Wagging Tongues Will - Part XV

Father Hough grabbed the kettle he’d hung upon the spit in his hearth and lifted it up triumphantly. He held it carefully in his mittens, showing the prize to his guest who sat languidly in a simple wooden chair. “Does it not smell wonderful?” the boy asked, even as he began to pour a bright liquid from the spout into two wooden goblets.

Bishop Vinsah nodded, his long tail flicking behind him as the powerful scent of apples filled his bestial nostrils. “It smells wonderful, Father,” he trilled, the now familiar burr of his raccoon’s throat comfortable upon his ears. Ever since he’d been left cursed like this, he’d been afraid to show himself. But when those spirits had come into the Chapel, he’d revealed himself to fight them and keep them at bay. And the reception he’d received from his fellow Followers had been one of rejoicing. While he still dreaded what Yesulam might think of this, he no longer felt ashamed of his appearance.

Hough smiled once more, the boyish expression fitting him well. He set the kettle down upon a small stone plate, and placed the mitten beside it. Grabbing the goblets in his small hands he handed one to the Bishop, and then climbed up on his own small cushioned stool, cradling his goblet in both hands in his lap. “It tastes good cold too, but I’ve always preferred to have it warm. I remember when I was a child...” he paused, and then laughed slightly. “When I was a child the first time that is, I could hardly wait for my mother to brew her own apple cider. We never had much, and only in the winter to help keep warm. I know that is not as much of a problem in Abaef.”

Vinsah chuckled slightly, his tongue clicking on his sharp teeth, even as he took the cider in his paw. “You would be surprised. At night, the deserts are very cold. Not as cold as your winter here, but cold nonetheless.” He then lifted the goblet to his muzzle and lapped gingerly at the warm liquid. And then he pulled his tongue back in quickly, eyes going wide. “Hot!” he cried out, looking for a place to set the cider down without spilling it.

Hough could not help but laugh slightly, as if he’d expected this to happen. “I’m sorry, Bishop, I should have warned you. Give it a few minutes to cool off before you drink it.”

The raccoon blinked a few times as he smacked his muzzle, tongue moving in and out in what he knew had to be a ridiculous gesture. But he finally managed to cool the burn and laughed a little himself. “It is all right. This would not be the first time I’ve learned something the hard way.” He paused after the words had left his lips, his mind scanning back to the dreams that came to him every few nights. Though he did not wish it to be so, for he was called that name and told repeatedly to be with Murikeer Khannas, he could not help but wonder if there was not something to be learned in them as well.

Hough noticed the momentary bit of distraction, his feet kicking in the air as they dangled from the stool. He looked down at his lap and at those feet, his own thoughts growing less certain. “Now that everything is starting to settle back to normal once more, there was something I’m afraid I have to ask you.”

Vinsah was immediately alert – though the boy’s voice had been reminiscent of a child asking his parents for permission to do something he knew better than to do, there was still a deeper reluctance to speak, as if the boy was about to embark on matters far weightier than he could imagine. “Please, what is it?”

“Now that you are well, what will you do? Yesulam knows you are still alive, but they do not yet know what has happened to you. But they must be told.”

The Bishop of Abaef sat back a moment, his ears perked. “I have thought about this too. I want to return to Yesulam so that they might see first hand what has happened to me, but I will not leave until it is safer to travel, and the Seasons have turned more favourably. I am going to be writing a letter to be sent to the Council of Bishops informing them of my intentions, and my desire to see this situation resolved, but that is all.”

“What do you think they will decide?” Hough asked tentatively, lifting the cider to his lips, but he did not sip.

Vinsah shrugged his shoulders slightly, lifting the cider to his face, sniffing at it lightly. It smelled delicious, but also rather hot still. “I’m not sure. Without Akabaieth to lead them, I don’t know what they will do. Some may feel I have allied myself with demonic powers, which is why I am a raccoon. Others may sympathize and know better than that, but still feel it is better I return to Metamor instead of continuing my duties as Bishop of Abaef. Some may think I should continue as if nothing had changed. I really do not know what will happen.”

He tapped one claw along the side of the goblet for a moment as he continued to think. “I would like to see the people of Abaef again, and tell them directly of my plight. I know they would come to my defence.”

Hough was shivering slightly. “How could they say you were in league with demons? They know that it is not true, and that it is not true about Metamor. They agreed with my pastoral care here. How could they think that of you, one of their own?”

Vinsah sighed. “Not all of them feel this place is free of demonic influence. Because you became a child, they decided your pastoral duties were legitimate. I have become a raccoon though. I do not know how they will react to this.”

A sudden knocking at the door broke both their disquieted moods, their eyes turning towards the door. Hough set his goblet down upon the wooden table near the hearth and then walked to the door, opening it wide. On the other side stood an elk dressed in thick woolen tunic and breeches. Though he towered over the child, he bowed his head in respect, the massive set of antlers, nearly lodging themselves in the door frame as he did so. “Forgive me, Father, for intruding upon like this. I was hoping to speak to you about something important to me.”

Hough stepped out of the doorway and nodded. “Of course, Sir Egland. Please, come in.”

Egland stepped in, ducking low to avoid scraping the transom. He then caught sight of the raccoon still sitting and bowed his head again. “Bishop Vinsah, it is good to see you as well. This should concern you too.”

“It is good to see you, Sir Egland,” Vinsah said, his voice once more possessing the simple friendliness found so often amongst priests.

Hough gestured to another wooden chair pressed back against the wall. “Please, sit, my son.” Hough then turned about to the cupboard. “We were having some apple cider, would you care for some?”

Egland nodded a moment, even as he gripped the back of the chair with one hoof-like hand and drew it closer to where the two of them sat. “Yes, thank you, Father.” He smiled slightly to Vinsah, who watched the elk with fatherly concern. He’d known the knight for many years, though never very well.

Hough poured another goblet full, and then handed it to the knight. “Now, what is it that is troubling you, my son?” Hough returned to his own seat, finally sipping at the warm liquid. Vinsah saw that the boy did not choke, and so gave his own drink another lap of the tongue, and found it warm, but not hot, and very sweet. He took another lap immediately, unable to help himself.

“Well, I’m worried about Albert,” Egland said simply, only cradling his cider.

Both priests glanced to each other, but it was Vinsah who spoke. “Sir Bryonoth? Has something else happened?”

Egland shrugged slightly. “Well, maybe, I’m not certain. The curse has begun to change him, and he is not taking it well at all, as I knew he would not. But there’s something else there, something I can’t identify. I don’t know what else to do, so I thought to come speak to you.”

“The curse has started to change him?” Hough asked, leaning forward. “How is it changing him?”

Egland licked at his lips, as if afraid to say it. “He’s becoming a woman.”

Vinsah sucked his breath in sharply then and took a long drink from the cider, nearly finishing off the goblet. “That will destroy him.”

“Why?” Hough asked. “One third of all men here at this Keep face the same thing.”

“He’s a Flatlander,” Vinsah explained. “The women there can be nearly as tough as the men, but the men still have a great deal of pride in being men, more so than in most parts of the world. They do not speak of it, but such chauvinism is almost trained into them. I’m afraid it will be very difficult for him to come to terms with being a woman.”

Hough grimaced and sipped some from his cider. “I am very sorry then to hear of this.” He then glanced once more back at the elk. “But you said that there was something more than just the change that was bothering you.”

Egland nodded, finally lapping at his cider. “I’m not quite sure. It was just the way he was acting. It was not like him. There was something different about him, something I cannot quite place.”

“Try to describe it for us,” Vinsah suggested. “What did he do?”

“Well, when he found out that he was to become a woman, he grew violent and cried out as if he were talking to somebody not there. That’s the only way I can describe it. He attacked us as well, and did not seem to recognise us at all. And then, when he drew that picture, he seemed so triumphant, but I’d never once before seen him smile like that.” Egland quickly finished off the cider, swallowing it in an eagerness that said he wished it were something else entirely. “And he has not allowed any to see him since then.”

Vinsah and Hough glanced once to each other, their eyes sharing a concern that they dared not voice. Hough finally turned back to the elk and spoke softly, “We will go see Sir Bryonoth as soon as possible, if he will allow us to.”

Vinsah broke in then. “I will see him. He will not turn me away, and I know him well enough. I helped him before.” He let that thought rest in the air a moment, joining the fragrant candle smoke and cider. He then stood up, and nodded his head lightly to the elk. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Sir Egland.”

Egland nodded slightly and also rose to his hooves, bowing his head respectfully to each of them in turn. “Father. Bishop. I will leave you then. Thank you for this.” He handed the empty goblet back to Hough, and then left the way he’d come in, closing the door behind him.

The two priests let their eyes seek each other out, and holding the gaze for several moments. It was Hough who finally spoke, his voice quiet, subdued. “Could this have anything to do with the spirit that had possessed him?”

The Bishop rubbed one paw over his muzzle, the feeling of fur there a familiar thing, though he knew it for what it was still. “It is possible. The exorcism I performed had been hastily done. We will not know for certain without more time and prayer. Do you have the necessary articles for performing a proper exorcism?”

Hough shrugged. “I may, though I do not know of them. Kyia is remarkable, and if she knew that we needed them, I am certain that she would provide them. We’d have to say the necessary blessings of course to sanctify them, but they may already be here.”

“Kyia,” Vinsah mused slowly, his mind drawn elsewhere. And then he finished off the last of the cider in his goblet. “Do you think you could tell me more about her? I’m rather curious to meet her.”

“So am I,” Hough admitted, smiling slightly. “Madog seems to be the only one who has ever truly spent time with her. I suppose I could ask when I see him next. He often comes by in the mornings to see me.” The boy smiled wider, his grin rather infectious. “You know, when I’m with him, I more often than not find myself playing as a child might. He has such a strange effect on others.”

The young priest shook his head and returned his attention on the Bishop. “But I will mention this to him when I see him next. When will you go see Bryonoth?”

“Sir Bryonoth,” Vinsah corrected idly. He had corrected titles for so many now it was an unconscious habit. “I will speak to him before the evening meal. I had thought...”

A loud rapping at the door interrupted Vinsah, and brought their heads around. Hough did not appear surprised in the least, being a parish priest he was often interrupted by a parishioner with some request. Yet the lad who stood behind the door was a page, his face a pup’s almost, still a teenager, though already a canine by the curse.

“What is it, my son?” Hough asked, looking up at his visitor.

“I bear a message for Bishop Vinsah, Father,” the page said, still not used to speaking with a muzzle.

Vinsah stood up, long tail uncurling from the wooden chair. “I am here.”

The page nodded to the priest and then turned to the raccoon. “Prince Phil wishes to speak with you immediately, your grace.”

The Bishop’s brow furrowed at that. “He wishes to see me? Well, tell him I am on my way.” The page nodded, and then darted off, long fluffy tail wagging behind him involuntarily. Vinsah then turned to his host and offered him the goblet in both paws. “Thank you for the cider, Francis. I will see you for Vespers.”

Hough took the goblet and smiled. “It has been a pleasure talking with you, Vinsah. I’m very glad that you are well again.”

Vinsah nodded at that, and then slipped from the door, closing it shut behind him. He sighed inwardly, licking his tongue across the back of his teeth. It seemed they would never have a truly free moment together. As he sought back across the gulf of what seemed like years, he recalled the many times Akabaieth and he had just shared a quiet cup of tea together, talking of simpler things, or even some curious bit of scripture the other had read the previous day. Father Francis Hough was a good man, and a good priest, and he carried the burden well on his small shoulders, Vinsah thought. While he was at times naive to the politics that existed in Yesulam, he could hardly be blamed for that, having grown up so far from the central city in the Ecclesia.

It was his hope that they’d be able to share many glasses of that warm cider together, as it had been quite delicious. And he hoped that they were not always speaking of such terrible things. Yet he could not help but wonder what it was that the Prince of Whales wished to discuss with him. Aside from their meeting at the banquet the first night he was at Metamor, he had not seen the rabbit since. While he had learned since then it had been Phil who had overseen Akabaieth’s burial at sea, something he had known his master would have always wanted, but never spoken, he knew little else.

He found that same page standing outside Phil’s quarters when he arrived, as if merely by coincidence. As he approached he saw that the door was not a door but a table simply pressed against it. What had happened? Had it been destroyed during the siege? Perhaps, but why had it not been repaired? The page knocked firmly upon the table, and it slid back a moment later, the face of the prince’s simian retainer showing itself.

“Greetings,” Vinsah said, nodding his head slightly. “I come as bidden.”

The ape nodded and gestured for him to enter. Vinsah nodded his thanks and stepped through the doorway into the well-decorated room. It appeared to have suffered from a bit of redecorating as several bits of furniture were in disarray. He found the rabbit waiting by his desk, glancing furtively out his window.

“Ah, Bishop Vinsah,” Phil called, his piping voice vaguely familiar, though this time there was an air of authority to it. “Please have a seat, I need to ask you a few things. Would you like anything to drink?”

Vinsah shook his head. “No thank you, I will be fine.” His tail rested against the back of the lounge as he lowered himself upon it. He let his paws lay in his lap, one on each thigh. “What is troubling you?” Being a priest he had long since grown accustomed to knowing what was in a man’s heart, though he rarely made any attempt to pry that loose.

Phil stood by an overturned canvas and seemed to laugh sardonically for a moment. “Well, I was wondering if you remembered much about the night the Patriarch was murdered.”

“Along with almost all of his retinue. I lost several friends that night, not just Akabaieth,” Vinsah added, though the loss of Akabaieth did hurt him the most.

Phil nodded absently at that. “Yes, I know. But I need to know how much you remember.”

Vinsah shook his head. “Very little, I’m afraid. I was asleep in bed when it all happened.” He paused, his mind going back to the events of that night. He had not truly been asleep, for he’d had another dream, and he’d been warned to place his dinner plate beneath his robes. He shuddered slightly and shook his head. “No, I only remember very little.”

“Did you see who did it?”

The bright flash of lightning filled his mind, and there had been that face, a face that had haunted his dreams, swept with rain and blood, mixed with malevolent desire. “Briefly. He did something to me and I passed out from the pain.”

“Would you recognize him if you saw him again?” Phil prodded, nearly bouncing up and down in his eagerness.

“It all happened so fast,” Vinsah said, trying to push the memories from his mind. “But I think I could.”

Phil then spun the canvas about on one corner with his paw. “Is this the man?”

Vinsah took one glance at the picture, and jumped from his seat, crouching behind the lounge, his face buried within his paws and his voice crying out to one who was not there, “Save me, mother!” He felt as if his flesh were going to tear itself apart, and the mask he wore now as a raccoon flared about his eyes, weighing upon him tangibly. He wrapped his arms about the leg of the lounge as if they were the legs of a woman and pressed his face, eyes closed tightly against it, rubbing it, beseechingly as he cried out again.

And then he felt strong arms around him, lifting him back up. “No!” he shouted, claws digging into the wood. But he could not hold on, and was soon set back in the chair, eyes still firmly shut, arms held before them.

“It is all right, Bishop Vinsah,” Phil called, his voice suddenly calming. “I’ve turned the picture around again.”

For a moment he did not realize that the rabbit was talking to him, the name strangely unfamiliar to him. Did he not have a more appropriate name after all? And then, the waking world slammed back into him, and he regained his breath, his mind once more itself. Blinking, he glanced about, and saw that the room was once more in its proper form, the picture hidden from view. He let his arms fall to his lap then, fairly ashamed of his behaviour. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to frighten you like that,” he said, his breath still ragged.

Phil nodded. “I apologize as well, I did not mean to scare you either. But you have seen him. He was the man who killed the Patriarch.”

“I assume so,” Vinsah said slowly. “He is the same man who attacked me and killed the other priests.”

Phil nodded, quite satisfied at that. But there was a perplexed look on his face as he stared at the raccoon. “Pardon me for asking, but what was it that you said after you’d jumped behind my lounge like that? It sounded like you were calling out to someone.”

“I asked for someone to save me,” Vinsah admitted.

“Not in any language I know,” Phil pointed out, his ears waggling slightly. “It didn’t sound like the language of the Patildor. Was it your native tongue?”

Vinsah blinked at that, he had not realized he’d spoken in another tongue when he’d cried out. Just what language had he been speaking? He was not sure that he wished to know the answer just yet. “Perhaps, I was frightened, I really don’t know.” He then stood up, his face still a mix of alarm. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to lie down.”

Phil nodded, and Rupert pulled the table from the doorway once more. “Of course. Thank you, your grace. Rest well.”

Vinsah however had no intention of sleeping just then. Prayer was the only thing that was on his mind. His paw reached into his pocket and felt his prayer beads, claws running across each in turn as he began to recite in his mind the First Litany.

Charles gazed at the look of concentration on his student’s face, and watched as the various emotions flickered through each muscle and strand of fur. Though a newcomer to the Keep would only be able to see the stark differences in expression available to the animal morphs, it took long time residents to note the peculiarities they’d been given with their curse. And even then, only another Sondeckis who had trained for many years would understand the full significance of each flicker of a whisker, and each twitch of a lip.

Yet the exact nature of those emotions disturbed the rat. For Garigan usually did not have nearly as much trouble whenever he searched within himself to locate or work with his inner Sondeck. While the walls of the cell would instantly put a barrier between either of them and their Sondeck, they were not touching the walls, but sitting upon the hay in the centre, while the blanket that Misha had brought lay strewn over the rest. The pile of books was perched in one corner, the rat not yet having a chance to do more than glance at them. The bouquet of flowers lay atop the books, each blossom smelling as sweetly as when they’d first been brought in. He still had a bit of bread left, and that was wrapped in some cloth and set atop the blanket next to the books, but the cheese was gone.

Yet, when his student had entered the cell to be with him that evening, he had shown no discomfort at the cloistered surroundings, merely dismay that his master had to stay within them. What then could be interfering with Garigan’s practices then? Charles made no move to interrupt him, as he was content to wait until Garigan was finished before asking him. They’d been together for the last thirty minutes or so, and Charles was having the ferret rehearse all that he’d learned when he’d been a Yellow. Until the rat was allowed to return to duty, he could not begin teaching Garigan any of the lessons of the Green, but that would come in time, he was sure.

And then his eyes strayed once more to the dingy walls of his cell, and his spirits began to sour. Misha had assured him that all would be well, and he would be freed soon. The other Long Scouts who’d been in to visit him had also assured him of this, telling him of the wonderful news and the rebuilding of the Keep itself, as well of their plans for the Winter and Spring. He hoped that he could be here to join in them, but that would be rather difficult if he was still in this cell.

Garigan finally opened his eyes, their focus clear and distant. Charles caught the look, and smiled slightly. His student had been able to do all the practices of a Yellow within a half hour’s time. Few were quite so proficient, few Greens that is. Charles himself had little difficulty running through them in even shorter spans of time. The trouble was that Garigan was usually even faster than that.

“That took you longer than normal,” Charles pointed out, tapping one claw against his front two teeth, teeth that Garigan no longer had. “Is there something bothering you?”

Garigan favoured him with a queer look. “My master is in the dungeons for a crime he did not commit. It’s a travesty of justice. And you wonder what could possibly be bothering me?”

Charles smiled rather sheepishly at that. “I thought that might have upset you. But I think there is something more that is disturbing you. I can see it in the way you practice. There is something on your mind, and it goes beyond my position here.”

“Well,” Garigan said then, lowering his long muzzle. “It is just that this whole situation has me flustered. So flustered I cannot describe. I never felt such rage within me after I left Phil’s apartments last night. Not only did he not tell us you had been arrested, but he refused to allow us admittance in to see you.”

The rat nodded firmly at that. “I understand, and I don’t blame you for being angry.”

“Not just angry. So angry that I could not find my Calm. I did not even want to find my Calm.”

Charles’s eyes opened wider at that, his whiskers twitching in some surprise. “You could not find your Calm? What did you do?’ He knew very well that when the Sondeck became exercised to the point that it would no longer be soothed, it had to be unleashed. Clearly, such a release could have led to the ferret’s distraction now.

Garigan ran his paws over his legs. He was not wearing his green robe, just as Charles was not wearing his black one. The ferret was dressed in plain clothes, though the tunic and vest he did wear were both green. “I went to the Shrine, and knelt before the altar. I placed my hands in the angel’s hands, and then I just channelled all of my rage into her.”

Charles felt his whole body slow as if paralysed. He had never taught his student to do that, or anything regarding the angel’s abilities. His tongue pressed against his front two teeth to release the tension he felt. Finally, he managed to move that tongue and ask, “And then what happened?”

“The window blew off its hinges. I’m sorry about that. I’ve already talked to the carpenters into replacing them.”

The rat reached over behind him and grabbed the chewing stick he’d set there. His tail was moving back and forth across the ground in agitation, and he gently stroked one segment with the pads of his paws for a moment, before bringing the stick back up to his mouth. He gnawed upon it for several moments as he let his thoughts collect. Garigan sat in silence, still gazing at the ground as if he wished to melt back into it.

Finally, Charles managed to lower the chewstick and regard his pupil. “You blew the window of its hinges? Well, you did the right thing. Nothing to worry about really. The angel is there for such a release. Although it would take quite a bit of rage to cause such collateral damage. You must have been terribly upset. I think that is clearly why you are having some trouble now. A release of that nature would drain you completely. It will take a few days before your Sondeck is restored to its normal power.”

Garigan nodded slightly, drawing his claws across the floor, pushing several pieces of hay around. He then stopped, and tapped the ground with one claw. “Tell me,” he said then, “how do Sondeckis know to do these things that they must?”

Charles gripped the chewstick tighter in his paws, nearly snapping it in half. “Not all of them do. Some have a clearer idea of what must be done to regulate their Sondeck. A few need to be told every little detail. Most are somewhere between though.”

The ferret’s voice was distant, as if he were in another land. “I seem to know all that you have taught me on instinct. I was singing the Song of the Sondeck before you taught me the words.”

“True, but you are not the first to do so. I hummed it myself when I was younger, and had no idea what it had been.”

“And how many know to do as I did with the angel?”

Charles shook his head. “Few have a chance to discover by accident. It is something that we who were trained at Sondeshara see every now and then – a higher ranking Sondecki releasing their rage through one of the angels. Naturally, we ask about it, and we are told what is happening. We are not permitted to try it ourselves until we have mastered the practices of the Yellow, but it is something that you as a Green should know.”

“But how many discovered on their own?”

The rat grimaced. “I don’t know the answer to that. I suspect that it is something that most would come to try eventually if they had not been shown.”

Garigan shook his head slowly then. “What I’m trying to say, master, is that I wonder at my abilities. I have ascended to the Green in barely seven months time. Is this normal?”

Charles paused then, and held his breath. He ran his claws across the gnawed end of the chewstick, feeling the imprint of his teeth upon the wood. “No, that is not normal. Nor is it normal for one to begin training at your age. You may be progressing more quickly because you are older than most Sondecki are when they begin to learn.”

Yet that answer did not seem to satisfy the ferret either. Nor did it truly satisfy Charles, for he had seen his pupil do remarkable things with his limited power on a regular basis. His fight with the Shrieker had been one such instance. How had the boy known how to use his power to draw the force inwards? That was an advanced technique that Charles had not intended to introduce to him for quite some time.

“I still feel that I am learning far faster and progressing much more naturally than most Sondeckis, and I have never met another aside from you and your friends. Am I more powerful than most Sondeckis?”

Charles felt his heart tremble at the question. “Perhaps, but perhaps not. A Sondecki’s power is not something that can be easily measured or ascertained, especially by their performance as a Yellow. Yours has been quite exemplary, but so too have many other Sondecki’s. Often times, a quick learner is one whose power has little depth. They have nothing to fight against as they progress, and will learn quite quickly. But at some point, they simply cannot dig any deeper into their ability, since it simply does not exist. They raise to Blue or Red, and then can go no further.

“And sometimes, those that take the longest to master their abilities are the ones with the deepest of powers. They take so long to learn everything because they have so much Sondeck that their lessons must permeate all of it, and that takes time. They must feel their control of even the most minor of tasks throughout all of their ability, and the Sondeck can be a very difficult thing to permeate. Just because you are learning quickly does not mean that you have an unusually strong power. It could mean quite the opposite, but I doubt that as well.”

“Why?” Garigan pressed, his face intent.

“Well, you did blow the window off of its hinges. You must have some depth of power to you to be able to do that. But your ease of learning is not a sign of your power, and that was the point.”

Garigan grimaced. “But I did blow the window off the frame, and that is a sign of my power, yes?”

“To some degree, yes.”

“So how many Sondeckis blow the windows off their frames when they release their anger into the angels?”

The question was quite pointed, and the rat so no easy way around it. “It is not unheard of, nor is it commonplace. Few Sondeckis allow their rage to build to the extent that it would explode like that.”

“Have you?”

Charles grimaced then and brought the chewstick to his lips. After several moments, he nodded at last. “On one occasion, yes, I did. But I did not have the Sondeckis Shrine at the time to temper my rage. Instead I marched into the Duke’s audience chamber and threatened his life.”

Garigan’s eyes went wide at that. “Oh yes,” the rat continued, “I assaulted him. It was nine months ago now that this happened. I had just been out on a mission with some of the Keep’s regulars. Christopher was there, he certainly would recall part of that battle. I had at the time taken a vow never to kill another again, and I had no choice but to go into combat. I was enraged at the Duke for forcing me to break my vow, a terribly painful thing for any of our clan, and took my anger out on him.”

“Then why is he still alive?” Garigan pressed. “More to the point, why are you still alive?”

Charles snorted at the question. “I never actually harmed him. Just before I was about to land my first blow, the reality of what I was doing hit me. I realized I had done something even worse than break my vow, I had broken my sense of justice. My Sondeck tuned inwards upon me, and I was left in tears, quite willing to go to the dungeon. I spent nearly a week there before Phil rehabilitated me and I asked that my vow be lifted from me of Eli.”

He then gazed at the ferret firmly. “But I could easily have blown the windows from their hinges that day.”

The ferret nodded. “Yes, I imagine you could have. But you are a Black, and you certainly were at the time. I’m just a Green. In fact, I was just promoted to the Green less than a month ago. How many greens have ever done that? How many greens have ever survived a fight with a Shrieker?”

“None that I am aware of,” Charles admitted at that. He grimaced a bit and then finally broke the chewstick in half. “Garigan, there is something you do need to realize though. Yes, from what I have seen, you have a greater potential to be powerful than most Sondeckis. But you are still a Green. There is much you need to learn. Despite whatever power you may have, you still cannot use it with complete effectiveness.

“You know how a blacksmith uses their hammer to shape iron and other metals? Well, they must strike the metal just right to shape it properly, and with the proper amount of force. An apprentice may have great strength, but if he cannot hit the metal in the first place, then he will not be able to fashion the metal as quickly as the smith can. And even if he does hit it, if he does not hit it with the proper control, he will ruin whatever it is that he is trying to fashion. Is that clear?”

Garigan nodded finally. “Yes, I see what you are trying to say, master.”

“Good,” Charles said, breathing a heavy sigh of relief. “And it does little good to inquire after your skills. You will progress and gain an understanding of your power in Eli’s own time. If another could tell you that you were extremely powerful, would you pay as close attention to refining your ability, or would you simply rely on that great power of yours? Similarly, if you were told that you were lacking, would you try at all?”

The ferret, chastened, nodded once more. “I’m sorry, master. I did not mean to pry into such matters.”

Charles smiled to him then. “It is all right. Those are questions that every Sondeckis I have ever known has asked at some point during their training. It is good that we can put such matters to rest sooner rather than later. You should not concern yourself with whether you are more or less powerful than another Sondecki. Your skill is your own, and you should pursue the perfection of that skill above all else.”

“I will then,” Garigan said, favouring him with a resolute grin. “Thank you, master.”

Charles nodded then and leaned back slightly, the soreness in his muscles becoming all too evident. He hoped that he would be able to rest soon. Perhaps Kimberly had been right about his needing to stay abed, not that it mattered now.

“Good. Then we are finished for the evening. I want you to go back to the Shrine and continue your practices. When all of this is over, I will begin teaching you anew.”

Garigan rose then to his hind paws, taking a moment to wipe the hay from his breeches back to the cell floor. “Is there anything else you would have me do?”

Charles paused a moment in thought and then nodded. “Yes. There is one thing I had nearly forgotten. I want you to deliver a message for me.”

“A message? To whom?”

“To a donkey named James. I only met him yesterday, he’d lost everything in the siege, and I was trying to help him get back on his feet, or hooves I suppose. I told him I’d visit him when I could, but being locked up as I am, I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Where does he live?” Garigan asked, the surprise on his face clear, though understanding. The desire to right the wrongs done by the siege were something that any Sondeckis would feel.

“He lost his home as well. I’ve paid for him to stay at the Shoeshine Inn though. I hope he is still there. Be sure to tell him that I am sorry I could not come myself, but that I have been unfortunately detained. Tell him that I will get out to see him as soon as I can arrange it.”

Garigan nodded firmly at that. “I will deliver your message. Is there anything else?”

Charles looked back across the things that had been brought to him. He brushed his paws across the flower blossoms, and one of the petals came loose and fell to the blanket. He winced at that, but knew that it would begin happening sooner or later. “Tell my Lady that I love her and think of her always.” Though he had seen her only a few hours ago, he knew that she would need to hear it again.

His pupil nodded one last time and then walked the few steps to the door. “Of course. Thank you, master. I hope that you will be freed soon.”

“All we can do is wait and pray. I know that you do not share the same faith as I, but I ask you to pray for me anyway.”

“I will,” Garigan assured him. “Fare thee well. I will see you again soon, master.”

“And I you. Sondlathoros,” Charles gave out the traditional farewell of their kind, for the very first time to his student.

Garigan knew the word and nodded. “Sondlathoros. But not for long.” And then, he was out the door, and Charles was left once more alone in the simple candlelight of his cell. He breathed a few times, and smiled to himself. Though he was still in the dungeon awaiting his trial, he felt deeply in his heart that all would turn out well in the end.

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