Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXIV
alisa excused the squirrel, and Lord Avery gratefully returned to his seat behind the banister amongst the other Glenners. He received a hearty welcome amongst them, and even quite a few of the Longs gave him appreciative gestures. But Phil was quick to silence their pleasure as his voice rang out amongst them like a distant knell. “I summon Angus of the Glen to the stand.”
The badger rose, his ponderous size seeming no concern to the rabbit, a fact that left Misha feeling cold. The distraction stayed with the fox for several moments, until Phil finally spoke once more. “Have you seen this man?”
The huge badger nodded, dark eyes stern. “Yes I have. And unless you wish to ask me anything new, know that I will say precisely the same as has my Lord.”
Phil appeared taken aback by the brusqueness of the statement, but he shrugged. “Very well then. I have nothing further to ask of you.”
Misha shook his head when Malisa cast a questioning glance in his direction. In only another few moments, Angus was sitting back upon the bench, while the last individual from Glen Avery, Berchem the archer skunk, was seated in the witness booth. He said much the same as Angus, and with the same hostility to his voice. Again Misha declined to question him, and Phil refused to probe further. When the skunk had retaken his seat, Phil stood a bit higher then, staring full into the face of Thomas’s daughter.
“Prime Minister,” Phil began, speaking portentously, “I request your permission to question the accused at this time.”
Malisa nodded. “You may proceed.” The two soldiers that flanked Charles’s booth moved closer to the rat, opening the door to the booth at the front, and gesturing with their spear-points. Charles rose to his foot paws, hands still in chains. He walked forward resolutely towards the witness box, his eyes never wavering. The Longs watched in dismay, wondering what would happen now. By summoning Charles now, Phil was declaring that he would summon no other witnesses. Was he that confident he could establish the rat’s guilt already?
The rat sat imperiously in the witness booth, and the two soldiers took up stations next to it, one on either side. Malisa leaned forward in her seat, the black cloth of her robes bunching around her front. “Charles, as you are the accused, if at any point it is determined that you have lied in your testimony today, to whichever charges you are found guilty, the appropriate sentence will be multiplied accordingly. Do you understand?”
Charles nodded firmly at that. “I understand, Prime Minister.”
“You do not need to raise your right paw,” Malisa pointed out, and then proceeded with the oath. “Swear by your fealty to Duke Thomas and to Metamor that what you will say here today is the truth.”
“I swear it,” Charles said, as if he were slamming a heavy book shut.
Malisa nodded and glanced to the rabbit. “You may now ask him whatever questions you wish.”
Phil nodded, hopping between the picture and the witness booth. With one paw he pointed to the vile canvas and called in a clear, but strained voice. “Have you ever seen this man before?”
Charles glanced at the picture, and his face was suddenly filled with a look of horror, but one tempered by expectation. The rat recovered quickly, letting a mask of solemnity fall across his features. “I have seen that face before, but as Lord Avery and the others from the Glen have said, I have never seen that man before.”
Phil appeared to have expected such a response and continued undeterred. “And what was the name of the man who bore this face that you know?”
“His name is Krenek Zagrosek,” Charles said, his voice firm. His eyes did not hold the picture anymore though, but passed between the rabbit and the Prime Minister.
“And how long have you known this Krenek Zagrosek?”
“For over twenty years. We grew up together.”
“How close are the two of you?”
“We were the best of friends while we both lived in the Southlands. We have gone our separate ways since then”
Phil leaned forward slightly. “And why did you go your separate ways?”
“It was a matter of politics at the time with our clan,” Charles explained. “The White, who is the leader of our clan, had perverted the cause that we believed in, and so we both left the clan. I left seven years ago, and he left four years ago.”
“So you have not seen him in seven years, is that what you are saying?”
The rat nodded. “For seven years we were apart.”
“That is an awful long time to be without any contact, wouldn’t you agree?” Phil opined.
“Yes, it is.”
“And isn’t it possible for a man to change in seven years?’
“It is very possible for a man to change. I certainly did.” The rat gestured at his form with his manacled hands, though the rejoinder did not spark as much amusement as he had hoped.
Phil pointed once more to the picture again. “So why do you believe it impossible for your friend to have turned to such evil ways in those seven years? Do you know where he had been, and with whom he’d been associating during that time?”
The rat sighed and shook his head. “He is a Sondeckis. I cannot believe he would turn against what he felt so deeply in his heart.”
“Because the power that makes us Sondeckis does not permit such a perversion of justice as was done to the Patriarch.”
“Are you trying to suggest that a member of your clan is incapable of killing another in cold blood?”
Charles shook his head firmly at that. “I am not saying that at all. But a Sondeckis would never kill somebody who was working for justice as was the Patriarch. We live to see that justice is met in every way, it is flowing in our veins as surely as is blood. And the man who killed the Patriarch did so maliciously and with intent to upset justice. That is not the act of a Sondeckis.”
The rabbit paused thoughtfully for a moment. “Why was it again that you left your clan?”
The rat tensed visibly at that, as if he had just realized something fairly catastrophic. Misha watched in growing concern, though it was not necessarily for his friend’s well-being. “I left because of political differences.”
“And what differences were those?”
The rat looked once from Phil and then to the Prime Minister again, his eyes indicating he did not wish to answer. But Malisa’s return stare was firm and unwielding. With a heavy sigh, the rat gave answer, “I left because the White was using the Sondeckis and our power to further his ambitions on the continent. We were no longer upholding justice, but furthering our own power and control over the continent. The White intended to make the Sondeckis the lords and masters of the Southern continent, and that was not what we should have been at all.”
“But isn’t the White of the Sondeckis also a Sondeckis?”
The rat snarled. “Yes.”
“Then how was he able to pervert justice if Sondeckis are unable to do so?”
“The situation was totally different. Our White thought that what he was doing was essential to protect justice. He was wrong, but he was motivated by justice. Murdering the Patriarch and all those with him was the act of a vile spirit.”
“Undoubtedly it was a vile act. You witnessed the aftermath, did you not?”
Charles was taken aback by the change in questions, but remained as truthful as he had been. “Yes, I arrived not one hour after it had happened.”
Phil’s eyes were keen with some inner fire then as he studied the rat in chains. “Now, you heard what Bishop Vinsah said happened to him. Is that something a Sondeckis could do?”
The rat nodded slowly then. “Yes, it is.”
“And could a Sondeckis punch an armoured man and knock him out without hurting himself?”
Again the rat nodded. “Yes, we can.”
“So would you say it was possible that a person with Sondeckis powers was responsible for killing the Patriarch?”
“No, I would not say that.”
“And why not? You have already told us that the powers used to fell many of the Patriarch’s men are ones that the Sondeckis possess?”
“Because there were a few things that had been done on that battlefield that are not possible for any Sondeckis I have ever heard of. What was done to Kashin and Iosef for instance. There has never to my knowledge been the ability to slice a person in half and cauterize the wound instantly amongst the Sondeckis. It is simply not a way our power expresses itself.”
Phil hopped from one foot to the other for a moment as he pondered that. He leaned forward and then stood back up as tall as he could. “Does your power prevent you from learning other magical abilities?”
Sadly, almost resignedly, the rat shook his head. “No, it does not. But few ever are able to master more than rudimentary tricks in other disciplines.”
“And had Zagrosek done so before you left him seven years ago?”
“He had a facility with other magical disciplines, yes. But he had not mastered more than a few simple tricks amongst them. The only areas in which he was in the least bit adept was in healing others. Nothing he’d learned could have been used to slice a man in half as was done to one of the Yeshuel.”
Phil glared then at the rat. “Has it not occurred to you that your friend could have learned many new tricks during those seven years in which you didn’t see each other?”
“I’m sure he could have,” Charles shot back, suddenly angry. “Perhaps you can tell me what sort of magic it was that sliced that man in half, and cauterized the wound so quickly? I have never heard of any such magic in all of my experience.”
The rabbit gave Charles a sour look, and hopped back a step. “Then tell me about the Shrieker.”
“You heard me clearly,” Phil restated, his voice grave. “Tell me about the Shrieker.”
The rat sucked in his breath and looked over at Malisa instead. “The Shrieker is a creature of the Underworld. It is shaped like a man, albeit one who never eats. They are very skinny, almost skeletal in appearance. Their skin is pure black, no light reflects from it. In fact, any source of light is extinguished in their presence, and even magical lights are sometimes snuffed. Their faces are empty of anything save a mouth. And when it screams, you feel as if your body is about to shatter. Their flesh is very hot, molten almost, and my fur was singed where it came close to me. It reflects force in an opposite fashion. If you try to drive it, it will be propelled towards you, and if you try to pull it closer, it will be flung back. It cannot survive without its head though, and we killed it by striking its head from opposite sides.”
Phil waved a paw then. “Let me see if I have this clear. The Shrieker is from the Underworld. The same place that the spell Wessex cast as undead upon that wall would have opened a gate to, correct?”
The rat nodded. “I believe that is so.”
“And one of its key characteristics is that it is hot as if molten. Correct?”
Again, Charles nodded, having a terrible feeling in his stomach. He had a vague suspicion now where the rabbit was heading with this, and he did not like it one bit. “Yes, that is the case.”
“And would it be hot enough to cauterize any wounds it leaves?”
The rat glared. He could hear some grumbling come from amongst the Long Scouts. Finbar’s voice spouting several muffled curses was clear through them, though Charles could not understand what the ferret was saying. “I don’t know. I was not about to let it wound me.”
“But without even touching you it burned your fur. That would make it very hot, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would.”
“So do you think it would have been hot enough to cauterize any wound it inflicted?”
The rat sighed and nodded. “I think so, yes.”
Phil gave his own curt nod then, a look of delight crossing his features. “Now let me present to you a few of my thoughts. This man,” he pointed at the picture with one paw then, “brought the censer, a powerful artifact that could be used to open a tear to the Underworld, to Lorland. We then brought it here to the Keep, and if not for Wessex’s intervention, this man would have opened that tear, plunging all of us into darkness.
“Now, one creature of the Underworld is the Shrieker, and its flesh is so hot that if it wounds you, it will cauterize those wounds instantly. Also, this man has demonstrated an ability to slice a man in two, cauterizing the wounds instantly. Plus, we know this man is working in the Underworld’s interests. Could it not then be possible that some terrible powers that exist in that realm gave this man the ability to channel the heat of a Shrieker to supplement his own?”
The rat shrugged slightly, though his face and the tension in every muscle showed the anger that he felt. “It is possible.”
Phil leaned forward, as if for a kill. “So why then would it be impossible for your friend Zagrosek to have become allied with the forces of the Underworld, and to have been the very person to have committed all the crimes I have said he has?”
The rat shook his head, rage pouring through every strand of fur on his body. “No, he could not have done it! He is a Sondeckis, and no Sondeckis would ever serve the Underworld. No sane human being would ever give himself to its purposes.”
The rabbit just nodded at that, hopping back a step. “Now, tell me, Charles. When was the last time you saw Zagrosek?”
“You know that already,” the rat barked, though he was relieved that the dangerous parallels were no longer being pursued. “I saw him during the Winter Solstice.”
“This was for the advancement of Garigan to the Green?”
“Yes. I had not expected to see him though.”
Phil stepped back a pace. “And just how did he discover that you would be advancing Garigan, let alone know of him, and where you were?”
“There was another with us that day, Jerome Krabbe. He is also a Sondeckis, and one that I have known during my entire life. He found me here last Spring, and I have been keeping in touch with him via letter. They met each other at some point in the previous month, and so came together to Metamor for the ceremony. I had been expecting Jerome though. We met them in the Sondeckis Shrine that day.”
“And how long did you wait before taking him to Wessex’s apartments?”
“I waited until we had finished raising Garigan to the Green. Any sooner and it would have been suspicious.”
“So the thought of restraining him yourself was out of the question?”
“Absolutely,” Charles declared hotly. “If Wessex was unable to stop him, then what hope did I have?”
“You had two other Sondeckis there to back you up,” Phil pointed out.
“Neither of whom had any reason to suspect Zagrosek of any wrongdoing. Garigan is also of very low rank. He would not have been able to offer us much help. And there was no opportunity for me to warn them either.”
“How many letters have you written to this Jerome since it was revealed to you that a man named Zagrosek, one that fits the description of your friend, was the one responsible for controlling Loriod?”
Charles’s eyes narrowed. “Five letters.”
“And you could not have mentioned in these letters what you had heard about Zagrosek?”
“I did not feel a need to warn him of something that I did not believe myself.”
“And how many did you send after you were told that it was Zagrosek who had killed the Patriach?”
“Just the one telling him that Garigan was to be raised to the Green, and when it would take place.”
Phil stared at him incredulously. “And still you did not feel a need to warn him about Zagrosek?”
“No. I did not believe that Zagrosek was guilty. And I still do not believe that he is guilty.”
The rabbit paused a moment to let that sink in. He then leaned forward again, face bunched up. “Then why did you head down to Wessex’s chambers?”
Charles took a deep breath. “Because I wanted to put an end to the notion of his guilt. I wanted to clear his name, and I knew that Wessex would be able to do that. One look at the man magically and he would have known that his attacker and my friend were not the same man.”
“So there was not even a sliver of doubt in your mind about his guilt?”
The rat shook his head. “There was a sliver, but only a sliver. But the rest of me knew him to be innocent.”
“So if there was a sliver, why didn’t you warn Garigan or this Jerome fellow beforehand? Clearly, if there was even a possibility of it being true, you would want to protect those you care about, wouldn’t you?”
“I did not think it was necessary. If it were true, why would he come openly to me?”
“Because he knew you’d trust him more than those you should have, the rest of us here at Metamor,” Phil accused, much to the hissing of the Long Scouts. After Malisa silenced them with her gavel once more, the rabbit continued. “Or perhaps, you and he were in this together all along.”
“Oh come now!” Charles shouted derisively. “You cannot possibly believe I would betray my home. I have fought and bled for her.”
“So had Baldwin,” Phil added, at which the Long Scouts erupted into roars of protest. Misha snapped off an expletive, his body burning with rage, though he channelled it into his fists, and satisfied himself by striking the banister solidly. Finbar though nearly jumped over the banister in his rage, but the fox, with the help of Danielle, pushed him back to the benches. Malisa slammed the gavel down repeatedly, her face flush with anger at the unruly Keepers. It took her quite a few seconds to restore decorum to the chambers as well, and even after some level of silence had been achieved, several of the Longs were still muttering foul obscenities beneath their breaths.
“You do not have to be in these chambers,” Malisa began. “You do not have to watch these proceedings. That you are should be considered a privilege. If you do not maintain greater control of yourselves, I will have you ejected.” Turning back to Phil, she nodded. “You may continue.”
“You were in Wessex’s dreams. How do you account for that?”
Charles snarled, his whiskers a mess of tangles. “Somebody else put me there to deceive Wessex.”
“You and Loriod had a secret meeting shortly before his behaviour became treasonous. After which he burned his own carriage in the middle of Metamor. How do you explain that?”
Charles stared incredulously at that. “Loriod was trying to blackmail me into serving him. I have no idea why he destroyed his carriage. And if you recall, I was in the dungeon during this ‘secret meeting’. You came upon us just as he was leaving if you recall.”
“Why was it that you were the first upon the scene of the Patriarch’s camp and at Wessex’s apartment? Was it to destroy whatever evidence had been left behind?”
“That’s utter nonsense!” Charles shouted then, at which Malisa struck the gavel. In a more level tone the rat continued. “Murikeer arrived first at the Patriarch’s camp, and I left very shortly thereafter with the injured to Metamor. I would not have had any time to destroy any evidence. And we found Wessex’s room’s burning. We put out the flames, saving what evidence we could!”
“Yes, very convenient though that you arrived only after all the evidence that could have identified Wessex’s killer was destroyed. How convenient that you arrived at the scene of the Patriarch’s demise too late to stop anything.”
“That wasn’t our fault! We ran as fast as we could. And how were we supposed to know when the evidence was destroyed in Wessex’s chambers? We didn’t even know he was under attack!”
“Whoever it was that did kill Wessex, that woman perhaps, alerted you through magical means when it would be safe to come by.”
Charles blanched, edging backwards in his seat. “You are making this up as you go along.”
“No,” Phil asserted, his voice grown cold then. “You are the one making things up in your careful denials and crafted lies. You have clearly been of passive assistance to the Patriarch’s killer, if not outright coconspirator in his crimes.” Before the rat could object, Phil turned back to Malisa. “Prime Minister, I have no further questions for the accused.”
Malisa nodded and struck the gavel. “Guards, return the accused to his place.” Matthias rose of his own volition, casting a dirty glance at the rabbit, but otherwise trying to maintain an injured air of dignity. After he had been placed once more in the prisoner’s booth, the Prime Minister continued. “You may offer your closing remarks now.”
The rabbit hopped to the centre of the chamber, though he kept his attention upon Malisa, giving no mind to the others watching. “Prime Minister, I reiterate the crimes of the accused. He has consorted with the man who killed the Patriarch and controlled Loriod. He may also have played a part in both affairs. He has kept vital information regarding the Patriarch’s killer from those responsible for Metamor’s safety. And he delayed needlessly when the two of them were in each other’s presence this last Solstice on bringing him to one who could prove that man’s guilt.
“Who was this man that Charles protected? Why it is Krenek Zagrosek. We have a picture of his face drawn by one who saw the Patriarch’s killer. Further, everyone who saw their attacker on that night confirms that this was the man. And they did so without any hesitation. And Sir Bryonoth even heard a woman call this man ‘Zag’, which could quite easily be short for ‘Zagrosek’. Wessex himself had described this man, and this picture agrees with his descriptions.
“And this same man was with Charles during the Winter Solstice. We know this by his own words, and by the words of his student Garigan. They stayed together for many hours before they went to go see Wessex. And not once had Charles thought to warn either Garigan, or his fellow Sondeckis Jerome about the danger that Zagrosek represented. And he admits to having a doubt about the man’s guilt as well, yet still he did not warn them.
“Zagrosek accompanied Charles and Garigan to Glen Avery during the assault, as confirmed by all four that are with us. There, Charles never saw fit to warn any of the Glenners of that man’s actions in the past, nor did he make any effort to try and restrain the man. And until by accident we became aware that Zagrosek had accompanied Charles, he had said nothing about it to anyone here at Metamor.
“What is more, Charles and Zagrosek have appeared together, side by side, in Wessex’s nightmares. These were no ordinary nightmares, but ones that led the mage to sleepwalking, and to casting spells to open the tear to the Underworld. When did these dreams begin? Why, they began after Wessex confronted the rat, saying that he knew that Zagrosek and he were of the same mage clan.
“Now, Misha has tried to assert that the Patriarch’s murderer was another man who just used magic to make himself appear as Krenek Zagrosek. There are three good reasons to believe that Zagrosek is responsible. First, when Wessex first saw this man, he was casting a spell using the censer to open a tear to the Underworld. By Jessica’s own word, such a casting is extremely difficult and dangerous, even without trying to hold a magical disguise in place. And holding such a disguise in place would only compound the difficulty, making it very unlikely that such a man would bother with a disguise. And what point was there to appear as another after Wessex had already seen his true form?
“Second, if it were a disguise, this would display a knowledge of not only the power structure here at Metamor, but also a foreknowledge of such. When Wessex first saw Zagrosek, Charles was on a mission to Arabarb, and had not yet been taken into the confidence of either myself or Duke Thomas. Further, the man would have had to have known Charles’s personal history in exacting detail, something I am certain that not a single soul here at Metamor can lay a claim to. Who else aside from his fellow Sondeckis would know so much about Charles? And who could have possibly known about the prominent role he was to play here at Metamor before it took place?
“Lastly, by Charles’s own words, we know that what was done at the Patriarch’s camp, with the exception of the cauterized wounds, were all powers well within the capabilities of a Black of the Sondeckis. We know that whoever was responsible for killing the Patriarch is allied with the Underworld. Further, the Shrieker, an Underworld creature, possesses the ability to cauterize any wounds it inflicts. Thus, a Sondeckis allied with the Underworld could indeed have been responsible for murdering the Patriarch. We know of only one such that could be called ‘Zag’, and we have only one face. Both fit for Krenek Zagrosek.
“Charles knew all of this, and yet still he did nothing to harm the man. He withheld information from even those who were supposed to be his friends. In this, he has certainly committed treason. Prime Minister, I rest my case.”
Malisa nodded, and struck the gavel once, while the rabbit hopped back to his place at the banister. A stunned silence filled the room just then. Only two faces were anything but put out, that of Phil’s, and the picture of Zagrosek’s, both of which were smirking.
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