The Curse: Part Five
Celeste recognized the handsome, exquisitely dressed shadow Gelert with the scar on his cheek the moment she saw him. “Mr. Lockwood?” she inquired in astonishment. “I was only just getting ready to go and see you – I had something I wanted to ask you about...”
“Is that so?” he remarked absently; then, noticing her grave countenance, he stopped dead, a terrible suspicion seizing hold of him. “Has something – undesirable – occurred?”
Celeste regarded him in puzzlement. “Well - not that I know of; should it have?”
“Certainly not,” he told her in the greatest relief; she ushered him in hesitantly but politely, so he removed his hat and entered. It was a small, cozy apartment with a cheerfully burning fire and several rather tattered armchairs – in short, it was not at all what Lockwood was used to, but he liked it very much.
“I’m sorry it’s not all that – fancy,” said Celeste with a touch of awkwardness in her soft voice. “But please, make yourself at home.”
“Thank you; I find it remarkably comfortable,” Lockwood assured her.
He seated himself, and the pretty green Cybunny did likewise. “Mr. Lockwood,” she began, in a tone almost severe, “you are a magician.”
Lockwood was not precisely certain of what he had been expecting, but it certainly had not been this. He stared. “I – what, if you please?”
“Either you are a magician, or Thomas is lying to me. I would hate to think that the latter was the case. And, you know, I really can’t believe that he would lie to me.”
“I hope you will pardon me, Miss Johnson, for remarking that you are extraordinarily trusting.”
She smiled slightly. “What a little trust might do for the world at large! Yes, Mr. Lockwood, I suppose I am very trusting, but you see Thomas has never given me any reason not to have confidence in him.”
Lockwood, undoubtedly more cynical and perhaps of slightly sharper wit, found the explanation rather unsatisfactory despite its appealing delivery. However, he merely said, “And what, may I ask, leads you to such an unlikely conclusion as my alleged profession?”
“Why, because you conjured that Snowbunny into a hat, Mr. Lockwood!”
Lockwood gave a sigh, fiddling with his lavender cravat as he considered all possible courses of action. It would be cruel to deny the tale, and upon the whole it might be wiser to warn Celeste of the dangers while he was still in possession of his own mind. As Darigan had warned, he could not be certain when the magical wards would wear off; and, before they did, Lockwood intended to cast some of his own.
“In general I prefer to avoid the term ‘magician’,” he informed her. “It has over the centuries acquired some rather low connotations. Apart from that minor squabble, however, I suppose you are correct.”
“Really?” Celeste asked breathlessly; it was altogether possible that she had not expected him to admit it quite so soon, or that even – in her heart of hearts – she had not really believed it herself. That she did now, however, was indisputable. “What do you call yourself, then?”
“’Sorcerer’ is generally a safe term,” he replied. “It encompasses nearly everything as it is not so rigidly specific as ‘mage’ or ‘wizard’. We are straying from the point, however. I am of course very happy to have assuaged any fears concerning dear Thomas’s truthfulness; but my actual purpose in coming here was to warn you.”
“Warn me?” asked Celeste, her lovely brown eyes wide. “Whatever about?”
He hesitated, deliberating as to what he might disclose; then he said abruptly, “Would it perhaps be possible for me to see the Snowbunny that I gave your brother?”
“Why – I suppose so, but why should you –”
“It is,” he added, “exceedingly urgent.”
“Of course – let me just go fetch it now,” she replied, still bemused.
She returned a few moments later holding the docile, unresisting petpet in her arms. “You aren’t going to do anything to it, are you?” she asked anxiously.
“I hope not,” he muttered, reaching out and around the Snowbunny with his magic, searching for any evidence of a harmful perversion of the conjuring. To his surprise, he found none. It seemed that this spell, at least, had not gone wrong – unless of course his original spell was clouding his perception so that he could not tell the difference. But he did not have the heart to destroy the Snowbunny, even if he had had any idea how; and so he handed it doubtfully back to Celeste.
“But what is all this about, Mr. Lockwood?” she persisted, regarding him with trusting, innocent concern.
“Where even to begin... Well, suffice it to say that some months ago I cast a perfectly well-intentioned spell with some unforeseen and excessively dangerous side effects. I managed to trap it in a relatively mundane object, but unfortunately –”
“What sort of object?” she inquired with great curiosity.
“A cravat,” Lockwood admitted, feeling slightly foolish, which with him was an exceedingly rare occurrence.
“Oh,” said Celeste rather blankly. Then, “Well, you do have the most beautiful cravats, Mr. Lockwood – if you don’t mind my saying so, of course.”
“Thank you, I am quite fond of them myself... In any case, a farmer appears to have discovered it in the forest where I left it and brought it back to this town, and now it –”
“Was that Erwin?” she interrupted in a flash of recognition. “Oh, dear, don’t tell me it was the necktie Erwin got from his brother! – and we searched everywhere for it, it was very good fun, but we couldn’t seem to find it anywhere, you know.”
“That strikes me as astonishingly likely. In any case, to make a tediously long story short, I am not certain what further effects the curse may have; and until I manage to locate it, I would very much like to ensure that everybody I know is safe from it.”
“You want to – do more magic?” Celeste asked slowly. “You mean a sort of protection?”
“You have struck upon it exactly,” he said, rather surprised that she had understood him so quickly. “But first, is there any possible way that you could leave the town for a while? I apologize a thousand times for the inconvenience, but I simply cannot be sure that my wards will be effective...”
She shook her head and sighed, meditatively arranging the folds of her simple white dress. “I’m afraid I can’t. There’s Thomas to think about, and then Arnie and Irene; they’re kind enough to board us, you see, but without them – ”
“Arnie and Irene?” echoed Lockwood in surprise. “That is – I am sorry – only I had no conception that you did not live here on your own.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Lockwood!” She smiled softly. “Dear me, no, but I am flattered that you would think so. You see, though, we can’t possibly leave. And,” she added earnestly, “I am sure I trust your wards.”
“Then you have more faith in them than I do. However, if nothing more desirable can be arranged, I suppose they will simply have to be sufficient.” He leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment, considering how best to perform the spells. Immediately before leaving he had briefly explored Darigan’s defenses, and although he could not hope to capture their practiced skill he yet believed that he could do a tolerable job of replicating them.
“I think it will be easiest to cast one on you and Thomas simultaneously,” he announced finally. “Before I do anything, however, I must implore you to reflect upon the risks. I have quite a history of spells gone wrong and there is always the chance that something hideous may happen.”
Celeste smiled up at Lockwood from under her long dark eyelashes, holding the Snowbunny in front of him. “Hardly what I’d call ‘something hideous’, would you?”
“Not precisely,” he admitted. “If you’re sure, then we may as well begin.”
As she hurried away to find Tom, Lockwood’s eye was caught by the placidly ticking clock. He had his own motives for hurrying. Most pressing was the knowledge that he had not yet supplemented Darigan’s wards with his own magic; and while Lockwood was reasonably confident that they would not fail for some time, he could not be entirely certain of it.
He also felt an inexplicable compulsion to hurry simply for the sake of hurrying, and an oddly convincing notion that he was somehow being watched. It was peculiar and extraordinarily uncomfortable.
Lockwood was just beginning to calculate how long it might take Lisha to reach the town, should he ask her to come, when Celeste returned with the eager, bright-eyed Tom. “Are you going to do more magic?” he inquired.
“Yes, if it will be so cooperative as to work... Could the two of you sit there for a few minutes while I perform the spell?”
“Of course,” agreed Celeste hastily, pulling Tom onto her lap.
The shadow Gelert regarded them with a touch of nervousness, wondering where to begin. He finally decided on a warming spell, as, for whatever reason, his magic tended to produce quite a chill. Then he began the first layer of the defenses.
Within seconds he was lost in a world that was not quite real and not quite imaginary; he could never decide which it was closer to, but there was something quite comforting about its feel. Much of his usual pleasure in doing magic, however, was sacrificed to the fact that he could sense his lurking, malicious spell here even more powerfully than he could in the real world. He wondered briefly whether it was possible for a sorcerer to be frozen to death by his own magic.
As a general rule wards came rather easily to Lockwood; it was not very long before he tied off the last few threads of the defense with the feeling that he had done it reasonably well.
“That, I think, is the best I can do,” he proclaimed, yawning.
He discovered that Tom and Celeste had been watching him with wide eyes. “Is that it?” the Ogrin asked in surprise.
“I suppose so, unless you would like something else done,” Lockwood replied. He had come to the realization that he was feeling rather more drained than he should have.
“No, no, of course not,” said Celeste hurriedly. “I think Tom was just expecting something more... noticeable. And maybe not quite so... quick.” Seeing Lockwood’s raised eyebrow, she clarified. “I only mean that you didn’t say anything, or make potions, or...”
“I see,” said Lockwood with a slight smile. “Well, you must allow me to apologize for falling short of your expectations, but those things are, most regrettably, usually a sign of ineptitude rather than anything else.”
“Oh, don’t apologize!” she exclaimed: it was altogether possible that she was not entirely attuned to his rather ironic tone. “Thank you very much, Mr. Lockwood. Thank him, Thomas – why are you being so quiet?”
“Thank you,” Tom said dutifully, though he seemed to be in unaccountably low spirits.
“You would hardly have needed the protection if I hadn’t cast the spell in the first place,” he pointed out dryly, getting up. “I had better go now. If anything peculiar happens you must be sure to let me know.”
“Of – of course,” Celeste assured him. She watched him leave, noticing that he had a very preoccupied air and wondering what danger, precisely, she and Tom might have been in without his wards.
To be continued...