The Blue Star
Chapter 6: Night and Day; the Place of Masks

Public Domain

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.)

 
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