The Traitor: Part Three
“So,” said the green Krawk, leaning back in his leather chair, “what do you have on this sorcerer?”
The blue Bruce standing in front of him shuffled his feet rather nervously. “Well, Lisha appears to trust him, sir, and he appears to be quite devoted to her. His name is Lockwood – Harlan Kingston Lockwood, with a few more middle names in there I can’t recall. He’s a shadow Gelert – tall, good-looking and all that. An excellent candidate I’d say.”
“Rich boy,” muttered the Krawk. He turned to the grey Eyrie in the corner. “Well? Will he do?”
“The question,” mused the Eyrie slowly, “is whether he will really suit our needs. Can we trust him not to give the game away, or attempt revenge? And will it be believable?”
The Krawk turned to the Bruce, tapping his claws and waiting with an eyebrow arched.
“I think – I think he won’t ruin it for us. He’s a little wily, but if we can really convince him that her life is in danger... Of course he’ll take some managing, but it works to our advantage as well, doesn’t it? Makes things a bit more credible. I don’t think he’s best known for his morality.”
“You see?” the Krawk told the Eyrie triumphantly. “You worry too much. He’ll work perfectly. Now, if we’re going to catch them we’d better start getting ready.”
It took Lisha and Lockwood only a few hours to reach the small village in which the disturbance supposedly lay, and in typical Meridellian fashion it was a lovely day: the birds were singing merrily and the sun shone on pastoral green fields and forests. A soft breeze blew over them as the alighted from the carriage.
“Doubtless I am making some terrible mistake,” observed Lockwood, “but I cannot say that I sense any magical trouble at all. In fact I have rarely encountered a spot so entirely devoid of innate sorcery.”
“No,” agreed Lisha with a frown. She turned her eyes down the road to the main part of the town, then back to the outskirts where the pastures began; there was nothing, and no sign of anything to come. “To be honest, I don’t believe anyone has used magic here for a great number of years.”
Lockwood, irritated and un-countrified in flawless black, shrugged and proposed that they make their way to the nearest inn for a meal.
As they started on their way toward The Sleepinge Mortogge, however, a troubled old Techo farmer staggered up to them quite suddenly. “Help! Help!” he called in a thin voice. “Have the mercy to help a poor old farmer!”
Lockwood, drawing back in distaste, seemed inclined to leave at once; but Lisha paused in puzzlement. “What kind of help are you talking about?” she inquired.
“M’Babaas are all turning purple,” he moaned, gesticulating wildly. “It’s a curse! Oh, lass, I was so glad to hear you fancy sorcerers were coming!”
“Ahh... well,” said Lisha. “I suppose we might be able to – correct your Babaas?”
The Techo farmer burst into tears, lifting the front of his overalls to wipe his eyes. “It ain’t enough to thank you, lass. I never been so grateful in my life!”
Catching Lockwood’s expression, Lisha said hurriedly, “Perhaps you could show us these Babaas? You see we’re in rather a hurry, and...”
“Of course, of course! Right this way, the Babaas are waiting!”
“We may as well help the poor man,” Lisha told Lockwood sternly. “Oh, come on.”
“Certainly,” sneered Lockwood. “I should like nothing better than to follow this charming man on such an obviously truthful mission into the woods. Let us disregard the fact that we both know no magic has been done here for decades!”
Lisha made no reply but followed the Techo farmer, wondering herself whether this might not be a fool’s errand. After all, Lockwood was right; it seemed such an unlikely story, and she couldn’t feel any evidence of a spell at all. Nevertheless it was always remotely possible that she was mistaken; and in any case, they had very little else to do here.
The farmer had led them for fifteen minutes or so along a winding, narrow trail when Lisha first expressed her misgivings. “Is it – very much farther?” she panted, for their guide kept up quite a pace.
“Nay, lass! It’s but a few minutes from this very spot we stand.”
“All right,” she said doubtfully, and started to walk again. But at that very moment something hit her hard and she fell to the ground, dazed.
Lockwood saw the Grarrl dart out from behind the bushes and club Lisha over the head with a branch; he raised a hand to unleash a spell, but a snarling Lupe rushed at him before he could act, forcing him to stagger back under his vicious onslaught.
The Lupe aimed a blow at Lockwood’s face and he lifted an arm to block it. To his unpleasant surprise he met a knife, and dodged quickly to avoid another slash. But he knew it was a losing battle and they had him before he could think of any magic at all likely to help him.
Lockwood opened his eyes slowly, feeling the world spin around him, aware of a splitting headache and a sharp pain in his right arm, which was tied to the other behind his back. His vision presented him with two of everything and he closed his eyes, shifting his position against the wall behind him.
An incongruous green Krawk sat in front of him, regarding him with interest. “Mr. Lockwood, isn’t it? I imagine you don’t feel very well. You must forgive us; we had to drug you, you know, or I’m afraid you wouldn’t have been at all cooperative.”
Somehow Lockwood did not feel inclined to reply.
“What an ugly scar,” remarked the Krawk, running a finger along Lockwood’s cheek. “It must have been a very deep cut. Someone really wanted to hurt you, didn’t they? But don’t worry too much; you’re very handsome otherwise.”
Gradually, because he had begun to feel a growing sense of urgency in spite of his sluggish consciousness, Lockwood opened his eyes again and tried to pay attention. He was in his shirtsleeves, his beautiful white cravat untidily disarranged, sitting quite helplessly in a small dark room that looked very much like part of a dungeon. He pondered his situation and searched for the most reasonable question.
“Who are you?” he asked warily.
“Oh, I am nobody – yet. But I hope that in future we may be the very best of friends. For now,” added the Krawk with a chuckle, “you can call me Mr. Duplicity. However, let us move on to more important matters. You will no doubt observe that at the moment you are powerless as far as sorcery is concerned.”
This was true; Lockwood was far too exhausted to reach or control his magic.
“If we must, we can continue to sedate you, and that will be perfectly sufficient to keep you out of trouble. But I think that the plight of your friend Lisha will be enough to convince you in any case.”
“What have you done with Lisha?” he snapped.
“Ah! How astute of you to ask. And here we arrive at the heart of the matter. She is safe – for now. Not conscious, perhaps, but very safe. At least I hope she is. You see, her fate rests entirely in your hands.”
“In that case, I am afraid she may be out of luck.”
“Why, Mr. Lockwood, have some trust! I have great faith in you. All you have to do is oblige us in our requests. That is all. Then you have my word that Lisha will be released unharmed – and so will you.”
“I’m very flattered,” Lockwood replied weakly. “But why exactly do you want me?”
“Because you are a very powerful sorcerer, Mr. Lockwood. We are honored by your help! Now – I’ve been advised to keep you tied up, but don’t you think Lisha’s life is incentive enough to prevent you from trying to do anything foolish?”
“So I would guess.”
“There’s a good sport.” He untied Lockwood’s hands and helped him into the chair he had occupied himself just moments before. “You rest until your head clears a little, and we’ll tell you when we need you. Sounds fair, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, very,” agreed Lockwood, rubbing his wrists where the rope had chafed them. His right arm ached rather badly and he saw that someone had bandaged it with no overwhelming amount of care; upon the whole he preferred not to investigate. Instead he looked around him, observing that Mr. Duplicity had left. The vital question, he supposed, was what these people wanted to do with his magic. Clearly it was nothing very honorable or well-intentioned; and the worst thing about the whole affair was that he would have to do it, whatever it was. Of course he could not be certain that Lisha was safe, or that they would keep their word even if he did all that they asked. He could not even be certain that Lisha had not somehow escaped by herself, though he doubted it.
But whatever the truth was, he could not risk being wrong. The stakes were far, far too high.
Naturally the whole thing had been a set-up, and they had blundered into it with frightful ease. And what a ridiculous set-up! – purple Babaas? Somebody in charge of this undertaking clearly had a very distinctive sense of humor.
And if only, he thought drowsily, he had been able to persuade Lisha not to follow the farmer.
His last thought before he drifted off to sleep was that he must look terribly disheveled.
To be continued...