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"Oh God, never again", Joby groaned, swinging his bare legs to the front of the bunk "I'm never gonna drink again".
"Jaysus, how many times have I heard you say that?!" Kieran exclaimed.
"I haven't had a hangover like this since my cousin's wedding, and that's going back a bit!" said Joby "What the hell do they put in the booze round here?"
"LSD usually", Rumble grunted.
"I don't think it was that", said Kieran.
Toppy brought in a bucket of cold water and set it on the floor of the cabin. The others grabbed tooth-mugs and dipped into it thirstily. Julian swaggered into the room fully-dressed, having just been out to help Hillyard exercise the horses.
"How does he do it?" said Joby, in dismay "He never gets a fucking hangover, it's not fair!"
"The Devil looks after his own", said Kieran.
Julian chucked his riding-crop onto the desk and then sank into the chair.
"Toppy!" he yelled, stretching out a leg "Boots!"
Toppy scampered to help Julian off with his footwear. Adam came into the room, drinking coffee.
"Morning Ada", said Julian "Organise yourself a little shopping-gang this morning, to get in plenty of fresh supplies. We're moving on later today".
"Out onto the high seas", Tamaz muttered "Where I'll have to wear that stupid coat".
"Wrong actually, Freaky", said Julian "I've been having another look at the maps. There is a sheltered cove a little to the south of here. We're going there in fact, for a few days anyway. No coats, stupid or intelligent, will have to be worn!"
Julian ordered that Kieran and Tamaz were to stay on the sloop all day. He didn't want any last-minute trouble that would delay their leaving on schedule. Adam took Lonts, Joby and Toppy to help him do the last-minute marketing.
Lonts was distracted by some piglets in a pen in the middle of the market-place. He watched them contentedly, with Snowy under his arm, squelching on his thumb. Although he looked incongruous, this beautiful giant of a man acting like a small child, no one would have dared pick trouble with him. Not only because of his size, but because the older inhabitants remembered all the tales of Baby Lonts's temper rages, which had been the talk of the Ministry Headquarters during Kieran's Presidency. That look of puzzled disbelief which crossed his face always served as the prelude to a rage.
Joby meanwhile was inspecting his teeth in a hand-mirror on one of the nearby stalls. He was convinced he had chipped the edge of one during dinner the night before, and was checking for damage.
"Come with me", said a hunchbacked man, suddenly grabbing his arm "You are to come with me".
"No chance!" said Joby "Fuck off!"
"Is this man giving you trouble, Joby?" said Lonts, appearing on the other side of him.
The hunchback took one look at Lonts and scootled off.
"Not anymore he isn't!" said Joby.
Whilst this bizarre altercation had been going on, Adam and Toppy had been engaged in buying fresh fruit and vegetables, loading them onto a sacktruck which Toppy had pulled all the way from the sloop.
"You lot have got big appetites", said the stall-holder.
"There are 15 of us", said Adam, noticing Joby and Lonts approaching "Oh nice of you to come and help us!"
"Adam, Joby nearly got abducted by a hunchback", said Lonts.
"Nothing remotely surprises me about this crazy town", said Adam "Even comments like that don't shock me now! If you'd both stayed here and helped Toppy and me, instead of leaving us to do all the work, you'd have been fine".
"Stop preening, Toppy!" said Lonts, fiercely.
"I won't have you picking on Toppy", said Adam "We'd be lost without him".
"Oh yeah, course we would!" said Joby, sarcastically.
"He's the only one of you lazy little bastards that does any ironing for a start", said Adam.
"Finia does ironing", said Lonts.
"Only for himself, Julian and Ransey", said Adam "He won't deign to do it for the rest of us".
This was the kind of argument that families find so absorbing amongst themselves, but which is incredibly tedious to the outside world! It was really hardly surprising that with such things to occupy them, the Indigo-ites couldn't be bothered to speculate who the hunchback was working for, or that Codlik had been trying to get their attention for several minutes now.
"Oh hello Codlik", Adam sighed, when he at last noticed him.
"I've just been talking to Julian", said Codlik, in his most self-righteous tone.
"That was nice for you", Adam sighed, again.
"So you're running away again?" said Codlik.
"Don't go any further!" said Adam "Codders, old love, believe it or not, I actually quite like you, and that is why I am completely fed up with losing my temper with you! Yes, we are going, because we have our own people to think of. Not just Patsy's safety, which has been a concern of mine ever since we arrived here, but little Bengo was under threat too".
"And Tamaz was called a witch!" said Lonts.
"Julian has already told me all that", said Codlik.
"Then please listen to him", said Adam "He's not doing this because we're being cowardly. If someone was being a threat to Glynis or little Leon you would feel the same".
Codlik looked dejected. If the Indigo-ites went away, he would have no choice but to go home, back to that glorified hen-coop with its stiff rules and regulations. He tried frantically to think of something to say, but was stalled by the 4 clowns arriving on the scene, having just returned from Ully's funeral.
Ully had left a request that he only wanted a very small funeral service, as he wanted people to remember him alive not dead, and so only his extended brood at the Cabaret had gone along. Bengo and Bardin had painted blue teardrops on their cheeks. This wasn't out of facetiousness, but genuine sadness, and they knew Ully would have appreciated the profound theatricality of it all.
"Oh you look so cute", said Adam, kissing both Bengo and Bardin on the lips "I want to put you both in my pocket!"
"You'd better head back to the sloop quick", said Joby "Before he gets too carried away!"
"We will anyway", said Bardin, and he walked off, leading Bengo by the hand as though he was his kid brother, followed by Farnol and Rumble.
Back at the sloop, Tamaz was in a sulk. He had tried to sneak ashore earlier to be with Joby, but Julian had caught him and given him a couple of slaps. Julian had since gone out with both Mieps and Hillyard. Ransey and Finia had also gone ashore together. Tamaz had been left alone with Kieran, who was asleep in the hammock on deck. Tamaz was very bad-tempered when he saw the 4 clowns returning up the gang-plank.
"Nice that you 4 screwballs can go out enjoying yourselves!" he snapped.
"We've been to a funeral", said Bengo.
"That probably is the height of enjoying yourself where a Ghoomer's concerned!" said Bardin.
"I get confined to this place just because some moron refers to me as a witch", said Tamaz, indignantly.
"We have to protect you", said Bardin "There are a lot of morons in this town".
"You should know, you come from here!" said Tamaz.
Bardin turned him upside-down and held him out over the water. Bengo beseeched him to put him back down, safely on deck preferably.
"The great masterful Bardin strikes again!" said Farnol.
"Bring him back in, Bardy", said Bengo, about as fiercely as he could manage.
"Don't panic, he can swim", said Bardin, bringing Tamaz back aboard nonetheless "I was just teaching him a lesson that's all".
Farnol and Rumble both groaned, from long experience of Bardin's ways. Tamaz, once set on his feet, punched Bardin in the stomach and then hurtled down the quarterdeck steps. Kieran, who had been woken up by all the commotion, tumbled out of the hammock and followed him. Bardin was infuriated by the sniggering of the other clowns, but because of his own fitness had only been slightly winded by the punch, so he was able to run down the steps, yelling at Tamaz.
"Sorry, Ghoomers are off today!" said Kieran, running into the cabin and slamming the door on them. He rammed the bolt across, and Tamaz could be heard yodelling triumphantly inside.
Bardin gave a moan of frustration.
"Serves you right, Bardy", said Bengo.
Then, to Farnol and Rumble's inestimable delight (they were both watching from the top of the quarterdeck steps), Bengo sat down on the bottom step, put Bardin across his knee and spanked him.
"If he'd done that at the end of their act, he'd have brought the house down!" said Rumble.
He was lying with Farnol on the communal bunk underneath the window, as the world sped past outside. Julian came into the room to fetch a cigar. He had just carried out a complete inspection of the sloop, to put his own mind at rest that Codlik hadn't stowed away anywhere. He had even taken a stick and rifled through the hay in the horses' stalls! Of Codlik, mercifully, there was no sign.
"Are you two still chortling about Bardin's punishment?" he said.
"You can't blame us, Julian", said Farnol "When we were kids he made our lives a misery with his bossiness".
"We never thought Bengo would do it", said Rumble.
"Oh Bardin quite enjoys it", said Julian "Which is a good thing".
"How?" said Farnol.
"Because he's got the cutest arse I've ever felt!" said Julian "And I'm an expert on the subject!"
To Farnol and Rumble's great surprise, Bardin hadn't been an "irritable sod" after his spanking. Instead, he was as quiet and docile as they could have possibly wished for. When they commented on this to Bengo, in tones of utter awe, Bengo merely replied that Bardin was always like this "afterwards".
Dinner was eaten in shifts that evening, so that there was always someone driving the boat and manning the sail, as they sliced through the ocean away from the Village of Stairs. Farnol and Rumble ate alongside Bardin and Tamaz, whom Adam had ordered to eat together to resolve their differences. Neither of them said a great deal during the meal. Tamaz occasionally cast a smug, superior look in Bardin's direction. This was totally lost on Bardin, who was shovelling down spoonfuls of rice with a dreamy expression on his face.
At one point Tamaz got hit with some ocean spray and moved his chair closer to Bardin.
"Stop staring at me like that", he ordered.
"Can't take it, eh?" said Bardin.
"Behave Bardin", said Farnol, teasingly "Or we'll set Bengo on you again!"
"Let us get one thing absolutely clear", said Bardin "What happened earlier was just a bit of fun. It happened because I willingly allowed it to happen, because I liked it. That doesn't mean I wasn't totally in control all the time. Bengo still does everything I say. I would only have to whistle on my fingers and he would come running".
"Go on then", said Farnol "Whistle".
"He's not on deck at the moment", said Bardin, looking round him "He's gone below".
"Oh that's very convenient!" said Farnol.
Mieps walked past them, with his pyjama top flapping open over his bare breasts. The 4 seated at supper watched him as though in a hypnotised trance.
"I woke up in the middle of the night", said Farnol, in a whisper "To feel myself groping one of his tits as though it was a bloody cow's udder! He hasn't said anything though, so I don't think I'm in trouble".
"He wouldn't mind", said Tamaz, shortly "He's an old tart, he enjoys being touched up!"
In spite of this scurrilous conversation the rest of supper passed very pleasently. The forward deck was lit by lanterns, which made them feel, in the inky tropical darkness, as though they were the only people on the planet. Bardin left the supper table and went below to the cabin, where Mieps was lying asleep at one end of the bunk, and Bengo at the other. Bardin sat down close by Bengo, and began to remove his clothes.
"Bardy", Bengo sat up and kissed his friend's shoulder "You look tired".
"Tired of Farnol", Bardin snapped "He was getting at me all through supper".
"What about?" said Bengo.
"What d'ya think!" said Bardin "Apparently the one thing he's been waiting for all his life is to see me get my come-uppance, and you satisfied it!"
"He's just winding you up", said Bengo "Farnol's not vindictive".
"Just a complete prat", said Bardin "He and Rumble used to advertise themselves as the World's Coolest Clowns. It should have been the World's Most Unemployed Clowns!"
"You wind him up more than he winds you up", said Bengo.
Bardin blushed, almost as much as he had earlier when Bengo had smacked his butt.
"I can see I'm gonna have to call you Mrs Bardin", Bardin snapped "You carry on as though you're my wife!"
"If that's what you'd like", said Bengo, lying back against the mattress "I did offer to marry you".
"You wouldn't want to marry an ugly git like me", said Bardin, sombrely.
"Do you want me to spank your arse again?!" said Bengo.
Bardin climbed onto the bunk with him.
When Adam and Julian came in a short while later, both the clowns were lying asleep in each other's arms, their well-toned naked bodies looking very delectable in the lamplight.
"Oh Jules, aren't they sweet?" said Adam.
"We must be getting old", said Julian "When that's the first thing we think!"
The following day they reached the sheltered coves, which were like a miniature lush paradise, and noisy with tropical birds. An old mountain road ran up from the beach to the hills immediately behind. Julian told Bardin to take the rest of the under-30s (now 6 in number) on a short trip up the track, to exercise the donkeys. That was the excuse anyway. The real reason was that Julian wanted to see how Bardin coped with the two new recruits swelling the ranks. Bardin rebelled. He demanded an audience alone with Julian in the cabin, and said that he didn't have any confidence that he could handle the other clowns.
"Oh yes you can", said Julian, firmly "Just because they gave you a bit of ragging yesterday! You think I've never handled anything like that? I've had to put up with a lot worse than you! Do you think it's been easy for me over the years trying to impose authority on the likes of Ransey, Hillyard, Kieran, Joby with his Marxist leanings, and Lonts ... Lonts, who should be used as a blueprint for the most difficult insubordinate anyone is likely to get! I had to mind him all by myself when we got lost in the hills above Zilligot Bay. I had to make sure I brought back Adam's little darling in one piece! And all I'm asking of you is to take the others on a very short donkey-trek!"
"But Julian ..." Bardin whimpered, pathetically.
"Bardin, you have intelligence, commonsense, and force of personality", said Julian "The others only have force of personality! I haven't appointed you as my successor for nothing. Now if you persist in this defeatist bleating I shall bend you over the back of my chiar and thrash you with my cane! Is that clear?"
Bardin nodded, his little round, brown eyes popping with excitement.
Tamaz was in a foul mood. He didn't like being packed off with the clowns and Toppy when he wanted to be with Joby, and to make matters worse Bardin had given him the little dopey donkey to lead, who showed precious little inclination for walking up-hill.
All 6 of them were astonished to find civilisation at the top of the hill. In a cliff-top clearing was situated a simple, one-roomed inn, which had a couple of horse-troughs out the front. The nearest big town was the Village of Stairs, but the area in between had a population of sorts, albeit one scattered sparsely over a wide range.
Rumble and Tamaz left the others to water the donkeys, and went inside the building to order some beer. The place was busy, but there didn't seem to be any women around. It was getting increasingly hard these days to predict which areas were going to be single-sexed and which were mixed-sex. It was always more of a worry if an area was single-sexed, as it meant they had to be extra vigilant regarding Tamaz. This problem was compounded when he was wearing only a singlet and a pair of lacey be-ribboned drawers, as he was today!
Rumble ordered a couple of stone flagons of beer, and the bartender told them to wait whilst they were being poured. A cushioned sofa was situated next to the counter, with a couple of hard-backed chairs by it. To Rumble's surprise, Tamaz chose to sit on a hard chair.
"No point in being uncomfortable when you don't have to be", said Rumble, sitting down on the sofa.
Tamaz glared at him, as though silently asking him how he dared speak! This had little effect on Rumble, who always looked at everyone in a calm, implacable way. Tamaz climbed over him, and sat down close to him on the sofa. He stroked Rumble's long pony-tail, dreamily. They had both nearly dozed off when Farnol came in and yelled Rumble's name at the top of his voice.
"What?" said Rumble, sleepily opening one eye.
"Just wanted to say hi", said Farnol, before going over to the bar where the others were paying for the beer, out of a small bag of coins which Bardin wore around his neck.
"He's like a great big kid", said Tamaz, as he and Rumble went back into doze-mode.
"Julian was right about you", said Farnol, squeezing Bardin's backside "You have got a neat arse. I've never noticed it before".
"Yeah, but don't go getting any ideas", said Bardin.
The bartender placed a plate of sausages, a jar of mustard and a loaf of bread in front of them. Bengo forked up one of the sausages and began munching on it.
"Take this lot over to our table", Bardin ordered Farnol and Toppy "Before Bengo eats them all!"
After the other 2 had carried the refreshments away, Bardin caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar. He ran his finger around his mouth, tracing the outline of his lips. Bengo watched him, whilst mentally bracing himself for another attack of harelip-angst.
"I read an article in one of Finia's magazines the other day", said Bardin, quietly "Apparently they can do corrective surgery now to put this sort of thing right".
"If that's what you really want", Bengo sighed "Then ask Hillyard. I expect he'll give you the money to have it done".
"I know, but I don't want it", said Bardin "Not anymore. It doesn't matter anymore. Years ago I was obsessed with it. All I could think was that when people saw me, all they saw was a clown with a crooked mouth. But it doesn't matter a damn anymore. If it doesn't matter to you, then it doesn't matter to me".
"It never has mattered to me!" said Bengo, in exasperation "Even when we were kids I didn't take any notice of it. It was just all part of you being you. Bardin. You made such a song and dance about me kissing you on the mouth for the first time, but I'd have kissed you anytime if I'd known that's what you wanted!"
To illustrate his point, Bengo smooched him on the mouth, until they were barked at by the landlord, who said he didn't want That Sort Of Thing going on in his bar.
"You've got to have a weird mentality to object to people kissing", said Bengo, walking over to the others.
"Well you'd have to be weird to live out here!" said Bardin.
They all polished off the sausages and the beer in a leisurely fashion. When they thought the worst heat of the day would be over they got up to leave.
"Hey", said the landlord, stalling them on their way out "I want a word. You tell that Kieran I've got problems. Come night-time, a vampire gets up on my roof and plagues the hell out of us. You tell him that!"
"The vampires were all destroyed", said Bardin, wearily.
"This one bloody wasn't!" said the landlord "You tell him. I want him up here, sorting it out!"
"Don't you say a word to the little blonde guy", Tamaz hissed, once they were all back outside "Joby would be really upset".
"If it's true", said Rumble "That might be who's been taking people from the Village of Stairs".
"That's their problem!" Tamaz squawked "None of you says a word. Do you hear me?"
The other 5 all shrugged and nodded, as if to say "Yeah, suits me". No one particularly wanted Kieran to go off vampire-hunting.
"Good, that's settled then", said Tamaz "Joby would be pleased".
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