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the Only light – what Needs doing – Summing up – into the Woods –

The only light from the desk lamp kicked over, the only sound a single distant plop of water dropping and she jerks the gun in her hand jabbing back the way she’s come, ahead again, shadows blotting the enormous close-up photo of a hamburger behind her, weird crawling nets of shadow from the long black mane that snakes about the mask she’s wearing.

Around the corner the light cut off the counter there the menu boards above it blank and dark and the blank blackness of the kitchen yawning beyond. Not quite blank. Gun over the counter wavering tilting she works her wrist resettles her fingers hefts the sheathed sword slung from her shoulder. Tips back the mask, blinking. Free hand up against the harsh light streaming behind her. Somewhere at the back of the kitchen a suggestion of light low on the floor faintly sketches the barest edges of ovens and grills, the hooded bay of the fryer.

Another plop of water. She jumps.

She steps through the gap at one end of the counter fully into shadow now she’s pulling out her phone, thumbing it on, holding it up, faint haze of light from its screen enough just to show where she’s putting her feet. The light ahead is brighter now than what seeps from the phone, enough to pick out the shapes of itself, splashes and splatters, a bit on the floor there, a swipe of it along the edge of something, again a plop of water, a sink there at the back of the kitchen. She stops. Looks down. Her foot tangled in, in cloth, glossy black, a glimmer, spangles. She scoops it up. A vest, heavy with gold embroidery.

The first patch of light there on the floor, a dollop no bigger than her palm, the sullen glimmer of it not enough to sheen the metal of the gun in the hand she holds over it. Unhooking her pinkie from the butt of the gun she dips, brushes the stuff, a brittle crust collapsing into glitter, dusting her fingertip with gold. More dripped along the floor there and there, the swath of it along the edge of the sink, the strings of it hunched up and over a pile of something indistinct, black, black clothing, black lace about a pale arm a boot Jo’s turning standing slowly gun up pointed at the woman lying on her back the swell of her belly hiding her face.

Phone up by the gun white haze struggling with smoldering gold to light up something, anything, the splatter of gold on her breast the shape of maybe a hand, streaked and cracked by something black, head there at an angle a tangle of braids and ribbons black and pale the phone light glimmering in an eye there that blinks, and Jo steps back.

“Are you Death?” says the woman lying there on the floor.

“No,” says Jo, after a moment, lowering the gun. “Can you move?”

Rustle and shift, clatter and jangle, the woman’s rolling over on her side, pushing herself up, gold shivering and falling away, her hand a black shape eddying clouds of it. She grunts. “You okay?” says Jo.

“There was all this blood, I saw it – ”

“Yours?” says Jo.

“Yeah,” says the woman, after a moment. “You’re the one he was talking about, aren’t you. The one who was coming. The showdown.”

“The, owr,” says Jo. “The glitter, the gold dust. Where’d it come from.”

And the woman says, “I cut her.”

“Did you.”

“Her face. And it all, and then it – I fell, and he – he sliced right through me. He killed me.” Shifting, rustling, she’s rolling on her side as glitter soughs and settles about her. “Why am I not dead?”

“You got lucky,” says Jo, a shadow against shadows now, the phone switched off or tucked away. “She took pity on you. Where is she. Where’d they go.”

“It was so fast?” says the woman all in black. “I don’t know. He never told me, where, where he was taking her. To meet somebody, I think, I didn’t ever get what he was doing, we only,” hissing, gasping as she pushes herself further upright, “wow.”

“That’s gonna hurt for a few days,” says Jo. “You got somewhere to go? Somebody who can keep an eye on you?”

Leaning on her elbow on the floor, indistinct in the splashes of dim light, peering into the shadows, she says, “You’re going to kill him, aren’t you.”

“Go home,” says Jo. “Don’t come back.” Walking away out of the kitchen.

Jessie shuts off the engine. Looks up in the rear-view mirror at the two of them in the back seat. “We’re here,” she says.

“I think,” says Luys, slowly, carefully, “yes. It’s what we should be doing.”

“You think,” says the Duke. “How about you,” he says to Jessie. “What do you think we ought to be doing.”

“I don’t know,” says Jessie.

“She doesn’t know,” says the Duke, and then to Jessie again, “Open the door.” Jessie undoes her seatbelt and climbs out of the car and the Duke says to Luys, “One night? That’s all it took? One night.”

“That isn’t why we should help her,” says Luys, his hands, knuckles rough, dark fingers twined together on his knee. “It’s the Princess. We should be – ”

“Yeah?” says the Duke. Jessie’s opening the passenger door, levering the front seat forward. “Get out of the car.” He plants his cane on the sidewalk, braces himself against the seat back.

“Your Grace?” says Luys.

“Get out,” says the Duke, hauling himself up, “of the car. You know what to do. Go. Do it.”

“Your Grace, I – ”

“Get out. Of the car,” says the Duke, and Luys opens his door. “Go. Find her. Save her.”

“Who?” says Luys, climbing out of the car. “Jo? The Princess?”

“Whichever!” says the Duke. “You’re the one knows.” Luys is looking about, wet trees climbing the hill to one side of the street, houses close by the other, beyond them the lights of the city, the curl of the river far below. “Walk,” says the Duke, “catch a bus, I don’t care. Go on, Mason. Do what needs doing.”

Luys looks to Jessie, back to the Duke, nods stiffly, once. “Your Grace,” he says, and he turns, hands in the pockets of his short brown jacket, and he walks away down the dark street. “What the hell, Leo,” says Jessie.

“Wait in the car,” says the Duke. The house behind him a towering Queen Anne lit up by spotlights, gingerbreaded in sherbet pinks and blues, each window with its white lace curtain artfully bunched and tied off in the middle. “This’ll only take a minute.”

The front door set with an arc of frosted leaded glass. He raps it sharply with the hawk at the head of his cane, and again. A creak of floorboards, a rattle of the knob, the door’s opened by a narrowly somber man, his nose and cheeks appled by extravagant gin blossoms, his chin tucked by behind his high white collar. Raised voices somewhere behind him, someone yelling, the words indistinct. “Barganax for the Viscount,” says the Duke, pushing his way in. “I’ll announce myself.” Thump of his cane-tip, squeak of his footsteps, “Handle!” he bellows, and the yelling breaks off. “You puling, knock-kneed, milk-livered giglet of a craven, puling, tangle-boweled shit!” Ringing thump of the tip of his longsword on the floor, one hand on the pommel of it, one against the newel post of the long straight staircase there in the narrow front hall. “I would have words with you!”

Rasp of a sliding door and there’s Agravante at the end of the hall, pale dreadlocks brushing his shoulders, soft blue shirt open at the throat. “Barganax,” he says. A cut glass tumbler in his hand. “Grandfather sleeps.”

“I’ll tip-toe,” says the Duke, hauling up his sword both hands braced against his belly, taking a long creaking step down the hall. “Is that the Guisarme with you?” An older man in the doorway behind Agravante, bald browned head and grizzled cheeks. “Excellent. Saves me a trip.”

“You’d have him as your second?” says Agravante.

“I’d have him next,” says the Duke.

“Not again,” says the Guisarme. His yellow shirt unbuttoned over an undershirt slashed across his chest.

“But a moment, Welund,” says Agravante, tossing back half of what’s left in his tumbler. In his other hand a long-bladed dagger, the hilt wrapped in blued wire.

“It will not be a moment,” says the Guisarme. “It is never but a moment. One of you will stick the other and we’ll call it done but it will fester and seethe and pull us apart precisely when we must work in harness. The time is out of joint, gentlemen – ”

“Says the butcher,” and the Duke swings at Agravante’s head, “the cleaver still wet,” Agravante catching it with the dagger, and the Duke hauls back into an underhanded thrust at Agravante’s belly, “in his paw,” and again with a clang it’s parried, Agravante holding his glass up high out of the way. “How dare you,” the Guisarme’s saying. The Duke’s levered around a cross-body cut, Agravante steps back, leans in, dagger hooking the sword on the followthrough, pinning it against the plaster cracking wall and “Shit” says the Duke tugging the blade held fast by Agravante’s dagger. Agravante hurls his tumbler into the air arm windmilling around and as it comes back up there’s another dagger in his hand about a hilt wrapped blue the long blade pinning the Duke’s jacket there under his arm sinking home, the Duke grunting, Agravante letting go, looking up, reaching up his hand, catching the falling glass.

Stumbling back the Duke’s breath caught on his teeth the blued hilt rising and falling there under his arm. He grips it, tugs, works it scowling back and forth, slowly, trembling, pulls the long blade free. Drops it clattering to the floor.

“The matter’s settled?” says the Guisarme, absently scratching the slit in his shirt.

“I concede it,” says the Duke with a cough. Holding himself up against the bannister. “The Axehandle’s no craven turd, his knees do not knock.” Leaning down for his cane discarded there at the foot of the stairs. “His liver and lights as fine as could be hoped. Nor,” cane in hand he sits suddenly there on the floor, cupping the hole in his jacket, “does he pule. But.” A deep shudder of a breath. “He does dabble, in insurrection.”


“You are both traitors to the court. This was not the argument disproved, and I will see it published.”

“Don’t be a fool,” says the Guisarme as Agravante’s saying “Would you be King of an empty city?”

“Better a city dispersed, than a city usurped,” says the Duke.

“The Perry line’s played out,” says the Guisarme, his eyes gone sidelong at Agravante. “We merely seek a new Bride, a new Queen for the King come back.”

“Merely seek,” says the Duke. “You evicted the Queen tonight.”

“We can’t afford her extravagances,” says the Guisarme, “not until we know we’re once more safe and secure.” Agravante quickly drinks what’s left in his tumbler.

“Tonight,” says the Duke, “the Princess was abducted by her guardian.”

“He went through me to do it!” says the Guisarme, a hand to his chest.

“Yet here you stand, and speak – so utterly unlike the Queen’s mother, or my Shootist.”

“That was none of our – ” says Agravante, and the Guisarme holds up a hand, and Agravante bites his lip. “One word more, Your Grace,” says the Guisarme, “and it’s war you’ll have, not a duel.”

“Really,” says the Duke, looking over to Agravante. “Is that what I’d have, Viscount. The Queen’s named the Gallowglas as her new Huntsman.”

Agravante turns to the Guisarme who’s hand’s still up. The Guisarme says, “Mortals are fragile.”

“So are bankers,” says the Duke, pushing himself to his feet, cane tucked under his arm, hand still clamped over the hole in his jacket. “The Perry line’s played out? I’ll be sure to tell Lymond you said that, next time I see him.”

“Lymond,” says the Guisarme, with an odd half-laugh.

“You didn’t know?” says the Duke, his hand on the doorknob. “Hair’s different, and the eyes, but that was most assuredly the Prince, delivering his mother,” and a heavy clonk of Agravante’s glass hitting the floor, “to the tender care of Robin Goodfellow, but an hour ago.” The Duke opens the door. “I’ll show myself out?”

Jessie opens the door of the car and hurries up the sidewalk as he limps toward her, cane still tucked away. He lifts his free arm and she ducks under it, bearing him up, and he looks down at his cupping hand, shining wetly against the hole in his jacket. “Are you okay?” says Jessie. “What happened?”

“Well I didn’t lose,” says the Duke. He nods toward the car and they make their halting way back to it. “So we’re going home?” says Jessie. “We’re gonna go find Luys and go back home?”

“What?” says the Duke. “No.” He takes his arm from her shoulders, leans against the fender. She opens the door. “We’re just getting started. I’ll – sit up front. Tell you where we’re going. It’s, it’s tricky.”

Ragged hum of a lone bass note held under hissing breath echoing over the speakers and feedback fluttering and whooping like some frantic birdsong and a voice buzzing against a microphone, “From her lair in Devil’s Point Mary’s is proud to present the Starling.” Kisses, a woman’s moaning over the speakers now and a rattle and thump of a single run on the drums as the bass note shifts and drops, kisses like a girl, and Orlando rubs his one good eye. Ysabel’s sitting across the tiny table from him, her back to the stage that’s not much bigger, a figure wrapped and hooded in a dark cloak standing there, starkly lit by tiny white-hot spots hung from the low ceiling, fog spilling across the floor into the laps of the few men and a woman sitting close to the stage, looking up. Ysabel’s face shines in the darkness splashed with glitter along her cheeks, her throat, daubed across her forehead, spangling the sagging white T-shirt she wears under a thin black coat trimmed with white fur. Ring of cymbals and the feedback becomes strummed notes over that drone fading slowly away, all of it, everything waiting, and Orlando isn’t looking at her, he’s looking past her, over her shoulder, and Ysabel almost smiles.

The music crashes into a beat, I, that voice is singing, I’ve got to get out of the palace, and the little crowd’s cheering. Ysabel leans over the table. “You’re frightened,” she says.

Orlando’s head tilts, tilts back, shakes slightly. He’s still looking past her. “They’ll be here soon,” he says. “Time and place, as suggested.” He isn’t looking at the door. He’s looking at the stage.

“You shouldn’t have killed her,” says Ysabel, hands on her bare knees splattered with more glitter, shining in the darkness under the table.

“She shouldn’t have cut you,” says Orlando.

“That’s what has you so frightened,” says Ysabel. Leaning closer to him, speaking into his ear. “You and I are the only ones who know what’s happened. Let me go, now, and I swear to you.” Pulling back away from him, still leaning over the table. “No one will challenge you.” He’s still looking past her. “You will be free to go from this place.”

Again a distracted shake of his head. “They’ll be here soon,” he says.

“Who,” says Ysabel. “Who am I to be given to.” Leaning over, trying to catch his eye. “Do they have any idea what they’re getting?”

His eye flicks over to meet hers, and the corner of his mouth crooks. “No,” he says, and he looks away again. Seems like, the voice is singing, honey you’re always, mad at me, and I wonder, what have I done.

“You’ve never been here before,” says Ysabel then. “Have you. Why. Why are we here, now?”

“You often come to places like this,” says Orlando.

“I prefer places where everybody dances,” says Ysabel, turning in her seat as the loud song crashes to an end, that bass note droning once more, feedback whooping, “but yes. I’ve been here before.” The cloak’s gone. The woman on the stage kneeling breathing heavily kneeling black fishnet stockings and a sheer white négligée held shut by a single bow. She’s untying the bow. The crowd’s cheering. Dollar bills litter the stage about her. Black hair glossy in artful tangles swings as she throws off the négligée, baring her breasts. Rakish atop her head a silvery white tiara. The drone’s shifted from a bass to an accordion, a sinister wheeze that pulses too quickly as new instruments gather themselves beneath it and the woman on the stage grabs the pole to one side and pulls herself to her feet spinning about it, the moon was unsteady, a new voice high and thin is singing, the woods looked so dark and oh so deep. “You shouldn’t have brought me here,” says Ysabel, over her shoulder to Orlando, smiling now, shining. “And you shouldn’t have killed the girl. She could’ve helped you.”

“Can I get you something from the bar? Honey.” The woman in the tight T-shirt, a tray in her hand, leans over them both, her hand on the table between them. “That glitter is phenomenal. How’d you get it to glow like that?”

“You like it?” says Ysabel, as Orlando says, “Nothing.”

“It’s so New Wave,” says the woman in the tight T-shirt.

“Ysabel,” says Orlando, and Ysabel says, “Do you think I’m beautiful?”

“What?” says the woman in the tight T-shirt, “Yes, I,” as Ysabel’s pushing her chair back, standing, and “Sit down,” says Orlando, I’ve been on this job now, that new voice is singing, for a thousand years, and Ysabel says, “Do you want to kiss me?”

“Sure?” says the woman in the tight T-shirt as Ysabel’s arms go around her white fur flowing about her cuffs and the tray clatters to the table as Orlando chair scraping stands abruptly music crashing about them the woman on the stage one hand on her tiara spinning upside-down about the pole, I’d like you better if you’d just go away, the woman in the tight T-shirt stepping back mouth smeared with light blinking one hand to her face Orlando trying to push past her, and Ysabel’s leaning over the shoulder of the man sitting at the next table, his mustache waxed and neatly curled and his frown lights up in a smile at her that folds into another frown, puzzled, looking from her to the woman on stage and back again. “That man,” says Ysabel in his ear, pointing back at Orlando, “with the eyepatch? Is trying to kill me,” and the man with the mustache leaps to his feet as Orlando fetches up before him and Ysabel’s already at the next table over, Orlando’s hand on the hilt of his sword but the woman in the tight T-shirt’s grabbing at it, and the man with the mustache throws a punch. Ysabel’s making her way not to the front door but the back, toward a brightly lit glass door at the far end of the little club under a sign that says Food. Orlando’s roaring. The music’s pounding. Orlando’s roaring. More people swarming about him, seizing his arms, his hands, “Get him!” they’re crying. “Stop him!” Ysabel’s running.

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“Hall,” written by Lea Kreuger, copyright holder unknown. “Because I Wanted to Know,” ©2010 the Walking Hellos.

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