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Crash! –

Crash the glass and splintering wood she’s through and falling, swaddled in curtains ringing ripped and twisting snap through cracking branches thump and rolling down the slope below, Marfisa finds her feet bat in hand and white hair ghostly in the darkness, leaping down the hillside away from the back of the house to the shadows under the trees, curtains left sprawled on the grass, and from the broken window high above a howl of anguish, of terrible, heart-cracking rage, and

                    Herwydh, who arranges flowers, blinks in wonder at her hands, pale among the blossoms on the counter, then looks up to see Powys at the sink in a blue-shadowed apron, paused in the act of wiping out a pan, “Something’s happened,” he says, and slap and rustle from the hallway strung with yellow lights come running Costurere and Aigulha, aprons and mob caps, tape measure fluttering about Costurere’s neck, “We fell out!” she cries, and “What’s happened,” says Aigulha, glumly, as

                                    a dozen pianos play at once, astringent ringing, sludgy rumbles, skittering trills and scales and maybe even chopsticks in there, hearts and souls, and Bruno, the Hawk’s Shrieve, stands in the midst of all those tarp-draped cabinets that shake, rattle, jerk with the force of the sounds pounded out of them, eyes squeezed shut, hands to his ears, mouth gaped in a bellow drowned by that ruckus, and he pulls from a vest pocket a tiny glassine envelope and tips it over his palm, but what drifts out’s not glittering gold but feathery ashen grey, falling so lightly, without the weight to settle on his skin, and

               Lewis David Coffey, long since retired, stumps across the unlit parlor, lifting an arm to lay clink against the glass of the picture window not a hand but a hand-shape, cast in bronze and beaten with whorls of puckered dots, and outside only a slightly inclined street steeped in darkness, a couple of houses across set close, clapboard and shutters and a dark tumble of hydrangeas, and wails and moans are sobbing through the wall, Meganissi! comes the voice of old Cass nan Sinann from the next apartment over, Fonissa! Artemita! Hush! as

                    embers crackle, dying on the grate, but the Marquess Linesse, Helm of the Court, has set the poker aside, on her knees she turns from the hearth, “Hello?” she says, and what little light’s left gleams the points and edging of the plate that sleeves her arm, “Who’s there?” she says, when the sofa there to one side creaks, a shadow sits abruptly up at the one end, and another at the other, and they both of them begin to scream, and

  Mrs. Upchurch, Frances Upchurch, though that is not her name, regards the intricate graph on the screen of the laptop before her, red points and crosses and green lines rising and falling in sinuous curves that climb from left to right until almost at the edge a frantic leaping abfusion of data that collapses into a single flat red line, shaking her head, those tiny corkscrew curls all brown and gold a-swing, ignoring the phone that’s buzzing on the table before her, as

                          the terrible rage of that anguished howl echoes away in the hall and a shadow, hugely uncertain, turns from the jagged glass, that’s a foot that plants itself on the long pale rug, a hand that braces some unspeakable weight against the wall, those are eyes that blinking take in what they can, squinting at the sight of the broken door askew in its frame at the far end of the hall, and beside it in his blue robe, a dagger in his hand, the Viscount Agravante, Handle of the Axe, agog at what’s forming in the darkness before the broken window, and that’s a throat that rumbles, coughs, spits from what’s becoming lips that sneering roll about a syllable: “You.”


Table of Contents


“He’s awake” – Breakfast – 3 Questions –

“He’s awake.”

Pewter beads at the ends of his mustaches clacking thump against his shoulder as Pyrocles turns, blue suit shining, away from the sword thrust upright in the middle of the room, floor charred in a circle neatly black about, toward Robin Goodfellow all in black in the archway under the stairs, and brusquely past him into a dark hall papered with overlapped labels from wine bottles, beer bottles, bottles of bitters and liqueurs, past the white door hung with a sign that says Employees Must Wash Hands, past three men sat upon the floor, heads drooped, lolled back, hands in laps or laid on the knees of ragged trousers streaked with drying paste, over and between their outstretched legs to where a puddle of light’s seeped past the jamb of a second door, pushing it open, stepping into a small room lined with books, and more books stacked on a couple of wing chairs, and the narrow tables to either side, “Becker?” says Pyrocles. “Are you within?”

Becker’s head appears above the high back of an oxblood leather sofa, what’s left of his hair slicked back, cheeks hatched with stubble. “I just,” he says, “I’m sorry. Woke up.” His shirt of berry-colored plaid unbuttoned, dark hair sparse about his clavicle. He pulls it closed, looks down, about, “I can’t find my phone.”

Pyrocles steps close, holding something out, “I kept it safe for you,” he says.

“Safe,” says Becker, sharply, taking the phone. “And you are?” But then he looks away from Pyrocles’ pale eyes, “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m a little, disoriented. I’m not – sure? Where I, am, or how I got. Here.”

“You’ve forgotten,” says Pyrocles.

“I must’ve had something fierce to drink last night,” says Becker, swiping at his phone. Frowning. “Is this some kind of joke?” he says, looking up. “How the hell is it already April?”

Tripping he staggers naked back through the garbage crumple of slithering pop of plastic crunch and she pushes herself upright, untwisting her dingy tank top, “What the fuck, Luke.”

“Lake!” he snarls, crouched there, dark beard lankly wet. “It should have been simple,” he mutters. “What have you done.”

“Me?” Jessie kicks garbage away, red Ked flopping unlaced on her foot. “Me?” Another kick topples boxes, scatters cans across what’s left of the gridded stacks, the ragged lines of garbage that stretch across to where he squats in a shallow crater of trash. “You got the name wrong,” he says. “Isadora. Lucette. Lizzie, Annabelle, Jezebel.” A sneer hunches his mustache. His hand shifts from knee to lap. “You never took this seriously.”

“My name,” she says, “is Jessica Vitaly.” Looking away, the floor-length curtains behind her. “I have a, father, and a mother, a stepmother, and a mother I haven’t seen in twenty years, I have two little brothers, but I do not have, I never had, a sister.”

“If you weren’t going to play, you shouldn’t’ve played. Who taught you,” raising his voice to cut her off, “who taught you, to drink? To smoke?” Getting to his feet. “Who showed you how to walk in heels, to shimmy those hips? Who first put on your lipstick?” Wide step over a berm of garbage, softening cock a-wobble. “Who taught you to yearn, to crave? Who else could’ve been the first you ever wanted, and wanted to be?”

“You’re not,” she says, her anger taken aback to bewilderment, “I don’t – ”

“You never answered the question,” he says. “And now the spell is broken. You could have been with me, up above the river, under the earth, where it’s three but not ten, and only ever,” she coughs, he blinks, “fourteen,” but she’s quivering giggles bubbling up abruptly hiccuping, a whoop leaping out of her, swallowing guffaws enough to say, “Shut up. Shut the fuck up, Luke.” Kicks back through the garbage toward the drapes, the sleeping bag spread open and the parka puffy pink and orange that she seizes, shoves her arms into the sleeves, laughter fled she’s trembling waving an arm about loose cuff flapping wet with something, “Shit!” Stoops to scoop up wads of trash, food wrappers and newspaper, plastic bottles whip and clanging cans flung at him, “God!” she shouts, and “You!” and “Fuck!” bouncing off his arm his hip he ducks a cereal box blue tape flapping smash of a glass jar, she’s screaming, hands on her knees now, twist of cellophane ghosting about her, still a thumping, rapid banging, someone’s pounding on the other side of a wall.

“Shit,” she says, when the pounding stops. Snatches up a crumpled sheet of paper, goldenrod stained dark at a corner, most of the pull-tabs at the bottom torn and gone, and the figure splashed across it in black ink. “You,” she says, she starts to say, but then she stuffs it in her pocket and sets off, too quickly, heedless of the garbage slipping underfoot. “What was that,” he says, lurching after, “where are you,” seizing her hand, “Jez!” yank and twirling stumble by the door, “Fuck you,” she snarls, grunts, hauls him into a levee of flattened cardboard crash, and the pounding starts again. He sits up, knocking coffee grounds from his beard. “Jessie,” he says. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She gets back on her feet. “That’s what you all say.” She opens the door. “Every single motherfucking last one of you.”

Leaned on push brooms, a mop propped in a bucket, tool belts about hips or shoulders, wiping a plaster-smeared trowel, hefting a spool of glossy blue cable or a dripping plunger, all of them looking to the raised stage at the end of the cavernous warehouse, the canvases displayed there, the dancing figure ink-splashed on each, and before them Gloria Monday, long black hair shining under racked fluorescent lights. “Is it the milk?” she says too quietly, and then, a bit louder, “We’ve been leaving out the milk.”

A man steps up, bouquet of wire-caged lightbulbs clutched under one arm, his other hand held out, a little plastic baggie, a nod, go on, take it. Gloria holds it up in the light, peering at the ashy dust within. “I don’t get it,” she says.

He turns away, bulbs chiming, they’re all turning away, someone’s ducking under the half-raised overhead door there, Marfisa, sheepskin collar upturned, white hair twig-matted, freighted with rain. They press close, tool-clank and step-scuff, and the flutter and crinkle of baggies, of glassine envelopes in hands outstretched, and all the dust within unsparked grey ash. She pushes through as they hurry hustle step back out of her way, past Gloria turning “Mar?” to the skeletal staircase footsteps clanging up to the walkway, where Anne Thorpe in her long black coat peers blearily at two men in smocks by a door freshly painted, purple and green, and baggies in their hands with wet brushes, past and up the ladder bolted to the wall, up and up to the planks laid over joists a ceiling up and over.

“Okay,” says Gloria, “it’s all right,” calling out, “she’s here, everybody! Marfisa’s here. She’s gonna,” there’s Anna, in a checkered nightshirt, and Petra B. in a wine-colored robe, slipping into the crowd. “She’ll sort this out,” says Gloria, and an anguished cry rings out from above.

The stillness that follows a breath stretched much too far until in a rush it’s all let out, a keening howl, and a shape’s whipped over them all from the shadows of that attic, shallow flat and tumbling a box, and the scramble as they hasten from where it will fall, push and scuffle catching help each other back and away from the splintering crack and cloud of what it held, of dust, softly falling through harsh light, shadowy flakes of dull sparkless ash that settle on the concrete, and still that horrid ululation.

“Oh, no,” says Anna, staring at the broken box.

A wincing grunt, he reaches for his lap, the head there tousled dirty-gold hair a-bob as his hips jerk on the dun-colored chaise. A yellow tie draped over his shoulders, his collar open, cheeks grizzled with stubble brownly shadowed in the low light of the dressing room, “Brother!” he calls, hips lifting, a spasmed grimace. “In here! Not a drop,” to the woman sat up between his knees, back of her hand pressed to her lips.

“You’ve seen it,” says the man stepping in, “have you? Haven’t you?” Blue dress shirt, salmon tie neatly knotted. “You spoke to Harfang. Dandyclaw? Dandclaw saw what, yes,” holding a small but ornate brass headset to one ear, he’s nearly shouting into it, “All of it? You’re certain?” and, with a nod, he taps it, and looks down to the man on the chaise. “Mousely says the Champoeg vault’s still whole and hale, but everything else…”

The woman in her gauzy caftan gets to her feet, hand still over her mouth. “Break your fast, Rhythidd,” says the man on the chaise, buttoning up his trousers.

She plucks the headset from Rhythidd’s ear and pulls his mouth to hers, and with a lick he takes her kiss, leans into it, shovels his tongue in her mouth to slurp and swallow, and lets go. “Autophagy’s at best a short-term solution, Welund,” he says, and licks his lips.

“Any solution’s short-term, in the long run. Now let Wilolly be about her business, and you about yours, that we all might get on with our days.”

“M’lord,” she says, and reaches for Rhythidd’s hand, but he lifts it away, to the knot of his tie, “What news of the King, brother?” he says.

“He passed the night at Goodfellow’s,” says Welund, with a shrug.

“And her majesty?”

“Only that she has met the King, and they are to go to the house in King’s Heights,” says Welund, buttoning up his shirt, “to which, as soon as I’ve restored myself, I shall repair, and you to the Hound in Goose Hollow, and then, dear brother, why, then we shall know the news.”

“But what of her amanuensis,” says Rhythidd, as Wiolly looks over her nails.

“If you mean the Gallowglas,” says Welund, adjusting the drape of his tie, “she is as yet unfound; if you mean some other, why, we should know, soon enough, if you would not mind,” and he holds out a hand, an importunement, and after a moment Rhythidd nods. Wilolly sinks to her knees, and then the jingle of a buckle, undone.

Leaf-bladed shears part to bite the belt about those hips, saw through it, chew on down the seat of those grey trousers winey brown with blood. Peeling up she lifts out the sopping tail of a black T-shirt, gathered with the warm-up jacket in her blue-gloved hand, and slits her way up the broad back, more blood oozing from jammy clots with every cut. Gingerly through the collars of jacket and shirt, shying from the matted hair still tied in a stunted club of a ponytail, but despite her care the head does wobble on what’s left of the throat. “We’re going to have to strip the carpet out,” says the woman behind her, hugging a bolt of white lawn to her breast, “we’ll never get it cleaned,” stepping back, “not without,” but a crunch underfoot, she looks down, swinging the bolt of fabric out of the way, to see a pair of sunglasses dappled with blood, one purple lens intact, the other greenly shattered. “Oh,” she says, as the woman with the shears yanks cloth away from back and buttocks bared a mottled expanse of bruise, “oh, why are you still here!” and squats beside the body to unroll the snowy lawn.

Downstairs, Agravante still in his pale robe looks from the ceiling back down to the thin glass tube in his hand, capped with cork, sealed with dark blue wax. Holds it up in the sunrise streaming through the windows there, but the thread of dust within’s still coldly grey. A guffaw rumbles from the shadows well out of morning’s reach: “You’d weave another circle round me?” A bone clatters the length of the dining table between them, chunk of vertebra spangled dully silver, rolling a die to wobbled stop by the flared end of an ulna flaking green. “Better make it fast, this time.”

“You’ve had enough?” says Agravante.

“Enough?” growls the other. “What does that even mean, enough.” A lick of shadow, a hand perhaps, pressed to the table. “If I said no, would you offer me another? How many do you think I could eat, before they broke, took off, left you flat? Not nearly as many as it would take to finally get you on your feet yelling stop, you monster, enough.” Leaning close, to the very edge of the morning light, “You God damned idiot. The hell were you thinking, cuckooing me out of my egg like that?”

“Certain,” says Agravante, “oracular powers, are said to accrue to one such as yourself.” His gaze blank, his face slack, all framed by matted white hair. “Properly tended.”

“Properly?” That grinding laugh again. “Well somebody sure as shit kicked your plan in the toilet. And you, you were gonna dip your thumb in the cauldron – you went and put your foot in it!” Something in those shadows starts to swirl. “Well. Tell you what I’m gonna do: I’ll tell your future, here, now, for free. In a minute, after you’ve answered three questions, you and me, we’re gonna get up and go for a ride. How’s that for an oracle?”

Agravante says, “You’ll frighten the horses.”

“Ha! Okay. First: is there still a Court, and a Queen?”

“Insofar as I know,” says Agravante.

“Such a bravely ironical tone!” Whatever it is lurches, rears up to crumble in the shadows, but the voice without a trace of effort continues, “And would that be Queen Arabella? Queen Duenna? Or Queen Ysabel?”

“Ysabel,” says Agravante, leaning forward, squinting against the light, but he jerks back when the shadows fall over a chair, lean on it, splinter it to kindling. “Who’s the King?” that voice, quite cheerful as the whorling twisting suddenly stops. A floorboard creaks with a shift of weight. “Well?”

“Her brother,” says Agravante. “Lymond.” And then, with wonder in the word, “Grandfather?”

“Hardly,” scoffs the other, stepping into the light, shooting the cuffs of a crisp white shirt from the sleeves of a navy suit, the tie black, the belly round, the head pinkly bald, but for an ivory crown of hair. “Though I see how you could get confused. Now!” A sharp clap. “Get dressed. We’re off to see the neighbors.”


Table of Contents


1510 – what She has Done – where He Might Be – a Palate’s purpose –

1510, says the scrap of paper in her hand, and 201. Across the street a small sign elegantly plain over demure glass doors says 1510 – the Hawthorne. “Huh,” says Ettie, in her black shorts, her cropped blue sweater.

The doors are locked. A small black speaker on the wall beside them, and a keypad, she presses 2, then 0, then 1. The pound key, after a moment. A click, and the timbre of the stillness shifts, opens with a faint hiss. The loud burr of something ringing, then another click. That hiss still tugs the air. “Hello?” she says. “Starling? It’s, ah, Stephanie. Étienne Limoges?” A truck sighs down the side street, chasing its morning shadow. “Hello?” she says.

A beep, and the latch of the glass doors disengages with a thunk.

Up a switchbacked flight of stairs to a courtyard mezzanine, and more doors of demurely clouded glass, a bicycle hung upright, a rainbowed parasol furled against an unlit grill. The door at the end, opening slowly as she approaches, has the numerals 201 set in the brick beside it. The woman stood there wears a blackly simple maillot, trimmed in lurid pink, her dark hair pixie-cut. “Starling?” says Ettie. “I would’ve called,” but the woman’s turning away. “Can I come in?”

Past an unused coat closet an emptily spotless kitchen, bamboo and stainless steel. A sturdy pole’s been bolted floor to the low ceiling’s edge. Ettie steps around it into an open space that leaps two storeys up or more, the front wall unbroken glass that looks out over the street below. In the sunlight a couple of sleekly angular chairs, and sat to the left a thick-set woman in a white lab coat, black leather satchel on the floor by her sensible shoes, and to the right a young man, shirtsleeves gartered, scissors and thread-hanks and papers of pins tucked in the bib of his leather apron. A beat thumps quietly somewhere, and an airy drone of pipes, a crooning monotone, these are your broken arms, all a the legs a Irish kings, these three sad things. “Starling?” says Ettie.

Smack and squeak of skin on steel the woman in the maillot’s grabbed the pole and leaning away spins about it, follow me now, this is me and the dead boy talking, twisting and dip and smile, this is me when I’m ten. When she comes back around her hair is blond and severely straight, this is me lying in bed when I’m old, mountainous veins in my hands, bracing she hoists herself upside-down to clamp her thighs about the pole, give me an inch and I’ll go for your throat, Ettie’s looking from pole to chairs and back again, “Hello? Starling?” Up the wall to the left a minimalist flight of steps, concrete planks bannistered by slender cable, leads back up to a bedroom lofted over the kitchen. “Hello?”

The woman in the lab coat turns over an empty hand. The front of the young man’s apron’s dusted with powdery ash, a torn plastic baggie crumpled on his knee. The woman in the maillot’s upright again, curling an arm, legs more tightly gripping the pole, leaning back and back, free arm swooped offhandedly to slow her spin, lowering the yellow flag of her hair to the floor. “I need to speak with you,” says Ettie, looking up, pitching her voice up and out. “It’s about my sister.” The music’s come to an end. “I know,” says Ettie, “you’ve seen her, with Ysabel. I know you can get to Ysabel.” The woman in the maillot’s pulled herself back upright and in, spinning faster now and faster, scraping thump the trembling pole. The man in the apron leans forward in his chair. The woman in the lab coat’s looking out the window. Faster, as Ettie takes a step away from the stairs, toward the pole, faster clang and squeak a clap of closing air the woman’s gone, pole still thrumming in her wake. Something clack a bounce across the kitchen floor, a bit of bone, and Ettie shrieks. The man and the woman still in their chairs, and her eyes are closed, his cheeks wet.

“Oh my God!” cries Ettie, climbing the steps too quickly, stopping halfway up, “my God, if you just, if that,” starting up again, toward the bedroom loft, “Starling? Starling!”

Sitting up amidst a bewildering tangle of color and pattern the Starling lifts a corner of satiny pink to her shoulder, across her breast. “Leave,” she says.

“Oh,” says Ettie, a hand, both hands to her mouth. “Oh, what has she done to you.”

“Done?” the Starling growls. “What has she done? Withdrawn her favor. From us all.” Leaning forward on the bed, “You would go to her? Foolish mortal. Your sister,” reaching down to snatch up a blue-black garment, a bulky hoodie, “has been let go, as have we all. She is free, or lost, and gone,” pulling it over herself, settling the hood over short black silver-shot hair, “so go. Leave me to myself.”

“No,” says Ettie, stood there, unmoved. “No.” Lifting a hand, an offer, a welcome, a request. “There’s, some people you should maybe talk to,” she says, quietly, but firm. “Come on. I can take you to them.”

Stumbling over meandering stones, “Hey!” he’s frogmarched across a scrap of yard, “Not so rough!” up to a yellow door, of a house much like the others on this side of the street. The Chariot Iona, hands on his shoulder, his belt, hauls him up onto the threshold, his dark hood falling back from an upthrust shock dyed orange-pink. Shuff of slipper, click of heel they follow, Ysabel a briefly loose chemise of white, laced and hemmed with pale gold ribbons, and Chrissie all in black for dancing, reaching to catch a hand, tug Ysabel to a stop, there before the house. “What are we doing here?” she murmurs. “What’s going on?”

Ysabel smiles as if to reassure, steps close, a hand to Chrissie’s chin. “When I find out,” she says, “I’ll put a stop to it.” Chrissie looks away. Ysabel presses her kiss to a cheek. Parked along the curb across the narrow street a couple of SUVs in black and stern brick red, a silvery grey roadster, a blocky hybrid blue and white, and the high stone wall rising, and tangled thickets and trees, half-glimpsed gardens that climb the slope above.

“Ma’am,” says Iona, a meaningful hitch her her hands occupied by his shoulder and hip, and a pointed glance at the door. “Of course,” says Ysabel, stepping onto the threshold, but before she can reach for the knob it’s swung open, “Majesties!” cries the woman stepping out, into morning light that sets off in the purple of her gown a seemly riot of yellows, greens, reds and sheening blue, dazzles the silver thread picked through the black scarf binding her hair. “You’ve come with the sun, to resolve a most uncertain night.”

“Yeah,” says the man in the hoodie. “About that.” Wincing as Iona shakes him, once. “Highness,” says Ysabel, and a gesture within, “if we might?”

The woman all in purple steps back, door held open, but her smile has faltered to a frown. “Ma’am?” she says. “My lord? Lymond? Is something here amiss?”

“My, sister,” says the man, “is,” with a jerk to free himself from Iona’s clutch, “understandably!” brushing, resettling his hoodie, “overreacting, perhaps, a tad, to the, uncertain, uh, nature, of what’s, occurred,” trailing off as the woman in purple with a rustling drag steps close, looks up, into his blue, blue eyes. “My lord,” she says. “What is it you call me?”

“I, what?” He blinks. “Call you?”

“When we speak together, lord. After court, or over breakfast.”

“We, ah,” another blink, and again. “You, and I.”

“You did send for me, sir, from the Court of Engines, did you not? Surely you have not forgot my name.”

He looks away, and something comes over his face, those eyes, his mouth cast slyly wry.

“Âna Annisa hight,” she says, and offers him her hand, “Ray,” he says, and takes it with a shrug.

“A pleasure to meet you, sir. What has become of your brother?” she says, to Ysabel, who looks down, to Chrissie’s hand in hers. “We do not know,” she says. Looking up. “We begin to think he doesn’t, either.”

“Actually,” he says, but she’s kept on, “His majesty left to meet our Gallowglas last night, who was, distraught.” Letting go of Chrissie’s hand. “Now she is gone, and he is gone, and this,” a sidelong look, “is all that’s left. We mean to bring him within, and examine him closely, to learn what we might before this news might spread.”

“Ah, lady,” says Annisa, suddenly grave. “If such was your design, I fear you’ve come too late.”

Past her, down the hall its gleaming floor opening out into the wide room under the great curving wall of glass, the hush of conversations held in abeyance, and the Gladius, the Byrne and the Oubliette, the Sovnya, chin tucked behind a shining silver bevor, the Fauchard, the Pilot, all craning to peer back up the hall, and the Gaffer in his pea coat, clay jug in his hands, the Mooncalfe barefoot, holding a green plastic bottle, and the Mason all in brown, and a simple silver thermos, and taking one hesitant step into the hall, the Guisarme Welund in his linen suit, his yellow tie.

“They’ve come in fits and starts throughout the night,” says Annisa, “since that uncanny thunderclap.”

“If so,” says Ysabel, “so be it,” and she strides toward them all. “We’ve enough for a quorum. Come! Bring him, before my council!”

“It’s,” he says, waving his hands up above that shock of orange hair, “it’s, it’s either day or, or it’s night, or,” dark hood lowered, a cowl about his shoulders, “and when it’s night? There’s snow, feet of snow, snow like maybe back in Paul Bunyan’s day or something, I don’t know, but, when the sun comes up? It all, it melts. And there’s, the water, then, it’s like, a hundred feet deep? I don’t know. Five, six storeys downtown, whatever that is. And the days, the days last for, like, weeks, months, I don’t know. Not like I have a watch,” pushing back a cuff to show his naked wrist. “Not like it would do any good. And there isn’t a cloud in the sky, but until the sun finally, finally starts going down, and then it gets cold. Fast. Everything freezes. And it starts to snow.” Sitting back in his chair at the head of the table. Behind him, past the credenza laden with cold silver chafing dishes, the vertiginous drop, the dark trees, the rooftops gauzed in mists steamed away by the rising sun. “Anyway. That’s where I was, when I was him. So I figure, now I’m me again? He must be there.”

“And, forgive me: you are?” says Welund, sat to his right.

“Ray,” says Ysabel, stood to his left, leaned against the back of a chair.

“Yeah,” he says, leaned forward, and the heels of his hands against his eyes. Pushing back his shock of hair, “I’m on the ragged edge, here. Can I get something to drink? Some juice? Water?”

“How do we get there?” says the Gaffer, hunched over in his burly pea coat, “Or, I suppose, how does he come back?” and the Mooncalfe snorts. “You think he means to come back,” she says, beads clacking as she sagely shakes her head.

“Tell us,” says Ysabel, leaned over her chair-back, “who else was in the room, when you became you again.”

“I,” says Ray, and a sigh. “Like I told you,” he says. “The big guy, the one with the mustache. Whatsisname, was at the church that time.”

“The Anvil Pyrocles,” says the Mason, halfway down the table to the right.

“The Anvil. And that other guy, who was also at the church, laid out asleep on the floor. And, and it was, like, the saddest, the most terrible thing in the world, that he was,” a shrug, “asleep,” he says, looking up to Ysabel. “She wasn’t there,” he says. She looks way, to the Mason, who’s looking at the thermos set before him. “I haven’t seen her,” a breath, sucked in, “since the last time I was me.”

“My lady, we’ve gotten all we might, I fear,” says Welund, spreading his hands, “for now; for now, my lady, we must discuss what we’ll do next.”

“Time enough, yet, for that,” she says.

“Lady,” says Welund, gently. “Every ounce and drop of due respect, and more besides, but: your people need you, now.”

“Is that so,” she says. The table quiet a moment, the air quite breathless. Morning rises through the trees below. “Seriously,” says Ray, “a glass of water,” but Welund says, “My lady, you must know it is.”

“What my people need, Glaive Welund,” and she reaches for the jug there by the Gaffer’s elbow, and reflexively he lifts a hand, then draws back, sits back, chagrined, “is the owr,” she says, “that I provide.” Lifting the jug. “We may speak freely, here.” Setting it down, in the middle of the table, before them all.

“If you were to turn even a thimbleful, ma’am,” says Welund, the timbre of his words dropped, clipped, “it would tell us much, of what we face.”

“It would tell you whether I might yet make more,” she says. “We’ve not forgotten how my, how our mother was treated.” He pushes back his chair at that, gets half up out of it, “My lady!” caught in that moment, not sitting, not standing, a hand on the arm of his chair. “No one doubts your fecundity,” he says, pushing himself upright.

“She does,” says the Mooncalfe. Between her hands a squat plastic bottle, the label of it peeled away in strips that litter the table before her. “It’s why she’s so keen on her Gallowglas.” Looking up, to meet Ysabel’s green gaze. “You need your crutch,” she says.

“I need,” says Ysabel, cold and terrible, but then she closes her eyes, swallows, with a small tight smile. “We understand your office must be filled,” she says, to the Mooncalfe, “but must you fill it with such zeal?”

“If it’s amanuensis you require,” says Welund, “what on earth’s the matter with the blonde, upstairs?” Sitting him back down. “Why else bring her?”

“Accept, Glaive Welund, that there is much about which you know little enough, and that about which you know nothing at all.” Pulling out her chair, she sits, and winds up a trailing ribbon in her lap. “Today,” she says, looking up, “you find yourselves without a King, and a Huntsman. I have lost a brother, and my most beloved friend.”

The Gaffer leans close. “We do have you, ma’am,” he says.

“So, are we,” says Ray, “are we done?”

“No,” says Ysabel. “You saw something. You heard something. You know something, whether you know it or not. Something that might help. When you, when you became yourself again, and opened your eyes,” she shakes her head. “Before that. The moment before you came back. What’s the last thing you remember? I must know!” she cries. “If they’ve gone there, I must know. Was it hot? When you left? Cold? Day? Or night?”

“It, it doesn’t work like that,” he says, “and anyway,” he points down the table, finger crooked up, “I think she’s trying to get your attention?”

At the back end of the porch Iona’s stooped, halfway down the stairs, beckoning awkwardly, “Ma’am?” coming down a few steps more, straightening as she does. “Your pardon, ladies, lords: the Pinabel has come.”

“Southwest, at last,” says Welund. “Tell us, Chariot: has the Viscount come himself, or is it but another ambassadour with a bucket?” The Mooncalfe rolls her ostentatious eyes at that, and the Mason shakes his head.

“Neither, sir,” she says. “It is my lord the Count.”

“Oh,” says Welund, after a moment.

Up the stairs, out into the wide room under the great wall of glass, the Glaive, the Gaffer, the Mason, the Mooncalfe, and Ysabel behind them, paused on the top step as a voice floats to the top of the murmurous clamor, “poached in virgin olive oil, and grits simmered in cream.” She closes her eyes. “A salsa verde, perhaps,” that voice continues, “chopped herbs, and just enough oil to loosen them.” She sets off toward the armchair there, the little table by it, and Chrissie sat back against the arm of it, ankles crossed, phone in her hand. “Peppers and garlic, a bit of sugar, added to fermented fish sauce,” and Ysabel leans close to her, “You mustn’t sit on the throne,” she says, quietly, a hand on Chrissie’s elbow.

“How long’s this gonna take?” says Chrissie, getting to her feet. “He’s making me hungry.”

“Take yourself downstairs, to the porch,” says Ysabel, as quietly as before. “Go, now. Iona is below, you’ll be quite safe. Don’t worry,” and her fingers to her chin, but Chrissie steps back, “I wasn’t,” she says, “but I am, now.”

“It will all be over soon enough. And then you’ll eat.” A gentle push, to send her along, and Ysabel watches as Chrissie, haltingly, crosses the room between and among them chuckling and murmuring to stand a moment silhouetted by the climbing sun at the top of the stairs, and only when she starts down does Ysabel look to Agravante, suited in pale blue, and the other beside him, in navy. “Majesty,” that voice, “forgive us,” that pink-cheeked smile, that wild crown of ivory hair. “I was regaling the court with a hypothetical breakfast,” those round pink hands are neatly folded before that firm round belly. “To, maybe, restore us all, so we can work out what’s been done, and what we have to do.”

“We offer our condolences,” says Ysabel, to Agravante, “on the loss of your grandfather.”

“Loss?” says Agravante, and a cough, a swallow, “majesty, what, what an odd thing to say, when he stands awake before you, for the first time in months.”

“Does he?” She steps close, a hand up, against the light. “The face,” she says, “the face works. The hair is quite good. But the voice?” She shakes her head. “You’d have a sauce of fish, at our table?”

“Fish?” says the other, and then, “oh, the sauce: fish blood’s hardly blood, girl. It’s garos. Kê-chiap.” A sweep of one of those hands. “A palate expands, with age. What else is it for?”

“Do you hear?” she says, to Agravante. “It’s off. All,” stepping back, “just a bit, off,” and then, “some of you! Attend: we’d have this juggler removed.” Looking to them all, arrayed about that wide room, stiffly still, and silent. “He thinks he’s being wicked, but he’s actually quite dull. And small.”

“I know not what you mean,” says Agravante, and “We mean for him to go,” she says. “You might stay, if you wished.”

“It’s sadly clear,” says the other. “Her majesty’s been rattled by the ruptures of the day. The failure of the, the owr, the loss of the King – tremendous blows. Take a moment, child, and come back to yourself. Look at me.” Those pink hands pressed to a white-clothed breast. “You know me. You know who I am.”

“A princess,” she says, “might familiarly be a child, but a queen? A queen is never familiar. He knew that.” Stepping close again. “Of course I know you. I couldn’t say your name – I might’ve head it once, in passing, perhaps? I never bothered to learn it.” Close enough to loom, stooping, hands on her knees, and his pink cheeks splotched with red as he looks up to meet her cold green eyes. “But had you truly thought,” she says, “I could ever forget your stench?”

A roar swells up that’s swallowed, with a grunt. For an instant shadows seem to shiver from that squat form, lightless motes that leap and spin and dissipate, a glowering haze that’s gone even as it appears. “Lady!” cries Welund somewhere off behind her, but the other’s speaking words that grate as they’re pushed between those lips, “You will not speak to me in such a fashion,” but a crack of laughter, there’s the Mooncalfe dancing up, blade in either hand, tip of one of them chivvying, urging Agravante back, “how dare you,” and her second blade swung up to cross the both of them now a scissors parted for the other’s throat. “There’s no gallowglas about,” she says, “but I’m willing to work around that.”

“Fauchard!” cries Ysabel. “Gladius! Byrne! Shall Northeast’s ambassadour seize all the glory?”

Thump of boot, chime of mail, they step up, and sunlight brazing blade-edge and spear-tip.

“Sheep!” bellows the other, hastened back up the hall with Agravante, and Ysabel striding in their wake, the Mason racing ahead to the door, and the rest of them clank and rattle a thicket of pole-arm and spear-haft behind her. “Sheep, the lot of you! You don’t have the stones to leap after a new shepherd!” Shadows spill over the other’s face, his white shirt as the Mason opens the door, and sunlight sluices down the hall. “I look forward to the day you come to rue this moment, O Queen! Pray you do not fail your flock. Pray you do not falter any single step!”

“You have a choice,” she says, to Agravante. “You may stay, or you may go.”

“Lady,” he says, blinking in the sunlight, “please. Let us work together, to,” but she nods, and the Mason shuts the door between them.


Table of Contents


“Good lord” – the Water’s depth – the Offer on the table – to Have or to Eat – “Everyone is welcome!” –

“Good lord,” says Arnold Becker in that brightly empty room, and only a white leather couch on the white shag, before a sweep of window.

“Yes,” says the Anvil Pyrocles, there by the bare kitchen island.

“You, I, I mean, we?” says Becker, “Live? Here?” Pointing, to the unlit hallway on the other side of the island. “There’s more?”

“Two bedrooms,” says Pyrocles, and then, “I might move my things to the other, if that would,” but Becker’s already heading off, past the island, and Pyrocles follows with a sigh. The cabinet under the sink stands open, and nothing within but a spray-bottle of some cleaning solution.

The narrow hall jogs back past a couple of closed doors to open on another room filled with morning light, a round bed strictly made, crisp linens striped with indigo, and three men, one of them in a simple black suit, and a slender, older man in a chef’s coat, and the third of them seated on the foot of the bed, clean workboots and yellow coveralls unzipped, empty sleeves wound about his waist, head hung low, his shoulders broad, sun-ruddied. “Oh,” says Becker, in his berry-colored plaid.

“This is the room we share,” says Pyrocles. Slipping off his blue suit coat he holds it out, to the man in black. “Though I’d happily sleep in the other, love, if you would be more comfortable.”

Becker says, “But,” in a far-away voice, “this isn’t my room,” and then, louder and more close, “my place – ” He starts off around the bed. The man at the foot of it looks imploringly up to Pyrocles. Somewhere out in the main room a harsh buzz. “How did you know?” says Becker.

“Know what, my love?”

“How did you know?” Becker turns, holding up a book, Parents to Partners, says the cover, in brightly colored letters. Building a Family-Centered Early Childhood Program. “That this, that, if I ever quit my crummy-ass job, that maybe I could,” lowering the book. Setting it back on the nightstand with the others.

“It makes you happy,” says Pyrocles. “And you are so very good with the children.” Something out there buzzes again. The man in the chef’s coat shakes his head, folds his arms. Becker’s pulled a phone from his pocket and hesitantly, tentatively sets it on the charging stand by the books. Starting when it snaps perfectly into place. The screen flashes to life, a snapshot of Becker and Pyrocles side by side in a red leather booth, 09:13, the floating numerals, Sat, April 21.

“Five months,” says Becker, dulled.

“Anvil!” a bellow from the other room. “Present yourself!”

Out in the kitchen Agravante’s by the island, ring of keys in one hand, and his countenance is stern, but Pyrocles looks past him to the two men on the white carpet, the Serpent slender in a suit of blue-black denim, the other in navy, a hand on the Serpent’s hip, and sunlight in the crown of ivory hair. “Your grace,” says Pyrocles with quiet wonder. “I had not looked to see you up and about.”

“It was just a nap,” says the other, with an indulgent smile. “You all make out like I’m back from the dead.”

“You are such a welcome sight, lord,” says Pyrocles. “It almost undoes the misery of the morning. Excellency,” he turns to Agravante, “of course I stand ready, for whatever is required. I ask only that I might – ”

“Ask?” snaps Agravante. “What would you ask, when your King’s gone missing, your Queen’s gone mad, the very spark of us wasted away to ash and you, sir knight, would ask – what? What is it you ask?”

Pyrocles somberly expressionless, the shirt of him strained by the breadth of his shoulders, his strong neck. Silvery close-shorn stubble, his long grey mustaches, and those pewter beads can’t quite catch the light in this dim kitchen. “Her majesty, my lord?” he says.

“Mad as a goddamn hatter,” says the other. “High on her own supply, spouting the most fantastically paranoid bullshit – she had the gall to throw the two of us out on our ears!” The Serpent shakes his head, appalled. “And the court! Indulging her delusions, encouraging them, toward some,” letting go the Serpent’s hip, those pink hands reaching, “ill-gotten gain, in uncertain times. We must save her from herself, and them. We need men, and quickly.”

“Even with our full thirteen, it’s us against a city,” says Agravante. “I mislike the odds.”

“Not the entire city,” scoffs the other. “We don’t need an army. Just enough to handle a handful. More than us two, anyway, and these fine two – you got anyone else stashed away in this tower?”

“What of the Lake Barons?” says the Serpent, a squeak in his voice.

“No,” says Agravante, flatly, but “What about them?” says the other. “Go on.”

“Forgive me, excellency, your grace,” says the Serpent. “But they’re much vexed, over the murther of Medardus, at the hands of Southeast’s hounds. We might, help each other? Press us each our suits?”

“My lord,” says Pyrocles to Agravante, but the other slaps the island countertop, “Ha! I love it! Roll up with the suburbs behind us, go in hard and fast before they know what’s hit ’em, and we take her!”

“My lord!” says Pyrocles, and the other’s antic grin unspreads, tempers itself, “All right, fine, we secure her person, let’s say. How’s that?” Clapping Pyrocles’ shoulder. “Man up, sir knight. There’s work to be done!”

“Pyrocles?” A small voice, off to one side, the dim hallway, Becker, and Pyrocles’ blue suit coat in his hands. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Shortly,” says Agravante, gruffly solicitous, “and not for long. Serpent,” he says, heading toward Becker, “take his grace down to the car. We’ll follow after,” reaching out to take the coat from Becker, “I wish to help the Anvil see that his companion’s cared for.”

“Don’t dawdle,” says the other.

“My lord,” says Pyrocles, when the door has closed. “If any one of them were to discover – ”

“How, discover?” says Agravante. “Discover what?” Turning from Becker, holding the coat out to Pyrocles. “There’s nothing to discover. But still: I think you begin to see how deep the water is, in which we swim.”

Tension holds it, gravid, vaguely sinking, a slick-sealed bolus whitely gold that slowly rolling stretches from curl of dimple down and down, this cyclopean teardrop hung a-float between folded knees, threads caught in languid ripples, swirls unskeining tugging spinning till with a soundless gasp it implodes, swell of it drifting from itself, a creamy cloud thinning to milk in dissipating swirls, a haze that licking gilds her thigh, her belly where the bathwater laps, her elbow and her shin.

“That it?” says Chrissie, crouched on the bathmat by the tub, holding out over the water a plastic bottle empty but for one last clinging drop. Ysabel’s fingers stir the lazily vanished opalescence. “I mean,” says Chrissie, “do I wait? Should I pour some more?” By her feet a thermos, a small clay jug, a pyrex bowl, the bottom of it coated with a viscous milky film, just touched with gold. “I, I don’t know.” Setting the bottle down on the mat. “What I’m doing, here. Ysabel?”

“It will not turn,” murmurs Ysabel.

Up she pushes, water a-slosh, and out she dripping climbs, heedless of Chrissie fallen back on her hands. Across to a counter, the mirror above it, swiping aside her reflection to paw at the medicine cabinet clatter and crash, combs falling, a shaving brush tumbling into the sink, a jar of something purple smashing to the floor. “Ysabel?” says Chrissie, shivering, looking to the scatter of black clothing by the toilet, the white chemise draped over the seat of it. “Can we, can I go?” Ysabel’s found a safety razor. Chrissie snags with a toe a bit of black lace, drags it across the floor, slips it on to pull it up, standing to “Jesus Christ!” see Ysabel slash her palm with the loosened blade and watch, impassively, as the wicked yellow-edged cut oozes not-quite gold.

“I almost thought I’d see red blood,” she says.

Chrissie steps back, knocking the pyrex bowl aside with a ringing slop, “What,” she bumps into the towel rack, “what is that?”

“Chrissie, Christienne, O Sœur Limoges,” stepping close, “you know what I am. You know who I am,” that hand held up between them, and Chrissie shrinking away, “I am the Queen of Heaven, the tear the Sun let fall, and I put the Moon to shame. I am the lure from paradise. I am a wonder, among flowers,” the litany a murmur, and Chrissie squeezes shut her eyes. “I have been in the Llyn, and in Cær Vivien, I have mounted the bridge over the Somme, and lain where warriors fell,” and Chrissie violently starts as that hand’s laid sticky against her cheek, and the milky runnel drips to her breast, her belly. “Roses grow where I set my feet, and a diadem of unworked gold is fitted to my brow, and in my merest spittle,” pressed close, nose by nose, lip to lip, “have you tasted cloud-spun honey,” and a kiss, and Chrissie groans. “Tell me, then,” says Ysabel, a whisper, “sweet mortal, oh my pretty dancing girl,” another long abandoned kiss, broken when Chrissie twists her mouth away to lick at, slurp that wrist, the palm, “tell me,” says Ysabel wincing, “while I yet have this mean power left to me, answer me this: do you, Christina Halliwell, do you,” and again a kiss, “love,” and a kiss, but then a hitch in her breath. Ysabel opens her eyes. Pulls back just enough to see Chrissie against the papered wall, wrists pinned up above her head, eyes closed, lips parted, searching, glisteningly smeared.

Ysabel lets go, steps back. Chrissie lowers her hands. Wipes her mouth. “What just – ”

“Go,” says Ysabel.

“But you’re hurt.” She tries to clasp that shining hand, but Ysabel twists away, “Go,” she says. Chrissie reaches after, catches her wrist, “You need help,” and the sharp pop of a slap, her head rocked. “From you?” says Ysabel, free hand held up, ready. “You tried. You failed. Now go.”

Chrissie blinking rapidly looks down, then kneels, to begin to gather the rest of her clothing.

By the door she stops, looks back, black halter about her neck, tights over an arm, shoes in her hand, and her phone. “So, I mean, uh,” she says. “What do I tell them? I mean, they’re gonna want to know what, what happened?”

The one hand cradled in the other Ysabel takes a deep breath, wavering with the effort of it. “Whatever you like,” she says.

“Quite mad,” says the other, leaned back before the crowded table that nearly fills this cramped room, and shelves to one side stacked with industrial-sized cans of food, Mutti Polpa, say the brightly colored labels, Jay Brand Sliced in Syrup, Swati Green Chili, Freshly Canned. A huddle of yellowed aprons hung in the corner there. “She insists I am not myself, which is absurd: who else could I be?” A downward twist of those lips, an upward eye-rounding cast of brow, a shoulder lifted, a shrug for them all, Agravante and Pyrocles, Serpent and Glaive, Coltello, the Baron Alphons red-faced, black band about one sleeve, and the Earl Alans his eyes alight, reaching for a basket of naan, stone-faced Baron Euric in a vest of green and yellow fleece, and at either corner of the head of the table, short Sigrid in a tight black dress, and the Baroness Clothilde, tall, her leather jacket black. The other leans forward, jostling a dish of rich red chutney, “I don’t mean to make light of this state of affairs. It is distressing. But it could be managed – if it wasn’t for certain opportunistic parties.”

“Rabbits,” says Euric, gruffly, and “The Marquess Helm,” says Alphons. “That Gallowglas,” says Sigrid, arms folded, and Clothilde’s hand upon her elbow. “What?” says Alans, chewing.

Pyrocles says, “My ladies, we do not know of Southeast’s involvement.”

“Nonetheless,” says Agravante, “is she with us, here?” Ignoring Pyrocles’ sudden look.

“If she were,” says Clothilde, “we’d have words.” Sigrid nods. Alphons shakes his head. “I gotta say,” he says, “I don’t see the part we play in this mishegoss. She’s not our Queen.”

“She is, she was, she will be again,” growls the other, waving a hand, but looks are exchanged. “You mean to reopen discussions of Apportionment?” says Sigrid. Alans, reaching for the chutney, says “Oh, not that.”

“Your grace,” says the Glaive, his tin plate empty, but the other swivels about, “Crisis?” glaring at each in turn, “Opportunity. Opportunity? Advancement.” Sitting back. The wall behind covered with posters of richly colored doe-eyed figures drawing swords, bows, holding court, smiling beatifically beneath prismatic sprays. “Do I have to spell it out for you.”

“Wouldn’t hurt,” says Alphons. “If the basic terms haven’t changed, then I think,” looking about, “I can speak for us all when I say: neither has our answer.”

“The rent,” says Euric. “Too damn high,” and Alans says, “We settled this.”

“My lord,” says the Glaive, “if we might focus,” but Sigrid at the head of the table says, “Actually, there is something – ”

“Enough,” snarls the other, and then, in the silence that follows, “Help us; get thanked. That’s the offer on the table. Take it or leave it but do it now, for God’s sake.”

“My lord,” says Pyrocles, quietly, and with some concern.

“Thanked,” says Alans, with elaborate distaste. “How, exactly?” says Alphons.

“In a manner commensurate with your efforts,” says the other, but Euric’s shaking his head, “Terms,” he says. “Conditions. Details,” and “I don’t even unbutton my cuffs without a pre-nup,” says Alphons. “Pay as we go,” says Alans, reaching for the curry. “It works. It’s been working. Why talk about anything else?”

“As my cousin was about to say,” says Clothilde, but plates and glassware ring as the other slams a hand on the table, “This is so desperately simple, people!”

“Perhaps, your grace,” says the Glaive, “if we were to hear them out? Just for the moment? It might possibly speed things along,” and the other waves a dismissive hand, all right.

“Your grace is too kind,” says Clothilde.

“Before we take up new terms,” says Sigrid, “we ought confirm arrangements already made,” but Alphons shakes his head, and Euric grunts, and Alans groans, “Why? We’re good!”

“That arrangement was never arranged,” says Aphons.

“Our offer was accepted,” says Sigrid.

“Unlike yours,” says Clothilde, to Alphons, “or yours,” to Alans, “and yours,” to Euric, “was burnt to ash and ground underfoot.”

“Your Grandfather Baron’s offer,” says Euric, as Agravante’s fist clenches by his plate, “but he’s no longer here. Nor the King, apparently.”

“Yet here we sit,” says Sigrid, “idly to determine the fate of one Queen, and one court. Why not another?”

“Oh!” cries Alans. “Oh, I get it!” but then his look of triumph crumbles. “Wait, you can’t do that. Who’d take her hand? You?” to Clothilde. “It isn’t fair.” Folding his arms. “We have to start over.”

“Much as it pains me to admit,” says the other, “I’ve got no idea what we’re talking about. Another Queen?”

It’s the Glaive who leans forward, looking up the crowded table to him. “Annisa, my lord. Late of the Court of Engines.”

“We met her this morning, at court,” says Agravante.

“I’ve been asleep half the year,” growls the other. “I didn’t know half the people in that damn house.”

“She was sent for, and paid for, at your suggestion, Grandfather,” says Agravante.

“A possible new Bride, my lord,” says the Glaive. “Should the Perry line have proved played out.”

“But it didn’t,” says the other, scowling thoughtfully. “Maybe. So. You might maybe have a spare?” Pyrocles closes his eyes at that. Euric blinks, once. Sigrid shivers and the other looks up and around at them all. “Her brother meant to set himself up as High King, didn’t he,” and then, “my memory is addled,” he growls. “Not my wits.”

“He meant, good sir,” says Alphons, “to endow a second court, here over the hills.”

“A grateful court,” says the other, and Euric snorts.

“Why should we not have a High King?” says Sigrid. “Or Queen,” says Clothilde. “Roses are as worthy as Apples,” says Alans, “or as the Wind, or Gold, Angels – ”

“One thing at a time,” says the other, loudly, standing with the scrape of a chair. “First, we secure the Queen, and this new Bride. Then maybe we see what it takes to restore the,” a wave of one pink hand, “stuff, and when we know what it is that we’ve got, then we sort out who gets which part,” squeezing between chairs and wall toward the door, “but. Make no mistake, gentlemen, ladies,” looking about at them all, “whoever’s in the room when we do that? Is who has a say in how we divide and decide. So talk it out,” rounding the corner, there at the head of the table, “come to whatever arrangements,” a hand on the back of Clothilde’s chair, “we roll in an hour. High noon. I’m just gonna get me some air.”

Out in a narrow hall, door closing click behind, to the left a sparsely peopled dining room, front windows brimming with golden light that gleams the table-tops. To the right an abrupt little kitchen, three men in stained white aprons busy at a stove there, ladling green curry into a dish, scooping spices orange and clayey yellow into dented bowls. The other steps close to the stove, sniffing what simmers in a tall pot, “Hey!” yells the man with the ladle, “vamos! Sal de,” faltering as the other reaches into the pot, wincelessly stirring the thickly orange sauce with pink fingers, dredging up a morsel of something, chicken, popped between pink lips. “Pretty good,” chewing, swallowing, then, with a groan, “I swear to God, if I have to choke down another fucking lump of tofu,” and a shake of that white-crowned head. “Habla Inglés? Anybody?” Licking those fingers clean, and the three of them speechlessly staring. “Enough to get by?” And then, leaning conspiratorially in, “I want to rip their fucking throats out.” Nods, straightens, adjusting the knot of that narrow black tie. “I mean, it’d be like candy floss compared to the real thing, but they will not stop talking, you know? But,” folding those hands before a wolfish grin, “patience has its rewards. I have been turning it over in my head since I woke up, spinning it around: should I have my cake? Or should I eat it?” Those folded hands tip to one side, then the other, “have it, eat it, have it, eat it, what do they go and do?” The hands spread, the grin opens in delight, “Here, Mr. Lier, we’ll give you two pieces of cake!” and a giggle, “Two!” They look to each other. The curry bubbles. The other reaches in for another piece of chicken. “This, this is good. Burn sneaks up on you. God damn, I needed this. So thank you. Thanks.”

“Madre de dios,” says the one of them by the little bowls of spices, when the other’s left. “Qué gilipollas.”

A half-dozen long flat cardboard boxes stacked on the floor, and they stand about, a half-dozen or so, coveralls and tool belts, dungarees, workshirts buttoned to the throat, and Gloria Monday in her laddered tights, squatted by the boxes, slitting packing tape with a butter knife. SVÄRTA, say the simple blocky letters printed at one end. “You don’t need all that,” she’s saying, wrenching the lid of the box up, slicing a last lingering strip of tape, “it’s all, it’s ready to go, you just,” chiming clunk and a rip, she’s prying open a smaller cardboard box tucked within, “put it together, there’s instructions, and all you need is,” holding up a little plastic baggie, and inside bolts and nuts and a couple of Allen wrenches. “And maybe a screwdriver? Phillips head, I think,” getting to her feet. Knuckle of Tit says the handwritten scrawl on her oversized T-shirt. “Okay? So we’re staging the mattresses downstairs when they get here, and the bedding, so, get the frames assembled, and, we’ll start to put it all together!” She tosses the baggie to the woman across from her, who startled catches it, safety glasses pushed up atop her curled black hair. “Maybe, scrape the paint off the windows, too?” says Gloria, headed for the door there, the hall without. “Let a little light in? Get it all, get it looking nice?”

“I hope you know this is a waste of time and money,” says Anna low and close as they head down the hall, her shoes sensible, her skirt windowpane, a yellow scarf about her throat, but “I don’t wanna hear it,” says Gloria, headed past the freshly painted wall a zig-zag of rainbowed angles down a short flight of steps.

“They can sleep,” says Anna, hushed but forcefully, “anywhere,” leaned out over the balustrade.

“That so,” says Gloria Monday, on the landing below.

“A cabinet, a drawer,” Anna coming down the steps toward her, “a box or a crate, any little corner.”

“You have a bed.”

Anna stops so suddenly she almost stumbles, clutching the bannister, “I,” she says, primly regaining her composure, “am not a domestic. Gloria,” her steps stately down to the landing, “I know you think you’re doing them a favor, but honestly. They won’t know what to make of it. It’s just not what they’re used to – a corner, tucked away, out of sight, as they should – ”

“Yeah?” says Gloria Monday, sharply. “And how’s that gonna work if all your magic’s gone?”

She heads down into a foyer crowded with people hauling limply heavy bundles, plastic-wrapped mattresses they stack below the stairs, “They’re early!” says Gloria. “That’s great, yeah, right there,” and then, calling back to Anna, trailing after, “thank God at least the bank still works?” as they pass under a long low arch, “And the internet, and trucks,” out into the cavernous warehouse brightly lit by racks of fluorescent bars, and sunlight streamed through windows high above, the stalls that march up the length of it, hung about with photographs and cartoon-bright paintings, folks in coveralls stood about a sculpture like a varicolored pile of pillows, and more, so many more milling among the long tables set up out on the open floor, laden with jugs of water, urns of coffee and hot water, plastic cups, torn-open boxes that spill forth packets of nuts and chips, raisins, popcorn, protein bars, and also platters of sandwiches, and mounds of paper napkins. “My God,” says Gloria Monday, half to herself, “they just keep coming, where are they coming from?” and Anna looks up and away with a sigh. Gloria in her T-shirt and tights steps into the thick of it, black locks shining loose, her short-trimmed bone-bleached bangs, waving on, urging on, calling out “yes” and “that’s it” and “go on, there’s plenty, and milk, too,” pointing out coolers on the floor there, small red-and-white cartons tucked in shoals of ice, “take what you want, that’s it, yes, go on! We’re working on it,” she says, to the older man wet-eyed beseeching, holding an empty plastic baggie out to her. “Honest,” she says. “Until we do, please. Feel free. You’re welcome, here.”

“Of course, ma’am,” he says, and a brief small smile to answer her wide bright grin, “You’re welcome,” she says, she cries out, “You’re all welcome! Everyone,” she says, turning about, moving on, “is welcome! You’re new.”

The woman before her, red Keds lolling unlaced about her feet, bare legs streaked with filth, yellow hair in tangles lank about her shoulders, pulls from a pocket of her pink and orange parka a crumped sheet of paper, goldenrod, something grimy’s stained a corner, and half the pull-tabs feathering the bottom torn and gone, but splashed across it black ink dancing calligraphic, a figure marked with one green dot of an eye. “Actually,” says Jessie Vitaly, “I think I’m late?” Looking away, over the heads of the crowd, to the stage at the other end of the warehouse, and the canvases displayed there. Over by the big overhead door half uplifted, Ettie holds a hand up against the sun’s glare, “Oh, who is that,” she says, peering across the crowd at the woman in the parka there by Gloria Monday.

“When we danced at Devil’s Point, her name was Rain,” says the Starling close behind her, hood up over her hair.

“Right!” says Ettie. “She left to work for Leo. Okay.”

“You danced at Devil’s Point?” says Anne Thorpe in her long black coat, a box-cutter in one hand, and a half-dozen undone plastic packing straps a-twitch in the other. “Wonders never cease.”

“She does know our lady,” says the Starling, and a nod at Jessie across the room, “but as for the rest, these urisks, clods and hobs?”

“Yeah, this is, this is new,” says Ettie, and then, with a sidelong look, “almost like something’s happened, yeah? Hang on,” turning away, digging a phone out of her back pocket, “oh my God,” she says, “oh my God,” swiping, whipping it up to her ear, “Chrissie? Chrissie, is that you?”

Petra B. slips through the crowd, past Anna, past the overloaded tables, and Gloria Monday taking Jessie’s hands, the last of the stalls there, hung with oblong abstracts steeped in rainy colors. Her T-shirt’s baggy, black, a bit of black lace tied about her throat, and a garbage bag, almost empty but heavily, tightly swaying, the excess plastic of it wound up in a sloppy knot clutched close as she heads from the tables toward the overhead door, the Starling pushing back her hood, looking down as Ettie steps away, “no, don’t go home,” she’s says into her phone, “call an Uber, I’ll tell you where, are you ready?” and Thorpe, waggling her handful of straps, wait, trying to take it all in, “Petra,” she calls, “hey, Petra,” but past them all to the skeletal staircase footsteps clanging up to the walkway, past the painted door to the ladder bolted to the wall feet and one hand leaping, catching, the other careful with that garbage bag, up and struggling up to the planks laid over joists a ceiling rough above her clung there, swaying the weighty bag back and forth to reach it up and over past the ceiling now a floor.

It’s dark, up under the rafters. Petra B. crawls up onto the planks, gets crouching to her feet, stooped under a dark and starless ceiling. Steps out onto the rugs laid before the futon there, against the far wall by a low shelf crammed with books. Sets the garbage bag down. “Marfisa?” she says.

The hunched and mounded quilt on the futon doesn’t stir.

“Marfisa,” says Petra, “I think, there’s something you should see.” Dragging the slithering weight of the bag closer over the rugs. “The first time? The first time, she gave me a kiss for a cup of coffee. I’ve told that story before. But the second time?” Sits tailor-fashion, on the rugs there by the bag. “She was lost, frightened, alone, she needed somewhere to go – ”

“She has never been alone,” the voice a grief-roughed growl.

Petra’s hands settle in the darkness on that garbage bag. “She needed somewhere she could go, so I took her back to my, well, the room I was renting, and we, I mean, I guess we, you know – ”

“You spread yourself beneath her devastating kiss, and licked in turn the dew from her thighs, and cooed and sighed together in exquisite agony,” Marfisa rolls over, sits up in the darkness. “You fucked, coffee-girl.”

“We made love,” says Petra B.

“You’re hardly unique among us in that regard.”

“Yeah, but, this?” undoing the knot in the neck of the bag. “This is what I wanted to show you. This is what happened.” Unwinding the plastic, spreading it open. “It’s still happening,” she says.

Light dapples up, a spill of softly golden morning reflected off calm water, and there’s Marfisa, white hair a cloud about her slackening face. Answering the dawn a pinprick of light struck from the ceiling, and another, cool dim stars of blue, and white, a dozen more, and more, and “Oh,” says Petra B. as red and orange and green now glimmer to life, and gold, so many gold, hundreds that suddenly wink out, snuffed by a crumple of plastic in Marfisa’s hand.

“This,” she says, in the darkness, “is from that night?”

“Yes,” says Petra B.

“And you’ve kept it, all this time? You brought it here?”

“What does it mean?” says Petra B.

“That there’s yet hope,” says Marfisa, quiet, calm, and sure. “Here,” she says, and hands the wadded neck of the bag back to Petra. “You kept the secret this long. Keep it an hour more, or two. I will return, or you will know for certain all is lost.”

In one swift motion she slips away, over the edge of the floor and down.


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a Knock – happening at Once –

A knock. “Majesty?” pitched to carry through the door. “I mean to come within.” Ysabel, sat naked on the closed lid of the toilet, looks up as the door opens, “You would dare,” she says, “come gowned and trammeled to my presence, here?”

“Your pardon, lady,” and a rush of taffeta underskirts as Annisa kneels on the bathmat, bowing her black-scarfed head. “Needs must. You’re required below.”

“Required,” says Ysabel.

Butterflies of silver thread sparkle through that scarf as Annisa looks up. “Requested,” she says. “I’d help my lady dress, if such were to be your wish.”

“And are you now my mistress of the robes, or of the stool?” says Ysabel, as Annisa plucks up a scrap of lace and satin. “I am my lady’s servant in all things,” she says, brushing one bare foot, and when Ysabel deigns to lift it, slipping the underwear on and up, hands brownly warm against cool olive shins. “Your point is made,” says Ysabel, getting to her feet, pulling the underwear up about her hips. “It’s him, isn’t it,” she says. “He’s come back.”

“Yes, ma’am,” says Annisa, fetching the chemise, trailing pale gold ribbons. “He waits without, in his car.”

“Persistent,” says Ysabel, pulling the chemise over her head.

“And is he really not the Pinabel?”

“He really isn’t,” says Ysabel, tugging and settling.

“And the King is not the King.” Annisa gets to her feet.

“And the medhu will not turn,” says Ysabel, “and the Court still has no Bride.” Looking to Annisa then, all in purple and black under the yellow light. “Yet you’re still here. Is that not strange?”

Annisa blinks slowly, once. “Do you mean to say that we are rivals, now?”

Ysabel laughs.

Downstairs a crowd fills the long hall, Sovnya and Fouchard, Chariot and Pilot, Gladius, Byne, Oubliette, hands filled with pole arms and with swords. “My lady!” they cry, as Ysabel appears, her briefly loose chemise trailing undone ribbons, “Majesty!” they cry, and “Hail! Hail, the Rose!” She lifts a hand. They fall silent. Annisa, rustling down the stairs behind her. “How many has he brought with him?” she says. A moment passes before the Chariot speaks up: “Three cars’ worth, ma’am. More than a dozen.”

“And what has become of our Mason?” she says, looking about. There’s the Gaffer, the pole in his hands topped by a heavy brass hook. “Left, ma’am,” says the Fauchard, her pike leaned against the padded shoulder of her maroon jacket. “To resume his search for the Gallowglas,” says the Guisarme, in his linen suit.

“And the Mooncalfe?”

“Gone, to bring word to the Helm, my lady,” says the Chariot.

“No one thought to lend her a phone?”

“My lady,” says the Guisarme, soothingly, stepping close, “it’s only a few Houndsmen, and some from the Lake, or over the hills. My brother Rhythidd is among them – let me go to him, and with him to the Count. I might yet speak a word in his ear, to cool the heads of those without, that – ”

“There’s to be no congress with the thing that calls itself our cousin,” she says, and he nods quickly, stepping back. “It is not the Hound Pinabel, restored to health; the Count is gone, eaten up by that – thing.” Shivering she folds her arms about herself. “It bedeviled us last year. Our sudden loss of, power, this morning, is, doubtless, due to its return. It means to extinguish us. Iona,” and the Chariot nods, “put out the call to our knights not here, the Patch, Escuchon, the Sequin and Seax, and have them come presently. Welund,” and the Guisarme looks up, “speak your word in the ears of the Helm and the Mason: have them come, in strength, as soon as they might. Gaffer Boggs,” and the Gaffer blinks, surprised, “if any others from the North might come, let it be now. Some of you, go: rouse the domestics, and set them at the windows, to keep watch – incredible as it may seem, our neighbors have been bewitched. Soon enough, that thing will goad them into striking this house, or it will strike, itself. So.” Looking up to meet the eyes of him, then her, “Hold,” now him, and him, “this,” she says, and looks back, over her shoulder, “door.” Turning to Annisa, holding out a hand, “Princess,” she says.

“But my lady,” says Annisa. “You are hurt.”

She’s looking, they’re all looking, at the glistening cut across Ysabel’s palm, edges of it puckered, scabbed with white.

“But a scratch,” says Ysabel, turning to offer her other hand. “Come.”

Out into that wide, now empty room, the two of them under the great glass wall, Ysabel staring up into the cloudless sky, and Annisa trailing after. “I reached out, I squashed it, with these fingers,” mutters Ysabel, curling shut her white-crusted hand. “Why did it not stay dead?”

A squeak, a shift, a shock of pink-orange, peering around the back of the armchair. “Just, ah, letting you know, you’re not alone in here.”

“Get,” snaps Ysabel, “up,” starting across the room. He shrinks back in the chair, hands up, “whoa, whoa,” says Ray, “hey, it’s the only place to sit!”

“It is the throne,” she snarls.

“Oh,” he says, sitting up. “Oh.” Getting to his feet. “Sorry.”

“Did you leave Chrissie alone down there?” says Ysabel, heading past Annisa toward the glass balustrade about the stairwell to the porch.

“What? No!” throwing up his hands. “She left hours ago.”

“She – did,” says Ysabel, turning back. “Why are you still here.”

“Why?” says Ray. “Your brother’s had my carcass up here the past however the hell long, and I doubt he was paying my rent. I got nowhere to go, nothing in my pockets, and no idea where my next meal’s coming from. Why not stay?”

“You should’ve left,” says Ysabel. “It’s too late, now. It’s here.”

“What?” he says. “What’s here?”

“Majesty!” cries Annisa.

Up from the porch below Agravante white locks swept back rushing past the balustrade, “Lady,” he says, quickly across the room, “do not cry out,” seizing Annisa’s wrist, pulling her rustle-stumble to him with a shriek she swallows as he brandishes a dagger. “Do not cry out,” he says, again. “Whoa, shit,” says Ray. The Serpent’s slipped up after Agravante, and with footfalls that shake the glass the Guerdon, silver-headed hammer in his hands. “We would not harm you,” says the Viscount, to the Queen.

“Then put up your weapons, my Handle,” she says, heading toward them both, pale ribbons trailing. “I see it in your eyes,” she says. “You know that’s not your Grandfather, but you don’t know what it is. You don’t know what it means to do.”

“My lady, what I know,” he says, holding Annisa close. “I know today things are not as they were the day before. I know our power is lost. And I know we will do whatever we must to keep you safe. Both of you,” looking to Annisa beside him. “Come with us, I beg your majesty. Fighting will only peck the world to pieces.”

Ysabel steps back, takes in a breath, “My knights!” she cries. “To me!”

Several things happen at once. The Serpent leaps from behind Agravante slender sword up and back, bellowing Chariot and Gladius pound into the room, whip and clang of steel, Agravante’s withdrawn, Annisa with him, the Pilot, the Byrne, the Oubliette pole arms rattle and clank, the Guerdon’s hammer brightly high. More knights spill into the hall, Sovnya and Guisarme, but looking back, her sword swept back, his hands up ducking as men in blue suits scramble after, Sapper and Coltello, Trident and Arbalest, Basilard, Anvil, Euric and Alphons, Clothilde, the Gaffer stumbled among them all, and “Okay!” a roar, the other pushing through the fray. “Enough! That’s it!”

Blades stilled, some lowered, some warily held. The Pilot sits heavily, gripping the ricasso of the blade stuck through his belly. The Serpent a hand to his throat, wet stain spreading down his denim jacket. Agravante still tightly holds Annisa, glaring at the spears that bar his way. Ray’s crouched by the armchair, hands up, looking about in terror. The Coltello and the the Chariot sink in each other’s arms, rapier through a shoulder, knife sunk to the hilt in a thigh. Ysabel untouched stands in the midst of it all, glaring at the other, who stoops over a groaning Gaffer and says, not unkindly, “You did fine. You did what was asked of you.” Clapping the Gaffer’s shoulder, “It wasn’t enough, but that’s not your fault.” Straightening, looking up just as the baseball bat takes the Guerdon in the back of the head.

He topples not even a hand flung out to catch himself. Marfisa in her sheepskin coat springs over him catching his silver hammer as it clangs to the floor, bat in her other hand swung to catch the knees of Sapper and Arbalest, doubled back to thrust the butt of it into the Trident’s groin. She darts through the gap their falling makes, skidding on one knee beneath phalanxed pole arms across the polished floor to spin up on both feet hammer out and bet, fetched up before Agravante, Annisa shoved behind him, his dagger held high.

“Boo,” says Marfisa.

“Outlaw,” snarls Agravante.

“My lady!” cries Marfisa, turning away from him, hammer and bat at the ready against all those weapons lifting, turning, pointing toward her, a ragged arc about her, before her, between her and the long hall dimly yawning, between her and the stairwell yonder. “Somebody get her!” the other hectoring sing-songs.

“My queen,” says Marfisa, with a smile for Ysabel, her arms about herself, and stricken with a most wondrous look. “All is not lost,” says Marfisa.

“Anybody?” says the other.

Marfisa hurls the hammer gleaming at them stumbling back in disarray, tosses the bat to Ysabel, then flings herself shoulder against the armchair, shoving, groaning, scraping, pushing as Ray scampers away she’s picking up speed almost at a run one final desperate step that slams the chair into the great glass wall that rings and shivers a gong but does not break.

“Get her!” the other screams.

Ysabel swings the bat wildly at Agravante neatly sidestepping, Ray crouches ducking his pink-shocked head, the knights set to, too close together to hack and swing lurching forward, yanked back, tripping over each other. Marfisa grunting plants her feet, seized the chair by its overstuffed arms, hauls it up, leaned way back against the weight of it tottering forward slam the base of it stubby legs crack against the glass and one long uncertain step back she plunges forward again to crash the chair against the great sweeping window that

bursts –

Shards of glass pelt the trees below the floor Marfisa lets the weight of the tumble dropping chair away and gone she wobbles staggers back from the bouncing clattering smashing edge, turns, glass glittering on her sheepskin coat, shining in the white cloud of her hair, and in the middle of all that holds out her hand.

Scuff of slipper clatter of bat to the floor Ysabel kicks off across the room. Agravante white locks flying lets go of Annisa, lunges after, comes up short, and the seething surging knights, the other stood among them, the slumped white crown of hair and the rage and the dismay struck through those black eyes watching her hurtle herself into Marfisa’s arms, Marfisa already leaning back, over and out the topple and down, clutching Ysabel close, coat wrapped about her as twisting turning they fall through snap and cracking branches to the glass-littered slope below.


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