On the return trip, walking back from the site of the underground crossing through the tunnels, Bret was a good deal chattier. It seemed that a weight had been lifted from his mind. Prompted by Kevin, he explained why this old crossing had been built in a cellar.
"Placing crossings underground," Bret explained, "Was very popular at one time. A large fraction of all crossings were once built in this way."
Tanji nodded slowly in agreement.
"The advantages are obvious," he continued, "The only way in or out is through a tunnel, which is easy to guard, and it's therefore easy to control the passage of people and goods. You've less likelihood of getting unexpected visitors that way."
Bret explained that there was a second important reason. This was that the impact of the climate was considerably reduced, since conditions underground were much more stable. A critical concern with siting a crossing above ground, like the one at Lyndesfarne, was to ensure that the climate was compatible, so that the impact of different weather on each side of the crossing was minimised. Even so, Kevin knew from personal experience that the Lyndesfarne crossing was prone to rapid and extreme changes of weather conditions.
"So why weren't all crossings built that way?" Kevin pressed.
"Well, there are several reasons," he said, "One is that a great deal of extra effort and more magic is required to, well, let's say process the rocks underground."
"Why is that?" Kevin asked.
Bret was clearly amused by Kevin's persistent questioning.
"It's difficult to explain in English," he replied, "But think of the static, dense rocks as opposed to the fluid of the sea and the air."
Kevin knew that the crossing to Lyndesfarne was in the shape of a pair of circular saucers pressed together at the rims. The upper dome of the barrier between the worlds rose only a thousand feet or so above the island and the surrounding sea, although it was at least four miles across.
"Surely even a crossing like that at Lyndesfarne has at least half of its volume underground?" Kevin persisted.
"Quite true," Bret agreed, "So it makes it only twice as hard if the whole shebang is embedded in the rock."
He also explained that there was additional effort to build the tunnels themselves, although magical means of tunnelling could be used. At least, it had been used before the proscription on the use of magic in this world, and the creation of the barriers at crossings which neutralised both magic and technology.
In addition, it was not possible to know for sure precisely where the crossing would be, once established. Often, it seems, the top of the dome of the crossing was fairly close to ground level. It may even have been above ground in one or two places.
"So, if they got it wrong," Kevin asked, "It might just have been possible to cross at ground level?"
"Well, it has happened," Bret agreed, "But not here. All parts of this crossing have always been underground, as it was designed."
"But that was not enough," he continued, "It also turns out, although it was not fully appreciated at the time, the underground environment, the variations in the rock strata, reduced the effectiveness of the magic barriers. This certainly did happen here. Frankly, the barrier was full of holes. And various unscrupulous persons attempted and sometimes succeeded in constructing additional tunnels, which bypassed the control of the Guardians."
Tanji was shocked at this revelation. Her gasp of concern was plainly audible in the quiet corridors. Kevin imagined that she was perfectly well aware of the importance of the barriers, and the importance of keeping the two Worlds apart in their use of technology and magic.
"So it's like the way the iron and steel in the New Bridge disrupts the barrier at Lyndesfarne?" Kevin said.
"That's right," Bret confirmed. "It's all part of the same problem. Underground crossings became less and less secure with improvements in technology in this world."
"Well, when all tunnelling was carried out by hand, it would take a team of men many months to build a tunnel. This was easy to spot with minimal local patrols. But, these days, with explosives and tunnelling machines, a couple of people could dig a crossing very quickly."
"Ah." Things were beginning to come clear to Kevin.
"This is a major reason why the Lyndesfarne crossing is still there," Bret concluded, "The hard rocks in the area, together with the natural barrier of the sea, make it much more difficult to dig a tunnel in secret."
At this point, the party arrived back at the stairs leading up to the foyer. Somehow, it seemed to Kevin, the return walk had taken almost no time at all. Millie was waiting for them at the top of the stairs. Bret thanked her profusely, and Kevin added his own thanks as he returned the electric torch.
Their car was waiting outside, and their chauffeur jumped up to open the doors and usher them inside. Bret spoke briefly to the driver, who nodded and set off immediately.
"Where are we going now?" Kevin inquired.
"You'll see," Bret replied, mysteriously.
The drive from Epernay over the hills was all rather picturesque, Kevin concluded. They passed through a series of quaint little villages perched on the sides of the hills, each with its own selection of narrow and winding roads and rustic buildings. Leaving the villages behind, they passed through a long stretch of forest, filled with old, mossy trees, fallen down in places. It did not look to Kevin as if the woodland was managed as a source of timber.
Bret, who seemed to have inherited Millie's role as a tour guide, explained that the vines were planted on the sides of hills, ideally south-west facing, in locations which were both sunny and well-drained. Apparently, the plants were quite fragile and easily damaged; it was considered too windy on the tops of hills and too cold and frosty in winter at the bottom.
"You seem to know a lot about growing grapes." Kevin noted.
"Just a little – a soupcon, as they say," Bret said, in a manner Kevin was beginning to find slightly irritating.
They entered another region of closely-cultivated vines, which led after a few minutes to an expanse of tilled arable land, planted with what Kevin thought was wheat, sugar beet and oilseed rape. This in turn gave way to the outskirts of a modern town, which their driver deftly navigated before arriving at the gates of another, even more imposing Champagne house.
"Welcome to Reims," Bret announced, pronouncing the place name with panache, much rolling of the R's and, Kevin suspected, a certain amount of unnecessary throat-clearing noises.
It took only a few minutes for Bret to negotiate his way into the caves of this house. This time, there was no guide, and the companions were able to set off alone. At first, Kevin found this walk through the chilly arched passageways almost indistinguishable from the previous cellar, but he soon found that this was misleading. After a few minutes, they entered an area where the usual tunnels entered a series of much less regular caverns. The interior looked really ancient, with the walls sloping together at the top a hundred feet above their heads.
Kevin stopped suddenly, looking around. He could see some light leaking into the tops of these caves, just enough to illuminate the highest parts. The caverns were approximately conical in shape, with a small circular hole at the point, which was at ground level.
Bret explained that these holes were dug in Roman times, as a source of building materials. They were conical since they were dug from the top down, and gradually widened to avoid going too deep. Blocks of chalk were removed by winch from the opening at the top, and they were liked together by a series of irregular corridors.
The companions explored these caves for several minutes, Kevin and Tanji following Bret closely so as not to get lost. He finally identified another passageway, narrow and irregular in shape. Kevin expected to enter another of the tapering chambers, but the passage was blocked with crushed and fallen chalk. As he drew closer, Kevin could see that the chalk surface had the same smooth finish as the end of the passageway in the Epernay tunnels. Bret ran his hand over the surface again, and then turned away, nodding to himself and apparently satisfied.
"No sign of any disruption," he said, to no one in particular.
Bret turned back to the others, rubbing his hands together.
"Good," he exclaimed, "There's nothing here to suggest that a re-opened crossing is expected."
The relief in his voice was palpable.
"So this is a second tunnel which at one time lead through to the world of Lyndesfarne," Kevin asked.
"Yes, that's right."
"So, why two tunnels?"
"There weren't supposed to be two tunnels," he said, "This one was, in fact, built secretly, as I was describing earlier. It was only discovered after it had been in operation for some time, and was one of the reasons why this crossing was closed."
"But what was it for?"
Bret once again shook his head in amusement at the persistence of Kevin's questioning.
"In short," he replied, "The Champagne trade."
Bret explained that, in the olden days, bottles and cases of champagne were transported directly to the world of Lyndesfarne through the tunnels and crossing. Apparently, the drink was then and is still now very popular in various parts of the Other World.
Kevin was fascinated. He had heard that the trade was busy, as Britain was a large consumer of French champagne. So, he mused, a huge number of bottles were transported to the UK, but were still relatively expensive in the shops. With a characteristic flash of insight, he realised that most champagne shipped to the UK was actually destined for Lyndesfarne, being transported by lorry to north-east England. From there, it used to be conveyed by wagon to Lyndesfarne over the Old Bridge, and was now whisked by the more efficient transportation he had helped to devise over the New Bridge. From there, onwards transport by goods portal to all parts of the Other World would be provided.
"It still seems a strange thing to do," Bret mused, half to himself, "To consider re-opening a crossing in this vicinity. Think of the danger of accidental discovery. For example, take those new tunnels they're digging for the new TGV line from Paris to Strasbourg."
He stopped suddenly, looking frustrated.
"Of course, they could be digging tunnels anywhere, in the newer Caves or any other excavations anywhere. It could be from the new railway tunnels themselves, although that's far too obvious a site."
Bret paused again, as if coming to a conclusion.
"It's fruitless to try and search every possible location for new tunnels in this world, and frankly I don't have either the authority or the contacts to do this. So," he said with an air of finality, "I need to search from the other side."
"From Lyndesfarne?" Kevin asked.
"Well, from the Other World, certainly," the other man confirmed.
Kevin was reminded that distances between crossings were not necessarily the same in both worlds. In his own world, the distance from Lyndesfarne to Épernay was only a few hundred miles, but he was beginning to suspect that the distance would be much greater in the other world.
"I'd like you too to accompany me," Bret said abruptly.
"OK, sure, but why?" Kevin responded.
"Well, I would appreciate your insight," the other man said, "And you're very good at asking questions."
Kevin felt obscurely flattered by this.
"And Tanji?" He asked.
Bret smiled indulgently.
"Well, after certain recent experiences, I feel sure you wouldn't want to leave her behind, and I'm also sure you'd want a guide over there in any case."
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