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The Conspiracy: Part Eight


by jokerhahaazzz

--------

King Skarl had been informed of Illusen’s intentions; the arrangements for the evening’s banquet had been completed; and Lisha had placed the shield spells, though plagued as she did so by an uncomfortable suspicion that Lockwood was the stronger sorcerer. She had never much cared for practical magic, and this sort of magic on so many people was undeniably a strain.

     She was, at present, attempting to amuse herself with a book, but it seemed that just now even the eating habits of Crokabeks could not divert her. In truth she was worried. She could not help feeling that not enough had been made of all this uproar; it was true that Skarl had responded immediately and with great emotion, but already he appeared to have lost interest. And yet still they had no idea on what motive the assassins had acted, or what their eventual aim might be. To Lisha, it was all too peculiarly disconnected – there must be something that they were failing to see. But she did not know, Lockwood was not interested, and there was a sort of bizarre, pervasive disorganization of Meridell’s other sorcerers. She had noticed it before: while Fox and the others always seemed to know precisely what they were supposed to do, Lisha herself was unfamiliar with whatever cohesive force held them all together.

     What did hold them together? It was almost, she thought drearily, as though some unknown, omniscient figure was at the top giving them all their orders... but surely she would have known by now...

     With a start, she realized that it was nearly two o’clock. While there was nothing that Lisha was positively supposed to be doing, she had a strong impression that she should be doing something, if only for the sake of being busy. With this resolution in mind, she rose to find Jeran, and, happily, met him at the doorway of her study.

     “Oh, there you are!” he said. “I thought you might like to come see Lockwood with me.”

     “Oh, him,” Lisha replied disgustedly. “Why bother? It isn’t as though he appreciates the company – you go.”

     Jeran grinned. “Come now, you can’t stay mad at him forever. It’s only common courtesy to see how he’s getting on.”

     “I am sure he is perfectly well,” she snapped. “He always is. Although, of course, I’m sure he will pretend to be unwell for absolutely months and mysteriously get out of doing anything with a faint resemblance to work.”

     The blue Lupe yawned, leaning patiently against the doorway. “All the same, let’s go.”

     Lisha sighed and surrendered. It was virtually impossible to argue with Jeran, because, much like Lockwood (though in a remarkably different style), he simply refused to argue. Besides, she had no aversion to seeing Lockwood. She certainly did not mean to go to the trouble of avoiding him for the rest of her life.

     Lockwood was lounging most naturally in an armchair as the pretty Acara maid cleaned up the remains of his breakfast. “I’ll just dust this corner here, Mr. Lockwood, and then I’ll be done,” she called out charmingly with her dimpled smile.

     “Certainly. Sit down, won’t you?” he added to Jeran and Lisha, apparently as an afterthought.

     “I like your maid,” Jeran remarked in a slightly mischievous undertone.

     “Jeran!” Lisha cried in annoyance, then fell silent, remembering that she had nothing to say.

     “Well, how are things, anyway?” he continued.

     “I cannot complain,” Lockwood replied lazily. “Although my dearest sister has left us, I myself feel tolerably well. And how are you?”

     “So soon?” Lisha remarked. “What a shame! And how sudden!”

     “Yes, that is too bad,” Jeran agreed. “As for us, I think I speak for Lisha when I say we are quite well; and the conference is all arranged, you know.”

     “In that case how kind of you to drop by,” said Lockwood, “for in general I have noticed that people most require company when in need of some service or other. But how prodigiously charming for us all, that we are doing well! I am glad that is established.”

     “So am I,” Jeran answered cheerfully. “And with that, I’m afraid I must leave you. Lots to do, you know – oh, and Lisha! Fox would like you to put a spell on the banquet hall ceiling to make it about ten feet higher.”

     Lisha seethed, knowing full well that he had purposely waited till now in the hope that Lockwood would be persuaded to help her. “Of all the idiotic things! Our diplomatic ties with the Citadel are in a state of crisis, and he wants the ceiling higher?”

     “These things are important,” Jeran said with an innocent shrug. “What can I say? Well, goodbye for now.”

     Lockwood, rather contemplatively, watched him leave; then he asked, “Are you going to do it now, then?”

     “I suppose I may as well,” she said with dignity. “I left the book in here.”

     “Ah, yes – I know the one you mean. I did think it odd that I should have taken an interest in architectural magic, fascinating as it may be.”

     “Shut up,” Lisha said tersely. “It’s bad enough trying to do anything with you just here, let alone making unpleasant jokes.”

     “I was unaware that you found my presence so distracting.”

      “Well, it is. Your cravats are distracting and you are unnaturally good-looking.”

     Lockwood turned away with a smile; and Lisha, though rather regretting her admission, defended it hotly. “It’s true!”

     Indeed it was; Lisha, immune to Lockwood’s charms as she generally was, could not help but be occasionally overwhelmed by what she felt was unfair and almost unbelievable perfection of appearance. He was distracting, and rather intimidating as well. He was also, she knew, exceedingly vain – she had no wish to help him attain even higher levels of smug self-satisfaction.

     “I am most excessively sorry to hear it! Would it help you think if I turned around?”

     “No, but it might help if you would be quiet.” And that, Lisha thought wryly, was all he could do short of quitting the room. She was quite certain that Lockwood looked equally impressive from behind.

     “Well! It will not do to have you distracted,” he said, grinning rather wickedly, and untied his cravat, tossing it aside. “Is that better – although it is more properly an ascot?”

     “What do I care whether it’s a cravat or an ascot?” snapped Lisha.

     “I cannot even begin to express the importance!”

     Genuinely uncertain whether he was serious or not, Lisha merely maintained a dignified silence and was relieved to find that Lockwood did likewise, having apparently already abandoned their conversation for his book. She, in turn, finished the spell and departed to observe its effects. He did not inquire about the conference, and she did not volunteer information.

     ***

     It was evening at Meridell Castle, and it was not just any evening; it was, in fact, the evening of the immensely important banquet after which the final agreements were to be made. This was no doubt a great event in the minds of many, but to a certain shadow Gelert, reclining upon an armchair in a most leisurely manner and reading a book, it was a night a great deal like most others. Having pleaded illness and injury as an excuse to avoid the conference, he looked forward to a relaxing and informative evening with the books Cecilia had found for him.

     Lockwood yawned and paused in his reading as Roxie entered, deftly carrying a pitcher of sparkling red liquid, a duster, and an empty glass. He noticed, with a certain degree of interest, that the purple Acara looked lovelier than ever – small wonder that she had struck him on first sight, for she really was so extraordinarily pretty. In a lady, it would have been pleasing; in a maid it was absolutely arresting.

     “Punch, Mr. Lockwood?” she offered with her sweet, dimpled smile. “I felt sorry for you here all alone.”

     “Thank you,” he said as he took the rather full glass, having decided that it would be counterproductive to mention how much he preferred his current situation.

     “Are you feeling any better?” she asked, drawing the curtains with a graceful twirl and lightly dusting the mantelpiece.

     “Oh yes,” he replied, closing his book with a dull snap. “Very much so.”

     “It really is a shame you couldn’t go to the banquet today,” she remarked sympathetically. “But then again, perhaps you are very used to great events – I imagine they lose their excitement, sir.”

     Lockwood gave his lazy, one-sided smile. “I imagine so as well, and there is no need to call me sir. I cannot believe that you are very much younger than I.”

     “As you wish, of course,” Roxie replied. Temporarily relinquishing her feather duster, she returned to him and took his empty glass. “More punch, Mr. Lockwood?”

     “Thank you.”

     “If it would not be terribly impertinent,” she continued, with the faintest trace of amusement, “just how old are you, Mr. Lockwood?”

     Lockwood quite genuinely considered this for a moment; it had been some time since he had thought about his age. “Twenty-two – no, twenty-three...”

     “Really?” she exclaimed in unfeigned surprise. “I would have taken you for a little... older. Not to be rude, of course,” she added with a mischievous smile.

     “Not at all,” he replied good-humoredly. He felt rather drowsy and quite contented; and he simply could not help noticing that Roxie was really even prettier than he had thought she was. She put him almost in mind of someone else, but precisely whom, he could not seem to remember...

     “Well,” she said, pouring a glass of punch for herself and topping off his, “I propose a toast.”

     “Oh! How charming! And to what, may I ask?”

     “To Meridell, of course. What else?”

     Lockwood acquiesced, and the toast was drunk. Roxie, rather than returning to her duties, appeared inclined to sit gazing thoughtfully with large, indigo eyes through the window. Both of them sat in silence for a minute or two; Lockwood could not speak for the thoughts of his companion, but his own were quite pleasant.

     Quite suddenly she turned her eyes back to him. “Have you been studying something, lately?”

     “As a matter of fact, yes, in a manner of speaking... Why do you ask?”

     “Oh, it’s only... well... I wouldn’t like to be rude, Mr. Lockwood,” she said with her most engaging smile.

     “No fear,” he assured her pleasantly.

     “It’s only that you’ve been dressing differently – as often as not you are in your shirtsleeves, and today you aren’t even wearing a cravat.”

     “Is that so?” he said in some surprise, his hand moving automatically to his neck and failing to meet with the familiar silk. “Oh... it was only for a joke, you know... Lisha said something about its being distracting, and so I took it off.”

     Roxie, he saw, had a rather faraway expression on her beautiful face. “They are so exquisite, Mr. Lockwood, I couldn’t help but notice. You have just the knack of tying them... do you know, I never did learn how to tie a cravat?”

     He laughed. “There is nothing very mysterious about it, I assure you.”

     “I would not dream of disagreeing with you, Mr. Lockwood, but it looks very complicated.”

     There was something particularly appealing about her wide-eyed innocence, and he found the idea of being unable to tie a cravat quite unthinkable. “Well,” he said, “it is not complicated at all, and I will prove it to you. Here, bring me one and I’ll teach you how. You may need to know someday, after all...”

     “Does the color matter?” Roxie asked, with a slight smile at her repetition of an earlier phrase.

     “You choose,” he replied charmingly.

     She selected a deep, striking red and brought it over, watching in admiration as the fine silk slid through her fingers. “You do it from behind, don’t you? – ah, there’s even a mirror. You tell me what to do.”

     “You start like a regular necktie – you do know how to do that, don’t you?”

     “Oh yes,” she replied, slipping the cravat around his neck. “Oh! I can see I picked just the right shade. You are so handsome, Mr. Lockwood, and it suits you so well... and what next?”

     “Take the right side – yes, like that...”

     “And then... tie the knot?” she murmured – and pulled it around his throat as tightly as she could.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Conspiracy: Part One
» The Conspiracy: Part Two
» The Conspiracy: Part Three
» The Conspiracy: Part Four
» The Conspiracy: Part Five
» The Conspiracy: Part Six
» The Conspiracy: Part Seven
» The Conspiracy: Part Nine



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