The Curse: Part Seven
It was time, Lockwood had decided, to locate the cravat.
There was remarkably little he could do without it. He had read more parchments than he cared to think about, and learned a great deal more than he could really comprehend at the moment; he had realized conclusively, however, that there were a number of approaches he could take and that all of them required the physical artifact to be actually in his hands.
It was late afternoon and, considering the wintry temperatures, the sun shone with formidable summer brightness – therefore the effect created by the last few slanting rays of the day was quite odd. Lockwood himself felt quite odd; but whether anybody else agreed he could have no occasion of knowing, as he did not see another soul.
He was on his way to the farmer Erwin’s house. Everyone at least seemed to agree upon the fact that if it were anywhere, it would be there; and nobody could remember its having been taken elsewhere. Lockwood had not decided on any precise method of searching. He rather assumed that he would somehow be intuitively attracted to it, and if this did not prove to be the case then he could surely employ any number of spells designed to locate things lost or missing.
The chief difficulty of the whole affair was the process of getting into the house unnoticed – Lockwood was not willing quite yet to reveal his true intentions, and he was certain that Ashford would not be pleased. Briefly he considered invisibility, but that, as he had heard, had serious drawbacks, not least the chance of another person touching one quite by accident, and the difficulty of maneuvering oneself without any sort of body to get one’s bearings by.
He thought it might be possible to move himself magically into the farmhouse; however he remembered Darigan’s trouble in arriving precisely where he had wanted to, and upon the whole he decided it would be safest to cast a spell on anybody who might be about that would simply prevent them from seeing him.
This he did, rather warily as he had never attempted this type of magic before; it made him shiver more than ever, but fortunately there were no other noticeable ill effects.
Walking into the house without having anybody look up or remark upon it was a thoroughly peculiar feeling, and Lockwood was quite glad to leave the kitchen, where Erwin and a stout, middle-aged blue Uni were eating sandwiches. Once in the main hall he came to the unpromising realization that he felt no mysterious compulsions at all and in fact was less aware of his ever-present curse than usual. He had not the least conception where to begin looking for the cravat; therefore he discovered what appeared to be a parlor and seated himself in a comfortable-looking armchair.
He had not once performed a searching spell in the months since he had become a sorcerer, and the truth was that he was not at all sure what would happen when he did. Lisha had at some point taught him the rudimentary principles of searching magic, but he had long since forgotten them; he was going to have to work from instinct and logic alone.
Finding himself utterly unable to come up with anything more sophisticated, Lockwood reached outward rather irritably with his magical senses, wondering if it was natural for the curse to scuttle away around the edges of his thoughts as though it were actively evading his grasp. It cost him serious concentration of will to catch hold of it and pin it down. When he had, he cast what he thought might be a spell allowing him to see its location.
What he encountered was a shadowy, icy cloud of nothing recognizable at all, and he found himself unable to pull away from it because it held an odd, irresistible fascination for him. I found myself unable to pull away from it because it held an odd, irresistible fascination for me. Somehow I was no longer exactly in control of my own thoughts - Somehow he was no longer exactly in control of his own thoughts, but it did not worry him in the least; on the contrary it struck him as quite a relief. A fantastic kaleidoscope of ice sculptures raced through his mind, except they were quite real, every one of them - some of them spoke to him, though he was not sure what they said.
Then, suddenly, all of the icy figures seemed to meld into one and stand in front of him.
“It is the strangest thing,” remarked Lockwood, “but do you know, I cannot for the life of me remember what I was doing. I believe I was looking for something...”
I knew quite abruptly what I was looking for; it was revenge – He knew quite abruptly what he was looking for; it was revenge, revenge against –
Lockwood shook his head, and the swirling mists froze over with a crack. “But I don’t want revenge against Lisha. I am – you are – whoever it is, is quite mistaken.” Although it was she who had stood by as the Court Dancer placed her knife at his throat, and – Although it was she who had stood by as the Court Dancer placed her knife at his throat...
“No!” cried Lockwood in horror, and ripped himself away from the shadowy world.
He was extraordinarily disoriented and more shaken than he was inclined to admit. Erwin’s parlor surrounded him just as it should have, and the chair was as comfortable as ever, but the events that had occurred just seconds before made their solidity seem all the more unnerving.
“Idiotic,” he muttered, burying his face in his gloved hands. How foolish, how naïve he had been to run squarely up against his curse like that! How very close he had come to – well, he did not exactly know what he had come close to, but he was certain that it would not have been at all desirable. And it was all owing to his foolish arrogance in refusing to wait for Darigan or Lisha, and in fact in encouraging them to keep away.
Lockwood found himself quite unusually subdued, and after sparing a moment in which to collect his wits, he stood and prepared to leave.
To his astonishment he saw an elegant white cravat lying innocuously on the table in front of him.
He stared at it – picked it up, rather warily – and quickly determined that, while he could feel the curse lying dormant under the silky cloth, the necktie did not seem to mean him any harm at the moment. Therefore he gathered it up and started on his way home; and, after half an hour or so, he was very nearly restored to his usual complacency and quite inclined to congratulate himself on having been successful.
He arrived in his chambers to a letter from Lisha. It had been sent by express and scrawled off in more haste even than usual – Lisha was not patient at the best of times – and Lockwood was rather touched to realize that she was thoroughly concerned for his welfare.
I know it’s my fault you’re there – there’s no need to tell me that. But please come back before anything happens to you. It isn’t safe; the worst thing about your kind of curse is that you don’t know when you are really under it. Anything could happen, so I beg you not to risk it. Reply quickly or I will come to Dunningham myself and drag you back to Meridell Castle, or perhaps I may cast a summoning spell, which I promise would be a highly unpleasant experience for you. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.
Wishing You Weren’t Such an Idiot,
P.S. Your sister sends her love and in her words implores you to return.
He found the notion of being bounded by what Lisha wouldn’t do quite entertaining, as she was easily the less rational of the two, but upon the whole his more noble sentiments won precedence over his tendency to treat the world with lightly ironic wit. He set aside her tender epistle for later reply – at the moment there was something else he wished to do.
Considering the delicate nature of his present mental state, Lockwood had decided that it would be advisable to record everything he could recall about his unsettling, otherworldly experience with his curse. Already, as though it had been a dream, the details were slipping from his memory. Most perplexing of all was the fact that he could not for the life of him remember what form the final ice figure had taken; and he had a vague, nagging feeling that that had been important. Therefore he set about transcribing the occurrence.
He soon discovered, much to his chagrin, that when he was sitting in his room with paper and ink, description more or less eluded him. It was a curious fact that the greater part of what he had seen seemed absolutely untranslatable, and in fact his own memories appeared to be failing him.
At last he was forced to admit defeat and simply sat there glumly regarding the lovely white cravat he had set on his desk.
To be continued...