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By Sarah Hapgood

When the men of the estate began wearing sheepskin cloaks to go out to work, and growing their beards and hair long to combat the oncoming cold weather, Finia began to get very fidgety. The snow had been on the mountains for several weeks now, and he was agitated in case they got stuck there for another winter. He needn't have worried though, because the others had no intention of staying there either.

On the day before their departure, Hillyard went for a walk with Glynis, who took Baby Leon along too, cradling him in the crook of her arm.

"Are you sure he's mine?" said Hillyard, jestingly "He looks like he's got Kieran's eyes to me!"

"They are very blue aren't they?" said Glynis, proudly "But they will probably change colour again before he gets much older. That often happens with children".

"I thought I'd better bring you up to date on the latest developments", said Hillyard "I've put Leon in my will as my heir. If anything happens to me he'll inherit this place. If it should happen before he reaches 18, then you'll be his trustee, his regent".

"What about the others?" said Glynis, jiggling Leon in her arm "Have you made provision for them?"

"We're buying the Town House, or to be more accurate, we're taking out a 99-year lease on it, that should definitely see us out, I think!" said Hillyard "So there will be a home for the Indigo-ites. Money-wise, I've made provision everybody. I'm going to make sure no one starves after I've gone. That's the bad thing about having money. You have to keep thinking about your own death all the time!"

"Oh look at this way", said Glynis "It would be far worse if you had to worry about people being put out onto the streets after your death, because you couldn't provide for them. What exactly are you going to do next? You seem to have something on your mind. You're not still thinking about disappearing?"

"You have to make allowances for us wanting that", said Hillyard "We seem to never be allowed peace".

"Don't talk like that Hillyard, please", said Glynis "It makes me think you're all going to do something drastic, like a mass suicide".

"I hope it won't come to that!" said Hillyard, but his tone was too bantering for Glynis's tastes.

"You've had an extraordinary life", said Glynis "There are whole chunks of it I don't know. I can't even begin to imagine what it was like in the early days. Did you always have a fondness for Kieran ... and Joby?"

"I never had any trouble relating to Adam", said Hillyard "Joby was a difficult person to get on with, but I always had a thing about him. When it came to sex I always felt he'd be a tough nut to crack, but when I did he'd be terrific, and it's true! He had such a spark to him in those days, it was like touching a naked flame. You got your fingers singed, but you kept wanting to do it".

"He seems to have made a bigger impression on you in those days than Kieran", said Glynis.

"Kieran was just too untouchable at first", said Hillyard "I didn't want to tangle with Adam. When everyone started on about him, when all the Vanquisher of Evil bit really began in earnest, I wanted to protect him. I didn't want to see him crushed by it. He reminded me of Stombal so much".

"Who's the best?" said Glynis, bluntly.

"Glynis!" said Hillyard "You're supposed to be the lady of the house these days!"

"Oh come on", Glynis smiled "Don't be so prudish, I want to know".

"They're both good", said Hillyard, with a touch of 'so there!' to his voice, which made Glynis laugh "Kieran's as smooth as anything. Sex with him is perfect. We've often joked about it, but he really would make a terrific tart! He gives and gives, but doesn't get heavy. Adam was always right, when he said Kieran could've been set up as a kept-boy, a pet".

"But I take it Joby's a different matter?" said Glynis, cautiously.

"He's good, but you pay a high price for it", said Hillyard "He expects nothing, but demands a lot. I think it takes a Vanquisher of Evil to handle him. And perhaps that's why Joby's the only one that can really handle Tamaz, completely. They're both in a league of their own".

"Yes", said Glynis, very inscrutably.

In November they went back to Toondor Lanpin. Kieran had secured a post for Levka at the Village of Stairs, and was planning to fly down there with him. He insisted that Joby came too. Even though they were only planning to be gone for a few days, Tamaz took it badly that they were leaving him behind, and what was worse, leaving him in Mieps's custody! On the day of their departure he locked himself in their bedroom, and indulged in a lengthy and very noisy crying fit.

"You two get off", Adam said to Kieran and Joby "The sooner you go, the sooner you'll be back".

"But we can't leave you to cope with him!" said Joby.

"Good grief, that's nothing", said Adam, above Tamaz's din "Not compared to Lo-Lo in full throttle anyway!"

After they had gone Adam went upstairs, where he managed to sternly cajole Tamaz into letting him into the room.

"Now they're gone I can tell you the truth as to why they didn't take you with them", said Adam, sitting down next to him on the bed "The harsh fact is, there's a lot of bad feeling towards you in the Village of Stairs".

"Why? I've never been there!" Tamaz snapped.

"We were there the night Gorth's death was announced", said Adam "Everyone was in a lynch-mob frame of mind".

"But that was years ago!" Tamaz spat.

"I know, but remote areas like that brood on things as though they happened yesterday", said Adam "Patsy didn't want to expose you to any unpleasentness there might be. He says he doubts they'd even forgive him for making you his intimate friend".

Tamaz looked so utterly stricken, that Adam hastened to hug him.

"I only told you all this because I didn't want you to think they didn't want you along", said Adam "None of them down there have seen you these past few years as we have. They still think of you as the demon Tamaz. It's one of the hardest things in life to get past old sins. I know that as well as you".

"I suppose some wouln't be happy unless I paid for them with my life", Tamaz mumbled.

"There are people like that around", said Adam, quietly "Now let's have no more of this caterwauling, shall we? If you keep it up, Mieps'll probably take the laundry-stick to you!"

Although Mieps had Tamaz in his care for the rest of the week, the older Ghoomer had to concede that he couldn't compete with Joby for Tamaz's affections. There were too many occasions when he found Tamaz sitting just inside the front door, looking like a faithful dog waiting for his master to return.

Joby sent a telegraph message from the Village of Stairs, to tell them they had arrived safely. It was addressed to them all in general, and concluded with the words "PLACE AS HOT AND DREARY AS EVER. STILL NO WOMEN HERE, SO NOTHING'S CHANGED MUCH".

"I'm amazed no women have gone there", said Adam, sitting by the fire in the living-room with Julian "They've got into most places by now. And it's not that bad there anyway, Joby exaggerates. Apart from the hospital, and the Governor's House, which was a bit gloomy I admit, the rest of the town's quite alright".

"And except the theatre", said Bardin, who was putting coal on the fire "I wouldn't go and work there again unless I was on the brink of starvation! The whole town IS peculiar actually. I think it's the humidity".

"I can't remember much about it, other than Adam finally being forced to get his chest sorted out", said Julian.

"I hope Patsy knows what he's doing, taking Levka there", said Adam.

"Put it this way", said Julian "The Levka's of this world have the potential to cause trouble wherever they land up in. Nowhere is completely safe. Short of having him put down, Kieran couldn't do much else!"

Bardin was occupying most of his time in the yard by the stables building a small boat. He still cherished plans for taking the other under-30s on a fishing-trip, but was so possessive and particular of his creation that they left him to get on with building it by himself. Occasionally he was interrupted by Zooks, who had got into an annoying habit of "dropping round for a chat" in the mornings.

Zooks was flourishing at the Little Theatre, and was very much the luvvie these days. He had even taken to copying Hawkefish's grandiose way of speech, stopping just short of calling Bardin "dear boy". He liked to brag about how he was "the leader of hedonists".

"I can't understand your craving for solitude", he said, after Bardin had dropped heavy hints that he liked to get on with his work alone "My idea of Hell would be to be alone. Every night after a show we're out partying. You don't know what you're missing".

"Yes I do, I used to live that way too", said Bardin.

"And now you go to bed early with your cocoa is that it?" said Zooks "And you fall asleep as soon as you hit the mattress!"

"With Bengo around?!" Bardin exclaimed "Chance'd be a fine thing!"

"What are you going to do with this thing when it's finished?" said Zooks, looking at the boat disdainfully.

"The odd fishing-trip, that sort of thing", said Bardin.

"Talking of boats", said Zooks "Have you heard the rumour about what caused the fire at the boatyard?"

"No", said Bardin, looking at him with curiosity "What rumour?"

Zooks looked all around him in a conspiratorial way before speaking.

"It is said that it was arson", he said "A fire deliberately started by the FFF to torch the Indigo to annoy the shit out of you lot".

"How old's this rumour?" said Bardin.

"It's been going the rounds for a few weeks now", said Zooks "You've got to admit it's got the ring of truth to it".

"That's what worries me", said Bardin "If Lonts was to hear it, Krindei would no longer be safe!"

"Something has to be done", said Ransey, sitting at the kitchen-table with Bardin and Hillyard "It was bad enough that they intimidated us at the monastery, and now we find it was them who torched the Indigo!"

"We don't know that for sure", said Hillyard "It's just a rumour".

"And a rumour that Zooks is putting about", said Bardin "I wouldn't go taking any action solely on his say-so if I was you!"

"No, but it all fits", said Ransey, letting his months of frustration over the FFF's intimidation come out.

"They're back in Krindei", said Hillyard "And with any luck they'll stay there. Yeah, it was upsetting when the Indigo burnt, but to be honest there's nothing we can do about it. C'mon Ransey, you of all people should know that accusing people can only be done successfully if it's done by the book".

"I wasn't thinking of merely accusing them", said Ransey "They intimidated us, now it's our turn to intimidate them. We need to declare war on them".

Bardin looked thoroughly alarmed, but it wasn't clear if this was from suggestions of war or a fear for Ransey's sanity!

"We're going to declare war on 'em?" said Hillyard, in disbelief "All 13 of us?!"

"When I say war I don't mean machine-guns and open combat", said Ransey "They came to our town and intimidated us, well what I'm suggesting is we go to their town and intimidate them".

"How?" said Bardin, in a small voice.

"Yeah, good question!" said Hillyard.

"People aren't gonna get killed are they?" said Bardin, nervously.

"The only intimidation we know is the sort Bengo and Tamaz did at the Festival!" said Hillyard.

Ransey gave a wry smile.

"Now you're getting there", he said "I expect Krindei needs shaking up a bit. I always have this fear they might start getting bit ideas about taking over the world. Some of the worst of the Ministry men settled there after the quake".

"Yes, they could couldn't they?" said Bardin, in an awed voice "They've got all the damn money up there! Nowhere else is anywhere near as rich as them!"

"Except Hillyard", said Ransey "He could give a lot of them a run for their money, if you'll excuse the pun. If they get ideas about cowing the rest of us, we could fight back easier than they probably think".

"Hey now come on here", said Hillyard "I woke up this morning thinking it was just going to be another pleasent day, and suddenly we're talking war! I don't agree with it, just let it go".

"Hillyard", said Ransey, with forced patience "I know all your life you've been a fat, lazy slob, but if you will just listen to my plan..."

"No!" said Hillyard, standing up abruptly "Not when you start talking about wars, not of any kind!"

Hillyard stormed into the hallway, where Julian was idly rifling through a heap of mail that had accumulated on the side table, most of which was addressed to Hillyard.

"I think you need to go through some of this, Hillyard", said Julian "It might not all be begging letters".

"I'm not in the mood", said Hillyard, pushing past him into the living-room, where he proceeded to pace about with his hands in his pockets "I've just had words with Ransey. Where does he get off calling me a fat lazy slob?!"

"Oh just call him a dried-up old stick with a charisma bypass!" said Julian, following him into the room.

"Sometimes I wish Woll had never left me that money", said Hillyard.

"Don't be absurd!" said Julian "No one in their right mind would turn their nose up at lifelong financial security. And if you do I shall remind you of that dreadful winter we spent at Cockroach Mansions. It was shit for all of us!"

"Well alright, I agree", said Hillyard "But sometimes I wish perhaps he'd just left me a legacy I could handle, like the one Kieran's got. He gets a nice, comfortable sum paid into his account every month, and that's it. Whereas mine's like some great, sprawling monster, with tentacles everywhere. None of it feels real. I mean, it's not real money is it? I can't feel it in my pocket. People say I'm one of the world's richest men, that I could buy anything I wanted, but it doesn't feel real! I'm not walking around with a wallet stuffed full to bursting with notes!"

"You could if you wanted to", said Julian "Just you can never be bothered to go to the bank to draw any out! What's brought all this on?"

"Ransey wants me to finance a war", said Hillyard.

"WHAT?!" said Julian.

"He wants to declare war on Krindei", said Hillyard "He found out, via Bardin, via Zooks, that it might have been the FFF who torched the Indigo".

"I see", said Julian "Well it's very upsetting to know it was done deliberately, but the deed is done now. The Indigo is gone".

"He thinks Krindei might start getting ideas about taking up where the City left off", said Hillyard "Becoming the capitol of the world".

"Actually I can see his reasoning", Julian sighed "They have the money, they have the oil. They have the potential to be a lot more powerful than anyone else. If they did take over, it would be bad news for all the rest of us. The Family First Foundation have a lot of influence up there. We think they're only a bunch of idiots, but from what I've read they have the kind of opinions that would appeal to a place like Krindei. If it did come to a showdown, you would be our saviour. Wars cost money".

"They also cost lives", said Hillyard "I suppose they could bring us down just by bombing us".

"Undoubtedly they would start that way", said Julian "But for any conquest to succeed, they would have to send troops in at some point".

"Oh God, why are we talking like this!" Hillyard cried "Kieran believed that with self-regulating we wouldn't have these problems again!"

"He's a wishful thinker", said Julian "But the sad truth is, visionaries like him don't always take the ugly side of human nature into account".

"But it can't go like this!" said Hillyard, fiercely "This was supposed to be the start of a Golden Era, everyone said so, even Codlik! After everything we went through under the vampires, just to have these tossers cause more misery!"

There was the sound of voices from outside. Adam was returning home from shopping, accompanied by Lonts, Bengo, Tamaz and Toppy. The front door opened and there was an explosion of voices in the hall.

"Maria Von Trapp returns with her brood!" said Julian.

Loud bangings ensued as Lonts played football with a melon. Adam admonished him, just as the metal bowl on the hall-table clattered to the floor.

"That doesn't matter", said Tamaz, dismissively "We own everything in this house now".

"And if you wreck it, I shall go and fetch my cane!" Julian shouted.

"Isn't Joby back yet?" said Tamaz, sidling into the room mournfully.

"Later today", said Hillyard "Not long now".

Joby and Kieran returned in fact only an hour later, both looking very sunburnt after their short stay in the Village of Stairs. Tamaz had been sitting at the kitchen-table having a cup of tea, when Joby appeared. Joby had been expecting him to demand "Have you bought me a present?" almost as soon as he walked in, but Tamaz was too overcome with emotion.

"You wouldn't believe what it's been like", Tamaz sobbed into Joby's shoulder "I've been treated like a worm!"

"Nothing new then?" Joby laughed, tenderly.

"Mieps has barely let me out of his sight for a moment", said Tamaz.

"Where is he now then?" said Joby, looking around him.

"Went out for a walk", said Tamaz.

"You go into the living-room with Joby, Tamaz", said Lonts "And I shall bring in some tea. Come and help me, Toppy".

Mieps was just coming in through the front door when Joby and Tamaz got to the hall.

"Thanks for looking after him", said Joby, after he'd told Tamaz to go on into the living-room.

"If he tells you I've been beating him, it's not true", said Mieps "Although the temptation was there on many an occasion!"

Lonts and Toppy hauled a groaning tea-trolley into the living-room. Every cake and biscuit in the house had been piled onto it. The biscuit-tin was so overflowing that the lid wouldn't stay on it.

"They'll go soft if you leave 'em like that", said Joby "Like your brain!"

"You're still in one piece then?" Ransey barked at Kieran.

"Yes, aren't you just so disappointed to see that?" said Kieran "I bet you were hoping you could visit me in hospital and say 'I told you so' for not taking you with me!"

"He's been like a bear with a sore head for not being allowed to go with you", said Hillyard, who was relaxing at last "He's even been planning wars".

"Yeah, I want to hear more about that", said Kieran, biting into a hunk of coconut cake "The rest of the world takes on Krindei, is that it?"

"I don't like the sound of that", said Joby.

"I fail to see what possible benefit Krindei could obtain by declaring war on anyone", said Adam.

"This is the Family First Foundation we're talking about", said Julian "All they see is a way of getting the whole world to be run their way".

"Well why don't we wait until they show some open aggression towards us and then do something?" said Adam.

"And sit with it hanging over us for years to come?" said Ransey "Catch 'em now at the beginning I say, show them we're not to be messed with".

"You just want revenge because they torched the Indigo", said Hillyard.

"They burnt the Indigo?" said Lonts, ominously.

"Now you've torn it", said Joby "We'll have to go to war now!"

That evening Hawkefish came round, solely to let off steam about a new scriptwriter he had hired. In order to increase the Little Theatre's takings, and make it more "family friendly", he had taken on a refugee from the late unlamented Ministry-approved City Theatre, which had specialised in the sort of bland, thoroughly inoffensive productions that had kept Codlik (and precious few others) happy during his Presidency. After 2 days on the Little Theatre payroll, this new scriptwriter had reduced Hawkefish to an angry, swearing lout, the state of which Bengo and Bardin had never seen him in before.

"Would you believe it?" he said, sitting on their sofa "Even the most innocent of language is not acceptable. Not even 'bloody' or 'God'. It has to be heard to be believed!"

"Quite right too", said Julian, stoutly "There's far too much filth around these days".

"Julian!" said Adam "We're not having that, not from someone who's indulged in just about every perversion one cares to name!"

"Ah, but that was before he got too old", said Joby "His sort are all the same. As soon as they too old for it, they wanna stop others having all the fun they had!"

"You sound like you're under rather a lot of strain, Hawkefish", said Adam.

"Don't worry, we'll be having a war soon to take your mind off it all", said Julian.

"I do wish you'd stop going on about war, Jules", said Adam "I'm beginning to feel like I'm living with Lord Kitchener!"

"Don't take up the issue with me", said Julian "It's that four-eyed gink in the corner who started it all".

Ransey was trying to read, although uncomfortably aware of Finia, who was cross-stitching aggressively nearby.

"We must have revenge!" Lonts boomed.

"I hope you're not going to pick now to exact it, dear boy", said Hawkefish "Not just before the Yuletide season, it's our most profitable time".

"I don't want it to happen at all", said Finia, slamming the lid shut on his workbox "The whole idea's crazy, completely crazy. Just as we get settled things get uprooted again".

"Yeah well that's Ransey for you", said Hillyard "He's always doing this. I think now he wants one last fling before he turns into Suppository Man!"

"You've all completely misunderstood ..." Ransey began, wearily.

"Oh no, we've understood perfectly", said Finia, jumping to his feet "Hillyard's got it right. Ransey's terrified of a quiet life. He'll plunge us into all sorts of trouble to avoid having one!"

Finia left the room so angrily that Bengo and Bardin, who had been sitting on the floor just inside the door, fell sideways to get out of his way. Hawkefish made his excuses to leave soon after, and Adam directed Bengo to show him to the door. When Bengo had finished letting him out, he turned to find Bardin in the hallway.

"Are you coming to bed now?" Bardin asked.

"But it's only 10-to-9", said Bengo, with beguiling naivety.

"So?" said Bardin "Is it against union rules to come to bed before 9 o'clock?!"

Bengo followed him into the dining-room.

"Bardy?" he said "There's not really gonna be a war is there? I don't understand any of this. It seems to have all come out of nowhere. Why's everyone doing what Zooks says?"

"They're not", said Bardin "You are a dork, Bengo! And there isn't going to be a war. I think Ransey's up to something a lot more subtle. You'll see".

The following morning Ransey went out to buy a peace-offering for Finia, who had made it very clear he was extremely angry with him. Ransey returned home in a rickshaw, with the parcel next to him on the seat. When he got back to the house he found Hillyard standing outside the open front door, eating an ice-cream wafer.

"I've bought a present for Finia", said Ransey, sheepishly.

"Are we all going to get one?" said Hillyard "Seeing as you're being a bit lavish with our lives".

"As I tried to explain last night", said Ransey "You've got it all wrong. I don't play games with lives. If you'd only listen you'd know that I meant something a lot more fun. You'd all enjoy it if you only tried giving it a chance, instead of reacting with hysteria to everything I said!"

"Try telling us then", said Hillyard.

"I will, but I'm going to tell Finia first".

Ransey elbowed past him and went into the house. In the hall Tamaz was pushing a broom around the floor in a very lethargic fashion, whilst Lonts and Toppy were dusting the bannisters. Finia was sitting on the patio outside the French windows in the living-room. He wore a mohair cardigan over his nightdress, and was enjoying the best kind of winter day Toondor Lanpin could offer. No rain, no river-fog, instead there was brittle sunshine which, what it lacked in comfortable warmth, made up for in brightness.

"A little peace-offering", said Ransey, placing the wrapped package on the table.

"I don't want no presents", said Finia, mulishly "I like this house. I like the quiet life. Why do you want to go ruining it all?"

"It's warmer in Krindei at this time of year", said Ransey, appeasingly.

"It's also full of bigots", said Finia "I overheard some of them the last time we were there. They don't like blacks and they don't like eunuchs, and I'm both!"

"We got married there", said Ransey, shyly.

"Remind me of that one when our oldest friends start getting killed!" said Finia.

"You really think I would risk anyone's life like that?" said Ransey "Look, whether we like it or not, that crowd up in Krindei have to be watched, or the bigoting you mentioned will end up becoming the norm".

"And you really think it's gonna be stopped by a bit of clownish slapstick?" said Finia.

"No, that'll just be an amusing diversion", said Ransey "I've come up with a much better, more foolproof way, to nip the power of these people in the bud. We're going to buy up as much of Krindei as we can. If it wants to become the seat of power, it's going to be in our hands, or rather Hillyard's".

"Buy up Krindei?" said Finia, in disbelief "How?"

"I've looked into all this", said Ransey "The FFF are buying up businesses and property up there like there's no tomorrow. That can only mean one thing, they want to own the town, have it in their pockets, and if they own Krindei, within a very short space of time they're going to end up owning the world. And that'll be bad news for you, for Tamaz, for Lonts, for a heck of a lot of people! We can halt them in their tracks by going on a little shopping-spree ourselves".

"But how can we buy places if they already own them?" said Finia.

"Some places it's too late, I'll admit", said Ransey "But anywhere else they try to buy we'll outbid them, as much as it takes. Anything in Krindei's a pretty good investment, so Hillyard won't lose anything by it, and you can rest assured, this house is safe. I know how much it means to you. Woll's estate is safe too".

"Hillyard will own Krindei?" said Finia.

"It's a vast improvement on the FFF owning it!" said Ransey.

"I knew he was rich", said Finia "But is the THAT rich?!"

"By my reckoning Hillyard is worth a cool 30 billion", said Ransey.

"Thirty billion!" Finia cried "Does he realise that?"

"All Hillyard's concerned about is where his next fuck is coming from!" said Ransey "And I agree with what he said to Julian yesterday, when you have that much, it's impossible to fully take in. We think of Woll as a shy recluse, but what he didn't know about business and making money wasn't worth knowing! And eventually money just makes money over and over again all on its own. That's the unfairness of it".

Finia looked shell-shocked.

"Why don't you open your present now?" said Ransey.

"O.K", Finia numbly tore off the brown paper. Inside was an exquisite, black-lacquered sewing-box.

"I noticed yesterday that yours was getting a bit worn", said Ransey.

"It's beautiful", said Finia, running his tiny hands over the smooth lid "Far too good to hide upstairs in our room. I'll have to leave it in the living-room or in the hall".

"Don't look so afraid, there is nothing to fear", said Ransey "I've been wanting to pull off a financial sting like this all my life. And you've got to admit, it's a better way to ensure world peace than going to war!"

"I hope you can ensure peace in this house when you've gambled away all Hillyard's inheritence!" Finia smiled, ruefully.

"That would take a helluva lot of doing!" said Ransey "And even if I managed it, we'd still have this place. It's on 99-year lease now, so unless you're planning to live until you're 136 it will always be your home".

"Next stop, Krindei", Finia sighed.

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