The Blue Star
Chapter 24: Speeches in the Great Assembly
It was the old Hall of Presence. The throne stood as before, its dark wood bright with jewels, and the jewelled star bright above it, so that Rodvard felt at his back almost a palpable emanation of Dossola’s high fame. Before him, chairs had been swung out from the walls into the space where all had once stood to hear judgments pronounced from the throne, as in the great days of King Crotinianus; and other chairs brought in, not consonant with those already there. He himself occupied the seat once reserved to the Announcer, two steps up; a board was placed for him to write on, since this was to be the pretence for his being there. To the right, another step up, was the place once occupied by the Chamberlain, which Mathurin would presently take. It also had a board.
Rodvard looked out across the hall, now filling with men, most of whom bowed to the throne on entering, in the ancient form. Very few were badged with coronets, and it seemed to Rodvard a cause of hope and pleasure that this was so. There was a solid group of legists; some merchants; and a few men from the lesser orders, though not as many as he had expected. As he watched, the Episcopals came in, six of the seven at once, not looking around at the fall and sudden rise of chatter that attended their entrance. They moved to places in the premier row of chairs; legist badges began drifting toward them as straws on a stream will be drawn by a log.
Mathurin came in. He wore his servant’s black and badge of low condition as though they were robes and a crown, strutting visibly. He did not bow to the throne, but walked straight up to the Chamberlain’s place, sat down, bounced up again immediately and slapped his palm on the board for attention. As the buzz of talk died reluctantly and men took their places, he watched with tight lips; when only two or three whisperers remained, he struck the board again and said; “There is a new matter of utmost importance before the assembly of the nation.”
A solid-looking man who bore the coronet badge stood up into the dramatic pause and said; “I am the Marquis of Palm. There is an old matter for which this assembly was called that I shall never cease to urge. No regent-apparent has been—”
He was allowed to say no more. A chorus of angry babblings covered his voice, and Mathurin slapped sharply. His voice rose; “I am only the writer before this assembly, and will place before it whatever is desired; but it does not seem to me that it wishes to hear your proposal, Ser Marquis. The more since the matter of which I speak is so great that it overrides every other. I have to say that the nation, already threatened by exterior enemies, is now called upon to face a worse danger, one that will call for all our exertions. It is this: the leaders in whom we have most trusted have turned traitor, and are conspiring with the enemies of the people.”
Now there were more babblings, and angry cries, such as “Cut their throats!” with a couple of fists brandished aloft; but Rodvard noticed that all the outcry came from one section of the hall, behind the Episcopals. One of the latter began fanning himself rapidly. Instead of quieting, the tumult augmented as Mathurin stood sweeping his eyes across it with a half-triumphant air. At last he raised a hand.
“I will tell you the worst,” he said, “not in fine words but brutally, for this is a brutal thing.” He shuffled a handfull of papers. “No, wait, I will begin with the tale of how this knowledge reached us.
“At Drog, below the pass that leads through the Ragged Mountains to Rushaca, there is an inn. Some eight days gone there came to it a carriage, bearing one of the ladies of the court, oh, a beautiful lady, all dressed as though for a ball. She came from the north, from Zenss, where the court is, and as the road leads to Tritulacca ultimately, her actions roused some suspicion in the mind of the innkeeper. He is a true patriot, and thought she might be carrying wealth away out of the country in violation of the decree against it; watched her, and noticed that she was very careful of a certain casket. The innkeeper thereupon summoned people’s guards, who seized the casket and broke it open. They found no money, but they found—this.”
Mathurin drew from his papers one that seemed to be of parchment, and waved it aloft, so that all could see that it bore at its foot a huge blue seal, star-shaped, the sign-manual of the chancery of the realm. There were sharp intakes of breath and stirring among the chairs; the Episcopal who had been fanning himself stopped. The sturdy man who had described himself as the Marquis of Palm stared aloft with his mouth open and a frown on his face.
“Shall I read it to you? No, not word for word, for it is written in Tritulaccan, and with the stupid, decorative court phrases that try to hide real meaning.” (Rodvard thought: he has more orator’s tricks than I ever would have imagined.)
Pause. “Here it is, then: a missive, signed with the name of Count Cleudi, himself a Tritulaccan by birth, to Perisso, Lord Regent of Tritulacca, but bearing as proof of genuineness, the seal of our Gracious Majesty, the Queen. The substance of it is that while without doubt the rebellion of her cousin Pavinius, aided though he is by the Mayerns, will soon be put down, the war is likely to be long and wasteful. Her gracious majesty therefore consents to the proposal of the Lord Perisso, made in the name of true religion and the old friendship between the two houses, that he shall join the army of Dossola with not less than sixteen shars; and in return for this, it is graciously conceded that Tritulacca has a just claim to the city and province of Sedad Mir. And some of these Tritulaccan shars shall pass to the war by way of Netznegon city, to suppress certain disorders there. The rats! There is no dealing with such people!”
“Shame!” shouted someone almost before he had finished, and now all over the hall men were on their feet and shouting, but among other cries there was one of “Forgery!” Mathurin seemed to be waiting for that moment. “Forgery!” he cried, his voice going up almost to the cracking-point. “If you think it is forgery, look at it yourself,” and threw the paper outward, as one might the caught hunted animal to the dogs. “Will you call it forgery when I tell you also that the whole Tritulaccan fleet has been placed on war standard? The nation is betrayed!”
Now the tumult seemed completely out of hand, men moving from place to place confusedly or trying to say something (and in every eye Rodvard could catch there was nothing but mere fury, which expressed itself in a color of maroon). Mathurin looked out on the scene, making no effort at control; but from the first row there rose a tall old man with white hair and a face set in a habitual expression of benevolence, who raised high his white staff of office, by which Rodvard recognized him as the Arch-Episcopal, Teurapis Groadon.
Eyes caught the staff; voice after voice was abstracted from the uproar until only a few still tried to speak, then two, then none. The Arch-Episcopal waited until there was a silence broken only by a cough; Mathurin pressed Rodvard’s shoulder to read the eyes, but the old man only cast one swift glance at the dais before turning to address the assembly.
“Ser writer,” he said, “and you, lords and estates of the realm, this is not a pleasant thing that we have heard. There may be some question of the authenticity of this message, or it may have been written merely to deceive; a document from the hand of the heretic Pavinius, who would make himself the equal of God. Yet I will not deny that we must behave as though it were true; for if we do nothing, and it proves to be so, it will be too late. And for myself I fear it is true; for it is given to the spiritual estate to discern the machinations of the powers of evil. There is before us, then the question of how, joying in the protection of God, we can circumvent the machinations of the Enemy, who has made man and women naturally good, into instruments of evil.