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Another Dead Body?

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Hubert had told the staff not to open the windows. He was, after all, a creature of the night. Ferdinand, however, could not abide by this. So, when he left his drooping husband in the tea room, Ferdinand indulged himself by opening the curtains in the vestibule to savor the morning sun.

When Ferdinand turned, he noticed a figure curled up on the floor. The person wore a turquoise robe that was neither the colors of House Aegir nor House Vestra. Stepping towards the door to the tea room, Ferdinand asked, “Hubert, beloved, are you alright?”

“I’m being addressed before I have finished my coffee, and that damn sunlight is everywhere,” Hubert hissed, huddling deeper into the shadows.

Ferdinand’s eyes remained fixed on the form, who had still not moved. “Then darling, could you please explain why there is another dead man in our vestibule?”

Whether by Ferdinand’s voice or Hubert rushing to the scene, the man woke with a start. Linhardt sat up, scanning the room with wide eyes. “A dead man?” he gasped. “Where?”

“Oh, good!” Ferdinand let out his breath, helping Linhardt to his feet. “Good morning, Lin! I apologize for the confusion. Would you care for some tea?”

Linhardt watched Ferdinand closely, his mind sluggishly turning over the situation. “Ferd... Why did you ask if there was another dead man in the vestibule? Who is the first?”

“We don’t know,” Hubert replied. He appeared in the doorframe beside Ferdinand.

Ferdinand grinned. “It’s a funny story.” He looked to Hubert as though he planned to begin telling in, but realization crossed his face. “We also have coffee, Lin, if you prefer that to tea.”

“The coffee is mine,” Hubert muttered.

“We could always put on a second pot.”

“I don’t…” Linhardt shook his head, baffled. “I don’t like coffee.”

“Tea it is, then!” Ferdinand smiled brightly, sweeping through the tea room towards the kitchen.

The silence felt stunned, tired, and confused all in the moment. Hubert drearily sipped his coffee, saying nothing. His light green eyes rested on Linhardt with neither malice nor interest.

“Hubert…” Linhardt swallowed, adjusting his robe. “There isn’t another dead man in here right now, correct?”

Hubert’s smile bled slowly to the side of his mouth. “None that I am aware of,” he replied.

“Comforting.” This was not how Linhardt preferred to wake up. At least the frenzied chaos had quieted to indifference with only the two of them. “Does Ferdinand wake up like that?” Linhardt asked incredulously.

A long, labored sigh escaped Hubert. “Most days, yes. He’s relentless from the instant he’s awake until he lays down for the night.” He sipped his coffee, seeming to savor the opportunity for uninterrupted silence. Eventually, Hubert added, “Mercifully, he’s easily distracted.”

“How do you mean?”

Ferdinand’s quick feet approached again.“I’m trying to remember, Lin, what sort of tea do you prefer?”

Too tired to be bothered, Linhardt replied, “Just give me anything.”

Ferdinand scoffed. “Just anything? We seldom see you! What a shame to waste a rare opportunity to savor a morning together!”

“You should have him try that new floral one," Hubert drawled. "I believe you said it had hints of orange?”

Ferdinand considered it. “Excellent taste, darling. Particularly for someone with no taste for tea.” He kissed Hubert’s cheek, before disappearing again.

“What sort of tea should I be expecting?” Linhardt asked.

Hubert shrugged, sipping his coffee. “Aren’t you satisfied? He stopped asking questions."

The two shared a weary smile.

Ferdinand swirled the peace into activity the moment he reappeared. “Here you are, Lin. I do hope it’s to your taste.” He prattled on about the vendor he purchased the tea from, and how they were well known for growing the leaves entirely without the intervention of magic. He continued with barely a break for breath.

“Do you intend to tell the story about the dead man, or shall I?” Hubert interrupted.

“Of course!” Ferdinand cried. Something between excitement and amusement danced on Ferdinand’s face. “The hour was late, too late to truly be night, but not yet morning. I heard a heavy thump downstairs. Hubert wasn’t in bed yet-”

“I keep later hours these days,” Hubert admitted.

“I do love the time between midnight and dawn,” Linhardt agreed. “I do my best work then.”

“But there is no substitute to the softly glowing light of early morning,” Ferdinand objected. He was met with the silence of two people who felt very differently. Ferdinand simply sighed, then continued. “I called for Hubert, but hearing no reply I threw on my dressing gown and rushed downstairs. I found the entire vestibule positively painted with blood.”

Such an evocative image paled Linhardt’s face immediately. “Blood?” he murmured in horror.

“Indeed!” Ferdinand grinned. Whether he was excited about sharing a story with a friend or about the subject matter itself seemed unclear. “The scene was horrifying. Blood up the walls, over the floor, in the houseplants." Mournfully, he added, "We had to dispose of the rug that used to be here, as it was well beyond saving.”

Linhardt swallowed, glancing at the friendly rug that had taken its place. “That’s…” Linhardt’s stomach flipped. “That’s a lot of blood.”

Ferdinand continued, undeterred. “At the time there were actually two figures. One of them lay spread on the floor, just over there where you are now Lin.”

Linhardt wrinkled his nose, stepping away.

“And Hubert slumped very near where he is now.” Ferdinand smiled affectionately, adjusting Hubert’s hair to uncover Hubert’s eyes. The instant Ferdinand looked away, Hubert shook it back into place. “That devil had glanced poor Hubert with a Venin axe, and he had slumped against the doorframe, bleeding profusely-”

Linhardt held up a finger for Ferdinand to pause. “That’s a very lot of blood, I just…” Linhardt’s stomach turned again, and he sat cross-legged on the floor.

“Oh!” Ferdinand paused, horrified. "That is hardly noble of me. In all my excitement I forgot that you are uneasy around blo-”

“No worries,” Linhardt interrupted. “Just perhaps finish the story quickly, with the least amount of blood mentioned.”

“Certainly,” Ferdinand replied uncertainly. “It turns out our guest had been sent to assassinate dear Hubert. The assassin thought at such a late hour, he would find Hubert sleeping. Instead, Hubert had only started on his way to bed, so he was able to get the first attack and dealt a devastating blow to his would-be assailant.”

Hubert smirked, finishing his coffee. “What Ferdinand fails to mention is that the assassin was not yet dead. Not until my white knight put a pike through him.”

Linhardt glanced between them. “Excuse me?”

Ferdinand smiled sheepishly. “Yes, it’s true. I had gotten a concoction for Hubert, and the dastard stirred.” Ferdinand’s eyes lit up as he walked up to a lance on the wall. “It just so happens I have this spear of Zoltan here. It’s a collector’s item, very rare-”

“One story at a time, pet,” Hubert interrupted.

“Right!” Ferdinand replied brightly. “So when the beast moved towards his axe, I ripped the lance from the wall and drove it through our unwanted guest.”

Linhardt offered no reaction. He stood quietly, mouth hanging just slightly open.

“So funny, isn’t it?” Ferdinand prodded.

Linhardt drew a breath. “So the story is that you killed a man for breaking in and attacking Hubert.”

Ferdinand seemed offended. “What sort of a husband would I be if I allowed assassins to just come and go as they please?”

Hubert shook his head with a ghost of a smile. “I’m refreshing my coffee.” He kissed Ferdinand’s hair, disappearing into the shadows.

Linhardt cleared his throat, deciding to determine the topic of conversation before he lost the opportunity. “I think I recognize the tea. Is it Angelica?”

Ferdinand beamed. “It is!”

Linhardt raised an eyebrow. “Hardly floral with a hint of orange.”

The smirk that followed seemed almost evil. “He thinks he’s clever,” Ferdinand replied. “Just let him have his fun.”

Linhardt laughed shortly. “So you knew he was just trying to get rid of you.”

“Of course I did,” Ferdinand chuckled. “Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m sure my spider has had me caught in more webs than I’ll ever know.” Again that vicious smile. “But, before his second or third cup of coffee, I dare say I have him at my mercy.”

Linhardt blinked again. “...So you do.”

“Are you going to enlighten us on how you came to be on the floor of our antechamber?” Hubert reappeared at Ferdinand’s side, his cup back in his hand.

“There’s not much of a story,” Linhardt admitted. “I arrived in Enbarr later than planned. I couldn’t remember where Caspar’s new house was, but I did recognize your house. I have a spare master key for these sorts of situations, so I just let myself in and found a nice spot to wait until morning.”

“I hope that bit of floor was sufficient,” Hubert said dryly.

“Quite,” Linhardt said with a smile.

“If you ever need to stay here in the future,” Ferdinand began. “You can find our guest room over-”

“Oh no no,” Linhardt said quickly. Awkwardly, he joked, “I wouldn’t want to wind up with a pike through me!”

“Easy enough,” Hubert replied. “Just don’t try to assassinate us.”

“I am nothing if not resourceful for finding places to sleep,” Linhardt insisted.

Hubert raised an eyebrow. “Your determination to be lazy is nearly admirable.”

Ferdinand smiled, awestruck, without a trace of irony. “How strange you are, Lin.”