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Just a little She smiles – Spilled milk –

Just a little she smiles and opens her eyes. “All right then,” says Ysabel. Standing by the window in her yellow underwear. The daylight soft and grey, dappled by raindrops on glass. She looks down at the cigarette burning between her fingers. Black blood thick on her fingertips and palm. Blood smeared around her mouth, her chin. “Pfeh,” she says, cocking her hand, wiping her lips with the back of her wrist. Blood’s splashed between her breasts, a trickle of it black and shining oozes down her belly trembling a fat drop of it falling to plop on her bare foot. She takes in a sharp breath through her nose and lets it out in a sudden shivery laugh. “All right,” she says.

A rustle from the futon across the room.

“Jo?” says Ysabel.

“The hell you will,” says Jo, muffled. Kicking her mismatched Chuck Taylors in the sheets.

Ysabel stubs out the cigarette in a plate puddled with black blood, a slender bloodstained knife on the table beside it. Scrubs at her chest with her fingers, knocking loose a sparkling fall of dust. She crosses the room to kneel by the futon. “Jo,” she says again. Jo moans, her face buried in the blue-and-white striped pillow. Ysabel brushes Jo’s cheek with the back of her hand. “Wake up, Jo,” she says. “It’s October.” Jo jerks her head away, one arm fighting free of the blanket. Pushing herself up breathing sharply, blinking. “I can’t,” she says, “what?” Staring unseeing at the wall.

Jo spits toothpaste into the sink and rinses her toothbrush under the tap. Runs the brush around her teeth and spits again.

“What did she tell you?” says Ysabel, leaning on the open door of the refrigerator. She’s pulled on a white tank top. Something glitters at the corner of her mouth.

“She didn’t,” says Jo, running her fingers through her hair, pushing back the blond fuzz to reveal dark roots. Tugging at one of the longer black locks. “Not for real. For real, she just laughed that goddamn laugh and walked away across the ice.” Out in the little hallway kitchen Ysabel pulls a carton of milk from the fridge. “But in the dream it was like she’d been saying something all along and, it’s not like I couldn’t hear her or it was in another language or something. I could understand her. I just wasn’t paying attention.” Ysabel takes a glass down from the cabinet and pinches open the carton. “I was looking at something else, I don’t know, but by the time I figured out she was saying something important and started paying attention she was laughing and turning and walking away.” Ysabel sets one hand on edge by the glass, four fingers curled around it. She pours the milk slowly, watching the level rise finger by finger. “And whatever it was was so important,” says Jo, “and I’d missed it, and I knew I was never going to get another chance.” Ysabel puts the carton back in the fridge. “Which just. Hurt.” In the bathroom, Jo’s still looking at herself in the mirror. “Nineteen goddamn names and I don’t know a one of them,” she says, quietly. She runs some water, catches it in her hands, splashes her face. Shuts the water off. Something’s trickling. Jo frowns. Looks out, into the little hallway kitchen. Ysabel’s holding up the glass tipped over, pouring milk over the counter, down to the floor. “The fuck?” says Jo.

“You shouldn’t be having dreams like that,” says Ysabel. She shakes the last drops of milk from the glass and sets it down on the counter.

“So you make a fucking mess?”

“It’s a punishment,” says Ysabel.

“Oh,” says Jo, pushing past her, out into the main room, “the milk, the blood, that fucking tongue, it’s a punishment all right.” She stops, staring down at the plate on the glass-topped table, the cigarette butt in the blood, the slender bloodstained knife. “Ysabel?” she says, turning around. “Where’s the tongue?”

Ysabel’s dipping a finger in the milk.

“The tongue. That was ripped from the head of that – thing. And dropped on this plate right here last night. That tongue?”

Ysabel turns, opening her mouth to say something. The phone rings. “I’ll get it,” she says.

“No!” says Jo. “Let it ring.”

“It could be – ”

“Spam,” snaps Jo. “Fucking telemarketers selling a fucking timeshare or something. Look. Don’t tell me about the tongue. Okay? Fine. I don’t trip over it or find it in the freezer or something, it’s gone, I’m good. Okay? Just put on some pants or something so we can go to work.”

“Or we could not go to work,” says Ysabel. “Go see a movie or something.”


“We had a long night,” says Ysabel. “I’m tired. You’re exhausted. And you’ve already paid rent, right? So – “

“Yeah, but now I have to buy more fucking milk!” The phone’s stopped ringing. “We’ve been over this,” says Jo. “I have to go to work. And I have to keep an eye on you. So you have to come to work with me. Dead fucking simple. And it’s gonna be like that until, I don’t know. Something happens.”

“Like what?”

“Maybe one of your bully-boys challenges me to a duel and I lose and you get to be his problem instead.”

“That’s not going to happen,” says Ysabel, smiling.

“Oh yeah? Maybe I’ll just pick a fight with Roland the next time he swings by. I bet he’d like that. Are you going to clean that up?”

Ysabel looks back at the puddle of milk. “No,” she says.

“I’m not touching it.”

“Of course not.”

Jo throws her hands in the air. “Just, just get dressed. Okay? Let’s go.”

Table of Contents

“Who are the three lions?” – a Mild and Temperate Knight – Her hair – Exaltation – What he said –

“Who are the three lions?” says Marfisa.

“What?” says Roland, headphones down around his neck. On the table a thick white mug half-filled with coffee, a scatter of gel caps, a little toy car, silver and green.

“The three lions,” says Marfisa, pointing back to the words painted on the window by the door. “I was just wondering who they were.”

“Haile Selassie,” says the woman sitting across from Roland. “Richard Nixon. Luke Skywalker.” She’s hunched in a sweater the color of flour, a floppy brown hat pulled low over her yellow hair. Roland snorts. Marfisa looks about, the gleaming barista station, the long glass case full of brightly lit pastries, the blackboard clouded with palimpsests of old menus. “What?” says the woman. “Was it a rhetorical question?” Her face tics sourly, her eyes darting under the brim of her hat.

“Here,” says Roland, scooping up the caps. “Hold out your hand.” She does. The fingers tremble, just a little. He sets the pills in her palm, one by one, picks up the toy car, folds her fingers over it. Marfisa pulls a spindly chair over from an empty table. “I was wondering how you were keeping up your rounds,” she says. She drapes her blue rainshell over the back of the chair.

“Thank you, Miss Cheney,” Roland’s saying. The woman in the floppy brown hat stands, stuffing her hand in the pocket of her corduroy skirt. “Thank you, Chariot,” she says. “May you be fierce and proud, precise and steady, proper, unified, vigorous, nimble-handed, swift, ardent-coursing, very dextrous, and unhesitating.” She takes up the red-tipped cane leaning against the table and tapping it before her makes her way out of the café.

“I didn’t ask you here to speak about my business, Axe,” says Roland as Marfisa sits.

“Of course not, Chariot,” says Marfisa, looking back from Miss Cheney’s exit to Roland’s frown. His track suit crisp and white with green and yellow stripes down the sleeves. “The four fifths know I’d’ve died last night if you hadn’t happened by. I owe you,” and she tilts her head back a little, jaw working, “my life.” Curls the color of clotted cream unsprung from her tightly bunched ponytail. “So I guess you want to tell me what I must do to see that debt discharged.”

Roland’s picking at the velcro on his bicycle gloves. “We hunted the boar together with a Gallowglas. A joint effort. Either of us could have died then. I’m not,” and then he looks up and says, “You must do it because it’s right. Not because of a debt.”

“What,” says Marfisa, after a moment.

Roland’s laid his gloved hands flat on the table. “Stop seeing her,” he says.

“Who?” says Marfisa.

“You know,” says Roland, and then he stops himself and says, “the Princess.”

“How can I not see her?” says Marfisa. “Should I put out my eyes?”

“She’s the Bride.” Roland’s glaring, leaning over the table. “Promised to the King Come Back. You’ll do nothing to jeopardize that promise.” His voice low, the words bitten short.

“Jeopardize?” says Marfisa. “How could I do that? Tell me, Chariot. Spell it out for me.”

Roland sits back. “The Dagger,” he says. “As mild and temperate a knight as you could ask, for all that he was the Duke’s man. This knight would have struck your head from your shoulders last night. Would have wiped you from this world.”

“So we’re back to the debt,” says Marfisa.

“Why?” says Roland, his eyes burning. “Why would he try to do something like that?”

“I don’t know,” says Marfisa, but she looks away from him, down at her hands, curled in her lap. Roland drinks his coffee. “You must stop,” he says. “Now. I won’t be able to allow it when she’s under my protection once more.”

Marfisa looks up. “You must worry,” she says, “about facing a Gallowglas, to win her back. Jo’s a friend of yours, isn’t she?”

Roland finishes his coffee and sets the mug on the table. “The Queen will tire of indulging her daughter’s whims soon enough.”

“Without a fight, huh?” says Marfisa, standing. “Is that what Miss Cheney told you is going to happen?”

“Stop,” says Roland. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“Yeah,” says Marfisa, putting on her rainshell, “try telling her that.”

Night falls. They come around the corner of the building and duck out of the rain, three of them, under a dull burgundy awning that says Fada Salon. Already fishing for cigarettes. Jo’s lit, she flicks the match away into the rain and shakes open a newspaper. Ysabel, unlit cigarette in her fingers, turns to the short older woman with a loose wattle under her chin. “Do you know,” says the older woman, thumbing open a lighter, “a young man insists I am from India.” Her voice rough with old smoke. Ysabel leans over her small flame. “I asked him, how is it so, and he said, you have an accent. Of course. I am from France. He says no one in France must call people for money.” The older woman shrugs. “So now I am Indian.”

“Fuck,” says Jo, rattling her paper shut. The window behind them dark. Rows of shampoo bottles catch what little light. She steps under the next awning down, dark grey over a glass door lit up inside, a beige hall, a row of dented mailboxes. Holds the paper up in the light, turns it inside out. “You know, Crecy,” says Ysabel, “Jo says there’s a difference. Between spam, and what we do.”

“Of course, darling,” says the older woman. “Spam is on the internet.”

“Phone spam,” says Ysabel. “Sales calls,” says Jo, scowling at her paper.

“We don’t do sales,” says Crecy.

“But it is a transaction,” says Ysabel. “It’s not a sales call,” growls Jo.

“We don’t ask for money,” says Crecy.

“We ask for their time,” says Ysabel. “A piece of their life. And isn’t time money? Why does this make you so angry?” she says, turning to Jo.

“What do we sell?” says Crecy. “If we are selling.”

“Your answers,” says Ysabel brightly, “will help Pet Depot better determine where and how to improve their service to ensure our clients and their people will have the best possible Pet Depot experience. What was it we said for Winthrop Bank? Your answers will enable WinBank to better assess the service they provide? It’s a good deed,” she says. “A chance to help. Attention. That’s the transaction. Time, for attention.”

“Sales,” says Crecy. “No, sales we go to do when we can’t do this. Out to Market Solutions in Beaverton, hour and a half by bus, and we sell. Or worse, to a customer service farm.” She lets her cigarette fall to the sidewalk and mashes it with her heel. “No one trusts a phone anymore. All the sales and the robots, and the Indians. So many surveys done on the internet now.”

“Like spam,” says Ysabel.

“You are being difficult,” says Crecy.

“Not a goddamn thing,” says Jo, dropping the newspaper. She flicks her cigarette-spark into the rain. “Get your things.”

“There’s an hour left in the shift,” says Ysabel.

“I don’t care,” says Jo. “There’s something I need to see.”

“What?” says Ysabel, as Crecy shaking her head says “With Guthrie out again, and Dorfman – what will you tell Becker?”

“That I feel like shit,” says Jo. “What else?”

Leaning against the dingy fridge, head down, long black hair to one side like a curtain drawn back. Rings glitter on his fingers, an ankh, a skull, dice. “Wow,” he says, hauling himself upright, scratching his ribs. Black drawstring pants hang from his narrow hips, cuffs lapping his bare feet. He pulls a clear plastic pitcher from the fridge and pours water into his mouth.

“Guthrie,” she says. The hall behind her’s dark. Hard rattle of rain outside the half-closed window. Her black T-shirt tight says A Mysterious Chunk of Space Debris. Her hair lost under a confetti-colored patchwork cap.

“You never take that off,” he says. “Do you. The hat.”

“I have my reasons,” she says.

“I, see, have no idea how you pulled that shirt on over it.”

“Same way you took it off, except.” Her hands spin about each other. “In reverse.”

“That’s one of my shirts,” he says. “Your shirt buttoned up the front. Unbuttoned.” He runs his fingers up the T-shirt to brush her chin. She bites at them. “Like your sweater. And your other sweater. And your jacket unzipped. So.”

“My skirt,” she says, “and my other skirt,” and she kisses him.

“And your bicycle shorts,” he says, “and those goddamn granny panties,” and he kisses her chin. “But not the hat. Is it a thing? If I take off your hat, do you leave and I never see you again?”

“Such questions,” she says, kissing his throat. Her hand in his pants. He spins her around bare feet shuffling and lifts her shrieking with laughter to sit on the edge of the sink. The hem of her shirt rucked up past her hips, the hair crowning her thighs dull brown and glossy auburn, fiery red licking the edges, coiled springs of gold here and there, white glistening, thin black shading a ghostly line up her belly under the shirt. “If you’re supposed to make me forget,” he says, as she leans forward, reaching for his pants, “I remember everything.” He helps her push them down. “The window and the boar and the swords and.” She stops his mouth with a fingertip. “Do you want to forget?” she says.

Guthrie shakes his head.

“Am I safe here?” she says.

He shrugs, his face torn between a frown and a smile. “As houses,” he says.

“I have your word?” she says, and his face falls. He kisses her, a long rolling lick of a kiss, and closes his eyes, and lays his forehead against her chest. “Of course,” he says.

“Guthrie,” she says.

When he looks up she tugs the patchwork cap up and off and out spills her hair, tumbling over her shoulders, down her back, into the sink, across the counter, down, brushing his knees, coiling about his feet. “Wow,” he says.

She shivers as he touches her hair, takes up a heavy hank of it in his hand, lets it run through his fingers like water. “Oh,” she says as he sinks his fingers into her hair to either side of her face, his palms, his wrists. “Wow,” he says, and she nods and says, “Like that,” breathing quickly, her hair brushing his forearms, his elbows. “Wow,” he says, and he kisses her. The rain long since gentled to a hush.

The weirdly slender doll tosses an arch salute in the harsh light of the desk lamp. Its uniform a tight orange jacket and a short flippy skirt, dark stockings stretched halfway up elongated thighs. Mr. Charlock touches its head carefully, as if it might burn. “Week ago Wednesday,” he says. “The equinox. That’s where I’m putting my money. So he was out and about a week before you called us in? Still.” Mr. Charlock touches the doll again. “Seven confirmed sightings – five solos and a deuce. We cleared ’em all.”

“Seven,” says Mr. Leir. His eyes almost grey. His face unlined under all that white hair.

“Mr. Keightlinger’s sources back us up,” says Mr. Charlock.

“I don’t doubt it,” says Mr. Leir. “But seven is a rather… notable number.”

“Yeah,” says Mr. Charlock. “So’s three and five and twelve and nine and four.”

“And eight,” says Mr. Keightlinger, in the shadows behind Mr. Charlock.

“But this is seven,” says Mr. Leir.

Mr. Charlock shrugs. “Anyway, last night they run him out of the world and into a hunt. Being my understanding of your instructions was not to interfere, we didn’t.” Mr. Leir nods. “Bride was there,” says Mr. Charlock. He picks up the doll, fingering a long brown plastic ponytail. “On the hunt.” Tips the doll over, looking up its skirt. “Gallowglas, too.”

“On a horse,” says Mr. Keightlinger, leaning forward, his beard ruddied in the light. Mr. Charlock looks up at him, curl bobbing on his forehead. “Yeah,” he says, “there were horses. Point being, they pull this girl any closer, they’d have to knight her or something.”

Mr. Leir reaches across his desk, pale hand palm up.

“She’ll be as hard to peel off as one of their own,” says Mr. Charlock. “Harder, even.”

Mr. Leir’s fingers beckon once, twice. Mr. Charlock lays the doll in his hand. “What in hell are those things for, anyway?” says Mr. Charlock.

“Numquam sine phantasmate intelligit anima,” says Mr. Leir, standing. He opens a glass cabinet behind his desk and sets the doll on a shelf lined with more dolls, a schoolgirl in a kilt, a swordswoman in a chainmail bikini, a girl in a maillot climbing onto a blocky scooter, a magician in a top hat and bustier. “You think,” says Mr. Leir, and then, “I’m not certain what you think.” He closes the cabinet. “That you’re to help me by stealing the Bride from them?” He plants his fists on the desk, leaning over them. “You are to watch, and report, and that is all. You’ve watched. You’ve reported. I thank you.”

“Sure,” says Mr. Charlock, jerking his shoulder from beneath Mr. Keightlinger’s hand, “but what’s it all for?”

Mr. Leir smiles under those cold clear eyes. “She is exaltation,” he says. “She will cross each sign at its zenith. She is the morning that climbs into the sky and the rose that arises from tears. Her throne is a high mountain and from there the sky of light is beneath her feet, and her diadem the stars.” His smile leaves. “Would you like to ask another question, Mr. Charlock?”

“Not so much?” says Mr. Charlock, swallowing. He stands. “Maybe some other time.”

A white tray laid on the low broad ottoman. Two glossy cards lie on it, one white, printed with a stylized bee in black and yellow. The other brown, a hawk’s head in red and black. A small stone cup overturned, salt spilled from it on the tray. A clear glass saucer dotted with bread crumbs. A small brass lamp, low flame smoking at its tip. The Duke looms over it, leaning heavily on a cane. He blows out the lamp. Picks up the silver-handled knife on the ottoman before the tray and pushes himself upright. Drops the knife in the pocket of his tweed jacket.

“Thank you,” he says.

“There’s no need to thank me,” says the Queen. Dressed all in black, she sits at one end of the long white leather sofa. A little brindle cat beside her ducks its head to lick at its chest.

“Ah,” says the Duke, “but I would ask another boon of you.”

The Queen strokes the little cat’s back. “No,” she says.

“No?” says the Duke. “But you don’t – ”

“We will not ennoble Jo Maguire.” The cat slumps against her, lifting a leg to worry at its haunch. “Unless you had something else in mind?”

“No,” says the Duke, “no, that’s what, ah, I – ” He frowns. “Why not? You’ve a perfect excuse. She hadn’t done what she did, I’d be dust blowing down the highway, instead of that fucking pig. I don’t care what the Bodach said.”

“So offer her a street yourself,” says the Queen. “Sidney must have left something behind.”

“But I take her in, I get your daughter as well,” says the Duke. “That’s crazy. You give her the knighthood. That brings the Bride back here, safe and sound, away from clutching grasps like mine – ”

The Queen stands. The little cat freezes, then leaps from the sofa, scampering into the shadows. “You forget yourself, Southeast,” she says. “We will not have a Gallowglas in this house.”

After a moment, the Duke ducks his head. “Can’t say I didn’t try.” He turns to go, but stops, one foot on the shallow steps. “Duenna,” he says. “I will sit the Throne one day. Whether you’d will it or no.” He looks over his shoulder at her. She’s sitting again, the white card in her hand. “But this has nothing to do with that. This is me, trying to do what’s right. Remember that.”

She smiles to herself. “We will always have been who we are,” she says, laying the card back on the tray, next to the brown one.

She gets out of the car, a low-slung thing, and opens the passenger door as he lurches down the porch steps. She wears a short clear plastic raincoat over a grey chauffeur’s jacket. The Duke leans on the roof of the car and levers his left leg in, lowering himself into the seat. Pulls his right leg in, wincing. Tosses the cane over into the narrow back seat. She lowers the hand she’d put out to help him. “You shouldn’t be walking on that,” she says, climbing into the driver’s seat.

He runs a hand through his hair, shaking out the rain.

“You want to,” she says, starting the engine, putting the car in gear. He snaps on the radio. Guitars and a clattering drumkit crash into a slow keening verse, cymbal ringing like a bell, in a town, deep in the dark wood, there were streets of colored lanterns, there were musicians and juggling troupes, sticky baked things and booths and booths. “Want to do anything tonight?” she says.

“Go home,” he says.

“Because if you want, you know, to take it easy.” She steals a glance at him. He’s looking out the window. “You must be exhausted, so I was thinking, right? I could call a friend of mine. Penny? From the club?” She looks about, signals, eases over into the right lane. “We could put on a show, if you like.”

“Yeah, okay,” he says, still looking out the window.

“Yeah?” she says.

“You should go out. With whoever. See a show. I’ll be okay.” He smiles at her. “You went above and beyond last night, you know? Take the night off.”

“Oh,” she says. “Okay. Thanks.”

And then she says, “How’d it go?”

“As well as you’d expect,” he says. “Hey. Last night. Did the Mooncalfe finally show? Or was I dreaming?”

“Orlando?” she says. “Yeah, he showed.”

“What did he have to say for himself?”

“Just,” she says, “you know. Get well soon.”

He snorts, looking down at his leg. “Fat chance of that,” he says.

Table of Contents

de anima, written by Aristotle, translated by Willem van Moerbeke, within the public domain. The Tarjuman Alashwaq, written by Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, within the public domain. “What He’d Just Said,” written by Paul Winkler, ©1997 Arms.

the Blue umbrella – the Three Acorns – Roly-poly Gang Bang – “Just let it ring” – Her promise –

The blue umbrella’s smeared with whorls of starry light, a fiery painted circle of yellow moon. Ysabel eyes the rain dripping from its edges with moued lips and pinched brows. “I’m not dressed for this,” she says.

“No one told you to wear heels,” says Jo. Hatless, she’s flipped up the collar of her army green jacket.

“I didn’t know we’d be walking for miles tonight,” says Ysabel.

“It’s a couple of fucking blocks,” says Jo, glaring at the ivy-choked fence that towers to the right.

“Thirteen,” says Ysabel. “Since we got off the train.”

“So it’s a big couple,” says Jo.

“You’re not going to see anything,” says Ysabel.

After a minute, Jo says “I think that” as Ysabel stops there in the middle of the street and snaps, “You’re not going to see anything! Thirteen blocks in the rain and it’s cold, my feet hurt and we’re in Northeast again, again, and it’s all a complete waste of time because you’re not going to see anything!”

“I think,” says Jo, slowly, pointing up the sidewalk, “that driveway there, that’s a parking lot, it’ll take us to the edge. Past this crap.” She walks on, hands jammed in her pockets, shoulders hunched.

Ysabel spins the umbrella between her hands, flinging raindrops about. Tips her head, resting it against the umbrella’s shaft. The other side of the street lined with parked cars. The house behind her porch lit up, strings of lights wound about the columns, draped from the eaves.

The ivy-choked fence ends at the driveway. The driveway opens into a parking lot for a rambling low apartment complex. Jo’s there, under a sign that says American Property Management, No Trespassing or Loitering, Violators Will Be Prosecuted. Her fingers laced in the chained links of a gate. Past the gate another lot dips down the edge of the gulch around a jumble of building, weatherbeaten oblongs under a flat tarpaper roof. Below it the railroad tracks. Beyond them a wall ten or fifteen feet high and then the freeway, traffic shushing busily east and west through the rain.

“He must have come through that fence up there,” says Jo, pointing back along the top of the gulch. “Down the slope and maybe he jumped from there to the roof. Where we saw him. That’s.” She thumbs a trickle of rain from her forehead. “He jumped,” she says. “From there to the fucking freeway. The freeway. Landed so hard he broke the road. I was picking pieces of pavement out of my hair. He broke the fucking road and look.” She rattles the fence. Rainwater splats the shoulders of her jacket. Traffic passing back and forth below, red lights and white lights and the yellow wink of a turn signal. “Nothing. No work crews. No orange cones. Not a goddamn crack. Like it never happened. Like he was never there.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “he was a monster.” Jo looks at her over her shoulder, frowning, “I,” she starts to say. “His name was Erymathos,” says Ysabel, and “I know what his name,” says Jo as Ysabel’s saying, “and a long time ago, as everyone knows, he winnowed the oak-mast of the forests above Eugea, there among the ankle-bones of the Dyfün Mountain, until he found and gobbled three certain acorns.” She lifts her umbrella, holding it over both of them. “The first swelled his shoulders like a mighty canopy of oak, sun-shield and thunder-trap. The second rooted the four great boles of him to the earth, and from then on he could never be overturned. But the third.” She stands quite close to Jo now, her voice a soft murmur over the distracted rain. “The third acorn hardened his heart like knot-wood, shriveling it down to a nubbin no bigger than his eye, and as black.” She reaches out to brush more rain from Jo’s forehead. Jo shakes her head away. “There will never again be a forest above Eugea.”

“I don’t,” says Jo, turning back to the fence, the ramshackle building, the trees along the wall of the gulch, the railroad tracks below, the freeway.

“Why are you so angry, Jo Maguire? Because he’s gone? He was a monster. For all that cities terrified him, and concrete was like ice under his hooves.” Ysabel’s hand on Jo’s shoulder, the umbrella brushing the fence above them. “A hundred hundred knights sought him out with sword and spear and hound and he laughed at them all and sent more than a few down to dust. Is it because the Duke picked you for his Gallowglas? It could have been anyone. Any one of you, ten months from now, or ten years, by his side, or the Anvil’s, or the Chariot’s.”

“It’s, I just,” says Jo. She hits the fence again. Rain splashes. “He should have stopped traffic. You know? After all that.”

“Three weeks?” says Ysabel, sitting on the bench under the shelter, umbrella furled between her knees.

“It was a Saturday night,” says Jo, leaning against the ticket machine. “Becker’s little promotion shindig at the VC.” She cranes her head, peering down the railroad tracks into the rainy darkness. Pulls a pack of cigarettes from her jacket pocket. “Three weeks ago.”

“Twenty-one days,” says Ysabel.

“Assuming math still works,” says Jo, cigarette bouncing in the corner of her mouth. A pop and a match flares in her hands.

“Seems longer.”

Jo blows a stream of smoke up and out past the dim lights of the shelter.

“You’re still angry,” says Ysabel.

“I’m not angry,” says Jo.

“You are,” says Ysabel. There’s a light down the tracks, getting brighter. Jo laughs. “Works every time,” she says, taking one last long drag from the cigarette.

“What?” says Ysabel.

“That’s why I haven’t quit,” says Jo. “You’re waiting for a bus or a train? Light one up and boom. There it is.” She drops the cigarette to the platform. “Like magic.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, as the train pulls in. Jokes on us, says the ad running along the side of it, swarming with smiling television stars. Jo steps into the second car and climbs a couple of steps up from the floor to the raised rear seats. The car’s otherwise empty. Ysabel’s standing in the doorway. “Come on,” says Jo, as a recorded voice says “This is a Red Line train to Portland City Center. Next stop is Northeast Seventh Avenue.” Another voice says, “Este un tren de la línea roja a Portland City Center.” The first voice says, “The doors are closing.”

Ysabel steps into the car. The doors close. “What’s wrong?” says Jo.

“I’m not sure,” says Ysabel. She grabs for the handrail as the train lurches into motion. The lights flicker.

“What is it?” says Jo.

“I don’t,” says Ysabel. “Gabba gabba hey,” says the boy lounging in the accordioned joint in the middle of the car. “Jo?” says Ysabel.

“Yeah, I see him,” says Jo.

“And he,” says Ysabel.

“He wasn’t there when we got on,” says Jo.

“Gowan,” says the boy. “Smile!” His head’s bald. He’s wearing a grey denim jacket over a baggy grey hoodie.

“Why don’t you,” Jo’s saying, as Ysabel says “I told you we shouldn’t have.” Jo’s standing in the aisle. “Why don’t you get up here.”

“Lovely,” says the man standing next to the boy, swaying with the motion of the train. Ysabel’s quickly climbing the couple of steps and swinging into a seat. The man wears a tan trench coat and his pink and yellow tie is loose. An old brown briefcase on the floor between his feet. “Hubba hubba,” says the boy in the hoodie. The lights flicker.

“What’s going on?” says Jo.

“We’re in Northeast,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah? So?”

“A spitfire!” says the man in the grimy blue coveralls, pushing past the boy in the hoodie, out onto the floor between the doors. “Lose the jacket,” says the boy in the hoode. “Hell yeah!” says the lanky guy in basketball shorts. He’s back by the man in the trench coat. “Panties,” says the man in the trench coat. He giggles. They’re all laughing, barking, roaring, the lanky guy hooting, the man in the coveralls doubled over, hanging one-handed from the handrail, slapping his knee. “Jesus,” says Jo to herself. “Where the fuck are they coming from?”

“Gimme a kiss,” says the boy in the hoodie, laughing. “Let’s see them legs!” says the man in the coveralls. “Sweet little things,” says the man in the trench coat. “Northeast Seventh Avenue,” says the recorded voice. “Doors to my right.”

“Get up,” says Jo. “Slowly. Get up. We’re getting off.” She heads down to the floor of the car one slow step at a time, eyes not leaving the men no longer laughing, swaying together with the train.

“It’s not stopping,” says Ysabel, standing up.

“It’s not stopping,” says Jo. The lights flicker. “It’s not stopping!” A woman’s face sweeps by outside, dismayed, framed in a yellow slicker hood. The man in the coveralls plants his feet against the wobble of the train, arms out, hands free, grinning. “You want some of this,” he says.

“Of course she does,” says the man in the trench coat. “Tag team,” says the lanky guy. “Fuck yeah!” says the boy in the hoodie. “Swallow this!”

“Jo?” says Ysabel, eyes wide.

“I, ah,” says Jo. “Are these your people?”

“What?” says Ysabel. The man in the trench coat snorts. “Gagging lolita,” says the lanky guy.

“Are they, you know, like you?” says Jo.

“What kind of question is that?”

“Gang bang, gang bang,” sing-songs the boy in the hoodie. “Roly-poly gang bang.”

“Shut up!” yells Jo. The man in the coveralls frowning, smiling, chuckling deep in his throat like a growl. “Jesus whichever,” says Jo, “it’s self-defense anyway. Get ready.”

“For what?” says Ysabel, but Jo’s foot has already left the floor.

“Baby wants to pinch them,” snarls the man in the coveralls, and then the crook of Jo’s foot catches him right in the crotch, lifts him up on his toes. There’s a smash like breaking crockery. His arms curling in mouth rounding air blowing out of him in one big burst. Her foot dropping she reaches past him for the front of the boy’s grey hoodie hauling as the man in the coveralls sags over the seat beside him. Hauls the boy past her and around squawking “Yah!” to fetch up clang his forehead into the handrail knocked back arms wheeling over and down. The man in the coveralls still moaning.

“Excuse me,” says the man in the trench coat.

“Now!” yells Jo, throwing her elbow back, hurling a sharp-knuckled punch into the lanky guy’s chest. “Hey,” he says. “Now!” yells Jo, kicking at his knee and missing.

“Now what?” screams Ysabel standing, fingers white around the handrail. “Jo!”

The lanky guy’s caught Jo’s off-balanced fist in his big flat hand. He lifts, wrenching her wrist. “Now!” she yells, and hisses, eyes crumpled. “The brake! Pull it!” She kicks again. Her toe bounces off his shin with a tinny clank. The man in the coveralls growling on the floor hands slipping and pushing at nothing. The boy in the hoodie rearing back off him hands to his forehead wobbling upright, a deep dent dug in that bald head. The lanky guy grunts as Jo kicks him and kicks him again. “Pull it!”

“Pull what?”

“The brake! The brake! The motherfucking brake!” Jo throws herself at the lanky guy and back, yanking at her fist still locked in that hand. Ysabel’s looking all about her eyes wild one hand up to her mouth. “On the wall!” cries Jo. The man in the trench coat steps gingerly around the lanky guy, wary of the rocking of the train. “Behind you! On the damn wall!”

“You little bitch,” says the man in the trench coat, and hunkering arm dropped swings his briefcase up at Jo’s head. Ysabel screams. Jo dangles from the lanky guy’s fist head back blood shining her cheekbone. Spun about the man in the trench coat swings back at Jo the briefcase into her gut. He pulls but doubled over she’s caught it with her free hand. Roaring. The man in the trench coat stumbles as she yanks it from him. The lanky guy watches frowning as the man in the coveralls grabs his ankle. “Do you know who I am?” bellows Jo, her other hand still caught. “The fucking Gallowglas!” She slams the briefcase into the lanky guy’s chest and again. “I will end you!” And again.

The lights flicker. “Whore,” grunts the man in the coveralls, crumbling the word, pushing himself to his knees clanking a weight dangling between his thighs. “Let go of me!” Jo’s screaming. “Frigid little cunt,” spits the man in the trench coat, rubbing his wrist. “Jo, I can’t,” Ysabel’s saying, “I don’t,” and Jo’s face twists. “Fucking dyke,” says the man in the trench coat. His briefcase hits him squarely in the nose. Something crunches. His hands up shaking as Jo lowers the briefcase, his nose gone, sunk with his eyes, his brows and mouth and chin clenched around it all, he backs away, feeling for his face, yowling, muffled, choked. Jo looks up at the lanky guy, at her fist in his hand, his warm-up jacket fluttering, blowing out as he exhales, sucked flat against his chest as he inhales, rasping, ragged. He squeezes.

Jo yanks harder eyes frantic her fist not moving kicking his shin and his knee and it twangs bent by her shoe. He grunts. The man in the coveralls crotch clanking plants his foot grabbing her jacket yanking it to one side swaying with the train his other hand wrapping under Jo’s chin fingers denting her cheek smearing blood thumb along her jaw pushing up and back. “You, you will,” he says, fighting for breath, “Fuck. You.” The lights flicker. “Fuck you.” The lights go out and the train shakes a wallow ripples its length squealing monstrously and they all fall Jo suddenly free, briefcase tumbling away down the car as the train judders slowing, squalling, stopping.

“On the wall,” says Ysabel, bent over clutching the handrail. She laughs, a little gasping burst. It’s gone quiet.

“Jesus,” says Jo, in the shadows.

“Jo?” says Ysabel. “Jo!”

On her shoulder and elbow and knees cheek to the floor in the accordioned joint in the middle of the car Jo says “Fucking hell.”

“I found it,” says Ysabel, “I did it. I found it.”

“Yeah,” says Jo, sitting back on her heels. Blood streaks her reddened face, a handprint smeared along her cheek. There’s no one else in the car.

In the darkness by the sink a dishtowel’s laid flat. On the towel a small plate, a slender knife, a glass set upside down. Out in the main room on the glass-topped café table a spill of smooth clean pebbles, a scatter of dead leaves. A key rattles in the lock. Jo limps in shrugging a shoulder out of her sodden jacket, flicking on the light in the little hallway kitchen. The knife gleams. She shimmies her other arm free and lets the jacket plop to the floor. Heads across the main room stumbling over the black spear-haft stretching away under the table and sinks to her knees by the futon. She falls forward, onto her face, arms flung wide.

“You’re soaking,” says Ysabel. She sets the furled umbrella by the armoire in the corner. Jo says something into the comforter. “You’re on my side of the bed,” says Ysabel. She opens the armoire, squats to tug at a drawer at the bottom. “You’re still bleeding, Jo. Get up.”

The phone rings.

“I should get that?” says Ysabel.

“No,” says Jo. She’s pushed herself up on her elbows, head hung.

“Just let it ring,” says Ysabel.

“Telemarketers,” says Jo. “Windshield repair. Timeshares in Bend.” Her fingertips dotting the blood along the split skin of her swollen cheek. “Gonna leave a hella mark.”

“No,” says Ysabel. “It isn’t. Roll over.” Jo settles on her side. Ysabel sits on the floor beside her. In her hands a clear plastic baggie swollen with dust the color of old clay in this weak light.

“What is that stuff?” says Jo.

“Don’t,” says Ysabel, scooping up a pinch of dust glimmering faintly.

“Don’t what?” says Jo. The phone’s stopped ringing.

“Don’t,” says Ysabel. “Hold still.”

“Don’t hold still?”

“Jo,” says Ysabel. She strokes Jo’s cut cheek and again, the darkening bruise, the skin puffed under her eye, glittering her face with gold dust. “You could have been killed,” says Ysabel. Jo snorts. “Don’t,” says Ysabel. She taps dust from her fingertips back into the baggie. Jo says “What are you,” and then she says “Come on.”

“They were going to kill you,” says Ysabel, twisting the baggie shut.

“How?” says Jo. She sits up abruptly, swinging her feet off the futon. Ysabel leans out of her way, shifting to climb to her feet, but Jo grabs her wrist. “How the hell were they gonna do that?”

“Don’t,” says Ysabel.

“Huh?” says Jo. “I mean, with what? That briefcase?”

“That hurts,” says Ysabel.

Jo lets go. “Roland had a goddamn sword,” she says. “He shoved a goddamn sword through me. Right here.” She taps her chest.

“We can’t hurt you,” says Ysabel. “People like me. Is that what you think?” She sets the baggie on the floor by her knee. “I,” says Jo, but Ysabel’s saying, “You were in Robin Goodfellow’s house when Roland struck you with a borrowed blade. You were brought to my Gammer and her potions within the hour. If any of that had been otherwise, you’d never have come back.”

“Come – back?” says Jo.

“People like me,” says Ysabel. “You don’t know what they were. I don’t know. Monsters? Vengeful spirits? Men, like you, ensorcelled?”

“They weren’t like,” says Jo.

“You don’t know!” snaps Ysabel.

“Well how the fuck am I supposed to find out if you blow me off every time I ask a question?”

“I don’t,” says Ysabel, and then she says, “You don’t ask questions, Jo. You demand answers.”

“Rah!” yells Jo, leaping to her feet. Stepping past Ysabel, over the spear-haft. Stopping in the little hallway kitchen. Head down, she touches her cheek unswollen, the bruise faded, the gash an angry red line. “What’s it called?” she says, her voice low. “The powder stuff. The glitter.”

“Owr,” says Ysabel.

“Our what?” says Jo.

Ysabel stands. “Owr. Just owr.”

Jo turns to face her, one hand squeezing into a fist, opening flat again. “And those guys. If I hadn’t leaped in like that, what were they gonna do to us?”

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah, you do,” says Jo. “I’m supposed to protect you, right? Keep you safe? That’s what I swore to do, three weeks ago.”

“Jo, you’ve kept me, as you should, warm, and dry, and fed.”

“So you’re a cat now?” Jo reaches out for Ysabel’s hand. “You don’t have to,” says Ysabel. “I said yes, and I mean it,” says Jo. “I’m all in. I will not let you down.”

“But you mustn’t die,” says Ysabel.

“Ain’t planning on it,” says Jo.

Ysabel closes her eyes at that. “All right then,” she says. She opens her eyes. Smiles just a little. Tips her head to kiss Jo’s cheek, lightly, where the cut had been.

Table of Contents

Becker runs his hand – an Invitation – Her Haircut – that Mild and Temperate Knight –

Becker’s running his hand through what little of his hair is left. “Hey,” he says as Jo walks past his desk. “You talked to Guthrie.”

“Not since, what, a couple days ago,” says Jo. “Last time he was here. Why?”

“No, I mean, you talked to Guthrie,” says Becker. “He said he wasn’t feeling well. Right? Said that’s why he hasn’t been in.”

“I, uh,” says Jo. Ysabel, standing behind her, frowns. A bald man pushes past them, a crumb of lipstick at the corner of his mouth, his eyes raccooned by blurry eyeshadow.

“You see him again the next day or so,” says Becker, “tell him we mailed his check.”

“Okay,” says Jo.

“That’s it,” says Becker, eyes on his computer monitor. “Best find yourself a phone.” He’s typing something.

“Yeah,” says Jo. She moves past Becker’s desk into the narrow office full of people taking seats before kelly green carrels, a couple dozen of them set up on long folding tables against the walls. She grabs a chair next to Crecy, who’s stuffing a tapestry bag into the space between carrel wall and computer monitor, headset already cramping her curly coppery hair.

“What was that about?” says Ysabel, sitting in the chair next to Jo’s.

“Three days,” says Jo.


“All right, listen up,” says Becker. He’s leaning back in his chair, looking around his monitor to take them all in. “Yes, we’re almost done with our monthly round of Pet Depot. And no, we don’t have anything in the pipeline to replace it. That doesn’t mean you can take it slow and drag it out. Maybe we’ve got nothing today, but maybe they land something tomorrow, and I’ll pick my team based on the numbers. So you want to keep your numbers up. I know Sales is working on some business-to-business possibilities, which means small crews and day shifts. Okay? And maybe there’s a political thing.” He shrugs. “Phones are live. Clock is ticking. Let’s go.”

Rattle of fingers on keys, clatter of handsets pulled from phones. “What’s three days?” says Ysabel, adjusting the mike of her headset.

“Good evening, ma’am,” says Crecy into her mike. “I’m calling from Barshefsky Associates, an independent market research firm. Is Sara Ryan available?”

“Since Guthrie’s showed for a shift,” says Jo, bringing up her survey database on the computer. “If he hasn’t called in, on the third shift you’re fired. Pretty much automatically.” She flashes a grin at Ysabel. “He’s covering for him.”

“Actually,” says Ysabel, looking up past Jo, “he’s waving at us.”

Jo leans back, looks past her carrel. Becker at his desk one hand holding a phone to his ear is pointing at them, two fingers waggling then crooked, beckoning.

“Huh,” says Jo. “We haven’t been here long enough to screw up.”

He’s standing between the two leather armchairs under the large copper letters on the wall that say Barshefsky Associates: Quality Assured. He’s tall, his suit is black with shiny elbows. His face narrow and somber under extravagant gin blossoms that apple his nose and sunken cheeks. To one side of the lobby a door opens on a wash of questioning voices and clacking keys. He turns, nods. “Princess,” he says.

“Oh,” says Jo.

“Hello,” says Ysabel.

“Your mother,” he says, and he sniffs. Shudders suddenly. “The Queen has sent me to ask that you join her for dinner.”

“Dinner,” says Jo. Ysabel puts a hand on her arm. “Dinner?” she says.

“A car will be by for you at seven o’clock,” he says. “Now. If you’ll excuse me…” He nods, once, his chin dipping between the upright points of his stiff white collar, and turns to leave. He stops before the glass doors leading out of the lobby, looking them up and down before reaching out hesitantly to push the crash bar.

“The Queen,” says Jo.

“Yes,” says Ysabel. “We’d better go get ready.”

“Go?” says Jo, rounding on Ysabel. “It’s only just past three. We haven’t even made a phone call yet.”

“I know. It leaves us barely enough time to do something about your hair.”

Jo scowls, jams her hands in her pockets. “The fuck are we gonna tell Becker?”

“What else?” says Ysabel brightly. “You feel like shit.”

It’s a dark cave of a garage, most of the bay doors closed against the rain. Fluorescent lights aren’t doing much from the ceiling. Racked drawers of tools and parts stand here and there, a red metal stool, by a column a tall still fan, its cage long gone. A single radiator stands upright on a couple of bricks. By a workbench in the back a pilot light fitfully licks the air.


The Duke stands in the soft grey light falling through the open bay door. He’s leaning on a wooden cane, his fingers clutching the stern, rough-hewn hawk at its head. He’s looking down at the radiator standing upright on the bricks before him, a coil of wire looped carelessly about it on the stained floor. His coat is long and camel-colored, his hat a derby, reddish-brown.

“There’s nobody here,” says the woman in the tight blue jeans. She’s standing to one side, out of the rain, arms crossed, shoulders hunched in her brown bomber jacket. The Duke looks up, toward the back of the garage. “Anvil!” he calls again. “Pyrocles! We have business!” He raps his cane against the floor.

At the back of the garage up and to one side there’s windows in the concrete wall, a metal staircase bolted beneath them up to a blue metal door. Warm lights shine through the grime and stacks of binders and paper can just be made out through the glass. The door opens and a big man steps out onto the top step, leaning against the railing, head ducked up there under the rough concrete ceiling. “Your Grace,” he says. He has long grey mustaches and he wears blue coveralls over a faded pink T-shirt.

“Where is everybody?” says the Duke.

“It’s Sunday,” says Pyrocles.


Pyrocles shrugs, coming down the stairs that creak with every deliberate step. “What do you need, Your Grace?”

“How’s your, ah, how’s your back? No hard feelings, I hope?”

“Why should there be, Your Grace? Orlando isn’t your man.”

“Of course not,” says the Duke, smiling. “I need a sword, Anvil.”

Pyrocles stops, there at the bottom of the stairs. Perched on his forehead a delicate pair of glasses, silvery, the lenses small half-moons. He pulls them down and cleans them with a rag from his pocket. “You should go to Hawthorne Cutlery,” he says, settling the glasses on his face. “I can put an edge on one of the replicas for you.” He pushes them up the bridge of his nose with his thumb. “It won’t hold for very long, Your Grace, but it’ll look nice enough.” The Duke’s shaking his head. “I need a sword,” he says. “A new sword forged by hand with someone very particular in mind.”

“Whom?” says Pyrocles.

“Jo Gallowglas,” says the Duke. “I believe you’ve met her?”

Pyrocles looks down, his mustaches drooping about his pursed lips. “No one’s ever given a sword to a Gallowglas before.”

“I know! I’ll be the first. Ain’t that a kick in the shorts?” The Duke takes a couple of limping steps toward Pyrocles. “I mean, technically I guess I’ll be giving it to the Queen, and she’ll whack Jo on either shoulder, bang bang, and then she’ll be the first ever to give a sword to a Gallowglas, but hey. I’ll’ve done my part.”

“The Queen means to knight a Gallowglas?” says Pyrocles.

“Whether she will or no,” says the Duke.

Pyrocles takes off his spectacles, rubs his nose with dirty fingers. “Your Grace,” he says, shaking his head, “I, ah, I don’t think – “

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” bellows the Duke. “What does a fellow have to do in this town to be trusted?”

“Don’t you see?” A lock of black hair falls to the white tile floor. “She’s going to recognize you. Keep your eyes closed.”

“Which is why you’re cutting my hair,” mutters Jo.

“You were starting to look bedraggled,” says Ysabel.

“Stop trying to talk me into this,” says Jo. “I’m here.”

“And your roots are making everything look so muddy.”

“Do it already,” says Jo. Scissors whick and flash, and another lock falls. “It’s just dinner with your mother. I don’t get what’s – ”

“There is no just dinner with my mother.” Another lock, and another. “She hasn’t let me set foot, she hasn’t seen me in three weeks.”

“I know,” says Jo, quietly.

“Don’t blame yourself.” Whick-wick. “It’s not your fault you are what you are. It isn’t my mother’s fault she’s a hidebound reactionary prig.” The scissors hang there a moment. “Go on,” says Ysabel. “I didn’t,” says Jo. “Eyes closed,” says Ysabel. “She’s asked me to come to her now, knowing you’ll come with me, as you still have my keeping. She’ll recognize you, she has to. You’ll be there. I think this is about something more.”

“Something more than her saying oh, hey, how’s it going, Jo?”

“I think she’s going to announce your knighthood. We’re not done yet!”

“Knighthood,” says Jo, eyes wide under her closed eyelids. “Like, knight in shining armor hood. Like I’m gonna be Sir Jo.”

“You’ll be the Gallowglas,” says Ysabel.

“I thought that was already the problem.”

“You’ll be a knight in her service, a member of her house. My house. I can finally go home, Jo, because you’ll finally be able to come with me. You’ll never have to make a spam call ever again.”

“This is,” says Jo, “I don’t, this is all coming out of nowhere.”

“You saved me last night.”

“Oh.” Out in the main room of the apartment the phone rings. “But,” says Jo. “I’ll get it,” says Ysabel, stepping out of the bathroom. “You wouldn’t have been there in the first place if I hadn’t,” says Jo, and then, “Ysabel! Don’t answer – “

Scissors whick. The last lock of black hair falls to the floor. Jo opens her eyes. There in the mirror over the sink a man standing behind her, short, peering over Jo’s shoulder frozen, eyes black in sun-darkened cheeks blotted with black freckles. “Hello,” says Ysabel, out in the apartment. Silver scissor rings cruelly jammed over a wide flat thumb and a thick index finger. “The phone,” says Jo. The scissors fall to the floor. The mirror’s empty.

“The fuck?” says Jo.

The sky above still filled with soft grey light that does not seep down here among the trees. Stalking up the path she’s heedless of the buckled pavement, past a green-doored mausoleum, brick crumbling through cracked stucco wrapped in rickety chain-link fence. Her long brown coat unbelted hanging open. Reliable, says the rusted sign hanging from the corner post. Fence and Construction. Her short hair gunmetal grey. Up at the top of the hill he’s sitting on a low stone wall, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “Dagger,” she says.

He looks up. “Not since last night,” he says, lifting a hand from his pocket. “I swear I could feel it,” spreading his fingers suddenly, a burst, “when they took salt and bread and fire from me.” He puts his hand back in his pocket. “I would have thought the whole city could feel it.”

“Sidney,” she says. Looking away, one hand before her face.

“Just Sidney,” he says. “Did you bring it? The fiat?” She doesn’t say anything. “Like I asked?” he says. Across the path a grave lies buried under fallen flowers, legs of a tumbled tripod jutting up to one side, a banner that says Our Beloved trailing in the dirt. Past it another grave, headstone dark, a silvery photograph etched in the polished stone, a couple of mirrored balls purple and green, pinwheels stuck in the grass before them. An unopened bottle of orange soda. “I can’t stay here,” he says. “Just sitting here on this wall. I can’t. I need a ticket. For a bus, a train, a plane, whatever, I need a ticket. I need fiat for the ticket. Did you bring it?”

She’s lowered her hand. “How long,” she says, still looking away, “have we known each other?”

“You’re angry,” he says, flatly.

“How long, Sidney?”

He says, “A night and a day.”

“A night and a,” she says. “All that, and you.”

“I can’t stay, Helm.” He shifts, his feet crunching gravel at the edge of the path.

“No,” she says, “you can’t. Set one foot out of this cemetery in any of the days to come and the Count’s men and the Duke’s men will cut your belt and snap your spurs and break your sword. If you can find it. No,” she says, reaching for something in the pocket of her long brown coat, “you can’t stay. But you can’t leave, Sidney.” She tosses something to the ground before him. “You can’t leave.”

Sidney stands, looking down. “What is that,” he says. A knife, unsheathed, hilt wrapped in brown leather, long blade with a single edge, there between his feet. “A joke?”

“Pick it up,” says the Helm.

“It isn’t funny,” says Sidney.

“Pick it up,” says the Helm. In her hand a sword, short and broad, a battered round guard rattling loosely above the hilt. “You’re not getting on a bus, you’re not getting on a train, you’re not climbing into any tin can. You aren’t sailing down the river to the sea. Pick it up, Sidney. You aren’t leaving.”

“Helm,” he says.

“You didn’t tell me,” she says.

“You said not to tell you what I would do.”

“You didn’t tell me what you were doing, Sidney.”

“And you said you wouldn’t tell me not to do it.”

“I didn’t know what it was!”

“That isn’t,” says Sidney, and “I,” and then he shuts his mouth. He kneels slowly. “You can’t,” he says, “you can’t strike me here.” He doesn’t reach for the knife. “Cemeteries and churches. The Axe,” he says, “broke her oath – ”

“You tried to destroy her,” says the Helm.

“So you’ll destroy me?” he says. “I don’t see a Gallowglas.”

“Who sleeps in the ground all about us?” She shifts, her sword held back, the skirts of her long brown coat wound about her left arm low before her. “Let’s see what happens.”

“The Axe,” he says, his hand over the knife, “broke her oath – ”

“It’s not your place to judge,” she says, and steps into a low-slung cut at his arm as he snatches the knife and springs back, blade up before his face. “To the King Come Back!” he says. “Her oath!”

“You don’t make that call!”

“Someone has to!” He catches her blade with the knife a bang scraping as he pushes back both hands on the hilt. “Someone has to prove we’re not all carpet knights and popinjays!”

“Then prove it.” She cuts at his arms, his head, him scuttling back, ducking, swinging the knife in jagged chops she bats aside with her swaddled arm. She lunges thrusting just wide of him as he twists and lunges in turn. They stand still a moment held close, face almost to face. “Linesse,” he says. She steps back, the knife jammed in her left shoulder. She lets her sword fall to the grass. Someone away down the path laughs. “What have you done?” says Sidney.

“It’s what you’ve done,” says the Helm. “Struck me, on her ground. She doesn’t like that.”

“You did this on purpose,” says Sidney. There’s a flash of light, blue-white, everything about them lit up for an instant, limned by crisp black shadows.

“You aren’t staying,” says the Helm. “You aren’t leaving. You aren’t going to embarrass us.” She yanks the knife free, grimacing. “Go on,” she says, dropping it at his feet. “You’re hers now.” Sidney turns, and the woman standing behind him throws wide her arms. In one hand a gnarled grey stick, smooth and dull as driftwood, its tip a blue-white spark too bright to look upon. He steps back but his arm is caught, his hand already sunk in the tatters of her black cloak lofting in the sudden wind. She laughs again and his eyes go wide his mouth opens as she folds her arms about him and the wind dies. He is gone.

One hand to her shoulder the Helm kneels, grunting, peering about at the grass. “I,” she says, “I can’t – ”

“It’s not the shed I mind,” says the woman. Holding her cloak shut with her free hand at her throat. The tip of her gnarled grey stick still lit up blue and bright. “Of blood nor honey. What’s another spill?” She smiles. The Helm still on her knees. “Such a cruel trick to have played on that young man.”

“Ma’am,” says the Helm. “I mean no disrespect, but I can’t find my sword.”

“He was betrayed, little knight,” says the woman, “and betrayal must needs have a traitor. It’s that I mind.”

“Lady,” says the Helm, climbing slowly to her feet.

“Do not fret.” The woman spreads her arms once more. “Such work I have for you! You’ll both be kept quite busy.”

Table of Contents

“Of course!” says Ysabel – Unbuttoning – at Her table – Happy Birthday –

“Of course I wasn’t going to do it myself,” says Ysabel. The taxi starts then lurches to a stop as a woman under a clear umbrella dashes across the street before them. “Farging pedestrians,” mutters the driver.

“You could have said, is all,” says Jo. “Before.”

“You could have asked,” says Ysabel. “Or haven’t you noticed you haven’t had to do laundry in weeks? You didn’t thank him, did you?” She glares at Jo. “Or ask his name?”

“The mystery man in my mirror?” says Jo. “I was too busy being shocked. You have to tell me these things – ”

“How about your mother? How about if you’d said something about that?”

“I told you not to answer the phone,” says Jo.

“Because of spam!”

“Ladies,” the driver’s saying.

“Can we worry about your mother instead?” says Jo.

“Ladies, we’re here,” says the driver. The taxi’s pulled up by a loading dock rising dark and green to a black metal railing, tables up there under grey umbrellas. Ysabel’s opened her door. The driver’s reaching over the seat as Jo opens hers. “Four seventy-five,” he says. “Ladies?”

“Oh,” says Jo, half out the door. “He said they’d send a car, I mean – ”

“Four seventy-five, miss,” says the driver.

“Here,” says the tall man, coming around the front of the taxi. His suit is black, his face narrow and somber. “Here,” he says. In one white-gloved hand he’s holding out a folded five-dollar bill. Ysabel’s headed up the steps of the loading dock. A round clock hangs there, blue hands lit up by white neon. Jo takes the bill and shaking her head reaches down to the top of her boot and plucks out a small wad of money clamped in a medium-sized binder clip. She tugs free a couple of ones and hands them with the crisp five to the driver. “Miss,” he says. A boy in a blue and white rainshell at a valet stand by the steps, eyeing a yellow SUV rolling up in the rain. Laughter from a knot of people around one of the tables, ruddy in the glow of heat lamps. None of them Ysabel. “Inside,” says the tall man, gesturing with a hand now bare. The taxi’s nosing around the SUV into the street.

Inside candlelit tables with low brown chairs curtained here and there by gauzy grey-brown drapes hung from thick white beams. The floor well-worn, painted white. “Perry party?” says the woman by the hostess stand. “Your table’s not quite ready, but if you’d like to wait in the bar?” Behind her a low dark room walled here and there by more drapes, lit by a wall of liquor bottles, white light shining through caramel and red, green and yellow, orange and cold clear nothing. A synthesizer chirps under a loop of boys chanting oh, oh ah oh. Ysabel there in her long-sleeved minidress shining silver and white, a drink already in her hand. A drumbeat perking under the music opens into a blare of guitar like a jet engine. Oh but we go out at night, chant the boys. Ysabel laughs. The man next to her smiling, saying something else. White dreadlocks brush the shoulders of his blue seersucker suit. Roland sits there, hunched over a table head in his hands headphones over his ears. Ignoring the man leaning over him, red hair bobbing. Marfisa by the bar, her coatdress pale and blue. “Take your coat?” says the Duke.

Jo shakes her head, hands in pockets pulling her army green jacket closed. “How’s your leg?” she asks.

He lurches back, leaning heavily on his wooden cane. “Lends a certain gravitas, don’t you think?”

“He said dinner,” says Jo. “I wasn’t expecting a normal, you know, restaurant. A normal, fancy restaurant.”

“The Queen may take you into her house,” says the Duke, “but she’ll never let you in her home. What’s with the crest?” He’s pointing at her shirt, bright yellow, a squirrel posed with an acorn as if stiff-arming through a defensive line. “Not hound, nor hawk, nor hive,” he says, “Not hare, hind, or hollow. But squirrel.”

“Ysabel said wear something yellow,” says Jo, looking around. Marfisa’s pushed away from the bar, headed toward the back of the restaurant. “Where’d she go? I should – ”

“We’re all friends here,” says the Duke, his hand on her arm. “Let me buy you a drink. They make a Manhattan where they rinse the glass with port. It’s,” he kisses his fingertips. “What do you say?”

“It’s not much,” says Marfisa in Ysabel’s ear.

“I still have so much left,” says Ysabel. A faint lip print left on Marfisa’s throat. In her palm by Marfisa’s hip a small clear plastic bag, a thimbleful of gold dust sparkling. “You’re too generous.” Dark hair against curls the color of clotted cream. “You should leave something for yourself.” Another kiss on her cheek, her mouth. Ysabel’s other hand working a button loose on Marfisa’s coatdress, and another. All those beautiful boys, flutes a voice over unseen speakers. Tattoos of ships and tattoos of tears.

“Lady,” says Marfisa. Shaking her head away. “We can’t.” Stepping back against the corner of the bathroom stall. Ysabel’s hand falling away. “Can’t?” she says. “That word doesn’t work. Not here. Not with me.”

“They’re all out there,” says Marfisa. “My brother – ”

“And they have no idea,” says Ysabel, pulling Marfisa back. Kissing her and kissing her again. “My mother’s,” she says, “always late.” Loosing another button above Marfisa’s knees, and another.

“Roland,” says Marfisa.

“Roland is a dolt,” says Ysabel.

“Roland saw.”

“Saw what?” says Ysabel, leaning back in Marfisa’s arms, looking up at her.

“Us, lady. The night of the hunt, when we. Stopped playing games. He said as much. He told me – ”

“What did he tell you,” says Ysabel.

Marfisa takes one hand from the small of Ysabel’s back to brush her fingertips along Ysabel’s cheek. “I love you, Princess,” she says. “Beyond all reason. But that’s on me only. You are promised to the King – ” Ysabel jerks free from her grasp. “Lady, listen, please, you are promised – ” Ysabel’s thrown the bolt on the stall door, shoved it open and out into the restroom. Aged eighty-seven, a woman’s singing from the unseen speakers. Could justifiably be called the last to go up to Surrealist heaven.

“You’ve decided then,” says Ysabel, her back to Marfisa. Baggie of dust in one clenched fist.

“I have no choice,” says Marfisa.

“Yes, you do,” says Ysabel. “I’m giving it to you. Marfisa. Please.”

“Roland will – ”

“Roland!” Ysabel spins around, glaring. “Of course!”

“What do you – ”

“I said of course he saw us! How else was I going to get you to leave me alone?” Ysabel steps over to the sinks. “Like some six-foot fucking puppy dog I swear.” Sets the baggie on the counter and runs cold water over her hands. “Go box up your mouth and your hands and your heart in your room, Axe. You’ll be perfectly safe. He’s very discreet, he won’t say a word. Watch it all from your window, Axe. I am going home.” She splashes her face with water, yanks paper towels from the dispenser to blot it dry. “My mother will take Jo as a knight and she will come home with me and she will never tell me I am promised to anyone.” Marfisa isn’t looking at her, hasn’t moved. “I will have everything I need,” says Ysabel. “You can rot, Marfisa. Rot safely. I won’t need your pathetic handouts ever again.” Leaning over the sink she mashes the baggie against the mirror, mashing until it pops, gold dust clouding her hand, streaking the mirror, glass darkening, creaking, a crack chasing through it suddenly to the edge. Dust settling on the counter, blackening where it hits the water puddled about the sink. Ysabel turns to go. Marfisa’s lifting her hands to her mouth. Deep in her throat a rough-edged keening, almost a growl.

Laughing Jo comes down the stairs, her boots, her kilt, her yellow T-shirt. Her jacket’s gone. The Duke a few steps behind her. “Hand to heart,” he says.

“And then he?” says Jo.

“Right over the edge,” says the Duke. “I lost count after the fifth bounce.” Jo’s laughing harder, stumbling over the last step, one arm out liquor sloshing from her cocktail glass. “Whoa,” says the Duke, catching her other hand. “Oh,” says Jo, looking about. It’s a close room, long enough for the table running down the center of it draped in white cloth, lined with wineglasses licked by candlelight. Leather banquettes along one wall behind a row of shorter tables. The other’s racked with wine bottles floor to ceiling, thousands of them, flickering black-green and honey-green and deep blood brown. Ysabel sits in a straight brown chair, elbows on the table, chin on her hands, one hand wrapped in a white napkin. Candlelight spangles the silver sewn into her dress. Her eyes are hidden behind her hair. Across the table an old man in a soft blue suit, ivory hair a wild crown about his pink head bobbing. There at the head a young man in blue seersucker, his white dreadlocks touched with gold, smiling and saying something to an older man in a crisp white shirt and a white apron brushing his shoe-tops. “Gallowglas,” says Roland. His jacket checked with green and black. His hand on the back of the straight brown chair by Ysabel.

“Such an ugly word,” says the Duke, letting go of Jo’s hand.

“Truth is frequently ugly, Your Grace,” says Roland.

“Truth is a process, boy,” says the Duke, limping into the room. His high-buttoned vest of deep red suede with a pinstriped back. “Not our fault it turns to shit in your hands. You’ll want to sit next to the Princess,” he says to Jo.

“Boy?” says Roland.

“Privileges of rank,” says the Duke airily. Jo’s pulling out a chair next to Ysabel. “You okay?” she says, softly.

Ysabel looks up from the napkin wrapped about her fist. “I’m fine,” she says. “Why would you ask?”

“I don’t know,” says Jo. “I just thought – ”

“Roasted beets!” blares the old man. “Red and gold with arugula and spinach and the first blood oranges of the year. Virgin olive oil from a cold first press and cracked pepper – not ground – a sherry vinegar, and sea salt smoked over an alderwood fire. Alder!” He bangs the table with a fist surprisingly large for such a skinny arm. “I will know if it’s not. And the risotto, with the heirloom squash and the wild mushrooms. They were picked this morning?” He’s suddenly querulous, looking about at the rest of them. “With the shallots?”

“We ordering?” says the Duke, sitting a couple of places down from the old man.

The waiter in his apron carefully unsmiling inclines his head, a nod and a shrug at once. “We have a succotash,” he starts to say.

“Surprise me,” says the Duke. “Agravante! Have you met Jo Gallowglas, who saved our Princess from a fate most foul?”

“His usual, yes,” the man in the blue seersucker’s saying. “I’d quite like the risotto myself, and the twenty greens salad. I hadn’t,” he says as he heads toward Jo, hand outstretched, “had the honor, not in person, though of course I saw you at the Duke’s Equinox hunt. Agravante.” Jo half-stands, shakes his hand. “The Axehandle.”

“Marfisa’s brother,” says Jo.

“The very same,” says Agravante.

“The risotto,” says Ysabel. “It’s not an heirloom,” the waiter starts to say, and she says, “That’s fine.” He turns to Jo.

“Are we it? Do you know what you want?” she says to Roland.

“The onion salad,” he says.

“I mean, I thought there was more of us or something, I guess. More of you. The party, I mean.”

“You would choose who sits at our table, Miss Maguire?” says the Queen, standing at the bottom of the stairs dressed all in black. The Duke smiles. Ysabel’s unwinding the napkin from her fist. “No, ma’am,” says Jo, “majesty, I, um. Ma’am. I’ve just never been to a dinner party in a fancy restaurant with a queen before. I don’t know the protocol.”

“One could never tell,” says the Queen. She’s come around to the head of the table. “Do you know what you’d like?” she says, sitting.

“The, um,” says Jo, looking up at the waiter, “steak? The New York whatsis, with the, um.” The waiter is not nodding. He isn’t smiling. The Duke’s looking at an empty wineglass at the end of the table. Ysabel’s wrapped the napkin around the fingers of both her hands. The old man’s glaring at Jo, one fat fist trembling over his plate, and the Queen’s smiling to herself.

“The succotash, perhaps?” says the waiter.

“Sure,” says Jo. “The succotash.”

“I’d like that as well,” says the Queen. Bang! Cutlery rattles and glasses chime. “You bring it with you wherever you go, girl,” snarls the old man, and he bangs the table again with his fist. “Blood, and death – ”

“Enough, Frederic,” says the Queen. He lowers his fist, spreads it open on the table, fingers bent and trembling. “Unless a dinner’s an affair of state, Miss Maguire, we prefer them to be small, and intimate. We’d asked our vassals each to bring but one guest, much as our daughter would, much as we have our Chariot. The Count, of course, has brought his grandson. The Duke, however..?”

“My Helm, it seems, is otherwise engaged,” says the Duke.

“Perhaps she seeks your Dagger?” says the Queen. “No matter. But though this is a small and intimate dinner, there’s still business to conduct before the bread. The Duke has sought through honesty what he could not accomplish through guile: he has openly asked you be knighted in honor of the service you did us last night.”

“But not formally petitioned,” says the Duke.

“Why so modest, Leo?” says the Queen. He shrugs. “Have you anything to say to this news, Miss Maguire?”

“What I did, ma’am,” says Jo, “I didn’t do for any reward, or honor. We were being attacked. I’m not just going to let that happen.”

“Perhaps you’ll listen, then, when told our sister’s demesne is not to be trifled with? No matter. We have decided to grant the Duke’s request. However informal.”

Ysabel lets out a breath she’d been holding. The Count curls his hand into a fist again. The Duke sips from his cocktail. Agravante frowns. Roland sits quite still with his hands in his lap.

“We shall create you a knight banneret, Jo Maguire, at the Samani at the end of this month.”

“Banneret?” says Jo.

“A great honor,” says the Duke, frowning. Setting down his cocktail glass. “A very great honor,” says Agravante. He isn’t frowning. Ysabel’s tightened her grip on the napkin.

“I’m sorry,” says Jo, “but what’s it mean?”

“You may fight under your own device,” says Agravante. “The squirrel,” says the Duke. The Count’s sitting back in his chair, fist falling open. “Responsible to no one,” says Agravante. “Like the Mooncalfe. But no one’s responsible for you, either. Still: mortals have no need of owr, and three weeks without seem to have done the Princess little harm.” Ysabel scrapes back her chair and drops her napkin on her plate. Jo puts her hand on Ysabel’s. “Is something wrong?” she says.

“Of course not,” says Ysabel.

“Isn’t this what you said would happen?”

“I said – ” says Ysabel. “I want to go – ” She stands. “Wash my face. Let go. Please.”

“I meant it. I’d take that chance.”


“Have someone fight me. If that’s what it takes to set this right. I’d – ”

Agravante’s laughing. Ysabel’s yanked her hand free. She’s walking away, down the length of the long white table.

“What happened?” says Jo.

“No one will challenge you,” says Roland, quietly. “If there’s a hint you’d lose deliberately.”

“You said yes, Gallowglas,” says the Queen.

“I cannot have her in my house,” says the Queen, quietly. Ysabel does not turn to face her. Across the bar Jo’s handing a ticket to the hostess. “Doing such an honor to a Gallowglas when lackeys are dying and knights being run out of town is – unthinkable.” The Queen puts her hand on Ysabel’s shoulder. “Who was bringing the owr to you? The Axe?” Ysabel jerks at that. “Did you think I was blind, child?” says the Queen. “Did you think I cared?”

“I will be Queen, mother,” says Ysabel.

“One day, yes,” says the Queen.

“Soon,” says Ysabel. “I’ve seen it. And she will be at my side.” The hostess is handing Jo her army green coat. “She’s so much stronger than you know.”

“Poor Erymathos,” says the Queen, lifting her hand from Ysabel’s shoulder. “I’ve seen things as well,” she says. She leans close, and murmurs in Ysabel’s ear. “You will not be the one to break her heart.”

“Here,” says Jo, holding her jacket out to Ysabel.

“Why?” says Ysabel.

“Unless you’ve got cash for a cab, we’re walking. And you don’t have a coat. And neither of us has an umbrella. But hey.” She holds up a white paper bag. “At least we’ve got lots of risotto for lunch.”

“You’ll freeze,” says Ysabel, taking the jacket.

“So let’s hustle,” says Jo. “It’s maybe a mile. Come on.” She turns to go.

“Happy birthday, Jo,” says Ysabel, settling into the jacket.

“What?” says Jo, scowling.

“It’s what your mother said. On the phone. Tell her happy birthday for me.”

“I told you I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, I didn’t know, and I thought I should say something. When was it?”

“Yesterday,” says Jo, still scowling. “The first.”

“Happy birthday, then,” says Ysabel.

“What happened?” says Jo. “I was supposed to be knighted, or whatever, and I’m gonna be, and that’s suddenly like the worst thing in the world?”

“Nothing happened, Jo,” says Ysabel. “Nothing changed. Nothing at all.”

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I Need a Life,” written by Born Ruffians, remixed by Four Tet, ©2007 Warp Records. “Beautiful Boyz,” written by Bianca and Sierra Casady, copyright holder unknown. “Leonor,” written by Katell Keinig, ©1997 Warner Chappell (BMI).

Sitting on the Banks of the Sea

Sitting on the banks of the sea, sings the radio. She had a forty-four strapped around her body, and a banjo on her knee. He shuts off the engine. The radio goes silent.

He’s a big man, fussing about the back of the pickup truck. His raincoat blue, hood up, shining slick in the weird dim morning light. He comes up with a pair of grey workgloves and tugs them on. Rain trickles from his hood as he leans into the truck again. Long grey mustaches droop to either side of his flat mouth. He comes up with some brightly colored bungee cords and an armload of canvas sack.

The building over across the street is a long warehouse, a grey corrugated metal wall interrupted here and there by garage doors. Big letters in flaking paint say Bushnell Warehouse, Corp. over the doors. Down at the end there’s a slice of parking lot, a flatbed trailer with a load of rebar. He stands there a moment by a telephone pole, looking over the trailer. The rebar’s long and straight and black, piled neatly and wrapped in clear rain-beaded plastic. Raindrops splat on his hood. There’s a piece of white card nailed up over his head. 5+ Acres, say the sloppy black letters. 55K Lg Down. Another sign nailed to the next pole down the line says the same thing. He heaves the load of sack and cord over one shoulder and walks past the trailer, around the back end. Over past it up against the back wall of the warehouse is a pile of rusting sheet metal, tangles of steel cable, bent and broken rebar jutting at odd angles, streaked with orange and red. He rubs his gloved hands together, his mustaches spread by a small smile.

“Hey,” says a young guy in shapeless green coveralls, up on the concrete steps by the back door to the warehouse. “Hey! What the fuck are you doing?”

The big man straightens up, brushing his knees. “I’m the Anvil,” he says, peering up from under his hood. “Pyrocles. Open Mike around?”

“Who?” says the young guy in green coveralls.

“You go and find Open Mike or Twice Tom. Tell ’em the Anvil’s here.”

“You know Tommy Tom?”

“Yes,” says Pyrocles, squatting back down. “Okay,” says the young guy, opening the back door. Pyrocles is reaching under a corner of the pile to pull at something. Bends down to get both hands under there, wrenching it loose.

The back door jerks open and a short, heavy man in shapeless green coveralls steps out into the rain. “You white-shoe motherfucker,” he says, grinning. “What, come to fill your nose with an honest stink?” He’s wearing a blue meshback cap that says Vanport 15.

“This, this is good. I like it. Can I have it?” Pyrocles doesn’t look up from the long gently curved bar of metal in his lap. He’s stroking it with his gloved hands, worrying at scales of rust, knocking some free with a slap.

“That’s a leaf spring,” says Twice Tom. “From Peabo’s dead Buick, I think. No idea what the hell it’s doing back here.”

“Never went as fast as it wanted,” says Pyrocles. “I’d need to cut it down, but the rust’ll help with that. Also some cable.” He points back over his shoulder, still looking down at the bar. “I can just take a coil instead of trying to cut it here.”

“You got to tell me what you’re doing with it, first,” says Twice Tom, leaning on the metal railing.

“The cable’s just warm-up,” says Pyrocles. “Maybe a couple knives. But this?” He looks up from the bar, his hood falling back to settle on his shoulders. “This I’m making a sword.”

Twice Tom whistles. “And how long has it been since you made one of those?”

“A while,” says Pyrocles, looking down at the bar again. “Quite a while.” Rain shining in his close-cropped grey hair. “But it’s not like I forgot.”

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Darling Corey,” writer unknown, within the public domain.