The Blue Star
Chapter 2: April Night

Public Domain

Lalette looked up through branches to the purpling sky, then down from the little crest and across the long flat fertile fields, reaching out toward the Eastern Sea, where night was rising. “I must go,” she said. “My mother will be back from the service.” Her voice was flat.

“Not yet,” said Rodvard, lifting his head from arms wrapped around his knees. “You said she would stay to talk with the fat priest ... In this light, your eyes are green.”

“It is the sign of a bad temper, my mother tells me. She looked in the waters for me once, and says that when I am married, I will be a frightful shrew.” (It was almost too much trouble to move, she was glad even to make a slender line of conversation that would hold her immobile in the calm twilight.)

“Then you must be fated to marry a bad man. I do not see—if you really loved someone, how could you be shrewish with them?”

“Oh, the girls of our heritage cannot marry for love. It is the tradition of the witch-families.” She sat up suddenly. “Now I must absolutely go.”

He placed his hand over hers, where it rested on the long green moss under the cedars. “Absolutely, I will not let you go. I will bind you with hard bonds, till you tell me more about your family. Do you really have a Blue Star?”

“My mother does ... I do not know. My father would never use it, that is why we are so poor. He said it was wrong and dangerous. My mother’s father used it though, she says, before she got it from him. It was he who told her to choose my father. He was a Capellan in the army, you know, and was killed in the war at the siege of Sedad Mir. My mother’s father could read through the Star that my father wanted my mother for herself and not for her heritage. It was a love-match, but now there is no one that can use the Star.” (Lalette thought: I really must not tell stories like that that are not true, it only slipped out because I do not wish to go back and hear her talking about Count Cleudi again.)

“Could not you sell it?” asked Rodvard.

“Who would buy it? It would be a confession that someone wanted to practice witchery, and then the priests would come down and there’d be a church trial. It is a very strange thing and a burden to have witchery in one’s blood.” She shuddered a little (attracted and yet depressed, as always when it was a question of That). “I do not want to be a witch, ever—”

“Why, I would think—” began Rodvard, (really thinking that in spite of her beauty, this was the reason she more than a little repelled).

“—and have people hating me, and those who want to like me not sure whether they really do, or whether it is only another witchery. The only real friend my mother has is Uncle Bontembi, and that’s because he’s a priest, and I don’t think he’s a real friend either, but keeps watch of her so that when she makes a witchery he can collect another fine for the Church.” Rodvard felt the small hand clench beneath his own. “I’ll never marry, and stay a virgin, and will not be a witch!”

“What would happen to the Blue Star then? You have no sisters, have you?”

“Only a brother, and he went overseas to Mancherei when the Prophet began to preach there. Somebody said he went beyond to the Green Isles afterward, when the Prophet left. We do not hear from him any more ... But he couldn’t use the Blue Star anyway, unless he were bound with a girl from one of the other families, who could witch it for him.”

Overhead the sky was deepening, with one faint easterly star agleam, a long slow smoke rose in convolutions from the chimney of a cot down there, (and Rodvard thought desperately of the lovely light-haired girl who had come so many times to search witch-family records at his clerk’s cabinet in the Office of Pedigree, but she was a baron’s daughter by her badge, and even if he did obtain the Blue Star from this one, and used it to win the light-haired girl, then Lalette would be a witch and put a spell on him—oh tangle!). The hand within his stirred.

“I must go,” said Lalette again. (He looks something like Cleudi, she was thinking, but not so old and hard and a little romantic, and he had eye enough to catch the wonderful tiny flash of green among the blue when the sun dipped under.)

“Ah, no. You shall not go, not yet. This is a magic evening and we will keep it forever till all’s dark.”

Her face softened a trifle in the fading light, but she pulled to withdraw her hand. “Truly.”

He clung the tighter, feeling heart-beat, vein-beat in the momentary small struggle. “What if I will not let you go till lantern-glass and the gates are closed?”

“Then Uncle Bontembi will expect me to make a confession and if I do not, he will put a fine on me, and it will be bad for my mother because we are so poor.”

“But if I kept you, it would be to run away with you, ah, far beyond the Shining Mountains, and live with you forever.”

Her hand went passive again, she leaned toward him a trifle, as though to see more surely the expression on his face. “Do you mean that, Rodvard Bergelin?”

He caught breath. “Why—why should I say it else?”

“You do not. Let me go, let me go, or I’ll make you.” She half turned, trying to rise, bringing the other hand to help pull loose his fingers.

“Will you witch me, witch?” he cried, struggling, and his grasp slipped to her wrist.

“No—.” She snatched at the held hand with the other, catching the thumb and crying fiercely; “I’ll break my own finger, I swear it, if you do not let go.”

“No...” He flung her two hands apart. Lithe as a serpent, she wrung one and then the other from his grasp, but it was with an effort that carried her off balance and supine asprawl. He rolled on his hip to pin her down, hands on her elbows, breast to breast, and was kissing her half-opened mouth till she stopped trying, turning her face from his and whispering: “Let me go. It’s wrong. It’s wrong.”

“I will not,” and he released one hand to feel where the maddening sensation of her breast came against him and the laces began. (The thought was fleetingly seen in the camera obscura of his inner mind that he did not love her and would have to pay for this somehow.)

“Let me go!” she cried again in a strangled voice, and convulsing, struck him on the side of the head with her free hand. At that moment the laces gave, her hand came round his head instead of against it, drawing his face down in a long sobbing kiss, through which a murmur, softer than a whisper; “All right, oh, all right, go on.” (There was one little flash of triumph across her mind, one trouble solved, Cleudi would never want her now.)

Afterward, he knelt to kiss her skirt-hem. Her lips were compressed at the center, a little raised at the corners. “Now I understand,” said she; but he did not, and all the way home was eaten by the most dreadful cold fear that she would revenge herself on him with a witchery that would leave him stark idiot or smitten with dreadful disease. And the other, the other; his mind would not form her name, and there was a cry within him.

II

All three of them were waiting, with that man of Count Cleudi’s—the olive-skinned one with such intense eyes—what was his name? Lalette curtsied; Uncle Bontembi smiled. Said Cleudi; “Mathurin, the baskets. I commenced to think we should miss the pleasure of your company tonight, charming Demoiselle Lalette, and my heart was desolated.”

“Oh,” she said, (thinking—what if they knew?). “But here is Uncle Bontembi who will tell you that to be desolate of heart is to serve evil and not true religion, since God wishes us to be happy; for since he has created us in his image, it must be an image of delight.”

“You reason like an angel, Demoiselle Lalette; permit that I salute you.” She moved just enough to make his kiss fall on her cheek. Dame Leonalda simpered, but there was, flick and gone again, a frown across Cleudi’s high-cheekboned face. “What a lovely color your daughter has!”

Mathurin laid out the table with napkins which he unfolded from the baskets. There were oysters packed in snow; bubbling wine; a pastry of truffles and pike-livers; small artichokes pickled entire, peaches that must have come from the south, since it was only peach-blossom time in Dossola; white bread; a ham enriched with spices; honeyed small sweetmeats of dwarf fruit. (If he were only more to me and less for himself, thought Lalette, he might be possible; for he does not stint.) They sat down with herself and her mother opposite each other and the two men at the sides of the table, so small that knees touched. Mathurin the servant stood beside her chair, but flitted round to give to the rest as occasion demanded. Cleudi discoursed—a thousand things, eating with his left hand and letting his right now and again drop to touch the fabric over Lalette’s leg, which, laughing with talk and wine, she did not deny him. (An aura, like a perfume of virility and desire and pleasure, emanated from him; Lalette felt as though she were swaying slightly in her seat.)

 
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