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On the morning they were to leave the chapel, Bengo woke up feeling apprehensive. Suddenly he felt very attached to the gloomy, dark, cold old place. He even liked the strong smell of brasso from where Toppy had been polishing the door-knobs and candlesticks, even though previously it had annoyed him and made him feel slightly nauseous.
“You can’t be serious!” said Bardin, when Bengo asked him if they could stay. Bardin was wandering around with his duffel-coat on over his nightshirt, and warming his hands round a coffee-mug “You can feel how cold it is in here! And it’s going to get worse over the next few months!”
“I know”, said Bengo, miserably “But I woke up in the night feeling apprehensive”.
“You woke up sneezing!” said Bardin “I should know because you sneezed right into my ear and woke me up as well!”
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo “I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t, I thought my eyeballs would burst out!”
“Twit!” said Bardin.
He and Bengo went on ahead with Hillyard in the truck, and the others would amble on behind more slowly in a procession of wagons. It was a beautiful day in late Autumn, and the forest was looked as though it had put on its best finery to welcome them. A broad track led through the trees on the opposite side of the gorge to the demonic castle (as Kieran insisted on calling it), and eventually came out to the Yellow Castle, which stood on the side of a substantially-sized lake.
Bengo, who had been sitting jammed next to Bardin in the passenger seat of the truck, clutching his bag to him and looking wretched, perked up when he saw the lake. And the castle, with the sun shining full on its yellow brick, also looked at its most welcoming.
“It’s beautiful”, he breathed.
Bardin gave him a look of “I told you so” and shoved him out of the truck. Hillyard unlocked the main doors to the building, and the clowns caught their breath when they got into the entrance hall. A broad wooden staircase immediately faced them, branching off into two different directions to the top. On the right-hand side of the entrance hall was a large all-purpose room, which had full-length windows overlooking the lake, through which the sun shafted through. There was a grand piano tucked to the side of the staircase, and on the other side of the hall a door led into a more intimate living area, with leather sofas and bookcases lining the walls.
“Oh Hillyard”, Bengo sighed, still clutching his bag to him, as in his rapture he had forgotten he was carrying it “It’s all so wonderful!”
“I’ve done you proud this time haven’t I?” said Hillyard, twirling the big bunch of keys round and round in his hand “And there was Joby saying it was just going to be another version of The Governor’s House!”
“What was it used for previously?” said Bardin.
“Old hunting-lodge”, said Hillyard “You haven’t just got the forest you see, but the lake’s pretty well-stocked for fishing too”.
“The others will love it!” said Bengo.
“I bloody hope so”, said Hillyard “After all the trouble me and Ransey have been to getting this place freshened up!”
“And no superstitious workmen this time?” said Bardin.
“No trouble at all”, said Hillyard.
They had all barely settled into the Yellow Castle, when the first snows of the Winter came. Bardin mobilised the clowns into keeping the lane leading to the castle clear, so that they would have no trouble getting into the town to get supplies. Hillyard put snow-chains on the wheels of the truck, and he and Ransey were usually the ones who did the supply-runs. After the light and comfort of the Yellow Castle, the town of Aspiriola usually seemed grimmer and bleaker than ever. It seemed to be permanently twilight there, and the market-stalls always had the lamps lit around them.
Having lunch in ’The Shepherd’s Inn’ one day they overheard gossip about Lady Edith’s baby. You would have thought that the true story of the birth would be bizarre enough for most people, but they embellished it even further, claiming that the baby had sprang from her womb and promptly slain 3 of the maids attending the birth. Also that the baby was growing at an unnatural rate, and was already the size of a 6-year-old child, and that it had cloven hooves for feet. Curiously though, they hadn’t picked up on the strange TRUE fact that Kieran had attended the birth.
“I suppose we have to be grateful for that at least!” said Ransey, on the way home afterwards.
Whilst they had been out Kieran had gone for a walk in the forest, and had set himself the task of disabling all the man-traps he had found there. At one point he had found himself near the gorge, and had glimpsed through the trees on the other side a strange creature shambling along, with its head bent down, as though scouring the ground for something. From the state of its clothes, and the long matted hair Kieran assumed it was a vagrant, but he felt uneasy about the sighting. He felt even more uneasy when the person seemed to disappear down a flight of stone steps which led down into the ground.
Ransey and Hillyard picked Kieran up in the truck when they found him wandering back along the lane, and Ransey was furious that Kieran had roamed so far on his own.
“Give the poor little bugger a break”, said Joby, when everybody got home “We can’t keep him under house-arrest, he’s not a prisoner!”
This didn’t appease Ransey at all. He and Kieran had a row at the top of the stairs, and Joby was left in no doubt that Julian would hear all about it when he got back from hunting with Mieps.
The bedroom arrangements at the castle were quite simple. Julian had a large room on one side at the top of the stairs, which he shared with whoever took his fancy. Bengo and Bardin, and Kieran and Joby occupied two rooms which shared a connecting bathroom on the other side. Everybody else slept up on the top floor, in a sort of attic dormitory, which was cosier than it sounded, as it had a fireplace at each end of the room, feather-beds, and long, stained-glass windows.
Joby went up to his and Kieran’s room, and found Kieran sitting on the end of the bed, cradling a glass of brandy in his hands.
“Julian’s back”, said Joby.
“I know, I heard the dogs barking”, said Kieran.
“I tried to calm him down whilst I was taking his boots off for him”, said Joby “But I don’t spose it had any effect. I told him it wasn’t fair, that you’re allowed to go for a walk by yourself if you want”.
“But he said I wasn’t to go anywhere near the gorge and the stone bridge”, said Kieran “That right?”
“That’s about the size of it”, said Joby “Went on about the slap you got from the demon at the cathedral, and how the mark on your face has only just gone down”.
“I think he’s going to strap me, Joby”, said Kieran “Jayz, Ransey was so cross I thought HE was going to!”
“That’d be quite something wouldn‘t it!” said Joby.
“I know, I was ready to drop me trousers!” said Kieran “But Julian in a fearsome grot, that even puts the fear of God into me!”
“Well it’s not fair”, said Joby “He’s got no right to anyway, I’M in charge of your discipline! Sometimes I know how Bardin feels when his Captain’s authority is undermined! … Hang about”.
He ran to the door and locked it, and then he ran back across the room to the bathroom door, and locked that one as well.
“That’ll keep him out for about 5 minutes I suppose”, said Kieran.
“No you don’t get it”, said Joby “If I do it, then he can’t say anything can he?”
“You’re going to strap me?” said Kieran.
“No, just a spanking that’s all”, said Joby “But it’ll keep Julian away from the door for a little while!”
“Well Ransey actually said I needed spanking”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, one day he might even have the balls to do it himself!” said Joby.
“Don’t go saying anything like that to him, whatever you do!” Kieran laughed.
He put his glass on the floor, stood up, loosened his belt, and dropped his trousers to his ankles. Joby laid him across his knees and spanked him very vigorously with the hairbrush, and Kieran laughed, yelped and cried at the same time.
“I want to feel you against me whilst your cheeks are still burning”, Joby said, breathlessly, throwing down the hairbrush.
He took off the remainder of Kieran’s clothes, and spread-eagled him face-down on the bed. Joby finished undressing himself, and then climbed on top of him. He slid into him effortlessly , and they went even further into the enchanted realms of pleasure and pain.
“We haven’t done nearly enough of all that lately”, said Kieran, as they lay afterwards drinking brandy, and watching the early Winter twilight swiftly advance outside.
“What sex, or spanking?” said Joby.
“Both!” said Kieran.
“We haven’t had a chance have we!” said Joby “That’s what moving house is like!”
Kieran squirmed deliciously. His backside was feeling wonderfully used, seriously sore, after an orgy of sound smacking and rogering. He could still feel where Joby’s cock had been.
“We’ll have more time now we’re settled in”, said Joby “Don’t worry sweetheart, you’ll be eating your dinner sitting on a cushion plenty of times these next few weeks! You belong to me, and that’s final!”
“Yes I know”, said Kieran “But the trouble is, we ALL belong to Julian!”
“At least if I’ve spanked you he can’t use the strap”, said Joby “He can have you over his knee, and he probably will, but he can’t thrash you all around the room like he did at Wolf Castle that time, because you’ve already been chastised”.
There was a very loud banging on the bedroom door, which could only be Julian.
“Talk of the Devil”, said Joby “You can’t come in, we’ve locked it!”
Julian could be heard coming through Bengo and Bardin’s room, and then the bathroom.
“Does he think we haven’t thought of that one too?” said Kieran.
“Clearly not”, said Joby “You can’t come in, Julian!”
“Let me in, or I’ll kick the bloody door in!” Julian shouted.
“I seem to have been in this situation before”, said Joby.
“No I threatened to use a gun, that was much more classy!” said Kieran.
“JOBY!” Julian roared.
Joby sighed, got out of bed and unlocked the door.
“I have already sorted Kieran out”, said Joby, grandly “So you don’t have to do anything!”
Julian reached out and stroked Joby’s unruly dark hair. Kieran cleared his throat in an exaggerated fashion.
“You seem to have a suspicious looking bulge in the front of your trousers, Julian!” he said.
“I hope you didn’t hold back in any way”, Julian said to Joby.
“I never do”, said Joby, haughtily.
“Would you like to have a look at my arse?” said Kieran “Inspect the evidence as it were!”
Julian bounded round the bed to Kieran’s side, and grabbed Kieran round the throat. Joby ran to try and get him off.
“Do as you’re damn well told!” Julian shouted “When you go out, stay in sight of the castle, it’s not asking too much is it! Do you want those demons attacking you even more?! Stay in sight of the fucking castle!”
“Julian, come on, calm now”, said Joby.
Julian looked at Joby’s wrists as he reached out to steady him. There was always something particularly sexy about Joby’s wrists, and Julian had an image of his wrist slicing through the air as he beat Kieran with the hairbrush. It was almost too much for him. He released Kieran and marched towards the door. Joby rushed ahead to unlock it for him. Julian went out and slammed it shut behind him, causing a decorated plate to fall off the wall.
“He was certainly angry with me!” said Kieran, rubbing his neck, and trying to mop up his spilt brandy at the same time.
“I’ll go and calm him down”, said Joby “We don’t want an unpleasant atmosphere round the dinner-table, not fair on the others”.
“Kieran is one of the biggest winder-uppers I know”, said Joby, a few minutes later, pouring Julian a drink in his room across the landing “He’s a compulsive tease, he never knows when to stop. And it doesn’t matter how many hidings he has, he’s still a right gobby little bastard!”
“He’s got to watch himself, Joby”, said Julian, pensively “There’s something very strange going on in this area, a dark magic about the place, and I can’t tolerate his refusal to take any care of his own safety. We seem to have had this discussion no end of times, and I’m sick of him refusing to learn”.
“Yeah I know”, said Joby, handing him his glass “So’s Ransey”.
“I’m going hunting with the old girl again tomorrow”, said Julian “At first light, to try and get as much in as possible before it goes dark again. Send him into see me then, before we go”.
“Julian, you’re not …?” said Joby, nervously.
“No I’m not going to strap him”, said Julian “I’ll just add to the soreness that you started!”
Kieran was sent over when the first fingers of daylight were barely beginning to show. Julian was in the process of getting dressed for hunting, and the riding-crop was lying on his bed. Kieran looked at it nervously, but in the end, Julian merely stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth, and spanked him with his bare hand. Even so, Kieran was seen a short while later, emerging tearfully from the room, and this sent shock waves through the castle that Julian was in the kind of mood that you didn’t mess with. This was only added to further by Julian giving out a general order that nobody was to rub cream into Kieran’s behind, that he had to feel the soreness for the rest of the day.
Lonts was furious at this. He branded Julian a heartless fiend. Adam was relieved when Julian went clanking off in his spurs to go hunting, and he gave Lonts the task of plucking some chickens to try and keep him occupied for a while. Lonts worked whilst muttering about both the unfairness of Julian’s behaviour, and how it was very likely that the entire area would soon be over-run by the demons that were breeding in the castle over the stone bridge.
Mieps was inspecting her rabbit-snares in one part of the grounds, and Julian and Hoowie went to inspect them in another. They came across a pair of old rusted iron gates which led out onto the track that ran alongside the gorge. The posts supporting the gates were topped by small statues of a she-wolf suckling her cubs. Peering through the bars of the gates was the Lady Arabella. She was wearing a fur-lined surcoat over a riding-dress, and had brown leather elbow-length gauntlets on her hands.
“She-devil!” Julian hissed. He wasn’t close enough to see if her teeth were rotten, which was one of the tell-tale signs of a demon that he had learnt over the years, but he wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if they were. Certainly the glaze in her eyes didn’t seem normal, and the sickly leer that spread across her face was very disconcerting.
“I know how to see her off”, said Hoowie, and he pulled down his trousers and flashed his dick at her.
“What the hell are you doing!” said Julian “Your nuts’ll drop off in these temperatures, you stupid boy!”
“It got rid of her didn’t it!” said Hoowie, when having to explain himself to Bardin back at the castle.
“The sight of your dick would be enough to send anybody running to the hills!” Bardin snapped.
“So what’s the problem then?” said Hoowie, unrepentant.
“The problem is”, said Bardin, drawing himself up in an imposing manner “That there has to be a more dignified and profound way of combating Evil than you flashing your dick!”
Joby thought all this was hilarious, and ran upstairs to tell Kieran of it.
“He’d better be careful getting his tackle out in these temperatures”, said Kieran, who had been lying face-down on their bed.
“That’s what Julian said”, said Joby.
“I should have been there”, said Kieran.
“What, you’d have got yours out as well would you?” said Joby, tossing a couple of logs on the fire.
“Yes, go on, let’s have the joke of she wouldn’t have noticed!” said Kieran.
“Good news anyway”, said Joby “Julian says you can have some cream rubbed into your bum at last”.
“That’s kind of him”, Kieran snorted “After I’ve been smarting in agony all focking day! What’s brought about this sudden kind and charitable transformation on his part?”
“He says he doesn’t want you scowling at him all through dinner!” said Joby.
“That man only gets away with as much as he does because he’s sexy”, said Kieran.
“What, like you, you mean?” said Joby, going into the bathroom to fetch the cream.
When he came out again Kieran was resting his chin on his pillow. It gave him a look that was both touching and comical at the same time.
“I think what we’re up against in this town is bigger than anything we’ve ever known before”, he said.
“That’d take some doing!” said Joby “We’ve battled the Devil in our time!”
“Ach, the Devil”, said Kieran, dismissively “He’s nothing. A loser. Small-time player. He can only be in one place at once”.
“Yeah, and he causes enough bleedin’ trouble then!” said Joby.
“Whereas I have no idea how many we’re up against here”, Kieran continued “And it’s the whole caboodle, Joby. I think we’re going to have the whole lot chucked at us here. Vampires, witches, ghouls, cannibals, demons, gorgons … the whole gamut of them”.
“And they’re all in that castle across the gorge?” Joby asked.
“Not just there”, said Kieran “But that house that I saw from Lady Edith’s window intrigued me too. She said it was sealed up. Why was it sealed up?”
“I dunno”, said Joby “But if it’s unnerved that lot enough to seal it up, then it must be bad!”
Julian took the guns that they had used whilst out hunting, and went to lock them away in the gun room, which was down a corridor behind the main staircase. Inside the chilly gun room he broke the barrels and took out the bullets. He made certain that everything was stored carefully, knowing full well that Ransey would be round to check up on everything the moment he left the room. He had just finished doing this when he spied a figure standing out in the snow outside, a few feet away from the house. At first he thought some of the others had built a snowman, as the figure was white and motionless. Then it made a movement towards him.
To his astonishment he saw it was a woman wearing only a white silk dressing-gown. She seemed entirely impervious to the cold in this thoroughly inadequate garment. Bright red hair fell over her shoulders. Julian ran to the side door at the end of the corridor, and unhooked the chain which was kept permanently fastened across it. He ran out into the snow shouting “Madam, are you crazy?” His first instinct was that somebody suffering from a mental illness had wandered out from the town. He stopped in his tracks though when she parted her lips in a ghastly smile, and revealed two pointed little vampire teeth at the front.
“Get back, you foul creature!” he picked up a handful of snow and lobbed it in her direction. She slowly faded from the scene, evaporating in full vision of him.
It was a solemn atmosphere at the start of dinner that evening. Julian sat slouched at the head of the table, going over the day’s events in his mind.
“Been quite a day hasn’t it?” said Hillyard, wiping his (Julian’s) plate for him, and putting it down in front of him, before piling some potatoes onto it “Seeing TWO demons in one day!”
“I think we should all go into a monastery”, said Bengo, somewhat unexpectedly.
“What brought that on?” Joby exclaimed.
“Be proper monks I mean”, said Bengo “Go away and become a reclusive order, like proper monks are”.
“And just how do you think you’ll manage the chastity lark?” said Bardin.
“Chastity isn’t compulsory”, Bengo pouted “Kieran said so”.
“Good job innit!” said Joby “’Cos he’d never be able to manage it for a start!”
“It’s in-breeding”, said Fabulous.
“Is everybody insisting on talking in code this evening”, snapped Ransey “What is?”
“The occupants of the castle across the stone bridge”, said Fabulous “Classic case of in-breeding”.
“Well you’d know, old love!” said Adam.
“Huh, you can talk!” said Joby.
“Now that’s enough”, said Bardin, quietly but firmly.
They rounded off the meal with a potent local liqueur which was as black as jet in colour, and as sticky as blood. Bardin borrowed a couple of sheets from Adam’s sketch-pad and tried to draw in charcoal some peculiar dreams he had had the night before.
“It’s no good”, he said “I can’t get the atmosphere of those scenes. The only thing I can compare it to is the sealed section films that Silling Productions did”.
Adam looked at the charcoal sketches of a tall building with many different levels, all connected by a stone staircase.
“It’s prison-like”, he said “It has a very bare, institutionalised look to it”.
“I keep wondering if it’s the inside of that sealed building that Kieran saw from the demons’ castle”, said Bardin.
Kieran meanwhile was sitting upright on his bed upstairs. He was still dressed, trying to work up the energy to get ready for sleep. Outside in the snow-covered grounds he could hear the unsettling howl of wolves patrolling the forest. The sound made goose-pimples break out on his arms. Julian came in to say goodnight, and to tell him that he wanted to see him again in his room first thing the next morning.
“You want to give me another spanking?” said Kieran, both fearful and hopeful at the same time.
“Amongst other things”, said Julian, sitting down at the foot of the bed “You require a great deal of chastising, and I adore smacking your arse! We shall probably be completely snowed in tomorrow morning”.
“That’ll be cosy”, Kieran smiled.
“I’ve been thinking about that woman I saw by the old gates earlier”, said Julian “The one that we think is the Lady Arabella. I keep remembering something somebody said a long time ago. Why would any beautiful woman wish to be evil? She surely has no need to be. Just by simply being beautiful she can get anything she wants”.
“That’s a good point”, said Kieran “And I don’t know the answer, but the fact remains that plenty of beautiful people have abused the power their looks have given them. With some women, like the Countess Erzebet Bathory we came up against in Marlsblad, it’s the fear of losing their beauty that motivates them, like somebody who is very rich fears losing all their money. Such fears drive people to do insane things sometimes”.
Joby could be heard talking to Ransey as they came up the main staircase.
“I’ll see you in the morning”, said Julian, and he kissed Kieran on the lips before leaving.
“You’re seeing him again tomorrow are you?” said Joby, who had heard what Julian had said.
“For my sins”, said Kieran.
“Looks like I’ll be kissing all the bruises on your bum again then!” said Joby.
They were indeed banked in by snow in the morning. Bardin took advantage of this icy imprisonment to mobilise the other clowns (minus Bengo, who was needed in the kitchen) into exploring all the various turret rooms. Sometimes this actually involved breaking down doors, as the rooms had been sealed off for years. Kieran had spent most of the morning in Julian’s four-poster bed, with the curtains drawn all around it. At about an hour before noon he went down to the kitchen, which was initially deserted, until Adam came up from the cellar carrying two caskets of wine. Kieran helped him carry them into the larder.
“That cellar is vast”, said Adam “It stretches the entire length of the house. Joby and Bengo will have to be careful they don’t get lost down there! Are you alright, old love? Julian wasn’t too brutal with you was he? He does have a tendency to get rather carried away sometimes!”
“I’m fine”, said Kieran “At least he doesn’t use that evil black paddle on me, you get that privilege!”
“Ah but I’m usually wearing my flannel drawers, they inflame his passion!” said Adam “They help to cushion me”.
“We’re very happy here aren’t we”, said Kieran.
“I like to think we’re very happy everywhere”, said Adam “It’s usually the outside world that puts the mockers on things”.
“True”, said Kieran “But this house has a contented feel to it, not like places we’ve stayed in! The Governor’s House for instance”.
“And the old chapel was just cold and uncomfortable”, said Adam “No, this is a lovely house”.
There were three towers at the Yellow Castle, two substantial fat ones at the east and west ends of the building, and a narrow, stubby little finger of a bell-tower in the middle of the roof. Bardin made progress getting in the west tower, which was empty for the most part, except for a few sticks of furniture on the ground floor, and a bookcase containing boxes of rusty old keys, ornaments, and albums with postcards in them. The postcards were a diverse collection to say the least, ranging from the totally innocuous countryside shots, showing the forests around Aspiriola in different seasons, from the snowy wastes of now to red poppies on the verges in high Summer, to extremely tasteful shots of curvy naked women lying on satin bedspreads, to some lurid Hieronymus Bosch-style cartoons of demons inflicting various indignities on howling wretches.
Bardin took a sample of these upstairs and looked them over in Julian’s room. He was joined in there by Adam, Julian, Ransey, Kieran, Joby and Hillyard, who was bemoaning how awful it was for the animals to be kept so incarcerated in this weather.
“It can’t really be helped I’m afraid”, said Adam, who was leaning against the mantelpiece smoking a cigar “I’m constantly hearing the wolves prowling the forest at night. They have to be kept securely locked in”.
“Give it a rest, Hillyard”, said Joby, tiredly “At least our animals get to see sunshine when it’s possible, it’s not as if they’re battery farm chickens is it!”
“Battery farm chickens?” Bardin suddenly looked up from the postcard album.
“A horrible thing in our time”, said Adam “Thousands of chickens kept all the time in big tin sheds, never allowed to see sunlight”.
“Usually freaks too”, said Joby “Big plump bodies on little legs, poor little bastards. I’m surprised Kieran hasn’t told you about ’em!”
“What’s the matter, Bardin?” said Kieran.
“Nothing”, said Bardin, slamming the album shut “Just my thoughts can’t seem to leave me at rest at the moment”.
He found he was getting hot sitting so close to the fire, and got up to pull his jumper off. As he did so, the postcard album fell to the floor. Bardin was going to leave it there, but Ransey (who couldn’t abide mess at the best of times), picked it up, and began tucking the loose postcards back in. As he did so he noticed that there was writing on the back of one of them. It simply said “ARE DEMONS ALIENS?”
“Well that’s summat we’ve never had to do battle with before”, said Joby, as he and Kieran dried themselves off after a bath “Aliens”.
“That’s only if you’re thinking that by ‘aliens’ they meant extraterrestrials”, said Kieran “E.T and all that. But aliens could also apply to beings from another dimension, and we’ve certainly done battle with them before now!”
“Does the Vanquisher of Evil bit work in outer space do you think?” said Joby, teasingly.
“I can operate anywhere!” said Kieran “If I couldn’t, Angel would have found a way of flinging me out there by now!”
There was the sound of furniture crashing over from Bengo and Bardin’s room, where they were busy having a play-wrestle. Bengo had wrestled Bardin onto the brass bed, and was now attempting to debag him.
“Let’s have some more brandy”, said Joby.
Bardin tried to cover himself with a pillow.
“Why are you being all modest, Bardin?” said Kieran “We’ve seen everything you’ve got before!”
“I refuse to be the only one in here with no trousers on!” said Bardin.
“That’s easily solved”, said Joby, and he yanked down Bengo’s breeches.
The four of them slept in the brass bed. In the middle of the long, cold, dark night, Bardin woke up to see a light bobbing across the ceiling, in a swinging motion. He clambered out of bed and went to the window, where he saw a human shape standing on the edge of the forest nearby. Somebody was holding a lantern and was swinging it from side to side to attract attention. Bardin peered up close to the glass and was able to discern that the person was the Lady Arabella.
“What do you want?” Bardin exclaimed “Sod off!”
He noticed then that there was a large, dark rounded shape standing next to her. It looked like some kind of monstrous black ape, which Arabella was holding onto by a silver chain.
Bardin tore through the castle waking up all the others, and demanding that an instant vigil be kept over the animals out in the stables. Whilst he put on his outdoor clothes, he speculated as to why Arabella had been signalling to him with the lantern.
“Perhaps she was trying to seduce you?” said Hoowie, which made the other clowns laugh, and Bengo was glad he was standing behind Bardin when this quip was made.
Ransey and Hillyard went out to bed down in the stables, but a fractious Hillyard did it only on condition that Bardin sling his hook back into the house, and that if he didn’t do that forthwith he would whip his backside from here to Kingdom Come.
“Well I think you got off lightly, old love”, said Adam, back in the kitchen “He once saw Angel out of our stables at Toondor Lanpin by jabbing his butt with a pitchfork!”
“Oh yeah he did”, Joby laughed “I remember that”.
Come daylight Ransey and Hillyard returned to the house, looking tired and unshaven. Adam had set out breakfast in the main room, and they fell on it like exhausted locusts.
“Is the delightful Bardin about?” said Hillyard, with a mouthful of blueberry muffin.
“He’s checking the outside of the building”, said Adam.
“Does anybody know why the last people left this house?” said Ransey.
“That was years ago”, said Hillyard “We’re the first ones to live here for nearly 50 years”.
“Hm”, said Ransey “Like we were the first ones to live in The Governor’s House for a long time too!”
“But I find it hard to believe they left for any sinister reason”, said Adam “This house has a wonderful atmosphere, Patsy and I were only saying so …”
“Midnight Castle also had a wonderful atmosphere … for most of the time”, said Ransey “But it still knew more than its fair share of tragedy”.
“More to the point”, said Hillyard “How long have that lot over the gorge been here?”
“Good question”, said Adam “I certainly don’t remember them from any of our previous visits. Where did they come from I wonder?”
Bardin came in, kicking his boots against the wall by the front door to knock the snow off them.
“Was there anything out of place?” said Ransey.
“Some big scratch marks on the stonework at the eastern end of the house”, said Bardin “You know the sort of thing, big talon-marks”.
“We’ve been on that kick before”, said Adam, remembering the big scratch marks that had appeared on the cabin doors on the old tug-boat.
“It’s when they start appearing on yourself you’ve gotta worry!” said Hillyard.
Extract from Bardin’s log:
“THIS IS ALL VERY PECULIAR. WE HEARD A STRANGE NOISE COMING FROM THE CELLAR THIS AFTERNOON, A SORT OF VERY LOUD BANGING AND THUMPING. WE WENT DOWN THERE TO INVESTIGATE, AND BOY WAS IT BLOODY COLD DOWN THERE! ANYWAY, IT TOOK US AN AGE TO LOCATE THE SOURCE OF THE NOISE, AS THE CELLAR IS SO BIG, AND WE ONLY HAD OUR HURRICANE LAMPS TO SEE BY. WE EVENTUALLY LOCATED IT IN THE PART OF THE CELLAR THAT RUNS UNDER THE BIG LIVING-ROOM. WE JUST HAD TIME TO SEE ONE OF THE BIG FLAGSTONES FALLING BACK INTO PLACE. A TRAP-DOOR THAT WE HADN’T REALISED WAS THERE BEFORE. WE MANAGED TO PRISE IT UP (ALTHOUGH NOT WITHOUT SOME DIFFICULTY) AND DISLOSED A FLIGHT OF STEPS LEADING DOWN TO AN UNDERGROUND TUNNEL. WE COULD JUST MAKE OUT FOOTSTEPS PATTERING AWAY IN THE FAR DISTANCE.
I ORDERED A MARK TO BE PAINTED ON IT IN WHITE EMULSION SO THAT WE WOULD EASILY BE ABLE TO FIND IT AGAIN, AND THEN PUT A COUPLE OF SACKS OF OLD BRICKS OVER THE TOP OF IT.
WE ARE BOTH DISTURBED AND EXCITED BY THIS DISCOVERY. DISTURBED BECAUSE IT MEANS THAT SOMEBODY HAS ACCESS TO OUR HOUSE (OR THEY THOUGHT THEY DID ANYWAY, UNTIL WE PUT THE SACKS OVER THE TOP!), AND EXCITED BECAUSE KIERAN IS CONVINCED THAT THIS UNDERGROUND TUNNEL MUST LEAD TO THE CASTLE OVER THE GORGE. I POINTED OUT THAT SURELY THE GORGE WOULD GET IN THE WAY, AND HE SAID THAT THE GORGE DIDN’T RUN FOREVER, AND THAT WE SHOULD TRY AND LOCATE THE END OF IT. WELL YES … ALL VERY WELL BUT WE’RE SNOWED UP HERE! BENGO SAID HE SUPPOSED WE WOULD HAVE TO EXPLORE THE TUNNEL SOMETIME, AND COULDN’T IT WAIT UNTIL IT WAS WARMER. I POINTED OUT TO HIM THAT IT WOULD NEVER BE WARMER DOWN THERE, THAT TUNNEL MUST ALWAYS BE ICY COLD.
ANYWAY I MUST THINK ABOUT THIS FOR A BIT, BUT I CAN SEE WE’RE GOING TO HAVE TO LEAD AN EXPEDITION ALONG THE TUNNEL … TAKING APPROPRIATE PRECAUTIONS OF COURSE. I KEEP BEING REMINDED OF THE TUNNEL I FOUND UNDER THE OLD LIGHTHOUSE BACK AT THE BAY. THERE MUST BE SOME SIGNIFICANCE TO THESE TUNNELS, BUT QUITE WHAT ESCAPES ME AT THE MOMENT. KIERAN MADE SOME REMARK THAT IN HIS PAST KNOWLEDGE OF DEMONIC HAUNTINGS, THEY USUALLY TOOK PLACE IN BUILDINGS THAT WERE NEAR SOME UNDERGROUND STRUCTURE OF SOME KIND, SUCH AS CAVES (AM REMINDED OF THE CAVES AND TUNNELS UNDER THE OLD GOVERNOR’S HOUSE) AND WELLS. WE SHALL SEE”.
Several attempts were made over the next few days to penetrate below the paint-spotted flagstone in the cellar. All of them were unsuccessful. The intense cold and dark were difficult enough to deal with on their own, but they were ultimately hampered by the maze of corridors that were beneath the cellar, and each one they tried became narrower and narrower the further along they went, until eventually they would come to a complete stop at a narrow slit little bigger than a letterbox. The joke was that even Kieran wouldn’t be able to get through it!
This of course led to total confusion as to who or what was prowling these subterranean passageways and trying to get up through the cellar floor. The whole conundrum vexed the Indigo-ites … none more so than Bardin, who immensely annoyed that his explorations had led to nothing. He fretted about it constantly, tossing and turning half the night, and keeping Bengo awake.
It was a relief when a slight thaw set in, and Bardin could be sent outside to get some exercise. He wandered through the forest near the old gate where Hoowie had flashed his dick at the Lady Arabella. He had been walking in a daze for some while when he heard a loud cracking noise, reminiscent of a stag dashing his antlers against a tree-trunk. He followed the direction of the noise and came to a forest clearing. He positioned himself behind a tree, and watched, as though hypnotised, as several people dressed in black garments, all beat at a corpse lying on the ground, using big sticks. When they had finished they picked the body up and dumped it down an abandoned well nearby. The figures then moved away silently through the trees.
Bardin shook himself, as though coming out of a hypnotised daze. He ran to the well, and tried to peer in, but the interior was too dark to see anything properly. There was a long rope wound round the cross-bar where the bucket had once hung. Bardin tested the strength of the cross-bar, which still seemed pretty solid.
Clambering up onto the side of the well, he tied the rope across his chest and under his armpits. With his acrobatic agility he was able to shimmy down the long rope with ease. The well was dry, and lying at the bottom, in the dim light, he could see a huddled body. It had landed in a crumpled heap, face-down, but Bardin thought it was probably that of a young woman.
His next move, he decided, was to go and alert the others. He began to climb back up the rope. Three-quarters of the way up he heard a sound which chilled his heart: somebody was sawing through the rope on the cross-bar. With quick thinking he stuck out his feet onto the wall opposite, and positioned himself also with his hands. The rope came down and clouted him, but he held his grip, and was able to crawl crab-like up the remaining distance.
There was no sign of his would-be assassin when he finally hit terra firma again. Mieps came out of the forest nearby, with a rifle slung across her shoulders.
“All that without a safety-net!” said Bardin, when he saw her.
“What were you doing?” Mieps exclaimed.
“Discovering a body”, said Bardin “Unfortunately”.
“That’s what you get for wandering off into the woods all by yourself, Bardy”, Bengo nagged, much to Bardin’s embarrassment “Remember what happened at Marlsblad, when you nearly got assaulted by the Buzzy Monster!”
“Do you know, sometimes I feel like I’m living in a children’s book!” said Joby “Noddy and Big Ears’ll be turning up next, and then it’ll be the Smurfs!”
“It was a bit irresponsible of you, old love”, said Adam to Bardin “If you had fallen, we might not have found you for ages”.
“I would not have fallen!” said Bardin, his clown’s honour well and truly outraged “I could handle it, even when that malicious jerk came along and sawed through the rope. God, I used to shin up the safety curtains on the stage like a human fly!”
“What a pity nobody came along and swatted you!” said Bengo.
“Bengo, I think you should go and stand in the larder for a couple of minutes”, said Adam, in a voice that brooked no argument. Standing in the larder had become a useful and effective punishment. It was so cold in there that a few minutes in its surroundings cooled even the most heated of tempers.
Bengo stamped across the kitchen towards the larder door.
“It’s only because he’s worried about you, Bardin”, said Adam.
“Worried about me?!” said Bardin “Hah! He’d have been delighted in the unlikely even that I had fallen! He could have come round later, found me lying there all broken and bruised, and GLOATED!”
“Oh what nonsense!” said Adam.
“Anyway”, said Bardin, as Toppy finally helped him off with his boots “We’re going to take advantage of the thaw, as we don’t know how long it will last. I’ll take a small party and spend a night in town, check on the galleon, have dinner at ‘The Shepherd’s Inn’, see if we can eavesdrop on any gossip, pick up some supplies. It’s nearly Christmas, and we don’t want to be eating rabbit stew on Christmas day …” He caught a glimpse of Adam’s face “Not that your rabbit stew isn’t absolutely delicious of course, but for Christmas lunch we want something more spe …”
“I’d quit right now if I was you!” said Joby.
“Who are you taking with you?” said Adam.
“Bengo, Rumble and Farnol”, said Bardin.
“I’m not sure how Hillyard will feel if you decide to take the truck”, said Adam, cautiously “You know how possessive he is about it”.
“He’ll have to lump it”, said Bardin “I’m Captain here!”
Accommodation to be had in Aspiriola wasn’t plentiful. The logical thing of course would have been to have spent the night on the galleon, but Bardin said a hotel would be more useful for picking up any information on what was happening in and around the town, and what anybody knew about the castle over the stone bridge. Even with Hillyard’s money to burn though, luxury accommodation wasn’t forthcoming. It was a sad state of affairs. Bengo’s fantasy of champagne and oyster suppers and huge soft beds would have to wait until they got back to the Yellow Castle. Instead they had to book in for the night at a gloomy small hotel near ’The Shepherd’s Inn’ , run by a pallid woman with a sharp-looking face, and a sharp tongue to match.
“You look like theatricals”, she said, greeting them at the main door.
“That’s funny, that’s exactly what we are!” said Bengo, cheerily.
“Retired”, Bardin drawled.
“Retired or not, I don’t want any trouble from you”, said the landlady.
“What did you have in mind?!” said Farnol.
The landlady grudgingly let them into the building, and led them up the stairs, all the while giving out information on the many strict rules and regulations of the premises.
“No cooking in the rooms”, she said “No smoking either. If you want alcohol with your meals, it’ll cost you extra”.
“Thank you, but we’ll be eating dinner out”, said Bardin.
The landlady paused halfway up the stairs and looked down at him.
“I thought you looked sensible enough to know better!” she sniffed.
At the top of the stairs, she indicated the cheerless little bathroom, and then led them down an eerie dark passageway.
“Strictly no guests up here”, she went on “Any entertaining you do, you do downstairs in the public rooms. I keep a respectable house … not like some around here!”
She opened one door, and practically shoved Bengo and Bardin into it, and then went on further down the corridor to show Farnol and Rumble their room.
“It’s got electric light!” said Bengo, flicking the switch. A very dim bulb glowed reluctantly in the middle of the ceiling.
“Sort of!” said Bardin.
He flung up the sash window, letting in a cold wind and a flurry of snowflakes. The sash window immediately crashed down again.
“I don’t know what you wanted it open for anyway”, said Bengo.
“To try and get some air in here!” said Bardin “It’s as musty as hell. I wonder if she gets many guests”.
“I heard some voices in one of the reception rooms downstairs”, said Bengo “So there must be other people staying here”.
He jumped on the bed and began to bounce up and down, causing the springs to squeak.
“Stop that!” said Bardin “We don’t want her back in here again!”
“I’m surprised she hasn’t insisted we sleep with a bolster down the middle!” Bengo giggled.
There was a timid tapping on the door, and Farnol peeked in.
“Oh come in, Farnol”, said Bengo.
“I’m not interrupting anything am I?” said Farnol “Only I heard the bed-springs had started squeaking already!”
“I can’t imagine any place less conducive to an erotically-charged atmosphere!” Bardin snapped.
“Oh it’s always an erotically-charged atmosphere when you’re around, Bardy”, Bengo teased “Sexy little beast that you are!”
“What are we up to this evening then?” said Farnol.
“A bath-house first, better than trying to use the one here”, said Bardin “It’d take all evening just to get in! And there’s some kind of do on at the Town Hall, we’ll go there afterwards”.
“I thought you said we were going to ’The Shepherd’s Inn’!” Bengo protested.
“We’ll go there for lunch tomorrow”, said Bardin “But if the great and the good of this town will be at the do this evening, then we’ll have an even better chance of hearing gossip”.
“Great and the good?” said Farnol, in disbelief “In this town?!”
“You and your obsession with gossip, Bardy”, said Bengo “You’re turning into a right old washerwoman!”
Even though they were freshly bathed and wearing their best clothes, the people at the Town Hall still looked askance at the clowns when they walked in.
“Oh boy”, said Bengo “They’re really pleased to see us!”
Bardin tilted his nose haughtily and ploughed over to the table where the champagne was being poured out. They had barely got themselves glasses when a stir was caused by another arrival. This time it was a slender young woman in a long black gown, a woman of haughty beauty, who looked around her disdainfully at all the other guests. She didn’t seem to walk so much, as to glide, and with her black clothes and tumbling chocolate-brown hair she had a distinctly reptilian aura to her. As she glided along she divested herself of her silk wrap, gloves and evening bag to various lackeys scurrying along in her wake.
“Do you think she’s one of That Lot, Bardy?” Bengo whispered, ‘That Lot’ being the euphemism the Indigo-ites had taken to using to describe the creatures in the castle across the stone bridge.
“Put it this way, I wouldn’t be surprised!” said Bardin.
A short while later in the evening Bengo went to pay a visit to the men’s room. On his way out again he came face to face with the beautiful snake-like creature who had caused such a stir on her arrival. She was standing alone in the little lobby area at the back of the main hall, as though lying in wait for him.
“Well well”, she drawled “I was hoping we would meet. I saw you when I came in, and I thought to myself I must meet that gorgeous-looking man”.
Bengo stared back at her speechless. Of all the developments the evening might have brought, he hadn’t been expecting this one.
“What red-bloodied woman can resist a handsome young man”, she went on.
“I’m a lot older than you think”, Bengo croaked, feeling like he was being pinned into a corner by a king cobra baring its fangs at him.
“Oh really?” she said, as though the matter was of minimal importance “You look about 19 to me”.
“Well I’m not”, said Bengo.
She reached out a hand to stroke his face, but Bengo ducked out of her way, and sidled round her.
“We will meet again”, said the woman “You can be certain of that!”
This sounded more like a threat than a promise. Bengo turned slightly to glance at her over his shoulder, and found himself staring into a gilt-edged mirror on the wall. What he saw there caused him to gasp. In the reflection in the mirror the woman had transformed. She was emaciated and haggard, her luxuriant dark hair hung lank and lifeless, and her skin looked as though she was in an advanced state of decomposition. In fact, she looked as though somebody had just opened up a coffin and tipped her out of it. She gave an abrupt scream.
“What have you seen?” she exclaimed “Tell me what you have seen!”
“You”, he whispered, turning back to look at her in the flesh “B-but different, completely different”.
Bengo got away from her and went to find the other clowns, who were getting well stuck into the champagne, and weren’t pleased with his suggestion that they go back to the hotel.
“I don’t feel well”, he said, firmly “Bardy, I INSIST you come back with me!”
“If it was me wanting to leave early, you’d kick up a right stink”, said Bardin “I’d never hear the end of it!”
“I don’t care”, said Bengo “Come along!” On the short walk back to the hotel, Bengo filled them in on what had happened. Bardin forgot his annoyance at Bengo cutting the festivities short, and told him that what he had seen that evening was extremely valuable information. “She definitely is one of That Lot then?” said Rumble, when they had reached the short flight of stone steps that led up to the hotel entrance.
“Somehow I never doubted it”, said Bardin.
“I wonder if she was the same one that Julian saw round the back of our house?” said Farnol.
“It was the way she said she would see me again, and I could be certain of that, which chilled me”, said Bengo.
They pushed open the heavy front door and walked into the hallway of the hotel, which felt even gloomier than ever. Just about everything about it was dark brown: dark brown wallpaper, dark brown carpet, dark brown doors and banisters, dark brown ceiling. If the sinister woman from the party had been standing there, she would have probably blended in completely! The clowns began to file up the stairs in a dispirited fashion, watched all the while by the landlady, who was watering a hideous rubber plant behind the reception desk.
“Thank God we’re only here for one night!” said Bardin, when they reached the landing.
The four of them went into Bengo and Bardin’s room, and Bardin got out a small flask of brandy that had been stowed away in his rucksack.
“We’ll probably get slung out for this”, said Rumble, reclining on the bed.
“See if I care!” said Bardin “I think I’d prefer to sleep in the truck, even on a cold night like this, than put up with this place! It gives me the creeps. Why doesn’t she get it redecorated?! Anyway, down to business”.
The other three clowns looked at him askance. Business? At this time of night, and in their condition?
“All I mean is that I think we’re going to have to go over there”, said Bardin “To that castle across the stone bridge”.
“What, now?” said Bengo, in dismay.
“Not right now, you nitwit!” said Bardin.
“But that’s what you just said …” said Bengo.
“Hey don’t have a go at the kid, Bardin”, said Rumble “After all, he’s done a fine job this evening, standing up to the Snake Woman!”
“I meant at some point in the future”, said Bardin “But we don’t go in via the front way, like Kieran and Joby did. We go up the gorge, and find a way in more surreptitiously”.
“Which means we’ll make a complete balls-up of it”, said Bengo “We’ve never been able to do ANYTHING surreptitiously!”
“Well then there’s a first time for everything isn’t there!” said Bardin.
Bengo was woken up just before first light by Bardin crashing around the bedroom looking for some water to drink. He had that chronic thirst that often comes after an evening’s serious drinking. In the end he tipped up the washing jug and drank out of that.
“Oh God I’ll be glad to get home!” said Bengo “You might at least behave yourself there!”
Bardin, still haunted by the bad smell in the room, threw up the sash window, only for it (predictably) to come crashing back down again. A man in the next room gave a startled groan.
“You could have given him a heart-attack!” Bengo hissed “Now get back into bed. If you’d woken Julian up like that you’d have got a whipping! I‘m gonna be so-o-o embarrassed to tell the others about your behaviour on this trip! ”
The clowns went down to breakfast a short while later, all nursing hangovers. The only other guests in the dining-room was a small party of middle-aged businessmen, all still full of the few hours they had spent at a brothel the evening before. Apparently this brothel had the most beautiful women in the world working for it.
“What would the most beautiful women in the world be doing working at a two-bit brothel in this Godforsaken town!” Bardin muttered, wincing over a cup of revolting coffee.
“I wonder if they’re as beautiful this morning!” Rumble sniggered.
“I don’t think those girls could get over us”, one of the businessmen drawled “Having such talented, achieving guys come in”.
Hungover they may be, but the clowns couldn’t help breaking out into involuntary fits of laughter at this wonderful modesty. One of the talented, achieving guys took offence at it, and began to rise to his feet, in a rather imposing manner. One of his colleagues though grabbed his arm and pulled him down again.
“Don’t take that lot on”, he whispered, although loud enough for the clowns to hear “They’re a bunch of vampires”.
“VAMPIRES?!” Bengo exclaimed, when he and Bardin went back to their room to collect their overnight bags “They think WE’RE vampires?!”
“Look in the mirror”, said Bardin, spinning Bengo round to face himself in the mirror above the unlit fireplace.
“So what?” Bengo shrugged “Vampires don’t have a reflection, or so legend has it. We do. Although Kieran says Angel’s got a reflection … unfortunately”.
“We haven’t aged!” said Bardin “That’s probably what makes them think we’re vampires! We’re lucky we’ve never had any trouble about this before!”
“I think we have to disappear from view once this winter’s over, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“Nice idea”, said Bardin “The trouble is, I don’t think it’ll matter if we disappear for centuries, people will still know who Kieran is!”
“Have we nearly finished yet?” said Rumble, wearily, as they sat down at a long trestle table in ’The Shepherd’s Inn’, about to embark on the standard lunch of soup and bread “I’m knackered, I want to go home”.
Farnol mouthed the words “hung over” at Bengo.
“Take a look at that”, said Bardin, thrusting a sheet of paper at Rumble “And tell me how much more we need to get”.
’The Shepherd’s Inn’ was busy and raucous. The bent over old beggar was doing the rounds with his tin mug, rattling it at people and then moving on.
“I wonder what this week’s Monster is”, Bengo laughed, when he saw him.
The beggar gave them all a horrified look though, and skitted past them, giving them a complete wide-berth.
“Oh don’t tell me he thinks we’re vampires as well!” Bengo cried, in dismay.
“Sometimes I just want to tell the occupants of this town to stuff it!” said Rumble “They can sort their own bloody Evil out!”
The clowns were greeted rapturously on their return to the Yellow Castle, especially considering that they arrived just ahead of the next serious snowfall. The provisions they brought with them (both practical and luxurious) were also greeted rapturously. The news that the Indigo-ites were now viewed as vampires in the town was NOT greeted rapturously.
“I’m as angry as Rumble!” said Hillyard, standing huddled round the living-room fire with Joby and Kieran, all of them drinking port and leaning against the tall mantelpiece “Vampires! For fuck’s sake, we’ve spent our lives fighting creatures like that, and now we’re regarded as the same as them!”
“I’m afraid that’s the price we pay for longevity and eternal youth”, said Kieran, wryly “People start getting a wee bit suspicious. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before really”.
“We’ll have to disappear once the job here’s out of the way”, said Joby “Although I don’t know quite what I mean by ‘the job’”.
“I’ll build us somewhere”, said Hillyard “We could have a lighthouse, like the one on the lake”.
“Tight fit”, said Joby “And we’ve grown a few more since then”.
“We’ve got the galleon as well, you twerp!” said Hillyard.
“HILLYARD!” Julian bellowed from the top of the main staircase.
“Christ, he’s got a right gate on him sometimes”, said Joby “He made me jump then!”
“HILLYARD!” Julian shouted again.
“I’m in a meeting!” Hillyard shouted back “It’s not convenient!”
“I shall expect you up here in two minutes!” said Julian.
“He can expect all he likes!” Hillyard muttered.
“It does put us in a dilemma though”, said Joby “Do we reduce ourselves to being nothing more than interfering old busy-bodies, poking our noses in where we’re not wanted, ’cos that could be what’ll happen if we do go clearing up this area when nobody wants us to!”
“Joby, it’s pure Evil we’re talking about”, said Kieran “There’s no question of us not sorting it out”.
“Yeah well it’s all very straightforward for you innit!” said Joby “You’re so convinced you’ve got Right on your side, that you don’t care if you’re not wanted!”
“I wouldn’t put it quite like that!” said Kieran.
“Why can’t they sort it out themselves that’s what I get sick and tired of!” said Hillyard.
“Because they can’t”, said Kieran “Some people just don’t have that ability, they’re too passive. They’d rather lie down in the gutter and let demons wipe their muddy feet all over them, than actually stand up for themselves”.
“Then the answer to that is Tough Shit”, said Joby “That’s their problem!”
Joby was so preoccupied with all this that he tripped on the cellar steps the next day and fell full tilt to the bottom. He looked in a pretty sorry state, and because he had turned his ankle, had to be carried upstairs to his room by Lonts, and then bandaged and patched up by Finia.
“I feel like I’ve just had a rough session with Julian!” said Joby “Is my nose broken? Only I can’t feel it!”
“You’ll be alright”, said Finia “It looks worse than it is. No bones broken that’s the main thing. It just means you won’t look as pretty as you normally do for a few days”.
“Oh very funny!” said Joby.
Julian came into the bedroom, whilst Finia was packing up the First Aid box.
“Fat lot of use you’re going to be for a while!” said Julian.
“No he’s right, Finia”, Joby sighed “If I’ve gotta be laid up here, who’s gonna keep an eye on Kieran?”
“Does he need keeping an eye on?” said Finia “He spends most of the day tending the fires, and making cups of tea. I wouldn’t have thought there was much scope for getting into trouble doing that!”
“He’s in a rage”, said Joby “I can tell. Deep down he is. I catch him shaking with it sometimes”.
“In a rage about what?” said Finia.
“Our neighbours across the stone bridge at a rough guess”, said Julian “And the way the towns people are going along with it. That rankles with all of us, but it will really rankle with him!”
“Kieran can be a vengeful little bastard sometimes”, said Joby “I’m frightened he’ll go across there and do summat like torch the bloody place!”
“Would that be so bad?” said Finia “We did it at Marlsblad, with the Winter Palace”.
“YES, believe it or not there are some un-Evil people in that place”, said Joby “The Lady Edith for one, and her maid for another, the one who helped us with the birth. Kieran’ll get to hot-headed he won’t stop to think about all that. And I’m gonna be right useless laid up like this!”
“I’ll keep an eye on him”, said Julian.
“Oh that’s very magnanimous of you I’m sure!” said Joby, sarcastically “But just for once I would like to find a way of keeping Kieran under control that didn’t involve flaying him alive with a strap!”
“He wants a fight, I’ll give him a fight”, said Julian.
“You are not evenly matched!” said Finia “You are a lot taller than him, and bigger built”.
“Oh he doesn’t stand a chance of winning”, said Julian, nonchalantly “He never does with me. But he always puts up a damn good show”.
“And just what exactly is this fight gonna achieve?” said Joby “Except to end up with a couple more wandering around here like me with bruises all over ’em!”
“Hah!” said Julian “Do you really think I will have bruises on me from that little squirt?”
“YES!” said Joby “He’s fought Angel in his time don‘t forget, more than once too, and on one occasion he bit his ear clean off! Kieran may be a little squirt, but he’s no wimp! He‘s got a right filthy Irish temper on him”.
“I know, that’s what makes it all the more fun”, said Julian.
“I repeat”, said Joby “Just exactly what do you think it’s gonna achieve?”
“I would have thought that was obvious”, said Julian “It’ll work some of the aggression out of him. You say he’s shaking with rage, well he can vent it on me for once, instead of meddling with demons and vampires. Do him the world of good. I guarantee you that afterwards he won’t be in any mood to go wrecking vengeance. He’ll be completely de-energised and docile”.
Joby looked at him sceptically.
“Why do I get a feeling of impending doom?!” he said.
“If you want a wrestling match, then I’ll go and fetch Hillyard for you”, said Kieran, standing in Julian’s bedroom later that afternoon “He’s better at it than me. I haven’t got the build for it, you don’t get many skinny wrestlers!”
“We’re not going to have a wrestling match”, said Julian.
Kieran couldn’t help but notice that Julian was done up in his own personalised version of dominatrix gear: white shirt, riding breeches, polished leather boots with spurs attached.
“Look if you’re going to spank me than just get on with it”, said Kieran “We don’t normally have to go all round the houses like this!”
“No I want you to put up a fight”, said Julian.
“Why?” Kieran laughed “Don’t tell me you’re getting masochistic tendencies as well, Julian!”
“Don’t be absurd!” said Julian.
“Well why have I got to fight you?” said Kieran.
“I’ll tell you afterwards”, said Julian.
“But I don’t want to fight you”, said Kieran “I don’t like swinging punches and slaps at people. I’m a pacifist”.
“What absolute bullshit!” said Julian “You’ve punched Joby enough in your time”.
“Usually only when he punches me first”, said Kieran “It’s called self-defence, that’s a different matter entirely”.
“Oh yeah?” Julian slapped Kieran round the side of the head.
Kieran reeled but kept on his feet.
“Hey now come on!” he cried.
“What’s the matter, little man?” Julian jeered, boxing Kieran several times round the ears “You’ve come at me before. Remember that time on the tug-boat? Right little street-fighter you were. Have you lost your bottle since then?”
Kieran swung a punch at Julian’s mouth, the force of which completely took Julian by surprise. He took an involuntary step backwards, and felt his mouth smart.
“I warned you”, said Kieran “Now don’t taunt me like that, I’m just in the mood to punch something!”
“At last! You’re being honest with yourself!” said Julian.
He picked Kieran up in his arms. Kieran knew this wasn’t for a cuddle, and pummelled Julian with his fists.
“Oh don’t be silly”, said Julian, dropping him onto the bed “Now you’re fighting like a girl!”
Kieran pulled on Julian’s arm to try and de-stabilise him, tearing the sleeve of his shirt in the process.
“You want to rip my clothes?” said Julian “Well two can play at that game!”
“There’s a trickle of blood coming from your lip, Julian”, Kieran pointed out.
“Bugger that”, said Julian “I’ll attend to it afterwards”.
He pulled Kieran’s shirt over his head to hinder his progress, and then undid his trousers and yanked them down.
“Fock you, you tosser!” said Kieran, when he had finally got his head free of his shirt.
“Let’s see just how excited you are by all this, little man”, said Julian, fumbling at Kieran’s shorts.
“Half-cocked already”, he said, with satisfaction.
Kieran couldn’t disentangle himself from his shorts and trousers which were messed up round his ankles. Julian took advantage of this to lift him up again and carry him over to a nearby chair. He put him across his lap and belted him several times with the infamous black paddle, the one that was normally only used on Adam. Kieran yelled lustily with the pain, and then after a few vicious smacks, felt the fight draining out of him. When he stopped resisting, Julian threw the paddle on the floor, and slapped him with his hand instead.
When he was satisfied with the lurid colour of Kieran’s buttocks, he took him back over to the bed, laid him down gently, and quietly masturbated him. When this was brought to a satisfactory conclusion, he pulled a quilted bedcover over him.
“Lay there quietly for a moment”, he ordered “Whilst I slip into something more comfortable”.
Kieran lay motionless, feeling his entire body throbbing, whilst Julian changed into his black silk dressing-gown and patched up his broken lip.
“How are you feeling?” Julian asked.
“In pain”, Kieran winced “I’m smarting all over , that’s what it feels like”.
“Good!” said Julian, heartily “It’ll concentrate your mind wonderfully, you won’t be able to think about anything else for a good while now”.
“You’re a decadent old bastard, Julian”, said Kieran “You’re worse than Sade or Crowley!”
“Rubbish”, said Julian, pouring out two glasses of brandy “They would have done it entirely for their own satisfaction, you would have been a mere tool to them. I was at least partly thinking of you”.
“In what way?” Kieran exclaimed.
“Joby said you had a lot of rage in you”, said Julian “I was merely helping you to dissipate some of it. Not good for you. Bottled-up rage. Not good for anyone”.
Kieran took the tumbler of brandy and sipped it.
“So you deliberately goaded me into a fight”, he said, when he felt the burning liquid go down “You didn’t want me just meekly going along with a spanking. But why did you use that evil black paddle on me?”
“Very simple”, said Julian “Because I knew Joby would have 40 fits if I used the strap, like I had that time at Wolf Castle. Anyway, you’ve had enough experience as a whipping-boy now, I knew you could take it”.
“It’s a horrible bloody thing”, said Kieran “I didn’t like it”.
“Don’t worry, I won’t use it very often”, said Julian “Only in dire cases like this. But if you had paid attention you would have noticed that you could have got off me anytime. I didn’t have you in an arm-lock, like I do sometimes, I only had a slight hold of your hair”.
“I like being across your knee”, said Kieran “Once I’m there, I can’t get up, I don’t want to. I was glad when you stopped using that bloody thing though, and just went back to smacking me instead”.
“A useful tip for the future, for the both of us”, said Julian “When I have to resort to desperate methods like that. I’ll use the black paddle, but as soon as you go docile, I’ll drop it and smack your botty instead. You only have to remember that”.
“That bloody thing hurts like hell”, said Kieran, referring to the black paddle.
“Good!” said Julian “It’s quite hard to find an effective way of punishing someone who loves to be chastised as much as you do, so that can be the way of it from now on”.
Julian picked up a small shaving-mirror and dabbed some gel onto his cut lip. Kieran watched him, taking in Julian’s handsome, youthful looks. It was a fact that Julian looked younger now than he had when Kieran had first met him, many years before.
“I’ve been naïve”, Kieran sighed.
“In what way?” said Julian.
“Well it was bound to happen sooner or later”, said Kieran “That people would get suspicious of us never ageing. Let’s face it, in centuries gone by we would have probably been burnt at the stake for sorcery! Because people have always been so kind to us on the whole, I simply forgot that we might have to be careful”.
“The others keep talking about us disappearing for a while”, said Julian “Although as I see it, that means it would only cause even more of a stir when you reappeared again!”
“Depends how long we disappeared for”, said Kieran “I don’t anticipate a problem if it’s centuries for instance. All it means is that when we did come back into the public gaze I would have to assume a false identity, not be Kieran. That shouldn’t be too difficult, not after all that time. It’s the price we’ll have to pay. There was bound to be one sooner or later. It’s amazing when you think about it that we’ve got away with it for as long as we have. And in the meantime, we have more pressing concerns. We have things to sort out here”.
“Yes, but what exactly?” said Julian, impatiently “I take it you mean you’ll go back to that castle again sometime”.
“Perhaps”, said Kieran “Although the sealed house intrigues me more”.
“As far as I’m concerned the people of Aspiriola can stew, if they’re not prepared to make any effort to sort out their own problems”, said Julian.
“They can’t, Julian”, said Kieran “They don’t know how. And this has got personal for us too, don’t forget. Bardin was nearly flung to the bottom of a well, and they’ve tried to break into our house. Do you really think it will stop there? My gut instinct is that, whilst the worst of the Winter weather is on, that they’ll subject us to a demonic haunting”.
“And what the blazes will that involve?” said Julian.
“Oh the usual old thing”, said Kieran “Poltergeist activity I expect. Make some of our food go off. Dark shadows seen around the place, and perhaps strange animals seen inside the house”.
“The sort of thing Crowley tried to do when he attempted to hex us”, said Julian “That infernal plague of black cats!”
“Exactly”, said Kieran “But I’ll work hard to protect the house. Carry out blessings, sprinkle plenty of salt around”.
“Adam will be delighted”, said Julian “You ransacking his kitchen salt again!”
He heard somebody walking past the door, and went out to waylay them. It was Ransey.
“Could you go and fetch Kieran’s dressing-gown”, said Julian.
“Do you know, I’m fast turning into the errand boy around here!” Ransey snapped.
“Oh stop moaning”, said Julian “The exercise will do you good. That’s the trouble with you office-wallahs, you don’t get enough exercise!”
“Bloody hell”, said Joby, wincing, as Kieran (wrapped in his silk dressing-gown) tried to help him down the main stairs “Talk about two old crocks together! Perhaps it should be me helping you down the stairs!”
“No you’re in worse condition”, said Kieran.
“I’m not so sure about that!” said Joby “I heard you yelling like mad earlier. If I could have got off the bed, I’d have come and rescued you!”
“It’s all to the good, Joby”, said Kieran “Just think how much all this punishment is raising my pain threshold. If the demons kidnap me and try to torture me, they won’t find me such a pushover as they think!”
“Blimey, you’ve got it all worked out haven’t yer!” said Joby.
“It pays to cover your bases”, said Kieran.
“And what’s all this I hear about strange animals might be haunting our house?” said Joby “What kind of strange animals?”
“I don’t know”, said Kieran “Be prepared for all eventualities”.
“Oh that’s comforting!” said Joby.
They paused for a rest halfway down the stairs. The long dining-table was set up for supper, with a small beer barrel top and tailing each end of it. Hillyard was at the bottom of the stairs, where he had been sanding down an old chair.
“God, look at you”, he said to Joby “You’d better be careful you don’t fall down another set of stairs! I still don’t know how you managed to fall down the cellar steps!”
“I tripped”, said Joby “It could have happened to anybody!”
“Yeah, but it had to happen to you didn’t it!” said Hillyard.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Joby, when they had finally reached the bottom.
“Now come on fellers”, said Kieran.
“Well he winds me up!” said Joby.
“So what else is new!” Kieran exclaimed.
Hoowie came out of the kitchen, bearing two jugs of water. He was wearing a canvas pinny. Joby hit the roof when he saw this.
“What’s going on here?” he shouted “Adam! ADAM! Don’t tell me you’ve got that hairy little git working in the kitchen?!”
“I need help”, Adam shouted back “With you laid up, I’m one down. You keep moaning you never get enough rest, well now’s your chance to get some!”
“Well why does it have to be him?” Joby shrieked in dismay “Why not Shag and Mutton Broth?”
(It was hard to think of Shag and Mutton Broth as two separate entities sometimes).
“They’ve both got colds”, said Adam “And you would be the first to complain if they began sneezing all over the food!”
“Joby’d be the first to complain about anything”, said Hillyard “When he’s not busy falling down the stairs that is!”
Ransey was sat by the fire, going through a pile of newspapers that the clowns had brought back from town. There was a heap of them lying around his chair.
“Anything in the paper?” said Joby, semi-facetiously.
“There seem to be an unusually high number of bankruptcies and repossessions in this town”, said Ransey.
“Hardly surprising when you look at the state of the place is it!” said Joby “I mean it hardly gives the impression that it’s sloshing in money”.
“I suppose not”, said Ransey “But something about this simply doesn’t seem right”.
“Now Ransey’s seeing portents in everything!” said Joby, when Kieran helped him into bed at the end of the evening “I expected better of him, I really did”.
“Shush, you rest and relax”, said Kieran “I’m going to be nursing you from now on”.
“Oh no you ent!” said Joby.
“What’s there to worry about?” said Kieran “We Irish make good nurses, my Nan was a nurse in her younger days. I’ll have a look at your dressings tomorrow”.
“No you won’t!” said Joby, stubbornly “Finia can do my dressings, he does a good job of it”.
“I can do a good job of it as well”, said Kieran “And I’ll give you a bed-bath”.
“How’s your bum?” said Joby, pointedly.
“Sore”, said Kieran “But all this will help me to take me mind off it. Anyway, I want you fit and strong again for when we get another lull in the weather”.
“Don’t sound like we’re gonna get much of a lull at the moment!” said Joby, listening to the wind howling round the building.
“It will come though”, said Kieran “And then I want a party of us to go out riding in the countryside, have a look around”.
“That’ll be fun”, Joby grunted.
“Give you something to look forward to”, said Kieran, breezily.
“Somebody should go up on the roof tomorrow”, Ransey was heard saying, out on the landing “And check that everything’s in order”.
“Yeah, I wonder who that’ll be?!” said Hillyard.
The much-anticipated demonic haunting didn’t materialise. Kieran was plagued by a series of gruesome nightmares, which at times were so bad that he dreaded going to sleep, but other than that the Yellow Castle was free of disturbances. Unnervingly so. After all the events of the past few weeks the Indigo-ites were expecting some kind of unpleasantness, and this calmness had an unnerving quality to it. One morning Kieran woke up with a revelation as to why this was so.
“They’ve gone”, he said to Joby “They’re not over there anymore”.
“We’ve scared them away?” said Joby, hopefully “That’s good … innit?”
“Not really”, said Kieran “Because we don’t know where they’ve gone!”
Kieran chafed at the bit, waiting for a sufficient enough thaw so that they could leave the house and pay a call over the stone bridge. At the first hint of snow dripping off the branches of the trees, he was hustling Bardin to get the usual party of 6 together. This time they decided to take Tamaz with them as well … as their usual sort of insurance policy. They all decided to walk to the castle, feeling that it wasn’t safe to take the horses near the place. (Joby couldn’t help remembering the disembowelled horse he had seen hanging from the ceiling at the castle at Wooded Hill).
Kieran was proved to be right. The demons had abandoned the castle. Some homeless people from the town had moved into the courtyard and the big hall on the ground floor, warming themselves over burning braziers, which they fed constantly with priceless leather-bound books ransacked from the upstairs library. To the Indigo-ites’ surprise though the sneering house steward was still in residence, and still carrying on as though nothing had happened. (“Toppy would be exactly the same”, was the clowns’ comment on this afterwards).
“And who are you?” he demanded to know of Tamaz.
“I am Tamaz”, said Tamaz, with magnificent haughtiness.
The sneering house steward led them into the main hall, as though he was presenting them to royalty. The unofficial ring-leader of the vagabonds was sitting sprawled in a carved throne-like chair in front of the roaring log-fire. He was a big man, in his 50s, with long, shaggy grey hair and matted beard. He had clearly been enjoying himself going through the well-stocked wine cellar. He greeted the Indigo-ites with cold resentment, but relaxed when Kieran made it clear that they hadn’t come over to eject him or his cohorts from the premises. From the way he spoke it sounded as though he had once been an educated man, who had since fallen on hard times.
“When did this happen?” said Kieran “When did they go?”
“I have no idea”, the vagrant shrugged his massive shoulders and poured himself another goblet of red wine “This is good stuff, you should have some”.
The Indigo-ites felt it would be churlish to refuse, and within a few minutes were ranged all over and around the big dining-table.
“News reached us in the town a few days ago”, the man went on “From a traveller. He said he had called here for shelter, and found the place deserted, apart from the house steward, who he said he couldn’t get any sense out of. He came into town and told us about it I couldn’t believe my ears at first, They’ve been here for as long as I can remember. Rumour has it that they were seen leaving the harbour in a ship with black sails, but that could be fanciful nonsense”.
“And they’ve ALL gone?” said Kieran, thinking of Lady Edith and her maid.
“Every last bastard one of them”, said the man “Including their big freak baby. And we all damn well hope they won’t come back! They’ve been raping the town for far too long. Well if they do come back, I can tell you this, they won’t have a house to come back to. When we’ve all got what we can from this accursed place, we’re going to burn it to the ground”.
“Yes, that would be much for the best”, Kieran astonished him by agreeing with him “What about The Sealed House nearby?”
The man sat up in the carved chair, and pointed a shaky finger at him.
“You don’t want to go there”, he said, emphatically.
“I’m afraid I might have to”, said Kieran “Just in case there’s any more of them in there”.
“You’re crazy”, said the man, slamming down his goblet so that much of the wine slopped over the edges of it.
“I’ll make a deal with you”, said Kieran “I’ll turn a blind eye to what you’re doing around here, if you turn a blind eye to what I’M doing around here”.
The Indigo-ites went upstairs to explore the rest of the castle, mainly to see if they could find any clue as to where the demons had gone, but also to make sure none of them were hiding anywhere. Kieran’s cavalier attitude had upset Ransey. Ransey would always be an accountant at heart, and Kieran’s reckless maverick behaviour offended his love of order, method and caution.
“Have you any idea what will happen in the town if we don’t try and keep things calm?” said Ransey, following him up a narrow stone staircase, which ultimately led nowhere except to a large latticed window overlooking The Sealed House.
“Yes, there will be retribution”, said Kieran, calmly.
“And does that not bother you?” said Ransey, who thought Kieran had taken leave of his senses once and for all.
“It always happens at times like this, Ransey”, said Kieran “When an evil regime is overthrown, suddenly years of bitterness and resentment come to the fore. People have a chance to get their own backs on those who collaborated to keep the Evil in control. You can’t blame them for that”.
“Maybe not”, said Ransey, angrily “But I hope you’ll feel so damn philosophical about it when there’s bloodshed in the streets, and people being torn limb from limb and having their heads impaled on pikes!”
Kieran perched on the top step and turned to look at Ransey.
“I don’t want that anymore than you do”, he said “But you’ve seen what’s happened in this area. Do you think the demons could have lasted as long as they did, and caused so much misery if a lot of people hadn’t let them do so? I’m sick of people who won’t stand up to Evil!”
Ransey slapped his own forehead in frustration.
“Well”, he said, when he had collected himself for a moment “At least I hope you won’t do any Codlik-style behaviour, and go out preaching on the cathedral steps!”
“I don’t think that would be much use to anybody”, said Kieran “I think it would be far more useful if I went after the demons, don’t you?”
Joby and Bengo were standing in the cold, horrible room where Lady Edith had given birth to the monster baby.
“This is where it happened”, said Bengo.
“Yeah, horrible ent it?” said Joby.
“I’m going to strangle Kieran one of these days!” said Ransey, bursting through the iron gates which served as a door.
“Oh I often feel like that”, said Joby “What’s he done now?”
“He encourages chaos and disorder!” said Ransey “Positively encourages it! If everybody was like him, the world would be in a state of total anarchy!”
“No it wouldn’t”, said Joby “Order always restores itself eventually”.
He went over to a side table, and casually lifted up the lids on some lacquer boxes that were there. The first one contained loose pearls. He closed the lid, and lifted the second one, and a revolting black, hairy limb tried to climb its way out. Joby slammed the lid and ran from the room. The others went after him, and found him leaning against a wall in the corridor, looking extremely sick.
“Fucking hell!” he said “Like those fucking spiders at The Big House! Oh Christ!”
He vomited up the wine he had drank downstairs.
“Are you feeling better?” said Ransey, when Joby had finished.
“Come on”, said Ransey “Let’s go and see how the others are getting on in the library”.
“Good chess set this”, said Hillyard, standing over a carved, ivory chess set on a table in front of the fireplace “Do you think that lot downstairs would mind if we took it?”
“Course they wouldn’t”, said Bardin, pulling some scrolls out of a cupboard “All they’re interested in is the booze!”
He suddenly gave a yelp and pulled back a nearby bookcase. There was a large map hanging on the wall behind it. Bardin gave a very nimble little jig and then unhooked it from the wall.
“Could this be where they’ve gone?” he said.
The map showed a large island in the middle of the ocean.
“The Cursed Isle”, said Hillyard, reading off the name of it “Sounds like it should be somewhere they’d go!”
When Kieran came into the room, Bardin bounded over to him and kissed him exuberantly on both cheeks.
“I’ve found the place where we’re going”, he said.
“Well I’m glad somebody’s excited about it”, said Kieran “I was beginning to think you lot had turned into a bunch of old teapots!”
“Don’t push your luck, Kieran”, said Joby.
“I always do that!” said Kieran.
He went back downstairs and out through the courtyard, where some of the vagabonds were dancing drunkenly round a burning brazier. It was going dark, and when he went out onto the stone bridge, he could hear wolves in the distance. He leaned on the parapet and looked down at the waters of the gorge, now swollen from the thaw. He looked up and saw Joby coming towards him. Joby still looked very green around the gills.
“Ah me poor old darling”, said Kieran, holding out his arms to him “That was a nasty shock you had in there”.
“What the fuck were they doing?” said Joby “Keeping a bloody horrible great spider like that in a box for?”
“Probably keeping it as a pet”, said Kieran.
“Maniacs!” said Joby “Makes me dread what we’re gonna find when we get inside The Sealed House!”
“I’ll make it up to you when all this is over”, said Kieran.
“Yeah don’t tell me, Kieran”, said Joby “I’ve heard it all before”.
“I mean it this time”, said Kieran “When we’ve got this lot nailed, I’ll find us some place else”.
“In another dimension?” said Joby, cautiously.
“If it comes to that”, said Kieran.
The following morning, at first light, They came for Kieran. He and Joby had gone out to the stables to relieve Rumble and Hal from their night vigil over the animals. They had began setting out fresh hay for the horses, and Kieran had nipped outside to have a look at the sunrise over the trees. When Joby heard him cry out, he ran out and was slashed down the face with a knife. He passed out momentarily, and was found a couple of minutes later, lying in some bloodstained snow, with Kieran’s little silver crucifix lying near him. It had clearly been torn from Kieran’s neck.
Hillyard took him back into the castle, where Joby babbled and for a while didn’t make much sense. All this time Finia was trying to bandage him up, and in the general confusion it simply didn’t occur to them that Kieran had gone missing.
“He’s gone!” Joby finally managed to erupt “They’ve taken him over to The Sealed House, I know they have. We’ve gotta get over there!”
Bardin rounded up the usual suspects of Bengo, Ransey, Hillyard, Joby (who flatly refused to listen when Adam tried to implore him that he was wounded), plus Tamaz. Ransey hastily cobbled together what equipment and weapons they thought they might need, and most of the Indigo-ites gleefully raided the gun room. They were delayed even further by the truck’s refusal to start immediately, because of the cold weather. At every moment’s delay Joby chafed anxiously. One thing that frightened him more than the prospect of what they might be doing to Kieran in The Sealed House, was the thought that they might have taken Kieran somewhere else entirely, and then God knows how long it would take them to find him.
“The wood’s in pretty ropey shape”, said Ransey, when he got up close to the main doors of The Sealed House “It’s rotted . I can easily hack this down. If that fails we’ll ram it with the truck”.
When The Sealed House was finally broken into they found a dark, cold place, riddled with dust and cobwebs. The air was so foul that it felt as though the building hadn’t been broken into in years, which only fuelled Joby’s fears that Kieran hadn’t been taken here at all. For a few moments they stood bewildered in the cavernous entrance hall, looking around them at the gloomy artefacts, and dilapidated furniture.
“Alright let’s shout”, said Ransey “We might be able to get a noise out of Kieran, give us some clue where he is”.
On a count of three they all yelled at the tops of their voices. In the meantime Bardin checked that everybody’s guns and other weapons were in order, in case they were suddenly ambushed from out of the shadowy corners of the house.
“I heard something then!” said Tamaz, whose hearing was more acute than the others.
He led them down a side corridor.
“It’s coming from behind here”, said Tamaz, indicating a soft moaning sound coming from behind a door.
“That’s Kieran”, said Joby, breathlessly “I know it is”.
There was no need to break this door down, it was unlocked. Inside was a grotesque sort of chapel. Above the makeshift altar, on which burnt two thick, tall candles, was the image of a black, revolting shape with tendrils and red eyes. Kieran was hanging suspended in the middle of the aisle, his wrists manacled to a pulley system. He had been stripped naked, and beaten and kicked to the ground, before being strung up. By the looks of things They had then raided the nearest midden and streaked his body, face and hair with their excrement.
“Kieran!” Joby ran towards him.
“Joby, be careful”, Kieran croaked, his lips cracked and bloodied from where he had been punched “Don’t get this muck all over you”.
“As if I care about that!” said Joby “This is the last straw, Kiel. No more of this Vanquisher of Evil rubbish, you’re going back to being just Kieran! I mean it! This is the worst … this is the worst that’s been done to you. Worst than Father Gabriel, worst than Angel …”
“Alright, Joby hold onto him”, said Ransey “Whilst me and Hillyard saw the rope through. You’ll need to catch his body when it falls”.
“They were going to do a lot more than this”, said Kieran “You interrupted them I’m glad to say! They were going to gouge me eyes out, and cut me dick off. And then they were going to peg me out in the snow for the birds! Fortunately they got so carried away telling me all this, that you were able to make some headway! What did they do to you?” “Never mind all that”, said Joby.
Kieran was freed from the pulley, and Joby wrapped him in his coat.
“Bengo, go and see if you can find some water”, said Ransey “I don’t suppose you’ll be able to heat it, but if you can, all the better. Bardin, go with him. He shouldn’t wander this house on his own”.
“What did they look like?” said Hillyard, when Kieran had been given a hefty dose of brandy from a hip-flask.
“The ones that I could see just looked your average demons”, said Kieran “Scaly hands, leathery skin, burning eyes, all that kind of thing. A lot of them just stayed in the shadows, I didn’t get a good look at them”.
“They must have run into the forest”, said Hillyard “When they heard us coming. Don’t worry mate, we’ll find ’em”.
“We’ll burn the bastards”, said Joby.
“I think we should concentrate on finding the ones that have fled to The Cursed Isle”, said Kieran “This bunch were very much the lower orders, the thuggish branch of the family as it were. We need to concentrate on going after the brains in the network”.
“You must have been pretty bloody terrified”, said Hillyard.
“I was when they were dragging me in here between them”, said Kieran “I knew they were capable of anything, and they detest me with a vengeance”.
Bardin ran back into the room, arms and legs flailing around in a very clown-like run.
“We’ve found a bathroom upstairs”, he said.
“It’s not too bad up there”, said Bengo, following him.
Ransey found a boiler in the cellar, which still had some embers glowing in its base. He raked through the ash-tray (not telling the others that he found some bones in there), and got it fired up again to heat some water for Kieran’s bath. Hillyard insisted Joby sit in the neighbouring bedroom, whilst he bathed Kieran and washed his hair. When Kieran got out of the bath he threw up into the toilet bowl. It then occurred to Hillyard that They had probably tried to stuff the shit into his mouth as well.
In the bedroom Tamaz lit the fire using some twigs and pine cones he found scattered on the hearth. Joby sat in the big window overlooking the mountains, nursing a glass of brandy.
“He’ll be alright”, said Tamaz, coming over to him and slipping his little hand into Joby’s “We’ll burn this place down when we’ve finished with it, They won’t be able to come back here then”.
“Were they Ghoomers do you think, Tamaz?” Joby asked.
“I don’t think so”, said Tamaz “Although it’s all very Ghoomer-ish, what they’ve done. No this lot are full-blown demons. You need to go home. You’ve lost a lot of blood, you’ll be fainting next”.
“They didn’t try to kill me when they took Kieran”, Joby mused.
“Perhaps they know they can’t”, said Tamaz “Or perhaps they just wanted to make sure they got Kieran”.
In the adjoining bathroom Hillyard towelled Kieran dry, and then helped him to clean his teeth with a bit of old rag.
“I feel like I’ve taken part in one of Sade’s novels!” said Kieran.
“We can’t find your clothes”, said Hillyard “We don’t know where they put them”.
“It doesn’t matter”, Kieran sighed. He felt exhausted, and his back and his stomach were hurting from where he had been kicked and punched “I just want to get out of this house, Hillyard”.
“We’ll wrap you up in a couple of blankets and put you in the truck”, said Hillyard, tenderly.
Joby wandered restlessly out of the bedroom and to the top of the stairs, where he found a man climbing up them, looking all around him in a state of tense bewilderment. He was a young man in his 30s, slim, with neatly-cut mousy hair.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” Joby exclaimed. It was obvious to him that the man couldn’t possibly be an inhabitant of this ghastly house.
“I’m a monk”, said the man “From the town”.
“I thought I’d seen both the monks there”, said Joby, in a tone of voice that clearly indicated he didn’t think much of what he had seen.
“I don’t associate with them much”, the man said, in his soft, rather fey voice “I work for the down-and-outs, soup kitchens and all that. I was told by one of them that … that crowd had left the castle over the stone bridge, and that your truck was seen coming to this house very early this morning. I was concerned for Kieran’s safety, coming into this terrible place”.
“I’m fine”, said Kieran, appearing suddenly at the top of the stairs. He was wrapped in a blanket, and his hair was wet.
The monk dropped to his knees, and seemed to be pledging some sort of allegiance to him.
“I must apologise”, he mumbled, looking at Kieran’s feet. He noticed that the soles were hard and craggy, from where (like most of the Indigo-ites) Kieran had gone barefoot so often, particularly on board ship “Your Church has let you down”.
“We’re used to that!” said Joby, grimly.
“What’s he doing like that?” said Tamaz.
Joby reached and helped the monk up. The monk was taken aback by Tamaz, who looked even more stunningly beautiful and androgynous than ever in a turtleneck sweater.
“So few people have come into this house and lived”, said the monk “The only one I’ve ever met who did was an old man, a tramp. He said he had encountered a dog-headed man on these very same stairs”.
“That would be one of them”, said Kieran “I’m going home. I don’t want to stay here any longer. You’re welcome to come with us”.
Kieran was bathed again, back at The Yellow Castle. Toppy had been ordered to collect fresh towels for him, and then got thrown out of the bathroom by Bardin, because he couldn’t stop sobbing over Kieran’s ordeal. Kieran was then put to bed, and Adam fed him vegetable soup.
“I wanted to feed you chicken soup”, said Adam “Like an old Jewish matriarch, but I knew you wouldn’t like that!”
“How’s Joby?” said Kieran “Finia said he might be left with a permanent scar on his face”.
“Oh yes, but that’s nothing to worry about”, said Adam, blithely “It will make him look all rugged and battle-torn. In years to come he’ll probably be bragging to people about how he acquired it single-handedly fighting off a whole legion of demons!”
“Is the monk still here?” Kieran asked. “Yes, he’s been looked after down in the kitchen”, said Adam “I must say it was rather brave of him coming out to The Sealed House all on his own”.
“He seems to be a good sort”, Kieran sighed “I can’t eat any more, Addy”.
“But my dear, you must!” said Adam.
“My mouth feels totally contaminated”, said Kieran “It’ll pass in time, I know, but at the moment … it feels like shit!”
He gave a grim laugh.
“My poor love”, said Adam, enfolding him in his arms.
Joby heard the others preparing to leave very early the next morning, in order to go and torch The Sealed House. He sprang out of bed, pulled on his dressing-gown (for warmth, not modesty), and ran down the stairs. His face was feeling dreadfully sore. Finia had told him, whilst changing the dressing, that it might be like this for several weeks. At the bottom of the stairs, he found Hillyard standing imposingly in his duffel-coat.
“You’re not coming”, was Hillyard’s blunt comment “We’ll do a lot better without an old crock like you along!”
“I want to be there to see that place burn!” Joby yelled.
“Calm down, and stop being so dramatic”, said Hillyard, grabbing Joby’s wrists “You’re carrying on like a big girl!”
“Joby, come up here”, Julian ordered from the stairs.
Joby shuffled upstairs, feeling as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. When he got to Julian’s room, he threw himself into the chair by the fire. Julian lit a cigar and then passed it to him.
“Have this”, he said “It’ll help to calm you down. The samovar will be ready in a moment”.
Joby drew heavily on the cigar, and glared into the fireplace.
“A little word of advice”, said Julian “Don’t go picking fights with Hillyard. He’s an expert wrestler. I’ve never been able to best him, so I don’t know how you think a little weed like you can”.
“A little weed?!” Joby exclaimed.
“Well compared to him, you are”, said Julian.
“He’s bloody annoying me lately, he really is”, said Joby “All he does is keeping poking fun at me”.
“You’re always in the wars that’s why!” said Julian “A walking disaster area!”
“Thanks Julian!” said Joby.
“Your best bet will be to go to bed for the rest of the day”, said Julian “And lull yourself to sleep with the comforting thought that by sundown The Sealed House will be nothing but a smoking ruin”.
To everybody’s astonishment, Joby did as he was told. Truth to tell, he was feeling exhausted, and also, by staying in bed he could stay close to Kieran. He woke up in the late afternoon, feeling the comfortable weight of the blankets against him. Kieran was dozing next to him. He had pushed the covers back slightly, and his long hair was lying against his nipples. A sight that Joby always found arousing.
“They’re back”, Joby said, a few minutes later, when the dogs were heard barking below.
Kieran sat up, and listened intently for a moment.
“I heard someone laugh just then”, he said “It must have gone according to plan”.
“Good”, Joby breathed out, he felt as though he had been holding his breath all day.
“How are you feeling?” said Kieran, touching Joby’s face gently.
“A bit sore”, said Joby “It throbs sometimes, but I spose that’s only to be expected”.
“Joby, what the blazes is this?” said Kieran, reaching under Joby’s pillow, where he had seen the edge of a large monkey-wrench sticking out.
“It’s a monkey-wrench”, said Joby.
“I know that, but what’s it doing under your pillow?”
“I found it in Julian’s bathroom”, said Joby “Hillyard must have left it there when he was doing some plumbing”.
“That still doesn’t explain how it came to be under your pillow!” said Kieran.
“Don’t start interrogating me, Kiel”, said Joby, defensively “I just thought it’d make a good weapon that’s all. If any of those bastard tried coming for you in the night”.
“And what if you clouted one of our lot with it by mistake?!” said Kieran.
There was the sound of Bardin running upstairs in his boots. He burst into their bedroom, cheeks glowing from the cold air outside.
“It’s done!” he cried “It’s done! You should have seen that place burn!”
Whilst he spoke he pulled off his cap, gloves and coat and hurled them in Bengo’s general direction. Bengo having rushed after him up the stairs.
“Nothing but a blackened ruin now!” Bardin went on “My God, what a satisfying sight!”
Bengo hurled Bardin’s cast off gear to the floor in a tizzy.
“Hey!” said Joby “Don’t muck up our room like that!”
Sheepishly, Bengo picked up the clothes again.
“Oh and Bengo, find another home for this whilst you’re about it”, said Kieran, handing him the monkey-wrench.
“What do you need that in here for?” said Bengo.
“Joby wanted to sleep with it under his pillow”, said Kieran “He’s become very attached to it!”
The castle across the stone bridge was given a reprieve from burning, because the vagabonds decided they wanted to claim it as their own. The Indigo-ites had no problem with this, although Joby felt they should be warned when poking into any nooks and crannies in the place, and opening up boxes. Hillyard drove Joby out in the truck to have a look at the blackened ruin that had once been The Sealed House. They got out of the vehicle and stood staring silently at the wreckage for a few minutes. Joby also looked at the edge of the pine forest nearby, and wondered how many of the demons were still hiding out amongst the trees.
“Hillyard”, he said, eventually “When we finally catch up with the bastard ring-leader of all this, the Demon King or Queen or what have you, I wanna be the one who puts in the fatal shot, stab, or whatever we decide to do”.
“Problem is”, said Hillyard “Ransey usually likes to do that”.
“Don’t care”, said Joby “This time it’s gonna be me”.
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