During the years he had been working on the Lyndesfarne Bridge, Kevin would usually return to the Mainland after each day at work, sometimes making the crossing of the old bridge several times on consecutive days. More often than not, he would drive to and stay in some faceless and frankly boring hotel nearby on the Mainland side. He seemed to be encouraged to do this by Ricard who, as he indicated in various subtle ways, always seemed happier when Kevin went back to his own world in the evening.
Kevin had found himself spending quite a lot of time on the new bridge project, with site inspections, meetings, surveying work and so on. This was a much more hands-on role than was usual for him, but was essential since he represented the principal point of contact between the two teams. Nevertheless, he had enjoyed the opportunity of getting out and about. Almost anything, he thought, was better than returning to that lonely little flat he rented in South Manchester.
Even so, sometimes he would stay over in Lyndesfarne, usually in the hostel near to the bridge site he knew as "The Walled Garden". This was a two-storey building, which looked like it had been built at around the same time as the old bridge, and initially appeared to have space for no more than a dozen guest rooms. Kevin had been curious about this on his early visits, since there seemed to be more people eating breakfast than could possibly stay there. He later discovered that there were more rooms in the basement, but had never stayed in one.
There was indeed a substantial garden attached to the hostel, surrounded by a wall, and some of the guest rooms looked out over the well-kept lawn and borders. Kevin suspected that the courtyard had at one time been a stable yard, with some of the rooms now occupied by guests originally being coach houses and accommodations for horses.
The high stone walls also made the garden feel very private and secluded, and it was pleasantly sheltered by trees and rambling plants during the summer months. The centre of the courtyard was a small lawn, so carefully tended that it looked not so much mown as manicured, and contained a centrepiece which had first appeared to Kevin to be a sundial, but was in fact a timepiece that showed the time by the sun at any time of the day or night.
Stone paths and garden seating completed the appearance of peace and tranquillity. The only obvious way in or out of the courtyard was through the main body of the hostel, as the original archway entrance at the side had been walled up at some time in the distant past. All very safe and secure, Kevin had thought on his first visit.
Nevertheless, Kevin had noticed that there often seemed to be people in the courtyard, even late at night or first thing in the morning. However, they never seemed to disturb the feeling of tranquillity, and they never seemed to stay very long either.
Kevin always enjoyed staying in a garden suite, since the pastoral view from his room tended to put him in a relaxed frame of mind. The inside of the garden rooms echoed the natural theme outside. The walls were a pale green, the bed and other furnishings were in a dark wood, and the floor was finished with what looked, and felt, like terracotta tiles. A floral rug, matching bedcover and several pictures depicting countryside views completed the rural decor.
The areas where useful effects could be magically activated using common gestures were marked by discreet embossed symbols on the walls, floor and furniture, in what Kevin now believed to be the typical Lyndesfarne style. Active areas near the door and the bed indicated lighting controls, while another symbol on the wall marked the place which allowed the heating to be increased or decreased. Yet another marker on the surface of the bedside table made it possible to speak to the staff at reception, although Kevin usually preferred to walk the short distance to make his occasional requests in person.
There were more symbols in both bedroom and bathroom, many of which Kevin did not recognise, and therefore refrained from experimenting with. The windows were real, made from a transparent material that closely resembled glass, actually opened - something of a rarity in Lyndesfarne, apparently - and could be darkened to opacity using up and down gestures near a mark on the right-hand side of the window frame. Kevin usually preferred to leave the window only partially blacked-out, so that he was awakened naturally by the sunrise.
During his time visiting Lyndesfarne, Kevin had formed the suspicion that relatively few local people actually stayed in hostels or similar accommodation. As he had heard it, the nature of the Island transportation system and the use of their so-called "portals" meant that most people working at a distance from their residence could travel back home. It was simply easier for them to return home than to arrange alternative accommodation. He had also been given to understand that it was rare in Lyndesfarne society for people to be separated for long periods, which perhaps lead to a stronger sense of the importance of family groups and friends than in his home world.
Kevin found himself lying three-quarters awake one night, with an incoherent mixture of his troubled (or perhaps just non-existent) personal life and assorted technical work problems running around in his head. After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, he finally sat up and made the simple gesture which caused the lighting to come on. He got out of bed, and peered through the window into the garden. It was bright moonlight outside, and he could see that the wind was so light that it was causing almost no movement of the treetops. It's probably the light that has woken me up, he considered, I really must remember to opaque the windows more often.
Kevin was by now completely wide awake, and cast about for something to do. Glancing again though the window, he decided to take a stroll. He dressed quickly, donning dark jeans and sweater, and one of the Lyndesfarne-style capes he had taken to wearing while on the Island. He made his way quietly out of his room, locking the door with a hand-print and gesture that had become almost second nature by now, and made his way along the corridor to the front entrance.
Kevin had long realised that this particular hostel was frequented by visitors from the Mainland. As far as he knew, it was the closest place to stay to the crossing, and he had occasionally overhead conversations in English between the guests. Generally, they employed particularly attentive staff, but there was no-one in the hostel lobby this evening, so he was able to leave the building apparently unobserved.
There were few other pedestrians out that late at night, he noticed, as he followed the by now familiar route down to the old bridge. It was an unusually clear night, with almost none of the usual haze over the straights which made it difficult to see the other world. The moonlight augmented the street lighting, casting an uneven illumination over the street and the surrounding darkened buildings.
As Kevin walked along the road leading to the Old Bridge, he could see the causeway and the humped roadway, illuminated by the old-fashioned oil-burning lamps that were placed on poles every twenty feet or so for the entire length of the crossing. As far as he could see, there was absolutely no-one on the crossing at all. This was of itself extremely unusual, as even in the dead of night, he had been told, there was always some late-night walker or weary horse making their way across.
As Kevin got closer, his eye was caught by much brighter lights underneath the bridge. There appeared to be several boats in the water on both sides, under each of the two lesser arches, and tied up to the main arch supports. It was difficult to see at the distance, but it looked like some kind of maintenance work was being undertaken. There were many people working, moving about in the boats urgently and with something of a furtive air.
On the near side, which Kevin could see most easily, the workers were all dressed in dark robes and hoods. Despite the seeming urgency, there was almost no noise; just the occasional groan of loaded machines, and the lap and splash of the sea against the boats. Kevin wondered what they were doing. They seemed to have removed some blocks of stone from the base of the arches, and he thought that something was being rebuilt inside the bridge supports themselves.
Just as Kevin was moving further forward to try and get a better look at the engineering works on the bridge, he heard the slap of hurried footsteps behind him. He turned around, in time to see a breathless and flustered-looking Ricard rushing to catch him up. Ricard looked very worried, even frightened; Kevin thought that he must be overreacting somehow.
"I've been worried about you," gasped Ricard, "You could have got lost, or fallen and hurt yourself."
He urged Kevin away from the bridge, doing something he had never willingly done before: he actually laid hands on Kevin as he tried to turn him away.
Kevin wanted to ask what was being done, what urgent work was being carried out, at the Old Bridge, but he never got an opportunity. In contrast to his normal rather taciturn self, Ricard kept up a constant stream of bright and meaningless chatter on the general theme of "getting lost, risk from thieves and bandits, broken limbs" and so on, and Kevin could not find a way to interrupt him. Ricard shepherded him - Kevin thought the word was entirely apposite - directly back to the hostel, practically scampering alongside in his haste to return him to his proper place.
Back in his room, Kevin lay awake for some time, thinking about what he had just seen and experienced. There was something going on here, something he was not supposed to find out about, and Ricard's bizarre behaviour was the least of it. He began to wonder about the chamber he had been asked to introduce in the base of the support tower on the Mainland side of the new bridge. Was there some hidden purpose for this room? And was there was a similar opening in the tower on the Island side?
After a restless night, Kevin was not at his best when he got up the following morning. The unanswered questions and the unprecedented manner of Ricard's approach to rounding him up, had nagged at him for hours before he fell asleep, and he had been awaked early by bright sunlight through his window.
After breakfast, Kevin ran into Ricard in the hostel lobby. The other man looked grey with exhaustion and his usual grin was absent. Compared with Ricard, Kevin thought, I'm the brightest of sparks this morning. He looks positively dreadful, as if he's not slept at all.
A few days later, Ricard announced that he was going to be replaced. He did not volunteer any explanation, and Kevin decided that it was not politic to pursue the matter. Still, he thought, old Ricard doesn't look very happy about it.
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