Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXVIII

Having exhausted the vast supply of Long Scouts to speak in Charles’s defence, Misha turned at last to those from Glen Avery. Phil was sitting patiently in his corner not far from them, though there was a strange anxiety to the rabbit’s posture. It was as if the lapine were waiting for some terrible news that only he knew of.

The vulpine let his focus return to the four from Glen Avery, pondering which to question first. His eyes finally settled upon the skunk archer and he called, “I summon Berchem of the Glen to testify.”

Berchem strode forward nonchalantly, nodding respectfully to Misha and to Charles, but mostly to Malisa. He swore to the oath once more, and then sat upon the seat in the booth. His long tail flowed over the top of the booth, the end dangling behind him.

“You met Zagrosek during the assault,” Misha said as he approached the skunk. He did not truly know Berchem well, but if Lord Avery regarded him highly enough to request his presence here, than he would as well.

“You speak truly,” Berchem intoned drily, as if this affair was one that he wished was not occurring, and Misha was certain he felt that way. “I did have a chance to meet this man called Zagrosek.”

“How much time did you spend with him?”

Berchem leaned back ever so slightly. His dark eyes kept their focus upon the Prime Minister though. “Mostly during the third day of the assault. I met him briefly upon the second, but we were not properly introduced until the third. Afterwards we did not have much contact, I being an archer and he a close-quarters fighter.”

“Why was it that you spent time together on the third then?” Misha pressed, being only vaguely aware of what had occurred at Glen Avery during the fighting.

“He, Charles, and their mutual friend Jerome accompanied myself and few of my best archers on a mission towards the northern bridge. We were going to knock it down to prevent Calephas from bringing in any reinforcements.”

“How did Zagrosek behave on this mission?”

“Professionally. He was a quiet stalker, and very capable. When his assistance was requested he gave it without delay, and he gave it to the best of his abilities. At the bridge, he worked tirelessly to knock it down. We had moved beneath it through the ravine it spans. There, he and Charles spun their staves to cover the rest of us from the arrows that the Lutins shot at us. Burris, our wood mage, did his best to burn the wood while Jerome struck at the foundation with his palms. When the Lutins tried to cross the bridge to attack our forces on the other side, both Charles and Zagrosek struck the base of the bridge with their staves, and that proved to be just what was needed to bring the Bridge down, killing scores of Lutins in the process.

“Without Zagrosek, we could not have stopped them, and it is possible that Metamor herself could be under the sway of Nasoj now. There is no telling what value there was in preventing Calephas from reinforcing the army already at Metamor.”

Misha nodded firmly. “So you feel that we have much to thank this Zagrosek for then?”

“Indeed I do,” Berchem flatly declared, his voice firm.

The fox looked from the skunk and over at Malisa. He bowed once to her and smiled slightly to Berchem. “I have no more questions for him at this time, Prime Minister.”

Phil also declined to question one of Misha’s witnesses. That left the fox feeling very uneasy. Why would the rabbit let him develop such a case in favour of Charles and Zagrosek as he was? Was there something that Phil wished to keep back until the last moment so that Misha would have no chance to defend against it? If that was the case, there was little he could do but to proceed as he had been.

He waited for Berchem to leave the witness stand before calling out, “I summon Angus of the Glen to testify.”

The gruff badger rose from his seat, dark eyes focussed only on where he was going. As he sat down, he rubbed one paw across the white diamond of fur upon his forehead as if to make sure it was still there. His voice was stiff though as he swore to the oath, countenance darkened by the events in the Hall of Justice. When Malisa had finished administering the oath, he slouched slightly in his seat, resting his paws on the wooden railing before him.

“Angus, when was it that you first met Zagrosek?”

“The second day of the assault,” Angus said, his voice still stiff. There was a defensiveness to it that the fox could easily understand. “He was with Charles, Garigan, and their other friend Jerome. We found them approaching the Glen from the North, and were quick to invite them into the brewery which was our fall back point. They had just fought off a group of Lutins by themselves in fact.”

“How did Zagrosek behave when he came amongst you?”

“He was courteous, very serious minded, and quite willing to do what he could to defend our homes and the Valley,” Angus smacked his fist down into the wooden railing then. “He helped in every way that I can think of. He even helped mend a few broken bones amongst our warriors when needed.”

Misha nodded, a bit surprised to hear that, but delighted by it nonetheless. “Did you have a chance to see him in battle?”

“Yes, when we were pressing down towards Metamor to help fight off the attackers I saw him several times during the fighting.”

“How did he fight?”

Angus splayed his paws out along the length of the wooden railing. “He used a staff about a fathom long made entirely of a tough metal. He would spin it about in his hands extremely fast, faster than I’d ever seen any other in fact. It proved very effective, especially the way he could dance with it. I never saw a single Lutin or human get close enough to him to do any harm.”

Misha grimaced slightly, but nodded anyway. That was not quite what he’d meant, but it was good to hear regardless. “How did he behave while fighting? Did he appear to relish the combat?”

Angus shook his head firmly, gripping the railing in his paws, his thick claws digging into the wood. “Not at all. Zagrosek did not look like he enjoyed fighting. From what I could tell, he seemed to treat it more as something that had to be done, than anything he particularly wanted to do.”

“So he was completely professional about it? He took no pleasure in the killing?”

“That’s right. Zagrosek did what had to be done for Metamor and for the Glen.”

“So do you feel as Berchem does, that we owe a great deal to this Zagrosek?”

“I do.” Angus’s conviction was clear enough that all could feel it just by watching the way his fur stood.

“Then I have no further questions for you.”

Phil leaned forward then at Malisa’s prompting. “I have no questions for him, Prime Minister.”

Misha bristled slightly but made no objection. After all, what could he possibly object to? There was something definitely wrong with the proceedings, but Malisa would not rule one way or the other based on his gut instincts. And so, Angus rose ponderously and returned to his bench with the other Glenners.

Taking a deep breath, he scanned those four. The only two left were Garigan and Lord Avery. He quickly decided to let Lord Avery speak last from amongst them, as he was a noble and his word, despite Malisa’s assurances, would probably be viewed with greater weight. He cleared his throat and called out, “I summon Garigan to testify.”

The ferret was quick to his footpaws and quick to the stand. He cast a questioning glance towards Charles, but the rat simply nodded from where he sat. Garigan then turned his attention to Malisa, and he too took the oath to tell the truth. However it was plainly obvious in both his manner and the tone of his voice that he was only growing more infuriated as time passed.

“Garigan, could you tell us about what happened when you tracked Wessex down?” That had been something that Phil had intentionally glossed over when he had questioned the ferret. There was no doubt in Misha’s mind that the reason he had done so was because the testimony would have spoken favourably of Charles and Zagrosek.

“Certainly,” Garigan said, his voice edged with ice. “We followed the trail of blood down the corridors of the Keep. Thankfully, Kyia did not change any of the architecture behind the mage, so we had no difficulty in reaching him. When we found him he was already drawing that magical spell on the wall. His throat had been slit completely, his shirt stained by blood, and his eyes vacant of any life. He threw up some strange wall of cloud or steam, and then flung boulders from nothingness at us to keep us at bay.”

The ferret paused, his tongue licking across the front of his muzzle, at the empty space where his two front teeth should have been. “We finally managed to get close to the mage, and we tried to pin him down as best we could, but he kept pressing us back. He slammed his fist into my jaw, breaking my two front teeth completely. Charles, Jerome and Krenek did manage to get Wessex away from the spell for a bit and tried to wipe the chalk lines away with their hands. But there was some protective shield over the spell that flung them back and made their arms go completely numb. While they were distracted, Wessex finished the spell and the Shrieker came through the wall, tearing Wessex in half in the process.

“That thing gave out a terrible cry then,” Garigan paused a moment and his body trembled visibly. “I do not wish to recall it, probably the first time in my life that I was ever really frightened by something.” This revelation took his fellow Glenners by complete surprise. It was clear from their shocked expressions that they had thought Garigan was afraid of nothing.

“And for a brief moment all the light in the hall vanished completely. But the Keep reformed about us in a way I cannot really describe. Every wall was a floor, and each wall had five sides. There was light everywhere, though it bent oddly around the Shrieker. The spell that Wessex had cast had somehow found its way into the centre of the room, and hung in the air like a ghost. I cannot describe it any better than that, it makes my head hurt just trying to conjure the image again.”

Misha gestured with one paw. “So what happened next?”

Garigan caught himself and continued. “We fought the Shrieker of course. Charles and Krenek had their Sondeshikes, and tried to fight with those, but each time they struck the beast, they were flung backwards. Jerome fought with what Wessex’s body had become through whatever devilish magic had been used to reanimate him. I tried to stay out of their way for the most part. Several times I thought the Shrieker was certain to kill one or more of them, but they managed to get away before any killing blows struck home.

“Finally, Charles and Krenek managed to get on opposite sides of the Shrieker. They struck the monster’s head with their Sondeshikes at the same time. The forces ripped the thing’s head asunder completely. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, a furnace cracking from too much heat perhaps. Well, the Shrieker’s body and that of Wessex’s were sucked back through the spell, and the Keep reformed once more, completely erasing the spell, and the wall that it had been drawn upon.

“We resolved to find somebody in authority and tell them of this immediately. Charles specifically told both Jerome and Krenek that the time for secrecy must come to an end, the appearance of a Shrieker at Metamor demanded it. But first, Jerome and Charles held me down while Krenek removed my front two teeth for me, so that the gums could heal properly. He used what little healing magic he had to help as well.”

Misha interjected then, “And have you suffered any ill-effects because of this?”

“Only that when I first tried to speak I whistled constantly. Even the soreness has faded away, and the gums are perfectly healthy.”

“So Zagrosek performed the healing upon you flawlessly?”

“Indeed he did.”

“What happened next?”

Garigan took a deep breath, and then shrugged. “We stumbled upon a group of Keepers nearby fighting off a squad of Lutins. All four of us were quick to assist the fight on behalf of the Keepers. It was then that we learned of Nasoj’s attack.”

“Did you ever see any one in authority?”

“No, there was no time. I wished to defend my home at Glen Avery, and I called Charles on his promise to me when I became his student last Spring.”

“What promise was that?”

“That as soon as I was advanced to the Green that I could return to the Glen anytime I wished. Well, I wished it then, but Charles felt responsible for me and would not let me go alone. Jerome and Krenek both wished to stay and help with the fighting as well, and so they agreed to come to Glen Avery too, regardless of whether the curse would strike them or not.”

“And so you left for the Glen immediately?” Misha pressed, knowing that the ferret’s testimony was going quite a long ways to proving Charles’s innocence.

“No, Charles first wanted to leave a letter for you to let you know where he had gone. We went to his quarters, where Charles ransacked them so that the Lutins would not take notice of it. He then scribed his note and we then set out for the Glen.”

“Did you have many occasions to talk with Zagrosek?”

“Not especially. There were times we spoke, but when an enemy lurks nearby, you usually keep quiet.”

“This enemy being?”

“Nasoj’s invasion army of course.”

“So you did not feel in the least threatened by Zagrosek?”

“No, not at all.”

Misha nodded. “So you still trust him?”

“Of course, I see no reason to feel otherwise.”

“Why is that?”

“Because he is a Sondeckis. It would be impossible for him to do as some have claimed,” Garigan’s eyes strayed off towards his right where Phil sat, but he did not actually look at the rabbit.

Misha nodded firmly once more. “I have no further questions at this time, Prime Minister.”

Malisa gave a cursory glance towards the rabbit, and was slightly surprised to see that Phil did indeed wish to ask some questions of his own. Misha bristled slightly, but stepped several paces back to give the rabbit the room he had always before needed to be around the fox. But Phil moved so quickly towards the stand, Misha wondered if the rabbit really needed that space. He had several times come awfully close to the Long Scout already, and done so without the usual fear that had many times paralysed him. Just what was wrong with him?

Phil leaned forward as he came to stand against the booth. “Garigan, just what did this note that Charles left Misha say?”

“I do not know,” Garigan said through the hole in his clenched teeth. “I was not privy to its contents.”

“Charles did not tell you then what he said? Did you not think to ask what he was doing when he wrote it?”

Garigan shot the rabbit a spiteful look then. “His affairs are not my concern. It is impolite to question your elders.”

“What do you know of the note? Surely he told you the reason for writing it in the first place.”

“I have already said all I know. He wrote the note to let Misha know where he had gone. I do not know if the note contained anything further than that.”

“Don’t you think it strange that a master might not tell his student something so important?”

Garigan shook his head. “Not particularly. The master tells his student only what he needs to know in order to start the journey towards mastery. I am still a student, and all I needed to know was that the letter would let others know where we had gone. That is all he told me.”

Phil grimaced at that, but appeared to realize he would gain nothing further by belabouring the subject. He regained his composure and tried something different. “Now, you say that you do not believe that Zagrosek was capable of these actions because he is a Sondeckis. Is that what you said?”

“That was basically what I said.”

Phil pointed with one paw towards the chained rat who sat in the prisoner’s booth. “You do remember what your mentor said about the White of your clan and the reason he left it in the first place, do you not? About how the White had perverted the cause of justice that your clan so highly esteems, and tried to make the Sondeckis just another tool of power in the South? You do remember this do you not?”

Garigan let out a low snarl, but checked his anger suddenly, cutting off the growl. His face was suddenly calm, almost dispassionate. “I do recall this. I also recall the fact that the White had a perverted sense of what justice was.”

“So why is it impossible for a Sondeckis to have killed the Patriarch?”

“What possible way could justice be served by such a vile act? It clearly would lead to more chaos and instability, which are progenitors of injustice. That sort of act is in direct contradiction to everything a Sondecki will hold dear.”

Phil waggled one paw. “Not if their sense of justice is perverted, much as the White’s had been.”

Garigan crossed his arms, and surveyed the lapine with bemused eyes. “Before I will be willing to even entertain the notion that a Sondeckis was responsible for the Patriarch’s death, you are going to have to show me how killing the Patriarch and all of his men could be skewed as the just thing to do.”

The rabbit did not appear to be daunted by this task. “Simple, he had became ensnared by the power of the censer, and it let him to believe whatever version of justice that the Underworld takes, namely that death and destruction are good for the world.”

“And just how did a Sondeckis come in contact with the censer?” Garigan pointed out.

Phil squirmed slightly at that, scowling visibly. “I do not know. But I doubt that any could ever know such things. The how is not as important as much as it did happen.”

“Are you suggesting that we have to disprove your claim, a claim you make with no evidence?”

Phil nearly exploded at that, spattering invective and half-formed words for his explanations before he was gavelled back into silence by a suddenly furious Malisa. “Control yourself!” She shouted, her face flushed red. Phil took several deep breaths, turned around and hopped back to the banister on his side of the hall. He continued breathing heavily for a few moments, staring distractedly at the ground. “I assume you have no further questions for Garigan?” Malisa pressed, at which point the rabbit looked up and nodded.

When the Prime Minister turned her gave upon the fox, Misha could only shake his head, heart still trembling at the rabbit’s outburst. He’d never seen the like of it. Given the shaken looks most bore, he could tell they’d never seen him that way either. Most telling was Rupert’s look of frightful concern. If the Great Ape was worried, then something was dreadfully wrong, beyond even Misha’s imaginings.

“I do not have need to question Garigan any further, Prime Minister,” Misha finally managed, his voice betraying none of his fears. The ferret walked quietly back to his seat with the other Glenners, still retaining the impassivity he had brought upon himself so suddenly. “I call Lord Brian Avery to testify.”

The squirrel did not appear to be surprised by this at all. Instead, he rose even before Misha had finished calling his name, as if he’d been waiting for his turn to testify. He crossed the hall and took his place in the chair, long grey tail draped over the back of the booth much as Berchem’s had before him. His eyes never wavered as he spoke the oath. Though his blood was noble, he carried the same accent within it that the other Glenners shared.

Misha approached the booth slowly, trying not to look at the rabbit. Whatever was wrong, there was little he could do for it right now. For the moment he would have to focus on proving Charles’s innocence. “Lord Avery, which events that your fellow Glenners have described were you personally a witness to?”

Avery lifted his chin. “I was there for the battles that Angus has described, and I saw the bridge that Berchem spoke of collapse. I also led the planning for these attacks that Zagrosek participated in.”

“And what can you say of his behaviour? Did you have any reason to suspect him of ill intent?”

Avery shook his head firmly at that. “None whatsoever. A finer more dedicated warrior I would be hard-pressed to find. He fought for a land that was not his own with as much verve as one born there. He only left once the battle was won. If he had to, he would have stayed and let the Curse take him to defend our home.”

“Why would he have done that?” Misha asked.

“Because he believed in our cause that strongly. That is why. Krenek Zagrosek is a man of integrity and honour, a man who values justice above all things. He could not stand by and do nothing when our homes were being destroyed.”

“And he really helped with the healing of your injured?”

The grey squirrel nodded firmly at that. “Yes, he did. After the bridge had been destroyed, he took it upon himself to assist in mending the wounds of the injured as best he could. There were not many to mend, for which we thank the gods, but he helped anyway.”

“And how are they who he helped doing now?”

“They are all in perfect health,” Brian Avery answered without hesitation.

Misha feigned surprise at this, though he doubted that with his usual countenance that this was entirely convincing. “Really?” He asked, grey eyes wide. “You mean to say that they are not suffering any strange side effects from being under Zagrosek’s care? That these individuals are completely healthy?”

“That is precisely what I am saying. Their injuries are no more thanks to him.”

Misha nodded. “A marvel it is! Do you think that a man who had slaughtered the Patriarch would heal your men as this Zagrosek had done?”

“No,” Avery declared, his voice firm. “Not for a moment do I believe it possible.”

“Why not?”

Avery took a deep breath. “Well, let us consider a few things. First off, if you are going to kill the Patriarch, then why spare the lives of what would be in comparison some insignificant woodsmen? What motive was there for the Patriarch’s death? What has been brought about by it? From what I understand the most obvious result is increasing tensions between the Lothanasi and Patildor. This could easily lead to war unless handled very delicately. If Nasoj had been able to take Metamor, the already unstable balance between Sathmore, the Midlands, and Pyralis would have been dealt a serious blow. Nasoj would be a potent force that they would have to deal with, and that kind of spark could be just what was needed to bring about full scale war.

“Now, what I’ve heard today tells me that this censer likes death, gains power from it in fact. So if that is the case, why wouldn’t they want Metamor to fall? It makes no sense to defend Metamor, or even to save the lives of those allied with Metamor. It would work against every one of their goals. So Krenek Zagrosek cannot possibly be the same man as the one that killed the Patriarch. If he was, he never would have helped us in our battle, and he certainly would not have healed my men.”

Misha nodded throughout Lord Avery’s speech, feeling as if everything the squirrel was saying was exactly what needed to be said. “You make a good point, my lord,” And Misha meant the honorific.

Avery inclined his head. “Thank you, Misha Brightleaf.”

“So, would you trust Krenek Zagrosek if you had occasion to see him again?”

The squirrel did not pause for even a moment before nodding firmly. “Without a doubt. Nothing I have heard here this day leads me to believe he is anything but a good and just man.”

Misha wagged his tail once and then turned to Malisa whose face was as impassive as it had always been. “I have no further questions for Lord Brian Avery, Prime Minister.”

“Prince Phil, do you have anything to ask of Lord Avery?” Malisa said, her voice showing none of the strain that Misha was sure she must be feeling.

Phil nodded at that. “Yes, I do have a few.”

The fox flinched as he heard that, but stepped back from the booth as was necessary. Quick on his heels was the rabbit, hopping up to the wall of the booth, eyes intent. “Lord Avery, why did you trust Zagrosek at first?”

“Because Charles told me that he was a friend.”

“So you take Charles at his word then?”

“Of course, he is a friend of the Glen.”

Phil nodded sagely at that. “Of course. And how long have you known Charles?”

“Since this last Spring.”

“I see. And how much time have you spent in his presence?”

Avery’s eyes narrowed, but he kept his composure. “Enough to know that he is a man that I can trust.”

Phil shook his head. “When aside from his time with you during the attack on Mount Nuln, and the recent siege were you ever together?”

“During the Summer Festival we spent a good bit of time together, and the week preceding the attack on Mount Nuln.”

“Amazing. You know a person for that short space of time, and yet you continue to believe him innocent even after hearing all of the evidence against him?”

The grey squirrel turned his gaze upon the rabbit incredulously, but also with a hint of anger. “Evidence? What evidence? All I have heard is vague rumour and accusation. You have a picture from a man who did not see him very well while under a magic induced trance, and the content of dreams. What frightens me more is the fact that you are so willing to believe Charles guilty, somebody who had been your friend for years.”

Phil waved one paw dismissively at that. “The evidence that you deride is far stronger than you make it out to be. If we are not to believe what those who spoke saw, than we may as well not believe that we are speaking to each other right now.”

Avery crossed his arms over his chest. “I believe that. After all, you cannot possibly be saying the things you are.”

A couple of the Longs chuckled openly at that, though Phil did not appear to be amused. “So you trusted Zagrosek because Charles told you he was a friend?”

“I believe I’ve already told you the answer to that. Yes, I did at first. After a few days I trusted him because of what he had done for us, but at first, it was on Charles’s word.”

“And Charles never told you of what he knew Zagrosek to be suspected for? He never told you that some of us knew that man to be the Patriarch’s killer, and the one responsible for Loriod’s actions?”

“No, he never mentioned them.”

Phil leaned in closer. “And just what would you have done if he had?”

Avery blinked a moment then at the sudden question. “I’m not quite certain. Try to hold him prisoner at the very least, certainly.”

“Several others who have access to more information than Charles does have told you that he is responsible for those atrocities, and yet you do not believe them. Why is that?”

Avery turned back to face the Prime Minister then, his eyes hiding the anger he clearly felt. “I have seen this man for myself. I have rendered my own judgement about his character. Your information must be mistaken.”

“And you are of course a perfect judge of character,” Phil added caustically.

“No,” Avery bit out. “But I have not misjudged anyone before.”

Phil shrugged. “Well, there’s a first time for all things. Prime Minister, I have no further questions for Lord Avery.”

Misha grimaced but shook his head when asked if he had anything further to ask of the squirrel. Phil had not done nearly as much damage as he had feared he might, and saw little need to repair it. Instead, he simply watched the Lord of the Glen return back to the benches, his tail held high, almost haughtily so. The fox could not blame him for his attitude.

He surveyed the crowd, and took a deep breath. There were not many more that he could bring forward. Aside from Charles, there was one other that appeared to have great promise, but he would save that for the penultimate. His eyes then settled upon the small tan rat sitting next to his love. Misha wished he could spare her from Phil, but he had little choice. “I summon Lady Kimberly to testify.”

Both Matthias and Kimberly stirred at that. Charles leaned forward to watch her rise from her seat, her face a mix of surprise, and uncertainty. It took a gentle and reassuring push from Caroline to get her to finally move forward towards the witness booth. She took the seat uncertainly though, her tail curling around the posts. When she swore to the oath, her voice was firmer, but she still had the appearance of a woman about ready to flee.

Misha crossed over to her, and smiled as soothingly as he could. He kept his voice low as well when he finally spoke, as it took him a few moments to come up with the perfect question to set her at ease. “Lady Kimberly, would you tell me how it was that you came to love Charles?”

He and the entire court were rewarded with volumes.

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