The Remnant: Part Nine
“That’s everything done, Miss Lockwood, ma’am.”
It was a cold, rainy day in Knightfield, but it was the day nonetheless of Cecilia Lockwood’s departure; for she had that very morning received her brother’s letter and, though rather puzzled, deemed it sufficiently urgent to undertake the journey in the evening. The young white Ixi looked down from her seat in the carriage, and replied with a smile, “Thank you very much, Mrs. Bessett. I hope all the servants have been informed of my absence? There is really no need for most of them to remain here, while both myself and Mr. Lockwood are away.”
“Yes, ma’am. They’ve all been informed.” Mrs. Bessett was a comfortable-looking red Scorchio of middle age, placid and kindly in temperament, who had served the family since Miss Lockwood’s early childhood. Though respecting all of her masters and mistresses, Cecilia had been recommended especially to Mrs. Bessett’s warm friendliness by her own sweet nature and the interest which she invariably took in the affairs of the servants. While Mr. Harlan Lockwood could not in any fairness have been called a cruel master – for he made a general policy of ignoring the household domestics entirely – he was known to be rather whimsical, and had even on occasion dismissed various employees for no given reason whatsoever. Therefore, though the servants acknowledged Mr. Lockwood as a fair enough employer and a very handsome, genteel young man, it was Miss Lockwood whom they principally felt affection for – and indeed Miss Lockwood whom they principally saw, for the master of the house was rarely at home.
“I am very pleased to hear it. Everything is ready, then? We may go?”
“It isn’t the weather I’d have chosen, but yes, Miss Lockwood. May you have a very safe trip.”
“Oh! – as to that, I have no doubt of Mr. Green’s ability to conduct us there safely. I am not sure when I will return, but I will try to send word.”
“Very good, ma’am.” As the carriage began to move, Mrs. Bessett held on her bonnet against the rising wind and waved.
In solitude at last, Cecilia had the opportunity to consider the circumstances of her coming to Meridell Castle. Why had her brother been so adamant about her immediate arrival? It was most unlike him; in fact she had never known him to request her presence before. She thoughtfully pulled on her white gloves, listening to the raindrops above.
Quite suddenly she noticed, in the course of a passing glance through the window, that a coach had drawn up to the house. It was not one she recognized, and it appeared to have no identifiable livery; as to who could possibly calling at this time, and in this weather, it was entirely a mystery to her. For a moment she debated asking the coachman to turn around, so that she could discover the business of the unknown visitor and oblige him in whatever way he needed; however, she quickly decided against it, for haste was her only objective. She hoped that whoever it was would not be too disappointed that he had missed her.
Just before her own carriage turned the corner, Miss Lockwood watched curiously as whoever it was – the dark figure was too far away to really make out – stepped down from the coach and strode directly up to the door.
Immediately Lockwood, whose composure had not suffered at all, snapped his fingers and conjured some magical fire as a light. He held up his hand, attempting to get a better look at the scene around him – and much to his chagrin the fire simply went out.
“What is it?” inquired Miss Colton, her voice slightly on edge. “What do you suppose is happening?”
“I have no idea,” he replied. It was most puzzling – he could not imagine how or why such a simple spell should fail him now. He tried again, but to no avail; this time he could not even conjure the flames.
Cursing the chance that had led him, after so many minutes together, to leave Lisha, Lockwood wondered what to do next. It would be possible, though tedious, to make his way over to the door; he might also try to work some more spells, using more of his power; or he could attempt to find one of the other sorcerers.
He was spared the necessity of making this decision by the sudden silence that overtook the crowd. The source of their reaction was quite obvious: over on the north-facing wall, letters were being scrawled in fire, forming themselves as though by a giant invisible hand.
Mr. Sly sends his regards, the message read.
And then, in an instant, the lamps were restored and everything had returned to usual. Had it not been for the shock and horror of everybody else, Lockwood might easily have believed that he had dreamed it. For several moments, he was in full expectation of something else happening – some massive attack against the castle. Because, surely, nobody would waste such an immense amount of magic on such a useless display? Of Mr. Duplicity, perhaps, he might have believed it; of the ultra-practical Mr. Sly he simply could not.
“Lockwood!” cried an urgent voice beside him, and he turned to see Lisha, panting and clearly overwrought. “Come on, we have to find Jeran!”
He saw the sense in this, and since it was really all the same to him whether he stayed or went, he agreed with the greatest good-nature.
Though Miss Colton’s deep blue eyes reproached him, she had no choice but to give her verbal, public acquiescence. “If I may be allowed to express such a wish,” she said softly, “I hope that I will have the pleasure of speaking with you again, before I leave.”
“Undoubtedly,” Lockwood replied, not hearing a word she said – although the effect of heartfelt distress upon her pretty features was one which quite became her. Though, somehow, he had not the same interest in her company that he once had – as was the case with many things these days – he could not help feeling a slight curiosity as to what she so desperately wanted to tell him. That communication, however, would simply have to wait; for Lisha was insistent.
She led him at a quick pace out of the ballroom, through the passage and up the staircase to Jeran’s quarters, where they found the knight blissfully unaware of all that had recently transpired.
After Jeran had been acquainted with the facts, he was very much inclined to share the alarm of his sister; however, he had no more useful ideas than either of the others.
“Maybe we should tell Fox and the other Royal Sorcerers,” he suggested doubtfully. “It seems time, don’t you think?”
“I... I don’t know,” Lisha replied, biting her lip. “Perhaps Lockwood has a suggestion,” she added rather sarcastically; the Gelert had been uncharacteristically silent throughout the conversation.
Lockwood started as though his thoughts had been somewhere else entirely. “The question I suppose is this: do we have anything to tell them?”
“We still don’t really know what they’re planning,” mused Jeran. “You may have a point there.”
“After all,” Lockwood went on, struggling to return his attention to the present, “Mr. Sly is not theatrical. There had to be a reason for this display. One which, for the moment, we do not know.”
In truth, he was far more interested in the lovely icy faerie who stood directly behind Lisha, smiling at him in her cryptic way and catching his gaze in her endless white eyes. Sometimes he heard her whisper, though he could not make out the words; and sometimes, without her moving from her position some yards away, he felt her icy touch on his shoulder.
Several hours later, they had resolved upon nothing except that the morning must bring a decision. Lockwood was glad of it. He was weary of deliberating, weary in fact of conversation of any kind. How oppressively dull everything was! How stupid everybody seemed! Lisha, Jeran were tedious beyond compare; – even Nicole Colton he no longer found diverting.
Therefore he was not particularly pleased to perceive, upon returning to his room, that somebody was waiting for him. He was, however, partially reconciled to the idea by virtue of its being his sister.
“I hope you do not mind,” she said at once, smiling at him in her way. It was kind, eternally tolerant; but there was also, in the brightness of the eye, an intelligence no less valuable, giving judgment and humor to her sweetness. “Your message appeared to me rather urgent, and so I thought –”
“No!” he exclaimed at once, feeling as he occasionally did that he had never before properly appreciated her merit. “I am only pleased that you have come so soon.”
Cecilia considered rising from her seat to embrace her brother, but thought better of it; while he appeared perfectly good-humored, there was an odd note to his expression which she did not altogether like. It would be best, perhaps, to proceed with caution. “I believe you referenced my security in your letter; do you think it at risk?”
Removing his jacket and cravat, he turned to her with a rare smile. “On the contrary, you are now perfectly safe.”
“But what...” Having begun her question, however, she corrected herself. If her brother, either by inclination or necessity, did not choose to tell her, then she would not do him the injustice of asking. “I will make no inquiries; I only venture to hope that you are perfectly safe as well.”
“Indeed,” he replied confidently, removing Bunny from his seat, “I assure you that I am.”
Cecilia had, perhaps, no more compelling reason to believe him than that he was persuasive and appeared quite sure of himself; but these were reasons enough for her. A peculiar thought did occur to her, concerning the stranger who had called at her house immediately before her departure – though really, it struck her as unlikely to be important. She decided not to mention it.
In a dark, dusty room, lit by nothing more than one dying candle, a Halloween Kougra sat writing a letter in a firm, precise hand. Behind him stood a green Krawk, who was inspecting his white gloves with some chagrin.
“I don’t understand you at all, sir,” the Krawk was saying.
Mr. Sly (for it was he) calmly finished his letter and sealed it with wax. “What don’t you understand?”
“What, precisely, was the purpose of this little diversion at Meridell Castle? If you did not intend to harm anyone, then why attack at all? Why not wait until a later date and do everything at once?”
“I don’t intend to attack. I intend to bargain.”
Mr. Duplicity threw up his hands in despair. “Very well. I give up any chance of making sense of this.”
Mr. Sly surveyed his companion with cold, calculating yellow eyes. “You may as well. It’s not something that you will ever understand. If there is outright warfare,” he continued, turning back to write the address on his letter, “the peasants will be the ones who pay. That is not my intention or my desire. The only purpose of tonight was to frighten King Skarl and his nobles into surrendering when the time comes.”
“I see. And then having gained the throne you intend to give it up,” said Mr. Duplicity, his amused disbelief clear in every syllable.
“Yes. The land belongs to the people,” he replied simply, standing up and snuffing out his candle. “Now, Mr. Duplicity – now it is time to act.”
To be continued...