The Blue Star
Chapter 13: Farewell and Greeting
Back again to the place of masks through streets littered with the sour debris of festival, among which languid sweepers toiled. After what had happened, Lalette did not ask to say farewell to the elder Pyax or Aunt Zanzanna. There was a twitch at the corner of the doorman’s mouth as he let them out; she would not let Gaidu accompany her farther than the market square (for morning had brought back all the anxiety of the price still on her apprehension). He remarked somewhat spitefully that he could understand how she would not wish to have her people see a Zigraner bringing her home.
Laduis answered her knock; he seemed truly happy to see her. The widow was at the cookshop; Lalette changed the mask of Sunimaa for her worn clothes, finishing just as the woman returned. They ate, talking but little, and that much in light terms. Dame Domijaiek sent the boy out, and as his footsteps went down the stair:
“Did you find him?” she asked.
“He is at Sedad Vix.” Her mouth worked a little, and with the calm eyes fixed upon her, she could keep it back no more. “He has been unfaithful to me.”
“I do not understand.”
“In the witch-families we cannot help—”
“Ah. Then it is a knowledge gained through falsity and witchcraft, not through the God of love, and so will lead to no good end.”
“I am unhappy,” was all Lalette could whisper, (not understanding what the woman was trying to say).
“It is because you look on this man as personal to you. Love must share with all.”
(There was something passionately wrong with this, Lalette felt, but rue and the after-lash of last night’s wine and this morning’s experience had left her too low to seek out the flaws.) She began to weep softly.
After a few minutes, the widow said: “Let us reason. If you owe him not less than all love, so he owes as much to you; and by destroying your joy, he has failed his obligation. Do you still love him, not as we must love all, but to yourself, as of the material world?”
(It seemed to Lalette as though there were something big and dark and heavy in her breast where her heart ought to be, and she had no clear thoughts at all any more.) “I did not—ah, I do not know, he is all I have.”
“You have a mother, child.”
“A mother who tried to sell me! And still would, if she could find me.”
“Because she wishes to save you from distresses she herself has felt. That also is done in love, I think.”
“Then I’ll have no love!” cried Lalette, looking up furiously, tear-drops sparkling on her lashes. “I’ll hate and hate and hate.”
A tiny red spot appeared on each of Dame Domijaiek’s cheeks. “I do not think you had better say that again in this house,” she said. “I have an arrangement to make, and will return before evening. Tell Laduis.”
She went out, leaving a Lalette who could hardly bear herself, nor find anything to do, in her mind going over and over the dreadful ground of Rodvard’s treachery and the fact that he was one of the Sons of the New Day. Even if he came to her now, she would not have him, that book was closed by his own hand; and the boy Laduis coming in, she allowed him to draw her out of her megrims, so that when the widow returned, they were almost gay together. But it was almost dawn before sleep touched her.
She came awake with a start, and the sense that something dreadful had happened. It must be late morning; the widow was gone from the other side of the bed and Laduis’ cot was empty and neatly made up. There was—
All at once the whirl at the back of her mind resolved itself into a pattern. There were two things in it, a picture of a strange room where men talked before a fire while a sea beat on a rocky shore, and running through it as though the picture were transparent, an appeal so naked and desperate that it brought her to her feet at once—mind speaking to mind without words to say that the holder of her Blue Star was lying bewitched and near death.
There was no wine; it was horribly hard to trace out the pattern of the counter-witchery in water, even with the help of some dust from the corner, and the effort of the projection left her so weak and shaken that when it was done she collapsed across the bed in the shift that had served her as a night-dress and did not even hear Dame Domijaiek come in.
“So you have done it,” said her voice (and Lalette thought that she had never in her life heard anything so cold).
Lalette raised her head. The older woman was looking at the patterns which still moved faintly, not at her at all. “I ask your pardon,” she said. “It was an emergency; I learned—”
“Nothing you can say will change the fact that you have brought witchery into my house.”
Lalette struggled to her feet. “Well, I will go.”
“Yes,” said the mask-maker, “I think you must go. You have brought on me and my son even worse dangers than you dream of. You must go. When you spoke of hating yesterday, I thought it might come to that, but I foolishly let sympathy overrule my judgment.”
In the room above them, Mme. Kaja struck a chord on her music, and after one false beginning, launched into the bride’s aria from “The Disinherited.” Lalette looked at the floor and there were tears in her eyes. The widow spoke again:
“Yet you were sent to me for help, and help you I will, if you will take it. I think there is only one chance in the world for you, and that is to go to Mancherei and place yourself under the dominion of the Prophet.”
“But I have no money to get there, no money at all, and what could I do there?” said Lalette (now angry with herself for having jeopardized herself and the widow too, in some manner, for the sake of false Rodvard; and willing in her contrition to follow this leading, but not seeing how it could be done).
“Love forever finds a way to draw to itself those who need it. There is a fund for the transportation of those who would go thither; and under the ordinance of the Prophet, there have been established the houses called couvertines of the Myonessae, where there is shelter and gainful employ for such girls as yourself, who need them.”
“I—I do not believe in this religion, and—I am a witch.”
“Few believe in the beginning, but only turn to our doctrine for relief from some condition of the world. It is this witchcraft you must escape.”
Lalette heaved a sigh. (Her head ached now, and what was the use of this struggle to be free and one’s own? The strings tightened, one was drawn back to puppethood.)
“Very well. If you will tell me what to do.”
The conventicle was held at the back of a warehouse; people sat on bales of wool, or leaned against them. Guards against the provosts had been set at the door. One, who was addressed as “Initiate” pronounced a discourse of which Lalette hardly understood a word, it was so abstract. She could hardly keep her eyes open; the descent into doze and the jerk back were agonizing. A desiccated woman who breathed through her nose was seated on the next bale. At the end of the discourse, she took Lalette’s hands in both her own, with a gesture astonishing until one observed that all the people in the gathering were similarly greeting neighbors. To Lalette’s surprise most of them seemed to be well-to-do people with an expression of almost dogged cheerfulness, but there seemed about them something lacking, as though they had bought this good cheer with the sacrifice of some quality.
The thin woman was still talking when a man with an engraved smile touched Lalette’s arm and said that the Initiate would like to see her. The man’s face was calm as though carved in stone; he asked her whether she was married? Had read the First Book of the Prophet? Drank fortified alcohols? Practiced the Art? He looked at her as though his glance would bore straight through when she answered the last honestly that she had done so, but would practice it no more. Then he pronounced a discourse as incomprehensible as that he had given to the company, ending by saying she must be reborn into purest love.
At the close of this he told her that he had looked into her heart and believed her honest, but that she must carefully study the Prophet’s First Book. He gave her a letter for the cargo-overseer of a vessel even then at the wharf; the book, he said, would be furnished to her aboard by the third mate of the vessel. Dame Domijaiek had been her guarantee; love would be her protector. She was kissed on the forehead and they all went out into a spring twilight with drizzles of rain.
At the wharf someone was trying to lead a protesting horse into the ship, among stampings and confused shouts. Lalette huddled in the shadow, as close as she could get to the widow Domijaiek and regarded the masts running up into the grey, with their climbing triangles of rope tracery. A wide plank led through a gap in the bulwarks before them, but now the horse was disposed of, the ship’s people were engaged in some bargle at one end of the vessel; no one paid any attention to the two women who tripped to the deck and stood uncertain. At last a man detached himself from the group with a cheerful farewell and came along the deck toward them, cap on head and munching a piece of bread. He would have passed with a brief stare in the assembling gloom, but the widow halted him with outstretched hand and asked where was the overseer of cargo?