Tom was getting distinctly worried about the situation. It seemed that there really was some serious threat hidden just below the surface of current events, a menace where the motorcyclists and the dragons were just the tip of an iceberg.
While they were hanging around waiting for the portal connection, he thought back to happier times, on his first visit to Bram's house. This was the time he was recruited into the Guardians, and he recalled with fondness the warm welcome they had received as strangers and the telling of tales around the fire late into the night.
He especially recalled the discussions following on from the tale they had heard about Alistair's grandfather. Briz had returned to this particular topic over their second drink.
"Bram already told you a little about the truth behind that story," he said, "That the explosion he witnessed was the result of a crossing being closed in a hurry."
All three young men nodded.
"Well, I did a little digging in my library earlier on" - he indicated the shelves of books lining the walls - "and I found an account of the circumstances which led up to the closure."
He tapped a book which lay on the table beside him, next to his glass of beer.
"I'll tell you something of it, if you want."
Tom and Alistair both indicated eagerly and wordlessly that they would very much like to hear more. Briz grinned wryly at their enthusiasm.
"The part of our world which was reached through the crossing in Siberia is called Agrea, as I mentioned before. Now, there has been a certain amount of tension with some groups in this country in the past, and never more so than at the time of the incident of which I speak."
The older man took a long pull at his beer, then continued.
"This was a time of turmoil in your world, the beginnings of a socialist revolution leading to the formation of the Soviet Union - an impact which has reverberated around your world for decades, and contributed to the War which you have so recently experienced at first-hand."
He paused thoughtfully, then added, "An influence which, I rather think, will continue for some decades yet. At least, that's the best available prediction."
This remark made Tom thoughtful. He wondered whether there were magical ways of predicting the future and how effective that could possibly be.
"Anyway," Briz continued, interrupting Tom's thoughts, "The existence of the crossing between Siberia and Agrea became caught up in this local political disagreement. It was an increasingly partisan situation, and this extended to those whose responsibility it was to guard the crossing."
"You mean the Guardians?" Tom asked.
Briz paused, perhaps weighing up how best to proceed.
"Not quite," he replied slowly, "The concept of an independent force with specific responsibility for the pathway between the worlds was not as well-established then as it is now. The Guardians, nowadays, are supposed to eschew all political concerns in the world of their origin, and dedicate themselves solely to the protection of the Lyndesfarne crossing."
Briz paused again, looking directly at Alistair and Tom in turn.
"This is, in fact, part of the oath of allegiance you'll be asked to sign up to, as part of your induction."
Tom nodded. This made much sense as a general policy, and he certainly felt that there was not a great deal in his own life which would be inhibited by such a declaration.
Sipping at his pint, Briz returned to his theme.
"Some of the guards sided with the Bolsheviks, while others who knew of the existence of our world remained loyal to the Imperial throne. The Bolsheviks thought they could get support in our world to help with their struggle."
"Why did they think that?" Alistair asked curiously.
"It appears that they were working on the - mistaken - assumption that the governments in our world had achieved some socialist ideal."
Tom and Alistair must have looked confused, as Briz expounded further.
"In our world, in most countries, control is centralised, typically run by committees - like the Board of Control which is responsible for the Lyndesfarne crossing. Historically, we have maintained a relatively equitable society, at least, by comparison with the rural serfs and peasants commonplace in Russia at that time. No huge wealth, and little extreme poverty, and these days a fair number of free transport services, too."
Alistair sat back, perhaps struggling to take in all of what was being said.
"But all this is based on philanthropic and autocratic, rather than socialist, principles," Briz went on, getting louder as he spoke, "Our governments are not democratic, not elected, and there's no assertion that all men - and women - are in any way equal. A place for everyone, and everyone in their place, is the motto."
Briz thumped the table to emphasise his viewpoint. Both Tom and Alistair were a little taken aback by this unanticipated onslaught. Briz must have realised he was beginning to sound rather bellicose, as he quickly changed tack.
"Anyway, the Imperialists perceived the appeal to our world as a threat," he continued, rather more calmly, "Although they really had very little to worry about."
The older man picked up his beer glass again, then continued his tale.
"The general opinion over here - at least, in those organisations which were aware of the existence of your world - was that the Agrea crossing should be closed, and soon. There were just too many things which were unknown and numerous hazy predictions of disastrous interactions. Of course, the path between the worlds would be removed in a controlled way, with the minimum of disruption to both sides."
"But that didn't happen, did it," Alistair asked.
"That's right enough," the older man replied, "The problem was that the authorities in Agrea wanted to maintain the crossing, so as to be able to continue influencing events in your world - even though they did not particularly agree with the politics of the Bolsheviks - or the Imperialists either, for that matter."
Briz paused for a moment, cogitating on his next point.
"There were, well, economic advantages, too," he said eventually, "The goods imported from your world made a noticeable contribution to the economy of Agrea, which helped make it, at the time, one of the most prosperous parts of our world."
Tom was curious.
"So, this crossing here - the one we've just used," he asked, "Its principal purpose is trade as well, is it?"
Briz chuckled softly.
"Put simply, yes," he replied, "Although few people in Lyndesfarne, and even fewer in your country, appreciate it, the fact is that the trade across the causeway benefits both sides. Perhaps more so in this world, but goods and money flow both ways."
"So both England and Lyndesfarne are richer because of the crossing?" Tom asked again.
"Yes. That's why it's worth looking after it properly," Briz confirmed, looking directly into Tom's eyes, "And that's what your job is going to be, of course."
"So exactly how was the Siberian crossing closed?" Alistair enquired, clearly anxious to hear the rest of the story. Briz settled back into his chair.
"As you can imagine, this was a time of heightened tension in international relationships. There was a fair amount of frantic diplomacy between the Agreans and representatives from the other crossings. The negotiations got increasingly bogged down, and there was much petty bickering and obstructionism."
Briz glanced at his son, then continued.
"A faction - a cabal, perhaps - of organisations from various parts of our world including, it has to be said, people from Lyndesfarne itself, decided that direct action was the only possible way forward. A military party crossed over to your world, using the Lyndesfarne crossing, and made their way to Russia. They attacked the crossing, supported by some renegade Imperialists, with the intent of holding it for long enough to engineer a controlled shutdown."
Briz stared at the fire for a few moments, then said quietly, "Somehow it all went terribly wrong. The crossing guards were forewarned of the attack, and put up much more resistance that was anticipated."
All of the young men had first-hand experience of military planning, and what happened when the plans didn't work out.
"In suicidal desperation, someone - from the invaders, it's thought - managed to operate what I suppose should be termed the 'emergency destruct' magic. And that's what caused the explosion."
Both Tom and Alistair let out an involuntary gasp. Bram shook his head sadly.
"The devastation in Agrea was of mammoth proportions," Briz continued, "Since the crossing was sited relatively high up in the mountains, the explosion set off avalanches. A huge wall of rock and snow swept down the valley - the pass your Granddad described which led to inhabited areas - and swept away whole settlements."
"The destruction in Siberia was nearly as bad. Trees were flattened for miles around, and the blast was heard or felt over a huge area. Miraculously, there was relatively little loss of life, although most of those who did die were the guards on both sides, those whose job it was to prevent such an outcome."
"So my Granddad had a lucky escape, then," Alistair commented.
"I would say so," Briz confirmed, "Of course, the political dispute had been going on for some time. I believe that was the reason your Grandfather's group was turned back on their last trip."
The older man sat quietly for a moment, then refreshed himself from his glass.
"What happened after that is a matter of speculation," he resumed, "I rather suspect that the trail guards - including your Grandfather - were paid off with extra money, offered as compensation for their losses. This was probably the source of the wealth that bought your farm in Scotland. Mind you, it was almost certainly made clear that there the secret of the Siberian crossing was to be maintained, even though it had evidently been closed permanently."
"So crossings can never be re-opened?" Tom asked, out of the blue.
Briz smiled, shaking his head.
"The construction of a path between the worlds is an immense undertaking, requiring a huge amount of skilled effort. All this would have to be repeated to re-open a crossing."
"So, this was a big change for Agrea, then?"
"What's Agrea like now?" Tom pressed.
Briz shook his head.
"It's a bit of a backwater, to be honest. It never really recovered from the loss of their crossing, not to mention the disruption caused by the explosion and avalanches."
"But, at this time, there were other crossings elsewhere in the world?"
"Yes," Briz confirmed, "But they've all been quietly closed over the years."
Much later, Tom thought about the events he had learned about that evening. Perhaps there were people in Agrea with long memories and a grudge against Lyndesfarne - now the only extant crossing - who might want some kind of revenge or retaliation for what could be regarded as an act of war. Could such a shadowy group, he wondered, have been behind the recent attacks on the Lyndesfarne crossing?
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