The Traitor: Part Four
Lockwood’s first vain, hopeful thought upon waking was that the whole thing might have been a dream. It felt very dreamlike, and he felt very dreamlike; but immediately he felt less so as a yellow Skeith hauled him to his feet, monitored by Mr. Duplicity, who wore a faint look of amusement on his amiable face.
“Do try not to be rough, Joseph, if you please. It isn’t very kind.”
The shadow Gelert staggered along, pushed firmly but not cruelly by the Skeith; and Mr. Duplicity followed behind. They were in some sort of hallway, but Lockwood, still half-asleep, quickly lost track of where they were going and where they had come from.
At last they reached their destination: a smallish, comfortable room done up in black and white, with a luxurious sofa and a spacious writing desk. He noticed uneasily that the room was entirely without windows.
Mr. Duplicity came in with Lockwood, placing a hand on his shoulder. It was not a kind grip, or a reassuring one; it was restraining, a warning not to attempt anything unwise.
“Are you quite comfortable, Mr. Lockwood? – good, good, I am glad to hear it. I am sorry about your arm, by the way; I assure you I do not condone the harming of prisoners. But you know, boys will be boys...”
He paused, leaning thoughtfully forward to study the piece of paper he was holding. “Now, my colleagues have asked me to explain something to you. I hope you won’t hold it against me, indeed I trust you won’t, since we are such good friends. You see, they want me to tell you that if you should try to slip some magic in on the side, so to speak – something that might compromise our operation – we have a few other sorcerers monitoring what you do. Nothing like as powerful as you, of course, but I understand it isn’t hard to detect when magic is being used.
“Also, in the event that you should slip something past them, there are several people waiting with Lisha as we speak; and at the first sign of trouble they have been instructed to – well – you know. It isn’t pleasant to speak of, but I simply know it won’t happen, Mr. Lockwood. You wouldn’t betray us like that.”
Whatever the Krawk was trying to do, thought Lockwood, he had an odd way of going about it. In fact he was simply rather odd through and through – as a criminal, a mastermind, a man or anything else.
“In any case, here is the first spell that we would like you to perform. I can’t make heads or tails of this script myself, but I’m told that it will be perfectly clear to you.”
He handed the paper to Lockwood, who blinked as the meaningless figures leaped off the page into his magical understanding. He still had not the faintest idea how the script worked, but he certainly understood what he was meant to do.
“Well – I will leave you to it.” Mr. Duplicity rose. “Is there anything else that you need, or would like? Perhaps some food – you may not be hungry at the moment, but I’m sure you would like some soon.”
“I suppose so,” Lockwood replied colorlessly. “Thank you.”
He waited for the click of the door, confirmed his suspicion that it was locked, and cursed himself for having been so stupid. There were a thousand things he could have done differently to prevent all of this from happening – even aside from making more of an objection to the Techo farmer, he could easily have repelled the attackers in more ways than he could count. A pit of quicksand, a freezing spell, a simple transportation to a few miles away... And he had done absolutely nothing.
Now, he supposed, he would have to try to perform this magic they wanted, whatever it was. He still felt rather sick – presumably an aftereffect of whatever they had used to poison him – and he very much doubted his ability to construct a reliable spell, particularly one based on instructions that he did not necessarily understand. He looked the paper over; the script told him what magic he had to use, but did not elaborate on the nature of the spell as a whole, and it was not one with which he was familiar. It was a little like translating a block of text from another language: he knew the literal translation of every word, but he had only a vague idea of the total meaning.
At the moment it was simply too much for him to think about. He set the script aside and stared blankly at the pen and paper on the desk for a moment; and he realized something rather obvious that in his stupor he had not realized before.
His captors, whoever they were, were not from Meridell. The furnishings were all foreign, everything was too futuristic; and Mr. Duplicity was certainly not a Meridellian. He had a different accent and a different look. For that matter, Lockwood could not even be entirely sure that he was in Meridell anymore – they might have taken him anywhere.
Then again, what difference could it possibly make? Meridell, Tyrannia or Virtupets Space Station, he could hardly be more wholly a prisoner.
Quite idly, still thinking, he formed a ball of stretchable ice in his gloved hands and shifted it about like putty. He felt extraordinarily restless and the seriousness of his situation was beginning to dawn on him. There was no telling what might happen, whether or not he obeyed. If he did attempt an escape it would have to be very, very clever – these people were obviously taking no chances. They knew how to work around the fact that Lockwood could use magic and they could not; they knew that he was useless when he was extremely exhausted or distracted by danger, and they knew he would not put Lisha’s life in jeopardy.
Having made a thorough review of everything he knew, Lockwood adjusted his cravat to his satisfaction and sat down to begin the spell they had given him.
To the best of his knowledge it appeared to be some kind of illusion. Of what, however, or intended for whom, he had no idea. He read it through, became frustrated, paced once or twice across the room, and then surrendered. He seated himself with a sigh; there was nothing for it but to blindly follow the magical instructions and hope that whatever he was doing would not prove absolutely disastrous.
It was not a pleasant spell; of that he was certain. The undertones gave him an eerie, shivery feeling, coupled with the chill his sorcery always produced; more than a few lines dealt with betrayal, and some he even thought might have to do with death. While rather complex, the spell was not extraordinarily difficult and he had finished within an hour or so.
Now that he was at full leisure to think, Lockwood found several things to wonder and worry about. To begin with, somebody with magical knowledge must have written the spell – whoever it was lacked the strength to cast it, perhaps, but they knew more than he did about the nature of the script and about magic in general. That was not promising.
There was also the matter of how, precisely, Mr. Duplicity and company had known where he and Lisha were going to be. They had arranged it so perfectly as to make Lockwood sure that they had a spy somewhere in Meridell Castle – and he was equally sure that the letter claiming a disturbance in the town had been false, suggesting that Valero was very likely the traitor.
This kind of speculation, however, was getting him nowhere. If he did not want to rot here performing illicit spells for the rest of his life, he was going to have to plan some sort of escape.
“Why is it always me?” he muttered, aware now that he was not absorbed by magic that his right arm ached rather badly; he wished he knew some healing magic, but as far as he was aware only faeries and healers were capable of it. If Mr. Duplicity was telling the truth, Lisha was lying unconscious somewhere – not the most enviable situation in the world, to be certain, but infinitely preferable to this kind of tense, draining, uncertain existence with the responsibility of a friend’s life in his hands. He reflected wryly and somewhat bitterly that he seemed to be a magnet for unpleasant decisions and undesirable circumstances.
As he was by this time more exhausted than ever, Lockwood gathered several cushions and prepared to fall asleep on the luxurious sofa. He was interrupted by the entry of a wan, wary young yellow Poogle carrying a tray of food and a stack of blankets.
“Mr. Duplicity wants to thank you for your services,” she told him, depositing her load on the desk and delivering a rather ungracious curtsy.
“I suppose that is quite thoughtful of him,” said Lockwood.
The Poogle did not bother to reply. “I hope you like steak and mashed potatoes,” she remarked in a manner suggesting that she did not particularly care. “Would you mind sitting up, please?”
He did so, and she came at him brandishing a roll of bandages and a heap of blankets, presumably both intended to add to his comfort.
Lockwood welcomed the opportunity for innocuous chat. “Do you always treat your guests with such solicitude? I really feel quite important, you know.”
“Mr. Duplicity likes to see his prisoners well cared for, if that’s what you mean.”
“Oh? Have you worked here for some time, then?”
“As a matter of fact, not all that long, no,” she answered coldly.
“I see,” said Lockwood in his most charming manner. “But I suppose I have several colleagues? I would excessively sorry to find that I was the only one.”
Whether because Lockwood was, when he so chose, extremely captivating, or whether she simply regarded the question as harmless, the Poogle deigned to reply as she quickly and efficiently re-bandaged the cut on his arm. “There’ve been others.”
“Well, you really must thank Mr. Duplicity on my behalf. I do so immoderately hope that my spell was satisfactory – although, in all fairness, you must also thank whoever wrote it.”
“Perhaps,” she said shortly. “There. I don’t imagine you’ll be doing anything too strenuous – it shouldn’t hurt for much longer.”
“You are probably right,” agreed Lockwood, rolling his sleeve down with a slight wince. “I cannot really conceive of a way to do anything strenuous in my present situation.”
“That will save you some trouble, then, won’t it, Mr. Lockwood?” She curtsied again, giving him a look that was distinctly sarcastic and uninviting, and quitted the room.
And that, thought Lockwood drowsily, was a peculiar servant if he had ever seen one.
To be continued...