The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge at War: Chapter 37

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Lyndesfarne magical pendant Tom crashed through the door of the little dormitory he shared with Ifor, panting. He fumbled in his pocket for his locker key, then tore open the door. He rummaging vigorously until he finally pulled out the little box Alistair had dug up when they had been working on the farm what seemed half a lifetime away.

Moving more cautiously now, he eased the lid from the stoneware box and lifted out the pendant, separating it carefully from the tufts of cotton wool in which it had nestled. The stone shone faintly in the dim light of the room, swinging gently on the twine that he held firmly in his fingers.

Tom wondered what gestures would be necessary to get the magic to work. He thought about the old women he had observed gleaning in the fields, the unexplained actions and movements he had witnessed the previous year. Since then, he had of course been tutored in the language of Lyndesfarne magical gestures and now he thought he recognised the commands she had used. Suddenly confident with this new-found knowledge, Tom slipped the string over his neck and held the pendant itself in his hand, while he tried to remember the precise sequence of movements the old woman had made.

As far as he understood, the approach was to bring as clear an image of the person one wished to locate to mind then use the hand gestures to activate the sprite contained within.

He concentrated on an image of Markham - his short grey hair, the military bearing and the Major's uniform with the medal ribbons. He made the gestures, but nothing seemed to happen. He tried again, with the same negative response. He knew there was no point in attempting to locate Tarm - he had no idea what the man looked like. He was determined to try again, and managed to bring Hamet to mind, remembering his trimmed dark beard and his nervous and fidgety manner. Tom gestured furiously.

The other man's location came to Tom's awareness as clearly as if someone had shouted across the room.

"He's in a caravan, at the crossing."

Staff car Tom caught up, panting hard, with Bram and Alistair as they were remonstrating with Edgar from the garages. The old mechanic was - perhaps justifiably - unhappy with the unexpected requisition of his vehicle, especially without one of his own drivers behind the wheel. His objections became more muted when he appreciated that it was Tom who would be driving.

"We need to get to the crossing, fast," Tom gasped to Bram and Alistair, "Get in!"

He thrust the pendant into Alistair's hands, and the three men struggled into the car.

"I tried it - and it works!" Tom shrieked urgently, over the noise of the electric starter, "Hamet's at the crossing, hiding in one of those wooden caravans by the fair. Can't find Markham, though."

Bram turned to Alistair.

"Let me have a go," he said calmly.

Alistair passed over the pendant without a word. Bram held the ornament in front of him, frowning with concentration.

"Nothing on Markham. Let me try Hamet" - he gestured again - "Yes, my Uncle's at the crossing, just as you said, clear as day."

"What about Tarm?" Alistair pressed.

"I don't know the man," Bram replied, "Never met him, no idea what he looks like."

"Here, let me have a try."

Bram handed over the pendant as Tom fought the car along the narrow lanes.

"You've got to bring an image of Tarm to mind, and concentrate hard," Bram explained, "And then this gesture, and thus, and thus. You see?"

Bram's hands moved fluidly through the same sequence of movements that Tom had used earlier. Alistair copied the gestures as best he could, a feat made more difficult by the bouncing of the car over the uncertain road surfaces.

"No, nothing," Alistair said, his face screwed up in an agony of concentration, "Let me try again."

He made several further attempts, but to no avail.

Bram sat thoughtfully for a few moments, his hand rubbing his chin in a way which could have been a parody of his father's habit.

"The pendant's unlikely to be able to find people in the other world," he said eventually, "So we can assume that both Tarm and Markham have crossed over to the Other World. I think we'll have to split our forces."

"What do you mean?" Alistair asked, raising his voice of the noise of the rain, which had just started. Tom switched on the windscreen wipers, their operation adding to the noise level inside the car without, Tom considered grimly, doing very much for the visibility.

"Right," Bram said, seeming to come to some kind of a decision, "Let's not alarm everyone unnecessarily. We'll use a softly-softly approach."

"Whatever you think best," Alistair responded. Tom nodded, being too busy avoiding bouncing the car off the hedgerows to manage a fuller response.

"Tom can recognise Hamet - certainly well enough for a Finder to pick him out anyway," Bram continued, speaking to Alistair, "So he can quietly nose around the fairground on this side. You know both Markham and Tarm, and I know Markham, so we'll take the pendant and go over to Lyndesfarne, and see if we can pick up their trail there."

"Sounds good to me," Alistair enthused. Tom nodded again, suspecting that part of the reason he was staying in this world was his lack of flexibility in the Lyndesfarne language.

"Good. Now, Tom, just slow down a bit before we get to the causeway," Bram advised, "I don't want to give the game away by arriving in a mad panic. So let's take it easy - calm and collected, think before we speak, yes?"

Tom slowed a little, then asked Bram, "What do you want me to do when I find Hamet?"

Bram laughed.

"Good question. Just keep an eye on him. Find out what he's up to, who he's talking to, that sort of thing."

Lyndesfarne causeway A few minutes later, Tom drove the car quietly up towards the causeway and drew up next to the guard house. The three men got out, seemingly unhurried.

"I'll catch up with you lads later on, then," Tom said to the other two, just a little bit louder than necessary. "Right enough," Bram responded, with just the suspicion of a wink. He lifted his hood against the rain and. He and Alistair set off at a brisk clip along the causeway itself, waving politely to the Guardians on duty.

Tom strolled to the Guard house and went inside. As he had expected, Oliver the driver was sat there, drinking from a steaming mug of tea. The other man looked up as Tom entered smiling.

"Brought your car back," Tom said, "Still in one piece, too."

He handed over the car keys to profuse thanks from Oliver.

Tom sauntered out of the Guard post, nodding casually to one or two of his acquaintances amongst the Guardians. He strolled back along the road away from the causeway, turning up the collar on his coat to prevent rainwater from running down the back of his neck. When he was out of sight of the Guard post, he speeded up and entered the fairground through one of the gateways in the dry stone walls.

At first glance, the market appeared to be abandoned, tent canvas flapping damply in the gusty wind. Tom soon became aware of quiet voices, as well as the clink of crockery and other domestic sounds, emanating from many of the tents. People were, Tom surmised, sensibly taking cover from the approaching storm, and making themselves as comfortable as possible while waiting.

Tom took cover under a convenient awning and stood in the lee of a stretch of taut canvas perhaps put in place to act as a windbreak. This at least gave a little shelter from the rain and wind, as well as from prying eyes. He watched the small group of horse-drawn caravans that the Finder had clearly indicated as Hamet's location.

There were three caravans, two drawn up side-by-side, and a third standing slightly apart. Tom noticed that there were only two horses picketed nearby, and wondered if that meant that one would be unoccupied. If so, he considered, that would seem the best bet to look for Hamet.

After a few minutes, Tom had spotted slight movements on the springs of two of the vehicles, the ones drawn up together, suggesting that someone was moving about inside. From one, he could see a flicker of light, perhaps as the occupant lit a lamp against the encroaching gloom. The third wagon was, by contrast, still and quiet, and Tom was beginning to give consideration to getting a little nearer for a closer inspection.

There was a cry of alarm from the direction of the causeway, followed closely by the screech of the emergency siren. From his vantage point, Tom could just make out a stream of Guardians appearing from the guard building, gesticulating wildly to one another and struggling with their clothing. He could not hear anything, their shouts and cries being drowned out by the wind and rain.

A man appeared suddenly. Tom thought he must have been hidden underneath the caravan, in some secret compartment. Tom could not tell who it was and he was unsure whether it was Hamet.

The mystery man clambered inelegantly over the dry stone wall at the rear of the fairground. Tom could see him sliding on the stones made slippery with rainwater. He made the far side then, visibly pulling his clothing tightly around himself, he started forcing his way carefully through the thicket of stunted trees and gorse bushes that stood between the wall and the coastline beyond. He could be making as much noise as he likes, Tom thought, no one will be able to hear him in this weather.

Tom wondered what to do. Should he assume that the mystery man was in fact Hamet, and follow him, at a discreet distance of course? Or was the mystery man performing some task unrelated to the disappearance of Hamet and the others? Or perhaps he was even a deliberate Red Herring, designed to put any putative Watcher off the scent?

What finally made up Tom's mind, in the end, was the knowledge that the communications tower, the site of a previous attack on the integrity of the crossing, stood on the coast in exactly the direction the man was heading.

Checking the fastening of his coat, Tom set off across the waterlogged fairground, moving as quickly as he could. He reached the point where the other man had climbed the wall and scaled it quickly, slipping at the top and sliding inelegantly down the other side.

The other man had disappeared, but Tom judged the direction of his travel as best he could and set off. The gorse tugged at his trousers and the low-hanging branches, and he stifled several yelps as thorns found their marks in his legs. A minute or two of painful progress later, he could just make out movements in the bushes ahead. Forcing himself to keep going, he paced the man ahead until he reached the edge of the undergrowth. The stranger stopped and appeared to look around, presumably trying to get his bearings.

Tom stopped some way behind him, just able to see his silhouette against the lights of the opposite shore and the causeway. Finally, the other man made up his mind and set off to the left, making, Tom thought, for the tower.

Tom crept through the bushes and peered out. There was some kind of a fire-fight occurring on the coast opposite, converging on the point where the causeway met the coast. He could see the flashes of what looked like explosions and streaks of light which looked, he thought, like fireballs. Sounds of the battle could just be heard over the roar of the wind.

On this side of the crossing, there were no signs of a fight but he could just make out his colleagues scurrying about, taking up defensive positions around the causeway. It seemed that everyone's attention was on the display from the opposite shore.

Were the armed insurgents across the straights the same group who had been capturing dragons for the earlier attack, the group that Old Ged had followed, and indeed the one that Briz had alluded to earlier on?

Tom wondered if the timing was a coincidence, or was this a diversionary attack, designed to distract the Guardians on both sides? Certainly, if one wanted to sneak up to the communications towers unobserved, this would be a perfect time to do so.

By now, the rain was coming down "like stair rods", as Tom's Granny would have said. The water was not particularly cold, but the drops were so heavy and so close together that it was like standing underneath a continuous stream of water. He was drenched.

Tom set off along the coast, keeping low, and heading towards the tower, trying to keep the mystery man in sight. At the foot of the steel ladder, the stranger stopped and pulled something from his arm, under his clothing. A bracelet, Tom thought, no, an amulet, which glowed a familiar faint orange. It was, Tom realised with a chill that had nothing to do with the rain running down his neck, some kind of a magical weapon smuggled from the Other World.

Communications tower The other man shinned nimbly up the ladder. The team of Guardians who were manning the communications tower also had their eyes on the conflict raging on the opposite shore. They did not perceive the man until he had already reached the platform. Before they could move, he had discharged the magical weapon several times in quick succession and the Guardians slumped. One collapsed against the railing, then toppled over the side.

Tom quickly crept closer to the man who had fallen to the ground. Kneeling, he searched through the leather satchels and pouches that were still firmed attached to his belt. Finally, he found what he was looking for - a Very pistol, a device for firing a coloured flare high into the air. He fumbled with the cartridges until he found a red one, for emergencies. He loaded the gun, then stood upright, holding the pistol with both hands in the approved manner, and squeezed the trigger.

The flare was clearly visible even in this awful weather. Tom glanced along the coast and could see alert Guardians heading towards him. He dropped the flare pistol and sprinted for the ladder, all pretence of stealth now abandoned. The man on the platform fired the magical weapon twice at Tom, but he was quick enough to get to the ladder and the shots arced against the steel underside of the platform. Tom shinned up the steps, and stopped at he top, keeping his head just below the level of the floor.

The mystery man was struggling with some grey-painted steel box which was firmly attached to the main structure of the tower. The box was locked shut, but the other man was fumbling with a complex key, giving Tom the strong impression that he was not familiar with mechanical locks. The strongbox yielded, and the other man pulled the door wide, allowing Tom a glimpse of a orange-glowing object inside.

Seizing the opportunity, Tom leapt from the stairs. The mystery man tried to deploy the same magical weapon he had used earlier, but the shot went wide, and Tom grabbed at the amulet he held. This close, he could see that it was in fact Hamet, his eyes wild and manic in the twin glows of the battle opposite and the magical object inside the strongbox.

Tom banged the man's hand against the steel balustrade, and the amulet flew from his grasp, disappearing over the side and into the bushes below. Hamet seemed suddenly possessed with the strength of a demon and forced Tom back against the railing, now trying to get both hands around his throat. In the confined space, Tom's boot was trapped by the body of one of his fallen comrades, and he toppled backwards.

He hit the ground and knew only blackness.

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