By Sarah Hapgood

The Summer was long and very hot. The heat was intense, and for several hours each day it was virtually impossible to do anything. In the kitchen garden at the house, Joby’s tomatoes and apples ripened in a very satisfactory way, and the garden was often visited by butterflies which seemed to be larger and more colourful than one would normally expect.

On the galleon, mosquito nets were dug out and hung around the beds, although it wasn’t uncommon for some of them to prefer sleeping up on deck during these humid nights. The sultry hours were often filled with languid and idle speculation about this mysterious new continent they were now at home in.

One evening, Hillyard came up onto the deck, carrying two bottles of beer, which had been soaking in a bowl of cold water in the galley. He took them over to Kieran, who was sitting close to the bulwark, looking out to sea. The only other ones on deck at the moment were the clowns, who were having a lethargic card game on the other side.

“I can’t do a damn thing in this heat”, said Hillyard, handing Kieran his beer and sitting down next to him.

“Perhaps we should think about mooring somewhere cooler”, said Kieran “Sail up the coast or down, it makes no odds, I should think we’ll come to somewhere cooler eventually”.

They chatted about this possibility for a while, whilst listening to the sea, and feeling the gentle rocking of the boat.

“Now my eyes are playing tricks with me”, said Hillyard “I thought I saw a light then, in the distance, to the south”.

“Another meteor?” said Kieran.

“Look, there it is again!” Hillyard pointed “Fuck me, Kieran, I swear it’s a lighthouse! You watch it for a moment, and see if I’m not right”.

An emergency summit meeting was called in Bardin’s stifling cabin. A fully operational lighthouse (as averse to the derelict one they had seen when they first came to this continent) was an unmistakeable sign of civilisation. Even an automatic lighthouse needed periodic maintenance and care in order to operate.

The only one who wasn’t excited by this news was Joby, and Hillyard thought he knew why. In recent times Joby had got used to having Kieran as Kieran, not the Vanquisher of Evil. Unless everybody on this strange continent had never heard of Kieran (and that was a possibility of course) then this brie idyll would now come to an end.

“I don’t want everyone crowding in here”, Bardin shouted above the din “It’s too bloody hot for that. Let’s decamp to the dining-room”.

“Shall we get some more beers out?” said Hal, with an unsightly leer on his face “Help the old mental processes along a bit?”

“I don’t think brain surgery could help his mental processes along!” Bardin muttered to Bengo.

As far as Bardin was concerned anyway, there wasn’t much thinking to be done. He had no intention of sailing the galleon that night. Nobody (including himself) was in any fit state to sail it. Anyway, a lighthouse was hardly likely to run away, and he wanted to pursue it at his own leisure.

He did annoy the Indigo-ites though by decreeing that there would be a complete alcohol embargo for however long it took them to reach the lighthouse. When asked why, he said they had to be in good shape to be prepared, as there was no knowing who they might find at the lighthouse.

“A lighthouse-keeper?” Bengo hazarded a guess.

“Does the alcohol embargo apply to you as well?” Tamaz asked Bardin, rather tartly.

Bardin didn’t dignify this question with an answer.

“If you ask me, we could do with a change of leadership”, said Hoowie, when he was alone with Julian in their cabin a short while later “Bardin’s been Captain for years and years, probably decades. Why can’t you go back to being Captain? I’d prefer it if you were Captain”.

“You’d be in a minority I fear, my dear fellow”, said Julian “The others prefer Bardin”.

“God knows why!” said Hoowie “The clowns are terrified of him!”

“THAT can only be a good thing!” said Julian “Don’t waste your efforts trying to arrange a mutiny, it won‘t work. Anyway, a mutiny seems rather an over-reaction just because Bardin had you swabbing the deck today!”

“Yeah, he never wastes an opportunity to give me another shitty job to do”, said Hoowie.

“All very character building”, Julian smiled.

“I get enough bloody character-building from you!” said Hoowie, waspishly “Do you know, I sometimes have this fantasy that Bardin’s taken a fall from one of the horses, and I’m the only one around, and he’s completely at my mercy”.

“And that what happens?” said Julian.

“Nothing probably”, said Hoowie, gloomily “He’s like Kieran, he’s a skinny little squirt, but he’s got such a presence”.

“That’s precisely why I made him Captain!” said Julian, triumphantly.

The following day there was sufficient breeze for Bardin to decide that they should veto the engines and put the sails up instead. It seemed sacrilegious somehow to spoil the intense hot silence of the area by starting up the engines.

Early in the morning a gang of them harvested as much produce as they could from Joby’s kitchen garden and carefully stored it in the hold. They then set sail in a steady south-easterly direction.

“I was hoping Adam would take my massive hint and send you along”, said Julian, when Joby brought his morning coffee to his cabin “Close the door and sit down”.

“I don’t like to, Julian”, Joby protested, feebly.

“Do as you’re told”, said Julian, imperiously stubbing out his cigar-butt in the ash-tray.

Joby closed the door and sat down.

“I know Hoowie gets a bit jealous if I come and see you alone, that’s all”, he said “And I don’t really wanna upset Hoowie. He’s having a brilliant effect on you!”

“Hah!” Julian smiled “The tamer tamed I suppose?” “Summat like that”, said Joby.

“I think I’ve cured Hoowie of his little jealous fits”, said Julian “I’ve given him a good talking-to about it”.

“And that’s cured him has it?” said Joby, dubiously.

“Undoubtedly”, said Julian “We have crossed the Rubicon. I seem to have finally got it through to him how special he is”.

(He didn’t add that his “good talking to” had culminated in him literally tearing off Hoowie’s trousers).

“Well I hope you’re right”, said Joby.

“Finia once told me that all Gemini’s carry around an inner loneliness”, said Julian “Because they are secretly looking for that elusive twin. I feel like I have finally found mine. If that makes me sound foolish then so be it”.

“No, it doesn’t sound foolish”, said Joby “Hoowie needs somebody to ground him. He’s always been a handful”.

“Some of those disgusting old men he knew when he was young”, said Julian “Appalling. He told me he had nightmares about them for years afterwards … anyway, I didn’t bring you in here to talk about that. I want to talk about you. You’re mopey”.

“Yeah well … “Joby shrugged, lethargically.

“Joby, you can’t keep Kieran shut away for the rest of eternity”, said Julian.

“No, but a bit longer than 5 minutes might have been nice!” said Joby “I’m wishing we could go back to The Bay”.

“There were problems there too”, said Julian “The weird happenings in the forest, the monks, Althea’s imaginary baby …”

“It all seems quite cosy now!” said Joby.

“I believe there is a strong possibility that whoever we meet on this trip will never have heard of Kieran”, said Julian “Let alone recognise him. If that does prove to be the case then I can promise you that not one of us will let the cat out of the bag. You want him to be just Kieran, not the Vanquisher of Evil, well that is the way it shall be”.

The shoreline changed remarkably little during that day’s sailing. Miles of decayed, un-harvested cornfields stretched for as far as the eye could see. Come early evening they anchored a short distance out, and prepared to keep watch to see how much closer they had got to the lighthouse.

Up on the main deck Hillyard and Mieps were canoodling in the sultry twilight over by the bulwark. Hillyard was groping Mieps’ breasts, her nipples erect beneath her cotton, sleeveless shirt. All this was watched in a lazy fashion by Bengo and Hoowie, who were sprawled on the other side of the deck.

“Does Rumble still do that thing?” Hoowie asked “You know, where he sucks her boobs”.

“Yes, sometimes”, said Bengo “I caught them at it in the hold one day. It’s quite sweet really. Hoowie, I’ve been thinking”.

Hoowie looked understandably alarmed at this news.

“What if we come across people in this continent who don’t accept us?” said Bengo.

“Then we move on, surely?” said Hoowie.

“I was just thinking that they might all be like Codlik”, said Bengo.

“Then we definitely move on!” said Hoowie.

Bardin came down from the poop-deck, where he had been surveying the land and the ocean through binoculars.

“Julian suggested we take the horses for a run tomorrow”, he said “So that’s you and me, Bengo, and he’ll want you to come as well, Hoowie”.

“Great”, said Hoowie, unenthusiastically, thinking of what a day’s riding would do to his already sore behind.

“Thought you’d like that“, said Bardin, with a knowing smile “I hope you don’t get saddle sore!”

“I’ll give him saddle sore!” said Hoowie, when Bardin had gone below deck “I could do it and all, I’ve learnt a lot from Julian, he’d better watch out!”

“Wouldn’t make any difference”, Bengo sighed “He’d still be Bardy. You’ve just got to learn to stop rising to his bait. Bardy wants a stooge more than anything. Stop giving him the opportunity”.

Bardin wanted them to go riding as early the next morning as possible, when they day was still moderately cool.

“Are you going to be alright on that, Hoowie?” Hillyard teased, when he was helping them to saddle up “You don’t want me to pad the saddle a bit for you?”

“I wish everyone would stop being so obsessed with my arse!” said Hoowie.

“Oh in your dreams!” said Joby.

“Take no notice of Hillyard, Hoowie”, said Adam “He seems a little irritable this morning”.

“It’s that damn lighthouse”, said Hillyard “Sometimes it feels like it’s taunting me. I keep seeing it, but it never gets any closer”.

Once they were ashore Hoowie broke away and galloped along the edge of the decayed cornfield. Julian thought he looked a magnificent sight, with his wild, long hair streaming out behind him. He eventually yelled for him to halt, and then cantered up to him. Hoowie wheeled round to face him as he approached. Bengo and Bardin were approaching at a more stately pace.

“Just felt like doing it”, said Hoowie “In case Bardin starts teasing me as well”.

“Then stop giving him an audience”, said Julian “If you don’t respond he can’t do much”.

“That’s practically what Bengo said”.

“Well the little chap knows what he’s talking about where Bardin’s concerned”.

Bengo had in fact spoken sternly to Bardin that morning, and it seemed to have had an effect. Bengo said he didn’t want to spend this little outing with them all bickering at each other like a bunch of catty prima donnas. So, as a consequence, Bardin was a bit quieter than normal.

They came across an abandoned wooden farmhouse, in far worse condition than the house they had previously been living in. Everything about it was as rotted as the fields which surrounded it. They dismounted, and stepped gingerly around the veranda, which was choked with weeds and wild grass growing up through the planks.

Bardin had forced open the screen door, and broken open the front door with little trouble at all. The hallway inside was a miserable sight. It was filled from floor to ceiling with bags of rubbish. The stairway was impassable, and the little bit of floor space that was available was strewn with rat and mouse droppings.

“Don’t go in there”, said Bardin, putting his hanky to his mouth “The stench is appalling”.

Hoowie, who had been leaning against one of the veranda posts, chewing on a fingernail, said “Perhaps if we had a look round inside we might get some clues though?”

“My dear fellow”, said Julian “I think it would be virtually impossible to move inside!”

A rat shot out of the front door, squealing, and Bardin slammed the door shut. (He said afterwards that he was amazed that the impact of the door slamming hadn’t made the house fall down!).

“I can hear something”, said Bengo.

It seemed to be a man’s voice in the distance, calling.

“It’s coming from round the back”, said Hoowie.

They walked round the corner of the house, but the man’s voice had gradually faced, and had disappeared entirely by the time they got there.

“That wasn’t of this world”, said Bardin, who felt goose-bumps breaking out on his arms.

“But we all heard it!” said Bengo.

“Collective psychic experience?” said Julian “Well it wouldn’t be the first time, and we’re all close enough to each other mentally”.

Bardin looked around him uneasily, particularly at the upstairs windows, which were broken, leaving the filthy lace curtains flapping idly in the breeze. He didn’t need to say what they were all thinking: that it felt as though they were being watched.

They caught up with the galleon, which had been moored in the heat of the day a short distance along the coast . Julian felt preoccupied with what they had experienced at the gloomy farmhouse, and went below deck to help Hillyard un-tack and feed and water the horses. Hillyard observed how soaked with sweat Julian was, and offered to bath him before lunch. Hillyard looked most put out when Julian said that that wouldn’t be necessary.

“I shall just give myself a sponge down and change my clothes”, he said, causing Hillyard to develop a distinct pout. (Julian found it quite amusing that the others had spent years and years telling him what an insufferable arrogant sod he was, and how it was little short of a miracle that anybody could tolerate him for longer than 5 minutes, and yet now, since his relationship with Hoowie had ripened so dramatically, it seemed nobody could get enough of his precious company!).

“Don’t take it to heart, my dear chap”, he said “We’ll get together soon. It’s just that I promised Hoowie I would put some anti-septic on his bum before lunch. The horse-riding has been rather rubbing off the scabs”.

“I did offer to pad the saddle for him!” said Hillyard, indignantly.

Hoowie winced as the mixture was gently applied to his posterior, and yet at the same time loved it. He saw any bruises, scabs, smack-marks he got as duelling scars. The fact that he lost every single “duel” with Julian was neither here nor there. Plus, on top of the rigorous disciplining he received at Julian’s hands, there were these tender moments. Once Julian’s public school-boy sadism had been appeased, he was as tender and gentle as a loving mother with a baby. Those elegant hands, which doled out hard smacks with unbridled relish, could also caress and stroke.

“Serves you right, you hairy little bastard”, said Julian “You must have known that galloping off like that would only exacerbate it. You did look absolutely wonderful though“.

“Ouch!” Hoowie winced “Kieran said this could happen“.

“Well he should know”, said Julian, now shaking powder over Hoowie’s behind.

“Julian”, said Hoowie “What do you think has happened to everyone here?”

“We won’t know that until we meet someone and they can tell us”, said Julian, helping Hoowie to his feet “Now take it easy. No running around the ship this afternoon like bloody Road Runner. God, I sound like a bloody doctor don’t I!”

Joby rang the hand-bell outside the dining-room to call everyone in to lunch.

“Hillyard’s going to come in this afternoon to give me a massage”, said Julian.

Hoowie paused in putting on his trousers.

“So I have to make myself scarce?” he said.

“Well I wouldn’t have put it quite like that!” said Julian, stroking Hoowie’s neck “Come on now, sweet-pea. We’ve had all this out”.

“He’ll seem like vanilla after me”, Hoowie blurted out, abrasively.

“Everybody would seem like vanilla after you!” said Julian.

Hoowie was shocked at himself. He would never have expected to have come out with something like that before. He was beginning to be aware of his own sexual power where Julian was concerned, and it both exhilarated and frightened him. In his younger days sex had simply been a means of survival. Since joining Kieran’s gang it had been a very enjoyable recreational activity, at which he had some considerable aptitude. But now he could see where Bardin was coming from with his jibes about Hoowie being the “royal concubine”.

After lunch he sought out Toppy for company. He and Toppy had always been the unlikeliest of friends, but, probably because for a long time they had been the two youngest members of the clan, there was a strong bond between them.

Toppy was changing the sheets on Bardin and Bengo’s bunk. Bengo was in the galley, and Bardin was getting in the way up on deck. Hoowie fished an apple out of the bowl and lounged on the sofa.

“I expect Bardin’ll come in and have another go at me about what a lazy, pampered, spoilt so-and-so I am”, he said.

“You deserve a bit of pampering”, said Topy “With all the rough treatment you get from Julian”.

“Oh I quite like being smacked”, said Hoowie, casually “The harder the better really. It keeps me under control”.

“The idea of you being kept under control!” said Toppy, laughing.

“Julian’s got me almost completely tamed”, said Hoowie.

“That is extremely unlikely!” said Toppy.

“Topps, I think i could turn into a monster if I wasn’t careful”, said Hoowie, looking intently at the remains of his apple.

“No you couldn’t”, said Topy “That’s absurd. You simply haven’t got it in you, and even if you had Julian would soon sort it out!”

“I’ve gotta watch myself though”, said Hoowie “What I say amuses him at the moment, but I could easily end up making him angry. But you know me, I blurt things out without thinking. I did today. I couldn’t believe what I’d said afterwards!”

“It sounds, from what you’ve told me, that you were simply stating a fact”, said Toppy “I overheard Adam saying recently that Julian’s been looking for someone like you all his life”.

“What did he mean by that?” said Hoowie, warily.

“Someone uncomplicated”, said Topy “Who’ll simply do what’s required. Stop worrying. You’re not going to turn into a monster. I’ll tell you if you do!”

Hoowie enjoyed a night of rimming (using a fine piece of muslin), blow-jobs and walloping. By breakfast-time he felt more satiated than he had ever done before in his life. After breakfast Bardin had given him the task of sweeping the long corridor which ran below the main deck, and Hoowie was so grateful for a job that didn’t involve sitting down that he forgot to complain about it!

“Hoowie!” Bengo shouted, galloping down the quarterdeck steps “Come and have a look. The lighthouse is in view!”

“At last?” said Hoowie.

“Oh look at you, you poor thing”, said Bengo “You look really out of it”.

“Do I?” said Hoowie.

“A bit dazed”, said Bengo “Like I do after Bardy’s given me a serious tongue-lashing!”

“I didn’t get much sleep last night”, said Hoowie “My arse is throbbing. Two days of extreme punishment”.

“It’ll do you the world of good”, said Bengo “Keep you under control”.

He dragged Hoowie up on deck. Hoowie gave a gasp. The lighthouse was a lot closer than he had anticipated. It was an island lighthouse, stuck out on its own little rock. The tower of the lighthouse was very tall, but not in the best of condition, being rusted in many parts. Julian called Hoowie over to hand him a pair of binoculars so that he could view the tower better. Being so physically close to Julian again was almost too much for Hoowie. He wanted to throw himself down on the deck and lick the dried mud from Julian’s boots. He restricted himself though to looking at the lighthouse.

“Is he alright? Hoowie I mean”, said Bardin, as they sailed steadily towards the lighthouse “He sounds drugged this morning!”

“He’s just tired that’s all”, said Bengo, looking across at Hoowie, who was leaning sideways against the bulwark.

“He’s going soppy if you ask me”, said Bardin “He’s started looking like you when you go all puppy-eyed!”

“Oh you’re just jealous”, said Bengo, stoutly “You’d love your starchy bottom to be getting that much attention. Play your cards right and I’ll take a hairbrush to you later!”

“Not until I do you first!” said Bardin, fiercely “Oh go and buck him up a bit, I don’t care how you do it. If there is anyone at the lighthouse, and the first impression of us the get is him drooping all over the bulwark, they’ll think we’ve all got plague or something!”

The lighthouse was a short distance from land, and the slither of coast in the background was a dismal brown-ish streak of land. It had got much cooler the further south they had travelled, and this whole area felt like the ends of the earth. On the small island on which the lighthouse was stood, was a set of wide wooden steps which had been built to lead up from the landing-stage to the main door of the porch which was adjoined to the tower.

“Ahoy!” Bardin had called out from the poop-deck, several times.

Eventually the door to the rickety lean-to porch opened, and a figure emerged, pulling on a long oilskin coat. Everyone on the boat practically held their collective breath. This would be the first person they had met since arriving at the new continent.

Well the lighthouse-keeper didn’t quite live up to the hype. He was a stringy, rather sickly-looking fellow with surprisingly pale skin, and lank, greasy hair. He also wore the sort of inane grin normally associated with village idiots. But he was not hostile, and that was something to be thankful for.

“Where have you sailed from?” he asked, when he had come down the wooden steps to join them at the landing-quay.

“Rather a long way I’m afraid”, said Adam, whose silky diplomacy was better than Bardin’s abruptness “From across the ocean. The other side of the world”.

“The Old Continent?” said the lighthouse-keeper, and he gave a whistle of amazement “That is quite some journey”.

Adam decided that to try and introduce him to everyone would be simply too confusing and impractical, so he introduced him to Bardin and Julian. Instinctively, he had then turned in Kieran’s direction, which was unfortunate, as so far the lighthouse-keeper hadn’t given any indication whatsoever that he recognised him. With aplomb though, Adam had simply introduced Joby instead, as “my valued assistant in the galley”.

The stranger introduced himself as Brake. He said his ancestors had come over from The Old Continent many years before to escape the massacre of the women. They had had no contact whatsoever with the motherland since then, and he expressed surprise at finding there was anyone left there. He said they had all assumed that it had become completely de-populated long since. What was bizarre (at first) was that he seemed a trifle put out to hear that some colonies of women - such as at Toondor Lanpin - had managed to survive in secret. The Indigo-ites were eventually to discover that The New Continent prided itself on building a new civilisation against all the odds, and the revelation that the old civilisation had flourished, virtually under The Ministry’s noses, they regarded as something akin to a blow to their national pride.

Brake had a wife and son living at the lighthouse with him, and the little family were invited onto the galleon for dinner that evening. The Indigo-ites motives weren’t entirely for reasons of hospitality. They needed to find out as much information as they could about this new land, and this was a convenient, comfortable way of doing it.

Remus was Brake’s son, a shy 17-year-old boy who had spent almost his entire life at the lighthouse, and as a consequence was very ill-at-ease when in company. By contrast, Brake’s wife, Catarine, was a total chatterbox. Living for most of the time, as she did, with a monosyllabic husband, and a permanently tongue-tied son, she went into overdrive on the very rare occasions when they had visitors.

The Indigo-ites thought this could only be to the good, as Catarine could tell them everything they needed to know. Unfortunately, Catarine was more interested in asking about them, than telling them a lot of boring facts about her own life, which she already knew. She assumed they were some kind of religious order, which was true (“in a very quaint sort of way”, said Adam), but this might draw too much attention to Kieran, and so they tried to lead her away from this subject. Catarine though, unlike her husband, had already taken note of Kieran’s other-worldly beauty, and found herself, at the dinner-table, constantly drawn to his blue eyes.

“Make sure you keep Catarine’s glass topped up”, Adam whispered to Hillyard, who was doing the honours circling the table with a wine bottle.

“You’d better keep chatting to her then”, said Hillyard “She’s clearly got a rapport going with you”.

This was true. Catarine found Adam charming, intelligent, and interested in her … the complete opposite of her sullen husband. She was under no illusions that anything could happen with Adam. She had weeded out the true nature of the Indigo-ites’ relationships almost immediately. Under her fluffy exterior she was no fool.

Brake grew more and more sullen as the evening went on. He didn’t trust the strangers. They could only prove to be unsettling. Towards the end of the evening he announced that they should leave. Catharine though (thankfully) was emboldened by several drinks, and said she would join him back at the lighthouse later. She was lonely woman, starved of stimulating company.

“Don’t worry, old love”, Adam said to Brake “We’ll light her back safely. Make sure she doesn’t fall in”.

“All women are DAFT!” Brake thundered at Catarine, before leaving.

Catarine pulled a face behind his back.

“You know I can’t make out something about you lot”, she said, when she and Adam had been discreetly left alone in the dining-room “You talk as though you have all known each other for many years, and yet none of you look older than 25!”

This was dangerous territory. Adam made a joke about “healthy living“, and steered her back to herself.

“It’s not everyday one meets someone from a whole new land”, he said “Tell me about this place. How big is it? Where di you come from before you came to the lighthouse?”

“The land is huge”, said Catharine “Huge and wild in many parts. Before I married I lived in the City. That’s about 50 miles from here. It’s the biggest town here by a long way”.

“You call it the City?” Adam smiled “Like the City was called in The Old Continent?”

“I guess no one could think what else to call it!” Catarine laughed.

“What’s life like in the City?”

“It used to be good”.

“Used to be?” said Adam.

“Our ancestors worked very hard to make things prosperous”, said Catharine “They wanted a new land that was free of wars and hardship”.

“Very laudable”, said Adam “But immensely hard to achieve. Human nature being what it is”.

“Oh for a long time it was”, said Catharine “It was never very fancy you know, but as long as you were prepared to work hard, you could be very comfortable. I miss the life there often. My husband always says people are awful in the City, but they’re not. They‘re friendly … eve now“.

“Something terrible happened?” Adam asked, gently.

“There are some islands to the south-east of here“, she said, and then unexpectedly put her hand on Adam’s arm “Promise me, you’ll never go there”.

“Why?” said Adam “What’s there?”

“No one really knows. They’re called The Chain Islands, because they’re little islands all in a chain, like a necklace”, said Catharine “No one who’s ever been there has ever come back. There are all sorts of theories about it. Some believe that cannibals live there”.

“How does this concern the City?” Adam prompted her.

“When I was very young”, she said “The Elders in the City said they were going to fund an expedition to the islands, to see if there were any valuable resources there, worth investigating. But the difference was that they would travel there by air, not sea. I guess they thought that might be safer. So a small crew out about a dozen people set off in an air-buggy to look it over”.

“They never came back?” said Adam.

“Well they did … in a way”, said Catharine “The air-buggy returned, and it landed safely at the air-strip. But all the crew members were dead, all except the co-pilot who had flown them back, and he died within minutes of landing. In the main compartment of the buggy there were hug claw-marks on the seats, and the floor was littered with bullets, where presumably they had all tried to defend themselves. No one knows what really happened, but many believe that the crew captured some kind of creature on the islands, and tried to bring it back to the City, but it attacked them”.

“So what happened to the creature?” said Adam.

“They never found any trace of it”, said Catharine “It seemed to have vanished into thin air. But nothing was ever right from that day on. We began to get really weird weather. Darkness falling in the middle of the day, even though there was no eclipse, freak hailstorms, that sort of thing. Farmers out in the countryside said that their fields were scorched, and crops destroyed. We had some terrible famines as a result. And that Thing … whatever it is … must still be out here, somewhere”.

They stayed several days by the lighthouse, and Catarine was delighted. She frequently visited the galleon, and chatted to the Indigo-ites as they went about their various chores of sail-mending, cleaning, cooking, fishing, and general repair-work. She said they needed a ship’s cat, and donated one from a litter her own had recently produced.

She invited the Indigo-ites to explore the lighthouse, and they willingly did so. Ransey spent hours playing with the wireless set, even though all he listened to on it was the shipping forecast. Bengo and Bardin climbed to the top of the tower, and looked out over the bleak, brown landscape. It was nicer to turn and face the sea and the galleon instead.

“Do you know what that fool Hoowie has said now?” Bardin snapped.

“Oh can’t you stop being obsessed with him for five minutes?” said Bengo.

“He only wants us to go back to the Castle”, said Bardin “The one on the lake, where we left Crowley and Sade and all that lot”.

“What does he want to go back there for?” said Bengo.

“God knows”, said Bardin “Probably wants to parade himself in front of Piers as Julian’s pet. Silly sod!”

They climbed down the steps to the bedroom on the next floor, where Joby and Kieran were standing in front of an ornate, gilt-framed mirror hanging on the wall.

“Reminds me of the ones at The Winter Palace”, said Joby, with a shudder.

Suddenly an excruciating noise broke out in the room directly below them. It sounded like a cat had got its tail caught in the door.

“What the blazes is that?” said Kieran.

“Someone’s playing the violin”, said Joby, gloomily “Badly”.

“Oh look at you all standing there!” Catarine exclaimed, above the din of the ’music’, as she sailed into the room “You all look so impossibly sweet, particularly you [turning to Bardin] in you little flat cap”.

The others had trouble not erupting with laughter at this.

“Who’s playing the fiddle?” said Kieran.

“My little Remus”, said Catharine “He plays it in the bathroom. He likes the acoustics there. He says it makes him sound better”.

On the ground floor of the lighthouse they found the hatch in the middle of the kitchen floor lying wide open. Brake came through it, and gave a startled look of annoyance when he saw the Indigo-ites standing there. He emerged fully from the hole, and them slammed and bolted the hatch door firmly back into place.

Back over on the galleon, Bardin carried 3 rifles from the ammo store into his cabin.

“We’re keeping one in here from now on”, he said.

“Why?” said Bengo, crossly.

“Protection”, said Bardin.

He took another along to Julian’s cabin, and explained that he didn’t trust Brake the lighthouse-keeper.

“Just ‘cos he’s got a hatchway in the middle of his kitchen floor?” said Hoowie “We had one in the middle of the kitchen floor when we lived at the lighthouse on the lake”.

“I’m getting bad vibes about him”, said Bardin.

“Who’s the third rifle for?” said Julian.

“Kieran’s cabin”, said Bardin.

“Kieran won’t have a gun in his cabin, Bardin”, said Hoowie.

“He will have no choice”, said Bardin “It’s an order”.

“You’re gonna give an order to Kieran?” Hoowie exclaimed.

“This should prove to be highly entertaining”, said Julian, at which Bardin looked insulted “Oh this is no slur on your Captainly manhood, my dear fellow. Simply that even I find that little devil hard to order about, even with a strap in my hand! Hoowie, get the brandy out. Never let it be said that we fall short on our home hospitality!”

“Here”, said Hoowie, pushing over a chair for Bardin to sit on “This one’s got a nice cushion on it”.

“There’s nothing wrong with MY arse, thank you very much!” said Bardin.

Julian heard Joby and Kieran walking past the door, and went to call them in.

“We haven’t got enough glasses, Julian”, said Hoowie.

“I’ll pop into the dining-room and fetch some”, said Julian.

“Blimey, Julian fetching his own glasses”, said Joby “You’re working miracles on him, Hoowie!”

“Is it cocktail hour?” said Kieran.

“With those rifles in here, it looks more like firing-squad hour!” said Joby.

“Yes, what’s this in aid of?” said Kieran, picking up one of the guns and peering down the barrel.

“For Christ’s sake be careful, Kiel”, said Joby “You could blow your head off and then we’d have to sew it back on again!”

“I haven’t put any bullets in it”, said Bardin.

“Bardin wants you to have one in your cabin”, said Hoowie.

“A focking gun in the cabin?” Kieran exclaimed.

“You’d better tell it to him straight, Bardin”, said Julian, returning with the brandy glasses.

Hoowie reported afterwards that Bardin had drawn himself up magnificently on hearing his cue.

“It’s not a request”, said Bardin, squarely, to Kieran “It’s an order”.

“That so?” Kieran sat down, and gripped the arms of his chair in a way that Joby remembered from Kieran’s Presidenting days, when he had had a particularly vitriolic exchange with members of his council.

“I’ll take it in there”, said Joby, seeking a compromise “Seeing as it’s my cabin as well”.

“Good”, said Hoowie, who had finished pouring out the brandy “Let’s not spoil a tranquil little scene now, eh?”

A biting easterly squall blew up the next day, which sent temperatures plummeting. The Indigo-ites were taken in the space of a few days from tropical temperatures to what felt like near zero. At night the ship’s stores were ransacked for extra blankets, and it was then that Toppy reported that 4 of them seemed to be missing. He and Bardin did a tour of the boat, checking that nobody else had taken them.

After Joby had roundly told them that he didn’t have enough blankets to keep his bleedin’ feet warm, Bardin said that it was too late to do anything about it now, and that they should simply make sure that the hatches were firmly secured before retiring.

“I know who it is though”, said Bardin, when he was alone in his cabin with Bengo “It’s the lighthouse-keeper”.

“When would he have nicked them though?” said Bengo.

“He could have done it at any time”, said Bardin “It’s been a complete free-for-all round here of late. It’s been like a bazaar with people constantly coming and going. I thought he was a shifty character when I first set eyes on him. Are the food stores locked?”

“Yes”, said Bengo “And Adam’s sleeping with the keys under his pillow”.

“Good”, said Bardin.

He woke up in the night to hear someone prowling around on the deck overhead. He quietly woke Bengo and they went out to the foot of the quarterdeck steps. Bardin undid the bar on the inside of the hatch noiselessly, and then raised it slightly. He then took the rifle that he had ordered Bengo to carry and thumped the butt of it a couple of times on the top step, before slamming the hatch back down again.

“What did you do that for?” said Bengo.

“It was just to alert him that we’ve clocked him”, said Bardin “There’s no point causing a confrontation at this time of night. After all, It’s not as if he’s going anywhere in a hurry is it! He’s on a rock in the middle of nowhere!”

“It’s definitely Brake then?” said Bengo.

“Or Son Of Brake”, said Bardin “It’s not Catarine, that’s for sure. Wrong shape”.

“Let’s just go up there and demand them back”, said Hillyard, looking out towards the lighthouse from the main deck “I’d quite like to do my Town Guard bit. ’I believe you have something here that doesn’t belong to you’”.

“And they’ll say ‘no we haven’t, get lost!’” said Joby “All this song and dance over a few blankets for crying out loud!”

“You were moaning your feet were cold last night”, said Hillyad “I heard you”.

“Yeah, but it’s hardly worth causing an international incident about!” said Joby.

“It’s the principle of the thing”, said Bardin “After all, if they were short of blankets and had asked us for some, we’d have let them have them. It’s the sneaking down and nicking them behind our backs I don’t like”.

“People start wars over principles”, said Joby, darkly “It’s often a little thing like this …”

“Do you want to come with us or not?” said Hillyard.

Hillyard, Ransey, Bardin and Joby returned from the lighthouse a short while later, and went down to the main cabin below deck, where Adam, in a genteel fashion, was serving sherry to Kieran (who was annoyed because he hadn’t been asked to go), and Finia (who couldn’t have cared less). Hillyard chucked the retrieved blankets on the communal bed.

“How do you know they’re ours?” said Kieran. “I expect because Toppy once asked me to sew Indigo name-tags on them”, said Finia, going over to inspect them.

“He would!” said Joby.

“What did they say?” said Adam “The lighthouse family I mean”.

“Not much”, said Hillyard “Catarine just sort of looked all resigned, as though this sort of thing has happened before”.

“Brake regularly thieves from visitors?” said Adam.

“And all the time he just stood there on the trap-door”, said Joby “And didn’t budge an inch”.

“It’s rather sad really”, said Adam “They seem to be such a forlorn little family”.

“Depressing actually”, said Julian, who had just come into the room “And time we moved on from them. The horses could do with some proper exercise, a good gallop, and they’re not going to get it here”.

“In other words he wants to see Hoowie on horseback again!” Joby muttered to Hillyard.

After dinner Adam stayed behind at the dining-room table with Hillyard, Joby, Bengo and Ransey. Julian and Hoowie had gone to their cabin, and Ransey was speculating just how long this state of sexual passion concerning them both would stay at this current fevered pitch.

“I mean, it’s going to subside at some point”, said Ransey “And then what will happen?”

“Nothing”, said Adam “Because it won’t subside. I’ve never seen Julian quite like this before. No one else has ever suited him quite so well as Hoowie does”.

“That’s true”, said Hillyard “Me and Mieps don’t share all his tastes”.

“And Joby and I are too cantankerous and argumentative for him”, said Adam.

“Not to mention that you have Lonts and I have Kieran”, said Joby.

“But just how long can Hoowie take Julian’s constant rough-housing?” said Ransey.

“I can assure you old love that Hoowie isn’t exactly gritting his teeth through it all!” said Adam.

“Hoowie is a lousy actor, Ransey”, said Bengo “He’d never be able to fool Julian, not for a second”.

The door flew open and Bardin stood there in his outdoor gear. He had just returned from a brief visit to the lighthouse, where he had gone to tell Catarine that they were moving on soon.

“I’ve found out what Brake keeps in his cellar”, he exclaimed, excitedly.

“Shrunken heads?” said Joby.

“You haven’t been trespassing in his cellar, Bardin?” said Adam “Oh really, I could get quite cross with you!”

“No, Catarine took me down there”, said Bardin “Whilst Brake was giving Remus his violin lesson in the bathroom”.

“Blimey, and to think we missed that!” said Joby.

“So what is down there then?” said Bengo.

“Gold bars“, said Bardin “Precious stones. You name it. He’s a kleptomaniac, a human magpie. Catarine told me that he’s always thieving off visitors, the ones that they get anyway. He’s an ace cat-burglar!”

“He can’t be that ace”, said Bengo “We heard him thumping around last night!”

“That’s because we were expecting him”, said Bardin.

“But how on earth has he managed to steal gold bars?” said Adam “Some of their visitors must have been spectacularly dense”.

“Or just careless”, said Hillyard.

“I don’t know how he’s done it”, Bardin shrugged, and poured himself a glass of port from the decanter on the table “But he has. Good job all our treasures are safely stored away”.

“He wouldn’t have much chance of getting at it”, said Joby “Not with Tamaz guarding it the way he does!”

“Once he hears about this he’ll be taking up arms!” Bengo laughed.

Joby spent a restless night. He had noticed that gleam come into Kieran’s eye when he had heard what had happened in this new continent. There was Evil in the land, the land should be cleansed, that’s the way Kieran’s thought would be going. Joby wouldn’t have been human if he hadn’t felt his heart sinking.

Catarine had decided to honour their leaving by hanging a flag out of the bathroom window. It seemed to be some kind of old heraldic flag, with a griffin-style creature embroidered on it. It was quite an ornate old thing, and Bardin wondered where Brake had filched it from.

Down below, Julian had been lying entwined on his bunk with Hoowie. He was jolted firmly into consciousness when he heard the ship’s engines starting up.

“We’re on the move”, he said.

“Thank God”, said Hoowie “That lighthouse was giving me the irrits”.

Julian got out of bed and strode over to the port-hole, through which the early morning sun was pouring through. Hoowie gazed with unabashed pleasure at Julian’s magnificent body. That this wildly handsome man was his lover was a fact which never ceased to astound him.

“Where are we going now?” Hoowie asked.

The air was still chilly, so Julian pulled on his fur-lined dressing-gown, before picking up one of the maps Catarine had give them, and coming back to bed. He spread out the map for Hoowie to see.

“Look at it“, said Hoowie, in disgust “A mass of Uncharted Areas, just like the Old Continent! I thought this place might be different”.

“I don’t see why”, Julian smiled “Seeing as it’s the same sort of people living in it”.

“Yeah, but I thought this lot might be more adventurous!” said Hoowie.

“We’ll be sailing a bit further down this coast”, said Julian, tracing a line with his finger “So you’ll need to keep your woolly drawers on for a bit longer, and then, if this map’s correct, there is a sizeable river that cuts off and leads up through the interior”.

“And we’re taking that?” said Hoowie.

“It leads up through something called The Great Forest”, said Julian “Which appears to be pretty huge, as the name would suggest, on both sides of the river. I look forward to plenty of wild woodland frolics!”

Adam was fraught with worry. He could see, as plain as anything, that Joby was plunging more and more into despair with each day that passed. All the talk aboard the galleon was of the journey, and (predictably) of what they would find in the strange city at the end of the river. Joby though could only think of the fanatical gleam in Kieran’s eyes.

“We can’t change him, Joby”, Adam tried speaking to him one day, in the galley “Vanquishing evil is an inherent part of his nature. He’s like a hunting-dog, constantly primed for action. They don’t tend to make good house pets”.

Even the extraordinary beauty of the countryside they purred through couldn’t lift Joby’s spirits. They had sighted penguins soon after leaving the lighthouse, and now, some way along the river, they entered a much milder climate. The trees and plant life of The Great Forest seemed more vibrant than anything they had ever known before, reminiscent of the large butterflies they had seen in the kitchen garden of the house they had abandoned. The silence everywhere was intense though, and after dark there was a frankly sinister aspect to the entire place.

Every so often they came across abandoned cottages and huts on the riverbank. Whatever evil had struck here had depopulated the area as effectively as many places they had come across in the old continent.

One afternoon, some of them went ashore for a (liquid) picnic lunch at a derelict hut. Joby followed some while later, walking out across the decaying mooring stage. He felt close to tears. He knew that this idyll couldn’t last, that they would soon come upon the City.

Lonts had espied Joby through the doorway of the hut, and shouted for him to join them. Joby went into the hut, where Lonts, Bengo, Hillyard, Bardin and Hoowie were sitting around on the floor. He was overwhelmed with love for them all. The one and only aspect of Kieran that he actively disliked was Kieran’s religious fanaticism, and none of this lot would ever be prone to that. Feeling that kind of fanaticism was alien to all of them, and Lonts had witnessed his entire home village being consumed in a a fire at an early age, all at the hands of a religious fanatic. “What the hell do I do?” though Joby miserably, to himself “Beat him?” (that would have an effect for a few minutes I suppose). “Lock him in a trunk in the cellar?” (not very practical). “Put him under boat-arrest for the entire time we’re in this continent?” (not exactly fair, and Kieran would raise unmitigated hell about it).

The others set to work trying to reassure Joby. They didn’t have to follow the river all the way to the City, they said, they could turn round at any time and come back. Joby knew this was well-meant, but absurd all the same. Of course they would end up going to the City, their collective curiosity would ensure nothing else.

Whilst the others talked, Hoowie sat silently wondering if he could find a way of getting Julian to help Joby, but God knows how. Suddenly Julian and Ransey appeared on the scene, carrying lanterns, and saying that it was getting dark. Bardin was annoyed that they were being summoned home like children, and tried to protest that he was Captain.

“And I’m the bloody Father Superior, to belt up”, said Julian.

“It’s not wise to be ashore here after dark”, said Ransey.

Bardin had the sense not to argue with this, and so they returned to the galleon. On the main deck Kieran was pacing about. His hair had grown so long at the back that it resembled a horse’s mane, and Joby thought dryly that he supposed he would be able to grab hold of it if Kieran got into trouble, and yank him out of the way.

“Joby, I’m making you unhappy”, he said.

“That’s putting it a bit strong”, said Joby, awkwardly.

“It’s true though”, said Kieran “I am. Look, I want to reassure you somehow that I’m not going to be drawing attention to myself, wherever it is we wind up. No preaching on street corners, or barging into churches, I promise you”.

“But you do realise that if one”, said Joby “Just ONE person recognises you that’s it, the whole fucking Vanquisher of Evil nonsense starts up again”.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen”, said Kieran “Anymore than you do, but I can promise you, from the bottom of my heart, that it won’t be instigated by me”.

Hoowie came up on deck, wearing only a bath-towel round his waist.

“Hasn’t Julian taken your batteries out for the night?” said Joby, caustically.

“Oh I get it, you’re implying I’m a sex-toy, right?” said Hoowie.

“Right”, said Joby.

“I came up to have a look at the fire-flies”, said Hoowie “I also wanted to reassure you. I think Julian’s got some plan up his sleeve about how to deal with the City when we get there. But I don’t know what it is yet, otherwise I’d tell you”.

“Even if it was a secret for the time being?” said Kieran, amused.

“Oh yeah”, said Hoowie, nonchalantly “He knows I’ve got a runaway mouth and can’t help myself!”

They were late setting off the next morning, and the distinct impression was given to one and all that Bardin was as reluctant to pursue the river to its natural conclusion as any of them were. Kieran was looking forward, with amused curiosity, to hearing Julian’s grand plan. Julian though stayed closeted with Adam in his cabin for the rest of the morning. They weren’t discussing The Plan though. Instead Julian wanted to bemoan his ongoing obsession with Hoowie.

“He’s going to drive me insane, I swear it”, he said, over the samovar “I am getting MORE sexually obsessed with him, not less so. I feel like bloody Henry the VIII was with Anne Boleyn!”

“Well don’t go threatening to cut Hoowie’s head off with a sword”, said Adam “I do know how you feel, old love. I was like that when I first met Patsy. In those days I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of having him, and it filled me with torment”.

“Oh God, I couldn’t cope with that”, said Julian “Do you know, yesterday the breeze blew his hair back from his shoulder, and I nearly went mad with lust!”

“You poor thing you HAVE got it bad!” said Adam.

“I NEVER get satiated with him”, said Julian “It doesn’t matter how much we go at it! He could destroy me eventually if he wanted to”.

“I don’t think he will, old love”, said Adam “It doesn’t sound like Hoowie somehow. I don’t think he’ll even become terribly spoilt. He likes to chance his luck occasionally, because I guess he learnt at an early age that no one was going to hand anything to him on a plate. But he’s very sweet really. You just have to try and keep some of his wildness in check, and I’m sure you won’t have any trouble there!”

“I sit alright me being in here?” said Hoowie, who had gravitated to Bengo’s cabin for a cup of tea “I don’t want to get you into trouble with the charming Bardin!”

“I don’t care if you do”, said Bengo, stoutly “He can get as mad as he likes, it’s ages since I had my botty smacked”.

“Don’t tell me you’re going short on the old corporal punishment front?” said Hoowie.

“Yep”, said Bengo, bluntly “Bardy’s usually too busy when we’re on the move like this, and Joby’s completely preoccupied with Kieran at the moment, and I can’t get a look in with Julian these days. He’s totally consumed with you!”

“That’s not right is it?” said Hoowie “You shouldn’t go short of attention, not someone as beautiful as you. And it’s having an effect on you too. You’re getting dark circles round your eyes”.

“Like a raccoon you mean?” Bengo giggled.

“Here, fool around with me”, said Hoowie “I’ll cheer you up. I’ll give you a little tanning if you like. It’ll make a change for me to be the one who dishes it out. I’ll be nice and gentle with you though. It won’t be like the poundings Julian gives me”.

In fact it was so light and gentle that, to Bengo, it felt more like being tickled with an ostrich feather than being spanked. But it was very enjoyable all the same, and afterwards they both collapsed in fits of laughter on the sofa. Bardin found them like this when he came in a few moments later, and Hoowie jumped to his feet, guiltily, offering to leave the room.

“Don’t be daft”, said Bardin, throwing himself into an armchair “It’ll do Bengo good to have a bit of fun, he works too hard”.

Bengo looked almost shocked by this. He had virtually spent his entire life being told by Bardin what a lazy great lump he was!

“Are you alright, Bardy?” he asked.

“I need to look at these maps Catarine gave us again”, said Bardin “I just feel there must be a way of getting past the City inconspicuously”.

“Don’t you worry, Bardin”, said Hoowie “Julian’s gonna reveal his plan at lunchtime”.

Julian’s plan was getting such a terrific build-up that some of the Indigo-ites couldn’t help feeling that it would turn out to be an almighty let-down when it was finally revealed.

It was decided, by Adam, that they should set up some trestle tables and eat on deck, as the weather was so sultry. This was in spite of some storm clouds which were starting to gather. Hoowie decided to honour this alfresco meal by aping Adam and wearing an orange sarong. Unlike Adam, who usually wore his with a t-shirt, Hoowie appeared in his topless.

“I really shall go insane”, Julian groaned to Hillyard, as he had a pre-lunch smoke on the side of the deck “Sometimes I feel as though I’ve had my cock caught in a door! I’m permanently inflamed! I’m not sure how much more I can take!”

“You can’t dump the lad just ‘cos he’s exciting you too much”, said Hillyard “That’s the daftest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“No I don’t mean that”, said Julian “I just wish I could get even the briefest of respites from fancying him so much, just for the sake of my own sanity!”

“You’re not going to get much sympathy”, said Hillyard “I mean, oh dear, what a shame, you’re getting too much good sex!”

Julian ordered Hoowie to go downstairs and fetch a map from the windowseat in their cabin. Over lunch he told the others that the river they were on forked a short distance south of the City. One branch of it went on into the City, and the other continued in a north-westerly fashion, eventually disappearing into a vast tract of Uncharted Area. Julian proposed taking this direction.

“But we still don’t have much hope of getting past the City unnoticed”, said Bardin “Our galleon will probably stick out like a sore thumb”.

“And we have to satisfy our curiosity about the City”, said Ransey “Even if only briefly. I propose some of us take the skiff when we reach there and do a supply-run, particularly as we have no idea what’s going to be available in the Uncharted Area, if anything. But one round it is to make ourselves just look like a harmless bunch of nomads, and to leave Kieran behind on the galleon”.

“I had a feeling you were going to say that”, said Kieran.

“It’s the safest way, by far”, said Ransey.

The storm-clouds which had been gathering suddenly broke and successfully brought to an end the alfresco lunch. There was a great scramble to get everything below deck. Back in his cabin once more, Julian stared pensively out of the window, whilst behind him Hoowie sprawled in a chair, his legs open provocatively. Hoowie was aware that Julian was chewing over several problems in his head, and equally aware that one of these problems was himself.

“I love you”, said Hoowie, nervously “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, not like this”.

“Nor have I”, said Julian “Not on this level”. Hoowie’s heart leapt. All the hidden fears he had had about Adam and Joby evaporated. He jumped out of his chair and ran towards Julian.

“Then I must be doing something wrong though”, he said.

“On the contrary, you’re doing everything right”, said Julian “You’re pushing all the right buttons, and sometimes it’s too much for me that’s all. I want you too much, I want you all the time. I can’t believe you were living under the same roof as me all those years and you never got under my skin before”.

“That’s often the way”, said Hoowie.

“You haven’t tried witchcraft on me have you?” Julian smiled.

“I’m not clever enough for that“, said Hoowie.

“No you don’t need witchcraft”, said Julian “We simply fit very well together, you and I”.

The heavy rain continued for the rest of the day. In the evening Joby came upon Adam drinking alone in the galley, which resurrected some old fears.

“Don’t tell me I’ve gotta worry about you as well as Kieran!” said Joby, slamming a pan of water on the stove in order to make some coffee for him.

“No you don’t have to worry about me”, said Adam, waspishly “There have been plenty of times when you’ve got ratted, time without number in fact. I just needed to unwind a bit, and try and subdue some of this apprehension I feel”.

“I’ve got an idea”, said Joby “I’m gonna tie Kieran to the bed”.

“How deliciously kinky!” said Adam.

“Just until we’ve got past the City”, said Joby “If I could trust him to behave himself I wouldn’t need to have to resort to such desperate measures, but there you are”.

“He’ll be rather cross”, said Adam “He’ll chew your ear off completely”.

“So what else is new!” said Joby.

The outskirts of the City were first sighted at around mid-morning the next day. The storm had passed, but it had not left the area freshened. If anything it felt even darker and heavier. Bengo took up a mid-morning snack to Bardin on deck, consisting of a mug of strong tea and a doorstep slab of bread and butter. Bengo instantly saw the huge mounds of rubbish that lay outside the City gates. The inhabitants had clearly just dumped their refuse there, and then closed the gates to shut it out. This was an even greater shock to the system after the astonishing verdant beauty of the river and The Great Forest.

Bardin found he couldn’t eat his brunch whilst staring at such vast mounds of rubbish, and chucked the bread over the side.

“Bardy!” said Bengo, crossly “That could have been given to the goats!”

He went below deck, where Adam was in the galley, getting ready to prepare lunch.

“Oh Bengo”, he said “Go along and fetch Joby. He should have finished tying up Patsy by now”.

Hillyard had had to help Joby (Lonts had refused) to restrain Kieran, who was now secured by his feet and ankles to his bunk.

“I’m not a focking madman!” Kieran roared “You can’t do this!”

“You can’t be trusted to stay out of sight”, said Joby.

“What if there’s a fire on the ship?” said Kieran.

“Then I’ll come and untie you”, said Joby “I’d saw through the cords with a fucking steak knife if I had to!”

Suddenly a noise like a very loud clap of thunder rent the air.

“What was that?” said Bengo.

“Someone’s firing at us”, said Hillyard, in disbelief.

A cannon had been fired from a ledge cut into the top of the massive double doors which were the main entrance into the City. It was a warning-off shot, to let the galleon know loud and clear that they weren’t to come any nearer.

“Bastards”, said Bardin, in annoyance “They could have damaged the ship! Toppy, run below and fetch some white pillowcases. We’ll wave them and try to let them know that we come in peace”.

“No”, said Ransey “It might not be a hostile shot”.

“It felt fucking hostile!” said Hillyard, who had come up on deck.

“There could be other reasons why they’re waving us to stay out”, said Ransey “There might be plague in the City for example”.

As the day went on it seemed that Ransey might have been right. The galleon sailed on past the City gates, onwards up the river, but nobody pursued them. When they docked in the middle of the river after nightfall, Bardin put the ship into a virtual blackout, all curtains were to be kept drawn below deck, and no lights whatsoever (not even Julian’s cigar and Lonts’ pipe) were to be shown above deck. A watch was kept on the main deck all night, but they were left completely undisturbed.

Ransey’s theory that the gun had been fired at the City gates to warn them off rang more and more true over the next few days. The galleon was now well out of sight of the City walls, and as such, it seemed they were very much out of sight out of mind. The Uncharted Area they were now in was an area of high strangeness. Nothing about it seemed normal in any degree. Loud screeches and groans of unseen animals carried through the quiet hours of both the day and the night.

After a few days consistent travelling the river widened out into a large lake. Great excitement was caused by a small island in the middle of the lake, on which stood a ruined tower. A figure dressed in white was briefly sighted standing at the top of the tower. The Indigo-ites decided to investigate.

With much “hallooing” and “ahoy” they moored at the tiny island. No one came out to greet them (or even to fire a gun at them). As a tropical storm rumbled in the distance, they went inside the tower. A wooden staircase spiralled up to the top. There was absolutely nothing else inside the tower. No rooms, no furniture, no equipment, no sing of any kind of habitation. They climbed the wooden steps to the top, but of the mysterious figure in white there was no sign at all.

Very quickly they learnt to accept that all the normal rules of existence were absent in this mysterious new land they were travelling through. They had been in areas of high strangeness many times before, but somewhere there had always been a grounding in reality. This area didn’t seem to have any. As the river went on, The Great Forest gradually thinned out, and the countryside became more sparse. In spite of this though the few trees that were still around were heavily laden with enormous fruit. It was like a surrealist painting.

It was a curious fact that the animals and plant life that they had seen since arriving here were bigger and more abundant than one would normally see. And yet their few contact with humans had told a different story. The city surrounded by huge mounds of rubbish, the deserted farmhouse stuffed with vermin and bags of rubbish, and the little family back at the lighthouse had looked pale, sickly and badly nourished. It was a land of disturbing contrasts.

They often went ashore to pick the fruit, being extra careful all the while as crocodiles had been sighted on the riverbanks. (Tamaz had uncovered a nest of crocodile eggs). Eating the fruit had brought no unpleasant side-effects, other than their teeth got quite badly stained.

Odd noises would occasionally come to them, drifting across the vast open spaces. Many of these noises they put down to unseen wild animals, but occasionally they heard a sound which was very reminiscent of someone striking two metal bars against each other, as though a blacksmith had gone into some kind of manic work frenzy in his forge.

This was the kind of noise that can play havoc with ones nerves, loud and violent as it was, and with no ideas as to where it came from or what was causing it. To escape it one evening Hoowie had gone below deck. He hadn’t spoken with Kieran alone in some while, and he was concerned about him. It wasn’t even that Kieran was still in a sulk about being put under restraint. Kieran had made a show of appearing on deck in his purple silk robe to berate Joby and Hillyard, but this seemed to be more for form’s sake than anything else.

He found Kieran alone in his cabin, and was shocked by how tired and drawn he looked.

“Hoowie”, said Kieran, sleepily “You’re looking so radiant these days”.

“But what’s happening to you?” said Hoowie “It’s this damn area I know it is. We shouldn’t have come here. We should turn back. It is evil“.

“You speak the truth more than you realise”, said Kieran “This whole area is saturated in evil. Alive with it. I’m trying to lessen the impact of it on all of you, but it’s a strain“.

“You’re almost vampirising yourself!” Hoowie gasped.

He hurtled out of the cabin and up onto the main deck. By the time he got there he was so consumed with what he had found out that he had trouble saying it, and was reduced to running around like a whirling dervish. Bardin spoke firmly to him, but Hoowie could only be calmed down at a word from Julian.

“We’ve got to sail back, NOW!” he cried, when he had finally got the words out.

“We’ll turn back at daybreak”, said Bardin.

“At daybreak?” Hoowie spluttered.

“It’s safer that way”, said Bardin “Now go and try and get some rest!”

Rest though was hopeless for Hoowie. He raged at all of them that this was where their insane urge to constantly go exploring had got them. He complained pitifully that they should try and find a desert island, like the one the Indigo-ites had lived on all those years ago. This had become the summit of Hoowie’s dreams, to find such a place, and the others agreed that, as ambitions went, it was a good one.

At 4 in the morning Hoowie had clambered over Julian and out of bed, claiming that it was time he made some tea and got everybody up. Julian had to point out that it was still 2 hours to sunrise. The skies darkened considerably on their journey back, and violent claps of thunder were frequently heard. Strange figures were seen on the shore, including the naked torso of a man rising out of the arid ground near a cactus tree, his face contorted in a grimace of pain, and the hunched over figure of an old lady in a hood.

Julian went below deck to tell Kieran what was going on. He was shocked by the sight of him. Kieran was sitting on a stool in his cabin, his fingers busily telling his rosary beads.

“I’ve never seen you looking that ill before”, said Julian “Not even when your anorexia was at its worst”.

“It’ll pass very quickly when we leave this place”, said Kieran “I promise you. Never mind about me anyway. How’s Hoowie?”

“Confined to his cabin”, said Julian “Don’t worry about him. He’s like you. Never anything that can’t be sorted out with a damn good spanking!”

“Where’s Bardin taking us now?” said Kieran.

“Back to that small island with the tower on it”, said Julian “We’ll stop and have a breather there. Get our bearings as it were”.

Ransey and Hillyard were lying on the main deck, looking up at the clear blue sky.

“I suppose now we’re out of that accursed area”, said Ransey “A lot of hugging and kissing will break out all over the ship”.

“You’re hoping are you?” said Hillyard “Feel that sun on your skin, Ranz. D’you know I’m starting to think Hoowie’s right. We should go and find a desert island. There must be one somewhere. We were happy on ours, all those years ago … before we had to leave it”.

“The younger ones would love it”, said Ransey “They get quite aggrieved sometimes that they never experienced it“.

“So does Julian”, said Hillyard.

Kieran was getting dressed in his cabin when Joby came in. Joby had been summoned into Julian’s presence and given a dressing-down.

“What did he tell you off?” asked Kieran.

“The same old thing I’ve heard from him a 100 times before”, said Joby “How I let you get away with far too much blah-blah-blah”.

“I had no inkling it was going to turn out to be as bad as all that”, said Kieran “I can’t believe all that damage was done just by some creature being taken from The Chain Islands and escaping from an air-buggy. I think the people themselves are partly to blame. They came to a veritable paradise here, a land of plenty, and they’re focked it up, quite frankly. Come on, sit down“.

“I’d rather not if it’s all the same to you”, said Joby, stiffly.

“Oh like that eh?” said Kieran “Well Julian never misses an opportunity to lay on his hand”.

“The old sod’s hand never gets sore, that’s what gets me!” said Joby “You’d think it would, all the action it gets! And now he’s decreed that I’ve gotta go in there every morning at 11 o’clock sharp for some more of the same … for as long as he sees fit to do so apparently!”

It was during their brief stay at the small island that Fabulous decided to annoy everyone. He suddenly started going on about how their retreat from The Uncharted Area had been the action of wimps and cowards, and that they were all a bunch of effete, effeminate twits.

Fabulous had had these periodic outbursts before. They stemmed almost entirely from his innate arrogance, and the others tended to ignore him. On this occasion Bengo didn’t. He cornered him on the main deck and gave him what-for.

“We left The Uncharted Area because Kieran was becoming seriously ill trying to protect us”, he said, angrily “I’m sick of you never giving us any support. I suppose you’d rather we had killed you, along with your sick-minded brother. Or left the people of Nuit to tear you to pieces! You’re always making digs at those of us from the Village of Stairs, but I’ll tell you something, we at least know how to survive, unlike that weird fucking place you come from! Your lot were not better than this lot here! Why don’t we dump you on the outskirts of the City, and then you can hole yourself up behind a great pile of rubbish and fire on anyone passing by too!”

It was a great disappointment to the other Indigo-ites when Bardin came along and broke this little scene up, taking Bengo below.

“C’mon Podge, sit down”, he said, when they were alone in their cabin “I’m pouring you a glass of water, and I want you to drink it, not chuck it over me!”

“Why did you break that up, Bardy?” said Bengo “I was enjoying myself. I’ve wanted to let rip at that stupid egomaniac for ages!”

“Because it won’t do you any good to get so worked up in this heat”, said Bardin “I thought you were going to combust up there! Anyway, we can’t dump him here. He’s like Tamaz, officially he’s our prisoner”.

“Surely that law doesn’t apply here?” said Bengo “I’d love to be shot of him”.

“Look, most of the time you don’t notice him!” said Bardin “None of us do! Anyone with any sense ignores him!”

There was a tap on the door.

“It’s me”, said Hoowie “Can I come in?”

“Yeah why not?” said Bardin “You practically live in here anyway!”

“No I don’t”, said Hoowie, coiling himself up snake-like in the chair opposite Bengo “You were brilliant, Benje. I loved the bit about the Village of Stairs. He’s always looking down his snooty nose at us lot”.

Hoowie suddenly gave a leap in his chair, which startled both the clowns.

“I’ve had an idea”, he said “Let’s dump him at the City!”

“Fool!” said Bardin “Even the prospect of dumping Fabulous isn’t worth getting shot for!”

“No, no, you don’t understand”, said Hoowie, excitedly “There can’t possibly be just one entrance to the City. I mean that doesn’t make sense. There must be at least one back door. And we could take the skiff to find it. We’d be less conspicuous that way”.

“We’d be even more conspicuous in the skiff”, said Bardin “This river isn’t exactly heaving with traffic is it! We haven’t seen anyone else all the time we’ve been trundling up and down here. Even in the skiff we wouldn’t blend into the scenery. Anyway, whether we like it or not, Fabulous is one of us. We can’t just dump him in a strange place”.

The heat continued all the time they were at the little island with the tower. And with the heat came the stench from the rubbish-encircled City, wafting even all that way up the river. There had been some mild curiosity about seeing the place, but the smell was so bad that it effectively killed their curiosity stone-dead.

They were all sick of this new continent, with its ugliness and its hostility. They were tired of ugly places generally. There had been surfeit of them in the past couple of years, from the decay of Krindei, to the hostility of Aspiriola, The Sealed House, The Cursed Isle, and now this. The wandering minstrels had been wandering too long. They wanted somewhere peaceful to rest awhile.

Plans were made for the precarious journey along the stretch of river that ran past the City. Although they feared the overpowering stench more than they did the booming canon!

When they spotted a strange and grotesque creature emerging briefly from the undergrowth on the shore, they decided it was time to get out of the New Continent. This creature, looking like a cross between a bald monkey and a naked old man, was the last straw.

The maps were studied again, and Bardin decided to sail back down the river, round the bottom of the continent and then up the opposite coastline from the one they had travelled down before. When Hillyard (as a misguided joke) suggested calling in at the lighthouse again, he was met with a reception so flat that Bardin said he was like a second-rate has-been comedian who had outstayed his welcome!

The vast expanse of ocean on the far side of the continent was blue and calm. Still waters for as far as the eye could see. They had never seen an ocean so still before, and out of sight of any land, it seemed to cover the entire planet. It was being near land that had brought them perils lately, so this vast stretch of water wasn’t as unnerving as it could have been.

When they had ascertained that there were no sharks in the vicinity, they swam in the placid, deep waters. The original plan to sail up the other coastline of the New Continent had been quietly forgotten.

Kieran and Joby clambered back aboard the galleon and went below to dry themselves off. Joby complained about the length of Kieran’s hair.

“It’s gonna need a bunk all to itself soon!” he said “Let me chop a bit of it off”.

“No”, said Kieran “I want to grow it to my feet. Just to see what it’s like”.

“You’ll look like a mobile haystack, that’s what it’ll be like!” said Joby.

Hillyard came into the cabin, beaming all over his sunburnt face.

“This is the life, eh?” he said “Don’t it make you feel all rugged and macho?”

“Not particularly”, said Joby “Fat chance of me feeling all rugged and macho when I still have to go and see Julian at 11 o’clock every morning!”

“You’re doing an important job”, said Hillyard.

“Can’t see it meself”, said Joby.

“Keeping Julian happy”, said Hillyard “You can’t leave poor old Hoowie to do it all by himself!”

“Why not?” said Joby “Give him a point to his existence at last! God, look at this hair, Hillyard. It’s so long he as to sleep with it hanging outside the bunk! I keep wanting to take a pair of garden shears to it!”

“Right that’s it”, said Kieran “I’m going for a walk. Perhaps by the time I get back you might have changed the subject!”

“I wouldn’t bank on that if I was you!” said Joby.

Kieran wandered the length of the boat until he came to Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. He found Bengo sitting stark-naked in one of the armchairs.

“Why Bengo”, said Kieran “You’re looking a wee bit forlorn”.

“Oh Kieran, Bardy’s driving me mad”, said Bengo “When we go back from swimming he suggested coming down here, and like a fool, I thought he meant for a bit of the other … that’s if I can remember what you’re supposed to do! But no, he gets one of those blasted maps out and starts looking at it again. I could have wrapped it round his fucking head! Now he’s gone off to see Ransey”.

“Well we can’t have you feeling neglected”, said Kieran “Someone’s going to have to have a word with him”.

“No one’ll be able to get through to Bardy”, said Bengo.

“I think Adam might be able to”, said Kieran.

The signs initially weren’t promising. Bardin told Adam that Bengo had clearly been doing his lost puppy-dog routine, and anyway he (Bardin that is) had a s ship to run.

“Much as it is highly entertaining for us to have you as our little Captain”, said Adam, caustically “It is not necessary for you to mither the ship 24 hours a day! Now hand me your whistle”.

“You’re not going to put it on the stove are you?” said Bardin, somewhat pathetically.

“That rather depends on how you behave this evening”, said Adam, with forbidding stern-ness “I will not have you neglecting poor little Bengo”.

Bardin drifted across the corridor to his cabin. Bengo was lying on the bunk, trying hurriedly to brush away the remains of a furtive biscuit.

“Bardy!” he said, seeing his partner’s woebegone face “What’s happened?”

“Adam had a go at me”, Bardin whimpered.

“Oh come and sit down”, Bengo coaxed him onto the bunk.

“Said I’ve been neglecting you”, said Bardin.

“Well I have been sexually frustrated lately, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“How?” said Bardin “With Hoowie constantly in here?”

“But I want YOU”, said Bengo “It drives me mad sometimes. I just want to throw you on the bunk”.

“Well why haven’t you then?” said Bardin “You know I like it when you take the lead in that department”.

“Oh I don’t know”, Bengo sighed “I haven’t felt myself lately. Sometimes, for the first time in my life, I feel old. It’s not a nice feeling”.

“It’s all because of what damn well happened on that island”, said Bardin.

“It’s not just that”, said Bengo “It’s more that I can’t shake off what happened to Kieran at The Sealed House. I’m finding I get angrier about it as time goes on, not less so”.

“Have you spoken to Kieran about this?”

“No, I don’t want to remind him of it. It was just so appalling. I find myself getting angry with those bastards, Bardy. I wish we had destroyed them, not just left them to rot on the island”.

“Kieran didn’t want that”, said Bardin.

“But I can’t be as saintly as him!” Bengo wailed.

“You need to talk to him”, said Bardin “By yourselves. Promise me you’ll try and do that in the morning”.

“Yes I promise”, said Bengo, looking like a little boy again, promising that he would try harder next time.

“I’ll comfort you now”, Bardin smiled “And just think, we’re gradually going to head back to The Bay. Just think on that. Midnight Castle, The Old Lighthouse …”

“The Bay”, said Bengo, reverently “Oh Bardy, it’s been so long! We should never have left!” It wasn’t all tranquillity out on the high seas. Julian, who was the only one of them who never had anything remotely constructive to do, sometimes took to making mischief just for the sheer hell of it. When he told Adam one day that the boiled fish he had served up for supper the night before had given him food poisoning, the others felt he had gone too far. The food poisoning story was nonsense anyway, as nobody else had gone down with it, and Adam took grave offence at his slur on his cooking.

“Why did you do it, Julian?” said Hoowie, in despair “Adam’s in a right grot! I wouldn’t be surprised if he challenged you to a duel, the mood he’s in!”

“You’ll have to act as my second in that case”, Julian smiled “Don’t worry, sweet-pea. You should know by now what a spitfire Adam can be. I’ve always enjoyed winding him up”.

“Yeah but you go too far”, said Hoowie “Talk about living dangerously!”

Joby was incensed by the whole thing. If Adam was in a bad mood then he and Bengo would suffer for it in the galley. He waylaid Julian outside the heads and told him exactly what he thought of him.

“That’s the trouble with you aristocrats”, he concluded “You get bored, and then go causing trouble just to have summat to do!”

“As Adam would no doubt point out to you”, Julian retorted “He is far more of an aristocrat than I am!”

Julian was shaken by Joby’s outburst though, and conceded to himself that his bitchy little diversion had gone too far. Joby went into the big cabin to try and divert Lonts from his pipe-smoking for long enough to go and calm Adam down. When he had despatched Lonts on his way, Julian tried to apologise to him.

“It was just going to be a little spat between Adam and myself”, he said “I didn’t intend it to have an effect on anyone else”.

“Don’t you ever learn?” said Joby “You played a game like this years and years ago, and some poor bloke ended up half-blind, and Adam did 5 years in the jug! He’s not bloke you trifle with, Julian!”

Faced with reproaches from both Hoowie and Joby, Julian went along to the galley to apologise to Adam.

“It was just a stupid bit of teasing”, he said “I meant no harm”.

“Telling me I had given you food-poisoning?” said Adam “I’m damn well sick of cooking fish as it is, but I suppose that’s what I’ve got to expect at the moment!”

“Adam”, said Julian, placing his hands on Adam’s arms “I’m sorry”.

“Well”, said Adam, with some satisfaction “You would never have said that when we were younger at least. You’d have gone off and taken another lover to get back at me”.

“Don’t have to do that now”, said Julian, thinking of Hoowie.

“No”, said Adam “I just wish he’d give back to you sometimes a little of what you dish out!”

“That wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun!” said Julian.

There were some beautiful nights out on the calm ocean, enhanced if anything by the atmosphere of high strangeness which it inhabited. If there were strange lights and strange noises sometimes it scarcely seemed to matter. All that did matter was the utter peacefulness of where they were.

For a short while Bardin had stopped the engines and allowed the boat to simply drift. It was appropriate somehow. It was therefore with considerable annoyance that Bengo listened to him say in their cabin that the engines were to be started up again tomorrow. The others in the room - Julian, Ransey, Hoowie and Adam - also reacted with dismay to the news.

“We can’t just drift!” Bardin protested.

“Why not?” Bengo barked.

“I like drifting”, said Ransey, who seemed to be in a musing kind of mood “There’s little worry involved. Kieran can’t come to any harm out here … unless he throttles himself with his own hair I suppose!”

“Think of the supply situation”, said Bardin.

“The supplies are fine”, said Ransey “I went round the stores with Hillyard earlier”. “But Adam”, said Bardin “You were complaining about them, I heard you”.

“I think complaining is putting it a bit strong, old love“, said Adam “I was merely remarking to Joby that we seemed to be having the diet of a Bedouin Arab, all coffee and goat produce”.

“And fish”, said Bengo, bravely (fish was still a sore subject with Adam) “And eggs, the hens are doing well at the moment”.

“They must like the peace and calm too”, Hoowie muttered.

“I might have voiced a little concern about the shortage of fresh produce”, said Adam “But I would be very surprised if we didn’t come across some islands at some point out there”.

“Leave the engines for a little while longer, my dear fellow”, said Julian to Bardin “It can’t possibly do any harm”.

“And if it does”, said Adam “Well we won’t blame you, old love. We shall remember your wise words and take them to heart for future reference”.

“Oh bullshit”, said Bardin.

Eventually they drifted to a large archipelago of islands. Each island uninhabited. At one time it had been a sizeable land mass, but geological changes had caused large parts of it to become flooded, turning it instead into a maze of islets all connected by a maze of canal-like waterways.

They anchored the galleon at sea, and took the skiff to explore the islands. There were small signs that they had once been inhabited, such as a broken down wooden shed or shack, but they now had a desolate, abandoned air. The Indigo-ites were to experienced at encountering such places though to let this put them off.

After several weeks in this gloomy place they sailed south-westerly, and it seemed as though the muddy archipelago would go on forever. The further south they went the chillier it got, and the sun was bright but harsh. Eventually they came to the notorious Horn Of Wonder, which they had traversed on previous journeys. Anyone sailing in this part of the world expects it to be difficult. But it was also very strange. It’s the kind of place where it’s not easy to trust your senses.

Odd things were constantly seen on that journey. Big shadows loomed up in the distance that looked like ghost ships. Shapes were seen below the icy water that looked like faces. On the distant shore a house was sighted which they never noticed before on previous trips. On looking through the binoculars they saw that its windows were completely covered by icicles.

Leaving the Horn behind them, they emerged into an ocean that was far bleaker and more turbulent than the one they had crossed when leaving the New Continent. After a while of seeing nothing but the choppy grey waves, they began to come across small black islands sticking out of the water. These were nothing but hard rock, with no vegetation of any kind on them. Ransey’s theory was that these were the tips of a submerged mountain range, and so great caution was needed in navigating them.

Bardin developed a suspicion that they were being drawn in the direction of The Chain Islands. He had expected that they would have to go there one day, but not so soon, and not under some weird kind of psychic coercion. It was all distinctly unnerving. At first all they encountered was seals though. Vast colonies of them spread over their rocky outposts. The Indigo-ites were enchanted by the sight of them, not just because are such loveable-looking creatures, but because they were the only living things they had seen in what felt like a very long time. There had even been a marked lack of bird life, and attempts by Mieps and Hillyard to do any fishing had yielded very poor results.

So far it was hard to see quite how The Chain Islands had acquired its evil reputation. It was a dreary, desolate place, there was no doubt about that, but it wasn’t sinister in any way. Apart from the seal colonies, and the Indigo-ites on their galleon, it was simply very lifeless and drab.

The drabness was enhanced (if that’s really the word) by the plunging temperatures. In fact it gradually became so cold that it was easy to see why there wasn’t any plant life in the area. After quite some time of this dismal area, they finally came across signs of human habitation, or at least something that hadn’t evolved naturally, but had been constructed by an intelligent life-form. They had arrived at the largest island they come across to date, and over its hug barren surface - which stuck out of the ocean like some monstrous great bald head - was a long line of steps cut into the surface, and eventually disappearing at the summit.

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