The Sorcerer: Part Four
My Dearest Cecilia,
Sir Jeran and the Sorcerer Lisha have suddenly taken it into their heads to make the journey across Meridell to the Darigan Citadel, and it is their wish that I accompany them. I am entirely unclear as to the purpose of the expedition; they claim that they have some particular reason to talk to Lord Darigan. I cannot express to you how tedious it is certain to be, and I do hope that you are enjoying yourself more than I am. I apologize for the shortness of the letter but I know that you will excuse me upon the grounds that I must prepare to leave at impossibly short notice.
As always, your loving
H. K. Lockwood
Lisha had never labored under any misapprehension that Lockwood was going to enjoy their journey - in fact, she would have been extraordinarily displeased if he had. However, it was her painful lot to confess to herself that she had gravely underestimated Lockwood's powers to make everyone around him miserable as well. He cast a sort of frosty gloom over her and Jeran; they discussed dull topics in subdued voices, quite in contrast to their usual animation. The worst part of it was, as Lisha complained to her brother in an irritated whisper, that somehow Lockwood always had a way of making one feel inferior, as though one were at the house of one's critical great-aunt. She heartily disliked him, but she found it surprisingly difficult to be rude to him.
Jeran, though initially claiming that Mr. Lockwood's manners were quite charming, discovered that Lisha was correct and had no very convincing argument to make.
They had been traveling for two days now (the entire trek was generally calculated to take seven at their relaxed pace) and Lisha found herself longing to reach the Darigan Citadel. Although their decision to travel alone and on foot had been entirely deliberate, she now wished that they had taken a carriage or perhaps attempted a transporting spell; the weather was grey and the inns were depressing, and it was all so very boring. Lockwood, of course, had contrived to keep himself spotlessly clean, although the shadow Gelert was today dressed in unrelieved black, possibly to express his extreme displeasure.
"Stop for lunch?" Jeran suggested. The knight could have walked for many more miles, but he was invariably careful to be considerate to his companions; and, in any case, he was hungry.
Lisha thankfully seated herself beneath a tree, and Lockwood, who was more naturally athletic but far less inclined toward exertion, perched himself delicately on a stump with similar relief.
"Have you ever visited the Citadel before, Mr. Lockwood?" asked Jeran hopefully.
"Never to my recollection," the Gelert replied rather coldly. His willingness to converse seemed to be decreasing steadily; hitherto his answers had always been at least well-bred, but they were now degenerating into an area of doubtful civility. Jeran could think of nothing to say to this, and so their meal proceeded in silence.
As they were all preparing to get up again, an odd wind blew through the trees, twirling Jeran's scruffy fur into little curls and carrying away one of their maps. Jeran made an exclamation of annoyance and rolled his other scrolls more tightly; when he lifted his head again, he was surprised to see that both Lisha and Lockwood had tensed unnaturally. "Is there something -"
"Shh!" said Lisha urgently, cutting him off. "Somebody's using magic very close by, and I think I recognize it, but I can't think where it -"
At that moment a beautiful brown Aisha stepped quite naturally into their field of vision. She wore an elegant dress and her reddish hair flowed exquisitely over a golden headband. As she stepped forward, her vivid green eyes seemed to pierce into Jeran, whose jaw dropped quite inadvertently.
Lockwood was also staring fondly at the Aisha; it took even Lisha a few firm shakes of the head before she could place the intruder's identity and see through her lovely disguise. To her horror, she discovered that she could not remember the spell to reveal true appearances, so she ripped at the magical guise with raw sorcery; but she had no success. Either the original magic had been enhanced, or the words of the spell were absolutely integral to its effectiveness.
Only Lisha could see the brown Aisha as she was: a hideous Darigan creature with sagging skin and blood-red eyes.
It was the Court Dancer.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," said the Court Dancer in her melodic voice, and she placed a paw on the tip of Jeran's nose. Instantly, before Lisha could even think of reacting, a sickly purple light swept over him and the Lupe crumpled to the ground.
"Jeran!" cried Lisha, rushing to her brother. For all her prodding and pleading he would not wake up; however, she quickly discerned that he was not dead, only trapped in some sort of comatose state. With difficulty, Lisha tore herself away from him, wand in hand, to see that the Court Dancer was now directing her attentions toward Lockwood.
"How handsome you are," the beautiful Aisha murmured, stroking his silky necktie admiringly.
"I’m so glad you agree," Lockwood replied dazedly, caught nearly as wholeheartedly as Jeran had been by the enchantment - though he was not, apparently, quite so dazzled as to be much surprised by the Court Dancer's compliment.
With a cry of anger, Lisha elbowed the Court Dancer out of the way and, holding Lockwood by the collar, shook him hard. "Don't you see, you idiot, it's all a spell! Look at her! She's a hideous Darigan monster!"
The Court Dancer was desperately pulling Lisha away from Lockwood, but the damage had been done; he blinked several times, then staggered back in revulsion. "Do not," he hissed, as the Court Dancer made a faltering move in his direction, a grotesque smile on her face, "don't you dare take another step."
"What have you done to Jeran?" screeched Lisha.
The Court Dancer looked between them; then, clearly deciding that she would receive no sympathy from either, she gave a mocking laugh. "What indeed have I done to Meridell's proud Sir Jeran? Surely the great witch Lisha will be able to find out. Or don't tell me that you don't know what I've done?"
"I don't have time for your games," said Lisha, teeth clenched. "Tell me what you've done to my brother, or -"
"Or what? What will you do? Oh, I wouldn't try magic... after all, perhaps I am the only one who knows how to help Jeran. If I were you, I would not want that knowledge to die with a humble dancer like myself."
"Then tell me what you want!"
"Let me tell you a story," the Court Dancer said softly. "Once there was a young Aisha whose chance in the world came when a dear friend sent her, as a gift, to the King's Court. A spell was placed upon her to make her delightfully beautiful, and for just a few short hours she had everything that she had ever wanted."
She paused, coolly regarding Lisha's burning glare and Lockwood's malevolent disgust. "Do you know what happened then? A silly young Aisha came and cast a counterspell, and with a few clumsy, inexpert words she ruined it all."
The Court Dancer took a step toward Lisha, who remained frozen in outraged fear. "You took everything from me," the Dancer told her simply. "And now I am going to take everything from you. I have placed a curse upon your brother - a curse of great power, the product of several sorcerers' combined efforts which you, my dear, will not be able to break. I give you the gift of watching your brother die."
"He will not die," declared Lisha. "He will not die, do you hear me?"
The Court Dancer took no notice, and instead turned to Lockwood. "My quarrel is not with you, my friend. Stay out of it and you will remain perfectly unharmed. But should you interfere, I warn you... I will make you uglier than I am."
Lisha's mind raced through spells of destruction and devastation, but before she could recall any one of them the Court Dancer had disappeared, leaving her standing there with Jeran at her feet and Lockwood leaning against a tree some way off, still looking rather horrified.
Then, quite suddenly, Lisha realized the implications of what had just come to pass. Jeran was cursed - dying, unless she could break the spell. She was alone, out in the woods, and dared not leave her brother to find anybody else. Alone, that was, except for Lockwood; and Lisha, though generally optimistic, had to admit that she could think of few others less likely to be helpful. She could only try. "Will you - will you help me?" she pleaded.
Before the Gelert even spoke, Lisha knew in her heart what he was going to say.
"I believe you heard our dear friend's threats," he said icily. "I do hope you will understand when I tell you I have no wish to become involved."
To be continued...