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By Sarah Hapgood

“Where are we going now then?” said Hoowie, who was sitting on the table in the galley, whilst Joby was cutting out rounds of pastry using the bottom of a glass whisky tumbler “Has Kieran said anything to you?”

“He wouldn’t know himself”, said Joby “After we went round the island, checking that the bastards didn’t have any other form of transport, he sort of ran out of ideas really”.

Since they had done their second circumnavigation, the galleon had been sitting out on the choppy high seas, with the island reduced to a cancerous dark blob in the distance.

“Anyway, you shouldn’t be in here”, said Joby “Adam’ll be back in a minute, and he says you get in the way. Why don’t you go and see what Julian’s up to?”

“No I’m avoiding him at the moment”, said Hoowie “He’s been funny with me lately, keeps looking at me all strange, and not speaking”.

“Well you can’t have done anything wrong”, said Joby “Or he’d have clobbered you by now!”

“Can I have a kiss before I go?” said Hoowie.

“You’re always on the bleedin’ scrounge you are!” said Joby, but nonetheless he let Hoowie have a chaste peck of his flowery cheek.

“I spose that’ll have to do”, said Hoowie.

Bengo came into the room, hugging various tins of vegetables next to his chest.

“Hoowie, you’d better scarper”, he said “Adam’s talking to Hillyard at the moment, but he won’t be long”.

“Can I meet you later?” said Hoowie “That little room right next door to the heads?”

“That should be a nice atmosphere for it!” said Joby.

“Yes, if you clear off now!” said Bengo.

Hoowie was skulking around in the corridor outside the designated little room, biting the tips of his fingers pensively, when Julian swept past, and ordered that he follow him into the main saloon. Hoowie went very apprehensively. Julian’s whole demeanour could only mean bad news, and probably a hiding for something he couldn’t remember having done.

“I’ve been thinking”, said Julian, snipping off the end of a cigar “About you and me. I think things need to move on now”.

Hoowie stared at him in disbelief. He had a humiliating feeling that he was about to cry, and this made him lash out aggressively.

“I see”, he shouted “You’ve had enough of me have you? You arrogant tosspots are all the same! Think I haven’t come across your sort before? You’ve had your fill of me, and now you’re chucking me back in the gutter! I was just a temporary amusement was I!”

“What gutter?! Will you calm down!” said Julian.

Hoowie spat at him, and Julian boxed his ears in return.

“Calm down, or I’ll put the strap across your backside!” he shouted “What I was going to say, if you’d have let me finish, is that I want you to be my partner. You impressed me on the island, you were a perfect sidekick …”

“B-but I didn’t do anything”, Hoowie stammered.

“You kept your head, you showed courage”, said Julian “Not that I ever thought you were short of that! You didn’t whinge. You’ve got more and more under my skin these past couple of years”.

“W-what about Hillyard and Mieps?” said Hoowie.

“Hillyard and I are very old friends”, said Julian, sitting down in his chair in a leisurely fashion, and spreading out his long legs “We got back a very long way, we understand each other, I think because we’ve both always been lonely at heart. But he’s a free spirit, he needs to be unfettered, to do his own thing, the same goes for the old girl. She’s absolutely splendid of course, her gruff pragmatism really helps me at times, but she needs her own space, particularly in the sort of close environments we usually end up living in”.

“And Joby?” said Hoowie, in a whisper.

“He’s devoted to Kieran, you know that”, said Julian “And that situation will NEVER change. You’ve grown on me in ways that I could never have imagined when I first knew you. God, at one time I used to think you were positively feral! When I first saw you I wondered if you knew how to use a knife and fork!”

“Yeah, but then you’ve always liked a bit of rough haven’t you!” said Hoowie “Often the way with you nobs!”

Suddenly he flung himself onto Julian’s lap, and bawled into his shoulder.

“OK sweet pea, calm down now”, said Julian, patting his back.

“Nobody’s ever had any time for me”, Hoowie sobbed “I’ve just been in the way, all my life …”

“Well the situation had to change sometime didn’t it!” said Julian.

They put on some of their outdoor gear, and went up to the main deck, which was deserted in these bleak temperatures.

“There’s something I need to tell you, Julian”, said Hoowie, when they were leaning on the bulwark “Something you need to know about me. The Village of Stairs, where I grew up, was often a seedy place”.

“Yes, I have seen it you know!” Julian smiled.

“You must have heard Bardin talking about some of the tricks some of the guys at the theatre used to get up to”, said Hoowie “For extra money, and to try and get in with the powerful nobs. There used to be like these after-show get-togethers, and weekend house parties, and the young lads, the pretty boys, would get hired as sort of ‘hosts‘ and ‘entertainment‘, if you know what I mean”.

“Twas ever thus, old fruit”, said Julian “Bardin did a good job of keeping Bengo out of that racket”.

“And that was some achievement, believe me!” said Hoowie “They were desperate to get their mits on him, and he was so bloody innocent he wouldn’t have known what he was getting himself into until afterwards! No wonder I’ve always called him the baby faggot! Well you see, the thing is, I’ve always denied I was involved in any of that. Whenever Bardin’s wound me up, I’ve always denied it, said that all I did was a bit of modelling. It’s not true. I’ve done tarting, I’ve been a tart”. “I do know that”, said Julian “I’ve always known it, and even if I hadn’t I would probably have guessed it from your outburst downstairs”.

“A helluva lot of it went on”, said Hoowie “God, Farnol used to do hand-jobs for extra dosh in the street!”

“No wonder the poor chap can’t get enthusiastic about sex these days!” said Julian “Hoowie, I’ve been an adult for an awfully long time now, and I’ve always known what goes on, that’s life I’m afraid. It was all a very long time ago, and I don’t want this getting in the way. I rather like tarts, there’s something about sex when it’s furtive and mucky that is really extremely appealing to me, and sometimes I will want to treat you like one, because I like it. You’ve never objected when I’ve done that before, and I trust you won’t in the future”.

“No”, Hoowie smiled, almost bashfully.

“One thing that I am curious about though”, said Julian “Why have you never confessed all this to Bardin? Why have you always denied it to him?”

“Oh partly because of his hang-ups”, said Hoowie “And because he did knock himself out to keep Bengo safe. And Bengo’s such a dork, he’d probably say ’oh look Bardy, Hoowie did it, so what’s the problem?’”

“Bengo’s such a very honest and uncomplicated fellow, he thinks everybody else is too”, said Julian.

“I think I’d never hear the end of it if Bardin knew what I’d done”, said Hoowie “Though I suppose he will hear now. Oh fuck, he’s gonna give me every heavy duty cleaning job he can find. I’ll be cleaning the heads with a toothbrush probably!”

“Just give him a good smack on his starchy shorts if he does”, said Julian “You’re taller than him, you should be able to manage it!”

“I wouldn’t dare, Julian, I wouldn’t dare!” said Hoowie.

Bardin didn’t comment much on this latest development, when he heard about it a short while later in the galley, except to say “from low-rent artist’s model to his lordship’s favourite bit of cock, our Hoowie has done well for himself!”

“Ignore him, Hoowie”, said Bengo “His knickers must be feeling too tight today!”

“Hillyard, come with me”, said Bardin, shortly “I want to talk to you about where we’re going next”.

“Oh we are going somewhere then?” said Hillyard, sarcastically “I thought we were going to sit out here for a few decades!”

“Yes well could some of you clear out of here?” said Adam “Only it’s getting rather crowded!”

“Hark at you”, said Hillyard “Not jealous by any chance are you?”

“Don’t be absurd!” said Adam “Joby’s more likely to be jealous than me”.

“Eh?” said Joby “I’ve got enough to think about with worrying about Kieran, thank you very much!”

“What’s the matter with him then?” said Hillyard, who didn’t seem to be showing any sign of following Bardin out of the door “He can’t exactly get into any trouble stuck right out here, can he?”

“One sincerely hopes not”, said Adam.

“One would think so wouldn’t one?” said Joby “But he’s only coming out with things now like we should go back to the island. He thinks we might have been too unfair leaving them to Angel’s mercies!”

“He can’t be serious!” said Hillyard “That’s the sort of crap Codlik would have come out with!”

“I’ve told him that”, said Joby.

They sailed into more cold, grey, murky weather. There didn’t seem to be so much as a rock in sight, let alone any land. The strains of shipboard life were beginning to tell on Madhoul, who simply wasn’t used to it. It was a marvel to him that the Indigo-ites could cope with it so well, forgetting that they had had plenty of practice over the years. What helped them was that they thrived on gossip (amongst a few other things), and Hoowie’s recent “promotion” and subsequent confession about his misspent youth was giving them ample fodder, particularly amongst the clowns, who voiced grave fears that Hoowie would develop star status, and start queening it over them all. Bardin said that no way would he let “that hairy scarecrow” start getting ideas above his station.

As far as Madhoul was concerned, Hoowie was simply an alarming creature. A tall, gangly eccentric with too much hair, and huge amounts of nervous energy. Bengo tried to reassure him that Hoowie had calmed down an enormous amount in recent times, thanks to Julian, but Madhoul could only reflect that in that case Hoowie must have been downright terrifying before! The one time he had sat next to him at the dinner-table, Hoowie had restlessly bounced around in his seat all through the meal. For a quiet, reserved person like Madhoul this was extraordinary behaviour.

“He thinks you’re a nutcase”, said Bengo, sneaking a few minutes by the fire in his cabin, whilst Bardin was up on deck Looking For Land “Mind you, he wouldn’t be the first person to think that!”

“Well I think HE’S a nutcase if it comes to that”, said Hoowie “His eyes are too close together”.

“Oh Hoowie!” Bengo laughed “And Mutton and Shag are worrying you’ll get all big-headed and turn into a prima donna”.

“There ent room for more than one round here surely?!” said Hoowie, referring to Bardin “Anyway, fat chance of me getting big-headed with some of the across-the-knee botty-spankings I get off Julian!”

“Yes, how will you cope with all that?” said Bengo “You’ve never really been a flagellant, you’ve only ever been beaten as a punishment before”.

“It’s all part of the game with Julian innit”, said Hoowie “It doesn’t bother me. I guess I’ve gotta get used to having an arse the colour of medium rare steak!”

“Medium rare steak?” said Bengo “Mine’s the colour of my red flannel drawers sometimes! We‘ll have to have contests to see whose is worse!” “ I like looking at your face”, said Hoowie “It’s really kind”.

“The kind people like to clout with a custard pie!” said Bengo.

“Not these days”, said Hoowie, and he inclined a bit closer to him.

Bardin suddenly burst into the room, causing them to leap apart guiltily, shedding outdoor clothes in all directions.

“I had hoped”, he said to Hoowie “That from now on you’d stop trying to get into Bengo’s pants at every given opportunity!”

“Bardy!” Bengo remonstrated.

“Go and make me some coffee”, Bardin ordered “Please!”

Bengo yanked his (Bardin’s) trousers down before leaving the room.

“I do wish he’d stop doing that”, Bardin grumbled.

Hoowie helped him to remove the rest of his clothing, which was sodden from the onslaught of the sleet upstairs, and wrapped him in a blanket by the fire.

“Did you learn all this as part of your training as a geisha boy?” Bardin snapped.

“I wasn’t anything as glamorous as that!” said Hoowie, arranging some of Bardin’s clothes over the fireguard “I was part of the meat rack, and that’s certainly how they made you feel as well!”

“Sorry”, Bardin mumbled “I didn’t mean to come out with that. Bengo’s been lecturing me about what I say about all that. I’m just annoyed you didn’t tell me, at any time. We might have been able to help. We didn’t have much in those days, Bengo and me, but at least we always had something to eat. I know that wasn’t the case for everybody. We had an extra once who fainted on stage during a show because he was so hungry. I wish you’d said”.

“It was all a long time ago now”, said Hoowie.

“Yes, thank God!” Bardin sighed.

Bengo came into the room, carrying a tray of coffee, followed by Joby carrying a bowl of soup.

“It’ll be lunchtime soon”, said Bardin, in exasperation.

“What’s the matter?” said Joby, putting it down carefully in front of him “Frightened you might actually put a bit of weight on?!”

“Bardy, I am getting really exasperated with you”, said Bengo “I really don’t know why people bother being nice to you! You should be given a hard time ALL the time!”

Hillyard rang a bell from the top of the quarterdeck steps and yelled out the word they had all been longing to hear “LAND!”


Bardin (being Bardin of course) changed his mind about using the lighthouse as a base before he had barely finished putting pen to paper. Mainly this was because he couldn’t help hearing all the grumbles about how they had come all the way across this forbidding ocean, had that awful sojourn at The Cursed Isle, only to come to a COLD place. Bardin gave orders that they were to carry on travelling down the coastline in a south-westerly direction, in the hope that the general progression southwards would take them into warmer weather. It didn’t warm up, but at least they hit some sunshine, and the countryside on the mainland became less bleak and intimidating. Overgrown fields and meadows, intersected by long tracks, ranged before them. There were very few trees, which indicated a land buffeted by wild winds. A deserted farmhouse, complete with barns and outbuildings, was a much more enticing prospect than the ruined lighthouse had been.

“Whoever owned it had time to prepare”, said Ransey, coming over to where Bardin was staring at a rust-encrusted tractor in the courtyard to the side of the big barn “They put dustsheets over most of the furniture. They didn’t leave in a hurry”.

“Well if they come back and find us here”, said Bardin “We can just apologise and move out again”.

“I doubt they’ll be back”, said Ransey “They’ve been gone quite some time”.

The two of them strolled up past the barn and looked at the open country to the back of the farm. Wild, overgrown fields stretched away to the distant horizon, which was only there where the trees safely began.

“It’s extraordinary”, said Bardin “But it’s only just hit me that we’re in a whole different continent … and I always thought there was only one!”

“Same here”, said Ransey.

“What a stupid world we are”, said Bardin “Nobody seems to have any pioneering spirit anymore. They just sit back and accept that so much of the world is Uncharted, or that it’s not there at all. The time-crossers must really despise us sometimes”.

“I don’t think they do”, said Ransey “By all accounts they had plenty of idiots in their time as well!”

“I wonder if there’s anybody left on this continent”, said Bardin “I wonder why they left, I wonder why they never tried to contact our continent … not that I blame them for not doing so!”

“Come on”, said Ransey “I’ll show you over the house”.

The house was solid, built of thick stone to withstand any weather that this flat, isolated, coastline spot could throw at it. It ranged, ranch-style, in a u-shape round a back courtyard, (facing away from the sea), which also housed a well and stables. To the back of the kitchen was a dairy with iron bars on the window. Under the dustsheets the furniture was heavy, old-fashioned and substantial, there was even a piano with yellowed keys. There was an iron stove in the hallway, which suggested that this part of the house could get very cold and draughty.

When Bardin returned to the living-room he found Hoowie picking out an excruciating tune with one finger on the badly-in-need-of-retuning piano. Bengo was leaning on the top of the piano, watching him.

“Hoowie!” said Bardin “In God’s name leave the piano-playing until Hillyard’s had a chance to fix it!”

“Isn’t it great, Bardy?” said Bengo, as Hoowie reluctantly closed the piano “The house I mean. It’s just what we need. Stables for the horses, outbuildings for the other animals, a well in the courtyard, plenty of bedrooms, and even a landing-stage for the skiff!”

“Yes, it’s too good to be true”, said Bardin “It’s making me nervous. Why should the first place we come across be so bloody spectacular?”

“It’s not the first place we came across”, said Hoowie “The first place was the ruined lighthouse”.

“And that was anything but spectacular!” said Bengo “In any good way I mean”.

Joby and Adam drifted into the room.

“How’s the kitchen?” said Bardin, sounding like he was almost hopeful that they’d find plenty to moan about with it.

“Absolutely fine”, said Adam “The range needs a good scrub …”

“Hoowie can do that”, said Bardin.

“I knew he’d say that!” Hoowie muttered.

“But all in all it’s good”, said Adam “It’ll be so nice to have lots of room to work in again, after the cramped space of the galley. We won’t all be under each other’s feet”.

Bardin gave a sigh.

“I’d better get on and allocate bedrooms”, he said.

“Can’t we allocate our own?” said Adam.

“No let him do it, Ad”, said Joby “At least that way I might get a decent-sized room. Left to Kieran, it’d be another bleedin’ broom-cupboard effort!”

“I don’t think anybody should get too settled”, said Badin “We won’t be staying here long”.

“Oh shut up, Bardy!” said Bengo.

“There you are!” Hoowie stood up from his stooped position over the range, which he had been vigorously scrubbing “You’ve been gone fucking ages!”

Adam, Joby and Bengo had been over to the galleon to fetch some boxes of provisions.

“Oh dear, what’s der matter den?” said Joby, patting Hoowie’s grubby cheek “Did der little boy get scared all on his boney-oh?!”

“Yeah I did as a matter of fact!” said Hoowie, waspishly.

“Hoowie, I do think you’re a little old to be needing a babysitter, old love!” said Adam, and Bengo burst out laughing “It’s not even as if it’s gone dark yet!”

“Look”, said Hoowie “Since you’ve been gone I’ve been in this part of the house all on my own. I can’t hear a fucking thing, and it’s given me the creeps”.

“But Bardy had the other clowns out clearing up the courtyard”, said Bengo “You should have been able to hear them!”

“They WERE there”, said Hoowie “But then he marched them off to clear out that greenhouse thing on the other side of the house instead, so I’ve been stuck down this end all on my own. I tell yer, this place gives me the creeps it’s so quiet!”

“It’s not as if you’re not used to living in isolated places”, said Adam “Midnight Castle could have its eerie moments too”.

“I was used to that”, said Hoowie.

“Well you’ll just have to get used to this place then won’t you!” said Joby.

“Anyway get on with that range”, said Adam “I don’t want to be cooking on camping stoves again, it’s extremely tiresome”.

“It’s gonna be a bloody long way for us to go and fetch fresh wood when we need it”, said Joby “The nearest trees are right over on the horizon. We’ll have to have special wood-cutting days out!”

“I think I’ll do nettle soup tonight”, said Adam “It’s nice and simple that one, and we’re certainly not short of nettles round here!”

“Great”, said Joby, with a wholly understandable lack of enthusiasm.

Bardin’s behaviour was beginning to worry Bengo. He was restless, hardly sleeping at night, and prone to making up interminable lists of things to do, that he would scrap almost immediately he had written them. Rumble confided to Adam that this kind of obsessive behaviour was nothing new where Bardin was concerned, that he had carried on this way when Bengo had left him. It was as if he was forcibly trying to impose order into mental chaos. One morning Adam found Bardin standing at a loss in the courtyard, staring at a big bell hanging on a link chain there, that had become green with neglect.

“What did they need a bell out here for?” he asked Adam “Was it some kind of warning device?”

“No”, Adam smiled “I expect that my predecessor, whoever had been the cook here, used it to summon people in from the fields for mealtimes. A big triangle would often be used for the same purpose. Bardin, I think you need to rest, old love. You’re exhausted, anybody can see that. Bengo tells me you’re not sleeping. If you don’t go and lie down now, I shall get Lo-Lo to carry you up to your room”.

Bardin at last conceded defeat and went up to the room he shared with Bengo at the front of the house. It was the middle one of three, all with interconnecting doors. He had put Adam and Lonts on one side, and Julian and Hoowie on the other. Wearily, he changed into a white nightdress and got into bed. He was dozing there a few minutes later when Kieran drifted in, like daytime wraith.

“I’m glad you’re resting”, he said, pulling up a wooden rocking-chair nearby “We’ve had to send Tamaz to bed as well”.

“Tamaz isn’t well?” said Bardin, in alarm.

“Just a wee bit overwrought, like yourself”, said Kieran “Started getting all hysterical on me and Joby, and calling himself an evil freak, and that we should have left him back on the island with his own kind”.

“What brought that on?” said Bardin.

“Tiredness, nothing more than that”, said Kieran.

“That damn place”, said Bardin “The Tower, it took more out of us than we realised”.

“Anyway”, said Kieran “I’ve told him that if he’s a freak, so are we all, in our own ways”.

“I certainly am!” said Bardin “A clown who starches his underwear, wears ladies’ nighties, and who wishes he had boobs!”

“What about me then?” Kieran laughed “An anorexic religious fanatic with violent masochistic tendencies. Jeez! We could start up a whole new parlour game with this one!”

Kieran wandered around the room. At the dressing-table he examined a long pearl necklace that had been draped over the mirror, and unfolded a painted paper fan.

“This must have been a lady’s room”, he said.

“It needs a good clean and dust-up”, said Bardin “We’ll have to get Toppy at it sometime. I like it, it’s a nice room, has a nice feel, except when that oaf Hoowie’s in here!”

“Is he in here a lot then?” said Kieran.

“He sneaks in through that corner door there”, said Bardin “And sneaks out when he hears me or Julian out on the landing. And Bengo’s so daft he thinks I don’t know about it! I’ve a good mind to put something in front of that door, block it off. That’ll certainly deprive him of a quick escape route!”

“He’s an irrepressible guy is our Hoowie”, said Kieran, going back to the rocking-chair.

“He’s a twit!” said Bardin “Bengo keeps telling me that he only comes in here for a chat. Well he’ll be too tired even for that soon. I’m going to take him on the wood-gathering party when I’m better. Stop him getting too pampered being Julian’s pet!“

“I don’t think there’s any chance of him getting too pampered with Julian!“ said Kieran.

“The acoustics are weird in this house, have you noticed?” said Bardin.

“That’s because it’s built in a u-shape”, said Kieran “It distorts sound. You can hear footsteps in another part of the house, and it sounds like they’re right outside your bedroom door”.

“I know”, Bardin shuddered “It takes some getting used to, particularly at night!”

The next day Bardin ordered the galleon to be brought closer to the shore, and moored in a small cove nearby. Hillyard, Joby and Hoowie watched this operation from the top of the headland, all of them muffled up in coats against the biting wind. Behind them Madhoul was mooching about the windswept countryside with his hands in his pockets, looking depressed.

“What’s the matter with him?” said Hillyard.

“He wants to go back to Aspiriola”, said Joby “He didn’t think we’d end up travelling this far out, or stopping here, and he doesn’t want to stay”.

“How bloody awkward can you get!” said Hoowie, who was suffering from a sore anus as a consequence of Julian’s vigorous rogering and wasn’t in any mood to be fair-minded.

“If he carries on like this”, said Hillyard “I’ll offer to take him back one day”.

“What?” said Hoowie “Go back past The Cursed Isle?!”

“Well I wasn’t planning on calling in!” said Hillyard “It’ll be a nuisance, but at least you can all tell me what supplies you need, and I can pick them up”.

“What’s the betting Julian’ll want a truckload of cigars?” said Joby.

“If it keeps in a good humour, I’ll do it!” said Hillyard, and he looked significantly at Hoowie “And I’m sure you won’t argue there will you!”

When they got back to the house Farnol was just about to embark on polishing the dining-room table, but Hoowie persuaded him to massage some lubricant into his “ring of fire” first.

“If this isn’t a definition of true friendship I don’t know what is!” said Farnol, when Hoowie was leaning across the table.

“You’d make a good nurse”, said Hoowie.

“Well having a strong stomach helps!” said Farnol “Can’t you ask him to go a bit easier on you?”

“You must be joking!” said Hoowie.

“What the hell are you doing that in here for?” Bardin squawked from the doorway.

“Oh have a heart, Bardin”, Hoowie winced “I’m in agony!”

“Whose bloody fault is that?!” said Bardin.

“It’s a good job he asked me BEFORE I started polishing isn’t it!” said Farnol, determined to look on the bright side.

“This is a dining-room!” said Bardin “Not a fucking doctor’s surgery! God, anybody who didn’t know us would think we were completely uncivilised!”

“I expect anybody who does know us thinks we’re completely uncivilised too!” Farnol laughed.

“In future, do this either in your room or in the bathroom”, said Bardin to Hoowie “Where decent people would! Now pull your trousers up, you look like a fucking hairy donkey!”

He stormed out of the room and towards the kitchen, yelling for Bengo.

“The kid’ll get it now”, said Farnol “Bardin usually takes it out on him”.

“Dimples can cope”, said Hoowie, pulling up his trousers.

The sky looked full of snow, so Bardin decreed that no time should be lost in getting in firewood. Meanwhile, Madhoul’s sullenness was continuing to give cause for concern. In spite of the supply-run idea, none of the Indigo-ites was overly-enthusiastic about the idea of trundling all the way back across the ocean to Aspiriola, just to take him home.

“He’s going to have to stick it out I’m afraid”, said Adam, talking to Hillyard, Joby and Bengo in the living-room after supper one evening “For a few months at least. Are we that awful to live with that he finds that prospect so utterly unbearable?!”

“We’re too sensual for him”, said Hillyard, standing in front of the fireplace “That’s what he says anyway”.

“What utter rubbish!” said Adam.

“Chance’d be a fine thing!” said Joby.

“He thought we’d do more meditating”, said Hillyard.

“He can meditate whenever he wants!” Adam exclaimed “Patsy does”.

“Communal meditation”, said Hillyard “All of us meditating together”.

“That won’t work”, said Bengo, who was lying on the sofa, resting his chin drowsily on the arm of it “I can’t imagine meditating with the other clowns, it’d be a total disaster!”

“We’re not a bunch of Trappist monks!” said Joby “Adam’s right, there’s nothing to stop him doing what he wants”.

“And we’re in an ideal place if he wants a bit of solitude”, said Adam “The trouble is he won’t want that. He’s the sort that wants regimented holistic treatment”.

“What’s holistic mean?” said Hillyard.

“All over”, said Adam “Body and soul and mind. Healing the mind and spirit, as well as the body”.

“I thought sex did that!” said Hillyard.

“You would!” said Joby.

“You’d rather communally meditate would you?” said Hillyard, sceptically.

Hoowie came into the room carrying two filled hot water bottles from the selection waiting on the table in the hallway. Adam hauled Bengo to his feet by the back of his breeches.

“Bardin will want you off at the crack of dawn tomorrow”, he said “You’d better go up to bed”.

“I thought I heard Julian earlier threatening to take the carpet beater to Bardin”, said Hoowie “When’s he gonna do that?”

“That’s Adam’s fault”, said Bengo “He told Julian we all have to be gentle with Bardin at the moment”.

“I don’t see why”, said Hoowie “A good hiding would do him the world of good, it always does”.

“Yes, he’s rather like you in that respect”, said Adam.

Bardin was hustling people out of their beds at the crack of dawn the next day. Snow had come in overnight, quite substantially, and he was determined that they were going to collect logs and other firewood before anymore came. He went off with the hay cart, pulled by two of the horses, and accompanied by Bengo, Hillyard, Ransey, Lonts, Mieps and Hoowie. Once Adam and Joby had seen them off, with brown packets containing sandwiches to keep them going, they decided to go below and explore the cellar, to see if there was any stock that was worth salvaging there.

“I don’t think we’re gonna hit pay dirt this time”, said Joby, as the two of them prowled round the cold, forbidding depths of the house “Not like the hunting-lodge near Nuit”.

“I see what you mean”, said Adam, shining his torch over the empty wine-racks.

“God, this cellar’s VAST”, said Joby “We must be under the courtyard here”.

“It’s quite a big house”, said Adam “Just built in a strange shape”.

“Here, look at this”, said Joby.

He shone his torch over a message chalked on the wall: ‘FUCK YOU, YOU ONE-EYED BITCH’ it read.

“Charming!” said Adam “Must be some stroppy teenager who objected to doing some work!”

“I wonder who the one-eyed bitch was”, said Joby.

“Perhaps she was in charge here”, said Adam “Certainly the master bedroom, where Bengo and Bardin are, feels like a woman’s room. Come on, there’s nothing worth having down here. Let’s go back upstairs and get warm”.

It was with some dismay that the wood-cutting party discovered that the trees they could see on the horizon was simply a thin belt of pines, which presumably had been planted there to act as a boundary to the land belonging to the house. Instead of the beginning of a substantial forest, the pines simply backed onto yet more desolate empty land, stretching away as far as the eye could see.

“Well”, said Bardin, with a brief, abrupt sigh of resignation “I don’t know what we were expecting really. A shopping precinct in the middle of a forest perhaps?”

“If only!” said Hoowie “I’m sick of eating tinned corned beef!”

“We might get some fresh produce out of this”, said Mieps “But personally I think we’d be better off going fishing”.

There was a track of sorts heading across the wasteland to the northern bit of the coastline in the distance.

“The solution to what’s happened here is out there”, said Bardin, determinedly “It’s just going to take us a bit longer to find it is all”.

The discovery of the wasteland beyond the thin belt of trees was a severe disappointment, but Bardin imbibed a lecture that Adam had given him about how they could make this place work for them if they’d just apply a bit of effort. “This house is special”, he said “I feel that very much, and it suits us fine”. Madhoul didn’t suit it though, and Bardin was determined to offload him as soon as possible. To do so of course involved having to make the tedious journey back across the ocean to Aspiriola, but Bardin said that he would stuff the galleon with fresh supplies, so the journey wouldn’t be a waste by any means.

A small party of himself, Bengo, Hillyard, Mieps and Tamaz took the ship back, along with Madhoul. The journey was nearly 3000 nautical miles there and back, and they were gone for nearly three months. During their short smash-and-grab stay in Aspiriola, Bardin had decreed that they weren’t to let on where Kieran now was. As far as the townspeople were concerned, they were returning to Midnight Castle and The Bay. Of course, Madhoul could tell on them, but that was a risk they would simply have to take. Madhoul began to get cold feet about returning to his old life, but as they had come all this way to get rid of him, Bardin refused to listen to his witterings.

When they returned to the house on the other side of the world they found the thaw had set in with a vengeance, and there was no trace of the snow they had left behind. The air was Spring like and balmy. Hillyard went into the house via the front door, and found Toppy methodically sweeping the main stairs with a dustpan and brush.

“It’s quiet in here, Topps”, said Hillyard, casually “Where is everyone?”

“Oh Hillyard”, Toppy gasped “You’re back!”

Hillyard picked him up and twirled him round.

“I’ll go and ring the bell in the courtyard”, said Topy “I won’t be a minute”.

He ran down the passage to the kitchen and dairy, colliding with Adam on the way.

“Hillyard!” said Adam, running to meet him “My goodness, how bronzed you look! You must all look like Greek gods”.

“Well Bengo looks like he’s been living in the wilds all his life”, said Hillyard “I don’t think he combed his hair once on the trip!”

“And not one single meal was served on time”, said Tamaz, scornfully, later that day, when the dining-room and the living-room were a mass of boxes and packing-crates, which had been carried up from the galleon.

“Oh now Bengo”, said Adam “I’ve always impressed upon you the importance of regular meal-times, particularly on board ship, it helps to keep things structured”.

“Everybody got fed!” Bengo protested.

“Nobody’s criticising you, old love”, said Adam.

“Tamaz is”, said Bengo.

“You should know what he’s like by now”, said Adam “Why don’t I take you upstairs and give you a bath and a hair wash, eh?”

He slipped his arm casually round Bengo’s waist and escorted him upstairs.

In the dining-room Hoowie was eyeing up a canvas bag.

“What’s in this one then?” he said.

“New clothes”, said Hillyard. Hoowie torn it open eagerly, and extracted a woolly hat from the top of the pile inside. He clamped it on his head, disdainfully.

“New clothes?” he said “This wasn’t what I had in mind!”

“You’ll be glad of that come next Winter”, said Hillyard.

“God Hoowie”, said Rumble “It makes you look even more gormless than ever!”

“You didn’t have to buy one of those”, said Finia “I could have knitted one”.

“If it’s for Hoowie, knit him a balaclava!” said Joby.

“Oh yeah, very funny!” said Hoowie.

“Well methinks you’re getting a bit dandified these days, Hoowie”, said Joby, teasingly “Must be because you’re now the royal concubine!”

“Nah don’t knock Hoowie”, said Hillyard “He’s doing a very difficult job - keeping old Julian constantly satisfied!”

The next morning Joby showed Bengo round their new kitchen garden, which he had been working on almost constantly during their 3-months absence.

“I couldn’t have done it without Shag and Mutton helping Adam in the kitchen”, said Joby, leading him out of the sunlit walled garden and round to the side of the house “Now let me show you what we’re doing with this old conservatory thing here”.

“It’s incredible”, said Bengo “You’ve achieved so much”.

“I’ve enjoyed it”, said Joby “It’s been nice to have so much room to move about in, after being cooped up on ship for so long. Mind you, I don’t need to tell you about that do I!”

“Did we get all the right seed packets for you?” said Bengo “Hillyard was a bit worried we might go and cock it up”.

“I haven’t looked through ‘em all yet”, said Joby “But it all seems to be in order. Now in here, we’re gonna get the tomato plants up and running”.

Bengo looked round the small conservatory which was tacked onto the side of the house.

“It must have taken ages to get it cleaned up”, said Bengo.

Hoowie drifted in through the door which led into the house. He was hot and sweaty after cleaning the kitchen windows. Joby knew he wanted to catch up with Bengo, and said he was going to the kitchen to see if Adam had any coffee on the go.

“Don’t let Bardin catch you lagging though”, he said, goosing Hoowie in the behind as he left.

“Lagging?!” Hoowie exclaimed “Chance would be a fine thing! I feel like a manky old rag after cleaning the windows in this heat!”

Once Joby had gone Hoowie seized Bengo in his arms.

“I’ve missed you so much”, said Hoowie “So’s Farnol. We’ve been really worried about you”.

“We’ve been worried about you lot too”, said Bengo “Leaving you back here with no ship. We thought we might come back to find the place deserted, and no idea where you were”.

“It got so bad I went up to talk to Kieran one evening”, said Hoowie.

“What did he say?”

“’Keep the faith, Hoowie, keep the faith, they’ll be alright’. Do you know I had the feeling that he was protecting you somehow”.

“He probably was”, said Bengo “We didn’t have many of those weird occurrences we got out on the ocean sometimes. One day all the clocks and watches stopped, all at the same time, twenty-past eleven, but other than that there wasn’t much weirdness at all”.

“Good”, said Hoowie “Don’t want you having some wanker trying to poke a knife into your eye again do we!”

“And how are you?” said Bengo, prodding him gently in the stomach “You look well. Being Julian’s love slave really suits you”.

“Oh Julian’s alright”, said Hoowie “As long as I do exactly what he wants all the time he’s really kind to me. Do you know all my life people have found me really annoying, a little of me goes a long way and all that, and now here’s somebody who can’t get enough of me! It’s incredible! I have to pinch myself sometimes. I’m terrified he’ll put my bags outside the bedroom door and tell me he’s had enough of me”.

“That isn’t going to happen”, said Bengo “He’s been looking for somebody like you all his life. Somebody he can have all to himself. He’s not gonna throw that away”.

“Hey, have you seen my new underpants Hillyard bought me?” said Hoowie.

“No”, Bengo laughed “He did all the clothes buying, with a bit of help from Tamaz”.

Hoowie stood up and dropped his trousers.

“Oh yes very nice”, said Bengo “Fits where they touch and all that. Nice and sheer”.

“HOOWIE!” Bardin yelled from the doorway.

“Oh fuck”, said Hoowie, scrabbling to pull his trousers back up.

“Those tomato plants aren’t going to stand a chance with you exposing yourself in here!” said Bardin.

“I wasn’t exposing myself!” said Hoowie “I had my pants on!”

“Those pants don’t exactly leave much to the imagination do they!” said Bardin.

“You’re just jealous”, said Hoowie, sauntering past him “’Cos you insist on walking around in starch all day!”

Once he was out of the conservatory, Hoowie pelted up the stairs two at a time, and ran along the corridor to Kieran’s room. Kieran was sweeping the floor in there, wearing only a t-shirt and pants.

“This is how Joby likes you be when you’re in here is it?” said Hoowie, cheekily.

“That, plus it’s going to be hot today”, said Kieran, who had the two windows open, letting a warm, gentle breeze flow in. He was a little embarrassed that Hoowie had caught him doing the housework with no trousers on.

“God you’re so beautiful”, said Hoowie, pressing him up against the chest of drawers “I wish I was beautiful, even just for a little while, to see what it was like”.

“You do alright, don’t knock yourself”, said Kieran “Julian wouldn’t go for just any old rubbish you know”.

They were woken from a post-carnal doze a while later by the sound of Julian cantering one of the horses into the courtyard outside. The stables were directly below the part of the house where Kieran’s bedroom was. “It must be nearly lunchtime”, said Kieran. He leaned over the side of the bed to retrieve his fob-watch from the pocket of his trousers on the floor, and promptly fell out. Hoowie laughed and hauled him back in.

Kieran rubbed his hand gently over Hoowie’s back and thighs.

“You’ve got a couple of little blisters forming there, Hoowie”, He said “Has Julian taken the strap to you?”

“Just the once”, said Hoowie “He said he might do it very occasionally, just for the hell of it. I think he was testing me a little, just to see if I’d accept it. He should have known I would. Anyway Bardin’s strapped me no end of times, so it’s hardly anything new!”

“Yes, but make sure he doesn’t go too far”, said Kieran “Julian can get a wee bit carried away sometimes. I should know!”

“Yeah, but he says he has to with you, ‘cos you’re a total anarchist!” Hoowie laughed.

“It’s my job to wind him up”, said Kieran.

“We’ve had tinned corned beef until it was practically coming out of our ears”, Ransey was grumbling at the lunch-time “Now we’re getting tinned spam!”

“There are picked onions with it, what’s the matter with yer!” said Joby.

“You seem very prickly today, Ransey”, said Adam “Are you sure you’re not going down with something?”

“He’s hurt his back sawing up the logs”, said Lonts.

“You silly arse, why didn’t you say?” said Adam “Hillyard can give you a massage after lunch”.

“I notice everybody has rushed to the lunch-table on time”, said Bardin, appearing in the room “Rushing in to meals and rushing up to bed is what you all specialise in, but I notice nobody rushes out to explore what’s in the local countryside!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake he’s not still banging on about that is he?” said Joby.

“You would have been the first to complain, Bardin”, said Adam “If you had come home and found we had made no further progress on the house or the kitchen garden”.

“He’s still stressed from the trip”, said Bengo “Take no notice of him. I’ll take him upstairs after lunch and put lipstick on his nipples!”

“Right, take all your clothes off and lay face down on the bed”, said Hillyard “God, I never thought I’d be saying that to YOU!”

“How do you like this room?” said Ransey, doing as he was instructed.

“Fine, it’s nice and quiet in this part of the house”, said Hillyard “We can’t hear the clowns fighting, or Julian shouting! Mieps keeps leaving her guns all over the place, but otherwise it’s nice”.

“The amount of lectures I’ve given this family on gun safety”, said Ransey, taking his spectacles off and resting his chin on the pillow “I might as well have saved my breath”.

“You’re looking in pretty good shape”, said Hillyard, appraising Ransey’s lean, suntanned body.

“Don’t start any of that”, said Ransey “Try to remember we’re like brothers. I swear sometimes there’s sex coming out of the woodwork round here. It’s bad enough that Julian appears at the dinner-table with spunk stains on his riding-breeches! Your doing I take it?”

“I’m not answering that”, Hillyard laughed.

“Hillyard, what happened in Aspiriola?” said Ransey, suddenly serious “You lot have been all on edge since you got back, particularly Bardin”.

“I think all you’ve done is pull a muscle”, said Hillyard “Resting it for a little while should do the trick”.

“HILLYARD!” said Ransey.

“Nothing actually happened”, said Hillyard “It just was horrible that’s all. People were so hate-filled, you expected them to go on some mad killing spree at any moment, they were more like a community of Ghoomers than humans. I was glad to get out of there. We haven’t wanted to say too much, because it might set Kieran off, and he’ll insist on going back there and … oh for fuck’s sake, none of us could face that, not after we’ve found here”.

“I understand”, said Ransey.

“It’s bad enough knowing that Madhoul could drop us in it”, said Hillyard “And tell them where we are”.

“That won’t make any difference”, said Ransey “From what I’ve seen of the townspeople of Aspiriola in recent years, none of them would have the gumption to travel across 3000 miles of ocean!”

“We’re going to have a little party this evening”, said Hillyard “Adam’s going to bake some cakes this afternoon, and I’ve brought back something a little special to put it in them”.

“Dope you mean?” said Ransey.

“It’ll do your back good”, said Hillyard “Great thing about it was that it didn’t take up any storage space!”

“Did you put extra in Bardin’s portion?” said Farnol, as he and Bengo ate up cake crumbs in the kitchen late that evening. There was the sound of the gramophone coming from the living-room part of the house.

“No need”, said Bengo “He’s under strict orders to rest, and he seems to be obeying too. We haven’t heard a peep out of him this evening”.

“I can’t believe he’s lying in bed and actually doing as he’s told”, said Farnol.

“He’s worn himself out”, said Bengo “He used to get like this just before a big show, get all twizzled up”.

Hoowie ran into the room. He had been sent out to the stables to check on the horses.

“Somebody pushed me out in the yard!” he announced, breathlessly.

“Like who?” said Farnol.

“Probably one of the others pratting about”, said Bengo.

“It wasn’t one of the others!” said Hoowie.

“Who then?” said Bengo.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see them, it’s such a dark night”, Hoowie burbled “Just this dark shape lunging at me, tried to push me over! It’s really freaked me out, I’m not going back out there again, not on my own!”

“Alright, calm down, man”, said Farnol “I’ll pour you a brandy”.

“I’ll go and get Julian”, said Bengo.

He trotted along the corridor to the dining-room, where a poker game was in progress at the table.

“Julian, you’ve got to come over to the kitchen”, he said “Hoowie’s in a state”.

“What about?” asked Julian.

“He says something attacked him in the yard”, said Bengo.

“In the yard?” said Hillyard “Well there’s only one thing to do, go and look for it”.

He stood up and grabbed a torch from the sideboard. Julian meanwhile followed Bengo to the kitchen, where they found that Bardin had joined the merry throng.

“Oh Bardy, what are you doing down here?” said Bengo, stamping his foot in exasperation “I thought you were gonna stay in bed!”

“I came down to get a drink”, said Bardin, who was in his nightie “Seeing as you seem to have completely forgotten my existence! What’s all this about Hoowie imagining he’s being attacked in the yard?”

“Imagining it?” said Hoowie, in outrage “Did I imagine this?”

He pulled his shirt off one shoulder to reveal a large, lurid bruise.

“That’s where that bloody thing grabbed me!” he said.

“You probably got it horsing around with Julian”, said Bardin, who was utterly convinced that the special cake had been playing particular tricks with Hoowie’s brain, which he already regarded as being pretty scrambled at the best of times.

“I am not in the habit of throwing him at the wall!” said Julian.

“It’s only my bum that gets bruises anyway”, said Hoowie, causing Farnol to give a shout of laughter, and then hastily have to turn it into a cough.

“There’s nothing out there”, said Hillyard, coming in from the courtyard “And it’s as black as the ace of spades outside, there’s no Moon, be better to look for any signs of an intruder in daylight”.

“What did it look like?” said Joby, who had ambled into the kitchen with Kieran “The intruder I mean”.

“I dunno”, said Hoowie “Sort of dark and shapeless”.

“Ah, it could be an elemental”, said Kieran.

“Right, that does it, that’s enough for one evening”, said Julian, who had no patience with Kieran going off on some other flight of fancy “Let’s secure the house and go to bed”.

“It really did happen, Bengo”, said Hoowie, who was saying goodnight to him in the window niche on the landing “I didn’t get that fucking bruise larking about!”

“I believe you”, said Bengo “And so will Bardy … by the time I’ve finished with him”.

“I suppose if no traces are found tomorrow”, said Hoowie, miserably “All the others will think I’m making it up too!”

“No they won’t”, said Bengo “Ransey believes you, and that gives you ENORMOUS credibility”.

“I know I’m a dork most of the time …” said Hoowie, wretchedly.

“You’re funny and you’re sweet”, said Bengo, kissing him on both cheeks “Now I’d better go to bed before Bardy starts shouting again”.

He went into his room, where Bardin was lying propped up regally against his pillows.

“God Bardy, you’ve been quiet for all of five minutes”, said Bengo, tearing off his t-shirt and shorts and tossing them carelessly across the room “This must be some kind of record!”

“Don’t have a go at me”, said Bardin “You can’t blame me for adopting a sceptical attitude where that hairy great loon is concerned. He lives in cloud-cuckoo land for most of the time! And I do get very tired of wherever I go in this house finding you two slobbering all over each other!”

“Well somebody’s got to be nice to him!” said Bengo.

He jumped onto Bardin and held his (Bardin’s) hands above his head playfully.

“If this intruder is real”, said Bardin “Then it means we have a whole new raft of things to consider. It means we’re not alone here”.

“It was a nice thought to think we could have an entire continent all to ourselves”, said Bengo “But I suppose it wasn’t very realistic really”.

“We’ve got to go and look for this person”.

“Oh Bardy, they could be anywhere!”

“That still means we should go and look”, said Bardin “Cheer up, it’ll be fun. You always enjoy camping out in the wilds, or you used to enjoy it when we were at The Bay”.

“I know”, Bengo sighed “But we’ve only just got home. I don’t feel like turning out and going off again so soon”.

“This’ll be different”, said Bardin “We’ll only be gone for a couple of nights at the very most, not months. We’ll go and explore a bit beyond the trees. They can’t be that far away if they’re sneaking round here at night”.

“And what if they’re really coming from somewhere up the coast?” said Bengo.

“Then we try there next”, said Bardin.

There was a strong possibility that the Summers in this continent would be long and hot, and so Bardin wanted to get the little camping trip out of the way before the hot weather truly set in. He decided that the usual 6 would go (himself, Bengo, Ransey, Kieran, Hillyard, and Joby), but that he would take Hoowie along as well.

“He needn’t think he’s going to live some pampered life”, he said to Adam “Just because he’s now a fully-fledged courtesan”.

(Adam privately thought that he couldn’t imagine anyone who looked less like a pampered courtesan than Hoowie).

“As you wish, old love”, he said, instead.

Bardin went out into the courtyard to tell the other clowns that they needn’t think they were going to get a couple of days holiday, just because he wouldn’t be in the house.

“Oh dear lord”, said Adam to Bengo “I don’t know how you’ve put up with a whole lifetime of him sometimes. He can be extremely exhausting”.

“Is he annoying you?” said Bengo, who had been kneading dough “Do you want me to go and slap him round the chops for you?”

“Well I’d rather for once that we didn’t have to resort to violence!” said Adam.

“He’ll be alright”, said Bengo “Or I can chuck a bucket of cold water over him, or kick him in the pants”.

“Blimey”, said Joby “This sounds like some hired thug service, run by clowns!”

“It does rather”, said Adam.

“We use to do a graveyard sketch”, said Bengo “Where I had to play a ghost, and I had to keep popping up and kicking him in the backside. I used to look forward to that one appearing on the play list!”

Julian called Bardin in for a private chat later that day. There was a small room - sandwiched between the living-room and the dining-room - that Julian and Ransey were slowly getting kitted out as a library. (Hillyard had marched into a couple of bookshops in Aspiriola and bought enough books at random to fill a few tea-chests). Julian seemed to be in a very serious mood, and Bardin got nervous.

“I’ve clearly done something wrong”, he said, hovering near an armchair piled with hardbacks “So get it over with and tell me”.

“Don’t be insolent”, said Julian “I’ve asked you in here to tell you that the camping trip is off”.

“What?” Bardin exclaimed “Why?”

“Because you’re not well”, said Julian “You haven’t been for some while now”.

“B-but there’s nothing wrong with me”, Bardin protested “I’ve just been a bit tired lately that’s all”.

“You’re exhausted”, said Julian “Anyone can see that. And you’re absolutely riddled with tension”.

“I’ve always suffered from hyper-tension”, said Bardin “You ask Bengo …”

“Bardin”, said Julian “If you were a normal human being it would have killed you a long time ago. Even now, it’s not doing you any good. You’ve got to get better before I will even countenance the idea of the camping-trip”.

“I thought YOU might at least understand the need for it”, said Bardin “After what happened to Hoowie in the courtyard”.

“If there is someone, or some THING, out there”, said Julian “Then it clearly knows where to find us, so I don’t see why we have to knock ourselves out going looking for it! I have no objection to you taking the truck out for the day and having a drive round, but sleeping rough in your condition, no”.

“Well how will I know when I get better?” Bardin squawked “It’s not like backache, it’s not as if I’ll be able to tell when it’s gone away!”

“You’ll know when you’ve calmed down”, said Julian “When it’s not just nervous energy that’s keeping you going, when you’re not running on empty. In the meantime you try and relax”.

“How?” said Bardin, helplessly “I don’t know how”.

Julian sent Toppy to the kitchen with an order for Bengo to make some tea. When Bengo carried it up to his room he found Bardin lying on his side on the bed. He had been clearly crying.

“Was he very severe, Bardy?” said Bengo, gently, thinking that Julian had beaten him.

“He didn’t touch me”, said Bardin.

“Well what’s the matter then?” said Bengo, putting the cup of tea down on the bedside table.

“He’s vetoed the camping-trip”, said Bardin “Says I’ve got to get well first”.

(Bengo silently thanked Julian, and vowed to worship him even more in future).

“He doesn’t understand”, Bardin sobbed “I’ve always had to be like this. Nothing would ever have got done otherwise. We would never have stood a chance of putting a show on …”

“But we’re not doing any shows now, Bardy”, said Bengo, and he pulled Bardin to him and held him.

“The trip’s off”, said Joby, walking into the kitchen.

“How do you know?” said Hillyard, who was standing around eating a rock-cake.

“Eavesdropped at the door”, said Joby, bluntly.

“Good job really”, said Hillyard “There’s a strong wind getting up. I can feel it coming in off the sea”.

It wasn’t the wind though that woke Bardin up later that night, but the eternal sound of Julian and Hoowie rutting.

“What’s the matter, Bardy?” asked a sleepy Bengo.

“What’s the matter?!” said Bardin “They’re at it again! I can see we’re going to have to move to another room at this rate”.

“But I like this room”, Bengo protested.

“I like this room as well”, said Bardin “But I can’t put up with this night after night. Sometimes I wish Hoowie was a woman, at least then he’d have a period once a month and we’d get a brief respite from all this!”

“I don’t expect he’d still be having periods at his age”, said Bengo “Whatever that is these days”.

There was a brief climatic cry from next door.

“Show’s over”, said Bengo “For the moment anyway”.

In the next room Julian was bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t able to light a cigar.

“Why not?” asked Hoowie.

“Adam had a go at me this afternoon about smoking in the bedrooms”, said Julian “I don’t know what’s started him off on that kick, but he went on about what a filthy habit it is and all that, so I’ve left my smokes downstairs, out of temptations way”.

“Was Adam in here then?” said Hoowie, sounding forlorn.

“Now don’t get like that”, said Julian “He’s a very old friend that’s all, you’ve got absolutely no reason to get jealous of him”.

“I do though”, said Hoowie “He’s more suited to you, cut from the same cloth as you and all that”.

“I’m sure he’d be dead chuffed to hear that!” Julian laughed.

“He’s so good-looking and classy”, Hoowie went on “He oozes class, it comes out of him all over the place”.

“You make it sound like incontinence!” said Julian “Anyway he comes from a family that were all as mad as March hares, I suppose some might interpret that as class”.

“He’s got poise”, Hoowie persisted.

“Bullshit, has he got poise!” said Julian “He’s got no poise whatsoever, never has had. When do you ever see him, except on very rare occasions, looking elegantly dressed for example? He usually looks like somebody’s been clouting him with old cabbage leaves! He’s not suave, and he has an anarchic streak a mile wide. It used to be a problem taking him out anywhere sophisticated, as one never knew what he was going to say and do next! One needed nerves of steel. But you now, I could take you out. That’s the one drawback about living out here, I would love to take you to some swanky restaurant and show you off”.

“Show ME off?” said Hoowie, in disbelief.

“Yes”, said Julian “All scrubbed up you would knock them in the aisles”.

“I’d only go and embarrass you somehow”, said Hoowie “Whenever we’ve been out anywhere, Bardin’s always been having a go at me beforehand about how I should calm down and not get over-excited, as though I’m some little kid!”

“God knows, if anybody needs to calm down it’s him!” said Julian.

There was a soft creak on the floorboard outside their room. Someone was making their way to the lavatory on the other side of the landing.

“Your nerves are bad, sweet-pea”, said Julian “You visibly jumped then”.

“I thought it might be Bardin”, said Hoowie “He keeps bursting into rooms and having a go at me about something”.

“Well if he bursts in here, he’ll get a rollicking!” said Julian.

The high winds had given everyone a bad night, which led to a general feeling of being out of sorts. The wind had blown itself out by dawn, to leave instead a hot, humid day. Bardin gave Hoowie the job of cleaning the floor in the dairy, and Bengo went upstairs to their room to remonstrate with him.

“What’s the problem?” said Bardin “The dairy’s nice and cool, he should be pleased”.

“It’s becoming a joke, Bardy!” said Bengo, in exasperation “If there’s a shitty, hard job to be found, you’ll give it to Hoowie! If you carry on like this people are gonna start saying you’re jealous of him!”

“I AM jealous of him!” said Bardin, after staring at Bengo quietly for a moment.

“Why?” Bengo exclaimed “Do you want to be Julian’s full-time bum-boy, is that it? ’Cos if so where do I fit in?!”

“No it’s not that”, said Bardin, miserably, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his bath-robe “It’s because he’s so sexy. I don’t know how anybody that ugly can be so sexy but he is”.

“So what?” said Bengo “You’re sexy too. Everyone’s always saying what a cute arse you’ve got!”

“Oh big deal!”

“Well it is actually. Hoowie’s arse isn’t cute, it’s all flat and hairy, you’ve said so enough times yourself”.

“What difference does that make?” said Bardin “None whatsoever. He’s completely at ease with sex, just like you are, and that seems to be all that counts”.

“We’re all different, Bardy”, said Bengo, gently “That’s what makes it so exciting”.

Bardin was given yet another lecture on the absolute necessity of relaxing, even though it was a state which didn’t remotely come easy to him. He slowly got dressed and went downstairs. There was a pile of dirty laundry on the hall floor, which presumably Toppy had left there whilst he went off and looked for more. The sight of a heap of men’s underpants, socks and t-shirts annoyed Bardin, but he tried to calm himself by taking deep breaths. Ordinarily he would have blown on his whistle and yelled for Toppy, but Bengo had told him that if he heard the whistle at all that day he would seize Bardin by the elbows and shake him like a rag-doll.

Steadfastly he walked past it, and went on into the kitchen. This was empty because Adam had taken Bengo and Joby to the kitchen garden. Bardin went on through it and into the dairy. Hoowie was morosely sweeping the floor up in there, and he paused to give Bardin a wary look. Suddenly Hoowie seized a jug of cream that had been standing on the table, and poured the contents over his own head.

“What did you do that for?” said Bardin, astonished.

“To stop you in your tracks”, said Hoowie, as the cream dripped down glutinously amongst his wild hair “Before you had another go at me and found me another shitty job to do! It was the only thing I could think of that would freeze you before you started nagging me again!”

“For fuck’s sake”, said Bardin “Have you any idea what Adam’s going to say when he finds out?!”

He marched over to the sink, put in the bung, and laboriously pumped out some water from the little hand-pump on the draining-board.

“Come here”, he ordered “I’ll wash it off”.

“You don’t have to do that”, Hoowie mumbled.

“Do as you’re told!” said Bardin “You’ve got nothing to fear, I’m an old hand at this”.

He swept Hoowie’s hair into the sink, and worked hard to try and wash the cream out of it.

“Just when I think you might be calming down a bit”, said Bardin “You go and do this. I was coming to tell you that you could have the rest of the day off after you’ve washed the floor, but now I’m not so sure!”

“Adam’ll probably find me a shitty job now”, said Hoowie, into the sink “When he finds out I’ve wasted food like that”.

“Well you should have thought about that shouldn’t you!” said Bardin.

“This water’s freezing cold”, Hoowie moaned.

“GOOD!” said Bardin.

To Adam’s annoyance everybody else in the house thought that Hoowie’s prank was hilarious.

“At least he only did it to himself”, said Bengo, philosophically “If he’d done it to Bardy, our lives wouldn’t be worth living right now!”

“I love his craziness”, Julian laughed.

“Julian, it’s not funny”, said Adam, remonstrating with him at the bottom of the stairs after lunch “You’re supposed to be keeping him in order, not encouraging him!”

“I didn’t encourage him, I had no idea he was going to do it”, Julian protested “But it’s done now, so we might as well get a good laugh out of it. It’s only a jug of cream, I’m sure we’re not going to starve for the lack of that”.

“It’s the principle of the thing”, said Adam.

“Oh bollocks to principles, as Joby might say”, said Julian “It just goes to show the drastic methods we have to resort to sometimes to shut Bardin up! Stop looking so boot-faced, he’s been punished. And if I’m feeling energetic I’ll do it again later”.

“And a fat lot of good that will achieve!” said Adam, snottily.

“Adam”, said Julian “You of all people should know that my beatings are not for the weak and squeamish”.

Adam pushed him away and went into the living-room, where Ransey had eaten lunch off a tray on the sofa, well propped up by cushions.

“What’s all this about Hoowie and a jug of cream?” he said.

“Well everybody, apart from me, who clearly no longer has a sense of humour, thinks it’s the joke of the century!” said Adam.

“I suppose we should be grateful he kept his clothes on”, said Ransey “Normally his pranks involve him stripping off!”

“How’s your back, old love?” said Adam.

“Easing slightly”, said Ransey “Finia’s been putting some heat pads on me, that helps quite a bit”.

Adam came and sat next to him on the sofa, and Ransey found himself being distracted by the blonde hairs on Adam’s bare legs.

“I want to talk to Kieran sometime”, said Ransey “I’m getting a bit unnerved about these rumours that are rumbling in the background about him wanting to go back to The Cursed Isle”.

“Take no notice”, said Adam “It won’t happen. Patsy can’t handle the galleon all by himself, and none of the others are going to sail it for him”.

“What’s the matter with him though?” said Ransey “Why does he want to help those … creatures?”

“You know Patsy”, said Adam “This mania of his to Save everybody. He simply doesn’t understand why anybody would choose to live that way”.

“They’re demons!” said Ransey “What does he expect?! And surely the fact that Joby narrowly avoided being castrated, and Bengo nearly had his eye gouged out should convince him that they’re not worth bothering with? Why does he want to put us through it all again?”

“He doesn’t see it that way”, said Adam “He thinks we’re all so strong that we can cope with it”.

“Well I don’t feel very strong at the moment”, said Ransey, stretching and feeling all his bones creak “And I’ll tell him that and all!”

That evening, after dinner, Bardin and Joby had a drunken game of cards at the dining-room table. The dining-room was directly below Julian’s room, so their game was frequently punctuated by the thwack of a paddle, and a muffled cry from Hoowie.

“God, poor old Hoowie!” Joby chuckled.

“Poor old Hoowie?” Bardin snorted “He deserves every whack”.

“I’m surprised he doesn’t get splinters in his arse sometimes”, said Joby.

Bardin collapsed into snorts of laughter.

“Who would volunteer to get them out if he did!” he exclaimed “Fighting through all that fur on his behind!”

There was a pause between rounds whilst Joby re-shuffled the cards.

“I’m glad we’re having this little session together”, said Bardin.

“Why? Because you’re winning?” said Joby, looking at the sprawling heap of draughts pieces and old beer bottle tops that was lying near Bardin’s elbow.

“No”, said Bardin, tipsily “Because we’re alike you and me, neither of us are comfortable in our own skins. Unlike Bengo and Hoowie and Julian”.

“Nothing wrong with your skin”, said Joby “It looks pretty good from where I’m sitting”.

Bardin blushed. It wasn’t like Joby to chuck compliments around with gay abandon.

“Anyway, I’m surprised Bengo’s comfortable in his own skin”, said Joby “With all the digs you make about him being porky!”

“Well he is porky”, said Bardin “If I wasn’t careful, him and Farnol would spend all day stuffing themselves with food”.

“I’d rather have that”, said Joby “Than somebody who seems to think food is a complete irrelevance! If you’d known Kieran when he was anorexic, you’d never complain again about Bengo bursting his breeches!”

There was an extra loud whack from upstairs, and Joby gave a jump.

“Blimey, I felt that one from down here!” he said.

Toppy came into the room carrying a tray of glasses that had just been washed, and set them down on the sideboard.

“I say”, said Bardin “That washing was sitting on the hall floor for half the day. If it happens again tomorrow I shall have to seriously reconsider you as the laundry-maid”.

“And just who else would do it?” said Toppy.

“Don’t make threats like that, Bardin”, said Joby “Nobody else would enjoy doing the washing!”

Bengo ambled nonchalantly into the room.

“Bardin’s winning hands-down here”, said Joby.

“That makes the first card game he’s ever won in his life then!” said Bengo.

“What are you going to buy with all those draughts counters and bottle tops then, Bardin?” said Kieran.

“Yeah, don’t forget your old friends will you!” said Joby.

“Did you see that?” said Bengo, suddenly, rushing over to the window which faced the ocean.

“What?” said Joby, looking up sharply.

“A bright light falling into the sea”, said Bengo.

“Sounds like a meteor”, said Kieran.

They all rushed out into the front garden and ran to the cliff’s edge, everybody else slowly piling out of the house behind them. There was a strange light in the sky, like a muted aurora.

“We’d better check on the galleon”, said Bardin “Make sure it’s safe for the night”.

“You didn’t imagine it, did you?” said Hoowie to Bengo. Hoowie was standing with his hands rammed down the back of his trousers.

“No I didn’t!” said Beng, waspishly “You’d better take things easy in your condition!”

“We’ll check on the galleon right now”, said Bardin, insistently “And then again first thing in the morning”.

“I thought he was supposed to be resting”, said Ransey, who had come out onto the lawn, leaning heavily on a walking-stick.

Adam threw his hands up into the air as a reply.

“Look at the phosphor glowing on the sea”, said Bardin to Bengo “Are you sure it wasn’t the light from that that you saw?”

“No it wasn’t, Bardy”, said Bengo, in annoyance “I’ve seen that enough times now not to mistake it for something else!”

“Alright!” said Bardin “Keep your vest on, I was just making sure!”

Bengo was extremely annoyed about Bardin’s remarks. First thing the following morning, whilst they were still in their bedroom, he said that if Bardin didn’t ease up on him he would be moving up into the attic room with the other clowns.

“What’s brought all this on?” Bardin squawked, sitting bolt upright in bed, with his legs straight out in front of him, in a position which didn’t look terribly comfortable.

“You think I’m an idiot”, said Bengo.

“No I don’t”, Bardin protested.

“Yes you do. You’re always calling me a Stupid Fat Clown”.

“That’s affection! You talk to me like that sometimes, you call me Old Cactus-Tongue!”

“Well you seem to think I can’t tell the difference between a bright light falling into the sea, and phosphor!” said Bengo.

“I just know how easy it is to be confused if you only catch something out of the corner of your eye”, said Bardin “Hey come on, Benje, I didn’t mean to give you a hard time. I know I’ve been difficulty company lately …”

Bengo gave a snort.

“Well alright, I’m ALWAYS difficult company”, said Bardin “Does that make you feel better? I’ll try harder to be more human, I promise. You don’t want to move upstairs with that lot. You won’t get any peace. Farnol and Hal will want to keep demonstrating their new magic tricks to you!”

“Hal’s one with the egg balanced on the end of the stick is quite good”, said Bengo, sitting down on the edge of the bed “’Cept I have to make sure Adam isn’t in the kitchen when he wants to practise it! Perhaps I hadn’t realised how difficult I’ve found things lately too. That voyage, when we took Madhoul back to Aspiriola, was awful. You seemed to be so closed in all the time, I couldn’t reach you, and I was lonely in the galley, I really missed Adam and Joby. And going past that bloody island, even giving it a wide berth like we did, gave me the creeps”.

“I wish you’d told me all this before”, said Bardin, taking his hand.

“It’s the show must go on, isn’t it?” said Bengo “You drummed that one into me at a very early age”.

“Yes well I clearly haven’t been very good at practicing what I preach lately”, said Bardin.

The door burst open, and Hoowie stood there in his dressing-gown.

“We’re having a mellow moment”, said Bardin, sternly “Go away!”

“No, you’ll want to hear this”, said Hoowie “Some sort of big carcass has been washed up in the cove”.

“Big carcass?” said Bengo.

“Yeah, we think it’s a sea monster”, said Hoowie “Nobody can tell what it is! I’m going down there with the others right now to have a look at it”.

“Put some clothes on first”, Bardin ordered.

“What’s wrong with this?” said Hoowie, indicating his dressing-gown “I look completely respectable in this. Anyway, it’s not as if the neighbours can see me is it!”

“He couldn’t look perfectly respectable in anything!” Bardin muttered, after Hoowie had flounced out of the room.

They all trooped down to the beach, where a large carcass was lying beached on the shingle in the little cove, near where the galleon was moored. The carcass didn’t seem to be of any definite shape, it looked like a cross between a monstrous jelly-fish and a beached baby whale.

“I suppose it is definitely dead”, said Adam, tentatively touching the leathery flesh of the thing.

“Dead as a doorknocker”, said Hillyard.

“Hey, he’s got his dressing-gown on”, said Hoowie pointing at Joby.

“Hoowie, just put a sock in it for a moment!” said Bardin.

“What are we going to do with it?” said Tamaz, imperiously, as though it was a giant heap of dog dirt that needed clearing up.

“Perhaps we could chop it up and cook it”, said Lonts.

“No we are not!” said Joby.

“Burn it”, said Bardin “That’s the hygienic thing to do”.

Joby went back to the house, and up to his room, where he proceeded to sort out his shaving things. Kieran had followed him, and was standing staring out of the side window.

“They’d better get a move on if they intend to burn it”, he said “There’s a storm coming in, from over inland”.

“Did you hear what Lonts said?” said Joby “Cook it?!”

“Not a bad idea”, Kieran shrugged.

“Yeah well you wouldn’t have to eat it would you, being vegetarian!” said Joby.

“I was wondering if I should make some kind of speech at lunch-time”, said Kieran.

Joby paused in smearing shaving-cream over his face. He didn’t like the idea of speeches at the dinner-table. As far as he was concerned, meal-times were for when everybody appreciated the food (which he had worked his fingers to the bone preparing), not for listening to speeches.

“What do you wanna make a speech about?” he said.

“Well a lot of them seem to be a wee bit on edge”, said Kieran “Ransey made some very caustic comments to me yesterday”.

“Take no notice of him”, said Joby “It’s his back getting to him. I took a cup of tea into him yesterday. A tiny, TINY bit of it had slopped into the saucer, the way he carried on you’d think I’d chucked it at him!”

“Everybody seems concerned that I’m intending to go back to ‘The Cursed Isle’”, Kieran persisted.

“That has been unsettling them, yes”, said Joby.

“Do you think it would help if I made it clear that I wasn’t going to do that?” said Kieran.

“Yeah, I think it might”, said Joby, reluctantly “But don’t make it long speech, eh Kiel? Some of the ones you used to make when you was President used to go on for ages!”

Kieran intended to wait until everybody else had gathered around the dining-room table before making his grand entrance. The portents for a big speech being well-received weren’t good. Ransey was grumbling about just about everything.

“Tell you what”, said Hillyard “Shall I fling the windows wide open and let all the rain in?”

“What bloody good would that do?” Ransey exclaimed.

“It’d give you something new to complain about!” said Hillyard.

Bengo noticed that Kieran was loitering out in the passage, waiting for everybody else to get settled around the table. He nudged Bardin in the ribs to alert him to it. When everyone was gathered, Kieran came into the room and rapped a knife against a glass to get their attention.

“I’m not making a very long speech”, he said, with a significant sideways glance at Joby “It’s just that it’s dawned on me that some of you are getting worked up about me suggesting we might go back to ’The Cursed Isle’”.

“Damn fool idea”, Ransey muttered under his breath, but sufficiently audible for everyone to hear.

“Well that’s not the case”, said Kieran, emphatically “Not in the foreseeable future at any rate. I just wanted to reassure everyone on that point. I had no idea that feelings were running so high against it”.

“I can’t imagine why you think anyone wouldn’t be feeling strongly against it, Patsy”, said Adam “It’s hardly a very alluring idea is it!”

“Well that’s all I’ve got to say”, said Kieran, sitting down at his place.

Bengo involuntarily let out a big gasp, as though breathing a sigh of relief for everyone at the table.

“I suppose you’d like a pickled onion”, said Tamaz, who had been hogging the jar since he had come into the dining-room.

“If you can spare one”, said Kieran.

After the meal Kieran took Joby into the conservatory for a private chat. The rain was lashing down violently against the windows as they spoke.

“I don’t want this to go any further”, Kieran whispered “Just between you and me. That creature that was washed up may have come from the Island”. “What?” said Joby “All the way from ‘The Cursed Isle’. How?”

“It can happen”, said Kieran “Same as messages in bottles used to get washed up all over the world in our time”.

“But why can’t the others know?” said Joby.

“I think it would unsettle them too much”, said Kieran “Even though the creature was dead, it would still unnerve them. They all seem a bit uptight about that Island at the moment”.

“Hardly surprising is it!” said Joby “I don’t like keeping secrets like that, Kiel”.

“I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t think it was very important”, said Kieran “We’re building a new life in a new continent, they don’t need to be continuously unsettled by that other godforsaken place! I know you don’t like it, but trust me I believe this is for the best. I’ve never let you down before have I?”

“Yeah probably!” said Joby.

When the weather cleared the following day Kieran offered to go out riding. The only problem was that by the time they were ready, Bengo and Bardin, and Julian and Hoowie, had commandeered the horses for their own excursions, and Joby and Kieran were reduced to using the mules. Joby’s mood wasn’t enhanced by Hillyard telling him that he was getting snotty ideas above his station, and he was only a kitchen maid for heaven’s sake, and if old Ned (one of the mules) could understand what they were saying his feelings would be dreadfully hurt.

Kieran fetched water bottles for their panniers, and they set off towards the trees on the far horizon. It was a relief to reach the shelter of the trees after the glare of the sun, and they rode through them in companionable silence. Joby noticed the remains of what appeared to be some kind of shrine attached to one of the trees. The little wooden box contained the wax model of a rounded, naked woman, which looked like a homage to some kind of fertility goddess. He didn’t point it out to Kieran, as he didn’t want him to go off on a Catholic rant against heathen practices.

After a short break, mainly to partake of the water bottles, they left the woods and went on across the wasteland beyond. This time they climbed up to the top of a distant hill and took in the view. There was yet more wasteland, but this time it was peppered with small lakes.

Whilst Kieran was marvelling at the scene, Joby felt himself getting more and more angry. The sighting of the little Pagan temple in the woods had brought Kieran’s religious fanaticism home to him again, and it was particularly uncomfortable at the moment with Kieran clearly yearning (however much he might say otherwise) to go off on some moral crusade to cleanse ’The Cursed Isle’).

All this put Joby in a thoroughly bad humour, and the sighting of the lakes could do little to lift this. On the long ride back to the house they met Julian and Hoowie, and it quickly became apparent to them that something was wrong. When they got back to the house, Julian took Joby into the library, and Joby almost immediately broke down in tears.

“Come on, old chap”, said Julian, gripping Joby’s shoulder “Don’t let the others see you like this, think how it would upset them”.

“I know”, Joby sniffed “But it just got to me, that’s all”.

“All because of that weird little doll in the woods?” said Julian.

“Kieran, he’s a lovely bloke”, said Joby “He’s so kind and funny, but it’s the religion. He turns into a complete nutter then, and he’s capable of anything”.

“That damn island”, said Julian, pacing around the room “He won’t let it go will he? It concerns me too. I keep thinking he’ll enlist the help of that turd Angel, and use him to find some way of getting back there”.

“You don’t have to tell me, I know!” said Joby “It goes round and round in my head constantly!”

“Let me sort him out for you, Joby”, said Julian.

“You’re not whipping him, Julian”, Joby protested “No, won’t have it, I don’t like it”.

“Listen to me”, said Julian, staring intently into his ace “You can’t use gentle, subtle tactics on Kieran, they don’t work, no more than they do with the clowns. You could sit and plead with him for the next 5 years. All he’ll do is stare back at you with those big blue eyes of his, and not take a damn bit of notice, and eventually you’ll end up falling in with what he wants to do, however much you hate it”.

“B-but”, Joby exclaimed, appalled at the prospect of Kieran’s spindly little body under the onslaught of the strap once more “I feel like I’ve betrayed him. He’ll never forgive me”.

“Of course he’ll forgive you”, said Julian “He forgives you everything. He even forgave you years ago when you shagged his wife!”

“Talk about fucking ancient history!” Joby exploded.

“It’s awful, Bardy”, said Bardin, standing in their bedroom and twisting the hem of his apron round in his fingers.

“Stop fiddling with yourself like that”, said Bardin, sitting propped up on the bed “You’re like some fussy, anxious old woman”.

“Well I feel like some fussy anxious old woman!” said Bengo “Joby and Kieran are passing through a crisis, and there seems to be nothing we can do about it”.

“We are not psychiatrists”, said Bardin “Nor are we marriage guidance counsellors. We are Fools”.

“Speak for yourself”, said Bengo, crossly.

He went to the door, as if to leave the room, but Bardin leapt off the bed and ran to bar his way.

“Bengo, you won’t interfere”, he said, firmly “You let Joby and Kieran resolve this themselves. If you disobey me on this, then it’ll be me who leaves and moves upstairs. It’ll make an interesting change for me to be the one who walks out!”

Bardin sat down at the dressing-table, regally crossed his legs and began applying hand-cream.

“You wouldn’t …?” said Bengo, helplessly, adopting his famous abandoned puppy dog look.

“Hah, it’s a different story when the boot’s on the other foot isn’t it!” said Bardin “Oh stop whimpering, you’re not 6-years-old anymore, I’m not leaving, why would I want to go and live with that lot?!”

“One day, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’m gonna have a custard pie conveniently to hand, and I’m gonna ram it right in your face!”

“Well it wouldn’t exactly be the first time would it!” said Bardin.

Joby dragged himself upstairs and towards the room he shared with Kieran, at the end of the long corridor on the west side of the house. When he walked into the room he found Kieran lying on the bed, rolled up tightly in the bedclothes so that only his long hair was showing. Joby collapsed against the mantelpiece, and repeatedly blubbed that he was sorry. Kieran climbed stiffly out of bed, and went over to him.

“Religious fanatic, that’s what he called me” he said, as Joby gently draped his silk robe around him “Perhaps I am. It’s hard for me to judge, because it all feels so natural for me you see. To want to sort out what’s meant to be”.

“In your opinion, what’s meant to be”, said Joby, emotionally “You were putting the demons above everyone else though, Kiel, and there didn’t seem to be any way to reach you. You’re a hard nut to crack sometimes”.

“It should have been you who sorted me out though, Joby”, said Kieran “Not Julian. You’re in charge of me”.

“I know, but it’s the strap”, said Joby “I have a mental blockage about it. It’s my weakness”.

“No, it’s your strength”, said Kieran “But you wouldn’t need to use that on me, not you, Joby. I don’t’ want to make you unhappy”.

“How could I be unhappy?” said Joby, holding him close “With you in my arms like this?”

“I’ve allowed meself to get carried away lately”, said Kieran “I’ve let the Vanquisher side of me get the upper hand. That was never my intention when we came here. I’ve got above meself. I need teaching a lesson. Adam’s been telling you for years that you’re not firm enough with me”.

“Being firm with you is a full time bloody job!” said Joby “You’re right. I shouldn’t have left it to Julian to come up here. And I should have put you in your place when you made me swear to keep that secret down in the conservatory. Having power doesn’t come naturally to me. I forget to use it. I’ll try to remember in future. But the strap, no ….”

“You don’t need it” Kieran repeated, and he kissed Joby’s hands symbolically.

Joby felt himself getting aroused. There was very little (if any) of the sadist in him. He wasn’t like Julian. Chastising Kieran for its own sake didn’t give him a kick. But the physical intimacy of the act did. Having Kieran lying across him, cupping his petite, flat buttocks in his hand did. And (as sometimes happened) they were both naked when the spanking took place, then he also had the feel of Kieran’s dick rubbing against his leg.

“I was weak today”, Joby whispered “I won’t be again. I’ll never leave Julian to sort you out again, I promise”.

“You’ve got to be tough with me, Joby”, said Kieran “Next time I come up with ideas you don’t like, or you think I might start shouting me gob off about heathen practices, you must spank me really hard”.

“Can I tell the others about that sea-creature now?” said Joby.

“Don’t ask me”, Kieran laughed “I’m your slave, you tell me , and if I protest …

“In the meantime”, said Joby “I’m gonna put some anti-septic on the marks Julian’s left!”

It was as if a cloud had lifted. It was brought home to Kieran how much the others had almost been holding their breath over his possible decision to return to ’The Cursed Isle’. He berated himself for his selfishness in not listening to their fears. Hillyard was angry at Julian for thrashing Kieran, calling him an “old sadist bastard”, and chucking a pile of towels at him in the bath. But otherwise even he had to admit that it had all helped to clear the air.

The galleon, moored at the cove beneath the house, was inspected every day. Checked over to make sure no one had intruded on it, and to replenish the rat-traps in the store-rooms and the hold. Bardin usually sent two of the Indigo-ites down to do this in tandem, and one day he sent Kieran and Hoowie.

They inspected the ashy remains of the beached sea-monster on their way, and then sat for a while on the sunlit deck.

“Don’t you think you’re entitled to be kind to yourself?” said Hoowie, suddenly “Sometimes when I stop and think about what the demons did to you at ’The Sealed House’ …”

“Don’t think of that”, said Kieran, squeezing Hoowie’s knee “You must look at it all as strength-giving. When you’ve plumbed into the depths of degradation like that, it only adds fire to your soul. Let’s not waste this lovely day thinking on such matters. Tell me what you’d really like to do now”.

“I’d like to poke my cock up your arse”, said Hoowie, candidly.

“You’re so long and lean and …”

“Hairy”, said Hoowie, as Kieran caressed his body in the bunk normally occupied by Bengo and Bardin.

“You’re very sexy”, Kieran laughed “I can see why you cut it as an artist’s model”.

Hoowie stretched out luxuriously. Making love with Kieran was like pleasuring a very amiable, laid-back king.

“I wish I had known you when you were President”, he said “I could have been your royal catamite. You could have sent for me whenever you …”

They both started and sat bolt-upright, hearing voices on the deck overhead. As the voices got nearer they realised it was Ransey, Julian and Bardin.

“No point trying to hide our sins”, said Kieran “We wouldn’t have time anyway”.

“There’s only thing to do then”, said Hoowie, leaping out of the bunk and pulling on his t-shirt and underpants “Brazen it out!!!”

He leapt out into the corridor, just as the other 3 were coming down the quarterdeck steps. They were all looking relaxed and cheerful.

“That’s it!” Hoowie cried “We should move back onto the boat. That house is too gloomy, it crushes our spirits”.

“I’ll go in and light the samovar”, said Bardin, going into his cabin, followed by Ransey “It’ll have to be black tea, no milk over here at the moment”.

“Have you checked in here?” said Julian, pushing open the galley door.

“Julian”, said Hoowie, in a wheedling tone “Don’t you think it’s a good idea moving back onto here?”

“But we’ve got more privacy at the house”, said Julian.

“We could convert one of the surplus store rooms into a cabin for ourselves”, said Hoowie.

“Sounds alright”, said Julian “But what about Joby’s garden?”

Hoowie had to fight down the urge to go into a sulk. He knew Julian didn’t like shows of jealousy, but he also knew that Joby occupied a very special place in Julian’s heart. Julian always seemed to go out of his way to make Joby content.

“I understand what you’re saying, my dear fellow”, said Julian “It is a gloomy house, and that band of trees seems to act as a barrier between us and the rest of this land. But it would be a terrible waste to abandon the garden now.

“We’ll stay here until the end of the Summer then“, said Hoowie “But we could live on here and still use the garden”.

“We shall see”, Julian smiled

They went into Bardin’s cabin, where Ransey was extolling the virtues of the armchair he was sitting in.

“There isn’t anything as comfortable as this at the house”, he said.

“Nothing is as comfortable at the house”, said Hoowie, triumphantly throwing himself onto Ransey’s lap “You’re actually being cheerful and laughing for a change”.

“That’s because his back’s clearing up”, said Bardin.

“It won’t be for much longer if I have to have this great lump sitting on me!” said Ransey.

“Hoowie”, Julian clicked his fingers and signalled for Hoowie to sit on the leather footstool instead. Hoowie obeyed, but he still protested that moving back to the galleon would be the sensible thing for everyone to do.

And the trouble was, that he was right. When they returned to the house Hoowie’s idea spread round the others like wild-fire. Adam seemed to voice the fears of everyone when he said that he constantly worried (particularly at night) about leaving the galleon unattended and vulnerable. The house had been convenient to them, especially its size, but there was no denying that it was a dark, gloomy place, and nothing they did seemed to dispel that.

“You’ve got to take your hat off to our Hoowie”, Rumble was teasing Bardin by saying “Not so long ago no one in their right minds would take any notice of what he says, now we’re all running around doing what he wants!”

Bardin didn’t speak, he simply looked white-faced with fury. You could almost see smoke coming out of his nostrils.

“And he makes it all look so effortless”, Rumble went on “All he has to do is to keep dropping his drawers for Julian and he can have whatever he wants. He’s even getting a new cabin!”

Rumble wasn’t remotely a malicious man, but the temptation to take a rise out of Bardin was irresistible.

“You’d better watch out, mate”, he said “Or he’ll be after your whistle next, and we’ll be having to call HIM Captain”.

“Over my dead body!” Bardin spluttered, finally wrenching out some semi-coherent words “Never! NEVER! I would leave before I took orders from that long-haired beatnik!”

Toppy came into the living-room, carrying a tea-tray.

“I do think you’re awfully unfair to Hoowie”, he said.

“Who asked you!” Bardin exclaimed.

“Hoowie has always been very sweet and vulnerable”, said Toppy “And Julian is absolutely cow-eyed about him”.

“What is this, The Hoowie Appreciation Society?!” said Bardin “I don’t want to hear anymore. I’ts like some bloody nightmare! Everyone’s gone crazy! CRAZY!!!”


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