The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 7

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Pub sign showing a tree

That evening, Kevin politely asked Tanji if she would care to accompany him to the local public house for dinner. She looked startled for a moment, so that Kevin thought for a second that he had committed some clumsy social gaffe. But the look went as quickly as it had come and, allowing herself a small smile, she accepted his invitation.

They walked quickly and silently the short distance between the hostel where they were staying and the pub, both of them wrapped up warmly against the chilly night breeze. Kevin had been to this inn before a few times with old frog-face Ricard. He had been told that the pub's name in translation was "The Squirrel's Nest", and the sign outside did indeed show a nest of twigs in a leafless tree. Mind you, if the nest in the tree was to scale, Kevin thought, they had some damn big squirrels around here somewhere.

Stone fireplace with roaring fire

They reached the doorway of the pub, where a stout wooden door stood open. They loosened their outer clothing as they entered, pushing open the inner door. Inside, the scene was familiar to anyone who had been to an English country pub. The same themes were used here as on the Mainland, giving a deliberately "olde worlde" feel. A log fire was burning in the huge fireplace, giving a wonderful sense of warmth and security, with a large supply of split logs drying on the hearth.

A large cat, black with one white boot, had curled up in front of the fire, looking for all the world, thought Kevin, as if it owned the place. As the two of them entered, the cat woke up suddenly, stretched, and then mewed surprisingly loudly. The cat prowled up and down, rubbing itself against Kevin's ankles as if checking them over, and then returned to its place by the fire.

The bar was well-stocked with bottles and hand-pumps for the beer. Although Kevin could not read the words, he recognised a couple of the labels on the pumps. This one, he knew, dispensed something with an astonishing resemblance to Australian lager, while that one provided a very decent strong dry cider - a drink which, as Kevin had already discovered, was for some reason also very popular in the Mainland pubs close to the causeway.

Inside an olde-worlde pub

The rest of the large bar-room was furnished with rough wood chairs, stools and tables, with a stone flag floor and (Kevin suspected) artificially-distressed dark wood beams holding up the uneven ceiling. The lighting was patchy, low-level and erratic, and the beams and walls were decorated with an eclectic collection of horse brasses, faded prints and miscellaneous ancient rural machinery. Kevin felt more comfortable here than anywhere else he had been in Lyndesfarne.

The barkeeper, who had appeared apparently in response to the cat's cries, was a man for whom the term "mine host" had been invented. He appeared to be a superannuated version of an Essex wide boy, with rather pointed facial features, a widow's peak and unfashionably bushy sideburns. He even spoke good English, with a noticeably "sarf Lun'un" accent. Kevin suspected he had spent many years in various parts of England, although the details had never become clear.

Kevin ordered for both of them and, while waiting for the drinks to be served, looked around at the reproductions of old maps and engravings that sporadically decorated the walls. The island that represented his world was shown to be larger than on the modern maps he had seen. He noticed that the site of the old bridge was marked with two short causeways or jetties, and what he took to be a ferry route between them.

That there was a ferry crossing long before the bridge was no surprise to Kevin. After all, boats and ferries were the only available way of crossing open water before large-scale bridge-building became possible. However, the pre-existent ferry had never been mentioned in any of the discussions and briefings Kevin had sat through.

Old map of Lyndesfarne

He carried the drinks over to the table where Tanji was waiting, and asked her about the old ferry crossing.

"Well, there is a story you might like to hear," she said, thoughtfully, twisting her wineglass by its stem. "It is known as 'The Legend of the Ferryman', if I have the translation right. That's him over there."

Lyndesfarne ferryman

She pointed at a faded print on the wall. The picture showed a tall man in voluminous oiled leather waterproofs, with a hood drawn up over his head. He had a grizzled beard and what looked like a well-chewed long-stemmed pipe emerged from within it.

Kevin immediately realised two things. First, he had seen variations of this figure in pictures and motifs all over this part of Lyndesfarne. He was always engaged in various obsolete transportation activities - rowing, sailing, or guiding walkers across the sand dunes. Second, none of the pictures had ever shown the man's eyes.

"Before the Old Bridge, and indeed before the causeway" Tanji began, "the crossing was perilous in the extreme. The sands were treacherous, the currents and tides, hazardous, the weather, unpredictable."

Not much change there, then, thought Kevin, but said nothing. He took a sip from his beer, and waited for her to continue.

"To cross, you had to walk the sands in single file to the ferry, following closely the person in front so as not to get separated. Then you and your companions had to row across the open water. The Ferryman was your guide - he steered the boat, held the lantern, and directed you along the safe path over the mudflats. He was never known to row himself. There are many Ferryman stories: all concerned with heroic adventures, great deeds of rescue, and the saving of many lives under strange and desperate circumstances."

Tanji was speaking in a low voice, as if slightly worried by what she was saying. Kevin had to lean forward across the small pub table to catch her words, so that his head was just a few inches from hers. Out of the corner of his eye, Kevin saw Mine Host behind the bar flashing the pair of them a strange look, but he ignored it, and kept his attention on the woman next to him. He could feel the warmth of her body now, as they were so close. The faint scent from her hair was enough to make him catch his breath.

"The strange thing is," she continued, "is that the Ferryman is thought to have existed as long as the Other World was known - I mean, your homeland, of course."

Kevin muttered something self-deprecatingly and toyed with his beer glass.

"He is a heroic character, but his name has never been heard. He appears to have lived for hundreds of years, maybe even thousands of years. Perhaps he was in fact many people, like a Guild of some sort, or maybe a traditional role being handed down from father to son?" This seemed a rational and suitably medieval historical explanation to Kevin, but Tanji seemed just a little uncertain.

He could see the rest of the history without having to be told. Over the years, the paths over the sands had been first marked and then built up with stones brought from either side. Eventually, larger blocks had been quarried, transported by some combination of ox-cart and prodigious human effort, and set deep in the sands to form the causeways, the ends of the causeways forming jetties for the ferry, which could even now still be seen as part of the supports for the old bridge.

Belatedly, Kevin realised that he had noted the steps and bollards of the ferry jetties when he was inspecting the bridge and causeway, but it had not occurred to him that these were much older than the bridge itself.

With the causeways in place, the intrepid traveller could travel between the worlds with much reduced risk and, in fair weather, without even getting his boots wet. Presumably, the Ferryman, whoever he was, encouraged the construction of the pathway and later the causeway, since it reduced the risk both to himself and to the travellers he was guiding.

Lyndesfarne ferry jetty

Later still, of course, the causeways were the routes over which the still larger stone blocks that formed the old bridge were transported.

"So," he asked, "What happened to the Ferryman when the bridge was built?"

Hello again Kithyn.
Kevin surprised me this evening. He asked me out for dinner! In a pub! I have not been in a pub for years or for that matter out for dinner with a man. The whole idea was quite a shock. I was not sure at first whether to accept, but I thought that Kevin would be company of a sort, I suppose, in a quiet sort of a way. And it would certainly be better than spending an evening alone in a hostel room.
Tonight I told Kevin the Legend of the Ferryman. Is that the correct translation, do you think? It seemed so strange to tell this familiar tale in English. It is so much a part of the history of the Guild, and yet speaking it aloud with my limited translation skills made me hear the story as if for the first time.
Then Kevin asked me a question I could not answer; what happened to the Ferryman after the construction of the bridge? I have never heard any explanation! Not have I found any mention of what happened in my history books. What do you think?
I spent all evening in that pub, with Kevin, having dinner and drinking just a little bit too much wine. (He drank beer - so like a man!) I enjoyed the food, too, although it was nothing like home cooking.
Kevin was really rather charming, and I found his anecdotes highly amusing. He told me about some of the places he had been in his world, too. It really is such a strange and wonderful place.
Kevin was so witty and entertaining, and much better company than I would have thought. But I still sense there is some deep sadness in him - I would like to find out more about him, I think.
So good to hear that the boys are doing well, and growing so quickly too. This is the nature of teenagers, I think.
It is late at night now, so I will close here.
With very best wishes from your old friend Tanji.

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