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By Sarah Hapgood

“It’s quite funny really”, said Bardin, when he went along for a drink with Kieran in his cabin.

“I’m glad you think so”, said Kieran.

“Oh come on”, said Bardin “I got mistaken for a woman when we first arrived here. I was always being given the glad-eye in The Dancing Dog! Anyway, nothing’s happened. Not as if one of them tried to abduct you”.

“He’d get a helluva focking surprise if he had!” said Kieran.

“Depends how fussy he was”, said Joby, coming into the room.

“Thanks for that reassuring note, Joby!” said Kieran.

“Well make sure you behave yourself in future when we’re out and about”, said Joby.

“I wasn’t doing anything, just standing there minding me own focking business”, said Kieran “Not my fault if those fellers have got lousy eyesight!”

“Julian’s threatening to cut your hair with a pair of shears”, said Joby.

“Oh don’t do that”, said Bardin “Bengo’d be devastated, he loves Kieran’s long hair”.

“S’alright, I won’t let him”, said Joby.

“It must make you realise how lucky you’ve been that Kieran isn’t a woman”, said Bardin “Think how much extra trouble you’d have had if he was”.

“I’m finding that hard to imagine!” said Joby.

Ransey returned at dinner-time. To Kieran’s annoyance he agreed with Joby that at least the crew of the fishing-trawler hadn’t recognised who he really was.

“You mean you didn’t put them right that I’m a feller?” said Kieran.

“No, as far as I’m concerned it’s an advantage”, said Ransey.

“You kinky bunch of old bastards”, said Kieran “You’ll be having me getting clobbered up in dresses next!”

“A vision of beauty to behold no doubt”, said Julian.

“You really are making a lot of fuss about nothing, Patsy”, said Adam.

“I’ll remind you of that next time Beatrix is trying to lure you into her knitting-circle”, said Kieran.

Adam flicked a tea-towel at Kieran’s head.

“For someone who spends most of his time looking like Cinderella before the transformation”, said Julian to Kieran “I find this sudden emphasis on your masculinity quite weird”.

“It’s his Irishness coming out”, said Joby “Men washing their hair was probably a sign of poofy-ness”.

“Joby, you racist old bugger”, said Kieran.

“If you will waft around like a fucking shampoo advert all the time”, said Julian “It’s hardly surprising that somebody was bound to take you for a fairy princess sooner or later”.

“I was not wafting anywhere!” said Kieran “And me hair was all over the place”.

“It usually is”, said Ransey.

“Anyway”, Lonts suddenly spoke forth “The townspeople will put them right. They’ll tell the men Kieran’s a man”.

“Lo-Lo is absolutely right”, said Adam.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby “Lonts speak, and the whole wide world comes crashing to a halt in a fit of worship”.

“Let’s just hope we don’t a ‘Some Like It Hot’ situation on our hands”, said Julian “Nobody’s perfect”.

“I was thinking that earlier”, said Joby.

“You’d better stay away from town for a little while”, said Ransey to Kieran “Or the next thing we know you’ll have been abducted onto the fishing-trawler”.

“They’ll soon send him back”, said Julian “When they find they can’t shut him up!”

Over the course of the Winter the brewery had been steadily improved, with the addition of new equipment, and a generally more salubrious image. Hillyard was very proud of it, and one day was showing Joby, Kieran, Bengo, Bardin and Hoowie around it again. He was starting to sound like an over-zealous estate-agent.

“Yeah alright, Hillyard”, said Joby “I’m not buying it you know!”

“All I’m saying is, look what we’ve achieved here”, said Hillyard.

Bardin looked uneasy.

“How are you going to feel if and when we decide to leave”, he said “And you have to hand it over to Jarvis”.

“Oh don’t worry about that”, said Hillyard “Me, Ranz and Umbert have talked about that, and we’re going to be very proud to pass it on. Everything has it’s cycle”.

“Good”, said Bardin “Just making sure”.

They were interrupted by someone knocking on the door. Standing on the threshold was a young, skinny, cheerful-looking lad carrying a flat basket loaded with dead ducks.

“Jarvis sent me over”, he said, beaming “We’ve been duck-shooting, thought you’d like some”.

“You walked over with all that?” said Bardin.

“No, came in the wagon”, said the lad.

Hillyard was completely smitten with the young man’s sweet, open face, shaggy hair, and kitten-like eyes.

“What’s your name then?” he said, awed.

“Jasper”, said Jasper “Do you want the ducks/ Only we’ve found ourselves with a surplus”.

“I’ll take you over to the ship”, said Hillyard.

“Why’s he got to go over to the ship?” said Hoowie.

“So he can give them to Adam”, said Hillyard, enthusiastically setting off to escort Jasper over to the galleon.

Kieran was amused by the disgruntled reaction Jasper was provoking amongst the clowns.

“You’re not jealous by any chance?” he laughed.

Bardin gave a sound that came out as “pffw”.

“If you ask me”, said Hoowie “He’s trying to look like me”.

“Why the fuck would anyone want to do that?” exclaimed Bengo.

“Well he is isn’t he”, said Hoowie “All that shaggy hair and bristle, he’s going for my luck”.

“Hoowie, the idea that you’ve got anything as sophisticated as A Look is bizarre”, said Bardin.

“It’s a very distinctive look actually”, said Hoowie “What do you think of when you look at me?”

“Nutter?” said Joby “Hairy nutter?”

“No”, said Hoowie “You think wild, untamed sex appeal”.

“That’s one way of looking at”, said Joby.

“Let’s get back to the ship”, said Kieran “And calm Adam down, otherwise we might run the risk of Lonts throwing Jasper over the side”.

“I clearly picked the wrong day to go riding”, said Julian, chatting with Adam in his cabin later “This Jasper totty has sent Hoowie and the clowns into spasms of jealousy, and you and Hillyard into gibbering, smitten wrecks”.

“Oh that’s a gross exaggeration, Jules”, said Adam “He’s just rather cute that’s all. Got a very sweet, unworldly nature”.

“Yes, sounds just like your sort”, said Julian.

“Nonsense”, said Adam “I don’t know what it is about him really, I mean, he’s not as cute as Bengo, and nowhere near as beautiful as Patsy …”

“What it is is a dose of cabin fever, that’s what it is”, said Julian “I’m starting to understand how those men on the fishing-trawler mistook Kieran for a woman!”

“I don’t believe that”, said Adam “I mean, we don’t normally get like that. I keep being reminded of the time Bengo joined us”.

“Yes, and you all went potty then too!” said Julian “I was the only one to keep a level-head. Anyway, he can’t join us, we haven’t got the room. We went over all this with Wesley”.

“But we couldn’t see Wesley fitting in”, said Adam “But I can with Jasper”.

“Ye gods, what a difference a cute face makes!” said Julian.

“It’s not just that”, said Adam “Jasper has a sweet, flexible nature”.

“It might all be an act, and he might be as ruthless and hard-as-nails underneath”, said Julian “Sometimes I don’t know where you’d be without me to keep an eye on you”.

“Well anyway, this is a rather pointless conversation”, said Adam “Jasper only delivered the ducks. He has given no indication whatsoever that he wants to move in!”

“Everybody’s making a lot of fuss about nothing”, said Adam, laying the table in the dining-room “I make a couple of passing comments about Jasper being quite cute, and suddenly everyone’s inflating it into something it’s not”.

“My arse”, said Bardin, who was sprawled in his chair at the end of the table, studying maps.

“It will be your arse if you don’t get your feet off the table!” said Adam.

Bardin grudgingly moved his feet to the floor.

“Julian’s right”, he said “This is bloody cabin-fever. We’ve got Hoowie going around thinking Jasper’s star-struck by him, just because Jasper’s another scruff-bag who can’t be bothered to shave properly, and you … well words fail”.

It seemed they had finally failed Adam, who could only stand there glaring at him with his hands on his hips.

“Bardy, have you been upsetting Adam?” said Bengo, bustling in with a basket of bread rolls.

“Why do you instantly assume it’s me who’s to blame?” said Bardin, gathering up his maps.

“Because it usually is”, said Bengo “Just spank him if he annoys you, Adam”.

Bardin flounced out of the room.

“It’s an enticing thought as always, old love”, said Adam “But I don’t want to intrude on your pitch, you’re doing such a splendid job”.

“Aw thanks”, said Bengo “But he does need A LOT of keeping in order. Anytime you want to, just go ahead. And when we got off on our adventures round the lakes, I know the others are expecting you to do the public spankings again”.

“I will gladly of course”, said Adam “But I think you should do some as well. That will be utterly awesome”.

Preparations for their exodus began to gather apace. Adam and Ransey enjoyed themselves making up lists, and supplies began to be discreetly gathered in. They didn’t want to cause undue attention to themselves by doing a mad supply-run all at once, so it was done in dribs and drabs. Meanwhile, the brewery carried on operating as normal, bringing them in the income they needed to fund all this.

“Keep those tea-chests sealed until needed”, said Bardin, inspecting a couple of packing-cases which were being stored in their cabin “Or the dogs will get their noses into them”.

“Everything’s buzzing”, said Bengo, excitedly “The others are really looking forward to this trip”.

“I hope they realise anything could happen”, said Bardin.

“Well of course they do, Bardy!” said Bengo “We’ve been on enough of these before!”

“Yes I know”, said Bardin “But this will be a proper adventure, not just excuses to spank me in my underwear!”

“But you’ve got to admit that will be a part of it”, said Bengo, caressing Bardin’s behind.

“Good job I’ve asked Toppy to make sure we’ve got plenty of laundry-starch in then isn’t it!” said Bardin.

The final decision to leave was made when Bardin was accosted in the covered market one afternoon. He had been roaming about at the back of the building, pausing to look at a second-hand bookstall. Suddenly a bulky, dark figure had loomed up at him out of nowhere, and began pawing at him, ordering him in a gruff voice to follow him. Bardin had shouted “back off!” repeatedly, and was shocked that no one nearby seemed to be taking any notice.

“Bard, you alright, mate?” said Hoowie, appearing around the side of the bookcase.

It successfully broke whatever dark spell had been woven. By the time Bardin had collected himself he could only see the bulky figure disappearing into the crowded distance.

“What was that all about?” said Hoowie.

“Come on”, said Bardin “I owe you a drink”.

“What did he look like?” said Hoowie, once they were ensconced in the main room of The Dancing Dog.

“I didn’t get a good look at him”, said Bardin “Just this large bulky, dark shape. He had red eyes though. Horrible. Like some beast”.

“Ugh”, said Hoowie “Couldn’t just be some old perv?”

“No”, said Bardin “It wasn’t. Anyway, I’ll definitely make a point of telling Julian you rescued me in the nick of time”.

“Could you tell Benje as well?” said Hoowie “Only he’s been a bit iffy with me the past couple of days. He can be a jealous little bastard sometimes”.

“Oh God, Bengo’s not going to let me off the ship when he hears about this”, said Bardin “C’mon, let’s go home and get it over with”.

“It was a strange atmosphere”, Bardin was relating to Kieran when they had arrived back home “I can’t quite explain it, but it was as if everybody else around couldn’t see what was going on”.

“You had slipped into some kind of altered state”, said Kieran.

“That must be it”, said Bardin “It was shattered when Hoowie called out to me. God, it’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it”.

“Same here”, said Kieran.

“Can’t we destroy that Turd House thing before we go?” said Bardin “Burn it, cleanse it with fire, as you did Lixix that time?”

“There’s no guarantee that would achieve anything good”, said Kieran “They’re not confined to that place. They’re all across this area, and the Demon Lands. We could well be setting a match to a barrel of gunpowder if we did that. And we have your safety to think of. You saw what happened to Monika. They didn’t even leave her alone when they had stolen her soul. I don’t want to even think what could happen to you. It’s too appalling to speculate”.

“Crazy”, said Bardin “It just seems to be mindless viciousness. There’s no point to it”.

“Evil is all about destruction”, said Kieran “It’s the essence of its being. Who or what it destroys is merely a means to an end. It just wants to revel in destruction”.

“And when it’s destroyed EVERYTHING”, said Bardin, bitterly “What does it do then?”

“I don’t think it ever thinks that far ahead to be honest”, said Kieran.

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