The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 29

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Kevin turned and stared at Tanji.

"What do they want with us?" he asked.

Tanji shook her head, then stood up and took him by the hand. Together, they made their way down the steps between the seating in the auditorium. As they moved, heads turned to look at them. Kevin was perhaps glad that he could hear little and understand none of the remarks being made. Tanji held her head up, glancing neither to left nor right and pointedly ignoring the gossip, and Kevin did his best to emulate her stance. The two lovers walked at a steady pace, being especially careful to avoid tripping - which would have been hugely embarrassing - until they reached the lowest level. They turned and walked along the open space in front of the stage - now clearly visible to everyone in the hall - and up the steps so recently used by Jean-Marc.

Once on the stage, Kevin automatically held up his right hand in the style of greeting he had learned to use in this world. The Ferryman had different ideas, however; she stood up and hurried around the long table where she and the other moderators sat, and intercepted Kevin and Tanji before they were more than five steps across the dais. She warmly embraced Kevin, who had not been expecting such a move but, after freezing for a startled moment, he was able to respond similarly. She then repeated the gesture for Tanji's benefit. A clearer demonstration of the important woman's personal trust would be hard to imagine, Kevin realised.

"Wait here a moment," she said softly.

The Ferryman returned to the long table to collect the book that Jean-Marc had presented to her, then returned to the bemused-looked couple. She gently guided Kevin and Tanji to the centre of the stage, under the magic spotlights, the place where countless speakers had addressed the Convocation.

"For those of you who do not know," she said, in careful English, "This is Kevin, of the Other World, the architect of the New Bridge at Lyndesfarne. A man whose insight and bravery has led to the solution of several mysteries. And a personal friend of mine."

Applause broke out around the auditorium, politely enthusiastic in many quarters and noticeably less so in a few others. Kevin nodded courteously, not entirely sure how to react to the plaudits.

"And Tanji, of the Guild of Directions," the Ferryman went on, "Kevin's personal Guide and friend. One who has suffered rather too many ordeals at the hands of our enemies. And also a good friend of mine."

The applause resumed, no less energetically for Tanji as it was for Kevin. At that moment Bret appeared in the wings and was waved over by the Ferryman.

"As independent but interested observers," she said, addressing the whole auditorium, "I wish to ask that Kevin and Tanji undertake a study of the Jean-Luc's diary, supervised by my daughter Bret and two others from the moderation panel. Please indicate your approval, or otherwise, in the usual way."

She then spoke again, in the same formal tone but in the language of Lyndesfarne. Kevin suspected she was repeating her words so that everyone clearly understood the request, although he was not paying very much attention to what was said just at the moment. Rather, he was worrying about the sudden request that had been made of him, and whether he would be able to carry out the commission adequately.

"Why me?" he hissed to Bret, as the Ferryman shepherded them all back towards the edge of the stage, "I'm not a trained linguist!"

"I know you're not," Bret replied gently, "But you are a native speaker of English, and you do know something of this world, having learned about it relatively recently. So perhaps you are the perfect person to provide a view about what Jean-Luc wrote, and whether he understood what he saw - or whether he was just making it up."

They were ushered into a side room, small only by comparison with the vast hall outside and decorated in a cool professional way that Kevin half-recognised - a style appropriate to a working environment, with conference-room fixtures and fittings intended to ensure that the room was not a distraction to important thoughts. It was also brightly-lit, with sunlight entering from one of those magic windows that had so confused Kevin on his first acquaintance, as well as the apparently source-less magical lighting which was so widely used in this world.

The vote had clearly been in their favour - the Ferryman never seemed in any doubt on the outcome - and they were soon joined by two others, a man and a woman both with grey ponytails, that Kevin recognised from the panel on the stage. The newcomers introduced themselves in the usual Lyndesfarne fashion, by holding up their right hand in a greeting and speaking their name. The woman was called Yrrene and the man Keel. Kevin instinctively responded in the same way.

Keel had Jean-Luc's book in his hand, which he formally presented to Kevin. He took the book, looked at the worn brown cover for a few seconds, then sank into a chair, putting the book on the wide table that filled the centre of the room. He put his head in his hands, resting his elbows on the table.

"How are we going to make this work?" he wondered aloud, half to himself.

"That is up to you," said the woman in a friendly voice, "We are here to see that you get any help that you need, and that any conclusions you draw are based on all the evidence available."

The man nodded in agreement, although his countenance looked altogether sterner.

"OK," Kevin sighed, sitting up straight and pulling the book towards him, "I'll just start by just having a look to see if I can make out anything. Give me a few minutes."

Yrrene nodded gravely and sat in the chair opposite him. Keel put his hands behind his back and moved to the window, appearing to study the view in a show of apparent indifference. Bret apparently decided there was little he could do to help, and slipped out of the room on errands of his own after a few minutes. Tanji sat on the next chair, perhaps unsure of how to help, but re-assured by the way that Kevin held her hand as he studied the mysterious volume.

Kevin read through the book quickly, cover to cover. It was more a notebook than a diary, as it did not have entries for every day, but Jean-Luc had written pages of notes and thoughts when something of interest occurred. As it turned out, it was only a small volume and the writing was not so hard to decipher once he had gained a little practice. Given its provenance, he was unsurprised to find it full of an archaic style of writing and with an occasionally jarring choice of words.

The opening section was a description of the closure of the crossing, convincingly written from an eyewitness perspective. Amazingly, it seemed that the man had somehow managed to hide inside the caves while all others were encouraged to leave, by luck alone as far as Kevin could tell. There, Jean-Luc had seen something amazing, something he barely understood but seemed determined to learn more. Much of the rest of the volume consisted of the reproduction of numerous stories, apparently heard from a range of casual acquaintances and bar-room associates, together with some impressively shrewd notes and speculations upon their accuracy and interpretation.

After gaining an initial impression, Kevin read the journal again, much more slowly, scribbling page after page of notes in his own notebook. He discussed the detail of the content with Tanji, and with Yrrene, for hour after hour. Even Keel thawed sufficiently to admit to a degree of interest, and started to ask astute questions from his post by the window. They worked long into the night, Kevin bent over the table. Tanji barely left his side, except to bring him a plate of sandwiches and, at various times, to present him with fresh mugs of the hot chocolate that he had learned to enjoy.

Kevin was astonished when he looked up and saw that the window was almost completely dark. There was just a red tinge in the sky where the sun had set and a few lights from the other buildings of the complex. He realised he was exhausted, and was duly guided home by Tanji in a daze, his head swirling with trying to understand what Jean-Luc had actually seen, filtered through his lack of understanding of the Other World and the complexities of the old-fashioned language. He ate and drank, something - he could not later recollect what it was - and fell asleep almost immediately afterwards.

In the morning, Kevin woke suddenly, very early, with Tanji by his side in the bed they so often shared, with much of his confusion somehow gone. His subconscious mind clearly had been working overtime during the night and he felt he had an inkling of what to report, the nub of the matter as he saw it.

After a hurried breakfast, Kevin and Tanji made a rapid return to the Convocation, finding Keel and Bret already waiting for them in the conference room and Yrrene arriving seconds after them. Bret was keen to review the description of the three people who closed the crossing and the gestures they used. He, together with Yrrene and Keel, studied these passages carefully and cross-referenced by Bret against ancient Board records of the individual who was instructed to perform the closure.

It became very apparent that none of them were the person who was supposed to undertake the act - who was described as a short and rather stout woman - nor did they use the form as instructed by the Board of Control. Somehow, three quite different people had substituted for the one, and nobody had been any the wiser at the time.

Finally, Kevin felt adequately prepared to address the Convocation, Bret having subtly communicated that time was of the essence. And so it was that he and Tanji were thrust, quite literally, into the spotlight on the stage, explaining to the Convocation the content of the diary that Jean-Marc had produced, the book whose secret even his own mother was reluctant to pass on to him.

Kevin himself was to speak, with Tanji at his side, while Keel and Yrrene stood together just a little way off. He summarised the contents of the book in a few minutes, dwelling on Jean-Luc's description of the closure of the crossing, and bluntly confirming that it had been closed in such a way that it could be re-opened relatively easily.

Yrrene and Keel nodded vigorously to confirm their agreement and Keel interjected with a few words which Kevin did not understand but which seemed very technical in nature.

"Even then," Kevin continued, "It seems we were beset by traitors. The people who closed the crossing were not the persons officially delegated by the proper authorities. Even at this critical moment we were betrayed, and we did not know, until yesterday, that we had been."

The noise in the auditorium erupted and the Ferryman was forced to bang her gavel once again.

"So, in summary," Kevin resumed, "Jean-Luc was a clever man and, unusually, more than a little educated by the standards of his day. Out of curiosity, or perhaps luck, he witnessed an important event, and a strangeness which became an overwhelming passion for him. It was something which he managed to keep secret from almost everyone, including most of his descendants."

"Jean-Luc became a collector of stories, managing from them to infer a great deal about the Other World - this world, I mean - truths that he convincingly described and carefully analysed. Fortunately, he was a benign person, only interested in the stories and legends for their own sake. But imagine what could have happened if this book had fallen into the hands of a megalomaniac - a Hitler or a Napoleon?"

Again, the conversations and arguments across the great hall rose to a crescendo which was not immediately silenced by the gavel. Kevin could think of nothing more to say, and turned and rapidly walked off the stage, Tanji practically running to keep up with him.

*

The decision-making processes of a Grand Convocation simply would not be rushed, it seemed. Tanji told Kevin a tale about one famous Convocation, centuries ago, which spent over five years in deliberation before it made a decision, and even then, the decision arrived was quite wrong and a major disaster ensued. Kevin sincerely hoped that this Convocation would move more swiftly to a decision and that the conclusion would be the correct one this time.

Kevin was later very unsure what, if anything, his address had made to the outcome of the Convocation. His was not the last address, not by a long way, and the appeals and imprecations from the stage continued unabated for many days afterwards. But, one afternoon, it seemed that everyone who wanted to speak had spoken - the rules allowed only one visit to the podium for each person, regardless of how important or influential they thought they were.

According to Tanji's explanation, the Ferryman called three times for speakers, anyone who still wanted their voice to be heard. There was no response, the great hall silent as her request rang out. There was a pause while the panel of moderators on the stage reviewed the list of speakers and attendees on their slates, confirming in quiet voices that no-one remained to address the Grand Convocation.

The Ferryman called for another vote, one which might mean the formal conclusion of the meeting, a vote for or against the closure of the Lyndesfarne crossing. Strictly speaking, it was not binding, Tanji explained to Kevin, but no Ferryman has gone against the two-thirds majority vote in centuries.

A hush filled the great hall as flickering signs on the wall behind the stage showed the results of the voting as the delegates indicated their view. Kevin could make out the numerals showing the counts which made it entirely obvious that the delegates were coming down strongly in favour of one outcome, but he was frustrated that he could not decipher which of the options was being so overwhelmingly recommended.

Finally, a loud gong sounded, meaning that everyone's vote had been recorded and no-one had abstained. The Ferryman studied the results gravely, then turned to spoke a simple sentence in a loud voice. Tanji translated automatically for Kevin, speaking in that sing-song voice and sounding as if she did not quite believe what she was saying.

"The last crossing between the Two Worlds must be closed."


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