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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” says Jo.

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

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

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

“Three days,” says Jo.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” says Jo.

“Hello,” says Ysabel.

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

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

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

“The Queen,” says Jo.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Where is everybody?” says the Duke.

“It’s Sunday,” says Pyrocles.


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

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

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

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

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

“Whom?” says Pyrocles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know,” says Jo, quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought that was already the problem.”

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

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

“You saved me last night.”

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

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

“The fuck?” says Jo.

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re angry,” he says, flatly.

“How long, Sidney?”

He says, “A night and a day.”

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

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

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

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

“Pick it up,” says the Helm.

“It isn’t funny,” says Sidney.

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

“Helm,” he says.

“You didn’t tell me,” she says.

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

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

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

“I didn’t know what it was!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t make that call!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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M.E. Traylor    6 August 2010    #

Anticipation building. Loving it.

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