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By Sarah Hapgood

The dozen monks sat around their own refectory table in the East Wing and listened to Bardin’s proposal. Bardin sat directly opposite the Arch-Pater, talking at the religious men and women with a well-judged mixture of respect and authority. Bengo sat by him, gazing at him, rapturously. It wasn’t surprising that the monks should be very pleased with the idea of funding a religious house at the beautiful Bay, right near their beloved Kieran. Bardin made sure that he stressed the f act that the house would be built in the field, and that the monks wouldn’t actually be living in the Castle with Kieran. They accepted this, they even accepted the care of Codlik. Bardin said he would return to them in the morning with a schedule of departure, (and hoped silently to himself that he would have thought of one by then!).

Bengo and Bardin took their leave of the holy people, and found Kieran and Joby waiting for them in the chilly stone hallway at the entrance to the East Wing.

“We couldn’t wait to see how you’d got on”, said Kieran, who was sporting a very noticeable bruise at the corner of his mouth.

“They liked our plan, Joby’s plan that is”, said Bardin, with a gracious nod at Joby, who was carrying a candle in a holder “It’s now just a case of working out when we abandon ship”.

“Bardy says I can now be his deputy a lot of the time”, Bengo couldn’t resist blurting out.

“No you can’t!” said Joby “I’m not taking orders from you, you little squirt!”

“He’ll still be under your jurisdiction in the kitchen”, said Bardin “Feel free to spank him anytime you want”.

“Don’t worry, I will!” said Joby.

They turned into the long corridor that ran along the back of the house, connecting the East Wing to the Service Wing. The only illumination they had was the candle and a window halfway up a broad flight of stairs. Bardin walked in front, arm-in-arm with Kieran. Joby and Bengo followed on behind. Joby held the candle aloft to light up the corridor, and in so doing glimpsed something truly strange and awful watching them from the sidelines. In his shock he dropped the candle on the tiled floor and it went out.

The others scrambled to fetch it before it rolled out of their dim line of vision. Kieran stuck it back in the holder, and Joby fumbled in his pocket for the box of matches he had got from the library.

“I’ve seen it before”, Joby whispered “At the door of the Turd House. The skeleton in the dressing-gown, remember?”

“It’s gone behind the panelling”, said Kieran, glancing round him “There must be a hidden door somewhere. I swear all this is to do with the doorway in the Red Salon”.

The four of them headed quickly back to the main part of the house, and shut themselves away in the dining-room, to take liberal use of the coffee and the brandy the monks had left there after dinner.

Bengo, fully aware of the significance of what had just happened, was trying his best to look as grave and intelligent as possible. If Bardin and Kieran were to organise an expedition to the Red Salon he wanted to be a part of it, hence the new-found gravitas. It was as if a showbusiness newspaper headline had announced that “BENGO THE POPULAR CLOWN GETS HIS FIRST SERIOUS ROLE!”

Bardin and Joby were discussing the possible idea that there may be an underground link from the Big House to the Turd House, also taking in the Watering-Hole, reminded as they were of the conversation they had once had with Joe-Lee there about demons tormenting the previous owner. They looked to Kieran to see what his thoughts on all this were.

“I’m too shattered to think of anything”, said Kieran, looking sleepy with tousled hair.

“Will we … will we have to go and look down the corridor in the Red Salon?” said Bengo, expecting a barrage of Ballast-Brained Bengo retorts.

“Possibly”, said Kieran, looking at him sympathetically “But not tonight. Psychologically, it’ll be better or us to do it in daylight, even if it’s not actually daylight down there!”

He got up and selected a bunch of grapes from the sideboard. As though sharing an illicit conspiracy he cut off a few for Bengo, and a few for himself.

“Do you fancy some, Joby?” Kieran asked.

“Nah, I’m gonna have some of those orange-flavoured biscuits”, said Joby, going to the other sideboard “They ent half more-ish. Do you want some Bardin, or are you slimming again?”

He cast a significant look at Bardin’s whip-thin dancer’s body.

“I’ll have one”, said Bardin, sounding deeply preoccupied.

He went over to the French windows and pulled back the long curtain to look out.

“Careful, you don’t know who might be looking in!” said Joby.

“Probably Codlik escaped from the North Wing again!” said Kieran.

Toppy came in from the hall on the pretext of fetching himself some more coffee, which didn’t fool anyone.

“He always wants to know what’s going on”, said Bengo, after Toppy had reluctantly drifted out again “He’s like this at home. If he thinks there’s any gossip going on he finds an urgent chore that needs doing nearby”.

“More likely he’s keeping an eye on us ‘cos we’re using his precious grape-scissors!” said Joby “Probably thinks we can’t be trusted with ‘em!”

The rest of the night was uneventful, but by this time they were beyond looking for meagre consolations in anything.

“We’re doing this yet again”, said Bengo, kicking his bedding the next morning.

“What? Getting up?” said Bardin, finishing the task of brushing his teeth at the washstand.

“Getting up HERE”, said Bengo, wishing that his new-found powers as Deputy Captain included ordering Bardin to take them all home without delay.

“You were looking forward to going down to the Red Salon last night”, said Bardin.

“Only to prove to you that I could be fearless and responsible”, said Bengo “But I can do that just as well at the Bay, actually”.

“Actually!” Bardin mimicked.

Across the corridor Mieps was taking a leisurely bath.

“Are you going to be much longer in there?” Ransey snapped “I want to get in”.

“There are plenty of other bathrooms”, Mieps purred, soaping his breasts “Or does this one have special attractions?”

“Stop trying to act like Tamaz”, said Ransey “You’re too old for all that! It’s ridiculous. I don’t expect it from you. And there’s no need to keep fondling yourself like that, not for my benefit. I’ve been tormented by real demons in my time. I’m sure the others must’ve told you about what Angel did to me at Bandorra”.

“O.K o.k”, said Mieps “I thought you’d like it that’s all. Finia hasn’t got breasts”.

“He hasn’t got a dick either”, Ransey put his hand in the bath-water and tweaked Mieps’s penis.

Mieps gave a squeal and stood up. He swathed himself in a couple of towels (much to Ransey’s irritation, who thought one was sufficient) and swept out of the room. Mieps went into the bedroom, where Bardin was washing Bengo rather vigorously. Mieps stood on the hearth-rug, right next to the fire, to dry himself and get back into his pyjamas. He had just put on the bottoms when Bardin squeezed his breasts, making squelching noises with his tongue as he did so.

The day did not get off to a good start for Kieran. After breakfast, he went for a stroll along the terrace with Hillyard, and they both got into a pointless argument. Hillyard had remarked that the thaw and the imminent onset of spring would be bound to have a beneficial effect on the house and its environs. He had noticed that lambing had started, and the villagers would be kept fully-occupied with this for a while. They wouldn’t have time to get worried about ghosts and demons. He concluded therefore that they might as well leave the Red Salon and anything else supernatural well alone.

Kieran seemed to take this as an affront to his Vanquisher’s pride. Having come this far and been through so much he didn’t want to call it quits now, and live under the certain knowledge that it would all start up again next winter.

“So what if it does?” said Hillyard “My answer to that is why don’t everyone just shut the house up for a few weeks each year? I’m sure Glynis won’t mind spending her Christmassses in Toondor Lanpin, or coming to the Bay to see us”.

“That’s not the point!” Kieran retorted, and then felt annoyed with himself because he couldn’t put into coherent words exactly what point he was making.

Instead he stormed back into the house. Hillyard still remained unruffled. When he had worked as Kieran’s dresser and valet during their Ministry HQ days, they had often had such disagreements. Kieran had sometimes consulted Hillyard’s opinion on burning issues, regarding him as the voice of the man on the street (“man OF the streets” was Julian’s caustic version). Trouble was, Kieran sometimes hadn’t liked what he’d heard, and would banish Hillyard from the Presidential Suite, usually with an addition of “and keep your slimy focking hands off Joby too!”, until the next Presidential bath-time came round and all would be considered well again. So Hillyard wasn’t bothered by this altercation. It was just like old times.

Kieran bad-temperedly made his way to the Great Hall. Lonts and Toppy were at the far side of it, undressing the Christmas tree. Bengo was sitting at the bottom of the huge staircase watching them, looking lost in such a vast area. The little lad turned to look as Kieran approached. He smiled, but not before Kieran had noticed the expression of anxiety on his face. Bengo had been very brave the night before, and if called upon to be so again he wouldn’t fail, but there was no doubting his extreme unease at the present time.

With a chastening realisation, Kieran accepted that he had been in danger of getting fanatical about the demons in the house, and that Hillyard perhaps did have the right solution after all. Before they themselves left though there were things that had to be done.

Firstly, the monks were sent to Toondor Lanpin in the air-buggy. They were instructed to find accommodation there as best they could for a few days, until the Indigo-ites followed on overland in the truck. Codlik and Nola were sent with them.

Once they had gone, Kieran went down to the village with Hillyard (whom he was now grudgingly speaking to) and Joby, all of them dragging large sledges with them. They stopped at the builder’s yard there and loaded the sledges up with bricks, trowels and bags of cement.

“You shouldn’t be doing any bricklaying in this weather”, the builder warned.

“We’re doing it indoors”, said Kieran.

Back at the dreaded Big House once more, the three of them set to work bricking up the door by the fireplace in the Red Salon. This wouldn’t thwart any demons haunting the place, but it was a start, and they worked on the theory of trying to make things as inconvenient for the forces of darkness as possible. Whilst they were doing this Lonts boarded up the fireplace.

“The vampires came out of fireplaces”, he explained.

“You’re not seriously gonna board up every fireplace in the house?” said Joby, in disbelief.

“Don’t be silly, Joby”, said Lonts “Just this one”.

“Good, now you’ve done it come and stir the cement in this bucket. My arms are aching”, said Joby “Strewth, where are the clowns when you need ‘em? Send in the clowns!”

“They’re upstairs, fetching all our blankets and pillows”, said Lonts.

Now they were alone in the house, Bardin had decreed that it would probably be better if they all camped out in the servants’ hall. This idea was seized upon by the others with alacrity. It would feel safer and cosier if they were all together, it was right next door to the kitchen so it was convenient for most things, and they would have the comforting feeling of confining themselves to a couple of warm, well-lit rooms in this huge, cold, rambling mausoleum of a place.

The clowns had already been busy packing everyone’s rucksacks and bringing them downstairs, where they had abandoned them on the kitchen floor, before going back upstairs for the bedding, along with Mieps who helped them.

Tamaz, bored with watching the building work in the Red Salon, wandered into the kitchen and promptly tripped over the baggage. Adam had barely helped him to his feet, when Julian came in and nearly did the same. Annoyed, he bellowed at an indignant Tamaz to move the bags into the servants’ hall.

“Do you want a cup of tea, Jules?” said Adam “I’m just making one for everybody”.

“Later”, Julian snapped “I’m going to take a turn outside and have a cigar before the light fades”.

“Don’t go too far”, said Adam “In case there are wolves on the estate”.

“There aren’t any in the bloody kitchen-garden are there!” said Julian “I’m not going off on an Arctic expedition!”

“Oh dear, that’s a shame!” Adam trilled, which brought the briefest flicker of a smile to Tamaz’s disgruntled face.

“We will get away from here, soon”, said Rumble, placing his hand gently on Mieps’s neck.

Farnol watched them from the doorway of Julian’s room. He wouldn’t have been human if he hadn’t occasionally got disturbed by these little trysts between his partner and Rumble. Mieps gave Rumble an exotic slant to his sex-life that Farnol knew he couldn’t provide. In spite of his endless repertoire of bawdy jokes and stage stunts involving sex-aids, Farnol wasn’t in fact a very sexual person. His sexual growth had come to a halt at around the age of twelve. He loved gruesome gags about bodily functions (the more revolting the better), but he found the act itself vaguely tiresome, and in all honesty he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Left to his own devices he got more satisfaction from eating a cake.

He was too supremely good-natured and easy-going to begrudge Rumble’s occasional forays into seeking relief elsewhere. Rumble was a tender and considerate lover, he was also a very sophisticated one, and as such Farnol knew his friend sometimes needed more than a hand-job! In some ways Farnol was relieved that Mieps was around to provide this outlet and keep it in the family, as it were. But yes, he did sometimes get jealous too.

If anything though these days Rumble was even more fond of his boisterous little friend than he had ever been. He had found he could indulge and expand his sexual experience without compromising his feelings for the partner he regarded as brother more than anything. During the previous winter in Toondor Lanpin he had got quite concerned about his developing feelings for Mieps, uncertain what to do about them, and afraid of starting another Codlik-style crisis. But when he found that the world didn’t come to an end if he sucked Mieps’s tits, and apart from the odd ribbing from the others, it didn’t cause a rift in the group, he accepted it all, and moved onto a new level of laconic calmness.

Farnol decided to cope with it today by the only means he knew, making a joke of it.

“Ah! You providing Rumble with his exotic needs then, Mieps?” he said “You’re so exotic in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a dick!”

Mieps snorted something unpleasant at him in return, gathered up Julian’s red satin quilt and swept out of the room.

“Must’ve been something I said”, said Farnol.

Rumble laughed, and cradled Farnol’s head to his shoulder, stroking his face tenderly. Mieps hadn’t finished with him though. He appeared back in the doorway and shrieked “At least I’m not fat!”

“I am healthily fat I’ll have you know”, said Farnol, who was in reality not fat at all, just a little stocky “Healthily fat!”

Mieps made a noise that sounded like “crrtch!” and stormed off.

“He’s getting as bad as Tamaz for always wanting the last say!” said Rumble.

They didn’t see the night out at the Big House. At four-thirty in the morning Tamaz alerted everyone to an unnerving sound coming from further up the corridor. It was the sound of bricks falling onto the floor. Their homemade barrier in the Red Salon had been pushed down from the other side. This time Bardin acted instinctively and without any prompting from any of the others.

“We’re out of here”, he said “We’ve had enough. Hillyard, go outside and fetch the truck”.

Belongings and provisions were hastily gathered up, and they stole out of the back door of the kitchen like burglars fleeing the scene of the crime. Lonts was crying, and Adam sat with him at the front of the truck, with Hillyard driving. The rest all crammed into the back as best as they could.

Their hurried departure didn’t completely go unnoticed. Windows were raised as they drove through the village and heads poked out.

“It’s all yours!” shouted Hillyard, as they passed through.

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