Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXXVII
hil was furious. Pacing back and forth in his apartments before his desk he sputtered obscenities and half formed plans to gain justice for himself. Charles had escaped the purview of the courts, but could not escape forever. Zagrosek certainly would not remain free. At least Malisa had possessed the sense enough to order duplicates of the picture to be made. It was not much of a start, but it was something. More had to be done though, this he knew, but what he wasn’t sure.
The rabbit glanced at the open window and could see Keepers at work rebuilding their homes. How could they do something so prosaic when their enemy walked amongst them? Phil felt his whole body shake with a rage he could never quite remember feeling. It was clear to him now that the Long Scouts were no longer to be trusted with the safety of Metamor. Somehow they had been subverted by Charles and Zagrosek. Could they be brought to see the truth? Probably not the rabbit realised. They had jeered at him and cheered for that rat.
Traitors of course must be put to death. Thomas would not sanction such a manouevre, so Phil would have to be covert about their assassinations. Could Rupert kill them? The injured ones certainly could be eliminated, but after the first few had died, the rest would become suspicious. No, they all had to die at the same time. Perhaps he could arrange for them to be on a mission that led to their deaths? Yes, that was much better. But how to work it out? He’d need fellows whom he could trust, but there was a rather large dearth of those at the moment.
Perhaps he could solicit some help from the northern towns that had been under Nasoj’s control. Misha certainly wanted to continue making forays into that region to bring it under Metamor’s firm grip, and to continue to hurt Nasoj. Phil knew very well that those towns would prefer just to be left to their own devices, and might enjoy the opportunity to guarantee that Metamor could not rule them. There of course was the Sea of Souls. It was covered in ice at this time of the year. An expedition across the ice could be something that could be arranged. And the people of Starven could fire rocks to break the ice. It may not kill all of them, but the cold in the water certainly would kill a great number of the Longs.
A knock at his door broke the flow of Phil’s plotting. Rupert, who had been silently watching his master hop about in anger, moved to the temporary door and pulled it open. One of the Keep’s royal messengers stood outside, bearing a sealed letter. “This message for his highness, just delivered by dragon courier from Whales.” The youth held out the letter towards the great ape, his eyes wide. He’d probably never been quite that close to a dragon before.
Phil’s ears perked in immediate interest. Thoughts of destroying the Long Scouts left his mind, and instead he wondered what could possibly be so important as to send a message by dragon. Usually he received his news of Whales from the proctor in Menth. Rupert took the letter, closed the door once more, and brought it to the rabbit.
Phil took the letter to his desk, saw the royal seal affixed to one side, and was quick to break it. His eyes feverishly read what was inside. He instantly knew the writing was not his adoptive father’s, and that worried him more. His heart trembled, all anger gone, as he read the words inside
Phil felt himself shivering as he read that note. His body shook in sorrow as he tried to ponder how this could have come to pass. There was no question what had to be done, he had to make ready to sail to Whales. He drew another bit of parchment to his desk with his paws, and took his writing implement between his teeth. As quickly as he could he scrawled another message, being careful not to smudge any of the letters.
Zagrosek was still exhausted from the events of the previous evening. It had to have been sometime past noon when he finally stirred, eyes blinking wearily in the dim torchlight of the cellar. Some of the flambeaux had gone out and were now just smouldering, but enough were still lit that he could make out his surroundings. Agathe was still completely unconscious beneath him. Her heart beat firmly though, albeit slowly. Stretching his arms, he felt the stiffness within them, groaning as his entire body ached in revolt against any movement whatsoever.
He had never imagined that summoning the Pillars of Ahdyojiak would have taken such a toll. Even as he pondered that, he recalled what had been done to his three merchants, and he blanched, feeling his stomach turn over and over again. His eyes clenched shut tight, lest any tears flow. His fingers tightened into fists as he pushed himself off of the Runecaster’s chest. His lips parted, words struggling to come free. “Damn you, Yaja-” but a sudden spasm within his body cut off those bitter words.
Zagrosek found himself flung against the wall, head pounding in a freakish agony. He could not even scream as his hands gripped at his temples, fingers pulling at his black hair. There was a fire in his mind, burning at those words, and his revulsion. Memories of those events began to be consumed, etched forever in some smaller part of himself, but eternally wiped from his thoughts. And all the while, he wished he could have found his voice, for he had to scream.
And then it was all over. The Sondeckis collapsed against the ground, his body quivering still. His breathing was rapid, almost uncontrollable. Every time he tried to think, a fresh spike of pain would lance into his head. And so Zagrosek did not think, only lay there while his body began to come under his own control once more. Minutes trickled by as bit by bit, he found he could move his fingers, his toes, even his arms and legs. At last, Zagrosek was able once more to stand up.
Glancing about the room, he saw that Agathe lay against the wall still, unconscious. Over towards the stairwell he could dimly make out her things. The last of the chalk was at her feet, and he picked those up first, slipping them within their pouch. Turning back, he could see that single strand of white hair still laying within the centre of the room. He picked it up between his fingers and replaced it within its own pouch too.
Zagrosek found that the onyx scroll case had resealed itself, along with the scroll it had contained. He stuffed that back within her pack, as well as the other brass scroll case that she had used. It only took the man a few moments to return all of Agathe’s materials to her pack. He hefted it on one shoulder, the weight barely noticeable across his back. He then walked over and scooped the Runecaster up into his arms, being careful to pull her hood firmly over her face so that none might see her disfigurement.
Without so much as a grunt, he carried her up the stairs, and with one hand opened the doorway back out onto the storage room off the main hall. One of the serving maids was back there sorting through some boxes of food stuffs, and she let out an exclamation as she saw them. “What happened?” she asked, her voice trembling, eyes glimpsing the dead look on Zagrosek’s face.
“She fainted,” he answered, his voice cold. “Tell your master that we are finished with his cellar.”
The serving aid nodded, her face trembling as she watched them leave through the narrow door out onto the main hall. Zagrosek did not even take notice of the travellers who were taking their midday meal, but crossed the few short steps to the stairwell, and carried Agathe up to the railing and the hallway beyond. He fished the key from his pocket and unlocked his door, squeezing within it to find it just as he’d left it the night before.
Laying Agathe out carefully upon the bed, he deposited her pack next to it, and then closed the door. It was only then that he realised that he still had on his Sondeckis robe. That serving maid had seen him in it, as well as everyone in the main hall. He doubted any would think to report it, and few were likely to inquire about it. But it did not matter, their job here in Ellcaran was over.
The mirror still rested against the wall, and with a sudden smile, he called forth the magic within it. The loud in the glass faded, to be replaced by a dark stone wall. The drawing was back in Phil’s quarters, turned once more against the wall. He could hear the rabbit writing something, and so just waited. Finally, he heard his newest servant hopping along the floor. “Rupert, take this to a messenger. Have them send it on to our proctor in Menth.”
Zagrosek grinned wider then, and sat back against the wall. Once Rupert was gone, he could prod the rabbit further.
Phil found himself alone once more after his servant left and pulled the door shut behind. He hoped that he would return soon, as there was more that had to be done. Lady Clover had left to return to Lorland that morning, but now she would have to be intercepted. Instructions for Macaban would also have to be sent, as the donkey would now have to run things there himself. It would be fitting that way after what Loriod had done to his retainer.
“Turn me over, dammit,” a voice came from the wall. Phil suddenly felt his mind flood with memories, and he stepped back at that. The picture was talking to him.
Phil hopped over to the frame and spun it about on his paws. There was that despicable face smirking at him. Phil felt the revulsion grow in his heart, but the sadness at his father’s condition stayed there as well.
“I told you, didn’t I?” Zagrosek said, that smile only growing wider and more sadistic.
“Told me what?” Phil snapped brusquely.
“I told you that nobody trusted you. None of them believe you. That’s why they let Charles go free.”
Phil smouldered, but kept his anger in check. He just thought of his father. This man was clearly trying to make him madder, why he did not know, but it was clear that was what he was trying to do. He also did not know how he could be speaking through this picture, but it could clearly come to no good end. Nothing that man did ever would.
“No, they did not trust me. You are right about that.”
Zagrosek nodded then. “Of course. I believe you. I know all that is going on. I’ll tell you all about it too, but they still won’t believe you.”
“No they won’t,” Phil said, his fur bristling. “Damn you! I will destroy you!”
Zagrosek laughed heartily then. “If you do that, you’ll never know what I’m going to do. I am going to make sure that your life is a constant stream of misery. I will kill all those who are dear to you. And there is nothing that you can do about it.”
Phil’s eyes burned with sudden rage then. Although he knew it was not true, he wondered for a moment if indeed Zagrosek wasn’t responsible for what had befallen his father. He gripped either side of the frame, as if he were going to turn it around.
“Don’t you dare point me at that wall, you stupid rabbit!”
“And why not? I don’t need to listen to you gloat. I will find you, and you cannot stop me!”
“Oh yes I can. I will do whatever I wish. Just tell me how many there at Metamor would even lift a finger to help you? None! They don’t believe you. But they would believe me if I came to them. Because of you, they trust me more than they would you. And I’m going to lead them to destroy you as well.”
Phil snarled then, something he did not think himself capable of. He gripped the frame of that canvas tightly in his paws, barely able to do much else, but he could do that. Somehow, he managed to hold his anger in check though. His father was ill and needed him. His father depended on him. There were still those who trusted him, and there always would be, no matter what that face said.
Just when was it that Misha and the others had stopped trusting him? Phil blanched as the memories filled him now, his thoughts clear enough to permit any sort of contemplation. It had all started after he’d had the picture drawn. That had been when he decided not to tell the other Longs about Charles’s arrest. He’d agonised over the decision until he saw that face. Until it spoke to him.
“No, you aren’t,” Phil said, his voice calm and grave. This was obviously not what Zagrosek expected, as his eyes grew wide.
“Yes, I will! You know this is true. What could you possibly do? They hate you!”
“No,” Phil asserted, moving the picture towards the window frame. He knew he’d tried to destroy the picture before, but each time that man had stopped him. “They hate what you did to me!” And then Phil pushed the picture upwards, tilting it over the sill. Zagrosek gave out a startled cry then, even as Phil pushed once more, sending the picture out into the air beyond. Phil collapsed then back against the floor, his heart trembling as something terrible let go of it.
Zagrosek cried out as he saw the sky twirling in the mirror before him. With a quick twist of his wrists, he pulled back from the picture, and let the cloud fill the mirror once more. He shuddered as he sat in the room, eyes studying the eddying currents in that glass, before the glass itself shattered into thousands of fragments, as if something had punched it out.
Malqure jumped slightly, letting out an unpleasant squawk as a discarded canvas landed upon the promenade he was crossing. The centre of the picture itself had been pierced by one of the lampposts lining the raised crosswalk. The frame itself twisted around as it spun downwards, the force of its fall ripping the picture to shreds. The ibis glanced upwards, eyes straining to see upwards past his long narrow beak. There were several windows open in the towers overhead, but there was no indication from which the picture had been launched.
Hopping over on his spindly legs, the ibis used one of his wingtips to turn the frame upwards, so that he could see what had been on the canvas. Yet, as he rifled through the tattered remnants, he could find nothing upon any of it. With an indignant huffing, Malqure removed the ruined canvas from the lamppost and tucked it beneath one wing. Now the chief archivist was going to have one of his staff see to the lamp’s fixing. How he wanted to give whoever had been so careless an earful!
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