"No barfing, no barfing, no barfing." Rob ended up with his hands over his face, standing right on the edge of Stepney's bed. He promptly fell off.
"How are you feeling?" Stepney sat on her armchair.
"Oof! I'm OK. I landed on my knees ... ish." Rob got to his feet.
"I meant about Jonty. I hoped he'd believe you while we were there. I wanted you to see him believing you. I underestimated the inflexibility of your people." Stepney heaved a sigh.
"Well Jonty's more flexible than most so he'll believe me now. We vanished before his eyes." Rob looked out of the window. "He's a good bloke, Stepney. He's the only one I'll miss. Kate too even though I hardly knew her."
"He won't think he's gone loony, will he? You did." Stepney asked apprehensively.
"No, not Jonty. It's all about the head, Stepney. It's all about having the imagination and creativity to make something believable. I read every single story of Jonty's for nearly ten years. Trust me, they were believable."
"Ah you're back." Fenton knocked and came in. "How did it go?"
"Fine. I said what I wanted to say." Rob smiled.
"What's that smell? It's like feet."
"Rob's honking clothes." Stepney said. "We need to wash and change. Especially you, Rob."
"McLintock's men found something up north by the Rowan cliffs but it wasn't wreckage. Clothes. Clothes typical of the human village workers. They were strewn over about half a mile so Rioch was right. It actually makes it all the more horrible. There was a body on those rocks." Fenton said sadly.
"So who was it?" Rob asked.
"No way of knowing. There are quite a few villages that are no more than two or three huts. Accidents, genuine accidents, happen more often than they should, usually fishing accidents." Fenton told them. "Obviously not in this case though. A person doesn't have a fatal accident then redress himself."
"He was killed." Stepney exhaled wearily and Fenton nodded. "Killed, undressed, redressed, disfigured and thrown on the rocks. His village clothes were simply tossed in the sea. Poor man."
"Poor bugger." Rob agreed. "But I had the green tights ensemble on when I was ambushed."
"So all this happened after you'd been taken back. That gutter rat must have had a hell of a job undressing and redressing your big arse but she had plenty of time. Your bedsit is a private place. She simply put your own clothes on you and brought the green outfit back with her. How dare she." Stepney spat. "Dragging a person's clothes off when he's unconscious. Skinny little runt. So! As sad as that is, at least it's one puzzle solved. We'd better get cleaned up before we see my mother." Stepney stood up and Rob left with Fenton.
"My mother knows about the ring, Rob. She understands." Fenton said.
"Does she know I have it? I'll return it to her and tell Stepney." Rob left Fenton and entered his room. "Fenton? Is Cripps around? I miss the kid and I badly need a shave."
"I'll find him." Fenton promised.
Rob rifled his wardrobe full of tights and blouses and tutted loudly. He eventually settled on red leggings and a green blouse, just to mix it up a bit. Stepney turned up looking as immaculate as ever.
"Now I'm bloody Santa Claus." Rob moaned. "I need a shave!"
"I can't help you with that. Sorry." Stepney shrugged. "Mother's in her study. Eamon said she looks exhausted with all this crap."
"Stepney, hold on a minute. I need to tell you something. You're mother's ring was damaged. I'm sorry." Rob reached on a high shelf and took down a silk pouch. "She knows already. Fenton told her." He took the ring out of the bag. It was perfect! There wasn't a scratch on it and it gleamed and glittered just as it always had. Rob peered in the empty bag in confusion. "I don't understand. It was all dull and black. Fenton saw it too."
"Something to do with the different realms maybe?" Stepney clutched the ring to her chest.
"Possible I suppose but it was still damaged when Fenton gave it to me right here in Lawlim."
"Maybe it ... righted itself gradually? Lawlim is surrounded by magic afterall."
"Could have done. It's been in its pouch up there since I came back from the Temple." Rob shrugged.
"I heard about that." Stepney smiled. "Disen welcomes everyone. Dinsen!" Stepney exclaimed and unclutched her hand. "You had this in the temple with you?"
"In the pouch, yes. Was I not to ... Dinsen fixed it?" Rob blinked in shock.
"You and Dinsen together." Stepney looked delighted.
"Awesome! Well this certainly makes up for all the other stuff going on. Do I say thank you?" Rob asked uncertainly and Stepney smiled and nodded. "Um ... how?" Stepney held his hand.
"Think your gratitude and mean it from your heart."
"That won't be hard." Rob closed his eyes and prayed.
Lady Julia was in her study with Fenton, Eamon and McLintock when Stepney burst in, Rob behind her trying to slow her down.
"Mother! Something wonderful has happened!"
"Yes. You woke Nicholl again." A wail could be heard from another room. "I bet Rioch feels like slapping you at times."
"Rioch is just fine Fenton." Stepney lowered her voice a few notches. "Mother, your ring!" She handed Lady Julia her engagement ring.
"I was told it was damaged beyond repair." Lady Julia looked delighted.
"Rob took it to the Temple." Stepney said proudly.
"Well it was in my bag. I ... well I didn't really do anything with it." Rob squirmed and resisted the urge to eke out his leggings. "I'm pleased Dinsen fixed it for you."
"Fixed it for you, Rob. I wasn't there." Lady Julia smiled and handed Rob the ring. Rob looked at Stepney who was just as confused as he was. "Dinsen does everything for a purpose, Rob. That ring's served its purpose for me."
"Er ... right. So you're giving it to me?" Rob asked and Lady Julia smiled again and nodded. "Well ... it's ... a diamond. Yes. you know? Engagement and ... and stuff."
"Oh get on with it." Fenton heaved.
"I am!" Rob glared at Fenton. "Stepney? Divine Cleric and a Divine Tool eh? I couldn't have written it better myself. Will you wear it as my ring?" Stepney started to cry. "Crying because you're happy, sad or find it hilarious?"
"Happy." Stepney wiped her nose on her tunic in a very unclerical manner. "Thank you Rob. Thank you mother."
"Get on with it!" Fenton asserted again.
"OK! It's not that easy with all you lot looking and it was a bit sudd ..." Rob's sentence was cut short when Stepney grabbed him and kissed him. "Nice." He grinned.
"You'll make a fine wife Rob." Fenton laughed and noticed Rioch smiling from the doorway. "We'll plan ours a bit better." He held out his arm and Rioch came over. "It's a shame to spoil the party but mother needs to talk with us."
"We'll celebrate later. I promise." Lady Julia hugged Rob and Stepney. "As you all know, I've been in conference with our heads of Houses. Everyone was in agreement that the situation among our people cannot continue like this. Rioch's position in our household was raised, I won't deny it. Given the current chaos and violence in Lawlim, I didn't have to argue that one alone. Racism is easily outreasoned and the Houses aren't stupid. Our Houses will work together and work with our people to end this mayhem. Fenton, as our Civic leader will be instrumental in this, as will the skills of Eamon and McLintock."
"What about the House of Rigman?" Fenton asked.
"Actually they were the most distressed at Hersh's behaviour. It seems that they pleaded with him for months to seek Clerical guidance and even medicinal help. He scorned the suggestions. A House, or a whole people, cannot be judged by one person's actions."
"My perceived 'endorsement' won't have helped." Fenton sighed heavily. "So his family isn't shielding him?"
"Doubtful." Lady Julia shook her head. "He still has sympathisers among the population. That's where we should look, rather that toward his House."
"Any word on that Docherty creature?" Stepney asked.
"Yes and it really did surprise me. She's Hersh's wife and she's half human."
"What?" Fenton and Stepney both exclaimed together.
"Quite a turn up, don't you think." Lady Julia said grimly.
"The damned hypocrite!" Fenton said in disbelief. "The threats he made to Rioch and Nicholl! The ... crap he spouted about Stepney and Rob!"
"Fenton listen." Rioch tugged his sleeve. "She can use magic. She's a Cleric. Don't you see? It proves that half Lawlims can inherit the art!"
"Nicholl?" Fenton said in shock.
"Well I was thinking more of Stepney. She's one of the strongest Clerics in Lawlim's short history. You told me that yourself, Fenton. If it's outsider blood that we need, then Rob is not only a different race, he's from another realm! How far outside can you get?" Rioch nodded furiously.
"Any offspring of our High Priestess would almost certainly have magical capabilities because Stepney herself is so strong." Lady Julia mused.
"Here! Hang on a minute." Rob held up his hands. "So all I've got to is populate Lawlim with half human clerics? No pressure there then! As appealing as the prospect is, don't you think it's a tad ... impractical? If we had one a year for a decade that would still only be ten! Hell there's only so much a bloke can do. Besides that, you can't have baby Clerics. By the time my blessed brood were old enough, the barrier will be at the bottom of the sea. We need it fixed now, don't we?"
"Yes we do." Stepney nodded. "But I think Rioch is on the right track. If it wasn't for the time factor it would be perfect, considering other humans and Lawlims could follow suit. Come on Dinsen, help me. We're so close. I know we are."
"We all need rest." Rob announced. "Yes you do, Stepney and Lady Julia certainly does." Stepney nodded wearily. She felt like she hadn't slept in months. "Er ... you agree? No arguments?"
"Why? do you want one?" Rob shook his head quickly. "Thought not. I have a gift for the baby, Rioch. It's traditional to give new babies silver." Stepney took a tiny silver bell on a little silver rod from her beltpouch. "I ... well I made it. Will you give it to her?"
"You can do that yourself." Rioch smiled and nodded to the side door.
"No roaring." Fenton warned and Rioch dug him in the ribs.
Nicholl was asleep in her crib, thankfully.
"You really are small." Stepney sat in a nursing chair by the crib. "Your daddy keeps telling me off for waking you. Pfft! You miss everything when you're asleep. Typical man. They'd sleep all their lives." She gently put the bell on the blanket. "So you're my yougest Cleric. I know daddy is as magical as that fire shovel but auntie Stepney's not. I'm awesome and you are too." Stepney went to straighten the blanket and the bell tinkled to the floor. Nicholl opened her eyes and her face creased up. "Oh bollocks." The baby wailed like a siren and Fenton came striding in. "I never touched her! It was the bell. OK I'm going." She darted out of the nursery.