Order of Four: Part Seven
Looking back on it, it was nothing short of amazing that I succeeded in making it from Neopia Central to Neovia with my meager savings of fifty neopoints. I traveled in the cheapest coach available, rickety and packed full, until my store ran out; then I walked, or rode with passing farmers in their carts. In any case, make it I did, perhaps two weeks (I had lost count) after the incident in the alley with the magma Lupe.
Once there, I experienced some difficulty in finding Mr. Lance Carlisle – everybody in Neovia seemed to know his name, but it was some time before I could wrangle an address out of anybody. I won't bore you with the details of this frustrating process. Suffice it to say that, at noon on the second of April, I walked through the gates of Lance Carlisle's mansion.
He was really a Neovian in name only, for his land was set quite far from the town, on the very edge of the Woods where field met forest in a picturesque blend of greens. Though I did not like what I remembered of the man, I had to admit that his grounds were beautiful. After being let in at the gate by the somewhat dubious gatekeeper, who probably only admitted me because of my vague threats that his master would want to see me, I followed the long curving drive up to the house. Somewhat surprisingly, it appeared fairly modern – not at all the traditional, majestic manor house I was expecting. This is not to say that it was not majestic in its own way. It was a house, though, in which majesty was tempered with luxury and up-to-date comforts, not to mention taste.
The butler looked at me even more disapprovingly than had the gatekeeper, and at first did not seem inclined to let me in at all. Seeing him unmoved by my eloquent pleas, I tried a more direct approach. "Please tell Mr. Carlisle that Felix Blakesley is here to talk to him," I said in a commanding tone, drawing myself up to my full height. "And that it's extremely urgent."
I don't know what made me use the name Blakesley, which I had never used before in my life; but I remembered that Carlisle had used it, and decided that he would probably respond to it. In any case, I had had an inkling ever since that it was in fact my true name.
The butler returned, still eyeing me rather insolently, and led me upstairs to his master's study. There, in a lovely oak-paneled room on the second story, overlooking the fields at the front of the house, I met Lance Carlisle for the second time in my life.
He seemed less intimidating now than he had when I was fourteen, but I could not deny there was something impressive about him. The Usul was at his desk writing something with an elegant feather quill when I entered, and as soon as he saw me he stood up. I expected that, having stood, he would come forward and shake my hand or greet me in some way, but he did not.
I had grown considerably in the past two years; nevertheless, he was taller than me and the elegant feather in his hat bobbed even higher, in an oddly fascinating and eye-catching way. He was wearing a brown coat rather than a blue, but in every other way he looked exactly as he had when we had met before.
"Mr. Blakesley," he said coldly, fixing me with the icy, disdainful gaze I remembered so well. "To what do I owe the pleasure? I must confess that I was not received very well by your mother when last I had the honor of her company. I hardly expected to hear from either of you again."
"My mother is dead," I told him. There was obviously no need to protect his feelings by approaching the subject at an angle; I did not suppose he had many feelings anyway.
"Oh?" Carlisle paused for a moment, then sat down and gestured for me to do the same. I remained standing. "I am very sorry to hear it."
"At least," I continued, "I can only suppose that she is. She disappeared almost a year ago when they came to our house in Neopia Central. By they, of course, I mean the people who have been trying to find us all my life."
"I see. So tell me, what is it exactly that you want from me?"
His coolness infuriated me, for I could tell that he knew a great deal about it, much more than I did. I could tell also that he wasn't going to say anything unless I asked him quite specifically for help. "I want information. I have been in the dark for far too long and frankly, I'm sick of it. It wouldn't hurt to know your relation to my mother, for a start."
Carlisle leaned back in his chair, meditatively tapping his long, gloved fingers on the edge of the desk. "I suppose that's an easy enough question to answer. I am your cousin, on your mother's side; her brother's son. She is – or was – a Carlisle by birth."
I can't say I was thrilled to learn that we were related, but I had suspected something of the sort anyway, and at least I was finally getting somewhere.
The knowledge that we had always had living family, however, raised other questions. "Why did none of you ever help her when she was poor and struggling to survive?" I demanded rather hotly.
"My dear boy, do not speak to me in that accusatory tone. You may recall that I offered her my assistance two years ago, and – though this you will not remember – that my father, your uncle, offered her the same assistance before you were born. Your grandfather (who is also mine) strongly disliked your father and cut her off, so that is why she ended up in the predicament that she did."
Somehow I had difficulty believing that Lance Carlisle would be capable of anything so altruistic as helping his aunt for nothing, and that my mother would decline the assistance she had so desperately needed. "What precisely did you offer her?" I asked suspiciously.
He gave a scornful laugh. "I assure you, I had no intention of exploiting her in any way as I think you are implying. What could I possibly want from her? I simply made her an offer of shelter and protection from your enemies. I would have provided for both of you, as well as for your education. She refused."
I had even greater difficulty believing this. My mother, whatever her mistakes may have been, had never failed to do what she thought was best for both of us – and especially for me. I couldn't help suspecting that there had been more to Carlisle's offer than he would admit. "Why would she refuse?"
He shrugged, somewhat irritably. "How should I know? She gave me some nonsensical answer about a promise to your father, but perhaps she simply didn't trust me. Then again," he added, as though reconsidering the point, "it's altogether possible that she was telling the truth. You father never liked me, and I must confess the feeling was mutual."
Irrelevant as it was, I was pleased to hear that in at least one respect my father's opinion had coincided with my own. There were more important questions to be asked, however. Lance Carlisle's personal relationship with my family paled in comparison with the greater issue – the issue of who, or what, my "enemy" was. I wouldn't have chosen him as a source of information if I could help it; but I had no choice, and I was certain that he knew. Looking him straight in the eye, I demanded, "Who are they, the people who want to find us? And why were they interested in my mother?"
"Good heavens, they were never interested in your mother," he said languidly. "Surely you are aware that it's you they want to find?"
I stared at the Usul, trying to comprehend this new piece of the puzzle, and almost without thinking I voiced my question. "But... why?"
He leaned back in his chair, raising his eyebrows in a remarkably patronizing way and interlocking his fingers. I couldn't stop my gaze from being drawn to the feather in his heat, which waved more elegantly than ever with this motion. "I really cannot believe that your mother never told you any of this. Do you mean to say you have no idea who they are?"
Carlisle's tone infuriated me; clearly, he knew that he had me at a disadvantage and was very much enjoying it. It was infuriating, too, that this man apparently knew more about my life – and my mother's life – than I did. But I reasoned to myself that knowing the solution to the mystery of sixteen years was worth any little indignities I might be suffering, and so I carefully contained my anger and tried to behave civilly. "That is correct. I have no idea."
"Hmm," he said. "Most remarkable... well, I suppose it is probably time that somebody acquainted you with the facts." The way he said it implied that he would greatly have preferred it to be somebody else. "You might say that you have a certain talent, although that is not quite accurate in and of itself. In any case, wording aside, the people who are after you desperately want you and your talent. You see, you are a part of the Order of Four."
To be continued...