The Conspiracy: Part Three
Lisha, having recovered from her first anguished alarm for Lockwood’s life, was beginning to discover that it was most inconvenient not to have him on hand. Even if his present situation could be in no way construed as his fault, she felt that it was typically disobliging of him to be incapacitated in such a time of crisis. Therefore she had no very cordial feelings toward him when she paid him a visit in his rooms later that evening.
She found him situated rather comfortably on a sofa with a book, and began by inquiring whether his sister had come yet.
“No,” he replied languidly, “but she has arranged to arrive tomorrow, like the angel that she is.”
Lisha chose to ignore the sarcasm and appreciate the sentiment, which relative to Lockwood was both a sincere and a kind one. “I cannot possibly praise Cecilia enough, as you know. In the meantime I hope you’re managing to amuse yourself.”
“Tolerably well,” he said rather nastily. Lisha saw that Lockwood was one of those people who, when perfectly content and comfortable, are perfectly good-humored; but whose tempers cannot support any amount of inconvenience or discomfort. She thought that she had rarely seen him so little charming as he was now.
“Do you believe in premonitions?” she asked abruptly.
Lockwood put his book down with a sigh. “I suppose you do? Some of us, you must understand, are considerably less credible; coincidence is not always enough to convince me. However there are many points on which we disagree, I am sure.”
“You needn’t go out of your way to be unpleasant! Honestly, Lockwood, sometimes I have trouble believing that you and Cecilia are related at all.”
This silenced him, and Lisha felt that he was possibly offended – an exceedingly rare occurrence in her experience. “Oh, I don’t mean it like that. But really, would it kill you to be a little less cold once in a while? As for coincidence, all I can say is that it was a very large one for me to have that particular feeling just before that particular event.”
“I cannot think of anything about it that was not odd.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The only thing at all typical about the entire affair was the fact that somebody attempted an assassination. To begin with, why choose me? – you and Jeran were there and, I flatter myself, not a great deal more difficult to kill than I. Either of you is a great deal more important. Then the choice of weapon was peculiar – I do not know what your opinion may be on the matter, but I would not resort to a dagger when I could use a perfectly effective poisoned arrow.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” admitted Lisha. “And of course, the reasoning behind the whole attack is quite mysterious.” She summarized the conference with Darigan, and their identification of the guard.
“That is very intriguing,” Lockwood said with a yawn, returning to his book. “And I am afraid that I have no idea at all what to say to any of it. And I am further afraid that I will not be of any help to you at present.”
“Oh, well! try not to trouble yourself too much about it,” muttered Lisha. “In any case, I had better go. I hope you feel better tomorrow.”
“How kind of you. In the meantime, you must oblige me by not allowing anybody to assassinate you.”
“That is not amusing,” she snapped, half-fearful herself. “What exactly are you implying?”
He only shrugged.
Lockwood, with the aid of one of Kayla’s draughts, slept heavily and long, but not very pleasantly. He awoke feeling not a great deal better than he had the previous night, and groaned as the pretty Acara maid with soft lilac fur drew the curtains open to let the late morning sunlight in.
“I hope you are feeling better, Mr. Lockwood,” she told him with a curtsy and a bright smile.
“Unfounded, but thank you nonetheless,” he muttered, feeling his leg tenderly to confirm that it still hurt. (It did.) Then he sat up and asked for the time.
“Half past twelve, sir.”
“I see.” He looked at her consideringly through eyes that appeared to tint everything greyish yellow; he thought that he did not recognize her, although he rarely took a great deal notice of the maids. “Am I correct in supposing that you are not usually here?”
“You are, sir,” she agreed cheerfully. “Nellie – she usually cleans your room – moved out to Harmon to live with her son. I’m Roxie.”
“Ah,” said Lockwood, who could not possibly have cared less about Nellie’s fate.
“I don’t mean to be impertinent, Mr. Lockwood, but I cannot help remarking that I have never seen such a beautiful collection of neckties in my life.”
He laughed. “That is not so very difficult to believe. And as I am certain that somebody or other will soon come to disturb me, perhaps you would be so good as to hand me one of them and have my breakfast ordered.”
Roxie hesitated for a moment. “Does it matter which color, sir?”
“Oh! give me something dull; white perhaps. It may as well suit my general appearance.”
Lockwood prepared himself and was dutifully helped to his sitting room by the servant. He found himself rather irritated by how difficult it was to do so simple a thing, and began his breakfast in no extraordinarily good mood; but it was soon improved by the entrance of Lord Darigan.
“I see you are at least alive,” Darigan remarked wryly.
“Yes – it is an interesting fact. Can I entice you to sit down, and perhaps even to make yourself comfortable?”
“Thank you – I will do my best. I hope you are not feeling too badly?”
“No,” Lockwood assured him, having discovered quite suddenly that he felt astonishingly better than he had five minutes ago. “I am most excessively comfortable; I have nothing at all to complain of except a lack of employment, which you have so conveniently come to remedy.”
“I am very glad to hear it, and also to be of any service.”
Darigan appeared unusually serious and it struck Lockwood that he was waiting for something. Hazarding a guess, Lockwood spoke. “If you have in any way been led to believe that I consider this some fault of yours, I assure you that nothing is farther from my suspicion.”
Darigan eyed him rather searchingly and sighed. “Well, I hope this will be the last of it. May I ask what you have been reading?” he added, changing the subject quite abruptly.
“Oh – it is called Sorcery in Neopia, a prodigiously deep theoretical examination of magic. The author left no stone unturned, I assure you, except for the particular one under which I wish to look.”
“Ah; you are seeking something in particular, then?”
“Yes,” he replied, flipping idly through the pages. “In fact I owe the idea to you; but more recently, it struck me as I was being held prisoner by Mr. Duplicity and company how remarkably useful it would be to know how to eliminate the traces of magic.”
“Well,” Darigan said thoughtfully, “there are more impossible undertakings. I do know that the art once existed, especially here – Meridell used to be the center and heart of all things magical, you know. I am not sure why magic has so dwindled in the past half-century (though I admit I have my guesses); but in any case, there are probably still those alive who know the secret. I am certain that an answer lies in Brightvale’s library – I say an answer, because I am equally certain that it can be found elsewhere, though it may be difficult to find. However, King Hagan guards his tomes very jealously. Even in this castle’s library you might uncover something helpful, though it would be quite a search.”
“I take it there is no possibility of any such record on the Citadel.”
Darigan shook his head with a measure of regret. “I highly doubt it. Our legacy is not one of books or writings. In general, Darigan magic has always been very much focused on the present and the practical.”
“Perhaps you will satisfy my idle curiosity on one point – you admit to having guesses about the cause of magic’s disappearance. What do you mean?”
“There is as much magic on the Citadel as there ever was, and in the Lost Desert,” replied Darigan shortly. “I believe there is no magic to speak of in Meridell because it is not allowed.”
“That is a most astonishing thing to hear!” exclaimed Lockwood. “From my own reception I have received the impression that it is not only allowed, but very much encouraged.”
Darigan hesitated, and rose from his chair to stand in front of the window. “You are – if I may speak frankly – sociable, rich and the heir to an earldom. There must be some magic permitted in order to keep the rest in line, and you are quite ideal, not to mention powerful enough that suppressing your sorcery would be a daunting task.”
“I confess I have difficulty believing that conspiracy on such a massive scale is taking place.”
“And you are probably right to be incredulous,” Darigan agreed. “It is very unlikely. Having said that, I am afraid I really must go; I believe am due at a conference in ten minutes.”
“Very well – I have kept you long enough. You were immeasurably kind to amuse me as long as you did.”
“Perhaps not altogether selfless, however,” said Darigan with a chuckle. “I was quite amused as well. Now – I do not remember much about Meridell’s library, but if you ever do attempt a search I suggest the farthest east corner on the second story.”
“Thank you – I will keep that in mind.”
“I wish you a very speedy recovery and I will come again as soon as I can manage it,” Darigan replied by way of parting.
Lockwood found that he had a great deal to think about, and so the day did not pass as slowly as he had feared; and he was quite satisfied by his resolution, to employ his sister in exploring the farthest east corner on the second story of the castle library.
To be continued...