Corey unhooked the chain holding his pendant and pushed the silver phoenix across the table, until it was beside its mirror image. The silence was that dramatic stillness that comes from some monumental event that leaves the watcher stunned.
“What’s this, some family tradition?”
Juliet looked up wide-eyed at the speaker.
“Sort of,” Juliet said, as she pushed Corey’s pendant back at him. “This is my cousin, Corey. Corey, Mr Thomas.”
They shook hands, and Mr Thomas sat down beside them.
“Do you mind?” He gestured to where Corey’s pendant lay.
“No, please,” he nodded, as the man turned it over in his fingers.
“Wonderful,” Mr Thomas said. “The workmanship is astounding, as is the quality of the silver. They must be incredibly old, heirlooms I take it?”
They nodded, hoping he would not press them on it. A commotion from the doorway saved them from explaining further. Corey relaxed when he placed the chain back around his neck and felt the coolness of the silver on his skin.
The small tearoom was filling up as the rest of the group came spilling in. Loud calls of greeting rang out, and Juliet got air kisses from the girls. Introductions were made and Mr Thomas ordered drinks for everyone.
“As I told you in the email” Mr Thomas said. “A local councillor wants to have the castle knocked to make way for a road. He believes it will be a boon to the tourist industry and he says the castle has no historical significance. It is up to us to prove him wrong. The government are anxious to preserve our heritage and if we can find evidence, then we can save the castle. I have no need to stress how important this dig is, and how honoured I am to be chosen to lead it.”
The group nodded, as he looked around the tables.
“Now for the mundane bit. We have a number of tents available to us; some sleep two and others four, so we will have to divide into groups. Miss William,” he said. “Will do the cooking.”
They all turned and looked at the woman who blushed under their gaze. Miss Williams was the domestic science teacher in their school and was quite willing to give up her summer holidays to take part in the dig. Not that she had any interest in archaeology, her interest lay elsewhere. Everyone in the school knew that she was crazy about Mr Thomas, everyone except Mr Thomas that is.
“How far is it to Culdoplin, sir?” One of the boys asked.
It’s about an hour’s journey from here to Ballibrock and then a twenty-minute walk to the castle. There’s an old steam train outside the village that will take us to Ballibrock,” he consulted his watch. “We should get going.”
There was the usual clatter as they all got to their feet and picked up their belongings.
“Some local railway enthusiasts have revived an old length of track and salvaged a steam engine. It’s used to ferry tourists on sightseeing tours during the summer season” Mr Thomas kept up a running commentary as they walked. “We’re honoured to be travelling the way our ancestors did, be it only those have passed in the last hundred years or so.”
. They gazed in wonder as the old engine and the four old carriages behind it.
“All aboard,” the guard called, but there was no need for the order.
The group swarmed inside, each one hoping to get a window seat.
Goats grazed along the side of the track, rabbits and stoats stole through the undergrowth, and even tiny little field mice were seen foraging on the moss-covered rocks. There was a shout when someone saw a fox. It stood watching them from a large rock and showed no fear at the noise from the train. Juliet held up a hand and waved and the fox bowed its head before turning away.
Like the last village, there were dozens of eyes watching their progress, as they lugged the tents and equipment through the streets. They were all struck by the silence of the place.
“Not far now,” Mr Thomas consulted his map. “Just round the next bend and we should see the castle.”
The land was covered with huge, flat stones that looked like the lids of old tombs. It felt like walking through a graveyard, and the silence added to this sensation. The well-worn pathway was treacherous with jagged stones, and most of the group stumbled at one time or another.
“We’re here,” the call came from the front of the group, and it spurred the slackers on.
Culdoplin Castle stands on what looks like a small mountain in the centre of the land. According to Mr Thomas, the mountain effect was due to some volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. The light was beginning to fade so it was half in shadow, and there were black things flying above it. Crows, Corey thought, as it was too light for it to be bats. As they watched the sun begin to set Juliet sensed enchantment and peace wash over her. She looked at Corey from the corner of her eye and realised he felt it too. They were home at last, though neither one knew why they felt that way