The Traitor: Part Twelve
Lisha and Regan had only just discovered their mistake concerning the identity and number of villains when somebody appeared quite suddenly in their midst.
“Miss Roderick!” exclaimed Lisha, so very astonished that she did not even have time to be annoyed.
The Zafara wasted no time in rattling off her message at top speed. “Oh, you must come, Lady Borodere, you must! There has been some terrible mistake. It is singularly strange and I do not understand it at all, but Mr. Lockwood has been accused of killing you and cursing the King, and he is going to hang for it unless we do something quickly!”
Lisha sank faintly back onto the bed in horror. Regan, more self-possessed, thought to inquire. “What do you mean?”
“I do not understand it at all myself but somehow he has placed a spell on the entire castle, and it is working against him – and all of us –”
“We know who is behind this and if we hurry –” began Regan urgently.
“Yes, yes,” cried Lisha, gathering her wits. “We must return to the castle immediately. He has no idea that there is a third – he won’t be at all on his guard – I only hope it isn’t too late!”
“I wished to see you, Mr. Lockwood,” the Regent told him softly. “It seemed strange to owe so much to a man I had never laid eyes on.”
It appeared that the Regent had more agency than Lockwood had previously supposed; he wondered if he might possibly have done something wrong in the magic.
The Kougra smiled a dry, dead smile and settled his hand upon the back of Lockwood’s chair. “I suppose you are wondering who I am, and why I seem so remarkably free from your spells. You are sadly behind in your knowledge of magical history.”
He paused as though expecting Lockwood to reply; but the Gelert remained silent.
“Sly, Tricks and Duplicity – the infamous trio of enchanters who once attempted to seize control of Meridell Castle. They succeeded, and in fact they ruled for some years before they were at last overthrown. Nobody knows their real names, and they have been largely erased from memory. Too embarrassing, perhaps? Or liable to give others... ideas? Certainly their names have been used time and time again... but we will be the first to follow their footsteps to success.”
Lockwood experienced a sinking sensation. Sly, Tricks, and Duplicity. There had always been three. And Mr. Sly, standing before him as Meridell’s new King, must have been the one who knew magic, well enough to write such a convoluted and twisted spell in magical script that Lockwood had been entirely unable to recognize its purpose. Momentarily his mind flashed back to the Snowbunny Lisha had wanted to call Mr. Tricks, and he wished vainly that he had asked her what she meant.
It was too late now; the Regent’s claws slid softly around Lockwood’s throat. “Thank you for all your help,” he whispered.
With impossible, supernatural strength he held Lockwood in his icy grip and Lockwood struggled uselessly to free himself. Mr. Sly was a frail old man, but he was overflowing with the magic Lockwood had given him – magic so powerful that he could do nothing to counteract it.
“It seems to me that your plan is flawed, Mr. Sly,” he gasped in one last desperate attempt. “My magic will die with me and everything you have done will come crashing down around your ears.”
“Oh, but it won’t, Mr. Lockwood,” murmured Sly, tightening his chokehold. “You set that spell yourself. You put all the magic you had into those spells, and you made sure that they would survive after you were long dead. We thought you would die then, you see; you had so little left. Somehow you managed to survive a few more days, and I am glad of it, for now you have seen your most brilliant creation.”
Lockwood kicked at the Regent, but it seemed to make no difference; he continued his inexorable, cruel, drawn-out strangling.
“You see, I have some magic, Mr. Lockwood. But not enough. Not like you.”
In his hazy, clouded vision Lockwood saw the Meridellian diamond gleaming at Mr. Sly’s throat, and he marveled at its icy beauty, and he marveled that he had not seen it before. Something drew him to it, though he could not have said why, and with the very last ounce of his strength he reached for it –
One touch was enough. Dazzling, fantastic power flowed into him like quicksilver, cool and fast; and having had one taste he lunged for the diamond once again.
Mr. Sly threw up his arms to defend himself; but the magic was flowing out of him even as it rushed into Lockwood, eager to rejoin with him. One by one the spells were smashed to pieces; and Lockwood, in ferocious, malicious joy, turned his power on the Regent and froze him into ice.
At that moment Lisha rushed in, followed by Regan. Lockwood was quite understandably astonished and simply sat down where he was, attempting to comprehend everything that had just taken place.
“You look awful,” Lisha greeted him, panting. “We stopped the guards – they probably would have killed you once they heard the commotion and saw you attacking the Regent. Not that he was a Regent, of course.”
Lockwood had suddenly become aware that he was sore in an unnatural number of places and that his head ached in a way that hardly seemed possible. “I think I would like to go to bed,” he said uncertainly, and fell asleep.
“What I do not understand,” remarked Lisha, “is how in Neopia you managed to perform all those spells without realizing what they were.”
Lockwood glared. “I would very much like to see you do any better. As a matter of fact,” he confessed, “I am still quite puzzled as to what some of them were for.”
“Well, there was the spell on the King, the spell on everyone in the castle, the spells on Sly, the spell on Elaine Roderick to make her see that illusion of you kidnapping me, the spell on you to stop you from noticing the other spells... All joined together under some sort of delayed reaction, timed spell! – a fascinating amount of magic, really.”
“Very gratifying, I am sure; and no doubt very complimentary to my abilities as a sorcerer. My complaisance is only slightly tarnished by the fact that they very nearly succeeded.”
“Yes,” mused Lisha. “I wonder who they all were? Mr. Sly, of course, is still an ice sculpture in the King’s Chambers – I believe Fox and Valero are trying to discover a way to make it melt. Mr. Duplicity and Mr. Tricks had disappeared by the time anybody thought to go after them...”
“Speaking of Elaine Roderick,” said Lockwood rather abruptly, “has your opinion of her been altered in any favorable way?”
“Somewhat,” she admitted. “But Valero is taking her on as a pupil. He claims to have more time than I do and in any case she knows him quite well now.”
“What a pity. Perhaps you can teach Regan instead.”
This suggestion, despite the usual grave nature of Lockwood’s comments, was not meant to be taken seriously; Regan had as little inclination for magic as anyone he had ever encountered and was now working as an archery instructor for the pages. It was still a matter of some curiosity, where she had come from and why she had been working for Mr. Tricks and Mr. Duplicity; but it was generally agreed that those were questions for a later date.
Lisha smiled slyly. “She remarked the other day after seeing you that she had never thought of you as a gentleman. She was a bit awestruck by your cravat, I think.”
“Perhaps that is only to be expected,” replied Lockwood complacently. “The state she saw me in last was hardly very flattering. It pains me a great deal to think what my appearance must have been. I am quite convinced that I am the most unlucky person in the world!”
Lisha snorted. “I hope you will forgive my lack of sympathy.”
“I believe I understand you. You are referring to my reprehensible character under the assumption that the vain, extravagant and idle do not deserve good fortune.”
“I was not,” she asserted coolly, “although you are probably right. However I find it difficult to pity anybody so very handsome and charming as to make everybody love him at once – even assuming that he is not a rich and talented sorcerer.”
Lockwood, who thought he could perceive a hint of jealousy, was gratified. “You are far too kind,” he replied good-humoredly.
“It wasn’t intended as a compliment,” she snapped. “Believe me. And you still look quite awful, you know.”
“Why, thank you.”
“Oh, and King Skarl was considering giving you a title, but decided against it, you’ll be glad to hear – since I know you despise rank so very much.”
Lockwood could see that she thought he would be annoyed by the omission and proceeded to set her straight, rather amused by her ignorance of his preexisting inheritance. “I cannot say I much like the sound of Lord Lockwood, and although I am so terribly fond of my given name I am not inclined toward Sir Harlan either.”
“Speaking of which, I still think it is very strange that your sister calls you by your last name. And she was extremely worried about you – I believe she wanted to talk to you when you were feeling more up to conversation, and so I may as well go tell her you are here.” Lisha paused and grinned. “What really puzzles me is when she began calling you Lockwood. Somehow I cannot imagine it in a child of five or six –”
“If you have quite finished with your amusement over my name, perhaps you might consider removing this creature from my lap. It is really astonishingly heavy, even considering its size.”
She rescued him from the affections of Bunny and then turned to leave, and Lockwood resumed his reading, thinking rather fondly of his sister. She was so very devoted – so helpful and self-sacrificing – so everything a sister ought to be – and quite pretty, in a dainty sort of way; though he was by far the more handsome of the two. He wondered what she had been up to lately, or for the past year or so for that matter; he had never really considered her existence outside of his presence.
After several minutes she came, and sat down rather nervously across from him, and inquired as to the state of his health.
“Oh! I am perfectly all right, you know. I dare say I will survive. In the meantime, however, I am sure I look horrifying; and it is a little uncomfortable not to be able to use my right hand for much of anything; but no doubt that will pass.”
“I am glad to hear it,” she said sincerely, in her customary sweet manner. “I do not think you have gotten half the credit you deserve for everything you did.”
Lockwood laughed. “It is true that I very nearly destroyed Meridell, but unfortunately that is not the sort of accomplishment one thinks of receiving credit for.”
“I am sure no one else could have done what you did, in such a situation,” she cried earnestly; and then fell silent for several moments.
Lockwood perceived that perhaps there was something she wished to tell him. It had not occurred to him before, but having thought of it he considered it very likely. “Is there anything you would like to ask of me? I am entirely at your service, you know.”
“Oh – nothing – only – it is the most presumptuous thing in the world, but I was wondering if perhaps in your spare time you might...”
“I would be very sorry to think that my own dear sister would be afraid to ask me anything,” he said encouragingly.
Cecilia swallowed. “Teach me a little magic?”
If she had expressed a sudden desire to become a knight, a king, or a criminal mastermind, Lockwood could not possibly have been more amazed.