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By Sarah Hapgood

Kieran searched Woll's old rooms and uncovered the books to which the priest had referred. Written and bound locally, they were merely a collection of stories and anecdotes concerning a so-called spirit of the mountains. They told him little more than he knew already, but they gave him some insight into what people expected of the demon ... namely that, after causing a great of psychological torment, it ripped them to pieces in the end. Literally.

He was sitting up in bed one afternoon (the weather had turned cold again) reading the books, with a big bag of mints next to him, and an empty pen-holder in his mouth, when Julian came in and forcibly ejected him from the bed.

"Get down to the Great Hall", said Julian, impatiently "And see to your adoring monks!"

"Monks?" said Kieran, trying to drag on his clothes, at the same time as being forced to leave the room.

"Yes, your monks have turned up", said Julian "The ones from the monastery above Toondor Lanpin".

"What, all of 'em?" said Kieran.

"Apart from a few, who've stayed behind in the town", said Julian "They've come to throw themselves on your mercy. Had to leave the monastery quick. They've had an outbreak of poltergeist activity. Something's hammered on the walls enough to make them shake apparently. Monks say they've been bitten and pinched by an unseen force, and what you'll find the most disturbing of all ..."

"What?" said Kieran, pausing halfway down a short, darkened stairway.

"Bibles and other religious books have been torn and desecrated", said Julian.

"I see", said Kieran "You realise this means they've brought It here? Poltergeists need a catalyst to operate, usually someone young and possibly disturbed in some way".

"Terrific", said Julian "That means we may have another Brother Ketts on our hands".

"And we're not short of other would-be catalysts here for it to feed off", said Kieran "Oh God, I've got a lot of sorting out to do over the next few hours. But first, I'd better go and see 'em".

He pushed open the door at the bottom of the steps and came out onto the gallery which ran around the top of the Great Hall. A tremendous cacophony of voices was in full belt below.

"Jaysus, it sounds like a jumble sale!" said Kieran.

He walked around to the top of the stairs, followed by Julian. Codlik and Glynis (enjoying the longest honeymoon on record, according to the Indigo-ites) were standing by a pillar. Kieran nodded at them as he passed. When he got to the steps, the voices all stopped as though a tape had been abruptly switched off. The monks turned to look up at him, all wearing their beatific "We love you, Kieran" expression on their faces. Julian, who was standing right behind him, got the full force of their adoring looks as well, and at that moment felt an intense pity for Kieran and the huge responsibility he had to bear, being the object of such overwhelming idolisation.

Kieran walked down the steps towards them. At the bottom he saw Joby standing by the grand piano, looking concerned for him. Kieran felt as though he was being led into the middle of the hall to be executed.

"You have heard of our misfortune, Your Grace?" said the Arch-Pater, an elderly man with a swarthy complexion and a hooked nose. He had kissed Kieran's hand before speaking.

"Yes, you must tell me all the details", said Kieran "Whilst you're doing so, perhaps the rest could wait in the library, it's more comfortable and we can sort out some accommodation for you. Joby, will you show them in there?"

Joby herded the monks across the hall and into the vast library. He pushed open the door and stood back to let them pass, after a very curt "In 'ere". He had barely got them all in, before Lonts appeared, dragging in the drinks-trolley from the Yellow Salon.

"What are you up to?" said Joby, pulling him back out into the hall.

"Adam said they might like a drink", said Lonts.

"Yeah, but not gin and vodka!" said Joby "They're monks for God's sake! And how much of you had of it?"

"Just a little swig", said Lonts, in an injured tone.

"I know what your idea of what a little swig is!" said Joby "I'm surprised there's any left in the bottle!"

"You're always having a go at me, Joby", Lonts began to cry "I'm not appreciated by anyone".

"You're spoilt rotten by everyone!" said Joby "Lonts, I could do without this right now, I really could!"

He noticed Tamaz sashaying towards them and called him over.

"Take Lonts upstairs", he said "And entertain him. I'm sure you can think of something!"

Tamaz took Lonts's hand and led him upstairs. Joby gave a heartfelt sigh and went back into the library.

"Jesus!" he said, half-an-hour later. He and Kieran were alone in their roof before dinner.

"It's my fault", said Kieran, perched on the edge of his desk "I've always encouraged them to be open about their feelings. I didn't want to go back to the old ways of the Church being closed off and secretive".

"I don't mind people being open about their feelings", said Joby "What I do object to is being quizzed about me sex life by complete strangers! What right have they got to ask me what it's like to make love with you?! They'll be wanting to come in and watch next!"

"Oh it's because of all the legends about me spunk being special", Kieran laughed "They think in that case you should be the healthiest man alive, as though I give you a regular dose of Royal Jelly or something! I loved your response of 'it's pretty good actually'. You sounded so gruff!"

"Stop laughing at me", soby, irritably "I know I'm English, there's no need to rub it in".

"I'm not laughing at you", said Kieran.

"Yes you are, I can see it in your eyes", said Joby, getting up and going across to look into the fireplace "And I don't wanna hear anymore about you threatening to go and see the Barlazzi Demon in person either".

"I should've done it ages ago", said Kieran.

"Why?" Joby snapped "What good is you sticking your head into the lion's mouth gonna do? This 'thing' he's unleashed seems to be capable of anything. Well what happens to everyone here whilst you're not here to protect 'em? God, all this is my fault, mine and Bardin's".

"How the blazes do you work that one out?" said Kieran.

"Because we did that stupid sketch which upset the Constable's wife", said Joby "It was Bardin's idea and I went along with it. If we hadn't performed it ..."

"Oh Joby, that's crazy talk", said Kieran "That's like blaming the Vikings because King Harold lost the Battle of Hastings! A lot of good came about because of that sketch too. It brought things into the open. Forced the Barlazzi people to confront things they'd been concealing for years. Things that just weren't right".

"Yeah, much good it's done 'em", said Joby "Or any of us come to that. I don't understand any of it. We knew he was a pillock, but I never thought we had nother Father Gabriel on our hands. And how did he know about this ... this bloody mountain spirit or whatever it is? He's not from these parts".

"No, but he would have found out recently about Hillyard's inheritence", said Kieran "It would just have been a case of doing his homework that's all, finding out about this place and anything he could use to his advantage. He could have done all that in Toondor Lanpin, when he was trying to get evidence against me. The poltergeist outbreak at the monastery may be his vengeance on them because they wouldn't turn against me".

"Someone here's helping him", said Joby "They've got to be. Is it Mieps do you think?"

"No it's not him", said Kieran.

"How can you be sure?" said Joby.

"I'm not", said Kieran "It's just a gut instinct I have. Ghoomers will always try and get the most they can, and there's nothing the Constable can give him that we can't".

"We won't give him Tamaz though", said Joby "Not to keep anyway".

"That's why I said I'm not sure", said Kieran "I just feel in me water it's not him".

There was a curt knock on the door and Ransey came in, holding a sheaf of papers.

"Dolores is in Toondor Lanpin", he said "Word got to her on the grapevine that we were having trouble with the Barlazzi idiot. She's sent us a telegraph message saying that by all accounts things are bad in Barlazzi. People are trying to get out of the place on the quiet. It sounds like they're having a massed outbreak of poltergeist activity too. Stones raining down on houses, people tossed out of bed, and a loud disembodied voice publicly accusing some individuals of terrible sins. The whole world's going crazy because of this idiot. It's got completely out of control. He has to be stopped".

"What do you suggest?" said Kieran, quietly.

"I think you know", said Ransey.

"I don't think killing him's the answer", said Kieran "It's gone beyond that. Whatever these forces are he's dabbling in, I don't think they'll stop with his death. They may even get worse".

"Maybe, maybe not", said Ransey "But with him gone it'll be one less problem for us to worry about. He's going to be no great loss. I can charter an air-buggy and take myself there".

"Ransey, think of your own soul", said Kieran "You once swore you never wanted to do anymore killing".

"Now listen", said Ransey "I can't stand by whilst he wrecks havoc. We've got too much to lose. If we don't sort him out sooner or later someone innocent is going to get killed, and I couldn't live with myself, knowing I could have prevented that. I'm going alone".

"What does Finia say?" said Joby, tartly "Or haven't you told him?"

"Yes, I've told him", said Ransey "He's in abit of a state, I've left him with Julian, who will no doubt have a field-day saying 'I told you so'. I don't like upsetting him like this, but it can't be helped".

"But there must be other assassins around!" said Joby "Other guns for hire".

"There is no one else on this earth that you will be able to trust absolutely, like you can trust me", said Ransey.

"That is true", Kieran muttered "Come straight home again afterwards, Ransey".

"I'm not intending to hang around", said Ransey "I'll want as little contact with him as possible. I'm not going as a diplomat or a peace envoy. I'll go to great lengths to avoid speaking to him at all. That's the only way I've ever been able to do it".

"You have such big shoulders and a broad chest", said Tamaz, plucking at the hairs on Lonts's torso "Such a big big boy".

"Not everywhere", said Lonts, sombrely, lying next to him in the bed he normally shared with Adam.

"You shouldn't worry about that", said Tamaz, propping himself up on his elbow "Mine's not big either".

"It just never seemed to develop", Lonts continued "I don't know why".

Tamaz thrust out his long tongue and noisily licked Lonts's face. Lonts giggled helplessly.

"Come on", said Tamaz, climbing over him "Polar bears time".

Lonts was crawling around the floor naked, with Tamaz sitting on his back, when Joby came in, looking pale and drawn. He sat down on the broad steps just inside the door and the others came over to him.

"Would you like a game, Joby?" said Lonts.

"Perhaps some other time", said Joby.

"Something's going on", said Tamaz, standing in front of him "What is it?"

"You leave us to worry about that", said Joby, protectively.

To accommodate everyone at dinner-time, the screens in the dining-room had to be taken out and another table put in. The dining-room lost its cosy family feel, and resumed its atmosphere of what Julian described as "the school nosh-hall". Ransey and Finia ate alone in their own room, and Adam got emotional over the sideboard as he contemplated the dangers Ransey faced going to Barlazzi alone.

Kieran and Joby sat with the monks, who now included their first female member in their ranks, a Sister Amalia. She was a pleasent middle-aged woman, who had also recently taken to studying medicine, as well as donning a cassock. She had an overwhelmingly cheerful approach to life, which was inspiring on first acquaintance, but gradually became exhausting. It was impossible to dislike her though, and if her only fault was that she was sometimes TOO positive, it wasn't a bad one as faults go.

Ransey's plan occupied Kieran's thoughts, and he found it difficult this evening to cope with the monks' hero-worship of him.

"I'm sure when it comes to the final confrontation with the Constable", said one of them "Your faith and goodness will enable you to wipe him out with one flick of your little finger".

"I think it might end up being a bit more mundane than that", said Kieran, dryly "And even if anything should happen to him, we still have his mess to clear up".

"And that aint gonna be easy", said Joby.

"I regard everything in life as a gift", said Amalia "As a bonus to us. Even terrible things that make no sense at the time are there for us to experience and learn from".

"I agree", Kieran sighed "I hope you're going to be able to get us through the difficult times ahead".

"Well we are all on this earth to help one another", said Amalia "And I feel so privileged to be able to sit here and talk to you like this".

"It's a privilege for me too", said Kieran "Something at one time I never thought could happen. A female monk".

"A female anything come to that", said Joby.

Both he and Kieran remembered, as if by telepathy, the grim days when they had first learnt they were living in what they thought was a womanless world, and squeezed each other's hands comfortingly under the table.

Later that night, Ransey finished firing off a telegraph message to Dolores, asking her to arrange an air-buggy for him as soon as she could the following day. Finia was with him in the telegraph room, agitated and upset at the prospect of what lay ahead.

"I'm going to nip down the corridor and get us a snack", said Ransey, trying to hide his nervousness "You stay here and make sure the transmission goes through".

Ransey found Julian loitering in the chilly corridor and they both went into the deserted kitchen a few doors down.

"For goodness sake keep an eye on Finia whilst I'm gone", said Ransey, hacking off the heel of a lemon sponge cake "He doesn't give much away, but he's as nervous as a rabbit deep down".

"You can trust me to look after Finia", said Julian "I've known him since he was a child".

He gave Ransey's hand a quick squeeze, and then they both sat down at the table, and waited for the kettle to boil. Adam came in whilst they were sitting there glumly.

"What are you doing here?" said Julian, wearily "We've got enough on our plate at the moment without an hysterical old fairy like you coming down! And have you left the boy on his own?"

"Lo-Lo's fast asleep", said Adam.

"And if he wakes up and finds you're not there he'll scream the place down", said Julian "You know what he's like".

"I couldn't help it", said Adam "I had to come down and help Ransey".

"What, pack his sandwiches for him?!" said Julian.

Finia pattered into the room, his little feet muffled against the flagstones by his woollen socks.

"There's been a development", he cried, waving a sheet of paper "Ransey, you don't have to go to Barlazzi after all. Dolores has just sent us a message. The Constable's dead!"

"Dead?" Ransey blinked behind his spectacles "How? What happened?"

"It was very sudden", said Finia "Blood clot on the brain. It could have happened anytime. She's not sure exactly when it happened. The news has only just reached Toondor Lanpin".

Ransey pushed back his chair and staggered over to the sink like a man about to vomit. He took off his glasses, and rested his elbows on the draining-board. Both Finia and Adam went up to him and hugged him.

"Thank God, thank God", he cried, softly "I kept imagining what it would be like if I messed it up. How would I look at him if I had to fire a second shot?"

"It should never have been decided to leave it to you", said Finia, angrily.

"It would have had to have been me", said Ransey "That's what I'm here for, to look after you all".

"Well fortunately it won't come to that now", said Julian, also considerably relieved.

"Adam, perhaps you could go up and tell Kieran?" said Ransey.

"Yes of course", said Adam.

In his excitement though he got lost going up the back stairs, and panicked on finding himself in the maids' corridor. He found it amusing to think they might get the wrong idea of him, of all people, creeping about outside their rooms in the middle of the night, and had to stifle an insane urge to stand there and whoop with laughter. He finally got to Kieran's room, which was icy at this time of night, with the fire having gone out. Adam parted the bed-curtains, and roused Kieran gently. Kieran, on hearing the news, literally tumbled out of bed with excitement.

"How on earth we haven't woken Joby I don't know", Adam laughed, helping him back in.

"Ach, Joby would sleep through anything", said Kieran.

"I don't know why you're being so cheerful", said Tamaz, his amber eyes glinting in the darkness "That old tosspot dying might not stop anything".

"That is true", said Kieran "But then I've always known that. Whatever this spirit is, it's been out of his control for a long time. It's the Father Gabriel syndrome. Men conjure up these evil spirits, thinking they can master them, and it's the other way round. But at least he himself is out of the equation now".

"You hope", said Tamaz.

"We'll worry about that come daylight hours", said Adam "I must go back to bed now, in case Lo-Lo wakes up".

"I've been thinking, Addy", said Kieran "I don't believe the staff or estate workers here are at risk from this Thing, whatever it is. From all I've read it seems to focus its force on its own definite goals".

"Meaning us", said Adam.

"Yes", said Kieran "I've been wondering if it might be a good idea if you took the baby out of the firing-line. Perhaps took him back to Toondor Lanpin".

"You know very well Lo-Lo would refuse to go", said Adam "He would have to be dragged away, kicking and screaming, and I sincerely doubt I could manage that these days!"

"Hm, Lonts's obstinacy is legendary", said Kieran.

"As I know only too well!" said Adam "It's on a par with your wilfulness! I'm definitely going back to bed now. My joints are freezing up in the cold!"

Kieran expected anything to happen over the next couple of weeks, but none of it did. It was like the Phoney War, with everyone poised for mayhem, but instead life went on much the same. The monks were all moved into the half-decorated East Wing, and Kieran was tickled at the thought of having them there, like the estate's very own religious house.

Codlik and Glynis were also still on the premises, although they were encouraged to eat 'a deux' in their room as much as possible. Hillyard occasionally took Glynis out horse-riding, in a desperate attempt to kickstart her appetite and put more colour back into her cheeks. On their way back to the house in the winter twilight he would often think of an excuse to call in at the dairy, and there would practically force-feed her the delicious creams and cheeses that were being produced by the witches. He neither knew nor cared whether Codlik approved of these jaunts or not.

Bengo and Bardin decided to start organising a Christmas show, with which to entertain the unsuspecting estate-workers. One afternoon they called a rehearsal in the library but were annoyed to find that their ingenue had disappared. Tamaz was in fact at that moment being pursued along a first-floor corridor by Mieps, who followed him all the way up to and into Kieran's bedroom.

"They won't be pleased to find you in here", said Tamaz "If they were to come in ..."

"They won't", said Mieps "Kieran's in the East Wing with his monks, and Joby's out visiting one of the neighbouring farms. He won't be back until dark".

"It's a waste of time you being here", said Tamaz "How many more times have I got to tell you I'm not going to run off with you?!"

"Not even if I made you promises", said Mieps "Like I promise not to impregnate you".

Tamaz gave an exclamation of disbelief.

"I don't want 'lumps' as you call them either", said Mieps "Not when we could spend our days hunting instead. There, that's caught your attention hasn't it?"

"For all of a second", said Tamaz, witheringly "I am not leaving Joby. If you want me, the only way you can have me is by sharing me".

"Oh Tamaz, you strike a hard bargain", said Mieps "I'm in love with you. You've forced and bullied me into loving you. But then, that's your way isn't it? You demand and so you get. Not like Glynis with her endless dithering. Going round and round the forest for years and eventually only coming out with an old stick! I would die for you, Tamaz".

"Go ahead!" said Tamaz.

"You make me so goddamn crazy and mad!" Mieps grabbed Tamaz roughly by the shoulders. Tamaz though was unfazed. He merely gazed at Mieps serenely.

"Oh dear, do I?" he said "You'd better spank me then, everyone does sooner or later!"

"What a mouthwatering idea", Mieps drawled "You know full well I'd accept any terms you laid down. I can't imagine life without you now".

"Don't give me the humble doormat act", said Tamaz "It doesn't fool me, I know Ghoomers too well. It's just another ploy. If I give into you completely you'd have me on the end of a long chain".

"Undoubtedly", said Mieps "With you being beaten and fucked daily, as you should be, in between our hunting trips. But I have grown to love you, and that is why, in the meantime, I'm prepared to share you. I've come to terms with my feelings about you, and I'm going to take that room downstairs so that I can be close to you. Try and deny that the thought of all this doesn't excite you? See if you can!"

The thought excited Tamaz a lot. He did find Mieps very sexy these days, but there was still an underlying fear of him. He had once heard Kieran say that you couldn't truly love someone you were constantly afraid of, and Tamaz had since discovered this for himself. He was violently attracted to Mieps, in an animal way that also sometimes revolted him. He was certainly excited by him, but there was nothing like the same tenderness and affection he felt for Joby and Kieran. He constantly sparred with Mieps, whereas with the others he usually relaxed. After the exploitation he had suffered at the hands of Father Dalman, and his long lonely time in the cage, Tamaz had learnt to cherish the womb-like spell that Joby and Kieran had woven over his life.

Mieps had fired him up on this occasion, and Tamaz went along to Julian's room later, as he often did in the afternoons, feeling that if he had a tail like a peacock he would be fanning it and parading his sensuality for all it was worth.

It had started snowing that afternoon, and Julian's room was snug against the outside chill. The man himself was lying on his bed reading, and Finia was sewing in an armchair.

"Nice", said Tamaz, picking out a length of lace from Finia's work-basket "Do just right as edging for a pair of my drawers".

"You're not having it, so don't poke around in there", said Finia, snatching it off him "I've told you before about that. Sometimes you're damn lucky I don't use you as a pin-cushion!"

"I want my stage petticoat glitzing up for Christmas", said Tamaz "You'd better get started on it soon".

"If I had my way you'd find yourself acting as the giblets in the turkey!" said Finia.

"Ignore him, Finia", said Julian "He's obviously gingered up. Mieps must have been sniffing round him. Is that the case, Freaks?"

"What are you reading?" said Tamaz, climbing onto the bed next to him.

"Some silly but absorbing tale about a man who swaps identities with his brother", said Julian, tossing the book to one side and stretching "Shouldn't you be downstairs rehearsing?"

"I'll go down in a moment", said Tamaz "I had to come and see you".

"Yes you normally do when you need calming down", said Julian.

"I wish Mieps would abduct him one night and take him off into the mountains", said Finia, standing up and stuffing his sewing back into the box.

"Now come along girls", said Julian, teasingly "We all have to be a tranquil dozen, if we can".

"Baker's dozen these days", said Finia "Thanks to him and his weird cronies".

"Mieps is planning on staying with us is he, Freaky?" said Julian.

"Looks that way", said Tamaz "He can't bear the thought of living without me".

Finia gave a groan of annoyance and leapt onto the bed, pummelling Tamaz playfully in the stomach.

"Behave", said Julian, pulling them apart like scrapping kittens "Or I'll put you both out in the snow".

"Just look at it", said Finia, glancing at the window "We're now stuck here for the winter".

"The spring'll come round soon", said Julian, dreamily "And then who knows what may happen, or where we will go".

The Indigo-ites' Baker's Dozen ate alone that evening, as they often tried to do these days. The monks were in their own part of the house, and once more the "interminable honeymooners" were practically compelled to stay upstairs. With the screens back up in the dining-room, and the curtains drawn, they felt they could almost fool themselves they were alone in the house.

Because it was a fact that none of them felt they belonged here, truly belonged. Even though they had made their mark on the place, even though they had formed a solid bond with the remaining servants, they still knew all this was only temporary. That one day they would leave and possibly never come back. Sometimes it is an almost unbearable fact of life that parts of it can never be repeated, even if you try to recreate it, it will never entirely work. Wolf Castle could never be repeated, their time living on the waterfront at Toondor Lanpin could never be repeated. It was all gone. They had given it their best shot in this world, and there was nothing left to do now but disappear. All of them knew this, from Julian down to Toppy, they knew it and accepted it. It was simply a case of when, not if.

"This is a very seasonal dish, isn't it?" said Adam, ladling out chestnut and bacon soup into bowls, which Toppy then carried round.

"It must be very filling ... if you can bring yourself to eat it", said Kieran, crumbling a bread roll over his own empty bowl.

"There is nothing to stop you eating it", said Julian "The pig has already been killed, so you sitting there piously with an empty bowl isn't going to save it".

"I don't like the taste of meat these days", said Kieran "Anyway we're not primitives anymore. There's no excuse to eat meat really".

"Yes there is", said Julian, firmly "Meat is a valuable source of protein. What else gives you protein?"

"Nuts", said Kieran.

"And if you're allergic to nuts?" said Julian "As a lot of people are".

"Then they'd better not come in here", said Joby, dryly.

"If you live in the country, you have to accept country ways", said Julian "It's been a tradition in rural areas since God wore short trousers that pigs are killed at this time of the year, always around Martinmas, so that there would be plenty of food for the winter. November used to be called the Blood Month for that reason".

"I'll say it is", said Kieran "The whole village got together the other night to kill one of the prize sows. It was like a ritual sacrifice scene from a Dennis Wheatley novel! All flaming torches, eyes lit up with blood-lust and greed, and blood-encrusted knives!"

"Patsy!" said Adam "That's quite enough. I can't drink, but I don't sit here lecturing you whilst you're getting pissed, do I!"

"You have done in the past", said Joby.

"Not as much as I could have done", said Adam.

"If you want to read sermons at the dinner-table, Tinker Belle", said Julian "Go into the East Wing, where I'm sure your adoring disciples will be only too eager to hang on to your every word".

"You don't get rid of me that easily", said Kieran "Anyway, I don't mean to lecture. I just get carried away that's all".

The first course was finished, and Adam and Toppy got up to serve out the main course from the heated dishes on the sideboard.

"There's creamed parsnips, Pats", said Adam "I know you like those".

"He can have mine", said Joby.

"I wish you'd drop your phobia of parsnips, Joby", said Adam "These are delicious".

"They're still parsnips", said Joby, dourly.

"If Codlik was in here", said Hillyard "He'd probably accuse you of being prejudiced. A parsnip-bigot!"

"He'd start an 'Unfair To Parsnips' campaign", Kieran laughed.

"What did we ever do to deserve him as a guest?" said Julian.

"I think Glynis might disagree with you", said Adam "She seems fairly satisfied with him these days".

"Rubbish", said Julian "If he satisfies her, why does she go horse-riding most days?"

"'Cos she enjoys it", said Hillyard "The little roan mare I selected for her suits her just fine".

"Women only go riding that religiously when they haven't got a man who can adequately satisfy them", said Julian.

"What complete and utter rubbish", said Adam.

"What would you know about what satisfies women anyway?" said Joby.

"A great deal", said Julian "I can tell immediately whether a man would make a good shag or not, I consider myself to be something of an expert on the subject. And the simple fact is I just cannot imagine Codlik getting down to it at all".

"You can't imagine Ransey either", said Finia "But he does".

The others all laughed hysterically, excpet Ransey who blushed.

"At least I'm aware Ransey has the necessary parts", said Julian "I should be, I've seen them often enough! But Codlik ... is there any proof whatsoever that he's got anything down there?!"

"Well for God's sake don't ask him", said Ransey "Or he might offer to show us!"

"It's gone cold quick hasn't it?" said Bengo, who was positioned in a draught from the door.

"Yes it has, even for this area", said Adam "The locals say winter normally doesn't officially start round here until the first of December, and yet here it's snowing already".

"Yeah", said Joby "Must be something we said".

"It's stupid that I have to go to bed now", said Lonts, lying on his back sulkily whilst Adam fastened his nappy.

"No it's not stupid", said Adam "It's very late, and you're tired. Don't argue with me. I can tell you're tired because you're grumpy".

"Are you going to go wandering off again tonight?" said Lonts "I was really worried when I woke up last night and you were only just coming back into the room".

"Well I suppose you'll have to get used to that if I'm losing my mind", said Adam, tartly "Oh I'm sorry, Lo-Lo, I didn't mean to sound so hard".

"You mustn't worry about that, Adam", said Lonts, touching his face gently "Whatever happens I'll always look after you. You'll be really proud of me".

"I've always been proud of you", said Adam "I'm just frightened that's all".

Lonts sat up and put his arms round Adam's neck.

"I sometimes think I could handle anything other than that", said Adam, emotionally "What was the point of me having this extraordinary life, with all its memories and experiences, if I can't look back on it in my old age? I don't think I could stand not recognising you, or Jules, or Patsy ..."

"I don't believe you are losing your mind, Adam", said Lonts "Perhaps you'll just get a bit confused sometimes, like I do".

"I could live with that", said Adam "After all, I've aways been absentminded, but I couldn't bear the memory loss. I saw a play on senile dementia once, the poor man in it couldn't remember anything for longer than a few minutes at a time, sometimes only for a few seconds. I could put up with confusion, or second childhood even, but not that! Lo-Lo, I wouldn't remember who you were! It would be so upsetting for you!"

"No, I'd just have to keep reminding you", said Lonts "Everytime I came into the room I'd shout 'I'm Lonts!' in a loud voice".

"And absolutely terrify me I expect!" Adam laughed, but the tears rolled out of his eyes helplessly.

"We'd manage", said Lonts "And Hillyard can help me with my nappy, Julian's said so. And if you have to wear one, I'll wash it, like you've always done with mine. That'll be really funny, us both ending up like that!"

"You are the most extraordinary, resilient creature", said Adam, fondly "The Kiskev Survivor was the most apt title anyone could ever give you".

"Well it's better than the Reindeeer or Pond-Life!" said Lonts, fiercely.

"Where's your little wooden crucifix?" said Adam "You haven't got it on".

"I couldn't find it", said Lonts "It's not in the top drawer where I usually leave it, I looked".

"Oh dear, don't say I've moved it somewhere else", said Adam, looking around him distractedly.

"It doesn't matter, Adam", said Lonts "I only wear it out of habit anyway. It was only Gimmit who gave it to me, and I didn't like him very much. And it didn't protect me against Vanod did it? Why don't you just get undressed and come to bed?"

"Yes, I'll just put some more coal on the fire", said Adam, moving across to the grate. Suddenly he stopped and looked up towards the ceiling "Lo-Lo, can you hear that too, or am I imagining it?"

"There's someone walking about overhead", said Lonts, glancing up towards the sound of a heavy, measured pacing coming from the room above "I didn't think anyone slept in the room above us".

"They don't", said Adam "It's not a bedroom that's why. It's a little store-room for apples. I was up there a couple of weeks ago with Lilli, taking some up from the orchard".

Neither of them spoke for a moment, but both watched the ceiling as the pacing continued. Then it stopped as abruptly as it had started.

"Sometimes I really wish we were back on the Indigo", said Adam "There are far too many rooms in this house. I must have been mad to go wandering about on my own last night".

"Don't do it again", said Lonts "Not without waking me first anyway".

Come the morning Adam relished the daytime warmth, light and noise inside the house even more. He went on ahead down to breakfast (Lonts wanted to say good morning to Tamaz), and found Hillyard and Glynis standing outside the French windows in the dining-room, wrestling with the handle as they tried to get in.

"Hurry up, it's locked", Hillyard shouted "It's fucking freezing out here!"

Adam turned the key in the door and let them in.

"Hey up", said Joby, coming in and noticing the saddle Hillyard was carrying "Did the horse do a runner when he saw your fat arse?!"

"Thought I'd give it a bit of a polish", said Hillyard, chucking it carelessly onto the sideboard "Sit down Glynis, I'll help you off with your boots".

"They feel like they're nailed to my feet", said Glynis, collapsing wearily onto a chair.

Hillyard straddled her leg and went to yank roughly at her boot.

"You'll pull her off the chair if you do it like that", said Joby "I'll hold onto her arms".

He was thus engaged when Julian walked in.

"Good grief", he said "Do you have to restrain her first these days?!"

"Oh shut your face", said Joby.

"Good morning, Bertha", said Adam, as the said woman walked in carrying a covered dish "What have you got for us there?"

"Honey and nut bread", said Bertha "But it's for the clowns really, part of their high-energy diet. Because they're in training you see".

"What for, a marathon?" said Julian.

"And I thought it was just going to be panto", Adam sighed.

Bertha gave an amused smile at Hillyard and Joby, who were now panting breathlessly after having finally removed Glynis's boots. As Bertha went out, Kieran came in.

"Warning", he cried "Codlik alert, he's on the stairs!"

Hillyard, Joby and Glynis immediately began to absorb themselves in the scrambled eggs dish, as though they'd been guiltily doing something they shouldn't.

"Why have we all go to instantly behave the minute he appears?" said Adam, indignantly "Anyone would think he was the head prefect!"

"Well it's either that or we have him going on", said Kieran.

"Watch out", said Ransey, coming on "Laughing Boy's on his way".

"We heard", said Julian.

"Oh do try and go easy on him", said Glynis "He didn't sleep too well last night".

"What about you?" said Adam.

"I fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow", said Glynis.

"Useful ploy", Julian muttered.

"Good morning", said Codlik, looking very pale and tired around the eyes.

"You look as though you could do with some breakfast", said Adam "Glynis tells us you didn't sleep too well. Don't get annoyed. She was only telling us because she's concerned for you".

"It's nothing really", said Codlik, demurely selecting a boiled egg and sitting down at the table "I think perhaps I just can't get used to the countryside. The wolves disturb me at night".

"Yeah, they can be a wee bit eerie", said Kieran "But you're safe inside the house".

"None of them can get in?" said Codlik, nervously.

"Quite unheard of", said Julian "Why do you ask?"

"N-nothing", said Codlik "Nothing at all. Nothing".

"Why are you dragging me up here?" said Julian, following Adam up a narrow wooden staircase in the West Wing "Isn't this getting perilously close to Codlik's room?"

"There are some photographs I want to show you", said Adam, his voice sounding wispy and distracted.

In the gloomy, darkened corridor at the top Adam paused in front of a framed montage of coloured photographs arranged on the panelled wall. They were all of the garden and the estate, taken at high summer.

"Look at the richness of the colours, Jules", said Adam "The rose bushes, and all the different greens of the forest. I wish it was like that now".

"It soon will be again", said Julian.

"I hope I'll be able to appreciate it", said Adam "Jules, we must talk about this. You can't deny it hasn't crossed your mind that I'm losing my marbles. I know it has, because Lo-Lo tells me you've been discussing it".

"Come over here and sit down", said Julian, leading him over to a hard sofa in front of the bannisters at the top of the stairs "I don't believe you are losing your marbles, anymore than a few years ago you were dying. But, if there is a million-to-one chance you are, then I want to be prepared for all eventualities. That's why I discussed it with the boy, and he took it very well".

"I know, he's magnificent", said Adam.

"I've been thinking a lot lately of times gone by", said Julian "It must be old age, I suppose. I keep remembering when we were in our teens, and we rented that dilapidated old cottage in Essex".

"It was a bit rough wasn't it!" Adam laughed "Nothing worked in it. The only way we could heat the kitchen was by leaving the oven door open!"

"I keep remembering one evening in particular", said Julian "I'd left you at home and gone out to some pointless party, and I'd got up to my usual tricks. We had a terrible fight when I came home, it went on all over the house".

"Yes, we wound up in the living-room", said Adam "I distinctly remember we made up in there, and a rather fun few days followed!"

"I never apologised for how I treated you then", said Julian "Never once said I was sorry for the deep unhappiness I caused you. I want to say it now".

"It was all so long ago", said Adam, softly "And now I only remember the good times we had there, and there were plenty of those too. I sometimes think how wonderful it would be for us both to go out on a spree together, for old time's sake".

"Paint the town pink?" said Julian.

"Mm, although I'm not sure where this town is!" said Adam.

The stairs creaked as Joby came up them, looking fed up.

"Have you seen Kieran?" he asked "He seemed to disappear right after breakfast".

"He's gone into the village to see the vicar", said Adam "He's not satisfied with his performance from what I can gather".

"Probably going to make him write out 100 times 'I must not get pissed on the Communion wine'", said Julian.

"He's gone out in that?" said Joby, gesturing in the direction of the outside world "It's snowing like mad out there!"

"Oh don't worry", said Julian "We'll send the St Bernard after him if he's not back by nightfall".

"Don't pout like that, Joby", said Adam "It makes you look very unpleasent".

"Cheers, thanks", said Joby.

"Go with Adam", said Julian "He'll show you something to take the snarl off your face!"

"I'm sorry", said Joby, an hour later. He rolled over in Adam's bed to face the window, looking even more sour than he had before they'd started.

"It doesn't matter", said Adam, sitting up and looking down at him "It happens to all of us from time to time".

"Not to me it doesn't", said Joby.

"What nonsense", said Adam "Or do you class yourself as Mr Infallible?!"

"No, just Mr Stressed-Out", said Joby "Kieran keeps talking about demonic entities that tear you limb from limb, and Tamaz is forever shaking his arse at Mieps".

"You're far too lenient with him", said Adam "If you don't like it you should make it clear. What concerns me is the way Tamaz always seems to be ill-at-ease with Mieps, and yet he still keeps sniffing around him".

"He's emasculated me", said Joby "I'm gonna end up like my Dad, dithering around, mumbling on about how I should put me foot down really, but never actually getting round to it!"

"Oh Joby, you won't end up like him", said Adam "You've just felt a bit neglected of late, haven't you? Patsy's got so much demanding his attention at the moment, and as for Freaky ... well we're all to blame there. We all indulge him far too much".

"I feel such a stupid jerk sometimes", Joby sobbed "I even go down to Mieps's room and collect him, all bloody civilised! I mean, would you be that tolerant if it was Lonts?"

"I am where his little sessions with Julian and Tamaz are concerned, although I must admit I don't always find it easy", said Adam "But if he got himself involved with someone who frightened him, as Mieps obviously does Tamaz, then yes I would be a lot more strict".

"For a while I seriously thought I could trust Mieps", said Joby "But now I'm not so sure. I'm so fucking confused. All Kieran does is go on about how it doesn't do any harm, blah-blah-blah, but if it doesn't do any harm why am I so fucking unhappy about it?!"

"Patsy is notoriously tolerant when it comes to affairs of the heart", said Adam "And to be honest I think that's because he's afraid that if he started getting jealous and possessive, he'd get abandoned fast. The legacy of his lovely father, you see".

"Yeah I know", said Joby "He turned enough of a blind eye where Amy was concerned, and it didn't do her any good at all".

"I think you'd find that if Tamaz got in any real danger from Mieps, then Patsy would act pretty fast though", said Adam.

"But I don't want it to get that far", said Joby "Why do we keep Mieps around for God's sake?"

"Because it's much easier to ahve him under the same roof as us at the present time", said Adam "You must act though if you're not happy with this. I've told you time and again to have the confidence to take control. I don't envy you. Both Patsy and Tamaz need a firm hand at times, or they both go spinning off the rails. You know I'll help you if you want me to".

"I didn't like to ask", said Joby "I know you've already got enough on your plate with Lonts".

"I'd like to help", said Adam "It'd take my mind off the thought of encroaching senility ... Joby, can you hear those footsteps overhead?"

"Yeah, there's someone in the room above", said Joby, casually "Store-rooms are directly overhead aren't they? It's probably one of the servants".

"Lo-Lo and I heard the same thing late last night", said Adam, staring fixedly upwards.

"I wouldn't worry about it, Ad", said Joby.

There was an outbreak of muffled voices from the room above.

"That sounds like Lonts to me", said Joby, sitting up "I'd recognise his dulcet tones anywhere!"

"Oh the little monster", said Adam, pushing back the fur bed-cover and swinging his legs to the side "I should've known he'd go poking around up there, he's as bad as you and Patsy!"

There was a high-pitched yelp.

"Sounds like he's beating up Toppy", Joby yawned "Nothing unusual there".

"LONTS!" Adam yelled.

There was a frenzied scuffling sound and then a door slamming. Within a few minutes Lonts had sidled into the room sheepishly, followed by Toppy.

"We didn't realise you were down here, Adam", said Lonts.

"Evidently", said Adam, tartly "Did you both have a sudden craving for apples?!"

"No, I wanted to see if the sawdust on the floor had any footprints in it", said Lonts "From last night, but we couldn't see any".

"Lonts was too afraid to go up there on his own", said Toppy.

"No I wasn't!" said Lonts, indignantly.

"Just answer me one thing", said Adam, sternly "Have you been twisting Toppy's arm? Don't try and deny it, I heard him squeal".

"Has he done that before then?" said Joby, still under the fur covers.

"Not for some time I'm glad to say", said Adam "But he occasionally has a resurgance of savagery".

Lonts couldn't speak for embarrassment.

"It wasn't that", said Toppy "He took me by surprise that's all. He goosed me".

"Joby, it's not funny", said Adam, as Joby laughed "Lonts gets far too carried away. I'm terrified he'll start doing it to the maids, and then we'll have endless complaints to deal with!"

"I won't do that!" Lonts exclaimed "Not to people I'm not close to! Toppy makes such a fuss sometimes".

"I think you need to be on medication", said Joby.

"It doesn't matter", said Toppy, to everyone's surprise "I quite enjoyed it really".

The door of the vicarage opened a crack, and a bleary eye peered out.

"About focking time!" said Kieran "I'm nearly frozen solid out here. Let me in".

The priest hastily invited him in, and took him into the kitchen, which was icy because the fire in the stove had gone out. There was also a depressing amount of washing-up in the sink, and the congealed remains of a meat pie in an enamel dish on the draining-board.

"Put the kettle on", Kieran sighed, taking off his goatskin cap and tossing it onto the table.

"I'm afraid I've run out of tea", said the priest, looking seedy in his pyjama jacket.

"No tea?" Kieran exclaimed "You're the vicar, you're supposed to always have a pot on the go! I'll have a word with Bertha when I get back. She'll send one of the stewards down with an emergency supply".

"I've got some beer", said the priest, opening his larder.

"I'm sure you have", said Kieran, dryly "I'll pass if you don't mind. The last thing I feel like doing when it's minus-20 degrees in the room is drinking cold beer!"

"Yes, I'm afraid I've rather let things slide", said the priest, apologetically.

"That's why I'm here", said Kieran "To try and help you. I've been worried about you for a while. I can tell you're not right. You're supposed to be the local spiritual counsellor, and yet whenever I hear you talking to anyone, you sound as though you're mugging 'em!"

"Because I can't stand it here much longer", said the vicar, desperately "This is my second winter here, and I don't think I can bear it. Listening to the wolves at night is bad enough, but the way the darkness creeps in earlier and earlier each day ..."

"In a few weeks time it'll be the daylight pushing the darkness out", said Kieran "You only have to hold on until after Christmas".

"I can't", said the priest "I just can't. Seeing that old man was the last straw. There's too much about the countryside I don't understand".

"You're lonely, that's your trouble", said Kieran "You should have applied for an assistant".

"And got lumbered with someone I couldn't stand", said the priest, petulantly "That'd be worse".

"You're not an easy person to help are you?" said Kieran, amiably "I think you should move up to the big house, at least until the worst of the chill is over. There's room for you with the monks in the East Wing, and they're a comfortable lot to get on with".

"For you maybe", the priest snapped.

"You've sunk right into yourself and it's not good", said Kieran "You can't carry on here, not until after Christmas anyway. I strongly advise you to move up to the big house".

"I'm not sure I can live with the monks", said the priest "I don't like the way they walk, all shuffling, like depressed old men".

"What would you rather they did?" said Kieran "Marched in formation with plenty of high-kicks like the Tiller Girls?! I think a bit of time in the East Wing'll do you good. You ned to think about your life, perhaps to decide if the contemplative life is for you. For some people it simply isn't. It does them more harm than good".

"I'll go and pack a bag", said the priest "At least I'll be safe up at the big house. Won't I?"

"Well put it this way", said Kieran "There'll be plenty of others around to keep an eye on you. Come along now, let's go. This house is giving me the creeps, and I've only been in it for a few minutes! No wonder you're not well! Pack your bag".

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