The Blue Star
Chapter 15: Charalkis; the Door Closes

Public Domain

Brog leaned back and lifted up his cup. “As human people age,” he said, “the most important part of the body does gradually move northward from organ to organ, beginning with the feet, on which you will notice a baby’s attention always fixed, and ending with old men who do nothing but sit still and let thoughts go through their heads. Now I have myself reached the comfortable age of the stomach, for which I give thanks.”

“Yaw,” said the first mate through a mouthful of food. “Ye’d put Ser Tegval lower down.”

“A wee lower, yes.” Brog looked at Lalette. “But do not trouble you; in my capacity, I am charged with the duty of bringing all cargo to port as safe as it left.”

A smile twisted his face into the cartography of a river-furrowed mountain chain, and he swivelled round to look hard at Blenau Tegval. The first mate gulped once and said; “Saving always captain’s orders, ser cargo-overseer. Captain has rights on a ship at sea.”

Lalette stood up, her body swaying with the slow drift of the slung lamp overhead, and asked permission to leave, having learned that it should be asked. The laugh began before she reached the deck, Brog’s dry snicker beating time to the first mate’s guffaw. She had so little lost her resentment at their remarks and the suggestion that she was spied upon that when Tegval tapped on her door in the break of twilight as usual, she cried through the wood for him to begone. But the horror of lonely hours took her before she had more than issued the words; she leaped up, opening the door and calling that she must consult him, he was to come in. This was a mistake, too; there immediately arose the question of what she was to consult on; and after a blank word or two, she could do no better than ask what the Prophet’s book meant by denying reason?—when it seemed to her that only a reasonable person would read it at all.

“Ah, no,” said the third mate, sitting down and taking her hand in his (which she did not mind). “It is the failure of human reason and human love that drives us to the higher love.”

(Though she thought this might be true in her own case, and could even look forward with a little exaltation to the new life in Mancherei, she was unwilling to break the talk by admitting it, so) she said; “But Blenau, how can this higher love make up to us for sorrow?”

On this he somewhat unexpectedly demanded to know whether she believed in another life than that visible, and it was at her lips to say that a witch could hardly do otherwise when he saved her by hurrying on:

“Well, then, this other life itself must be Love for us, since we are its children; and since this is so, it will replace all we have lost, and more beautifully, as one does for a child. If you have lost a lover—as I think you must, or you would not be for the Myonessae—it is only that you may find a better.”

(To Lalette it seemed that this was hardly more than half true, and ice-cold counsel for a smarting heart); she started to say something, but just then the door was tapped, and here was Brog, with a smile that showed all his teeth.

“Ah, little demoiselle, I thought to entertain you from being alone, but see there was no need for my trouble.”

He leaned against the wall, babbling at a great rate and not without salt, seeming to take delight in Tegval’s frown, which also filled Lalette with so much amusement that she felt herself sparkling at Brog’s conceits on such matters as—can a fish swim backwards? The young man grew grimmer, and at last rising, said he must rest if he were to be a good officer in the night watches. Brog did not stay long after.

It was still early in the night; she lay back among the covers to consult with the book again, but after her good cheer in the company, found the volume mere gloominess and dull as could be. Wondering what her manner of life in Mancherei would be like if all were ordered by such a volume, and feeling the despair of a bird bruising its wings against a cage of circumstance, she found happiness forever elusive. This escape and that slid across her mind, but all was either dream or half-dream; and as the rising wind began to rock the ship, she fell asleep.

Waking was blended with wonder that one creak among the many from the straining vessel should have roused her; then she became fully sentient, catching the reason. That single sound had come from her own door. Her lamp had gone out. “What do you wish?” she called on a rising note, and in the black heard three waves slap the ship before there was an indrawn breath and an answer not higher than a whisper; “Dearest Lalette, I have come to be your lover.”

Tegval. “No,” she said. “I do not wish it.”

He was close. “But you must; to refuse the gift of love is to lose all. You are of the Myonessae.” (Oh, God of gods, again, she thought; do men want nothing but my body? The temptation flashed and passed to give him this and live within the confines of her mind.)

“No, I say. I will cry out.” She writhed away from his touch, but he found her in the narrow space, the arm pinned her close and his head came down on her breast as he said, thickly; “But you must, you must. I am a diaconal and I have chosen you. I will tell them in Mancherei.”

His grip was so strong that it paralyzed, but he did not for the moment attempt to go further. Scream? Would she be heard above the rocking wind? “No,” she said, “no. Ser Brog will hear. The Captain.”

“It is the watch to daybreak. No one aboard will ever know.”

“No, no, I will not,” replied Lalette, (feeling all her strength melting), though he did not try to hold her hands or to put any compulsion upon her but that of the half-sobbing warm close contact, (somehow sweet, so that she could hardly bear it, and anything, anything, was better than this silent struggle). No water; she let a little moisture dribble out of her averted lips into the palm of one hand, and with the forefinger of the other traced the pattern above one ear in his hair, she did not know whether well or badly. “Go!” she said fierce and low (noting, as though it were something in which she had no part how the green fire seemed to run through his hair and to be absorbed into his head). “Go, and return no more.”

The breathing relaxed, the pressure ceased. She heard his feet shamble toward the door and the tiny creak again before realizing; then leaped like a bird to the heaving deck, night-robed as she was. Too late: even from the door of the cabin, she could see the faint lantern-gleam on Tegval’s back as he took the last stumbling steps to the rail and over into a white curl of foam.

A whistle blew; someone cried: “A man lost!” and Lalette was instantly and horribly seasick.

II

“I will tell you plainly, demoiselle,” said Captain Mülvedo, “that if it were not for Ser Brog saying how he saw with his own eyes that this young man moved to the rail without your urging, I should have been most skeptic. As things stand, I must acquit you of acts direct. As for others, as employment of the Art, they are a matter for a court of Deacons, and since you are bound to Mancherei, you’ll be beyond such jurisdiction.” He stared at her gloomily. “As captain of this ship, and therefore judge in instruction, I must ask you to keep your cabin until we reach port.”

Lalette looked at the moving gullet of the first mate as he stood by the Captain beside the bed, and even this sight seemed to make her the more ill. Said Brog’s voice, dry as a ratchet; “Aye. You have my word for it. The little demoiselle never touched a hand to him as he went over. But he came from her cabin.”

“No more rehearsing of things known. We know all except what she will not tell us,” said Mülvedo. (Her body ached all over from lying in the one position.)

“Aye.” It was Brog again. “Yesterday he was all quick with life, maybe a little hasty, but a kindly, helpful young man, and now the fishes are tearing pieces of his guts out.” Brog’s face wrinkled in what might have been a smile, had there been any mirth in it.

She turned her face away and began to retch, but nothing came up beyond a few drops of spittle, bitter and sour.

“Not nice to think on, no,” said Brog. “But nicer than the mind that would bring such a death to the lad; there’s the real, black, stinking hell.”

(The bird of Lalette’s mind felt the bars shift in tighter, she wanted to cry and beat with her hands.) Said Captain Mülvedo; “Ser Brog, I have acquit this demoiselle of direct acts. You will oblige me by not questioning as though the matter were still to decide. If this were the Art, no jurisdiction lies in us.”

“You are my captain, and I am therefore even under your orders, even as to this court of the ship,” said Brog, his thin lips closing sharply. “But I am master of the cargo, of which she forms a part, and it is my province to know what kind of goods I deliver.”

(Lalette had a sense without seeing it directly that the chandelier swung twice as she looked at the three and thought—the truth? But how to explain about the trip, what Tegval had done, how he had demanded the deepest fruit of love as a casual thing like a cup of water, dragging her down?) “Ah, no,” she said in her dying voice, and swallowed again, turning eyes of misery toward the Captain.

He frowned (and she knew it for a frown in her favor, and knew the reason for it and hated him and herself). “Ser Brog,” he said, “I now declare the court shut. This demoiselle is not cargo but a person.”

Brog’s wrinkles ran deeper; the three passed out, the Captain remaining till latest, to pat her hand on the coverlet. Revolt ran through her veins at kindness for the wrong reason, which was worse than hate or anger; there was no understanding in this seaman who only wanted to change bed-partners now and again, she was afloat on a sea of desires.

The daylight swung from powder to deep dusk. One knocked, and it was the gnome-like creature who stewarded for the Captain, who offered her a bowl of broth. The motion of the ship being a trifle easier, she was able to eat a little and hold it, in spite of the shadow that lay across her mind. (But I will not regret, she cried inwardly, and then one-half her mind played critic to the other and cried—no, no. Is there no surcease?) The hours slid by along a silent stream, and she was alone.

III

All movement ceased. Sickness dropped from her like a veil, and from beneath burst such a joy of spirit as Lalette had rarely known, so that she could have sung herself a song, as she almost leaped from her place to put on the new dress. There was no mirror and she had to feel the strands of her hair into the demoiselle’s knot, hoping the result would not look too recklessly wild. Outside the deckhouse, shouts and confused, orderly trampings were toward, but no one came to call for her until long after she had packed everything into the small trunk, with the book Tegval had given her at the bottom. The door was tapped; Brog, followed by a man with a red peaked hat and a fur of sidewhisker, who held an annotation-roll in his hand.

 
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