The Remnant: Part Five
It was a gloomy, overcast day in northern Meridell and still more so above it; the customary ominous purple clouds surrounded the Darigan Citadel, reflecting a rather unsettling blood-color in the last minutes of sunset. The Citadel itself was as grey and severe as ever. Lisha, of course, knew perfectly well that it was entirely safe, and that Lord Darigan himself had been a friend to her for some time; but she found herself unable to shake the faint sensation of unease that had followed her since her arrival.
At the moment she was standing on an imposing stone balcony, observing the main town of the Citadel with a great deal of interest. It seemed peculiar to her to see so many Darigan citizens going about their business as might anybody else – the last time she had seen so many of them at once, it had been in war.
“I am always glad to see you, of course,” began Lord Darigan, “but I believe you mentioned something about which you wished to consult me?”
She scratched at an uneven place on the stone balustrade. “It’s – it was about Lockwood.” As Darigan said nothing, but instead stood silently regarding her, she was compelled to continue. “He seems to have... changed. And it isn’t only in personality; his magic... he cannot possibly have become so much more powerful in just a few weeks, and yet he has. It’s as though he has double or triple the amount of strength he once did, and Fyora knows he had more than enough to begin with.”
Darigan’s face darkened, and Lisha reflected that his anxiety was not without good cause. Lockwood had enjoyed an excellent relationship with Darigan since their somewhat unorthodox meeting a year before. Darigan had aided Lockwood in times of distress, and Lockwood had recently returned the favor by uncovering a malicious plot to frame the Darigan guards as assassins – and he knew Lockwood’s magic nearly as well as Lisha did.
“I cannot say I noticed anything of the sort when I saw him last, but then it has been a while... I surmise you haven’t mentioned any of this to him?”
Lisha sighed. “No. No, I considered it at one point, but it seemed unwise. Or rather I was simply a little – afraid. I know it’s ridiculous,” she burst out angrily, “but I am! He has somehow managed to have that effect on me from the day we met.”
Darigan shook his head wryly. “There is nothing ridiculous in that. If the truth must be told, I have been watching him very carefully since the first incident with Jeran’s curse, and more carefully still since his own curse. The glimpses I caught of it were – fantastic, but disturbing. I would not care to see his vision of the world again.”
Lisha took a deep breath. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ve done the world a favor, taking him on as a student.”
“What harm has he done anybody so far?”
“Well... none that I can think of, except possibly to himself.”
“There you are,” said Darigan with a slight smile.
“In any case... what I meant to ask you was, how is he doing it? Do you have any idea? What power source could he possibly have tapped into?”
Lord Darigan’s smile disappeared. “That I do not know. There are various possibilities, none of them reassuring. He could have stolen it from somebody else; or he might have found some type of artifact that he draws it from... I will give it some thought.”
She sighed. It was not that she had really expected Darigan to know the answer, but she had at least possessed a faint hope of it. Now it was growing late, and she had no particular wish for Lockwood to know where she had been – although, had she paused to consider it, she might have concluded that Lockwood would not bother to inquire about it, for he was never at all curious about other people’s affairs. “I had better be getting back to Meridell.”
“Of course. I am sorry I could not help you more – I will indeed consider the matter, I promise. And... Lisha,” he added. “Don’t worry too much. When it comes down to it, I believe Lockwood will always make the right decision. He has a good heart.”
Jeran opened his eyes blearily to find that he was sprawled in the grass. Further inspection revealed that it was quite late in the evening, and that he was somewhere in Meridell Castle’s training fields.
Lockwood was leaning against a tree some yards off, gazing into the distance with the most peculiar expression that Jeran had ever seen him wearing. “Are you all right?” he asked anxiously, fighting a wave of nausea to struggle unsteadily to his feet.
“Never better,” the sorcerer replied hollowly. Perhaps it was only a trick of the light, but it seemed to Jeran that suddenly Lockwood did not look quite so handsome anymore. It might have been the odd expression of something akin to horror; or perhaps it was the inexplicable impression of deterioration. He looked older, and somehow ill – and there was something sinister about the effect.
But it was gone almost as quickly as Jeran had noticed it, and apart from the natural effects of shock and exhaustion on Lockwood’s appearance, he concluded that it must have been merely an effect of the dim light.
“Well,” said Lockwood, making a visible effort to pull himself together, “what fun that was!”
Jeran slipped the amulet over his head and handed it to his companion. “I suppose I should give you this back.”
Lockwood pocketed it absent-mindedly.
“So... what are we going to do now?” Jeran continued.
“Ahh, well, that is, interesting question... Oh. I imagine we should tell somebody.”
“Yes, but who? And,” admitted Jeran, “I’m not even really sure what happened back there.”
Lockwood started slightly; most of it had, after all, been magical. “I had forgotten – you must have had very little idea what was happening.”
“I pieced together enough to know we’re in trouble,” the knight replied grimly. “How strong exactly is Mr. Sly?”
Lockwood considered this in silence for a moment, wondering how even to begin describing it. “Extremely,” he said at last, searching for terms that Jeran might understand. “In a match between myself and Mr. Sly, imagine me standing alone and him with a force of a hundred men. Which is quite accurate, since I imagine he is currently in possession of at least that many people’s magic.”
“So it’s... not his?”
“Oh, no,” he said, adjusting his cravat and cuffs. “I do not think anybody is quite that powerful. And so of course the question becomes – how in the world does he do it?”
They started for the castle, making their way across the training fields in the last remaining light.
“And he was about to try to take yours, wasn’t he?” Jeran said wryly.
“And very nearly succeeded,” agreed Lockwood. “It was only luck that he was distracted for a moment.”
“I should have run him through with my sword,” Jeran sighed meditatively, running his hand along its hilt. “Only I couldn’t tell what sort of magical protection he might have, and I was afraid it would only make things worse.”
“It would have. You might have managed to eliminate Mr. Duplicity, but our dear friend Mr. Sly strikes me as remarkably difficult to kill. I am sure he keeps some sort of shield spell running at all times.”
“Just as well you escaped when you did, then; I would certainly have done it once he started... doing whatever it was he was going to do to you, whatever the risk.”
“Touching,” Lockwood said rather nastily.
It was not often that Jeran came in for a flip of the Gelert’s acid tongue, and in this instance he philosophically attributed it not to any ill-feeling against him, but to general irritation of spirits. Lockwood was not generally snappish without provocation.
“You know,” he remarked with a sudden grin, “that list of names –”
At that moment, however, both of them spotted a small grey-clad figure coming toward them over the hill.
“Uh-oh,” Jeran said guitily. “Lisha... what should we tell her?”
“I suppose she is bound to wonder,” agreed Lockwood, in no very high spirits. “We may as well tell her everything. But – no – I need more time to consider what exactly should be revealed... Or really, I am being overcautious. She is very likely to discover everything on her own in any case...”
It was not Lockwood’s general character to be indecisive, but neither was it Jeran’s; feeling that something or other must be done, he ducked quickly into the nearest training shed and emerged with two foils.
“Catch!” he said brightly, tossing one to Lockwood.
“What?” the Gelert asked blankly, catching it more automatically than purposefully.
“Well, it will be mighty suspicious if she finds us together out here doing nothing. We’ll tell her we’ve been fencing.”
Lockwood was saved the trouble of a reply, by the simple fact that Lisha had gained the hill and was now moving quite rapidly toward them. Shielding her eyes from the late afternoon sun, she raised her voice in inquiry. “What in the world are you two doing out here?”
“Fencing,” replied Jeran, displaying his foil.
“I thought you were playing Cheese Roller.”
“As did we,” Lockwood agreed.
Lisha, surprised but seeing no reason to doubt either of them, looked from one to the other; her eyes rested on Lockwood. “You are fencing – in those clothes?”
Indeed the Gelert’s flawless black suit and silver cravat, which had somehow contrived to remain spotless throughout the day’s adventures, seemed an unlikely ensemble for outdoor sports. Here, however, the evidence of history was on his side. “Yes,” he replied simply. “I make a general policy of being well dressed, whatever I am doing.”
She could only shrug and shake her head. “Sometimes I really don’t think I will ever understand you.”
“That is just as well; I would much rather be admired and respected than understood, and I have found in many cases that the two are mutually exclusive.”
“Well,” said Jeran, comfortably certain by now that Lisha had no reason to suspect, “I’m famished. Let’s go eat.”
“Not quite so quickly!” she exclaimed. “Who won?”
Lockwood and Jeran exchanged surreptitious glances. “Jeran,” Lockwood replied firmly. “As one might expect. I, for one, would be excessively unsettled to learn that the King’s Champion had lost a fencing match to a civilian.”
“Oh,” said Lisha, who had in fact half expected, despite all odds and probabilities, to hear the reverse. However, she was quite pleased with her brother’s success and walked back to the castle with them in a state of great goodwill.
Lockwood, having spent a good part of the night in conversation with the Duchess of Vernon, returned to his own rooms rather fatigued and with a peculiar feeling of unease. The day had not gone as he had planned. This in itself was not an event to occasion him much worry, but the fact that he had so very nearly been defeated – the dilemma of what and how much to tell Lisha – the power he had expended that day – all weighed heavily on his mind.
And then there was the matter of the power he had borrowed.
What, he wondered, had he done?
Sighing, he removed his cufflinks and cravat; as he looked into the mirror, a scrap of paper on the bureau caught his eye. He turned to pick it up, and saw a totally unfamiliar handwriting, severe and precise.
I hope nothing happens to your sister, it read.
To be continued...