The Blue Star
Chapter 20: Inevitable
Another girl was already before the mirror in the dress-room, running a comb through fair hair; taller than Lalette. She looked over her shoulder at the newcomer with an expression not unlike that of a satisfied cat and went on with her task, humming a little tune; Lalette felt that she was being asked to speak first. “Your pardon,” she said, “but I have just come. Can you tell me where the soap is kept?”
The tall girl surveyed her. “We use our own,” she said, “but if you have not brought any, you may take some of mine tonight. In the black-dressing-box, there on the table—that is, if you do not mind violet scent.”
“Oh, thank you. I didn’t mean ... My name is Lalette” (again the hesitation, a momentary question whether to say “Bergelin” here, but that was all dead and gone, she would never see him again) “Asterhax.”
“My name is Nanhilde. We don’t use second names in the Myonessae unless we have been married. Have you, ever?”
“Oh, you must get rid of old-fashioned prejudices in a place like this. I used to think that being married was something I wanted so much; but it isn’t really. It only chains you to some man, and next thing you know, you’re sewing jackets and raising brats for him. You wait till you’re chosen; he’ll want to marry you and give up being an Initiate. They always do, and if you say yes, you’re lost, not your own mistress any more, and he’ll always blame you.”
Lalette had been washing her face. Now she lifted it from the towel in time to catch the middle term of the series. “But are you—are we of the Myonessae prevented from having children, then?”
“You are a greenie, aren’t you? Of course, not; only we don’t have to snivel around any man for their upkeep. There’s a couvertine for that. I have one there now; the diaconal who fathered him on me had his miniature painted and I’ll show it to you. Hurry with your dress and we’ll go down together. Old quince-face doesn’t like anybody to be late.”
She took Lalette’s arm and guided her along a hall already powder-grey with dusk, to the stairwell, where the racking note of a violin floated in a funnel of light. Below, it was all so different than Lalette had seen it in the morning, or even at noon, when she had eaten a rather gloomy meal of pulse and one apple, while the others around her chattered in a subdued manner under the eye of Dame Quasso. The whole place was now gay with lamps and someone had hung spring branches among them, under which girls were gathered in excited little groups, some of them talking to young men, the ruffles of their dresses vibrating, as though they too had caught the mood of animation. Among the moving heads Lalette could see how the double doors of the eating-hall were flung wide; at its entry the mattern stood, talking with a white-headed man dressed in grey, whose expression never changed. Dame Quasso beckoned; as Lalette worked her way in that direction, a voice floated past, “ ... I told her he already said he would choose me, and I don’t care if I do lose my place, I’m going to ask for an Initiate’s trial...”
The eyes looked down into hers from a height. “This is our newest member, called Lalette,” said the mattern. “She is from Dossola, where she was accused of witchery, and she is somewhat troubled in mind.”
A long gaze. The grey man said; “It is because she feels compelled and has not learned the wonderful freedom of the service of the God of love. My child, witches find it harder than anyone else to forget the material self, but once they do so, attain the most surely to perfection.”
(Perfection? Lalette wanted to cry that it was no desire of hers.) She said; “The material self? I don’t really care what I eat—or where I sleep.”
The grey man said; “Do not think in mere terms of nourishment, which is a means of maintaining the material body we despise. In love, we serve the soul.”
(Lalette felt her inner gorge rising toward forbidden anger.) “I am not sure I understand.”
“Do not be troubled. Many fail to understand in the beginning, and to many, perfection comes after a long struggle in self-denial.”
The rebecks and flutes broke out, all in tune. Dame Quasso offered her arm to the grey man and Lalette looked around to see other pairings, two and two, moving into the eating-hall. She herself was suddenly left unattended, to go in with the blonde Nanhilde. The taller girl leaned close and said; “Nobody.”
“What do you mean?” said Lalette.
“Nobody. Not an obula tonight,” replied Nanhilde.
“Listen,” said Leece. “Oh, hear. I am not ignorant. If you really desire that I should come no more, I will not. I am not one to intrude.”
“Lovely Leece,” he said, “it is for you, not I,” (yet knowing it was for himself) and drew her hand to his lips, folding her fingers round the kiss he placed in the palm.
She looked at him intently. “There is a cold breeze,” she said, and stepping to the door, closed it before she ran across the room with little quick steps to throw back the covers and slip in beside him. The black brows brushed his cheek.
“If you hated me and really wanted to get rid of me, let me ask you, what would you do? How different would you behave toward me than you are now doing? You tell me that talking with you here in the morning gives you pleasure and is a help to you. Why do you wish to stop it then, if I am willing to come? And if you are thinking of any danger to me, why surely that is my concern.”
As her arm came around his neck and their lips met in the long deep kiss, he closed his eyes, not daring to look into hers, for this was no Damaris the maid (and it was not that he dared not, but that he would not). They came shuddering from the contact. “Ah, no,” he cried and drew her close again and for a third time. But then she said suddenly; “Three is enough,” and without another word slipped from beside him and was gone.
All nights were now turned into a prelude to the mornings, and all days to a prelude for the evenings, when one of the other sisters would talk with them and gently jest at them for a pair of lovers, until Rodvard and Leece went out for a stroll under avenues of plane-trees, where lights flickered through the leaves in the warm summer air. The elder Vyana or the younger Madaille often accompanied them on these journeys, laughing a great deal as they conversed on matters of no importance, for it was as though he and Leece had signed a treaty never to show anyone outside how deeply they were concerned with each other. In the mornings, when the subject turned to themselves, there were checks and uncertainties in their words; yet it was a topic they could not avoid. Rodvard would often leave his breakfast uneaten, the better to lie beside her, kissing and kissing, with now and then some little thing said.
“You must not love me,” she whispered one morning, turning her burning face from his; “not in the human way.”
“Why not, Leece? I love—this,” and kissed her again.
“Ah, so do I. But to love, to love—it would be falling into the hands of the Evil god for me to love you or you to love me, before you had been to instruction and accepted the doctrine of the Prophet. Do you understand?”
He did not (nor, when he broke the rule he had set on himself and looked into her eyes, could he read behind them any illumination). “I am not sure I want to be an Amorosian,” he said, gravely, “but if you say I shall not love you, I will try not to. Only—”