The Anomaly: Part One
Grievous as the arrangement was, Lisha, Meridell’s most renowned sorceress, was occasionally called upon to perform a duty which she had no desire to perform. In this case it was the announcement of unlawful magic to a young man, accompanied by a serious warning against disobeying Meridell’s codes of magic in the future; and Lisha did not care to do it. To begin with, she had not the least idea what Meridell’s codes of magic were, and – perhaps more significantly – her character lacked that authoritative self-entitlement so sorely needed to rebuke a total stranger. It was, however, quite necessary for a Royal Sorcerer to do the job; that was a part of Meridellian magical convention with which she was quite familiar. She therefore approached Mr. Lockwood about the matter.
Mr. Lockwood was a handsome shadow Gelert and Lisha’s former pupil. Whether or not he remained her pupil was an interesting question, and it is altogether unlikely that either of the concerned parties could have answered it. Unexpected as any bond of friendship might have appeared between a gentleman so thoroughly unconcerned with others, and a lady so thoroughly convinced that she was always right, they had somehow contrived to progress quite far in their relationship; and Lisha had no reservations about venturing to his chambers two hours or so after her own breakfast.
As it was only ten o’clock, she was rather surprised to find him awake, but she resolved to waste no time in the revelation of her intentions.
“I want you to come with me,” she told him by way of greeting.
Lockwood was lying thoughtfully on his sofa in his shirtsleeves, and while Lisha was certain that he had been awake not five hours ago he was evidently one of those people who are very little deranged by either the state of sleep or the lack of it.
He winced as she drew open the curtains and she quickly realized that while (being, after all, Lockwood) he was not at all disarranged, he was quite definitely tired; and, in addition to the scar on his cheek, the traces of an unpleasant bruise were not yet entirely gone. She faltered for a moment in her design to bring him with her, but then recalled that he had after all been up half the night of his own volition.
It seemed to Lisha that an age had passed since she and Lockwood had been held captive by the trio of villains. She had not been conscious for the greater part of it. That privilege had fallen to Lockwood, and as she instinctively felt that he was still rather displeased about it, she had remained more or less silent on the subject for several weeks now.
“You are going to come with me,” she announced, choosing to phrase it fairly directly.
“I am not,” he replied politely, with equal directness.
She removed the pillow with which he was guarding his eyes, and handed him his coat. “Evidently you were well enough to attend the full length of last night’s ball and so I cannot imagine that you are not well enough to accompany me now.”
“That is no doubt a very material point; but you will recall that I did not dance. One cannot possibly hope to accomplish anything at a ball without dancing. It is a most shocking thing and ought hardly to count.”
“Oh!” cried Lisha irritably. “You are so absolutely nonsensical sometimes.”
“Perhaps you will allow me to submit that as evidence that I am not at all well and should by no means be disturbed,” he suggested sleepily.
Lisha sighed and considered how best to proceed. After a moment she became aware of a rather odd sensation, something like a magical itch; she concentrated upon it but could discover nothing further. “Were you doing magic in here last night?” she inquired doubtfully.
“I was not. Our dear friend Bunny, however, made a very impressive display.”
Bunny was an extraordinarily large, round Snowbunny who had been, in the earlier stages of his life, Lockwood’s magical gift to a small boy. Having been returned, he adored nearly everybody and generally set out to make himself as great a nuisance as possible. Lisha was not in the least surprised to hear that he was more magical than originally supposed; but she was rather curious as to his exact properties. “What did he do?” she asked with interest.
Lockwood pulled himself upright with demonstrable effort. “Oh, I will tell you some other time – when is it that you intend I should leave, as you seem to have determined everything else for me?”
By this Lisha concluded, rather triumphantly, that he meant to go with her. “As soon as possible, really; it’s quite a long way and I think we might as well get an early start.”
“Very well. I like nothing better than an early start; but, little as I trouble about my appearance, I most humbly submit the hope that you will allow me to get dressed.”
Lisha could not do otherwise than be amused – however, perceiving that he was making fun of her as well as himself, she refused to show it. “Yes, and hurry up about it,” she replied shortly. “If you can, that is.”
He reemerged some minutes later looking quite magnificent (and to do him what credit he deserved, Lisha supposed that he had been relatively quick) and she glared at him with equal proportions of disdain, satisfaction and unwilling admiration. She reflected smugly that Lockwood was not somebody that people would be inclined to question or ignore. He would deliver a message like this one with both ease and grace, where Lisha would have been made profoundly uncomfortable.
The journey was of some hours and for the greater part of it Lockwood simply fell asleep. He did rouse himself, however, long enough to inquire about their destination.
“Oh, a town – let me think,” said Lisha reflectively. “Ah yes. Knightfield.”
Lockwood seemed unaccountably annoyed by this. “How clever of you to keep me in the dark!”
She stared at him in astonishment. “Why, I suppose it never occurred to me that it might matter to you which town we were going to. You certainly did not seem so very concerned before.”
Lockwood regarded her with a hint of suspicion, and then said, “It is entirely beyond me how you could be unaware, but you are not remotely qualified to be dishonest.”
“Whatever do you mean?” she snapped, beginning to feel somewhat vexed.
“You truly had no conception that I live in Knightfield?”
“I – oh!” exclaimed Lisha, feeling slightly silly. “Well, now that you mention it, I suppose I do remember; but really,” she added defensively, “is it so absolutely strange that I might forget?”
“Oh, not particularly,” conceded Lockwood with a sigh. “Only a very great coincidence. Now that we have progressed so far toward perfect understanding, may I ask to whom we are paying this pleasant visit, and why?”
“To a man named Mr. Henry Daley, for the purpose of reprimanding him in King Skarl’s name for unlawful use of magic... Do you know him?”
“Certainly,” replied Lockwood, “if by ‘know’ you mean, do I know him by face and by name, and have I spoken with him on more than one occasion in my life. He is not one of my tenants, but given that he really might be classed as little better than a gentleman farmer it strikes me as excessively odd that he should be using any sort of magic at all.”
“Snob,” muttered Lisha. Then, with interest, “Tenants?”
“Yes? – what do you mean to ask?”
“You have tenants?”
“It would be nothing short of astonishing if I did not. I would have been forced to go to a great deal of trouble to be rid of them; as it has been represented to me, they are utterly inseparable from the estate. It is one of those unpleasant but true facts of life.”
Lisha considered this with mixed feelings. On the one hand it was only natural, and in any case the poorer farmers had to rent from somebody. On the other – she looked at Lockwood with his lovely, extravagantly expensive suit and his coldly sarcastic air, and it struck her that he might make a remarkably cruel landlord if he so chose.
Evidently he understood her sentiments, for he gave one of his rare smiles and spoke again. “If it gives you any comfort, I am rarely there to raise their rents, turn them out of their houses and have them executed.”
“Perhaps you should be,” she retorted irritably.
“Should I?” he exclaimed. “I never think of them from one day to the next. I make an abysmal lord of the manor. Certainly I could not think of sacrificing my pleasure for their well-being.”
Lisha could see now that he was being entirely humorous, although she suspected that he was more correct than he cared to realize, and temporarily abandoned the subject.
This was just as well, for at that moment the carriage came to a halt and they became engaged in the business of getting out and giving the coachman his orders.
Mr. Henry Daley was a youngish blue Kacheek with an extraordinarily innocent and put-upon countenance, and Lisha’s first realization was that he was vastly grateful for the appearance of Lockwood.
“Mr. Lockwood!” he exclaimed, pushing his maid out of the way to stand in the door himself. “How you received the news so quick I do not pretend to know, but I am so very relieved –”
“Not,” Lockwood cut him off briskly, “for any length of time. I am here on the King’s business, as is Lady Borodere.”
Mr. Daley was nothing short of overwhelmed to learn of Lisha’s identity, which discovery occupied him for several minutes despite his great distress. His business was to be assiduously agreeable; and, happily, nature seemed to have designed him exactly for the purpose. He made many offers of tea, bowed extremely low, and exclaimed repeatedly to express his profound joy and admiration. “Lady Lisha Borodere! The sorceress! The heroine of the Darigan Wars! I cannot express the honor I feel at welcoming you into my humble home.”
Lisha found herself, as ever, quite discomposed by this high-flown praise; she was very glad to allow Lockwood to resume command in his best languidly authoritative manner. “Nothing brings me greater delight than to present you with such an illustrious personage, but I am afraid we have an official message to deliver me and nothing more. The message is this, if you do not object to a summary: You will refrain from all further unlawful use of magic or you will feel the consequences.”
Mr. Daley appeared quite dismayed to hear this, and limply took the scroll in his hand, staring. “Mr. Lockwood, I have not – that is – I am not likely to repeat it! It was unintentional to begin with! I am sorry beyond words to have offended your cousin, but it was totally unknowing, I assure you. Nobody can be sorrier than I am, and I am already facing Fyora knows what consequences, and oh! Mr. Lockwood! If only you would consent to help me! I have always had the greatest respect –”
Lockwood exchanged a glance with Lisha, and she perceived that he had no more idea what Mr. Daley was talking about than she did. “Humor me,” he proposed dryly, “and take the trouble to explain, if you would be so kind.”
Mr. Daley looked between the two of them in the utmost confusion, and then behind them, as though he believed that the answer might be situated on his well-manicured lawn. “You – you did not come here on behalf of your cousin,” he said slowly and incredulously.
“I have told you already that we are here on King Skarl’s business,” Lockwood assured him in his most unpleasantly sarcastic way; evidently his patience was beginning to wear thin. “I have not the vaguest idea what you mean.”
“I was... most rude to the Earl,” explained Mr. Daley hesitantly, nervousness rendering him even more obsequious than before. “It is most shocking, sir. Even were it not for his high rank, I would never have dreamt of offending him, if only out of concern and respect for you! But you see I did not mean it, Mr. Lockwood. I swear to you that I was possessed by an alien spirit. I do not remember any of it!”
By this time Lisha had worked out that Lockwood’s cousin must be the Earl, and that she did not at all care for Mr. Daley, and not a great deal else. It was a highly unlikely story. She did not think that she had ever heard so unconvincing a tale in her life – and yet – there had been magic done here, according to whichever of the Royal Sorcerers was currently surveying this region.
“How unfortunate for you!” Lockwood replied. “I am so excessively sorry. The warning, however, stands. You may take it up with King Skarl if you feel that you have been unjustly accused. In the meantime, I will bid you good day and we will start on our way back to Meridell Castle. Allow me to comfort you with the idea that possession is most uncommon and rather interesting. I advise you to advertise it in any way possible.”
“Leaving – so soon! And not even a cup of tea! Mr. Lockwood, I implore you – I most humbly implore you, a word with the Earl – a mere word; five minutes of your time; I would be grateful beyond all measure. I will receive a frightful punishment if you do not!”
“Perhaps your possessors will be kind enough to come to your aid,” suggested Lockwood, and Lisha followed him swiftly and gladly away. Her conscience, however, was pricked.
“Do you think,” she asked him, as soon as they had returned to the road and left a distraught Henry Daley on his front step, “that he could possibly be telling the truth, or some version of it?”
“Oh! – it is possible, I suppose. After all, it is quite obvious that sorcery was involved somehow, and it is not probable that magic is a hobby of his.”
“We owe it to him at least to investigate,” Lisha said decidedly, pulling her coat more tightly around herself against the chilly winter wind. Knightfield was a nice town, she thought, but it was rather difficult to appreciate in the current weather. “Why don’t we go to your cousin the Earl? He at least may be willing to give us an idea of what has happened.”
“To be altogether honest,” Lockwood answered coolly, “I would prefer not to.”
“That,” announced Lisha hotly, “is unfair. What if this Mr. Daley is innocent? Surely you could at least persuade the Earl to allow you to find out whether he is or not. You are, after all, his cousin –”
“I am his rather distant cousin, for whom he has very little respect and against whom he bears a considerable grudge. I am afraid the chances are slim.”
“A considerable grudge?” repeated Lisha, interested in spite of herself. “Did you offend him?”
“In a manner of speaking; that is, I deprived his offspring of an earldom in the event of his death. It is a common quarrel among families such as ours. How would it please you to pay Cecilia a visit, now that we are here and it is getting rather late?”
Cecilia was Lockwood’s sister, who must, Lisha concluded, be currently inhabiting his house. As she had a very high opinion of Cecilia – not to mention a great deal of affection for her – she agreed at once. “Nothing would please me better, but –! Do you meant to tell me that you are next in line to be an earl?”
“Did you really never know this? – I am certain that you must have been acquainted with the fact at some point. But I cannot in all conscience allow you to become so excited. The event to which you look forward with such great anticipation may never take place; the Earl is only fifteen years or so my senior.” He thought for a moment, calculating their ages. “He cannot be forty, and I am afraid his health is quite good.”
“I always forget how young you are,” remarked Lisha. “You’re even younger than I am, aren’t you? – and a good deal younger than Jeran. I’m sure nobody would ever guess it.”
“You have so far,” said Lockwood as they drew close to the large manor house, “failed to remember my town of residence and my claim to an earldom. It hardly surprises me that you might forget something so trivial as my age. Now, we are finally here.”
To be continued...