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By Sarah Hapgood

Determined to complete the two-day journey from the Big House to Toondor Lanpin in half the time, they barely stopped at all, apart from a brief pit-stop for breakfast at The Watering-Hole. Hillyard drove a great deal of the way, often with Joby hanging over his shoulder from the back, chomping on apples, and viewing the road ahead.

Much later, as it began to get dark again, Julian took over at the wheel, although he had to practically prise Hillyard away from the controls of his pride and joy. Julian borrowed Hillyard’s finger mittens and puffed on the stumps of his cigars to keep him going. They often heard wolves in the distance, and as they somewhat nervously passed the Turd House in the early hours of the following morning, a crow flew into the windscreen and then flew off again, somewhat battered and dazed.

It was a wild, wet and windy Toondor Lanpin they drove into during the first vestiges of dawn. They parked the truck on the harbour quayside.

“Oh I do enjoy our little Sunday afternoon drives!” said Julian.

They slept away the morning, as the sloop rocked in the choppy waters of the harbour. At lunchtime everyone roused themselves and went about their own different chores and errands. Joby went to the galley to slice vegetables for dinner. He was upset. Adam and Kieran were at daggers drawn. Kieran, although he saw the sense in their sudden decision to leave the Big House, was still aggrieved that the forces of darkness seemed to have claimed a victory. Adam had scolded him for sulking about this, which made Kieran sulk even more. Joby hated it when they fell out. As the baby of the three, he felt unsettled by any animosity between the other two. All this harked back to their early days together, when Adam and Kieran had provided him with the only stability he had had in this bizarre new world.

“Are you alone in here?” said Kieran, peering round the galley door “Is it safe to come in?”

“Probably not”, Joby grunted “Adam’s in the food-hold next door”.

“Is he still in a strop with me?” said Kieran, coming fully into the room.

“He’s bound to be”, said Joby “You’re a fanatic”.

“Like hell I am!” said Kieran.

“You are”, said Joby “You’d see us all back there fighting God-knows-what up at that glory-hole, just to save you face, so that Angel couldn’t taunt you next time he sees you”.

Kieran picked at raw carrot, uncomfortably aware of the accuracy of this latest diagnosis of his personality. Adam came in from the food-hold, where he had been carrying out an inventory. He stopped short on seeing Kieran, and ordered him to approach.

He carried out a rather severe chastisement of Kieran, debagging him (all the while deploring the state of his underwear), and thrashing him with the birch brush. Joby winced in sympathy at this disciplining, and was relieved when Adam had finished and left the room, without saying another word.

“Do you think he’ll be alright with me now?” said Kieran “Jaysus, we need cushions on these chairs!”

Bengo and Tamaz thundered down the galley-steps, both dripping in their waterproofs from the torrential rain up above. Joby pulled a wad of cash out of the tea-caddy and ordered them straight back out again.

“It’s time Kieran had some new underwear”, he said “Go out and get him some, and here’s a bit more for an ice-cream afterwards. Don’t be all afternoon about it though”.

“I need new underwear too”, said Tamaz “I had to leave two pairs of drawers behind in the laundry-room up at the Big House”.

“Here’s a bit more then”, Joby sighed, in a longsuffering way.

“You want me to keep an eye on him?” Bengo quailed “By myself?”

“I thought you was sposed to be Deputy Captain these days”, said Joby.

“You’ll get an ice-cream don’t forget”, said Kieran.

“Yeah”, said Joby “It’ll make a change for you to actually eat summat gooey instead of wearing it!”

All through Tamaz’s buying spree in the draper’s shop, Bengo stood nervously in the middle of the room, afraid to move at all in case he knocked over any of the delicate feminine displays. He was relieved when Tamaz gathered up his brown paper-wrapped parcel and they could leave.

The ice-cream parlour felt safer for Bengo, and they both sat on high stools, avidly watching their sickly concoctions being put together.

“This is wicked”, said Bengo “We’ll be punished for this!”

They went back to the sloop and met a posse of monks coming off. Everyone was resigned to the fact that they were bound to get endless visitors over the next few days, but it was still disruptive and annoying.

The other clowns were lounging around the cabin when they went below. Hoowie was also present, asleep in the communal bunk, and only discernable by his large, mottled bare feet sticking out of the end.

“You should’ve seen all the women in the shop ogling Bengo”, said Tamaz, in order to wind up Bardin “I expect some of them would have liked to take him home and feed him chocolate on a velvet cushion”.

“That sounds alright”, said Bengo, falling into the biggest armchair.

When Bardin refused to rise to such an obvious bait, Tamaz turned his attention to the brown paper parcel and lovingly unwrapped his new drawers, disdainfully tossing aside Kieran’s more plain functional under-garments.

“What is it about you and underwear?” said Rumble.

“I like delicate, pretty things”, said Tamaz “And I don’t get much of that living with you lot!”

Hillyard returned from having spent a couple of hours at the Town House with Glynis. He ordered the clowns to help him, Lonts and Mieps to return the animals to the sloop. Bengo was urgently needed in the galley though to help Joby finish preparing the dinner. Adam had been called out to the cottage hospital to see Jonner. During their sojourn at the Big House, Jonner’s drug habits had finally caught up with him. Years of stuffing what at times seemed like every substance known to man up his nose had taken a grisly toll. The membrane between his nostrils had collapsed completely, and the doctors were warning him that the structure of his whole face would follow suit if he still persisted.

Much to Julian’s annoyance, Adam had rushed out to visit his fellow sensitive artist. Julian would later be even more annoyed to hear that Adam had persuaded the monks to take Jonner on as a patient, which would mean Jonner joining Codlik as an inmate at the Bay’s new monastic refuge, which was yet didn’t even have an appropriate building to put them in!

In the meantime Joby and Bengo were huddled in the gloomy stillness of the galley, preparing the ongoing vegetable casserole. Bengo suggested that now they were home, they should borrow Julian’s hip-bath and have another bath together.

“Although it got you a bit tense when we did that up at the Big House”, said Bengo.

“That was the house that got me tense, not having a bath with you!” said Joby “You keep coming out with porkies like that and I’m gonna have to spank you, right over my knee, big hearty wallops!”

Bengo rubbed himself against Joby’s thigh, leaving him in no doubt that he was very excited by all this talk.

“Hallo-o-o!” a pair of monk’s sandals appeared at the top of the galley steps which led up to the main deck “It’s me, Brother Jerome!”

“Oh f …!” Joby bit his lip to stop him coming out with a very unholy exclamation “Don’t come down. Hang on a minute”, he walked to the foot of the steps “What is it?”

“Just wanted to say we’ve got our own boat all sorted out. We can leave any time you wish”, said Brother Jerome.

“It’s not up to me”, Joby grunted “I’ll pass your message on to Bardin. Although God knows when we’re gonna get away at this rate!”

“Very soon we all hope”, Brother Jerome exclaimed.

“I spose we’re gonna have to get used to all that”, said Joby, lugubriously, when Brother Jerome had gone “Monks dropping in I mean”.

“I guess so”, Bengo sighed.

“Well it’s all happening here now”, Julian wrote in his log-book in the early hours of the morning “I scarcely know where to start! Adam finally came back from the hospital late yesterday afternoon, having paid an unnecessarily long visit to that total waste of space, Jonner, who from what I can gather lay there whining and generally feeling very sorry for himself. All for a problem that is entirely self-inflicted! I said as much too, and expected to get shouted at for being a callous swine, but to my pleasant surprise Adam was very meek and subdued, and even said he agreed with me! As an ex-alcoholic, he said, he couldn’t argue with the fact that no one actually FORCES you to poison yourself with dangerous substances. At first I thought he was taking the piss, as Joby would say, but he went on to say that Lonts (who I might have known would get held up as a paragon of virtue!) had been through far worse than Jonner in his life, and he blamed nobody. I have to agree there. Lonts always says that “everyone in Kiskev was just very unhappy”, and there is no arguing with that really!

Adam spent half-an-hour closeted with Kieran alone in the cabin with the door bolted, by all accounts just talking, which gave it an air of the Confessional. Until Freaky ran onto the boat and insisted on being let in to see Kieran, before I could stop him. The problem was you see, that whilst they had been closeted away, some very disturbing gossip had been running around the waterfront. Some ex-inmates of the Big House (including Bertha and Old Jake I’m glad to say), alarmed by our sudden departure, had decided to leave as well, and had reached The Watering-Hole (on their way here), where they had sent a wireless message to Toondor Lanpin, along the lines that “evil had escaped” after our departure and they feared for the stubborn villagers they had left behind.

Bardin vindicated all the faith I have put in him by coming up with a very sensible plan. He asked Ransey to arrange for the hire of a small four-seater air-buggy, and they would take Mieps and Tamaz and fly up over the estate to get an aerial view of what might be happening there. They’ve assured us that on no account will they land, it simply sounds far too dodgy for such heroics. They left a few minutes ago, and we expect them back sometime this afternoon.

The problem of course, as it always is, was Kieran. He had to be forcibly prevented from joining them, or anything could bloody happen! I ran across the forward deck yesterday afternoon to cut him off at the pass, from coming up aloft and putting his spoke in. I met him on the quarterdeck steps and a bit of a confrontation took place. This resulted in me pushing him off the steps. He fell and twisted his ankle. I am not remotely repentant about this. In fact, it’s the best possible thing that could have happened at this time. With him semi-immobilised like he is he is a lot easier to deal with. He can’t suddenly get it into his head to give us the slip and go off on a tangent of his own. For an added precautionary measure, Finia slipped a harmless sleeping-draught in his bedtime brandy, and he’s been out like a light ever since. Why we have never tried these tactics before I’ll never know!”

The team of four reached the estate at around breakfast-time. From the safety of their lofty aerial viewpoint they could see that the thaw had caused quite severe flooding in the outlying fields, but otherwise things seemed quiet. Eerily quiet. There was nobody about in the countryside. Ransey dropped a bit of height as they approached the environs of the Big House, so that they could get a closer look. Again, the eerie stillness, especially unnerving after the bustle of Toondor Lanpin. The house simply seemed to be an enormous, sprawling, empty shell.

“Go over the village itself”, shouted Bardin, his ears swamped by furry ear-muffs.

In the back seat Tamaz was unusually subdued, sitting huddled up close to Mieps, nibbling the end of the fur-stole he had put on for “luck”.

“There!” Mieps suddenly exclaimed, as they approached the end of the village nearest the house “There’s something down there. I can see the blood!”

The body of a man was lying in the slush. His head had been very neatly severed from his body, and the head taken away. All that was left of it was the blood staining the greyish melting snow around him.

“I expect there’s bound to be more like him”, said Ransey.

“Alright, don’t go any lower”, said Bardin.

More headless bodies appeared below.

“If anyone wants to be sick there are some paper-bags at the front here”, said Ransey.

They circled over the village for some time, and then Bardin gave the order to return home.

“Here you are, your favourite breakfast”, said Joby, carrying a tray into the cabin at lunchtime, when Kieran had finally come round from his drugged sleep “Poached eggs on toast and a mug of strong tea. And if you give me any more trouble I’ll smash your face in!”

“Who was it who slipped me that Mickey Finn last night?” said Kieran.

“Finia”, said Joby “It was for your own good. Now don’t start on ‘cos I ent got time to listen. Me and Bengo are the only ones in the galley again. Adam’s taken Lonts out to do some shopping to take their minds off everything. You just eat all that and keep quiet!”

Joby returned to the galley, where Bengo was washing-up, and looking pale and anxious as he did so. Using his sternest voice Joby exerted every effort to keep him from getting too worked up over the next couple of hours.

At two o’clock Rumble appeared on the galley-steps. All morning he had employed the local waterfront children as a network of messengers and spies to keep him informed of any comings and goings at the tin-shed which served as Toondor Lanpin’s airport. And now he’d been given the news he’d been waiting for. The four-seater air-buggy had returned with all its occupants intact.

Bengo burst into tears once Rumble had gone back aloft.

“That’s enough of that”, said Joby, who wanted to cry himself “Don’t go to pieces on me now! They’ll be hungry, let’s get some sandwiches cut, it’ll keep ‘em going until dinner’s ready. Who knows? One of these days Adam might reappear!”

Bengo flung his arms round Joby and continued to weep with gratitude.

“I thought you was supposed to be a born trooper”, said Joby, patting his bottom reassuringly “Whatever happened to the show must go on?”

“I’ll never give Bardy any trouble again”, Bengo sobbed.

“He’ll never believe that for one minute!” said Joby.

He grabbed the back of Bengo’s long, baggy shorts and yanked them up roughly until the crotch was practically cleaving Bengo in half. Bengo giggled. Keeping a hold of him Joby put him over the stool on which Adam had thrashed Kieran the day before, and belaboured his bottom very vigorously. Although it smarted Bengo still found it very amusing.

“You’re a total idiot did you know that?” said Joby, stroking Bengo’s bottom afterwards.

“I know”, said Bengo “But it doesn’t matter at all!”

They had been sailing down river for a couple of days when Hillyard carried Kieran up onto the forward deck to take the air.

“Jaysus, warm sunshine”, said Kieran, as he was settled into one of the reclining chairs “I’d almost forgotten what it was like! Are you o.k Hillyard? You look a wee bit tired”.

“Yeah I’m alright”, said Hillyard “It’s just been so busy these past few days that’s all. Replacing all the stuff Glynis and the girls had to leave behind at the Big House, making sure the monks have got everything, getting the truck put into the bottom hold, and finding accommodation for the estate refugees. Ransey and Julian helped a lot, but I’m the only one who can sign the cheques, so I had to be present all the time”. “And there was me, no focking use to anyone”, said Kieran “Laid up below with this focking foot!”

“You were in the best possible place”, said Hillyard “I knew where you were”.

“Oh, so Julian did you all a service then?” said Kieran “Pushing me off the bleedin’ stairs like that!”

“Behave yourself”, Hillyard chuckled “Right, I’m going below now to make sure Farnol and Hoowie are coping alright in the hold. I’ll be back up in a minute to see if you want anything”.

“Now don’t you fuss round me”, said Kieran “There are plenty up here I can give orders to”.

“No let me do it”, said Hillyard “’Cos if you want something, I can then go down and shout orders at Joby in the galley. That’ll really annoy the tits off him. I’ll enjoy that!”

“Good”, said Kieran “He’s avoiding me at the moment. He’d better watch out for when I’m fully mobile again that’s all I can say!”

“I’ve just felt sort of numb since we got back”, said Bardin, who was lying alone with Bengo on the communal bed below, the warm sunshine flooding through the casements all around them “What we saw up there wasn’t that horrific in a blood and gore way I suppose, just a few splashes of blood on the snow, but it’s a sight you don’t forget because it is just so … so different, so surreal. There’s just a space where the head should be. Whoever, whatever did it, hacked the heads off so cleanly, just leaving this bloodstained gap. I kept thinking on the way back that perhaps we should have landed and looked for anymore survivors …”

“Bardy no!” Bengo exclaimed “We don’t know what it was caused those murders. What if something had gone wrong with the air-buggy and you couldn’t have got away from it? We’re clowns, not heroes!”

“I thought of all that”, said Bardin ”I thought if we did get stranded there with this monster I’d never see you again, and you’d have to live with the thought that we’d ended up as headless corpses too”.

“It’s far too much”, Bengo sighed “I find it hard to think about all this now”.

“Which is why we’re going back to the Bay for a while”, said Bardin “We need a breathing space. Being up there has made us run down and stressed out. We need to rest and think for a little while. Have some peace. Well as much as we can get anyway with a monastery being built right across the river from us! It’ll be lunchtime soon. Let’s have a brandy”.

Bardin was fiddling with the decanter and glasses, when Julian banged on the door imperiously, and announced that he wanted to come in for one of his cigars. Bengo ran across the room and unbolted the door to let him in.

“Enter!” Bengo cried, standing on tip-toe like a naked ballet-dancer.

“Finished rutting at last have you?” said Julian.

Bengo jumped onto his back, and Julian gave him an impromptu piggy-back across the room.

“You’ve got him far too excitable as usual, Bardin”, said Julian, sitting down at his desk and rooting through the clutter on top of it for his cigar-box “You don’t discipline him enough”.

“Joby did a pretty thorough job of it the other day”, said Bardin, pouring out a third glass for Julian.

“Maybe, but he needs chastising daily”, said Julian “Where are my bloody cigars? I bet Toppy’s tidied them away somewhere safe! I’ll never find them again. He should have been a bloody woman, he can never leave things in one place!”

“I often think Toppy should have been a woman!” said Bardin “We could call him Topsy then instead!”

“Ow!” Julian yelped, as Bengo put his hand inside his shirt and pinched his nipple. Julian deftly put him over his knee and spanked him very soundly with the paddle.

Bardin watched with quiet enjoyment as Bengo’s cheeks steadily pinked and then reddened. Bengo himself was almost relaxed about it all, in spite of the stinging smacks of the paddle on his naked flesh. He contentedly lay draped face-down over Julian’s knees like a little dog being stroked. It was with deep satisfaction that he ejaculated eventually over Julian’s trousers. Bardin tenderly kissed his buttocks before Julian set him in an upright position. He surprised the clowns by having a moment of mellowness and holding them both closet o him and telling them how much he loved them.

The moment passed. Julian collected his brandy, finally unearthed a cigar and went to leave the room.

“How long have you been standing there?” he barked, finding Tamaz just outside the door.

“A while”, said Tamaz, managing to sound both evasive and haughty at the same time.

“Aren’t you a bit overdressed at the moment?” said Bardin, when Tamaz joined them by the desk.

Tamaz was wearing a t-shirt, trousers, his pink silk wrap, and a diamond paste necklace.

“You’d normally be flouncing around in your frillies by now”, Bardin continued.

“I expect this is all to impress the monks”, said Bengo, referring to the next vessel following on behind them “He wants them to think of him as Lady Tamaz all the time!”

“At least I’m not the one standing there standing there with a bright red arse!” said Tamaz.

“No, but it could be arranged”, said Bengo.

“Come on, get your clothes off”, said Bardin, pulling off the pink wrap and draping himself in it “I’m suffering from drawers deprivation”.

Bengo hoisted Tamaz over his shoulder and carried him, hissing and spitting, over to the bed. Bardin, still wearing the pink wrap, pinned his arms down, and Bengo wrestled off Tamaz’s trousers. Tamaz fought free of Bardin’s grip and made a lunge at the garment. Bengo tossed them on the floor, and then managed to get Tamaz into a spankeable position.

“Get off, you stupid clown!” Tamaz shrieked.

“Nope, that isn’t the way to persuade me”, said Bengo, slapping Tamaz’s behind “You say ‘Bengo is a really nice clown. I really like having Bengo around’”.

“Like hell!” said Tamaz, but after enduring another torrent of hard smacks he said the required words.

“You were jerking off to all that!” he shouted at Bardin, once he’d been released from Bengo’s grasp.

“Well what do you expect?” said Bardin, lying breathlessly on the bed “It’s all been more than flesh and blood can stand! But if you take your clothes off we’ll frig you if you like”.

“O.K”, said Tamaz, as though he was an empress granting a concession to a minion.

“But leave your diamonds on”, said Bardin, ever the theatrical one.

When Adam came into the cabin a short while later, he found all three of them asleep on the communal bed, their bodies bathed in sunshine. He hastily executed a few charcoal sketches of them like this, intending to turn in into a proper painting when they got back to the Castle.

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