Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXXVIII

The Long House was strangely quiet. Most of the Longs were spending the day with their families, Misha knew this. Arla and that engineer Skylos were off sharing the day together, working on some of the homes that had been ruined in the attack. Lisa and her husband Alec were out among the shops still standing looking for a gift for Matthias and Kimberly. Meredith and Kershaw were both still abed recuperating. Caroline was visiting with Dream for another of her lessons upon the flute. Only Finbar and Danielle were in the hall themselves, sparring with knives.

But even their tumbling could only do so much to fill that great room with sound. Ancient echoes filled the fox’s ears as he stared across the emptiness. His ears strained to hear the sounds of voices that would no more be heard within those walls. They’d buried Llyn the night before, yet he still half expected to see her come lithely sauntering through the main doors. The traitor would be buried that night, a private ceremony with only the Longs present. The very thought of it stung Misha to the heart, and his fur bristled along the back of his neck.

“Misha?” a rat’s voice called from behind him. Matthias was there of course, two days now since that farce of a trial. They’d been discussing arrangements for the reception after the wedding. The Long House was the most natural place to hold it, but there was much that needed to be done before then.

“Sorry, Matt,” the fox nodded, turning back to his friend. “What did you say?”

The rat nodded then, tail lashing along behind him. Charles wore a bright green tunic, black along the sleeves and collar. Misha knew it had been a present from Kimberly over the Solstice that fate had delayed. His friend looked quite dapper in those colours. “I was just thinking, we might want to place head table just a short distance from the double staircases. Would frame it nice. We can have the rest of the tables lined up before it, three tables per row I think. How does that sound?”

Misha scanned across the Long House and nodded. “Yes, that should just fit nicely. We can put the cake on a solitary table just behind you flush with the stairwell.”

Matthias nodded firmly at that, his whiskers twitching in a bit of excitement. Misha felt his heart brighten some. Yes, his fellow Long was going to be wed soon. This should be a time of happiness. But he was damned if he could rejoice just then.

“Yes. And we can have two tables on either side for the presents. I wish folks could have had more warning for this.”

“They’ll do well,” Misha assured him. The fox thought back to the contraption he had crafted for the two of them in his own workshop the previous month. He’d begun work even before he’d heard they’d become formally engaged. He always knew his friend would ask the lady rat eventually. “And Lady Kimberly is seeing to the food?”

“Yes,” Matthias nodded again, glancing over at the two other Longs. Danielle had managed to grip Finbar’s forearm and through him over her shoulder. The ferret rebounded quickly, his paws striking in close to her chest like lightning. “The Keep’s kitchen staff will be preparing the meal. Gregor is going to do all of the baking though.” The rat paused, still watching the fight. “Do we even have enough tables to seat everyone?”

Misha grinned slightly then, as his eyes gazed across the doors along the massive hall. “Actually yes. Caroline discovered another store room this morning filled with tables and chairs. The tables were strange though, you must see them.” The fox gestured towards one of the doors pressed back against the wall beneath the stairwell. “They have the most interesting of legs. Somebody has placed hinges on the legs so that you can fold them up against the table. Makes them easier to store.”

The rat’s eyes went wide at that. “This I must see!” He eagerly began to follow after the fox, but turned at the sound of the main doors opening. Misha did as well, glancing to see the coyote Kee racing towards them, dressed in his blue livery.

“What is it, Kee?” Misha asked, crossing his arms as he studied the messenger.

“Greetings, Misha, Charles.” Kee bowed as he acknowledged them both. “Misha, Duke Thomas has requested to speak with you.”

“What about?” Misha asked, annoyed.

“He did not say, only that you were to come immediately.”

Misha groused then, tail wagging back and forth in agitation. “Of course. If you will excuse me, Matt. I’ll be back as soon as I’m finished speaking with the Duke.”

The rat nodded, face understanding. “Of course. I’ll take a peek at the tables myself while you’re gone.”

Misha patted his friend on the shoulder, and followed Kee out of the Long House. The messenger kept the pace of the Long Scout with ease, as he was used to running about with his messages. It took Misha a moment to realise just how fast he was walking towards the Duke’s apartments. The last time he’d been in Thomas’s presence, the Duke had refused to lift the rat’s sentence. Was he bitter over that still?

The fox found a surprise waiting for him inside the Duke’s chambers. Thomas stood just behind the meeting table he always used. The splinters from the cabinet he’d destroyed on a previous visit had been completely swept away, and a new one put in its place. But what most struck him was that in the far corner of the room, illuminated by the bright lamps hung all about the walls, was a quivering rabbit, the look of fear clear in its eyes.

Misha blinked as he studied that figure, recognising the Prince Phil that he had known for so many years. Gone was the screaming accuser that had tried to destroy his friend. He did not understand what could have happened that had pushed Phil to such rage those few short days ago, but the fox felt a great comfort fill him to see him once more so easily frightened.

“You wished to see me, Sire?” Misha asked, keeping is voice level, determined not to appear threatening to the lapine.

The horse lord nodded and invited him further into the room with the wave of one hoof-like hand. “Yes. Phil has been telling me several things that you need to hear as well. They explain a great many things.” Thomas then appeared sad as he gazed back at the rabbit. With a wistful sigh, he continued, “And they explain why certain things must be done now.”

Misha nodded and approached the table, sitting down slowly in the chair. His eyes took in the rabbit, noting the way he covered his face with his paws, clearly from shame, a shame greater than he’d ever seen the rabbit display. “What is it, Phil?” The fox deliberately left the Prince’s title off, wanting to assure the lapine that he was being friendly.

Phil finally managed to lower his paws, and take several tepid steps towards the table. His body shook the whole time though, and several times the fox was certain that he’d bolt back into the corner and attempt to dig his way through the wall in order to escape. But Phil managed after at least a minute’s time to conquer his instinctual fear and join both of them at the table.

“Misha,” Phil began, his voice strained. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry for what I did to you, to Charles, and to the Longs.” Misha nodded a bit then, but said nothing, as the rabbit appeared to have quite a bit more to say. “I never would have gone as far as I did if it hadn’t been for that picture.”

“That picture?” Misha felt his fur rise as tension filled him just at the memory of the horrid thing.

Phil nodded, his ears firmly erect in an almost panicked state. “Yes, that picture! Something was terribly wrong with it. I don’t know how, but our enemy ensorceled it and spoke to me through it, taking control of my thoughts, making me do things I never would have considered otherwise. It drove me to madness, turning me against everyone I should have trusted. I am so ashamed! I was so angry at Charles for hiding the man that Wessex claimed was his tormenter, I let that picture drive me to destroy him instead, and anyone who defended him.”

Phil finally looked up at the fox, his eyes red from bloodshot. “Please forgive me! I never would have kept his arrest secret if that picture had made me distrust the Longs.”

Misha nodded then slowly. “I do forgive you, Phil. That was not your fault. Our enemy is a terribly powerful foe, if he can reach us and twist our minds through a picture. Who drew that picture?”

Phil shook his head. “I don’t remember!” He wailed, as if he’d beaten his head against a wall all night to bring it back to his mind.

“No one does,” Thomas put in then. “Part of the magic of it has blocked that knowledge from everyone who was in the presence of that canvas. I’ve inquired of just about everyone else who was at that trial and may have been told. Not a single one of them can tell us who drew it.”

Misha tried to remember what had been said at the trial about it. Yet as he searched back, he discovered that he could remember almost nothing from the time the picture was brought in to when it was finally hidden from view again. He blinked in consternation as he pressed, but all he could find was a hole, sealing those memories from his mind. “I can’t remember it either. It’s all just gone.”

Both Thomas and Phil nodded, although the rabbit’s was more erratic, almost feverish. “If you ask any of the other Longs, I’m sure you’ll discover the same,” Thomas pointed out. “But do ask them. If any can remember, it will help us a great deal. Whoever drew that picture must still be under Zagrosek’s influence.”

Misha grimaced. “We do not know that it was Zagrosek.”

Thomas shrugged a bit. “It is the only name we have. I hope he is also innocent, for Charles’s sake. But that is neither here nor there.”

“True,” the fox mused morosely. It was quite unsettling to discover that pieces of his mind were gone from him. He would have to discuss with Jessica and his sister just how that could be possible and how he could get those memories back. “What of the picture now?”

“Destroyed,” Phil said, his voice still strained, though now with a bit of pride and relief. “I threw it out my window. It was torn up on a lamp post below. Poor Malqure got quite a fright as he was walking by just when it landed.”

“And what is more,” Thomas added, “the image from the canvas is completely gone. It looks as if the canvas had never even been used.”

Misha scowled in thought, but something pleasant struck him. “Well, whoever our enemy is, he certainly is powerful with magic. But since Phil was under his control, does this mean that the trial itself will be ignored? Will Charles be able to stay here at Metamor where he belongs?”

Thomas’s face turned grave and he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Misha. I have thought about this since Phil told me these things, and I feel the decision should stand. Despite what was done to Phil, and through him, the one change that stuck was of Charles’s own doing. If it had been any other charge, yes, I would intervene. But...” the stallion trailed off, eyes full of regret, but unwavering in their resolution. Misha knew he could not change the Duke’s mind on this matter.

The fox sighed, that little hope he’d suddenly felt crushed. Matthias would be living at Glen Avery after all for the next five months. Phil’s voice, suddenly quiet, broke his thoughts. “He is not the only one that is leaving.”

“What?” Misha asked, suddenly taken aback.

Phil’s face was full of sorrow now and he gestured with one paw erratically. “You heard that we had a dragon messenger from Whales yesterday?”

“Yes, I heard of that.” He hadn’t given any thought to what it could mean though. He’d been too busy preparing for Llyn’s burial.

“Well, my father, King Tenomides, has taken gravely ill. They do not know if he will recover. He requested that I return to my homeland with all haste, and that is what I am doing. If he should recover, I will return to Metamor. If not...” the rabbit could not finish the thought. They all knew what that would mean. Phil would become King of Whales and likely would not return to Metamor for a very long time.

Misha sat back in his chair, his tail stiff, and his one good ear erect. He felt as if he’d been splashed with bone cold water. “When are you leaving?”

“This afternoon. Clover has returned to Lorland to arrange the transport of our things there. Rupert is already seeing to the packing of my things still here.”

“And who will succeed you?” Misha asked, his voice low. He had never imagined that Phil would ever leave them, though he had known that it would have to happen sooner or later.

“Macaban has been granted complete authority over Lorland now. Nahum will replace me as a Headmaster of the Writer’s Guild, I have been neglecting them of late as it is. And Andwyn will take my place as head of Intelligence.”

Misha did not know the bat very well. He was slight of figure, and so did not spend much time outside the Keep itself. But he had spent his years since his change at the Battle of the Three Gates keeping tabs on the travelling merchants who did business with Metamor, and also the other nobles of the valley. Misha only knew Andwyn as a spy who enjoyed his work. He supposed that he would soon have to get to know the bat better.

“I’ve approved of the choice of Andwyn,” Thomas said then. “It may not have been the one I would have made, but it is a good one nonetheless.”

Misha nodded slightly at he considered that. “Yes, I suppose it is. When does your carriage leave?”

“Within the hour,” Phil admitted. “I am travelling to Menth. A message has already been sent ahead of me to the Whalish proctor there. A ship will be waiting to take, Rupert, Clover, and myself to Whales.”

“No farewell ceremony?” Misha asked, surprised at the way the rabbit was sneaking off.

Phil shook his head, pain filling his voice. He hung his eyes down then, unable to look at the fox anymore. “I can’t! Not after what I’ve done. I can barely face you.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Misha asserted.

“I let that man take control of me because I was so angry. If I had used better judgement, who knows.”

“Will you see Matt?” Misha asked then, his voice even quieter than before.

Phil paused for a moment and then shook his head. “I don’t think I could face him now. I want to see him again, and apologize to him personally, but not now. I just couldn’t do it. Will you tell him all that I have said for me, Misha?”

The fox breathed heavily but nodded. “I will tell him. After you’ve left. I wish you all a safe journey. I hope that your father recovers soon.” Phil could only nod, while Thomas sat impassively, cloaking his own feelings behind that horse’s muzzle. The fox finally leaned forward, wishing he could reach out and touch the rabbit’s shoulder without scaring him out of his wits. “You will be missed, Phil. I know I shall miss your company.”

Prince Phil nodded at that, his ears folding back over his cheeks. “I will miss you as well, both of you. I will miss Metamor, and all those who live here. These have been some of the best years of my life, and I shall always treasure them.”

Thomas offered his own farewells, voice firm, but letting his friendship with the rabbit show through. Phil however, did not wait any longer before rising and hopping away from the table. “I should go now. Rupert has certainly finished packing my things by now.”

“I will see you both off,” Thomas asserted, rising to his hind hooves. “I will accompany you to the gates in fact.”

Misha nodded, though knew he had to return to the Long House. There was much that still had to be done. He rose to his paws and sighed. “I will watch from the tower at the Long House. “I have to prepare for his burial tonight.”

His emphasis on the pronoun told both Phil and Thomas exactly whom he spoke of. Phil bowed his head even lower then. “Forgive me for what I did to you and the Longs at the trial by invoking him.”

Misha stiffened suddenly, but relaxed once more. “I forgive you, Phil. We all do. But this has to be done. Fare thee well, Hare of White. If I should never again see you, I will be the worse for it.”

Phil bowed in reply, his voice shaking too much to say anything intelligible. He then turned about and hopped towards the door, with Thomas at his side. Misha followed them out, but while they turned to the right, he turned to the left, glancing back over his shoulder to watch them go. Somehow the fox knew that it would be many years before he saw that rabbit again, but also he knew that they would once more meet. Still in a bit of a daze, the fox made his way back to the Long House, there to tell Matt and the rest the strangest news of all.

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