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There is a Tree – Just two Blocks away –

There’s a tree now, towering above the snow-swept plaza, the green of it overwhelmed by lights hung all upon it, by blues almost white, reds almost pink and orange, by greens almost yellow and blue, a rift of light opened in the unearthly blue climbing all the way up to a pale slice of moon, and if that spread of sky above is all of it brighter than the tree, soaking up the coming day in pearly yellows and whites shining even now behind the unlit bulk of the courthouse, it’s still dark on the plaza, the snow blued by the shadows of the buildings all about, the darkened signs of banks and restaurants and jewelers, and the lights of that tree are enough to tamp down those shadows beneath it, and play fitfully over the man stood there, tall and broad in a shortwaisted jacket, his hair a dark black cap, looking over the base of the tree, wrapped in a hinged red box, printed with snowflakes. Welcome to Portland’s Living Room, it says. Be Merry. “Mason!” cries someone, somewhere up behind him, and he turns.

She’s coming down the great sweep of steps that walls that end of the plaza, careful of the drifts and pockets of snow, wrapped in a sheepskin jacket, and a knapsack on her back, her hair loose and wild about her head a creamy glow against the darkness behind her. “I had not thought to meet you here, again,” she says. In one hand a baseball bat.

“I hadn’t thought to see you again at all,” he says. His hands in the pockets of his jacket.

At the bottom of the steps now, she’s walking up the slight slope toward the tree, the bat loosely idle at her side. “I beat you, the last time.”

“A near-enough thing,” he says.

She’s there beside him now, under the tree, a step or two more than a sword’s length between them. Without shifting his feet, without moving his hands he looks up, along the trunk looming over them. “You can see,” he says, “where they’ve bolted on extra greenery. To fill out the bottom of it.”

“Yes,” she says, without looking up, or away from him at all.

“My lord,” he says then, “the Duke – he asked me to wear the mask.”

“And you’d do anything, if asked?”

“I’m but a knight, lady.”

“Then it was but the form, of a question,” she says, and he inclines his head, lifts a shoulder, something of a shrug. “She has it now,” he says. “The Gallowglas.”

“A proper Huntsman, once again,” says Marfisa. “So set her on my heels! I’ll make a proper sport of it, I swear.”

The frown that steals over his face is hesitant, even tender. “The Queen,” he says.

“The Queen,” she snaps.

“Has set her,” he says, “to hunt the Mooncalfe.”

She looks down, then, and the tip of the bat in her hand thumps the brick at her feet. “Well,” she says.

“Coming down from the hills,” he says, “I’d thought to see fires, pillars of smoke, that I’d hear trumpets. The Queen, unhoused, and the Duke, the Count, the Prince now, vying for the Throne, the Bride taken, and the Shootist and our Gammer cut down,” his eyes on his boots as he says this, his black hair shot with red and green and blue from the lights above. “But it’s all so, so quiet.” Sighing. He looks up to see her frozen there, breathless, eyes wide, mouth set, so still she almost trembles. “I,” he says, “you, I thought you must’ve known – ”

“Which,” she says, the word a crack.

“Which, what – ”

“Which of them has taken her,” she says, “the Duke,” she says, “the, the Prince?” Turning away from him. “My brother,” looking back over her shoulder, up the sweep of steps. “Who has, it seems, neglected,” she says, “to mention, some, aspects – ”

“None of them, lady,” says the Mason. “The Mooncalfe.”

The bat thumps the brick again. “Orlando,” she says. Then, “And a telephone salesgirl’s sent to bring her back.”

“My lord, the Duke,” he says. “Told me, go, do, what must be done. But I don’t – I came here, because I don’t know where to find her, or how to go about it, and I must confess, Axe, that when I saw you coming down those,” and then he says, “oh. I must apologize, for that.”

“Don’t,” she says.

And when she does not go on, he says, carefully, “When I saw you coming down those steps, I thought, at last, someone else, to help.” He’s holding out a hand to her, and a bit of leather tied about his wrist. “Together, we can – ”

“My lady broke with me,” she says.

“But she is still your lady,” he says.

The sound she makes is not a laugh. “I broke with the court, I left my sword,” she says. “The Gallowglas, if we find her, might harry me to the ends, of the,” and she shakes her head. “I went,” she says, “to the bus station, a week after I came back to myself. I went and I bought a ticket to some, other place, with a candy wrapper, and I actually got my foot on the steps of a bus, I stood there, about to pull myself aboard…”

“But,” he says, his hand held out to her, “she is still your lady.”

Just two blocks away or so a man stands outside the entrance to a tiny shop, little more than a booth behind a window plastered with advertisements for Repair and Unlocking and Prepaid Minutes and Handmade Wooden Cases for Your Phone, All Sizes. His long dark coat unbuttoned over a blue silk shirt open at the throat, his shoes severe and black and highly polished, and in one hand a heavy ring of keys. His cheeks red-blotched, his puffed eyes ringed with purple. He isn’t looking at the keys, or the notice taped to the door, a single sheet of paper different from the advertisements about and under it. He isn’t looking at the thick yellow chain wrapped around the handle, held by a great padlock, wrapped in a red seal. A slice of snow, drifted up in the corner of the step before the door, an unblemished lune of blue. Off to his left the street dips between high buildings toward a burning edge of dawn away beyond the river. To his right the street climbs toward a skelter of trees, a church spire, the hills, steeply black on black. A gust of wind lifts his thin and colorless hair in a single shellacked wing, holding it even as the sound of it fades, and in the silence he looks up.

Not an arm’s length away a tall man, thin, his long straight black hair settling as the gust dies. His jacket grey and shapeless, his long skirt a dark and nameless blue, his feet bare in the snow. The man in the coat starts, scrape of shoe, jangle of keys. “Tut,” says Orlando. Something dark’s been splattered along the sleeves of his jacket, something dark, and brown, and up his neck, and the side of his face. He leans in abruptly smiling now, a wide-eyed reckless smile as he brings his hands together up above his head, the man in the coat stumbling back, and with a jerk Orlando lunges after him, bringing those hands down, “Gah!” bursts the man in the coat as those hands stop pressed together touching his chest the dark hair curling there where is blue silk shirt opens. Orlando steps back, throws his arms up, “La!” he cries.

The man in the coat falls against the door frame floundering arm clunking the chain keys falling to splash in the snow. Orlando twirling away, arms spread, skirt flaring, smiling, smiling. The man in the coat coughs, hawks, leans over to spit. Straightens his coat, his shirt, his shoulder brushing the notice taped to the door. He hikes up his trousers to kneel and scoop up the keys, then steps out into the empty street, heedless of his shining shoes in the snow, turning about, looking up the street, looking down. At the heavy ring of keys in his hand.

A deep breath stretches his broad chest, lifts his shoulders, is blown out in a sudden deflating sigh. He drops the hand holding the keys and twists to one side, then spins back all the way around and swings that arm out and up and letting go, and the chiming keys arc up and away down the street, the spark of them lost in all this morning light.

Table of Contents

Swinging the Blade – half Eleven – what Had been planned –

The blade swung slowly parries up, to the left, low, to the right, and then a long low lunge, a stately thrust, a gleam slipping down the edge of it to splinter in the glittering guard about the hilt. Her free hand dropped back in a fist pulling herself back up, and tucks up close against her chest again.

“No,” he says.

Jo all in black shakes out her arms, works her head back and forth. Takes up her stance again, blade upright before her again, and again the parries, the lunge, the thrust.

“I can hear you thinking,” he says.

“I’m not,” she says, pulling back, “trying,” and the parries to all four quarters again, “for fast – ”

“I don’t mean speed,” Roland says, “it’s,” his hands in fingerless bicycle gloves reach up, grasping, closing into fists about nothing. He claps them together, pushes himself up from the base of the engine hulking quietly idle, the housing of it painted an industrial pea-soup green, the great nest of gears racked vertically behind, waist-high and higher, glistening with grease. “The flow,” he says. The sword he’s holding is long, and straight, with a heavy golden pommel bright in the shadows. He plants himself before her in the narrow aisle, right foot forward, off-hand loosely curled against the small of his back, and he’s already moving, swipe and step and cut and back and down into a lunge, his off-hand swinging down and back, extending, pulling him up again, the sword returning, “Just so,” he says. “Again?” Falling forward into a lunge, pulling back, the sword licking at this parry, that. “You see?”

“Ever been stabbed through the gut?” says Jo.

Pulling his foot back, lowering his sword. “That’s how Orlando took you.”

“Yeah,” she says. The tip of her blade looping a figure eight there by her boot. “He came at me, swinging this hellacious cut at my head, and I,” she hoists the hilt, torquing up, around, “blocked it,” the blade above her upturned face, “but I had to turn?” A twist of her waist. “And when his cut slid off he just somehow stopped,” a boot-stamp as her sword continues the twist, blade-tip arcing over and down and back, her off-hand cupping the hilt of it, pushing. “And that was it.”

Roland nods. “His Fool’s Mate.”

“It has a name,” she says.

“He defeated me with that move, once,” Roland’s saying. “The Guerdon, too, Linesse, the Wulver, that I know of. He tried it on Marfisa; she stepped to the side,” his white shoes hop, “and,” miming a low quick cut, “hamstrung him as he passed. He limped for three days, after.”

She’s smiling as she kneels, taking up her discarded scabbard. “So at least once,” she says, fitting blade-tip to mouth, sliding it home.

“Three times, that particular wound.” He picks up the butter-colored coat from the concrete floor and holds out the weight of it dangling from his hand. “You’re the only fighter ever to defeat me without landing a blow. His lips purse, his eyebrows rise, a judicious smile. “Which you’ve done twice.”

“You gave up,” she says, putting on the coat, passing her sword from the one hand to the other.

“I never did.”

“You gave up!” she says. “I found you sleeping in the damn snow.” Laying her sword at the base of the engine, there by the blue and white headphones atop a portable CD player, by the crudely painted skull-mask with its long black mane. “And don’t think I don’t know why you hauled us up into this bridge, over the damn river.” He turns away at that, looking down the length of the great axle shining in the chill grey light, the light seeping from the end of the room there, the curling stairwell caged behind chicken-wire. “Burnside,” says Jo. “The middle of it all, nowhere, no North, no South, no East or West, and not a fucking thumb to be seen.”

“I was, waiting,” says Roland.

“For what?” she says. He’s turned abruptly, he’s walking away, down toward the end of the room. “The King,” he calls back.

“The King,” she says, starting after him. “You were gonna, what, sleep? In the snow? Till he came back?”

His hand on the latch of the cage. “Yes,” he says, and he opens it, and steps through.

“There’s a,” says Jo, reaching the cage as he starts up the tightly spiraled stairs, “there’s a Queen?” His feet clanging up and around and out of sight. “There’s a Queen!” She starts up after him, around and up, up into thin grey daylight, a cramped hexagon of a room, high-ceilinged, the stairs turning on to the next floor up. Narrow sash windows in each wood-paneled wall look out on an emptiness of grey cloud. Roland leans against a sill, and past him and down, through that gelid haze, a suggestion of weight, of lines, edges, a railing, the paved deck. “Beneath our feet,” he says, “there is a forest. Nearly four hundred trees sunk in the cold mud, bearing up the weight of this end of the bridge.” He looks back to her, over his shoulder. “Stripped of leaves,” he says. “Shorn of branches. She may have granted you an office, Gallowglas, and charged you with a duty, but she is no more the Queen, nor has been, for many months.”

“I don’t mean her,” says Jo. He’s looking out into the fog again. “Roland, that girl was dead.”

“You’re mistaken,” he says, quietly.

“She brought her back to life!”

“She is not the Queen.”

“There was owr,” says Jo. “Everywhere.”

“We broke her!” he roars. And then, a knuckle knocking the sill, flatly, “I broke her.”

“No,” she says, letting go of the curled rail, stepping off the staircase. “We didn’t. Roland. Roland, what does the Queen do.”

“She,” he says, “she is the Queen.”

“She makes owr.”

“That’s, that’s not – ”

“She turns the, the stuff, into owr. The Queen, the, her, her mother, Ysabel’s mother. She does everything else, everything but that, and you – ”

“Jo, you don’t – ”

“ – she can’t turn the owr, and you say she’s no longer Queen – ”

“There is no King!” he cries. “The King did not come back! And without a King, to take her hand, she cannot turn the owr.”

“That burger joint,” she says. “It’s not five blocks from here. You can go scoop it off the floor.”

He’s shaking his head. “You tried,” he says. “No one can deny. You’ve done,” he says, “everything that could have been done, but.” A gesture, toward the window. “It’s too late. It’s over.” That gesture folding, into a fist. “No King, no Queen, the Gammer cut down, by the Mooncalfe, who’s stolen the Bride, and this snow, and,” the fist opening, “the city,” his fingers spread wide there by his face, “melting away… Gallowglas,” he says, looking over to her. She’s digging through the pockets of her coat. “Jo,” he says, tenderly.

“Too late,” she’s muttering, pulling out her black glass phone, thumbing it to life.

“It’s not something you should expect to understand,” he says.

“Half past eleven,” she says.

“What?” he says. He steps away from the window. She’s holding up her phone. “It’s eleven thirty,” she says. On the screen of it a photo, Jo and Ysabel cheek to cheek, Ysabel, her hand to the upturned collar of her coat, looking sidelong at Jo smiling widely and directly at the camera, the blur of her arm at the bottom of the shot. At the top of the screen the clock says Half Eleven. Seventh Groosalugg. “We don’t know what time it is, out there,” says Jo. “We don’t have any idea what’s going on right now. So don’t – ” She stares a moment, not at him, not past him, then turns the phone back to herself. Pokes and swipes at the screen.

“Don’t?” he says. “Gallowglas?”

“The wrong one first,” she says. She’s scrolling through the call log.

“Yes,” says Roland. “That, burger joint. When you followed the Duke’s counsel, instead of your own, and went to the wrong – ”

“That’s the wrong wrong one,” she says, standing, tucking the phone away. “I know what she meant,” she says. “I figured it out.” She’s started down the steps. “The wrong one, first.” Stopping, looking back. Coming back up, a step or two. “I don’t know how yet,” she says, “or why, but. We can get a direct answer, we can find her, he, how would he, I,” she shakes her head, quickly. “Roland,” she says. “We haven’t done everything, not nearly, not yet. And we, I – she, she needs your help, Roland.” Holding out her hand. “Please.” A sudden twist of a smile. “I mean, even if I’m wrong. He might have, I don’t know. Breakfast?”

The desk is broad, the pale leather top of it empty but for a silver pen, an ivory-handled knife, a banker’s lamp with a white glass shade. Behind the desk a glass cabinet of shelves crowded with dolls and figurines, a swordswoman in scraps of chainmail and elaborate boots, a cowgirl guns cocked sitting her chapped legs spread on a bag of money, a slender schoolgirl in a tight orange jacket and long dark stockings, tossing an arch salute. A man bellows, full of pain, edged with fear, the sound of it dulled by a wall or two. Her hand tentative, Ysabel reaches in, careful of the ball-jointed woman leaning on a plinth, panels on her naked arms, her thighs, her belly and breast popped open, pulled aside to reveal intricate circuitry, pipework, armatures. She plucks up a girl in a furry pink bodysuit, furry pink booties on her feet and a hood with rabbit ears pink and furry, and above her head an enormous rainbow-swirled lollipop held like an umbrella, or a balloon.

“Do you like them?” says the man in the white suit. His vest is white, his tie a white of alternating stripes, glossy and matte, woven in a complex knot between the spread collar of his spotless white shirt. His white hair thick, unruly, his face beneath it unlined, and quite young.

“One notices a theme,” she says.

His head inclines. “If there’s anything you find you require.” His eyes are almost grey. A room or two away, someone yells, a stammering, bubbling sound that isn’t quite a word.

Ysabel lays a hand on the desk, dimpling the leather. Her hair in clumps and tangles about her face, thicketing her shoulders. The sleeves and neck of her oversized T-shirt sagging, loose. “Some answers,” she says. Letters scrawled in black ink across the front of her shirt say The Gloomadon Poppers. Glitter hints along her cheek, her throat, has spangled the fine hair on her arm.

“To any questions in particular?” he says.

“I,” she says. “I could use a cigarette.”

“Of course.” He reaches over a corner of the desk to open a drawer. Pulls out a clear cellophane packet of unmarked cigarettes and a clean glass dish and a mirror-bright lighter, and then busies himself with freeing a smoke and holding it up for her to take, opening the lighter, striking a flame. “Strong,” she says, blinking, after her first drag.

“A custom blend,” he says, putting the lighter and the packet away. “Burley, and a Macedonian leaf. Not to everyone’s liking. Please, sit. You must be exhausted.”

She reaches back to find an arm of the chair behind her, dark wood framing glossy tufted leather, and she lowers herself, carefully, into it. In that white suit he’s kneeling before her, and his fingers smooth and slender, the nails cut close and neatly shaped, pick at the knots in the laces of her moccasin boots. “The office has a shower,” he’s saying, “and a cot, if you would nap. Fresh clothing will be fetched, but later, later.” Laying the empty boots one atop the other, his hands, the pale backs of them rumpled with blue veins, wrap themselves about her bare feet worn, creased, reddened and stained from those black boots. “Coffee?” he says as he strokes them, holds them, warms them. “Tea? A pastry, or an omelet?” Brushing with a fingertip the silvery gold-tinged ring about a toe. “Liquor, cocaine, hashish?”

Ysabel lets out a smoke-wreathed laugh, and leans forward to tip ash into the glass dish. Sitting back she lifts a foot from his hands, swinging it out and up, hiking up her knee to hook it over the arm of the chair. Leaning on the other arm she tips her matted hair out of her face. “What would you have of me,” she says.

“Oh my lady Bride,” he says, and he lets go her other foot. “What I would’ve had of you, had you not,” and then, sighing, he stands. “Had things gone according to plan.” Stepping back. “The King was to have,” and his eyebrows lift, “returned, in three weeks’ time. The turning of the year, when the sun is passed from archer to goat, and the wheel turns from sun to Saturn, and up comes a man, dancing, his body all over hair like a boar’s, and his teeth like roof-beams; he holds a cattle-goad, and catches fish.” He half-sits on the corner of the desk. “And at that moment, with you quickened, but not yet realized, I’d’ve stepped in and bound you about in such a ceremony,” spreading his hands, a shrug. “A ring, a dress as white as snow, and flowers, mountains of flowers, in this dead of winter. Pale roses,” he says, “pinks and yellows, and white, of course.”

She leans forward, to tip more ash into the dish. “White roses,” he says, “and then four walls, and a daily routine, a career, if you’d needed one. Real estate, perhaps. You could have been kept on the cusp for years. Decades.” He brushes nothing from his knee, then stands, steps around to the other side of the desk. “But it seems,” he’s saying, “the rules are less stringent than I’d been led to believe. They always are, of course;” he stands there, his back to her, arms folded before him, “the question’s always whether the other players are also aware of this fact.” He looks down, not quite back at her. “I blame myself, you must understand. I miscalculated. There’s no other word for it.”

“The wedding’s off,” says Ysabel, her voice a flatly cautious thing.

“Oh, there’ll be a small ceremony. A few close friends. Business associates. Tonight, of course; it’s Saturn’s day, after all.” Turning, smiling. “Short notice, but they’ll take my calls. For this, they’ll rush to pick up the phone. We’ll settle on some mutually agreeable location, a well-appointed room, we’ll say a few words, then lay you out upon the table, take up our forks, and eat the very essence out of you.” He picks up the ivory-handled knife from the desk, bounces it once, in his hand, “So,” he says, slipping it into a pocket. “Fresh clothing, soon, new shoes, and in the meanwhile, if there’s anything you need – Mr. Charlock and Mr. Keightlinger should be done, by now. Let them know.”

He opens the door, stops there, a hand on the knob. “I take the fact you haven’t asked me what I’m to be called as a sign that, you understand – this is strictly business. Nothing personal to it, at all.”

He closes the door. The sound of the lock, turning. It’s some time before she leans forward to snub out the half-smoked cigarette, and then sits back, in that chair, behind that desk.

Table of Contents

Sunlight, bright & clear – his First, his Second – his Particular end – the Least little Thing –

Sunlight bright and clear pours through snow-dusted branches, through leaded glass, through venetian blinds lowered but louvered open, striking sharply from the silvery coffee pot, the spoons, the fork laid on a pristine white plate, the untouched glass of tomato juice, the upright console of the telephone, silver and black. Black cords plugged here and there wound together into a single hank that dangles over to the bulky headset clamped about his ears, over the unruly dreadlocks, a dully fuzzed white touched with gold. “I’ve no doubt of it, Welund,” he says. Somewhere in the room a toy piano’s tinkling a line of a fugue beneath a sticky chorus of saxophones. “But do recall,” he says, “this career as coinsmith and debt-minter’s but a hobby? You serve the court as lawright, first and foremost. Forge me a thing of clauses and parentheticals that I might use to cut away this ludicrous guarantee.” His crisp shirt salmon-colored, with collar and cuffs of smooth pale blue. His fitted boxers blue printed with a pattern of little dogs and fishes. “Nevertheless,” he says. Sipping black coffee from a thin bone china cup, careful of the microphone. His other hand he’s pointing to the map pinned up over the sideboard, touching an intersection in Northeast, sliding west and north, up and along the horn of the city above the river, stopping just short of St. Johns. “I understand that,” he says, “I do.” The slender man standing next to him wears a blue suit tight over broad shoulders, and his pink tie’s so pale it’s almost white, and he reaches past Agravante, over the river, to tap another intersection, in Northwest, near a little blob of color that says Civic Stadium, not more than a block from the long clear line of Burnside.

“Our situation,” says Agravante, leaning over the table then, the platter of scrambled eggs, the dish of salsa picada, the tortilla warmer, “is, to use your word, fluid. Liquidity is called for.” He lifts a thin tube from a rack of them, each capped with cork and sealed with dark blue wax, each sparkling with threads of golden dust. He hands it to the man in the tight blue suit, who nods, then leaves, stepping past another man, younger, his pale hair elaborately braided, his sweater a pattern of jagged, angular blues. “Hold a moment, Welund,” says Agravante, tilting the microphone away from his mouth. “Well?”

“Returned to his temple with the last of the snow,” says the man in the sweater. “Since dawn. Hasn’t left.”

“But where was he between here and there?” says Agravante, quietly.

“We don’t yet know.”

After a moment Agravante tilts the microphone back. “Welund?” he says. “I need to – I must go.

“Yes, they’ve been sent. All three. If there’s a response –

“If there’s a response.

“And a good morning to you.” He presses a button on the phone, then opens a green binder there by the rack of glass tubes, and the fiendish little basket-box, carved from a single chunk of dark red wood. He takes up a pen. “Forget the Duke,” he says, scribbling an amount on a check, signing it with a broad flourish. Folding the check precisely along its perforations and ripping it neatly loose. “This to the American bank,” he says, “not the Trapezuntine. Exchange it for fiat money.”

“But the snow,” says the man in the sweater, taking the check.

“Find one that is open,” says Agravante. He plucks up another tube from the rack. “Then take the valuta to a store, and purchase bicycles.”

“Bicycles,” says the young man.

“As many as that will buy. At least a dozen. You’ll need the truck.”

The man in the sweater takes the tube, and nods, and leaves. Agravante turns back to the phone, punching in a number. “Tell me you’ve found her,” he says, into the microphone, and then, looking toward the door, frowning, he bellows, “Where are my trousers?”

The crash of a gong as he opens the door. He holds it open so she might push past him, knapsack slung from her shoulder, bat in her hand, into a foyer stacked with boxes. To the left a pinched doorway, more boxes and stuffed garbage bags piled up to either side. He follows her into a showroom lit by what daylight makes it through the dusty windows lining the one wall. More boxes yet line the other, and more garbage bags, and a rolled rug set on one end and a plump sofa piled with coats and other clothes, a stool leaned against it, a table upended, and laid against them a stack of paintings, the foremost a sheet of black velvet in a baroque frame, pricked with unlit stars, smeared with spaceships in a blur of battle. And the floor before them empty but for scraps of paper, a blue silk rose, a scatter of tickets, all of them red and not one torn in half, the remains of an orange clay bowl smashed there, under the window.

“This doesn’t,” says Marfisa, turning about in her sheepskin jacket, and “I know,” says the Mason, rubbing the back of his neck. “It looks like,” she says, and “I know,” he says. She strides to the front corner, pulls from the window a sign, holding it up. Orange letters on black say For Rent. “So where’s Miss Cheney?” she says, putting it back.

“Your questions,” says a sour croak of a voice, “I don’t have to answer.” She’s there, by the counter at the back of the showroom, a fleecy pullover the color of plaster dust, her yellow hair held back by a black band, and cradled in her arms a little rabbit.

“Why?” says the Mason.

“She broke her bond,” says Miss Cheney. “To city, brother, court and Queen. Your questions?” She’s nodding. “That was your first.”

The Mason opens his mouth, looks away, snapping it shut. “You’re breaking your bond,” says Marfisa, and a gesture toward the boxes, the bags, the furniture stacked. “Where do you mean to go?”

“I’m breaking nothing,” says Miss Cheney. “I’ll still take the questions of those who care to find me. Case in point.”

“Jo was here,” says the Mason. “You gave her answers.”

“Can’t answer what isn’t asked,” says Miss Cheney.

“What did you,” says the Mason, and “Luys,” says Marfisa, and he holds up a hand, “when you spoke to her,” he says, “to Jo, what did you see?”

“I didn’t see anything,” says Miss Cheney. “That was your second.”

“That’s not what he meant!” snaps Marfisa.

“You think I want to leave?” cries Miss Cheney, squeezing the rabbit rigid to her chest. “Is that it? I love this city. You dolts.” Turning away, letting the rabbit scrabble from her arms to the countertop.

“Then help us,” says the Mason. “Please.”

“We all want the same thing,” says Marfisa.

“Do we,” says Miss Cheney.

“What did you,” says the Mason, and “Luys,” says Marfisa, quickly, “think. Carefully. Ask her – ask where we must go, to find Ysabel. Today! To find her today.”

“What did you learn – ”


“ – from answering the Huntsman’s questions that has frightened you so?”

And Marfisa closes her eyes.

“The Mooncalfe,” says Miss Cheney, stepping away from the counter, “has taken the Queen, and means to sell her to the highest bidder he can find.” Her hand out, brushing the wall of boxes with her fingers.

The Mason smiles, relieved. “Then somehow, this once, you are wrong, Miss Cheney. The Queen is safe at Goodfellow’s; her son, the Prince, is returned, and took her there himself. The Duke – ”

“She doesn’t mean Duenna,” says Marfisa.

“But,” says the Mason, “the Queen,” and then, a hand to his mouth, “oh.”

Miss Cheney says, “Even if I might answer a fourth question, or a fifth, about where or who or when,” the sound of her fingertips sweeping down cardboard, “don’t think for a moment I could. The geis only goes so far.”

“Melanchlœnidon,” says the Mason.

“There can’t,” says Marfisa, “there can’t be that many wizards in the city. We could – ”

The gong sounds, and as they all look to the pinched doorway framed in stacks of boxes and bags “Hail me!” cries a voice. “Hail and blast me, in a breath.” From the foyer steps a figure in a shapeless grey jacket, a long dark skirt, and his black hair long and straight, and his feet bare. “I went back to her,” says Orlando, the Mooncalfe, “I let her stay, she stayed, and I killed her,” marching the length of the showroom, “I killed her, and she would not die.” Past the Mason, past Marfisa staring. “I slew her father, and the snows came, just as you said, so tell me,” the Mason lunging after him, “where do I,” the Mason grabbing his arm, his shoulder, hauling back, to the side, the Mooncalfe stumbling swung into the wall of windows shivering crash.

“Hold!” cries the Mooncalfe, arms up before his face, the Mason pulling a flare of light in that dim room his sword back for a thrust and Marfisa grabbing his elbow, “Luys!” she shouts. He holds. She doesn’t let go. “He knows,” she says.

“By my troth,” says the Mooncalfe, “I do not.”

“You all want the same thing,” says Miss Cheney, and then, stalking back to the counter, “One blow lands and I’ll find a goddamn King to exile the lot.”

“Where is the Bride,” says Marfisa, her hand still in the crook of the Mason’s arm still cocked, the tip of his blade aimed squarely for the Mooncalfe’s throat, that’s bulging in a swallow. “I let her go,” he says, the one eye blinking.

“Just like that,” says Marfisa.

“You said you killed her,” says the Mason, his voice gone rough.

“Gloria,” says the Mooncalfe. Shaking his head. “Suzette. Don’t worry. She’s fine.” He reaches out to push the Mason’s blade aside. “If I might be about my business,” he says.

“You,” says Miss Cheney, comforting her rabbit, “you have questions.”

“Oh, I do,” says the Mooncalfe. Marfisa’s let go of the Mason’s arm. “Orlando,” she says. The Mason’s lowering his sword. “Will I ever see my blades again?” says the Mooncalfe.

“No,” says Miss Cheney.

“Barely a knight,” murmurs the Mooncalfe. “Down to my spurs.”

“Orlando,” says Marfisa. “Please. Ask about the Bride. The, the Queen.”

His bare feet whisk him aimlessle out into the middle of the room. “Will I,” he says, then, “no – I’ll raise the stakes. Will anyone in this room ever kneel before another King?”

“Not a one,” says Miss Cheney.

The Mooncalfe lifts up his smiling face, and the Mason looks down at his empty hands. “Orlando,” says Marfisa, once more. “Ysabel. Please. You let her go, you left her, alone? Your third. Please. Ask – I beg you. Ask where we must go to find her. To help her.”

“Help,” says the Mooncalfe. “The Princess. Surely,” turning his back to her, “surely she might help herself. My third!” Sweeping away from them down to Miss Cheney, the little rabbit in her arms. “I’ve closed the door on the King, all Kings. I’ve cut the last rose from its cane and left its petals in the snow. I will not be forgotten. So. Answer me,” and he closes his eyes, “where must I go to meet my particular end?”

And Miss Cheney, the rabbit clutched rigid to her chest, opens her mouth to speak.

A mechanical cursive, the letters slender, spells out Crown Imperial between two simple windows above and below in the buff-colored wall. The window above festooned with Christmas lights blinking red and red and green. The building’s a long and shallow U-shape enclosing a parking lot rutted and marred by sludgy dikes of melting snow, and in the shrinking shadow of the stubby eastern wing a litter of snowmen no higher than a knee, or a shin, some with the twigs that were their arms already fallen to the ground, one with a top hat askew on its slumping head-shape, and water dripping everywhere, from eaves and steps and sills. In the middle of the lot stands Jo her hand up against the brightening sunlight, peering at the numbers next to doors shadowed by walkways and awnings. “Over there,” says Roland, pointing across and up. “Okay,” says Jo. Sword slung from her shoulder, mask in her hand, she sets off across the lot boots crunching and splashing to mount the sidewalk and then one of the long lines of stairs. Roland follows, his steps long swoops from one island and bank of snow to another, careful of the meltwater.

Jo presses a yellowing plastic doorbell taped to the frame under black metal numbers, 1917, and when Roland catches up to her she presses it again. Clack of the handle under her thumb, croaking wrench of the hinge as she opens the screen door, props it with a boot, leans in to rap on the front door, and there’s footsteps on the other side, rattle and thunk of locks. The mane of the mask in her hand shivers and ripples. The front door opens. Becker’s wrapped in a maroon robe, over pyjamas in a Stewart Dress tartan. “Jo?” he says.

“I, ah, tried the bell,” she says.

“It doesn’t, yeah, I’ve been meaning to replace that,” he says.

“I tried to call,” she says. “Before we, headed over here.”

“We, well, I guess I was busy,” says Becker. Taking in the sword she’s carrying, and the quivering mask. “Am.”

“Can we, oh, this is, Roland,” nodding over at Roland beside her. “Hi,” says Becker, without stepping back, without opening the door any further. “Can we come in?” says Jo. “It’s important. About Ysabel. You, remember Ysabel. Right?”

“Of course I remember Ysabel,” says Becker.

“Okay,” says Jo. “It’s hard, sometimes. Knowing what you remember.”

“I remember Ysabel.”

“But you remember forgetting, right?” she says, and he shifts at that, a short step back, a quick look back over his shoulder. “You remember the party? Thursday? Thanksgiving?”

“The old accustomed feast,” he says, and then, “I think, it’s not a good time, really, so, if you could,” and Roland’s putting a bicycle-gloved hand on Jo’s shoulder, there by the hilt of her sword, “Jo,” he says, as Becker’s saying “I’d really appreciate” and then she says “Pyrocles,” and they all stop.

“Pyrocles,” she says again.

And Becker asks, “What does that have to do with Ysabel?”

“Can we come in?” says Jo.

He steps back, and opens the door wide.

The living room inside is coolly dim, blue carpet, white walls blued in the light that drifts through gauzy curtains drawn. A piano ringing softly from little speakers on a low shelf, and if they ask if I’ve seen Casablanca, someone’s singing, I’ll answer a resounding no. “Ysabel’s missing,” says Jo, “and, we’re looking for her. And I got this clue, this, which,” and she stops, hand to her head, and takes in a deep breath, “it was, I went to the wrong one first. And I thought meant I listened to the Duke when I shouldn’t have, because I went where he said to go first, but that doesn’t make any sense because then I went where I would’ve gone first if he hadn’t which was Guthrie’s, to talk to his girlfriend, who couldn’t have helped me even if I had gone there first because she can’t see this stuff anyway, and you have no idea what it is I’m talking about.” The mane of the mask in her hand lashes out, the ends of it pattering against the low glass-topped coffee table there by her knee. “It’s been the two of you, all this time, is the thing,” Jo’s saying, “even before all this, before you got promoted, but then, that night, it was both of you who went with us, me and Ysabel, to Goodfellow’s house, and then the boar hunt, and the church, and when the Duke said to ask whoever I wanted to his, to that feast, I called you, I called both of you, just the two of you.” She looks at Becker then, his robe gone darkly purple in the dim room. “But it was Guthrie’s I went to first, last night, and that was the wrong one. I should’ve come here.”

“I don’t,” says Becker, eyes wide, mouth pinched.

“It could be anything,” says Jo. “Something you saw, something you remember. Something you’re about to say.” He doesn’t say anything. She’s looking about. “Something in this room.” On the glass tabletop, a phone, two coffee cups, a white paper bag, the bottom of it translucent with grease. “The least little thing. Could be enough to, to get us to. The next step.” Becker blinks, looks down, away. “To finding her,” says Jo. “Ysabel.”

“I,” says Becker, and his jaw trembles. Roland a dark shape in the open doorway, sunlight behind him, and the drip and trickle of melting snow. “Jo,” he says.

“Wait,” she says, a crack running through the word.

Becker lets out the breath he’s holding, blinks quickly, eyes shining, and asks, “What’s Pyrocles?”

“I think I can help,” says someone else, and they look up, look around, turn. He’s there in the passageway leading further back into the apartment, tall, grey dress slacks and a blue and white striped shirt half-open over his blackly furred chest, his hair an untidy mop of black curls. “Sorry,” he says. “I overheard a little of that. Well. Most of it.”

“Help,” says Jo, and “David?” says Becker, his voice gone far away.

“That call, I had to take?” says the tall man to Becker. “The day job. Well. The twenty-hour hour a seven-day job.” He sucks his teeth. “I don’t know where the Bride is,” he says, to Jo, “but,” and he holds up the phone in his hand, a platter of black glass in a white frame. “I’m pretty sure I know where she will be. Tonight.”

“Bride?” says Becker.

“She’s the Queen, now,” says Jo.

“Even so,” says David Kerr.

Table of Contents

“Grandpa's Hands,” written by Blue Cranes, ©2010. “Halley's Comet,” written by Chuck Coleman, copyright holder unknown.

a suit of Worsted Wool – he Is as he Does – the Girl in her Hand – Company –

A suit of worsted wool, grey sheened through with threads of black, and a crisp white shirt, there by the front door. He’s looking at the watch on his wrist, a heavy silver nest of gears and dials, the numbers and hashes picked out in something that gleams like mother-of-pearl. His sun-browned head’s quite bald, his cheeks dusted with white stubble. Out in the middle of the big front room a sword upright, the hilt of it wrapped in leather yellowed with long handling, and the floor where it’s been thrust is singed in a neat black circle. The window’s empty, the fireplace dark and cold, swept clean. From somewhere further, deeper in the house, a tumble of plucks and picks, flurried strums, mandolin, banjo, a guitar or two. He’s looking at his watch again.

A door swings open over across the room, a glimpse of kitchen beyond as Lymond steps through, wide eyes and maybe a grin, plain white T-shirt and bone-colored chinos and his shock of pinkish orange hair, wiping his hands on a floury towel. “Good afternoon, my lord,” says the man in the suit, but Lymond says sharply, “Welund,” and his maybe grin is gone. “We must find a way to live together, or we won’t.”

The man in the suit purses his lips. “If it regards your mother’s house,” he says, “once the question of succession’s settled, we might discuss what must – ”

“There’s nothing to discuss,” says Lymond.

“It is possible, perhaps,” says Welund, weighing each word, “your highness does not realize the monies needed to keep such a house – ”

“I’ve seen the house,” says Lymond. “What’s required’s some brooms and buckets, lumber, some plaster, some paint, knowledge and time, and hands. Money’s but one way this stuff is put to work.”

“And the owr you’ll need?” Welund spreads his hands, inclines his head. “Everything I’ve done was for the good of the city, and the court, without a King for so long – and now, with every conceivable respect to you, to your mother, your – sister, but. The line is broken. I saw it myself. We have no Queen.”

“You’re wrong, Welund, and everything you’ve done, was wrong.” Lymond drapes the towel over his shoulder. “There’s always a King, and always, always a Queen. You must have faith.”

“Faith does not fill coffers,” says Welund.

“How useful, that excuse,” says Lymond. “What we wouldn’t do to fill those blasted coffers.” Turning toward the empty fireplace, there by the sword in the floor. “And if the coffers prove inconveniently full, well. All that must be done is tip one over yourself, to call upon its power.” That music’s stopped. There might have been a patter of applause. Welund’s frowning, there by the door, “I don’t,” he says, “take my lord’s meaning…”

“This peace, Goodfellow treasures;” says Lymond, careful of the charred floor about the sword, “I’ve nothing but the utmost respect. And this sword! You know the story? How Marfisa struck it here, a single blow, threw everything away – the court, the Queen, her love,” and his hand closes lightly about the hilt of it. “Merely to keep my sister safe from any hint of insult.” Looking up, to Welund there by the door. “But that’s not it, either.” His grip shifts, tightens. Feet braced. “But one thing stays my hand, Welund. From ripping this sword from the floor and striking your head from your shoulders. And that’s that I do not know, to a certainty, that you were the one to unleash the Mooncalfe.”

“Highness,” says Welund, as he tries to settle on an expression, “I can assure you, I would never,” and he catches his hand from reaching for the door. “The Mooncalfe, my lord!” That hand lifted to his shoulder, his chest, pressed flat. “He is as he does!”

And Lymond says, “It’s interesting, Guisarme, to me, that you haven’t drawn a weapon.”

The hand on his chest now a fist, Welund, “Nor you yours.”

Lymond says, “My hand is stayed,” and he lets go the hilt. “Would you like some bread?” And there under his bulging eyes a flash of teeth, his grin.

“Bread,” says Welund.

“Baguettes,” says Lymond. “For tomorrow? I thought, a light repast, crostini or bruschetta. Maybe just some olive oil, and good sea salt.”

“My lord is baking bread.”

“Well.” Lymond’s grin slips wryly sideways. “Mostly I’m staying out of the way. They say,” he holds up his hands, “I don’t have a feel for the kneading. I will see you there?”

“Of course, my lord,” says Welund, and now his hand’s on the knob.

“Good,” says Lymond. “Good.”

Wrapped in glass, in steam, in streaming water, lilting slightly, side to side, one hand held up and out, and the crusts and streaks that glitter her arms, her breast, her belly, that filigree her thighs and knees are crumbling, darkening, melting away, and the water splashing about her feet’s a cloudy grey, larded with ropes of black. She leans back to let the shower soak her hair, that one hand still held up out of the water, a hand still spangled with gold that warmly gleams in the wet white light, burnished, dazzling, a shape of light too bright to look at as flashes pop and spark in her hair, yellow and gold and orange, pink and white along her skin, stars that shining burn and one by one flicker and dim and die. She’s turning under the water, holding that hand under it, and the last of it washes away, the water running grey and gritted black along her arm.

A thick white robe about her, her hair done up in a towel. Behind her the door closes, and the sound of the lock, turning. Clothing’s draped over the desk, drifts of white that shine under the stark light of that white-shaded banker’s lamp, lawn and lace and satin, taffeta, a cloudy hillock of crinoline, and there on the floor a line of shoes, slender foot-shapes balanced tip-toe on delicate heels of various heights, thin sandal-straps of white and silver and grey lolling emptily. She nudges them aside with a foot, reaches into the pile on the desk with a clink of hangers, a crinkle of paper and plastic wrap slitherly settling as she tugs something free, white fur ivoried as she pulls it from the circle of light, a long coat of it, the skirts lopping softly from desk to floor, the lining of it a chilly grey.

The light from the desk lamp’s washed away when she yanks open the heavy curtains. The fogged glass filled a richly blue that shades through white to yellow and red and an orange, and only a simple latch at the top of the sash. She turns it with a solid thunk, and presses up against the frame, and with a shudder the window lifts, a suck of air in the gap and she hisses, then hoists it up with a rattle in the frame, counterweight scraping inside the wall. Ducking her head she leans out, seven storeys up or eight, the street below gleaming wetly in the shadows, and beads of snow strung along the gutters. The face of the building off to the left of yellow brick glowing and glass ablaze in the sunset torching the hills off to the right, the block ahead across the street a parking lot nearly filled, and lining the sidewalks on all four sides of it carts and kiosks, placards, sandwich boards, the steam of cookpots and griddles, the smoke of grills, and lights strung in the bare branches of the trees here and there, and knots of people bundled in coats and hats, scarves, stocking caps, at the corner, before this stand or that, and laughter, and a cry, someone calling someone else’s name. She opens her mouth, as if to say something, to call out, but only the tattered wisp of her breath, a sigh. She leans her elbows on the sill, her face flushed in the light, shadows staining the robe. “Any more than the sun is the sun,” she says to herself. She shivers, and the shiver becomes a shudder. She pulls herself back inside.

The thick white robe in a heap on the floor below the window. The white fur draped over the pale leather top of the desk, and the rest of all that clothing pushed to the edge of it, and over, and “Each of each,” she’s singing to herself, a whisper, if that. “Exactly where.” Sitting on the fur, hands on her knees, head hung low, damp hair a pendulum, drifting. Hands on her thighs now, goosefleshed. The window before her’s still opened wide. She lifts her head, her shoulders, eyes closed, her lips moving around a word, words she doesn’t voice. Lifting a foot to plant a heel on the fur, a hand on her upraised knee, the other between her thighs, thumbing the sprigs of black hair there, her other hand to her mouth now, her lips, her teeth against her lip, her breath quick in and out through her nostrils now and her lips parting, her finger drawn between them wetted, slicked with spit. Lowering her hand her jaw set, shoulders set, rocking now back and forth to the beat of her heart, the squeeze of her lungs, a hiss, a grunt, rocking and a slap of flesh, her mouth in what might be a snarl, a sneer, her eyes opening on that window full of deepening sky.

The window, open, dark, the lamp at an angle, the bare desk. The piles of clothing fallen softly over the tumbled line of shoes. A tongue of white fur there, crumpled to the floor, over around behind the desk she’s kneeling on it, slumped to one side elbow on her knee, fur clenched in one hand, dangled hair brushing the broken glass about her. The cabinet’s sagging broken against the wall. A scatter of dolls, figurines splayed, a woman with a cabled mechanical leg red-lensed goggles and a sledgehammer balanced on her shoulders, a schoolgirl arm akimbo on her kilted hip and black boots and a patch over one eye, a swordswoman fixed mid-lunge in fiercely tangled ribbons and her own long yellow hair, a cowgirl guns cocked chapped legs spread as if to sit on something that isn’t there. A shiver tremors down the length of her, ending as an absent tic of her foot. The girl in her hand wears a cat-eared helmet and a silver maillot and her long-socked leg’s kicked high as if to climb onto something. She sets it down precariously next to a blocky toy scooter and picks up another, a schoolgirl weirdly slender in a tight orange jacket and a flippy little skirt, and dark stockings stretched along elongated thighs, tossing off an arch salute. A thump at the door, the lock rattling, turning. She tips the doll over, fingering a long brown plastic ponytail. The door bangs open, “The hell,” says someone, and then “Shit!” and a bustle into the room, it’s the little guy in the black suit, feet catching in the clothing strewn and a crash into the desk, “Shit” again, and he’s reaching for the open window when he sees her there, and stops dead. “What happened,” he says. The tuft of hair between his brown and the top of his skull uncurled, standing up and out. “It’s freezing in here.” He shuts the window. She rolls onto her back, a clink and crunch of glass. “That was stupid,” he says, rubbing his forehead.

“It’s not as if I could fly away,” she says.

“You can, you could fall,” he says. The doll in her hand. Her hand on her belly. Her wet hand, the edge of it gashed shining yellow and white, and her forearm webbed to the elbow in glistening trickles. “You need a bandage,” he says.

“I won’t run dry,” she says. “Besides. It’s not what he wants. This?” Sitting up, holding up her hand. “This he could get from any of us.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Of course it hurts,” she says. “But it’s the last time it ever will. Let me enjoy it.”

The doll, dropped to the fur. “Do you,” he says, and then, “I,” and then, “We’re leaving soon. You, you’ll need to put something on.”

“Why?” She rolls over onto her knees. “Why put something on,” pushing herself to her feet, “only to take it all off again shortly thereafter?”

“It’s – cold?” he says.

She takes up the fur and shakes it out, a tumble of dolls, a clatter of shards. “I’ll wear this,” she says, slipping an arm into a sleeve, settling it about her shoulders, the skirts of it twirling about her calves. Opening it, holding it open, the grey silk shining behind her. “What do you think?”

“You really,” he says, “made a mess of things.”

“I didn’t like the way they looked,” she says.

He squats, he reaches out for the weirdly slender doll, her orange jacket, her arch salute. “It’s kind of a weird thing to ask,” he says, sitting back, without touching it. “But can I ask you a question?” In his other hand something wadded, a bit of fabric, blue and white.

“If I can ask one first,” she says.

He laughs. “You know,” he says, “I know how that works.”

“Do you,” she says. Hands on her bare hips. “Well?” she says.

“Mr. Charlock,” says the big guy in the doorway.

“I might,” he says. “I might just.”

“Mr. Charlock.” Black suit, bush of a beard the color of polished mahogany. In his hands a stainless steel thermos. “The car. It’s time.”

“Yeah,” says Mr. Charlock, stuffing the wadded cloth back in a pocket. “Okay.” Reaching out to her. “I might’ve let you,” he says. She’s shaking her head. “I wouldn’t,” she says. She takes his hand. “I gave my word. I told you. I’ve given up.”

“Right,” says Mr. Keightlinger, in the doorway. “Check.”

“Uh,” says Mr. Charlock, as they step around the desk. “You might want some shoes.”

“No,” says Ysabel.

The walls tiled with old album jackets, duotones in yellows and reds of elaborately coiffed women sitting at pianos, smiling men snapping fingers, whole bands at feverish work on darkly crowded stages. Out in the middle of the room a big round table covered in green felt, and little stacks and piles of nuts and washers here and there about the edge of it, and by each pile two cards face down, and the rest of the deck there by a plastic tub that says Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts in faded letters. Out in the middle of the table more washers grey and dull red and hex nuts, square nuts, wing nuts all in a heap by four cards in a line face up, the six and jack of diamonds, the five of clubs, the ace of spades. “The hell you been boy,” says the old man in a rumpled blue suit much too big for him, sitting up in the recliner there laid almost flat. His face blotched with pale pink.

“Out,” says Frankie. “Dragged all the way across town, suited up to march back, and then I fell asleep in a tub in a house full of clowns.” He’s standing in the doorway there to the side of the closed garage door. “And then I had to fucking walk back.” The old man yawps at that. “Sorry,” says Frankie. “I couldn’t find a, a bus, because it snowed. And I swear, sorry, I was halfway here, before I even thought to take the kit off? I mean it’s basically garbage, right? All those fucking stovepipes and shit.” Picking at the shreds of duct tape still glued to the shoulder of his jacket. “Sorry. Where is everybody? Where’s Gordon?”

The old man’s lying back down in the recliner. “Company,” he croaks, waving a careless hand.

Across the alley steeped in evening light, the crunch of dead grass and ice, the squonk of the single hinge, the gate hung drunkenly. Up the tuffeted lot high fences to either side of the old brick building there, and there at the back door Frankie stops. A muffled chug of drums, a piano rattling up to a ringing hymn of an anthem, voices raised a shout and an impact that shakes the wall, the door in its frame, the knob in his hand, a smash of falling crockery. He throws open the door. A kitchen, scarred linoleum and darkly looming cabinets, a scuffle, the mouth of a pitcher underfoot edged in jagged shards and a grunt, one man bare muscled arms pushing an older man back, “Gordon!” yells Frankie, leaping into the fist at the end of one of those muscled arms swung to catch him knock him gasping to the floor. A heavy knife in the other first, forearm against the chest of the older man grunting, another scuffle there by the yellow stove, “Frankie,” calls the older man over one of those pale broad shoulders, reaching, and “Chill and still, everybody,” says the big man in the tank top, turning the knife by Gordon’s cheek. “Limpid.” His cheeks dark with stubble, his hair slicked back.

“You let him alone,” says Gordon. The radio on the shelf above his head’s gone quiet, piano contemplative, the drums dropped away. Frankie’s sitting up. A hand’s offered, and he takes it, pulls himself up, careful of the small formica table, and the fourth man in the room, short and wide and bald. “Dogstongue?” says Frankie, looking from him to the man in the tank top and back again. The hand he took’s about his wrist, and doesn’t let go when he tugs.

“Hey, Swift,” says the bald man.

“Due time,” says the man in the tank top, and then, “Cobbler?”

“I give no drop,” says Gordon, leaning away from that careless knife. “I take no pinch. Everyone knows this.”

“Everyone’s upended,” says Swift. “He’s come back, the King. We’re passing the hat. The Hare’s to be a banner now, and Tommy Tom will not go empty-handed to take it up.”

“And domestics?” says Gordon. “Will you take your knife to knock at every cupboard door?”

Swift pushes close, the stove behind them scraping the floor, “The hell,” says Frankie, yanking, as Dogstongue grabs his other hand and says, “Swift.”

“Nothing’s changed,” says Gordon, “not anything real. Nothing at all. You want more than spit from me, you best get ready to cut.”

“Domestics,” says Swift, “clods and hobs,” and stepping back turning the knife in his hand arcing up, “Swift!” cries Dogstongue one more time as Frankie tries to pull away again, as the knife comes down a thunk and Frankie jerks, looking down at the hand on the hilt of the knife in his chest. “Let ’em give,” says Swift, “if they would get!” Muscles bulge, he twists and rips the knife free. The blade of it dark with blood. “I,” says Swift, face falling.

“He’s not,” says Dogstongue, struggling with a sinking Frankie knees buckling jacket lapping open over his yellow shirt welling blood.

“I didn’t,” says Swift. “I thought.”

“He’s mortal,” says Dogstongue, letting Frankie slump. “Was.”

“I had no,” says Swift, waxy pale beneath his stubble. “Idea,” he says to Gordon. Beads rattle. The piano’s found its footing again, banging up a fanfare over the bubbling bass. Dogstongue’s gone. Gordon shaking steps away from the stove and Swift leaps back, over Frankie’s legs, catching himself on the doorframe, ducking through the beaded curtain pattering, away. Gordon kneels, reaching for Frankie’s face, his open eyes. The DJ’s saying something about the weather.

Table of Contents

“Perpetuum Mobile,” written by Simon Jeffes, copyright holder unknown. “The World and I” written by Laura (Riding) Jackson, ©1938. “Gangsterism Over 10 Years,” written by Jason Moran, copyright holder unknown.

Sky Bridge, Theatre, Accessible Route – the Second sign, & the Third – “Look, behold” – Exit –

Sky Bridge, Theatre, Accessible Route, white letters on a blue sign hung in a counterbalanced assemblage of white poles leaning away from each other on the brick-paved corner. He’s wearing a trench coat over a black suit, bow tie crooked beneath his chin, dark curls shellacked, he’s looking along Second and then up and down Salmon, then at the watch on his wrist, heavy and gold. Behind him a couple of escalators rise to the glass-walled lobby that ceils this little plaza, this bit of garden, and over there on a plinth a great homolosine map of the world unfolded, stylized continents shaped in chrome, and the letters beneath it say World Trade Center. Enormous snowflakes of yellow-white lights dangle among the white poles and columns that brace and frame the glass above. He steps away down the sidewalk, past signs in dark windows that say Washington Federal, Invested Here, Right-size your Loan, and a green sigil of a long-tressed woman, crowned with a single star. A block away across the street a couple of figures, pale coat, green jacket and a flash of silver. He lifts a hand to beckon, once. Absently shaking his head.

Jo leads the way as they come over, in one hand her sword in its scabbard, in the other the mask, the mane undulating gently behind her. Roland’s gloved hands are empty, his head bare, his blue and white headphones down about his neck. “You’re cutting it close,” says Kerr, shooting his cuff to show his watch. “Less than an hour left. There’s already some caterers or something setting up.”

“Okay,” says Jo, looking past him along Second, the other corner there, the snowflake lights, then over down Taylor. Her breath a ragged banner. “Where do we go? Where they coming in?”

Kerr says, “You’re probably going to want people watching all three blocks – ” but Jo says, “Where’s the theater? The, auditorium or wherever, that this is going down?”

“Building Two,” say Kerr, pointing down Salmon. Roland nods. “Okay,” says Jo. “There’s a front door?”

“You go up over the skybridge, the escalators back there,” and Jo’s saying, “A back door? Any other way in?”

“I,” says Kerr, “don’t know, there’s a parking garage? A couple of elevators, some staircases – ”

“Shit,” says Jo.

Roland says, “You are the Huntsman; I’ll be your mastiff and lymner, at once.” He points down toward the escalators. “Station yourself at the front doors. I’ll circle the blocks on the street, and sound the rechance when I spy them.”

“The phone, you mean,” says Jo.

“On the phone,” says Roland.

“Hey,” says Kerr.

“Okay,” says Jo, “I don’t like it, but okay.” And as Kerr says, “Can I just,” she heads off, toward the escalators, and Roland nods once, crisply, and jogs away across Salmon, ahead of a trundling white van. “Hello?” says Kerr. “Still talking, here?” Eyes rolling, he sets off after Jo. Off a couple of blocks away somebody whoops, ah-yi-hee, Shawnee! “Hey,” calls Kerr, “hey!” Jo stops there at the foot of the narrow escalators tocking quietly, regularly up and down. “You have any idea,” says Kerr, “how far out on a limb I am for you?”

“Sure, thanks,” says Jo, turning back toward the escalators, “but that’s hardly my” and “Dammit!” he snaps, lunging for her arm. “You half-ass this thing and you’ll get yourself killed, or worse. And your Queen.”

“Let go of me,” says Jo.

About and behind them white columns depend aslant from the glass canopy above to meet butt ends braced against each other atop stubby concrete pedestals. The snowflake lights among those boles hang still in the still air. “You think you know something,” says Kerr, letting go. “You heard something, something the witch told you that makes you think you’re going to win, no matter what. That’s what this is.”

“What?” says Jo, her sword in its scabbard held between them.

“That’s not how it works,” he says, and she’s saying “What are you” as he says, “Prophecy! That’s not,” and both hands up to his forehead pressing his hair back. “The first duty of prophecy is to be true, no matter what. Ibis redibis nunquam in bello morieris, okay? So whatever you think you heard, it’s not – ”

“What I heard,” says Jo, “is what you said. You got the call from the guy who said to tell the mayor he’s got the Perry girl and it’s time to do what he said. Here. Tonight. Which means Ysabel’s gonna be here. In about an hour.” The mask dangling from her other hand, the mane of it straining back, past her, toward the rising steps. “That’s what I think I know,” she says. “That’s what this is about. Did I hear wrong? Misinterpret?”

He’s looking at his shoes, narrow and gleaming black. “I don’t,” he says, “it’s not the mayor.” Looking up. “I work for a commissioner – ”

“Whatever,” says Jo, turning away, stepping onto the escalator, a scuffle as he leaps after her, grabbing for her again, her coat, “Dammit,” he’s saying, “that guy,” and a squeak of metal on leather, Jo’s drawing her sword, he’s stumbling back staggering down and away from the blade swiveling tip toward him, “he’s a sorcerer, that guy,” says Kerr, hands up, backing unsteadily down the rising steps, turning to hop off as Jo steps down behind, her sword-tip following him as he backs away, the mask dangling from her sword hand, the mane starkly black against her pale coat as it winds lashing about her arm. “You can’t just – ”

“You’re a sorcerer, too,” says Jo.

“More of a,” says Kerr, “a tregetour, really – ”

“So do some magic,” she says, stepping lightly off the escalator, elbow crooked up, blade level, mask staring. “Stop me. Change my mind.”

“That’s not,” he says, looking down. Shoulders hunched. “That isn’t how it works.”

“Okay then,” she says, and sheathes her sword. The mane relaxing, falling about the mask a-dangle as she steps back onto the escalator.

“You’re gonna Butch and Sundance this,” he says. “And you’ll die. She’ll die. And he gets exactly what he wants!” She doesn’t look back. “For fuck’s sake,” he says, “call Southeast! You’re tight, you only have to ask and there’d be a dozen knights – ”

“We broke up,” she says, rising away.

The hand he’s reaching after her curls in a fist, bobs there a moment, slams into the crawling handrail of the escalator. Turning away, shaking out his hand, he digs up the headset for a cellphone and clips it to his ear. “Hey,” he says, walking away. “It’s me. This thing tonight. I’m waving you off.” Waiting at the corner as an SUV stretched to limousine length wallows by. “I got one of those bad feelings you pay me for,” he says.

At the top of the escalator a blue sign hangs from one of the white beams there beneath the glass canopy. The numeral one’s to the left, numerals two and three further on ahead, and a glyph of figures seated at a conference table, and two simple masks side by side, one smiling, one weeping. On ahead the airy lobby narrows to a bridge, glass walls tipped to lean against each other above, braced by angled files of white poles, lit by streetlight from below.

On the other side another sign, the numeral two to the left now, and three to the right, over another bridge. The lobby here’s a low but open space, glass-walled, glass doors to the left, the room beyond but dimly lit, low steps, a baleful sign that says Exit, a dark conference room behind a floor-to-ceiling pane of glass. Movement in there, a shift of shadows lost in a welter of reflections and shadows. Jo walks on by, her pale coat, her sword in one hand, the mask in the other, and her wine-dark hair. Across the open lobby folding chairs grey and brown and tables unfolded, one of them strewn with the remains of a paper cornucopia, plastic vegetables, fake flowers, and then the leaning glass wall, more white poles criss-crossed and braced, the plaza below and the trees here and there strung with tiny white lights, the street and the river beyond. The mask in her hand is still, the mane hanging limply, rustling as she turns it over. The empty shadowed holes where eyes should be. The tooth-shapes crudely chiseled, lined with thick black ink.

She leans the sword in its scabbard against the railing.

The mane shivers, stiffening as she settles the mask on her head, then relaxes to float weirdly behind her, undulating as she turns, looking about the glass-walled lobby, then back out over the plaza, the street, the river. “Your banner, over the city,” she murmurs, under those mask-teeth. “Me, by your side.”

“Excuse me,” says someone. The mane jumps. She turns with a jerk, reaches up to tilt the mask back, clearing her eyes. The man there under the blue sign’s short and thick, his black tuxedo blocky, his necktie plain and bottle green, tied in a wide Windsor knot, the boutonière in his lapel a tiny yellow rose. “There going to be a floor show?” he says. The scruff of grey about his chin too carefully trimmed to be forgotten stubble.

“I, ah,” says Jo, and then, “you’re, are you the mayor?”

A curt laugh. “No,” he says.

“They’ll,” she points toward the glass doors, “let you in, I’m sure – ”

“I know,” he says. He nods at her hands. “No smoking up here.”

She looks down at the crumpled orange pack she’s holding, the lone cigarette within. “Yeah,” she says. Her phone’s ringing. “I know.” She turns away, hauls the mask off, the phone up and out, “Hey,” she says.

“They’re coming,” says Roland. “On foot, down the street. Three men and the Bride, and they’re going to come up the escalator.”

She tucks the phone away. The man’s gone. Nothing’s moving in the dimness past the glass doors. She lifts the mask, sets it back on her head. Takes up the sword in its scabbard and strides across the lobby to the mouth of the skybridge.

Movement, down there at the other end. A white hat clears the floor, rising with the escalator, white shoulders, a long white coat over a white suit, white shirt, white tie. Behind him rising as he steps off a little guy, black suit and a skinny black tie, and in his hands a stainless steel thermos. His hair thinned to a single curl between his brow and the top of his skull, an owl’s feather dangling from one side of the classic black sunglasses he’s wearing, and looming behind them both now a big guy, black suit and a skinny black tie swallowed by his bush of a beard, and the one lens of his classic black sunglasses swarming with spidery letters written in white ink. And leaning against him in a white fur coat, her head against his chest, stumbling as they step off the escalator, “Home, and safe, and sound,” says Jo to herself, and she sets foot on the bridge.

Striding toward her Mr. Leir doffs his hat, his face quite young beneath that unruly white hair. “And who might you be,” he calls.

“I am the Queen’s Huntsman,” says Jo, planting her feet, and Ysabel looks up as Jo draws her sword, letting the scabbard fall to the speckled grey industrial carpeting. “You need to let her go,” pointing her sword at Mr. Leir, “and walk away,” and Ysabel straightens, pushes a little away from Mr. Keightlinger, his arm still about her. Mr. Leir laughs and waves his hat at Mr. Charlock. “Look, behold,” he says, “a whirlwind in a bottle, a great cloud and a fire infolded from before the world was the world. Cold and empty and utterly inimical. If loosed it will swallow whatever it touches until it’s sated, and eat up even the hole you leave when you’re gone.”

“Let her go,” says Jo again.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, ducking out from under Mr. Keightlinger’s arm.

“Drop your sword,” says Mr. Leir, “or he anoints your Queen, and pours what’s left down your throat.” Mr. Charlock, holding the mirror-bright thermos up, starts to unscrew the cap of it. The tip of Jo’s sword wavers, shifting from Mr. Leir to Mr. Charlock and back again. “I’d rather do it myself,” says Mr. Leir, “but eaten by us or this she will be done away with.” He puts his hat back on his head, caressing the pinch, the curl of the brim. “You’ve lost, Jo Gallowglas,” he says. “Drop your sword, walk away,” and the rattle and clunk of Jo’s sword hitting the carpet, and Mr. Leir nods. “Save yourself,” he says, and then his head rocks back.

His head rocks back, his hat flies off, his arms flop up, unstrung. The dull pop an echoless crack enormous, the flash too quick, an afterthought. The smoke rising from the mouth of the flat black pistol in Jo’s hand as it shifts to point to Mr. Charlock, the feathers bristling brown and black and white about his eyes, his mouth ajar in a wordless howl as torn pages gush into the air from the white coat flapping open beside him, fluttering, falling to the bridge in drifts about an empty pair of white and ivory brogues and with a flump behind them a glossy white wig, the acrylic hairs yellowed with old sweat.

Mr. Keightlinger stock still, Ysabel leaping forward through the falling pages, Mr. Charlock roaring lunging after her catching her arm hauling her up short between him and the gun. She swings a white-furred arm, thunk, “I will eat you,” he’s screaming, “grind your bones to salt,” and the pistol in Jo’s hand sweeps away from Ysabel struggling, wavers, fixes on Mr. Keightlinger holding his sunglasses up between his wide-open eyes and Mr. Charlock, whose face is wreathed in feathers. He’s locked a hand on Ysabel’s arm, the thermos loose cap rattling in the other. “This can still,” he says, as if two or three voices are fighting for the words in his mouth, and then he roars. Ysabel hits him again pulling away, and feathers rustle as he looks down, frowning, at the blade-tip that’s ripped a hole in his white shirt, knocking his tie aside. A good two inches poking out of his chest, just to the left of center.

A twist, and a jerk, and Roland pulls his blade from Mr. Charlock’s body.

“Jo,” says Ysabel. The pistol in Jo’s hand is following Mr. Charlock’s body as it slumps to the carpet. “Gallowglas,” says Ysabel, there before her, reaching up to take the mask in her hands, the mane of it slumping as she lifts it from Jo’s head. Jo lowers the pistol, blinking. “Kilo,” says Mr. Charlock, a cough of those awful voices. On his hands and knees on the torn pages, feathers falling. “Kay,” he says, and his arms buckle, and he falls to his side. Roland’s swiveled his sword to point at Mr. Keightlinger quickly walking away, stuffing his sunglasses in the pocket of his jacket.

“Ysabel,” says Jo, and the mask drops to the bridge, and Ysabel’s arms around her white fur about her pulled close together, shivering.

Lights flickering on behind the glass doors, the jingle and clink of keys against glass, “Princess,” says Roland, and then, “Majesty. Huntsman. We must go.”

The top of the thermos, unscrewed, falls without a sound to the roughly speckled carpet. The stuff that seeps out hissing in wisps of white smoke crawling, curling, hard to make out in this light, roiling up suddenly, surging a gout of it sloshing into the rippling thickening air uncoiling reaching for Roland as he turns, frow

ickening rippling air as it whitens, flashes. Ysabel looking up, Jo stepping back, “The hell,” she says.

On the other side of it Mr. Charlock crowned in feathers looks down at the uncapped silver thermos in his hand. “I didn’t mean to,” he says, turning away, “Keightlinger!” he calls. “Kay!”

“What is that,” says Jo.

“Old,” says Ysabel. “We must go.”

That stuff swells and lops and spills more smoke into the air and “Dammit, Phil!” yells Mr. Charlock, and when he tries to step back he falls, his leg is caught, his foot already gone and he screa

ivering glass falls in sheets the cracking of it loud as gunshots shattering below that fills the street a wave of crashing sound pops sparks and flying lights that flicker and go out as Jo sits up Ysabel in white fur sprawled and coughing. “We’ve got to go,” says Jo over the din, gathering herself.

“What is that,” says Ysabel, taking Jo’s hand, pulling herself up.

“Run?” says Jo. The boiling shape of smoke, yellowing, reddening, filling the space from carpet to glass to where the glass had been. Hand in hand they’re stumbling running Ysabel looking to the closed glass doors across the lobby Jo pointing leaning toward the door ajar there, a glimpse of stairwell, a booming crash the floor thrumming wobbling knocking them Ysabel down to her knees and Jo tipping forward brought up short, falling back, rolling over the red smoke and black there filling swallowing the lobby and “Jo!” cries Ysabel white fur billowing hand wrenched away from hand and scrabbling to her feet pushing kicking lunging into the smoke screaming reaching for the last glimmering flickering scrap of white and her hand closing about, the lobby, dark, turning about in the, the glass walls leaned against each, and the white poles, the skybridge, and the, the columns, the streetlight from below, the stretch of speckled grey industrial carpet, the glass doors closed, the red glare of the Exit sign, the clear air quiet and still, the, the, the, she, and she, she stops.

A ways down the skybridge her sword, in its scabbard. There before her the skull-mask, the mane spread about in limp coils. In the hand she lifts with a jerk a pistol, the dull black barrel, the grip of it wound about with glossy black tape. She drops it in a pocket of her pale leather coat. Her other hand pressed to her chest rising and falling with her quickening, shallowing breath, her mouth, opening –

“Ysabel?” says Jo Maguire.

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Laughter, a Whoop of delight – Sunday morning

Laughter, a whoop of delight as they come across the darkly silent intersection, black parka, big green coat, hoodie over a nightgown leaping boots to clomp the last bit of snow in the gutter. On the wedge of sidewalk there across from the pizza place a mound of bicycles, tires fat and white, and skinny buff, ape-hanger bars over a comically tiny front wheel, banana seats glittering silver and gold, stumpy kid’s bikes in medicinal pinks and blues. Wound about and through a thick chain and also lengths of yellow plastic tape printed with bold black letters, CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS. Hung on the front of the pile by chain and tape a door ripped from a car, white with letters that say ND POLICE and a rose stenciled near the bottom. The woman in the nightgown bangs a tattoo on the door, whooping again, as the man in the parka finds a padlock on the chain and fits a key to it. The man in the green coat leans over to catch a loosening hank of chain. The woman in the nightgown takes the weight of the car door, helping it down the pile clatter and scrape.

Backing out of the cabinet under the sink he’s hunched over rubbing the small of his back, grumble and whoof, settling on his knees on the lemon-yellow floor. He pulls from the cabinet a yellow tin that says Clabber Girl, and a white tin that says Guardsman Professional Strength, and a handful of rags. Reaching deep inside, thump and rattle, he pulls out a little red handheld vacuum cleaner, and then pulls himself to his feet, yawning, scratching himself under his loose blue shirt. He reaches a knobby bare foot into the cabinet to drag out a pair of salt-stained espadrilles, working in one foot, then the other, and taking up tins and vacuum and rags in his wide hands he shuffles out of the dark kitchen, down a long unlit hall creak and pop into a big room empty but for an overstuffed armchair, and a low table beside it and through a wall of glass the lights of the city beyond, below. He sets his stuff down and with a muttered growl reaches up to yank a pull chain and a low bulb flares above, banishing the city. Leaning down he takes up the yellow tin and tut-tutting, shaking his head, he sprinkles cornstarch over the stains that blot the cushions of the chair.

Eight people in the train car, all clustered there in the open space near the doors, each of them with a bicycle, hung from the racks, upended on back wheels, a sturdy mountain bike and a low dun brown recumbent, a couple of battered minibikes their frames gleaming under chipped and scored paint, a delicate ten-speed with drop handlebars. The clack and chunk of wheels on rails as the walls of a tunnel rise up and over them, and they pick up speed, and the woman with the recumbent bike opens her mouth to let out a low rumbling note. The man with one of the minibikes laughs and joins her, and the man with the luridly purple wheelie bike, the note becoming a syllable, the syllable a word, “Uncorrected personality traits,” they’re singing, a ragged, jagged harmony, “that seem whimsical in a child,” and another joining in, and another, “may prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult,” as the walls of the tunnel rush past.

Parked at an angle in the shallow curl of driveway a white panel van, the tail of it tucked under the open garage door, and light spilling out onto the shadowed scrap of yard. She opens the rear doors, then tugs her black vest down and back into place before with a scrape startling loud pulling a tray from the rack, lifting a corner of the towel draped over it to check the loaves, flat slipper-shapes darkly crusted. Careful in both hands she carries it up a short flight of steps into the kitchen, brightly lit, the lemon-yellow floor, the gleaming white cabinets. “One more of these,” she says, wrestling it up onto the countertop, “and the butter into the fridge,” and the man in the black vest and the bow tie just like hers nods and hands her a paper coffee cup. “Thank you,” she says, and she turns to fill it from a great silver urn as he heads out the door to the garage.

“Here he comes!” someone cries, and the cheers go up across the parking lot, knots of people with their bicycles, and clustered around this pickup truck, that unmarked van. Men in suits of sky and Carolina, periwinkle, denim and Oxford, midnight, navy, all about the tailgate of a dark blue SUV, reach up for the bicycles being handed down, all of them pink with the same swooping frames, and dotted with the same appliquéd flowers, yellow and white. Down there, past the closed dark gates, the cabin that says Oregon Zoo in letters up on the gable, up the arc of sidewalk along the lot a lone man in a long dark coat, his head bare, and his hair a pinkish orange pompadour. The sky above a pearly grey, and all the colors lurking within.

Flights of bicycles kick off skirling toward him, he waves, he nods, stepping into the lot and across it toward the crowd, toward the woman there in the black leather jacket and the long silvery dress of sequins, like mail, toward the man beside her in green coveralls that say Thomas Thomas over his left breast in neat black embroidery. “Marquess,” says Lymond, and “Soames,” shaking their hands, turning to find the Viscount there in a suit of Prussian blue, pale dreadlocks tied back neatly, and a pink bicycle up on his shoulder. “You must not think of me as a rival,” he says to Lymond, and offers up his hand. “I’m only sorry you’ve been pushed to this extremity, and without a Queen.” Lymond, slowly, takes his hand, and shakes it. “The Duke’s sent no ambassadour?” says Agravante.

“No,” says Lymond.

“If only your mother had ever managed a Bride,” says Agravante. “To wed to him, and heal this rift. It’d be him to take this terrible risk today, instead of you.”

Lymond turns away, lifting his hands, to face the crowd. “Thank you!” he calls to them, and they all fall silent, mechanicals and bikers, knights and clowns. “Thank you. For coming on such short notice, and so early in the morning. It’s not far, and there’s a little something at the end of it, tea, and coffee, and fresh-baked bread.” And he turns abruptly and starts away, up the switchbacking length of road out of the lot, up the wooded slope still dusted with snow, soaking up the chilly early light.

“The Viscount’s rude,” says the Soames Thomas, marching close beside Lymond down the quiet winding street, “but he’s right.” The bicycles winding behind them, and the trundling pickup and its hangers-on.

“You’d rather a Duke, not a Prince, for King,” says Lymond.

“I’d rather a Queen,” says the Soames. “I was promised a Queen.”

“You expect wonder hard on the heels of miracle,” says Lymond. “I am the only Perry, and the last of them. Let’s first see if that’s enough.”

Heading to the edge of the street, across the sidewalk and the scrap of dying grass, up to the yellow front door, followed by the Marquess and the Soames and the Viscount, and clatter and clank and ticking spinning as bicycles tumble to stops behind them. Lymond pulls a padded envelope from inside his coat, and from the envelope he pulls a gold credit card. Letting the envelope fall he works the card into the gap between door and frame, slipping it down, jimmying it as he leans against the door. The Soames frowns at the Marquess, and the Viscount smiles behind his fingers. A click, a clunk, and Lymond opens the door. “My house,” he calls out to them, “is yours,” and he steps inside, and down the long hall, followed by the thunder of dozens of footsteps out into the big room, empty but for the overstuffed armchair and the low table beside it, and that great window, and the shapes of the city uncertain in the shining haze, and beyond the mountain a pale shadow of blue and rose against the first rays of the rising sun.

“Well,” says Lymond, as the footsteps settle, and the rustle of coats, scarves and gloves, blue suits and green coveralls. All of that motley crowd under the window, uncertain whether to look at out the view, or at Lymond there, his back to them, his hands on the arms of the chair. “Let’s see,” he says, and turning, sits him down.

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“Uncorrected Personality Traits,” written by Robyn Hitchock, © 1984.