Tanji seemed to be in a particularly ebullient mood this afternoon, bouncing around the little suite of rooms that she sometimes shared with Kevin. They were staying at the home of her Uncle and Aunt, a quiet older couple who had adopted Tanji while she was still a babe in arms, after the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her parents.
They were presently alone in the house. Tanji's Uncle, a serious-minded man with short-clipped grey hair, was still at his workplace. His role had been described, according to Tanji's translation, as a Senior Convener in the Guild of Transportation. This organisation was apparently responsible for the operation and maintenance of the complex network of magical portals that webbed the entire world of Lyndesfarne, although exactly what her Uncle actually did at work had so far evaded his comprehension.
Tanji's Aunt chose not to go out to work, but preferred to invest her time and energy at home. Right now, she would undoubtedly be outside, tending to the animals or working the large kitchen garden that provided a substantial fraction of their fresh food. She maintained a sizable stable of horses and a menagerie of other animals: creatures familiar to Kevin such as cats and dogs, as well as ones which he had never seen before he had first come to this world.
He remembered his alarm at his first encounter with a Nightwing a year or two ago, in a cage attached to the stable block. The creature was actually a small and nocturnal species of dragon, and was widely domesticated in this world - at least as much as, say, cats could be described as domesticated. Usually, Nightwings would be released from their cages at night to feed; they were reputed to be a prodigious hunter of rats and mice and similar vermin, which of course were always a problem around barns and stables.
Tanji had arranged some entertainment this evening, although was still unclear exactly what she had in mind. She was dressing with rather more care than usual. She had eschewed her standard garb of leather trousers in brown or black, topped with a loose-fitting and frequently colourful blouse. Instead, she had adopted a flowing full-length dress with loose sleeves, gathered at a point well above her waist in a way which emphasised her breasts - which hardly needed doing, in Kevin's opinion, since the frock was cut low at the front and displayed a good deal of what he had once been taught to describe as décolletage. The display of toned flesh was emphasised by her decision to brush out her blonde hair and allow it to hang loose, rather than being constrained into the familiar ponytail that she so often sported.
Having been warned ahead of time, Kevin had brought with him the garments which he thought of as his "Lyndesfarne Party" clothes. These consisted of pale green linen suit and a contrasting shirt in pale pink, with a silk tie in a slightly darker shade. These clothes had actually been purchased in his own world, although he had insisted upon a few minor technical modifications to make them safe to wear in the world of Lyndesfarne; in particular, the replacement of the trouser zip with old-fashioned buttons.
"Ready to go?" Tanji asked brightly.
Kevin had in fact been ready to go for some time, but politely declined to mention this fact.
"All set," he replied, smiling, "But where are we going?"
"To the Circus," she replied, grinning widely, "Come along, you'll see."
They swiftly donned their cloaks and set off, arm in arm, in the gathering evening for the short walk to the nearest transport portal.
Perhaps twenty minutes later, they emerged from the heavy doors of a portal building in a city centre Kevin did not recognise. They turned onto a broad boulevard set at intervals with carefully pruned trees. In the warmth of this early evening, there seemed to be a great many people about. None seemed to be in a particular hurry, just chatting or strolling or window shopping, or maybe just admiring their reflections in the glass shop fronts. At the end of the boulevard, set on a small square or plaza with an ornate fountain splashing in its centre, there was a grand entrance to what seemed like a rather small building. A large number of people, mostly in couples, were making their way up a wide sweep of stone steps, and Tanji guided Kevin in the direction of the entrance.
Kevin, who was by now much more familiar with the traditions of Lyndesfarne architecture, was not surprised to discover that the building was indeed much larger on the inside, not because of any magical TARDIS-like effect, but simply because the vast majority of the enclosed space was in fact underground. This was one of the quirks of civil construction in this world, and an understandable reaction, Kevin considered, to occasionally sharing living space with large flying creatures, dragons large enough to tear off a flimsily-constructed roof and make off with any tasty humans it happened to find inside.
The two lovers entered the foyer, which was thronging with people who seemed as carefully and as elaborately dressed as Tanji. Despite his - by his own standards - gaudy dress, Kevin felt distinctly dowdy by comparison. Some of the ladies wore intricate costumes which looked as if they came from another age, with elaborate skirts of what might have been crinoline. They were accompanied by gentlemen in highly decorated coats with white ruffs at neck and cuff.
Other women wore dresses of brightly-coloured diaphanous materials, or fabrics which could easily have been of spun gold, which moved as if they were standing in a modest breeze, despite the warmth and stillness of the evening. Kevin suspected that more than a little careful magical enhancement had been applied to the dresses, especially in the cases where they were cut in such a revealing fashion that the only way they could have stayed in place was by the use of magic.
Tanji produced two tickets, large pieces of thick card covered in ornate writing of which Kevin could make out only a very little, and scintillating with greenish-silver sprites, a magic which, Kevin supposed, guaranteed the genuineness and integrity of the ticket. As far as he could see, there was no-one checking their tickets and he was forced to conclude that there was some magical mechanism which allowed access to ticket holders while denying passage to everyone else.
Just as they arrived, a bell sounded, just once.
"Just in time," Tanji said in Kevin's ear, "Better go straight in."
She guided him to the left, down a long recurved passageway with flights of steps at intervals. After descending four or five levels, Tanji directed him through a wide doorway and they emerged into a grand auditorium. The place resembled an ornate and traditional theatre that Kevin might have expected, featuring a vast expanse of red flock wallpaper, relieved by a remarkable amount of carved gilt. Even so, the fig-leaved cherubs that he might have expected were absent, replaced by whorled abstractions that seemed to lead the eye ever onwards.
"Welcome to the Circus," Tanji said, guiding him to their designated seats.
Kevin sat where she indicated and looked around. He was not sure what to expect, although much of what was happening initially seemed familiar from visits to theatres in his own world. There were three tiers of seating, the upper ones steeply raked to provide an unobscured view of the stage. The top level - "The Gods", Kevin had heard it described - was already well below ground level, and the lowest part - the Stalls and the Orchestra pit - was sunk perhaps a hundred feet or more into the ground. Kevin and Tanji were on the central level, the Grand Circle, with seats a little towards the rear. Not the best seats in the house, Kevin considered, but very good indeed, and he wondered how Tanji had been able to acquire them.
By now, most people had already got themselves seated and there were just a few latecomers, like themselves, still making their way to their places. There was much excited chatter, with some people evidently divided into cliques and factions. There was a slight feeling, he thought, that people came here to been seen by their peers and rivals as much as to see whatever entertainments were to be provided.
There was a sudden sense of expectation as the house lights fell and all conversation stopped almost immediately. The music struck up and the curtains swung open, and Kevin was subjected to the full blast of the performance in all its glory.
Later, Kevin described the event to himself as "a musical theatre spectacular", unconsciously using the kind of language he would expect to see in an advertisement hoarding on the London Underground. The stage was brightly lit and filled, almost continually, with actors and singers in outrageously flamboyant costumes, even by the standards of the audience. The opera was more Gilbert and Sullivan, or perhaps Andrew Lloyd Weber, rather than Wagner, even though it was sung through, without conventional dialogue.
With his limited understanding of both language and culture, Kevin found himself entire bemused by the plot and unable even to get an inkling as to the storyline. He resorted to asking Tanji for a précis of the plot during the first interval.
"Well, it's a classic," she explained, "A story of how three generations of a famous family grew from poverty - even slavery - to wealth and power, though bravery and determination, and a good helpful of luck, too."
Despite the initial familiarity of the theatre setting, Kevin soon realised that the subtle art of magic was used nearly everywhere. Listening to the music and singing, he became convinced that there was some magical amplification in place. He doubted whether unaided human voices would have been so easily able to fill such a large space, or whether the relatively small number of instruments in the orchestra pit would have been sufficient either.
The rear of the stage was formed by a flat and unbroken backdrop upon which images representing the current scene were projected by some means that Kevin could not determine. The quality of the projections was astonishingly high and very difficult to tell that the scene shown was anything other than totally real, other than the fact that it would change in an eye-blink to some completely other and totally convincing representation.
The impressive operatic performance was interspersed with athletic displays of dance set to energetic high-tempo music. As far as Kevin could tell, these interludes were allegorical of battles or epic and heroic deeds. Some of the dance movements must have been magically assisted, as the performers attempted several jumps and flips which would have been quite impossible without some intervention.
Kevin was able to study the performance in some detail as the theatre provided what he considered to be the equivalent of magical opera glasses. These were magnifying plates, fixed to the back of the chair in the next row, and appeared to be smaller version of the devices he and Tanji had employed when watching dragons.
One thing that Kevin wondered about, once he had stopped being quite so overcome by the spectacle of the entire event, was how the actors were getting on and off the stage. He was of course familiar with the use of the wings at either side of the stage, and how a skilled actor could appear on the stage in an instant with the audience being only vaguely aware of the manner of their arrival. But here, the performers would sometimes appear in the centre of the stage in what seemed to an impossible fashion.
During the second of the two lengthy intervals, Kevin asked Tanji about the sudden appearances on-stage. Were people somehow made invisible until the dramatically-correct moment to appear, he asked.
Tanji grinned at him. She had procured them a glass each of a nicely-chilled white wine and a small bowl of tasty - although wholly unidentifiable - snacks he immediately mentally classified as "spicy nibbles". She sipped at her wine and thought for a few seconds.
"It's not really invisibility," she replied eventually, "But I'm not sure how to explain."
She sipped again, musing.
"The back of the stage," she continued, "is a kind of projection. Like in the cinema."
"I can see that," Kevin replied, "By the way the different scenes change so rapidly."
"But the images aren't projected onto anything. They just hang in mid-air and conceal everything behind them. But you can walk right through, so you just appear in the middle of the stage."
She sipped again, then added: "It's a really old kind of magic, the ability to hide what is really there behind a façade of pretence. Technically, it's called a glamour."
Kevin had heard this word. Intrigued, he wondered about the provenance of a kind of magic old enough to have a distinguishable name in English.
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