atthias awoke early that morning to the sound of Garigan chanting softly in the other room. Turning over in bed, the rat stared at the flickering candlelight emanating from the open doorway, and then closed his eyes tightly, as if to shut both it and the musteline voice out. Of course, it was inevitable that Charles threw back his covers, slipped to the cold stonework, and peered into the adjoining apartment to see what his pupil could possibly be up to.
Sitting on his bed, the ferret had arranged all of his outfits in a semi-circle about him, and was singing softly as his paws passed over each one. Matthias blinked a few times, trying to reconcile what he was seeing with what he knew of Garigan. The two seemed totally incompatible. Finally though, the musteline's angular head turned in his direction, and smiled. "Ah, Charles, good morning!" he called out in a light-hearted voice.
Charles rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his paws, not noticing his nakedness. "What on Earth are you doing at this hour singing to your clothes?"
Garigan looked back down to his assembled garments, his paws gently carresing the bright yellows. "I don't really know, to tell the truth. I had trouble sleeping, and so I've been practicing some of those techniques you've taught me to control my anger, just to give myself something to do to pass the time. It just seemed like the thing I should do." The ferret paused for a minute, looking to be a bit embarrased. "For some reaosn, I don't think I'm singing the right words. I'm not sure why though."
The rat shook his head, walking into the room and putting his own paws on the cloth. Inevitably, his claws found their way to the Sondeckis insignia upon the solid yellow robes. He breathed deeply as his eyes traced over the contours that he had memorized, that would never leave him.
Finally, his voice found the words to say, and the last vestiges of his sleep departed him as he spoke. "Garigan, you are making very good progress so far. I had not expected you to start singing to your symbol and calling so soon."
"What do you mean?"
Taking a deep breath, the rat went on. "It is natural for a Sondecki to do what you have done. I use to sing to my own robes. Someday, I shall teach you the proper songs for your color. But not now. Not this morning."
Garigan frowned slightly, tapping his clothes with one claw. "And here I thought I was just trying to relax." He then looked up at the rat and blinked a few times. "Charles, why aren't you wearing anything?"
The rat peered down at himself, wiggled his whiskers slightly and then nodded. "Oh my!" He quickly went back to his own room to find something to slip on. As he reached into his new dresser for some trousers, his glance fell upon the red and gold hose that was draped over the footboard of his bed.
Closing the dresser, he picked up the finery in one paw, and traced out the lines with his other. Taking a deep breath, he could still feel the soreness in his muscles from the week of practicing and drilling that Sir Saulius had put him through. Today was the first day of the Summer Solstice festival. And come mid-morning he would take to horse and be competing as the knight's squire.
It took him a few minutes to get fully clothed, and when he did, he took a quick look in the mirror, brushed out a few knots in his fur, and then walked right back into Garigan's room to find the ferret completely passed out on the bed.
"Garigan?" Matthias walked over and leaned down, listening to the slow breaths from his musteline apprentice. Chortling slightly, the rat picked up the dropped garments, and put them away in the ferret's closet. He then walked over to the doorway, stopping only to blow out the candle; shaking his head, Charles left his apartment and greeted the new day.
Matthias was not two minutes out of his room when he wished that he could go back to sleep again. The sun had not yet risen on this longest of days, and the rat found himself leaning against a balustrade, watching the purple sky ebb. The wind shook tree branches all along the valley, and in the fields of Metamor, they snapped the tent flaps and the bright pinions flying overhead.
It was no surprise to him why Garigan had suddenly fallen back asleep like that. The Song of the Sondeck was a very soothing melody that quelled even the fiercest of rages in moments -- for another Sondecki at least. Had the ferret actually known the right words, Charles probably would never have woken up. As he stood overlooking the town, the sleeping homes stretched out beneath him, he could feel the Song coming to his lips. Yet he did not let it take voice and disturb the silence of the early Summer morning.
For some reason, the calm that filled the atmosphere seemed to belie the chaos in the world about them, and even in the Keep or in their own lives. The festival would begin in only a few hours, and that was always quite a stir. Not to mention the buzz about the new anbassador that was already sweeping the Keep. The rumors had not yet come back to Charles, but he was sure that by now they involved a titanic battle in which Mark slayed hundreds of bandits before being taken down himself. Or perhaps stories concerning Marzac itself, and the exorcism that had supposedly taken place there. According to Father Hough, he would not know for a few weeks at least if such had actually been performed. Matthias didn't care either way.
Still, the most personal chaos of all was the decision that Charles had made last night. The scene in Misha's workshop was still clearly in his mind as he breathed the chill predawn air. Matthias had always known that Brightleaf would be delighted to have the rat join the Longs. Now that he was committed, Charles had to wonder if he'd made the right decision.
As his mind pondered what had been done, his ears twitched at the sound of footsteps approaching from behind. Half-turning, Charles saw a shadow walk out of a nearby minaret and out onto the balcony. Biting his tongue, he greeted the fellow. "Good morning, Ambassador."
Yonson stretched his arms out to his sides, and leaned against the railing, glancing out across the valley towards the mountains on either side. His face was placid, well groomed, but totally devoid of any ill intent. "Twilight still I think, my good scribe."
Charles shrugged, keeping an eye on the man from Marzac. "It should be morning soon." His tail curled about his feet as he tried to keep a respectable distance between himself and the weathermonger. "Do you usually get up this early?"
"Invariably. Some of my brethren feel that you can tell what an entire day will be like just by watching the sunrise."
Charles nodded, noting the slight brightening towards the eastern peaks. "Are they right?"
The man chuckled slightly, his laugh quite disarming. "I'm not sure yet, they've never shown me how to tell what the sunrise means."
Before Matthias could find an excuse to get away from this man, Yonson turned towards him, still leaning agaisnt the white marble balustrade, and opened his mouth to ask a question. He then closed it, his eyes scanning the rat's countenance for a moment, and then tried again with more success. "Were you born here? Or is your curse one of inconvenience?"
"I came here six years ago," Charles admitted dryly. "At first it was difficult, but this is my home now."
"You really like it here then?"
The rat nodded quickly. "There is no place on Earth like Metamor Keep."
"I know!" Yonson said in delight. "It can be horrible, but I have to admit I am only fascinated by it." The man stared up into the sky again, his eyes tracing out the clouds and the last stars as they dwindled from sight. His fingers began to slowly rub the lightning bolt symbol that lined the sleeves of his robe. "It is a gorgeous morning though. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth I have ever seen."
Matthias tapped at the marble, his eyes straying from the sky to the stairwell down to the lower floors. How he just wanted an excuse to get away from this man. He was the reason that Charles was joining the Long Scouts, and leaving the Writer's Guild. This man had caused the whirlwind that was reorganizing the rat's entire existence. What sense was there in taking the chance that Yonson may reach out a grab him at any second?
"So what brings you out here this early?" Yonson pressed, his seemingly simple questions starting to irritate the rat.
"I couldn't sleep. I'm participating in the jousts later today. I guess I was too excited."
"You look too small to joust!"
"I'm just the knight's squire. And a good number of us here are this size. You may find yourself even shorter than me in a week's time."
Yonson nodded, his face reddening as he did so. "Ah, I spoke without thinking. Forgive me."
Charles bit down on his tongue, balling his palms into fists, the claws digging into his skin. He could feel a gentle breeze brushing through his fur and the bright clothes. Blinking into the slowly brightening sky, he said, "Think nothing of it." Suddenly, his whiskers drooped, and he turned to face the one who might be an enemy. "Tell me one thing, how long have you been in the service of the Marquis? How long have you all lived at the Chateau Marzac?"
"A few years, why?"
The rat shook his head. "I am still remembering the legends and myths about that place. Forgive me if I seem distant."
The Ambassador crossed his arms, nodding sagely the whole while. "Please believe me, I understand. I will not hold that against you or anyone else. Once your priest receives word that Marzac has been freed of the spirits who had haunted there, I am sure that the real diplomatic work can begin. I hold nothing against you for doubting my word. I would do so too if I were in your place."
Try as he might, Charles could find nothing to calm his fears in the words of this man. Turning his head once more to the eastern mountains, he could see the first bit of bright blue sky coming over the peaks. Dawn was fast approaching, and with it, the excuse he needed to depart from this railing and leave this man behind.
However, Matthias knew that until the sun showed itself to them, he was stuck here without excuse. Most of the Keep rose at dawn and retired at dusk. Even in this city, that was how life worked. The Festival would not begin for several hours after sunrise, but there were other minor tasks that Charles did have to take care of before then. One person he absolutely had to warn. He did not like Rickkter, and had hoped that he could avoid the raccoon whenever possible, but this was too important to risk.
"So, how is life down at Marzac?" the rat asked, finding the dull quiet between them more unsettling than the sound of the man's voice.
Yonson gestured to the bright tents and pinions. "Not like this, I can assure you. We are a small province, on the tip of the southwestern coast. Much of it is swampland and forest. We can see the ocean in almost every direction from the highest of our towers."
"It doesn't sound like a very practical place to live," Matthias remarked softly.
The man shrugged after a moment, leaning back across the rail. "The Marquis moved there because of its strategic position. In a few years, it could be the hub of the southern trade routes."
The breeze coming off the mountains was cool against his fur. Yet there was a leaden quality to it that gave the rat pause. "Why send an Ambassador to Metamor, a land-locked province in the extreme north, if you want to increase your business on the sea?"
"That is just one of our aims," Yonson pointed out. "We also want to establish trade with the Midlands. Though they do not like you, they recognize your value to them. So if Metamor is going to enter into trade with us, the other duchies and feifdoms will try and cut you off to attain most of the profits."
Charles blinked, for the first time surprised by what the weathermonger had said. "That is a very cynical approach. So you have no real interest in what Metamor can provide?"
Yonson shook his head once, the blonde curls falling over his shoulder. "The Marquis is very interested in the goods you can provide, especially your literature, which I am told is unparalleled in this half of the world. It is our hope that we can use our agreements to force the rest of the Midlands into trading with us, at the same time strengthening our own relations. If all goes well, then everybody benefits."
The rat turned back on his toe claws, realizing with a confused shake of his head that international finance was not his forte. "Well, are you going to go watch the Festival?"
Yonson grinned from ear to ear. "Of course! I had not realized that my timing would have been so perfect. The Duke has invited me to watch the games from his booth in fact. I must say that the hospitality with which I and my men have been received is quite astonishing."
"Even though we don't trust you?"
The purple-robed man paused for a second. He then nodded slowly. "I had expected that would be the case. Even still, despite that, I feel very honored to be here."
Matthias would never know if the sudden strong wind had been because of the weathermonger, or if it had simply been natural, but it came on quickly, and did something that happened to castles over time. It dislodged a single stone from the tower, and sent it tumbling down to the promenade below. Of course, both were watching the place it would strike since another figure had chosen just that time to emerge from the minaret.
"Good morning, Gornul!" the rat exclaimed at seeing his dragonette friend. The bright blue figure gave him a draconian smile, his whole body tense with the excitement of the morning. And then the tumbling stone struck the pleasant creature right on the tapered end of his tail.
He let out a sharp squeal, and images of terrible pain coursed through the rat's mind. Charles leaned over picked up the crumbling piece of brick, and tossed it aside. Yonson was standing over the wailing figure, looking completely ineffectual. "I have to get him to Coe," Charles said immediately, siezing upon the opporitunity to get away.
Scooping the dragon up into his arms, Matthias nodded to Yonson, who was standing there dumbstruck. "I should go with you," Yonson suggested.
Gornul wrapped his small arms about the rat's neck, his wings folded across his back, while his bleeding tail hanging limply. Charles could see himself holding the dragonette tight in his mind. "If you insist," Matthias remarked as he walked into the darkness of the minaret and out of the wind. Yonson trailed along after him. None of them noticed the figure of a kangaroo standing just inside the minaret watching silently.
The raccoon had been a bit groggy at first, but by the time he wrapped the herb poultice over the end of the grateful dragonette's tail, he was wide awake and humming to himself a little tune. Charles stood on the opposite end of the table from Yonson, who watched on with keen interest, asking questions of both of them every now and then.
Gornul kept showing them all images of a bit of hurt, but also of comfort. Matthias made sure to talk consolingly, patting his friend on the head with his paws. The bleeding had long since stopped, though Charles was going to have to take to the field today with an already stained tunic.
"So, is he going to be all right?" Yonson asked for the fifth time.
Brian nodded again. "Yes, it is just a minor wound. He should wear the bandage for a day or two."
Matthias cradled the dragonette's head against his chest. "Don't worry, Gornul. I'll show you about the Festival, we can have a good time together."
He saw an image of a rat walking about with a dragon sitting on his shoulder, and his front paws resting on the rat's head. Charles laughed at that. "Yes, you can stand on my head!" Gornul liked that idea, as he brightened up very quickly.
The raccoon finished putting his herbs and medicines away and smiled at the three of them. "I think that will be all. It was good to meet you Ambassador. I hope you enjoy your stay here at Metamor Keep."
"I believe I shall. Thank you kind Healer for taking care of this unfortunate creature."
"It is my job," Coe said even as Matthias paid him a small fee on Gornul's behalf.
Yonson then glanced at the angle of the sun in the window and sighed. "I should get back to my apartments to get ready. Duke Thomas was hoping to share breakfast with me this morning."
Charles nodded, breathing a deep sigh of relief. The rat and dragon quickly followed him out the door, reiterating their thanks to the raccoon, and then set off down the opposite passage towards the Metamor Fields. Gornul was perched on the rat's shoulder, and Matthias could feel the little claws upon his head.
Once he was sure that he was out of earshot, the rat asked, "What do you think of Yonson?"
Gornul sent him a rather bland undefined image back. "Not sure yet, huh? Well, please stay away from him. I don't trust him, and you shouldn't either." He saw the dragon set at a great distance from that man, and he knew that his friend had understood.
"All right then," Charles smiled. "There is one more person who I would like to accompany us before we go."
Before he could say who, he saw a flash of two rats walking side by side with a dragon perched between them. Matthias laughed at that, his tail circling about his paws. "Yes, you are right, it will be my sweet Lady Kimberly."
Gornul beamed him another pleasant image, and the two happily walked down the marble corridors of the Keep as the first rays of the sun streamed in through the eastward facing windows. The breeze that blew by was gentle and warm.
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