Chapter 15

Stepney was in a deep, dark, safe sleep. She gradually became aware of an irritating tapping sound and as it irritated more, it developed into a knocking sound.

"Stepney!" Fenton rasped. "Sacred Dinsen woman, wake up!"

"This better be good Fenton." Stepney yawned and dragged on Rob's bath robe. She'd grown quite attached to it, even though it was ugly and had NHS stitched on the back. "What time is it?" She asked, opening the door.

"After midnight. I'm not sure myself. Stepney Jean Docherty is in the dining room with Rob."

"What?" Stepney barked. "That's what she thinks." She barged past Fenton and marched down the landing.

"She came here on her own. Eamon himself was just going home and saw someone approaching the house. She simply introduced herself and asked for Rob." Fenton had to stride to keep up with his sister. "He sent for McLintock and McLintock had the grounds searched. She's alone."

"No she's with my fiance. I'll get mother's serving tray at her." Stepney crashed into the dining room and both Rob and Jean jumped a foot in the air.

"Stepney ..." Rob walked toward her.

"Yes I know who it is. I want a word or ten with you, Mrs Rigman." Stepney pointed at the other woman who was dressed in a long Cleric robe and a dark cloak.

"Stepney, just listen to her." Rob held Stepney by the elbows. "Please? Don't crust her one."

"Maybe." Stepney was still glaring at Jean. "Speak up or so help me I'll knock you out. How dare you vandalise my cuffs, lurk about after my fiance, kidnap him, undress him? Any one of those points is enough to get me in a really pissy mood!" Fenton and Rob both winced and exchanged looks. Stepney was furious.

"Hersh knew the nature of the cuffs. I believe Fenton told him." Jean tried to sound brave.

"Don't." Stepney warned.

"Hersh knew what the cuffs could do, I knew about Dinsen's communications with you. He simply but the two together." Jean said quietly.

"Oh so it was all him was it? You didn't help him at all, did you? Crap! Utter crap!" Stepney shouted.

"Of course I did! You know I did!" Jean sobbed. "Hersh married me when I was sixteen and in the jail house. I was a sixteen year old thief and a pickpocket. He didn't even know I was half human because I didn't tell him. I was never a wife, I was a teenage slave and I knew no different. Hersh had me breaking into all sorts of places and I did it. I don't even know who told his House I was half human but they closed ranks. They tried to protect me and told me to enter the Temple. They said no one would know because my Lawlim half gave me magic. Useful for a thief. His house tried to protect me, Hersh was absolutely horrified and repulsed. I spent hours in the Temple just to get away from him. He told me every day what an abomination I was and how him and Fenton would have me cast into the barrier. As it happened, me joining the Temple was probably the worst thing I could do. Hersh threatened to expose my half breed nature to you, Stepney. He said you'd bar me from the Temple. Believe it or not, I love the Temple and I love Dinsen the Wise. It had become the centre of my life. I knew it was a disaster when he found out about your wristguards. That meant him taking an interest in he only sanctuary I had. The Temple. I broke into your room, Stepney. I picked the locks and snipped the chain. I had to come up with that idea myself. The only gift Hersh ever gave me was a tin bracelet with a connecting chain for security. Hersh would have me steal the full cuffs. I admit I tried the rings on my own out of sheer curiosity. I was terrified when I ended up in your library, Rob. Dinsen forgive me. I used some clothes that were in a cupboard in the office and approached you. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Hersh wanted me to go back for you. He wanted you here so he could ... thwart ... Dinsen's will before it grew. I refused and he struck me and came with his vile threats again. You were in a garden and I was so reluctant I didn't now what to do. I saw Stepney and left the garden. I saw her leave with you, Rob."

"You had a black eye. I remember." Rob nodded. "So you returned empty handed?"

"That earned me another black eye and two cracked ribs. He told me he'd allow me to leave and redeem myself if I got you away from Stepney and back in your own realm. He knew he couldn't get to you in The Den. I swear by Dinsen I didn't know he was going to ... do what he did. I didn't even question why he wanted Rob's clothes. It wasn't often I questioned Hersh. He went into hiding and took me with him. Last night he returned to the hiding with your serving boy."

"Cripps? He has Cripps?" Rob said in alarm. "Has him where? Where are they?"

"They ... we were in an abandoned fishing hut past the forest belt. He left with the serving boy this evening and locked me in the cellar. What an idiot. I'm a lockpick! I don't know where he took him and it was too dangerous to wander around." Jean rubbed her aching eyes. "I'll go into exile myself. I deserve it. Just catch Hersh so he can't hurt the serving boy, or me."

"How old are you Jean?" Rob asked.

"Nineteen. Hersh is thirty five and from a Noble House. I had no chance. I never did." Jean said miserably.

"Stepney?" Rob looked at Stepney.

"Well we can't go searching in the middle of the night. Even Eamon and McLintock aren't that brave, or stupid." Stepney said.

"So what do we do with her? We can't just turf her out, Stepney." Rob pointed out.

"I'll manage. I don't deserve your hosptality." Jean stood up.

"Dan right you don't." Stepney said flatly. "Oh belt up woman. As though we need another body. The guest room is at the back of the house. I'll get McLintock to post a guard."

"I'll take her there." Fenton offered. "You settle down a bit." He pointed at Stepney before opening the door for Jean.

"Do you believe her?" Rob asked when they were alone. "About the abuse and stuff, I mean."

"Well I don't think she's as blameless as she makes out but basically, yes. I've seen Rigman's cruelty before out in the villages." Stepney scowled. "Why did he take Cripps? Why? Information? Blackmail? Hostage?"

"Hostage, I'd say." Rob nodded. "He's more than just a serving boy around here. Fenton got him the job for one thing and I've got quite fond of him. We'll find him. We'll set out as soon as it's light. You'd better stay here and keep an eye on the scarecrow. Remember, don't crust her one."

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