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A few days later the beginning of May brought the spring beer festival to Triga, when the locals all gathered together from their outlying hamlets and farms, at the clearing where the Indigo-ites had just performed. The bar was far too small to accommodate this mass influx, so a wooden beer-hall was temporarily erected nearby. There was to be a wide variety of entertainment staged inside here on a wooden platform over the course of the festivities, including the Indigo Players' Revue. The Indigo-ites were excited and apprehensive about performing INDOORS on a proper STAGE for the first time.
"There's nothing to fear", said Bardin, pacing up and down the forward deck "They're not actually paying to see us, so they'll be a lot more tolerant".
"We can always scarper if they don't like us", said Kieran.
He was shaving Tamaz's legs. Tamaz, clad in a wine-coloured teddy, was lying on a pile of hemp with his leg slung across Kieran's lap.
"The audience'll be completely rat-arsed", said Joby, nervously.
"That's alright", said Kieran "So will we!"
The entire evening was a riot of bawdy, beer-swilling mayhem, but the Indigo-ites didn't care as they had a limitless free supply of booze, and the luxury of a small band to provide musical accompaniment. It was important that they did enjoy it ass they'd rashly promised the festival organiser that they would do 3 shows a day. In his hysterical gratitude (he had to fill up the itinerary somehow), he'd arranged rooms for them at the local boarding-house, for convenience, with them taking up the two top floors. This building was a ramshackle, makeshift affair, but it was clean, and the landlady was a genial, if slightly bewildered, old soul. Adam had informed her that Tamaz was an hermaphrodite as soon as they arrived, as Tamaz couldn't be trusted not to alarm her by revealing it at the most inopportune moment! The landlady regarded this as a highly important secret, and acted in a furtive, conspiratorial fashion whenever Tamaz was around.
As they had so far only been used to small, fairly intimate audiences, they were keen to be drunk before going on stage in front of such a large crowd. Their 'spirited' enjoyment of their own revue was infectious though and this spread to the audience, who were particularly enamoured fo the impromptu dance routine that Kieran and Tamaz inserted halfway through 'Love In The Laundry', particularly as they got down off the stage and cut a waltzing swathe through the audience before getting back up on the boards again.
Bengo was the only one not enjoying himself. Since their conversation in the forest he and Bardin had been at daggers drawn, quite like old times. Bengo didn't take too kindly to being told to lump it, particularly as Bardin had taken to treating him like a menial stage-hand ever since.
"What the hell are you doing out here, Bengo?" Julian hissed, bumping into him under the canvas awning which passed as the wings "You've left Bardin stranded out on stage! It's the laundry sketch, you're supposed to be knocking each other about!"
"I'm not working with him anymore", said Bengo, stuffily "I can't work with him".
"That is not a very professional attitude, Bengo", said Adam, sternly "You don't walk out on your partner in mid-act!"
"There's no time here for sweet reasoning, Adam", said Julian "Bengo, get back on stage and be a clown!"
Julian picked him up by the back of his vest and slung him out onto the stage, as though he was evicting a troublesome cat. Bengo very deftly turned his ignominious entrance into a skilful head-over-heels roll. This was greatly appreciated by the audience, who burst into claps and whistles. Cheered by this, Bengo got up and bowed grandly to them from the waist. Whilst he was thus absorbed in receiving their adulation, Bardin kicked him in the backside and sent him flying into the band-pit.
Adam and Bengo walked back to the boarding-house a short way ahead of the others. It was four in the morning, and the whole house was dark, gloomy and silent. Bengo and Bardin had been allocated a room at the back, overlooking the kitchen yard. It was a tiny room, more like a corner that had been walled off, with barely just enough space for a bed and a ridiculously cumbersome wardrobe. The wardrobe was so out of proportion that it could seem as though it had been granted a room all to itself.
Bengo was as drunk as a skunk and was standing in the middle of the room making bird noises.
"Bengo, stop that!" said Adam, using the tone of voice he normally used when reprimanding Lonts "There are people in this building trying to sleep".
Adam finished lighting the small paraffin lamp.
"I don't want you lecturing me, Adam", Bengo burped "I spect the others will make me feel bad enough tomorrow. Bardin will see to that. He'll make me out to be the biggest scumbag that ever walked the earth".
"Let us try and keep some sense of proportion shall we?" said Adam "Nothing was lost. The punters all thought it was part of the act".
"But I have a black eye!" said Bengo, indignantly "From falling into that bloody band-pit! I'm luck I didn't lose any teeth or break a limb!"
"Oh for heaven's sake, you sound like Joby", Adam snapped "I'm disappointed, I thought you and Bardin were sorting things out".
"It was a dream of mine for years", said Bengo, gloomily "To have my own revue. Why did that ugly git have to come along and ruin everything? He's taken it over, and he tells me what to do all the time. It's not fair".
"Bengo, I understand how you feel", Adam sat him down on the bed and then sat next to him "When I was young I went through exactly the same thing. I used to get so annoyed at always being in Julian's shadow. It didn't matter what I tried to do, sure as fate he'd do it better. Believe me, it gets a lot easier with age".
"The others always joke that you enjoy having him tell you what to do", said Bengo.
"Most of the time", said Adam "But sometimes it gets to me, and then I want to be a person in my own right, not always constantly trailing around behind him. I get the urge to assert myself, to be completely male, as Tamaz puts it!"
Bengo laughed, and put his head against Adam's shoulder.
"Bardin's so bloody bossy all the time", he said "It gets on my nerves".
"He never drops his act of professionalism does he?" said Adam "I expect that will come with age too, when he can relax a bit more".
There were footsteps and voices as the others all reached the landing outside.
"We've got to have Toppy in with us", Lonts was saying huffily, when Adam went out there "I don't like sleeping in a house!"
"You can sleep out in the yard then", said Joby "Are the clowns in next to us?"
"I'm afraid so", said Adam.
"Great", said Joby, glumly "No chance of any sleep then with Stan and Ollie having a domestic next door to us!"
"I wish you'd settle down", Bardin snapped, as they lay together in the narrow bed "You can't seem to lay still for five seconds".
"It's this fucking bed", said Bengo "The old girl must've pulled it off a rubbish tip or out of a river! I can't sleep anyway, I'm all tense, and it doesn't help with you lying there tutting and sucking your breath".
"We've got a long day tomorrow", said Bardin "We need rest".
"All you fucking care about is the show!" Bengo heaved himself off the bed with a great squeaking of springs.
"Where are you going now?" Bardin exclaimed.
"It's no good I can't sleep with you", said Bengo, pulling on a cotton robe, although he couldn't tell whose it was in the dark "I'm going to see if Hillyard'll take me in".
"Huh, good luck to you", said Bardin, unimpressed "He's in with Julian, and you know how he'll go on if you disturb him".
"That's a risk I'm prepared to take", said Bengo.
"Remember to shut the door on your way out", said Bardin, spreading himself out across the bed.
Bengo got out onto the landing and then wished he hadn't. The public area was lit by one stingy paraffin lamp above the stairs, which cast a depressing half-glow over the brown walls, and brown threadbare carpet. He also knew it was a forlorn hope to throw himself on Hillyard's mercy, as Julian would undoubtedly order him back to his own room.
He heard somebody shuffling about at the bottom of the stairs, and lost his nerve completely. It simply wasn't the sort of house that made you feel easy about bumping into people in the early hours.
"Back are you?" said Bardin, as Bengo came back into the room "You're like something out of a bedroom farce, you are".
"There's somebody out there", Bengo hissed "At the bottom of the next stairs".
"Good luck to 'em", said Bardin, wearily "Are you going to stop messing around and get back into bed?"
"They're coming upstairs", said Bengo, nervously "I can hear 'em".
The floorboards creaked as someone climbed to the top of the stairs and then paused outside their door.
"Perhaps it's Hillyard come to fetch you", said Bardin, caustically.
"Ssh!" Bengo hissed.
"Perhaps it's a murderer come to bury the body", Bardin laughed "You'll probably find it's in the bottom of the wardrobe!"
Bengo slung off his robe and got into bed. There was a slight creak of wood as the mystery person moved away, but it was impossible to say in which direction they had moved. Bardin suddenly pulled on one of Bengo's pubic hairs, and the younger clown gave a high-pitched yelp.
"Shit!" he cried "What are you playing at?!"
"That was fucking priceless", Bardin snorted with laughter "I wish we could work that into the act!"
"If we get thrown out of here it'll be your fucking fault", said Bengo.
"Oh it'd be worth it for the nostalgia", said Bardin, rolling over to face the window "Quite like old times, when we used to share digs at the Village of Stairs. You haven't changed, Bengo".
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Bengo, glaring down at him.
"Exactly what it says", said Bardin, drowsily "Go to sleep".
"Those little jerks, I'll kill 'em!" said Joby, staring murderously at the wafer-thin walls that divided them from the clowns' room "We put up with 'em fighting all day, and now we have to listen to 'em in the middle of the night too! I'll be glad when we get back to the Indigo".
"You leave 'em be", said Kieran, lying on the other side of Tamaz in the big bed "It's gone quiet in there now anyway".
"I expect they're just having a breather until the next round", said Joby, bashing his pillow "If they start up again I'll go fucking spare. They've got no consideration for others".
"Joby, can it!" said Kieran "It's not worth blowing a gasket over".
"You're both stopping me from sleeping", said Tamaz, rolling onto his stomach. He was wedged in the middle of them, but didn't seem to mind the heat or the lack of room "Joby, you should be happy so long as I'm in here with you".
"Modesty was always Tamaz's most becoming trait", Kieran laughed.
Somebody tapped lightly on their door.
"Oh what!" Joby groaned, in dismay "Who the bloody hell's this at this time of night?"
"It might be the old lady", said Kieran "I don't think she's all there at times".
"She probably thinks the rent's due!" said Joby.
He got out of bed and pulled on his shorts.
"Send them away", said Tamaz, imperiously.
"What do you think your name is, Cleopatra?" said Joby.
He unslid the bolt on the door and opened it a crack.
"Yeah, who is it?" he said "What do you want?"
"Who is it, Joby?" said Kieran, getting out of his side of the bed.
"Don't know", said Joby, bewildered. He opened the door wider and peered out onto the landing "There's no one there, yet I could've sworn ... I'm certain there was someone standing there when I first opened it, I could sense a shape. Weird".
Kieran closed the door and put the bolt across. Then he patted Joby's arm.
"Let's get back into bed", he said, gently "Old houses, you know how it is".
"What's that noise?" said Tamaz, who was now crouched on the bed as though doing yoga "I heard a strange noise".
"Oh don't you start!" said Joby, shaken.
"It's coming from outside", Kieran leaned against the window, which was a sash effort raised up halfway "Sounds like a train to me, in the distance".
"I didn't think there was a railway line down here", said Joby.
"This area's been cut off from the rest of the world for so long, we don't know what's here", said Kieran "For all we know there might be a local line".
"Nah, that doesn't make sense", said Joby.
"Neither did our friend at the door", said Kieran "Yet we still heard it".
"Why haven't we heard it before then?" said Joby "Or do they only have night trains?"
"We'll ask in the morning", said Kieran "Now get back into bed".
"Morning Ranz", said Hillyard, walking into the dining-room a few hours later "Are we the first ones down?"
"Yeah", said Ransey, who was sitting at the breakfast table, flicking the lid of the coffee-pot in a distracted fashion.
A long table had been set aside for them at the back of the room. It was laid up for all dozen of them, although Ransey had been sitting on his own so far.
"Didn't Finia come down with you?" said Hillyard, picking a muffin out of one of the bowls.
"He'll be down in a minute", said Ransey "He's putting buttermilk on his hair".
"Yeah, I think it's great that he's letting his own hair grow again", said Hillyard "I think it suits him better than a wig".
"Mm, you can see more of his face", said Ransey.
"You alright, mate?" said Hillyard "Only you seem a bit tense".
"I didn't sleep too good", said Ransey "So I went for an early morning walk. I overheard two loggers talking about Tamaz. They've guessed he's not a whole woman".
"I suppose it was only a matter of time", said Hillyard "We don't exactly try to hide it too well. I mean, we call him 'he' in public, and his voice sounds more boyish than girlish. You're not anticipating trouble are you?"
"It's my job to anticipate trouble", said Ransey "I have to be prepared for the worst all the time. They were referring to him as, and I quote 'a fucking freak'. They didn't sound too happy about it. I'm a bit worried about him performing today".
"Well we can't keep him out of the show", said Hillyard "Bardin wouldn't like it".
Ransey was spared from commenting on Bardin's feelings by Julian walking in.
"Are we the only ones up?" he said, taking the lids of various dishes and giving them a cursory examination "If I'm up, I don't see why they're not! You two look very glum, what's the story?"
Ransey told him what he'd just told Hillyard.
"You think this is a serious problem?" Julian asked.
"They weren't just passing comments", said Ransey "One of them was the drunk who spoke to Joby the other night. I thought he looked a dodgy piece of work when I saw him then. Someone who's usually only too keen to start a riot or a lynching, out of sheer boredom".
"Yes well we can't have little Tamaz being lynched", said Julian "We'll pull out of the festival and head back to the Indigo".
"What'll we tell the festival organiser?" said Hillyard.
"Tell him that Kieran's got a pressing engagement somewhere else", said Julian "A bad case of demonic possession in Barlazzi, or something like that!"
"Bardin won't like it", said Hillyard.
"Bardin can spin on it", said Julian, emphatically.
"Excuse me, young man", said the landlady, tugging on Julian's sleeve.
Julian looked startled at being thus addressed and turned to face her questioningly.
"I couldn't help overhearing you discussing your young lady", said the old woman.
"You mean Tamaz?" said Julian.
"Yes, I can sympathise you see", said the landlady "Because of myu Lisette".
"Your Lisette?" said Julian.
"She was my little girl", the old woman explained "Not flesh and blood though, you understand. My own daughter died when she was 3 weeks old. But Lisette, well I suppose you could say she was my adopted daughter. I found her wandering in the forest one day when she was a child. She was half-dressed and hungry. So I took her in. She could only speak a handful of words. She was the same breed as your Tamaz, a Ghoomer. She was also an hermaphrodite, but I brought her up as a girl. You would never have known otherwise, although she was useful at doing heavy jobs around the house too. She lived here for many years, and all would have been well, but she had a problem. She was also a gorgonite. Three or four times a year, usually at the time of her period, if you'll forgive me mentioning it, the power would come upon her".
"She would have the powers of a gorgon?" Julian exclaimed "How on earth did you cope? It must have been terrifying".
"I had a little room set aside for her in the cellar. She used to go in there, with provisions, and sit it out until it had passed", said the landlady "She was a good girl. She never tried to get out. She would never have wanted to harm anybody, and I always used to get plenty of warning when her time was due, because her hair would seem to get longer somehow, quite snakelike. She used to wear headscarves at those times so as not to alarm people".
"Where's Lisette now?" said Hillyard, nervously.
"My little girl is dead", said the landlady, with a heartbreaking simplicity "The log-cutters killed her. People do evil things sometimes when they're afraid and don't understand. She's buried in a quiet part of the forest, and I take flowers out to the grave. But I believe her spirit is still in this house. The reason I'm telling you all this is because they'll do the same to your young lady if you stay here".
"At the moment they jsut realise Tamaz is an hermaphrodite", said Julian "He is of the gorgon race, but he doesn't have those kind of powers".
"That doesn't matter", said the old woman "They'll guess, like I did. It's the eyes you see. His eyes are exactly like Lisette's. That's how I guessed he was a gorgonite too. You're fortunate he doesn't have Lisette's powers, but you mustn't stay here much longer, or they will kill him too".
"Hillyard, go and round up the others", said Julian "And then fetch the cart. We're going back to the Indigo".
Whilst this conversation was going on, Joby had been sitting on the steps that ran up to the verandah, talking to Lonts. He had met Adam on the landing earlier, and he had informed him that Lonts had messed his nappy that night.
"He hasn't done that in ages", Joby had said.
"I know, he's bitterly disappointed", said Adam "We've been talking for a while now that he could stop wearing them. He's so crushed by this setback, poor love. Could you go and talk to him? I've tried jollying him up, but all I seem to do is irritate him. You have the magic touch at times like this".
Joby had found Lonts sitting on the steps, staring moodily across the forest clearing.
"Hey come on", said Joby, putting his arm round his shoulders "It's not the end of the world. These things happen".
"Not to anyone else they don't", said Lonts, tearfully.
"How do you know?!" Joby exclaimed.
"Toppy was there", said Lonts "He looked so disgusted".
"Toppy looks disgusted at everything", said Joby "If prissy-knickers upsets you, tell me and I'll make him do the underpants washing for the rest of the trip!"
"Don't try and make me feel better, Joby", said Lonts "I wish I was dead".
"That is a really selfish thing to say!" said Joby "How would Adam feel to hear you say that?"
"But if I was dead I could come back different", said Lonts.
"What the hell are you talking about?" said Joby.
"Eugenia says that people come back as different things in different lifetimes", said Lonts, earnestly "Well if I died I could come back as someone completely normal".
"No such person has ever existed!" said Joby "And that old witch should be burnt at the stake! What bloody use would you be to us dead, eh? All this because of last night! That house is enough to make anyone crap 'emselves. I think it's haunted meself".
"So do I", said Lonts "And so does Bengo".
"I'm surprised he and Bardin stopped squabbling long enough to notice!" said Joby.
A sash-window opened overhead, and Kieran leaned out. Hillyard was standing next to him.
"I thought I could hear your velvety tones, Joby", Kieran shouted.
"What's he doing in our room with you?" said Joby.
"No sweat, Jobe", said Hillyard "Tamaz is in here too".
"I don't see why that should make me feel reassured", said Joby, lugubriously.
"Ah what a beautiful day!" said Kieran, and he surreptitiously chucked a ball of paper down to Joby.
"What does it say, Joby?" Lonts whispered, as Joby furtively unravelled it.
"'COME UP IMMEDIATELY'", it read "'TAMAZ IS IN DANGER. WE'RE GOING BACK TO THE INDIGO'".
"We're leaving here", said Joby, in a low voice "Come on, let's go".
Lonts picked up Snowy, who had been sitting in a tub of flowers, and followed Joby into the house.
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