"Reeve don't run!" Fynn called as they entered the Rift. "Stay close so I can cover you. I have to sit down."
"Are you hurt?" Reeve hopped from one foot to the other.
"No but this is stupidly taxing for me. It should be for you too. Why isn't it?" Fynn squinted up at Reeve.
"Well I'm not sure." Reeve stopped hopping and looked around the beautiful Rift. "I feel a little bit wobbly but I've felt worse. The King says I'm a little freak too so don't worry about it."
"You'd better not be making all this up. If we turn up in that yard and no one knows you, we're dead." Fynn got to his feet. "That way. Go."
Reeve and Fynn tumbled from the Rift and were immediately surrounded by crossbows.
"Stop! Don't shoot." A familiar figure pushed through the guards. "Lady Reeve? Sacred shit!"
"Robert! Robert listen to me. Aaron's on his way because he has a hostage Mage because I got to Fynn first after I escaped from Grasslot through the well and got a lift in the corpse cart and Aaron is going to get Stephen to Grasslot and kill him because he says Skar won't kill him. Aaron that is." Reeve panted. "Well? Go and get him!"
"You!" He pointed to a young Mage. "Cast an alert. Skar will feel it." The Mage did so. Seconds later, Stephen came bursting through the door, followed by Skar.
"Reeve! Sacrad mother!" He ran over to her and saw all the cuts and the bruisers under the grime. "Shit. Look at the state of you. Reeve ... "
"Stephen, Aaron's following me with a Mage he captured. He was going to use me to get you to Grasslot alone. Fynn got me through." Reeve pointed to the stunned Mage.
"How far behind you is he?" Stephen asked, steering Reeve to one side.
"I don't know. Fynn says his Mage would feel the Rift magic and alert him. The men at Kencaster were told not to obstruct him so he'll follow straight away. Stephen he couldn't source from Alec Green, our blacksmith! Alec just stood there! That has to be useful information."
"It is, Reeve, it is. I promise you I'll look into it but for now, stay by the stables behind the bowmen. Erin? from the doorway and no heroics. Skar, by me." Stephen nudged Reeve who only just noticed the others in the yard. Six bowmen and four Mages, as well as Skar, Erin and Fynn. Robert, Lucas and Edward were also there armed with swords. "Don't attack until he does first. Remember he has a Mage hostage and he'll probably use him as a shield."
"Oh look! A welcoming party." Aaron and his Mage simply stepped into the yard. A volley of crossbow clicks sounded immediately. "I must say, Stephen, I'm impressed. Not many people escape from me yet here you both are in the same bed. Thank you. Where is my son?"
"Out of the way of your experiments." Stephen said in disgust. "Go back to the hole you crawled out from, Cord."
"Not without my son, and hopefully your Lady. The only way to stop me is to kill me. Oh wait! You can't can you?" Aaron laughed. "Hear that Reeve? I'll crush him and no one can touch me. Not him, not Skar, nor the beautiful Lady Erin. Shame on you Stephen. You haven't told her, have you?" He laughed again and latched onto one of the bowmen as a source. A Stream of orange flame shot from his hands, straight for Skar. Skar countered this easily with a flame of his own and Reeve sobbed in terror as the bowman crumpled to the floor and Aaron simply moved to another one. "Who's brave enough to kill me before I kill them all? You?" He switched hands and hurled a spear of pure energy at one of the younger Mages, killing her outright. "Maybe you." Another Mage dropped. Erin sent ice shards straight at Aaron and the three younger Mages all followed suit. "They can't kill me Stephen. Remind them of that. You!" He called to his hostage Mage. "Kill them." The woman had little choice but to attack the bowmen with a huge sheet of white hot fire. "Ooo! I say!" Aaron laughed with glee.
"Laugh this away!" Stephen bellowed and bombarded Aaron with a stream of fireballs. The gasps from the bowmen and Mages could be heard over the din. Their King was a Mage? Stephen advanced on Aaron with a beam of lightning that crackled evilly when it struck Aaron's own static bolt. "I will kill you."
"You don't have the balls." Aaron took yet another bowman and a Mage. "You know the consequences, Stephen. Return my son and I won't kill you and you know you won't kill me. Don't be stupid."
"Lord Lisle! No!" Erin screamed too late. The Lord launched his broadsword at Aaron and it plunged into his chest.
"I knew it wouldn't be you." Aaron gurgled before sinking to his knees at the exact same time as The King did.
"Stephen!" Reeve screamed, pushing through the bowmen. "No! Stephen!" She ran to where her King was lying on the cold ground. Blue mist was oozing from every inch of her body.
"Holy Torment." Skar looked from Reeve to Erin in sheer shock. "She can do it."
"Skar." Erin put her hand on Skar's arm. I think it's too late. He's gone." She said through her tears.
"Shit." Skar swallowed hard and went over to the most important reeve in the Realm. "Reeve, he's gone. Come on,I'll see to him."
"No! Don't touch me!" Reeve sobbed and the mist swirled round her. "Stephen don't leave me. Wake up! Don't leave me here!" she cried.
"Reeve he's not going to wake up. Come on." Skar took her gently by the arm.
"Yes he is." Reeve nodded stubbornly. "Yes he is! He is. Stephen?" She shook The King by the arm. "Stephen? Wake up. Please wake up." Skar looked desperately at Erin who was in floods of tears at this pitiful scene. "Open your bloody eyes for shit's sake!" Suddenly, Stephen convulsed and gasped for air, then rolled over and vomited violently over Aaron Cord's boots.
"Nag, nag, bloody nag." He gasped.
"Stephen!" Reeve flung her arms round him. "You arse! You scared me half to death!"
"You ... you Healed me?" Stephen gazed at the blue streams still pouring from Reeve's hands.
"Buggered if I know." Reeve laughed and hugged her King.
"S ... Stephen!" Skar stammered. "Torment's Tits!"
"Stephen!" Erin ran over.
"I get it. I'm Stephen. My memory is fine." Stephen struggled to his feet. "Nice one Paul." He said to Lord Lisle as he passed the stunned man at the doorway.
Stephen made it as far as the kitchen before he had to rest. Despite the unbelievable sight that Ellen had just witnessed, she seemed to jump into official mode, fussing and catering for the kitchen full of people she now had. King Stephen, Reeve, Skar, Erin, Lord Lisle, Fynn Wheeler, Robert and Lucas.
"Seal the bloody door, Skar. We'll open it as needed." Skar winced and his breathing was still irregular. Reeve felt a huge surge of despair when she found that her mist had gone and she couldn't get it back, even for Stephen.
"Can someone please tell me what just happened?" Poor Lord Lisle was still struggling and he wasn't the only one. "I drop Aaron Cord so Stephen drops too? I swear I never touched you, Sir.I was a country mile away from you."
"Ellen!" A young kitchen lad came haring into the kitchen. He skidded to a halt and stumbled into the wall when he saw the gathering, complete with King Stephen himself.
"Not now, Jake." Ellen came bustling over. "Here, go eat this pear in the pantry."
"But Ellen! It's important! Folk have dropped down dead! King Stephen, Sir, excuse me and all that but people are pouring in with reports of folk just keeling over and kicking it, Sir. Pardon me and excuse me, Sir." Jake clutched his cap.
"Sorcerer's link. By the Creek that was rapid." Skar whispered to Reeve. "Good lad, Jake. You hear anything else, you come and tell Ellen. She's the boss down here."
"Are you? Whoa! Yes Sir Mage, Sir. I can do that. I'll go hang about outside the taverns and cat houses." Off he sprinted.
"Er ... well I didn't mean that." Skar tutted.
"Stephen?" Reeve sat next to him. "Why did you fall when Aaron did?" Tears were filling her eyes already. "A ... and the firespells and that beam spell. You can cast ordinary spells?" Stephen hung his head and just nodded. "You're a Sorcerer?" Tears spilled down Reeve's cheeks.
"Don't cry, Reeve." Stephen wiped Reeve's eyes with his thumb. "I don't know what I am. I swear I don't. I can cast spells but it's all ... knotted up. I hate it. It's like someone driving spikes through my skull. Sorcerers feel no such discomfort. I know I'm not a Mage. You're born with that and I wasn't. I don't know. Aaron tried to Force Teach me, I told you that. I also told you that it didn't effect me because of my Healing. That's not true. It worked partially and I suspect my Healing did effect it and ... warp it ... somehow. Most Mage spells are offensive, Healing never is. I can only theorise on some sort of conflict. None of that matters, though. Aaron raided my head and burned in spells. He knew I'd be effected by that fatal link and so did I. You know, I thought I'd prepared for it. It was inevitable that Aaron and myself would come face to face. Skar and I decided years ago that if this confrontation was forced into a populated area, or if Aaron was absolutely certain to defeat me. Skar would kill him if I couldn't. As you saw, when it came down to it I couldn't. I didn't ... er ... well you know."
"Well I don't." Ellen folded her arms. "You didn't what? Begging your pardon, Sir."
"Ellen just put the kettle on, woman." Stephen scowled at everyone just out of habit.
"He didn't want to leave Reeve, Ellen." Erin helped and the King gave her a look that would melt glass. "Payback for sourcing from me. It hurts."
"Stephen! You didn't!" Reeve said in outrage. "You don't get among your friends like that!"
"It was you? I thought it was him." Stephen nodded at Skar. "I do beg your pardon, Erin."
"He's your friend too! What was wrong with hauling a few prisoners in for the job?" Reeve tutted. "It's nasty. Don't do it again."
"It's a good job I'm below standard just now." Stephen turned to glare at Reeve. "I don't do it at all, usually. That out there can't be classed as usual no matter which way you look at it. Haul a few prisoners in? Who are you? Marauder bloody Ghen? Anyway I was pushed for time."
"You're a Sorcerer?" Lord Lisle blinked in bewilderment and Reeve snorted a laugh.
"Look, I don't bloody know! Even if I am, there's only me left now. I won't be nasty. How about that? Good by you, Reeve?" Stephen turned round and Reeve was useless with laughter. "And you suggested I put up with her officially?" He shot at Skar, who was also laughing.
"Did you?" Reeve stopped laughing. "What did you say?" She asked Stephen who tried to get up from his seat, only to find Ellen blocking his way.
"Well he mentioned Baron ..."
"Lands!" Stephen butted in loudly and glowered holes through Skar. "Barren lands up by the north wall. Terrible for farming."
"You buying her a farm! How lovely!" Ellen wandered over to the stove.
"Are you?" Reeve looked completely overwhelmed. "It'll be like Grasslot, right here in Rothsburg."
"Ugh." Stephen gagged. "I mean ... well ... digging in muck and all that stuff. Surely you don't miss that?"
"I don't know, I was the rat-catcher." Reeve shrugged.
"Shit no. I'll buy you a farm after we're married. Ellen! Where's that blasted tea!"
The tea didn't last long and was soon replaced by anything alcoholic that was in close range.
Gretchen Carter looted all she could load onto a cart from Grasslot and headed for the Flatlands. All those poor captives stored for sources. It was atrocious. Gretchen would set them free, tend to their injuries, help them repair and build houses. Now that those scum Sorcerers were dead, Gretchen would bring families together and Black Stephen and his bitch wouldn't dare intervene. He was the one who waged the war in the first place with his arrogant butchering and persecution. People should know that.
"Queen Gretchen." Gretchen sighed happily. "That will do nicely."