The Blue Star
Chapter 3: Escape
There was a moon to throw black shadows on passing cat and man; Lalette’s little sharp heels clicked so loud on the pave that she almost changed to tiptoe. The Street of the Weavers was known to her; at its gate she had first met Rodvard, amid booths gay with bunting for the autumn festival. He slapped her with a bladder then, and challenged her to dance the volalelle among the reeling violins and sweet recorders...
“Fair lady,” said a tentative voice. Not even looking round, she pulled the hood closer and hurried her steps until those behind her sounded irresolute and then died away.
One, two, three; moonlight showed a door that would be a worn blue by day, clearly a pensionnario. Lalette caught her breath at the loud flat rap of the knocker through the silent street, held it for a long minute and was just wondering whether she dared strike again, when there was a sound of fuzzy disturbance within, and a wicket window beside the door came open on an ill-tempered face, with a long, drooping, dirty moustache.
“What do you want?”
“I—I must speak with Rodvard Bergelin.”
“This is a respectable house. Speak with him in the morning.”
“It is—a matter of life and death—Oh, dear God!” as the wicket began to close. “Here.” She reached in her purse and recklessly thrust at the face one of the three silver spadas that were all the money she had in the world (What will mother do tomorrow morning?). The face expressed a sour satisfaction; an inarticulate grumble came out of it, which she interpreted as a command to wait where she was. (The musicians’ booth had been where the shadow of a turret split the corner in particular shapes.)
A sound of footsteps approached the door from within and it opened upon Rodvard yawning, hair awry, hose wrinkled at the knees, jacket flung around unlaced.
“Lalette! What is it? Come in.”
The moustached face hung itself in the background. “She cannot come in this house at night.”
“I say she cannot come in so late. This is a respectable house. Go down to Losleib Street.”
Face closed the door; Rodvard, all anxious, came down the single step, pulling his jacket together (with the fine brown hair curling on his chest in the form of a many-pointed star). “What is it?”
“Can you help me? I do not want to be a burden, but there is trouble. Truly, not meaning to, I set a witchery on Count Cleudi, and they said he would have me arrested to the Court of Deacons.”
He was all wideawake and grave at once. “Is there no legalist or priest you could—”
She stamped. “Would I come here, to your respectable house?”
“I did not mean—I only asked—forgive, this is to be thought on ... Attention; I have heard of an inn by the north gate where provosts never find anyone who pays. I will go with you.”
“I have hardly any money.”
Even in that uncandid light, she saw his face frown and alter, almost as Cleudi’s had, another resemblance. (That is what he imagines I am like, the quick thought crossed her mind, bitterer than the doorman’s suspicion.) “Wait; I think I know where you’ll be safe for tonight, with a friend of mine who is no friend of provosts or court lords, either. But I must get my cap and knife.”
She was quick enough dodging his kiss to make it seem she was only missing the intention. He went round on his heel and up the stair, back in a minute with the feathered cap he had worn that afternoon, and properly belted with his knife. “This friend of mine is a Dr. Remigorius, have you heard of him? A great man to roar at you like a lion, but of good and generous heart. For the poor he has always a kind word, and often physics them or delivers their children without ever asking payment.”
They passed into the night city. “How did it happen?” questioned he at a turning.
“In the beginning an accident—ah, do not ask me.” She gestured impatient, then put the hand that did not hold his arm up to her face. “And now I am a witch, and I swore I never would be.”
“It is my fault. I am sorry. Will you wed with me?” (The words were out; he felt a thrill of peril run up his spine.)
“Do you wish—no you do not, I know it. Beside, how would we find a priest who’d make a marriage without episcopal license—and for a witch?”
“But I do truly desire it. I swear—”
“Oh, spare me your false oaths. Since you ask forgiveness, I’ll forgive anything but those.” She gripped his arm suddenly so hard it hurt. At the corner of the next street was a watch of two, one with halberd and helmet, the other sword and lantern, but the sight of late-walking couples would be less than novel to them, they only gave a glance in passing.
Rodvard brought her round another corner and before one of those houses built with jutting overstoreys in the Zigraner fashion. Small-paned windows were beside a door, where a stiff stuffed lizard hung to show that someone within practiced the art medic. The bell tinkled crackedly; Rodvard’s arm came nervous-tight around the girl. “It will turn to a happy issue,” he said. “No harm can touch us, now we have—found each other.” She did not try to draw from the warm sweet pressure, and it endured until a second ring brought the man out, with a fine beard ridiculously done up in a sleeping-bag to hold its shape, and a robe like a priest’s hastily corded round him.
“This is the Demoiselle Asterhax,” said Rodvard. “Can you help her? She has put a witchery on one of the court lords, Count Cleudi, and is searched for by the provosts.”
Sleep fell from the older man’s eyes. “A witchery? The Tritulaccan count? He has enough favor to be deadly if he will, and it would involve me in the overthrow ... But I am sworn by the practice of the healing art to refuse help to none who come in distress. Enter from the cold.”
Lalette caught a darkling glimpse of shelves lined with jars in glass or stone as they passed through. Rodvard half stumbled against a stool and they were at an inner door, where Dr. Remigorius said; “Halt,” struck flint and steel to a candle and stood in its light beside the untidy bed, pulling off his beard-bag. “Now you shall tell me a true tale of how this came about,” he said, “for a physician must know the whole nature of the disease he is to cure, ha, ha. Will the demoiselle sit?” He swept the pile of his own garments from the only chair to the bed.
The wine in her limbs and the long double walk had left Lalette tired and safe and not caring very much now. She sat down slowly. “It was only that Count Cleudi came with some baskets of supper and was trying to persuade me to go to the opera-ball with him, and I was toying with my fingers in some spilled wine on the table. You know how one does—” she made a little gesture of appeal. “I accidentally drew witch patterns and when he saw what they were, he—he—he would have had me against my will, so I witched him. That’s all.”
Not a line changed in Remigorius’ face. Said he; “I see—all but one detail. What made you flee so fast by midnight to my friend Rodvard? What do you know about this Count Cleudi?”
“It was his servant, a man named Mathurin, said I must instantly take my mother’s Blue Star and go. Because he would have had me killed.”
She saw Rodvard flick up his eyebrows as he glanced at Remigorius. (The expression round his mouth might have been triumph, which was incomprehensible); her brow knit, but the doctor’s voice was smooth as ice; “It is not your mother’s Blue Star, but your man’s, while he is your lover, and I think this must be the case, or you would not have witched this southern Count. You have Ser Rodvard’s bauble safe, then?”
(A faint perfume of suspicion—was it to herself or to this Blue Star that he was offering kindness?) Lalette said; “I have it here,” and took the box from under her cloak.
The doctor, gravely; “Then you will have the provosts much the hotter on your trail, since the lords temporal and spiritual are not desirous to have these things in hands they are not certain of. I think you must fly from the city as fast as you can, perhaps even beyond the Queen’s writ, up to Kjermanash. Not Mayern, because of the Prince and his prophecies. But before that it would be well to provide this Blue Star with the needed witchery and let Ser Rodvard bear it. When you are not easily found, be sure they will set spies out for you, and with this tool you may be sure of people you meet.”