The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 15

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Dumbly following the directions of the armed men, Bret, Eosin and Kevin filed into another side tunnel. This one was apparently complete and in everyday use. It was a large open space, brightly lit by half a dozen globes fixed to the ceiling which made the chalky-white walls shine glossily. The walls were unadorned apart from a notice-board, although some kind of shelving in dark wood covered part of the wall at the far end. The floor was covered with some dark non-reflective substance that looked and felt like bitumen, and was already scuffed and discoloured by the passage of a great many dusty boots.

The room seem to be set up as a meeting room, or some kind of briefing facility, with rows of hard-looking wooden chairs facing a raised dais in the centre of one wall. A large blackboard was fixed to the wall behind the dais. The dais itself was occupied by several people who stood around a large table and appeared to be deep in quiet conversation, which stopped suddenly as they entered. It was difficult to be sure exactly what they were doing, since their faces were hooded and it was impossible to make out any kind of facial feature.

Their captors led Bret, Eosin and Kevin to the open space between the dais and first of the rows of chairs. One of the guards closed the door behind them, considerably reducing the noise from the work going on outside, although it was still clear that there was plenty of activity out there.

The blocky man who appeared to be the leader of the group that had abducted the trio stepped up on the dais and spoke inaudibly to the group of people that stood there. In contrast to his slightly swaggering gait earlier, the group leader now seemed to move with a degree of deference which was identifiable even under the concealing swathes of the cloak. After a minute or two of debate terminated by what looked like nods and motions of approval, the blocky man turned on the dais to face Kevin and the others, suddenly looking more certain of his actions. He put his hands on his hips and said some instruction in the Lyndesfarne language, then repeated the words in rather pompous-sounding English, presumably for Kevin's benefit.

"Welcome to Unicorn crossing."

Kevin was certain he recognised the voice, and his guess was confirmed when the speaker drew back his concealing hood and revealed his face for the first time.

"Duncan!" Kevin exclaimed, unable to prevent the exclamation.

The ruddy face of Duncan Tweedy - known privately in Kevin's professional circles as Tweedledum - scowled at him. Tweedledum had been the project manager for the firm of contractors which had built the England side of the New Bridge. At that time, Kevin suspected that Tweedy had known more about the world of Lyndesfarne than he let on, or at least he had more recently discovered - as Kevin himself had - more about the Other World. Even so, he was certainly unaware that Tweedledum could speak the language - something that Kevin was embarrassed to admit had escaped him despite Tanji's careful tuition. He was astonished to discover that the other man seemed to be in a position of some authority - although evidently not at the top of the pecking order - in whatever shadowy group had abducted them.

Bret too had clearly recognised Tweedy, having encountered him in numerous interminable planning meetings in both of the Two Worlds. To be best of Kevin's knowledge, Eosin had never met the project manager, but Bret seemed to whisper a brief explanation as Tweedledum strode to the edge of the dais and looked down on them.

"Why am I not surprised to find you lot skulking around, sticking your nose in?" Tweedledum continued in English, "Our little team of bridge architects, together again. Some people really cannot take a hint and realise when they're not wanted." He glared at Bret briefly, then turned his attention to Eosin.

"And Eosin, husband to the architect and son-in-law to the Ferryman. Another nuisance."

Eosin looked a little confused at this, and Bret whispered a few words of explanation in his ear.

"And Kevin, all alone. Fallen out with your lady friend?" Tweedledum added nastily.

Kevin practically bit his tongue avoiding any answer to this jibe. He knew he could not suggest that Tanji had been with them when they were captured, but he could still feel himself rising to the bait.

"Why have you brought us here?" Bret demanded, covering Kevin's distress.

"Indeed, a good question. Always good questions from you, it seems," Tweedledum replied, "And the answer is, I need one of you to take a message for me."

"What message?" Bret rejoined, "And who to?"

Tweedy stood up straight and lifted his chin, and put his hands behind his back under the cloak. This had the effect of emphasising his paunch, making him look like a heavily pregnant schoolteacher. Kevin knew that Tweedy very much liked the sound of his own voice and tended to pontificate on any topic he fancied given half a chance, regardless of whether he knew anything about the subject or not.

"You will already have guessed that we are re-opening the old crossing," he began, "We have hidden works here and in France to create new tunnels, and the crossing itself will be re-activated very soon. We realise that we cannot hide this forever. So, we are proposing a deal."

"What deal?" Bret asked coldly.

While Tweedledum was speaking so far, the three people on the dais had stood quietly. Now, they moved slowly to the side of the platform and stood for a moment as a group watching Tweedy's oration. In their robes, with their faces deeply hooded, it was impossible to make out who they were, or even to be sure whether they were men or women. As one, the group stepped off the platform and moved towards the back of the room, walking quietly on the slightly resilient floor covering, presumably, Kevin imagined, to reduce the impact of Tweedledum's hectoring tones on their ability of engage in much more important discussions.

"Before I answer that," Tweedy said with a sardonic smile, "Perhaps I can draw your attention to these?"

He pointed to some objects on the table, a handful of what looked like chunky pieces of jewellery. With a start, Kevin suddenly realised that they were amulets, looking worryingly like the one which had been used to deliver the self-inflicted mind wipe that destroyed Demaz's memory in the dragon's cave.

Bret and Eosin had also realised what the objects were. Bret swallowed visibly.

"Go on," he said with chilly calm.

"We intend to make our crossing more, shall we say, accessible to the general public," Tweedledum said, "So here's the deal. You manage your crossing in your own way, and leave us alone. We'll run our own crossing as we see fit although frankly, we find the prohibitions against the mixing of magic and machinery to be ludicrously outdated."

"No!" Bret said with a sharp intake of breath.

"Oh, I think you'll agree," Tweedledum went on, "Otherwise, we'll force the closure the Lyndesfarne crossing whether you want it or not!"

Both Bret and Eosin gasped audibly.

"How?" Kevin asked, with what he would later realise was a touching degree of naivety.

Tweedledum snorted derisively.

"You've got the emergency closure code!" Bret breathed softly, but not so quietly that Tweedledum failed to hear what he said.

"Very good, very good," he sneered, "Well guessed, again."

"But that'll kill hundreds of people, perhaps thousands!" Bret protested.

"Yes, it probably would," the other man replied, "But those lives would be on your own head, your own conscience, wouldn't they? To keep them safe, all you have to do is agree to our very reasonable proposal. The sensible thing all around, don't you think?"

Tweedldum swung around and leaned forward, staring directly at Kevin.

"So, to convey our very sensible proposal, I need you to take a message to the Board of Control," he growled, "And to the Ferryman. You've heard the deal. I'm sure you can describe its outlines to the bosses."

"Why me?" Kevin protested, "I'm a stranger here. I barely know my way around."

"All for the best, dear boy," Tweedy said airily, "You won't be tempted to try any tricks. Especially since you won't have much time to get to the Ferryman and her cronies, and then get back here with the reply. After all, I'm sure you wouldn't want anything to happen to your friends, now would you?"

"What do you mean?" Kevin said, aghast.

"You know what these are?" Tweedledum said, tapping the table.

Kevin nodded dumbly.

"So, if you convey this message for me, then I'll spare your friends the attention of these little beauties."

He indicated the amulets again, which looked somehow menacing, frightening, despite their outwardly innocent appearance. "You bastard!" Kevin shouted, lunging forward in an uncharacteristic display of rage. This was neither particularly helpful nor effective, he would immediately learn; he had barely taken a couple of steps before two of the guards had grabbed his by the shoulders and forced him to the ground.

Kevin struggled ineffectually for a few moments against the bodies that held him to the floor, then lay quietly. A new thought had just occurred to him: the noises from the tunnel had diminished outside the closed door had diminished, fallen silent, as if something or someone was stopping the frantic activities that had been progressing only a few minutes before.

"So, are you going to take my message to the Ferryman?" Tweedledum boomed.

At that moment, the door opened quietly and a series of figures, also wearing hooded cloaks filed into the room. Tweedledum barely glanced in their direction until the leading figure cast off the hood and said calmly, "Perhaps you would prefer to convey your message in person?"

Kevin was dumbstruck, frozen for a long moment. The speaker was the familiar figure of the Ferryman, the final arbiter of the governance organisations that surrounded the Lyndesfarne crossing, as well as Bret's mother. He could not imagine how she had managed to arrive so quickly in this section and out-of-the-way location.

The hooded figures that had followed the Ferryman into the room reacted suddenly and swiftly in a professionally choreographed movement. They drew a collection of menacing black objects from under their robes which looked like heavy truncheons, although Kevin had little doubt that they were magical weapons, even though he did not have a clue about how they functioned. The newcomers surrounded and disarmed the group of guards who had abducted Kevin, Bret and Eosin, and two more leapt onto the dais and grabbed Tweedledum before he could move more than a couple of steps.

The group of people who had occupied the dais before their arrival had reacted more quickly, it seemed. Bret gave an inarticulate cry, pointing towards the far end of the room where the quiet figures had congregated. Kevin span around just in time to see the conspirators apparently stepping through the bookshelves and disappearing. He realised that the bookshelves must have been some kind of illusion - a glamour, Kevin had heard it described - which concealed something of importance. In this case, the hooded figures had stepped into an active portal which had promptly deactivated as soon as they had stepped through, presumably as part of a carefully planned emergency escape route.

Even so, it seemed that the bookcase, or at least the wall, was real enough now. Bret had darted down the room to try and intercept the hooded conspirators, even though he was still shackled at the wrists. He reached the portal seconds after the last figure had disappeared, colliding with the shelving and bouncing off with a cry of alarm and pain.

Eosin, who had hurried down the room right behind him, and was now bent over the fallen figure, clearly urgently enquiring whether Bret was all right and looking more concerned now than he had done during the entire abduction ordeal. To Kevin's relief, Bret sat up a few moments later, and was helped to his feet by Eosin.

"Too late," he said, shaking his head and looking extremely frustrated, "They got away again."

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