Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me; it's all Sherwood Smiths.
Chapter 1: Confusion
Looking around Meliara groaned in frustration. Courtiers were everywhere. You could never find a moment alone without one of them popping up and interrupting it. Venturing to the garden Mel found it as full of people as everywhere else. Throwing her mind around for anywhere that would offer her solitude she found herself staring at the tree in front of her. It was a very nice tree, a pine by the look of it. Its branches were at just the right spot to facilitate climbing too. Now that she thought about it, the last place anyone would expect to find her was in a tree. She could be outdoors and not have to endure attempts at conversation or curious stares.
It was perfect. Well except for the fact it was very un-countess like to climb trees. But really there wouldn't be any trouble if no one saw her climb the tree. In fact it would practically be like she hadn't done it at all. Shooting a few furtive glances over her shoulder Mel hiked up her skirt and scampered up the tree. It was wonderful. A peaceful bliss she'd been searching for since her arrival at the palace. The soft pine scent reminded her of her home in Tlanth. Wedging herself between the trunk and a branch and let her mind drift. Soon she was fast asleep.
She awoke with a start as the sky was beginning to turn red with the sun's setting rays and was momentarily confused about her location. A quick look downwards reminded her of the tree she was in and her cramped legs told her how long she'd been napping. Occupied with her confusion, her mind had blocked out the sounds that had awakened her, but now as her brain stopped racing the sounds intruded on her senses once more. Faint voices were floating up from below her. Looking down she saw two people deep in conversation under the branches of her tree. She recognized them easily it was Russav and Shevraeth. As their conversation grew more heated she was able to hear bits and pieces of it. It seemed that they were arguing about whether Shevraeth should tell someone something.
Then quite clearly she heard Russav say, "Just tell her that you love her Danric. What's the worst that could happen?"
"She could say 'I hate you', which she has already made abundantly clear," Shevraeth replied his voice practically dripping with his court drawl. Clearly he was trying to hide how he really felt about the woman.
"I wonder who they're talking about." Meliara thought with a pang. She didn't understand why, but the thought of Shevraeth telling someone he loved them made her rather sick. Russav was talking again when she looked down, "You're wrong Danric she loves you. Just go up to her and say, 'Meliara, I love you!' And be quick about it too, I'm tired of waiting for the wedding."
When Mel heard that she nearly keeled over in surprise. They were talking about her! Up until that point she had assumed they were discussing someone who could make a suitable queen, like Elenet.
"I mean Shevraeth and I hate each other," she thought, "Don't we? Or maybe we don't. Maybe I love him and just don't know it. I've never been in love before, so how can I be expected to know how to recognize it? For all I know I could just think I hate him when I'm really feeling love for him. Why doesn't someone just sit you down and explain these things? If they did I wouldn't have to be so confused right now!"
Mel had a lot of thinking to do and up in a tree eavesdropping on a private conversation probably wasn't the best place to do it. In fact, a nice room with lots of breakable things for her to throw at the walls sounded just about perfect. Shifting her place in agitation she felt her seat on the branch slip. She had shifted too much and was thrown off balance. Reaching out she desperately grasped for another branch to steady herself on, but was too late. As she fell she contemplated the horrible irony of a world out to get her. Why was it that she always stumbled into traps or fell into private conversations? It wasn't like she was a klutz, but she was always getting into these situations and it was really getting old.
"This is most definitely going to hurt," she thought as her body rushed toward the ground, her long loose hair trailing in the air behind her like a coppery flag. Right as she was bracing herself to hit the ground and probably break a bone or two she came to a stop in a pair of strong, comforting arms. Looking up she saw a pair of startled gray eyes; the man holding her was Shevraeth. Closing her eyes, she willed for this all to be a dream, that she would open her eyes and Shevraeth would be gone and she would be in bed. She opened her eyes, he was still there.
"Damn," she thought as a blush spread over her cheeks.
"My dear countess, are you alright?" Shevraeth asked in his usual drawl.
"Yes," she stuttered looking at anything but him. Shevraeth gently set her down on her feet and she could have sworn he let his hands linger a little longer than necessary on her waist. Turning toward Russav she saw he was barely containing his laughter. She blushed even harder if that was possible.
"My lady how pleasant of you to drop in on us like this," Russav said with a curious look up at the tree Mel had just fallen from. "If I may, I would inquire the reason that you were up in the tree to begin with."
"You may inquire Russav, but I have no inclination to give you an answer," she said avoiding his glance. Desperately she searched her mind for plausible reasons to leave Russav and Shevraeth's company. "I believe Bran is looking for me, so I really must be going gentlemen, but it was really nice to run into you, or fall as the case may be." Turning her back to them Mel began hurrying across the garden toward the nearest door.