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the Hat in his hands – the Niceties of Debt – her Business – his Messages –

The hat in his hands a soft pale grey, its absurdly high crown punched in on one side. The brim of it wide. Gold dust shivers away as he turns it over, sparks that flash and fall to the pavement. “Easy enough,” he says. “He got struck a mortal blow, and a Gallowglas on the field.” He hands it to Luys beside him, tall and broad in a brown shortwaisted jacket. “Jo?” says Luys, but the Duke’s limping away down the street, cane-tip tocking loudly in the hush.

“Leo?” says Jessie, there by the reddish-brown car, slewed to a stop in the middle of the street.

“She didn’t do that,” says the Duke, turning, pointing up to the old green house on the corner behind them, dark, lower windows boarded front door ajar, big columns of its shallow porch once white now grimy, scored, stripped, all behind a forbidding tangle of bare branches, a narrow garden overgrowing a low stone wall, threatening the sidewalk. “Get Sweetloaf on the horn. Tell him, have him pull everyone in. Batten the gates, bolt the hatches, hunker on down. I’m gonna see what Goodfellow knows.” He limps on, out across the empty, rain-wet intersection, camel-colored topcoat blown out in the glaring haze of pinkish-orange streetlight. “I’ll just be a moment.” Cater-corned from the old green house a big white ramshackle house, its windows all alight with flickering, winking Christmas lights and candles.

A short straight sword, the hilt of it wrapped in white leather worn and yellowed, the blade two fingers wide down to the floorboards where it’s been thrust, the wood there singed about the upright blade. The Queen’s black pumps primly together there at the edge of that neatly charred ring, her hands clutched to her breast, trapped within them a loosening braid of glossy white hair and Jo’s hand, Jo in her butter-colored coat beside the Queen, arm out at an awkward angle, sword slung over her other shoulder, in her free hand a crudely blocky mask, its mane of black hair lazily floating in the still air. Somewhere far off from the back of the house the plink and clank of an amplified harp. Jo’s looking about the big front room in fits and starts, the stairs, the dim hallway leading away beneath them, the front door, the bay windows with candles melting on every sill, always back and back to the bright doorway, the kitchen beyond the color of toothpaste, and Robin Goodfellow all in black, shaking his head. “I could not allow,” he’s saying, “someone of your stature to become so indebted to me.”

“So damn my stature,” says Ray, says Lymond, one hand clamped to the top of his head as if to keep his wild pink hair from springing away.

“Highness,” says Robin, stiffly.

“No, damn it, damn the niceties, I have come too far today to be held up by this. Forget,” he says, “what has just happened, forget it all, who we are, focus on this. I am someone you have never seen before.”

“Highness,” says Robin, again, and “You have never seen me before,” says Lymond, “and I am asking, you, Goodfellow, if my mother, the mother of someone you have never met before, might not find herself a place to stay, here, for a time.”

The Queen’s reached out with one hand toward the plain pommel of the sword but doesn’t touch it, quite. Robin’s leaning an elbow against the doorjamb, forehead against the heel of his hand. “When one is owed a favor, Highness,” he says, “sooner or later those in one’s debt expect one to need something in return.” He straightens, hand turning a fillip there by his frown, a flutter of a shrug. “I can’t afford that.”

The Queen’s hand closes in a fist she draws back to her breast. Squeezing Jo’s hand there in hers and Jo looks over with a wince of a smile. “I didn’t know,” murmurs the Queen. “If I leave you without a choice?” Lymond’s saying.

“Then by all means,” says Robin. “If coerced, then nothing’s owed.” The harp has twinkled to an end, a patter of applause. “How long were you thinking you’d be?”

“Not hours but days,” says Lymond, “days but not weeks. Mother.” He holds out a hand to the Queen. Jo’s saying, “Is that it? Are we done?” as Lymond says, “We must be off, away over the river as soon as – ”

“A moment, Highness,” says Robin. “How do you mean, then, to leave me without a choice?”

Lymond hand still outstretched turns back to look at him. “Niceties?” he says, and Robin shrugs. The unseen harp has taken up a slower, more contemplative air. “Gallowglas,” says Lymond. “The gun.”

“What?” says Jo, her hand still trapped in the Queen’s.

“Take the gun from your pocket and point it at Robin Goodfellow,” says Lymond, his bulging eyes quite serious, and Robin takes a step back, into the kitchen.

“The hell I will,” says Jo.

“Gallowglas, please. We haven’t any time to spare.”

“Ray,” says Jo, “unless your next step’s helping me find Ysabel, we don’t have a goddamn thing at all.”

“Jo,” says Lymond, stepping toward her, “I need your help.”

“I don’t need yours,” says Jo, jerking her hand free, and the front door bursts open, the Duke sweeping in, stomping his foot, “Goodfellow!” he cries, looking about the big front room, frowning, eyes widening, mouth opening, “The last place I’d look,” he says, half to himself.

“Leo,” says Jo, over the dripping of the harp.

His cane dropped clatters to the floor. His derby hat whipped away into the darkness on the stairs. A heavy step, the scraping drag of a limp, the flop of his long coat opening. Step and scrape and the ringing whine of steel on wool. “Draw,” he says, a gutted croak, longsword in both hands held out before him, pommel braced against his hip.

“No,” says Jo, gone pale.

“No duels,” says Robin, “not in this house, not tonight,” and “Silence!” bellows the Duke. Away off in the back of the house the harp stumbles, stops. “You stole from me, you left me,” he says, “you ruined me,” step and scrape again, “you sent my Tommy and the Shootist now to dust, you broke your oath – ”

“No,” says Jo, stepping away from the Queen, her sword bumping awkwardly on her shoulder, the mane trailing a wake from the mask in her hand. “I only took what was mine,” she says. “And the only oath I swore was to do right, and good, and all that – ”

“For me!” cries the Duke. “You broke your oath to me, Gallowglas, and I will have it proved. Draw your sword.”

“No,” says Jo, and the Duke with a twist of his hips flap of his coat wheels his longsword back and up, over his head –

“Look to your peers, Hawk,” says Lymond.

And like that the blade stops, droops at an angle, and the Duke turns to look on Lymond, pop-eyed, pink-haired, in his black leather jacket. “Who are you,” says the Duke, “that address me so familiar.”

“It was them that did for my mother,” says Lymond. “Guisarme and Axehandle. Look to them.”

“You,” says the Duke, flat-faced, “your,” and then bursting up out of him a snapping bark of a laugh.

“It’s marked me, hasn’t it,” says Lymond. “Same as it’s marked you.”

“You’re next,” says the Duke, turning back to Jo. “Unless?” Looking over his shoulder at Lymond again. “You’d stand as her champion? No?” Grunting he hauls his blade back up, and Jo standing there before him one hand in her coat pocket one hand still holding the mask, mouth set, her eyes the color of mud blinking rapidly.

“Hawk!” cries Lymond.

“Enough,” says the Queen, lifting her head. “Enough. She has the right of it, Hawk. Put it down,” and she steps between them, steps right up to him, “put it away,” and he steps back and back again, sword swiveling in his hands, ponderously lowering down and down until it rests blade-tip squeaking on the scratched wood floor as he leans against the pommel. “Ma’am,” he says.

She walks past him, over to the front door, stoops and picks up the Duke’s cane. “Please,” she says, returning, holding the cane out to him. “Not here, not now. If there is to be a fight,” and she looks across the room, to Lymond, “let it be a fair one.”

The Duke takes his cane from her hand. “Of course,” he says, “we are thrilled your, son, has returned, from wherever it was he went. And we welcome him,” thump of the cane-tip on the floorboards, creak as he leans his weight on the rough-hewn head of it, “with open arms.”

“The Perry have always looked warmly to the support of Barganax,” says Lymond. Beside him in the doorway to the kitchen Robin is quite still, arms folded across his chest.

“Jo,” says the Queen then, and Jo looks down, thumbs her lip, looks up to meet those dark eyes. “Jo Huntsman,” says the Queen. “We have kept you long enough. We would – I would, have you be about your business.” The rustling of the mane of the mask in Jo’s hand in the utter silence of that room. “The Mooncalfe takes bread and salt and oil from no one, but tonight. Tonight he murdered my mother and stole my daughter and for that.” Her voice snagging on the words. “I would have you find him, Huntsman. Find him, and shoot him, like a gangster, and send him down to dust.”

“Yes ma’am,” says Jo with a deep breath. Lymond, his goggle-eyes watching as she nods, the Duke his eyes on the floor as she shifts and settles the sheathed sword a little higher on her shoulder. She walks to the front door, opens it, steps through, and pulls it shut behind her.

She’s down the steps and under the trees that line the street when the front door opens again, slams shut rattling glass, “Jo!” It’s the Duke, crashing down the stairs from the porch.

“Fuck you,” snarls Jo, stalking away down the sidewalk.

“Jo!” Wincing, hissing as he hop-lopes after her. “Jo, wait!”

“After that?” she says. “After all that? Fuck you,” and then, marching back toward him, “I trusted you, you sonofabitch. I trusted you and I waited and I left her. With him.” One hand up churning the air mouth open head shaking from side to side, “Fuck you,” her hand tossing the words at him, the mane of the mask in her other hand whipping, an echo. “You were gonna cut me down in there!”

“Steel’s to be answered with steel,” he says, and she shoves her free hand in the pocket of her coat and tugs it out, the gun, flat and black and pointed at him. “Try it,” she says. The mane shivering, stiff, upright. “If she hadn’t stopped you,” says Jo. “I would’ve blown you away. You stupid motherfucker.”

“Maybe,” he says. “You can put it away, Gallowglas. I think we’re done now.”

“Huntsman,” she says, the gun still pointed at him. “I got a promotion.”

“Only till the King comes back,” he says, looking back, away at the reddish-brown car parked on the side of the street now, in front of that green house cater-cornered. Luys on the sidewalk beside it, his hand on the roof of the car. “And I don’t think I like the way it looks on you.”

“Tough,” says Jo.

“Jo – ”

“Jo what. Jo what! Put the gun down? Get in the car, go back and wait and wait and wait,” her trembling arm she crooks her elbow gun dropping pointed still at his belly, “for you to grow a pair and sit on the fucking Throne already?” Her arm snaps straight again, hauling the gun back up. The mane quivers about the mask in her other hand. “No,” the Duke’s saying mildly, “no, that’s not what I was gonna, by all means, go. Get him. I just,” and he sighs. His eyes on the barrel of the gun. “After last night.” He looks up. “This morning. We’re done. Yeah?” And her arm crooks again, gun hitching up, away. It tips over, pointed down. “Where’re you gonna go with that,” he says.

Her fingers opening the gun lying there not much longer than her hand, the dull black barrel, the letters Kel-Tec stamped in the pebbled metal, grip of it wound about with glossy black tape. “I don’t know,” she says, looking away from him, away from the white house, down along the street dipping under the trees toward a brightly lit intersection where a car drifts silently by. “Nobody knows where he is. Where he would’ve gone. Ray, Lymond, he kept saying it was okay, we’d find him, she’d be okay, but.” She stuffs the gun back in her pocket. “There’s somebody I know of who knows – stuff.” The mane of the mask drifting languidly as she turns back to him. Blinking quickly. “It’s not much, but.”

“Do you love her?” says the Duke.

“I don’t love anybody,” she says.

“Horseshit.” And then, “Burnside and Broadway. That abandoned burger joint. Start there. It’s where he’s been, living, the last little while.”

“Oh,” says Jo. “Leo, I – ”


“Thank you,” says Jo.

“Don’t ever,” says the Duke, turning away, “say that to me again.” Limping back up the sidewalk into the darkness under the trees, toward the car, Luys leaning against. A blaring horn behind her, the squall of tires, some music playing somewhere worn away to nothing but an insistent thump. She heads away down toward the brightly lit intersection, sword on her shoulder, mask in her hand.

A beep echoing harshly off the flat walls stark in the only light from a desk lamp set on the floor, two rows of yellow tables and orange plastic chairs, the enormous close-up photo of a hamburger brown and yellowed with grime, menu boards empty and dark, cold ovens lined up behind the counter in the darkness. A squawk, a recorded voice distorted by volume fills the air, “Yeah. Okay. We’re in. Place and time as suggested.” Rattle and click bounce from the walls, around corners. Plops of water dripping and a high-pitched whine of water rushing somewhere in the pipes, a grinding clank of flexible metal hose being pulled, yanked in the darkness there at the back of the kitchen, a wide shape all in black hauling the spray head out of the broad deep sink, holding it up by her shoulder. Squeezing open the big clamping valve there’s a croak, a knocking of pipes, water erupts and she grunts as she struggles to hold the hose up, blasting Ysabel’s back, soaking her hair slapped against her face as Ysabel turns away braced against the counter. Another croak, water’s gone, just plopping drips again, the whine in the pipes. “God you’re filthy,” says Gloria all in black, opening up the hose again, aimed at Ysabel’s legs, her buttocks, Ysabel hunched over the counter on her elbows. Croak again. Ysabel dripping, shivering violently, there’s a blurt, a babble loud and shrill, “Kay. We’re in. Place and time as.” Clack. “Who the hell has an answering machine anymore,” mutters Gloria, a rustle of something in the darkness, something thrown at Ysabel, she catches in awkwardly, cloth, a pair of pants, sweatpants, the blurting babble again. “Dry off with those,” says Gloria. “And time as suggested,” and then the rattle again of a phone dropped somewhere else, some time before.

“I need my clothes,” says Ysabel.

“They’re soaked. Ruined,” says Gloria. “No time.” More rustling, the blurt and babble, “Okay. We’re.” Clack.

“I have to have something,” says Ysabel.

“I tried to tell him. All my stuff’s too big for you. Try this.” Snapping flutter, something white, Ysabel drapes it over herself, a T-shirt. “This is enormous,” she says. Letters scrawled in black ink across the front say The Gloomadon Poppers.

“Put it the fuck on,” snaps Gloria.

A phone rings, a loud slow clang of a ring, a metal clapper hitting metal bells, and again, and again, as Ysabel and Gloria stand there, listening, dripping. Clack and the harsh beep, a voice then, too loud as before, but higher, drier, the Duke’s voice, “You stupid sonofabitch pick up I know you’re there. Pick up!” Fumble rattle of phone in hand. “Get in,” he says to someone else. “You’ve finally made it. You’re way out beyond the horizon, over the pale, you’re getting your fucking showdown and when the two of you are done with each other, if there’s anything left of you,” a breath too loud, too harsh, overwhelming, “look up, look to the west. That shadow’s me, coming down off the Throne to grind you into dust.” Click-clack.

Ysabel holding the T-shirt, Gloria’s eyes glinting in the darkness, an eruption of babble and then the voice again, “The horizon, over the pale, you’re getting” clack and tumbling squawk, “Know you’re there. Pick up! Get in. You’ve” clack-clack. “Who,” says Gloria looming, “who the fuck, you know who that is. You – you – ” Another glint down low leaning in there she is wide face pressed close her hand in black lace there between them. Jutting from it a short wide blade ash-dark but for the very gleaming edge of it. “When the two of you,” the loud voice says, “are done with each other, if there’s” clack. “Who is that,” says Gloria, “who’s he talking about.” Ysabel against the counter leaning back eyes on the knife pressed close. “Each other, if there’s anything left of” click. Babble.

“You don’t know what I can do with this,” says the woman, pressing the blade a crease in Ysabel’s cheek. “If I’m angry.” Voice stretched taut. “And I hate you.” Pressing hard enough to turn Ysabel’s face to one side. “Thing left of you,” that enormous breath, “look up, look to the west.”

“Who is that,” says Gloria. “Who’s coming.”

Ysabel blinking says, “You don’t hate – ”

Her shriek raw piercing there’s a scramble and that recording dies in a crunch of shattered plastic. Around the corner between the rows of yellow tables he’s crouching low feet fast under his dark skirt shirtless sword held up before him short blade back against his forearm leaping onto the counter beneath the dark menu boards. At the back of the kitchen light’s fizzing in the air Gloria’s falling back Ysabel’s slumping falling to her knees hand to her bright face. He leaps again, kicks off the face of an oven, leaves a swipe of a footprint in the grease-rimed dust on the griddle, alights by the sink between them Ysabel on her side clutching her cheek with both hands floor about her flooded in a shock of white light moaning and he turns blade whipping about in his hand to point at Gloria tipped over a couple of paper bags spilling clothing black and white. “What have you done,” he says, his voice gone quiet and cold.

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“The Secret, the Candle, and Love,” written by Andreas Vollenweider, copyright holder unknown. “On the Way Down from the Moon Palace,” written by Lisa Germano, copyright holder unknown.

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