Chapter 3

The men had found six injured in the woods. Most were suffering from burns of varying degrees, cuts and shock. The ones who could speak gave accounts that backed up Alexander's, although Reeve decided to keep his discovery to herself. Tensions were running high and she knew the temperament of strong men like Bern. The word 'scapegoat' was all too familiar to her and the last thing anyone needed was a gang of furious and frustrated men hunting down two Rothsburg soldiers. Despite the horror, no one was in any doubt that they had to leave Grasslot as soon as the injured were stable enough.

"Two are in a bad way." Nanny Crook said quietly to Tam, in earshot of Reeve. "We have no choice but to take them along and hope we reach Kencaster in time for them. The other four should make it."

"Nanny Crook! She's listening! I saw her earwigging!" Joey Hayes shrieked and pointed at Reeve. "Now she'll magic King Stephen and tell him all of the plans! I'm going to get my Da to beat you out of Grasslot!"

"Bern Hayes!" Nanny Crook screeched as only Nanny Crook could. "Get your brat under control and do it sharpish!"

"He's only talking sense, Nanny." Bern put his hands on his son's shoulders.

"He'd let down the whole family if he did!" Nanny Crook sniped. "Sense my foot! He's ten, Bern. He's a little boy with the imagination to go with it. He's frightened! You hearing me? Eh? Your ten year old son is scared out of his wits. Are you good with that? He's terrified of demons and butchers and you're doing nothing to still his mind. All you're doing is encouraging him to think rubbish like that exists. You dare tell me they exist and I'll have you in the next asylum we come across. Take your family to the carts, Bern." Nanny glared until the big farmer lowered his head and nodded. "Good man. Come on Tam, we need to load up the sick."

Even the men were fighting with the tears as the carts rolled over Trotter's Bridge and on to the track to Kencaster. Reeve, Tam, and Brent's two sisters were in the last cart.

"Will we ever be able to go back Mayor Deeks?" Fifteen year old Sophie asked.

"I hope so, Sophie." Tam smiled. "There's no reason for anyone to bother Grasslot at all. There's no one there now. Once it all settles down, we'll go back."

"So who's fighting who?" Sophie's younger sister asked.

"I'm not sure, Chloe. I know that sounds weak but I'm really not. We have Rothsburg, we have Sorcerers, we have Mages." Tam counted off on his fingers. "According to what little we know, we have Sorcerers on the Flatlands which is nowhere near Rothsburg and its army. Right? It would make sense to think that Rothsburg and the Flatland Sorcerers are on opposite sides here. Agreed?" The Traverns and Reeve all nodded. "So the Sorcerers attack for reasons we don't know of, and the Rothsburg army comes to the defence."

"So Rothsburg is on our side?" Chloe asked.

"It would seem so." Tam nodded. "When you think about it, why wouldn't they be? Like it or not, King Stephen is still our Monarch and our villages are part of his kingdom. That sometimes gets forgotten because we're so isolated out here."

"But he's never done anything for us." Sophie repeated what the older villages had said for years.

"This is a different level though, Sophie. As far as I know, we've never been under physical attack from anywhere with the exception of inter-village skirmishes. People are being slain and lands ruined. That's a whole lot different." Tam reasoned.

"The man from the woods said Rothsburg was defending them." Reeve contributed.

"He said they had Sorcerers too, so Brent said." Chloe frowned.

"No he said Mages, Chloe." Her sister corrected. "I don't know what the difference is but Brent called them Mages. They came with the soldiers. So Mages must be on our side too?" She asked Reeve instead of Tam, which surprised Reeve a bit.

"That's the conclusion I came to." Reeve shrugged her shoulders. "Rothsburg needs to take responsibility for the confusion out here. We have no idea what's going on because we've not been told. We're away from the trade routes and most news from caravans stops at Lisle. We don't know what's fact and what's myth and that isn't our fault. We need the woods right down the Forest Belt patrolled and made safe from robbers, then the traders could get through right along to Whitehaven. Lisle could provide patrols. It's only fifty miles away and that's nothing for an army division." The other three occupants in the cart just looked at Reeve in surprise. "What? I've had alot of time to think about it." She muttered. "We'll get to Kencaster in a few hours."

Kencaster looked like a whole realm compare to Grasslot, even though it was only a medium sized town. The villagers soon found out that they weren't actually going right into the town but to an encampment that had been constructed outside the town boundaries. It consisted mainly of large tents with a few stone buildings that were converted outposts and storage huts. The first person they saw was Alec Green.

"We heard what happened." He wrung Tam's hand. "The Rothsburg divisions came from here."

"I didn't know there were so many soldiers here." Tam observed, looking around the camp.

"Me either. I can only assume they were in Kencaster itself. They all seemed to appear at once. Brent! Good to see you safe! You and the girls are staying with the Crosses for now. It's the big yellow canvas by the tower wall over there." Alec pointed out the tent. "Reeve you're with Sally Took and she has that stone building over by the infirmary tent. I need to talk to you about your lodgings, Tam." Tam nodded and followed the blacksmith to a low stone wall on which they both sat.

"Is there a problem? Anywhere will do, Alec. Anywhere at all." Tam assured him.

"No they have somewhere for you. It's with Master Fynn Wheeler. That big thatch building just inside the boundary." Alec nodded towards the town.

"The school teacher? Well it looks a bit up market, Alec." Tam said said in surprise. "Maybe letting one of the couples, or a family ... "

"He's not the teacher, Tam." Alec said awkwardly. "He's the town's Mage."

"The ... the who?" Tam stuttered. "Mage as in magic? They have a Mage?"

"Recent measure, apparently." Alec shrugged. "The implications are quite serious actually, Tam. I've been learning quite a few things, believe it or not. Wheeler knows we know nothing about magic so he decided to talk to me to talk to you to stop this lot from panicking. That's why you're in with him. He's not a bad man, Tam. I get on quite well with him but I dare say you'll understand more of what he says than I ever would."

"I trust you." Tam nodded. "So is he here in case these Sorcerers attack Kencaster?"

"He'd not be nearly enough even with soldiers."

"I can well believe it after Siddick." Tam nodded gravely. "So what is his function?"

"It seems that Mages only, no one else, can detect active magic. Sacred Mother I can't believe I'm talking like this. Magic actually being used, Tam. Sorcerers can't detect it. Now according to Wheeler, Mage magic and Sorcerer magic feels different. He did go on to an explanation that made my eyes cross but it was way beyond me. His job is to detect any foreign magic being used here in Kencaster or on it's outskirts." Alec let out a worried sigh. "So yes, it's possible that these Sorcerers have infiltrated towns and cities. Rothsburg sent Mages out discretely to all the major places. If Wheeler's here, then King Stephen must suspect a Sorcerer presence."

"Sacred shit." Tam said heavily. "We can't tell our people that, Alec. They'll get edgy just knowing he's a Mage. We'll have to tell them he's here for security along with the army division. You have to admit, it's a good advantage. It's a skill the Sorcerers don't have and a bloody useful one too."

"That's what I reassure myself with." Alec smiled. "Come on. I'll introduce you."

Sally Took had Reeve working in the Infirmary Tent within the hour. There were casualties from quite a few small settlements and it was clear that not only Siddick had been hit. It broke Reeve's heart to see so many people suffering. She had no medical training at all so she busied herself with the more practical side of things.

"Another one lost." Sally came to stand by Reeve as a covered stretcher was carried out of the tent by two young men.

"This is so sad, Sally. Will his family bury him? Are they here?" Reeve watched the grim sight.

"He's from Crosby I think. No family here. The Mage will be called out to cremate him." Sally told her and Reeve almost fainted. "Oh. You didn't know about him? Rothsburg sent him with the army I think. He's not a bad chap actually, not that I've seen him do any magic. I don't want to either." Sally shuddered.

"Mage? A real one?" Reeve was astonished

"Looks real enough to me." Sally nodded. "Master Fynn Wheeler. If I'm not mistaken poor Tam got the short straw and is lodging with him."

"I've never seen a Mage before." Reeve said in amazement.

"Nor had I, or the others. He must be good though. Alec Green chats away to him and Alec won't suffer any fools."

"Are you two here for decoration?" Nanny Crook's shriek pierced through every other noise in the tent. "Water! Fill those water buckets and do it sharpish!"

"I'll do it." Reeve smiled at the fractious herbalist. "Where do I go to fill them?"

"Stream at the back of the tent. Cross the stones and walk downstream until you come to the swell." Sally told her. "I'll go and help Nanny."

The stream meandered away from the tent and was twenty feet from it by the time the stepping stones came into view. Reeve balanced her buckets and teetered over the stones before continuing towards the swell. She never got there. Reeve felt an impossible pain at the back of her head, then felt her own blood trickling down her neck. Her buckets clashed to the ground as she was grabbed roughly from behind and a sharp blade was pressed to her neck.

"Walk." A hissing voice sent a tremor down Reeve's spine and she was pushed away from the stream and towards the woods.

"I'm dizzy. I can't go any faster." Reeve protested feebly. "They'll come looking for me."

"As though that matters, traveller." The man stopped and peered at the base of a tree, keeping tight hold of Reeve, and the blade. "Scream and you're dead."

"I'm going to black out." Reeve sobbed.

"Makes no difference to me." The man rearranged his stance to cater for Reeve's sinking weight. "I know you're in there, Bastard!" He shouted suddenly. "You were seen not ten minutes ago! You and that other coward. Come out and face me!" He was answered by silence and all Reeve could hear was the pounding of her own blood in her ears. "Have it your way! Even if you can't hear me, you will feel this!" Reeve sobbed loudly as the most terrible pain ripped through her body. "She's an innocent bystander, Butcher, a nobody! She's just the type you save isn't she? Show yourself!" Reeve gasped in agony as an impossibly numbing cold washed over her, followed by a preasure that felt like her brain was being torn in two. "She's going to die and you're letting her! It doesn't matter to me, she's one dirty traveller among thousands!" Reeve watched the next few seconds in delayed time and remembered every single thing about it. She dropped to the ground just as Alexander and George simply appeared about ten feet from her and her attacker. Reeve felt another pain and saw her kidnapper absorb some sort of white light. Next she saw George's entire body light up a bright violet colour and a massive discharge of light shot from his hand. Her attacker vanished in a flurry of sparks but not before he'd sent an arc of red hot flame straight at Alexander. Reeve watched in horror as the soldier was thrown backwards for about six feet and landed heavily on his back.

"No!" Reeve screamed and tried to lunge towards Alexander. "Alexander! Alexander!"

"I'm fine!" The soldier stumbled to his feet. "Rat-catcher eh? I think not."

"She has no idea about it." George said quietly. "Any lesser Mages would have missed it completely. She doesn't know."

"I don't know what?" Reeve tried to fight with the blackness that threatened to engulf her. "What ... " She collapsed at George's feet.

"We both saw that." Alexander crouched down next to Reeve and a fine blue mist surrounded his hands. "She'll be fine. We have to get her into the Rift before Wheeler gets out here. I'll fortify her. You get ready to drag me in there if I pass out." He began running his hands over Reeve and the mist ran through a prism of colours and seeped into Reeve.

"They're here. We have to move." George hoisted Reeve onto his shoulder and headed into the woods, Alexander following. The Rift began as suddenly as the woods ended. Magical Rifts were beautiful places yet no one knew how they came into being. Only Mages could use them unless in the company and protection of another strong Mage. Another huge bonus was that only Mages could see the portals to these fabulous places. Reeve was put on the soft grass beneath the warm sun and both men frowned at her.

"How?" Alexander said simply.

"How you?" George replied, rather cryptically.

"I knew I could heal from the age of five. She's twenty. She must have been aware of it."

"I'm sure she wasn't and still isn't. She was almost unconscious back there so it was very weak. Still no doubt about it though, she tried to heal you."

"I know you know the enormity of this." Alexander looked at George. "And the massive danger it puts her in. Poor girl."

"If she's a Healer then it's our duty to see that she isn't in danger. I'm sure you've realised that. If she can Heal, then that's only two of you we've ever found in the whole realm. She has to come with us."

"I know." Alexander sighed heavily. "I'll have to teach her and I can't teach! Your good Lady Erin even had to relieve me of my verine pup because I couldn't do a thing with the mutt."

"Hardly the same." George laughed. "You don't have a choice. No one else can Heal. Your one and only Apprentice."

"Yes, don't go on." Alexander said irritably. "We have to do it my way." He looked at George. "Like you say, I'm the only one who can Heal. That means no butting in from you with your bleeding hearts tales. This ability will have to be unearthed properly and developed quickly. The longer she's ignorant of this, the longer she's in danger from Cord and his goons. Thank the Mother he knows nothing of her."

"We hope. Why did that lunatic in the woods go for her? You can't tell me he knew you'd been in her hut. There was only the three of us there." George pointed out.

"Of course he doesn't know of that. Even if she'd gone and told the other villagers about me it would be of no interest to anyone not in association with Cord. Alexander? Yes? She just happened to be out there, probably at the stream by the Camp. Cord doesn't know about her. Use your head man. Would he send one pissy rat-bag like the one back there to get her? He'd wage a full scale war for his own Healer." Alexander looked at Reeve again. "The most important Reeve in the whole realm."

"Most important anyone, let alone Reeve. Oh present company excepted of course." George got to his feet. "Keep her out and I'll go and get the horses."

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