Chapter 5

Skar was in what he presumed had been a dusty old outhouse. He needed some archived scrolls and Erin suggested they'd been stored here. This was not a dusty old outhouse at all. The door was securely lockable so it was just as well that Skar had a big, iron, King Key, or master key. He'd been given this when Stephen had once been rendered unconscious in a locked alchemy room full of smoke. To use magic would have been too dangerous. Thankfully, six men had knocked the door in before the noxious fumes killed The King. Skar was given the King Key that he'd let himself into the outhouse with. All the windows were shuttered and dark but there was a lantern hanging by the door. Skar lit this and doubted his own senses at what he saw. Right in the middle of the room was a massive scrying bowl surrounded by hundreds of mind boggling glyphs and intricate etchings. Only one person in the realm had the magical ability to scry and that was Stephen. He could manipulate glyphs and atune them not only to the elements, but also to living targets. It was incredibly taxing and Skar had seen Stephen collapse with the effort. It was for this reason that he didn't do it very often and when he did, it was in the company of Skar and in more comfortable surroundings than an outhouse. Skar decided to lock up and leave it. Stephen likely had his reasons for private scrying and he was the King after all. Suddenly, a section of the glyphs began to glow and Skar was surprised, and a bit confused, to find he could read them. This wasn't so much a scrying cast as a direct mind spell. Skar was fascinated and in complete awe of Stephen's strength. Mind spells were impossible for Skar but Stephen had set this up to be far less taxing for himself. The scrying bowl was simply acting as a receiver, it had been the locked door and the glyphs that were the deterrent. He hadn't meant to pry, but what he saw had him transfixed in a mixture of awe and outrage. Gretchen Carter was thrashing the life out of Reeve and Skar could see the whole thing.

"Torment's Tits do you have to be everywhere?" Stephen frightened the life out of Skar. "Why are you in here?"

"I came for Ankor's Total Inversion." Skar straightened his tunic.

"Well you didn't get it. Your innards are still on the inside." Stephen pulled up a chair.

"Ringside seat?" Skar pointed at the scrying bowl. "Stephen what in black buggery is that?! It's barbaric! You know Gretchen Carter is unhinged, she's bloody insane! Ignoring abuse like that is bad enough but sitting here in your lair watching it is abhorrent! What in Torment is wrong with you?"

"I warned you weeks ago to leave her to me!" Stephen jerked a black cloth over the bowl. "I knew you'd object and I knew you'd intervene and that's why I made a lair. I'm the only one alive who knows how Healing works Skar! Me!"

"So torturing her until she heals herself is how it works? Who tortured you? I don't believe for one second that you're comfortable with that shit. Despite the rumours, you are not a Bastard, or a Butcher. Stop trying to step up to the mark." Skar shouted.

"I was five years old, Skar. Five. My mother begged on the streets and I roamed them. How many times do you think she was attacked for the coppers in her purse? How many times do you think I was beaten to a pulp just for the entertainment? Who tortured me? The whole pox-rotten city tortured me!" Stephen roared. "The first time I used Healing magic I didn't even know what I'd done, just like her. One minute I had a broken arm, the next minute I didn't. The Stimulus? Wanting to reach my mother who was being raped. It's a reflex, Skar, it's involuntary."

"I didn't know all that." Skar pulled up another chair. "You are such a secretive shit." That got a snort from Stephen. "That can't be the only way, Stephen. You're the most powerful man in the realm, you don't have to re-enact your own tragedies using Reeve."

"Can you suggest another way? No. This is my whole point, Skar! No one can suggest another way because no one else can do it! By Torment do you think I'd be driving myself insane with this if I could hand it on to someone else? I don't know another way, Skar so leave it." Stephen snapped.

"Stephen ... "

"Leave it, Skar. I can't handle her and handle your emotional objections too. I need you more than I need Reeve just now so if I can't focus on her, I'll block any magic she has and return her to Glasspot."

"You can't do that. If Cord finds her, it'll take him seconds to undo your block. He'll spot it a mile off because it's your block. You may as well paint a target on her." Skar pointed out.

"So you see my pox-rotten damned to Torment dung smelling predicament then?" Stephen said through gritted teeth. "I won't kill her, Skar, you have my word. I know you don't like it but I can monitor her through this scryer. She's too valuable to risk."

"She loves you, Stephen." Skar said quietly.

"She loves Alexander. Now remember that Total Inversion you were looking for? Hmm?" Stephen raised his eyebrows at his Mage. Skar sighed wearily and left the outhouse.

Reeve was standing on the table swiping dust from the ceiling when Gretchen appeared at the doorway, hand on birch.

"You scrubbed the outside of the swill shed yesterday. Why didn't you do the inside?" She demanded.

"Because it's half full." Ellen answered for Reeve. "She did ask about it and I told her to wait until the level was down."

"Pardon my stupidity Ellen, but does this list here, written by me, say scrub out swill shed? And do you outrank me down here?" Gretchen snarled nastily.

"Well you take your birch to me, Gretchen Carter, and I will shove it up your arse." Ellen sniffed and Reeve snorted a laugh.

"Something funny?" Greetchen whirled on Reeve and landed a stinging lash to the back of both her legs before howling in pain and dropping to the floor. Reeve didn't have time to notice her own pain as she just stared at Gretchen grimacing and swearing on the floor. "What did you do? I'll have you flogged for this you vagabond!"

"I didn't do anything!" Reeve clambered from the table. "Are you hurt?"

"Get away from me!" Gretchen growled and Ellen rushed over to help her up. "Was it you, Ellen Brown? I can have you out on your ear too, despite your big words."

"Was what me? What happened? No one touched you Gretchen." Ellen told her.

"I'm bleeding!" Gretchen shrieked. Where Reeve had two, long, thin, raised welts along the backs of her legs, Gretchen had a wound that had broken the skin. "You attacked me? You whore!" Gretchen lashed out at Reeve with her hand and gave her a stinging slap on the face, then she immediately jerked sideways and almost stumbled off the chair. Reeve and Ellen watched in disbelief as a bright red patch formed on Gretchen's face in an identical place to the one that was forming on Reeve's face.

"What in the realm is happening?" Ellen said in shock. "Reeve if this is your doing, you'd better speak up child."

"I never touched her! Ellen you're right there next to me!" Reeve protested. "Mistress? Hit me again."

"Another threat." Gretchen snapped.

"Oh for crying out loud! No! Yes if you like, just hit me again. Not with the ... " The birch cracked over the top of Reeves arm but it was Gretchen who yelled in pain as a purple welt appeared on her arm. "I don't understand."

"I do. Magic." Gretchen stood up and backed over to the door. "The Reeve has cursed me. Mother help us all."

"Oh don't talk tripe, Gretchen. She's had weeks to do that if she could." Ellen walked over and nipped Reeve hard on the other arm. Nothing happened to either Ellen or Gretchen. "I told you you were overdoing it Gretchen." She shrugged. "You do remember that idea we talked about? Who wants a bed warmer full of cuts and bruises?" Gretchen's colour drained and Reeve's flushed. She was aware of the manipulation act that Ellen had fed Gretchen. Gretchen purposely upturned a pitcher of milk before storming out of the kitchen.

"Well that tactic of yours worked out well." Reeve laughed and went for the mop.

"Stars above! I think I'll hit you instead." Ellen heaved. "You're still magically protected, girl! That wasn't to scare off Gretchen! Well yes it probably was but it's still real magic! You would tell me if you'd done it, wouldn't you?"

"Magic? Someone's cast a spell on me? Or is it on Gretchen?" Reeve said in panic.

"On you. Gretchen hits you, you both get the scar." Ellen just shook her head in wonder. "So it wasn't you protecting yourself?"

"Sacred Mother, no! I can't do such things Ellen, I'm a villager! The most magical thing in Grasslot is Nanny Crook's poultices."

"Well someone's protecting you and we have two very powerful Mages upstairs. I don't know what to think child. Alexander?"

"Why would he go to all this trouble? That's presuming he could. Why not just come for me?" Reeve reasoned.

"Good point so we're back to those two Upstairs. All we can do is be thankful Gretchen's birch will stay away from you and wait and see if there's a reason for all this." Ellen was clearly uncomfortable around anything magical and Reeve could understand that fully. "Pan full of potatoes to peel." Ellen handed Reeve the knife.

Stephen stormed into his private sitting room like a tornado. Skar was in there drinking a glass of wine, as he had full run of the place.

"You just had to do something!" Stephen slammed the door. "Why aren't you a nursemaid or a nanny? You just couldn't stay out of it, could you?"

"And nor could you if you hadn't spent days objectifying your subject." Skar said calmly. "Wend's Transmutational Reciprocation. It's the only headwreck spell I can do."

"I know what it is! I showed you how to cast the blasted thing! Do you understand any of the concept behind what I was doing? I thought I'd got it over to you. Healing is a reflex. Got that? The first and most basic reflex is self protection. Yes? Even babies show that behaviour. Therefore healing can be triggered by the need to protect oneself. Are you with me so far? How can she do that if there's nothing to protect herself against? Gretchen won't go anywhere near her if she knows she's going to suffer injury herself. What is the point in that, Skar? " Stephen grabbed a glass from the dresser. "Lift it."

"No, Stephen. I can't do that. I can't just sit here and let that woman beat a girl with a bloody birch for no reason, and it is no reason Stephen. You know of Gretchen's temperament and her opinions of travelling folk. You also know that Reeve has spirit. She won't just roll over for Gretchen and you know it. You contrived the situation so Gretchen would be the aggressor. Why don't you go down there and beat her yourself? Why not hurt her from here with a few nasty spells? Because you know it's wrong and you're distancing yourself from it! For Crying out loud Stephen, we see it all the time with so called leaders and their footsoldiers." Skar said in exasperation. "I can't stop you lifting the spell but I'll not do it."

"You must have got the Mother of all nosebleeds casting that." Stephen sighed wearily and sat on a couch. "Why won't she do it? Why can't she just bloody heal herself?"

"I don't know Stephen." Skar shook his head. "Don't continue with this method, though, I beg you. You had a horrible time during your childhood but you've never inflicted that on anyone else. I know she's different but she's still a person, just like you were."

"You do go overboard. Shut up." Stephen tutted and Skar smiled. "I don't know any other way. I can't turf her back out to Grosspit and I can't hand her over to anyone else." Stephen said helplessly. "Wait a minute." He leant forward and frowned at the floor for a while before suddenly jumping to his feet. "Sacred Stars I'm as thick as pig shit and just as deaf!"

"Pig shit is deaf? Yes I suppose it is." Skar refilled the glasses.

"And you don't help! It was you who said it!" Stephen began pacing the room and Skar let him. He was used with his King's various behaviours and mood swings.

"Right, I'll bite. Said what?" He handed Stephen a glass and Stephen wafted it aside.

"About Medics and such forth. You said they were driven by the need to save others. Of course they bloody are! Why did Reeve Heal?"

"You're right. She thought you were dead or dying. She never once tried to heal herself when that arse was ripping her apart." Skar nodded eagerly.

"You should have picked up on that Skar!"

"While zapping that scumbag and stopping him from incinerating you. Yes, of course I should. I did pick up on it anyway. It's not my fault you're selfish." Skar sniffed.

"Incinerate? Skar he couldn't make toast. Well he is toast now so that's irrelevant. Selfish? I don't think I am."

"You are at all. Your reflex is all me me me. Not everyone is as self centred. So what do we do?"

"Well I'm not going to stand there and let you hurl lightning bolts at me in her presence. Go and take her to the dungeons or somewhere. Hurt a few prisoners."

"That would be funny if I didn't know you were serious. How about the military Infirmary out by the South Wall?" Skar suggested.

"Skar! Really! You want to go and hurt folk in the Infirmary? Oh settle down, I know what you mean. Right! That's that sorted out!" Stephen grinned and rubbed his hands together.

"Just you hold your water a minute." Skar pointed at him. "Don't you think she may want to know why the King's Arch Mage turns up in the kitchens to take her to the Infirmary? Don't you think she'll want to know why?"

"This is the problem, Skar. We can't force a reflex. Reflexes are spontaneous and uncontrollable. The control comes later with modification. If you tell her why she's there, she'll either try and force it, or she'll just panic and freeze. Surely they need helpers down there? Just give her a job man!" Stephen rolled his eyes.

"So The King's Arch Mage goes dancing into the kitchens and says, 'Put down your scrubbing brush, you're going to be a Medic!' Yes, right. Another problem. She knows me, or she knows George. Bloody George. My pet verine was called George." Skar tutted.

"You always have to nitpick! Right so we send someone to take her there as a Medic and we take turns observing from the scryer. It's either that or you dressing up as a Herbalist so don't protest. It's the only way, Skar and she won't get hurt."

"She's sleeping in the pantry." Skar said flatly and Stephen just looked at him blankly. "I'll arrange staff rooms on the second floor then she's still in scrying range. Medics don't sleep in pantries."

"Good idea." Stephen agreed absently. "No, on second thoughts, have that suite on the fourth floor cleaned out. She can use that."

"The old Nursery Suite?" Skar said in surprise. "It's three rooms, bathroom and two bedrooms. Are you sure?"

"Yes. What if she walks into the Infirmary and reacts straight away? Are you going to have her sent hysterical to her staff room with blue smoke streaming from her hands?" Stephen let out a laboured sigh. "There's no getting away from it, Skar. Once she sees and does it, we're going to have to tell her what she is. I'll need her up here full time. That's when she'll become my one and only Apprentice."

"When are we, or you, going to tell her who we are?" Skar asked.

"I can't tell her anything until that reflex is triggered. That's no one's fault, it's just the luck of what happened out in the Forest Belt. This is addling my head." Stephen grumbled.

"Well you shouldn't have been so awfully nice to her. That's all yours to sort out I'm afraid, Alexander. I'll go and get the staff onto those rooms." Skar waved at Stephen and left.

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