Lalette lay curled on the bed, half propped by pillows under her armpit.
Demadé Slair had unbelted his sword to sit down; it leaned against his
chair. Mathurin sat in the one by the table, the candle throwing his
sharp profile into strong silhouette. Rodvard shifted in the damaged
chair, whose lost stuffing made his seat uneasy.

“And that was all?” said the writer to the assembly, pinching his lower
lip. “Nothing more from Palm, nothing more from the other Episcopals?
Pest, Bergelin, you are less useful than I had expected.”

“There was the legist who spoke,” said Rodvard. “I think he is a man to
beware of. His thought was so ruthless and desirous of power that he
would ride down anything.”

“You mean the kronzlar Escholl? That is of some use at all events,” said
Mathurin. “We need more like that, whether as allies or enemies. Things
must be stirred; too many people are careless of who wins.” He stood up
and began to pace the floor slowly, head thrust forward a little, hands
behind him. “Listen, Bergelin, I will be wholly frank with you. We held
a meeting of the High Center this afternoon, following the session.”

Rodvard said; “Are the names of its members still a secret, except for

Mathurin gave a snort. “They will not be long, for things have so fallen
out that the High Center and the Council of Regency will be one. You
will have guessed that Brosen Zelitza of Arjen is one, there’s the best
speaker in Dossola. General Stegaller; he’s in charge of the recruit
bureau technically, but is really organizing what will be a people’s
army. It may surprise you to know that your old friend Mme. Kaja is a
member; a wonderful woman for handling matters of detail, and we have to
have one of her sex because of our position about the Art, but I could
wish it were someone beside her, she’s so religious.” Lalette made a
little sound; Rodvard caught sight of her face (and knew she was about
to burst into one of her angers).

“Will no one tell me what has become of Doctor Remigorius?” he asked
(hoping to forestall the outburst).

Mathurin’s pacing stopped. “I forgive you and will tell you, but if you
wish health, you will not mention him again. Rat, spy, tool; he has fled
to his employer, Prince Pavinius—but he will not live long, so no more
of him.”

(Lalette thought: these are the creatures round my husband, my man—if he
is my man, and not merely using me and my Blue Star.)

“It was decided—” Mathurin began, but before he had finished, a mouse
slipped from under the edge of the bed, and ran rapidly across the floor
as though on tiny wheels. Slair’s arm flashed up and out with the
scabbarded sword like a striking bird; blade and beast together arrived
at the center of the carpet and the mouse twitched once and died. Demadé
Slair picked up the small corpse and stood looking at it.

“Poor creature,” he said, “I ask your pardon. Now your children in the
hole will starve for lack of the food you went in search of.”

Rodvard was astounded to see a tear glitter at the edge of the
swordsman’s eye. “Ah, bah!” said Mathurin. “Will you defend vermin,
Slair? You’ll have use enough for your steel when the new decrees are

Rodvard stirred. “What decrees?”

Mathurin turned (with his back carefully to the candles, Rodvard noted,
so that his face was dark). “There’s to be a new court, to try special
cases; it was what I was about to mention when interrupted. Treason
against the people and nation. You will be writer to it; more important
than the sessions of the assembly.” He turned to Lalette. “There is also
a part for you; you are one of the keys now.”

Lalette said unhappily; “In what way?”

“As versus these Episcopals. They spread venom; represent the greatest
danger we now have to face. Pavinius? I give him a snap of the fingers;
he is too nice, with his Mayern foreigners and western herdsmen. The
Tritulaccans? Nothing by themselves, they had never beaten Dossola in
the former war but for the revolt of Mancherei, Mayern help and the
treason of the Kjermanash chieftains. The court? Now sold to Tritulacca,
and destitute by its own action. But the Episcopals are still not out of
credit with the people, who have been lulled by their solemn mummery. We
drove them from the assembly of the nation this morning, good. But now
they may join Tritulacca in the name of what they call true religion.”

“But what have I to do with the Episcopals?” asked the girl.

“Child, fool, use your Art. Not to the death; they’d only fill the
office with another man, but paralyze, cripple, drive idiot. The
Arch-Episcopal Groadon, notably. His loss would hurt them most.”

Lalette sat up. “Ser Mathurin, you do not by any means understand this
matter of the Art. Groadon is protected by the holy oils, and nothing I
can do will bite on him.”

“It is you that do not understand. I do assure you that if Groadon be
taken in a moment of anger, as today, or other violent passion, neither
his oils nor any other thing can protect him from your ministrations. Be
assured, we will provide the occasion.”

Lalette’s mouth twitched. (She wanted to cry; “Not for any reward or
punishment you can give!” but) it was a moment before she said; “Am I
the only—witch in Dossola?”

Mathurin made a grating sound. “No. I’ll be open; we are pressing the
search. Have found three others—aside from those who claimed the Art,
but could witch nothing more consequential than a frog or chicken. One
is an old beldame who has nearly lost her wits, and can be made to
understand nothing. One’s a young girl—witch enough, but never taught,
did not know the patterns, and beside, she ran away. One we caught, not
found—she was in Chancellor Florestan’s pay.” He drew a finger across
his throat. “None of them heiress to a Blue Star.”

“I am not sure I can follow all the patterns myself,” said Lalette. “I
have used the Art—so little.”

Mathurin looked at her sharply. “Hark!” he said. “I see your slowness,
but you more than another should be on our side; as witch and woman. The
Art has almost died out; driven down by priest and Episcopal. There are
likely many with the right inheritance who do not know it. Never taught.
Yet it’s a woman’s defence. We have the butler Tuolén’s Blue Star, for
instance. But where’s the girl can bring it to life? We do not even know
her name.”

He whirled suddenly and flung out an arm toward Rodvard in an oratorical
gesture. “Bergelin! I remember; that was the other matter. You were in
the Office of Pedigree; know its secrets. Forget the great assembly for
the time; that’s under control. Until the new court’s set up your task
is seeking out Tuolén’s heiress. I’ll give you an authority.”

“It may be somewhat harder than you think,” said Rodvard.

“I did not say it would be easy; I said it would be done,” said
Mathurin. “Slair, let us go.”


When they were out, he turned to look at Lalette. She had sagged down,
with her face in the pillow, and now without moving, she said as before;

He went across the room and put an arm around her. “What is it?”

“My mother. She is with the court, and she knows the patterns. If that
man takes her, he will have her throat cut.”

(The fate of many thousands, and the guarantee of the future, with the
Art not in the hands of ignorant peasants, but women of intelligence and
good will—balanced against one lie. But how to say it?) He said; “Has
she shown so much concern for you?”

Lalette twisted under his arm. “If she had, would I know it? You hold me
a prisoner—you and your Dr. Remigorius, who does not deliver letters,
and your Mme. Kaja, who will sell me, and your Mathurin, who wants to
cut my mother’s throat. I never knew what dirt was till I knew you.”

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(Rodvard felt the blood beat at his temples; he wanted to strike her, to
make a fiery retort.) He released her, stood up, and began to walk the
floor. (No: no. A quarrel so entered could never be composed. Look
beyond it, Rodvard; see how the world would be without her. Somewhere
perhaps there was another who would have more response for an interior
fidelity deeper than any single act; would not drive him from her side
with bitter words when . . . He thought of Maritzl of Stojenrosek; and
by this route came again to the high purpose. No. It was mere
selfishness to let his own thought, his own problem, stand first; the
very thing he had wished to bring her to see. Keep the peace.)

A small sound made him turn. She was just settling into place among the
covers, and her face turned toward him. “Oh, Rodvard,” she said, “help
me. I can’t do it. The Episcopal.”

Nothing more was said on the subject, but that night they slept in each
other’s arms.