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By Sarah Hapgood

The following afternoon Kieran and Tamaz went down to the gloomy conservatory at the back of the building to rehearse their routine. It wasn't a very profitable session. Tamaz was unco-operative, and the snow pressing up against the windows gave the room a claustrophobic feel.

"I thought we could rehearse something a wee bit different", Kieran complained, when they paused for breath "But you don't want to know".

"I want to go home that's why", Tamaz exclaimed "I hate it here, it's getting on my nerves".

"And you don't think it is for me!" Kieran retorted "It's like my idea of Hell. Holed up in some snow-bound mausoleum with a bunch of politicians! I feel like the prisoner of Zenda, the Man in the Iron Mask, Quasimodo, and Miss Haversham, all rolled into one! But we can't go home until the air-buggy picks us up tomorrow, so we just have to be patient. At least Julian's sitting in on the meeting this afternoon, which means I'm spared one session of misery at least".

"Let's go back upstairs", said Tamaz "I can't stand this room".

"O.K", said Kieran "I'm not keen on it either".

They took off their rollerskates and walked bach through the service corridors, which were remarkably empty at this hour of the day. After a while Kieran stopped to get his bearings, and Tamaz occupied himself by opening and shutting some of the doors nearby. Suddenly he gave a shriek of laughter, and flicked his tongue about in great amusement.

Kieran peered past him and found he was looking into the housekeeper's bedroom. The poor woman had been caught in a state of half-undress and was hastily trying to find something else to put on. Kieran blurted out apologies and then dragged Tamaz out behind him.

"Did you see what she had on?" Tamaz shrieked, hysterically "Who would want to wear something like that?!"

"I expect she needs thermal underwear living here", said Kieran "Anyway, not everyone wants to go poncing around in ribbons and lace!"

"It was grotesque", said Tamaz, gleefully.

"Yes", said Kieran "And if you don't behave I'll buy you a set and make you wear it!"

Tamaz instantly fell silent.

"It worked like a charm", Kieran laughed, lying on his bed with Joby a short while later "If you want to bring Tamaz to heel just threaten to make him wear a pair thermal bloomers!"

"What a horrible thought", said Joby, cradling a glass of brandy on his chest. He was still thawing out after a sledging session with Lonts "You'd have no worries ever again. I could never fancy him in something like that!"

"Ah but it would be a suitable punishment for him".

"Mm, more effective than tanning his arse that's for sure".

"Don't you believe it", said Kieran "That had an effect on him alright. I think it quite shook him".

"I'm not surprised", said Joby "I did smack him quite hard. Poor little sod".

"Don't you worry about Tamaz", said Kieran, draining his glass "I expect he could survive a direct hit from a nuclear bomb. And he gets all the perks. It's ages since I had me bum smacked!"

"What are you like?!" Joby chuckled "Anyway, none of us would dare wallop you too hard, you'd probably disintegrate".

"I'll have you know I'm putting on weight!" said Kieran "I stood on the scales in the bathroom this morning and they said 8 stone 10".

"No way are you 8 stone 10!" said Joby "Not unless you put concrete in your boots beforehand. I'm 9-and-a-half ..."

"Exactly, I'm catching you up".

"Bollocks. You're more like 7 stone 2! Those scales must be wrong. I caught Lonts weighing himself yesterday, so perhaps they haven't recovered yet!"

"It must be nice to be able to go through life without everyone thinking 'puny little git' everytime they see you", said Kieran.

The door was flung open and Julian stood vengefully on the threshold.

"ARSE HOLE!" he yelled.

"Who's he talking to?" Joby muttered.

"I am talking to that ridiculous Irish fairy", said Julian, coming into the room and slamming the door behind him.

"How did your speech go down?" said Kieran, clambering onto the other side of Joby for protection.

"You know damn well how it went down", said Julian "You made a complete and utter fool of me. I got up in front of the entire Council of Governors and said in all seriouness that we do a neat line in illegal gun-running! And that one of the most illustrious inhabitents of our town is a powerful and immensely wealthy crack-dealer!"

"Serves you right", said Joby "You should pay attention to what you're reading".

"Ach now be fair, Julian", said Kieran "You did say the speech needed pepping up a bit!"

"Spare me your bloody Irish whimsey", said Julian "I thought I could count on you to pen a half-decent political speech. And instead I'm made to look a complete charlie. Well that's it, I've had enough. I am going to choke you to death on your own rosary beads!"

"Jules calm down, old love", said Adam. He had appeared in the other doorway, with Lonts and Tamaz standing behind him, looking alarmed "It was just a little joke. There's no harm done".

"That's what you think!" Julian squawked.

"I really do think you should calm down", said Adam, grabbing Julian's hands "The way the veins are standing out on your neck, you look like your mother in one of her repressed volcano poses".

"I had Codlik lecturing me afterwards", said Julian, indignantly "I felt like a rebellious 10-year-old being told off by a snotty prefect. He went on about Inappropriate Humour, how I shouldn't make jokes about guns and hard drugs. The unspeakable, po-faced, patronising, condescending nerve of the man!"

"You see", said Kieran "It's Codlik you're really angry with, not me".

"But it's you I'm going to kill", said Julian.

"Why don't we all go downstairs and have a cup of tea?" said Adam "You don't really want to kill Patsy, Jules. You'd only regret it afterwards".

"Maybe", said Julian "But think what a great boon to mankind it would be!"

They went down to the great hall, where Toppy was helping Lillijana and some of the other staff to sort out all the ingredients for afternoon tea. Julian and the others sat at the far end of the hall, so that Toppy wouldn't think they were eavesdropping on him and Lillijana. To stress their "obliviousness" to his presence they rooted around on a side table, where a selection of books, magazines and jigsaw puzzles had been left out for the guests.

"Did you ever see 'Citizen Kane'?" said Julian.

"Oh yeah, I see what you mean", said Joby "Their lives were so empty when they moved into the big house that his wife spent all her time doing jigsaw puzzles".

"Some people used to live all their lives like that", said Adam, turning over a pile of books.

"Back to the Windsors again", said Kieran "Still I suppose at least whilst they were doing jigsaw puzzles the wildlife enjoyed a precious few extra hours of living".

"Good grief, I've found a book of Fradie's", said Adam, and he sat down in a nearby chair with it "It's called 'Crap'. How terribly 1960s".

"Descriptive title obviously", said Julian "Made the reviewers' job easier".

"What an absolutely appalling image", said Adam, having turned to the top of Chapter 23 "'She forced her small breasts, which were long and narrow like tubes, into the cups of her bra'!. Tube-like breasts! It's enough to make me stick to Mezlin's gay-boys-in-bondage books!"

"Start at chapter one, Adam", said Lonts, who was obviously settling himself down for the evening.

"'I am a heterosexual male'", Adam began.

"You kept that quiet!" said Joby.

"Pay attention Joby, I'm reading you a story", said Adam "'I am a heterosexual male, and as such I do not wear leather, even when I'm riding my bike'".

"Eh?" said Joby.

"The silly man's completely lost it hasn't he!" said Adam.

"I wish you'd all stop interrupting", said Lonts, crossly.

"It's really not worth hearing, Lo-Lo", said Adam "I'm sure I can find something better than this load of pretentious codswallop".

"Well it's got Fradie written all over it hasn't it?" said Julian "Women's breasts, and a spot of gay-bashing in the very first sentance!"

"Does it have any bears in it?" said Lonts.

"Yeah", Joby laughed "Ones wearing leather and riding push-bikes!"

The others laughed helplessly at this. Except Lonts, who quietly sucked his thumb and stared at Joby with an expression akin to profound sadness and disappointment, whilst flicking Snowy about by his foot.

"Oh cheer up, Lonts", said Joby "Just be grateul Fradie's not here".

"I specifically asked Ransey not to invite him", said Kieran "Or Jonner".

Most of them went over to collect some more tea, although Julian stayed where he was, looking through a design magazine. When Toppy saw he was alone, he went and sat on the floor by his chair.

"I thought they might offer you a job somehow" said Julian, when Toppy had explained things to him "After all, they're a steward short now, and you would be a great asset to them, and it would mean you could see a lot more of your little girlfriend".

"She's not my girlfriend", said Toppy "There's no sex involved".

"I never said there was", said Julian "This is a very good offer, Toppy. And you would lose absolutely nothing by coming to work here. If it didn't work out we could always arrange to collect you and bring you home".

"I don't want to work here", said Toppy "I've been watching the staff whilst I've been working with them. They're nice and very professional, but I'd miss everyone on the Indigo too much".

"What about Lillijana though?" said Julian "The current plan is that we will come back here in May to do another show for the villagers. Now six months doesn't sound a long time, but it is when you first begin to start a relationship with someone. The chances are you'll both change a lot in that time, particularly she will now she's free of her bullying brother. Are you prepared to take the risk of growing apart before you've properly got going?"

"It's a case of having to", said Toppy, sadly "I-I'm not sure where my feelings are taking me at the moment. I like her very much, but I-I think I need to find out more about myself before we get any closer. I'm not sure who I am, and until I do know I don't want to risk getting too involved, and I think she would want to get involved quickly. She needs someone. Do I sound cold?"

"No, you sound concerned for her", said Julian "Perhaps a little time apart is what's needed. You're only known her for a day, and that's been a pretty fraught time! Go home for a little while and see how you feel about it all then. If you do find she's the one then you'll sort it out, I know you will".

Toppy got up and flung his arms round Julian's neck.

"You'd better go back and help her with the tea", he said, kissing Toppy's hair.

After Toppy had gone back to his new and temporary duties, Codlik came and sat in the chair next to Julian.

"Well well well if it isn't Codlik!" said Julian, very facetiously "I haven't seen you in an absolute age!"

"What was the matter with the boy?" asked Codlik, ignoring Julian's tone.

"Family matter", said Julian.

"Do you think it's wise?" said Codlik "Him throwing himself on you like that?"

"Why, do you think I'm such a mad, uncontrollable beast that he won't be safe?" said Julian.

"I'm only thinking of you", said Codlik "You might in all innocence see it as just an affectionate hug and a kiss, but he could later deliberately twist it round as something much more sordid, and use that to level a charge of sexual harrassment at you. It has been known. There are plenty of precedents for this kind of thing. Innocent people have had lives ruined through just thinking they were showing warmth, affection and concern for someone".

"Codlik", said Julian.


"Shut up".

Hillyard hadn't enjoyed his Boxing Day very much. It was an intersting facet of family life as to how you could be made to feel like a pariah without a single hostile word or glance being exchanged. But he innately knew that the others were fed up with him par excellence. He had spent most of the day walking round the building, with no particular thought in mind, other than a hope that if he stayed out of sight for long enough, they might all eventually forget to be tired of him.

He had a depressing conversation in one of the unused reception rooms with a little man who, it turned out, was employed solely to wind the clocks. There were so many rooms in the house and so many clocks that this chore could occupy him for a whole day. The little man seemed contented with his lot (it was mind-numbingly simple job after all), but Hillyard found something acutely depressing about a man who spent his life walking around empty rooms winding clocks.

After leaving the Yellow Salon (as averse to the Green Salon, the Red Salon, and the Blue Salon, all of which existed at Woll's place), Hillyard wandered past the servants' hall, where about half-a-dozen of them were sitting around the table having lunch. The table groaned under food and huge brown pots of tea. This was hardly surprising as one of the most obvious things about Woll's place was how well the servants lived. In fact they seemed to eat incessantly, and with Woll continuously shut away as he was they weren't usually called upon to perform many onerous tasks, other than simply keeping the house in order. The whole place seemed to be run simply to keep them relentlessly masticating. He was struck by how quiet things were at the table, but was later to learn from Toppy that this was an in-house rule. No one spoke at the dinner-table, and younger, junior members of staff were only allowed to speak in the servants' hall at all if granted permission by a senior person. Hillyard smiled, thinking how different it was to meal-times on the Indigo, when the galley could resemble and Egyptian bazaar.

He strolled down the corridor, examined the intricate bell-board which stretched almost from floor to ceiling, and then went upstairs. The governors' wing was pleasently busy, and for a few minutes he entertained himself by eavesdropping on the Governor the Marsh Village's wife, through the open doorway of her room. This plump, elderly lady was nice enough, but tremendously spoilt. She was never actually rude to anyone, but there was a quiet brand of petulance about her, in that she never could find anything to her liking, however hard anyone tried. She was continually giving herself "little treats", and demanding to be shown "compensation and consideration" for her terrible lot in life. Her saving grace was that she wasn't malicious, and never deliberatley set out to hurt anyone, but she came across as a large, overly-cosseted baby, that screamed if anyone left it alone or in discomfort for too long.

At the moment two stewards were being driven frantic setting up a lunch-table for her in her room, and constantly apologised to her because fresh salmon was extremely hard to get hold of in this neck of the woods at this time of year. Her maid came in and announced that she had scoured the house for some decent shampoo and had at last got hold of some.

"Is it medicated?" asked the Governor's wife.

Hillyard moved on up another flight of stairs and into a part of the house that looked noticeably more neglected than the rest. Dust was thick on the bannisters, and cobwebs hung in abundance from the windows and ceilings. And yet lamps had been left burning above the stairs, and curiosity drove him to explore even further into this uncharted realm.

At the top of the stairs he came into a small dining-room which was striking, in a purely Gothic way. Its most noticeable feature was the way another staircase arched up over the fireplace like an illustration from a puzzle book. Astonishingly this place, so far away from the rest of the house, appeared to be in use. There was a small fire in the grate, and a meal for one had been set up on the table. A tapestry lifted in the breeze from an open doorway on the far side of the room.

"Woll?" Hillyard called out, certain for sure that only Woll could tolerate living in this dreary hole.

He went through the tapestry and found himself in a corridor that was lit entirely by a slither of moon and the snow-covered mountains on the other side of the arched windows. By now he felt thoroughly unnerved. He had kept calling Woll's name, but his friend hadn't answered, and he seriously began to wonder if it was Woll he was pursuing after all.

When a door suddenly opened in the wall next to him, he panicked and threw his arm over his face.

"Easy, easy", said Woll, standing in the gloom "My dear boy, I didn't mean to alarm you".

"Sorry, I thought you were the Gorgon", Hillyard mumbled, in embarrassment.

"The Gorgon?" said Woll "But I thought Kieran had destroyed her?"

"He did", said Hillyard "It was just a nervous reaction on my part that's all. Why are you hiding up here, Woll? People have been asking after you. I know you're shy, but no one's going to bite you if you just come downstairs for the evening".

"Go back into the dining-room", said Woll "And I'll follow you in. There is a light in htere, an dit will make everything clear".

"I have syphilis", said Woll, holding the candle up to his scarred face "I've had it for 20 years. Every so often it would put in a reappearance, like a bout of malaria. Things would be very unpleasent for a while, and then it would go away again. But I always knew that one day it would come back to stay, and that would spell the end for me. Well now it has".

He pulled off the tassled night-cap he had been wearing, to reveal that his hair had fallen out in several places. He also indicated the front of his mouth where one of his teeth had completely rotted.

"I'm not a pretty sight", he said "I would put rather a dampener on everyone's Christmas if I appeared. I want to reassure you that you have nothing to fear. We never had full sexual intercourse together, and now I'm glad of it. I would hate to think of a fine, healthy specimen such as yourself reduced to a rotting zombie".

"You're going to die", said Hillyard, numbly.

"Yes, and hopefully before my mind gives way", Woll sighed "If I do feel that happening, I shall quietly slip away into the mountains, and keep on walking until I drop. Who knows? Perhaps no one will ever find me, and my disappearance will become one of the great mysteries of the world. I rather like the thought of that. After all, it's the only way I will be remembered! Don't look so distressed, Hillyard. Your concern does you credit, but my death is really going to amount to very little".

"But you can't live out the rest of your time like this!" said Hillyard, indicating the dusty, gloomy room "I'll stay behind and look after you. I can go back to Toondor Lanpin ... a-afterwards".

"Don't you have Julian to look after now?"

"How do you know about that?!"

"There is very little that goes on in this house that I don't know about", Woll winked.

"Have you got the rooms bugged or something?" Hillyard laughed "A legacy of your old Ministry days!"

"That would be telling", Woll smiled "But I am completely discreet. Anything I know doesn't go beyond me. Whatever I do is purely for my own amusement. Forgive a sick man his own peculiar way of entertaining himself".

"I'd better not tell the others", said Hillyard "Or they'll think you want to put 'em all in glass jars and examine them!"

"Anyway, you haven't answered my question", Woll sat down at the table and began to nibble tentatively at a piece of cold chicken "Don't you have Julian to look after?"

"You need more urgent looking after", said Hillyard, sitting down opposite him.

"I happen to know he needs you very badly", said Woll "You've spent your life looking for a partner, Hillyard, and you have him. So why do you persist in these cheerless couplings with bad lots like Iylish? You might have an excuse for it if you didn't know what you really wanted, but you do. You always have known, and yet somehow it frightens you, as though you're afraid to be yourself".

"I suppose I just saw Iylish as one for the road", said Hillyard "That was all, and yet it's caused all this trouble. Everytime I pick someone up all it ever does is cause trouble".

"The others are getting close to losing patience with you once and for all", said Woll "I think it's vital you realised that".

"Surely not?" said Hillyard, looking as shocked as if he'd been told he only had four days to live "Not after all this time. They can't! Anyway, none of them are perfect. Everyone has relationship trouble from time to time. Look at Joby!"

"All times of transition are difficult", said Woll "But all resolves itself in the end. Joby, by all accounts, has had a difficult year, but he is progressing. You are not".

"But I can't pretend to be something I'm not", Hillyard protested. He got up and began to pace around the table in agitation.

"I'm saying this for your sake, Hillyard", said Woll "Because I want more than anything for you to be happy. Because I don't want you to end up like me, it would be such a terrible, terrible waste! And so unnecessary too. You have to stop running away from yourself, and take what you really want".

"I can't", said Hillyard, emotionally "I'm too scared. I know how hopeless I am. You see, I've done this so many times, what you say. I've promised everything to people and then let them down. It's caused so much unhappiness. I'm unreliable".

"I remember you once telling me that you went through all this in Hell", said Woll "How Kieran made you accept that you're not unreliable. How can you be? How can someone with your dedicated loyalty be unreliable? The silly thing is, that because you've now convinced yourself you're unreliable, you're causing the very misery and disappointment you hoped to avoid!"

"Is it true that the others are close to kicking me out?" Hillyard asked "Have you heard them say that?"

"No", said Woll "I may have bent the truth a little, but at least I caught your attention in the most effective way!"

When Hillyard got back to his room he found Julian fresh from his bath, standing at the window in a robe. There was no one else in the room, the communicating doors were shut, but voices could be heard on the other side of them.

"Where is everyone?" said Hillyard, looking round him as though he expected Bengo and Toppy to leap out from under the bed.

"Bengo is downstairs getting ready for the show", said Julian, sounding unnaturally subdued "Toppy's probably with his new girlfriend somewhere".

"Toppy's got a girlfriend?" said Hillyard, incredulously.

"Yes, one of the maids", said Julian "Pretty little thing. Where the hell have you been all day, Hillyard? Which unfortunate member of staff have you been victimising this time?!"

"I wasn't", said Hillyard, sitting down next to him on the windowseat "I went for a walk round the house".

"All sodding day?"

"It's a big house. And I wanted to be alone. I needed to think".

"Well I suppose it made a refreshing change", said Julian, tartly.

"I've been talking to Woll", said Hillyard, nervously aware that Woll might be listening in at that very moment "He's not well. Quite seriously ill in fact".

"That at least accounts for why we haven't seen him", said Julian "I thought he was just being his usual anti-social self".

"He told me it was a time of change, transition", said Hillyard "And oh God, that's what it feels like! People exiting, like him and Lady Red, and everything moving on, like this meeting and all the rest of it. It's doing my head in!"

"Things will settle down eventually", Julian sighed "Perhaps if you stopped churning things up inside you so much, external forces wouldn't drive you so mad".

"You sound like Woll".

"Then he obviously knows what he's talking about! Sometimes it's best to just be a pebble on the shore, and let the tide simply wash over you".

"I never thought of you as a philosopher before", Hillyard smiled.

"Nothing very philosophical about it", said Julian "My grandmother once told me the pebble on the shore analogy. She said it was what had enabled her to survive so well. Being young at the time I scorned it, thinking it was just yet another excuse for a member of my family to be cold and unfeeling. Now I see that isn't waht she was implying at all. Quite the reverse. It was about being in tune with one's own inner needs, the need to protect oneself against life occasionally".

"Woll told me I can't keep running away", Hillyard mumbled.

"You can't", said Julian "You have to suddenly stand stock still instead. Back to the pebble on the beach again. That's what Joby had do with Tamaz. He couldn't keep running away from how he felt about him. For reasons that completely escape me he found he loved the wretched creature, and so had to do something about it. Years ago I remember having a similar conversation to this with Adam, when I had to persuade him to face the fact that Lonts wanted a sexual relationship with him. And that all came out alright in the end, didn't it!"

"So there's hope for me yet", said Hillyard.

"This is the show we're putting on on New Year's Eve. It will run for five days", said Hawkefish, handing Joby a copy of a script bearing the lumpy title 'The Clock Struck Thirteen' "I want you as the investigating detective. It's a sizeable role, with several big speeches in it. The audience will be hanging on your every word, so that's something to get your teeth into".

"I can't do it", said Joby "Look Hawkefish, I don't mind helping you out occasionally, like on these away trips, but I can't be a full-time actor".

"You were all for it last night", said Hawkefish, sounding concerned "What's changed your mind?"

"Oh I'd had too much of the jungle juice last night", Joby sighed "I was seeing things too simply. The truth is, I just can't see meself checking in at the stage door twice a day, everyday. I've got too many other commitments. An actor should want to act more than anything else, but I'm a bloody gardener at heart! And if I was at the theatre all the time I'd never get to see Kieran, and who would look after Tamaz all the time I was out? He's like a 2-year-old, he needs constantly watching, and I couldn't shove him onto Julian day-in day-out. I think I'd better leave performing to the dedicated professionals like you and Bengo".

"A great shame", Hawkefish sighed "You have all the attributes and potential of a great character actor, and I could do with more of those. I'm so tired of the relentless line of scrubbed shiny-faced little himbo's I get, who look as though they've just had the tissue-paper taken off them!"

"At least they're not ugly", said Joby.

"Come over here", Hawkefish led him over to the mirror on the other side of the underground dressing-room "Look at yourself".

Joby couldn't resist flinching, as he always did when first confronting his onw reflection.

"You are not ugly", said Hawkefish, squeezing Joby's jaw "Your problem is you've been comparing yourself to Kieran for too long, and that is as ridiculous as every woman comparing herself to the goddess Aphrodite! You have excellent bone structure, a face full of expression, one that looks lived in".

"It's certainly that!" said Joby "I'm sorry, Hawkefish. As I said I'll help anytime I can, but don't put me on the payroll, I'd only let you down. Now I'd better get upstairs. I left Lonts minding Tamaz in the great hall, so anything could have happened by now!"

All would have been well if the wife of the Governor of the Marsh Village hadn't appeared. As Joby got up to the great hall, the said lady had come downstairs wearing a magnificent diamond and sapphire necklace. Tamaz had taken an immediate shine to it, his eyes lighting up greedily and his nostrils flaring, like a hunter sighting the most coveted prey of all.

"I want it", he said, and went after it as though he was going to tear it from around her throat.

Understandably the governor's wife panicked at the sight of this amber-eyed creature advancing on her, and put her hand to her jewels protectively. When Tamaz realised she was intending to thwart him, he made as though to sink his teeth into her well-upholstered bosom. Joby got to him just in time and pulled him back.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry", he gasped "I hope he didn't scare you too much".

"Well I-I-I ..." the governor's wife found it hard to speak coherently.

"Lonts, get the lady a drink and sit with her until I get back", said Joby, and he dragged Tamaz away, yelling "COME ON!"

Lonts fetched a glass of brandy from a side table for Nesta, the governor's wife, and pushed over a chair for her. Nesta by now was more curious about Lonts than her close encounter with Tamaz. Intrigued by this startlingly handsome man with the child's mind.

"I see you like bears", she said, indicating Snowy who had remained tucked under Lonts's arm throughout.

"Yes", said Lonts shyly, as he sat down opposite her.

"I have a bear too", said Nesta "Angelica. She goes everywhere with me. I like to think of her as my lucky mascot. Back home she even has her own place at the dinner-table".

Lonts looked very impressed by this.

"I wish Snowy could eat with us", he said "But there's no room at our dinner-table. What sort of things does Angelica like eating?"

"Honey, mainly", Nesta smiled "All bears like honey. And fish of course. That's why I was so disappointed we weren't given more fish here. Proper fish like salmon I mean. I would have saved some for her".

They settled back to innocently discuss bears.

"You said", said Tamaz accusingly, once Joby had got him into a quiet corner of the room "You said you would give me anything I wanted".

"Don't try that with me!" Joby squawked "You know fucking well that's not what I meant. I meant I'd buy you anything you wanted, not that you'd go snatching other people's property! You're not president's consort now you know!"

Tamaz began to knuckle his eyes.

"And don't try that one!" said Joby "I don't care if you're upset. I'M upset! I am sick and tired of having to shout at you. You don't seem to understand, I want everyone to see you as I do. It upsets me when they only see you as this Satanic freak. I want them to see the real you. The one who helped us to track the Ghoomers, the person I find it so fun to be with ... the one who's so gentle with me".

"Alright", said Tamaz "But that means you'll buy me a necklace just like hers".

"No I won't", said Joby "I won't buy you an expensive present like that, not when you've upset me so much. You've disappointed me, and when you disappoint me it's not just because I care about you, but because I can hear everybody sneering, saying 'what does he expect, taking that Ghoomer freak on?!' I want us to show the world, Tamaz. I want you to be the hero or heroine, whatever, that I think you are, that I know you are".

"What do you want me to do?" said Tamaz.

"Apologise to Nesta", said Joby "And try not to make it sound as though wild horses had dragged it out of yer!"

Tamaz had apologised with remarkably good grace. Joby didn't care if this was because Tamaz knew he had a better chance of getting a necklace that way, the important thing was that he had learnt how important it was to do it.

"If it had been left to me", said Julian, once the pre-buffet cocktail hour had got underway "I'd have thrashed him with the razor-strop and locked him in his room until the air-buggy arrived tomorrow".

"Yes dear", said Adam, dryly "Joan Crawford would have been proud of you!"

"Well it's better than bribing him with diamond necklaces and frilly knickers!" said Julian.

"I don't agree", said Joby "If he realise he'll get a better standard of living from behaving himself then it might work".

"I'm immensely proud of you, Joby", said Adam "Even if you have thrown up your promising stage career. I was looking forward to being your groupy. He would have been good, wouldn't he, Jules?"

"Oh don't ask for my opinion", said Julian "No one takes any notice of me".

"I thought it had been a while since we had this speech", Adam groaned "What are you being so grumpy about now?"

"I'm tired", Julian snapped "It's been an excessively busy Christmas. One damn thing after another. It's almost made me yearn for the deadly dull family Christmases of yore, when the most exhausting part was listening to the King's speech!"

"Yes I must admit I would have preferred a nice, quiet Christmas on the Indigo", said Adam.

"We can still have that", said Joby "We'll have it on New Year's Day instead".

"That's given me an idea", said Hillyard, who had caught the tail-end of the conversation "Some of us can go out shooting on the marshes the day before. We could have free roast duck for a festive lunch. How about it? Me, Ransey, Joby, Lonts. And we could use Tamaz to help with the stalking".

"And I suppose I'm too old and decrepit to come along!" said Julian.

"Oh for heaven's sake", said Adam, in exasperation "You'll have to give the little boy a gun of his own, Hillyard, or we'll never hear the end of it!"

"Excuse me, Mr Julian?" Nesta appeared at his side, her necklace sparkling safely in place on her bosom "I understand you're in charge on the Indigo, is that true?"

"It's just an ugly rumour", said Julian "I am actually kept there solely for the amusement of the crew".

"He is in charge", said Adam "Take no notice of him".

"Tamaz hasn't done something else has he?" said Joby, warily.

"If he has, he gets a damn good hiding this time", said Julian.

"No, I wish to congratulate you", said Nesta, genially.

"Don't tell me my Lottery numbers have finally come up!" said Julian.

"Jules, listen to the lady", said Adam.

"The good-looking boy, Lonts", said Nesta "Is a total delight. So charming to talk to. If only I had a young man like him in my household, it would make all the difference".

"You can say that again!" said Joby.

"He is a credit to you", Nesta continued "Impeccable manners. Polite. Quiet. It has made my Christmas to meet someone like him. A real treat".

Joby watched her move away, beaming all over her face.

"There isn't somebody else called Lonts around here is there?" he said.

"Impeccable manners, polite and quiet!" Julian exclaimed.

"A triumph for Lo-Lo!" said Adam "It's so wonderful for his unique qualities to be appreciated by a person of rank and discernment".

"And we'll be hearing about it for some time to come!" said Joby.

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