The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 19

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Tanji, Bret and Eosin turned as one to face the Ferryman, with Kevin only a second behind. The other people in the room did the same, and a sudden hush fell over the gathering. The Ferryman appeared to have been in deep discussion with two younger people - a man and a woman - while studying some things that had been placed on the table beside her. She picked at the objects with finger and thumb, an expression of mild distaste on her face, then stood up straight and swept her gaze over the audience. She spoke clearly and slowly in the language of Lyndesfarne and, despite her recent ordeal, Tanji once again started to interpret for Kevin benefit almost automatically.

"It appears that today we have solved an old family mystery," Tanji whispered a translation in Kevin's ear, "Although we may well have uncovered a deeper mystery instead."

The Ferryman visibly took a deep breath and then continued.

"For those who have not heard the story, it seems that, in the year of" - Tanji hesitated a second, then added - "that would be 1952, I think, three young men disappeared in unexplained circumstances, never to be seen or heard of again. Let me tell you something about these three young men."

"One was named Alistair, who joined the Guardians after the Second Great War in the Other World. Although a foreigner, this man travelled widely in our world and the other, and met a young woman named Yise, who he married. This young man was my father."

There was a collective gasp around the room. Kevin was entirely astounded, even though he had heard something of this story before, and Tanji seemed to be equally dumbfounded. Bret and Eosin were holding hands for mutual support. Alistair and Yise were, Kevin already knew, Bret's maternal grandfather and grandmother.

"I never really knew him," the Ferryman continued, according to Tanji's translation, "He disappeared when I was but a babe in arms. My mother never forgot him, and never gave up hope that she might find out what happened. But now I strongly believe, and with sound evidence to show it, that one of the bodies that our brave young Guide has discovered this day was that of Alistair."

Tanji coloured slightly at being mentioned in these terms, but did not hesitate in her translation for a second. "When Alistair disappeared, he was in the company of two others. One was a native of this world, by name of Bram, Yise's brother and my uncle. A brave and resourceful man, one who had also travelled widely in both worlds. The third was their friend and trusted companion, another native of the Other World, a quick-witted and dexterous man called Tom."

Kevin had previously heard both the Ferryman herself and her daughter Bret speak about the time the three companions had left in the middle of the night on some unnamed and mysterious errand, something thought to be urgent, but not perceived as particularly dangerous, and had simply failed to return despite a promise to be back by morning. At the time, he had sensed Bret's sadness and latent frustration at the lack of information, at simply not knowing what had become of his grandfather all those years ago.

"How do I know all this, you may be asking yourself," the Ferryman asked rhetorically, Tanji once again whispering a translation in his ear.

Kevin was indeed asking himself this; not because he thought it was untrue, but more because he wanted to know how the Ferryman - usually a cautious and conservative individual, he thought - could be so sure of the facts.

The Ferryman looked stern-faced. She picked up an object from the table and held it up for inspection. It was, as far as Kevin could see, a book of some kind, bound in very mouldy-looking brown leather.

"This book tells us much. It is Bram's notebook and, err," - Tanji's translation faltered again - "his magic slate. As far as we can tell, all three were killed quickly, by some kind of magical weapon."

Tanji had difficulty with the translation of this last phrase, it seemed to Kevin, although he was unsure whether this because of there being no words in English to name any kind of magical weapon, or Tanji's personal disgust at the whole notion.

"The bodies were dumped in the room where they were found," the Ferryman continued, "Whoever it was, it must have happened very hurriedly, perhaps even in a panic. It seems there was no attempt to search the bodies. Otherwise, such incriminating evidence" - she waved the book again - "would have been removed or destroyed."

By now, there were murmurs of sympathy and even alarm from the various groups and individuals in the room. Clearly, many people here had heard something of the history. Some seemed unsure how to react, while others were aghast, perhaps wondering what new revelations were to follow.

"What we don't yet know," the Ferryman said, again sweeping the room with her eyes, "Is who committed this crime, although I feel sure a more detailed analysis of Bram's book, and Tom's notebook, too" - she indicated one of the other objects still on the table - "may furnish a few clues. What is entirely clear from even a cursory glance is why the young men were killed."

The muttering and murmuring around the room stopped at once, and everyone's attention refocused on the stern-looking woman at the table.

"It seems that Bram kept copious notes about his investigation, one which he and the others had been undertaking. Perhaps we should all hear the last entry in his notes."

Kevin vaguely expected the Ferryman to read aloud from the book but, instead, she gestured economically with her right hand at the worn and discoloured book held in her left. The voice of what sounded to Kevin like that of a confident-sounding man suddenly filled the room. He sounded slightly breathless, as if he had just run a distance uphill, and spoke rapidly in the Lyndesfarne language.

"Now at the end of the tunnel," Tanji translated as the voice of Bram sounded out over the hush in the room, "I've activated the amulet that the Ferryman gave me and it's showing something."

While Bram's voice carried on speaking, the present Ferryman held up another object which had been on the table and held it aloft. It looked like an item of jewellery, some kind of chunky necklace of dull polished stones.

"There's definitely been some recent crossing magic," Bram's voice went on, "Nothing overt, nothing that changes the properties of the interfaces but somebody had been probing around - and very recently, too."

"I knew it!" Eosin cried directly to Kevin, in English, then added something incomprehensibly rapid to Bret in the language of the Other World.

There was a sound in the background, from the same magical recording that had captured Bram's voice, followed by a call incongruously in English, presumably from either Tom or Alistair. "Over here!"

There was a further series of obscure and incomprehensible noises.

"Someone's coming!" Bram's voice said distinctly, also in English. There was a snap, as if the notebook cover had been closed hurriedly, and then nothing more.

The discussions around the room suddenly swelled as everyone present speculated on the importance of what they had just heard. Bret was talking animatedly to Eosin and Tanji seemed to be following their discussion closely. Kevin's own thoughts were in turmoil. He realised that these were men who had, by all accounts, survived numerous adventures and mishaps during the War in Europe, only to be killed in secret, and their bodies concealed, in a supposedly peaceful part of this world.

The mutterings suddenly coalesced into a babble of questions from first this group and then that faction, clearly distinguishable, Kevin thought, by their body language and the way they huddled together as if for mutual support. There were answers from the Ferryman, and Bret, and several others who appeared to have positions of responsibility somewhere in the interlocking organisations that surrounded the crossing between the two worlds.

Tanji could barely keep up with the translations and, after a while, she gave up even the attempt to do so. She did manage to précis some of the interchanges, explaining that there were a lot more handwritten written notes, from Bram and from Tom, which described how the two men had tracked down first one informant and then another, over a period of many months, and in many parts of both worlds.

Finally, they felt that they had enough information, so the collected their old friend and companion Alistair for what was do doubt supposed to be one last adventure before settling down. They had taken the magic amulet - Tanji was unable to make clear exactly how they had acquired this item - and followed the trail of information which led them to the tunnel that was once part of a crossing. There, Tanji reflected sadly, to meet with a sudden and untimely end.

The Ferryman slapped the table as her side with the palm of her hand. At the sound, the discussions and question ceased. She drew herself upright and spoke very slowly and formally, so that Tanji had no difficulty in translating the words.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems we are opposed, as many of us have suspected for a long time. There is an organisation ranged against us, a hidden organisation that wishes to implement its own pathways to the Other World, outside of the jurisdiction of the Combined Boards and the governance of the Guilds. An organisation that would introduce unfettered magic into the Other World, and powerful engineering technologies into our own. An organisation that has been working against us for generations, perhaps centuries. And an organisation that has killed and injured our friends and relatives many a time."

She paused for dramatic effect, then thundered.

"This organisation must be stopped."

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