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By Sarah Hapgood

In mid-July they were passed over by an air-buggy, which dropped large bundles of goodies along the beach. Julian ordered the younger 7 to go down and collect them. Glynis had sent them the supplies from the copious food-stores up at the big house, including packets of seeds for Joby, and a joke present of a small lacey bra for Tamaz, "as it's high time he was wearing one", she remarked cheekily in the letter which she had attached to it, sealed in a waterproof wrapper.

The letter also included details of the tour which the Toondor Lanpin Festival Of Arts (as it was now grandly called), was undertaking in the autumn. This was entirely at Brinslee's instigation, as he said he wanted to bring some culture to Port West ("Then why invite the Toondor Lanpin Festival there?" said Ransey). As such, the entire caboodle was flying up there in October. Naturally (only too naturally in Julian's opinion) this suggested that the clowns should also go and take a prominent role in the entertainment.

"All cunningly scheduled for hurricane season I see", said Julian "When she knows we have to leave here. I sometimes think Glynis and Brinslee have formed a conspiracy together!"

"I also detect the Hand Of Codlik in all this", said Adam "He's probably been grizzling ever since they got home that we are all a bunch of irresponsible, idle louts who shut ourselves off from the outside world".

"Hardly surprising with him at large in it!" Joby grunted.

The letter had revealed to them all once again that their stay at the Bay wasn't indefinite, and that it was now only a matter of a few weeks before they would have to leave again. As usual they had lost all track of time, and this had brought it home to them. Adam was worried to see Lonts standing in a pose of dejection, his head almost resting on his chest. Lonts's retreats into moody silence had always been more alarming than his rages. Many years ago, when they had lived at the Ministry H.Q, Adam had consulted a fleet of psychiatrists in an effort to understand what caused Lonts's sudden and extreme mood swings. Apparently the intense brooding silences, he was told, were Lonts's defense mechanism against the rush of violent conflicting emotions which could suddenly pour into his mind at once, and againt which he was powerless to fight, as he possessed no firm foundations of logical thought with which to combat them. The only way to protect himself was to shut down completely and retreat into a numbed silence. It was obvious to Adam that the thought of leaving the Bay and going up to Port West, a place with strong associations with the Bone-House, was distressing Lonts greatly.

"It could be quite fun", said Adam, cajolingly "All our friends from Toondor Lanpin will be there, so it won't seem at all strange, and we've always enjoyed doing the Festival before. And Brinslee's invited us to stay at the Governor's House, which should be very comfortable".

"Well", Bardin sighed, having sat in glum silence with the other clowns "We shouldn't have to do too much rehearsing. We can just do some of our old routines and sketches".

"Me and Rumble could do some of our old street routines", said Farnol.

"Don't tell me the infamous 'Love In The Laundry' sketch is going to get revived?" said Ransey "The one that starts riots and topples world leaders!"

"Not with me in it it's not!" said Tamaz.

"You have to be in it", said Bardin "The punters'll be disappointed if you don't appear with us".

"See if I care!" said Tamaz "I'm not doing it and that's final!"

He stamped over to the mud-bricked cottage, which had recently been fitted with a gate-cum-door made out of wooden stakes, to keep out the goats. Tamaz slammed into the cottage, booting out a chicken as he did so, and pulled the door shut behind him, as though pulling up the drawbridge on a castle.

Julian also retreated in annoyance. He went to the cabin on the sloop and tried to pour out his feelings into his log-book. He didn't get very far though, and had to stop to light a cigar and seek refuge in the brandy decanter. Adam came in soon after, to collect Lonts's bag of little wooden bears, hoping to cheer him up somehow.

"Sometimes I wish I was a real fucking Father Superior", said Julian.

"You wouldn't be able to get away with language like that if you were!" said Adam "And the cigar would have to go. Possibly the brandy too, you might have to content yourself with the odd swig from the communion wine instead!"

"If we were a real order of monks no one would bother us", said Julian "They'd leave us in peace".

"I doubt it", said Adam "Anyway, being a real monk would be dreadfully tedious. We'd have to stop our exquisite visits to Midnight Castle for one thing, and there would be no group sex, and you wouldn't be able to take such obvious pleasure from beating everyone. You'd have to pretend it was a painful, onerous duty instead, and I think that would be beyond you, quite frankly!"

"Adam", Lonts drifted into the room, dangling Snowy by his foot.

"Ah Lo-Lo, I was just coming", said Adam "I'd just come in here to fetch your little bears".

"I'm not a baby to be fobbed off", said Lonts, scowling at him.

"Hey!" said Julian, sternly "Less of that, you ungrateful little wretch! Adam's only trying to make you feel better. Stop behaving like a spoilt brat and show a bit of concern for his feelings for a change".

Lonts's bottom lip trembled and he began to cry silently, tears rolling down his big face out of his deep, dark eyes.

"Oh Jules, that was a bit harsh, old love", Adam kissed Lonts and gently wiped away his tears.

"No it wasn't", said Julian "You've always wanted me to be the strict one with him, because you're incapable of it, and then you start bleating when I put him in his place!"

"I WAS thinking of Adam!" Lonts sobbed "We had such a bad time in Port West before".

"But that was a long time ago, Lo-Lo", said Adam, soothingly "We shan't be going anywhere near the Bone-House. It's all a different world now, and you'll see that when we get there. We'll have great fun helping with the show, just like the very first Festival we did".

"That's another thing", said Lonts "Tamaz doesn't want to be in the show. You can't blame him can you? It's not much fun for him, when all he gets is his clothes torn off him all the time".

"That is the whole purpose of his existence", said Julian "His sole reason for being".

"Jules!" Adam laughed "Anyway, I don't see as how he has much cause for complaint. Poor little Bengo goes through much worse humiliation, being knocked about with washboards and pushed headfirst into laundry tubs".

"But Bengo can put up with it", said Lonts "He's not delicate and sensitive like Tamaz".

Julian gave a hoot of incredulous laughter.

"Freaky is about as delicate and sensitive as a nuclear warhead!" he said.

"I suppose it's not much different to what I did in 'The Stallion'", Lonts conceeded "I had my clothes pulled off me in that. We could revive that one too".

"Now we couldn't", said Adam, stiffly "Not in Port West!"

"Oho!" Julian tapped Adam's thigh with a ruler "Now who's the one who's going off into a huff!"

The 4 clowns were congregated outside the mud-bricked cottage, where Tamaz was still inside, hanging onto the bars of the makeshift door to stop them getting in.

"You can't stay in there forever", said Bardin "And I don't intend debating this point any further. You have to do as I say, and if I say you're performing with us, you're performing with us. You've got to face the fact that you're a clown, just like we all are".

Tamaz gave him such a fierce, hostile glare that Bengo and Farnol both quailed at the sight of it.

"Bardy, I think we should go a bit easier on him", said Bengo.

"How much easier does he want it?" Bardin exclaimed, indignantly "We already give him every concession we can. No green slime, no pratfalls, no pies in the face. He gets all the easy bits, and yet does all the complaining! He'll be wanting cushions to sit on next, and cups of tea brought to him in the wings!"

"We might not be able to do 'Love In the Laundry' anyway", said Bengo "Joby's made it clear he doesn't want to perform it again".

"No problem", said Bardin, fiercely "I'll play the laundry-owner this time, and Farnol can partner you".

"I will kill myself first!" said Tamaz.

"No you won't", said Bardin "You'd be too worried you were missing something".

"What about I play the laundry-owner?" said Rumble "Then that'll keep your knockabout routine beween the two of you intact. It'd be a shame to break that up, it forms the backbone of the scene".

"You?" said Tamaz, witheringly.

"Don't worry kid, I'll be gentle with you", said Rumble.

"Which is more than he deserves", said Bardin.

"You can trust, Rumble", said Farnol "He's never let me down in all the years I've worked with him, and he never gets impatient or loses his rag".

"He's never worked with Tamaz before", said Bardin, darkly.

"Bardy, that's not fair", said Bengo "You've always said that Tamaz is a born trouper".

"So he is, when he's not having hysterics", said Bardin.

"Put it this way, kid", said Rumble, leaning against the wooden bars of the gate "Say we did go ahead and do a show without you. That means you'd have to sit in the audience and watch us getting all the cheers and the clapping".

"And won't that annoy the crap out of you!" said Bardin.

"I hope we're not just doing 'Love In The Laundry'", said Tamaz.

"No! No! No!" the clowns all hastened to reassure him.

Joby came out of the stone cottage, carrying a cauldron into which he had been preparing the ingredients for a vegetable stew. He set it up on the tripod over the fire, and then ordered Tamaz to come out and stir it whilst he went to grind some coffee-beans.

"Me?" said Tamaz, grudgingly opening the gate.

"Yeah you, keep you out of mischief", said Joby, handing him a wooden spoon "Now keep stirring and don't let anything burn, or I'll come down on you like a ton of bricks".

Tamaz reluctantly stood at the cauldron, stirring for some while. He was still at it when Adam, Julian and Lonts returned from the sloop.

"Don't tell me you're cooking the dinner, Freaky!" said Julian.

"I'm just stirring it", Tamaz mumbled.

"Nothing new there then!" said Julian.

For the remaining hour or so of daylight, most of them went down to the beach. Tamaz slipped away up to the old lighthouse, where Bengo found him lying on the steps, looking forlorn.

"What's making you unhappy?" said Bengo, sitting down beside him "Is it the thought of leaving here?"

"I like being here at the Bay", said Tamaz "Where no one in the outside world can see me. They all know everything about me, all the bad things, but they don't see me everyday like the rest of you do, so they don't know all the rest. And the more we go off alone together, the less I want to appear in front of them".

"I understand", said Bengo "But remember that in Port West or anywhere, we'll all still be together. It's still us against the world. After all, when we're at the Town House, or when we lived on the waterfront, we were still self-contained. That's why I was always so impatient to get home after a session at the Little Theatre. Bardin could never understand it. He does now!"

They made love, as their close proximity and gentle words had got them both aroused. Bengo was so aroused though that he came almost as soon as he had got inside Tamaz.

"Terrific!" said Tamaz "I get all revved up and you go off like a firework straightaway!"

"Hold on, I've got an idea", Bengo slipped down a couple of steps and buried his face in Tamaz's genitals, licking at his cunt and cock until Tamaz orgasmed.

"That was better", Tamaz sat up afterwards.

"You're great to have sex with, Freaks", said Bengo "You've got all the interesting bits of a woman, but the mind of a man".

"I'm surprised you don't go after women more", said Tamaz "Enough of 'em fancy you!"

"No, they're too complicated for me", said Bengo "They're all mysterious, and like to play games with men all the time. You never know where you are with them. They're always setting traps, and I'm a dork, I can never figure them out. If more were like you it'd be different. I always know where I am with you. I don't like it when I have to guess what people are really thinking all the time".

"You'd rather have Old Flat-Cap licking you into shape?" said Tamaz.

"Yes", said Bengo, simply.

"Hoowie was saying the same as you the other day", said Tamaz, putting his drawers back on "He said 'having sex with you Tamaz is like having a man and a woman in one body'. Stupid jerk. I AM a man and a woman in one body!"

"Praps he hasn't figured that out yet!" Bengo laughed.

They went outside and leaned on the sea-wall. The sun was setting and the whole area was the colour of indigo ink.

"I've been thinking", said Tamaz "I don't see why we have to keep clearing out of here every year, just because of the hurricanes. All we have to do is move inland for a few weeks. We can take the sloop back up river and anchor it in a more sheltered area, and then we can take the animals and go across the fields down to the other river, which is well-sheltered. We can camp there for a few weeks".

"It gets a bit spooky down there after dark", said Bengo, uncertainly.

"Only if daft clowns go wandering off and getting lost!" said Tamaz "In fact, I don't know what's wrong with living at Midnight Castle. That's where the fresh water is".

"Y-yes but it changes after dark", said Bengo "Joby said so".

"I don't believe it changes that much", said Tamaz "He just gets worried because he thinks it's like Green Ways, but I don't think it is. Neither me nor Kieran have sensed anything down there to really be worried about. Nor has Mieps. After we've been in it for a few days it won't seem eerie at all".

"Can we still go back to Toondor Lanpin at Christmas though?" said Bengo "I like the Town House then, with us all in it".

"Yes we'll go out at Advent and stay there until Twelfth Night", said Tamaz "It'll give us a chance to do some serious shopping. Don't you think it's a brilliant idea?"

"Yes it is", said Bengo "We just have to persuade the others of it now!"

He was pleasently surprised when they were amenable to the idea. They still intended to go and join the Festival at Port West, but after that the plan of staying at the Bay all the time and only going back to Toondor Lanpin when it suited them, and not because they had to, was extremely enticing. The following day they all went down to Midnight Castle and looked at it with fresh eyes, scrutinising it this time like potential home-buyers, and not as nervous travellers in a land of unknown dangers.

"This is real putting down roots stuff", said Hillyard, standing at the front of the Castle overlooking the river "We could do something with all those fallow fields. Worth looking at the possibilities".

"It's a trifle inconvenient having the house on this side of the river and the fields on the other side", said Adam "It means everytime we want to go back to the sloop or into the fields, we'll either have to go round the long way through the forest, or take the skiff across the water".

"No, we can build a foot-bridge", said Hillyard "You seem to be losing your imagination with old age!"

"Nonsense", said Adam, feeling stung by this remark.

He went through the big main doors and into the voluminous echoing hallway, where Kieran and Joby were giggling in a very annoying fashion, having overheard the conversation between Adam and Hillyard.

"Oh don't you two start", said Adam.

"You poor demented old dingbat, it's not your fault you're getting on a bit!" said Joby.

"You loathesome scrawny little beast", Adam retorted.

"I think this place has some dark and terrible secret", said Kieran.

"Oh don't say that now!" Adam wailed "Not now we've raised our hopes so much".

"He's having you on, Adam", said Joby "You should know by now he's the biggest fucking winder-upper we've ever known!"

Adam slapped Kieran's behind, which sent a satisfying echo all round the hallway. He then led the way into the dining-room, at the left-hand side of the hall. This was dominated completely by the massive trestle table which ran down the centre of the room.

"Certainly room to accommodate us all at mealtimes", said Adam.

"Yeah, now we just need some chairs", said Joby.

Kieran climbed up onto the table and brushed away the coating of dust on the ceiling. When a coloured frieze began to emerge, Adam climbed up beside him and helped him to brush aside the dust, getting their hands coated in it in the process. They gradually uncovered drawings of men and women engaged in everyday pursuits, such as cooking, fishing, playing board games, chatting etc. It was like a Bowdlerised version of the wall frieze they had uncovered in the cellar. It all added to the mystery of what had happened to the original inhabitents of the Castle.

The 3 of them went down into the kitchen, which was pleasently large and airy, even more so after the dark cramped galley on the sloop. Hillyard and Julian walked round the side of the house and came in through the back door.

"Oh you've remembered where the kitchen is from last time then", said Hillyard to Adam "I thought you being senile these days you might have forgotten!"

"Hillyard, you're asking for a damn good smack!" said Adam.

"Don't waste your time", said Juian, as Hillyard bent down to inspect the plumbing under the sink "With that enormous flabby arse he'd never feel a thing!"

"What was that?" said Hillyard, straightening up again.

"Nothing", the others chorused.

"The hall makes a good whipping area though", said Adam "All slaps echo around it most satisfyingly".

"I'll have to take the clowns in there!" said Julian, playfully.

Joby pulled a pile of empty boxes away from a doorway.

"Hey, there's a karsey in here!" he said, wrenching open the door "A karsey right next to the kitchen, that's really handy!"

He went in and flushed it.

"And it works too!" he exclaimed.

"His happiness is complete", Julian drawled.

"No more having to nip outside the back door everytime I need a slash", said Joby.

"I'll have a housetrained assistant at long last!" said Adam.

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