The Conspiracy: Part Seven
Cecilia had been shaken; and, a day after her unsettling experience, she had decided that that was all. There was really no reason to suppose that anything was wrong. The fact that Lockwood’s sorcery was unpleasant, horrifying even, in her magical vision, was not justification for believing that it was somehow inherently flawed. Indeed, the only thing which still troubled her at all, was the fact that she had seen anything on his person. For in her admittedly limited experience, doing magic was not enough to alter somebody’s magical appearance – a spell had to be cast. And in that way, it was almost as though somebody had been doing magic on him.
But Lisha, she realized, had more than enough on her mind – and Lisha, she suspected, trusted Lockwood. She was aware that their relationship had not begun on the best of notes, and, knowing Lisha, was not surprised; and so she was rather anxious that it might be preserved. It would be unnecessary and unfair to instill suspicion in Lisha, when there was no concrete evidence that anything was awry. Miss Lockwood had not her brother’s coldness, but she possessed his rationality to a high degree. She saw that, in this case, there was no reason to allow her uneasiness to interfere.
She also knew him well enough not to trust him implicitly, much as she loved him; and so she resolved, as quietly as possibly, to keep an eye on him and ascertain whether there was truly any cause for worry.
When she saw him again the following afternoon, she thought, as she had thought before, that he seemed rather preoccupied – but he was also more cheerful than he had been, and appeared perfectly pleased to see her. He was not terribly concerned by the plight of the Meridellian ambassadors, or even by the plight of Lord Darigan himself; but Cecilia, who knew Lockwood somewhat better than did Lisha, could not be surprised by this.
Fortune, however, was not on her side. Two days after what was to have been her first magic lesson, it was Cecilia’s unpleasant duty to inform Lockwood that she was leaving.
“So soon?” he exclaimed, and she was gratified to hear a note of genuine regret in his voice.
“I like it no more than you do, and I am very sorry to leave; but our mother has expressly requested that I go to her, and I will not refuse.”
Lockwood stiffened slightly, closing his book. “Oh? And what obligation are you under, that should persuade you to go?”
“None at all, Harlan; except that of common obedience to my parent, which I cannot disregard. I hope you do not think me inattentive to you, because I go so readily at another’s requirement.”
“That is the least of my worries. The irony, however, does not escape me – that you of all people should be the one at her beck and call!”
Cecilia smiled slightly, sitting down next to him. “It would be more galling to my sense of duty to ignore, than to accept it.”
“I am so excessively proud of my relations,” he remarked. “They appear, at the moment, to be engaged in competition; and though I am presently inclined to favor the amiable Lady Harcourt and her charming husband, I must put a word in for our dear mother.”
She could only laugh, and scold him – though not very seriously, it must be said. She was pleased that he had chosen to take the news humorously, given his unpredictable temperament; and although he had never once offered to take her place in these disagreeable visits, she appreciated his indignation on her account.
“When do you leave?” he inquired after a moment’s thought.
“Tomorrow – that is, if you are really feeling better.”
“Oh, yes. You need not worry upon my account. I am really perfectly well.”
And, generally speaking, Cecilia could discern no reason to disbelieve him. She regretted that she would not be at hand to observe him for a while, and went even so far as to resent her mother’s interference at such a time; but she trusted that her brother would come to no harm until she saw him again. Smiling, perfectly handsome and utterly confident, his was the very picture to remove her doubts.
“You still aren’t speaking to Lockwood, then?” Jeran asked cautiously as they picked their way along the wooded, overgrown path.
“No,” Lisha replied irritably, brushing aside a thorn that caught her sleeve. “He doesn’t deserve to be talked to. And I don’t think he particularly cares, either. I could probably drop dead right now and it would make no difference to him.”
Jeran grinned. “If he noticed, I’m sure he would care.”
“There is another point,” she muttered darkly. “Are we almost there yet?”
The Lupe nodded assent. “Just a little farther now. A nice brisk walk, don’t you think? Very pleasant countryside, too.”
Lisha, panting and covered in burs, glared suspiciously at him for a moment; then she decided that she had been spending too much time in Lockwood’s company. Jeran intended no sarcasm at all. He simply had very different notions of fun than she did.
“Are we really almost there?” she repeated plaintively, after what felt like another age had elapsed.
Jeran grinned. “Too bad you’re not quite small enough for me to carry! Look,” he said as the path opened out into a charming clearing, “here we are.”
Small animals scurried about, and bird sang in the trees. The sun shone – perpetually, Lisha suspected. But, most of all, everything was verdantly, aggressively green. She had never encountered such extraordinarily green plants in all her life; the grass was like a lush carpet beneath their feet, and every tree glowed with health. Blooming flowers surrounded them on all sides. Even Illusen’s hut was a sort of muted green color.
The door was open; Jeran strode confidently up to it and knocked. Lisha knew that he had been a frequent visitor to the Glade during his childhood, and that he still made the occasional stop by, particularly during his travels to and from the capital. Lisha, for her part, had never been formally acquainted with Illusen; Jeran had always described her as kind, and, when pressed, had replied rather evasively that all faeries were somewhat strange.
“Come in!” called a cheerful, slightly husky voice from the hut’s interior.
Lisha followed her brother in a little timidly. Illusen was evidently engaged in concocting something green and pleasant-smelling; she twirled around the small kitchen in a rather disorganized fashion, searching for ingredients Lisha had never heard of.
“Jeran, how nice to see you! And this is your sister, isn’t it? Ah, I have always wanted to meet you, Lisha. – I hope you don’t object to my calling you Lisha? I do despise last names, they are so formal and... impersonal,” she finished thoughtfully, delicately tasting her potion. “A little more salt, I think...”
Lisha, fast becoming more comfortable, thought she could understand Illusen’s appeal. The earth faerie was infectiously bright, and somehow essentially unintimidating. She was also very pleasingly pretty, with her slender waist and her charming freckles – but of course all faeries were; Lisha wondered idly if they were somehow able to choose their looks.
“Nice to see you too,” Jeran replied with a grin, sitting down in one of the small wooden chairs strewn about the room. Lisha did likewise. “What are you making?”
“Why, Honey Potion, of course. Nobody else supplies it, you know,” she added, tossing back her green-streaked red hair with a winning smile. “Only I have the recipe.”
“Very true!” Jeran said agreeably.
“And it is so very much better than the potions that... some other faeries... make...” Illusen trailed off contemplatively; then, quite suddenly, she whirled around and into a chair in one smooth motion. “So whatever did you come to ask me for? You must tell me at once and I will give it to you.”
This, Lisha thought privately, sounded like a rather dangerous proposition. However, she explained their situation quite concisely and honestly, adding that King Skarl would be most obliged if Illusen would consider being present at the conference banquet to ensure that nothing went awry.
At this the faerie clasped her hands together in delight. “And you came to me!” she exclaimed. “How charming! Of course I will help; I am very fond of dear old Skarl, you know, and of Lord Darigan too. Yes, you were absolutely right to consult me. I will attend the banquet, with pleasure.”
“His Majesty will be very grateful,” Lisha assured her. “We really can’t thank you enough. That will be tomorrow night – and until then –” She hesitated, feeling slightly rude at the question she wished to ask.
Fortunately Jeran recognized his sister’s predicament and came to her aid. “Until then, is there anything you can do about finding out what might be behind these attacks?”
Illusen frowned, leaning over the back of her chair and resting her small freckled chin on her hands. “You have placed protection spells, you say? It might be tricky... and if I arrive before the conference, why, whoever it is might realize that we are onto them and disappear until later... Where are your other sorcerers?”
“Valero and a few others are off doing something in Faerieland, and Fox is busy with other castle affairs, and Lockwood... is not likely to be of any help,” she finished shortly. “I don’t really know any of the others.”
“Mm,” Illusen said dreamily. “Lockwood... isn’t he that extraordinarily handsome shadow Gelert?”
“Yes,” Lisha replied rather unwillingly, finding herself unaccountably irritated. Or perhaps not so unaccountably – it was truly amazing how much appreciation Lockwood seemed generally able to receive for having done absolutely nothing...
“Well, you must introduce us someday. I have a great curiosity to meet him. That isn’t to say I altogether like him, but one never knows, does one? I must say he looks rather... cold-hearted.”
“You might say that,” Lisha agreed darkly.
“In any case,” resumed Illusen, “I imagine Lord Clifton has organized things somewhat better than we know, and so I am sure our precautions will be sufficient.”
Illusen stared at her for a moment, tapping her nails on the back of the chair. “Well... perhaps we shall never know.”
Lisha, having never heard of anybody called Lord Clifton, was understandably nonplussed; a quick look at Jeran confirmed that he was equally puzzled. However there seemed nothing to be done about it at present. There was some mystery here, Lisha felt certain, but perhaps it was not Illusen’s secret to divulge. In any case, the faerie moved on.
“Excellent, then!” she cried without warning, leaping up from her seat. “I will be at the conference tomorrow, and everything will work out wonderfully. I feel sure of it. My intuition never fails, you know. Would you like some Honey Potion to take with you?”
Jeran accepted, with more enthusiasm than Lisha could have mustered, and the two took their leave to the tune of Illusen’s cheerful singing.
“Better than nothing, I suppose,” Lisha muttered once they were well away from the oppressively green hut and its occupant.
“Much,” Jeran said sanguinely.
“But what wasn’t she telling us, I wonder?”
To this, her brother had no answer; and the question did at least serve the purpose, of making Lisha’s journey back to the carriage marginally less tedious than it might otherwise have been.
To be continued...