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“OK what’s going on?” said Bardin, practically sprinting into the wireless room.
“She keeps fading in and out”, said Ransey, who was sitting with the headset in his hand “It’s a really ropey connection. I think they’re having to bale out from Hannah’s Sanctuary, the whole lot of them”.
“That doesn’t sound good”, said Bardin, taking the headset from him.
Once he’d adjusted the headset, he could hear faint noises in the distance.
“Cloris?” he said “Is that you? Can you speak up?”
“Bardin!” her voice came through so strongly that he had to briefly pull the earphones away “We’re in trouble my dear, we’ve all had to evacuate, all of us”.
“It’s very hard to explain, because we’re not sure ourselves, but someone or something has released some kind of hideous miasma into the atmosphere. We’ve had fresh refugees in from the surrounding countryside, and they’ve been severely affected. Red eyes, streaming noses, extreme nausea. They say it’s spreading everywhere. It’s perfectly horrible. Can we come and find you?”
“Yes of course you can, but it’ll probably take you forever to get here”.
“That doesn’t matter”, said Cloris, breathlessly “We’ve resigned ourselves to that. We’ll sail round the Horn of Wonder if we have to”.
“It might come to that”, said Bardin “Look let me give you our coordinates, can you write them down now? Good”, Ransey handed him a slip of paper on which the coordinates were written “It’s 520942532N 131269W. OK? Got that?”
“Where on earth is that?”
“We’re right out in the middle of the ocean off the East Coast of the mainland, so yes, you’ve got quite a trek on your hands”.
“I see”, said Cloris, sounding disheartened “That could take months, if not years. Will you be able to hang on that long for us?”
“Well we’ll certainly try our best”, Bardin replied “But if for some reason we can’t, then this island should serve you pretty well. It’s one of a group of three, and there’s something special about it. Even if we’re not here, you should be fine. It would be a good place to establish another sanctuary in fact, and it might be safer for you away from the mainland anyway”.
“If we sail South and round the Horn”, said Cloris “We might stand a chance of outrunning this thing. It seems to be blowing in a westerly direction, so hopefully you’re out of it where you are”.
“It would have to come quite some way to reach us”, said Bardin.
“Oh it’s always so good to hear your voice”, said Cloris “You always sound so in control of everything”.
“Thanks, I’ll pass that on to the others”, said Bardin, mischievously “They’ll be delighted to hear it”.
“I do appreciate this so much”, said Cloris “I know it’s quite a risk revealing your location over the airwaves …”
“If there are any problems and we have to get out quick”, said Bardin “We’ll try and find some way of letting you know, but if we do leave, it’s because we’ve had to”.
“I understand”, said Cloris.
Bardin used the brass hand-bell to call everyone into an extraordinary general meeting in the dining-room. He also asked Hillyard to bring some fresh beer up from the hold.
“Now”, said Bardin, sitting at the head of the table “This fresh development means that we’re probably looking at being here for quite some while, that is unless something happens which means we have leave in a hurry. It will take them quite some while to sail from the Sanctuary to here, whichever route they take, whether it be via the Horn or back up that interminable river, and I don’t envy them either prospect. It will take them at least several months, if not more so, depending on the weather and what happens en-route”.
“So in short what you’re saying is we should regard this as our permanent base from now on”, said Julian.
“Yes”, said Bardin “And when they get here they may very well establish a fresh Sanctuary here, so we might as well make the island ready for them”.
“I take we leave when they arrive then?” said Mutton Broth.
“Well not the very moment they arrive!” said Bengo “That’d be a bit rude”.
“No what I’m asking is we’re not setting up a Sanctuary with them”, said Mutton.
“It amazes me what you lot will find to stress out about!” said Bardin “No, we’re not setting up a Sanctuary with them. After we’ve done the whole settling in bit, we’ll head back into the wide blue yonder. Perhaps finally find our way back up to Snow Lake, who knows, as long as it’s not covered in this horrible miasma Cloris mentioned”.
“What if the miasma finds its way here?” said Mutton.
“It’s blowing in the opposite direction!” said Bardin.
“Yeah but the Earth’s round”, said Mutton “So it might go full-circle, or the wind might change direction …”
“Oh shut up!” said Bardin “Jeez, this is what I had to put up with in the theatre all the time! Honestly, I’d get more sense out of one of the goats!”
“Easily”, said Hillyard.
“IF”, Bardin began “The wind changes direction and we find it heading our way, then we can at least take shelter in the caves beneath the island. It won’t be ideal, but it’ll be something”.
“Bardy, you’ve thought of everything”, said Bengo.
“Well if I haven’t, I’m sure Mutton’s thought of it!” said Bardin.
The following day Kieran went up to the top of the island to meditate. When Joby came to join him there a short while later he found him sitting, cross-legged, staring into some bushes, were a large black rabbit was nibbling on some of the undergrowth.
“Rabbits”, said Joby, sitting down next to him on the grass “Mieps’ll be pleased, the chance for a bit of hunting”.
“No, the rabbits here aren’t to be shot or trapped”, said Kieran “This isn’t me being a vegetarian old fart, it’s more than that. They are an intrinsic part of the island. There’s something special about them. Sorry about that, but that’s the way it is”.
“S’Ok by me”, Joby shrugged “I’m not fond of cooking rabbits, never have been. It’s the way they look when they’ve all been skinned, like unborn foetuses. Bengo doesn’t like it either. Better tell Hillyard as well though”.
“I’ll do so”, said Kieran.
The rabbit hopped further into the undergrowth, out of sight.
“Big bugger isn’t he?” said Joby “Is that all part of the magic of the island too?”
“I think so”, said Kieran “Joby, I’m wondering if this island could be Hy Brasil. Do you know the one I’m referring to?”
“Oh now c’mon, let’s not get carried away! Just because you’ve spotted a rabbit on it!”
“You amaze me sometimes, you really do. We’ve been through so many adventures together, seen so many crazy things, and you’ve taken them all in your stride …”
“Well I wouldn’t say that”, said Joby.
“But I mention that this island could be Hy Brasil, and you go all skeptical on me!” Kieran continued.
“Only because I’d need a bit more convincing than that this is an island, and we’ve seen a rabbit on it!” Joby pointed eastwards “I suppose next you’ll be telling me if we keep sailing in that direction we’ll come to Ireland!”
“Not these days perhaps, no, but in the past, or another dimension … who knows. But this is an enchanted island, we’re all agreed on that one, and it’s in the middle of the ocean”.
“So you’re telling me this is really the North Atlantic?”
“At one time it may have been”, said Kieran.
“Where do those other two islands nearby fit in then? Hy Brasil was supposed to be on its own”.
“I don’t know. I didn’t claim to have all the answers now did I?”
“Do you think I should tell Bardin about Hy Brasil?”
“You might as well, otherwise he’ll wonder why rabbits have become sacred all of a sudden”.
“What’s all this about Patsy decreeing that no rabbits are to be killed on the island?” asked Adam, later that afternoon.
He and Joby were sitting sprawled on the main deck, nursing mugs of strong tea.
“He thinks this island could be Hy Brasil”, said Joby “You know the mystery island that was supposed to appear off the coast of Ireland … “
“Yes I’ve heard of it”, said Adam “Where do the other two islands here fit in though?”
“I’ve asked him that, he doesn’t know”, said Joby “He hasn’t convinced me of it, but let’s humour him eh? It’s not as if he ever usually asks anything much of us”.
“I don’t mind personally, but Mieps and Hillyard might be disappointed”.
“Well they’ll have to stick to fishing then! Kieran hasn’t said anything about the fish being sacred, in spite of him being a Pisces!”
“If he wants us to leave the rabbits alone then we’ll leave the rabbits alone”, said Adam “As you say, he doesn’t ask much of us. Patsy all too often seems a bit of a mystery these days, I don’t have as often to catch up with him as I’d like. He sometimes seems very preoccupied”.
“He says he’s praying and sending out good vibes to Cloris and the others”.
“God knows they will need it”.
“What are we cooking up for supper tonight?” asked Joby.
Joby pulled a face.
“Now don’t be like that”, said Adam “Tins of chickpeas was about the only thing Christmas had in abundance!”
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