The Sorcerer: Part Seven
“I think,” said Lord Darigan slowly, “that the most sensible course of action would be a careful examination of the curse itself.”
He and Lisha were kneeling beside Jeran, she having related to him the entire story of what had come to pass on their ill-fated journey. Truthfully Lisha was still excessively shocked by Darigan’s sudden appearance and willingness to help, but that was not to say that she was not extraordinarily pleased.
Lockwood observed from a distance, feeling distinctly vexed. He generally considered that none of this was at all fair and was particularly taxing to himself. After all, he had not asked to be taken out into the woods and stranded there after an astonishingly unpleasant encounter with a hideous Darigan Aisha; besides which his coat had become ruffled and his trousers dirty. He certainly did not enjoy parading about in his shirtsleeves, as he considered it most unseemly. To add to all of these grievances, his consciousness was irked continually by some unidentifiable qualm or doubt. Whether the source of these was truly unknown or whether Lockwood simply did not care to ponder it was a fact known only to Lockwood himself.
He was, however, intensely interested in picking up every possible tidbit of magic he could glean from Lord Darigan; he had no intention of helping, but there was nothing to prevent him from learning.
Lisha had by now perfected the art of ignoring Lockwood, which proved far easier than expected, since he had become more and more taciturn over the past few hours. It was a very welcome relief, especially as she was going to need every ounce of concentration in the race to cure Jeran. “I’m sure you know more than I do,” she replied. “And that sounds very reasonable.”
“At the very least it shouldn’t be harmful,” agreed Darigan. “Did no one ever teach you how to do this sort of thing?”
“You mean identifying spells? – No; well, truthfully, no one really ever taught me anything at all,” Lisha confessed. “Meridell only has a few other sorcerers, and I don’t really know them. They’re always very busy.”
“You do seem to have rather a shortage,” he mused. “Well, in any case, this magic is very simple - though it is a bit difficult to explain. But you’re clearly very skilled, so I’m sure you’ll soak up most of it just by watching.”
“I’ll do my best,” she said. Despite Jeran’s plight, she was eager to see Darigan performing magic, and – if all went well – she wondered whether it would be feasible to anticipate some excellent future conversations about the many facets and uses of sorcery.
There was an odd state between imagination and reality in which most magic was done; Lisha saw it now. It was not that she could see Darigan’s spell with her eyes, and yet see it she did, and feel it too. She understood better than ever what he had mentioned about its being difficult to explain using words. It was quite simple, though. She was half-surprised that she had not thought of it herself.
Lisha, who could perceive the spell but did not receive its results, felt a pleasant tingling sensation; Darigan, however, looked sober and withdrew the tendrils of his magic with a sigh. Lisha caught his expression and waited nervously for him to speak.
“Well – it’s a tricky curse,” he said at last. “That is to say, I don’t think we have time to dissect it and lift it the proper way.”
Lisha swallowed hard. “You don’t mean we – won’t –”
“Oh, no,” Darigan assured her, looking rather surprised. “It will take more strength, but less time; I am almost certain that we can break it by simply obliterating it.”
“So it is possible, then,” Lisha said, making a valiant effort to keep the relief out of her voice. “What will we have to do?”
“The Court Dancer did not lie when she said that the magic of several sorcerers had gone into the curse.” Darigan stroked his chin thoughtfully with a long finger. “I believe the best strategy would be to break down the spell into its component parts – the pieces that were individually cast. It should be less daunting then. From what I can gather, the spell is meant to be a slow one, so we should be in plenty of time. Unless your enemies, whoever they are, realize what we are doing and decide to interfere.”
“And don’t you just bet they will,” muttered Lisha. It seemed only logical that they would be watching, and it was extraordinarily doubtful that they would have anticipated Lord Darigan’s interference. “How long will this take?”
“Only a matter of hours, unless something goes wrong. The magic to break down the curse is nearly as simple as the identification spell... If you don’t mind, I could easily teach it to you so that it will go faster.”
“Faster still, I imagine, if Lockwood would condescend to help us,” Lisha said with a touch of irritation.
“One can hardly blame him,” Darigan told her gently. “From what you tell me he has learned very little about self-sacrifice, and this is a difficult situation to begin with. In any case, between the two of us we should have just enough strength to break the curse.”
After a few hours of careful instruction and strenuous work, Darigan had unraveled two parts of the curse (one cast by the Court Dancer herself, the other by an unidentified faerie) and Lisha felt that she was coming rather close to uncovering another. Setting the nerve-racking circumstances aside, the sorcery was surprisingly fun; it was almost like doing a puzzle, an activity that Lisha had always enjoyed.
“Ah,” said Darigan, “here’s another one, and I believe – yes, this was cast by Morguss. I can’t say that I am terribly surprised, but it is rather worrying. Hopefully she will be too busy to give us any more thought. I would not like to fight her.”
“No,” Lisha murmured worriedly, half-absorbed by her sorcery. She prodded carefully at the last few threads; twisted them; and then she had them.
“Here’s another one!” she cried. “At least, I think it is. I don’t know whose it is, but I have it isolated.”
She felt Darigan nudge at it, and he nodded. “I am very impressed that you’ve mastered it so quickly, but I admit I did have a suspicion that you would. As to the caster, it isn’t terribly important. Shall we work on the next one together?”
Lisha nodded, although she could not help wondering how valuable her aid really was to Lord Darigan. However highly he might rate her abilities, the fact was that in experience she trailed woefully behind him.
They set to work silently and efficiently; whether their combined strength made it exponentially quicker or whether the last part of the curse was simply the easiest to unravel, they were done within a mere twenty minutes or so.
“Thank goodness!” exclaimed Lisha, wiping the sweat from her forehead. She looked anxiously at Jeran, but he was still in his comatose state, which, while not exactly comforting, was not unduly alarming either. Lockwood was still sitting on his rock some way away, looking coldly disinterested; Lisha wished him the joy of it.
Just as Lisha was beginning to wonder what should be done next, Darigan spoke. “That was actually easier than I had anticipated,” he remarked. “I think we’ve done a fairly good job of breaking down the spell. Perhaps we should discuss the destruction of the curse over a meal?”
Lisha realized in some surprise that she had not eaten for many, many hours. “That sounds reasonable,” she agreed, scrambling to find Jeran’s knapsack, within which all of their supplies were contained.
All three of them – Lockwood included – seated themselves around a magical purple fire of Darigan’s that radiated warmth and comfort. They ate dried meat; Lisha considered that it was absolutely noble of Lord Darigan not to complain, as it was not at all good. As it was, Lockwood seemed more likely to object, but he displayed great constraint by simply casting an air of gloomy malevolence over the party.
“So, ah, Lord Darigan –” began Lisha.
“Darigan,” he interjected firmly.
“Darigan,” she continued with some relief. “What do we have to do next?”
He studied a piece of meat, then put it in his mouth with nothing more than a wry sort of grimace. “Since we have isolated all of the curse’s components, we can focus on each one individually and... well, destroy them, more or less.”
“Theoretically,” wondered Lisha, “if the curse had been cast by one extremely powerful sorcerer, would it have been –”
“Much more difficult to break, yes,” replied Darigan grimly. “There’s no way to divide it, so we would have been forced to take the whole thing on at once. Fortunately I don’t know of many magic users who could have cast a spell like that on their own.”
Lisha pondered this. “There’s one thing I’ve always wondered about spells – the kind you find already written in books, I mean. How is it that a specific counterspell, say a combination of words, can be so effective even when the one casting it isn’t very powerful?”
“That would take a very long time to explain,” said Darigan with a faint smile. “I would be happy to elaborate at some other time, but for now... Let us say that it has to do with the original construction of the spell. It’s a little like building a house with a fixed quantity of materials. If you aim for solidity, then you have to put the materials more tightly together, whereas if all you are going for is size, there will be more space between the boards...”
“I think I understand,” said Lisha slowly. “At least partially.”
“I will be happy to explain more fully when we have more time on our hands,” Darigan promised.
“I’d like that,” Lisha replied gratefully. There was a pause, and the sight of Lockwood’s handsome face, illuminated in a flattering sort of way by the fire, drove her to reflect upon the ironies of the situation. She was supposed to be teaching Lockwood, and here was Darigan teaching her – although it was highly doubtful that she would ever teach Lockwood again; not after everything that had happened. She despised him more than ever.
Their somewhat unsatisfactory meal was soon finished, and Darigan and Lisha went back to where Jeran lay. His heartbeat was very, very faint and his infrequent breaths were ragged; when Lisha lifted one of his eyelids, it was clouded with sickly purple beneath. “We’d better hurry,” she said softly.
“We had,” agreed Darigan. Lisha stood up and let her magic flow through her wand into his, the pure gold intertwining in a peculiarly beautiful way with the dark grays and purples. Darigan looked at her to determine whether she was ready; she took a deep breath and nodded. The cloud surged forward around Jeran.
And then suddenly it stopped. There was a harsh cracking sound as a sheet of ice spread over the colors, shattering the spell entirely.
To be continued...