The Traitor: Part Two
Upon first sight Miss Elaine Roderick had received quite an excellent impression of Mr. Lockwood; and it was not until several hints of his total scorn and disregard of her had come her way, that she discovered she did not care for him at all. It granted her some relief to express her feelings to her friend, Miss Alexandra Dalloway, whom she had brought with her to Meridell Castle as an indispensable companion.
“My dear, I would not like to think that our views differed in any particular – may I ask what you think of Mr. Lockwood?”
Alexandra, who was preparing her outfit for an upcoming ball, looked up in mild surprise. “Why, I cannot say I know any ill of the man. He is without doubt perfectly urbane and elegant, and excessively handsome.”
“Oh!” cried Elaine. “I know Mr. Lockwood is reckoned handsome by some, but I have no great opinion of him. There is a certain sarcastic, satirical arrogance about him which I do not care for; he dresses rather well, I suppose, but how anyone could admire a countenance with such a hideous scar!”
“It is not so very hideous,” protested Alexandra. “I will not allow that; it is not fair. He is a bit eccentric, to be sure – I was quite surprised to hear that he did not dine with the nobles or attend any balls, as a rule – and he is a little vain perhaps, but he is after all a sorcerer! And I really cannot find such faults with his appearance as you have. I do not think I have ever met so handsome a gentleman in my life.”
“Sir Tormund is handsomer by far,” said Elaine in a manner brooking no argument.
“Why, if you please – yes, certainly we may allow Sir Tormund to be the handsomer of the two. But being the second most handsome gentleman in the two countries is hardly disgraceful. I maintain that your opinion of Mr. Lockwood is undeservedly low.”
“We will see,” conceded Elaine irritably, perceiving that she was not likely to gain much ground in the disagreement at present.
Lisha in the meantime found it necessary to complain, not of Alexandra as parallelism might dictate, but of Elaine herself. “Our first lesson is tomorrow,” she informed Lockwood, who was engaged in writing a letter to his sister. “I can hardly bear the thought of it.”
“I am very sorry to hear it,” Lockwood replied rather absently.
“Well, really! A few meetings over meals has been quite enough to convince me that she is more despicable than ever. Of course,” she added scathingly, “you, with your regard for titles and money of all sorts, will doubtless be more impressed.”
Lockwood paused in his writing. “I cannot imagine why you should think so,” he replied coldly. “I have very little regard for wealth and still less for nobility.”
Lisha, who had always regarded Lockwood as an incurable snob, looked at him in a great deal of surprise. “I find that very difficult to believe,” she said at last.
“Fortunately that will in no way impede its being true.”
Lisha grinned. “Well, well – who would have guessed. How very fraudulent and hypocritical of you. For all your chats with Lord and Ladies, never omitting a title, never missing an honorific –”
“I did not indicate that I had any lack of respect for good manners or common courtesy. Nor do I purposefully avoid the nobility – which would be extraordinarily difficult, of all places, in a castle.”
“Well,” was all that Lisha had to say, and she reflected with no small degree of interest that Lockwood never ceased to surprise her.
“In any case, I assure you that I dislike Miss Roderick as much as you do. We may, however, be released from her presence before you have time for your first lesson.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am not exactly sure,” he replied unhelpfully, resuming the composition of his letter.
Lisha waited patiently, tapping her wand on her desk.
“Jeran hinted something about an incident to the north,” Lockwood continued reluctantly. “And before you delight me with your inquiries, I may as well tell you that I know no more about it than you do.”
She was curious; but, seeing that Lockwood really did not know anything more, resolved to wait. Jeran was certain to tell her soon enough. Before she had the chance to open her Witchcraft Spells, however, a large white Snowbunny hopped affectionately into her lap.
“Oh, not this thing again,” she groaned, feeling rather crushed under its weight. “Couldn’t you at least have made it a little smaller?”
“I believe it would have been more convenient still if I had never conjured it at all.”
As a matter of fact Lockwood had conjured the Snowbunny for a small boy some weeks ago; but the boy had found himself unable to keep it, and now Lockwood could not seem to get rid of it. It had not taken them long to discover that the petpet was extraordinarily resilient to magic, and also extraordinarily fond of their company. It would not leave them alone upon any account. There had also been some difficulties over its name, for Lisha insisted that it should be called something other than Bunny, a proposition which Lockwood steadfastly resisted. She seized the opportunity to affirm her opinion now.
“What do you think of Cloud?” she proposed.
“I would rather be called Bunny.”
“Oh, very well then, I suppose that is a little dull. How about – well, what is it? Conjur... ation? No, that won’t work. A magic trick, but that’s no kind of name. It should be something appropriate, though. Mr. Tricks? Or what about Taelia?” she suggested with a grin.
“You are wasting your time. I understand your friends from the armory have named him already.”
“They are not ‘my friends from the armory’, but what do they call him?”
“‘His Majesty’,” Lockwood answered languidly, still absorbed by his letter.
“What in Neopia? – oh!” exclaimed Lisha, staring at the Snowbunny’s rather rotund waistline. “Well... we can hardly go around calling him that. We might as well just call him Skarl and be done with it!”
Bunny nibbled affectionately on her robes, and their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. It was Jeran, who did not bother with an answer but came straight in. “I haven’t disturbed you, have I?” asked the knight.
“Not at all. What’s this Lockwood was telling me about something in the north?”
“Oh that! Well yes, as a matter of fact, that’s what I was coming to talk to you about. First of all, Skarl wants some unbreakable thread for his buttons and some unmeltable ice cubes for his drinks, since apparently they keep melting in the sun –”
“Yes, yes,” said Lisha impatiently. “We’ll take care of that. Go on.”
“It’s a little odd,” confessed Jeran, sitting down. “I don’t exactly know where to begin. You see, most of the Royal Sorcerers make regular rounds throughout Meridell to make sure nothing is wrong, and Valero – you know who he is, don’t you? – well, I suppose you don’t, Lockwood, but it doesn’t really matter. Unpleasant sort of fellow if you ask me.
“Anyway, he sent a letter back telling the King that something strange had happened, something very unsettling, but he stopped short of describing exactly what. From what we could tell it seemed to have something to do with magical crime... I really don’t know. But we thought someone had better go down to investigate, and you two happened to be here...”
“Oh yes,” said Lisha gleefully. “We’ll go all right. This sounds very serious, so I think it would be best to leave tomorrow.”
Jeran caught Lockwood’s amused, sardonic eye and grinned. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with Elaine Roderick, would it?”
“I am just very happy to help the Kingdom whenever possible,” the Aisha replied airily. “We’ll be ready to leave by tomorrow at noon. You’ll have to tell Miss Roderick that unfortunately her lesson will have to be postponed, and we’ll get the things done for Skarl this evening. You start on the unmeltable ice cubes, Lockwood – that should come easily to you! – and I’ll work on the unbreakable thread.”
“Miss Roderick will be heartbroken,” Jeran told her solemnly. “I don’t think there’s a soul in the castle who doesn’t know about how she’s your new apprentice –”
“Apprentice!” Lisha exploded in disgust. “I’m not a mage!”
Jeran chuckled at her outrage. “Well, maybe you can bend the rules for her.”
“I have an idea,” remarked Lockwood, “that Miss Roderick is quite accustomed to having the rules bent in her honor. Does either of you have anything in particular to say to Cecilia, before I seal the envelope?”
“Give her my love,” said Lisha, who was very fond of Lockwood’s sweet-tempered sister.
“Tell her I’m looking forward to a Bowls tournament when she comes again,” said Jeran, who was very fond of sports.
“As you wish,” said Lockwood, adding the messages with a flourish and addressing the envelope in his elegant handwriting. He stretched and yawned, loosening his lovely cravat of pale gold, and Jeran watched in fascination as a block of ice formed in his gloved hands, so cold that a soft steam radiated from its glittering surface.
“Ah yes,” sighed Lisha. “Unbreakable thread.”
To be continued...