Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXV

Zagrosek stretched his arms wide as he sat there against the wall. He’d let Agathe use the only chair in the room to watch the trial, at least once the cloth had been pulled from over the picture, their viewport into Metamor. She had used her abilities to stretch the mirror until it was large enough to occupy most of the wall, giving them a very clear picture of the trial scene. They were able to watch the faces of each witness as they were questioned, note the tenor of their voices, and the tremble of their fur.

Although they could not see everything, and their view was restricted to one angle, it was enough. After the Prime Minister had given the vulpine defender a few moments to collect his thoughts before starting his case, Agathe had stood up, and crossed to the window. Zagrosek glanced up at her, his face curious. “Well?”

“Your minion presents a fair case. I wonder if it is wise to allow him to come so close to the truth.”

Zagrosek grimaced and rose to his feet. “That rabbit is very intelligent. I simply gave him the impetus, he put the pieces together. Besides, who will believe him? You heard the jeers he received. Almost everyone sitting in that chamber thinks he is a liar.”

She spun upon him, the solemn red glow of her empty socket pulsing with some hidden anger. “And for how much longer will they doubt him?”

“As long as he continues to accuse the innocent of our crimes.”

His answer did not appear to please her, as she turned back to the shuttered window. He reached out a single hand, resting it upon her shoulder. She made no move to dislodge it, but she did not react to it either. It was as if she was not even aware of it.

Zagrosek stepped in closer, pressing his cheek against the back of her head. His hands squeezed along her shoulders in a smooth pattern, soft massaging across tense muscles. “It will not matter. This trial cannot end without drastically changing the affairs at Metamor. This will be to our advantage, I assure you.”

Her voice was hard, but quiet, “I trust you. I may not agree, but I trust you.”

Zagrosek turned her body around, and she complied. Their lips came together once more, the scars in her cheeks frothing with saliva. And then the sound of shattering wood and glass from the room next door broke them apart.

“What was that?” Agathe demanded, her face wary once again.

“My merchants,” Zagrosek swore, darting out the door, closing it behind him. Shouts came from the next room down, and he was upon the door in an instant. With a flick of his wrists, the door burst inwards, thick splinters spraying across the floor beyond. Inside he saw Kaleas and Marin, their faces flush with rage and fear. At the far end was the remnants of the window, broken nearly entirely free. Thulin was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is he?”

“He jumped out, master,” Marin spoke, his voice fast, fearing whatever reprisal the dark clad man may give.

“He told us that he wanted to serve you, so we untied him. He then threw the chair through the window and jumped out,” Kaleas explained, his face dripping with nervous sweat.

Zagrosek charged across the room to the window, and pressed his head and shoulders out of the broken frame. The cold winter air blasted across his face, as he peered down from his loft. The Inn fell away down to a small shed below. The ceiling of the shed was slanted towards the cobblestone alley that ran around the back. The next building beyond was only one story high, the rooftop similarly covered in snow.

The snow on the shed had been disturbed by Thulin’s fall, and it had been smeared around. The broken legs of the chair were spread out along the cobblestones, though there was no sight of the merchant anywhere. No blood was about, so Zagrosek could only conclude that the fall had neither killed nor injured him. That was good at least, though he had to be found and brought back before he did something foolish.

Pulling his head into the room, he pointed at the younger of the two men. “Marin, check to see if he went for any of your horses. If any of them are missing, find out where they went and ride after him. Kaleas, I want you to inform the city guard of his disappearance. Make sure that they know he is crazed and could bring harm to others, though he himself is not to be killed. Have them arrest him and inform us immediately if they can.”

Kaleas blinked in shock, even as Marin ran out the door, taking only a moment to grab his thick coat. “But the city guard won’t try to take him alive if he is crazed. They’d rather kill him.”

Zagrosek untied the money pouch at his side and tossed it to the heavy-set merchant. “Offer them this if they follow your instructions. They will listen to you then.”

Kaleas nodded as well, rushing off to do his master’s bidding. Zagrosek swore violently then and slammed his fist into the side of the room, breaking the sill, sending a crack through the wall. He immediately regretted doing that, as he wished to draw as little attention as possible during his stay in Ellcaran. But there was nothing to be done for it now. He walked back to his room, and grimaced to Agathe.

“My third merchant has run off before the control has completely set in his mind. I’m going to have to go apologize to the owner of this establishment and pay for the damages done. I will be back as soon as I can.”

Agathe snorted derisively. “You shouldn’t have been playing cards with them. You knew it was risky.”

He shrugged sourly. “Nevertheless, I will stay on the course I’ve set. Now toss me that pouch of coins.” He pointed at the brown leather pouch sitting upon the bed. Agathe drew a rune in the air, and the pouch floated across the room quickly, before being deposited into his palm. Zagrosek nodded once to her, and then closed the door back up. When the time finally came that evening, he would make sure that Thulin regretted causing them so much trouble.

Misha was certain that something was terribly wrong in those chambers, and it had nothing to do with the rat being accused of treason. As the seconds trickled by in the short span of time that Malisa had allotted him to collect his thoughts, only one thought had come to him, and it drummed against his skull repetitively like a nail being driven into a coffin. Yet he refused to stare in the rabbit’s direction, glancing only occasionally as he leaned over the banister. Phil was almost serene in his demeanour, triumphant in his appearance. Neither of those truly bothered the fox though. It was the utter absence of any of the familiar lapine traits and instincts that Misha had come to expect from the Prince of Whales that gave him terrible pause.

Caroline was pressing one webbed paw across his fingers as they gripped the banister, claws digging within the wood. He noticed her touch, and glanced up, his grey eyes meeting her own brown orbs. Caroline’s eyes were filled with a confidence that brought a slight twitch to his muzzle – was that a smile trying to emerge? Kimberly appeared hopeful, though still aghast at what had been said of her betrothed. Yet there was also a trust in her gaze as she watched the fox. The other Longs were also looking to him with strength and resolve. If there was any that could right the wrong done to their fellow Long, then it was the fox Misha Brightleaf.

Yet their confidence did little to allay his true concern, which was for the rabbit himself. There was a great deal of anger within him towards Phil, but also a growing fright. There had never once in all the years since the Curse been a time when Phil had been so close to Misha as they had been today, without displaying a rabbity fear of the fox. Yet when Phil had questioned him, he’d shown no fear or anxiety, only a total confidence in his case and his person. This was not a matter of personal betrayal to the rabbit. Something far deeper had to be going on, and he could not quite determine what it might be.

Finally, the fox turned about, and stared over at the witness stand. There was little he could do standing here and simply thinking about the problem. He would have to act, and hopefully some other clue would make itself known to him. But his eyes were quick to fall upon that loathsome drawing. Looking into that malevolent face, Misha could well believe that such a man would be capable of all that Phil had said. Yet he also knew that Charles had assured him that his friend was not capable of such an atrocity. And in this situation, he would trust his fellow Long every time.

But as he stared at that picture, he could half fancy that he could see more than just a face. Though he could not quite tell why, he felt a growing certainty that he was not merely staring at that face, but it was staring back at him. Misha’s hackles began to rise as he returned that perpetual gaze, that unearthly rapport that sent cold tendrils through his flesh. His tail began to draw between his legs as his eyes scanned those charcoal orbs, and a growl grew at the back of his throat.

And then, he snapped his head back, before his ears could fold back and his snarl reveal itself fully. This was not the time to begin losing his mind. But there was something terrible about that picture, something he could not describe, and something he wished no more to see. Stepping forward, his claws digging within his palms, he finally addressed Malisa.

“Prime Minister,” his voice rang clear in the chamber, though it was deeper and throatier than he would have liked. “I would like to make one request before I begin making my case.”

Malisa rolled the gavel about between her fingers. “What is it, Misha Brightleaf?”

“I request that the picture once more be covered.”

Phil started at that, his face aghast at the suggestion. “We need to see this face so that we can remember who it was who was responsible!”

One of Malisa’s eyebrows rose in curiosity at that. Of course, she could not see the offending picture from where she sat, so could not feel the morbid chill of its gaze. Her eyes passed from between Misha and Phil, and then she nodded at last. “The picture was useful during your case, Prince Phil. This is the time for the accused’s defence to speak. If Misha wishes it to be covered, it will be covered.” Phil grumbled, but did not further object. Malisa then turned to a nearby guard. “Would you see to it that the picture is covered?”

The guard nodded, walking over to where Rupert sat, still holding the cloth that had obscured the face when he’d brought it in. The ape handed the cloth over without objection, his face impassive, as if he had no stake whatsoever in the outcome of the trial. The guard then draped the cloth over the picture, making sure that every last bit of that offending canvas was obscured.

“Damn!” Zagrosek muttered as the cloth fell across the mirror, leaving them with nothing to watch. Agathe snorted as if she’d expected this. The dark clad man tightened his fists together. Far too much seemed to be going wrong at just the last moment. First Thulin escaped, neither Marin nor Kaleas had returned yet so he could only assume the worst, and now this.

He wanted to kick something, but held back his temper, seeking the Calm of his Sondeckis. It was easy to find, and soon, his breathing came slowly, measured and relaxed. He turned his gaze dispassionately upon the Runecaster, her face once more covered by the hood of her cloak. “Well, at least we can still hear what they all say.”

Agathe remained quiet, her face turned towards the mirror. Her body was still as if she were in a deep sleep, though the tension in her frame belied that. Zagrosek turned back to face the darkened mirror, resigning himself to only the voices from Metamor.

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