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“Turn up there” – such steep Freight – the Pinch of the Times – one Hell of a shiner –

“Turn up there,” says Guthrie from the back seat.

“It’s going the wrong way,” says Becker behind the wheel. A flock of cellos scrapes and squalls from the stereo.

“It’s on Nineteenth!”

“Which is one-way the wrong way. I’m going to go up and double back. If it’s even there.”

“It’s there,” says Guthrie, as beside him in the back seat the woman in the confetti-colored cap says “It’s under the bridge. Right where it touches down.” Guthrie’s holding one of her hands in both of his. “I swear it’s on Nineteenth,” says Guthrie. “You go up too far, you’ll have to come down Twenty-third, which, I mean, fuck.”

“It’s been there for over a hundred years,” she says. “The bridge is no older than you are. They built it to close the circle but it was too late.”

“You’ll end up having to double back through all those, uh, parking lots. Where that company is.”

“You’ve been there before?” says Becker. “What’s the cross street? Which letter? R? S? U? What the hell is U, anyway? Is there a U?”

“I don’t know,” says Guthrie. “Upshur,” says the woman in the confetti-colored cap. “Hurry. Hurry!”

“What’s the deal with that?” says Becker, cranking the car through a quick right turn against a red light. “What is it I’m gonna spoil, anyway?” The cellos thundering now. Becker snaps the stereo off. “Huh?” She doesn’t say anything. “Guthrie. What’s her deal?”

“You know,” says Guthrie. He’s looking down at her hand in his. “She sees things, sometimes. I think sometimes that includes, you know. The future.”

“The future,” says Becker, stopping for a stop sign. “This is why you haven’t been coming to work?”

“You never believe me,” mutters Guthrie.

“Don’t stop!” cries the woman. “What’s wrong? Go! Go!”

“Why?” roars Becker, glaring at them through the rear-view mirror. “What’s going on? Who the fuck are you, and what are you doing to Guthrie?”

“You – don’t?” says the woman.

“He forgets,” says Guthrie. “He’s forgotten again.”

“Forgotten what?” Becker snaps around, eyes ugly, mouth screwed tight. The woman trembles under her confetti-colored cap. “What am I forgetting? What?”

“Go,” says Guthrie. “You’ll see.”

Growling Becker jerks the car into gear jolting forward into the intersection lurching to a stop as something thump-rumbles over the hood, a figure white in the streetlights.

“Shit,” says Becker. “Oh, fuck me.”

The woman in the confetti-colored cap screams.

“Shut up!” says Becker. “Shut her up.” He climbs out of the little red hatchback. There’s a bicycle on its side rear wheel canted up spinning clicking loudly, a white bicycle, handlebars twisted, flowers scattered on the pavement, over to the side someone face down, grey hoodie and grimy white jeans and black sneakers still. “Hey,” says Becker. “Hey. You okay?” He steps toward the body slowly, hands held up before him. “You’re not dead. Please don’t be dead.” Stooping over the body, reaching down for the hood. “Honestly please.”

“You’re far too late, my friend.”

Becker looks up. Walking toward him across the intersection a big man in a dark blue suit. To either side of his mouth droop mustaches, long and grey. Behind him off to the right there above the trees behind a row of houses the swooping curves of onramps, the great towering arch of the bridge hazy in the dimming blue and gold and rose, the red-roofed tower of a church.

“Pyrocles?” says Becker.

The body at his feet scuttle-rolls away hands and feet scrabbling on pavement swarming over the bicycle hauling it upright as Pyrocles leaping forward hands up over his head swinging down a greatsword cracking the pavement striking sparks where the bicycle’d been and Becker stumbling back loses his balance falls on his ass oofing out his breath. Pyrocles takes a long lunging step swinging the sword sideways skimming the hood of the car to slice through the grey hoodie collapsing into a twist of rag of nothing at all as the bicycle riderless falls again to the pavement with a clatter and a clacking thump.

Pyrocles straightens. Wipes his hands on his thighs. “Need a hand?” he says.

“I hit that guy,” says Becker, climbing slowly to his feet. “Where did he go? What just happened?” Pyrocles raps on the windshield of the car. “Didn’t you just have a sword? Hey! Are you listening to me?” Guthrie’s opened the car door, craning his head up to peer out over it.

“We must hurry,” says Pyrocles. “They won’t follow us into a church. There’s one a few blocks that way.”

“That’s where we were headed,” says Guthrie.

“We’re not going anywhere,” says Becker. “We’ve got to call the cops or something.”

“The police can’t help us,” says Pyrocles. Guthrie’s helping the woman in the confetti-colored cap out of the back seat.

“I can’t just leave my car,” says Becker.

“That car,” says Pyrocles, “will kill the next person to drive it. Quickly! They never travel alone.” He strides away down the darkening street, followed quickly by Guthrie hand-in-hand with the woman in the confetti-colored cap.

“Would someone,” says Becker, staring after them, “please tell me what just happened?”

They’re sitting again, the twenty or twenty-four of them, Ysabel feet tucked up asprawl across two folding chairs by the Soames, Twice Thomas behind them, his cap resting on his knee. Across the circle Jo sits by Ray, who’s leaning over to murmur something in her ear. Open Mike stands in the center of the circle, arms wide, saying “With all due respect – ”

“Seven days and a day, Brother Mike,” says an old man with a big white beard, an American eagle embroidered on the back of his worn denim jacket.

“With all due respect, Brother Templemass,” says Open Mike. “I’m well aware of our terms.” He looks about the circle, his thin brows drawn together in a single line. “You’ve all heard Sister Jenny’s report. Our reserves were depleted by the clean-up and repair of the mall. His payment for that bill was almost enough to cover the subsequent repairs to the freeway in Sullivan’s Gulch. Until he covers that, brothers and sisters, we’re tapped. I only ask that you look to the future.”

“I don’t like the future after we’ve needlessly antagonized the Duke,” says a sharp-chinned woman in grey coveralls that say Jenny Rye over the left breast.

“How can even he pay such steep freight twice in a month?” says a small-featured man with fox-red tufted hair and a goatish beard.

“Seven days and a day,” says the Soames. “We press the issue Sunday morning, not before. Unless – ” she inclines her head, bright light sliding up the lenses of her spectacles. “Is Brother Michael’s proposal seconded? That the Local seek restitution immediately from the Duke, for the repair of the freeway in Sullivan’s Gulch?”

“Let me get this straight,” murmurs Jo, leaning over Ray’s shoulder. “They fixed the fucking freeway?”

“I guess so,” he says.


“I don’t know.”

“Because I was there. It was totaled.”

“But it’s fine now, right?”

“With that,” the Soames is saying, as Open Mike takes his seat, “unfinished business is concluded. I should like to introduce our guest this evening, who has done us an incalculable honor by attending on such short notice.” Jo snorts. “Our Princess, the intended Bride of the King Come Back.” A rustle sweeps the room as caps are removed, heads bowed, hands placed palm down on knees. The Soames still standing says, “I’ve asked her to tell us of a matter that bears directly on Brother Michael’s concerns. In a word, lady,” turning then to speak directly to Ysabel sitting upright now, legs crossed under that voluminous denim skirt, “the Apportionment. It has been rather lean of late.”

And then the Soames sits.

Ray, catching Jo’s eye, hikes a brow, shrugs his mouth.

Ysabel uncrosses her legs, sits forward as if to stand, stops. Then with a deep breath pushes herself to her feet. “Thank you, Nell,” she says. “This is all something of a surprise to me. I’m afraid,” and then she shakes her head a little, to herself. “I can tell you,” she says, “that when the King comes back, and I am sat as his Queen, you will find in me a true and constant friend.”

For a moment nothing is said.

“Thank you, lady,” says the Soames, “but might you speak to your mother, and tell her of what you’ve heard here tonight?”

Ysabel starts to say something, but does not. Her hands folded one wrapped in the other. “No,” she says. “My mother knows your plight, as she knows everything that happens in her city. If your portions are lean, it is because times are lean. You’ve seen it yourselves – a Duke’s as pinched as a charman – ”

There’s grumbles at that, groans. “Oh I doubt it,” someone mutters. Rustling, shifting. “I,” Ysabel’s saying, “I don’t, you must understand.” The Soames gets to her feet. Ray’s hand is on Jo’s arm. “Brothers and sisters,” says the Soames, pleading.

“Settle down!” booms Open Mike.

“I am not yet Queen,” says Ysabel as the room quiets. “I am not my mother.” She lifts her hands to her face, fingers fencing her mouth, and her eyes closed she lets out the breath she’s been holding and lets her hands drift back down before her, once more folded together. “I can’t do anything about the Apportionment, not now, not yet. But I can do this.” One hand unclasped slips into the pocket of her skirt to pull out a small plastic baggie, swollen with gold dust.

“What is she,” says Jo.

“This,” says Ysabel, “is the last of my reserves. Times are what they are. But I know the, the importance of the work you do.”

“Oh,” says Ray.

“And so, because I am, and will be, your friend.”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, but quietly.

“I offer it freely to you.”

“Oh, wow,” says Ray, and chairs scrape, shoes squeak, the room climbs to its feet, surges toward Ysabel, arms reach out, some push away, some are pushed, and Jo’s shoving her way through the middle between Biscuit and a kid in a grey T-shirt. “Hey!” calls Ray, lost in the hubbub of thanks and pleas and cries of “Lady! O, lady!” Ysabel’s stepping back from them, eyes wide, and stepping back again, hemmed in by the piano, the baggie in both hands up over her head. The Soames beside her, arms wide, “Brothers and sisters!” she cries, but they’re reaching over her head. “Hey!” cries Jo, in the thick of it, “Gallowglas here! I’m the fucking Gallowglas coming through!”

“Animals!” bellows Twice Thomas, and suddenly it’s still again.

“Little better than rude beasts!” he says.

“Tommy Tom,” says someone, and “Hey, I” says someone, and “Shut up” says someone else. Twice Thomas working his way along the front of the crowd says “That’s what they say about us. That’s why, they say, they must portion it out. To each his own, they say, but on their terms, and in their own sweet time, and if they take the lion’s share for their troubles, who are we to complain?” He’s standing by Open Mike now, before Ysabel and the Soames. “So a Duke will never feel the pinch the way we do. That’s no excuse to prove them right.”

“Your gift,” says the Soames, catching her breath, “is very generous, lady.”

“I hadn’t,” says Ysabel, leaning close to her, “I didn’t plan on this, I don’t have scales or little bags or – ”

“There’s glasses and measuring spoons in the kitchen,” says the Soames. “Brother Michael, if you’d be so kind?”

Jo doesn’t say anything in response. She straightens her right arm wrist rolling clockwise the épée in her hand a line pointing shoulder to tip at Vincent’s chest. He nods and without unlocking his eyes from hers he steps his left foot out to the side his weight shifting right foot following and again. The tip of her blade smoothly follows. His left foot crosses behind his right swiftly doubling the step and twice more quickly now, his prosthetic still cocked between them, his sword still down and away. Her blade-tip swinging to follow she’s stepping her left foot back to the right her shoulders swinging to stay edge-on. “What else,” says Vincent.

“What else?”

“What else is here?” He lowers his left arm, relaxing his right arm, shoulders lifting and settling, his feet planted. “It’s not just me, girl. There’s the light.” His left arm gesturing, harsh light glinting from the hook. “The shadows off to the side. The mirror. Those swords by the door behind you, ready to trip you on your ass. There’s a lot in this room besides me.”

“Okay,” says Jo, her arm bent again, her épée back in its guarded angle, “okay. Number two is where’s everything that isn’t me. Got it.”

“You’re sure,” says Vincent.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “On to number three.”

“So you’re in a hurry,” says Vincent. “Okay.”

“Wait – ” says Jo, but he’s taking three quick loping steps to plant himself before Ysabel hitching her feet back out of his way, hiking herself up, back against the mirror. His left arm’s up between them hook snapping once turning his head toward Jo his blade coming up knees settling there between Jo and Ysabel, and his smile is now quite clear and sharp. “Well?” he says. “Now what?”


On the floor on her side in the dark her left hand held close in her right, Jo’s worming around tucking as a boot crashes down next to her head as someone else trips crashing over her legs.


On the floor on her knees her face in her hands Ysabel’s crying out to the floor unseen, Twice Thomas huddled over her his cap long gone, gold glittering the backs of his hands. The darkness sparked by flickering spindrift swirling in the wake of scooping hands pinching fingers tumbling legs to limn shirt-creases and pant-cuffs, chair-backs and upended chair-legs, fingertips, lips, the edge of a face. “Jo!” she cries again, and “Jo!” as all about them ring sobs that billow atomies of gold, moans and cries of “No, oh no!” and “Lady, please!” and “The owr! Save the owr!” In the midst of it all stands the Soames stock still, her hands empty before her, at her feet the bent tray, the litter of broken gold-shot glass.

A click, a buzzing hum, lights flash to life in the ceiling here and there, the basement once more pinned beneath that harsh white light that silences them all. They’ve stopped where they are, then slowly they turn, slowly look about. Biscuit rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, his fingertips gleaming. Sproat curled into a ball in a litter of fallen chairs, Rye Jenny crouched beside him, her fingers in his glittering hair. Jo’s hunched over an upright chair by Ysabel, on her feet, looking up to the head of the low flight of stairs leading into the room.

“Anvil,” she says. “Welcome.” Her voice flat and calm, her face expressionless. Her eye swollen red and purpling, a red weal down her cheek.

“Lady,” says Pyrocles. “You’re hurt.” Behind him Becker, panting, behind him Guthrie and the woman in the confetti-colored cap.

“Sidney,” she says. “The former Dagger.”

“He’s shown his face,” says Pyrocles, coming down the stairs, reaching into an inner pocket of his suit jacket.

“He’s turned his coat,” says Ysabel. “Gone over to my mother’s sister, and the Helm with him.”

“They’re the ones who’ve called the ghost bikes,” says Pyrocles. “The church is surrounded.” He’s pulled out a small plastic baggie, a thimbleful of gold dust. “We only just made it.” He stoops to peer at her face, working the baggie open with his fingers, but she shakes her head. “Jo’s hand,” she says. “She touched him.”

Jo’s holding her left hand tightly in her right, the skin of it tightly swollen, red, blotched here and there with black blisters. “My motherfucking Christ but he was cold,” she gasps.

“Please,” says Ysabel to Pyrocles, cupping her hands together. He tips the dust into her hands. “I do not know that it will suffice,” he says.

She folds her hands together and lifts them to her lips, whispering something eyes closed into the steepled hollow of her fingers. She sinks to her knees by Jo. “Hold still,” she says. She opens hands over Jo’s palm, and Jo hisses. She takes Jo’s hand between hers, rubbing the dust into the flesh. Jo’s shoulders jerk. She bends over Jo’s hand and presses the palm to her lips as her heavy black hair slides from her shoulders to curtain the kiss. Jo lifts her head face clenched gasping then slowly, slowly relaxing, her breath slowing, deepening.

Ysabel straightens, brushing dust from her lips. “It wasn’t enough,” she says. “It’ll sting, for a few days yet.”

“And you’ve got one hell of a shiner,” says Jo.

“I’ll be all right,” says Ysabel, and then, with an uncertain little laugh, “I can’t have a one-handed knight.”

“We are so sorry, lady,” says the Soames. “We should never have put you in such danger.” They stand together now, before the folding table laden with the coffee urn, beneath the banner with the dove, the leaves, the rainbow. Hands at their sides, folded together, clasped behind their backs. Caps on heads. “We must get you out as quickly as possible.”

“Don’t be foolish,” says Pyrocles. “What do you mean to do? Batter your way through the cordon of ghosts? Touch one with anything but a weapon and not even your dust would be left.”

“How many are there?” says Open Mike.

“Dozens!” says Guthrie, as Becker says “Ten or so.”

“Eleven,” says Pyrocles.

“So call for help!” says Open Mike. “A handful of knights could scatter them in minutes!”

“That’s what they want,” says the Soames. “Certainly, they could be scattered. But one or more knights would die.”

“That’s what they’re for,” mutters Open Mike, as Jo’s saying, “And it’d be my fault. Again. This touching thing,” she says to Pyrocles, wincing as she opens and closes her hand. “Is that for everybody? Or is there a Gallowglas exemption?”

“You might feel a chill,” says Pyrocles.

“All right. And there’s three of us here, now – ”

“Four,” calls Ray, sitting in a chair over by the piano.

“It would not suffice, Gallowglas,” says Pyrocles. “Even if you locked arms to shield her with your bodies, they’d ride into you, knock you down, touch her. I could perhaps surprise them, attacking from inside their cordon – if I cut enough of them down – ”

“There’s another way,” says Ray. “Bust them up without knights. Without putting any of you in danger. This church,” he says, looking up at the low ceiling, “is practically smack dab under the biggest bridge in town.”

“Oh!” says the woman in the confetti-colored cap.

“She’s got a clue,” says Ray. “What is it, folks, that lives under bridges? In fairy tales?”

Table of Contents

Hall of the Mountain King,” written by Edvard Grieg, in the public domain; performed by Apocalyptica.

M.E. Traylor    6 August 2010    #

Ooooh, coming all together. This development with Ysabel is really intriguing.

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