The Traitor: Part Nine
Regan, though not of a type to appear particularly intimidating, was perfectly able to take care of herself and several others as well. Not only did she return safely to Lockwood but she also contrived to make the acquaintance of a very kind farmer and his wife. From that quarter, she reckoned, it would be safe to expect some help should help be needed – and given their present situation she had an idea that it might. Indeed, the farmer and his wife had been extremely pressing in their attempts to persuade her to spend the night in their lodgings; she did not think that the advent of two more, one of whom was unconscious and therefore unlikely to cause a great deal of trouble, would be any unreasonable stretch.
She was the bearer of dinner as well as good news, and even Lockwood was quite glad to see her. Before she could introduce her own plans, however, he chose to introduce his own proposition.
“I believe I jump to no extraordinary conclusions in my conviction that our dear friends Tricks and Duplicity will not hesitate to act, now that I am out of the way,” he announced. “I have thought on the subject for some time now and I have decided that the best thing – indeed the only thing – for me to do is to arrive as quickly as possible at Meridell Castle to set straight whatever has gone awry.”
“What makes you so sure that they’re doing anything in Meridell Castle?” asked Regan.
“I think it is tolerably plausible,” he replied dryly.
“Well, how do you intend to get there?”
“By magic, naturally.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Oh,” he continued, “I could possibly find the strength to work the sorcery myself; but I would be so very much exhausted as to be quite nearly useless afterward. There is, however, another way...”
“Oh?” said Regan.
He fixed her with his rather cold and slightly sarcastic stare. “If you would be so kind as to allow me the use of your energy, I believe it would be quite simple.”
She was silent for several moments as she considered this. “You mean you would – take my energy – by magic?”
“To put it quite briefly – yes. Of course,” he added, “I would be excessively careful not to take more than you could spare.”
“I... what about your friend Lisha here?”
“I have very little choice but to entrust her to you. I cannot very well afford the effort it would take to transport her as well. Frankly I am very unwise to trust you, but I think –”
“You don’t think I’ll betray you?” she finished for him, a bit more gently than was habitual. “Well, you’re right. I won’t. I don’t like the idea – how could I? – but it seems to me it’s better to do that than nothing at all.”
Lockwood, who had been anticipating a great deal more resistance, was somewhat taken aback (which for him was a rare occurrence). “Are you certain?”
Regan’s eyes flashed. “I would hardly agree to it if I weren’t! Or do you think I’m the kind of person who goes around changing her mind every five seconds?”
“Not precisely,” he admitted with a sigh. He looked at Lisha, and at the snug farmhouses in the distance, and then at Regan sitting confidently and brazenly across the fire. Even now he wondered whether his decision was an intelligent one; but he had not the luxury of self-doubt. “If we are going to do this, then my suggestion is to get it over with as quickly as possible.”
Regan nodded. “Agreed. Whenever you’re ready.”
Lockwood raised his gloved hands – or rather his left one, since his right did not seem eager to comply – and then hesitated. “You will make sure that nothing happens to Lisha?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “Who would have guessed that you’d care so much! Get on with it.”
Slowly, carefully, he began dragging energy out of her and absorbing it into himself. Swirls of icy dust, invisible to the non-magical eye, penetrated the air and the fire flickered uncomfortably. Lockwood did his best to steady himself, resisting the heady, delightful urge to drain her of all substance and seize the energy he so sorely needed; it took a conscious effort to cut off the magic when he knew that he had taken enough.
“Is that it?”
He blinked, snapped back into the world by her singularly unmystical voice. It had become very cold quite suddenly, and he shivered and wished for a coat. “Yes,” he answered dully. “And now I suppose I had better go.”
“Good luck,” she said.
“That is very kind of you,” he said, and vanished.
Transportation by magic was not a thing that Lockwood had done very often; and even with the knowledge of where he was going and what he might expect to see, he found himself astonishingly disconcerted by the abrupt change in scenery. Indeed he was obliged to stagger against a wall and lean there for several minutes before he could think of doing a great deal else.
He had aimed for his own chambers, but evidently his difficulties had been similar to those often experienced by Lord Darigan, for he had ended up in an entirely different wing of the castle. At least, he thought drearily, he had not lodged himself in a wall or been stranded miles away in the woods.
What it cost Lockwood to proceed along the hall looking as he did was known only to him; but certainly he grieved for his sartorial disarray, and hoped that nobody very important would be about.
He made his way to the more populated center of the castle before he encountered anyone at all, and that somebody, when he did, proved to be the very last person whom he would have elected to meet in his current distress: it was none other than Elaine Roderick.
More plaguing still was her reaction to his presence, for she immediately broke into a penetrating scream. “Guards! Guards!” she cried. “Come here at once!”
There was no time to react to this, nor was Lockwood entirely certain how to react. Two of the King’s Draik guards rushed in and, upon seeing Lockwood, pointed their spears directly at his heart. “Don’t move, sorcerer!”
The guards were large and serious-looking and Lockwood was so utterly bewildered that he simply backed away, staring at Miss Roderick. “May I ask what precisely I have done to be rewarded with such a remarkable greeting?”
“The nerve of it!” cried the first guard.
“Better get him to the King,” advised the second.
“How can you say that!” cried Elaine. “How in the world can you say that after what you did! I can hardly conceive of such villainy; it is the most shocking thing I have ever come across. Guards, please take him away immediately, for I am sure he is very dangerous and will stop at nothing at all.”
“Where is Sir Jeran?” demanded Lockwood, evading the guards’ attempts to catch hold of him.
“Sir Jeran is away, more’s the pity!” retorted the first guard. “He’d like to see you dealt with, I’m sure! You just wait till he hears about what you did to his sister!”
Lockwood had a peculiar sense that nothing was as it should have been; it was something about the way the guards stood, and Elaine’s expression, and the very walls of the castle – but he could not place it and now was certainly not the time to try.
“I have done nothing to Lisha!” he cried in horror. “Never in all my life have I met with such flagrantly ludicrous claims, totally unsupported by any sort of evidence –”
“I saw you myself!” Elaine exclaimed maliciously.
Under the circumstances, Lockwood did the only sensible thing that occurred to him: he whirled around and took off swiftly in the opposite direction. He raced away with the guards in hot pursuit, hoping very much that they would not take it into their heads to shoot arrows after him, and dodged around the corner and flew up the grand marble staircase to a hallway he knew as a particularly convoluted one.
To his immense astonishment and displeasure, he was stopped short by a wan grey Kyrii, who held out a hand and froze him in place.
It seemed that he had, at last, met one of Meridell’s other sorcerers.
The Kyrii released the spell and regarded him with disconcertingly pale, expressionless eyes. “Lockwood, isn’t it?” he murmured politely. “I think perhaps it might be best if you were to follow me into my study.”
Lockwood stumbled in after him, recklessly reflecting that it did not much matter what he did now.
“Please, sit down,” said the Kyrii greyly. “If you want to, that is – but by the looks of it you might consider it a welcome change. My name is Fox. So tell me, Mr. Lockwood... what did you do with Lady Borodere?”
The Gelert shrugged helplessly. “I would very much like to know myself.”
“Oh,” said Fox, and his eyes traveled slowly over Lockwood’s tattered shirt and dirty necktie. “Would you perhaps care for a change of clothes? – the measurements may not be exactly correct, but I am sure that they can be magically tailored to fit.”
“I would be very much obliged,” was all that Lockwood could think of to say in reply.
Mr. Fox went unhurriedly off into his chambers, presumably to search for a suit, and Lockwood looked around him; his curiosity had not yet been entirely dulled. The sorcerer’s rooms were scrupulously neat and tidy, perfectly comfortable and without the smallest measure of personality in any element whatsoever. It was all so very much like a dream that Lockwood felt he could not possibly be surprised by anything anymore: the world appeared to have turned entirely upside down and left him quite behind.
Fox returned after a moment or two carrying neatly folded clothing. “If you would care to accompany me to the washroom, you might perhaps find yourself somewhat refreshed,” he suggested courteously.
“I am excessively grateful for your hospitality,” answered Lockwood, following him dazedly to a small neat room wherein he changed his clothes with a sigh of relief, did his best to wash the cut on his cheek though it was still very sore, and tied the necktie with that practiced, effortless skill which he possessed. It was not a suit exactly to his taste, being a hair less exquisitely tailored than was his own; nevertheless it was vastly preferable to the one he had recently abandoned.
He emerged feeling slightly less bizarre and a bit more equal to facing the world with his usual degree of composure. “Perhaps you will condescend to tell me, Mr. Fox, what exactly it is that I am accused of? – I feel some measure of entitlement to know, as I will be sadly equipped to defend myself should I continue in ignorance.”
The Kyrii gazed at him blandly over his cup of coffee. “You were observed removing Lady Borodere from the castle by magical force and threatening murder.”
“And who was privy to this charming spectacle? – no, on second thought allow me to hazard a guess. Was it, by any chance, Miss Roderick?”
“Yes. Her word, of course, would have been carefully weighed against yours; but as the matter stood the evidence was totally against you. Your magic,” Fox explained delicately, “was everywhere and quite unmistakable.”
“There are two possibilities as I see it, Mr. Fox; and those are, firstly that I have been deceived and have done a great many things without my recollection; and secondly, that Miss Roderick is in fact a traitor working for the two men who kidnapped myself and Lady Borodere and held us hostage for several days.”
Mr. Fox stared, as he was perhaps quite entitled to do. “Do you mean to say, sir, that you have been the victim of such a crime as you have been accused of?”
“I suppose one might phrase it that way, yes. I believe I have news for King Skarl that is quite urgent and quite vital to the safety of the kingdom; but before I venture to explain, might I be excused in extending a question to your honored self?”
“Certainly, Mr. Lockwood.”
“It strikes me as slightly odd that you are so open to my presence in your rooms and indeed so very predisposed to heed anything I have to say.”
Mr. Fox smiled (a rather weak specimen, but a smile nonetheless). “I have a notion, Mr. Lockwood, that you may be telling the truth; and I confess I am rather intrigued by the intricate haze of spells that surrounds you as we speak.”
“May I inquire as to what you mean?” asked Lockwood, startled.
“I did not think that you were aware of them. They are really very peculiar – I do not think I have ever seen anything like them. And, as a criminal, why did you elect to return to the castle and risk everything once again? Quite apart from any of these observations, I must also add – meaning no disrespect, you understand – that you do not look in a state to be particularly dangerous. In short, my reasoning is this: I believe there is something more here than meets the eye, and I intend to discover precisely what it is. In that interest, Mr. Lockwood, would you perhaps oblige me with an account of what has happened?”
“I can conceive of nothing more likely to give me pleasure.”
“You are all kindness,” said Mr. Fox hollowly; then, after further consideration and a good look at Lockwood’s ugly bruises, he elaborated upon his statement. “Would you like some ice?”
To be continued...