Rob woke up and vomited violently. Then the shock set in. He was on his own lumpy bed in his own nasty bedsit dressed in his own rather worn out clothes.
"No." He shook his aching head. "No, no, no!" Rob stumbled his way to the door and unlocked it. "Tommo! Baz! Anyone in?" Silence. "What the hell is wrong with me?" He sobbed, going back to his room. "Nan, I could really, really do with you here right now. Stepney?" He whispered."Stepney, you there? No of course you bloody aren't." Rob retrieved his project and read it half a dozen times. It was exactly the same as it had been ... who knows how long ago. "I can't go on like this. I can't stand it." He put on his jacket, threw his writing and his pictures into a carrier bag and left the bedsit. Rob trudged along the street in a daze while the rain soaked his head and trickled down his neck. He needed Lawlim, pictures and writing, out of his flat, and his life. He also needed his head straightened out.
"You OK mate?" A man in a high res jacket was looking at Rob. He was standing infront of the huge, green skip at the municipal recycling depot. This skip was where old paper went to be collected and shredded. "Mate? You got any rubbish?" Rob nodded and handed over his carrier bag that contained so much of his work and himself.
"No!" He shouted suddenly. "Stop. It's ... the wrong bag. Pass me it back." The bewildered man did so and Rob hurried away in the direction of the Town Hall.
"Benefits enquiries down the hall." A snooty woman told him.
"I need a phone book." Rob looked at his soaked clothes and realised what a sight he must have looked. "A real one, not that computer stuff. I need a proper book with the addresses in it."
"Maybe in a museum." Miss Snooty sniffed. "Go to terminal two over there. See it? Type in UK phone book, domestic. It's just like a phone book only different."
"Makes sense for a civil servant." Rob shuffled over to terminal two and typed.
An hour and two bus rides later and Rob was standing infront of a very impressive, and very expensive bungalow called The Gallows. Rob thought that a very odd name for such a lovely home, then he remembered. Jonty Styles Cordetta characters had the surname Gallows. At least he knew he was at the right place.
"Hello. Can I help you?" A beautiful girl had opened the front door. She looked like someone from a fashion magazine. "Are you lost?"
"Er ... probably, yes." Rob rechecked the name plaque, then the blond model with six foot legs. "Is there another Gallows, do you know?"
"This is the only property with this name. We built, and named the place."
"Kate! Kate I have to go to the office for a few ... few ... Rob?" A tall blond man came to the door. He still had a shirt and tie on and he still wore glasses.
"How's it hanging, Jonty?" Rob gave him a weak smile.
"Rob! Good Lord!" Jonty hauled Rob over the step and into the pristine bungalow. "Kate this is an old friend from school. Rob Lancaster. Rob this is my wife, Kate."
"Sod off!" Rob blurted and almost dropped his carrier bag. "Sorry! Sorry Mrs Styles. I ... well I didn't know Jonty was married."
"Four years." The drop dead gorgeous Kate Styles gave him a dazzling smile. "Give me that coat. You're drenched. I'll go and put the kettle on. Tell the office to sod off, Jon."
Rob followed Jonty into a sitting room that would have looked at home in Lawlim.
"This is a bit posh Jonty." Rob nodded. "Are you still writing?"
"Hell, a blast from the past eh? I am, actually, but just for my own pleasure and not as much as I used to. I don't have the time these days."
"That's a shame, Jonty. You were good." Rob said and Jonty eyed him warily. "Seriously, you were. You probably still are. Don't give up on it completely. This dump of a world needs beautiful minds."
"Er ... thank you. I think. Are you OK Rob? You seem a bit ... wafty." Jonty asked in concern. Kate nodded and walked back out with the tea.
"No, I'm not. Not really. I'll be out of action for a while, I think. You know? Taking a break and all that. As you know, there was only me and my Nan and she's long gone. Those three jesters I share a house with are neither use nor ornament. So ... well ... will you keep these for me?" Rob handed his plastic bag to Jonty. "Load of crap mainly but ... well ... you know."
"Rob what's wrong? Yes of course I'll keep them for you. Are they valuable? I have a safe in the cellar."
"A Who?" Rob guffawed a laugh and let Jonty see the Rob Lancaster he knew. "Who are you? James Bond? No, not valuable like that. It's just something I didn't want to chuck out. You can have a look later but not until I've gone. OK? Oh and one more thing. Remember at school when I didn't laugh at you even when you thought I would? Time to return the favour." He stood up and headed for the door. "I'll have tea another time, Mrs styles. Thanks." He took his jacket off the hook and put it on.
"Rob?" Jonty followed him outside and pulled the door to. "I can't just leave you to wander off, especially if you're ill. Do you have a mobile number or something? Me and Kate will help you." Rob had to focus on the name plaque again to stop his eyes from leaking. No one had ever helped Rob since Gwennie had died. No one.
"I'm as good at mobile phones as I am at physics. You work it out." He managed a smile.
"Where are you going? I'll give you a lift." Jonty nodded.
"The bus is fine. I'm going where any other sick soul goes. I'm off to see the Doctor. I'm fine Jonty! Don't look like that, you remind me of a bloodhound. I'll be back for my stuff." Rob left Jonty standing on the step.
"Stepney for the millionth time, I don't know!" Fenton flung up his hands. Rob was missing. Stepney had looked in every room in The Den and every inch of the gardens. McLintock and Eamon were currently searching the city with parties of men. Given Fenton's opinions of Rob, Stepney put him squarely in the frame of suspicion and now had him alone in their mother's study. "He could have wandered off and got lost for all we know."
"I saw his artwork. Dinsen showed him enough of our land for him not to get lost. He knows more of Lawlim that I do. Nice try." Stepney said nastily.
"Look. I left the garden with Eamon and we went to the Town Hall where we stayed until McLintock came for us. Even Hersh is in the clear because he was speaking in the market square to dozens of people who verified it."
"Speaking? Speaking? He was inciting a bloody riot, Fenton! At least have the guts to say it as is!" Stepney shouted.
"So if he was inciting a riot he wasn't ambushing Rob, was he?!" Fenton shouted back in exasperation. "Stepney I told you in the garden that I thought Hersh was overdoing it but I was referring to his trouble making and he was doing just that in the Square."
"Your defence of him is sickening, Fenton. Rigman's bigots are all over Lawlim. You should know." Stepney glared at her brother.
"I don't care what your opinions are of me, Stepney, but I'm still Lawlim and I'm still Lions. I was raised with the same teachings and the same faith as you were. Obviously your Call to Dinsen was much stronger than mine and your understanding of our faith is far superior but it is still my faith and she is still my Deity. Do you think I'm insane enough to abuse, or be involved in a kidnapping of a divinely invoked being? Once again, I do not know Rob's whereabouts. It's within your rights as our High Priestess to make me attest in the Temple but I hope it won't come to that." Fenton stood by the window and looked out toward the Barrier.
"That would publicise a split within our own house that would be easy fodder for Rigman. The people out there don't need any more confusion. Anyway, you're my brother, you massive arse." Stepney sighed wearily. "Do us all a favour and stay away from Rigman. I don't care for your opinions of humans but a dungball like Rigman exploits them to the maximum. Don't be so bloody daft."
"It's not that easy to stay away from him, Stepney." Fenton sat down and seemed to deflate into the chair.
"Yes it is. Tell him to naff off. Fenton, you're old enough to choose your own friends and he isn't one."
"Stepney he's blackmailing me." Fenton buried his head in his hands and Stepney was speechless, for once. "This must never leave this room Stepney. It can't go beyond you and me. Give me your word in the name of Dinsen."
"Do you know what you're asking me to do? For me to make an oath in Dinsen's name is a bit more than the neighbour promising to return your shovel." Stepney's head was reeling. That little worm was blackmailing Fenton? Blackmailing a son of the House of Lions?
"I have to tell someone. It's driving me mad. Who better than my Hight Priestess sister?" Fenton looked as exhausted as Stepney.
"You have my word as your sister and a daughter of our House. Dinsen the Wise will tell me if a bond in her name is proper. You're my brother, Fenton. We can trust the word of one another."
"I have an infant daughter." Fenton rubbed his eyes and Stepney almost fainted. "She's three months old and her name is Nicholl."
"Is this about Lawlim House snobbery, Fenton?" Stepney asked warily.
"Not directly, no. It's about my own snobbery and the unwanted image I've created for myself. When you told me I should never have had a mark to cross in the first place, you didn't know how right you were. If I could turn back the clock for only twelve months, there'd be no mark."
"I'm not catching the hints here, Fenton. You're going to have to spell it out." Stepney massaged her aching temples.
"Nicholl's mother is a human living in the forest belt. Her name is Rioch Weston and she's been out there for two years. Obviously she changed my outlook on the human species but by that time I'd already cast my image on the people of Lawlim. Hersh found out Rioch was pregnant and that I intended to bring her here, to The Den. He convinced me that the Lawlim people would revolt and the House of Lions would be shamed to its core. He also convinced me that Lawlim's sacred High Priestess wouldn't be allowed a half-blood bastard in her family. He produced all manner of pre-Lawlim accounts of war and rifts caused by humans and I allowed him to manipulate me. Yes I am a massive arse, I know." Fenton closed his eyes and rested back in his chair.
"Do you still see her and the baby?" Stepney asked n a daze, that was gradually being replaced by pure anger.
"Yes. That's how Hersh keeps the pressure on. I won't let him spread his filth about them so he doesn't, as long as I lend the name Fenton Lions to his ideology. You don't need to tell me I brought this on myself. I already know." Fenton said miserably. "His coercion of me doesn't extend to me abducting or harming Rob. All I'd have to do was tell him to take it up with you and Dinsen. I'm not sure who outargues him the best."
"This will sort out, Fenton. Do you hear me? My position as High Priestess is Divinely given and seeing as Dinsen is all knowing, she's likely not outraged with my new niece and sister. As for bringing shame on the House of Lions? Bollocks. I brought a human man straight in as part of our family! Not only that, he's from another realm! If anyone was going to do the shaming thing, I think that may have done it. So is my niece like me?"
"Oddly enough, yes she is. She's Like us. Rioch ..."
"I have news." Lady Julia made an entrance and she looked worn out. "Sit down, both of you. This isn't going to be easy."