Legacies - Part III
he missive that he had received while taking a spot of tea with Clover had been vague, but urgent. All that his Highness, Prince Phil of Whales, had been able to deduce was that something drastic had happened to Macaban earlier that afternoon, and his presence was required. Apparently, Wessex was there waiting for him and needed to speak with him about what had transpired. From the scratchiness and the tone of the letter, the lapine knew that Captain Hargrove was not pleased with either the boy or what had happened.
Apologizing to his love, the rabbit had Rupert prepare his carriage and deliver him to Lorland. The trip was pleasant, as he gazed at the leaves, some of which were beginning to change colors. A few bright yellows could be seen dangling from the oaks and aspen. In another few months, the sound of the crunching leaves would be heard beneath the carriage wheels, and not just the mud.
He was met under the porte cochère by the collie, Captain Hargrove, who wore a miffed expression, an angry moue typical of the canine. "Your Highness," Hargrove inclined his head respectfully - no more bowing and scraping from Loriod's people, a fact that the rabbit liked.
"What happened to Macaban? Your letter wasn't very clear," Phil said as Rupert, the great ape, helped him down to the ground. Digging his claws in the dry earth, Phil hopped over to the blue-liveried soldier, while an ostler tended to the horse.
"I'm not sure yet what caused the incident, Wessex has not been very forthcoming."
"Where is he?"
"Wessex," Phil asked, as Rupert came to stand behind him.
"He's in Alvarez's studio. I'll take you up to him in a moment." Hargrove's eyes trailed after the ostler who had led the carriage around towards one side of the castle.
"And Macaban? Is he well?"
Taking a deep breath, the collie's tail could not help but wag in agitation. "It is simpler if you just follow me and see him for yourself. This way." Hargrove led them into the castle, but instead of taking the main corridor towards the more elegant wing, he led them by the kitchens which smelled of delicious pastries and fresh carrots, towards the servants quarters and the stables. Phil hopped along after him, with Rupert ambling right behind.
The stables were only half full, many of the animals would be out in the fields helping the Lorlanders harvest the crops. Tack and harness hung from the rafters, while the ever present equine scent drowned out all others. Flies buzzed and flew from back to back, though Rupert swatted at any that dared come near Phil. Two of the blue-liveried guards were standing next to one of the stalls, inside of which could be seen the head of a donkey. The Prince immediately recognized the skunk and bull.
"Deller, Gary!" Phil called in greeting, hopping over to the Lorlanders. Ever since he had been given dominion over the late Altera's land, he had done his best to learn the names of every one of his subjects. By now he knew almost all of the guards and even something about them. "What happened to your snout, Gary?"
"Your highness." they both inclined their heads, and then the bull indicated with his three fingered hand. "Macaban here kicked me while I tried to hold him down."
Phil's eyes went wide, and his ears erect. He'd been told his look of surprise made him even cuter than normal, hardly befitting a grizzled sea captain! "That's Macaban?"
"Unfortunately," Hargrove murmured as he ran his paw through the donkey's mane. Macaban was currently eating some grain from a feedbag, totally oblivious to the animal-men standing about him.
"Is he feral?" Phil had quite a bit of familiarity with being feral himself. Having to sleep in a cage at night was simply one aspect of it. Rarely did he have a chance to see the animal side overcome another of his fellow Metamorians.
"Completely, he doesn't recognize anything or anybody," Deller pointed out. Phil found his nose twitching involuntarily, his stomach turning. It was readily obvious that skunk had sprayed somebody recently, though it appeared to have been dampened somehow. As he leaned in closer on his fore-paws, he could tell that sombody had been the donkey. "It's like he never was a man."
Rupert shifted uncomfortably on his feet behind him, and Phil had to admit he shared the ape's discomfort. "When did it happen?"
"A few hours ago, I sent the letter shortly after we'd restrained him. He'd been alone with Wessex and then suddenly we heard a terrible braying, and there he was, kicking and cantering about the lounge, destroying everything. The mage cast some sort of spell on him, and he's calmed down since," Gary explained, rubbing his tender snout.
Phil turned his head back, gazing up at his protector. Rupert's face was grim, and quite unsettled. "I believe that I should go speak with Wessex now. I'm sure he has some notion of what has caused this."
"I hope he can fix him," Deller muttered, his whiskers drooping.
"As do I!" Phil assured him, taking one last look at the donkey before following Hargrove back towards the kitchens and the other wing of the castle. Those dark brown eyes gazed at them contemptuously as if to say that the feed bag was all his. The rabbit wondered if that was how his eyes looked when he was feral too. The very notion of it sent a shudder down his spine and into his fluffy tail.
The studio was mostly unadorned. Aside from the easel and untouched canvas in one corner, there was very little artistic about this little used room in the Lorland castle. Altera probably had little interest in trying to create anything, only to subjugate that which already existed, and to give himself pleasure at any instance.
Captain Hargrove led Phil and Rupert into the confined chamber, where damask curtains stood open to let the afternoon sun shine across the tiled floor and single couch set opposite the canvas and writing desk. Sitting upon the stool before the desk, which was really too large for him, was Wessex, who was reading over a few slips of parchment in his hands. Phil hopped in and settled onto the couch, while Rupert stood just behind it. Hargrove stood in the doorway, tapping one boot anxiously.
"Wine," Wessex called out in a strained voice. Phil's eyes narrowed as he peered at the boy. He was dressed in a simple white smock, with chalk stains along his forearms. His hair was disheveled, and there was a fresh scar lining his cheek. There was a torn piece of cloth sitting next to his arm that had been stained red by the wound.
Hargrove grimaced, then turned on his paws and walked out the door. Phil waited a few minutes, as the boy had yet to even glance in his direction, only at the door, waiting for the collie's return. The Captain was prompt, carrying a pitcher and a few tumblers. He poured Wessex a glass, and the boy grinned in appreciation before taking a long drought.
"Can I interest either of you in the wine?" Hargrove offered, holding out the carafe in one paw.
"No, thank you," Phil declined, waving one paw modestly.
The Captain nodded, and poured himself a glass, and then set the pitcher down upon a shelf next to a collection of paints long since dried out. He dipped his muzzle into the tumbler, lapping at the warm liquid as his paw began tapping the floor again.
The boy mage took a few long breaths, closing his eyes, and composed himself. Then, he returned to his papers, shuffled them about a moment, and offered them to the rabbit. Rupert reached out, and plucked the parchment from Wessex's tiny hand, and then held it for Phil to examine. "Do you want me to read this?"
The mage nodded, taking another drink from his glass. "I'd tell you myself, but I can... barely speak." In fact, he nearly coughed up all of the wine after finishing such a long sentence. After a tense moment, he caught his breath, and took another drink. "I'm all right," he assured them in a very weak voice.
Phil wished that he could help his friend, but Wessex had always been the type to do things on his own. That he requested the Prince's presence was indication enough that something more than just Macaban's loss of intellect was amiss. Turning his attention to the papers that Rupert held for him, he began to read.
Phil pushed the papers away with one paw, his mind racing. He did not need to read further to know where Wessex was taking this. He remembered describing what he'd seen his friend Matthias do in the cellars on his first visit to Wessex one day when the mage had inquired about him. Turning on his haunches, he peered over at Hargrove who was now pacing idly, his eyes intent. "Captain, I think I would like something to drink now."
"Of course," he snapped out of his reverie and brought the rabbit a tumbler full of the sweet-smelling wine. Phil took it between his paws, and drank half of it at once. His eyes could not help but return to the page.
Phil drained the last of his wine, and carefully handed the tumbler back to Hargrove. There was nothing else on the parchments, and so he leaned back in his chair and gazed at the child who was staring forlornly at the ground. Turning to his aide, he said, "Rupert, please take these pages and burn them. Do not read a single word on them, just burn them, and scatter the ashes when you are done."
Rupert nodded calmly, removing the unsettling script and quietly leaving the room.
Turning to the collie, Phil added, "Captain, Wessex and I will be staying a few days, would you kindly make the arrangements. I want guards to be inside the mage's quarters at all times while he is asleep. I want two sets of guards outside his door during the night as well. And Hargrove, do not give him a room with a window."
Hargrove wagged his tail in agitation, but nodded his head in compliance. "I shall see to it immediately."
As soon as they were alone in the studio together, Phil hopped from the couch, and drew close to the boy who was wearing a thin smile across his lips. The Prince put one paw on the boys shoulder. "Wessex, I cannot say I believe everything you have confessed to me. I will not believe that Matthias is involved in this until I have definite proof. I have worked with him for too many years for our trust to disappear like that. But I will stay with you these next few days and help you find what you need to stop these nightmares. I cannot be with you forever, but I will try and assist you as best I am able."
Wessex leaned his head down into the rabbit's fur, as the afternoon sun cascaded down over their shoulders. Breathing heavily, a tear finally creasing the boy's cheek, he managed to say in his raspy voice, "Thank you."
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