Grass is Greener
by etcetera-cat
Disclaimer:  Everything relating to the world of Velgarth and the kingdom of Valdemar is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.  Any spelling mistakes, abuse of grammar, plot inconsistences or other nonsense is solely the fault of etcetera-cat.
Rating:  'T'.
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Chapter Twenty- Ignorance and Bliss.

Alexander is ignoring me. Ignoring me to the extent that he’s blocked me out of his mind since this morning… was it something I said? This means, of course, that I have absolutely no way of finding out what’s going on in the House of Healing with Mister Arrow Target; something that is more than a little irritating to my nosey sensibilities. Therefore, I am currently giving Harali my best and most integrating innocent Companion look, complete with mournful eyes.

:I don’t believe it for a second, Teva.: ‘Ali rolls her eyes and flicks her tail once, before dipping her head to crop a mouthful of grass of the field that we’re now in.

:Oh.: I’m back to the one word responses again. I change tack and instead try out a reproachful look on my fellow Companion, my forelock trailing untidily over half of my face. In reply, I receive a snort of derision.

Well… this isn’t going as planned at all. I sigh with something approaching frustration and try to think of something to alleviate my boredom. The part of me that wants to holler ‘b’ words in the direction of a certain Herald gets sat on and ignored. I’m bright enough to realise that digging myself a deeper metaphorical hole is not a good way to pass the time at the moment.

:Harali—: Hear the persistent whine in my voice; that insistent, penetrating and nasal quality that indicates that I am acting like a small child and am fully prepared to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. :Harali—:

The subject of my terrible beast little impression flinches slightly and shudders. :Gods,: she sighs, :you sound scarily like a bratty human child.:

:Good, isn’t it?: I reply chirpily. :So… can I?:

:Can you what?: A hint of a long suffering sigh accompanies ‘Ali’s sending as she eyes me up and down, momentarily forgetting the lush grass.

:Eavesdrop with you, of course!:

Harali stares at me and twitches her nose. :Oh,: she’s stolen my signature one-word response. :Alex has you blocked, then?:

I sniff and flag my tail. :Not exactly—: I fib slightly, earning another eye roll from the other Companion. :So can I? Can I? Can I?!:

:Lord and Lady!: Harali says in resignation. :Remind me to keep you away from mushrooms if this is the after effect— and yes, you can.:

:Grand!: I shuffle happily into a corner of her mind as she produces a thoroughly expressive sigh.

:Hopefully, it’ll forestall anymore childish squealing…: I’m going to maintain a diplomatic silence about that observation from ‘Ali, I think. Mainly as whatever I respond with will contradict, undermine or otherwise incriminate me at some point in the future.

Instead I concentrate on the entirely new experience of observing things through human eyes that don’t belong to Alexander— for one thing, Samyel is ever so slightly taller than my Chosen and it’s just noticeable enough to niggle in the back of my mind.

It’s also more than a passing strange feeling to be seeing Alexander from the outside like this, even if it is out of the corner of Sam’s eye— and may I point out here that I most definitely do not miss the woefully inadequate peripheral vision that humans possess?— and the pair of them are practically radiating personal space that we are not going to overlap at each other.

Front and centre of the Herald’s vision is, however, a rather familiar figure in Greens, who is apparently just winding up an explanatory speech; probably something relevant to the bleeding noble abed in the same room. Which I’ve completely missed… Bah.

Mental note to self: Pay attention.

Harali snorts with something that sounds suspiciously like laughter. I’m going to maintain this superior expression and pretend that I didn’t hear her… and I’m still not paying attention and I’ve probably just missed a bunch more of important information! Aggh! I can’t win!

"—should wake up this evening, at my best guess." That is Daska’s voice, and I rapidly gather by her gesture towards the bed on the other side of the room that she means Mister Arrow Target. "He’s certainly had enough energy off every Gifted person in the near vicinity," a pointed eyebrow is raised momentarily in the direction of my Chosen and Samyel and I stifle a giggle.

I sense Harali clearing her throat in a meaningful fashion at her Chosen and the tingle of warmth I feel dancing across my face is surely Samyel blushing. Aww... look at the embarrassed Herald! I think maybe that Alex is blushing too— I can sort-of sense something down our Bond, and there’s a definite hint of strawberry-ness in Sam’s peripheral vision.

"Have you spoken to any of his party?" Daska’s question brings me back to more important matters.

"Hmm," the sound Sam makes as he clears his throat make the inside of his head vibrate… which makes the inside of my head itch.

"We’ve spoken briefly to all of them. Including Lord Ardin there-" the Herald nods at the prone figure in the bed, "-there were seven others in the hunting party; two nobles and five servants."

"That’s not entirely true," Alexander interjects, drawing a quizzical look from the Healer and a covert glance from Ali’s Sam.

"Oh?" Daska imbues a world of questions into the single syllable.
Alex produces a brief smile and nods vigorously. "Oh yes," he explains, "I was—uh am— a noble, and I’ve been on plenty of hunting trips. They aren’t all servants; in fact, only three of them are regular servants— brought along to pick up and carry bounty after the dogs have retrieved it. The other two are the Hunt Master and his assistant. The Hunt Master is in charge of the hunt; in seeing that the nobles find what they want to hunt, and that they actually catch something."

My Chosen pauses and produces a wry grin. "Quite a few nobles couldn’t hit the broad side of the Palace with an arrow… even if they were standing next to it." Daska raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment.

"The Hunt Master’s assistant acts as a tracker for things like deer and boar hunts and as a beater or flusher for game bird hunts, depending on what they’re after, the three servants could have been drafted in as beaters too."

Samyel sighs. "Which boils down to the fact that all our witnesses were in different places when Ardin was shot, and none of them were actually that close to him, or looking at him."


"Have you Truth spelled them yet?" Daska inquired.

Sam shook his head, blonde hair flopping into his eyes, and giving both Harali and myself a wider view of the neutral-painted room. "Not yet, I was going to do that after we’d checked how the patient was." He pauses slightly, "Also, I thought you would want to be present."

She nods. "True enough, where are they?"

"At the moment, sitting in your main hall, with most of the rest of the Healers here." Alex supplies, stepping to one side and motioning gracefully for Daska to take the lead, which she does with a slight smile, her Greens swirling about her as she strides past the Heralds and reaches the pale wooden door of the room. Alexander looks over at Samyel— can I just mention that it is profoundly odd to have my Chosen looking at me, and it not being me? Does that make any sense?— who absently motions for him to follow Daska.

The light changes abruptly as the trio move out into the wood-panelled corridor, becoming dimmer and the air is more… lively, I guess, even with Samyel’s limited senses… and Samyel’s eyes latch almost unconsciously onto the back of Alexander’s head, watching the way that the light catches the red and brown highlights in his dark-brown hair as he moves through the patches of sunlight pouring through the high exterior windows with an almost hypnotic concentration.

:Now do you see what I’ve had to put up with?: Harali’s voice is amused and cynical at the same time, and I drop out of rapport long enough to give her an equally amused look back as she expressively rolls her blue eyes at me. :Trust me, it gets worse.: She sighs loudly, her sides heaving out and I audibly snicker in reply.

:I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.: I even manage a creditably innocent tone of voice.

:In a pig’s eye.:

I produce a mental snigger and shuffle myself back into the rear of Samyel’s head. In the time it has taken us to talk, the three of them have made it the short distance to the large oak doors that mark the entrance to the main hall of the House of Healing. Daska falls back to allow the boys to take the lead once she has shoved opened the doors with both hands and stalked through them, so Sam gives Harali and myself an uninterrupted view of the hall, through his eyes.

In keeping with the rest of the interior of the House, the walls are plastered flat and painted in a neutral series of pale creams and greens. What wood there is— around the doors and in a low run of panelling on the opposite wall— is highly polished and varnished and the floor is tiled with a rough-textured grey stone. The fireplace is clean swept and empty and the air in the hall is filled with the chatter of the men sitting around on the long, backless benches that match up to the wooden dining tables that take up much of the floor space.
The appearance at the door of Daska’s Greens, flanked by Heraldic Whites, brings the conversations to a limping stop as a wave of nudges and nods alerts the seated men to our presence. The obnoxious noble of yesterday, still in the red linen and leather ensemble, rises from his seat at the highest table, expression fixed, with his dark eyes glittering slightly.

"Heralds— my Lady," he strides over towards them, charm offensive obviously being the course he’s decided to take today, and bobs his head at the boys before taking Daska’s hand and touching his lips to it. Ugh, someone get me a bucket for this man’s slime!

Given the look I can see Daska directing at the noble’s head from the corner of Sam’s eye, I’d say that the Healer is about as impressed as I am. Could the person getting my bucket please get Daska one as well? Lamplight shimmers over the man’s greying hair as he straightens up and dispenses another smarmy smile. I wonder if he’d still be smiling if someone pointed out that he’s starting to bald on top?

"I am so glad to hear that you were able to assist my kinsman in his time of need." Now, that’s an odd way to put it… if he’s related to Mister Arrow Target—um… Lord Ardin, then why doesn’t he say ‘son’ or ‘cousin’ or ‘uncle’… or—perish the thought— ‘brother’? I feel Samyel tense slightly as he also picks up on the slightly odd wording and he tilts his head to one side.

"Oh?" He asks in inquiry, his expression providing the rest of the question. Despite being a farm boy, our Samyel, why he’sum learnt ‘is diplomacy good. I’ll stop with the country accent.

"Ah," the man pauses momentarily as if unsettled from his plan for the conversation. "I am Lord Darberly," he introduces himself, "my sister is the second wife of Ardin’s father, Ardin is her stepson."

That particular blended family set up sounds familiar. If this Ardin chap turns out to be anywhere near ostracised-by-his-family-for-stupid-reasons, then this particular horse is running for the hills.


Samyel inclines his head slightly in response and indicates to himself. "I am Herald Samyel, this is my protégé, Herald Alexander." Nice introductions out of the way, Sam gets down to business. "If you would be seated, my Lord?" Sam waits until Darberly has settled himself on a nearby bench, Daska assuming a seat across the table from him, the folds of her Greens flaring around her, before

Alexander and he sit. Alex sits next to Daska, and Samyel sits next to him; with the carefully observed preservation of their respective personal spaces, of course.

I sigh loudly, the only beneficiaries of my wordless complaint being Harali and the sky. Harali agrees… I think the sky’s still undecided.

"…name for us, please, my Lord." Samyel’s face feels like it’s set in an expression of concentration and I can see a faint glow of blue around obnoxious balding man’s head.

He shrugs, before complying. "Lord Darberly Raldish of Kilden’s Fell." He glibly recites. The glow remains about his head. If I squint, and use my Sight through Sam’s eyes, then I can see the vrondi’s face.

"Thank you— now could you please tell us what precisely happened on the day your step-nephew was injured, in your own words." Samyel has on his best Heraldic voice; all with the authority and the calmness. I’m quite glad I’m not in Alexander’s head at the moment— I think he’s having a minor ‘meep’ moment.

"Well…" Darberly tilts his head back slightly and appears to be considering matters. He missed a spot under his chin when he shaved last. "I’ve been at Ardin’s place for the past week or so, visiting my sister and Ardin organised for us to go out on a hunt yesterday." The vrondi is still present as the lord looks across at the Heralds. "The Hunt Master was supposed to be taking us to the trail that the speckled deer use at this time of year; we reached the trail, back in the woods from here and then we all split up."

Darberly scratches the side of his face with one hand. "The Hunt Master, Gelten, and his assistant went ahead on foot to see if they could find any fresh tracks, the servants stayed behind with the horses and the rest of us rode out along the flanks of the path."

Boring… information… must… stay… awake…

I can feel Harali rolling her eyes at my less-than-spectacular attention span as I struggle to concentrate on what the balding Lord Darberly is saying in response to Samyel’s careful questions.

The basic summary seems to be; they were all in different parts of the forest when Ardin was shot, Darberly didn’t see anything or hear anything until the Hunt Master’s assistant was near-trampled by Ardin’s panicking horse and that’s that really. The vrondi remains around the Lord’s head for the entire time, indicating that he hasn’t lied about anything. I still don’t like him, however.

Alexander and Samyel take it in turns to cast the first stage Truth Spell on the other members of Ardin’s hunting party, finishing up with the servants. Apparently, not a single one of them saw anything of any interest at all; the servants apparently, didn’t even know that anything had happened until the Hunt Master, Darberly and the Assistant Hunt Master trampled up with Ardin’s horse and a significantly bleeding noble in tow. They all have exactly the same stories from before.

All of this takes a lot of time, and by the end of the questioning, Daska, Sam and Alex are left sitting alone in the hall; the main portion of lighting now being provided by a veritable cascade of lanterns and candles.

The Healer sighs loudly. "Well, was that productive?" She sounds dispirited, and a sideways glance by Samyel reveals her to be raking her hair back with both hands and frowning.

A movement of white next to Sam is my Chosen shrugging. "None of them lied at all." He says slowly. "Apart from that, I’m not sure if we known anything more than before."

Herald-Samyel-vision blurs momentarily as he vents a loud sigh, followed by a stretch that ends up with him standing up. "There’s something slightly off about this whole thing, but I’m not entirely sure what." Oh! Oh! I can tell you what! Lord Darberly, he’s wrong!

Another shrug from Alex. "Hopefully, Lord Ardin’ll wake up tomorrow and things will become clearer."

"Speaking of whom—" Daska pushes herself upright, using the table and brushes invisible wrinkles from the front of her robes, "—I’d best go and check how he’s getting on, as well as do my evening rounds." She glances at a thick candle by the door, marked with coloured grooves. "Evening meal will be in about a mark and a half, in here; hopefully both of you will be in a state to join us this time, hmm?" She raises an amused eyebrow at the boys. I can see Alex flushing slightly, and I can feel the embarrassment fizzing under Sam’s skin.

A swirl of Greens and the Healer exits before either Herald can formulate an intelligent come back to her comment. I content myself with sniggering in an entirely childish fashion. I like Daska, and not just because of the obvious anti-fungal benefits.

Sam coughs. Alex coughs. Both are avoiding looking at each other. Harali is rolling her eyes and complaining to the wall about lovesick idiots. Evil Teva is chanting "—you just drag him off to bed!"

I’m seriously resisting the urge to shout "bouncy!"

I desperately cast around for an alternative as the boys sort-of sidle their way around each other’s personal space and into the corridor. Neither of them seem to have any idea of where to go or what to do next; apart, that is, from avoid each other. I’ll break the impasse, then—

:Oi!: I project loudly at both of them. :Come feed and worship us, now!:

Alex starts slightly, after all— he’s had time to get used to me, but Samyel emits a highly undignified yelp and visibly jumps, before looking around wildly.

:Heh heh heh.:
Harali turns to stare at me. :Teva, you’re impossible.:


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