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one Eye brown, one Eye blue – Hand held High – his Reward – not a Mark –

One eye brown as a forest floor, one eye piercing cloudless blue, both blinking thickly, heavy-lidded. Pinkish orange hair crisply stiff crackles against the pillow as he looks to one side, then the other. Bars, a rack of equipment, digital numbers brightly fuzzy in the dim light. Tubing. A yellow catheter taped to the back his hand. More tubing up along his neck, his cheek, feeding into his nostrils. Beige sheets, a fuzzy blue blanket rumpled about his hips. “Hey,” says somebody, off over that way. “Limeade. Welcome back to the land of the living.”

“What,” he says in a voice scratched thin. “Did you call me.” Smacking chapped lips, licking them.

“Oh, hey,” says a skinny man in pale pink scrubs, his hair a fuzzy bush of tightly kinked black curls. “Nickname. Wasn’t thinking.” Peering at the rack of equipment, checking the yellow catheter with sure and careful hands. Shaking out the blankets. “But what did you call me,” says the man in the bed.

“They brought you over from Hooper a bit ago. Said you were ranting and raving before you passed out, lime to the lemon, lemon to the lime, lime soda. You remember any of that?”

“Limeade,” says the man in the bed.

“Nickname,” says the nurse. “Like I say. Had to have something to call you.”

“Reynard,” says the man in the bed, “Reynardine. Raynaud. Reynolds. Raymond.”

“Pick one?” says the nurse.

“Ray,” says the man in the bed, struggling to sit up. “Raymond. Call me Ray. Something – I have to get out of here.”

“Hang on, hang on a minute, I’ll help you to the bathroom. You probably got a – ”

“Out of here. I must leave.”

“Hold still, Ray.” The nurse gently pushes him back to the pillow. “You don’t just walk away from a coma. Patience. We gotta check you out, there’s these tests, and man.” He smiles. “You’re gonna love the paperwork we got picked out for you.”

“I need,” says Ray, “something to drink.”

“Water I can do.”

Ray shakes his head, pink hair crackling. “Wine,” he says. “Whiskey.”

“Whoa,” says the nurse, shaking his head. “Not here, man. Not in here.”

“I need to get out of here,” says Ray, fighting back up on his elbows. “If you won’t let me leave – ”

“Calm, man.” Not raising that soothing voice but his hand firm on Ray’s chest, not letting him up. “It’s okay – ”

“I’m stripped raw as if I had no,” says Ray, “someone’s coming that’s what woke me,” his hand flapping by his shock of hair, “like a pressure, a pressing on my – ”

“Headache,” says the nurse, both hands on Ray’s shoulders now, steady, fixed. Ray’s breathing heavy, fierce. “Bet it’s a king-hell doozy – ”

Ray claps the heel of his hand over one eye and roars, a deep rumble torn and echoing in the dim room, rattling the IV stand, the clear plastic tubing, the clanking safety bars up on either side of the bed, the nurse steps back, the lights flicker, those numbers blink and change, wink out, flash back in bursts of random nonsense.

And then Ray sinks back against the pillow with a ghost of a smile.

“What,” says the nurse, as loudspeakers crackle, “was that?” An Emergency Department lockdown is now in effect, says a tinny, staticky voice. Emergency Department lockdown, now in effect. “Ray. Talk to me, Ray. Tell me what just happened.”

“I need,” says Ray, barely a whisper, “liquor, I need to go away, I can’t be here, not yet, not yet,” and then blinking, finding the nurse, “lucky,” he says. “Lucky. He isn’t going to, he isn’t coming here. He’s looking for something else. Someone. But he might,” sighing, closing his eyes again. “I must be dulled,” he says. “I need a bushel. Booze,” drawing out the word, savoring it, and then with a little laugh, “no more limeade – ”

Huffing, puffing, “Make a hole,” she bellows, and the four or five men and women in purple and blue scrubs flatten against either side of the hallway as keys jangling, boots thumping she barrels through them and around the corner. Far end down there a couple men, three men holding, dragging a fourth, the only one in scrubs, green scrubs under a white lab coat bunched in the hand of the big man yellow shirt flapping open over a bare broad chest. She stops crouching a little reaching for the handle of the blocky plastic gun strapped to her belt –

“Wilberforce,” says the second man, the one in the tweed jacket, to the third, the tall one in the long black coat.

– the blocky plastic gun in her hand with its bulbous yellow snout coming up free hand cupping the butt of it finger tense against the trigger as that tall man spins coat swirling a loud slapping crack filling the hall her hand jerked up and back the blocky gun pinwheeling away. That long black coat settling, his arms crossed before him, black-gloved hands poised by his hips, over the pearly white handles of the revolvers holstered there. A puff of smoke floating before him curls of it tugged down toward the gun slung to his left. “Like to see it again, ma’am?” he says, a smile somewhere under his enormous grey mustache. “Stand down? Please?”

“Through there,” says the man in the white lab coat, and the man in the tweed jacket says “Luys, with me,” and pushes through a swinging set of double doors. The man in the yellow shirt lets go of that white coat and follows. The man in the long black coat lifts a gloved hand to the brim of his soft pale hat with an absurdly high crown, punched in on one side. “Sir,” he says, to the man in the lab coat, “ma’am,” to the security guard still staring at the broken plastic gun halfway down the hall, “just a minute or two more to get what we came for. Then we’re out of your hair.”

The room beyond is brightly lit. A cluster of people anonymous in blue and green scrubs and white surgical masks about the high table, and “Watch it” someone’s saying, muffled by a mask, and “There, right there” and “It’s dropping” and “God dammit” and “Crashing” and “Flanagan, Security, now.” The man in the tweed jacket holds up one hand burning, flaring like a torch too bright to look upon. “Ladies,” he says, “gentlemen.” In his other hand a clear plastic bag swollen with glittery dust. “The Hawk thanks you for your service and bids you take your leave.” Luys beside him, the tip of his longsword brushing the floor.

“We can’t, we can’t leave,” says one of the be-scrubbed people, and “Don’t, don’t” and “Still dropping” and “Another clamp, if you would.”

“Doctors!” he cries, stepping closer. “Nurses. You have done all you can and more besides and it will not be forgotten I assure you,” and one and then another steps back, falls back before him. “But this is what she needs,” his hand in all that searing light clenched in a fist, “and it’s not for you to see.” And he opens his mouth around a short sharp breath, then lets it out in a word, “Go,” and the passage of that word ruffles scrubs, aprons, flutters caps and masks, ripples the cloth spread over the body that’s been laid upon the table.

The Duke lays the plastic bag on a side table by a rack of stainless tools, a dish, neatly folded squares of gauze. With the hand that isn’t burning he whips sheets back, knocks aside a tented frame, exposes her there, pale, limp, naked, the red ruin of her belly peeled open, laid back. Yanking plastic tubes from his path a long needle from her arm heedless of the blood. “Shut that down,” he says as beeps and buzzes sound, and Luys shrugs and heads for the station behind the table where most of the alarms seem to be sounding. The Duke carefully pries a hissing mask from her face with his free hand, working it off over her wet red hair. “Jo,” he says, under the buzzing, the bleeps. “Please.” His other hand drips fire over her breast, her belly, white-gold light that sizzles against her skin.

By the wall Luys lifts his sword and brings it down in a shower of sparks and the bleeps squeal and shriek and stop and the buzzing dies.

The Duke dips his burning hand into the plastic bag and the whole room lights up, a sun shining there on that table. Squinting he drags it through the air over along her body and again and in its wake her pale skin blooms with color and with warmth. Again, and as that light passes over a third time her belly’s smooth, unmarred.

“Jo,” says the Duke, leaning over her, taking her head in his hands, that sun gone dim, just ripples now, the reflection of light on water somewhere licking at his fingers. “Come back,” he says, a whisper, and Luys looks away. “Jo,” says the Duke, “come back to me,” and he kisses her lips, and her chest rises with a breath, and then another.

As he wipes his eyes an unbuttoned green striped cuff falls away to reveal a watch, heavy and gold. “Thank you,” he says, his voice a rasp.

“Not at all,” says Mr. Leir, brushing cinders from his shirt too brightly white in the harsh glare of the arc light. “You earned it.”

“It’s, I just,” says the man in the green striped shirt. “Words. It’s, they’re inadequate.”

“Of course,” says Mr. Leir, pulling on his white jacket. “Your coat?”

As they leave the cavernous room, Mr. Keightlinger steps into the glare with a broom, sweeping ash from the unfinished wood floor. Mr. Charlock’s at the edge of that circle of light, one hand cupping his eyes, peering out into that darkly empty room, the shadowy suggestions of columns, glints from the glass of the windows lining the far walls. “You hear, like, a laugh?” says Mr. Charlock. “Weirdest damn thing.” Mr. Keightlinger shakes his head.

“What news of the Bride,” says Mr. Leir, in the doorway to the room.

“Unchanged,” says Mr. Keightlinger, stooping for the dustpan.

“Hadn’t left the house in days,” says Mr. Charlock, turning, squinting in the light. “We’re growing moss out there.”

“And tonight?” Mr. Leir’s frowning at the soot-streaked toe of one of his white bucks.

“Dinner,” says Mr. Keightlinger. “You called us in for this shindig,” says Mr. Charlock.

“You’d rather grow moss?” says Mr. Leir, tugging a handkerchief from his pocket. “Mr. Kerr,” bending over to rub at the toe of his shoe, “deserved his reward. Six months ago, Killian wasn’t going to run.” A last wipe at his gleaming shoe, he folds the handkerchief carefully and again. “Today, he’s the clear favorite over Beagle.”

“Well her mother’s got a big dinner party tonight, so hey, good timing on that reward.”

“And the new guardian?” says Mr. Leir.

Mr. Keightlinger, dustpan in hand, stumps over to a bulging garbage bag, empties the ashes into it. “What’s to know?” says Mr. Charlock. “He’s the worst possible choice.”

“Worse than the Chariot.”

“The Chariot was a machine,” says Mr. Charlock. “Predictable. This guy? He’s,” and he shrugs, hands wavering, looking for a word. “Nuts.”

“That’s an excuse?” says Mr. Leir.

“There’s a girl,” says Mr. Keightlinger.

“A girl?”

“There might be a girl,” says Mr. Charlock. “That he’s, I don’t know. Seeing. We’re doing what we can.”

“Do more,” says Mr. Leir, turning away.

Mr. Charlock rubs his eyes, blinks, steps further into the shadows. “So you didn’t hear it, huh? High-pitched, like a giggle? A girl, I don’t know – ”

“Mr. Charlock?” says Mr. Keightlinger, by the door. Away across that circle of light the little guy’s a hint of shoulders, a gleam struck from his bald head drooping, kneeling there in the shadows. “What is it?”

“Huh?” says Mr. Charlock. “Nothing.” In his hands a pair of underwear, bikini underpants with blue and white stripes. He wads them up, stuffs them in the pocket of his jacket, stands, turns, steps back into the light. “I’m hearing things. Let’s get back to it.”

The fireplace cold and dark, two wing-backed chairs drawn up before it empty, the reading lamp on the thin-legged table there unlit. On the bed pillowed in a deep down comforter Ysabel on her side wrapped in a short white robe, black hair heavily damp. Feet crossed at the ankles, white nail polish chipped and dingy, no rings on any toes. Calves shaded with delicate black hair. On a flowered saucer on the nightstand a cigarette wrapped in brown paper, burned down to a feathery twig of ash, a thread of smoke still tugging at its smothered cinder. “You will dress yourself for dinner,” says the woman standing at the foot of the bed in a simple black sheath and sheer black stockings. Her glasses narrow with black rims. Ysabel does not respond, or move, or even stir. “If you do not, don’t think you won’t be taken down in that.”

“Don’t encourage her,” says the old woman by the door.

“Goddammit, Ysabel,” says the woman at the foot of the bed, “don’t make me call the Mooncalfe,” and “Anna,” says the old woman by the door, quite stern, and then, quite softly sweet, “leave her to me, dearie. Guests will be arriving at any moment.”

Anna looks back at her, nods once, crisply, turns and takes her leave. The old woman flips a switch by the door and the fixture in the middle of the ceiling fills the room with too much light. Her hair is long and glossy white, hanks of it gathered in braids that wrap about her head like a crown and hang down before her shoulders to either side. Her plain grey dress blushes pinkly iridescent as she sits on the edge of that bed. “Well,” she says, with a heavy sigh. “A lot just keeps on happening, doesn’t it. And none of it due to you.”

Ysabel burrows more deeply into the pillows.

“Oh dear,” says the old woman, “oh dearie dear. Have you given up so,” and “Don’t dearie me,” says Ysabel, muffled by the folds of her robe. “So quickly,” says the old woman. “Did you think it would be easy?”

“Don’t ask rhetorical questions, either. I don’t need a lecture, Gammer.”

“What do you need, child.” She strokes Ysabel’s wet hair, her cheek, just visible. Ysabel lifts her head and looks the old woman in the eye. “A different dress,” she says.

The Gammer leans back on an elbow to look over her shoulder. Hanging from one of the half-open louvered doors there the other side of the bed a froth of white lace draped over a satiny ivory slip. “That will look lovely on you,” she says.

“It’ll look like a wedding dress,” says Ysabel.

“You are the Bride.”

“The King comes back tonight, then? During mother’s ridiculous dinner?”

The Gammer smiles. “Something’s lit your fire,” she says. “I’ve missed that, these past few days. Your mother’s many things, but I’d never say she was ridiculous. What’s got you so frightened, child?”

Tucking the folds of her robe under her chin, Ysabel says, “Am I broken, Gammer?”

“Broken?” says the Gammer. “And what’s put that idea into your head?” Sitting up. “Ysabel?”

From behind her fingers Ysabel says, “I tried a turning.”

“Did you,” says the Gammer, softly. “And how’d you go and do a thing like that? Without the King to hold your hand, and me still here in the world.”

“Wild queens once lived in the mountains,” says Ysabel, “and spun straw into gold the livelong day, and nary a king in sight.”

“The Soames told you some stories,” says the Gammer. Her lips pucker. “A jar of rabbit was it, then.”

“I drank it down,” says Ysabel, and “Ut,” says the Gammer, shaking her head. “I drank it,” says Ysabel, shifting on the comforter, sitting up, “and it did something, inside – ”

“Dearie, don’t,” says the Gammer. Ysabel’s undoing the belt to her robe. “Jo found me,” she says, and “Never should have left you,” mutters the Gammer as Ysabel says, “Jo found me, lying, lying in my own, vomit,” and she opens the robe, “and Roland cut it out of me, and, and,” her words stumble over a sobbing breath.

“And not a mark on you,” says the Gammer, brushing Ysabel’s belly with the back of her hand.

“It hurts,” says Ysabel.

“Oh, it will,” says the Gammer. “But not because of any cut or spew.” She stands, steps over to the bay window, looks out into the street. “It’s not to be drunk, child.”

“Then how.”

“Wait for the King.”

“But why.”

“It’s what is done,” says the Gammer, pushing the curtain open a little more. “The Duke’s arrived.”

“The Duke,” says Ysabel. A cough, to clear her throat. “Who’s with him? The Mason? The Cater?” The Gammer shakes her head. “Who?” says Ysabel. “Not Greentooth, surely.”

“No,” says the Gammer. “Not Greentooth.”

Ysabel kicks her feet off the bed, hurries to the window, heedless of her open robe. Throws another curtain back. Her hand leaps to her mouth. There below in the rain under a clear umbrella the Duke in his brown and blue striped suit, and beside him Jo in a long straight gown the color of old bone, streetlight flashing from the spangles on her jacket, pink and orange and red.

“She’s come,” says Ysabel. “She’s come for me.”

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