The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge at War: Chapter 40

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Gardens at Cliviger Grange With the resilience of youth and a fair display of will-power, it was not long before Tom was up and out of bed. He never had been a great one for lying around at the best of times and very much preferred to be doing something, anything, instead.

With his leg in plaster, he found it a bit trying hobbling about with the aid of crutches, and found himself sitting around in the recuperation wing or, quite often during the late summer, on one of the benches set on the lawns outside.

The ache in his head eased rapidly, although the rest of his body pained him on occasion. His legs and lower arms had been badly scratched where the gorse and hawthorns thorns had pierced his clothing, but these wounds healed rapidly. The one constant irritation was the itching of his skin inside the plaster cast on his leg, in places he just could not reach.

He continued to receive a stream of visitors which ameliorated the feelings of boredom and uselessness that his enforced inaction had brought on. One visitor he had been expecting was Sergeant Brasham. The Sergeant strolled casually across the lawns one afternoon and enquired politely about his health. After several fairly stilted and platitudinous exchanges, Brasham knelt down and spoke quietly.

"I know you've got your suspicions about me, about my other work," he began, "And I also know you've been discreet about our conversations so far."

Tom nodded.

"I would very much like to encourage you to keep that particular piece of intelligence under your hat, as it were. As with any, shall we say, unusual private speculations that you might have."

"I do understand," Tom replied carefully, "And I think you can rely on my discretion."

Brasham looked at him for a long moment, then nodded sagely.

"Good, good," he murmured, "So, get well soon."

With that, the Sergeant blithely strode off the way he had come.

Briz also visited him on several occasions, once accompanied by Yellez. Bram's mother was effusive in her praise for Tom, and repeatedly emphasised her desire to welcome him once again as a guest in her house.

"After all," she explained in a motherly fashion, "You'll need to get your strength up, and I remember how much you enjoyed mealtimes when you first visited."

Tom was genuinely heartened by this invitation and expressed his thanks profusely, promising to take up her kind invitation as soon as he was reasonably mobile again.

Even old Ged, the dragon-hunter he had encountered in the Dragon's Nest, turned up one morning. There was no mistaking the jaunty stride of the old man as he approached from the direction of the stables having, Tom presumed, begged a lift from the causeway in some car or truck.

"Ged," Tom welcomed the hunter, "What brings you over this side of the crossing."

"Oh, I've some errands here at the School," the other man replied slightly evasively, indicated the buildings behind him, "And I've heard tell of your escapades."

Tom wondered if there was more to the old man than met the eye. He later learned that one of the innovations Fred proposed to introduce into the curriculum at the Grange was classes on dragons and how to repel them. Despite the misgivings he had earlier expressed to Tom, Fred apparently felt comfortable in asking Ged to teach what he knew about the dangerous beasts.

One visitor he did not expect, and indeed did not even speak to, was the mysterious Irish lady that he and his companions had encountered in that market in Alnwick last year. He had been sitting outside, dozing in the autumn sunshine, when she emerged from the clumps of rhododendrons and laurels that encircled the lawns.

The mystic stood leaning on her staff with an appearance, Tom could now see, very much like one of the Messengers. He saw her looking at him rather sternly, and he returned the stare. Having gained his full attention, she smiled regally and nodded once in what Tom took to be approval, then stepped back into the bushes and disappeared.

Tom had been thinking about that strange dream he had experienced while he was unconscious. He had begun to wonder if perhaps his memory of the incident had been suppressed by some magical means, and he was increasingly determined to find out what happened to his parents in 1927 or whenever it was.

He had mentioned something about dreaming about his parents to Bram and Briz, in one of several de-briefing sessions at the Grange. Father and son had listened silently to what Tom had to say, Bram glancing meaningfully at his father when they heard about the melting glass marble.

"Well," Briz said when Tom had finished, "It does sound like something we might do to protect the innocent, but I don't know what happened, exactly. Before my watch, as it were."

Bram looked as if he was about to say something, but Briz continued quickly.

"However, I'm prepared to look into it or, more precisely, get young Bram here to look into it. Start in the library at home," he said, now addressing his son, "And work from there."

Bram was his frequent companion during this period, delivering near-daily reports on what had happened to Tarm and Markham. On one occasion, he explained that there had been considerable investigation into the Major's background.

Apparently, Markham had been marked out early in his career as an able young Army officer and was soon seconded, under some obscure arrangements Bram could not quite explain, into the Guardian organisation in the early Nineteen Thirties. He had remained in this role until just before the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, which had probably seemed suitably heroic at the time.

The then-Captain Markham had attained a supposedly distinguished military service during the conflict itself, although a closer investigation - as far as it was possible from the occasionally confused reports from that time - suggested that he had been involved in very little actual fighting.

"So the upshot of all this," Bram concluded, "Was that the Boards were prepared to put Markham in a position of trust."

"Was there no doubt?" Tom asked.

"It seems not," Bram replied sadly, "His exemplary record from before the War, together with being a decorated war hero, meant that he was beyond suspicion."

A few days later, Bram returned to the hospital wing at the Grange.

"There's another piece of news which I feel I must give you," Bram said, rather solemnly, "Although, to be frank, I'm not sure how you'll take it. But, please be calm."

Needless to say, with an introduction like that, Tom was already on tenterhooks. He resolved to keep a composed appearance, whatever bombshell the other man was about to drop.

"The first thing you need to know was that Brad - your father - was from Lyndesfarne."

Tom considered this thoughtfully for a few moments.

"I'd wondered about that, after my dream," he replied eventually, "So it was actually true?"

"It was," Bram confirmed, "And, he was an agent for the Board of Control."

"Like you?" Tom asked bluntly.

Bram nodded.

"And, like you, with access to magic which really does work in this world?"

Bram froze, seeming unable to look Tom in the eye for a moment. It occurred to Tom that there was something magical going on here - that the other man could not this question even if he wanted to.

"I can't answer that," he said quietly.

He shook his head uncomfortably.

"Anyway," Bram resumed, after a moment to recover, "It turned out that Brad was a distant relative of mine, a third cousin once removed, or something."

Tom gasped.

"So we're related too?"

"Yes," Bram confirmed, "In an exceedingly distant way. Not that this is unusual. The same families have been preoccupied by looking after the crossing for generations."

"Well," Tom said slowly, "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, cousin."

He extended his hand. Bram grasped his outstretched palm, his wry smile extending itself over his face. Tom grinned back.

"So, tell me more, cousin," he said.

Bram nodded.

"It seems that your father met your mother during one of his extended stays in your world," Bram resumed, "And we know that they married and you are the result."

He paused for a moment, looking suddenly sombre.

"But there was a reason that Brad had been spending so much time in the vicinity of Long Benton. And it turns out that this had to do with our friend Markham."

Tom gasped.

"What?" he cried, "But that was years ago!"

"Right enough. Markham's been playing a double game for a long time."

Bram explained that the Boards in Lyndesfarne had discovered that Agrea was placing agents in the Armed Forces in Britain, at the time when it was becoming clear to almost all observers that some kind of military conflict in Europe was inevitable. The military base on the common at Long Benton was a particular target, as it had been - correctly - predicted that it would act as a recruitment centre in the event of hostilities.

"So, Brad was finding out more about this," Bram went on, "And, later, Lizzie too. But somehow they got too close and were discovered. And that's why they had to go on the run."

"And they left me with Granny," Tom breathed.

"I'm afraid so," the other man replied, "It must have seemed like the safest thing to do. And, let's face it, it worked - no one seems to have recognised your connection to all this."

"Is that why Markham was worried about me?" Tom asked.

Tom's old home "Perhaps," Bram conceded, "But he could not have been sure of your identity. After all, your surname - the one you have grown up with - is that of your Grandma. It's not that uncommon, after all."

"But you know what happened to my parents?" Tom asked anxiously.

Bram shook his head sadly.

"We don't," he said softly, "It's a complete mystery. They just seemed to have vanished. They've made no contact with anyone that I've been able to track down. Of course, that might have been sensible, in their position - trust no one, perhaps emigrate to a far part of the world and avoid anything to do with magic, as least as far as possible."

"What do you mean, as far as possible?"

Bram shrugged.

"If they're still alive, they must have been hidden from Finders," he said quietly.

"Finders?" Tom exclaimed. This aspect has not occurred to him.

Bram reached into his pocket and drew out the pendant that Alistair had found hidden in the ditch.

Magical Lyndesfarne pendant "I talked with Alistair," he said, "Explained something of the position. He wants you to have this."

"What for?"

"If they're alive, then they will still be magically hidden. But we're going to spread the word that the Agrea plot has been rumbled, that Markham is in custody. If Brad and Lizzie have any contacts with my world, they'll hear eventually, and may risk removing the magic which hides them. So, keep it with you, wear it around your neck always. Think of your mother sometimes - you remember the gestures?"

Bram paused. Tom nodded slowly.

"It's just possible you will just be able to see your parents again."

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