Christopher Key, chapter three end

The doctor was a woman. A pair of servants attended her, one carrying a folding screen. The other held a basin of steaming water. They looked shocked, and no wonder, given the scene they’d just seen. With curt gestures she directed them to put the screen up, and she rolled up her long sleeves and washed her hands in the basin. That done, she said, “Go,” and the servants went.
They shut the chamber doors behind them. Prince Alexander (his friends now all gone) was brushing off his jacket, jaw outthrust, throwing nasty glances at the knights. The knights looked unimpressed.
“Please.” That was the doctor, approaching. “Christopher, is that your name? Please come with me.”
She took him behind the screen. Her hands, fresh-washed, were very warm and firm, as she took hold of his chin and looked into his eyes. She examined his throat, and then his hands. “Now, I am Mistress Cecily. Don’t be afraid. May I see your teeth? Yes, like that.” She smelled of soap and another smell underneath, something indefinable and oddly disturbing … something that would make anyone fidget, Christopher told himself, looking down. A womanly smell.
“Stand still, please. I won’t hurt you.”
Really, what did she take him for? A crybaby?
“Well. Or … I won’t offend your privacy more than necessary … child.” It sounded as if she was about to address him differently, but had reconsidered.
She patted his shoulder in a reassuring way. Then she took hold of his arm and began to unbutton his shirt.
“Wait!” He shied back.
“Shhh.” She opened his clothing, then ran her hands over his chest—firmly but swiftly, as if judging a hound’s worth—and made him turn around. As he did, she tapped her lips, as if thinking. “How old are you?”
He was fairly sure of his age—his guardians had told him he was almost fifteen—but he wasn’t going to tell her that. Or anything else.
“Cat got your tongue? Are you sixteen? Twenty-two?” She smiled. “A hundred and two?”
He just shook his head at her.
She shook her head back. “I’ll listen to your heart now.”
She had an instrument that she used for this, a kind of trumpet; she held its mouth against him, and leaned down to listen at the narrow end. Then she raised her voice a bit: “He seems in excellent health, a fine young man.”
Beyond the screen, the prince swore vilely and, from the sudden crash, kicked over a table. Christopher couldn’t help flinching. More swearing. More sounds of breakage. And then came the sound of the knights wrestling the prince toward the door.
“You may go now, Alexander,” said Sir Surrey.
One of the doors slammed open, and crashed shut.
“I was right, then,” Sir Surrey said. “You won’t speak of this openly, Mistress Cicely.”
“Of course I won’t. I must go, his grace is waiting for my report.” She rebuttoned Christopher’s shirt, and then smoothed his hair. She lifted his chin, her smile unexpected and gorgeous. “Very young.” Her fingers brushed across his mouth. He pulled away, and she bowed, her smile never losing its warmth. “You won’t see me again, Christopher. You’ll be cared for by my colleague, Doctor Hum. The king’s personal physician. Welcome to court.”
She whisked around the end of the screen and out of the room.
The knights took down the screen. Christopher stood there, shivering cold, in the unfamiliar room. No matter which way he looked, all he saw was wrecked furniture, and the knights.
They didn’t look unkind. But they were all strangers.
“Take heart, lad,” said Sir Surrey. “We only wish you good.”
“But why?” Christopher said blankly.
“Because you are what we call a Key. And that means this is your new home. You belong here now.”

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