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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin wanted to take advantage of the calm after the storm by putting as much distance between themselves and the island as they could. Truth to tell, this windswept, barren outpost was depressing him. There simply didn’t seem to him to be any reason why it was there, or why it should have suddenly appeared in the way it had. No amount of the others telling him that maps were notoriously unreliable, or that places often popped up where they shouldn’t, could persuade him to be blasé about it.

They sailed in a north-easterly direction, and when they eventually left the island behind them, they could see that its northern end was comprised of sheer cliff-face, giving the island the appearance of a giant half-opened shell.

The mood on the galleon lightened as they departed. The weather was cold but calm, and the sea sparkled. Many of the Indigo-ites were making excuses to go and do jobs up on deck, and even Hoowie decided that his croaky dying swan act had gone on long enough, and vacated his bed.

Julian had taken advantage of this to have the sheets changed.

“What are you doing in here?” he asked, moodily, when Kieran came in with the fresh bed-linen “Where’s Toppy?”

“Washing pillow-cases up on deck”, said Kieran “I’m in Assistant Laundry-Maid mode today, or would you rather I disappeared?”

“No get on with it”, said Julian, ungraciously, and he went back to making notes in his log-book.

Kieran obediently began stripping the old sheets off the bed. Julian, although he had his back to him, couldn’t help but be aware of his close proximity though.

“Come here”, he barked, throwing down his pen.

Kieran came over and perched on the edge of the desk. He noticed that Julian seemed to have been polishing his instruments of torture that morning, and that the riding-crop was glistening amongst his papers.

“I’m going to ask you a question”, said Julian “And I want you to answer me honestly, and not flippantly. During your recent little rendezvous with Angel, did you let him feed off you?”

“No I didn’t!” Kieran exclaimed “I’ll take me shirt off and show you if you like!”

“Don’t be absurd”, said Julian “Any marks will have healed up by now anyway”.

He got up and walked restlessly to the window. Kieran joined him there.

“All that was a very long time ago”, said Kieran “If you’d seen Angel now, you’d know how much things have changed”.

“Don’t expect me to feel sympathy for that cannibalistic little bastard”, said Julian “You ask too much, even if he has helped us lately”.

“Then I won’t”, said Kieran “He just wanted someone to talk to, that’s all. He lives on ’The Cursed Isle’, so he won’t be tempted to feed, but his loneliness is acute”.

“Alright alright”, said Julian, impatiently.

“I give you my word I’ve told you everything”, said Kieran, touching Julian’s arm “Do you want me to get back to the bed-making now?”

“Drop your trousers first”, said Julian.

Kieran was well-experienced in all this, and knew what was required. He dropped his trousers to his ankles, and pulled the bottom of his shirt out of the way as he bent over, holding onto the bed-post.

The soreness of Kieran’s bottom from Joby’s recent attentions didn’t deter Julian, and he briskly dealt several blows on it with the riding-crop.

“Hopefully you’ve had enough arse-whippings now to keep you in line for a little while”, said Julian, helping Kieran to straighten up again.

“I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of crying”, said Kieran.

“Bullshit”, said Julian “You damn well need it, you know you do”.

He pulled Kieran closer into his arms, and nuzzled his mouth into the top of his hair, and then Kieran did cry.

When he went up on deck a short while later, to give the bed-sheets to Toppy, he found a sight of breath-taking beauty - a perfect rainbow arched over a seemingly never-ending vista of tranquil sea. At the far end of the deck, Ransey, Hillyard and Joby were standing looking at it in silence.

“Summat else ent it”, said Joby, putting his arm round Kieran “Are you alright? You look a bit red in the eye”.

“Julian’s just given me a thrashing”, said Kieran.

“Can’t you stay out of trouble for 5 minutes?” said Ransey, wearily.

“I only went up there to change the sheets!” said Kieran “I think he was annoyed at us having been so long over doing the blessings, and w-well you 3 wouldn’t have been doing it if it hadn’t been for me, so it was my fault”.

“I’ll rub some cream in”, Joby sighed “Come below, you two, we’ve got some decent brandy in our cabin”.

“Any idea where we’re all going” said Hillyard.

“One brandy down and he’s already getting philosophical”, said Joby, who was busy rubbing cream into Kieran’s bottom.

“No I mean on this voyage”, said Hillyard.

“Up the top and round isn’t it?” said Ransey “Eventually past Krindei, and then up that river towards Nuit”.

“Finally stopping at the old hunting-lodge”, said Joby.

“Just so’s I’ve got it straight in my mind”, said Hillyard “I like to know where I’m at you see”.

There was a tentative knock on the door, and Rumble peered in, looking rather wan and tired.

“Get yourself a mug and you can have some brandy”, said Joby.

“I’ll go and fetch my shaving-mug”, said Rumble “Good job I rinsed it out this morning”.

In the brief time he was gone Kieran hastily pulled up his trousers (he didn’t want the entire ship coming in to have a look at his bottom, which, according to Ransey, looked as though he had sat in a pizza), and the others quickly speculated as to why Rumble could be looking quite so forlorn.

“I’ve just had a weird conversation with Bardin”, he said, when more brandy had been poured.

“We all have weird conversations with Bardin!” said Hillyard.

“He said that if I liked”, said Rumble “He could put in at the next port and leave me there. He was quite serious too! I’ve known that guy all my life, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite figure out how his mind works!”

“You’re not walking out on us, Rumble?” said Kieran.

“Who’ll play the banjo at Christmas?” said Joby.

“No I’m not going”, said Rumble “But he seems to think I want to! It just took me a little while to get over everything that happened back at the monastery, that’s all”.

“You should have said”, said Kieran “I didn’t realise it had affected you that much”.

“I couldn’t say”, said Rumble “It made me feel such a wimp! It’s not as if I’ve been through what you 4 have, or what Bardin, Bengo and Tamaz did. Or even Julian - being accosted by a demon like that”.

“Yeah, we were quite concerned for the demon when we heard about that!” said Joby.

“You look so calm, Kieran”, said Rumble, miserably “I don’t know how you do it”.

“Two large shots of brandy”, said Joby “And Julian giving him a good hiding this morning!”

“That particular option’s not open to Rumble”, said Kieran.

“Because I’m not a flagellant he’s not interested in me”, said Rumble.

“Oh I don’t know”, said Hillyard “I’ve seen him giving you looks when you’ve been working with your shirt off sometimes”.

“I’m getting over it anyway”, Rumble gave an impatient shrug, as though mentally shaking Bardin off his back “He didn’t have to go on like that, that’s all”.

There was yet another tentative knock on the door. Joby pulled it open in exasperation.

“Adam s-says”, said Bengo, nervously “If you don’t come back to work soon, he’ll fire you”.

“Wouldn’t that defeat the point of the exercise?” said Kieran.

Bengo had had a wearying afternoon. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Farnol hadn’t cornered him in an emotional state, wailing that he couldn’t understand how an old friend like Bardin could even have contemplated dumping them.

“Bardy’s got a lot to think about”, said Bengo, feeling a surge of loyalty towards his partner “We’re probably going to some very remote areas, and he can’t take the risk of anyone not being able to hack it”.

“We’ve always been able to hack it before!” said Farnol.

Now, after supper, Bengo was soaking his feet in his cabin. Next door, in the dining-room, a sing-song was in progress. Bardin came into the room, looking rigid with tiredness.

“Do you want a cup of tea, Bardy?” said Bengo.

“I’ll do it”, said Bardin, going over to the samovar “You look comfortable there”.

“My feet kill me after a day in the galley sometimes”, said Bengo.

“I’m surprised you don’t get earache as well!” said Bardin “I’ve just had Adam nagging at me to be more thoughtful to Rumble and Farnol! I pointed out that kindness and patience is wasted on clowns. They need discipline instead”.

“What did he say?” said Bengo.

“’Then that applies to you as well, old love’”, said Bardin “I had a lot of sympathy for Julian at that point I can tell you. He’s always complaining that Adam’s a whining do-gooder”.

Whilst waiting for the water to boil, Bardin sat down in the chair opposite Bengo.

“I hope that’s not going to go on all night”, he said, referring to the singing next door.

“You can always go in and tell them to shut up”, said Bengo.

“Oh great”, said Bardin “And get branded an old misery as well as a cold-hearted monster!”

“It’s not easy at the top is it?” Bengo giggled.

“The sea’s getting choppier”, said Bardin “I expect we’ll be rolling about before the night’s over”.

The turbulent waters continued into the next day. To Adam’s annoyance Bardin called a breakfast meeting in his cabin, to include Julian, Hillyard and Ransey. “Why are you getting all arsy?” said Joby “It’s no more inconvenient for us serving it in there than it is in the dining-room!”

“It’s not that”, said Adam “It just all sounds so horribly corporate that’s all”.

“Oh come off it”, said Joby “Bengo and Bardin’s cabin is hardly Wall Street is it!”

“And that lot always insist on getting so macho when they all get together”, said Adam “They like to delude themselves they’re all grown men or some such nonsense”.

“Hey, is all this ’cos you’re jealous?” said Joby “’Cos they didn’t invite you?”

“Good heavens, no”, said Adam “It all sounds too unutterably dreary for words”.

Bengo was despatched to take the omelettes to the “corporate bunch”. When he returned Joby asked him what they had been talking about.

“I dunno”, Bengo shrugged “I couldn’t be bothered to listen”.

“A brilliant bloody spy you’d make!” said Joby.

“I think before tackling the Arctic waters”, Julian was saying “We should put in somewhere and take on supplies, and by that I mean get some meat on-board. Adam can then salt it and put it into storage. And know the old girl must be itching to go hunting”. (The Old Girl being Mieps).

“Where do you suggest?” said Bardin.

“It has to be somewhere remote“, said Ransey “I’d quite like to have a break from Kieran drawing attention to himself”.

“I know somewhere”, said Hillyard “The countryside to the north of Port West. That’s on our way. There isn’t much there, or there didn’t use to be, and it’s good hunting country”.

“To the north of the Bone-House?” said Julian, sounding dubious.

“Well I wasn’t thinking we should call in THERE!” said Hillyard.

“I damn well hope not”, said Julian “Ghastly place”.

The ship shuddered under the onslaught of the high winds.

“We’d better give the ship a good going-over whilst we’re there”, said Bardin.

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