Kevin walked with Bret down the slope, as they continued their inspection of the old bridge. Kevin was completely fascinated by the bridge's construction. It seemed to be in astonishingly good condition, with very little sign of damage or even past repair work.
The two men reached the point where the bridge joined the causeway. Here, it was possible to follow a narrow walkway alongside the bridge supports, which led under the nearest arch in much the same way as on the Mainland side.
Bret pointed in the direction of the walkway.
"Shall we take a look under the arch on this side?"
Kevin nodded. "Yes, Okay."
The two men made their way carefully along the damp stone, with Kevin carefully watching where he put his feet on the wet and slippery surface. The orange flecks were confusing with their continual suggestion of movement on the edge of vision. I really don't want to fall in here, he thought, it looks bloody nasty.
They reached a wider section that stretched the width of the bridge. Kevin relaxed, and looked up at the arch stretching above him. He noticed a couple of small areas under the bridge where the sparks seemed to be missing.
"What's happened here?" he asked, indicating the fleck-free regions.
"In the past," answered Bret, "the arches were fitted with traps and mines, with the ability to destroy portions of the bridge. For military reasons, obviously."
Bret explained that, in centuries past, there had been attempts by various rulers, in fits of pride or madness, to mount an invasion over the bridge. Apparently, this had happened twice from the mainland, and once from Lyndesfarne. These attacks had been doomed to failure: there was a huge advantage to the defenders, since they would have full use of their technology or magic, depending, while the attackers would be limited to edged weapons in soft metals.
In spite of this natural advantage, past rulers in both worlds had demanded that the bridge was mined, so that a more determined attack could be thwarted by destroying the only effective route in and out of Lyndesfarne.
"The mines were removed years ago," concluded Bret. "There are similar repairs on the other side, although I guess you didn't notice them."
After a few more minutes inspecting the stonework and construction techniques, the two men edged their way back to the main causeway.
"Shall we complete the crossing now?" asked Bret.
"Yes, yes, OK," said Kevin, in a slightly distracted fashion, reluctant to tear himself away.
"There's someone I need you to meet. And you'll be able to have another look on the way back."
They walked along the causeway which, as on the Mainland side, was slightly curved at a point part-way between bridge and shore. Kevin noticed that the stone blocks of the causeway here were very similar to those on the Mainland side.
"Why are there no sprites in these stones?" he asked Bret.
"There's no need. The natural rock here is quite strong enough, and the weight of the blocks is sufficient to ensure that they do not move, even in the worst of the weather."
Kevin could well believe that. The stone blocks were, if anything, even larger on this side. All in all, he thought, a very impressive piece of engineering.
There was more immediate evidence of human presence on the Lyndesfarne side of the causeway. There were several buildings, including a couple which looked very much like warehouses, as well as some kind of more formal customs and immigration arrangements. They did not seem to be stopping anyone, though, and the two men were casually waved through without even slowing their pace.
Kevin had not noticed these substantial buildings from the mainland side, and he wondered how he could have missed them. He turned, to take in the view back to his world. He could barely make out the coastline at all, though the haze and mist. So I should not be surprised that I could not see these buildings, he considered, but somehow the thought still made him feel slightly uneasy.
Kevin also wondered whether there was anything like warehouses or distribution centres on the mainland side. He was later to find out that there were such things, but that they were kept more discreet. A little way back from the causeway, and not far from the car park where he had deposited his car, there was a large area fenced off and marked "Disused Military Target Area - Keep Out". He suspected that the suggestion of unexploded bombs was more effective at ensuring privacy for the commercial operations than the high fence and barbed wire.
Bret directed him towards an entrance in a shop front marked with a large sign with brown letters on a cream background. For all the briefings from Professor Alan, Kevin realised with a start that he could not read a thing. Both the words and the letters themselves were unintelligible - the letters were all highly angular, with slightly bent strokes in unlikely places.
"Let's get indoors. You're probably feeling chilly."
Kevin did indeed feel cold, as if his Gortex jacket was somehow no longer insulating him from the elements. Of course, he thought, mentally kicking himself, it really is not working properly. If I am to come here often, I'll need to do something about my wardrobe.
They make their way inside the shop, which evidently was some kind of cafe. It was fairly crowded, but Bret indicated an unoccupied table in one corner.
"Take a seat. I'll get something to warm you up."
Bret went to the counter, and spoke quietly to the server. He returned almost immediately carrying two tall slender mugs.
"Hot chocolate," he said to Kevin, "I think you will like this."
Over the steaming mugs, the contents of which Kevin did indeed enjoy, Bret outlined how he thought they should work together. For the most part, they would form their own design teams using people from Bret's organisations, which he translated as the Board of Construction, and from Kevin's company, thereby keeping a minimum level of contact between the worlds. Both Bret and Kevin would designate a deputy, but in general it would just be the two of them who would carry out joint surveying and design activities.
The manner of Bret's words led Kevin to believe that this was not really Bret's opinion, but a dictum laid down by the authorities. Not really a problem, Kevin considered, and consistent with the low-key and deceptive approach that appeared to be maintained on both sides.
Bret also explained that all documents would have to be translated. Kevin would use the services of NISSA, while Bret would prevail upon the Guild of Directions for translations. They would need to convey both the originals and the translations, so that they could be checked in case of any confusion. Couriers would be arranged to ferry paper prints between the design teams.
Kevin, used to instantaneous electronic communications and computer-aided design, thought this all sounded amazingly primitive, and said so.
Bret snorted, then grinned.
"I do understand. If I was designing something under more normal circumstances, there wouldn't be a piece of paper anywhere."
Bret said he had been selected for this role at least partially because he did speak English, which was relatively rare in Lyndesfarne. Apparently, he had been brought up not very far from the bridge, and he had crossed over to Kevin's world as a child on many occasions in the company of various relatives.
"In some ways, it's this bridge that caused me to take up, well, I suppose you would call it civil engineering," he explained. "I was fascinated as a child, both with the idea of another world over there, as well as the nature of the crossing. This led me to read more about bridges, and so to study construction techniques."
Bret had also briefly studied Mainland engineering principles, but confessed that he had not been very successful in understanding them.
"So, we need to work together, using our understanding of the principles of each world. Do you think you can manage that?"
Kevin raised his mug in salute.
"Yes, yes, I can. It's entirely doable. So, here's to our new bridge."
Bret raised his own mug in a matching salute, and they toasted the project in hot chocolate.
Warmed and refreshed, Kevin and Bret left the cafe and headed back towards the causeway. Again, they were waved though the border control point.
"Do they ever stop anyone?" asked Kevin.
"The Guardians? I've never seen them prevent anyone from crossing, in either direction."
"You've got them on your side as well, of course, although they are much more discreet," continued Bret, "I suppose that governments always want to feel they have some measure of control on borders and boundaries."
They walked on, then Bret slowed and directed Kevin towards a slender man in green waterproofs, who appeared to be waiting for them a short way along the causeway. The stranger was of medium height, with short-clipped dark hair, almost non-existent eyebrows and the slightly angular facial features that Kevin would later come to associate with the natives of Lyndesfarne.
"Here's the person you need to meet," said Bret, "Kevin, this is Ricard."
Instinctively, Kevin held out his hand to Ricard, expecting the usual rather stiff and formal handshake between newly-introduced professional colleagues. There was a pause, just long enough for Kevin to realise that something was amiss, before Ricard recovered himself and grasped Kevin's hand in a way that made it clear that shaking hands was not something he was particularly used to.
"Ricard is from the Guild of Directions," explained Bret.
"Yes, indeed," said Ricard, smiling broadly in a manner that made it clear he was trying to recover from an embarrassing situation.
"The Guild of Directions provides guides and mentors for new visitors to Lyndesfarne. The Board thought it best if you were provided with some assistance to find your way about, and to act as a translator. So I'm here to help."
"Very kind, very thoughtful," Kevin replied, doing his best to put Ricard at ease, "Pleased to meet you."
The three men continued back to the bridge, where Kevin spent several fascinating hours in close inspection of the arches construction and both kinds of reinforcements. Ricard waited stoically in the drizzle, grinning inanely whenever he saw Kevin glance in his direction, while Bret seemed almost amused at Kevin's enthusiasm as he clambered up and down, checking closely and even feeling the stonework.
Eventually, Kevin felt he had done enough. He made an appointment to meet with Bret in a few days time, for a longer inspection visit and to arrange a schedule for site survey work for the new bridge. In what would turn out to become a familiar pattern, he would meet Ricard in the Mainland car park, and be guided to wherever he needed to go on the Island. Bret then set off to return to the island side, and Kevin and Ricard made their way back along the causeway to the Mainland.
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