from "Two Certain Things", an unfinished tale which takes place a month or so after Shattered Stone. "White Hart" is Steve Perry, taken by the land as Blood Guardian of Kern...
White Hart stepped into chaos.
The first thing that hit him was the smell, urine, shit, stale, raw meat. It stunk. It was overwhelming. He stopped just inside the door, a small part of him wanting to turn right around and go outside and throw up, until something else clicked in and cool calm settled over him. Something shook him hard inside, threw off the shock. Another change.
Necessity. Hysterics later. Act now.
The next thing -- the people.
There were five others in the room, in various stages of doing things. Gareth’s body was face-up in the middle of the floor, and a man in miodhach-colors knelt beside him, his hands laid on Gareth’s chest --
“Stop,” White Hart said sharply.
Everyone froze, except for the miodhach, whose hands remained on Gareth’s body.
He’s dead. What’s that bastard doing?
White Hart crossed the room, so that he was right in the miodhach's face. “I said, stop.”
The miodhach startled back, made a noise of protest. “Blood Guardian --”
There was more noise at the door. Rhian stopped at the threshold, her face in grim, angry lines as her gaze settled on White Hart and Gareth’s body.
“Captain,” White Hart said, ignoring the miodhach, “clear the room. Get these idiots out of here. Now. You, too,” he snapped at the miodhach.
Preserve the evidence. It was all White Hart could remember, from old TV. Too much Perry Mason, not enough listening to Cat. All he knew was the TV stuff. He didn’t think it would be enough.
Movement caught his eye. He glanced over. Another guard was straightening some parchment -- at that, White Hart thrust himself up, went over, grabbed the guard’s wrist forcibly.
Everyone gasped. He ignored it, ignored the white face of the guard, a sweating, young man, a nobleman’s son, from the look of him.
“Does this show you how serious I am?” White Hart said, and wondered at the coldness and threat in his own voice.
The youth nodded, his eyes terrified. Just as the scum on the street. White Hart released him, went to kneel by Gareth’s body. No visible wound. No blood, that he could see.
“You,” he said to the miodhach, who had been backing away, “was this how you found him?”
“No, Blood Guardian,” the man said. “He was face-down.”
White Hart swore. Rhian started clearing folks out, with curt orders. Something else niggled at the back of White Hart’s mind, something important.
“Captain,” White Hart said, and Rhian stopped. “Isolate everyone who was here. Separate them. Get guards on them. Then come back here.”
“That is what I was doing, Blood Guardian,” Rhian said stiffly. But she snagged another guard by the arm, a scarred, dark man. “You. Stay with him until I return. Touch nothing. Donna let anyone else in.”
“That is an order,” Rhian snapped, and went out.
Silence. The door was closed; the guard stood stiffly to one side of it. White Hart got to his feet, swayed dizzily.
I’m in a room with a dead body. Jeeeeeesus.
Again, that inner, hard something shook him. Again, the cold, dispassionate calm settled over him. He stood still a moment, then looked, looked hard. Gareth was five or six feet from the door, sprawled up. There were ugly, yellowish stains on the lower front of his tunic, a pool of yellow-brown that stank under his thighs. His eyes were wide, his skin flushed pink.
The guard stood at stiff attention, watching him. Conscious of that gaze, White Hart made a slow circuit of the room, not touching anything, watching where he stepped. The rest of the room was a mess. This was Gareth’s study. Scrolls and ledgers were scattered over the desk and floor, save for the ones the young guard had stacked into a neat pile at the right corner. Quill and ink were spilled on the floor, near the desk, a glass shattered on the floor near a cracked decanter, holding a bit of deep red fluid. Wine, it looked like. There was also a hidden entrance, in the corner, and closed; as far as White Hart knew, he and Gareth were the only ones to know of that.
As far as he knew.
The chair was knocked back at a crazy angle, the skin rug knocked askew.
A fight? Someone got in here and fought with him, killed him?
Outside, echoing and far off, he could hear the captain’s voice, raised and angry, dressing someone down. But, close by, there was scratching at the door. White Hart went to it, nearly grabbed it, realized --
-- then remembered everyone who’d been in here, and where he was. Still...
He used the hem of his tunic, grasped the door handle carefully, opened the door. Silver nosed in, or tried.
The guard grabbed the door, blocking Silver’s entrance. “Captain said na one, Blood Guardian.”
White Hart looked at him. The guard stood his ground, despite facing both dragon and Blood Guardian.
“Na one,” he said stubbornly.
Silver growled. White Hart raised his hand slightly, and she quieted. It would be easy, to simply bully the guard into backing down. But... “She won’t touch anything,” White Hart said slowly. Something else was going on, and he wasn’t sure what. “You’re right here. You can vouch to the captain for it.”
The guard considered, his mouth tight. Then he backed away, just enough.
“Come in,” White Hart said to Silver. “Don’t disturb anything.”
Silver moved to one side, sat, her tail wrapped around herself. “Mess,” she said.
“Tell me about it,” White Hart said. He crouched again by Gareth’s body, thinking. No wound. No visible wound. He stretched out with geas-sense. Nothing, no sign of magic on the body that he could tell.
“Smells funny,” Silver said. “Besides death, I mean.”
It did, now that she mentioned it. Something...burnt. Bitter. He made another slow circuit of the room, saw the spilled wine again, knelt down. The smell was stronger here. Alcohol, and almonds, burnt almonds.
White Hart stared at the wine. That was familiar, something he should know, something he couldn’t remember.
Silver cocked her head, as if listening. “Rhian.”
The door opened. “Blood Guardian,” Rhian said.
White Hart looked at Rhian, stiff posture, grim face. She had arrived just after he did. She hadn’t been happy either, at the chaos. “Captain,” he said.
But Rhian was looking at Silver, at the guard. The guard was avoiding her gaze.
“My apologies,” White Hart said. “I didn’t mean to take your authority, earlier.”
Rhian grinned tightly, despite the situation, but it looked forced. “‘Tis a given, that the first to arrive will always be the first to foul everything up. I didna get back here in time to stop them. A’ least you did.”
“Who found him?” White Hart said.
“The Queen. That is what the others said.” Her gaze was even. “He sent me for treasury records. He was alive when I left.”
“It’s all right,” White Hart said quietly. He couldn’t read her expression. “Is Stefaan okay?”
“Aye. She is in her room. I have Siubdh and Kira on her.”
White Hart was silent for a long moment. It didn’t look right. Everything in the room screamed that at him, and he didn’t know why. As things stood now, he wasn’t sure who to trust, or who to give him truth.
I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how to tell what happened.
White Hart made another slow circuit of the room, as Rhian watched. He could be missing anything. Everything.
I’m no detective. I’m a fuckin’ singer in way over his head.
“Captain,” White Hart said finally, “have you done any... anything like this before? Investigation, I mean.”
“Aye, Blood Guardian.”
White Hart stared, at the body. The papers. The spilled wine. “What does all this look like?”
Rhian studied the room, then made her own slow, steady way around. “A fight,” she said finally. “But there is na wound.” She looked at him evenly. “Geas, mayhap.”
“None,” White Hart said.
Rhian studied him. “Natural, then,” she said. “Heart fever, brain-storm. He tried t’ go for help, and died before he reached the door. If you wish that explanation.” She paused. “Didna miodhach Trevor say?”
“I didn’t let him do anything. And I won’t. Not yet.” White Hart didn’t trust any miodhach in the palace, not with the political situation as it was.
“Why?” Rhian said bluntly.
“I want someone who’ll tell the truth,” he said, letting his tone slip into impatience. She knew the situation as well as he did.
“Your truth,” Rhian said.
It took a moment. “If you have something to say,” White Hart said, staring at her, “say it.”
“Do I need to?” Rhian said. “The Realm Guardian is dead. Na mark on him. I am aware o’ your abilities, Blood Guardian. Very aware.”
“Then you know more than I do,” White Hart said.
“White Hart was with me,” Silver said, growling, “in the fields.”
“And you,” Rhian said, “are a creature o’ the Sidhe, a totem o’ Chulain, and known to be his companion.”
“Your own man saw me there,” White Hart said.
“That means nothing, Blood Guardian,” Rhian said. “Na for you. You asked what it looked as. I ha’ told you. I ha’ told you what will be said when word gets out. And it will.”
“And you?” White Hart said quietly.
Rhian’s gaze was flat, even. Silent.
Just fuckin’ great. He dropped his gaze to the body, the wine, the scattered mess. He needed someone who could tell. Someone he could trust. Someone...who wasn’t involved.
“Silver,” he said finally. “I need a favor. A big one.”
Her tail twitched at the tip. “Deer?”
He smiled, somehow. “Sure. But I need you to gate back to my...to...to...Gift’s land.”
“Gift.” She sounded curious.
“Gift of Land,” White Hart said. “Jonathan. Find him. Tell him to get Cat. Bring both of them here, as fast as you can.”
She cocked her head at him, then eased past the silent and uncomfortable guard and out the door, her talons clicking on the slick marble of the corridor.
“Gift,” Rhian said.
“Jonathan,” White Hart said. “That Ayoan miodhach that Stefaan almost gave to teind.”
“Your friend,” Rhian said, without expression.
“If he works with Trevor,” White Hart said, “they’ll check each other. I get my truth, and you get yours.”
Rhian nodded. “And Cat.”
“She’s...an investigator. Of sorts.” It took him a moment to remember. “From Clan Bladedancer.”
White Hart felt his mouth twist. “I’m sure she wants to kill me by now. Slowly. You can’t get more impartial than that, Captain.” He looked at her then, evenly. “Realm Guardian, I should say.”
“As if I wish tha’, now.” Rhian turned to the guard, who had been standing silent and shifting all this time. “Out,” she said. “Donna let anyone near the door, save for Silver and anyone with her.”
The door shut behind the guard, leaving White Hart and Rhian alone with Gareth’s corpse. White Hart didn’t move, facing her, the corpse between them.
“I remember Ceilt,” Rhian said quietly. “I was the only one to accept th’ duty of Realm Guardian training. All else were scared. Of him. Of what he would do.” Quieter. “I wished to take him out. As Gareth should have done and did na.”
White Hart settled down near the door, just a few paces away from the body. His gaze was on the hidden entrance. “I wish you had,” he said. “I really wish you had.”