Reeve was marched into Grasslot's Town Hall by two Sorcerers and Gretchen with the birch. Gretchen lashed Reeve across the back as she stepped through the door and Aaron Cord sprang to his feet.
"You touch her again and I'll snap your skinny neck." He rasped within inches of Gretchen's face. "Get out you old crone." Despite the situation, Reeve felt irrationally smug. "So here we are Lady Reeve!" Aaron smiled at Reeve and Samson's face was so recognisable. "I have to admit, I'm surprised. I thought that ... freak had even fewer feelings than I do. I didn't believe Gretchen one bit when she told me, especially when she said you were a reeve called Reeve. Don't get me wrong, I bear the reeve no more ill will than I bear the rest of the population. I'm not sure how appropriate you'll be for an Imperial Consort though. Still, that's not my concern." Aaron sat at Tam's desk. "My son."
"He's fine. I've been looking after him myself." Reeve's voice trembled in sheer fear. "Your son should never have ended up in Rothsburg and King Stephen played no part in his transportation there. He knew nothing about it until the boy was in the City itself."
"So now he's cherishing him alongside his Lady Consort. How sweet. He's still my son." Aaron shrugged. "So Stephen didn't know his men were kidnapping him? Plausible but not probable. I don't see that that's an issue though. My son is in Rothburg. Is Stephen expecting me to accept 'Hey Aaron! I didn't know. Here's your boy back and sorry for the misunderstanding.'?" Reeve said nothing. "I see. So would you honour me with the same courtesy? I didn't know the boy with Stephen was his son when I drained him. I'm sure Stephen will understand. Situation resolved. Hypocrites, the lot of you." He sneered. "You know, I didn't find out for years that it was his son. Really. I presumed it was a younger sibling seeing as Stephen was only a kid himself. He did have an early start, didn't he? Some slut off a street corner I believe. Oh you did know all this, didn't you? I'd hate to think I was unearthing any skeletons regarding your beloved."
"What are you going to do with me?" Reeve ignored Aaron's provocation.
"I need him here, with the boy, but not with half the Rothsburg army. I'll just go and ask him nicely."
"You'd never get into Rothsburg, let alone the Castle." Reeve reminded him.
"Oh? I can think of a rather obvious way to get a private meeting with your King. I'll just turn up in his back yard." Aaron smiled. "Your naivety is very attractive, Reeve. No wonder Stephen went for it. You think I have no Mages to get me through the Rift? Seriously? I have cages full of their family members that would tell you I do."
"I would assume he has the yard guarded. You can't not have thought of that. Skar will have you ashes in your boots before you could blink." Reeve knew exactly what she was doing. She was getting information. Using that information was a different matter.
"Oh I don't think so." Aaron laughed. "Naive, like I said. Maybe your King thought he'd protect your delicate little ears. Skar won't kill me, nor will Stephen." He turned to his Sorcerers. "Watch her constantly and I mean constantly. Touch her and you die." Aaron swept out of the Town Hall.
"Can I sit down, at least?" Reeve asked and the Sorcerers just shrugged. Reeve made a performance of rearranging her skirt and eventually came to rest by the bookcase. Once seated on the floor she feigned cramp and managed to nudge the bookcase along a few inches. A black leather whip fell and hit her on the head and she could have cried. "Ouch! What was that? Ah clusmy me, I'll just put it back." One Sorcerer lost his eye then the other one found the leather coil round his neck. Reeve fought back the vomit and yanked backwards and downwards then sobbed out loud when there was an audible crack of bone. "Sh ... shit. Shit!" She panicked as the first Sorcerer stumbled his way to the door. He never got there before Reeve swung at his head with all her might with Tam's Tithe Register, the biggest tome in Grasslot. "Don't panic. Don't panic. It's fine. It's all good. Whip." Reeve prised the whip from the man's neck and looped it round her belt. Reeve used to clean the wide chimney when she was a child. She knew every alcove and crook in it. She just hoped her adult frame hadn't expanded too much. Reeve lay flat on the roof and held her breath. The only building that was lit seemed to be Travern's Inn, although she could hear voices that were clearly outside. She rolled quickly to the edge of the building then tried to lower herself into the tangle of bushes behind it. She ended up falling heavily into a bramble bush. Reeve ignored the stinging scratches and scampered around frantically on her hands and knees. Finally she found what she was looking for. The old village well had long since dried up and been abandoned. All that was left of it was a hole that Alec Green had boarded over for safety reasons. Nanny Crook used to tell her that two headed crocodiles with green fur lived in the well. Her fingers were splintered and bleeding by the time she's prised two planks away. Next came the frightening descent with her hands and feet planted against the walls. If the Elders' reminiscings were accurate, the old well used to get it's water from Bent Stream. The reason the well dried up was because the bend in Bent stream eventually became a disconnected horseshoe shaped pool. Reeve reasoned that if the well was dry, then the pool must be dry too. That would take her about half a mile from Grasslot and then she'd have to rely on the woodland, and her familiarity of it. The well tunnel was horrible and narrow with no light at all. Several times, Reeve almost turned back. Just when she was sure she was going to suffocate, she felt a breeze. "Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes." Reeve babbled and crawled towards the fresh air.
"Get in. Hurry up." A gruff voice echoed into the tunnel. "Hurry up or I'll leave you down there." Reeve scrambled as fast as she could and saw a wooden sky with a hinged door. A cart! Someone had stopped a cart over the pool opening of the well. She frantically pushed at the hatch door and clambered inside a closed cart. She quickly rearranged the sacks and straw back over the hatch then held her breath as the cart began to move. What in Torment was she doing? This was probably a Sorcerer taking her straight back to Grasslot. It was only when the rush started to wear off that Reeve noticed the awful smell. It was a smell that she was very familiar with. Sickness and death. The stench seemed to be seeping from the wooden walls themselves.
"Oh no. A body cart! Oh no, no, no." She'd seen dozens of them at the Infirmary. The hatch in the floor was used to drop corpses into mass graves either for burial or cremation. Reeve opened the hatch and vomited violently.
Eventually, the body cart rolled to a halt. The back doors were unbarred and a big, whiskered man stood and waited.
"Where are we?" Reeve stumbled from the cart. "Oh and thank you. I think."
"About a mile from Allonby. Half a dozen nasty ones to collect so you don't really want to be in there." He nodded towards the cart.
"How did you know I was in the tunnel?" Reeve asked.
"I didn't 'til I heard you. Sorcerers don't go in tunnels so you must be a good one. Traveller eh?"
"Oh you have no idea." Reeve muttered. "May I know your name so I know who to thank for my rescue?"
"I'm just the body man." He shrugged. "Stay off the trail and you should reach Kencaster in an hour or so."
"Thank you. Thank you for everything." Reeve ran into the woods. Would Aaron spend time searching for her or would he automatically presume she'd head for Kencaster? Either way he'd almost certainly get there before her. She'd just have to get to Mage Fynn Wheeler before Aaron Cord got to her.
Aaron leapt from his horse while it was still moving. He strode into the refugee encampment and simply drained anyone who tried to obstruct him.
"Hey!" Alec Green barred Aaron's way. "Who the shit are you?"
"Where is the reeve?" Aaron snarled.
"The what? I don't know who you are but I can tell you, the travellers wouldn't come here." Alec stood his ground.
"I mean the reeve. Grasslot village. Lady Reeve. Stephen Van Roth's Consort Reeve. I know she's here. Save yourselves a lot of pain and hand her to me."
"Reeve?" Alec blinked in surprise. "Our Reeve? Consort? You're sick in the head. Our Reeve died out in the woods at the hands of a Sorcerer months ago."
"Hand her over!" Aaron yelled. "I'll drain every peck of your miserable life from your useless body."
"My big hairy arse you will." Alec planted his hands on his hips. "She's not here. Understand? No one's seen her for months, poor kid. You arseholes killed her." He frowned slightly and scratched at his head. "Damned horseflies."
"What in Torment are you?" Aaron hissed and tried to source from Alec again.
"The blacksmith and you've just killed three ordinary people. We'll wait for the Watch." Alec loomed over Aaron and scratched his head again.
Tam Deeks began running towards the scene involving Alec Green.
"Mayor Deeks!" Reeve hissed from behind the slop shed. "Tam! Tam it's Reeve!"
"Reeve? Reeve!" Tam ran towards her. "What in the Realm's happened to you?"
"If we had a spare month, I'd tell you. Don't go over there, Tam. That's Aaron Cord. For some reason he can't source from Alec which is a good thing." Reeve said urgently.
"I barely understood any of that. Isn't Aaron Cord the chief Sorcerer?"
"Yes and he has a hostage Mage with him. The woman by the tree stump. Tam he's looking for me." Reeve said and Tam just blinked at her in shock. "I promise I'll explain one day, but I need to get through the Rift. I need Mage Wheeler."
"Rift? He's after you? Reeve what in Torment are you talking about?" Tam was completely baffled.
"Tam, please!" Reeve sobbed. "I have to go to King Stephen and I know that makes me sound even more insane. I need Mage Wheeler Tam! He'll be on his way to Aaron because he'll have felt his magic. You have to get to him first. Tell him I know about the Rift and I know it ends up in the King's yard. I've been through it. Tell him I know only The King and Mage Skar can open the Castle door, not even Lady Erin can open it. Please Tam, I'm begging you."
"Stay there." Tam ordered. "I haven't a bloody clue what you're talking about but stay there." He hurried off and Reeve ducked behind the shed and listened to the distant altercation between Alec, their blacksmith, and the strongest and most evil Sorcerer in the Realm.
"Tam, I felt Sorcerer magic over there and that's my priority, not some ravings of a waif and stray. Fynn tried to sidestep Tam.
"See the woman by the tree stump? She's a captive Mage. That man is Aaron Cord. Reeve told me. He knows her and he's after her. Alec seems to be holding him off but how in Torment would a raving waif recognise him? I know I wouldn't have. Is it him?" Tam asked and Fynn frowned at the snarling Sorcerer.
"Of course it damned well is!" The slop house hissed. "Mage Wheeler. You're bound to be on alert because of the shit in Rothsburg regarding his son! Yes I know about that too. Get me to Rothsburg through the Rift, Mage Wheeler. Aaron has no bargaining chips if I'm back with the King." Fynn set his jaw and strode behind the shed. "We haven't met. I'm Reeve and I vanished through that Rift by the stream nine months ago. You probably picked up on the magic. All you found would have been a dead Sorcerer and two buckets."
"Follow me." Fynn said and Reeve almost collapsed in relief. "Tam, if that woman is a Mage, she'll sense the magic when I enter the Rift. She could tell him, if she's loyal or a captive. I'm the only Mage here so he'll know it's me. He'll use his own Mage to follow us. Do not try and stop him, not under any circumstances. I don't know how Alec is still standing but I promise you, he'll be the only one if Aaron is threatened." Fynn grabbed Reeve's hand and headed for the Rift.