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The refurbishment of the boat progressed at a snail-like pace. Summer gradually evolved into autumn, and the Indigo-ites were still living in the courtyard of the village inn. The locals were embarrassed and angry that Hillyard, one of the world’s richest men, was being treated with such off-handness by the powers-that-be at the Castle. What very little these people had, they shared with the Indigo-ites, even donating a shabby old sofa, on which the clowns would all sit huddled despondently. Whilst the summer days were on it wasn’t so bad, in fact the Indigo-ites always found camping out in such weather fun. But the autumn was exceedingly damp and chilly. For days on end the top of the hill would be swathed in mist. It was exceedingly unhealthy weather. Impossible to wash clothes and get them completely dry. Colds began to be rife.
Meanwhile the Indigo-ites were entitled to use the Castle to gain access to the boat, to see how work was progressing. But this was on condition that they never strayed from the long main corridor which cut through the building, and out to the steps which led down to the harbour at the far end. The rest of the Castle was strictly out of bounds to them.
“Disgraceful that’s what I call it”, said a plump woman, who was manning one of the stalls at the twice-weekly market in the centre of the village “Treating Mr Hillyard that way”.
“Oh Hilly doesn’t mind”, said Adam, scanning the dreary range of cheeses on offer. He was being followed round by Joby and Bengo, both carrying their big wicker shopping-baskets.
The woman’s helper was packing substantial wheels of cheese into a tea-chest at the back of the stall. These cheeses looked rather more interesting than the ones out on display, and Adam asked if they could purchase one of them.
“I’m afraid they’re not for sale”, said the woman, as genially as she could “They’re a special order from the Castle”.
“We’ll pay you what is required”, said Adam.
“It’s not a matter of cost, Mr Adam”, said the woman “They’re made to a special recipe. Not to everyone’s taste”.
Clearly she wasn’t going to let them sample one to find out.
“Perhaps they’ve got cannabis in ’em”, Joby joked, as they wandered back to the courtyard.
“That lot at the Castle don’t look to me as though they’ve been on the happy food!” said Adam.
Bengo was unusually silent this morning. Bardin had been especially difficult. The damp weather had got into his dodgy ankle, and it was making him cross and frustrated. Inevitably he took it out on his partner. When Adam heard Bardin yelling for Bengo from the back of one of the wagons when they returned, he decided to go and see him himself.
“Now you listen to me, you bad-tempered little curmudgeon!” said Adam, fighting his way through a crumpled mass of old maps strewn around the wagon “I want you to ease up on Bengo. The poor little thing is close to tears this morning”.
“Don’t be taken in by that”, said Bardin, swinging round so that he was perched on the edge of the bunk “He can cope”.
“I never doubt that Bengo can cope”, said Adam “But just because he’s used to you giving him a hard time, that’s no reason for you to keep on doing it!”
“If I didn’t give him a hard time”, said Bardin “He’d be completely useless!”
Adam grabbed Bardin by his shirt and pulled him towards him. Bardin was a courageous man, but he visibly quailed.
“I have had to listen to rubbish like that from Julian all my life!” said Adam “You are getting far too much like him, sitting around here all day yelling orders at people. At least Bengo actually does something, he works his little butt off morning, noon and night. I don’t see you doing that! Now I want you to take him across to the bar and buy him a drink, and try and say something nice to him!”
Adam left Bardin to put his shoes on, and returned to the camp-fire, where Joby and Bengo were beginning to make lunch.
“You can have a little break for half-an-hour, Bengo”, said Adam “Shut up, Joby!”
“I didn’t say anything!” Joby protested.
“It was just in case you did!” said Adam.
“I don’t think I really want to go out with Bardy at the moment, Adam”, said Bengo, miserably “He’s driving me so mad I keep thinking I’ll have a heart-attack!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam “If he gives you any trouble just come to me!”
“I’m the villain of the piece again I see”, said Bardin, when he and Bengo had joined Julian, Hillyard, Ransey and Kieran over in the main bar-room.
“I thought you was used to playing the villain”, said Hillyard.
“Oh yes it’s always me!” said Bardin “Whilst Bengo is the little cute one, butter wouldn’t melt!”
“Bardy”, Bengo sighed, who didn’t have Adam’s confidence that Bardin could be bullied quite so easily into being a more reasonable person “You remember what Adam said”.
“Yes, he said I was getting like Julian!” Bardin exclaimed.
“And what’s so wrong with being like me?” said Julian “Many people would give their eye-teeth to be like me!”
“Like who?” said Ransey.
“We can’t live like this for the whole of the winter”, said Julian, changing the subject abruptly “It’s absurd. We have to find somewhere else”.
“There is nowhere else”, said Bengo, despondently “Unless we go back down to Watchfield”.
“Over my dead body!” said Bardin.
“Unfortunately that can’t be arranged anymore!” Bengo retorted.
“Stop bickering you two”, said Ransey “We do have to find somewhere else, seeing as nobody wants us in Doom Castle”.
“Can’t we live on the boat whilst it’s being renovated?” said Bengo.
“Perhaps when we’re a bit further along we can”, said Hillyard “But it’s impossible at the moment, it’s total chaos down there”.
“Desperate measures are called for”, said Julian “Some of us will go up to the Castle and throw ourselves on their mercy. Ask if they’ve got a spare wing they can put us up in”.
“We’ll go there now”, said Kieran “No time like the present”.
“You’re not coming”, said Julian, firmly “Not after your disgraceful behaviour last time”.
He also decided to exclude Bardin from the little party, on the grounds that he needed punishing for his outrageous treatment of Bengo recently (blissfully unaware that Adam had compared Bardin to Julian!). Bardin returned to the camp-fire and sulked, which Joby said at least gave everybody’s ears a rest.
For all his big words Julian found that his meeting up at the Castle had turned out to be less than satisfactory. The spare wing didn’t materialise, and no amount of promising to pay an exorbitant rent for it could make it do so. They were shown a large room up a short stairway, which led off the main corridor, and they were told they could make use of that. This room was all very well, it had a large fireplace, a four-poster bed, a small closet area containing a commode, and a window that looked out over a dank, misty garden. All of this would have been fine for 2 or 3 people sharing, but a group the size of the Indigo-ites it was laughably impractical.
This “generous” offer had to be declined, and Julian returned to the courtyard raging about people who could comfortably accommodate a small township if they chose, but who plainly suffered a generosity bypass. (Joby made some furtive remark about them obviously being typical aristocrats, but fortunately this was out of Julian’s hearing). Hillyard had no intention of listening to this ranting forever, and went out making enquiries in the village. Even an optimist by nature like him, couldn’t have had his hopes very high when he set out. The big lady on the market-stall apologetically said that the only empty house she could think of was an old shepherd’s cottage about half-a-mile away, but of course it wouldn’t be practical for all of them … Hillyard had other ideas about this.
The Indigo-ites set out on en-masse for the shepherd’s cottage. It was on the edge of the forest, facing the cliff-top overlooking the harbour. It had a small wooden hut attached to it, which would be ideal for housing the animals. Inside was a fireplace, plenty of cupboard space, a wooden table and chairs, a hand-made big wooden double bed, and a ladder reaching up to a hay-loft which overlooked the main room on two sides. Joby went quite nostalgic at the sight of the hay-loft, as it reminded him of the one he and Kieran had shared on the Wolf Castle estate all those years ago.
Of course it was really no more practical for housing 20 people than the room at the Castle had been, but this was different. It had tons of outdoor space, they could use the wagons and tepee if necessary, or rig up a makeshift extension, and they could keep the animals with them, a fact which placated Lonts no end. The thought of leaving the animals in the courtyard, whilst they stayed at the Castle, had sent him into one of his dangerously stubborn moods. It fully looked as though he intended to plant his big feet firmly in the middle of the courtyard, and stay rooted to the spot until everybody else came to their senses. In the end this catastrophic situation didn’t come to pass. Lonts was delighted with the shepherd’s cottage.
“We can all breathe again now”, Joby muttered to Kieran.
Joby was adamant that he and Kieran should sleep in part of the hay-loft. Bardin decided that the clowns should sleep in the other part.
“But then we’ll have ’em climbing over us in and out”, Joby protested.
“Then we move the focking ladder round to their side!” said Kieran “Jayz Joby, do I have to think of everything!”
“Tomorrow morning some of us will go into the village”, said Adam “I noticed the other day that one stall had piles of sheepskin coats, jackets and bedspreads. We’ll stock up on a few of those for when the weather turns really nasty. Bardin, do you think you could mobilise your little army, and go and fetch me some more firework?”
Bardin blew his whistle several times, and he took the other clowns to the edge of the forest at the back of the house.
“We could stay here you know”, said Rumble “Have it as our permanent base, it’s ideal”.
“What about the galleon?” said Bengo.
“We have that for trips away”, said Rumble, as though the galleon was some battered old charabanc handy for day-trips to the seaside “And for when we get sick of living in a house, but this place could be our permanent base, bit like Midnight Castle”.
“Bit small though isn’t it?” said Bardin.
“It’s even smaller than the Old Mill House at Marlsblad!” said Farnol.
“Then we build onto it”, said Rumble, patiently.
“It’d be nice to have a proper home for a while”, said Hal, who looked seriously as though he was about to burst into tears, and this was a prospect that Bardin couldn’t cope with at all.
“I’ll think about it”, he snapped.
A wolf howled in the far distance.
“The sun’s setting”, said Bardin “Come on, let’s get on with this. I can’t stand that sound, it gives me the creeps”.
Fabulous refused to sleep in the cottage. He was disgusted that they hadn’t take up the offer to stay in the Castle, and was immensely aggrieved that he hadn’t been listened to.
“You have been listened to, old love”, said Adam “But you’re vastly outnumbered, 19-1, as far as I can see. That’s democracy in action I’m afraid, the will of the majority rules”.
“He wouldn’t understand all that stuff about democracy”, said Hoowie “Not coming from the Governor’s House in Nuit!”
“And that’s quite enough from you!” said Adam “Where exactly do you propose to sleep tonight, Fabulous?”
“One of the wagons”, said Fabulous, with a sort of grim defiance.
“Well it won’t be as comfortable as being in here, but if you insist”, said Adam, who had no intention of spending half the night trying to reason with a man who was so patently unreasonable.
Fabulous went out to one of the wagons, with every intention of Showing Them. But after lying listening to what sounded like a whole pack of wolves getting steadily nearer and nearer, he gave up and crept back into the cottage, which was now in darkness.
“Shut that bloody door!” Ransey roared, who was sleeping on a camp-bed underneath the hay-loft.
“There’s a fucking gale blowing in here!” shouted Joby, from above.
“Put some wood in the hole!” Bardin bellowed, from another part of the hay-loft.
“I wonder if they’ll take him in up at the Castle”, Joby muttered.
Joby was left behind the next morning with Kieran, Bengo and Bardin to Mind The House. They took advantage of having the place to themselves to get out Julian’s hip-bath and give each other a wash and brush up. Afterwards they all retreated up to the hay-loft for some far more cosy pleasures. They were roused from post-coital slumber by Julian bellowing in the room below.
“Come and clear this mess up!” he yelled “Gypsy Boy, get down here!”
“Blimey”, said Joby, when he had struggled into his dressing-gown and joined Hillyard at the bottom of the ladder “What’s the matter with him?”
“He and Ad have been invited for dinner up at the Castle this evening”, said Hillyard.
“Well there’s no need for him to take it out on us!” said Joby “Not our fault! Why haven’t you been invited then?”
“Cos I’m a peasant”, said Hillyard.
“Good”, said Joby “All the aristo’s can irritate each other for a change!”
“Depress each other more like!” said Hillyard.
“If Joby says a word about any of this I’ll skin him alive”, said Julian, clambering into the cart that evening “Hillyard! Meet us outside the main doors at 11 o’clock sharp, not a moment later”.
“And what if they throw you out before then?” said Hillyard.
“Then you’ll find us in the village inn!” said Julian.
Both he and Adam were kept waiting in what they thought of as the Throne Room at the Castle, the one they had first been ushered into for an audience with the three brothers on their original visit. They were both kept waiting there for quite some time. The silence of the Castle hung oppressively all around them.
“I wonder how many live here altogether”, said Adam “It’s so frightfully quiet. Not exactly over-run with staff are they, you never see anyone!”
The man in fancy dress, who had approached them at the inn, appeared nervously in the doorway.
“Would you like to follow me?” he said, tentatively.
“Take me to the kasbah!” Julian quipped.
“Jules, do try and make an effort to behave this evening, old love!” Adam sighed.
The three of them clopped noisily down the echoing main corridor, and then turned left into a much narrower one. Julian mentally made notes of all the directions, in case they had to get out again quickly. They were then shown into a dining-room that was so massive, that the main village street could have comfortably fitted into it. An equally massive heavy oak table dominated the centre of the room, and the three brothers were already seated at the far end of it. Julian and Adam split off into two directions, and both walked the length of the table on each side.
The brothers had dispensed with their ermines for the evening, and instead were clothed in gaudy golden satin and lace outfits which had clearly seen better days, and on which it looked as though the moths had been feasting liberally for quite some time. In the candlelight, and the glow from the huge fire in the grate, they looked even more pallid and sick than ever. No time was wasted on social pleasantries. Barely as soon as Adam and Julian were seated then soup was ladled out into gold dishes. The soup was thin and watery, and contained thin white strains of an unrecognisable vegetable that looked horribly like tapeworm. Adam thought it looked disgusting, but the brothers attacked it with tremendous zeal, practically burrowing their noses into the dishes like pigs at a trough. They gave the impression that if they could have whipped their clothes off and swam around in it as well they would have done.
“You must excuse our table manners”, said the eldest brother, when he had finally surfaced from this orgy of mastication “Our old nanny would have been horrified. Did you have a nanny when you were a boy?”
“Well I can’t really remember”, said Adam “We had an au-pair I think. I was sent away to school when I was 7, so it’s hard to remember much before that. Julian had a nanny though didn’t you, dear? He was rather a little beast to her I‘m afraid”.
“She was rather a little beast to me!” said Julian.
Adam got the depressed feeling that the evening was going to be a bit of a bore. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t the faintest idea what the names of the three brothers were, how old they were, in fact anything about them at all … other than the fact that they were all a little strange that is. And clearly this evening, they had all been imbibing something quite liberally before he and Julian turned up. Hence the savage attack on their meals.
“Mine used to fuck me up”, said one of them, which had another one almost crying with laughter “Literally. I used to wake up in her bed …”
Adam got up, grabbed his coat from the back of the chair and left.
“You could at least have asked me to come with you, or don’t I count!” said Julian, catching up with him in the main corridor.
“I’m sorry Jules but …” Adam held out his hands which were shaking uncontrollably “I could feel myself shaking with anger …”
“Come on”, said Julian, firmly “I’ll take you to the inn, and we’ll wait for Hillyard there”.
“I couldn’t sit there and listen to all that”, said Adam, when he and Julian were seated in the back room of the inn, with a bottle of brandy and the room to themselves “Not when I think of Hillyard, and Finia’s nightmarish childhood, and what that greasy landlord did to Bardin”.
“Let’s not go into all that”, said Julian “None of them would like it”.
“I know”, said Adam “I’m so sorry, Jules”.
“For God’s sake don’t apologise”, said Julian “All I’m bothered about is we’ll have to put up with Joby going on about aristocrats. He’s had plenty to work on already with Piers and Sade, and now this lot”.
“There’s a very good way to shut Joby up when he starts like that”, said Adam, taking a healthy slug of his brandy “Just refer to his brother Josh. Not exactly a shining example of the noble working-classes!”
“I’m glad that stuff’s calming your nerves a bit”, said Julian “I obviously haven’t been firm enough with you lately that’s your trouble. You haven’t been obedient enough”.
“I’m always afraid you might get bored with me if I am”, said Adam.
“The only possible way I could ever get bored with you is when you start arguing with me just for the hell of it!” said Julian “Goddamnit Adam, you know full well nobody has ever inflamed me quite the way you do! I wish you’d just let me take care of you”.
“Oh Jules”, said Adam.
When Hillyard found them at 11 o’clock they were quite blotto.
“Hilly, you poor thing”, said Adam “You must be dreadfully embarrassed”.
“Hillyard? Embarrassed?!” said Julian.
“No just confused”, said Hillyard “There was me thinking you would still be up at the Castle quaffing the after-dinner mints and the delicate little glasses of liqueurs, and engaging in sophisticated repartee like, and instead I come in here and find you both rat-arsed like a couple of farm-hands at harvest-home!”
“Oh what a lovely thought!” Adam giggled.
“Yeah well anyway get a shift on”, said Hillyard “I had to turn out of a bloody good party back home just to come and fetch you two”.
“High time we went home and broke it up then”, said Julian.
As they drove past the Castle they noticed that it was all in darkness. Adam felt an overwhelming sense of despair when they were once more in its close proximity. He said it would be a long time before he ventured inside it again.
Everyone stayed close to the cottage for the next few days, not going into the village, or into the Castle to get to the galleon, which instead they kept an eye on through binoculars from the cliff-top . Nobody regretted what had happened on the evening of the dinner-party, but Adam’s dismay at any mention of the Castle was so disconcerting that it was thought best to simply pretend it wasn’t there for a while. They had plenty to keep them occupied for the time being. The building had to be made secure for the winter, it was imperative that the wolves which they heard howling every night, couldn’t get into the shed in which the animals were housed after dark.
And then, after a few days, the presents started arriving from the Castle. And these weren’t just any old presents, such as a hamper of food and a couple of dead pheasants (although these came too), but presents beyond the dreams of generosity. A trunk-load of quality clothing, and, to Hillyard’s joy, a car. OK, it was open-topped, which wasn’t very practical at this time of year, but it reminded him so much of the car he had had at Wolf Castle that it looked dangerously at one point as though he was going to weep with the emotion of it all.
“Yeah, what’s all this in aid of, that’s what I wanna know”, said Joby, sceptically.
Hillyard was so annoyed at this typically Joby-ish bit of wet blanketing, that he refused to take him out on the “test drive”. Instead he asked Adam (who he felt needed a bit of cheering up) to sit in the passenger seat, and Mieps and Tamaz in the back. “The Girls” perched precariously on the very back, and Tamaz whooped, yodelled and whistled, as Hillyard roared round the rough tracks in the forest. They all got covered in mud, but the car was deemed a huge success. Back at the cottage the four of them bagged the hip-bath to get clean again, and Tamaz raided the trunk.
In one compartment he unearthed a whole cache of female silk underwear. Whoever they had once belonged to had been a large lady, but it didn’t matter. “Finia can take them all in”, said Adam “He’ll like having soft and delicate to work on for a change, not like our usual old thing”. Mieps pulled on what appeared to be a pair of black and orange lacy drawers. Tamaz gave a snort of impatience.
“It’s a teddy”, he said “It’s got shoulder-straps, can’t you see?”
Mieps boxed his ears for his impertinence, and tried the flimsy garment on properly.
“I wonder whose they were”, said Adam.
“Probably their old nanny’s!” said Julian, who was smoking by the fire.
“Oh don’t mention that ghastly evening!” said Adam.
“Why not?” said Julian “Considering this all seems to be their little peace-offering”.
“Little peace-offering?!” Joby yelled “I’m disgusted, that’s what I am, disgusted, that you’re so easily bought!”
“Joby really!” Adam protested.
But Joby had slammed out of the cottage. Tamaz had been peering over the lid of the trunk at this little outburst, and then he did an extraordinary thing (for Tamaz that is), he slammed the lid back down on the trunk.
Joby was in a strange mood for the rest of the day. Hillyard tried to joke him out of it by threatening to drench him with the water from where he and Ransey had been cleaning the car, but Joby wasn’t rising to the challenge. At dusk he went back outside, round to the back of the cottage, and stood staring pensively into the woods. As the darkness descended the wolves could be heard in the far distance.
“Come along inside now”, said Kieran, coming outside, wearing his fleece and carrying Joby’s “You’ll catch double pneumonia out here. Let’s go to bed and talk about it”.
“I’m not talking about it”, said Joby “You’ll only go and tell Adam, and then I’ll have both of you on at me, wearing me down, trying to get me to accept it all”.
“If you come to bed I’ll explain everything, the best way I can”, said Kieran “The others are having a card-party, so we can talk in privacy”.
They returned via the shed, where Hillyard was settling the animals for the night. He looked at Joby with grave concern, and carried on doling out hay. Kieran and Joby changed into their nightshirts, and clambered up the ladder into the hay-loft. Down below the cottage was lit like a Christmas cavern, with firelight and candles. The clowns were playing cards at the kitchen table. Bengo, still in his pinny, was sitting on a stool to one side, looking pensive, as he always did when the clowns played cards, as at some point there would always be accusations of “cheat!” flying about.
“Are they vampires, up at the Castle?” said Joby, lying on his back and staring up at the rafters “They certainly look ill enough!”
“No they’re not vampires”, said Kieran “Not in the sense that we know anyway. But they are something Satanic, to be sure”.
“So why are we taking presents off them?” said Joby, in an ominously calm way.
“You want the boat don’t you?” said Kieran, bluntly “So we’re having to make a deal with them. They’re sending us the gifts because they want to keep us on side. They desperately need Hillyard’s money, and so they’re terrified of alienating us. You’ll probably find that for all their ermines and big house, they haven’t got two halfpenny’s to rub together, as the old saying goes. And Satanists have very expensive tastes as a rule. That’s probably why they’ve lost everything they ever had. I don’t see that there’s anything wrong in taking harmless presents off them. You lot have all had a tough time for quite some while lately, I think you deserve a bit of luxury. And Hillyard is nuts about the car”.
“He’s like a big kid with a new toy, like he always is!” said Joby.
“Joby, we’ve got a hard winter ahead of us here”, said Kieran, stroking his friend’s shoulder gently “The boat won’t be finished before the Spring, and it’ll get cold here, damn cold. It’ll be worse than that winter we had at the old hunting-lodge. It’s going to be hard enough without donning the old sackcloth and ashes routine as well”.
“No that’s your department!” said Joby.
“Yes, but I know it’s very much an acquired taste”, said Kieran, wryly “I don’t expect everyone else to share it! And can’t you get a certain satisfaction out of having Satanists desperate to keep you on side? I mean, normally they’re so focking arrogant and sure of themselves!”
“And you have to let Tamaz play with the clothes trunk”, said Kieran “He’s been looking at it all day”.
“I haven’t stopped him!” said Joby.
“No, but he won’t do it whilst he thinks it’s going to upset you”, said Kieran.
“So you’re going along with this because you like the thought of having Satanists begging for your support?” said Joby.
“Oh they don’t give a damn about me”, said Kieran “They just want to keep me out of the Castle, it’s Hillyard’s money they want”.
“So why did they invite Adam and Julian to dinner then?” said Joby.
“Don’t tell them this”, said Kieran “But I think they did it because they thought they might get somewhere with them”.
“All the decadent aristocrats together you mean?” said Joby.
“Something like that”, said Kieran “Julian’s reputation must have preceded him!”
“Bet it gave ’em a shock when Adam flounced out then!” Joby guffawed.
“The trouble is”, said Kieran “I think it might have intrigued them even more!”
The first snows of the winter came, and blanketed everything in sight, muffling up the world. The clowns had a violent snowball fight, in which Bengo came off considerably worst. He thumped back into the cottage, drenched to the skin.
“You poor little thing”, Adam purred “You must take all your clothes off!”
Joby tutted and rolled his eyes.
“Why do you clowns always have to get so aggressive all the time when you’re playing about?” said Adam, helping Bengo to disrobe.
“Because we’re clowns”, said Bengo “Miserable, angry little bastards”.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “I think you’re rather sweet”.
“Hal isn’t”, said Bengo “Neither’s Bardy sometimes”.
“Only last night you was saying he had a sweet little face, I heard yer”, said Joby “’I saw that sweet little face peering round the door‘, you said”.
“Yes, now I’d like to punch it!” said Bengo “I’m lucky I got out of there alive!”
“I’m sure you gave a good account of yourself in return”, said Adam.
“Too true I did!” said Bengo “Got him smack in the face with one, just as he was about to blow his whistle and all!”
“Good heavens, he could have swallowed it!” said Adam.
“That’d have been a blessing!” said Joby.
Julian came through the doorway that led to the shed. He had gone through the shed to get to the outside loo (the major disadvantage to living at the cottage). He was wearing a long fur-length robe over his naked body, sturdy boots. He threw himself down on a chair, stuck out a leg and yelled for Toppy.
“Toppy’s in bed”, said Adam “He’s not very well”.
“What’s the matter with him?” said Julian, looking up the hay-loft, where Toppy also slept.
“Just a little cold”, said Adam “Nothing serious”.
“Has Kieran got it too?” said Julian, as Kieran was in bed on the other side of the hayloft.
“No, that’s just lazy-itus”, said Joby.
Bardin slammed in through the front door, and gave a disgusted look at Bengo, who was sitting swathed in a very large shawl by the fire.
“I see you’ve done it again”, said Bardin “Made out that it’s you who comes off worst all the time”.
“Stop grizzling, Bardin, and help Julian with his boots”, said Adam.
Bardin shed his coat and hat, and went to help Julian. They were in the middle of this difficult operation, when there was a brisk knocking at the door. Adam answered it, and was confronted with one of the brothers from the Castle. He got the impression that this was the eldest one. His most noticeable characteristic was a tendency to jerk his head like a bird, as though he was constantly trying to catch sight of something out of the corner of his eye. He was so heavily swathed in furs that it was a wonder he could move. Adam reluctantly invited him into the cottage, if only to stop the howling gale that was coming in through the doorway.
“You can’t stay here”, said the eldest brother, somewhat peremptorily “Not feasible. How many of you are there?”
“Twenty”, said Bardin “Plus animals”.
“You’ll have to come to the Castle”, said the brother.
“Well with all respect, old love”, said Adam “That room you showed us wasn’t exactly cut out to accommodate 20 people either!”
“Plus animals”, said Joby.
“We find we’re rather cosy here”, said Adam “And with all of us in here at night, it can get very warm, so we don’t tend to notice the cold”.
“Until we have to go and use the karzey”, said Joby, darkly “Enough to freeze the balls off a brass-monkey then …”
“Yes, that’s enough, Joby”, said Adam.
“You have to come to the Castle”, said the brother “It’s not good for you to be out here like this”.
Kieran stepped gingerly down the ladder from the hay-loft, catching his nightshirt halfway. The brother averted his gaze, plainly not wanting to look at Kieran at all.
“He doesn’t come”, he said, staring intently at a cupboard door.
“Oh well I’m afraid that settles it”, said Adam “We couldn’t possibly leave Patsy here all by himself”.
“There’s no knowing what the little sod would get up to!” said Julian.
Kieran was visibly fuming, so Adam went over to the door and put his hand on the knob.
“I really don’t see any point in continuing this conversation”, he said to the brother “We are not coming to the Castle”.
The brother swept out of the cottage, or as best he could, encumbered as he was by the heap of furs he was wearing.
“Why did you have to stand there like that?” Bardin barked at Bengo, who was still wrapped in the shawl.
“Would you rather I had got dressed in front of him then?” said Bengo.
“Bardin!” Julian shouted, sticking out a booted foot “Come and finish your job”.
Joby gathered up a pile of Kieran’s clothes, and told him to follow him into the shed.
“That little whatsit needs the strap”, said Julian, when they had gone.
“You can’t go giving Patsy the strap when he hasn’t done anything wrong”, said Adam.
“It’d do him good”, said Julian, unrepentantly.
“Joby can sort him out without having recourse to the strap”, said Adam.
“I can’t think of anything less likely than that we all leave you here to go and live at the Castle!” said Joby.
He and Kieran, now in their sheepskins, were strolling through the snow at the back of the cottage.
“Talk about a totally irrational fear!” Joby continued.
“That’s what they’re trying to do though”, said Kieran “Separate you all from me”.
“I don’t think they’re capable of that kind of subtle thinking”, said Joby “That lot haven’t got a brain cell between ‘em, not one that works properly anyway! And as for you, flashing your knackers as you come down the ladder! Talk about dissolute old Irishman! You’ll be staggering through the village with your flies undone next!”
“Singing about the joys of Killarney!” Kieran laughed, linking his arm with Joby’s.
Lonts, Mieps and Tamaz came out of the forest at the far end of the field, accompanied by the dogs, who were barking madly.
“Oh blimey”, said Joby “Lonts’ll go berserk when he hears about what’s happened this morning!”
The dogs pounded towards Kieran and Joby, and in their boisterous excitement, knocked them both over into the snow. Lonts had to pull the dogs off.
“They’re always so pleased to see you, Joby”, he said.
Kieran went reflective over the next couple of days, in fact Joby feared that he was going into one of his notorious old depths of despair moods. Guilt was always a big self-indulgence with Kieran, and now it reared its unwelcome head once again. The snows coming had reminded him of just how long and hard the winter at the cottage was going to be, and possibly how much better off they would all be at the Castle, but of course they couldn’t live at the Castle because it would mean leaving him behind etc etc etc.
As they were preparing breakfast early one morning, and with Kieran out of earshot, helping Hillyard to attend to the horses in the shed next door, Joby let rip about his frustration at dealing with Kieran when he was wallowing in guilt like this.
“He’s such a reasonable little man most of the time”, said Adam “Except when he gets like this, or anything to do with religion of course, and then he’s extremely trying”.
“He’s extremely trying at the moment!” said Joby “I’m almost tempted to hand him over to Julian for a couple of days, and it takes a lot for me to say that!”
“I don’t think such drastic measure are called for”, said Adam “Yet”.
“You’ve got to expect this”, said Finia, who had been reading in his nightdress nearby “Kieran’s a Pisces, they’re pessimistic by nature”.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “I wouldn’t say Patsy was a pessimistic person at all”.
“Then what do you call all this”, said Finia “What you’ve just been talking about!”
“But Farnol’s a Pisces as well”, said Adam “And he’s always such a jolly little thing”.
“Oh he has his moments, Adam”, said Bengo “He gets really down when he thinks about all the wickedness in the world”.
“Well so do we all”, said Adam “Anyway I refuse to listen to Finia’s nonsense about astrology. According to him I was born under the most evil sign in the Zodiac!”
“I said the most darkest sign, not the most evil”, said Finia, who was following Adam around the kitchen table, with his book under his arm.
“You said I was sex-obsessed and with a vicious temper!” said Adam.
“Blimey, there might be summat in it after all!” said Joby.
“I shall put you across my knee in a moment, Joby!” said Adam.
“See what I mean!” said Joby.
“You can learn a lot from astrology”, said Finia “If you had studied it when you were younger, you wouldn’t have got in such a state about Julian. He’s a Gemini you see, and they are notorious commitment-phobes. Hillyard’s a Gemini too, and so is the Marquis de Sade”.
“Figures!” said Joby.
“If you had understand all that about Julian all those years ago”, Finia continued, at Adam “You would have known not to expect the same high level of commitment from him as you demand from a relationship”.
“Does it say anything in your book about Capricorns being intensely irritating at times!” said Adam.
“We are very steady people”, said Finia “Very reliable and conservative”.
“Conservative? You?!” said Joby “Some of the things you wear!”
“I have immaculate dress-sense”, said Finia, haughtily “You just don’t appreciate elegance when you see it”.
“I’m not used to it that’s why!” said Joby “I spend most of my time with Kieran, he never notices what he’s wearing!”
“You know what you said about commitment-phobes, Finia?” said Bengo, pausing whilst whisking eggs “Are Sagittarians good at being married?”
“Not if you and Bardin are anything to go by!” said Joby.
“No, they are not”, said Finia, crisply “You are too blunt, you don’t realise what you say can be hurtful to others, and you get jealous easily”.
“That’s entirely Bardy that is, that sums up his character totally!” said Bengo “And anyway I never set out to hurt people with what I say, unlike him!”
“No, but you manage it sometimes”, said Finia.
Bengo looked wretched, and Adam wanted to hit Finia over the head with his astrology book.
“It is all a lot of nonsense!” said Adam “And for all this talk you haven’t come up with any answers about what we’re supposed to do with Patsy!”
“You have to indulge him”, said Finia “It’s in his stars, he can’t help himself”.
“Oh that’s very helpful that is!” said Adam.
Adam took Joby and Bengo down into the village to do some shopping, and whilst he was there he heard a rumour that the villagers were hoping to get Kieran to preach an open-air service to celebrate Advent. It had to be open-air as the village had no church, it had burnt down in mysterious circumstances many years ago, and now sheep and goats grazed in the meadow where it had once stood. Adam strongly suspected that the church’s burning wasn’t so mysterious after all, as he felt that the “pasty-faced lot at the Castle” had had something to do with it. Nevertheless he thought the Advent service (to be held in the courtyard of the inn) was a good idea, as it would take Kieran out of himself, and in this weather it was very unlikely Kieran would insist on doing it in the nude, as he sometimes had been inclined to do in the past. And Ransey could ride shot-gun in the audience, in case there was any trouble.
Winter on Wooded Hill (which was the rather basic name for this rather basic place) was a truly dismal experience. The main village street was a constant quagmire of slush and ice. Freezing fog frequently blanketed the area for days on end. Hillyard and Ransey went to the Castle to use their telegraph machine, to place orders for themselves, and the village (as a much-needed pleasant surprise for them). Kieran expressed a strong wish to join them. When he was President he had enjoyed arranging charity deliveries, and wanted to do it again. He was told in no uncertain terms by Ransey that he had to stay away, that it was very likely that if he insisted on coming the Pasty-Faced Lot would refuse them all admittance, and then NOBODY would get any nice surprises.
Ransey and Hillyard spent an afternoon in a little side room at the Castle which was bitterly cold, as the fireplace contained only a few miserable cold ashes in the grate. Everywhere was dimly lit, and the whole place gave off a revolting sensation, akin to being touched up by a cold, clammy hand.
“It’s so damn quiet around here”, said Hillyard, who in spite of his thick winter clothing, hadn’t stopped shivering since he had come into the building.
“That’s because you’re used to how noisy it is at home”, said Ransey, looking at the telegraph machine “How old is this thing?!”
“I don’t know”, said Hillyard “Let’s just get on with it shall we. We’ve got a lot to do”.
Whilst they worked, for the next couple of hours, all they could hear was the sound of the machine, the sleet pattering against the miserable little window, and the wind in the chimney. There were no other noises at all. In a place the size of the castle it was all very unnerving. A rat scuttled across the floor at one point, which only served Hillyard to exclaim in great annoyance “this is a NICE household!”
As they were packing up their things to leave, the door opened a fraction and a small person looked in. At first they thought it was a child dressed up in a servant’s uniform, her hair covered in a huge white mob-cap. Then they realised it was in fact an old woman, only about 3 feet in height. Hillyard spoke to her, and she scuttled away like a spider, giggling hoarsely.
“Let’s get out of here”, Hillyard sighed.
There was no one to let them out of the big main doors, which were bolted and locked. Fortunately, during a previous visit, they had seen a side door standing open which led out into a courtyard garden. They knew they could get out through this via a side door into the village street, which could only be opened from the inside. The courtyard garden was every bit as dingy and gloomy as the inside of the Castle had been. To add to the forbidding atmosphere the centre of it was dominated by a huge well. It looked just the sort of horrible thing that would be used to do away with people, and knowing what they did about this Castle, this seemed only too likely. Every window that stared down at them seemed to be made up of a million pairs of eyes.
“Let’s get out of here”, said Hillyard.
Kieran went out into the forest over the next few days, hunting down winter wild-flowers and plants that he could make into a winter garland. These took some looking for, but he managed to come up with a fairly impressive specimen by the end of it. The clowns meantime organised the courtyard at the pub so that people could sit and listen to him, and then have a meal afterwards. Burning braziers had to be dotted around to try and warm people up. Adam was invited by the landlord of the pub to help him do the Advent Sunday lunch. This news dismayed Adam, as, after all these years of being king of his own kitchen, he had no wish to go and act as skivvy and stooge for somebody else. But clearly if he refused this could cause a major diplomatic incident locally, so he didn’t have much choice.
The landlord was a huge, hairy mountain of a man, with an appalling set of teeth, an almost incomprehensible accent, and a tendency to look down with contempt on anyone who couldn’t consume several bottles of potent homemade wine in one sitting. His kitchen was tiny, and going by the blackened and broken tiles, would have been immediately closed down by a health inspector in a more civilised region. He produced his daughter as a help-mate. Juanita was a sweet girl with an endearing smile, but there was no denying the fact that she was absolutely plain as the day is long. She had a round, weather-beaten face, and greasy dark hair scraped back into a tight bun. Nevertheless it didn’t stop the landlord warning Adam that if he “fucked my daughter, I will cut your balls off”. Adam couldn’t think of a reply to this that wouldn’t sound like an insult to Juanita so he didn’t say anything.
Things got even worse when it became apparent that both Adam and the landlord had different ideas as to what to serve a crowd of underfed people on a freezing cold winter’s day. Adam wanted to opt for his own fish-and-potato pies, which had often been a rich, filling necessity for the Indigo-ites. The landlord grudgingly agreed to this, on condition that he was allowed to suggest the starters. As such he came up with some highly imaginative ideas, such as nettle soup topped with a peculiar kind of black squid-like fish, which looked about as appealing as a crusty dog‘s turd. This looked revolting enough, but for the food-connoisseurs in the gathering, he had an extra special treat: bulls’ testicles on toast. Adam tried not to imagine what Kieran would say when this was brought out, and watched uneasily as the little red objects were dropped into a frying-pan.
“They make you a man!” said the landlord, proudly, squeezing Adam’s shoulder “You know what I mean?”
“I think I do”, said Adam, sincerely hoping that he wouldn’t be asked to try one.
“Ah I forget”, said the landlord “You are a poof!”
Adam sighed, and went to check his pies. Lonts brightened his day by appearing at the back door to see how he was, and to report that Joby had complained about the starters, saying that it was vile swill.
“Tell Joby to come here and say that”, said Adam, crossly, and then realised that the landlord would probably run him through with a knife if he did “On second thoughts Lo-Lo, don’t do that”.
Juanita visibly breathed a sigh of relief at this.
“Cheer up, everybody enjoyed themselves”, said Julian, as he and Adam rode home in the back of the car at the end of the day.
“The landlord was utterly impossible”, said Adam “I hope he has a stinking hangover tomorrow”.
“Very likely I would have thought”, said Julian “From what I saw of him”.
“Patsy looked exquisite didn’t he”, said Adam “Like a little woodland sprite”.
They pulled up at the cottage in the winter twilight. Lonts, Toppy and Tamaz had earlier built a snowman outside the main door, and in this half-light he looked vaguely demonic. Adam went into the house first. His main consideration was to get the fire banked up again, and to start lighting the lamps, but although these were important duties, he couldn’t help noticing that something was amiss about the place. He soon realised what it was. In their absence somebody had been into the cottage, and had had a good poke round. Whoever it was had done a very professional job, but even though they had taken care to replace everything where it was, it was still chillingly apparent that somebody had been through all the cupboards and drawers, and had even poked around under the chair cushions and the pillows.
“You think it was the Satanic lot?” said Bardin, when Adam had taken him up into the hay-loft so that they could talk in peace.
“Who else would it be?” said Adam “I’m just glad Patsy had his Bible with him today, or chances are they would have desecrated it”.
“They would have given themselves away if they had!” said Bardin.
“What a horrible feeling it is”, said Adam “Knowing that somebody you detest has been poking around in your private possessions”.
“I’ll pass a law”, said Bardin “We must never leave this place empty again. There must be at least two people here at all times. But I don’t understand, what were they looking for? Nothing’s been taken!”
“I’m beginning to wonder if it’s some kind of witchcraft thing”, said Adam “Black Magic I mean, not harmless herbs and potions and candles. I suspect they were looking for little things, like scraps of hair, nail parings, a scrap of clothing, or a hankie, that won’t be missed, that kind of thing”.
“To cast a spell against Kieran?” said Bardin “That’s a horrible thought!”
“Nonetheless”, said Adam “We must be on the alert for it”.
Kieran began getting twinges in his chest that evening, but assumed it was indigestion, perhaps from gobbling his supper too fast. In the middle of the night though the pains woke him up, and were far worse.
“Joby”, he whispered “Find me rosary beads and crucifix for me”.
They were lying on his Bible, above his head. Joby grabbed them, and at Kieran’s instruction, placed them under Kieran’s nightshirt, above his heart.
“Bastards”, Kieran muttered “I suspect some miserable focker at the Castle is jabbing a big pin into a little wax effigy of me as we speak!”
“But what can we do?” said Joby, in alarm.
“They’ve been a bit too fast for me”, said Kieran, wincing with the pain “I should have given meself a bit of psychic self-defence, but I was so high today after the sermon this morning that I couldn’t bring meself down enough to apply me mind to it. I will start on it tomorrow”.
“But there must be summat else we can do?!” said Joby, who didn’t have much faith in psychic self-defence, not when they could employ Ransey with his gun instead to take out their enemies.
“Joby, you’re the bestest friend a man could ever have”, said Kieran “But you mustn’t worry. They can’t destroy me, or any of us, remember that”.
“No, but they can torture you”, said Joby “Have you writhing in pain!”
“It disturbs me far more that somebody hates me to this extent”, said Kieran “I know I’ve had it before, but it’s always an upsetting thought”.
“There have always been sad nutters in the world, Kiel”, said Joby “We should know, we’ve come up against enough of ’em in our time!”
Ransey and Hillyard broke into the Castle the next morning. It was very easy. They hammered on the main doors, and when the little wizened man came to answer it, Ransey produced his gun and pushed past him. The little man fainted on the spot (which was a bit unexpected), and Hillyard propped him up on his stool in his tiny cubby-hole next to the door.
“This place is like a tomb”, said Ransey, as they wandered down the long main corridor.
Every doorway they passed they looked into, only to find the room completely empty. Hillyard then noticed a faint glow at the top of a flight of carved wooden stairs tucked into an alcove. He gestured towards it, and they crept stealthily upwards. The stairs creaked, but they were careful to minimise noise as much as possible. At the top a door stood slightly ajar. Inside the room a fire was blazing at full throttle in the hearth, the first sign of light and warmth they had seen since setting foot inside the Castle.
Seated by the fire in a high-backed chair was what could only be called an old crone. In her younger days she must have been a striking-looking woman, tall and slender, with hair so fair it was almost white. She was still striking, but in a very different way, although it was clear she still carried herself regally. She was thin to the point of emaciation, and the black taffeta nightdress she wore hung off her. Round her scrawny neck were three ropes of big white pearls. She had Kieran in her lap, that is the little wax model of him that Kieran had joked about. She was playfully stabbing at the heart region with a monstrous hat-pin.
Ransey strode towards her, snatched the doll, and threw it into the fire. The hat-pin went after it.
“You stupid man”, said the old woman, clutching the arm-rests of her chair so firmly that the veins stood out malignantly on her hands “Do you think my power can be destroyed so easily?”
“Your power?” said Ransey “What power?”
A door opened in the wall behind the chair, and the eldest of the sons came out, still swathed in furs. He was so agitated that the perpetual jerking of his head was now quite alarming.
“What’s going on here, what?” he said, breathing heavily.
“If I had proper sons”, the old woman hissed “This situation would never have arisen! How did they get past the main doors?”
“It’s easy”, said Ransey “It’s called a gun, you’d be amazed how much influence it can have over a person!”
Hillyard meanwhile had noticed that a side-table was covered with yet more of the old woman’s black magic paraphernalia, small figures made up of bits of material, hair etc, dead insects, animal claws, and what looked revoltingly like scraps of skin. He swept them up and threw them on the fire as well. The old woman made no noise or sound of protest, she watched it all with an imperious sneer to her face.
“Such things can easily be replaced”, she said, eventually, with enormous composure.
Ransey grudgingly admired her sang-froid, it was clear she was cut of a much more superior cloth than her sons, and it was also clear that she despised them almost as much as the Indigo-ites did.
“You do not have power here”, she said to both Ransey and Hillyard “We do”.
“Madam, that can all change”, said Ransey “From what I have seen you have very little influence in the village”.
“Then you clearly don’t know as much as I thought you did”, said the old woman, getting unsteadily to her feet. Her son rushed forward with a walking-stick to hand to her. Rheumatics were obviously a problem for the old dear, which was hardly surprising living in this cold, damp, cheerless place.
“We have the telegraph machine”, she said “That alone gives us tremendous sway in the community, it is their only link with the outside world. Have you never heard the expression Mr Ransey, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king? It is very relevant here I assure you”.
She paused at the door in the back wall.
“I am sure you can show yourselves out”, she said, and then disappeared through it.
“You have to admire her balls”, said Hillyard.
“She’s the only one in this house with any!” said Ransey.
“But that’s such an easy solution!” said Bardin, back at the cottage, when informed of all that had happened “We nick the telegraph machine!”
“Just like that?” said Joby, sceptically.
“Yes!” Bardin exclaimed “That side door, leading into the garden, that Ransey and Hillyard came out through …”
“Which can only be opened from the inside”, Ransey pointed out.
“That doesn’t matter”, said Bardin, impatiently “I’ve had a good look at the wall, me and Bengo can get over it easily”.
“It’ll be just like the old burning-house sketch we used to do!” said Bengo.
“Except I won’t have to keep getting doused in buckets of water this time!” said Bardin.
“Shame”, said Rumble “That was the best part!”
Bardin’s Log: “I ABSOLUTELY REFUSED TO EMPLOY ANY SUBTERFUGE WHEN WE STOLE THE TELEGRAPH MACHINE. HAL SEEMED TO HAVE SOME IDEA THAT WE SHOULD ALL BLACK UP OUR FACES, AND APPROACH THE CASTLE BY STEALTH. I SAID IF I WAS CERTAIN OF ANYTHING, IT WAS THAT WE WOULD BE HOPELESS AT ANY UNDERCOVER WORK. WE HAD TO BE BRAZEN ABOUT IT, AS RANSEY AND HILLYARD HAD BEEN WHEN THEY FORCED THEIR WAY IN TO SEE THE OLD LADY.
WE WERE HELPED BY THE FIRST OF THE AIR-DROPS, WHICH CAUSED GREAT EXCITEMENT IN THE VILLAGE, WITH EVERYBODY RUNNING UP TO THE MEADOW (WHERE I THINK THE OLD CHURCH ONCE WAS). WE TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE KERFUFFLE TO BREAK INTO THE CASTLE. ME AND BENGO SCALED THE GARDEN WALL, AND ONCE ON THE OTHER SIDE WERE ABLE TO LET THE OTHERS IN. NICKING THE MACHINE WAS SO EASY IT WAS UNNERVING! THERE WAS SIMPLY NOBODY AROUND INSIDE THE CASTLE, AND IT FELT COLDER THAN EVER IN THERE. I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER KNOWN A MORE DISMAL PLACE. I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER PARTS OF THE BIG HOUSE BEING LIKE THIS, OR PERHAPS THAT’S JUST THAT MEMORY HAS BLOCKED THE WORST ASPECTS OF IT OUT. I SIMPLY CAN’T IMAGINE THAT THE CASTLE HAS EVER KNOWN ANY CHEER IN IT.
ADAM HAD SAID THERE WAS NO WAY WE COULD HAVE THE MACHINE HERE AT THE COTTAGE, THERE SIMPLY ISN’T ROOM, SO WE TOOK IT DOWN TO THE VILLAGE INN. I MUST ADMIT I HAD BEEN WORRIED THAT THAT WIERD LANDLORD WOULD SMASH IT UP ONE DAY IN A DRUNKEN HAZE, BUT WE WERE ASSURED BY JUANITA THAT SHE WOULD TAKE CHARGE OF IT. SHE SAID IT WAS THE BEST THING THAT HAD HAPPENED IN THE VILLAGE FOR A LONG WHILE, AND THAT REALLY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN WRESTED FROM THEM A LONG TIME AGO. SO ANY GUILT I MAY HAVE HAD ABOUT NICKING IT (WHICH IS PRETTY MINIMAL I CAN ASSURE YOU!) HAS COMPLETELY EVAPORATED”.
Adam said that the stealing of the telegraph machine had been positively thrilling, “like the stealing of the Enigma machine in the Second World War”. Bardin said he couldn’t really say it had been thrilling, as they had met no resistance from anybody, but it had been very satisfying. Of course the big question next was how would the inmates at the Castle react to this gross violation of their property. Kieran said they would have to brace themselves for further psychic attacks, or possibly an attempt on the cottage or their animals. So what happened next completely flummoxed everybody. The Satanists left a message on the cottage door one night … demanding an apology.
“An apology?!” said Joby “Are they for real?!”
“They never cease to surprise us”, said Adam “I’ll say that for them!”
“But what are they up to?” said Bengo.
“I don’t know”, said Adam “And quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.
And so saying he lifted the lid on the hob on the stove and put the letter into the flames. Bardin organised a meeting of the clowns.
“We must have somebody on guard all night”, he said “One person here, just inside the front door, and another in the shed, just in case they decide to come round in the night. We have to be on the alert”.
“That’s a really good idea, Bardy”, said Bengo, as if he had never had one before.
“You’re not taking part”, said Bardin.
“Oh no, we can’t have him coming to any harm”, said Rumble, sarcastically.
“He already has work to do!” said Bardin.
Bengo was utterly dismayed by this. He was so crestfallen in fact that Adam insisted he and Bardin go up into the hayloft alone, and thrash this out. Bengo did so by rogering Bardin vigorously. Afterwards Bengo rolled himself up in a blanket and lay staring at the firelight flickering on the rafters. Bardin was breathless for quite some while after all this strenuous activity, which meant there was blessed silence for a few minutes.
“Please, you’ve got to let me join in, Bardy”, said Bengo, piteously.
“Bengo, you already work hard enough all day”, said Bardin, propping himself up on his elbow next to him “I can’t ask you to sit up all night as well”.
“But the other clowns won’t see it that way”, said Bengo “They’ll just see it as me being wrapped up in cotton-wool!”
“Ignore them”, said Bardin “They’re just jealous of you, they always have been. So was I. It was because people always loved you”.
“The other clowns don’t”, said Bengo, who felt as though he was going to burst into tears at any moment.
“It doesn’t matter what they think, Bengo!” said Bardin.
“They’ll just see me even more as a pampered pet”, Bengo wailed.
“You have never been pampered”, said Bardin “I have always rigorously seen to that”.
“Bengo”, Joby clambered up the ladder and poked his head over the edge of the hay-loft “You’ve gotta come and give me moral support, Lonts has said Adam’s gonna let him do some baking this afternoon!”
“See”, said Bardin, triumphantly, to Bengo “Your first priority needs to be the kitchen”.
“But what can I do, Joby?” said Bengo, miserably, feeling as though there was absolutely nothing he was capable of at the moment “I can’t stand up to Lonts, he‘s so big!”
“You can just keep an eye on him when he gets near the stove”, said Joby “If he has his way half the bleedin’ forest’ll get chucked on it. There’ll be thick black smoke pouring out of the chimney, pouring out! He’s a fucking maniac when it comes to over-doing things!”
The first night-watch passed with very little incident. The only occurrence of note was that the wolves out in the forest seemed closer than ever, which was unnerving, but at least very earthly. The following morning Hillyard drove Mieps, Julian, Joby and Adam into the village, so that Adam and Joby could do some shopping, and Hillyard, Mieps and Julian wait for them in the bar.
“I thought we could do a little something for Bengo and Bardin’s birthdays”, said Adam “As they’re coming up very soon”.
“That’s just spoiling ’em that is”, said Joby, who was wedged in uncomfortably on the back seat between Adam and Julian, and having to endure Julian’s cigar smoke “We’ve got Christmas soon, they can enjoy ’enselves then”.
“Really Joby, you are such an old curmudgeon sometimes!” said Adam.
“I just don’t see why they get birthday treats”, said Joby “Nobody else does. I can’t remember the last time I had one”.
“Oh dear!” Julian laughed.
“Well I can’t!” said Joby “Certainly not at any time in living memory that’s for sure. The only birthday present I’ve ever had from Kieran was a packet of fags once, and that was after I’d given up smoking!”
“You’ll have us in tears in a moment!” said Julian “Anyway, you’re not the only one, nobody ever celebrates my birthday either”.
“I wonder why!” shouted Hillyard, from the driver’s seat.
“Shut up!” said Julian.
“It makes the clowns very happy when they get things like that”, said Adam “They never got a chance to celebrate their birthdays when they were little”.
“GOOD!” said Joby.
“Think how much joy little Bengo brings to your life”, said Adam.
“Think how much bleedin’ stress he brings to it and all!” said Joby.
Hillyard parked the car at the bottom of the village street, and then sat there lovingly caressing the steering-wheel.
“Are you coming with us?” said Julian, getting out of the back seat “Or are you going to sit there and fondle the car?!”
Adam and Joby splintered off to wander around the market. In the background Adam noticed that some of those mysterious cheeses were being packed up into crates, to be sent on to the Castle.
“If only we could find out what was so special about them”, he said “We might have the whole key to the conundrum up there”.
“Short of nicking one”, said Joby “I can’t think how we’d find out”.
“Dodgy too”, said Adam “We don’t know what’s in them”.
“Some kind of hallucinogenic drug if you ask me”, Joby whispered.
“Of course, that makes the most sense!” said Adam, recognition dawning “What else could it be? When people talk about ‘extra-special ingredients’ they either mean an aphrodisiac, which with that lot seems entirely unlikely! Or dope”.
“And Black Magic and drugs has always gone hand-in-hand”, said Joby “Look at Crowley!”
“I’d rather not, thanks”, said Adam.
“It’d also account for what a mess they’re all in”, said Joby “I mean, they all look bloody sick all the time, all wasted and pale, especially that one that keeps constantly jerking his head, and their house is a pits. If they ever had anything valuable they’ve long since sold it all off”.
“Which again ties in with the drugs”, said Adam “And why they were so desperate to do business with us!”
“And the bizarre reaction to the clowns nicking the telegraph machine”, said Joby “Asking for an apology for God’s sake!”
“It was a bit ‘out of it’ wasn’t it?” said Adam.
“We need to find out more about them”, said Joby, unexpectedly “The clowns have broken in once, they can do it again”.
“Hang on a minute”, Adam pulled him over to a quiet spot so that they could talk unhindered “This is all sounding very rash, Joby”.
“Not if it’s well thought out it’s not”, said Joby “I keep remembering some of the things I heard Satanists get up to in our time”.
“Yes well it all helped to sell newspapers didn’t it!” said Adam, caustically.
“This sort of stuff didn’t get into the friggin’ newspapers!” said Joby.
“Where did you hear about it then?” said Adam.
“Websites”, said Joby.
“Conspiracy theory stuff no doubt”, said Adam.
“Look Ad”, said Joby “Stop sounding so bleedin’ sceptical, you’d think after some of the people we’ve met you’d be more believing”.
“But I DO believe it, that’s the trouble!” said Adam “And I want to leave them well alone, let them get on with their sad little lives in peace. We’ve got the telegraph machine, and there’s an end to it”.
“And what if they attack Kieran again?” said Joby.
“But Patsy’s working on that”, said Adam “He saw Crowley off, and the demons in Lixix. And he’s sorted Angel out tons of times”.
“At great cost to himself usually!” said Joby “There’s the Winter Solstice coming up, they’ll make a big thing of that, it’s one of their big festivals”.
“Aren’t you getting it muddled up with Paganism?” said Adam.
“They celebrate the same festivals”, said Joby, with forced patience “Just in vastly different ways that’s all. There’s not much Peace and Love where their Satanists are concerned. Now if we can get Bardin and his lot to break in that night, and have a discreet spy on ’em”.
“The clowns aren’t discreet, Joby”, said Adam “And you know what they’re like, they regard the whole of life as one big comic sketch, but this is dangerous!”
“I would pit them against the Satanists any day!” said Joby “That bunch of drugged-up losers wouldn’t stand a chance! We’ve done it before, when we broke into Crowley’s commune, we can do it again”.
Adam always found it distinctly unnerving when Joby decided to become Positive. It was as if a reckless switch had suddenly got clicked in his brain. From being cautious and reluctant, he would suddenly become fearless and intrepid. Adam knew that the Satanic old woman’s psychic attack on Kieran was behind this turn of mind. Joby was determined that she wasn’t going to do anything like this again. What made the whole thing worse was that the clowns reacted with exuberant enthusiasm to this latest idea.
“Bardy’s said I can join in this one”, said Bengo, in the kitchen later that day “I’m so pleased. I haven’t been able to live down being left out of the night-watches”.
“But Bardin was quite right to do so”, said Adam “You do have a lot to do all day”.
“They don’t see it that way, Adam”, said Bengo “All I get is hoary old jokes about Little Mr Dimples Sickbag, The Child Star! It really gets on my nerves”.
“But Bengo, really!” said Adam, flicking down a mashing-fork in exasperation “I can’t stomach the thought of you going spying on Satanists up to their gruesome deeds!”
“Hah”, Joby chuckled “You wait til Julian hears about this. He’ll call you a right old woman!”
“Right that does it”, said Adam “I’m going to arrange for you to have a session alone with him tomorrow. The rest of us will go out and join in the deer-hunting with the villagers”.
“Kieran won’t”, said Joby.
“Oh yes he will”, said Adam “He won’t have any say in it. And you can stay here alone, with Julian. You’ll have such fun together!”
Joby stomped over to the back of the room.
“Now where are you going?” said Adam.
“To the karsey!” said Joby.
“I might have guessed really!” said Adam.
The next few days were hectically busy. More parcel-drops arrived, which never ceased to send everybody into a frenzy. Deer-shooting and rabbit-shooting consumed the days. And the telegraph machine was in constant use in the village, as the locals indulged in an orgy of communication with the outside world. It was a few days before Christmas, the day before the Winter Solstice in fact, before Julian was able to get his hands on Joby. Beforehand Adam took him (Joby that is) into the shed, and handed him a tiny phial of liquid.
“It’s a local concoction”, said Adam “It’ll help you to relax”.
“You are unreal!” Joby protested “So much for being one of my oldest friends! You go and get me drugged up and hand me over to that unscrupulous old rogue!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam “I just want you to get maximum enjoyment out of it, you’ll have a fantastic time. Julian is a very good lover, as you well know”.
“Well you stay here with him then!” said Joby “I’m sure he won’t mind!”
“Oh you are being such a wuss!” said Adam “Julian won’t hurt you, it’d be bad for his ego! All this silly protesting you do each time, and then you go at it like knives!”
“Christ, you’re fantastic!” said Julian, as Joby clung onto the bed-head on the main bed downstairs, whilst Julian rogered him “You’re almost as good as Adam!”
Joby was too breathless to speak.
“I’m dizzy!” he said, eventually, when they were wrapped up in the fur bed-covers afterwards.
“You’ve got a backside full of my spunk that’s why”, said Julian.
“Thanks Julian”, said Joby “You have a way with words!”
Julian nipped out of bed to fetch a flagon of wine and two cups.
“I’m gonna be really out of it if I have that on top of everything else”, said Joby.
“So lie back and enjoy it”, said Julian “You need to rest a little before we move onto the next round”.
“Oh fuck!” said Joby.
“Hah!” Julian laughed “I bet you don’t get any of this with Kieran’s dinky little tadger!”
“He does alright!” said Joby “You’d have him as your love-slave given half a chance!”
“I’d have you as well”, said Julian “Naked, on a long golden chain, perfect. Adam missed a wonderful opportunity when he had you two to himself at Henang”.
“I think we drove him up the wall actually”, said Joby “We never stopped arguing”.
“That’s because you had too much pent-up sexual energy that needed releasing”, said Julian “It’s the same with the clowns. As soon as Bengo and Bardin start endlessly bickering we should simply send them both to bed”.
“And then they’d just carry on bickering in there!” said Joby “Mind you, it is the only thing I can think of that shuts Bardin up! Nothing else does!”
They were dozing a short while later, and Joby was vaguely aware of somebody coming into the cottage. He wasn’t unduly alarmed. Mainly because he was so zonked out that he couldn’t have got alarmed if he’d tried, but also because he dimly assumed it was just a couple of the others returning from the deer-hunt. Then he felt something highly noxious being put over his mouth.
“Joby, wake up, old man!” Julian slapped his naked backside firmly, as though bringing a baby into the world “Come on, we’ve been kidnapped!”
“What?” Joby twisted round awkwardly in the bed-clothes “Julian?”
“The Shits have taken us”, said Julian.
“What are you talking about, Julian?” said Joby, groggily.
As his vision slowly cleared, he realised he was in a strange bed. Slowly he recognised it as the four-poster in the room at the Castle that they had been shown originally, when the pasty-faced lot had offered them this one room to accommodate all 20 of them in it. There was a log-fire spitting in the grate, and that provided the only lighting in the room. It had gone dark outside, and sleet was splattering against the leaded window. A strong wind was howling in the chimney. Julian hove into his line of vision, wearing his fur-lined robe over his naked body.
“Are we at the Castle?” said Joby.
“Yes”, said Julian.
“How long have you been conscious?” said Joby.
“Only a few minutes”, said Julian “I think they must have chloroformed us. I do have a vague recollection of somebody dragging me off the bed”.
“But what do they want us for?” said Joby, sitting up and rubbing his head.
“Knowing this lot”, said Julian “Hostage money. I’ve long since thought this deranged lot would do anything for hard cash, and I suspect this is what has happened”.
“But that’s crazy!” said Joby “They’ll never get away with it! The others’ll know where we are, and break in. The Shits can’t stand up to them. Did they seriously think they’d get away with it?!”
“I think it’s called desperation, old fruit”, said Julian “I’ve always wanted to take you away by yourself, but I didn’t plan on doing it this way!”
He chucked another fur-lined robe at Joby.
“Don’t get cold”, said Julian “This place is colder than a meat-freezer, and these are the only clothes they’ve taken for us”.
“This is Mieps’s robe”, said Joby.
“I expect they just grabbed the ones nearest to hand”, said Julian “We’re damn lucky we’ve got anything at all. But then I guess it’s in their interests to make sure we stay well. I was just about to say ’stay alive’, but I forgot, we can do that anyway. Even so, I don’t particularly fancy a prolonged period of hypothermia!”
Joby pulled the fur-lined robe around his naked shoulders, and set his feet wincingly on the wooden floor.
“Try and stay on the rugs”, said Julian.
Joby looked around the room. It was empty, apart from the bed, the fireplace, a basket of logs, a couple of fur rugs, and a wooden table. There was a narrow door in the corner.
“Where does that go?” he said.
“A latrine”, said Julian “Aren’t they thoughtful!”
The main doorway was down a small set of stone steps, and was securely fastened. Joby went over to the window (uncurtained), which looked out over the bleak garden.
“It’s not far to the ground from here”, he said “We could jump out”.
“Do you fancy doing that in this weather?” said Julian “We’ve got nothing on our feet, and we won’t be able to see a thing in these conditions. We should at least wait until daybreak”.
“But that’s probably ages off!” said Joby “I hope Kieran’s alright”.
“Now don’t worry about him”, said Julian “He’s with the others. It’s ourselves we’ve got to fend for at the moment”.
“Do you have a plan?” said Joby.
“Yes I do”, said Julian “But I can’t do anything until one of them comes to us, which I’m sure they will eventually. Even caged animals have to be fed sometime”.
“Knowing that stingy lot”, said Joby “They probably won’t bother!”
“Stand over by the fire, you silly arse”, said Julian.
“Oh fuck, Julian, this is depressing!” said Joby, feeling embarrassingly tearful.
“Don’t panic, I’ll look after you”, said Julian.
“I wasn’t panicking”, said Joby “I’m just sick of ’em that’s all, keep fucking meddling all the time”.
“That’s the way of it I’m afraid”, said Julian “I think you should get back into bed, it’s the only real way to try and keep warm in here. The heat from this fire doesn’t seem to go out very far”.
“And what are you going to do?” said Joby.
“Put another couple of logs on the fire first of all”, said Julian, doing just that “I think it’s imperative one of us stays awake at all times. They got us when we were sleeping before. I’ll take the first shift”.
“I’ll stay up with you”, said Joby.
“There’s no point us both getting anxious”, said Julian.
“You think I can sleep after all this!” said Joby.
“You are the most obstinate little bastard sometimes!” said Julian “But I’m glad of your company, this is the most dreary damn hole I’ve ever been in”.
“No, the Loud House was worse”, Joby smiled “And the Winter Palace, particularly the first time round!”
“I wasn’t there the first time”, said Julian, shortly.
“I wish you had been”, said Joby “And I spect Adam wishes you had been as well”.
“Joby, I’m touched!” said Julian.
“It used to drive Adam mad trying to manage me, Kiel, Hillyard and Lonts all by himself. You’d have been a big help to him”, said Joby.
The fireplace was giving out a sickly sweet aroma from the logs. It gave the room a heady, musty feel. Joby began to pace the room agitatedly.
“They fucking can’t do this to us!” he suddenly exclaimed.
He ran at the main door and kicked it, hitting his bare foot against the tough wood, and falling over backwards onto the steps.
“Are you quite satisfied now?” said Julian, helping him up again “Now just calm down or there’ll be trouble!”
He led Joby over to the bed and ordered him to get into it. Julian then got in next to him but sat upright, intending to stay awake at all costs.
When he came round again he was furious to find he had slept, and not only that but he had woken up in yet another bed, the third in the course of one day. For one panicky moment he thought Joby had been separated from him, but Joby was still next to him. This bed was more comfortable than the previous one, and had lush red velvet hangings, which had been drawn shut around them.
“Oh goddamnit!” Julian groaned and put his hands to his head.
“Where are we now?” said Joby “Fuck, my head hurts!”
“It was the logs on the fire”, said Julian “They doped us using the scent from them, the canny bastards! And to think I was going to clonk one of them with one!”
Julian pulled back one of the drapes, and got out of bed. This room was more luxurious than the previous one. There was thick carpet all over the floor, brocaded chairs next to the fire, and a table with a decanter of port and two small glasses on it. Julian opened one of the long red curtains that he thought covered a window, only to disclose a bare wall.
“They’ve blocked the windows up in this room”, he said “Christ Joby, I’m such a numbskull! I made the fatal mistake of underestimating our enemy!”
“I think it’s you who needs to calm down now”, said Joby, going over to him “Or it’ll be me who has to do the chastising!”
“Oh no it won’t!” said Julian “Don’t you forget who’s the spanker around here between us two! Come on, let’s have a drink that they’ve so generously provided”.
“That’s probably doped as well”, said Joby.
“I doubt it”, Julian sighed “They must be sick of carting us around by now. They put us into that other room just as a stopgap, it was only temporary. They weren’t going to leave us there, as we would have been too easily found when the others break into the Castle”.
“Whereas here we could be anywhere”, said Joby, sitting in one of the armchairs and pulling his naked legs up to him “This place is vast, it’s built all into the side of the cliff, we could be in any part of it. I wonder what the time is”.
“No way of knowing”, said Julian “I don’t know how long we were out of it for this time”.
He went over and tried the door just on the off-chance, he wasn’t too surprised to find it locked. It was thick wood, crossed over with iron bands and studs.
“I should never have under-estimated them”, said Julian, again.
“Easy enough to do”, said Joby “They’re not exactly impressive are they!”
“No, most of the time, but they seem to know what they’re doing this time”, said Julian.
“I still think we should have climbed out of the window in the other room”, said Joby.
“There is no earthly point harping on that now is there!” said Julian “If you mention it again, I’ll paddle you across my knee!”
“You probably will anyway!” said Joby “I hope Kieran’s alright”.
“There you go again!” said Julian “Worrying about him when it’s you who’s the one in danger! You are an extraordinary man. Your level of devotion to him is something quite out of this world”.
“He needs looking after, that’s all”, said Joby “He can’t do it for himself. I don’t know what would have happened to him all these years if we hadn’t been around to keep an eye on him”.
“Quite”, said Julian “Particularly with that insatiable masochism of his. There are some unscrupulous sicko’s out there”.
“Yeah”, said Joby “And we’ve just been taken hostage by some of ’em! Do you have another plan of campaign then?”
“I’ll think on it”, said Julian “Somebody has to come in at some point”.
Clearly this wouldn’t necessarily be the case. A tray of food appeared in a hatch in the wall. There was a plate of unappealing boiled rice and hard-boiled eggs, a jug of fierce black coffee, and a pitcher of ice-cold water. Some time later a heap of men’s clothes was deposited in the same hatch.
“You’re alright”, said Joby, meaning the clothes were roughly Julian’s size, but were too big for him “But who were they made for? Whoever had this must have had arms like a bleedin’ gorilla!”
“You’d better take the belt to hold your trousers up”, said Julian “Or they could end up falling down at a strategic moment. The clowns would be impressed I expect!”
Some time after that a wash-basin and jug appeared, along with a cake of soap, a flannel, and even a cut-throat razor.
“I’m surprised they’ve let us have this”, said Joby, picking up the razor.
“Who are we going to attack with it!” said Julian “We never see anyone! And they must realise we’re not going to use it to harm ourselves”.
“Come on, let’s have a wash and brush up”, said Joby “It’ll make us feel better”.
“Hang on a minute”, Julian went over to the door and examined it “There must be a way of getting through this”.
“Yeah, it’s called a key”, said Joby, sarcastically “And we haven’t got one!”
“No you dope”, said Julian “I mean, fighting our way out if necessary. We seem to be in a very quiet part of the Castle, I never hear anyone around”.
“The whole Castle’s bloody quiet all the time!” said Joby “Is there any way we could wedge open the hatch when it opens again? Then I could get in it. Remember that dumb waiter we had put in at the house in Nuit? Tamaz used to like riding up and down in it. You wouldn’t fit, but I could get in, and see where I come out”.
“No you’re not”, said Julian “We stay together. We’ve got a much better chance that way”.
Joby went and stood next to the fireplace, leaning his head against the mantelpiece.
“They could keep us in here forever”, he said.
“It would hardly be in their interests to do that!” said Julian “Anyway, they’re so damn stingy they wouldn’t want to fork out for our keep for all that time!”
“They could just starve us”, said Joby, gloomily “And we can’t die either, so we’d just be in agony”.
“When are you going to find the belly of a whale to live in?!” said Julian, pouring out two glasses of port “If we thought they had abandoned us here, we’d find a way out alright, even if we had to damp out the fire and climb up the bloody chimney! I wish they’d send in some cigars, I’m dying for a smoke! Here, come and sit down, and get this down you”.
Joby went over to the sofa, and plonked himself down next to him.
“In a little while”, said Julian “We’ll go back to bed and have a jolly good think”.
“Is that what it’s called these days?” Joby laughed.
“It all helps the creative processes, old fruit”, said Julian “Although the way you’re being I can see I’ll have to put some roses back in your cheeks first!”
“Have you always had this obsession with spanking?” said Joby.
“Always”, said Julian “I adore men’s arses, can’t get enough of them. But I’m not a sadist, contrary to what you’ve said at times, I don’t enjoy inflicting pain, I just love the feel and the look of men’s backsides”.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you have to constantly chastise ’em though does it?” said Joby.
“I learnt at an early age that the male sex needs to be kept strictly in line”, said Julian “Otherwise they would either be primitive savages or self-indulgent wimps, either of whom I haven’t got much time for. Men like to know where they stand, they like a line drawn in the sand”.
“And you’re the one who has to do it?” said Joby.
“Always pays to get an expert in!” said Julian.
“I always used to think it was because you didn’t like being gay”, said Joby.
“I’ve not always found it easy, it’s true”, said Julian “Even back in our time, when a lot of people accepted homosexuality, it still wasn’t an easy thing to be. For a long while I felt it didn’t fit comfortably in my skin, as it were. Adam you see, by contrast, is a natural. It is impossible to imagine Adam being anything but a queer”.
“You can say that again!” said Joby “The idea of him being straight is just so far-fetched it’s out of this world, but you, I could see you could have been”.
“I feel very protective of women”, said Julian “Even though I’ve known some right old harridans, including my mother. But somehow the thought of doing something as undignified as rogering one of them just doesn’t feel on”.
“A lot of women would say you was being too old-fashioned”, said Joby.
“I know”, said Julian “But that’s the way I am, I’ve always been old-fashioned. I should have been a Victorian, or born in the 18th century. But the fact remains I can completely let it all hang out with men in a way I never could with women”.
“You manage alright with Mieps”, said Joby.
“Oh I’m absolutely potty about the old girl”, said Julian “But, as anyone will tell you, Mieps isn’t exactly your average woman!”
“And Adam isn’t exactly your average bloke!” said Joby “We’ve all always said that he’s like a woman in a man’s body. Perhaps that’s what you fancy about him”.
“I’ve always liked Adam because he’s different, and he doesn’t damn well care who knows it”, said Julian “He’s a true aristocrat. Against all the odds, including his vicious father trying to thrash it out of him, he’s always had the courage to be himself. And also, as one of the things you most love about Kieran, is that he’s always made you laugh, Adam has always made me laugh. I had never in my life met anyone who had been able to do that before. You look surprised but it’s true. My family were about as funny as an open grave, and most of the other boys I met at school were too terrified of me to do anything but stammer in my presence. Adam had a way with words, let’s say. What do you love about him?”
“He’s kind”, said Joby “Even though he’s got a foul temper sometimes, he’s kindness itself”.
“You respond well to kindness don’t you?”
“No”, said Julian “Not everybody. Some people see it as a sign of weakness, and will try to take advantage of it. Look at your brother for instance. My mother was the same. It is absolutely fatal to be kind with their sort. Not everyone is as innately warm-hearted as you”.
“Me?” said Joby “I’m a miserable old sod, didn’t you know?!”
Julian poured him out another drink.
“Here”, said Joby “I’m gonna have to use the commode before we get started, or I’ll pee on you”.
“Would that be a problem?” Julian smiled.
“You decadent old wotsit!” said Joby.
Joby woke up some time later to find one of the brothers standing over him. This one hadn’t made much impact before, but he did now. His skin was stretched over his bones like a surgical glove, and his eyes were appallingly dead. It was as if a corpse had become reanimated, and had risen to its feet.
“Well it’s about time one of you lot deigned to show your face!” snapped Julian “Or did you propose to keep us here forever?!”
Joby pulled out the cut-throat razor which he had hidden under his pillow and lunged at the man’s face, cutting a satisfying dash down his cheek. The brother let out a cry of pain and ran from the room.
“Good thinking”, said Julian, propping the door open with a chair, and removing the bunch of keys from the outside lock “Now get dressed, including your fur coat, it’s freezing out there”.
They both got dressed in a frenzy, which can be a frustrating experience. When they had finished Julian looked out into the corridor, which was pitch-black, the only form of lighting came from their own room, and from a meagre scrap coming out of a doorway further along.
“Hang onto my hand”, said Julian “If we lose each other in this murk we’ll probably never find each other again”.
Joby put the keys in one pocket of his coat, and stuffed the flick-knife up the sleeve on the other side. They went along the corridor and came to the other doorway. This was the bedroom of the brother who had appeared suddenly to them. He was bathing his cut face at the wash-stand, and whimpering as he did so.
“Have you sent out the ransom note yet?” said Julian, sounding like an imperious office manager bullying an incompetent underling.
“There is no ransom note”, the brother spat “You have not been taken hostage”.
“What are we here for then?” said Joby.
“To be destroyed!” said the brother.
“You have a funny way of going about it, old fruit”, said Julian “Keeping us in a nice, warm room, and supplying us with food and drink, not to say weapons of self-defence. I don’t think you’ve quite grasped this destruction game you know!”
“I was playing with you”, said the brother “Like two spiders in a bowl, for my own amusement”.
Joby wasn’t at all thrilled to think that he might have been watching their fun and games, and glowered at him.
“I was biding my time”, said the brother “Waiting before I moved in for the kill”.
“Ah there might be a minor technicality there”, said Julian “You see, we can’t actually die. We are immortal”.
“Rubbish”, said the brother, dismissively, now setting about his face with lint and bandages “No one’s immortal, not even the followers of Saint Kieran. Don’t try and put such twaddle over on me”.
“How do you think we stay so young looking?” said Julian “It’s not Oil Of Ulay you know!”
Joby stopped glowering and gave a snort of laughter.
“They do that sort of thing in Krindei all the time”, said the brother “My mother’s been there a few times. She says they can work miracles”.
“I’m sure they can”, said Julian “But not this sort! No, we are immortal. I won’t lie to you, as you’re bound to find out anyway, we can feel pain, but not to die, no. Not possible”.
“You’re bluffing”, said the brother, stubbornly “I’m going to take you all in, preferably two at a time if I can. And get rid of you bit by bit. I will leave Kieran to last, because as his little group diminishes complete mental disintegration will set in. He won’t be able to cope with the loss of his followers. I’m looking forward to that. You just happened to be the first ones I could get hold of. There will be others. This Winter Solstice was to be like none other. An orgy of destruction. Including my own family”.
“You’re gonna kill them as well?” said Joby.
“Already done so”, said the brother, casually, finishing his bout of First Aid “If you get any ideas about wandering around this Castle you’ll regret you did so. There are some very unpleasant sights to behold”.
“Why?” said Joby “What’s the point?”
“To destroy is an end in itself”, said the brother “I learnt that from my Grandfather”.
“He didn’t come from Nuit by any chance?” said Joby.
“Yes, he was Governor there”, said the brother “We were his second home, I suppose you could call it”.
“You’re the distaff side of the family”, said Julian “The bar sinister”.
Joby looked bewildered.
“The wrong side of the blanket”, Julian explained “This dreadful great mausoleum must have been his little love-nest”.
“And the old lady is his daughter”, said Joby “Figures somehow!”
Julian began to stroll about the room, as though he was pondering all that had just been said.
“He liked to come here several times of the year”, said the brother “Ostensibly for the hunting, but really this was the only place he could be entirely free, free to indulge himself. He often said that. He couldn’t do it in Nuit”.
“Oh yes he could!” said Joby “He caused a lot of damage there. I didn’t think his powers extended this far, but plainly I was wrong”.
“You lie again”, said the brother “You can’t seem to help yourself! We have all suffered here since he died. No one to take care of us”.
“Me heart bleeds”, said Joby “Ever thought of going out into the world and finding your own way?”
“It was never encouraged”, said the brother, as though musing on an obscure fact “We were never encouraged to go beyond the forest. The world wouldn’t understand us, we were told. We wouldn’t fit in anywhere. I wanted to go to Nuit, to see where he came from, but it was never allowed. Mother kept us on a short rein. Well now she’s dead, and serves her bloody well right as well! The foul slag! Any evil I learnt I learnt from her. I swear sometimes she must have invented evils that the world had never seen before she was born! She’s gone now, and I’m free for the first time. ..”
He had barely said this when Julian clouted him round the head with a brass fire-poker.
“Glad you kept him talking”, he said “Very useful. Now let’s get him onto the bed, and fasten him up”.
They heaved him onto the narrow brass bedstead.
“Give me the belt from your trousers”, said Julian.
“Are you joking?” said Joby “How am I gonna keep ’em up?”
“It’s the only thing we’ve got to fasten him with”, said Julian “Do you want this sicko stalking us all around the Castle whilst we’re trying to find our way out of it?”
Joby reluctantly handed over the belt, and Julian fastened it securely around the brother’s hands and to one of the bars of the bed-head.
“That should do it”, said Julian, making sure the belt was so tight it was cutting into the man’s flesh.
“Are you sure?” said Joby.
“Positive”, said Julian “The advantages of a mis-spent life, I do know how to securely tie people up. You should know that by now!”
“Come on, let’s start trying to get out of here”, said Joby.
They followed the black corridor for quite some way. Joby holding Julian’s hand on one side, and his trousers up with the other. Double doors faced them at the end, and a gleam of light was shining underneath. Julian opened one of them, and then immediately came out again.
“You don’t want to go in that room”, he said.
“You’re as bad as Adam”, said Joby “Treating us like we was little kids!”
He edged past Julian and looked in. A huge refectory table dominated the centre of the room, surrounded by high-backed chairs. Hanging from the ceiling on a sort of pulley was the mutilated carcass of a horse, its blood still dripping into a copper bowl below.
“I did warn you”, said Julian, when Joby came out again “Now perhaps you will listen to me in future!”
They returned some way along the corridor, and went into a tiny side room. This contained a truckle bed, a chest-of-drawers, two chairs, and, bizarrely, for a room this small, two fireplaces. One was lit, the other empty.
“Sit down a moment and collect yourself”, said Julian “At least it wasn’t one of ours”.
“They used to do that in our time you know”, said Joby “We’d hear sometimes about horse mutilations in the news. Then I heard somebody say it was Satanists doing it. They prize horse’s blood for their rituals apparently”.
Julian went over to the window which was set very high in the wall, with a long, sloping windowsill. Cut into the wall were some rough stone steps, and he climbed up these to look out.
“We’re overlooking the harbour”, he said “Good, it’ll help us to get our bearings. We’re not quite so deep into the cliff as I thought we might be. Right now, I’ll look through the chest-of-drawers, see if we can find anything useful”.
“A trouser belt?” said Joby, hopefully.
“You’re obsessed!” said Julian.
“So would you be, if you were frightened you was gonna expose yourself at a crucial moment!” said Joby.
“I would revel in it, dear boy!” said Julian “And it might cause a valuable distraction!”
First of all he found a magazine of cartridges, and two empty pistols.
“Now we’re talking!” said Julian, laying them out on the bed “One each”.
There was a bundle of clothes, including, fortunately for Joby, quite a collection of trouser belts.
“Thank God for that!” said Joby “I was beginning to worry that this might be the old lady’s room!”
“I think she would have something a bit grander than this”, said Julian “More likely one of the wimps”.
“Good grief”, said Joby, unearthing a jewelled dagger “Looks like summat out of the Borgias!”
“Yes, not a bad analogy, where this lot are concerned”, said Julian “Are you ready to press on?”
“You make this feel like a computer game!” said Joby.
“Splendid”, said Julian “That’s not a bad way to look at it, help you to keep your nerve”.
“I wasn’t planning on losing it, thanks!” said Joby.
“I should hope not”, said Julian “Or it would mean all my strict, firm guidance would have been in vain!”
They climbed up a twisting stone staircase in order to get away from the black passage, which was unnerving them both, with its darkness and its silence. They both felt it was wise also to try and put some distance between themselves and the trussed brother, in case he found a way of getting himself free. At the top of the staircase the entrance was covered by a large wall tapestry. They emerged through it into a brighter lit corridor, this one with long windows set along its length. There were also flickering torches on the wall.
“Hang about”, said Joby, touching Julian’s arm “I can hear summat, listen!”
There was somebody calling in the far distance.
“It’s probably the sicko, coming round”, said Julian.
“I don’t think it is”, said Joby “Listen again!”
They both strained their ears. Whoever it was was some considerable way off into the building.
“It’s Bengo!” said Joby “It’s Bengo! The fucking bastards, they’ve got him as well!”
“Not necessarily”, said Julian “He might be coming to rescue us. Let’s hope Bardin isn’t operating a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy!”
“Not if Ransey’s got anything to do with it, he won’t be”, said Joby.
“It’s Ransey’s training that worries me!” said Julian.
They followed the voice for a while, and it became gradually clear that Bengo was calling for help.
“He’s been taken as well, I told yer!” said Joby.
“Keep your head”, said Julian, sternly “Knowing our little clown, he’s probably simply got himself separated from the others. If there’s a puddle to fall in, it’ll be Bengo who does it!”
“I hope you’re right!” said Joby.
“We’d better not shout back for the time being”, said Julian “In case it alerts anybody we DON’T want to see. Let’s just follow the voice and hope he keeps on shouting”.
“Knowing Bengo, he probably will!” said Joby.
Bengo’s voice led them down an iron staircase, which came out in a wide underground cavern. Bengo and Mieps were locked in a large cage against the far wall. Bengo went into raptures of excitement when he saw Julian and Joby, and even Mieps looked fairly animated.
“You’re wearing my coat”, she said to Joby.
“And you’re wearing mine”, said Joby “You must have put it on by mistake when you went out hunting. How did you end up in here?”
“We think we were kidnapped”, said Bengo “We wandered off to look at this old ruin we found in the forest”.
“Just you two?” said Julian.
“Yes”, said Bengo, apologetically “Well you know what it’s like sometimes”.
“I know what Mieps is like sometimes!” said Julian.
“What are you doing here?” Mieps asked.
“Kidnapped”, said Joby “Like you two. Only we’ve managed to escape”.
“What were they gonna do to us?” said Bengo “Fatten us up and eat us?”
“Destroy us apparently”, said Julian “The silly arses don’t realise it’s not possible”.
“One of the brothers has completely lost it”, said Joby, fishing out the ring of keys and trying each of them in the lock on the cage “We think he’s gone and slaughtered his family, so be careful what we might see out there. He was planning to take us all two by two. We don’t know if he’s got any of the others. We didn’t know you were here for instance”.
“Bardy’s must be absolutely furious with me!” said Bengo.
“I should think Bardy is out of his bonce with worry about you!” said Julian.
“I hope they haven’t harmed him”, said Bengo.
“If anybody has foolishly kidnapped Bardin you’d feel sorry for the kidnapper!” said Julian.
“Where is the brother now?” said Mieps.
“In his room”, said Joby “Julian knocked him out with the poker”.
“You should have finished him off!” said Mieps, indignantly.
“We do try to be a little bit civilised, old girl!” said Julian.
“She’s right though”, said Joby “What was holding us back? He’s scarcely worth keeping alive!”
“It’s important not to get carried away in the hysteria of the moment”, said Julian, sternly “It’s a good job at least one of us around here is keeping his head, and not getting drawn into the orgy of killing that this place is witnessing. Think what Kieran will say when he hears what you’ve just said!”
“Kieran!” said Bengo “What have they done with him?!”
“He was planning to leave Kieran until last”, said Julian “So hopefully we can assume that Kieran is still unsullied”.
“He’d better be!” said Joby, finally finding the key that worked “Here we are, open sesame!”
The door shrieked open. Bengo tumbled out of it excitedly, Mieps followed rather more sedately. An extravaganza of hugging and kissing followed. Suddenly a very loud banging broke out overhead.
“Now what?” said Joby.
“We’re being rescued!” said Bengo “That’s Bardy trying to break in, I know it is!”
“He took his bleedin’ time!” said Joby.
Upstairs, on the ground floor of the Castle, Bardin had instructed Hillyard, Lonts, Farnol and Hal, as the four meatiest of the remaining Indigo-ites to hammer a large tree-trunk at the barred and locked double doors inside the building. They had managed to get through the main entrance with little trouble, but had reached a snag halfway down the main corridor, when they realised that the doors in the middle had been barricaded. If anything though this gave them a clue that their friends were trapped behind it, and that they should try and concentrate their efforts on getting into this part of the Castle.
Bengo, Mieps, Joby and Julian stood and watched patiently as the door finally caved in.
“Bardy!” Bengo whooped, on seeing his friend.
“Well I hope that’s taught you a lesson!” said Bardin “Not to go wandering off during a deer-hunt!”
Kieran came up from the back to see Joby. Joby gazed into his face and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. He wanted to stand and count the freckles on Kieran’s nose.
“See what happens when you pack me off on a stag-hunt”, Kieran smiled “Total murdering carnage!”
“You wanna see what’s been going on in here!” said Joby.
“I’ve already seen some of it”, said Kieran “We found the old lady”.
“Done in?” Joby whispered.
Kieran mimed a dagger being thrust into his throat.
“Not nice”, he said, simply “Some of us found her upstairs”.
“He must have done her in before barricading these doors”, said Joby.
“He’s been busy”, said Ransey “Does anybody know where he is now?”
“He should still be down in his room”, said Joby “I’ll take you down to him”.
There was no sign of any of the staff in the Castle. It was concluded that they had fled into the forest when the killings had started. The other two brothers were found out in the garden. They had been stripped naked and left pegged out, to die of exposure.
“They can’t have survived long in these temperatures”, said Hillyard, as he and Adam returned to the building via a side door.
“I’m very glad he didn’t get the idea of doing that to our lot”, said Adam.
“I don’t think he hated them like he did his own family”, said Hillyard “I can’t clear this up Adam. We’re going to have to telegraph for help from the outside. Get somebody in to do it. I just don’t want to see anymore”.
“I understand”, said Adam “I suggest we start preparing to go home. Why don’t you go and find Julian”.
“Something’s happened between him and Joby”, said Hillyard.
“Yes”, said Adam “And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what!”
“No I didn’t mean just that”, said Hillyard “They seem to have …. Well, formed a new level”.
“Good!” said Adam “I’m very pleased to hear it. I always thought those two could be good for each other. Julian is such a confounded superior snob all the time that he needs somebody to knock the corners off him. And in return, he helps Joby to loosen up, stop him being so introverted and crabby. I think it’s an excellent thing”.
“I suppose so”, Hillyard mumbled.
“You mustn’t get too jealous, Hilly”, Adam squeezed his arm “Really what you have to remember is, that where Joby’s concerned, it’s actually Patsy who will always come first”.
“I know”, Hillyard cried “But it’s not just my feelings for Joby, it’s Julian as well”.
“But that won’t change, you silly boy”, said Adam, tenderly “Jules needs you”.
“It’s just I can’t do any of the other stuff”, said Hillyard “All the S&M, and I know he needs that”.
“There’s more to life than sex, Hilly”, said Adam “And he does need you”.
Hillyard found Julian in the dining-room, where he and Adam had had the disastrous dinner-party with the brothers. Julian was warming his feet in front of the fire, which he had banked up with non-sweet smelling logs.
“Ah there you are”, said Julian “Bring those boots over”.
Hillyard lobbed them at him.
“What are you playing at, you duffle-coated fiend?!” Julian shouted.
Hillyard ran over and slapped him round the head.
“Oh you want to wrestle do you!” said Julian, getting to his feet and trying to get him in an arm-lock.
“What I’ve had to put up with from you all these years!” said Hillyard.
“What you’ve had to put up with from me?” Julian exclaimed “What about all those times at the Ministry, when I had to put up with you skulking off into town like some randy tom-cat, ready to pick up every disease that was going!”
“That was years ago!” said Hillyard “I’m talking about the here and now!”
“Oh I see”, said Julian, breathlessly smoothing his hair “The green-eyed devil is annoyed that I got to be locked up with Joby for all those hours. Well get over it, old man, it’s happened and that’s all there is to it”.
Hillyard sat down, and slumped on one of the dining-room chairs. He looked rather forlorn.
“Buck up, dear”, said Julian “Nothing’s changed”.
“That’s not true”, said Hillyard.
“Between us I mean”, said Julian “I was devilishly pleased to see your little rosy face on the other side of the door. If Hillyard’s still around, I thought, everything will be alright”.
“You and your bloody fatal charm!” said Hillyard.
“Sometimes it’s the truth”, said Julian.
There was a general reluctance from the outside world for anyone to come out to Wooded Hill at this time of year, and the prospect of clearing up a bloodbath didn’t exactly make it any the more enticing. The fact that one member of the ruling family had slaughtered his entire clan (and then turned a gun on himself, or at least that was the story that was put out anyway), did make headline news around the world, but only for a day. Wooded Hill was simply too out-of-the-way, and too different from everywhere else, to generate a long-lasting interest. Nobody on the outside had vested interests in Wooded Hill. It could slip back into obscurity for all they cared. Although there was a mild irritation that Kieran was spending too much of his time in these backwater places. He had disappeared entirely for months on end, and now had turned up here of all places. There were more pressing matters back in civilisation for his attention. The situation in Krindei for instance, which was getting more and more bizarre, and more and more cloaked in dark mystery.
“We’ll get the galleon going once the thaw comes”, said Kieran “And then we’ll set off there”.
The Castle was sealed up, apart from the main passageway, which was kept open so that the villagers could access the harbour. Up until now they had had to donate to the ruling family a set quantity of all the fish they had caught on their trips out to sea, and, in an area that already knew great hardship, this had caused a great deal of bad feeling. This was no longer required, and the villagers could use the harbour any time they wanted, without having to ask permission first.
“Just a few months here”, said Kieran, as he and Joby and walked home through the forest on Christmas Eve, after another telegraph session in the village “And then we’ll set sail. It’s an exciting thought isn’t it? Or are you too shagged out to comment?”
“Are you gonna stop cracking those jokes?” said Joby “That’s all I’ve had since I was rescued!”
“Can’t help meself”, said Kieran “It’s the sight of that love-bite on your bum the other day”.
“I know”, said Joby, ruefully “It’s looks like a tattoo that‘s gone wrong. I’ll be glad when it goes down!”
“Julian’s got a mania for biting bums now has he?” said Kieran.
“Julian’s just got a mania for bums, full-stop”, said Joby “He’s insatiable. There’s nothing he won’t do to ’em! You’d better watch out he doesn’t do it to you!”
“I doubt he’d be impressed by mine”, said Kieran “Probably complain he’s got nothing to get his teeth into! It must be like being attacked by a kinky vampire!”
“You’re not worried are you, Kiel?” said Joby, linking arms with him.
“Have I reason to be?” said Kieran.
“No”, said Joby “But Hillyard’s got me all shaken up with his bloody brooding. Sometimes I think he wants to throttle me!”
“It wouldn’t be the first time!” said Kieran.
“I was just concerned it might be rubbing off on you”, said Joby.
“It’s an entirely different relationship that you have with Julian”, said Kieran, philosophically “With me you’re the Whacker, with him you’re the Whacked”.
“Well that’s one way of looking at it!” said Joby.
That afternoon they all took advantage of the harsh, frosty sunlight to go down to the galleon, and see what remained to be done on it. Everyone was greatly excited by all this, and the vessel rang with shouts and laughter. In the main cabin, Joby sat on Julian’s knee and they indulged in a long embrace. Joby had never been treated so tenderly for so long by Julian before, and it was a headily intense experience.
“I’ve fallen very deeply in love with you”, Julian said into Joby’s hair “Do you realise that?”
“It’s hurting”, said Joby, with a sob in his voice “So it must be true. Things can’t change though, Julian, except when we’re alone together like this”.
“I realise that”, said Julian “Our hearts have a limitless capacity for this sort of thing. I always got exasperated with the sort of people who claim you only get one great love in life, or you can only love one person at a time”.
“It’s cobblers”, said Joby.
“Quite”, said Julian “Adam’s remarked to me how serene you’ve been these past few days, so I must be doing some good. You’re not fighting me anymore I suppose. I don’t want a return to that”.
“Neither do I”, said Joby “We can move forward like this. I try not to fight things too much anymore. I had years of not being honest with meself, not accepting me true feelings. Poor old Kieran went through it. I shagged his wife, and I refused to let him near me. That was bad, indefensible”.
“He’s long since forgiven you”, said Julian “I expect he always did. I think Kieran would forgive you anything”.
“I’m gonna accept this”, said Joby “I’m not gonna fight these things anymore, Julian. It happens, and I’m glad it happens. Some people go all through life and never know what it is love somebody, or to be loved, and I’ve had so much of it”.
“You’ve at last realised how well off you are?” said Julian.
“Better late than never I spose!” said Joby.
“As I said to you at the Castle, I will always look after you”, said Julian “I will love you, be tender with you, be passionate, and strict of course!”
“Goes without saying don’t it!” said Joby.
“Perhaps it’s taken me a long time to realise quite this appeal you have for so many people”, said Julian.
“Well if you know what it is, perhaps you could explain it to me”, said Joby “’Cos I don’t bleedin’ know!”
“You’re like Hillyard in this sense”, said Julian “There’s a solidity to you, a reassurance. I really noticed that at the Castle, that was why I was so determined we weren’t going to get split up. That’s why Kieran has always relied on you so much. Plus, like I am with Bardin, I just want to protect you. To stop you being hurt again by life”.
There was a sharp blast on Bardin’s whistle from overhead.
“Talking of which”, said Joby “I think we’re being rounded up”.
“It’ll soon be sunset”, said Julian “I wonder if Bardin was a sheepdog in a former existence?”
“Jack Russell surely!” said Joby.
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