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When he woke up after a troubled sleep Julian was relieved to see daylight fingering round the edge of the curtains. He got out of bed and went over to the window, pulling back the curtains. Another crow was perched on the window-ledge outside, pecking at the frame with its beak. The sun was shining though, and flurries of snow were sliding off the roof.
“The thaw seems to be starting”, said Julian.
“Great, we’ll get flooding now!” said Hillyard. Worry over Mieps had caused his usual pragmatic equilibrium to desert him.
“There’s a chill in here”, said Julian “Make up the fire, Hillyard. It’s on its last legs”.
Hillyard obeyed, glad to be up and doing something practical. Julian sat on the bed and watched as Mieps slowly came to consciousness.
“Codlik is nearby”, was the first thing Mieps said.
Codlik found Kieran sitting up in bed, drinking coffee and idly leafing through one of Joby’s paperbacks. His room-mates were all across the corridor in Adam’s room.
“Codlik”, said Kieran, looking up at him, startled.
“I found this in my Bible this morning”, Codlik drew a slip of paper out of his dressing-gown pocket “I’ve never seen it before”.
In Gothic script on the paper was printed the words: “THE LAMB OF GOD AND THE GOAT OF MENDES SHALL BE UNITED, AND WILL RELEASE THE GREATEST POWER OF ALL. LOVE AND DESTRUCTION. THOU SHALT KILL!”
“You know what it means don’t you?” said Codlik “Don’t lie to me. I know you know”.
“It’s an old Satanic belief”, said Kieran, uneasy at discussing this with Codlik in his disturbed state of mind, but knowing it would make him even more disturbed if he refused to discuss it “Some Satanic cults, ones in my time and before, believed that one day Christ and the Devil would come together to form a partnership that would be the most powerful force the Universe had ever seen. And that the Devil would destroy … on Christ’s orders”.
“And it has come to pass hasn’t it?” said Codlik, eyes blazing fiercely “You have formed an alliance with the Devil, that’s why you let Angel exist. You’re moving towards a union with him. That is why Hell is getting out of control, and why you won’t do anything about it. Why can anyone not see through you?! Try and deny to me that you don’t love Angel. Try and deny it!”
“Codlik, it’s all absurd”, said Kieran, getting to his feet “For years and years I’ve worked to battle the forces of destruction. Why would I then go and align meself with them now?”
“You haven’t denied it, because you can’t deny it!” Codlik shrieked.
Two of the monks who were coming round with the early mornings jugs of hot water, ran into the room on hearing the shrieks, and managed to escort Codlik away back to the North Wing.
“Good”, said Joby, shouting after them “You’d better get used to handling him. It’s gonna be your job soon!”
“Hang about, we haven’t actually decided on that yet, Joby”, said Kieran, climbing wearily back into bed “You’re not being very democratic”.
“There are times when democracy ent very practical”, said Joby “And this is one of ‘em. If we took votes on everything all the time we’d still be living in trees!”
“The Thing, whatever it is, put this in Codlik’s Bible”, said Kieran, showing him the slip of paper “It’s obviously trying to convince him that I’m involved in some kind of conspiracy with Angel”.
“Nothing’d surprise me!” said Joby, picking up his paperback “And you’ve gone and lost me place!”
“You never cease to amaze me, d’you know that!” Kieran exclaimed “I’d pit you against a Satanic coven anyday! The poor eejits wouldn’t stand a chance!”
Announcing that he was “all twizzled up inside” by everything, Hillyard said after breakfast that he was going to try and relax by having a poke around in one of the outhouses. “You never know, I might find I own something useful!” he said, gloomily. Ransey, Lonts and Bengo went out to join him, and all got tremendously excited when they uncovered an old truck, originally used for ferrying farm produce around the estate. Although the bodywork was very rusty, Ransey said there was nothing actually wrong with the workings, the key-pad was all in place, and he would soon have it running.
“A bit of touching-up here and there and it’ll be as good as new”, said Hillyard “We can take it to the Bay with us”.
“But it wouldn’t fit on the sloop, Hillyard”, said Lonts.
“We’ll tow it behind us on a raft”, said Hillyard “This’ll come in useful round home this will”.
“First things first, we’d better see if it’ll get us down to the village and back”, said Ransey.
Hillyard got up behind the steering-wheel, Lonts sat by the other door with Bengo on his lap, and Ransey was jammed in the middle. They began a precarious drive down to the village through the slush.
“This is great ennit!” said Hillyard, slapping the steering-wheel enthusiastically “This don’t half take me back. Driving one of these round the Ministry farm all those years ago …”
“Will you keep your bloody eye on the road!” Ransey snapped “You’ll have us all in a fucking ditch if you’re not careful!”
“That’s alright, Lonts is a big lad, he can pull us out!” said Hillyard “We don’t need to take an air-buggy back to Toondor Lanpin, we can go in this”.
“You’ll do anything to get out of flying!” said Ransey.
The village was its usual picture of bustle and cheer when they reached it. A couple of dogs drifted aimlessly in the deserted street, but human life was conspicuous by its absence. Only smoke coming from the chimneys gave any sign that there was anyone around at all.
They parked the truck by the inn, and decided to call in for a beer. The main bar was lit by a dismally ineffectual fire, even though there was a full basket of logs sitting right next to it. It was as though the handful of punters didn’t have the will or the energy to stoke it up. Instead they stared into its dim embers glumly.
“Blimey, customers!” said Hillyard, looking round at them. He was so buoyed up by finding the truck that if they had been hanging from the beam it wouldn’t have depressed him!
Lonts decided that the fire needed some maintenance, and stuffed nearly half a forest onto it, to get it blazing.
“You’ll set my chimney alight”, said the landlord, as sparks spat off the wood.
“You need light to ward off demons”, said Lonts “Kieran’s always said so. Light and heat. You won’t keep them out by having a piddly little fire in your grate!”
“How are things up … up at the Big House?” said the landlord, as he attended to their beers.
“Well they’ve been pretty bloody awful as you happen to ask!” said Hillyard “We’ve had naff all support from anyone down here. You’d all rather hide away indoors and leave us to get on with it”.
“It’s got nothing to do with us”, said the landlord “We are separate from the house”.
“No you’re not, actually!” said Hillyard “Thanks to the Big House no one in this village pays rent or a mortgage, and you don’t have to pay any tenancy on this place”.
Ransey looked impressed. Hillyard at some point had actually managed to absorb some of his accountancy lectures!
“The Big house is supposed to support the village”, Hillyard continued “You get free firewood, a healthy cut from all produce grown on the estate, and that applies to everyone, not just those who’ve worked to get it in. Education is free here …”
“Any medical requirements are met out of the Big House accounts”, said Ransey.
“I was coming to that”, said Hillyard “I’ve been here at harvest-time, and seen able-bodied people who didn’t lift a finger to help the others get the crops in, elbowing their way to the front of queues to get their share! During Woll’s time people drew a full wage up at the house for doing naff all! And now … now when all we could do with is a bit of support from everybody we don’t see your arses for dust! And meanwhile, I’m fucking paying all you lot to support you, so that you can all have the privilege of treating me like a pile of horse-shit! But that … but that I can deal with. I’m a big you, I can take it. But how could any of you desert a woman with kids to fend by herself I don’t know!”
“You deserted her too”, one of the customers piped up.
“I came when she said she needed us!” said Hillyard “And we’re here now, trying to sort it out for her!”
Bengo, who had never seen Hillyard in such a state before, looked as though he was about to cry. Hillyard noticed this and decided to ease up on the throttle. He ordered more beer for everyone.
Mieps had spent the morning confined to bed, because Julian had decreed that unless he rested he would end up “as batty as Codlik”. After his tense time yesterday Mieps was now acting as though a dam had burst within him, and he was behaving like an excitable child. Julian sat with him for a while, and then went downstairs to see Adam when Rumble came in to tidy up the bedroom fire.
Rumble was now kneeling on the hearthrug, brushing the tiles free of coal-dust, when Mieps decided to jump out of bed and rummage around in Bengo’s rucksack.
“What are you looking for?” said Rumble.
“This!” Mieps pulled out Bengo’s plastic gazoo, which the little clown often liked playing in the bath. Tootling on it incessantly Mieps danced back to bed and rolled around on it. He blew on it more fiercely when Rumble approached him. Rumble pulled it out of his mouth.
“Gazoo”, said Mieps, simply.
Rumble blew on it in reply.
“We’ll have to get one each and then we can pretend to be a couple of ducks mating!” he said.
“I’m going mad”, Mieps suddenly sighed, despondently “All those years alone out on the marshes never managed it, but a few nights here has! Perhaps I’ll start ageing again too. You never saw me when I was like that. There was nothing feminine about me then”.
“You’re not going mad”, said Rumble “If Tamaz has never succeeded in driving you bonkers, then we can assume you’re pretty solid! You’re just wanting to relax a bit that’s all. All the tension in the air around here is getting everyone down. Perhaps it’ll be easier when some of the snow’s melted. It won’t feel quite so oppressive”.
“I’m such a mess”, Mieps began to cry “I’m a freak, a monster”.
“No-o”, Rumble pulled off his jumper and trousers and then lay on the bed next to Mieps “You’re extraordinary. Kiss me darlin’, kiss me”.
Farnol, Tamaz, Hoowie and Bardin were down in the laundry-room, hand-washing their clothes, most of which seemed to be Tamaz’s drawers.
“I’ve never known someone with as much underwear as you!” said Bardin “You’ve got enough here to open your own lingerie shop!”
“It all needs to be done”, said Tamaz.
Hearing Bengo and Lonts return from the village, Bardin went to leave the room, and tripped over a pile of shirts they had left in a heap near the door. He fell flat on his face. The others ran to help him up.
“Alright, alright, get back to your work”, he said.
He went across the corridor in the Service Wing to the kitchen, where two monks were preparing vegetables for dinner. Joby and Toppy were occupying a corner of the table, polishing all their fob-watches.
“Hello Bardin, we’ve been drinking beer”, said Lonts, divesting himself of his outdoor clothes.
“So I can tell”, said Bardin.
Bengo slipped past Bardin and into the larder, where he proceeded to help himself from a jar of pickled onions.
“I’m starving”, he said, when Bardin immediately followed him in “All that fresh air you see. Now don’t go all naggy on me, Bardy, or I shall have to put you across my knee!”
“Is that so?” said Bardin, standing arms akimbo “You didn’t tell me you were going down to the village”.
“I didn’t know”, said Bengo, cradling the jar in his arms and sauntering out of the larder “Hillyard found the truck and we got it going and …”
“What truck?” Bardin barked.
“A real beauty”, said Hillyard, who had just come in with Ransey “You should see it”.
“We’re gonna travel back to Toondor Lanpin in it”, said Bengo, now sitting on the floor and unlacing his boots.
“That’s if Bardin agrees”, said Ransey.
“Of course he’ll agree”, said Bengo “He’ll do as I tell him!”
“Oh God, you ent half a pain in the arse when you’re drunk!” said Joby “When you sober up you’ll be scared shitless at the thought of all the things you said to Bardin!”
Lonts had gone over to the stove and began loading wood onto it, much as he had done at the pub. Ransey was alarmed at this growing fascination with fires and cautioned him against overdoing the fuel.
“Why don’t we be a pantomime horse, Bardy?” said Bengo, putting his head in the small of Bardin’s back and pushing him drunkenly around the kitchen.
Bardin thought it would be wise to get Bengo out of the kitchen. The combination of his drunken antics and Lonts’s new-found disturbing obsession with fireplaces might prove too much for the monks, who were trying to get on with their work. Bardin hauled his partner out of the room.
“Where are you taking me?” said Bengo “Somewhere we can be alone I hope?”
“Somewhere where I can get you sobered up before dinner actually”, said Bardin.
“Oh you’re just jealous because …” Bengo stopped suddenly “Bardy, oh God, look!”
They had reached the stretch of corridor that ran past the Red Salon. This room, although furnished, was never used by anyone. It reminded everyone too much of a museum, and a pretty gloomy, neglected, unfrequented museum at that. By the fireplace was a doorway which led into a mysterious corridor which sloped downwards. No one knew where it went, because Kieran, on a previous visit to the house, had taken a look in and decided that no one should go down it. Nobody had ever felt inclined to question why, or contradict him.
On this occasion the door was slowly closing, being pulled shut by someone on the other side of it. A hand and arm reached round to get a better grip on it. The limb was bare. It was also mottled, and garishly red and purple in places, exactly like decomposing flesh. The clowns watched it with appalled fascination.
“Bardy”, Bengo whispered “We have to get out of this house. We really have to. I mean it!”
By the time they reached the library Bardin knew he had to get Bengo calmed down drastically. Telling him that he needed to sober up a bit before dinner, Bardin got him to lie down on one of the sofa’s and urged him to get some sleep.
“We must leave here, Bardy”, Bengo repeated, only more drowsily this time.
“I know, but we have to talk it over with the others first”, said Bardin.
Julian came into the room as Bengo drifted off into an uneasy, but heavy sleep. Bardin took Julian over to the window and told him what they had seen in the Red Salon.
“I don’t know what to do, Julian”, said Bardin “I feel that anyone could make a better job of being Captain than me at the moment. Bengo keeps saying we have to leave, but can we really just abandon this place?”
“I don’t see why not”, said Julian “Hold on a moment”.
He strode over to the door which opened onto the Great Hall, and pulled Kieran into the room by his ear.
“What the fuck were you eavesdropping for?” Julian barked, dragging the Irishman over to the window “We have enough to worry about, without you acting so damn sneaky!”
When Julian refused to let him go, as Kieran had repeatedly requested, Kieran bit him on the wrist. Julian gave a shriek and clouted Kieran across the mouth. Kieran fell back onto the carpet, and Bardin rushed to help him up.
“What on earth’s going on in here?” said Adam, coming through from the Yellow Salon with Finia.
“He just focking punched me in the face!” said Kieran, staggering over to the sofa.
“That’s not like you, Jules, why?” said Adam.
“The little swine bit me”, said Julian.
“He grabbed me by the ear”, said Kieran “Nearly twisted it right off!”
“Don’t be silly, Patsy, you do exaggerate sometimes”, said Adam.
“He was eavesdropping on us”, said Julian “Hatching plots no doubt”.
“Plots about what?” said Adam.
Bardin explained again about the Red Salon. He had a feeling he would be describing it many more times before the day was up, and was already weary at the thought of it. The run-up to dinner was tense indeed. Everybody seemed to be telling each other to “fuck off”. This wasn’t anything unusual, they had days at Midnight Castle like this, but the Big House was capable of making anything seem ten times worse.
Bardin shut himself in the dining-room, which was laid up for the meal, although no food had been put out yet. He sat down at the table with his head in his hands. Bengo, sobered by his short nap, tentatively came in to see him.
“We’ll do Joby’s idea”, said Bardin “We’ll leave here very soon, take the monks and Codlik with us”.
“And Nola”, Bengo pointed out.
“And her, the pain in the butt!” Bardin sighed “Firstly, right after dinner, we’ll go to the East Wing and put the idea to the Arch-Pater”.
“You and me?” said Bengo, hardly daring to hope.
“Why not you and me?” said Bardin “I am Captain after all”.
“Yes, but Rumble’s your deputy”, said Bengo.
“You can take over a few more deputy’s duties from now on”, said Bardin “It’ll give Rumble more time to suck on Mieps’s tits! I’m sure he’ll be pleased with that! He’s a reassuring bloke to have around, but I find no one as comforting as I find you”.
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo gulped, hardly able to believe this deliriously happy turn of events “This is so wonderful!”
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