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the Gold, the Gold
 – “Come and get it”

The gold, the gold that spills from her hand a glittering trickle to the brilliance mounded in that wooden tub, “After all that.”

“Yes,” says Ysabel, laid back among the rugs and pillows, wrapped in a white robe.

“You said it was broken,” says Gloria Monday, empty hand on the edge of the tub. “Done.” Still in that black gown, and still with ribbons in her hair.

“I said if,” says Ysabel. “If it were broken. If it were done. Would you stay. And the answer was yes. Even so. But now,” her black hair shining, wet, her hands, her throat, her bare shin streaked and gleaming gold, “the toradh is restored.”

“We must’ve been reading different rooms,” says Gloria, stepping away from the tub, past Anna there in her houndstooth, her narrow glasses. Jo in the shadows, buttoning up her jeans, braces herself. “This,” says Gloria, “is fucking unbelievable. This cannot fucking be believed.” Anna lifts a cautioning hand, “Gloria,” she says.

“You know what’s up there?” says Gloria. “You know how all this started? Why?” A step toward languid Ysabel. “It was all the people, all the women,” says Gloria, “you fucked over, with your fucking goddamn question. Me,” she says. “Marfisa. Bobbi, and Anna,” Anna looks away, hand to her brow. “Julia? Tully? Petra, and Miriam, and every, everybody else who’s up there, now,” as Ysabel sits up then, looking to her with those green, green eyes, “who washed your dishes, or, or cooked you something, folded your fucking underwear, slept,” turning to Anna, “in a goddamn shoebox, and you,” whirling back to loom over Ysabel, “said it was all done!” Jo gets to her feet. Gloria straightens, steps back. “I guess that was bullshit.”

“They have all,” says Anna, adjusting her glasses, “we,” she says, “have given freely, of, ourselves.” Nodding, to the tub full of gold. “That gift will be honored.”

Gloria snorts. “You nearly had a fucking riot before. The hell you think is gonna happen when you just, walk that shit upstairs? You have to stop. You have to think about what – ”

“Tell us, child, what we must do,” says Ysabel, and the flames of the candles about her gutter, and tremble back to light.

“Oh, fuck you,” says Gloria, and Ysabel surges to her feet, “There is nothing we must do!” she bellows, a step toward Gloria falling back before the advance. “We,” cries Ysabel, “are Queen!”

“You and what army,” mutters Gloria, but Ysabel’s turned away. “Send for my dressers,” she says, “and once I am dressed, send for those enough to carry this portion up to the main hall. The white suit, I should think, if we have it; something white, and gold.”

Anna, nodding, says, “Miss Monday’s not without a point, ma’am.” Gloria glares. “There are,” and Anna takes a breath, “but few enough,” she says, “peers within, to steward an Apportionment.”

“The Bulbeggar, the Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel with a shrug, “the Dagger – and, of course, Marfisa, will make for more than enough. Oh, but send for the Starling, first: I’d see her restored to herself before the portion’s handed round.”

“Ma’am,” says Anna.

“And of course, if there’s the slightest breath of trouble,” Ysabel turns away from them, “we’ve also our Huntsman – ”

Gloria looks up. Anna takes a step.

“Jo?” says Ysabel, to the empty shadows. “Jo?”

A crumpled cigarette smolders in fingers spangled gold, the hand there on her knee, black jeans brightly dusted. Sat on the low stoop, soles on the sidewalk, music dimly thumping somewhere up behind her, keyboards trilling, lyrics loudly whispered over cries and cheers through the ash and acid rain, I don’t care if the germs eat our books and our brains, all I want is to echoing back through the blue-lit foyer, the climbing murals of tree and ziggurat, the silhouette in the open doorway, “You ever gonna get around to smoking that?”

Jo looks back, sighs, offers up the cigarette. Slip and shuff of bare feet, slickery rustle of leather pants, a brown hand plucks it away. Beads in black hair clack as a drag’s taken in, that shadowed head tipped back to loose a long, soft cloud. “I have nothing against you,” says Zeina, the Mooncalfe.

“I know,” says Jo.

“But,” says Zeina, another drag, “I can’t help feeling,” another cloud, “it’s maybe the other way round?”

“Nothing personal,” says Jo. “It’s just, your predecessor,” wave of her hand, looking for the next word.

“Is deceased,” says Zeina, offering the cigarette. Jo shakes her head, but takes it, “I want to quit,” she says, “but if I do?” Hand drifting back to her knee. Rising thread of smoke from the coal. “Damned if I know what I’d take up next,” she says. Lifting it to her lips, a slow, considered gesture. A drag. The beat still thumps behind them, a different piano over gyring strings and a piercing falsetto never let you go, tomorrow’s party will never end and the whoops and shouts. “Well,” says Zeina. She’s looking at the gold that clings to Jo’s hands, her knees, that’s caught in her sunbleached hair. “You did it.”

Jo nods. “Get yours?”

Zeina shrugs. “There’s time enough,” she says, “and plenty.”

One last drag, and Jo drops what’s left to the sidewalk. A white SUV with discreet gold trim pulls up to the curb. Jo gets to her feet. “Iona?” she says. The passenger door opens.

“Luys,” she says.

“My lady,” says the Mason, stepping from the truck, hand on the door of it to brace him in his wonder. “I’d been told you had come back, but still – I hardly dared to hope.”

“Told,” she says, as the other doors open, and men in blue suits pile out. “Duchess!” cries the Chariot, chartreuse head popping up from the driver’s side. “Welcome home!” In among the blue suits there’s the Stirrup in his brick red vest, and the Axle’s helping Sweetloaf climb out the back. “What is happening,” says Jo. “Luys. What’s going on.”

“Good Sir Mason,” says the Shield in his blue suit, a phone held away from his ear. “The Viscount asks, are we in position.”

“A moment,” says Luys, stepping close to Jo. A hand to her shoulder, “Soon enough,” he says, “all will be well.”

“No it won’t,” she says, ducking out from under.

“Sir Mason,” says the Shield again, and “A moment, sir!” snaps Luys, stepping after Jo, but that’s when Zeina shouts, “Gentlemen!” Up on her feet in the doorway now, and everyone stops. She lifts her left arm, pointing the rapier in her hand. “Everybody here for your portion, line up in an orderly file to the north, one! By! One! Anybody here for anything else?” Shaking out her right hand, she grips and twists a second rapier from the air. “Come and get it,” she says, settling into her stance.

“No!” cries Jo, a hand at the small of her back.

Flash of slender steel those two blades whick and whack as Zeina Mooncalfe catches the Trident’s short sword knocked aside she lurches rapiers whirling over around as she arches back under the Serpent’s cut with a twist of her hips a leap to plant herself riposte

“I said no!” Jo bellows.

into and through the Serpent’s breast. Gurgling his blade drops a-clang to the sidewalk his knees, grasping for the needle-whip even as it slips away. A “La!” from the Mooncalfe as a bit of glimmering bone bounces to the stoop at her feet.

“Enough,” says Jo, quietly, but the word still cuts through the grunts and shouts, and the thunderous crashes and sharp clangs within. They all eye not her but the sword in her hand, the steel of it whorled with dark waves and light, the hilt she grips so simple, so straight, guarded about by a net of wiry strands that glitters even in this darkness. The Mooncalfe settles in a wary crouch, one rapier low before her, “Well,” she says, the other up and back, “want to dance, Gallowglas?”

Jo steps back, and again, bump her back to the side of the SUV. Slowly, slowly she sinks, drawing the sword back to herself until her knee brushes the sidewalk. The Mooncalfe quivering scowling shifting her grips on her hilts, and the jagged little carpal bone spangled with blue by one bare foot. Someone shouts within, behind her, and a crowd roars. Jo lays the sword on the concrete before her, the faintest clink of steel. Lets go. Gets to her feet, looking about, Iona to the left of her, Luys to the right, and all those knights in blue suits. Sets off with a lurching clockwork step, pushing between Alans and the Guerdon, away out into the empty street. “Gallowglas!” cries Zeina behind her. “Huntsman!” But someone shouts, and the light changes behind her, warming, growing, and before her all the suddenly awestruck knights begin to bow their heads, and slowly take their knees.

Walking away from the warehouse lit up against the night behind her, stepping into the shadow of the warehouse across the street, silent, still, unlit. Creative Woodworking NW, says the round wooden sign on the small wooden door of it, brightening in the brightening light. She doesn’t look back, her step doesn’t falter, her arms come up to wrap about herself, her head lowers, she puts one foot in front of the other until

“Jo,” the voice behind her, and she stops.

“Jo,” says Ysabel again, and she turns.

Stood there in the air behind her, loose white trousers, billowing blouse, her hands apaumy and her dangling bare feet slathered with dripping with gold, and shining, shining, stepping down to the pavement, just, and it’s lit up like a summer’s day. Jo closes her eyes. “Please,” is all she says, but

“Don’t you love me?” says Ysabel.

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In Ruins,” written by the members of Fol Chen, copyright holder obscured. You are my World,” written by Jimmy Sommerville and Richard Coles, copyright holder unknown.

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