The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 32

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Old stone cottage Patricia Rossiter sat silent for a few moments before apparently coming to some kind of a conclusion.

"There's something I'd like you to understand," she began, with the air of one about to make a confession, "I've told almost no one this truth, and I would appreciate it if you would keep it to yourselves."

"I think you can trust to our discretion," Kevin replied formally.

"Many years ago, I met a man - a Visitor from your world," she said, nodding at Bret, "A very charming and handsome young man, tall and strong, and full of tales of adventures and derring-do."

She shook her head at her own naivety, as it seemed to Kevin.

"I was very young at the time," she continued, "Barely more than a child, but headstrong and sure of myself. I didn't know much about the Other World, although I was vaguely aware of its existence. And I suppose I wasn't aware of so many other things too."

"So how did you know of my World?" Bret pressed, gently turning the conversation away from topics which the older woman might have found uncomfortable.

"I'm a scion of the Old Families," she said simply.

Bret nodded in understanding, and Tanji seemed to comprehend too.

"I'm sorry," Kevin interjected, "But I don't know what that means."

Rossiter looked from Bret to Tanji in confusion.

"Some families have been involved with the crossing to Lyndesfarne for generations," Bret explained for Kevin's benefit.

"Ah," he replied, "The families from which NISSA recruits so many of its students."

"Well, yes," Bret said, looked unusually shifty, "Although, strictly speaking, the Old Families are those whose distant ancestors - or at least most of them - came from the Other World."

This made a lot of sense to Kevin. He could certainly imagine that the members of a number of powerful bodies in the world of Lyndesfarne - the Board of Control, for example - would rest more easily if they knew that they could rely upon certain people with old allegiances in this world. On the other hand, he mused, perhaps this was misleading. Surely, after a few generations, such immigrants might have more loyalty to their adopted world than to their original one.

"This man," Patricia Rossiter began again, "We, well, we spent a long summer together. I ran away from home, set up house with him in a small cottage - not very far from here - which was more a semi-converted barn, really."

She sighed sadly.

"We were, I thought, in love. Certainly, I was completely infatuated and I was convinced he was in love with me."

A certain inevitability about this story was growing in Kevin's mind. She would not have been the first young woman to have been led astray, as his Grandma might have put it, by a faithless young man.

"It turned out, I was quite wrong," she continued, "By the autumn, I realised I was pregnant. When I tried to talk to him about it, he at first denied the possibility. When I persevered, got angry, shouted - then he simply abandoned me, disappearing back into your world where he thought I could not follow him."

"I was lost - no idea what was to become of me. My parents - both from the Old Families, as I said - would have nothing to do with me. They had of course warned me about this man, refused me permission to see him, shouted at me when I snuck away to be with him. Their attitude was the main reason why I ran away in the first place."

"My other acquaintances from my childhood shunned me for having been wild and feckless and, to be honest, I had refused to listen to their advice either and deliberately withdrawn from them when I set up house."

The older woman paused again, looking sadly at Kevin and Tanji, who were sitting together hand-in-hand.

"In the end, a kind friend - you don't need to know who she is - was prepared to help me," she continued, "She found me a place to live, a warm home to bring my daughter back to, after she was born."

"I've lived quietly in this cottage ever since. I brought up my daughter more-or-less alone - I was determined I would not make any more mistakes and I certainly did not want to be forced to give away my baby."

She raised her chin and looked around the room is if challenging any of them to question her decision.

"I resolved to learn more about the Other World, to learn more about the father of my child, to track him down and confront him. To do so would be very difficult, I would seen discover, as my position was all too well-known locally, and at first nobody was prepared to talk to me."

She scowled suddenly, perhaps remembering the local gossips unfavourably.

"With a lot of perseverance, I managed to gain the trust of one or two people, although that was in large part through the influence of my saviour, the one who helped me in my hour of need, and brought me shelter, and hope, and friendship."

"Let me guess," Bret said suddenly, "A tall slender woman of middle years, grey-haired but with an erect bearing, always wore a hooded robe and stout boots, carried a rucksack and walked with the aid of a long staff."

"How do you know that?" Rossiter asked in amazement.

"I strongly suspect," Bret said slowly, "That she was my grandmother."

There was a gasp from Tanji. Kevin, who was less surprised, squeezed her hand in reassurance. The older woman looked as if she would burst into tears at any moment.

"Her name was Yise," Bret continued, speaking softy, "She was a Messenger, in the old days. In her youth, she met a young man from this world, after the War. They got married, had children - one of whom was my mother."

The unspoken message, it seemed to Kevin, was that not all cross-world romances fell apart. He had also noted that, while Bret had mentioned Yise's relationship with his mother, he omitted to mention that his mother was in fact the mythical Ferryman.

"Years would go by," Rossiter began in a small voice, "Between visits from Yise. Her last appearance was nearly a decade ago."

"She's dead, I'm afraid," Bret announced gently.

"How did it happen?"

"Just old age," he replied, "She was in her eighties. She just got tired and frail, and one morning she didn't get up from her bed."

There was a strained silence in the room. Bret spoke over the hush.

"I remember as a child hearing about Grandmother's adventures. Never from her directly, mind, but from my mother and aunt, and other family members. They were just bedtime stories or, in later years, tales around the fireside on long winter evenings."

He paused, evidently lost in the past for a moment.

Causeway and sea "But I remember one tale," Bret continued, "Of Grandmother encountering a crying girl, sitting by the roadside - the road leading down to the causeway - and watching the travellers, always waiting to see someone - some mystery man she would never find, or name."

"That was me," The older woman said, "I couldn't think of what to do, and I was hoping against hope that my man would come back to me."

"Did you ever track him down?" Tanji asked quietly, "The errant boyfriend?"

"No," she replied simply, "Oh, I thought about it a lot, and I probably talked about it all the time, as I learned the language and studied the mysteries of Lyndesfarne. I even made trips across the Bridge, explored a little in that World."

"I suppose that's why Wendy became interested in Lyndesfarne, too?" Kevin enquired.

"Oh, yes. As a child she was fascinated. She was often my only companion. We used to practise the language together. When she got older, we would travel together to various places. To be honest, she probably understands the languages and cultures more than I do. As a child, too, I promised her that one day we would find her father - she used to ask about that all the time. Eventually, when she got older, I told her the whole story."

"And what was her reaction?" Bret asked.

"She was incensed, furious," Patricia Rossiter replied, "She swore to be that she would track down her father, make him come back, to make amends."

There was another silence as the visitors took in the import of what they had just heard.

"We have to ask," Kevin muttered, feeling distinctly embarrassed, "Who was your boyfriend?"

Rossiter shook her head.

"I think," Bret said gently, "That we really, really need to know the name of Wendy's father. It is very important, for us all."

The older woman hesitated for a long moment. Kevin dared not even breathe, and he sensed Tanji and Bret had much the same reaction.

"His name," Patricia Rossiter answered finally, "Was Demaz."


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