Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

a Sharp pop – how Sharper then –

The sharp pop of a slap and her head rocks to one side. “Have a care, Princess,” says Orlando, soft and low. “She is dear to me.”

“Yeah,” says the woman beside her, both hands in black lace tightly wrapped about the hand that Ysabel tries to tug free as she’s saying “Let go of me,” and as Orlando says “Princess” with a warning lilt she says “You would do well to remember your place, Mooncalfe.”

“My place,” he says, looking down with a flourish at his bare feet there on the sidewalk, “nor am I out of it.” Folding his arms in his shapeless grey jacket. “No toradh binds me; I owe nothing, and nothing is owed me.”

“You have the office of my keeping,” says Ysabel, yanking her hand free. The woman pouts.

“I won a duel, is all,” he says.

“You’ve said you are a conscientious guardian.”

“I am the Mooncalfe, lady,” he says, his hand quick as that on her chin. “I must do nothing, that I might do anything.” Tilting her head to the side, peering through his open eye. “I left no mark.”

Her white coat falls open as she steps back, her dress quite short, a slip of some dull mushroom color, her legs in sheer black stockings. She wraps the coat about herself again. “If Jo were here,” she says, and he laughs. “If she were here,” he says, “I’d kill her again, and make sure it took.” The woman on the other side of Ysabel chuckles at that, the bulk of her shuddering in her long black coat, hair threaded with ribbons and spangles slithering from her shoulders as she lowers her head.

They’re standing the three of them before the old green house up behind its low stone wall, its neatly narrow garden, the big white columns of its shallow porch glared by tasteful spotlights. “Well I am safely home again,” says Ysabel. “Whatever you would do, your duties are discharged, tonight, at least. I’m cold, and I would get out of this get-up.” She turns to open the wrought-iron gate set in the low stone wall. “You should walk your lady back to her father’s house.”

“Not without that kiss, Princess,” says Orlando.

“Right here’s fine,” says the woman, hair clattering as she taps a cheek with a lacey fingertip.

“She answered the question,” says Orlando. “Sweetly and true.”

The woman’s lowering that fingertip. Her full lips painted black, her hair in all those braids, white ribbons and silvery spangles, her only color at all her bangs, a spray of pink cut short above her wide pale face. Ysabel clutching the throat of her white trench coat steps away from the gate, leans close, her red lips pressed quickly to the woman’s cheek, and any trace of mirth falls from that wide face, those full black lips. Her glittering eyelids tremble and crumple as Ysabel opens the gate and closes it behind her.

“Swear it,” says the woman, catching Orlando’s hand, the one wrapped in a bandage, between her black-laced palms. “Swear you’ll let me do it again.”

“Empty, sweet,” says Orlando. “No fear, no anger.” He might be smiling. “Or else you’ll prove their prophecies all true.”

“You never let me stay,” she says, looking up at that house. “I hate her, so much.”

“You should never have said yes,” says Orlando.

“I counted it twice, boss,” says the boy in the brown leather jacket by the open trunk. “It all tallies.”

“Weigh it out,” says the Duke, leaning on the fender in his loosely open paisleyed dressing gown. “You won’t find a grain of it missing, do it anyway, nobody’s getting ideas. Get Astolfo, Medoro. Don’t bother digging up Chillicoathe. She’s only got the two friends back in the world, the, the telephone guy, the one shacked up with the Thrummy-cap. Get eyes on them – ”

“Who, boss?” says the boy, gently.

The Duke limps slowly toward the trunk, saying, “You. Sweetloaf. Go,” his free hand up striking off each phrase, “find Astolfo. Find Medoro, the Axle. Get them out there. Watching her friends. Get them some phones. She shows up, they call in. They don’t engage. You come back. Weigh the bags. Tell me nothing’s missing. Zip up your jacket.” Leaning now against the open lid of the trunk. “It’s chilly. Wilberforce!”

“Yessir,” says the man in the pale pink union suit.

“To Northwest,” says the Duke. “She doesn’t go in that house. She doesn’t see the Princess. Orlando doesn’t touch her. Clear?”

“Yessir,” he says, somewhere under his enormous grey mustache. Sitting on the steps at his feet a man in a rumpled brown plaid suit, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “Gaveston,” says the Duke, “get the phones, get everybody phones, help Sweetloaf roust the Axle and the Buckler. Then you go north. Wait for a call.”

“Rabbits,” says the man in the brown plaid suit, looking blearily up.

“Why the fuck else go north,” mutters the Duke. He slams the trunk shut. Snatches the key from the lock. He scoops up his cane from where it’s leaning against the bumper. “Now! Find her!” Sweetloaf hurries past, Gaveston climbs to his feet, Wilberforce holds the door open as they head inside.

Jessie’s left there, alone on the stoop, wrapped in a thick white comforter, her shoulders and feet bare. Shivering in the thin grey light as the Duke makes his way across the little parking lot. “Get dressed,” he says, hands folded about the stern and rough-hewn hawk at the head of his cane. “Fifteen minutes. We’re going over the river.”

A steep and narrow flight of stairs, high green walls to either side painted over so many times they still seem slick and wet, all edges and corners rounded and soft. A paper cup of coffee steaming in his hand, a worn blue gym bag slung from the hook at the end of his other arm, folded newspaper tucked in the handles he’s on the landing halfway up, looking to the head of the flight, white walls there, double doors, a frosted glass fanlight, dark. He’s faintly frowning.

She’s slumped on the floor by those doors, head back against the wall, eyes closed, feet splayed out in big black boots. Her leather coat the color of butter, her close-cropped hair a red like wine. On the floor beside her a paper bag and an old brown briefcase, soft with dark brass fittings. Across her lap a sword in a black sheath, its guard a glittering net of wire. Her shoulders rise and fall with deep, sleep-heavy breaths.

Down the hall he unlocks a door, steps into an office. After a moment he’s back, paper cup clamped by its lip in his hook, in his hand a mug that says How fharper then a ferpents tooth it is. He squats beside her, careful of the bag, the case, the cup held stiffly upright, and waves the mug under her nose. She snorts, starts, looks up blinking. “That isn’t coffee,” she says, but she takes the mug.

“What are you doing here,” he says.

“We need to talk,” says Jo Maguire.

Table of Contents

Naked he sits – no longer Blank – how to be Gallowglas – her Mother’s daughter –

Naked he sits upright in the big white bed, back against the pillows, idly scratching his thick-furred crotch. “You left,” he says. His feet tangled in the white sheets. “You took the covers.”

“Get up,” says Jessie, unwinding the comforter, dumping it on the foot of the bed. She ducks into the closet to one side of the alcove. He yawns, stretches, sweeps back his thick dark hair, gathering it into a stubbly little tail. Pulls on a pair of baggy black jeans, wiggles into a tight T-shirt printed with some baroque siege engine. Yawns again. “What was that all about,” he says.

“You have to go,” says Jessie, buttoning up a grey chauffeur’s jacket, her yellow hair swept back under a grey chauffeur’s cap.

“No time for coffee, I take it,” he says, rubbing his darkly stubbled cheek. “Walk you to my coat?”

She’s sitting on the foot of the bed, “I have to,” she says, “please, just, I have to drive him somewhere,” working a thick black sock up one leg. “It’s kind of an emergency.” Up over her knee. He kneels there before her as she’s bunching up the other sock. “You’re driving him?” he says. His hand on her bare thigh.

“He’s very particular,” she says, “about what I wear,” her breath catching as his fingers slip up under the skirt of her jacket, “when I drive,” and then he kisses her, straightening as she leans back, arcing over her, following her down.

“Jessie!” roars the Duke, somewhere a room or two away. She pushes him off, over, sits up, “Go,” she says, “you have to go.” Pulls the other sock up her other leg. “Please,” she says, as he sits up beside her. “Come back. Tonight.”

“Of course,” he says, and he kisses her again.

She watches him walk away down the long and airy room, past the red jacuzzi, the long empty table. She leans down to pick up one of the shoes kicked carelessly to the foot of the bed. A red Ked, laces loose, tongue lolling. Hesitantly she pulls it on. It fits. She tugs the laces tight, ties them, reaches for the other red shoe. “Luys!” bellows the Duke, from somewhere further away. “Jessie! Any day now!”

Buzzing the phone’s almost walked itself off the glass-topped table when he fumbles out a hand to catch it. Hauls it in to peer at its little screen. David, it says. He sits up on the couch and doesn’t manage to catch the heavy raincoat that falls from his legs to the floor. He flips the phone open. “Yeah,” he says, running a hand through what’s left of his hair.

“Rise and shine,” says Kerr.

“I categorically refuse,” says Becker, digging at the corners of his eyes with a pinkie.

“Yeah? You headed back for seconds after I left?”

“What?’ says Becker, frowning. On the low table where the phone had been a fat leather wallet, a folded booklet of bus tickets, a couple of key rings clipped to a purple carabiner, a stiff white card. “No, I went home, pretty much, right after. I fell asleep on the couch?” There’s something written on the card, in blue ink.

“You know the Bijou Café? Downtown?”

“Yeah.” He’s picked up the card, he’s kicking over the raincoat.

“Meet me there in twenty minutes.”

He’s feeling around on the floor. “What?” he says. “Why?” Coming up with a blue-capped pen in his hand along with the card.

“So I can buy you breakfast. Where the elite eat to meet and greet.”

“You gave me a card last night,” says Becker, setting the pen on the table, clicking against the glass.

“I did.”

“It was blank. Which was kind of weird.”

“Not blank anymore, is it.”

“No,” says Becker, looking up from the card.

“Says Pyrocles, doesn’t it.”

“It says Remember Pyrocles.” Becker sits back against the couch. “In my handwriting. My pen.”

“Neat trick, huh.”

“How, how did you – what the hell does that mean?”

“Better make it half an hour,” says Kerr. “You’ll want a shower and a shave.” He hangs up. Becker folds his phone slowly, sets it back on the table. The card beside it, fnap.

“Things keep happening,” says Jo in her butter-colored coat, the mug still in her hands. She’s sitting in an office chair under a painted-over window, down at one end of a long table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper. She sips, then throws her head back draining the mug, sets it on the sill behind her. “I’m sorry. I don’t know where to start.”

“Are you drinking more,” says Vincent, leaning against the table, arms folded. A black sweater vest over a loose white T-shirt. Jo squints, lips pursed, brow cocked, then shrugs, sitting back. “You’re plying me with whisky before breakfast,” she says. The chair creaking as she hitches over to one side, “The, the losing days,” she says, “not knowing what time it is,” pulling her phone from her pocket, “that’s not the booze. I know what that does. I know my limits, there.”

“Yeah?” says Vincent. “You smoke. What was it, meth?”

The phone’s clock says 08:21. Friday, November 25. Jo looks up, her face quite flat. She blinks. She swallows. “Yes,” she says.

He nods. “Alcohol,” he says, “numbs your ability to notice, it, or care about how it ain’t there anymore. Nicotine – lets you focus, on the task at hand, shuts out distractions – ”

“It, it,” Jo’s saying, “the meth? The wanting the, that’s, that’s not how it works, it’s – ”

“Okay, forget, forget meth,” says Vincent. “It was just, I was pretty sure you weren’t the heroin type. You, you’re gonna bull your way through, not shut it all out. Trouble is when it’s twenty years from now and you’re, you’re across the world somewhere, you’re in New York, you’re still pushing, only it isn’t there, not anymore.”

“And, and,” Jo’s saying, “that’s the other, thing, you say it’s pushing, but sometimes it’s like,” her hand up, stirring the air, “sometimes somebody says something, and it’s about to, it would have made it all fit, but I missed it – ”

“Presque,” says Vincent with a shake of his head.


“Presque vu. The three vus?” His hook clicks them off. “Déjà. Jamais. Presque.”

“It’s not, it’s not déjà vu,” says Jo. “Jamais?”

“They’re all related,” says Vincent. “Side-effects. Symptoms. Jamais’s the opposite of déjà, you know, I see this all the time, but suddenly, I don’t know it. Which can really fuck you up in the middle of a fight. But presque, presque’s the worst. I’m about to see something that will let me know – everything.” Spreading hand and hook apart, a slow shrug. “But it never comes. It passes. Or if it doesn’t, if you catch it, just for a, a moment,” his hook click-clacks, “it turns out there’s something else. Something more. Something further on, just around the corner again, and if only – ” He sighs. “So you drink. You smoke. You run away. You go mad.” A snort. “Well. Madder.”

“I’m not crazy,” says Jo.

“You talk to people who aren’t there about things that don’t exist,” says Vincent. Jo leans forward at that, opens the paper bag at her feet. He says, “I don’t know what the technical term is for that – ”

She’s pulled out a white mask large enough to swallow half a head, crudely painted with thick black lines that mark out a skull’s teeth, a skull’s dark and empty eye sockets, a mane of straight black hair floating out in the air. “This is real, isn’t it,” she says. “It exists.”

He doesn’t reach out, doesn’t try to touch the mask. Shifts a little against the table. Doesn’t step back. “Where did you get that,” he says.

“The Duke had it,” says Jo, sitting back, the mask in her hand, her hand on her knee. “Luys, the Mason. One of his knights, he wore it, the night I got knighted. He fought Marfisa instead of me. He lost.”

“She is good,” says Vincent.

“This is yours, isn’t it.”

He looks up from the mask’s eyes to hers.

“You were the Huntsman. I’m right, aren’t I. I mean – I thought, Gallowglas was an office, like, like Chariot, or Anvil, but, it’s just, anybody can be a Gallowglas. My ex-boyfriend was a Gallowglas, for fuck’s sake. You just have to be at the right place at the right time.”

“Wrong place,” murmurs Vincent. “Wrong time.”

“But the Huntsman,” she’s saying, as she turns the mask to face her, that mane rippling, a wake in the air, “if it does what I think it does, you’d want a Gallowglas for that.” The mane eddies about her knees. “You loved her,” she says. “I can see it, she looks so much like her mother, and whenever you look at her I can see it. You loved her, and you were her Huntsman, and something happened, and now you’re here, and she doesn’t want to have a Huntsman anymore.”

“She was the only woman I will ever love,” says Vincent, hoarsely, “and he was the best friend I will ever have.”

“He who,” says Jo. “The King?”

“John,” says Vincent.

“King – John? Her father’s name was, was John?”

“No,” says Vincent, “he wasn’t her father. That’s not – ”

“You’re her father?” says Jo, blinking, and he smiles and lowers his head, shoulders loosening, “No,” he says, looking up again. “No. I’m Lymond’s father.”

“Who?” says Jo.

A grey box on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator says Diet Coke, a smattering of withered lemons beside it. A skinny jar of olives in a cloudy yellow paste. A tiny loaf of what the label says is rye and a half-dozen individual plastic cups of yogurt, all French vanilla. She plucks one up, peels it open, digs in with a spoon as she’s shutting the door with a hip, turning, jumping back, startled. The man who’s standing there’s quite tall, his narrowly sombre face lit by extravagant gin blossoms. His suit is crisp and black, his white shirt collar turned up about his chin. “You’re to dress,” he says, “and see your mother in the parlor. Immediately.”

“I am dressed,” mutters Ysabel, looking down at her oversized yellow T-shirt, her yellow and pink plaid pyjama pants.

The parlor, paneled in dark wood, loomed over by enormous oil paintings of dour men in rich dark suits. The Queen all in black sits on an ornate framed cream-cushioned sofa, her hands folded in her lap. In a high-backed chair pulled close by her a man in a brown pinstriped suit, his bald head brown with sun, a wide yellow tie loosely knotted under his grizzled chin. On the table to one side of him, the one crowded with knick-knacks, faint steam floats over a teacup on its matching saucer. On the other little table, between him and the Queen, nothing at all but a round aluminum mixing bowl and a small knife with a slim bone-colored blade. “What is that,” says the Queen.

“Breakfast,” says Ysabel, taking another bite of yogurt.

“You were out late yet again last night,” says the Queen. Over across the room there’s a young man in a rose-colored suit, his pale hair knotted in dreadlocks that brush his shoulders. “At the Duke’s? His – feast?” The young man’s looking up at one of those dark paintings, a man all in blacks and browns, an antique suit of clothes, frowning in an elaborate frame of muttonchops and mustaches, pointing across his body to where, far off in the distance, a little cabin can be made out in the murk.

“No,” says Ysabel. “No, your champion wouldn’t – ”

“He isn’t here, you’ll note,” says the Queen. “The Duke. Nor our sister’s ambassadour, neither.”

“Your sister has no part in this,” says the man in the pinstripe suit, his attention on the teacup he’s lifting from the table.

“And the Duke knows his place,” says the Queen. The young man in the rose-colored suit coughs once, lightly, without turning from the painting.

“This isn’t necessary,” says the man in the pinstripe suit, teacup delicately pinched between his thick fingers.

“We agree, Guisarme,” says the Queen. “Withdraw your question.”

He sips. “Surely,” he says, “even you can see that’s not an option.”

“Ysabel,” says the Queen. “Remove your shirt.”

The teacup clinks quite loudly as the Guisarme sets it back upon the table.

“What,” says Ysabel.

“Majesty,” says the young man, turning from the painting, and the Queen stands abruptly. “You question our fitness,” she says, “by questioning hers. We would have it out for all to see. Take off your shirt.”

“I will not,” says Ysabel, turning to leave, but there in the foyer stands the Majordomo, his cheeks and nose quite red, his eyes downcast. “You can’t possibly,” says Ysabel, turning back, the Queen right there before her, the bone knife in her hand. “Mother,” says Ysabel, and the tip of that slim blade dimples her yellow T-shirt just below the collar of it. The little cup of yogurt falls to the rug with a plop.

The Queen grunts. With a whick the knife’s cut through the T-shirt’s collar and Ysabel jerks back and the Queen snatches a loose flap of cloth a sudden whipping tear Ysabel flailing tangled in the remains of her shirt tripping over her own foot unable to catch herself headlong falling the Queen in her black skirts ballooning sinks to her knees alongside, leans over to slice the last of the shirt away, stripping it from Ysabel’s arms as they curl closer, tighter, her breath gone quick and ragged. The Queen sits up, wipes her mouth with the back of the hand that holds the knife. Ysabel trembling looks out from her hands folded over her face.

“Pants,” says the Queen.

Ysabel flinches. “Why are you,” she says, “doing, this,” each word a husk. The Guisarme’s picked up his cup again. Agravante’s resumed his study of the painting. The Majordomo unmoving, hands behind his back. The knife drops with a thump to the rug and the Queen’s grabbed those pink and yellow pants by the waist, holding tight as Ysabel kicks up bucking the Queen leaning over her against her pressing her back against the floor saying “Ysabel Perry. You may be, the King’s Bride,” yanking the pants over her hips, “but you are, my daughter,” down her legs, “and you will hold. Still,” whipping them from her feet skirts rustling. She tucks haywire tendrils back into her carefully arranged hair. “Turn over,” she says, with one last look to Ysabel curled on her side. “Gentlemen. Gentlemen, look!” A flourish of that bone blade. “She is whole, unblemished. Look. The bond remains unbroken. We are yet Queen.”

“It was not in doubt,” says Agravante, still there by the painting. “But weeks will turn to months.” The Queen’s dark eyes on him. “Ma’am.”

“The mood of this city is bitter and foul,” says the Queen, and the Guisarme’s cup clinks against the table again.

“Of course,” says Agravante soothingly. He flicks an arm out, shooting his cuff, holding up his hand to undo the link. “It’s why we asked to have the knife brought.”

“And the bowl,” says the Guisarme, bunching up his jacket sleeve, folding back the shirtsleeve beneath to bare his forearm.

“You would have me perform,” says the Queen.

“We merely wish to help you,” says Agravante, “to isolate this poison. To be certain.”

“It takes some time,” says the Queen. “Even for something so small as this, it could take,” and she spreads her hands, struggling with what she might say next, but Agravante’s stepped around the sofa, he takes her hand in his, he takes the knife from her hand. “We’ve no pressing obligations, ma’am,” he says.

The Guisarme’s squatting on the rug. “Get up, Princess,” he says, patting her bare foot. She sits up on an elbow, looking down herself at his gently grizzled smile. “Get dressed, lady, and go.”

A sharp “No” then from the Queen. “No, she will attend us.”

Still squatting the Guisarme looks up to her. Agravante pauses, his bare forearm over that aluminum bowl, the bone blade against his forearm. “Surely you have someone for that.”

“We did, but had to let her go,” says the Queen. “The mood, of this city. Ysabel. Get up.”

Table of Contents

“You’re waiting for something” – the Opposite of hiding – Years, or a Couple of months – Stripped bare –

“You’re waiting for something,” says Kerr.

“Yeah,” says Becker. “Breakfast.”

“It’ll come, it’ll come,” says Kerr. His elbows on the blue-checked tablecloth, his chin in his hand. “Take off your hat, stay awhile.” Gold watch heavy about his wrist, dark hair slicked straight back. Becker takes off his trilby, bends down to tuck it under his chair. Sits up, one arm hooked over the back of it, fingers laced together in his lap. Still in his heavy raincoat, unzipped over a soft flannel shirt, a plaid of indigos and old reds. “And I have to ask myself,” says Kerr, “why you didn’t go to hang it up,” looking over at the wall of coat hooks weighted with coats and jackets and hats and scarves. “Is it you’re prone to absent-mindedness?”

“Maybe I just didn’t want to get up,” says Becker.

“Maybe you just didn’t want to deal with all that.” Kerr’s looking again at the wall of coats, at the people crowded beneath in yet more raingear, sitting on the benches, standing as much out of the way as they can, waiting for tables. “Keep everything close, contained. Ready to go at a moment’s notice. One foot always out the door.”

“You’re reading a lot into how I took off my hat,” says Becker.

“You can read a lot by how much somebody does almost anything,” says Kerr, as a waiter sidles up to the table, sets a cup of coffee by Kerr, an empty cup and a little glass pot of steeping tea by Becker. “Trick is whether it’s by, or into.” Kerr pours cream into his coffee, scoops up some packets of sugar. “You’re still hourly, aren’t you. What is it, fifteen? Sixteen?” He rips open three or four at once and empties them into his cup.

“I get production bonuses,” says Becker.

“Sure you do,” says Kerr, stirring his coffee. “And I bet you hit those numbers every time, or you know the reason why. Still.” A sip. “Are those something you negotiated, or just what they’d give anybody had your job? You’re waiting, for something. Husbanding yourself. Are you a vegetarian, Becker?”

“What?” says Becker. “No, I just, I don’t like meat, for breakfast.”

“That’s what she said,” says Kerr, and at that Becker snorts, leans over, quaking with silent laughter. “And see?” says Kerr. “You can laugh at my appalling jokes. Very realistically, I might add.”

“It wasn’t, it wasn’t the joke,” says Becker. “It was the timing.”

“It’s never anything but the timing,” says Kerr, leaning over, looking up, hand out to grip the hand of a man in a grey sweatshirt blazoned with a yellow U and O. “Morning, Rudy,” says Kerr.

“David,” says the man in the sweatshirt. “Out for a bit of Black Friday bargain hunting?” A scruff of grey beard about his chin too carefully trimmed to be forgotten stubble, his white hair cropped close about the back of his head.

“If any of you people was smart,” says Kerr, “you’d take a pass on this whole mess, wait until what is it, Epiphany, do the gift exchanging then. Take advantage of all those post-holiday sales. Rudy, this is Arnold Becker.” Rudy turns and Becker works his hand up from his lap, offers it for a quick grip and shake. “Becker’s doing some work for the campaign, on our, the big survey.”

“Oh,” says Rudy. “Numbers man, eh?”

“Ah, sort of?” says Becker. “I’m in a, supervisory capacity – ”

“Becker’s a generalist,” says Kerr.

“Good to meet you,” says Rudy, turning back to Kerr. “Listen, Rosie’s been trying to set up a thing. Could you maybe give her a hand?”

“She’s at home?” says Kerr.

“Wherever she is, she’s got her cell.”

“True that,” says Kerr. “Consider it done.” Leaning over the table as Rudy pushes his way off through the close-set tables toward the wall of coats. “Big supporter of George’s,” he says. “You have any idea how much of the city’s business gets done in this room?”

“What are we doing here,” says Becker, pouring tea into his cup. “You and me.”

“Thought it was obvious,” says Kerr. “This is a job interview.”

Becker sets the teapot down, looks up to meet Kerr’s smiling eyes. “How’m I doing,” he says.

“Not bad,” says Kerr. “Not bad at all.”

“Not one damn thing, it’s another,” she mutters, tugging the string that leads between her wrist and the threadbare little rabbit nosing a chipped and cloudy brick of lucite. Trapped inside the goggly-eyed corpse of a fish, a little mouth lined with sharp and ugly teeth. A gong sounds, the scraping squeak of hinges, “We’re not open yet,” she calls out, hefting the rabbit, careful of the clutter, setting it down behind the counter.

“Horsepuckey,” says the Duke, limping into the shop.

“That’s a new look,” she says, her milked-over eyes fixed on the floor, the edge of the counter. She winds her yellow hair into a knot at the back of her head and slips a knitting needle into the knot. He’s thumping toward her, leaning against a long black spear-haft, the blade of it wavering up there shaped like a leaf, mirror-bright. “She’s gone,” he says. Back there by the doorway Jessie’s waiting in her short grey chauffeur’s jacket, her bright red Keds. “I need to find her,” says the Duke, resting the spear-haft against the counter, hiking himself onto one of the stools, wincing as he settles his leg, rubbing it. “That’s hers,” he says, nodding at the spear. “She has her sword, but that, I gave her in battle. She swore her oath to me on it. It’s through and through hers.”

“She broke her oath,” says the woman behind the counter. “She left it behind.”

He slumps at that, hunching in his tweed jacket. “I have a plan,” he says. “It’s a good plan.”

“She doesn’t trust you,” says Miss Cheney. Turning a typewriter ball over and over in her fingers, running a thumb over its punched-out alphabet. “You don’t trust her. I told you to get rid of that bag.”

“I did,” says the Duke. “I hid it away. It was safe.”

“That’s entirely the opposite of getting rid of it,” says Miss Cheney. “It’s nonsense, Leo. An accident, a byblow. A loose thread bedeviling your hand. Mud in your eye.”

“You’re just saying that,” says the Duke, “because you don’t know where it came from, or who made it.”

“Don’t know,” she says, the typewriter ball clattering like a die from her fingers. “I don’t need that to know,” knocking the spear-haft back to crash to the floor like a felled tree. “She’s in the last place you’ll look,” she says, rubbing the back of her hand.

He rears back, opens his mouth as if to say something, lets it out in a sagging sigh. “Vincent Erne,” he says. “Oh, that’s, that’s not good.”

“Look at you,” says Miss Cheney. “Listen to yourself.” Her words are clipped and harsh but her hands settle tenderly about his and squeeze, gently. “Fear,” she says. “Uncertainty. This is not the Grace I know.”

“What’s going to happen?” he says, and her head tips back at that, her milky eyes staring up and up at the ceiling. “Same old,” she says, distant, distracted, “you’ll carry on,” gathering strength, “as if nothing could possibly change, until one day, everything does.”

“That’s how you lost your hand?” says Jo.

“What?” says Vincent, laying a page limply heavy on the floor with the others.

“The duel.”

“No,” he says. “That had already happened, a long time before.” It’s a centerfold. He tugs it open, smooths it flat. A woman removing a yellow bra, otherwise naked. The neatly trimmed line of her pubic hair like some obscure punctuation mark. “The hand I lost to a guy with these, teeth.”

“Yeah?” says Jo. Sitting away across the wide deep room, back against the mirrors that line the one wall, floor to ceiling. The paper bag on the floor beside her, and her sword in its sheath. “Little guy, right? Lay-lay-lay-loo?”

He dips his hand into the briefcase sagging open beside him, rummages a moment. “That’s it,” he says, climbing to his feet.

“All the naked ladies?” says Jo.

“Quite a few of them, anyway.” Spread out on the floor before him a collage of pinks and peaches, blushing beiges, buttery wet roses, slick oranges lurid with purples and greens. The detail lost in sheens and flares from reflected light, in shadows seeping from the dark far end of the room.

“So, wait, he names you Huntsman, that very night you sleep with the Queen, she gets pregnant, he challenges you to a duel, but you’d already lost your hand a long time before?”

He spares a dark look for her, then turns back to the pages on the floor. “That’s not how it happened at all,” he says. “I’m telling it wrong. These things,” waving his hook over all those pictures, “there’s usually a, a shape to them. A rhythm. Repetition, rhyme – ”

“You deal with a lot of bags full of porn?”

“Can you stop being a smirking middle-schooler for maybe five minutes?” he snaps. “This is not a joke.” She looks down, hands on her upraised knees. “Where’d you first see this,” he says. “Who had it.”

“On the MAX, a couple months ago. After the hunt. Eastside, we were coming back from, well, from where it was we fought the boar.” She leans forward, pushes herself upright. “They came outta nowhere, they, they weren’t real, you know? These men just, popping up, one after another, saying the most, these, just, vile things.” Stepping over to one side of those pages on the floor.

“So you jumped them,” says Vincent.

“So Ysabel could pull the brake. The train wasn’t stopping. They weren’t real, it was – ”

“This is real,” says Vincent.

“Yeah, well,” says Jo. “One of them had it. Bald guy, older guy, trench coat, tie, a salaryman, I don’t know. They’re all white.”


“The – models,” she says, waving at the pages. “They’re all white. The rhythm or whatever.”

“Oh,” says Vincent, with a nod.

“The men weren’t. On the train. I don’t know if that’s part of it. There’s no, well, I guess she’s blonde, and her, up there, with the snake? And there’s a redhead, looking really chilly there in that river, but otherwise they’re all, they’ve all got, dark hair – ” Vincent’s squatting, reaching into the middle of that spread. “This isn’t his,” says Jo. “Is it. Leo’s. He didn’t.” He’s plucked up one of the pages, a woman in a tight orange jacket unzipped lying back her dark hair a thicket, gartered stockings, striped underwear stretched taut about her knees. He lays it next to a centerfold, a woman in only a pair of brown leather boots, chin perched on the post at the foot of a bed, black hair in long straight sheets about her face. “The makeup,” he says, “the hair, it’s hard to say, but I think it’s the same girl. Only they’re years apart.”

“It wasn’t that long ago the whole retro seventies thing was in, you, you think that’s really from the seventies.”

“Or a couple months ago,” says Vincent, still squatting.

“Her, too.” She’s pointing at a thickly lipsticked mouth a sneer at an anonymous white-gloved hand aiming a tattoo gun. “The chin. I mean, it’s not, it’s not – ”

“No,” says Vincent.

“Her eyes are blue.”

“The cheeks are wrong.”

“I mean, sort of, but – ”

“It’s not her,” says Vincent.

“Looking at it, it’s eerie,” says Jo. “Which vu is this, huh?”

“You need to go,” says Vincent abruptly, shuffling together a row of pages, stacking them up against his hook.

“I need to,” says Jo. “What about, what’s – what was he doing with this?”

“I don’t know,” says Vincent, stuffing pages in the briefcase, ruffling up another handful. “And unless you want to ask him yourself, you have to go. It’s no great mystery, figuring out you’d come here.”

“I need help,” says Jo.

“Yes,” he says. “You do.”

“You’ve been here, before, you’re, you’re the only person I know who’s – ”

“I can’t help you, girl. I told you, I tried to tell you every step of the way, get out, get away, walk away from this shit, it ain’t worth it. You shouldn’t have fucked with this.”

“Yeah,” says Jo, “well, you’re such an inspirational example there.”

“Which is my problem. Wait here,” he says, headed out of the room. “I’ll be right back.”

Jo spins there on her heel, throwing her hands up, fingers curling into fists. Catches sight of herself in the mirrors, all in black, black jeans, black boots, the collar of her baggy black shirt sprung up on one side. She flattens it, turns away, hands to her face, a deep and ragged breath drawn in, blown out. Fingers lowering, eyes shut, her bottom lip in her teeth. “Fuck,” she says, more a sigh than a word. She stoops to gather up more glossy pages.

When Vincent comes back he has her coat draped over his prosthetic and he’s holding something out to her, bills folded and folded again, tucked between his fingers. “What’s that,” she says, snapping the briefcase shut.

“Refund,” he says. “November. Go on, take it.”

“That’s more than two hundred bucks,” she says.

“No it isn’t,” he says. “Count it out if you don’t believe me.” She takes the money and tucks it away. “Now get that thing,” he says, hook clacking at the paper bag over by the mirrors as he holds out her coat, “get both those damn things outta here.”

Jo takes her coat, pulls it on. Heads over to pick up the bag. “Where,” she says. “How? What’s next, what do I do?”

“I’d tell you to throw them both away and buy a one-way ticket to Paducah if I thought it’d do any good. Hey. Hey, girl. Look at me.” Jo looks up as she slips her sword between the handles of the briefcase. “Where are you,” says Vincent Erne.


“Where are you, girl.”

“Right here,” says Jo.

“What’s around you? What’s coming at you?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Every damn thing.”

“Well figure it out,” says Vincent. “See what’s coming, decide what you’re gonna do about it, then do it. Okay?”

“What am I gonna do?” says Jo, picking up the bag and the briefcase. “I’m gonna walk out on the street with nothing but two hundred bucks and a sword, that’s what I’m gonna fucking do.”

“Well,” says Vincent, “empires have been built with less. Now go on, go. Get out of here.”

“It’s all your fault,” says the Queen over the water splashing into the tub. She sets a copper tray down on the white tiled dais, careful of the mixing bowl. “If you hadn’t interfered, with poor Anna,” she says, reaching up and back to undo clips that let fall coiled locks of long black hair, “we wouldn’t have had to let her go. Come here.” In that mixing bowl a viscous puddle the color of milk in the light of a late afternoon, its surface sheened with bubbles like lace. “My bra?”

Ysabel in a short white robe, her feet bare, a wisp of gold threaded about one ankle, a simple golden ring on the little toe of her other foot, clicking as she walks across that grimy white-tiled floor. The Queen’s hauled all her dark hair over one shoulder. Ysabel unhooks the clasp of her black bra, letting it sag from the Queen’s shoulders, down her arms. The Queen drops it on a neatly folded stack of black clothing there on the dais by one of the tub’s claw feet. “Off with the robe,” she says, leaning on the rim of the tub, shutting off the faucets. The rustle of terrycloth loud in the echoing silence. The Queen dips a hand in the faintly steaming water, “Blood,” she says, and then, “Sit.” Pointing to the dais.

Naked, Ysabel perches on the edge of it there at the head of the tub, the pipes to drain and faucets a dingy chrome frame behind her. “Your foot,” says the Queen, kneeling before her. Undoing the thread of gold and laying it on the dais. “We must be completely bare,” she says, taking Ysabel’s other foot in her lap. “Shorn of all – adornment – ” Wincing as she tugs the ring from the toe. “You are a beautiful girl,” she says, sitting back on her heels.

“Of course you’d say that.”

“Doesn’t make it any less the truth. Sit up straight.” A flash there as Ysabel does so, a bit of clear crystal at the end of a golden pin piercing her navel. “I can,” says Ysabel, but the Queen knocks her hand away, “No,” she says, sharply. Leaning over Ysabel’s lap, pinching the pin open. “You must understand. I am not angry with you.” Dropping the pin to the dais by the ring and the thin gold chain. “But we are far past the point of any games.” Her elbows on Ysabel’s knees, Ysabel leaning back, hands planted on the tile behind her. “There’s nothing anymore between us,” says the Queen.

“All right,” says Ysabel.

“Tell me who it was,” says the Queen, and Ysabel’s brow pinches. “He is no Prince,” says the Queen. “He’ll never be King. But I must know who it was.”

“I don’t know what you,” Ysabel starts to say, and “I’m not,” says the Queen, quickly. “I’m not angry. You needn’t worry about that, sweetheart.” Stroking Ysabel’s cheek. “Whoever he is, he has nothing to fear from me. But I would know his name.” Sitting back, black curls rustling as she tips her head, trying to catch Ysabel’s downcast eye. “It isn’t Southeast, or we’d’ve swept his ash from the Throne by now. It isn’t the Mooncalfe; I’m certain it happened before he took you up. It couldn’t possibly have been the Chariot. Roland would never – would he? Did he?”

Ysabel manages just to say, “No one.”

“Of course there was!” snaps the Queen. Her hands on Ysabel’s knees. “It’s the only answer that makes any sense of it all. You’ve been wed.” Ysabel turns away, black hair falling like a curtain over her shoulder. “Without a King, to guide you, to’ve done it properly, the turning’s had a hard time passing between us.” Catching Ysabel’s chin, turning her face to look her in the eye again. “Can it be you didn’t even realize? Think, child.”

Ysabel yanks her head back from the Queen’s grasp. “I told you what I saw,” she says, cold and clear. “When I ate the tongue.”

“Don’t be absurd,” says the Queen. “We have allowed you your dalliances, but – ”

“There were wild queens,” says Ysabel, bitter and low. “In the mountains. That never needed kings to do what they might do.”

The Queen pushes back, gets to her feet, a creak in her knee. “Old wives’ tales,” she says, “which you must hope are true. Get in the tub.”

Ysabel’s green eyes wide she says, “Mother?”

“Get in the tub, child,” says the Queen through her teeth. “You’re no fool. Every drop of medhu brought into this house for two months’ time’s gone foul at my touch. If you can’t turn their offering to dust, then all is lost.” Holding out her hand.

“I can’t,” says Ysabel.

“You can,” says the Queen. “You must. They’ll think it came from me and go back, satisfied. I’ll still be Queen. It will buy the time we need for the King to come back.”

“I don’t know how,” says Ysabel, taking the Queen’s hand.

“You do,” says the Queen, steadying Ysabel as she lifts a foot to step into the tub. “In your bones you do.” Ysabel winces as she lowers herself into the steaming water. “Sit back.” The water’s quite deep, lapping her shoulders, her upturned knees low islands. Her black hair floating. The Queen holds up that bowl and tips it, and the milky stuff within rolls slowly to the edge of it and gathers there, gorging itself into a great drop that sags then falls with a plop to the water between Ysabel’s knees, blooming there into airy clouds that slowly begin to sink as the last of it unspools a thread from bowl-rim to tub, a pattering chain, a last few clinging drops.

“Mother,” says Ysabel.

“I’m here, child,” says the Queen, setting the empty bowl on the dais, by a stack of fresh white towels.

“Mother, I’m frightened.”

“Hush,” says the Queen, leaning over the rim of the tub.

“What if I’m broken?” says Ysabel, as the Queen lays a hand on her shoulder, her other hand brushing a clinging lock of hair from Ysabel’s forehead. “Don’t talk nonsense,” says the Queen.

“But,” says Ysabel.

“Hush,” says the Queen, pushing Ysabel’s head under the water. Holding her there. Leaning her weight over the water, locking her arms, lip bitten as Ysabel thrashes, bucking, her arms, a foot kicked up, shredding those milky clouds.

Table of Contents

Against the mirror – her Empty hands – “She isn’t here” –

Against the mirror shoulders pressed to shoulders looking over at himself in the mirror opposite, a big guy in a black suit, the knot of his skinny black tie lost somewhere under a beard the color of mahogany furniture, shoulders back against his shoulders looking over at himself in the mirror further back, a stainless steel thermos in his hands, leaning back against himself in the mirror after that, looking over at himself through black sunglasses, one lens written over with spidery white words. Down the hall the ding of an elevator. He tips his head to one side, the other, working his neck.

She wears blue and yellow running shoes, dark stockings, a pink skirt and jacket under a tan raincoat, one hand dragging a pink rolling backpack by its extended plastic handle, the other gripping a net sack bulging with miniature gumball machines. She doesn’t even look at the thing he’s studiously avoiding there in the middle of that low and narrow room, the great block of crumpled chrome-plated steel higher than her head, a statue planted on the dull brown carpet, dividing the room into two narrow aisles on either side of itself and all its reflections full of weird shadows, too-bright ripples of cold yellow light, the shapeless shifting blobs and pink and tan, black and rich dark brown.

She stops, suddenly. Shifts to toe a rumple of black pants, black jacket, white shirt inside the jacket, skinny black tie still looped under the collar. Black shoes gleaming, thin black socks slopped out of them. She turns, slowly, looks back at him against the mirror in his black suit, and he lifts a hand, fingers crooked, a gentle wave, move along, move along. She shrugs, hoists the backpack, steps over the empty suit, past the reflection of the little naked guy, and trundles on down the hall out of the narrow room.

The shadows and colors in the rumpled chrome are still moving, turning, a slow churn resolving about two points chest-high, about where the reflection in the mirror across of the naked guy is pushing against, against something. The chrome’s started to bulge, there and there. The big guy steps over, careful of the suit, unscrewing the thermos. The chrome bubbles and bursts, a fist opening a hand, another, coated in gleaming roiling quicksilver boiling away in the air. The reflection opposite’s gone blurry, smeared, the hands, the arms, its head ducking and whittering away as a forehead slick and bare breaks free from the rumpled chrome, his wide eyes empty, silvered, that stuff strung dripping from his chin, his bulging cheeks. The big guy stoops to hold the thermos under his lips and gut heaving, shuddering, the little guy vomits up a wisp of thin white smoke, blowing it into the thermos. The big guy slaps the cap on, screwing it tight. “Okay?” he says, stepping back.

“Cwicemuk,” says the little guy, shaking his head, annoyed, climbing into his pants. “Hleahptein,” he says, a cough of a word, cinching his belt under his hard round belly, worming his way into his mostly buttoned shirt.

“Quickly,” says Mr. Keightlinger, eyeing the hall.

“Fuck,” says Mr. Charlock, rolling upright, “you.” Kicking his bare feet into his shoes. Stuffing his socks in the pocket of his jacket. Standing his hand working a moment still in the pocket, jerking, looking back at the statue, the rumpled chrome gone still again, blobs of his reflection black and fish-belly pale, skipping and pooling from ripple to ripple as he steps back, orange, a flash of blue and white.

“What,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“Who puts a thing like this down here.”

“Timber barons,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

The elevator dings, the doors open. They step out onto the floor of a parking garage, dark shadows soft relief from the chill grey daylight washing in. “There’s never a right time of day to pull a stunt like that,” says Mr. Charlock, putting on a pair of sunglasses, a feather tied to one side, “but it is too damn early in the day for a stunt like that.” He heads off down the aisle of parked cars.

“Shouldn’t’ve mentioned your Army buddy,” says Mr. Keightlinger, following along.

“And of course he wants this shit right the fuck now,” says Mr. Charlock. He squeezes between a white panel van and a luridly orange low-slung car with a dusty black ragtop.

“We can drop it on the way,” says Mr. Keightlinger, coming around to the driver’s side, unlocking the door.

“Don’t see how,” says Mr. Charlock, opening his door, climbing into the car, “what with the gallon of coffee and the two dozen bagels we need to stop and get before we go sit outside that goddamn house all day again.” Settling himself on the broad bench seat, Whipping around, hand braced on the back of the seat, two fingers curled back against his palm, two fingers extended, thumb cocked. “Told you we shoulda painted this fucking thing by now.”

“Huh,” says Mr. Keightlinger, leaning against the driver’s door.

The man in the back seat yawns hugely and stretches out a languid hand to push Mr. Charlock’s fingers to one side. “You would still be as conspicuous,” he says.

“Not what I meant,” says Mr. Charlock. “What do you want.”

“You do not pretend not to know me.” His white shirt half unbuttoned, his jacket grey and shapeless, his long straight hair a black curtain about his narrow face. One eye glinting there behind it. “Refreshing.”

“Not now,” says Mr. Keightlinger, looking up over the roof of the car. Mr. Charlock points his fingers one more at the Mooncalfe’s face. “The fuck. Do you want,” he says.

“I’m bored.” Orlando sighs, then smiles. “I have a proposition.”

Her cuff buttoned she strokes the veins blue-dark along the back of her hand, takes up the last of the folded white towels and rubs it, rubs both her hands, scrubbing, blotting, dropping the towel to the floor with the others, crumpled, damp. Smooths her black blouse, her black skirt. Pushes her tangled black hair back from her face, off her shoulders, leaving it loose, undone. She steps into her black pumps there by the door.

In the parlor the Guisarme looks over a pile of green and white fanfold printout spread open on the couch beside him, circling something with a fountain pen, scratching a note in the margins. Agravante stands up from where he’s been sitting on a flowery overstuffed chair as the Queen totters into the room. He coughs, lightly, as she lays a hand on the elaborately carved frame of a high-backed chair. The Guisarme looks up.

“Your hands are empty,” he says.

“My hands,” says the Queen, “are empty, yes.”

The Guisarme looks down at his printout, ticks something off. “You must write, as we discussed,” he says, ruling a careful line through a cluster of numbers, “the Court of Angels, the Court of Engines – ”

“It wasn’t so much a discussion,” says Agravante.

“They have the likely candidates,” says the Guisarme. “My people have drafted letters. You need merely seal them and have them delivered. We’ll still need a King.”

“That, we have discussed,” says Agravante.

“I will not have Southeast upon the Throne,” says the Guisarme.

“If we had more time,” says the Queen then. “Gentlemen.”

The Guisarme screws the cap onto his pen and sets it aside. “Have your people pack your things, whatever you would take,” he says to the Queen.

“Take,” she says, “where would we take anything.”

“We cannot maintain this house any longer. You, your daughter, your mother will be provided for – ”

“Even if a Bride proves true,” says Agravante, “it’ll be a full round of seasons before she’s established – ”

“Or two,” says the Guisarme. “We will be stretched to the very limit.”

“You will do no such thing,” says the Queen, letting go of the chair. “We will not leave this house.” But Agravante’s raised his voice, “We have time, is my point,” he says. “We won’t need to sit someone right away – ”

“We cannot go cap in hand without a King,” snaps the Guisarme.

“I will not sit the Throne, Welund!” says Agravante, just as hot.

“This is insurrection, gentlemen,” says the Queen, a question almost to herself. “You have a knight you’d vouch for, who might stand it in your stead?” the Guisarme’s saying. She turns away then, walks away out of the parlor. In the foyer the Majordomo stands waiting, hands behind his back. “Ma’am,” he says, as the Queen sets foot on the stairs.

“Sluice,” she says, stopping there, a hand on the newel. “Sluice the tub,” she says. “Into buckets. Do not let the water into the drains. Cragflower will know where to dump it. Burn the towels, the robes. I must.”

“Ma’am,” says the Majordomo. And then, “The Princess, ma’am?” But she doesn’t seem to have heard him, her eyes on her feet as they step carefully, deliberately up the stairs.

The water placid, coated with a thinly pale grey grease that’s here and there congealed in frothy clots. Hung below it cloudy cobwebs of milk but also smoke, strands of stuff the color of old blood that drift from her nostrils, her mouth limply ajar, that shadowy coil about her breasts, her arms, that lighten the tangled darkness of her hair.

The pad of bare feet, the click of a ring perhaps against those tiny hexagonal tiles. A smooth slim hand held over the still water, the middle dipped, dimpling that scrim of grease, a sudden hiss, “Ice,” says someone, surprised. Those clouds like blown smoke roiling away from the fingertip. A glimpse within the water of a blinking green eye.

Both hands plunged in the water, that sheen melting away dissolving mixing with those torn clouds in a dirty haze, a grunt of shock, of effort, splashing thumps and a squeak of flesh against enamel, an arm about a slippery torso, a squall of water falling free hand catching lolling head tipping it up against the dead weight of all that hair. A gentle kiss pressed to slack lips and a gush of air’s sucked in through nose and retching, she’s coughing hacking wetly catching herself against the rim of the tub as that arm slips way.

“Of course you’d say that.”

Kneeling by the tub the woman’s a splattered mess of dark wet stuff that streaks her skin and clings in gobs to her long dark hair. Her smile is crumpling into something that can’t hold back the onrushing tears.

“But that wasn’t the question,” she says, thickly.

Ysabel chest heaving water sloshing wet hair slapping the side of the tub as she fights to clear her throat, to clear her eyes of slime with the heel of her hand, shivering violently, clinging to the side of the tub, reaching over it for a towel. Wrapping the towel about her shoulders. Rolling over the edge of the tub to fall with a grunt in a crouch on the edge of the dais. “Mother?” she says with a cough that echoes in that empty room. The grimy tile floor smeared with water, littered with rumpled wet white towels. Her white robe puddled there, by the sink.

“Gallowglas!” bellows the Duke as he lurches up the stairs, tweeded shoulder bouncing off the slick green walls.

“In here” comes the call from somewhere above, maybe behind those dark double doors standing open at the top of the stairs. The Duke looks back down at Jessie all in grey on the landing below. “Wait there,” he says.

“What, in case she makes a break for it? You want me to trip her or something?”

“I want you should maybe yell or something. Alert me? Let Luys know? You think you could do that?”

She flumps back against the railing, head tipped back against the wall.

“Thank you,” says the Duke.

The whole of the wide deep room is lit up brightly, all the lights in the ceiling switched on blazing, cardboard boxes piled at the far end, U-Haul, say some, and Iron Mountain, and Loch Dhu and Redbreast and Casa Noble. A wheeled clothing rack hung with padded white jackets and a cluster of mesh-faced masks. Standing there his wiry arms and legs at odds with his broad chest in that black sweater vest Vincent holds in his hand a sword, a long and straight and slender thing, pointed like a needle, the hilt of it wrapped in white leather, its simple guard just quillions bluntly flared.

“That’s not one of your toys,” says the Duke.

“No,” says Vincent, striding up the dark floor marked in a dozen spots with Xes of blue masking tape. He holds the sword lightly upright before him, a finger curled above the quillions, crooked about the tang. “It’s not.”

“Been a while,” says the Duke. “Okay. Where is she.”

“Not here,” says Vincent.

“Come on,” says the Duke.

“She isn’t here,” says Vincent, stopping there before the Duke in the doorway, right foot before his left, angling the blade before his body. The Duke sucks his teeth, turns away, “Shit,” he says, pounding his cane once against the floor.

“She’s been gone over an hour,” says Vincent.

“Wrack and ruin upon all oracles,” says the Duke. “Ash and smoke in their eyes. You’d think I’d know by now.”

“Ask me where she went,” says Vincent.

“The last place I’d look,” mutters the Duke. “You’d think I’d remember, when it mattered.”

“Ask me,” says Vincent, forefoot stepping toward the Duke, rear foot sliding after.

“This,” says the Duke, eyes narrowing, “what is this?” Cane tocking he limps into the room around Vincent to one side watching the blade-tip as it tracks him. “Okay. I’ll bite. Where’s she gone?”

“You wanted her to find that mask,” says Vincent.

“I wanted,” says the Duke, rocking back as he rolls his eyes, “I swear, if I were half as crafty as everyone seems to think, I wouldn’t be standing here asking you a second time. Where did she go.”

“I’m not going to tell you,” says Vincent.

The Duke biting his lip thumps his cane against the floor and turns away, shoulders shaking, a laugh bubbling up out of him, “You want to fight,” he says. “Oh, that’s, that’s,” headed for the door, “she left, what, five minutes ago? Ten?”

“Dammit, Barganax, I can beat you,” snarls Vincent, shuffle-stepping one-two closer an angled thrust the Duke catches with his cane, thwock, and they stand there a moment. The Duke still smiling. “With a sword, yeah, probably,” he says, lowering his cane. “Today’s not your lucky day. Or I don’t know, maybe it is.”

“Why did you keep that thing,” says Vincent, not lifting his blade, not stepping forward.

The Duke shrugs. “A King must have his Huntsman,” he says, and he hoists his cane in a salute.

“Hawk!” roars Vincent, leaping after him. “Dammit, get back here!” The Duke’s laughter echoes up from those green-walled stairs.

Table of Contents

“Free-Standing Sculpture, 8'x5'x2', Pressed, Formed, and Chrome-Plated Steel,” sculpted by Bruce West, copyright holder inapplicable.

The light is thicker, now – her Brother’s things – Why – a Sound too big to hear –

The light is thicker now, the clouds a blank grey haze tinted with a wash of blue hung high above. It isn’t raining anymore. The sign over the storefront she’s walking past says 4 Wheel Parts Performance Center. The next sign down is orange and says Aaron Motel in white and yellow letters. Color TV, Air Conditioning. Wifi and Phone. Weekly Rates. Micro Refrig. Slung from one hand a paper bag, a briefcase the other, sword in its sheath laid flat like a furled umbrella through the handles. Smoke streams back like a banner from the cigarette in her mouth.

Into the motel parking lot, past a couple of pickups, a purple minivan with a set of stickers in the back window, white cartoon stick figures of a zombie family, a mother zombie and a father zombie and two zombie kids and a dog chewing on the leg of one of the kids. The motel’s a single storey, long and low, another set of units detached at the back of the lot. Red doors, curtained windows, dark maw of an air conditioning unit beneath each window, over and over and over again. She’s checking numbers on the doors, crosses over, steps up on the sidewalk by the one that says 109. Sets the bag down, shifts the briefcase from the one hand to the other. A last drag on the cigarette and she flicks it away. She knocks.

A minute or two before the door’s jerked open, a burst of music, skittering percussion and keyboards, thumping bass, “What?” snarls a big man in cargo shorts and a big black T-shirt printed with the image of a thickset man in a dark hoodie backlit by blue-white fog. Ghost Dog, it says. The Way of the Samurai. He squints. “Shit, Jo? Damn. You doing pretty well.”

“Can I come in?” says Jo. Night is cool, a voice is singing. Night is calm. Nothing’s missing, nothing’s wrong.

“How’d you find me? Dammit, Abe,” he yells into the room, “turn that down.”

“You’re a creature of habit, Timmo,” says Jo. “You only got like five joints you stay at. Zach out at the Nordic says hi.”

“That fucker?” says Timmo. The music still as loud behind him.

“So can I come in?” says Jo.

“Like I say,” he says, eyeing her hair, her leather coat the color of butter, stepping back. “You doing well.”

The only light inside’s what makes it through the clouds and curtains and what shines from the screens of a handful of laptops, a couple on the empty bed, over on the dresser by the dead television set, one on the other bed where a tall guy’s lying on his belly, bare feet dangling off the edge, enormous chin on the keyboard. Little speakers dot the pillows, a big one hulks on the floor between the beds. “Abe!” bellows Timmo. Nothing’s missing, nothing’s wrong. Tell us what you want. Abe looks up, his small eyes wet and red. “It’s all a lie,” he says. “It’s all a goddamn lie.”

“Well turn it down,” says Timmo.

“They tell you in the name of it, man,” says Abe, stabbing the screen with a blunt finger. “Something’s Wrong. That’s what it’s called, man.”

“Well maybe work it out between you and the headphones,” says Timmo.

“Headphones, yeah,” says Abe, scrabbling through the cables on the bed, coming up with a stainless steel oversized set he wraps around his neck. “Sit,” says Timmo, propping himself against the other bed.

“What?” says Jo, and the room’s plunged into silence as Abe jacks into one of the speakers on the pillows, even the tinny dregs of music sealed away as he settles the headphones over his ears. “What can I do you for?” says Timmo, his scraggled hair, his wispy beard a pale halo about his leer.

Jo’s looking over the two beds, the one chair in the room piled high with plastic shopping bags stuffed with clothing. She sets the briefcase and the paper bag down, leans back against the dresser by the dead television. Rubbing her one hand with the other she looks up at Timmo. “I need a gun,” she says.

“I don’t deal black jack clips!” says Timmo, loudly.

Jo says, “What?”

“I don’t deal that kind of product,” he says.

“Sure you do,” says Jo.

He sniffs, scratches his cheek. “The hell you need a piece for,” he says, and then, “no, wait, I got it. You need it so’s you can rob a bank to get the money to pay me for it.”

“I’ve got a hundred bucks in my pocket,” says Jo.

He snorts. “I don’t even peek at Craigslist for less than one seventy-five.”

“One fifty,” says Jo.

“One sixty, and I’m cutting it to the bone because I like you so much, girl.”

“One fifty,” says Jo, bending down, tugging the sheathed sword free of the briefcase, “and I’ll throw this in.” She nudges the briefcase across the carpet with her foot. Abe snorts and swipes at the mousepad of his laptop, one hand on the headphones. Punches the spacebar a couple of times, and again. “The hell is that,” says Timmo.

“A decent briefcase,” says Jo, “full of porn.”

He cocks an eyebrow elaborately at that, leaning down to pick it up. Unbuckling it, pulling it open. “Paper!” he says. “Damn, that’s kicking it old skool.”

“Vintage,” says Jo. “We have a deal?”

“Keep your money,” says Timmo. “Give me that sweet machete. I can get you one fuck of a lot of gun for – ”

“You don’t touch the sword,” says Jo.

Timmo blinks, lips working. Swallowing his grin. “The hell you fixing to do, girl,” he says.

“Go hunting,” says Jo.

He sets the briefcase down. “Okay,” he says, “okay. Don’t tell.” Picks up a laptop. “No skin off me.”

She wraps the shirt about herself, winds the two ribbons at its bottom about her waist, ties them in a lop-sided bow. Hooks the black and gold vest from where it’s slouched at the foot of the bed whipping it up over her head, letting it shimmy down her arms in a tidy twirl that leaves the vest settled on her shoulders, the heels of her hands pressed to her forehead, her eyes closed. A deep breath. Her hands all blotched and smeared with filth fumble the loose buttons down the front of the vest heavy with gold embroidery, fighting to seat each one in its buttonhole, working down to the bottom to discover she’s done it up wrong, off kilter, and she jerks each button back out again.

“Your brother’s things,” says the old woman by the door.

More slowly now, with trembling hands she’s redoing the buttons of the vest, mouth quirked.

“Why do you have them out,” says the old woman. Her heavy pink robe with a tangled garden of tea-roses embroidered about the thick shawl collar. Glossy white hair gathered into a thick braid draped over a shoulder.

“You brought them out for Jo,” says Ysabel. “The night she was here. You burned her shirt.” She sits on the edge of the bed and slips a foot into a high black moccasin boot. “Whoever brought my things back from her apartment didn’t know to hide this away in the attic again, or wherever it was it was.”

“Take it off,” says the old woman. “We’ll put them back now. You shouldn’t wear that.”

“Should,” says Ysabel, lacing up the other boot. “Shouldn’t. Who cares.”


“I’m not the Princess anymore, Gammer,” says Ysabel, looking up. Her hair hangs loose in clotted, crusty hanks about her filthy face. A streak of something dark has dried flaking from her nose to the corner of her mouth, along her chin. “I’ll never be the Bride. Who cares what I wear. It’s all gone to hell.”

“Ysabel!” A jerking step into the room at that.

“I couldn’t turn the medhu!” She springs to her feet. “You were wrong, Gammer. Wrong. I am broken.”

“You are not broken, child,” says the Gammer. “There’s no King yet for you. That’s all.”

“Mother can’t, either,” says Ysabel. “It’s all gone to hell. All of it.”

“You shouldn’t say that.”

“It has,” snaps Ysabel. “It’s been hell. For a long time. A very long time.”

“Ysabel. Please.”

“Since my brother was killed. At least. And the King went mad. And mother, she,” stepping around the bed, toward the Gammer. “No. It’s been longer than that, hasn’t it. Since he was born. And mother, her sister – ” and the Gammer slaps her.

A laugh, a sob, a catch in her breath, “Hell,” says Ysabel, and the Gammer lifts her hand again, “damned here,” says Ysabel, straightening, the Gammer stepping back, eyes wide, nostrils flared, “all this time. No more.”

The Gammer lowers her hand then, lays it absently on her breast. Pulling her robe more closely about herself. “I came to ask,” she says, chin dipping as she swallows, “if you knew what they were doing, downstairs.”

“No,” says Ysabel, spreading her hands. “I don’t. I’ve just come from my bath, you see.”

The Gammer presses back against the open door as Ysabel steps out into the hall. “Wait,” she says, reaching after her. “Child, wait. A few days more! It will all be set a-right when the King comes back. He will. He will!”

“Why,” says Ysabel, with a glance back over her shoulder.

“Hell of a view,” he says.

Past the open reception area, the little nooks of pastel armchairs, past the glass walls lining a couple of conference rooms and their empty leather chairs arrayed about identical broad wood tables, windows open on a dizzying height above the river, a dull sheet of old steel under the high blank haze of the sky that loses itself in the rumpled wooded folds of hills to the left, dotted with pockets of houses, lined here and there with little shelves of condominiums along this ridge or that, the swoop of the freeway bridge across it so far below, so small, the grain towers along the riverbank, the container ship anchored alongside a toy that might be picked up dripping with one hand, the pits dug here and there among the warehouses and the parking lots, the skeletal cages of red-black iron rising under the white and blue and yellow stalks of cranes. Another building going up there, a bulky rambling thing, its frame of wood, the color of it raw and bright. A flicker of movement, a white fuselage, a plane lumbering down from the oceanic sky, falling for the lights of the airport winking far off to the right.

“May I help you?” says the receptionist, her black hair pulled back in a simple bun, a small but ornate brass telephone headset clipped to one ear.

He cranes up his worn black leather jacket creaking, his shock of pinkish orange hair bobbing, peering past her at the letters hung on the wall, precisely serifed things cut from some heavy, leaden metal that say Welund, Rhythidd, Barlowe & Lackland. “I’m here to see Welund,” he says.

“Mr. Welund has no appointments this afternoon,” says the receptionist.

“Perhaps he’s left something for me? An envelope?”

“Your name, sir?”

“Perry,” he says. “Lymond Perry.” Leaning close, brow crinkled in apology over his bulging eyes. “It might have been quite some time ago.”

“I’ll ask,” says the receptionist.

“Disgusting,” he says, and the ringing whine of steel on leather.

The Guisarme looks up at that. “Mooncalfe,” he says. Nodding away the woman next to him in a houndstooth skirt and white blouse, pince nez perched on her nose. She takes the little plastic baggie from his outstretched hand, scoops up the bulging plastic shopping bags at her feet, and hurries away, careful of the boxes here and there, the trunk its lid ajar, the little tables empty now of knick-knacks lined up before the sofa. “Where have you been.”

“About my business,” says Orlando. His shirt is white and open at the throat, his long skirt blue and wrapped with a black sash. His bare feet whisper over the rugs.

“If it’s for the Queen, or the Princess,” says the Guisarme, holding up a hand to caution the man in the green coveralls behind him, “you may speak with me. You should speak with me. There’s much to talk about.”

“My business is my own,” says Orlando. The man in the green coveralls is looking from the meagre few of plastic baggies left on the table by the Guisarme’s side to Orlando’s sword, the long and gentle curve of it, the hilt in both his hands, rough black cloth wound about the yellow-white of bone. The man in the green coveralls takes a step toward the table and the Guisarme waggles the fingers of his forestalling hand. “There is no threat,” the Guisarme says. “Put up your blade, sir.”

“I disagree,” says Orlando.

“Name it,” says the Guisarme. “We’ll face it, together.”

“I think not,” says Orlando, and with a long smooth step his blade whicks up, snaps down, splintering the table, scattering the baggies in a cloud of glittering dust. “The threat, you see,” he says, his sword up over his head, turning just to face the Guisarme, “is me. Draw your sword.” The man in the green coveralls has left.

“We have no quarrel,” says the Guisarme, the bundle of fanfold printout clutched to his chest.

“You’re disgusting,” says Orlando. “I finally resolve to take my best last night, only to find you here before me, paying off the help, and rummaging through couches for loose change. Draw your sword.”

“We cannot maintain this house,” says the Guisarme, stepping back. Bumping against the chair behind him. “Changes must be made if we’re to keep the court intact – ”

“What do I care for the court?” The blade lowers, angles, the tip of it scraping the bundle of paper. “I will not ask a third time.”

“I cede the field to you, sir,” says the Guisarme. With a wrench of Orlando’s wrists the blade-tip digs and whips the paper up and away unfluttering tumbling to the floor. “You’ve won whatever you imagine this to be! Now, please, speak with me!”

“No,” says Orlando, and he slashes open the Guisarme’s chest. The Guisarme sits heavily in the chair behind him, catching an arm of it, managing not to fall. Looking ruefully down at the slit in his pinstripe jacket, the vest, his yellow shirt beneath, blotted by a sluggish trickle of something pale. He looks up, at the painting hanging on the wall above, a roughly bearded man in a long black gown, a blanket over his shoulders, a red cravat about his throat, sitting on a stump in a dark wood. His black-gloved hand on the stock of a long rifle leaning butt against the ground. A shapeless fur cap on his head. “This was my favorite suit,” he says, rolling his head over to watch Orlando stalk away, blade up again, “Ysabel!” he’s roaring in the foyer. “Princess! Duenna Queen of Roses! Show yourselves!”

“Shut up,” says Ysabel Perry. Halfway down the stairs above him in her black trousers, her blousy white shirt, the gold vest. One hand on the railing, her hair all wilding threads and clotted hanks about her face and shoulders.

“Well,” says Orlando, his sword still in his hand. “A Prince now, not a Princess. Where’s your mother?”

“Neither,” Ysabel’s saying, then, “Indisposed.” A step down, and another.

“Fetch her.”


“I warn you,” he says, pointing his sword at the front door behind him. “Waiting on the sidewalk is a Gallowglas of my own. I’ll call her in, she’ll dog my heels. We’ll see then what my blade might do.”

“I will go with you, Mooncalfe,” she says, “but you must go with me, and leave your monster at the gate.”

“I warned you,” snarls Orlando, swinging his sword to point at her as she takes another step, and another. “Shut up,” she says again. “There’s nothing for you here, not even me. Leave them all alone. There is no Queen, not anymore, and there will never again be a King in this city.”

He nods, at that, and says, “Not Prince, nor Princess, then, but prophet.” She lays her hand against the flat of his blade and pushes it aside, coming down the last few steps. “Very well,” he says, and he wrinkles his nose. “You reek.”

“You’ll not have me?”

“Oh, I’ll make what use of you I can.” He offers his arm. She takes it.

“Ysabel?” The Gammer’s querulous voice cuts through the silence of that house. Above them, behind them, she’s clinging to the curling rail of the staircase, still in her heavy pink robe shawled with roses, her long white braid dangling over one shoulder. “Go back,” says Ysabel. “See to mother.”

“Stop,” says the Gammer. But Ysabel’s hand is on the knob. “Don’t say such things,” says the Gammer. “Don’t leave. The King will come back. There is hope.”

“No,” says Orlando, as Ysabel opens the door. “There isn’t.”

“Ysabel!” cries the Gammer, as they step out onto the shallow porch between the thick white columns. On the sidewalk outside the gate waits the big woman in her long black coat, leaning back against the gleaming bulk of a white SUV, her hands in white lace gloves, her wide lips painted white. Orlando shuts the front door, smiling in turn under his one good eye. “You have no idea what I will do to you,” he says to Ysabel.

She looks sidelong at him and shakes her head. “You have no idea if it will work.”

He’s taking the first step off the porch when a sound too big to hear blows the front door open, staggers Ysabel, sends him askew to his knees on the steps. The blinding flash. Car alarms going off up and down the street and the sound of broken glass, falling. Her face terrible in the harsh light shining from the greatsword in her hands the Gammer’s striding across the foyer and her voice too loud and deep she cries, “You will stop – ”

Gathering himself Orlando springs from the steps his sword up and out slashing before him and it’s suddenly gone quiet and dark. Crouching in the doorway he looks back to see nothing behind him but the neatly cut white braid falling limply to the porch, and Ysabel, back against one of the white columns, her hands over her mouth. “You,” she says, “you – ”

“Quiet,” he says, his hand on her arm, pushing her down the steps before him.

The sound of the gun cocking is quite clear in all that silence.

Still on the steps above her Orlando stops. “This is hardly fair,” he says.

In the street the dark figure of a man wearing a pale hat with an absurdly high crown. One hand up, an enormous pistol cocked and pointed at Orlando. The other holding up a little phone so he can eye the number he’s thumbing. “Nothing to be fair,” he says, from somewhere under his enormous grey mustache. “Ain’t no duel. It’s justice. I seen you take our Gammer’s head, and you will answer for that, to the Duke if no one else.”

“You forgot one thing,” says Orlando, and then, “Gloria?”

Grunting the woman on the sidewalk’s pushing herself up from where she’s fallen by the wheel of that SUV, and as her head crests the hood the Shootist sees her, phone dipping, gun pulling up and just to the side, and that’s when Orlando leaps –

White shirt blue skirt fluttering over the gate the sidewalk the parked cars sword a curl of light in the greyly shadowed street turning in his hands to come down a pop of a gunshot whine of a bullet the Shootist crumpling to the pavement. Orlando pushing himself up black hair hanging like a curtain. The Shootist coughs, and something dark and wet spatters from his mustache.

“Wow,” says Gloria, leaning against the fender of the SUV.

“It seems she didn’t like you,” says Orlando, climbing to his feet. His hands empty. A sudden gust of wind lofts the pale hat, skimming it away down the street. The whooping of the car alarms is back.

Table of Contents

“Something’s Missing,” written by Simon Carpentier, copyright holder unknown.

the House, full of Leaves

The house is full of leaves, piled in corners, drifted against the walls, orange and dead dry brown maple and oak, yellow alder and locust, dull silvered myrtle, crunching underfoot. In the parlor the sofa’s collapsed to one side, stuffing sprung from old stained cushions. Splintered wooden frames and broken glass scored with dust sprinkled over moldering rugs. Canvases black with smoke glower from the walls above, nothing but a hand, a bit of shirt, the edge of a face, an eye to be made out through the murk. In one hand the figure holds a sheathed sword, gripped about its fitted throat of beaten metal. In the other a flat black pistol, pointed with jerks to the side, the front, the side again. “Mooncalfe?” she says, her voice muffled by a mask, a blocky skull that swallows half her head. The rustle of the stiff black mane that floats behind is louder almost than the crackle of her footsteps. “Ysabel? Anyone?”

More leaves in the hallway beyond, and a hole in the floor, a rusted pipe thrust up at an angle. She edges around it, gun pointed ahead, then back across her body, then ahead again. In the kitchen the linoleum peeling up, torn away from the mottled subflooring in great swathes. The refrigerator door hangs open. It’s dark inside. The stove an avocado-colored thing, orange with rust and black with ancient grease. Beyond the house opens up in a big back room, the far wall lined with French doors, panes empty in the gloom. Somewhere far off a floor or two away a creak, a groan, a long slow settling fall of something, paper, cloth. There’s someone sitting before that blank black glass.

“Majesty?” says Jo.

In her black skirt, her black blouse, the Queen sits on the floor against one of the doors, her knees drawn up. Weeping soundlessly she clutches a glossy white braid neatly cut to her breast. On the floor before her the withered corpse of a little brindle cat.

“Ma’am?” says Jo, lowering her gun. “What happened?”

The Queen looks up, blinking. “Vincent?” she says.

“What?” says Jo, then, “no, no,” dipping her head, working off the clumsy mask with the hand that holds the sword. “It’s me, ma’am. Jo.” The gun still in her other hand, pointed at the floor. “Your daughter’s Gallowglas.”

The Queen looks away.

“Where is everyone,” says Jo, coming down the shallow steps into the back room. “What, what – ”

“My lover,” the Queen’s saying. “My son. My husband. And now my mother and my daughter. Gone, all gone – ”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, stooping, kneeling by the Queen, laying the sword and the mask on the floor, the gun in her hand in her lap. “Ysabel’s not – gone?”

“Orlando took her,” says the Queen with a shudder. “Orlando Mooncalfe, sneak-thief and scuttle-sneer. Murderer. Had I the breath, I’d render such a curse upon him – tie that hair of his in knots, and wreathe it about his neck, then pull, and pull, until his head popped off – ”

“Where did he take her? Ma’am, please. Where did they go? When? How late am I?”

“Why?” says the Queen. “Would you just shoot him, like a gangster, with that?”

“I can’t beat him with the sword,” says Jo. “But please. Ma’am. I will do it. I will make amends, I swear. I will save her. Please. Please tell me.”

“Even if I knew,” says the Queen, “it would do no good. She’s gone, she’s gone, it’s all gone and done. We’re done.”

“No ma’am,” he says, stepping carefully down the shallow steps, and Jo yanks the gun up to point at him, and he smiles, eyes big and bright under that shock of pinkish orange hair. “No,” he says, “it’s not.”

“Who,” says the Queen, a breath of a word, and Jo says, “Ray?” The gun drooping.

“No,” he says, kneeling before them, his worn leather jacket creaking. “Not anymore.” Taking the braid from the Queen’s limp hand, pressing it to his lips, then laying it back on her lap. “It’s me, mother,” he says. “I’m back.”

Table of Contents