The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 28

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Tanji rolled over on the bed to look directly at Kevin. She was gloriously naked, the curve of her body and the colour of her skin amplified by the bright morning sunlight streaming in through the window. Kevin too was naked, lying on top of the covers, lying back against the pillows and headboard with his arms behind his head and a satisfied expression on his face.

"It's such a lovely morning," Tanji announced, "Let's have a picnic."

Kevin agreed immediately, although he not entirely sure what this might entail in this world. In the event, the picnic turned out to be a simple day trip starting from Tanji's Aunt and Uncle's place, where they had been staying. By the time the lovers had emerged from the bedroom and made their way upstairs to the living area, Tanji's Uncle had long since departed for his workplace. Kevin knew that Tanji's uncle took his role very seriously and he suspected that the older man had probably left for his office at least three hours earlier.

Apparently, Tanji's aunt was already outside, busy around the gardens and grounds, feeding and caring for the menagerie of animals that she kept as pets. The pride of her collection was the miniature dragon, a flying reptile called a Nightwing, which had caused Kevin such alarm on his first visit. Indeed, she now had a breeding pair of the creatures, and Tanji had told him that she was planning on selling on the fledglings. Kevin now understood that they were not particularly rare creatures and that, traditionally, these animals were kept on farms and smallholdings to keep down rats and other vermin.

Kevin felt just a tiny bit guilty for his lie-abed antics, since he himself had a backlog of work to complete. However, he rapidly decided that he was enjoying the break in the world of Lyndesfarne, and the company of Tanji, far too much to worry about it now.

Having showered and dressed, he relaxed at the kitchen table with the morning sunlight streaming through the windows and allowed himself to be fed breakfast by a sated and smug-looking Tanji. She pottered around the kitchen wearing a loose and flowing robe of such diaphanous material that Kevin thought he could very nearly see every curve of her body. He was sat at the large wooden table on one of the straight-backed chairs with wooden seats, although he found that they were rather more comfortable - distinctly soft, even - than he might have expected.

The food Tanji served for breakfast was simple but delicious. The meal started with a fruit salad, which appeared to contain at least two kinds of fruit that Kevin could not identify, served with yoghurt and a crumbled waxy substance which Kevin finally identified as honeycomb.

This was followed by freshly-baked bread, hot and crusty, taken from an oven made from what looked like blackened cast iron but did not seem to be at all hot on the outside. Kevin could not work out exactly how it was heated, but assumed it must be some magical process judging from the way that, when Tanji gestured fluidly in the direction of the stove, the heat from the open oven immediately ceased.

Mug of hot chocolate The bread was served with butter, stored in a dish on the table which somehow kept the contents cool, a fruit preserve which seemed to consist almost entirely of actual fruit, as well as being quite sharply flavoured with ginger, and a hard cheese which Kevin, perhaps expecting bland processed offerings, found unexpectedly tasty.

The food was inevitably washed down with a large mug of the hot chocolate drink which was so popular in this world, rather than the tea of coffee that Kevin might have expected at home.

After breakfast, Tanji assembled a picnic, rapidly pulling various provisions from a small room off the kitchen which Kevin was forced to label a larder, but seemed to be much cooler inside than he might have expected on this warm summer's morning. After a few moments cogitation, he was forced to conclude that there must be some magic at work here, something which kept things cool when required, perhaps similar to the other magic which heated the cooker and cooled the butter.

Tanji then slipped out into the gardens, still in her see-through robe and carrying a woven basket of old-fashioned design. She returned after a few minutes, the basket apparently full of various produce. She tossed the freshly-gathered salad into the sink. Water flowed at the flash of a gesture, filling the bowl in a few seconds.

"I like food fresh," Kevin commented mischievously, "I hope you ran back."

Tanji was momentarily confused. He grinned widely and put her out of her misery.

"It's a joke, my love. As if the few minutes since you gathered it really made a difference."

Tanji smiled widely in response, seeming to Kevin as if she had just been lit up by the sun.

"Oh, you silly," she said, "Such a tease."

She blew him a kiss, then returned to her preparation work. As Kevin watched, Tanji cut slices from the loaf she had removed from the oven earlier. These she spread with butter and added a generous layer of a soft green cheese, then added the lettuce leaves and sliced tomatoes which she had collected from the gardens earlier.

Kevin was amused to note Tanji's use of the Lyndesfarne-style sandwich wrapping for the food she was preparing. He had encountered this magic before. The light and very strong film which wrapped the food seemed to keep it cool and fresh for an astonishingly long time. He had long suspected that this 'magic Clingfilm' had no physical components at all, just magic, since it could not be opened by ripping or tearing. It could, however, be removed by use of a simple gesture - one which he had long memorised, realising that the alternative was the threat of starvation.

As Kevin watched, the sandwiches and other comestibles she had prepared were instantaneously wrapped in the impermeable transparent membrane following a gesture from Tanji, a complex one that he found hard to follow. She then pulled from the larder several bottles which Kevin assumed contained some kind of drinks, although he was not immediately sure whether the bottles contained beer, wine, water, or indeed some other beverage.

"Come on then, help me find a bag for this stuff," she insisted, "There should be one out there somewhere" - waving in the direction of the cloakroom by the front door - "and stick it all in the bag while I get dressed."

Following Tanji's directions to the letter, Kevin was able to track down a rucksack from a cupboard by the stairs. It was only very slightly larger than the shoulder-bag that she would normally have carried for her usual accoutrements. He quickly transferred the comestibles, in the impermeable wrapping, and the bottles into the bag, as well as a number of items which frankly he did not recognise that Tanji had placed on the kitchen table.

Tanji returned to the kitchen in a surprisingly short time wearing the kind of clothing Kevin was familiar with, the garments she habitually wore for travelling.

"All packed then?" she asked, smiling.

Kevin nodded.

"Great!"

Tanji picked up the bag, but Kevin immediately volunteered to carry it. She handed it over to him with a smile. Even after he had finished packing everything, it seemed surprisingly light. Tanji collected her own bag containing her everyday items, including the magical slate that she used, like so many others in this world, to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances.

"Come on, then," she said with a grin, "The day's not going to wait for us."

She swept her cloak over her shoulders, shouldered her little pack and set off, tugging a wide-brimmed hat over her blonde hair. Kevin tried to follow her closely, although he was struggling with his cloak and hat, and still trying to get his own bag comfortably placed over his shoulders. They travelled rapidly though the portal network, which was still quite a mystery to Kevin. He found this mode of travel extremely disorienting and he kept close to Tanji feeling if they were separated, he might never find his way out.

They emerged from the usual low stone portal building in a location which, in Kevin's untutored opinion, thoroughly deserved the epithet 'idyllic'. From the portal, Tanji glanced briefly at a board which displayed a large-scale map of the area, then directed him along a narrow path paved with heavy and irregular stones. The trail skirted a low-lying wooded area which looked like it might flood in winter although it was completely dry in this season. On the other side of the path, Kevin could look across a meadow of tall grasses, now brown and dry in the summer heat, to a wall of high grey crags.

After a minute or two walking, they rounded a bend which afforded their first view of the lake itself. The still and tranquil waters looked refreshingly cool in the warmth of the late morning, shaded in places by trees which came right down to the waters edge. Elsewhere, the water sparkled with sunlight reflected from tiny ripples caused by the faintest of breezes.

Rocky crags and pool The lakeside was garlanded by a sculpted curving shoreline, alternating rocky headlands and tiny bays, usually with a little sandy beech edging the waters. From their vantage point, Kevin could see a number of spots which looked both sheltered from wind and secluded from prying eyes.

As they got closer, Kevin noticed that thick growths of trees and shrubberies separated tiny plots of mown grass with curved approaches which would, he began to appreciate, allow these little groves almost complete privacy. Indeed, he mused, it was almost as if the plantings had been deliberately arranged to make the gardens so secluded.

Low voices and occasional laughter indicated that some of these out-of-the-way spots were already taken. Following Tanji, who seemed to know where she was going, Kevin walked further around the lakeside, sticking closely to the path.

"This one," Tanji said, indicating a fork in the trail.

"Are you sure?" Kevin replied, "How can you tell?"

"I booked it," she explained simply, "For our picnic."

"You planed that far ahead?" Kevin gasped.

"I knew we would be staying with my Aunt and Uncle - that's been arranged for weeks - and the weather prediction for this area is always reliable."

Kevin shook his head, amazed - as he had been often before - by Tanji's resourcefulness and ability to plan ahead. The fork led them along an even narrower passage which weaved its way between tall hedges of evergreens and laurels. The path soon opened out into a glade, very similar to those Kevin had noticed earlier on distant parts of the lakeside. The centre was an area of grass that was - now that Kevin was close enough to look closely - clearly carefully tended and mowed frequently.

The lawn was warm and dry in the sunshine, and shielded by a few mature trees growing at the edge furthest from the water. On either side, and beyond the tall trees, dense hedges prevented easy access. Tanji stood for a moment in the middle of the grassy area, evidently surveying the spot, then reached for Kevin with both hands. She drew him towards her and kissed him firmly.

"This," she said in a definite tone, "Will do nicely."

She lowered her bag to the turf; Kevin did likewise and the two of them started unpacking.

From the top of her bag, Tanji removed a couple of large blankets, which she then spread over the lawn. She then reached into the bag that Kevin had been carrying and pulled out a small flat package, about the size of a thick paperback book. She gestured at the package, which immediately expanded, unfolded repeatedly in a fashion which looked to Kevin as completely impossible, and formed a colourful windbreak. A further gesture from Tanji anchored it to the ground with its back to the narrow passageway they had used to enter the grove.

"For extra privacy," she explained, grinning suggestively at Kevin.

In a similar way, Tanji unpacked a sunshade, two large beach towels, a picnic blanket and a multi-coloured mattress which automatically filled with air as he watched. All of this taken from the shoulder bags that he and Tanji had been carrying, whose small size and apparent lightness would have seemed miraculous to anyone unfamiliar with Lyndesfarne magic.

Having set up their little camp, Tanji turned and looked directly at Kevin.

"Fancy a dip?" she asked.

"Oh, yes," he replied immediately. He felt quite hot after the walk from the portal.

She started slipping out of her clothes in the astonishingly uninhibited way that Tanji had grown up with and Kevin - after a slightly slow start - had learned to emulate. He was, for a few moments, worried that he had not packed a swimming costume, having been unaware that there would be any opportunity for swimming, but it rapidly became clear that neither had Tanji and skinny-dipping was exactly what she had in mind. Grinning widely, the two lovers scampered hand-in-hand down to the little beach - sandy and strewn with occasional large flat rocks - that edged the lake.

After a few minutes swimming, or at least splashing about - Kevin was not a very strong swimmer - in the cool waters of the lake, they emerged dripping water on the warm sand. They towelled each other dry, enjoying the touch of each others hands on their bodies. Tanji reached up and kissed Kevin passionately, holding his buttocks in a way that drove him wild with excitement. They made love energetically under the shade of the umbrella and sheltered by the windbreak. Then, their passion slaked and clinging to each other, they collapsed onto the mattress.

It only seemed like a few seconds later that Kevin woke up, although he must have been more asleep that he realised. Tanji was sitting cross-legged a few feet away on the picnic blanket spread on the grass, still quite naked except for a large sun-hat. She was delving in the bags they had brought with them for the wrapped foodstuffs she had prepared earlier, and humming softly to herself.

"Hi, sleepy-head," she said, seeing that he was awake, "Fancy some lunch?"

Kevin realised that he was now ravenously hungry, and nodded eagerly. Smiling indulgently, Tanji poured some wine into a couple of goblets, adding a splash of chilled water from a second bottle. She handed one glass to him, then raised her own glass.

"I love you," she said softly.

"I love you too," Kevin responded, clinking his glass against hers.

Together, they sampled the drink, which Kevin thought was particularly refreshing in the heat of the day. Tanji spread out the rest of the sandwiches and fruit they had brought, and Kevin tucked in with a will. The two lovers sat close together on the blanket, not talking much, just enjoying the peacefulness of the location and each others' company.

The food and warmth, not to mention the wine, made Kevin sleepy again. He lay back on the blanket with his hands behind his head. Tanji stretched out next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. He fond the smell of her warm skin and the perfume of her hair were utterly delightful. Kevin pulled his hat down over his face and promptly fell asleep.

When they woke again, the sun was already beginning to sink towards the horizon and it was getting just a little bit cooler, at least in comparison to the heat earlier in the day. They packed up quickly, Tanji showing Kevin the magical gestures which collapsed the furniture and stowing the neatly folded items back into the rucksack.

They strolled along the paths heading back to the portal, Tanji again humming softly and tunelessly under her breath and looking, Kevin thought, utterly radiant. He thought he could understand how she must be feeling. All in all, he considered, it was the most delightful day he had ever spent in Lyndesfarne and - quite possibly - the most relaxed he had ever felt in his entire life.


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