Reeve was still wide awake when Robert came to her door some hours later.
"The King and Mage Skar are back. The King sent for you." Robert said and Reeve hurried into her room to dress properly.
"Is anything wrong?" Reeve called from the bedroom.
"I wouldn't know, Lady Reeve. Lady Erin is already in with King Stephen and Mage Skar."
"Is it normal for him send for people at this hour?" Reeve emerged, trying to manhandle her ringlets into submission.
"He's The King." Robert said by way of explanation. "Are you ready?" Reeve nodded and followed Robert. She's only ever been as far as the huge, red doors that lead up to King Stephen's suite of rooms.
"Robert, wait." Reeve came to a halt and Robert turned to look at her. "Have you any idea at all why he wants me? He's going to tell me I'm not a Lady now he's back. Does he know I planned on ignoring him and going to the Infirmary? He's going to shout at me and send me back to Gretchen."
"Robert." Edward opened the door.
"Will you get up here! You damned pest." The King's voice snapped from up the massive staircase. "I swear I'll feed you to the hunting dogs." Reeve took a deep breath and walked steadily up the staircase. At the top of these stairs was another set of double doors that were open. Edward stood on one side, Robert on the other. Reeve dithered around infront of them. "Robert! Drag her up here by the scalp."
"Pig." Reeve muttered and marched into the biggest and most sumptuous room she'd ever seen. The rugs were at least three inches thick and the walls were covered in beautiful drapes and exquisite tapestries. Divan couches and food laden tables were arranged around the room and a huge, black fireplace housed a roaring fire. Lady Erin was spellcasting on Mage Skar and Reeve was fascinated. She was generating a steady stream of water that flowed down the Mages arm, covering two, nasty looking scorch marks.
"Reeve? Can you heal him? The burns caused nerve damage to his hands. A Mage without the use of his hands, isn't a Mage." Erin stood aside. Skar looked awful and it was clear his injuries had set up an infection.
"Erin I don't know how." Reeve said desperately. "Skar I ... I'll try." She knelt next to the Mage and and concentrated with all her strength. Skar was the greatest Mage in history. Without his hands he'd be nothing. He needed to heal. He needed to use magic. Reeve looked at Skar's arms and they were exactly the same. "I don't know what to do!" She sobbed. "Where in Torment is Stephen? He's the blasted Healer!"
"She can't do it, Stephen." Skar winced through the pain and Reeve spun round. The King was sitting on the couch, in the shadows, with a bloodied bandage round his ribs.
"You use your own Mage just to experiment with me?" Reeve cried in disbelief. "He's in pain and he has a fever!"
"I'm not strong enough yet." Stephen grimaced and shifted his weight. "I can't heal myself to heal Skar. Do something for shit's sake!"
"Shit. H ... hang in there everyone. Hang on." Reeve tugged the bandage from Stephen and he let out a pained curse. He had a six inch gash that Erin had tacked together plus a host of other cuts, bruises and burns. "Heal. Come on Reeve. Skar needs him. Heal! Blast it! Heal!"
"Reeve. Come on." Erin helped her off the floor and steered her to another couch.
"If he dies, you follow him." Stephen growled at Reeve.
"It's not my fault!" Reeve sobbed. "I can't heal him and I can't strengthen you."
"Obviously." Stephen got to his feet and staggered over to Skar. "I've never let you down before, old friend." He sagged to the ground as a trail of blue mist seeped from his hands. "Stay with us, Skar. Hang in there."
"Ste ... " Skar panted. "Infection. Heal it first."
"The infection is the most lethal." Reeve said in terror. The glare Stephen gave her was just as terrifying as the verbal onslaught she would have received if the King had been strong enough.
"Enough." Skar gasped. "I'm ... stronger. Erin."
"Reeve, get me those damp cloths." Erin ran to Skar's side and Stephen slumped against the couch, his breaths coming in ragged spasms. Reeve was scared to look at him, let alone speak to him. "Now hand me the brown bottle from that cupboard please, Reeve." She lifted the Mage's legs onto the couch and covered him with a blanket. "He's over the worst of the fever."
"What about his hands?" Reeve brought drinking water.
"The longer they're left, the harder it is to fix but we have no choice. At least he's alive." Erin sat on the couch with Skar.
"Er ... what about The King?" Reeve whispered.
"All we do it wait until he gets a bit stronger." Erin replied, then saw the look of desperation on Reeve's face. "It's not your fault Reeve. They were ambushed by a Sorcerer party and had to escape through a Rift. Stephen asked for you on the off chance you could help. Thank you for trying." She smiled.
"He must be so disappointed in me." Reeve sighed heavily and looked at Stephen. "He could have to accept that they were mistaken in what they saw at Kencaster. I can't Heal, Erin. I wish I could."
"Skar's often doubted himself but King Stephen is never wrong about mental matters. He's the one and only expert because he's had to be. Expert is actually an understatement. If he thinks you have Healing magic, trust him. He knows his facts." Erin held water to Skar's mouth.
"Or maybe he's so desperate for another Healer that he's seeing what isn't there." Reeve said in dejection. "I've watched people die in agony, Erin. I'd have given my own life to spare them the pain."
"How touching." Stephen struggled round on his knees and concentrated on Skar. Reeve watched him intently but didn't know what she was looking for. "The only time you've done it was with me in the woods. Me, not those in the Infirmary and not even yourself and Skar. You took a few beatings but your life was never in danger so we'll disregard you in that respect." He stopped healing and rubbed his eyes. "Water, please." Reeve nodded and obliged. "The ones in the infirmary were obviously at risk of dying and Skar was in a very bad way. No Healing. There's only one option left. Me. For some reason you can only Heal me."
"But I can't. I didn't, did I?" Reeve protested. "Don't tell me I didn't try hard enough just then because I did. I tried on you and I failed."
"I wasn't dying." Stephen said simply. "Or more accurately, you didn't think I was dying. You knew I was injured, but not fatally so. Back in Kencaster you thought that ... pissant ... had fatally wounded me with his rather feeble fireball. You Healed me, sort of."
"Sort of? Well did I or didn't I? If there is something in me then I'll work myself half to death tying to find it, but if there isn't, I want to go back to Kencaster. Back to my villagers." Reeve Hadn't realised how much she missed the Grasslotites. Mayor Deeks, Alec Green, Nanny Crook and even the Hayes family in a way.
"I said sort of because it was more of a tickle than a Heal. Quite nice actually." Stephen hauled himself over to the couch and flopped onto it. "Most Mages wouldn't have even seen, or noticed it. I'm not most Mages and nor is he." He nodded towards Skar. "Go back to Goosetits if you like but Aaron Cord will spot you a mile off. Any Healing you have is somehow tuned to me, and Cord knows me very well indeed. All this is theoretical but do you want to take that risk? I bloody well don't."
"So you have to help me." Reeve said firmly. "I can't do this on my own because I don't know what I'm doing! I've said this from day one!"
"What do you suggest? Maybe I could stand in the courtyard and have the soldiers use their crossbows on me? Skar with a few firecomets? Maybe Erin with something diabolical she's created in the Alchemy Halls! Are you getting the point here, Reeve? Do you think it realistic that I should render myself on the brink of death to trigger this? How does NO grab you!" Stephen barked.
"You don't know what to do with me, do you?" Reeve asked bluntly. "You don't know how to help, or teach me. All you've done is abuse me so I'd heal myself, which I couldn't, then send me to the very centre of suffering in the Infirmary so I'd heal them. I couldn't do that either."
"No because you're atune to me! Worst bloody luck!" Stephen shouted. "No I don't know what to do because I've never done it before! How could I have? Me and you, Reeve. Me and you and no one else. We are the Healers. Don't you dare say no you're not otherwise I'll scramble your brain and dump you in Gaspants myself."
"Why the title?" Reeve asked suddenly.
"What?" Stephen scowled at Reeve.
"Lady Reeve, King's Consort. What's that about? I know I'm only a thick village girl but even I know what a Consort is." Reeve held the King's scowl even though her knees were trembling.
"It was more palatable than King's Whore."
"I'm leaving." Reeve marched towards the door. "I've been an outcast and insulted all my life, but never like that, and never by a man who people rely on as their leader."
"Stay put!" Stephen roared. "You walk out of that door and you are on your own, Reeve." Reeve turned round and tried to control her breathing. "The insults weren't mine. I thought Erin had told you all this. I may be a bastard at times but I'll not tolerate that type of vicious gossip regarding my ... my ... guest, Apprentice, whatever in Torment you are. Announcing you were my Consort was faster than getting out there and ordering a few public floggings and I was rather pushed for time seeing as there were two dozen lunatics marauding around my southern regions!" Reeve was horrified to find herself amused at the King's last statement. She was even more horrified to hear a snorting laugh coming from her mouth. "Yes well you know what I mean. Grow up, Erin." The King sniffed. "Reeve I've said it in every way I know possibly how vital you are. I know you've never been important in your whole twenty year life so you don't understand the gravity of it. I do, though. Do you think I'd just sit there while that riff-raff out there accused someone so important of being my whore? It was a quick fix for a nasty problem."
"Yes I understand." Reeve said quietly. Erin had told her but she was just too foul tempered and stubborn to listen. "Thank you."
"For what? Everything I do infuriates you." Stephen lay on the couch and began Healing himself. "Want a go?"
"I'll go for the crossbow first." Reeve smiled. "There has to be another way and we'll find it together. I only get infuriated because you don't tell me anything."
"Of course I don't. I'm the King. Go away, I need rest. Thank you Erin. I'll look after Skar."
"Maybe she wants to stay with him." Reeve suggested and Stephen let out an exasperated sigh. "What? She loves him and he's sick."
"Reeve, come on." Erin said in amusement. "I can't stay here with two men."
"What?" Reeve yelped. "Does everyone here have a mind like a midden? It's different!"
"It's fine." Erin pushed Reeve out of the door. Robert and Edward were playing cards and both stood up when Reeve and Erin came out. "You know how to push your luck, Reeve." Erin said quietly. "He doesn't like not knowing what to do and he doesn't like his methods questioned."
"I know." Reeve said wearily. "I don't mean to be disrespectful and I don't mean to anger him. Erin, a few short months ago I was catching rats in the Town Hall roof. The most magical thing I'd ever seen was Nanny Crook and her tan bean enemas. The main worry of my life was getting the Mayor's documents in the right order and I lived in a stone shed. Kings, Mages, Ladies and Castles were stuff from books in the school room. You, Mage Skar, The King, even Ellen and Gretchen downstairs, you were all born here among it all. To me, it's like another Realm."
"I know. So does Stephen, believe it or not. You're a miracle, Reeve. He was right about that. He's terrified of it not working out and even more terrified of Aaron Cord getting his hands on you. Men like Stephen Van Roth don't admit to being terrified, nor can they handle it." Erin smiled as they stood outside Reeve's rooms. "Go and sleep. You need it."