Reeve jumped to her feet in terror when her door was almost kicked off its hinges.
"Where is he?" Stephen roared. "I said, where is he?"
"Stephen he was sick! He was in a damp cell sitting in his own waste. Please, Sir. He's only a little boy." Reeve stood in front of the bedroom door.
"You take responsibility for removing my prisoners? Who do you think you are?" The King bellowed.
"I don't believe you ordered him there yourself." Reeve said bravely and waiting for the brain pain.
"That jail-house is mine! The guards are mine!Every decision in the pox strewn place stops with me!."
"So when he died from Torment knows what in that stench pit, would that stop with you too?" Reeve still managed to be defiant, even though her insides had turned to water. "He had to come here because he'd have died in the Infirmary too. I don't know what your plans are for him, but I doubt they involve his corpse!" Reeve flinched when Stephen raised his hand and snarled loudly. "I doubt it would make you feel better if you hit me."
"You had no damned right, Reeve!" Stephen lowered his hand and looked away from her. "No bloody right at all! As for Robert and Alwyn Peters, they do well to run and hide."
"They're good men, Stephen. Alwyn is a Physician. It's his duty to help people. He could no more ignore than than I could. As for Robert, he had to stay with me and I ran off from him. Ask that Norris creature in the jail if you don't believe me. You tasked Robert to look after me and he did." Reeve watched Stephen's shoulders as the rose and fell with his heavy breaths. "Sir, he was going to Lisle but I don't know why. He ran away and was going to Lisle. That's all I know up to now. Terrifying him won't make him talk, Sir. He's just a child and he isn't responsible for his father's actions."
"Don't you dare talk to me about his father's actions." Stephen turned round snarling. "You have no idea of his father's actions."
"I believe them to be atrocities because you told me. Aaron's atrocities, not those of a ten year old child." Reeve was pressed up so hard against the door that her back hurt.
"You know nothing, Reeve. You're a naive village girl who's seen nothing of atrocities." Stephen glowered horribly at her.
"So what do you want me to do? Go face to face with Aaron Cord just to be at the same level as you?" Reeve said angrily. "The majority of the Realm don't have first hand experience of him. Does that mean they know nothing of his atrocities too? You're the only one who knows, right? There's only you suffering."
"He killed my son!" Stephen bellowed in a rage. Reeve felt her entire world flipping over as the shock set in. "Damn you Reeve! Damn you to Torment!"
"Stephen ... "
"Just don't. Find out why he was going to Lisle and how he escaped from Aaron. If he won't tell you, I'll get the information myself." Stephen barged from the room and knocked Skar and Erin into the wall. Reeve couldn't speak and just stared at the Mages.
"Shit, Reeve. And you wonder why he gets angry with you." Skar steered Reeve into a chair while Erin got more wine.
"He had a son?" Reeve said in a daze.
"Yes but I don't know alot about it. He was only around sixteen himself from what I gather and the girl was none too stable. I was one of King Tunrig's Mages at the time and I once saw Stephen pummel a Sorcerer to death with his bare hands. That's when I first noticed him. He was a bad swine. Next I saw he was in the jail-house for brawling or something but the reason I remember it was because it was his mother, Red, who turned him in! She had a tiny baby with her at the time but no one put any pass on it, other than to say she'd brought another bastard into the world with no father. Turns out it was Stephen's baby, not his mother's. Basically, neither Stephen nor the infant's mother was interested in a baby. Neither wanted him so Red took him in and called him Alexander." Skar paused to let that register.
"My Alexander." Reeve felt exhausted.
"A name that's never far from his mind. Bugger knows who George is. Anyway, for some reason Stephen did a turn around as the child got older. Let's face it, newborns aren't very interesting are they? By the time Alexander was three or four, they were as close as any father and son, despite Stephen's young age. I know this because of the decreasing appearance of him in the jail. Red reported them both missing. Stephen had taken Alexander out fishing and they never came back. Poor Red scoured that river for months looking for them but they'd gone. Bits and pieces filtered through and it seems that quite a few went missing at the same time, some witnesses say by force. Sorcerers. Two years later, Stephen reappeared but without his son. He doesn't say much about it so I don't ask. What I know, he's confided in scraps and bits."
"I feel so terrible, Skar. Why can't I keep my big mouth shut and stay out of things I know nothing about!" Reeve started to cry and Erin put her arm round her.
"Well no one knows about the King's past life. Not even Skar knows fully." She said gently.
"Some things are unequivocally private. As it should be." Skar nodded.
"Exactly so he has me and my ignorance poking at him. Skar he can't blame any of that on Samson. Surely he can see that?" Reeve dried her eyes.
"One son for another and rage so full of pain, Reeve. I've known Stephen a long time and I doubt he'd have killed the boy. That's not to say he wants to look at him, however. Aaron is the monster, not Stephen."
"I've always believed that." Reeve said sadly. "I've never seen him as a monster, even when he terrifies me. So did he go home to Red?"
"I've no doubt that he did but sadly Red died about six months after Stephen went missing. Something else he doesn't talk about. You must of heard about the death of King Tunrig and Queen Lat."
"I was only a year old but I've heard about it. They were killed by a terrorist faction, or so was the report of the time. Sorcerers I presume?" Reeve asked.
"Sorcerers. No one wanted to yell the word Sorcerer all over the place. The realm would have been terrified and a panic on that scale would be right up Aaron Cord's street. It was the worst Sorcerer attack that Rothsburg had ever seen. It was awful. I was cornered in a blind alley against three of the arseholes and two ordinary citizens as sources for them. I felt something I'd never, ever, felt before and thought it was some weird Sorcerer thing I'd missed. That's when I saw Stephen on the ale house roof. He was Healing me, something that was only speculation in the world of magic. Obviously I sought him out and found him trying to save the King and Queen. The King was in his seventies and an attempted Force Teaching killed him outright. Queen Lat was some thirty years younger and she hung on for six hours. She died in Stephen's arms. That was the start of my journey with Stephen Van Roth." Skar paused for while as he remembered. "He was magnificent and he was unique. The parliament and the army started to turn to him just because of his huge presence in the city. He was declared King at the age of twenty three, seventeen years ago. So now you have it Reeve, more or less. Anything else I know is not mine to impart."
"Of course. I understand." Reeve nodded. "He is magnificent. I saw that straight away when he was Alexander in my house in Grasslot. He'd have been better off if he'd rested in the woods."
"Rubbish." Erin said. "I know his methods with you are often obnoxious but you're safe. You've been safe since you first came here."
"Tough love, Sally Crook used to call it while paddling her twins' backsides with a soup ladle. I don't know what to do. How in Torment do I get him to forgive me for provoking all that? I'm so stupid."
"There's a ten year old child peeping round that door that thinks differently." Skar said and Reeve turned round. Samson and his mop of red hair was peeping warily into the room. "By Torment he's like ... him."
"He's not, Skar. That's the whole point. Do you want to come in Sammy? These are more friends of mine, Erin and Skar." Reeve held out her arm and Samson walked cautiously over. "Did we wake you up? Aren't grown ups noisy?"
"Why didn't he get me?" Samson whispered.
"You mean King Stephen? I've tried to tell you, Sammy, The King doesn't harm children. He gets angry at times but that's usually because I get on his tripes." Reeve grinned and Samson smiled shyly.
"My Da harmed his child though. I heard."
"So that wasn't you, was it? Sammy you can't help what your Da does. The King is angry with your father, not you." Reeve said gently.
"My Da hates me too. I've only seen him two times in all my life. He told my Ma I was old enough to Teach and she wouldn't let him. He drained her life and killed her." Samson's eyes filled up with tears and so did Reeve's. "I ran away and hid in a scout wagon. They found me and hit me and tried to take me back. A man shot them with arrows. I don't know who it was, I swear it. I ran and ran and fell down a hill next to the river. I don't remember going to sleep but I did. I woke up in a hole in the hill. I wanted to go to Lisle so I stayed off the trail and climbed a lot of trees. More soldiers found me and only one hit me because the others knew who I was. They locked me in the cart and took me to a town to see the Mage. I thought he was going to kill me but he just put me to sleep. I woke up in the jail and the guard told me I was in Rothsburg and that Stephen was going to tear my skin off and use it as parchment. You told him off, Reeve. He didn't say anything after you shouted at him."
"Er ... yes well he knew better." Reeve glanced at Erin and Skar who both raised their eyebrows at this news. "Sammy, Lisle is such a long way away. Why did you want to go there?"
"My Ma told me to go there if ever I got away. She said Lord Paul loved me. I miss my Ma." Samson tried so hard not to cry. Reeve didn't even try.
"Oh Sammy of course you do. I never had a Ma at all but I bet yours would be very proud of you. Lord Paul? Do you mean Lord Paul of Lisle? Lord Lisle?" Reeve asked, wiping Samson's face with the sleeve of her dress.
"I don't know. Ma just said to find him because he loves me." Samson snivelled into Reeve's sleeve.
"Samson? Did your Ma have pretty green eyes like yours?" Skar asked and Samson hid behind Reeve. Reeve nodded encouragingly at Skar. "I wish mine were green like that. I'd have snapped you up years ago Erin if I had pretty green eyes."
"You certainly would. I once saw a very fine Lady all the way from Landsea and her's were sparkling green. She was the prettiest woman I've ever seen." Erin contributed.
"My Ma was prettier." Samson took the bait. "Her eyes were the same colour as frogs. She had little speckles on her nose like mine too. Da didn't. How can they I look like him when I don't? I'm all the same colour as my Ma."
"Yes but you have his chin, and his cheekbone ... oof!" Skar rubbed his shin where Erin had kicked him. "Bugger all like him young Sammy, don't worry. So you look like your Ma? Good for you, I say."
"Me too. He's a nutsack." Samson nodded seriously.
"Hey don't look at me!" Reeve objected. "I didn't teach him that! Sammy, you should try and get some sleep. You're safe here, you know that, right?"
"Is Robert still outside?" Samson glanced at the dented door.
"No but Lucas is and he's bigger than Robert." Reeve smiled and Sammy scurried off to his room. "I have to tell Stephen this, first thing tomorrow. Poor child."
"If he's like his mother and his mother is like her father than I think I know why she told him to go to Lisle." Skar said. "In his younger days, Paul Lisle was known as Rufus because of his colouring."
"His grandson?" Erin said in disbelief. "Why in the Realm would Lord Lisle allow his daughter to be with Aaron Cord? I didn't know he had a daughter."
"I knew he had children. He's a widower now. Since when has Aaron Cord needed anyone's permission? Nutsack that he is. I don't know, Erin. I'm just theorising. Maybe I'm tired." Skar rubbed his eyes.
"Are you all right Reeve?" Erin asked as Skar stood up. "Stephen is enough to petrify the undead at times. I could stay here with you."
"No need. Thanks Erin. I'll be fine." Reeve tutted when she saw the huge boot trench in her door. "Better it than me,I suppose." She muttered, closing it behind the Mages.