The Remnant: Part Six
Lockwood sat with a book, facing the window; he appeared to be reading or perhaps admiring the view, but in truth was doing neither. The truth was that books had lost much of their charm for him of late – he preferred to be actively doing, leaving no empty spaces which he might be obliged to fill. In the same way he disliked being alone, even as he yearned for time to think, to consider; but he found that when he put his mind to it he could not. His thoughts fluttered about like sheets of paper in the wind, and a peculiar sense of malaise crept quietly in through the edges.
The truth was that he no longer felt precisely like himself. He was handsomer, wittier, more brilliant than he had ever been – and yet he derived very little satisfaction from it. Where, after all, was the satisfaction in pleasing others when he could not please himself? Things that he had once enjoyed were becoming meaningless to him; the world had taken on a cold grey shade which it refused to surrender.
Perhaps matters were not so hopeless as he felt them to be now, for there were times when he felt amused, contented even. It was only that he was somehow unfulfilled; he wanted more. More of what, he could not have said. It was simply that he had a vague sense of having been cheated out of something – life itself, perhaps, for he had a certain unconscious conviction that life was meant to be deeper and richer than this.
It made him reckless, he knew. He had been very foolish today. It was not only his own life he was toying with, but Jeran’s too – and somehow he could not find it in himself to care. Or could he? It struck him that possibly a small part of him was appalled by his coldness. All the same, it was not large enough to inspire in him any particular sense of remorse or contrition, and so it was entirely useless.
Lockwood knew, though he could not quite admit it to himself, that it was in part because of that lovely, icy faerie he had summoned. She had left him with an unspeakable, unshakable chill, and with that horrible feeling that somebody, somewhere, was watching him – and sometimes he had seen others; the translucent form of a hooded Skeith, corpulent and grotesque, and another figure, more translucent still, that he could not quite make out. He had thought that he could conjure her up, make use of her, and then send her back as though she had never existed; he knew now that he had been wrong. He would never be rid of her, never as long as he lived.
And yet she was so beautiful, and so kind – and so bewitching. He knew how handsome he was (it was one of the few things that still gave him any pleasure at all) and he was nothing compared to her unimaginable beauty. It was preternatural, impossible, like the shade of her eyes and their tunneled depths. Sometimes he wondered whether she had any existence at all outside of his own mind.
There was nothing imaginary, though, about the power she had given him. For that, if only for that, it was worth it; surely the surging magic he felt at his fingertips was compensation enough for a certain lowness of spirits and uneasiness of mind. It brought him a sort of wild, ferocious joy, devoid of happiness and yet somehow... he could not place a word to it. It was not satisfying, or warm – exciting perhaps was the word. Yes, more than anything else it was exhilarating.
He wished only that he could feel like himself again, for in his heart he knew that he was no longer quite in command of his own actions; or, perhaps, his own thoughts.
Jerked back to the present by the sound of the clock striking five, Lockwood realized at once that there was no chance of sleep. He tossed his book aside and reached for his coat; a quick turn about the royal gardens might do him good. There was something infinitely appealing about fresh air, when he felt warm and irritated in the stuffy indoors. It was like an itch he could not scratch, an unbearable frustration so deep that he could not begin to pinpoint it.
He was faintly surprised to see that, as he opened the door, Bunny had hopped down from its perch on the coffee table and appeared to have every intention of following him. As the magical Snowbunny was very large, rather fat, and extraordinarily lazy, he could not imagine why it wished to come; but it slipped out with unexpected agility and he saw no reason why it should not do whatever it liked.
He made his way down the winding stone staircase. Save for the guards at the entrances and in several of the halls, the castle was deserted at this time of night – almost eerily so, he thought listlessly. The only sound was Bunny’s muffled, heavy hopping behind him.
It occurred to him that perhaps this was a dream and he was sleepwalking. If so, it was singularly uneventful, at least until he emerged into the courtyard and felt the chill of the night air through his coat; and when a faerie did appear next to him, that exact dreamlike feeling made it seem not at all odd.
Bunny’s reaction was somewhat stranger: he appeared to have grown slightly larger, and his lips were curled in a snarl to reveal razor fangs where Lockwood was quite certain there had been none before.
The icy faerie smiled at Lockwood her slight, quizzical smile. “Your protection spell is still trying, I see.”
Lockwood looked slightly puzzled at this. “I have no protection spell.”
In answer, she bent to touch the Snowbunny with her slender white fingers, and it was a peculiar sight to see even in a dream; for although the petpet could not touch her, and its fangs snapped through her translucent flesh, she had no trouble whatever making contact with it. Darkness spread from the heart of the Snowbunny, and then quite suddenly it disappeared, and everything was just as it had been before – except that Bunny looked exactly as he always had. His fangs were gone and his eyes were blank.
“An admirable little piece of work,” she remarked softly, “though hideously convoluted as all your magic.”
“What will you do now?” Somehow, strangely, there was a sort of taunting quality to the question – as if she already knew the answer, but would not deign to tell him.
“I have no idea,” Lockwood replied. He stared back at her, lost for a moment in the depths of her white, black-rimmed eyes, thinking of nothing at all. But suddenly he broke his gaze away, shook his head as if to clear it, and asked a question. “Who are you?”
The faerie only smiled her cryptic smile. “I am you, Mr. Lockwood. I am everything that you stand for. I am your longing for power and fame and control; I am the success of which you are capable; I am everything you have ever wanted. I am your ambition.”
A terrible suspicion seized hold of him. “And the terms of my repayment? Have they changed?”
“No,” she told him simply. “They will never change. The payment will be of your choosing, and you will make it when you have finished with our services.”
With that, she faded slowly out of sight, until at last even the pale green glow had gone; and, by the time Lockwood reached his room, he was half inclined to believe that the entire thing had been a dream.
Upon waking, Mr. Lockwood’s first act was to write a letter. In point of composition it was rather defective, containing none of that eloquence or wit for which he was famous; it was in fact a mere few scrawled lines, saved only from total disgrace by his lovely handwriting.
Miss Harlow –
Some months ago I recommended to you that a young scullery maid be taken into your service. I now recommend that she be relieved from that service and removed from Meridell Castle. Your discretion in this matter is appreciated.
- H. K. Lockwood
He had once, by a matter more of chance than anything else, received an amulet from a thieving servant girl, in a manner of which he was certain Lisha would disapprove. It had now occurred to him that the servant girl, whose name he had forgotten, might be a great nuisance if she ever chanced to come into contact with Lisha, or if she ever decided to recount her experiences in general. And as he meant to speak with Regan Harlow in particular in the very near future, the girl would present an even greater liability. She was much better off dismissed.
His next act was to go discuss with Jeran the matter of what had happened the previous day.
The knight was, unsurprisingly, awake, and had breakfasted some time ago and spent several hours on the training fields before returning here. Lockwood found him sitting by the window, running his fingers thoughtfully along the gleaming blade of his sword – an action which, had Lockwood been particularly apt to be fearful, might have rendered him somewhat uneasy.
Jeran seemed to be expecting him, and greeted him only with a quick nod in his direction. “I’ve been thinking,” he said slowly.
“An auspicious beginning!” cried Lockwood. “As have I – and, I flatter myself, to great effect. But you may proceed.” He seated himself elegantly across from Jeran, pouring himself a drink. “What have you been thinking of?”
The Lupe stole a glance at Lockwood that was almost suspicious. It was not that it was generally unlike Lockwood to be in good temper, and it was certainly not unlike him to be humorous; but Jeran could recall precious few instances of seeing him actually cheerful. Given the events of the previous day, it was particularly unnerving. “You seem... not quite like yourself today,” he remarked cautiously.
Lockwood only smiled cryptically. “I assure you, I have never felt more so.” Suddenly he raised an eyebrow, looking at the sword Jeran was holding. “That enchantment is running out.”
“Is it?” Jeran replied, utterly taken aback by the change of subject. He knew, of course, that his blade was spelled; all of Meridell’s knights used spelled swords, and Jeran owned several. But it was something he rarely thought about. He supposed it must be more obvious to Lockwood.
The sorcerer held out a gloved hand. “Would you like it replaced?”
Rather reluctantly, Jeran handed him the sword. The reason for his reluctance was not, precisely, that he distrusted Lockwood; he knew quite well that he was a superb sorcerer, and that he had always seemed surprisingly well-disposed toward Jeran himself. Nevertheless, something about Lockwood’s magic made him profoundly uneasy, and he knew that on more than one occasion those spells had not turned out as they were supposed to...
If Lockwood guessed his companion’s thoughts he gave no indication of it, effortlessly running a hand along the length of the sword as ice began to form on the blade. He turned his attention back to Jeran. “Pardon me for my little diversion. So – what have you been thinking?”
The Lupe turned to the window with a slight frown, tearing his attention away from whatever Lockwood was doing with some difficulty. “To begin with, I think we should tell Lisha. We’re going to need all the help we can get with whatever Sly is planning, and it just seems stupid not to tell her what we did, even if she may be,” he conceded with a grin, “a little upset about it for a certain amount of time.”
Lockwood was perfectly amenable to that. So long as Lisha never discovered the little conversation that he had shared with Mr. Duplicity, all would be well. “Very well. I agree that it would be relatively useless to attempt to keep it from her for any length of time, despite the immense satisfaction which doing so might occasion.”
“And then, maybe not quite yet, but if anything else comes of all this... I think I should break it – gently – to Skarl.” Jeran glanced over at Lockwood rather apprehensively, but the Gelert appeared to have no objection.
“As you wish! Better you than I.” Jeran was a favorite of the king’s, quite nearly without competition; certainly there was nobody better suited to give him disagreeable news.
“Well, that was more or less what I had to say. But you said you had been thinking of something as well?”
“Indeed,” replied Lockwood, his attention momentarily diverted as he placed the finishing touches on what he believed was quite a masterful spell. It was an immensely powerful enchantment, and furthermore it appeared to him both solid and dependable – which was more than could be said for all of his handiwork. He handed it to Jeran, hilt first. “Here you go.”
The Lupe took it somewhat doubtfully. It was, in theory, the same sword; physically it was nearly identical, and yet the whole feel of it was quite different. To begin with, the hilt was unpleasantly cold to the touch, and even beyond the cold there was a certain menace to its grip. His old sword had been comfortable, trusty, like a good friend in his hand; perhaps it was only his imagination, but this one was not. Then there was the blade, which swirled with a peculiar shadowy sheen, barely distinguishable from the true silver beneath. Even Jeran, whose talent for sorcery was small to none, could feel that it was a more powerful weapon than it had been before. He distrusted it all the same.
“Incidentally,” remarked Lockwood, “I would strongly advise you not to test it on your finger, gloves notwithstanding. I believe you will find it quite sharp.”
How sharp, exactly, he wondered? Casting about for something else to test to the blade with, Jeran settled upon a small block of wood which had been serving as a paperweight. Then he drew the sword lightly along its edge, not expecting to see any tangible evidence of it.
In this he was mistaken: the blade’s trail left an unmistakable notch in the wood, razor-thin and deadly. He began to feel a new respect for Lockwood’s sorcery. “This will certainly come in handy! Although I suppose I’ll have to be careful not to cut myself with it... anyway, thank you.” He could say it now with genuine gratitude.
The sorcerer only nodded lazily. In truth, he was really very pleased with his magic as well. It was expertly done, and best of all, it had cost him scarcely any energy – a spell which would once have taken him hours if not days, the product of prolonged exertion, was now become as simple as conjuring fire. It was the first real spell that he had cast since the power increase of yesterday, and the feeling was nothing short of glorious.
Recollecting himself, he continued. “In any case – I am sure you are simply wild to hear my thoughts, as nothing could possibly be more riveting. My thoughts are these: firstly, that we will need to discover more about the original entity of Sly, Tricks and Duplicity; and secondly, that we will need to discover more about the current holders of the titles. To aid us in our first endeavor we have the Castle Library, and in our second... do you recall a Miss Regan Harlow?”
Jeran considered this for a moment. “Vaguely at best. Isn’t she an archery instructor?”
“Yes, and a good deal more. That is to say, when I most heroically rescued her from the clutches of those three villains, she was employed in the service of a Mr. Duplicity and a Mr. Tricks.”
He looked up sharply. “But why?”
“That,” replied Lockwood, “is exactly what I propose to find out.”
To be continued...