The Blue Star
Chapter 9: Spring Festival: Intrigue of Count Cleudi
“Now the mask, Mathurin,” said Count Cleudi. One corner of his lip twitched (the black eyes glinting with malice). He seemed as light and strong as one of those bronze statues of the winged man, knuckles resting on the table. His own costume was a rich purple, as he glanced from the mirror to Rodvard’s face, masked down to the lower cheeks, but with the lips bare.
“The chin is much alike. Turn around, Bergelin, slowly, pivoting on the ball of the right foot. So.” He lifted his own right arm, slightly bent, dropped his left hand to dagger-hilt, and illustrated. Rodvard tried to follow him.
“Not quite right with the dagger; you are jerky. But you will hardly be dancing a corabando. Have the goodness to walk across the room. Stand. Mathurin, where does he lack the resemblance?”
The servant’s fingers came up to his lip. “The voice is almost perfect, my lord, but there is something in the movement of the hands not quite...”
“It is only birth that does it,” said Cleudi. “The wrist laces; he is not very used to handling them. But for the rest, Bergelin, you were born a most accomplished mimic and swindler. Remind me to dismiss you before your natural talent is turned in my direction. Now the instruction; repeat.”
“I am to be at the ball when the opera is over, at least a glass before midnight. The fourth box on the left-hand side is yours. I am to look at the doorbase of the second box, where a handkerchief will be caught. If it is white, edged with lace, perfumed with honeymusk, I am to go below and make myself seen at the gaming tables. But if the handkerchief is blue and rose-perfumed, I am to take it away and leave in its place another; then without being seen on the dancing floor or at the games, go at once to my lord’s box, but leave the panels up and the curtains closed. Someone will presently tap twice, a lady. I am to greet her with my lord’s sonnet, eat with her; declare my passion for her ... My lord?”
“What if—that is—I would—”
Cleudi shot him a gleam (containing amusement mingled with a little dark shade of cruelty and the thought of shaming him with the full statement of his quaver). “You want money, apprentice swindler? You should—”
“No, my lord, it is not that, but—.” The Count’s toe tapped, his expression became a rictus, and Rodvard rushed on with heat at the back of his neck. “What if the intrigue does not succeed, that is if you do not appear in time—”
The rictus became a bark. “Ha—why, then you must suffer the horrid fate of being alone in a secluded apartment with the shapeliest and most willing woman in Dossola. Are you impotent?”
Rodvard half opened his mouth to protest in stumbling words that he was a promised man, who thought it less than honest to violate his given word, but Mathurin tittered and (the stream of hate and fury that flowed from those black eyes!) he only made a small sound. Cleudi barked again:
“Ha! Will you be a theologian, then? It is she who should make confession, not you—by the wise decision of the Church, as I was discussing but lately with the Episcopal of Zenss. The minor priests will say otherwise; but it is a reflection from the old days, before the present congress of episcopals. Listen, peasant; is it not manifestly to the glory of God that men should seek women for their first and highest pleasure, as it is that daughters should have all monetary inheritance? Is it not also manifest that all would be under the rule of women, who have the Art as well as their arts, unless some disability lay upon them ... Ah, chutte! Why do I talk like a deacon to a be-damned clerk? Enough that I have given you an order. Greater things than you think hang on this intrigue, and you’ll execute it well, or by the Service, I’ll reduce you to a state where no woman will tempt you again. Now take off that finery; be prompt here at two glasses before midnight for Mathurin to dress you.”
“But where does this intrigue lead?” asked Rodvard.
“Could not your Blue Star give you a clue?” said Mathurin. They sat on a green bank behind the hall of conference, many-colored tulips waving in the light breeze about them, and Rodvard carefully tore one of the long leaves to ribbons as he answered:
“No. There may have been something about Aggermans in it, but he was not thinking of his central purpose at all, only about how it would be a nasty joke and a revenge. What—” (it was behind his lips to ask what he should do lest he lose the power of the Blue Star, but in midflight he changed) “—what have you done toward saving Baron Brunivar? Will there be a rising?”
(There was a quick note of suspicion and surprise in the eyes that lifted to meet his.) “Nothing for now, but to let Remigorius, and through him the High Center, know what’s in prospect. There’s no accusation as matters stand; it will gain us nothing merely to put out the story that the court plots against him ... Yet I do not understand why he has failed to fly when it’s as clear as summer light that Florestan means the worse toward him.”
“What I do not understand,” said Rodvard, “is why the High Center has failed to make more preparation. It will be too late when Brunivar’s been placed in a dungeon, under guard and accusation with a shar of soldiers around him.”
“It would never pass...” Mathurin’s voice trailed off; he contemplated the lawns, brow deep, and Rodvard could not see his thought. “I can understand the High Center.”
“What would never pass? You are more mysterious than the Count, friend Mathurin, with your hints here and there.”
The servitor turned on him eyes of angry candor. “Rodvard Yes-and-No, my friend, Cleudi is right in calling you more of a moralist than a churchman is. By what right do you question me so? Do you think I am of the High Center? Yet I will show you some of the considerations. It will never pass that the Chancellor should execute Brunivar and then have it proved that this fate came on him for some private reason. And now that you whip me to it, I will say as well that it will never pass that Brunivar should not be executed while we cry shame. We need a general rising, not a rescue that will drive many of us abroad. People will not leave their lives to fight until there is something in those lives that may not be sustained.”
(Conscience again.) Rodvard set his mouth. “If you wish the reign of justice for others, it seems to me that you must give it yourself, Mathurin, and I see no justice in watching a good man condemned to death when he might be saved. I heard the Baron speak out in conference, and he may yet win something there. But even fled to Tritulacca, or to Mayern and Prince Pavinius, he would still be worth more than with his throat cut.”
The serving man stood up. “I’ll not chop logic against you; only say, beware. For you are a member under orders; your own will or moral has nothing to do with the acts of the High Center. Brunivar is nothing to us; down with him, he is a part of the dead past which is all rotten at the heart, and of which we must rid ourselves for the living future. I will see you later, friend Bergelin.”
A tray had been left in his room as usual, but Rodvard hardly ate from it before flinging himself down to lie supine, watching the pattern of light through the shutters as it slowly ticked across the wall, trying to resolve the problem that beset him. Brunivar with his noble aspect and surely, his noble mind. “Free will and the love of humankind,” the Baron had said, and they called it the doctrine of the apostate Prophet. Yet for what else had he himself joined the Sons of the New Day? What else had the Baron put into practice out there in his province of the west?