BY dawn we were, by my reckoning, less than five kilometers from Blackpool, and Rebecca.
As we stumbled, bone weary, across the latest in a succession of chill-tempered fields of frozen earth, the eastern horizon was just beginning to become visible; irregular bands of dirty gold outlining the distant Bowland hills.
It had been a long night. Leaving behind us, the sanctuary of the village, we had cut across the thin tract of land that separated Garstang from the A6. Making a quick dash across the deserted dual carriageway, we'd slipped into the fields on the far side. Then ,avoiding, as best we could, the larger country lanes, we'd skirted fields, using the torches only when we had to. Anything resembling a man-made structure was avoided, just in case the military had set up camps out this way.
I crested a small rise, and paused, placing my fists into the small of my back and stretching the kinks out of my spine. Turning a slow circle, I surveyed what little I could see of out surroundings. Despite my tiredness, and my worries - for us; for Rebecca; and the world in general - I felt an exhilaration in what I was doing. The day-to-day cares and worries of mundane reality were, at least for the time being, behind us. For however long this lasted, this time spent together with Tanith, was a time I wanted to cherish. I turned, and watched her, as she clambered lithely up to stand beside me.
The concept was one I was still struggling to come to terms with. After thinking that Tanith was either dead, or so far out of my reach that she might just as well have been, for so long, it was an almost constant surprise to me that she was here with me; more beautiful in the flesh, than I could ever have visualized her. Add to that, the fact that she loved me enough to want to spend the rest of her life with me, and well; no wonder I was confused.
I shelved the problem, for the time being, as Tanith took my hand. Together we stood and watched, as the sky over the Bowland hills lightened imperceptibly.
'I suppose we'd better find somewhere to hide up for the day.' I said finally, looking around. 'It won't be long before whoever's in charge back there realizes we're gone; if they haven't already. Maybe,' I added, 'if we're really lucky, they won't realize we're gone, until after we've got Rebecca.' This last was said in an upbeat tone I didn't really feel.
'Mayhap.' Tanith seemed fascinated by the slow ascent of the sun, behind the hills. For a moment, I wondered at this, then remembered that in Avalon, there was no sun; at least, not as I recognized the term.
'Tanith,' I asked, 'I meant to ask you. How is your world lit? I mean,' I indicated the first sharp cusp of light that was the sun, peering at us over Bowland. 'When I was on the Isle, the light never changed. There were no shadows; nothing to tell what time it might have been. Where does the light come from?'
'T'is said,' Tanith replied, her gaze still held by the approaching dawn, 'that the Sacred Isle sits upon the nexus of all things, and that we see by virtue of the lambent power that surrounds and infuses all. T'is also said that, should the Barrier fail, for whatever reason, then our world shall be plunged into darkness, as the Isle returns once more unto the sight of man.'
'But, if that happened,' I said slowly, 'then surely, you would be under the sun, in our world.'
'T'is sooth, mayhap.' Tanith shrugged. 'Yet, were the Sacred Isle to reappear in this world, then where? T'is a big place, though we of the Qel'Mari know but part. The lands of the Fae are said to be yet boundless. Were the Barrier to fail, where would we be? When the Isle was taken and removed, the lands that yet remained were but one, and of a similar size. Over the ages since, this land hath divided, and spread around the world. Were the Sacred Isle to appear, I fear much devastation and loss of life would ensue.'
'Wow.' I whistled. 'So, Pangaea was left behind, after Avalon was taken.' Tanith looked puzzled, so I explained. 'Pangaea is the name our historians gave to the supercontinent that existed long ago, before the land split and drifted apart.'
'Ah.' Tanith nodded. 'You know something of the ancient times. Then, you begin to see what might befall the world, should the Barrier fail. Verily, such a thing might portend the end; for both of our worlds. And yet, this is not a certainty. It is also possible that the Isle might appear in some area not occupied by land, such as one of your oceans. I am unfamiliar with the geography of your world, as it now appears.'
'Well, I think we have enough to worry about at the moment,' I told her, 'without worrying about what would happen if the Barrier came down.'
'Methinks, you are correct.' Tanith turned towards me. 'Let us firstly endeavor to rescue the Lady Rebecca, then shall we quest for ingress through the Barrier.'
'Wise words, My Lady.' I bowed my head, then kissed her proffered lips. 'Let us firstly locate somewhere to sleep. Methinks we will need our strength tonight.'
'Indeed; methinks, I may allow thee some sleep.' Tanith told me with a coy smile. I felt my eyes widen in surprise.
'Why, my Lady.' I kissed her again. 'Methinks, I would'st not have thought such of thee.'
See? It wasn't that hard, once you got into the habit. Tanith's smile broadened.
'Then, thou must become accustomed to such, my love.' She told me. 'We must needs take such time as is offered, for who knows what may lie ahead.'
'Have I told you recently,' I asked softly, 'how much I love you?'
'Nay; not recently.'
I kissed her; harder this time. 'I love you, my wife.'
'And I, you, husband.' She smiled at the use of the unfamiliar term. She returned the kiss for a moment, before pulling away. 'Methinks, we require to find shelter.' Tanith's voice was breathless, laced with rising passion.
'Okay,' I turned towards the east, and surveyed the gently undulating land. 'I seem to recall seeing a farm, somewhere over that way.' I pointed slightly north of east. 'Let's go have a look.'
Fifteen minutes later, we almost literally stumbled into the derelict barn.
The dilapidated structure had been built into a low, steep dip, at the confluence of two small streams, and was all but invisible from the direction we approached. We clambered down into the small valley and inspected the crumbling old building.
'It should do.' I decided, after a quick look inside. 'For a few hours, anyway.'
'I have taken refuge in worse.' Tanith told me, leading me inside.
We decided to risk a small fire. Tanith scraped a depression into the packed earthen floor, while I collected some of the scraps of old lumber that littered the floor, and fetched water from the nearest of the two streams. Then, while she boiled water, for tea and coffee, I went exploring. It didn't take long; there was little left of the barn.
At the far end, closest to the hillside, a rusted ladder led up to a platform some three meters above the floor of the barn. I placed a foot on the lowest rung, and tugged at the ladder. It held, so, I cautiously shimmed upwards, testing each rung carefully, until I was able to see over the edge of the loft. Minutes later, I was back on terra firma.
'I've found a place we can spend the day.' I told Tanith. I pointed upwards. 'The floor seems sturdy enough, and there's quite a bit of hay left up there, so we can make ourselves fairly comfortable. We can hole up here, until it gets dark enough to travel. So; what's for breakfast?'
I'd packed some oats and a small container of dried milk, so breakfast consisted of porridge and coffee; not a bad combination. Tanith stuck to tea with her porridge. After breakfast, I went and cleaned our plates and utensils in the stream, while Tanith doused the fire, and sprinkled earth across our fire-pit.
I came back into the barn, to find the place empty. Nothing remained to show that we had ever been there, and I looked up, towards the loft. Nothing and nobody was visible, in the dim shadows that played around the relatively solid section of roof, that existed over the loft
'Nice job.' I called, placing hands and feet on the ladder. 'How're our accommodations?'
'Most satisfactory.' Tanith's low voice drifted over the edge, as I began to climb.
The air felt slightly warmer in the loft, partly due to the fire, and partly to the mild warmth of the day outside. I hauled myself over the edge, and ambled across to the several bales that had been left at the back. As I approached, I saw that a couple of the bales had been disassembled, the hay strewn thickly across the floor in the corner.
Tanith lay upon her bed of hay, her overcoat pressed into service as a blanket. To one side, the clothes she had been wearing were hanging neatly over a nearby beam. At sight of me, she rolled onto her side, stretching seductively, allowing her naked legs to appear from the bottom of the coat.
'Come.' She patted the hay next to her. 'Of a sudden, I feel chilled. Warm me?'
'It would be my extreme honour, my Lady.' I whispered.