The Traitor: Part Five
The grey Eyrie folded the letter, slipped it back into the envelope, and nodded. “He did a good job, that sorcerer of yours – an excellent job, one might even say.”
“What did I tell you?” Mr. Duplicity retorted smugly. “I knew these names would bring us luck, my friend.” The two of them were lounging in a dark room decorated principally and shabbily in green, with a large, green pool table in the middle and dilapidated green armchairs lining the sides.
“You’ll have to give him the next spell. And make sure he hurries up.”
“Of course, Mr. Tricks, of course. You worry far too much, you know.” The Krawk surveyed the pool ball he was holding with satisfaction. “I really do like him, you know. A most charming fellow. I truly hope nothing goes wrong for him.”
Lockwood woke up entirely unsure of how long he had been asleep, or for that matter of what time or day it was. He felt more or less rested and rather full; but he would have given a great deal for a change of clothes.
He was just beginning to consider the problem of how to occupy himself when Mr. Duplicity kindly entered to relieve his boredom. “Ah, Mr. Lockwood, I trust you have not been too inconvenienced by your stay here?”
“Oh, not in the least.”
“I am so very glad to hear it! Now, my friend and I were very pleased by your spell yesterday; so confident in your abilities are we, in fact, that we have another little piece of magic for you today!”
“I am excessively delighted to hear it,” Lockwood replied coolly. “But I am afraid I am quite selective in the use of my talents.”
Mr. Duplicity’s smile dropped just a notch. “What do you mean by that, my dear Mr. Lockwood?”
“Where is Lisha?”
Lockwood looked at the Krawk unpleasantly, eyebrow arched, and Mr. Duplicity gave a rather unnatural laugh. “As promised, she is of course quite safe and happy!”
“And how,” snapped Lockwood, “can I be sure of that?”
“Would we really lie to you, Mr. Lockwood?”
“You will allow for my little foibles – I am of a singularly distrustful nature.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” the Krawk demanded in exasperation. “Do you really want to gamble with dear little Lisha’s life?”
“Perhaps it matters less to me than my own,” Lockwood suggested silkily. “And – dear me – if I believe that she may no longer be alive, what is there to prevent me from leaving?”
Mr. Duplicity’s fist clenched suddenly and involuntarily, crumpling the piece of paper he held; but it was over in an instant and he merely continued in an even, if less affable tone. “You’re placing your bet on a losing Turdle, Mr. Lockwood. Perhaps you have gained some misplaced confidence from our kindness. I should warn you that my friends are not nearly as concerned with your comfort and well-being as I am – and should my methods fail, you may be certain that they will wish to try their own.”
“That is all very touching, I am sure. However, by the time they have received assurances that your methods have failed, I will no longer be here; and so it is a matter very little likely to trouble me.”
“Bluff,” sneered Duplicity. “Don’t kid yourself into believing that we’ve underestimated you. Do you really think we don’t know who you are? Malevolent, cunning, certainly not above the dirty trick here and there – don’t think you can surprise us with your coldness. One might even call it your claim to fame, Mr. Lockwood.”
“A very accurate description of my character, I am sure,” said Lockwood with a slightly forced smile. “But if I am so very villainous as you claim, why have I not escaped already?”
“That was our gamble, Mr. Lockwood. And we won. That is why we offer the bargains – not you. Jhudora only knows why you care about your dear little friend Lisha, I certainly don’t, but if you were really willing to give her up you would have done it by now.”
“There may be another aspect of my personality with which you are as yet unfamiliar – I am most regrettably inconsistent.”
The Krawk smiled. “Nobody is really unpredictable, Mr. Lockwood. Your problem is that you are much too brave.”
He shrugged. “Better to live a coward than to die a hero.”
There was such undeniable, fundamental sincerity in his words that even Mr. Duplicity hesitated for a split second; it was clear that Lockwood believed what he said. “I like you, Mr. Lockwood, I really do. And I am sure you know that! I still have the highest hopes of our being the best of friends, and because of my esteem for you – not owing to any ridiculous notion that you might sacrifice Lisha for your own ends – I give you my word that if you complete this spell in a satisfactory manner we will give you a glimpse of your friend.”
“What a kind gesture,” said Lockwood unpleasantly, taking the paper and smoothing out its wrinkles. Quite abruptly, as though he was not entirely sure of being able to control himself, Mr. Duplicity left.
Lockwood let out a choked sigh and relaxed his muscles; it was all the relief he dared show, knowing that he was almost certainly being watched. Whatever concessions he might have gained were directly balanced by the serious consequences of being trusted even less than he had been before. They would be observing him carefully now, waiting for him to do something wrong – he would have to be extraordinarily cautious.
If only, he thought wearily, he had some way of knowing where Lisha was and whether she was all right. He dared not use the searching magic required to find her; even if it had been a particular talent of his, he knew of no way to conceal the traces.
He devoted several minutes to the study of how one might go about eliminating the traces of a spell, but he always came around to the same chief difficulty, which was the fact that any spell designed to disguise another spell’s tracks would necessarily leave tracks of its own. Darigan had mentioned once that he believed it was possible; if it was, Lockwood was forced to confess that he had no idea at all how to go about it. He would simply have to play Mr. Duplicity’s game and hope that he kept his word. Which was, he thought wryly, a rather dangerous thing to hope for.
Mr. Duplicity himself was dangerous, he reflected as he picked up the spell and attempted to decipher the script. It was more than peculiarity: there was something menacingly volatile about him, capricious even, as though at any moment he might do anything at all. Lockwood did not relish the idea of angering him further.
And, as always, he was forced to wonder who had put this spell on paper – the writing of magical script was an art with which even Lord Darigan was unfamiliar. This one resembled, he thought, a ward more than anything else. Once again he felt as he put the pieces of sorcery together that there was something inherently wrong with the spell. It was a feeling he knew quite well: it came just before something went catastrophically awry.
It appeared, however, that he had cast the magic as it was meant to be cast, for nothing noticeable happened at all. Mr. Duplicity at least had seemed pleased with the last one. Lockwood could only imagine – and it was a thing he preferred not to think about – that the reason for his uneasiness was simply the nature of the spells, which must be in some way so very heinous as to disturb even him.
By the time he had finished, he had no conception at all of how long it had taken him. Discovering that he had nothing better to do and that he still felt quite drained and rather unlike himself, Lockwood collected a great number of cushions and fell asleep on the sofa.
He was woken by the entrance of the Poogle maid, who appeared as thrilled as ever. The shadow Gelert yawned and turned over, lazily observing as she brought in what he took to be dinner. “How nice to see you again,” he commented.
“Likewise, Mr. Lockwood, I’m sure,” she replied nastily.
“I don’t believe you ever told me your name.”
“Probably not,” she agreed, attacking a chair with a feather duster.
“Could you perhaps be prevailed upon to do the honor of telling me now?” he inquired amiably.
Lockwood, who was quite unused to being disliked by anyone but Lisha and perhaps Elaine Roderick, felt rather irrationally annoyed. “Have I done anything in particular to offend you?”
“It’s more of a general thing, really.”
“How very elucidating!”
“It wasn’t meant to be,” she replied indifferently. “If it comforts you any, there wouldn’t be a hope of your understanding.”
“Allow me to suggest that you are mistaken; I take great pride in my powers of comprehension.”
“I don’t doubt it,” she said shortly. “And that’s just the trouble. In your current situation I would guess that you understand next to nothing at all.”
She left, leaving Lockwood to wonder – though perhaps it was simply his imagination – whether she had not been trying to give him a hint.
To be continued...