The Blue Star
Chapter 18: Decide for Life
It was like no court Rodvard had ever seen. Behind a simple table sat two of the men in grey, their features calm and strangely like each other. At the end, one with an inkpot and sheets of paper before him wrote down Rodvard’s name as it was given. The guards at either side carried no weapons but short truncheons and daggers at the belt. The burly mate was already in one chair, looking truculent, with a pair of Kjermanash sailors beside him, one of them a fat-faced lad, unhealthy of appearance. A man of negligent air, richly dressed, occupied the end of the table opposite from the writer. There were no other spectators and the proceeding began without ceremony when one of the Initiates asked simply what was charged against Ser Bergelin.
“Mutiny,” said the mate. “I gave the rat a task to do, which he flatly refused.”
The well-dressed man said; “It is Dossolan law that cases of mutiny at sea be tried by the captain of the ship, who bears judicial powers for this purpose; else mutiny would spread through a ship. I would have your writer here record that I make formal demand for the body of this criminal, in accordance with the treaty of amity and respect between your nation and the Queen, my mistress.”
One of the grey men said calmly; “Be it recorded. Record also that the treaty declares none shall be delivered before the adjudgment of guilt, for though we be all criminous, it is not love’s desire that men shall exploit each other for anything but sins determined as such by the word of human law.”
(The well-dressed man’s eyes said utter disgust.) His lips said; “How can there be an adjudgment before trial? It is to try him that we demand him.”
The second Initiate spoke. “This young man has placed himself in the protection of the domain of Mancherei. Before he is delivered for trial there is required proof of a wrong-doing that would merit sentence. Is there such proof?”
“Why, damme, yes!” said the mate. “I saw the fellow do it; I heard him refuse my order. Here are two of my crew to say as much.” He swept a hand toward the Kjermanash, who began to cackle at once, but the first Initiate merely nodded to the writer, who laid the pen down and clicked at the pair in their own tongue. When they had answered, he said; “They declare it is true that Ser—” he consulted his sheet “—Bergelin was ordered to repair a mast, and he refused.”
The Initiate looked at Rodvard (and not a thing could he read behind those cold eyes, though they seemed to pierce him through), saying, “The evidence is sufficient for a trial unless you can contradict it.”
Said Rodvard; “I could not make the repair. I did not know how.”
The Initiate; “That is a question for the trial to determine; no reason for not hearing the case.”
The mate guffawed. Cried Rodvard, in despair; “But sers, this captain—I pray you ... it is not for this ... he is...”
“You shall clearly speak your trouble; for it is the will of love that nothing is to be hidden.”
Rodvard felt the rosy flush light up his cheek. “Well, then, it is not for any failure of duty that this captain pursues me, but because I would not be the partner of his unnatural lust.”
With an exclamation, the ambassador of Dossola brought his hand down on the table, and the hard-faced mate gave a growl, but the Initiates were as unmoved as mountains. One of them said; “No lust is more natural or less so than another, since all are contrary to the law of love, and the soul in which love runs full tide may and should give to this unreal world of matter all that it desires, without imputation of sin. Yet we do find that if the wrong cause for this trial has been stated, there is a basis of appeal to our law. We would hear of this further.”
He signed; the writer spoke to the Kjermanash, while the mate glared venom at them, his glances darting from one to the other. The seamen seemed hesitant, especially the fat young one, to whom the writer chiefly addressed himself. Though Rodvard could not understand a word, the voice-lilt told clearly enough how the tale was going. Now the lad began to catch at his breath and sniffle, saying a few more words. The mate’s head turned slowly round (hardest murder staring from his eyes), while his hand slid, slid toward belt and knife—
“No!” cried Rodvard. “He’s going to kill him!” The mate leaped snarling to his feet, bringing out the knife with the same motion, but Rodvard’s shout had quickened the guards. One stepped forward, striking with his truncheon, while the other seized his man from behind, arm around neck. A roar from the mate, squeaks from the Kjermanash, and with a crash of heavy bodies, the big man was down and firmly held, cursing and trying to wring a broken hand. One of the Initiates said serenely; “This is an act of self-accusation”; then to the writer; “Do these also accuse?”
“Yes, Brother. The lesser one says that he has been this captain’s catamite and that Ser Bergelin was cabin-keeper to the captain and must have been solicited to such purpose, for this was his custom with all. They say further that an order was given to throw Ser Bergelin into the sea. Further, they say they were instructed as to what they should report on the repairing of the mast.”
“Love is illumination,” said the Initiate. His companion; “Our decision is that this mate shall pay a fine of ten Dossolan scudi for ruffling the peace of this court; but for having brought false accusations against one under the protection of the Prophet, he shall be submitted to detention of the body and instruction in doctrine until such time as the court shall release him.”
The mate gave a yell. “I protest,” said the well-dressed ambassador, “against the condemnation of one of our gracious Queen’s subjects on perjured evidence and as the result of the actions of one who is not only himself a criminal, but a provocator of others.”
“Your protest is recorded. We declare the business of this case has been dispatched.” The two Initiates rose as though their muscles were controlled by a single mind, but as the Dossolan rose also and the guards frogmarched their prisoner out, one of them looked at Rodvard. “You will remain, young man,” he said.
They sat down again. One of them said; “Be seated,” and the pair stared at him unmoving with those impassive eyes. The inspection lasted a good three or four minutes; Rodvard itched and hardly dared to squirm. One of them addressed him:
“You bear a Blue Star.”
(It was not a question, but a statement; Rodvard did not feel an answer called for, therefore made none.)
“Be warned,” said the second Initiate, “that it is somewhat less potent here than elsewhere, since it is the command of the God of love that all shall deal in truth, and therefore there is little hidden for it to reveal.”
“But I—” began Rodvard. The Initiate held up his hand for silence:
“Doubtless you thought that your charm permitted you to read all that is in the mind. Learn, young man, that the value of this stone being founded on witchery and evil, will teach you only the thoughts that stem from the Evil god; as hatred, licentiousness, cruelty, deception, murder.”
Now Rodvard was silent (thinking swiftly that this might be true, that although he was no veteran of this jewel, it had never told him anything good about anyone).
“Where is your witch?” said one of the Initiates.
“It will be impossible for you to return there with the case of today’s court standing against you, and the mate of your ship in our detention, by our necessary action.”
“Perhaps, in time—” began Rodvard.
“Nor can you well bring her here,” said the other Initiate. “The practice of witchery is not forbidden among us as it is by the laws of your country. But we hold it to be a sin against the God of love, and it is required that those found in witchery undergo a period of instruction in the couvertines of the Myonessae.”
(A wild wave of longing for Lalette swept across him, drowning the formless regret of leaving behind the Sons of the New Day—a new life—an empty life—”No spirit in it,” the old man had said.) Before Rodvard could think of anything to say, one of the Initiates spoke again:
“All life in this material world is a turning from one void to another, and shall be escaped only by filling the void with love. And this is the essence of Spirit.”