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There seemed to be bodies hanging from the trees. Joby gave a startled yelp when he came up on deck and saw them for the first time.
“It’s alright, they’re dummies”, said Julian, who was leaning on the bulwark.
“Yes, to ward off evil spirits I suspect. I’ve seen it before. In Albania”.
“When were you in Albania?” said Joby
“A very long time ago”, said Julian “Back in the old life”.
“Well I thought it might be somehow”.
“I drove to Turkey once. Albania was on the way”.
“You drove all the way to Turkey?” Joby exclaimed “Blimey, you’ve never mentioned that before”.
“It’s not a phase of my life I like to dwell upon”, said Julian “It was when Adam was in prison”.
“Oh I see”.
“Partly I don’t want to upset him by dredging all that back up. And partly Kieran would no doubt start banging on about how I was travelling to expunge my guilt, and cleanse my soul, or some such nonsense”.
“Yeah probably”, said Joby “I don’t blame you for not mentioning it! I still can’t get used to seeing you without a cigar. You’re the last person I expected to give up smoking. And yet you don’t seem to miss it”.
“I get twitchy sometimes”, said Julian “Fortunately Ransey’s locked them away somewhere and has sworn never to tell me where. He was very diligent about that. I don’t mind really. It was a filthy habit”.
“Wonders will never cease”.
“As long as I don’t have to give up alcohol as well I should survive”.
“No one expects that”, said Joby “Particularly at the moment. We need all the help we can get. Sometimes it feels like we’ll be stuck on this damn river forever. Like some kind of After-Life punishment”.
“Perhaps it is in a way”, said Julian “It certainly doesn’t feel real at times. But we will come to the end of it. I don’t believe it can last for much longer”.
“And yet the crazy thing is nothing has REALLY happened”, said Joby “Apart from the friggin’ weather, and those horrible little demons. Even Adam didn’t seem to be in any real danger when he was abducted. And yet in spite of all that … it feels like Hell”.
“It’s the relentlessness of it”, said Julian “The not knowing when it’s going to end. The day-by-day dreariness. When a catastrophe happens it’s bloody horrible, but we know it’s a one-off, and we can only get through it. We’ll be alright eventually. Whereas this feels like being in the doldrums of a war. You can never let down your guard, you’ve got to be in a constant state of alertness … only you don’t know what for”.
“When the next miserable development’s gonna be I spect”, said Joby.
The dummies creaked eerily in the wind, as the boats glided past.
“Who put them there I wonder”, said Joby.
“There are probably settlements dotted throughout the forest”, said Julian “Like Somba. God knows how they’re living, considering the Evil has a thorough grip on this entire area. Watch out!”
Julian pulled Joby down onto the deck. Joby just had time to glimpse a dark-clad figure standing on the edge of the trees, with a scarf wrapped round its face, levelling a gun at them.
Ransey and Mieps fired warning-shots from the poop-deck.
“What did I just say about being in a constant state of alertness?” said Julian.
Shortly after this they were halted in their tracks by a large net which had been suspended over the river like a giant spider’s web.
“Ransey tells me it’s an old pirate’s trick”, said Bardin “It used to happen sometimes to the rivers around the City at one time. Get us trapped, and then they’ll board whilst we’re vulnerable”.
Bardin put everybody on extra alert whilst the net was cut down. “Trying hard aren’t they?” said Joby, watching from the main deck “The demons … or whatever they are”.
“And yet we’ll be out of it soon”, said Adam “I feel it in my bones”.
“God, I hope you’re right”, said Joby “Kieran’s wearing himself out with praying. He’s even getting up in the night to do it. Says if it was good enough for the Medieval monks then it’s good enough for him”.
“I swear he was responsible for my release from that confounded chair”, said Adam “He made some cryptic remark to me yesterday about the Power of Prayer”.
“We don’t know if that net was for our benefit”, said Hillyard, coming over to join them “It could’ve been there for ages. There’s so little traffic on this river it might’ve been put there years ago”.
“Yes, possibly”, said Adam “It’s all too easy to think this is all about scaring us. It might’ve been for any random passing traffic”.
“It might not even be them responsible”, said Hillyard “As Ranz said, could’ve been pirates”.
“That’d be all we need”, said Joby “Pirates, on top of everything else!”
“We’ll see ‘em off, don’t you fret”, said Hillyard.
The following day was one of those days where time seemed to evaporate. They simply travelled up river past ever-changing landscape. The vast forest on the south side, and miles upon miles of empty wasteland on the north side, which was only broken by the odd rock or pathetic-looking shrub.
“Even I’m starting to get worried it’ll be like this forever”, said Julian, pensively.
“We have to come out of it eventually”, said Adam “Though God alone knows when”.
He went back below deck. In the galley he found Bardin playing at slapping Bengo about the face with a pair of leather gloves.
“Harder! Ooh harder!” Bengo was yelping.
“Are those Ransey’s old gloves?” said Adam.
“Think so”, said Bardin “Toppy found them in the wireless room when he was having a clear-out”.
“Well stop slapping Bengo with them”, said Adam “That’s not very friendly is it?”
“Oh I’ve had worse”, said Bengo.
“Done to you on stage, yes I know”, said Adam “That is beside the point. Bardin behave, or I’ll lock you in your cabin”.
“Just do that anyway”, said Bengo.
“Hey!” Hillyard shouted, from the top of the quarterdeck steps “Come up here!”
His sense of urgency was infectious. Everybody ran up the steps and out onto the main deck. On the north side of the river, which for so long had been nothing but depressing wasteland, had sprouted clumps of trees. And in the midst of these was a substantial white-painted building, which looked intact, and not in the least bit derelict.
“Are we reaching some sign of civilisation at long last?” said Hillyard “Let’s hope so”.
“Signal to Lord Robert’s yacht that we’re pulling over”, said Bardin.
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