By Sarah Hapgood

“You seem to think that all of us being back here makes us invincible”, said Fabulous, parading around the dining-room table on the galleon “I don’t see how anybody can come to that conclusion! We’re as vulnerable here as we are anywhere”.

“We’ve only been here a few hours”, said Bardin, pushing back his breakfast plate. Fabulous had been badgering him for this interview for quite some time, and Bardin had at last given in and granted it to him “You have to give it time to see it as we do”.

Bengo came into the room, carrying a tray, ready to clear the table. Bardin told him to come back in a few minutes, and Bengo left again, casting a very suspicious look at Fabulous as he did so.

“It’s a beautiful place, I’ll grant you that”, said Fabulous “But only a crazy person could think we were safe from the forces of evil here!”

“This place is our spiritual home”, said Bardin “You don’t know what it means to us to be back here, after all this time. We’re not deluding ourselves we’re safe here, but we want peace for a while, and this place can give it to us like no other”.

Fabulous slapped his hands against his thighs in exasperation. In all their gruelling months at sea, he hadn’t been able to catch the excitement exhibited by all the others at the prospect of going back to The Bay. This was perfectly natural, as he had never been there himself. Bardin understood this, but he was finding Fabulous’s pessimism wearying.

“Now listen”, said Bardin, getting up and crossing to him “We are a religious order, first and foremost. All we want is peace, but we rarely get it. We’ve had years and years now of seeing death and destruction, and the worst of what human beings can do to one another. It’s been a very long time since we were here last. We need a respite, however brief, and nowhere can give it like this place. You must try and understand that. If you don’t, then no amount of anything I say will be able to convince you”.

Many of the others were exploring the little settlement near to where the galleon was moored. Nobody had been down to check out Midnight Castle yet, that was for later. Kieran had been virtually hijacked by the monks from Monks Field, and had been taken by them to explore the home they had erected for themselves.

“This will have to come down”, said Adam, coming out of The Butlin’s Chalet, accompanied by Lonts “It’s falling to pieces, all the wood is rotten”.

Ransey was watching them from a deckchair on the forward deck. Joby had just joined him, pulling up a nearby deckchair. Ransey had been quiet since they had left Krindei. Not in any moody, sullen way, just introspective. He didn’t even rise to Julian’s usual baiting. Adam had nicknamed him “the man who had to do the dirty work”, and this latest assassination seemed to illustrate that description only too well. But ultimately Ransey had no regrets. He regarded the Governor of Krindei as a malignant growth that had had to be cut out before it could spread its poison any further.

“It had to be done”, he now said to Joby “If I’m annoyed about anything at all, it’s that it seems to constantly need doing”.

“I dare say we’ll never be rid of Evil”, said Joby “It’ll never happen”.

“Fabulous has angered me”, said Ransey.

Joby gave a sigh and closed his eyes. Fabulous’s penchant for making mischief and strife had only been too increasingly apparent on the voyage back to The Bay. As Adam had once pointed out, he was making no effort to fit in.

“What’s he said now?” said Joby.

“Oh went on in my hearing that Kieran gets everybody else to do his dirty work for him”, said Ransey “First Tamaz in Nuit, and now me in Krindei”.

“Tamaz has got unique powers!” Joby protested “Kieran can do a lot of things, but he can’t turn people to stone!”

“And he couldn’t do a good, clean, quick job as I could”, said Ransey “The fool angered me. One thing I admire Kieran for is that I know he would never expect anyone to do something he wasn’t prepared to do himself, he’s the same as Bardin in that. I can’t take much more of Fabulous the fool”.

“I’ll try and talk to him”, said Joby, although he had no confidence at all that this would have any marked effect.

“I think we should persuade him to join the monastery”, said Ransey, pointing towards Monks Field “Because he doesn’t feel like one of us, and he’s got no interest in becoming one of us”.

Toppy scampered up the gang-plank, and said excitedly that Kieran had sent for Joby to join him over at the monastery.

“Yeah, alright, calm down!” said Joby.

“I’ll walk you over there”, said Toppy.

“I can walk meself over there!” said Joby “You go and have a lie down or summat!”

The finished monastery was an impressive, but compact building, rather resembling a small, neat Norman castle. Joby found Kieran at the top of the tower, looking out over the castellated edges.

“The view from up here is something else”, said Kieran “Come and see”.

They looked out over the tops of the forests which spread to the north and east of them, spreading away many miles and miles to the mountains in the far distance.

“We’re going down to have a butcher’s at the Castle this afternoon”, said Joby “Check it over and all that”.

“See what state it’s in”, said Kieran.

“And to find out what PSYCHIC state it’s in”, said Joby “We’re gonna send you through all the rooms like a tracker-dog!”

“I’m not so hot when it comes to all the psychic stuff really”, said Kieran “The amount of things I’ve failed to pick up on over the years … I’ve been thinking a lot about the old days recently”.

“Well there wasn’t much else to do on the voyage was there!” said Joby.

“I don’t know why but I keep thinking of our time at Pepuaah all those years ago”, said Kieran “When we joined the travelling circus there. It was a strange time, and yet it stands out in my head for just sheer atmospherics. Out of everything we’ve done that time stands out. Why that is I couldn’t tell you, except perhaps there is something about that time that we’re getting close to now. Don’t ask me to explain any further, as it’s beyond me. Feelings and gut instincts are all very well, but we can have a devil of a job explaining them!”

“The clowns would have certainly liked it!” said Joby.

“Yes”, said Kieran “Ah it would have been terrific to have had them around with us then as well, and Tamaz! Imagine how much easier it would have been to have had a Gorgon as a friend, one that we could live with and talk to, and she didn’t have to be shut away in enclosed wagons! Will we be living at the Castle do you think?”

“Depends what it’s like”, said Joby “Even if it’s falling down we could still camp in the grounds during the summer months. Be a right old bunch of gypo’s!”

“Like Tinker Town”, said Kieran “That was a village in Ireland. It was nicknamed that because so many of the houses there had been bought up by gypsies, and yet they didn’t live in the houses, they lived in their caravans parked outside”.

“What did they buy the houses for then?” said Joby.

“So that they wouldn’t keep getting moved on all the time I guess”, said Kieran “The monks have told me an intriguing tale. Some of them have seen the ghost of the Tall Woman”.

“We saw her once round here ourselves”, said Joby.

“They’ve only seen her briefly from a distance”, said Kieran “But it does mean she has been around”.

“Perhaps she’s been keeping an eye on the place for us!” said Joby “Are the monks here a contented bunch do you think?”

“Yes, they seem to be”, said Kieran.

“It’s just that we may have to ask them to take Fabulous in”, said Joby “He’s not fitting in with us, and I don’t think he ever will”.

“Well perhaps now we’re here …” said Kieran “And we’re a bit more settled …”

“No you don’t understand”, said Joby “Look Kiel, we can’t have somebody with us who doesn’t respect you”.

“We seem to have managed with Julian alright all these years!” said Kieran.

“He respects you”, said Joby “I know he has a bloody funny way of showing it sometimes, but he does. But Fabulous doesn’t. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think that he hates you”.

“That’s because he wants you”, said Kieran “And I’m in the way”.

“He knows he’s never gonna get me”, said Joby.

“Exactly!” said Kieran.

“So anyway we can’t have him staying with us”, said Joby “You’re what binds us all together, and that’s why he’s not fitting in”. Midnight Castle looked like a place in a fairy-tale, one that had been isolated from the outside world for many years. Well in actual fact that’s what it was! The only difference being that it didn’t contain The Sleeping Beauty! The gardens were very over-grown, and much of the plant-life had invaded the building. There was damp everywhere. But the ceilings were intact, and the ghostly presences which had driven them out in the first place seemed to have departed completely.

Ransey sat down on the window-seat in the library, and looked as though he had never left it. In the laundry room next door, Bengo was trying to turn the handle of the mangle, which had completely rusted it.

“We’ll bring the other one down from the galleon”, said Joby.

“I wonder where Bardy is”, said Bengo.

“We’re bound to hear him at some point”, said Joby.

They located him upstairs, at the doorway of the old cistern room, which had occasionally been used in the past to detain Bengo and Bardin in, when they had driven everybody else mad with their quarrelling and fighting. Bardin sounded demoralised, daunted by all the work that would be needed to get the house habitable again. Bengo got exasperated with him. He was too exhilarated at being back at The Bay to let a few little DIY problems get the better of him.

“You need a good long rest, Bardy”, he said “I think you should stay over on the galleon and leave the rest of us to do all the work”.

“Oh that would suit everybody just fine wouldn’t it!” said Bardin “Keep me out of the way!”

Bengo flapped his hands in frustration. Bardin went over to the little window which overlooked the back garden. He could see a strange shadow standing at the edge of the forest, the vague, dark outline of a person who seemed to be watching them all. Blowing his whistle he ran down the corridor to the head of the main stairs, missed his footing on the top step, sliding all the way down on his behind. He sat in a heap at the bottom, like a puppet clown that had had its strings cut.

“Well I hope that’s brought you to your senses!” said Bengo, catching up with him “What a stupid thing to do!”

“I thought that was never going to end!” said Bardin “Oh c’mon, help me up, and stop being all self-righteous. We’ve got to go and see what that strange figure is”.

“I should think that whoever it is has been well scared off by now!” said Bengo.

“Bardin”, said Adam, bustling out of the library “Whatever have you done to yourself?”

“Fallen down the stairs”, said Bengo.

“There was something watching us at the edge of the woods”, said Bardin.

“Well it was probably one of the monks”, said Adam.

“So why didn’t you think of that?” said Bengo, accusingly, to Bardin.

“I-I suppose it could have been”, said Bardin, pathetically.

“Whoever it was I’m sure we’ll see them again”, said Adam “Now do stop throwing yourself down the stairs, you’re not on stage now!”

Bardin came up with the idea that he would put Toppy in charge of spring-cleaning the Castle, and supervising any minor renovation work required there. An idea that filled everybody else with horror.

“Sheer malevolence that’s what it is”, said Joby, having brandy with Julian the next morning, in the main cabin on the galleon.

“Bardin hasn’t got it in him to be malevolent”, said Julian “Except to the other clowns, and that doesn’t count. I wish you’d stop worrying. Your parents named you right didn’t they? The trials of Job indeed! If it bothers you that much, don’t go down there until it’s all finished, stay up here out of the way”.

“Chance’d be a fine thing!” said Joby “Adam’s got some bright idea in his head that we’re gonna clear out the kitchen down there. He only wants us to completely over-haul the range and give it a good clean!”

“Give that job to Hillyard”, said Julian “He’d be in his element”.

“I spose so”, said Joby “You haven’t the first idea what it’s like working for Adam sometimes”.

“In the unlikely event that I ever would find myself working for Adam”, said Julian “I can tell you emphatically that I wouldn’t put up with all the rubbish from him that you do! I have an idea there actually. Why don’t I come and help you out down the kitchen?”

“You? Help out in the kitchen?” said Joby, going pale under his sun-tan.

“Believe it or not, I have done work before”, said Julian “It sounds quite fun really”.

“Yeah that’s what I’m afraid of!” said Joby “You’d do it just to wind Adam up. Have you any idea what could be the fall-out from that! You don’t mess around with Adam when he’s in charge, I can tell you that for free!”

“If the idea terrifies you that much, then you can go and work in your garden”, said Julian.

“Yeah, and that’s another thing”, said Joby “I’ve had Adam saying that to me. ’Just think, old love, you can get your vegetable garden up and running again’. Yeah, like I do every bleedin’ time we come here, just for us all to go and abandon it again! Running off on some other harebrained scheme!”

Julian had to laugh at Joby’s dogged determination to look on the black side, no matter what.

“We’re not going anywhere, Joby”, he said, when he had calmed down “The main reason why we had to keep hareing off in the old days was because bloody Codlik was at large in the world. These days, if Silling Productions wants a fight, they can come here and have it. I don’t see any reason why we need to rush off anywhere for a good long while”.

“What we really need to do of course is to rip out the whole thing”, said Hillyard “Take it out into the garden, give it a good once-over out there, and then put it back in again”.

“Over my dead body!” said Adam, standing with him in the kitchen down at Midnight Castle late that afternoon “I just want you to clean it up, Hillyard. Not rip out the whole damn thing!”

“Besides”, said Joby “If you rip out the whole damn thing you’ll probably bring the entire Castle down around our ears! That stove is probably all that’s holding the house up!”

“It was just a thought that’s all”, said Hillyard.

“Yes well anymore thoughts like that and I shall seriously reconsider the idea of you repairing the stove!” said Adam “Come along, Joby”.

Adam went out through the back door and onto the path that ran along the back of the house, to cool down. The clowns were mooching around the garden, getting some plan in place as to what would need to be done first.

“How could we have left it all this long?” said Adam, looking with dismay at all the work that needed doing around them “The Americans used to have an expression for when something went disastrously wrong, ‘it happened on my watch’. And that’s what’s happened here. We’ve abandoned this place for so long, and it’s almost disappeared into a wilderness”.

“Oh that’s just melodramatic cobblers!” said Joby “This place was in the wilderness for years before we set up home here, and then we got driven out by all the evil forces, which won’t happen again”.

“Not if I’ve got anything to do with it it won’t!” said Adam.

They had reached the library window at the end of the house. Adam caught a glimpse of something in the room, gave a cry, and then swung his long legs up over the windowsill, and in through the open window. Joby clambered in after him.

“Was that there before?” said Adam, pointing at a dust-covered hard backed book, which was lying in solitary splendour on one of the bookshelves.

“We probably left it behind by mistake when we left”, said Joby.

“No, we took all our books with us”, said Adam “They’re up on the galleon”.

“We could have left one behind”, Joby shrugged “We left in such a bleedin’ hurry it wouldn’t surprise me at all”.

Adam blew some of the dust off the cover, but it was impossible to make out the title or the author of the book from the scant remains of the gilt lettering on the spine. Inside the book was no better. It was all in a deplorable state. Several pages had been torn out, and those that were left appeared to have been attacked by mice. On top of that the book was suffering from severe browning to its pages.

“I think it’s a book of poetry”, said Adam.

“Definitely can’t be one of ours then!” said Joby “Perhaps it belongs to the monks. Some of ‘em might have come over here for a bit of peace and quiet sometimes”.

“Yes, that’s a possibility”, said Adam, gingerly turning the remaining pages.

A slip of blank paper was sticking out of one page.

“Joby, listen to this”, said Adam “’I hate the dreadful Hollow behind the little woods; Its lips in the field above are dabbled with blood red heath, The red ribb’d ledges drip with a silent horror of blood and Echo there, whatever is ask’d her, answers Death’”.

“Blimey!” said Joby, facetiously “Just the sort of thing you’d put in a Mother’s Day card!”

“To your mother, yes!” said Adam “It’s by Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson”.

“Did he do a lot of that sort of thing then?” said Joby.

“Oh he went down a storm in his day”, said Adam “Very much a romantic sort of poet, all King Arthur and all that jazz. How curious that someone has earmarked this particular piece”.

“Why?” said Joby “Why curious I mean? It certainly leaves an impression, particularly if you like a touch of the old Gothic and macabre”.

“But think of our location here, Joby”, said Adam “How apt it all is”.

“No it’s not!” said Joby, who had a mildly irritable feeling that Adam was insisting on being particularly Romantic today “The woods round here certainly aren’t little for one thing! I was up the top of the monks’ tower with Kieran, and there’s forests stretching for as far as the eye can see. And what Hollow?”

“Oh there are numerous poky little clearings and old fields around here”, said Adam “We came across a few in the past. Remember that cottage where we found the dead Ghoomer?”

“Nice area this innit!” said Joby “I’m starting to wonder why we wanted to come back here so much!”

“Because it’s our home, old love”, said Adam.

“Figures!” said Joby.

Bengo sauntered around the side of the house with his hands in his pockets, and ventured into the wilderness of the garden towards the other clowns.

“Look at him, Joby”, Adam smiled “How gorgeous he is. You can imagine him as some dashing Knight in an Arthurian legend can’t you?”

“Bengo?!” said Joby “Dashing Knight?! He’d never manage to stay on the horse for one thing, and God knows what a shambles he’d make of the tiltyard!”

Adam found another slip of paper jammed into the back of the dilapidated book. He unfolded it to find that it was a charcoal sketch depicting a man cowering back against a door in fear, whilst some indefinable Thing - it appeared to be a shapeless, black mass with floaty tentacles - looked as if it was steadily advancing on him.

“Even more curious”, he said “I wonder if one of the monks drew this? Joby, let’s go and pay a call on the Arch-Pater”.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby “Do we have to?”

“Yes we do”, said Adam.

The Arch-Pater was much younger than Joby had been expecting. He had got rather used over the years to them all being old fools out of touch with the living. This one was only in his forties, and seemed to have an incredible amount of nervous energy. He immediately pressed sherry on them, and Joby and Adam took their seats in his office. On one wall was a large studio portrait of Kieran, a replica of one that they had once had at the Ministry HQ. This sort of thing always gave Joby a turn. It reminded him of a shaggy dog-style joke he had once heard long ago, about an elderly American woman tourist travelling in India, who had heard that a great wise man, a guru, lived up in the mountains, and people flocked from all over the world to pay homage to him. She decided to go and see him himself, and when she got there found that it was really her husband who had disappeared whilst on holiday many years before. (I think the punch-line was something like “Wilbur, enough is enough!”). Anyway, that was often how Joby felt when he saw anyone paying homage to Kieran. A sort of “Why are you doing this? He’s only a scruffy little Irishman!”

One thing he had never noticed about this portrait before though, and he did now, was that Kieran seemed to have his hands locked together in a nervous grip. Kieran always gave the impression of being fully at ease when being photographed, painted or interviewed, and this positioning of his hands was all that gave any indication that he was actually rather nervous.

Adam and the Arch-Pater were having a conversation about the monks’ kitchen garden, and the Arch-Pater was saying that it was all fully at their disposal, until they got their own one up and running. Joby felt like retorting that he never had a bleedin’ chance to get their own one up and running, but Adam gave him a warning look that clearly indicated that he would find this very rude and ungrateful indeed if he said any such thing. In the meantime the Arch-Pater was topping up their booze again.

“We really came over here to return this”, said Adam, handing the old book to the Arch-Pater “I just wondered if one of the monks had perhaps left it over at the Castle”.

“It’s certainly not in the best of nick is it!” said the Arch-Pater, putting down his drink and turning the pages delicately “It looks as though a few giant mice have been hacking away at it! What a dreadful way to treat a book! I can’t believe any of the monks would treat it that way”.

“Yes I must admit I was rather surprised too”, said Adam, brushing a lock of fair hair out of his eyes “Those missing pages at the front look as though somebody has ripped them out by force, as though they were angry. It makes me very curious as to what was in them”.

“More poetry I spect”, said Joby.

“Why would anybody get that angry about poetry?” said Adam.

“There are some funny people about”, said Joby, morosely.

“And that picture”, said Adam “The little sketch. It’s rather disturbing”.

The Arch-Pater clearly thought it was too, because he looked quite bloodless. As if suddenly remembering his hostly duties, he put the book down and picked up the sherry decanter, only to find that there was only a trickle of the liquid left at the bottom.

“Oh dear, we seem to have rather got through that don’t we!” he exclaimed, and gave Adam such a slap on the shoulder that Adam fell sideways off his chair and onto Joby.

“I’ll go and get us some more”, said the Arch-Pater, and he took the decanter out of the room with him.

Adam gave a heartfelt sigh.

“Well you were the one who wanted to come over here!” said Joby “I wasn’t fussed about the damn book at all!”

“At least he’s not some dried-up old dinosaur”, said Adam “So many of Patsy’s bishops have been”.

“And sitting here with Kieran looking down at us don’t exactly help matters”, Joby continued.

“Oh I rather like that picture”, said Adam “It’s very charming”.

“Reminds me of being in his mum’s living-room”, said Joby “I seem to have spent my life sitting in rooms being stared at by pictures of Kieran!”

Bengo meanwhile had gone back to the galleon to let off steam to Bardin about the other clowns.

“You should have heard what they were coming out with down there, Bardy”, said Bengo, in the sanctuary of their own cabin “They were saying that it was good thing Kieran had given us all eternal youth, because otherwise I would probably have had to resort to plastic surgery like Althea! As if I would have done such a thing. I’ve never given a toss about my looks!”

“Will you listen to yourself!” said Bardin “You sound like a pathetic little kid again! ’Bardy, Bardy, the other clowns are all being horrid to me!’”

“Well they are”, said Bengo “The shits!”

“And what are you walking around dressed like that for?” said Bardin, pointing at the one item of clothing Bengo was wearing: a pair of denim dungarees, which gave him an impressive bum cleavage “I’ve told you before about wearing that outfit, you look like something out of a soft porn film!”

“It was entirely for practical purposes”, said Bengo “I was helping Mutton Broth to fix one of the old lawn-mowers”.

“I can’t imagine if you two were working on it, that it’ll ever see active service again!” said Bardin.

There was a brisk, businesslike rap on the door, and Fabulous came in, carrying an overnight bag. There was a look of grim determination about him. Suddenly the joyous thought came into Bengo’s head that Fabulous was, at long last, moving out. Bardin had mentioned that he might try and get a place for Fabulous over at the monastery, but Bengo hadn’t thought that it would be possible (mainly because he thought the monks had more sense than to offer to take Fabulous in!).

“I am ready”, said Fabulous, stiffly.

“I think this is much the wisest course to take”, said Bardin “I feel you will be happier over there”.

Although he found it hard to believe these days that Fabulous was capable of such an emotion as being ’happy’.

“As you are aware”, Fabulous began, (and the clowns had a sinking feeling that he was going to insist on making some sort of a speech) “My experiences with you all haven’t been of the happiest kind. I have never been accepted. I think my personality was too challenging for you”.

“Oh we can cope with a challenge”, said Bardin “Hoowie, for instance, has a more challenging personality than you anyday, but I can’t have someone in our midst who actively dislikes Kieran to the extent that I know you do”.

“I don’t understand that one at all!” said Bengo “How can you hate Kieran?”

“Let’s not go into all that now”, said Bardin, holding up a warning hand “It’s all been done before. I don’t see any point in us all making a big scene out of this. It’s not as if we’re never going to be seeing you again”.

Bengo went to make a remark, saw the look on Bardin’s face, and decided to stroll around the room restlessly instead.

“We’re all going to be living in the same neighbourhood”, said Bardin “So I’m sure we’ll see each other most days. I hope you can find some peace and contentment over there. I’ll walk you over there now”.

“Is that necessary?” Bengo snapped.

“Make sure the bugger goes”, Bardin whispered to him, when Fabulous had left the room.

When Bardin had gone, Bengo hastily stripped off his dungarees and dressed himself in (slightly) more respectable gear of shirt and breeches. He then headed off in the direction of Monks Field, as he didn’t see why Bardin should have all the satisfaction of offloading Fabulous, all by himself. He got to the main entrance of the small monastery, and found the Arch-Pater, looking eccentrically stylish in a Victorian frock coat. Fabulous stood nearby, with his bag at his feet. It was impossible to read anything from the blank expression on his face. Bardin turned round and gave a sigh when he saw Bengo.

“Hey, dig that coat!” Bengo exclaimed.

At which the Arch-Pater took it off and offered to let him try it on. Bardin protested that Bengo would tear it, but he was ignored. Bengo slipped it on, and the Arch-Pater touched his arm and said that he looked very dashing in it.

“There’ll be quite enough of that!” said Bardin, pulling Bengo’s arm away “Take that off, Bengo. Come on, it’s getting late”.

“Oh dear”, said the Arch-Pater, taking back his coat “I hope I haven’t caused serious consternation in the ranks”.

“No that doesn’t happen”, said Bengo, who suddenly got an inkling that the Arch-Pater wasn’t quite the jovial little light-hearted social bunny that he liked to make out.

Bardin couldn’t think of an appropriate farewell to give Fabulous. “Hope to see you soon” would be a complete lie (although unfortunately a distinct possibility), and “be seeing you” was likewise too depressing in its dead certainty. So in the end he simply touched the brim of his cap, and dragged Bengo back to the galleon.

“That’s twice, TWICE, you’ve really annoyed me this evening”, said Bardin, as they began to get ready for bed back in their cabin on the galleon “The first time was when you said you didn’t give a hoot about your looks, and never had”.

“Once and for all”, said Bengo, angrily “Will you understand one thing, Bardy! Being good-looking hasn’t always done me favours. When we were kids I was the fucking target for every custard pie, bucket of water, and vat of green slime that was going! I hate it when everybody thinks I had it really easy just because I was fucking cute!”

Bardin didn’t reply, but Bengo knew inside that he hadn’t quite achieved the result he was hoping for. Yes, it had been hard being the stooge all the time, just because he had been blessed (cursed?) when he was a little boy with having curls and dimples, but Bardin had been disfigured. He had had to be sent round to an elocutionist to be taught to talk properly, he had had to live with the fact that he had had a disfigurement that was impossible to hide, unless he was in full clown’s make-up.

Bengo felt his heart sink to his feet. He wanted to apologise to Bardin, but he had also been annoyed at being ordered to stay behind on the galleon, as though he was a dog. Bardin had slumped back on the sofa, and just sat there, staring at the wall.

“Oh I suppose you’re not going to get into bed now?” said Bengo “Well good, then I can move my feet about all night without you complaining about it!”

Bengo finished getting undressed and then slid into their bunk. He turned his back on Bardin, and faced the wall. Bardin suddenly got up off the sofa, walked across the cabin, grabbed Bengo under his armpits and pulled him deftly off the bed. Bengo landed on the cabin floor in fits of laughter.

“And you needn’t think I’m being banished to the sofa either!” was Bardin’s final shot.

Very early the next morning, in the chilly mists of dawn, Adam went up onto the main deck, to watch Lonts walking the dogs back across the Monks Field. Adam was in a state of total rapture at what a romantic image Lonts presented. That of this insanely handsome man nonchalantly striding out of the dawn fog, accompanied by two fine dogs. He was so enraptured in fact that Julian, who had also come up on deck to have his first cigar of the day, couldn’t get a word (sensible or otherwise) out of him.

“I’ll go back below”, said Julian, tartly.

“Yes alright, dear”, said Adam, vaguely.

Julian thundered back down the quarterdeck steps, and found Joby and Hillyard standing outside the door of the heads, waiting for Toppy to finally come out.

“Good morning, Julian”, said Joby.

“Oh don’t talk to me”, said Julian, striding past them and into the main cabin “I don’t exist!”

“Blimey”, said Joby “Gonna be one of those sort of days is it? For someone who don’t exist, he don’t half make a lot of noise!”

“How about you coming down to see me at the Castle later?” said Hillyard, tickling the back of Joby’s neck (these days he could do this without causing a major meltdown on Joby’s part).

“I won’t be able to distract you from your work”, said Joby “Adam’s already in a state about how long it’s taking you to fix up the stove. He wants us all to move in later today”.

“You leave Adam to me”, said Hillyard “I know how to handle these thoroughbreds”.

“I don’t like the sound of that!” said Joby “You be careful. ‘Cos if you upset him, it’ll be me and Bengo what suffers for it!”

Adam put Joby and Bengo onto scrubbing down the old kitchen table at the Castle. Too late he realised that this wasn’t a good idea. Both of them working up a sweat right in front of Hillyard in the sultry confines of the kitchen, successfully ensured that progress on the renovation of the stove was exceedingly slow.

“Bardin, I’ve been a fool”, said Adam “A complete fool”.

Bardin had been helping Adam to unload provisions from the truck, and taking the hampers into the larder at Midnight Castle.

“You?” said Bardin, taking off his cap and fanning himself with it.

“Why is everybody around here so bloody sexed up all the time!” said Adam, impatiently.

He went back out into the kitchen and ordered Joby to put the kettle on.

“On what?” said Joby, pointedly looking at the wreck of the stove.

“Use the camping gas stoves!” said Adam “Do I have to think of everything around here!”

He went out to the truck to fetch in some more boxes, and was annoyed to find Julian leaning against the side of it, smoking a cigar. Adam pointedly ignored him, and leaned over to fetch a box from the passenger seat. Julian stared at his behind, and then jammed it with his finger. Adam gave a yelp and backed out again.

“Sorry”, said Julian, not sounding in the least bit sorry “Couldn’t help myself. You presented too much of a temptation in my path”.

“I have just been saying to Bardin that everyone is too sexed up around here”, said Adam “And that only goes to prove it”.

“You weren’t doing so badly yourself first thing this morning!” said Julian “Anyway, according to Finia as a Scorpio you should have sex on the brain!”

“I’m about the only one round here who doesn’t have sex on the bloody brain at the moment!” said Adam.

“Liar!” said Julian, good-humouredly “Come on, out with it, what’s the matter with you?”

“There’s just so much to do, Jules”, said Adam, in despair “We’ve been gone so long”.

“So what?” said Julian “We’ve got all eternity to do it in”.

“That’s if we’re allowed to stay here”, said Adam.

“Now you sound like Joby!” said Julian “Your trouble is you’ve got too used to being unsettled, you expect the sands to be shifting underfoot all the time”.

“I do rather”, said Adam.

“You’re not used to staying stationary”, said Julian.

“It would be nice to get that sensation for a while!” said Adam.

Julian ground out his cigar under his foot, and then slipped his arms round Adam.

“Oh Adam”, he said, with a gentleness that wasn’t often heard from Julian “You feel things too damn much, you always did”.

“I know”, said Adam, his eyes welling up “It doesn’t take much to set me off. Isn’t it strange how that happens? Why should a few notes of music for instance send an acute emotional sensation right through us? Or somebody just moving in a certain way, or a fleeting look come over their faces? Sometimes I wish I could be more like little Bengo, skipping along on the surface, not delving into things”.

“He has his moments of misery and despair alright”, said Julian “Usually when he thinks he’s upset Bardin, and then we get the cries of ’oh this is awful, I wish I was dead!’”

Their first night back at the Castle they had a picnic off the dining-table. Bengo and Bardin would be spending a couple of nights a week back at the galleon, partly to keep an eye on it, and partly because they had become very attached to their cabin. The monks had been generously donating fresh provisions, until the Indigo-ites were in a position to use their own.

“And the sooner the better”, said Ransey, as they ate by the light of a couple of hurricane lamps. A squally wind had got up outside, and was sporadically knocking at the edges of the building “We can’t put ourselves in the position of being completely reliant on them!”

Adam let all this flow over him. He had had an intimate afternoon with Julian, and was feeling mellow.

“And we should have bolts put on the inside doors here”, Ransey continued.

“Oh crikey, is that absolutely necessary?” said Adam “We’re not living in a prison, what on earth do we need bolts on the internal doors for?”

“We don’t have this area completely to ourselves anymore”, said Ransey.

“More’s the pity”, said Joby.

“Exactly”, said Ransey “We can’t be as indiscreet as we used to be”.

“What do we need to give a hoot what the monks think?” said Adam “And anyway, I hope that none of them would be so ill-mannered as to come charging in here without being invited first. Also, there are plenty of places we can go to in order to be alone. The forest for one thing, The Old Lighthouse for another”.

Bengo nearly dropped the coffee-pot in excitement, at the mention of The Old Lighthouse.

“We must go over there tomorrow, Bardy”, he said.

Kieran was rarely one of the first ones to get out of bed, and sometimes this was a pity, as he would love to have been the one who undid the shutters first thing in the morning. On their first morning back at the Castle though he made a strenuous effort to be one of the early riser gang. He pulled on his purple silk robe, and ran down to the library, relishing the beams of sunlight coming through the slats in the shutters and falling across the dusty floor.

After opening the shutters in here, he went through the hall and out of the main door, to go and stand on the bridge over the river. He was thus busily engaged in his own thoughts when Julian yelled at him from the house.

“I wasn’t prick-teasing the monks!” Kieran laughed, when Julian had bundled him back into the library.

“Have you any idea what you looked like standing there?” said Julian.

“Pretty much like a feller standing on a bridge I would’ve thought!” said Kieran.

“Kieran, sometimes I think you’re a demon, an imp!” said Julian.

“Perhaps I am”, said Kieran “Look, if you’re after an excuse to beat me up, you don’t have to go to all this trouble, Julian, just go ahead and do it. I don’t mind!”

“First things first”, said Julian, grabbing Kieran’s neck in one hand and staring intently into his blue eyes “When you go out and do things like that, are you really be as innocent as you make out? Even after all these years of living with you, I’m still not certain of the answer to that one”.

“I’ve got no interest in prick-teasing the monks”, said Kieran “I was just intoxicated with what a lovely morning it was. If anything, I wanted to enjoy it before the monks appeared on the scene. That’s the honest truth, I promise you”.

“Very well”, said Julian.

“You can still give me a good hiding though”, said Kieran “In fact, I’d be very disappointed if you didn’t!”

“Do you know something”, said Kieran, now perched on all fours on a bed upstairs “I think you’re having a mellowing effect on old Julian”.

“Yeah, bleedin’ well looks like it don’t it!” said Joby, who was busily engaged in rubbing cream into Kieran’s sore behind.

“No, he called me Kieran today”, said Kieran.

“Well it is your name!” said Joby “Even Adam might call it you one day!”

“Usually Julian calls me everything but that!” said Kieran “And he asks me things, shows an interest in me other than just wanting to lather me behind!”

“He always has shown an interest in you”, said Joby “You’ve had plenty of deep conversations with him”.

“Maybe”, said Kieran “But it really struck me today”.

“Well summat certainly did!” said Joby.

“The idea of it though”, said Kieran, giving a snort of disbelief “That I’d go flaunting meself in front of the monks! I only flaunt meself in front of people I want to attract, usually in the hope I’ll get sorted out”.

“Whereas the monks will just wanna adore you”, said Joby “There you are, that should see you right”.

He replaced the lid on the pot of cream.

“I think that’s what Julian’s always found baffling about you”, he said “That you’re not interested in being adored”.

“That I’m not!” said Kieran, lounging back against the pillows “I remember all those many many years ago when Fobbett told me I was the Vanquisher of Evil, and I thought ’oh focking hell, I can’t be arsed!’ And I haven’t changed. All I want is peace of mind and a sore bum!”

Joby gave a bellow of laughter.

“If only everybody was as easily pleased!” he said “We wouldn’t have had to put up with Codlik’s crap all those years if that was the case!”

“Ach, don’t mention Codlik!” said Kieran, pummelling Joby playfully with a spare pillow.

“Joby”, said Ransey, peering round the door “Adam wants you in the kitchen”.

“Work, work, and more bleedin’ work!” said Joby.

“I was right what I said last night about having bolts put on the insides of the doors here”, said Ransey to Kieran.

“And Addy was right that we’re not living in a focking prison!” said Kieran.

“Imagine if one of your monks came in and saw you in that undignified position”, said Ransey.

“That would be their own bloody fault for trespassing then wouldn’t it!” said Joby.

“And I wish everybody would stop saying ‘your monks’ like that”, said Kieran “It’s like when people say ‘your friend’ when they’re talking about somebody really peculiar!”

“Figures”, said Joby.

The monks were turning out to be better neighbours than the more cynical ones of the Indigo-ites had feared. They were rarely seen on the Castle side of the river, except as the occasional lone shape moving through the trees in the forest in silent contemplation. Their generosity was amazing. Not only did they ply the Indigo-ites with fresh fruit and vegetables, (and the occasional bottle of strong homemade liquor), but they presented them with other gifts as well. Adam with delighted with two sets of wind-chimes, and an ornate dinner-gong, which they left at the kitchen door early one morning. When the Arch-Pater was later heard to remark that he thought Adam would have made a wonderful monk, Julian said it was the best laugh he had had all day!

Most of the Indigo-ites strongly resisted more and more the idea of bolts being put on the insides of the doors. In the end Ransey had to accept a compromise of them being put only on the two separate doorways which led into Kieran’s Vestry on the first floor. He said he had resigned himself to the fact that Kieran would never be able to curb his insatiable enthusiasm for being spanked, but at least he might try and confine it to one room.

“I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one, old love!” said Adam “And anyway, I don’t see what there is to worry about. Most people love Patsy precisely because he does have these little human weaknesses!”

“Human weaknesses is one thing …” Ransey began, but he didn’t have time to finish this great speech because Kieran burst into the room, with a playful little smile on his lips. He had clearly decided that Ransey was ripe for a bit of winding-up.

“I see you’ve got Hillyard up in my Vestry with his bag of tools”, he said “Good idea I say. It’ll add to the erotic atmosphere no end to be bolted in like that”.

“Patsy”, said Adam, in a warning voice.

“Sade always used to do that sort of thing in his filthy stories”, said Kieran “Have the characters locked away somewhere inaccessible to the outside world. It all makes it feel even more heady”.

“You really do have some tiresome habits sometimes!” said Ransey, and he left the room.

“He loves me really!” Kieran let out a gale of laughter.

“You don’t deserve to be loved, you little wretch!” said Adam.

“Well”, said Kieran “All this fuss about those focking bolts …”

“Oh not those damn bolts again!” said Joby, coming into the room with a cup of coffee for Adam “I swear that’s the only topic of bleedin’ conversation round here at the moment! Bolts, bolts, and more bloody bolts!”

Toppy skidded into the room from the opposite direction (the hall end). He was breathless with excitement.

“Now what?” said Joby.

“The Arch-Pater wants to see you, Adam”, said Toppy “It seems dreadfully important”.

“I bet it ent!” said Joby.

“Oh very well”, said Adam “Show him in, Toppy. And you two make yourselves scarce”.

“Why?” said both Kieran and Joby at once.

“Just for once, do as I bloody say!” said Adam.

The Arch-Pater was effusive in his greetings towards Adam, kissing him on both cheeks, and remarking on how well he looked.

“It’s very nice to see you as well, old love”, said Adam “But I don’t think you came over here purely on a social call”.

“Now how did you guess that?” said the Arch-Pater “Adam, you must be a genius!”

“I wouldn’t say that”, said Adam “It’s just that over the years I’ve got rather adept at reading people’s faces, and you look exactly like a man who has got an unpleasant but necessary duty to impart. You’re sending Fabulous back to us aren’t you?”

“It is rather difficult”, said the Arch-Pater, joining the tips of his fingers together in a sort of placating gesture.

“If it makes it any easier for you it doesn’t come as any great surprise to me”, said Adam “I had a feeling in my bones that you wouldn’t be able to put up with him forever, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting him to come back quite so soon!”

“He is a disrupting influence I’m afraid”, said the Arch-Pater “You see, we very much value the placid spiritual atmosphere we have built up at the monastery. It is invaluable to us. We are a highly contemplative order, and I’m afraid we don’t have the robust resources to deal with … with people like him”.

“What’s he been doing?” said Adam.

“More saying than doing”, said the Arch-Pater.

“Fabulous is a notorious bad-mouther”, said Adam.

“And he’s very lazy”, said the Arch-Pater “As you know, from your own little community, it is important that everybody pulls their weight in equal measure, and well I’m afraid Fabulous is constantly trying to get people to do things for him”.

“You don’t have to keep saying ‘I’m afraid’ like that”, said Adam “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know. I’ll come over and collect him now”.

“How are you finding the old house?” said the Arch-Pater, looking around him doubtfully “Are you happy here?”

“It is our home”, said Adam, picking up his sun-hat from the sofa.

“It’s not an easy place”, said the Arch-Pater.

“Inevitably when a house has been empty for a long time”, said Adam “It’s bound to have a lot of things need doing to it”.

“I wasn’t just meaning the practical things”, said the Arch-Pater.

“Yes it is haunted if that‘s what you mean”, said Adam “Or at least it was when we were here before. And the previous inhabitants … did all kill themselves. But we hope in time to erase any bad psychic impressions that may have left behind”.

“We have found that this side of the river can seem a little unnerving at times”, said the Arch-Pater “All summed up rather well by that scrap of poem you brought over to me recently”.

“Let’s not focus on such things on a beautiful day like this”, said Adam, linking arms with him.

Fabulous was frightened when he saw Adam coming across the field towards him. He hadn’t expected Adam to be the one who came to collect him. Adam was one of the few people who genuinely frightened Fabulous. Julian who could deal with. He felt that Julian was just another arrogant aristocrat like himself. But Adam had a temper. He didn’t lose it often it was true, but it was explosive when he did. Fabulous had certainly heard the tale of how Adam had once done 5 years in prison for half-blinding a man with a broken champagne bottle. So it was with some trepidation that he saw Adam coming towards him now. All Adam said when he saw him though was “You shouldn’t scowl like that, Fabulous. You’ll ruin your handsome good looks. Develop the most appalling squint for one thing”.

Nothing more was said until they got back to Midnight Castle. Once inside the hallway there though, Adam punched Fabulous right in the mouth.

“Thank God you’re back!” said Mieps, running out to meet Julian, who had been out riding in the forest whilst all this was going on.

“What’s the matter, old girl?” said Julian, swinging down from the horse “Something up?”

“Fabulous is back”, said Mieps, limping towards him, (her foot had never completely recovered from being caught in a man-trap at Zilligot Bay).

“Ah the monks have spat him out have they?” said Julian “Can’t say I’m surprised!”

“Adam punched him!” said Mieps “In the hallway!”

“Nasty!” said Julian.

“And Fabulous has gone and shut himself in the cistern room upstairs”, Mieps continued “Says he’s never going to come out again”.

“If only we could believe that was true!” said Julian.

“And Adam’s gone upstairs too”, said Mieps “Hillyard says please you must go and bring him down, or we won’t get any meals today!”

“What the hell is that meant to be ?” said Julian, finding Adam in the main bedroom, busily engaged in executing a sketch in charcoal which seemed to be a frightening mess of aggressive black strokes.

“It’s from a bad dream I had last night”, said Adam “I can’t describe it very well, but it reminds me of some of the worst of the films that Silling Productions did”.

“Looks like it!” said Julian, holding up a brandy bottle and two glasses he had appropriated from the kitchen on his way up.

“Oh Jules really!” said Adam “Surely it’s too early, even for you!”

“It’s never too early for brandy”, said Julian “’Claret is the liquor for boys, port for men, but heroes drink brandy’ - Samuel Johnson”.

“Yes it sounds like one of his”, said Adam.

“And you’re today’s hero”, said Julian “Punching that strutting little squirt like that!”

“It’s not something I’m terribly proud of”, said Adam.

“You should be!” said Julian.

“It gave me a momentary - VERY momentary - satisfaction that is all”, said Adam “It’s not resolved anything has it? The wretched man is back with us again, ready to drive us all to distraction once again”.

“And here we go again”, said Julian “Round Two”.

“Quite”, said Adam.

There was a diffident knock on the door, and hushed voices coming from out on the landing.

“Who is it?” said Julian, testily “Get in!”

Bengo and Bardin sidled into the room cautiously.

“Oh there you are”, said Julian “I was wondering where The Captain was in all this”.

“I have been out”, said Bardin “Over at The Old Lighthouse, I’ve only just heard about all this”.

“But we’ve had an idea, haven’t we, Bardy?” said Bengo.

“Not about Fabulous though”, said Bardin.

“Then what?” said Julian.

“I’ve suggested that we renovate one of the huts up at the clearing for Dobley and Althea”, said Bardin.

“Yes, that’s an excellent idea, Bardin”, said Adam, tiredly.

“And you never know”, said Bardin “They might take Fabulous in as their lodger!”

“That’s if he ever comes out of the cistern room”, said Bengo.

“Typical of a prima donna like that”, said Bardin “No sense of The Show Must Go On at all”.

“Talking of which”, said Adam, getting up off the bed “I’d better go and start organising lunch. Come along, Bengo”.

They found Tamaz and Hoowie sitting at the bottom of the main staircase, clearly trying to figure out all that had been going on.

“We come back from the forest”, said Hoowie “And the place is in uproar. What’s Fabulous doing up in the cistern room?”

“He’s come back here to live”, said Adam.

“WHAT?!” Tamaz exclaimed, with magnificent imperial outrage.

“I thought you’d be pleased, Freaky!” said Adam.

Tamaz was very far from pleased at all. In fact, he berated Bardin about it after lunch so much that Bardin pushed him off the bridge and into the river. Lonts was furious, and said that Bardin should be punished for such outrageous behaviour towards Poor Tamaz.

“I’m sure he will be at some point, Lo-Lo”, said Adam, who found it all rather amusing.

He helped Tamaz off with his sodden clothes in the kitchen, whilst Lonts stood by looking thunderous.

“I sometimes think nobody gives a button about me”, said Tamaz.

“Hey, that’s enough of that”, said Joby, approaching Tamaz with towels.

Toppy came down the stairs behind the stove, carrying a tray of untouched food.

“He hasn’t touched any of it”, he said, referring to Fabulous “Says he doesn’t want to eat a thing, he just wants to die”.

“Well he can’t”, said Joby “So he’s just gonna have to put up with it!”

That evening Kieran and Joby christened the Vestry, with Kieran performing the role of slave in there to his heart’s content. Afterwards, Joby went across the corridor to see Julian, who was in the Four-Poster Room, sitting at an open window, basking in the moonlight.

“Ah it’s the Slave-Master”, said Julian, eyeing up Joby in his waistcoat and watch-chain “Did Kieran find you strict enough this evening?”

“I’ve just put him to bed”, said Joby “The little tyke! I can’t imagine how anybody finds me strict!”

“You’d be surprised”, said Julian “Come and sit over here. I keep thinking I hear a mockingbird”.

“Could well do”, said Joby.

“Bardin has some idea about taking the galleon up the coast and exploring a bit”, said Julian.

“Hasn’t he had enough of travelling lately?” said Joby “I thought we were sposed to be settling for a while!”

“I don’t want to worry you”, said Julian “But he also has some scheme about going off into the forest on a little jaunt. Says he keeps having a dream about a house there”.

“It’s not like Bardin to get fanciful”, said Joby.

“Oh he’s being practical as well”, said Julian “Been having more thoughts about Dobley and Blanche duBois”.

“Eh?” said Joby.

“’Ah don’t want realism, Ah want magic’”, said Julian, quoting from ’A Streetcar Named Desire’ “Dear Althea. Says he’s going to take her up to the clearing tomorrow, and get her views on one of the huts there”.

Bardin got Althea’s views alright, and wasn’t too pleased about it. Althea walked around the circular hut, and had something dangerously close to hysterics.

“I don’t want to live here”, she cried “You want me to swap a castle for a hut?”

“Well if you insist on putting it like that …” said Bardin, shortly.

“Why can’t Kieran cure me that’s what I want to know”, said Althea, with rather more passion than hitherto Bardin would have thought her capable of “I understand that he cured you of your disfigurement, so why can’t he cure me?”

“But it was years and years before he cured me”, Bardin protested.

The poor guy was caught in a terrible cleft-stick. His feelings were a mix of feeling dreadfully sorry for Althea, and completely exasperated with her at the same time. She clearly had once been a very attractive woman, but Julian’s comparisons with Blanche duBois had been spot on. She had ruined herself through an inability to face getting older. This dreadful scene though helped Bardin to feel true compassion for her for the first time. Up until then he had regarded her as a rather ridiculous ageing chorus girl, someone deliberately disfiguring herself out of sheer vanity. He had never until now appreciated that her looks had been all she had had. To lose them was to lose the essence of her being. Like a comedian finding he’s not finding anymore … and he had known a few of those as well.

He returned to the Castle in a filthy temper. Even as a clown, who should be used to dealing with pathos, he couldn’t face it full-on like this. Dobley and Althea were like two marionettes who only needed the puppet-master to pull the right strings. If Dobley was put in front of a television camera all the pain of the past few years would slip away in seconds, and he would be the performing seal again. If everybody looked twice at Althea once more (and out of admiration, not a grotesque fascination), then she would be the flirty young girl again. Without all this though they were broken puppets, lying abandoned in the wings.

“We can’t seem to get rid of anybody!” he exclaimed, when he pulled Bengo into the bedroom at the side of the kitchen, so that they could talk in peace “Is Fabulous still upstairs?”

“Yes”, said Bengo “He ate some dried bread earlier though”.

“Big deal!” said Bardin.

“No it is, Bardy”, said Bengo “It means the hunger strike isn’t working, and I think he gets scared at night, after it goes dark. It would be creepy sleeping on your own around here then”.

Bardin pulled off his sweat-sodden shirt, and then yelled out of the door for Toppy to fetch him a clean one.

“This is not turning out to be as stress-free as I had hoped, coming back here!” he said, facing Bengo again.

“It just takes a while for things to settle down again”, said Bengo.

Althea had overheard all this, as she had been walking round the corner of the Castle at the time. At supper that evening she sat at the end of the table, with her fingers grasping the edges of her seat. She barely raised her head at all during the meal. Adam decided that this situation couldn’t be allowed to go on, and he asked her if he could talk to her afterwards.

The two of them crossed the hallway in the deep twilight, and sat down on the window-seat by the front door.

“You looked rigid with terror all through the meal, old love”, said Adam “We can’t have that you know. What on earth has happened to bring it on?”

Althea burst into tears and let out a torrent of woes. Of how Bardin didn’t like her, and couldn’t wait to get rid of her. Of how she was afraid to go outside in the sunlight, looking as she did (Adam felt that Julian had been spot on with his Blanche duBois observation), that she was aware that people thought she was grotesque …

“What a dreadful word to use to describe yourself!” said Adam “Nobody thinks you’re grotesque! And why on earth should you be afraid to go outside? Nobody will see you around here anyway, except us lot and the monks, and I would be very surprised if they had such vile thoughts! And it’s not true that Bardin doesn’t like you”.

(Truth to tell, thought Adam, Bardin probably doesn’t have any views about her at all!).

“You have to excuse his rather unfortunate manner at times”, said Adam “He talks brusquely to everybody. Poor little Bengo gets it the worst of any of us. He wasn’t trying to get rid of you, simply felt that you and Dobley would perhaps like to have your own place”.

“Dobley and I were alone up at the Hospital”, said Althea “All that time, all by ourselves. We lived in a permanent state of fear”.

“Yes, and that’s the nub of the problem isn’t it?” said Adam “You have got into a long habit now of living in fear, and you can’t seem to break it. I admit that The Bay is a strange area at times, and that odd things have happened here, and will doubtless continue to do so, but it’s not the Hospital. If you want to stay down here with us, then you must try and blend in more. Relax, old love. No one’s going to eat you”.

“But why can’t Kieran cure me?” Althea sobbed “I know I’ve been a silly, SILLY woman, but I didn’t’ expect it all to go wrong like it did. Would I have put myself under the knife if I expected that?”

“You fell into the hands of some highly unscrupulous people”, said Adam “That’s your tragedy”.

“Exactly!” said Althea “I just wanted to keep my beauty, I know that was foolish and vain, but people have done far worse things. B-but they turned me into a freak!”

Adam put his arm round her shoulders and tried to calm her down. Her frail, slender body was convulsed with the sobbing.

“Patsy can’t cure people overnight”, said Adam “He’s not a magician. Bardin lived for many many years with his facial disfigurement before anything could be done about it. Patsy can’t call his inexplicable powers to order just like that. I’m afraid you really have just got to be patient”.

“But can I stay down here, please?” said Althea.

“If that’s what you want, of course you can”, said Adam “We will sort out the cistern room for you. Just as soon as we can get Fabulous out of it!”

“I shall have to hide my jewels”, said Tamaz, on learning that Althea was to be with them permanently.

“Oh now Freaky really!” said Adam.

“Yes I will”, said Tamaz “She can’t wait to get her hands on them. I’ve seen the look in her eyes when I’ve opened up the lid sometimes. Your trouble is you don’t understand women, Adam, you don’t know how they operate”.

“No, I clearly don’t understand hermaphrodites either!” said Adam “I’m sure Althea wouldn’t take anything without asking you first, and if she did then we would tell her off. And what would it matter anyway? I expect she would take care of them. You really mustn’t be so spoilt, old love”. “Spoilt?!” said Tamaz “Spoilt?! When do I have ever get the chance to be spoilt? I am constantly victimised. I am treated like a worm!”

“Good heavens”, said Adam “It’s like the return of an old friend, hearing that one again!”

“I am pushed into the river”, Tamaz began.

“I have told you time and again not to antagonise any of the clowns”, said Adam “You always come off worse!”

Toppy came into the kitchen, carrying a large bundle of dirty washing, which he dropped down by the back door.

“I have to do all that in the morning”, he said, in an aggrieved voice.

“That’ll keep you busy”, said Joby, carrying in the last tray of dirty plates from the dining-room.

“Sometimes I’d like to know what things would be like here without me around!” said Toppy.

“Yeah, it would be quite nice to find out!” said Joby.

“Joby, apologise”, said Adam, automatically, knowing full well that he couldn’t stand a session of Toppy’s outraged flouncing.

“Sorry”, Joby mumbled “But sometimes he carries on as though he’s the only one round here doing any work!”

Bardin burst in Stage Right, carrying a large sheet of paper and a pencil.

“Adam”, he said “I want you to draw me a map. Of the area”.

“Oh don’t be silly, Bardin”, said Adam “I know the area only as well as you do!”

“But that’s just it!” said Bardin “How long have we spent in this area altogether? Don’t answer that, but it’s a long time. And yet we still know very little about it. Well I’m going to change all that. I’m sick of so much of this world being Uncharted Area. We’re going to map it”.

“What? The World?” said Joby, in dismay.

“No, this area”, said Bardin, waving an arm around “All around us here. Up the coast, up the river, through the forest”.

“Bardin”, said Adam “If you think I’m drawing maps of this area on top of everything else I have to do …”

“Just a drawing of what we know already”, said Bardin “This house, the river, Monks Field, the beach, The Old Lighthouse, the clearing etc. And then we work outwards from there”.

“What’s brought all this on?” said Joby.

“All that time we spent in that weird limbo land after we left Wolf Castle that’s what”, said Bardin “Wooded Hill and Nuit and the Gorgon‘s area. None of those places, in all logic, should have existed! Do you remember what you said when we first saw the sea, Joby, after we had travelled down through the forest? ’What’s the bloody sea doing here?’ Well the irrationality of it is bothering me”.

“Places change, Bardin”, said Adam “I don’t quite know how, or who’s causing it, but they do”.

“Yes but it doesn’t help if people don’t have bloody maps does it!” said Bardin, slapping the paper and pencil down on the kitchen table “Well we’re going to map this area. Put down what we already know, and then we’re going to branch out!”

He left the room with a triumphant flourish, vanishing up the stairs behind the stove.

“I sometimes think Bardin should have been a Victorian”, Adam sighed.

Joby grunted in reply.

After breakfast the following morning Bardin called a meeting, a sort of Map-Making Meeting, in the dining-room. Adam had told the clowns that they had to be gentle with Althea, to be careful not to tease her.

“The poor little thing is very sensitive about her looks”, he said “She once had drugs, including a derivative of cocaine, pumped into her cheeks until she looked like a pumpkin“.

“What was that sposed to do then?” said Joby “Apart from make her look like a pumpkin that is?”

“I think it was supposed to do something”, said Adam “I’m not quite sure what, but anyway not what she was expecting”.

“Make her a double of the hamster-cheeked dancer in ‘Eraserhead’?” Joby joked.

“Remarks like that don’t help!” said Adam, shortly “Delicacy and sensitivity is what is called for”.

Bardin just looked blank at all this. When he regarded Althea at all it was simply as an ageing chorus-girl who had been put out to grass. The idea that she would have hysterics if he spoke to her just struck him as downright bizarre. Even so, he was aware of her presence at the dining-table. Mainly because she insisted on sitting near him, chewing pensively on a strand of her hair. Althea had taken on board Adam’s words about trying to “blend in”, and as such she was listening to him with rapt attention.

“Adam is going to make a start drawing a nice picture of this area”, said Bardin.

“We can hang it on the wall when it’s done”, said Julian, with a flicker of amusement round his lips.

“Adam hasn’t promised when he’s going to start this masterpiece of course”, said Adam “Or how and when he’s going to fit it in around everything else!”

“I dunno why we can’t just stay in one place for a few months”, said Joby “Don’t come running to me in the Autumn ‘cos I haven’t had a chance to get the vegetable garden up and running”.

“Hallo-o!” came a call from the hallway.

“Sounds like the Arch-Pater”, said Adam, getting out of his chair to go and greet him.

The Arch-Pater was looking rather dashing (if not entirely appropriate for the tropical weather) with a cloak slung over one shoulder. He greeted Adam with his usual effusiveness, and then indicated the tattered old book that Adam had passed onto him.

“I’ve found something else in it”, he said, sitting down on the window-seat “It was a name written on one of the torn stubs in the middle. I thought you might be of interest”.

Adam looked down at a name, elegantly written in faded ink.

“Lady Joan de Lisle”, said Adam “How curious”.

“It is isn’t it!” the Arch-Pater exclaimed.

“Particularly as we don’t get names like that anymore”, said Adam “People with surnames I mean. I haven’t come across that since we crossed over into this time”.

“That surely must make the book very old indeed”, said the Arch-Pater.

“One would think so”, said Adam “Although how it’s survived as long as this, even in this dilapidated condition, is beyond me. You would think it would have rotted to dust by now”.

Bardin was finding Althea more and more insufferable as the next few days passed. A succession of rainy days had postponed his map-making enterprise, and he was reduced to trying to rearrange the living accommodation within the Castle, mainly trying to evict Fabulous from the cistern room, and to get Althea and Dobley installed in there.

Althea was a Whinger, someone who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that sometimes unfair things happened in life. She would brood on it, chewing on it over and over again. She would also come out with irritating exclamations like “I’ve had a hard, strange life”, to which Bardin snapped back in reply “Haven’t we all!” She was the sort of person who takes a perverse pleasure out of wallowing in her own misfortunes. When anybody tried to give her good advice, she would give the impression of listening intently, and then say something like “What a good idea, oh how I agree with you”, but it was clear that this was only to flatter the speaker. She had no intention of doing anything about it, and very often would have completely forgotten what was said a short while later. Althea seemed to think it was enough that she flattered people by listening to them.

“How badly she misunderstands people”, Adam sighed.

“All I know is that if she doesn’t stop following Bardy around the Castle then I’m scared he’ll erupt at her like a volcano”, said Bengo, who was mixing up a batter for a Yorkshire Pudding.

“Somehow we need to find her something to do”, said Adam.

“I ent having her working in here”, said Joby “She’s complete rubbish at everything!”

“Oh now Joby”, said Adam “I don’t think there’s any need for one of your misogynistic rants”.

“Nothing misogynistic about it”, said Joby “I’d say exactly the same thing if she was a bloke. I have never seen her do a hand’s turn to anything. Why, back at the mountain hospital, it was Dobley who did everything, whilst she just sat around daydreaming all the time pretending to be a little princess or summat. People like that get on my nerves!”

“Well Patsy sits around daydreaming a lot”, said Adam “I wouldn’t advise you go calling him a little princess though!”

Bengo laughed so much he had to put the pudding bowl down.

“Kieran can do practical work”, said Joby “He makes a really decent cup of tea, he can light fires, and he can make beds”.

“Very true”, said Adam.

“But Her …” Joby continued “Waste of bleedin’ space if you ask me!”

“Now that’s a little harsh …” said Adam.

“I’ve said my piece”, said Joby “I don’t need to say anymore”.

“No”, said Adam, dryly “Perhaps that’s just as well!”

“Perhaps she could put the washing through the mangle”, said Bengo, trying desperately to think of something that Althea could do.

“Toppy’d only complain it wasn’t done properly”, said Joby “And go and do it all again, so there’d be no point”.

“I thought you had said your piece”, said Adam.

Bardin strolled into the kitchen.

“Perhaps you can help us, old love”, said Adam “Is there anything useful we can give Althea to do? The trouble is, you see, we’re rather at a loss because for most of her life all her purpose of being was to be lusted after”.

“Bit like Bengo really”, said Bardin, without thinking.

Adam had to rescue the batter mixture in time, before it went over Bardin.

“Why on earth do you two have to say these things to each other!” said Adam “I have never known a couple with such a propensity for foot-in-mouth disease. You’re even worse than Patsy and Joby!”

“We’ve never been as bad as those two!” said Joby.

When the rains stopped for a while that afternoon, Adam sent Bengo and Bardin out horse-riding, to try and work some of their energy off.

“Can’t you keep up?” said Bardin, who had been riding quite some way ahead in the forest, and had to rein his horse in to allow Bengo to catch up.

“I can’t help it, Bardy”, said Bengo “You’ve got a more powerful horse than I have, and mine keeps stopping to eat the foliage”.

“Like horse like rider”, Bardin mumbled.

He noticed that Bengo was looking rather tearful, which took him by surprise. He suggested that they tether the horses up for a moment and have a rest.

“What’s brought all this on?” said Bardin “You should have known me long enough by now not to start snivelling just because of something I’ve said. If it’s what happened in the kitchen earlier, then you’ve got completely the wrong end of the stick, as usual! I didn’t say you were ONLY useful for being lusted after, I simply meant that that’s what had always happened”.

“Then you’re completely rubbish at explaining yourself”, said Bengo, blowing his nose vigorously “You just open your gob and bilge comes out. You say something horrible and then wonder why I get upset!”

“Well you say horrible things to me sometimes!” said Bardin “Nearly every time I come up with an idea you tell me how stupid it is!”

“Not always!” said Bengo “And there’s loads of useful things I can do, I can cook, and I can do pratfalls and back-flips and …”

“Alright alright!” said Bardin “I thought I had just told you that I didn’t really think you were useless, there’s no need to labour the point!”

“There are loads of times I’ve wished I had been born clever”, said Bengo.

“Yes but it wouldn’t be you would it!” said Bardin.

The air was damp and humid, making his hair stick to his neck, and his hat was all out of shape. Bengo thought he looked very sweet.

“Oh Bardy”, he said “I’ve been so emotional since we’ve been back here”.

“Join the flippin‘ club!” said Bardin “It’s been one big hysterics after another”.

“I think Althea fancies you”, said Bengo.

“Bengo, you think every woman we meet fancies me”, Bardin sighed.

“Well you think every man we meet fancies me!” Bengo retorted.

“Anyway, even if she did”, said Bardin “The feeling’s not mutual. I’m sick of the sight of her”.

“But what if Kieran made her beautiful again?” said Bengo.

“It’s got nothing to do with her looks”, said Bardin “It’s a personality thing. She’s too bloody passive for my liking. She’s got no spark in her. She’s like a dead fish. No amount of miracle-working on Kieran’s part is going to put any juice into that one!”

“She is a bit of a drip isn’t she”, said Bengo.

“You can say that again!” said Bardin “She’s the sort of person who always finds somebody else to do things for them. Some men might like that, but I don’t. It’s as if she was meant to be for purely ornamental purposes only. Like some of those nude life models some theatres do. They just sort of drape themselves at the sides of the stage and don’t move, they’re there just to be looked at. That’s her in a nutshell”.

“Except she’s not very decorative these days”, said Bengo, bluntly.

“No”, said Bardin “And she hasn’t got the vital juice which is needed to reinvent herself. I don’t know what the bloody hell we’re going to do with her! All I know is I’m sick of her moping around the place. Every time I go into the library she’s sat there on the sofa, like some great useless lump! It depresses the hell out of me!”

He fished in his saddle-bag for a roll of paper and a pencil.

“Well now we’re here”, he said “I’d better make a note of this track going due North”.

They left the horses cropping at the grass and strolled further along the track. Suddenly Bardin turned to stop and face Bengo.

“You’d better not still be moping”, he said “There is about as much chance of me fancying Althea as there is of me fancying Hal! Now snap out of it!”

Adam had been invited to look around the kitchen gardens at the monastery any time he wanted, and during the lull in the rain he went over there with Finia to examine the herb garden.

“It’s such a good idea”, said Adam “I swear there seems to be a herb for every ailment known to Man. It’s what we need out here, it’s not exactly as if we’ve got a pharmacy just down the road is it!”

“I would like to start my own herb garden”, said Finia “But we’ve been moving around so much I would never have had the chance”.

“Oh now you sound like Joby!” said Adam.

“I understand how he feels!” said Finia.

“I promise you that you will have plenty of time to start on your own little herb garden”, said Adam.

“Will you tell that to Bardin sometime?” said Finia “This map-making scheme of his is unsettling me”.

“Yes well we shall just have to see what comes of that”, said Adam.

Lonts came through a doorway in the wall.

“Adam!” he bellowed “Fabulous has fallen off the little mare. He’s had to be carried into the library!”

“What was he doing on the horse?” said Finia “I thought he was going to starve himself to death upstairs”.

“Joby suggested he go and get some exercise, because it’d do him good”, said Lonts “And Fabulous seems to listen to Joby, but It’s All Gone Wrong”.

“That wretched brat from Nuit is nothing but a source of misery”, said Adam.

“St John’s Wort is good for sorting out depression, so they say”, Finia grinned.

“Of course she chucked him off”, said Hoowie, meeting them on the other side of the bridge. He was referring to Matilda’s Girl, a spirited little black mare “She didn’t want HIM on her back did she!”

“A sentiment I can fully appreciate!” said Adam “He hasn’t got the right temperament to deal with a frisky little horse like Matilda’s Girl. She needs someone with more patience and staying-power”.

“He certainly hasn’t got it that’s for sure!” said Hoowie “The more she bucked the more he was pulling on her reins. She weren’t having none of it I can tell you, her eyes were practically bulging out of her head she was so pissed off with him!”

“Has he broken anything?” said Adam, hopefully “Like his neck?”

“Nah”, said Hoowie “I think he’s just sprained his ankle where he got his foot twisted in the stirrup when he fell off. Though you’d think he’d his leg had fallen off the amount of fuss he’s making!”

“What’s happened to Matilda’s Girl?” said Finia.

“She ran off into the forest”, said Hoowie “But it’s alright, Rumble and Hillyard managed to get her back”.

“That’s something anyway”, said Adam “I dread to think what Bardin’s going to say when he hears about this”.

Bardin was informed of the incident immediately he got back to the vicinity of the Castle. He postponed going indoors though, and instead went into the stables to see how Matilda’s Girl was.

“She’ll be alright”, said Hillyard, who had been grooming her “Her coat was in a right old lather, but otherwise she’s OK. She’s a feisty little madam is this one”.

“I know”, said Bardin, stroking her neck “She reminds me of Tamaz!”

Hillyard laughed.

“Fabulous is such a heavy-handed clot”, said Bardin “He’s successfully ensured that she’ll kick up a fuss every time he goes near her in future!”

Bengo ran into the stables.

“How’s the bloody patient?” said Bardin.

“Moaning like hell because he’s had to have his boot cut off”, said Bengo “His ankle’s a bit swollen, but it should go down in time. He’s just got to keep his weight off it for a bit”.

“Oh what fun”, Bardin snarled “We’ll all have to wait on him!”

“You can if you want, but I’m not”, said Hillyard.

“Nor am I!” said Bengo.

“Toppy can do it”, Bardin sighed “He’ll enjoy having a captive patient to tyrannise!”

Adam decided that Althea could also help out, taking Fabulous’s meals in to him on a tray. An idea which met with vociferous disapproval from Joby, who said that that meant they would have to put up with having Althea in and out of the kitchen all day. “She’ll like a bleedin’ ghost we can’t exorcise, or a turd that won’t flush away!” Adam professed himself appalled by such ungentle manly remarks, although adding the tart footnote that where Joby was concerned it didn’t surprise him in the least. Joby wasn’t remotely repentant.

To make matters worse Fabulous was every bit as appalling a patient as everyone had thought he would be. His rudeness to Althea was breathtaking, and to everybody’s intense annoyance, she simply took it. She didn’t respond in any way.

“I’d have him wearing his bloody breakfast if I was her!” said Bengo.

“What did I tell you?” said Bardin “No juice in her”.

“I’m starting to wonder if she has masochistic tendencies”, said Adam, having a brandy with Kieran and Joby up in Kieran’s Vestry early one evening, a room which had seen plenty of Kieran’s own masochistic tendencies.

“I’m a masochist, so are you”, said Kieran to Adam “So are Bengo and Bardin, but I can’t imagine any of us putting up being spoken to like that, particularly when we’re trying to help somebody!”

“Yes, but masochism takes many forms”, said Adam “Some people go for the entire slave bit, complete with insults”.

“I think you’re way off the mark”, said Joby “Because you’re sexually depraved you think everybody else is as well!”

“Just watch it, you!” said Adam.

“I think it’s just that she only operates when she’s kick-started”, said Joby “Some people are like that, nothing to do with masochism”.

“Perhaps she’s just not got enough life in her to respond”, said Kieran.

“Well in that case I’d better take her off tray duty”, Adam sighed.

“But that’s just giving into her that is!” Joby protested.

“Joby, she can’t - or she won’t - stick up for herself”, said Adam.

“So everybody gives in and does it for her!” said Joby “As per bleedin’ usual!”

“You have a point, old love”, said Adam “But the trouble is, we have enough to do at the moment, without adding problems to our list. And as far as I see it our easiest option at the moment is to relieve Althea of this duty, and leave it all to Toppy. Fabulous tries to wind him up too, but it’s water off a duck’s back for Toppy. He’s had to put up with far worse from the clowns over the years!”

“Toppy only gets truly wound up anyway by mess and sloppiness”, said Kieran.

“Exactly”, said Adam “Everything else is very much a case of sticks and stones where he’s concerned”.

Kieran noticed somebody lurking at the edge of the woods again. It was wearing some kind of long dark robe, and its upper half was concealed by an umbrella or a parasol. He alerted Adam and Joby to their Watcher, but as they crammed into the window to see it, the figure turned and strode briskly off through the forest.

The following day Julian had gone riding in the forest again, this time in the direction that the mysterious figure had taken. But the track led onwards and onwards, due East, without any clear sign that he was getting anywhere, and he turned for home. He was eating a late lunch of bread, cheese and beer alone in the dining-room, when Kieran staggered in carrying a basket of logs.

“You’re not lighting the fire NOW?” said Julian.

“No, these are for later”, said Kieran, dumping the basket down with a thankful sigh “For after dark”.

“Grab a glass and pour yourself a beer”, said Julian “I understand Althea was having hysterics in the hallway earlier, what was all that about?”

“I don’t know, I wasn’t here”, said Kieran “Adam said he found her sitting in the middle of the floor, crying her eyes out, but he couldn’t get a word of sense out of her, and in the end Dobley came along and took her upstairs”.

“She hasn’t asked for a private consultation with you at all?” said Julian “A sort of Confessional, like Renee de Sade used to sometimes?”

“I think Althea’s only interested in talking to me when she wants to nag me about giving her her looks back”, said Kieran.

“That just about says it all”, said Julian, sighing and leaning back in his chair.

“Julian, you seem a wee bit tense”, said Kieran “What’s the matter?”

“I’m throwing them out, that’s what’s the matter”, said Julian, grimly “Her and Dobley. I am not having them in the house”.

“B-but I thought the cistern room was all lined up for them?” said Kieran.

“Cistern room be hanged!” said Julian, and he got up out of his chair and strode purposefully into the hall. He grabbed the hand-bell, which was back on its old resting-place on top of the piano, and rang it to summon anyone who was in the building.

Adam and Ransey came out of the gun-room, where they had been chatting, Toppy came out of the library, Bardin came through from the porch carrying a wad of paper and some pencils (his map-making equipment). Gradually everybody began to filter down, including Dobley and Althea who sheepishly appeared on the stairs.

“You’re going to the hut in the clearing after all”, Julian said to them, without much more ado.

Dobley received this news with a sort of grim resignation. It clearly didn’t come as any surprise to him. Althea was rather more inscrutable.

“There will be no arguments”, said Julian “All I have heard since I have been back here is how we have to find ways to accommodate you, I have not yet seen any sign that you are prepared to accommodate us! We are a very private clan, that’s why we wanted to come back here, and you are causing a tense atmosphere within this house. Our freedom is being seriously curtailed, and that I will not have. I want you both out of here within the hour”.

The other Indigo-ites knew better than to argue with Julian when he was in this grimly determined mood, and for once Dobley and Althea seemed to have taken it on board as well. They left for the clearing.

“I suppose Bardin is in a sulk because he feels I intruded on his Captainly authority?” said Julian, when Adam tracked him down in the four-poster room a short while later.

“Quite the opposite, old love”, said Adam “He’s delighted. He’s bored stiff with Dobley and Althea, and he agrees with you that they were curtailing our freedom to be ourselves here”.

“I want Fabulous out of the library as well”, said Julian “He’s too intrusive there on the sofa. I want him moved to the bedroom behind the kitchen”.

“That can be arranged”, said Adam “I’ll ask Lo-Lo to carry him there. Will he go to the clearing as well when he’s better?”

“I haven’t decided yet”, said Julian “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”.

“Well I think this is all rather splendid”, said Adam “I hadn’t realised what an atmosphere they were creating. A sort of just general aura of negativity seems to surround them all the time. It was seriously affecting us, but I hadn’t appreciated quite how much”.

A striding twanging noise broke out from below.

“What the bloody hell is that?” said Julian.

“Hillyard’s re-tuning the piano”, said Adam, apologetically.

“Why can’t he be content with the gramophone?!” said Julian.

“Oh Jules, you don’t know what it feels like to be ourselves again”, said Adam.

“I think I do”, said Julian, tartly “I live here as well you know!”

“Of course”, said Adam “It was just a way of putting it that’s all. And it’s the same with all of us. Ransey has been smiling!”

“Well of course that makes it all worthwhile!” said Julian “I want you to go over the river later and ask the Arch-Pater if he and the other monks will help us to keep on eye on the exiles. I don’t trust those two gormless ninnies to take care of themselves. Just to make sure they’re not starving themselves to death or something, although why we should care is beyond me!”

Lonts carted Fabulous into the downstairs bedroom, the one which was along the short passage-way which led past the larder, as soon as he was told to do so. All this decisive action in such a short space of time was having a marked effect on the house as a whole, most of it positive, it seemed to be emerging from under a cloud. Shag and Mutton Broth were unnerved though. Bardin had joked, in his usual acerbic way, that he would send them to live up in the clearing as well if they didn’t make themselves useful. Bengo couldn’t believe that they took him seriously, and he came upon them both having a fit of the vapours in the dining-room, like a pair of twittery old Victorian spinsters.

“You have been with us for years and years”, said Bengo “He’s not gonna chuck you out now is he!”

“Well we couldn’t be sure …” said Shag.

Bengo gave a groan of disbelief.

“Have you been upsetting your little clown friends again, Bardin?” said Adam, just before he set off to see the Arch-Pater “I shall have to see you upstairs when I get home. I strongly advise you to be ready for me”.

It was deep twilight and Bengo was laying the table for dinner when Bardin walked stiffly into the room.

“Oh dear, Bardy”, Bengo giggled “That’ll teach you won’t it!”

“Where have you put my map-making stuff?” Bardin snapped.

“It’s safely out of the way, on the window-sill”, said Bengo.

“Why the fuck sake can’t Shag and Mutton Broth learn some nous!” said Bardin.

“Come off it, Adam wasn’t really angry, even I could see that”, said Bengo “He was teasing you. I bet you still copped it though didn’t you. Adam finds you a really horny little beast, he’s told me so. Did he smack you really REALLY hard?”

“Adam never does things by halves”, said Bardin “Christ, I had the most almighty boner on me before we had even started. It was sticking out of the front of my shorts like a saucepan handle! I thought I was going to go off my head with it all!”

Bengo sidled up close to him and whispered “Did you come on him?”

Bardin nodded. This pleasing little reverie was shattered by a hammering sound coming from a short distance away.

“What the bloody hell is that?” said Bardin.

“Toppy’s given Fabulous a stick so that he can beat on the wall if he needs anything”, said Bengo.

“Toppy should have known better”, said Bardin “But then again, he never does!”

Now that the cistern room had been freed of visitors, Adam went exploring up there after supper, armed with a candle. He was followed by Kieran, Bengo, Joby and Bardin. They also had a good explore of the room which led from it, and which had at one time been an artist’s studio, going by the faded remains of the murals on the wall, and the huge skylight.

“We should do something with these rooms this time”, said Adam.

“Anything would be an improvement on having Dobley and Althea in them!” said Bardin.

“I hope we can stay here for a very long time”, said Joby “Not end up being dragged off somewhere like we always are”.

“We’ll try our best, old love”, said Adam “Although it’s hard to promise anything with the remnants of Silling Productions still at large in the world”.

“What shall we do with these rooms then?” said Bardin, pacing awkwardly around the mural room.

“Turn it into a playroom of pleasure”, said Adam.

“What, like the rest of the Castle you mean?!” said Joby “That bloody cistern on display in the other room ent exactly conducive to sensual delights you know!”

“Oh Joby, use your imagination!” said Adam “Julian used to be an interior designer, we’ll get him up here to come up with a few ideas”.

“Beige paint and scented candles stuck everywhere?” said Joby, caustically.

“We haven’t got any scented ones”, said Bengo “Only the white and yellow church-y ones”.

“They’re far more sensual anyway”, said Kieran.

They moved into the first room, to see what could be done about making the cistern more aesthetically pleasing. Adam noticed that Bardin was still moving very awkwardly, and holding his bottom at the same time.

“Hasn’t Bengo put more cream on you yet?” said Adam “That’s very remiss of you, Bengo”.

“He wouldn’t let me!” said Bengo “He wants to FEEL it”.

“You can’t spend all night like that, though”, said Adam “Bengo, run and fetch the cream. We’ll all rub it in to him”.

Bengo shot off like an electric hare.

“What’s the matter, old love?” Adam asked Bardin “Not feeling embarrassed are you?”

“I thought it went against clowns’ honour to feel embarrassed!” said Joby.

“Well … in front of Kieran … you know”, said Bardin.

“You’re gonna get embarrassed in front of Kieran?!” said Joby, in disbelief.

“I’m the last person you should get embarrassed about exposing a red arse to!” said Kieran.

“Wait til we’ve peeled him down to his dinky little starchy shorts and his white socks”, said Adam, beginning to unbutton Bardin’s shirt “He’s absolutely made for spanking in that”.

“You’re not gonna give him more of it?” said Joby “That’s getting close on GBH that is!”

“No”, said Adam “Just saying how sexy he is that’s all. We shall lie him down and all run our creamy hands all over him”.

“If Bengo ever gets back here”, said Joby.

“You’re not still embarrassed about showing your arse are you, Bardin?” said Kieran, who then unfastened his own trousers and exposed his own behind to him “Take a look at that”.

“There are only a few strokes on there, Patsy”, said Adam “You must need topping up a bit”.

“Julian’ll do that in the morning”, said Joby.

“Are you farming me out again?” said Kieran, pulling his trousers back up.

“I have trouble keeping up with demand on me own!” said Joby.

Bardin, now completely stripped naked, was laid face-down on the mattress. Bengo shot back into the room, and skidded across the floor, landing in a crumpled heap by the bed.

“Bengo!” Bardin admonished.

Bengo got to his feet and gently pushed Bardin’s face into the pillow to silence him. Just as everyone was getting ready to do the massaging, Toppy came in clutching a piece of paper.

“You do pick your moments!” said Joby.

“If this is only about Fabulous, Toppy, I’ll wring your neck!” said Bardin.

“No, the Arch-Pater has invited you over for lunch tomorrow”, said Toppy, waving the piece of paper about in front of Bardin’s face.

“Well do you have to tell us that NOW?” said Bengo.

“I thought you’d like to know”, said Toppy, in an injured voice “He’s invited The Captain, Adam, Kieran, Joby, Hillyard … and you”.

Toppy added the last in the kind of tone that distinctly indicated that he couldn’t understand why on earth Bengo had been invited at all.

“Not Julian?” said Joby.

“I guess he was trying to limit the numbers a bit”, said Toppy “Otherwise we’d all end up going. Although he could have limited them another way”.

“By not inviting me I suppose?” said Bengo.

“Yes alright, that’s OK, Toppy, you’ve told me now”, said Bardin, dismissing him before a fight started.

“Of course you know why I’ve been invited don’t you?” said Hillyard, as the invited lunch-party set off over the bridge at noon the following day “The sole one and only reason”.

“Your magnificent sex-appeal?” said Adam.

“Money!” said Hillyard “I bet you that was the one and only reason why I’ve been invited along! I swear people only see me as a walking bloody piggy-bank!”

“Well we don’t , old love”, said Adam “Except when we go shopping of course”.

“Outsiders I meant”, said Hillyard “Hillyard The Cash Machine that’s what I am!”

“Oh now be fair, Hillyard”, said Adam “I can’t believe the monks look at it that way at all. They so rarely need money, they’re almost completely self-sufficient. I think they invited you because you’re a man of some importance, and they would have felt it disrespectful not to have invited you”.

“So why didn’t they invite Julian then?” said Hillyard.

“To keep the numbers down”, said Bengo “They invited me instead. Who is a man of no importance whatsoever!”

“Have you been talking to Toppy again?” said Bardin “You were invited because you are my partner, and they probably felt it was the courteous thing to do”.

“Blimey”, said Joby “All this controversy they’ve got into just through trying to do the polite thing!”

“Often the way”, said Adam.

“All I’m saying is that people don’t see me as a real person”, said Hillyard “All they see is money-bags”.

“Hillyard, for the last time, I cannot possibly believe that the monks are being motivated by money”, said Adam.

“Oh I dunno”, said Joby “Churches have always been motivated by money”.

“That wasn’t terribly helpful, Joby!” said Adam.

“Well they were always passing the hat round weren’t they?” said Joby “Or the collection plate I should say”.

“I suppose so”, Adam conceded “I remember once visiting Notre Dame in Paris, and it just about said it all really. Beggars at the main entrance, and the Church showing off all its loot inside”. “That’s the trouble with those Catholics”, said Joby, teasingly “The worst of the lot if you ask me!”

Hillyard adjusted his crotch, got reprimanded by Adam, and finally they all arrived at the monastery.

The Arch-Pater greeted them effusively, as always, and complimented them all on wearing matching white shirts.

“Are we?” said Joby, looking round at them all “I hadn’t noticed”.

“Toppy’s doing”, said Bengo “I bet you! It would be just like him to want us all matching!”

“We look like a friggin’ all-male gospel choir!” said Joby.

“Language, Joby!” said Adam.

“Oh we don’t stand on ceremony over here”, said the Arch-Pater, leading them all into his own private dining-room.

The table was already set up for a magnificent cold lunch, and the lavish big bowls of fruit bore testimony to the monks’ hard work in their orchard. Both Bardin and Kieran had to sit down rather gingerly, which had Bengo laughing.

“Bengo!” Bardin snapped.

Bengo sat down as sheepishly as he could.

“Now”, said the Arch-Pater, raising his glass in a toast “Let us have a toast to communal living at its very best”.

The Indigo-ites, who had been about to eat, had to hurriedly stop to raise their glasses too.

“I must say, old love”, said Adam “You lot have done remarkably well to get things to this standard”.

“Yes”, said Bengo “These napkins have almost as much starch in them as Bardy’s shorts!”

Bardin took a sharp intake of breath.

“Sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo. “I think it’s probably best if you didn’t say very much, Bengo”, said Adam, gently, to which Bengo could only silently agree. Adam looked at the rich black grapes on his plate and remarked to the Arch-Pater “You lot really have done awfully well here haven’t you?”

“It’ll be the same as you too”, said the Arch-Pater, gallantly “In no time at all you’ll have your own orchards and kitchen gardens up and running”.

“Fat chance!” said Joby.

“Oh God, here he goes again!” said Hillyard, pointing his fork at Joby across the table “Every 5 minutes we have this speech!”

“Joby can’t shake off the feeling of being unsettled”, Adam explained to the Arch-Pater.

“Well we’ve been constantly travelling for ages haven’t we!” said Joby.

“We have also stopped quite a time in some of the places we’ve been to, old love”, said Adam.

“Don’t even bother to try and get things through to him, Ad”, said Hillyard “If we were here for centuries he’d still be grizzling about feeling unsettled!”

“It don’t help that Bardin keeps threatening to take us all off into the woods again”, said Joby.

“But that’s just for my map-making”, Bardin protested “It’ll only be for one or two nights at a time”.

“Yeah, but it reminds me of when we left Wolf Castle”, said Joby “We were just gonna go exploring then as well, and we ended up in places that weren’t on any maps, that nobody knew existed, and all sorts of bleedin’ things happened!”

“Yes, we ended up with Flashy round our necks!” said Bengo.

“This is different to then”, Bardin said to Joby “We had every intention of going off on a long trip then, I can assure you it is most emphatically not the case now”.

“That’s the idea anyway!” said Joby, cynically.

“Joby, do try and lighten up, old love”, said Adam.

“No hope of that happening”, said Hillyard “He enjoys being like that! He gets some weird pleasure out of it!”

The Arch-Pater circulated round the table with a fresh flagon of wine.

“No I think we’ve got quite enough to be going on with”, said Adam, who had images of Julian remonstrating with him back at the Castle that he’d allowed everyone to get rat-arsed.

“Do you?” said Kieran, holding up his goblet for re-filling “I don’t!”

“S’alright Ad”, said Hillyard “We can all roll across the field back to home afterwards. And it’s not as if you can’t drink these days is it!” “This is good stuff you’ve got here”, said Bardin, picking up his now-empty plate and holding it up to the light.

“Bardin!” said Adam, getting fed up with his nanny role, but seeing no way out of it “You don’t comment on someone’s possessions when they invite you for lunch, it’s a frightfully rude thing to do!”

“I was complimenting him!” said Bardin.

“It makes no odds”, said Adam “It is a bad social faux-pas”.

“He ent gonna know about any of that is he!” said Joby “He’s a clown from The Village Of Stairs!”

“I may be a clown but I do know good stuff when I see it”, said Bardin “It’s only Bengo who thinks everything gold comes out of a spray-can!”

“I do not!” said Bengo “And if you try setting yourself up as some kind of expert on valuables I shall laugh my breeches off!”

“If you eat much more they’ll burst off!” Bardin retorted, getting back him back for the remark about his shorts.

When they had eaten their fill, the Arch-Pater invited them into the next room to partake of some vintage port. This was in his own private sitting-room, a different room from the office we had spoken to Adam and Joby before. As they went in Bardin made a performance of straightening Bengo’s clothes. In annoyance Bengo reacted by pulling Bardin’s shirt out of shape. Adam had to break up this little clownish escapade before it got out of control. The room was dominated by a large leather sofa and matching chairs. Kieran sat down on the chair on the other side of the fireplace, and looked around him inscrutably. Adam, Joby, Hillyard, Bengo and Bardin all tried to cram onto the sofa.

“Look, this isn’t going to work”, said Adam “Bengo, you will have to sit on the floor, old love”.

“Why me?” said Bengo.

“’Cos you’re the youngest, belt up”, said Joby.

“No need to worry”, said the Arch-Pater “I’ll go and fetch another chair”.

He bustled out of the room.

“He’s got some rather good stuff in here“, said Adam, in a lowered voice.

“I thought it was very rude to comment on somebody else’s possessions when you were in their house!” said Bardin.

“Oh it’s alright when the owner is out of the room!” said Joby, facetiously.

“Patsy, you’re looking rather disapproving”, said Adam.

“Take no notice of him”, said Joby “Just ’cos he’d be happy to live in a coal-scuttle, he thinks everybody else should be as well!”

“We could have a sofa like this as well you know”, said Hillyard “I could order one over the telegraph machine here and get it flown in here”.

“Absolutely no point”, said Bardin “After 5 minutes in our house it would probably get completely wrecked!”

“Well you’ll just have to try and behave yourself around it won’t you, Bardy!” said Bengo.

The Arch-Pater struggled into the room with a large high-backed chair, which resembled some kind of theatrical throne. Bengo walked across to it and settled himself on it with regal grandeur.

“Actually”, said the Arch-Pater “Instead of the port I have got a couple of little bottles of absinthe tucked away. How about that instead?”

“I think the port will do nicely”, said Adam, firmly, whilst the others stared at him.

The Arch-Pater indicated to a chubby little monk standing in the doorway, who brought in a tray of glasses. The port was circulated.

“Actually”, said the Arch-Pater “I could make you a present of some of the absinthe, how about that?”

“We haven’t got any sugar lumps”, said Joby.

“Oh that’s alright!” said the Arch-Pater, joyously “I can give you a present of that as well!”

“Patsy was very quiet today”, said Adam, when he had got back to his own kitchen, and he and Joby were putting on their pinnies for work.

“Yeah, that’s what worries me”, said Joby “It’s always more of a worry when he goes quiet than when he shoots his gob off!”

“I do hope he’s not going to cause trouble with the neighbours”, said Adam “Not just as we’re all getting settled in so nicely”.

“He’d better not!” said Joby “Why can’t the Arch-Pater have a leather sofa if he wants one, or a few decent bottles of booze?”

“Good heavens, that vintage port has had a remarkable effect on you!” said Adam “We’ll have to ask him if he’s got any more of it!”

“Kieran’s a typical eccentric”, said Joby “In that he thinks he’s the one that’s sane, and everybody else is weird. He thinks it’s odd that anybody should want a few creature comforts around ’em, whereas he’d be quite happy if I kept him chained naked to a tree all day!”

“What a wondrous thought!” said Adam.

“I spose what it is is that I’m just relieved we’ve got a down-to-earth bishop around us for once”, said Joby “One who seems harmless”.

“Yes, when I think of some of the nutcases we’ve had to put up with from Patsy’s Church over the years”, said Adam “He seems quite remarkable! I suppose we were long overdue for a sane one!”

“Mind you”, said Joby “Probably find this one’s got a dark side we haven’t seen yet”.

“I knew that your spirit of freshly-sprung optimism couldn’t possibly last long!” said Adam.

Bengo took the scraps bucket out to the animals, and then stood for a while at the edge of the forest.

“Bengo”, said Ransey, coming up to him a few minutes later “Are you alright?”

“Yes, yes I’m fine”, said Bengo, in a vague sort of way.

“You didn’t see something did you?” said Ransey.

“I’m not sure”, said Bengo “It’s so easy to be mistaken, with all these shapes and shadows around. It’s never struck me as strange having all this right on our doorsteps before”.

There was a rumble of thunder from the mountains in the far distance. On this still evening it carried far.

“That person with the umbrella that was seen here has unsettled you”, said Ransey.

“A bit”, said Bengo “I mean, if we have got somebody living nearby, why don’t they come out into the open? We’ll promise not to bother them. Although they could be Ghoomers I suppose, we’ve had them around here before now”.

“Well don’t suggest that Mieps goes and introduces herself to them”, said Ransey “I don’t think she’d like it somehow!”

They returned to the house. When he got through the back door Bengo could hear Fabulous banging on the wall with the walking-stick. Joby was in the loo (as usual), and Adam was gritting his teeth.

“Do you want me to go and see what’s up with him, Adam?” said Bengo.

“If you could, old love”, said Adam “If he keeps that up much longer, we’ll have Julian or Bardin in here having a noisy tantrum about it!”

Bengo went into what was now Fabulous’s room.

“You’re making a lot of noise”, he said, looking down at him.

“I don’t like being stuck over here all on my own”, Fabulous grumbled.

“But you’re not”, said Bengo “We’re only in the kitchen, you must be able to hear us”.

“This house gives me the creeps”, said Fabulous “And I’m being victimised here. That hairy idiot keeps coming in here and tormenting me!”

Bengo didn’t need to ask who the hairy idiot was, the description fitted Hoowie so perfectly.

“You’ve just been complaining you were lonely”, he said “And now you’re moaning because you get company!”

“He gets in through the window”, Fabulous continued, aggrieved “And he jumps around the room, baring his gums at me, and staring at me with those penetrating little beady eyes of his. I don’t want him in here”.

Bengo could well understand that feeling.

“I’ll tell Julian”, said Bengo “He’ll soon sort him out”.

“Keep him out of here!” Fabulous shouted after Bengo “He’s fucking weird!”

“But Hoowie hasn’t been going in there”, Adam protested, when Bengo told him “I would have seen him go past, and stopped him”.

“He’s been getting in and out through the window”, said Bengo.

“Oh the little tyke!” said Adam “That’s the problem with Fabulous being on the ground floor”.

“It would make no odds if he was on the second floor”, said Bengo “Hoowie’d find a way to climb in!”

“You’d better go and find Julian”, said Adam “And try not to be all evening about it, old love, or it’ll give Joby something new to complain about!”

Julian filled in the short space of time before supper at twilight by giving Hoowie a few flicks of the strap as a reprimand. Hoowie complained vociferously about this, all the way through it, and afterwards as well.

“Why do I have to get punished because of that arrogant sod!” said Hoowie, clearly referring to Fabulous and not Bengo.

“Oh stop whining”, said Julian, re-lighting the stump of a cigar “I let you keep your trousers on, that’s more than I would have done for Kieran, he would have taken it bare-back, and he‘s a lot smaller than you”.

“I’m not Kieran!” said Hoowie “I don’t enjoy it!”

“Then it’s time you started”, said Julian “If you’re going to stay with me”.

Even Hoowie was made speechless by this outrageous remark.

“You’ve been putting on weight lately since we came back here to the soft life”, said Julian, jabbing Hoowie in the side “You’ll lose your endearingly gangly look if we’re not careful. You need more exercise, I’ll take you out horseback-riding tomorrow”.

“How can I go fucking horseback-riding after what you’ve just done to me!” said Hoowie.

“Tell Bengo to rub some cream into your rear after supper”, said Julian, continuing in his outrageous vein “That can be his punishment for being a little tell-tale!”

Hoowie found Bengo now in the dining-room setting the table for supper. Hoowie grabbed him round the throat and lifted him clean off his feet, pushing him against the wall. He then proceeded to give him a lecture on the utter vileness of clowns in general, of how completely evil they were, and of how most of the world walked in abject terror of them.

“What’s going on here?” said Bardin, who had been alerted to all this whilst he was crossing the hall.

Bengo swung his foot enough to give Hoowie a good kick below the knee, and Hoowie reluctantly released his grip.

“We are not evil!” said Bengo “All we want to do is to make people laugh, isn’t that right, Bardy?”

“All you want to do is to get people into trouble just so’s that you can have a friggin’ good laugh about it!” said Hoowie.

“Oh belt up, Hoowie”, said Bardin “You’re a clown as well, I keep telling you that. I don’t know why we keep having to have you making out that you’re a separate species. You’re not”.

“Yeah well the last laugh’s on Old Dimples this time”, said Hoowie “Julian’s given orders that he’s got to rub cream into my arse after supper”.

“I am not touching your arse!” said Bengo “Just the sight of it makes me feel ill!”

“You have no choice”, said Hoowie.

“You’ll just have to do as you’re told, Bengo”, said Bardin, who thought this latest development was the funniest one yet.

“BARDIN!” said Bengo, aghast, much as Julius Caesar must have said ’Et tu, Brute?’ in his dying moments “I shall never forgive you for this, NEVER!”

“There’s nothing wrong with my arse anyway”, said Hoowie, in injured tones “Julian likes it”.

“It’s an arse”, said Bardin “Of course Julian likes it!”

Over supper it was proposed that they should all go to the beach for the day tomorrow, including Fabulous, who could be loaded on and off the hay-cart by Hillyard. Normally such an idea would have filled Bengo with joy, and have had him dancing around the table. But the looming prospect of having to rub cream into Hoowie’s hairy behind killed the pleasure out of even that lovely plan. Bengo was looking at Bardin with one of his “I really HATE you, Bardy” expressions on his face.

“I think Bengo and Bardin had better sleep in the four-poster room tonight”, said Adam.

“Yeah, then we might have a chance of getting some sleep!” said Joby.

“With him?” said Bardin, pointing at Bengo, who was scowling at him.

“Look, I’LL rub cream into Hoowie’s butt if it upsets you that much!” said Adam.

“You’ll do that?” said Bengo.

“I don’t have any problem with it”, said Adam “Anything to stop you looking like a malevolent dwarf! And if you and Bardin don’t simmer down I’ll knock your heads together!”

“Well at least sleeping on that side of the house we won’t have to look out at the forest”, Bardin sighed.

“Is the forest bothering you that much?” said Kieran, concerned.

“No we think the forest is beautiful”, said Bengo, slipping into that state you often get with couples who have been together a long time, whereby he and Bardin seemed to know exactly what the other was thinking and could speak for each other “It’s just that it disturbs us at night, or when its cloudy during the day, like during a storm”.

Toppy ran in to announce that the Arch-Pater was at the front door. Adam went through to meet him. The Arch-Pater was standing there, with his swirly cloak wrapped around him, and carrying a bunch of mint like a bouquet of roses.

“Brother Nathaniel has been working in the kitchen garden today”, he said, passing the mint to Adam “And he thought you like this”.

“Well that’s very generous of him”, said Adam “Tell you what, let’s all go and make some mint juleps”.

“Are you sure I wouldn’t be intruding at this time of night?” said the Arch-Pater, blissfully ignoring the fact that he had turned up anyway.

“Absolutely not”, said Adam, leading him into the dining-room, where Bardin had spread his map-making papers out over the table. Adam gave Toppy instructions to go and fetch all the ingredients necessary to make the cocktails.

“We’ve got a bit of a problem actually”, said the Arch-Pater, taking the pulled out for him “I don’t really know how to put it”.

“Spit it out”, said Julian, abruptly.

“It appears that your friend Dobley has gone missing”, said the Arch-Pater, and then he noticed the look of utter dismay on Bardin’s face “I’m so sorry to be harbinger of such distressing news, but the Brothers thought it was best that you should be told tonight. We’ve had to take Miss Althea in at the monastery. It was thought wise not to leave her by herself in the clearing overnight”.

“When did this happen?” said Bardin.

“We only became aware of it this evening”, said the Arch-Pater “It seems that Dobley went off for a walk in the forest by himself at around tea-time, and he hasn’t returned”.

“We’d better organise search-parties”, Bardin sighed.

“I wouldn’t advise that, really I wouldn’t”, said the Arch-Pater, in the closest he came to a worried voice “The forest is not a safe place after dark. Please, promise me you won’t go there, not until daybreak at least”.

“If it’ll make you feel better then of course not”, said Adam “Joby, go and fetch in that chocolate cake we made yesterday. It’s in the tin”.

“It’s too sweet”, said Joby “I told you that at the time”.

“It’s chocolate cake”, said Adam “It’s meant to be sweet”.

“Yeah, but not that bleedin’ sweet!” said Joby.

“JOBY!” Adam thundered.

“Alright!” said Joby, going off in search of the chocolate cake.

“How does Althea seem at the moment?” Adam asked the Arch-Pater.

“Well that’s just it”, said the Arch-Pater “She seems rather sort of uninterested really, and I always thought those two were close”.

“Yes that is odd”, said Adam “But then, to be perfectly blunt with you old love, sometimes I suspect that she’s insane”.

“We never have much luck with the women in our life do we?” said Hoowie.

“Isn’t it time you were in bed?!” said Adam.

“Fat chance of him going to bed when there’s booze to be had!” said Hillyard.

“Anyway, it’s true”, said Hoowie “Women don’t seem to go well with us”.

“Glynis is perfectly splendid”, said Adam “And Thetis was first-rate too”.

“She’s dead now though ent she!” said Hoowie.

Adam drew in his breath sharply.

“Hillyard”, he said “Do you think you could escort Hoowie to the other end of the table, please?”

Hillyard did so. The chocolate cake wouldn’t go round everybody, so the others had to be compensated with rock cakes. Bardin was the only one who didn’t have either.

“Yeah well you have to watch your figure don’t you!” said Hoowie, looking at Bardin’s whip-thin frame.

Hillyard gave out a great guffaw of laughter.

“Sorry”, he said “I know we’ve heard that one before, but it gets me every time!”

“I wonder what made Dobley suddenly go off like that?” said Kieran, who was sitting perched on the fender “I always thought he was devoted to Althea”.

“Perhaps they had a barney”, said Joby “And he got the huff and flounced off. Chances are he’ll come back when he’s cooled off a bit”.

“We’ve still got to go and bloody search for him though”, said Bardin.

“I know”, said Bengo, forlornly “Bang goes our trip to the beach tomorrow!”

“Now promise me you won’t go looking tonight?” said a tipsy Arch-Pater, when Adam went to see him off in the hall. Ransey was waiting at the front door with a lamp, to escort him back to the monastery.

“I don’t think any of us are in any fit state to be in a search-party, old love!” said Adam “We’ll leave a lamp lit in the window of Patsy’s Vestry, and hopefully he might see it”.

Kieran and Joby had gone to perform this deed, and Kieran practically fell asleep as he did so, after having consumed a fair quantity of wine and mint juleps. He was the last to wake up the next morning, and then it was only because Joby had woken him. The sunlight was streaming across the communal bed where Kieran lay.

“Ah fock”, said Kieran, pulling at his t-shirt “I hate sleeping in me clothes”.

“I took your trousers off”, said Joby “But that was all I could manage at the time. God, will you look at the state of your hair! How am I gonna get a comb through all that?”

“Don’t bother”, said Kieran, lying back down again “Let me just sleep”.

“Can’t”, said Joby “We’ve gotta go and look for Dobley this morning, remember?”

“Hasn’t he come back yet then?” said Kieran.

“Nope, now c‘mon!” said Joby, and he gave Kieran a slap on the rump to get him out of bed.

In the corridor, on their way to the bathroom, they passed Julian, who remarked “Your slave looks a bit tatty this morning, Joby”.

“Very funny!” said Joby.

In Kieran’s Vestry Bardin was taking down the lamp. He was already washed and scrubbed, and looked almost frighteningly pristine in his silk bath-robe. The same couldn’t be said of Bengo.

“How far are we planning to go on this search-party?” said Bengo.

“Only a few miles”, said Bardin “I’m damned if I’m going away on an epic trip, just to find bloody Dobley! He’s probably just got himself lost in the trees, the silly jerk! Now, will you go and get yourself washed and dressed, you look like a compost heap in a dressing-gown!”

Bengo blew a raspberry at him.

Bardin had everybody assembled in the main hall after breakfast.

“Well”, he said, in an I’m-not-very-impressed tone of voice “We don’t look much of a search-party I must say”.

“I wasn’t aware search-parties had to actually look impressive, old love”, said Adam “I thought it was all about locating the person one was searching for!”

“Can’t we just go back to bed?” said Kieran “I feel completely knackered!”

“Three quarters of us will form the search-party”, said Bardin, relentlessly “And the rest will stay back here, in case Dobley turns up here”.

“And if he does”, said Joby “Just how are the lot back here gonna tell those of us who are out in the field? It’s not as if we’ve got mobile phones is it!”

“We will be back here by 7 o’clock this evening”, said Bardin.

“What have we got the hay-cart out for?” said Joby, going outside a few minutes later, where Hillyard was organising all the vehicles (mostly of the four-legged kind) which would be needed that day.

“In case he’s injured when we find him”, said Hillyard, referring to Dobley “If he is, then we can chuck him on the back and get him home that way”.

“Oh brilliant”, said Bengo, who was in the process of tying a bandana round his head “So we’ll have two invalids in the house. That’ll be fun!”

Kieran came out of the house, and clambered up into the back of the hay-cart, where he promptly dozed off amongst the straw.

“Is it a good idea for Kieran to come?” said Bengo “He seems a bit out of it”.

“Best if he comes”, said Hillyard “You never know when his psychic twinges might come in useful”.

“Yeah”, said Joby “I’ve always said he’d make a good tracker-dog sometimes”.

At this moment Kieran didn’t look like he could track himself, but never mind. The others arrived on the scene, and Hillyard began allocating horses.

“You can have Snowball, Adam”, he said “I always like to put somebody good-looking on the back of Snowball”.

“Why thank you, kind sir!” said Adam.

“And Bengo can have Horace”, said Hillyard.

“NO!” Bengo exclaimed “Oh not that one, Hillyard! That’s the little fat one that keeps stopping to eat everything!”

“Suits you then don’t it!” said Hoowie.

“How’s your arse this morning, Hoowie?” Bengo snapped.

“A huge song-and-dance about nothing if you ask me”, said Adam “A couple of strap marks that’s all, scarcely merits all the performance we’ve had lately!”

“It may not be much to you”, said Hoowie “But it is to me!”

“I don’t know what you’ve got against little Horace”, said Hillyard to Bengo “He really likes you, you know. I tell you, his little ears perk up when he hears your voice!”

Bengo looked wretched at this news.

“Yeah”, Hoowie snorted “You know why that is don’t you? He’s delighted there’s somebody else around as dopey as he is!”

“Bardy gets really impatient when I’m on Horace, Hillyard!” said Bengo “He keeps shouting at me ’cos I can’t keep up!”

“Now do stop worrying, old love”, said Adam “If Bardin starts we’ll all jump on him”.

Bardin strode purposefully out of the house, carrying a canvas bag which contained his map-making materials. As far as he was concerned this whole trip was a wonderful opportunity to do some cartography. Finding Dobley was very much the side-serving to the main course.

“The Arch-Pater wants to come with us”, he said “I’ve said he can”.

The Arch-Pater was looking the very model of practical elegance in a hard-wearing suit, socks, and walking-cane. He looked like some Edwardian gent on a country holiday. He said that a posse of the monks were going to explore the forest to the west of them, the whole area around The White House Of Time.

“They want to be careful around there”, said Hillyard “It swallows people up. How’s Althea this morning?”

“She is a very strange woman”, said the Arch-Pater, climbing up onto the front of the hay-cart next to Hillyard “She doesn’t seem concerned about him at all”.

“As Adam said”, said Hillyard “We think she’s insane”.

Bardin’s search-party (composed of Bardin, Bengo, Kieran, Joby, Hillyard, Julian, Ransey, Tamaz, Toppy, Finia, Adam, Lonts, and the Arch-Pater) set off in a northerly direction. After going a short way they changed direction and headed east, eventually hooking back up with the river that ran past the Castle. There was a very old track that led from the Castle gardens, and up alongside the river for quite some distance. They had explored this area once before - it was where they had come across the old cottage containing the dead Ghoomer - but they had never come this far along it. After quite some time had passed, they became increasingly aware of the heavy silence that hung around them in the hot, still air.

“Look, you’re going to have to make more noise”, said Bardin, turning his little horse around to face them “Talk louder, have a sing-song perhaps”.

“Why?” said Bengo, whose own little horse had been practically led for most of the way by Adam leaning back and grabbing his bridle.

“Because if Dobley is around here he might have a chance of hearing us”, said Bardin.

A rather ragged rendition of “Ten Green Bottles” kept them going until they reached a small clearing, which contained a very old and broken-down small building. It looked as if it had once been a chapel of sorts. There were crosses on the dusty windows, and another on the iron-studded main door.

“We’d better check he’s not around here”, said Bardin, climbing down off his horse.

He went over to try the chapel door, but it was locked fast, and the whole lock rusted over. This door hadn’t been opened in quite some considerable time.

“He can’t be in here anyway”, said Bardin.

“There’s someone in there though”, said Kieran, suddenly coming to life in the back of the hay-cart. He had spent all the journey so far either asleep, or lying on his back staring up at the sky through the tree-tops, whilst Finia stroked his face with a wisp of straw.

“There can’t be”, Bardin protested “This place hasn’t been opened in YEARS!”

Kieran asked the Arch-Pater for a loan of his walking-stick, and then promptly smashed in one of the windows. Toppy then passed him a torch, like a nurse assisting in an operating theatre. Kieran shone the torch around inside the building, and then gave a gasp.

“I knew there was somebody in here!” he said.

Human remains were lying curled up in one of the far corners. A few old scraps of clothing still clung to the bones of whoever this person had once been, but that was all there was to indicate that this had once been a human being.

“Good lord”, said Adam “Lo-Lo, come away”.

And he escorted Lonts a few feet from the building.

“You think whoever it was was locked up in here, and left to rot?” Joby asked Kieran.

“No that can’t be it”, said Kieran “They could easily have smashed one of the windows, like I did, and got out that way. They don‘t seem to be tied up in any way”.

“You think perhaps they might have been killed and then dumped here?” said Bardin.

“I don’t know”, said Kieran “I do wonder if it was more likely they locked themselves in here?”

“Why would they do that?” said Joby.

“This was once a holy building”, said Kieran “Perhaps they sought sanctuary here, perhaps they were seeking refuge from something on the outside that they felt couldn’t harm them here”.

He shone the torch around inside the building again, examining the interior more closely. There was absolutely nothing else inside the room, no fixtures and fittings whatsoever. The room was completely empty, apart from the dusty bones.

“If it was once a chapel”, said the Arch-Pater “Then somebody cleared it out”.

“I was going to suggest stopping here for a break”, said Bardin “But I think we’ll press on for a bit longer”.

They carried on in a westerly direction, until the old chapel was out of sight behind them. Bardin ordered a stop for a meal-break by the side of the river. Adam made coffee over a camping-stove. Kieran wandered over to the other side of the track, and looked around him, as though he was a dog sniffing the air.

“The silence is uncanny here”, he said, when Bardin joined him “I don’t like it at all”.

“Look over there”, Bardin pointed at the remains of a set of old gate-posts amongst the trees to the left of them.

They walked over to them, and found that the track had splintered off here, and ran in through the gateway. This track was even more overgrown than the one they had just travelled along. In between the gate-posts was a cattle grid, they stepped over that, and walked a short distance along the track on the other side of it.

“It looks like it runs for quite a way”, said Kieran, as they stood and looked at the path which wound in and out of the trees ahead of them “With the old gate-posts there it clearly once led to somewhere, a house is the most likely thing of course”.

“Unfortunately we haven’t got time to explore it today”, said Bardin, checking his watch and compass “We’ve got just enough time to get back to the Castle before dark. But we’re going to have to come out this way again”.

“I’ll say we do”, said Kieran “I want to know what caused that person in the old chapel to lock himself away like that!”

“Of course, it means we’re going to have to camp out round here overnight, next time we come”, said Bardin “That’ll be popular, won’t it!”

“We’ve slept in pretty strange places before”, Kieran smiled “So it won’t be anything new! But whatever is up there might hold the key to everything that’s odd around here”.

“Hey!” Julian shouted from over by their makeshift camp “Get back here, the pair of you, and don’t wander off like that!”

“I take it you didn’t find him then?” said Rumble, holding the bridle of Bardin’s horse whilst Bardin dismounted.

“Find who?” said Bardin “Oh you mean Dobley”.

“Yeah”, said Rumble “The bloke you went looking for, remember?”

“OK, cut the sarcasm”, said Bardin “It’s just that it’s been a long day that’s all, and I’m going to be bow-legged tomorrow after a day in the saddle. We’ve come across a number of interesting things, trouble is, that none of it was Dobley. How did the monks’ search-party go?”

“No result”, said Rumble, leading the horse into his stall.

Bardin followed him and began to undo his girth.

“I hope somebody’s putting the kettle on”, he said.

“Yeah I expect so”, said Rumble “We’ve had a pretty ’interesting’ day as well, of sorts”.

“What’s happened then?” said Bardin.

“Althea’s announced that she’s pregnant!” said Rumble.

“WHAT?” said Bardin “She can’t be, she’s too old for all that surely?”

“She’s only in her late 40s”, said Rumble “It’s a long-shot, but not impossible”.

“Oh God”, said Bardin “Don’t tell me we’ve got to face the prospect of Son Of Dobley, I don’t think I can stand it!”

“I think she’s having us all on, to be honest with you”, said Rumble “It doesn’t feel real somehow”.

“But why would she make up a thing like that?” said Bardin.

“Because she’s not right in the head”, said Rumble.

“I hope it is her just fantasising”, said Bardin “We’re not exactly set up here for childbirth are we? And none of us has any experience of babies”.

“Tamaz has had babies”, Rumble pointed out.

“Yeah”, said Bardin “But I can’t see him volunteering as community midwife somehow, can you!”

The searches for Dobley went on for the next few days, but no trace of him was uncovered. There wasn’t even any sign, such as the remains of a camp-fire, or markings on trees, to denote that he had been around. He seemed to have vanished into thin air. Bardin got plenty of map-making done, but the real purpose of the searches, to find Dobley, was unfruitful. Althea’s pregnancy was also causing concern. The monks’ resident doctor, Brother Malach, tried to give her an examination, and Althea practically had hysterics.

Bardin summoned Tamaz into the library and asked him if he would go and speak to her, although, with typical Bardin diplomacy, he didn’t exactly get off onto the right foot by saying “out of sheer desperation I’m asking you”. Tamaz haughtily replied that his pregnancy had been different. He was part-Ghoomer, Althea was entirely human.

“That’s a matter of opinion!” Bardin snapped, sticking his sore feet into a mustard bath which Toppy had prepared for him. His sore feet were a result of a day’s tramping round the forest, and up to The Old Lighthouse and back.

“I’m not going anywhere near that old nutcase anyway”, said Tamaz “You’ll have to get somebody else to do it”.

“But you’re the only person round here who’s ever been pregnant!” Bardin exclaimed.

“So?” said Tamaz, shrugging insolently “Am I bothered?”

Bardin heard Adam’s voice in the hall and yelled for him to come in.

“What’s the matter, old love?” said Adam, having to repress a smile of amusement as Toppy whisked around Bardin with hot towels and ointments.

“Lady Freaky-Bits here won’t go and see Althea”, said Bardin, crossly “You’ll have to go instead”.

“Well I don’t know if it’s escaped your attention”, said Adam “But I’ve never been pregnant either!”

“That doesn’t matter”, said Bardin “She might let you approach her”.

“But what exactly am I supposed to be looking for?” said Adam “I hope you’re not suggesting that I have to go sticking my hand up her!”

“There’s no need to be coarse!” Bardin thundered.

“Well I’m sorry, old love”, said Adam “But I’ve never been called upon to do gynaecology before, it’s all rather new to me I’m afraid! And women’s bits have always been a mystery to me!”

“I’m not asking you to examine her”, said Bardin “I just want you to talk to her, find out what she’s playing at. See if you can gauge whether she’s telling the truth or not. Personally, I have sore misgivings”.

“Did you get those to go with your sore feet?!” said Adam.

Adam had what he could only describe afterwards as a rather distressing interview with Althea at the monastery. First of all she insisted that she be allowed to return to Midnight Castle to live. Adam had to point out to her firmly that that was most definitely not on the agenda, and anyway, if she was expecting, then the monastery, with its resident fully-qualified doctor on hand, was much the best place for her to be.

“And, well to be put it bluntly, at your age one can’t really take chances”, said Adam.

“There is nothing wrong with having a baby at my age”, said Althea “Look at Sarah in the Bible, she was 90!”

“Yes”, said Adam “But I think we can safely be sceptical about that story. If you are pregnant, Althea, then you absolutely must let Brother Malach examine you. He was a proper GP before he became a monk …”

“NO!” Althea snapped, like a petulant little girl “No I won’t! Some of the monks are going to make me a crib you know, one that rocks backwards and forwards”.

“Very practical no doubt”, Adam sighed, now fully accepting of the fact that Althea wasn’t remotely pregnant “And they’ve got a few months to do it in too”.

“Oh it’s not for the baby”, said Althea “It’s for me, to help me sleep you see. If someone rocks it, then it will lull me off to sleep!”

When he returned to Midnight Castle, Adam sat for a while by himself in the porch. By the time he ha composed himself, he had accepted that, upsetting though Althea’s mental state undoubtedly was, at least it was safer that she wasn’t really going to have a baby. He then went to shout at Fabulous, who had been banging on the wall for ages, without getting any response.

“No one’s collected my lunch-tray”, he moaned “It’s been sitting on me for ages”.

Adam picked it up, and had to severely restrain himself from chucking it at the wall.

“I’ve heard that mad old bint thinks she’s pregnant”, said Fabulous.

“She isn’t”, said Adam.

“Can you imagine having kids?” said Fabulous.

“Well in many ways I’ve often felt like I did!” said Adam.

“You can imagine them when they’ve grown up a bit can’t you?” said Fabulous “And they start bringing their teenage friends home with them. They would have all been lusting after me. The groovy, cool old father …”

“Oh belt up, you pathetic little prick!” said Adam, and he went back into the kitchen, kicking the door shut behind him.

Joby and Hillyard were in the kitchen. Joby was making preparations for the evening meal, and Hillyard was perched on the edge of the table, noisily enjoying a pear from the monks’ orchard. Bengo was nowhere in sight.

“Is there anybody around here who is sane?” said Adam, dumping the tray on the draining-board.

“Yeah, me”, said Hillyard.

“Fabulous’ ego is absolutely ridiculous”, said Adam “Why on earth can’t he learn a bit of humility?”

“’Cos he’s had too much power and attention in life”, said Joby.

“Well so has Patsy”, said Adam “And he doesn’t have any problem with humility does he!”

“Oh come off it”, said Joby “The amount of chastising Kieran gets he’s bound to be humble!”

Adam made the decision that as from tomorrow Fabulous would have to get out of bed, that he simply couldn’t take anymore of waiting on him with trays, or listening to him constantly banging on the wall with his stick. If there was any prospect more universally unpopular though than having Fabulous as an invalid, it was having him up and around. Dinner that evening took on a sombre sort of Last Supper-ish feel, a knowledge that this would be their last meal without Fabulous sitting at the table as well.

Added to this woe was Joby’s worry that Kieran was developing an obsession with the new track in the forest that they had discovered recently, and as to where the path through the gateposts eventually went. Kieran had been having vivid dreams about a very large building with tall, perfectly square towers, ranged round a central courtyard, in which he was wandering through a labyrinth of passages which seemed to be partially underground. He said that the whole place had a horrid, evil feel, like those film-tapes that had been on the Silling Productions sealed list.

“I just hope he doesn’t get any ideas in his head about wandering off up there by himself”, said Joby to Julian, in the hallway after the meal, as they both sat at the bottom of the marble staircase.

“Don’t worry”, said Julian “We’ll keep him so thoroughly spanked that he won’t have the energy or the inclination to go roaming!”

“Wish I had your confidence in that”, said Joby “And don’t suggest locking him in his Vestry either, ‘cos he’ll find a way of climbing out and down the ivy!”

“Why don’t we just break his legs and have done with it?” said Julian “I swear he gets more goblin-like everyday. He’s taken to sitting in fireplaces … well not actually IN them, but on the fender, and he looks like some elf that’s taken up residence here!”

“Well he is a supernatural being I spose”, said Joby, and the realisation of this always pulled him up with a bump.

Kieran came out of the dining-room at the other end of the hallway, and made for the narrow staircase beside the fireplace. He was carrying the lantern which they still hung in the Vestry window, as a beacon for Dobley. He looked like The Hermit from a traditional Tarot pack, minus beard.

Joby went up the main staircase, and into the Vestry that way.

“I wonder where the hell he is”, said Kieran, referring to Dobley.

“It’s weird him just disappearing like that ent it?” said Joby, sitting down in the armchair “Makes my blood run cold just thinking about it. He seems to have vanished into thin air”.

“He can’t have got that far when we set out to find him”, said Kieran “It’s not as if he had any transport is it! What were you talking about with Julian just now?”

“You”, said Joby “And what a supernatural creature you are. Do you know, after all these years and everything we’ve been through together, I still feel as if I didn’t really know you”.

“You know me inside out!” said Kieran.

“Ugh!” said Joby.

“Sometimes I think you know me better than I know meself!” said Kieran, sitting on a footstool to the side of him, and leaning on the arm of the chair.

“But I still don’t know what makes you tick”, said Joby.

“What you see is what you get with me”, said Kieran “Sometimes it’s true that I can do odd things, I think of them as sort of like glorified conjuring tricks”.

“Immortality, eternal youth, curing Bardin’s cleft palate - glorified conjuring tricks?!” said Joby.

“Nice glorified conjuring tricks”, said Kieran “I’m not hiding anything from you, Joby. I tell you things as they are. Anyway, it took me a fair old while to cure Bardin’s mouth. But I think that was because I quite liked it, it was just such a part of him”.

“I used to think it was quite sexy in a funny sort of way”, said Joby “So what made you decide to change it in the end though?”

“I could see he had a real hankering to know what it was like to be conventionally attractive”, said Kieran “Even though he was very attractive as he was, but nobody could tell him that could they!”

“He did have a hard time of it as a kid”, said Joby “You know what heartless little bastards kids can be, and the clowns must have been even worse than most! Except you of course, you were just odd. I remember your mum telling me that you used to be able to tell when women were pregnant, even when they didn’t know it themselves … hey, that’s a point, you should be able to tell if Althea …”

“She’s no more pregnant I am!” said Kieran “I don’t need to go and see her to tell that”.

“So why haven’t you said?” said Joby.

“I was quite tickled by the idea of Adam having to go over and try and handle such a woman’s thing!” Kieran giggled.

“You mischievous little bastard!” said Joby “He’s gonna fucking kill you when he finds out!”

“It also had all the monks in a right tizzy didn’t it!” said Kieran “’Oh help, how are we going to handle a pregnant woman!’”

“You’re an evil little runt on the quiet!” said Joby.

“No, I just enjoy the craic”, said Kieran “No evil intent behind it. I’m Irish, we see most things as light entertainment”.

“Yeah, everything except religion!” said Joby.

“Even that, a lot of the time”, said Kieran “You can have the pleasure of telling Adam all about it”.

“And then he’ll come and sort you out!” said Joby.

“The fun never stops around here does it!” said Kieran.

Joby went off to tell Lonts to stop flushing the toilet so violently, and by the time they reached the main bedroom the communal bed was nearly full. Joby and Kieran were left to get into the double bed with Ransey (who was reading by the light of a candle). Julian came in to find that the only sleeping accommodation left to him was the hard-as-nails single bed on the far side of the room.

“You can always go and sleep in the Four-Poster Room all by yourself, Jules”, said Adam.

“He won’t do that”, said Joby “Too cowardy-custard”.

Julian squeezed one of Joby’s buttock cheeks hard, before going over to the single bed.

“Bardin”, he called out “Are you asleep?”

“I shouldn’t think so”, said Adam “Not with you yelling at him!”

“I think we should spend a few nights over on the galleon”, said Julian to Bardin “Just to keep an eye on it”.

“Whatever”, said Bardin.

“Are you going to put that fucking light out, Ransey?” said Julian. Ransey lobbed the book across the room at him, and blew out the candle.

It was Fabulous hobbling around on the main staircase with his walking-stick, which woke Ransey up a couple of hours later. Kieran had draped himself over Ransey’s side, and Ransey (to his own mortification) found himself developing a boner. Let it be said, he had always found himself sexually attracted to Kieran, but he had kept these feelings so firmly repressed that some of the time he wasn’t even aware of them himself. There were 4 people Ransey had been very attracted to. One was Finia, with his streamlined, ebony-skinned, diminutive little body, who was, as far as Ransey was concerned, a miracle of physical perfection, a living ornament. Mieps’s full-bodied earthiness also lit Ransey’s fire, in an exciting, dangerous sort of way. Adam he fancied because of his elegance and his soft gentleness. In the dark old days Adam had represented to Ransey all the feminine mystique which was missing in the world at the time.

But Kieran’s beauty was something else. Until he had met Kieran Ransey had never believed that a man could possess such a perfect beauty. Men to him had been ugly, clumsy, smelly, uncouth creatures. Slopping around in big bare feet, noisily yawning, scratching, farting, belching, constantly marvelling, in a ridiculously childlike way, at that extraordinary appendage that was to be found between their legs, sent into overdrive by the close proximity of anything remotely resembling the female sex. Kieran certainly did all the bodily functions that men normally did, but his beauty was out of this world. It was what had made Ransey throw up his entire life, and follow him into the desert all those years ago. He had had to repress his sexual longing for Kieran though. To him it was of paramount importance that Kieran had to be protected, and that was the focal point of his entire existence. But sometimes the gate was left open, and all this NONSENSE of physical attraction crept in.

“Wake up!” Fabulous bellowed, slamming his stick against the floor “There’s someone outside, you can’t leave me downstairs all alone when there’s a prowler about outside!”

The others slowly came to consciousness, and Ransey took advantage of the confusion to try and still his ardour. Kieran had noted it though.

“SHUT UP!” Bardin yelled, as many of them stood at the window of Kieran’s Vestry “How the fuck are we supposed to hear anything with you lot keep yelling like that!”

There was a distant voice coming from the dark forest, it sounded like a man’s voice crying “Hallo-o there!” over and over again.

“It doesn’t sound like Dobley”, said Bengo “It’s not his voice”.

“Close the window”, said Kieran, urgently “Close it quick”.

“What is it, Patsy?” said Adam.

Kieran unhooked the lantern which had been left hanging inside the window.

“I think we now know what lured Dobley into the forest”, he said.

“What?” said Joby, sceptically “Somebody out there calling like that?”

“Yes”, said Kieran “Whatever that is isn’t human”.

“It sounded bloody human!” said Joby.

“Take it from me”, said Kieran “It wasn’t”.

“I’m not going back downstairs!” said Fabulous, stubbornly “I’m on the fucking ground floor there!”

“You’d better get in the single bed with Julian”, said Adam.

“WHAT?!” said Julian.

“You can sleep top-to-tail”, said Adam.

“And have his bloody feet in my face all night!” said Julian “Thanks a bloody lot!”

“Oh do stop complaining, Jules”, said Adam.

“No I am not happy about your recent conduct”, he was saying again early the next morning, this time to Kieran. This time they were back in Kieran’s Vestry, and Kieran was getting his scolding “Do you seriously imagine, in your wildest dreams, that I was going to be happy about being sent over to see that plastic fiend when it wasn’t remotely necessary?!”

“It just fascinated me that’s all”, said Kieran, who was trying not to laugh “Anything to do with you and women does. You’re the gayest feller I’ve ever met. You’re the one gay feller I’ve ever met who I can’t imagine being with a woman. Julian I can, but not you”.

“You fucking little ratbag!” said Adam, as Kieran exploded into laughter “I am not here just to provide entertainment for you, none of us are!”

“I know that!” said Kieran “But seriously, she is distressed, in a highly strange state, and you would be a good one for her to talk to”.

“It makes no bloody difference at all who speaks to her at the moment!” said Adam “She’s in la-la land!”

He roughly pulled Kieran’s purple silk robe off his shoulders, and bent him over his knee. He was slapping his bare buttocks very severely when Ransey came in.

“Oh”, he said, (Ransey that is) “I just came in to say that Hillyard and I are going to reinforce the back door with wood sometime today, and that this might provide some disruption in the kitchen”.

“Oh very well”, said Adam “Patsy’s been very naughty again I’m afraid”.

“He usually is”, said Ransey, and he left the room.

Kieran, who had already been half-cocked before the spanking had even started, had come with excitement when Ransey had walked in.

“I think you’d better go downstairs and speak to that poor man”, said Adam, when he was washing Kieran afterwards.

Ransey had gone to seek sanctuary in the Gun Room, whilst some of the others were setting up breakfast in the dining-room across the hall. Kieran came into see him.

“I’m sorry if all that embarrassed you just now”, said Kieran.

“No I’m used to your little ways”, said Ransey “Although how the blazes you can actually ENJOY all that is beyond me, it just looks bloody painful!”

“It’s not as painful as it looks”, said Kieran, softly “And I have to say that you coming in when you did was the icing on the cake. It’s like a wonderful fantasy of mine. You watch so sternly whilst I’m being chastised”.

“You’re impossible!” said Ransey, fiddling around with various bits and pieces on a work-bench.

“It’s not just the smacks that are important you see”, said Kieran “They’re just a part of it, it’s the overall humiliation”.

“I thought Joby didn’t like you being walloped in front of an audience”, Ransey pointed out.

“No, and it’s different with Joby”, said Kieran “It’s very private with me and him, but today was different. You love me very much, don’t you?”

“Why the hell do you think I’ve devoted my life to your protection!” said Ransey.

“Oh Ransey”, said Kieran “I only wish I deserved such devotion”.

“You do deserve it”, said Ransey “Now stop talking bullshit! All I want to be reassured of is that you don’t get beaten purely out of some self-loathing instinct on your part”.

“I get smacked because I enjoy the sensation it produces in my body”, said Kieran “I won’t lie to you, I admit that some of the humiliation helps me as a person as well. I feel more grounded as a result. It’s the same with Bardin, he’s always calmer after he’s been giving a good hiding”.

“Yes, but I never worry about the clowns”, said Ransey “It doesn’t seem to matter what happens to them, they always stay whole”.

“It’s the same with me”, said Kieran “Haven’t you noticed that yet?!”

Bengo rang the hand-bell in the hall to announce that breakfast was ready.

The breakfast table was far quieter than normal, and this could only be put down to Fabulous’ presence at it. An unspoken law seemed to have gone round that it wasn’t worth opening one’s mouth because Fabulous would either find a way to jump down it, or start an argument out of thin air. Julian was appalled by this atmosphere of gloom. He waited until Bengo had finished serving out some kedgeree onto his plate, and then Julian picked up his spoon and banged it against the plate imperiously. “I will not have one person ruining things here!” he shouted out.

“It’s always the way”, said Fabulous “Nobody gives a button about me”.

“If you persist in that attitude”, said Julian “I will send you over to live with Althea, is that clearly understood? Now for fuck’s sake, let’s have some normal conversation, or whatever passes for normal conversation amongst us lot! Hillyard, tell me what you and Ransey are going to do today to make this place even more secure“.

Hillyard immediately began to explain about the extra wood panels they were going to fix over the back door. Everyone else around the table took this as a cue to start up their own conversations, and some sort of normality was achieved. Bengo finished serving out the kedgeree, and then resumed his place between Bardin and Hoowie.

“Fuck”, said Hoowie to Bengo, in a low voice “He scares the crap out of me when he starts on like that!” “Who, Julian?” said Bengo.

“Yeah”, said Hoowie “God, he is a scary mother-fucker sometimes. You wanna try being his rent-boy like I have to be!”

“Who in God’s name is gonna want you as their rent-boy, Hoowie?” said Bengo.

“Well he does for a start!” said Hoowie “And plenty of others have done as well. During my modelling days …”

Bengo gave a groan and rolled his eyes.

“During my modelling days”, said Hoowie, even more firmly “I had plenty after me. I could have made a really good living out of it. And Julian does treat me as his rent-boy, so there!”

“He treats me as his rent-boy too sometimes”, said Bengo “And Bardy, and Kieran, and all of us, you’re no different”.

“No, but Hoowie’s his favourite at the moment”, said Bardin, and he let out a snort of near-hysterical laughter “It beggars belief, but there it is!”

“I absolutely refuse to work in these conditions”, said Adam “Lunch will just have to be late today”.

He was annoyed that not only did he have to contend with Hillyard and Ransey reinforcing the back door, but Bardin’s decision to have Hoowie and Shag doing the washing-up wasn’t very popular either. He leant against the dining-room door and surveyed his kitchen in horror.

“I don’t know how we’re supposed to work with that pair of beady eyes staring at us”, Hillyard muttered to Ransey.

“I have told Bardin time and again I don’t want Hoowie doing chores in my kitchen”, said Adam to Bengo, on the other side of the room “He’s quite capable of causing complete havoc!”

“Oh you’ll just have to chastise Bardy”, said Bengo “That should be quite fun today, he’s got his tranny knickers on!”

“What on earth are his tranny knickers?” said Adam.

“’Ere, he hasn’t been borrowing Tamaz’s drawers again has he?” said Joby “Tamaz has a fit when he does that!”

“No”, said Bengo “Finia’s customised a pair of Bardy’s, put some pink ribbon on them”.

“How delightful!” said Adam “Do you know, I sometimes wonder if Bardin is the kinkiest one out of the whole lot of us!”

“That takes some doing!” said Joby.

Hillyard called Bengo over, because he wanted him and Shag to lean over a sheet of wood, and hold it in place, whilst he attempted to saw it.

A welcome diversion was provided by the Arch-Pater coming over with a supply of his own personal homemade wine. He had dragged it over the bridge on the back of a little sled.

“You are a bit chaotic over here at the moment”, the Arch-Pater observed.

“Yes we are”, said Adam, glaringly pointedly at Hillyard “Come on through to the library, that should be rather less chaotic” (although I wouldn’t bank on it, thought Adam).

Adam ordered Bengo to make some coffee, and then insisted on dragging the sled out of the kitchen with him, in the full and certain knowledge that the contents of it would probably be considerably diminished by the time he got back if he didn’t. He opened the door of the library cautiously, and was pleasantly surprised to find it completely empty. There was the heavy scent of Julian’s cigars in the air, and Adam threw open the windows.

“I really can’t keep calling you the Arch-Pater”, he said “It feels dreadfully formal. What’s your first name?”

“Vincent”, said the Arch-Pater.

“How lovely”, said Adam.

“I really wanted to say that it’s open house at the monastery as far as you are all concerned”, said Vincent “I enjoyed your last little visit so much. The clowns are a delight aren’t they?”

“Not everybody would think that I’m afraid”, said Adam.

“Oh but I do”, said Vincent “As far as I’m concerned they can come over any time they want”.

“Well if you’re sure”, said Adam, dubiously.

“Don’t go giving them any more of your vintage booze though”, said Julian, sauntering into the room “It’s completely wasted on them. You might as well save it and give them a bucket of your homemade cider instead!”

“Oh Julian really!” said Adam, in exasperation “That’s a dreadfully snobbish thing to say!”

“It’s a dreadfully accurate thing to say!” said Julian “What’s the point of wasting perfectly good stuff pouring it down them, when some cheap old scrumpy will do the job just as well!” “A few of the brothers are going to take a little trip up the coast to investigate a cave we have seen there”, said Vincent “Just in case Mr Dobley has … well you know, sort of disappeared into it”.

“I urge them to take care”, said Adam “There’s no knowing where it might lead them round here”.

“I was wondering perhaps if some of your own might like to come too?” said Vincent.

“We can take the galleon”, said Julian “Saves trudging up there”.

“Yes, it’ll do her good too to have a little run out”, said Adam.

Bengo staggered into the room carrying a tray of coffee.

“I’ve got another little surprise for you”, said Vincent to Adam “A couple of hampers of our very best fresh produce”.

“But you can’t keep giving us presents”, said Adam “You’ve been more than generous enough to us already!”

“Just to help you out whilst you find your feet here again”, said Vincent “I’ll pop over now and get a couple of the monks to help me bring them over”.

“No you won’t”, said Adam, firmly “I can’t ask you to do that on top of everything else. I’ll come over now with Bengo and Hoowie”.

“Why Hoowie?” said Bengo.

“Because it’ll get him out of my kitchen!” said Adam.

“But what about the coffee?” said Bengo.

“Julian can drink it, can’t you, old love?” said Adam.

A large train-set had been erected in the hallway of the monastery. Hoowie stood watching one of the little locomotives go round and round, as though he’d been mesmerised. He was like a druggie carefully examining the patterns on a dinner-plate.

“Can we have one of these back home?” said Bengo to Adam “He’s gone so quiet, it’s wonderful!”

“We’ve never thought of trying hypnotism on him before have we!” said Adam “Doesn’t his face look different when he’s being quiet and serious?”

“Yes, he looks even more ugly!” said Bengo “I didn’t think that was possible!”

“Now that’s enough of that!” said Adam.

Vincent offered to have them all over again for another meal, but Adam came up with another idea.

“Why don’t you come off on the little mini-cruise with us?” he said “We can all dine up on deck, it’s terribly romantic, isn’t it, Bengo?”

“Yes”, said Bengo, cautiously, wondering why the Arch-Pater would need a romantic dinner, as he was supposed to have given up all that sort of thing.

Adam liked the Arch-Pater though. His childlike enthusiasm for life reminded him of Lonts. Bengo though was alarmed at Adam’s friskiness in his presence, and thought that both Lonts and Julian would go ballistic about it, if it carried on much longer.

“Oh look there’s your other half, Bengo”, said Adam, still in this disturbing frisky mood, when they carried the hampers round the side of the Castle to the back door. Bardin was talking to Hillyard over by the stables “Your little hubby”.

“I suppose that makes me little wife-y!” Bengo snapped back.

“Well really that was very unlike Bengo”, said Adam, when he located Julian sitting with his feet up in the dining-room “Not like him to get terse with me, he normally reserves that for the other clowns!”

“Perhaps he thinks you’re one”, said Julian.

“Oh well thank you very much!” said Adam.

“St Joseph of Arimathea”, said Julian, somewhat unexpectedly.

“What about him?”

“He was buried under Glastonbury Tor wasn’t he?”

“I have no idea”, said Adam “And what’s that got to do with the price of fish?”

“Isn’t there some legend that 3 monks went looking for his grave back in Medieval times?” said Julian “Because they thought the Holy Grail could be found there. Well two never returned, and the one that did was deranged. Or was it one never returned, and two were deranged?”

“You make it sound like a bizarre game of ’Cluedo’!” said Adam “I still don’t understand what this sudden fascination for Glastonbury Tor is. Anyway, Patsy threw the Holy Grail into the sea, back in Aspiriola, remember?”

“Yes, he’s a bloody menace sometimes that boy”, said Julian “No I was just thinking that this big plan of the monks to go and explore that cave up the coast was starting to remind me of the old Glastonbury Tor legend. They’ll either disappear or go mad”.

“So will we then”, said Adam “We’re going with them. I still don’t understand about Bengo, it’s most odd behaviour for him, he‘s normally such a cheerful little thing. Oh, and I think Hoowie would quite like a train-set”.

“Adam”, Julian sighed “Sometimes I think your brain is completely scrambled!”

As was to be expected Joby didn’t like the idea of abandoning the house (even though it was only for a couple of days) to go on the mini-cruise. Even Kieran’s comments that Joby always got very horny on-board ship didn’t help. To escape his grumbling Bengo volunteered to go and feed the chickens. When he had finished Hillyard called him over to the stables , clearly with one intention in mind. Bengo was quite pleased with this, but was terrified that Bardin might suddenly pop up from nowhere, as if out of a trap-door.

“S’alright, he’s upstairs with Rumble and Lonts”, said Hillyard “They’re sorting out the Cistern Room”.

“If he goes to the window of the room next door he’ll see me!” said Bengo, ducking inside the stable door.

“I thought Bardin was supposed to be getting a bit better these days”, said Hillyard “Not get quite so jealous I mean”.

“Oh you know Bardy”, said Bengo “Getting jealous comes too easily to him, and he’s got a gob like a steel trap!”

Hillyard was kissing him just inside the door, when Julian barged in, carrying a bridle over his shoulder. Bengo jumped out of his skin.

“Oh God, Julian!” he cried “My heart is pounding! I thought you were Bardy!”

“There speaks a guilty conscience!” said Julian “Get back into the kitchen, young fiend. Or we’ll be lucky if we get any dinner today, lunch was late as it was”.

“Yes, and that’s another thing”, said Bengo “You’ve got to have words with Adam about his frisky behaviour with the Arch-Pater”.

“All in good time”, said Julian “One has to time these things just right where Adam’s concerned, or all I’ll get is ’oh don’t be silly, Jules, he’s a delightful man, don’t you know’”.

The sun was setting by the time dinner was ready. Bengo went into the Great Hall to ring the hand-bell to summon everybody. The Cistern Room crowd didn’t appear, so (rather crossly) Bengo stumped up the tight staircase next to the fireplace to fetch them. Rumble and Lonts were scraping furniture about within, whilst Bardin stood to one side, with his hands on his slim hips, as though he was choreographing a routine on stage.

“I’ve been ringing and ringing”, said Bengo “Couldn’t you hear me? Dinner’s ready!”

Lonts and Rumble pushed past them both, and thundered down the little staircase.

“Are you sure you haven’t been working too hard, Bardy?” said Bengo, sarcastically “All that standing around giving orders all day must be really exhausting!”

“Well well well if it isn’t Mr Grumpy The Clown!” said Bardin “What’s the matter with you today?”

“I’m just tired that’s all”, said Bengo “Some of us have been REALLY working!”

“That so?” said Bardin “I’d heard you’d been playing trains over the monastery with Hoowie!”

Bengo suddenly yanked Bardin’s trousers down, with a deftness and agility born from long practice.

“If you’ve buggered up my fly buttons!” said Bardin, and he ripped down one of the sleeves of Bengo’s shirt.

They both roared with laughter, and were only halted by Adam ringing the hand-bell this time.

“What on earth have you two been doing this time?” said Adam, when the clowns finally walked into the dining-room “Bengo, what’s happened to your shirt?”

“Hah, it looks like one of mine!” said Kieran.

“We were just fooling around”, said Bengo.

“And I suppose I’ll have to repair that!” said Finia.

Bengo pulled off the tattered remains of his shirt-sleeve and flung it into the middle of the table.

“You’ll need to sew up my fly buttons as well”, said Bardin, who had been holding his trousers up with one hand.

“It would be bloody pointless having a dress-code in this house with you two around wouldn’t it!” said Adam.

“Yes, your friend Vincent wouldn’t approve”, said Julian, tartly.

“On the contrary”, said Adam “He thinks the clowns are absolutely delightful”.

“He can have ’em as a job-lot if he wants!” said Joby “A real bargain!”

There was a very loud thump on the front door.

“Better see who that is”, said Bardin to Hoowie.

Somebody had nailed a revolting drawing on the front door depicting Kieran crucified naked upside down on a cross. It was fairly safe to say that it wasn’t the handiwork of any of the monks. The drawing was passed around everybody gathered in the Great Hall, amidst some considerable consternation. Julian slammed the big door shut, and tore the slip of paper out of Kieran’s hands.

“Finia”, he said “Put that on the stove”.

“We’ll get after them”, said Bardin, meaning himself and the other clowns “Whoever did this can’t be far away, and I’m assuming they’re in the general direction of the track between those old gate-posts we found the other day”.

“It needs to be better thought out than that”, said Julian “And this isn’t the time of night to go about it”.

“The sheer nerve of them!” said Adam, upset “Brazenly coming up to the front door just like that”.

“They must know this area well enough to slip back into the forest easily”, said Bengo “That would have given them the confidence to do it”.

“Kieran”, said Julian “I think for the time being you can go and stay at the monastery”.

“I’ll do no such damn thing!” said Kieran.

“You damn well will!” said Julian “It’ll be more secure for you there”.

Kieran raised a terrific protest at this idea. Julian grabbed him by the hair and dragged him towards the library. Joby managed to slip through the library door before he slammed it shut. In the meantime Bardin instructed Bengo to pour out some port for everybody.

“I don’t care what you say or do, Julian”, Kieran was protesting, now in the library “I’ll not be shut away in the monastery just because some vile eejit decides to put up an obscene and blasphemous picture of me on the front door!”

“For fuck’s sake!” said Julian “That picture wasn’t just a bit of graffiti, they are throwing down the gauntlet to you! That is what they will do to you when they catch you, can’t you see that!”.

“I don’t care!” said Kieran “I am not going to the monastery! I’ll be safe enough here. I promise I won’t wander off on me own, and I won’t remain in any part of the house on me own. The Castle and the galleon are where I live, they are my homes, and I’m not having any bunch of depraved Black Magic bastards changing that, I mean it! You can beat me black and blue if you want to, it’s probably what I deserve, but I’m not going to the monastery!”

Julian slammed out of the room. It was only then that Joby seemed to breathe out.

“Are you alright?” he asked Kieran.

“Me head’s a bit sore that’s all, I thought he was going to pull me hair out!” said Kieran, rubbing his scalp where Julian had dragged him into the room “You agree with me, don’t you, Jobe? Only I can’t go over to the monastery, all that ring-kissing and wrapping me in cotton-wool. Go on, tell me I’m an ungrateful bastard, you’d be right”.

“C’mon, sit down”, said Joby, steering Kieran over to the sofa, and then sitting down next to him “It’s scary when all Julian’s gaskets blow like that. I think you’d better try and give him a wide-berth for a little while. We’ll sleep in the Four-Poster Room tonight, I’ll ask Ransey for one of the guns to take with us, just in case, but stay away from Julian”.

“Ach let him give me a thrashing if he wants to”, said Kieran “It’ll do him good”.

“Not at the moment I won’t”, said Joby “The way he is it’ll be a repeat of that time up at Wolf Castle!”

“Pretty hard-going, but it’ll lick me into shape”, said Kieran.

“We’ll see”, said Joby.

“You don’t want me over the monastery do you, Joby?” said Kieran.

“No, I want you where I can see you”, said Joby “Not over the fucking river! Why isn’t there any brandy in that decanter?”

“Julian must have drank it all”, said Kieran, who usually had a fair go at it himself “Can you put in a good word for me where he’s concerned, Joby? He’ll listen to you, you’ll be able to get round him”.

“I don’t think Julian’s gonna listen to anybody at the moment, Kiel”, said Joby “I’ll have a word with Hillyard, he might be able to calm him down”.

There was a gentle tap on the door, and Adam came in.

“Sorry I didn’t come in sooner, but I had to calm Lo-Lo down”, he said “He was in a terrible state about that damn picture. He wanted to go after the bastards and kill them!”

“Good old Kiskevian revenge!” said Joby “You can’t beat it can yer!”

“Are you two boys alright?” said Adam.

“WE’RE alright”, said Joby “It’s Julian who’s probably having the heart-attack!”

“I’ll try and speak to him in a little while”, said Adam “Although he’s pretty narked with me at the moment as well, all that silly nonsense with Vincent. I just like the man that’s all, there’s nothing going on!”

“I’m glad you like him”, said Kieran “It’s such a relief to me that one of my leading Church-men has turned out to be a decent feller! I’m not going to the monastery, Addy, I can’t …”

“Well if it’s any comfort, Ransey is on your side, Patsy”, said Adam “In fact he’s rather miffed with Jules, that Julian thinks he can’t protect you well enough himself. ’Kieran doesn’t need to go to the monastery’ was his comment. Oh and the little cruise is still on. Bardin’s going to ask a couple of the monks if they will stay over here whilst we’re away, to keep an eye on the place, and make sure the Satanic scum don’t come here and burn it down or some such awful thing”.

“So it’s still the caves first then?” said Joby.

“I think it’s a good idea”, said Adam “For all we know, Dobley may well have gone up the coast, it makes about as much sense as anything else doesn’t it! And we’ve all come to the conclusion that that silly drawing was a ruse to smoke us out. They must be getting rather cross that we’re still ignoring them, so a bit longer won’t do them any harm, and we’ll be able to keep Patsy under careful scrutiny on the galleon”.

“Yes, and I won’t have to go and stay at the focking monastery!” said Kieran.

“Language, Patsy, old love!” said Adam.

“Kieran isn’t really going over to the monastery is he?” said Hoowie, sitting alone with Bengo in the dining-room. The table was cluttered with the wreckage of the meal, and from the kitchen could be heard the sound of Bardin supervising that security was all tight around the doors and windows of the house.

“No, you saw him, when he feels that strongly about something, he won’t be shifted”, said Bengo, sitting there in his one-sleeved shirt.

“It’d be horrible if he was locked away over there”, said Hoowie “I like looking at him. I keep hoping he’ll look at me, in THAT sort of way, but he never does. It’s alright for you, you’ve been with him”.

“I dance for him in private sometimes”, said Bengo.

“Yeah, and the rest!” said Hoowie.

Bengo smiled.

“It’s alright for you ent it!” said Hoowie “You’re cute, you make a good private dancer. But no one’s gonna want a big, string, hairy idiot like me dancing for ’em!”

Bengo had to laugh at the image this conjured up in his mind. Bardin marched into the dining-room, carrying another of his blasted big maps. He had put on a pair of braces, which he had found hanging from the handle of the larder door, to hold up his trousers.

“This will be a great opportunity for me to chart the coastline a bit more”, he was saying formidably to Rumble.

He went to put his sheet of paper down on the table, but was hindered by the wreckage thereon.

“Haven’t you cleared this up yet?” he barked at Bengo “It’s not as if you’ve got anything to do now is it!”

Bengo strolled up to him. Bardin seemed to freeze, as though he was expecting the slap of a hand or a custard pie, but instead Bengo pulled out one of his braces and then let it go again from a great distance.

“That hurt my nipple!” Bardin complained, after Bengo had left the room.

“Do you want me to rub it better for you?!” said Rumble.

They all set sail the very next day, leaving a handful of the monks to stay in the Castle and keep an eye on the place. The weather was hot and sunny, perfect for the sailing they had in mind. Bardin estimated that they would be spending one night (or possibly two) at the most at sea. Kieran had been instructed to stay out of Julian’s way for as much as possible, but on that very first morning he went to see him in the main cabin below deck.

“You’ve got a damn nerve showing your face in here”, said Julian, who had been sitting at the desk, not doing anything in particular.

“I know you’re not going to thrash me black and blue whilst a couple of the monks, plus the Arch-Pater, are on board”, said Kieran.

“Very sure of yourself all the damn time aren’t you!” said Julian.

“No I’m not”, said Kieran, sitting down on the sofa “I’ve come to mend some fences, Julian. I know I disobeyed a direct order, but you’ve got to admit it was an unreasonable one”.

“I don’t have to admit any such thing!” said Julian, leaping out of his chair and standing facing him.

“Well it was an unreasonable one”, said Kieran, stubbornly “When a leader gives orders he should never ask somebody to do something he wouldn’t be prepared to do himself, and I know damn well YOU wouldn’t go and stay in the monastery!”

“You can’t seem to grasp the seriousness of that bloody drawing!” said Julian “Or in some perverse way do you want them to do that to you?!”

“How can you say that!” said Kieran, his blue eyes flashing angrily “To suffer like The Lord Jesus Christ did on the Cross, to have nails driven into me, to have thorns on my head! I know I like being smacked and humiliated, but that’s something else entirely!”

“Alright, I apologise for that one”, said Julian, now sitting perched in a nearby chair “But sometimes I can never be certain about you”.

“Look, I respect you a lot, Julian”, said Kieran “You’re like the Da I never had …”

“Oh don’t give me all that blarney!” said Julian.

“It’s not blarney!” said Kieran “I mean it! But there was nothing to be achieved by me going over to the monastery, even Ransey agreed with me on that one! And was I supposed to stay holed up over there, whilst you lot all went sailing?!”

Tears welled up in Kieran’s eyes.

“Yes, alright, no need to start the waterworks”, said Julian “I panicked, OK? I care about you - too bloody much -and I panicked”.

“That’s what I mean about you being me Da!” said Kieran.

Joby came into the room carrying a coffee-pot and a cup for Julian.

“What’s going on here?” he demanded to know, when he had set the pot and cup on the desk.

“Nothing, we’re just having a little reconciliation”, said Julian.

“Then why’s Kieran upset?” said Joby.

“It was an emotional reconciliation”, said Julian “Stop looking around you like that! The strap isn’t in here, as far as I’m aware it’s in the heads”.

Joby pulled Kieran to his feet, and decided to see for himself. He pulled up the back of Kieran’s singlet and examined his back, and then peered down the back of his trousers.

“Happy now?” said Julian “Now clear off and go and fetch another cup for Kieran”.

Joby left the room, looking boot-faced.

“That man!” said Julian “High time I shoved another hose up his arse I think, that always sorts him out!”

Julian went up onto the main deck, which was baking in the fierce sunshine. Toppy was doing some washing in the laundry tub, and Julian tore off his top and threw it at him. Adam reprimanded him for this gesture of high-handedness.

“I’m surprised your friend Vincent isn’t up here slobbering all over you”, said Julian.

“Stop talking about him like that”, said Adam “He’s been a very dear friend to us. And anyway, he’s a celibate”.

“Bullshit”, said Julian “Celibate’s are dreary creatures. Nobody who loves life as much as he does can possibly be a celibate!”

“Well I can assure you he is”, said Adam “He told me so”.

Bardin came over from the bow end of the boat, accompanied by Bengo and Tamaz.

“I hope we’re not stopping at the sand dunes”, said Tamaz “They are SO boring. All we did last time we were up this way was clamber over them”.

“If you don’t shut up”, said Bardin “We’ll put you ashore here, and you can find your own way home!”

“What would Dobley be doing all the way up here?” said Bengo “I mean, it’s not as if there’s a television studio up here is there!”

“We’re not just up here because of Dobley”, said Bardin “We’re up here to look inside that cave as well”.

“How many are going in there in the skiff?” said Tamaz.

“It might not be necessary to use the skiff”, said Bardin “It might be possible for us to take the entire galleon in there”.

“Are you keeping an eye on that cloud that’s building in the east?” said Julian.

“Yes!” said Bardin, and he thundered down the quarterdeck steps to his cabin, closely followed by Bengo, who was in an agitated state.

“What is the matter with you?” Bardin demanded to know, when they had both got into the cabin “I don’t want you wimping out on me!”

“I’m not”, said Bengo “But I’ve just got bad vibes about that cave that’s all. I don’t see why we have to go in and explore it. As I said up on deck, Dobley’s not likely to be in there is he!”

“Look, just keep your bad vibes to yourself, and stop thinking!” said Bardin “It does you no good! As if it’s not bad enough that I have Julian pointing out the weather situation to me as though I’d never been at sea before, without you starting on!”

With the cloud slowly building up, the air was getting more and more oppressive. Bardin said that at least by going into the cave they might get a chance to cool down. The entrance to the cave was very large, and it was able to accommodate the galleon. Bardin ordered lanterns to be lit all over the deck, to light their way, but he said he found it doubtful that they would be able to travel very far in there in such a big ship.

After a short distance the cave forked off into two separate directions. One (on the left hand side) clearly led back out into the ocean again, whereas the one on the right-hand side seemed to veer off inland. This was a tight canal, and there was no way the galleon would be able to travel up it.

“That’s more a job for the skiff”, said Bardin.

“It might be easier to travel overland”, said Kieran, unexpectedly.

“How do you mean?” said Bardin.

“I have a strong feeling”, said Kieran “That this canal will take us eventually up to the area where we saw the track go off between the abandoned fence-posts. It’s a strong image I keep getting in my head”.

Something in Bardin’s intensely practical mind rebelled at the idea of navigating by Kieran’s psychic instinct, but he could also see that there was no point taking this difficult trip, when they could travel much more easily through the forest again from the Castle.

“Are you certain about that?” he said to Kieran.

“Not 110%”, said Kieran.

“But we haven’t seen a canal anywhere in the forest”, said Bardin.

“Ah but that’s because it’s underground, good sir”, Kieran pointed out.

“I’d rather be up above in daylight”, said Joby.

“I agree”, said Adam “These caves remind me of where we saw those deformed creatures when we travelled back to Zilligot Bay, round the Horn of Wonder”.

“I have to do mass carnage, AGAIN?!” said Tamaz, indignantly.

“No”, Bardin conceded “We’ll go overland”.

“For fuck’s sake, come here, everybody!” Hoowie called out, from the poop-deck, where he was holding a lantern up aloft. His voice was cracking, as though he was about to scream “For fuck’s sake!”

“Alright!” Bardin shouted back.

“It’s Dobley!” Hoowie cried “I swear it’s Dobley!”

It was Dobley’s head in fact. Brutally separated from its body, somebody had left it on a rocky shelf-like promontory, as though it was a grotesque ornament. Bardin gave the order for the galleon to be taken back outside.

“But we can’t just leave him here!” Bengo cried “It doesn’t seem right!”

“Well what the fuck do you suggest we do then?” Bardin exploded “Borrow Finia’s big darning-needle and stitch him back together again?!”

“I thought he was immortal like us”, said Bengo.

“How could anybody survive being hacked up like that?” Fabulous sneered “It’s all a big con I tell you! There are some deaths nobody can survive, you’ve all been living in a fool’s paradise!”

“Do you want me to fetch a hacksaw and see if it’s true?” Kieran raged “Anyway, Dobley wasn’t immortal. All I had done was to slow down the ageing process with him. I would have tried to do more but I was never certain where we stood with him, not after what he’d tried to do to Tamaz that time. It was the same misgivings I had with you! Only I was more focking reckless with you, and much good it’s ever done us!”

The storm clouds had gathered considerably whilst they had been in the caves, and Bardin decreed that they were to move to the sand-dunes and take cover there for the night. He then went below to his cabin, closely followed by Bengo.

“We’ll get the bastards who did this”, said Bardin, chewing his finger-nails “We’ll go after them and get them, I promise you”.

“And what good’s that gonna do?” said Bengo, tearfully “It’s not gonna bring the poor bastard back is it!”

“No, but it might stop them doing it to some other poor bastard!” Bardin shouted back “At least we know what we’re up against now. Dobley was lured away by somebody calling from out in the forest, like the voice we heard that night. They took him somewhere, and … did that to him”.

“WHY?” said Bengo.

“I don’t know”, said Bardin, numbly “Clearly it wasn’t to get at us, or they’d have left his head out in our porch, like they did that picture of Kieran”.

“Don’t!” said Bengo.

“They had their own reasons, sick ones no doubt”, said Bardin “We’ll have a wake for Dobley tonight, try and make it as showbizzy as we can in these conditions. Could you say a few words? You’re better at delivering all the mushy, sentimental stuff than I am”.

“Yes”, said Bengo, sounding calmer. He had been giving a task to do that he understood “I’ll say about how basically Dobley was good-hearted, and that all he really wanted to do was to entertain people”.

“Those were the only times he was truly alive”, said Bardin.

“I won’t go on about how he got led astray”, said Bengo “There’s no point now”.

None of the galley staff felt like preparing a substantial supper, so Adam simply opened several cans of corned beef and sliced them up, served with sea biscuits. Washed down with copious amounts of brandy and rum, it wasn’t a bad funeral feast. The wake went on until after midnight.

“Oh for pity’s sake, let’s leave all this until the morning”, said Adam, standing by the wreckage on the dining-room table.

“No”, said Joby, who was collecting up empty corned beef tins “’Cos you’ll come in first thing and moan your bleedin’ head off, and it’ll be even worse if you’ve got a hangover !”

“I promise I won’t”, said Adam “We’ll get Bengo to do it instead. Why don’t you go and keep an eye on Patsy? We don’t want him going into another decline on us, and the events of today are liable to do that. Fabulous’ comments didn’t exactly help matters!”

Joby looked down at Fabulous, who had passed out on the floor.

“No I’ve already laid it on the line to Kiel”, he said “I mean, I wouldn’t have wished what happened on Dobley onto anyone, but I’m not gonna start beating meself up about it. The fact remains, he once tried to rape Tamaz, and so as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more to be said!”

Bengo and Bardin had a short but unsatisfactory sleep. Bengo had lain in their bunk for ages waiting for Bardin to finish getting undressed. Just getting Bardin’s shirt off alone felt like a major operation. At one point he had fallen over, and landed so heavily on the floor that it sounded as though he must have broken an arm at the very least. They were woken up unceremoniously the next morning by Julian chucking a bucket of water over them as they lay sleeping. Bardin was not pleased.

“I thought as a clown you might be used to it”, said Julian, unrepentant.

“I wasn’t aware that we were on stage at the moment!” Bardin snapped.

“Anyway, I feel we should make a move in the immediate future”, said Julian “Whilst there’s a short break in the storm clouds”.

“Couldn’t you have given that order yourself?” said Bardin.

“Well I could”, said Julian, languidly tugging at his own ear “But I know how particular you are that orders should only come from you. I wouldn’t want to queer your pitch, old fruit”.

He left the room, whilst Bardin wrestled himself out of the sodden bedclothes.

“The sheets are all wet”, said Bengo, as though bewildered as to how this could have happened.

Bardin ordered him to strip the bunk of its bedding, and once they were both dressed, they dragged the sheets up the quarterdeck steps to the main deck, to put them over the washing-line. Toppy found them in the middle of this and wasn’t happy about it.

“How dare you use my line without asking me first”, he said.

“YOUR line?” said Bardin “It’s a communal washing-line, you don’t own it!”

“Well I’m the only bloody one who normally uses it!” said Toppy.

“It’s so unusual to hear Toppy swear”, said Lonts, who had come up on deck to have his early morning pipe.

“Those two are enough to make a saint swear!” said Toppy.

“Saint Toppy”, said Bardin “Good grief!”

“Patron Saint Of Dirty Laundry!” Bengo giggled.

“What I’m saying is that it’s not proper for the Captain to be doing a job like this”, said Topy “It’s not dignified”.

“Neither is being woken up with a bucket of water chucked over me!” said Bardin “But it still happened!”

Vincent had come to the door of the main cabin to watch Adam shaving. There was absolutely no lechery in this, it was pure and simple admiration. He thought Adam was the most elegant creature he had ever seen.

“I don’t feel very elegant after last night”, said Adam.

“Class, pure class”, said Vincent to Julian, as he turned to leave.

Julian grunted, and carried the empty bucket into the room. He dumped it on his desk.

“He’s starting to act like your stalker!” he said.

“Nonsense”, said Adam “And why are you carrying an empty bucket around with you, Julie dear?”

Julian espied Hillyard sauntering past the door with his hands in his pockets, and bellowed out to him.

“Go and make sure everybody is up!” he said “If I am they damn well can be!”

Hillyard went into Kieran’s cabin. Kieran was alone in there, lying on his side in his bunk, facing away from the door. A candle standing on the little table which served as a wash-stand, had burnt down. Hillyard bounded over and whacked Kieran very hard on the bottom.

“Ow!” Kieran yelped “What the fock did you do that for?”

“Health and safety”, said Hillyard, blowing out the sorrowful remains of the candle “How many times have you been told about not leaving candles lit overnight, particularly when we‘re on board ship?”

“It’s Joby’s fault”, said Kieran “I left it lit for him to see his way to bed, HE must have forgotten to blow it out. Go and have a yell at him instead. You’ll find him in the galley I expect, but watch yourself, he’ll be hung-over and not in the best of humours”.

“When is he ever!” said Hillyard, looking at the grey wisps of smoke lingering in the air.

Kieran swung his skinny bare legs over the side of the bunk and then hoisted himself out of it.

“I suppose everybody is wondering why I never made Dobley immortal”, he said, pouring cold water into a bowl, and setting out his shaving things “Well it takes a huge amount of mental effort on my part to achieve something like that, and I never thought Dobley was worth it, quite frankly”.

“You did it for Fabulous though?” said Hillyard, in an entirely non-recriminatory way.

“Yes”, said Kieran “You see, I keep having this gut feeling that one day Fabulous will be useful to us, and yet don’t ask me why. But Dobley … oh I know the clowns are a bit upset by it all, he was one of their own after all, but well to put it bluntly, I never saw what the point of Dobley was! He just went around getting in one scrape after the next, and then whingeing on and feeling sorry for himself”.

“Sounds a bit like Joby when you put it like that!” Hillyard chuckled.

“Ah but Joby keeps me sane”, said Kieran “There’s a very special quality to Joby, as you well know yourself. Whereas Dobley … well he had calmed down a bit recently, but he was always going to be weak. That’s how he met his end. He couldn’t resist the lure of that voice in the forest. Now even Fabulous managed to resist that, but Dobley didn’t! Because he could never resist anything, he never listened to his little inner guiding voice, that’s if he ever had one!”

“Yeah, but if I was living with Althea I’d probably wanna do a runner as well!” said Hillyard.

“And that’s another pretty little kettle of fishes”, said Kieran.

When they got back to the Bay, Adam volunteered to go over to the monastery to tell “the pretty little kettle of fishes” about what had happened, although, as he said, he doubted it would sink in. The others (minus Vincent and the monks) returned to Midnight Castle. Ransey and Julian sought sanctuary in the gun-room with a bottle of brandy. Julian reiterated all his fears over the obscene drawing of Kieran that had been left on the front door.

“I keep getting images of it in my head”, he said “I don’t mean the drawing as it is, but as if it had really happened. I see the blood and the nails, it’s appalling, I can’t get it out of my head”.

“Somebody’s messing with your head”, said Ransey “That’s what’s clear to me anyway. What I can’t understand though is why they’ve picked you. I would have thought it would have been more likely to have picked one of the more impressionable ones”.

“Precisely for that reason”, said Julian “If they had picked one of them, we wouldn’t have taken any notice, so the bastards have settled on me”.

“They’ve found a chink in your armour”, said Ransey “The picture of Kieran disturbed you, and now they’re going to milk it for all it’s worth”.

“Is it me or are they trying to smoke us out?” said Julian “They seem to be goading us into going after them”.

“Yes, and I’d like to tell them where to shove it”, said Ransey “Go and find a desert island again, like we did before, remember?”

“I wasn’t with you then”, Julian snapped.

“Oh yes, I keep forgetting that was a bit before your time”, said Ransey.

“I’m going outside to have a smoke”, said Julian.

Adam just had time to scuttle round the other side of the main staircase, before Julian could catch him eavesdropping. Fortunately a diversion was caused by Kieran making a right kerfuffle in the kitchen. As a misguided act of generosity the monks had left a gift of a pig’s head on the kitchen table. It wasn’t a present that Kieran appreciated.

“It’s horrible”, said Joby, standing back by the larder door and looking at it as though it was about to pounce on him.

“Like something out of ’Lord Of The Flies’!” said Adam “Well it can’t stay”.

“There’s a note with it”, said Bengo, handing a screwed up piece of paper to Adam.

“Parts of the head are very tender”, said Adam, reading out snippets from it “And in some parts of the world apparently the ears, when fried, are considered a great delicacy”.

“Not in this fucking part of the world they’re not!” said Joby “I am not frying fucking pig’s ears!”

“Much as I would normally hate to turn down a gift”, said Adam “I’m afraid I shall have to send it back. They really should have known better. It’s common knowledge that Patsy is a vegetarian. It’s alright, I’ll take it myself”.

Julian refused to let him go over to the monastery on his own, and accompanied him. When they returned, both carrying a crate of wine between them, Joby and Hillyard were chatting in the Great Hall. The wine was the Arch-Pater’s substitute for the pig’s head. Julian ordered Adam to go to the kitchen and start preparing the supper, and that he and Bardin were to eat their own private supper in the library. Normally this arrangement would have provoked an exasperated response from Adam along the lines of ”you are the bloody limit, Jules”, but today he simply agreed and went kitchen-wards.

“Have you been upsetting him?” Hillyard demanded to know.

“I bleedin’ hope not!” said Joby “It’s me and Bengo who’ll pay for it if you have!”

“I simply brought him to heel”, said Julian “Gave him a good telling-off”.

“How could you!” said Hillyard “Humiliating him like that in front of the Arch-Pater!”

“For your information I did not humiliate him in front of anybody”, said Julian “The Arch-Pater left the room for a few minutes to order the crate of wine, and I filled in the intervening few minutes with a few choice words. I do not go around humiliating people!”

“Yes you do”, said Hillyard “You’re always doing it. It’s your main interest in life! You’d do it to me given half the chance, only I won’t let you!”

“It does no harm to remind people who is boss around here”, said Julian.

“As if we ever have a bloody chance to forget!” said Joby.

“I just don’t want you upsetting Adam that’s all”, said Hillyard “That man’s cooking is pure magic, so if we get crap meals served late for the next few days I’ll know who is to blame!”

“Why did you want to eat alone with me?” said Bardin, when he and Julian sat down to eat in the library a couple of hours later. It was turning into a very overcast and stormy-looking evening, and the lamps had had to be lit early.

“Why should I not want to eat alone with a good-looking man?” said Julian.

“It’s not as simple as that is it”, said Bardin “Whilst you were over at the monks’ place I was talking to Rumble. We both agreed that nobody should set off through the forest purely just to avenge Dobley’s death”.

“I’m surprised”, said Julian “Relieved as well mind! But I thought you clowns would be all Mafiosi about it, want revenge, an eye for an eye and all that”.

“Look, it’s tragic what happened to him”, said Bardin “No doubt about that at all. But Dobley’s not worth anyone going to any inconvenience over. He wasn’t a nice man, Julian. There was a strong touch of sadism about a lot of his routines”.

“I thought that was the case with all slapstick comedy!” said Julian.

“Clowns on the whole just humiliate themselves or each other”, said Bardin “But Dobley liked to humiliate members of the audience. He got away with it for a long time, because people just thought it was him, and in the old days he was reasonably funny. The public are very longsuffering of us at times, as long as we make them laugh we can get away with a lot. But Dobley was fucking hopeless at taking jokes back. He took himself too seriously”.

“But there speaks the consummate professional!” Julian teased.

“Yes, but I’ve always been part of a double-act, or one of a troupe of clowns”, said Bardin “OK I had the piss taken out of me because I’m serious about what I do, but that all helped when it came to planning routines. I was the priggy, bossy, straight one who would come a cropper. Like Bengo was always the amiable, dim-witted one, who couldn’t walk across a room without tripping over the carpet. Perfect casting you’ve got to admit!”

“Dobley never had the corners knocked off him, is that it?” said Julian.

“It’s always a problem with solo entertainers”, said Bardin “When they hit the big time they’ve got nobody to keep them on Planet Earth. They don’t have to share their ego with anyone else. Both Bengo or me could have become just as monstrous if we hadn’t had each other to prick our balloons. Dobley never had the other half to say ’for fuck’s sake, that’s a really stupid idea!’ like we always did”. “You’re relieved that he’s gone?” said Julian, stating it as a simple fact, with no judgement involved.

“Yes”, said Bardin “Yes I am. The show must go on, and Dobley always did his level best to scupper it. It’s strange isn’t it? Who settles down and gets on with things in the end, and who can’t seem to at any cost, even when their own destruction is staring them in the face. I wonder what will happen with Fabulous?”

“I try to notice him as little as possible”, said Julian “I keep hoping that if I ignore him for a good few years, then when I notice him again he might have become reasonably human”.

“I was always like that with Hoowie!” said Bardin “You’ve done me a huge favour with him you know. It’s great, I scarcely have to think about him at all these days”.

“Oh Hoowie’s alright really”, said Julian “He’s off-the-wall, and he has an obsession with his own genitalia which can get quite tiresome …”

“Yes well Hoowie’s idea of foreplay is to give an in-depth description of his cock and balls!” said Bardin “As if we didn’t already know what they looked like!”

“He’s like some schoolboy who still can’t get over the miraculous fact that he’s got a willy stuck between his legs!” said Julian.

Bardin laughed, and got up to draw the curtains, shutting out the rain-spattered window. When he sat down again he said:

“I’ve been thinking about this evil lot we’ve got to track down”, said Bardin.

“Yes, I had a feeling you had”, said Julian “That’s why I wanted to have dinner alone with you. I thought though that you weren’t bothered about getting revenge for Dobley’s unsavoury demise?”

“It’s what they want to do with Kieran that worries me far more”, said Bardin “I was unnerved by that horrid picture as well. I have a rear fear that they will try to snatch him, and it’s impossible to keep him completely secure here”.

“So what did you have in mind?” said Julian.

“After sunset tomorrow night I’m going to arrange an overnight excursion up to beyond those gate-posts we saw”, said Bardin.

“OK”, said Julian “But why overnight?”

“For a change more than anything I suppose”, Bardin shrugged “They seem pretty active at night. Haunting the forest like the bunch of sad pillocks they are, trying to lure people to their doom. Well we’ll go and join in the fun. We’ll find out what’s beyond those gate-posts, and we’ll do a little nocturnal observation”.

Hillyard and Kieran had been eavesdropping on this conversation outside one of the library. When Bardin’s plan was revealed they ran along the corridor to the kitchen. Joby was alone in there, peeling potatoes at the sink.

“Are you still doing that?” said Hillyard “We’ll be getting OUR supper at midnight at this rate!”

“Well it might help if I had some bleedin’ help!” said Joby “Everybody else has disappeared!”

Kieran told him what they had just heard at the library door.

“And who’s gonna be in this night-party?” said Joby.

“He hasn’t settled that yet”, said Kieran “I’ll make sure we are, don’t you worry, and he’ll definitely want Hillyard I expect”.

“I think we should try and take Adam, but leave Julian behind”, said Hillyard.

“And how are you gonna manage that?” said Joby “Break both his legs?!”

“Why do you want to leave Julian behind anyway?” said Kieran.

“Because it’d do Adam good to be out of his control for a little while”, said Hillyard “Julian’s really in one of his bullying moods where he’s concerned at the moment, and I don’t like it”.

“You’ve just gotta leave ’em to it, mate”, said Joby “You should know what those two are like by now, they get pretty hard-core when they’re together”.

“Maybe”, said Hillyard “But I don’t like seeing Adam being treated like a doormat, even if he does enjoy it! It don’t do Julian any good either, he takes to swaggering about round the house with his boots on all the time!”

“And he keeps the spurs on as well!” said Kieran “Mind you, it’s useful, I can usually hear him clanking from a mile off!”

“Yeah, it must be useful when you’re smoking one of his cigars, you little Herbert!” said Joby.

Everybody was in bated breath the next day, waiting to see who Bardin would pick to go on the night-party. To add to the great solemnity of the occasion Bardin locked himself in the library with a stack of paper, “to make notes”. Bengo was disgusted by all this.

“What the hell does he need to make notes for?” he said “The silly clot! All he has to do is to decide who is going through the forest tonight! He‘s just milking it for all it‘s worth!”

Kieran kicked up a storm too, as he became steadily convinced as the day went on that Joby was going, and not him. “I can’t sit here whilst you go sticking your head in the lion’s mouth!” said Kieran.

“I am not sticking my head in the lion’s mouth!” said Joby “We’re going up to look at whatever is beyond those gate-posts, and then we’re coming back again. Or at least, that’s what I hope is gonna be happening!”

Adam said that if a decision wasn’t made soon, the atmosphere inside the Castle would become intolerable. At 4 o’clock (and Hillyard grumbled that this wasn’t exactly leaving much time for preparations) Bardin emerged, and announced that the night-party would be comprised of 6 of them: himself, Bengo, Kieran, Joby, Ransey and Hillyard. Kieran thought that it was neat Bardin getting round the Adam/Julian problem by leaving them BOTH behind. Hillyard refused to comment. There was some consternation in the ranks that Tamaz hadn’t been selected, but Joby thought it was a good idea.

“I remember what he said when we found Dobley’s remains”, said Joby, talking to Bardin alone in the library.

“That comment about him doing mass-carnage?” said Bardin.

“We do tend to treat Tamaz as though he’s some kind of a machine when it comes to his Power”, said Joby “It’s not right really, when you stop and think about it”.

“How does he feel about staying behind?” said Bardin.

“He doesn’t mind at all”, said Joby “His remark to me was that every time he uses his Power he’s frightened he won’t be able to stop it again. He’s terrified of ending up like his mother”.

“I wish the other clowns were being that bloody reasonable!” said Bardin “They’re carrying on as though it’s some gala event to which only Bengo and me have been invited! But I can’t have us all traipsing up through the forest. It’d be organised chaos!”

“They’ll get over it”, said Joby “Anyway, we’re sposed to be back sometime tomorrow, so they won’t have long to stew about it”.

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