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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin woke up in the bright sunlight of late morning. They had left their home soon after midnight. By sailing in the middle of the night they hoped to slip off discreetly, and avoid any unnecessary attention from the town. After several hours of sailing they had nearly reached the halcyon spot where they had holidayed a few months before. Bardin had gone to bed at the first deep red blushes of dawn.

He stretched luxuriously and then clambered out of his bunk. The ship’s engines weren’t running. Before retiring, Bardin had instructed everyone that they could drop anchor wherever they felt like it. Pattering in his bare feet, and clad in his pink nightie, Bardin went out to the quarterdeck steps, where Joby accosted him.

“Fancy some breakfast, Cap’n?” he asked.

“Yes”, said Bardin, scooping up his nightie and preparing to clamber up the steps “Get Bengo to bring it to me on deck”.

This was tricky. After Bardin had fallen asleep, Bengo had got drunk and passed out in Julian and Hoowie’s cabin. His relief at getting away from the area where Bardin had nearly been abducted was intense.

“Wotcha Benje!” Hoowie shouted, boisterously.

“Not so freaking loud”, said Bengo, putting his hands to his head in a fragile fashion “Oh God, why did Julian let me drink so much?”

“He thought it’d do you good”, said Hoowie “Said you had to get it all out of your system. You did that alright, you threw up into the chamber-pot!”

“Oh God”, said Bengo “Does Bardy know about this?”

“Not yet”, said Hoowie “He’s only just woken up”.

“Oh no”, said Bengo “He’ll never let me hear the end of this, not for years and years”.

“Hey, who’s Boss-Man now?” said Hoowie “You or him? If he chews your ear off, just give him a good hiding”.

“It’s not that simple”, said Bengo “No matter how much we spank Bardin he’s still in charge”.

“Yeah, but don’t take any shit from him”, said Hoowie “He likes it when he’s put in line, that’s what you keep telling me anyway”.

“Oi!” said Joby, from the doorway “I’ve just taken Bardin his breakfast up on deck, and he was asking where you were”.

“Really?” said Bengo, miserably.

“Yeah, I told him you was busy doing something really complicated in the galley”, said Joby “On Adam’s orders. And he believed it. So I’ve saved your skin for you”.

That afternoon they changed direction and sailed into a river on the left-hand side that connected with the lake they were on. According to the maps Bardin had bought back in Snow Lake, this river eventually connected the maze of great lakes that covered the countryside for miles around in that area.

Bardin was up on deck. He was shirtless, wearing only trousers held up by braces, and his cap. He was studying a compass in his hand when Hoowie bounded up and smacked him on the behind.

“Hoowie!” Bardin shouted “You do that again and …”

“Do whatever you want to me, Bard”, said Hoowie “I’ll love it!”

“At the moment I’d like to bundle you over the side like some flea-bitten old mattress!” said Bardin.

Hoowie grabbed his braces and pulled him towards him.

“And if you let these ping back against my nipples I’ll definitely chuck you over”, said Bardin.

Hoowie kissed him on the lips, and then, very gently, released the braces. Suddenly Ransey shouted down from the poop-deck, where he was helping Mieps to guide the ship.

“Bardin! Come up here and look at this!”

Bardin went up to the poop-deck. Ahead of them, part of the river branched off to the south. A dusty track led alongside the river, like a canal tow-path.

“If we take that route”, said Ransey “We could exercise the horses on the path”.

“Looks interesting”, said Bardin “Let’s do it”.

The ship was halted briefly whilst the horses were saddled up, and riders selected.

“Do we have to get a special padded saddle for you, eh Bardin?” said Farnol.

“Hasn’t that particular joke been done to death by now?” said Bardin.

“Nah, still fresh as the day it was first minted!” said Farnol.

Even so, Bardin elected to stay on the boat. His behind wasn’t sore, more pleasantly fuzzing, and he didn’t want to alter this state of affairs in a hurry.

The galleon chugged on at a steady pace, and the horses galloped along behind on the “tow-path”. Up on the main deck Bardin and Kieran watched them. Kieran was enjoying himself winding Bardin up.

“I have to say you’re a big wuss for not going with them, Bardin”, he said.

“Well if it comes to that I don’t notice you out there either!” said Bardin.

“Ah but as I keep saying, I’m hard-core”, said Kieran “I don’t get to keep me knickers on all the time”.

“Now you listen to me …” Bardin began.

“Pack it in you two”, said Ransey, nearby “Frankly, both of you deserve to be beaten up regularly”.

“We are!” said Kieran.

They found the remains of an old farm-yard, although with no sign of a house attached. Simply a couple of open-sided barns (one still half-filled with old bales of hay), and the remains of a rusty tractor, which was beyond even Hillyard’s restorative skills.

“Let’s stay here for a couple of nights”, said Bardin “It’ll enable us to get our bearings”.

The surrounding countryside spread out flatly around them, running for miles to the mountains in the distance. The whole thing felt like an unfinished drawing. A rough track, strewn with rocks and pot-holes ran from the farmyard in a straight line, to where it disappeared into the distance.

“Could easily get the truck down that”, said Hillyard, with his usual unquenchable faith in his latest pride and joy “We can suss out where it goes. See if it’s a waste of time or not”.

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