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By Sarah Hapgood

After several days of that bullying storm they reached landfall. And this time it was “proper land”, as Joby put it, I.e the mainland not “another daft island”. They were back on the eastern seaboard of the giant land-mass of the ’Old Continent’, significantly much further north than Peridot, but not yet as far as the Weather Rock.

They landed at a desolate piece of scrubland, which lay under a heavily-laden sky. There was no sign of any human habitation in sight.

The animals had grown very restless during their time leaving Pabbio’s island, and Bardin ordered everybody to take them ashore for exercise. One of the dogs went so berserk with joy at finding himself back on shore that he knocked Bardin over playfully.

“No, naughty!” said Lonts, pulling the dog off “It’s because he loves you so much, Bardin”.

Fortunately it appealed to Bardin’s clown side, and he was laughing too helplessly to answer. Joby finally managed to help him to his feet. Lonts had ordered the dogs further along the headland.

“I can’t remember the last time I heard you laugh like that”, said Joby.

“Seriously?” said Bardin, sounding deeply shocked.

“Seriously”, said Joby.

“I-I know this has been a difficult trip but …” said Bardin “I hadn’t realised I had got THAT bad”.

“Don’t start blaming yourself”, said Joby, dealing him a brisk whack on his bottom “You’re as bad as Kieran you are”.

“Perhaps you should be doing my therapy”, said Bardin.

“It takes enough of my energy to sort Kieran out”, said Joby “He’s hard-core that one, he needs a lot of disciplining. What I will say though is that we’re all in this together, it’s not all down to you to carry all the problems”.

“I know”, said Bardin “But I can’t help feeling I should have listened to my inner voice way back in Zilligot Bay. I remember having forebodings the last night we were there. I thought it was just apprehension about going round the Horn”.

“From what I remember we had to leave suddenly anyway”, said Joby “We’d been recognised. Same as in Peridot”.

“You don’t think Pabbio could have been right after all?” said Bardin “That somebody is after us?”

“I spose there’s always gonna be somebody that’s after us”, said Joby “It’s one of the prices we pay for the gift of eternity, as Kieran would say. And the City has started up again, but I find it hard to believe there’s a new fascist world government, like the old one”.

“But people were afraid of something in Peridot”, Bardin pointed out.

“Yeah, but I think that was a local thing”, said Joby “Corrupt local government perhaps, we’ve seen enough of ‘em in our times. Or my feeling, looking back, is that a bunch of thugs, gangsters, had control of the town. That’s why we were being watched in the street. I don’t think now that they were after us particularly, they just wanted to make sure we weren’t gonna queer their pitch in any way”.

“We don’t pool our brain cells enough in this family”, Bardin sighed.

“It would help is some of us had any!” said Joby.

When Bardin got to the bottom of the quarterdeck steps on arriving back at the galleon, he found Bengo waiting there.

“Hello”, said Bardin “You look as if you’re about to ask a question”.

“It’s the other clowns”, said Bengo, following him into their cabin.

“Run away from home?” said Bardin, hopefully.

“No”, said Bengo “They want to know if they can camp out on the scrubland for the night. I got some barbed comments about it always being us who get to go camping”.

“They can camp out there forever if that’s what they want!” said Bardin.

“I thought you’d say that”, Bengo smiled “Are you alright?”

“Just a bit …” said Bardin “Well taken aback I suppose. Joby said just now that today was the first day he’d heard me laugh on this trip”.

“I suppose you have been a bit sombre at times”, said Bengo.

“Sombre?” said Bardin “Oh great. Whoever heard of a sombre clown!”

“Oh I dunno”, said Bengo “I’ve seen plenty who had depressing acts! Well made me feel sombre watching them anyway. I’ve just raised a smirk on you there at least”.

“I suppose I’ve been more captain than clown these past few months”, said Bardin.

“It’s not helped that every place we’ve stopped at has had problems attached to it”, said Bengo “Mud Island was too depressing for words, and you didn’t get much fun at Pabbio’s place”.

“Probably because I sensed he was a weird jerk from the moment I met him”, said Bardin “Although I didn’t guess just how much of a weird jerk! And sometimes I’ve felt as though we’re doomed to sail round the high seas for all eternity, looking for a safe port of call”.

“It won’t be like that if we head back to the Causeway”, said Bengo “We’ll have an aim in mind. Which way are we going? Round the top or round the bottom?”

“Round the top”, said Bardin, firmly “We’re not taking that southerly route again if we can help it!”

Adam fussed that he had only been told to give the clowns a tin of beef stew and billy-can to take with them, only to have Bardin reply that that was far more than they deserved.

He and Bengo were woken in the night by the happy campers making an unexpected early return. There was the excruciating racket of tent poles and heaps of canvas being chucked down the galley steps.

“The buggers!” said Bardin “What the hell do they think they’re doing? Demolishing the ship?!”

There was a hammering on their cabin door.

“Piss off!” Bardin yelled.

“Nah, don’t be like that, Bard”, said Hal “Lower the drawbridge”.

“I’ll answer it”, said Bengo, clambering over Bardin wearily.

“Put your dressing-gown on”, said Bardin “He certainly doesn’t deserve any treats”.

“It was like this, see”, said Hal, when Bengo had barely opened the door “We heard this loud crackling sound like electricity, and we got really really spooked”.

“This is of zilch interest”, said Bardin, from his bunk “Get off to bed, I’ll deal with you in the morning”.

Hal muttered something under his breath about “pampered prima donnas”, but nonetheless did as he was told.

“Pampered?” said Bengo, returning to bed “Huh! I’ve never been pampered in my life!”

Bardin gave the other clowns a blistering telling-off in the dining-room the following day after breakfast.

“So what if you were spooked out there?” he said “That still didn’t give you any right to wake up half the ship when you got back”.

“We didn’t wake up half the ship”, said Hal, with reckless pedantry “Just you two”.

Bengo, who was listening to all this out in the passageway, stuffed his pinny into his mouth in alarm.

“Will you stop doing that!” said Joby “You look like a great big baby chewing on his bib!”

“I can’t help it, Joby”, said Bengo “Bardy will erupt at any moment”.

“He sounds like he’s erupting now”, said Joby.

“All of you by now”, Bardin was now saying “Should know what it means to be part of an ensemble cast, and part of that is showing consideration …”

“Bardin”, Hal held up a hand “Please listen to us, mate. We weren’t just spooked out there, there is something really weird about this area”.

“There seems to be something really weird about every area we come to!” Bardin snapped “What’s so special about this one?”

“There was the wind”, said Mutton Broth “It whistled around us all the time”.

“I cannot believe I’m hearing this!” said Bardin “You’re camping out on desolate scrubland by the sea, and you seem to think it’s odd that you heard the wind whistling!”

“Oh we can’t explain it”, said Mutton, sorrowfully “You really had to be there to get it”.

“Tell him about the crackling noise”, Shag jabbed Hal in the ribs with his elbow.

“There was this crackling noise, see?” said Hal “Like sort of electricity. It was freaky as hell”.

“Like the air was alive with something”, said Shag.

“We was worried that if we didn’t get back to the ship pronto”, said Mutton “That we might fall into some sort of time-warp again, and never get back to you”.

“Yes, and we couldn’t have that could we!” said Bardin “Well next time you get all scaredy-cat over some strange noises, show a bit of concern when you come storming back on ship!”

“And don’t call us pampered prima donnas!” Bengo shouted through the door.

“Oh that”, said Hal, sheepishly “I’d had a couple of beers, you know how it is”.

Meanwhile, Hoowie came thumping along the corridor towards Joby and Bengo.

“Hey”, he hissed “How’s it going? I’m glad I didn’t go over with ‘em. I said, what’s the point of me swapping a nice, comfy cabin for a tent out on the marshes”.

“Well the nice, comfy cabin has Julian in it I suppose”, said Joby “So that makes the tent on the marshes sound a bit more appealing”.

There was a movement in the dining-room.

“Watch out”, said Joby “He’s coming out”.

The 3 of them tried to shoot into the galley, but were hampered by Adam coming out of it.

“I notice that nobody has enough to do again”, said Bardin.

“That’s outrageous, Bardin”, said Hoowie “I polished all the dining-room table before breakfast”.

“And he did a jolly good job of it too”, said Adam.

“It’s nice to know someone can find a use for him other than playing with his arse!” said Bardin, going into his cabin.

Adam stormed back into the galley, and took up a hunk of bread, which had been lying on the table, tearing it into little pieces.

“Hey, I thought we was sposed to never waste any food!” said Joby.

“It won’t be wasted”, said Adam “The goats can have it”.

“Yeah, they can have it, we can’t!” said Joby.

“I’m sorry, Joby”, said Adam “But the temptation was simply too great. Sometimes I do think that Bardin can give Julian a run for his money when it comes to being rude and annoying!”

In spite of endless fiddling with the wireless set, and maps and compasses, it was proving to be immensely difficult to figure out exactly where they were.

“We must be coming into the region of the Weather Rock”, said Bardin “But at the moment there’s here, just nothing”.

That night he had a vivid dream that they had arrived at the Rock to find it collapsed totally into decay, and Buskin long since gone. Most of the others accepted this as a typical stress dream, particularly when Bengo recalled that Bardin had often suffered from these the night before a big show. Kieran though (being Kieran) had to be different, and said that they had to be prepared for the fact that this could be a psychic premonition on Bardin’s part. Joby took the attitude that all this may well be true, but it wasn’t exactly helpful, and it wasn’t good for morale. Kieran wasn’t usually unintentionally tactless (apart from the times when he was deliberately winding someone up), but he was this time.

Joby said that this was all about as helpful as finding a hole in the ship would be, and gave Kieran such a hiding that even Kieran felt genuinely stunned by it.

“Now I feel a complete bastard”, said Joby to Adam, in the galley afterwards “Like a total thug”.

“Oh nonsense”, said Adam “Patsy’s not exactly unused to being walloped. I expect he’s had just as bad from Julian over the years”.

“Oh great, so now I’m like Julian am I!” Joby exclaimed.

“I shall go along and see how Patsy is”, said Adam “You can get started on the lunch”.

“Yeah, I’ll pretend I’m a civilised human being”, said Joby, in such a maddening way that Adam had to restrain himself from giving Joby a dose of his own medicine.

Adam went along to Kieran’s cabin and found him in a tearful state, with eyes almost as red and swollen as his bottom.

“Oh lor Pats”, said Adam “Perhaps he did whack you too hard after all”.

“No it wasn’t the spanking”, Kieran sniffed “I fell asleep again after Joby had gone, and had a rotten dream. It must be my turn for them. I was in a strange room with you and Joby, but it wasn’t you and Joby, if you know what I mean. It was like the experience Bardin had with me at Pabbio’s house”.

“What were we doing in the dream?” said Adam.

“You were staring intently at me in this cold, hostile way …”

“I can’t imagine ever doing that!”

“And Joby was trying to break my arm”, said Kieran “I kept begging him to stop, but he wouldn’t”.

“I’m not looking forward to telling him about that!” said Adam “He’s driving me mad by covering himself with guilt as it is. He’s currently branding himself as being on a par with a wife-beater”.

“Actually he’s the wife”, said Kieran “He’s the one who wears the pinny!”

“Well at least the hiding doesn’t seem to have upset you”, said Adam.

“I was upset he was so angry with me”, said Kieran “But I deserved the whacking. I do get so carried away with me psychic stuff at times. I forgot how much it can unsettle people at the wrong time”.

“I’ve brought someone along to give us a little helping hand”, said Adam, bringing Kieran into the galley.

“That’s summat I spose”, said Joby, grudgingly “Particularly as Bengo’s conspicuous by his absence. Not that Kieran’s much use at cooking”.

“Right that’s enough”, said Adam “Patsy shall help me do the lunch. You shall take yourself off to Julian, and tell him I sent you!”

“You didn’t have to send him to Julian on my account”, said Kieran, when Joby had slammed his way out of the room.

“It won’t do him any harm at all”, said Adam “it might even stop him from feeling guilty”.

“My dear fellow, the sight of you has quite cheered me up”, said Julian “I was feeling a bit depressed”.

“Why, what’s up?” said Joby, looking around the cabin “Where’s Hoowie?”

“He’s been ordered by Bardin to do some laborious cleaning job up on deck”.

“Good”, said Joby “Adam’s sent me along to see you, so I don’t want an audience”.

“Been a naughty boy have you?” said Julian.

“I don’t think so”, said Joby “I was just getting things off me chest that’s all”.

Like everyone else, Julian knew what Joby’s idea of getting things off his chest could be like, and so could fully understand why Adam had got exasperated with him.

“Anyway”, said Joby “Why are you depressed?”

“Oh just a bit apprehensive about this Weather Rock stuff. Not so much seeing Buskin, but a dread of just how long this Old Boys’ Reunion is going to take. I’m itching to get on with the voyage back to the Causeway”.

“Oh not you as well!” Joby exclaimed “I’m starting to think everybody’s taken leave of their bleedin’ senses! We’ve got the voyage all round the top, and that’s just for starters, then the Sea Of Torment again, and that mad old geezer at the abandoned hospital … and then, to cap it all, the prospect of being shot at when we get back there!”

“That rather depends on how much time has passed since we’ve been away”, said Julian “Anyway, let’s get back to the here and now. Bolt the door and drop your trousers”.

Joby was given several brisk smacks with the hairbrush.

“Sit on the window-seat”, said Julian, afterwards “I keep it well padded for Hoowie”.

“No one can accuse you of not thinking of everything, Julian!” said Joby, shuffling over to the seat with his trousers round his ankles.

“Would you like a sherry?” said Julian.

“Sherry?!” Joby expostulated, as if he’d been offered arsenic “SHERRY?!”

“I’m trying to save on the brandy, as I have no idea when we will re-stock”.

“Yeah, but sherry? Bit middle-class innit? Think what Adam would say”.

“I am not going to be lectured on class by someone who is descended from centuries of loony in-breds!” said Julian “Anyway, he’s quite happy to guzzle it when he comes in here”.

“You never know Buskin might have some brandy knocking around”, said Joby.

“Good”, said Julian “I can get quietly hammered whilst you lot are all reminiscing about old times!”

“You have been there yourself, Julian”, said Joby “When we took Vanod’s body to the Loud House that time”. “Yes but I don’t have much memory of it really”, said Julian “Anyway, I’m too intent on getting back to the Causeway. I believe the mob at the Inn will have probably long since imploded by now”.

“I wish I had your confidence in that!” said Joby.

“I believe so”, said Julian “Aimee was all that held that lot together. And the Cyanide Sisters will be our human shields. No one, except the odd huntsman, goes to that area because of them”.

Joby had to admire Julian’s pragmatic ability to turn even the darkest of locations to his own advantage.

“No I feel the Causeway could be our very own Isle Of Iona”, said Julian “Our spiritual retreat”.

“That’s a good thought”.

“And Kieran can be St Columba if he wants, but you”, and Julian jabbed Joby in the arm “Will have to dedicate yourself to keeping him under control”.

“I try me best, but I can’t always do it”.

“Yes you can”, said Julian “Do you think it’s easy for me to constantly keep Hoowie in line? Particularly when sometimes all I want to do is spoil him. Imagine where we’d all be if I gave in to that little impulse!”

“S’alright”, said Joby “Bardin’d soon put him right again”.

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