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By Sarah Hapgood

“He is very popular”, said the Arch-Pater, who was breakfasting with Codlik in his tent at the storm-free Bay “Kieran is a rebel, a wild-card, and for that reason I have never wholly approved of him. Anyone who bucks the system which upholds civilisation is dangerous, but we in the Church have always bowed to his phenomenal popularity. You’ve heard for yourself how the Brothers here adore him”.

“But why?” said Codlik “When I was President I knocked myself out to care for people. I worked tirelessly for the common good, there was nothing I wouldn’t put my finger in to ensure the world was a better place. Kieran hardly did anything! He sat in meetings, granted, but most of the time he barely stayed awake! He rarely took any decisive action on ANYTHING!”

“To be fair”, said the Arch-Pater “The ordinary people regarded this as non-interference in their lives”.

“Non-interference?” Codlik squawked.

“I understand how you feel”, said the Arch-Pater “We in the Church often wished he would take more action. There were plenty of laws we would like to have brought in. And then he left us, and, although it pains me to say it, but it is the harsh truth, since his departure the Church has suffered a damaging loss of credibility where the public are concerned. We simply have no one to match his charisma”.

“The public are fools”, Codlik spat “They don’t want men to work for their benefit, they want someone to … to do nothing! Take Midnight Castle, he hasn’t stayed to vanquish the dark forces, he’s vanished! Off the face of the earth! And it’s not the first time he’s done that either!”

He was interrupted by a low-ranking monk, who came in with serious news.

“Brother Ignatius has disappeared”, he said.

“Find him”, said the Arch-Pater.

“I don’t think we can, Your Holiness”, said the Brother “He’s left a note, we think he’s been gone several hours. In the note he says he’s gone to follow Kieran”.

“How?” said Codlik “He hasn’t got a boat, he hasn’t taken one of the skiffs has he?”

“He’s gone overland”, said the Brother “Due south”.

“The little fool”, said the Arch-Pater, with more sadness and compassion than Codlik liked “He’ll never survive”.

“Here, take these”, Joby held out two aspirins in the palm of his hand “I got ‘em out of the First Aid box”.

“Pills with tea? Ugh!” Kieran pulled a face.

“Kieran!” Joby snapped.

“O.K”, Kieran sighed “But they’re no damn good for warding off psychic attacks you know”.

“You let me worry about that”, said Joby.

Kieran was sitting on a bench in the hold, whilst Joby stood over him like an avenging angel. Bengo came in carrying a plate of omelette for Kieran.

“Yours is in the galley”, he said to Joby.

“Alright”, said Joby “Well go on, push off! We don’t need you in here!”

Bengo got to the door and stuck his tongue out at Joby before hurriedly exiting.

“The little basket!” said Joby “We need to find somewhere that hasn’t been set foot in by anyone else for years and years. And then stay there for decades, until all the current lot in the Church, and Codlik, have died or got too old or senile to care”.

“Supplies would get to be a bit of a problem”, said Kieran.

“We’d find a way round that”, said Joby “We managed on the island all those years ago. As long as we’ve got a fresh water supply we’ll be alight. And as long asyou haven’t given Codlik the secret of lasting youth as well”.

“I’m not daft you know!” said Kieran.

“One of my pairs of drawers is missing”, said Tamaz “Have you taken them?”

“No I haven’t!” Bardin snapped “I’ve got my own. They’re probably in the washing-basket”.

“Let me have a look”, said Tamaz.

“No”, said Bardin “I don’t have to drop my trousers these days if I don’t want to! Anyway, I came in to tell you to get your oilskins and come up on deck with me”.

“It’s raining up there”, said Tamaz.

“So what?” said Bardin “You won’t shrink!”

They went up on deck to find that Mieps had lashed himself to the wheel because the storm had got so rough.

“Normally I’d argue for stopping”, said Ransey to Bardin “And pulling in closer to the shore until it passes, but I want to put as much distance as possible behind us”.

“I’ll take over the wheel for a while”, said Bardin “Just give me a few minutes”.

He returned below-deck and changed into the old pink nightdress which Finia had given him for recreational use. He put his oilskin jacket on over the top. Adam and Joby studiously declined to notice this ostentatious outfit when he passed through the galley. Bengo was more worked up about Bardin insisting on driving through the storm, and followed him up the galley steps.

“No get back below”, said Bardin, as though Bengo was a loyal but disobedient dog.

“Don’t stand there with the hatch open”, said Joby, from the bottom of the steps “There’s rain pouring in!”

Bardin slammed the hatch down behind him, and Bengo returned down the steps, looking rather disconsolate.

“Stop moping!” said Joby “As if we haven’t got enough to cope with without you looking like that!”

Bardin’s gritty determination to steer the ship (and Kieran) out of harm’s way earned himself plaudits from the two men who were notoriously difficult to earn plaudits from: Julian and Ransey.

“He was a real trouper out there”, said Julian.

“Well of course he was!” said Bengo “What else would he be? When Bardy sets his mind on doing something properly he does it”.

“I was only doing what Mieps did”, said Bardin “He tied himself to the wheel before I did”.

“You did it for twice as long as I did”, said Mieps “And in even rougher weather”.

“You could have got swept over the side, Bardy”, said Bengo, wide-eyed with terror.

“Not if I’d tied myself to the wheel, Bengo”, Bardin sighed, with forced patience “Half the boat would have had to be ripped away!”

“That has happened”, said Lonts “To some people”.

“Don’t tell me”, said Joby “They all died!”

“Have I told you about it before then?” said Lonts.

“No it was just a wild guess!” said Joby.

They were all drinking coffee on the forward deck the next day. Apart from a very squally wind, the storm had abated somewhat, and a rather ruthless watery sunshine was in evidence.

“Land ahoy!” said Hoowie, pointing at the coastline of craggy beige cliffs.

“It’s always been there, you berk”, said Joby “Just we haven’t been able to see it this past couple of days”.

So far there was no sign at all of the river estuary that was supposed to run out into the ocean, and which they were hoping to take up to the mines and beyond. By all calculations they were supposed to be practically upon it, and this was causing Ransey much annoyance, frustration and concern.

“Maps of this time are notoriously inaccurate”, said Julian “Things are never in the place they’re supposed to be in, and some times they’re simply not filled in at all!”

“Perhaps there’s been a landslide and the entrance has completely disappeared”, said Lonts.

Joby gave a rather longsuffering sigh.

“It could happen, Joby”, Lonts protested.

“Yeah I expect it could”, Joby sighed.

A large opening in a cave appeared in the rocks a little further down. It was the only entrance through the unbroken cliff-face they had seen so far. It was large enough to get the sloop through, but Joby and Kieran decided to take the skiff through ahead of them, in case of any problems, and mainly to avoid the possibility of the sloop getting stuck.

“Stop fussing, Ad”, said Joby, as they prepared a lantern to take with them “You carry on as though we’re kids”.

“You’d soon complain if I didn’t”, said Adam.

He drew Joby to one side.

“Don’t let Patsy recklessly drag you into any situations”, he whispered “You know what he’s like”.

“I should do by now!” said Joby.

“And if anything happens”, said Adam “Anything at all …”

“We turn back”, said Joby “Yeah I know, I thought we’d already agreed to all this!”

He climbed down into the skiff where Kieran was already sitting. At Adam’s instigation Lonts chucked down a canvas bag containing a bottle of water, a hunk of bread, and some goat’s cheese, in case the journey turned out to be lengthy. The bag nearly landed on top of Joby.

“Oi!” Joby shouted up at him “Little …”

He sat down in the skiff, behind Kieran.

“I’m glad he ent getting in here with us”, said Joby “Although then again he might be useful I spose. We could use him like the miners used to use canaries. One whiff of gas and aagh! Oh dear, Lonts is dead, we must be heading into some danger!”

“Joby, you’re a wicked fella sometimes!” said Kieran.

“Well I have to save up all my Lonts jokes for when I’m alone with you”, said Joby, as they moved away ahead of the sloop “If I tell ‘em in the galley, Adam gets the flamin’ wire brush out!”

They rowed in silence for a while, mainly to get out of the lee of the sloop. Joby marvelled at the reflection of the water on the walls of the cave around them. Although he had lived on a boat for many many years, it was a sight that always enraptured him. They had gone some way before they heard the sound of the sloop’s engines starting up behind them, as it set off in stately, cautious pursuit.

“That’s it”, said Joby “Make a lot of racket, shatter the peace and quiet!”

“We’ll be glad of the sound of them if we get into trouble”, said Kieran.

“What trouble could get into in here?” said Joby.

Kieran was quite taken aback by this rather uncharacteristic comment by Joby. Not only because normally his old friend grumbled about everything, but because there was any amount of danger to be had in a cave, and usually Joby would be one fo the first ones to point all this out, in lurid detail!

“This place is weaving some kind of spell of enchantment over you”, said Kieran.

“Don’t be daft”, said Joby “I just find it sorta tranquil after having just been through a storm at sea that’s all”.

“O.K”, said Kieran “That makes sense”.

“You should know by now that I’m not the sort who gets prone to spells of enchantment”, said Joby “That’s more you that is!”

“What did you think of Bardin in his pink nightie?” said Kieran.

“Scary!” said Joby “You know, I don’t care where this comes out, as long as it’s a million miles from Codlik”.

“Particularly as he means to kill me”, said Kieran.

Joby stared apprehensively at the back of Kieran’s head.

“You think he’s that far gone?” said Joby.

“Codlik never could suffer what he saw as the world’s imperfections”, said Kieran “Anything that was wrong he meant to rip out with his bare hands, and he sees me as a heretic”.

“Whatever that means”, said Joby.

“I don’t toe the line that he’s drawn in the sand, that’s what it means”, said Kieran “I can see daylight appearing up ahead”.

Eventually they emerged from the cave.

“God, it’s beautiful!” said Joby.

“I’m Captain”, said Bardin “I should be supervising the ride through the tunnel”.

“They don’t need you up there to do that”, said Bengo, pinching Bardin’s nose “There, I’ve managed to shave you without making a single nick on your face. Look”.

Bengo fetched a mirror from the wash-stand.

“Why am I so ugly?” Bardin wailed, looking at his reflection in despair.

This was a sure sign to Bengo of the stress his partner had been under in the past few days. When Bardin was stressed he either got very bossy or complained about his face.

“It’s alright for you”, said Bardin “Think how my life could have been if I’d even had only a fraction of your cute looks”.

“Yes, you’d have got hit with even more custard pies!” said Bengo.

“Typical”, said Farnol, appearing in the doorway “You two so busy arguing you haven’t noticed that we’ve come out of the cave! We’re on a lake, a huge one, and it’s beautiful, man!”

“I’d better put my shorts on”, said Bengo “I hope the button doesn’t come off again. It’s been doing that a lot lately”.

“Because you’re getting so fat that’s why!” said Bardin.

“It’s easy for met to be fat”, said Bengo “Like it’s easy for Kieran to be skinny. And I don’t get much exercise working in the galley”.

“I’ll have to think of a remedy for that”, said Bardin.

He joined hands with Bengo, and they went up aloft to look at the view.

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