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"Hold your tongue!"

"Yes," I agreed, "hold it while I cut it out. Will you have it fried? Or boiled?"

Rufo looked at me and breathed heavily. Then he left abruptly, withdrawing beyond the serving board. Star said softly, "Milord love, I am sorry."

"What twisted his tail?" I said wonderingly. Then I thought of the obvious. "Star! Is Rufo jealous?"

She looked astounded, started to laugh and chopped it off. "No, no, darling! It's not that at all. Rufo—Well, Rufo has his foibles but he is utterly dependable where it counts. And we need him. Ignore it. Please, milord."

"As you say. It would take more than that to make me unhappy today."

Rufo came back, face impassive, and finished serving. He repacked without speaking and we hit the road.

The road skirted the village green; we left Rufo there and sought out the rumormonger. His shop, a crooked lane away, was easy to spot; an apprentice was beating a drum in front of it and shouting teasers of gossip to a crowd of locals. We pushed through and went inside.

The master rumormonger was reading something in each hand with a third scroll propped against his feet on a desk. He looked, dropped feet to floor, jumped up and made a leg while waving us to seats.

"Come in, come in, my gentles!" be sang out. "You do me great honor, my day is made! And yet if I may say so you have come to the right place whatever your problem whatever your need you have only to speak good news bad news every sort but sad news reputations restored events embellished history rewritten great deeds sung and all work guaranteed by the oldest established news agency in all Nevia news from all worlds all universes propaganda planted or uprooted offset or rechanneled satisfaction guaranteed honesty is the best policy but the client is always right don't tell me I know I know I have spies in every kitchen ears in every bedroom the Hero Gordon without a doubt and your fame needs no heralds milord but honored am I that you should seek me out a biography perhaps to match your matchless deeds complete with old nurse who recalls in her thin and ancient and oh so persuasive voice the signs and portents at your birth—"

Star chopped him off. "We want to get married."

His mouth shut, he looked sharply at Star's waistline and almost bought a punch in the nose. "It is a pleasure. And I must add that I heartily endorse such a public-spirited project. All this modern bundling and canoodling and scuttling without even three cheers or a by-your-leave sends taxes up and profits down that's logic. I only wish I had time to get married myself as I've told my wife many's the time. Now as to plans, if I may make a modest suggestion—"

"We want to be married by the customs of Earth."

"Ah, yes, certainly." He turned to a cabinet near his desk, spun dials. After a bit he said, "Your pardon, gentles, but my head is crammed with a billion facts, large and small, and—that name? Does it start with one ‘R' or two?"

Star moved around, inspected the dials, made a setting.

The rumormonger blinked. "That universe? We seldom have a call for it. I've often wished I had time to travel but business business business—LIBRARY!"

"Yes, Master?" a voice answered.

"The planet Earth, Marriage Customs of—that's a capital ‘Urr' and a soft theta." He added a five-group serial number. "Snap it up!"

In very short time an apprentice came running with a thin scroll. "Librarian says careful how you handle it, Master. Very brittle, he says. He says—"

"Shut up. Your pardon, gentles." He inserted the scroll in a reader and began to scan.

His eyes bugged out and he sat forward. "Unbeliev—" Then he muttered, "Amazing! Whatever made them think of that!" For several minutes he appeared to forget we were there, simply giving vent to: "Astounding! Fantastic!" and like expressions.

I tapped his elbow. "We're in a hurry."

"Eh? Yes, yes, milord Hero Gordon—milady." Reluctantly he left the scanner, fitted his palms together, and said, "You've come to the right place. Not another rumormonger in all Nevia could handle a project this size. Now my thought is—just a rough idea, talking off the top of my head—for the procession we'll need to call in the surrounding countryside although for the charivari we could make do with just townspeople if you want to keep it modest in accordance with your reputation for dignified simplicity—say one day for the procession and a nominal two nights of charivari with guaranteed noise levels of—"

"Hold it."

"Milord? I'm not going to make a profit on this; it will be a work of art, a labor of love—just expenses plus a little something for my overhead. It's my professional judgment, too, that a Samoan pre-ceremony would be more sincere, more touching really, than the optional Zulu rite. For a touch of comedy relief—at no extra charge; one of my file clerks just happens to be seven months along, she'd be glad to run down the aisle and interrupt the ceremony—and of course there is the matter of witnesses to the consummation, how many for each of you, but that needn't be settled this week; we have the street decorations to think of first, and—"

I took her arm. "We're leaving."

"Yes, milord," Star agreed.

He chased after us, shouting about broken contracts. I put hand to sword and showed six inches of blade; his squawks shut off.

Rufo seemed to be all over his mad; he greeted us civilly, even cheerfully. We mounted and left. We had been riding south a mile or so when I said, "Star darling—"

"Milord love?"

"That ‘jumping over the sword'—that really is a marriage ceremony?"

"A very old one, my darling. I think it dates back to the Crusades."

"I've thought of an updated wording:

‘Jump rogue, and princess leap,

‘My wife art thou and mine to keep!'

"—would that suit you?"

"Yes, yes!"

"But for the second line you say:

‘—thy wife I vow and thine to keep.'

"Got it?"

Star gave a quick gasp. "Yes, my love!"

We left Rufo with the longhorses, giving no explanation, and climbed a little wooded hill. All of Nevia is beautiful, with never a beer can nor a dirty Kleenex to mar its Eden loveliness, but here we found an outdoor temple, a smooth grassy place surrounded by arching trees, an enchanted sanctuary.

I drew my sword and glanced along it, feeling its exquisite balance while noting again the faint ripples left by feather-soft hammer blows of some master swordsmith. I tossed it and caught it by the forte. "Read the motto. Star."

She traced it out. " ‘Dum vivimus, vivamus!'—‘While we live, let us live!' Yes, my love, yes!" She kissed it and handed it back; I placed it on the ground.

"Know your lines?" I asked.

"Graved in my heart."

I took her hand in mine. "Jump high. One...two...three!"

Chapter 12

When I led my bride back down that blessed hill, arm around her waist, Rufo helped us mount without comment. But he could hardly miss that Star now addressed me as: "Milord husband." He mounted and tailed in, a respectful distance out of earshot.

We rode hand in hand for at least an hour. Whenever I glanced at her, she was smiling; whenever she caught my eye, the smile grew dimples. Once I asked, "How soon must we keep lockout?"

"Not until we leave the road, milord husband."

That held us another mile. At last she said timidly, "Milord husband?"

"Yes, wife?"

"Do you still think that I am ‘a cold and clumsy wench'?"

"Mmm..." I answered thoughtfully, " ‘cold'—no, I couldn't honestly say you were cold. But ‘clumsy'—Well, compared with an artist like Muri, let us say—"