The story is set in the early twenty-first century, with the action split between our own world and the mysterious world of Lyndesfarne. In Lyndesfarne, everyday technology from our own world simply fails to work, but a society every bit as sophisticated as our own is supported by pervasive magic.
Alternating chapters are set in the present time and at various points in the past. Chapters set in the present are terminated by letters (sent by magic slate) from Tanji to her friend Kithyn, until the two women met again in person.
Disclaimer: The world of Lyndesfarne described in these books is entirely fictitious, and bears no resemblance to the charming Holy Island of Lindisfarne in North East England.
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We meet Kevin, a talented but lonely forty-something civil architect. He is inspecting the Old Bridge and causeway that forms the link between the our world and the world of Lyndesfarne. He is musing on the nature of the magical barrier between the Two Worlds, as well as the economics of trade across the straights. He then goes to meet Tanji who at this point has been his guide (from the Guild of Directions) for a scant few weeks.
A year or two earlier, Kevin attends a rather discreet kick-off meeting for the New Bridge project, in the Manchester office of his employers, an international firm of architects. He encounters Tweedledum (Duncan Tweedy). He also meets both Bret and Panit for the first time, who are introduced as the representatives from the Lyndesfarne Board of Construction. The lengthy meeting, chaired by David Macmillan, is Kevin's first introduction to the mysterious magical properties of the Other World.
The following day, Kevin drives to Newcastle to meet Professor Alan Wilmington, head of the Newcastle Institute of Special Sciences and Arts (NISSA). Professor Alan and his colleagues give Kevin an introductory briefing on Lyndesfarne and the special properties of magic in the Other World.
Tanji guides Kevin across the causeway, stopping briefly to exchange money in the Tourist Information Office and to intercept some gossip about the increase in appearance of the Watchers. Kevin cogitates on the nature of goods transported by the horse-drawn wagons over the crossing, and on the slightly elfin appearance of Lyndesfarne natives.
Kevin's memorable first visit to the site of the Lyndesfarne crossing. He meets Bret who is to be his counterpart and will be designing the Lyndesfarne part of the New Bridge, with Kevin himself responsible for the England portion. Kevin and Bret together inspect the Old Bridge, and Kevin first understands that quite different techniques will be necessary for the two halves of the New Bridge. Kevin also encounters the magical orange sparkles of sprites for the first time, which are being used as reinforcements for the Lyndesfarne part of the Old Bridge.
Kevin and Tanji arrive at the Lyndesfarne side of the causeway. Kevin witnesses Tanji shapeshifting for the first time. Tanji explains more about shapeshifting in Lyndesfarne society. Tanji transports Kevin to the site of the New Bridge in her personal transport, guiding the device with magical gestures. Kevin also demonstrates some facility with these guestures. Kevin compiles a report on the progress of the New bridge, while Tanji writes a chatty note to Kithyn, before they travel to the Walled Garden, a local hostel.
Bret and Kevin continue their inspection of the Old Bridge and confirm their approach over mugs of hot chocolate. Later, Bret introduces Kevin to Ricard, his first Guide from the Guild of Directions. After completing his inspection, Kevin returns to the Mainland.
Kevin invites Tanji to join him for an informal dinner at the Squirrel's Nest public house. There, Kevin and Tanji become closer, and he learns more about the ferry route used before the Old Bridge was built, as well as the legend of the Ferryman.
Kevin returns to his Manchester flat, thinking deeply about the technical problems to be solved in order to construct the New Bridge. Over a takeawy Chinese meal, he considers the problem of joining the the halves of the bridge, in the region where (because of the effects of the barrier) neither magic nor technology is entirely reliable.
Kevin also builds computer simulations of the entire New Bridge, to re-assure himself that it can be completed successfully, and also to learn more about the nature of magic.
The morning after their date in the Squirrel's Nest public house, Kevin and Tanji leave the Walled Garden. En route to the crossing, and on a whim, Kevin buys a paperweight in a curio shop, which has been magically enhanced to predict the weather.
Kevin, accompanied by Tanji, undertakes an inspection of the New Bridge (by now almost completed> in a crewed rowing boat captained by the coxswain. A sudden storm puts their lives in danger, and they are forced to take shelter on the England side of the crossing. Cold and wet, Kevin invites Tanji to return to his flat to freshen up.
Shortly after Kevin's first exposure to the strange properties of Lyndesfarne, he attends another planning meeting in Manchester. Tweedledum, Bret and Panit are all in attendance. The meeting is again chaired by David Macmillan and boringly introduced by Kenneth Nasterton.
New project managers from Kevin's company (Peter Brenner) and the Board of Construction (Quarl and Craz) are introduced, as are ineffective assistants for Bret (Farmill) and Kevin (Smudger Greysmith). Kevin and Bret present their outline design for the New Bridge, to general approval.
Kevin and Tanji drive to Kevin's flat. After bathing, Kevin cooks dinner, and plies Tanji with wine, as they talk about life, cooking and computer simulations. Coming to some kind of decision, Tanji invites Kevin to take her to bed.
Another intensive briefing for Kevin from Professor Alan Wilmington of NISSA. From Professor Alan, Kevin learns a little of the language of Lyndesfarne, and he also gets a lesson in how to manage without technological artefacts from Doctor Linda Braxton. Confused, Kevin begins to wonder about inconsistencies in the things which do, and do not, work in each of the Two Worlds.
Kevin and Tanji sleep together overnight, and shower together in the morning. While Kevin is shaving, Tanji finds the paperweight they had bought earlier, and discovers that it still works. Other magical items in their posession do not function, however. Kevin now has definite proof that it is sometimes posible to get magical artefacts through the barrier between the worlds.
During an earlier stay in the Walled Garden hostel, Kevin discovers more about the nature of living in a magical world. Unable to sleep one night, Kevin elects to take an unaccompanied stroll to the moonlit causeway. He discovers secretive work being carried out on the arches of the Old Bridge but, before he can investigate further, he is discovered and escorded away by an alarmed Ricard. Ricard is replaced as Kevin's guide by Tanji a few days later.
Feeling slightly paranoid, Kevin quizzes Tanji on whether she had special instructions to spy on him. Tanji denies this hotly, and a certain coolness descends between them. More gently, Kevin asks Tanji about the Guild of Directions and his ability to wander around in Lyndesfarne unaccompanied, if he wanted to. Reassured, and fortified with coffee and breakfast, Kevin and Tanji debate what to do about the discovery of powerful magic still working and finally decide to visit Professor Alan of NISSA.
Kevin, accompanied by Bret and Ricard, travel by horse and trap to a Board of Construction building in Lyndesfarne for a meeting to discuss the progress of the New Bridge. Kevin understands more about the Lyndesfarne propensity to construct buildings underground, and is introduced to the magical windows which let natural daylight into every floor.
Kevin and Tanji arrive at NISSA and quickly locate Professor Alan in his office. They explain about the paperweight. The Professor is initially disbelieving but is convinced when they show him the actual artefact. On a pretext, Alan leaves the room, locking Kevin and Tanji inside. They overhead Alan speaking on the phone, making what appears to be a death threat. Frightened, Kevin and Tanji escape through the window and return to the car, only belatedly realising that, in their haste, they had left the paperweight behind.
Concerned about the safety of the New Bridge, Kevin asks for and received a further briefing on the physical properties of the world of Lyndesfarne, this time presented by Wendy Rossiter. He also learns about the multi-dimensional shape of the crossing itself.
Frightened for their lives, Kevin and Tanji drive rapidly away from NISSA, wondering where they can go. They make their way towards Lyndesfarne, and hide out in an empty house not far from the causeway entrance. After nightfall, they walk the last few miles to the New Bridge, Kevin believing that that can walk across using the scaffolding recently put in place to allow the construction of the overlap zone.
Kevin and Tanji are shocked to find the scaffolding barely more than a single plank of wood, but are forced to attempt the dangerous crossing when they hear noises behind them. Bravely, they cross withou mishap, and Kevin is able to dislodge the plank to prevent them from being followed. The reach the far side of the New Bridge without further mishap, but the rapidly worsening weather forces them to take shelter in the castle.
Kevin and Tanji struggle through the weather to the castle, where they find shelter. In tunnels under the building, they also discover a hidden and inoperable portal. Tanji manages to activate the portal, and they use it to escape.
Kevin receives another briefing at NISSA, this time on weights and measures, this time presented by Doctor Willis. He discovers strong similarities between the old english measurements and those in use in Lyndesfarne, as well as the distrust that people in Lyndesfarne exhibit towards high-speed ground-level transportation.
Kevin and Tanji arrive at a portal terminus. They lay low for a while. Tanji who, as a Guide, knows a lot about portals and explains something about the portal network in Lyndesfarne to Kevin. Finally, they take a series of connecting portals to Rhythlen, the village where Tanji's Aunt and Uncle live.
Kevin receives an invitation to dine at home with Bret and his family, and to stay overnight, which he accepts. Bret and Kevin, not accompanied by the guide Ricard, travel to Bret's house by horse and trap. Kevin is warmly welcomed by Bret's Mother and Father, who entertain him with their fund of well-worn anecdotes while Bret goes to change.
While waiting for her Uncle to return, Tanji escorts Kevin around the gardens, where he encounters a tame Nightwing, a small species of Dragon kept as a pet. Kevin learns more about the differences in fauna which live in each of the Two Worlds.
Before dinner, Kevin discovers that Bret is a shapeshifter and that Bret's true for is that of a statuesque woman. Recovering from his shock, Bret's Mother explains that she too has considerable shapeshifting abilities, and was in fact disguised as a man when she first met Bret's Father.
Kevin also meets Bret's husband Eosin, who demonstrates his skills with sprites by magically animating a toy Teddy Bear Kevin brought as a gift. Kevin also meets Bret's children Myra and Andhra, as well as other relatives, and entertains the dinner table with stories from his own world.
In particular, he discusses the role of the Board of Control and its responsibilities to support the Guardians and to maintain the barrier between the Two Worlds. This last point confuses both Kevin and Tanji, who previously understood that the barrier, which prevents the movement of effective magic and technology betweent the worlds, was a natural phenomenon. The fact that the barrier is artificial is a closely-guarded secret, as is the fact that the barrier's effectiveness is sometimes disrupted by the presence of iron and steel (as used for the construction of the New Bridge).
Tanji's Uncle insists that they are in no danger, and that there has been a misunderstanding - the Board was merely seeking to keep a knowledge of working magic from the other world. He explains that some leakage is inevitable, and Tanji tells the story of the Loch Ness Monster as a parable of what can happen when things inadvertently travel from one world to the other.
Kevin performs some private computations on the usage of the Old Bridge and the likely use of the New Bridge. He also muses on the economic impact of the trade across the crossing on both worlds, and on the logistics of trans-shipping goods at each end of the causeway.
Kithyn and her husband Amiss join Kevin and Tanji at her Uncle's house. Kevin is struck my Amiss's shifty attitude, and seems to think that he has met the man somewhere before. Amiss, who is a senior member of the Board of Control, outlines the political problems raised by Kevin's discovery, and by their unscheduled transfers between the Two Worlds.
Kevin receives instructions on magical games - immersive, multi-player, role-playing games - as played in Lyndesfarne from Professor Alan Wilmington of NISSA. Kevin speculates on the use of similar 'technology' for the design of the Lyndesfarne part of the New Bridge, and wonders about the lack of enthusiasm for gambling games in the Other World.
Kevin also receives a briefing on the magic slates which have been used for personal communications for generations, and wonders about the impact on social stability.
Amiss explains to Kevin the dilemma, as seen by the Lyndesfarne Board of Control: that technology is 'dirty' and, more importantly, raises a risk of social instability and change. On the other hand, magic is expensive and labour-intensive, and the wealth of Lyndesfarne is increasingly dependent on the import of raw materials, such as cement to make construction stone. Kevin surmises that increased imports is the real benefit of the New Bridge.
The explanations are suddenly interrupted by a commanding voice and the arrival of a military force.
During the construction of the New Bridge, Kevin makes a rare visit to his firm's offices in Manchester. Kevin has not had a great deal of recent human contact, and finds hints that he is somehow being removed from the firm's corporate memory. Curious, Kevin arranges to meet in a pub with a work acquaintance, Frank Boxton, who Kevin suspects is verging on alcoholism. Frank tells Kevin gossip and rumours about strange 'hush-hush' projects, as well as the impending closure of the Manchester office.
It seems that Kevin and Tanji have been arrested by a combined group of armed Guardians and Watchers, togther with Tanji's Uncle and Aunt. The armed force appears to be under the command of Professor Alan Wilmington, who is accompanied by Ricard. It seems that is also aligned with the newcomers.
The Professor is furious with Kevin for importing a powerful magical sprite (a predictor sprite is contained in the paperweight) into the Other World. The risk of disruption is too high, he explains, considering the effect of a reliable predictor on gambling games, horse races and so on. He further says that the political impact of this extreme leakage means that the New Bridge will have to be destroyed.
Kevin recalls a fractious planning meeting during the surveying phase for the New Bridge when it is discovered that there were huge errors with the underground scans. Tweedledum, David Macmillan and Peter Brenner argue intermably, with numerous pointed fingers, but finally Kevin and David are able to facilitate a way forward.
Later, Kevin wonders about the reasons behind these delays, and wonders if there were similar problems during the construction of the Old Bridge. He puts questions to Bret and is told that there were numerous accidents and even suspected sabotage during the construction of the original crossing.
Kevin is understandably horrified at the prospect of the New Bridge being destroyed. He thinks about previous incidents, wondering if they had been attempts to prevent its completion. He suspects that has been using his wife Kithyn's correspondence with Tanji as a way of keeping tabs on him.
Kevin himself is to be silenced - not killed, but subjected to a mind-wipe. Tanji is to be sent away and threatened into silence. Appalled at the prospects, Kevin and Tanji declare their love for each other, at what appears to be the last moment they might see each other.
Kevin and Bret are engaged in another inspection of the partially-completed New Bridge. Sheltering from the weather and sharing a flask of hot chocolate, Bret to Kevin explains the distinction between Lyndesfarne, the country, and the world of which Lyndesfarne is but a small part. He also explains that there is no adequate translation in English of the name of the Other World except for, perhaps, 'Earth'.
Bret also explains that, at one time, there were numerous crossings between the Two Worlds, but all others have now been closed, sometimes explosively, for a variety of reasons. Bret expresses his own view that the Lyndesfarne crossing is therefore particularly precious, and should be protected at all costs.
The Ferryman is revealed as Bret's mother. Her companions, previously disguised as Watchers, are Bret himself and Peter Brenner, the Project Manager from Kevin's firm of architects. Tanji is astonished to learn that Kevin knows such important people.
The commanding presence of the Ferryman forces the truth into the open. has been secretly working to gain political power in the Board of Control, as well as conspiring with Professor Alan and Ricard to use the paperweight predictor to make money illegally in the Other World.
The Ferryman directs the Guardians to take Amiss, Alan and Ricard away for further questioning. She then thanks Kevin, and leaves the others in the care of Bret. Tanji comforts her friend Kithyn, who has been used as a pawn by her husband, while her Uncle admits that it was him who had tipped off the Ferryman. Bret tells Kevin that he had met Amiss before, disguised (using shapeshifting) as Panit, the representative from the Board of Construction.
Alone, Kevin toasts himself with single-malt Scotch whisky on the successful completion of the design of the New Bridge. He thinks with a certain amount of quiet self-satisfaction about the quality of the design and the sophistication of the computer simulations.
Kevin and Tanji are standing hand-in-hand on the coast of Lyndesfarne, looking out over the straights towards the by-now nearly completed New Bridge. Kevin has left the firm of architects and found a new position as an independent consultant, with considerable success. He has been advising on ways to improve the efficiency of transport over the New Bridge. Kevin is now spending a lot of time with Tanji, and his personal life is now happier than it has ever been.
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