The Traitor: Part Ten
Lockwood had recounted the tale of his adventures to Mr. Fox and was now waiting wearily as that gentleman deliberated. At least Lockwood assumed that he was deliberating; in truth he might have been doing anything at all, for his pale, luminous stare was as blank as ever.
For his part Lockwood was perfectly content to lean back on the sofa, hold ice to his cheek, and imagine what it might be like to sleep.
Exhausted as he was, he could not prevent himself from conjecturing and suspecting. Everything was simply too convenient. There had to be something that he was failing to notice or understand; the fact that the guards had not captured him, the fact that Mr. Fox had been exactly where he needed him and when, the fact that Mr. Duplicity and Mr. Tricks did not appear to have done anything yet! – all of these struck him as extraordinarily happy coincidences.
“Well, Mr. Lockwood,” Fox said slowly, “I confess myself somewhat unsure as to how to proceed. That is – I would not by any means wish to see you falsely accused, but nevertheless you are accused, sir, and I am a servant of the Crown.”
“I admit that the thought of the dungeons does not really appeal to me,” Lockwood remarked dryly, “and therefore my opinion on the subject is apt to be slightly biased. However if you truly consider yourself a servant of the Crown then I would advise placing the safety of the Kingdom before all else. It is essential that we discover what Elaine Roderick is doing and why.”
Fox only sighed in a singularly grey manner. “It seems to me that if you were to produce Lady Borodere, the accusations against yourself would be necessarily defunct.”
This was an astonishingly sensible proposal, and so Lockwood remained silent.
“Of course there may be some difficulty in locating her,” Fox continued drearily. “Any number of things may go wrong. It appears to me that there are so many things to be got done we may never finish them; but I am sure it will be prudent to try. I suggest –”
What he suggested, however, Lockwood never had the liberty to discover; for at that moment there was a pounding at the door and Mr. Fox was obliged to leave his seat.
It was a young Chia page whom Lockwood believed he recognized very vaguely; but it was evident, judging by his horror and shock, that the page knew Lockwood quite well.
“May I help you?” inquired Mr. Fox as the clock struck nine.
The page found his voice and began rather shrilly. “Mr. Fox, sir, a spell’s been cast on King Skarl!”
Fox stared. “What do you mean?” he asked with some difficulty.
The page cast a sidelong glance at Lockwood. “Valero has inspected the King, sir, and he is quite sure that the spell was cast by – by –”
“By Mr. Lockwood,” sighed Fox. “I see. Would you care to accompany me to His Majesty’s chambers, Mr. Lockwood?”
Lockwood opened his mouth to reply but found that he could not speak; and he found himself equally powerless to prevent his steady march forward in Fox’s trail. It seemed that he had finally and totally run out of magic.
Somewhere buried beneath his hopelessness and helplessness there was still a spark of furious rebellion, but too much had happened since his short-lived, reckless victory against Mr. Duplicity and Mr. Tricks. He no longer possessed the energy or even particularly the will to resist. Some small part of him wished vehemently to fight Fox’s spell and resist the humiliation of being so absolutely controlled, but the larger part was vastly more philosophical. At least a rest in the dungeons would be a rest.
Once the journey was complete Lockwood suspected that he had been asleep for the greater part of it, or perhaps he had simply been so very preoccupied as to have no recollection of it at all; whatever the case, he was mildly surprised to find himself in the King’s chambers surrounded by courtiers, guards, knights, Lords, and all manner of the sorts of people that one might reasonably expect to find in a castle.
The King lay feverishly in his bed, and a tall mutant Draik with a rather theatrical black cloak attended him, shaking his head darkly as though he had no great hopes for Skarl’s livelihood. It was a peculiar sight, though Lockwood could not quite have put his finger on precisely why. Something about it struck him as inherently wrong.
Some unknown gesture passed between Mr. Fox and the guards; Lockwood found himself released, for the second time in as many hours, from Fox’s spell, and passed into their capable hands. Fox himself moved to join the tall Draik, and Lockwood deduced hazily that it must be the other sorcerer Valero. He recalled that he had once suspected Valero of treachery and considered without a great deal of worry that it was altogether possible but by no means certain. A letter would have been easy enough for Tricks and Duplicity to forge.
“Lockwood’s magic,” announced Valero majestically. “There is simply no doubt of it.”
“None at all,” agreed Fox softly, under the uproar of the surrounding crowd, so that Lockwood had to strain to hear his words.
“I suppose at the very least we have found our culprit; but unless he will agree to cure the King there is very little...”
“Yes,” repeated Fox colorlessly. “This is without a doubt Mr. Lockwood’s magic. Cast by him and willingly too. Do you know, I really was quite convinced for a moment or two that he was telling the truth – fortunately I took no risks and nothing is lost.”
“The Regent will take over now, I suppose,” said Valero. Again something peculiar twitched at Lockwood’s senses.
The double doors opened and a hush fell upon the room as an elderly red Kougra made his entrance. He was quite simply dressed in a style not calculated to bring joy to Lockwood’s vain and elegant heart; but the diamond emblem of Meridell that he wore at his throat would easily have purchased several farming villages and probably one or two towns as well.
“The Regent,” one of the guards murmured, and another agreed. “It’s the Regent.”
Lockwood looked at the Kougra incredulously, and then at the crowd; for he knew perfectly well that Meridell had no Regent. Surely he had not imagined it! – he knew it as well as he knew anything. No; it must be everybody else who was deceived, but how? How could it be possible?
For the first time it occurred to him that there was magic all around: there was magic on the Regent, the King and the crowd. There was magic on the two sorcerers and on the very castle itself.
Small wonder that he had found the spells given to him by Mr. Duplicity and Mr. Tricks so inordinately difficult; small wonder that he was so extraordinarily drained and powerless now. His magical senses had been trying to tell him all along that the spells were wrong – not because of any subconscious scruples as he had suspected but because he had cast them at least partially on himself.
It was Lockwood’s magic all around; and quite suddenly he realized that he was the traitor.
He watched in dull, hopeless horror as Valero placed Meridell’s crown on the Regent’s head. It was part of the bizarreness of the sorcery that nobody paused to grieve for King Skarl; the Regent had not said a word and his authority had been instantly accepted. Nobody suggested that Lockwood should be asked to remove the curse from the King. It was a peculiarly unsettling thing to watch, and Lockwood felt an involuntary shiver as the Regent spoke.
He was very old, and his voice was wavering and tremulous; but his words were perfectly clear. “Take the traitor to the dungeons, Mr. Fox.”
As Lockwood saw Fox caught under the spell he had himself created, he perceived that there would be no sense in expecting mercy from that quarter. Fox had, perhaps, broken free for long enough to consider Lockwood’s story – he was very likely an immensely powerful sorcerer – but he had no capability of free will now. Frantically Lockwood struggled to remove the sorcery, cancel the magic; but he discovered that it was not possible. The bonds would not break, and he had no power left.
The castle was deserted and the journey to the dungeons was short. Once there Lockwood was thrown with no extreme amount of ceremony into a cold stone cell and locked and bolted in. Two guards silently took their posts on either side of the door.
“Mr. Fox!” he called suddenly, his voice ringing through the dark hall. “I have a great favor to ask of you.”
The grey Kyrii paused, hesitated, and then slowly turned around as though he did not much relish the idea but thought he ought to reply. “Yes, Mr. Lockwood?”
“If you would kindly tell Miss Elaine Roderick that I request the honor of a conversation, I should be very excessively obliged.”
Fox fixed his pale stare on Lockwood as though wondering what he might mean by it; and then he made a small movement as if to shrug his shoulders. “If you wish. Goodbye, Mr. Lockwood.”
Lockwood slumped against the wall, and his hopes were low; for Elaine Roderick, even if she had not been under his all-inclusive spell, despised him very much.
To be continued...