Wagging Tongues Will - Part XIV

Phil continued to stare out the window in his quarters, eyes fixed upon the stretch of the city of Metamor, and then to the road beyond that wound its way down into the forests and hills of the valley. He was not quite certain how long it had been that he’d watched the road, but it had to have been for nearly an hour or more. While one part of him was scolding his inattentiveness to his assigned duties, another part of him was still in hiding after the fox had laid siege to his chambers. His fur shuddered at what he could remember of it, only the splintering of the door and the sound of Misha’s voice, before his instincts had driven him to a bestial state.

It had taken several hours for Rupert to bring him back to himself once more, and then, after a short meal, he had come to the window to watch the road, waiting to see a carriage bearing the carrot emblem of Lorland upon it. While a few wagons had crested the ridge, none of them was the one that he sought, the one that would carry his wife to him. He needed her at his side right now, for he did not think he could face these terrors alone anymore. Matthias’s treachery had left him without confidence, for if the rat, one of their firmest allies, could do something as harbour that man, than what could any others under his care do? Misha had come in here and threatened his life after all, something he’d never done before.

Phil pushed those thoughts from his mind, eyes straining out into the distance. His eyes were not as good as they had been while still a sailor, though they were sufficient for his task. The change had left him suited for little, his hands no more than mere paws, incapable of even holding a pen or spoon. Yet he had seen men with no legs climb the yards of the massive fleet ships of Whales faster than he himself had ever been able. He would never let the curse stop him from doing what he needed to do.

Though his form prevented him from ever entering combat again, he was still capable of a great deal. And part of that was forming the strategy for battles, and for coordinating the espionage necessary to understand the enemy. Metamor’s safety was part of his responsibility, though he would never once enter combat face to face. He could not be called upon to shirk that duty, no matter the cost. Even if it meant imprisoning one he called friend. Phil ground his teeth together as he watched, his body unmoving. Charles had betrayed them all, why couldn’t anyone else see that?

He scanned the road, seeing some distant image climbing the ridge, emerging from the turns through the lower hills and trees. It was a carriage, whether it came from Lorland or not, he could not yet be certain, it was still too far off, but he felt his heart tremble in hope. Clover would understand. She would stand at his side and tell him that he’d done the right thing, and she would say so to the others as well, those so angry with him that he could not face them himself without reverting once more to a plain rabbit.

His paws pressed down into the window sill as he leaned forward, the chill of the season barely registering upon his senses. His ears stood erect, gathering the sounds of the townsfolk below in the city, and that of Rupert constructing a temporary door to replace the one the fox had barged through. The carriage was pulled by a team of four horses, he could see that now, and was rather large, surmounted by a human driver wrapped tightly in furs. Of what sex he could not see, but it was clearly too large to be a child, and no tail existed to suggest animal. Yet as he traced his eyes towards the door to the carriage, he saw that no emblem existed to distinguish it. He fell back then, his heart heavy, dragging down his chest.

He heard the ape turn and walk across the room to his side, ponderous weight resounding with each step. Phil turned his head to look at his kinsman, noting the look of concern in the simian eyes and face. Rupert made a simple gesture with his hands, holding them out before him. Phil shook his head, understanding the meaning far more than any other might. “No, I have not seen her carriage yet.”

Rupert nodded, holding out one hand as if to pet him, for he certainly could not rest it upon Phil’s shoulder. “Are you sure my letter was sent?” the rabbit asked, not for the first time either. Once more, Rupert nodded, as he had each previous time. He tapped his chest with one hand, proclaiming that he’d made sure of it himself.

Phil nodded, his ears drooping slightly. He glanced back at the window, staring off towards the distant mountains. The sun was already dipping to the West, and in another two hours would disappear completely, leaving them in the long Winter night. The ride from Lorland to Metamor was not that long, though it did take longer during the winter because of the snow. Had something happened to his beloved Clover?

His eyes traced back to the room itself, falling across the overturned canvas, and his heart froze momentarily. Turning fully to his aide, he said, his eyes wide, “Would you please have a rider sent to Lorland looking for my wife. She may have been waylaid for some reason, and I want to make sure that she is all right.”

Rupert nodded, finally patting the rabbit softly upon the back, one friend to another. He then glanced at the door, the long table he’d set before it blocking the entranceway. Phil glanced at it once, and then nodded. “Just leave it where it is for now.”

The ape nodded, and the patted his chest, and then pushed his hand outwards towards the window. Phil nodded once more, understanding the former marine’s meaning clearly. “Thank you, Rupert. Knowing that you will see to this yourself restores my confidence that I shall see my wife before the sun has set. Do not tarry long though. If I have any visitors, I’ll need you to open the new door for them.”

Rupert smiled, his lips pulling back to reveal large, sharp teeth, though Phil was unafraid of these. He knew there could never be any maliciousness in the ape. And then, his aide turned about and headed towards the door, walking on his knuckles to speed himself along. Standing up a bit, he pulled the table back, and then slipped out the door that Misha permanently opened. He then pulled the table back over the doorway, sealing the rabbit within his quarters.

Phil sighed as he was left to himself. He turned back to the window and with a single hop brought himself up to the sill. The carriage he’d seen moments ago was still climbing up the road to the town gates. He paid it scant attention, instead looking down upon the town itself, watching as the homes were rebuilt, lives brought together again. A glance to one side of the castle showed him that the construction on the new Deaf Mule was proceeding well, many of the timbers already arranged upon the foundation.

“Turn me over, dammit.”

Phil started at that, glancing about the room in shock. “Who said that?” He called out, but there was none to answer him. He hopped down from the window sill, eyes wide, his body tense, and he began to glance over his things, seeing that each was where he’d left them. Turning to his sleeping chambers, he hopped over, pushing the door open with one paw. The mess he’d left by the hay had long since been cleaned up, and all that existed in the chamber were the dresser with his clothes, and the wire cage strewn with hay. Two lanterns hanging from either wall showed him that there was nothing to fear in there.

Hopping over to Rupert’s quarters, he saw that the ape’s things were as neat as he had always kept them. The fastidiousness of the marine was such that all of his belongings were orderly, and straightly aligned, nothing was out of place, and nothing was ever crooked. Phil peered about, even going so far as to look underneath his aide’s bed, but aside from the powerful scent of being lived in, there was nothing in the room.

Phil shook his head, and then hopped back to the window. He had a strange feeling that some part of him knew what had happened, but that part of him was gagged and bound, unable to cry out a warning. So it was with nervous tension that he resumed his position at the sill. Yet, standing there, he found he could not look at anything, only stare off into the Northern sky.

“I said turn me over, dammit.”

Phil jumped down from the sill, staring wild-eyed about the room. His eyes finally feel upon the canvas next to him. This could not be the source of that strange voice, yet he felt a thumping in his heart as he reached out to it with his paw, and not a thumping he wanted to feel. It was as if something were pounding at his heart to escape. Finally, he pressed his paw against the edge of the canvas, tipping it over. And then with a simple flick of the wrist, he spun it about on one corner, revealing the face of the Patriarch’s murderer.

Yet the face was still, unmoving. He breathed slowly as he stared at it, feeling the hate wash through those chiselled features. Though his ears were perked, there was a strange silence that wrapped about him. If silence were a tangible thing, he knew that he could have touched it just then, touched and moulded it about himself. That terrible knowledge that yearned to escape from the dark recesses of his being became subdued, shunted further back as the moments trickled by.

Finally, Phil began to spin the canvas back around, unable to stand the sight of that man anymore. “Don’t even think of it,” that strange voice called, from directly before him. Phil jumped back, the canvas clattering to the floor, the face turned upwards staring at the ceiling. His body began to shake, his rabbit instincts telling him that he needed to run and hide from whatever danger lurked ahead. Though he knew in his mind it was ridiculous, all of his instincts insisted that there was a predator standing before him, ready to strike and slay him.

“Oh stop cowering and pick me up.”

Phil jumped then, darting back against the wall, his eyes wide and panicked. He needed to get out of this room, and away from this thing. He finally flung himself at the large table propped against the door, his claws scratching frantically at the underside. But the underside was fashioned from stone, and so his claws dulled themselves as they wore into that rock.

“Calm,” the voice uttered, with such powerful command that Phil found his flight arrested as if he’d been paralysed. His heart began to beat at a more normal pace, his mind regaining its faculties. Turning about, he peered at the canvas, still laying recumbent upon the ground. He could see Zagrosek’s face obliquely, yet he still could make out that viscous countenance.

“What are you?” Phil asked, finally finding his voice. He took one tentative step forward, though no more.

“A picture,” it replied.

“No,” Phil said, leaning forward. “There is more to this than just a picture. I have never been able to gain a hold of my instincts like that, not by my own efforts and not with help. Now what are you?”

“Used to giving orders I see. I do not fall under your chain of command.”

Phil leaped forward then, his heart beating faster. He landed only a step from the canvas, his eyes glaring down at it. He pressed his paws into the parchment, the claws poking at it. “I can rip you to shreds in seconds. Answer me.”

The face of Zagrosek smiled then in confidence. “Now, would you really destroy the one bit of evidence you have?”

Phil’s body tensed then, and after several moments, he lifted his paws from the canvas. “You have not answered my question.”

“I’ve noticed that as well.”

“Answer me!” Phil shouted, his body shaking once more, this time with rage.

The picture appeared to shrug. “Very well. I am the only one who believes you.”

Phil blinked at that, stepping back several times. His face then scrunched up in anger, as best he could. “Liar!”

“Oh come now, you know it to be true. How many have told you that you are wrong? You know what you have seen, and you knew what Wessex was after.”

“No!” Phil shouted, turning away from the picture. “Thomas believes me.”

“Thomas is entertaining you. He will let the rat go in the end because he does not want to believe it.”

Phil shook his head, waving his arms before him. “No! That’s not true!”

“Oh yes it is. You know it too, you just don’t want to admit it. How many have sided with the rat against you?”

“Shut up!” Phil cried, jumping down to the picture, his claws eager to tear into the canvas.

Zagrosek almost flinched at that. “Remember, without me, you have no chance.” Phil flexed his claws, eager to tear that man’s face into ribbons, yet there was something else, something subtle that urged restraint. Was this the same locked knowledge beckoning to him once more? The rabbit could not tell, but allowed himself to give into it. After all, he did need the picture of Zagrosek to show to others who might have seen him. Avery and Garigan had identified him, but they were siding with Charles. He’d need some who would not side with the rat to identify the man.

“I still think you are lying,” Phil managed to say between clenched teeth.

“What reason do I have to lie? You know all that has happened already. There is no point to lie.”

“You killed the Patriarch.”

“Yes,” Zagrosek said slowly, savouring the word. “I killed him. With the Sathmoran blade I plunged it firmly into his chest up to the hilt. A bit much to kill a man so old, but it was enjoyable.”

Phil tensed, and then flipped the canvas up on its edges. “I will stop you,” he said, his body shaking, whether from rage or fear, he suddenly could not quite tell.

“No, you will lay me back against the wall as before, and you will forget.”

Phil blinked several times as he pressed himself up from the sill. Glancing about, he saw that he was standing at the window, paws draped over the sill, head hanging out into the evening air. He must have dozed off while he watched for his wife’s carriage. Looking out towards the road, he could see nothing except long shadows. He sighed, and then stepped down. He needed some rest it seemed, Rupert was going to make sure she would arrive well, he just had to trust him.

At the thought of his aide, he heard the grinding of the table as it moved inwards. Rupert was then once more in the rabbit’s chambers, offering him a firm smile. Phil nodded towards him and smiled as best as he could in return. “Ah, good to see you again, Rupert. I have one more request for you. Would you tell one of the pages to fetch Bishop Vinsah for me please. I need to speak with him about something important.” He glanced over at the canvas, the face still pointed towards the wall where he always left it. His felt a shiver run up his spine then, but could not quite tell why.

Rupert nodded firmly, sensing the rabbit’s need for company. He quickly imparted the message to the page, through an intricate series of hand-signals that they had developed over the months. And then, once finished, he pressed the table back against the door frame, and stood near to the rabbit, leaning forward and with one hairy hand, began to slowly pet him from the back of his head down to his fluffy tail. Phil breathed slowly, allowing his aide to calm him this way. It felt very comforting indeed.

“And that’s everything,” Misha asked the Duke at last, his mind still reeling from all that he had been told. He gripped the table with one paw, as if afraid he would fall from the chair he sat in from dizziness.

Thomas nodded. “Yes. If there is anymore that we know of Zagrosek, then I have not been told what it is either. Wessex certainly knew more of him, but he can no longer help us. Charles may still know more than he is telling, though I do not think so. I do not believe he is hiding anything vital back at this point.”

“And he is the one who told you of the Shrieker?” Misha asked, even what little he now knew of them, and that one had been in the Keep itself, was enough to make his flesh tremble.

Again, the stallion nodded. “Yes. That is correct.”

The fox rubbed his chin with one paw. “Don’t you think it strange that this Zagrosek would fight to defend Metamor if he was the same man who had killed the Patriarch?”

“Yes, I do,” Thomas confirmed, his voice level. “But as Charles has said, what better way to drive us apart then to pretend to be our ally for some, and our enemy for others?”

Misha grimaced and let that roll around in his head for a few moments. It did make some sense, though he doubted that his friend Matthias could be so easily fooled as that. “I’m not sure it is as simple as that, but we’ll have to see. Now what is it that you want for me to do?”

Thomas leaned forward, hoof-like hands crossed before him on the table. “I need you to contact your sister Elizabeth. We need to do if Matthias’s supposition is possible.”

“And that is?”

“That another is magically masking himself to appear as Zagrosek, and it is that man who has killed the Patriarch. You should also speak to her of the Shrieker. We know that there is one thing for which Zagrosek is definitely not responsible. He was not the one who killed Wessex and then raised him as undead to summon the Shrieker. We have no clues as to who did though.”

Misha nodded once at that, patting his paw upon the table, drumming his claws across the smooth wood. “I will ask her then, this very evening. When the guild finds out about the Shrieker they're going to panic. But they will get us the answers we need FAST. The sooner this affair is over, the better.”

“I quite agree with you, Misha Brightleaf.”

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