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Author: Regret
Rating: PG
Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Quince #24 - Aren't You Glad You Asked?; Blue Raspberry #17 - Interrogation
Topping: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 2,678
Summary: There are explanations Milos can believe, and then there's the downright ridiculous. Alex supplies the latter, then drags him off to talk to the servants he has suspicions about: a plan that rapidly goes awry...

For the second time in as many days, Milos woke to find himself alone in bed. This time, however, he discovered to his horror that he wasn’t alone in the room. “I’m so sorry, Sir Alexander,” the landlady said, sounding almost near to tears. “I’ve got no idea how it happened, I didn’t hear anything.”

He’d made her cry? He was a bastard, yes, but really? About to push himself upright and shout in a wholly un-slave-like manner at his owner, he froze when Alex said with surprising gentleness, “I don’t hold you responsible, how could I? It was my fault for not locking the door.”

He rolled over as if he was still asleep, stealing a blurry glance from under his eyelashes. They were standing beside the table where the candle Alex had lit last night was little more than a puddle of wax; as he watched, the knight reached out and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “We don’t often have guests like yourself, I’m sorry this—”

Alex snorted softly. “I’m no one important.” He held up a hand to cut off her interruption. “And on that subject, now it seems my slave has woken, he’ll be along shortly to help you with the washing up. And any other tasks you can think for him, as a token of my thanks.” When he glanced over his shoulder at Milos, it was with a broad smirk.

So much for stealth. He sighed and sat up, being sure to keep the sheets pulled up to his waist. “I’m at your disposal.”

She gave him a teary smile and, thanking Alex far more profusely than he deserved—it wasn’t like he was doing those chores—left the room again to give Milos time to get dressed. Something he didn’t feel inclined towards doing beyond strapping his collar back on while Alex stared thoughtfully at him. “She really feels bad about it?”

“It’s her inn.” He pulled out one of the chairs and sat it without ever taking his eyes from Milos. “She’s a good landlady, she feels responsible. That’s why you’re going to try to make her feel better.”

He wasn’t going to stop staring long enough for him to get out of bed, was he? Milos sighed and pushed the sheets back, sliding from bed and padding naked across to the wardrobe while trying hard to ignore his owner. It came as no surprise that last night’s clothes had been moved while he’d slept. It would have been too easy to grab them and dress under cover. “I’ll do my best, but it’s because I like her, not because you’re ordering me to.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

“Anyway,” he snapped, grabbing the first pair of trousers he could find, “it wasn’t her fault. It was yours. If you’d just let me go after the thief—”

Alex let out a short, harsh laugh that sounded far too loud in their small room. “You really think you can catch up with a magically-boosted man and not be mistaken for a runaway at the same time?”

He snatched up a white shirt that looked a little worse for wear from the shelf and weighed up whether it was worth throwing at the knight. “Magic? Do you really think I’m that stupid?” It wasn’t worth it, purely for the madness of his comment and the fact he wanted to cover up as quickly as possible. “Magic’s a fairy story or a horseshit excuse to murder old widows. Don’t act like I’m an idiot just because you own me.”

Leaning back in his seat with his arms folded, Alex raised an eyebrow. “You really think it’s a fairy story?”

“Hells yes!” He dragged the trousers up and the shirt over his head, the tension draining from his muscles only when he was sure the knight was no longer able to openly gawk at his body. “Show me a magic spell and I’ll show you someone who’s either a trickster or a bloody good herbalist.”

“And someone who jumps out of a second floor window and runs away without even a sprain?”

Milos opened his mouth, closed it, then tried again. “Painkillers. They were drugged up to the eyeballs and didn’t even feel the pain.”

Alex pointed at the chair opposite. “Sit down.”


Sit.” He glared at him until he did as he was told. “We can’t talk about this when we leave so I’ve got to do it now. You aren’t supposed to know at all but I’ll be damned if I’m paying for another slave.” He shoved his chair back, throwing his feet up onto the table and rocking back on the rear legs. “A year ago there were reports of magic being performed. Actual magic. And,” he tilted his head back to stare up at the ceiling, frowning, “never being used for anything good.”

“You’re taking the piss.” Milos said flatly.

“I wish I was.” There it was again, that gut-wrenching sound of defeat in the voice of a man who was usually so confident. “Since then, this is the first time I’ve been sent out for a matter that didn’t relate in some way to that. Previously it was...” His voice trailed off, fixing Milos with a look that made him squirm. “It saw off my last servant. Not that he didn’t deserve it, mind.” He laughed again; Milos cringed. “I turned my back for five minutes and that was that.”

His smile froze Milos’s blood. “Magic can’t come out of nowhere.”

Alex shrugged. “And yet, it has.” He slid his legs from the table and crashed the chair’s front legs back onto the floor. “Take my word for it. And now you’re dressed, you can go and do the dishes.”

Milos rose, grinning down at his owner. “I still don’t believe you.”

“Remember those words when you’re proved wrong.” Alex waved him away.

He wouldn’t be proved wrong. He’d heard that the king was a sensible, level-headed man, but this made no sense; magic couldn’t come out of nowhere and he had no intention of being taken for a fool the way Alex and the king were. Anyway, what did magic matter when there were dishes to be washed? Until someone could use it for that, he thought with a faint smile, he couldn’t care less about it.

* * *

Alex leaned on the door frame with his arms folded. “Aren’t you done yet?”

Halfway through scrubbing the huge wooden table that dominated the inn’s kitchen, Milos glared at him, brush in hand. “Go away, I’m busy.”

“Should I leave you here?” He smirked. “It’s quite interesting, seeing you bent over like that.”

He could feel his cheeks heating even as he refocused his attention on the stubborn woodwork. For someone who seemed like he’d never slept with a man before, he seemed suddenly interested in embarrassing his unfortunate slave. Before he could snap out a response, the landlady piped up. “Oh, don’t worry, you can go now.” She gave him a wide, beautiful smile. “You’ve been more of a help to me than I could ask for.”

She was only saying it because she was kind and Alex was there, but he felt the flare in his cheeks for a second time. Kindness was a strange thing to experience. “Thank you,” Alex said before Milos could speak, and gave her one of his irritatingly charming grins. “He’s a pain, so I’m grateful to you for putting up with him.”

Milos glowered. If there’d been anything to hand and if he didn’t think he’d end up in more trouble than it was worth, the knight would have been dodging something heavy to the head.

“That reminds me,” the knight continued with a faint sigh, as if something had just occurred to him. “I need to talk to some people but I neglected to take proper note of their names. I have to rely on him,” he pointed at Milos, “to describe their liveries, but for the life of me I can’t remember their master’s names. Could you help me?”

“I could try, but I can’t promise anything,” she said dubiously. Alex nodded to Milos who relayed the details he could remember from the two servants’ clothes. As he spoke, a look of dawning realisation spread across her face. “If it had been anyone else I probably couldn’t have helped, but they’re the uniforms of servants from two of the Five Families.” If she noticed the blank look on Milos’s face and the momentary flash of shock on Alex’s, she made no comment. “The white lion’s head belongs to the Fairchilds, and the orange bell is the insignia of the Kerrells. They both have large houses in the city, I can give you directions if you need them?”

Alex hesitated, then sighed again. “If you please could...”

* * *

The saddle hurt in ways that brought back unpleasant memories of the night before last. He couldn’t stop himself from glaring at Alex who, as ever, remained blissfully ignorant of the depths of his slave’s hatred for him. “You’re sure you can identify the servant again?”

“Yes.” Even the monosyllabic answers Milos had been giving didn’t seem to tip him off. He stared up at the looming façade of the Fairchild’s three storey city mansion and tried not to feel intimidated. If these people were involved, then they certainly had the means to be so on a grand scale.

“Good.” He drew up his horse a short distance from the door and Milos’s, attached again by lead rope to Alex’s, followed suit. Giving it a quick pat, he swung his leg over the mare’s back and landed lightly on the balls of his feet. Wincing, Milos did the same thing, except far less gracefully as a spike of pain made him slip and fall.

Almost immediately a servant in the same livery Milos remembered from the night before strode down the steps, accusatory gaze fixed on the knight. “Excuse me, sir, but you cannot just leave your horses there.”

Leaning against his horse’s shoulder, Milos squinted at the servant. “It’s him.”

“That’s convenient,” Alex murmured, passing the reins to him. Approaching the man, he held out a hand that went resolutely unshaken. “I’m Alexander of Goldash, of the king’s elite corps, and I’d like to have a word with you, if I may?”

From the paling of the man’s face, it was obvious he realised it wasn’t a request, but it didn’t stop him from trying to brazen it out anyway. “I’m sorry, Sir Knight, but I’m sure you’d prefer to speak to Lord Fairchild instead. If you’d please follow me—”

Alex leaned forward, grabbing the servant’s arm and smirking as his face paled even further. “No, it’s definitely you I want to talk to.”

Milos couldn’t help feeling sorry for the man: Alex’s smile terrified him too. “What can I help you with, Sir Knight?” To his credit his voice barely shook, but Milos had never seen anyone look quite so guilty while trying to act innocent before.

“You were at the Duke’s dinner party with your master last night.” Alex stared intently at his face as he spoke. If it was an effort to unnerve the man still more it seemed to be succeeding. “I understand that while the others spoke of plots and treason, you had no comment nor opinion to pass?”

The man shot Milos a look of sudden recognition, laced with a healthy dose of dislike. There went any chance that anyone would speak openly in front of him again. “I didn’t want to pass comment on something I had no knowledge of, Sir Knight.”

From the thinning line of Alex’s lips, the glance hadn’t gone unnoticed. “But you did pass comment on other topics of discussions, didn’t you?” He looked at Milos for confirmation, who nodded, swallowing nervously. “I’m sure you knew just as little on those, so why not on the most interesting one?”

“Sir Knight, I really don’t know what you’re trying to say—”

“I’m saying,” Alex folded his arms and glared, “that you’re well aware of this conspiracy but were afraid of incriminating yourself. You chose to remain silent and incriminated yourself anyway. And I’m sure that if I do a little digging, I’ll find that the Fairchilds and the Kerrells have been meeting on a regular basis. More than is normal even for inbred families like these.” Milos cringed. “And what’s more, I’m sure that if I dig further, I’ll find that you and the Kerrell’s servant know each other well. Am I wrong?”

The servant—Milos had stopped thinking of him as ‘poor’ the minute that disgusted look had come his way—was as white as a sheet. “No— I mean, that is, yes—”

“Sir Alexander, is it?” A voice boomed out from the front door. “What a pleasant surprise! What brings you here?”

Alex’s head snapped round, mouth open for one undignified moment before resolving itself into a forced smile. “Lord Fairchild, what a pleasant surprise.” With an airy gesture he indicated both the servant and Milos. “My slave is still new to acting in a respectable fashion, so as I was travelling in this direction I thought I’d just borrow your man to demonstrate one particular issue he’s struggling with.” Leaning across, he cuffed Milos painfully around the back of the head. “I’m hoping he’ll actually remember it now.”

It was an awful excuse no matter how he looked at it, and worse: it had bloody hurt. Lord Fairchild descended the stairs, all effusive pleasantries and wild grey hair that looked as though it was trying to meet up with the silver moustache spreading like a shrub over his upper lip; the servant took the opportunity to slink away as Alex’s hand was seized and vigorously shaken. “If you need anything then please, Sir Alexander, I am always at your disposal.”

“It’s quite all right, my lord.” Alex tried to extricate himself from the two large hands that had engulfed his own. “I’m sure he won’t make the same mistake again so I need trouble you no further. Thank you for your kind assistance.” He remounted the mare, waiting with badly disguised impatience as Milos struggled into his own saddle, adjusting his sitting position to keep most of his weight off his backside.

“Have a safe journey, Sir Alexander,” Lord Fairchild called as the knight rode away with more haste than was called for.

“That was perfectly timed to get rid of us,” Alex muttered, once he was sure they were out of earshot. “My hand still aches.”

“Your hand?” Milos grumbled. “My head still aches. You didn’t have to hit me so hard.”

“I wanted to.” He shrugged.

“You shouldn’t have scared the servant like that.” He whimpered as he sat back in the saddle, promptly leaning forward again to escape the pain. Why did horses have to be so uncomfortable? “You won’t be able to catch him now, he’ll be more careful. He’ll tell his lord.”

“His lord already knows,” Alex snorted. “Why do you think he appeared right the second his man almost let something slip? Anyway, I keep telling you I know what I’m doing.”

“And you keep failing to prove it.” He ducked sideways automatically, just in case Alex tried to slap him again, and almost fell off his horse. Fingers buried into her mane, he’d only just regained his balance when a loud shout from one side startled her and very nearly succeeded where his flinch hadn’t. “What the—”

Alex stopped his horse, staring with a frown up at the window of a dilapidated building. “Tell me, is that who I think it is?”

“What?” Pushing himself into a mostly-upright position, he followed the line of Alex’s gaze, then swore under his breath. “Yes. Shit, yes. It is.” A rope hung from the half-barred window of the upper floor. At the end of it, dangling from the noose, was a young man in an orange and brown uniform. “That’s the Kerrell’s servant.”



Runaway Tales



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