The lads were allowed to customise their living space. Many of those who believed their time in the commune might stretch to more than a fortnight took full advantage of the opportunity. Carpets and sheets of plywood and felt were brought in, as well as couches and drapes: in no time the large rooms resembled warrens, or rookeries.
The few beds provided at the start were claimed by the top dogs. A lad could assume that if when he got back from a training course his bed and gear was as he had left it, he had won a fair measure of respect in this turbulent community.
Renfrew Street was, naturally, only a stopping-off point. Some fellows only stayed for a day or two.
Corin Moorhouse, formerly the major domo of Prince Dion, was one of the instructors.
The odd thing was that this forty-eight-year-old, round-faced bald-headed git had plenty of the stuff in him. There had been amazement in the ranks when a new recruit, a real gorilla, refused to obey an order of Moorhouse's. Not only that, he told Moorhouse to get fucked.
The speed with which the youthful 14-stoner was rendered unconscious was sufficiently explained later when one of the lads, using a key he had made, rifled through a filing cabinet and found Moorhouse's record from way back in his commando days.
A woman in her sixties, the wife of the caretaker around the place, was highly thought of by the lads, who often went to her for tea, toast and advice.
Particularly dear to this lady's heart was a new member of the commune, a handsome and well-spoken youth called Harry Sims. On sight she had been drawn to the lad who, it seemed, had been in many gangs including the Tenterden Tigers and the Puppet Emperors. (This last claim was a lie: Harry Sims, actually Prince Dion himself in disguise, had invented this gang as a jest at his own royal origins.)
Though Sims was fairly well set up, with broad shoulders and a confident manner, some of the guys had, because of his open face and easy smile, taken him for a softie.
The very night that Sims arrived and arranged his sleeping bag and rucksack close to the wall, he was sitting on a bench when a fellow resident came over and stood looking down at him. Sims was applying a match to a little black pipe.
'Spare some War Horse?' asked the youth, raising his own smoking instrument with a smile.
Not missing a beat, Sims threw him the tin.
He eased down and, without asking permission, barged against Sims and sat himself beside him on the bench, sprawling against the wall.
Dion had already noticed this individual attempting to intimidate other residents: he was a brooding, solitary type. And possibly a gay looking for a 'friend'. Either way, the lout considered he had found in 'Harry Sims' a target ripe for bullying.
Dion found himself straining to one side, away from the breath of the youth which was reminiscent of the onions that had flavoured his lunchtime sandwiches.
'You're a good lad and you look like the obedient type,' said the misfit. 'A good pal of mine who follows my instruction perfect-like, he'll do all right for hisself.'
'You better ease back a few feet if you don't want any trouble,' said Sims.
'Yeah? Who's gonna give it to me?'
The youth swung his head in every direction, looking for the aggressor.
But when he turned back he met the knuckles of Dion Dalvad shooting up from hip level onto the point of his chin.
The lout went sprawling off the bench.
To give him his credit, he laughed.
All aggression was gone out of him and he got to his feet to sit at a polite distance from Dion on the bench.
'I didn't realize you were that sort of bloke! It's Harry isn't it?' he said, offering his mitt.
'Yeah, Harry Sims,' said Dion.
Dion reluctantly shook Ron's hand; he resolved, however, to keep an eye on this tricky client. Ron, it turned out, was quite a letter writer and had many contacts back in Hythe who wrote regularly. It was from this source that Dion found out about the so-called Tent Town that had sprung up in Sene Park in Hythe.
This was an initiative of Humphrey Crask's government. Tent Town extended a free and easy invitation to all hailfellas, especially, but by no means only, the young: they could stay at this New Republican commune with highly subsidised food and accommodation for up to six weeks. The idea was to foster 'political awareness and social responsibility'. There would be no political bias and no vetting whatsoever—and no obligations afterwards, either on the part of the hailfellas or the government of the New Republic. It was hoped though that many of the attendees would make their way to the upcoming Games, featuring mainly combat sports, at the Brighton Arena.
It seemed that many hailfellas were taking advantage of the offer. Many saw it simply as an attempt on the part of Crask and his INTEG cohorts to butter up the lower classes and get some good publicity. But who cared about that? If they wanted to turn a hairy-arsed hailfella from the Royalist path, let them try!
Though Dion said nothing to his informant, it seemed to him the kind of place where somebody could get a good idea of what was going on in England.
From recent events, including today's incident with Ron, he knew that his disguise was good enough to allow him to present himself as Harry Sims wherever he wished in his father's broad kingdom.
'Do you fancy leavin' this place? We could make our way down south together, hitch some rides,' said Ron.
'Maybe,' said Harry.
But he had already decided to head for Hythe on his own.
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