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By Sarah Hapgood

Eventually they came to a small fishing-village on the western side of the lake. Snow Lake was the most northern fishing-community in the whole vast maze of lakes and rivers up here, and so they were used to seeing all kinds of vessels. As such the galleon didn’t excite the same level of attention as Joby had feared it could. It was true that it was unusual for them to see a ship approaching from the north, but the galleon was such a tidy, well-kept vessel that it didn’t arouse undue excitement. This was good news for the Indigo-ites, who were hoping to offload their guests.

Apart from Kitty, and her own strange little quirks, the Cave4 had assimilated well into the life of the ship, but even so, their presence meant that things were very crowded, and the Indigo-ites longed to go back to the privacy and seclusion that they had previously known.

Snow Lake had nice atmosphere, in spite of the fact that for several days, when they first knew it, it seemed to be under a permanent grey cloud. The people were friendly, and didn’t ask too many probing questions. Adam took Beatrix over to the village’s one and only ramshackle hotel-cum-inn, The Dancing Dog, and espoused its cheap and cheerful qualities so fulsomely that he began to fear she might get suspicious. He was helped by Anton though, who had fallen head-over-heels for the place.

“It’s like when I was a boy”, he aid “Before our village got sucked into the City, and everything became so hostile and anonymous”.

In fact, it was fair to say that as the days went on, Anton was in a state of bliss ed-out enchantment. There was no need to ask if he could perceive of living there, because the answer was obviously ‘yes’. The only problem was, how? There were no spare houses in the village, and no one had the money to put them up indefinitely at the hotel.

“Let’s build ‘em something”, said Hillyard.

“You still need the money to buy the land you dope”, said Julian.

“Not if we put it up just outside the village”, Hillyard went on, regardless “I’ve been asking round, nobody owns that. It’s free land, wild land, whatever you want to call it”.

“And what’s the house going to be built out of, Hilly?” said Adam.

“Fresh air probably”, said Joby “You still need to buy the building materials, Hillyard. Unless you’re planning on knocking it up out of bits of old driftwood and peat!”

“You wait and see, you bunch of smart-arses”, said Hillyard “I have a plan up my sleeve”.

“Oh gawd help us”, said Joby.

Kitty had caused a bit of a stir amongst the men of the village. She was an attractive woman, with her tall, slender build, long black hair, and pensive expression. It was easy to see how men would be attracted by the mysterious, yet slightly vulnerable air she carried around with her. The Indigo-ites immediately began to hope that somebody would be mad enough to want to marry her. Beatrix was more sceptical.

“Kitty’s never had any trouble attracting men”, she confided to Adam, Bengo, Bardin, Joby and Julian in the dining-room one afternoon.

“It’s keeping ’em I spose is the trouble”, said Joby, bluntly.

“Well she didn’t show them enough affection”, said Beatrix “It’s so frustrated me at times. She told one boyfriend her cat came first!”

“As if any man’s going to play second-fiddle to a bloody cat!” said Julian.

“One man I did have high hopes for”, said Beatrix “She seemed genuinely smitten by him, even though frankly he was an out-and-out swine. He was horrible rude to her, and constantly let her down. And yet she seemed to adore him”.

“She likes men who give her a hard time”, said Julian “I’ve had women like that after me”.

“That doesn’t surprise me”, said Joby.

“What happened to him?” said Adam.

“He eventually fell in love with her”, said Beatrix “He started to return her feelings, be nice to her. Tender. Kitty went off him. It was as if she could only want him when he was being rude”.

“Oh she’d have loved Bardy then”, said Bengo “He was always constantly rude to me, giving me a hard time”.

“I had to!” said Bardin “Left to your own devices, you would have sat around on your fat bottom all day, eating ice-cream. And what would that have been like?”

“Heaven!” said Bengo.

“But you didn’t go off Bardin when he began to be nice to you”, said Beatrix.

“He never has”, said Bengo “He’s just got slightly less rude, that’s all”.

“Oh very funny”, said Bardin “Ever thought of becoming a clown?”

Hillyard managed to secure temporary jobs for himself and Wesley at the local boat-yard, repairing boats.

“They begged me to join full-time”, said Hillyard.

“Yeah right”, said Joby.

“They bloody did!” said Hillyard “But I said, no I can’t, because I’ve got to look after that useless bunch of farts back home. I’m hoping they’ll take old Wesley on full-time though”.

“Good”, said Julian “Because the moment we’ve got that lot settled we’re out of here”.

There was general agreement on that one.

One chilly spring morning Bardin was sitting in the window of the main bar of The Dancing Dog on the waterfront. He was attracting some unwanted attention from the men of the town because, with his long fair hair trailing out from under his cap, they had mistaken him for another of the Indigo galleon’s interesting-looking women. (Mieps had also attracted some stragglers when walking round the market with Adam earlier). Bardin was relieved when he saw Bengo hove into view, and he tapped on the window to him.

“Thank God you’re here”, said Bardin, when Bengo had squeezed onto the bench next to him “I need protecting. All the men here seem to be totally sex-starved! Either that or desperate for novelty!”

“I keep telling you you’re an attractive man, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“They think I’m a woman that’s the trouble!” said Bardin “I hadn’t realised how long my hair had got. It’ll be as long as Kieran’s at this rate”.

He ordered a hot cider for Bengo.

“Imagine if they saw you in your pink nightie”, Bengo giggled.

“That won’t see the light of day again until we’re well away from here, and have disposed of our guests”, said Bardin.

“That might not be long now”, said Bengo “Hillyard says the people at the boat-yard really like Wesley, and Beatrix is drawing up a list of plans for things they need to do if they want to stay here”.

He took a sip of his warm cider and then glanced over at the service area. A young girl was standing dreamily at one end of the counter, absently playing with her hair. She was beautiful, in a sad phantom-ish sort of way.

“Is she alright?” Bengo whispered.

“Not all there”, Bardin mouthed back.

“Oh how sad”, said Bengo “She’s so attractive”.

“The owner’s daughter”, said Bardin “From what I can gather she’s been like that since she had a severe shock a couple of years ago. Sort of turned in on herself I suppose”.

“I wonder if Kieran could help her”, said Bengo.

“Ssh!” said Bardin “We’re supposed to be incognito, not have Kieran going around performing miracles all over the town!”

“Perhaps if he did it incognito”, said Bengo “They need never know it was him who did it”.

“Could do”, said Bardin “But it needs a lot of care. Watch out”.

The owner was advancing on them, with a damp cloth to wipe down the table.

“Anything more I can get you gentlemen?” he asked.

“No we’re fine, thanks”, said Baridn.

“I saw you were looking at my daughter”, said the owner.

“Oh … er … yes, we meant no harm”, Bengo stammered “She’s very beautiful, but we’re not that way inclined”.

Bengo instantly felt a clot, but the owner didn’t seem to mind.

“I’m relieved to hear it”, he said “I have to watch her enough as it is. Make sure she doesn’t go wandering off again”.

“Again?” said Bardin.

“That’s how it happened”, said the owner “She was grazing our goats on some wild land near here. One of the goats went missing, and she went to find it. Came back in a terrible state. Was got at in the woods, if you know what I mean”.

“Assaulted?” said Bardin “Does anyone know who did it?”

“She refused to say”, said the owner “Would only say it was no one from the village. That was all she told us. She clammed up after that. Has been clammed up ever since”.

“Ooh”, said an anguished Bengo.

More customers came in and diverted the owner. Bengo looked at Bardin.

“I know what you are going to say”, said Bardin “Yes it does look exactly like a case for Kieran, but I repeat, we have to be careful. It could still be just somebody from the village who did it. She might be covering up for them”.

“But why would she do that?” said Bengo.

“Some people are too kind-hearted for their own good”, said Bardin “Either that or it was someone she’s scared of. Someone of influence in the town perhaps. We don’t know. Let’s not jump to conclusions just because it happened out in the countryside. We are supposed to be out of the Demon Lands now after all”.

“We don’t actually know that for sure, Bardy”, said Bengo “We’re just assuming we are”. They drained their glasses and got up to leave. By now the bar was quite busy, but when they got to the door the landlord rushed over to them.

“Come and meet me here tonight”, he whispered, in his gravely voice “About 8 o’clock. In there”.

He pointed towards a back room, the door of which was standing slightly ajar.

“OK”, said Bardin “Is it alright if we bring a couple of our friends with us?”

“Yeah”, said the landlord “As long as they can be trusted”.

“God Bardy, how exciting”, said Bengo, when they had gone out into the street “I wonder what he wants to tell us”.

“Something worth all this cloak-and-dagger carry-on I hope”, said Bardin.

“What shall we bring with us?” said Bengo.

“Ransey for one”, said Bardin “He’s got a brain”.

“Kieran?” asked Bengo.

“No, we can’t risk any controversy”, said Bardin “Adam I think. He’ll put the old boy at ease, and he can be relied upon to keep his head”.

“I shall go armed, and Bardin shall go armed”, said Ransey, early that evening, standing outside the galley door “I know it’s pointless asking you to take a gun”.

“Whatever this man wants to tell us is clearly an issue of trust”, said Adam “So how will it look if we go over there armed to the teeth?”

“Oh give me strength”, said Ransey “There is such a thing as being prepared you know. This could be a trap. It could be anything”.

“I just don’t see why guns have to figure all the time”, said Adam.

“I shall remind you of that next time some evil sod is bearing down on us”, said Ransey, and he turned and stamped off down the corridor.

“Yes I’m sure you will”, said Adam.

He went into the galley, where Joby was struggling to put a comb through his unruly locks.

“Good heavens, this must be a special occasion!” said Adam.

“Yeah alright”, said Joby “I’m just gonna try and make the most of Bengo and Bardin being out. We can have some privacy”.

“Never mind, old love”, said Adam “I’m sure it can’t be long now until you get your old cabin back”.

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