The Blue Star
Chapter 21: Midwinter: The Return
“Make up this account for closing,” said the protostylarion, handing Rodvard a dossier which bore the endorsement: “Approved to expel the subject from the Myonessae for contumacious refusal to accept any choice—Tradit, I.”
Rodvard dragged weary feet to the bench, for his night had been sleepless, with this matter of Leece reaching a crisis. All week, she had striven to pretend in the presence of others that nothing was changed, but would neither bring his breakfast, nor allow him any opportunity to speak with her alone in the evening. A crisis—the sleepless night began when he had refused to walk with her and Vyana under planes still clinging to their last leaves, then felt unhappy over the look of a friend betrayed that came into her eyes. A crisis; for that look was a trap as grim as the one the witch had set for him. He did not really want the dark-browed Leece (he told himself), overall, at the price of permanent union she set upon her body. It would have been, it was, enough merely to talk with her and be gay companions, as he was with the other sisters. Only the moments when a contact of lips or body sent a devouring flame along his veins were different. Yet there was now upon him a compulsion to find the next move in the game and carry it through, as though he were involved in a complex dance and dared not miss a pace.
What is this, then? (he asked himself). Am I a mechanician’s instrument, or so weak I am not my own master? Is it that I owe her a duty, and by what sanction am I held thereto? The priest at the academy might have had an answer for that. He would have said that the sanction was of God, “who sends us all peace, so that even those misguided men who say there is no God must make an inner peace, through a claim to be true to some image of the Ideal, which they call themselves. So that God is not balked, but enters in them unawares, and they only make their own path harder by reaching Him through devious ways instead of simple.” He could remember the argument accurately, and how its force had once struck him. Thus the priest, then; but if the sanction was of God, did God (Rodvard now asked himself) urge him to this pursuit of Leece? No matter what; he knew that when he reached the Gualdis’ house that night, the intricate pavanne would continue, and he a part of it as before.
Leave then. No. Not in this land, where he was a public prisoner, required still to report on every tenth day, an irritating routine. For that matter, leave for where? Not Dossola, with the prosecution hanging over his head; not any other place. Dance out the dance.
The protostylarion’s step roused him from reverie. He opened the dossier and with a feeling of vertigo, perceived that it was from the couvertine Lolau: “—on the account of the Myonessan Lalette Asterhax.”
Without a knock the door opened, Leece slipped in and stood with her back to it, looking down. Rodvard began hastily to make good his jacket-laces.
“It was my fault,” she said in a thin voice, then hurriedly; “What I did was contrary to the law of love. Do you want me to bring your breakfast in the morning?”
Her eyes were veiled, but one could guess what lay behind them (and one must—one must tread the right measure). “Yes.”
“You are still angry with me.”
He ran across the room and seized her in his arms, so she let her dark head slide down against his neck. “What can I say?” kissing her ear and the side of her neck (yet at the same time feeling a revulsion almost physical, and all the time the thought of that other was at the back of his mind, not coming forward because he dared not let it).
A sudden tenseness was in her grip; she flung her head back and looked at him (out of eyes that spoke distrust). “Rodvard! What is wrong?”
“Nothing. We must hurry and go to supper or they will miss us.” A rivulet of perspiration coursed down his spine. She kissed him long and hard (with the doubt still there) and was gone.
Afterward it was the tall Vyana who went to walk with them. Leece took his hand; all gay, but casting glances that seemed to show an unasked question in her mind (so that Rodvard wondered whether she might not have some part of the Blue Star’s gift). He said to Vyana; “Tell me something. If you were in the Myonessae, how could I come to see you?”
Her face fell sober. “I am not a Myonessan yet. But if I were, it would not be easy unless you became at least a learner. The Myonessans have no contacts with the outer world save those they make themselves.”
“A strange rule,” he said, not daring to push the matter further lest he betray his thought.
Now Leece spoke, trying to justify the regimen under which the girls lived, but Vyana, being so near to the sisterhood, was doubtful, and Rodvard heard both of them with only part of his mind, considering what he must do. There was no question but he must do it, ah, no; the expelled of the Myonessae, he knew well, were shut away in gloomy prisons for “instruction”, it might be for years. The couvertine Lolau was—
“—do you not think so, Rodvard?” said Leece’s voice.
“I am sorry. I was thinking of a thing.”
All her attention and affection suddenly rushed at him; she pressed his hand hard. “I was only saying—” and in spite of that warm grip, his mind went off again under the babble. The Blue Star would perhaps let him make his way in, if the light were good—and they reached the door. Leece squeezed his hand again, possessively; he knew she would have sought a corner and kissed him, but he managed to avoid that, with a certain shame picking at him.
Inside he went rapidly upstairs, then stood tingling in his own room as outer steps went to and fro. His mind toiled at details—the lock of the street-door was a heavy one, usually turning with a grating sound, he must have a story ready to tell if someone woke and asked him questions. But before he could work out a tale the small sounds died to a single series of pat, pat, pat, and he had a moment of dreadful fear and excitement mingled that it might be Leece, coming to him that night.
This was his turning-point in life (he thought) and the choice was being made from outside himself. The steps went past; Rodvard released his breath, sat down and, trying to use up the time until all should be asleep, began to repeat to himself Iren Dostal’s ballad of the archer and the bear. But at the third stanza a rhyme somehow eluded him, and he nearly went mad trying to recall it, while at the same time the other half of his mind went round the problem of Leece-Lalette, Lalette-Leece, without once making a real effort toward the plan he must have. Then he tried to solve how the line of duty might be considered to lie, according to one or another system of philosophy; but all this yielded was the unsatisfactory conclusion that he did not know where duty or even true desire lay, only what he was going to do. Now he began to count boards in the floor, as he had counted the cask-staves of the ship, merely to pass time; and time passed. He cracked the door ajar, heard someone snore, and reached the odd thought that even the loveliest of girls sometimes snore. Tip, tap, and he was down the hall to the stairs. A board creaked there; he paused. The key grated even more harshly than he had anticipated, and again he stood breathless a minute, then was in the street.
A sense of freedom swelled through him as he looked up at the winter stars—this must be the right line, the glorious line, hurrah! even though the adventure failed. A silent street, down which advanced in the near distance a cloaked couple, picking their way along with a light-boy before. The checkered gleams from the window of his lantern caught the tree-trunks and half-reflected from the dull surfaces, seemed like weary fireflies. A one-horse caleche went past, its form dimly outlined against the darker shadows beneath the branches. Step on, Rodvard, the way is here. He stumbled in the dark over the edge of a cobble, turned a corner and another, wondering how the glass stood, and reached the couvertine Lolau at last.
He remembered it as the building he had passed on his first day in Charalkis, with a foreyard in which a dead tree stood. The lodge-box held no porter; its window was broken. Rodvard thought—now this is somehow the model of the Myonessae, if I could trace the resemblance, as his feet clicked on the pave up to the door, where one light burned behind a transom in a fan of glass. Summing his force, he knocked. No answer. He knocked again.
Far in the interior a step sounded, coming. The door was thrown back to show a fat beldame with a robe gathered round her, whose hand trembled slightly with palsy.
“What is it?” she said. The light was above and behind her, he could not see her eyes to use his jewel.
“I am from the office of account,” he said (depending upon sudden inspiration), “in the matter of the Demoiselle Asterhax.”
“A poor hour to be coming,” she grumbled. “Ay, ay, the Lalette. I will call the mattern. They will take her in the morning.”
She moved aside to let him enter, and as she did so, the light caught her face. (His glance, quickened by emergency, caught in those muddy eyes a green flash of mingled hate and greed.)
“Wait,” he said, and touched her wrist. “Perhaps it is not needed to rouse anyone.” (That covetousness—if he could use it.)
“What do you mean?”
“It is a simple matter; not official accounts.” He fumbled out a coin or two and pressed them in her hand.
The fat face moved into a leer. “Eh, eh, so that’s the story. Want to take her, do you? And poor Mircella will be blamed, maybe sent for instruction. It should be worth more.”
(Money again; he experienced a moment of panic.) “I am from the office of account,” he repeated. “I am to take her there to close her reckoning. You will have the perquisite of her possessions.”
“He, he, and you the best perquisite. It should be worth more.”
“Sh, someone will hear us.” He found another pair of coins. “This is all—if not, give back the rest and call your mattern.”
He turned; she clutched his arm, grumbling in her throat (and he could see she did not believe him in the least, but would be satisfied if given a story to tell). “Come. Come.”