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“Did you think he was a fool?” said Angel, emerging out of a corner of Crowley’s library.
“Kieran I suppose?” said Crowley, wearily, sitting behind his desk.
“He hasn’t survived this long through simply stupidity and luck”, said Angel “Did you think you only had to demand those two and he would hand them over? You know nothing, Crowley. Men like you always think they only have to snap their fingers and all will fall into place”.
“Whose side are you on?” Crowley growled.
“No one’s”, said Angel “I don’t have any allegiances”.
“You’ve sided with him in the past”, said Crowley.
“When he’s made me a good offer”, said Angel, flipping aside a book contemptuously “When there was something irresistible in it for me. Kieran knows how to make deals, when he doesn’t let his fanaticism get in the way”.
“Meaning I don’t?” said Crowley.
“Spoilt men, Crowley, tsh tsh, spoilt men”, said Angel, leaning across the desk and emitting a waft of graveyard breath.
Crowley was unmoved. He remembered hearing the tale once of how Angel had ripped off a man’s balls and stuffed them into the man’s mouth.
“The only way you are going to get those two”, said Angel, now pacing around “Is if you take them by force”.
“They will destroy me if I do that”, said Crowley.
“Oh you do realise that much then?” said Angel “Looks like you’ve boxed yourself into a bit of a corner doesn’t it?”
“They’re going to leave”, said Crowley “Get right away from the area”.
“And leave you here all alone”, said Angel, tut-tutting “In this cold old mausoleum. It’s going to be a long Winter for you isn’t it? Acting as jailer to the things in the cellar”.
“Are you not interested in them?” said Crowley, though he suspected he already knew the answer to that one.
“No way!” Angel gave a mirthless laugh “You can round up every demon in this accursed countryside if you like, and put them there. Makes no odds to me. None whatsoever”.
“I can’t stay here”, Crowley muttered “I’ll go mad”.
“Oh well”, Angel shrugged “Then use your intrepid exploring skills to head into the mountains. And take a risk with the demons that are still at large. You made a career out of studying demonology, that should interest you. Though I’ve never understood what you find so fascinating about them. Grotesque, deformed beings that most of them are. There’s no substance to them. I don’t know why you wasted your time really. They’re merely dark forces of Nature, that’s all”.
“I have always been fascinated by the dark side”, said Crowley.
“Haha”, said Angel “Well now you’ve got it! In abundance”.
The galleon meanwhile was on its way back down the lake.
“We can at least get a couple of nights at our stopping-place”, Bardin said to Ransey, standing at the foot of the quarterdeck steps “Even Crowley can’t get there any quicker”.
“I would suggest we stay there for as long as we can”, said Ransey “It’s a good halt”.
“But what if he turns up?” said Bardin.
“Let us deal with that if and when it happens”, said Ransey “The way this weather’s going we might not have any choice anyway. The lake could freeze over at any time now”.
He stalked off. Bardin shrugged.
“Sometimes I wonder who’s really in charge round here”, he said.
“Oh you old love, of course”, said Adam, from the galley doorway.
“Apart from when Julian’s chucking his weight around”, said Joby.
Julian decided to chuck it around the very next afternoon. He summoned Bardin and Kieran into his cabin for a talking-to.
“I want no more of that astral-projection malarkey”, he said “Not ever! I want your firm promise on that”.
“Ever?!” Bardin exclaimed.
“Eternity’s a long time, Julian, as we keep saying”, said Kieran “How can we promise not to do something forever?”
“Oh shut up, shut up!” said Julian, wearily “At least promise not to do anymore in Crowley’s mausoleum”.
“We can promise that one”, said Kieran, cheerfully.
“Good”, said Julian “Now get out of my sight”.
Kieran and Bardin went along to Kieran’s cabin.
“That was an easy promise”, said Bardin, flopping onto the sofa “I never want to see the inside of that pile again. And I hope you don’t either”.
“Nope, me neither”, said Kieran, digging a bottle of whisky out of the cupboard under the washstand “And I think it would do Aleister good to have a time of reflection in that grim pile. I doubt anything will cure him of his obsession with the dark side, but we can give it a go”.
“It’s cold in here”, said Bardin “Yours is the only cabin without a fire in it”.
“Ah Joby points that fact out to me on a regular basis”, said Kieran.
“If it gets too much, you can always come and bunk down in ours”, said Bardin “Doss down on the sofa”.
“Won’t Bengo mind your connubial bliss being interrupted?” said Kieran.
“No he won’t mind”, said Bardin “He’d much rather you and Joby invaded it than the other clowns, which is normally what happens!”
Knowing that he would probably get nagged to death by Julian if he didn’t, Joby spanked Kieran with the black leather paddle later that afternoon.
“I know he enjoys it”, said Joby, when he returned the paddle to Julian afterwards “But I still feel like a complete bastard when he cries. I don’t like making him cry”.
“You can’t afford to be soft with Kieran”, said Julian.
“I know”, said Joby, miserably “But I’m not a natural heartless bastard like you”.
“I’m sure you’ll make it up to him”, said Julian “Anyway, as you’ve just said, he enjoys it. All part of Kieran’s rather complex psyche. If you hadn’t done it I’d have had to thrash YOU for being too damn soft!”
“I’d have run and told Adam”, said Joby “He’d protect me!”
“Well that’s why you’re soft”, said Julian “All that mothering and molly-coddling he’s always given you”.
“He has to make up for you!” said Joby “Anyway, I’d better go and check up on Kieran. He’s packing up our stuff. We’re moving into Bengo and Bardin’s cabin for a while”.
“Yes, so I heard”, said Julian “Sounds fun”.
“I’m looking forward to dozing by firelight”, said Joby “Something that never happens in our cabin!”
Kieran was still sniffing when Joby returned to their cabin. He flung his arms round Joby’s neck. Joby picked him up and twirled him round, as best he could in such a confined space.
“Are you alright?” Joby whispered into Kieran’s hair.
“I’m fine”, said Kieran “God knows I needed a bum-whipping like that. I’m not a good slave sometimes”.
“You’re the best”, said Joby “I was thinking that when you were standing there afterwards, naked with your long hair all tousled. And your backside all red!”
“A real picture!” Kieran laughed.
“Well anyway, the Black Beast has been returned to its lair”, said Joby, referring to the leather paddle “Where it belongs. I’m gonna be gentle with you for a few days. You’ll be able to keep your pants on”.
“Hah!” said Kieran “Like old softy Bardin in his starched knickers!”
“I’ll bring you back in here for those sessions”, said Joby “I like having you all to myself at those times. I can feast on you then!”
Back at the place they had been, before they had been rudely interrupted by Crowley, they hunkered down just in time for an onslaught of severe weather. Snowstorms and howling gales battered the ship. At first Julian fretted that Bardin and Kieran would disobey orders and go off on one of their astral tangents. Eventually he calmed down though, when it became clear they had no intention of doing so. Bardin was too busy concerning himself with day-to-day practical matters, which in the current conditions were all too consuming, and Kieran had been docility itself since the spanking with the black leather paddle.
“I think Julian thinks I’m putting it all on”, said Kieran to Joby “That it’s all an act”.
“He keeps nagging me about when it wears off”, said Joby.
“As if it’s going to!” said Kieran “Hillyard’s been lagging the boiler, to stop the pipes freezing up, and the cheeky devil said I should show it my hot arse!”
Joby went along to the galley, where he found Adam standing peering out of the window. Outside, it was snowing hard.
“It’s almost a complete white-out”, said Adam “Even if Aleister were to turn up now, I doubt we’d be able to see him!”
“Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?” said Joby.
“Good heavens, I never expected to hear you coming out with that one, Joby”, said Adam.
“Yeah, very funny”, said Joby “Where’s Bengo-bonce?”
“Having a chat with Bardin, I think”.
“I feel awfully sorry for Aleister really. Just imagine him holed up in that terrible house for the Winter. One would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for him”.
“Then I have a heart of stone. Am starting to think Julian’s been right all along. You’re too soft! May I remind you that he tried to take Bardin and Hoowie away from us?”
“And he had absolutely no chance of succeeding”, said Adam “So there was no real threat. Oh the silly, silly man. To play such stupid games. Why on earth do people do it?”
“It’s the only real power they’ve got”, said Joby “C’mon, let’s get started on the dinner”.
Adam dealt Joby a hard smack on the behind.
“Ow!” said Joby.
“That was to demonstrate that I’m not too soft”.
“I hope I’m interrupting something”, said Hillyard “My thermos needs re-filling”.
“Adam can do it”, said Joby “Stop him bleating on about how he feels sorry for Crowley”.
“I shall put you over my knee in a minute, Joby”, said Adam.
“Go to it”, said Hillyard “Be revenge for all those hidings he gives Kieran. Here, I tell you, we’re well set up her for the Winter. I was having a look round down below just now. We’ve got plenty of booze”.
“The slight problem with that, Hillyard”, said Adam “Is whether we can persuade your boyfriend to let us have any of it!”
“Oh he will”, said Hillyard “We’ll say it’s Christmas. Well after all it could be, for all we know. We’ve got the weather for it”.
“That’s true”, said Joby.
“Why not”, said Adam “Sounds a splendid idea”.
After dinner that evening, Joby and Bengo sat by the fire in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin, toasting their feet and drinking beer.
“It is nice having you in here”, said Bengo.
“I thought you’d have enough of me during the day”, said Joby.
“But this is different”, said Bengo “We can relax”.
“Not have Adam ordering us about”, said Joby “D’you know, I haven’t got a single pair of socks that hasn’t got a hole in ‘em”.
“Ask Finia to darn them”, said Bengo. “I don’t like to”, said Joby “He always seems to have a huge stack of mending by him”.
“I’ll get Bardy to do it”, said Bengo “He used to mend our costumes sometimes. He’s not bad with a needle”.
“He’ll like that!” Joby laughed “First I move in, then he’s mending my clothes!”
“He’ll do as he’s told”, said Bengo, and then immediately jumped out of his skin when Bardin and Kieran walked into the room.
“And what have you got a guilty conscience about?” said Bardin.
“Nothing”, said Bengo “Do you have to burst in like that? Can’t you knock?”
“Knock?” said Bardin “To come into my own cabin?! Is there any beer left?” he picked up the jug “Oh a tiny sliver I see”.
“You wait til tomorrow”, said Joby “Ransey’s gonna unlock the drinks store. It’ll be a right old jamboree”.
Joby woke up in the night, but he didn’t mind. He could lie there and watch the glowing embers in the fireplace, and relish the unusual silence on the ship. The dogs had been let into the cabin, so that they could sleep on the hearth-rug. When one of them became restless though, Joby knew something was out place. His stomach had suddenly knotted with tension. There was something else in the room. One of the dogs made a whining sound, as though he was having a stressful dream.
“Randolph”, said Bardin, drowsily, from his bunk “Be still”.
This seemed to dissipate whatever unnatural energy it was that had built up in the room. Things returned to normal.
“I dunno what it was”, said Joby, who had bundled Kieran into their own icy cabin for a quick chat the next morning “But the hairs on my arms were standing up”.
“It could’ve been Crowley”, said Kieran “Just because we’ve agreed not to do astral projection doesn’t mean he won’t”.
“Bastard”, said Joby.
“All is not lost”, said Kieran “If you sensed him so easily then that’s good. We can get rid of him, never fear”.
“I don’t like the thought of him spying on us though”, said Joby.
“He can’t”, said Kieran “Not if we can sense he’s around”.
“OK, I see what you mean”, said Joby.
He lit a couple of candles, more to try and generate some warmth than for any light. The snow outside was bathing the little room in an ethereal white glow.
“C’mon”, said Joby “I’ll massage some cream into your bum. Stop you getting blisters”.
“It’s easing”, said Kieran “If you want to save on the cream”.
“Hey, stop trying to deprive me of a chance of having you across my lap”, said Joby “Anyway, I’m gonna smack your bottom with the hairbrush first. Though being kind, you can keep your pants on”.
“You’re a good master”, Kieran gave a throaty giggle.
“Oh any excuse to get a look at your knickers”, said Joby.
“They’re not as exciting as Bardin’s”, said Kieran, taking off his trousers.
“Oh I dunno”, said Joby, stroking Kieran’s behind.
“It’s a problem with being skinny”, said Kieran “They’re always baggy”.
“They do alright”, said Joby, pinging the elastic on them.
“Something’s different down here”, said Ransey, pacing around one of the rooms in the hold “What is it?”
“Kieran did another Blessing round here”, said Hillyard “Said he didn’t trust Crowley not to try and wreck some havoc”.
“What a sensible idea”, said Adam “Good old Patsy. I shall make sure Julian and Joby know about it”.
“And like they’re going to be impressed!” said Hillyard.
“Well Julian should be”, said Ransey “He’s the main reason I keep this place locked up. Otherwise he’d be down here every five minutes looting the stores”.
“Anyway, now it’s Christmas”, said Adam, who was trying to coax Ransey into parting with his key-ring.
“And that’s another thing”, said Ransey “We have no idea that it is Christmas”.
“Stop being such a pedantic old sod”, said Hillyard “You’re not at the Ministry now!”
Adam wrested the key-ring from Ransey’s pocket.
“Sorry old love, but needs must“, he said “Or we’d be down here all day”.
They opened up one of the boxes which they had taken from the house in the north, near one of the entrances to Hell. It was lined with straw. Adam pulled out a bottle of wine.
“Now this looks rather impressive”, he said.
“We should have a taste of that”, said Hillyard.
“Fortunately I came prepared”, said Adam, fishing out a corkscrew from under his pinny.
“We haven’t got any glasses”, said Ransey.
“Then we shall just have to be dead common”, said Adam “And swig from it. Make sure it hasn’t gone off”.
He removed the cork with a satisfying plop. Almost immediately Julian’s voice could be heard on the stairs.
“What’s going on down there?” he yelled.
“How does he do that?” said Hillyard “How could he hear the cork from up there?”
“I wouldn’t put anything past Julian”, said Adam “Quick, let’s sample it”.
They passed the bottle round hurriedly, as Julian made his way down the stairs and across the hold.
“The good stuff has been breached at last has it?” he said, when he saw them “You three look like Macbeth’s witches having a booze-up”.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “Of course we don’t”.
“That’ll do for Christmas lunch”, said Ransey “To accompany the food I mean”.
“Yeah I suppose we’d better have some food as well”, said Hillyard.
“Well we haven’t really decided what we’re making yet”, said Adam.
“Does it matter?” said Ransey.
“Not at all”, said Adam.
Julian was grudgingly offered a swig.
“That’s more like it”, he said, after a liberal taster “Better than that rank sherry you’ve been sparingly doling out to me lately, Four-Eyes”.
“You are lucky you’ve been allowed to have anything at all”, said Ransey “I’ve only been giving you that in order to have some peace and quiet!”
“Well anyway the hard times are over at last”, said Julian.
“Briefly”, said Ransey “For a short while”.
“Let’s get it all upstairs”, said Hillyard, reaching for the wooden box.
“And then I suppose I’d better get on with planning a menu”, said Adam “And try and somehow make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!”
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