Tom opened his eyes, blinking slowly, to see his friend Bram looking gravely at him. Seeing him stir, the other man's unaccustomed expression of worry was swiftly replaced by the familiar wry half-grin.
"Welcome back," Bram said, "We were just a little bit worried about you for a while there."
"Where am I?" Tom asked weakly.
"You're safe. You're at Cliviger Grange, in the Infirmary."
The Infirmary, Tom vaguely recalled, was in one of the H-block buildings at the back of the stables. So nothing wrong with my memory, he thought, attempting to chuckle at himself for the weak attempt at humour. The slight movement was painful in several places. His head seemed to ache immeasurably.
Seeing him wince, Bram spoke gently.
"Careful there. You've had a nasty bang on the noggin. You've also managed to break a leg and you do have a rather splendid collection of cuts and bruises."
"You took quite a fall," Bram answered.
"Oh yes, I remember," Tom replied, "I thought I was a goner for a moment there."
"You were lucky. Your fall was broken by the bushes at the base of the tower."
It all came flooding back to Tom - wrestling with Hamet on the tower platform, tripping on the fallen body, and a fall into darkness.
"Hamet," he started, foolishly try to sit up, "And Markham...".
"Relax," Bram interrupted, easing him back onto the bed, "They've been taken care of."
As Tom lay back, Bram explained something of what had happened.
"First of all, my Uncle's dead."
"Dead," exclaimed Tom, "How?"
"I'm afraid to say that he was shot by the Guardians - your colleagues," Bram said sadly, "They saw you fall from the platform as they rushed up, alerted by your flare. They thought he was trying to sabotage the communications equipment, and shouted at him to stop. He ignored them, to his cost, I'm afraid."
Bram paused for a moment, shaking his head.
"Anyway," he continued, "Hamet fell from the tower to his death, having been hit by a fusillade of shots."
Tom was not feeling at his best, naturally enough, and something that Bram had said finally caught up inside his head.
"So what was Hamet doing up on the tower?" he asked.
Bram leaned forward, taking on a slightly conspiratorial air.
"This isn't part of the official report," he said softly, "But Hamet's real objective was to get at the emergency destruct magic."
"The what?" Tom blurted.
"Well, you've probably already realised by now that crossings occasionally have to be closed quickly, because of some emergency. And that there must be some, err, magic to trigger the closure."
Tom must have murmured something, as Bram continued his explanation.
"So that's what was in the locked box at the tower. Hamet was trying to destroy the crossing, the last crossing to Lyndesfarne."
Tom could not suppress a gasp of surprise which rapidly turned into a painful groan.
"Of course, not just anybody can trigger that magic," Bram continued, "There are all sorts of safeguards, not least of which is the fact that the closure must be triggered simultaneously on both sides of the crossing."
"Tarm and Markham..." Tom managed to say.
"Yes, that's right," Bram replied quietly, "But later..."
Despite his obvious interest in what Bram was saying, Tom was rapidly getting very tired. His head was beginning to throb unbearably, and he could hardly keep his eyes open. A nurse came in and gently reminded Bram that it was time to leave.
"Don't worry," he said as he got up, "You concentrate on getting better. I'll be back soon."
Tom slept, dozed and slept again. When he did finally surface properly, he felt like he must have slept a long time. He allowed himself to be assisted by the nursing staff in the Infirmary, helped with all the little things that he could not currently do for himself, waiting for Bram to deliver on his promise to return. He had so many unanswered questions, and he was practically bursting with impatience by the time that a grinning Bram finally returned to his bedside.
"You're looking better," Bram said cheerily, "The doctors tell me that there's no chance of you dying on us any time soon."
"That's a relief," Tom smirked in response, "You'll be stuck with me for a while yet, then?"
Bram chuckled, pulling up a seat at Tom's bedside.
"So, you have - again - been instrumental in foiling a plot that threatens the crossing. You're beginning to make a habit of this, you know," Bram said wryly.
"Well, do you really want me to make sure it doesn't happen again?" Tom asked cheekily.
Bram snorted in response.
"Let's not go that far," he agreed, "So I imagine you'll be wanting to know what been going on."
"Right, then. I've already told you that you prevented my Uncle Hamet from closing the crossing. My father's furious about this - a traitor in the family and so on. He's leaving no stone unturned in tracking down those responsible."
"So, was there someone at the Lyndesfarne tower?" Tom demanded, "Who was it?"
"Well, by the time that the Guardians had beaten back the attack - which we believe to be the same group who were spotted by our friend Ged hunting dragons - there was no one at the other tower. The communications operators had been knocked out, and they didn't see anyone. There was clear evidence that someone had been tampering with the emergency magic, but we don't know - yet - exactly who was at the other tower."
"What about the Major?" Tom asked, "And Tarm?"
"Markham has been removed from his post," Bram answered primly, "There are just too many unanswered questions, and we're convinced that he's implicated in this plot. So he currently detained somewhere secure and several people are asking him lots of hard questions. We'll find out what he was up to, don't you worry."
Bram paused, in a way that Tom was beginning to recognise as presaging a shock announcement.
"The role of Warden at Cliviger Grange has been taken by your old mentor Fred," he said, grinning broadly.
This did indeed come as something of a surprise to Tom.
"I'd have thought that Duty Warden Arden would get the job," he remarked, trying not to let his surprise show.
He understood that Arden was the most senior person remaining, and knew that he had been acting as the Major's adjutant for some time.
"Some people want a fresh new approach, one that is less rigid, perhaps a little less military, more a peace-time police force," Bram explained, "Besides Arden was too closely associated with the Major, in many people's minds - although personally I'm convinced that the Duty Warden was just doing his job."
Tom nodded his agreement.
"So what's Arden doing?"
"Same as always," Bram responded brightly, "What he does best - dealing with all the paperwork."
"Ah. Someone's got to do it, I suppose," Tom agreed.
"And as for Board Member Tarm," Bram continued, "He is also being questioned by our friends in Lyndesfarne. We think he was the ringleader, the top dog. We believe that he was instrumental in gathering together the para-military force, the group that first set about capturing dragons, and then staged the diversionary attack on the crossing."
"What happened there?" Tom pressed. He had not had the time to do more than glance across the straights at the fire-fight.
"There was very little warning - although my father had managed to get a higher level of alert instigated. Fortunately, the attack was designed to distract, with maximum noise and light, rather to kill anybody. Oh, there were a few casualties - walking wounded, mostly - but the only people actually killed were the comms operator who fell from the tower, and my Uncle, of course."
"The other Guardians are OK?" Tom asked, pleasantly surprised.
"Oh, yes," Bram replied, "The, well, magic amulet just knocked them out. It was pure bad luck that he toppled from the platform and broke his neck."
Tom looked despondent for a moment. He realised that it was only the fortuitous fall of the Guardian which allowed him to alert the others, but he now knew that this was at the cost of the man's life.
"Tarm was also instrumental in persuading my errant Uncle into stealing portal information from his section of the Board of Control," Bram continued, "We're not quite sure what incentives he offered Hamet, but they must have been considerable - especially since it would have meant that he would have been stuck in this world for ever."
"Perhaps he just wanted to get away from his wife?" Tom suggested, slightly flippantly.
Bram snorted, but looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Many a true word spoken in jest, as they say," he muttered, "But I suppose we'll never know the true reason."
"But why were Tarm and the others trying to close the crossing?"
"Good question, as always," Bram replied, "And there's some history here."
He paused, presumably thinking on the best way to continue.
"Now, the Board of Control is supposed to represent all of the nations of our world - at least, the important ones - not just Lyndesfarne itself, in the management of the crossing."
"Ah," Tom exclaimed, light dawning, "Let me guess. Tarm is a representative from Agrea, right?"
Bram nodded, with that wry grin playing about his lips again.
"Very good," he said, "We think he is part of a faction who wants revenge on us - on the Board, and Lyndesfarne - for the closure of the Siberian crossing. As you can imagine, the diplomatic situation is rather tense at the moment, and Agrea is disclaiming any responsibility - the work of a lone patriot, rather than an officially-sanctioned act, is the official line."
Bram shook his head again, suggesting, it seemed to Tom, that he did not believe a word of it.
"The Board are understandably very unhappy about him putting misplaced patriotism ahead of the welfare of the crossing," Bram continued, "He has been formally removed from his post, and formally charged. He may just get sent back to Agrea, of course, but I'm not sure that will necessarily be a good thing from his point of view."
Tom wondered what would happen to a failed agent whose government was denying accountability for his actions. He concluded that it was probably better not to know.
"Anyway," Bram said, standing up, "I really should be elsewhere."
Bam left eventually, but not before Tom had extracted a promise that he would return with more news very soon.
During his recuperation, Tom was visited by friends and colleagues from Cliviger Grange. Fred, whose appearance had not changed appreciably despite his recent elevation in rank, came to see him that afternoon. He drew up a chair and sat down by the bed.
"Well, lad," he said kindly, "It looks like you're building up quite a collection of awards and commendations. I shall have to look out for you, won't I?"
"Thank you, sir," Tom said.
"No 'sir', I think. Fred will be fine," the other man interjected, "You've done a good job here. I like a lad who keeps his wits about him under pressure."
He smiled, then continued, "Your task now I to get well, as soon as possible. We've an urgent need for a man of your calibre, and I've got several interesting posts I'd like you to consider."
Tom tried to lean forward, but Fred intervened.
"No. Get well first, then worry about the future."
His cohort from the Guardian School arrived, bearing the traditional gifts of flowers and fruit for the convalescent. Ifor and Marjorie chattered on with hardly a break, wanting to know the smallest details. Tom told them everything he could remember, although held back on some of his speculations - like Brasham's real role, for example.
Stan and Charlie were more reserved, as always, but sat wide-eyed as he explained about tracking down Hamet with the aid of magic which had probably been buried for decades. Sophia interjected with characteristically blunt questions occasionally, and nodded approvingly at Tom's description of events.
One of the happier moments of his convalescence was a visit from Alistair. He was accompanied, to Tom's complete lack of surprise, by Yise. They sat together, holding hands, and told him that they were planning a wedding, in the spring, and that they wanted Tom to be the best man. Tom accepted, with tears in his eyes, and he grasped his old friend's hand as warmly as he could manage before accepting a kiss on the cheek from Yise.
Alistair then held up the pendant which, to Tom's surprise, was still glowing with the subtle green of the sprite within.
"Bram and I didn't even get to the bridge before the battle started," he explained, "Then we saw your flare from the tower, and guessed - correctly, as it turned out - what was being attempted."
He smiled at his fiancee.
"Which is just as well," he continued, "Yise tells me if I had taken it to Lyndesfarne, I would not have been able to bring it back through the barrier. So this" - he twirled the necklace thoughtfully - "is still one of the few working magical artefacts in this world."
Yise took it from his fingers.
"Look here," she said to Tom, pointing out the strange characters on the stone, "Agrean writing. This pendant's probably been in this world for years - probably hidden by some refugee cut off from the Other World when the Siberian crossing was closed."
"If it's Agrean," Tom asked, "How come my gestures worked?"
"It's very simple. There's much more similarity in the language of magical gestures than there is in the written or spoken languages," she explained, "So you can still use magic in foreign lands, even if you can't speak to anyone."
Tom resolved to learn more about the Other World, everything he could. It seemed like a place where anything could happen.
|© 2006-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 18 October 2008|