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By Sarah Hapgood

The Autumnal weather on the mainland above Port West made the prospect of sailing up into the Arctic even less appealing than before, and everyone began to question why they were planning on doing it. Things came to a head one day when Fabulous broke down in Bardin’s cabin, and wailed that he was terrified of going back to the Nuit region. No amount of Adam or Bardin trying to reassure him that, after all this time, the natives were unlikely to know who he was, could reassure him.

“They’ll tear me to pieces, I know they will”, he said “If you still insist on going there then I’m jumping ship right now, I mean it”.

“There’ll be no need for that”, said Bardin “Contrary to popular belief, I do listen to how people feel, and I am aware of the growing consensus that nobody wants to begin Arctic sailing at the onset of Winter. We’ll hold a council of war in the dining-room at suppertime“.

The outcome of this meeting was the unanimous decision to postpone the Arctic sailing until the following Spring, and in the meantime to find a nice, secluded cove where they could sit out the following months, and hopefully not bother or be bothered by anybody.

Although Bardin was perfectly happy with the outcome of all this, he did let off steam to Bengo afterwards that “there seems to be a lot of great wuzzies around at the moment who can’t keep a grip on themselves”.

“It’s only Fabulous and Rumble”, said Bengo “And I can understand Fabulous being nervous about going back to Nuit, and as for Rumble, well I’ve always thought he was a big bag of hot air”.

Bardin tried to think of a way to defend Rumble, but wisely decided instead to let Bengo have his moment of satisfaction.

“It’s not me who’s the coward”, Bengo went on.

“Yes alright!” Bardin snapped “I let you have your little spotlight, now don’t milk it!”

He put on his cap and marched to the door, stopping and turning, Columbo-style, when he reached it.

“And if anyone else around here threatens to jump ship”, he said “I shall damn well give them a helping-hand!”

The few months that followed were relatively calm and uneventful. The galleon put in at a rugged, but sheltered cove to the north of the Bone-House (which they had sighted in the distance as they sailed past). The cove was backed by miles of forest-land, which offered up endless scope for hunting. Some tentative exploration of the area revealed that the only other nearby signs of civilisation were a trackside inn and boarding-house some way into the forest, which catered - in a simply, but comfortable way - for any stray hunters and travellers in the area.

On the galleon life settled down into an equally simple existence. It was also a hard one though. The Winters were bitterly cold in this part of the world, and the struggle of day-to-day living was quite absorbing enough that it left little energy over for further speculations about the mainland. In some ways it reminded them of the Quarantine Winter on ’The New Continent’, but without the hideous confines of living in a house. Things were made tougher though by some severe outbreaks of influenza, which prostrated many and took weeks to overcome.

By the time March came round, everyone was pleased to see the temperatures gradually nudging up a few degrees, and the snow beginning to thaw.

“I feel like I’ve been locked in an underground bunker for several weeks”, said Joby “Like bloody Hitler!”

Bardin decided that a morale-booster was in order (“so that we can all be plunged further into the depths of despair” was Adam’s comment), and ordered that more bracing, fresh air trips ashore were what was required. He pointed the finger of doom most particularly at Bengo, whom he said looked very peaky indeed, quite grotesque in fact, and with a grey-ish tinge to his complexion.

“If I look THAT awful I’d best not go anywhere in case I frighten somebody!” said Bengo, talking to him (most reluctantly) in their cabin “I don’t want to go hunting tomorrow, Bardy. I was gonna make pancakes, I’ve been looking forward to it”.

“You can make pancakes anytime”, said Baridn.

“Well if it comes to that I can go fucking hunting anytime!” Bengo exclaimed, and he threw himself into the armchair, curling up like a sulky dog crawling into his basket.

“Now Bengo”, said Bardin, pulling up a footstool with a dreadfully purposeful air.

“No you listen to me for a change”, said Bengo “I hate hunting. It’s bad enough having to prep the meat sometimes without having to kill it as well, and I don’t care if that is hypocritical!”

“Have you been talking to that veggie lunatic?” barked Bardin, referring to Kieran “I’ve seen his looks sometimes when we’ve come back from hunting. It drives me round the bend”.

“Is that why you keep giving him floor-scrubbing duty?” said Bengo.

Bardin got up in exasperation and paced around the room. Bengo watched him like a stag at bay.

“Oh alright you don’t have to do any hunting”, Bardin capitulated “Now stop looking at me like that! God, I wish I’d been born with cute dimples. How different my life would have been!”

“Yes, you’d have taken more pie hits for one thing”.

“I took my share!” Bardin retorted “Particularly from you!”

“Oh stop going on about your looks”, Bengo crossed the room to him “Everybody says you’ve got the cutest arse on the ship. In fact, Julian says you’ve got the cutest arse he’s ever seen, and he’s an expert”.

“Well compared to Hoowie’s hairy monstrosity it probably is!” said Bardin “Anyway, listen, I’ve got an idea”.

Bengo groaned and rolled his eyes.

“No listen, you’ll like this one”.

“No I won’t, Bardin”, said Bengo.

“You will”, said Bardin “There’s no hunting involved”.

“We go hunting, but there’s no hunting involved?” said Bengo, dubiously.

“We go to the boozer instead”, said Bardin, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat “They were quite civilised to us last time we went, before Christmas. It means you still get fresh air, and we exercise the horses, but you won’t have to go all squeamish on me”.

“Who’s coming with us?”

“Ranssey and Hillyard. Would Joby come too do you think?”

“Not without Kieran he won’t”, said Bengo.

Kieran had been kept confined on the galleon. Bardin didn’t want to take the risk of something happening again, like that which had happened at The Village Of Stairs. Kieran had protested that he couldn’t be kept ship bound for all eternity.

“You’re not going to be”, said Bardin, impatiently “We can let you go ashore when we’re absolutely certain that it’s safe”.

Kieran was despondent at hearing this, as the likelihood of them finding anywhere that was 100 per cent safe was remote. He had looked so downcast when they disembarked with the horses onto the causeway at low tide that Bengo felt wretched. And the intoxicatingly warm Spring sunshine only seemed to make it worse.

“If you can’t make some effort to buck up”, Bardin barracked him as they rode through the woods (Ransey and Hillyard were sensibly riding a little further back) “Then I’ll begin to wish I had left you at home, making your blasted pancakes!”

“I can’t help it, Bardy”, said Bengo “It’s the thought that Kieran can’t feel the fresh air on his face”.

“Yes he can, if he goes up on deck”, said Bardin “God, to hear you talk anyone would think I kept him locked up in the hold all the time. Sheer melodrama! Now for your information, if all goes well at the boozer today, I was thinking we might have a camping-trip out in the forest sometime, and it just MAY include Kieran”.

“Tut tut, you know we agreed he had to be called Himself when we were out and about”, said Bengo, who wasn’t gong to be mollified in a hurry.

When they got to the roadside inn, they stabled the horses at the back. As they crossed the courtyard, Bengo kicked Bardin in the pants, which left Ransey to remark sternly that he would clearly have to sit between them whilst they ate their lunch if they weren’t careful.

The inn had been near-deserted the last time they had called, in the depths of Winter, but now, with the first signs of Spring emerging, it was packed with hunters and trappers. Although this made the bar rather stuffy, cramped and smoky, it did at least mean the 4 of them could slip in reasonably unnoticed.

In the fireplace in the largest room a small pig was roasting, which led Bengo to remark that it was a good job they hadn’t brought Himself with them after all. Bardin, by now at the end of his patience with his old partner, chose not to comment on this.

Bowls of mushroom soup were put in front of them, and Bardin ordered cider with whisky chasers for the 4 of them. Halfway through the soup they were joined by 2 other refugees from the great outdoors. A stocky woman with a round face, and a rather fey-looking man with a pale blue scarf wrapped round his head. Neither seemed to be anything to do with the other. The woman wedged herself in next to Bengo, and the man went to the other end of the table.

“I swear I heard a fucking bear out in the woods just now”, said the woman, seemingly to the table at large.

“Bound to be bears”, said a man who was sitting next to Ransey.

“This early in the season?” said the woman.

“They don’t all hibernate you know”, said the man, picking up his bowl and greedily downing the rest of his soup.

The remainder of the soup course was eaten in (relative) silence. The stocky woman then collected the bowls, leaning across Bengo so suddenly that he had to tilt backwards, nearly falling off the back of the bench in the process. Great, slithery slices of pork were then carved off the pig by some harassed-looking wretch summoned out from the kitchen for this express purpose. Plates of it were then circulated around the table.

“Heard about that guy from Port West who was rescued from the island?” said a little, unshaven man with glasses, who was sitting sandwiched between tow much more burly men, like a slice of thin ham between two crusts of bread.

“What?” said the man next to Ransey “Not all that stuff about him being tormented by demons?”

The Indigo-ites immediately looked more attentive at this somewhat unexpected comment.

“You don’t believe all that hogwash do you?” said the man next to Ransey.

“He swears it was true”, said the glasses “Says he’s got a full record of it in his diary”.

“He’s a gibbering idiot that’s why”, said the man “If he’s not certified by the end of the week I’ll eat my hat”.

“How long was he on the island for?” asked the stocky woman.

“Nearly a month”, said the glasses.

“I’m not surprised he’s a loon then”, the man in the headscarf spoke for the first time “Not everyone can take that level of isolation”.

“And you can I suppose?” growled the man next to Ransey, who, judging by his facial expression when the headscarf had walked in, didn’t like him very much.

“I’ve spent a whole Summer in this forest”, said the headscarf “Not seeing another human being from one week’s end to the next. I’m not claiming to be superior to anyone else …”

The man next to Ransey tutted in disgust.

“But all I’m saying is not everyone can do it”, said the headscarf.

“That island sure is an inhospitable place”, said the woman “I’ve never heard of no good ever spoken of it”.

By this time the Indigo-ites were practically bursting with curiosity to know which island they were all referring to, the unspoken thought going round their heads that it may have been their windswept island with the pincers. It could of course have been the Bone-House island, but that had a causeway, so it was unlikely that someone would get stranded there for a whole month.

“How was he tormented by demons?” asked Bardin, thinking that this was a perfectly reasonable question for a stranger to ask.

“You don’t want to listen to all this moonshine, al”, said the man next to Ransey.

“They screamed round his tent at night”, said the glasses, not easily deterred from his story.

“That was the fucking wind!” the sceptical man laughed “You’d think any sailor worth his salt would know that!”

“He swears it was true”, said the glasses.

“And you’d believe any nut that spun you a yarn?” said the man, which effectively put the brakes on the whole conversation.

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