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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin woke up at dawn and looked at Kieran, who was sleeping next to him, lying flat on his back with his arms at his sides. It is said that you can tell a lot about a person’s true character when you catch their face in sleep. Completely unable as they are at that moment to put on a mask. Ipso facto, Kieran looked at his most beautiful, in spite of the slight bruising around his eye. He looked like a saint, his corpse uncorrupted, lying in his tomb. It was both an unnerving and an uplifting sight. Bardin watched him sleeping as the first rays of August sunshine came in through the bedroom window, and bathed them both.

“Tea”, said Joby, handing Kieran a cup.

“Thanks”, Kieran sat up awkwardly in bed to receive it.

“Yours is on the floor”, said Joby to Bardin “Be careful you don’t kick it over”.

“That bird’s making a helluva lot of noise outside”, said Kieran.

“I fell asleep listening to the owls last night”, said Joby “There seemed to be several of ‘em out in the trees”.

“I’m sorry I missed that”, said Kieran “Who’s the first to see the demon headmaster?”

“He said last night he wanted you in first”, said Joby.

“That means he’s using me as a warm-up for Bardin”, said Kieran.

“Thanks!” said Bardin.

“And after that you’ll have to see Bengo”, said Joby to Bardin.

“Has he mentioned me then?” said Bardin.

“Nope”, said Joby “Not a word”.

“That’s even more worrying!” said Bardin.

Kieran didn’t bother getting dressed when he went along to see Julian, who was writing up his log-book in the four-poster room.

“Was I the drunkest of the lot last night?” said Kieran.

“By far and away”, said Julian.

“That’s a bad show then”, said Kieran “A very bad show. You’d better do your worst to me”.

Julian began beating his bare buttocks very soundly, but Kieran protested.

“Do you want me to be your stern father or not?” said Julian.

“Yes”, said Kieran “But I’ve got a wicked hangover this morning”.

“That’s why I’m punishing you”, said Julian.

“I’ll cry!” said Kieran.

“By all means do”, said Julian “That would be the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned!”

Afterwards Kieran limped back to the main bedroom, where he found Bardin sitting on the four-poster, hugging his silk bath-robe around him as though he had a bad attack of the shivers.

“Your turn”, said Kieran “And be warned, he’s on fine form this morning!”

“I know I’ve been acting a bit peculiar lately”, said Bardin, causing Julian to raise an eyebrow “But I think I’m alright now”.

“You think?” said Julian.

“I-I know so”, said Bardin.

“Hm”, said Julian “Well contrary to popular opinion I am not a sadistic unfeeling monster, so I’m not going to beat you this morning”.

“Did you wear yourself out with Kieran then?” said Bardin.

“No I did not wear myself out with Kieran!” said Julian “My idea is that you go downstairs and make it up with Bengo. Try and persuade him that all your mid-life crisis or whatever it was is finally over. Then if he wants to beat you he can”.

“O.K”, said Bardin.

He washed, shaved and dressed, and then, feeling reasonably presentable at last, went down the stairs that came out from behind the stove into the kitchen. Bengo though was nowhere in sight. Adam and Joby were preparing a couple of steak and kidney pies, using tinned stewing-steak.

“Would you like some breakfast now, old love?” said Adam to Bardin “You must be ravenous”.

“In a moment”, said Bardin, in what he hoped was his best Captainly manner “Where’s Bengo?”

“I sent him outside for a little break”, said Adam “He’s talking to Hoowie at the moment”.

“Talking to Hoowie?” Bardin exclaimed, as though previously this had never been physically possible.

He went over to the kitchen window where he saw Bengo and Hoowie sitting on the bench in the middle of the garden. Hoowie had been cutting down some of the wilder parts of the lawn, and had rested the scythe against the bench, as though he was the Grim Reaper having a tea-break. He and Bengo were discussing something in a very animated manner.

“Call him in”, said Bardin “He won’t come if I call him, not at the moment. He’ll just give me a filthy look”.

Joby went to the back door and yelled “Oi!” across the lawn at Bengo “Get in here!”

Bengo, used to obeying Joby’s summonses, came in at once, but stopped dead in the doorway when he saw Bardin in the kitchen.

“Good grief”, said Joby “Custard pies at ten paces!”

“Go into the room behind the pantry you two”, said Adam “And don’t come out until you’re friends again”.

“Don’t look at me like that”, said Bardin, once they were alone “You’re all cold and aloof, like a statue in a temple”.

“Only because I can’t think what to say”, said Bengo “I knew you’d come and get me sooner or later”.

“Oh did you?” said Bardin “Knew I’d come crawling did you? Begging your forgiveness?”

“No I didn’t expect that”, said Bengo.

“Sit down”, said Bardin, patting the space next to him on the bed.

Bengo sat.

“I just got annoyed with last night that’s all”, Bardin continued “All because of that four-eyed little jerk, Brother Ignatius”.

“Bardy, do you know what the biggest joke about all that is?” said Bengo “I overheard Brother Ignatius talking to Toppy at the party after you’d left. It isn’t me he’s got the hots for, it’s you”.

“Me?” said Bardin “Why?”

“He saw us perform once at the Little Theatre. He said he was spellbound by you, particularly your dancing. You are a good dancer, Bardy, you can’t deny that. And he’s had a bit of a crush on you ever since”, said Bengo “It’s carried on since he came here, and seen you about the place. You have such an air of authority, he said”.

“Yeah, sure!” said Bardin “That must be all why he looks like a quivering wreck whenever I speak to him”.

“He’s not the first novice clown you’ve scared the shit out of”, said Bengo.

“He isn’t a novice clown!” said Bardin “At best he’s an amateur living-room entertainer, and that’s not saying much! God help us if he starts doing conjuring tricks as well, particularly with his eyesight!”

“Anyway, it all just goes to show that you got jealous for no reason at all”, said Bengo “And even if it had been me he liked you still shouldn’t have got jealous”.

“The stupid little squirt! Him I mean, not you”, said Bardin “And he had you talking away for hours for nothing”.

“Not really, he does actually want to learn clowning”, said Bengo “And I don’t care anyway. I love talking about the stage. There are usually no end of anecdotes I can think of”.

“That’s the great thing about the stage”, said Bardin “There was never any shortage of incidents. Every night something would happen. Scenery collapsing, props going wrong or missing, somebody corpsing …”

“Somebody having to ad-lib or improvise”, Bengo giggled “Or one of the audience in the front row getting narked ‘cos they’d got caught in the crossfire!”

“I reckon we’ve got about another 150 years-worth of anecdotes to bore the others with!” said Bardin.

They embraced and declared themselves to be friends again, for the time being at any rate.

“I’ve brought you up a couple of rounds of toast and some tea”, said Joby.

“I’ll have tea coming out of me focking ears soon”, said Kieran, who was lying face-down on the four-poster in the main bedroom, with his chin propped on the pillow.

“It’s the only way Adam’d let me out for a few minutes”, said Joby, preparing to massage some cream into Kieran’s behind “Gawd, isn’t having a bruise round your eye enough without this as well? You won’t be happy until you’re covered in bruises from head to foot. That’d be your ultimate sexual fantasy that would”.

“Julian knows how to play the stern father with me”, said Kieran.

“You have a weird idea of what a father should be!” said Joby “Comes of not really having had one of your own I spose. You used to warn me years ago about playing games with Julian”.

“That was because I didn’t trust him in those days”, said Kieran “And I have to be more careful about you. You’re not as masochistic as me”.

“Bloody good job ent it!” said Joby “One of us has to be sane!”

He washed his hands. Kieran sat up to eat his breakfast, and Joby began to gently comb his long yellow hair for him.

“What’s the gossip downstairs?” said Kieran “Have Bardin and Bengo made up yet?”

“Yeah”, said Joby “Tho’ it’ll probably be on and off again several more times by teatime! Those two are the Burton and Taylor of clowning!”

“How’s Tamaz?”

“Sulking. I wouldn’t let him go hunting, it’s too hot for all that”.

“It’d be much cooler in the forest though”, said Kieran.

“Well the truth is I don’t want him going too far today”, said Joby “I dunno why, just some gut-whim I get round here sometimes”.

“I know what you mean”, said Kieran “I often think you’re more psychic than you realise”.

“I’ve told him not to go beyond the garden”, said Joby “So he’s threatening to have a bath out on the back lawn”.

“I’m going to have to see that!” said Kieran.

“Ah Joby, the devoted handmaiden”, said Julian, carrying his log-book into the room.

“Bog off, Julian”, said Joby, and then gave an “ouch!” as Julian bashed him on the behind with the book.

“What’s Hoowie doing with that rusty old scythe?” said Julian, glancing out of the window, where Hoowie was back at work.

“Cutting the grass I hope”, said Joby “I’ve been wanting to have a go at that for ages, but I’m always locked up in the bleedin’ kitchen all the time, so I told him to do it”.

“You let Hoowie loose with a dangerous implement?” said Julian.

“He’s more likely to harm himself than anyone else”, said Joby “Probably get himself wrapped up in it”.

“Believe it or not, that’s actually what I was concerned about!” said Julian.

“He’ll be alright”, said Joby “Actually I’d have liked Lonts to do it, but Adam would have started fussing so much I didn’t think it was worth the hassle!”

Ransey had spent the morning going over yet more “organisational structure and procedure” with Brother Jerome. By 11:30 he had exhausted even his own lust for the subject, and returned to the library at Midnight Castle for a brandy.

“I seriously worry about having that lot on our doorstep”, he said to Julian over the drinks table “They’re all a bit peculiar if you ask me. They dream about Kieran”.

“Nothing unusual about that”, said Julian “I’ve dreamt about the little bastard enough times myself over the years, usually in nightmares!”

“Yes, but with them it’s all a bit obsessive isn’t it?” said Ransey. He looked around him cautiously before saying “We don’t want another Kiskev on our hands”.

“That’s not likely to happen”, said Julian “The world was a much darker place then”.

“But this area is so strange”, said Ransey “What if it has a really bizarre effect on them all? I do doubt the wisdom of bringing them here”.

“What else could we do?” said Kieran, sidling unexpectedly into the room “They left the Church out of support for me. I can’t leave them out there in the big wide world , as the Church is capable of anything. It was alright when they could be up at the Big House, all safely out of the mainstream. But when that all went pear-shaped, they had to come here. I wanted to avoid them being persecuted because of me. I’d always wanted to avoid any kind of sectarianism, but it seems that where human beings are concerned it’s inevitable”.

“I’m going to go and tidy the gun-room before lunch”, said Ransey.

“Good show”, said Julian “That’ll make you feel better!”

“I sometimes think all his problems would be solved if he just shot me dead and had done with it!” said Kieran.

“He once said to me ‘I don’t understand all that that boy’s capable of, and I don’t really want to know, I’m a simple accountant’”, said Julian.

“Hah!” said Kieran “Believe that and you’ll believe anything!”

“’But all I ever wanted to do is protect him’”, Julian continued “Rather touching really isn’t it? To think that a cold-blooded psychopath like him can have such a soft heart!”

“You daft eejit!” Kieran laughed.

“We’re about to serve lunch”, said Adam, from the doorway “Patsy, I’ve put yours on top of the piano in the hall”.

“Why, is nobody speaking to me or something?” said Kieran.

“The rest of us are having steak-and-kidney pie”, said Adam “And you know how you carry on when we eat that! You make us all feel very uncomfortable”.

“Not uncomfortable enough to stop you eating it though!” said Kieran “If I promise to keep me revulsion to meself, can I come and join you carnivores at the big table?”

He forced himself to remain quiet when the slices of meat-oozing pie were handed out around the table. He even kept quiet when Tamaz took his and sat down with a little hiss of greedy satisfaction next to him.

“Patsy exercises a lot of forbearance when it comes to our carnivorous habits”, said Adam, as he and Julian sat on the bridge over the river after lunch, dangling their feet in the water.

“He’s a Catholic, he enjoys suffering”, said Julian “He revels in it in fact”.

Hillyard came out of the porch and ambled towards them with his hands in his pockets.

“I think we should go into making ice-cream”, he said, joining them on the bridge.

“I knew Joby should never have made that joke about the truck looking like an ice-cream van!” said Julian “It’s giving you ideas!”

“Just think of all the different flavours you can get”, said Hillyard “Blackcurrant, strawberry, chocolate …”

“Yes, alright, no need to list them all!” said Julian.

“It would never stay solid in this heat, Hillyard”, said Adam “It would go all runny in next to no time”.

“We could stick it down the well, like we do with the butter”, said Hillyard “Did you know you can even get snow-flavoured ice-cream? Joby heard that once on the radio when we lived in the City”.

“It was probably an April Fool joke!” said Adam “Joby always tended to believe everything he heard on that thing”.

“And it would be a bit difficult getting hold of the main ingredient round here!” said Julian.

“I think on the next supply-run we should get an ice-cream-making kit”, said Hillyard.

“We’re not going on a supply-run”, said Adam “Bardin’s going to send a list to Glynis over the monks’ wireless set”.

“That’s alright”, said Hillyard, refusing to have his dream stymied “She can find us an ice-cream-making kit”.

“I think Glynis has got better things to do than to scour Toondor Lanpin for your latest eccentric whim!” said Adam.

“Nah, she’ll enjoy it”, said Hillyard “Be like a little treasure-hunt for her. The kids could join in”.

Hillyard hoisted his trousers up over his hips and set off back to the house.

“He’s impossible”, Julian sighed “Trying to get a firm rein on him is like trying to knit smoke!”

He and Adam also returned to the house. Adam to the room behind the pantry where Joby and Lonts had been having an afternoon nap, and Julian to the library, which he found empty, apart from Bardin, who was sitting hunched up in a corner of the sofa, looking very tense indeed.

“What the blazes is it now?” Julian barked, looking down at him “Have you fallen out with Bengo AGAIN?”

“N-no, Bengo’s fine”, said Bardin “It’s that peculiar statue-thing in the niche by the top of the main stairs. The one we can’t see very well ‘cos it’s so dark there. I swear just now it moved!”

“Rubbish”, said Julian “As you’ve just said the light’s bad up there. Sometimes when I walk past and catch it out of the corner of my eye I think it’s a dog”.

“Exactly”, said Bardin, looking alarmed “You see!”

Julian snatched him from the sofa as easily as if Bardin had been made of foam, and gave him a spanking of such savage ferocity that Bardin involuntarily screeched “ow!” all the way through it. When he’d finally finished Julian pulled him by his elbow up the marble staircase to where the mysterious statue was situated.

Most of the time no one took any notice of this strange piece of household ornament. It was well out of everyone’s way and could barely be seen unless a candle was shone directly on it. It was so old that its features had become blurred from long neglect. They reckoned it was supposed to be of a child, a little girl, with her hands clasped on her chest and her eyes downcast as though in prayer, the sort of sentimental pose the Victorians had liked.

“Awful bloody thing!” said Julian “Doubtless it meant a lot to somebody once, for reasons that probably don’t bear thinking about! I’ve always thought it should be shoved out into the garden, but one would probably do oneself an injury getting it downstairs!”

Bardin was now preoccupied with his behind, which was throbbing madly.

“Touch it”, Julian put Bardin’s hand on the statue’s head “You see. That thing couldn’t move if it was given electric shocks!”

Bardin pretended to be slightly reassured, mainly because he didn’t think he could take another such beating. He went into the maze with Bengo, who was very sympathetic and gave him lots of kisses. When they came out they found Tamaz sitting in the tin-bath on the lawn, singing away to himself in his quacking-like singing voice. The clowns began teasing him, but were alarmed to suddenly hear sounds of something repeatedly being smashed inside the house.

The clowns ran in (Tamaz wouldn’t be interrupted from his bath), and found Mieps at the top of the stairs, attacking the statue, which was now in many pieces, with a mallet. He had put a hurricane lamp on the floor to see by.

“Can’t say I’m sorry”, said Joby, approaching from the other direction with Adam, Julian and Kieran “Horrible bloody thing. Would be alright in a graveyard perhaps, but far too morbid for inside the house”.

“Nobody wanted to keep it did they?” said Mieps, sharply, adjusting the kerchief he had tied round his hair.

“Be a wee bit late now, even if we did!” said Kieran.

“It’s the sort of thing the Victorians liked doing”, said Adam.

“What, smashing up statues with a mallet?” said Joby.

“Don’t be deliberately obtuse, Joby”, said Adam “I meant mawkish, sentimental things like that, particularly of children”.

“Did you do that for me?” Bardin asked Mieps.

“Aah!” said Joby.

“It’s one less mystery in the house”, said Mieps.

“Unless of course you’ve set off some dreadful old curse by smashing it up!” said Kieran.

Julian clamped his hand over Kieran’s mouth.

“There’ll be none of that sort of talk!” said Julian.

Ransey came up the stairs and viewed the debris with disgust.

“I hope all this is going to get tidied up”, he said.

“No we thought we’d leave it like this”, said Julian.

Bengo jumped nimbly into Ransey’s arms, and playfully planted kisses on his cheek. Ransey gently but firmly put him back on his feet.

“Would you like the bits and pieces, Joby?” asked Adam “You could start a little rockery in the garden”.

“When do I ever have time to build a bleedin’ rockery!” said Joby.

“Just a thought, old love”, said Adam.

Bardin was subdued but relatively serene for the rest of the day. The storm, his own personal one, was finally passing. His severe tanning at Julian’s hands did seem to have shaken him into sorts. Early that evening he sat with Bengo on the sofa in the library, whilst Farnol and Rumble played snakes-and-ladders on the floor.

“I’ve thought of one way we could get Kieran’s Church off his back”, said Farnol “Go to Krindei …”

“Is this a wind-up?” Bardin snapped, who didn’t like being reminded of his own plan to go there.

“No listen”, said Farnol “Go to Krindei and shove a pie in the face of the head of the Church!”

“You want to go to Krindei?” said Bardin “Itching to do a bit of clowning is that it?”

“The outside world doesn’t deserve my talent at the moment”, said Farnol.

“It never did!” said Bardin.

“When we venture out and see how naff the current mainstream is”, Farnol continued “I know they couldn’t possibly understand a tortured genius from the fringes like me”.

“The anarchist’s pie stunt only works if you really know what you’re doing”, said Rumble “Do you remember years ago a bunch of students back in the Village of Stairs decided to do a pie-attack on the Vice-Governor? It was pitiful, man! They lobbed it from halfway down some steps and then ran off squealing. I overheard one of ’em later in a bar saying how a pie in the face was such a great political statement. But they didn’t get him in the face, it hit his sleeve! If they’d hung around long enough they’d have seen that!”

“Bloody amateurs”, said Bardin “They should have asked us for help”.

“Pie-throwing from a distance is very hard to get right, unless you have really good aim”, said Bengo “Particularly at a moving target. If it goes wrong it falls really flat. It’s much better to do a direct assault up front full-in-the-face. Squelch!”

“Certainly for comic effect it is”, said Bardin “But most of the ones going into showbusiness these days can’t be bothered to learn the trade properly like we had to. There was a stand-up comic who had a very brief season at the Little Theatre. He was crap, didn’t have a fucking clue! I tried to give him some advice once, mainly like try varying his material occasionally! Do you know what he said?”

Farnol and Rumble looked suitably eager to find out. Bengo already knew, but wisely kept quiet.

“He said lighten up man, don’t take it so seriously, I’m only a comedian!” said Bardin.

A brief moment of shock followed.

“Some of ‘em just haven’t got a clue have they?” said Rumble.

“They don’t want to try, you see”, said Farnol “They didn’t grow up in the dark ages like we did, where everybody had to fight damn hard for what they needed. No, this lot get it all handed to ‘em on a plate. They wouldn’t as kids have put up with no proper schooling like we did”.

“No mummy’s to wipe their botties for ‘em”, said Rumble.

“The whole world’s become frighteningly superficial”, said Farnol.

“I think we’re better off round here in that case!” said Bardin.

Ransey had spent three hours that evening over the river with Brother Jerome, and had once and for all decided that he wanted to hear no more on the subject of Organisational Structure. The more Brother Jerome talked and asked questions, the more Ransey realised how thoroughly different their two communities were going to be.

The monks were setting up a religious community, with a strict emphasis on rules and work for the common good. The Indigo-ites were a family, a large and at times very chaotic one. And although Ransey felt that a few more rules wouldn’t go amiss now and again, he was glad to be returning to them and away from the monks.

It was completely dark when he got back to the Castle, and he found Julian reading alone in the library.

“Have the others all gone up?” said Ransey, heading grimly to the brandy decanter, as he had done nearly twelve hours earlier.

“Finia wanted to stay up for you”, said Julian “But he was looking so sleepy I chased him away. You’re knocking it back a bit today aren’t you?”

“So would you be if you’d just heard about the monks’ planned daily life in grim detail”, said Ransey “Every minute of it mapped out from six in the morning til ten at night. Set hours for meals, work and enforced leisure. Even if you want to go for a walk, during enforced leisure of course, you have to ask permission from your own personal line of command first”.

“Good grief”, said Julian “Sounds more like a prison. Why aren’t you swooning with envy?”

“Because I don’t want to live in a bloody prison!” said Ransey, topping up his brandy and taking a seat in the armchair facing Julian “We’ve got it alright in our own way. You and Hillyard are my buddies, Mieps is like a very gruff sister, and I value Finia and Adam for their elegant ‘womanliness’. Do you know what I mean?”

“Oh absolutely”, said Julian, amused by Ransey’s tipsy candidness.

“It’s a shame Adam wasn’t a woman”, said Ransey “You and he could have married in your own era then”.

“Adam would have made a very beautiful woman”, said Julian “His mother was quite splendid in her younger days, before the booze got her, like a young Grace Kelly”.

“You would have had very beautiful children together”, said Ransey.

“I’m quite happy with the ones we’ve got, thank you very much”, said Julian “The beautiful ones and the not-so beautiful ones”.

“And that’s another thing you see”, said Ransey, perching earnestly on the edge of his chair “I think of the others as my children too, from Kieran right down to Hoowie. That doesn’t mean I’m in competition with you, oh no not at all. Particularly where the clowns and Tamaz are concerned, you are the best father they could have. Robust and good-humoured”.

“Ready with a firm hand when required!” said Julian.

“Yes, I wouldn’t be much good at all that”, said Ransey “Although I’ve felt like giving Kieran a good slap sometimes over the years, when he’s been slapdash with his own safety. I sometimes get jealous of Adam having Joby as his assistant. I’d have like to have taken Joby under my wing as my ward. He’s reliable and steadfast”.

“Unlike your own true offspring?” said Julian.

“Tamaz would be able to get round me too easily”, said Ransey.

“Really?” said Julian “For God’s sake make sure he never hears that! Your life wouldn’t be worth living!”

“Exactly!” said Ransey “Well it’s been nice to have this little talk hasn’t it? I hope you don’t mind”.

“Not at all”, said Julian “Normally when you’ve had one over the eight you try to make a pass at me. This is a vast improvement!”

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