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By Sarah Hapgood

“High time Bardin told it to them straight”, said Julian “I don’t know what’s taken him so long. Not like him to normally be overcome with tact and reticence”.

“I think he generally avoids speaking to them if he can”, said Hillyard, who was giving Julian a massage in his cabin.

“God, I wish I knew how much longer we’re gonna be lumbered with them”, said Hoowie, who was leaning indolently against the wall.

“Well we’re on the move at last anyway”, said Julian “That’s something. Better than being permanently halted in the gloom with them, like we were”.

“Yeah, but when are we ever gonna get anywhere?” said Hoowie, plaintively.

“Hoowie”, Julian ordered “Light the samovar and make some tea”.

“There’s another issue that has to be dealt with though”, said Hillyard, wiping his hands on a towel “Ransey thinks someone’s nicking food in the night”.

“What?” Julian looked up sharply from his prone position “How? The hold’s locked, so’s the galley, or is Adam getting negligent?”

“Not all the food store’s can be locked down below”, said Hillyard “And Adam thinks someone is sneaking into the galley, during the daytime. He said one day he found half a loaf of bread missing. Looked like someone had torn it apart with their bare hands”.

“Well how come the galley was empty?” said Julian “You would think that with three of them working there, someone would always be in-situ? Probably all skiving off for hijinks with Bardin. I can see i’m going to have to have words with them”.

“That’s not needed surely?” said Hillyard, dismayed at the thought of the rampant bad feeling this would no doubt cause.

“Of course it is”, said Julian, reaching for his trousers “Food-theft is a very serious matter”.

(To be more accurate, it wasn’t the thought of food being stolen that was causing Julian so much distress as the chance of the food-thief breaking into the booze-stores as well).

“Anyway, Ransey’s going to mount guard at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps”, said Hillyard “Says he’ll sit up all night if necessary”.

“But he’ll get really cold”, said Hoowie.

“He says he’ll do what’s necessary”, said Hillyard “You know how determined he can be when he’s fired up to a project”.

“Hm”, said Julian “And in the meantime a reprimand has to be issued to the galley staff. They should not be leaving the galley open and unmanned during the daytime”.

“Be better if Bardin issued the reprimand surely?” said Hillyard “Him being Captain and all”.

“As i said, it’s probably him who’s been distracting them!” said Julian.

Hillyard had expected almost armed revolt as a result of Julian poking his nose into the galley’s affairs, but Adam took it surprisingly meekly. Joby looked mutinous, but didn’t say anything.

“I suppose we didn’t want to start living in an atmosphere of distrust”, said Adam “Feeling we had to lock the place up every time we left it, and counting the biscuits in the tin! I mean, you don’t want to distrust people all the time do you?”

“I don’t see why not”, said Julian “Most of the time it’s human nature to be as rotten and sneaky as possible”.

“Oh Julian!” Adam protested, but not very strongly.

“You can’t argue with me”, said Julian “You know I’m right. The blunt truth of the matter is we have a food-thief on board”.

“Yes, but who?” Bengo wailed “It can’t be one of us surely? I’d die of disappointment. It must be one of Them”.

“Them” being one of the Cave4, their guests.

“I can’t believe it’s Wesley”, said Adam “There isn’t a deceitful bone in that man, I swear it”.

“Bet you it’s Cat Woman”, said Joby “Bet you any money you like”.

“What makes you so certain it’s her?” said Adam.

“Because she’s getting fatter”, said Joby, bluntly “And no one else is”.

“Are you sure it’s not just because she’s wearing a lot of clothes?” said Adam.

“No, she’s definitely getting fatter”, said Joby “And how the hell anyone can gt fat on our rations at the moment is beyond me!”

“Well she does put a lot of sugar in her porridge”, said Bengo “Perhaps it’s that”.

“And she’s always hanging around outside the door there”, Joby went on “I was starting to think she had a crush on Adam as well!”

“Oh don’t say that”, Adam shuddered “What are we going to do if it is her?”

“Confine her to her cabin”, said Julian “Apart from mealtimes, and when she has to do the necessaries. That bloody woman has never been anything but trouble for us. We had to leave Snow Lake because of her. I’m starting to think that rabble were right after all, and she is a bloody witch!”

Kitty made no denial when questioned about whether she had been pilfering food. Her answer was quite astonishing: “I used to be a food writer”, she said “I contributed recipes to a magazine”.

“Right”, said Joby, afterwards “This is where I swear blind the bloody woman really is mad!”

It was hard to argue with that one. Kitty was effectively put under cabin-arrest, but Ransey still made a point of standing (or rather sitting) guard one night outside the galley door. One night of sitting in the dark and cold, bundled up to the eyeballs in coat, hat and scarf though curbed his enthusiasm for night-guard duty.

Fortunately, very soon after this, they were blessed with a dramatic change of scene. They emerged from the river on which they seemed to have been stuck forever, and onto a large lake, which was surrounded by craggy mountains, and strewn with roughly-hewn islands. More astoundingly though, there were ample signs of human habitation. One small island - near to the mouth of the river from which they had emerged - was dominated by a tower. What appeared to be a grim-looking castle bestrode one of the mountains opposite to them. This impressive local housing was completed by a large house up on the horizon behind them.

If it was possible for a galleon to emerge with trepidation onto the lake, then this one did so. They were wholly uncertain as to what kind of reception they would get from the locals. They weren’t even certain if they could be back up in the Demon Lands, although, being this far north, it was an uncomfortable possibility.

The first person they saw gave some reassurance. From out of the tower emerged a portly man dressed in oilskins, with a woolly hat pulled down firmly over his ears, giving him the appearance of an affable village idiot. He hailed the galleon, and the Indigo-ites pulled in towards the island.

“Where you going then?” shouted the stranger, in what seemed like more of a tone of idle curiosity than wary interrogation.

“We don’t know”, Bardin shouted back “We are strangers here. Nomads. We are unfamiliar with this area”.

“A-ha”, said the man “You might want to pull in for a bit then. There’s another storm coming on. Once it closes in it won’t be fit for you to see where you’re going”.

Bardin took a small shore-party across, to introduce themselves to their new hosts. It consisted of just himself, Bengo, Ransey and Hillyard. As usual, they decided to leave off taking Kieran until they could be sure who they were dealing with.

The tower was a grim-looking place, situated as it was on a small rocky island which seemed to boast no vegetation of any kind whatsoever. But if it’s appearance was forbiddingly grim, then it’s inhabitants (from what had been seen so far) seemed remarkably affable.

They were greeted in the small ground-floor courtyard of the castle by a tall and very slender middle-aged man, who had an air about him of a very keen whippet. He welcomed them at the bottom of a foot of twisting stone steps, peering at them eagerly through his spectacles.

“I am told you are travellers”, he said.

“That is true”, said Bardin “Nomads. Our ship is our home. We have no other”.

He thought he’d better leave out the religious part until they knew him better. They didn’t want to scare him, not this early in the visit anyway.

“But this is wonderful”, the man enthused, coming forward to shake hands “You have no idea what this means to me. Come upstairs, and I’ll show you what I’m talking about”.

They followed him up the steps to the next floor, where they found a large, draughty, rectangular-shaped room. It looked like a museum, stuffed as it was globes, charts and half-finished maps. The Indigo-ites wandered around, awed by what they were seeing.

“I am mapping the world”, said the man “Or trying to at least. You have no idea what a frustrating experience it can be”.

“Oh I do”, said Bardin “We know only too well. The amount of difficulties we’ve had at times trying to get our hands on decent maps. Most of them are unfinished!”

“And the world is constantly changing, don’t you find?” said the man.

“It changes all the time”, said Ransey “Sometimes quite dramatically. We’ve even had the sea appearing where we least expect it”.

“Exactly!” the man exclaimed, with tremendous enthusiasm “Sometimes I swear there’s some trickery afoot. That we are all part of some giant chess-game the gods are playing with us”.

“Very likely”, said Bardin “We do seem to live in a world where normal boundaries and laws of logic don’t apply. Sometimes I don’t think they ever have”.

“May I ask”, said the man “Whereabouts you have travelled?”

“All over”, said Bardin “We’ve been all around the world. North, south, east and west”.

“And Bardy’s captained us all over it”, said Bengo, proudly.

“Remarkable”, said the man “And what maps did you use?”

“Whatever we could lay our hands on”, said Bardin “But more often than not they haven’t been much help. Half the time we seem to have just travelled at random, led ourselves by the nose to see where we ended up”.

“Even so, you can help me”, said the man “You can help me fill in some of my own gaps here. It would help me tremendously”.

“Well we can try”, said Bardin “But as Ransey said the problem is the world seems to be changing all the time. And we are completely lost at the moment. We have no idea where we are. We’ve just sort of headed north”.

“Again”, said Bengo.

“But this is a different north to the one that we’ve previously known”, said Bardin “Completely different”.

“But I know you will be able to help me”, said the man “You can tell me everywhere you’ve been”.

“That might take a while”, said Bardin.

“Time is of no importance here”, said the man.

“So what is this man’s name?” said Adam, when they had returned to the galleon later.

“Erebus”, said Bardin.

“Erebus?” said Adam “Are you sure?”

“Everybody we meet as a weird name”, said Joby.

“Yes I know”, said Adam “But Erebus … it’s from Greek mythology. The brother of Night, the son of Chaos. Erebus is darkness itself”.

“Oh great”, said Joby “Might’ve known”.

“Well he seems an educated man”, said Bengo, who had been intimidated by Erebus’s equipment “Perhaps he’s read all this mythology, and decided to call himself that”.

“Yeah, but why?” said Joby “Why not give himself a less gloomy name?”

“Oh look we’re getting ahead of ourselves here”, said Adam “Perhaps his parents just had a strange sense of humour”.

“Bound to have”, said Joby “If they lived out here”.

“So how many of them are there, Bardin?” said Adam “I si ti just him and his friend?”

“Don’t know”, Bardin shrugged “It feels as if there should be more, but we didn’t hear or see anybody. It’s hard to get an impression of the place at all”.

“We’d have to see more of it”, said Bengo “At the moment it feels more like a museum than where somebody actually lives!”

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