The Blue Star
Chapter 11: Kazmerga; Two Against a World

Public Domain

Mathurin entered on his almost soundless feet and let the door close behind him in the dark before saying, “Rodvard,” softly. Rodvard, who had been letting his mind drift along endless alleys rather than thinking, swung himself up. “I will make a light.”

“Do not. There is danger enough, and its point would so be sharpened. Do not even speak aloud.”

“What is it?”

“The Duke of Aggermans. His bravoes are let loose. No time. I only just now learned it from the Count.” Outside there was the soft sighing of rain.

“I am to go?”

“At once. Make your way south, to the Center of Sedad Mir. The contact is a wool-dealer named Stündert, in the second dock street. Can you remember? Change clothes with me quickly. Do not even take the door, which is watched, but go by the window, across the road, and south into the country.”

The serving-man began to undress in the dark; Rodvard recognized the sound. “Is there any money?” he asked.

The rustling stopped. “You to need money, who have the Blue Star?”

Even under the dark, Rodvard felt himself flush (did he dare tell what had happened? No.). “Still, I will need some small amount. I have nothing.”

Even under his breath Rodvard could catch the fury in the other’s tone; “Ah, you deserve to have your bones broken.”

“I know; but is there any money?” Rodvard fumbled for the unfamiliar lace-points.

The man snarled, but pressed a few coins into his grasp. “You are to regard this as a loan. Cleudi sends it.”

“Oh. You did not tell me he was aiding this escape.”

“He wants you to go south to Tritulacca, and gave me a letter for you to carry—which I will transmit to the High Center.”

It might be a girl’s light tap at the door. “Go,” whispered Mathurin, fiercely.

The window swung wide; Rodvard felt rain on his face, and the mud of the flower-bed squished round Mathurin’s soft shoes as he took the leap down. A light flamed up in the room behind him; he began to run, stumbling up the terraces with branches snatching at his body, zigzagging to avoid the pennon of light. A voice shouted across the rain after him (and he thought Mathurin was a mighty bold fellow to face the Duke of Aggermans’ assassins back there). He came against a hedge; there was another shout and the sound of crashing footsteps from the left, in which direction the hedge ran, no way to turn, and he stumbled over a root, prone, to roll beneath the lip of the shrubbery, thinking concealment might be a better resource than speed.

So it was; shout echoed shout with an accent of lost, footsteps went past, but apparently no one had a light and before one could be brought, Rodvard rolled out, and began to work cautiously toward the end of the hedge, bending double. The bushes turned back to enclose a square of garden, but there was a locked gate, low enough to be climbed. Over; the gravel path beyond, for a wonder, did not run circular like most, from which he deduced that it must be the one leading down from the main road. It offered the only real clue to direction, for the lights had winked out back there, the villa’s mass and the trees cut off the night-shine from the bay, and the slope was no help at all with everything so gardened. Rodvard pushed forward cautiously; presently the feel of ruts under his feet told him his reasoning was sound, and he paused to consider whether along the road or across it. The second alternative won; if Aggermans were so in earnest, his people would not give up easily, and they would likely spread along the road.

There was no hedge at the opposite side, but a narrow ditch, in which Rodvard got one leg well wetted to the knee and almost fell. Beyond a slope pitched upward into what, as nearly as he could make out by feeling, would be a sapling grove with low underbrush. Having no cloak, he was by this time so wet that it did not matter when he stumbled against small trunks and the leaves just bursting above deluged him with big drops, but the sensation was so unpleasant that it tipped him into a despairing mood, where his fatigues of the night and day rolled in (and he began to ask himself whether all pleasures must end in an escape of some kind). So he followed the pent of the hill blindly, not thinking at all of where he was going (but only of how he was trapped by unfairnesses somewhere; and that it could not be altogether a matter of man’s justice, which was the plainder of the Sons of the New Day, since no justice of man’s would hold men from fiery passion).

Beyond an easy crest there was a dip, and Rodvard hurt his knee against a wall of piled stone. In the field beyond, he could sense under his feet the stumps of last year’s corn, he was sick with weariness and fear and had begun to sneeze; there was no light or life in the world. What direction? With no reason for any, he followed the line of the stone wall for a little time, and it brought him ultimately to a sodden straw-stack, whose hard surface yielded just enough to the persistence of his fingers so that he could get the upper half of his body in and slide down into unhappy sleep.

II

He woke with a headache at the top of his spine, which ran around inside his head to the place over his eyes; nose feeling as though driven with a wooden plug. Mathurin’s decent black clothes were horribly stained and scratched. Down the way he had come—not at all far from where he had crossed the wall, now that one could see by the light of morning—the footprints lay, a fingerlength deep into the soft ground. At once he was oppressed by the thought that only too easily could his path from the villa be traced, there was Tuolén’s witch behind as well, and fear mounting over the illness, he climbed to the wall itself and tried to walk along its top to hide his marks. After the rain, sky and air had become clear, and there were violets visible on the grove-side of the wall, not that they did him any joy in his misery. The stones quickly tore a hole in shoes made for indoor walking, so he had to jump down again and consider.

Right across his direction, at a little distance, there jutted out from the stone wall a hedge which lack of care had let grow into a screen of low, sprawling trees. It slanted down leftward to where a gap would mark a field entrance; beyond, a slow trickle of smoke ran up the blue to signal breakfast. Rodvard, deciding what he would do if he were hunter instead of hunted, found more than good the argument against harborage so near the villa. He climbed over the wall again to wipe his streaming nose with a burdock leaf, whose bitter juice stung his lips, and perceiving that he left less marked traces in the ground on that side, stayed. The overgrown hedge proved to line a deep-cut track that in one direction wound down toward the main road past the villa. Beyond that track was true forest of old trunks and heavy underbrush. It was surely a good place to seek concealment, but Rodvard was ignorant of how far it might run or what it led to, and with illness galloping through his veins, felt he must have shelter early, so murmuring half aloud to himself that he might as well die in hot blood as in cold rheum, he turned up the track toward the cottage-smoke.

The building was more prosperous than most in the country, with a barn outside, and two complete windows under the thatch-edge. No one answered his knock; as he pushed open the door, a child’s squall was sounding with irritable monotony from a trundle-bed on the right, and a woman who had been doing something at a table before the fireplace on the left turned to face him. She was bent and dirty; her face was older than her figure. “What do you want?” she demanded.

“A place to rest, if I can,” said Rodvard, “and perhaps something to eat.” He crossed the room and came down weak-kneed on a stool by the fireplace corner.

The lined face held no sympathy as her eyes swept down the detail of his torn, mudstained clothes and lingered for a tick at the servant’s badge on his breast. “This is not an inn,” she said sourly.

“Madame, I am unwell. I can pay.” He fumbled at the waist-pouch.

“This is not an inn,” she repeated, then spun on her heel, took rapid steps to where the child in its bed still bawled, and administered it a severe clout on the side of the head. “Will you be quiet?” The cries sank to whimpers. She came to stand looking down at Rodvard.

“I know about your kind,” she said. “You’re too lazy to work, so you run away from a good master down there at the villa and probably rob him, too, on festival day when he’s drunk, and then expect honest country-people like us, who have to labor for everything we get, to hide you from the provosts. My husband and me, we have to get up at dawn and work all day as hard as we can, and we’re never through till the sun goes down, winter or summer, while you servant-people are drinking and stealing behind your master’s back.” All this was delivered in a torrent as though it were a single sentence, ending as she uplifted one arm to brandish an imaginary weapon. “Now you leave here.”

Too weary and ill for a reply, a trickle he did not try to disguise running from his nostril, Rodvard did so, out into the bright spring day and along the track. Where it turned round a boss of hill that thrust in from the westward, a sense of being watched made him look back. The farm-wife had come out to the end of the house to look after him, and the sound of the child’s petulant wail was on the air. (Rodvard felt a surge of bitter anger; there was an unfairness in life, every pennyweight of pleasure is paid with double its measure in pain, and only those who grubbed at the ground were entitled to call themselves honest. Why, if this be so, then joy must be wrong, and God himself must be evil, in spite of what the priests say.) But his head was too muzzy to follow any rabbit of reasoning to its hole, so he trudged along for a while without thinking anything at all, until he heard the creak of a cart, and here was a mule coming out from the Sedad Vix direction. The driver somewhat surlily gave him the time of the day.

Rodvard asked to go with him, and when the man said he was bound for Kazmerga, declared that was his destination, though he had never heard of the place and possessed not the least idea in what direction it lay. The fellow grunted and let him climb in; sat silent for a while as Rodvard sneezed and drizzled, then was moved to remark that this was a heavy case of the phlegm, but it could be cured by an infusion of dandelion root with certain drugs, such as his old woman made, and so well that they often accused her of being a witch. “—But the drugs are costly now.” He evidently wanted conversation in payment for his favor, and when this beginning failed on Rodvard’s merely remarking that he would pay for any quantity of drugs to get rid of this rheum, fell silent for a couple of minutes; then leaned over, touched the servant’s badge, and struck out again with:

 
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