DECIDE FOR LIFE

It was like no court Rodvard had ever seen. Behind a simple table sat
two of the men in grey, their features calm and strangely like each
other. At the end, one with an inkpot and sheets of paper before him
wrote down Rodvard’s name as it was given. The guards at either side
carried no weapons but short truncheons and daggers at the belt. The
burly mate was already in one chair, looking truculent, with a pair of
Kjermanash sailors beside him, one of them a fat-faced lad, unhealthy of
appearance. A man of negligent air, richly dressed, occupied the end of
the table opposite from the writer. There were no other spectators and
the proceeding began without ceremony when one of the Initiates asked
simply what was charged against Ser Bergelin.

“Mutiny,” said the mate. “I gave the rat a task to do, which he flatly
refused.”

The well-dressed man said; “It is Dossolan law that cases of mutiny at
sea be tried by the captain of the ship, who bears judicial powers for
this purpose; else mutiny would spread through a ship. I would have your
writer here record that I make formal demand for the body of this
criminal, in accordance with the treaty of amity and respect between
your nation and the Queen, my mistress.”

One of the grey men said calmly; “Be it recorded. Record also that the
treaty declares none shall be delivered before the adjudgment of guilt,
for though we be all criminous, it is not love’s desire that men shall
exploit each other for anything but sins determined as such by the word
of human law.”

(The well-dressed man’s eyes said utter disgust.) His lips said; “How
can there be an adjudgment before trial? It is to try him that we demand
him.”

The second Initiate spoke. “This young man has placed himself in the
protection of the domain of Mancherei. Before he is delivered for trial
there is required proof of a wrong-doing that would merit sentence. Is
there such proof?”

“Why, damme, yes!” said the mate. “I saw the fellow do it; I heard him
refuse my order. Here are two of my crew to say as much.” He swept a
hand toward the Kjermanash, who began to cackle at once, but the first
Initiate merely nodded to the writer, who laid the pen down and clicked
at the pair in their own tongue. When they had answered, he said; “They
declare it is true that Ser—” he consulted his sheet “—Bergelin was
ordered to repair a mast, and he refused.”

The Initiate looked at Rodvard (and not a thing could he read behind
those cold eyes, though they seemed to pierce him through), saying, “The
evidence is sufficient for a trial unless you can contradict it.”

Said Rodvard; “I could not make the repair. I did not know how.”

The Initiate; “That is a question for the trial to determine; no reason
for not hearing the case.”

The mate guffawed. Cried Rodvard, in despair; “But sers, this captain—I
pray you . . . it is not for this . . . he is . . .”

“You shall clearly speak your trouble; for it is the will of love that
nothing is to be hidden.”

Rodvard felt the rosy flush light up his cheek. “Well, then, it is not
for any failure of duty that this captain pursues me, but because I
would not be the partner of his unnatural lust.”

With an exclamation, the ambassador of Dossola brought his hand down on
the table, and the hard-faced mate gave a growl, but the Initiates were
as unmoved as mountains. One of them said; “No lust is more natural or
less so than another, since all are contrary to the law of love, and the
soul in which love runs full tide may and should give to this unreal
world of matter all that it desires, without imputation of sin. Yet we
do find that if the wrong cause for this trial has been stated, there is
a basis of appeal to our law. We would hear of this further.”

He signed; the writer spoke to the Kjermanash, while the mate glared
venom at them, his glances darting from one to the other. The seamen
seemed hesitant, especially the fat young one, to whom the writer
chiefly addressed himself. Though Rodvard could not understand a word,
the voice-lilt told clearly enough how the tale was going. Now the lad
began to catch at his breath and sniffle, saying a few more words. The
mate’s head turned slowly round (hardest murder staring from his eyes),
while his hand slid, slid toward belt and knife—

“No!” cried Rodvard. “He’s going to kill him!” The mate leaped snarling
to his feet, bringing out the knife with the same motion, but Rodvard’s
shout had quickened the guards. One stepped forward, striking with his
truncheon, while the other seized his man from behind, arm around neck.
A roar from the mate, squeaks from the Kjermanash, and with a crash of
heavy bodies, the big man was down and firmly held, cursing and trying
to wring a broken hand. One of the Initiates said serenely; “This is an
act of self-accusation”; then to the writer; “Do these also accuse?”

“Yes, Brother. The lesser one says that he has been this captain’s
catamite and that Ser Bergelin was cabin-keeper to the captain and must
have been solicited to such purpose, for this was his custom with all.
They say further that an order was given to throw Ser Bergelin into the
sea. Further, they say they were instructed as to what they should
report on the repairing of the mast.”

“Love is illumination,” said the Initiate. His companion; “Our decision
is that this mate shall pay a fine of ten Dossolan scudi for ruffling
the peace of this court; but for having brought false accusations
against one under the protection of the Prophet, he shall be submitted
to detention of the body and instruction in doctrine until such time as
the court shall release him.”

The mate gave a yell. “I protest,” said the well-dressed ambassador,
“against the condemnation of one of our gracious Queen’s subjects on
perjured evidence and as the result of the actions of one who is not
only himself a criminal, but a provocator of others.”

“Your protest is recorded. We declare the business of this case has been
dispatched.” The two Initiates rose as though their muscles were
controlled by a single mind, but as the Dossolan rose also and the
guards frogmarched their prisoner out, one of them looked at Rodvard.
“You will remain, young man,” he said.

II

They sat down again. One of them said; “Be seated,” and the pair stared
at him unmoving with those impassive eyes. The inspection lasted a good
three or four minutes; Rodvard itched and hardly dared to squirm. One of
them addressed him:

“You bear a Blue Star.”

(It was not a question, but a statement; Rodvard did not feel an answer
called for, therefore made none.)

“Be warned,” said the second Initiate, “that it is somewhat less potent
here than elsewhere, since it is the command of the God of love that all
shall deal in truth, and therefore there is little hidden for it to
reveal.”

“But I—” began Rodvard. The Initiate held up his hand for silence:

“Doubtless you thought that your charm permitted you to read all that is
in the mind. Learn, young man, that the value of this stone being
founded on witchery and evil, will teach you only the thoughts that stem
from the Evil god; as hatred, licentiousness, cruelty, deception,
murder.”

Now Rodvard was silent (thinking swiftly that this might be true, that
although he was no veteran of this jewel, it had never told him anything
good about anyone).

“Where is your witch?” said one of the Initiates.

“In Dossola.”

“It will be impossible for you to return there with the case of today’s
court standing against you, and the mate of your ship in our detention,
by our necessary action.”

“Perhaps, in time—” began Rodvard.

“Nor can you well bring her here,” said the other Initiate. “The
practice of witchery is not forbidden among us as it is by the laws of
your country. But we hold it to be a sin against the God of love, and it
is required that those found in witchery undergo a period of instruction
in the couvertines of the Myonessae.”

(A wild wave of longing for Lalette swept across him, drowning the
formless regret of leaving behind the Sons of the New Day—a new life—an
empty life—“No spirit in it,” the old man had said.) Before Rodvard
could think of anything to say, one of the Initiates spoke again:

“All life in this material world is a turning from one void to another,
and shall be escaped only by filling the void with love. And this is the
essence of Spirit.”

(A jar like a fall from a height told him that he was facing men who
could follow his thought almost as clearly as he could that of others,
and Rodvard half thought of how the butler at Sedad Vix had said it was
possible to conceal one’s thoughts; half wondered what these strange men
wanted with him.) The strong, resonant voice went on; “It is not the
thought of the mind, but the purpose of the heart for which we seek; for
the mind is as material as the world on which it looks—a creature of
evil—while the other is arcane.”

Said the second Initiate, as though this matter had now been settled;
“What is your profession?”

“I am a clerk. I was in the Office of Pedigree at Netznegon.”

“Here we have no pedigrees. Soil-tillers are needed; but if you lack the
skill or desire for such labor, you may serve in the commercial counter
which places for sale the products of the Prophet’s benevolence.”

“I think I would prefer the second,” said Rodvard (not really thinking
it at all; for tillage and commercial clerkship, he held to be equal
miseries, yet the latter might offer a better chance of release).

The Initiates stood up. “We will inform the stylarion at the door, who
will find you harborage and instruct you where you are to report for
work. You must give him your money of Dossolan coinage, which he will
replace with that of ours.”

“But I have no money of any coinage, none at all,” said Rodvard.

The two stopped in their progress toward the door and turned on him
faces which, for the first time, were struck with frown. One of them
said severely; “Young man, you have evidently been under the control of
the god of Evil. Unless this financial stringency disappears, we shall
be required to order that you take doctrinal instruction; and it were
better if you did so in any case. The stylarion will give you a warrant
for new garments and your other immediate needs, but all must be
strictly repaid, and within no long time.”

They left. Rodvard thought their final remarks a very strange pendant to
the generosity they had otherwise shown; and wondered unhappily whether
he would ever see Lalette again.

III

The lodging assigned was in a room over the shop of a tailor named
Gualdis, at a corner where three streets ran together. The man had a fat
wife and three daughters, one of whom brought from a cookshop on the
corner a big dish of lentils and greens with bits of sausage through it,
from which they all ate together. The girls chartered profusely, curious
as so many magpies about Rodvard and how life was lived in Dossola, for
they were too young to remember when Prince Pavinius had turned from
Grand Governor to Prophet and the Tritulaccan war began.

Rodvard liked the middle one best; called Leece. She had thick and
vividly black eyebrows that gave her eyes a sparkle when she laughed,
which was frequently. (The Blue Star told him that behind the sparkle
crouched a kind of dumb question whether he might not be the destined
man, and the thought of being sought by her was not unpleasant to him,
but she turned her head so rapidly and talked so much that he could make
out no more.)

After he had been shown to his bed, the usual sleeplessness of a changed
condition of life came to him, and he began to examine his thoughts. He
felt happy beneath all, and doubting whether he were entitled to,
searched for some background of the sense of approaching peril which had
held him the night Lalette came to his pensionnario door, and again when
he spoke with Tuolén the butler. But it was nowhere; all seemed well in
spite of the fact that he was more or less a prisoner in this land. The
common report had it that this was not an unusual experience, that
Amorosian agents circulated all through the homeland, recruiting for
their own purposes especially those with any touch of witchery, and he
thought that might be true. The Initiate on the ship had taken him very
readily into protection, and if he were like those in the court, must
have known that Rodvard bore a Blue Star.

Yet it seemed to him that these Amorosians were so well disposed toward
each other that one might do worse to live out a life among them, in
spite of a certain unearthliness among their Initiates. Now also he
began to look back toward Dossola and to understand why it was that
Mancherei should be so hated, most particularly by the upper orders. For
it seemed that if he could but return, persuade Remigorius, Mathurin and
the rest how the people of the Prophet lived among themselves, the Sons
of the New Day might fulfill their mission by striking an alliance in
Mancherei. No, never (he answered himself); that would be to set the son
above the parent, the colony over the homeland, and politic would never
permit it.

Yet was it not cardinal in the thinking of the Sons of the New Day that
to hold such a thing wrong was in itself wrong? The evil in the old rule
was that it set one man above another for no other reason but his birth.
Was not Pyax the Zigraner, with his odd smell and slanted eye, entitled
to as much consideration as Baron Brunivar? Why not then, up with the
standard of Mancherei and its Prophet? For that, what had Pavinius found
so wrong in this place that he had deserted the very rule he founded?

Rodvard twisted in his bed, and thought—of course; I have been slow
indeed to miss the flaw. For though there were no episcopals here, the
Initiates surely filled their office. If freedom from tyranny were won
only by making episcopals into judges, then it was only a viler slavery.
Was life, then, a question of whether spirit or body should be free? But
on this question Rodvard found himself becoming so involved that he went
to sleep, and did not wake till day burned behind the shutters.

Leece brought him his breakfast on a tray and wished him a merry
morning, but when he would have spoken to her, said she must hurry to
her employ. (Her eyes had some message he could not quite read; if the
Initiates were right, it would be a gentle one, and kindly.) His mind
was more on her than on his new fortune as he went forth, and he missed
a turning in the streets, so that his task began badly with a tardy
arrival.

The building of his toil, like so many in Charalkis, was new and of
brick, with mullioned windows along the street front and a low, wide
door at one side, through which carts passed empty to pick up bales at a
platform within. Rodvard entered to see a row of clerks on stools
sitting before a single long desk and writing away as though for dear
life. A short, round man paced up and down nervously behind them, now
and again speaking to one of the writers, or hearing a question from
another.

This short man came over to Rodvard and looked up and down his length.
“I am the protostylarion,” he announced. “Are you Bergelin, the Dossolan
clerk? You are in retard by a third of a glass. The fine is two obulas.
Come this way.”

He led down to the inner end of the desk, where under the least light
stood a vacant stool. “Here is your place. For the beginning, you have
the task of posting to the records of individual couvertines from those
of the general sales by ships. Here—this is a ship’s manifest from a
voyage to Tritulacca. Three clocks from the couvertine Arpik, as you
see, have been sold for eight reuls Tritulaccan. You will open a sheet
for Arpik, on which noting this fact, one sheet for each couvertine,
then place a mark here to show that the matter is cared for, not pausing
to translate—yes, Ivrigo?”

The interrupter held his ledger in hand and diddled from foot to foot,
as though being held from a cabinet of ease. “Oh, Ser Maltusz, I crave
pardon, but I cannot carry through this posting according to system
until I have a ruling on where falls the sea-loss in such a case.”

“Hm, let me see—why, stupidity, look there! It is plainly stated that no
offer had been made on the said lost bales. They were therefore
couvertine goods still, and not regarding whether the loss were caused
by piracy or not, it must fall there.” He turned back to Rodvard. “Do
not try to translate into our money, for that is the function of
another. You are expected to finish this manifest by evening.”

“I have never done this—”

“Work is prayer. There is the lamp.”