The Curse: Part Two
Even Lisha had been obliged to confess some time ago that the incident with the Court Dancer had not altered Lockwood’s character in quite the ways she had originally intended; but she was entirely certain that any changes had nonetheless been for the better. He had, she reflected with satisfaction, come a long way since refusing to help save Jeran’s life several months past. As far as his sorcery was concerned, he had made leaps and bounds of progress; his morality was still shaky but improved a little every day; and if these alterations came at the expense of the general regard of Meridell’s nobles and courtiers, Lisha considered it a small price to pay.
What Lockwood felt on the subject was less certain. He did not always seem particularly happy, but then his character had never been a cheerful one. Lisha knew that he had been and probably remained rather traumatized by the scar from the Court Dancer’s knife, which had at least partially spoiled his extraordinarily handsome looks; this, she was convinced, was a hurt that only time could heal.
He still dressed beautifully, however. Having known Lockwood for some months now, Lisha still occasionally found herself staring in awe at his lovely suits and exquisite, silky neckties. Indeed, today he was wearing such an arrestingly marvelous yellow cravat that she could scarcely tear her eyes off it; but she managed, and began her intended lecture.
“I hope,” she said sternly, “that you always meant to go with Ashford. It would be terribly remiss of you not to resolve this after you single-handedly created it.”
Lockwood settled himself in an armchair, looking gloomily irritated. “I detest traveling and I detest farms.”
“It will be good for you,” Lisha insisted. “You never leave the Castle. You hardly even go outside.”
Lockwood shrugged disinterestedly and was reaching for a book when Lisha’s brother Sir Jeran entered the workshop brandishing a scroll. “Lisha, what in Neopia does ‘pernicious’ mean? We’re trying to negotiate a treaty and the other side has forbidden Meridell to ‘engage in pernicious acts’. Skarl thinks it may have something to do with trade and he’s in a fury.”
“No, no!” Lisha corrected him, quite shocked. “It means harmful or... well, you get the idea. Tell Skarl he has nothing to worry about.”
“Ah,” said Jeran in relief. “Thank you.”
“Any time,” his sister assured him.
“Incidentally, Lockwood,” the blue Lupe remarked, looking up from the troublesome treaty, “I heard that you were going to go away with Ashford to some town. Is that true?”
“Unfortunately it is,” Lockwood said darkly.
“Don’t you think it will be good for him?” Lisha persisted. “I was only just telling him it would be.”
“Oh, yes,” said Jeran in some surprise. “You’re practically a recluse. Nearly as bad as Lisha, in fact.”
Lisha smirked, ignoring Lockwood’s glare. “Poor Lockwood still can’t stand the thought of being only twice as handsome as everybody else instead of six times.”
Jeran had never found himself quite capable of hardening his heart toward Lockwood the way his sister did; he did not have the same incentives. To begin with, he had never considered Lockwood quite as despicable as Lisha had, and additionally he was still very grateful to him for helping to save his life when the Court Dancer had cursed him. Having been unconscious when Lockwood had initially refused to involve himself, Jeran could not feel the same indignation at his initial unwillingness. Therefore he only gave the Gelert a sympathetic look and continued.
“I don’t mean to say it won’t be an excellent experience, but did you have any particular reason for wanting to go?”
“I would hardly have agreed to go if I had not,” Lockwood said acidly.
“It’s his masterpiece spell again,” Lisha told Jeran dryly. “You know, the one that almost disrupted our breaking your curse.”
The truth was that they had been meaning to deal with the monstrous spell for some time now; book or cravat, it was hardly the kind of thing one wanted to leave lying around. However, a series of highly unfortunate circumstances had prevented them from pursuing the matter. When Lord Darigan had removed the Court Dancer to Terror Mountain, he had done something slightly wrong in his spell, and it had taken a great deal of time to locate the poisonous Aisha. Then there had been the diplomatic crisis between the Citadel and Brightvale and the capture of a dangerous spy from Krawk Island. Somehow Lisha had not felt equal to tackling the problem without Darigan.
But it would not do to wait too long, and the situation with Ashford had been too ideal to overlook.
Jeran tapped the treaty thoughtfully against his chin. “Are you quite certain it will be safe?”
“In all likelihood, it will not,” Lockwood replied optimistically. “However, let us consider the bright side of the matter. At least in the case of any unfortunate circumstance Meridell will lose two sorcerers, rather than one.”
Jeran could think of no very good reply to this; therefore he changed the subject. “Your sister will be sorry to see you go. I imagine she’ll be worried about you.”
Lockwood’s sister Cecilia, having once visited the Castle, had enjoyed the experience so much as to return every few weeks. As she had a great deal of regard and affection for her brother (probably more than he had ever merited), it was altogether likely that Jeran’s statement was true.
“I believe she will be able to reconcile herself to the idea,” Lockwood said sarcastically. “Given time.”
Lockwood’s biting wit, particularly when he was in a turbulent state of mind, was not a thing anyone would have willingly subjected himself to; Jeran was no exception. Fearing that he might soon become the object of mockery, he decided that it was high time King Skarl’s treaty was returned, and departed with the proper addresses.
Lockwood was at his desk perusing Earth Spell Book when his sister entered his chambers. The white Ixi paused in the door, well aware that her brother did not always take kindly to being interrupted without warning. “Are you terribly busy? If you are I would be happy to return at some other time –”
He sighed and put down his book. “Not in the least. I would be excessively sorry to think that my reading had deterred you.”
Cecilia entered and sat. “I confess that the thought of your going to stay on a cursed farm does not sound terribly appealing,” she told him.
“How I agree,” muttered Lockwood.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” said Cecilia rather warmly. “Nobody ever consulted you, did they?”
Lockwood, though not generally afflicted with the insights of an active conscience, encountered a sudden suspicion that he did not often appreciate his sister half as well as she deserved. Therefore he said gently, “I would not have you worry on my account. I might as well be on a farm as anywhere else.”
“I – that is to say,” she began hesitantly, “if it would not be a burden to you, perhaps I could accompany –”
This drew a smile out of him, which, as it was no less sweet than it was bitter, was altogether quite a rare occurrence. “Nothing would please me better, I assure you; but it is quite out of the question. It would be far too dangerous. And in any case, I will be back before long.”
“Would it not be possible at least for Lisha to accompany you?”
“Consider her fame, my dear Cecilia. People would hardly fail to notice if Sir Jeran’s sister appeared in their midst.”
The Ixi did consider it, and was obliged to recognize its justice. After some moments she shook her head. “Well, I will be sorry to see you go. When will you leave?”
“The day after tomorrow, I think...” Yawning, he got up to remove his coat and loosen his cravat.
Cecilia stirred herself, realizing that it was astonishingly late. “I won’t keep you up. Good night, Lockwood.”
“Good night,” he replied, and watched her leave.
Taking into consideration all of the things that are apt to go wrong on a journey, Ashford’s proceeded with relative smoothness. Lord Ashford discovered that Lockwood, while not inclined to be talkative, was not explicitly unfriendly; and Lockwood found that Ashford was no more insipid than most other people.
They alighted in the late evening. The landscape had become progressively darker and gloomier during the last half hour or so of their voyage, which seemed only slightly unnatural until they stepped into the open air.
Ashford shivered, pulling his overcoat more tightly around himself. “Cold, isn’t it?” he remarked.
It was all Lockwood could do to keep from exclaiming in horror as he stepped down from the carriage. His own magic assailed him from all sides in a malevolent icy blast, penetrating every layer of his thoughts and rendering him momentarily incapable of speech. Cold, he thought, was not the correct word to describe it. It was freezing beyond anything he had ever experienced; and it was more than that. He could see things out of the corner of his eye, hear something whispering under the wind.
Suddenly he recalled something that Darigan had once said. A magical artifact is always difficult to destroy, and it sounds like you put a great deal of yourself into this one.
The most chilling thing of all was that Lockwood knew the spell had been waiting for somebody. Him.
To be continued...