The Blue Star
Chapter 7: Sedad Vix: A New Life
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.
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.