The Remnant: Part One
A yellow Aisha stood at the window, gazing out at the rain that was steadily accumulating in deep puddles in the courtyard.
“There is a painting,” she said abruptly, her voice cutting through the torpid air, “of the Meridell battlements on a grey day. I believe it is called Draik Sentinel.”
The young white Blumaroo at the table tipped his quill up with a certain degree of anxiety, wondering if he was meant to understand something in particular from the comparison. “I think I know the one you mean, Lady Borodere. Is it not in the West Hall?”
She nodded. “A rather small, depressing Draik sits alone among the stone Draik gargoyles. Various scholars have argued as to the color of the Draik, and whether he is grey or brown, and what it might signify in either case; but it puts me very much in mind of this day.”
The young Blumaroo enjoyed listening to Lady Borodere's historical, magical, and theoretical tangents, and so was obliged to own to himself that he was a little disappointed at this one's concision. Nevertheless, he returned to his work with a smile.
After a moment he lifted his head again, returning the quill to the inkwell so as not to blot the parchment upon which he was writing. “I have a question, my lady - only a small magical question; nothing official, of course. Might I perhaps ask your instruction?”
“Well,” he said, attempting with some difficulty to place his inquiry into words, “what is magic? I confess I do not quite understand how it works. Does it derive in some way from the mind of the sorcerer? Can magic exist on its own?”
She laughed. “Your small magical question is, I'm afraid, the largest of them all. I will begin at the end, as that is the least daunting. Assuming you mean to discount faeries and other creatures of magic, I do not know of any evidence that it can exist on its own. But then again, I don't suppose there would be any. Although...” She paused for a moment as though she had been about to say something and had then thought better of it. “There are anomalies. As to what magic is, there is no reason that my answer would be truer than yours.”
He scratched his nose thoughtfully. “Forgive me, Lady Borodere, for my question was phrased rather badly. What I am really driving at is - there are spells that endure for hours or days or even years - how do they exist without continuous energy from the sorcerer?”
“There are two ways. The first is to create a spell that includes the change as part of the casting; I am not sure how to explain it clearly, but it's the basic concept of most shield spells, transformations, illusions... most spells in general, really.”
She looked at the young Blumaroo squire and noticed how he was drinking it all in, listening attentively, entranced by the sheer pleasure of learning what tidbits of sorcery she chose to throw him. He was, she thought, the perfect pupil.
Only too late.
“The second is to create a magical artifact; and the advantage of this, aside from virtual indestructibility, is that it will last long after the death of the sorcerer.”
“Like the Grimoire of Thade?” the squire suggested helpfully.
“Yes - a commonly referenced example. Of course, the Grimoire of Thade is a bit unusual in that as far as we know its creator did not give his life in the making... Whatever the case, the price is high; greater, some believe, than the rewards. The sorcerer gives a part of himself to the creation, you know, and it isn't easily regained...”
There was a slight pause. Then, rather reluctantly, “Magical artifacts were a specialty of the late Mr. Lockwood.”
“He was - your student?” the Blumaroo asked with hesitation. Lady Borodere rarely mentioned him, but Mr. Lockwood was considered quite infamous and it would have taken supernatural strength of character not to be roused into some sort of curiosity by the stories that circulated Meridell Castle.
“Yes,” she replied colorlessly.
“Oh,” he said tactfully. “I have heard that Mr. Lockwood was very brilliant. I must,” he added with a wry smile, “be a bit of a disappointment to you.”
Lisha turned around sharply, studying the squire's face with her kind, earnest gaze. “Lockwood was very brilliant - and very witty - and very handsome - and very arrogant and very cold. Cold above all else. I would not wish upon you any quality of his, any more than I would wish his fate upon you. Never lose your heart, Digory. Believe me when I tell you it is your greatest strength.”
He saw how serious she was and nodded quickly. “Yes, my lady. Thank you. I try to do what seems right.”
“I ought to know,” she continued with a slightly hollow grin. “Jeran is my brother, after all. Goodness knows he didn't get to be the King's Champion by being cleverer or stronger than other knights.”
“I am sure I appreciate Sir Jeran's courage.” Digory considered thanking her profusely for what he felt was a very great compliment, but then decided it might be rather immodest, as she had not made it directly and he might always be mistaken in his impression. Nothing could be more obnoxious than assuming a compliment where none was intended. Therefore he decided to take the conversation in another direction, one about which he was still quite curious, and had been for some weeks now. “What - what happened to Mr. Lockwood, my lady, if I might ask?”
Lisha turned back to the window, and for several long moments he thought that she would not answer. Then at last she spoke.
“Look your best, dear,” her mother whispered urgently under the cover of the more engaging conversation across the table.
“I am trying, Mother,” Miss Richardson replied patiently. “I am certainly doing my best. There is only so much one can do, you know.”
“Think of the earldom!” she hissed. “You will never find a richer man, or a handsomer. But you must keep your wits about you, dear - you know he has a reputation for...”
“Mother!” Miss Richardson exclaimed with urgent quietness.
If it be assumed that she was referring to the shadow Gelert at the head of the table, there is little doubt that she was correct; for he was, indeed, quite amazingly rich and strikingly handsome, and Miss Richardson was obliged to confess that the scar on his cheek and his rather satirical air did nothing at all to spoil his charms. And he was, moreover, a Royal Sorcerer - or at least he was meant to be - or would be soon - it did not signify in any case. As she felt that her mother's wishes and her own would be best served by participation in the conversation at hand, she turned toward those speaking.
Mrs. Hansborough, a rather stout Lenny of middle age, had captured Mr. Lockwood's attention and appeared to be engaged in pressing him for a display of sorcery.
“I have the greatest desire to see magic done, Mr. Lockwood! You cannot conceive of my interest in the subject! Only consider how much pleasure a small act on your part will give us all - I am sure you cannot refuse.”
“Yes,” interpolated Lady Winters, “for we are sad creatures, and have no such talents as yours. We have never seen magic in our lives.”
Mr. Lockwood smiled his sardonic, lazy half-smile. “But you are mistaken, my lady. I protest that you are quite entirely wrong. There is no place more saturated with magic than Meridell Castle.”
“Oh!” protested Mrs. Hansborough, waving his objection aside, “but I am sure that is not at all what we mean. Ancient magic is all very well; we wish to see it done.”
“An interesting object! And to what end, may I inquire?”
“Mr. Lockwood!” Lady Winters exclaimed reprovingly. “Now you are simply being ridiculous. It is most excessively cruel of you to tease us like this.”
“Indeed it is,” put in the Duchess of Wright, a sleek brown Xweetok who was generally renowned as the loveliest woman in at least seven counties and whose charming attractions entirely made up for any deficit in other areas. “I can see that you do not intend to humor us, though we wish it so immensely! Oh, Mr. Lockwood - won't you do it? As a personal favor to me?”
“Ah, but there you have him, your Grace,” Lady Winters remarked with a slight smile. She was a rather bewitching young red Kyrii with a defined sense of humor; and, if her mind had never been improved by anything but idle chatter, it was at least idle chatter of the sort requiring a certain amount of wit. “I believe Mr. Lockwood delights chiefly in being unpredictable. You have hit upon the very thing that he is unable to resist, by telling him that he will not.”
“Yes,” said Lockwood, with an arch smile that was perhaps not altogether kind in the sentiments it expressed. “I must compliment you upon your cleverness, your Grace. You leave me no choice at all, particularly when my contrariness is compounded with the inconceivable honor of doing you a personal favor!”
The Duchess remained happily unaware of the sorcerer's mockery and only smiled at him with dazzling blue eyes. “Oh! whatever will you do? I hope it will be something very exciting!”
“I have a great fancy to see Lady Winters as a Weewoo,” Lord Winters cried jovially.
“As do I; a most estimable wish,” agreed Lockwood. “But as I am not at all convinced of Lord Winters' ability to take care of himself, I am very much afraid I must decline. No - bring out the cards, and we will have some magic.”
The cards were duly brought out, and everybody seated around the table waited with varying degrees of anticipation for what was about to take place. And what was about to take place? - that, of course, was the great question; there was no telling what Mr. Lockwood might do. Certainly he had a quality to him that was almost like sorcery in itself, for there was never any guarantee as to what he might say or do next. He was amusing to the point of hilarity, particularly tonight, and his humor was appreciated all the more for its inconsistency. It was only for the evening to tell whether he would stay in his chambers in seclusion, or take the head of the company - the only thing that did not vary was the fact that, when Lockwood did choose to appear in public, he was the leader of all conversation and the center of all attention.
Tonight he surpassed himself; he fairly seemed to glow. He had never been so vivacious or so handsome as he was now. The cut of his suit and the particular shade of his silvery cravat might very possibly have brought tears to the eyes of a master tailor, but it went beyond that - it was as though he had ten times the amount of energy that he had ever known before.
A game of Cheat was proposed, and the Scorchio footman dealt the cards. For a moment everybody was silent.
“I do not think this is possible,” stated Lord Winters, placing his hand down on the table. “Therefore, Lockwood, I congratulate you.”
Assured that theirs was a shared experience, everybody began remarking and crying in joyful amazement all at once. Mr. Lockwood simply observed, with the faint, amused smile that he had so completely perfected.
“All of my cards are the Queen of Diamonds!” exclaimed Mrs. Hansborough.
“Truly? All of yours too?” said the gentleman on her left.
“But how marvelous! However did you do it, Mr. Lockwood?” inquired the Duchess.
“Ah!” he replied. “The explanation would be a true feat, and so you must tell me if one ever comes your way.”
“I protest I do not understand you at all!”
“I have seen a great many decks of cards in my time,” remarked Lord Winters, “and never one quite like this. The design is certainly unusual.”
He held up one of the cards for Lockwood to see; the Gelert stared for a moment, then laughed. “Unintentional, I assure you - I must have encountered it somewhere before. One of countless pieces of evidence that magic does not always come out precisely as intended.”
The design of which Lord Winters spoke was indeed unusual, for it was in peculiar shades of white and black, and the diamonds in the corners appeared much more real than was common or perhaps than was altogether comfortable. The queen herself was a lovely faerie, also oddly monochrome; her cloak was dark, but her eyes were impossibly white and strangely alive. There was also something distinctly unsettling about her expression - malicious was not the correct word, and yet there was no other more suitable. She held a red, red rose in her pale hand, one vivid splash of color in the colorlessness.
“I think they are quite beautiful,” remarked Miss Richardson mildly. “One so rarely sees a really pleasing playing card.”
“You ought to have done the Queen of Hearts,” was Sir William's comment.
It appeared that everybody had something to say, and everybody was most excessively pleased by the small piece of sorcery. A discussion about the merits of various cards and their suits ensued, and at the end of it they were all pleasantly secure in the knowledge that they would have a great deal to talk about the next day.
“Well, Lockwood,” said Lord Winters with a grin, “I do hope you'll forgive me if I never play cards with you again. I am afraid you can't be trusted.”
It was rather ludicrously late by the time that Lockwood returned to his own chambers; and, just as he was removing his coat, he received the unpleasant shock of realizing that somebody was there waiting for him.
It was a well-dressed, unobtrusive green Krawk, seated calmly on Lockwood's sofa with an air of great politeness and a faint look of amusement. “You have a truly amazing quantity of neckties,” he remarked, “each as beautiful as the next. I've been looking at them, you know. Do you choose them all yourself?”
To be continued...