§ § § - March 29, 2014

Christian and Leslie had been home for only four days because of the unexpected lengthening of his testimony. For some reason Pettifane's lawyer, Milton Yarbro, had pounced on Christian's revelation about Pettifane's claim regarding Christian's clan power, and had cross-examined him for half a day as to what he and Pettifane had said to each other. Leslie—almost as attuned to her husband as he was to her, though she couldn't match his ability to read the body language of people in general—had watched Christian through his testimony, noting how he had unconsciously begun flattening his tone, disciplining himself to hold onto his patience after Yarbro began to repeat himself. By mid-afternoon, the judge had gotten fed up as well, and told Yarbro to either find a new set of questions, or cease altogether. Christian's relief had shown when Yarbro had chosen the latter option, and he had testified for the next ninety minutes or so about the time he had spent in Pettifane's estate between his meeting with the tycoon and the breakout that had freed him and the other three captives.

When Christian had responded to James Beechmont's queries about how he and the others had managed to escape the estate, that had brought on a whole new set of questions, which to Leslie's horrified shock had resulted in a hastily drawn-up subpoena requiring her to testify. The judge had permitted it, and Leslie had spent almost a full courtroom day on the stand, running down how she'd figured out that Christian had been abducted in the first place and what she had subsequently done to effect his rescue.

The evening before she took the stand, though, she and Christian had done a little brainstorming in secret. Knowing that both sides' lawyers would ask how she had figured out that Christian was being held in Pettifane's estate, they had seized on the only possible connection, tenuous though they'd feared it was: Pettifane's five persistent e-mail messages to Christian about opening a branch of Enstad Computer Services in New York City, and Pettifane's insistence on attempting to change Christian's mind during their meeting. When that came up in her testimony, Leslie had had to force herself not to sit on her hands in the witness stand, for they'd been shaking from nerves; she'd ended up interlacing her fingers into a two-handed fist and resting her forearms in her lap. But to her immense relief, it had worked; she had explained that, wispy though the connection was, it had been the only possibility she had, and she testified that she'd felt it was worth exploring.

"And how did you break them out of the estate?" Milton Yarbro demanded in his cross-examination.

"They sneaked outside," said Leslie, "and came to the gates. My colleagues—Natalie Hainey, Lauren Knight, my father, and Ranjit Khurana—and I just waited till we saw them there, got their attention, and broke them out." A violent movement at the defense table caught her attention, and like everyone else's in the courtroom, her head turned to see Ardmore Pettifane leaning halfway over the table surface, glaring at her as if he wanted to run her through then and there. She stared back at him, wondering whether he would react any further. The lawyer taking notes grasped his arm and leaned over to whisper to him again; the third lawyer, the young one, was absent this time.

Yarbro, having noticed where everyone's focus had gone, had spun around on one foot to aim a warning glare at Pettifane; but this time neither he nor the note-taking lawyer could restrain their client, who yanked his arm away from the note-taker with a growl and shot to his feet. His other arm flew out and pointed at Leslie, and he shouted, "Your father! We know what kind of reputation he has! Don't you tell me he hasn't got some supernatural ability that allowed you to take those people off my property with force!"

The judge smashed his gavel on the bench. "Mr. Pettifane, be seated, or you will be found in contempt of court!" he boomed. As Pettifane, quaking with rage, sank into his chair in slow motion, the judge turned to Leslie. "Mrs. Enstad, how exactly did your father assist you in rescuing your husband and the others with him from the estate?"

"He picked the locks on the gates," Leslie replied simply, astonished at her own composure. She watched the judge nod and sit back in his chair.

"I understand. Your witness, Mr. Yarbro," the judge said.

Yarbro cleared his throat. "Your father is a lock-picker?"

"Occasionally," Leslie said, keeping to the advice Christian had given her the evening before: don't pad your answers; say only what's absolutely necessary so that you can stick with the facts. She was happy enough to do that; the shorter her answers, the sooner the next question would come along, and eventually, the faster she'd get off the stand.

"What need would he have for lock-picking skills?" Yarbro wanted to know.

James Beechmont rose from the opposition table. "Objection—irrelevant to the case."

"Sustained," said the judge.

"Question withdrawn," Yarbro grumbled, as if wishing he could pursue this line of inquiry. He hesitated a few seconds, then blew out a breath and added in a grudging tone, "No further questions, your honor."

The Beechmonts had no questions for Leslie either, so she was released from the stand, to her relief. She and Christian exchanged a quick glance as she returned to her chair, but that was all; Christian was then called back to the stand and testified as to the manner of their escape, deviating from the truth only to claim that he, Sabrina, Martin and Jeskriyan had indeed gained the outdoors and met Leslie and her party at the gates. This had turned out to conclude his testimony altogether, and that evening, Walter Beechmont told them they were free to return home. "But that's interesting, that you figured out Pettifane really did have them," he remarked to Leslie. "Pretty sharp deductive reasoning, especially on a shoestring like that."

"The clue might've been obscure, but it was all I had, and there was enough basis for me to act on it," said Leslie with a shrug.

Wally Beechmont grinned. "Nice work. You know...your father does have a certain reputation...my partner's youngest daughter visited your island some years back, and she came back to the office crowing about what a place it is and all the things your father is supposed to be able to do. I don't guess he picked those locks the old-fashioned way."

"Why wouldn't he?" Leslie countered. "Sometimes the old-fashioned way works the best." They all laughed, and Leslie added, "Your partner's youngest daughter?"

"Cindy Heldt. Well, Cindy Damerow now. She met her husband on your island, and they got married the next year. Got a couple of cute little rugrats now. I think Ole'd started to believe he was never getting Cindy out of his house." Again everyone laughed. "Listen, you two have a good trip home, and don't keep yourselves awake worrying about conviction. There's just too damn much evidence for there not to be one. All the best to you."

"And to both of you," Christian replied, shaking hands with both lawyers. "I'm very appreciative of all the work you've both done on my behalf."

Now, at home, they had scrupulously avoided any media coverage of the rest of Ardmore Pettifane's trial; however, they had had daily updates from Grady, who'd been following it to satisfy his own curiosity. The testimony from Pettifane's pharmaceutical employees had gone smoothly, revealing more culpability on the tycoon's part; and late Friday morning, the jury had gone into deliberations. Now it was Saturday afternoon, and Christian and Leslie were sitting on the patio of their home, watching Anastasia pushing a small crowd of baby dolls around the yard, chattering nonstop at them. She was using the three-seated stroller that Leslie had received as a baby-shower gift shortly before the triplets were born; the Enstads had kept it stashed in the garage since it hadn't fit in the storage room of the old house, enabling it to survive the fire. Susanna, Karina and Tobias were all spending the day with their best friends. Christian had brought his laptop out and, with Leslie looking on beside him, was going through e-mails, looking for any issues that might need addressing at the island-council meeting scheduled for the following Friday night.

Leslie's cell phone rang while Christian opened a message that looked like it needed attention, and she checked the display, then picked it up. "It's Myeko." As Christian paused to watch her, she took the call. "Hi, what's up?"

"Hi, Leslie, are you two watching TV by any chance? If you aren't, maybe you should. The jury in the Pettifane trial's just finished deliberating. Live TV. They're showing them coming back into the courtroom right now."

"We're outside, we don't have time to get in and find the channel. Go ahead and tell us when they deliver the verdict," said Leslie. Christian's brow popped up and she nodded, moving the phone down enough to tell him, "Myeko says they're live-broadcasting right now and the jury's reentering the courtroom."

"Let's hope," he murmured, and she reached over and curled her hand over his.

Myeko began to provide a running commentary. "They're coming in kinda slow. The camera's on Pettifane...he's got this stupid-looking smirk...can't believe he thinks he's gonna get off. I hope the jury isn't that dumb. Oh—the judge's calling for the verdict. Jury foreman's getting up...unfolding the paper..." She paused, and Leslie's hand tightened over Christian's; then, after ten agonizing seconds, Myeko let out a whoop that made Leslie wince. "Guilty! They found Pettifane guilty on every single count! Leslie, you guys won!"

"Guilty on all counts!" Leslie crowed at Christian, whose face broke out with an expression of enormous relief. As he grinned into the sky and brought his hands together with a loud clap, Leslie blurted into the phone, "What's Pettifane doing?"

"He looks like he just saw your father appear from thin air in the courtroom and turn his lawyers into jackasses. You two gotta watch the news tonight—that expression's just priceless. You'll both bust a gut laughing. Judge's saying sentencing will be handed down come Monday morning because the second trial starts the end of next week. I wonder if this is historical? First time a mega-gazillionaire ever went to prison? I think I can get the front page of the island paper tomorrow. I just wanted you to know. Talk to you later, Leslie, and tell Christian I said congrats!" Leslie barely had time to wish her friend farewell before Myeko hung up.

"Myeko passes on her congratulations," Leslie said with a laugh. "I think she's off to write a big fat story for tomorrow's paper. Boy, am I glad all that's over. If we have to keep going through all kinds of nutty clan-related stuff, then I hope the next crisis, or whatever it turns out to be, takes place in the realms. Maybe we could finally get a look at the archives they're supposed to have up there."

Christian laughed. "Maybe the fates will be kind and wait till next year at least, before something like that happens. Now all that's left is my siblings' lawsuit, and then I can stop thinking about the whole ridiculous thing. Actually, as I said before, that's their headache; I'm going to stop thinking about it right now."

"You might not get the chance," Leslie noted as her phone sounded off again. "Hi, Maureen. Yeah, Myeko beat you to it, she told us all about the verdict. She couldn't resist describing Pettifane's expression after the guilty verdict was read out."

Christian watched her, and when she concluded the call with Maureen, he asked, "What did Pettifane look like when he heard the verdict?"

"Myeko described it as the expression he might have if Father appeared from the blue in front of him and changed his lawyers into donkeys." She grinned as Christian burst out laughing. "I bet he's been calling them donkeys, and a lot of other worse things. Wouldn't surprise me if he fired them and brought in a whole new team."

"I don't think it would surprise me either. Perhaps this calls for some sort of celebration. Why don't you send a group text to our friends and invite them and their children here for a massive backyard feast—or, what's that word you always use? A cookout, right?"

"I like that idea. Sure, I'll get the message out. Then we can start planning a menu."

Anastasia pushed the triple stroller, crammed with baby dolls, in her parents' direction. "Mommy, whatcha doing?"

"Texting," Leslie said. "We're having a cookout here tomorrow."

"Oh boy, yummy food like hamb'gers 'n' hot dogs 'n' lotsa ice cream! Can we have french fries too, Mommy? An' pizza? An' Daddy's eplabryssa? An' cake 'n' cookies 'n'—"

"Calm down, lillan min," Christian advised through a laugh. "We've barely started planning this, so let's wait a little bit before you decide what the menu should be." He turned to Leslie, who was grinning as she typed the last of her text and dispatched it. "I have a feeling we'll be doing some fairly expensive grocery shopping."

The cookout, as it happened, was well attended; Myeko had managed to get permission from her brother to bring Tia over so that Karina's best friend could be there, and Roald and his kids were all attendees as well. The whole thing began early Sunday afternoon, and it was decided that while the men grilled and the women prepared the rest of the food, Roald would use his borrowed resort SUV to take all the kids over to the Hamilton Crossing pool for about three hours. The mothers told their younger children to be absolutely certain they all met at the pool gate when Roald told them it was time to go, or they'd miss out on the food; the kids were so excited that they barely acknowledged this before piling out the door and cramming into the vehicle. Unfortunately, it turned out that there were too many to fit, so Leslie gathered the overflow into the Enstads' car, and they both trundled the kids over to the pool. Leslie set up an arrangement with the three oldest kids in the crowd—Craig Omamara, who had just turned seventeen; Cristina Ordoñez, about to celebrate her own seventeenth birthday; and Chikako Miyamoto, now sixteen—that she would call when she and Roald were about to leave to pick them up, and they returned home to unobstructed food prep and a lot of laughter and chattering.

Long after the party had ended, when nearly everyone had gone home and the only remaining guest was Roald with his children, Christian's cell phone began to broadcast the jordisk national anthem around the room. By then, Christian, Leslie and Roald were in the living room with a glass of wine apiece, while the triplets, Anastasia, and Roald's sons romped out back. Astrid, not yet two, had conked out and was sound asleep in Roald's lap; she never even twitched at the sound. Christian picked up his phone and checked the display, then smiled with a hint of resignation. "Hallå då, äldrebror."

"Uncle Carl Johan, huh?" Roald murmured, slowly smoothing Astrid's dark hair. "I'd be willing to wager he's calling about the family lawsuit."

"There can't possibly be any news about that yet," Leslie said lazily, reaching for her wineglass. "Pettifane's between trials and I'm sure that's all his lawyers can think about."

Abruptly Christian sat up straight and let out a shocked laugh. "You simply cannot be serious!" he exclaimed, using jordiska as he still and always did with his siblings in phone conversations. "How on earth did that come about?" Roald and Leslie watched him with surprised interest while he sat and listened; after a minute he got into something of an argument, all but impossible for them to follow because it sounded as if Carl Johan was constantly interrupting his younger brother. Finally Christian started to shake his head with disbelief. "All right, all right, I officially give up, but you are to keep twenty percent, do you hear me? I won't accept anything else. Good, then. Ach, no—it's too bad you and the rest of the family couldn't have been here, though. We had an enormous outdoor meal to celebrate the verdict. Yes, that's right, one of Leslie's 'cookouts'. It ended a little while ago and most of our guests have gone home. Perhaps we will, yes. Well enough, then...yes, we will." He ended the call and turned to Leslie. "Carl Johan said they just got the news not an hour ago. It appears that Pettifane's lawyers were so rattled at the guilty verdict from the trial that they insisted the lawsuit Carl Johan and Anna-Laura filed against him be settled out of court. Evidently there was no argument even from Pettifane. The family may not have received what they were hoping for, but that was to be expected. What they didn't expect was a couriered check for—brace yourself, my Rose—fifty million American dollars."

Leslie nearly fumbled her wineglass. "Fifty million?"

"Exactly so. Carl Johan says he'll see to it that it's sent directly here, but you heard me arguing with him—I insisted he keep ten million of it. So it appears that now we'll have to decide what to do with forty million dollars."

"What are we 'perhaps' going to do?" Roald broke in then, catching his uncle's attention. "You said 'perhaps we will' near the end of the call."

"Oh. Carl Johan suggested another massive celebratory outdoor meal when we all go to Lilla Jordsö in June. I daresay there'll be more than one reason for it. By then the triplets will be ten years old, and that will be just as big a reason to celebrate." Christian let himself collapse against the back of the sofa. "Fates have mercy on us all." He rolled his head against the sofa back till he was eyeing his wife. "Have you recovered yet, my Rose?"

"I don't know." Leslie was gaping into space. "I think I need more wine."

Christian laughed. "I wouldn't recommend it, in your state. Would you rather I made the decision as to what to do with that money?"

Leslie lifted her head and gave it the kind of shake a dog performs after coming out of a lake. "Well...maybe we do deserve a little bit of that, just because of what Pettifane did to you, and what he intended to make you do for him. I say we keep a million of it for ourselves and put another ten million into the island immigration-assistance fund, and the rest can go into the general island treasury." She peered at Christian. "That way we can make the island power company update all the street lights on the Ring Road. I got a complaint from a certain Natalie Hainey that the new white LEDs are much more energy-efficient, last a lot longer, and are a hell of a lot easier on the eyes."

"I'll agree with that," Roald said with a laugh. "I don't know who came up with that ugly pinkish-orange color, but it always reminds me of vomit."

Christian stared at him, and Leslie made a revolted face. "Eccchhh. I think I'll have a rush put on the replacements. I'll never get that association out of my head now—thanks a lot, Roald." The younger prince just grinned, and Leslie rolled her eyes at him. "Isn't it time for you to go on home?"

Roald took it well. "Yeah, probably. Astrid's out for the night, most likely, and with any luck the boys will be too. Need any help?"

"No, if anything's left to do, Leslie and I will handle it in the morning," Christian said. "Be careful going home."

Once Roald and his children had left, Christian and Leslie called their own children in and sent them upstairs to get into pajamas. "It's not that late," Tobias protested.

"Yeah, I'm not even sleepy," Susanna put in.

"It's been a long day, and you kids were out swimming for a good three hours, and then you ate a lot, and then you spent another three hours running around the back yard and biking up and down the lane," Leslie said. "It's going to catch up with you any minute. Go up and change now while you still have some energy—and don't give me any more backtalk; it's a school night, in case you forgot. Go on. You too, Stasia."

"Susanna, did you feed the cats?" Christian asked.

"Oh yeah, I better do that," Susanna exclaimed and darted into the kitchen while her siblings headed for the staircase, located alongside the left-hand wall of the house's front-to-back foyer hall, that would take them upstairs. Christian gave Leslie a quick kiss and made his way toward their own room, while Leslie straightened chair cushions and kept an eye on Susanna pouring cat food into the dishes in the kitchen.

"Hello, my child," said a familiar voice, out of the blue.

She jerked upright with a gasp. "Father!" He stood beside the front door, watching her put the living room to rights. "You should've come earlier."

"Yeah, Grandfather, you missed this totally awesome cookout we had tonight!" cried Susanna, bounding in from the kitchen and hugging him. "Everybody was here, and all us kids got to go swimming, and we had tons and tons of food."

"Indeed! Were you celebrating something?" her grandfather asked.

"You didn't hear? Pettifane was found guilty on all counts," Leslie said. "And then we got a complete surprise from Carl Johan. Pettifane's lawyers caved in on their suit and we're about to get a forty-million-dollar check."

Her father looked surprised. "That's certainly worth celebrating," he mused, smiling as he looked down at his granddaughter. "I had heard through the grapevine about the verdict, but the settlement of the lawsuit is news." He returned Susanna's hug, then patted her shoulder. "I suspect your parents will insist that you and your brother and sisters go to bed soon, so why don't you go up and get ready before you're too tired to move." Susanna made a ritual face, but didn't argue, giving him a last hug before shuffling off to the stairs.

Christian came out just as she was leaving, and paused at sight of his father-in-law. "I thought I heard voices. You've heard the news, then?"

"I have, and I now have some news for the two of you. The return of young Quenatra to the realms has resulted in nothing short of a major upheaval among all the clans. Blue and I, along with several others, have spent extensive time with her, asking her what she can remember, learning about her time with Ardmore Pettifane and trying to ascertain if she can recall precisely how she came to be a resident at his estate. The healers have been examining her as well, but because her problems are of the mind, they are far trickier to address than any physical malaise. We've also been trying to sort out exactly what she is capable of doing. Clearly she's a Matter-Shifter, but she seems to possess other clan powers, in varying strengths. She tires easily and is still adjusting to her new home, so we can spend only so much time with her each day; but we are confident she will settle in. We have hopes of gaining some vital information from her—the names of her parents, primarily—and from there we may be able to piece together her story with somewhat more success." He gave it a moment's thought, then focused on Leslie. "Have you and Christian heard anything at all from your resident Body-Mender?"

It took them both a minute to realize whom he was talking about. "Oh, you mean Martin Pendler," Christian said suddenly. "Actually, he keeps very much to himself. The only reason we've heard from him since he immigrated here was that he had to testify in the trial. I don't know if that's his natural way, or if he feels isolated because he's of a clan that has always been thought to be extinct, and there's no guarantee we'll find others."

"I see. If you get a chance in the next week or so, I'd appreciate it greatly if you would contact him and ask him if he would be amenable to a talk with me. I suspect that, under the circumstances of his arrival here, you were never really able to sit down with him and outline his options here."

"We offered," Leslie said, "but he didn't want any help beyond my pointing him to the real-estate office in Amberville and asking if the island paper has job listings on its website. Maybe he's got issues he'd rather not discuss with anyone. Whatever it is, we didn't think it was a good idea to disturb him. We told him, if he needed anything, he should feel free to contact us through the island website at any time. But even then I got the feeling he had no intention of doing any such thing. You might need to track him down yourself—we don't even know where he's living right now."

Her father looked faintly surprised, but merely nodded. "All right. At this time there's nothing urgent, but I'll keep you two updated. If somehow you do get an immigration request from another Body-Mender, please get in touch with me immediately, no matter how busy I may claim to be."

Leslie grinned. "We will. Is there any information in the archives about the Body-Menders, though?"

"There should be, but after all these millennia, there's no way to know if it's still accurate. We hope to change that, if it's not." Her father smiled. "I believe that's all I have for now. What do you plan to do with this monetary windfall you have coming?"

Christian chuckled. "Leslie thinks we should keep a million of it for ourselves, in view of what I went through in Pettifane's captivity; she wants to add ten million to the fund we set up to assist needy immigrants, and the rest, she plans to reinvest in the island. Number one on the list appears to be updating every streetlight on the island. Perhaps we can have a few of them installed on this lane. The children complain quite a bit about not being able to ride their bicycles after dark—I think they heard too many of Leslie's stories from the nineteen-seventies in which she and her sisters were out long past sunset in the warm seasons, and they want the same privilege."

His father-in-law laughed and said, "Very well. I commend you for your decisions in regard to the money, Leslie. For now, I'd better go. Sleep well, both of you."

When he was gone, Christian hid a yawn behind one hand and glanced into the kitchen. "Did Susanna finish feeding the cats?"

Leslie followed his gaze and rolled her eyes. "She must have, I can see them eating in there, but I wish she'd put away the cat food and turned out the light before she came flying in here to greet Father. Oh well, you go on to bed, my love—I'll be there in a minute."

Fifteen minutes later they had seen the children to bed, turned out lights and crawled into their own bed, more than ready for a good night's sleep. "Are you feeling better now?" Leslie murmured, turning onto her side to face him.

"As a matter of fact, I do feel relieved of an enormous burden," Christian mused, his voice light. "Thank the fates it's all over. Perhaps I'll give it a week or two, and then contact my brother and ask him what he intends to do with the ten million I made him keep."

Leslie laughed. "I'm sure he'll have loads of help deciding." Christian laughed too, and they kissed each other and settled down for the night.

‡ ‡ ‡

In a small cottage on the farthest western outskirts of Hamilton Crossing, Martin Pendler sat staring out a window, without quite seeing the vast South Pacific undulating off the nearby shore. He had done a fair amount of careful scouring of the listed properties at the Amberville real-estate office before he'd come across this place, a four-room affair that sat nestled among a thicket of palm trees off the shoreward side of the Ring Road. He'd just reached some sense of equilibrium after having to interrupt his new quiet life to testify in Ardmore Pettifane's first trial; now that he'd mostly found his calm again, he had begun to come to the understanding that he wanted, after all, to know more about this odd power he'd had all his life. It had been enough to grant him admittance to this island, where he had been able to begin piecing his life back together after the latest of a lifetime full of betrayals. Now he wanted to know more about the reason for all those betrayals.

What kind of cruel fate had decreed that he have this magical power to heal any wound imaginable? He had never wanted to be a doctor, but he'd felt pushed toward that profession by his parents, ever since he could remember. He'd gone into antique dealing just to defy them, but that hadn't truly suited his interests either; so while he was angry at what his erstwhile business partner had done to him, in a way he was grateful. It had allowed him to finally get out of England and away from those who knew of his ability and wouldn't stop pushing him about it. Unfortunately, he wasn't any closer to true inner peace and acceptance than he had ever been; his job was no more than a means to provide an income while he settled in and made a life for himself here.

Growing impatient with himself, he got up, put out the light and went to bed, leaving a window open so that he could hear the ocean in the near distance. Lately it was the only thing that soothed him. He dropped off to sleep after more than an hour, feeling no less alone in the world than he ever had. The Enstads offered help, he thought, shortly before his thoughts scattered just prior to sleep. Perhaps I need to talk to them... But how could he come to grips with the fact that, even though he knew where he'd gotten this power of his, he felt more isolated than ever?

To be continued...

Book Six will start appearing sometime later this year. After having had some trouble completing this book, I thought I'd give myself a little time off from untangling plot lines and loose threads. But I'll be back at it soon, I promise! Many thanks as always to Harry and jtbwriter1956 for their loyal and unwavering support!