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Joby woke up the following Sunday morning, instantly looked around for Kieran, and was annoyed beyond measure to find that Kieran had done his customary vanishing trick. In his place instead was Snowy, dressed in a very dashing scarlet regimental-style jacket.
"O.K", Joby sighed "Where are you?"
Lonts came round the corner of the room and beamed proudly at him.
"Nesta gave it to him", he said, picking up Snowy "Isn't it smart? I bet you'd like one just like it".
"Be a bit small wouldn't it!" said Joby, getting wearily out of bed "Have you seen Kieran at all?"
"Yes", said Lonts, importantly "He told me to tell you, when you woke up of course, that he'd gone with Hillyard down to the Festival site".
"Oh bloody marvellous, they couldn't ask me to go with 'em!" Joby pouted.
"Actually he said you was to follow when you felt like it", said Lonts "And he said he wasn't going down there for enjoyment, but because Hillyard wanted to speak to him".
"Sounds ominous", said Joby, getting dressed "Are you coming too?"
When he was ready, Joby walked with him through Brinslee's magnificent house. The main stairway, a stunning marble effort with carved archways on all levels, was decorated with some of Brinslee's favourite pictures. Little did he know it but a few of these went back to the Middle Ages, and would have been priceless relics in Joby and Kieran's time. Adam knew this, but didn't see any point in mentioning it. He had the old-style aristocrat's notion that things were better off in a house, than locked away in a bank vault.
Many of them had a deeply religious theme, painted by Italian Renaissance artists. One, Joby's favourite, showed an aged hermit living in a grotto. The saintly old man, with his shock of white hair and icon of the Virgin Mary, reminded Joby of an elderly version of Kieran. Not only that but the portrait was immensely rich in background detail, so that you could look at it many times and always find something new to see.
Near it was a religious painting that Joby didn't like. It was too disturbing, being a very realistic image of the hill at Calvary, showing Christ and two other men being crucified. This was no beatific, pious image of the Crucifiction, but presented instead as an all-too graphic image of a slow and agonising execution. Everything about it was all too real, from the distress on the women's face, who were standing nearby, to the Roman guards indifferently playing dice at the foot of the cross. And the condemned men themselves of course, with their emaciated, beaten bodies, and their faces contorted in agony. Joby hated it, but it drew him with the macabre fascination of a motorway accident each time he passed it. Kieran was now several years older than Christ had been at the age of his execution, he had a remarkable ability to survive, in spite of his frail looks, but the fear of a violent death for his friend never left Joby at any time.
"C'mon", he said, grabbing Lonts's arm and pulling him away "You shouldn't be looking at pictures like that".
"Sometimes Joby, you treat me as though I'm still a little boy", said Lonts, indignantly.
"Little!" Joby exclaimed "Hardly!"
Adam and Julian were sitting on the sun-terrace at the back of the house, with Nesta. Adam came over to them.
"Nesta wants me to go the Marsh Village and paint her", he said, pulling a face.
"Can't you do it here?" said Joby.
"Oh no, she wants a series of portraits done, all life-size", said Adam "And all in phenomenally bad taste! She wants me to depict key scenes in her life, but as classical poses, as though she's a Greek goddess for heaven's sake! Jules is practically wetting himself with laughter. I've a good mind to take the commission just to annoy him!"
"No you won't", Lonts boomed "That sounds like it could take ages. I forbid you to go. If she wants all that doing, then that weird person, Jonner, can do it".
"Be right up his street", said Joby.
"Yes it would rather", said Adam, cattily "Anyway, the way she keeps groping my knee, I have an awful feeling she'd make a pass at me once we were alone!"
"Surely she can see you're a complete faggot?" said Joby, bluntly.
"Yes, but when one has my stunning good looks it obviously doesn't matter!" Adam retorted "I sahll take great pleasure in telling her that Lo-Lo forbids it".
When he and Lonts reached the Festival site, he groaned even more. The Festival had drawn travelling entertainers and peddlars from the surrounding countryside, all flocking in to cash in on the influx of visitors to Port West. One of these was a man with a brown bear on a chain, who performed simple but engaging tricks for the punters. Naturally Lonts was in his element when he saw this, and wanted to watch it for hours. Joby stayed with him, although he was nervous at the close proximity of such an enormous animal. At one point the bear reared up on its hind legs, displaying his erect dick to the world, the tip of it crimson with excitement.
"He don't half remind me of you!" said Joby "Perhaps we should put you on a chain and lead you round. You'd quite happily prance around for titbits, showing your dick!"
He sighted Kieran and Hillyard standing over by a carousel. Kieran waved them over. Hillyard was in a state about something, but agreed to go with Lonts to buy some popcorn to feed the bear.
"What's the matter with him then?" said Joby.
"He's been talking to Glynis", said Kieran "She's been going on at him about how she's worried for Leon's future".
"Oh not again!" said Joby "What's she so worried about now? He won't even want for anything".
"That's the problem, according to her", said Kieran "He's so much like Hillyard in personality that she's worried he'll end up like him".
"There could be worse things to end up as", said Joby.
"She said that if Hillyard had come into Woll's money, but he hadn't had us lot around he'd be ..." said Kieran.
"A lot happier", Joby quipped.
"He's be a middle-aged playboy", said Kieran "I'm just telling you what she said. A middle-aged playboy, who spends all his loot on food and drink and young boys".
"But he's not like that", said Joby "These 'what-ifs' are really pointless, and it sounds to me like she's just wanting an excuse to have a go at him".
"The trouble is, everyone who's ever got mixed up with Hillyard has made the same mistake", said Kieran "All he wants is to give people a good time, but so many need more than that, like Lonts, and Bengo, they all need a lot more".
"And Tamaz", said Joby.
"I think Tamaz'd be quite happy with the good time!" Kieran laughed.
"Yeah, but it wouldn't do him any good", said Joby "He needs a miserable old git like me to give him a hard time. He'd end up a spoilt, vicious little sod again in no time at all if all he did was spend money. Oh, Hillyard's a jerk if he's getting worked up about this, it's just Glynis having one of her turns that's all. His trouble is, he's not used to women, he doesn't know how they operate. He didn't even have one as a mother! They have moods, you see".
"Bit like us really", said Kieran.
Lonts and Hillyard walked slowly back towards them, with Hillyard looking forlorn.
"Oh cheer up mate, for God's sake", said Joby.
"Why does she only point out my faults all the time?" said Hillyard.
"Because she can't control you", said Kieran "And that grieves her. But Joby's right, cheer up. She's known the score with you all along, and she didn't have to agree to go fornicating with you in forests and in stables!"
At this moment the clowns, plus Toppy, were watching Zooks, who was dressed as an old-style Harlequin clown, perform a mime routine in the street. This was extraordinarily pretentious, and consisted of him blowing bubbles and making tortuously slow, languid movements. Bardin and the other clowns were having a whale of a time barracking him. Suddenly Tamaz gave a yodel of alarm and pointed at Kieran and the others, who were approaching them across the street. To Kieran's astonishment the younger ones scarpered in the opposite direction.
"What are the little sods up to?" said Joby.
Hillyard had noticed the cheaply-printed leaflets that had been left at random on table-tops and pinned to trees. These looked very similar to a wad of papers that Bardin had been carrying in his arm.
"FUCK KIERAN", ran the salacious heading at the top "DOWN WITH THE VANQUISHER!"
"Did they print those?" said Kieran, confused "Is that what a week of living in a caravan has done to them? That was Julian's idea, not mine!"
The leaflet continued "HE'S BEEN LIVING OFF OUR MONEY FOR TOO LONG. HE HAS LIMITLESS POWER AND PRIVILEGE. HE HAS NO MORALS. THIS MAN HAS THE POWER TO TELL THE REST OF US HOW TO LIVE!!!"
"News to me!" said Kieran.
"Hang on, it all becomes clear at the bottom", said Hillyard "ANTI-KIERAN MEETING IN THE MAIN TENT AT 5 O'CLOCK THIS AFTERNOON. ALL WELCOME. PREPARE TO MARCH ON GOVERNOR'S HOUSE AFTERWARDS. This is their act for later!"
"What gave 'em the idea for this though?" said Kieran.
"I might have done", said Joby, mournfully "I was talking to Bardin a couple of days ago. I dunno what got us onto the subject, but I started telling him about an anti-Monarchy meeting I went to back in our time. It was a real ramshackle affair at a community centre, real Judean People's Front effort! I only went 'cos I had nothing else to do that afternooon! They'd been handing out these leaflets in the street, saying 'FUCK THE ROYALS' and 'DOWN WITH THE MONARCHY'. I wondered why Bardin found it so fascinating! He asked me enough questions about it! They're obviously gonna do a spoof fringe political meeting".
"Sounds a real laugh, I want to see it", said Hillyard.
"I hope you feel the same when the audience gets whipped up and hangs me from the nearest lamp-post!" said Kieran.
"If you're upset, Kieran", said Lonts, formidably "I will go to the caravan and Sort Them Out".
"Let's see the act first", said Kieran "You can sort them out if it's not funny!"
The sketch certainly appeased Bardin's love of provocative, anarchic comedy. It was the most controversial thing he had ever been in. To do a routine, however tongue-in-cheek, which carried slogans like 'FUCK KIERAN' and 'DOWN WITH THE VANQUISHER', was the equivalent to shouting in a Bible-belt area that Christ was a fraud! That the sketch was being performed by members of Kieran's own household added to the dark fascination. A lot of people genuinely were confused and thought it might be for real, and there were mutterings that there was obviously more to the younger ones living in the caravan than met the eye! Bardin loved it.
Bengo was terrified of the whole act. He didn't want to upset Kieran at all, and was worried that Bardin might overstep the mark this time. At first, he refused to go on, and had to be bulled into it by Bardin, who quickly turned it to his advantage. Bengo did a very credible performance of 'The Anarchist Who Didn't Want To Upset His Target', credible because he wasn't acting at all!
Farnol was the main performer in this sketch though. He played the leader of the anarchist's group, and had to do a lot of rapid-fire monologues, which were something of a speciality for him, a talent he had honed during his street entertainer days, when he had developed a fine knack of working the crowds. Kieran sat at the back whilst all this was going on. He was aware that those seated near him were watching him as much as the show, and was annoyed by this. He felt like the only woman in the audience at a stag night strip-show, uncertain what facial expression to wear for the best! So instead he leaned his elbows on the back of the seat in front and kept most of his face hidden with his hands.
When the routine was over he, Lonts, Joby and Hillyard left the tent to go to the caravan, and were accosted immediately by a reporter from the local rag, wanting their instant reaction. "I'll make it a nice piece", he said, as an added sop. Kieran managed to brush him off, before Joby could put in one of his famous "bog off" reactions. (The first time he had done this to the press, soon after Kieran's inauguration, it had made front page news in the City. The immortal headline the next day being "BOG OFF, SAYS MR JOBY").
Back at the caravan, Toppy was trying to roast a chicken for dinner. He was irritated when just about everybody seemed to pour into the wagon whilst he was testing the bird with a meat skewer. The 6 performers had come home, closely followed by Kieran and the other 3. The wagon was now claustrophobic to say the least.
"There's no room in here for everybody", said Toppy "Someone's going to have to step outside".
"Yeah, rack off, Hoowie", said Bardin.
Hoowie snarled and sighed, and went to sit out on the steps.
Lonts was convinced that Kieran was upset by the show and was glaring fiercely at the clowns.
"You shouldn't be allowed out", he thundered "You should all be ashamed!"
"It's o.k, I thought it was a good act", said Kieran, bravely "It's quite a ... er ... cleansing experience to be insulted so spectacularly in public!"
"We meant no insult", said Bardin "I was just grabbed by Joby's description of the anarchists' meeting, but as we don't have kings and queens anymore, I had to find someone else as a target for them, and you were ... you were the most obvious, the one that would ..."
"Be the most provocative?" said Kieran, raising an eyebrow.
"Well who else would it work with?" said Bardin, in exasperation "Not the Ministry, no one gives a damn about them anymore, and Codlik's only a country squire these days, so it had to be you".
"Wonderful you!" Kieran trilled.
"I thought it was good", said Hillyard "Farnol was brilliant, he really looked the part".
"Easy enough to do", said Farnol, modestly "Anyone can look like an anarchist in a black t-shirt and sunglasses!"
"All I'm concerned abut is that I have a nasty feeling the press might attack you for it tomorrow", said Kieran "Overstepping the bounds of decency and all that. That sort of thing is meat and drink to them. They'll probably find some tame lap-dog in my Church to issue a public condemnation of you. There's nothing new under the sun!"
"All good publicity", said Bardin, unrepentently.
"Look, I'm trying to cook here", said Toppy.
"Shut up, Toppy", Lonts boomed.
"No I won't", said Toppy, defying Lonts for the first time in his life. He brandished the meat-skewer as though he was about to plunge it into Lonts's belly "I'm trying to work here, and you think you can come in here and tell me to shut up, well I'm not having it!"
Lonts's nostrils flared, ominously. Kieran persuaded him to sit down and attempt to relax. Lonts obeyed, roughly turfing Bengo off his bed so that he could sprawl on it. There he lay, scratching his stomach and sucking his thumb, watching Toppy intently as though mentally running through all the tortures and punishments he had ever heard of, and trying to decide which would be the most fitting and severe.
"Stop getting your knickers in a twist", said Joby to Toppy.
"We can always issue a public apology tomorrow", said Rumble.
"Don't do that for God's sake!" said Kieran "Or they'll think I've been leaning on you!"
"This is getting like the Barlazzi rubbish all over again", said Joby.
"No it's not", said Kieran, firmly "No one's going to arrest us or run us out of town. You're all getting paranoid".
"You started it, going on about newpaper reports", said Joby.
"I was just trying to warn you what might happen that's all", said Kieran "I didn't want anyone's feelings getting hurt. But if the worst that can happen is that the clowns get a bit of a scolding in the local rag then I think this time we've got off lightly!"
"And this time I can't be blamed at all", said Tamaz.
"You were in the sketch as well", Bardin pointed out.
"Yeah, but you didn't give me anything to do", Tamaz fretted "I had to just hang around in the background with Hoowie, looking gormless".
"After some of your antics recently I felt that was best!" Bardin snapped.
"Now we've got to think up something for tomorrow night to cap it", said Rumble "It's getting difficult to think up even more controversial things night after night".
"I don't know why we can't just settle for being funny", said Bengo, dejectedly "I don't know why I have to go through millions of nervous breakdowns everytime we do a routine. I'm a clown, not a figure of controversy".
"If you feel like that why did you agree to do it?" said Joby "You've stood up to Bardin before".
"Not when it comes to clowning", said Bengo, miserably "He's always had the final say then".
"And that's why we've been so successful", said Bardin "Left to you we'd have just done conjuring tricks and chucked buckets of water over each other!"
"I'd have quite like that", said Bengo, ruefully.
Julian had gone to bed, but he had left his door open so that he could summon Kieran when he returned. Kieran went into the liver-coloured bedroom to find Julian looking worryingly tired. He was also pressing a hot poltice to his side.
"Just a touch of angina I think", he said "The aches and pains of old age. Hillyard is insisting that Brinslee's physician pays me a visit tomorrow morning".
"Good", said Kieran, climbing up onto the bed, and then sitting on the counterpane in a cross-legged position "You have to take things easy if you're getting problems like that".
"Oh you know me, Kieran", said Julian "I have a built-in mechanism that stops me working".
"It doesn't stop you worrying though does it?" said Kieran "And you certainly shouldn't do too much of that".
"That won't be easy in this family!" said Julian.
"Ach don't fash yourself about the show", said Kieran "The trouble is, no one else outside knows Bardin like we do. He's an artiste first, foremost and nearly everything. I know full well he meant no offense to me whatsoever, but the press and some of my Church won't see it that way".
"There won't be another Barlazzi debacle will there?" said Julian.
"No", Kieran smiled "This'll be a 5-minute wonder. By tomorrow night everyone'll be talking about something else".
"Hm, Bardin's next bright idea probably!" said Julian "I think his imminent and final retirement from showbusiness won't be a bad thing at all!"
"You know the answer to that", said Kieran, adjusting the poltice and then gently stroking Julian's face "You have to let him take over".
"I wanted to do that ages ago!" said Julian "But everyone laughed at me. Well they're going to have to listen now. It'll be no good having some ninny of a Captain who keeps having strokes all the time".
"You're not going to have a stroke", said Kieran "That's exactly what we're trying to avoid!"
"I've always been a fit person", said Julian, sombrely "Lazy I know, but fit nonetheless, apart from when Gabriel put that curse of impotence on me. Adam was always the nervy, sensitive one, whereas I was robust and strong as an ox. Illness and incapacity of any kind terrifies me. I sometimes think if that happened I'd be better of being put to sleep like a dog".
"People from your background rate life too cheaply", said Kieran, bluntly "You take the attitude that if it's not perfect then it's only fit to be condemned. 'Oh shoot the poor bastard, put it out of its misery!'"
"No no no", said Julian, softly "That is how I was brought up, I admit it, and that might be the impression I give at times, but when things come down to the bottom line, then it's a different matter entirely. I always refused to accept Adam was dying that time, and it wasn't me who started building Finia's coffin up at Wolf Castle! No, when it comes to something I cherish, then I don't take that attitude at all. Quite the opposite in fact, I refuse to give up".
"Then you have to turn some of that resolution on yourself this time", said Kieran.
"Old age scares the shit out of me, Kieran", said Julian.
"But I don't see why it should", said Kieran "You make a wonderful old man! You've always had that air about you of being the crusty old lord, well now your body's caught up with your personality that's all".
"I suppose so", said Julian, reflectively "I've certainly never felt young, mentally".
"Neither have I, so that makes two of us", said Kieran.
"I'm not sure what it is exactly I'm afraid of", said Julian "Being left behind I think, being the tiresome old invalid who, to everyone else, seems to take an age to die. I can't bear the thought of that, it's intolerable. The one who lies in a darkened room upstairs, whilst everyone else has a party down below".
"It won't be anything like as bleak as that", said Kieran, cryptically "I can promise you that much".
Julian looked at him, quizzically.
"What goes on in that fascinating Irish mind of yours?" he said.
"Things that will all become clear in time", said Kieran.
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