MIDWINTER: THE RETURN

Another girl was already before the mirror in the dress-room, running a
comb through fair hair; taller than Lalette. She looked over her
shoulder at the newcomer with an expression not unlike that of a
satisfied cat and went on with her task, humming a little tune; Lalette
felt that she was being asked to speak first. “Your pardon,” she said,
“but I have just come. Can you tell me where the soap is kept?”

The tall girl surveyed her. “We use our own,” she said, “but if you have
not brought any, you may take some of mine tonight. In the
black-dressing-box, there on the table—that is, if you do not mind
violet scent.”

“Oh, thank you. I didn’t mean . . . My name is Lalette” (again the
hesitation, a momentary question whether to say “Bergelin” here, but
that was all dead and gone, she would never see him again) “Asterhax.”

“My name is Nanhilde. We don’t use second names in the Myonessae unless
we have been married. Have you, ever?”

“I—”

“Oh, you must get rid of old-fashioned prejudices in a place like this.
I used to think that being married was something I wanted so much; but
it isn’t really. It only chains you to some man, and next thing you
know, you’re sewing jackets and raising brats for him. You wait till
you’re chosen; he’ll want to marry you and give up being an Initiate.
They always do, and if you say yes, you’re lost, not your own mistress
any more, and he’ll always blame you.”

Lalette had been washing her face. Now she lifted it from the towel in
time to catch the middle term of the series. “But are you—are we of the
Myonessae prevented from having children, then?”

“You are a greenie, aren’t you? Of course, not; only we don’t have to
snivel around any man for their upkeep. There’s a couvertine for that. I
have one there now; the diaconal who fathered him on me had his
miniature painted and I’ll show it to you. Hurry with your dress and
we’ll go down together. Old quince-face doesn’t like anybody to be
late.”

She took Lalette’s arm and guided her along a hall already powder-grey
with dusk, to the stairwell, where the racking note of a violin floated
in a funnel of light. Below, it was all so different than Lalette had
seen it in the morning, or even at noon, when she had eaten a rather
gloomy meal of pulse and one apple, while the others around her
chattered in a subdued manner under the eye of Dame Quasso. The whole
place was now gay with lamps and someone had hung spring branches among
them, under which girls were gathered in excited little groups, some of
them talking to young men, the ruffles of their dresses vibrating, as
though they too had caught the mood of animation. Among the moving heads
Lalette could see how the double doors of the eating-hall were flung
wide; at its entry the mattern stood, talking with a white-headed man
dressed in grey, whose expression never changed. Dame Quasso beckoned;
as Lalette worked her way in that direction, a voice floated past,
“. . . I told her he already said he would choose me, and I don’t care
if I do lose my place, I’m going to ask for an Initiate’s trial. . . .”

The eyes looked down into hers from a height. “This is our newest
member, called Lalette,” said the mattern. “She is from Dossola, where
she was accused of witchery, and she is somewhat troubled in mind.”

A long gaze. The grey man said; “It is because she feels compelled and
has not learned the wonderful freedom of the service of the God of love.
My child, witches find it harder than anyone else to forget the material
self, but once they do so, attain the most surely to perfection.”

(Perfection? Lalette wanted to cry that it was no desire of hers.) She
said; “The material self? I don’t really care what I eat—or where I
sleep.”

The grey man said; “Do not think in mere terms of nourishment, which is
a means of maintaining the material body we despise. In love, we serve
the soul.”

(Lalette felt her inner gorge rising toward forbidden anger.) “I am not
sure I understand.”

“Do not be troubled. Many fail to understand in the beginning, and to
many, perfection comes after a long struggle in self-denial.”

The rebecks and flutes broke out, all in tune. Dame Quasso offered her
arm to the grey man and Lalette looked around to see other pairings, two
and two, moving into the eating-hall. She herself was suddenly left
unattended, to go in with the blonde Nanhilde. The taller girl leaned
close and said; “Nobody.”

“What do you mean?” said Lalette.

“Nobody. Not an obula tonight,” replied Nanhilde.

II

“Listen,” said Leece. “Oh, hear. I am not ignorant. If you really desire
that I should come no more, I will not. I am not one to intrude.”

“Lovely Leece,” he said, “it is for you, not I,” (yet knowing it was for
himself) and drew her hand to his lips, folding her fingers round the
kiss he placed in the palm.

She looked at him intently. “There is a cold breeze,” she said, and
stepping to the door, closed it before she ran across the room with
little quick steps to throw back the covers and slip in beside him. The
black brows brushed his cheek.

“If you hated me and really wanted to get rid of me, let me ask you,
what would you do? How different would you behave toward me than you are
now doing? You tell me that talking with you here in the morning gives
you pleasure and is a help to you. Why do you wish to stop it then, if I
am willing to come? And if you are thinking of any danger to me, why
surely that is my concern.”

As her arm came around his neck and their lips met in the long deep
kiss, he closed his eyes, not daring to look into hers, for this was no
Damaris the maid (and it was not that he dared not, but that he would
not). They came shuddering from the contact. “Ah, no,” he cried and drew
her close again and for a third time. But then she said suddenly; “Three
is enough,” and without another word slipped from beside him and was
gone.

All nights were now turned into a prelude to the mornings, and all days
to a prelude for the evenings, when one of the other sisters would talk
with them and gently jest at them for a pair of lovers, until Rodvard
and Leece went out for a stroll under avenues of plane-trees, where
lights flickered through the leaves in the warm summer air. The elder
Vyana or the younger Madaille often accompanied them on these journeys,
laughing a great deal as they conversed on matters of no importance, for
it was as though he and Leece had signed a treaty never to show anyone
outside how deeply they were concerned with each other. In the mornings,
when the subject turned to themselves, there were checks and
uncertainties in their words; yet it was a topic they could not avoid.
Rodvard would often leave his breakfast uneaten, the better to lie
beside her, kissing and kissing, with now and then some little thing
said.

“You must not love me,” she whispered one morning, turning her burning
face from his; “not in the human way.”

“Why not, Leece? I love—this,” and kissed her again.

“Ah, so do I. But to love, to love—it would be falling into the hands of
the Evil god for me to love you or you to love me, before you had been
to instruction and accepted the doctrine of the Prophet. Do you
understand?”

He did not (nor, when he broke the rule he had set on himself and looked
into her eyes, could he read behind them any illumination). “I am not
sure I want to be an Amorosian,” he said, gravely, “but if you say I
shall not love you, I will try not to. Only—”

She hugged him close then, and her lips sought his to end this, and to
say without words that this commerce of theirs was a pleasure for its
own sake and might be brought to destruction by any talk of a deeper
relation—or so he reasoned out her action, that night, as he lay in the
hour between waking and sleep. The pleasure of it was so sweet that he
dared do nothing to change the pattern; though when she tried to tell
him of the strange religion of the Prophet, he would change the
conversation to the mystery of their mutual attraction—in the midst of
which a vertigo of kissing and clasping would come upon them and there
would be silence for a long time. The door was always closed now;
sometimes the footsteps of Dame Gualdis could be heard outside, but
after the first time, when Leece slipped from the bed in panic, they
paid no attention, for the mother neither knocked nor entered. Only when
the steps sounded, Leece would gently hold his hand to make him cease
fondling her breasts, which she now allowed him freely to do at all
times, lying with dark lashes on her cheek and lips half parted.

She would not let him go further than this, nor did the cold Blue Star
speak of any willingness to do so. When once, with senses reeling, he
would have pressed the matter on, she said no, someone might come, there
was no time, and made other excuses, though she kissed him as she said
it, and caressed him with curious fingers. Yet it had become part of an
unspoken agreement between them that he should ask for no more, only
kiss her and be as bold as she permitted; and it was she who ultimately
brought the matter into words.

“If we were married, you could have me whenever you wished.” She said it
half regretfully (and he did look this time, catching behind her eyes
something like a color, something that spoke of a desire in her, though
somehow not of the same kind as his own).

By the convention into which they had fallen, he must now clasp her
eagerly and say, “Ah, Leece,” and kiss her for a long time, before
saying; “Yet if we did marry, and the mixture proved imperfect, consider
how we might hate each other.”

“I like to kiss you,” she said simply. “Vyana cried last night. She saw
him in the afternoon, and does not know what to do.”

“Feel my heart beat,” he said, placing her hand over it. “It would seem
to me that she and her lover are really meant for a perfect union. Could
she not enter the Myonessae and be chosen and persuade him to marriage
afterward?”

The girl went stiff in his arms, looking at him with eyes wide in
astonishment. “Why,” she cried, “that would be deception and sin—leading
him from the service of the God of love to Evil. Oh, Rodvard, never say
such things.”

There was a true trembling in her voice and he felt the moisture of a
tear, where her face was pressed into the crotch of his neck. (It did
not seem to him that a chance remark was a matter for such fervor, for
as he knew religion, it was a guide, and the world would go mad if one
tried to observe its commands in every particular.) But all this was
only the background of a flicker of surprise across his mind, as he left
her face and kissed her closed eyes. “Leece, Leece,” he said, “I didn’t
mean—” and did not know what more to say.

“Oh, Rodvard, I could not bear it if you deceived me like that.”

“Do you think I am trying to?” (Kiss.)

“I do not know. No. Ah, we must not do this. It leads us into the hands
of Evil. Rodvard, Rodvard, you must, if you want me. . . . Oh—” The word
died into lips moving without sound, on which his lips closed, her
breath began to come fast, she let his seeking fingers linger a moment
at her breasts and slide past, he could not see her eyes, but without
the intervention of his amulet, he knew that this was the moment—but at
the very point of sliding from the crest, Leece flung herself gasping
from his arms, and with a sob was gone.

Next morning his breakfast was left outside the door.

III

The linen stitching was very tedious. Five or six of them, all novices
like herself, sat in a circle and went round the edges of napkins,
drawing three threads, stitching them home, drawing three threads,
bringing them home again, while the mattern or Mircella or one of the
older girls read slowly from the First Book of the Prophet, pausing now
and again to make exposition of the meaning of a passage. Talking was
discouraged. At noon there was always the same meal of pulse with fresh
greens or fruit, but in the evening sometimes a piece of meat.

Every fourth-day they all marched in procession to the house of religion
and there was a service, not like those in the Dossolan churches, with
their flowers and music, but merely a discourse, such as Lalette had
first heard at the conventicle in Netznegon, with everybody embracing
each other afterward, and prayers of grace pronounced by an Initiate.
This took place at noon; after the service, no more work was done on
these days.

After dinner and on the free afternoons, all were at liberty except for
such matters as personal laundry. Most of the girls walked two and two
for a while in the garden, where tall alleys of hollyhocks divided the
vegetable plots on which some of the Myonessae labored during the day.
Going on, out into the street was not forbidden, but not encouraged.
Neither—as Lalette quickly discovered—was it very pleasant, for although
these people of Mancherei had no badges of status, which at first seemed
a very strange thing, everybody seemed to know at once that she was one
of the sisterhood. This was all right as to older people, but in the
half-twilight, young men would call out to her, or what was worse, sidle
alongside her on the pave and try to make conversation, or offer a glass
of wine.

She found their insinuation so infuriating that the second time this
happened, with the fellow almost directly making an insinuation, only
the memory of Tegval kept her from putting a witchery on him then and
there. Dame Quasso had been walking in the garden that night. As Lalette
came hurrying through the gate, she looked so long and intently that it
seemed she must somehow have caught part of the Initiates’ trick of
thought-reading, and to Lalette’s other troubles was added the fear of
being known for a murderess.

On this night of all, the blonde Nanhilde would choose to come to her
room for a talk, babbling against the clerks of account, who had allowed
her far less than she deserved for some broideries she had done; “—and
they gave ’Zina just double my price. I know what it is; she slips out
of here on fourth-days and gets drunk with some of those clerks and lets
them do anything they want. She’s awful.”

Lalette (upset, and wanting to talk about anything but this); “But how
can she keep the mattern from knowing about it?”

“Oh, she is careful. A girl has to be in this place. She always gets
back before bedtime, and her sister in town says she spends the
afternoons there.”

Lalette sighed. “I thought, when I came here—”

Nanhilde said; “What did you expect to be different?”

Lalette’s hands fluttered. “Is there no way we can escape from the
overwhelming lusts of men?”

“A girl in the Myonessae can do very well if she does not fear herself.”

Lalette burst into tears.

“Make up this account for closing,” said the protostylarion, handing
Rodvard a dossier which bore the endorsement: “Approved to expel the
subject from the Myonessae for contumacious refusal to accept any
choice—Tradit, I.”

Rodvard dragged weary feet to the bench, for his night had been
sleepless, with this matter of Leece reaching a crisis. All week, she
had striven to pretend in the presence of others that nothing was
changed, but would neither bring his breakfast, nor allow him any
opportunity to speak with her alone in the evening. A crisis—the
sleepless night began when he had refused to walk with her and Vyana
under planes still clinging to their last leaves, then felt unhappy over
the look of a friend betrayed that came into her eyes. A crisis; for
that look was a trap as grim as the one the witch had set for him. He
did not really want the dark-browed Leece (he told himself), overall, at
the price of permanent union she set upon her body. It would have been,
it was, enough merely to talk with her and be gay companions, as he was
with the other sisters. Only the moments when a contact of lips or body
sent a devouring flame along his veins were different. Yet there was now
upon him a compulsion to find the next move in the game and carry it
through, as though he were involved in a complex dance and dared not
miss a pace.

What is this, then? (he asked himself). Am I a mechanician’s instrument,
or so weak I am not my own master? Is it that I owe her a duty, and by
what sanction am I held thereto? The priest at the academy might have
had an answer for that. He would have said that the sanction was of God,
“who sends us all peace, so that even those misguided men who say there
is no God must make an inner peace, through a claim to be true to some
image of the Ideal, which they call themselves. So that God is not
balked, but enters in them unawares, and they only make their own path
harder by reaching Him through devious ways instead of simple.” He could
remember the argument accurately, and how its force had once struck him.
Thus the priest, then; but if the sanction was of God, did God (Rodvard
now asked himself) urge him to this pursuit of Leece? No matter what; he
knew that when he reached the Gualdis’ house that night, the intricate
pavanne would continue, and he a part of it as before.

Leave then. No. Not in this land, where he was a public prisoner,
required still to report on every tenth day, an irritating routine. For
that matter, leave for where? Not Dossola, with the prosecution hanging
over his head; not any other place. Dance out the dance.

The protostylarion’s step roused him from reverie. He opened the dossier
and with a feeling of vertigo, perceived that it was from the couvertine
Lolau: “—on the account of the Myonessan Lalette Asterhax.”

II

Without a knock the door opened, Leece slipped in and stood with her
back to it, looking down. Rodvard began hastily to make good his
jacket-laces.

“It was my fault,” she said in a thin voice, then hurriedly; “What I did
was contrary to the law of love. Do you want me to bring your breakfast
in the morning?”

Her eyes were veiled, but one could guess what lay behind them (and one
must—one must tread the right measure). “Yes.”

“You are still angry with me.”

He ran across the room and seized her in his arms, so she let her dark
head slide down against his neck. “What can I say?” kissing her ear and
the side of her neck (yet at the same time feeling a revulsion almost
physical, and all the time the thought of that other was at the back of
his mind, not coming forward because he dared not let it).

A sudden tenseness was in her grip; she flung her head back and looked
at him (out of eyes that spoke distrust). “Rodvard! What is wrong?”

“Nothing. We must hurry and go to supper or they will miss us.” A
rivulet of perspiration coursed down his spine. She kissed him long and
hard (with the doubt still there) and was gone.

Afterward it was the tall Vyana who went to walk with them. Leece took
his hand; all gay, but casting glances that seemed to show an unasked
question in her mind (so that Rodvard wondered whether she might not
have some part of the Blue Star’s gift). He said to Vyana; “Tell me
something. If you were in the Myonessae, how could I come to see you?”

Her face fell sober. “I am not a Myonessan yet. But if I were, it would
not be easy unless you became at least a learner. The Myonessans have no
contacts with the outer world save those they make themselves.”

“A strange rule,” he said, not daring to push the matter further lest he
betray his thought.

Now Leece spoke, trying to justify the regimen under which the girls
lived, but Vyana, being so near to the sisterhood, was doubtful, and
Rodvard heard both of them with only part of his mind, considering what
he must do. There was no question but he must do it, ah, no; the
expelled of the Myonessae, he knew well, were shut away in gloomy
prisons for “instruction”, it might be for years. The couvertine Lolau
was—

“—do you not think so, Rodvard?” said Leece’s voice.

“I am sorry. I was thinking of a thing.”

All her attention and affection suddenly rushed at him; she pressed his
hand hard. “I was only saying—” and in spite of that warm grip, his mind
went off again under the babble. The Blue Star would perhaps let him
make his way in, if the light were good—and they reached the door. Leece
squeezed his hand again, possessively; he knew she would have sought a
corner and kissed him, but he managed to avoid that, with a certain
shame picking at him.

Inside he went rapidly upstairs, then stood tingling in his own room as
outer steps went to and fro. His mind toiled at details—the lock of the
street-door was a heavy one, usually turning with a grating sound, he
must have a story ready to tell if someone woke and asked him questions.
But before he could work out a tale the small sounds died to a single
series of pat, pat, pat, and he had a moment of dreadful fear and
excitement mingled that it might be Leece, coming to him that night.

This was his turning-point in life (he thought) and the choice was being
made from outside himself. The steps went past; Rodvard released his
breath, sat down and, trying to use up the time until all should be
asleep, began to repeat to himself Iren Dostal’s ballad of the archer
and the bear. But at the third stanza a rhyme somehow eluded him, and he
nearly went mad trying to recall it, while at the same time the other
half of his mind went round the problem of Leece-Lalette, Lalette-Leece,
without once making a real effort toward the plan he must have. Then he
tried to solve how the line of duty might be considered to lie,
according to one or another system of philosophy; but all this yielded
was the unsatisfactory conclusion that he did not know where duty or
even true desire lay, only what he was going to do. Now he began to
count boards in the floor, as he had counted the cask-staves of the
ship, merely to pass time; and time passed. He cracked the door ajar,
heard someone snore, and reached the odd thought that even the loveliest
of girls sometimes snore. Tip, tap, and he was down the hall to the
stairs. A board creaked there; he paused. The key grated even more
harshly than he had anticipated, and again he stood breathless a minute,
then was in the street.

A sense of freedom swelled through him as he looked up at the winter
stars—this must be the right line, the glorious line, hurrah! even
though the adventure failed. A silent street, down which advanced in the
near distance a cloaked couple, picking their way along with a light-boy
before. The checkered gleams from the window of his lantern caught the
tree-trunks and half-reflected from the dull surfaces, seemed like weary
fireflies. A one-horse caleche went past, its form dimly outlined
against the darker shadows beneath the branches. Step on, Rodvard, the
way is here. He stumbled in the dark over the edge of a cobble, turned a
corner and another, wondering how the glass stood, and reached the
couvertine Lolau at last.

He remembered it as the building he had passed on his first day in
Charalkis, with a foreyard in which a dead tree stood. The lodge-box
held no porter; its window was broken. Rodvard thought—now this is
somehow the model of the Myonessae, if I could trace the resemblance, as
his feet clicked on the pave up to the door, where one light burned
behind a transom in a fan of glass. Summing his force, he knocked. No
answer. He knocked again.

Far in the interior a step sounded, coming. The door was thrown back to
show a fat beldame with a robe gathered round her, whose hand trembled
slightly with palsy.

“What is it?” she said. The light was above and behind her, he could not
see her eyes to use his jewel.

“I am from the office of account,” he said (depending upon sudden
inspiration), “in the matter of the Demoiselle Asterhax.”

“A poor hour to be coming,” she grumbled. “Ay, ay, the Lalette. I will
call the mattern. They will take her in the morning.”

She moved aside to let him enter, and as she did so, the light caught
her face. (His glance, quickened by emergency, caught in those muddy
eyes a green flash of mingled hate and greed.)

“Wait,” he said, and touched her wrist. “Perhaps it is not needed to
rouse anyone.” (That covetousness—if he could use it.)

“What do you mean?”

“It is a simple matter; not official accounts.” He fumbled out a coin or
two and pressed them in her hand.

The fat face moved into a leer. “Eh, eh, so that’s the story. Want to
take her, do you? And poor Mircella will be blamed, maybe sent for
instruction. It should be worth more.”

(Money again; he experienced a moment of panic.) “I am from the office
of account,” he repeated. “I am to take her there to close her
reckoning. You will have the perquisite of her possessions.”

“He, he, and you the best perquisite. It should be worth more.”

“Sh, someone will hear us.” He found another pair of coins. “This is
all—if not, give back the rest and call your mattern.”

He turned; she clutched his arm, grumbling in her throat (and he could
see she did not believe him in the least, but would be satisfied if
given a story to tell). “Come. Come.”

Another stair-journey through a silent house, this time upward. The
place had the indefinable perfume of many women. The guide shuffled
along in a dark almost complete; Rodvard heard the chink of keys, then a
tick against the lock and the door opened.

“Strike a light.” Rodvard felt a candle pressed into his hand; being
forced to give his attention to it, Lalette saw him first when the light
flared, he heard her gasp and looked past the little flame to see her
standing with disheveled hair, so lovely beyond the imagined picture
that he could not resist running across the room to kiss her astonished
lips. She must have been sitting fully dressed in the dark.

“Rodvard! How did you come here?” The fat woman shuffled in the
background, and he:

“No matter now, it can wait. We must go quickly.”

She stared at him like a sleepwalker. “Where?”

“Hurry.”

There were no more words between them at this time or place. Lalette
turned in the feeble light to make a package, but the fat woman said;
“Nah, my perquisite,” so she only snatched a cloak. The beldame
addressed Rodvard; “Now you use your knife on the lock to show where it
was picked, then leave it. Then they know my story is true, a man was
here.”

He hacked at the brass plate that held the keyhole for a moment, and
fortune favored by letting one of the screws come loose with a snap, and
the fat woman clawed his arm to indicate that was enough. She led the
way down the stair, Rodvard could see no eyes, and he and Lalette were
suddenly out the door.

III

She turned to face him under the dead tree.

“You do not want me any more. How did you find me? Where did you come
from?”

(He thought: out of one pattern-dance of compulsions and into another.)
“I do want you or I would not have come. I could not help it. Did you
not receive my letter?”

“I suppose you have some story to cover your utter desertion.”

“I swear I left with Dr. Remigorius a letter for you, telling how I was
called to Sedad Vix on the most urgent of affairs; and then things
happened. I will tell you.”

“Then it is true. You are one of the Sons of the New Day.” (The eyes
were hidden, but the tone told clearly how deep was her anger and
despair.)

“I have come for you,” he said, simply.

She uttered a bitter little laugh. “It is somewhat late, my friend. I am
one of the licensed whores they call Myonessae, and now an attainted
criminal.”

“I know—and so am I for bringing you from there.”

She took three steps in silence. “Where are you taking me?”

“A tavern.” (He had not thought, this was part of the plan he had been
too excited to make.)

“Do you lodge in it?” (The voice was so small that he knew something lay
behind the words.)

“I have been working in the office of account, and learned of your
trouble there,” he said, inconsecutively.

She turned toward him in the dark street, where far down, someone walked
with a light, the hand on his arm trembling a little. “Oh, Rodvard—they
would have put me in that prison for instruction and then turned me into
the street without an obula.”

“I know. See—that is what we are looking for.”

An inn it was, a palpable inn, beyond the corner, with light streaming
from its windows. They entered through the public-room where a table of
men with mugs before them all turned their heads like sunflowers. One of
them whispered behind a hand, and there was a snicker. A lugubrious
person in a dirty apron came to the inner door and said yah, he would
give them welcome for the night. Supper? No, said they both, and a small
girl with her hair in tight braids showed them to a room where there was
only one chair and a bed where they would sleep together for the first
time since the night in Dame Domijaiek’s room, now in a far country and
long ago. (Rodvard thought: she is wearing her hair down as an unwedded
girl, and that is why they snickered.) She sat on the edge of the bed,
tossing her head back.

“Rodvard,” she said, “you have been unfaithful to me.”

“No!” (He answered in reaction merely, and the thought that crossed his
mind was not of the maid Damaris, but of Leece, now perhaps herself
sleepless, and waiting for the dawn, when—) “Your Blue Star is still
bright.”

She did not move, only crossed her eyes in a spasm of pain. “I think
perhaps it was another witch. I know one put a spell on you. Did you
know I saved you from it? You can go to her, if you wish; even take the
Blue Star. I do not want it any more.”

“Lalette! Do not talk so.”

He stepped to her on the bed, slipped his arm under both hers where she
supported herself, leaning backward, and drove her down, his lips
seeking hers. She met him passively, neither giving nor avoiding.
“Lalette,” he breathed again.

Now she twisted in his arms. “Ah, men think there is only one way to
resolve every problem with a girl. It was that I wished to get away
from. I will go back.”

He released her then, and lay beside her, unspeaking for a moment. Then:

“And be sent for instruction and then turned out? It was that I came to
save you from.”

“Oh, I am grateful. I will not go back, then, and you can have what you
have bought.”

(There was a torture in it that he should at this moment think of
Maritzl of Stojenrosek.) He double-jointed to his feet and began to pace
the floor. “Lalette,” he said, “truly you do not understand. We are in
real danger, both of us, and cannot afford bitterness. I have not been
in this country long enough to know its laws, but I know we have broken
more than one; and they are very intent after both of us, you as a witch
and me with the Blue Star, even though they say witchery is not
forbidden here. Now I ask your true help, as I have helped you.”

“Ah, my friend, of course. What would you have me do?”

She sat up suddenly, with a tear in the corner of her eye (which he
affected not to notice), all kindliness; and they began to talk, not of
their present emergency, but of their adventures and how strangely they
were met there. He gave her a fair tale on almost all, except about
Damaris and Leece. She interrupted now and again, as something he said
reminded her of one detail or another, so that neither of them even
thought of sleeping until the candle burning down and a pale window
spoke of approaching day.

“But where our line lies now, I do not know,” he concluded.

Inconsequentially, she said; “Tell me truly, Rodvard, about the Sons of
the New Day.” (Her face was toward him as she spoke; he was astonished
to catch in her eye a complex thought, something about feeling herself
no better than the group she considered thieves and murderers.)

“Well, then, we are not murderers and steal from none,” he said (as she,
remembering the power of the jewel, lowered her head; for she had not
told him of the fate of Tegval). “We are only trying to make a better
world, where badges of condition are no more needed than here in
Mancherei, and men and women too, do not obtain their possessions by
being born into them.”

“That is a strange thing to say to one who was born into a
witch-family,” she said. “But no matter now. What shall we do? I doubt
if we can reach the inner border before they set the guards after us,
and with the case of this captain against you, you cannot now return to
Dossola. Or can you? We might get a ship that would take us to the Green
Islands. I have a brother there somewhere.”

“Who’s to pay the passage? For I have little money. Much of my gain has
been withheld to pay for the things I needed when I came.”

“And I no money at all. But did you come here from Dossola by paying?
Can we not offer service?”

He (thought of the one-eyed captain and the service demanded then, but)
took her hand. “You are right, and it is the only thing to try,” he
said. “Come, before any pursuit fairly starts.”

They crept down the stairs, hand in hand, like conspirators. At the
parlor Rodvard sacrificed one of his coins to pay for his night’s
lodging. (The thought of Leece and what she would be doing at this hour
was in his mind as) they stepped into a street from which the grey light
had rubbed out all the night’s romance to leave the city drab and
wintry.

A milk-vendor met them with his goats and gave a swirl of his pipes in
greeting. There were few other passengers abroad, but more began to
appear as they drew near the harbor area; carters and busy men, and
hand-porters. Presently they were among warehouses and places of
commerce. Beyond lay the quays and a tangle of masts. Here was a tavern,
opening for the day; the proprietor said that a Captain ’Zenog had a
ship at the fourth dock down, due to sail for the Green Isles with the
tide. The place was not hard to find, nor the captain either, standing
by the board of his vessel, strong and squat, like a giant beaten into
lesser stature by the mallet of one still stronger.

“A Green Islands captain, aye, I am that,” he said. “I’ll take you there
on the smoothest ship that sails the waters.”

Said Rodvard; “I do not doubt it. But we have no money and wish to work
our way.”

Bluff heartiness fell away from him (and the glance said he was
suspicious of something). “What can you do?”

“I am a clerical, really, but would take other labor merely to reach the
Green Islands.”

Lalette said; “I have done sewing and could mend a sail here and there.”

The captain rubbed a chin peppered with beard. “A clerical I could use
fair enough, one that could cast accounts.” He looked around. “Most of
you Amorosians, though—”

Rodvard said joyously; “I am not of Mancherei, but Dossolan, educated
there, and can cast up an account as easily—”

“There’d be no pay in it. The voyage merely,” said the man quickly.

“We will do it for that,” said Rodvard, and touched Captain ’Zenog’s
hand in acceptance. The squat man turned. “Ohé!” he shouted. “Hinze,
take these two to the port office and get them cleared for a voyage with
us.”