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By Sarah Hapgood

Lord Robert stood facing Bardin on the quayside. He was a short but stocky man, who stood in the classic King Henry the 8th pose of hands on hips and legs placed firmly apart. He was flanked by two slender young women, who clearly adored him. The thought crossed Bardin’s mind that perhaps Joby might be right after all, and this would be a good chance to offload Kitty. She was a woman, and after all she seemed to like powerful men.

A meaty hand clapped Bardin on the shoulder in a comradely fashion, and Lord Robert proceeded to stroll with him along the waterfront path. Everyone else followed at a respectful distance.

“Glad you got here safely”, said Lord Robert “We hoped you would eventually”.

“I suppose it goes without saying that you know who we are?” said Bardin.

“Everyday, since the insanity on the mainland began, we hoped that you had all got out safely”, said Lord Robert “We’ve been keeping an eye out for survivors”.

“Where is this place?” said Bardin.

“These are the Outer Isles”, said Lord Robert “I can show you all the relevant maps back at the house. This is Fire Island”.

“Fire Island?”

“So-called because the bulk of it is volcano”.

Bardin looked up at the rocky peak uncertainly.

“Is it active?” he asked.

“It hasn’t erupted in several decades”, said Lord Robert.

Bardin wasn’t as comforted as he would liked to have been by this thought. This sounded like just the kind of timespan when it could suddenly awaken at any moment. He tried not to t dwell on this subject.

“Are the other islands inhabited?” he asked, looking out to the string of smaller islands which lay off the western side.

“Fortunately not”, said Lord Robert “I say fortunately because if the mount did suddenly start spewing lava we could evacuate to one of them. No need to risk the mainland”.

“Always good to have a back-up plan”, said Bardin “What IS happening on the mainland? We’ve heard so much weird stuff, but we haven’t had any wireless contact for some time now”.

“Ours is intermittent and basic, but you are welcome to use it”, said Lord Robert “If you want my advice though it would be to stay away from the mainland for a while. Leave things to calm down”.

A few paces behind, Bengo was strolling with Lord Robert’s women, both of whom were very taken with Bengo’s cute, affable looks, although at the same time it was clear that Lord R would always be the number one man in their eyes.

“You’ve been on board ship for all that time?” said Cloris, the dark-haired one.

“Well I’m not sure how long we’ve been sailing for”, said Bengo “Not exactly. We’ve lost track of time”.

“But if you’ve sailed all the way down from the top it must be some while”, said Jane, the fair-haired one who had a delicious bell-like voice.

“Certainly feels like it”, said Bengo “I can’t get used to walking on land again!”

He affected the rolling gait of a tipsy sailor, making the two women laugh.

“How do you call cram in on that boat?” asked Cloris.

“We often ask ourselves that question”, said Bengo “It’s not been easy. Four of our lot are guests. We’ve been trying to find somewhere safe we can put them ashore”.

“They’ll be alright here, if they like”, said Jane “Or one of the smaller islands, if they’d rather start their own colony”.

“This is gonna be a dream come true for all of us!” said Bengo.

Cloris looked over nervously at Hoowie, who was larking about with the other clowns near the little pier.

“Is he alright?” she asked.

Bengo saw Hoowie through a stranger’s eyes. A tall, lanky, very hairy creature who moved like an uncontrollable zany. He could understand their concern.

“Yeah, he’s OK, don’t worry about him”, said Bengo “He’s kept under control”.

Possibly this wasn’t the most reassuring thing he could have said, but in all honesty Bengo couldn’t say Hoowie was completely and utterly harmless, as some of his antics and practical jokes in the past had caused concern.

“Julian keeps a very strict line on him”, Bengo added.

At this moment Julian was leaning against a rowing-boat beached on the quayside. He was smoking a cigar-butt and looking positively louche.

“We are all fine, really”, said Bengo “If you get fed up with us we’ll go to one of the other islands”.

“We won’t get fed up with YOU”, said Jane, squeezing Bengo’s arm.

They had all been invited to Lord Robert’s house for dinner that evening, but in the meantime they went back to the ship to get ready, and generally talk over the situation so far.

Bengo had told Bardin about his conversation with the women.

“Hm, I think Hoowie should stay on here this evening”, said Bardin.

“No he won’t”, said Julian “Hoowie’s been holed-up on here as long as the rest of us, he deserves a break. You are not putting him under house-arrest”.

“But Rumble’s staying here to mind the boat”, said Bardin “So he won’t be alone”.

“NO!” said Julian “Rumble wants to stay here, so does Umbert. They want some peace and quiet. Hoowie wants to come with us, so he is coming with us”.

“It would be very unfair to make him stay here, Bardin”, said Adam.

Bardin gave a noise that sounded like “harrumph”, only executed through his nostrils. He turned and flounced into his cabin to get changed.

Lord Robert’s house was on the eastern side of the island, sitting in a clearing which was grazed by pot-bellied pigs and chickens. The house itself was unexpectedly large, constructed haphazardly out of wood and stone blocks. The downstairs area was dominated by a large room, which was the main communal eating and living area. Here they met the rest of the islanders. There were about a dozen of them in total. Refugees from the mainland, who had fled together when the violence in the City had become unendurable. They were all very much under Lord Robert’s command, but everyone seemed to be happy with this arrangement.

“I remember seeing the Outer Isles on an old map”, he explained, leading the Indigo-ites into the building “And I thought it would be safe to come here than to flee across into the interior. We have never regretted that decision. an island is much easier to defend, but in all the time we’ve been here we’ve never seen anyone head out this way. You are the first”.

“How long have you been here?” asked Beatrix.

“About six years”, said Lord Robert.

“We wouldn’t go back to the mainland if you paid us”, said Jane, surprisingly fiercely, for someone of such a gentle appearance.

“Jane sums up our feelings”, said Lord Robert “From what we have gleaned since we have been here, the situation on the mainland hasn’t improved at all”.

Everyone arranged themselves around the long table which ran down the centre of the room. Lord Robert insisted that Bardin sit near him at one end. Bardin was in full Captain Bardin mode. Bengo was very proud of him at times like this, whilst all the while wanting to kick him in the seat of his pants. He himself was seated between Cloris and Jane, who still couldn’t get enough of the cute little clown. Lord Robert seemed completely unperturbed by this, probably because he guessed the real situation between Bengo and Bardin.

When Beatrix had found out that the Outer Islanders also hailed from the City area, she bombarded the with questions, but also unfortunately lapsed into moaning.

“If only we’d known you were coming out here”, was a constant refrain.

Adam became worried that Beatrix’s whining might scupper their chances of offloading their guests, but fortunately the general sociable din around the table increased as the meal went on, effectively drowning her out.

Meanwhile, Adam had been engaged in conversation with an affable little man called Tomas, who had introduced himself as “the island’s premier swineherd”. He enthused endlessly about the delightfulness and versatility of pigs, and pronounced himself astonished that the Indigo-ites could possibly get by without keeping any.

“We’ve never found them very practical, not for us”, said Adam “To get anything out of them you have to slaughter them. Whereas the goats are versatile. They produce milk, butter and cheese”.

“And if needs must you can slaughter them and make a curry”, said Tomas, who clearly wasn’t going to be distracted from his enthusiasm for slaughtering livestock in a hurry.

Adam found it very hard to disagree with Tomas, not when he was eating some of his delicious black pudding and sausages.

“Lord Robert will also eat anything of course”, said Tomas “Which on a rocky island like this is a godsend”.

Adam felt like adding that goats would eat anything too, but felt the conversation might turn a bit silly as it went down that route, an endless cycle of goats versus pigs. Instead he asked Tomas how they went on for vegetation.

“We have a small vegetable patch”, said Tomas “And a bit of woodland area. Most of the other islands are very wooded, and we sometimes take the animals out there to let them graze. If you pick one of those to live on you should be fine”.

“Oh I don’t think they should take one of the islands”, said Jane, from across the table “Cloris and I think they should take over the old lighthouse on the other side of this island”.

“It’s completely intact”, said Cloris “And it has its own landing area. We don’t use it, because we prefer our house, but I expect you’ll carry on living on your boat anyway. You can just have the lighthouse as extra space”.

“They can have the lighthouse and a couple of the islands if they wish”, said Lord Robert.

“Really, this is all very generous”, said Adam.

“No, simply safety in numbers”, said Lord Robert “We can look out for each other this way, in case we get any trouble from the mainland. Plus it will be good for us to have fresh life around here. It’s not healthy for small communities to be insular for too long”.

It was roundly agreed by all that the evening had been a great success. The revelation that the islanders made their own beer and wine had made Hillyard regard it as a veritable paradise.

“Wesley should fit in well with his still”, he said, on the way home .

“Surely we can find somewhere for our guests round here?” said Bengo “It’s probably the best chance we’re ever gonna get!”

“I’m going to raise it with them first thing in the morning”, said Bardin “Don’t you fear”.

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