The two rabbits moved sedately through the well-manicured gardens of Metamor Keep. It was a sunny day, the birds were chirping happily and Phil ambled next to her arm in arm, Clover was happy. The two were enjoying the sights and sounds of the gardens in fall. There wouldn't be many more days like this one; already many trees were bare and the slight bite to the temperature foretold an early winter. Turning a corner they came upon a fox quietly seated on a bench sipping from a bottle of wine.
"Misha!" Clover exclaimed. "Good afternoon to you."
"Good afternoon Clover, Phil," the fox answered taking another sip from the bottle.
"Hello, Misha," Phil answered quietly.
"How are you doing today Clover?" the fox asked. "How are you adjusting to married life?"
"Fine. We have our ups and downs but life is good," she answered and stroked her husbands paw. "How is Caroline doing?"
The vulpines whole demeanor brightened noticeably. "She's taken up the flute!" he said in a light tone.
"The flute?" Clover asked, surprised.
"Yup, for whatever reason, she's fallen in love with the flute and seems to spend the whole day practicing. The flute has really helped her cope," the fox grew silent for a long moment. "At least the nightmares have stopped, finally."
"It's good to see her doing so well."
"She's as tough as nails. Only yesterday she asked Coe when she could start practicing with weapons," Misha said.
"Already?" Phil asked.
"She's not going back on duty again is she?"
"Not right now, but Caroline's already made it very clear that she wants to go back on patrol as soon as she's healed," the fox answered in a cold voice.
Clover shook her head. "Amazing. She's a tough person."
Misha nodded. "She's a real survivor. Excuse me Clover, but could Phil and I be alone?"
"More spy stuff?" she asked. "Well, I knew about it when I married you."
"I'll meet you by the flowers around the hedge," Phil said.
"You won't be long will you?" the doe asked.
"I won't keep you waiting long."
Clover licked her husband on the muzzle and reluctantly walked away. When she reached the corner the rabbit stopped and waved goodbye, once last time. She was gone for several seconds before either of them spoke.
"I've been thinking about things for a while," Misha said putting the bottle down on the bench.
"The Patriarch's death?" the rabbit asked.
"Yup. Been studying and thinking on what happened," the fox said in a cold voice.
"Come to any conclusions?" Phil asked.
"One person did it. Someone with a great skill in magic and in killing." The fox picked up the bottle but didn't drink from it. Instead he started to idly pick at the label.
"Could one person have done all that damage?"
"Oh yes," Misha replied in a voice that was cold and distant. "In my wild days when I was on a rampage I destroyed many lutin camps alone." His voice trailed off and the fox was silent for a moment, lost in bitter memories.
Phil waited patiently for his friend to recover. Finally Misha shook his head and returned to the present. "This attack wasn't made in blind rage, quite the opposite this was done with a cold deliberation."
"By whom?" Phil asked. "Do you have any ideas? Any clues?"
"Plenty of them, but none that made sense until now."
"For a long time I couldn't understand how someone could move through the camp so silently, and kill so quickly." Misha stopped playing with the bottle and put it down again. "The technique looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't figure out why. Where had I seen that type of assassination before? It had me mystified until recently."
"What happened recently?" Phil asked.
"Matt officially became a Long Scout," Misha said quietly.
Neither spoke for several long seconds. Finally the rabbit broke the silence. "You think Matthias was involved?"
"That's a question I want you to answer?"
"What do you mean?" the lapine asked quietly.
"What do you know of the Sondecki?" Misha asked flatly.
"What do you know of them?"
Misha fixed the rabbit with the cold gaze of a predator. Phil shifted nervously under that stare and involuntarily stepped backward a few paces. Then the fox shifted his eyes back to his bottle. "A lot more then anyone else realizes, including you. I know enough to understand that a Sondecki was behind this heinous crime."
"And you suspect Matthias?" Phil said, relaxing a little.
Misha just sighed in response. "I don't know. He's my good friend, but he does have the ability to do it."
"He's my friend too. A Sondecki was behind the killings but I don't believe Matthias was involved."
"But you can't be sure, can you?" Misha asked.
It was a long time before Phil answered. "No, I can't be sure."
"I've already checked on Matthias movements during the ambush. Finbar was able to confirm exactly where the rat was the whole time," the fox explained. "But he might have given information to another Sondecki and not actually done the killing himself."
"A lot of people could have done that," Phil countered. "The Patriarch made no secret of his itinerary."
"But a Sondecki was involved, no doubting that."
"Agreed, but that doesn't mean Matt was involved. Although little known, the Sondecki do have enemies who would like to see them destroyed. And having them blamed for such a crime would be the perfect way to do it."
"You are talking about Rickkter and the Kankoran?" Misha said.
"That's a possibility."
A long silence ensued as Misha took a long drink for his bottle. "I've been talking with my sister Elizabeth. The Mages guild has been discussing the Patriarchs death. A lot of the talk hasn't been too friendly towards Metamor."
The rabbit shook his head. "So it begins, the accusations and distrust. Next will come the demands for revenge."
"Not yet," Misha countered. "But they are pressuring her for details on the Patriarchs death."
"Have you told them anything?"
"Nothing solid. Just a few vague details, but I'll have to tell them something."
"Please don't mention Matthias, or Rickkter by name," Phil advised.
"Of course not. If it ever got out that there was a Sondecki and a Kankoran here at the Keep, there would be serious hell to pay," Misha replied. "I will tell them a Sondecki was responsible."
"Don't forget the Sathmore made knife," the rabbit added.
"I won't," Misha answered. "You realize Phil, that information alone could touch off a bloody religious war that could sweep the whole continent."
"I am aware of that, but it's better to have it come out now rather then later, and be accused of hiding evidence. It would make us look all the more guilty. And please tell the guild that we believe that Sathmore wasn't involved in the killing."
"That I will." The Long scout commented. "I don't know how many in the Guild are going to believe that. Anyway I put it, there will be a vicious screaming match. Each group accusing the other. But it's not the Guild I'm worried about, the mages long ago banished religion from Guild matters."
"How is the your homeland divided religiously?"
"Marigund is split evenly between Follower and Lightbringer," Misha answered. "With a good number of Predecessors thrown in."
Phil laughed. "For a supposedly lost tribe it seems strange that the Predecessors can be found almost everywhere."
"It's not them I'm worried about. There has always been great tension between Follower and Lightbringer. To make matters worse the Followers are evenly split between Ecclasia and Rebuilders."
"A rare and dangerous mix," the rabbit said. "How do they keep from killing each other?"
"A very careful balancing act," Misha explained. "I remember seeing religious rioting in my own hometown as a boy. Papa had to use cavalry to stop it. Even so they burned a quarter of the city."
Phil shook his head. "You think that could reoccur?"
"I don't know anymore. It's been a long time since I've visited my homeland," the fox said. "I do know that there will be people who openly cheer at the patriarch's death, both Lightbringer and Rebuilder. Right now they're too shocked to do anything. When the shock wears off, the killing will start." He took a long drink from his bottle.
"We need to find out who did this before the bloodshed begins," Phil said.
"No chance of that," Misha countered. "There will be lots of deaths, no stopping it. All we can do is limit the killing. Do we have any clues about who did it?"
The rabbit shook his white furred head. "Nothing solid but Wessex hasn't given up yet."
"Neither have I," Misha said standing up. "I think I've kept you from Clover long enough. I'll talk to Elizabeth tonight. Hopefully she'll have some good news."
"One thing Misha," Phil said halting the fox. "As the new leader of Lorland I'm trying to repair the damage Loriod did."
"How are things going?"
"Very slow." The rabbit explained. "He almost destroyed the people and land. It will be many years before they can recover. One thing sadly lacking is the military. Loriod relied on mercenaries to defend himself. Now I have almost no soldiers."
"You want me to help?"
"Yes. Could you take up the task of reorganizing and training the militia?"
"Of course. Glad to help, but knowing that fat monster, there is no telling what condition the militia is in."
"I understand and I trust you to be able to handle things."
"Thank you Phil for that vote of confidence." Misha bowed to his friend. "Now on that note I'll leave you to your wife." With that the fox turned and slowly ambled off.