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By Sarah Hapgood

Hoowie hurtled down the quarterdeck steps and into the galley. It was only the table, placed in the centre of the small room, which broke his skid.

“Hoowie, I swear if you were replaced with a cartoon character we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference”, said Adam.

“I just pulled a really brilliant practical joke on Bengo and Bardin”, said Hoowie, awash with breathless excitement “I shouted ‘croc!’ at them and they leapt to their feet on the jetty. Bloody brilliant. They fell for it!”

“Well I should be careful if I were you, old love”, said Adam “The clowns will probably bide their time and deliver retribution when you least expect it”.

“Huh, there’s nothing they can put over on me”, said Hoowie “I’m wise to them”.

“D’you know”, said Joby “Even after all these years it still blows my mind just how daft you can be! Bardin’ll probably have you cleaning the heads for the whole of next week!”

“Like he has been for the past week”, said Hoowie “So it won’t make any difference!”

“Is there a logic to that, Joby?” said Adam “Because I’m damned if I can see it”.

“Don’t even try”, said Joby “Not where this hairy mucker’s concerned”.

“Anyone know how long we’re going to be stopping at this place?” said Hoowie “I’m not sure I like it really”.

“It’s a useful stopover”, said Adam “We are at least finally finding out what’s going on. And they may be able to help us with our onward journey”.

“I suppose so”, said Hoowie, reluctantly.

“Why don’t you like it then?” said Joby.

“Dunno really”, Hoowie shrugged “It just seems well … gloomy really. Like it’s name. Even when the sun’s out. I mean, it’s an improvement on what we’ve seen so far, but even so…”

“They do live on a bit of a knife-edge round here”, said Adam “They’re surrounded on three sides by that huge, forbidding forest, and beyond that the scorched lands to the east”.

“I can’t see us staying here for long”, said Joby “We’ve gotta move onto the west coast. That’s more familiar territory, and we can get a better idea of what’s going on everywhere”.

“I would be fascinated to see some old haunts again”, said Adam “The Village of Stairs … perhaps we may even finally get back to the Bay. Who knows?”

“I hope the monks have gone”, said Joby “They’ll go bloody demented if Kieran suddenly turns up out of the blue!”

To the surprise of everybody else on the galleon, Adam didn’t make a habit of going ashore and chatting to Matty, who seemed to be in general charge of the village’s main food supplies.

“I thought you’d be over there swapping recipes”, said Hillyard, chatting to him on the main deck one afternoon.

“Yes well that’s just is isn’t it”, Adam snapped “I do get awfully tired of my old woman image. Look what good it did me in Snow Lake”.

“Oh that was just Beatrix being daft”, said Hillyard.

“It wasn’t just that”, said Adam “Women seem to like me, and I don’t mean in that way”.

Hillyard nearly blurted out “That’s because you’re like them”, but fortunately stopped himself just in time. It would have been about the worst possible thing he could have said at that moment.

“Has Julian been making snide remarks?” he asked instead.

“When doesn’t he”, Adam sighed.

“Ignore him”, said Hillyard “He couldn’t do what you do”.

“He wouldn’t want to, Hillyard!” said Adam “He’s the one who gets to stride around in his boots macho-fashion, whereas I’m in my blasted pinny all the time”.

“Now don’t go all flaky on us”, said Hillyard “I know you won’t appreciate me saying this, but we need you as Den Mother, we always have”.

“But Hilly I …” Adam struggled for words “I would so love to be seen as macho, you have no idea how much sometimes”.

“Well you are … in your own way”, said Hillyard “Look at that idiot you punched on Mud Island that time. And as for Julian being macho, he can be a big old fussing fairy sometimes. ‘Oh Hillyard, come and massage my back, it’s giving me terrible pain ..’”

“Yes, but nobody suggests he goes and swaps recipes do they!” said Adam.

“Don’t go then”, said Hillyard “Come hunting with me and Mieps instead, ‘cept you know you’d hate it. You’d get bored. Pull yourself together Ad, you don’t get me trying to be somebody else do you!”

“For crissakes don’t go telling him I’ve told you all this”, said HiIlyard, down in Julian’s cabin a short while later “He’d never forgive me”.

“Adam can be a crashing bore when he starts on this macho lark”, said Julian, sitting sprawled in the chair at his desk.

“I don’t even know why he does it”, said Hillyard.

“I think I do”, said Julian “Still trying to prove to his bastard of a father that he can be tough”.

“Can’t he shake him off by now?” said Hillyard “After all this time?”

“Most of the time he does”, said Julian “But then he has a relapse. The stupid thing is I always liked him because he was the eccentric arty type. I get bored stiff with the posturing, bragging sort”.

“Only room for one king of the jungle eh?” Hillyard teased, nudging Julian’s shoulder

“Did he really say that about being in his blasted pinny all the time?” Julian laughed.

“I told you that in strictest confidence”, said Hillyard.

“I won’t say a word”, said Julian “For now anyway. I can’t promise it won’t slip out at some point in the distant future though. And, if he’s still moping at dinnertime, I’ll bloody snap him out of it”.

“If you ask me this area’s having a funny effect on everyone”, said Bardin, as the dining-room was being made ready for supper that evening “Look at you for instance”.

“What about me?” said Bengo, who was sorting out cutlery.

“Going all thoughtful”, said Bardin “You know it makes you depressed, and now we’ve got Adam having a funny turn”.

“The only funny turn I’m having is an overwhelming desire to take your trousers down”, said Adam.

“Ooh go on”, said Bengo.

“Dinner first, I’m hungry”, said Adam “And I’m sure everyone else is too”.

“Y’see Adam”, said Bengo “You’re all macho when you’re disciplining Bardin”.

“Possibly”, said Adam “I just wish sometimes it had more effect!”

Julian came into the room carrying his riding-crop. He swiped Adam across the backside with it.

“Julian, for goodness sake”, said Adam “You’re lucky I hadn’t been carrying anything at that moment or you’d have lost your dinner”.

Julian grabbed him roughly round the neck and whispered “Come with me for a walk in the forest tomorrow”.

A thunderstorm broke late that night, and the rain hammered down with an awesome velocity.

“If this keeps up that’ll put the mockers on your walk tomorrow”, said Hoowie, from his bed.

“We’ll see”, said Julian, stalking over to the bed and sitting down on the edge of it “I want you to be good about this, Hoowie. Otherwise I’ll give you a good whipping. Actually I might anyway. Just for the sheer pleasure of it”.

“You can’t blame me for getting jealous sometimes”, said Hoowie.

“Yes I can, and there will be none of it tomorrow”, said Julian “I am very serious about that. I’ve got to sort Adam out, I’m the only one who can. If he loses the plot then we’re all fucked. It’s as simple as that”.

“It’s this village if you ask me”, said Hoowie “It’s as depressing as fuck. I mean, even the name of it. Somba. That’s really close to ‘sombre’”.

“It’s a useful stopover that’s all”, said Julian “We’re not setting up residence here”.

“Bloody hope not”, said Hoowie.

Ransey, Hillyard and Mieps joined a village hunting-party in the forest, and left instructions to Adam and Julian to find another part to walk in.

“Yes alright, we’re not daft!” said Julian.

In fact, he and Adam went for a stroll through the trees close to the riverside. The humid forest was steaming after the storm from the night before. The sun dappled off the river and occasionally blinded them through the trees.

“When was the last time you had sex?” Julian asked, bluntly.

“For heaven’s sake, can’t you get your mind out of your pants just once?” said Adam.

“No”, said Julian “When was the last time you had sex? For real I mean. And I don’t count spanking Bardin, however much of a turn-on that undoubtedly is”.

“I don’t know”, Adam sighed “I honestly can’t remember. Possibly Snow Lake”.

“Thought as much”, said Julian “That’s why you’re so irritable”.

“Well I didn’t think that I was particularly”, said Adam “Nothing that can’t be put down to tiredness, and worry about the world, and generally being fed up with travelling anyway”.

“That may all be true”, said Julian “But if you were getting fucked regularly it wouldn’t be getting to you as much. The trouble is, your whole life seems to revolve around that damn galley”.

“I enjoy it”, said Adam “It’s hard work, and very frustrating when we have to use the same old ingredients all the time, but it’s a lot of fun”.

“But man cannot live by work alone”, said Julian “You should come to see me more”.

“I don’t like to” said Adam, pausing and leaning with his back against a tree “I don’t want to upset Hoowie”.

“Hoowie will do as he’s told”, said Julian “I’ve made it very clear to him I won’t indulge these jealous fits any longer. They’re boring and utterly pointless. Plus I don’t believe he does really get jealous, not any more. It’s all attention-seeking these days”.

“One would think he got quite attention from you”, Adam smiled.

“There’s never enough for Hoowie”, said Julian.

He pressed himself up against Adam, and roughly grabbed his bulging pelvis. Adam gave a moan.

“Would I be doing this with you now”, Julian whispered “If you weren’t thoroughly male? Stop neglecting yourself, Adam. I sometimes wonder if it’s you who’s trying too hard to be a saint, not Kieran”.

“Oh Patsy doesn’t have to try”, said Adam.

“I know”, said Julian “Annoying little bastard. Come back to my cabin right now”.

Adam wrapped his arms round the edges of the pillow and yelled into it, as Julian rogered him vigorously.

“God in Heaven!” Adam managed to yell out.

Afterwards, they managed to collapse in a sweaty heap

“Bloody hellfire”, said Julian “If that wasn’t some good honest-to-god masculine rutting I don’t know what was!”

“Some might dispute that”, Adam laughed.

“Yeah, the sort that couldn’t take it”, said Julian.

“How in God’s name am I going to move this afternoon?” said Adam.

“You’re out of practice”, said Julian “I can’t believe you’ve neglected yourself for so long. Finia says it’s dangerous for a Scorpio like you to neglect his sexual side”.

“I might’ve known Finia’s blasted astrology would come into it somewhere”, said Adam “Joby always says it makes everyone sound like a sexual pervert”.

“Particularly Scorpio’s”, said Julian “You’re ruled by the sexual organs apparently. A simmering cauldron of passion and intensity”.

“I’ll remember that when I’m making the next batch of sticky currant buns!” said Adam “Talking of which, I’d really better be getting along. Joby will panic if the hunters dump all the corpses on him when they get back”.

“You spoil him”.

“Not at all. He just needs careful handling”.

“Well this becomes a regular thing from now on”, said Julian, propping himself up on his elbow and slapping Adam’s behind “No arguments now”.

“I wouldn’t dream of arguing”, said Adam.

He had barely got back to the galley, and was in the process of putting his pinny on, when Hoowie appeared, soaked from head-to-foot in dirty water.

“Blimey, what happened to you?” said Joby.

“Did you fall in the river?” said Adam.

“No!” Hoowie snarled “Those fucking arse-tits, Bengo and Bardin, tipped a bucket of dirty water over me. The one Toppy had swabbed the floors with. It was jet black! Putrid. It had bits floating in it!”

“Well I did warn you, old love”, said Adam “It would have been very surprising if they hadn’t got revenge somehow”.

“All I did was a harmless little joke”, Hoowie protested “They must’ve viciously plotted this vile vengeance. Though I expect Bardin plotted it really, he’s the one with the brains in that outfit. Can’t imagine Benje thought of it all by himself”.

“Oh I dunno”, said Joby.

“Go into their cabin”, said Adam “And I’ll bring you some hot water to clean yourself up with”.

“I love washing hair”, said Adam, pouring the last of the warm water over Hoowie’s tumbling locks “It’s very soothing”.

“It’s even more soothing when you’re on the receiving end”, said Hoowie, straightening up “Serve ‘em damn well right if I dried meself off on their bedspread. I should’ve rolled around on it. How bloody vicious can they get!”

“I’ve often thought it must take a unique mndset to be a clown”, said Adam, wringing out the mane.

“Yeah, a sadistic one”, said Hoowie “No wonder people get scared of us. Sometimes I can understand Wesley’s phobia!”

“I can’t imagine anyone getting scared of Bengo though”, said Adam.

“Oh yeah?” said Hoowie “He can be a spiteful little bastard. Everybody gets taken in by those cute looks. He’d never get away with it if he was batshit ugly”.

“If you want some entertainment”, said Adam “Come into the galley after supper, and you can have a personal viewing of Bardin being spanked”.

“All for me?” said Hoowie “What if he doesn’t agree?”

“Of course he’ll agree”, said Adam “When does he ever refuse?”

“What’s going on here?” Bardin barked from the doorway.

“Cleaning up your mess, old love”, said Adam, who was now frisking a flannel round Hoowie’s naked body.

“You don’t have to clean him up”, said Bardin “Or are you feeling guilty for having been with Julian?”

Adam deftly chucked the flannel at Bardin, hitting him squarely in the mouth with it.

“Oh thanks”, said Bardin “That’s been round his private parts!”

“Serves you right”, said Adam “Now be very careful what you say for the rest of the day, because you’re on a promise for later”.

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