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The darkness of evening fell on the Castle very soon after. The Indigo-ites decided to stay the night there, and postpone leaving until the morning. The slaves claimed that zombies had often been seen in the forest after dark, and after their recent sighting of such creatures, the Indigo-ites decided not to take the risk, and barred the big outside doors.
A strange few hours followed, although not unpleasent by any means. The slaves gave them no trouble, but they didn't go mad with joy at now having the Castle in their control, as might have been reasonably expected. Many of them kept themselves to themselves, and drifted around numbly like people who had been incarcerated too long in an institution.
"Zombies in the forest, vampires in the rafters", said Joby "Terrific!"
Whilst waiting for Kieran and Tamaz to return from the tower, he and Adam had had an almighty row, brought on naturally enough by the stain and worry of it all. They traded insults with great energy and inventiveness, and were so carried away with this they didn't at first notice the others return. They barely had when Lonts, who had been practically beside himself the whole time, had picked Tamaz up and carried him into the main part of the Castle.
"The cheeky little bastard!" said Joby "Did you see that?"
"Serves you right for calling me an old mincer!" said Adam, and he, Joby and Kieran went for a dip in the courtyard pond.
Lonts and Tamaz found any number of bedrooms on the first floor of the Castle. All of them interconnected like a giant puzzle, and all contained beds of startling seductiveness in their different designs. They eventually chose a bed hanging from the ceiling by silver chains. Lonts slipped the black dress off Tamaz's shoulders, and made love to him in the hanging bed.
Soon after they were interrupted by Bengo, who had got lost whilst exploring this maze of bedrooms with some of the others. Lonts was just debating with himself whether to ask him up onto the bed with them, when Bardin appeared and spirited Bengo away into the next room, which contained a massive satin-covered bed on a raised dais.
"No need to be angry, Bardy", said Bengo "Dalman's destroyed so we're all safe now".
"Hardly!" said Bardin "You were told to stick by me at all times, but you never listen! You've got a brain made out of balsa wood! You're a thoughtless, selfish dork. You always have been. You've never cared about my feelings. I'm glad you get walloped a lot, you deserve it!"
"So do you", said Bengo "I-I mean, you get walloped a lot, not t-that you deserve it".
In a furious frenzy of activity Bardin spanked Bengo, then tore his clothes off him and made love to him amongst the many satin cushions on the bed. Afterwards, Bengo lay in his arms, overwhelmed by contentment.
"I always wanted someone to take care of me", he said, softly "That was always all I ever wanted. It never occurred to me that it would be you all along".
"I don't see why not", said Bardin, sitting propped up on his elbow, gazing at him "It was always me who took care of you, right from when we were small kids. Only you could be daft enough to run away - literally - from what you really wanted!"
"I know", said Bengo, miserably "I must be even more stupid than everyone thinks!"
"I adore you, Bengo", said Bardin, kissing his face gently.
"You're my master", said Bengo.
"As long as occasionally you can be mine", Bardin smiled.
They slept for a little while and were woken by Adam peering under the sheets and cushions at them.
"I'm looking for Lo-Lo and Tamaz", he said, in a whisper.
"Next room", said Bengo, drowsily.
"Jules wants everyone in the main room downstairs", said Adam.
"But we're comfortable here", said Bengo.
"I know", said Adam "But he says there are too many weird things at large around here. Go on now".
The clowns got reluctantly out of bed, put on their clothes and went out into the corridor. They came across Rumble and Farnol opening doors, trying to find their way to the ground floor.
"I know the way", said Bardin, tugging Bengo along by his hand "Follow me".
"Bardy knows everything", said Bengo "He's perfect".
Rumble looked completely shocked by this statement.
"That's a fact that's completely escaped us up to now!" said Farnol.
He and Rumble also linked hands and followed the other two down the moonlit corridor. They came across Hoowie, who was waltzing with a wax dummy of a woman.
"Hoowie's found someone of his own intellectual standard at last!" said Bardin.
"That's not fair on the dummy!" said Rumble.
Hoowie unceremoniously dumped the dummy on the floor and trailed along behind them.
"Hey, don't I get to hold hands with anyone?" he said.
"Just keep up", said Bardin "And belt up".
They went down to the ground floor, where most of the others, and a fair smattering of slaves, were sitting around on cushions and well-upholstered chairs.
"Ah sweet clowns", said Julian, as Bengo and Bardin sat down on either arm of his chair.
"That's some cardigan you've got on, Jonner", said Bardin.
"He looks like Solzhenitsyn in exile!" said Julian.
"Probably find he's got a few mice nesting in parts of it", said Joby.
"Where's Adam gone?" said a pretty girl with frizzy red hair, who had been strumming on a lute.
"He'll be back in a minute", said Joby.
"I think he's such a lovely man", said the lute-girl "I wish he was my dad".
"No you don't!" said Joby.
"Mother more like", said Julian "Mommie dearest!"
Adam returned a few minutes later with Lonts and Tamaz. Tamaz announced that he didn't want to wear the black velvet gown for a moment longer. Trouble was, his other clothes had been left in the ground-floor room of the tower. Kieran and Joby said they would take him across to fetch them.
"Don't be gone all night", said Julian "There is far too much to this place that doesn't meet the eye!"
In the eerie silence of the tower, Joby helped Tamaz to dress by the light of a candle flickering in a clay-holder.
"What about this?" said Joby, indicating the black gown.
"Leave it here, I don't want it", said Tamaz "One of the girl-slaves can have it. They look like they could do with some clothes!"
"Spoilsport!" Joby chuckled.
A morbid groaning sound came from the other side of the perimeter wall. Zombies were at large in the forest.
"It's alright", said Joby, reassuringly "They can't get in".
"But what if one of those daft slaves opens the main doors?" said Tamaz.
"None of 'em are THAT daft!" said Joby "They know the score in this neighbourhood better 'en we do. Anyway, we could always use you on the zombies!"
"Very funny", said Tamaz.
"Where's Kieran gone?" Joby whirled round in panic.
"The door to the stairs is open", said Tamaz "He must have gone up there".
"I'll kill the little scrote!" said Joby "I'll break his arse when I get hold of him!"
"Can I watch?" said Tamaz "As a reward? I want to know if you smack him as hard as you do me".
"You're impossible!" said Joby.
They went up to the top floor, where Joby came to a halt by Dalman's stony corpse which lay curled up on the floor, immortalised in agony.
"So now you know what I'm capable of", said Tamaz, quietly.
"Were you frightened?" said Joby.
"Yes", said Tamaz "I was terrified it wouldn't go away again, the power I mean. I thought I might end up like Her, at the mercy of it. And that snakes might sprout from my hair. It was a big gamble. Kieran said it worked because I'm half-human, not a monster like she was".
"Well", Joby sighed "Nice to know Ransey's sperm came in useful for something in the end!"
"The little blonde guy seems to be in the corridor of mirrors", said Tamaz.
When they got in there Kieran had his back to them, talking to Angel, who was crouched on all fours like a large insect. He looked startled when Joby and Tamaz came in, and instinctively backed away. Joby was quite intrigued to notice that Angel really did have no reflection in the mirrors surrounding him!
"You will do that for us?" Angel asked Kieran.
"It's a good solution", said Kieran.
Angel nodded and then scuttled speedily away, vanishing into a large hole in the wall at the far end of the corridor, where he pulled a white-painted stone into place behind him.
"What was that all about?" said Joby.
"Just a spot business", said Kieran "Don't look so worried, I wasn't in any danger".
"Oh yeah?" said Joby "And what is it you're gonna do for 'em?"
"Nothing meself", said Kieran, glibly.
He ran down the corridor which connected the tower to the main part of the house, with the other two in hot pursuit. They wound up in the large bedroom that Bengo and Bardin had recently vacated. The bed was still rumpled, and moonlight flooded in through the long windows. A small cat streaked past them, keeping to the edge of the moonlight thrown on the floor, as though it disturbed him.
"Now don't go on, Joby", said Kieran, throwing his arms round Joby's neck.
"Don't go on?!" said Joby, in disbelief "This place is weirder than the Loud House and Midnight Castle put together, and you wonder why I get narked 'cos you go having secret meetings with vampires on the top floor!"
"You've got to admit it's a lot more comfortable than the Loud House", said Kieran.
"What if there are fucking time-pockets here?" said Joby "Like at the house in the forest. You might have slipped into one all by yourself! You and me could have spent the rest of our lives searching through time for each other!"
"Ah you English are such romantics at heart", said Kieran.
"Stop teasing me, I'm being serious", said Joby.
"So am I", said Kieran.
Tamaz had wrenched open the doors of the big wooden wardrobe, which was the only other piece of furniture in the room, and was pulling items of clothing out of it and discarding them on the floor. A luxuriant fur-wrap took his fancy though and he put it lovingly around his shoulders.
"Can I have this as part of my reward as well?" he said.
"Stop going on about a reward", said Joby "No one's said anything about a reward".
"You didn't really think there wouldn't be one?" Kieran exclaimed "You don't know Tamaz as well as I thought!"
"All this stuff probably belongs to some of the slaves", said Joby "So you can't have it".
"The slaves?" said Tamaz, sneeringly "Why would a poxy little slave have an expensive thing like this?"
"Because they haven't always been slaves", said Joby, with forced patience "From what I can gather some of the girls were abducted from the Marsh Village, and no one's short of money there. Anyway, you've already got enough furs. You've practically got one for every day of the week, and I'm surprised Kieran lets you have any".
"Oh I can't lecture other people about wearing furs", said Kieran "I've worn too many meself in me time".
"Only 'cos you had to", said Joby "It was either that or freeze to death. Not 'cos you're a spoilt little sod like this one here!"
"Feel the softness of it", said Tamaz, stroking Joby's face with the end of it.
"I'll buy you one just like it", said Kieran.
"No, better still", said Tamaz "Buy a fur rug, and then you can both make love to me on it. I happen to know that's one of Joby's favourite fantasies".
"Is it?" said Kieran "You kept that quiet!"
"A fur rug in front of a roaring fire", said Tamaz "Trouble is, we tend to live in hot places these days so it doesn't seem practical. And at the Town House there's always too many of the others around".
"There's the big house", said Kieran "We could've managed something there".
"Pearls too", said Tamaz, pulling a long rope of them out of a drawer in the wardrobe "I could have loads of them against my naked flesh".
"This fantasy's getting more expensive by the minute!" said Kieran.
"If it involves Tamaz that hardly comes as a surprise!" said Joby.
A little after midnight Julian, Ransey and Hillyard went on a mini-tour of inspection to see how all the slaves were. During the course of it they found a few more that were still manacled to the walls, and in one of the ground-floor bedrooms, the bed-posts. They liberated them and directed them to Finia, who would attend to any blisters and sores.
They concluded the tour by going up onto the battlements and looking out over the immediate forest. A few zombies were milling about, stumbling into the buggies still parked outside, and fruitlessly pressing up against the main doors, perplexed as to why these objects wouldn't move out of their way.
In spite of the zombies' presence, the forest was still an awesomely beautiful place. So much so that there ws a strong air of unreality about it, like a very vivid Impressionist painting, or the tales people who claimed to have had Near-Death Experiences told of seeing a beautiful garden where all the plants and flowers were so much bigger, more colourful and vibrant than those we normally see.
"Julian, look!" Hillyard cried.
A white unicorn was cantering through the trees on the other side of the clearing, its flesh gleaming silver in the moonlight. Julian couldn't think of anything adequate to say, so he kept to an awed silence.
"I think I've seen just about everything now", said Ransey.
"Yeah", Hillyard laughed, feeling deliriously happy "I want to go home now!"
For the meantime though they were stuck at the Castle, whilst the hours of darkness lasted at any rate. A few of the slaves were disconcerted at being rescued. One young boy, who still insisted on walking around in a crouched posture as Dalman had ordered him to, said that he was afraid of emerging back into the outside world after 2 years at the Castle. No amount of soft words and reassurance would make him feel better about it.
"He's crazy", said Joby, walking along a back corridor with Adam "When Kieran and me were taken prisoner by Gabriel at Mundaba Heights, all I could think of was getting away from there".
"Because you had someone to look out for", said Adam "When you're alone it's a different matter entirely. After so long even the most brutal of captivity seems preferable to fending for oneself alone in the world".
"Is that how you felt?" said Joby "When you were in prison back in our time?"
"I didn't seem to feel anything very much", said Adam "Not for a long time. There was just this numbness".
"It must have been terrible", said Joby "All alone in a place like that".
"It was, but strangely it wasn't much different to what a lot of my life had been like", said Adam "Some of the bullying I got subjected to was very reminiscent of my schooldays. All-male institutions don't vary very much, whether it be prisons, boot camps or public schools!"
"Even so, I bet you wish Julian had been putting up with it instead of you!" said Joby.
"He would have been alright", said Adam "He would have been running the place within a week! Put Jules into any situation and he'll come out on top. And the reason for that is that, contrary to all appearances sometimes, he has an immense amount of self-discipline. Far more so than me. He can submerge his true feelings if he has to, something I've never been able to do".
"Nor me", said Joby.
Adam slipped his arm round Joby's shoulders and they strolled in silence for a while, until they reached the corridor that led up alongside the main downstairs room. Ransey was just coming in from outside, through a side door. Nearby, Tamaz was ransacking the contents of a trunk, whilst watched adoringly by Lonts and Toppy.
"You must be very proud of your young boy", said Adam, and then noticing Tamaz decking himself out in yet more jewellery "Or perhaps I should say young girl!"
"Shame he couldn't have turned Dalman to stone back in the Marsh Village", said Ransey "It would have saved us all a lot of trouble".
"Oh Ransey!" said Adam, in exasperation.
"That was a joke!" said Ransey "Don't you know my sense of humour by now?"
"No, it's too weird", said Joby.
"It's certainly obscure at times", said Adam.
"Actually I'm glad he didn't show us back then what he could do", said Ransey "Or we'd have probably killed him! Nice to see he's inherited my gift for canny subterfuge".
"Tamaz", said Joby "We've already had all this. Put the things away, they're not yours to keep. You're like a bloody magpie!"
"I'm never allowed to have anything", said Tamaz, pulling the jewellery off his hands and wrists "I never get anything nice from you lot. I just get punished all the time".
He opened the door to the main room and glanced back at them as he went in.
"I am treated like a worm!" he cried, as a parting-shot.
Julian was standing in the middle of the nest of chairs in the main room, telling those assembled there about the sighting of the white unicorn. This news was so extraordinary that it even stopped Jonner from lighting his cigarette. Tamaz tugged on Julian's sleeve.
"Whatever it is, Freaky", said Julian, placing his hand on the top of Tamaz's head "We'll buy it for you in the Village of Stairs!"
A sudden, cold breeze swept through the room, like an electric current, causing everyone to look alarmed.
"It's o.k", said Kieran, reassuringly "I think that was just some dying remnants of Dalman's power. It can't cause any harm".
Codlik made love to Mieps during the course of that long night, hiding themselves away in a ground-floor room, with Codlik burying his face in Mieps's breasts. He felt ashamed afterwards, believing that it had happened because he was using Mieps as a substitute for Glynis. Partly true, but partly it had been on the cards ever since they had shared the same room back at the Town House. Codlik was both excited and repelled by Mieps at the same time. Whatever. The truth is, rationality rarely comes into sexual feelings. And repulsion is certainly no guarantee of non-attraction.
They were woken at dawn by the sound of some of the girl-slaves singing. The young women were roaming around the courtyard, picking flowers and making garlands of them as a leaving celebration. The flowers were from the trees and bushes that seemed to have grown supernaturally during the hours of darkness.
"It wouldn't surprise me if nothing ever decayed in this place", said Adam, who was bathing in the courtyard pond with a few of the others "Or that everything replenished itself overnight".
"Then why leave?" said the Fat Witchfinder, who was sitting on the edge of the pond "We all have everything we need here. We could seal ourselves off behind these walls and start our own new race. It's only similar to what you guys are trying to do at the Bay".
"I don't think we'd get very far with starting a new race!" said Adam "And I also don't think this is the place to retreat to. It's very beautiful and magical, but I have a feeling ultimately it's a dark magic. It weaves too much of a spell of unreality. You can't accept anything at face value here".
The truth was, everything at the Castle was simply too beautiful. Anyone who stayed there too long would end up drifting around in an abstract trance. It was as much to be trusted as someone who insisted on only ever having beautiful friends.
Adam got out of the water, dried himself sketchily, and then went round the corner to where Lonts was watching Hillyard get an old truck started. It had a cargo section large enough to transport all the slaves back to the Village of Stairs. Lonts was leaning back against a wall, with Snowy under his arm and his thumb in his mouth. He looked dreadfully tired, as they all did.
"We'll be home soon", said Adam, gently "And then we can sleep".
The clowns meanwhile were all too excitable (nothing new there), enhanced by the fact that they would be leaving the drug-like confines of the Castle soon. Hoowie as usual was being the butt of their scorn, but then his supreme ego did tend to rather lend itself to this.
"Hoowie thinks he's so fascinating", they chanted "That's why he can't stop masturbating!"
Mieps sidled past, casting them fierce looks, as they all redirected their laughter at him. Codlik couldn't have looked more penitent if he'd worn sackcloth and ashes, and guiltily jumped out of his skin if anyone spoke to him.
"There must be something about your tits, Mieps", said Hoowie "Can you squirt milk out of 'em or something?"
Mieps went to pull a breast out of his shirt. The clowns squealed and backed away.
"You and your great foghorn of a mouth!" Bardin snapped at Hoowie.
"Adam", Codlik bleated, nervously "Please don't let them start on me".
"Oh do stop looking so hunted, Codders", said Adam "It's distressing, and completely unnecessary. We all do naughty things from time to time".
"Yes, but I don't need them to enhance my shame", Codlik wailed.
"For heaven's sake!" said Adam "If it makes you feel any better we'll have them flogged if they say a single word!"
"I hope Glynis never gets to hear about this", said Kieran, who was standing over by the main doors with Joby and Tamaz.
"She can't say anything", said Joby "Just mention the word 'Hillyard' if she does. Anyway, that's their problem. With any luck we won't have to see 'em both together. But if we do, don't you go saying anything, Tamaz".
"Humph, I'm not remotely interested in talking to her", said Tamaz "I am very busy, I have more important things to do with my time".
"Yeah, going shopping probably!" said Joby.
Ransey had been up on the battlements for the past hour, and now he gave the signal that all was clear, that the zombies had disappeared, and it was safe to leave. The big doors were opened with difficulty, as the grass and plants that grew around the walls had increased in profusion during the night, and were now crawling over the doors, as though those inside had been incarcerated for many years like the Sleeping Beauty.
The Fat Witchfinder had volunteered to drive the truck of slaves out first, and go on ahead back to the town. The frizzy-haired lute-player seemed to be disconsolate at being separated from nice, gentle Adam, and she took a lot of persuading before she climbed aboard with the other slaves.
"Ah we might have trouble with her", said Julian, as the truck set off down the forest track.
"Don't be silly, Jules", said Adam "She knows how things are".
"That doesn't always deter them", said Julian "Not when they're as smitten as she is. It wouldn't surprise me if she offered to wear a strap-on for you!"
"I rather think she's got more self-respect than that", said Adam, crossly "Anyway, she's believing in an illusion. She thinks I'm all nice and kind and fatherly all the time".
"Yes, she hasn't seen the real you yet!" said Julian.
Adam said something snotty as a rejoinder, and went to help Lonts settle into the back of their buggy.
"Strapping him into his baby-seat?" said Julian, following him over.
"You are being extremely tiresome this morning", said Adam "You're rapidly pushing me to the end of my tether. I strongly advise you not to make your usual sarcastic jibes about my driving on the way home".
"I shall try not to", Julian sighed, as though in deep sorrow "But I won't pretend it'll be easy. There is considerable room for improvement there".
"Just shut up!" said Adam "Be silent until we get home".
Kieran and Joby were the last to leave the Castle. As they left, Angel and Caln appeared in the doorway, silently, evoking unwelcome memories in Joby of the sinister, predatory way they had moved at the Winter Palace.
"Look, what's going on here?" he said "Amongst you lot".
"They're having the Castle", said Kieran "To live in. They won't bother anyone out here".
"Oh yeah?" said Joby, with considerable scepticism "Kieran, vampires EAT PEOPLE! They go out and fucking eat people, tear them limb from limb! In no time at all this place is gonna be just like the Winter Palace, and there'll be even more people disappearing from the Village of Stairs than there were when Dalman was here!"
"No it won't happen like that", said Kieran "They can eat the zombies, because the zombies get replenished every night like the flowers and trees do".
"And what about if they get tired of eating the same thing everyday?" said Joby.
"It'll work, I know it will", said Kieran.
"You're crazy!" said Joby "C'mon, we're going home".
He pulled Kieran towards the buggy. Behind them the big doors slammed shut and Joby gave a shudder, as though someone had walked over his grave. He got into the driver's seat, which annoyed Kieran as he had hoped to drive on the way back.
With Tamaz sitting in the middle they set off. Joby was fuming so much though that his concentration was all shot to pieces and they had barely gone a 100 yards when he drove into the back of the buggy that Hillyard was driving. Joby sat there forlornly whilst Hlllyard got out and shouted at him.
"It's o.k", said Kieran, climbing over the buggy "I'll drive from now on. Don't argue, Joby. It's obvious your driving hasn't improved at all in the past 2000 years!"
Joby looked mutinous but swapped places anyway. In the buggy behind them Julian made caustic comments, whilst Adam silently fumed. Bardin impatiently slammed his hand on the horn in the buggy behind them.
"It is not my fault!" Adam yelled over his shoulder "We're never going to get home at this rate!"
"Move it, you little bastards!" Julian roared.
"We are just about to, good sir", said Kieran, slipping into driver's seat.
"Natural superiority works every time", said Julian, smugly.
"I am too tired to give you the response you deserve!" said Adam.
"Now we'll see some real driving", said Kieran, and promptly stalled the vehicle.
"Good start", said Joby, lugubriously.
Kieran threw it into gear, and they were finally on their way, speeding out across the exhilarating, empty plains in the bright light of day, far away from the Castle.
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