Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXXII

The waiting was becoming interminable. While the Judicial Chambers did not possess any windows or any way of knowing where the sun stood, all present knew that it was growing on ten minutes past sunset. Misha was leaning against the banister, glancing back towards the door at the far side of the room every few moments. The rest of the time he spent looking over his fellow Long Scouts, noting their looks of concern and puzzlement. If Malisa were going to decide one way or the other, wouldn’t it be easy to do so? If it was taking her this long to decide, then how could things turn out well for his fellow Long?

Caroline’s gaze met his, and she rested her webbed paw upon his injured hand. She pulled it closer, and he reciprocated, squeezing the fur and the flesh in his palm. He offered her a slight, hopeful grin, and she returned it in kind. Lady Kimberly, who sat pensively next to the otter, smiled as well, though her gaze naturally went to her beloved who sat accused. Charles appeared unsettled that it was taking this long as well, but he kept his demeanour fairly calm. Phil was hopping back and forth in agitation despite his wife’s attempts to calm him. Rupert was silent as always, but even more so in a way. The Glenners all sat indignantly, as if the wait were an insult to them.

Misha leaned forward towards his beloved, and she stood up, wrapping her other arm about his shoulders. The fox leaned against his love, her touch making his heart tremble. Perhaps he was worrying himself over nothing. He gave her nose a gentle lick, and stared deeply into her chocolate eyes. Their was a brightness in them that he could not help but feel welling within himself. “He’ll be okay,” she said softly. “I’m sure everything will turn out all right.”

The fox could not help but nod, his smile growing even wider. “Yes, it will. I don’t think anybody in this room believes that rabbit except that rabbit.”

Caroline nodded and then leaned into his intact ear and whispered softly. “I don’t think either Rupert or his wife believe any of it either. At least about Charles.”

Misha grimaced and glanced over at the great ape and the white lady rabbit. Clover’s eyes appeared sad, while the ape’s resigned. What could they be thinking? However, the sound of footfalls from the passage beyond brought him around. With a gentle pat on Caroline’s shoulder, he turned about to face the door. Most of the rest of the Keepers had begun to look upon it as well, for they also heard the Prime Minister’s footsteps. And then, a few seconds later, Thalberg rose once more to his feet, largely forgotten in his small alcove behind the Duke, and bellowed, “All rise for her grace, Prime Minister Malisa Hassan.”

As all in attendance rose to their feet, the wide doors swung outwards, and in walked Malisa with her own two guards. She was still dressed in the long black robes, though this time they appeared to weigh far more heavily on her shoulders than before. She made her way to the high booth at the centre wall. Sindia the scribe returned to her seat the first, penning the time of the verdict.

Malisa gestured for everyone to sit, and they did, except for Misha and Phil. She then struck the gavel resoundingly. “Bring the accused to stand before me.” The two guards marshalled the rat from his booth and brought him in front of Malisa. Charles stood with head held high as he met her gaze. Her face was ambiguous though, as if she were suppressing all of her feelings. “Are you ready to hear the verdict?”

“I am, Prime Minister,” Charles intoned, his voice clear and committed. Misha could tell that no matter what Malisa was to say next, his friend was willing to accept it. Though from his defiant posture, he could also tell that he thought he would be completely exonerated. The fox hoped that his friend was right too.

Malisa nodded and struck the gavel once more. “Then let it be known that on this Twenty-first of January in the year Seven-hundred-and-seven CR that I have reached these verdicts on each of the charges against Charles Matthias. On the charge of conspiring to assassinate the Patriarch, I find the accused innocent.”

Several in the crowd let out shouts of delight at that. Finbar went so far as to laugh tauntingly at the rabbit. Charles himself let a little smile crease his muzzle, though it had always seemed the most ridiculous of the charges that had been placed against him. Malisa struck the gavel firmly and brought the room to silence once more.

Phil however inclined his head. “Prime Minister, might I pose a question?”

Malisa appeared to decline the request, and then she shrugged. “Why not? What is your question?”

Phil rocked his ears slightly despite a cut off hiss from Finbar. “I was wondering if you might tell us why you have reached that decision and the others you have reached?”

She pondered that a moment and then leaned forward slightly in her seat. “I will only briefly tell you of my reasons, when I choose to do so. This decision was not difficult. The Patriarch’s itinerary was kept secret from all but a very few at the Keep. Charles was not informed of them, and could not have informed any conspirators in time. Further, he did his best to save the Patriarch. And so I find him innocent of any collusion.”

Phil nodded, though grimaced. Malisa then turned her eyes back on the rat who had not moved. “On the charge of collusion to control Loriod, I find the accused innocent.” This time the cheering was much more subdued, and was quick to silence itself. “As was pointed out, he was not present for any of the events in question, so I do not believe he could have participated in any fashion.”

She took a moment’s breath before she went on, casting a quick glance at the hawk who watched her with large golden eyes. “On the charge of killing Wessex, I find the accused innocent. On the charge of conspiring to kill Wessex, I find the accused innocent.”

Phil spluttered hysterically at that. “Surely you cannot–” he shouted, but was cut off when Malisa struck her gavel firmly. Finbar let out a short barking laugh, and caught a dirty look from the Prime Minister.

“Let me repeat that you all are present only on the grace’s of this court. If you interrupt again, any of you, I will have you ejected.” Malisa did not have to raise her voice to be firm. There was a stiffness to it that assured everyone present that she meant exactly what she said. After the room had quieted down once more, she turned to Charles again. “On the charge of protecting Zagrosek during the course of the assault, I find the accused innocent.”

The four from Glen Avery nodded firmly and delightedly at that. Most of the Long Scouts were now beaming, though anxious, wondering just how many charges there actually had been against their fellow Long. Malisa did not appear to be finished. “As to that last decision, I reached it because Charles did attempt to consult Wessex before he realized the assault was underway. And because Zagrosek himself proved an excellent fighter instrumental in defeating Nasoj’s army.”

She then stood a little taller. “And for the last charge, failure to disclose information to his superiors, I find the accused guilty.”

Many of the Long Scouts cried out in horror at that. Charles himself simply grimaced, as if he’d been expecting this. Phil’s ears rose firmly in delight, his eyes savouring this slight victory. Misha held his breath tight, wincing and balling his paws into fists. He felt as if he’d been slapped in the face.

“Due to mitigating circumstances, the sentence is a temporary exile from the Keep itself, beginning in one week’s time, and ending upon the Summer Solstice of this year.”

The Longs cried out in horror even at that, shaking their heads and demanding that it not be so. Phil also appeared upset by this, and his voice managed to ring louder than all of the others, “Is that all, Prime Minister? Nothing further than that?”

Malisa scowled and slammed the gavel several times to silence them all. “That is the sentence I am assigning and that is Charles Matthias’s sentence. He is not to set foot in the area set off by the city walls beginning one week from today and lasting until the Summer Solstice. Further, I have one thing to say about Zagrosek. It is possible that he may be innocent. But whoever this enemy is, he is using Zagrosek’s appearance. Make copies of that portrait for later use. Charles, if you are approached by your friend again, you are to restrain him until such time as a magical examination is performed upon him. I also want him inspected by Lothanasa hin’Elric and Father Hough. Do you understand this and your sentence?”

Charles nodded, and swallowed. “Yes, Prime Minister. I will obey.”

“Guards, remove his chains.” Charles held out his paws while the two guards at his sides unlocked the bindings, and pulled them away. The rat rubbed along his wrists, smoothing the fur out there. “These proceedings are over,” Malisa said firmly, and struck the gavel one last time. She then turned, and began to walk stately towards the door, though Misha guessed she wished to flee instead.

Phil was in an uproar. “That is all you are going to do to him?” he shouted, his face vicious and incredulous. “You don’t believe that he and Zagrosek did it all. None of you believe me, but you will!” He then hopped madly towards the front door, being chased pleadingly by his wife, while Rupert grabbed the canvas and tripod and fled after them. Finbar and several other Long Scouts threw jeers and taunts in their direction, the ferret standing on the bench to do so even.

Zagrosek sighed and shook his head. “Exile is it?” He glanced to Agathe and then to his three slaves who stared at him vacantly, yet reverently. “I suppose that will have to do. What did you think of my job on that rabbit?”

Agathe glanced towards the darkened mirror. They could still hear the voices of Phil and his wife through it. Phil was cursing the other Keepers, sometimes by name, while Clover was pleading with him to stop. She shrugged. “Very well I suppose. No one will ever trust him again at Metamor.”

Zagrosek smiled and winked. “That, my love, was the idea.”

She snorted and drew a sigil in the air. The mirror shrank back to its normal proportions, while a dark fog filled it. She lifted it from the wall then, and placed it face down upon the bedside. “Enough of that for now, I think.”

“Yes,” the Sondeckis nodded. “We have work to do.”

Charles turned around and glanced at the rest in the Judicial Chambers. His eyes first found his beloved’s. Kimberly no longer paid any attention to the bar, and ducked beneath it, running over towards him, tears standing in her eyes. “Charles!” she cried, and flung herself into his arms. He held her tight, smoothing the fur on the back of her neck before reaching her blouse.

He looked to the others, even as voices began to fill the room. Finbar had vaulted over the banister and was standing a short distance from the Duke himself, “You can’t let this stand, your grace!” the ferret shouted. “You simply can’t!”

Thomas shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I abide by my daughter’s decision in this matter.” He turned his dark eyes upon the two rats, focussing intently on Charles. Charles caught the gaze and returned. “While I probably would have chosen a different punishment, I agree with her decisions on each matter.”

Charles nodded his head gravely. “For that I am sorry. I did what I thought was best.”

“I know you did,” Thomas intoned. “But we are not always right.” He then rose to his feet, Thalberg standing to his side. “I believe I should speak with my daughter now. I do not think this came easily to her.”

Finbar was still aghast, but could not say anything more to his Duke. Misha bowed his head low, face grim. “I understand, your grace.” Thomas smiled wanly to them, and then left the room, following after Malisa. Thalberg trotted along behind with his cane, as did most of the guards in the room. Sindia quietly slipped out with them.

When the last pair out shut the doors firmly behind them, Misha finally turned to Charles. “I’m sorry, Matt. I failed you.”

Charles shook his head, and crossed the room, Kimberly on his arm. She rested her head against his shoulder, but he seemed not to notice. “No, you didn’t fail me, Misha. I failed you, Kimberly, Garigan, and all of the Longs. I thought I was doing right by hiding this, but apparently I was not.”

Finbar and several other Longs began shouting out frustrations. The ferret began hitting his paws firmly against the banister, as if breaking that would change what had happened. Caroline’s voice, however quite, cut through the uproar. “Exile. No. You can’t be leaving us.”

Misha nodded firmly. “This just isn’t fair. Damnit! Your family!” His voice pleading, arms outstretched towards Charles, as if he held the power to change his sentence.

“I wish I did not have to go. This is my home!” Charles said, shaking his head in agony. “I can’t bear to leave you all.” He said that, turning his head towards Kimberly there at the end.

Lord Avery however did not seem as disturbed by this news as the others had been. “And why do you think you have to leave them at all?”

“Well, I can’t be here at Metamor for the next five months,” Charles pointed out.

The squirrel shook his head. Far behind him, still sitting quietly in his corner by himself, Habakkuk sported a strangely bemused grin. “That’s not what she said. She said you had to remain outside the city walls of Metamor Keep for the next five months. She did not suggest you leave the valley entirely.”

“What are you suggesting?” Misha pressed, grey eyes intent.

Avery glanced at his fellow Glenners, and even Garigan suddenly brightened, realizing just what his liege was up to. “Why he can come to live at Glen Avery. If there is any place that will gladly accept him and never doubt his innocence then it is my home.”

But many of the Longs looked very doubtful at that. “Glen Avery is a five hour’s ride,” protested Arla, clutching her wounded arm with one paw.

“Yes, that’s too far!” Jotham interjected.

“He’s my family, and I won’t see him spirited away!” Finbar declared a far more menacing look to his eye and posture. Danielle however came by his side, gripping him about the shoulders and licked his ear once. The pine marten continued then to offer soothing words to him, though it appeared to calm the ferret only partially.

Charles however did not offer any sign of protest. He had always wanted to show Kimberly that beautiful town. And there had been times when he wondered if perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend his life in. Certainly everyone there would be accepting of him, well perhaps not Baerle. The thought of the jilted opossum made him shudder. Instead he tried to imagine himself living in such a town. He realized with a bit of chagrin that he had difficulty doing so. He’d spent almost his entire life living in cities. How could he go from the grandness of Metamor to the simplicity of Glen Avery?

Misha himself could only let out a low growl at the thought of it. As Finbar had said, Charles was family, he was a Long. Though Charles and he had had their differences, they had all been redeemed in the fox’s eyes. Though there was nothing he could do, he wanted Matt to stay at Metamor as well. Brief ideas on how he could hide the rat, and sneak him in and out of the Long House when needed began to flash through his mind. But then he felt Caroline’s paw on his shoulder, a soothing touch that brought an end to such foolish notions.

“Why should he choose Glen Avery to stay? Metamor is his home.”

Lord Avery nodded and grimaced sympathetically. “If it were up to me I would have him stay at Metamor a well. But it is not up to me, and it is not up to any of you. After one week, he cannot set foot within the city walls until the Summer Solstice. That is not a long time, but he will need some place to stay during that time. Why not Glen Avery?”

Misha crossed his arms, standing taller than the squirrel. His growl was low but audible through his words. It was very intimidating to most, especially to those cursed with the body of a prey species such as Avery had been. Yet Brian Avery was not so easily disturbed. “You have heard why we do not like the idea. It is too far away from the Keep. I don’t want to have to go so long without having him in our company. And we all cannot simply up and travel to Glen Avery just to be with our fellow Long.”

The fox then turned on the rat. “And don’t get any ideas of quitting the Longs either.”

Charles shook his head. “It never even occurred to me. I am a Long Scout now, and will be even after I am dead. I will call myself a Long even in Heaven. Even if you kicked me out, I’d still call myself a Long just to get under your fur.”

Misha laughed slightly at that, but the mirth did not last long. He turned back to Lord Avery and levelled another intimidating gaze that did not have the desired effect. “Charles is family to us, just like your people are family to you.”

The squirrel nodded, and then gestured over towards Garigan. The ferret stood a little taller, and tried to hide the smile he had. “Garigan here is a Glenner, yet he has lived these past eight months here at Metamor, and only a very few of us had seen him in that time before they came to us during the assault.”

“But Garigan had to come so that Charles could train him,” Misha pointed out, though his growl had subsided. In its place was a growing sorrow, a dejection that pained Charles and all of the Longs there to hear it.

“And Charles has to leave Metamor. Can you think of a place that would be better than Glen Avery?”

Misha’s arms fell to his sides, even as the other Longs also knew the argument was lost, and showed it by their downcast faces. “Mycransburg and Lake Barnhardt, even Lorland, are closer.”

“Charles doesn’t know anyone from either Mycransburg or Lake Barnhardt. And would you really want to put him under Prince Phil’s direct supervision at Lorland?”

The rat thought back to the threat that Loriod had given him so many months ago. Loriod had told him that he would live on his land and be his subject after he’d served his time on the patrols. He knew that if he had done so, Loriod would have done everything he could have to crush his spirit and make him but another pawn of the fat lord’s disgusting tastes. What fate could he suffer under the paw of a man who believed him a traitor and the murderer of a kinsman? He had no desire to think what Phil could do to him, and shook his head to clear it.

Misha himself could not consign his friend to such a fate and shook his head as well. “No, I would not do that.”

“Everyone at the Glen knows Charles already, and he is liked by everyone, admired even by many. I assure you that my fellow Glenners and I would be honoured to have him live among us, even if only for a short while.”

Both Berchem and Angus nodded at that. “I can think of nothing that would make our people happier than to have Charles by our side while we rebuild again,” the skunk pointed out, long tail swinging back and forth in agitation.

“And I would make sure he would not miss any of the action you so enjoy, Misha,” Angus put in, his broad features reassuring.

Misha nodded at that. “I know you would. I know all of this is true, but...” he trailed off and then turned towards the rat, and held out his paws. “Matt, I don’t want you to go.”

Charles sighed heavily, and looked over to Kimberly, who was still resting her head against his shoulder. He glanced back up at Misha, and wished he had a chewstick in his paw. “I don’t want to go either. Metamor has been my home for the last six years now. Leaving her would be painful, is painful. I miss you all already. I so want to fight by your sides again.”

“And there is nothing that says you cannot,” Avery pointed out, waggling one finger in the air. “Lady Malisa only said that you may not set foot within the city walls. She did not say you could not join your friends on missions.”

Misha, Charles, and most of the Long visibly brightened at that. Charles had to admit to himself that he’d missed that little detail. He could still serve as a Long alongside Misha, Finbar, Jotham, Arla, and the rest. For the first time, or at least what felt the first time that day, the rat began to smile.

“Well,” Misha said, sounding a bit dubious. “We usually do all of our planning in the Long House. Having to brief Charles separately would complicate things. Is there any place you use at the Glen for such things?”

Avery shrugged. “There has never been a time we’ve needed to keep matters secret, so we have always just done our business at a table in Lars’s brewery. But with Charles’s help we could build such a place. And if that works well enough, you could even regularly station members of the Longs at the Glen. After all, we are further to the North. It is easier to send somebody North from the Glen to retrieve information than it is to leave direct from Metamor.”

Misha appeared to mull over those ideas for several moments. Finally he turned to Charles. “Well, what do you think, Matt?”

The rat sucked in his breath heavily. “I’m not sure. But it sounds far better and far more enjoyable than anything else I have heard or thought of myself. I just...” his voice ebbed into silence then as he looked down at Kimberly. Her eyes peered back up at him, head lifting slightly then. Their noses met in a gentle kiss, sharing their breath for a single moment. And then he looked up and shook his head. “I may be able to stand being apart from my fellow Longs for a few months, but I will not leave her side for such a long time.”

Habakkuk snorted in the back as if from a private joke. Lord Avery grimaced knowingly though, but could offer the rat no consoling words. But it was another nominally silent figure who offered a bit of advice. The Bishop Vinsah, his green eyes watching them all, and his striped tail swinging gently behind him, spoke in a soft voice, but one firm from experience. “You do not have to leave her at all.”

“What is that, your eminence?” Charles asked, confused.

“You have proposed to her haven’t you?” The Bishop of Abaef pointed out, a bit of a playful smile crossing his raccoon muzzle.

Both Charles and Kimberly turned to each other in sudden shock as they understood just what Vinsah was suggesting. Misha and others let out sudden whoops of delight. Caroline and the fox hugged tight as they laughed merrily. “A wedding it is!” Misha declared brightly. Charles nodded dumbly a bit, smiling into his lady’s eyes. Kimberly shivered in delight, almost crying from the sudden high she felt. They had not planned on getting married until the Summer, but a Winter wedding seemed just the thing right then.

Lord Avery clapped his paws together. “And you’ve been given a week to see to it! I wonder if yon Prime Minister did not think of this when she assigned your sentence, my good bachelor-soon-to-be-no-more!”

Charles could not help but laugh slightly as he hugged his bride-to-be close to his chest, and she to him. After a moment or two, he stepped back, and smiled to them all, firmly and without regret. “I will go with you to Glen Avery as a husband then.” A brief flash of how Baerle might react to this came to mind, and the thought of hurting her again pained him, but he was so overwhelmed that the feeling was effervescent. He wrapped his arms tightly about Kimberly’s neck then, and kissed her firmly once more!

Misha let out another boisterous cheer, his eyes bright with a joy that could not be quenched. “All of you are invited to Long House for a celebration! We should still have enough to drink in storage for everyone well into the night!”

Caroline regarded her beloved with a bemused grin, but said nothing. Most of the rest of the Longs gave out a good rousing cheer at the thought of another party, even an impromptu one. After all, what better way to celebrate one of their own getting married?

Bishop Vinsah smiled at the good cheer but he bowed his head. “I am afraid that I must decline the offer of your good wine, Misha Brightleaf. I thank you for it.”

Misha smiled to the priest and shrugged good-naturedly. “You must join us for the bachelor’s party though!”

Vinsah’s green eyes grew a bit wider at that. He laughed uncertainly then, and bowed a bit lower, tail flinging high in the air as if a flourish. “I will inform Father Hough he has a wedding to perform.”

Vinsah then headed for the main doors, followed by the two knights who had remained very much recluses during most of the proceedings. Sir Egland caught the fox’s gaze and shook his head. “I’m sorry but we too must decline your gracious invitation. I’m afraid my squire would get worried about me... us if we did not return soon.”

Again the fox nodded in understanding. His eyes caught the feminine Sir Bryonoth and knew there were other reasons for the knight’s reluctance to join them. But he would not spoil the moment. “Of course. If you change your minds, you can invite your squire to join you. If not, then may Eli watch over your sleep.”

Sir Bryonoth slipped out the door without a word, but Sir Egland bowed his head low, antlers slicing the air neatly. Misha wondered just how much longer Egland would sport such a massive rack, but once he was out the door, his mind returned to the pleasantness at hand.

“So the rest of you want to party, eh?” Misha asked, grinning at them all. His eyes came across Jessica, who was standing off away from the rest a bit. She appeared uncertain how well she could possibly fit in with a crowd as rowdy as the Longs. “Jessica, would you like to join us?”

The hawk did not take long to decide, nodding firmly and flapping her wingtips a bit. “Yes, thank you, Misha.”

“It’ll be good to have all of you,” Charles said, still holding Kimberly tight.

Misha let out a firm laugh, and then raised one paw high. “To the Long House! Tonight we celebrate!”

“Let tomorrow take care of itself!” Jotham trumpeted, a chorus the rest of them took up.

As the Longs, and the Glenners, as well as the other Keepers began to make for the door, hooting and hollering, Charles and Kimberly held back for a moment. He looked into her eyes and stroked one paw down across her cheek fur. “I love you, my lady.”

“And I love you,” she breathed, her words blossoming upon his ears.

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