Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXIII
essica was not the only person whose eyes were lowered. Sir Albert Bryonoth could not bring his own eyes past the banister, even when Phil announced that he was to be his next witness. The knight kept staring lost into the shadows around the banister, eyes gloomy, almost dead to the world. But Egland reached over and worked one of his arms beneath his friend’s, urging him to stand. “Come Ts’amut,” Egland whispered quietly.
“Thou shanst call me that much longer,” Bryonoth muttered, even as he rose to his feet.
“Sir Albert Bryonoth,” Phil called again, one paw tapping at the floor, whether from impatience or eagerness, none could tell. Egland gently pressed one hoof-like hand at the other knight’s back, urging him around the banister. Bryonoth went, numbly moving forward, as if his legs possessed a will of their own, and his mind was enslaved to them. When he reached the booth in the centre of the chambers, he rested his hands upon them, unable to go any further. His tabard was pulled tight about him, cloaking his growing femininity.
“Sir Bryonoth,” Malisa began, her voice soft, but firm. “Would you please take the seat so that I might administer the oath.”
Bryonoth complied, sitting down as instructed, and raising his right hand. His eyes could not stay upon the Prime Minister’s face though, even as she recited the oath. Instead they fell downwards, as always towards the shadows circling the base of the judge’s booth. They danced as the flambeaux about the room danced. After giving his word, his hand fell into his lap, so slowly it seemed lethargic.
Phil bounded forward then, his face intent, almost unaware of the knight’s inattentiveness. “Now Sir Bryonoth, tell us who it was that you have been serving these last few years.”
The knight heard his name, but his tongue did not move for a moment. And then, in a voice not his own, for this voice was too high pitched, the soft curves of the tones more feminine than at any other point in his life. “The Patriarch Akabaieth wast my master. I hast served him for many years now.”
The rabbit pressed on. “And three months ago you journeyed to Metamor. On the first night out, he was slain, as were many of your fellow knights. Can you tell us what happened on that night?”
Bryonoth continued to stare into the shadows, as if lost in another world. But his mouth spoke, eyes threatening to brim with tears at the memories. “It hath been raining for quite some time. Kashin and Iosef went into the woods to investigate something they hath seen, but they never returned. A few moments thereafter, a scream did issue from the soldier’s tent, but it wast cut off quickly. I and others of my kind approached upon horseback, and a man emerged. He hath great power we knew, for he fought us with only a single jewelled blade. And he slaughtered us as if we were pigs and not men. I hast never seen the like of it, but with a solid punch, he dislodged me from my steed, and I lost consciousness.”
Phil nodded. “And when was it that you awoke?”
“I cannot say.” Bryonoth trailed into silence, his face perplexed. “It wast a strange place, the appearance of it changing with each new moment.”
“Did you see your attacker?”
“Yes. He wast there, with another.”
“Did he do or say anything to you?”
A strange look passed over the knight’s face then, but it passed quickly. “He didst say something, but I cannot remember what it hath been. And then, I wast in a secluded wood, with only a single thought to accompany me.”
“And what was that thought?”
Bryonoth’s eyes flickered with a bit of life then. They glanced across the room to where Duke Thomas sat, watching with a keen interest. Yet there was no hint of any malice in the stallion’s manner. “I wished only to make a stud of Duke Thomas.”
A few gasps came from some in the crowd, but most had already heard of that story. Thomas himself took the words in stride, his face completely at ease, betraying none of his thoughts in the matter. Phil remained unsatisfied in his countenance, but he did not press that issue any further. “Now, during the attack and your time with him, you were able to see your attacker’s face quite clearly, were you not?”
“Yes, I hath seen far too much of his face.”
Phil turned to Malisa. “Prime Minister, I would like to enter this drawing as evidence.”
Malisa nodded, and Rupert brought out the canvas, setting it upon a tripod. He then lifted the cloth draped over the front, and revealed a smirking face. The face was slightly narrow, though full. The hair was dark, and combed back across his head. The eyes were set a short span apart across a thin nose. And his cheekbones were high, almost skeletal. But in that face was a terrifying power and malevolence that caused several Longs and many others to give out a cry of horror. Even Thomas himself flinched from the picture, averting his eyes.
In fact, the only ones that did not seem startled by that snarl were Charles who could not see if from where he sat, Bryonoth, and Prince Phil. Phil regarded the picture almost dutifully in a way, but he returned his focus to the knight quickly. “Now this is the face of the man who attacked your camp and forced you to try and stud Duke Thomas?”
Bryonoth nodded slightly. “Yes, that is he.”
Phil’s ears nearly rocked in delight at that. “Did he ever mention his name to you?”
Bryonoth shook his head, starting to become more active and less detached. “No,” his voice quavered, “but the woman who was with him called him ‘Zag’.”
“Zag,” Phil repeated, as if to make sure that everyone heard him. “She called him Zag.” There was no doubt that the others heard them for several hisses emanated from the Longs, as well as more obscene language from Finbar, though Danielle quieted him quickly. He then turned to Malisa and bowed his head to her. “I have no further questions for him at this time.”
The rabbit hopped back to the banister with an almost smug countenance. Rupert had since returned behind the railing, and his own face was perplexed, clouded by a strange mix of apprehension and loyalty. Clover’s face was empty of anything but a regal distance. Others in the crowd could only chalk it up to the practised manner of a lady in the midst of strife. The head of the Long Scouts however was anything but calm, the whiskers upon his muzzle twitching in furious agitation. He strode forward, balling his paws into fists tightly. His one good ear flicked back and forth, while the bandages over the other stirred as if its companion were trying to move as well.
“Sir Bryonoth,” Misha began in uneven tones. “Who drew that picture?”
Bryonoth nodded his head towards the picture of Zagrosek. “Mine hand hath wrought that.”
“You are fairly skilled,” Misha remarked brusquely, but he did not dwell on that. “You drew this from memory?”
Misha crossed his arms, glaring at the knight openly. “That’s an awfully good memory you have. You saw him for barely a few moments, and yet you could render him so well.” Phil blustered some indignation at that, but Malisa struck the gavel, silencing the rabbit.
Bryonoth was unfazed, his eyes casting back to the ground. “Those moments shalt be with me for all my days. I can ne’er forget them.”
The fox could not help but grimace at that. He knew well the clarity with which such events could be stored in one’s mind. Far too many such events littered the halls of his consciousness, creeping out to haunt him at the worst moments. After a few seconds though, he regained his composure and pressed along a different front. “You say that there was a woman with him. Who was she?”
“I hath not that knowledge. I only saw her briefly.”
“Could you draw her face too?”
Bryonoth almost wilted under the fox’s gaze. “I am not sure. Her face wast not as clear as the man’s.”
“Yet you remember that she called him ‘Zag’. How odd.” Misha paused a moment, glancing once at Charles. The rat returned a curious stare to him, but otherwise remained silent. “How odd that you would remember that but not what your attacker said to you.”
Bryonoth appeared to bristle then, his face creasing in an unpleasant snarl. “Some of it was clear, but some of it was not.”
“What parts were clear then?”
“The battle was clear. I hath a good memory of that, though I wish otherwise. That other place he had taken me, I cannot see that as well.”
Misha dug his claws into his arms a bit. “And when did you hear her call him ‘Zag’?”
Bryonoth sat for a moment and then spoke clearly, his voice even more feminine than before. “While I lay there in the camp wounded. I could hear them speaking.”
“I thought you said you were knocked unconscious.”
“I had been. But I woke up and passed out again several times before they took me to that place.”
Misha appeared dubious at best. “And you remembered what was said?”
“I was still feeling the terror of a fight. It was all clear to me. Surely you hast felt the same way before?”
Misha did not answer his question. Instead, he tapped one foot paw upon the floor. “So you heard her call him Zag while you were lying upon your back on the field of battle. Did you see either of them when they said this?”
Bryonoth shook his head. “No, I did not.”
“Then how can you be sure that whoever was speaking was referring to that man as ‘Zag’?” Misha pointed one claw at the picture, but he did not look at it himself.
The knight sat silently for a moment, his face turned down in a grimace. His voice was deliberate though when he spoke, far deeper than any would have expected. “Who else could it have been? There was no other alive upon that field of battle.”
“But can you ever be completely certain of that?” Misha demanded.
Bryonoth looked up then, holding the impassive gaze of Malisa firmly. His eyes betrayed a spark of defiant life, as if he had somehow been brought back from that terrible time. “Yes. I firmly believe that what I hast said is true. There is no doubt in me.”
Misha scowled unhappily then, his one paw tightening into a fist, and then relaxing again. “I have no more questions at this time.” He then stalked back to his side of the chambers, fuming beneath his breath.
Phil was buoyant as he hopped back up to the booth. He had eyes only for the knight, bright gloating eyes. “Did they know that you were alive when she called him ‘Zag’?”
Bryonoth shrugged at that. “I cannot say. They wert standing some distance though. I do not believe they thought that any of us still had life within our flesh.”
“So, there would be no reason for them to mask their identities, would there?”
“I suppose not.”
Phil nodded, and then turned to Malisa. “Prime Minister, I have no more questions to ask of this knight.”
“You may be retake your seat, Sir Bryonoth,” Malisa called out, striking the gavel once more. “Call your next witness.”
“Prime Minister, am I allowed to call Misha Brightleaf as a witness?”
This question caused quite a stir in the chambers. Misha nearly fell of the banister he was leaning against, while several of the Longs shouted denunciations, the most vocal of course being Finbar. The ferret’s language was growing more colourful with every new display. In fact, several words he used were not in the Common tongue at all. Malisa struck the gavel several times, and after a moment, the Longs were able to control themselves once more.
She then turned upon the rabbit and nodded. “Yes, you may. Misha Brightleaf, as you are offering the defence for Charles, you will not be able to cross-examine yourself. You may rebut anything you wish when the time for your opening statement comes.”
Misha nodded, growling under his breath. He came forward then and took his place in the witness booth. Sir Bryonoth had already stepped out and wandered back to his seat, the vacant look returning once more to his eyes. The fox did not once look at the rabbit, but kept his gaze firmly rooted upon the Prime Minister. Even after the oath had been administered, he looked nowhere else.
Phil approached the booth with a calm assurance that gave the fox pause. He’d never seen the rabbit so at ease in his presence before, and certainly not when he was enraged with him. “Now, Misha, you were the one responsible for studying the scene of the Patriarch’s murder, are you not?”
“Yes, I was.” His voice was tight, a growl clearly upon every tone.
“So, you feel you are capable of determining the number who were upon that field that were neither Keepers, nor members of Akabaeith’s caravan?”
Misha grimaced, but nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“Then tell me, just how many were on that battlefield? How many had come to slay the Patriarch and his men?”
The fox felt as if the words would choke him, but he spoke clearly. “Two. There were two sets of footprints we could not account for upon that battlefield.”
Phil nearly bounced in his triumph. “So those two were the only ones who were on the field?”
“Yes,” Misha said firmly, before a stray thought gave him some hope. “Unless there was another there who was levitating.”
The rabbit was obviously not pleased by that response, thumping one foot upon the ground. “Do you have any evidence which leads you to believe such a person could exist, or are you just saying it to exonerate your friend?”
“I am no mage,” Misha pointed out through bared teeth. “I was not the only one who surveyed that battlefield. Murikeer Khannas was the one who studied the magic used there. You would have to ask him that question, but he is in a coma right now.”
Phil turned back to Malisa then, his whole body shaking in some delight. “I have no further questions for Misha, Prime Minister.”
Misha did not wait for Malisa to excuse him before he rose and stalked back to the banister before his fellow Longs. His fur bristled in the rage he felt. He knew he could not lie, but he wished to tear out the rabbit’s throat for forcing him to provide evidence that might implicate Charles, even if only indirectly. Caroline saw his fury, and held out one paw to console him. He took it tightly between his own, breathing heavily, his grey eyes wishing to alight upon something he could smash.
“I call Sir Yacoub Egland,” Phil’s voice rang out. It was a voice Misha was getting awfully tired of hearing.
The elk rose from his seat, one hoof-like hand gripping the edge of his tabard as he crossed the space to the booth that the fox had just vacated. His antlers sliced cleanly through the air, giving him a majesty that would not have otherwise accompanied the knight. When he sat, he sat as one used to command. His dark eyes did not stray to the picture set upon the tripod, but remained firmly forward towards the judge’s booth. And he spoke the allegiance to the oath in firm, clear tones. Yet there was something missing in that iron countenance, some uncertainty that lurked beneath the massive antlers.
“Sir Egland,” Phil began, interposing himself between the two booths. “You were one of the Patriarch’s knights, were you not?”
“Yes, I was.”
“You saw who it was who was attacking you, didn’t you?”
Phil pointed towards the picture with one paw then. “Is that the face of your attacker?”
Egland nodded once. “It is.” He expected the hisses from the Longs, and could hardly blame them. He knew how hard the charge of treason for a companion could be to weather.
The rabbit nodded, satisfied then. “Thank you, Sir Egland. Prime Minister, the defence may question him now.”
Misha was still holding Caroline’s paw. She patted him once on the cheek, and urged him back towards the booth. The fox let go, only reluctantly though. His face crossed into a grimace, but he turned, and walked slowly up to the booth. He stood there for a moment silently, noting the elk’s poise. Egland was a knight, and would never have lied. He simply said what he saw, that was all.
Finally, something occurred to the fox and he nodded a bit. “Sir Egland, you saw that man. Now, did you hear anyone call him by any name?”
Egland’s dark eyes stared down at the fox, a bit of shock within them, and a bit of confusion. But they came together into a disquiet pause that led the elk to look back at Malisa instead. “No, I do not remember hearing anyone call him by name. After my legs were crushed I passed out, and cannot quite remember when it was that I awoke.”
“But you are certain that you never heard anyone call that man by name?” Misha pressed, it being the only thing he could think to do.
“I am very certain of that,” Egland reiterated.
Misha nodded and then turned back to Malisa, “That’s all I have to ask.”
Phil was hopping back to the booth before Misha had even left it, his face strangely energetic. The rabbit did not even wait for Malisa’s by-your-leave before asking, “Which one of you was struck first by your attacker? Was it you or Sir Bryonoth?”
Egland blinked a few times. “I’m not sure if I remember that clearly, but I think Sir Bryonoth was felled before I was. But he was only punched. I had my steed roll over my legs.”
“So you believe him when he says he heard another call that man ‘Zag’?” Phil asked, his voice eager.
The elk nodded once. “Yes, I believe him.”
Phil turned to Malisa, bowing his head once. “I have no further questions for Sir Egland.”
Malisa struck the gavel once. “Sir Egland you may return to your seat.”
The knight rose to his hooves and stepped from the booth, as always keeping his eyes from that picture. As he slid back along his bench, he rested one hand upon Bryonoth’s shoulder, but the other knight did not stir. Once again Albert had slipped into the misery that had consumed him ever since he had learned of the nature of his fate. By the time Egland had gotten back into his seat, Phil was already announcing his next witness. “I call forward Bishop Vinsah.”
The raccoon sitting next to Egland started at that, his green eyes fixed upon a spot on the floor far away from the picture. His long striped tail flicked nervously from side to side, whether he realized it or not Egland could not say. But the Bishop did rise and cross beyond the banisters towards the witness booth. Once seated, he turned his eyes towards Malisa, holding her face within them. He held his right paw up while Malisa recited the oath, but his left was held firmly about the sculpted tree that hung about his neck.
Phil was upon him even before he lowered his right paw. “Bishop Vinsah, have you ever seen that man?” The rabbit pointed towards the canvas, though Vinsah refused to gaze in that direction. He had indeed seen that man, seen him even before his master had been killed by him. He’d seen him in those dreams that met him when he journeyed to slumber. His Lady had warned him to beware of that man, even now after Akabaieth was slain. There was simply something unnaturally evil about him, some great terror that he could not yet face.
“Yes, I have seen that man,” Vinsah said in his procyonid churr. He had grown used to the way his voice sounded, though he wondered what his fellow Bishops would think. He doubted that they would approve.
“And when did you see that man?”
Vinsah knew he could not speak of his dreams before this court. He could not even speak of them to another, for fear of what others might think. And what of that name, that name that was his in the world of dreams, Elvmere? It was a Lothanasi name, something that made him shudder every time he thought of it. But the question was now before the court, and he had to answer it.
“I saw him the night the Patriarch was killed.”
“Was he attacking you and the others?”
“Yes. He was the attacker.”
“How did he fell you?”
Vinsah blinked a moment, his green eyes scanning over Malisa’s features, trying to ignore that dark picture in the corner of his vision. “He thrust his hands towards me, and then suddenly I felt as if a great weight had slammed into my chest. I passed out then, and I don’t remember anything further until I woke up under Healer Coe’s care a week later.” And he had worn the mask then when he’d woken up. One paw instinctively reached upwards to his face, claws tracing over the black mask of fur that he would always bear now.
Phil nodded once to Vinsah, and then to Malisa, “That is all for the moment.”
Malisa nodded, and turned to Misha, but the fox was already stalking up to the booth. The Long Scout’s expression was perplexed, but it appeared to be dwelling on something other than the matter of the Patriarch’s death. The Bishop did not look to him, but kept his eyes firmly planted towards the judge’s booth.
“Bishop Vinsah, where were you when your attacker came for you?”
“I was in my tent with the other priests.”
“Were there any lights in the tent?” Misha pressed, his eyes intent, though Vinsah would not meet them.
“No, we’d been sleeping. Something woke me up just before it happened though. A noise, I cannot say just what it was.” That much was certainly true. He could not say that it was his Lady that woke him from sleep to warn him of his danger.
“So it was dark in your tent. And it was night and it was raining. Yet you know for certain that you saw that man attack you?” Misha pointed with one claw to the picture, but he himself did not look at it.
“There was light outside the tent. I could see him well enough. He never came further than the entrance to the tent.”
“And just how long a look did you get at his face?”
“Only a short moment. It was enough.”
Misha stopped, snorted in disgust, and glanced over at Malisa, “I’m finished.” He then turned about and crossed back over to the banister, obviously quite frustrated by something.
Malisa glanced to the rabbit, but Phil shook his head. “I have nothing to ask him.”
The Prime Minister nodded once then and struck the gavel. “You may return to your seat, Bishop Vinsah.”
The Bishop nodded, casting his eyes down as he walked back to the benches where he sat once more beside Sir Egland. His eyes lifted then, mostly from curiosity. The rat was sitting as placid as he had been the entire time in the prisoner’s booth. His whiskers twitched once as he stared sullenly out across the room. The Bishop could not help but wonder whether that rat had indeed protected the Patriarch’s murderer. He found it difficult to believe any mortal could do such a thing, but even more, he sensed none of the evil in this Matthias that he had in his attacker. There was a darkness to be sure, but it was hardly comparable.
“I call Garigan of the Glen to testify,” Phil called, his voice piping with delight.
The ferret appeared quite surprised that he should be so summoned, as it was clear from the look of passive hostility upon his muzzle that he had no intention of offering any testimony to support the rabbit’s case. But rise to his foot paws he did, and cross to the booth as well, ignoring the lapine as if he were ignoring an unpleasant child. Taking his seat, he glanced once across the way to his master the rat, and then towards the far end, where Malisa sat. He raised his right paw as the others had done, and swore the oath, his voice terse.
“Now Garigan,” Phil started. “Have you ever seen that man before?” He was of course pointing to the picture.
Garigan glanced at it, his whiskers twitching in recoil as he traced those malevolent features. The smirk upon that familiar face appeared almost to grow wider before him, but it must have been a trick of the light. “Yes, I have seen that face. I never have seen that face look quite like that though.”
“When did you see this man?”
The ferret breathed slowly, holding onto his Calm. What he had to say would work for Charles, and not against him he counselled himself repeatedly. “I saw him for the first time just before the siege.” He glanced once over to Charles, uncertain what he should say of their clan. The rat simply nodded to him, eyes resigned to whatever fate had in store for him. “I was to be elevated to the green amongst our clan, and he was there to join in the rites to do so.”
“Elevated to the green?” Phil asked, now visibly perplexed.
“Yes. Charles and I, as well as Krenek Zagrosek, are part of a mage clan known as the Sondeckis. It is not well known in these lands, being principally a Southern group. A Green is a second ranked Sondeckis, more powerful than a novice, but with much yet to be learned.”
“And what rank is Zagrosek?” Phil asked, having regained his footing. Whether he had heard all of this or not already, the ferret could not determine, as the rabbit was fairly good at cloaking his true feelings.
“He, like Charles, is a Black. They are the highest rank among Southern mage clans.”
“Where did you first meet Zagrosek?” Phil said, his voice starting to brim with renewed vigour.
Garigan returned his focus to Malisa, who seemed quite dour. “In the Sondeckis Shrine. That is where Charles has been training me, and that is where the rite to advance my rank was held.”
“And just how long did both Charles and Zagrosek stay in that Shrine together?”
“Most of the day actually. The rite to advance takes quite some time. We left several hours after dusk.”
“Did he confront Zagrosek about any of the charges that have been levelled against him?”
Garigan turned then to look at the rabbit, his face a queer mix of perplexity and amusement. “If Zagrosek is guilty as you say, what sense would it be to challenge him openly like that, when clearly whoever did those awful things was far more powerful than any Black of the Sondeckis could hope to be? To do so would be to court death.”
The rabbit almost appeared chastened by that remark, and he lowered his body a little bit further towards the floor. “And where did they go when they left the Shrine?”
“We,” Garigan emphasized that word firmly, making sure that all understood its significance, “went to Wessex’s chambers. There we found his apartments burning. After we put out the fire, we discovered the trail of blood. Following that we found Wessex, turned into the undead, and casting the spell to summon the Shrieker.”
Phil waved one paw. “Yes, of course. But what was done after the Shrieker was killed?”
“We went in search of somebody to report to. Charles stressed that the time for secrecy and hiding was at an end, this was something that had to be done.”
Phil appeared quite upset by this, and hopped around to glance at the picture. His voice, when it came again, was strained. “But that man in the picture is Zagrosek, is he not?’
Garigan nodded. “It appears to be him.”
The rabbit cut him off before he could say anything further, “I have no more questions for you then.”
The ferret opened his mouth in a bit of anger, but closed it again quickly. His Calm came to him then, the sweet smell of redwood filling his nostrils. Yet, to his and everyone’s surprise, Misha called out, “I have no questions for Garigan right now, Prime Minister.”
Phil gave out a short cry of protest, but it was quickly silenced by Malisa’s gavel. “You are excused, Garigan of the Glen.”
The ferret nodded, climbing down from the booth, and returning to his seat. He stared once towards the rat, and caught the faintest hints of an approving smile from his master. His heart beat a little bit faster then, and he sat down proudly upon the bench next to his friends from the Glen. Both Lord Avery and Angus patted him upon the back, while Berchem, who was sitting too far away to do the same, gave him an approving nod and grin.
“I call Lord Brian Avery to the stand,” Phil said, after taking several moments to simply breathe. The grey squirrel rose firmly, tail still flitting about in agitation, but not nearly to the extent it had been. His face was calm, with the measured dignity instilled in any born of noble blood.
Phil however wasted no time, drilling into him as soon as the oath had been given. “Have you ever seen this man before?”
Avery shrugged slightly. “I have seen that face, but not that man.”
The rabbit was quite flustered at that. “How could there be any other man with the same face?’
Avery leaned forward, his expression bemused. “I trust you know my twin sons Darien and Christopher?”
A short bitter laugh erupted from one of the Long Scouts, though the squirrel could not tell who it was. The rabbit scowled slightly at that, but turned his focus back upon the noble. “Why do you say that this is not the same man that you met?”
“Because the man that I met, and his name happened to be Krenek Zagrosek, you do not need to ask me that, never once appeared as you present him in this picture. The only time there was any bit of malice to his features was during battle, and what warrior does not reveal anger in combat? And even then, it was nothing quite like that picture. Whoever drew that picture has tried to cast the worst possible light upon the one that bears that face.”
Phil was aghast. “Are you calling into question Sir Bryonoth’s honour?” The knight however appeared nonplussed, still staring vacantly at the ground.
Avery shook his head. “No, but I do certainly believe that his motives were not pure. But who could blame him? His master and friends were slaughtered by one who appeared to him as that.” Avery pointed one finger towards the charcoal drawing, but pulled it back quickly, as if afraid those smarmy lips would open and bite it off.
The rabbit was still obviously angered by Avery’s claims, but he restrained himself. Leaning forward slightly, he narrowed his eyes. “Do you believe that every man whom you meet shows you every bit of himself? Is every expression that a person ever bears displayed for you?”
It was Lord Avery’s turn to scowl then. “No, they do not. But an expression such as that is common to a face. I think it likely that if he is the same man that I met during the siege, then he would have shown us such a face, even if only guardedly or in a moment of distraction.”
“And why, if he was travelling incognito, would he have let his façade drop?”
“I did not say he would do so openly. I said that it would have been a chink in his disguise, but no such chink existed, because there was no disguise!”
“Why does it have to be that he could not have given a flawless performance?”
Avery sighed and spoke softly, as if patiently explaining why the sky was blue to a child. “A flawless performance is a myth. There is always some subtle mistake, something that they did not think to consider. There are far too many aspects to a man and the way other perceive that man to completely fake a performance. And let me give you a few examples of things he might not have taken into account. Glen Avery and Metamor are filled with animal morphs. Our hearing and our sense of smell are greatly improved over those still human. There are subtle nuances to speech that give away a person’s mood or temperament. And emotions also have certain odours. You yourself must know this. Everything I saw, heard, or scented from Krenek Zagrosek was genuine. I sensed no chicanery, not even a hint of it.”
“What of magic?” Phil said then, his voice nearly desperate. “Could magic have been used to mask his feelings from you?”
“Of course. I am no mage, so will accept the possibility without question.” Avery leaned forward then, hoping that he could effectively drive a spike into the coffin. “But then again, if that is the case, why couldn’t the true villain have used magic to mask himself so that he’d appear as Zagrosek? Further, why go to the trouble of spending almost a week in this valley, if the only thing he would accomplish would ultimately be its defence? You cannot convince me of this man’s guilt until you can tell me why he came to Metamor over the Solstice in the first place, what it was that he hoped to accomplish.”
Phil paused a moment and then nodded. Shrugging he appeared chastened. “You are right, Lord Avery. I have not established that. But bear with me and I shall.” Turning to Malisa the rabbit called out in a quiet voice, “I have no more questions for Lord Avery.”
Malisa looked to the fox then, who was leaning against the banister, smiling slightly. “He is your witness, Misha Brightleaf.”
“I have no questions for him either,” Misha said then, his eyes studying the rabbit closely. There would be time enough later to question Lord Avery, but he would wait first until the rabbit had finished establishing his case.
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