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Kieran went over to see Bardin the moment he got back to the galleon. He found him propped up on his bunk, looking like a puppet that had had all its strings cut.
“Kieran, thank god you’re back”, said Bardin “Now we can leave. Bengo, tell the others to get the boat out of this damn cave”.
“Yes Bardy”, said Bengo, and he rushed out of the room.
“I’m glad you recognise me now”, said Kieran, perching on the edge of the bunk, and handing Bardin back his cap and clipboard, which had both got abandoned in all the kerfuffle “What did you see when you looked at over there?”
“I saw you, but it wasn’t you”, said Bardin “It was as if I was seeing your shell, and your soul had departed. I panicked like hell. I thought all of the lot of you had gone, taken over by some bloody zombies or something, and I was left alone”.
He suddenly put his head in his hands and gave a wail of anguish.
“Christ, what a prat I’ve been”, he said “I was going to drag Bengo down to that horrible place in the middle of the night … I’m a hot-headed buffoon. I’m so ashamed!”
Kieran grabbed his hands.
“And I’m a rubbish Vanquisher of Evil who can’t recognise a demon anymore!” he said “We’re going to have to help each other through this. I feel anger as well as shame. And I’m not sure who I feel more angry at, myself or Pabbio. But I suppose it’s stupid to get angry at Pabbio. He’s a demonic entity. It’s a bizarre thing to say, but he doesn’t know any better. Fock, I sound like I’m about to start giving him counselling!”
“You can’t”, Bardin smiled “We’re leaving the island. Anyway, tonight at supper I’m going to have to give a morale-boosting speech to everyone. God knows how!”
“You’re a professional, you’ll manage it”, said Kieran “The show must go on”.
After leaving Bardin’s cabin Kieran went along to his own, where Joby was waiting for him.
“How is he?” asked Joby.
Kieran explained what Bardin had told him.
“Poor sod”, said Joby “Still, it might cure his impulsive streak for a while … like all of 5 minutes!”
He pulled Kieran tightly to him.
“Kieran”, he said “Please please please don’t blame yourself and hurt yourself for all this. I know you, and it’s exactly what you’ll do. Please don’t”.
“You’ll have to help me”, said Kieran “I’m not sure I can do it on my own”.
“Course I’ll help you”, said Joby “Meanwhile, I’ve gotta go and cook the supper. Blimey, talk about life goes on!”
“I just said something similar to Bardin”.
“In the meantime I don’t want you to be alone. Go and sit in the dining-room until supper’s served. I can try and keep an eye on you there”.
“I’ll do whatever you say”, said Kieran, with an almost convincing display of submissiveness.
“The fact is, no real damage has been done”, said Barain, in his place at the head of the dining-table “Unless you count to my ego”.
“And mine”, said Kieran.
“If it’s taught us anything”, said Bardin “It’s that we should all take our hunches more seriously. None of us felt at ease with that place from the start. Nobody trusted Pabbio, for all his grand displays of generosity. We should be glad no one fell under his sway”.
“Not much chance of that”, said Joby “I always thought he was a jerk!”
“More importantly”, said Adam “In the here and now. Where do we go next?”
“Back to Plan A”, said Bardin “What we originally set out to do when we left Zilligot Bay all that time ago. We head to Buskin on the Weather Rock, and take it from there. In the meantime, Umbert will keep his ear glued to the wireless, and see if we can find out what is REALLY going on in the world … and not what Pabbio told us!”
The next day Joby came up on deck, and stepped into fresh sunshine. Someone had put the gramophone on top of a heap of coiled rope, and a soaring trumpet solo was blasting out from it. Nearby, Ransey and Hillyard were playing draughts.
“About time you came up for air”, said Hillyard, when he saw him “You’re looking all wasted and peaky”.
“Well believe it or not”, said Joby “Some of us still have to do some work around here, and don’t get to see topside as much as we’d like!”
“Don’t tease Joby”, said Ransey to Hillyard “Or he’ll get revenge on us at dinner-time”.
“If he does I’ll give him a good hiding”, said Hillyard “He’d better not think he’s going to get everything his own way”.
“Huh, me get everything my own way?!” said Joby “Since when did that ever happen!”
He went up onto the poop-deck, where Kieran was kneeling, peering out over the bulwark, the sea-breeze whipping his hair around his face. Joby was relieved to see him there, as he had ordered Kieran to spend as little time alone in their cabin as possible. He well knew that if Kieran spent too much time alone at the moment, he would endlessly recriminate himself, not just for the whole Pabbio nonsense, but probably Peridot and Mud Island as well.
Joby yanked him roughly to his feet by the back of his trousers, and Kieran fell laughing into his arms.
“I’d kiss you if I could fight me way through all that hair”, said Joby.
“I wonder where we are”, said Kieran, gesturing out at the ocean.
“God knows”, said Joby “I spose it’s too much to ask that the next island we come across might be a nice one!”
“What sort of island would you like?” said Kieran.
“Oh the usual”, said Joby “White sandy beaches, palm trees, a fresh-water lagoon. No bloody demons!”
“There must be one like that somewhere”, said Kieran “How do you feel about going back to the Weather Rock after all these years?”
“Well it’ll be weird”, said Joby “After all that’s happened, but it’ll be nice to see old Buskin again. God knows what he’s gonna make of all of us!”
“Oh Buskin must be able to cope with things if he’s survived this long”.
“Tell you summat though. When, IF, we ever find somewhere that we can stop for a while, I’m gonna take you on a little holiday. Somewhere like that hut in the woods we used to have up at Wolf Castle”.
“Then I know just the place”, said Kieran, his blue eyes sparkling “Where we were before. The area around the Causeway”.
Joby looked at Kieran as if he had taken leave of his senses once and for all.
“Are you kidding me?” he said “Go back there?! The last time we was there we got shot at! And what about the Cyanide Sisters?”
“The Sisters won’t bother us”, said Kieran, as though he was talking about a reclusive order of nuns “They know we won’t bother them so they’ll leave us alone”.
“Maybe”, said Joby, doubtfully “I can’t imagine that bunch of thugs at the inn are going to though. We got away from them by the skin of our teeth last time. And we shot a couple of ’em, so I can’t imagine they’re gonna forget that in a hurry!”
“A lot of time has passed since then”, said Kieran.
“Not nearly enough for my liking”, said Joby “Unless we’ve fallen through another bleedin’ time-slip … have we, Kieran?”
“No”, said Kieran “But I have a feeling more time has passed than we realise“.
“I’m used to Kieran coming out with daft abstract things out of the blue”, said Joby, when he returned to the galley “But he’s excelled himself this time!”
“Why?” said Bengo “I liked the Causeway area. It was beautiful”.
“I might have known I wouldn’t expect any commonsense out of you”, said Joby “Have you completely forgotten everything that happened there?”
“I think what Bengo meant”, said Adam “Was that it was an area that interested us very much. There was a lot there that we had to abandon and leave unsolved”.
“Oh gimme strength”, said Joby, running his hands through his already wild hair in exasperation “I’m beginning to think I’m living in a madhouse where no one’s capable of talking any sense. Listen to me! We got shot at by a bunch of thugs. As far as I can see that puts a completely different complexion on things!”
“Not necessarily”, said Adam “From what you’ve told us Patsy seems convinced that things may have moved on since then”.
“We don’t know how long we were on Pabbio’s island”, said Bengo “I know it only felt like a few days …”
“No it didn’t, it felt like years”, said Joby.
“Well for all we know it might have been years”, said Adam.
“Oh you lot are getting too damn abstract for your own good”, said Joby “I’m going to the karsey”.
The next day the weather changed. They ran into a storm, and their brief period of serenity, of quietly bobbling about on the surface of the ocean, had temporarily gone. Black rain-clouds massed overhead, and the waves become unnervingly tumultuous. In the middle of the afternoon it became as dark as night.
Kieran had joined many of the others on deck, to help them guide the galleon through this perilous time. Whilst up there he noticed that some of the clouds seemed to have got even blacker than the rest, and then it was as if a distinct shape was forming. He had barely enough time to register this before the clouds seemed to descend and swoop down on him.
“What the fuck?” he heard Hillyard shout “Kieran!”
Kieran heard a sound like a beating of huge wings, and he felt a sharp pain in his head and his arms. He was dimly aware of the others attempting to beat something away from him, when he passed out.
When he came round he was sitting in one of the armchairs in Bardin and Bengo’s cabin. Finia was attending to him.
“A good job you had your oilskin jacket on”, he said, when he saw Kieran was conscious again “Or your arms would have been cut to ribbons. Your head is bleeding slightly, but it’s not serious. Can you hold this pad in place?”
Kieran obeyed, and held a wad of cotton-wool to his head, to staunch some minor bleeding.
“What happened?” he said.
“I wasn’t there”, said Finia “But Lonts said you were attacked by some great big bird”.
“A bird?” said Kieran, in disbelief.
“A bloody great big black enormous bird”, said Joby, nearby “Came flying down at you. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like a huge albatross”.
“I should have expected something like this to happen”, said Kieran.
“How the hell could you expect summat like that to happen!” said Joby.
“I mean that Pabbio wouldn’t let us go without some form of retribution”, said Kieran.
“Pabbio sent that thing?” said Joby.
“I can’t think what else it could have been”, said Kieran “Did it attack only me?”
“Yeah, we beat it off”, said Joby “I didn’t see where it went after that. We was too busy attending to you. Bardin ordered you to be taken down here. They’ll keep an eye out for it up there, in case it returns”.
“Well hopefully we’ll soon be out of the range of his power”, said Kieran.
Bardin came into the room.
“How are you?” he asked Kieran.
“Finia says it’s not serious”, said Kieran.
“Just some scratches”, said Finia “It could have been a lot worse”.
“Hm, yes it could”, said Bardin “You’d best stay below deck until we’re in calmer waters. I suspect whatever that thing was got some of its energy from the storm. You shouldn’t have been up there really. You were a magnet for it”.
He tried to lave. Kieran couldn’t help laughing at Bardin’s briskness.
“I love you!” he shouted after him.
“Thank god HE’S not a nurse”, said Joby “Great bedside manner. Time you started up his therapy sessions again I think”.
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