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By Sarah Hapgood

"Have you still not come up with anything, Bardin?" said Adam, the following morning.

He was standing in one of the numerous wagons dotted around the Festival site, which were utilised as dressing-rooms and rest-rooms by the performers and backstage crew. Glynis was also there, excitedly opening cupboards and boxes like a little girl with a super-deluxe doll's house to play with.

"No, my brain's stuck", said Bardin, who was sitting on one of the bunks "Must be lack of sleep! I just hope Rumble's having some bright ideas".

"Well you could always use one of your old Cabaret of Horrors routines", said Adam "The Really Thick Quick Show Contestant went down a storm when you did it at the Little Theatre".

"Yeah, but that's only a two-hander, for me and Bengo", said Bardin "I need one that'll involve all of us".

"Several Really Thick Quiz Show Contestants!" said Glynis.

"That could work", said Adam "You could all get covered in gooey stuff".

"Tamaz would never agree to it", said Bardin.

"Pity", said Glynis.

"Oh Glynis!" Adam laughed "Never mind Bardin, you've got til 5 o'clock this afternoon to come up with something".

"Huh, 7 hours in wich to get a whole new routine created, rehearsed and polished", said Bardin.

"Plenty of time", said Adam, briskly "I've heard of people coming up with whole shows in not much more time than that!"

Glynis went outside to check on Leon, whom she had left playing under the wagon. She knew a moment's panic when she couldn't see him anywhere, but located him being dragged out of the beer-tent nearby. Joby was hauling him along with one hand, and clutching a mug of beer in the other.

"The little scrote was having a swig out of everyone's mugs", said Joby.

"Oh Leon!" said Glynis, in exasperation "The trouble is, he does that at harvest-time back home when all the cider's out on display. I've told him off for it time and again, but he never listens".

"God, he's so much like his father, it sometimes feels like he's been cloned!" said Joby.

Glynis picked up Leon and threw him over her shoulder like a tote-bag.

"She shouldn't carry him like that", said Kieran, after Glynis and Leon had disappeared.

"Leave it out, I've seen her carry heavier weights than him!" said Joby.

"Ah, but she should be careful in her condition", said Kieran.

"She's pregnant again?" said Joby.

"It's only the second time in 4 years, Joby", Kieran laughed "Not exactly the Catholic way!"

"I thought she could've told me too", said Joby, hurtfully "We are sposed to be mates".

"She hasn't told any of us", said Kieran "I guessed. I've always had a talent for it, remember?"

"I thought she'd put on a bit of weight since we last saw her", said Joby "I just assumed she'd been making too many trips to the dairy back at the big house. I know how she can't resist the clotted cream there. But why all the secrecy again? Does Codlik know?"

"I think he does", said Kieran "He keeps beaming all over his little face".

"Yeah I spose he's been less irritating than usual on this trip", said Joby "But I still don't understand what all the secrecy's about".

"Because you see, when you announce a pregnancy", said Kieran "A lot of people start doing calculations, and I think she's about 5 months gone".

"Five months?" said Joby "Oh no! That means ..."

"It was conceived when she was staying with us at the Bay", said Kieran.

"Not another one of Hillyard's?" said Joby, in dismay.

"It could also be Codlik's of course", said Kieran "But it seems most likely it's Hilly's. After all, she's not conceived by Codlik in all this time, not that we know of anyway. And there's no doubt about Hillyard's fertility".

"Unfortunately", said Joby.

"Double brandy, please", said Julian, arriving in the beer-tent a short while later "Hold on, I've got the money somewhere".

He dug deep into his trouser pockets, and succeeded only in pulling out fluff and coins of very small denomination.

"I'll get it", said Ransey, appearing alongside, and he ordered one (a single) for himself.

"I need this", said Julian, as they both sat down at a rickety table "Hillyard's just confiscated my cigars. He's said I smoke too many".

"You do", said Ransey "I counted 12 you smoked yesterday, that's a lot of cigars to smoke in one day".

"But I'm in the rudest of good health", Julian protested "I hope for his sake he looks half as good as me when he's my age, which I seriously doubt, not when you consider that ever-expanding stomach of his. The younger ones will probably have to improvise a sedan-chair to carry him around!"

"I was hoping to get you alone this morning", said Ransey "I wanted to warn you that I'm afraid the truth about our little encounter that Christmas came out last night".

"There wasn't much to tell, surely?" said Julian.

"Yeah, but you know what that lot are like", said Ransey "We'll get endless ragging now".

"Oh God yes, Adam will hear about it", Julian groaned.

"He won't get jealous will he?" said Ransey.

"No, worse, he'll be delighted!" said Julian "We'll have to put up with theatrical effusions of 'oh how sweet', that kind of thing. I don't think I can bear it".

"Adam was wasted as a man", Ransey chuckled "He should've been a woman".

"Don't say that to him, for God's sake", said Julian "He'd never forgive you! He likes to think of himself as some grizzled macho-man. Quite hilarious really when you think about it".

"There aren't many men who genuinely have a woman's gentleness and tenderness", said Ransey "He has. I sometimes think that's all that kept me going when I had my bad time when we lived at Wolf Castle, that and Finia's beauty".

"Reminded you there was something else in the world other than big, boorish, smelly men?" said Julian.

"Yes, I suppose it did", said Ransey "And Kieran was having a bad time himself then. And I thought if anything happens to him then I really will chuck in the towel. But seeing Adam around everyday kept me going. Seeing how caring he was with Lonts and Kieran and Joby. It made up for a lot".

"We've had quite a life haven't we?" Julian sighed.

Ransey gave a wry laugh and they both downed their brandies together.

"It's half-past twelve", said Rumble, sitting at the window of one of the wagons "And we've come up with nothing. Looks like you and Bengo will have to do the Quiz Show Contestant after all".

Bardin put down the balls he had been juggling with (to aid concentration) and sighed. He was interestingly dressed in his flat cap and a pair of Tamaz's drawers, which he had fished out of a canvas bag on the bunk. He heard Tamaz yodelling outside and hastily removed them. He had just sat down opposite Rumble when Tamaz came in, wearing a black fur shoulder cape over his t-shirt.

"One of the chorus-girls gave me this", he said, rubbing it against Bardin's cheek "Nice aint it?"

"I expect she just loaned it to you really", said Bardin, correctly.

"Suppose so", Tamaz mumbled "It's only cheap imitation stuff anyway, not what I'm used to".

Rumble laughed in his usual leisurely fashion.

"You keep that attitude up, and I will put you in the Quiz Show Sketch", said Bardin "And playing someone really thick won't test your acting skills too much!"

"Oh dear, having trouble thinking up a new one are you?" Tamaz sneered.

"Genius is giving us a wide berth today", said Rumble.

"Where's Bengo?" said Tamaz.

"I don't know", said Bardin "I'll go and check up on him in a minute".

"Have you been wearing my drawers?" said Tamaz, picking up the garment.

"Why would I wear your drawers?" said Bardin "I'm not a transvestite".

"You're weird enough to be anything", said Tamaz, climbing up onto the bunk and flopping against the mattress "It's too humid here. I wish we were at the Bay, then we could go for a swim".

"I wish we were there too", said Bardin "Then I wouldn't have to worry about putting on a friggin' show!"

Brinslee's clockwork television had been taken to the Festival site to provide a bit of recreation for the performers in-between acts. Mid-afternoon Adam, Julian and Ransey found themselves watching a naff daily serial on it that could have won awards for spreading gloom and despondency amongst its viewers. Basically the script seemed to comprise of hate-filled silences interspersed with hysterical screaming sessions, which were largely unintelligible.

"She's off again", said Julian, as the camera zoomed in on one of the actresses, whose face was constantly gearing itself up for another round of teary contortions "Somebody really should shove her out into the yard and turn a hose on her!"

"What I want to know is who he is?" said Ransey, pointing at an old man who had been in shot for most of the scene and yet hadn't said a single word "Everyone else acts as though he's not there! No one takes the blindest bit of notice of him".

"I know, it could be me couldn't it!" said Julian, tartly.

"We should be so lucky!" said Adam.

"If someone doesn't explain who he is soon I'm going to kick the t.v in" ,said Ransey "This is really bugging me".

"Ransey old love, you really shouldn't watch it if it gets you so worked up", said Adam "You're as bad as Joby for taking what you see on television too seriously".

"I can't abide sloppiness", said Ransey.

"You never want to talk to me when I come home at night!" the hysterical actress was now saying "You're always too busy chasing little Raymond round the house!"

"Who's little Raymond?" said Julian.

"Little Raymond is my son!" the girl's t.v husband retorted.

"Great, now tell us who the old man is while you're at it", said Ransey.

"I suppose if we watched it all the time we'd know", said Adam, uncertainly.

"If we watched it all the time we'd be basket-cases!" said Ransey.

"It does seem rather silly him being in the scene", said Adam "He hasn't contributed anything to it so far".

"What the hell is this?" said Ransey, as the screen inexplicably changed to show a land-buggy roaring along a deserted road.

"Is it an advert?" said Adam.

"Either that or the old man's suddenly made a quick getaway!" said Julian.

"Has the programme finished then?" said Adam "It must have ended rather abruptly".

"We were too busy talking", said Ransey "We didn't pay enough attention".

"Television kills the art of conversation!" said Julian.

"You were getting so angry with it I didn't think it was a good idea for you to pay too much attention!" said Adam to Ransey.

"Don't you get the feeling the 3 of us have woken up in an old people's home?" said Julian "Reduced to arguing about crap television for God's sake! What next, group physiotherapy? compulsory bingo? state visits by Codlik so he can be photographed shaking hands with us?!"

"Oh shut up Jules, you're depressing me now", said Adam.

One of the elephants nearby made a trumpeting sound.

"I quite agree", said Adam.

"We'll be polishing our medals next", said Julian.

"You'll be lucky, we've never been given any!" said Ransey.

Bengo came over, dodging the wayward trunks of the elephants.

"Ah good", said Julian "A visit by the grandchildren!"

"What?" said Bengo, propping his foot on top of the television and flexing the muscles in his leg "You all look fed up. Has Bardy been going on about the act again?"

"We've been watching television", said Julian.

"Then you deserve to be depressed", said Bengo, with all the fierce pride of the stage performer.

"Cheeky little pup", said Julian "I should put you over my knee for that".

"That'll make a change", said Ransey, dryly "Mind you, it'd be more entertaining than that bloody programme!"

"I saw Bardin about 20 minutes ago", said Adam "And he says it's pretty certain you'll be doing the Quiz Show Contestant again".

"Oh", said Bengo, looking downcast "I hate that sketch!"

"But you do it so well, Bengo", said Adam "He was looking for you actually. He must have got sidetracked".

"Can't you hide me?" said Bengo, pathetically "Then he can get Hoowie or one of the others to stand in for me".

"It wouldn't work nearly so well with anyone else", said Adam.

"It'd work with Freaky", said Julian.

"No Jules, he'd never let us forget it", said Adam.

"Bengo!" Bardin hollered, picking his way over to them.

"Too late, you've been spotted", said Ransey.

"Bengo, I've had an idea!" said Bardin.

"Yeah, the poxy Quiz Show Contestant sketch", said Bengo.

"No, no, scrub that", said Bardin "Remember the knife-throwing act we used to do sometimes at the Cabaret?"

"Knife-throwing act?" Ransey exclaimed.

"Yeah, it was a comic knife-throwing act, using meat-cleavers", said Bardin "I can be the knife-thrower, Bengo can be my assistant, and Tamaz can be the target. We'll get a spangly costume for him, and strap him to a board".

"Is Freaky aware of this unexpected development?" said Julian.

"Not yet", said Bardin "I wanted to tell Bengo first".

"You use meat-cleavers?" said Adam, faintly.

"Don't worry, no one gets hurt", said Bardin "We've done it loads of times".

"Not with Tamaz though", said Ransey "I want to go over this sketch with you first, every second of it".

"B-but we haven't got time for that", Bardin protested "We have to get Tamaz rehearsed".

"There will be no act at all if I'm not allowed to perform full health and safety checks", said Ransey, sternly.

"But you're doubting my professional integrity!" said Bardin.

"Go along with everything Ransey says", said Julian, firmly "And don't give him anymore lip or your professional integrity will find itself getting whipped with its pants down!"

After spending an hour with Ransey going over every segment of the act like an over-zealous hygiene inspector, and then Lonts angrily berating Bardin for putting showbusiness above Tamaz's safety, Bardin was feeling very fed-up, and wished he'd never heard of the Toondor Lanpin Festival Of Arts And Culture.

"It's never brought me luck, never", he said, swilling cold water from a dipper over his neck and hair.

"Oh Bardy, that's silly", said Bengo "You can't blame Ransey for being concerned, he is Tamaz's Dad, and you know what Lonts is like. If he had his way, Tamaz would be wrapped in tissue paper. I don't see how you can say it's been unlucky for you".

"Remember the first one eh?" said Bardin "You fucking knocked me out in the ring, and all because I was trying to better our careers!"

"That's what all this is about isn't it?" said Bengo, angrily "You're all bitter and twisted still because I refused to go. You secretly blame me for holding you back. You always used to say 'Bengo, you'd never do anything if I wasn't there to push you around'. You've always blamed for being lazy and unambitious. Well fuck you that's what I say!"

Bengo stormed towards the nearest wagon.

"Bengo!" Bardin roared "Get back here you little shithead! You're completely wrong as usual! Bengo!"

"Shouldn't you get after him?" said Tamaz, who had strolled over, eating an apple.

Bengo had shut himself in the wagon. Bardin ran over to it, closely followed by Tamaz.

"Get out of here!" Bengo beat Bardin round the head with one of the cushions "Julian's not the only one who can whup your arse you know, I can do it too".

"Will you calm down!" Bardin screamed at him "What the fuck's got into you? I only mentioned that time because I wanted to show how I've never had much luck at the Festival. I don't seriously wish we'd gone to the City!"

"You'd have both got killed in the earthquake if you had", said Tamaz, who was now lying on the bunk.

"It's not just that", said Bardin "Our relationship's moved on so much since then. Everything's moved on since then. The life we've had the last few years has been so wonderful that nothing could compare to it, not even if we'd become the most well-paid, the most respected performers in the world!"

Bardin sat down on the edge of the bunk and rubbed his knees.

"I've never enjoyed performing that much", he said, quietly "I did it mainly because I knew it was what I was good at, that it was what I could do. The only times I've really had honest-to-goodness fun when performing was when we did the Indigo Players, and that was because we were doing it solely for fun. We didn't have to worry about paying the rent, or doing well at the box-office".

"But you don't have to worry about money with this", Tamaz pointed out "The entire Festival's not resting on you!"

"No, but if we mess up we let everyone else down", said Bardin "I'd forgotten how tedious that feeling was. I've got used to living without that kind of pressure, and particularly as nowadays everyone seems to take the whole damn thing so seriously".

"It's got a reputation to live up to now that's why", Bengo sighed "It's not just to raise a bit of dosh for the town like the first one was. Hawkefish was saying that everything's got more money-orientated back there now, and it certainly wasn't like that when he first started at the Little Theatre. He said nobody cared in those days whether they made a profit or not, but now that's all anyone cares about".

"Why is that?" said Bardin "What's changed?"

"Kieran was saying it's because everyone now wants peace and security after all the horrors and upheavals of the past 100 years", said Bengo.

"I suppose you can't blame 'em there", said Bardin "We don't have to bother with money at the Bay, so it's easy for us to forget how important it is. And Hillyard's money means we never have to give it much thought anyway".

"I remember when we didn't have any", said Bengo "I used to get really scared that we might have to all split up and go our separate ways, although Adam used to say he'd fight tooth and nail to make sure that never happened. The joke is, if we'd known about the Bay and Midnight Castle then we could have just sailed there and we'd have been alright. But we stayed in Toondor Lanpin because we thought it was the only place we could put down roots".

"I'm glad you did", said Bardin "Or I'd never have found you again".

"Oh Bardy!" Bengo began to cry.

"Oh this is getting boring", said Tamaz, getting up to leave "I'm going to go and find Mieps".

"No you can annoy him later", said Bardin, grabbing him by his t-shirt "Stay here with us. We need our mind's taking off the show. Bengo hates the Quiz Show Contestant, so he's going to need comforting".

"We're going to do that one after all?" said Bengo, in dismay.

"Yeah, Ransey's never going to pass the Mad Magician", said Bardin "And we haven't got time to rehearse it properly anyway. Shame, 'cos it's quite funny".

"Huh, Glynis would certainly enjoy the sight of me being tied down and having meat-cleavers thrown at me!" said Tamaz.

"And Lonts would have to be put under restraint whilst we did it", said Bardin "And I doubt we'd find any ropes strong enough to hold him!"

"They haven't come out yet", said Hillyard, who was watching the wagon from nearby. He and Joby were sitting on tea-chests, eating hot dogs liberally coated in onions and mustard.

"Too busy satisfying Tamaz I expect", said Joby, licking his fingers "God, I haven't had one of these in years. I didn't know anyone still made 'em".

"I used to practically live off 'em in the City when I was a kid", said Hillyard.

"What are you eating that muck for?" said Kieran "You don't know what's in it!"

"Oh bog off Kieran", said Joby "You're like a bleedin' walking conscience. Anyway, you're the last person I'm gonna let lecture me on healthy eating!"

"That's for sure!" Hillyard chuckled.

"At least my stomach hasn't got a life of it's own", said Kieran, patting Hillyard's substantial belly.

"You're just jealous because you haven't got one like this", said Hillyard.

"He hasn't got one at all!" said Joby.

"Hillyard!" Julian shouted as he came over "Do you think you could bring yourself to let me have one of my cigars?"

"Yeah, we'll have to go and fetch 'em though", said Hillyard "They're locked in a drawer back at Brinslee's house".

"Why?" Julian barked.

"Because you can't expect me to carry 'em around with me all day", said Hillyard.

"This is completely ridiculous", said Julian.

"You'll thank Hillyard for it in years to come, Julian", said Kieran "I've never regretted giving up smoking".

"It's different for you", said Julian "You're still young enough to get some benefit from it, whereas I'm an old man, steadily being deprived of what few pleasures I have left".

"Not that I've noticed", said Hillyard "Anyway, chances are you'll be with us for another 30 years, so you will get some benefit out of it after all".

"Oh by the way, changes are afoot", said Julian "I'm throwing the young ones out".

"What all 7 of them?" said Kieran.

"Including Tamaz?" said Joby.

"It's only a temporary measure", said Julian "Just for the duration of the Festival. I've been talking to Hawkefish and he wants them to do a regular daily slot at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. So for the next 2 weeks we both agreed it would be practical if they lived on-site with the other performers. It's not just for convenience. It also wouldn't look too good if all the other thesps were roughing it in caravans and wagons, and our spoilt lot went back to the Governor's mansion every night".

"Since when have you ever given a toss about equality?" said Joby.

"You'll still see Freaky everyday", said Julian "I happen to think it will do them good. Make them do their own washing and cooking, that sort of thing".

"Yeah, just like you must have done at their age!" said Joby, sarcastically.

"I don't think it's a bad idea", said Kieran "Give them a bit of independence from us".

"I didn't know they wanted any independence from us", said Hillyard, gloomily "It's not going to be the same without them around. It'll just be us dreary old gits getting on each other's nerves!"

"For crying out loud, it's only for the next 2 weeks!" said Julian, in exasperation "And they'll only be here, not on the other side of the world!"

"Lonts won't like it", said Joby.

"Come along, Hillyard", said Julian, testily "I desperately need a cigar!"

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