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Toppy went plum-picking with Lilli the following afternoon and spilled his heart to her. Lilli reacted by saying "the plums are early this year". Toppy had been expecting most reactions, from outright fury, to a calm acceptance of friendship, to frosty hostility. But not this. He trailed along behind her, as she collected the plums in her apron, feeling awkward and ill-at-ease, uncertain what to say next. He noticed Bengo, Lonts and Tamaz going into the forest to cool off and wished he could join them, but felt that this wouldn't be very gentlemanly.
"She hasn't floored him yet anyway", said Bengo, leaning against a tree "Oh it's nice and cool in here. Peaceful too. Mind you, anywhere's peaceful away from Bardin!"
"Is he still being awful to you?" said Lonts.
"He never stops", Bengo sighed "It's open season on Bengo as far as he's concerned".
"But he must be nice to you sometimes", said Lonts "Like when you're playing polar bears for instance".
"That doesn't happen very often", said Bengo "He's nice to me while it lasts, but he never talks about it afterwards".
"Oh that's awful", said Lonts "We need to sort him out, Bengo. Perhaps you should run away and then he'll miss you".
"Sounds too exhausting to me", Bengo smiled "Anyway he'll only take it as an inconvenience and nothing more".
Tamaz was thinking of his own problems. Sometimes he felt as though an invisible cord was binding him to Mieps, at which Mieps was constantly tugging. Tamaz had gone with him once out of curiosity, believing that that would be the end, and was now finding that he wanted to take it further. He wanted to know what it would be like to spend a whole night with Mieps, to wake up next to him. He was terrified of these feelings, knowing full well they could only lead to misery. He remembered how deeply unhappy his life had been before he met Joby, an dwas under no illusions that if he lost Joby it would go back to that. Mieps was only exciting whilst he still didn't have Tamaz completely. Once Tamaz was fully under his control though he would treat him abominably. Tamaz knew this, and knew he would never be able to live without Joby. Somehow he had to make this current contradiction in his life work out. The only possible way to do that would be to play it all completely straight, but human nature (or even Ghoomer nature) being what it is, it wouldn't be that simple.
He pulled off his t-shirt, rolled it up and slung it round his neck, then he lay down on the mossy undergrowth of the forest floor. Bengo and Lonts lay down on either side of him. Bengo stroked his face and breasts with a blade of grass.
"You've no reason to be sad, Tamaz", he said "You've come a helluva long way in the past year. It wasn't that long ago you were still locked up in the cage".
"You've done really well, Tamaz", said Lonts "Even Julian's said so".
"It's not my doing", said Tamaz, sitting up and hugging his knees "We all work in a chain, link joined to link".
"You should remember that, Bengo", said Lonts "Bardin did throw up everything to follow you here".
"Perhaps you need to ask him why", said Tamaz "Force him to talk to you, like I did with Joby".
The three of them stayed there for a while, looking up into the sun-dappled branches of the trees. Then they decided to slowly amble back, passing various estate workers on the way, including the local bee-keeper, who got very excited at seeing Tamaz close to hand, and looked as though he was going to fall to the ground and lick Tamaz's knees.
"Tamaz'll be wanting to see you more often", Bengo laughed.
"You are all like a hive", said the bee-keeper, enthusiastically "A healthy, thriving hive. I don't care what some say in these parts, I'm glad you're all there at the house. It should be a healthy hive, not a dying one".
"With Tamaz as our queen", said Lonts.
"It's probably a good job we don't hear what our harsher critics are saying", said Bengo, once the bee-keeper had moved on.
"There have always been some who don't understand us", said Lonts.
As they neared the edge of the forest they found Joby coming towards them.
"I just wanted to see what you were up to", he said.
Tamaz flung himself into Joby's arms, and Joby picked him up and twirled him round.
"Joby", Tamaz whispered "I have to talk to you sometime. It's about that vile old snake".
"Don't leave me, Tamaz", said Joby, with a note of fear in his voice.
"I don't ever want to do that", said Tamaz "But I ..."
"Ssh", Joby put his fingers on Tamaz's lips "We can work it out".
On the way back to the house Kieran joined them, and they stopped by the pump outside the dairy to drink some water. The dairy was run by 3 sisters, all as alike as peas in a pod, and all possessed of a thoroughly malevolent sense of humour. They were having a break, and were sitting on a bench outside the door, all wearing identical wide-brimmed straw hats. Lonts didn't like them, because they had a habit of breaking into vicious cackles whenever they saw him. Today though they were temporarily stupified by the sight of Tamaz, who really did look extraordinary, with his bare breasts and lacey drawers.
"I sometimes think it would be nice if we had the whole house to ourselves", said Lonts, in a low voice so that the witches couldn't hear "And not bother with any servants".
"We couldn't run a place this size on our own", said Bengo.
"I don't see why not", said Lonts.
"But where would the servants go if we threw them out?" said Kieran.
"Out into the big wide world", said Joby "To find their own way, like we had to".
"That's a wee bit simplistic, Jobe", said Kieran "Some have been here all their lives".
"You'd been in Killarney all your life", said Joby "But it didn't stop you leaving as soon as you were old enough, and going on to pastures new".
"Well I wanted to see a bit of the world", said Kieran "But perhaps this lot don't".
"I've just had a thought", said Lonts.
"Good God", said Joby "Clap of thunder".
"If everyone in Kiskev hadn't killed themselves", said Lonts "I'd still be there wouldn't I?"
"Yeah", said Joby "Building sledges, and being bullied by all the other men".
"Not the size he is now!" Kieran laughed "He's a wee bit different to the scruffy scrap of a thing we first knew".
"He was a right little savage in those days", said Joby "Mind you, not much has changed there!"
"It would be awful", said Lonts, reflectively "I might never have fallen in love, or had sex".
"That does give you food for thought", said Kieran, wryly "Anyway, chances are it would still have happened. We would have still passed through Kiskev, and you might still have met us".
"I wonder if Toppy's still talking things over with Lilli", said Bengo.
"Oh probably", Lonts sighed "It takes Toppy ages to get things out sometimes!"
Kieran suggested they all went for a walk along the edge of the estate. They passed the stables, where Hillyard had appeared out of the blue, which had sent the stable-lads into a flurry of activity. When Kieran and the others passed he was lecturing a doleful-looking boy on how bad shoeing of a horse can lead it to develop cancer of the foot. The very mention of the c-word had made the boy look completely terrified, and give a fervent promise to check the blacksmith's work more diligently in future, forgetting how formidable the blacksmith was, particularly when receiving criticism.
Kieran and the others strolled along the edge of the forest and towards the cornfields, where harvesting was due to start very shortly. They came across a small building by the side of the road, which had once been the local chapel. It had long since been neglected and fenced off, although no reason had ever been given as to why.
"I wouldn't go in if I was you", said Joby "None of it looks too safe to me".
Kieran didn't care to explore the whys and wherefores of its existence at that moment. He felt strangely irritated and ill-at-ease, the kind of feeling he used to get in his Presidenting days when he would be pressured to attend meetings and functions he had no interest in.
"Are you o.k?" said Joby.
"Yes, I think so", said Kieran "Probably just a bit depressed. There are few things more sad than the sight of an abandoned chapel".
"Oh I dunno", said Joby "An abandoned pub has the same effect on me".
"Very true", Kieran laughed, and they all retraced their steps back onto the dusty track which ran past it.
They all saw the man at once. He was standing some way into the distance, in the middle of the cornfield. From this distance the only impression they could get was of an elderly man dressed in a kind of full-length black cassock. Within a few seconds he had disappeared.
"I already know this is a stupid question", said Joby "But where did he go?"
Kieran didn't answer, instead he led them all back to the house. As they neared the stables once more, a young girl came running towards the. She was one of the housemaids, a very pretty fair-haired girl by the name of Drusica, known to all the Indigo-ites as Sexy Suki. She breathlessly informed Kieran that a message had arrived at the telegraph office in the house for him from President (no one could decide whether to call him President or Ex-President) Codlik.
"'DEAR KIERAN. THIS REALLY IS GOOD NEWS. THE BARLAZZI TOWN CONSTABLE HAS CALLED OFF HIS INVESTIGATION AND HAS LEFT TOWN. NOBODY KNOWS WHY. BUT I AM VERY PLEASED TO PASS ON THIS NEWS TO YOU. ALWAYS AT YOUR SERVICE, CODLIK'".
Ransey watched as Kieran read the message several times.
"You don't believe it do you?" he said, with the freedom of them both being alone in the room.
"Oh I believe Codlik", said Kieran "He's an honest man, that's his greatest asset. But I don't believe the Barlazzi Demon has finished with me. He's just decided to play a different game that's all, and I've a feeling it's a far more dangerous one".
"How do you want to reply to Codlik?" said Ransey.
"Just a few words saying I appreciate his help", said Kieran "How invaluable it's been, etc etc. Best not to say a word about me doubts at this stage. It's only a gut feeling I have so far, nothing concrete. Add that I'll keep in touch".
"Sure", said Ransey, sitting down at the machine.
Outside the door of the household telegraph office Lonts, Bengo, Tamaz and Toppy (who had joined them when he saw them heading back into the house) had been jostling for space, in order to eavesdrop on the conversation inside, until Joby pushed them all away. He was standing there when Kieran opened the door to leave.
"Why didn't you come in?" said Kieran.
Before Joby could reply, Kieran went on to give them the details of Codlik's message. Bengo and Lonts immediately erupted into enthusiastic cheers. Toppy looked sceptical. Joby and Tamaz both stared at Kieran rather pensively. Kieran indicated for the younger ones to walk on ahead, so that he could talk to Joby alone.
"Can you remember what he looked like, the Constable I mean?" Kieran asked, unexpectedly.
"Just an old guy", Joby shrugged "I can't remember any exact details. I didn't look at him that much. He made me too angry".
"I was the same", said Kieran.
"So what are you getting at?" said Joby "Oh no, you're not serious! Not the old guy in the field earlier! I can't believe that was him! You're crazy!"
"I admit it's difficult to take in", said Kieran "But the fact remains that for all the trouble he gave us when we were in Barlazzi, I can't for the life of me now tell you what he looked like!"
Very soon after Codlik's purported message of reassurance, harvesting began in earnest on the estate. The Indigo-ites, and particularly Kieran, threw themselves into helping with it. Kieran and Lonts set up a table, serving out beer, stout and cider to the workers. The women in particular were very taken with the two new bar-men, mainly because they presented such a luscious contrast to one another. One so hunky and dark, the other so slender and blonde.
"We're doing really well at the moment, Adam", Lonts boomed, when Adam brought their lunch to them at mid-day.
"You should drink a lot more of that, Pats", said Adam, as Kieran drained a glass of stout.
"Well I'll try me best", said Kieran.
"It's good for the bones", said Adam.
"There's nothing wrong with me bones!" said Kieran.
"Nothing except ..." Adam picked up a bony wrist "There isn't enough flesh on them".
"Then perhaps you should book me in for the hip replacement right now!" said Kieran, facetiously.
"Did you have any breakfast this morning?" said Adam.
"Yes he did, Adam", said Lonts "He was still finishing it in his room when I turned up to collect him".
"I am eating properly, Addy", said Kieran.
"I have to be sure", said Adam "I know how much all this is preying on your mind".
"I don't think you should worry about the Barlazzi Constable, Kieran", said Lonts "We can keep you safe up here. If he comes for you in any way, I shall kill him".
"Lonts, I'm getting a wee bit concerned with your threats to kill people all the time", said Kieran "I don't want to sound like Codlik, but first it was threats to kill Mieps and now ..."
"You don't have to worry about that anymore", said Lonts, sombrely "I won't kill Mieps, as he's promised me that as long as he can stay here, he won't need to take Tamaz away with him".
"O.K, but I don't want you putting yourself on the line", said Kieran "Your safety means just as much".
"Now you're sounding like Adam", said Lonts.
"You cheeky little horror!" said Adam, lightheartedly "You're lucky I don't wallop you for that!"
"No you won't", Lonts smirked, tipsily "Because I'd wallop you instead".
"You've obviously been trying the stout too!" said Adam, as Kieran laughed.
"It's good stuff", said Kieran.
"I'm sure", said Adam "A bit like the cider I suppose".
Kieran and Lonts unpacked their lunch from the tin pails Adam had brought it in, and ate whilst watching the workers seek out trees to lounge under, out of the glare of the sun. Someone nearby was playing a moody little tune on a harmonica, and it cast an air of suspended reality over the whole scene.
"Isn't it strange?" said Kieran, staring straight ahead "How easy it is to convince yourself you've seen something".
"Particularly after drinking that stuff, I should imagine!" said Adam.
"No, I mean I could stare and stare here, and convince meself I was seeing the old guy, when I wasn't really", said Kieran "It makes you doubt what's real and what's not".
"But we all saw him the other day, Kieran", said Lonts "The old man I mean".
"So we did", said Kieran "Let's have some more of that stout".
Bengo ran up, pushing Tamaz in a wheelbarrow.
"I've just thought of a brilliant idea for a new sketch", said Bengo "Tamaz plays a posh lady who has to undergo torture".
"Being branded with a branding-iron", said Tamaz.
"How delightful", said Adam, dubiously.
"I won't really use a branding-iron", said Bengo "Just a sort of adapted toasting-fork".
"You can't possibly play the torturer, Bengo", said Adam "You look far too amiable".
"It's called acting", said Bengo "Anyway, I don't see why Bardin should get all the best parts, even if he does look like a sadistic torturer!"
"No he doesn't", said Adam, sternly "He's got a very sweet little face. It's those chocolate-button eyes of his that do me!"
"Bengo says Bardin's a bully", said Lonts.
"Bengo needs a partner with a strong character", said Adam, collecting the empty lunch-pails.
"I don't get a new costume for this sketch though", said Tamaz, indignantly "I have to wear that stupid petticoat again. The punters must be sick of seeing me in it".
"There are many who have yet to have the pleasure, old love", said Adam.
"It's not going to get performed anyway", Bengo sighed, despondently "Not if we continue living here".
"You don't know that, Bengo", said Lonts "We could open our own theatre here".
Bengo looked so enraptured by this idea that Adam decided it was wisest to beat a hasty retreat back to the house.
Julian had had a rotten night's sleep, entirely due to the vast amounts of red wine he had consumed the evening before. He had got up at 8 o'clock and walked around grumpily for a while, feeling as though he was in the throes of a heavy cold. As soon as the others all left to go and assist the harvesters, he had gone back to bed, only to be woken up at noon, out of a deep sleep, by someone hammering in the room behind the head of his bed. Snarling with rage, he had pulled on his dressing-gown and gone in search of the culprit.
"Toppy, you little rat!" he cried, entering the room.
This room had so far stood empty (Julian had chosen his room for that reaon), being used simply for storing surplus furniture. Unfortunately Toppy, not being a great outdoor person, had decided to spend the day repairing the covers on some of the old chairs.
"I'm sorry, Julian", Toppy blinked, worriedly "I didn't realise you were having a nap".
Julian felt slightly embarrassed at having been caught napping in the daytime like a senior citizen.
"S'O.K", he said, awkwardly "I was only having a quick lie-down. Why aren't you downstairs having some lunch?"
"I'm not hungry", Toppy muttered.
"Rubbish", said Julian, stoutly "A boy your age should never be off his food".
"Well the others are all outside", said Toppy, nervously "And I didn't want to go down to the kitchens and get something on my own".
"Whyever not?" said Julian "This is your home now. You shouldn't be afraid of moving around in it".
"It's the staff", said Toppy, helplessly.
"They're not giving you a hard time because of Lilli are they?" said Julian.
"No, it's not that", said Toppy "They liked me at Christmas, but now they don't like me mixing with them, because I'm one of the enemy side".
"The enemy side?!" Julian guffawed "Is that how they see us? Come into my room whilst I get dressed".
Toppy followed back into his room, and handed Julian his clothes as and when he required them, like a super-smooth valet.
"They don't like us", said Toppy "We don't act as we should, and we don't stick to our parts of the house. That's what they feel anyway".
"There is bound to be a vast difference between us and Woll", said Julian "He was a lonely old man, and a very sick one towards the end, whereas there are a dozen of us, of varying ages and sizes. I'll be damned if they're going to push us into boxes, shutting us in our rooms and trotting us out for meals at allotted hours. Here you are, afraid to go down and get yourself some lunch. It's absurd!"
Toppy suddenly flung his arms round Julian's neck and cried that he was so glad he had never left them, and certainly not in order to join the staff here! Toppy wasn't normally prone to such outbursts, they were more in the province of Lonts and Bengo, and Julian was a bit taken aback.
"Well we're very glad you didn't leave us too", he said, rallying himself.
"Even though I'm an awful person", said Toppy, emotionally "Bengo once said I wasn't very nice".
"Bengo needs thrashing", said Julian.
"No he was right", said Toppy "I do sometimes say things I shouldn't, but that's because I'm frightened of being passed over all the time, and I want to get everyone's attention. It's not easy being the youngest".
"You want to try being the eldest!" Julian exclaimed "Your only problem is your timidity. You need to stand up for yourself a bit more, particularly where Lonts is concerned. He rides roughshod over you at times".
"It's not easy standing up to Lonts", said Toppy "He's so ... so ..."
"Big?" said Julian "I know he's a hulking great thing, and horrendously spoilt, which is entirely Adam's fault, but I'm not suggesting you get into a physical fight with him, just tell him to shut up occasionally, instead of him always telling you".
Julian finished dressing, and then suggested they both go down to the ktichens to get some lunch. The staff, or at least those that weren't busy outside, were sitting round the table in the servants' hall, eating. They all rose to their feet when Julian and Toppy walked in.
"Don't mind us", said Julian, marching briskly through the room to the kitchen "We're just going to knock ourselves up some scrambled eggs. Get on with your meal".
The chief steward followed them into the kitchen. He was an elderly man, with the kind of paunch that stands as an awesome testament to decades of good living. He didn't speak much, because when he did, in a rich, deep voice, he was instantly obeyed without question, so he needed few words to get by. He walked up to Julian and spoke to him in an imposing way.
"This is my part of the house", he said "And you have yours. I'd appreciate it if you bore that in mind".
Julian stared back at him impassively. Toppy looked terrified, fully aware that Julian was about to do something catastrophic.
"And I'd appreciate it if I wasn't spoken to like that in my own home", said Julian "I will not see this house turned into two armed camps, and I will not be told which rooms I can or cannot go into! Now as this house doesn't appear to be big enough to accommodate both of us, I'd like it if you got your things together and left!"
"He's been here 28 years", said Adam, setting out a cold supper for the harvesters on a long trestle table outside.
"Mm, high time the old fool retired", said Julian, picking at the crust of a pork pie "Don't nag Ada, darling. You would have done exactly the same, and don't try to deny it. We can't have them ordering us about like that".
"I agree", Adam sighed "But Widow Bertha is very upset. She said it sets a bad example to the rest of the staff".
"By all accounts he's been doing that for years!" said Julian "Getting tanked up on vintage wine at poor old Woll's expense for one thing. And a fat lot of good he is as a supervisor of the stewards. Where was he at Christmas, when Iylish was laying into Toppy?! Don't concern yourself with him. He'll go and live with his brother on the estate. I can't imagine he'll starve for one minute! Widow Bertha will just have to accept my decision".
"She already has", said Adam "She was very reasonable when I spoke to her just now. Far more so than I expected".
"I expect you're her little blue-eyed boy that's why", said Julian, tartly "She probably got turned on by the way you stood up to her the other night!"
"I think I get a lot of sympathy from her for having to put up with you actually!" said Adam.
"Oh yes I bet you do", Julian snapped "Next it'll be, 'why can't Julian be more like Adam?' I've heard it all before".
"Sometimes Jules, you are so infuriating I could spank you!"
"It's never stopped you before", said Julian, sulkily.
"I find it completely extraordinary that someone as old as you", said Adam "Can still retain so much of the spoilt little boy about you".
"Stop lecturing me just for showing firm leadership!" Julian bellowed, in exasperation "I've already sorted out one idiot for talking down to me today, and I won't hesitate to sort you out either!"
Adam blushed and mumbled an apology.
"So I should think!" said Julian, hotly.
"I am sorry, Jules", said Adam, insistently "But I just didn't want to make the staff resentful that's all. It would make living here intolerable".
"Now he's gone, things are going to be a lot easier", said Julian "He was the one who insisted on a rigid system of hierarchy and protocol. With him out of the barrel, we might all stand a chance of shaking down together a bit more smoothly, you mark my words".
"I think the old dears have been having words", said Joby, sitting on the back of a hay-cart with Kieran "You can always tell, because Adam's walking around behind Julian all sheepish!"
"Adam loves doing that", said Kieran, squinting through his hair at the setting sun.
"There's bad weather coming", said Joby, leaning back against the straw and looking up at the sky "We'll get the harvest in by the skin of our teeth".
"You talk as though you've been here for years", said Kieran "Do you think you could settle here?"
"I can't settle anywhere whilst you're like a cat on hot bricks because of the Barlazzi Constable", said Joby "Why can't we just send Ransey to polish him off?!"
"You're as bad as Lonts!" said Kieran "This is a man's life we're talking about here!"
"Yeah, and he's making ours a misery!" said Joby "He's got no right to intrude on our space the way he has. It was bad enough when we knew what he was doing, but now we're completely in the dark!"
"There is a good side to all this", said Kieran "I've been meaning to tell you all afternoon, but we've been a a wee bit busy. Codlik sent me another message just after lunch. It turns out that the reason the Barlazzi Demon has dropped his case againt me, is because he couldn't rally enough support from the New Church".
"You mean they don't wanna kick you out after all?" said Joby.
"Well a couple of nutters do, but they are in a very small minority apparently", said Kieran "But I have, and I quote, 'overwhelming support' from everyone else. Which is pretty good to hear".
"Yes it is", said Joby "I'm glad they aren't the ungrateful tossers I thought they were!"
"I think a lot of 'em see I mean no harm", said Kieran "It's not as if I keep issuing edicts telling everyone what to do, but of course that's exactly why the Barlazzi Demon despises me. We still haven't heard the last of him, I'm sure and certain of it".
"Maybe, but at least you're not gonna be summoned to some sort of trial now", said Joby "If they'd done that to you, I would've washed me hands of this world for good".
"Don't do that", said Kieran "I'm going to need you. I have a feeling he's assembling something even darker than religious maniacs against me".
"You're giving me the creeps", Joby shuddered "After seeing that weird old man in the fields, I keep thinking we've got another Father Gabriel on our hands!"
"Let's hope and pray that doesn't turn out to be the case", said Kieran, quietly.
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