t be surprised by anything you find out about him”, said Hillyard “I’ll send Kieran in to see you”.
“What?” Joby exclaimed “Are you trying to drive me completely round the twist?!”
Hillyard laughed and went out into the clearing. Kieran was talking at Brock, who was hammering in tent pegs with a very tense look on his face. He stood up and passed the crucifix back to Kieran.
“Better safe than sorry”, Kieran protested “You never know what’s lurking around here …”
“Kieran!” said Hillyard, trying not to laugh and sound firm instead “Joby wants to see you inside, IMMEDIATELY!”
Kieran went into the tepee, where Joby promptly boxed his ears.
“What the blazes was that all about?” said Kieran.
“You can’t resist it can you?” said Joby “Winding him up again, after all the promises you made me today! I should’ve known better ’en to believe ’em. Nothing but pure blarney that’s all it was!”
Kieran angrily boxed Joby’s ears this time.
“I always mean everything I say to you!” he cried “I was actually trying to persuade him to sleep in here, I don’t think he’s safe out there on his own. Although why I waste me breath when I get nothing but trouble for it is beyond me! How dare you say I’m not taking any notice of you! I can give YOUR arse a good thrashing for a change, and I can be every bit as stern as you!”
He had been unbuckling his trouser-belt whilst he said this.
“I wouldn’t do that, Kiel”, said Joby.
“Give me one good reason why not!” said Kieran.
“’Cos your trousers’ll probably fall down!” said Joby.
“Knowing my luck that’s exactly what would happen!” Kieran laughed “The clowns would be proud of me!”
Joby hugged him close.
“God I love you so much, it’s ridiculous”, he said.
“I’m devoted to you”, said Kieran “Body and soul. He’s starting to bother me though, seriously bother me”.
“Brock?” said Joby.
“He was seriously spooked out there on his own last night”, said Kieran “But he won’t come in with us. Does he think we’re going to spend all night rogering the arse off one another, is that it?”
“Chance’d be a fine thing!” said Joby “Hillyard thinks the trouble is he’s not getting his oats”.
“None of us are!” said Kieran “Thanks to his presence!”
“No I mean Hillyard thinks he’s not getting ‘em full-stop”, said Joby “Not at home either”.
“That’s not what I’ve heard!” said Kieran.
“That’s exactly what I said”, said Joby “But when you think about it it all makes sense. A bloke with a really healthy and vigorous sex life wouldn’t be remotely bothered by us lot, and it wouldn’t bother him going without for a few days whilst on a trip like this, ‘cos he’d know he had it all waiting for him when he got home”.
“Tis true”, said Kieran “After all what keeps us going is the thought of the retreat house at the other end. It does make sense now”.
“Look at all that anger in him”, said Joby “All uptight all the time, like I used to be in the early days. I used to get like that around you and Adam”.
“Well we shouldn’t have put up with your nonsense”, said Kieran “We should’ve got you drunk one night and made you helpless. That’s eventually what happened between you and him in Husgalonghi, when you lost your virginity for a second time!”
“Behave yourself!” Joby smiled “And I wasn’t helpless, very far from it! I’ve never known anyone like Adam, who could be so hard-headed and practical, and yet so romantic at the same time”.
“He was like that with me too”, said Kieran “I get the impression that’s how Julian initiated him”.
“I can believe it from that old wotsit!” said Joby “Anyway, I think you should stop hanging around talking to Brock, and I really REALLY mean it this time! If he is going short your presence ent exactly gonna help matters!”
“He won’t fancy an old bone-bag with a cock like me!” said Kieran.
“I’m not entirely sure about that!” said Joby “Someone as mixed up as that ent exactly gonna be predictable! Don’t even chat to him to wind me up”.
“I can’t help it”, said Kieran “I’ve got spanking deprivation. I miss your firm hand on me behind”.
“Kieran!” said Joby “You’re gonna get plenty of it at the other end, I can promise you that!”
Bengo banged a wooden spoon against a billy-can to signify that supper was ready.
“These should have been brought in when we first set up camp”, Bardin grumbled, carrying two packs into the tepee after supper.
“I’ve been busy, Bardy”, said Bengo “I had the fire to do and the dinner to make. It doesn’t hurt you to do SOMETHING, other than poncing around being Captain that is!”
“Alright, there’s no need to get into such a big steaming fit about it!” said Bardin “You’ll be climbing up a tree next and staying there! I was merely making an observation”.
“Yeah, you always say that when you’ve been caught out making unfair criticism!” said Bengo.
“That’s enough!” said Ransey “Let’s all get down to it now shall we”.
Hillyard gave a cheer.
“Sleep I meant!” Ransey snapped.
The oilskin jackets were stacked up near the entrance to the tent, partly to get them out of the way, and partly to serve as a booby-trap for anything unwelcome that tried to trespass. There was a general consensus amongst the Indigo-ites that Brock must be raving mad to want to sleep on his own. Some time after they had all settled down to sleep, he was heard screaming from the other side of the camp. Weapons were grabbed, and they all stampeded outside. Brock wasn’t in his tent, and he came staggering back into the clearing looking extremely white of face.
“What were you doing in the forest?” said Kieran.
“I needed a pee”, said Brock, faintly.
“Come into the tepee”, said Ransey “We have a flask of brandy in there”.
For once Brock didn’t object.
“Something touched my shoulder”, said Brock “It felt like a claw, a sort of skeletal hand”.
“It wasn’t me”, Kieran quipped.
“Look I was bloody petrified I tell you!” Brock exclaimed.
“Kieran was just making a joke to put you back on an even keel, that’s all”, said Ransey.
“Sorry”, Brock mumbled “You must all think I’m flaky. I’ve never been this unnerved by the woods before. Oh I’ve known them be strange, you respect this part of the countryside, that’s for certain. B-but not like this. Kieran, was it this creature, this Thing, that you think is following us?”
“It doesn’t sound like Angel”, said Kieran “He doesn’t tend to go around tapping people on the shoulder”.
“There’s something else out there?” Brock cried.
“You’ve told us yourself that this forest is stuffed full of legends, folklore and superstition”, said Kieran “So why should it surprise you?”
“Because they’re just kids’ stories”, said Brock.
“Every story”, said Kieran “However bizarre, has some grounding in reality”.
Brock agreed to sleep in the tepee for the rest of the night. Nothing would induce him to go back to his own tent alone. The Indigo-ites could only give thanks that, for once, commonsense had over-ridden his ego. After his disturbed night, Brock was late waking. He was finally lured out of the tepee by the smell of frying bacon. Bengo was preparing breakfast. The others were dispersed around the camp, either tending to the animals, or trying to make themselves look reasonably presentable.
Bengo smiled when Brock joined him, and indicated for him to sit down on a small canvas fold-up stool. Brock had developed a grudging admiration for Bengo. He had been extremely dubious when he initially heard the little clown was to join them, he saw him as nothing more than a theatrical cream-puff. But Bengo had proved himself not only very useful to have around, but Brock hadn’t heard him complain or whinge once (except at Bardin, which didn’t count, as that was entirely normal behaviour). Brock was experienced enough in these trips to value highly a non-whinger, he had known plenty who started bleating about everything virtually the moment they left the village. Bardin had been proved right when he had protested that Bengo had plenty of endurance and courage, “anyone who grows up in the theatre has that”, he had said.
“Are you ok?” Bengo asked Brock “You still look pale”.
“I feel a complete fool”, said Brock, tersely.
“Don’t be”, said Bengo “You had a terrifying experience, enough to scare the crap out of anyone!”
“I’m starting to think I mistook a branch catching on me”, said Brock “Things are so strange round here that it’s easy to let your imagination run riot”.
“Perhaps it was”, said Bengo, who instinctively knew that Brock would be more comforted that way “But don’t be afraid of showing when you’re disturbed by something, it’s a good survival technique. I have to tell Bardy that, he’s like you, tries to be bloody invincible all the time, and there’s really no need”.
Because water was being rationed until they reached the lake, everyone was washing and shaving out of one billy-can of water. Brock noticed that Kieran hadn’t shaved at all on this trip, and yet his skin was still as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
“He’s like me”, said Tamaz “He doesn’t need to shave as often as the others”.
Brock was a bit shaken by this remark. Soon after, camp was dismantled and the mules loaded for another day’s trekking.
“Little donkey little donkey”, said Joby “Trotting all the bleedin’ way to Bethlehem!”
It was at the end of that day that they reached the outer limits of Brock’s knowledge of the forest. It was easy to see why, as by this time it had become an even more disconcerting place. The trees had become spaced further apart, but they looked weird, with blackened branches snaking up towards the sky like charcoaled fingers.
“I take it that come the morning”, said Bardin to Brock “You will want to head back”.
“No”, said Brock “Don’t you realise that no one in the village has ever been further than this point? No one has ever seen the lake”.
If Bardin was dismayed by this news he at least hid it. Darkness falling was a depressing event in such surroundings, but the night passed relatively peacefully, apart from them being jolted away by the screaming of an owl through the trees in the early hours of the morning. They packed up and left this diseased spot with great alacrity.
When the lake was sighted at noon the next day Joby remarked to Adam later that it was like something out of a Disney film. They had emerged from the dark and gloomy forest into bright sunshine, sparkling water, and the castle marooned on its own little island. Parts of the castle were clearly ruined, but some of it was reassuringly still intact. The tower at the westerly-facing end of it was covered in moss, which boded ill for the amount of damp that must be in the place. Nonetheless though the Indigo-ites set up camp lake-side with a considerable lifting of spirits. They were going to wait there until the others had caught them up. In the meantime they were busy washing themselves and their clothes in the lake. Mieps set snares amongst the nearby trees, as she had spotted track-marks left by rabbits and other small animals, which suggested that the infertility of the forest had waned nearer the lake.
For a couple of days they lived this way, in the early spring sunshine, and after the claustrophobic confines of the forest it was very pleasant. Brock showed no sign of heading home, which was making Bardin impatient. Bengo, infuriatingly, was Being Fair about it.
“Would you want to travel back all the way through that forest on your own, Bardy?” he said.
“Why didn’t he bring a friend with him then?” Bardin snarled.
“Well it’s very easy to be wise after the event isn’t it!” said Bengo “Anyway, perhaps he wants to see inside the castle”.
“The way things are going he’s going to want to live in the bloody castle!” said Bardin.
It was a relief for Bengo when Bardin took most of the others out hunting later that day. The only ones who stayed behind were Kieran, who was ordered to undress and lie down in the tepee to get some compulsory rest, and Bengo, who was instructed to Mind The Camp. Some time later Adam appeared on a horse, riding nonchalantly out of the trees. Bengo went delirious with joy on seeing him and rushed up to grab the horse’s bridle. Kieran came awkwardly out of the tepee.
“You’re moving stiffly, Patsy”, Adam observed “Have you been kept in line?”
“Joby took me into the forest yesterday”, said Kieran “I’ve been black and blue ever since”.
“Oh Joby’ll be so mad he wasn’t here when you arrived”, said Bengo.
Joby had in fact become separated from the others and had had to find his way back to the main forest path. He was just looking about him in confusion when Julian appeared on the white horse.
“Well well well if it isn’t yon lusty peasant boy of the forest”, said Julian “How very D H Lawrence you look!”
“Oh hello Julian”, said Joby.
“Is that all you have to say to me?” said Julian “Oh ‘ello Julian”.
“Are you the first one to appear?” said Joby.
“No Adam’s gone on ahead”, said Julian “Come on, hop up, I’ll give you a lift”.
Joby grabbed his hand and clambered up awkwardly onto the back of the horse.
“You can hold on tighter than that you know”, said Julian “Or have you gone all macho after a few days in the forest?”
Joby laughed. He was more pleased to see Julian than he cared to let on.
“Have the clowns behaved themselves?” Julian asked.
“Yeah they’ve been pretty good”, said Joby “Mainly because whenever it looks as if they’re about to start up arguing, Ransey gives ’em a forbidding look, it works every time”.
“What about the annoying Irish goblin?” said Julian.
“Reasonable”, said Joby “’Cept his main form of amusement at the moment is winding up Brock, and that has to be stamped on pretty quickly. That and I have to enforce rest on him”.
“That is the main point of this trip”, said Julian “It’s in all our interests for him to rest”.
“That has been pointed out to him”, said Joby.
When the others turned up, and the hunting-party returned, there was a very enjoyable confusion lake-side. Adam said Joby looked wonderful, so gloriously rustic. Joby ruefully commented that this was because he badly needed a hair-cut. Farnol had made a beeline for Bengo. It could often go unnoticed how close “the two roly-poly clowns” (as Tamaz sometimes disparagingly called them) were. They had a very amiable, brotherly relationship. Both had a boisterous but naturally easy-going disposition, like two chubby, jolly Victorian uncles who had never quite fully grown-up, united by their love of food and gossip. Farnol had always had a deep sympathy for Bengo. When he, Farnol that is, was a little boy Bardin had quite scared him, with his scathing tongue and his relentless drive and ambition. Farnol had felt sorry for Bengo having to partner such a terrifying boy. These days Bardin no longer scared him at all, (it’s a bit hard to stay terrified of someone when you’ve seen them several times in a filmy pink nightie!) but he still admired Bengo’s resilience and ability to deal with this demanding ogre.
Farnol had saved a packet of potato crisps for Bengo in his back-pack, and he produced these with a gentle embarrassment. Bengo accepted them with a gravity befitting such a show of deep friendship.
“And how’s the lovely Bardin been?” Farnol asked “I notice he hasn’t lost that damn whistle”.
“He’s practically slept with the sodding thing in his gob!” said Bengo “He woke me up with it once, I could have throttled him”.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed to Bengo that at this very moment in time Bardin was looking quite rigid with rage. The cause of this was quite clear to him. Sasha, Aleister Crowley’s most annoying disciple (and quite possibly the most spectacularly irritating man on Earth) had accompanied his master on this trip. Bardin hated just about everything about Sasha, from his squeaky voice, to his bald head, to his mincing manner.
“Oh why oh why did he have to come?” Bengo whispered to Farnol “Bardy will be rabid about it”.
“When Crowley said that one of his people wanted to come too”, said Farnol “I thought he meant one of the women”.
“That would have been alright”, said Bengo “Except we would have had to keep Brock out of her way! But that peculiar thing … oh God! What’s he been like on the journey?”
“Quite quiet actually”, said Farnol “Tho’ I expect he couldn’t get much of a look-in with the rest of us around! He drinks like a fish though”.
“Oh hell”, said Bengo “That’s all we need!”
Joby had insisted Kieran go back into the tepee to put some clothes on, even though Kieran protested that it was him who had removed them.
“Do you have to keep arguing with me all the time?” said Joby, when they were both under canvas “So much for all this blind obedience I’m sposed to be getting!”
“Well I don’t want you to get bored with owning me”, said Kieran.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be much chance of that, Kiel”, said Joby, digging out Kieran’s trousers “You know you’re still gonna get your bum well-smacked, even in the unlikely event of you being as good as gold, but you know if you misbehave you’re gonna get the hard-duty one, like yesterday”.
“That’s an incentive for me to keep arguing then isn’t it!” Kieran exclaimed “Ach come on, admit it, you enjoy it as well”.
Joby gave an indulgent smile.
“I enjoy spanking my naughty little sprite, that’s true”, he said.
“I hope I don’t get too dreary for yous over the next bit of time”, said Kieran.
“How do you work that one out?!” said Joby.
“Well I seem to be regressing at the moment into the mad, masochistic old Irishman who likes ranting about things”, said Kieran.
“You’ve always been a bit like that!” said Joby.
“Just so’s you don’t mind that’s all”, Kieran smiled.
Bardin seemed to be taking Sasha’s presence like a terrible, sickening pain in the stomach. Whilst the others fully understood this, they also got impatient with it. They didn’t see why there was any reason why Sasha couldn’t be relegated to a corner somewhere like a punch-drunk boxer. For Bardin though the dream seemed to be disintegrating. At dusk he went for a walk along the lake-side, with his hands on his hips, and an aggressive scowl on his face. Rumble said he looked like a bad-tempered old tart out soliciting for business. Bengo put on a moth-eaten cardigan which practically reached to his knees, and went to try and coax his friend to bed.
“He’s ruined it”, said Bardin “Ruined it!”
“But I haven’t heard a peep out of him all evening!” Bengo protested.
“He doesn’t need to speak to be annoying”, Bardin growled “I only have to look across and see his loathsome little face”.
“Well you won’t even have to do that when we go across to the island tomorrow”, said Bengo “The in-laws will go into their own part of the castle, and we’ll have ours”.
“What if that’s not possible though?” said Bardin “What if most of the place is in ruins and is uninhabitable?”
“It’s not”, said Bengo “I had a good look at it through the binoculars whilst you were out. The tower at the west end doesn’t look too brilliant, but the rest of it seems to be completely alright. We should all shake down in it quite nicely. Now you must come into the tepee, it gets very cold in the evenings around here, it’s still quite early in the year …”
“Yes alright Bengo, I don’t need a weather report!” said Bardin “And how the hell can you wear that disgusting old cardigan?”
“I like it”, said Bengo, stubbornly “It’s warm comfy”.
“First thing in the morning it goes on the fire”, said Bardin.
“Only if you go with it!” said Bengo.
A restless night was spent by a lot of them, with everybody keyed up about the thought of going to the island on the lake the next day. Joby emerged from the tepee at daybreak, feeling like Terry Scott in “Carry On Camping”. Instead of a bevy of girls doing keep fit exercises though, he saw Adam and Julian on horseback, riding off in an easterly direction around the perimeter of the lake.
“Where are they off to?” he asked Hillyard.
“Getting a bit of time alone together I expect”, said Hillyard.
The truth was rather less romantic than that. Julian was convinced there must be a bridge across to the island somewhere, and as the only side of it they couldn’t see was on the north side, it was safe to assume it must be around there.
“It’ll do Old Four-Eyes good to realise he’s not the only one with initiative round here”, said Julian, referring to Ransey “Sometimes I swear he thinks he’s the only one amongst us with a brain!”
“And what if this fabled bridge doesn’t exist?” said Adam.
“Of course it exists”, said Julian “And if it doesn’t well you can’t hang a man for trying”.
Adam didn’t know whether to be pleased or dismayed when they found a narrow, stone bridge on the north side of the island, snaking out across the water like a gorgonised lake monster. It led up to the main entrance of the castle, the gateway of which even had a portcullis.
“So it must have been used for defence purposes”, said Adam.
“Well of course it was”, said Julian “Did you think they had built it here just for the artistic possibilities?! Quite possibly knowing you!”
“Shut up, Jules”, said Adam “I wonder if the portcullis still works”.
“We can find a way”, said Julian, with supreme self-confidence.
“I dread to think what the kitchen’s like”, Adam sighed, rather more forlornly.
Bardin marshalled his troops with the next big task, to get everybody and everything over to the island. When Toppy remarked sulkily that the lake probably had a monster in it, Bardin ordered that in that case he could go over in the boat with Hal and some of the goods and chattels. Everybody else was to take the animals and go round the perimeter of the lake to the bridge, as Adam and Julian had done.
By the time they all got into the courtyard of the castle it was plainly obvious that the place had been abandoned for many a long year, and that there was nobody still in residence, as they had feared. Grass and weeds grew up between the cobbles in the courtyard, the remains of an old chapel directly opposite the gatehouse had barely any roof left, and the same could almost be said for a covered stone stairway which led past what must have once been a sort of guard-room up to the main hall. The castle was riddled with towers, and one of the most substantial stood on the west-facing side. This three-storey building had clearly once been used as a store-house, as boxes and trunks of stuff were still piled up there. The contents had long since crumbled to dust, and a chest full of old coins were from a currency which hadn’t been used for a couple of centuries. It was a fascinating but eerie experience, poking around what had once clearly been a thriving community of many people.
Kieran trod cautiously around the old chapel, and made for a dark stairway which descended to the nether regions in the far corner.
“That must lead down to the crypt”, he said.
“Great”, said Joby, unenthusiastically “Can we leave exploring that bit to another time, please?”
Bardin decreed that the in-laws could have the residence of the store-house tower, and in the meantime the rest of them dumped their belongings in a large room which opened out from the cavernous great hall. All that remained in this side room was a huge fireplace, and some hard-backed chairs, which had been arranged against the walls as though someone had cleared the room for a dance. It was decided that they would camp in here for the time being, until they had got more acclimatised to the castle.
The kitchen was every bit as bad as Adam had feared. It was located down a slippery stone staircase beyond the side room, and was rampant with damp, to the extent that the walls even ran with it. There were traces of rats and mice everywhere. The ancient iron stove looked a horror, and Adam said that there was no way he was even going to consider cooking in this room until extensive renovation and cleaning work had been done on it. It was with some relief that he went over to the gatehouse, and went up to the room over the entrance passage, where the mechanism for operating the portcullis was situated. It was rusted up, but Hillyard said there was no reason why they couldn’t get it operating again.
“Yeah once it’s down though”, said Joby “Let’s hope we can get it up again!”
The Indigo-ites, now 20 in number, slept that night on the floor of the big room that opened off the great hall. Bardin had a feeling that they would always sleep this way, and only use the castle bedrooms during the day-time. It wasn’t only that the castle was eerie after dark, and, more practically, with its crumbling stairways and dark, narrow corridors, wasn’t that safe, but that they all missed the communal bed they had had on the sloop and at Midnight Castle. Bardin, with a certain grim humour, also felt that this would be a good test of Hal’s commitment. If communal sleeping didn’t put him off living with them, then he, Bardin, would be desperate to find some other solution to this most unwelcome problem.
During daylight hours though they had a pleasant time allocating who would have which bedroom for their daytime activities. Bengo and Bardin took the biggest bedroom, which must have at one time been quite palatial, with an enormous 4-poster bed, and a porcelain bath-tub tucked into a corner behind a screen. All this “Arabian Nights”-style glamour though was somewhat brought back down to earth by the fact that the windows had hardly any glass left in them.
A poky stone spiral staircase cut into one wall led up to a turret bedroom, also complete with 4-poster bed, which Joby decided firmly was going to be for him and Kieran. Left to Kieran, he said, they would end up with another bloody broom cupboard. Joby carried fresh bedding upstairs, and Kieran toiled on behind him up the stairs, carrying their two packs.
“Can’t even a weedy little thing like you carry a couple of rucksacks without falling over?” said Joby, as Kieran stumbled yet again on the stairs.
“I can’t see where the fock we’re going that’s why!” Kieran protested “What did you want to have a room all the way up here for?”
“I’ll tell you why”, said Joby, emerging out of the low doorway and into the said room “Because it’s a proper sized room that’s why! And here’s another thing …”
He went over to a doorway in the opposite wall, and passed through it into another room.
“It’s got its own bathroom”, he said.
“What’s the betting that loo empties straight into the lake down below?” said Kieran, determined not to give Joby an easy time on this one “They did it that way you know, in these old castles”.
“Then we’ll use chamber-pots”, said Joby “It don’t look very comfy anyway”.
“That bath-tub’ll take an age to fill up”, said Kieran “Us being stuck right up here like this. Me granny had one like that, it used to take half-an-hour to fill it right up, and then it’d run out of hot water halfway”.
“Look, we’re having this room and that’s my final word on the subject!” said Joby “Now I’ve gotta go downstairs and give Adam a bit of a hand, but you’re gonna stay up here. Get things unpacked and make the bed up. That’s summat I know you can do alright, you had enough practice when you was a kid”.
“We had duvets not sheets”, said Kieran.
“Kieran!” said Joby.
Kieran did the chores allotted to him, and then he decided to do something he had never done before. He had been thinking of late that he and Joby hadn’t known enough romance in their relationship. Being an Irishman, Kieran had a hugely-developed sentimental and romantic streak, and he was yearning to give it some air. But he had been at a loss as to how to show it to Joby. Joby’s ultimate idea of romance would be a good shag in front of a roaring log-fire. Nothing wrong with that of course, but Kieran wanted to do something more subtle as well. It was no use going out onto the island and picking him flowers, much as Kieran would have enjoyed that. Joby, being solidly working-class, would have died with embarrassment at being given flowers, and would have been hard pushed to give anything but a grunt of thanks in return. So Kieran decided to write him a love-letter. This had the added bonus that the two of them had hardly ever communicated by the written word before, so it would have untold novelty value.
When Joby came up to fetch him at dusk, complete with a hurricane lamp, Kieran presented it to him, and then said he would wait at the top of the main stairs whilst he read it. You didn’t read a love-letter in front of the person who had written it. Joby was surprisingly moved by the letter. It’s not for me to divulge its contents, but Kieran let his whimsical side have full rein. He even put in a couple of Gaelic words. Joby had no idea what they meant, or even the first idea how to pronounce them, but they were highly effective on paper. It was safe to say Joby was moved to tears. He went around in a dream for the next couple of days.
“It’s a lovely idea”, said Bardin “To write somebody a love letter. I wish I could think of a way to write one to Bengo”.
He and Joby had gone up to the top of one of the gatehouse towers, which had become quite a suntrap in the first warm day of spring, and were sunbathing naked there.
“Could he read it if you did?” Joby joked.
“Well I’d have to make it pretty simple!” said Bardin “All I can think of is ’my darling Bengo, you have been the bane of my life since you were 6-years-old, and sometimes you still act as if you’re 6-years-old, but I wouldn’t be without you, love Bardin’”.
“Praps you should put summat like ’from the very first time I saw your lovely face I knew you were the one for me’, that sort of thing”, said Joby.
“He’d know that was a bloody lie for a start!” said Bardin “The first time I saw his lovely face I wanted to cry with despair! How could Ully be so cruel as to pair an ugly little runt like me with a cute little runt like him!”
“Alright then”, said Joby “List all his good points, come on think of summat”.
“He’s funny”, said Bardin “He’s sexy, he’s beautiful, he’s daft …”
“You can’t call somebody daft in a love letter!” Joby laughed.
“I told you it was hopeless!” said Bardin “Are you going to write a reply to Kieran’s?”
“No I’d be useless at it as well”, said Joby “I’m not naturally romantic like he is. All I can think of is to tell him how beautiful he is, and I’d rather say that verbally”.
“Same here”, said Bardin “Anyway Bengo’d probably panic if I gave him something to read! He used to look terror-stricken if anybody handed us a script!”
“I didn’t think you used to have a lot of lines to learn?” said Joby.
“We didn’t”, said Bardin “It was really more a list of stage directions. We were supposed to memorise them. Bengo hated them. It was much better if we walked him through the procedure. It could be a bloody nightmare trying to get him to remember everything, but no one was better than him when he got it right. I sometimes think it’s a shame that we have no written record of the acts we did. After all, an actor can get his old scripts bound, I know some who did, but we had nothing like that. Once performed it all disappeared. Shame really. No record of all that work, apart from old publicity stills. It’s gorgeous lying here like this, just soaking up the sun”.
“So quiet too”, said Joby.
Everyone else had disappeared in the heat of the day. Kieran, Bengo and Tamaz had gone swimming in the lake, and occasionally noises could be heard from them, but apart from that, and birdsong in the trees, all was peaceful. Joby was dozing off, but when a different noise jolted him back awake.
“Did you hear that?” he whispered “In the far distance, listen”.
“Sounds like a train”, said Bardin.
It was a very distant, soft sound as of a train gently trundling through the countryside.
“Perhaps there’s a line near here”, said Bardin “Perhaps we’re not as remote as we think we are”.
“Sound can travel on a day as still as this”, said Joby “We’ve been through all this before. Heard mysterious trains deep out in the countryside”.
“That’s true”, said Bardin “I quite like it though, it sort of blends in nicely on a day like this”.
Kieran had got out of the lake, put on his clothes, and went into the castle to find cold drinks for the others. He had gone into the building via the back door which opened out onto the quayside, this led into a gloomy back stone corridor, which even on a warm, sunny day like this was cold and dark. It seemed entirely fitting somehow that Josh should be lurking in the shadows.
“What are you doing in here?” said Kieran, crossly “You’re supposed to be on the other side of the yard. You’re trespassing”.
“How can I be trespassing?” Josh sneered “Nobody owns this place”.
He grabbed Kieran’s skinny wrist so roughly that Kieran winced.
“Isn’t this going against the grain for you?” said Kieran, who was under no illusions about Josh’s less-than-honourable intentions “Me being a fella and all”.
“You’re barely a bloke”, said Josh “Turn you around and no one could tell, and plenty of women like it up the bum”.
“I didn’t think even you could be that vile”, Kieran hissed, trying to extricate his wrist from Josh’s grasp.
“It’d do you good to have a proper fella”, said Josh “You can’t get much change out of our Joby. He can probably barely manage a few seconds on a good day …”
With his free hand Kieran swiped Josh hard across his face. Kieran joked afterwards that he felt this had been a pretty girly thing to do, slapping his face. For Josh though the force of it took him by surprise. For such a small person Kieran packed a powerful wallop. Kieran took advantage of his shock to run into the great hall. Josh recovered himself and followed him. Kieran jumped up onto the trestle table in front of the fireplace, and bellowed, throwing his voice up into the rafters. As he expected several Indigo-ites appeared out of various doorways and archways, like a bizarre cuckoo clock.
“Where’s he gone now?” said Kieran, now sitting in a side room.
“Back over to Perves’ Tower, as Bengo calls it”, said Bardin “We still can’t locate Joby”.
“He’s gone over to see him then”, said Kieran “Somebody had better go after him, make sure he doesn’t come to any harm. Christ, I could do with a fag”.
“Here, have some of this”, said Julian, handing him his half-smoked cigar.
“First Aleister, and now this”, said Kieran, nervously drawing on the cigar “I can’t imagine you’re too pleased somehow. Perverts seem to stick to me like balloons on a jumper!”
Behind his joking Kieran was worried. Even for someone with a strong masochistic streak like him, the thrashing Julian had given him after the incident in the stables at Wolf Castle had thoroughly unnerved him. He was dreading another such session.
“I’ve had an idea”, said Bardin, hoping at least to divert Julian away from such a drastic course “I think we should leave this lot here, the in-laws I mean. This would be a good place to leave them”.
“And where do we go?” said Ransey.
“Further into the forest”, said Bardin “Kieran can rest as much that way as staying here”.
“Are you going to cart me around on a litter?” Kieran joked.
“It would be better than having you constantly at risk from that lot across the yard!” said Bardin “And I think it would suit us better to go travelling, than to stay here with them”.
“That’s a pretty good idea”, said Julian.
“Thanks”, said Bardin “I do have them occasionally, in spite of what Bengo might tell you!”
“How could you?” Joby mumbled, having found Josh on the roof of Perves’ Tower, sitting in a canvas chair and gloomily smoking a cigarette “After everything he’s done for you and all! If it wasn’t for him, you’d be an old man still, and no immortality either. I just can’t believe you can be so ungrateful!”
“Oh pack it in!” said Josh, impatiently “You always were too bleedin’ soft for your own good, Jobe! Look, I’m only flesh-and-blood. I’m on starvation rations, and there’s him prancing around half-dressed most of the time! What does he expect! I saw ’em all swimming in the lake, with no clothes on. And then he gets out. His long hair all bleached from the sun, freckles on his nose, he’s practically a woman”.
“No he ent!” said Joby “And even if he was there’d be no excuse for what you tried to do!”
“Joby”, said Ransey, coming out of the low door and onto the roof “Go back over the yard, Kieran’s asking for you”.
Joby went without another word.
“And what are you gonna do?” said Josh, wearily “Shoot me?”
“There would scarcely be much point”, said Ransey “For some unfathomable reason Kieran has made you immortal as well! But you’re not going to be a problem for much longer. We’re leaving here, and you’re staying behind”.
“On me own?” said Josh.
“No, all the in-laws are staying”, said Ransey “You can have the entire castle to yourselves. What you get up to in it will be entirely up to you. We can’t stay. There are too many men here like you. You, Crowley, Sade, you’re all the same. You can’t destroy Kieran any other way, so you want to degrade him in the worst way any human can do to another. I’ve met your sort before, unfortunately I expect I will meet them again at some point. But in the meantime we can remove him from your reach”.
Madame de Sade took to her bed on hearing this news. There was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in her room over the portcullis. Bengo, her favourite, was sent up to try and calm her down, and he had to put up with several hours of recriminations directed at the world in general. Piers meanwhile went over to see Adam.
“I can understand you wanting to go”, said Piers, as they talked in the great hall “Some of the others can’t seem to keep their cocks to themselves!”
“They are a continual worry“, said Adam “And to be quite honest with you I didn’t think it was going to work for us here. For one thing there was no way I was ever going to get that kitchen into anything like a workable state. You may have to think of something else I’m afraid”.
“I’m sure Hegley will think of something”, said Piers “He’s nothing if not resourceful. I’m going to miss you, we seem to have only just got things back on a level footing, you and I. After all that time of me being an absolute swine, with the booze and everything”.
“I’m sure we’ll meet again, Piers”, said Adam “Eternity is a very long time you know”.
“I enjoyed having our old friendship back”, said Piers “I keep remembering that time I dropped in on you at your mother’s castle that summer, when you had run away from Julian”.
“A feeling I still have from time to time!” Adam joked “He gets very jealous of that visit you know. The insecure little boy who thinks we spent all our time bitching about him”.
“Someone with his massive ego would!” said Piers “I’m glad you don’t let him get his own way all the time anymore, it never did him any good you know. No wonder he was the school bully, the Flashman of our era! Even the teachers were afraid of him!”
“Some of that lot were afraid of their own shadows half the time!” said Adam.
“Having said all that though”, said Piers “When Mother was ill, I used to hope he’d turn up and take over everything”.
“He would have been no help to you at all, Piers”, said Adam “He’d have said ’put the old cow in a home, sell this dump, and stop complaining’”.
“But you see if he’d taken over the estate it would have been just what everyone wanted”, said Piers “I was no good at being in charge, but people would have respected him”.
“He would have ran up enormous debts in no time at all, to fund his lifestyle”, said Adam “And then just laughed when anybody tried to put the brakes on”.
“You could have coped with him”, said Piers “What a team you would have made!”
“I would have probably shot him before the year was out!” said Adam.
Kieran and Joby walked through the hallway hand-in-hand and then up the main staircase. They had intended to spend only the evening in the turret room, but finished up spending the entire night. They only realised it was morning when Bengo and Toppy brought up some breakfast for them. The Indigo-ites were assembling in the courtyard, preparatory to setting off. Bardin it seemed was wasting no time in distancing themselves from the in-laws. He had harboured a fervent hope all night that Hal would change his mind and also stay behind. He stressed the down-side to intimate communal living, aware that Hal was still ill-at-ease with it. But Hal it seemed wasn’t to be deterred, and it was a sour Bardin who was supervising the loading up of the horses, mules, wagon and truck.
Kieran had noticed Josh watching them from the top of Perves’ Tower, and he tried to get Joby to go and say a final farewell to him.
“I can’t believe you’re saying this!” said Joby.
“You might not see him again for a very long time”, Kieran protested.
“I hope that’s a promise!” said Joby “About 70,000 years would suit me just fine!”
“He is your brother, Joby”, said Kieran.
“I don’t need constantly reminding of that!” said Joby “Stop being so bloody Irish! All this saintly, sentimental rubbish. ‘We must all get along like loyal old friends now mustn’t we, to be sure there is too much fighting and a-fretting in life already, to be sure, to be sure’”.
“Don’t you start!” said Kieran, annoyed at Joby’s mock Irish accent “I get enough of that from Brock!”
“Well get up into the wagon”, said Joby.
“I’m walking”, said Kieran.
“You are not!” said Joby “You’re supposed to be resting”.
“How the blazes do you think I’m going to be able to rest rocking about in that thing?!” said Kieran “I’ll be black and blue by the time the day is out!”
“You will be if I have anything to do with it!” said Joby.
He picked him up and shoved him unceremoniously into the back of the covered wagon.
“Perhaps he’d prefer to come in the truck with me?” said Hillyard.
“I’ve put him in there now!” said Joby “Can you believe him? He wants me to go and be all bloody brotherly with the bloke who tried to rape him last night!”
Hillyard gave a shudder.
“I’d better get started”, he said “I’m the one blazing the way, the path-finder!”
Joby gave a grunt of cynicism. Then he noticed Brock walking almost furtively over to one of the mules.
“He’s not …?” said Joby, in disbelief.
Being able to travel that bit faster than the others (although the forest didn’t exactly lend itself to speedy travel), Hillyard got to a suitable stopping-point at noon well ahead of them. He had a fire going and the kettle over it by the time they reached him. Joby made some tea and took it into the wagon for Kieran.
“Here y’are”, he said, handing him the mug “I’ve put 4 sugars in it, just the way you like it”.
“Shouldn’t we be conserving such things?” said Kieran “As we don’t know when we’re going to reach a shop next”.
“You leave us to worry about that”, said Joby.
“It seems I’m not allowed to think or move at all!” said Kieran “Just be carted around in some contraption like a geriatric pope!”
“What a naughty little Catholic boy you are!” said Joby, laughing.
“I’m feeling rebellious”, said Kieran “I can barely move! This thing goes over every tiniest bump in the path, and I’m already sore as it is from your attentions!”
“I’ll put some cream on for you”, said Joby, opening up one of the packs.
Kieran turned awkwardly onto his stomach.
“It is a bit of a sight innit!” said Joby, when he had exposed Kieran’s behind “It looks like some mouldy old fruit!”
“Thanks!” said Kieran.
“I wish we’d been like this all along”, said Joby, massaging cream into Kieran’s backside “Right from the very beginning, in our time I mean”.
“It would have been great”, said Kieran “We’d have spared ourselves a lot of misery”.
Joby gave a chortle.
“We could have done all the couple-y things people do”, he said “Down the supermarket or the DIY shop on a Saturday morning …”
“Holidays in Ireland”, said Kieran “I would have insisted upon that”.
“Sometimes perhaps”, said Joby “’Cept it wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t have had the bleedin’ nerve, too much of a fucking coward”.
“You would have if you were then like you are now”, said Kieran “We’d have grown old together”.
The canvas at the back of the wagon parted, and Bengo appeared holding a plate of Kieran’s lunch.
“You mean I can’t even come out for that!” Kieran exclaimed “I have to be incarcerated in here at meal times as well! Like hell!”
Kieran came out for lunch, and then flatly refused to get back in again. He said that even if he was thrown in the wagon he would jump straight out again, whether it was moving or not. Instead he went and sat at the front of the truck, next to Hillyard.
“The way he drives ent gonna be much of an improvement on the wagon!” said Joby, standing by the door.
“There’s nothing wrong with my driving”, said Hillyard “It’s a damn sight better than yours!”
“Now fellas come on”, said Kieran “There’s no point arguing about this, you know neither of you can hold a candle to me! Nobody drives like me”.
“Bloody good job and all!” said Joby.
“Are you going to hop on as well, Flower?” said Hillyard to Joby “Or do you prefer the mule?”
He knew full well Joby was brassed to bits with riding on the mule, and was happy to get in the passenger seat next to Kieran. Adam came over to give them some last-minute advice on setting up the camp ahead of the arrival of the rest of them.
“Yeah look we do know how to set up a camp, thanks”, said Joby “One day you’ll stop talking to us as though we’re little kids!”
“Well one day you might stop acting like you’re little kids!” Adam retorted.
“That won’t happen”, said Kieran, philosophically.
The track came to an end in a large open field, which was bordered all round by the forest. Of sign of nearby human habitation or civilisation, there was none. The field had been fallow for an awful long time. The truck-gang got a fire set up and the kettle slung over it. By the time the others arrived everybody was tired and hot, as the weather had got steadily muggier as the day went on. Kieran was cross that Brock was still with them, and Brock had developed an annoying habit of merely yelled “no!” when anyone asked him if he intended turning back yet. Bardin was even more cross that Hal was with them. Bengo and Farnol went into a huddle near the fire to discuss this tiresome state of affairs. Phrases like “he’s going to have to come to terms with it”, and “Hal’ll stay out of his way”, floated across to Bardin. He was clearly annoyed that they had been discussing his predicament in such a furtive way.
“Have you ever been of any use to anyone?” he snapped at Farnol.
“That’s not fair, Bardy”, said Bengo “Farnol was a very good comedian, some of his stuff was really cutting edge and …” “I’m not talking about the theatre, you silly great poof!” said Bardin “I’m on about NOW! I never see him doing any work, he’s always stood around gossiping!”
“Well I may be a silly great poof”, said Bengo “And Farnol might be useless, which he isn’t, but you’re just a bad-tempered old cow!”
Bengo stamped off and disappeared around the side of the truck. Bardin followed him, and found him screwing a grubby handkerchief into his eye.
“Alright, there’s no need to get all emotional”, said Bardin “I just wish we’d made Hal stay behind at Wolf Castle that’s all”.
“He wouldn’t have done, Bardy”, said Bengo “He wants to be part of our unit. You don’t have anything to worry about, I won’t let him hurt you, and I don’t think he will anyway”.
“He wouldn’t know where to begin!” said Bardin “He annoys me that’s all, just his presence annoys me”.
“Well Brock annoys me”, said Bengo “I don’t like the way he keeps winding poor Kieran up with that silly voice he puts on. He’s no bloody good at impersonations anyway, Joby impersonates Kieran much better than that. And he’s much more of an outsider than Hal is”.
“I suppose so”, said Bardin, grudgingly “Come on, cheer up, it’s a beautiful evening”.
“It would be if you were in a better mood!” said Bengo.
“Alright, I’ll get in a better mood, there’s no need to keep ON!” said Bardin.
“You go and apologise to Farnol as well”, said Bengo “He’s not useless, and you had no right to say he is. The energy he used to put into his routines was phenomenal …”
“Yes alright alright!” said Bardin “What are you trying to do, wear me down into submission?!”
“Anyway if anybody should have a grievance against Hal it’s me”, said Bengo “He was far more cruel to me when we were kids, not you …”
“BENGO!” Bardin yelled “Sometimes I can see why people murder their partners!”
Ransey appeared like a menacing shadow, and hovered there.
“It’s ok”, Bengo sighed “We’ve resolved our differences”.
“It doesn’t sound like it to me!” said Ransey.
“In the morning we need to find another path”, said Julian, standing looking out over the field with Hillyard “This is a good place to pitch camp for tonight, but it’s no good for much longer than that. There’s no fresh-water supply nearby”.
“I’m going to ride round the edges of the field first thing”, said Hillyard “And find out what other paths are there”.
“What if there aren’t any?” said Tamaz, who had been listening in nearby.
“Then we go backwards for a while”, said Julian.
“Back to the lake?” said Tamaz, aghast “Joby won’t like that at all!”
“Then we really mustn’t do it must we!” said Julian, sarcastically “I don’t mean right back to the lake, I mean take one of the other paths we’ve seen on our way down here”.
A disgruntled looking Tamaz went over to the camp-fire, where Adam was stirring something pungent in the biggest pot they had. Tamaz tugged on his pinny for attention.
“Yes, what is it, Freaky?” said Adam “I am rather busy, old love”.
“You’ve got to Do Something about Julian”, said Tamaz.
“Euthanasia?” Adam suggested.
“I’m being serious!” said Tamaz.
“I wasn’t entirely joking, dear!” said Adam “Sadly though, Patsy has somewhat misguidedly made it impossible!”
“He keeps making snide remarks about Joby”, said Tamaz “All the time. I don’t know why he’s getting at him”.
“Snobbery, pure and simple”, said Adam “Great snobbery. You have to make allowances, he can’t help it, he takes after his mother!”
Bardin had ordered that no one should go and answer the call of nature alone, so everybody had to shuffle off in pairs into the trees every time the urge came upon them. When Adam went, just before turning in for the night, he was joined by Julian.
“Go on then, what have I done now?” said Julian “I heard about the comment you made about me earlier. Tamaz made sure I heard about it!”
“Well if you’re hoping I’m going to be repentant, you’re very mistaken”, said Adam “You’ve asked for it, and I’m in the privileged position of being able to give it to you”.
“You’ll be in a privileged position alright if you’re not careful!” said Julian.
“And I’m meant to feel cowed by that am I?” said Adam “Freaky was right. You do keep making snide remarks about Joby, and it’s getting very boring!”
“For your information I’ve been very supportive of Joby these past few months”, said Julian “Who was it who made him a present of the wooden paddle for God’s sake?”
“Only because it excited you to think of him using it on Patsy, you canny old bastard!” said Adam “If you can’t get the kick yourself, you’ll find some way of getting it second-hand!”
“At least I’m honest about myself!” said Julian.
Adam gave a snort of disbelief.
“I admit I’m a snob”, said Julian “Whereas you cover it up with this great liberal attitude. It’s all codswallop. You’re far more patronising about Joby than I am. You carry on as though he’s the cute little peasant boy you find so useful to have around, particularly when you fancy a bit of rough!”
“I thought that was you and Hillyard actually!” Adam retorted “This is a ridiculous conversation!”
“You started it”, said Julian.
“No I didn’t, you did!” said Adam.
“Hey!” said Hillyard, appearing through the bushes carrying a hurricane lamp “For fuck’s sake, even Bengo and Bardin aren’t as bad as this!”
“Nonsense!” said Adam.
“If we were about to collide with another planet, you two’d be squabbling right up to the moment of impact!” said Hillyard “And all this over Joby and all! Who’d have thought that scraggy little mongrel could stir up such passion!”
“I was rather under the impression he stirred up rather a lot in you on the quiet”, said Julian “The great love of your life and all that”.
Adam gave a suspicious look at Julian.
“Behave yourself!” said Hillyard to Julian.
“Alright Hilly, you can go back to camp”, said Adam “We’ll be along very shortly”.
“Make sure you are”, said Hillyard, as a parting-shot “Or I’ll send Ransey along to fetch you!”
“Now what?” said Julian, looking at Adam.
“Is that what’s doing it?” said Adam “It’s not class at all, I was wrong. You get jealous because Joby occupies a special place in Hillyard’s heart”.
“Spare me the cod-psychology, Ada”, said Julian “It’s too late in the evening for that, and it’s been a long day”.
“I’m only trying to help, old love”, said Adam “You’re only human, in spite of what we might all think sometimes”.
“Thank you”, said Julian, dryly “Adam, if the truth be known, I get jealous of everybody at times. It seems there’s always somebody else ahead of me in the emotional pecking-order. And where you’re concerned, I’m way down the list, after Lonts, and Kieran, and Joby …”
“Oh Jules”, said Adam “It’s not a ratings system, old love. None of us think of it that way. We all need each other for different things”.
“And what do you need me for, that you don’t get with any of the others?” said Julian.
“We go back a very long way”, said Adam “That counts for an awful lot, I thought you knew that. We’ve had this conversation before, many years ago. There are things you understand about me that nobody else does”.
“Same here”, said Julian, gruffly.
“So what’s the stuff with Hillyard all about?” said Adam.
“Exactly what you said just now”, said Julian “I’m very fond of Hillyard, well I am of everybody, even Joby, believe it or not!”
“You can call it ‘love’ you know!” he said.
“Don’t push your luck!” said Julian “I don’t go in for these purpley passages that you enjoy. Hillyard is gloriously uncomplicated, he’s a man one can relax with so well. I suppose I simply don’t like him having these hidden, intense feelings for somebody else!”
“He’s always had a very soft spot for Joby”, said Adam “Right from the start. And I used to feel quite sorry for Hilly when he was very young, because Joby didn’t handle it well at all”.
“Joby never does when it comes to feelings of the heart!” said Julian.
“Oh he’s getting better”, Adam smiled “Finally!”
“It only took several thousand years!” said Julian.
When Hillyard got back to the camp he found Toppy fretting over a pile of used clothes, mainly shirts and underpants, all of which needed washing, but due to their location, Bardin had put an embargo on water being used for such unessentials, at least until they got closer to a reliable supply.
“Don’t worry about all that now”, said Hillyard “Come on, it’s time to turn in”.
He ushered Toppy into the tepee. Hal, Mutton Broth and Shag were sleeping in the wagon, some of the other Indigo-ites in the back of the truck, Brock had gone back to solitary splendour in his tent, and everyone else was in the tepee. Joby was reading a dog-eared paperback by the light of another hurricane lamp, and Kieran was curled up asleep in his sleeping-bag next to him.
“I’ve just had to break up the old dears”, said Hillyard to Joby “Having a right old barney out in the bushes”.
“Nothing unusual in that”, Joby grunted.
“All over you and all”, said Hillyard.
“Eh?” said Joby.
“Adam tearing Julian off a strip for always being sarky about you”, said Hillyard.
“I wish he wouldn’t bother”, said Joby “I don’t take much notice of what Julian says when he goes on like that. I just think ’public school prick’ and switch off!”
Hillyard looked down at Kieran indulgently, like a fond parent sneaking a look inside a crib at a sleeping baby.
“I wonder what goes through his head sometimes”, he said.
“Very little usually!” said Joby “How to sneak a fag without me finding out about it!”
“It must feel a funny thing being him”, said Hillyard “Knowing you can do some of the things you can do. There’s a lot about him we still don’t know. What he comes from and all that, REALLY I mean”.
“It’s strange, I just let all that wash over me”, said Joby “Praps it’s too big for me brain to take in, but he’ll always be Kieran to me”.
The night passed without incident, although its intense quietness was unnerving. The next day dawned gloriously, a perfect sunny spring day. Hillyard and Julian prepared to set off on a couple of the horses to ascertain where to pick up the beginning of the next track. Adam held the bridle of one of the horses as Hillyard clambered onto it.
“I’m a bit worried about the little ’un”, said Hillyard.
“Toppy?” said Adam “Oh he’s fine, old love. He just bustles along in his own little world”.
“I think he’d like to be settled down somewhere”, said Hillyard “It upsets him living like this”.
“If we can find a stream, a river or an old well, he’ll be alright”, said Adam “We won’t have to ration the water then”.
“We’re having to go looking for somewhere”, said Lonts, after Julian and Hillyard had ridden off “Just so that Toppy can do some washing!”
“I have explained this to you, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “I thought you understood”.
“Go on, tell him he’s being obtuse”, said Joby “That’s what you’d say to the rest of us!”
“Get on with the rest of the breakfasts, Joby”, said Adam.
Meanwhile Bardin was giving the clowns a pep-talk (another one) as to what would be expected of them when Hillyard found the next track. As this would effectively be along the lines of what they had been doing so far anyway they weren’t too impressed with this.
“I dunno why we have to worry about water anyway”, said Hoowie “We’ve got tonnes of alcohol, and we’ve got the goats for milk. I should know, you’ve constantly got me bleedin’ milking ’em!”
“We can’t live off alcohol and milk!” said Bardin “And some point even you are going to have to have a wash, and get rid of that bum-fluff on your chin!”
Hoowie hadn’t shaved for a few days, and a few wisps of flimsy hair were sprouting around his chin. Bengo came out of the tepee wearing the despised cardigan, and began to prance about behind Bardin doing an exaggerated mock-striptease. Bardin bustled him back into the tepee.
“How can I expect that lot to assume any kind of responsibility when you carry on like that when I’m giving a serious talk!” said Bardin.
“Serious talk, my arse!” said Bengo “You just want another excuse to give your vocal-chords an airing!”
“And you don’t need to wear that thing today”, Bardin continued “It’s going to be quite hot”.
“It might not be”, said Bengo “It might be quite cold in the forest”.
As it turned out Bardin was right. The forest was hot and humid. Hillyard and Julian had found a wide, grassy track which led in an almost exact direct line north. It was much wider than they had been used to so far, and Hillyard anticipated a day of easier travelling, for the time being at least. Once again, he, Kieran and Joby went on ahead in the truck. Even Joby lightened up a bit on this drive. There was a heady feeling of excitement about being lost in a remote part of the world uncharted on any map, free from any responsibility (save that needed to get by in one piece), the sun glinting through the trees, and Kieran next to him on the passenger seat. He would never have known anything like it back in their own time.
After quite some way they emerged from the forest again, and a whole new plain spread out ahead of them as far as the eye could see. There were mountains in the distance, and before that, swampland, trees, rocks and vast open spaces. The three of them got out of the truck and simply stared at it, awestruck, for a while. Practicalities set in though, and they set about getting a fire lit.
“It looks like something from Prehistoric times”, said Joby, referring to the view “You can almost expect to see pterodactyls flying about”.
“I don’t think so”, said Kieran “There’s a track going down there that’s been made by human traffic at some point, god knows when though”.
“You are such a little smart-aleck sometimes”, said Joby “It’s probably time for one of your daily chastisements, we might just have time to fit it in before the others get here”.
“You’ve got bags of time”, said Hillyard “That lot are gonna be ages yet. I’m enjoying the peace and quiet!”
A short while later Kieran walked around the back of the truck to find Hillyard doing a quick stock-take of some of their worldly goods loaded in the back. Kieran picked up a cask of red wine swathed in a wicker casing.
“Here”, Hillyard extracted a corkscrew from his trouser pocket “We can get started on that if you like”.
“Now that’s a bad sign, Hillyard”, Kieran teased “Carrying a corkscrew around with you. I mean to say, what if we lost it!”
“S’alright”, said Hillyard “Adam’s got a spare. He keeps it on him all the time at the moment, he says, ’cos he’s not too sure about Brock”.
“Is he planning on staying with us do you think?” said Kieran.
“Hope not”, said Hillyard “Too much testosterone for my liking. That sort of bloke gives me a headache, they have to be the first , the strongest ,and the best all the time”.
“Bit like Julian you mean?” said Kieran.
“Nah, Julian’s not like that”, said Hillyard “Too bloody lazy for a start!”
He got to work with the corkscrew.
“I expect you could do with some of this anyway”, he said “Old Joby’s got a bit of a wallop on him”.
“And that was a spank-lite as well!” said Kieran “You want to see him when he really gets going! I wish I’d seen you when you walloped him at the ’Blue Dial’ in Magnolia Cove!”
“Shows how angry he’d got me”, said Hillyard “I’ve never done anything like that before!”
“It didn’t do him any harm”, Kieran whispered.
Hillyard handed him the cask, and Kieran took a healthy swig from it.
“Good stuff”, he said, when he finally resurfaced.
“Here I’ve had an idea”, said Hillyard, in a very nudge-nudge-wink-wink kind of way “How’s about we all have a little siesta, if you know what I mean, in the back of the truck”.
“I don’t know what you’re being so furtive about”, said Kieran “We three have done that before!”
“Hangover from the days when Joby was still being uptight”, said Hillyard.
“Well he’s not now”, said Kieran “JOBY! Come over here, Hillyard’s had an idea!”
When the others caught up with them they were somewhat disconcerted to find the truck standing there, seemingly abandoned, and the camp-fire damped down nearby. For one appalling moment Adam thought they had all disappeared, until Julian snapped at him for being naïve, dismounted, and pulled open the back of the truck. The scare on finding the camp seemingly deserted had upset Adam though, and he took it out on Joby when the younger man finally emerged to help him get a meal ready.
“You’re just jealous”, said Joby “’Cos we had an afternoon in the back of the truck”.
“Of course I’m jealous!” said Adam “But also for one appalling moment I thought something had happened, it looked as though you had been abducted by aliens!”
“I’m gonna have to change this t-shirt”, said Joby, noticing a red wine stain which had escaped when he had been swigging from the bottle “I look like some old wreck in it”.
“Add it to Toppy’s washing-pile”, said Adam “That’ll upset him!”
Kieran came out of the back of the truck, looking even more wrecked. He hadn’t bothered getting dressed, had only put on his purple silk robe. He was feeling shaky. Whilst in a short, but intense sleep, he had dreamt that he had found a horse cut up into several different pieces and scattered over the nearby countryside. It had been a horribly graphic dream, reminiscent of the sick playing-cards Crowley had once sent him. Kieran had a feeling Angel was getting into his subconscious and playing nasty games there. Kieran didn’t want to take the risk though that these images of extreme sadism would be limited to his subconscious, and suggested that a vigil should be kept over the animals that night. He didn’t want the dream becoming reality. Also in the dream he had seen two demons running away from him down the path that led over the hinterland. Both were unmistakeably demons from their rotting teeth.
Bardin agreed to organise a vigil, the usual way they had of doing it, a rota of someone taking two hours at a time. Kieran cast a curious look at Brock, who was setting up his tent, and then went back to the truck to get dressed. Whilst he was standing at the back of it pulling on his clothes, Finia came over to him and asked unexpectedly:
“Was the horse dark in your dream?”
“The horse was dead”, said Kieran “Cut up into pieces”.
“I know”, said Finia, patiently “But was it dark? You must have noticed the colour of it”.
“Yes it was”, said Kieran “A black horse. Why, is it that significant of something?”
“In dream analysis”, said Finia “To see a dark horse is a sign that occult forces are at work near you”.
“That wouldn’t be anything new now would it!” said Kieran.
“You must take care”, said Finia, placing a little hand on his arm “You’ve said yourself, there are legions of demons, and all of them want to wish you harm”.
“They haven’t managed it so far!” said Kieran “That Brock fella now, has he given any sign of turning back yet?”
“He won’t go now”, said Finia “He’s come too far, he would have to travel all that way back on his own”.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance Hillyard would let him have the truck”, Kieran sighed “Not even if it meant a chance to get rid of the bugger?”
“That wouldn’t be a popular suggestion to make to Hillyard!” said Finia.
“No I know”, said Kieran “But some sacrifices are worth it!”
Kieran did try broaching the subject to Hillyard in the early hours of the morning, when he, Joby and Hillyard were doing the last animal-vigil. Hillyard, as was only to be expected, didn’t see even the prospect of getting rid of Brock would worth the sacrifice of his beloved truck. Kieran tried to argue that the truck could break down at any possible time anyway, never to be started again. That didn’t sway Hillyard either. Kieran was astute enough to realise when a situation was non-negotiable, and didn’t press the matter any further.
“What’s he getting out of being with us though?” he said “There isn’t a woman in sight!”
“He’s just scared to travel back on his own”, said Joby “I dunno why he didn’t bring a mate with him”.
“I don’t think it’s just that”, said Kieran “There’s something going on there, and I can’t put me finger on it”.
“I wonder what happened to those people”, said Hillyard “The ones we met in the pub just before Christmas, they were travelling through the forest to a house”.
“Yeah but as I’ve said before”, said Joby “They wouldn’t have been coming this far, they had to be there that night remember, and we’re ages into the forest”.
“We’ve come out the other end of the forest”, said Kieran.
They looked out over the swampy plain, which was saturated in the harsh glare of the full moon.
“Still looks like a Prehistoric landscape to me”, said Joby.
“Prehistoric or not”, said Hillyard “Tomorrow we have to find a water-source”.
First thing in the morning Joby took Kieran to a private part of the forest and whacked him with the leather paddle, known appropriately enough as The Whacker. There was no knowing what the day ahead would bring, and Kieran had to be tamed as much as possible. When he was trying to return The Whacker to his pack, Joby was embarrassed to find Brock watching him. Joby didn’t want Brock, or any outsider, knowing too much about Kieran’s Special Treatment. He had had no problem about spanking him in front of Hillyard yesterday, because Hillyard was a very old and dear friend, one of the family, (although Hillyard still, even after all this time, didn’t see how anyone could get any pleasure out of being beaten in cold blood!). Brock was a different matter.
“You’ll get tired of that”, said Brock “You’re not that way inclined, like he is”.
“I’ll do what needs to be done for Kieran”, said Joby “Can’t expect you to understand that I spose. You’d better get on with getting your tent down, we’re gonna be leaving soon”.
Brock retreated at Joby’s manner, and got on with the task. Joby went over to the camp-fire where Bardin was listening to Hillyard explaining how he, Joby and Kieran would go on ahead in the truck, as they had done the day before. Bengo walked past in the detested cardigan, and blew a raspberry at Bardin.
“What are you playing at, kid?” Hillyard asked Bengo a few minutes later. It might not have been entirely in character, but Hillyard sometimes assumed a sort of personal responsibility for Bengo, some of this was undoubtedly guilt because he felt had failed the little clown during Bengo’s early times with the Indigo-ites “You’re winding Bardin up constantly at the moment”.
“It’s to keep him on his toes”, said Bengo “Otherwise he keeps getting in a state about Hal all the time, at least by me driving him mad it keeps his mind concentrated. It’s what he needs”.
Hillyard decided that Bengo and Bardin could ride on the back of the truck for the next few hours. The noise and the rattle of the contraption would effectively shut them both up. The same couldn’t be said of Joby in the front seat, who had gone back completely on what he had said the day before, and had now become convinced that Brock was on the run.
“I bet you any money you like”, he said, as they trundled along the path beside the swamp “He’s got up to summat back in the village, and he’s had to clear out”.
“That doesn’t make sense”, said Kieran, sitting in the middle of them as usual “If he had to clear out suddenly why did he have such a big send-off at the pub the night before? I mean, talk about advertising that you’re going!”
“To fool everyone he was just going off on another job of work, acting as guide in the forest”, said Joby “If he’d acted all furtive, people might have suspected summat was up”.
“You’ve been reading too many old potboilers”, said Hillyard, behind the wheel.
“Can you think of better reason why he hasn’t gone home then?” said Joby.
“Yeah, he got spooked on the journey down, he‘s what you‘d call a big girl‘s blouse really“, said Hillyard “That’s all it is”.
Joby shook his head, not at all convinced. Hillyard pulled the truck to a stop.
“I’m just going to check the clowns are alright”, he said “Make sure they haven’t fallen off!”
He found Bengo and Bardin sitting on the tailgate at the back, both hanging onto the worn leather straps that hung from the roof.
“You two o.k then?” said Hillyard “You’re not finding it too heavy-going?”
“No it’s quite exhilarating”, said Bengo.
“You’re a bit quiet, Bardin”, said Hillyard.
“The way this thing’s been rattling about”, Bardin snapped “I suspect I have very few vocal-chords left in one piece!”
“If only I could believe that was true!” said Bengo.
“We’re going to have to find a place to stop soon”, said Hillyard “There’s quite a bit of cloud gathering towards the north, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were going to get a storm”.
“Nothing wrong with them”, said Hillyard, when he climbed back behind the wheel “Still squabbling, so they must be alright!”
For quite some while they had been speculating as to where this path was leading them. When it did finally come to a sort of petering out it wasn’t at all as they had expected. It came to an end at a small headland overlooking a sea. The track continued, in a fashion, to wind its way down a steep incline on the left-hand side to a rather grey slither of beach, bounded by rocks. A thick mist was rolling in from the horizon and steadily covering the sea. The Indigo-ites got out of the truck and stood staring blankly at the screen.
“Sea”, said Joby, eventually “How can there be sea here? We’re miles inland for crying out loud! We went into the hinterland, so what’s the sea doing here?”
“I don’t know”, said Hillyard “But I think we’d better start setting up camp, whilst we can still see what we’re doing”.
“Down on the beach?” said Bengo.
“No”, said Bardin “I think we’d better stay up here for now, it feels safer somehow. We’ll set up camp and wait for the others. When this mist clears again, we’ll go and see what’s through that gap there”.
He pointed at a sizeable gap in the rocks that bordered the beach.
They got the fire going, and waited impatiently for the others to join them. By this time the fog was pretty intense, and it was with great relief that they all greeted each other. Bengo did his usual trick at times like this of running round and embracing everybody, even Toppy, who was still grizzling about the lack of water nearby.
“There’s sea down there!” said Joby “Can’t you hear it?”
Toppy thought there was something dreadfully uncivilised about the idea of washing in the sea, and said so. Lonts sighed and shook his head sorrowfully at what he regarded as Toppy’s eccentric attitude towards life. No one wasted any time setting up camp, and getting the supper underway. By this time the fog was so dense that Hillyard rounded up all the hurricane lamps and arranged them in a circle around the fire, to help the cooks see what they were doing. Everybody turned in as soon as they were eating. Hal, Mutton Broth, Shag, Farnol and Rumble were to sleep in the back of the wagon, whilst Hillyard, Ransey, Julian and Mieps were to kip in the truck. Adam was concerned about the wagon-sleepers, and got the pistol filled with silver charms back from Brock to give to them.
“We’d be better off with this”, said Rumble, holding a rifle.
“Yes, but don’t hurt Patsy’s feelings”, said Adam, pressing the pistol onto him.
Everybody else (except Brock) was to sleep in the tepee, and Joby complained about how cramped it was.
“It’s like one of those old record-breaking attempts”, he said “How many people can you fit in a telephone box!”
He also thought it was a ridiculously early time to try and go to sleep.
“It can only be about seven-thirty!” he said.
“There scarcely seems much point staying up!” said Adam “Anyway, after all the fresh air you’ve had today you should have no trouble sleeping”.
It was certainly true that Joby barely had time to pull his bag up around him before he was asleep. After three hours of intense sleep though he woke up with dismaying abruptness, convinced he had heard a lion roaring in the near distance. He strained his ears to listen, but the sound didn’t come again, and he managed to convince himself that he had dreamt it, even so it had been a disconcerting experience, when they were so far out in the wilderness.
At daybreak they found that the mist had rolled back to the horizon, exposing a turbulent and slate-coloured sea, culminating in white horses constantly crashing against the slither of beach. The rocks which boarded the beach also seemed greyer in this light, set amongst a sort of sludge-coloured terrain. Joby stood on the small headland surveying the desolate scene.
“It’s all these strange noises that are getting to me”, he said to Hillyard “The train me and Bardin heard at the castle on the lake, and now the lion last night”.
“Lion?” Hillyard exclaimed.
“Well I’m not sure if I really heard it or not”, said Joby “I could have dreamt it, I really can’t be sure”.
“This is a terrible place”, said Kieran, quietly.
“Kiel?” said Joby, concerned.
“We’re very lucky we all have each other”, Kieran continued, cryptically “Others venturing out this way may not have been so lucky”.
There was no time to ponder this any further, as Bardin was rounding up a party to go and explore the immediate area. Himself, Kieran, Joby, Hillyard, Ransey, Rumble, Tamaz (as a sort of bizarre insurance policy), and Bengo, because he had looked so forlorn at the thought of being left behind. Mieps wanted to come as well, but Bardin decreed that the terrain didn’t look firm enough for her dodgy leg.
They went down to the beach and made for the gap in the rocks. Beyond it was another track, which wound away towards forest in the near distance. There was one solitary building along the track, a dilapidated two-roomed cottage built out of clapboard. The Indigo-ites wrenched open the front door and went inside to explore it. It contained not one single stick of furniture. A door at the back led out onto its own private quayside. A rotting wooden jetty was the anchor-point for a substantial barge which had been moored there for a very long time. They clambered aboard it gingerly, and found substantial space below the main deck. A large living area which contained only a table, two chairs and a stool. There was a cabin to the back, and beyond that what had evidently been used as a large storage space, as it still contained various bits and pieces to do with ship maintenance, and a few pots of paint, completely jammed up. Near the steps leading up to the main deck was a tiny cubby-hole, which, judging from the revolting heap of old bedding inside it, had obviously once been somebody’s rather cosy sleeping accommodation.
“We could do something with this”, said Hillyard, surveying the main room again “We’ve got more space below deck than we had on the old sloop. We could clear out that storage space and turn it into a cabin, THREE cabins think of that!”
“Two-and-a-quarter”, said Tamaz, who hadn’t liked the littlest room at all, it barely offered more space than he had had in the cage.
“Adam’ll like this room”, said Joby “After that poxy galley we had on the sloop!”
With a firm feeling of satisfaction the Indigo-ites decided to go back to the headland and tell the others what they had found. On their way back along the beach though they saw the roof of a building peeking out through some trees beyond the western end of the beach. With a mix of foreboding and curiosity they decided to investigate that as well. They discovered a substantial, stone-built house standing in a small clearing in the woods. The house was in remarkably good condition, no broken windows and the roof seemed to be intact. But for all that it was clearly not occupied. It exuded an overwhelming air of abandonment, the dark windows stared back at them as though daring them to come any further. For all its size and its relatively good condition, it offered a far less enticing prospect for accommodation than the old barge had done.
The Indigo-ites prowled around the outside of it cautiously, as though they were circling a slumbering wild beast. When they reached the far side they had a very nasty shock indeed. Hanging from one of the trees, upside down, was the naked body of a man. His head had been removed, and his feet were NAILED to a sturdy branch. Even more disturbing than this terrible sight, was the fact that the corpse was relatively fresh. Whatever maniac had done this shocking thing had done it fairly recently.
“Was it Angel who did this?” Tamaz asked Kieran, abruptly.
“I don’t know”, Kieran murmured “It doesn’t seem his style somehow”.
“Let’s not hang around here looking at it”, said Hillyard.
As they turned to leave Rumble noticed something lying on the ground underneath the body. It was a pink bead necklace, as though it had fallen from the man’s hand, or (gruesome thought) from his neck when the head was removed. Not knowing why he did so, Rumble picked it up and put it in his pocket.
When they returned round the house to the way they had come in, Bengo fainted. Tamaz gave a tut of annoyance at such un-robust behaviour, and helped Bardin to pick him back up and put him back on his feet.
“We really shouldn’t bring him with us at times like this”, said Tamaz “He’d be better off staying behind and just doing the cooking”.
“Be fair”, said Bardin, gently tapping Bengo’s face “We weren’t to know we were going to find a bloody corpse with its head off, were we!”
Bardin and Tamaz supported Bengo out of the forest and back to the beach.
“Tamaz”, said Bardin “Could Ghoomers have done that do you think?”
“Hanging up headless bodies is an old Ghoomer trick”, said Tamaz “It’s a form of execution, a warning to others”.
“I see”, said Bardin, feeling that a delayed reaction of being sick might overcome him at any moment.
“It doesn’t feel like that though”, Tamaz continued, to everyone’s surprise “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t feel like it was done by Ghoomers to me”.
There was a spectacular sunset that evening. The sky was streaked with vivid reds and pinks, and had the strange effect of turning the sea into a sort of maroon colour. Hillyard hung a pair of binoculars around his neck and set off for a nearby tree.
“Aren’t you a bit old to be climbing trees?” Adam asked, as Hillyard swung his comfortable bulk up through the branches.
“It’ll give us some idea of the surrounding countryside”, said Hillyard.
Adam and Joby watched with some concern as Hillyard settled himself on a sturdy branch, and applied the binoculars to his eyes. The forest up beyond the beach and the stone house was incredibly dense, but in the far distance a river snaked its way through the trees, eventually meeting up with the sea.
Joby meanwhile went into the tepee to check up on Kieran, who he had sent to have a lie-down before supper. He found tangled up in his bed-roll and clearly in a great deal of distress, like a fractious baby.
“Hey hey hey” , said Joby, kneeling down and trying to untangle him from his blanket “What’s all this about? I sent you to have a rest, not get yourself in a state!”
(Joby would have made an excellent Carer).
“It’s demons who did that terrible thing in the forest, Joby”, Kieran cried.
“Well somebody pretty unpleasant at any rate!” said Joby.
“This place is a demons’ area”, Kieran went on “This is their land, they’ve taken control of it, and we’re in it”.
“That’s why it’s important for you to rest!” said Joby “You’re not gonna be much help to us if we come across any of ‘em at the moment are yer!”
“Demons are legion”, said Kieran “People don’t realise how many of them there are. I don’t think even Aleister realised. They come in all guises, many are hybrids made up of people and animals”.
“Yeah?” Joby grunted, unenthusiastically, as he was more concerned with getting Kieran’s bedding into a comfortable state “I was gonna say it was certainly an animal who did that crucifixion down there, ’cept that’d be unfair to most animals!”
“I saw a drawing of one once”, said Kieran “Back in our time. It was sketch somebody had done, long ago, back in the 1820s I think. A very crude sketch, like a simple cartoon figure, but it sent chills down me. I couldn’t help feeling that the person who had drawn it … had drawn it from life”.
“I saw a photo of the Devil’s handwriting once”, said Joby “In some old paranormal book. I didn’t really believe it at the time, you just think ’oh yeah?’ sort of thing, but it still sends a bit of a shiver down you. But since, having met Angel, well it does seem to tie in”.
Kieran blew his nose lustily. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his long hair was in dire need of a wash, but for all that, he still looked beautiful. Joby found it nothing less than incredible.
“Hillyard’s up a tree”, he said.
“What’s he doing up a tree?” Kieran couldn’t help but laugh.
“Wants to look at the surrounding countryside”.
“That’s not a bad idea”, said Kieran “Perhaps I should do that meself”.
“It’d be a lot easier on the poor old tree if you did!” said Joby “Now are you gonna be alright? I don’t wanna leave Adam to do all the supper on his own. Bengo’s not being much use at the moment, he’s in a sort of state of shock after seeing that carcass earlier”.
“Poor wee Bengo”, said Kieran “Send him in to have a chat to me”.
“That’s if Bardin’ll let him”, said Joby “You know what those two are like when they’re deeply upset about summat, they sort of retreat together, mentally. Don’t want the public to see behind the painted smiles I spose”.
“They’re not in the focking theatre anymore!” said Kieran “Send him in to see me”.
Hillyard, now down from the tree, was firing on all cylinders. The discovery of the barge had ignited his imagination, and he had grand plans for it. The next day, he decided, he would go over it again. He was convinced that somewhere on the boat must be a water-converter. It would be a godsend to them if there was. Bardin was tense.
“Does he want to take over as Captain?” he hissed at Bengo “I’ll give him my cap and whistle if he likes!”
“He wouldn’t want them, Bardy!” Bengo retorted.
“Look, I can’t help it if I make decisions faster than you!” said Hillyard to Bardin.
“Oh blimey”, said Joby, looking at Bardin “Watch out, Stromboli’s about to erupt!”
“At some point”, Ransey whispered to Joby “It will have to be pointed out to Hillyard that if we are going to travel by the barge, then the truck will have to be left behind”.
“Rather you ’en me!” said Joby.
Bardin disappeared into the tepee, followed by Bengo.
“How dare he say that to ME!” Bardin exclaimed “I’d like to see him organise an entire show from scratch in no time at all, and working with sub-standard material like THAT!”
Bardin gestured vaguely to the outside world with his hand, but Bengo knew, from long experience, that he was referring to the other clowns.
“Well you are being silly about it, Bardy”, said Bengo “In fact you’re being a great big prima donna, and it’s embarrassing!”
“Are you feeling better now, Bengo?” said Kieran.
“Oh Kieran!” Bengo gasped “Oh we’re disturbing you, we must leave at once”.
He shot Bardin a boot-faced “this is all your fault” look. Bardin blushed and looked sheepish. Bengo hustled him back out of the tepee.
“Those two get worse!” said Joby “They couldn’t get anymore bonkers if they tried!”
Something extraordinary happened the following morning. The sun came out. The Indigo-ites had almost come to believe that this area was permanently swathed in gloom. Instead the omnipresent sea-mist evaporated completely, and the sun beat down on the sea, turning it blue instead of grey. Their immediate surroundings still looked bleak and barren, but on the horizon an island had appeared. Hillyard went up the tree again with the binoculars. He reported back that the island seemed much more fertile than the area they were in, crammed with vegetation. Dominating the island was a rocky mountain, and the sun almost seemed to bathe it in a kind of halo. The Indigo-ites became more determined than ever to get the barge working, and get over to the island, away from this demon-infested spot.
In the meantime more practical measures had to be employed. Toppy was anxious to get some washing done. Everyone trooped down to the beach after breakfast and washed themselves and their clothes in the surf. Adam said that at last this would make Toppy content. Lonts received this news gloomily, as though Toppy in a state of happiness was something too unbearable to be borne. It was decided to vacate the dreary headland, and move the truck, the wagon and the animals across the beach to the wooden cottage, and thus then prepare the barge for full use. Kieran was sitting on the main deck, with a towel round his shoulders, and his hair drying in the sun, when he announced that he wanted to go back over to the stone house, and see if something could be done about giving the body a decent burial.
“But it’s nailed to the fucking tree, Kiel!” Joby protested “How do you think you’re gonna get it down?!”
“Well perhaps say a few words over it then”, said Kieran.
Joby knew from long experience that it was useless trying to argue with Kieran when he was like this. He decided though that few of the others should return with them, it was far too distressing an experience. In the end only themselves, and Ransey, went across to the clearing in the forest. The windows in the stone house seemed to stare back at them more blankly than ever, and they discovered, unnervingly, that however close you got to them, you couldn’t see inside.
Far more disturbing things were to come though. The body had disappeared. Somebody somehow had managed to un-nail it from the tree. On the ground beneath where it had hung, along with the congealed blood, were the shattered remains of several glass goblets. It appeared that some kind of horrible ritual had taken place with the cutting down of the body. A toast had been drunk, and the goblets smashed on the ground, Cossack-style. Joby began to tremble, and, to his own embarrassment, he began to cry.
“Kieran, that’s enough”, said Ransey “There’s nothing you can do here”.
“We’ll take Joby back to the barge”, said Kieran.
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said all day!” Ransey barked.
Joby was taken into the stateroom cabin on the barge and put to bed. The barge itself actually seemed to be taking on some very comfortable kind of habitable appearance. There had been a gentlemanly argument between Kieran and Bardin earlier as to who should have the stateroom. Kieran had argued that Bardin as Captain should have it, Bardin had argued that Kieran, who needed lots of rest, should have it. In the end, Joby’s bad turn settled the argument.
“I’ve brought some brandy in for you”, said Kieran, helping Joby to sip from the glass “Isn’t it nice I get to nurse you for a change?”
“Great”, said Joby, unenthusiastically.
“Adam’s getting up a hot water bottle for you as well”, said Kieran.
“God, he’ll be making me wear a pink frilly bed-jacket next!” said Joby. “Now don’t spoil it for him”, said Kieran “He was very concerned about you”.
“I hope he gave you a right telling-off!” said Joby “You and your saying a few words all the time!”
Kieran adopted a disarmingly meek posture.
“Would you like a drop more brandy?” he said.
Adam came into the room with the hot water bottle. Joby promptly chucked it out of the bunk.
“Now really that’s quite enough!” said Adam, retrieving the item.
“Well I wanna get out of here”, said Joby “I don’t mean this barge, I mean this entire area. It’s giving me the hump! Big time!”
“We will be soon”, said Adam “It won’t be long now. Ransey and Hillyard are getting the engine sorted out, and the water converter. Rome wasn’t built in a day you know”.
Julian’s voice could be out in the living area, sounding even more strident than normal.
“Oh no!” said Joby, in alarm.
“It’s alright”, said Adam “I don’t think he’s going to come in here”.
He was wrong. Julian came into the stateroom, with Bengo hanging on behind him, beating on his back with his fists. He looked like a puppy trying to restrain a Great Dane.
“Pack that in!” said Julian, shaking him off “Or I’ll give you such a spanking you won’t be able to sit down for a month!”
“What is it, Jules?” Adam sighed.
“Kieran”, said Julian “Anymore nonsense like today and you’ll get another thrashing, you ignore me at your peril”.
“Please don’t thrash Kieran like you did that time, Julian”, Bengo pleaded “He’s so tiny”.
“Rubbish!” said Julian “The whole point of this trip was to make sure that he rested, and instead he goes charging all over the countryside, digging up fresh problems. You stay on the barge from now on, unless given permission otherwise, and you don’t speak even unless you absolutely have to”.
“I can’t do that!” Kieran protested.
“Oh Julian really!” said Adam.
“There is no one operating the galley at the moment”, said Julian “All three of you in here, acting completely self-indulgent! I don’t know why Joby needs to have a rest, work will be the best thing for him, take his mind off it all”.
“I wish it could take me mind off you!” said Joby.
“Joby dear, we must take his advice”, said Adam “If anyone’s an expert on self-indulgence it’s Julian!”
When the water-converter was fixed, Ransey filled up an old barrel with desalinated water. Adam went up on deck late afternoon and had a full wash in it. He took the opportunity at the same time of having a chat with Brock.
“No one is expecting you to travel back on your own now”, he said “Not after what we’ve seen in the woods. But really Brock, if you’re going to stay with us, you need to integrate with us more”.
“What do you mean?” Brock exclaimed.
“I don’t mean what you’re thinking!” said Adam “I mean stop being the outsider so much. It’s very hard to do on a boat at the best of times, and we have enough on our plates at the moment without worrying who it is we’ve really got in our midst. Are you on the run from something you’ve done back in the village?”
“On the run?” Brock laughed “I’m not a fugitive from justice, Adam!”
“Well I confess we were starting to wonder, old love”, said Adam.
“I’ve left my wife”, said Brock, abruptly.
“Your wife?” said Adam “But I thought you were the big stud of the village, I had no idea you were married as well!”
“The marriage has been dead for years”, said Brock “But it’s hard to split up in a place like that. Unless one of you wants to leave the area completely. Well that’s what I’ve decided to do. Her and her damned mother made my home life hell”.
“So you’ve just done a flit?” said Adam “Without telling her? Not exactly gentlemanly was it!”
“She isn’t a lady!” said Brock “And her mother certainly isn’t!”
“Even so”, said Adam “There must have been an easier way, surely?”
“You don’t know anything about women, Adam”, said Brock.
“Maybe not”, said Adam “But I know a great deal about men, and it’s cowards who behave as you have. That’s the trouble with you testosterone-charged lot, you can’t cope with anything emotionally!”
They were distracted from this somewhat fraught conversation by Hillyard and Ransey emerging from the wooden cottage, where they had been digging up the floorboards. They were going to use these to lay across the jetty and make it safer to move the animals across. Unfortunately, due to restricted deck space, the truck wasn’t to be a part of it. Hillyard bemoaned the utter waste of leaving it behind, but they had come so far now, that it wouldn’t even be reasonable to expect Brock to use it. And after what he had just said to Adam, it was very unlikely he would want to anyway!
Julian was up at dawn the next day. This phenomenon had never been observed before, and it filled the others with something like dismay. The truth was though that Julian wanted to get everybody away from the area as soon as possible.
“Really Jules this is quite extraordinary”, said Adam, in the grey light of the living area.
“Do you want to hang around here any longer than is necessary?” Julian snapped “Where’s Captain Birdseye? Having a lie-in I suppose?”
Bengo and Bardin had spent the night in the little cabin by the steps, the one that had been nicknamed The Glory-Hole by one and all. This dark, minuscule space had turned out to be an unlikely romantic spot. This was simply because Bengo was delighted to be back on a boat again, and listening to the water lapping against its hull. Wolf Castle had been marvellous, and having such a huge room as The Red Room, and the massive four-poster all to themselves, had been little short of extraordinary, but nothing could beat boat-life. This truly was Living with a capital L.
“Come along, no lounging around today”, said Julian, whipping back the covers on their bunk and slapping Bardin’s backside “You have to be up being Captain, and you”, he said to Bengo “Have to be Galley-Slave!”
Bengo giggled, but Bardin was feeling cross at this gross act of lesse-majeste. Nothing could dent Bengo’s enthusiasm at being back on-board a boat again, although the evening before he had got a bit emotional at the thought of Brock’s abandoned wife.
“That’s what I did to Bardy”, he had wept “Just went off and left him just like that. Oh what must she be feeling at this moment?”
“Celebrating”, said Joby “If she’s got any sense!”
Toppy had merely watched the grubby handkerchief being once more applied to Bengo’s eyes, and became more determined than ever that he was going to get his hands on it soon.
“We’re travelling properly now, Bardy”, said Bengo, when Julian had swept out of the room and up onto deck “Or we will be soon, isn’t that exciting?”
Bardin grunted in reply. He pulled open the door and shouted out : “Mutton Broth, bring me a jug of hot water!”
“Why can’t I do that for you?” said Bengo “If you want a personal dresser, I’ll do it”.
“You’ve already got enough to do”, said Bardin “You can’t be in two places at once, so stop trying to hog all the roles! Anyway, I’m determined to get some use out of that lot. They needn’t think they’re getting a free ride around here”.
Mutton Broth scuttled into The Glory-Hole with a jug of hot water.
“When I’ve finished”, said Bardin “You’re to come back in here and tidy it up, is that understood?”
Mutton Broth nodded nervously. Bengo looked disgusted at him.
“That’s the only way to treat them”, said Bardin, after Mutton Broth had scuttled out again “They respect a firm hand, anything else just confuses them. This is the way to get results. And next time Toppy washes my underwear, tell him to put more starch in my shorts”.
“With pleasure!” Bengo growled.
Hillyard and Ransey took a couple of the horses for a final bit of exercise in the forest, staying at this end of it, and avoiding the stone house end. They went armed, just in case. Hillyard had a poignant few moments watching the sun through the trees, before they returned. The silence everywhere was oppressive. It didn’t help matters that they knew The Demons must be well aware of their presence in the neighbourhood, and may even have been watching them at that moment.
When they returned Rumble was sitting up on the main deck. He had been twanging on his banjo, with the pearl necklace entwined around his wrist when the string connecting the beads had snapped, and scattered all over the place. He had collected as many as he could, and then, on instinct, held one of them up to the sun. The image contained in the bead was foggy, and the mist swirled around in the pink hue constantly, but occasionally it cleared very briefly, to reveal star-like shapes, and the pink image of a mountain on an island, exactly the place where they were planning to go.
As was only to be expected it was an emotional Hillyard who bid farewell to The Truck. He stood pressing his hand against the side of it as though it was the coffin of a much-loved friend. Joby was sent over to bring him back to the barge.
“Come on, mate”, said Joby “We’ve gotta get off now”.
“It’s been with us for so long”, said Hillyard “We had it at The Bay, and when we stormed Starhanger”.
“I think ‘stormed’ is putting it a bit strong!” said Joby “There’ll be other trucks, and you’ll get just as sentimental about them I spect”.
“Yeah, if we ever get to civilisation to buy one!” said Hillyard.
“We had to disappear, we had no choice”, said Joby “Kieran’s not well”.
“I know”, Hillyard sighed “He should be resting more than he is”.
“He will be”, said Joby “From now on”.
He took Hillyard’s arm and made to gently lead him away.
“And to think”, Hillyard sobbed “We’ve got to leave it here for That Lot! That fucking bunch of no-hoper sadistic bastards!”
He yelled these remarks at the surrounding countryside. Although nobody could be seen, the feeling of being watched was overwhelming. At least it spurred Hillyard on to return to the barge.
The island they were making for was on the distant horizon, nearly 20 miles out at sea. It would take them a few hours to reach it, but at least by then Demon Land, as they christened it, would be an anonymous blur in the distance. Temperatures soared in the sunshine, and those that didn’t have vital jobs to do, took themselves up onto the deck. Hillyard though went into the big cabin to be by himself for a while. Kieran was also ordered to lie down in the stateroom. When he protested Joby gave him a couple of smacks with The Whacker until he agreed to do as he was told.
When Kieran was bedded Joby and Adam put their feet up in the living area, and idly chatted. After the bleakness of Demon Land the barge felt safe, like a large, warm bubble bobbing over the sea. Bengo though was having a crisis. Mutton Broth had taken on his new responsibilities as Bardin’s personal valet with great gravitas. The Glory-Hole had been cleaned within an inch of its life, Bardin’s shaving-tackle set out on the wash-stand as though they were holy relics on an altar, and Bardin’s newly-washed clothes smoothed and folded on the bed. All this was deeply impressive to the other clowns (except Bengo). Toppy though took the whole thing as a personal affront. As far as he was concerned valeting was a highly-skilled job, acquired only after years of intense training. That an uncouth, rough little guttersnipe like Mutton Broth (in his opinion that is) could pick this up as though he had been born to it was little short of an insult. Adam tried to remind him that the clowns had always had to be very organised and disciplined, and keep their personal props in good order, but this fell on stony ground. For once it seemed Bengo and Toppy were united on something.
Bengo came out of The Glory-Hole and kicked the steps before going up them to the deck.
“Oh dear!” said Joby, sipping his tea.
Up on deck Bengo stripped down to his red flannel drawers, put on his battered sun-hat, and lay on deck, pointedly ignoring all the other clowns. He managed to keep up this austere front until the island came closer, and then the excitement of it all inevitably got as much to him as it did to everyone else. Beyond the island lay yet more sea, stretching ahead to an unbroken horizon. The island seemed to sit like some lost outpost on the edge of oblivion, like Pluto’s moon, Charon, at the edge of the Solar System. It was much smaller close-to. A sandy beach led up to the little stub of rocky mountain, its base surrounded by dense patches of vegetation. Large rocks led out into the sea, and these were deemed a good place to moor the barge.
The Indigo-ites disembarked and clambered over these rocks excitedly and with great glee. They were safely out of the way of Demon Land, and for them that was all that mattered. Brock was less content with the situation. It wasn’t just that there was no sign of civilisation on the horizon, there was no sign of ANYTHING on the horizon. They had disappeared into oblivion as effectively as if they had disappeared into a black hole. This was all very well for the Indigo-ites, he felt, they had the whole of eternity to play with. It wouldn’t matter to them if they spent years here, decades even, but for him it was a different matter. He wanted to build a new life for himself, but this wasn’t what he had had in mind. The mood of celebration passed him by completely. Instead anxiety gnawed away at him.
The Island itself was also unsettling, though in a different way from Demon Land. On exploring it they had found flowers in the fertile patch at the bottom of the mountain, deep, crimson flowers that no one had ever seen before. The only plants in fact that were familiar were, inexplicably, a row of sunflowers. The strange plant life, and the extreme natural silence of the place, only made Brock feel even more disturbed than ever. There was something very Odd about this place. That evening they lit a fire on the beach and had a sort of barbecue, minus any roasting meat. It was a deliciously festive atmosphere, but Brock still couldn’t shake off his unease.
Adam could sense all this, and helped him to make up his bed-roll on the floor of the living-area when they all turned in. Brock was grateful for his kindness, but in spite of all the fresh air he had had that day, it still looked as though a sleepless night beckoned. Because they knew nothing whatsoever about the area, the night-time vigils over the animals was still in place. Hillyard was to take the last shift at 4 a.m, and soon after he went up on deck, Brock decided to join him.
“Glad you didn’t turn out to be a crim, mate”, said Hillyard, as they sat up on deck in the early dawn “That was all Joby’s fault that was, he reads too many bloods”.
“I didn’t decide to run away until the last minute, virtually”, Brock confessed “Originally I was just going to act as guide”.
“See me out of the village?” Hillyard laughed “You had nothing to worry about there. I keep it all in the family these days, have done for years now”.
“It was that last evening in ’The Wild Man’”, Brock continued, reflectively “The barmaid joked at one point that anyone would think I was disappearing for good, all the fuss that was being made, and I guess that put the idea in my head. At first I was going to see you lot down to the lake, and then make out as though I was returning home, but once I was out of sight of you all, I was going to simply take a different track. But things got so disturbing on the way down that I lost heart”.
“And now you must wonder what you’ve let yourself in for!” said Hillyard “Adam reckons you’re worried we’re going to stay here for a long time, but don’t worry, we’re not. This is just a convenient, safe stopping-point, and then I expect we’ll head off out there, and see what’s what”.
They fell to talking about Kieran. Brock said he still remained a mystery to him.
“He’s a peculiar little fella”, said Brock “Never met anyone quite like him before. What did you think of him when you first met him?”
“Not much, to be honest!” said Hillyard “I was dazzled by how good-looking he was, but that was the trouble you see. I’d seen so many pretty boys back in the City, all silky-haired, and butter-wouldn’t-melt sort of thing, and before you’d know it, they’d practically have the marrow out of your bones! I thought, with those looks, he’s bound to be the same! It only took a few days to put me right though. When you’re with someone 24 hours a day, living and travelling rough, as we were then, you’d soon get to see if there was anything different below the image. But no, with Kieran what you see is what you get. I was very pleasantly surprised let’s say”.
“But all this supernatural stuff …” said Brock.
“You have to accept it, it’s the only way”, said Hillyard “He’s got some extraordinary power inside him. He can do incredible things with it. But it also takes a lot out of him, that was the whole point of this trip. Years ago, when he first fought Angel up by the Skirra Fludd Lighthouse, I had to go and fetch him when it was all over. He was in a terrible state, really badly beaten-up, as weak as a kitten. When I first saw him I got scared, thought he’d never pull through it, but he did. He always does, in the end, but he needs a lot of care, and that’s what we give him”.
Hillyard dozed for a while after this, and Brock kept watch. In the half-light of the dawn he saw something strange on the beach. A figure emerged from the mysterious garden and sat down on the sand, looking across at him. The figure was naked, and was clearly a woman. She had enormous, pendulous breasts, and what could only be called an Amazonian physique, tall with finely-toned arms and legs. Her hair was scraped back off her face. Her entire body though was encased in a greenish aura, as though she had smeared herself all over with a green phosphorous paint. Brock must have made a noise without realising it because Hillyard woke up.
“You alright, mate?” he asked.
Brock stared blankly at the beach. The green woman had gone. As best he could he told Hillyard what he had seen.
“I think the sooner we get you to civilisation the better!” Hillyard joked.
“Do you think I imagined it then?” said Brock, as a genuine question. He didn’t completely trust anything he saw and heard these days.
“I wouldn’t like to put money on it”, said Hillyard “This is a strange area”.
“You can say that again!” said Brock.
It rained that morning, it rained heavily for a couple of hours. Everybody had to go below deck, and hope for it to finish. Bengo went and had a lie-down on the bunk in The Glory-Hole, and lay there watching, with a disgruntled down-turned clown’s mouth, as Mutton Broth did a bit of dusting.
“I like to feel I can do something useful”, he said “I ent never done nothing useful before. All I got was thrown around the stage all the time”.
“My heart bleeds!” said Bengo “At least you didn’t have to keep taking pie-hits!”
“I’ve had my fair share”, said Mutton Broth, self-righteously.
“Not as many as me”, said Bengo “No one’s had as many as me, not in the entire history of clowning!”
“That’s ’cos you’re cute”, said Mutton Broth “Always got spoilt by everybody”.
“Not by you lot!” said Bengo.
“No, but everybody else did!” said Mutton Broth “ I remember the bloke in the cafeteria always used to save you a spicy bun. Bardin used to complain you’d never shed your puppy fat at that rate!”
“I don’t want you in here now”, said Bardin, coming into the room and jerking his thumb towards the exit “Clear off until I send for you”.
Mutton Broth scuttled off obediently.
“Is he your fag these days?” Bengo snapped.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Bardin, sitting down on the edge of the bunk and beginning to take off his boots “It’s claustrophobic below deck when it’s like this”.
“Particularly with you around!” Bengo muttered, and turned over to face the wall.
“I was hoping when you said you were coming in here”, said Bardin “That you’d be lying here in a state of anticipation!”
Bardin’s foreplay may not be the most subtle in the world, but it did the desired trick. Bengo couldn’t help but start getting aroused.
“At least Mutton Broth can’t service you in that way”, he said “I hope!”
“Oh do me a favour!” said Bardin “You’d get more satisfaction out of a draught-excluder!”
The rain cleared late morning, and the deck steamed and sparkled in the watery sunlight. A rainbow had appeared behind the island, and gave the scene even more enchantment. Too much for Brock’s peace of mind. After a bad night’s sleep he decided to have a nap. As it wasn’t really practical to have him snoring on the floor of the living area during the day, the clowns turned over The Glory-Hole for his temporary use.
Meanwhile the clowns, Lonts, Tamaz and Joby (mainly to keep an eye on Tamaz) decided to explore round the back of the island. The water was very shallow here, as though the island was resting on some broad underwater plateau. They could paddle out for quite some way. Lonts sat majestically on a rock and gazed out at the scene. The clowns indulged in some very vigorous horse-play, the point of which seemed to be to get Bengo as wet as possible. This went on until Lonts boomed at them to “stop picking on Bengo!” This had the desired effect (Bengo was quite awestruck by it), and instead an extraordinarily sedate game of Frisbee took place instead. Tamaz was poking around in a rock-pool with his little fishing-net, although Joby voiced concerns that he was extremely unlikely to catch anything worthwhile.
After a while Tamaz realised it was futile, and joined Joby in exploring around the rocks on the beach. Behind one they uncovered the unwelcome sight of a some charred human bones, sticking half out of the sand. They decided it was time to leave the island behind them.
Kieran had been in a deep sleep in the stateroom for most of the morning. When he woke up it was to hear the engine running and he immediately bellowed for Joby.
“The engine’s running”, said Kieran “We’re moving”.
“Brilliant deduction Holmes!” said Joby, carrying in a jug of hot water “I don’t know how you do it, with your marvellous razor-sharp intellect!”
“Where are we going?” Kieran demanded to know.
“Dunno”, said Joby “We’re sort of heading out into oblivion, and see where it takes us. We decided to leave the island ‘cos me and Tamaz found a body on the beach”.
“A body on the beach?” Kieran exclaimed.
Joby described what they had seen.
“Jayz!” said Kieran.
“So you see the island wasn’t anymore safe than Demon Land was, in the end”, said Joby “Now you can stop getting excited about everything. At this rate we’ll have to find you a nursing-home for mad old Irishmen!”
“I can’t help getting excited when nobody tells me anything!” said Kieran.
“The last time you were involved you made us go and look near the stone house again!” said Joby.
He whipped away the bed-covers, Kieran pulled them back again.
“I’m gonna give you a bed-bath”, said Joby.
“We’re going to be calling you Matron at this rate!” said Kieran.
There was a sudden confusion of noise coming from above on deck. Footsteps, thumps and raised voices. Joby ran out of the cabin, and Kieran, dragging on the nearest garment to hand, a nightshirt, ran after him. Up on deck they found the others stood watching like spectators at a particularly tense football match, as Ransey and Hillyard, holding the long poles that were used to help steer the barge into a mooring position, were trying to harpoon a long, pink snake and then chuck it over the side.
“What the hell was that?” said Kieran, when this fiddly feat had been achieved.
“Don’t know, I didn’t recognise it”, said Ransey, as though he was a world-expert on snakes.
“It must have got on from the island”, said Hillyard “Ugly little bastard, like a big worm, had no eyes”.
At nightfall they dropped anchor in the middle of nowhere. The silence was deafening. Bengo lay on their bunk in The Glory-Hole and studied his kneecaps intently, as though they were the most fascinating thing he had ever seen. They were certainly brown, tanned in the sunshine. Bardin came into the room, snapped “not now, go to bed!” at Mutton Broth, who had been almost frantic to come in and help him get ready for sleep.
“I sometimes wonder what I’ve done giving him that job”, Bardin said to Bengo, when they were finally alone.
“I could’ve warned you about that”, said Bengo.
“Alright, Smart-Arse!” said Bardin, undressing down to his shorts.
“He’s desperate to be made useful apparently”, said Bengo.
Bardin growled something unintelligible, except it didn’t sound very complimentary to Mutton Broth. He found that Bengo was sitting on the bedding, and making it impossible for Bardin to straighten the bed out to his satisfaction.
“Look, stand up so I can do this properly”, he ordered him.
Reluctantly Bengo got off the bunk, so that Bardin could straighten out all the bedding.
“Alright you can get back in now”, Bardin snapped again “I don’t know why I have to keep giving you instructions. It was like this the first night we ever spent together. I had to tell you to put your nightshirt on, I had to tell you to get into bed …”
“That was because I was so rigid with terror I couldn’t do anything!” said Bengo “You scared the crap out of me!”
They got back into bed, this time to Bardin’s satisfaction, and he turned the lamp down.
“I wonder where we are”, said Bengo, in the darkness “All this sea doesn’t make sense”.
“Perhaps we’re in another dimension”, said Bardin “That’s the only thing that DOES make sense as far as I can see! It’s Brock I feel a bit sorry for. He doesn’t have our advantages, and we also have each other. He must be afraid”.
“Yes”, said Bengo, sadly “After all, I guess it wouldn’t bother us too much if we were stuck around in oblivion for very long, but for him …”
“We’ve got to find our way out, and deliver him somewhere”, said Bardin “That’d be the best for all of us”.
A fog came down the next day, and with the obliterating of the sun, the temperatures plummeted. Thicker clothes were reluctantly put on again. Bardin reassured Brock that they had been in this situation before, and that when the fog had cleared they would probably find that they had drifted somewhat. His words were proved to be very true.
It was Bengo who first sighted the mainland when the fog dissipated. He had been stumbling around the deck in his duffel-coat and one of Julian’s old scarves, when he noticed a long dark shape slowly appearing through the mist. The weather was acting in an extraordinary fashion. The fog was slowly clearing around the barge, but the sun had come out and glared fully at the land that was appearing. The land was a long, dark, sludge-shape, but the rocks that ran out into the sea sparkled like crystal. Bengo raised the alarm in great excitement. Bardin ordered “full speed ahead!” (something he had always wanted to do).
As they got closer to the land something even more extraordinary happened. Dolphins and porpoises appeared and danced alongside them, as though giving them a grand escort into harbour. It was a few moments of intense ecstasy. Bengo ran down the quarterdeck steps and into the living area, where Brock was staring gloomily into a cup of tea.
“Come and have a look, Brock”, he said “This could be your new home!”
“And what about you lot?” said Brock.
“Oh it doesn’t matter what happens to us”, said Bengo, airily “We’ve got each other”.
He was overcome with remorse as soon as he had said it. Brock scarcely needed reminding that he was now alone in the world. Bengo ran into The Glory-Hole and kicked the wash-stand. “Hey!” said Joby, following him in “We haven’t got much in the way of fixtures and fittings you know, and we’ll have even less if you keep going around kicking it all the time!”
“I’m sorry, Joby”, said Bengo, looking hilarious in his duffel-coat and borrowed muffler “But I was really rubbing his nose in it then, wasn’t I?”
“Look it was his decision to dump his wife and do a runner”, said Joby “Nobody else did it for him did they! He’s made his bed, now he’s gotta lie on it”.
“You sound just like your Gran, Joby!” Kieran shouted through the door.
“Shut up, Kieran!” said Joby.
They appeared to have no choice but to sail down a tunnel in the middle of the rocks, as there was nothing else around but sheer cliff-face. Bardin said that for Brock’s sake they wouldn’t hang around in here, as they wanted to get him to civilisation, it was hardly surprising though that, truth to tell, NODOBY wanted to hang around in here! The strangeness of the area continued in the caverns. Occasionally pale faces seemed to be staring up at them through the murky water.
Joby took an excursion onto the rocks with Hillyard, and they explored a little way down one of the side tunnels. There was a peculiar white light in there, but the most horrible aspect of it was that they saw a creature glance at them briefly and then disappear back into its hole in the wall. The creature seemed to be a small (about 3 feet tall) human-cum-lizard hybrid, and Joby remembered what Kieran had said about demons often being depicted as hybrids. It had breasts, so was clearly female, but its scaly skin was a startling white, like that of a vampire suddenly exposed to a harsh light.
“Grim”, was all that Joby said to his friend at the time, although it was uncertain whether he was referring to the creature or its surroundings.
Kieran had been forbidden from going onto the rocks, on the grounds, as Julian put it, that every time he left the barge something “bloody stupid or dangerous” usually happened. Kieran took exception at being branded as some kind of a jinx, but had no choice but to stay afloat. He passed the time playing Jacks with Shag and Mutton Broth on the floor of the living area. He refused to go to bed because Lonts had taken to putting Snowy in with him, and Kieran couldn’t refuse this final indignity because, as Adam put it, it would “hurt Lo-Lo’s feelings terribly”.
Joby stormed through the living-area peeling off his numerous layers of outdoor clothes as he went, and scattering them to the four winds, or at least the four corners of the room. He went into the stateroom and stood helplessly for a moment, watching the black stain on the wood-panelled wall, which had been made over a long period of time by the smoke from an oil-lamp. It helped to relax him a bit. Finia had once said, during one of his astrological turns, that Joby enjoyed ship-board life because he was a Cancerian, and Cancerians get horny when around water. Normally this was true, but at the moment, after all this time of gruelling travelling and exposure to demons, Joby couldn’t have felt less horny if he had been locked in a room with Aleister Crowley!
“Joby?” said Kieran, softly.
“Can’t I even have a few moments peace to meself!” Joby barked.
“I’m sorry”, said Kieran “But you looked upset. What happened out there?”
Joby told him what he and Hillyard had seen.
“It wasn’t so much what we saw”, he said “As just what it all felt like. Do you remember when Hegley got a job as a bit-player at Silling Productions? He said he once came across a list of films that were on the X list, so to speak. He said summat about it just made him feel completely dead, at the end of it all”.
“Is that what you felt out there?” said Kieran.
There’s nothing positive there”, said Joby “It’s a complete deadening feeling, like being right at the end of time”.
Kieran helped him onto the bunk and removed his boots.
“That’s two exposures to spiritual evil you’ve had lately”, said Kieran “You can’t afford much more. You don’t go off the barge again until we’re somewhere more normal”.
“And neither do you!” said Joby “Or I’ll take back everything I’ve said before, and get Julian to come in and lay about you with the strap!”
“What on earth have you said to Patsy?” said Adam, bringing in Joby a cup of tea a few minutes later “The poor little thing’s practically in tears out there!”
“Oh he knows how to manipulate you alright, the canny little bugger!” said Joby.
“I always know when Patsy’s manipulating me”, said Adam “I always have, and this isn’t it. He seems genuinely upset”.
“I told him I’d ask Julian to set about him with the strap if he set one foot off the barge”, said Joby.
“I’m surprised at you, I really am”, said Adam “What a thing to say! No wonder he’s upset! Just because you spooked yourself out there!”
“Spooked meself?!” said Joby.
“Well nobody asked you and Hillyard to go poking around in the caverns did they!” said Adam “Anyway we should be out of this tunnel soon. Bardin says he’s seen a light in the far distance”.
“He’s probably imagined it”, said Joby “The light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off until further notice!”
Thankfully he was wrong. They gradually emerged into a large sort of lagoon, flanked by more of the rocky, mountainous landscape, which appeared to offer more opportunities for mooring than there had been before they entered the tunnel. It was still a depressing landscape, nothing but brown, and very little in the way of flora and fauna, like the less icy regions of Antarctica. But at least they were out of the tunnel.
Amongst the rocks as they left the tunnel were copious amounts of long-leafed green plants, like giant cheese plants, their tendrils waving gently in the small breeze. The Indigo-ites sighted a strange animal lurking amongst the leaves, another lizardy-like creature, but this time with very long antenna sprouting from its forehead. Strange plant-life, strange humans, and now strange animals. There was no knowing where it was all going to end.
As they struggled through this watery, reedy wilderness a creature reared up at the side of the boat. Another of those half-human half-reptile women with scaly skin and claw-like hands. It was only after she had been scrabbling about, trying to get a grip on the edge of the boat, that they realised she was blind. Blind in the sense that her eyelids were gummed down over her eyes. Whether this was her natural state, or whether this had been done to her, was very hard to say. It was only too apparent though that she was trying to get a hold on one of them to drag her down into the murky depths. They had to beat her off with the long poles used for steering.
Eventually they rounded a headland on the far side of the lagoon, and civilisation finally appeared before them in the distance. A large town was sprawling along the coast and up over the hills. A black-and-white town, white buildings with black roofs, as though whoever had designed it had been a chess fanatic. A whole barrage of subjects immediately dominated everybody’s thoughts. The first essential was to get in fresh supplies. They had plenty of cash on them, but if this town didn’t take their currency, then they had the jewels they had “retrieved” from Starhanger. If for some strange reason these weren’t acceptable, then they would offer their services, and get some kind of temporary paid employment.
Bengo was utterly dismayed at the thought of going out to work, as for him this could only mean one thing, a return to clowning.
“Who the hell is going to pay to watch a couple of old has-beens like us!” Bardin snapped at him “Get real!”
“Well what else can I do, Bardy?” said Bengo, piteously.
“Stay here and help in the galley”, said Bardin “You’re far more use that way!”
“We can send Toppy out to get a job”, said Lonts, and then added, rather gloomily “Somebody some where’s bound to want a waiter”.
“I could get a job”, said Hoowie, bravely.
Bardin looked at him with extreme scepticism.
“I doubt there’s much of a market round here for nude artists-models!” he said.
“That’s not the only thing I can do!” Hoowie protested.
“Yes it is”, said Bardin.
Hoowie gave him his trapped wind look, but Bardin was completely immune to it by this time, and went back up on deck, to supervise the barge approaching the mainland. Everyone was a bit disconcerted by the fact that, for a town of this size, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of a harbour or a marina. There were a couple of wooden jetties sticking out into the sea and that was it. For a large town right on the coast this was extremely unusual, and the Indigo-ites couldn’t help but feel that this didn’t bode well in some way.
The lack of maritime facilities though was a small distraction, when the Emerald Steps were sighted. This was a stone staircase cut into the rocks leading up from the jetties and into the top end of the town. Made out of a startling dark green rock the staircase appeared like one out of a dream, as though it was dancing in thin air. Its tops was concealed by low-lying banks of cloud.
“I hope the natives are friendly”, said Joby, who had sore misgivings.
The town was called Nuit, so they eventually found out. At first this was a bit disconcerting, particularly after everything they had just been through, with Nuit being the French for Night, and also what Aleister Crowley had called his first child! The natives though belied this sinister name. It was a town of roughly 50,000 people, all-told. They had been virtually cut off from the outside world for many years, their only link a t.v set on stilts which was kept in one of the bars. Being so out of the way they had kept their female inhabitants safe from the Ministry during the Dark Ages, (in fact, fortunately for them, the Ministry had never heard of the place!). Nuit had always been an outpost, abandoned on its own, but in recent decades it had become completely cut-off, with the demons moving in and taking over all the land and water (hence the lack of a decent harbour) nearest to them. Nuit was on its own, isolated in the midst of the Evil.
As such the barge’s arrival suddenly one day was an enormous, miraculous event. Of course it was only to be expected that Kieran, the Vanquisher of Evil, should travel through the bad areas completely unscathed. (Joby thought of Kieran’s pathetic, frail form at that moment, incarcerated back on the boat with Adam, Mieps and Tamaz, and found this triumphal image of Kieran quite ironic). The Nuit natives went wild, they were constantly on the look-out for a cause for celebration, and this was it, big time. They made a fuss of Bardin, the Captain of the barge, even though Bardin modestly, and with some embarrassment, pointed out that he hadn’t done very much really. For once Bengo didn’t give the expected rejoinder of “that’s only too true!”, and instead insisted that Bardin enjoy his glory, and stop being nauseatingly humble about it.
“You’re like one of those boring old entertainers”, he said “Who when they get any kind of an award, say how ‘humbled’ they are by it, they always makes me want to throw up!”
The Nuits made even more of a fuss of Lonts. They had a soft spot for Lonts, being Kiskevian. The Nuits had always felt an affinity with Kiskev, both being outposts in the middle of nowhere, and the mass suicide at Kiskev had shocked them even more than it had shocked everyone else. Also Lonts was very like them in temperament, being big and exuberant and boisterous, but also prone to bouts of intense melancholia. In fact Joby remarked after an evening at Nuits largest bar, that the town seemed to be “full of Lontses!”
It was quite an evening at the bar, which made up for its Spartan décor, with immense and overwhelming lashings of hospitality. A fruit liqueur, made on the premises to a secret recipe, and famed for its potency, was brought out in great quantities. It was stored in the sort of big glass jars which were normally used to hold sweets, and looked like the colour of a fish-tank that hadn’t been cleaned out for quite a while, but it tasted heavenly. It was only after quite a bit of this, and an enormous amount of cheering, that Ransey said they really should go and do some shopping.
“Adam’s expecting it”, he bellowed, above the din “Do you want to go on living off eggs and oatmeal all the time? We don’t seem to have had anything else in weeks!”
“Nah, he’s right of course”, said Hillyard.
“Yeah”, Joby grunted “Course if we don’t get any stuff in, we’ll have to eat out tomorrow. I quite fancy that”.
“Yeah but I don’t fancy Adam going on and on about it if we fuck up!” said Hillyard.
They were followed round the nearby shops by what felt like most of the town’s population. Wheelbarrows were loaned to them to carry the produce home in. Whilst on the way round, Bengo was informed by a big old lady that the Mayor of course would be delighted to know they were there. Bengo asked where the Mayor was. Up in a big house on top of one of the hills, was the somewhat poetic answer. Bengo wondered if this house was at the top of the Emerald Steps, but due to the sales-day crush, conversation was strictly limited.
Adam was in the state-room with Kieran when the others returned. He went into the living area and was bombarded (literally) with cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers, sprouts and carrots.
“Alright alright calm down!” he yelled “Or none of this will be worth eating! Have we off-loaded Brock at long last?”
“Last seen being carried along to one of the town-houses”, said Hillyard “I think just about everybody in the town offered him a spare room!”
“They do seem a generous lot”, said Bardin.
Joby went into the state-room, and found Kieran looking very disgruntled.
“You wouldn’t have been up to it, Kiel”, said Joby “They’d have gone ballistic if they’d seen you! Perhaps you might be able to go ashore tomorrow”.
“Don’t get carried away now!” Kieran snapped.
“We’ve got tons of food in”, said Joby “So we can make a start on putting some weight back on you, you’ve lost all the gains you made at Wolf Castle. Course, it’s a pain the arse you being a vegetarian, ‘cos what you really need is a nice, big thick piece of rare steak. That’d put some lead in your pencil!”
“There’s nothing wrong with my pencil thank you very much!” said Kieran “Will Mieps and Tamaz being able to go ashore tomorrow as well?”
“Yeah they’ll be alright”, said Joby.
“No anti-Ghoomer feeling around?” said Kieran, concerned.
“They’ve had problems with bigger bastards than Ghoomers over the years!” said Joby “Anyway, they’re travelling with you, so that makes ‘em legit. Jack The Ripper could be travelling with you, and he’d be legit in their eyes!”
“The Mayor wants to see us apparently”, said Bengo, out in the living area.
“Well is it absolutely necessary that we see him?” said Adam.
“He’s at the top of the Emerald Steps”, Bengo continued.
“Good heavens, that sounds like something out of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’”, said Adam “When we get up there do we come across an old man behind a curtain operating a machine?”
Bengo looked completely flummoxed, as though Adam had suddenly lost his marbles.
“I know one thing for sure”, said Joby, as he and Kieran joined them “Bengo would have made a brilliant Cowardly Lion!”
“And Bardin a sublime Dorothy!” Julian drawled.
“We must be over the rainbow, Bengo!” Joby quipped.
Bengo still looked flummoxed.
“Take no notice of them, Bengo”, Lonts sighed “They’re just talking about people who never really existed, AGAIN!”
It rained heavily overnight, and in the morning, just prior to having to do the family breakfasts, Bengo and Joby went up on deck with slabs of bread and butter, and mugs of tea to look at the view. The tide had come out further along the coastline, revealing big areas of marshy, seaweed-choked land. Up atop of the Emerald Steps was positioned a small castle, a low-lying building with a large tower attached.
“Perhaps we should explore up there sometime”, said Joby.
“Not today we can’t”, said Bengo “Adam wants you and me to join him going looking for an oven”.
“An oven?” said Joby, unimpressed “Blimey, I can barely contain me excitement!”
Adam took them out late that morning, and marched them to a hardware shop. Of course what kind of stove to buy occupied him for some time. They had no electricity on the barge, and the town seemed to run on its own generators. In the end he opted for a wood-burning effort, which would involve much rigorous installation, including knocking a hole in the wall for ventilation. Adam knew that Julian would make a great deal of noise about this gross inconvenience, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Why does Adam have to keep looking over at us?” Joby complained to Bengo, whilst Adam was in deep consultation with the manager “Does he think we’re gonna start shoplifting or summat!”
He and Bengo went and stood in the open doorway and looked out at the street, glistening in the watery sunshine. Suddenly a bell began tolling from the church tower nearby.
“Oh Christ, now what?” said Joby, who thought this could only mean something ominous.
“It’s noon”, said a shop-assistant in a brown overall “It rings everyday at noon, to tell us it’s noon”.
Bengo, for some reason thought this was very funny, and was frantically trying to stifle giggles until the shop-assistant was called away to another part of the store.
“Does he mean somebody actually goes to the church every day at noon just to ring the bell?” he said, in astonishment.
“Probably some Toppy clone”, said Joby “Gets a real kick out of doing summat totally useless at the same time every day!”
Adam took them to a nearby café for cups of thick, black coffee, accompanied by side orders of white rum. Then they returned to the barge, to find most of the others having scattered to the four winds, doing various activities. Adam was relieved that Julian had taken one of the horses ashore for exercise, and so wouldn’t start exercising his mouth about the flue installation just yet. Joby went into the stateroom where Kieran was sulking in bed.
“Hey I heard summat in the café earlier which should cheer you up”, said Joby “The locals wanna throw a dance at the weekend, in your honour!”
“And will I be able to go to it?” Kieran snapped, sarcastically “Or will the guest of honour be sent back to bed with his teddy-bear!”
“Oh you are in a grot ent yer!” said Joby.
“Of course I’m in a focking grot!” said Kieran “Everybody’s been out, except me!”
“I’ve told you before”, said Joby “Till I’m blue in the face. It’d be too much for you, you’ll only get mobbed”.
“Well let me explore up the Emerald Steps”, said Kieran “I won’t get mobbed up there, and you can protect me anyway. We can pay our respects to the Mayor”.
“What do you wanna see him for?” said Joby “Probably just some feeble, frail old recluse who nobody’s clapped eyes on in years!”
“What, like me you mean!” Kieran retorted “Me and him should have a lot in common then!”
“Oh for God’s sake!” said Joby “You get round me every time don’t yer! You know I’m a bleedin’ soft touch really!”
“C’mon, Joby”, said Kieran “Climbing up those steps won’t finish me off”.
“No, but it might finish me off!” said Joby.
The Emerald Steps did turn out to be an arduous walk, steep, and vertigo-inducing. They practically had to clamber up them on their hands and knees.
“Never mind”, said Kieran, who was ahead of Joby “It’ll be easier coming down”.
“It’ll be a damn sight more scary coming down!” said Joby.
At the very top they found an idyllic cliff top sight. The castle was situated in the middle of a vast expanse of lawn. Immaculately-tended flowerbeds broke up the greenery, and butterflies danced amongst them. Kieran and Joby walked away from the cliff edge, and came to a walled rose garden. It also contained, amongst the roses, a man-made lake, on which two swans glided serenely. Willow-trees could be glimpsed over the wall at the bottom. Joby felt quite emotional seeing all this, particularly coming as it did after some of the sights they had seen lately. He was still a gardener at heart. Both at the old mill-house in Marlsblad, and at Wolf Castle, the others had reassured him that he could create a new garden eventually, but, of course, they had never stayed long enough in those places to see this come to fruition.
Joby was tired of travelling. He wanted to stop somewhere for a very long time. At first the castle on the lake had seemed a likely place, but due to Josh’s vile antics, this had had to be shelved. This place seemed like Paradise, and he wanted to break down at the sight of it.
“You’d like a place like this, wouldn’t you?” said Kieran, softly.
“I spose it’ll happen one day”, Joby mumbled “He does alright for himself here don’t he!”
“Let’s go and see if he’s in”, said Kieran.
Kieran was quite surprised that no one had come out to them, if not to welcome them, than to demand that they left the premises forthwith! They walked round the side of the house, back to the part that faced the cliff-edge. Two large double wooden doors were standing slightly ajar. They went up the wide stone steps to it, and Kieran pushed at one of the doors gently. It creaked open to reveal a vast entrance floor, done out almost entirely in black-and-white, matching the houses in the town below. A chequerboard marble floor, and white marble steps with polished black banisters leading up to a carved, black wooden atrium above. Directly opposite them was a huge stained glass window, depicting a young woman tending a herb garden under a dazzlingly blue sky. The whole room was as impressive as the garden had been.
“Anybody home?” Kieran called out, his voice echoing amongst the raftered ceiling.
A figure appeared from behind the door. A slender, good-looking man of indeterminate age dressed in a matching maroon-coloured velvet jacket and trousers, and nothing else, no shirt or tie or vest. He had blonde hair that had been cut and styled to give a deliberately tousled look. Joby noticed, with some glee, that his roots needed doing. He was clearly a bottle-blonde. This gave him some degree of satisfaction. After all, what man who lives in such glorious surroundings, needs to be handsome as well? Sometimes life just wasn’t fair! The man though was sorrowful.
“I can’t see you today”, he said, in a husky voice that seemed choked with sad emotion.
He looked and sounded exactly like someone for whom there had been a death in the house overnight. Kieran took it as that.
“Is there anything we can do?” he said, gently.
“Nothing”, the man shook his head “Another time”.
“Of course”, said Kieran “Send down a message anytime if you need anything”.
He squeezed the man’s arm in passing, as a comforting gesture.
As they were negotiating the hair-raising trip back down The Emerald Steps they heard an almighty roar, as though an enormous wild beast was on the loose in the surrounding countryside. It startled both of them so much that they fell against the rocky cliff-face on one side of the Steps, and had to grab each other for support.
“It’s that bloody lion again!” said Joby.
“No it sounded much bigger than a lion”, said Kieran.
“Oh that’s comforting, Kiel!” said Joby “C’mon, let’s get to the bottom of these bloody steps before summat else happens and we break our necks!”
The rest of the day was equally noisy and troublesome. The new stove was installed, which involved some deafening work going on in the living area. At dusk though it was finally finished, and after dark Joby went up on deck to try and get some much-needed tranquillity. The rain had cleared completely, and the sky was wonderfully clear, with the stars seeming to hang down on them like a 3-D drawing. Joby sat on a coil of rope with a blanket round his shoulders, whilst Hillyard was stood on the other side of the forward deck, leaning on the bulwark with a tumbler of whisky in his hand.
Suddenly he tripped lightly over to the deck, and silently bid Joby to come and look over the side at something he had seen in the water. Joby did so, and was just in time to see a pale face staring up at them from underneath the water, before it slowly faded back down into the depths.
That was all quite enough for one day.
The dance, to be held in honour of Kieran, was upon them. Bardin decreed that everybody should wear their best clothes, and so for two days beforehand Toppy was busy washing and ironing (with the new stove he could now heat up flat-irons), and generally, as far as the clowns were concerned, being even more insufferable than ever. Everybody was to attend these big event (“even Kieran”, said Kieran, with some considerable irony), and Joby immediately voiced dire concerns about leaving the barge unattended, that the demons would probably get on-board it and run amok, and kill all the animals. Lonts went into spasms of terror at this, and Adam boxed Joby’s ears. Kieran, to try and calm Lonts’s fears, performed a blessing all over the barge, and did his “old trick with the salt”, as Hillyard put it. The dogs would keep more earthly trespassers at bay.
Tamaz announced that he was going to wear his orange and black taffeta and tulle gown, and so it had to be hung up in The Glory-Hole, in order to drop the creases out . Bardin seethed that Tamaz was going to turn up and make a spectacle of himself in this glamorous outfit, but he was shouted down by Joby, who said that Tamaz had been a good sport since leaving Wolf Castle. There had been few, if any, sulks and teary tantrums. He had done his chores (mainly collecting kindling for the camp-fires) without having to be asked twice, and so, if he wanted to have an evening of being Girly, he could have an evening of being Girly. He had been wearing boy’s clothes for weeks now, (apart from his undies), and was entitled to a treat. Tamaz took Bardin’s seething with haughty indifference, as far as he was concerned Bardin was just jealous because he would give his back teeth to wear the black and orange gown. Bengo, annoyed that the wretched dress was causing all this trouble, speculated with himself whether it would be worthwhile accidentally-on-purpose setting fire to it with his bedtime candle, but reasoned (sensibly) that this wasn’t exactly a wise thing to do on a wooden boat, not even for the pleasure of seeing the blasted frock go up in smoke!
It was a riotous affair in the end, although Kieran’s fragile appearance shocked the robust townsfolk. Of course they knew he was small and thin, but in real life he seemed every bit the “ethereal” and “waiflike” one that he had often been described as on the television.
The entertainment on offer veered between playing gramophone records for everyone to dance to, and some of the locals doing impromptu cabaret turns of their own. Adam had thought that with all the Indigo-ites turning up that they might swamp the place, but this, fortunately, was not the case. They were offered the largest table in the room, and Tamaz sat regally at the front of it.
“You were a ballet dancer, weren‘t you?” asked one of a pair of identical twins standing at the bar. Two girls, both with slender bodies and cropped bright red hair. They were notorious in the town for being inseparable, and after any man that moved.
Bardin had been sent up to order another round of drinks, and had found himself being cornered by them.
“No”, he snapped “A clown”.
“You could be a dancer with that body”, one of them said “You’re built like us, toned, and with legs to die for”.
Bardin wanted to know how they could possibly know what his legs were like, as he only wore long trousers in public.
“Seen you on deck”, said the other “In your undies”.
Bardin blushed, and vowed that in future, whilst they were in port at any rate, he would only appear on deck fully-clothed at all times. One of them started to fondle his hair, which annoyed Bardin again, who didn’t like being touched unless it was by people he knew and trusted. He was relieved to get back to the table.
“Where are the drinks then?” said Hillyard, when he reappeared.
“I can’t carry them all by myself can I!” said Bardin “I’ve placed the order and they’ll bring them out to us”.
He climbed over several sets of knees until he got back to his seat.
“I hope you’re not gonna be cranky this evening, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“You’d be cranky if you were being set upon by two ropey little bitches!” said Bardin.
“What, those two?” Bengo laughed, looking over at the bar “The ones that come complete with two wheels and a handlebar each!”
“Yet more fucking casting-couch groupies”, Bardin muttered under his breath “Probably think I’ve just dropped in here on my way to a film studio!”
“I’ll go and defend your honour, Bardy”, said Bengo, and he made to climb over the back of the seat, and promptly fell flat on his face onto the floor.
Joby laughed so much that he broke into violent coughing.
“You carry on like that and you’ll need medical attention”, said Hillyard to Joby “You’ll have to come into my surgery later!”
“Go and defend my honour indeed!” said Bardin, as he and Bengo got undressed in The Glory-Hole late that night “You couldn’t defend yourself against a fly!”
“Oh Bardy you are funny!” said Bengo “They try it on with you every time, and anyone can see you’re not up for it. I don’t know what you get so worked up about, we’re clowns of the world, we’ve seen it all before”.
“Maybe”, Bardin grunted “But I still don’t like it. It makes me angry, the thought of being used. And you’re the only one for me, you always were, ‘cept you stubbornly refused to see it!”
“I stubbornly refused to see it?” Bengo exclaimed “That’s a fine way to talk isn’t it!”
The door was nosed open and one of the dogs, Randolph, plodded in, his toenails clacking against the bare wooden floorboards.
“Get him out of here”, said Bardin “He’ll only try and get on the bed, and he’s far too big for that!”
“There are some dogs howling out in the town”, said Bengo “I think they’re disturbing him”.
But Bengo steered Randolph back out of the room, and shut the door.
“I’ve heard of cats’ chorus”, said Bardin, listening to the racket from the town “But not dogs’ chorus!”
Julian had taken to waking the clowns up of a morning, and for this pleasure he was even prepared to get out of bed early. He would sneak into The Glory-Hole, whip back the covers on their bed, and slap both their backsides hard. Bengo loved these unorthodox early morning calls, and had taken to wearing his flannel drawers in bed, (normally, unless it was really cold, he slept in the buff), because he knew they added an extra excitement for Julian. Bardin, being Bardin, wasn’t sure if he hated it or loved it.
“Ah old starchy knickers”, said Julian, smacking Bardin “How very spankeable that makes you!”
He pulled Bardin up into his arms, and held him around his neck like a monkey. Then Toppy came in.
“Oh Toppy what is it now?” Bengo asked, in dismay “You’re always going on at the wrong moment!”
“I haven’t said anything yet!” Toppy protested “But there’s two girls have turned up on deck wanting to see Bardin”.
Bardin reacted with speechless horror at this, as though he’d been told two cannibals had turned up wanting to cook him for Sunday lunch.
“It’s those two little tarts, Bardy”, said Bengo “Your groupies!”
“What do they want to see me for?” said Bardin.
“What do you think!” said Bengo.
“I can’t see them”, Bardin got back into bed and pulled the covers up over him “It’s not fair, I haven’t done anything to encourage them!”
“Alright I’ll go and have a word with them”, said Julian, ushering Toppy out of the room.
“What a silly way to carry on!” Bengo remonstrated with Bardin.
“Is that all you’ve got to say?” said Bardin “Don’t you even feel a bit threatened?”
“Not at all”, said Bengo, serenely “Because if you did anything I’d break your neck!”
Bardin stayed in bed whilst Bengo got dressed and went out to help with the breakfasts. Rumble came in, bearing a cup of tea.
“Made with my own fair hands”, he said, a woodbine stuck between his lips.
“I suppose all the others are having fucking hysterics over this!” said Bardin, by ‘the others’ he meant the other clowns.
“Only because you take to your bed in a fit of the vapours just because two little tarts turn up pursuing you!” said Rumble.
“I did not take to my bed!” said Bardin “I was already in it! It’s not fair. Now I’ve got Bengo threatening to break my neck!”
“I know”, Rumble smirked “We’re all really impressed! You’ve made a right mark on one of them I can tell you. She burst into tears when Julian told her you were too busy to see her”.
“Burst into tears?” Bardin exclaimed.
“Oh yes”, said Rumble “She loves you, apparently”.
“For fuck’s sake I’ve only met her the once!” said Bardin “And I gave her no encouragement whatsoever!”
“The other one got quite stroppy with her”, said Rumble “Said she’d overplayed her hand too soon. I can just imagine what those two are going to be like when they’re old, a right pair of cantankerous, predatory old bats!”
“Thanks”, said Bardin “But I don’t want to imagine it! It’d give me nightmares!”
“Ach poor old Bardin”, Kieran laughed, as Joby gave him another bed-bath in the stateroom “He’s not cut out to be a heart-breaker”.
“At least it’s not you they’ve come sniffing round!” said Joby, running the flannel round him “Does this feel better?”
“We’re going to have to get a bath”, said Kieran “I heard Julian shouting yesterday because he came into the living-room and found Hillyard washing his feet at the kitchen table”.
“I’m not surprised”, said Joby “The sight of Hillyard’s feet would be enough to make anyone feel queasy! And where are we gonna get a bath from? And where are we gonna put it?”
“A hip-bath”, said Kieran “Like we had on the sloop. Toppy’s seen one in a shop window apparently. He also suggested we look for a wheelchair for me! How I didn’t flay him alive for that one I don’t know, I must be mellowing with old age! I pointed out to him I still had the full use of me two feet, and I’d be quite capable of kicking him in the rear with one of ’em!”
“He means well”, said Joby, gloomily.
“Are you ready, Bardy?” said Bengo, going into The Glory-Hole “We’re all about ready for the off”.
“Why does the entire family need to be involved to go and look at a bath-tub?” Bardin snapped.
“Because we’re all gonna use it I guess!” said Bengo “Even Hoowie! Don’t worry, we’ll protect you from any predatory women!”
“Very funny!” said Bardin “Have you noticed something odd about those two?”
“The twins?” said Bengo “They’re odd all over if you ask me! Downright weird! And I don‘t just mean because they fancy you!”
“They’ve both got very blue eyes”, said Bardin “Fanatics have very blue eyes”.
“Oh bullshit!” said Bengo “Kieran’s got very blue eyes, and that doesn’t make him a fanatic, and if he is he’s a very nice one!”
“His eyes are a different blue”, said Bardin, doggedly “They’re what Adam calls Irish Blue, whereas those two … I can’t look at them, they give me the creeps”.
“Let’s go out”, Bengo sighed, who was sick and tired of hearing about the twins “Or I’ll start calling you the brown-eyed fanatic!”
“Blimey”, said Joby, as Hillyard took off his shoes and majestically lowered himself into the hip-bath, right in the middle of the shop “If he can fit in it comfortably we all can!”
“I do wish you’d be a bit more positive, old love”, said Adam, who seemed to be in one of his netball captain moods “It’ll be very nice to have some proper washing facilities for a change”.
“Proper washing facilities?” Joby exclaimed “A bloody hip-bath! And why did we all have to troop out here, every man, jack of us? We’re like some blinkin’ old gypo family, all trooping out together”.
“Well you could have stayed at home with the dogs if you wanted”, said Adam.
“When I think of that brand-new bathroom we left behind at Wolf Castle”, Joby continued “Now being used by a bunch of old clowns …”
“No change there then!” said Kieran.
“Here!” said Hoowie, coming over to them “If you ask me we might as well move on, once we’ve got everything we need. I don’t understand why we’re hanging on in this place”.
“That really has to be Bardin’s decision, old love”, said Adam “As he’s Captain”.
“Him?” said Hoowie, indignantly “The one who’s scared of little girls!”
Bengo looked outraged at this remark, but Adam couldn’t resist a snort of laughter.
“I’m sorry, Bengo”, he said “But that was rather funny!”
A man appeared in the open shop doorway. He was the sort of super-confident bloke who appears to swagger when he walks, all this confidence borne out by the almost pantomime outfit he wore, consisting of thigh-high fishermen-style boots, and a red brocade jacket. He was also the exact copy , looks-wise, of the young man Joby and Kieran had seen at the top of the Emerald Steps. He grinned broadly at them, levelled his fingers at them in a cheery “clocked you!” gesture, and then swaggered on.
“Was that the fella we saw up at the big house?” said Kieran.
“Only if he’s got a split personality!” said Joby “Perhaps there’s another set of identical twins around here”.
“That’ll please Bardy”, said Bengo, glumly.
Bardin instructed the Indigo-ites to carry the bath-tub home, whilst he and Bengo went for a wander round the back streets of the town. Bengo was completely perplexed by this, and said so when they were alone together.
“I’m looking for a map”, said Bardin.
“What for?” said Bengo.
“I should’ve done this when we first arrived here”, said Bardin “A map of the area for when we set sail again”.
Bengo resigned himself to a traipse round the town until they found a map shop, a prospect made no more cheering by some black storm-clouds which were gathering overhead. In the end Bardin simply called in at nearby café, which was completely empty, apart from a young waiter who was polishing cutlery behind the bar. He looked pathetically pleased at the prospect of two customers.
“We’re not stopping …” Bardin began, but Bengo surreptitiously pinched his bottom “Oh o.k then, we are. Two coffees and two white rums”.
Having two customers seemed to put in a sudden injection of life into the place. The drinks were produced, and a gramophone record was put on, to which the waiter began to whistle along to in an ear-splitting fashion, whilst chucking the cutlery into separate baskets.
“Peculiar bugger”, Bardin muttered, sipping his rank-tasting coffee.
“Oh I quite like him”, said Bengo “He reminds me of Joby in some strange way”.
“This coffee’s foul”, said Bardin.
“I don’t expect it’s real coffee”, said Bengo “I mean, how would they get coffee-beans out here?”
“Excuse me”, Bardin called over to the young man “Could you tell me where I can buy a map of the area?”
“I can get you an old street map of the town”, said the waiter.
“No, of the surrounding area”, said Bardin “You know, the sea and the countryside”.
“We don’t have anything like that”, said the waiter, balancing his tray against his thigh and leaning casually against a nearby table.
“Well you must have SOMETHING!” said Bardin.
“Nope”, said the waiter, with maddening casualness “Nobody’s left here in years, so why do we need maps?”
“But that’s crazy!” said Bardin “Why are you so scared? I mean we got here alright!”
“Yeah but you’ve got Kieran with you”, said the waiter “Years ago people tried to leave, but they were never seen again”.
Bardin gave a harrumph of impatience.
“Has it never occurred to you”, he said “That the reason they were never seen again was because they found somewhere else, and so decided never to come back?”
“So why hasn’t anyone else, apart from you, come out to see us then?” said the waiter.
“Because people don’t know you’re here!” said Bardin, but even as he said it, he realised this didn’t really wash as an explanation. Since the dawn of time people had travelled and probed new unknown areas. Simply not knowing a place existed wouldn’t account on its own for a complete absence of visitors, by the law of averages it might be expected that occasionally somebody turned up by mistake.
“The demons have got us cut off”, said the waiter, placidly, simply stating it as though it was a banal fact of life “Isolated”.
It had begun to rain outside, which sent the temperatures down. Bengo, who had come out in only shorts and a t-shirt, felt goosebumps rising on his arms. He rubbed them for comfort. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
“Do they ever come here?” said Bardin “Into the town?”
“Not sure”, said the waiter “Things happen sometimes, things that don’t make sense, but we’ve got no solid proof that it’s them. We’ve got a big population here, you can’t be expected to know everybody”.
Bardin didn’t think that 50,000 was particularly big, but then again, it was big enough to allow for some anonymity. It had got very dark and gloomy in the bar. The waiter flicked on a couple of ancient light-switches, and some dim low-wattage bulbs feebly flickered into action.
“It’s good that you’ve got electricity here”, said Bengo.
“We’ve got our own generator system, up at the top of the town”, said the waiter “It aint always good though. A bit erratic at times. We get a lot of power-cuts”.
He was tapping his tray against his thigh. Bengo took the hint and ordered another round.
“What did you go and do that for?” Bardin hissed at him “That coffee’s bad enough the first time round!”
“Just think how pleased the others’ll be if we go home with lots of new information”, said Bengo.
“I can just imagine what Adam’ll be like if you go home riddled with pleurisy!” said Bardin.
The rain began to hammer down outside. The waiter shut the main door, but the inside of the bar still felt dismal and chilly. Bengo looked optimistically at the two-bar electric fire, in the vain hope that the waiter would switch it on. But this wasn’t forthcoming. Bardin tried to engage the young man in talk about the outside world, expressing surprise that he (the waiter) had never felt the urge to go and look at it for himself. The waiter got a bit mulish at this, and said there was more life to than the outside world. Bardin felt there was really no answer to that, and gave up.
“We’d better make an effort to get home”, he said, eventually “If we make a run for it we shouldn’t get too wet”.
The waiter reached under the bar-counter and pulled out a dilapidated umbrella. He offered it to them.
“But won’t you need it later?” said Bengo.
The waiter pointed to the ceiling, which the clowns took to mean he lived upstairs. They expressed exuberant thanks and promised to return it as soon as possible. The streets were deserted, the rain having driven everyone indoors. This gave the town and eerie, desolate air. As they neared the waterfront the clowns therefore were surprised to see a man standing with his back to them, staring into a shop-window, seemingly oblivious to all the rain lashing down. He wore a long black overcoat and a black fedora hat, obscuring all view of him. There is nothing particularly remarkable about a man staring into a shop-window, not when all is said and done, but the clowns still couldn’t repress a shiver when they walked briskly past him.
The following day, when the sun burst onto the scene and gave everywhere an intoxicatingly fresh, just-washed look, Joby took Tamaz out to do a spot of sightseeing, which translated as showing him round the little kiosk-style shops along the waterfront. Tamaz wore his fur-stole over his jeans and t-shirt, and looked surprisingly stylish. He certainly enjoyed queening it over the staff in the kiosks, who put up with it because Tamaz lived in the household of one of the richest men in the world. Joby knew there was nothing he could do about Tamaz queening it in shops, all he was grateful for was that these days he did at least restrain himself from grabbing at everything on display, as he had done in the past.
When Joby decided that there had been quite enough queening it for one day, he insisted they went back to the barge. As they neared it Tamaz gave a yodel of indignation. The red-haired twins were back. One was standing on the quayside watching the other, who was standing on the gang-plank. They looked like a couple of cats staking out a garden renowned for its bird life. Tamaz strode briskly up the gangplank and promptly pushed one of the twins into the water. Howls of consternation went up on the barge, and from the girl on the quayside.
“Fuck, I don’t think she can swim!” said Joby, galloping up the gangplank.
“S’alright”, said Hoowie, with maddening calm “We’ve got a lifebelt somewhere”.
“Well don’t rush yourself looking for it will yer!” said Joby.
“If she’d stop flaying around she’d be alright”, said Tamaz.
“Oh brilliant!” said Joby “You push her in and then tell her how to swim!”
Hoowie found the life-belt and chucked it over the side. The girl at least had the commonsense to grab for it. Bardin and Bengo, meanwhile, were roused from The Glory-Hole, where they had gone back to bed after breakfast. Forgetting, in all the excitement, his determination to only appear above deck fully-clothed, Bardin galloped up the quarterdeck steps in his undies.
“What the hell is going on NOW?” he demanded to know.
“I’ve been defending your honour”, said Tamaz, imperiously.
He then swept past Bardin with regal haughtier and went below deck. The dry twin had moved menacingly up the gangplank, obviously keen to exact retribution for this gross violation against her sister‘s person. Lonts reared up magnificently, pointed at the mainland and bellowed “Leave!” Fortunately, for everyone concerned, she did.
More mayhem went on below deck. Kieran, who had been bolted into the stateroom whilst Joby took Tamaz out, got irritated that no one heeded his calls to be released, particularly as he was desperate to know what had been going on, and kicked a couple of panels out of the door. Joby said he was furious about EVERYTHING, and went to the heads, intending to put in a long visit. Bardin went back into The Glory-Hole, and sat staring mournfully at himself in his shaving-mirror. Mutton Broth brought him in a cup of tea, and Bardin, in a fit of extreme petulance, chucked the contents over his shoulder, hitting Bengo on his way into the room.
“That wasn’t fair Bardy”, Bengo complained, as Mutton Broth scuttled out of the room, convinced he was going to get hit with something next “I had no time to prepare myself for that one!”
“I thought it was quite good”, said Bardin “Anyway, most of it went over the door!”
“Silly sod!” said Bengo, mopping himself down with a handkerchief.
“I wish I could think of some way of getting out of this place”, said Bardin “The town I mean. But we seem to have come to the end of the line. The whole seas around him seem to be choked with demons”.
“Then why don’t we go by land?” said Bengo.
“By land?” Bardin exclaimed.
“Yes”, said Bengo, patiently “What people do when they don’t go by sea. I thought even you might have been able to grasp that one!”
“It’ll mean giving up the barge”, said Bardin.
“I know, and we all like shipboard life”, said Bengo “But perhaps we have no choice if we want to get on. Perhaps we should have a look round the town and see if we can find some other interesting ways to travel. Now it’s no good looking like that”.
“Like what?” Bardin exclaimed.
“Like you’re afraid to go ashore”, said Bengo.
“Bullshit!” said Bardin “In fact it’s safer on shore because she usually comes to get me here!”
“That stupid girl reminds me of a novelty drummer act we had at the Cabaret years ago”, said Bengo.
“Bengo, what are you talking about now?”
“Ully hired his novelty drummer”, Bengo explained “I’m surprised you don’t remember him”.
“How can I be expected to remember every naff act that was ever hired!”
“Well this guy used to be able to drum on anything, that was the point of his act, and he had this really tremendous jump-around energy. Ully hired him because he thought this might get the audience really fired up”.
“It would have taken dynamite to get our audience fired up sometimes!” said Bardin.
“It didn’t work though”, Bengo continued, unperturbed “They just found him tedious. He had to be taken off after a few days”.
“I still don’t get the connection between him and the scraggy tart”, said Bardin.
“Well it’s the safe thing really”, said Bengo “She’s putting all this energy into pursuing you, and thinking you won’t be able to help but get bowled along with her, and you’re just finding her tedious. See, it’s the same thing really”.
“Your logic never ceases to amaze me!” said Bardin.
Just after Bardin had got dressed, Adam went into The Glory-Hole and delivered a lecture of scathing intensity. He had got tired of Bardin’s sulks and tantrums, and now him chucking tea at Bengo was the last straw.
“Bengo can cope with it”, Bardin protested “He’s had worse things chucked at him in his time, and it’s not as if it was scalding hot, it was barely lukewarm! Must’ve been sitting on the kitchen table for ages”.
“It is irrelevant what Bengo is used to”, said Adam, rattled at this dig at his well-oiled running of the kitchen “You take too much for granted what he can cope with”.
“Because he can!” said Bardin, getting emotional with rage “And you’re not going through what I’m going through. You don’t have some demonic little bitch hunting you down at every turn!”
“No”, said Adam “But if I had I hope I would have a little bit more dignity than you are showing at the moment!”
Adam swept through the living area and into the cabin. Bengo and Joby watched his progress. Joby, with an impassive glare, and Bengo with a look of abject horror.
“Oh no” , he said “I hope Bardy’s alright”.
“Perhaps you’d better go and scrape him up off the floor!” said Joby.
Julian came back from helping Hillyard with the horses, and went into the cabin.
“Are you alright?” he asked Adam.
“I’ll be fine, really”, said Adam, lying on the main bunk “I lost it a bit with Bardin. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said all I did to him”.
“Rubbish”, said Julian “It won’t do him any harm at all, might even do him some good. He is carrying on like a prima donna over all this. Rumble claims it’s because Bardin’s not used to anyone fancying him, so he goes to pieces when they do!”
Adam couldn’t help but laugh at this.
“It was the tea-chucking that was the last straw”, said Adam “What if it had been scalding hot? Little Bengo would be suffering from burns. Bardin really doesn’t show him enough appreciation. I can think of loads of people who would adore to have such a warm-hearted, jolly little fellow as Bengo for a partner”.
“Bengo can give as good as he gets!” said Julian “There have been plenty of times we’ve felt sorry for Bardin as well!”
“How are your stable-hand duties coming along?” said Adam, who found it quite amusing that Julian was helping out with the horses whilst Kieran was convalescing.
“Hillyard’s quite an easy old stick to work with”, said Julian “It’s only temporary, until that mad old Irishman is back on his feet again. I noticed he was sleeping as I walked past”.
“Recovering from Joby’s attentions I think”, said Adam.
“Good!” said Julian “We’ve got a chippy looking in this afternoon, to fix that door. He’d better not make habit of kicking it down, not if he knows what‘s good for him!”
“Really we have to look at somewhere else to live”, said Adam .
“A little council flat perhaps?” said Julian, facetiously.
“Oh well if you‘re going to be just plain silly!” said Adam.
“Not entirely, old fruit“, said Julian “I was merely highlighting how difficult it’s going to be to find a place that can accommodate all of us“.
“I know we’re all very fond of the barge”, Adam continued “But it’s just not practical, us all squashed onto it. One loo between the lot of us for instance”.
“And half the time we can’t get into that!” said Julian “Because Joby’s hogging it! What the blazes does he do in there all that time?”
“It’s his little retreat hole”, said Adam “It gives him a little space to be by himself, he’s always been like that. I do wonder if he used to go and hide in the loo when he was little, to escape from his awful family. He must have been such a sensitive little boy, deep down”.
“If he was anything like he’s been as an adult”, Julian rasped “More than likely!”
The idea of temporary accommodation on land was greeted with surprising universal approval. No one wanted to settle in Nuit for years to come, but neither did they relish setting off again on the road so soon after the gruelling previous few weeks. Hillyard suggested that somewhere like the old Town House in Toondor Lanpin should do the trick.
The following day he, Ransey (to make sure everything was done right), Kieran and Joby set off to visit the house agent in town. Bardin was asked to come, but refused, saying he trusted their judgement. He had set the other clowns to work spring cleaning the barge, and wanted to be on hand to make sure they did it properly.
“The moment my back’s turned they’ll all sit down again and drink endless cups of tea”, he said “I have to be here to make sure anything gets done!”
There wasn’t much accommodation for sale in Nuit. Most of the natives rented their homes from the town council. The few houses that were privately owned tended to stay in the family, passed down from generation to generation. It was a big event when one came up for sale, and there was usually a big scramble for it when it did. The house agent took them to a large, four-storied town house fairly near the quay. In the old days, a long time ago, before Nuit had become cut off from the world by the demons, it had been a wool merchant’s house. A lot of trade had collapsed when Nuit was effectively quarantined, and the only buying and selling that went on was done entirely within the area, so the prosperous merchant’s houses had fallen into disuse.
The four Indigo-ites, plus the house agent, stood outside in the street and looked up at it. The outer paintwork and the windows looked badly in need of doing up, but otherwise it looked fairly promising. Ransey immediately got his notebook out and began writing things down.
“Is he gonna keep that up all the way round it?” Joby grumbled, as they went up the stone steps to the front door, leaving Ransey standing in the street.
“Ach it gives him something to do!” said Kieran “He likes to feel useful does Ransey”.
“This is the hallway”, said the house agent proudly, ushering them in.
Joby gave Kieran a sarcastic look which subtitled meant “Now there’s a surprise!”
It was bigger than the one at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin, but this was all to the good, as the Indigo-ites had added a few more since those days. Two large rooms, a dining-room and a living area, flanked the entrance. A smaller room stood at the back. Joby suddenly developed one of his rare but unnerving fits of optimism.
“Hey this’ll work you know”, he said, scampering over to the door on the left and flinging it open “These sort of houses are solid stuff, built to last”.
“That is very true”, said the house agent, delightedly picking up on this enthusiasm “And it comes with many original features, and the furniture”.
Kieran was dying to ask what state the original features and the furniture would be in after all these years of standing empty, but didn’t want to spoil Joby’s cheery fit. He did feel he owed it to Adam though to point out one thing.
“You’d better have a look at the kitchen”, he said “Adam’ll never let you hear the end of it if you land him with a black hole!”
“Anything’s gotta be better than trying to cook on the barge!” said Joby “It’s like trying to cook at bleedin’ Paddington Station on there sometimes, during rush hour and all!”
“The kitchen is in the basement”, said the house-agent.
“The basement?” said Joby, a dark cloud appearing ominously on the sunny horizon.
This was all too much for Kieran, he simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to do some winding up.
“Ah that’ll mean it’ll be a hell-hole”, said Kieran “Probably got no windows”.
“Of course it’s gonna have windows!” said Joby “How can a kitchen not have windows? It wouldn’t be legal!”
He was left to go and explore the kitchen alone with Kieran. Fortunately the kitchen did have windows, and a big range.
“Nice big sink too”, said Joby, approvingly “God this is gonna be bliss after the barge!”
“The stairs are a wee bit narrow”, said Kieran, continuing the wind-up “Can you imagine trying to carry things up and down there all day long?”
“We’ll get a dumb waiter fitted”, said Joby, airily, and pushed open a nearby door. This led into what must have once been a perfectly cheerless little bedroom “Probably some poor bastard who worked all the hours God sent had to kip down in here. Probably was lucky if they ever saw daylight from one week to the next!”
“At least they did get a room”, said Kieran “It wasn’t the kitchen floor they had to sleep on!”
“Is that what they used to do in Ireland then?” said Joby, doing some wind-up in return.
“Not in my day!” Kieran retorted.
He went over to a door at the back of the kitchen and found it led out into a little stone courtyard, with steps running up the side.
“Jobe!” said Kieran “Go and have a look at the garden!”
They ran up the steps and into the back garden. Joby’s rapture was complete. A long walled garden, vastly overgrown of course, but rampant with possibilities. Ransey and Hillyard had opened some glass doors on the first floor, and stepped out onto a balcony.
“It just gets better and better!” Joby grabbed Kieran’s hand “Come on, let’s go and find a decent-sized bedroom”.
“What already?” said Kieran “We haven’t got rid of the house-agent yet!”
“One track bleedin’ mind you’ve got!” said Joby “I mean to make sure we ear-mark it for ourselves! Left to you we’d end up down in the flamin’ slave’s quarters down in the basement!”
Up the main staircase to the first floor. Towards the top of the flight was a small corridor which led to a bathroom and a bedroom. The bathroom was greeted with nothing short of wonderment by everybody, except the house-agent, who after all wasn’t unused to seeing bathrooms. The Indigo-ites these days found the sight miraculous.
“This’ll do us”, said Joby, going into the bedroom nearest it, which overlooked the back of the house “Nice view over the garden, and we’d be out of the mainstream of the house”.
“Are you sure it’s quite big enough?” Kieran teased “The rooms at the front of the house must be bigger you know”.
“Julian can have one of them”, said Joby “Here we’d be tucked safely away from him”.
“I wouldn’t bank on that if I was you!” said Kieran, perching on the edge of the iron bed frame.
“You can have plenty of rest in here”, said Joby “And I’ll work on getting you fattened up a bit”.
“Is it big enough to be me punishment room as well?” said Kieran.
“Of course”, said Joby “I had bourn all that in mind you know!”
Ransey came in clutching his notebook.
“Well go on then”, Joby groaned “Tell us all the things you’ve found wrong with it!”
“I have found no end of things wrong with it!” said Ransey “But even so, I think we’d be mad to pass it up!”
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