Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXVI

Malisa nodded to the fox after the guard had returned to his position against the wall. “You may state your defence now, Misha Brightleaf of the Longs.”

The fox inclined his head once respectfully to her, his whole body wound tight. “Thank you, Prime Minister. Phil has accused Charles Matthias of very little, merely that he kept back information regarding an enemy, and protected that enemy during the Solstice. However, I will show you that it is Phil himself who has been misled by the enemy. There is no doubt that the man who was controlling Loriod, and who killed the Patriarch and his men is one of our most lethal enemies. Perhaps even more lethal than Nasoj himself.

“Yet what I am going to do is show to you that Zagrosek and our enemy are not the same man at all. I will prove to you that the enemy could easily have disguised himself as Charles’s friend. I will further provide evidence that shows that Zagrosek is not the villain Phil claims he is. We will hear about what he did during the assault, and how he saved the lives of many here at Metamor and at Glen Avery. And we will hear about the clan to which he belonged, and how it would be impossible for any member to do such terrible things.

“Phil has also suggested that Matt could not be trusted. I will demonstrate otherwise, and in the countless ways in which he has been entrusted with the most vital of missions, missions that could have proven the unmaking of Metamor if not done properly. And you will have to ask yourself if you really believe that somebody who has proven himself time and time again, even when he could have easily compromised us all, is capable of working with the Patriarch’s killer.

“You will hear of the good that he has done, from those who know him best. And you will hear how he has maintained his principles, even in the worst of situations. Charles Matthias is not a man who could be a party to the Patriarch’s death, or any other travesty. And you will know all this with total certainty before this day is over.”

Misha paused a moment, not sure what further could be said, as there was little else he was interested in proving, little else that needed to be proved. Turning back slightly, he called out, “I call Jessica to testify.” The hawk did not appear completely surprised, though she did start slightly, wings fluttering as she hopped along the floor. Misha stood out of her way, meeting her gaze firmly, encouragingly. She nodded a bit as she came up to the stand, settling within it as comfortably as possible.

“You are still under oath,” Malisa announced. “You may begin, Brightleaf.”

The fox turned once more to the hawk mage, and smiled. “Now, Jessica, let us restate a few things. Is it possible for a person to mask his identity with magic?”

She nodded. “Yes, it is.”

“And is it possible for he to do so while casting other magical spells?”

“Yes, it is more difficult but possible.”

“Now, is it also possible to mask your identity within a dream?”

Jessica kept nodding. “That too can be done.”

“Even when you are invading another person’s dream?”

“Even then.”

“Could you mask your identity against magical scrying?”

“Yes. That would be the most difficult of all, but it is still possible, as long as you are a stronger mage than the one scrying.”

Misha stood against the booth, resting his right arm upon the wood. “Would you say that the one responsible for controlling Loriod and killing the Patriarch would have enough power to have completely masked his identity against your master Wessex’s abilities?”

Jessica paused a moment, and then nodded. “I believe he would have that power, yes.”

Misha nodded happily at that. Although he’d been disappointed when Phil forced her to say she believed her master had been correct, he understood it and would not hold that against her. He knew well that a student would naturally trust their master before another, and she was no exception. “Now, what do you know of the censer that our enemy used to open that tear that your master discovered?”

“It was very old, not truly part of this world. It moves between our world and the Underworld. If enough magical power is focussed into it, it will tear the curtain between the two worlds in its passage.”

“So it is extremely powerful?”

“Yes, extremely powerful.”

“And just how did its power effect those around it?”

Jessica cracked her beak open and shuddered as she remembered what the two of them had read in Wessex’s notes. “My master said that it was terribly cunning, planting thoughts into the heads of those around it, making them see things that were not real, and ignoring things that were. My master left Dorson alone with it in the first place because the censer had assured him that it would be safe to do so, forcing him to ignore the magical power that began to blossom within it.”

“So illusions are something that comes naturally to the censer?”

“My master felt so, yes. It used deception to further its own ends.”

Misha drummed his claws thoughtfully along the wooden brace. “Now an item of such great power as that, would it be possible for a mage under its sway to use the powers of the censer for his own advantage?”

She nodded. “That’s fairly common. Most articles of great power will share their power and abilities with those they control. That is something we have learned from antiquity.”

“So, to hide his own identity, our enemy could have relied not only on his own power, but the power in the censer to disguise himself?”

“Yes, he could have done so.”

“And just how easy would that be to accomplish?”

Jessica pulled her wings in tight behind her. “I do not know. My master never considered that our enemy would have disguised himself as well.”

Misha nodded slightly, drumming his claws again. “Knowing what he did, I ask you to consider it now. Just how easy or difficult do you think it would have been for our enemy to use the power the censer held to disguise himself?”

She took a deep breath, her eyes scanning over towards the rat a moment, before reasserting themselves on the Prime Minister. “I do not believe it would have been very difficult for him to do. Especially since he was able to use the censer to tear a hole to the Underworld in Metamor.”

“And isn’t Metamor itself protected by Kyia?”

Jessica nodded. “Yes, Kyia protects Metamor from as much harm as she is able.”

“Don’t you think that she would have tried to stop this tear from forming?”

“I do.”

“So, whoever used this censer had enough power to overcome whatever resistance Kyia could have presented. Is that not the case?”

“It is the case.”

“So disguising himself against the chance that any might stumble upon him in his casting would have presented no challenge then?”

“Not much of one,” Jessica said, nodding slowly.

Misha stepped away from the witness booth for a moment, rubbing his paws together. “Now, let us speak more about this censer. Who made it, and how long ago was it made?”

“No human scholar knows of its origins.” Jessica shivered slightly as she thought about that, her feathers fluttering involuntarily. “Only the elves would know from where it came and what it is truly capable of.”

“So, this censer was made by the elves?”

“As far as we know.”

“So, would it not seem far more reasonable to expect that if the censer was to be used, that an elf would be the one to use it?”

“I suppose so.”

“And does it not also by the same token make it far less likely that a human would gain possession of this ancient evil, no matter how powerful?”

Jessica nodded. “It does.”

Misha paused a moment, letting all of that sink into both Malisa, and everyone in the crowd. He took a long breath and then pressed on. “Now, everything our enemy has done has been in hiding, has it not? No group on this entire continent has claimed credit for any of the crimes that he has committed. So, would you say secrecy is important to our enemy?”

The hawk was not quite sure what to make of the question, but she finally nodded. “I think it is. He has only appeared to a very few. Most who have seen him are dead.”

“So do you think it would be advantageous for our enemy to conceal his appearance to any who might glimpse him?”

“I think it would be, yes.”

The fox smiled once more, and nodded his head to Jessica, and then to Malisa. “I have no further questions for Jessica at this time, Prime Minister.”

Misha had barely turned about on his paws on his way back towards the banister when Phil was upon the booth. Yet his face was completely serene, a fact that gave the fox even more pause than his fevered pace only moments before. “Jessica, I asked you before whether you trusted your master’s judgement or not.”

“Yes, you did,” Jessica replied, her guard up instantly. Misha could tell from her posture that she had no wish to answer the rabbit’s questions, something that made him feel even more disposed to the hawk. There was a good spirit within that avian form, one that he hoped he’d get to know even better.

“Do you still trust your master’s judgement?”

“On what?”

The rabbit waggled his ears a moment, though it appeared to be borne out of impatience instead of humour. “Do you believe that your master was correct in asserting that the identity of our enemy was this Krenek Zagrosek?”

Jessica flexed her wings a moment. “There is so much it could be, I have a hard time deciding.”

Phil nodded, but leaned closer, pressing his forepaws against the side of the booth as he gazed up into her predatory face. “I am asking you to decide. Do you still trust your master when he said that his attacker was Krenek Zagrosek, or do you believe that he was mistaken?”

She shook her head a moment, gazing up imploringly at Malisa first, and then casting one golden eye back to peer at the fox, as if she were seeking some escape. But there was none that they could offer her just then. So, Jessica let her beak hang down slightly, as the words escaped from her throat, “I trust my master.”

The rabbit appeared pleased at that, nodding over to the Prime Minister, “That is all I have to ask.”

Malisa glanced across to the fox. “You may question her again if you wish.”

But Misha was already approaching, offering the hawk a comforting smile. She appeared to smile back to him, though as she did not have a proper mouth, it appeared a little silly. Only the practised eye of one at Metamor would know it for what it was. Outsiders might think it a look of hunger, perhaps mistake it drastically.

“Now Jessica,” Misha began, his words coming slowly. “You seemed reluctant to answer his questions. Why is that?”

Jessica shook her head. “I just don’t know what I believe for certain.”

“But you would trust your master wouldn’t you?”

The hawk nodded firmly. “In most things yes. And I believe that he did see what he claimed to have seen. But it could have been an illusion, and very easily so.”

“But didn’t he realise the censer had fooled him?” Misha pointed out. “Why wouldn’t he have though that the man was not who he appeared to be?”

“Because there’s never been any particular consequence that led Wessex to doubt the man’s identity. With the censer, the trickery led to Dorson’s death and the tear being made. What has thinking our enemy was a man named Zagrosek led to?”

“Aside from this trial you mean?” Misha asked suddenly, casting one callous glance to the rabbit, but otherwise held the hawk’s gaze. “A very good question you pose indeed. Now, having said all this, what would you say the odds are that our enemy is Zagrosek, and the odds that it is somebody else disguising themselves as Zagrosek?”


“The chances. Such as five times out of ten something is true. What are the chances that Wessex was right about his attacker?”

Jessica paused a moment then, her face lost in thought. Finally, she said in clear tones, “I would say eleven times out of twenty that my master was correct.”

“And the other nine times our enemy is not Zagrosek at all?”

She nodded. “That is what I feel.”

Misha smiled warmly to her, and then nodded to Malisa, “Prime Minister, I am ready to call my next witness.”

Malisa struck the gavel once. “You may be excused, Jessica.” The hawk nodded her thanks to them both, and hopped back beyond the banisters, taking her place in the far corner. Her face was awash with obvious relief. Misha felt a bit better as well, as he knew that he was going to be able to successfully mount Charles’s defence. But his concerns about the rabbit had not in the least been allayed. He would have to warn the others of his indescribable suspicions, but there would be time for that later.

“I summon Duke Thomas Hassan to the stand,” Misha called out, much to the surprise of the Keepers, Thomas included. Yet the horse lord rose from his seat, and flanked by four guards, made his way across the room, sitting firmly in the witness booth.

After Malisa administered the oath to her father, she turned to the fox and said in clear tones, “I wish to make one thing clear. Though he may be my father, his word will weigh the same as any other who will testify.”

“I understand, Prime Minister. But there are things I must ask him that only he can reveal.”

She nodded firmly and gestured for him to continue. “Of course. Ask whatever it is you wish.”

The fox inclined his head respectfully first to her, and then to the Duke, who was shifting about in the wooden chair a bit uncomfortably. “Duke Thomas,” Misha began, “When was it that Charles was brought into your and the Prince’s confidence?”

“Last Spring. It was at the end of April. He had just returned from a mission to the North to retrieve an amulet that Nasoj had gained possession of.”

“What was this amulet?”

“It was an artifact with the ability to magnify the wizard’s metamorphic magics. It would have been possible for him to take common insects and shape them into an army of half-Lutin half-insect warriors. Against such odds, neither Metamor nor the Midlands would have stood much chance.”

“So this was a terribly vital mission you trusted Matt with?”

Thomas nodded firmly. “Yes, it was.”

“If he had decided to betray us then, would there have been any hope of our continued survival?”

The horse lord snorted. “It would depend on who he betrayed us to. But no matter who, the situation would have been grim.”

“Why did you trust him with such a mission then? He was only the Head of the Writer’s Guild.”

“It had to do with the prophecy that Channing had uncovered just a few months before.”

“Prophecy?” Misha asked, knowing that this would be what he needed. Many of his fellow Longs were whispering amongst themselves. This was likely the first time they had heard of any prophecy as well.

“It was the last prophecy of Mad Felix of Lee. In it were mentioned three figures who would be pivotal to changing the direction of this world.”

Misha nodded, his tail wagging despite himself. “And just who were those three figures?”

“Felix did not list any names, but he called them the Horse Lord, the Hare of White, and the Rat of Might.”

“The Horse Lord, the Hare of White, and the Rat of Might. From that description alone it seems quite clear that these three figures would be coming from Metamor, does it not?”

“We had decided the same thing.”


“Channing, Phil and I. This was all before Channing was compelled to leave Metamor for his own reasons. His absence is painfully felt in this matter. It was his belief, and he convinced us of this, that I was the Horse Lord, and that Phil was the Hare of White.”

“Certainly you fit the descriptions. But who was the Rat of Might?”

Thomas glanced over at Charles. The rat was grinning sardonically then, but made no other gesture. “We did not know then. That is until Charles demonstrated a surprising combative ability out of the blue. Although we did not know the full extent of his abilities at the time, it was clear to all of us that he must be the third member of the triumvirate.”

“So, Charles was mentioned within the prophecy?”

“Yes, we believe so.”

“And who had access to this prophecy?”

“Here at the Keep we kept a close guard over it. Few aside from the three of us involved knew of it.”

“Would there be other copies that might exist elsewhere in the world?”

The stallion nodded, snorting through his large nostrils. “Most certainly. I do not know how many there might be, but there must have been other copies of this prophecy.”

“So, do you think it would be possible for somebody to know that the three of you would be together even before you had been?”

The stallion’s ears turned at that, uncertain. “It is possible that they would have suspect Phil and myself as playing a role, but Charles had been hiding his abilities. It seems to me that they would have to know who he was in the first place to realize that he was the Rat of Might.”

Misha was not completely delighted by the answer, but he knew that it was a genuine point that needed addressing. But at least he had begun to answer one of Phil’s arguments against the enemy pretending to be Zagrosek.

“Now,” the fox said, suddenly alighting upon something, “if I am correct in suggesting that our enemy is not Zagrosek at all, but another disguising himself as Matt’s friend, would it not be clear that our enemy was aware of who Charles was?”

Thomas nodded. “Yes, I’d say that was very clear.”

“Thank you, your grace,” Misha smiled to the stallion. Turning to Malisa, he gestured with one paw. “Prime Minister, I have no more questions for Duke Thomas at this moment.”

“Phil, he is your witness,” Malisa said, her voice retaining the official demeanour demanded of it.

The rabbit hopped forward, even as Misha stepped back several paces. Phil’s face was a curious mix, though not one that the fox could place. “Your grace, just how exactly did we determine that Charles was the Rat of Might?”

Thomas snorted. “After he distinguished himself on the field of battle, he marched into my official chambers, beat his way past my guards as if they were nothing. Deflected one of the late Posti’s spells, and nearly killed me. He was stopped only by the cry of his love. He went to the dungeon willingly after that.”

Phil nodded. “He assaulted you, the Duke of Metamor.” The Longs were seething in their anger. Finbar was mouthing obscenities again, but was quickly calmed down once more by Danielle’s touch. Misha bristled as well, knowing full well that the event was not nearly as devastating as the rabbit was attempting to portray. Even Charles appeared uninterested in the description of his rage filled attack.

Phil waited for those words to sink in before he looked back up to Malisa and inclined his head. “I have nothing further to ask of his Grace.”

Malisa nodded, but Misha could not wait for her instructions to begin bringing the truth of that affair to light. “Now, your grace, just what motivated Matt’s assault?”

The stallion cast a sidelong glance at the rat but his focus returned to his daughter shortly. “He had taken a vow of nonviolence when he had come to Metamor. At our orders he was forced to go up North to fight against an army of Lutins that our intelligence had spotted. After being congratulated for breaking his vow, something that meant a great deal to him, he became so enraged that he needed to take out his anger.”

“And you were the natural target?”

“I believe so. After several consultations on this matter, I came to realize that his attempt at regicide had been performed under a mindless anger. It was not something he would have ever done otherwise.”

“So you have forgiven him for what had almost been done.”

Thomas nodded firmly. “Yes, I have forgiven Charles for his bit of rage. If he did it again I would change my mind though.”

Misha leaned forward slightly, tail wagging in eager anticipation. “And do you expect any such attack would ever occur again?”

“No, I do not,” Thomas gazed once at the rat, turning his whole head to do so. His eyes studied the rodent in chains for a moment, and Charles returned the gaze, his face impassive. “I do not believe that Charles would ever openly attack me again.”

“Do you still trust him?”

Thomas breathed deeply, still studying the rat. “I do not completely trust him at this moment. I do not believe he has been a deliberate traitor, but he will need to earn my complete trust once more.”

The Longs were uncharacteristically silent at that. Misha himself felt as if he had received the slap across the face that had been delivered to the rat. Thomas’s answer was not the one that he had wanted to hear, but it was hardly one that he could argue with. The stallion had kept Zagrosek secret from him too.

“Would you still trust him with vital missions?”

Thomas waited for a moment, turning back to his daughter. And then he nodded his head. “Yes, I would. And by such he would earn my complete trust again.”

Misha nodded firmly, breathing a sigh of relief. “I have no further questions.”

After Malisa had struck the gavel, Duke Thomas rose to his hooves and walked with dignified grace back towards his seat. Misha waited until Thomas was once more comfortable, his guards flanking him as always. Once that was done, he let his face stand out in profile to the Longs. “I summon Finbar.”

The ferret nodded his head in approval at that, nearly jumping to his feet in his rush to get to the witness booth. He could hardly resist showing a sneer to the rabbit, but became impassive once more after sitting down. His face was firm, determined, and he spoke the oath through clenched teeth. The anger that existed in that musteline body was clear.

“Finbar, you were with Charles on the night of the Patriarch’s murder, is that not correct?”

Finbar nodded. “Yes.”

“And you also accompanied him during a scouting mission while the Patriarch was staying with us?”

“Yes, I was.”

“Was he at your side the whole time?”

“The only time he was not was when we had to cross the grass as animals.”

Misha nodded, it was standard Long Scout procedure for the animal morphs, whose forms were small. “And how long did that take you?”

“Roughly a minute. Otherwise we were together the whole time.”

“And did you notice anything strange about Matt during that time?”

“No, nothing.”

“So you have no reason to suspect that he might have known that the Patriarch was to be killed.”

“No!” the ferret shouted loud enough to be heard through the thick doors of the chamber. There was a vehemence to his eyes that spoke ever clearer volumes of his distaste for the notion.

“How did you find out that the Patriarch was going to be attacked?”

Finbar grimaced slightly at the memory, his bout of fury passed. “Gornul warned us. Flashed the image in our minds of somebody attacking the Patriarch. We rushed there as fast as we could.”

“And did Matt rush there as fast as you?”

“He was faster. He turned himself into a rat-taur and took off like a bolt of lightening.”

Misha nodded his head, staring up at Malisa. “So Matt was desperate to get to the Patriarch’s side so that he might save him. That hardly seems like the action of a man in cahoots with the killer.”

“It strikes me as somebody who had nothing to do with the killer before or after,” Finbar replied in a tone so unlike his usual self.

Misha turned and stared once up at Malisa to make sure that she understood what had been said. “Now if you would,” he said, returning his focus upon the ferret, “tell us what happened that day. Was there anything unusual in Matt’s behaviour?”

“None whatsoever,” Finbar asserted firmly. “I had travelled early that morning about a half day’s ride south through the Valley. The only one accompanying me was Llyn.” Everyone in the room sat silently for a moment out of respect for the marten, killed only a few weeks ago during the assault. “Charles and Murikeer caught up with us an hour later. It was just shortly past noon by then. We sat in the woods, scouted about frequently, but we saw nothing during all that time except for a few deer, some rabbits, and one stray fox. We talked some, but quietly, and usually in our sign language.

“Towards late afternoon we watched for the Patriarch’s caravan. It passed us by without incident, looking just as fine as it had when it had arrived at Metamor. We stayed where we were, continuing to scout around frequently through the area. It began to rain sometime shortly after nightfall. We stayed in the trees after that, trying to keep dry, though we came out into the clearing regularly to watch the road. It was around midnight that Gornul arrived and warned us of the attack.”

“So there was nothing odd about Matt’s behaviour?” Misha pressed.

“Nothing whatsoever. He carried out his duties professionally and eagerly. I am honoured to serve at his side.”

The fox nodded firmly, his fellow Long speaking as had expected him too. “Now, I have just two more questions for you. Do you trust Charles?”

Finbar nodded emphatically. “Yes. I trust him with my life.”

“Even now?”

“Especially now,” Finbar asserted, his face resolute.

“So you believe him when he says that his friend Zagrosek did not kill the Patriarch?”


Misha nodded to Malisa, while Phil was already hopping forward. The look of pure disgust upon the ferret’s face was plain to all in the chamber, even though the Long Scout was looking at the Prime Minister. Phil did not seem to notice the venom in the musteline body, his face set. “Now, Finbar, when did you first hear of this man Zagrosek?”


Phil pretended as if he were surprised by the answer, though it was clear to all in the room that he was not. “You mean to say that Charles, your fellow Long Scout never told you about Zagrosek?”

Finbar scowled, growling through his teeth. His paws gripped the wall of the both before him, claws digging into the wood. “I first heard of him yesterday.”

Phil nodded then. “Now you say you trusted Charles with your life. Why is that?”

“He’s a Long. He’s family.” The ferret’s words were terse and growing more viscous with each passing moment. Misha bristled as well, feeling a growl grow in the back of his throat. He knew what was coming next, and wished he could stop the rabbit from saying it.

“Do you still trust Baldwin...” Phil got no farther than that before Finbar screamed in rage, nearly jumping down from the booth to rip the rabbit’s throat out. Phil was quick to hop back, as a group of guards rushed forward to restrain the ferret. Malisa slammed the gavel down upon the table as Finbar spat and hissed foul obscenities. He was joined by most of the Longs in his snarling and spitting. Even Misha let out a yowl of protest, though he rushed forward, helping the guards restrain Finbar.

“Calm yourself!” Misha cried out, pulling the ferret to his seat, pinning his arms behind his back. The ferret’s eyes spat murder at the rabbit, even as the rabbit appeared triumphant in his appraisal. After spitting out several more obscenities in a language a few recognized as the Lutin tongue, Finbar finally acceded to Misha’s wish, and tempered himself, growling low beneath his breath, but remaining still.

Malisa narrowed her eyes as she gazed at the ferret. “One more outburst like that and I will have you ejected from these chambers. Do you understand?”

Finbar nodded abruptly, though his face was still twisted with his rage. “Yes, Prime Minister.”

And then surprisingly, Malisa turned upon the rabbit. “You have made your point. Do not mention him again.”

Phil blinked and was quite taken aback by this. Misha watched with keen interest, still standing so close to the ferret’s back. It was obvious that for each Long Scout that he brought forward to testify on Charles’s behalf, Phil would have asked them if they had suspected the traitor. Misha doubted he could keep control of his own temper if the rabbit had been allowed to continue in that fashion.

At last, the rabbit bowed his head, cowed. “Of course, Prime Minister,” he said, his voice subdued. “I have no further questions then.” Phil backed off slowly, eyeing both Finbar and the fox curiously, as though they themselves had landed the blow of the reprimand Malisa had delivered.

Misha waited several moments before he resumed questioning the ferret. “Now, Finbar, you said you had never heard of Zagrosek until yesterday. Why do you think that is?”

“Because Charles knew he was not our enemy.”

“So there was no reason to warn us?”


“Was Charles the only one who could have told us about Zagrosek?”

Finbar shook his head. “No.”

“Who else knew?”

“That Prince knew,” Finbar spat then, his body shaking in his contained rage. It was clear that the ferret wanted to destroy something, if not the rabbit himself.

“Strange that he would accuse Charles of negligence for not telling us of this man, yet he himself did not tell us either.”

Phil let out a sharp cry of protest at that, but Malisa gavelled him into silence. Finbar could only snort in derision though, grumbling words that many did not wish to hear at all. Misha smiled slightly and patted his friend upon one shoulder then. “You can go back to your seat now.”

Malisa was quick to make the gesture official, and soon Finbar was stalking back behind the banister. Danielle was at his side in moments, gently coaxing him into his seat, whispering calming and soothing words into his ears. Misha looked out across the Longs for a moment before settling upon the lutrine visage of his love. He hated to bring any of them to testify, but there was little choice in the matter.

“I call Caroline Hardy to testify.” The otter was quick to rise when her name had been called by her lover. She patted Kimberly once upon the shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze, before walking around the banister and settling herself down in the witness booth. Malisa administered the oath as before, and then, Caroline’s soft brown eyes found Misha’s grey. “How long have you known Matt?”

“I’ve known him for several years, but we only became close during May and June of this last year.”

“And have you ever known him to do anything suspicious?”

She shook her head. “No. He has always been friendly and of good character.”

Misha smiled to her then, savouring the turn of her every word. “When was the first time you served alongside of him?”

“During the scouting mission to the ruins of Mol Dahir last Summer. Charles was part of a group of four of us. The others were yourself and Craig.” She paused a moment after saying it, a look of sudden fear as events played in her mind. Misha knew well what was occurring in his beloved’s head, and was quick to bring her back from the brink of the madness that threatened to consume her once more.

“And what did you discover at Mol Dahir?”

Caroline blinked and then nodded, her lutrine features calming down once more. “The ruins were deserted, the forest having reclaimed a good portion of the structure. But when we tried to sleep that night, the ghosts of the fortress reenacted the terrible battle that led to the fort’s downfall.”

A few in the crowd shivered at the mention of such unearthly spirits, but Misha pressed on. “And what else did we find there?”

Caroline breathed deeply, as if trying to remember what it had been called. And then, after a moment’s pause she spoke in a clear voice. “It was called a Taugwaith. A forest spirit in the shape of a shadowy fox. They are very rare, protecting regions they consider their domain, but normally staying out of sight.”

“And just what did the Taugwaith do?”

“It saved our lives,” Caroline said, her voice firm. “To even see one is a good omen, but to be saved by one is a sign of great honour and privilege. To be held in such esteem speaks well of those saved.”

“How did it save your lives?”

“We were ambushed by a group of Lutins let by an Ogre. There were far too many of them for the four of us to defeat all on our own. The Taugwaith ripped out the throat of the Ogre right before us. The rest of the Lutins were frightened and fled at the sight of the leader being killed by a shadow.”

Misha leaned forward, gently rapping his claws along one side of the booth. “Now, would a Taugwaith save the life of a man contemplating evil?”

Caroline shook her head. “No. They are guardian spirits. They could only harm those that wished evil.”

“And Matt was among those saved by this Taugwaith?”

Caroline nodded. “Yes, he was.”

Misha smiled slightly. “Then that would mean that he had no evil intentions, is that not correct?”

Again, the otter nodded. “That is correct.”

The fox smiled even more broadly, and then turned to Malisa, “Prime Minister, I have no further questions for her at this time.”

Malisa nodded and offered Phil the chance to ask questions of his own. The rabbit shook his head however, his eyes firm, but calm. “Then,” she said, “you may call your next witness, Brightleaf.”

Misha watched as his love left the witness booth, squeezing her paw once gingerly in his own. She returned the motion, offering him a warm smile before she walked back behind the banister. His eyes followed her body, before he realized that he needed to summon another to the stand. He glanced among those assembled, wondering which Long Scout he should bring forward next.

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