Robert escorted Reeve to the Infirmary the following day. The short journey was full of the townsfolk bidding good morning to her and addressing her as Lady Reeve. She was almost in tears by the time she stood outside the Infirmary doors.
"How in Torment am I meant to handle that?" She wailed at Robert. "I'm no better than they are and I'm certainly no Lady."
"Lady Reeve." Alwyn appeared. "I was told not to expect you today."
"Bah! Well I'm here. Just Reeve, Physician Alwyn. I'm still just Reeve." Reeve said irritably.
"Of course." Alwyn and opened the door for her. "Promotion, Robert?" The two men knew each other, just as most soldiers knew their Physicians.
"It's certainly an educational position. For me, not Lady Reeve." Robert grimaced and Alwyn laughed. "I'll be back for her later, Alwyn. She's not to leave alone otherwise The King will have me, you, and your patients, flogged in the market square." He rolled his eyes.
Some hours later there was a flogging in the market square. Alwyn and Reeve couldn't leave the sick but they saw the commotion as people made their way to the 'venue'.
"I find this monstrous, Alwyn." Reeve said in shock.
"Well it doesn't happen often, despite King Stephen's threats. Anyway we don't know who it is or what they've done." Alwyn, who was born and raised in Rothsburg, replied casually.
"Yes but a public flogging? And people say the villages are backward." Reeve returned to her patients.
Robert was outside the Infirmary, as promised, when Reeve finished for the day.
"I admire you, Lady Reeve. It takes a certain type of person to work with so many sick and injured people."
"It takes a certain type of person to flog people in the square, too." Reeve shuddered.
"Well it doesn't ... "
"Happen often. Yes I know. So who was it? Some mass killer? I know it wasn't Sorcerers. They never get this far." Reeve said.
"Six patrol soldiers."
"What?" Reeve stood still and just looked at Robert. "Who's patrol soldiers? Rothsburg's?" Robert nodded. "The King had his own soldiers flogged?"
"And thrown in the jail-house." Robert told her. "Torment only knows what they've done but it's serious. King Stephen usually looks after his soldiers, especially those out on patrol."
"So he'll be in a mood straight from the bowels of Torment." Reeve winced. "He wasn't really jovial last night, as you probably heard."
"I heard nothing, Lady Reeve." Robert said loyally.
"No I bet you didn't." Reeve exhaled loudly. "I can irritate the giblets out of him without doing anything. Actually, I think that's the point. I'm not doing anything."
"Oh? That's not what I see." Robert shrugged. "You've been invaluable to Alwyn. The man wants you deified. You brought about changes downstairs too. Gretchen Carter isn't as all powerful as she once was. Most of all though, you stand your ground. You're a traveller in a city and you stand tall with that. Trust me, that's not common. You went from floor scrubber to medic to King's Consort and that's what people out there see."
"Yes they thought I slept my way up." Reeve muttered.
"Oh Lady Reeve, every community has gossips. From huge cities like this to villages like Greasehat. It was quite a shrewd move on King Stephen's part. If he says you're more to him that a convenience then that's an end to it."
"Well that's only if you class an inconvenience as higher up the scale than a convenience." Reeve said and Robert smiled. "So what do people actually think the situation is between me and The King?"
"Well they don't think you're a ... well you know. Some say your an advisor, some say he's genuinely fond of you, some say you've put some sort of spell on the whole household and some just say you're his friend." Robert shrugged.
"I don't think any of those apply." Reeve laughed. "I'm going to hide in my room, Robert. The last thing I want is The King sending for me when he's having a brainstorm. I'll let you know if I need to go anywhere but I doubt I will. Thank you."
Reeve could see from her windows that there was an increased level in activity. She saw Skar a few times, hurrying from one building to another. Finally, it all got the better of her and she called for Robert.
"Robert can you go and see what's going on? Everyone's darting around out there and it has to be something to do with that flogging."
"I'm instructed to stay here." Robert stated. "The King's throwing a fit and you want me to disregard my duties regarding his Consort? You jest, Lady Reeve. He'll have me peeled."
"Oh. I never thought of that. Can we not send someone else? I'll bribe them if you like." Reeve offered.
"Er ... that won't be necessary. I'll go and nab a ... subject."
"You won't get in trouble will you?" Reeve had a belated attack of conscience.
"I'm in the Imperial Guard and a situation is afoot in the Imperial grounds. I'm obligated." Robert said stiffly.
"Absolutely." Reeve nodded and promised to lock herself in her room, out of trouble.
Reeve returned to her window just in time to see The King himself, lunge at another man. Skar physically intercepted him and he was probably the only one in the Realm who could have got away with that and lived. Reeve panicked hugely when the King saw her watching all this, and said something to Skar, before pointing up at her. What had happened? Surely it had nothing to do with her? She resisted the urge to hide under the bed when she heard voices outside her door. She fumbled with her key to open it instead.
"Lady Reeve." Robert was standing with another guard. "This is Lucas."
"Why? I ... I mean hello Lucas. Robert? I saw the King go to hit a man then he pointed at me! What the Creek have I done now?"
"Nothing. Shall we go inside?" Robert physically steered Reeve back in the room, Lucas followed on. "A patrol was out in the area east of Broughton and they ... captured ... a prisoner. They travelled for a week to get to Broughton itself in order to have their Mage bring them through the Rift. This is only done in extreme circumstances, Reeve and this is certainly extreme. They captured Aaron Cord's son."
"His son?" Reeve had to sit down. "But why would his son be traipsing around near Broughton? Why would Aaron Cord allow that?"
"Well I doubt Samson had his father's permission. He's only ten years old, Reeve, and non magical." Robert explained.
"So he escaped? Exiled? What?" Reeve asked in bewilderment.
"Escaped is the belief but I don't think the details have been addressed yet. The flogging this afternoon was the patrol. King Stephen ordered it immediately." Robert handed Reeve a drink of water.
"I'm still a bit confused. Why flog them? Isn't Samson Cord valuable?"
"Just backtrack a bit, Lady Reeve. An adult, complicit ally of Aaron's would be valuable. His son is a ten year old, ordinary child. Only a monster would use a child as a weapon in a dangerous war." Robert said and Reeve felt immediately ashamed of herself. "Young Samson is an unwanted prisoner on so many levels, the main one being Aaron Cord coming for his son and bringing hoards of Sorcerers right into Rothsburg itself. It would be a massacre. He should never have been apprehended."
"Hence The King's rage." Reeve nodded. "I'm presuming Aaron won't accept that it wasn't on the King's orders and it was a mistake."
"Not a chance. Would you?" Reeve shook her head. "Your guard was doubled purely because the name Cord is involved." Robert indicated Lucas. "Don't underestimate your value to the King. I'm not privy to his reasons but your safety is paramount to him." Reeve swallowed hard and nodded. She knew the reasons and now the threat of Aaron Cord made it very real. "We're right outside. As soon as I know anything, you'll know too."
"Thank you." Reeve closed the door and tried to stop her hands shaking. "Oh Mayor Deeks you would not believe what I'm mixed up in here. I'd give anything to be back in Grasslot organising your papers but it's not possible now. The King needs me! What do you think of that?" She smiled sadly. "Bern Hayes would have a seizure."
Stephen stormed into his rooms, Skar close behind him.
"Those idiots will rot in that dungeon!" He ranted. "How can anyone be so damned stupid! Depositing the brat close to the Flatlands would have worked but no! They had to have a trophy. What's worse is they thought I'd be impressed! If that arsehole gets here and senses Reeve it'll be a disaster. He'll be invincible. He'll butcher the entire population and the populations of everywhere else en route. What in Torment was the little bastard doing wandering around Broughton? That's miles away from the Flatlands."
"They're trying to get him to talk. He knows where he is now and no doubt his father will have told him for ten years what a tyrant you are." Skar glugged a generous measure of rye into a glass and handed it to Stephen.
"If he gets into Rothsburg and gains the upper hand ... "
"Not likely Stephen. We have all the Mages." Skar reminded him. "We'll capture him and he'll never leave Rothsburg's dungeons."
"That won't be enough Skar. He'll have his own army of Sorcerers with him. You know what you have to do." Stephen dropped to the couch in exhaustion. "Don't look at me like that!" He shouted suddenly. "I'm still your King, Skar and even if I wasn't, you're not stupid!"
"Do you think it'll get that far?" Skar asked in concern.
"As long as it's a possibility it's my job to prepare for it. A confrontation was always inevitable, Skar, you know that, but not in a heavily populated area. Aaron couldn't give a shit, but I do." Stephen rubbed his eyes. "Go to your Lady, Skar. Spend time with her while you can."
"I could say the same to you. Good night Stephen."