Kevin fell in at the door, practically hugging Bret both for physical support and in relief at his evident survival. After a long moment, Bret gently disengaged himself, then briefly embraced Tanji while uttering a few ritual-sounding words that Kevin did not understand, but would later come to understand were a formal expression of thanks for survival under dangerous conditions.
Bret ushered both of them inside with alacrity.
"What took you so long?" he asked, smiling widely but also looking distinctly relieved.
Kevin and Tanji looked at each other.
"We took the long way round," Tanji volunteered, suddenly smiling in relief, "I wanted to be sure that we weren't being followed."
"Successfully, I feel sure," Bret replied, glancing left and right through the door before closing it firmly.
The new arrivals were immediately ushered through to meet the Ferryman who was seated by the fire in the spacious living room both Kevin and Tanji had enjoyed before. She stood up as they entered the room and walked forward, arms reaching towards them and then clasping them both warmly by the hand.
She ushered them to the homely and comfortable seating by the fire. Kevin suddenly realised that he felt cold, no doubt a side-effect of his sudden transition from the tropics to the temperate climate of this region of Lyndesfarne. Tanji too seemed to be feeling chilly and huddled close to Kevin, perhaps for warmth or just for the comfort of his presence.
Bret's father, his normally jovial and bearded face looking unusually troubled, emerged from the kitchen - his permanent abode, as far as Kevin could tell - and offered them hot drinks, food and wine, all of which Kevin accepted with extreme gratitude. The older man bustled backwards and forwards, serving first the drinks and, shortly afterwards, a delightful selection of hearty sandwiches, each generously filled with cold meats and cheese and salad and pickles.
Kevin found that he was extremely hungry and thirty, suddenly realising that he had not eaten anything all day. Tanji also gratefully accepted a glass of the wine although she did not seem to be particularly hungry. Perhaps, he thought, she had lost her appetite during her forced confinement.
Both Bret and his mother remained silent until Kevin and Tanji managed to get a few mouthfuls of food and drink inside them. Even so, they were clearly bursting with questions and were soon unable to contain themselves any longer. It very quickly became evident that they wanted to know what has transpired since the two lovers had sped from their pursuers.
The two of them, but particularly Tanji, explained at some length the sequence of events. For some reason, she felt a need to talk and talk; perhaps, Kevin felt, this was a side-effect of her recent isolation. In any case all of the description of her imprisonment - which was uniformly dull and boring - and much of the account of the much more exciting escape was related by Tanji herself.
The Ferryman sat impassibly during the account, although her son occasionally interjected with questions for clarification from time to time. Bret repeatedly asked Tanji for details about her captors, but she was not really able to tell them very much.
"I never got a clear view of anyone," she explained, "And no-one ever came into the room where I was being held. Even the food was delivered through a slot."
"What did they sound like?" Kevin asked suddenly.
"I don't really know," she replied with a shake of the head, "I didn't hear any conversations, other than a few barked instructions from the other side of the door."
More questions from Bret and answers from Tanji failed to elucidate any further pertinent information, although Kevin was vaguely horrified by her veiled description of the primitive washing and ablutions facilities, upon which she did not particularly want to dwell.
The talk then turned to the kidnapping itself, although Tanji could not remember very much of this either. Apparently, she had been grabbed as soon as she had opened the door of Kevin's flat; a cloth was pressed over her nose and mouth, and she could not remember any more until she arrived in the warehouse in the other world..
"I'm sorry I'm not being much help," Tanji said after several minutes.
"No, no, that's not true," Kevin answered, as the others made suitably demurring sounds.
"But I take it you guessed the location," she added, suddenly smiling widely at Kevin.
"Oh, yes," Kevin grinned in return, "Those messages of yours were successfully conveyed all right."
The Ferryman leaned forward suddenly.
"It was indeed very clever," she asked, looking directly at Tanji, "But how did you think of it?"
"I don't really know," Tanji admitted, "I was half-awake, groggy, barely able to stand and being supported on either side. I just saw that label lying on the floor, and stepped on it when I was being dragged out of that horrid crate. Then I lost consciousness again - some kind of sleeping drug, I think."
She shook her head, perhaps trying to dislodge some unpleasant memories.
"Somehow it remained stuck to the sole of my foot," she continued, "I wasn't wearing any shoes when I was grabbed. When I woke up - in that poky little room - it was already sticky and decomposing from having been through the barrier. That's how I knew which World I was in. The label had entirely dissolved by the time the window was opened again. So I had to think of some other way of hinting to you where I was."
"It was brilliant, quite brilliant," Kevin reiterated, leaning over the table to kiss Tanji.
Encouraged by Bret's father, the company returned their attention to the food in front of them. While they were eating, Bret spoke in quiet tones, telling them about what had happened since they fled the scene of Tanji's imprisonment.
"After the two of you ran back towards the warehouse," he began, "I started shouting to attract the attention of the guards before setting off in a different direction, tangential to the one you took. After a few dozen paces, I dived for the cover of the thick foliage, relying on my watcher's cloak to become invisible."
Kevin nodded sagely over his ham sandwich. The properties of Watchers' cloaks, and even their existence, were not very widely known about, even in this World. As far as he could tell, the Guild and Guardians did their best to keep these things to themselves. He would later find himself wondering at length on Bret's statement, as he realised the mystery man who dumped the body on the bridge was also using such a cloak.
"Anyway," Bret continued, "From such cover provided by my cloak and the local vegetation, I was able to deploy a variety of additional bangs and flashes to distract the men who were supposed to on guard - using up most of my small stock of such devices."
"Which reminds me," he continued, turning to the Ferryman, "I'll need to requisition some more, err..." He reverted to the Lyndesfarne language and uttered a series of complex words which Kevin assumed must be some fairly technical descriptions of the magical item he wanted to be replaced.
"We'll sort that out tomorrow," his Mother replied in English, smiling indulgently.
Bret continued his account of events. The bulk of the group of kidnappers - a bunch of heavily-muscled and dangerous-looking people that Kevin thought entirely deserved the description of henchmen - had followed him into the fields and spread out to search for him.
"They did not find me - although it was close a time or two," he explained, "But two of the guards insisted in following you, despite my best efforts."
"We gave them the slip at the second portal," Tanji reiterated, slightly extremely smugly.
She explained briefly about the trick with the protective field at the portal entrance that she and Kevin had navigated at the last moment. Bret nodded, obviously appreciating both the skill and the humour of the situation.
"Anyway," Bret resumed, "After twenty minutes or so, they guards gave up their search and returned to the house where Tanji had been detained. The man we both saw" - he nodded at Kevin - "the one who appeared to be very much in charge, directed the group to pack up their gear and depart in short order. I last saw them moving at a fast march along the road in the opposite direction to the warehouse."
"There's another portal not far along that road," Kevin interjected, "I think that's the one that Tanji and I used when we visited the area."
Tanji nodded in agreement.
"So they probably departed by that route," Bret concluded, "They could be anywhere by now."
The company sat in thoughtful silence for a few moments, Kevin taking the opportunity to help himself to another of the excellent sandwiches.
"You know," he said, "I feel sure that I know that man - the leader - from somewhere, but I just can't put my finger on where I've seen him before."
Bret looked at him strangely for a few moments.
"I know what you mean," he said slowly, "But I'm at a loss, too. Let me know if you recall anything."
Kevin nodded, then asked, "So what did you do after the heavies left?"
"Not much," Bret responded promptly, "I stayed hidden just in case any of the kidnappers had been left behind, and kept a watch on the house."
"Was there anyone there?" Kevin asked.
"As it turned out, no," Bret replied, "They had long gone by the time a contingent of the local police and Guardians arrived. They had been alerted by the messages I sent before we broke Tanji from her prison."
Kevin nodded his understanding. He had not been quite sure who Bret had been sending messages to before the breakout. "So, once I was sure who they were, I made myself known to the Guardians," Bret continued, "Made a report, and then came back here by the most direct route, as quickly as I could."
The food and drink, not to mention the warmth of the room and the feeling of security, had made both Kevin and Tanji feel very drowsy. Tanji, in particular, was visibly fading, her head by now resting on Kevin's shoulder.
"I think it's time we let these two get some rest," the Ferryman said kindly, ostensibly addressing her remarks to Bret, "Perhaps you can help me with these reports for a while?"
Bret and his mother moved to the large dining table where Kevin had enjoyed several mealtimes as a guest in the past. The table was now littered with papers, which Kevin imagined to be reports of various kinds, although he had no easy way - short of getting Tanji to interpret for him - of finding out their exact contents.
"You're quite safe here," the Ferryman said, now addressing Kevin and Tanji directly, "So go and get some sleep and we'll resume in the morning."
She seated herself at the head of the table and picked up a sheaf of papers for close scrutiny.
Smiling indulgently, Bret guided the two lovers downstairs to a guest bedroom on a lower floor, the very same one they had occupied when they had visited on the previous visit.
"Sleep well," he advised, "I suspect we'll all be having a busy day tomorrow."
He closed the door behind him. Once alone, Kevin and Tanji did something they had not ever done before. Without uttering a word, Kevin filled the bathtub with warm water, adding a measure of the bath salts that had been thoughtfully provided by their hosts. Tanji slipped out of her clothes with a minimum of fuss and slid into the steaming scented water. Kevin rapidly followed suit, stepping into the water at the other end of the tub. They sat together in the bath for a long while enjoying a long soak, neither of them speaking very much and neither more than two-thirds awake, intermittently soaping each other in a luxurious fashion. Afterwards, they helped to towel each other dry.
"Let's go to bed," Kevin whispered.
Tanji nodded and took him by the hand.
|© 2007-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 2 November 2008|