The Blue Star
Chapter 28: Embers Revived
“We will hear the next case,” said the kronzlar Escholl.
The people’s guard opened the door to the room of the accused and called, “Bring her in,” while a sharp-faced countryman stepped forward from the rear of the court, two more guards behind him. The countryman had a merchant’s badge and so quick an eye that Rodvard gazed at him, fascinated to see what it would tell, and was therefore unprepared when he turned his head to see the accused.
It was Maritzl of Stojenrosek.
A Maritzl pale behind her red lips, still even when she moved, and much changed. (How? Rodvard asked himself and could find no answer but in a certain lessening of fibre that was expressed around the mouth, though the breathtaking thrill of her presence was still so much there that he swallowed.) The craggy-faced prosecutor stepped forward. “I present an accusation of treason against the nation on the part of the Demoiselle Maritzl of Stojenrosek, mistress of Count Cleudi, the foreign traitor. I call the innkeeper of Drog.”
(“Mistress of Count Cleudi?” and Drog?) The sharp-faced man stood forth. Maritzl turned to look at him, and as her eyes turned back, they fell on Rodvard. She started (and before she looked down again he caught from them an arrow of purest and most astounding hatred). “Tell us your story,” said the jurist president.
“I keep a good house,” said the man, twisting his cap in his hands, “and I have to be careful to preserve its reputation, because—”
The prosecutor touched his arm. “Give your condition first.”
Head bobbed. “Thank you, friend. I am keeper of the inn Star of Dossola at Drog, on the road through the Pass of Pikes in the Ragged Mountains, and mine is the largest inn there, with three upper rooms beside the general chamber.” (Maritzl was looking at him again, not now with hatred, but weariness of the world, and the thought that he, Rodvard, was as dreary as any part of it.) “It has never been necessary for the provosts to come to my place except when I called them. Now when this woman came into my inn, I knew right away that something was wrong. Late at night it was, and she in a three-horse coach with a driver, and that seemed strange—”
The prosecutor halted him again. “Explain why you thought something was wrong.”
“Look at her; she comes evidently from the court and bears the marks of it.” He jabbed a finger at the girl, but it was Rodvard she looked at (a long slow glance, in which was some decision to make a desperate appeal). “When I saw her, I think to myself, as a man often will, that this is not the place for a court woman to be, not with the court in Zenss. So I think this is a good one to watch and perhaps I will learn something, and while she is supping—she sat apart from the coachmaster in the high dining room, she did—while she was supping, I served her myself and marked how there was a little casket she kept beside herself and touched her hand to, even while she was eating.”
(Her face now outwardly held the appeal, but a plan was building in her mind; he could see it grow stone by stone, but not clearly what it was, because little hate-flashes kept jagging across the picture.)
“So I said to her that if her casket was that precious, I ought to hold it in the strongbox of the inn, there being so many wandering soldiers about. When I said this, her ladyship—” he grinned a vulpine grin to show this was intended for a joke “—said no, she would as soon lose her life as the casket, which being so small, I think it must have in it something beside jewels. So I said to myself, here is some mystery, but if anyone can unlock it, it is my friend Khlab, that was a provost of the court at Sedad Vix till it was broken up. So while her ladyship was at the dessert, I slipped out to find my friend Khlab, and let him walk past the door to look at her. The minute he saw her—”
“One moment,” said the prosecutor, and addressed the court. “I present the former provost Khlab, now a people’s guard.” He motioned to a man behind, who took the innkeeper’s place. “Tell your story.”
“Yes, your—friend. I saw her through the door as I went past and I knew her at once for Maritzl of Stojenrosek because I had seen her before. She is the one Count Cleudi brought to Sedad Vix to be his mistress after the spring festival. I told this to friend Brezel, and he said if she was as close as that to Cleudi, she had no business in Drog. So we went in and under pain of the sword, made her give up the casket. It had some jewels in it, but underneath the lining was the letter.”
“The letter is here,” said the prosecutor, handing up a parchment, partly torn, but bearing the unmistakable blue star seal. “It is a document already famous, in which Cleudi beseeches the aid of the Tritulaccans in return for cessions of territory. Most treasonable matter.”
“Hm—hm,” said kronzlar Escholl, looking at it as though he had never seen it before. The Zigraner jurist craned his neck. (Her plan was complete now;) she took one step forward and in a low urgent whisper said; “Rodvard, help me.”
(It was an entreaty, and as though she knew of the use of the jewel, she was projecting a promise behind the entreaty; and the plan was behind the promise. But it was as though that “Help me” laid a compulsion on him.) Rodvard turned round, as Escholl was handing the parchment to the third jurist. “Your pardon, kronzlar.”
A frown. “Very well, I will see it.”
Rodvard stepped to the bench and whispered; “She is thinking of some sort of plan, I do not know for what. I think I could find out, if I could question her alone. I knew her in the old days.”
Escholl addressed the court. “This is perhaps the foulest piece of treason in the history of Dossola; and we have proof that the message is no forgery in the recent march of the Tritulaccan shars over the southern border, and the delivery to them without a battle of the castle of Falsteg. It is evident that the accused had full knowledge of the contents of this letter, and is therefore guilty of taking part in a vile conspiracy against the nation. But this court is required to follow every treason to its source, not merely to establish individual guilts. We will postpone this matter for inquiry, and pass to the next case.”
Rodvard sprang up as she was led into the room, hurrying to get her one of the comfortless chairs from the row against the wall. The guard leered at him (with a thought so nasty that) Rodvard’s tongue stumbled as he said; “She wants to—tell me something in private.” The guard laughed, glanced at the barred window and slammed the door.