The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge at War: Chapter 18

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Noticeboard at Cliviger Grange The curriculum at Cliviger Grange was eclectic, to say the least. The classes and other instructional sessions were undoubtedly carefully thought out and often elaborately organised, although it still gave Tom the slight impression of being changeable at a moment's notice, on a whim. At least the sessions were interestingly varied or, more precisely, mused Tom, widely variable in the amount of interest they provoked.

There were several lessons each week on Lyndesfarne history and culture. There were also sessions which were described as "Properties of Matter". This, Tom concluded, was a euphemism for extensive briefings on the properties of magic and how to use it. There were seemingly endless drills on the forms of gestures and controls, and rather little analysis on the wider social impact of the use of magic.

Tom found the classroom learning of gestures rather unsatisfactory, since nothing actually happened. The learning by rote reminded him uncomfortably of being back at school. Even so, he understood that there would be an opportunity to visit Lyndesfarne to try out what they had learned, so he persevered and became at least tolerably competent.

Another series of classes with a regular place in the timetable attempted to instil the rudiments of the Lyndesfarne alphabet, and the spoken and written language. Alistair seemed to find learning the language easy - almost as if he was being reminded of something he already knew, Tom speculated - or perhaps he was just naturally gifted at languages. Tom, on the other hand, found the language lessons the hardest part of the entire curriculum. Nevertheless, he persisted, and made slow but steady progress, although he suspected he would never achieve the easy confidence that came so naturally to Alistair.

Because of his rapidly increasing fluency, at least in part, Alistair was told that he was being marked down as a candidate for the Guides. They had already learned that another pair of organisations existed, in Lyndesfarne and England, to provide guides and interpreters for VIPs from the Other World. In Lyndesfarne, this group was known as the Guild of Directions, at least in translation; on this side, the official title was the Travellers Guidance Group or TGG, but was frequently shortened to "The Guides".

Yomping for Guardians There were also a number of training exercises which seemed to Tom to be much more military in nature. These included long marches around the local area, undertaken at a fair pace and carrying light packs. Tom suspected that at least part of the reason for all the yomping was to familiarise them with the surroundings, so that they had an intimate knowledge of the local topography. The actual marching he took entirely in his stride, having retained a high level of strength and fitness thanks to his years in the army. This had been recently topped up by several months of farm labouring - and farmhouse mealtimes - which had bulked up the musculature of his shoulders and arms considerably.

In spite of the Major's protestations about the Guardians being the equivalent of a civilian police force, there were several lessons of unashamedly military training. Tom particularly enjoyed the classes in unarmed combat, given by a lithe and energetic little man known only as Mister Giles, who must have had a military background in what Tom assumed to be one of the commando regiments. After a few sessions spent being thrown about by Giles and his new comrades, and throwing some of them in turn, Tom felt he was gaining a degree of confidence in tackling any shady character who tried to hit him.

Traditionally, Guardians were not armed - like British policemen, Tom thought. During wartime, they had been issued with side-arms, although these were not now standard-issue. Even so, more powerful weaponry, including rifles and machine guns, were available if needed; apparently these were stored securely in the armoury, part of the guard building near to the causeway entrance. The trainee Guardians therefore needed to be familiar with modern armaments, and so weapons' training was mandatory.

Practice sessions with rifles and handguns were really just a refresher course for those who had been in the Armed Forces. From his previous experiences, it seemed that Tom had sharp eyes, and he had been a particularly good shot with a rifle in the Army.

"You could be better, son," his weapons instruction Sergeant used to say, "But you rush your shots."

Even so, he was by far the best shot in the intake at the Grange, and his marksmanship had brought him restrained praise from the gunnery instructors.

Though busy, the class schedules at the Grange nevertheless gave ample opportunity to get to know the other members of their intake at RDTE. One person it was difficult to miss was a statuesque woman who gave her name only as Sophia, and was almost Amazonian in her height and strength. She was dark-haired and dark-skinned, an exotic appearance which clashed with her markedly Glaswegian accent. Apparently, she was originally of Italian extraction, although her family had lived in the Gorbals since she was a child, and she had lost both a husband and a baby in the War. Tom wondered if this mission was a way of coping with the grief and loss; the immersive nature of her new responsibilities being quite different from her previous life.

Another new acquaintance in the classes was a petite and bubbly woman with blonde hair cut unfashionably short, who was introduced as Marjorie. Despite her cheerful demeanour, it soon became clear to Tom that Marjorie had an incredibly sharp and incisive mind which he found just a little bit intimidating.

He also made the acquaintance of a little dark man called Ifor who sported a van dyke beard and moustache, and who Tom had no difficulty in identifying as Welsh. Ifor was chatty and approachable, and soon established himself at the centre of the trainees' social circle.

There were also the two young men that he had already met in the truck. Stanley (Stan) and Charles (Charlie) were cousins who were excused the language lessons, or rather attended different and more advanced lessons elsewhere. They both looked like they were still teenagers, surely far too young to have seen active service in the War.

From Stan and Charlie, Tom learned that there were families on this side of the straights who had had connections with Lyndesfarne for generations. It was traditional for young people - both men and women - to gain a role somewhere in the overlapping organisations protecting the crossing or engaging in trade with Lyndesfarne. Sometimes this was a job for life; in other cases, the young people would return to their homes after a few years, or settle down with family and farming in later life.

In any case, these families encouraged the youngsters of each generation to speak the Lyndesfarne language at home, and arranged for occasional visits to the Other World as a family outing. Indeed, Stan admitted shyly, some families even arranged exchange visits for their children, so that the kids stayed for some weeks or even months in homes on opposite sides of the crossing.

The full-times classes combined with occasional social interludes meant that the months at the Grange just flew by. Autumn turned to winter, and the cold weather and frequent storms made the causeway wet and slippery, and the crossing much more difficult and dangerous.

One of the most interesting parts of their training during that winter, Tom considered later, happened when the students started accompanying Guardians on their day-to-day duties. Based on a roster whose working Tom could never fathom out, individual students would be directed to join a Watch at the crossing. As on a ship, there were three watches of eight hours, so that the causeway would always be guarded day and night.

On his first real watch at the crossing, Tom was paired with Fred, one of the younger Guardians he had briefly met on his first return trip to Lyndesfarne all those months ago. The two men took up a position just outside the single-story hut which was used as a guard post. This building was deceptive in size, Tom considered. It was set back into the stunted trees which edged the open area next to the causeway, with only one short wall clearly visible from the road. It also featured, he was later to discover, several basements each much larger than the floor area of the building above-ground.

It was a bright winter's day, bitterly cold, although with almost no wind. Tom was muffled up in his greatcoat with the collar turned up, and with hat, scarf and gloves all warned by the stove inside the guard post. They stood outside in a fashion which suggested that the two men had simply chosen to enjoy their cigarettes in the crisp winter weather, and watch the world go by.

One aspect of the role of Trainee Guardian was getting to know the wagoners and carters who travelled the causeway on a regular basis and, equally importantly, allowing the carters to get to know him. Tom knew that part of the purpose of the Guardians was to prevent smuggling, and the wagoners knew that they were being watched. The carters formed their own little society and were considered to be mostly honest, although a few had been suspected to taking bribes to transport contraband, at least according to Fred.

In this cold weather, their duty roster scheduled two hours on duty, followed by one half-hour off-duty to get warm again. By the end of their outdoor interlude, Tom was heartily glad to get back indoors and wrap himself around a mug of hot soup.

A little later on that day, Tom was once again stood outside with Fred, watching the wagoners and their horses carefully traversing the slippery causeway. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of movement and swivelled around to see a figure, clad in a dark robe and hood, appear over a rise in the ground only a few hundred yards away. The mysterious outline paused for a moment, apparently looking this way and that, and then turned and disappeared silently behind the hummock.

"Who the hell was that?" Tom exclaimed.

"One of the Watchers," Fred replied evenly, "I surmise that you've not been told about them yet."

"No, no I haven't," Tom said, struggling to get over his astonishment.

"Well, you'll probably be briefed about this, but let me explain anyway," the other man began.

"You should understand that the Guardians are not the only organisation which is entrusted with protecting the crossing and the bridge. Our job is to be seen, so that those who know about the crossing can see a visible police force and can feel protected. We also discourage the most blatant, or perhaps just the most stupid, attempts at smuggling."

"But there is also a more secret - or at least secretive - organisation known as the Watchers. They are rarely seen, and no one knows who they really are. They keep a watch on the area and those passing through it, whether they use the roads or not."

Lyndesfarne Watcher "So there are Watchers on Lyndesfarne as well," Tom asked.

"There are. Over there, they are supposed to be able to deploy some considerable magic to help their surveillance. On this side, they have a reputation for skills in woodcraft. I've heard tell of a Watcher who was stood on a bare rock outcrop just down the coast from here, and coincidentally approached by two different groups of Guardians. By the time the two parties met on the hilltop, the Watcher has disappeared, and no one had seen him leave."

"So why do they look like monks?" Tom persisted.

"Well, at one time, they were monks," Fred admitted, "In times past, the real role of the Monks thought to live on the Holy Island of Lyndesfarne was that of the Watchers. They also safeguarded the old route to Lyndesfarne, even now known as St. Cuthbert's Way."

"Nowadays, I suspect that the Watcher clothing - the robes with the cowl - is just traditional," Fred concluded, "So that people know what they are."

It occurred to Tom that the Watcher he had just seen had been deliberately showing himself. He suggested this to Fred, who nodded sagely in response.

"So if they're so secret," Tom pressed, "Then why do they show themselves anyway?"

"Good question," Fred answered thoughtfully, "I think it's because they want people to understand that they are being watched, all the time."

"Having said that," he continued, "We sometimes get information - tip-offs, really - from the Watchers through a number of channels. They're almost always good, certainly to the point where, if we get such a message, we hop right to it."

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