RETURN TO GLORY


The skies were filled with glory, the new day rising. The man who called
himself Demadé Slair explained, leaning against the rail at the waist of
the ship, in the blue-and-gold morning, a day anointed with white in the
form of a circling seagull.

“It’s an intricate tale,” he said, “of which the sum is that we are
unlikely to see queens in Netznegon again. But I’ll begin with Cleudi’s
plan for having the nobles gather taxes in their seignories. They would
not have it.”

“Something like that seemed to be happening when I was at the conference
of court,” said Rodvard.

“They say there was a scene to remember when Florestan told the old
bitch there was no more money,” Slair went on with a laugh. “She beat
him about the head with a slipper and for days he wore a patch over one
eye.”

Lalette said; “She is your queen.” (She wanted to cry out, to say
something that would drive this man to fury.)

Rodvard drew her hand toward him, but she pulled it away; Demadé Slair
said; “I crave your pardon, demoiselle; truly. I did not know you were
so royalist. . . . Then Brunivar fell. You heard of it?”

Rodvard said; “I have had little news, buried in Charalkis; only that
there were troubles.”

“Attainted of treasons, and sent to the throat-cutter. The case was
pressed by the Duke of Aggermans, very violent against him, no one
altogether knows why.”

“I think I could find a reason.”

“No doubt, with your stone. But d’you see the situation that left? With
Brunivar gone, there’s no regent-apparent in the case of Her Majesty’s
death, which may fall any day. I think it was you who sent word to the
Center that Florestan expected the regency in his room. Very like he
would have had it, too, but for the tax matter; but the regency question
furnishing an excuse the nobles summoned a general assembly of all the
estates, and once they were met, they began to consider everything.”

“And the revolt?”

“Oh, it began in the west—at Veierelden, with some of the army and not
with our party at all. Brunivar’s people joined, setting forward the
name of Prince Pavinius, and how he was wrongfully set aside from the
succession, and had long since abandoned being an Amorosian. They even
persuaded the old man to come out of Mayern and raise his standard. Most
of the nobles have gone there with what troops there are, but I don’t
know how much fighting there has been. Neither side’s very anxious for
war. The important thing is that the great assembly was left in session
with the nobles out of it, and you can see what that means.”

“Not quite. Enlighten me.”

“Why our party in the majority and Mathurin in control of everything.”

Rodvard turned a face of utter astonishment. “Mathurin? How—What—? I
might have thought Dr. Remigorius—”

Slair laughed again, a sharp bark. “Bergelin, for one who can see the
thoughts in a head, you are the ignorantest man I have seen—or one of
the cleverest.” He shot a quick glance of suspicion at Rodvard. “You
truly did not know that Mathurin was the head of the High Center, the
major leader of the Sons? As for Remigorius, the less you mention him,
the better. Some connections are not quite healthy.”

“I did not know,” said Rodvard slowly (trying in his mind to re-assort
the tumbled building-blocks of his world). “But I? The Blue Star’s a
treasure, but why send a ship for such a mouse as I am?”

“Answer your own question, friend Bergelin. Look, here’s Pavinius; the
court; our party with its control of the great assembly; maybe some of
Tritulaccan tendency, and a few Amorosians—all opposed to each other.
You are the only man we know can untangle where the true loyalties lie
and discover whom we can trust.”

“But surely, this is not the only Blue Star.”

“The only one we can be sure of. We know the court butler Tuolén had
one; perhaps there is one or more in Pavinius’ party.”

“You say ‘had.’ Does Tuolén have it no longer?”

Slair looked sidewise (with something a little savage in his glance).
“An accident befell him. You know Mathurin.”

Said Lalette; “If I understand what you mean, you had him killed. But
this would not affect the Blue Star itself.”

“Not if we could find the heiress. And there’s another question also;
suppose we have found her, does she know enough of the Art to make the
Star active? True witches are very hard to find, with the episcopals so
bitter against the Art on the one hand, and the Amorosians draining so
many off to Mancherei on the other.”

“My mother—” began Lalette.

“Oh, Mathurin followed that line up long ago. She could instruct, but
would she? I think not for our party; the last I heard she had followed
Cleudi and the court out to Zenss. You two are our mainstay.”

Rodvard (thinking of the witch of Kazmerga, and thinking also that it
would be little good for the Sons of the New Day to have commerce with
her) said; “It should not be hard to trace Tuolén’s heiress. I was in
the Office of Pedigree myself once.”

“One more reason why you’re a figure. I’ll conceal nothing; most of
those who can read the old hands, or trace the pedigrees, are either
fled with the court or little trusty. We dare not place reliance in
them; and it’s a matter of hurry with the armies in the west both
anxious to do us harms, and even the Tritulaccans calling out new
troops.”

A whistle blew; men moved among the ropes, the ship changed slant.
Rodvard said; “What you say is very strange. I would like to know—”

“Ah, enough of politics for now. I must make my apologies to this lovely
demoiselle for having spoken unthinkingly.” He offered his arm to
Lalette. “Will you honor me?”

Rodvard was left standing; and not for the only time either, in the next
three or four days, for Lalette formed the habit of walking with Slair
along the deck, she laughing and both of them talking of trifles in a
manner that seemed to Rodvard inane and pointless. Of an evening the
girl would hardly speak at all, or if she did so, it was in a flat
voice, shunning his eyes, so that he could tell little of what she was
thinking; at night, she shut herself in her lock-bed before undressing.
This became so intolerable that at last he rose one night and tapped on
the door of her bed.

“Open,” he said, and over the noise of the thuttering rigging, heard her
say faintly, “Rodvard, no.”

“Open, I say,” he cried again. “You must hear me.”

There was a silence of seven breaths, and then he heard her spin the
lock.

“Lalette,” he said, “why do you treat me so?”

“Have I treated you worse than you have treated me?”

(He fought back an impulse to a retort that would bring angers.) “I do
not know that I follow all you mean.”

(There was only night-shine from the window, she emboldened at knowing
he could not learn her fullest thought.) “Will you still say you did not
cheat me? Now that I know you were always one of the Sons of the New
Day. Tuolén had an accident—and the doorman at your house—and how many
more? I used to believe in some things before you trapped me.”

“No trap,” said he, jerking back so violently he struck a beam and gave
an exclamation. “No trap. You cannot make a new world without destroying
some of the old, and some suffer unjustly for every gain.”

In a small voice she said; “I feel—used.”

“Lalette,” he said gravely, and not taking offense. “Listen to me. We of
the Sons of the New Day are truly striving for a better world, one in
which there are such things as honesty and justice for everyone. But
this much I have learned, and not from Dr. Remigorius, that any such
effort is a swimming against the world’s stream, and must be paid for.
You feel used? Myself no less. But I like to think of myself as used for
the betterment of men—perhaps by God.”

His voice was a little unsteady at the end, and now it was her turn to
be silent for a moment. At last she said; “And how do you know the use
is for betterment—not someone’s personal pleasure in ordering others?
What you say is not too different from the teaching I heard at the
couvertine. Only there they would say that God uses no earthly vessels.”

“Do you believe that?”

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“Ah, I do not know. I only know that I am tired, and alone, alone . . .”
The words tailed off, he heard her shift in the darkness of the bed, and
then the intake of a sob.

“Lalette, don’t cry.” He bent over, wiping a tear from her face, then as
it was followed by more, fell to kissing her eyes. “I love you” (for the
first time since that night on the roofs). “Lalette, Lalette.” More and
more he kissed, from eyes to lips, and she gripped her arms around him
(because he was the nearest anchor in a shifting world), and his kissing
turned to passion (as she had known it would, and what did it matter?)
(But she was only a recipient, and to Rodvard it was a relief and an
agony. In that moment he wished it had been Leece.)

II

It was after sunset bell when they came upstream to Netznegon city, its
gated towers rising dark against the west like the worn teeth of giants.
Rodvard stood near the prow, hearing the measured cry of seamen at the
sweeps; through all he felt the golden note of glory returning. Dossola
(he murmured to himself)—Dossola strong and fair, how shall I contribute
to your greatness and so find my own? He felt himself making a poem of
it, but in a rush of emotion so intense that he could not bring the
rhymes quite true, nor the rhythm neither, quite; and when he tried to
pause and think consciously of how the verses should go, the emotion
vanished, and the dark city was only a tumbled pile of stone.

The bridge leading to the southern suburbs blotted out the prospect;
little white cakes of ice came swimming like ducks down the stream, and
the ship swung to its quay, the one around the curve. There were
lanterns there and a little group waiting; they must have been seen from
the walls, and the word passed through to meet them. Someone hallooed to
Rodvard from the stern of the ship; Demadé Slair was waiting there with
Lalette, muffled close in her long cloak. (Rodvard thought: we are come
back to Dossola, both of us, as naked as when we left it, but at least
with more hope.) Said Slair:

“It would be as well to hurry. It does not do to be on the streets too
much at night these days.”

(The back of Rodvard’s mind recognized that he had given Lalette no more
than a priest’s argument that night in the lock-bed, and wished that he
had found a better, since she must see the defect in this one. But what?
How educate her to the ideal?) The plank was flung. Five or six men were
at the other end, one of them in a provost’s cloak, but the shoes were
not like what they should be, nor did the doublet seem to belong to the
uniform. A longsword bulged out the cloak; the eyes flicked past Rodvard
to rest on Lalette. Demadé Slair identified himself and shepherded his
charges past a dark shed to the quay-side street. A man was there with a
horse; Slair spoke to him, he swung himself into the saddle and rode
off.

Said Rodvard (to say something); “That provost seemed in an inquiring
mood.”

Slair; “This was no provost. The general assembly has abolished that
hateful order. What you saw was a people’s guard.”

Rodvard; “This is a different Dossola.”

Slair; “It will be a better one.”

Lalette said; “Where are we going?”

“To the guest-house of the nation, that used to be the palace of Baron
Ulutz, who has fled to join Pavinius. The man has gone for a carriage.”

The conversation winked out. Around a corner of the street somewhere in
the dim, there was a shout that came to them only as the confused
“Yaya!” of many throats, followed by a crash of glass and then another
shout. “What is it?” Rodvard looked at Slair.

“Some of the people, doubtless. You should know; there are many debts
being paid these days.” He shrugged.

Lalette stirred; (without the Blue Star’s intervention Rodvard knew that
she would find in this wild lawlessness the case against his new day).
He said; “Is there much of this from day to day?”

The man’s voice was indifferent. “Enough. It is mostly Zigraner
moneylenders who suffer.”

Round the corner came a carriage with a single horse, the messenger
riding ahead.

“You will report to the office of the committee at the second glass in
the morning,” said Slair to the rider. The fellow’s chin was badly
shaven; he leaned from the saddle and said; “Well, friend Slair, I will
do the best I can, but it will be hard to ride more messages so early,
for Mousey here is nearly done, and she’s my livelihood.”

Rodvard now noticed that the horse was drooping with weariness, but
Demadé Slair said; “If you lose one, there’s another. The people’s
business will not wait. Be on time.”

The man got slowly down and patted the neck of the horse. “Friend
Slair,” he said, “I am as much for the people as anyone, but there’s
more to this than livelihood. This is my friend.” The tired horse
sniffed at the hand he put up.

Slair surprisingly burst into laughter. “Go, then, with your friend.
I’ll be your warranty if you are late.”

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The carriage had wide seats; Lalette huddled down in the corner, so that
Rodvard was barely touching the edge of her cloak, and Slair sat facing
them. Beyond the corner, where the turbulence was, figures were visible
at a little distance and torches moving, but nobody said anything in the
vehicle (because, thought Rodvard, there was so much to say).

Presently they turned in at the gate of the wide-flung Ulutz palace,
where some statue on the entrance-pillar had been thrown down, leaving
broken stone across the cobbles. There were lights in the building, but
no doorman. Demadé Slair led the way, and straight up the wide flight of
marble steps to a tall-walled room, where he struck light to a candle. A
huge bed stood in the corner, and one of the chairs had been slit, so
that the material of the upholstery flowed upon the carpet. “I bid you
good-night,” said their guide. “There’s a kitchen below-stairs where you
can have breakfast, and a messenger will call for you in the morning,
friend Bergelin.”

When they were alone, Lalette sat in the good chair with her hands in
her lap, and looked at her feet. “Rodvard,” she said at last.

“Yes?” (His heart jumped hopefully.)

“Be careful. You are not so important to them as you think. If you
were—gone, they might make me give the Blue Star to someone else.”

“Could they compel you to put the witchery on it?”

“No. But they might find another witch . . . Rodvard.”

He went over to her, but at his touch she made a small gesture of
dismissal, as though to rebuke him for bringing something childish into
a moment of utter intensity.

“I am afraid, Rodvard. Don’t let them do that to me.”

He stepped away from her. “Ah, pest, you are shying at shadows. I am a
member of the Sons; and even so you have the Art.”

“Yes. I have that.”

She only undressed to a shift, and wrapped it close around her, sleeping
on the far side of the bed. The water was very cold.