Questioning - Part XIII
oltatra was a small village, suited to some agrarian pursuits, but mostly fishing. Potato fields dominated the northern skirts, while along the bank of the river Atra nets were arrayed to sample of the spawning salmon. It was very much like many of the small communities that dotted the landscape around Stuthgansk, without benefit of walls, it was open to attack from raiders, though it appeared they did not suffer any such malfeasance.
It was early afternoon. Sir Lech Poznan and his men had been riding hard for the last three days now, and had finally arrived at the town the Tagendend had spoken of. Apparently, Kashin had passed this way amongst a group of thieves and tricksters known as Magyars. If this was indeed the town of which they spoke, they would rest for the remainder of the day here before pressing on into the East.
He snorted in disgust as he saw how poorly the town was defended. A rider approached along the course of the crystalline river. The water tumbled and coursed over dislodged stones, while fish skipped through its upper reaches. Despite the beginning of the thaw, six months before it should have begun, Sir Poznan thought sourly, the water level was still quite low. It was little to be surprised about, he reminded himself. After all, in a land where the seasons came at the wrong times, what else could he expect but insanity amongst nature?
The rider was armed at the very least. Sir Poznan brought up his knights and men a short distance out from the river on its eastern bank. They’d crossed it as soon as they’d come upon it two days ago. If Kashin was to the East, then upon the East bank they would ride. The town itself, a collection of ramshackle huts and lodges, was set on either side of the river, about equally, he gathered. We he to attack, he’d need to send his men in from both sides to make sure that none could escape.
With a snort, he realized that might be part of the reason they did not bother with walls. The only place to ford the Atra was a hard two day’s ride to the South. It would be very difficult to attack the city from both sides as would be needed. And what did they have that was worth the effort? They were pagans, but too poor for anyone to care about, and they knew it.
With a slap of one hand upon his thigh, Sir Poznan summoned one of the riders forward. He turned and gave the short man a firm gaze. “Inform him that I wish to speak with the town elder, and that we would like a place to stay for the knight.”
The rider gave a quick nod, and then spurred his steed forward. Sir Poznan watched him race along the bending grasses, the gurgling of the river beside him drowned out by the pounding of the hooves for a few seconds. And then, as stillness returned to the land, it grew audible once more, as perpetual as the rise of the sun.
To his side, he could feel his squire Skowicz approach. The boy was young, but earnest, and good of heart. His dedication was sure, and his faith in Eli and the Ecclesia never in doubt. Sir Poznan knew he would make a fine knight someday, but doubted whether he would rise to such lofty heights amongst the Driheli as he himself had. He lacked the passion for battle and the spilling of blood necessary to make a truly lethal knight.
But he was still a good lad, one that Sir Poznan was fond of. He glanced to the young man, noting how he was beginning to fill out the mail shirt he wore. “What do you think, boy?” Sir Poznan asked at last. “What should we do if they defy us?”
Skowicz turned suddenly at the question, and then stared back at the town and the two riders slowing as they approached each other. Amongst the cluster of wooden homes a few people could be seen staring back across the expanse of the plain and the winding course of the river. Though they were indistinct, they stood still, their faces rooted to the armoured knights. It was clear from the way they stared, from their motionless stare, and from the number who were staring, that any group of knights were quite an oddity. For some of them, this may have been the first time they had ever seen a knight of the Ecclesia.
Beyond the town, in the far distance, a green smear across the Northern horizon heralded the beginnings of the Åelfwood, a faery land that Sir Poznan had no intention of taking his men into, even to follow after Kashin. Stories had a way of travelling about the world, and he had heard a few of that haunted wood. He had heard how the trees themselves bent to the will of some unseen master, blocking the passage of all men who ventured there. He had heard a tale of one foolish enough to cut down a tree from that forest, and who’d grown roots, branches, bark, and leaves to take its place.
“If they do not give us a place to stay for the night?” Skowicz asked to make sure he understood. At Sir Poznan’s slight nod, he continued. “Nothing, master. Pitch our tents as before and sleep out on the fields.”
“What?” Sir Poznan let an indignant rage sound in his voice. “Should we not teach them some respect for their betters? They are pagan currs, they should be honoured to host true men of Eli.”
Skowicz nodded. “But you said that we had to find Kashin first. Afterwards, we could come back and teach them that respect.”
Sir Poznan leaned back in his saddle and laughed. The others nearby laughed as well with him, a boisterous sound that thundered across the wade Steppe. When he finally leaned back upon the pommel of his steed, a smile played firmly across his lips. “Right you are, my boy. If not for the Bishop’s orders, we would teach them proper respect. But once they are completed, we can right the injustices of this land.”
His squire sat a little taller in the saddle then at the praise. Sir Poznan turned in his saddle once more to look at the Knight Bachelors who accompanied him. “Did you hear that? No matter what they say, we do not attack them now.”
“What if they attack us?” Sir Ignacz objected, obviously disappointed. He’d had his sword free from its scabbard and had been rubbing the flat of the blade over the mail on his thigh.
“We slaughter them then,” Sir Poznan snapped, amazed that he even had to say it.
Father Athfisk, riding a bit closer to the river than was really prudent, was staring goggle eyed at the fish as they leapt and fought upstream. He drew his bay mare back in a bit further from the bank then and sneered as he considered the distant town. “They are pagan dogs, they won’t attack. They don’t even have walls around their city. Why not just bring them to Eli’s grace now?”
Sir Poznan leaned a bit further on his seat. “Because, Father–” he crossed himself “–we must do as the Bishop has bade us first.” He thought for a moment to explain what he had already noticed would be the difficulty in taking such a town, but did not wish to waste his breath on the city-bred priest. Father Athfisk served a very good purpose, but the planning of battle was not one of them.
Athfisk sniffed and nodded then, still drawing him up closer. Sir Poznan nodded his head, and the priest approached, coming up along his other side. “Besides, we must first ask if they have seen Kashin. The Tagendend may have lied to us.”
“True, they were insolent heathens,” Athfisk nodded. “I simply do not like depending so on such uncivilised brutes. They do not even know Eli!” He said this last, nearly choking on his own words.
“When we are finished with Kashin, we’ll make sure they do.” He smiled to himself as he spoke. It would not be a difficult battle to destroy this pathetic town, not if he truly wished to do so. Those that did not fight back would be given one chance to accept the words of Father Athfisk, or they too would lie next to the slain. He could see himself, wading in amongst the throng of fishers, sword swinging back and forth, pathetic fools wielding pitchforks or knives going down beneath his stallion’s hooves.
Athfisk looked past him then, and Sir Lech Poznan glanced up himself. Their rider was coming back at a brisk canter. That was a promising sign. Perhaps they were so awed by such a show of clear superiority they would accede to whatever he wished. That would certainly make things move smoothly. He rubbed his gloved hands together, and then gave his horse a gentle prod, urging him into a steady walk.
It took him a minute to reach the rider, who was smiling broadly. Sir Poznan raised one eyebrow, and the man nodded, speaking quickly. “They will let us stay, sire.” There were several grunts of approval from the knight bachelors. “He said that the Burgomaster,” he paused over the difficult word, unsure what he meant by it, “will meet us at the edge of town.”
Sir Poznan nodded and smiled a bit. “You see, Father, we have already put the fear of Eli into them.” With a laugh, he gave the reins a flick and his horse a kick, spurring him forward at a pleasant canter. His squire was at his side in moments, staying a short ways back, but not too far. Athfisk was once more riding along with the other knights and riders.
Doltatra gained nothing in beauty when they reached its outskirts. The roads and huts were clean though, which was more than could be said for many such hamlets. The people were dressed in various hues of greens and browns, except for the decently large man with a thick beard that had his arms crossed, watching as they approached. His shirt was blue, with brown trousers. The Burgomaster, Sir Poznan assumed.
He pulled his charger to a halt, a good ten paces before the man. “Sir Lech Poznan of Bydbrüszin I am. Shelter for the night I seek.”
“I hight Agee,” the man said in his archaic manner. “We hath not enough rooms for all of thy men. But thou and a few of thy companions mayest sleep within our walls.”
“Fair to me that sounds,” Sir Poznan admitted. Given the size of the town, it would be hard to imagine they had any room at all. “A man there is I seek. Through your town Burgomaster he came we were told.”
Agee stood still for a moment, eyes narrowing, obviously trying to understand the convoluted words he’d just heard. Sir Poznan hated having to use this backwards Northern tongue, but the chance that this man might understand a more civilised one was slim indeed. “Who dost thee seek?” He finally asked, his brow creased in curiosity. If he had any fear of the armoured men arrayed before him, he did not show it. His townsfolk did though, staying well out of sight, except for a small group of his burlier men that clustered around his back a few paces.
“Only one arm he has. The right. The left was lost. A white lock of hair over one ear he has. With Magyars he travels.”
The Burgomaster nodded then. “I dost know of the man thee seeks. Come hither, we shalt talk of this within my home.” He turned to his side, expecting Sir Poznan to follow.
Sir Poznan dismounted from his steed, and once more spoke in his native tongue, a feel of delight after so many garbled sentences. “Sir Ignacz, come with me. Sir Andrej, prepare camp out here. Father Athfisk, do join us.” His squire, Skowicz, would of course come along as well, but he had no need to order him. “Watch them carefully. They will do nothing as long as we are ready.”
“Yes, sire,” Sir Andrej said, sitting a little taller in his saddle.
Sir Poznan smiled, turning to follow after the Burgomaster, looking forward whatever hospitality this pagan might think to offer him.
The sky was not as dark as his mood, or so Misha Brightleaf considered after leaving the Long House to make his way to meet with the Questioners. Thick clouds massed over the Valley, slow moving and ponderous, as if they held their rain in check for the right moment. He hoped that it would star raining on the Questioners as soon as they went outside, and had said as much to his fellow Longs. But now, he had to face these devils calling themselves priests, and could not afford such levity.
He was dressed in his darkest scouting colours. At his side, the blade he’d claimed in victory in battle with Lutins, pulsed with inner turmoil. When wielded in battle, the tip would exude a poison so deadly, Misha had seen those struck by it writhe their last moments away in agony, screaming as blood frothed up through their nostrils and out of their mouth. He’d thought briefly of bringing Whisper with him, but the huge double axe was a bit too ostentatious for even him.
But even without that great axe, his face was as black as its metal, polished anger fixed with every nuance, ever turn of his fur. Most in Metamor had seen and stumbled out of the way of one his flying rages, in which anything that could be broken in his path likely would be. This was an anger nurtured, fed tenderly, until it had grown into a towering edifice of finely wrought basalt, black as night, and smooth as glass. This was an anger Metamor had not seen in the fox.
The Questioners had sought his arrival two hours past noon. Deliberately, Misha arrived at their door fifteen minutes late. He’d not even bothered to begin dressing himself in his black cassock until a few minutes before his clock chimed twice. With one paw upon the pommel of his blade, he stepped before the black-liveried soldiers who regarded him with the detachment of men who had seen far too much death. He met their stare in equal measure, but his quarrel was not with them, not yet at least.
He said nothing though, simply standing there staring at those two, the Yesbearn he’d heard them called. Their faces were gaunt, the desert-features plain upon their sun-warmed skin. They looked more like a younger version of Vinsah before the curse had taken him, narrow features, nose, brows, ears, and lips. Yet somehow, despite that narrowness, they managed to spread their lips in a thin line stretching completely across their face. That moue was chiselled within their faces, as were every other feature, for aside the eyes, they remained as placidly immobile as a statue.
The movement was almost unnoticeable, and would have been to one not a trained warrior and scout like Misha Brightleaf. But the two Yesbearn had slipped their leather gloved hands over their own pommels. The swords they carried were curved blades, sweeping out in great arcs. The fox had seen them used before to great effect. From the subtle stirrings in their muscles, to their wide-legged stance, Misha knew these human statues were warriors of the finest quality.
For several minutes, they stood there in silence, three reliquaries of great power. Misha did not truly care how long they waited before speaking, for his tongue would not be loosed first. It allowed him more time to polish his anger, to make it an even finer structure, one that would take the breath of any man away who beheld it.
But it could not last forever. These guards had their own duty, and their masters were likely not as patient as battle had made them. The Yesbearn on the left cracked his lips, revealing yellowed teeth and several gaps beyond. “Are you Misha Brightleaf?” The fox nodded slowly, his eyes holding their own with ease. The soldier lifted the latch upon the door and bade him enter. “You are expected. Go in.”
Misha stepped through the door, taking in what lay beyond in a heart beat. Two more Yesbearn stood at the inside of the door, also brandishing their wickedly curved swords. The room itself was a thing of brightness, but one soured both by his mood, and by the three black cowled creatures sitting languorously within cushioned chairs before the crackling hearth. One of Misha’s own clocks was ticking away on the mantle.
With precise movements, he drew the blade from its scabbard, and held it aloft, his long snout nearly touching the cool metal. His breath blew across its sheen, fogging the silvery metal briefly. His grey eyes stared past it at the three Questioners who regarded him behind their cowls like executioners watching one of their charges vainly struggle. But theirs was not one of contempt, but of worry that their charge might actually break free.
Ponderously, Misha lowered the blade to the ground, setting it down on the floor, the point towards the Questioners. His grey eyes never left them. At his side, he could feel the heavy weight of the two Yesbearn watching in quietude. They moved not even a hair’s breadth to stop him, or disarm him. He stood over that blade, letting it drink in the feel of the room. It bore its own light into that brightly-lit chamber, a febrile sort that brought make too many unsettling memories to consider.
And then, he plucked it once more from the ground, and sheathed it. A gravely voice broke the silence like an arrow through a drum. “It is not usual for a guest to bring weapons into his host’s home. What reason do you have to bring that weapon here? It is an affront.”
Misha drew the blade out once more, the metallic ring of steel on steel sweet in his ears. “Remove your cowls, or I will.” The antipodes of his voice were a smouldering anger and a quiet calm. The fires of perdition tempered with the inexorable patience of the Heavens.
The central priest did so without hesitation, revealing bony-white hair atop a face that resembled what the Bishop’s had once been, but without the kindness. His eyes were as calm as a sea before a storm. “Do you intend to threaten us?”
A snarl lit upon the fox’s muzzle, though not a bestial one. This was far more refined. “Yes.” The other two priests had their cowls off their heads even as they spoke, two much younger men, their hair both black, though they held much the same features as their elder did.
“And why will you threaten us?” the priest asked, almost defiantly the fox thought. That man was certainly cocky given that he was twice Misha’s age at least, and also unarmed. He could sense a strange sort of power, tightly held within the man’s chest.
His breath was heavy within his chest, his stance wide-legged, still brandishing his blade before them. Curiously enough, it did not yet drip poison. Perhaps it sensed his unwillingness to turn to bloodshed just then. His eyes stared past either side of it, taking in the two younger priests completely. The one to his right appeared no more alive than the soldiers outside had been. But his fellow priest was clearly a creature of flesh and blood, his face a thinly veiled sneer, his body tense like a viper ready to strike.
Misha leaned forward ever so slightly, pointing the tip of his blade towards the middle Questioner. With tones as heavy as lead, he whispered, “I am from Marigund.”
The left priest flinched at this, his sneer growing wider. The one to the right also flinched, his eyes widening in either alarm or curiosity, Misha could not quite tell which. The central priest almost appeared amused by this revelation, filling the fox’s stomach with unease. “Tell me,” the elder man asked, as if inquiring about the weather, “Do Questioner legs make good firewood?”
“Would you care to find out?” Misha snarled between clenched teeth.
And then, the Questioner did something that he would never have expected. It was also clear by the looks of surprise on the other two that this was a rare event indeed. There was something practised in the motion, but at the same time, it was so slow and deliberate, it was as if it were an uncomfortable alignment of his muscles, an ill-used gesture, one that had lost any meaning that it shared with others. It made the flesh crawl along Misha’s spine, and he had to exert a great deal of will to prevent his tail from wagging in sudden anxiety. His one ear laid back against his head, and a bestial growl yearned to break free at that sight. His polished statue of anger had suffered a blow, a hammer strike at its very foundation that had sent cracks through the basalt.
For, in a sickly bemused fashion, the central priest had smiled.
Misha took a deep breath, stilling the growl within him, even as he slowly straightened his posture. The sword was heavy in his paws, a great weight that wished to be hefted and swung about. It wanted to feel flesh, it trembled with the very desire. But it also knew, that it’s moment was not yet come. Misha said nothing for several moments as he watched those priests, watched that smile play subtle tricks with the man’s eyes. What sort of creature was this Questioner? Had he abandoned humanity for some other life?
Finally, the central priest rose to his feet, the smile vanishing from his lips. “Please sit, Misha Brightleaf. It is known now to us that you are of a noble house in Marigund. It is also known to us that you are a Rebuilder. But that is not our concern this day. Our concern is only for the murder of Patriarch Akabaieth. So please sit. You have nothing to fear here.”
Misha let his eyes slide to the seat before them. He took a step forward, still holding the sword. If the priest’s words were meant to comfort him, or reassure him in anyway, they did not. With slow deliberateness, he began to smooth over the cracks in his basalt statue of anger, polishing it once more. With and air colder than the winter’s worst, he said, “I will decide that.”
“Of course,” the priest said, nodding. “I am Father Kehthaek. This is Father Felsah and Father Akaleth. We would like to ask you some questions. It is our understanding that you were in charge of overseeing the investigation into Patriarch Akabaieth’s murder. Is this not correct?”
“Good, now please sit, and we may begin.” Kehthaek indicated the chair opposite his own with an open palm. Misha did not take his eyes away from the priest. Though the two Yesbearn behind him were the only ones aside from himself in the room that were armed, he knew that those he should fear were the priests standing before him. Especially this Kehthaek. Neither of the others had spoken, but neither appeared to hold his complete composure either.
Misha finally took the offered seat, sheathing his sword heavily first. He sat down stiffly, body coiled like a snake. Smouldering grey eyes took each of them in, burning across them with their anger. Kehthaek had taken his seat once again, though he had fallen silent.
“How long after the Patriarch was murdered did it take you to reach his camp?” Felsah asked, his voice bereft of even the subtlest of emotions. It was as if he did not have any at all.
The fox responded tersely in kind, “Four hours.”
Akaleth’s eyes narrowed. “Why did it take you that long to reach them?”
“I rode from Metamor.”
“And how far away was the Patriarch’s camp?” Akaleth asked again, appearing annoyed.
“Half a day’s ride.”
“Yet you managed it in four hours? How?”
“I rode hard.”
“How hard?” Akaleth asked, his voice rising in pitch.
Misha’s muzzle barely opened for any of the words he spoke. “My horse nearly died.”
The younger Questioner took a moment to consider that. He leaned forward a little bit, like a young pup tentatively sticking his paw in a pond to see what it felt like. “That is still remarkably quick. Do you expect us to believe that word of the Patriarch’s death got back to Metamor, and you were able to reach the site, all within four hours?”
“Then how did you manage this remarkable feat?” Akaleth asked, his fingers spreading wide before him in exaggeration.
Misha bit off his words. “We were warned.”
“Warned?” Akaleth asked, his face filling with doubt. “Who warned you?”
“Who? What sort of messenger? What was his name?”
“One for the Keep,” Misha said, though he took no pleasure in forcing them to drag any answers from him. He just had no intention of making it easy for them. If they wanted to know what he knew, they would have to work very hard for it. After a moment, he added, “I do not remember his name.”
“Who sent the messenger?”
The last thing that Misha had any intention of doing was providing these foul priests with the names of any other Metamorian so that they might interrogate them too. However, in this instance, he knew they had already spoken to the man, so there was no harm in saying who it was. “Duke Thomas.”
“And how did he know to send you a warning?” Akaleth pressed, his timbre most insistent.
“Surely he told you.”
“I am asking you,” Akaleth said frostily.
Misha wondered for a moment why they would ask him questions they surely already knew the answer to. The answer came immediately, for it was quite obvious what their intentions were. Should Misha provide a tale that differed in some small detail from the ones they had received from others, then the Questioners would be able to accuse them of lying. It was only a small step from lying to playing a part in Akabaieth’s murder, Misha was sure, with these priests. He would continue to tell them as little as possible. And hopefully, he could figure out what they already knew.
“I was not there.”
“But certainly you have been told what happened? Are you ignorant of the events that led to the warning being given to Metamor?”
“Then tell us what you do know. Who warned Duke Thomas?” Akaleth snapped this last off in obvious irritation.
Felsah interjected then before Akaleth could let out another apoplectic burst. “Wessex?” he asked, his voice crisp.
The fox nodded. “Yes.” They had obviously heard part of the story then. He was glad that Felsah had given him that opening. Perhaps he was not as interested in trying to accuse Misha of lying as the younger Father Akaleth was.
“How did Wessex know?” Felsah pursued, his dark eyes empty of all but interest.
Misha shook his head. “Magic. That is all I know.”
“Who might know what course of events led Wessex to believe that Patriarch Akabaieth was in danger?” The middle-aged priest asked. On the other side of Kehthaek, Akaleth had his arms crossed, staring unpleasantly at the fox. One grey eye swivelled to consider that priest, a withering glance that only made Akaleth scrunch up more defensively.
“Wessex would,” Misha said blandly.
“And where is Wessex now?” Akaleth asked, his eyes narrowing.
“How did he die?” It was Felsah this time.
“He was killed during the assault.” It was hard to imagine that by this time they had not yet heard about the attack.
“How did he die?” Akaleth reiterated, obviously unsatisfied with the answer.
“I was not there.”
“I did not ask whether you saw it, I asked how he died,” Akaleth was nearly snarling himself. His hands gripped the end of a thick leather belt that had been tucked within his cloak. Misha’s eyes narrowed as he saw that, and a growl began to fill his own throat. That was a strap, plain and simple, and he would choke the life form the priest if he dared to use it.
“His throat was slit,” Misha said after a few moments pause.
“Who slit his throat?”
“I do not know.”
“Because you weren’t there?” Akaleth asked in mocking tones.
“No one was there,” Misha said, his claws digging into the arms of the chair. They were veering dangerously close to territory he’d rather left undiscovered. He would not mention Charles’s name, regardless. But he had no desire to be asked it either.
“Then how do you know his throat was slit?”
Misha rolled his head and finally shouted at the ridiculous priest. “What the hell else could it have been? His body was found, with the throat slit. What more do you want, Questioner?”
Felsah offered a restraining hand. “We believe you,” he said. “Who might be familiar with Wessex’s work?”
“I don’t know,” Misha snarled, though he very well knew one person who could be asked. But he had no desire to mention her name either.
“That is a lie,” Kehthaek said suddenly. It was the first time he had spoken since the questioning had begun.
“What?” Misha said, surprised at this. His fur was ruffled from the aggravation that Akaleth had inflicted upon him. The younger priest was also quite agitated.
Kehthaek tilted his head ever so slightly. “When asked if there were any that might be familiar with Wessex’s work, a look of recognition came to your eyes for but a moment. You do know such a person, yet you are afraid to mention his name, are you not?”
The fox felt his tower of anger strengthening then. This elder Questioner was certainly the most dangerous of the three. But he remained still, refusing to speak at all. He would not give them the satisfaction of an answer. He’d already been caught in one lie, and he would not give them another either.
“You may as well tell us his name,” Akaleth said, smiling now, looking rather smug. “If you do not, then somebody else here certainly will.”
Misha snorted at that. “Then get it from another. I will not betray a confidence to you.” He then narrowed his gave at Akaleth. “And put away your strap. Even if you beat me, I will still say nothing.” His voice went even lower then, so dark that it nearly stained the bright interior of their chambers. “And if you touch me with that strap, you will not have an arm.”
Akaleth seethed, his chest puffing outwards, his cheeks flushing red with anger. He was drawing himself up, violent hatred filling his coal-black eyes. And then, the anger fled from him like air from a bellows. He sulked nastily within his chair, the strap disappearing within his robes once more.
“Very well,” Kehthaek said. “You do not have to betray any confidences. Are you familiar with Wessex’s work?”
Misha turned his dark eyes upon the centre priest. Kehthaek was not fazed by them in the slightest, or at least if he was, the fox could not tell. This only made his anger smoulder all the worse, an unremitting fire that would not be easily extinguished, even after he had left this room. How many men had this priest faced, how much anger and hostility had he dealt with through his many years as a Questioner that could have left him so blasé when faced with this vulpine rage?
“What do you know of it?” Felsah asked.
“Only that it involved very dark, and very old magic.”
Akaleth raised one eyebrow then, his arms still crossed over his chest. “Wessex practised dark magic you say?”
“No. He studied it,” Misha said, not even turning his head to look at the youngest member of the three.
Kehthaek nodded then, and leaned forward in his seat slightly. “You were the one who studied Patriarch Akabaieth’s camp to find out who was responsible. What did you find?”
“A lot of dead bodies,” Misha said. The tone of his voice made it clear he would not mind seeing a few more dead bodies just then.
The priest on the right did not seem to notice the tone, as he blithely went on. “How many men were responsible for the attack?”
“Do you know who this man is?”
“No.” There was that face in the picture that had been shown at the trial, but Misha had no idea if the name given to that face was really the man who’d did it or not. And he honestly now could not remember the name of the man that was friends with Charles.
“Was there anyone else on that field who was not the attacker, nor amongst Patriarch Akabaieth’s entourage?”
“And what did she do?”
Felsah rubbed his fingers together. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Misha groaned, unable to answer briefly again, “that she did almost nothing.”
“Explicitly, describe to me what it was that she did,” Felsah instructed.
Misha was tempted to tell him no, but knew that would gain him nothing but a longer stay amongst these miserable sods. “Her footsteps appeared from nowhere near the Patriarch’s wagon, she walked along side the man away form the field, and then her footsteps disappeared at the same time as his own.”
“Why did their footsteps disappear?”
“What sort of magic?”
“Can you describe it any better than that?” Akaleth bemoaned nastily.
Misha shook his head. “I’m no magician.”
With an almost amused, if it could be called that, expression, Father Kehthaek asked, “What did the man do to the Yeshuel found in the forest?”
“He sliced him in half.”
“Odd,” Kehthaek said, though Misha was fairly certain that the priest had known of this before. “And the wound was cauterized, correct?”
Kethaek nodded then, lacing his wrinkled fingers together. “And that one man, killed very nearly everyone in Patriarch Akabaieth’s camp, all by himself. He would have magical powers then, would you not agree?”
Where was this going, the fox wondered to himself. Would the Questioner know about the Sondeckis? That was the conclusion that some had reached, and while it certainly was possible, Misha did not know for sure himself. He hoped, for Matthias’s sake, that it was not so. But Kehthaek would not wait for the solution to present itself, and so he nodded.
“What happened to the priests and Bishop Vinsah?”
“Their chests were caved in.”
“Have you had an opportunity to talk with Bishop Vinsah?” Kehthaek asked, his old voice hard. It was clear that the Questioner had some end in mind with this line of inquiry. Misha did not like it.
“And did he say that the attacker touched him, or did not?”
“The attacker did not touch him.”
“What did he do instead?” As Kehthaek asked his questions, Father Akaleth and Father Felsah sat silent on either side. The priest to his right was watching and listening carefully, as if he were learning not only about what had happened to the Bishop, but also what Questions to ask, and how to ask them. Akaleth’s expression was more one of mild contempt, as if he felt he could have done a far better job had he been allowed to use his strap, and who knew what else he carried with him beneath his robes.
“Bishop Vinsah told me that he threw his hand out, and he felt like he’d been punched.”
“Force projection then?”
Kehthaek took another deep breath. “You said that the woman’s footprints appeared from nowhere, is that correct?”
“Now, did the man’s footprints appear from nowhere?”
“Then where did they come from?”
“From the forest. He masked his trail well, we lost it, and could not find it again. But it did not start suddenly.”
Kehthaek leaned his head forward. “So the man used normal stealth techniques to make his way to the camp?”
“Then,” Kehthaek said, unclasping his hands and setting them on his legs, “we may attribute the following magical powers to the man being able to slice a man in half and cauterize the wound, and being able to project force. Appearing and disappearing without a trace appears to be the woman’s area of expertise. Would you not agree?”
Misha thought about that for a moment, and then nodded his head swiftly, eyes cold. It seemed innocent enough, but he felt as if he were nearing a line that he did not want to cross. And what was worse, the way that Kehthaek was speaking made that line much harder to see.
To his surprise, Kehthaek rose then, though his face was drawn into a thin line. “Thank you, Misha Brightleaf, you have been most helpful.”
Misha stood swiftly, his eyes narrowing as he gazed at the Questioner. He merely grunted in assent, knowing that he did not like the sound of that. Before he could turn to leave, Felsah raised his hand, also having risen from his chair. “Pardon me one moment, Misha Brightleaf. There is one thing I would like to ask you, but you do not have to answer if you do not wish. It has nothing to do with Patriarch Akabaieth.”
“Speak,” Misha ordered, crossing his arms darkly.
“I wanted to ask you about Madog,” Felsah said. “He visited us yesterday. What is he?”
Misha blinked, the surprise clear on his face. There was also a measure of surprise on Akaleth’s face, but none on Kehthaek’s. “Madog?” Misha said, his voice strangely light for the first time since he’d entered the room. “Madog is ancient, very ancient. He is an automaton. The art for their creation was lost millennia ago. If he visited you, it is a great honour. He comes and goes as he pleases, not even I understand that, and I am the one who found him and repaired him.”
The corners of Felsah’s lips twitched in strange delight. “I am glad. I wish to know more, but I will not trouble you now. Fare thee well, Misha Brightleaf.”
Misha nodded, wondering for a moment about the middle-aged Questioner. There had been a moment of something else there in his face. It was brief, but all too real. Had he not been so wound up from the drilling that Kehthaek had just performed upon him, he was certain that he could have named it, but not now. Nodding once to each of the priests, he turned, and stalked languidly from the room. When he heard the door shut behind him, he felt his tower of basalt anger begin to crumble. It was over, for now. When he got back to the Long House he was going to get good and drunk.
|Talk to me!|