The Traitor: Part One
Miss Elaine Roderick was the daughter of one of Brightvale’s most celebrated Dukes; she was charming, intelligent, accomplished and, to crown it all rather delightfully, she was a sorceress.
It was perhaps Miss Roberta of Brightvale who had first inspired her to greatness in the field of magical achievement, but it was a Mr. Harlan Lockwood of Meridell who had kindled in her the brilliant idea of receiving magical instruction at the hands of a renowned sorceress. Expectations to the contrary, these hands were not to be those of Miss Roberta; for Miss Roberta, being in effect Brightvale’s only sorcerer, was far too occupied in matters which for the sake of Miss Roderick’s vanity could not be called more important, but which were indubitably more urgent.
Duke Roderick could not bear to see his dearest daughter’s hopes disappointed, and so he wrote to his most intimate friend Lord Axelbury at Meridell Castle with the suggestion that the famed Lady Lisha Borodere might consent to take on Miss Roderick as a pupil – for an appropriate fee, of course. Lord Axelbury wrote back assuring him that nothing could be simpler; that King Skarl was wild about the idea; and that Lisha herself was the greatest sorceress in Neopia and Miss Roderick would be instantly delighted with her.
Matters were arranged with appropriate speed and Miss Roderick, who took pride in being a lady of action, prepared immediately for her sojourn in Meridell. Therefore the day arrived, quite quickly, upon which she was intended to leave.
“I do not want another pupil,” Lisha announced gloomily. “One is quite enough. More than enough, in fact, particularly when he is insufferably vain and self-centered.”
“I am quite excessively of your opinion,” agreed her current insufferably vain and self-centered pupil. He was an arrestingly handsome, exquisitely dressed shadow Gelert whose only noticeable defect was a rather ugly scar along the side of his face. At the moment he was reclining in an armchair with a book and a cool drink, the very picture of languor and ease.
Lisha had not Lockwood’s philosophical capacity to relax under the most trying circumstances, and she found herself unable even to concentrate on Kyrii Magic Tricks. “Of course she is very rich,” she told Lockwood. “And terribly spoiled, I imagine.”
“I have no doubt of it,” replied Lockwood complacently.
“Not that you are listening to anything I’m saying. Lockwood!” she exclaimed.
He did her the extensive honor of looking up from his book. “May I help you in any way?”
“Yes – you may answer me in the manner ordinarily dictated by a conversation.”
“I am not aware of having done anything extraordinary. Conversation in general requires very little thought and no concern at all for what others have to say.”
Lisha could find remarkably little evidence to discredit this cynical observation, therefore she merely continued. “Aren’t you at all bothered by this entire thing? I was given no say in the scheme, and for that matter neither were you!”
“I would not dream of being consulted upon any subject. I am excessively fond of surprises, particularly unpleasant ones.”
“All Skarl had to say about it was that this Elaine Roderick was very important and very rich, which I cannot see as any sort of incentive given that I wouldn’t dream of charging for my services!”
“Perhaps not,” Lockwood agreed. “Fortunately the Royal Treasury has already assumed responsibility for your fees.”
Lisha frowned in irritation at this enigmatic comment. “What in Neopia do you mean? And how would you know? It isn’t as though you pay for this.”
“In that respect you err.”
“What?” she exclaimed. “You aren’t telling me you give the Treasury money for my teaching?”
“That is precisely the case,” he replied.
“Well!” Lisha took a moment to reflect on her extreme irritation at learning this fact. It was obvious that Skarl had been keeping the truth from her purposefully, on the grounds that she would have objected to it; and the idea that he had been accumulating gold for her work was quite infuriating.
“And you never thought to mention this to me?” she snapped at Lockwood. “Never once in all these months?”
He sighed. “Frankly I had not the least idea of your ignorance until this very minute. It never occurred to me.”
“I’m not surprised! It’s absolutely outrageous,” she fumed. “I’m amazed that even –”
At that moment, however, one of the castle servants entered to inform them that Duke Roderick’s daughter had arrived; and, furthermore, that she was at this very moment waiting to meet them.
Lisha, rather taken aback, had only the composure to stammer assent. Into the room swept an imposing yellow Zafara in an elegant dress, her pale golden hair piled into an elaborate coil. “I do hope you’ll forgive me for barging in on you in such brazen fashion,” she said immediately. “But you simply must, you know, for I am hopelessly impatient.”
Lockwood was invariably polite – and he was so now as he greeted Miss Roderick – but Lisha began to receive the distinct impression that he did not care for his new colleague in the least. Perhaps in some unconscious way his contempt reached Miss Roderick’s perception, for, although she was of a temperament remarkably ill-suited to any sort of timidity, she shot Lockwood a rather uncertain look as she seated herself.
“I do hope you are enjoying Meridell Castle?” inquired Lisha with all the courtesy she could muster.
“Certainly – it is quite charming. Of course it is not like Brightvale, oh no! – but that could hardly be expected. Do you know, in a number of ways I almost prefer Meridell’s rustic appeal.”
“Brightvale is indisputably more sophisticated, to be sure,” remarked Lockwood, in a manner which Lisha, at least, recognized as unpleasantly sarcastic. “I confess myself rather surprised that even the appeal of Lady Borodere was sufficient to lure you here. I surmise, however, that it was?”
“Oh dear, yes,” replied Miss Roderick, turning to Lisha with satisfied approval. “Father had heard that you were quite the most accomplished sorcerer in the land. What a thing for Meridell! – not that I would wish to be at all insulting, of course, but Meridell isn’t really known for its scholars, is it?”
Lisha felt hot indignation rising in her, but sternly resolved to keep her temper at least for the time being. “I suppose Meridell is better known for its knights. But of course, I have heard that Roberta of Brightvale is very –”
“Miss Roberta of Brightvale is more highly esteemed that I can possibly express, and a sorceress of rare caliber! Unfortunately she did not have the time to instruct me, you see; and of course I have heard excellent things about your teaching.”
“Thank you,” said Lisha, who was beginning to think that Roberta of Brightvale was quite intelligent. Miss Roderick was silent for a moment, regarding the bookcase across from her chair, and Lisha took the opportunity to study her student more closely. She was not exactly pretty, but her confident air rendered her just as commanding as if she had been a great beauty; it was clear that she was accustomed to being obeyed, and equally clear that she had no compunction whatever about giving orders.
In some particulars Miss Roderick could almost have been called similar to Lockwood, reflected Lisha with no very great satisfaction – only similar in the most undesirable ways. She had much of Lockwood’s arrogant self-assurance, but very little of his poised self-awareness and virtually none of his saving ironic wit. In fact, Lisha was coming to believe that she had rarely met so unlikable a person in all her life.
“King Hagan is quite obliged to you, by the by,” Miss Roderick told her as though she could conceive of no greater compliment. “It will be after all excessively beneficial to have more sorcerers in Brightvale.”
“I am very glad to hear it,” answered Lisha shortly.
“What a charming establishment you have here! It is so very cozy and out of the way.”
“Thank you, or rather I am glad you like it, as you will no doubt be spending a great deal of time in it. It has its points.”
“Well!” said Miss Roderick, rising from her chair. “I really must be going, you know, to ready myself for dinner – but I am very pleased to have made your acquaintances. Lady Borodere – Mr. Lockwood.”
She exited as majestically as she had entered, leaving Lisha to bury her head in her hands. “I have the most unbelievable luck!” she exclaimed.
“In what manner, may I inquire?” said Lockwood languidly. “I look forward to a great many meaningful conversations with Miss Roderick, and I am quite convinced that you should do likewise.”
“Oh!” cried Lisha furiously. “How can you say such things! I can’t imagine anyone worse. I don’t know what to do! How can I possibly teach her, even assuming that she consents to learn – which strikes me as quite unlikely! Oh Fyora, Lockwood, how I despise the girl!”
“Is that so? For my part I find her quite delightful. Charming – unassuming – sophisticated in mind and manner; – one could not possibly wish for a better colleague.”
To be continued...