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A spare camp-bed was dug out of one of the store-rooms and Tudde was put up for the night in the dining-room, alongside Umbert and Digby.
“This is it”, said Julian, who was now having his feet massaged by Hoowie in his cabin. He looked like a blonde sultan being attended to by an adoring acolyte, a fact which irritated Adam immeasurably.
“This is what?” Adam snapped.
“The thin end of the wedge”, said Julian “He’ll be moving in”.
“One night, he’s staying one night”, said Adam “And that’s only because the tide’s in and has covered the causeway. It was a choice between putting him up for the night or going to all the trouble of getting the skiff out and rowing him ashore. What did you make of him anyway?”
“Not bad-looking i suppose“, said Julian, grudgingly “Though I never really go for the thick-necked sort”.
“I meant his personality”, said Adam “Not whether you fancied him!”
“Personality?” said Julian “A great big over-hysterical fairy if you ask me”.
“Actually I think he must be very brave”, said Adam “To live alone in the forest the way he does”.
“Poppycock”, said Julian “He’s just too afraid to move elsewhere! He’s virtually said as much himself”.
“Oh I’m going to bed”, said Adam “You’re just too impossible for words”.
“You shouldn’t upset him like that”, said Hoowie, when Adam had gone.
“Why not?” said Julian “What’s he going to do?”
“Put us on short-rations if we’re not careful”, said Hoowie.
“If he does we’ll sack him”, said Julian “And put Joby in charge of the cook-house”.
Julian was lying in wait at his cabin door early the next morning, and successfully managed to waylay Hillyard.
“Has he gone yet?” said Julian “The interloper?”
“I can’t imagine he’s even awake yet!” said Hillyard “He’ll probably go straight after breakfast, particularly if you’re in one of your determined-to-be-a-pain-in-the-neck moods!”
“Bloody cheek!” said Julian, as Hillyard sauntered off.
Hoowie reluctantly surfaced from under the bedclothes.
“Does it matter whether he’s here or not?” he asked.
“To me it does”, said Julian, pensively “I have a feeling he’s going to delay us from getting off”.
A short while later Bardin passed Tamaz in the below-deck corridor. Tamaz was wearing an old fur shoulder-cape which he had dug out of a trunk in the hold.
“What are you all done up like a dog’s dinner for?” said Bardin.
“It’s turned much colder up there”, Tamaz replied “Like being back in the Sea of Torment, or whatever it was”.
Bardin sprinted up the galley steps to the main deck, and the fresh cold air hit him straightaway.
“So it has”, he said to no one in particular, and then turned and shouted back down through the hatchway “Toppy! Chuck me up my duffel-coat!”
He then noticed some movement on the coastline. A party of about half-a-dozen people on horseback were facing in his direction. Bardin raised his small hand telescope and peered through it at them. There were 4 men and 2 women, all with rifles slung across their shoulders. The one who appeared to be heading the party was a middle-aged man with a face like granite, and greying dark hair.
“I don’t like the look of them at all”, he muttered.
“Captain?” said Toppy, who had come up aloft with the coat.
“I need to summon everyone”, said Bardin “Where’s the hand-bell?”
“You ordered it to be chucked over the side“, said Toppy.
“You don’t mean to tell me somebody actually did that?!” Bardin exclaimed.
“No Captain”, said Topy “Bengo was very disobedient and put it in the outdoor gear store”.
“Thank God for that!” said Bardin.
“I think they’re from the wayside inn”, said Tudde, when everyone had been appraised of the facts in the dining-room.
“Well at least they’re not the Cyanide Sisters“, said Joby.
“They’re scarcely an improvement”, said Tudde “The inn’s not as it was when we knew it before the time-slip”.
“That was very much the impression I had when I was there”, said Adam.
“Aimee ran a very tight ship”, said Tudde “But that must have all fell apart when she had her stroke. These days it’s become a hang-out for some very dubious types. Being so remote I guess they feel they can get away with most anything they like”.
“You seem to know a lot about them”, said Julian. “Living in the wilds I have to keep my eyes and ears open”, said Tudde “They’ve largely left me alone so far, but I know they don’t like me being around here. And they must be getting dubious about you all as well, to have shown themselves like that. I have to say I know who you guys are, and I doubt they’re gonna leave you in peace here”.
“We’ll move on”, said Hillyard “We were planning to anyway”.
There was a murmur of assent to this, except from Bardin.
“Let’s turn the tables for once”, he said “I get tired of people feeling they can intimidate us. Let us be the predators for a change”.
“We’re a peaceful order, Bardin”, said Hillyard “We don’t go around starting turf wars”.
“I’m not suggesting we do”, said Bardin “I’m suggesting that if they want to come and look at us, then we return the compliment and go and look at them”.
“And what’ll that achieve?” said Joby.
“He hasn’t thought that far ahead in his planning”, said Bengo, tartly “Don’t be a fool, Bardy. We don’t know what they’re up to, and it’s best we don’t bother to find out”.
“I’m not so sure”, said Kieran “Some things you can’t turn a blind eye to”.
“Kieran, no!” said Joby.
“I’m curious”, said Kieran.
“Oh fucking hell!” said Joby, and he slammed out of the room.
“Patsy, really!” said Adam, in exasperation “He’ll be in a grot for the rest of the day now”.
“I’ll go along and have a wee word with him”, said Kieran.
“No you won’t”, said Julian “Stay right where you are. You’ll make everything 10 times worse”.
“Can we at least go and see if we can find out what they’re doing then?” said Kieran.
“We can be very intimidating if we so choose” said Bardin “We’ve got numbers on our side, and they can’t kill us”.
“They can torture us”, Ransey pointed out “Maim our animals, set fire to the galleon. I urge you to think more cautiously on this“.
“Oh Bardin!” Bengo stamped his foot, punched Bardin in the arm, and also left the room.
“I-I just thought we could show we were strong too, that’s all”, said Bardin.
“We don’t need to take on the local Mafia to prove that to ourselves, old love”, said Adam.
“And we turn our backs on whatever dark deeds they’re doing?” Kieran piped up again.
“Somebody remove him from my sight“, said Julian “At once!”
A clandestine emergency council-of-war was called immediately in Julian’s cabin. Clandestine because they didn’t want Bardin to know about it. Bengo had got him out of the way by locking him in the outdoor clothing store, where Bardin was now venting his rage and frustration by hurling boots at the wall. The meeting consisted of Julian, Hillyard, Ransey and Adam. They had wondered whether to invite Joby, but he had gone down into the hold to seek sanctuary with his tomato plants, and nobody wanted to disturb him.
“The solution is simple”, said Hillyard “We set sail at once. Best to do it whilst Bardin’s in chokey, and when we let him out, well it’ll be too late for him to do anything about it”.
“Do you have anywhere in mind, Hillyard?” said Adam “Bengo’s got his heart set on going back to the Bay, and he’s not the only one”.
“We all do, eventually”, said Ransey “But let’s get to the bottom of some of the stuff round here first, but not in the crazy, impetuous way that Kieran and Bardin want to do it. First things first, we need somewhere less obvious to hide”.
“Tudde says he can help there”, said Hillyard “Move up the coast a bit. That long stretch of narrow beach we sailed past on the way up to the old hospital”.
“And how is that going to protect us?” said Julian “It’s not that far from here”.
“We don’t want it to be that far from here”, said Hillyard “Not if we’re going to look at what’s going on. Tudde says the forest is so densely-packed there that no one can ride through it, and the people at the inn are like centaurs, they never go anywhere unless it’s on horseback”.
There was rather too much “Tudde says” going on for Julian’s complete peace of mind, but even so he was taken with the idea.
“We’ll run with it”, he said “I take it our handsome, headscarfed visitor is coming with us then?”
“Only to show us the way”, said Hillyard “Stop worrying, the guy’s a complete loner, he doesn’t want to live permanently with a bunch of hysterical great big jerks like us! I’m going to go down and tell Joby what’s what, and then I’m going to start the engines up. Be ready and waiting”.
The sound of the engines staring up got Bardin so wild that Adam feared the store-room door was going to be left with large holes in it. He asked Bengo to unlock it, but had Lonts on immediate stand-by to restrain Bardin if necessary.
“So this is it is it?” Bardin roared, on finally being let out “Mutiny! This is what it’s come to!”
“Oh nonsense”, said Adam “Don’t be such a silly-arse. You’re still Captain. It was just a very temporary alleviation of duties that’s all”.
“That’s thrown him”, said Bengo “He doesn’t know what alleviation means!”
“Oh yes I do”, said Bardin, in true traditional panto-style “So where are we going then? Since I have no say in it whatsoever”.
Adam explained the situation to him.
“So you do all still want to find out what’s going on here then?” said Bardin, who had greeted the information remarkably calmly.
“Yes”, said Adam “But not in the barn-storming way you and Patsy had in mind. We could foresee nothing but trouble coming from a sudden confrontation like that. We shall be sly and underhand instead. A touch of espionage. I must say the idea is growing on me more and more by the minute”.
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