The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 33

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"So this is it?" Kevin asked pensively.

Tanji nodded and smiled rather wanly in return, looking up at him. They stood face to face, noses practically pressed together and holding each others hands tightly. He was desperate for any kind of physical contact with the woman who was, in all honesty, the love of his life, despite the public nature of the place where they stood.

Kevin constantly held Tanji close, ignoring the chill wind and the drizzle that enveloped them both, and looked around briefly. They were standing at the side of the road on the England side of the crossing, just at the point where the causeway met the shore. The road and the causeway were packed with - well, Kevin considered that the word must be refugees - passing in both directions.

There were few of the horse-drawn wagons that he might have expected under normal circumstances, transporting travellers and their goods. Instead almost everybody was on foot, walking quickly, a few carrying heavy packs and rucksacks, although most had little or nothing by way of baggage. Many of the travellers, Kevin suspected, had left their final crossing to the last possible moment, to spend a last few moments, as they had, with friends and loved ones they would never see again.

The road leading inland was also dense with travellers, again mostly on foot. The press of people were being directed by a larger than usual number of the Guardian force, clearly identifiable by the nearly-uniform they wore, topped with the High-Visibility vests in bright yellow which were mandatory, in Kevin's world, for any role which involved directing traffic.

Kevin turned his attention back to Tanji.

"And will I never see this face again?" he said, gently taking her chin in his hand.

"You will not, my love," she replied softly, her face inches from his own.

Kevin knew for a certainty that this would be true. The tears welled in his eyes as he considered once again the prospect of a life without Tanji.

"I will think of you, always," he went on earnestly, meaning every word of it quite literally, "Every day. Wishing you were there by my side."

Over the years since he had first met Tanji - a meeting that took place not far from this very spot - the two of them had embarked upon so many adventures and enjoyed so many wonderful experiences together, although some of them had not exactly been planned. In her company, he had travelled far and wide in each of the Two Worlds and had seen things he would simply not have believed possible. He had shared every waking thought and dozing dream with her, enjoyed her most intimate company on many an occasion, revelled in the sensation of waking up next to her, feeling her body, her warmth next to him in their bed.

"I will miss all this, so very much." she replied, "I will miss you. And I will love you forever."

She kissed him full on the lips, then firmed her grip on his hands and stood back.

"I have to go," she said simply.

Kevin nodded dumbly. He held her hands for a long moment, then released her, dropping his hands to his sides despondently. She stooped to pick up her pack, which she swung onto her back over the characteristic hooded cloak. She turned to go, took a few steps, then turned back to blow a last kiss to Kevin.

She pulled herself together with a visible show of resolution, then set off for the causeway proper, soon merging with the other traffic joining the causeway. The last thing he saw, through tear-blurred eyes, was Tanji's blonde pony-tail disappearing into the distance, her stride matching those of numerous other refugees. He watched her go until she was completely out of sight, indistinguishable amongst the other travellers even before her figure was concealed by the twin grey blankets of the increasingly heavy rain and the mysterious blurring caused by the crossing itself.

Still Kevin waited, watching people of all shapes and sizes passing to and fro. He saw no-one he recognised - not that he expected to - but he felt marginally less miserable. Almost everyone in the stream of refugees, passing in either direction, wore an expression of irredeemable depression and gloom. He watched until the pedestrian traffic subsided to a mere trickle, just a few stragglers hurrying to complete their crossing before it was no longer possible.

Finally, he turned and made his way back to the Volvo, which was one of the few remaining cars in the windswept field that served as a car park. He drove slowly and carefully, peering through the rain-speckled windscreen, careful to avoid the numerous pedestrians and occasional horse-drawn wagon making their way along the road. Once he reached the main road, he turned left and drove on perhaps five miles, then turned right onto a minor road, a twisting lane that made it way up a ridge that overlooked the sea. Kevin had been advised to keep clear of the crossing, in case of accidents at the point of closure. Nevertheless, his inevitable curiosity to know exactly what would happen had caused him to be directed to this hillside in the vicinity of what he understood was once known as St. Cuthbert's Way.

The location of this particular hillside had been recommended to him by Tanji, although where she had got the information from was not totally clear. It was obvious that others had received the same advice: there were cars and other vehicles lined up along the lanes, parked in such a way that made passage difficult but not impossible. Kevin found a spot to dump the Volvo, pulled a pair of modern high-tech binoculars from the back seat together with a warm and heavy hooded cloak in the Lyndesfarne style, and wandered over to the vantage-point that had been recommended.

There were others doing much the same, many individuals and a few small groups, more than he would have expected, and all of them finding a place to stand along the dry stone wall that afforded an unrestricted view of the entire island of Lyndesfarne. No-one seemed to be feeling sociable; everyone kept their distance, maintained their privacy. A dour feeling settled over Kevin, like being at a funeral or a wake.

For a long time, nothing happened. The drizzle faded away and the wind dropped, and the sun even began to appear around the edges of the clouds on the horizon. Both towers of the New Bridge shone in the watery sunlight, the roadway itself seeming impossibly thin from this distance. The nearer part of the causeway and the Old Bridge itself became visible, although the far shore was as indistinct as ever, hidden under the mysterious haze that concealed all but the vaguest of outlines.

Without warning, sounds and, astonishingly, even movements started to be perceivable from the island. Some people around Kevin gasped and screamed, their alarm and distress audible even over the rumbling crunching noise. The ground itself heaved and buckled slowly, even majestically, huge unstoppable movements that were clearly visible even from this distance. It was like an earthquake, or like some vast beast struggling titanically against massive chains and restraints, a monstrous creature facing fearsome enemies while attempting to escape from a cavern deep underground.

The whole island was suddenly enveloped with what looked like dust or, perhaps more likely, thick clouds suddenly formed in the damp atmosphere from thousands of tons of water thrown into the air from the sea all around the island. The mist swirled and twisted violently, shot through with green and orange flecks, those luminous sprites that marked the presence of powerful magic. This maelstrom was accompanied by an eye-warping warp in the air, somehow distorting everything Kevin could see, but only those parts observed from the corner of the eye.

Eventually the rumbling and groaning ceased, and the mist began to clear, the water, or dust or whatever it was either settling to the ground or blown out to sea in great drifting sheets of whiteness. There was a collective sign from the spectators as a new panorama was unveiled by the retreating clouds. Kevin could see, for the first time in his experience, the entire island of Lyndesfarne.

He swept the scene with his binoculars, traversing what was now truly an island. He could clearly see the sea all around, now a green-blue shot with white flecks of foam. The castle still stood on its promontory, its stark bulk contrasting with the flat and featureless dunes and scrubby grass. Smooth sand flats now lay between the island and mainland, which seemed closer together than before, and now peppered as if by a giant hand with grey rocks.

Kevin studied the regions previous occupied by the bridges. The Old Bridge had completely disappeared, its masonry sucked into the twisted vortex, although the line of the causeway could just be observed as a row of broken stones on the sand. The New Bridge had also vanished with not even any wreckage to be seen, although he could just make out a broken stump in the waves that was the remains of one of the support towers. The sand flats and the tiny island, the broken masonry and the complete disappearance of his bridge, brought home to Kevin the awful truth, that the last crossing to the Other World was now truly closed, forever.

Kevin stood for a long while after all sound and movement had stopped, shivering occasionally, even though the wind was not particularly cold. Finally, he returned to his car, now standing all alone along the edge of the lane. He unlocked the vehicle and climbed in, having carefully laid his Lyndesfarne cloak - almost the only item he had retained from the Other World - on the back seat.

He started the car in a daze and drove, slowly and carefully, back to Manchester on automatic pilot, barely conscious of the traffic and the road signs around him. Finally, he arrived at the little flat, the private space he had so often shared with Tanji. He dumped his bag and cloak by the door, then collapsed on the bed and wept like a baby.

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