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The next few weeks passed without event, and the stone griffins which overlooked the yard-doors would have had little to discuss if they could have conversed. Tamaz had become addicted to the dawn-chorus, and took to hauling Joby out of bed every morning at 3:30 to go and listen to it in the kitchen-garden.
"I'm beginning to feel like a real monk", said Joby "Being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night! Can't we have one night off at least, Tamaz?"
"No", said Tamaz, vehemently "There won't be many more nights like this, we have to make the most of them".
Mieps got ridiculously jealous of these early trips to the kitchen-garden, but Joby could understand Tamaz's reluctance to have him along on them. Mieps's idea of appreciating the dawn-chorus would have been to take pot-shots at the birds with an air-rifle!
In August the monsoons came, and everyone in Toondor Lanpin became convinced that the river had never been higher. They said this every year, although it was true that the marshes did seem to be even more flooded than usual. Going into town along the causeway required greater care, and the monastery seemed in danger of becoming an island. Going up onto the battlements with the little brass telescope they had used on the Indigo became a favourite occupation.
Although it was still warm in the daytime up the mountain, the nights became markedly chillier, and the stove was lit in the dormitory. One afternoon, as they were all sitting down to dinner, Julian announced future plans.
"We can't stay here come the winter", he said "It'll be far too grim".
"We agreed that all along", said Ransey, testily.
"So my plan is", Julian continued, undaunted "That we stay here until the rains ease at the beginning of October, and then we travel overland to Woll's place. We don't have to spend the whole winter there ..."
"I'm glad to hear it", said Finia, fervently.
"We can return to the Town House if it becomes too bad", said Julian.
"We agreed that all along too", said Ransey.
"I hope Codlik and Glynis don't object to us imposing on them", said Adam.
"What's this 'imposing'?" said Hillyard "It's my house!"
"But I thought you'd given it to them?" said Adam.
"Change of plan", said Hillyard "That was the idea before the Indigo burnt and we were going to disappear, but I can't go chucking away houses just like that, not when we might need it ourselves. So me and Ransey thought up another will. Glynis can have it for as long as she wants it, but on two conditions, she can't put it up for sale, and that when we're there neither she nor Codlik can over-ride our authority. It was Ransey and Julian who thought it all up actually. And I don't want to see us out of a home".
"Not much chance of that with your money!" said Joby.
"We sorted it all out in town a few weeks ago", said Ransey "Made it all legal".
"I see", said Adam, icily "But I wasn't let in on it at all".
"What on earth did you want to know for?" said Julian "You're hopeless when it comes to anything official!"
"I just thought that, in the natural pecking-order of things, it would have been nice if I'd been told as well", said Adam.
"Ah, didn't want you to worry your pretty head about it, Ad", said Hillyard.
"Oh go fuck yourself, Hillyard!" said Adam.
"It's unforgiveable that's what it is", said Adam, storming in and out of the pantry where Toppy was washing up at the stone sink, whilst Joby dried.
"Oh I expect it just slipped their minds", said Joby "It's not important".
"It is important to me", said Adam, slapping another stack of dirty plates on the side "They're like the 3 fucking Musketeers! Hillyard with the money, Ransey with the intelligence, and Julian with the awesome presence! Where does that leave me? I'm like one of those vapid mothers on old films, poncing around in an apron! Only fit for putting food on the table. Never consulted about ANYTHING!"
"Oh stop going on, Ad", said Joby "It's hardly surprising they tease you is it?! And there's really no point in getting worked up about what Hillyard says. He teases everybody".
"I'm sidelined, that's what I am", said Adam, in great distress by now "It's not fair. It's not what I wanted at all, and it's all Julian's fault. I let him walk all over me. Sometimes I feel just like my Mother, easily bullied".
Hillyard came in with a tray of glasses, but judged from the atmosphere that it was probably wisest not to hang around.
"I won't stop", he said, putting the tray down "Not room enough for 4 of us in here".
"Five if we count your stomach!" said Joby.
"Yes, you run along", said Adam, sarcastically "Julian probably wants to brainwash you a little more!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Hillyard.
"Well you're getting his style of talking aren't you?" said Adam "Particularly where I'm concerned".
"I'm my own man, me", said Hillyard "Julian doesn't get away with anything as far as I'm concerned. It's your own fault, Adam. You encouraged him to be like that, not me!"
Hillyard swept out of the pantry, leaving Adam gibbering furiously. Toppy was trying to stifle giggles at the sink.
"Get on with your work, Toppy!" said Adam, sharply.
"You ent half beginning to sound like Lonts!" said Joby.
"Joby, have you seen my cigars?" said Julian, walking into the dining-room a little while later "I can't remember if I left them in here or not".
"They're on the servery", said Joby, pausing in the middle of wiping down the long table "You're lucky I didn't chuck 'em out of the window, the way you've been carrying on!"
"What brought that on?" said Julian "Oh dear, you've got your Henry Fonda look on! What gross act of despicable behaviour am I about to be accused of?"
"Adam's upset", said Joby "I know it doesn't sound much to the rest of us, but he takes these things to heart. He was in charge for a long time, and now he feels that no one consults him about anything".
"All this over that foolish nonsense about Hillyard's will!" said Julian "In our defence I will say that we did what we did entirely for the good of the family, and that includes Adam! Now that the Indigo's gone, Hillyard felt he had to make sure anyone who out-survives him would always have a home. Quite remarkably farsighted for him! Yes, I did give him advice on these matters. Because I've seen too many cases of perfectly nice people becoming absolute monsters when there's a death and something to be inherited. It's given me a healthy distrust even of people who claim to be as fair-minded and decent as Codlik and Glynis, particularly now when they've got the interests of their offspring to safeguard. Myself and Ransey decided it was safest not to let the old will stand, putting Glynis in overall control. Hillyard didn't want, several years down the line, to see whoever was left of us being turfed out by Glynis or her children. Put it this way, would you really want to entrust Freaky's old age into her hands?!"
"No", said Joby "Women can be terrible at harbouring grudges and resentment".
"Exactly", said Julian "They haven't got the calm good sense and rational thinking that men are endowed with, and of which Adam is such a shining example!"
Joby yelped with laughter.
"Fancy coming across for a bathe?" said Julian.
He slipped his arm round Joby's shoulders. They were halfway across the courtyard when Kieran yelled at Joby from the doorway of the dormitory.
"I fear your conscience is calling you!" said Julian.
"I need help with the stove", said Kieran, fiercely, when Joby went over to him "Where were you off to with him?"
"Oh just some S&M brothel he knows about", said Joby, facetiously "Shit! I'll say you need help with the stove! What have you done to it?!"
The dormitory stove was belching out masses of thick black smoke. Joby coughed violently and flung open the windows.
"It's the flues", said Kieran "They're blocked".
"Are they pig's arse!" said Joby "Me and Hillyard cleaned 'em before we lit it for the first time".
"It's the coal then", said Kieran "Cheap old nutty slack".
"There's nothing wrong with the coal", said Joby "There's helluva lot wrong with you though! Some Vanquisher of Evil, you can't even light a fucking stove!"
Joby ransacked a stack of old newspapers that had been brought over from the monks' library. He pulled open the iron door covering the grille at the front of the stove and held up a sheet of newspaper against it. Kieran had lost interest in the stove though, and had been distracted by the next newspaper on the stack. The Arch-Pater had obviously found it of interest too, because he had scrawled across it in red pen "ARCHIVE THIS". The librarian had not been the hardest of workers at the monastery!
"Joby!" Kieran cried "This old clipping, it's about the Turd House!"
"Oh yeah?" said Joby, lethargically.
"Read it", said Kieran, thrusting it at him urgently "Read it!"
"'Three men out shooting on the marshes during this unseasonably cold spell say they have come across what they believe to be one of the entrances to Hell'", Joby read "'They say they removed a boulder from what they thought had been an old well, but were instantly hit by "screams and wails coming from within that were like the souls of the damned". It has been suggested that this area should be walled off in a more substantial fashion'".
"It's dated from several years back ..." Kieran began.
Joby scrunched up the newspaper and fed it to the stove. Kieran gave a cry of despair.
"What's the point of keeping it?" said Joby "You know what it says. Do you know something? Our time had its dangers, more than enough of 'em, but at least we knew what they were about. Whereas here, we have so-called entrances to Hell popping up all over the place!"
"What do you mean, so-called?" said Kieran "You know Hell exists, you've been there!"
"I'd just begun to convince meself that we'd hallucinated that whole thing", said Joby "That there was something in that weird mist that the Loud House that doped us and made us imagine it all".
"No Joby, it happened", said Kieran, firmly "Hell exists".
"Well I don't want to fucking believe it!" Joby screamed "And if I don't want to believe it I don't have to! I'm not a mad Catholic like you, who's told to believe something so he does, 'cos he's too scared not to!"
"But Joby, you experienced it!" Kieran protested.
"So what?!" said Joby "What kind of God do you have that condemns people to such an eternity?"
"People condemn themselves to it", said Kieran "That's what our time in Hell taught me. Somebody once wrote a play on the theme that Hell is other people, maybe it is, but whatever it is, WE create it. Us ourselves. And God tries to save us from it, because He loves us, and when you love someone you want to spare them pain".
Joby looked so mutinous that Kieran became quite concerned.
"Don't look like that, Jobe", he said.
"Like what?" Joby growled.
"As though you're about to sock me one", said Kieran "We're too old for all that now, we're not kids anymore".
"None of that matters", said Joby "What matters is that you're not going anywhere near that place. I mean it, Kieran! I don't care what it's the entrance to ..."
"O.K", Kieran held his hands up in surrender "You don't have to look as though you're about to smash me teeth out with the poker! You English are so focking excitable all the time!"
Bardin told Julian about his ambitions to build his own boat and take the other 3 under-30s on a fishing-trip. (Lonts had rejected the idea in the end, for which Julian said he would be eternally thankful as Adam would have been unbearable during his absence!). Julian said he felt like the aged lion in a pride, sensing the upwardly-mobile progress of a younger one, and being unnerved by it. Nonetheless he suggested Bardin take Bengo, Tamaz and Toppy on the next market trip.
"It may not sound a big deal", said Julian "Being in charge of a shopping jaunt. But being in charge of even just Freaky for a few hours will be a useful baptism of fire for you!"
It was a dreary day for the "jaunt", with rain lashing across the marshes in a diagonal slant. Bardin was entrusted with Julian's horsewhip and Ransey's spare revolver, and as soon as the hay-cart rumbled out of the yard, Julian cried "Right, let's bolt the doors and break out the cider!"
"This is going to be so BORING!" said Tamaz, sitting under the tattered canvas awning at the back of the cart with Toppy.
By the time they reached the market though it was promising to be anything but. Bengo had had to sit on the box at the front with Bardin and had got thoroughly soaked. Added to that he was tired of Bardin's high-handed attitude, and as soon as they came to a halt he announced he was taking Tamaz and Toppy off to the 'Mermaid' for a drink. Bardin felt his control evaporate immediately. In a fury he tailed them to the 'Mermaid', which was the bar they had all drunk in the morning the Indigo had burnt.
"I'm hungry", said Tamaz, as they took over the seats in the snug.
"You've only just had breakfast!" said Bardin.
Feeling rebellious, Bengo ordered pancakes and bacon from them all. This was guaranteed to upset Bardin more than ever.
"I wish Lonts was here", said Toppy, talking to Tamaz whilst the clowns bickered opposite them "He'd know exactly what to say to sort them out".
Bardin began to seep into a heap of dejection, seeing his dreams of captaining his own boat receding into the distance. He gave up trying to talk sense to the others, and picked at his food disconsolately. He knew that by bedgruding them this visit to the bar he had made an error of judgement. To him it was unnecessary and self-indulgent. A lifetime of self-discipline and professionalism had made him unappreciative of doing things solely for the sake of morale. But the others had endured an uncomfortable, bumpy ride down from the mountain in abysmal weather, with the prospect of having to do it all again on the way back. No one was in the mood to simply do the job and go straight home, they wanted a bit of comfort first. Miserably, he could only think how Julian wouldn't have made this mistake.
Bengo looked at his crestfallen expression though and felt sorry for him. He had given Bardin the finger as they parked the cart, and he was now ashamed of this. He had resented Bardin being put in charge of them, simply because Bardin seemed to have been in charge of him all his life! But he wasn't just his partner anymore though, he was his friend and lover too, and it was the friend and lover who wanted to console him.
"Well we'll all feel better after another glass of stout", said Bengo, nervously.
"It's very nice", said Toppy, taking a sip from his glass as though to illustrate this fact.
"Look, I know it's not easy for you to accept me in charge", said Bardin, awkwardly "Although I don't see why! Perhaps it's an age thing. But I'm more affable than you think and ... Tamaz, look at it this way. I don't treat you anything like Mieps does. He's much harsher than I could ever be".
"Mieps is a savage", said Toppy "That's why he understands Tamaz so well!"
"Who gave you permission to speak?" said Tamaz, pulling a red silk handkerchief out of Toppy's jacket pocket and flicking it at him "If you got anymore wet you'd need flippers!"
"Now we have to sit and watch you two fall out!" said Bengo, which helped to ease the situation.
They finished their break in a pleasently low-key way, although the sound of the wind and rain outside disheartened them somewhat. Tamaz couldn't help feeling that if he'd been in this situation with Joby and Kieran, he'd have found it exciting. They might even have decided to go back to the Town House and make love amongst the dust-sheets. There wasn't much hope of that now though, not with Toppy in tow, and the overly-conscientious Bardin in charge.
Buying the groceries and provisions was a tedious affair, but nowhere near as tedious as the trek homewards. By now the weather was so bad that the cart had to be taken at a funereal pace.
"This is stupid", said Tamaz, sitting in the back, picking agitatedly at a cauliflower "We'll never get home at this rate".
"It has to be this slow", said Toppy "The causeway's flooded in parts, we have to be careful we don't slip off into the marsh".
"Then I need to go ahead as a scout", said Tamaz, getting up.
"Bardin said we were to stay in the back", said Toppy, standing up to face him.
Tamaz gave him a deft smack on the nose, which made Toppy fall backwards onto the vegetables.
"What do you think you're doing?" Bardin squawked, as Tamaz suddenly appeared on the causeway beside them.
"Scouting", said Tamaz, his face practically obscured by the hood of his coat "I'll run ahead and tell you where it's not safe".
"You could've asked me first!" said Bardin.
Tamaz gave a gesture of impatience and skipped ahead. Gradually they turned onto the causeway which would take them up the mountain. A few feet ahead of them Tamaz stood stock-still and pointed downwards to where the water was swirling around his ankles.
"It is a good job he's there", said Bardin "Or I wouldn't be able to see where the causeway goes".
No sooner had he said this then two large brown hairless hands came shooting out of the marsh on one side of Tamaz and grabbed him around the knees, pulling him towards it. Bardin was struggling to control the horses, who were screaming and rearing in terror. Bengo grabbed the horsewhip and jumped down, running towards Tamaz, who was pulled halfway off the causeway. Hearing the commotion, Toppy put his head out of the canvas awning and yelled at Bardin.
"Give me Ransey's spare revolver! I know how to use it, he's shown me!"
Bardin handed it to him and Toppy jumped down from the cart. He fired several shots at the weird wormlike creature that was sucking Tamaz into the marsh as effectively as quicksand. The gunshots affected the creature and it sank slowly back into the murky marsh from where it had come.
Much later that day Adam finally located Bardin cowering in a corner of the draughty library.
"There you are!" said Adam, carrying a smoky oil-lamp towards him. It was extremely blustery up the mountain, and the room was gloomy, cold and uncomfortable "What on earth are you doing? Jules wants to see you".
"No I can't see him!" Bardin exclaimed, his cheeks wet with tears "I know what he's going to say, I don't need to hear it. If Tamaz had disappeared ..."
"It would only have been what he deserved", said Adam, robustly "He was very naughty in disobeying you like that. We've only got him back with us now thanks to Toppy's quick thinking. Lo-Lo is extremely proud of him, although I strongly suspect he'll have nightmares tonight about the whole thing. Anyway, Julian isn't going to have a go at you, quite the opposite in fact. Go and see him, please. I expect he's very shaken by what's happened, as we all are, only he doesn't show it easily".
"At one point I thought that thing was going to get Bengo as well", Bardin sniffed.
"Go and see Jules", said Adam, patting his arm gently "He's in the bath-house".
"The bath-house?" said Bardin, in dismay. This was the last place Bardin wanted to see him, because the razor-strop would be conveniently close to hand!
Adam shooed him out into the rain-soaked yard, where Hillyard was pushing a broom, trying to divert some of the water into the proper drains. The yard-doors were securely barred, but Bardin found it hard to feel safe. The creature had appeared so unexpectedly, and yet had given so little of itself away, like the arm that had shot out of the wall at the underground station many months before.
"Aha!" said Julian, who was sitting in the bath when Bardin walked in "About time! I asked to see you hours ago".
"I'm a fool I know", said Bardin, miserably, sitting down cross-legged on the side of the bath "I should stick to clowning in the ring, and not go getting grand ideas. O.K, so you've made your point, being Captain isn't easy, and I've made a right balls-up of it!"
"On the contrary, I think you've done remarkably well", said Julian "You brought everyone back safely. No one could have foreseen that creature appearing. I thought it would be enough for you having to deal with Freaky and the weather, without that as well!"
"It was Bengo and Toppy who did all the heroics", said Bardin "I was too busy controlling the horses".
"It was a joint effort", said Julian "The important thing is, everyone is safe".
"What the fuck was that thing out there?" Bardin wailed.
"I don't know", Julian sighed "This whole area is such a paradox. Toondor Lanpin seems such a friendly, relaxed town, and yet it has all these hidden strangenesses. The Turd House, now this. I remember the winter before last, I was walking home with Hillyard one evening after dark, returning from Myrtle's, and I felt something brush past me, like a large, hairless dog. I haven't the faintest idea what it was, and to be honest I'm not sure I want to know".
"But this thing today actually tried to drag Tamaz in!" said Bardin.
"There's an obvious pattern to all these things", said Julian "They're all to do with below ground. Toondor Lanpin itself is riddled with underground tunnels. For all we know the entire town could be built over Hades, and if the Turd House is anything to go by I think it probably is!"
"And yet everything seems to normal in the town", Bardin mumbled "What are we going to do?"
"Whatever these creatures are, they don't like full light, direct sunlight", said Julian "Everything strange in this area has happened in bad weather, be it rain, or fog. These things don't seem very sociable when the weather's fine".
"Yeah, we had no trouble at all before the monsoons started", said Bardin.
"Precisely", said Julian "And the monsoon season now has only a short time left to go. When the fine weather returns temporarily in October, we have to make the most of it. We keep on with our original plan and go to Woll's then".
"Travelling overland?" said Bardin, sceptically.
"As long as we do it during the fine weather", said Julian "I believe we'll be as safe as we were when we travelled up for the autumn show 2 years ago. But until the rains cease, we stay here".
Mieps found Tamaz in the pantry, vigorously tucking into the remains of a cold steak-and-kidney pie he'd found on the shelf there.
"I want to talk to you", said Mieps, sternly.
He took the plate away from Tamaz and then dragged him into the warm kitchen, which they had to themselves.
"I want to know one thing", said Mieps, still clutching Tamaz's hand as though he was anchoring him to the ground "Did you or did you not sense danger BEFORE you got out of the cart?"
Tamaz looked uneasy.
"Answer me!" Mieps roared.
Tamaz shrugged and nodded.
"And you still insisted on doing it?" said Mieps.
"I knew there was something very wrong", said Tamaz, flustered "That there was danger close by. And we were going at such a stupid, slow pace. I had to get us all back here. Don't look at me like that, you old snake! You'd have done the same!"
A sudden gust of wind shook the outside doors in its frame. Mieps unconsciously pulled Tamaz closer, like a mother protecting a small child in a busy street.
"We're not talking about me", said Mieps.
"That's stupid reasoning!" said Tamaz.
Mieps angrily grabbed the brush, made up roughly of a bundle of twigs, which Adam used to sweep up ashes from around the stove.
"No!" Tamaz implored, tearfully "Don't beat me! Not after the day I've had! Please!"
Mieps dropped the brush onto the table, and then cradled a sobbing Tamaz in his arms.
"I could have disappeared", Tamaz wept "I could be dead by now. I don't want to die, not ever! Not ever!"
"Oh move your carcass over, Hillyard. You're like a landlocked walrus!"
Julian had come into the dormitory from the outside privy, wearing his nightshirt over a pair of gumboots. He prodded at Hillyard's ample backside with his umbrella. Hillyard was lying on the central wooden plank bed.
"There's plenty of room for you", said Hillyard, sleepily.
The room was very warm and fuggy, lit as it was by two stoves, and with all the doors and windows shut against the fearsome elements. Ransey paced around in the lamplight, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his bath-robe. He was plainly muttering to himself.
"Are you going to keep that up all night?" Julian snapped "If so, go and do it in the yard!"
Without a word, as though he was barely aware of Julian's presence, Ransey flopped onto the bed. With difficulty, Finia climbed over Hillyard to get next to him. Everyone settled down eventually. The lamps were put out, and they were left to sleep to the accompaniment of the wind and rain. Toppy lay awake, going over the events of the day in his mind. It had been a brave thing he'd done, everyone had said so. Ransey had praised him for his intelligent use of the gun, and for helpfully proving that this creature, whatever it was, could be repelled by gunshots, so it can't have been as supernatural as Kieran had been convinced it was.
The incident had also given Toppy his very first surge of testosterone ... and he didn't know what to do with it. Nearby, Bardin was kissing Bengo, softly under the quilt. The clowns' love-making had been an endless source of fasincation for Toppy, he had previously found it hard to imagine that they could stop bickering long enough to manage it. They weren't bickering now, in fact they weren't talking at all.
Next to him Lonts was asleep on his back, one great paw resting over his little wooden crucifix. He looked huge, but even more beautiful than ever. Toppy tentatively placed his hand on one of Lonts's nipples, spanning it with his fingers. Lonts gave a soft moan and rolled over to nuzzle up to Adam in the opposite direction. Toppy sighed, and carried on listening to the weather.
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