To his great relief, Kevin had thoroughly enjoyed his return visit to Tanji's Aunt and Uncle. The location was the scene of so many threats and misunderstandings on the previous occasion, and the trip had undoubtedly laid certain ghosts to rest.
Kevin and Tanji drove from Kevin's little flat in Manchester where the two of them had been staying since the New Bridge incident, staying away from Lyndesfarne as much as possible and waiting for the furore to die down a little.
He parked the Volvo in the windswept area which doubled as a car park and camp site, and the two of them walked hand-in-hand over the causeway to the Old Bridge, the scene of so many recent new experiences for both of them. Now that the New Bridge was in regular use, the Guardians quietly encouraged private travellers, on foot as well as in horse-drawn vehicles, to use the older crossing, leaving the newer one for the organised mass-transportation of goods.
The spring weather was unusually fine and clear, although very windy, and the two lovers stopped for a time at the centre of the Old Bridge.
This particular spot had for a long time exerted a particular fascination for Kevin. On this occasion afforded them a splendid view of the New Bridge further along the straights. There was quite a chop in the sea, with the wind whipping up white horses on the tops of the swell. From the vantage-point at the very centre of the crossing, Kevin could just make out a line, a discontinuity in the sea. Somehow, the movement of the wind and the waves was slightly different in the two worlds, giving rise to subtly different motions of the sea, which could just be made out.
He never seen anything like this before, in all of his passages across the straights, and he immediately pointed it out to Tanji.
"You're right!" she replied, sounding as amazed as Kevin, "I've heard of this effect, but I've never seen it myself. We must be particularly lucky today."
Kevin nodded silently; he had never quite had the reality of the crossing between the Two Worlds brought home to him quite so forcefully.
They resumed their stroll. When they reached the other side of the causeway, Tanji suggested that they stop for some lunch in the "Walled Garden", whose menu offered a wide selection of warming and hearty food - just what they needed after their appetites had been stimulated by a walk in the brisk weather.
After lunch, their route to the local portal building took them past the magical curio shop where Kevin had purchased that fateful paperweight all those months ago.
"Shall we take a peek?" he asked Tanji, "Maybe we can find something you'd like?"
"Sure," she replied, "Let's go look."
This time, he found he could understand just a little more of the language - or at least enough to work out the prices. These were surprisingly expensive, if he had got the exchange rate correct. Of course, he still had to pester Tanji frequently to interpret the names and descriptions, and even she struggled at times to translate some of the magical concepts into English.
In the end, they spent half an hour or so browsing, but finally left empty-handed, Kevin being unable to select anything he particularly wanted, or that Tanji had expressed a desire for. After the shopping, the two lovers walked on the short distance to the portal building before taking a series of portals in the skilfully managed fashion that Tanji so effortlessly displayed. A short time later, they finally arriving in the quiet town - really more of a large village, Kevin considered - of Rhythlen where Tanji's family lived.
He already knew that Tanji now lived with her Uncle and Aunt, although he had not yet found out what had happened to her parents, now understood to be dead - although there was a strong implication that there was both a secret and very slightly embarrassing truth lurking hereabouts.
Tanji walked up to the front door and opened it without either hesitation or knocking. They dropped their packs beside the door before they hung up their cloaks tidily in the cloakroom area undoubtedly provided for this very purpose. "This way," she said, guiding her lover gently by the elbow.
They were welcomed by her uncle and aunt, who standing together in the large room which doubled as a dining and sitting room, in the style Kevin had seen elsewhere in this world. The phrases of greeting seemed to be in a very ceremonial mode of speech, at least as far as Kevin could judge from the translation provided by Tanji. He responded as graciously as he knew how, which seemed to be adequate.
After the greeting, Tanji's aunt said something much less formal and Tanji practically flew across the room to embrace the older woman. Her uncle, too, suffered a hug and a peck on the cheek with much good grace. After the embraces, her aunt said something else which seemed to require several expansive waves of her arms.
Tanji turned to Kevin.
"My aunt suggests that we make ourselves at home, and that I should give you a tour, to remind you of the layout of the place," she translated, adding, "We'll join Aunt and Uncle for dinner in a short while."
Again guiding him gently by the arm, they left the room, leaving behind a smiling aunt and, Kevin was stunned to note, a self-satisfied looking uncle. They donned their cloaks and stepped outside to have a look at the grounds, although Kevin found the physical layout of the place all very familiar.
He made his re-acquaintance with the caged Nightwing which had given him such a shock on his previous visit. The miniature dragon slumbered quietly on its perch, barely waking from its sleep to regard Kevin with one hooded yellow eye. Kevin remembered that these creatures were night hunters, kept domestically to keep down the vermin. He decided to leave the dozing reptile to its own devices.
On their way back into the house, Tanji suggested that they collect their bags before making their way downstairs. Kevin recalled the Lyndesfarne preference for underground living, or at least providing secure rooms for sleeping. He had long ago concluded that this was an instinctive reaction to the dangers from real dragons - the larger cousins of the sleeping Nightwing outside.
Tanji had her own room here - in reality, a small suite of rooms: a spacious bedroom, a bathing-room and a sitting room-cum-study. Kevin had never been inside her rooms before, or indeed was entirely sure of exactly where they were located. On this occasion, however, Tanji led him straight there, opening the door and ushering him inside.
"Tonight," she said in a definite tone with just the trace of smugness, "You'll sleep here with me."
Kevin drew the woman, the light of his life, close to him.
"Kiss me," he demanded.
She complied, pressing him down on the bed with the passion of her embrace.
A little later, Kevin had a chance to study the room. Tanji was dozing, curled on his shoulder, at least temporarily sated. There was a considerable collection of books neatly arranged in a shelf, including a collection in English, most of which Kevin had never seen before.
There was a small wardrobe whose contents he had not yet seen, and a rather old-fashioned looking dressing table cluttered with the kinds of feminine accoutrements that a man of his generation would barely recognise. All in all, it was a very feminine room and one which gave every impression of having matured over the years with its habitual occupant.
Over the next few months, Tanji and Kevin would stay in this suite quite frequently, Tanji understandably feeling extremely relaxed and unstressed here. Kevin too would come to feel welcomed and very much at home here, more so than anywhere else in the world of Lyndesfarne.
On that first evening when Kevin was introduced properly, he was served with a rather wonderful dinner, washed down with a very fine red wine. The conversations over the table were light and inconsequential, as befitting the appreciation of an enticing and carefully cooked menu.
After dinner, they moved to more comfortable seating around the fire and the conversation became more serious. It became very clear to Kevin that (a) her Aunt and Uncle were entirely aware of how close Tanji and Kevin had become, and (b) that they knew almost nothing about Kevin and were therefore just a little bit concerned for their favourite niece.
He felt that there was just the slightest suspicion that Tanji might somehow be being led astray by Kevin: a viewpoint that he found both heart-warming for the level of concern that the older generation were capable, and simultaneously faintly irritating by the implication that Tanji was a woman who did not really know her own mind.
As a response, Kevin gave a brief precis of his life and works, most of which Tanji evidently already knew. In any case, this potted history was translated by Tanji for her uncle's benefit. Kevin knew that the old man understood more English than he generally admitted, but also realised that his understanding might be somewhat erratic.
All three of the listeners asked questions during this light grilling, Tanji's aunt and uncle both relying heavily on Tanji's skills at interpretation. Kevin attempted to answer these enquiries as directly and honestly as he could. Both aunt and uncle seemed to warm to him, an impression which was confirmed when, after dinner, Tanji's uncle left the room briefly and returned clutching a rather dusty bottle.
Cradling the bottle carefully, the older man made it clear that this was a bottle of fine brandy - an aged bottle of French Armagnac, in fact - imported long ago from Kevin's own world. He further explained, through Tanji's translations, that this vintage was now nearly fifty years old, and perhaps Kevin would like to try some?
Kevin was astute enough to understand just how important this gesture was. Tanji's uncle had just offered to open a cherished possession, a rare and practically irreplaceable treasure, especially to share with the near-stranger who had caught the eye of his favourite niece.
Kevin looked the old man straight in the eye and said formally, "Sir, I would be delighted to sample this excellent vintage with you, to offer a toast to the ladies."
A sharply indrawn breath and a radiant smile from both Tanji and her aunt and, after a rapid translation, a slow nod of approval from her uncle, told Kevin that he caught the right tenor.
Kevin was shown the label on the bottle, taking great care - almost reverential - in the handling of the precious item as he inspected the provenance. Tanji's uncle undertook the careful removal of the foil, wax and cork, undertaking each step with due caution and great deliberation.
Meanwhile, Tanji's aunt stepped into the kitchen and re-appeared carrying a tray loaded with, Kevin was delighted to note, four glasses - large traditional balloons of a fineness he had rarely experienced. Tanji's uncle poured a surprisingly generous measure into each one, and her aunt passed two balloons to Kevin and Tanji, who were sitting together on the sofa. There was then a period of much swirling and sniffing of the precious amber fluid, before waiting for a sip and an approving nod from the older man. As he nodded, he said something Kevin did not understand, again in that formal tone of voice.
Tanji's eyes widened and she spluttered briefly before her Guild training reasserted itself.
"A toast," she translated breathlessly, "To welcome you, as if as a future son-in-law."
She turned to him, their eyes shining. Kevin and Tanji softly clinked their glasses together.
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