Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXX

Misha smiled to Lady Kimberly then as she finished telling the rest of them about being with Charles in the dungeon only the previous day. Her descriptions of their courtship had been short on words, but large on her body language. While she spoke, she seemed transported to a different world, and all their present tribulations were forgotten. Even Charles had closed his eyes and just smiled as he remembered each and every event she detailed. Misha could well imagine the two rats walking paw in paw through the summer gardens, watching the sun set behind the mountains, or sharing a meal together privately well into the night. All of it he too could see, and on many occasions he would look back towards Caroline and offer her a knowing smile, which she returned threefold.

It had taken some time for her to say all that she had, but Misha knew that it would be hard not to see the tender and gentle side of Matthias now. In fact, he’d had no idea just how tender and compassionate he really could be until Kimberly had described their times alone together. Misha could not help but smile, knowing just how happy they would be together. However, his eyes strayed towards the rabbit, who appeared impervious to all that had been said. He did not want to let Kimberly be at his mercy, but he had no choice anymore.

“I have no further questions for Lady Kimberly, Prime Minister,” Misha said, his voice resigned. He did not look at the rabbit, half-afraid of what he might see.

However, to his glad surprise, Phil said, “I have no questions for Lady Kimberly, Prime Minister.” Misha could not help but breathe a sigh of relief. He held out his paw to assist Kimberly in stepping down from the booth, and she gladly took it, but not before one last longing look at her husband-to-be. Misha led her a few paces before letting her return to the Long Scouts. Caroline gave her a soft hug as she pulled the rat down next to her. Kimberly still appeared to be in a pleasant daze as she did so, but when she looked back out at the courtroom, her eyes had room only for Charles. Misha noted that Charles appeared to be in much the same love-struck condition.

The fox looked across the rest of the audience, his eyes alighting upon the kangaroo who still sat silently in his corner. He then turned back around and faced Malisa. Her face was mixed, as if plagued by her own feelings of romance. “I summon Zhypar Habakkuk to the stand.”

That cause a slight murmur through the crowd. Phil himself looked quite taken aback at that. Charles’s eyes lost their serenity and he gazed at the fox as if he were mad. The kangaroo however appeared completely passive, as if he’d been waiting for this, and he probably had been. He walked as best he could to the booth, his large feet forcing him to hop every few steps. If Lord Avery had possessed a regal distance, then the scribe could best be described as ambivalent.

Misha wondered how much of that was real, and how much act. Somehow the fox knew he’d never be able to determine that, and so contented himself with the asking of his questions once Habakkuk had taken the oath. “When did you first meet Krenek Zagrosek?”

“Eleven years ago,” Habakkuk said, which brought out several surprised gasps. Even Phil appeared shocked at this, his long ears standing completely upright.

“Where did you meet him?”

“In the markets of Makor, a reasonably prosperous city on the Southern continent.”

“And just how did you meet him, and who else was with him that day?”

Habakkuk leaned back slightly on his tail. “At that time in my life I was a merchant of rare books. I was not in the market to sell my wares, but simply passing through, hoping to do a bit of business with the more learned in town. It was then that I came upon a group of Sondeckis, one of whom professed an interest in my books.”

“Who was that?”

“That would have been Charles Matthias. He was human at that time, as we all were. There were three other Sondeckis with him at the time, all of the purple rank.”


“Yes, two of whom have been mentioned in this trial. One was Jerome Krabbe, and the other was Krenek Zagrosek. The last was Ladero Alenez. They all appeared to be friends, and everyone in the market gave them a wide berth.”

“They told you their names?”

“I asked for them and they supplied them. I do not forget names easily, although I probably would have forgotten all of them if I had not discovered that Charles was here at the Keep.”

“And what did you do with them?”

“We talked briefly about the books I had, but they did not buy any, and eventually I and they continued on our separate ways.”

“Have you seen any of them since that day, aside from Matt of course?”

Habakkuk paused a moment and then continued. “I have not seen Ladero since that day, but I did see both Jerome and Krenek recently.”


“Just after we’d finally beaten back the Lutin army. I was riding up the road with the Timbersmen, and we met up with the forces from Glen Avery. I saw both of them leaving the field of battle. They were some distance away, but I could not help but recognize their particular uniforms.”


“Their black robes with the crest of the Sondeckis emblazoned on the chest and sleeves. It is hard to mistake, and not something one finds commonly in the North. They were both dressed within them at that battle, though each bore blood stains. I saw them only briefly as they left.”

“And you had no difficulty recognising them?”


“Do you feel then that there is any possibility that Zagrosek could be responsible for killing the Patriarch?”

“No, I do not think there is any possibility of that.”

Misha crossed his arms, glad that Habakkuk was being more cooperative than he’d been earlier in the day. “Why do you feel that?”

Habakkuk shrugged. “It has been said before, but I shall repeat it: no Sondecki could have killed the Patriarch.”

“Why not?”

“Because there is no way any Sondecki’s sense of justice could be perverted enough to allow him to perform such an act.”

“How can you be so sure? Did you read this in a book?”

Habakkuk nodded. “I was a merchant of rare and ancient texts. As many can attest, I still have a fine collection. While I did not study the Sondeckis extensively, I do know enough about them to assure you that never before in their entire history have any of their members ever done something as terrible as what was done to the Patriarch and his men. The actions done there have been done to increase instability in the North.”

“Are there any mage clans of the Southlands who do work to further instability and chaos?” Misha asked on a sudden whim.

“Yes, there are several that do so.”

“Are there any that would like to see the Sondeckis blamed for this?”

Habakkuk waggled his ears slightly. “All of them I think. In particular would be the Order of the Ebon Dragon and the Kankoran. The Kankoran especially have been warring directly and indirectly with the Sondeckis for as far as back as history records.”

Misha glanced at the rat and saw that Matthias was looking at Habakkuk oddly. It was quite obvious that his friend would never have expected this kind of candour from the kangaroo. “And who are the Kankoran?”

“They are roughly described a group of warmages. While the Sondeckis are assassins, the Kankoran delight in open battle. The Sondeckis derive their power from force projection and control, but with the Kankoran it is different. Their abilities are more diverse, combining a whole range of styles. While many can never be as proficient with any one technique as the Sondeckis are by necessity, they are still extremely adept and versatile in a way no Sondeckis can match. Both sides of course claim their way is stronger, but in general, they are an even match.”

Misha tapped his chin thoughtfully. “And you say that the Kankoran delight in causing chaos?”

“Yes. The way they see things is that they are helping the world grow stronger by causing chaos. To a certain degree they are correct, but they also cause a lot of needless harm in the process. The Sondeckis are the counterbalance to this in the Southlands.”

“Would killing the Patriarch and all of his entourage be something a Kankoran would do?”

Habakkuk took a moment to ponder that question. “It is possible. But this seems even a little bit too radical for the clan as a whole. An individual Kankoran acting without his superior’s knowledge could indeed have attempted something like this.”

“Could a Kankoran disguise his appearance or emulate the fighting style of the Sondeckis?”

“As far as disguising their appearance, it is probably possible, though I cannot speak with any degree of certainty. It would not be easy for a Kankoran to properly emulate a Sondecki’s fighting style, but a Kankoran of sufficient power could do so, though they would not be nearly as effective as a true Sondeckis.”

“And what of slicing a person in half and cauterizing the wounds instantly? Could a Kankoran do that?”

Habakkuk shrugged. “I am afraid that not every ability known to every mage clan of the Southlands is something that I can verify. They might be able to do that, they might not. You would need to find a Kankoran of sufficient rank who’d be willing to disclose such information. I do not think that any exist.”

Misha snorted slightly at that. “So, do you feel it is more likely that Zagrosek himself is guilty of these crimes, or a Kankoran masquerading as Zagrosek in order to discredit the Sondeckis?”

“Given those options, I must say the latter, as I believe it completely impossible for Zagrosek to be directly responsible for this.”

“So you feel Charles is also completely innocent in these matters?”

Habakkuk turned to look at the rat for a moment. Matthias tried to keep the defiance out of his eyes, but it was not something he was easily capable of managing. The kangaroo then looked back after a moment at the Prime Minister, his face unreadable. “Charles is no more guilty in this matter than is Zagrosek.”

Misha nodded at that and smiled. “I have no further questions for Habakkuk, Prime Minister.”

Phil however could barely restrain himself as he leapt forward towards the witness booth as if it were about to disappear into nothingness. The fox was quick to step back, wondering just what the rabbit might have in mind now. Would Habakkuk be as forthcoming under cross-examination as he’d been with Misha? Or would his slippery tongue return?

“Zhypar Habakkuk, you claim to have met this Krenek Zagrosek, correct?”

The kangaroo nodded once. “Yes, I have said so.”

“Then can you tell me if that is the same man as in this picture.” Phil hopped over to the tripod and pulled the cloth covering the abominable face to the ground. While several in the crowd flinched at the sight, Habakkuk remained completely calm. He regarded the picture as he would a fly that would not stop buzzing about his ears.

“There is a clear resemblance to Zagrosek, the features are the same. But that is not the face of the man I met eleven years ago.”

Phil appeared annoyed at the answer, but did his best not to show it. “Have you ever seen this face?”

Habakkuk paused for a moment, as if carefully weighing his response. His words were slow at first, but he quickly regained his stride. “I know what you are trying to do. You want me to say that Zagrosek and he are the same person. They are not, and cannot ever be. I have never seen that face upon Zagrosek. Never has it happened, and never can it happen.”

“Why can’t it, and don’t tell me it is because he’s a Sondecki! You have been in this man’s presence only once, and that was eleven years ago. How could you possible know this man that well to recognize his face after so many years?”

Habakkuk shrugged. “I would not have had it not been for Charles. He was my link between them. When I saw Charles here, I remembered the day we met in Makor. That meant remembering the three who were with him at the time.”

“You also said that you saw him leaving the field of battle after the timbersmen met up with the forces from the Glen. How did you recognize him then? Surely you were at a great distance.”

“That it was. But the Sondeckis heraldry was unmistakable. Further, he was with another of the men I met that day in Makor. I did not recognize them individually at first, but I saw both at the same time and remembered them.”

Phil looked back at the drawing of Zagrosek’s face, the evil glint in the charcoal eye. He then turned back to the kangaroo. “Are you absolutely certain you have never seen this face?”

Habakkuk sighed. “I already answered that question, and my answer has not changed.”

“And why are you so certain that Zagrosek could never bear such a face? You have admitted that the features are the same. Why not the man?”

“Because Zagrosek the man could not look like so, nor could he do what has been claimed. I have explained all of this before, and others have also gone into the details. He is a Sondecki, and such behaviour is beyond them.”

“And just what makes you an authority on the Sondeckis?”

The kangaroo shifted a bit in his seat, turning his attention away from the rabbit, and back towards Malisa. His face was once more completely dispassionate, but there were subtle traces of annoyance curling at his muzzle. “I have said, I was a trader of rare and antique books. I was also an avid reader of them. Much knowledge can be gleaned from them. I’ve read several sources and treatises regarding the Sondeckis, as they are one of the more well known mage groups in the Southlands. They all agree that no matter how far a Sondeckis has fallen, they will never consciously or directly aid the forces of Darkness, as it is clear this face is doing.”

“If you knew all of this about the Sondeckis, then why haven’t you come forward with this information sooner, when it may have proven pivotal?”

That comment managed to break a bemused grin from the kangaroo’s face. “I had not been informed that it mattered, nor has anybody asked me about it.”

Phil jumped up and down for a moment then, his face ecstatic as if he’d just conquered some enemy. “That is not true! You gave a book on Southern mage clans to Wessex when he requested it. I know you discussed its contents, and the nature of his research.”

“Yes, I gave the Sudenhart Arcanum to Wessex for his perusal. He found it fairly useful in his studies. And yes we did discuss the material contained therein. But I was never told just what reason lay behind the mage’s research. And there was only one incident in which Wessex directly asked for information regarding mage clans of the Southlands.”

“And what was that?”

Habakkuk shook his head. “It was nothing of use to him, and bears no relevance on these proceedings.”

Malisa struck the gavel. “Zhypar Habakkuk, I will be the one who makes that determination. You will answer the question.”

The chastened kangaroo inclined his head towards her respectfully. “Of course, Prime Minister. Two of the pages in the book had been removed. By whom I cannot say. However, they had no relevance on Wessex’s research.”

“Two pages were removed you say?” Phil asked, and it was clear that this was the first the rabbit had heard of it. “And why didn’t they have anything to do with Wessex’s research?”

“Because neither bore any relation to the Sondeckis, who were Wessex’s real interest.”

Phil looked as if he wished he could yank on his ears in frustration. “And why didn’t you tell him?”

“Because he never asked me. I offered to tell him what I knew, but he declined, preferring to study the material himself first.”

“But you said a moment ago that nobody had asked you about the Sondeckis.”

“That is true,” Habakkuk replied, gently waving one paw in the air. “Wessex never asked me about them directly. As I said, I volunteered to tell him what I knew, but he declined.”

Phil grimaced at the way the kangaroo had slipped by him with his words, but pressed on. “And you also said you did not know that the Sondeckis were of any relevance. Yet you just said that they were Wessex’s primary interest and that you knew this. How can those two statements both be true? I think you are lying to protect your friend Charles.”

“I am not lying. As far as Wessex had disclosed to me his interest in the Sondeckis was purely scholarly. Why then should I believe any but he deserved or even needed access to such information?”

Phil ignored the question. “How is it do you think that Wessex came to know of the Sondeckis? They are a secretive Southern mage clan after all, practically unheard of this far North.”

The kangaroo glanced over towards the rat who sat with his paws in his lap. Charles’s gaze was merely a mix of curiosity and amusement. Any who watched could clearly see that the Long Scout had been on the receiving end of Habakkuk’s word games before. “I knew that Charles here was a Sondecki. I deduced that Wessex must have discovered this as well. As you yourself are well aware, Wessex’s speciality was in foreign magicks. The abilities of a Sondeckis, a magic he had never before encountered would naturally be of great interest to him, or so I thought.”

“Are you sure that is all you suspected? I have seen with my own eyes the distance that has grown between yourself and the accused.”

“My personal relations with Charles are not on trial here.”

“Do you deny that you have had a falling out?”

Zhypar shook his head. “No, but it bears no relation to the matters before us.” He turned towards Malisa firmly then. “Prime Minister, I ask that you order Phil to cease any further line of questioning into my personal affairs with Charles Matthias.” Phil nearly squawked at that. “I can assure you that they bear no relevance to Zagrosek or any of the charges levelled against Charles.”

Malisa sat for a moment, regarding the sudden request for interdiction. She rubbed her fingers together for a time, glancing between the kangaroo and the rabbit, noting their expressions. Habakkuk remained stolid, unbending as a tree, while Phil was trying not to splutter obscenities beneath his breath, his white fur bristled in a manner none of them had ever before seen. In fact, the rabbit’s entire manner spoke more of predator than of prey.

At last she took the gavel back into her hands. “Misha Brightleaf has brought Charles’s character into play, bringing many to testify on his behalf, each speaking good of him. I would be remiss if I did not allow details that may run counter to this to be withheld. I am afraid I must deny your request, Zhypar Habakkuk. You will answer any questions on this subject that Phil wishes to ask.”

The kangaroo nodded then. “I understand your reasoning, Prime Minister, but with all due respect, I assure you any details you will hear will change nothing.”

“And with all due respect,” Malisa leaned forward, her face grave, “I will be the judge of that.”

Habakkuk grimaced, but nodded once again. “Of course, Prime Minister.” He then turned to Phil. “You wish to know why Charles and I have had a falling out?”

Phil nodded vehemently. “Yes. Tell us what it was that he did that led you two apart.”

“Only two things, both of which are now moot. The first was his refusal to admit what he was. He has done so, and did so some time ago I believe. Second, he kept an item that did not belong to him. He has since returned it to its rightful owner. Therefore, there is nothing that stands between him and I.”

“What did he take that did not belong to him?” Phil pressed.

“He took nothing. He simply kept something that he had no right to.”

“And what was that?” The rabbit hopped up and down in his eagerness to bring out anything that might make the rat look bad.

“The person to whom the item belonged is not present at these proceedings, and thus I will not have any part in exposing that rift. It was a private matter between them that has now been settled in the manner it should have.”

Phil almost snarled. “What did he keep? What was it?”

The kangaroo took a heavy breath. “An object of importance to the Sondeckis. Charles thought he was doing the right thing by returning it to Sondecki hands. It belonged to someone else though. Though it took him sometime, he finally recognised the proper thing to do was to return it to its owner.”

“What was this object?”

“I already said, an objet of importance to the Sondeckis.”

“But what was it?”

Habakkuk turned forcefully on the rabbit, his eyes hard. There was some strange anger within the kangaroo that few had ever remembered seeing before. He had always been the scribe who favoured a good riddle and plenty to drink. Yet the figure before them was like ice. “If I say what, then the identity of the owner would become plain. I have already said I would not speak of the owner, and so I shall not tell you exactly what the item was.”

Phil appeared to wilt under that glare, but he did not let his resolve waver. “But you admit then that you believe Charles is capable of doing the wrong thing?”

Habakkuk shrugged and let his eyes grow soft and disinterested once more. “Who isn’t?”

“I am talking about Charles here.”

“Are you capable of making a mistake?”

Phil’s expression grew even more sour than it had already been. “That’s not important, this trial is about Charles, not me.”

“Why is that?”

“Because Charles is the one who has helped and protected Zagrosek, the Patriarch’s murderer! I have been trying to stop this evil, and he has participated in it, that’s why!” Phil’s voice rose several octaves as he cried out in frustration.

“Yes, I know that is what you think. What I asked was why your ability or inability to make mistakes wasn’t important. So why isn’t it important?”

“Because I am not on trial here!”

“But you asked me whether Charles was capable of making mistakes. If this is so, and you yourself are also capable of making mistakes, then it lends little credence to making disparaging remarks about his character, wouldn’t you say?”

Phil practically shrieked. “Would you stop asking questions!”

Habakkuk blinked and then dead-paned, “What’s wrong with a question?”

Several Long Scouts guffawed at the kangaroo’s wit, but they were cut off by the shriek of rage that came from the rabbit. Phil hopped over to the tripod, grabbed the frame on both sides, and made to lift it high, as if he were thinking of throwing it at the scribe. Malisa slammed the gavel loudly several times, though Phil did not appear calmed in the slightest by that. Even so, a sudden look of relief washed over those lapine features as he caught the face of Zagrosek in that picture. After several long quiet moments, he set the picture back upon the tripod, and turned back to the rest of the hall. “I do apologize for my behaviour, Prime Minister. And I apologize to you, Zhypar Habakkuk. I should not have lost my temper so.”

Habakkuk inclined his head once. “Apology accepted. We all make mistakes after all. I will not hold yours against you.”

Phil appeared to seethe momentarily at the barb, but collected himself quickly. “You are correct, we all make mistakes. But how often do those mistakes lead us to abandon friendships?”

“Not very often. Most mistakes are simple things, the kind that can easily be forgiven.”

“But you said that you and Charles have had a falling out over those matters you listed.”

Habakkuk nodded. “Very true, but the falling out was not my intention. I am still quite fond of Charles. He is at heart a good man. But, after advising him that I thought he was in the wrong, which he was, his innate stubbornness prevented him from seeing it. He firmly believed that he was in the right to do as he did. One cannot blame him for that, as he does mean well.”

The look the rat was giving Habakkuk was one of astonishment. It was clear that Matthias had not known that the kangaroo had felt this way about him. Phil however, was not watching the rat, and so did not notice those looks. “Now, let me pose one more question to you. Here is the situation that Charles faced over the last eight months. He knew that a man fitting the description of his friend, and calling himself Zagrosek, had been responsible for controlling Loriod. Yet he did not warn any of us about this connection, but kept it a secret, and pretended as if he had never heard of the man. Was this a mistake on his part?”

Habakkuk pondered the question a moment. Misha could not help but hold his breath as he waited for the inevitable answer. Yet when he did speak, his voice was quiet. “I can perfectly understand why he did not speak. After all, there is no way that the true identity of the culprit could have been Zagrosek for reasons clearly delineated already. To say whether it was a mistake or not is a harder question to answer. If he lied about anything, than clearly he made a mistake, and certainly one deserving of some fitting punishment, but did he do so?”

“Did he lie?” Phil asked. “Lie about anything relating to Zagrosek?”

“Yes, did he directly lie? He may have not told you all that he knew, but that is not the same thing as lying.”

Phil grimaced visibly then. “No, he did not lie directly, but he certainly did not tell us all that he knew.”

“Then in that respect, he has not made a mistake. But to whether only telling as little as he did was a mistake, we need to know whether telling more would have done any of us any good. He did not admit at first to being a Sondeckis himself, but he did confess to this at some point during the Summer I believe. Was this not so?”

“Yes it is.”

“But you also knew that Zagrosek was a Sondeckis. Certainly Wessex knew after I had lent him the Sudenhart Arcanum. If you knew both Zagrosek and Charles were Sondeckis, why is it that nobody asked him if he knew the mage?”

Phil stammered then. “We felt it wiser to wait until we knew more before proceeding. The situation was very difficult.”

“And perhaps that may have been a mistake in itself,” Habakkuk said pointedly. “Had you thought to ask, perhaps Charles would have confessed what he knew, perhaps even enough to have prevented the atrocities still to come in the Autumn. In that light, one could easily suggest that you are equally as guilty in that you did not seek the information as Charles would be in not volunteering it, don’t you agree?”

“No!” Phil shook his head, ears flopping every which way. “Charles knew but did not say.”

“And you knew but did not ask. You refused to seek the knowledge you needed from one you knew might possess such knowledge. In that respect, why shouldn’t we hold you accountable for negligence that led to the Patriarch’s death?”

Phil tensed visibly then, but held onto his calm. “Because there was little that could have been done that we had not done already! We did not know that Zagrosek would have even struck at the Patriarch.”

“So you are saying that even if you had known what Charles had not told you, Patriarch Akabaieth would still have died?”

The rabbit was about to nod but stopped himself. He finally saw the trap that Habakkuk had been laying for him, and tried to back away from it. “No, I am not saying that at all.”

Habakkuk waggled one finger admonishingly. “But you just said that there was little you could do that you hadn’t already done. What more would you have done to prevent the Patriarch’s murder in light of what you know now?”

The rabbit appeared to snarl, knowing that there was no way to escape the trap now. “I would have had every guard memorize the face of that man, and insist that Charles had shown us how to fight a Sondecki.”

“Had anyone seen a man such as that before the attack?” Habakkuk gestured towards the picture.

“Not in the flesh, no.”

“So memorizing his face would have accomplished nothing then, is that not true?”

Phil smouldered. “That is true.”

“And no scout from Metamor had been able to reach the Patriarch’s camp in time to see or confront the attacker. Thus knowing how to fight a Sondecki would have done no good either, is that not also true?”

“It is.”

“Then how can you suggest that if you had known all of this about Charles and Zagrosek beforehand, that you could have done anything to prevent the Patriarch’s death?”

Phil heaved, but did not respond to the question. “You are trying to suggest that because whether Charles told or not had no bearing on future events, it was not a mistake. However, the principle of the matter is more important. Withholding vital information from those who need to know, from those who are charged with protecting Metamor herself, that is the mistake that is treasonous. He knew that Zagrosek was our enemy, and yet he did not tell us what he knew of him. That is tantamount to protecting a known enemy. And that is something that is without a doubt a grave mistake.”

Habakkuk did not appear disappointed by the way his carefully structured argument had been circumvented. “But the point remains, you did not ask either. If failing to tell borders on treason, than what does negligence and shirking your duty amount to? You are charged with matters of Intelligence here at the Keep, yet you did not seek out vital information. Does that not make you equally responsible?”

Phil bore himself up far taller than he normally might, and stared indignantly at the kangaroo. “I accept the responsibility of my decisions. The death of the Patriarch, my kinsman no less, weighs heavily on my soul. I wish to bring this matter to justice. Charles has acted in collusion with his murderer, and protected him from justice. That is treason against Metamor, and against all decent beings. I resent your implications that I have abandoned my responsibility. Nay, this very trial represents one aspect of them. I want justice to be done. What do you want, Zhypar Habakkuk?” He said the kangaroo’s name as if it were a curse to be spat.

It was several long moments before the kangaroo answered. Those moments were tense, with all eyes passing between the two figures. Sindia could not even bring herself to dip the end of her quill into the inkwell before her, she was so rapt in that time. Misha dug his claws into the banister behind him, even as Caroline tried to sooth him by placing one paw against his back. Charles himself picked at his manacles with his claws, chipping loose flecks of iron.

“I want,” Habakkuk began, his voice heavy with exhaustion, “this farce to end. The only thing that Charles Matthias is guilty of is bad judgement, a crime we have all committed at some point in our lives. Even had he exercised good judgement, as you have admitted, it would have changed nothing. To prosecute him for something that could not have been changed and was not his fault would be a perversion of the justice you cherish.”

“I believe differently,” Phil began, his voice low. “And I have shown evidence to back up my beliefs.”

“Good for you. Quite a bit of evidence has been presented which shows that I am correct.”

Phil breathed heavily, as if pondering what else to ask. Finally, he said, “So you do not believe that his withholding information was a mistake?”

“I said that it was bad judgement on his part,” Habakkuk countered. “But it changed nothing, and therefore is not nearly as grave as you say it is.”

“And what of Charles and Zagrosek spending their time during the siege together?”

“What of it? Witnesses have testified demonstrating that Zagrosek went out of his way to fight for Metamor to repel the invaders. Clearly the actions of a different man than the one who’d tried to use Loriod to decimate the Keep, or the one who’d killed the Patriarch.”

“But they look exactly alike, and both are Sondeckis.”

“The man who killed the Patriarch may have been dressed as a Sondeckis, and done things that a Sondeckis could do, but he was no Sondeckis, for reasons I and others have stated already. And others have already addressed the issue of being able to mimic another’s appearance.”

“But how would another know to mimic Zagrosek?”

Habakkuk almost appeared to smile then. “I knew that Zagrosek was a friend to Charles. Why couldn’t another? What better way to tear the Keep apart than by pitting us against each other like this?”

Phil shook his head. “The fact remains that Charles did not tell us what he knew, something he should have done. The rest of what you have to say is idle speculation. Until we can better know for certain, there is no reason to assume any of it has any truth to it.” Before the kangaroo could get in another remark, he turned to Malisa. “Prime Minister, I have no further questions for Zhypar Habakkuk.”

Misha nearly fell from the banister as he heard those words. He had begun to think that the two of them would go back and forth forever. However, he doubted that there was anything he could do to further his case, at least with Habakkuk. The way that the kangaroo had handled himself under the rabbit’s grilling had made any further questions unnecessary. And so, the fox stepped forward and shook his head. “I have no further questions for him either, Prime Minister.”

Habakkuk rose, his face once more bearing with it the calm he’d kept for most of the proceedings. With a slight hop in his step, he made his way back to his quiet corner of the hall off by himself. Once he had sat down, Misha called out, “I now wish to summon Charles Matthias to testify.”

Malisa nodded. “You do realize that you may not question any other witnesses after speaking with the accused?”

“I do.”

She struck the gavel then. “Proceed.” The guards took that as their signal, and once more escorted the rat to the witness booth. Charles went solemnly, though his step was lighter than his previous questioning. From the look of hopefulness on his face, it was clear to see that he expected a far more friendly set of questions from the fox than the rabbit had given him. Once seated, he repeated the oath one more time, and then let his attention rest on his friend.

“First,” Misha said, pointing at the picture of Zagrosek. “Would somebody please cover that up again.” He waited while Rupert returned the sheet and covered the canvas once more, hiding the unpleasant face.

Once Rupert had returned to his place behind the banister, Misha came towards the witness booth. He leaned against one side of the booth in a comradely manner, even smiling to the rat. “Charles, would you be so kind as to tell us about Zagrosek? All that you know of him and seen him do in your life.”

The rat nodded and was more than glad to speak of it, telling everyone in the hall all the stories he had related to Kimberly in the dungeon the day before, as well as many more. Misha just stood and listened as Charles told them of the good man that was Krenek Zagrosek.

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