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By Sarah Hapgood

Bengo got halfway up the hillside, and then, in a fit of rebellion, promptly sat down on the grassy verge. Bardin looked back at him suspiciously, and then came to stand over him.

“What is it NOW?” said Bardin, testily.

“You, treating this as though it’s a bloody route-march”, said Bengo “You can go hareing off all over the island if you want, but I want to make the most of this moment and just enjoy the scenery”.

“But we need to get our bearings”, said Bardin “Find out if there’s a fresh water supply on the island, see if there’s anyone else living here … and if they’re friendly or not. Whilst you’re sitting here admiring the view, you could have been attacked by a pack of cannibals”.

“Not with you around I wouldn’t”, said Bengo “Anyone in their right mind would keep their distance!”

Bardin flopped down next to him. Below them, the galleon had moored a little way off shore, and the skiff was dragged up onto the narrow beach. Several of the Indigo-ites had come ashore. Some were standing around on the beach, admiring the view. A few more energetic ones were making their way up the narrow path which led up the hill. Although there was a fresh breeze, the sun was fairly warm, and Bengo sat, fanning himself with his straw hat.

“I know you’re right, Bardin”, he said “We need to suss out the island, but just for a few moments can I least Have A Moment?”

Bardin held up his hands in acquiescence. He could see Bengo had a point. After the endless darkness of the Forest, the wide open expanse of the sunlit ocean was intoxicating. The previous night had been spent out on the ocean, and this morning they had arrived at Christmas’s elusive island with remarkable ease.

“Christmas’s village can’t be very adventurous”, said Bardin “We’ve had no trouble finding it at all”.

“Perhaps they didn’t want to find it”, said Bengo “Whereas we did”.

“Bard!” Hillyard called over “Looks as if there’s some good grazing land up here for the animals”.

Bardin followed him up the narrow trackway which led to the top of the island. At the top the wooded area opened out into a large patch of scrubland. At the far side was a small cottage.

“I guess we’d better find out if anybody’s home”, said Bardin.

Ransey lifted the latch and stepped through the main door of the cottage, just ahead of Bardin. The area inside was roomy with a high ceiling. A flight of wooden steps in one corner led to an upper storey. The room was sparsely-furnished but comfortable. A grandfather clock stood nearby, its hands stopped at 4:30, afternoon or night was anyone’s guess. From the dusty atmosphere it was clear no one had been here for a while, so Bardin sussed there was no point shouting out.

“There’s a note on the table here”, said Ransey.

A handwritten slip of paper, crinkled with age, was propped up against a pot. Ransey held it carefully.

Dear Guest - it read - We have had to leave our island home and return to the mainland. We have no idea if or when we will be able to return. Please treat this island as a sanctuary. It served us well for many years, and it is with the greatest reluctance that we have to leave. Respect the island and it will respect you. Dear Friend, we hope you find peace here, for however long you choose to stay.

The note was unsigned.

Adam came in and drifted over to a bread oven which was situated in the opposite wall.

“This must have been a smallholding”, he said, opening the oven door and peering in “There seems to be what looks like an old chicken-run out the back”.

“It will be a good place to give the animals some space for a while”, said Bardin.

Joby joined Adam and they went into a back kitchen, which had a scullery adjoining it.

“Someone had a nice cosy life here”, said Joby, looking at a small beer-barrel perched on one of the side tables.

“I think they were happy”, said Adam “The cottage has a very peaceful feel to it. I wonder why they had to leave”.

“Could be anything”, said Joby “Particularly when you consider what a state the world’s been in for the past few years. Perhaps they had people on the mainland they were worried about”.

Joby returned to the main room, where he found Julian coming down the stairs, after having done a brief inspection of the upper storey.

“What’s up there then?” asked Joby.

“Only a bedroom”, said Julian “Just has an old bed in it, nothing more. Pity, I was hoping they’d have a bathroom with all the fixtures and fittings”.

“There must be a karsey somewhere”, said Joby.

“Outside”, said Hillyard, coming in through the main door “Round the back. The roof’s half missing on it, so it’d be a bit breezy round the old nether regions on a windy day”.

“I’m just glad we haven’t found any dead bodies”, Bardin announced “Remember that cottage we found in the Enchanted Forest?”

“Yes thank you, Bardin dear”, said Adam, from the kitchen doorway “We don’t need reminding of that!”

Bardin decided to leave Adam and Joby to ferret around in the kitchen, and went outside via the back door. He found Rumble seated on a bench on the cliff edge, overlooking waves crashing on the rocks below.

“This place is bloody fantastic, Bard”, said Rumble “Can we stay here a while?”

“Short of getting any unwelcome visitors, I don’t see why not”, said Bardin, joining him on the seat.

Further out into the ocean were another two islands, widely spaced apart. Both appeared to be about the same size as the one they were on. At the moment there didn’t seem to be any sign of life on them, although night-time would give them more an idea of that, if any lights appeared.

“We can take the galleon round and explore those”, said Bardin “We might as well find out if we’ve got any neighbours, and how friendly they are”.

“In time”, said Rumble.

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