The Traitor: Part Eleven
For the first few hours of the night Lockwood had struggled hopelessly against his magic; and then at last, so exhausted that he could not find it in himself to care whether Meridell was overtaken or he was hanged, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
He was woken rather unexpectedly by a guard, who prodded him with the wooden end of his spear. “Get up. Duke Roderick’s daughter is here to see you, though I can’t imagine why she wants to.”
Lockwood pulled himself into what might plausibly have been an upright situation and blinked dazedly at Elaine Roderick.
The pale yellow Zafara looked just as vibrant as when he had seen her last and not one whit humbler or more bearable. She fairly exuded superiority. Lockwood reflected with some satisfaction that hers was exactly the type of beauty which he particularly disliked: even-featured, flawless and unextraordinary, with nothing greater than self-assurance to recommend it.
“Mr. Fox has told me that you requested to see me,” she announced. “I cannot imagine why, unless you wish to apologize for your abominable ill-treatment of me?”
“Saving the presence of your ladyship, I confess that the thought never crossed my mind.”
“You have robbed me of my rightful magical education and though Lady Borodere belongs to Meridell you have done a great disservice to the whole of Neopia. I perceive her loss even as strongly as I would have perceived that of dear Roberta. And you have willfully cursed King Skarl, King Hagan’s brother. Nobody but you could be unmoved by such accusations!”
“That is all very interesting, but I had a rather greater purpose in requesting your presence.”
“Oh?” said Elaine coldly. “And what is that?”
“I wished to warn you, Miss Roderick. You are a sorceress – surely you can feel the enchantment covering the castle! There is no Regent; surely you know it.”
“What nonsense!” she cried.
“We have very little time and so I am going to tell you now how you may find Lisha. Listen –”
“Oh! How can you speak of Lisha when you murdered her in cold blood!”
“Perhaps you would be so good as to humor me. Do you know how to perform a Spell of Searching?”
“As a matter of fact I do, Mr. Lockwood, but I certainly will not,” she exclaimed haughtily.
“Search for Lisha – ask for Mr. Fox’s help in the spell if you must – Valero’s even, I think he is trustworthy, it does not signify in any case –”
“Really, Mr. Lockwood!”
“And when you have found her you must explain to her that the entire castle is under my spell and I cannot do anything about it; and tell her that she must break it –”
“That is quite enough, Mr. Lockwood. I am vastly appalled. I suppose I should not have expected anything better from you.” Elaine rose to leave.
Lockwood fell silent, unwilling to plead to Miss Roderick even under these dire circumstances. In any case it would do no good. As he watched her leave, he thought drearily that had he been in a position to appreciate it, the results of his spells would have been highly complimentary. He was by now reasonably convinced that they were unbreakable.
It was perhaps midday – though telling the time was a challenging and perplexing activity given the total lack of windows – when Lockwood was disturbed in his gloomy rest once again.
“What is it now?” he inquired. “I am quite intimidated; whatever it is, it appears astonishingly important.”
This was true. Six guards had taken their places on either side of the dungeon corridor, and a seventh was in the process of unlocking the door to his cell. Having done so the Draik stood very upright and delivered his message. “Sorcerer, you have been condemned as a traitor and will be punished by death. Before you meet your fate Regent Vincent Horatio Sly has commanded to speak with you personally.”
“Commanded, has he?” remarked Lockwood. “That is very –”
“You will be silent!” roared the guard, and Lockwood found himself roughly shoved along by the six guards as the seventh took the head of the solemn procession.
He could not help noticing that Meridell Castle was uncharacteristically empty. Even the lighting seemed different somehow, as though the sun no longer shone through the magnificent glittering windows. Perhaps it was part of his sorcery, or perhaps it was merely his imagination, or perhaps it was even chance; but whatever the case, Lockwood found it extraordinarily appropriate. He still could not seem to entirely grasp the seriousness of the situation. This was all – the end – everything was over; and yet still he felt nothing more than drained. He could only conclude that without his magic he had no sense of self at all.
The Regent was waiting in the King’s chambers, standing at the door as though he had been waiting for some time.
“Leave me alone with the traitor,” ordered the Regent.
Even under Lockwood’s spell the guards exchanged doubtful glances; but they did as he bid them and disappeared obediently into the corridor.
The Regent was old; he was very old. It was not a thing that Lockwood had been fully able to appreciate from a distance. His fur was greying and his eyes were hooded, and his movements were slow and feeble. His voice was slow and ponderous, as though it traveled unknown paths to reach the open air.
“Sit down, Sorcerer.”
It was spoken not as a request or an offer but as a demand, and so Lockwood remained standing. “What is it that you want with me?”
He could not help wondering what corruption of the spell had caused the Regent’s odd request; but that the Regent was spelled he was certain. He did not think that he had ever seen a person so covered in magic. He was saturated, almost overflowing – Lockwood marveled that his body could hold so much power and remain together. And yet it was his power; or at least it had been.
“I will tell you when you have sat, Mr. Lockwood.”
Slowly, as much because he was tired as anything else, Lockwood sat. The Regent came toward him.
Elaine Roderick sat at her dressing table and stared at her reflection, wondering why she was still bothered by Lockwood’s words. She had never liked him and here was proof; she had seen him take Lisha herself; he had spoken the utterest nonsense and she would not give him the satisfaction of attempting a Spell of Searching, only to find that Lisha could not be found. It had given her a great deal of pleasure to see him in so very reduced a state. She hated him above anything.
And so why could she not put the thought out of her head, that perhaps there might be some truth to his claims? Perhaps it was the lingering feeling she had that something magical was not right. There was a niggling sensation at the back of her mind as though she had forgotten something and could not quite remember it, search desperately as she would.
“Oh, really,” she muttered to herself. “Of all the ridiculous things!”
Then she returned to her own affairs and resolved to forget all about it.
Quite suddenly and somewhat to her irritation, there was a knock on the door. Expecting Alexandra, whose company she did not want at the moment, she flung it open and prepared to explain how busy she was; but it was not Alexandra, it was a slender, rather pretty white Ixi whom she knew by sight as Cecilia Lockwood.
“I cannot tell you how sorry I am to bother you, Miss Roderick,” she explained in an agitated, tearful sort of way, “but I really do not know of anyone else to apply to.”
Elaine was silent for a moment as she considered her reply. “Miss Lockwood, if you are asking for my help in saving your brother, I can only say that I am very sorry he is a traitor, but he is one nonetheless. What do you expect me to do?”
“You are a sorceress!” cried Cecilia. “I know he is innocent. Surely you can do something – find out the truth – I am inexpressibly sorry to be so rude, but I cannot –”
“As a matter of fact, he has already requested to speak with me, and I have; though I am sure you know that.”
“No – they will not let me see him! What did he say?”
“He tried to convince me of some ridiculous plot,” answered Elaine reluctantly. “He wanted me to perform a Spell of Searching, and...”
“Please, Miss Roderick – if only for my sake!” Cecilia pleaded desperately. “Consider how strange it is; something must have happened to him, or he would not choose to stay in the dungeons – why should he?”
Elaine had not thought of this before, but it struck her now: Lockwood was a sorcerer. As far as she knew he was captured physically, not magically. Why had he done nothing at all to save himself?
She marveled that she had not seen the oddness of it, and remembered what Lockwood had said about a spell that was placed on everybody; and suddenly she realized that Meridell did not have a Regent at all.
She took down her copy of Mage Spells from the bookshelf and began to search.
“Lisha, isn’t it?”
Lisha shook her head and rubbed her eyes, feeling about for her glasses. Everything was blurry and peculiar. She could not remember precisely where she was or why, but it struck her that things would be clearer when she had found her glasses.
Somebody was kind enough to place them in her hand, and that somebody also spoke to her again, in a wary, slightly sarcastic tone that reminded her a bit of Lockwood in a bad mood. But it was undoubtedly a female voice.
“Actually I shouldn’t have bothered asking, because I know you’re Lisha. And I am Regan – Regan Harlow. Not that these are the best of circumstances, but it’s still quite nice to meet you, seeing as you’re famous.”
The world sprang into focus and Lisha saw a plumpish yellow Poogle in a uniform that looked as though it might once have been a maid’s; however she could not imagine what master would have allowed his maid to appear in such a state. She was dirty and bedraggled and her frock was torn.
They were in an unfamiliar room, small and a bit dark, but homey and comfortable enough to compensate for its defects. It appeared to be sunny outside and she deduced that it was early afternoon.
“Er... where are we?” inquired Lisha as politely as possible. “And... who are you?”
“I only just told you. I suppose what you really mean,” she added, “is, ‘What are you doing here?’ In which case I will have to explain everything to you.”
She did so as, concisely as she could manage, and by the end of it Lisha had worked herself into quite a frenzy of worry. “Lockwood hasn’t returned? – and you’re sure he left for Meridell Castle? – but what if something’s happened to him!”
“Nothing will happen to Lockwood – he isn’t the type. Besides, he knows about Mr. Duplicity and Mr. Tricks and he is going to report them immediately; or rather I imagine he already has.”
“And the other one too, of course,” put in Lisha.
Regan sat down and frowned at her in puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
“Why, the third! – there are always three, you know.” Lisha stated it as though it were quite obvious and a piece of day-to-day knowledge that any Neopian might have.
“I don’t quite follow. Do you mean to say that Mr. Tricks and Mr. Duplicity have an accomplice?”
Lisha stared at her, quite aghast, for she had suddenly realized Regan’s mistake. “But you didn’t think that they were the only ones! There is always a third!”
To be continued...