Duplicity: Part Six
Giles entered Meridell castle, eyes wide at the sheer scope of the building.
His father, Duke Garrington, had always told him stories about it, about its grand towers and lush, green gardens, the numerous history you could sense under every brick, but he’d never quite believed it. Giles had just always assumed that there’d be nowhere else better than his father’s palace, and he was just making it all up, as adults were wont to do.
The drawbridge itself could hold half a palace. Spiky vines cracked through the edges of the moat below, slithering through patches of shrubbery. Sunlight glittered off the golden borders of the turrets.
“Watch your step, Giles,” said his mother, a red Usul, pulling him close. “Listen, when we get in there, I don’t want you wandering, all right? Stay near me at all times.”
“Yes, mom,” replied the orange Xweetok boy.
They passed through a line of guards before entering the castle proper, where knights, squires, and servants passed quickly to and fro, their combined footsteps and chatter forming a regular rhythm that rung high up into the ceiling and echoed back down. Giles felt the duchess’s hand squeeze his tightly.
Somewhere in the traffic of people stood a royal Kyrii, Prince Rafael of Brightvale. Giles smiled the moment he spotted him and pulled his mother toward him.
“Rafael!” he yelled. “Over here! Hi!”
Prince Rafael looked up and waved.
“Giles, sweetheart, this isn’t the time to say hello to the prince,” muttered Duchess Garrington, holding her son steady. “There are more important things that we need to do.”
By the time she’d managed say these few words, Rafael was already nearby, and Giles had slipped from her hand. He ran up to the prince and jumped to give him a hug.
“Hey, slow down there, little buddy,” said Rafael. He leaned back slightly to handle the boy’s weight. “You don’t want to disobey your mother, now.”
Duchess Garrington frowned. Residue from her makeup stuck into little clumps on her fur. “No, he really does not. That last thing I want him to do is get lost here.”
Giles winced. "Sorry."
"What's the big hurry, anyway?" said Rafael. "Could you not stay for a few moments and get your bearings? You could find a place in the city quite easily, duchess, or if you would like, I'm sure there can be accommodations made here at the castle if you ask somebody."
"I did not travel here all the way from Brightden to 'get my bearings,' Prince Rafael. I came here specifically to speak to Prince Borodere as quickly as I can." The Duchess scoffed. "And speaking to you isn't helping that end."
"Ma'am, you look like you've had a long trip, is all," replied Rafael. Duchess Garrington glared at him with bloodshot, tired eyes, and he knew not to say anything else.
"She wants to know why they took dad," said Giles quietly. “We’re just all a little worried.”
Giles had never really thought of his father as a criminal, and had never even imagined that he'd be detained, let alone be detained by Prince Jeran. His mother didn't seem to think Duke Garrington did anything wrong, but Jeran wouldn't arrest anybody without reason. He was Meridell's greatest hero, the man he and all his friends liked to pretend they were. Someone fair and strong, who never gave up to evil. What could his father have done?
"Our dear regent raided Brightden and dragged him here, and I want to know why," hissed Duchess Garrington. "I'm not resting until I give him a piece of my mind. He cannot do anything like this. He cannot!"
Rafael brought his palm to his mouth. "Oh dear, that arrest--yes, yes, I've heard about it, now that you mention it . . . wait, don’t you need to seek permission before you can see Prince Jeran?
“Yes, yes, well, my secretary should be here soon.” The duchess snapped her fingers. “Secretary!” she called in a sing-song voice.
A spotted Lenny came running from behind. He was panting under stacks of paper. “I—I have that, ma’am. Here you go.”
He handed Duchess Garrington a piece of stamped paper before finally dropping to the floor. Satisfied, Mrs. Garrington grabbed her son and marched down one of the many halls leaving from the main entrance, presumably to wherever she thought Jeran was. Giles bid farewell to Prince Rafael as he was dragged through hallway after hallway decorated with portraits of unfamiliar Neopians.
“Giles, you must be at your utmost politeness whenever you meet someone important, regardless of how angry you might be at them,” his mother told him.
“But mom, I’m not angry.”
The duchess paid no heed to Giles’s protestations. Instead, she continued giving him a long list of advice, including, but not limited to, “keep your back straight,” “keep eye contact, but not too much eye contact,” “don’t talk to the servants,” and, most importantly, “keep your little mouth shut and observe the adults talking, all right?”
To all of which Giles replied, “Sure, mom.”
After what seemed to Giles like a few hours, they finally stopped walking. Duchess Garrington almost threw her letter at one of the guards standing beside Jeran’s office. The poor Draik guard tried to slip in a few friendly words and a smile, but alas, she was going to have none of it. He quietly read the letter, nodded, and in a few minutes, they were ushered into the room.
Jeran was sitting at his desk. He gestured toward a pair of seats near the room’s entrance, which Giles and his mother promptly took. Giles looked around at the many maps scattered across the walls and wondered if Prince Borodere had trouble remembering geography. If so, he and Jeran might have had something in common already.
“Duchess Garrington,” said Jeran in a neutral tone, “a pleasure to see you again. I did not expect you to come so quickly.”
“Punctuality is very important to me,” replied the duchess.
“I believe that.” Jeran turned slightly toward Giles and gave him a thin smile. “And you are Giles Garrington, I presume?”
Giles nodded, saying nothing, just like his mother told him to. He smiled blankly at Jeran for a few moments before he turned away again.
“Shy, isn’t he?” Jeran’s smile vanished. “Anyway, let’s cut to the chase, shall we, duchess? You are rightfully ireful over your husband’s detainment, and you want and explanation for it, is that right?”
Duchess Garrington crossed her arms.
“An investigation revealed compelling enough evidence that the duke was responsible for arranging the assassination at the Annual Meridell-Darigan Ball.” Jeran went on to explain the information Danner had found.
“The Fairbassuns, I cannot believe it,” commented the duchess, letting a hint of surprise flash across her face. “But those are flimsy grounds for an arrest, Prince Jeran. The evidence isn’t good enough.”
“I was getting to that,” he replied. “We managed to track down Gali’s contact, a Kacheek by the name of Tania Bakersson. She confessed that she was told to write the letter by Duke Garrington, using the Fairbassuns’ debt as leverage over Gali.”
The duchess let a hint of surprise flash across her face. Giles shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Tania Bakersson was his tutor he had known since, well, forever, it seemed like. She was always so patient and sweet with him; it was hard to imagine her arranging something so file.
“Additionally, we have records of Garrington illegally purchasing a magical artifact from Brightvale—one that could have easily been modified to cast a powerful charm over everyone at the ball, given the correct expertise with light faerie magic, which is often used to cast charms.” Jeran shrugged. “If you want to see it all with your own eyes, I will tell the captain of the guard to show you.”
Giles tried to piece together the bits and pieces of evidence Jeran had thrown at them. To him, they all sounded pretty convincing, but maybe there was something he was missing. He looked up to see his mother’s reaction for guidance, only to see that she was completely silent.
“Yes,” she said after a good while. “I would like to see it. Also, I’m allowed to visit my husband, correct?”
“Very well. I shall call for Captain Danner Toron. He has full access to all records of the investigation, and he shall be able to arrange that visit,” said Jeran. “Is there anything—?”
“Actually, I wanted to ask you something, Sir Jeran—err, Prince Jeran,” interjected Giles. “Is dad really a criminal now?”
“Giles, don’t interrupt people like that,” whispered his mother harshly. She raised a hand toward Jeran. “Sorry about this, my son is very keen on speaking his mind.”
“Like mother, like son, apparently,” Jeran rose from his seat and swung around his desk. “There is no need to apologize for him. Let him speak. Giles?”
Giles found himself stuttering over his words once he’d realized Jeran was addressing him correctly. “I know that was a bit r—rude, sorry.” When the prince didn’t say anything, he continued, “It’s just that I know dad’s a really good guy. He wouldn’t try to kill anybody.”
“I’m sure your father was very good to you.” Jeran smiled and leaned down to pat Giles on the shoulder. “If it makes you feel any better, I personally don’t think he’s responsible for it. Evidence is just that, evidence. No one has necessarily proved anything yet.”
“I’m confused,” replied Giles. “If you don’t think he’s done anything wrong, why did you arrest him? You’re kind of like a king, right? No one is making you do this.”
“Ultimately, I must leave it to the Council to decide his guilt. I have to follow what the evidence says and act accordingly and fairly, giving personal preference to no one. I can’t let my hunch override more objective fact, or else that might be seen as favoritism.”
Giles supposed that even the regent was answerable to others. “That makes sense, I guess.”
“I know it’s a bit hard to process it all, and I’m sorry to have put you and your mother through all this. But I promise that if your father is innocent, he will have nothing to fear. I promise you I’ll be as just as I can.”***
Lisha flicked some beads on her abacus and wrote down the result of her subtraction onto the data sheet: 5.29 minutes.
She sighed as she looked through the columns of data she would have to process in the same way. If only there was some machine that would do basic arithmetic for you so that she could just get on to summarizing all the data and see what it all meant.
Unfortunately, no such thing existed, and Lisha’s wrist was the main casualty. Pain shot through her wrist as she quickly computed the next line of data: 2:53:40 minus 2:48:28 . . . that goes to 5.20 minutes.
The candlelight beside her flickered. Lisha yawned and stretched out her arms in the near-darkness of the royal library. Other than the occasional Weewoo hoot, it was all deathly silent. Not even the sound of a breeze rushing through flora was present.
Dust particles passed in front of the withering candle flame. Lisha rubbed her nose a little to rid herself of the library’s stale, dusty stench. When would Lissandre come back? She said she needed to get to something for a few minutes. Well, apparently, “a few minutes” to her really meant “one or two hours.”
Not that she wasn’t expecting this. The lead researcher of the team, Levre Volnie, had warned Lisha that Lissandre might be “a bit unreliable and difficult” when it came to her estimations of time, but she’d promised her that overall, she was a worthy Neopian to work with.
So far, Volnie was correct on the former account; the latter needed more time to cement itself as fact.
Lissandre’s part of the research was an experiment to test her newly-developed mathematical model of how magic moved through time. Magical auras often appeared with the effects of any given spell, but near magical rifts, tears in the very fabric of the world, they often appeared beforehand.
The experiment itself was simple enough. At designated times, Lissandre would cast a color transformation spell on a chair one room away, and Lissandre would record when each spell’s aura showed up, and then when each spell actually took effect.
Lissandre’s model predicted that this particular spell would travel back five minutes and fifteen seconds. So far, it looked like that prediction was accurate, a fact which rather impressed Lisha. She would give Lissandre this: she had a lot of knowledge and the intelligence to know what to do with it.
The faint smell of oil jolted Lisha out of her thoughts. A rich, quiet voice followed a few soft footsteps on the carpet: “Sorry I’m a little late. I got distracted trying to figure something out . . . anyway, nothing came of it. I hope I didn’t disturb your little nap?”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” replied Lisha truthfully, though a slight yawn undermined her. “Just really bored.”
“Oh, I understand. Arithmetic isn’t really that exciting.” Lissandre put a tray on the table. On it was a jug of berry juice, two cups, and a platter filled with balls of fried dough. “Anyhow, I whipped up a few things quickly in the kitchen. You should have some.”
Did Lissandre let herself get near a Meridellian kitchen? Without some quip about how Brightvalian kitchens were much better? Lisha was impressed. “Aren’t the kitchens closed at this hour?”
“Mostly, but someone gave me a few minutes to get something ready.” Lissandre took one of her culinary concoctions and took a bite out of it. “A good enough midnight snack,” she said, her words muffled by food.
Lisha grabbed one of the dough balls. Oil dripped from it as she lifted it off. “So, uh, what’s in these?”
“Corn and sweet potato,” replied Lissandre.
“That sounds disgusting.” And not at all like anything she imagined Lissandre would ever eat.
“Just try it.”
Lisha held her breath before launching the stuffed dough ball into her mouth. She chewed on it a few times, feeling the soft texture of the mashed potatoes underneath the doughy exterior. Once in a while, she stumbled upon a kernel of corn, whose flavor actually complimented the sweet potato quite nicely.
“Tastes all right,” she said. “Kind of like something they’d sell at a carnival, but I wouldn’t think you had anything like this in Brightvale.”
“It’s a food my brother came up with,” replied Lissandre. “I grew up in an . . . impoverished area that didn’t have a lot of great produce available, so we just kind of ended up mixing together a lot of things to make meals. This was something we’d make once in a blue moon.”
Lisha grabbed another dough ball. “Your brother?”
“Well, he wasn’t really, but we were so close, we might as well have been siblings.” Sadness flashed across Lissandre’s face, but by the time the candlelight flickered, she was smiling again. “He . . . passed away a while ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to be sorry about it. What’s passed is in the past. No use dwelling there, hmm?” Lissandre sat down and grabbed her quill. “Anyway, I should get back to work. You’ve done more than your share of work for the day, and it’s late. I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t leave.”
“Neither do I,” said Lisha with a yawn. “It’s been fun.”
Her eyelids were heavy and her mind was beginning to wander into sleep. Lisha’s inner magic flowed onto her sight, and for a moment, she spotted the empty bubble where her missing magic should have been.
“Actually, I do have a question,” she corrected herself. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble?”
“Ask away,” said Lissandre, who was now writing in a notebook.
“Well, I was just wondering about something. I couldn’t find it in any references, and I figure it won’t hurt much to ask. What type of magic does a near-transparent aura belong to?”
“Does it have a color?”
Lisha shook her head. “It doesn’t. I can only describe it as like the distortion of heat in air.”
A pause. Lissandre spoke slowly: “I—I see. Where did you come across that aura?”
“I just read about it in an old legend,” Lisha lied. If that aura was bad news, it was perhaps unwise to reveal where she saw it. “It was never quite explained.”
“I see,” replied Lissandre. “Well, I don’t claim to know exactly where it comes from, but it’s said that a transparent aura like that belongs to the Three.”
The Three were supposedly a trio of invisible demons representing the vices of ambition, greed, and revenge, responsible for driving entire empires and kingdoms to extinction. Lisha believed these entities to be a complete fiction, a dumb excuse to justify why Neopians did bad things.
“You don’t actually believe that, do you?” she asked.
Lissandre responded with a shrug. “I don’t know, really. The Darigans, in my experience, seem to take them quite seriously, but there’s never been any scholarly evidence for them. At any rate, the Three don’t have to be real to appear in legend.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Legends rarely have any historical credence.”
Besides, if the Three actually existed, Jeran surely wouldn’t listen to their nonsense. He was not one to be greedy or vengeful. You could say he was bit ambitious, sure, but ambition was a good thing so long as it served a noble purpose.
But if the Three do exist, a part of her mind shot back, then this is bad news.
But they didn’t. It was impossible.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to check if that ring’s magic was malicious in some way.
To be continued…