Reeve was helping Ellen polish the cutlery when Gretchen startled them both by cracking the birch on the table.
"Infirmary!" She barked and nodded at Reeve.
"Why, Mistress?" Reeve hurried over to wash her hands. "I'm not sick."
"How in Torment should I know? I'm just the errand boy these days. Message from Upstairs so either heed it or don't. I don't care." Gretchen gave Reeve a filthy look and left the kitchen.
"Infirmary?" Reeve looked at Ellen in confusion.
"Child, nothing surprises me anymore where you're concerned. I gave up looking for reasons, you should too." Ellen gave Reeve a reassuring smile and Reeve left by the back door.
The Infirmary was a depressing stone building with an assortment of canvas tents tacked onto its sides and dotted around it. As soon as Reeve entered it, the overwhelming stench of sickness and death made her gag. It was like the tent in Kencaster, only treble it's size and treble its smell.
"Reeve?" Reeve was very surprised to see one of the Physicians walking towards her and not some other employer of lesser importance. "I've been expecting you. I'm Alwyn. Welcome aboard."
"Thank you." Reeve replied politely. "Pardon me, Alwyn, but I think I've missed some instructions along the line. Basically, I don't know what's going on."
"Oh. I was hoping you could tell me." Alwyn laughed and lead Reeve into a long room full of sick men. "I just received a document telling me to expect you and that I'd recognise you. It says you're to assume basic assistant duties. I have to say, I'm grateful. We have an outbreak of enteritis just now and the assistants that haven't got it, left in fear of getting it. Cover your nose and mouth with those cloths. They're steeped in mint against the smell. Wrap your hands too, as much as you can."
"They all look so ill." Reeve looked around the sickroom and felt tears well up in her eyes. It was clear that these poor men were in alot of pain.
"They are." Alwyn sighed sadly. "Of the fifty or so men in here we'll be lucky if thirty walk out alive. Now we're also getting the injured from all these battles going on. That barrel over there holds boiled water, make sure they drink as much as they can. The other barrel is water for cleaning injuries and the trough over there is for general washing. Can I leave you to it? I'm just next door in the battle room if you need me."
"I'll do my best." Reeve said bravely and swallowed hard.
"I'll give her three days." Alwyn rolled his eyes and whispered to a Medic at his side.
"Well at least she came and tried." The Medic smiled and followed Alwyn. It was just as well that Reeve's patients were mostly unconscious or delirious because Reeve cried and sobbed over them in a very unprofessional manner. Of course people got sick in Grasslot but nothing on this scale. She hadn't realised what a healthy lot they all were until she saw this agony. One man clutched her arms and clung onto her desperately, he whispered to her and begged her to end his life. Reeve simply burst into tears and fled outside.
"I'm sorry Alwyn. I feel so useless." Reeve dried her eyes on her apron. "I want to help but I can't do anything!"
"Every little helps, Reeve." Alwyn said gently. "Not everyone's cut out to handle suffering."
"I'll go and try again." Reeve took a deep breath. "I have to help those people."
"Excellent. Take as many breaks as you like." Alwyn lead her back into the Infirmary.
Four hours and many tears later, Reeve made her way back to the kitchen. Ellen was in there and so was Gretchen. Reeve could tell by the atmosphere that something had happened.
"You have new rooms, Reeve. A full suite on the fourth floor." Ellen told her and Reeve had to sit down.
"Right below the King's rooms. How convenient." Gretchen sneered. "Get your things together." Reeve did so and followed Gretchen upstairs and into the Castle.
"This is beautiful." Reeve tried to look at everything at once from the polished wooden floors to the vaulted ceilings. "Gretchen? Do you really think the King wants me for ... that?"
"How should I know?" Gretchen pushed open a door and Reeve gasped in delight. A bright fire burned in the marble fireplace and her feet sank into the thick mats. Reeve's bed was half the size of her whole cottage back in Grasslot and she had her own private washroom. Gretchen slammed the door when she left.
"Could it have somehow come from that scum who attacked her?" Skar and Stephen were outside in the gardens and running out of theories regarding Reeve.
"Not a chance." Stephen shook his head. "Well she's had two weeks in the Infirmary with no results at all. So she won't heal herself and she won't heal others. Excellent."
"Maybe ... Oh no." Skar turned round when he heard raised voices. Reeve herself was running towards them followed by Ellen Brown.
"Alexander! It's me, Reeve!"
"Child, no!" Ellen threw herself against Reeve to stop her. "Such foolishness! Sire, please forgive us. My girl mistook you for ... "
"Sire?" Reeve laughed. "It's Alexander, Ellen! George, do you remember me? From Grasslot? The man in Kencaster?"
"Reeve! Enough!" Ellen barked. "This is King Stephen and Mage Skar! What in the realm are you thinking of?"
"Alexander?" Reeve looked at Stephen in confusion.
"Show time." Skar exhaled loudly.
Reeve sat in her rooms with King Stephen Van Roth and Arch Mage Skar Rillin while they told her the most bizare tale she'd ever heard. Healer? She was a Healer? Or not, as the case may be.
"I don't understand any of this." Reeve tried not to cry. "So if I'm a Healer then there are only two of us? In the whole Realm?"
"That's if you are one. We're starting to think we've got it wrong but we can't afford to do anything else with you. If you spontaneously display any magic, especially something so rare, you'll be hunted and tracked and probably not by the right side." Stephen told her.
"The Sorcerers. Eric Ford." Reeve nodded and tried to sound calm.
"Aaron Cord. He must never know what we suspect in you. He'd slay thousands to have his own Healer." Stephen explained.
"I can't do it, sir." Reeve said miserably. "If I could help all the poor souls I've seen then I would have. I've cried constantly for two whole weeks in the Infirmary because I couldn't help them. I can't do it."
"You can!" Stephen snapped suddenly. "Skar and I both saw it. You can and you must!"
"I don't know how!" Reeve said desperately. "I don't understand any of this! Sorcerers and Mages and Healers. Aaron Cord is just a name to me. Can't you see that? I believe you, he's a vile man but I don't even know the difference between them!"
"You don't need to." Stephen said in irritation.
"Oh? Maybe you don't need another Healer." Reeve said bravely and Stephen glared horribly at her. "I told you once before, in Grasslot, villager doesn't mean stupid. You teach me and you have my word that I'll work with you."
"We have nothing to lose, Stephen." Skar said carefully. "We take magic for granted. Not everyone does. People out in the villages don't understand it because they've never seen it."
"Well thank you for that." Stephen snapped at Skar. "The first lesson is all yours. I have reports to read." He marched from the room and Skar had to grab the door to stop it slamming.
"He doesn't know what to do." Skar sighed wearily. "He doesn't like not knowing what to do."
"Yes I can understand that." Reeve rubbed her eyes. "Can we start with the basics? I'm sorry in any of my questions sound silly but we're so uninformed out in the villages. What's the difference between a Mage and a Sorcerer?"
"Quite a lot." Skar sat down. "Mages use Elements as sources for their magic. Fire, water, earth and wind are the obvious ones but in time, we can tap into less accessible ones too. Here look." He held out his hand then glanced at the fire. Reeve watched in complete amazement as a tiny marble of fire appeared in Skar's palm. "Because there's a plentiful supply of Elements, I can do this quite easily and with little effort. If I need something bigger or more dramatic then it can get a bit taxing. Stephen heals me when he needs to. Useful, yes?" He tossed the flame into the fire.
"That's fantastic! I've never seen anything like that!" Reeve was hugely impressed.
"Now comes the Sorcerers to spoil it." Skar nodded. "Benedict Cord was a powerful Mage and relished that power. He was obsessed with maintaining his own status and that of his family. Benedict thought that the ability to use magic could be passed on down the family line but after a dozen sons to a host of different women, it looked like he could be wrong. Next, he thought he could teach the ability so he hired the best Mages and Scholars in the Realm to teach his sons, to no avail. His next step was one of the most tragic events in the Realm's history. Benedict developed a method called Force Teaching. He streamed concentrated and raw Elemental magic straight into his sons' brains. By Torment it must have been agony. I've heard it compared to having you skull, and brain, tore in half. All of his sons died, except one. Guess who?"
"Aaron." Reeve supplied.
"Aaron. He was the youngest. Force teaching had worked but not in an expected way, and certainly not in a normal way. Sorcerers, as they named themselves, don't have the ability to connect with the Elements that surround us but there is another source of the Elements. Every person is made up of the same Elements that are all around us. Sorcerers source from people, Reeve. The man in the woods at Kencaster was sourcing from you." Skar told her and Reeve felt sick. "Hurts like all Torment, doesn't it? If Cord had a Healer, he could have his sources healed, or, more probably, have himself healed as he spellcasts. Internal Elements aren't in vast profusion like the ones Mages use so it takes quite a bit out of the caster as well as the source, who usually ends up dead. Now do you see how important you are? Cord can't take Stephen due to Stephen's enormous strength but he'd lift you as easily as he would a child."
"So I'm safe here? Is that why you brought me here?" Reeve's voice tremored.
"Obviously. You tried to Heal Stephen." Skar shrugged his shoulders.
"So you keep saying." Reeve sighed heavily. "I can't even remember it, Mage Skar. So where does Healing magic come from?"
"Well that's Stephen's department but basically it comes from inside the caster. If you cut yourself, you want it to heal and it will in time. A Healer can speed up the process. It's the same with Healing others. There's far more to it, Reeve, far more. Stephen can do all sorts of weird things." Skar shuddered and made Reeve laugh. "Oh you can laugh. It's icky! All in the head, you see. Sodding about inside a person's head is just rude."
"I won't do that." Reeve said firmly. "Healing and helping, yes. Bothering peoples' heads, no. So does Cord still do the Force Teaching? It sounds absolutely horrific."
"He does and it is. What makes it worse is that once he's ... created ... a Sorcerer then that Sorcerer can also Force Teach others. Any weaker people he comes across such as the elderly or the sick, become sources. He's a monster of the highest order. Oddly enough, his methods created a huge weakness and it's one that isn't widely known. You'll see why. Because of the way Force Teaching transfers magic, it forms another type of link, a mental one. This link is a catastrophic flaw for Sorcerers because if Aaron Cord is killed, they all die at the exact same time."
"Really?" Reeve said in shock. "That certainly is a vulnerability. I presume Cord is holed up in the Flatlands surrounded by guards?"
"Precisely. Dung ball. We can't get to the Flatlands easily so all we're doing is stopping raids where we can. We have the advantage of the Rifts. Lovely things are Rifts." Skar smiled. "So now you know the basics. Do you feel magical at all?"
"No, sorry. I'm going to try and do this. I can do it. I genuinely want to help, Mage Skar. Even if I can't do much in the great plan of things, I still want to help people like those poor souls in the Infirmary."
"Just believe in yourself, Reeve." Skar stood up. "Get some sleep."