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“I will,” says Ysabel – the Last he has – How, and Why –

“I will,” says Ysabel, sitting back, water sloshing milkily about her, “in a minute, I’m going to.” She sighs. “Go. Under. Until it’s done. The owr.” Reaching up out of the water she takes Jo’s hand in her own, slickly shining. “It might take some little while.”

“Define while,” says Jo.

“Minutes?” says Ysabel. “A few minutes. Nothing more. You mustn’t worry.”

“Underwater,” says Jo.

“Just don’t let go,” says Ysabel. The water trembles about her, the surface of it wrinkling, and already in the thick white clouds below sparks flare. “Ysabel,” says Jo, shifting her grip from Ysabel’s hand to her wrist, and “I’ll be fine,” says Ysabel, “Jo,” she says, “Jo, trust me,” and “I do,” says Jo. “In this,” says Ysabel, “trust me.”

“I do,” says Jo.

“Do you,” says Ysabel. “Do you,” but she bites off the next word, turns away, and her other hand breaks the water’s skin a billow of steam lifting to wipe at eyes and cheeks sheened with water, sweat, with tears, “it’s never, I always, I always knew, before,” she’s saying. Looking up, those green eyes immense, the black fuzz of her shorn hair.

“Ysabel,” says Jo.

“Now, I don’t,” says Ysabel.

“Yes,” says Jo.

“Do you,” says Ysabel, water lapping her chin, and “Yes,” says Jo again, as Ysabel says, “love me?”

“Of course,” says Jo. Looking down. Swallowing. Her other hand pressed between her breasts, fingers flat against her skin. “I love you,” she says.

Ysabel ducks her head again, a sniff, a smile. “I love you, too,” she says, and she hikes up a deep shuddering swallow of air and cheeks bulging, eyes shut, plunges suddenly under the water. Her hand the last of her to slip under, and Jo’s with it, into the whitely swirling mirk.

A short straight sword, the hilt of it wrapped in white leather yellowed with long handling, quillions and pommel heavy and plain. The floor where it’s been thrust is singed, scratched wood black and rough as charcoal in a neat ring about the blade. Ysabel stands with her back to it, long white coat colored by Christmas lights blinking in the window, white hat in her hands. Her hair spilling down, over her shoulders, black curls tangled here and there with sprigs of white. She looks expectantly up the flight of stairs that descends into this big front room. By the front door there a woman waits, powerfully built, yellow track suit, white piping, and from somewhere further back in the house, brittlely slippery guitar chords rise and fall.

Footsteps above, a murmur, a floorboard groans. Black sneakers, black jeans descending carefully, leading a tic-thock, tic-thock of polished black heels, long black skirts swaying like a bell. The man in the black jeans steps aside as the woman pauses, gathering herself on the last step, hand on the newel post, hand on her hip. Long black coat buttoned up to a hint of white collar at her throat. Long hair glossy, almost entirely white, twisted into a ruthless coil of braids. “Chariot,” she says, and the woman in yellow nods. And then, “But where’s your brother? Has the King not come to see me to my exile?”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Mother,” says Ysabel.

“It’s to be the end of me, you realize.”

“Have you packed?” says Ysabel. Her mother gestures absently, and Robin Goodfellow all in black sets the small black bag he’s carried on the step beside her. “I have so little left, you see,” says Duenna says.

“Your health,” says Ysabel. “Family. A city, restored.”

“I see,” says Duenna, chin lifting, lips moued. And then, “Majesty suits you.”

“The car’s waiting, Mother,” says Ysabel, sweeping her hat up onto her head. The Chariot all in yellow opens the front door.

The noise in the bar, the crowd, the piano and bass somewhere above it all, so Becker leans close over the standing table between them, the drinks, what’s left of his martini, the other darkly red in a squat glass, a curl of lemon peel. “I told you!” he says. “I don’t have any idea what I’m doing!”

“Who does?” says Kerr across from him, hair a dark untidy mop, his shirt striped red and brown, a gold watch heavy about his wrist. “You’re making more than twice what you were for less than half the work. What’s to understand?” He sips, he shrugs, he sips again.

“But why?” says Becker.

“I like you?” says Kerr, and he grins, and he laughs. “You have talents!” he says, laying a hand on Becker’s. “A keen eye, a cool head, and who but me’s seen that?” He swallows the rest of his drink.

“I’ll get you another,” says Becker, of a sudden, pushing away from the table, and Kerr looks after him, quizzical, bemused.

“Gin martini,” says Becker, when he can get the bartender’s attention, “and a Sazerac.” She nods, she’s reaching for glasses, bottles, and he taps his fingers on the bar, takes a paper napkin, folds it over, and over again. “Do I know you?” he says, to the man at the bar beside him, who’s looking down, the mustaches drooping to either side of his mouth, the ends of them gathered and weighted by heavy irregular beads of dull pewter. “That,” says the man, his voice pitched low, “is a question you must answer for yourself.”

“Okay,” says Becker, unfolding the napkin. “Do you know me. Every time I look up you’re staring. At me.”

“It isn’t only that.” He wears a blue jacket, tight across his shoulders. “No,” says Becker, smoothing the napkin flat. “No, it isn’t.”

“My name is Pyrocles,” says the man in the blue jacket. He lays a hand flat for a moment on the napkin, between Becker’s hands, and when he lifts it away a clear plastic baggie is left behind, almost empty but for a pinch of dust, twisted into a corner of it. “The hell,” says Becker, looking up, blinking, “drugs? I don’t – ”

“Not medicine,” says Pyrocles. “Magic. The last I have. Tip it into a glass of water tonight, and drink it off before you take yourself to sleep. And tomorrow, then, if you remember,” his hand on Becker’s shoulder, and Becker doesn’t start, or shy away, “come to Mount Tabor, midway between sunset, and midnight. The reservoirs, on the southwest slopes.”

“Martini,” says the bartender, setting a glass down. Becker nods to her, takes it, and when he looks back that blue jacket’s pushing off away through the crowd. He turns about, looking over the crush of people to see the standing table by the window, Kerr leaning an elbow on it, phone to his ear. Becker sips his drink, and tucks the baggie into his pocket.

“Wait,” says Duenna in her black coat there on the sidewalk, by the bicycles parked in a jumble at the edge of the yard.

“Mother,” says Ysabel, in her white coat on the steps, a foot on the cramped front porch.

“Three weeks remain, until the Solstice. Three whole weeks. Why do we not wait, and do it properly?”

“Tomorrow night we hold the Apportionment,” says Ysabel.

“But,” says Duenna, agog, “you, you must rally the peers, you must gather up a whole new offering! You’ve no time to put me off like – ”

“It is all,” says Ysabel, “well in hand, Mother.” Coming down a step. The house behind her, the peeling pink siding, the tiny lights strung along the railing of the porch. “So soon,” says Duenna, and “Needs must,” says Ysabel, tightly, and “No!” cries Duenna, hands raised against Ysabel before her.

“Mother,” says Ysabel, again.

“Why can we not stay, the both of us, either of us on either side? Why can’t you and I just, go, back across the river? As we were?”

“It’s time,” says Ysabel.

“As we have been for so long?”

The front door of the house opens and the man who steps out’s tall, in a charcoal stripe suit. “Majesty,” he says, and a bow to Ysabel, who nods in return. Duenna’s drawn a hand back to her face, her lips. “Chazz,” she says, softly.

“Ah,” he says, with a smile. “My lady. I am better.” One hand to his chest there, just below his throat wrapped about in a black turtleneck. “The Devil, you know.” His trousers rolled at the cuffs, feet laced into stiffly shining black wingtips. His hand floats a gesture toward the front door opening again, the people stepping one by one out onto the porch, all of them in black, black shirts, black sweaters, black jackets and coats, and all their faces crudely blotched with reds, blues, yellows and black, rictuses thickly drawn on ghastly white. Shoulder to shoulder along the railing, silent, still, as behind them one last figure, stooped, tump and thock of the stick in her hand, shuffle and rustle of her tattered black cloak, and her white hair unbound, drifting lightly in the air. “You are,” she says, “you have,” and Duenna bursts into tears.

The woman on the porch lifts her stick, gnarled and grey, dull as driftwood, tossing it down to clatter before Duenna. One careful step at a time she comes down past Ysabel leaning back, out of the way, a bare foot nudging from under her cloak to kick the stick aside, and Duenna lifts up her head, sobbing, wailing wordlessly. She reaches for Duenna’s cheek and Duenna twists away, her own hand coming up to catch, to grip, to hold. “You’re here,” she says, and a gulp, a hiccough.

Ysabel looks away, up to the Devil, the clowns, waiting, expressionless.

Ragged tatters, straight black coat, white-haired heads leaned together, tangled and braided, nodding in unison. “Seize her,” says one of them.

The Devil nods, steps back, as two of the clowns push their way over to the steps, one little and round, one taller, head wrapped in a black scarf. They stop there to either side of Ysabel waiting patiently on the steps below, and they look from her to each other, to the Devil, to the figures on the sidewalk, draped in black, crowned in white. “Seize her!” cries the other of them, and with a shrug Ysabel lifts both her hands up and out. The clowns, gingerly, tenderly, each take hold of a wrist.

Up the ladder, out into that high wide room, the glass wall blankly black, down the hall, boots loud. She grabs the frame of one of the side doors jerking to a stop, a kitchen brightly lit, white cabinets gleaming, lemon yellow floor. Luys, sitting at a table in his yellow chamois shirt. Standing at the sink the man in buff coveralls, washing his hands. “You coming?” snaps Jo, and Luys looks up, startled, nodding, stooping to gather up his brown ski vest from the floor at his feet.

She’s already in the car by the time he makes it out the front door, her head tipped back, eyes closed. The dressing on her brow a pale flash in the dark. He sits himself behind the wheel, pulls his door shut.

“Still no answer,” she says, her hand on her knee, her phone in her hand.

“Jo,” he says, but she looks over at him. “Did you know?” she says. “I mean, did you have any idea?”

His hands on the wheel. A bit of leather thong tied loosely about one wrist. “I had my hopes,” he says.

“Hopes,” she says. “Okay.” Stuffing her phone back into her jacket. “So,” she says. “I have somewhere I need to be.”

“You have but to tell me where,” says Luys, starting the engine.

Spitting wine poured into her mouth, black in the darkness lightening to a red that slathers her cheeks, her throat, purples her yellow camisole, coughing, she laughs. Shadows pass over, a hand reaches in, green clumped on two fingers pressed to her eyelid, smudged, the other, another hand red thickly across her mouth, brighter than the wine that’s stained her chin. She ducks away, shaking back her hair, curls of it heavy, wet. A figure backlit squats before her, haloed in white frizz tangled, harsh light slopping over a bare shoulder, blue-veined breast brown-nippled. Knobby fingers grip her chin, her cheeks, pointed grey nails dimpling her skin, turning this way, that. Another figure behind her, bare flesh stooping stark in the light. Knobby flat-nailed fingers take up the weight of all that hair. “Memento,” says the one. “Godhvydh!” the other.

“Yes,” she says. “I know.”

Pulling that hair into a sheaf, tugging, jerking her back she pulls forward, wincing, “Nakoirano,” says the one, and “Riaghail,” the other, and “Yes,” she says. “Yes.”

“Mer, mr-no. Murnan, Mimir.”

“Caw. Cwo cwi caw. Fetch them.”

A rustle, a step. “Th’art,” says the one, and “Thou rul’st,” the other. “How, thou art,” and, “Why, the rule.” Black sleeve, a hand holding by the blades a set of shears. Her eyes widen. The figure before her takes the shears by the joint and passes them handle first to the figure behind. “No,” she says, struggling against her jacket tugged down, binding her arms, “this stops,” she says, but her head’s yanked back, her hair pulled taut, “Remember!”

“Thou art.”

“Know this.”

“Memento.”

“Remorse.”

“I am,” she says, “you must, wait,” but those grey nails dig into her cheeks again, “Thou art regal, daughter mine.”

“Thy rule, my Queen.”

“Memento.”

“Regere.”

“How.”

“And why.”

“I am,” she says, again. Indistinct about them, painted faces float in the darkness. She nods. She says, “Yes, I will.” She says, “I am.”

“Thou art regal,” the whisper in one ear. “Thou art regal,” the whisper in the other. Shears lifted, blades spread with a scrape of metal. Hair lifted, wound about once, the hank of it fitted between. The flat-nailed fingers, squeezing. Her eyes, closing, as the blades bite.

Waiting under the blank sky far above, stirring as here and there someone, someone else, moves through the crowd toward the bare stage, off to the side there, stepping up onto it, a man in a pale suit glimmering blue in the light, and he lifts his shining hand to them all, his hair white, touched with gold, hanging in dreaded locks down to his shoulders. Behind him, a tall woman in a gown of sequins glittering like water, like starlight, like mail, her arms and shoulders bare, her close-cropped hair a gunmetal grey. Over there, mounting the steps on the other side of the stage, a short man, heavyset, tweed suit brown and green and a meshback cap on his head, and when he holds both his hands up shining there are cheers and whoops and whistles from the crowd. And there, hoisting herself up in the middle, black jeans, black jacket swinging open as she stands on the stage, turning, her T-shirt red, and in her dark-gloved hand a mask, a skull of white with empty eyes, teeth crudely drawn, a long black mane brushing the stone floor of the stage. The noise of the crowd falters, fades, back to that rustling stillness, and the light, growing now even as the crowd parts, shuffling, turning, looking back, to where that light is breaking. In a yellow raincoat over a plain white shirt, his pink hair washed out in the brilliance, the King, Lymond, waving to them all, shaking hands as he makes his way down the aisle they’ve made, and at his side, in her long white coat, Ysabel, the Queen.


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