The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 13

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The darkness seemed to envelop everything and Kevin found it completely impossible to make out any single thing clearly. With slow footsteps, a figure emerged from the gloom into the pool of light formed by the globes, followed by another, and another. Each figure was wrapped in the dark capes that were ubiquitous in this world and with their hoods pulled over their faces in a successful attempt to disguise their identity.

It was clear that the figures were keeping their distance from each of the others, spacing themselves carefully to prevent any attempt to escape. Each appeared to be carrying some kind of knobbed stick with a menace that made it clear that it was some kind of weapon, even if Kevin had not seen these devices before.

The newcomers stood passively for a long moment, as if awaiting instructions. Kevin was frozen, startled into motionless, and both Eosin and Bret seemed entirely unsure what to do. Kevin was just coming to the conclusion that the silent strangers must be either Guardians or some kind of local police when they were joined by a new figure, one whose girth and gait seemed curiously familiar to him. The latest figure was also wrapped in a cloak and was carefully hooded.

"Are they Guardians?" Kevin hissed to Bret.

"No," he replied, speaking quietly out of the side of his mouth, "I don't know who they are. Best to play along for the time being."

One of the figures barked a command that Kevin failed to understand. It was then repeated in English.

"You three stay where you are,"

Both Bret and Eosin held up both hands in front of themselves, palms facing the newcomers in what was evidently a gesture of submission. Kevin looked around. Tanji, who had been standing right next to him just before the strangers had arrived, had completely disappeared. He swung his head wildly to and fro, but there was no sign of her whereabouts. Finally, he caught Bret's eye, who was standing stoically with his hands out. He gave no obvious reaction although he might have fractionally raised an eyebrow in response to Kevin's evident alarm. He realised that there must be something afoot here, and managed to get his panic under control. The police, or whoever they were, did not seem to react; perhaps, he considered as his heart rate began to settle down, they had taken his obvious fear as a reaction to their arrival.

One of the mystery figures produced a dark rod from under his robe. It was about nine inches long and perhaps half an inch in diameter. The figure grabbed Bret's unresisting arm and jabbed one end of the shaft to the inside of his wrist. The rod flared with the orange sparkles which indicated powerful active magic. The other end of the bar was pressed to Bret's other wrist, producing a similar flare.

Another figure took the glowing lamp from Kevin's hand and applied a similar rod to his wrists. There was no pain, no sensation more than a light tap, but he was suddenly and securely shackled. The bar allowed for a certain degree of movement of hands and arms but he found that he could not separate his wrists from the restraint. They were, he realized belatedly, some kind of magical handcuffs.

Now shackled, the three men were led back along the tunnel, still trailed by Bret's floating globe, until they emerged blinking into the daylight. With a few shoves - not particularly hard - and vigorous finger-pointing, they were directed back down the track the short distance to the open space where they had enjoyed their lunch earlier. Some kind of machine stood on the grass of the clearing next to the mossy stones, being guarded by another caped and hooded figure.

The glade seemed as calm and quiet as before, and the strange device looked quite out of place. It has a bulbous nose at what Kevin took to be the front, which was apparently fabricated from numerous pieces of flat glass giving it the appearance of a grossly-magnified insectile eye. Within, he could glimpse two rows of seats large enough for three people each. The vehicle seemed far too big to have driven along the narrow track that they had walked earlier.

Bret, Eosin and Kevin were guided to a large cage at the rear of the vehicle, the bars of which also sparkled with reinforcing magical sprites. The three men were pushed firmly inside and the gate closed and fastened with a brief gesture. Apart from the bars, the inside of the cage was not an uncomfortable place to travel, Kevin noted, with padded bench seating on either side.

Their captors packed themselves into the seating at the front of the vehicle, all the while taking care to ensure that their faces were obscured by the hooded capes. One of them said something which Kevin understood as "sit down, now", an interpretation which must have been broadly correct judging by the way both Bret and Eosin scrambled for their seats. This was just in time, as the craft suddenly hummed and lurched, and then sprung into the air.

Under other circumstances, Kevin would have enjoyed the trip. As far as he could tell, some kind of translucent wings had emerged from under the floor. The wings had sparkled a magical green and gold, lying motionless for a moment, then burst into impossibly fast movement. After the initial takeoff, the flight was smooth and astonishingly quiet, especially compared with the occasional flight in a helicopter that he had previously experienced. The buzzing noise from the wings was barely audible over the wind noise rushing over the bug-eyed canopy.

"What's going on?" Kevin said to Bret, raising his voice over the sound of the rushing wind, but the other man just shook his head and raised a shushing finger to his lips.

Kevin felt there was nothing to do but sit in silence, and found himself fretting inconclusively about what had happened to Tanji and what was going to happen to Bret, Eosin and himself. He hoped that Tanji had found a means of evading their captors, although he was unsure exactly how she had achieved this. Some way of making herself invisible, he supposed, some magic that he was not aware of, and something sufficiently unusual or powerful that it had evaded detection. Indeed, he realised belatedly, perhaps the reason that Bret's direction was to play along was to give Tanji a chance to get away from the mysterious group which had captured them.

As for their own situation, Bret did not seem worried or even unduly surprised by the turn of events, and Eosin also seemed calm and collected. The two of them sat side by side with stoical expressions on their faces. It was almost, Kevin wondered, as if Bret was expecting something of this nature, that he had been deliberately trying to provoke a reaction. In any case, they seemed to be being treated surprisingly well, although he was completely unclear about exactly what they had done wrong, or even whether the group who had detained them were really the official police, or crossing Guardians, or representatives from some other enforcement organisation. Apart from the obvious wrist restraints, they had not been mistreated in any way. Were arrests always this courteous in the world of Lyndesfarne, Kevin wondered, or was there a specific reason for this behaviour?

The flight went on and on. Although Kevin had no way of measuring the time, it seemed that at least forty minutes had passed. Towards the end, he was beginning to feel distinctly cold, despite the protection of the vehicle's canopy and his wonderfully warm Lyndesfarne cape. The boredom and the chill were making him drowsy and it was all he could do to avoid falling asleep in his seat. Bret and Eosin too seemed to be dozing, leaning against each other for warmth and support.

Part of the reason for the length of the flight, it seemed to Kevin, was that the flyer was not travelling either particularly high or very fast, and certainly lower and slower than the helicopters Kevin had occasionally chartered to inspect some major building works while they were underway. It seemed to him that the same prohibition about rapid vehicular travel seemed to apply in the air as it did on the ground. Besides, they were not travelling in a straight line, either, as if the pilot was skirting some unseen obstacle or trying to evade detection.

It was with some relief that Kevin realised that their vehicle was beginning to lose height and looked as if it was about to land. Ten minutes later, they were on the ground, a sudden heart-stopping vertical drop which felt as if they were about to crash into the ground, but decelerated smoothly just at the point of landing. The green and gold wings stilled, then snapped out of existence as if they had never been.

Kevin looked around with great curiosity. Their destination was a rocky beach bounded on one side by a cliff, towering walls of white chalk which stretched a hundred feet or more over their heads. On either side, the coastline swept away in smooth curves reaching to chalk headlands which sheltered the bay. The cliffs themselves and the air all around were alive with seabirds, squawking colonies of gulls of kinds which would not have been unfamiliar anywhere in Kevin's own world.

The beach itself was evidently some kind of a building site. It seemed that there was a harbour under construction, made from great blocks of what Kevin thought was an unusually white variety of the magical "construction stone" widely used in this world. The vast blocks levitated, just hung in the air, presumably by the same kind of magic that had been used when the New Bridge was constructed, and moving quietly and almost imperceptibly slowly down the beach each under the guidance of two or three people wrapped in traditional cloaks.

The source of the stone blocks appeared to be a cave mouth not far from the point where they had landed. One of their captors unlocked the cage that had confined the three captives to the rear of the flying vehicle, then directed them wordlessly up the beach in the direction of the cave. As Kevin drew closer, he could see that it was not a cave but a tunnel, and one which was also under construction.

Still wearing their wrist restraints, Kevin, Bret and Eosin walked inside, guarded front and rear by the mysterious hooded men who still carried their weapons conspicuously and in a way that suggested that they knew how to use them if necessary. Within was all noise and bustle and commotion as hundreds of people laboured unrelentingly. The tunnel was brightly lit by numerous globes of light which floated in the air or adhered to the ceiling.

No-one paid much attention to the three captives as they filed past, but remained concentrated on their tasks. Kevin understood that using magic required a degree of focus to the exclusion of the real world. It was clear that, here, almost every activity was being performed by magic, which must have represented a considerable investment in time and effort.

At one point along their route, a side tunnel was being excavated. Inside the as-yet shallow opening, two people stood side by side making expansive gestures which looked like some weird cross between someone using a hammer and miming taking a bite with the fingers. Even so, it was clearly effective as lumps of chalk the size of a child's head were being nibbled off from the rock face, leaving a smooth cut surface behind.

As they were cut, the chunks of chalk fell almost to the floor, where they were caught by a translucent skein that flickered orange that Kevin assumed was a smaller version of the levitating magic being used outside. The line of rocks on its invisible conveyor belt led down the corridor where a huddle of people received them. As Kevin watched, a lump of chalk hanging in the air disintegrated into dust, with a minimum of noise and fuss. With practised gestures from two of the workers, the dust was magically directed to settle on and become part of a block of construction stone which was itself being constructed.

Kevin knew that chalk did not make a particularly good engineering material, being so soft and porous, but here it was being magically transmuted into a material which most closely resembled concrete, although he could not even begin to guess as the processes involved. In this particular case, the team of magicians were assembling smaller curved blocks which looked as if they would form part of the lining of the tunnel, to prevent collapses and the ingress of water.

It occurred to Kevin that the vast bulk of the construction work was being undertaken inside the tunnel itself, even though it was crowded and noisy. He was forced to the conclusion that this was to keep the work unobserved as much as possible. The evident secrecy, together with his observation that it was the same strata of chalk being excavated here as was found in the cave where they had been captured, led Kevin to suspect that another route through the old crossing, still un-reopened, was now being built from this site. Indeed, he wondered wryly, if a closer inspection of the numerous civil engineering works in his world in the region of Rheims and Epernay would reveal similar tunnels.

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