Tanji led Kevin across the gardens to a small and exceedingly picturesque seating area which overlooked the paddocks where the horses grazed, and then out towards a range of low hills that seemed preternaturally green and rolling on the sunny morning. The patio was paved with rustic flagstones, and shaded by high hedges and a green-and-white striped parasol, under which were arranged several cane chairs and a low table. Kevin was tempted to use the term "romantic arbour" to describe it, despite his inherent tendency to avoid such overtly flowery expressions.
While they were walking, Tanji explained that she had already talked to her Uncle about the events of the last few days.
"He said he was very keen to speak to you directly," she continued, "and he apologises again for not being here to see you earlier."
"So we will meet him here?" Kevin asked, looking around the gardens.
"He'll be along very soon, I'm sure. He's famous for being punctual," she replied, adding with a raised eyebrow, "Amongst other things."
Kevin was just about to enquire further about her Uncle's prominent characteristics when Tanji's glance over his shoulder told him that the eminent man was on his way. He turned to look for himself. A stranger was walking across the well-trimmed lawns towards them, moved in a slow, even stately, but nevertheless distinctly grand fashion.
He was a portly man, slightly shorter than Kevin, with thinning grey hair cut very short. He was wearing the inevitable Lyndesfarne robes in crimson decorated with white insets. His face bore an expression that seemed to Kevin to be mid-way between avuncular good humour, and statesman-like astuteness and gravitas. Certainly, he had both the bearing and attitude that managed to make the brightly-coloured robes he wore look majestic rather than comical.
Tanji turned to her Uncle in greeting, who kissed her chastely on the cheek. He then nodded politely but wordlessly to Kevin, although made no move to offer his hand, and Kevin successfully resisted the temptation to extend his own in greeting. He also made no attempt to introduce himself, or to offer a name. Kevin rather got the impression that he was a man who everyone, or at least anyone who was anyone, was expected to know by reputation.
Tanji's Uncle settled himself in one of the seats, taking care to arrange his clothing in a way that left Kevin in no doubt that this was a man entirely familiar with the practicalities of wearing voluminous robes. Once he had settled, Tanji sat down, with Kevin extending a hand for assistance in a kind of politeness autopilot. He then found his own seat, and focussed his awareness on the older man. Sensing his attention, her Uncle spoke several sentences that Kevin could not begin to follow. Tanji translated immediately.
"My uncle says that, while he does understand a little English, he is not easily able to speak the language. He has asked me to interpret for him. He hopes that this will not be too painful for you."
Kevin realised that he should have anticipated the need for language translating during this meeting. He spoke directly to Tanji.
"Are you OK with interpreting?"
"Oh, yes. I was trained for it. Though I might be a little bit rusty, is that the correct expression?"
Kevin suppressed an internal smile at Tanji's remark and then turned to her Uncle.
"Please reassure your Uncle that your interpretations will be more than adequate," he said formally, "And ask him if there is any advice he would like to give a poor fugitive from the other world."
Tanji smoothly translated his words. The older man grunted and nodded in a fashion that suggested to Kevin that he was more satisfied that he had expected to be. He then spoke several rapid sentences, and then waited for Tanji to translate.
"It seems that you have been causing a certain amount of consternation with your unexpected crossing. Perhaps a certain amount of explanation is in order," Tanji said, with a slightly sing-song inflection which sounded to Kevin amazingly similar to the intonation used by her Uncle.
"In particular, let me explain about how the communications between your world and ours is controlled."
With the aid of Tanji's interpretation, the older man explained that there were two factions in the world of Lyndesfarne concerned with exchanges with Kevin's world. Neither group were official government organisations, so that they operated at arms-length from the formal administration on the Island. Nevertheless, the government actively colluded with the misinformation campaigns that diverted public attention away from the existence of the Other World. Apparently, there were organisations with similar objectives on the Mainland, although Kevin came to suspect that these groups operated collaboratively between the two worlds, with members on both sides.
The first of the two factions was exemplified by the Guardians. This organisation's publicly-stated aim was to actively facilitate travel and communications across the straights. Even so, the Guardians recognised that there had to be restrictions on the persons, as well as the goods, which were permitted to travel between the worlds. So, part of their role was visibly policing the crossing.
Kevin had been listening to Tanji's reproduction of her Uncle's words with polite but unfeigned interest. He had already observed the Guardians in action, and was anxious to ask a question, but did not feel at all confident about interrupting the grand old man in mid-spiel. His enthusiasm must have been noticed, since Tanji stopped speaking at this point, and her Uncle spoke directly to him in English for the first time.
"You have a question?" he said, in heavily accented but entirely understandable English.
"Yes, indeed," Kevin responded promptly. "I've seen the Guardians at the Old Bridge many times, but they never seemed to intercept anyone or stop any wagons from crossing. So, are they really that effective?"
Tanji's Uncle waited for her to translate Kevin's words, then grunted and nodded, apparently to himself. He then started speaking again, with Tanji picking up the translation after a short delay.
The Guardian's approach was essentially that of a visible deterrent. Anyone judged to be unsuitable to be allowed into the other world, and was attempting to cross the Old Bridge openly, would be immediately intercepted. However, after so many years, the reputation of the effectiveness of the Guardians was exceptionally - and mostly justifiably - very high, and so almost no-one even attempted to cross the Old Bridge with contraband goods.
Kevin nodded through this explanation, and the older man continued. The closest thing to formal control over trade between the two worlds is the Board for the Protection of Mutual Interests. Here, Tanji appeared to stop the translation, and interjected in her own tone of voice.
"The name of the Board is notoriously difficult to translate. The terms I just used are a fairly direct transliteration, but not particularly idiomatic. So it's often just referred to as the Board of Control."
Reverting to translation mode, she explained that the Board is in overall control of procedures and relationships with the Other World. In particular, it limits by regulation the permitted travel and trade. It sets official policies on what is allowed to cross over, and it is responsible for maintaining the barriers preventing the movements of technology and magic between the two worlds.
Kevin was getting confused and agitated again. He had hitherto thought that the barriers separating his world from Lyndesfarne were entirely natural, and now he was being told that the effect was artificial. He could also see Tanji's eyes bulging slightly as she interpreted, as if her brain were only realising just what she had heard and translated. Kevin took it as read that this was new information to Tanji as well.
He took the liberty of interrupting the old man to ask for clarification. Tanji's translation seemed to take longer than he expected, and he got the distinct impression that she was adding her own comments and questions.
Tanji's Uncle considered the matter gravely for a long moment before answering. He explained that the interface between the worlds provided a natural conduit for magical properties, but the effect of disabling all but the most primitive technologies, and all but the weakest magics, is actually a deliberate result. Sprites designed to identify and disable advanced engineering and powerful magic were interjected into the interface; new sprites were added regularly as advances in technology were identified.
Kevin and Tanji sat silently for a few moments after the older man had delivered this bombshell.
"Wow," said Kevin eventually, speaking directly to Tanji, "So we've just stumbled on something which is supposed to be secret."
Tanji still seemed shell-shocked. Kevin reached over and shook her gently.
"Are you OK?"
She roused herself, clutching Kevin's hand for support.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine, more-or-less. I just feel like a solid foundation for my world has been removed."
"Can you translate again?"
Tanji took a deep breath.
"Yes, no problem."
Tanji's Uncle retuned to his main theme. He explained that the Watchers were agents for the Board of Control, and gave the distinct impression, in a roundabout way, that they were a kind of secret police. He explained that both the Guardians and the Watchers used magical means to keep track of travellers and their goods crossing the causeway. The Watchers also checked that the Guardians are doing their job effectively, and were not accepting bribes, for example, from avaricious wagon drivers.
Relationships between the Guardians and the Board of Control was usually cordial, although sometimes it became somewhat strained. The system of mutual checks and balances, with the Guardians actively promoting cross-world trade and cultural exchanges, and the Watchers ensuring that the rules were obeyed, had been in existence for a long time, and was thought to be working well. Kevin was starting to understand the need for separation of roles in the management of the borders, and was beginning to wonder whether there was a similar split of responsibilities in the organisations in his own world.
"But what about the Guild of Directions?" asked Kevin, taking advantage of a pause in Tanji's translation.
Again, her Uncle considered this question sagely before answering. His reply amplified Kevin's previous understanding that the Guild existed for the provision of guides and interpreters to assist travellers, with the obvious intention of facilitating commerce and trade. The Guild was broadly aligned with the Guardians, although individual members sponsored by both persuasions could be found. Tanji added, using her own voice, that she and her Uncle, as well as her parents, were members of the Guild.
"Yes, well," Kevin muttered, "All very interesting, I suppose, but what's it got to do with me?"
To his slight consternation, Tanji rapidly translated his words, and her Uncle responded immediately. Purely by chance, he stated, the two of you managed to evade both the Watchers and the Guardians in your crossing. Apparently, his contacts amongst the Watchers were particularly put out, especially after your disappearance from the University.
"So are we safe here?" Kevin asked urgently. "Me and Tanji, I mean."
At the translation, the older man laughed.
"Oh yes," Tanji translated, "It's all a bit of a misunderstanding."
The Guardians had not yet been stationed at the New Bridge, since it had not been widely communicated that work had started on joining the two parts. Instead, they had been concentrating on the old bridge, following their conventional role. Only the night-watch guard at the Mainland construction site for the New Bridge raised the alarm, and even then they were not sure if anyone actually made it across. The stormy weather had made it more difficult for the Watchers to spot them, especially as they had travelled so far on foot. Privately, Kevin was sure that this situation had now been corrected, and that it would now not be so easy to cross unobserved using the New Bridge.
"How did they manage to miss us?" he asked. "Did they not use any magical means of observation?"
Tanji translated this question, and her Uncle slowly shook his head. The problem, he explained, is that watching the borders to your world is an exceptionally intensive process, and requires a considerable amount of human effort. Use of magic helps only a little, since complex decisions can only made by human minds. Close observation is really only effective because the crossing is fairly small, and everyone undertaking the crossing is funnelled through a relatively narrow area.
"But surely the magical barrier gives a blanket coverage preventing undesirable transfers?" Kevin asked. "Why does anyone have to watch the crossing at all?"
Tanji translated quickly. Her Uncle paused for another lengthy period. Tanji seemed unnaturally still and quiet, just waiting for him to continue.
The moment passed, and he began to explain to Kevin about the disruptive effect of steel. Historically, the full impact of the effect of the use of iron and steel in the Old Bridge was not appreciated until it was too late. The reinforcement in the bridge, even though it was mostly confined to the Mainland side, was enough to cause the effects of the barrier to be intermittent. So, there were some infrequent accidents, where technology or magic was allowed into the other world.
"So that's why my paperweight still worked, while all the other stuff was useless?"
Tanji again translated the question, and her Uncle nodded in response.
"But why bother at all?" Kevin persisted. "What is the purpose of the Guardians and the Watchers? Why not just permit unlimited travel to everyone?"
Tanji's uncle glanced over Kevin shoulder, and then said a few words which she did not translate, but did make her laugh out loud. Kevin was beginning to adore that uninhibited laugh and wide smile.
"What's that?" Kevin exclaimed.
"My uncle just reminded me of something, and suggests that I tell you about it," Tanji said, unsuccessfully attempting to hide the smile behind her hand.
"Well, OK. Whatever you like," Kevin responded, finding himself unable to stop smiling in return.
Her uncle stood up, nodded politely to Kevin and then wandered off sedately in the direction of the house. They watched him go, then Kevin turned to Tanji in anticipation.
"Remember we were talking about Plesiosaurs earlier on?" she asked.
"Well, there's a story that, many years back, someone - or some group, more likely - managed to smuggle an egg into your world, and to keep it warm enough to hatch."
Tanji explained that hatching eggs from large seafaring reptiles was known to be fairly tricky, and required some specialist knowledge, a highly effective incubator, and a fair bit of luck. It was a complete mystery how the perpetrators got the egg past the Watchers in the first place.
Whoever it was, they kept the animal for several years, although how they managed to feed it and keep it hidden no one knows. Then, in the natural course of things, the animal grew too large, and it somehow escaped (or perhaps they just released it) into some lake up north somewhere. Apparently, the conspirators made several failed attempts to re-capture it, but their activities attracted the attention of the authorities and they were forced to abandon their prize.
Over the next few years, the creature was spotted by various locals, especially around dawn when it came to the surface to feed on plants at the lakeside.
"The poor creature," concluded Tanji, "It didn't really like the cold and fresh water, and died after not very many years. Or perhaps it was just lonely." she added wistfully.
A degree of inevitability had been growing in Kevin's mind while Tanji was relating this story.
"It was the Loch Ness Monster, wasn't it?" he asked, more to keep the conversation going rather than for any real need for confirmation.
"There's always been some, well, I suppose leakage is the word, between your world and mine. It's been happening for centuries and, in moderation, it's not an issue. But if it ever got to be more than a trickle, then there would be a real problem. And that, of course, is exactly what the Watchers are worried about."
Kevin thought he understood the point of the parable. It had become clear to him that at least some of the rumours, the strange and apparently unexplained stories in his world, had been caused by unauthorised (or perhaps just accidental) usage of magical artefacts or other imports from the world of Lyndesfarne. He was beginning to understand the effects of any cross-over between the worlds and the troublesome effect it could have on society. Even so, he found himself wondering just what kind of things leak in the opposite direction. And, more directly, why had it provoked such an extreme reaction from Professor Alan and the mysterious person he was taking instructions from.
My dearest Kithyn,
I am so glad to hear that you are finally on your way. Thank you, thank you once again for agreeing to hurry off to meet me.
Looking forward to seeing you again.
Your old friend, Tanji.
|© 2006-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 15 March 2008|