The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 16

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The long and boring trip back to the Lyndesfarne crossing gave Kevin far too much time to dwell on that trip to Jaireby. After the trip to London to present his initial ideas on the Kilindini Harbour Bridge, he had found himself working increasingly hard on this and a number of other projects. Tanji too was absent for days at a time, honouring her commitments to the Lyndesfarne Guild of Directions of which she remained an active member.

Even so, they still managed to find the time to spend long nights in each other's company, and to take longer breaks on a frequent basis. Kevin was more than happy to allow Tanji to make travel arrangements whenever she felt it pleasing. Emboldened, perhaps, by the success of the dragon safari, she in turn suggested that the two of them take a short holiday to a city in a tropical part of the world of Lyndesfarne.

So it was that, one Friday afternoon, having abandoned Kevin's car in an autumnal and windswept car park in North East England, the lovers found themselves not two hours later emerging from a major portal terminus into the warmth of a late tropical afternoon. The city of Jaireby was built following the curve of the bay of the same name. The doors of the portal building opened on a wide boulevard, flanked on one side by shops and restaurants, and on the other by the sea itself.

Lyndesfarne promenade

This promenade featured palm trees at intervals, as well as areas of neatly-clipped grass and flower beds which gave the impression that much care and attention was lavished on them. The esplanade was paved with stone slabs and cobbles in intricate patterns, and was without the tarmac roadway for motorised transport that Kevin would have expected to find in a similar location in his own world.

Tanji led him directly across the street to the sea's edge where elegant railings painted in green and gold protected a drop of perhaps eight feet, punctuated at intervals by stone steps which led down to the sandy beach.

"Like it?" she asked.

"Wonderful," he replied, squeezing her hand.

The beach too was thronging without ludicrous overcrowding. There were kiosks and cafes at intervals, some of which looked extremely temporary. Children - and indeed adults - of all ages were splashing about in the surf or playing a variety of beach games, only some of which looked familiar to Kevin.

They stood watching the scene below for a few minutes, enjoying the warm sea-breeze on their faces. There were a few puffy white clouds on the horizon out to sea, but otherwise a uniformly clear blue sky arched above their heads. On the beach itself, Kevin recognised the magic sunshades, parasols and hats he had seen before on a previous vacation. Further out to sea, a dozen or more pleasure craft - Gin Palaces, as Kevin's grandma would have said - were moored to strategically-placed buoys, and he caught a glimpse of many more boats clustered around the marina at the end of the bay.

Tanji took his hand and they walked together along the front. There were quite a few people about, although it was by no means crowded. Some were taking refreshments in the pavement cafes, others strolling or chatting to acquaintance, and yet others were listening to music played by buskers. Almost everybody was on foot, except for a few light horse-drawn vehicles which seemed to him to be more for amusement - perhaps just entertaining the tourists. All-in-all, it was lively and friendly, a genuinely stress-free atmosphere, and Kevin could feel himself relaxing instinctively.

On the landward side of the promenade, there were a long series of shop fronts housing a wide variety of shops and bars and restaurants, all of which seemed familiar to Kevin. The buildings were low constructions, one or two stories only - at least above ground - finished in white-painted stucco, or other pastel shades, and roofed in what appeared to be a heavy ceramic tile in a surprising shade of brick red. Kevin suspected - correctly, as it turned out - that most of these buildings would have numerous underground levels. He marvelled at the magical engineering that must have been deployed to build confidently that far underground, even here where most floors would be well below sea level.

"Well," Tanji said, grinning wickedly, "First things first. Our hostel is just here" - she indicated a building to their right - "And maybe we should check in and perhaps freshen up?"

Kevin agreed readily. He correctly judged that Tanji had something else on her mind. After the briefest of check-in formalities, the two tourists found themselves in a modestly-sized but beautifully decorated room, dominated by a huge bed of delightful softness.

Tanji closed the door behind them, and dropped her satchel to the floor. Kevin had barely time to catch a breath before her urgent fingers were undoing the buttons and buckles of his clothing, and her own. She kissed him passionately, before guiding his lips downwards towards her hard nipples already emerging from her opened blouse.

By the time they emerged again, night had fallen in that sudden way invariably experienced in the tropics. At this hour, people were everywhere. Tanji directed Kevin, who was still feeling just a little dazed after the energetic performance she had just put him through, to a pavement cafe just a few steps away from the hostel entrance. A waiter bustled up; Tanji ordered two mugs of the hot chocolate drink that was so popular in this world. The two lovers sat close in the cafe, savouring the stimulating drinks and watching the passers-by. Casually glancing upwards at the stars, Kevin was astonished to note some of them were, against all reason, moving about. At first, he wondered if they must be the fireflies he had heard about, but had never experienced in either world. But as he watched, one of the mobile stars swooped closer, resolving into a figure, a person, hanging in the air.

Kevin could not at first believe his eyes and it took him several minutes to realise that the moving lights he could see in the sky were in fact people, flying. They were propelled by wings of some kind, furnished from magic alone and emerging, as far as he could tell, from harnesses on their backs. The wings themselves were nearly invisible, with just the occasional glitter of orange and green which indicated the presence of magical sprites.

Kevin pointed out the moving lights to Tanji.

"Oh, yes," she said calmly, "Flyers. Although you might prefer the old-fashioned term, Faeries."

"So what do they do?" he asked, still fascinated.

Tanji laughed at his naivety.

"Well, nowadays, it's just for fun," she answered, grinning widely, "Although, once upon a time, magic wings were an important mode of transport."

Kevin could imagine the reaction of someone from his world to the flying figures. He could certainly see how wild and contradictory tales of Faeries could have come about in times past, with a scene like this witnessed by bemused travellers from an earlier age.

He and Tanji finished their drinks, and then strolled further along the promenade under the palm trees. There were lots of people about, singly or couples or larger groups, walking, chatting, flirting in the warm tropical evening. Kevin took the opportunity to take a closer look at the Department stores and shop fronts which lined the street. All-in-all, the store windows offered a fabulous display of goods, which Kevin automatically started to categorise into two kinds: things he thought he recognised and understood, and those that, frankly, he did not.

One display whose purpose he comprehended quickly was for furniture: couches and chairs of conventional, if rather traditional design. In the window next door, he viewed doubtfully a display of what he initially took to be rather chunky and plain jewellery - bangles, armbands and necklaces - before he finally realised that these were magical artefacts. Looking more closely, he could see that their capabilities were described by discreet posters (which he could not read) and by moving images (which he found largely incomprehensible).

After strolling a little further along the boulevard, Kevin noted that there seemed to be there were portals everywhere, seemingly to be found every few hundred yards. They were usually set into buildings at street level, or sometimes into smaller constructions of their own. In every instance, he noticed, the entrances were wide, but always fitted with a pair of stout doors which stood open in a fashion that suggested that they were rarely closed but, if it were deemed necessary, they could be shut and securely fastened in a few moments even without the aid of magic.

In any case, there were people coming and going all the time. Tanji explained that these were level five portal; these single-connection portals were always connected to exactly one place, almost always a portal terminus for the local area. This contrasted with the long-distance portals - the ones they had mostly used in getting here, as on previous trips - where the connection switched periodically between one of half-a-dozen different endpoints every ten minutes or so.

Many of the newly-arrived travellers doffed their capes as they emerged and folded them into an incredibly small volume, it seemed to Kevin, before stowing them in packs and bags. He guessed that it was warmer here than many places from which the travellers had departed. Finally, and realising that this question might be just a little late, he asked Tanji, "Just where, in this world, are we?"

Her reaction, perhaps predictably, was a mixture of amusement at his naivety and satisfaction that, despite being placed in a world which was, until recently, entirely foreign to him, Kevin was still capable of asking perspicacious questions.

The two tourists sat on a bench overlooking the sea, now illuminated by both moonlight and the streetlights from the promenade. Tanji took out her slate and chalk, and gestured at the surface for a while, adding a few strokes in a way that was a complete mystery to Kevin. Eventually, she turned the magic slate to face him.

Tanji's geographical sketch, aided by a certain amount of magic, he suspected, showed the city of Jaireby sited at the southern tip of the large peninsula that was the country of Lyndesfarne. The bay was set into the south coast and was, she explained, once an important port. There was less sea traffic these days, apparently, but both bay and city were still a very popular resort and tourist destinations.

Kevin had already observed that there were only a very few tall slender buildings, spires really, built - according to Tanji - as observation points and attractions, rather than any practical use as accommodation. Looking up into the night sky, Kevin felt as if his mouth ought to be hanging open in amazement at the lights and glowing displays from the towers.

"What are they?" Kevin asked in an awed whisper.

Tanji laughed.

"Well, they can be all sorts of things," she replied, "Some are just public amusements, some are advertisements. This one" - she indicated the lights adorning the entire height of a slender tower in the direction they were heading - "is a famous restaurant and bar. I've booked us a place for this evening's eight o'clock sitting."

"You have?" Kevin exclaimed, "Wonderful!"

The trip up the tower was mesmerizing. Kevin had experienced the Lyndesfarne version of lifts before, but only ones which went down. They had entered an open cage - more a cuboid box with floor and ceiling of a hard transparent substance that did not feel like glass. At a gesture from Tanji, the doors - also constructed from the same warm transparent substance - slid closed.

As they ascended, they were treated to a spectacular view over the city beneath them. The streetlights and the coloured signs looked both romantic and ethereal.

At the top of the tower, they entered the bar, where Tanji ordered for both of them. After a few minutes, the barkeeper presented each of them with what looked like a broken wineglass - just the stem and base, with the goblet missing. The drink itself was a mixture of virulent colours, held in a sphere of insubstantial magic presumably, Kevin thought, projected by a sprite in the glass base. The ball appeared to be rolling, spinning randomly in different directions, but somehow failing to mix the coloured ingredients within.

"How am I supposed to drink this?" he asked Tanji, having bemusedly watched the coloured swirls for several long moments.

"Like you would drink anything else, silly," Tanji replied, giggling unashamedly at Kevin's confusion.

Kevin gingerly lifted the stem, bringing the wildly gyrating globe to his lips. As he tilted, an alarmingly large portion of the drink ended up in his mouth, the remainder forming a smaller sphere, still unmixed and swirling as energetically as before.

"Umm," Kevin gulped, the slightly sticky mixture rapidly warming his throat, "Are you sure this stuff isn't poisonous?"

Tanji giggled again, putting her hand demurely in front of her mouth. She then elegantly demonstrated the sipping, sucking action which seemed to be required to partake of the confection without embarrassment or incident.

"So what are these things called?" Kevin asked.

Tanji said something in the Lyndesfarne language, then paused for a moment.

"I think the translation," she said thoughtfully, twirling her own glassless stem around and around, "Would be 'Rolling Stones'."

Actually, they were fairly easy to drink, as Kevin found after a few more experiments - although taking only a small amount was trickier than it looked. Amazingly, the contents never seemed to spill and the globe got smaller and smaller after each sip. Tanji demonstrated the approved way to take the last, marble-sized, mouthful with a single sucking, popping movement.

Kevin was hugely amused and, as it turned out, rather more inebriated than he realised.

"That was fun!" he laughed, swallowing the last drop, "Let's have another one."

The rest of the evening passed in a pleasant blur. Kevin was witty, or at least Tanji laughed a lot; food was served by efficient and friendly staff, and once eaten the remnants were removed almost immediately.

The view from the window - which was just transparent glass, no magic apparently involved - was spectacularly romantic, an effect magnified when they took a short stroll on the open balcony on the level above the restaurant after dinner. The sea breeze - much cooler now - was both refreshing and slightly sobering.

Kevin swung Tanji around to face him, drawing her close and kissing her firmly on the lips.

"I love you," he affirmed, "Even if those Rolling Stones did try to knock me sideways!"

"I love you too," she said, "Let's go to bed."

Laughing, Tanji guided him to the lift, the short walk to the portal and the even shorter walk to their hostel room.

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