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Mieps noticed a shadow fall across his small plot of vegetable garden, blocking out the noon-day sun. He looked up to find Joby standing behind him.
"I just thought I'd pop in and say that, as far as I'm concerned, there are no hard feelings about yesterday", said Joby.
"That's good of you", said Mieps, leaning his hoe against the wall "I appreciate it. Although I still feel that Tamaz and me are destined ..."
"Look, let's not have all that again", said Joby, wearily "I don't care if it was written in the stars and the Scriptures, and read out on the 6 o'clock news! Tamaz stays with me. I haven't gone through everythingn these past few years just to lose him now".
"But you have Kieran, I have no one", said Mieps "I've lived here alone for years, and don't tell me to move elsewhere because it wouldn't work. I'm a Ghoomer, and it's impossible to hide that fact. No community would accept me. Tamaz is my hope, my one and only hope for a companion".
Joby stared at him helplessly. In the full glare of the sun Mieps looked older than ever, nudging 70. And yet in truth he was the same age as Joby. As though reading his thoughts and finding them unbearable, Mieps fled into his bedroom. Joby followed him, and found him clinging onto the rail, as though he was fighting down nausea.
"I should've dragged Tamaz home as soon as he started acting up yesterday", said Joby, sympathetically "He's such a little sod sometimes! It was about the worst thing we could've done, turning up like we did. We've unsettled you".
"You are the first person in my entire life who has ever shown me any warmth or compassion", said Mieps.
"That's a bloody shame", Joby mumbled, awkwardly.
"You have such lovely hair", Mieps touched it fondly.
"It's like a floor-mop!" said Joby "I haven't combed it this morning".
"I had good hair once", said Mieps "Abundant. And then it thinned and went grey, like my skin became lined, and my eyes lost their sparkle. I didn't notice getting old. It seemed to happen overnight".
"I hope you don't mind, Mieps", Kieran came in, carrying a mummified claw "I was having a look through your bits and bobs in your living-room".
"There's nothing of any value there", said Mieps, sadly.
"What's this though?" Kieran held out the claw "It looks like a lizard's foot".
"It's the foot of a Reptile Man", said Mieps "I dug it up in the garden one day. It must have been there some time. Occasionally I get visitations from those creatures. They come by night and raid my garden for food. I've lost chickens to them, fortunately not all".
"They don't harm you?" said Joby, in surprise.
"I hide in here with the door bolted", said Mieps "They haven't shown much interest in me ... so far".
"This is no way to live, Mieps", said Kieran "Out here in the middle of nowhere, with the Lord knows what around".
"I have no choice", said Mieps.
"Yes you have", said Kieran "You can get yourself a cottage on Woll's estate, or Hillyard's as it is now. We'll take you there in the Indigo".
"Kieran!" said Joby, in disbelief "Do you know what you're saying?! Him and Tamaz cooped up on the same boat?! It's gonna be a nightmare!"
"We'll keep Tamaz under control", said Kieran.
Joby gave a snort of disbelief.
"That I can't wait to see!" he exclaimed.
Joby wasn't the only one to be annoyed by Kieran's plan. Julian was furious, and he ranted at Kieran in no uncertain terms, whilst sitting in his hip-bath. Adam, Finia and Hillyard all flanked him like royal bath-attendants.
"What gives you the right to go inviting guests on board?" Julian shrieked, looking as though he was about to start aggressively steering the boat like a canoe.
"I didn't think you'd mind", said Kieran "I've told Mieps he'll probably have to sleep on deck, but he's cool about that".
"That'll make 13 of us on here, you Irish cretin!" said Julian "Thirteen! Think about it!"
"Since when have you been superstitious, Jules?" said Adam.
"Since living on a bloody boat!" said Julian. He went to heave himself out of the bath, and the others flew to assist him. He waved them away imperiously.
"If it'll make you feel easier, think of it as a baker's dozen", said Kieran.
"I know what your game is", said Julian, storming up to him, naked and sopping-wet "You don't fool me. You're doing this for amusement, like you do everything! You think it's going to be a scream to watch Freaky tormenting that poor sap. I've got wise to you!"
"No, that's not true", said Kieran "I wouldn't arrange things like that, not if it upsets Joby".
"But you have upset Joby, Pats", said Adam "He's not at all happy with this".
"It's only until we get to Woll's", said Kieran "Ransey estimates it'll take us a few weeks more at the very most".
"A few weeks!" said Julian, pacing around the room whilst Hillyard followed him with a towel "A few weeks of this nightmare! Look at the mayhem Freaky managed to cause in one evening!"
"There is no reason why those two should ever be left alone together", said Kieran "And Tamaz'll learn to behave around him".
Everyone else in the room looked at him with considerable scepticism. Suddenly Julian erupted.
"Get out!" he cried "Get out of my sight! Go on, leave! And don't give one of your coy little smirks as you leave the room!"
"The damage is done now, Jules", said Adam, after Kieran had left the cabin "We can't turn Mieps down, and quite honestly I don't like the thought of leaving him here. Patsy was right about one thing, Mieps can't carry on living this way. I think taking him to Woll's place is an ideal solution. The problem is ... getting him there".
"No, correction", said Julian "The problem is Tamaz. The problem is always Tamaz! He cannot be trusted to behave!"
Kieran was extra-vigilant during the first few days of Mieps' stay with them. The weather stayed warm and dry, so Mieps could spend all his time on deck, only flitting below briefly to use the heads. Mieps and Tamaz saw very little of each other. Tamaz was kept below deck, and Kieran spent a lot of time with him. After a while though, Tamaz grew more and more mopey. This wasn't due to his new incarceration so much as the fact that Joby appeared to be ignoring him. Joby had taken to his bunk in high dudgeon, annoyed beyond measure by Kieran's meddling, and there he stayed, with Lonts occasionally taking food in to him.
On the third day, Kieran left Tamaz in the saloon, half-heartedly rehearsing a new routine with the clowns, and went into his cabin to see Joby.
"I can understand why you're brassed off with me", Kieran began.
"Fat lot you care", Joby mumbled, lying on his side, reading a paperback.
"Yes I do", said Kieran "I always care what you think of me, but why are you ignoring Tamaz?"
"'Cos I'm fed up with both of you!" said Joby "You both do exactly what you want all the time, without giving a thought to me. So I thought I'd do the same to you two".
"Tamaz is pining though", Kieran sat down on the edge of the bunk "It's a pathetic sight to see. He loves you like crazy, you can't do this to him. He said to me just now that he didn't understand it, as he was trying so hard to be good".
"Spare me the hearts and flowers routine", said Joby "If he'd tried being good the other night ..."
"It wouldn't have made the slightest bit of difference", said Kieran "It wouldn't have stopped Mieps fancying him".
"Maybe not", said Joby, pointedly turning a page he hadn't read "But he didn't have to enjoy it so much!"
"I suppose this is a reasonable time to point out the way you behaved to Glynis in Persephone's bar that time?" said Kieran "Even though you didn't fancy her, you thought you'd play on it anyway".
"I didn't spend all fucking evening playing on it!" said Joby, flinging down the book.
"Only 'cos Adam gave you a good thrashing!" said Kieran "Otherwise you'd have probably carried on just like Tamaz!"
"I was drunk, we all do stupid things when we're drunk", said Joby "You've done enough in your time".
"Yes, a bit like Tamaz really", said Kieran.
"You could twist anything to your advantage!" Joby bellowed "No wonder Julian's fed up with you at the moment!"
"Ah, no you see he actually spoke to me this morning", said Kieran "For the first time since we left the toll-gate. I think he's forgiven me at long last. Look, carry on being shitty to me if you want, but at least give Tamaz a break. He keeps cuddling up to me like an abandoned puppy, and it's breaking me heart".
"Alright", Joby mumbled "I haven't enjoyed being off with you know!"
"Of course not", said Kieran, facetiously "But you considered it your bounden duty, isn't that right?!"
"You are the most irritating fucking person on Earth!" said Joby "Even Codlik has never irritated me like you have!"
"Well you don't have to live with Codlik do you!" said Kieran "Think of all this as good training for in case we get our own place one day. We're bound to have times like this then".
"Yeah", said Joby, disentangling himself from the blanket "With you standing on the kitchen table preaching at us probably".
"Seriously for a moment", said Kieran "I didn't just invite Mieps aboard purely out of the goodness of me heart. I thought it might be useful to have a guide through this area. He knows it, we don't. He certainly seems to know a lot of the hidden dangers".
"Reptile Men?" said Joby, pouring himself a cup of water from the pitcher on the washstand.
"The area seems to be riddled with 'em from what he's said", said Kieran.
"We only have his word for it", said Joby "The rest of us haven't seen sight nor sound of one yet, unless you count the disembodied foot you found in Mieps' shack".
"Well it pays to be prepared", said Kieran, lying down on the bunk Joby had just vacated.
"It's getting cloudy out there", said Joby, peering out through the port-hole "Bloody marvellous! If it rains we'll have to bring Mieps indoors".
"You worry too much", said Kieran, yawning "I think you'll find Tamaz is going to be as good as gold at the moment, particularly if you go and see him and say a few soothing words".
"Yeah alright point taken", said Joby, pulling on a pair of baggy cotton pants.
"I'm going to have forty winks before dinner", said Kieran.
It hardly turned out to be a restful forty winks. He had an exhausting and highly disturbing dream, in which he found himself being pursued round a gloomy and poverty-stricken village. The whole mud-soaked hamlet was surrounded by dense fog, and populated by people with malicious and ugly faces. The women all wore long red woollen skirts, which if nothing else, were symbolic of the ridiculous amount of bloodshed this place saw. Because the harsh truth of this nightmare settlement was that the residents enjoyed killing each other, and in the bizarre logic of dreams, didn't seem to suffer any great depopulation as a result. People would turn and stab each other to death for no reason, and regarded it all as great sport.
Kieran had been selected as prey by a small goblin-like man brandishing a pair of bloodsoaked scissors. This hideous, vile person had a nasty habit of castrating the menfolk, and had obviously decided Kieran was to be his next victim. He finally cornered him in the marketplace. After a frenzied struggle Kieran managed to get the scissors off him, and plunged them into the old man's stomach. Kieran had then run on towards the edge of the village, with only one thought in his head, "I must get to the border". He passed a dark-haired woman by the fence, who possibly had the most repellent features of anyone. Near her was a signpost with many fingerposts pointing in different directions. Kieran didn't stop to read any of them though, he simply ran through a gap in the fence towards the fog-cloaked woodland beyond.
"I wasn't sure whether to wake you or not", said Adam, after Kieran had woken up to find him standing over him "You seemed to be in some distress".
"Weird dream", said Kieran, sitting up as though pulling himself out of a vat of porridge "Some ugly old fella with a pair of scissors was chasing me around with a village".
"Perhaps he wanted to cut your hair", said Adam, affectionately fondling a long strand of Kieran's yellow locks.
"He must have been Sweeny Todd then!" Kieran laughed.
"I came in to tell you scoff's ready, so come and eat something", said Adam.
"Addy, you know something about art don't you?" said Kieran "History of art and all that".
"Not as much as I'd like to", said Adam.
"Who was the artist I've heard you mention before?" said Kieran "Dutch guy. The one who did a lot of village scenes?"
"Breugel?" said Adam.
"No that's not quite it", said Kieran "The one I mean did all those nasty-looking Day of Judgement efforts, with people being chopped up into little pieces".
"Oh Hieronymous Bosch", said Adam.
"My dream was like one of his, almost as if it had come alive", said Kieran "People being killed and dismembered, castration".
"One of his does features someone being castrated", said Adam "Very Biblical, in a Medieval sense. Are you sure this isn't all some dark side of Catholicism coming out in your dream?"
"Sounds like it doesn't it?" said Kieran, ruefully.
"His pictures would have been right up your street", said Adam "Including one of people being summoned out of their graves on Judgement Day".
"I wish I'd read the signs on the post", said Kieran, absently.
Adam sat down next to him and put his arm round him.
"You and your dreams, Patsy!" he said, gently.
"I know, they must get on your nerves!" said Kieran.
"The Native American Indians used to believe apparently that dreams were our true reality", said Adam "I think it was them who believed it anyway".
"I've wondered that meself plenty of times, after a particularly vivid one", said Kieran "Certainly a window into another dimension anyway. I just hope whatever they are, I don't bump into the fella with the scissors again! I'm not sure whether I finished him off properly when I stabbed him!"
"I bet Joby's going to be relieved he wasn't lying next to you whilst the dream was in progress!" said Adam.
Joby had earlier found Tamaz and Lonts sitting next to each other on the sofa in the saloon, both looking glum.
"Alright, so I'm in the doghouse", he sighed, sitting down on the arm of the sofa "If you disapprove of me so much Lonts, why did you keep bringing me food?"
"Because although you've been awful to Tamaz, you are still my friend", said Lonts, importantly "And I didn't want you to starve".
"Look, let's put it all behind us, eh?" said Joby.
"Lonts says you've been reading all the time", Tamaz mumbled "What's the book about?"
"A gang of young lads who hold up banks and post offices", said Joby.
"Sounds boring!" said Lonts, who was waving Snowy about by his foot.
"Lonts, could you give us a bit of space, please?" said Joby, with mild exasperation "I wanna talk to Tamaz".
"Very well", Lonts sighed and left the room, leaving them alone.
"You needn't say anything if you don't want to", said Tamaz, sulkily "You're only talking to me because Kieran told you to".
"Oh I get stuck in a strop sometimes, you know what I'm like", Joby sat up close to him "Mieps drove me up the wall, keep harping on about how you and he were destined to be together".
"If I lost you", said Tamaz, emotionally "I'd do anything to get you back".
"You're not going to lose me", said Joby "I thought that was the whole point of this. I couldn't give you up, anymore than I could give Kieran up. You two are my life".
"You don't regret Glynis not being here then?" Tamaz spat.
"Glynis?!" said Joby "I thought we'd left her behind! After all, if she was here, she'd be force-feeding me tea and cake, and lecturing me about wholesome values in love, and perfect balances and ... Oh God, I hope she's married to Codlik by now!"
That night it did rain and Julian decreed that Toppy was to move to the saloon sofa, in order that Mieps could sleep in his bunk (where Julian could keep an eye on him). Mieps couldn't help but notice that Toppy was decidedly miffed about this.
"I have no say in it", said Toppy, when Mieps apologised to him.
"He's a solemn boy isn't he?" said Mieps to Hillyard a short while later.
"Takes life too seriously", said Hillyard "He hasn't got much of a sense of humour, that's the trouble".
"I'm surprised he fits in here in that case", said Mieps.
"Of course he fits in", said Hillyard "He's Our Youngest!"
Julian came into the cabin soon after, and they began to get ready for bed. Both he and Hillyard couldn't help showing an avid interest when Mieps began to unbutton his shirt.
"I suppose you want to look at my breasts?" he said, tartly.
"You sounded just like Tamaz then", said Julian.
"Have you ever had kids, Mieps?" asked Hillyard.
"No, and there's no likelihood of that now", said Hillyard "My juices dried up many years ago. We Ghoomers menopause early".
"In Freaky's case, not early enough!" said Julian.
"Has Tamaz had a litter?" said Mieps.
"Years ago, when he was about 15", said Hillyard "They're up at Wolf Castle now, being looked after by two friends of ours. That's up in the Thet Mountains".
"So he's fertile?" said Mieps.
"Yes, unfortunately", said Julian "But you're still not having him!"
"I hope he's only in here for one night", Bardin muttered to Bengo. Behind them Toppy was arranging his bedding on the sofa.
"Give him a break", Bengo whispered "He's not a bad kid. You're worse than Lonts".
"Huh, you say that one minute", said Bardin "And the next you're shrieking your head off about him!"
Bengo made a point of being extra-nice to Toppy for the next few minutes, simply in order to aggravate Bardin. They settled down to sleep, extinguishing the lamp, and listening to the sound of the rain and the bull-frogs out on the marshes. Bardin felt as though he had only been asleep for five minutes when Toppy woke them up, bleating in agitation about hearing a bell ringing in the distance.
"Are you crazy?" said Bardin, shining a torch onto his watch "It's 3 o'clock in the morning!"
"It spooked me that's all", said Toppy "I wasn't expecting to hear it".
"Sounds are bound to travel over the marshes", said Bardin "It could be coming from a village a few miles further up-river".
"Why would they be ringing a bell at this hour?" said Bengo, sleepily.
"Oh don't tax your brain with deep questions, Bengo", said Bardin "I doubt it could stand the strain!"
"I don't know how you two can have an affair", said Toppy, with Codlik-like primness "You obviously don't respect Bengo at all".
"I do respect him!" said Bardin "As a close friend and a performer, just not as a person of great intellect that's all".
"Fuck you, Bardin", said Bengo, irritably "I'm going to show you one day".
"Hey, don't get stroppy with me", said Bardin "It's that little squirt on the sofa, mixing it as usual. He can never resist an opportunity".
"All I mentioned was hearing bells", said Toppy.
"Isn't it supposed to be a sign of insanity when you hear noises that aren't there?" said Bardin.
"There is something, in the distance", said Bengo.
There was the very muffled sound of a large bell ringing through the rain, tolling dolefully.
"I-I expect we'll find out tomorrow what it was", said Bengo, nervously.
"Eerie isn't it?" said Toppy, in an awed voice.
"Pack it in", said Bardin "It's just a bell, that's all. You drive me up the wall, the way you both carry on".
"You sound nervous, Bardin", said Bengo, teasingly.
"It's just a fucking bell!" said Bardin.
"I thought you stage-people were supposed to be very superstitious", said Toppy.
"What's that got to do with anything?" said Bardin.
"Well, that bell tolling sounds like an omen", said Toppy "And there are 13 of us on this boat. Unlucky".
"What?" said Bardin, in disbelief.
"He's got a point", said Bengo "I was amazed when Julian let Mieps come aboard. I mean, 13 on here is asking for trouble".
"Look, just drop it", said Bardin "You're building things out of nothing. You're always so bloody impressionable, Bengo".
"I'm impressionable?" Bengo exclaimed "If I remember rightly you were the one who insisted on putting a small crucifix in your pants when you played a Devil-worshipper in one of Hawkefish's weirdest plays last year! You were convinced the incantations you had to say were real, and you'd end up cursed!"
"I was just getting into the proper spirit of it", said Bardin, huffily.
"Pah!" said Bengo.
"It's stopped", said Toppy.
"Good, now perhaps we can settle down to sleep", said Bardin.
"I don't think I want to get off this boat again until we get to Woll's place", said Toppy.
"Are you normally prone to insomnia?" said Bardin, testily.
Toppy took the hint and rolled over to face the back of the sofa.
The rest of the night passed quietly. First thing the following morning Mieps was leaving the heads, just as Tamaz was walking past. A tense moment ensued in which they both stared and hissed at each other, flicking their tongues with far too much excitement.
"Get back into your cabin!" Julian ordered Tamaz, who obeyed sulkily. Mieps though was sparkly-eyed and wound-up.
"He makes me feel young again", he yodelled.
"Good for you", Julian snapped "Because he adds years onto me!"
It was later that morning that an unidentified structure appeared on the horizon, that hadn't been marked on any of Dolores' maps. Another archway spanned the river, housing the bell that they had heard the previous night. Attached to the archway was a long three-storied building, that looked like a disused textile mill. It had obviously been abandoned for some time, as broken windows and blackened stonework could be seen through the binoculars.
"I suppose the wind would have blown the bell", said Bengo, uncertainly.
"Give me a shout when we get nearer", Julian said to Ransey.
He then went below and scoured all the maps with a magnifying-glass, as though hoping the mysterious building would suddenly appear marked on them. He was thus absorbed in the saloon, when Tamaz sidled in, looking sheepish.
"I told you to stay in your cabin", said Julian, not looking up from one of the maps.
"Have I got to stay in there all day?" said Tamaz.
"You'll stay in there until I tell you otherwise", said Julian, leaning back against the sofa cushions.
"But why?" Tamaz wailed "Now the rain's stopped that vile old snake's gone back upstairs, and I want to see that strange building everyone's talking about, and I want some fresh air".
"Well you can't have any", Julian resumed looking at the map.
"It's not my fault that disgusting old reptile fancies me!" said Tamaz.
"You don't exactly discourage him!" said Julian "Why can't you put some proper clothes on for a start? Prancing around in frilly panties and skimpy vests, no wonder the poor bastard's going out of his mind!"
"Why should I dress properly?" Tamaz stamped his foot "No one else is, and it's too hot for all that".
When Julian didn't show any sign of answering him, Tamaz climbed onto his lap, nudging the map out of the way. There he sat, toying playfully with the ends of Julian's hair.
"At this very moment", Julian sighed "I wish with all my heart that I'd left you and Mieps at his tin-shack. Then you could both torment each other to your heart's content, and leave the rest of us in peace!"
"You do like me though don't you?" said Tamaz, still playing with Julian's hair.
"Yes, I like you", said Julian "Even when you'll also look like a disgusting old snake, I'll still like you".
"I won't end up like him", said Tamaz "He's never been loved for a start".
"Mm, and you're loved far too much around here", said Julian "Far more than is good for you".
"Kieran says no amount of love is too much for anyone", Tamaz chimed.
"One day I'm going to inflict serious damage on that demented, irresponsible Irishman!" said Julian.
"You're not after my body though are you?" said Tamaz.
"Tamaz, I'm warning you", said Julian "Don't start playing games like that with me, or I'll give you a spanking!"
"No, no, I was just checking with you", Tamaz protested "I wanted to be sure".
"I don't want your body", said Julian, softly "Wonderful and extraordinary though it undoubtedly is. I would never have thought, that first time I saw you at Wolf Castle, that I would ever in a million years come to have fatherly feelings for you, but it's true".
"What did you hate about me then?"
"Let's not go into that now. It's long gone".
"I'd like to know".
"You had such a vicious little face", said Julian "I thought my must be completely degenerate and beyond redemption. I'm very glad to say I was absolutely wrong".
"That was a long time ago", Tamaz rested his head on Julian's shoulder.
"Yes it was", said Julian "And you've been through an awful lot for someone still so young. That's one of the reasons I try and protect you so much. I want life to be easier, smoother, for you, from now on. And you'll have that with Joby, provided you don't mess it up. I remember Kieran once saying that one of Joby's greatest strengths is his loyalty, and yet if he was pushed too far he could freeze you out for good. Don't push him like that, Tamaz. Because if you do lose him, you'll never get him back".
"Don't say that", Tamaz clasped his hands over his ears.
"I messed things up when I was your age", said Julian, gently pulling his hands away "And even now, after all these years, I think Adam still doesn't really trust me. But at least he gave me a second chance. I don't think Joby would. He's forgiven you everything so far because he loves you so much but ..."
"You don't have to say anymore, I know", said Tamaz, quietly "I get stupid sometimes, when I see old fools like Mieps. But I don't do it to annoy Joby, well not first and foremost anyway".
"I didn't do it to annoy Adam first and foremost, but I managed it", said Julian "Quite spectacularly!"
"Why are the likes of you and me so ... so ...?"
"Impulsive?" said Julian "Because we're true aristocrats, and that's got nothing to do with birth or breeding, or how much money one's great-great-grandfather had. You were born in a forest outside Marlsblad, and brought up as a savage, but you're as much of an aristocrat at heart as I am".
"Perhaps that means you're a savage too", Tamaz giggled.
"Well it takes one to understand one", said Julian, dryly "I've met people who were to all outward appearances born aristocrats, with all the trappings and ancient birthrights, and yet were so dull and repressed and conventional they might as well have lived over a corner-shop! And then there are ones like you, and Lonts is another, who are just so highly individualistic and impulsive you should be racketing around a stately home".
"We will be when we get to Woll's place", said Tamaz "Except I think Joby and the little blonde guy want a hut in the grounds instead".
"Would you mind that?" Julian smiled.
"No", Tamaz plaited a lock of Julian's hair "As long as we're not next door to the vile old snake, I don't care. Anyway, I can always pop up to the big house and get things".
"Anything in particular?" Julian laughed "Or just anything that's going?! I have images of you sneaking the silver out in your coat pockets!"
"I'll come and see you", said Tamaz.
"Yes, you can keep me informed as to how many nervous breakdowns you've given Joby, a sort of running tally", said Julian "I'll always keep the riding-crop close to hand, just in case!"
Tamaz gave one of his tee-hee-hee giggles in return.
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