THE PLACE OF MASKS

She was less cooing than before, having learned of the closing of the
city gates and the price on Lalette. (For the first time she knows what
it is to be a conspirator, Rodvard thought.) There was a
self-sacrificing debate over where to sleep, for the singer had only the
one bed and tried to insist that the pair use it, or at least share it
with her. In the end Rodvard composed himself across a pile of old
garments on the floor. They smelled, he felt ill-used, and went to sleep
wondering rather desperately what to do about money.

That problem became no easier with the morning, when Mme. Kaja said her
own funds were very low and she could not receive her pupils while the
two were there. As she was going out Rodvard gave her his last silver
spada, whose breakup would keep them nourished for a couple of days.
Lalette added that she was much concerned over her mother; could the
singer obtain news?

Hardly had the receding footsteps left the first flight when Rodvard,
burning inwardly with anxiety, suspense and the thought of another
do-nothing day, which combined to translate themselves into desire,
swung the girl off her feet in his arms and bore her toward the bed
without a word. She struggled a little and the Blue Star told him she
was not very willing, but the contact of their bodies soon caught her,
she only asked to be careful of her dress as she pulled it off—and Mme.
Kaja’s voice said; “Oh.”

Rodvard rolled over, blood running hot through his cheeks. “I am so-o-o
sorry,” the older woman said. “I was going to the Service and found I
had forgot my Book of Days. But you must not mind, really you must not,
when I was in the opera, His Majesty used to make three of us attend him
together and when the heart speaks . . .” rattling like a broken
music-box in terms that Rodvard scarcely heard, as she crossed the room
to take the Book of Days and left again without looking at them
directly.

Lalette (feeling as though she had bathed in a sewer and never wanted to
touch anything clean again) took her dress to put it on. When Rodvard
touched her shoulder, she shook his hand away and said, simply; “No.”

“It was my fault,” he said, “and I regret—”

“No. I am the one most to blame. It does not matter now for any reason.”
Her mouth moved and she looked down, tieing laces. “Dear God, what your
fine friends will think of me! I should have accepted Count Cleudi’s
offer; at least I would have been well paid for the name I’ll have.”

He felt himself flush again. “Well, if they call you any name you do not
wish to have, it will be your own fault,” he said. “I have offered you
marriage—”

“Ah, yes, indeed, with me furnishing the priest’s spada for the
ceremony.”

“—and I will hold to the offer. Demoiselle, you are not just.”

She turned and sat down, (feeling suddenly weary, bitten with the edge
of concern about her mother, so that it was not worth while to quarrel).
He made one or two beginnings of speech, but could settle on nothing
worth saying; moved about the room, clanking the coppers in his pocket,
and looked out the window; picked at one or two keys of the music in a
manner that showed he had no training with it; found a book of Mme.
Kaja’s and standing, skimmed a few pages, then set it down; resumed his
pacing; abandoned it; walked to where he had placed his few belongings
on a chair, took his own book and settled himself purposefully to read,
in a position where his face was mostly in shadow from her.

(The angry shame had run off Lalette now, she could only see that he was
truly unhappy.) After a little while she ran across the room, put her
arms around his shoulder and kissed the side of his face. “Rodvard,” she
said, “I really meant it all. If you want me, you may have me any time
you wish.”

He swung her down to his lap, but (now afraid of interruption) would go
no farther than kissing her and holding her close, so for a long time
they remained thus lip to lip, speaking a little to exchange memories of
things pleasant in their few meetings and not noticing they had missed a
meal, until they heard Mme. Kaja’s step outside the door, which this
time she made firm enough to give them warning. The singer began to talk
at once about the Service and how as the chanters intoned the celestial
melody and the violet vestments fluttered among the flowers that fell
from the galleries to crush fragrantly beneath the worshipers’ knees,
she could feel every power of evil roll from her mind—“though the second
baritone was flat in the _musanna_. Oh, if only the court would have
religion in its heart, as the poor people do, who sat with tears in
their eyes.” She smiled suddenly on Lalette:

“I spoke to my own priest, too, for you. I know you must have a
confession to make by now—” she held up outspread fingers before her
face and tittered through them “—so I made up a story for you, about a
jealous husband, and he will hear you after dark, when all’s safe, and
you won’t have to pay but a copper or two.”

Lalette looked up. “But there’s no confession to make. . . . Did you
find out about my mother?”

Rodvard saw Mme. Kaja’s eyes open wide, and felt the cold stone (she was
not believing Lalette at all, and for some reason was desperately
frightened that the girl should lie). “Oh, you poooor child,” she said.
“It was so unthinking of me to forget to tell you. I did not find out
much, but I know the provosts have not taken her, and Count Cleudi is
not as ill as pretended, that is only a story.”

She set down packages of food, a dish of lentils with bread and wine;
began to make ready the table, keeping her eyes averted, so Rodvard
could not read her thinking (it came to him that he would not be the
first Star-bearer she had met) as she talked rapidly, about the Service
once more. The priest had said that when anyone admitted evil to his
heart, peril lay upon all persons approaching the lost one. “For these
powers of evil increase like mice in a granary, running from one soul to
another, and as farmers will often burn an old grain-bin to keep the
vermin from spreading, so it is lawful and even necessary to destroy the
body of one infected by the powers of evil. He was talking about this
poor child here, it was easy to see.”

Rodvard (to whom this was interesting, if somewhat questionable
discourse) would have inquired more as she paused for breath, but
Lalette (who found it more than tiresome) broke in to ask what of the
city? what of the hunt for her?

“Oh, they have opened the gates again, though I did not go to see, and
put guards everywhere. But it will be all right. Have I ever recounted
to you, friend Rodvard, that I was in arrest once myself? It was because
of that Oronari, who was so jealous because I could carry the high note
in ‘The Mayern Lovers’ while she could not, and had me accused of
stealing some of the jewels that were loaned for the spring festival
performance. I felt very badly about it, because she was a friend of
mine, but it’s just as the priest said, the power of evil had gained
control over her, and there was nothing I could do but complain to the
Baron Coespel, who was my protector then, and he had her banished
the . . .”

She stuffed food into her mouth, masticating noisily as she babbled.
Rodvard caught a flash of Lalette’s eye (and knew she was thinking how
thin the veneer of half a lifetime around the court was over someone
with a peasant’s background). To change things he asked; “Madame, is
there any word of the doctor?”

“He did not send the fruiterer from his street?” She sighed and turned
to Lalette. “Then it is likely that he has no money as yet. He is so
good and kind and works for so little that it is often so. Dear child,
have you no funds at all?”

Said Lalette; “Only two spadas. But I took all the money in the house
when I left, and my mother—”

“Dear child, of course we all love our parents and do all we can for
them, but after all, they are only our relatives by accident and not the
choice of the heart—” she smote her breast in the gesture Rodvard
remembered “—and when the heart speaks, God dwells in us to drive out
the powers of evil. Then we are grateful to those who speak to us
through the heart, and if we have anything we give it to them. I denied
the heart once—”

“Your pardon,” said Lalette, and stood up to leave the table. Her face
was a little white.

Mme. Kaja finished the last of the wine and wiped her mouth. “I know it
is hard for you, being of the witch-families, dear child,” she said.
“But Uncle Tutul, who is the priest we are going to see tonight, says
that even a witch may save herself if she gives up everything to those
she loves, and oh, my dear, I really do not mind missing my pupils,
but—”

Lalette’s mouth strained. She stood up and plucked from her waist the
tiny purse. “Here,” she cried, “are the spadas,” and flung them ringing
silvernly against the plates. “Take them; I am going to the provosts
myself. To be seduced, I will, it was my fault. But I will owe no
obligation for it.” She turned to the door so fast that Rodvard barely
barred the way before her.

“No,” said he, as she tried to push him from the way. “You shall not go
like this.” Their hands caught and she struggled for a moment. “Or if
you’ll say you do not love and never will, go; and I will join you
before the Deacons’ court. But it was another tale that you told
lately.”

Said Mme. Kaja; “Oh, dear child, you must not resist such love.” She
tittered (and the nerves of both the others jangled).

Lalette sat down. “I am at the mercy of you two,” she said.

“Mercy? Mercy?” The singer’s bracelets clanked. “Ah, no, we are at
yours, and seek to help you at our own risk. Not so, friend Rodvard?”
She swung to face him for an unguarded moment (and he was staggered till
he must grip the table-edge at the blast of hate for Lalette behind her
eyes. There was a strange mother-thought in it too, he could not make
out the detail.) Kaja’s glance went restlessly on across the room. She
stood up in her turn, saving; “I do not know the hour, my watch is being
repaired, but I am sure by the dimness outside it must be late, and
Uncle Tutul is waiting. Demoiselle Asterhax—no, I shall call you
Lalette, it is so much more friendly—will you come?”

(Rodvard thought; if I let her go, everything will arrange itself to my
utmost advantage.) “Maritzl,” he said, “do not go out this evening.
There’s no—”

Mme. Kaja tittered once more. “Ah, friend Rodvard,” she said, “if you’d
have women kind to you, you must remember their names. Will you come,
Demoiselle Lalette? Even if there’s no confession, it will be a joy to
hear Uncle Tutul’s discourse.”

Rodvard; “Lalette, I beg you, by all you have said this day and all we
hope for in the future, do not go out now. I have a reason.” He reached
one hand and took hers, as she looked at him (wondering why he was so
vehement in such a small matter); a child’s look, with trust in it.

“Well, then,” and she sat down again. A glassy smile appeared on Mme.
Kaja’s face, and she shook one finger at Lalette as she hurried to the
door. “You naughty Rodvard; she will certainly have a confession to make
before I return,” and her steps were audible, going down.

Lalette’s hands lay listless in her lap. For a minute there was silence,
in which she rose, walking slowly to the window to gaze out and down,
not turning around. “What is your reason and who is Maritzl?”

He had begun to make up his bundle with quick fingers, the volume of
Iren Dostal inside. “We must leave here forthwith. The Blue Star—she
will do you a terrible harm if she can.”

“You have told me nothing I did not know without that bit of witchery. A
pattern would be useless against her, though, she is too close to the
Church. . . . Rodvard.”

“What will you have?” He pulled the edge of the cloak tight.

“I am sorry I said what lately I did . . . about being seduced. Will you
forgive? I do not wish to be a shrew, as my mother said, and I will say
that I do not regret—what we did.”

He dropped the knot half-made and ran over to her, but she shifted in
his grasp, pointing. “Rodvard!”

Down the line of her finger he saw hurrying figures pass the lantern at
the gate of the Street Cossao. Impossible to miss Mme. Kaja or the
priest, or the provost with bare alerted sword. Said Rodvard; “I did not
think her so quick in her grimness. Is there another stair?”

“Not that I know. I am sure not. No escape. Oh—”

“That cannot be true. Life is to those who struggle for it, says Dr.
Remigorius.” He threw the latch and pushed the window outward; not a
foot down lay a broad rain-gutter, which being proved solid by
foot-weight test, he went three rapid steps across the room to sling his
bundle over one shoulder, stepped out cautiously, caught a grip at the
edge of the dormer with his right hand (not daring to look down into the
dizzy dark), and stretched the other to Lalette. “Come.”

“Oh, I—”

“Come!”

He could feel her shiver dreadfully as she took the step, she almost
tripped over her dress on the sill, but once out, it was she who
stretched to the limit of his restraining hand to swing the window
closed. By good fortune it was a suave spring night; Rodvard could see
stars past the rim of the house as they edged rightward, free hands
pressed against the slates of the mansard, until contact was made with
the second dormer, the one in the dressing room. He gripped at that
edge, sliding foot against foot, the bundle almost pulling him off
balance where he came against the projection. “Hurry,” whispered
Lalette. “I can hear them.”

Ahead and beyond the roof turned; one might work round that backslope
but it would only lead to the opposite side of Mme. Kaja’s garret.
Rodvard halted his sliding progress and looked over his shoulder to see
the loom of the house at the back of the court, fortunately of the same
height. A glance down showed another gutter, with something more than a
thigh-length of black space in separation. He turned again, face
brushing slates, to make out that Lalette had seen it, too.

“Shall we try it?” he whispered, and then, incontinently, “I love you”
(which was for that enchanted moment true). For answer she disengaged
her hand from his and began to tuck up her skirt, leaning with cheek
against the roofslope. He swung and tossed the bundle to the other
gutter; set foot on the edge where they were, teetered, and with
perspiring palms, pushed himself into the long step, almost going down
when the lip of the opposite gutter proved higher. But it was wider as
well, it held, he was able to reach a hand out and pull her across.

There were no windows on this side of the other house, they found it
easy to slide along leftward to the corner, and by the especial grace of
heaven, there was a drain at the angle, in which Rodvard’s foot caught
to keep them from tumbling where the gutter ended suddenly, with the
back of the building going down sheer. They both stood breathless as a
window in the building they had just left cracked open, a voice said;
“No, not along the gutter there. Perhaps they jumped.” Mme. Kaja’s
titter was raised. “We must get more men and search—”

Lalette pressed Rodvard’s hand; the window closed, and they stood mute
on the roof-edge, finger laced in finger, for it seemed a long time.
From below in the court, voices floated up, clear as though they were
only a few feet away, except that one could not make out words, only
that Kaja’s tone was among the rest. Lalette drew him to her and
whispered; “We must go back through before she returns,” and began to
lead to where they had crossed the gap. She was clearly right, they had
no future there, the roof where they were had no break, was only the
side of the building, which went to its peak at the front as well as the
back.

The return, with its repetition of peril already overcome, was worse
than the passage. Rodvard had to stand on the very edge of the gutter to
swing back. Lalette followed lightly. By the time he had reached the
window of the dressing-room, worked it open with one hand, and had a leg
across the sill, he dared look down—and saw what might have made them
earlier hesitate about making a return, namely a blue provost standing
watchfully under the lamp at the street entrance, while two or three
figures more were moving about. But like most searchers, they never
looked aloft.

“Where?” whispered Lalette as they stood in the room, and he:

“We dare not leave the building now. Even if they were not below, the
doorman will be awake. Have you seen anyone else here?”

“I have been a prisoner.”

“Then we must try at random whether it is true, as the priests say, that
not all men are evil.”

Crossing the outer room, hand in hand in the dark, Rodvard stumbled
against a chair, swore softly, and they both laughed under breath. A
board creaked, so did the hinges of the outer door, and they were going
down, each in turn tripping a little at the short end of the steps where
the stairway turned. By unspoken mutual agreement, they tiptoed past the
door of the outer apartment of the fifth and to that at the rear of the
house. Rodvard gathered his breath and knocked.

No step sounded, but as they stood close to catch any stir, a clear,
childish treble came muffled through the wood:

“What is it?”

Rodvard squeezed Lalette’s hand. “I cannot tell you from here,” she said
with her mouth close to the door, “but we need help. Will you let us
in?”

Pause, in which a chain rattled. “In the name and protection of the God
of Love, enter,” and the door melted before them into a darkness
different because it held shapes. “Stand there till I make a light,”
said the young voice. “You must be careful not to break things.”

There was a small sound of fumbling, flint and steel clicked and the
candle came slowly into light on a scene that made Rodvard and Lalette
both almost cry out, for the small room seemed crowded with people;
princes and queens with coronets, richly and gaily dressed, beggars in
rags of silk, yellow warriors with ram-horn helmets, Zigraners with
want-chins and sliding eyes and all other fantasies of human shape, so
life-like in the uncertain gleam that it was an eye-flick before they
could be recognized as festival masquerades. In the midst of them a
smooth-haired boy of it might be anywhere from twelve to sixteen stood
bowing gravely in his night-hose, candle held at arm’s length.

“I am glad to see you,” he said. “My name is Laduis Domijaiek.”

It was a good name for them, from the northwestern provinces, where
Queen and Florestan were least popular. Said Rodvard; “We are pursued by
the city provosts because a court lord wishes harm to this lady. Will
you help her get away?”

The boy looked at Lalette, cocking his head on one side, as though
listening to a distant voice. “Yes,” he said. “My heart says it is right
and we must always listen to the heart. Besides, we don’t like the
provosts.”

“Thank you,” said Lalette. “Where are your parents?”

“Father is in another world, and mother’s at the Marquis of Palm’s
palace to make the costumes for the spring festival. She’s going to stay
all night and she told me I must go to bed. But this is more fun.” He
looked at Lalette again, and his eyes widened suddenly. “Oh, are you the
witch? Witch something for me.”

In spite of her situation, Lalette smiled. “Aren’t you afraid it would
hurt you?”

“Oh, no. We are Amorosians, and so witches can’t hurt anything but our
outsides. I’m not supposed to tell anybody that, only the provosts are
after you, too, so it’s all right.”

From outside came the sound of feet, tramp, tramp, on the stair, and
distant voices. “They are going to search,” said Rodvard. “Laduis, the
lady will come back and witch something for you another day, but just
now we must get her away from the provosts. Is there any way out of this
house except by the main stair?”

The boy was all seriousness. “Not from this floor, Ser. I used to go
down the drain-pipe from Ser Tetteran’s quarter, but that was when I was
thirteen and it isn’t dignified.”

“Then we must hide her.” Rodvard’s eye darted round the small room, took
in the door to that still smaller, where beds must be. “The masks; can
you help us into some of these?”

Laduis Domijaiek clapped his hands, and they set to work—for Lalette a
Kjermanash princess, whose billowing imitation furs would hide the
trimness of her figure; a hunchback Zigraner moneylender for Rodvard,
with a bag of brass-plated scudi. Her dress had to come off, but the boy
took it to hang with his mother’s and came back to help Rodvard adjust
the face-mask as furniture was moved overhead. The thumping came to an
end, there was the sound of feet on the stairs once more, Rodvard and
Lalette squeezed past the ghostly figures at the front of the assembled
masks, and the boy blew out the candle.

Bang! “The Queen’s warrant!” said a voice outside. “Open!”

Rodvard could hear the boy’s feet go pad, pad, on the floor from the
bedroom, acting his part in all detail. “What is it?”

“Queen’s warrant; we’re looking for an assassin.”

Chain rattled. Through the eye-peeps of the mask, Rodvard could see the
priest in the light of the provost’s lantern, and held his breath.

“My mother is not here.”

“We don’t need her. Stand aside.” Rodvard stood rigid, cursing himself
for a fool to have put on this Zigraner guise with its bag of false
coins that might jingle. “By the Service, the whole assembly’s here.”
The priest held high his amulet; this was the moment of test, but it
passed so lightly there might have been no test at all. The provost
raised his lantern; “Anybody call on you tonight, sprout?”

“I was asleep, ser provost.”

The man grunted, light flickered as he went into the bedroom, there was
a thud as though he might be kicking something, and he came back into
the sweep of sight, a naked shortsword showing in his hand. “Not there,”
he said. “Ah, bah, she’s a witch and has spirited herself to the Green
Islands. But I’ll have my revenge.” He swung his sword at the neck of a
yellow-armored Mayern fighting man, and Rodvard heard the head crack to
the floor as the boy cried; “Oh, no.” The provost; “Three scudi reward
for a foeman down. Tell your mother I saved you from a villain. Hark,
now; open your door this night to none more; an order in Her Majesty’s
name.”

The door banged to leave it dark for those within and feet retreated
beyond. Rodvard stirred cramped muscles. “Will they come back?”
Lalette’s voice whispered.

The candle lifted slowly into light. Laduis Domijaiek was on one knee
beside the fallen head, whose nose was broken off. The eyes that looked
up held tears.

“That man killed Baron Mondaifer,” he said, fiercely, “and I would like
to kill him, too.”

Lalette slipped off her head-mask and ran a hand across her hair,
looking very princess with her dark head against the white Kjermanash
fur. “A true sorrow and it is our fault,” she said. “Do you have names
for them all?”

“Oh, yes. You are the Princess Sunimaa, and she’s always getting into
trouble because it’s cold where she comes from, and her heart is all
ice, and the others don’t like her except for Bonsteg the beggar, who is
really a prince in disguise, only she doesn’t know it yet. But Baron
Mondaifer was one of my favorites. He’s from Mayern, you see, and he’s
always lived in the forest, even if he is in favor of Prince Pavinius,
and thinks he’s still a good prophet.”

Said Rodvard, undoing laces to get out of his Zigraner dress; “Your
mother will get someone to fix him and bring him back to life.”

“No. His spirit’s gone away to another body, like father’s and now there
isn’t anything left but dust. If mother has a new head made, I shall
have to give it a different name.”

The boy looked at Rodvard solemnly, and though the Blue Star was cold as
cold upon his breast, he could not somehow draw quite clear the thought
behind those young candid eyes—something about a place shrouded in
clouds, an old house somewhere, with a diffused golden light. Weariness
slit his jaws into a yawn. “There is a place where we can sleep?”

II

They had to take his mother’s bed, not meant for more than one, so that
for the first time they lay close wrapped in each other’s arms with a
night before them; and this, with the sharp memory of the peril shared
on the rooftops hand in hand, was a little more than either could quite
bear unmoved, even though the boy was in a corner of the room. They
began kissing and holding each other very tight; presently deep breaths
said Laduis was asleep. She did not resist (nor desire to). Afterward,
Rodvard lay for a long time wakeful (thinking that this had been the
sobbing, true union, not an arranged accident like that under the tree;
they had pledged each other and were somehow one forever. Now he was
committed, and there was a deep harsh sweetness in the thought of
devotion and change, live and love, forgetting all ambition, high
destiny and even the Sons of the New Day that had brought him to this.)

Of course lark and Laduis rose before them in the morn; the first the
pair heard was a double rap at the outer door and the boy’s voice
saying; “Mother, we have guests.”

Rodvard rolled out to make the best bow he could with half his laces
still undone, and saw a small woman of careworn aspect and maybe
thirty-five years, who had just set a heavy basket on the floor. “Madame
Domijaiek, I am your humble servant, Rodvard Bergelin. Your son took
my—sweetheart and myself in last night to save us from distress.”

“Mother, I listened to the voice of the heart, as you said,” piped the
boy. “They are good. Besides a provost came and broke Baron Mondaifer.”

“It is well done, son.” She placed a hand protectingly on his shoulder.
“Ser, I am glad that Laduis could help you. Have you breakfasted?”

“I left some of my bread and cheese for them, mother. The lady is a
witch.”

Rodvard saw the woman’s face alter, and her eyes, which had held only a
mild questioning, were taken away from him. She fumbled in her
belt-purse. “Laduis,” she said, “will you get another piotr-weight of
millet from the shop at the market-square?”

Lalette came from the bedroom, looking only by the half as delightful as
Rodvard’s night memory painted her; curtsied and said straightly;
“Madame, I am in your benevolence and honor, so now no concealments. I
am Lalette Asterhax, the veritable witch on whom the provosts have set a
price, and if my being here will trouble you, I’ll leave on the instant.
But I swear I have done nothing for which I might truly fear from a just
God.”

Doubt melted from Dame Domijaiek’s face; she reached out both hands to
take the two of the girl’s, saying; “My dear, I could not let you go
from here into danger, for that would not be love. But as for your
witchery, we are also told that if one live in the true world, the outer
appearance of evil on all of us, shall have no force. Each must find his
own way to love. Now you shall tell me the whole story, while I set
forth something to eat.”

The girl gave it all fairly, hiding nothing, as they munched on bread
and cheese and pickled onions. When she had finished on the note of Mme.
Kaja’s treachery, Dame Domijaiek said; “Ill done, but the poor woman’s
fault is partly your own.”

Said Rodvard, surprised; “How can that be, Madame?”

“It takes more than one to make a murder. If you had been wholly ruled
by the God of love, the good will you bore her could not but have been
reflected back toward you. Was there not something, perhaps seeming of
slight importance, on which you felt almost in fury with her?”

Rodvard flushed (recalling the moment when Mme. Kaja had burst in to
find them on the bed), but Lalette said simply; “Yes, and on a question
that most sharply brings angers; to wit, money. Speaking of which, have
you the spadas, Rodvard?”

“Why, no. I reached for them where they were on the table as we went
through the window, but they were not there, and I thought you had taken
them.”

Lalette’s nostrils moved. “A victory for Mme. Kaja. She has left us
penniless.”

“Believe me, an evident result of the fact that you quarrelled with her
on pennies,” said Dame Domijaiek.

Rodvard; “I will not say I disbelieve you, madame; yet I cannot see how
this is valuable in our present necessity. The thing’s done. Now we have
to ask how matters can be bettered, and how to carry word to my good
friend, Dr. Remigorius, so that we can elude the body of this pursuit.”

The widow looked at him steadily and though he was new to this Blue
Star, he felt surprise that he could make out nothing at all behind her
eyes, no thought whatever. “Ser Bergelin,” she said, “you will one day
learn that before you can escape the world’s despairs, you must first
escape the world’s self. But now you have been sent to me for help, and
helped you shall be. With what I know of mask-making, I can so alter
your appearance that it will not be hard to pass a relaxed watch. But
will your doctor provide security?”

“Assuredly,” said Rodvard, (too quickly, Lalette thought), (and it was
so, for he remembered the moment when he surprised the doctor’s mind,
his carelessness of what happened to Lalette.)

Dame Domijaiek gave a trifling sigh. “You will be safe here for the
time. But there is a condition to my aid. I believe in a rule more
certain than yours of witchcraft, demoiselle; and will ask that while
you are under my roof, you will banish from your mind every thought of
evil and horror and revenge, even toward those who have wronged you. It
is a protection I ask for me and my son, though you will not believe
it.”

III

By this time it was clear to both Rodvard and Lalette that as the boy
had said, they were certainly in the house of a follower of the Prophet
of Mancherei. Though they did not speak of it, the thought gave them
both an inner qualm, not over being found there, but at the thought of
what might be done to their inner selves by one of these insidious
probers in secret thoughts, who had so misused their own Prophet. But a
mouse cannot choose the smell of the hole he hides in; they glanced at
each other, and gave the widow their word, as she had asked. The boy
Laduis returned. It was thought better that the pair be somewhat
disguised again, in case of visitors. Lalette kept the Kjermanash furs;
Rodvard at first donned the garb of an executioner, but the girl not
liking him in that, took the gear of a hunter-guide from the Ragged
Mountains instead.

It was a morning of nervous attent, through which they heard feet come
and go in the apartment overhead. Between the promise to the widow and
their own feelings, there was hardly anything that could be said of what
they wished to say, so they spent the time listening to the lad, who
told them tales of his imagined people behind the masks. It would be
about the noon-glass when a man knocked, who said he was the butler of
the Baroness Stampalia to look at a costume; coming so quickly to the
door that Rodvard and Lalette were without time to don head-masks, and
sought refuge in the bedroom. This was as well; the butler examined
attentively everything in the outer room.

Not long later the widow returned, narrowing her eyes over the tale of
the Stampalia butler. “She has her own dressmaker. Could he have been a
spy?” Then to the couple; “You see, you obeyed my injunction as to
thought, and were protected.”

Rodvard would have made a point of this, but Dame Domijaiek gave him no
time, turning to Lalette, with; “Touching your mother, my dear, I think
you have not to be troubled. I have not seen her myself, but the gossip
is that Count Cleudi has most generously sent her a present of money,
which is an evidence of the working of the God of love, though the
instrument may not be what we would desire.”

Rodvard, whom this style of discourse filled with a discomfort he could
not readily assay, asked about Remigorius. The dame had visited his
shop; she produced a chit from the doctor which confirmed all Rodvard’s
discomforts on the matter of Lalette, for it commanded him in guarded
words to come at once, and without her. Lalette did not understand when
he showed her the paper, but she said he must clearly go. Dame Domijaiek
added her voice to the same purport, saying that if Rodvard were needed
to go elsewhere, Lalette would be the safer there for hiding alone.

From a cabinet she brought some of the false hair used on masks and
skillfully affixed a fur of it to Rodvard’s face, while Lalette,
suddenly gay, changed the dress of his head and added a ribbon that make
him quite a different person. He kissed her farewell; the widow simpered
as though it were she who had been saluted, and said she would offer an
answerable prayer to the God of love for the success of his going.

The doorman did not glance from his cachet—a lazy doorman—and the
provost on guard at the street entrance was equally indifferent as
Rodvard went past, feeling a trifle unreal after so long close indoors.
Remigorius was compounding a philter with mortar and pestle; he hailed
Rodvard almost boisterously, laughing over the figure he made in his
false facial hair. “What! Will you have a career as a ladies’ lap-cat,
now that you’ve turned seducer by profession? Well, I have summoned you
here because things mount to a crisis. The court’s finance is utterly
broke, and the High Center holds that we must move fast, for though
there are stirrings in the west, it seems they move in the direction of
Pavinius.”

Said Rodvard; “We are likely to be broke ourselves. Mme. Kaja’s a
traitor.”

Pestle stopped in mortar; the doctor’s face seemed to narrow over the
midnight thicket of his beard and a soft pink tongue came out to run a
circlet round his lips. “I’ll mix that bitch a draft will burn her guts
out. Give me the tale.”

Rodvard told it all plainly, with the hiding on the rooftop and the
household of the Amorosian woman, over which last Remigorius’ eye held
some anxiety. “The one who came here? You did not tell her of our
fellowship? These people of the Prophet’s rule lie as close together as
so many snowflakes, and though they’re as deep against the court as we,
I would not trust them. But touching your affair of the old singer—” he
placed one finger to his cheek and held his eyes averted, so that
Rodvard could not see where his true thought lay “—you’re too
censorious. I see no real treason there; she’s deep in double intrigues
and must keep up an appearance, beside which, no doubt, there is
something of an old woman’s green-sickness for a younger man. It may all
have been by order of the High Center, indeed; you’d certainly have been
saved yourself by some tale, for you are now too valuable. Now for our
affair; you are to take the stage at dawning for Sedad Vix, where you
are to be writer for Count Cleudi at the conference of court.”

Rodvard’s eyes sprang open wide. “The court? Will I not be known?”

“Ah, nya, you’re not involved now in this pursuit of the provosts. The
only one that could establish your communion with the witch is cared
for.”

“What—who would that be?”

“Your pensionnario doorman. An accident happened to him last night but
one; was found in the river this morning, thoroughly dead and green as a
smelt.” Remigorius waved a hand goodbye to Udo the Crab and whipped to
his main theme, the conference of court. Florestan the Chancellor, the
army restive for want of pay, the revenues hypothecated, the question of
a great assembly, Cleudi intriguing, the time come for all terrible
measures.

“But Mathurin can discover all this as clearly as I,” said Rodvard (a
little quickfire of suspicion running through him).

“Better in the open, but we’d know the secret purposes, and whom to
trust. Mathurin takes Cleudi to be a spy for the regent of Tritulacca,
despite his ejection from the councils there. Is it true? You’ll find
the hiding place of his mind. Then there’s Baron Brunivar, the peoples’
friend, as they call him. A reputation too exalted for credit. He’s from
the West—is he not by chance in Prince Pavinius’ service, seeking to
place that worm-bitten saint on the throne, as prince and Prophet, both
together? A thousand such questions; you’ll play in high politics, young
man, and earn yourself a name.”

Rodvard (heart beating) said; “Well—”

“Well, what do you ask more?”

(His mind made up with a snap, and as though the words came from someone
else;) “Two things. To write a letter to Demoiselle Asterhax, who will
be expecting my return, and to know how I am to reach Sedad Vix without
a spada.”

Remigorius shot him a glance, hit and past (in which there was annoyance
and something like a drop of ink about Lalette). “What, you grasshopper?
Always without money. To Sedad Vix is a spada and two coppers.” He drew
from his pouch this exact amount. “As for the letter, write. Here’s
paper, I’ll charge myself with the delivery.”

Rodvard wrote his letter; discussed through a falling light what persons
might be watched at the villa by the sea, and how to give the news to
Mathurin; dined miserably with the doctor on a stew that had the sharp
taste of meat kept beyond its time, and lay down exhausted on the floor,
with a couple of cushions and his cloak.

Sleep withheld its hand; his mind kept running in a circle round the
thought of being a controller of destinies, until he made up a land of
play-show in his head, of being accuser before a court of the people,
with some man who bore a great name as the accused, and himself making a
speech—“But you, your lordship, are a liar and a traitor. What of your
secret adhesion to the Prophet? . . .” The scene he could fix clearly,
with the accused’s face, and the members of the court looking grim as
the accusation was driven home, but somehow the people of his drama
would not move around or change expression beyond this one point, and
each time he reached it, the whole thing ended in a white flash, and he
drifted for a while between sleeping and waking, wondering whether his
Blue Star might not be driving him foolish, until the imagined play
began again, without any will of his own. Toward day, he must have slept
a little, for Remigorius was laying a cold hand on his face, and it was
time to look toward the new day and new life.

II

From the city to Sedad Vix by the shore is a fair twelve leagues,
through the most fertile fields in all Dossola, now jumping with new
green, orchards blooming in a row and pale yellow jonquils. Another time
Rodvard had found the trip after they crossed the high bridge pure
pleasure; but now he felt having missed his sleep, and the travel-mate
in the opposite seat was a good-looking pregnant woman, who said she was
going to join her husband, and babbled on about his position in the
royal orchestra till one could not even doze. The Blue Star said coldly
that she was a liar and talking to hide the true fact, namely that she
hated her husband and pregnancy and the love of any man, and as soon as
she was free of her condition, hoped to catch the eye of some wealthy
lady and to be maintained for pleasures impermissible—so vile a thought
that Rodvard closed his eyes. The man next to him was a merchant of some
kind by the badge in his cap; he kept addressing heavy-handed
compliments to the dame, saying that he would dance with her at the
spring festival and the like. Rodvard, turning, could see he thought her
licentious, and was determined to profit by it at some future time. At
Masjon, where they stopped for lunch, the merchant-man bought a whole
roasted chicken and a bottle of that fine white Tritulaccan wine which
is called The Honey of the Hills.

Rodvard himself was a little faint from lack of food when he reached the
royal villa after a solid half-league of trudging beyond the stage-post,
nor did the under-butler who received him offer food, but took him at
once to a cabinet looking out over a terraced flower-garden, at the back
of the rambling building. This guide said to wait for the arrival of Ser
Tuolén, the butler-in-chief. The name had a Kjermanash sound; and sure
enough, the tall man who came after perhaps half an hour’s retard, had
the high-bridged nose and curling hair of that northern land. Rodvard
stood to greet him with extended hand, and as he looked into the eyes,
received a shock that ran through him like poison-fire, with its
indubitable message that he was facing another wearer of the Blue Star.

“You are Ser Bergelin?” The eyes looked at him fixedly though the lips
did not cease smiling. “What is your function to be?”

“Writer to the Count Cleudi for the conference,” Rodvard managed to say.
(One almost seemed to drown in those eyes, liquid and northern blue, but
he could not read a single thought behind them.)

The smile expanded. “You will find it easier to meet others who _know_
when you have borne that stone for a time. I perceive it is a novelty to
you. There are not many of us. Hmmm—I suppose it is little use asking
you why Count Cleudi wishes a Blue Star with him. No matter; I have
watched him before, and it is no secret that he wishes to be Chancellor;
even Lord Florestan knows that. I trust you are not an Amorosian or one
of that band of assassins who call themselves Sons of the New Day?”

“No,” said Rodvard (and thought with the back of his mind that this was
why all plans to deal directly with the court had broken, and others of
the brotherhood been laid in the toils of the provosts, this Star-bearer
here.) With the front of his thought he concentrated on looking at the
detail in the painting of a milkmaid just beyond Tuolén’s ear.

The butler-in-chief turned. “It is by Raubasco. He was not satisfied
with the highlights in the middle distance, as I discovered by a means
you will understand, so it was easy to persuade the painting away from
him. Do you intend to bring your wife?”

“No,” said Rodvard, (thinking quickly on Lalette and as quickly away).

“Oh, there is something wrong with the personal relation. Perhaps it is
just as well if you do not; Her Majesty is not prudish, but she does not
approve of witches at the court. Your room will be at the depth of the
west wing, beyond the hall of conference. I will have one of the
under-butlers show you.” He stood up, then paused with one hand holding
the bell-rope.

“One last word. A Bearer finds himself in a strange position here
without his witch. I suppose your wife has given you the usual warning
about infidelity, but you are clearly new to the jewel and young, and
there are not a few ladies who might make the loss seem worth the
gain—since you can read their desires. In particular I warn you to stand
clear of the Countess Aiella of Arjen, in whom I have noted something of
the kind. She is involved with the Duke of Aggermans, a man who’ll
protect his own dangerously. . . . Drop in tomorrow night after Cleudi
releases you; it will be a pleasure to compare things seen with another
Bearer. I have not met one for long.”

In the room was a tray of food on the table, ample and well selected,
with a bottle of wine; three or four books also, but they were all
gesling-romances, and of a kind Rodvard found it difficult to bear even
when well written, as these hardly were. He glanced at each in turn,
then tossed them aside, and was only rescued from boredom by Mathurin’s
coming, who pressed his hands, and said he would come the next evening
again, but for the now, he must hurry.

Rodvard replied that the high butler Tuolén was the bearer of a Star,
and Mathurin must either avoid his eye or keep his own thought on
innocuous subjects.

“And his witch? Wait, no, that explains much.”

“I do not see,” said Rodvard.

“Why, fool, the hold the court party has. No sooner a man turns up
that’s in opposition than your Tuolén knows his most secret purpose, and
I do not doubt that his wife witches the man. This is something for the
High Center of the New Day.”

III

A pretty maid brought him breakfast in bed. She gave him a cheerful
morning greeting but embarrassed him by hoping in her thought that he
would not make love to her. Her mind held some memory of how the last
man in this room had done so, but she shied from the thought of the
outcome so much that instead of decently avoiding her look Rodvard was
tempted to pry deeper, but there was hardly time.

She said it would be near to noon when Count Cleudi rose and that his
apartment was in one of the pavilions set among tree and shrub and
garden, west from the main villa. Rodvard dressed and went to stroll in
that direction through curved avenues among intricate beds of spring
flowers—tulip and narcissus, with pink azaleas just in the bud beside
them and magnolia showing its heavy white wax. The pathways had been
laid out so that each sweep brought somewhere into view through trees
the pale blue bay, with the white houses of Sedad Vix climbing the slope
beyond, their walls touched to gold by genial sunshine; bright yellow
birds were singing overhead, or busily gathering morsels for their
nests. Rodvard felt his heart expanding with a joyous certainty that all
would yet be well, though in the same tick demanding of himself how men
who dwelt in such surroundings could be given to evil and oppression.
Ah, if all people could only walk in gardens daily! A question in
philosophy to put to the doctor—but before he could frame it into words,
a turn of the path brought him past a tall clump of rhododendrons to the
front of a red-doored pavilion, where a gardener was letting into the
ground plants of blooming hyacinth.

The air was rich with their fragrance. “Good morning to you,” said
Rodvard cheerfully, for joy of the world.

The man looked up with lips that turned down at the corners. “If you say
it is a good morning, I suppose it must be one for you,” he said, and
turned back to his trowel.

“Why, I would call it the best of mornings. Does not the fine air of it
please you?”

“Enough.”

“Then what’s amiss? Have you troubles?”

“Who has not?” The gardener slapped his trowel against the ground beside
his latest plant. “Look at these flowers, now. Just smell that white one
there, it’s more fragrant than the blue. Aren’t they beautiful things?
Brought here at expense, and in this soil, see how black it is, they
would grow more perfect than ever, year by year. But here’s the end of
them; as soon as the blossoms fade ever so little, poor things, they
must be dug up and thrown away, because she—” he swung his head and
rolled an eye in the direction of the red-doored pavilion “—can’t bear
to have any but blooming flowers at her door and will want new lilies.”

“Who is she?” asked Rodvard, lowering his tone for fear that voices will
sometimes carry through wood.

“The Countess Aiella. Her affair, you will be saying, whether flowers
die or live; she has all that income from the Arjen estates, and doesn’t
have to provide for her brothers, who married those two heiresses up in
Bregatz, but a man could still weep for the waste of the flowers. Ser,
give a thought to it, how in the world we never have enough of beauty
and those who destroy any part of it take something from all other
people. Is it not true, now?”

He paused on his knees and looked up at Rodvard (who was growing
interested indeed, but now felt the coldness of the Blue Star telling
him that this earthy philosopher was not thinking of beauty at all, but
only reciting a lesson and wondering whether his pretty speech might not
draw him a gift from this poetical-looking young man.)

“I do not doubt it,” he said, “but I have no money to give away,” and
turned to go, but he had not travelled a dozen paces when he met one who
must be the Countess Aiella herself by the little double coronet in her
drag-edge hat. Rodvard doffed to the coronet, noting in the fleeting
second of his bow the passionate, bewildering beauty of the face
surrounded by curves of light-brown hair.

She stopped. “Put it on,” she said, and he looked up at her. The cloak
did not conceal the fact that she was still dressed for evening; a leg
showed through the slit in her dress. “I have not seen you before.”

“No, your grace. I only arrived last night.”

“Your badge says you are a clerk.”

“I am a writer to the Count Cleudi for this conference.” (He dared to
look into the eyes a finger-joint length below his own; behind them
there was boredom with a faint flicker of interest in himself and the
thought of having spent a bad night; a weary thought.)

“Count Cleudi, oh. You might be him in disguise.” She laughed a laugh
that trilled up the scale, slipped past him with a motion as lithe as a
gazelle’s and up the path into the red-doored pavilion. Rodvard looked
after her until he heard the gardener cackle, then, a little angry with
himself, stamped on round the turn of the path, trying to recover the
glory of the morning. Some of it came back, but not enough to prevent
him thinking more on the comparison between this countess and Lalette
than the difference between this day and any other day; and so he
reached Cleudi’s door, with its device of a fishing bird carved into the
wood.

Mathurin greeted him properly in words to show he and Rodvard barely had
met each other. The pavilion was all on one floor, the Count in a room
at the side, with a man doing his hair while he sipped hot spiced wine,
from which a delicious odor floated. Rodvard had heard of, but never
seen this famous exile and intriguer; he looked into a narrow face with
a broad brow above a sharp nose and lips that spoke of self-indulgence.
Mathurin pronounced the name of the new writer; a pair of dark eyes
looked at Rodvard broodingly (the thought behind them wondering what his
weakness was and how he would cheat). Said Cleudi:

“I do not ask your earlier employment, since it is of no moment if you
are faithful and intelligent. I cannot bear stupidity. Can you read
Tritulaccan?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“You will gain nothing by attempting to flatter me with the form of
address. On the side table are pens and papers, also a horoscope which
has been cast in Tritulaccan and a poem in your own musical language.
Make fair copies of both in Dossolan. Have you breakfasted?” (His accent
had the slight overemphasis on S which no Tritulaccan ever loses.)

“Yes, thank you.”

The symbols on the astrological chart were new to Rodvard; he had to
copy each by sheer drawing and then translate the terms as best he
might. The poem was a sonnet in praise of a brown-haired lady; its meter
limped at two points. Rodvard managed to correct one of them by a
transposition of words and presently laid both papers before Cleudi, who
knit his brows over them for a moment and smiled:

“You are a very daring writer to improve on what I have set down, but it
is well done. Mathurin, give him a scuderius. Well then, you are to wait
on me in the conference at nine glasses of the afternoon. Everything I
say is to be set down, and also the remarks of the Chancellor Florestan,
but most especially those of the Baron Brunivar, for these may be of
future use. Of the others, whatever you yourself, consider worth while.
You are dismissed.”

Mathurin saw him to the door. “The scuderius?” asked Rodvard.

“Goes into the treasury of our Center,” said the servitor.

“But I have no money, no money at all,” protested Rodvard.

“Pish, you do not need it here. Would you starve our high purpose to
feed your personal pleasure in little things? I will come to your room
tonight.”

Norfloxacin