Kevin looked up and saw Tanji's Uncle returning across the lawn, walking as slowly and sedately as before. There were two other people following him, at least one of whom Tanji immediately recognised, judging by the way her face lit up.
"So that's why he left so suddenly," Kevin remarked to Tanji, "And how did your Uncle know that someone had arrived?"
"Oh, you silly. There's nothing mysterious there," she laughed aloud, "He saw them arriving at the front gate, looking over your shoulder. You didn't notice because you had your back turned."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Kevin stood up and turned to face the newcomers. Tanji had already leapt to her feet and almost ran over the grass in her enthusiasm. Kevin followed her, watching her embrace a tall and rather well-built woman whose hair was a tangled mass of dark curls, and who was noticeably having to bend to hug Tanji's petite form.
As he drew near, Kevin was surprised to overhear Tanji speaking in English to the other woman, who was responding in the same way.
"Kevin," Tanji turned to him and said, "I'd like you to meet my very dear old friend Kithyn."
The dark-haired woman turned her smile in his direction. She was dressed in a style rather similar to Tanji's, with dark closely-fitted trousers, short boots and a pale green blouse, partially concealed by the inevitable Lyndesfarne cloak.
"I'm so pleased to meet you at last," she gushed, "Tanji has told me such a lot about you."
Kevin was always faintly worried when women said such things, being unable to avoid wondering exactly what had been said behind his back. He resisted the temptation to make some flippant remark along the lines of "nothing good, then", and smiled and nodded instead.
"Kithyn is an old and dear friend," Tanji explained, "We first met as students, a long time ago. We encountered each other again after a break, when I returned to the Guild of Directions, and we have been in correspondence ever since."
"Are you the one Tanji writes to in English?" Kevin asked, inspiration striking.
"Yes, I am," she replied, looking faintly surprised by his sudden intuition.
"Well, I am very pleased to meet you. Tanji certainly seems to have put her trust in you."
"We're here to help you, if we can, my husband and I," Kithyn said, indicating the man she had arrived with, "Tanji seems to think that you are in some kind of trouble, although I can't for the life of me comprehend what trouble that might be. But I'm sure that Amiss will be able to sort it out."
Kevin's attention was caught by the man he took to be her husband. He was tall and slender, with a dark complexion and a shock of black hair, and looked as if he would need to shave frequently to avoid a five-o'clock shadow. He was chatting to Tanji's Uncle in a fashion that seemed to radiate bonhomie, although Kevin noticed that his eyes never stopped moving, looking around continually as if concerned that he might be overheard.
Even though he could neither hear nor understand what the man was saying, he gave Kevin the slight feeling of watching a senior political figure on the television with the sound turned down - a certain unease that somehow his words did not ring quite true, that they were out of step with his body language. The kind of person, Kevin thought, who was skilled at the art of answering a question subtly different from the one which had been asked.
He also had the strangest feeling that he had met the man before, although he could not on his life remember when or where that might have been. Kevin had certainly experienced those strange context-dependent memory anomalies before. He remembered with considerable embarrassment being greeted warmly by an attractive young woman in a supermarket doing the weekend shopping, who he would have sworn he had never seen before in his life. It was only the following Monday he had realised that she was one of the secretarial assistants he had been working with for months.
Nevertheless, Amiss gave no indication that he had met Kevin before. It must be just one of those things, he mused, a false sense of recognition triggered by a slight resemblance to someone else.
Kithyn's husband must have noticed that he was being spoken about, and came over at once. The man was also dressed in the familiar Lyndesfarne robes, his dark green outfit providing a startling contrast to the crimson-and-white combination worn by Tanji's Uncle.
"This is my husband Amiss", Kithyn said to Kevin.
"Pleased to meet you," Kevin responded politely.
Amiss nodded formally in greeting, his eyes still darting to-and-fro. Kevin got the impression that he was something of a cold fish.
Tanji tugged on Kevin's arm, moving him just a little distance from the assembled company. Amiss did not seem to notice, and returned to his conversation with Tanji's Uncle, although Kithyn did give them a sharp look.
"I wasn't expecting Amiss," Tanji whispered to Kevin urgently, "Kithyn didn't mentioned that she was bringing him."
"Is there a problem?" Kevin enquired, also speaking in an undertone.
"No, I don't think so. It's just that I don't really get on with her husband very well."
Kevin was just about to enquire what the problem was, when he was interrupted. Tanji's Uncle clapped his hands twice, clearly expecting that this would attract the full attention of everyone within earshot.
"I think we've all met our guest from the Other World," he said in carefully precise English, indicating Kevin with one hand, "Perhaps we should pool our thoughts in order to help him in his current predicament. And not forgetting my dear niece Tanji, of course."
He indicated the seating in the arbour in a manner that made it clear that they should sit. There were just enough seats for everyone. Amiss settled himself in the chair immediately opposite Kevin, arranging his robes in just the same way that Tanji's Uncle had done earlier.
Kevin wondered about the faintly public announcement, which seemed rather overblown to him. He wondered if the formality of the statement was just the old man's normal style, or whether it was a reaction to Amiss's presence. He also noted that her Uncle's grasp of English was not quite as poor as he had been led to believe. He felt that some kind of formal response was in order.
"Well, I'm very glad to be here and thank you very much indeed," he said sincerely, "But, I've been meaning to ask: am I in real trouble?"
Amiss, who had been watching Kevin closely, shook his head slowly, smiling - although in what Kevin took to be a slightly insincere fashion.
"I understand that you've been frightened, badly," Amiss began, "And, on behalf of the Board of Control, I would like to apologise to you."
Kevin felt slightly taken aback. He glanced at Tanji, who was listening expressionless to the exchange.
"There really is nothing to be worried about," Amiss continued, "A storm in a teacup, as I believe the expression is."
Kevin nodded almost unconsciously in confirmation.
"Well, OK," he said, "But what's going on? If there's no problem, why are you here?"
"Ah," Amiss responded, now sounding distinctly shifty to Kevin's ears, "Some of my colleagues in the Board are becoming progressively more worried about the effects of increased communications between the two worlds. These people, well, they need to be mollified. We need to find some way to help them understand the position."
"What do you mean?"
"This phenomenon that you have stumbled upon, a secret you discovered accidentally, has made my colleagues nervous," Amiss answered.
"I'm not going to tell anyone," Kevin asserted, "I wouldn't know who to tell, even if I wanted to. No-one in my world would understand or believe what I was saying, anyway, and almost everyone I know in Lyndesfarne is here right now."
"Be that as it may," Amiss assented, "Nevertheless, my colleagues need reassurance that this is not a serious problem, and one which will not reoccur."
"So, I'm not out of the woods yet?" Kevin asked.
Amiss paused for a moment, probably not understanding the idiom. He spoke briefly to Kithyn too quietly for Kevin to hear, and then continued.
"Not quite, I'm afraid. As I said, I'm here to help you. And in return, I need your help."
"Well, anything I can do, just ask," Kevin responded, "But I don't understand what your colleagues are worried about."
"Basically, it's about cultural pollution. We cannot tolerate the risk."
Both Tanji's Uncle and Tanji herself nodded sagely at this point. Kythin too seemed unsurprised by this statement. Kevin must have looked perplexed, since Amiss immediately launched into an explanation.
"Look, it's all about striking a balance between the economic advantages - making people rich, if you will - and the separation and independence of our world from yours. We expect a certain amount of travel for trade, of course. However, we don't want our country to be flooded with visitors from your world and, equally, we don't want too many of our people to be tourists."
Kevin wondered if all this travelling for trade and tourism was in fact partially a cover for a certain amount of spying. It did occur to him that, as a child of the Cold War, perhaps this was just paranoid thinking. Nevertheless, he had come across several people on the Island who had clearly spent much time on the other world. The landlord at the "Dragon's Nest" was a good example. He had clearly managed to acquire an identifiable local accent, which surely would have required spending a considerable amount of time in London. If he had come across him in a pub on the Mainland, Kevin thought, he would have assumed that the publican was a Londoner who had made his pile in some slightly shady business, and had decided to down-shift his lifestyle to run a country inn.
Not that the landlord was the only example. Kevin brought Bret's parents to mind, or even Bret himself. From the conversations during his visit to Bret's family, he had formed the view that, in certain circles, it was quite the fashion for young people to travel around the other world, in much the same way that well-bred English gentlemen in centuries past had taken the Grand Tour of Europe as a mind-broadening cultural experience.
There were obviously other cases, too. Kevin doubted that Ricard could have acquired his idiomatic command of English without significant contact with native speakers over several years. It was also clear that he had met several people on the Mainland who must have frequently visited the Island. Professor Alan was one, not to mention Peter Brenner, the Project Manager. Kevin found himself wondering just how they had acquired their linguistic skills.
"The Board needs to be reassured that things are under control," Amiss reiterated, "And we are sensing similar sentiments from our counterparts on the other side - from your world. Our contacts there are agitated too, and we need to placate them as well."
"But why?" Kevin asked, looking confused, "Why are they worried?"
Amiss smiled somewhat cynically, the first genuine-looking reaction Kevin had seen him perform.
"In short, politics," he said, "Politics driven by the clash of fear and greed."
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