The Blue Star
Chapter 23: Netznegon: Return to Glory

Public Domain

The skies were filled with glory, the new day rising. The man who called himself Demadé Slair explained, leaning against the rail at the waist of the ship, in the blue-and-gold morning, a day anointed with white in the form of a circling seagull.

“It’s an intricate tale,” he said, “of which the sum is that we are unlikely to see queens in Netznegon again. But I’ll begin with Cleudi’s plan for having the nobles gather taxes in their seignories. They would not have it.”

“Something like that seemed to be happening when I was at the conference of court,” said Rodvard.

“They say there was a scene to remember when Florestan told the old bitch there was no more money,” Slair went on with a laugh. “She beat him about the head with a slipper and for days he wore a patch over one eye.”

Lalette said; “She is your queen.” (She wanted to cry out, to say something that would drive this man to fury.)

Rodvard drew her hand toward him, but she pulled it away; Demadé Slair said; “I crave your pardon, demoiselle; truly. I did not know you were so royalist ... Then Brunivar fell. You heard of it?”

Rodvard said; “I have had little news, buried in Charalkis; only that there were troubles.”

“Attainted of treasons, and sent to the throat-cutter. The case was pressed by the Duke of Aggermans, very violent against him, no one altogether knows why.”

“I think I could find a reason.”

“No doubt, with your stone. But d’you see the situation that left? With Brunivar gone, there’s no regent-apparent in the case of Her Majesty’s death, which may fall any day. I think it was you who sent word to the Center that Florestan expected the regency in his room. Very like he would have had it, too, but for the tax matter; but the regency question furnishing an excuse the nobles summoned a general assembly of all the estates, and once they were met, they began to consider everything.”

“And the revolt?”

“Oh, it began in the west—at Veierelden, with some of the army and not with our party at all. Brunivar’s people joined, setting forward the name of Prince Pavinius, and how he was wrongfully set aside from the succession, and had long since abandoned being an Amorosian. They even persuaded the old man to come out of Mayern and raise his standard. Most of the nobles have gone there with what troops there are, but I don’t know how much fighting there has been. Neither side’s very anxious for war. The important thing is that the great assembly was left in session with the nobles out of it, and you can see what that means.”

“Not quite. Enlighten me.”

“Why our party in the majority and Mathurin in control of everything.”

Rodvard turned a face of utter astonishment. “Mathurin? How—What—? I might have thought Dr. Remigorius—”

Slair laughed again, a sharp bark. “Bergelin, for one who can see the thoughts in a head, you are the ignorantest man I have seen—or one of the cleverest.” He shot a quick glance of suspicion at Rodvard. “You truly did not know that Mathurin was the head of the High Center, the major leader of the Sons? As for Remigorius, the less you mention him, the better. Some connections are not quite healthy.”

“I did not know,” said Rodvard slowly (trying in his mind to re-assort the tumbled building-blocks of his world). “But I? The Blue Star’s a treasure, but why send a ship for such a mouse as I am?”

“Answer your own question, friend Bergelin. Look, here’s Pavinius; the court; our party with its control of the great assembly; maybe some of Tritulaccan tendency, and a few Amorosians—all opposed to each other. You are the only man we know can untangle where the true loyalties lie and discover whom we can trust.”

“But surely, this is not the only Blue Star.”

“The only one we can be sure of. We know the court butler Tuolén had one; perhaps there is one or more in Pavinius’ party.”

“You say ‘had.’ Does Tuolén have it no longer?”

Slair looked sidewise (with something a little savage in his glance). “An accident befell him. You know Mathurin.”

Said Lalette; “If I understand what you mean, you had him killed. But this would not affect the Blue Star itself.”

“Not if we could find the heiress. And there’s another question also; suppose we have found her, does she know enough of the Art to make the Star active? True witches are very hard to find, with the episcopals so bitter against the Art on the one hand, and the Amorosians draining so many off to Mancherei on the other.”

“My mother—” began Lalette.

“Oh, Mathurin followed that line up long ago. She could instruct, but would she? I think not for our party; the last I heard she had followed Cleudi and the court out to Zenss. You two are our mainstay.”

Rodvard (thinking of the witch of Kazmerga, and thinking also that it would be little good for the Sons of the New Day to have commerce with her) said; “It should not be hard to trace Tuolén’s heiress. I was in the Office of Pedigree myself once.”

“One more reason why you’re a figure. I’ll conceal nothing; most of those who can read the old hands, or trace the pedigrees, are either fled with the court or little trusty. We dare not place reliance in them; and it’s a matter of hurry with the armies in the west both anxious to do us harms, and even the Tritulaccans calling out new troops.”

A whistle blew; men moved among the ropes, the ship changed slant. Rodvard said; “What you say is very strange. I would like to know—”

“Ah, enough of politics for now. I must make my apologies to this lovely demoiselle for having spoken unthinkingly.” He offered his arm to Lalette. “Will you honor me?”

Rodvard was left standing; and not for the only time either, in the next three or four days, for Lalette formed the habit of walking with Slair along the deck, she laughing and both of them talking of trifles in a manner that seemed to Rodvard inane and pointless. Of an evening the girl would hardly speak at all, or if she did so, it was in a flat voice, shunning his eyes, so that he could tell little of what she was thinking; at night, she shut herself in her lock-bed before undressing. This became so intolerable that at last he rose one night and tapped on the door of her bed.

“Open,” he said, and over the noise of the thuttering rigging, heard her say faintly, “Rodvard, no.”

“Open, I say,” he cried again. “You must hear me.”

There was a silence of seven breaths, and then he heard her spin the lock.

“Lalette,” he said, “why do you treat me so?”

“Have I treated you worse than you have treated me?”

(He fought back an impulse to a retort that would bring angers.) “I do not know that I follow all you mean.”

(There was only night-shine from the window, she emboldened at knowing he could not learn her fullest thought.) “Will you still say you did not cheat me? Now that I know you were always one of the Sons of the New Day. Tuolén had an accident—and the doorman at your house—and how many more? I used to believe in some things before you trapped me.”

“No trap,” said he, jerking back so violently he struck a beam and gave an exclamation. “No trap. You cannot make a new world without destroying some of the old, and some suffer unjustly for every gain.”

In a small voice she said; “I feel—used.”

“Lalette,” he said gravely, and not taking offense. “Listen to me. We of the Sons of the New Day are truly striving for a better world, one in which there are such things as honesty and justice for everyone. But this much I have learned, and not from Dr. Remigorius, that any such effort is a swimming against the world’s stream, and must be paid for. You feel used? Myself no less. But I like to think of myself as used for the betterment of men—perhaps by God.”

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