Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

“Gentlemen!” – Change & Tradition – Intent – a Fine enough Distinction –

“Gentlemen!” bellows the Duke, and he pounds the hood of the car. The muted conversations, the laughter from the big man in the bulky sweater, all of it rumbles away to stillness. “Thanks,” he says. Maybe ten of them in the little parking lot to the side of the big brick temple, steaming cups in their hands, here and there foil-wrapped burritos, a paper boat loaded with quesadilla. Paper bags, ripped sauce packets, shreds of foil scattered over the hood of the reddish-brown car. “You all know Jo Maguire.” The Duke in his camelhair coat and a snap brim tan fedora, Jo beside him in her black leather reefer jacket, her wine-red hair bright in the thin-stretched morning light, a cigarette smoking wanly in her hand. “Jo, here’s, well, some of the boys. Anybody know where’s the Shrieve?”

“Milwaukie,” says the one in the peach and blue check jacket. The one in the long black coat says, “The Couve.” The Duke shrugs. “Busy man. The Cater,” pointing to the check jacket, “the Mason,” the big man in the sweater beside him. “Stirrup,” is the man in the brick-colored car coat, “the Kern,” a man in a black jumpsuit a-dangle with pouches and loops, “the Harper,” a big blond beard and a sheepskin jacket, “the Shootist,” the man in the long black coat, who tips his pale grey hat and says, “Pleasure to see you up and about, miss.” The Duke’s moved on to a man in a dark green work jacket. “The Axle,” he says, “and that’s the Spadone,” a man in a brown and black ski jacket, a grimy white apron stretched over his belly. “Don’t listen to a word he says – ”

“Yeah, boss, fuck you too,” says the Spadone.

“The Buckler,” a man in grey sweats, a cup of coffee in either hand, “and the Cinquedea,” a man in safety orange coveralls and a long red coat puckered with intricate embroidery. “There will be a quiz,” says the Duke, looking over the litter on the hood of the car. “Didn’t I ask for donuts?” he asks the boy behind him, slouched against the brick wall in a brown bomber jacket. The boy shrugs. “Anyways,” says the Duke, turning back. “The Gallowglas has given up her banner and sworn fealty to ours. So give it up for the newest member of the crew. She’s getting the Helm’s streets,” he says, “full stop,” as eyes avert, heads duck, shoulders shrug, fingernails are closely examined, coffee’s sipped. “Chilli,” says the Duke to the big blond beard, “Medoro,” to the work jacket, “Astolfo,” the grey sweats, a coffee in either hand, “this is name only. Y’all keep up the rounds as you have been. Also! Tonight. The Queen’s dinner. Jo’s my companion, another full stop. Do we have a problem here, gentlemen?”

Not a word or gesture from anyone until the Shootist hikes up his belt, the butts of his pearl-handled revolvers twinkling. “Nossir,” he says.

“Hart and Hive, boys, can I get a fucking hello here?”

And “hello” and “hey” they say, and “hi,” and “Salud!” cries the Spadone, and there are nods, and paper cups of coffee hoisted. Jo looks down, drags on her cigarette.

“Anybody worried about change? Tradition?” says the Duke. “In about a month, this whole damn city changes. Get used to it. Okay,” clapping his hands a sharp pop in the little lot, “let’s settle up.” He heads around to the back of the car, prising a single key from the watch pocket of his brown jeans. Opening the trunk he leans in to wrestle a box to one side and drag another closer, to haul up a glass jug sloshing something viscous, white, frothed with a sheen of bubbles, a hint of warm yellow gold. Balancing it with one hand against the bumper he reaches up for the trunk and as it thunks home yelps, jumps back, catches the jug as it teeters over the pavement. Jo’s standing right there, her frown slipping quizzically from the trunk to him, huddled, clutching that jug. “Startled me,” he says, straightening.

“You don’t need me for this. Right?” she says. “I’ll just head back upstairs.”

“Put that out first,” he says, and rolling her eyes she flicks the half-smoked cigarette away. At the door, her hand on the knob, she turns, looks at them all watching her. “Thanks,” she says, to all of them. “I, ah, yeah. Thanks.” She opens the door, she steps inside.

The Duke leans over to the boy in the brown bomber jacket. “I thought I told you to – ”

“You also said not to fucking let on. She stepped right the fuck up, I shoulda fucking tackled her?”

“Yeah,” says the Duke, sucking his teeth, “well.” Carrying the jug around to set it down before the car. “Okay, boys,” he says, unscrewing the cap, and they’re setting aside coffee cups, swallowing the last bit of burrito, producing bottles and jugs of their own, the Buckler cradling a plastic bag in his hands, quiveringly full of yellow-white frothy stuff. “One at a time,” says the Duke, “let’s go, let’s go,” and the first of them, the Mason, steps up to empty his bottle carefully, carefully into that big jug there on the pavement.

“Jo?” calls Jessie down the airy white room lined to her left the length of it with tall and narrow windows one after another. To her right in the corner a sofa bed’s unfolded, a nest of white sheets and tangled blankets below a big flatscreen television set. A girl asprawl on her belly all elbows and knees and knobby ankles kicked up in the air her big feet dangling, wearing underpants with a mouthless cartoon cat printed across the seat, a video game controller in her hands. On the screen a figure in a scanty purple cheerleader outfit swings a chainsaw in a roundhouse swoop at a shambled knot of zombies, grinding snarls and moans from little black speakers scattered about. She shoots an ugly look at Jessie and jerks her pigtailed head, further back, further in. The cheerleader’s running down a darkened hallway lined with lockers.

Past the sofa bed a long table under the windows, some high-backed chairs, four plates still set out bits of pasta and tomato sauce clinging here and there, an empty wine bottle, a couple of glasses. Past the table a red jacuzzi, over there a sink bolted to the wall opposite the windows by a white door paned with frosted glass half-open on a cramped bathroom. Well past that down a length of empty white plank flooring a queen-sized bed in a pool of soft light from the corner windows and beside it a ladder up to a dark corner of a loft under the high unfinished ceiling. At the foot of the ladder a steamer trunk, a couple of crates nailed shut, and leaning there by the ladder the black haft of a spear. “Jo?” says Jessie, peering up the ladder.

“Down here, sorry,” says Jo, from the floor over on the other side of the bed. On her back, hands folded over her belly, a white V-neck T-shirt and black jeans and her big black boots. A wineglass redly full by her hip. “I can get up,” she says, but she doesn’t.

Jessie in her dark brown cardigan sits on the bed all crisp white sheets and fluffy comforter, an orange God’s eye afghan neatly folded. “It’s okay,” she says. “How’s, how are you – ”

“It hurts,” says Jo. “And I’m still getting,” she swallows, “nauseous like, in waves – ”

“Nauseated,” says Jessie, and then, “No, don’t, nothing. Never mind. Did, did Leo tell you about – ”

“What,” says Jo, flatly.

“Somebody, Karen, from this shop up the street, she’s coming by with some dresses for you to try on. For tonight. Not for a couple of hours. I’m telling you,” leaning forward, elbows on her knees, “I’m telling you this because Leo, he, he moves fast.” Jo snorts. “What I mean is, he decides something, like this, and then he’s, well, up and on to whatever’s next.”

“No followthrough,” says Jo, hands tightening on her belly.

“He’s got people for that,” says Jessie. “Me, mostly. Ever since, for the last couple months.”

“Okay,” says Jo, and grunting she sits up. “You told me.” Picking up the wineglass. “I got a couple hours? I’ll just head upstairs, maybe take a nap or maybe another shower – ”

“Jo,” says Jessie, and Jo sets the wineglass back on the floor. A power cry from the other end of the room, the revving of a chainsaw, roars of pain. “I’m glad you’re here. I know this is kind of a, I mean it is a weird situation, but he really, he cares for you. A lot. So I’m glad you’re here.”

“Weird,” says Jo, “situation, what I don’t need, sorry, no offense, what I don’t need is the girlfriend telling me how cool he is.”

“I am not – ”

“Let’s play this straight, okay? The two of us?” Jo’s knees up, her arms about them holding on. “I’m not here because I want to be. I’m here because this is all I’ve got.” She swallows again. “This is how I get her out of there. So that’s how far I trust him and absolutely no further. Okay?”

“I was never his girlfriend, okay?” says Jessie, as Jo climbs to her feet, scooping up the wineglass. “He’s my employer. I do a job for him, he pays me. This is me being straight with you, okay? He’s a good man.”

“I told you,” says Jo, headed for the ladder, “what I do not need – ”

“Did you mean to kill Tommy Rawhead?”

Jo stops at that. “I didn’t kill – ”

“No?” says Jessie.

“The fuck does this have to do with – ”

“Intent,” says Jessie, leaning back on the bed, tucking a yellow lock behind her ear. “Did you mean to step out in the street when Roland struck him with the sword?”

“I didn’t know how it worked,” says Jo. “When that happened.”

“I was here that night,” says Jessie, “when they brought in, it was a bone, was all that was left. I saw the look on his face, Jo. I know what he’s forgiven you. He’s a good man. He didn’t do, what you said he did.”

“I didn’t mean to kill Tommy,” says Jo. She starts hauling herself one-handed up the ladder, careful of the full wineglass. “But still. He’s dead.”

He leans against the fender of the reddish-brown car, a black stripe down its side, parked across the street from an old green house up behind a low stone wall, a neatly narrow garden, columns brightly white in a tasteful glare. It’s raining harder now. He doesn’t seem to notice. He wears no hat or coat, just a track suit, green, with silver stripes, and darkly splotched with rain. Rain glistens in his close-cropped hair gone pinkly orange in the streetlight. He wears a pair of sunglasses the lenses like jagged pieces of green bottle-glass, and blue and white headphones cup his ears. His hands in fingerless bicycle gloves clasped before him. His face expressionless.

And after a time, though the rain falls much as before, he pushes himself up off the fender of that car, and shakes his head, and slowly walks away.

The soup’s brought out in a gilt tureen held up by a man and ladled out by a woman, both of them in trim black uniforms, and it’s smooth and thick, a brightly golden red in their wide white shallow bowls. Jo reaches for her spoon and the Duke beside her lays his hand on her wrist, barely shakes his head. Another man in a trim black uniform’s got a little cast iron skillet sizzling in his oven-mitted hand, and he scoops a couple-three croutons into each bowl, and the woman following him in her trim black uniform crushes a pinch of herbs over the croutons and sets a dry dead leaf, an oak or a maple, to float atop the soup. Jo reaches again and again the Duke shakes his head, more perceptibly. At the head of the table the Queen’s lifted her spoon. She tastes the soup.

“A passata de ceci, ma’am,” says the Majordomo standing behind her, his chin tucked behind his upturned collar. “A soup of chickpeas and tomatoes, flavored with fresh sage, peppers, saffron, and wild fiori di finocchio.”

“Delicious,” says the Queen, and up and down the table the clink of spoons taken up and dipped into the soup. “Dang,” says Jo, scooping up another spoonful, and then she picks up her glass, looks back for the attention of one of those black-suited figures, “Excuse me,” she says, quietly, as the Duke’s saying “Jo, just – ”

“Is something not to your liking, Gallowglas?” says the Queen.

“No. Ma’am,” says Jo. “It’s really very good.”

“Another drink, perhaps?”

“Well, I, ah – ”

“Speak up.”

All about her the clinks and discreet slurps of soup assiduously ladled up to mouths. “I was going to ask,” says Jo, “whether there was any maybe orange flavor? I mean, this is, this good, but with orange it would,” she sets her glass down. “It would taste like a creamsicle.”

“A creamsicle,” says the Queen. “Well, Majordomo? Might we fulfill her request?”

“There is a blood orange syrup flavor, ma’am.”

“Oh,” says the Queen, looking back with a smile at him, “do whip up a batch. One for everyone, that we all might sample this delicacy.” Looking down the length of the table now at Ysabel sitting at the foot of it, her hand on Jo’s, Jo staring tight-lipped at her soup. “Creamsicle,” says the Queen. “How marvelous. You must tell us, Hawk, how this trick was accomplished.”

“Without more context, ma’am,” says the Duke, leaning forward to catch her eye, “I’d have to fall back to my usual response.” The Queen’s still fixed on Jo.

“Which is?” says the Gammer sitting across from him.

“Clean living,” says the Duke.

“The last we’d heard the Gallowglas was dead,” says the Queen, and Jo looks up from her soup as Ysabel squeezes her hand.

“Left for dead,” says the Duke. “A fine enough distinction indeed, but there we are – ”

“Won’t happen again,” says Orlando, sitting across from Jo.

“Mooncalfe,” says Welund, a warning, there on the Queen’s left. “Blood oranges?” says the Count, alarmed, to her right. “Hush, Grandfather,” says Agravante beside him.

“I had hoped,” says the Duke, opening the fists he’d clenched to either side of his bowl of soup, “not to broach the subject until later – ”

“Yes, tell us, Hawk,” says the Queen. “Why have you brought a Gallowglas in my house?”

“She is now a member of my company, ma’am, and she has been wronged, by someone you have let into your house.”

“Go on,” says Welund gruffly after a moment.

“He means me,” says Orlando.

“They all know whom I mean,” says the Duke, an aside. “Five nights ago he drew on her without warning or quarrel – ”

“I have a quarrel,” snaps Orlando.

“Even if you had,” says the Duke, “even if he had, ma’am, it’s a quarrel long since settled by an earlier duel, a duel he lost, as his eye bears witness.”

Spoons jump. Orlando’s pounded the table. “I will not put up,” he says, and Welund says, “Let him finish.”

“This is absurd,” says Orlando.

“Any quarrel he might have is not with her,” says the Duke, “but me.” He picks up his drink, a finger or so of sticky red liquor clinging to melting ice, and he tosses it back, sets the glass down. “And before you all assembled, I say he is a coward for attacking her in my stead, and I demand the return of her sword, which he is not fit to bear.” Looking away from Orlando up the length of the table to the Queen with a sidelong smile. “Ma’am.”

A clink from Chazz there next to the Duke, chasing the last of his soup.

“That’s all?” says Welund. “The sword?”

“It’s all I ask of him,” says the Duke.

“This is tedious,” says the Queen, waving at Orlando. “Produce the weapon.”

“I am my own man,” says Orlando, quietly, his hands unmoving on the table before him. “No ties of toradh bind me.”

“You have the keeping of my daughter,” says the Queen, “and I’ll not risk your losing her to the likes of him in yet another blasted duel. Produce the weapon.”

His chair scrapes as he pushes it back, tossing a plain black scabbard to the table, with a throat and chape the color of thunderclouds. In his hand the bared sword long and straight, the guard of it a glittering basket of wiry strands that meet in thick round worked steel knots. “I don’t know why I bothered,” he says. “It’s not a terribly good sword.”

“The Anvil,” says Agravante, leaning back away from Orlando, “is the finest smith of this or any – ”

“Oh, I know,” says Orlando, spinning, lunging, thrusting. “I mean,” he says, head cocked, “the design of it.” The man in the trim black uniform confused looks down at the blade piercing his jacket, pinning him to the wall behind. “Only good for poking things,” says Orlando, straightening, leaning close to the man to plant his hand on his chest. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe her heart’s not in it? No anger,” he says, absently, “no fear…”

Jo eyes wide her left hand fingers knotted with Ysabel’s pressed to the lace of Ysabel’s gown.

Orlando wrenches the sword free from the man’s chest. “You see,” he says, over his shoulder to the Duke, “it’s lousy at cutting – ”

“No,” says Jo, working her hand free as the sword sweeps back. The man against the wall looks up from the hole in his trim black jacket in time for it to meet his neck in a clean quick cut straight through.

Agravante pushes his chair back and Jo leaps to her feet and as the man’s body slumps to the floor the man and woman waiting to either side of him step back along the wall to make room. The Queen her elbows on the table her face in her hands. Welund stepping away from the table, a cell phone to his ear. “Like chopping wood,” says Orlando, turning back to face the Duke. “Do you still want it?”

“Jo,” says the Duke. “Leave.” In one hand the stern hawk head of his cane, in the other the heavy pommel of his longsword.

“I’ll,” she says, shaking her head, “I can take care of – ”

“Go,” says the Duke. “I’d not have the lesson I’m about to impart made permanent.”

“I,” says Jo, and then, “oh,” and then, “oh,” backing away from the table as the Duke lurches to his feet. “I’ll be along presently,” he says. “With your blade.”

Ysabel’s hand’s found hers. Jo looks at it, looks at Ysabel’s eyes shining, her hurried nod, and hand in hand they turn away. A woman in a trim black uniform holds the door open for them as they stumble out into the hallway to the sound of ringing blades and the Queen’s voice bellowing, “Enough!”

Table of Contents

Lollipop Chainsaw ©2012 Kadokawa Games/Grasshopper Manufacture.

  Textile Help