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"Can't you sleep Ransey?" Kieran whispered into the gloom "You've been restless all day".
"Can't stop thinking about Trixie".
"Let's go across into the saloon", Kieran suggested "We can talk there without disturbing the others".
Ransey pulled on a sweater over his thermal pyjamas and followed Kieran across the corridor. It was very late, and the saloon was cold. Kieran re-lit the paraffin heater. It made a nice smell, but otherwise did little to heat the room. Ransey busied himself making cocoa for them.
"I don't know why I keep thinking about him", he said "I never had much time for him when he was alive, and I've never gone in for the usual hypocritical words of grief when someone dies".
"But Trixie's is a particularly sad case", said Kieran "He must have started losing his mind at the Bone-House. Oh I'm going to feel guilty about this for a long time to come. Both the Grand Lord of Pepuaah and his consort dying whilst staying as guests of mine!"
"Nobody'll blame you for it".
"I blame me for it", said Kieran.
"You couldn't have done anything to stop it".
"I want Trixie to be the first and last victim of the Sleep Demons though", said Kieran "That's what's behind it all. The Devil getting to us through our dreams".
"Exactly", said Ransey "I know he gets to me through mine".
"More naked women?"
"One in particular. And yet I don't know where she comes from. I mean, I've never met any women at all, and yet this one stands out from all the faceless figures. I think it's because she has this aura, this golden glow", Ransey trailed off in embarrassment "We'd better discuss weapons. Revolvers, flare pistols, that kind of thing".
"Silver coins", said Kieran "I've got a set of sacred silver coins I've always kept with me since becoming President, to ward off evil spirits. They might finally come in useful at last. Load revolvers with them and fire them at any demons that come our way".
"If you like", said Ransey, dubiously "Although I think I'll hang onto my more conventional weapons, if you don't mind".
"Whatever you feel most confident with", said Kieran "Oh God, Trixie's death is going to cause a few complications. Like who do I put in charge in Pepuaah now?"
"The way things have been going in Pepuaah", said Ransey "There won't be anyone there to govern".
"Oh don't say that".
"I'll be Grand Lord", said Lonts, suddenly appearing in the room. He wore only his thermal pyjama jacket over his nappy.
"Lonts, what the hell are you doing in here?" said Kieran, angrily.
"I heard your voices".
"One of the main rules that was laid down to you when we began this voyage", said Kieran "Was that you did not leave your cabin during the night. I would've thought that after what happened to poor Trixie last night would have made the reasons for that very clear".
"You're getting to be so much trouble I'd quite happily send you to Pepuaah", said Ransey.
"But I don't want to go!" Lonts cried.
"You just said ..."
"I don't know why I said that, I don't know why I say anything", Lonts's voice began to rise to a scream "I didn't mean it. Don't send me away".
"Lonts, calm down", said Kieran.
"It's alright Patsy", Adam ran panting into the room, tugging on his robe "I'm sorry about this. He's been all excitable since Trixie was found".
"If he doesn't calm down soon then we'll have to give him something", said Ransey, ominously.
"No-o!" Lonts screamed.
Adam tried to calm him by grabbing his arms and pulling him into a sitting position on the floor. He finally managed to subdue him by his time-honoured method of stroking his back.
"I want him kept out of the way tomorrow", said Kieran.
"But Patsy ..."
"No buts Adam. The Captain informed me earlier that we stand a good chance of sighting the Loud House then. We're going to have a lot of things to do. We can't afford for him to misbehave once. He stays in your cabin until the rest of us have got Vanod's casket onto dry land".
Lonts knew he was in trouble. Adam was ignoring him and that was a very bad sign. Not the worst possible sign, which was to be summoned to see Kieran and told off, but pretty bad all the same. In the chilly dawn he lay on his bunk sucking his thumb, and waiting impatiently for Adam to return from the lavatory. When he did Lonts flew across the room to him, and flung his arms round his neck. Adam gently disentangled himself, and began to prepare his first cup of coffee.
"Don't ignore me Adam!" Lonts wept "I can't bear it when you do that. Please don't!"
"Why the hell shouldn't I?" said Adam "After what happened in Yzel I would have thought you'd have more consideration than to suddenly disappear on me".
"I didn't think".
"Then it's about time you started!" Adam exclaimed "You scare me half to death. You rudely interrupt a private conversation between Patsy and Ransey, and you go roaming the ship at night when it's been expressly forbidden. If I wasn't feeling so worn-out and knackered by all your activities you would be thoroughly spanked. Everyone else thinks you should be. Even Hillyard, who's as soft as shit where you're concerned, said just now that you needed a strap across your backside!"
"Why's everyone so angry with me?"
"Because they're worn out with worry that's why. The Loud House is imminent, which is quite bad enough. But on top of that we've had Trixie's death. And you constantly disappearing doesn't help, and spouting gibberish when you do turn up. You are not setting a foot outside this room today, do you hear me? In fact, you stay in here until the others get back from the Loud House. Whenever that may be".
Kieran had been alerted by the Captain that the Loud House was now visible from the side of the ship. He dressed in just about every warm piece of clothing he had and went up on deck. The masts and rigging were coated with hoar frost. The ship was ploughing its way laboriously through a sea of ice, already being coated by the winter gloom that settled on the area for three months of the year. Kieran pulled down the ear-flaps of his fur hat, and walked to the prow of the ship. The Captain sensed that he wished to be alone and retreated to the wheelhouse.
The Skirra Fludd lighthouse, dark for so many years now, stood ahead of him once more. And through the freezing fog he could just about make out the broken parapet and jagged towers of the Loud House. Kieran felt more emotion than was bearable on seeing it again. He had a bittersweet memory of Hillyard driving him across the ice. Kieran's body had been bloody and bruised, and he had been determined that it was all over, that he could put it behind him once and for all. Live a normal life!
Kieran looked up sharply to find Angel standing on the rigging.
"I feel like I could get frostbite just looking at you", said Kieran, taking in the sight of the vampire's naked body.
"You don't look overjoyed to be back here again", said Angel.
"Well what do you expect?" Kieran exclaimed "Damn place. I never wanted to see it again. Will I have to come back again after this visit Angel?"
"That depends how well you do", said Angel, jumping down nimbly onto the deck "The Devil can't be destroyed. He can only be contained. And what better place to contain him than Hell?"
"What's it like down there Angel?" said Kieran "Is it Dante's Inferno, or a scene from Hieronymous Bosch? What am I to expect?"
"It's image changes all the time. It never stays the same".
"In the eye of the beholder eh?"
"Not necessarily", Angel shrugged "It's not that simple. It's not fire and brimstone either. Whatever it is, it'll be what you least expect. After all, it's no good having a Hell that you could get used to or predict".
"But what do I do down there?"
"Bury the casket and get out again. I'll guide you so you won't be defenceless. Make sure it's sealed in a way that no demon can tamper with it".
"More of me damn sperm I suppose".
"Not just that", said Angel "Bits of hair, nails, clothing. And not just you, but the other three too. Take something of Lonts's to add to it".
"Because he's the Kiskev Survivor?" said Kieran "I hope you're not going to suggest we take him with us?"
"Too risky. He's too vulnerable".
"Good. It'll be a load off my mind if I know he's back here with Adam".
"You'd better get ready", said Angel.
"Yes", Kieran sighed "I suppose I must".
The four of them counted out weapons, warm clothing, oilskins, and customised hats with candles stuck on them, to light their way through the dark labyrinthine tunnels below the Loud House.
"I feel as though I should give a speech", said Kieran, when they were finally ready "Prepare us somehow. But I don't know how the blazes you prepare anyone for going into Hell".
"You can't", said Joby, bluntly "Except to say beware of Reptile Men".
"Come on", said Ransey "Let's get it over with".
They called in at Adam's cabin to collect a square of material cut out of one of Lonts's vests. The boy insisted on blessing and kissing it for them before solemnly handing it over. Adam was pensive with worry, and irritable at being left behind.
"I don't know how I'm going to get through the time until you lot get back", he said.
"I'm sure you'll think of something", said Kieran, kissing him on his lips.
"You look like van Gogh in that hat", said Adam.
"The way you talk anyone'd think you'd known van Gogh personally", said Kieran.
"He probably did", said Joby "He's old enough".
"Remind me to give Joby a good seeing-to when he returns", said Adam.
"You'll be alright won't you Ad?" said Hillyard.
"Now's a fine time to ask!" Adam exclaimed, tearfully "You damn well come back. All of you".
Kieran waited until the others had left the room and then kissed Adam once more.
"I'll never make you suffer this way again, I promise", he said.
"You keep saying that Patsy", said Adam "And I keep saying I'll never let you".
"And this time I think we both mean it, don't we?"
"We sure do", Adam squeezed him tightly "You take care of Joby now".
"Oh don't worry, he's going to do as he's told", said Kieran "Or he won't get his chocolate ice-cream!"
Kieran straightened up and kissed Lonts.
"You be good", he said "If you behave now Lonts, you can sit in the consort's seat at the first state dinner when we get back".
Lonts hugged him in return, but was too choked with tears to say anything. And then Kieran left.
They had sat quietly behind their cabin door, whilst the Captain helped the four to tug the casket on a sack-truck up from the hold and onto the deck. For a brief while the noise of the crashing, banging and swearing was horrendous. But then the casket was finally up on deck, being loaded onto the gangplank. Gradually the footsteps faded overhead, as did the voices.
"So that's that", Adam sighed heavily "They're gone. And I'm out to grass for good. My retirement's arrived rather sooner than I expected. You'd better set the draughts board up Lonts. Keep ourselves occupied".
"Is Julian coming in, Adam?" said Lonts.
"Not for a while I hope", said Adam, debating with himself whether or not to have a cigar, even though it wasn't officially time for one, according to the smoking diet sheet Julian had drawn up anyway "I can do without his little homilies for a few hours".
"Then why don't we get into bed?"
Lonts sat astride Adam, sliding his hands between the folds of the older man's robe and kissing him.
"You're very tempting", said Adam "And very very adorable. It's not right Lonts. With your looks you should be playing the field, not be tied to an ancient old crock like me".
"But I want to be with you", Lonts protested "And no one else. No one else has ever kissed me quite like you do".
"And that is a bloody shame", said Adam.
Lonts took off his shirt, exposing his superb physique.
"Good heavens", Adam breathed in awe "Both you and Patsy in one lifetime. I could overdose on male beauty".
"It'll help you not to worry too much, Adam", said Lonts.
"Whilst the others are out saving the world", said Adam "The eldest and the youngest stay behind and comfort each other".
"Exactly", said Lonts, kissing him "Now you understand".
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