"We've been here before," Kevin exclaimed to Tanji, stopping dead in his tracks and looking around.
"Of course," she confirmed gently, taking him by the arm again, "I thought you realised that."
Kevin still struggled with many aspects of the language of Lyndesfarne, especially when the names of places and people were uttered quickly. He belatedly realised that he recognised the name of this place; it was the area where he and Tanji had toured all those months ago. Mentally, he had tagged it Unicorn Fields.
Bret, who had wandered on ahead, suddenly stopped and then called out and waved to a cloaked figure who stood to one side of the road looking out towards the escarpment. The figure turned and approached, pulling the hood of his cloak from his head. Kevin could see it was Eosin, who he knew to be Bret's husband. He had never seen the two of them together when Bret was adopting his masculine appearance. Husband and wife hugged each warmly, then kissed. Kevin noticed that no-one seemed to be in the least bit concerned about two apparent males embracing in this fashion.
Disengaging from their welcome, Eosin and Bret spoke animatedly for a minute or so, then turned to the others. Tanji had also recognised Bret's husband, and held up her hand in greeting, a warm smile on her face. Kevin followed suit, smiling equally widely.
Kevin knew that Eosin's command of English was shaky, although much better, even now, than his own grasp of the language of Lyndesfarne. He took care to ensure that he spoke slowly and clearly for the other man's benefit, even though it made him feel like the stereotypical arrogant monolingual English tourist in a foreign land.
"Hello, Eosin," he said carefully, "Nice to see you again."
The man raised his hand in response, then said something idiomatically friendly to Tanji that meant, in Kevin's limited understanding, something like "peaceful welcome".
"What are you doing here?" Kevin asked.
Bret interjected with an answer.
"I asked Eosin to join us because I wanted the help of someone familiar with the, umm, magic used around crossings."
Kevin nodded in understanding. He already knew that Eosin was a magic worker whose principal role was to continually enhance the protections in the barrier around the Lyndesfarne crossing. He understood that this was a demanding role, given that new artefacts and technologies where being invented in both worlds all the time, and it was something of an arms race to keep ahead of the innovators in each.
"But I thought Eosin spent a lot of time at home with your children?" Tanji said softly, apparently wondering aloud.
"The children are fine," Eosin said, looking confused and turning to Bret for help.
"The kids are with my parents," Bret interjected, "I needed Eosin here. I want someone I can trust on this. And there are not many people, even in Lyndesfarne, who are really aware of your world - for most people, it's all just myths and legends."
Bret hesitated for a second, then leant forward conspiratorially.
"Besides," he added in a low voice that only Kevin and Tanji could hear, "Eosin has re-discovered a way of detecting the magic used to create a crossing. He's been working on it at home, and he thinks he's got it all, err, documented."
"That should help a lot," Kevin commented.
Bret looked worried.
"Frankly, I hope it turns up nothing at all," he replied, "But I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll find something."
Bret turned and looked about, with the air of someone resolved to a course of action.
"Well, let's get on with it," he said.
The party set off, walking along the main road that Kevin and Tanji had taken on their previous visit. Kevin wondered why Bret, who was normally incredibly well-organised, had not ordered some kind of transport for them. The reason soon became apparent. After only a few hundred yards, Bret guided them off the road along a rough and overgrown track, which wended its way between high hedgerows. Almost any vehicle - magical or otherwise - larger than a bike would have had difficulty navigating the dense foliage.
Kevin realised the trail might once have been wider and more widely travelled. It seemed to him that the hedges had been trimmed back on the other sides, probably by farmers keen to avoid too much encroachment of their fields, but allowed to grow more or less unchecked over the track. Similarly, the trees that lined many parts of the way seemed to grow together forming an arch. It was quiet, and cool, and surprisingly dark under the shade of the trees; travellers on this route, Kevin imagined, might have been able to pass practically unnoticed through the countryside.
After perhaps an hour's walk, the way opened out into a clearing, almost circular in shape, filled with grass that looked surprisingly well-trimmed - although conceivably by animals, Kevin thought - and the space was lined by trees and undergrowth. Looking up, he could see the face of the escarpment looming over them and he thought he could identify the high point, the beacon, where he and Tanji had stopped to admire the view.
The glade seemed to exude an almost palpable sense of quiet and peacefulness, and somehow Kevin felt safe, secure and relaxed, in sharp contrast to his confusion and nervous tension of only a few moments before. Enough of a contrast, in fact, to draw attention to the feeling.
"What is it about this place," he asked Tanji quietly, "That makes me feel so relaxed?"
Tanji looked at him sharply for a moment, then frowned in concentration.
"I'm not sure," she replied eventually, "I didn't think there were any of these places left."
"What places?" Kevin demanded.
"It's an old magic," she replied, "One which is not permitted any more. A magic which alters the emotional state of mind of anyone who encounters it. One which gives a sense of well-being and security."
She paused, then added.
"I'm told that, in the olden days, this magic was used close to a crossing to trap unwary travellers, to make then unable to conceal their true purpose."
Kevin had noticed in the past that there was something serene and peaceful about the Lyndesfarne crossing, something that seemed able to disengage parts of the higher brain function, to reduce feelings of stress and worry. Were there some vestiges of a similar magic still to be found thereabouts, he wondered. He held Tanji close for a moment, revelling in the purely animal feelings of warmth and security. Then he came around, somehow waking up suddenly, and realised Bret and Eosin had moved ahead without them.
He and Tanji hurried to catch up. The rest of the party had come to a halt at some worn and mossy rocks more or less in the centre of the clearing.
"Let's stop here and rest for a while," Bret said, looking around.
Kevin was relieved to hear this suggestion. It seemed that they had been walking slightly uphill more or less continuously since they left the portal building, and he was feeling just a little tired. Eosin, who had carried a larger than usual pack on his back all the way up the hill, produced a picnic lunch which Kevin, for one, found extremely welcome. Once again, he marvelled at the preparation of the food and drink, especially the "magic Clingfilm", the indestructible wrapping made, he suspected, entirely from magic which resisted any attempt to tear but which disappeared entirely and immediately when the correct gesture was used.
While he was eating, Kevin sat on one of the mossy boulders next to Tanji, re-assured by the pressure of her presence, her weight against his thigh. Bret and Eosin seemed to be engaged in a private conversation on the next rock, and Tanji seemed content to enjoy both sustenance and scenery in companionable silence. Kevin looked around idly as he munched. There seemed to be some movement at the top of the escarpment, although he could not make out a great deal of detail.
"What's that up there?" he asked Tanji.
"Hmm, what's what?" she answered vaguely.
"Up there," Kevin said, pointing.
"I can't see anything."
In truth, Kevin could not see anything either, now, although he would have sworn that there were figures there a moment ago. Perhaps he had imagined it, or maybe it was just some tourists admiring the view, much as he had done all those months ago.
"It's nothing, then," he said.
They resumed their hike and it did not seem so long before they reached the foot of the escarpment. The trail terminated in an open area punctuated with scrubby trees and thorny bushes, an area too level to be entirely natural. The industrial archaeologist in Kevin's training kicked in, making it possible for him to spot a few telltale signs of where buildings of wood and masonry might once have stood in this glade. In one place, there was a mossy rock with suspiciously rectangular edges and which even now was dripping with water from a spring, and was probably once a horse trough. There, a pile of stones half-buried in brambles and creepers, probably represented the fireplace of some large building, perhaps an inn or a barracks.
Neither Bret nor Eosin displayed any interest in the relics of past human occupation, and strode on towards the face of the escarpment at the far side of the clearing. Kevin and Tanji hurried after them, doglegging around a clump of undergrowth. On the other side, it seemed that the cliff had collapsed long ago, but left a fissure framed by the bushes which was, Kevin was soon to realise, just wide enough to allow them entrance.
Large caves did not form naturally in chalk, Kevin knew - the rock was too soft and weak for natural erosion to stand a chance against the force of gravity - and he realised that, for all its tumbledown appearance, the entrance in front of them was almost certainly man-made.
Bret clearly knew exactly where he was going and the others tagged along after him, Tanji almost scampering to keep up with his rapid and purposeful stride.
"What is this place?" Kevin hissed to Tanji as they hurried forward.
"I'm not sure," she replied breathlessly, "But I suspect it was once the other end of the crossing from the tunnels of Epernay."
The actual entrance had at one time been, Kevin suspected rather larger but collapses and weathering had narrowed it over the years. Loose rocks made the ground very uneven and treacherous. They picked their way carefully over the rubble and stepped inside.
Inside, the cave opened out into a single tunnel. Its ceiling was of irregular height, but always well clear of even Bret's head, and the floor was astonishingly flat and smooth enough to have facilitated the easy movement of both men and wheeled vehicles.
As Kevin stood blinking in the entrance, Bret and Eosin each produced a globe from inside their rucksacks. With a gesture from each man, the globes lit up, their overlapping pools of light clearly illuminating the passageway ahead. Tanji too produced a similar device, also lighting it with a gesture. She took his hand in her own free hand, in a fashion which felt was slightly childlike, if extremely reassuring under the circumstances.
Bret made a second gesture, one which suggested the releasing of a small bird held in the hand. His globe floated upwards and then moved over his head, moving with him as he stepped forward. Eosin and Tanji chose to keep hold of their magic lanterns, all of which were glowing in a way not so dissimilar to the fateful paperweight that Kevin had purchased just after he had first met Tanji.
The cave formed a series of straight and flat sections joined by sharp corners. There were occasional branches and side tunnels here and there, but these seemed to be short dead-ends or perhaps even rooms, although it was unclear what they might have been used for. The walls were damp-looking milky chalk streaked with darker markings. There were places where reinforcements had been applied using both mundane building materials - although not as extensively as the brickwork in the Champagne Caves they had visited - and, very occasionally, the glittering orange sparkle of magical sprites were faintly visible within the walls and overhead.
After the third turning, the bright daylight from the cave's entrance was barely detectible to Kevin when he looked behind. Other than the light that came from the globes the others had produced, the tunnel and its offshoots were dark and quiet, somehow enigmatically inscrutable about the purpose and history.
"Here we are," Bret said suddenly, after they had been walking for some minutes.
He gestured again, and the globular lamp darted forward. In the cool light, Kevin could make out a blockage in the tunnel ahead. It appeared to fill the passageway in front of them and had the same appearance as the wall in France, with both red bricks and off-white chalk apparently sheared apart as if by a giant cheese wire.
There were dark openings - doorways, Kevin imagined - on either side of the blocked archway. Bret peered into each of these with expressing a great deal of interest, then returned his attention to the wall in front of them. He turned to Eosin and nodded. Unhesitatingly, Eosin walked up to the closure and started making a complex series of gestures.
"What's he doing?" Kevin whispered to Tanji.
"I'm not sure," she replied, looking intently at the movements being made by the other man, "It's too complex for me to follow."
After a minute or so, Eosin turned to Bret and said something in the language of Lyndesfarne.
"Crossing magic," Tanji translated for Kevin's benefit, "There's been some activity recently, it seems."
Kevin was fascinated. He took the glowing globe from Tanji’s hand and moved forward to more closely inspect the closed archway in front of them. He ran his hand over its smooth, almost polished surface. It was cool to the touch and he found it nearly impossible to see or feel any kind of discontinuity where the bricks stopped and the chalk started.
As he did so, there was a movement behind them, a momentary variation in the dim daylight reflected along the walls. The four of them turned as one, each startled by the unexpected interruption. Eosin called out something in the Lyndesfarne language that Kevin did not immediately grasp - somewhere between a greeting and an alert, he thought.
There was a sound of footsteps emerging from the darkness.
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