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Author: Regret
Rating: PG
Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Blueberry Yoghurt #6 - Alibi; Quince #18 - The World May Never Know
Topping: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 2,661
Summary: Alex starts investigating the death of the servant, but it looks like he's not the only one doing it

“One last time, and please correct me if I am wrong, but you were coming to interview this man when his body was discovered?” Standing beside Alex, the Duke gave the covered body a sceptical look. “And you say he knew nothing of this?”

“Of course he knew nothing,” Alex snapped back. “I’d only just finished talking to the Fairchilds’ man. I’d just left. There was no way he could have found out in that short time.”

The Duke gave him a sharp look, clearly not expecting to be spoken to so rudely. “What were you intending to talk to him about, that might drive him to do this?”

Alex took a deep breath and for one awkward second Milos thought he was going to directly insult the man. “Treason.”

“Treason?” The Duke visibly recoiled. “What would two servants know of treason?”

The sight of Alex gritting his teeth to prevent himself from saying something offensive was far too amusing— and far too rare. “That’s why I wanted to talk to them. But now I can’t, because this one is dead.” He glowered down at the body like he wished he could bring it back to life purely to kill it again. “And I don’t know who did it.”
This time, the older man looked simply bemused. “Who did it? It’s obvious he hanged himself.”

“Really?” Alex snorted. “Aside from it’d be difficult for him to climb over the railings to hang himself, and the fact that if he really wanted to kill himself over some strange feeling of guilt, he’d probably do it where he was employed,” he pointed down at the body, “there are bruises around his wrists and the ones around his neck don’t entirely match the rope. And his neck isn’t broken.” Holding up four fingers to the Duke, he folded each one over slowly. “He was murdered.”

This time it was the Duke’s turn to snort, fixing Alex with that piercing green stare that made Milos feel uncomfortable just seeing it. “Why would someone murder a servant who, in all likelihood, knew nothing?”

Alex hesitated, to the Duke’s apparent amusement. An amusement that vanished when the knight finally spoke: “someone broke into my rooms last night while I was sleeping. I woke in time to chase them off, but not before they stole a document of mine.”

“And you think...?”

He nodded.

“Doesn’t that just increase the likelihood that, consumed by guilt, this man took his own life?”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Alex shook his head. “Why would he? It’s far more likely he had an accomplice—or was ordered to do it—and someone else is responsible for his death. I’m sorry, your Grace, but I am sure this man was killed.”

Staring at the sheet-covered body, the Duke sucked on his teeth and frowned. “Could it not be that he simply fought with this supposed accomplice before he hanged himself? Oh well, no matter.” He sighed. “If that’s truly the case and you believe it to be related to your investigation, then of course you must look into it further. But before you do, I must insist you relocate and stay with me.”

“No, your Grace, I couldn’t possibly—”

He raised his eyebrows, the folds of his brow reaching almost impossible depths. “Sir Alexander, I insist. Both yourself and your property will be much safer staying with me. No one would dare try to rob you when you’re under my protection.”

Scowling and with as much bad grace as Milos had ever seen him display, Alex nodded. “Thank you, your Grace. We’ll return to move our belongings immediately. But before we do, I’m sorry to have to ask this, but...” This time, when he looked at the older man, it was with the faint, cocky smile that Milos knew so well. “I do have to ask where you were in the hour or two before the servant’s body was discovered?”

Both eyebrows shot up again as the Duke gave Alex a look of confused shock, but not before Milos—and, from the narrowing of his eyes, Alex—saw a dark look flit across his rough features. “I was with my secretary working through the affairs of the day in my office. When we heard that this awful scene had been discovered and that you were here, I left immediately to see what had occurred.”

That you were here. Milos watched Alex frown; that was one way of deflecting a question he’d clearly resented being asked. He wondered if the Duke knew how much Alex would equally resent the inference. “Thank you, your Grace. That’s a most satisfactory answer for me.”

Liar, and the Duke clearly knew it just as much as Milos did. “If you have no further questions for me, Sir Alexander, then I must beg my leave of you.” When Alex bowed his assent, he nodded and turned on his heel to return to his grey horse and the tidy, bespectacled man beside it.

Alex, wearing his expressionless mask, watched him go without a word before turning back to Milos and their horses. “Come on. The faster we pack and move, the more time we have left today to deal with this.”

“We’re really going?” Milos struggled into his saddle and gave the knight a look of misgiving. “It sounds like he wants to keep an eye on you.”

“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” Alex smiled humourlessly down at his horse, nudging it into a trot that elicited another short, sharp gasp from his slave. “We’ll give him what he wants and turn it to our advantage. If he knows anything at all about this plot, then we’ll be perfectly placed to find out about it.”

Rising awkwardly with the horse’s gait took most of his concentration. It was only when the inn came into sight that Milos could find the energy to mutter, “I hope you’re right, because I don’t trust him.”

“Don’t worry,” Alex said softly. “I don’t either.”

* * *

The room was bigger than the one at the inn and dominated by the enormous four-poster bed, its head against the middle of the back wall. Light from a deeply recessed and downright huge south-facing window streamed in, casting a stunning golden glow that Milos couldn’t appreciate, staggering under the weight of Alex’s various rolls and packages. It might be his job, but it didn’t mean he didn’t have the urge to throw something at Alex’s head while the smug bastard’s back was turned. The only thing stopping him from fulfilling his urge was the Duke’s servant who’d led them to the room; he grudgingly admitted that, after everything else, the last thing he wanted was to give the impression Alex couldn’t control his slave.

Even if it was true.

The landlady had been sad to see them leave. He’d been sad to go, especially after she’d cooed over him and remembered his name, saying he’d been one of the best kitchen assistants she’d ever had and asking Alex that, if he ever considered selling him, to let her have first refusal. It had been enough that he found himself wishing the knight would take her up on the offer immediately.

He didn’t. He’d just smiled and kissed her hand, thanking her for all her help and hospitality and reassuring her again and again that his leaving had nothing to do with the intruder but it was impossible to refuse the Duke.

Milos was missing their old room already. This one had a crimson rug that spanned almost the whole floor and no wardrobe, instead having two highboys, one beside the bed and the other against the back wall, together with a small nightstand beside the window and a full-size mirror in the corner by the door—and no table and chairs to use for meals. A nightmare to clean and no private meals. And the mirror... He turned to give his reflection a worried look. The bed was visible in it too; the last thing he wanted was for Alex to get any funny ideas.

“Are you done staring?” Alex’s bored voice jolted him from his thoughts. “Or are you going to stand there all day?”

“What?” When he looked around the servant was gone. It was just him and Alex, alone inside the far-too-big bedroom. “Oh. I need to—”

“Just leave them there.” Alex pointed to the foot of the bed. “You can sort them out when we get back.”

He dropped them with no little relief, and more than a little worry about whether they’d stay properly folded, whether creases would form while his back was turned. He wished for the days when that was all he had to worry about, rather than being dragged around an unpleasant city on unpleasant work by the most unpleasant man he’d ever met.

At least Alex didn’t thrash him for stress relief. Not yet. Although that might change any second, considering how he was staring at him. “Come on or I’m leaving you here.”

Spending the rest of the day stuck in this room? “Yes, yes, I’m coming.”

Alex’s smirk made him wish he’d used any word but that. “Maybe later.”

Gods, the man was a bastard. Giving him a glare that only seemed to amuse him more, he followed Alex from the room.

* * *

Unsurprisingly, Lord Kerrell was horrified and confused that his servant had been found dead so near to the Fairchilds’ residence. A tall, upright man whose years were disguised by a youthful face and eyes well used to smiling, he shook his head sadly at Alex’s questions. “He didn’t live around there. Far from it, in fact: he grew up a few streets away from this house and he’d been working for us since he was in his teens.”

“You hadn’t sent him with any messages or on any errands that might explain why he was there?” Alex sipped at the tea the housekeeper had brought in without taking his eyes from the man opposite.

“No. In fact, he was supposed to be assisting the gardener today,” he said. “There was no reason for him to be there at all.” Lord Kerrell stared down at his own tea like the answer might be found at the bottom of the cup. Milos suspected he wished it was something stronger.

“Did he know the Fairchilds’ footman Eliot personally?”

“Not as far as we’re aware. They would only have met at meals and suchlike, much the same as your...” His eyes landed on Milos; he had the distinct feeling that Kerrell found himself at a loss for words. “As your elf,” he finished with a short nod.

It made a strange and surprisingly nice chance from ‘slave’. Alex glanced at Milos too, raising one eyebrow, and the familiar urge to try to hit him welled up again, chasing away his sudden good feeling. “And you’re sure they didn’t talk during those times?”

Kerrell shook his head. “We’ll ask again, but the butler has informed me that none of our other staff who might have witnessed anything of the sort have anything to report. They don’t appear to have any connection at all.”

Alex finished his tea, delicately placing the cup back onto the saucer. “I have no further questions. Thank you for your time, my Lord. I’ll do everything I can to find out why this has happened.”

Kerrell rose at the same time as Alex, clasping his hand and shaking it. “Thank you, Sir Knight, but I do have to confess my confusion as to why you’re investigating this matter. It surely isn’t the kind of subject a King’s Guard would concern himself with, particularly when the Duke’s Knight is also dealing with the matter.”

Alex froze, expression carefully neutral. “Duke’s Knight? Do you mean Sir Kennet?”

“Yes, Sir Knight, I do. He’s already visited to question some of the household staff. But I understand that you know each other, have you not been informed of this?”

Shaking his head, Alex gave Lord Kerrell a rueful smile. “I’ve been occupied all day, my Lord. It’s possible a messenger was dispatched but hasn’t been able to find me.” He’d elevated lying to an art, sounding as natural as possible. Still, that was knights all over; Milos gave him a sour look that went completely unnoticed. How was he—or anyone else—supposed to trust someone who clearly couldn’t be trusted?

The other man nodded as if this was a perfectly plausible explanation. “I’m sure if Sir Kennet discovers anything more then he’ll let you know. It must be a relief to know you have such a competent man assisting you.”

“Yes, it is.” Alex gave him a smile that was all insincerity. “Now, my Lord, I must thank you for the excellent tea and beg my leave of you.” Catching the cord hanging from Milos’s collar, he bowed deeply to Lord Kerrell, yanking hard on the cord to encourage Milos to do the same, then led him from the room.

Outside, his fake smile quickly dissolved into fury. It look like it was all he could do not to punch the wall; Milos quickly moved as far away as his cord would allow in case he suddenly looked like a more attractive target. “What in all gods’ names is he doing looking into this?”

“I’d guess he was told to by the Duke?” He flinched as Alex turned to him, expression like thunder. Why couldn’t he just be sold to the landlady and Alex have someone who could live with his moods?

“Perhaps you’re right, for once.” He shook his head, scowling, then dropped the cord to mount his horse, gesturing for Milos to unhitch the animal from the wall. “But why is the Duke so interested? Especially if it’s such a common problem that a King’s Knight being attacked in the street is barely worthy of comment?”

Milos couldn’t answer immediately, trying to climb onto his own horse as quickly as possible to avoid any chance of Alex deliberately making him slip again. For once, too preoccupied with his own thoughts, the knight managed to resist the urge. “Maybe your presence has unnerved him?” Why was he asking him, anyway? He was only a slave.

“Hmph. Perhaps. He doesn’t seem to want me to know, and if Kennet is investigating then there’s every chance evidence will vanish and I’ll never find out what’s going on.” He turned his horse and walked it in the direction of the imposing castle. They fell into a silence as buildings, carts and carriages passed by, the shouts from the market echoing in the streets even though they were a fair distance from it. This kind of silence he could live with, the ones that didn’t involve questions he wasn’t qualified to answer, so when Alex spoke again it made him jump violently then wince. “Can you write?”


“You can read, so I’m asking if you can write too.” Alex snapped irritably. “Or are you really as useless as you’ve been until now?”

Useless? Milos growled in the back of his throat, glaring away from his owner. He could fold his own damned clothes and bath himself in the future. “Yes I can bloody write.”

“Good.” Alex didn’t seem to notice—or, more likely, care—he’d just upset his slave. “I’ll buy a notebook. You can take notes when I interview people. Earn your keep.”

If there was anything attached to the saddle he could hit him with, and if doing it in a public area wouldn’t just end in trouble, he’d have pelted it off the back of the arrogant bastard’s head. As it was, all he could do was glare in frustration down at the cobbles they walked over and try to keep control of his temper. There was plenty of time later for revenge, and he had every intention of ensuring Alex got a taste of it.


Runaway Tales



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