The Blue Star
Chapter 5: Night; Generosity; Treason
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—”