Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXII

The noon hour finally arrived, and the Judicial Chambers were filled with rows of Keepers and other visitors who knew what was to happen. At the back of the chamber several rows of benches had been arrayed so that the guests could have someplace to sit. A small banister had been erected before the benches separating them from more permanent structures in the room. Several guards, dressed in more official garb than was usually the custom at Metamor, stood at regular intervals about the room, with flanking pairs beside every door. All of the braziers had been lit, and the sculpted candelabras suspended from the ceiling were also lit, casting a bright illumination upon the proceedings.

The benches were three rows deep and split into two sections, creating an aisle between them that led to the main entranceway. A thick red carpet had been rolled out between the aisle, with gold rim along the edges, while the horse-headed sealed of Metamor was sewn into the centre of the fabric every ten paces. Dominating the first two rows on the right side of the chamber were the Longs and a few members of their families. Nestled between Caroline and Lisa Ringe was Kimberly. Every few minutes or so Caroline would gently squeeze her shoulder, while the rat’s dark eyes would scan the far walls, watching for signs of Charles’s entrance.

On the left side sat a few folk from Glen Avery. Lord Avery was dressed in a pearl grey doublet and hose, his long grey tail flitting from side to side in annoyance, even as he had his arms crossed before him. To his right was Garigan, dressed in a smart-looking green tunic and breeches. And to Brian’s left sat Angus and Berchem, both in more woodlands clothes, though having recently cleaned themselves. The badger had gone so far as to even trim the fur from his muzzle and ears anew.

Behind them sat Bishop Vinsah who appeared quite unsure of himself, fiddling with his prayer beads in one hand, while his long striped tail darted back and forth much like the squirrel’s did. Beside him sat the knight Sir Egland and Sir Bryonoth. The lines on Bryonoth’s face had grown smooth, and his hair had begun to take on a glossy appearance, already reaching down to his shoulders. His eyes stared emptily forward, even as his shirt was pulled taut against the breasts that were growing upon his chest. Even so, both he and Egland wore their knight tabards across their shoulders and back, giving them an air of dignity despite their changed forms.

And in one corner stood Jessica, unable to properly sit down in her hawk form. Her large golden eyes strayed across the room, surveying those she knew, and those she was only familiar with by reputation. Her chest heaved slowly, and the ends of her wings flittered lightly as the minutes passed by with quiet unease. Behind her sat the head of the Writer’s Guild, Zhypar Habakkuk. He was the only one to occupy the third row of the benches, and he appeared calm, as if he were watching the events from another plane of existence entirely. His distance was so tangible that the other Keepers shied from him, barely even seeing him back in that corner.

Misha Brightleaf was pacing back and forth before the banister separating him from his fellow Longs. His muzzle was angled towards the ground in impatient thought, as if he rehearsed the very words he would say when the time came. His heart pounded firmly in his chest, partly from indignation, and partly from the nervous tension that they all felt. In a few short moments his friend and fellow Long Charles Matthias would be put on trial for treason, something he knew that the rat could not have committed.

Not a word passed between anyone in the Judicial Chambers. The air was far too thick with emotions for any to speak. But there was an intake of breath when the double doors at the far end of the chamber were opened, and several blue liveried guards carried in an ornate, but light weight, chair and set it down between the thickly curtained sways that adorned the walls. They pushed it just a few inches shy of the wall, and then took position around it, hands and paws resting upon sabres that were sheathed at their sides.

In through the double doors walked Steward Thalberg, still using the thick oaken cane to make his way around. He surveyed the positioning of the throne, and then nodded to the four. With one reptilian hand he pulled his red robes of office closer about his shoulders, before crossing to the door just a short span from where the throne had been set. He knocked upon it firmly, his yellow eyes catching Misha’s grey orbs, and gave a slight nod. The fox returned the gesture, and then stepped over to where Caroline sat. He reached across the banister, took her paw in his own, and squeezed it tightly. He then smiled reassuringly to Kimberly, whose own smile was weak, but a welcome sight.

Thalberg stepped back from the door, resting lightly against one of the thick curtains. His body appeared quite tired, and Misha hoped that he would find a place to sit soon. He had not realized that the Steward would be joining them during the trial, but it was just as well. When the single door opened, Rupert was the first to emerge, carrying in his arms a large canvas of some kind, though what had been drawn upon it was covered by a thick cloth. From behind him stepped the Lady Clover, followed by a hopping Prince Phil, who was dressed in the orange of his home country, though not garishly so.

The Long Scouts all appeared to tense as one when Phil came out, and Finbar began to spit curses beneath his breath, though after the pine marten Danielle gripped one of his paws tighter, his quiet recriminations ceased. Phil hopped along the ground to the left side of the room, while Rupert escorted Clover behind the banister, guiding her to a seat just a short distance from the Glenners. Lord Avery smiled slightly to her, bowing his head cordially, though he gave Phil only a cursory nod and no grin. Rupert then set the canvas down beside the banister at Phil’s side, and took a seat against the wall, his massive bulk too much for the benches to handle.

Misha eyed the rabbit once, holding back the growl that wished to escape his muzzle. He then turned and watched as the four guards who had brought the chair for Thomas left once more out those double doors. In short order two more came back bearing a slender desk and a small table. They were followed by the feline scribe Sindia, who watched the two guards place the desk and chair just before the sectioned off seat where the Prime Minister would act as judge. She smiled her thanks to them before taking her seat, pulling out a ream of papers from a drawer in the desk. She took several bottles of ink and arranged them on top, as well as a pair of quill pens. Her tail flicked back and forth as she let her eyes trail from Phil to Misha and back again.

Thalberg stood a little straighter, tapping the end of his cane upon the floor several times. “All rise for his Grace, Duke Thomas Hassan of Metamor.”

The assembled Keepers all stood from their seats, as the other two guards walked back into the chamber, between them striding the horse lord, dressed in am imperial purple satin, lined with gold trim along each sleeve. At his collar was a flowery ruff of gold lace, so thin it was nearly transparent. Several strands of golden ribbon had been tied through his long mane, keeping it in perfect order. His hooves clopped upon the red carpeting that had been laid out along the back of the chamber, until he stood before the ornamental chair that had been brought in for him. His tail flicked from side to side as he remained standing, glancing only once to his Steward.

Thalberg then called out once more in his booming voice. “Remain standing for her Grace, Princess Malisa Hassan, the Prime Minister of Metamor.”

The Keepers did as instructed, standing and watching as through those two doors came Malisa, dressed completely in a long flowing black robe. She nodded once to her father, and then ascended the two steps into the set-off box at the back of the room. She stood there for a moment, and then, with a sweep of her arms, sat down high in the chair prepared for her. And when she sat, so too did the rest of the Keepers, including Thomas. Only Phil, Misha, and the guards remained standing. Even Thalberg made his way to the last row of benches and gave his legs some rest.

Malisa took the heavy wooden gavel and struck the wooden block before her. “So let it be written, that on this Twenty-first day of January in the year Seven-hundred-seven CR, that the court of Metamor has come to hear the trial of Charles Matthias of the Long Scouts. He is accused of treason for harbouring one of Metamor’s enemies.” She then struck the gavel again, amidst several snarls from some of the Longs. Below her Sindia was quickly scribing all that had been said.

The Prime Minister scanned the room once and then called out. “Prince Phil of Whales, Misha Brightleaf of the Longs, come forward please.” Misha strode forward, even as the rabbit hopped towards the desk. They stopped just after passing before the witness stand in the centre of the room. “Phil, you have been given the task of presenting the case against Charles. You will be allowed to make your case first. You may call any witnesses you wish that are already present, and you may ask them any questions that you wish, so long as they pertain to the matters at hand. Misha will be allowed to ask questions of any witness you bring forward. Once he has questioned them, you may question them again Do you have within this room any physical evidence you may wish to present?”

Phil nodded. “Yes, Prime Minister. All the evidence that I will need is already here.”

“You may declare it at any time when you are making your case. You will not be able to present any evidence once you are finished stating your case, is that understood?”

“Of course, Prime Minister.”

“You will have a few minutes before you begin questioning witnesses to state what you are trying to prove, and once you are finished, you will have a few minutes to state what it is that you feel you have proved.” She then turned to the fox. “The same applies for you. Once Phil has finished making his case, you will be allowed to state yours and call whatever witnesses you wish. Phil will also have a chance to ask questions of them, but you will be able to ask further questions of them once he is finished. Do you have all the physical evidence you need present?”

Misha shook his head. “I have no physical evidence to present, Prime Minister.”

Malisa pursed her lips a moment. “Do you both understand what is to happen here then this day?”

They both nodded, and chimed, “Yes, Prime Minister.”

She nodded and struck the gavel once. “Return to your places then. Bring in the accused.” A pair of guards moved away from those protecting the Duke and crossed to the other set of doors. Stepping through they disappeared down the corridor for a moment. Misha watched grimly as they returned, a black clad rodent between them. Charles had been freshly cleaned from his stay in the dungeon, even to a change of clothes. He wore a black tunic and breeches, with no other colour to them. All the hay had been meticulously removed from his fur, and he’d even had time to comb it beforehand. His paws were bound together by iron shackles. This last touch made all of the Longs bristle in further anger, Finbar nearly spluttering with his rage at the sight. Yet the rat bore them stoically, nodding his head once to Misha, and then to the rest of the Long, but his eyes gave out a firm smile to his Lady. Any who looked in her direction would see that Kimberly had eyes for only Charles at that moment, ignoring all else in the chamber.

Charles was led to the booth against the side wall. He sat gracefully, holding his manacled paws in his lap as if he were used to such treatment. The two guards stayed at his side, though Misha knew such was a futile gesture. Should Charles wish to escape, he would do so. He hoped fervently that it would not come to that, as it would tear Metamor apart.

And then, all of the doors that were still open were closed and locked. They would be opened again Misha knew when the trial was over. Malisa set the gavel aside and folded her arms before her, the black robe clinging to her wrists. “You may begin, Prince Phil of Whales.”

Phil hopped forward then into the centre of the chamber. He stood as high as he could in his pitifully animalistic form, and began to speak in his piping voice. “Prime Minister, I am going to tell you today about a man who has been a terror to this Keep. This man has been harassing us for nearly nine to ten months now, and has committed acts that merit his execution a hundred times over. I will detail each and every one of these acts, and also, how the accused has been protecting this man ever since we came to know his identity.

“Last Spring we went to war with one of our own, Lord Altera Loriod. He had begun to spin a web of intrigue throughout our land, and had been using magic whose ultimate aim had been to deprive the rest of the Keep of any food but that which he provided from his land. Had he been successful, he would have been able to supplant Duke Thomas as ruler of this kingdom, and he would have ground us into the dirt as he had done to his own people. I have seen the horrors he committed first hand, and have been a victim of them myself. But Loriod was not ultimately responsible for what happened last April. That blame lies with a man named Krenek Zagrosek.

“Zagrosek had been manipulating Loriod for at least two, perhaps three months. He promised Loriod great power, and put the thoughts of treason into his head. He is also responsible for teaching Loriod magical spells that were used to control the minds of others, and to affect the Keep’s weather, nearly causing massive floods which would have wiped out all the crops in the valley except his own. When his castle was stormed, Wessex, one of our most senior mages here at Metamor, discovered Zagrosek, and forced him to reveal his identity before he was able to flee the destruction. Wessex was nearly killed in the explosion left when Zagrosek escaped.

“Loriod was now dead, but this mysterious mage that had been controlling him still lived. Duke Thomas, Wessex, Charles and myself discussed these matters. Wessex described the mage, the symbol he bore on his chest, and the name he had given him. Charles told us at the time that he had never heard of any of it.” Phil turned his head to look at the rat, his body filling with the betrayal he obviously felt. But he returned his focus to Malisa in short order.

“While the rest of us took Charles at his word, Wessex became suspicious. He tested Charles in many different ways, until just before the Summer Solstice when he forced the accused to admit that he had known Zagrosek in his youth, and had been a member of the same mage clan in fact. Further, Charles confessed that Zagrosek and he had been the closest of friends. Yet still he kept the secret of his knowledge from the rest of us.

“Wessex did not tell us just then either, as he pursued the matter himself. Shortly after the Solstice the mage began to have unsettling dreams in which both Matthias and Zagrosek appeared to him side by side, taunting him ceaselessly.” At this, many of the Keepers in the room, including Charles himself, appeared quite surprised. “But it was not just dreams, but those two figures in his nightmares pressed him into casting a spell that would have unleashed the Underworld upon the Keep.

“It was at this time that he brought me into his confidence, and I arranged for him to spend his nights in the dungeons, where he would be free of any magical influences. We thought we had beaten them. But then October came, and with it came the Patriarch. One day outside of Metamor, Zagrosek came and slaughtered the entire camp, killing the Patriarch as well. Charles was naturally told who it was that committed the crime, but again, he pretended not to know.

“And this last Winter Solstice, Zagrosek was once more here at Metamor. He was a guest of Charles, and as you will hear, they spent almost the entire day together before Charles led them to Wessex’s quarters. Wessex had already been slain at this point, making any identification of the man practically impossible. Once the attack from Nasoj was apparent, they travelled to Glen Avery, where none would know the identity of Zagrosek. And after the battle, the man quietly slipped away. This murderer most foul, who had tried to topple Thomas himself by that piggish Loriod, and Charles allowed him to simply leave.”

Phil stood a little taller then. “That, Prime Minister, is what I will set out to prove to you today. I will show you that Charles Matthias willfully and knowingly allowed the Patriarch’s murderer, and Loriod’s controller to go free. Further, he has been keeping vital information regarding this man’s powers and capabilities secret from us for nearly nine months already. And this is treason.”

Finbar could no longer control his temper, jumping up and raking his claws along the banister before him, screaming vile invectives. “You Lutin filth!!” and “How dare you call Charles a traitor you treasonous hare!” were the tamest amongst the continuous stream of vituperation. Malisa slammed the gavel several times at that, even as the other Longs tried to calm the ferret down. Danielle finally gripped his paws in hers and pulled him back to his seat. He kept sputtering even fouler curses beneath his breath, but he was sitting at least.

The Judicial Chambers were silent for a few seconds afterwards, until Malisa finally nodded to the rabbit. “Call your first witness.”

Phil looked back at the crowd, and studied it for a moment. He then called out in his piping voice. “I summon Jessica the Journeyman mage to the chair.”

The hawk appeared quite surprised that she was to be called so early on. But she hopped along on her talons, wings spreading a bit as she moved past the banister. She jumped into the small booth in the centre of the room, though she did not of course sit, but stood within those walls, glancing around the room, unsure of what to do.

Malisa was quick to notice her unease, and leaned forward on her arms. “Jessica, I assume you have never been in these chambers before?”

The hawk turned to face her, and nodded firmly. “Yes, Prime Minister.”

Malisa smiled slightly to her then, setting the nervous mage at ease. “Well, while you are in that box, you are to address your answers towards me. And speak loudly enough so that all the others in the room can hear you.”

“Of course Prime Minister.”

“Good, now raise your right wing.” Jessica blinked a moment, but did so, extending it outwards quite some distance. “Swear by your fealty to Duke Thomas and to Metamor that what you will say here today is the truth.”

“I swear it,” Jessica said, her voice firm.

Malisa nodded. “You may lower your wing now.” She then turned to the rabbit. “Ask your questions.”

The rabbit inclined his head to the Prime Minister respectfully, and then turned to the hawk, his small lapine body not shrinking from the avian. “Jessica, how long have you been an apprentice to Wessex ard’Kapler?”

“Ten years now,” Jessica said. “He promoted me to Journeyman this last October.”

“So your master felt free to confide in you?”

“In this last year he did.”

“When was it that he first told you of Zagrosek?”

Jessica knew that had to have been coming sooner or later. “It was in the second week of July. I remember that because it was the same day I met Weyden, one of the Ambassador’s guards.”

“So you have known the name Zagrosek and what he did in April for over six months?”

She nodded again. “Yes. I knew about the evil mage that had killed Dorson by the end of the day it had happened. But I did not know his name until Wessex started telling me of his dreams.”

“Dorson?” Phil pressed.

Jessica gulped slightly, remembering that ferret who had been her fellow pupil for many years. “He was another of Wessex’s students. He was killed by Zagrosek last April.”

“Now what were these dreams that Wessex was having?”

“Nightmares. He’d been having nightmares about Zagrosek since their encounter at the Keep in April, but until after the Solstice they’d always been just revisiting what had happened with the censer.”

“What censer was this?”

Jessica was loathe to mention just how powerful that device had really been, and what it could portend, but there was plenty enough that they did know. “It was a magical artifact of evil that Rupert had discovered at Loriod’s castle and brought to the Keep for study. He left Dorson alone with it for a moment, and then Zagrosek appeared and killed him.”

“And that was the dream he had until the Solstice?”


Phil leaned forward a bit on his hind paws. “And how did the dream change after the Solstice?”

“Wessex said it felt more real to him. There was another figure that joined Zagrosek in mocking him. They talked to him as if he were really there, and interacted with anew each time he had the dream. And he started sleepwalking in them, all the way back to the spot in the Keep where the censer had been placed.”

“Did he tell you then who the other figure in his dreams were?”

She shook her head. “No, he would not tell me that for a few months.”

“When did he tell you?”

“In September. I found him by that wall again, only this time, he’d attempted a casting upon it in his sleep.”

“What was the casting?”

“It would have opened up the wall to the rip to the Underworld,” Jessica said. She could hear a few gasps from the people behind her, but they stayed quiet otherwise.

“And just why had he done that?”

Jessica shook her head again. “He didn’t mean to do it. The dreams were taking control of him in his sleep and leading him to do that.”

“So somebody was controlling him in his sleep?”

She nodded. “Yes. He had never sleepwalked before this, and certainly never attempted a casting in his sleep.”

Phil paced once before turning his eyes upon her fixedly. “What kind of magic is needed to be able to control another’s dreams?”

Jessica gave her wings a slight shrug. “It can be done in many ways, none of which are particularly easy. I could not do it. It is also darker magic, the sort that Wessex himself would never have attempted. It is one thing to see another’s dreams, but to control them is abominable.”

Phil nodded, though it was obvious that it was not the answer that he was looking for. “For a person to appear in another’s dreams, will they be seen for who they are?”

“Usually,” Jessica began, digging her talons into the wood of the booth. “It is possible to mask one’s identity in dreams, though it would require a great magical expenditure.”

“Have you confirmed that with the Mage Guild at Marigund?”

“Yes,” Jessica nodded firmly. “Yes, we have. That sort of magic is difficult to control for long periods of time.”

Phil held out his paws then. “So, it would be reasonable to assume that whoever Wessex saw, was actually who he saw? After all, he had these dreams quite frequently didn’t he? And those dreams lasted a good long time, long enough for him to get out of his bed, walk through the Keep, and cast a spell. That would take some time, wouldn’t it?”

Jessica could hear Misha snarling between his teeth behind her, but she pressed on to answer the questions. She no longer knew quite what to think of this matter. She refused to let her eyes slip to the rat who sat quietly against the wall. Was he innocent, or was he really guilty? She just didn’t know anymore.

“It would take some time, yes.”

“And would it be safe to assume that whoever this other figure in Wessex’s dreams may be, is precisely who Wessex thought it to be?”

“It is probable,” Jessica began slowly, “but it may not be the case. The magic involved is already powerful, so it is possible that they would have been powerful enough to mask their identity.”

Phil grimaced slightly at that, but his ears remained erect and he continued unabated. “Who was the second figure in Wessex’s dreams?”

“Charles Matthias,” Jessica said, which brought forth another round of indignation and protests from the Long Scouts. Malisa gavelled them into silence once more, her human face returning to settle on Jessica. The hawk continued. “The other figure was Charles Matthias. He was dressed in the same robes that Zagrosek had been, a black robe with a symbol upon the chest. And in the dream Charles mocked Wessex just as much as Zagrosek did.”

Phil turned to the chair then and nodded his head to Malisa. “I have no further questions for her at this time, Prime Minister.”

Malisa nodded and then glanced to Misha, who was prowling about the banister in agitation. “Would you care to ask anything of Jessica?”

The fox nodded firmly, stalking up to the central booth, barely managing to disguise the glare he was casting at the rabbit. He leaned against the booth, taking a moment to gain his composure. He then stepped back, nodded to Malisa, and then back to Jessica. The fox’s voice was soft, though there was a tightness to it that made her talons dig at the wood beneath her. How she longed for a perch to stand upon.

“Jessica, would you describe for me my sister’s reaction when you told her of the censer that was brought here from Loriod’s estate?”

Malisa however broke in, tapping the gavel lightly upon the block of wood before her. “Excuse me, Misha Brightleaf. Just who is your sister?”

Misha turned to her and bowed his head lightly. “My apologies, Prime Minister. My sister, Elizabeth Brightleaf. Wizard of the Fifth Circle of the Guild in Marigund.”

She nodded once at that, and gestured for Jessica to continue. The hawk pulled her wings in close and tried to remember back to the way Misha’s sister’s face had twisted when it had dawned up her just what the censer had been. “She was frightened and shocked. Apparently the censer itself was a device of terrible magical power, very difficult to control, and mostly a legend in fact.”

The word “legend” sent a small buzz milling through the assembled Keepers. But Misha simply nodded, having been there himself. “How much power did she say it would take to control the censer?”

“Well, she said that to even find and move the censer would take enormous magical power.”

“And was there anything that we could have done to prevent the censer from causing havoc here at Metamor?”

“Your sister felt very strongly that there was nothing we could have done.”

“So, if this enemy of Metamor is powerful enough to use that censer of legend, would they be powerful enough to mask their identity?”

Jessica nodded. “I believe so yes. That doesn’t mean they have though, just that they could.”

Misha appeared a bit taken aback at that caveat. Yet he pressed on. “Would it even be enough to mask the identity of two people?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding firmly.

The fox smiled slightly, and turned back to Malisa. “I am done for now, Prime Minister.”

She nodded and glanced back to the rabbit who was watching anxiously from the other banister. Phil caught the glance and hopped forward, his face a mix of strange emotions that the fox could not ever recall having seen upon him before. “Now, Jessica, when was the first time that Wessex saw Zagrosek?”

“When Dorson was killed,” Jessica said, wondering just what the object of this new attack might be.

“And just what was Zagrosek doing at the time?”

Though Wessex had never specifically spelled out those events for her, he had written them down in his notes, and had referenced them several times, so she knew exactly what had transpired. Taking a deep breath, she let the air escape through her beak in an expansive sigh. “He was extinguishing all of the torches in the room. The only light left came from the candle lit upon the censer. A spell diagram had been drawn into the floor, channelling power from the Keep into the censer itself.”

“So,” Phil stated, almost triumphantly. “Zagrosek was using the censer the first time that Wessex saw him?”

“Yes, Wessex certainly believed so.”

“Now, how easy is it to cast multiple spells at once?”

Misha gave out a low snarl at that, as did several Longs. Jessica herself could see now the eventual end of this thought. Yet she was here simply to answer the questions. The guilt of the rat was not something she could say for certain. “It is nearly impossible to cast multiple spells at the same time without using ritual magic. It is far easier to cast spells in succession that have persisting effects.”

“So if you were casting a complicated spell, and had already cast one that was persistent earlier, it would be more difficult?”

Jessica nodded. “Yes it would.”

Phil positively glowed then. “But when Wessex first met our enemy, he saw him as Zagrosek. And he was casting a spell with the censer. Wouldn’t that make an already difficult task all the harder?”

“Yes. It would be harder for him to use the censer if he was disguising himself magically.”

“Does this not imply that it is far more likely that Zagrosek was not using any sort of disguise at all?” Phil’s voice was eager almost at that.

Jessica breathed heavily. “Possibly. It could mean just that. It also could mean that our enemy is even more powerful than we had suspected.”

Phil leaned forward. “Which do you feel is more likely the truth?”

The hawk longed to look at the fox for some support. Yet her gaze stayed upon the rather placid countenance of the Prime Minister. Malisa merely nodded to her, urging her to answer. Jessica finally hung her head low and sighed. “My master did not believe it to be any but who it appeared to be. But he did not know of the power that the censer contained.”

The rabbit nearly hopped up and down at that. “But do you trust your master’s judgement on this or not?”

At last Jessica just nodded. “Yes, I do.”

“So you believe that this man is indeed Zagrosek, who your master claims he was?”

“I think so, but I am not so sure anymore. I believe it is possible that it might be another.”

Phil finally hopped up to the booth, pressing his claws upon it., eyes intent upon her. “Do you or do you not believe that one of the individuals that was plaguing your master’s dreams was indeed Zagrosek?”

Jessica dug her talons into the wood beneath her, splintering it slightly. She wished that she did not have to answer this question. She knew how firmly that Misha believed Charles to be innocent in this matter. And she knew how important his sister had very quickly become to her. And by answering this question she could be casting doubt one way or another upon Charles own part in this. She silently prayed to the gods, wishing that this burden was lifted from her.

“Jessica?” Phil pressed, his ears nearly brushing against her feathers. “Do you or do you not believe that our enemy is Zagrosek?”

“Yes!” she cried then, wings fluttering in agitation. “I believe it was him.” Phil nodded in approval at that and backed down from the booth. She could hear a startled and unpleasant murmuring rising from the Longs. How she wished she could fly away and not return until the next day.

Phil turned to face the judge’s booth and bowed his head low. “I have no further questions for Jessica, Prime Minister.”

Malisa nodded and struck the gavel once. “You may step down now, Jessica.”

She nodded and complied, her beak hanging low at that. As she turned out of the witness booth, she was unable but to catch a glimpse from Misha. The fox’s grey eyes appeared disappointed, but resolute nonetheless. Some of the other Longs were not nearly so kind to her, though only Finbar’s appeared openly venomous.

Shrinking from them all, she quickly made her way back to the seclusion of her bench on the other side of the room, wishing that she could bury herself beneath her wings. Yet as she scuffed her talons against the stone floor beneath the benches, her eyes caught a glance from the rat who sat chained on the near wall. His dark, murine eyes held her own in that moment, and she could feel the chill in them. She wished that she could apologize, but instead, lowered her eyes down to the bench in front of her.

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