Tom was on furlough. He had been given forty-eight hours free time, to do as he wished. The trouble was that he was not sure what to do with the time. He felt no particular desire to return to his home town. As an orphan, he felt that there was nothing for him there.
There was also no opportunity to catch up with either Bram or Alistair. Bram seemed to be busy with errands of his own, although the infrequent letters Tom had received did not make it clear what he was really doing. Alistair seemed to be enjoying his new role in the Guides. Again, Tom only heard from him occasionally. Tom promised himself that he would write more often, and tell his old friends what was happening in the Guardians. He had described the motorcycle attack in some detail, although he had modestly downplayed his own role in the sequence of events.
After some reflection, he decided to take a trip to Lyndesfarne, and stop over at the pub that he had visited with Bram and Alistair on his very first visit all those months ago.
It was a bright spring morning as Tom cadged a lift to the crossing from the Grange, and started his walk across the causeway. He paused only briefly at the money-changer's tent to convert the folded paper of a ten shilling note into a small purse of the metal discs which were used as money in Lyndesfarne.
The weather was uncommonly clear, with much of the near-perpetual haze that usually enveloped the area apparently dissipated into the ether. It was still chill and windy, as it almost always was, with the plangent cries of the seagulls audible over the roar and rumble of the waves on the shoreline.
On the crossing itself, the traffic was already heavy, with long queues of wagons waiting on both sides of the bridge. The causeway had been built to be wide enough for wagons to pass, but the bridge itself had been constructed only wide enough for a single line of carts.
A normal part of the Guardian's role was to police this part of the crossing. Despite the best efforts of the duty watch, there was much shouting, cussing and swearing from the carters in numerous languages, several of which Tom did not understand.
Tom recognised most of the Guardians on duty and stopped for a few moments to chat. Even so, the crossing was so full of activity that Tom rapidly decided that it was best if he did not distract his colleagues for long with inconsequential small talk. He also decided against stopping on the bridge to look into the waters, as he had done so often before, again because there was just too much traffic. Instead, he marched onwards, deftly dodging the irritable horses and the slow-moving wagons.
Tom had decided to do something he had not done before, but had been on his mind for some time. He left the road at the point where the causeway met the Lyndesfarne coast, and set off walking towards the castle, the sole feature usually visible from the other side of the crossing.
He hiked along the coastline, following a track paved with worn stone slabs. At one point, where the coast formed a low headland, Tom struck out from the pathway and walked out to the point to take in the view over the sea. He was amazed by just how little of his world he could make out across just a mile or so of rocky outcrops and sandbanks. To all appearances, his home world was apparently a wooded island, with no obvious habitation and few signs that people had ever been there. Little detail could be made out, and even those few details had rapidly become entirely indistinct as he had walked further along the coast.
Pressing on along the track, Tom could see the castle on its promontory that he had noticed on his very first journey from Holme Farm to Lyndesfarne. The fortifications were in much better condition than it appeared from the other side of the straights, he considered, as he walked up the sloping roadway to the main gate. There was no one around, and he was able to go in and explore without hindrance.
As he entered, Tom noted that the heavy iron portcullis and the stout wooden gates both seemed to be in good condition. The walls and towers themselves looked worn and mossy, but not actually in imminent danger of falling down. He explored for an hour or so, climbed up the steps and walked the length of the walls as far as could be reached reasonably easily.
A couple of the towers had doorways set into them at ground level. All of the doors seemed to be locked shut, and were quite possibly magically sealed. Certainly, they did not respond to the standard gestures for "open" and "show seal" in any way that Tom could spot.
Feeling slightly frustrated, he explored a couple of entrances that stood open. He took one steep stone staircase down below the main tower, but found to his disappointment that it led to a dead end, with no doorways or apparent way through. While exploring the cellars, Tom did notice that a few parts of the masonry foundations appeared to be reinforced with the same orange sprites that had also been used in the construction of the bridge. He wondered idly if this meant that the castle and the causeway had been built at the same time.
Finally bored with exploring the castle, Tom found his way back through the entrance, and continued his walk further around the promontory that the castle sat upon.
He stood for a few minutes on a raised headland, watching the waves crashing on the rocks below. Looking out to sea, Tom could see a small number of other islands, most of which appeared to be little more that bare rocks, although one of them appeared to have a grassy plateau sheltered by a few gnarled and windswept trees. He could see no signs of nautical navigation lights, which was quite different from the view from the coast in his own world, where several lighthouses and numerous buoys marked out the safe channels for shipping.
Continuing his perambulations, Tom came across a pleasantly sheltered spot for lunch. He sat in the bright spring sunshine, protected from the ever-present wind by the castle walls and the natural formations which formed its foundations. His meal consisted of a few slices of bread and cheese, taken from his pack, and previously scrounged from the mess at Cliviger Grange, together with the remnants of a packet of biscuits.
After eating, Tom lay back, warmed by the sun and drawing his greatcoat around him, and dozed for what seemed like just a few minutes. Judging by the movement of the sun, however, he decided that he had probably slept for a couple of hours. He lay in the sunshine for a few more minutes enjoying a cigarette, before gathering his things together and returning them to his pack.
Tom completed the loop around the end of the castle promontory, before rejoining the path which would take him back to the settlement at the point of crossing between the two worlds. There were sheep grazing in the fields on either side, together with what appeared to be some newly-established pigsties set a little way back from the sea, surrounded by what seemed to him to be a rather flimsy fence. One good push, he thought, and it would probably collapse like a house of cards.
The sun was getting low in the sky when Tom finally approached the little settlement which served the needs of the Lyndesfarne end of the crossing whose name, Tom suddenly realised, he did not actually know.
The majority of the buildings in the village were private houses, usually with substantial gardens and often set well back behind high stone walls and arched gateways.
There were a couple of shops huddled together in the main street. The general store sold conventional foodstuffs, while the other seemed to offer an astonishing range of artefacts, most of which Tom had no idea as to the intended function. There was also an outlet which he would normally have thought of as a tea-shop, although it principally served hot chocolate, which was apparently very popular here in Lyndesfarne.
The portal building, which Tom and his cohort had used on several recent occasions, was situated closer to the causeway itself. Alongside it could be found several stone-built warehouses with, as Tom understood it, direct access to their own network of portals for the transportation of goods.
Tom also passed the village hostel, with its sign proclaiming "The Garden of Boundaries", which he remembered Bram mentioning on their first visit to Lyndesfarne.
After his wanderings around the settlement, it was easy enough to track down the public house that stood a short way back from the Lyndesfarne side of the crossing. Tom stood outside the pub looking back down the main street in the direction of the causeway. It occurred to him that there was no part of the village which was visible at all from the England side. From his own world, he mused, you would never know that this settlement was here.
He turned back to the pub entrance and went inside.
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