Title: Richard and the Sharpster

Author: SCWLC

Disclaimer: I own nothing here, no ideas, no characters.

Summary: A rather desultory attempt to retell the story of Mairelon the Magician from his perspective.

Rating: G

Notes: This has been sitting on my hard drive forever and a day. I finally gave in to the inevitable, that I'm not going to get it cleaned up, and I'm just posting it. I've done a certain amount of skimming, from the perspective that people reading this will have read the book and will therefore know what happened, but I would never call this my best work, either. Anyhow, I hope someone enjoys this.

He'd just reached the final climax of his evening performance when Richard felt the wards on his chest twinge. He sped up the grand finale, getting Hunch's attention in the process, and hurried inside. What he had expected to find he wasn't sure, but it most certainly wasn't the grubby child unconscious on the floor.

Hunch had followed him in and joined him in staring in surprise at their burglar. "What 'appened?" Hunch asked. "'Oo is 'e?"

"Both excellent questions Hunch," Richard replied, "And ones which I intend to find out the answers to momentarily." He quickly unlocked the chest and pulled out two lengths of rope and quickly bound the thief's hands. "And now, I think, something to awaken him." Richard had been practising magic long enough to create makeshift spells for such purposes. "Excito vacuus vulnero."

The magic swirled around the child for a moment and settled in. There was a lengthy pause during which Richard was entirely certain the boy had awakened. Although, now that he was examining the thief more closely, he felt there was something . . . off about him. "'Adn't 'e oughter be wakin'?" Hunch asked.

Richard confirmed this and then prompted the boy, who sat up and spoke. When he did, Richard's suspicions that something was not quite right were confirmed. Unfortunately, he had yet to figure out what it was that was not right. It wasn't until Hunch accused the child of being a thief that it came clear. The grubby boy on the floor wasn't a boy at all. The thief was a girl. A young woman really. One masquerading as a boy. How very curious.

The longer they talked, the more fascinated Richard became. She clearly had had some experience in housebreaking but was utterly insistent that she was not a thief. Richard felt inclined to believe her on that score. Then there was her story about why she'd broken into the wagon. A 'skinny toff' had hired her. He didn't think this 'toff' was a Bow Street Runner, they weren't that clumsy. What it did mean was that there was someone else around, aware that he had the Saltash Bowl.

That only left the question of whether this person was after the bowl or him.

Hunch's shock over this Kim turning out to be a girl turned into shock of another sort when Richard proposed to bring her with them. In fact, in some ways he was uncertain of why he was bringing the girl, but she did seem as though she might be handy, and the thought of this clearly talented and intelligent girl being forced to live out the rest of her life on the streets did not sit well with him.

And her skill at picking locks was one he would dearly love to learn. So he made the offer, much to Hunch's dismay, and she, after some due consideration (which he thought rather intriguing given what she was likely to be leaving behind) Kim agreed.

That was when he discovered that, unlike Hunch, she demanded reasons for the things he asked of her, and would not bow to his wishes merely because of his social rank. But he talked her around nonetheless. And the moment she left he was changing into something that would not get him noticed in that part of town.

"What're you doin' Master Richard?" Hunch asked.

"I'm going after her, of course," replied Richard. "While I do trust her ability to report back anything she deems important, I rather feel that Kim does not know enough to take note of things you or I would deem important."

After some moments spent convincing Hunch that, yes, he needed to do this, no, he didn't need Hunch with him, yes he had to go dressed like that and would Hunch please wait in this particular alley off Hungerford Market with a change of clothes? Richard was finally able to make his escape and barely caught up to Kim as she entered the Dog and Bull.

He slinked in, pretending to be a beggar who'd gotten himself enough money to drink away the lot that was his life. He settled into a corner, watching Kim under the pretext of getting even further foxed than he was pretending to be.

In point of fact, his primary reasons for being there had little to do with ensuring he missed nothing about the man he'd talked Kim into meeting. Partly he wanted to be sure she was not planning to sell him out, partly he simply wanted to know if he recognised the man and partly because he was quite concerned for her safety. Although he knew, intellectually, that Kim must have been able to care for herself, growing up in the streets would require that skill, sometimes there was a casual cruelty in the upper classes that came with the assurance of immunity from prosecution. That cruelty could surface if Kim was incautious.

It was almost disappointing to Richard when the man arrived. He didn't recognise him in the least. Although he was quite highly visible in the public house. What sort of a fool wore a getup like that into this part of town? White gloves, white linen cravat and a top hat?

Richard watched as Kim made the man pay up, slightly amused at the way he tried to get a petty revenge by paying Kim in pence, shillings, groats, ha'pennies and whatever small amounts he had. As though she'd be happier with five sovereigns or five one-notes. To have the money in such large amounts would no doubt bring Kim a great deal of unwanted attention.

Richard edged closer, catching a word here or there as he began to close in on the pair. He had to get in closer, otherwise he'd be unable to help the girl in the slightest should the imbecile in the top hat try to take out his anger on her. And he was going to be angry. That much was evident. Richard was close enough to catch the man muttering about how he'd been following the wrong man, and felt a small surge of satisfaction. Whoever the gentleman was, there was, once again, no connection between Mairelon the Magician and Richard Merrill.

Then the man was snarling, lunging across the table at Kim. Without thinking, Mairelon threw himself forward, throwing off the gentleman's aim and allowing Kim to escape. And then he threw himself into his character. Played the drunk and got himself tossed out of the pub moments before Kim made it out. He waited in the darkness of an alley off the main street for her to pass him, and grabbed her when she got within reach.

He was instantly glad he'd covered her mouth when she started to fight. Less so as her violent struggles made it clear she was going to get free come hell or high water. Having to leave his hand over her mouth considerably reduced his ability to hold her off. "Kim! It's alright, it's me," he almost said his real name, realising at the last moment she wouldn't recognise it. "Mairelon!"

And as he loosened his grip slightly, her hand came up and slammed into his face. Richard actually saw stars for a moment. But it seemed that her hitting him was a reflex reaction to having been freed. She stared at him, trying to judge if he was telling the truth, no doubt. So, he smiled at her and tried to look harmless. She seemed to see something reassuring, and it was just as well, since they both had to hide moments later as the gentleman from the pub had managed to get himself thrown out and was ranting where anyone could hear him about Kim getting away.

Finally the coast was clear and Richard was able to get them moving to where Hunch was waiting with his clothes. As they walked, Kim demanded to know why he'd followed her. Uncertain of how she'd take his partial lack of trust of her motives, he'd told her he'd come to protect her. This had the surprising effect of aggravating his new accomplice. She was both furious he hadn't warned her of possible danger and furious he'd come to protect her. It wasn't until she'd been grousing about how she didn't know anything about what he was doing that she abruptly stopped.

Richard looked at her quizzically, but she seemed to have given up the argument utterly, and merely settled for muttering that he shouldn't have come. It seemed like a protest more for forms' sake than anything else, and he rather wanted to know what had changed her mind. However, it seemed that would remain a mystery, so he moved on to a lighter topic. The fact that Hunch was going to scold him for getting himself hurt. And by a girl, no less. Kim solved his problem by requesting that he not tell Hunch she had hit him. Which allowed him to indicate to his servant that he hadn't, "Gone and done something awful."

Hunch seemed determined to bait Kim, although his reactions to Kim watching as Richard changed were amusingly like Andrew's reaction to the time Richard had spent a night at Renée's in order to escape one of Sally Jersey's interminable parties. The thought of his brother sparked a moment of pain, quickly suppressed by concentrating on Kim's indignation at being called a child. He had little doubt she was not a child.

It wasn't merely the usual drivel about how a child of the streets would never have a childhood, however accurate the cliché might be, it was the way she held herself. It was a maturity that could only have come with time, not suffering.

He and Hunch returned to the wagon, while Kim was off getting rid of the clothing. Hunch seemed more morose than usual, which was saying a great deal about his dour servant. "Is something wrong Hunch?"

"You 'adn't oughter be trustin' 'er," the other man informed him.

Richard sighed. There was another reason to keep Kim around. He really needed someone to speak with who was a little less of a one-note refrain. "Why not? We must dispose of that clothing, and who better than a person with no connection to either of us?"

Hunch glowered still more, and Richard took a moment to admire the ability to have such a fineness of control of degree of glower. It must have taken vast amounts of practice. He resisted the urge to smile in amusement, as he knew himself to be the cause of much of that practice. Hunch replied, "You know she knows too much," he said, and continued before Richard to gather a reply, "T'ain't just that she's a thief, she knows enough to get us both in trouble, Master Richard."

Richard had the distinct feeling Hunch had tacked on his name like that to remind him of who he was. "Well, she doesn't know enough to tell anyone anything dangerous to us, so you might as well let sleeping dogs lie Hunch." And then he smiled, "But if this bothers you so greatly, then you can check up on her background while you pick me up some supplies."

His henchman bit down hard on his moustache again, and Richard wondered, not for the first time, whether they'd find a giant ball of hair in the man's stomach one day, like in that apocryphal tale of the girl who chewed her hair. Shaking off the dismal thought, he checked his stores and began compiling a list of the herbs, oils and other random odds and ends he needed to be stocked up on should there be a need for more serious spellcasting.

When he'd finished, he handed the list to Hunch and said, "Would you collect those items for me while you're visiting Shoreham Hunch?"

Hunch gave him a dark look, "Didn't you send 'im that letter tellin' 'im you're back?" he asked.

"Of course," said Richard irritably. Why so many people felt the ongoing need to mistrust his capabilities he did not know. "But I have not heard back from him and I would appreciate some notion of the lay of the land before we attempt to retrieve the rest of the set."

"So you ain't a-goin' to do nothin' horrible," Hunch said with such satisfaction and relief that Richard didn't have the heart to explain the high odds of him having to do rather a lot of 'horrible' things by Hunch's standards. Although where he got off describing Richard's friendship with that lovely young woman in Lyons, lady of the night or no, as horrible the magician simply did not know.

He merely handed the list to Hunch and told him, "No, Hunch. I will dutifully and patiently wait here for your return." Then he repressed the desire to roll his eyes at the suspicious look Hunch sent him as he left.

Five hours later and an hour after Hunch should have returned, they were not that far from Shoreham's office or his townhouse, should the man actually have taken a break from working; Richard was quite worried and it was only compounded as Kim had returned. He had only just finished changing into something that would be unremarkable at the college when she came through the door.

As he explained what he was planning, he could tell it was a mistake. She immediately volunteered to go with him. Richard was about to explain that she would be rather out of place at Shoreham's residence, or the college, when Hunch returned. At which point he was treated to a second scolding, this time on the topic that he shouldn't be going anywhere at all.

Kim was having a very bad influence on Hunch. He hadn't been nearly this obstreperous when they'd been on the Continent.

In any event, Shoreham had left him a letter, sealed with that aggravating light lock spell he was so fond of. It was a moment's work to get the thing open, and several moments to recover from the flash of light that followed. He noticed Kim looking annoyed and blinking very hard and Hunch looking rather smug. He put it from his mind as he started reading.

Dear Richard,

I expect this letter will find you well, as Hunch seems more composed than he usually is when meeting me alone. Since you're normally in some sort of trouble when you send him I suppose this is only to be expected.

There are several things about which I need to speak with you, none of which I feel comfortable passing along by post of any sort. On top of which, Hunch tells me you have the Saltash Bowl, and I would very much like a chance to see it. I trust that you are fully capable of determining the validity of the item, it is simply that it is among the things I wish to discuss with you.

Meet me at the same place as last time, and please be careful. Things are not so different now than they were four years ago when the theft occurred that the Bow Street Runners won't snap you up on sight.

Yours,

Edward

And there he went again. Honestly. Edward was immensely untrusting and immensely difficult at times. Really. The notion that Richard was incautious enough to get caught out like that was the outside of enough.

After checking that Kim was as ready as Hunch and himself to leave town, Richard hurried off, waving off Hunch's well-meaning, but very irritating tendency to mother-henning.

Grateful to at last, have a moment to himself, Richard hurried through the streets to Renée's. She had sent him an open invitation to see her at any time after receiving word he was returning to England. One of these days, Richard promised himself, he would find out who was in her little spy network. He knocked on her door and was greeted by her formidably correct butler. The one she had because the contrast between her and her butler was all the more disconcerting to those who did not know her.

"M. Merrill! It is of all things good to see you," she said with a smile. "But you must have tea and tell me of what is happening, non?"

They spoke of light topics; shared acquaintances, magical research that had been carried out while he was away and some amusing incidents that had happened in both their lives over the past several years. Richard made his requests for several magical items he could not easily acquire, even through Hunch, and eventually they both settled into Renée's parlour for tea and more serious conversation.

It was their best-kept secret that they had once been lovers. Richard had very little patience with the social mores that were merely a matter of creating certainty a woman's children were not bastards. With magic, it was entirely possible to ensure no children would come from any union and Richard was utterly uninterested in following the proprieties at the time. The only reason it was a secret at all was the difficulties it would have created for Renée and himself.

As to why it had been Renée, that was quite simple. While he could have afforded the best of the fashionable impures, a lead soprano of the opera or a prima ballerina, Richard did not want a bedmate who was there for his money. The kind of time he would be spending in a lover's presence was best spent with someone he could talk to and who understood him. Renée was perfect for that. In the short term. In the end, they had both agreed that they were better off as friends and the whole thing was set aside. Still, she was his closest friend nonetheless and Richard had missed her greatly while on the Continent.

Relieved to, at last, be with someone who understood him, Richard smiled and felt himself finally relax. "I have the bowl, Renée," he informed her. "And Shoreham is dragging me off through the countryside again." There was a long pause, during which neither said anything, and then Richard told her haltingly, "It's good to see you again, Renée."

She smiled at him again, pouring him a cup of tea just the way he had always liked it, then inquired, "How is Hunch? Are you both well?"

"Yes, Hunch is in fine form. I do believe that Kim is encouraging his tendency to feeling scandalised," Richard told her.

She raised an eyebrow. "Kim? I do not believe you have ever spoken of a person with such a name. Who is he?"

"I found a most interesting character after an attempt to break into the chest where I keep the Saltash Bowl," Richard told her.

There was a pause, then Renée fixed him with the glare that meant she felt he was being evasive. "You are being difficult again." Of course, sometimes he simply did it because she was such fun to antagonise. "M. Merrill, if you do not at once tell me what it is that you speak of, I shall do something to you that you shall find most unpleasant!"

"Madamoiselle, there is a gentleman here to see you-" The butler's introduction was cut short.

Andrew stormed into the room.

"M. Merrill?" Renée said, sounding not quite as surprised by Andrew's presence as Richard thought she ought.

"Mlle D'Aubert," Andrew said. He bowed perfunctorily. "We must speak - Richard?" He sounded shocked, Richard thought wryly.

"Andrew. You are well, I trust?" He inquired, putting his best attempt at appearing not to care forward.

"Richard . . ." It seemed that Andrew was incapable of saying anything more.

Richard abruptly stood, realising how dangerous this was. Andrew had threatened to call the Runners on him once, four years ago, when news that Richard was accused of the theft first broke. It still hurt. His brother, who had shepherded him through his first season, making sure he made no glaring errors in front of the ton, who had been stuffily and smugly reliable throughout Richard's life, was suddenly the enemy. He thrust aside the hurt and said, "I am afraid, Renée, that answering your curiosity must wait." He bowed to her, and inclined his head to his brother. "Good evening Andrew," he said, before turning and striding out of the house. It was rude, but Renée would understand and Richard trusted neither his own self-control around Andrew nor Andrew's understanding.

And then he was outside, in the night, hurrying back to the wagon. As he went, he sighed, thinking of Hunch's reaction to his visit to Renée's. More, they were going to have to leave far earlier than he'd thought. Which was as well in some ways. They were less likely to be late to meet Edward if they left now anyhow.

When he got to the wagon, he was amused to find Kim, fast asleep on top of his chest, and Hunch, glowering at her from across the room. Clearly Hunch was expecting that she was feigning sleep in order to flee. However, Kim clearly snapped awake as he shut the door behind him. A legacy of time on the streets, no doubt.

Hunch demanded where he'd been, Richard answered him and Hunch began to scold. Really, he hadn't scolded this much when Richard had been genuinely foolish in getting information from that French countess, and that had been rank foolishness. It had cost Jamie, the young man Richard had brought with him to assist in spying, his life.

But that was neither here nor there. Determined to focus on something other than the past he couldn't change, Richard was a little surprised at the alacrity with which Kim agreed to come with him. But she and Hunch left to get the horses and Richard took the moment to lose himself in contemplation.

Jamie had been an apprentice at the college, but he had seemingly idolised Richard. They had become good friends, and when he had fled under suspicion of theft and to fulfil his Grace, the Earl of Shoreham's request for information on the French, Jamie had popped up on the Colony Queen. He'd joined Richard in many of his exploits, even the foolhardy ones. Even that last one which had cost him his life. And he'd still forgiven Richard, right before he died.

And then Hunch and Kim were back, trading sniping words and glares and the whole incident was put from his mind by the needs of the moment, and they were off.

As they trundled along through the night, Richard took the opportunity to observe Kim, as much as he could in the dark, and her reactions to the twist her life had just taken. She was a fascinating character, certainly. He had wondered a little, at first, about why she was playing a boy, but a moment of thought had cleared that up. After all, men were given greater freedoms than women, especially in terms of means of financial support for themselves. The physical freedom and the societal freedom were clearly attractive enough for her to take the risk. Although he did wonder whether she had thought of what she would do once she was no longer able to pretend she was a boy.

After a couple minutes of silence, Richard gave in to a desire for something to do and because watching Kim try to maintain her seat in the dimness of the wagon wasn't particularly entertaining either. So he asked her why she wasn't trying to get a little more sleep. Her scorn in response to that question was pointed, and Richard gave himself a small mental shake. Clearly, between his own lack of sleep and the shock of seeing Andrew again, he wasn't at his best.

Then she asked him if he could 'make a spot of light' in the wagon. Richard grimaced inwardly, rather tempted to do so, if only because jouncing around was a great deal less disconcerting when one was not also sitting in the dark. But he couldn't, because it would attract too much attention. He tried to pass it off as not wanting to light a lamp in the wagon, (which he certainly would not have wanted to do) and waited for her to demand he do magic.

The demand never came, and the quality of her silence suggested that Kim might have even picked up on his subtext, something Hunch only seemed to do half the time, and was tacitly agreeing that a lit wagon on that road was too attention-getting.

To alleviate the boredom, Richard proposed the first of his lessons in becoming a stage assistant. He started teaching her proper English. He could already tell by the way she spoke that she was quite intelligent; even those times she spoke without thinking showed the quick mind at work behind the words. All he had to do was teach her pronunciation and proper grammar. Of course, he first had to work past her indignation at being told her manner of speech was less than adequate.

"First, you stop using quite so much thieves' cant. You'll have to practice all the time, until it seems natural," he began.

"Practice talkin'? Just to sound flash? I – Oh. That's what you meant, ain't it?"

She was a quick study.

Time passed quickly and Kim picked up his directions rapidly. She often slipped when she wasn't thinking about it, but when she was, her accent was no worse than some of the country bumpkin gentlemen who came into Town for the Season. Her grammar would take more time, particularly because she had no way of knowing the correct forms, but she was working on that as well. Still, he was more determined than before they had started to teach her to read. It would help her immensely to have the proper forms of phrases laid out in such a way that she could dissect them on her own.

That being said, he was going to have to teach her reading from scratch. She didn't know the names of the individual letters and the sounds they represented, let alone the basics of how to put those sounds together to form words.

When they reached the inn which would be their midway stopping point, he left Kim to Hunch's tender mercies after sending her off to change out of the rags she'd been wearing. He wanted to see if any of the messages he'd sent off to various people, including his mother, had been replied to. Richard had told them to send all answers to this inn.

His mother wrote to tell him that Andrew was going to be in Town. Which was a little late to find out, but he appreciated the thought. She also mentioned the results of several experiments that had gone on at the Royal College while he was away, various family events and various family duties he would have to perform as a result of those events and a query of whether he had retrieved the various clothing items she had asked him to buy if he was in Paris. It was just like her.

There was also a letter from his Aunt Agatha, demanding that he hand himself over to the Bow Street Runners immediately so that they could determine his innocence. Failing that, he was to flee back to France and never return in order to save the familial reputation. It was just like her as well; a firm unwavering belief in his innocence, and a firm unwavering need to fulfil the proprieties as well as possible that seemed to supersede everything else.

When he returned, Kim was dressed in her new clothes. Which, judging by the look on her face, she considered to be remarkably fine. He almost regretted the need to ask her to change again, but she couldn't be seen walking around in those clothes if they wanted to keep a low profile. He was intrigued, however, by the expression on her face when he tossed her the second set of clothes. Surprise and something else. Unease, certainly. But the source of it baffled him utterly.

Nevertheless, she changed and they set off once more. When they stopped again later, Richard asked Kim for lessons in picking locks. He was surprised at both her insistence on starting with a simple device and the degree to which she was clearly attempting to make her grammar consistently proper.

"You ain't—you aren't goin' to get nowhere—anywhere? if you start in on a fancy job like that one."

He nodded, and went to collect a less complex padlock from the wagon. When he came back, he asked, "Do we need anything else?"

"You mean, special keys and such?" she inquired with a tilt to her head.

Richard nodded, saying, "I've heard that they're useful," but she shook her head reprovingly.

"Maybe, but I just use a bit of wire." She pulled out the piece of wire from her pocket, unbending it from it's curved state into a mostly straight line. "If you lose a key, you got to get a new one, and that takes time." Richard firmly resisted the urge to correct her grammar at that point. It would not ingratiate him to her and he'd had enough different teachers over the years to know that irritating one during a lesson was a certain way to ensure the lesson was unpleasant. "A bit of wire's always easy to come by," she finished.

After that, he was promptly introduced to a highly complex art that relied as much on instinct as it did on preset forms and memorisation. Kim's temper was a little short as she taught him, but no more so than his old magic tutor, and she was an able instructor.

By the end of the afternoon, Richard had a great deal more respect for Kim's accomplishment at getting into his chest than he had before and was greatly impressed with her memory. For, while there was a great deal of instinct involved in the picking of locks, there were a great many tiny finicky details of sounds and small motions of the tumblers within the lock that had to be recalled with near-instinctive accuracy.

Kim's memory for such things was better even than Richard's, and he contemplated for a brief moment teaching her some small spells. She certainly had the memory for such work. He shook himself from that thought immediately. The odds of her having the natural talent to be worth teaching were infinitessimal.

They made it to the appointed meeting place and Richard pulled Hunch aside for a moment to bounce some ideas and speculations off of his servant. Kim openly tried to listen in, but Richard was in agreement with Hunch that, until they both knew she could be trusted with everything, they would have to keep her in the dark on some things. So after a moment or two, Kim gave up and vanished around the wagon.

"You sure we can trust 'er?" Hunch asked Richard.

Richard inclined his head in acknowledgement of his friend's concern. "I am quite sure that, for the time being, Kim has no reason or means to betray us in any significant way."

Hunch seemed dissatisfied with that answer, and Richard smiled internally. Hunch had learned the hard way to know when Richard was avoiding making specific promises. He'd always hated breaking his word, and had thus made a habit of deliberately leaving himself openings to do the things he wished without actually violating the promises he'd made.

Not much later, Edward arrived. Exactly on time, as usual. Richard stood and led him into the wagon to show him the bowl. Edward of course leapt immediately into a thinly veiled criticism of Richard's choice to pick up "another stray". It was at that moment that Richard saw the curtain hanging oddly. He recalled that Kim had gone around the wagon. Towards the door.

Kim was hiding right behind the stage curtain at the back, mere feet away from Edward.

Richard quelled the impulsive urge to drag her out and find out what she had been doing back there. He'd talk to her when Edward was gone. The earl had a temper and Richard wanted to know what it was she had been doing. There could be an innocent explanation for all this, although he was hard pressed to come up with one at the moment.

In any event, Edward's news was quite interesting, and having the location of the Platter was excellent news indeed. Less so was the news that it was so close to being within St. Clair's grasp, but one couldn't have everything.

The moment he was sure the earl had gone, Richard was back in the wagon, saying, "I think you had better come out now, Kim, and explain why you've been eavesdropping on my conversation."

She swallowed, visibly, and steeled herself, but said nothing. Richard kept himself in check and prompted her. "You do have some explanation, I trust?"

With that she gave him a remarkably obvious explanation. She had wanted to look at the stage. She hadn't known when Shoreham would arrive. Richard had to admit she had no way of knowing that. And after the surprise had worn off, they'd just finished talking about her, and revealing herself then would have looked very suspicious. Just as suspicious as her hiding there through the whole conversation had been.

"How'd you know I was there?" She looked nervous, understandably so, and Richard felt the unreasonable urge to reassure her.

"The end of the curtain was hanging oddly; I noticed it when I was showing Shoreham the bowl. Then I remembered seeing you come around this way and that you hadn't come back. Simple, really," he told her.

He felt a headache coming on. Her reasons were utterly reasonable and he had no way of determining the truth or accuracy of anything she said. Added to that was her also utterly reasonable suspicion of his own motives. "I wish I knew whether you—of course!" Richard said as the solution presented itself. The Saltash Bowl. "Hunch! Do you have any rosemary in that cache of herbs you cart around all the time?"

He got a brief moment of amusement out of the situation when Hunch appeared with the herbs he required and seemed bound and determined to believe Richard was doing acts of unspeakable carnality with Kim. Richard spared a moment to glance at her as he prepared. When one looked at her, as a girl rather than as an apprentice or thief, she was fairly pretty. But it was a slightly gritty prettiness that she hid as well as she could to continue her masquerade. All in all, Richard could not imagine being interested in performing acts of unspeakable carnality with her. That said, she did have some of the same spirit and intelligence that had attracted him to Renée to begin with.

When she asked what he was talking about Richard began to explain. He was a little miffed when she interrupted his explanation about the way the bowl worked, but he shrugged it off. He had learnt the hard way that not everyone was as interested as he in the minutiae of magical sciences.

He asked her if she had any questions, and was surprised at the one she asked. "So if I don't say nothin', you can't tell what's true?"

He felt his heart sink. She was going to try to hide something from him. It must have shown on his face, because she hastily explained. "I'm just tryin' to understand. You ain't got no business knowin' everything about me." It made sense. Every time she had an excuse it made sense. He left implicit that he'd know some things simply by what it was she left out.

Then he started casting. As he settled the net of words around her, Richard noticed her flinch away from it. Almost as though she could see them. It was ridiculous, so he gave it no more thought and continued. When he was done casting, the bowl was glowing and Kim seemed quite awed. Probably because this was the first true magic casting she'd ever seen. He asked his first question. "What is your name?"

She paused, then said, "Jenny Stower."

The bowl dimmed and turned red, indicating a lie. By the look on her face, Richard judged that she had been curious to see what happened if she did lie. It was an impulse he could understand. On the other hand, they didn't have all day to let her experiment with his spell. "Your name? And the truth this time," he prompted.

"Kim," she said. The bowl immediately brightened, indicating she was speaking the truth. He wondered, offhand, who the real Jenny Stower was.

He began to ask why she had broken into his wagon that day, who had hired her to do it and all the questions he'd asked that first day. Her answers were the same as before. When he asked her why she'd agreed to come along, the bowl dimmed a little, showing that she wasn't telling him the whole truth. He prompted her and she replied, "All right! I was curious." When she'd finished explaining he had to admit that she was right. It looked odd enough that she had every right to be concerned and intrigued.

The bowl dimmed again when he asked her about her willingness to leave London. This time she responded to his question with, "He ain't waitin' for you."

It turned out she had some contact with one of the upper-level criminals in the London slums. He was seemingly well-educated, well-connected and frightened Kim a great deal. She had come with Richard and Hunch as much for self-preservation lest this Dan Laverham discover her true sex and force her into a life Kim was clearly quite terrified of.

At that moment, Richard promised himself he would redouble his efforts to teach her stagecraft, reading and whatever else he could think of that would be useful. Hopefully he could at least help this one girl off the streets.

Then she demanded to know what was going on. It was only fair. He'd forced the truth out of her, even though she'd been giving him the truth the whole time, and it was true that she should know what was going on if she was to come with them. So he told her. And was impressed at how well she'd put the pieces together. Yes, Richard Merrill was his name, yes he was wanted by the Runners, no he hadn't committed the crime he was accused of.

Andrew had the dubious honour of being dubbed a "noodle", whatever that meant precisely, for believing Richard would steal the Saltash set. Whatever that meant, he suspected it was fully accurate.

Hunch poked his head in then and asked where they were going. And thus they headed off to Ranton Hill, Richard feeling much reassured. Kim was exactly what she'd claimed to be and she was much better company than Hunch alone.

It started to rain as they travelled, making it nearly impossible to teach Kim legerdemain and reading, but he continued to teach her how to speak correctly. She learned it, but the weather made her clearly irritable. She learned, often slipping back into cant in her irritation, but she learned.

In the moments when she had an outburst of aggravation which took the form of blunt street language, Richard found himself getting an education on the various new and exciting things slum-dwellers could call each other. He decided to ignore her irritation and simply corrected her grammar, surmising that she was relieving her feelings that way and to respond would probably only start a fight none of them had the energy for. His lack of response seemed to irritate her as well, but it was the lesser of two evils.

On the third day he heard her grousing once more and told her the rain would be clearing by the afternoon. "If you're so knowin', how come you ain't put a stop to it afore now?" she demanded. He corrected her grammar, earning himself a scowl, and explained that weather magic was simply not worth the effort and attention it would attract in this instance.

When he was proven right, he smiled at her irritation over his being right and they kept on going. Eventually they reached their campground for the evening where Hunch, with his usual set of priorities, focussed on drying everything out. Kim expressed her disgust with the delay it put on supper, but the conversation was interrupted by a carriage rattling by.

Both he and Kim hurried off after it to find out what it was doing out in the middle of nowhere. When they reached the vehicle's destination, they discovered it was Shoreham's druid cult. The one that seemingly had the Saltash Platter.

The young men were hanging around a bonfire, dicing and chatting. All but one who seemed to have an amusing penchant for the melodramatic. When the last of them showed up, they organised themselves into a circle and started their . . . whatever they called their chant. Genuinely ridiculous spectacle with no magic whatsoever involved.

It wasn't until he glanced at Kim, her face white and rather frightened-looking, that he realised how impressive it must be to a girl from the London streets. She'd never seen true magic at work until he'd cast the truth spell on her just days before. How could she know how silly it all was? He deliberately made light of what they were doing, although he could admit it was quite as dramatic as a Greek play.

Still, despite her fear, she followed him up the hill, settling flat against it as though she'd spent her whole life training as a spy. Perhaps she had. He'd learnt by sheer luck not to move when doing things like this by seeing what happened to someone else who had. That demonstration was enough to ensure he never moved unless he was certain no one would see him. She had most likely learnt from waiting to break into houses.

And then all the drama fell to pieces. It began with "Jon" organising his little band for the ceremony. From there it went from mildly silly to plain ridiculous as "Freddy" had lost the Saltash Platter to Henry Bramingam at whist. Richard felt himself tense at the name, knowing that St. Clair was no doubt on his way to Ranton Hill as they spoke.

Eventually the young men all had enough of Freddy's foolishness and Jon's posturing and went into the lodge to warm up and start with the wenching that was clearly the primary motivation of most of the participants.

It wasn't until Kim nudged him, reminding him that it was dark and Hunch would be worried that he realised how much time had passed. And he was further grateful to her presence when they got back. Hunch's scolding wasn't nearly as bad as they'd been in the past when he'd gone off on his own.

That incident made up his mind for him. They had to get more information. By the end of the evening, it had been decided that Hunch was to be a groom, Richard was to be one of the idiot members of the ton who gave them all a bad name, and Kim would be his tiger.

When they arrived at the inn, Richard took advantage of his role to breeze right past everyone and settled into his room at once. And was startled to discover that the toff who had originally hired Kim was staying in the room next to him. Within an hour, they had discovered a Lady Granleigh was the brother of the toff in question, whose name was Jasper Marston. Further, it appeared that Lady Bramingham was having one of her interminable house parties, and Richard was going to have to hurry to collect the platter before anyone else did.

Another startling development in the continuing list of startling developments was that one of this Dan Laverham's henchmen was also present, and apparently associated with Freddy Meredith, the one who had lost the platter to Henry Bramingham. Kim was sufficiently unsettled by this addition to the various players already present, that she offered to return to London. He wondered about the length of Laverham's influence but set aside that concern.

He took Hunch and Kim back to the wagon, sent Hunch off to get information on all the players in this game, new and old, and then bullied Kim into helping him burgle Bramingham Place.

She followed him with clear misgivings, but once they reached the front door, she took command with alacrity. Richard had broken into the occasional home or office while in France, but never while there was any significant chance to be caught. He told Kim that there was no need to worry about the rest of the household, which was most likely true, but mostly he wanted the Saltash Platter away from St. Clair.

He was surprised as he watched her move through the house. Not a single wasted movement, not even the slightest hint of a brush against any of the nick-knacks on the tables in the hall, and he was amazed at how silently she moved. Richard had to admit that, while he was no slouch at sneaking about, Kim might as well have been one of the shadows for all the disturbance she made as she passed through the house.

The first sign that they ought to be concerned came when they reached the library. When he complimented Kim on the speed of her lockpicking on that door, she told him it had been unlocked. Richard began to worry, but it was too late now to start fussing, so he just hurried into the library and quickly located the display case with the Saltash Platter in it. Kim reached down to pick that lock and pulled away, clearly as concerned as he was, when she told him that this lock too, was unlocked.

"Magic?" she asked him. It was a possibility, but this whole thing was looking more and more off to Richard. He was about to check anyhow, when small noises by the door alerted them to the fact that someone was coming in after them.

A flash of memory hit Richard and he hurried to the shelves where Lord Bramingham had once shown him a priest's hole hidden behind the shelves. Where was it . . . "Boccaccio, Boccaccio," he murmured as he ran a finger along the shelves. He found it not a moment too soon, tilting the book out to trigger the latch and practically threw Kim in. He climbed in after her and, after a moment of fumbling, got the peephole open.

What followed was a parade worthy of Shakespeare's most convoluted comedies. First, a man came through that Richard had never seen before. However, judging by Kim's soft gasp, she did. He made a note that he'd have to ask her later who it was. Moments later, Jasper Marston and his man, Stuggs, arrived. There was a momentary fight between them, at the end of which, the first man escaped by the expedient of breaking a window and hurling himself through.

Moments later, as Marston and Stuggs attempted to figure out what to do with the Saltash Platter, Jonathon Aberford's stentorian tones echoed through the library. The young idiot was attempting to burgle Bramingham place. And not by stealth either. He stood there, framed by the window, wearing a domino and demanding that Marston hand over the 'Sacred Dish'.

All sense of amusement at Aberford's idiocy faded when the youth produced a pistol. That fear faded once more when the idiot fell down, setting off his gun. Stuggs went to the window and reported back, "Silly young chub was standin' on a bucket, an' it tipped over. The pistol must 'ave gone off when 'e fell."

Moments later, the rest of the household came pouring in. In all the confusion, Richard watched as Lady Granleigh feigned a fit of the vapours in order to conceal the platter. By sitting on it. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bramingham was having a true fit of her own while the rest attempted to determine what exactly had been happening. It was then that someone arrived that caused Richard's heart to nearly stop.

"Renée?" he breathed. He barely even noticed Kim elbowing him. There she was, as flawlessly turned out as ever. All imperious, cold and demanding as she could be when she wished. And at a house party, which she hated, with Mrs. Bramingham of all people, who Richard was quite certain had never been introduced to the Frenchwoman. Why was she there?

Finally most of the crowd exited the room, leaving Marston, Lady Granleigh and the looming presence of Stuggs. Lady Granleigh immediately leapt to her feet and got into an argument with her brother. In the end they chose to hide the Saltash Platter under the cushions of one of the couches. Richard was so lost in thought that, when they left, Kim had to nudge him in order to get them out of their hiding spot.

Richard felt furious. Renée was here. He was almost certain it had to do with the Saltash Platter, and once he felt the complete lack of magic in the dish he was completely certain. Somewhere along the line, the real platter had been replaced with a fake. There was no one else with the possible means or motive, as far as he knew, to have such a replacement made.

As they left, Richard controlled his temper. Perhaps Renée had reason to be there that had nothing to do with the Saltash Set. By the time he and Kim had made it back to the wagon, Richard had determined he would get to the bottom of her mysterious appearance in Ranton Hill.

To this end, he asked Kim to play messenger boy for him. He wrote a letter to Renée.

Dear Renée,

As you are no doubt aware, the Saltash Platter at Bramingham place is a fake. However, there appear to be far too many interested parties involved for my comfort. Kim and myself were startled in the library by a man Kim informs me is named Jack Stower, who works for a most unpleasant criminal character in London. Following his entrance was Jasper Marston, who originally hired Kim to determine whether or not I had the Saltash bowl. They frightened Mr. Stower off, but I have little doubt the man will continue to be in the area.

Marston was interrupted by a Jonathon Aberford, a young man playing at druidry, who seems to have a most unusual determination to procure the platter. Henry Bramingham has called his uncle, Lord St. Clair, in order to give him the platter as St. Clair has an interest in such items.

And lastly, there is you. Why are you here Renée? I must speak with you as you are, thus far, the only person I can see who might have had both the opportunity and motive to create a fake platter. Please send your return message with Kim. She is quite reliable and has been most helpful to me thus far.

Sincerely,

Richard

Richard handed Kim the letter, telling her the words she'd need to have down perfectly when she got to Bramingham Place. He needed to know about Renée. He told her to meet him at the Ranton Hill inn.

While Kim was off taking his letter to Renée, he was going to see what he could drum up in the way of information at the inn. Anything was better than twiddling his thumbs as he waited for Kim to return.

Several hours later and Richard was still seated across from Freddy Meredith who was truly impressive in his obtuseness. They had been playing cards for hours and Richard had been trying very hard not to clean out the young man. He had discovered that the odds of Meredith having any sort of conscious connection to the Saltash Platter beyond his having lost it to Henry Bramingham were virtually nil.

He was therefore greatly relieved to see Kim, looking rather the worse for wear, there to retrieve him. She looked very uncomfortable when he asked for Renée's reply, and he took the hint and they took their leave.

Her story of what happened on her way to Bramingham Place took most of the walk back to the wagon. "I was walkin' along and these two lunkheads came down the road, racing some fancy buggies. When they turned a corner, they ran into a coach and ran it off the road and one of them drivers had his buggy pretty bunged up."

"Those drivers, Kim," Mairelon corrected gently.

She shot him a look of exasperation, but made the correction. "Those drivers then. Anyways," she shot him another look, "I was just about to walk around them when I heard the man in the carriage start talkin'." Mairelon glanced at her when the pause went on for longer than he had expected. Kim was looking a little white around the lips.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

She shook her head, took a deep breath and said, "Nothin' really. I'm just still a little nattered about it." She seemed to shake it off and continued. "I heard him talking and I could of sworn it was Dan. Dan Laverham," she qualified the name for him.

He felt his eyebrows shoot up. "Laverham? Here?"

"But it wasn't," Kim hastened to add. "He just sounded like Dan. It was that St. Clair toff," she said. "The other drivers were two of the- those druids," she added. "One of 'em asked if there was anythin' he could do, and St Clair told him to go to Bramingham Place to get someone to pick him up since his carriage was broken.

"I hid behind a wall at the side of the road. I didn't want any of those toffs seeing me, especially that St. Clair," she continued. "So I kept behind the wall and hid until I was sure they wouldn't be able to see me again. That St. Clair sounds like a nasty piece of work."

Mairelon chuckled a little at that, sobering immediately after. "He is. I'm quite glad you avoided him. The less he knows the better."

She nodded and continued. "When I got to the manor, that butler was all snooty." She fixed him with a look. "If I gotta do this again, I want to know about what to expect from the servants and the like," she told him. "I think he might have been bein' rude, but I don't know, see?"

"I do. I apologise," Mairelon told her. "I sometimes forget how many behaviours are inculcated in us from childhood to the point we no longer think them worth concentration."

"Mairelon," she said his stage name in exasperation, "What does that mean when it ain't in fancy jargon?"

"Isn't in fancy language, and it means that I am so used to the way things are done in an upper class home I have difficulty telling what things are obvious to anyone, and which are only obvious to people raised in and around those homes."

She nodded, and Mairelon was momentarily distracted by the question of when he had begun to consider Mairelon his name as much as Richard. But Kim was continuing and introspection would have to wait.

"The butler took me in to see Mlle D'Auber, and she seemed awful nattered about that letter you wrote her." He was tempted to correct her grammar again, but decided it was better to let her finish her story before returning to the constant corrections. "Anyways, she said that it wasn't good the way things were going and said I had to take your letter back. And she wrote one to you," Kim told him. "She magicked the letter when she was done writin'."

"Don't be ridiculous, she wouldn't have . . ." He trailed off as he examined the envelope. She had. He wondered how Kim had known. Certainly Renée was accomplished enough for a simple spell sealing the letter to be done quickly and silently.

When he tripped the spell, he had his answer to that question. The spell was more complex than a simple seal. Perhaps Renée had simply been more obvious when casting than she usually was. Certainly what Kim had said indicated Renée may have been a little overset.

He pushed it from his mind and listened to Renée telling him she had to meet him in private. When the message finished, Richard stared into the middle distance, considering all the pieces of the puzzle which had just been dropped into his lap, further complicating the picture. He was startled out of his musing by Kim asking him what he was doing next. Mairelon covered his discomfiture at being caught so lost in thought, by scolding Kim for interrupting his workings.

She gave him a pointed look and said that it was pretty clear to her that he had been woolgathering. Mairelon paused for a moment at that. There weren't many people willing to interrupt a wizard when he had just been casting, unless they had been fully assured the spell was completed. But Kim hadn't been in the slightest nervous about it. Which meant she was either quite foolhardy, or she was very good at understanding magic. The latter was fairly unlikely, so Mairelon put it aside to make certain later that she understood the risks she took by interrupting spellcasting.

Richard began to hunt for his regular clothes while Kim tried to convince him she should come. He managed to make her agree to stay and then he was hurrying off to meet Renée.

She wasn't there when he arrived, but mere moments later, Amelia Granleigh and her unspeakable brother were pulling up to his place on the hill in a landau. Richard played with them a little, refusing to answer their questions in order to garner a little more information.

And then they handed over the copy of the Saltash Platter they had appropriated from Bramingham Place. He shook his head inwardly. These two were playing a very odd game, and now he was stuck with this copy. Lady Granleigh and Marston then tripped off, still arguing the whole way, leaving Richard alone on the hill with a copy of the platter intended for Aberford and his friends.

A moment later the bushes rustled. Richard felt a moment of relief, Renée was here at last, "Renée?"

It was Kim.

Mairelon was surprised by how little he was disappointed at her appearance instead of Renée's. And she was able to fill in some of the blanks of the arguments Lady Granleigh had had with her brother. Then he found out that she had done to him what he had done to Hunch numerous times, that is say something which implied agreement without precisely agreeing, and had felt no compunction at coming after him.

She seemed to feel guilty she had been unable to beat the landau to the top of the hill to warn him, so Mairelon tried to reassure her it was fine. They talked and conjectured all the way back to the wagon. She was certainly easier to talk these things out with than Hunch, who may have been ornery, but never forced Mairelon to push his ideas. Everything was coming together in his mind, faster than it did normally. Of course, he still lacked a great many of the pieces of the puzzle, but it might be easier to slot them into place now that he knew where the holes were.

When they returned to the campsite, Hunch was waiting for them with Shoreham's information on Stower, Lavarham, Fenton and Marston. Stower was uninteresting, Marston seemed to be no more than he appeared, although how he and his sister came to be involved was an interesting question; Fenton and Laverham were very interesting. Mairelon wished briefly Kim was not there when he saw her pale at the notion of Laverham being trained in wizardry.

After Hunch's information had been disseminated, the oddest thing happened. That Jack Stower appeared, wanting the imitation Platter. He threatened Richard and Hunch, and then he recognised Kim. At that point he began to rant about how he would get the guineas Laverham was offering the person who retrieved the Platter. As he began to threaten again, Richard managed a makeshift spell to drive him off.

It was when they had settled once more that Hunch began to accuse Kim of working for Laverham. Kim protested, looking quite overset, and Mairelon intervened, sharply reminding Hunch that he had performed a truth spell on Kim days into their acquaintance. But it was when Mairelon demanded Hunch apologise that he had a surprise. Kim insisted there was no need for apology because she herself had forgotten about the spell.

Mairelon did not miss that she had been convinced they were about to throw her out on her ear.

When he sent Hunch off to Ranton Hill to see what he could find out, he and Kim headed off to Bramingham Place to see what they could find out there. And Mairelon pushed her on her speech lessons the whole way. He wanted her to know she was wanted, and he needed to bring her up to more standard forms of elocution if she was to use what she learned to bring herself up in society.

Even as they walked and he tested her speech, Richard considered the questions raised by Hunch's information. Fenton was clearly connected to everything, the timing of his hiring and sacking from service were too coincidental to be anything of the sort. The question was, what did he have to do with all this?

On top of that, Renée hadn't appeared and that was quite concerning, especially in light of the message she'd sent him. And what was she playing at, telling people she was ill while being, in reality, at Ranton Hill?

Richard frowned. He could not figure out the connection between Renée and the current contretemps around the Saltash Platter, nor could he connect Fenton to anything.

When they reached Bramingham Place however, they found Fenton dead in a copse of trees on the grounds. He had two more forgeries with him, as perfect as the others he had gotten from Lady Granleigh and Stower.

And then he met Kim's Laverham. She was quite right. The resemblance between Laverham and St. Clair was pronounced. Richard felt a suspicion flare as he recalled that Laverham had gone to Harrow, but he let it slide.

And then Laverham was casting a control spell on Kim. She flinched as he began casting and Mairelon suppressed a frown as her flinch, as with the other times he'd seen her around spellcasting, seemed to be away from the structure of the spell itself. He could be fooling himself, but he could swear she was aware of where the spellforms were. They settled mere fractions of an inch away from her body, but they did not settle on her. It created an illusion she was under a spell unless one knew what to look for.

It was only luck that he had been reminded so recently of his own casting using the bowl. He slipped the reminders of the limitations of the spell into his questions of Laverham. If Kim had understood, she gave no sign.

He climbed in after her as directed. As the hackney started off following the directions Richard gave Stower and the driver, he deliberately essayed a fall into Kim. He murmured, "Don't worry," hoping to reassure her, or at least get rid of that horrible dead look in her eyes. It made him shudder to see, especially as it was so close to that closed hard look of suspicion he had been treated to so early in their acquaintance. He was suddenly reminded of her background and the terror she held of Laverham.

Her lips tightened ever so slightly, and he thought he saw an expression of annoyance in her eyes. But it could have been his imagination. In any event, Richard wished to know more. After all, the variations on the spell were fascinating. "That spell is terribly interesting, don't you think it's terribly interesting Kim?"

"A more tactless comment I have never heard," Laverham commented.

Mairelon blinked in surprise. While he had been fishing for information, it suddenly occurred to him how that had sounded. He saw what might have been a flicker of amusement in Kim's eyes and decided that it had been worth it despite how foolish he sounded. If she was aware enough to think him foolish, perhaps she was not fully as under as she seemed. Perhaps she was even merely acting.

And then Jonathon Aberford chose that moment to continue his Quest for the Sacred Dish.

"Jonathan Aberford!" Kim exclaimed, much to Mairelon's relief, "That bufflehead!" At least the look in her eyes was only caused by her fear of the compulsion.

It would have been dreadfully funny had they not all been in danger of being shot by criminals from London's back streets. Aberford had clearly run mad and was still posturing, attempting to play head druid while Laverham clearly struggled with the urge to simply shoot the imbecile and have done with.

Laverham decided, much to Mairelon's chagrin, that Kim should bind him. He watched her dig out the rope, and start tying him up. It hurt to watch her do this as though she had no choice. Did she think she was under compulsion and had to do what Laverham said anyhow? Or was it something else? She was quick enough to pick up the hint he had dropped, so maybe she wasn't able to resist. Because he was starting to wonder if there was a loophole involving the use of different parts of the set in relation to each other, or some other means of working around the one-time-use limitation.

And then she spoke. "There," Kim said, "You won't get out of that in no hurry."

"No?" Mairelon asked. Her voice was flat, and he searched her eyes for some hint that she wasn't subsumed in a spell. Her face gave nothing away and his eyes dropped to his bound hands in spite of himself.

Bound in the trick knots he'd shown her back that first day. The ones that came apart if you knew which loop to pull. He suppressed the smile that threatened to break out on his face and put all his appreciation for her cleverness and care into his words. "I see."

Laverham didn't catch any of it. He was utterly convinced that Kim was completely under his control. She repeated her performance with the rope on Aberford and settled back for the rest of the ride to the Sacred Lodge. Aberford's idiocy and his own tendency to tongue-in-cheek humour had pressed at Kim's patience to the point that she was visibly slipping Laverham's leash with her own sarcasm.

When they got there, Aberford seemingly allowed his idiocy full rein and began posturing about preventing Laverham from defiling his sacred space. Richard couldn't help himself as he asked, "Just what would 'desecrate' a place where you and your friends drink, dice and wench until almost dawn?"

And once they were inside, they discovered Freddy Meredith was there. With Marianne Thornley, the young lady Lady Granleigh was planning to have married off to her brother. She had several fits of hysterics while Meredith and Aberford began arguing about whether or not the Sacred Lodge should be locked up.

And then Baron St. Clair arrived. Miss Thornley threw herself into another fit of hysterics, this time at what she clearly believed to be their saviour. The resemblance between Laverham and St. Clair was thoroughly pronounced when they were in the same room together. At least something of that connection came clear at that moment. They were half-brothers. It was the only explanation.

They began to argue, as familiarly as Richard and Andrew had ever argued, but with the full complement of genuinely nasty tendencies. And Richard felt the bottom of his stomach drop away when St. Clair suggested they use 'the girl' to carry a message to Hunch.

For one wild moment he thought Kim might have escaped St. Clair's notice as Laverham decried the notion of using Miss Thornley as a messenger. And then St. Clair said, "Not that girl, the one you've cast the control spell on."

Kim, who was clearly working to her own plan, destroyed Mairelon's attempt to keep her safe. But just as Laverham was about to send her off, another series of ridiculous arguments broke out in the ill-assorted party and there was another arrival.

It was another so-called druid, Robert Choiniet, whose appearance sparked another round of recriminations and infighting amongst the youth as Meredith exhibited a stunning thickheadedness, Aberford postured and insulted Meredith to the point that Miss Thornley threw herself violently into the debate to defend the dubious wit of her beloved.

It was when Lady Granleigh swept in, followed by her brother and the ubiquitous Stuggs, that Marielon caught another glimpse of Kim, who had been working her way to the door. As she made a rather rude gesture at Lady Granleigh, he lost control of himself and gave in to the humour of the situation. Lady Granleigh seemed convinced that St. Clair was there to assist her in retrieving Miss Thornley, Marston was making wild accusations about Meredith's character and the youngsters continued to utterly discomfit Stower, who was looking more and more panicked as he found himself unable to cover all of his hostages at once.

Laverham shot out one of the windows to get everyone's attention. He made himself quite clear that he was most definitely not working for St. Clair. Then he tried to bring everything under control. It worked, to a point, and Richard had to admit to being grateful for the sudden peace and quiet.

Of course, it was not helped by St. Clair informing Laverham that Richard had the Saltash Bowl, nor by Lady Granleigh and her brother insisting that they gave "Mr. De Mare" the platter. Most curious of all, however, was Stuggs' response to Richard's name. "Merrill," he said, "Well, well."

"What does that mean, well, well?" demanded Marston.

Stuggs promptly readopted the look of stupidity he'd had before, but Richard could already tell that this was another player in the game, not merely an adjunct to Marston and his sister. "Ain't he the cove you was lookin' for in London?" Stuggs asked.

Richard was finally able to explain that he had a fake, like seemingly everyone else Fenton had come into contact with, but Laverham seemed determined to believe that he was lying.

And then Renée appeared.

With Andrew in tow.

She claimed she had the Saltash Platter. Andrew claimed he was there to help Richard avoid being caught. His whole world had slewed sideways and he wasn't quite sure where to get a grasp on what was happening.

He caught sight of Kim, still trying to make it to the door under cover of all the madness in the lodge. She was still trying to get out, to whatever plan she was following. He must do the same. Put the other things out of his mind, and concentrate on the game.

Laverham was now threatening Renée if she did not immediately produce the platter. Renée chose to be indubitably French and informed him that, "I tell the truth. And it is quite true that I cannot give you the platter now. I am not a fool, me, and I do not wish to lose it. So I do not carry it about with me, especially when there are housebreakers and highwaymen and persons with pistols everywhere. If you were not yourself without sense, you would have comprehended that and not bothered me with silly questions."

Richard could have sworn he saw a tic developing on Laverham's left eye. It was almost as pleasurable and entertaining as if it had been St. Clair himself.

So Laverham gave up on that and pulled out the two spheres he'd used before to cast the failed control spell and began a spell of finding. And that idiot Aberford began rabbiting on about the dire consequences of defying the Sons of the New Dawn.

Moments later it became apparent that the young fool had been aware of wards on the lodge to prevent anyone from casting significant magics. Mairelon rapidly peeled off the ropes Kim had carefully knotted and demanded of the imbecile, "You might have tried warning him you had a protective spell up, you young idiot! What did you use? Quick now!"

He began to mumble. "MacPherson's corollory of energy interferences, only I tied the main focus into the lodestone and tied that to the ley line for a power source."

The idiot had thought he was being clever. Wonderful. Sheer laziness and the power of the ley line was bleeding into the whole mess. And Richard could see the thing was breaking up and apart even before Laverham's spell had begun tear at the supporting frame of the wards.

The whole thing was unstable and it was making Laverham's spell unstable too. The spellforms were twisting uncomfortably about. Mairelon spotted Kim off to the side, her eyes wide and fixed on Laverham. He could have sworn she was watching the spell go to pieces.

With a sudden surge, she rose to her feet, putting all her strength into tossing the table into Laverham. And then he was too distracted by shielding himself and everyone behind him from the shards of the spell.

There was a considerable shuffle going on, Mairelon was dimly aware that Laverham and Stower were being taken captive. He was more concerned with his new assistant. "Kim! Kim?"

She emerged from under the table looking none the worse for wear and reassured him she was all right.

It took Renée's keen eyes for them to discover that the Saltash Platter had finally been found. It had been hidden under one of the hearthstones and it was the work of mere moments to pull it out.

And then Lady Granleigh attempted to take claim of it. It was a patently ridiculous statement. She sent her brother after it and Mairelon, purely on reflex, used it as a bludgeon on the man's head. "Anyone else like to try?" he asked, adding his best stage flourish in St. Clair's direction.

"Richard!" Andrew felt the need to expostulate, "You can't go around threatening peers of the realm!"

Mairelon felt his eyebrows fly upward. Peer? "Really Andrew," he said irritably, "He's only a baron." Off to the side, he saw Kim roll her eyes. He was unsure as to whether this was over Andrew's comment or his calling St. Clair, 'only' a baron. Of course, it could be Meredith's continued insistence that the platter really belonged to Henry Bramingham. Really, Mairelon was almost tempted to agree if it weren't for the fact that Bramingham would immediately hand the thing over to St. Clair.

No matter. As they again degenerated into useless squabbles, Everyone was silenced by Laverham's fury. He freely admitted to having been involved in the theft of the platter, to being St. Clair's half-brother and, most importantly to Richard, implicated St. Clair as the driving force behind the theft.

Aberford began speaking again, and was interrupted by Choniet begging him to understand this was serious. "Quite serious," Richard began talking over Aberford's foolishness. "This is—"

And then Stuggs was suddenly drawing attention to himself with a beatific smile. "—the Saltash Platter, part o' of a set as was stolen from the Royal College of Wizards upwards of five years ago, by a person or persons unknown." And then he declared Laverham and St Clair under arrest. It was an moment of uplifting joy for Richard.

"He's a Runner!" Kim gasped.

"Jasper you fool!" Lady Granleigh shouted at her unconscious brother. Mairelon wondered idly if Jasper were quite the fool everyone thought he was, or if he was simply over-bullied by his truly overwhelming sibling.

St. Clair still had one trick up his sleeve. Richard still didn't know how it was that St Clair had got ahold of the pistol he was suddenly holding, but it didn't matter. There was a pause, as everyone tried to talk him out of what he was doing. It was infuriating. St. Clair had framed him, and now he was going to get away.

But threatening Miss Thornley had an unexpected outcome. Freddy Meredith, furious at the way his fiancée was being manhandled utterly disregarded the gun and sent his fist into the man's jaw. The action so shocked everyone there, St. Clair was taken into custody with great rapidity and Miss Thornley threw herself at her hero with fevered excitement at his bravery.

Mairelon found himself being accused of stealing the set again, whilst everyone waffled about what to do with Laverham, Stower, Lady Granleigh, Marston and the lot of young people arguing in the background. Richard ignored the clutter going on around him just long enough to give Meredith and his vapid fiancée the opportunity to escape themselves.

At least he did finally get his explanation from Renée as to what she was doing at the Bramingham's house party.

Making peace between Richard and Andrew. It was really quite astonishing. He was amazed, because he could think of almost no one who would have gone to such trouble to force the two of them to make up.

Which was about when Shoreham, Bramingham, Lord Granleigh and Hunch appeared. Much to the relief of most people present.

It was perfectly obvious what had happened, and yet Shoreham made Mairelon spell everything out. Everything. It was as though none of them could reasonably be expected to put the pieces together themselves. Although in the process he found out that there had been some new developments in the college. And on top of it, everyone wouldn't let him get on with explaining, they just had to question, expostulate and generally rabbited on about inconsequentials.

And then finally, finally he was able to cross-question Lord Granleigh about Fotheringham's crystals.

Shoreham was his usual efficient self and began to arrange to haul the various criminals off to prison. Aberford began to sulk mightily. It was Kim who brought him out of it. He'd been whinging on about how he'd lost the platter, when Kim asked him whether any old "wicher-cheat" would do.

"It's exactly the right dimensions," he began, wittering on about combinations of abstraction and natural design. And Kim suggested he take one of the fakes.

Mairelon smiled encouragingly at her. "One of the false platters should suit you admirably, Aberford. Better than the real thing, in fact; you won't have to worry about your," he paused infinitessimally on his choice of words, wondering how much of his true opinion of their hobby to let into his voice, before choosing the path of least resistance, "Spells getting tangled up with the ones that are already in the Saltash Platter and exploding or doing something equally unexpected."

And Aberford wittered on some more, attempting to be grand and druidic and succeeding only at sounding remarkably cloth-headed before marching off. He was followed in short order by Shoreham, Lady Granleigh, who had been taken sternly in hand by her husband, Marston, Choiniet, Bramingham and the rest, which only left Mairelon, Kim, Hunch, Renée and Andrew.

Andrew began to apologise profusely. For a moment Richard was tempted to demand that his brother grovel a little more abjectly. He'd had to fly the country under suspicion of theft, had listened to his own brother go on about how he'd known Richard's bad habits would get him into trouble. But it would do neither of them any good if Richard insisted on holding such a grudge.

So he shocked Andrew, which was always fun to do, by letting him off easily and turned to some more important business. "Kim?" Mairelon asked.

She looked so stricken. He didn't know why, but now wasn't the time to ask. "Yes?" She looked braced for some sort of bad news.

"Why did you tip that table over on Laverham when he was in the middle of that spell a few minutes ago?" He asked. She looked utterly confused.

"The table?"

"Yes, the table. I've told you more than once that interrupting a wizard is dangerous, and if you claim you forgot, I won't believe you. So why did you interrupt Laverham?" The details added up, but just in case, he maintained a stern air. He could be wrong about her latent talent, in which case she deserved a stern talking to. But the way she always flinched when someone was casting spells, the way her eyes seemed to track where the spellforms were shaping up . . .

She looked vaguely affronted, but still confused. "Because his spell was as queer as Dick's hatband anyway," she said. Apt, as always, although they really would have to do something about her grammar. "You know that."

He controlled his urge to grin. He could still be wrong, but more pieces were falling into place. "Yes, I knew it, but how did you know?"

Kim frowned, and began to pick through a clearly inadequate vocabulary. "It was the words," she said.

Mairelon could have throttled Renée when she said in tones of polite disbelief, "You speak the Latin then? Or the Greek, perhaps?" Wasn't it obvious what Kim was trying to say? And after what Renée had pulled, she didn't have the right to be snippy right now.

"I ain't got no need to speak it," Kim snapped back. The familiar bad temper gave him a sense of relief. Whatever happened, she was still Kim. "Laverham's words weren't . . . They weren't lined up neat and proper like they should of been."

A moment more of query, and Mairelon was almost certain of where she was going. He felt as though he was teetering at the top of a cliff. He tried a bit of the Greek of the Iliad out on her. "Apbeteon, or perhaps, 'Mênin aeide, thea, Pêlêiadeô Achilêos oulomenên, hê muri' Achaiois alge' ethêke'."

She shook her head. "No. Those sound right, but they don't have no edges. They're just nonsense."

And so Richard said the words of one of the early spells every wizard worth his salt learned. The ones to simply teach you how to handle magic, without seriously casting anything. A small ward, nothing serious. Just to test. "And these? Erigo vox quod permissum illic exsisto a obex."

She flinched. Then she nodded.

"My Lord," he said, feeling a heady moment of happiness. Because he had been refusing to admit, even to himself, that he wanted her to come with him. Enjoyed her company and the way she cut through all the social niceties to get to the heart of the matter. "No wonder you weren't hurt when the spell shattered."

She still didn't understand what a wonder she was. He'd never seen such a talent. Richard had been called uncommonly strong growing up, but even he could not recall seeing magic (before he'd begun to train to be a wizard) with the clarity she did, without even trying.

"There ain't nothin' wonderful about that," she said, still taken aback. "I just ducked."

Mairelon was already calculating what to teach her first and the best way to work Latin, Greek and Hebrew into her lessons as he told her that she was a wizard.

Renée scolded him for being difficult and explained what was happening to Kim. Kim had the potential to be a wizard. And just after he offered to bring her to London with him to teach her magic, reality, otherwise known as his inestimable brother Andrew intruded. Mairelon was set to defy Society before a far more sensible option presented itself to him. Kim would be his ward, she would learn magic, all the proprieties would be covered and he wouldn't get scolded by his mother or Aunt Agatha. Much.

"Well?" He asked Kim anxiously. She'd indicated in the past that she was concerned about too much time spent with 'toffs'. Did she want this? Would she simply demand payment and fade from his life as though she'd never been?

"Do I look like a looby? Of course I want to come!"

Mairelon felt everything resettle into its proper place. There was a new addition there, but Kim felt like she fit with everything else just fine. And with her blunt outlook, and interesting way of putting things, they would take the ton by storm. And anything might happen. Anything at all.