The Remnant: Part Two
Lockwood stood frozen for a moment, caught between apprehension, anger and the sheer impudence of it.
“I do hope you’ll forgive the intrusion, Mr. Lockwood,” said the Krawk. “It’s only that we’re such good friends, I knew you wouldn’t mind.”
“Mr. Duplicity,” Lockwood began rather hoarsely. “Intimate friends as we are, what is it exactly that makes you think I won’t turn you in to the guards as we speak?”
“A very silly suggestion! Whyever would you bother with guards? I am sure you could deal with me, as the expression goes, perfectly well by yourself. And as you know that I know this, you simply must be convinced that I come in good faith.”
“Oh! yes; I seem to remember similar assurances when you kidnapped me and held me hostage for a week.”
Mr. Duplicity smiled affectionately at him. “You are always so amusing, Mr. Lockwood. I knew from the beginning that you and I would get along. Mr. Tricks, between the two of us, was a shade too violent for his own good – really quite unpleasant to be in company with. But you! – you are witty, amusing, civilized...”
“Fascinating,” Lockwood replied coldly. “However if you have come here to tell me this, I assure you that I already know.”
The truth was that in his heart of hearts he was really a little afraid of Mr. Duplicity, as perhaps Mr. Duplicity was of him; and there was, moreover, a touch of that mutual admiration the Krawk so often alluded to. Lockwood was no Lisha. He recognized that Mr. Duplicity had broken any number of laws and would likely do a great amount of harm in the future, but he recognized also that he was interesting. The idea of turning him over to the stolid, unimaginative castle guards was thoroughly unappealing. Had he feared any immediate danger, he would no doubt have felt differently; but, whimsical as Duplicity was, Lockwood saw no reason to disbelieve him at present.
Mr. Duplicity’s sweet, toothy smile widened and became sweeter and toothier still. “Why, no, now that you should mention it. I came to warn you.”
“How clever of you!”
“Yes, I rather thought so... You see, the present Mr. Sly does not have the charisma, the presence of his father; and in any case I find myself tiring of the little game. I have other interests to pursue, you understand, at home on Krawk Island – Meridell’s climate does not suit me. But Mr. Sly is not keen on letting me go, charming as I am. Mr. Sly, moreover, has his methods... in short I would prefer to allow others to wage this particular war.”
“By which I suppose you mean me. I am infinitely flattered; do you have any other honors to confer?”
“Not at the moment, thank you. But in any case, Mr. Sly will soon be making a serious bid for the throne. I would not like you to be taken unaware. I know nothing of magic, of course, but I believe he is a very powerful sorcerer in his own right. And of course,” in a rather confidential tone, “he has, shall we say, borrowed a great deal of power from others.”
As Lockwood turned to the Krawk it seemed as though there might have been a certain gleam in the Gelert’s eye; but it vanished almost before it became perceptible. “Is that so?”
“Oh! yes, to be sure. In any case, he has taken the measure of your Royal Sorcerers and he seems quite confident that he can overpower you all.”
“There is nothing so generally pleasing as confidence in one’s abilities, and so I rate Mr. Sly as very fortunate. And when are we to expect this interesting meeting?”
Mr. Duplicity’s smile dropped just a notch. “I’m afraid I am not entirely sure. He has been most vexingly secretive about his actual intentions – but I expect it will be sometime soon.”
“Very trying for you, I am sure,” Lockwood answered dryly. “And now perhaps you will do me the honor of leaving before anybody comes and I am thrown in the dungeons again.”
“But of course, Mr. Lockwood. I would never in the world dream of inconveniencing you.”
“Yes – so our many long years of intense friendship have proven.”
Mr. Duplicity put his hat on and took up his gloves. “I do hope you will consider what I have said. You can have perfect confidence in me, you know.”
His overtures met only Lockwood’s blank, sarcastic stare, and he decided that it was time to depart.
Lockwood simply looked on. In truth he was rather preoccupied, for he could not shake the conviction that he was being watched, or the peculiar sensation at the back of his neck; and as he gazed into the mirror he saw something shadowy out of the corner of his eye.
The clock struck four. He loosened his cravat and sat down with a sigh, wondering exactly how idiotic he had just been. If Mr. Duplicity had been lying – and what reason in the world did he have to be truthful? – then no doubt Lockwood had somehow played entirely into his trap. If he had simply caught him and forced the truth out of him... And yet, at the same time, it struck him that deception would have been too blatantly obvious for Mr. Duplicity. He was so capricious that in dealing with him the expected and the unexpected were bizarrely reversed...
By this time Lockwood found that he could not think at all for tiredness, and determined to go to sleep and ponder it further in the morning. He had at least the comfort of knowing that, whatever happened, he had not been entirely duped. He had seized the opportunity to place a tracking spell; and, for the moment, that would simply have to be enough.
It was a generally known fact that Lockwood was not at his best before, during, or shortly after breakfast. Nevertheless, Lisha summoned up the courage to bid him good morning.
“It’s nearly two o’clock,” she observed, sliding into a chair next to him. “I was just considering having lunch.”
He set aside a moment to deliver to her a thoroughly Lockwoodesque stare, then returned to his bacon. “If you find it at all comforting, I cannot possibly have gotten more than eight hours of sleep.”
“Only eight hours! Heavens forbid. How late did you stay up, anyway?”
“In the first place, I did not sleep at all soundly; and in the second, I woke up perhaps an hour ago. If you care to make the calculations, which I have no doubt will bring you great joy...”
“Oh, honestly!” Lisha exclaimed. “Forget I ever mentioned it. You are really so contradictory that I can’t imagine how you ever contrive to answer a simple yes or no question.”
Lockwood did not exert himself to reply, and for some moments they remained in silence. Then quite abruptly he inquired, “Would you happen to know what your brother is doing today?”
She shrugged. “Not much, as far as I know. Why do you ask?”
“I have quite suddenly been seized with a violent urge to play Cheese Roller,” he answered sweetly.
Lisha stared at him for several seconds in sheer incomprehension. “Are you going to wear that? – no, don’t answer, I don’t really want to know.” Then, after a serious and unsuccessful effort to suppress several violent emotions, “I cannot possibly imagine you playing Cheese Roller.”
“You are quite mistaken. I enjoy a game of Cheese Roller of all things.”
She regarded him thoughtfully and then consulted her childhood memories of Cheese Roller; principally she recalled a great deal of sliding in the mud and having her cheese knocked away by Jeran. However, she was not necessarily inclined to object either – it would be quite useful to have Lockwood occupied elsewhere, as Lisha had her own particular errand to run that day. Nevertheless, his motives were impossible to decipher. And then, concluding that after all Lockwood was Lockwood, she shrugged, raised her eyes toward the heavens, and gave up the subject.
It was a lovely sunny day in the usual style of Meridell weather – for, when it was not pouring rain, it could generally be counted upon to be very fine – and Jeran was practicing his archery rather aimlessly on the training fields. Archery was a weak point of his, and it was a sad truth that he did not practice it often; like many before him, he derived little satisfaction from activities in which he was not particularly skilled. However, as a pastime he enjoyed it tolerably well, and in any case he felt it was his duty as a knight to remain at least reasonably proficient, and so that was where Lockwood found him.
“Oh, hello,” said Jeran, missing his shot. He had the uncomfortable feeling that Lockwood was regarding him critically, and thought it quite possible that Lockwood was an excellent archer... He was, after all, so generally good at everything else...
“Good afternoon,” the sorcerer replied. “Lisha believes that we are playing Cheese Roller together.”
Jeran blinked as he nocked another arrow. “Er... is that so?”
“Oh, excessively so.”
He let it fly rather distractedly and was most exceedingly surprised to see it punch through the target in a perfect bullseye. “I would call that cheating,” he remarked, “except I’m not sure it qualifies, since you weren’t doing it for yourself.”
“Consider it a gift,” Lockwood replied succinctly, “and perfect proof that your archery skills are in good order.”
“In that case, thank you.” Jeran grinned, relinquishing his bow without very much regret. He walked slowly alongside Lockwood and considered what he had just heard. “Did you tell Lisha that we were going to play Cheese Roller, or is it a... misconception?”
“I told her – quite personally, in fact. I hope she is duly honored.”
“Oh,” said Jeran doubtfully. He could not imagine that the slender, impeccably dressed Gelert actually wanted to play outdoor sports with him, but on the other hand could not imagine what reason he would have for lying. “Is your leg better, then?”
“Oh! yes, entirely; which is quite fortunate as I anticipate that we may be doing some running.”
“So you do really want to play Cheese Roller,” was all Jeran could think of to say.
“No, I want to do something very dangerous, and I am paying you the compliment of inviting you to join me. What better proof of goodwill? In any case,” Lockwood resumed, “I have reason to believe that the new Mr. Sly means to attempt a takeover, and I would like to go and spy on him.”
The reader may at present be puzzled as to why Lockwood desired to conceal his intentions from Lisha, and if so as to why he should choose to confide in Jeran. His reasoning was in fact simpler and clearer than the reasoning behind such deception generally is; and it was, that he did not wish to tell anybody about his short interview with Mr. Duplicity. Lisha could not be lied to when it came to magic – as soon as they followed his spells she would realize instantly what he had done. Jeran, as King’s Champion and no less importantly as a good friend, was a highly acceptable second choice. Lockwood had toyed with the idea of going alone, but on the whole it was simply too risky; and besides, Jeran was very capable in a crisis.
Therefore he explained quite coolly (for he was of course an accomplished liar, just as he was accomplished at everything else) that he had acquired the information through rather dubious forms of magic unlikely to please Lisha, but that he considered it worth investigating and wished for the company of the knight.
Jeran agreed readily enough to the escapade. An adventure of this sort appealed to him, and he had in truth been wanting employment. “I won’t mention it to Lisha,” he assured Lockwood. “I know how she can be.”
“Consider me profusely grateful,” Lockwood replied, more relieved that he cared to admit.
Jeran, ever practical, moved on to technicalities. “When are we going, then? And how will we get there?”
“I was hoping we might contrive to go this very afternoon, and I am afraid that we will probably have to settle for my magical transportation.”
“That strikes me as quite convenient,” Jeran agreed cheerfully. He was worried about the kingdom, of course, but he had every faith that if there were anything going on they would take care of it. In the meantime he saw no reason not to enjoy himself.
“Convenient!” repeated Lockwood with an outright laugh. “I am very much afraid you have yet to experience it. My hope is that we will arrive in one piece.”
“Ah,” said Jeran with a touch less cheer. “Yes. That sounds desirable.”
To be continued...