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The following day news arrived from the outside world, and it sent shock waves through Midnight Castle. The younger ones had gone back to the beach to do some more surfing, and whilst they were there an air-buggy flew over and chucked down a large, weighted canvas bag which landed on the sand.
Even Tamaz was filled with foreboding by this event. Glynis had sent a parcel only a few days previously, so this could only be news of some kind. Probably disturbing news.
Reluctantly they abandoned the huge grey rollers crashing on the shore, and headed back to Midnight Castle. Joby summoned everyone into the great hall by ringing the handbell, and Bardin read Glynis’s letter, which had been sealed in a waterproof wrapper. The gist of the letter was that “that fool I married” had joined forces with many of the leading bishops of the Church to have Kieran charged with heresy. Quite on what grounds, or what they were going to do with Kieran once he was charged, no one knew. Glynis went to great pains to stress that Codlik and the bishops did not have the support of the monks in her East Wing, who were appalled by the whole thing, suggesting that a serious split in the Church was now inevitable. Kieran was in turn appalled by this, seeing only persecution ahead for any who supported him, at the hands of the bishops’ faction, who possessed all the money and the clout. His own native country had for a long time been tormented by religious strife, and he was dismayed at the thought of it all happening again.
“There won’t be any persecution”, said Hillyard “You forget, I’ve got even more money than the Church! I can put as much behind your faction as they need”.
“It’s not about money really”, said Kieran “It’s about power”.
“The two usually go hand-in-hand”, said Joby, grimly.
“And it can only help”, said Hillyard.
“What if they come looking for Kieran though?” Lonts wailed.
“I’ll hide him if we have to”, said Joby “Take him up-river”.
“I’d have to spend the rest of me life looking over me shoulder”, Kieran protested.
“Patsy, where that lot are concerned you already do”, said Adam, sadly.
It was all too much for the more emotional ones. Tears broke out, and cries of anguish. Lonts began to get very volatile, and Adam tried to steer him with difficulty towards the kitchen. Bardin was trying to stem Bengo’s tears with a handkerchief, and suggested a hot bath and a mug of strong tea to soothe things over.
Lonts meanwhile was wailing himself into such a state that by the time they reached the other end of the dining-table he was in danger of becoming violent. Adam spoke to him firmly. Lonts in return pushed him against the table. Adam grabbed his huge body as best he could, and delivered several firm smacks on his behind, which sent Lonts into a spasm of noisy tears.
Eventually Adam got him into the kitchen, where Kieran and Joby were now talking across the table, and Bardin was setting up the tin-bath in front of the stove.
“Sit there”, said Adam, ordering Lonts into a chair. He looked around hurriedly, and found Lonts’s teddy-bears on the dresser. He festooned them across Lonts’s stomach.
“I want my pipe”, said Lonts, fiercely.
“Well you can’t have it”, said Adam, unfazed by Lonts’s ferocious dark-eyed stare “I don’t take too kindly to being hurled bodily around the dining-room, Lo-Lo! You’ve forgone your pipe privileges for today”.
“Good grief, it’s quite like old times this!” said Joby.
“B-but what if they lock Kieran underground at the Assizes like they did me?” said Lonts, emotionally.
“They’d have a bloody hard job Lonts”, said Joby “It doesn’t exist anymore!”
“We can hide Kieran, you know”, said a now naked Bengo, presenting himself by Lonts’s chair.
“Go and get in your bath, Bengo”, was Lonts’s forbidding response. Bardin led Bengo over to the tub, and coaxed him into it. The wind, which had been getting up all day, was starting groan about in the chimney, reminding them that they might at least the sanctuary of the storm season to help keep Codlikand his not-so merry men out of their way.
“I don’t understand Codlik, I really don’t”, said Adam, wretchedly “I know he can be misguided at times, but I’ve always believed that at heart he was a decent man. So why has he now started to persecute Patsy like this?”
“Codlik’s been going off his chump for years”, said Joby “I don’t think he’s been right in his head since the great earthquake in the City. He lost everything when that happened, don’t forget”.
“And has supposedly found other things since for pity’s sake!” said Adam.
“Yeah, but they obviously can’t make up for being President of the world!” said Joby.
“Patsy didn’t feel the need to be President”, said Adam.
“He’s a different kettle of fish”, said Joby.
“I heard somebody say once”, said Bardin, soaping Bengo’s back “That a strong doesn’t need power, and a weak man is undone by it”.
“Yes, that’s very true”, Adam sighed “And Codlik is a weak man. He’s always been distinctly flaky around the edges. But perhaps if one of us sat down and talked to him … I’ve always got on alright with him. Why don’t I go to him as our ambassador and try to reason with him?”
“You?!” Joby exclaimed.
“I feel like putting you across my knee for that, Joby!” said Adam, crossly “I will do anything if it’ll help Patsy”.
“How will you get to see him from out here?” said Bardin.
“That is a problem”, Adam admitted “And I can’t say I want the hassle of travelling in this weather, just to go and see Codlik! But I feel someone should be talking sense to the wretched man. We’ve known him for a long time now. In many ways he counts as a kind of cousin, as much as Glynis does”.
“There’s nothing to stop cousins persecuting each other”, said Kieran “Some in the past have even declared war on each other!”
“If you go and see Codlik, Adam”, said Lonts, firmly “I shall go with you as your bodyguard. You won’t be allowed to leave me behind”.
“Much as you might like to!” said Joby.
“Is anyone going to make this tea?” said Bardin.
“I’ll do it”, said Kieran.
He picked up the kettle and went to fill it at the sink, but his hands began to shake so much that he dropped it. Adam and Joby spirited him away up to the room known as Kieran’s Vestry.
“Everything I’ve done has gone wrong”, said Kieran, when he had collapsed onto a chair.
“No it hasn’t”, said Joby, sitting at his feet and nursing his trembling hands.
“I should never have listened to Fobbett”, said Kieran, causing Adam and Joby to look at each other in puzzlement “When he started on that Vanquisher of Evil stuff. I should’ve refused to take any notice of it. The three of us, no the four of us by then as Hillyard had joined us, should have gone and lived in the forest by ourselves”.
“Oh that would’ve been fun!” said Joby.
“It wouldn’t have been a bad life”, said Kieran.
“It would’ve been pants, Kieran!” said Joby “You’ve seen too many old films you have. You think we would’ve been all romping around in green tights like Errol Flynn, instead chances are we’d have all died of cold and starvation during the first winter! Don’t start harping on and blaming yourself just ‘cos Codlik and all the others are pillocks”.
“Why do they have to be so hateful?” said Kieran.
“Because they’re jealous of it, it’s very simple”, said Adam “You’re free and they’re not, so they want to destroy you. You can’t tell me anything about religious cranks, I was brought up by one! Now it’s getting very cold up here. Let’s go back down to the kitchen. We don’t want to worry the others anymore than is necessary”.
They cannoned into Ransey in the corridor at the bottom of the stairs.
“Why can’t you look where you’re going?” he snapped.
“Why can’t YOU look where you’re going?” said Joby.
“I was deep in thought”, said Ransey.
“So were we”, said Joby.
“I don’t suppose anyone is making any tea in here”, said Ransey, leading the way into the kitchen.
“I am”, said Lonts, imposingly.
“Oh Lo-Lo”, Adam wrapped his arms around him in a very emotional way.
“I don’t get all that when I make the tea”, said Joby.
Ransey looked at Bardin, who was towelling Bengo dry. He was annoyed that Bardin was obviously more occupied with grooming Bengo than attending to the pressing problem of their future safety and welfare.
“Bengo was getting upset”, said Bardin, rubbing his partner’s feet “I had to calm him down”.
“Pampering him isn’t the way to do it”, said Ransey “If it was left to me I’d lock him in the cellar until he came to his senses”.
“He’d be down there for the rest of his life!” said Joby.
“’Ransey obviously chewing over endlessly that dratted letter from Glynis’” Julian wrote in his logbook later that evening “’Paces around the house, snapping at everyone and going into hysterics, like a young mother with the vapours, everytime anyone disappears for more than ten minutes! He’ll never survive the winter if he keeps this up. He thinks because he’s such a string-bean he doesn’t have to worry about heart-attacks. Rubbish! I pointed out the risks of ulcers to him too, but I don’t suppose it registered. Worry causes cancer too.
Codlik and his antics would be worrying anyway, but it’s doubly irritating when it’s getting in the way of our activities here. The fire in the library was it for the first time today, and after a bit of belching we finally got it to draw. Finia has been sitting by it ever since like a cat. This should have all brought on a rare tortoise-like smile of satisfaction to Rat’s Teeth’s face, but no, the bloody letter put paid to that.
He’s now started laying into Bardin’s leadership (I thought that was my province!). And then that Bengo is spoilt so no wonder he has hysterics all the time, and what he needs is more discipline, and he doesn’t mean my kind of ‘fun’ discipline either! Got me thinking of a time years ago when we were all still living on the old Indigo on the waterfront at Toondor Lanpin. Bengo had done one of his numerous walkouts from the Little Theatre, and was mooching around at home, acting even more temperamental than normal. I gave him a few licks of the razor-strop. He sobbed so pathetically and begged forgiveness that I was quite undone and let him sleep in my bunk with me later that night. Finia laughed very cynically when I told him this story.
And now all evening the contretemps have been erupting all over the place. I’ve been dashing about like a bloody netball teacher trying to keep order. Found out on the Castle’s bush telegraph about Adam’s idiotic plan to go and see Codlik, with Lonts along as well apparently, to act as some kind of Cossack outrider no doubt! I nipped that one in the bud pretty damn smartish I can tell you! Dragged Adam into the laundry-room and said that I’d had quite enough of people disappearing over the past few months, and enough was enough. Put like that, he couldn’t argue with me. Not that I gave him much chance. There is a particular tone of voice I can use which never fails to provoke a satiated, subservient response in Adam. It turns him on to be told to shut up very firmly like that. Nervous thoroughbreds like him delight in having the whip applied at such times. They know that otherwise they’d just keep getting into more and more of a state. Anyway, it worked like a charm this time.
I had barely sorted this out when the Freaks had a fight in the great hall. Mieps had wanted to order Freaky into going hunting tomorrow. Freaky wanted to go to the beach with the clowns instead. This I could understand. We’re running out of beach-going days. Soon that area will probably be out of bounds for a while. Not that Freaky is a great surfer. Actually what he enjoys is messing about with a bucket and spade! All summer he’s been building sandcastles and digging moats with great energy and concentration.
Needless to say Mieps is not impressed with this. He sees it as a sad reflection of the way we’ve “humanised” Freaky, that he prefers to build sandcastles than go hunting! Mieps’s powers of persuasion aren’t all they should be. When Freaky refused to be ordered into going, Mieps had actually got him pinned to the hall floor and was sitting on him! I pulled Mieps off (more to stop Freaky’s anguished yodelling than anything else), and told him he would be another candidate for the laundry-room if he wasn’t careful!
Have just paused to wind my watch. Bengo nearby is getting agitated about the sound of the wind in the chimney and the rattling of the doors. I told him not to worry. The wind could well turn out to be our friend: it might help to keep Codlik and his loony supporters away!’”
In spite of the high winds, and the sudden sharp downfalls of rain, the kitchen at Midnight Castle was humid. The temperatures were still pretty high and the stove, which was kept permanently lit, helped to keep the room muggy. Adam was sitting at the table sketching the view through the open doorway. He was interrupted by Julian coming in from outside, looking windswept and flushed in the cheeks.
“Where is everybody?” he said, taking off his hat and hanging it on the back of the door “There doesn’t to be nary a soul about”.
“The surfers have gone off to the beach”, said Adam “Lo-Lo and Finia have gone to collect some pine-cones for the fire, and Pats and Joby have taken the skiff for a little paddle up the river. The others are all around the house somewhere. Did you enjoy your walk?”
“Bracing”, said Julian.
He had gone across the fields, telling everyone it was to look at the sloop and check her over. In truth it was to see if there was any sign of any unwanted arrivals on the horizon. He mentally castigated himself for what he called his “dismal paranoia”. But he had the uncomfortable feeling he would be doing most days, if he could.
“Patsy has a theory about what they want to do to him”, said Adam, as Julian helped himself to coffee from the pot on the stove “He thinks they don’t want to physically harm him …”
“Well even Codlik’s got enough sense to see what the martyrdom of St Kieran would do for his public image!” said Julian.
“No, Pats thinks they want to drag him back into the fold”, said Adam “His resignation might be in danger of causing a huge chasm in the Church. It will probably cause some to splinter off. They’d have him where they can keep an eye on, carried around in a sedan-chair and wheeled out on special occasions, than running around loose, showing them all up”.
“Hm”, said Julian “It might be easier if they had him stuffed! I can’t see Kieran putting up with Popedom. He made it clear he’d had enough of all that when he was President. And what about us? There’s no way they’re going to tolerate having us lot racketing around within the Church H.Q at Krindei, but Kieran wouldn’t go there without us”.
“Patsy thinks they’ll try and ‘persuade’ US to dump HIM”, said Adam “Which is all very tiresome of them. It’s the sort of antics Angel and his cronies always tried”.
“Take heart that at least it means they want to keep him alive”, said Julian “In fact, at this moment anything happening to Kieran would be a terrible calamity for them, as the conspiracy theories would come flying out of the woodwork quicker than you could say Jack Kennedy!”
“I just hope they’ve thought of that”, Adam sighed.
“We can but hope for commonsense, my darling”, said Julian, sitting down opposite him “I see you’ve got your winter togs on already”.
Adam had swapped his usual garb of frayed shorts and singlet for a shirt and trousers.
“It’s the first time in ages that I haven’t been able to see your knees”, said Julian.
“It’s a bit overkill I’m afraid”, said Adam, looking down at himself “I didn’t really need to put all this on, it’s quite warm in here. Patsy went off wearing only his underpants under his oilskin jacket!”
“That should frighten any savages they meet!” said Julian “Did Ransey give him a gun to take?”
“Joby’s got it”, said Adam.
“Good”, said Julian “One can’t be too careful”.
Kieran and Joby had pulled the skiff over to the river-bank for a coffee-break and had got caught in another sudden cloud-burst. Joby sat hunched in his waterproofs looking dejected.
“Ach cheer up, it’s not that bad”, said Kieran “It’s not as if we’re in Limerick!”
“I wish you’d be sensible”, Joby glowered.
“I don’t want to be”, said Kieran, sitting down on the waterproof sheet next to him “I had to be the solemn, sensible one at the Chateau de Sade, and it took a lot out of me. Now I’m back with all the other grown-ups I can be daft again. After all, it isn’t even as if I’m any good at being sensible”.
“That’s not true”, said Joby “Tamaz says you did a good job of holding everything together”.
“Did he?” Kieran sounded pleasantly surprised.
“Yes”, said Joby, defensively “He doesn’t just go on about what he wants all the time you know”.
“Sometimes he goes on about being treated like a worm as well!” said Kieran.
Joby caught his eye and they both laughed.
“That’s better”, said Kieran “Codlik and that grim-faced lot can’t make me do anything, remember that. Don’t let them ruin what we’ve got”.
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down?” said Joby.
“Something like that”, said Kieran “Let’s get back home. This rain seems pretty set in now”.
They put the lid back on the coffee-flask and climbed back into the skiff, untying the rope and pushing off with their oars. They both rowed back down the river in the rain, at one point seeing another of those unearthly figures that could be so often glimpsed fleetingly in the vicinity of Midnight Castle. A grey shapeless figure, like a woman draped in many shawls standing under one of the trees. She moved away from them, and didn’t so much walk as glide. Joby was very shaken by this apparition. Kieran genuflected, but when that didn’t banish her, he got quite cross and genuflected more firmly. This did the trick, and she faded away into the rain-soaked foliage.
Back at the Castle, after upending the skiff under a sheet of tarpaulin, they went through the great hall and into the kitchen, to peel off their waterproofs by the warmth of the stove. Finia and Lonts were there, spreading out the pine-cones to dry on top of the draining-board.
“Adam must be in the room behind the pantry”, said Lonts “Probably with Julian”.
Joby grunted in reply. He still got a trifle annoyed from time to time if Adam used that room for assignations with Julian instead of him. Joby took out the gun from the inner pocket of his waterproof jacket and placed it on the kitchen-table. Lonts picked it up and examined it with vague curiosity.
“Don’t!” said Joby “Give it here! The damn thing’s loaded!”
“There’s no need to get so ratty, Joby”, Lonts handed the gun over and began to cry “I’m going to see Adam!”
He ran, sobbing, up the stone passageway.
“You great baby!” Joby shouted after him.
Both Finia and Kieran urged him to go after him. Joby resisted the emotional pressure for three minutes and then did as he was bid. He found Lonts sitting on the edge of the bed, blubbing, whilst Adam, propped against the pillows, comforted him. Julian was getting dressed in a patient, longsuffering way.
“Oh yeah I’m really cruel aren’t I!” said Joby, sarcastically “Really, really cruel! I only tried to stop you accidentally shooting yourself!”
“He’s very emotional at the moment, Joby”, said Adam.
“I’M very emotional at the moment too!” Joby thundered. He left the room and then almost immediately came back in again “Hey I’ve just noticed summat. There must be a hidden room along here. One that’s been sealed up. We always think the dining-room’s next door to here, but it can’t be ‘cos the windows on the outside are too far apart. There must be summat in between, behind the plasterwork”.
“Oh that’s all we need, a sealed room!” said Adam, crossly “And it’ll probably have a skeleton in it too. Some poor wretch who starved to death no doubt!”
“Can we knock down the plasterwork to see?” said Lonts, his mind at least diverted from his latest feud with Joby.
“No we can’t”, said Adam “It’d be a ghastly upheaval. The kitchen would be like a building-site!”
Tamaz returned from the beach, chucking his bucket and spade onto the kitchen table. From the pinched expression on his face it was obvious he had had a falling-out with somebody.
“You’re back early”, said Joby “I thought we wouldn’t see any of you lot til sunset”.
“It was getting too rough to stay down there”, said Tamaz “I told those morons I was going home, and Bardin ordered me to stay. Said none of us should split up going back through the forest”.
“Quite right too”, said Adam, from the bedroom.
“If Bardin ordered you to stay, what are you doing here?” said Julian.
“I didn’t like his tone”, said Tamaz, huffily “He didn’t have to be so dictatorial about it”.
“Oh Freaky!” said Adam, in exasperation “He’s Captain, he can be as dictatorial as he likes”.
“He’s not bloody dictatorial enough where you’re concerned”, said Julian to Tamaz.
“What’s the big deal?” Tamaz shrugged “I know the forest like the back of my hand”.
“You’ll be lucky if you don’t feel the back of his hand when he gets here!” said Joby.
“You are not supposed to wander about on your own”, said Julian, sternly “There are too many unknown dangers, and we’ve had too many sudden disappearances of late. Besides, you’re our prisoner”.
“I was bored!” said Tamaz “It’s not the same working in the sand in this weather, and that lot looked as though they’d be pillocking about in the surf for hours. Are you going to hit me?”
“I’ll resist the temptation until Bardin gets back”, said Julian “It should be his prerogative by rights”.
“How very self-sacrificing of you, Jules!” said Adam.
“Joby thinks there might be a hidden room behind this wall, Tamaz”, said Lonts.
“With treasure in it?” said Tamaz, hopefully.
“Trust you to think of that!” said Julian.
There were voices outside as the clowns, Toppy and Hoowie returned from the beach, and a clattering of wood as they dropped their surfboards in one of the outhouses.
“I’m going upstairs”, said Tamaz, beating a hasty retreat through the dining-room.
Which was just as well, as Bardin came in, looking tight-lipped and angry. He relaxed a little when he saw Tamaz’s bucket and spade on the table, but he was still very visibly annoyed.
“Where is he?” he growled.
“Upstairs”, said Joby.
Bardin followed Tamaz’s route through the dining-room. Bengo gave a whimper of concern, although it was more for Bardin than Tamaz.
“Why does Freaky always have to make it so hard for himself?” said Adam, emerging from the bedroom with his clothes on.
“’Cos he’s hotheaded”, said Joby, in a very matter-of-fact way “And he’ll never change”.
“He’s got Bardy so upset”, Bengo wailed “He always does it!”
“Don’t you go getting self-righteous”, said Joby “You don’t exactly make life easy for Bardin yourself sometimes!”
“I’ll give ‘em a few minutes and then I’ll go up and check on them”, said Rumble.
“Bardin will learn”, said Julian “It’s all part of being Captain, imposing discipline”.
“Few reach your exemplary level at it though, Jules”, said Adam, dryly.
Bardin found Tamaz in the main bedroom. To console himself Tamaz had got out his female garb from a basket (which the other Indigo-ites referred to as his Girlie Box), and was spreading them out on the floor around him. Bardin thought that this was a deliberate ploy on Tamaz’s part, to try and defuse his anger by reminding him he was half-female. Tamaz wasn’t capable of subtle tricks though. Instead he counted his female garments because it helped to calm him down, the way some people might do yogic breathing exercises.
When Bardin entered the room, Tamaz gave him a withering look, to try and convey how deeply unimpressed he was by any sign of authority on Bardin’s part.
“I suppose you’re going to shout and scream and stamp your foot at me”, said Tamaz.
All the way upstairs Bardin had in fact fantasised about blacking both of Tamaz’s eyes! Now he remembered the injured performance Mieps had put on for days after Julian had slapped his face, and Bardin decided he couldn’t stand the thought of Tamaz glaring hurtfully at him out of two bruised reptilian orbs, and shelved the idea. Particularly as Tamaz would also probably sniff sorrowfully everytime Bardin came near him, for days on end, and would also get Toppy and Lonts on his side, to castigate Bardin for being a brute, at every given opportunity.
But then again neither could Bardin simply try and reason with him. Mieps and Julian would have beaten Tamaz soundly for such disobedience, until his bottom was purple probably, and Bardin knew he would have done the same to Bengo in such circumstances.
He got down on his knees and chased Tamaz across the floor in a rapid crawl, like two scorpions scuttling after each other. It was a long, tortuous process getting Tamaz in an armlock and pulling his trousers down. Both of them were roughly the same height and build, and both were very fit, but Bardin, with his acrobatic suppleness, had the slight edge. He got Tamaz across his lap eventually and dealt him several stinging blows on his behind.
Tamaz tried to scream, but Bardin had his other hand clamped firmly over his mouth (using his leg to keep Tamaz in place) and trying to avoid the nip of Tamaz’s ratlike little teeth. As punishments went, it wasn’t as painful or even as humiliating as the time Bardin had thrashed him with a leather horse’s rein at the Port West Festival, but Tamaz objected strongly to being brought to heel like this. He wept and struggled, but Bardin was determined to give him a beating to remember. It was no good hoping that the chastisement alone would work on Tamaz, it had to be severe enough to stay uppermost in his mind for a while, or the whole thing would be a waste of time. In that respect, Bardin thought, Tamaz was remarkably like Bengo!
After a while Bardin felt all the resistance go out of Tamaz. He released him and Tamaz sat up, adjusting his clothing in silence. Bardin sat there, blowing his hair out of his eyes, and wondering what to say next. Tamaz solved the problem for him.
“I won’t give you any trouble again”, he said, in a deep, subdued voice.
Bardin looked at him as though he couldn’t believe his ears.
“What, ever?” he said, indisbelief.
“I’ll try and behave forever”, said Tamaz.
“Don’t try and outjoke a joker!” said Bardin.
“I’m not”, said Tamaz “I don’t say I won’t forget sometimes …”
“Ah, that’s a bit more like it!” said Bardin, almost with relief “You had me worried there!”
“But I will try”, said Tamaz “You love me don’t you?”
“I thought you already knew that!” said Bardin.
“Yes”, said Tamaz, simply, and he began to put his things away in the basket.
Bardin came and stood by him. He watched him for a few seconds, and then got down on his haunches and pulled Tamaz into his arms. He carried him over to the four-poster and made love to him there, as a man to a woman. Afterwards they lay in each other’s arms, Tamaz curled in Bardin’s as though they were lying down together for eternity.
“There’s someone else in the room”, Tamaz whispered.
“Show yourself”, Bardin barked, sitting up.
Rumble emerged out of the gloom.
“Do you have to skulk about like that?” Bardin snapped “I thought you were one of the ghosts!”
“I came up to see how you were”, said Rumble “But when I saw you were alright, I was just gonna sneak quietly away again. Dinner’s nearly ready anyway”.
Tamaz scrambled out of bed and put on his clothes. The three of them went down the main staircase, going from the upper-storey darkness down into the ground-floor light. This part of the house was lit up like a cathedral, with banks of candles everywhere. Ransey had grumbled about such wanton extravagance, with the whole of winter stretching ahead of them, but Adam had argued that they needed something cheering on such a bleak night. To add to the “festivities” the wind-up gramophone (put in the great hall for best acoustics) was playing a very crackly version of the Hokey-Cokey.
In the dining-room Tamaz found Toppy laying the table, whilst Lonts sat staring pensively into space, and Bengo, at the other end of the table, stared equally pensively into the newly-lit dining-room fire. Lonts and Toppy gathered ecstatically around Tamaz when they saw him, expressing grave concern for him. Tamaz looked rather pleased with himself though, as though he had inflicted the punishment not received it.
“We made love and lay in each other’s arms”, he said, smugly, casting a triumphal look at Bengo “Like an old married couple”.
Toppy tittered, but stopped when Bardin clamped his hands firmly on both his and Tamaz’s shoulders.
“You two are both as bad as each other”, he said.
He went over to Bengo, who leapt up excitedly on seeing him like a dog greeting his master. If he had had a tail he’d have wagged it violently, probably knocking the cutlery off the table! Bardin hugged him.
“I’m just going to have a word with Joby”, he said.
“Can I come?” said Bengo.
“No stay here”, Bardin looked at Tamaz and Toppy “And you two stop teasing him”.
He found Joby in the pantry, collecting the plates of unleavened bread that had been put in there to cool. Adam had hit upon the idea of baking unleavened bread occasionally to save on yeast.
“If Tamaz has promised to try and behave then he will”, said Joby, when Bardin had told him about their conversation “Although he’s right when he says it won’t always work! He’s obviously made up his mind to give you a bit more respect in future. I wish we didn’t have to beat the pants off him occasionally to get him to toe the line, but trouble is it seems to work”.
“I just wish he’d stop teasing Bengo was well”, said Bardin “He and Toppy are always at it”.
“But Bengo should be teased”, said Joby “That’s what he’s there for!”
He broke off a fragment of the bread and popped it into Bardin’s mouth.
“I love these conversations I have with you in our pantries”, said Bardin “Reminds me of last Christmas at the Town House. Perhaps we should go back there?”
“Cutting it a bit fine aren’t we?” said Joby, listening to the wind rattling the tiles on this part of the roof “Anyway, with Codlik being even more of a prat than usual I feel safer away from civilisation! I think we should give a winter here a go and see how it turns out. If it’s not much cop then we’ll spend next winter back at the Town House again”.
Bardin was reassured by these references to the continuity of life. He needed reassurance, however vague, that they would always be together as they were, and living by their own rules and not somebody else’s.
At dinner Bardin informed them all that whilst the storm season was at its height no one was to leave the house or grounds without reckoning it with him first. It was vital that they all knew where everyone was at all times. Anyone who broke this rule would incur the most severe, most humiliating punishment he could think of. He reminded them that as a clown he could think of many!
After they had eaten, most of them went around the ground floor of the house putting up the storm shutters. Meanwhile, Adam and Bardin conversed at one end of the dining-room table. Adam told him that he and Julian would do all they could to help him keep things on an even keel.
“That little speech of mine was mainly for the Freaks’ benefit”, said Bardin “Particularly after today’s episode with Tamaz! And also for Bengo. It’d be a lot easier if he was a dog. I could keep him on leash, and occasionally lasso him to a table-leg or something!”
“Put him to work in the kitchen with us”, said Adam “Then you would know where he was at all times. Just whilst the hurricane season is upon us”.
“He won’t get under your feet?” said Bardin.
“Not at all, he’s delightful company”, said Adam.
Bengo was called in from the great hall and informed of his new duties.
“B-but I can’t cook”, he stammered.
“We can still find plenty for you to do”, said Adam.
“A-and I’m so clumsy”, Bengo wailed “I can’t walk across a room without wrecking the furniture!”
“You’re exaggerating”, said Bardin “You’re on kitchen duty whilst the storm season’s on, and that’s final”.
The worst thing about high winds is that you can’t get away from them. With snow and fog you can draw the curtains and shut them out, likewise rain if it’s not too torrential. Hot sun you can escape from by going into the cool of the house or the forest. But the winds are with you al the time. Screeching and whistling all around the house, rattling at the doors, pressing at the windows, and rumbling in the chimneys. The whole place becomes a riotous cacophony of unnerving noises.
After a night of this, it was decided to move the goats and the chickens into the outhouses. A chicken-coop had to be hastily improvised with planks of wood in the one next to the stables. In the kitchen Adam told Bengo to get coffee ready for the outdoor workers.
“Surely even you can manage that?” said Joby, when Bengo appeared to panic at this suggestion.
“I’ll drop the coffee-pot”, said Bengo “I know I will”.
“Well it won’t be the end of the world if you do”, said Adam “It’s made of enamel, so it won’t break, and it’s already got dents in it!”
“B-but the waste!” said Bengo “Ransey’ll complain about the waste of coffee”.
“You should know by now that Ransey’s bark is far worse than his bite”, said Adam “Anyway, he gets a perverse pleasure out of complaining about our efficiency, or lack of it, according to him”.
“Makes him feel important”, said Joby.
“O.K”, Bengo mumbled, and set about the task.
“Poor little love”, Adam whispered to Joby by the sink “His nerves have got so bad. He always was jumpy, but this past year has done him a lot of damage. And now we’ve got bloody Codlik on our backs. If that man was standing with us here now I’d knock him down flat!”
Strong words from Adam, who’d always been fairly tolerant of Codlik in the past, sensing the man’s acute inner loneliness, and his need to be given recognition for whatever he said or did, however trivial. But his accusations of heresy against Kieran had destroyed any understanding and patience Adam had felt for him. Codlik had unknowingly lost his biggest supporter in the Indigo-ites’ camp.
Bengo managed to make the coffee without mishap, and had just poured it out when Hillyard, Mieps, Lonts, the other clowns, and Hoowie all came in through the back door, flushed and windswept from moving all the chickens and goats into the outbuildings. Bengo stood enjoying the melee of voices and movement as the kitchen began to be crowded.
Bardin went into the pantry, to comb his hair in the mirror that hung on the back of the pantry-door. Bengo followed him, looking cute in his canvas apron.
“Have you had a good morning?” Bardin smiled at him.
“Fine”, said Bengo “Although I’m scared I’ll do something wrong”.
“Why?” Bardin exclaimed “Adam and Joby aren’t monsters. They’re gonna put you through the mangle if you mess something up! They must be easier to work with than me!”
“It’s my nerves”, Bengo sighed, despondently “I overheard Adam say so. Perhaps I’m gonna be a neurotic basketcasefor the rest of my life”.
“You just need to relax more and stop getting so agitated”, said Bardin “I’ll borrow one of Finia’s meditation books and we’ll go through some exercises together”.
Bengo quailed at the thought of yet another new thing to learn.
“It’s panic and insecurity that’s causing all this”, Bardin squeezed his shoulder reassuringly “You keep jumping at your own shadow, thinking something else is gonna make you disappear or get ill. The only thing that’s gonna cure that is time and a nice safe orderly routine for a while”.
“When Codlik could come along and ruin it all at any moment?” said Bengo.
“The more I think about him the more determined I am that he’s not gonna defeat us”, said Bardin, grimly “No gentlemanly rules of conduct now. If he comes out here he’s gonna get what’s coming to him!”
Julian summoned Adam to the library for a pre-lunch drink.
“Do you have to come along in your pinny?” said Julian, looking up as Adam entered the room “I feel like I’m having a meeting with Mrs Bridges to discuss menu’s!”
“Very good, Milady”, said Adam, bobbing a curtsey.
“Behave”, said Julian, pouring out two brandies.
“Have you been up to the sloop?” said Adam, noticing Julian’s discarded oilskins slung over the back of an armchair.
“Yes, and I informed Bardin I was going first, before you start”, said Julian “I don’t think I’ll be doing it much more often, not unless I can get someone to come with me. It’s eerie up there at the moment, all the boat creaking all around me in the wind. I’m so used to the sloop being full of life that it feels like a ghost-ship when there’s only me in it. Like that one on the way to Port West all those years ago, remember?”
“’The Coronola’”, said Adam, sipping his brandy and burning his lips “I sometimes think that was one of the most eerie things that’s ever happened to us. Either that or the Gorgon appearing at Wolf Castle”.
“How’s Bengo shaping up as kitchen-maid?” said Julian.
“He’s doing rather well”, said Adam “If he could only but realise it”.
Ransey came in.
“I don’t think you should go up to the sloop on your own”, he said to Julian “Not whilst this weather lasts”.
“I was just saying the same myself”, said Julian.
“Perhaps you could both walk up together”, Adam giggled.
“How much has he had to drink?” said Ransey, sotto voce.
“Only one”, said Julian “But it tends to rather go to his head somewhat”.
“I’m not hanging around here to be ganged up on by you two”, said Adam, huffily “I’m going back to the kitchen”.
“I wonder if we were wise to stay here”, said Ransey, pouring more brandy into Adam’s glass for himself after Adam had left the room.
“Very wise”, said Julian, firmly “I couldn’t stand another monsoon season in Toondor Lanpin. That place always gets very weird then. And this place won’t be anywhere near as claustrophobic as the Town House”.
He was right (although Julian himself wouldn’t have doubted this fact for a moment!). Midnight Castle was too large to get claustrophobic, even with sixteen people living in it. Which was just as well, because for the next few days they only actually left it to tend to the animals in the outbuildings. The rest of the time they were holed up within its cavernous, Gothic rooms.
Football or hockey matches were organised in the great hall. And with the storm shutters up they didn’t have to worry about smashing the windows! Adam and Julian would spectate from the marble staircase, and Ransey, armed with a whistle in his role as referee, would sit there with them. Whenever Lonts did anything commendable he would run up to Adam to be kissed and congratulated.
“Oi!” Joby shouted impatiently during one football match “You’re holding up the game”.
Hillyard, who along with Rumble, manned the goals (a collection of empty tea-chests), grabbed Joby and wrestled him to the floor in a passionate embrace.
“That merits a red card surely?” said Julian to Ransey.
“I’ll give him a count of ten”, said Ransey “Hillyard, you’ve been warned!”
Hillyard let Joby get back onto his feet.
“Alright, alright”, said Joby, when Bardin walked over to remonstrate with him.
“You’re just bad-tempered ‘cos we’re whipping your arse”, said Kieran, who was on the opposing team to Joby.
“You’ve been lucky that’s all”, said Joby.
Mieps went to collect the ball from behind Rumble’s “goal”. When Meips handed it to him they both exchanged smouldering looks.
“Oh gawd”, Joby groaned “Trains rushing into a tunnel”.
Adam was surprised to find Mieps later that evening skulking around the long, draughty corridor at the back of the house, looking very sorry for himself.
“What are you doing here?” Adam asked “This is such a chilly part of the house to hang around in, and you’ve only got your pyjamas on”.
“I wish I was completely a man”, said Mieps, leaning his forehead against one of the windows.
“Why?” Adam exclaimed “You wouldn’t be you if you were any different. And you’ve always seemed perfectly at ease with your female side before. You may not go around flaunting it like Freaky, but you’re always fondling your bubbies and letting Rumble slobber all over them and …”
“Teasing Codlik with them?” said Mieps, sharply.
“Oh I see”, said Adam, in a flash of recognition “That’s what all this is about is it? You’re blaming yourself for Codlik’s idiocies. I strongly suspect Freaky’s been teasing you. Really, that little monster should be beaten soundly every day!”
“Perhaps it is my fault though”, Mieps mumbled.
“What nonsense”, said Adam “It’s very simple what’s happened to Codlik. He once had a lot of power, and now he hasn’t, and he can’t handle the change. All very straightforward I’m afraid”.
“You think it’s got nothing to do with sex?” said Mieps.
“It’s got nothing to do with sex”, said Adam “Unless you count getting turned on by power and having everyone hanging on your every word, which has long been the impression I’ve had of Codlik”.
The kitchen door opened and Tamaz stood there.
“What’s going on out here?” he demanded to know.
“Go away and mind your own business!” said Adam.
Tamaz stuck his tongue out at them and then hastily fled back into the kitchen, where he sat down at the table and sullenly drank his tea.
“They’re talking about me, I know it”, he said, eventually.
“They could amaze you and be talking about someone else”, said Bengo.
“Shut up!” Tamaz snapped, earning himself a slap round the ear from Bardin.
Tamaz gave a whimper and ran into the pantry, slamming the door. Joby, who had been sitting on the draining-board, gazing out of the window at his storm-battered garden in a despondent fashion, sighed and climbed down. Fortunately the pantry door didn’t have a lock on the inside, so he could get in. He found Tamaz with his hand buried deep in the biscuit barrel.
“Nobody loves me, Joby”, Tamaz sniffed, crumbs of homemade oatcake biscuit festooned around his lips.
“I can’t believe you just said that!” said Joby, forcibly taking the biscuit barrel from him “That’s gotta be one of the great immortal lines that has! Like ‘take me to your leader’ or ‘my wife doesn’t understand me’!”
“I don’t know what I’m saying”, Tamaz sobbed, as Joby wiped his face for him with a tea-towel.
“Nothing new there then!” said Joby “Strewth, I wish everyone’d stop having hysterics all over the place. Although I don’t spose there’s much likelihood of that really”, he added, gloomily.
Bardin tapped on the door.
“Can I come in?” he said.
“Sure, why not?” said Joby “After all, this is where it’s all at innit!”
“I won’t have you talking to Bengo like that”, said Bardin sternly to Tamaz “I’m trying to keep him on an even-keel at the moment”.
Joby gave a disbelieving guffaw.
“All you care about is Bengo!” Tamaz spat at Bardin “You don’t think of me at all!”
“Oh no?” said Bardin “So why did I chase you all over the house yesterday? I went to a lot of trouble and effort to beat you up, and then you accuse me of not thinking of you!”
“Can I come in?” said Bengo.
“This place is getting like a bloody bomb-shelter!” said Joby, as Bengo edged into the crowded space.
Bardin moved the biscuit-tin away from Tamaz, who was reaching for it again.
“No, you’ll get fat”, he said.
“What, like him you mean?” Tamaz sneered, pointing at Bengo.
Joby gave Tamaz a brisk but firm smack on the butt.
“Can I come in too?” said Lonts, on the other side of door.
“No you can’t!” said Joby “There definitely ent room for you!”
“I want to see if Tamaz is alright”, said Lonts, as though Tamaz was a hostage.
“Of course he’s alright!” Joby roared “I wish everyone’d stop getting so emotional all the time!”
Kieran tried to relax Joby by washing his hair for him.
“As if it’s not bad enough having Codlik, the Big C, in the world”, said Joby, sitting on the four-poster in the main bedroom whilst Kieran towel-dried his dark, wayward locks “Now my garden’s been destroyed”.
“No it hasn’t”, said Kieran “We’ll able to salvage something from it. From what I can see it’s mainly just the runner-bean sticks that have fallen over”.
“If we lose my garden that’ll be it”, said Joby, glumly “Tinned vegetables for the rest of the winter”.
“Well at least it means we won’t starve”, said Kieran “And if things get desperate we can always go on a supply-run”.
“Oh yeah?” said Joby “And what if the sloop’s been damaged? It’s a long walk to Toondor Lanpin. It’ll take weeks and weeks to get there”.
“Then we’ll go overland to Apiriola”, said Kieran “That only takes a couple of days”.
“We can’t go there!” said Joby “You could get arrested”.
“You’re determined to find a black side aren’t yer?” said Kieran, pushing him back on the bed and lying on top of him “Anyway, they won’t want the hassle of locking me up. The more I think about this whole thing the more silly it all looks. I mean, it’s just not real is it? Codlik and the bishops trying me for heresy!”
“You’ve been talking to Julian haven’t you?” said Joby “I can tell. What you’re saying has got that ring to it. I just hope he’s right that’s all. I don’t want anyone else getting hold of you, and I’ll hang onto you for grim death if they do!”
“Patsy loves it when you say that sort of thing”, said Adam, helping Joby to move the scattered bean canes into the stables the following morning. The winds had dropped from 80mph to 50 “He will never admit it, but being abandoned is his greatest fear. All to do with his father walking out when he was a baby. What are you smirking at?”
“Trying to imagine Kieran as a baby”, said Joby “I bet he was a puny little bastard! His mum used to say ‘ah to be sure, he was a beautiful child’”.
“She didn’t say it like that!” Adam exclaimed
“Wanna bet?” said Joby “I found her quite scary. That voice with those mad blue eyes the Irish usually have”.
“Patsy’s eyes aren’t mad-looking!” Adam protested “Rather dreamy and gentle actually”.
“Anyway people always say babies are beautiful don’t they? Even when they’re ugly little scrotes!” said Joby “My Gran used to say I was a beautiful baby, so that shows you what a fallacy the whole thing is! Were you a beautiful baby?”
“I have no idea!” Adam laughed “Nobody ever said”.
“Not even your mum?” said Joby.
“I doubt she could remember!” said Adam “The vodka probably blotted it all out”.
“I bet you were”, said Joby “Seeing as you turned out so handsome”.
“Thank you my darling”, said Adam.
They had left Rumble and Bengo in charge of getting the breakfast ready, and between them the two clowns rustled up scrambled eggs and toast. Rumble noticed during the course of all the preparations that Bengo never stopped looking anxious, and at one point even jumped when he gave him an instruction. Rumble stopped what he was doing at a convenient point, and lifted Bengo up, sitting him down on the table.
“What’s the scaredy-cat act for?” said Rumble “I’m not an ogre. Have I ever shouted at you, eh?”
“No, you’ve always been kind”, said Bengo, softly.
“So why are you so nervous all the time?” said Rumble.
“I don’t know”, said Bengo “It seems to be a habit I’ve gotten into, like having a nervous twitch I guess”.
Rumble leaned forward and kissed Bengo on his forehead.
“We’ve got to get you right”, said Rumble “We have to stop Bardin worrying somehow!”
“Anyway”, Bengo giggled “You did hit me once”.
“Nothing like that clout I gave Bardin at Sade’s place!” said Rumble “That’s the trouble with my temper. I wait for years to lose it, and when I do it’s over in a split second, but I leave bodies strewn on the floor all around me!”
“Bardy joked he should’ve given you a smack in the mouth back, but he couldn’t reach!” said Bengo.
“What’s taking so long for the food to appear?” said Tamaz, as he and several of the others began to congregate in the dining-room.
“They’re short-staffed in the kitchen”, said Lonts “I’ve just ordered Toppy to go in and help them. I found him dusting the shelves in the library, would you believe!”
“He was doing housework when we’re waiting for breakfast?” said Tamaz, aghast.
Adam came into the room, shedding his oilskins as he went.
“Where the hell have you been?” said Julian, standing by the window with Ransey “Things are obviously going completely to pot around here. You should be in the kitchen”.
Adam gave him a swift kick in the pants.
“The wind’s definitely easing”, said Ransey “But we should keep an eye on the water-level in the river”.
“What happened to your hair?” said Julian to Joby “It looks even wilder than usual”.
“I slept with it damp last night”, said Joby.
“You shouldn’t do that”, said Julian “It can make you go deaf”.
“Did your old nanny tell you that?” said Joby.
“Yes she did actually”, said Julian.
Farnol and Hoowie came in, both in their waterproofs.
“We went up over the fields to look at the beach”, said Farnol, in answer to Julian’s question “You should see the rollers at the moment”.
“Come on come on, let’s eat”, said Julian, irritably.
Once breakfast was eaten Adam went in search of Julian, whom he was worried about. He was surprised to find he wasn’t in the gun-room, where Mieps and Ransey were polishing the weapons, as this was a job that Julian normally quite enjoyed doing. He eventually ran him to earth in the laundry-room, where Julian was drinking coffee in the stygian gloom.
“Can’t a man have five minutes to himself in this house?” Julian snapped.
“Oh very well”, Adam sighed, turning to leave.
“No stay”, said Julian “I never turn down a chance of your company”.
Adam sat next to him on the table, which was heaped with various bits of bedlinen.
“The worst of the weather seems to be passing”, said Adam.
“I’ve suggested to Bardin that we go to Toondor Lanpin on a supply-run”, said Julian.
“Oh Jules, why”, Adam wailed “That takes out nearly a month, and I wanted to have Christmas here”.
“We’ll be back in bags of time for Christmas”, said Julian.
“I damn well hope so. The weather should be back to normal by then, and I rather liked the idea of going down to the beach on Christmas Day, make me fee like an Australian. And what about Patsy?”
“Your little blue-eyed boy will be quite safe”, said Julian “We’ll lock him in the hold if necessary. Only I think we should find out for ourselves what’s going on. I’ve got backache at the moment because of all this. The tension makes me hunch my shoulders”.
“Get Hillyard to massage you”, said Adam “He did wonders with Joby’s back”.
“I will”, said Julian “But you agree with me that we need to find out for ourselves what Codlik’s up to?”
“Yes”, said Adam, twisting a pillowcase in his hands as though it was Codlik’s neck “What does Bardin say?”
“The impression I get is that he’s been thinking the same thing for a while”, said Julian “As though he’s been plotting something on his own”.
“Yes, and we probably won’t hear about it until he and the other clowns are banged up in jail!”
“Hopefully for assaulting Codlik and the other bishops with a volley of custard pies!” said Julian “You won’t complain about that I trust?”
“Of course not”, said Adam, crisply.
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