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They spent one more night in Aspiriola, and the older Indigo-ites, from Julian to Joby, got invited to a reception at the largest hotel in the town. This was noticeable for being graced by the presence of the Governor's Wife's Sister, in a feeble attempt to show how much they cared about public opinion. The Governor's Wife's Sister wore a silver taffeta gown, which made her look like a grotesque parody of a little girl wearing her best party frock.
She gave the impression of not knowing what on earth she was doing there, and was followed around the room by a trail of obsequious toadies, who all acted as mobile drinks trolleys and ash-trays. She told Adam that she believed the Governor had a divine right to rule, that in fact he had God on his side. She told Kieran that she didn't believe things had been as bad under the vampires as everyone now tried to make out, and she was tired of hearing about how terrible life had been in those days.
All this could easily have been dismissed as the ignorant, misguided ramblings of a pampered old lady. But then she started on at Hillyard about how an "apocalyptic little whore" like Tamaz should have been put to death when the Ministry had had the chance. Hillyard was glad Joby was on the other side of the room and couldn't hear this, but nonetheless Hillyard himself was furious. He loved Tamaz's courage, his indomitable spirit, and the way he had been such a trouper when appearing in the Indigo Players' Revue. Although undoubtedly a spoilt brat, Tamaz nonetheless put up with far more than any of the Governor's family would ever have dreamt of doing. Hillyard wasn't normally a man to bear grudges, but from that moment on, the Governor of Aspiriola and his lovely family were banished into the outer darkness as far as he was concerned. This was unfortunate for the Governor, as his sister-in-law had really been sent to the reception to cement diplomatic relations with the Indigo-ites, to ensure their personal and financial help should things turn nasty in Aspiriola. From now on thugh they could whistle for it.
"I wish people would leave the poor kid alone", said Kieran, when Hillyard gravitated towards him and told him what had happened "Tamaz gets a hard enough time from Mieps, without anyone else joining in".
"Was he really hard on him about last night?" said Hillyard.
"I caught him giving him a right telling-off", said Kieran "He had his hand round Tamaz's neck and was shaking him like a wee rabbit. Poor Freaky was so scared he was bawling his head off. I tore Mieps off a strip I can tell you. I said he sounded like a focking gangster!"
"Oh he can be a funny bugger", said Hillyard "It's a rough tenderness he gives Tamaz".
"Yeah, but there's rough and there's downright focking brutal!" said Kieran.
"Kiel!" Joby came galloping towards them "I've just seen a really weird sight. There was a girl looking through the window at us. She had hair all over her face. Looked like a fucking werewolf! I've heard there's a rare disease that does that, but I've never seen it for meself before".
"This is a bloody surreal town!" said Kieran.
The following morning they all packed up to leave, whilst being watched by most of the town, or so it seemed anyway. Tamaz was once more despatched to the pump, this time to fill up everyone's water botttles. Whilst there he was accosted by a band of women, who had all decided to storm the Pleasure Gardens.
Tamaz had unwittingly become a feminist icon. His stubborn determination to drink in the male-only bar had revolutionised womanly thinking in the town. Although it must be said that Tamaz hadn't exactly made his stand for ethical or moral reasons, but mainly because he didn't like being told where he could and couldn't go. This didn't matter though, it was the gesture that was important, not the reasoning behind it.
The women surrounded him, and petted and admired him as though he was a rare piece of porcelain. Tamaz was nervous. At any moment he expected them to start on him about his children, as Glynis always did. The women of Aspiriola wouldn't do this though. Too many had been forced into becoming breeding-machines themselves, browbeaten into reproducing, to not have anything but the utmost empathy with him.
"He's so slender", said one, lifting up his vest and placing her hands on his ribs.
"Ah but I heard he used to be a little on the fat side", said a matronly-looking one, in a teasing manner.
"That was when I lived at the Ministry", said Tamaz "There was nothing else for me to do but eat, and there was always food lying around".
"No wonder everyone wants to look at him", said antoher, feeling the warm undersides of his breasts "I hear you caused quite a stir with the Indigo Players. Many women must have envied you, being up on stage and being stared at all the time".
"Leave it out!" said Tamaz "I spent all my time having my clothes torn off me!"
"But you were being ogled and adored", said the matronly one "That must count for something".
"I suppose so", said Tamaz, although he wasn't one to give up a grievance in a hurry "But I didn't have an easy time of it I can tell you that. You have no idea what it was like to be beaten in front of a crowd of people".
"It must require enormous self-confidence", said the matronly one, who wouldn't have wanted attention drawn to her backside in public for all the money in the world!
"Did other women give you a hard time for that?" said a younger one.
"Not really", Tamaz admitted "Joby was the one who got a hard time of it. Women used to attack him after the show".
The women made sympathetic noises.
"Some people can't tell fact from fiction", said the matronly one "I mean, it's not as if he does anything like that to you in real life is it!"
(For Joby's sake, Tamaz thought he'd better exercise prudence on that one!)
"Come with us to the Pleasure Gardens", said the youngest one "We can carry you in as our mascot".
"I can't", said Tamaz, although out of his finely-tuned sense of mischief he felt he would have liked nothing better "We're leaving soon".
There were great cries of "Oh what a shame!" The women then took turns to kiss him goodbye. Tamaz had never been kissed by a woman before (not unless you counted Mieps anyway), and he found their kisses soft and sweet. They left him reluctantly.
This had truly been Tamaz's finest hour.
"I thought you'd got lost", said Joby, appearing on the scene.
"Joby!" Tamaz flung his arms round his neck.
"They weren't having a go at you were they?" said Joby, indicating the women in the distance.
"No, they were being kind", said Tamaz, with obvious bewilderment.
"You deserve it", said Joby.
"Do I?" said Tamaz.
"I'm proud of you", said Joby.
Tamaz began to cry. Joby finished off filling-up the water bottles.
Leaving town was an even more chaotic affair than arriving had been. People pressed presents on them. Jars of honey, grapes, figs, and even coloured rugs wre all forced onto the hay-cart. Adam continuously said "Oh thanks awfully", and "That'll be most useful".
At one point Kieran jumped off the cart and ran over to the chief of the Town Guards, who was also standing in the crowd. Kieran implored him not to do anything rash to the Governor's family if revolution came to Aspiriola.
"We don't go in for public beheadings here", said the Chief, wryly.
"No, but it's the private ones I'm worried about!" said Kieran, fiercely.
Julian was getting visibly impatient, so Kieran had to dash back to the cart, but he gave a worried look at the town as he left it and had a concerned thought or two for its future. But the truth was that with Aspiriola, as with anywhere on Earth, its future was entirely in its own hands.
The long journey back was relatively uneventful. The only thing of note to occur was Bengo and Bardin discovering a small lake in the forest near the gloomy village, when they had been sent to gather firewood. On seeing it they had torn off their clothes and jumped into the water. Afterwards, Bengo had ridden around on the donkey they had taken with them to carry the firewood. He hid Bardin's clothes in the canvas sling they used to put the firewood in, and then to enact his ruthless brigand fantasy, he put a naked Bardin across the donkey in front of him, and pretended he had just rescued him, taking slaps at Bardin's buttocks until they were crimson. Bardin went along with it, because it was all a harmless giggle, and he relished the feel of the evening air on his naked sore cheeks. He did try desperately to pretend he was afraid of his friend. This wasn't easy as Bengo was about the most amiable, benign man on Earth, even when he was spanking him!
Bengo then decided he wanted to take him back to the Indigo-ites' camp like that, and drag him into the teepee for violent lovemaking, but Bardin balked at this.
"Lady Tamaz would never let me live it down!" said Bardin, sliding off the donkey "We'll do it again in the forest back home".
Bengo was immensely excited by this prospect. He jumped down after him and kissed him on the lips. They lingered for some time over this. When they finally resurfaced they noticed that it was getting darker and colder. The forest now felt sinister, and they took the donkey and the firewood back to the camp.
Back in the sanctuary of the teepee after supper, Bardin's arse caused much comment. Ransey groaned, and said he had thought Bardin was sensible, up til now anyway.
"That looks sore", said Adam "I'll put some ointment on it".
"It's o.k", said Bardin, who was so embarrassed that his face was matching his butt.
"I insist", said Adam "If you leave it, it'll blister and you'll get welts, take it from me".
"The expert!" said Joby.
"You'd better listen to him, Bardin", Ransey sighed, despondently "You're driving tomorrow, and it'll be no bloody good if you can't sit down!"
Bardin drove them home very capably in the end. When they had finished crossing the wasteland they knew they were almost back on home-ground. On the final day's travelling they set off practically in the middle of the night, and reached the forest running up to Midnight Castle when the dawn mist still coated the trees in its pearly sheen. Bengo was sitting next to Bardin on the box, and was so befuddled with tiredness that he almost slid off. Bardin had to hold him on.
They passed Midnight Castle, which slumbered mysteriously in its dew-soaked garden, and then the White House Of Time, and then up to their own forest. They were back on their own territory once more.
That spring was a stormy one, weather-wise. Intense periods of rain, hail and thunder were interspersed with days of intense heat, featuring the kind of clean, golden sunshine that normally only belongs in nostalgic memories.
In the mornings the sunlight poured through the open windows of their cabin on the sloop, and Julian would sit in there working on his log-book. In spite of their peaceful existence, untroubled by visitors, there was always plenty for him to write about.
Adam was having the time of his life. Amongst the many gifts pressed on them by the people of Aspiriola, had been a small chest of scented oils and ointments. He took to bathing and massaging the others in them, setting up Julian's hip-bath in the clearing by the stone cottage. Even Ransey succombed, and groaned with pleasure under Adam's expert hands.
"Adam's made your coffee", said Bengo, carrying the tray into the cabin, where Julian was writing.
"He must be trying to torture me", said Julian, looking appreciatively at Bengo's naked nut-brown body, which glistened with massage oil.
Bengo put the tray on the desk and then glanced curiously at what Julian had been writing.
"Don't be so audacious, slave!" said Julian, pulling his arms behind his back "Or I shall have to punish you!"
Bengo's eyes shone like silver shillings in his brown face. He leaned forward and kissed Julian on the mouth.
"Bardin'll get jealous", said Julian, in a warning voice.
"Yeah, but if you punish me not in the way you think!" said Bengo.
"I hope you realise what you're letting yourself in for", said Julian, putting him across his knee "I'm going to want your backside bright red and blazing hot".
Julian reached for the wooden paddle on his desk and then spanked Bengo with it several times. Whilst he was thus engrossed, Adam came in with another tray, bearing a plate of fruit salad.
"I've brought you a snack", he said "But I can see you're engaged in more interesting pursuits!"
"I'll eat after I've finished with this disobedient slave", said Julian.
"Yes, don't leave him only pink", said Adam, stroking Bengo's behind "Or the poor little thing will die of frustration!"
Bengo moaned with enjoyment, and arched his buttocks under Adam's gentle fingertips.
"I missed my chance, Bengo", said Adam "I should have spanked you after bathing and oiling you".
"Silence!" said Julian, giving him another whack of the paddle.
"I'd better go and keep Bardin occupied", said Adam.
"Tell him if he complains he'll get the same treatment!" said Julian, sternly.
Bengo thought how much Bardin would relish that, and giggled. Julian gave him several more spanks in rapid succession, and Bengo pressed his hardened cock against Julian's leg.
As darkness came on it rained again, and the animals were brought aboard the sloop. Hillyard got the horses into the stalls, but was so drenched he decided to leave grooming them until the morning. As he was emerging from the stalls he met Joby, who was ambling along towards the galley, with his hands tucked into the bib of his canvas apron. He was wearing nothing else, and as he passed Hillyard gazed with abject longing at his naked backside. This was too much for Hillyard, who had spent all day consumed with lust at the sight of Bengo, who had worn his tanned arse like a medal of honour.
He went grumpily along to the cabin, where he found Kieran, Finia, Lonts, and the BBTTs all gathered. All of them were stark naked, apart from the ever-dignified Finia, who was embroidering cushion covers in an armchair.
"Bloody great!" said Hillyard, pulling off his rain-soaked jerkin "I'm out there in all weathers, grafting, and then I come in here and find you lot wafting around like a bunch of fucking Vestal Virgins!"
"We're looking for the blister ointment for Bengo", said Lonts.
"No it's alright, I've got it", said Bardin, pulling the jar out of one of the desk drawers.
"You must be even crazier than I thought", said Tamaz to Bengo "Mieps once used that damn paddle on me, and it hurt like hell! And I was wearing my trousers too!"
"You're all going to have to be silent", said Kieran, sitting cross-legged in a chair "Hillyard's in torment!"
"Not that anyone cares!" said Hillyard.
Lonts had sat in the desk-chair and was spinning it round and round, with an excrutiating screech of castors.
"Lonts!" Hillyard pleaded.
"It was making me dizzy anyway", said Lonts, coming to a standstill.
Bardin bent Bengo over and began rubbing cream into his posterior, tickling his balls as he did so. Hillyard gave a groan of terrible anguish and flung his t-shirt over his head, as though in retreat from the world.
"Don't sit there like that!" said Julian, rampaging rain-soaked into the room "I need drying off. Towel!"
Hillyard groped for one and set to work towel-drying Julian's hair.
"I think it's really cosy in here with the lamps lit", said Lonts, contemplatively.
"A nice place to die of pneumonia!" said Julian.
Joby appeared lugubriously in the doorway, and took in the scene as he dragged the supper-trolley into the room.
"Grub's up", he said "That's if anyone's interested!"
A meal of vegetable curry, boiled rice and fried bananas was served up. Julian grumbled that the smell of the curry would stink out the bedroom.
"That can't be helped", said Adam "We have nowhere else to eat when it rains, not unless you feel like traipsing across to the stone cottage anyway".
"Not particularly", said Julian, listening to the rain hammering on the windows.
"I can see I'll have to build an extra room out there", said Hillyard.
"Just like that?" said Adam.
"Why not?" said Hillyard "We just need something solid and large enough to sit us all down in, that's all".
He set to work organising the "extension", as soon as the rain finished. For the next few weeks they built the new cottage, in-between showers, on the patch of clearing that overlooked the beach. The walls were made out of wood, moss and mud-bricks, baked in the hot sunshine. It was built in a circular style, as being the easiest shape to accommodate them all.
On the First of May Adam took a work-party comprising of Kieran, Joby, Tamaz and Lonts in the hay-cart down to Midnight Castle to pick up any furnishings, and non-perishable food and drink that might still be on the premises. Joby had bemoaned the fact that one day they might run out of alcohol, and had suggested them setting up their own wine production, arguing that wine could be made out of almost anything, even old tea-leaves, and Mieps certainly knew how to do it. Adam, the reformed alcoholic, had refused the idea, saying that it would waste too much sugar. As such, Joby was now determined to uncover a well-stocked wine-cellar at the Castle, in the same way he had once discovered one at the old abbey on Gurran Island. Adam hadn't approved of that either!
"Right", said Adam, when they had parked the car in front of the Castle "This place has been abandoned for some considerable time, so I think we can feel safe to take anything we feel may be of use to us".
"We can ransack the place", said Tamaz.
"There will be no ransacking!" said Adam "If you anything of the kind, you will sit in the cart until we go home!"
Tamaz looked shocked at this unspeakable suggestion.
Adam and Joby went into the Castle to look round. Adam was determined not to spend too long at this mysterious place, and he whisked Joby through the rooms like a very brisk tour-guide.
Most of the furniture had been removed from the house long since. In the dining-room they found a very long oak table, which was so huge Adam joked that the room must have been built round it! They went up a narrow, spiral staircase which led directly from the dining-room up to the first-floor. Most of the bedrooms were also empty. In one though they found a four-poster bed, complete with canopy, curtains and an embroidered bedspread.
"We'll take all the hangings and bedclothes", said Adam "Such things always come in useful".
Joby stood on the bed and unhooked the curtains. As he was doing so Lonts came into the room, clutching a gold chamber-pot which he had found in one of the other rooms.
"They certainly knew how to live in this house!" said Adam "Gold piss-pots forsooth!"
"Yeah, but let's not hang around here", said Joby "This whole place gives me the creeps. I think it changes in the moonlight".
They picked berries from the garden, and then left Midnight Castle to return to its quiet mysteries. Joby had been affected by the strangeness of the place once again, and decided to leave exploring the cellar to another day.
The new cottage was finished soon after, and Adam furnished it with the rugs they had been given in Aspiriola. To demonstrate the solidity of the roof, Bengo, Tamaz and Toppy climbed up onto it and danced around in a circle. Lonts sat below, giggling at their antics.
"Don't you get any ideas about doing that", said Joby, who was leaning against Lonts as though he was a wind-break "It'd never stand up to it!"
"Are you going to water your garden now, Joby?" said Lonts, as Joby dipped a watering-can into a bucket of water.
"Yeah", said Joby "Wanna help?"
"It'll be like the old days when I helped you at the Ministry", Lonts followed him into the long, narrow vegetable garden, which Joby had had to reluctantly erect a wooden fence around in order to keep the goats out.
They worked silently together, as the afternoon sun slanted across the garden-plot.
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