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By Sarah Hapgood

By the time the first storm of the winter came early in October, Caln had been reduced to the size of a large foetus, but he still wasn't small enough to be incarcerated for all eternity, and so the wait went on. They had been living at the Bone-House for three months, frustrated by the slowness of Caln's decline and upset by the tales of plague and murder in the outside world. Noni had inexplicably disappeared when Caln was chained to the whipping-post, Isaac had been noticeable by his absence also, and yet the dark currents continued to mass against them. Although he was never seen they were still very aware that Vanod was at large somewhere.

The storm-clouds had been massing all day. Hillyard returned drenched from an expedition to collect supplies in Port West, to find that a fire had been lit in the teeth of a mounting gale on the highest rock on the small island. A small boat had been spotted on the turbulent waves some distance to the south of the island, and they had no other means of warning it of their proximity. So little sea-traffic came out around Deadman's Handshake that the identity of the boat kept them guessing all afternoon.

"What the hell do you think you're doing out here Lonts?" Adam yelled, having finally located the boy standing a few feet from the beacon fire.

"I was watching for the boat", said Lonts.

"You can watch for it from inside the house", said Adam, as the wind and rain whipped his hair about his face "These waves are treacherous. One freak surge is all it'd take to sweep you from the rocks".

"You don't understand Adam", said Lonts "Whoever's in that boat will still be my people. I have to be here to greet them. You don't seem to realise who I am. I'm the next president you see".

"I don't care if you're King Tut, you'll get inside the house".

Adam managed to pull him through the main doors and into the hallway.

"Look at you, you're drenched!" Adam cried "Go and sit by the fire in the living-room. Ransey's in there. He's been darning socks all afternoon, so I'm sure he'd appreciate someone to talk to".

"But Adam, my people!" Lonts protested.

"One more word about that bloody boat Lonts, or if you attempt to go outside again, I'll put you across my knee!"

Lonts drifted sulkily into the living-room, where Ransey was sunk into the depths of an armchair by the fire, working his way through a pile of dilapidated footwear. Lonts peeled off his sodden sweater, and then selected a towel from the several festooned over a steaming clothes-horse. He wrapped it around his hair, and then crouched on his knees on the hearth-rug.

"Adam won't understand", he suddenly blurted out "Kieran wants to abdicate you see Ransey, when all these problems have been resolved, I heard him say so to Joby, and then I'll be his successor. Isaac said so. That's why I was spared from the fire in Kiskev. And so I have to learn the ropes, and that means meeting my people, except Adam won't let me".

"It's a bit hard to meet them when we're stuck out here", said Ransey "Pass me your socks. They look as though they've got plenty of ventilation in 'em".

"But we won't be here forever Ransey", said Lonts, dutifully removing his socks "When Vanod is defeated, and the plague contained, we'll go home, and then I'll take over from Kieran".

"Toast me a muffin Lonts", said Ransey, who had heard this speech many times over the previous months "I'm starving".

When the mystery boat reached the rocks on what looked like a suicide mission, Kieran went outside with Hillyard and Ransey to try and deter it from getting any closer. By this time though the small rowing-boat was in perilous danger of running aground on the causeway, half of which was breaking into fragments under the impact of the storm.

"Brinslee!" Kieran exclaimed, in utter shock, when he realised who the solitary sailor in the oilskins happened to be "What the hell is he playing at?"

They got the governor up onto the rocks with some difficulty, but had no choice other than to leave the boat to smash itself into plank wood against the jagged outline of the island.

"What the blazes are you doing out here alone?" Kieran screamed above the din of the storm.

"I'm frightened Kieran", Brinslee panted "I had to talk to you, and after some of the things that have been happening in this area no one would bring me out here. I had no choice but to come alone".

"I hope it is bloody important, whatever it is that's troubling you", said Kieran, after Brinslee had finished tapping a message to his privy council on his own personal handset "Because I wouldn't have expected such stupidity of you Brinslee".

"At least they know I'm safe now", said Brinslee, putting his handset on the table in front of him. He and Kieran were sitting in an alcove at the bottom of the stairs in the main hall. A couple of the others could be heard roaming the house, slamming shut the the internal shutters, as the storm accelerated outside.

"Well come on, out with it", said Kieran "You're not getting any brandy until you tell me why you risked your life coming out here in this".

"I had to come, for the good of morale in my own home", said Brinslee "Things haven't been right since that terrible day in the summer when I came out here and you told me Domino had been killed. My entire staff at the governor's residence took it badly. But in this past week inexplicable things have been happening. Have you come across the legend of the Sleep Demons?"

"It rings a vague bell", said Kieran "But I'm not sure why".

"It's quite a famous legend in these parts. The Sleep Demons are believed to be the spirits of beautiful women that invade your mind when you're asleep. They're evil. They get at your weaknesses, and can be so terrifying that some people have never woken up again".

"Perhaps they chose not to", said Kieran, wryly.

"These demons can also take on the form of little yellow men", Brinslee continued, unabashed "A bit like dwarf versions of the Reptile Men. They're said to be quite hideous. Well the gist of it is many of my staff have become afraid to sleep, because of these Sleep Demons. They say they've been haunted by them. None of this was helped by the fact that one of my kitchen staff was found this morning in a catatonic trance. As far as I know they haven't brought him out of it yet. I tell you Kieran, I feel as though everything's falling apart. Nobody's caught Gimmit yet, in spite of massed manhunts, a different one being formed each week it seems".

"And still the animal mutilations continue?" said Kieran.

"There's no stopping him apparently, he seems to be almost supernatural", said Brinslee "Not helped by the fact that no one's had a good look at him in several weeks. They just find evidence of his handiwork, and catch the odd glimpse of this wild man figure in the trees up above the point. Since those human remains were found behind the bar up there no one'll come out this way, except the most keenest of trappers. And they scare everyone stiff with tales of hearing strange noises and finding mystery prints in the woods. The landlord of the bar has had to cut his losses and move back into town. Not that I think he's very sorry to be shot of the place. I've heard that he's put it out that he'd have gone mad if he'd stayed up there. Gimmit being at large was one of the reasons I took the boat out here. Because no one'd come with me, and I didn't want to travel up through the forest on my own".

"But Hillyard was up that way today", said Kieran "He hasn't seen anything".

"He must have stronger nerves than me then, that's all I can say", said Brinslee "Anyway, the long and short of it is that things can't go on the way they are. I've come out here to throw myself on your mercy".

"You want me to sort out the Sleep Demons and Gimmit?" said Kieran "As well as wait for Caln to shrivel up completely, and at some point hope I get a chance to confront Vanod?"

"Oh come on Kieran", said Brinslee "You believe like I do that Vanod's behind all of it. Destroy him and it all gets destroyed".

"Brinslee!" Lonts shouted, appearing outside the living-room door "How honoured I am to see you. You must be here on a diplomatic mission".

"Eh?" said Brinslee "Is the boy alright Kieran?"

"He's fine really", said Kieran "It's just a bit of make-believe, play-acting, like children do. He pretends he's president. Go along with it, it does no harm".

"Nice to see you again Lonts", said Brinslee, finding the situation all the more bizarre because Lonts still had his towel wrapped round his head "You look well".

"You must come into my private chambers and talk to me", said Lonts.

"I expect Governor Brinslee's hungry Lonts", said Kieran "I'm going to take him to the kitchen. Joby'll do him a fry-up".

"You'll never get back to Port West tonight", said Kieran, once he and Brinslee were sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by a forest of damp washing strung all over the room "You'd better stay here. In fact I insist. That storm's not easing at all".

"Little Lonts is worrying me", said Brinslee, his face a picture of concern "He seems even more ... well ..."

"Peculiar's the word you're looking for", said Joby, shovelling fried eggs and sausages from the pan onto Brinslee's plate.

"He's the same as ever", said Kieran "He has these little spurts of fantasising. This one's quite easy to cope with. When he was very young he used to get it into his head he was so beautiful he could be a great lover. Gave us no end of headaches did that phase. The president fantasy is just the odd delusion of grandeur. Adam takes care of him though".

"It's just irritating occasionally", said Joby, sipping his tea "He thinks he can give you orders, that sort of thing. Mostly we just let it go in one ear and out the other".

"Well how the heck do you cope with all that and having Caln down in the cellar?" said Brinslee.

"We keep an eye on Caln", said Kieran "Hillyard and Ransey walled up the door to the booth he's in, except for a small slit, through which we can take peaks at him. He's a revolting sight these days, not for the faint-hearted, but he can't get out. And we're pretty certain after all these weeks that no one on the other side can get him out either, otherwise they'd have already done so. Noni and Isaac have vanished from the face of the earth. Even Angel's been AWOL lately. It seems we're all waiting for Caln to peg it".

"But it's an enormous risk having Lonts on the premises too isn't it?" said Brinslee.

"Lonts never goes down into the cellar", said Kieran "He knows damn well Adam'd give him the hiding of his life if he did. He never even asks about it. I told you, Lonts is no trouble".

"Trixie's more of a problem", said Joby.

"How come?" said Brinslee.

"The plague news has been upsetting him for weeks", said Kieran "I know he can be a pain in the arse, but Trixie does genuinely care about his people, and the news from Pepuaah never stops being grim. At least in the City the cooler autumn weather is bringing about a decline in new cases cropping up. So there's hope for us that by Yule things should have eased off enough for us to consider going back".

"Provided Caln's done the honourable thing by then", Joby grunted.

"But because Pepuaah doesn't get cooler weather in the sense that we know it", Kieran continued "There seems to be no end in sight. The fatality lists keep on growing. We did look into the idea of doing a mass evacuation from the place, but Trixie's advisors reckon it's impractical, and it might fan the disease beyond the town even more. They've already got a problem with carriers leaving the town as refugees and wandering into other areas. So you see, Trixie's got some excuse for behaving awkwardly, but it doesn't make it any easier to cope with".

"Not helped by the fact that he drinks like a fish", said Joby "When Hillyard brings in new stock we've started hiding bottles under our beds straightaway, so he can't have it".

"Except he goes looking for it when we're out of our rooms", said Kieran "Adam keeps coming up with more and more ingenious hiding-places for it ..."

"Being an old hand", said Joby.

"Like the toilet cistern for instance", said Kieran "But Trixie can sniff out a bottle at ten paces. Adam suggested not buying any booze at all, but being stuck out here with Caln under our feet we need something to keep us going".

Adam came into the kitchen, and collected a couple of clean nappies from one of the indoor washing-lines.

"I've left a couple of sausages in the pan for you", said Joby.

"I hope you're stopping after coming out here Brinslee", said Adam, jabbing a fork into one of the sausages.

"Nothing personal but I'm a bit nervous about staying in this house", said Brinslee.

"No need to be", said Adam "We've been here three months, and since trapping Caln nothing has happened to us. In fact, we lead a very dull life here, so you've got nothing to worry about. Think of it as a little holiday".

Kieran showed Brinslee into a small corner room, which was so sandwiched between his own and Julian's that it was triangular in shape.

"I personally think this is one of the better bedrooms", he said "There's a couple of steps just inside the door so mind yourself. It's quite cosy in here, not like the barn me and Joby've got. The hurricane's going to whistle through there tonight".

Brinslee picked up a book from the pile that had been tossed on the bed.

"'The Pervert's A-Z'", he said, incredulously.

"Oh yes, I'm sorry about that", said Kieran, hastily stacking the books on the floor "I chucked them in here out of our room. It was worrying me the way Joby kept looking at them, sneaking peeks when he thought I wasn't looking. He can be so bloody English at times!"

"Not my idea of bedtime reading", said Brinslee "I prefer a good detective story myself".

"I hope you'll be comfortable anyway. You should sleep alright. I don't think Adam's popping in to see Julian tonight, so you won't have to listen to them quarrelling. Sometimes I can hear them two doors away. If you see or hear anything that worries you in the night just tap on the wall to me. Well in fact give the wall a bloody great clout, otherwise I won't hear you above Joby's snoring".

"Thanks", said Brinslee, looking round him nervously "I-I'll see you in the morning then. I hope".

Kieran wished him goodnight and went out onto the landing, where Ransey was looking distinctly unimpressed by a pile of pornographic magazines that Hillyard had unearthed in one of the outhouses.

"Bedtime reading for you Ransey?" said Kieran.

"Looking at pictures of men isn't my idea of fun", said Ransey "I see quite enough of 'em in real life".

"Some of these aren't my idea of fun either", said Hillyard.

"You surprise me there Hillyard", said Kieran.

"It's all weird stuff", said Hillyard "Fetishes, that kind of thing".

"And you should read some of the prose to it", said Ransey, flicking through one in contempt "'I gain an erection', how the hell do you 'gain' an erection? You get one, you don't gain one. He makes it sound like a pension's bonus! And get this one, 'my cock reared up like a wild horse!'"

"It neighed and pawed the air did it?" said Kieran, taking one of the magazines from Hillyard "What the blazes is this one meant to be about? Pornography for fatties!"

He was looking at a magazine which showed on the cover a picture of a eunuch in a padded leather corset, with the contents of a bowl of custard tipped down his heavily cantilevered cleavage.

"Oh that's a Joby special that one", said Hillyard "Food fetishes. You haven't forgotten his urge to be plastered in chocolate ice-cream?"

"It doesn't look much fun from some of these pictures", said Kieran "Nobody seems to be enjoying it much. It looks like the out-takes from a spectacularly unfunny slapstick film".

"Perhaps you should borrow it for Joby", said Hillyard.

"I'll do no such thing", said Kieran, as he turned page after page of photographs showing various ritual humiliations involving sticky or runny food "Rolling around in chocolate ice-cream is one thing, but some of this stuff looks about as much fun as tarring-and-feathering!"

"Did you have stuff like this in your time?" said Ransey.

"Too true, except with women instead of eunuchs. I've never really been into porn though, never saw the point of sex being a spectator sport I suppose".

Lonts walked slowly towards them, carrying a tray on which stood a coffee-pot and a cup.

"Is that for Adam?" said Kieran.

"No, Trixie", said Lonts "He told Joby to make him some, and Joby got annoyed. Said he'd make it, but there was no way he was going up to Trixie's room with it. So he sent me".

"Trixie's chucking his weight around a lot lately", said Ransey.

"Take it into his room Lonts", said Kieran "Put it down and then come straight back out again".

Lonts had gone into the room at the far end of the landing to find Trixie slouched on his windowseat, cradling a glass tumbler of whisky in his lap.

"Your coffee", said Lonts, placing the tray carefully on a side-table.

"That's a very attractive shirt you're wearing Lonts", Trixie slurred "I've seen it on Hillyard before haven't I? A boy with your looks shouldn't be seen in cast-offs, it's not right, and you have to wear everybody's it seems".

"Not everybody's", said Lonts "Kieran and Joby's clothes are too small for me, so I don't wear theirs".

"Don't quibble Lonts", said Trixie, climbing awkwardly to his feet "And pour the coffee".

Lonts did so with great concentration, setting the coffee-pot down with relief that he hadn't spilled any.

"Why did you stop?" said Trixie.

"B-Because I got to the top of the cup", said Lonts.

"You stop when I tell you to, not a moment before. Carry on".

"But it'll spill over".

"You don't decide things like that", Trixie hissed "You are a peasant, I am a Grand Lord. An exiled one, but a Grand Lord no less. A Magnificent Highness. You have to do everything I say, so when I say pour, you pour until I tell you to stop pouring".

Confused and afraid, Lonts poured the coffee until it over-ran the cup and the saucer, and swirled around the tray like a muddy puddle.

"Now you've made a mess", Trixie shrieked "You'd better clear it up at once".

Lonts looked around him until he located a towel hanging on the back of a chair.

"You don't use that!" said Trixie, snatching it from him "Not my towel. Use your pretty purple shirt".

"It'll get messed up", said Lonts "And if I mess it up Adam'll have a go at me".

"Clear it up!" Trixie grabbed Lonts's shirt and pulled on it, causing two of the buttons to fly off.

"What's taking you so long Lonts?" said Kieran, walking into the room.

"He's quite safe with me", Trixie snarled "I don't find half-witted boys a turn-on".

"Come on Lonts", Kieran began to steer him out of the room "Let's leave Trixie to drink his supper".

He managed to get Lonts into his room before Adam came up.

"Let's leave telling him of Trixie's antics until the morning", said Kieran "We don't want Adam charging around the house like a fire-engine at this hour. Now you start getting undressed".

"He'll notice the buttons missing on my shirt Kieran", Lonts protested.

"Say you caught it on the bannisters. Get some sleep now".

Joby had pulled open the shutters in his bedroom and was watching lightening streak across the sky like a spilt plate of electric spaghetti.

"Some storm", he said, when he heard Kieran arrive "I don't think I've ever seen lightening quite like that before".

"Probably find Gimmit's caused it", Kieran grunted "Come away from the window Joby. It's not a good idea to stand near it when there's a storm like this going on".

"You're turning into a fucking nanny in your old age", said Joby "Keep advising the rest of us what to do".

"Is that a fact?" said Kieran, climbing wearily into bed "Well perhaps I should shake you all up soon by doing something reckless".

"Like what?" said Joby, warily "What are you up to Kiel?"

"Ooh perhaps a little spot of vanquishing", said Kieran "Sometime in the near future. When you're least expecting it. Sweet dreams".

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