The previous night, Kevin and Tanji had returned from the pub slightly tipsy and arm in arm. Kevin was sure that she had given him a peck on the cheek before they went their separate ways to their rooms. Perhaps I just imagined it, he thought, although I did sleep unusually well, and I definitely feel really good this morning.
Kevin was waiting in the reception area of the hostel. From previous experience he knew that, although some of the hostel staff did speak a little English, it was usually better to have a translator nearby in case of any difficulty. He grinned to himself at the thought of Tanji. She appeared after only a few minutes wait, and rewarded his patience with a bright smile.
"Sleep well?" he asked.
"Very well, yes." she answered, looking at him thoughtfully for a moment.
"Great. Me too. Let's go, shall we?"
Kevin was able to pay for the accommodation without incident, carefully counting out the Lyndesfarne money he had changed yesterday. He was not entirely confident with the special properties of the currency, and cautiously left the coins loose in the bag he had received them in. Even though he had paid for drinks and dinner last night, he was pleased to find that he still had a few of the large coins left.
The short walk from the front entrance of the hostel to what Kevin thought of as the car park, took them past a series of small shops. He had passed these shops before, but had never felt inclined to go in. Today, however, he stopped in front of a particular window, his eye caught by a display of glass objects.
Tanji had continued on ahead, but now turned and was watching Kevin with an expression of mild amusement. She walked back to where he was standing.
"Do you want to take a look?" she asked.
"Yes, why not? Although, to be honest, I don't even know what I'm looking at."
Tanji pushed open the door, and they entered together. A discrete chime sounded, but Kevin could not determine the source. Inside, the shop was larger than it appeared, and was filled floor to ceiling with, as rapidly became clear to Kevin, trinkets and curios.
Tanji greeted the shopkeeper, a tiny dark-haired girl who had appeared behind the counter presumably in response to the chimes. Kevin mumbled the few words he had been told meant "good morning", and was immediately flummoxed by a rapid stream of syllables. Tanji smoothly intercepted the conversation, and Kevin gratefully stepped away to take a closer look at the bits and pieces on offer.
The confusing array of objet d'art were tastefully laid out on what appeared to be glass shelves, though a tap from Kevin's exploratory fingernail suggested a material more akin to a hard plastic. The items were brightly lit, although there was no apparent source of light. Kevin was by now quite familiar with source-less lighting which he had encountered on his previous visits to Lyndesfarne; he now knew it was the mirrors on the walls that were emitting the light, as well as reflecting the view from the front.
Kevin spent ten minutes browsing assisted by Tanji, who had joined him after completing her chat with the shop assistant. He finally picked up what appeared to be a heavy glass paperweight which he discovered, after a short exchange with the shopkeeper mediated by Tanji, to be magically enhanced to predict the weather. She showed him the small icons, clearly visible inside the glass, which would change depending on tomorrow's weather conditions, as well as repeating the gesture (by now long-practiced by Kevin) to make the device light up from within.
Kevin was completely enchanted with the ornament. He had not hitherto bothered much with mementoes, but this seemed as good a time as any to make a change. Besides, he thought, it will be useful over here, and so what if it will not work on the Mainland - the weathermen rarely get it right at home. But it does look rather good, and it would make an interesting talking point on my desk.
With Tanji's help, he paid for the paperweight, which was then carefully wrapped in what appeared to be cushioned tissue paper, and then in a colourful tapestry bag. He stuffed the bag carefully in the top of his rucksack, padding it with odd items of laundry from his overnight stay. He nodded politely to the assistant as Tanji thanked her, and the two of them set off for the new bridge site.
Kevin's purpose today, and indeed the principal reason for his trip to Lyndesfarne on this occasion, was to inspect the centre of the bridge, where the two worlds met. This was a key part of the whole project and one where, despite the best effort of the design teams, there was a considerable amount of uncertainty about the outcome.
The two halves of the New Bridge were by now almost complete. On the Mainland side, the massive tension cables supporting the road deck where already in place, firmly anchored in tons of concrete and set into the bedrock. On the Island side, too, the road deck was already mostly in place, but here the supports were only just visible, being made from nothing solid at all and appearing as shimmering translucent sheets forming giant triangular sails caught between tower and roadway.
This morning, the weather was fair and bright, with just a light breeze blowing from the direction of the Mainland. Kevin's plan was to walk the Island-side bridge first, checking the roadbed and the arrangements for construction of the cross-over joint, and then go on to inspect the underside by boat.
Kevin stood and viewed the bridge, and then looked around at the near-cloudless sky and calm blue sea. He waved to the site foreman, who he knew by sight, and requested Tanji to ask the man if he could re-arrange the afternoon's boat trip for this morning. The foreman's answer was lengthy, but Tanji translated his words rapidly, indicating the weather looked good, the boat was available and that they should be at the construction dock in thirty minutes time.
Kevin's new plan was to take a short boat trip to the centre of the bridge, perform a visual check and then return to the starting-point at the construction docks. He was aware of the incredibly changeable weather, both by reputation and from first-hand experience, but the clear sky persuaded him that this would be a good time for the trip.
A little later, he and Tanji arrived at the small harbour which had been constructed to facilitate the bridge-building work. Since they would be travelling into the zone where magic failed, all of the sophisticated craft tied up here would be useless. They made their way to the smallest and most primitive boat at the dock, which was built from wood in a traditional fashion. The boat was crewed by four oarsmen, dressed in the now-familiar capes, under the captaincy of a grizzled coxswain that looked like he was auditioning for a bit-part in a skull-and-crossbones movie.
It was a swift trip out, with powerful strokes of the oars making short work of the distance to the bridge. Tanji sat in the bow, again writing on her magic slate, with Kevin sitting behind her. They arrived under the centre of the bridge and, at a short command, the rowers shipped their oars. Kevin stood, already looking up at the gap in the bridge, thirty feet or more above his head, and started rapid scribbling in his notebook, completely lost in his own thoughts and concerns.
Tanji noticed the coxswain standing in the stern, smoking a pipe and doing a fair impersonation of the picture of the Ferryman she and Kevin had seen the previous evening. The wind picked up suddenly, and veered around, making the boat rock violently. Both Kevin and the coxswain stumbled and grabbed the gunwales for support.
Tanji pointed and shouted out in a way that made them all turn to look.
"Look at that!" she shouted again, repeating herself in English for Kevin's benefit.
Heading towards them at an impossible speed was a wall of cloud, dark and swirling violently in a terrifying fashion, filling the full width of the straights from coast to coast and completely blotting out the sky.
For all his piratical appearance, the coxswain reacted quickly and efficiently. The crew needed little urging to take up their oars, and the boat turned around to head back to Lyndesfarne. The wind swung around further and got a lot stronger, while the sea picked up a considerable chop, making the boat rock alarmingly and threatening to capsize them. The temperature had dropped dramatically, and increasingly heavy squally rain was making it difficult to see more than a few yards.
Kevin and Tanji held tightly to the gunwales, unsure of what to do. Tanji's slate, which had been resting on the seat next to her, had fallen and was now at risk of being tossed over the side by the violent movement of the boat. Kevin loosened his grip with one hand, stuffed his notebook into the pocket of his waterproof, and then grabbed the slate just before it disappeared overboard.
Tanji mouthed something that looked like "thanks", but the noise of the wind and rain made it impossible to hear what she had actually said. Kevin grasped the slate between his knees, braced his feet and clung on as tight as he could with both hands. Now I really know the true meaning of the expression "white knuckle ride", he thought grimly.
With what sounded suspiciously like a swearword, the coxswain bellowed at his labouring crew and then hauled the tiller over. The boat swung about, now running ahead of the storm and away from the Lyndesfarne shore. The waves no longer threatened to capsize the craft, but the wind and waves drove them forward at such a speed that gave them no opportunity to turn back.
Kevin could see that they were now headed for the Mainland construction dock. It was the only possible place to go where they could be safe. Further shouted commands from the coxswain and prodigious efforts from all of the crew finally navigated them into the slight shelter of the dock, and towards the quay. Somehow, their cries for assistance were heard through the roaring of the wind, and several men from the shore braved the elements to secure the boat, and then assist the crew and passengers into the cover of a nearby temporary office building.
Once through the door, both Kevin and Tanji immediately collapsed onto seats, shaking with cold and shock. The oarsmen, exhausted after their exertions, could barely stand either, and even the coxswain appeared somewhat shaken. The wind was causing the flimsy structure of the building to rattle in an alarming manner, and the raindrops bounced off the windows seemingly in an effort to punch their way through.
After a few moments to catch his breath and his thoughts, Kevin looked around at the people in the room. There were half a dozen construction workers inside, several of whom were dripping wet having just assisted the boat party. Kevin noticed that they were all getting strange looks from some of the construction crew members. He suddenly realised that this should not be surprised by this. The construction work was handled separately for each half of the bridge, and deliberate and careful plans were made to keep the Island and Mainland teams of building workers apart.
Tanji's presence in particular seemed to be unnerving some people. She had had no opportunity during the sudden arrival of the storm to change her appearance, and her unshapeshifted form was disconcertingly far from conventional on the Mainland. Additionally, both coxswain and crew were attracting attention but more, Kevin thought, from their dress than from their physical form.
Despite feeling that he would never be able to move his hands and feet again, Kevin stood and moved over to talk to the construction crew. His conventional appearance and educated British English accent had the immediate effect of de-stressing the situation, and he was able to explain briefly about the inspection work he was undertaking, and the sudden and unexpected arrival of the storm.
The atmosphere in the office improved markedly. The construction workers bustled around, offering hot drinks, warm towels and the use of the changing rooms to get dried off. Tanji accepted the offer of towels immediately, and was enthusiastically directed by several of the construction workers to the shower room.
Kevin managed to intercept her for long enough to ask her to find out what the boat crew wanted to do. Tanji detoured and spoke at some length to the coxswain, before returning to Kevin. She informed him that the crew would prefer to wait out the storm here, then inspect their boat and, if it was still sound, return to Lyndesfarne directly. Without waiting for further discussion, she clutched her towel and ducked into the showers.
Kevin explained the position to the construction crew, and then waited patently for Tanji to emerge. She did so, after a surprisingly short interval and smiled at Kevin, who took this as a cue to move to use the facilities himself. In the cramped shower room, he was able to get warmed up and get his clothes mostly dry, but he had no opportunity to get really comfortable. Still feeling damp and sticky, he returned to the office area to find Tanji completing the translation of an exchange between the construction and boat crews.
Spotting Kevin's return, Tanji nodded to the crews and walked over. Acting on impulse, Kevin asked her whether she would like to go somewhere more comfortable to get really warm and thoroughly dry.
"Where do you have in mind?" she asked.
"Well, I'm conscious that your appearance is quite, umm, well, distinctive and might attract a certain amount of attention over here. So, why not let me drive you to my place, and you can bathe and relax as much as you like. And we can come back in the morning."
Tanji thought for a moment, and then smiled in a cheeky, perhaps even mischievous manner.
"Yes, why not? The crew seem to be comfortable enough here. But how are we going to get to your residence?"
"I'll go and get the car," Kevin replied, out of an immediate gentlemanly impulse, and then mentally steeling himself for a lengthy walk in the rain.
As it turned out, he need not have worried. The storm seemed to have dissipated nearly as quickly as it had appeared, and Tanji quickly agreed that a brisk walk in the rapidly easing rain would be preferable to spending much more time cooped up in this overcrowded office. After further short exchanges with the coxswain (by Tanji) and the construction crew (by Kevin), they gathered their belongings and set out together.
Good morning, Kithyn.
What a lovely morning! I'm sitting in the sunshine, in a boat almost exactly between our world and the Other World. I can see the entire length of the new bridge from here, and an incredible sight it is, too.
I was wondering if it would be possible for us to meet again soon. Wouldn't it be fun to chat in person, rather than sending messages all the time? You could tell me more about your family, and I can ask you what you think of Kevin. I would appreciate your feelings and advice.
I would also like to thank you for your offer of help. I am not sure how or when I would ever need to take up your offer, but rest assured that, if I am ever in a difficult situation, I will certainly prevail upon you for assistance.
As always, very best wishes from your old friend Tanji.
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