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the Sound of Bottles, clinking

The sound of bottles clinking in the distance. Ysabel tips back her head the hood of her parka slumping. She doesn’t so much blow the smoke from her mouth as let it drift, tugged back as she walks on down the sidewalk. A little parking lot beside them before a pale building that says West Bearing & Parts over dark awnings. She hands the glowing cigarette to Jo, who says, “Feeling better?”

Ysabel shrugs, nods, blows the last of the smoke from her mouth. “How do you feel? Besting the Chariot, two for two?”

Looking down the empty street Jo takes a drag and shrugs. “Does that one even count?” she says, and they cross, against the light.

“You touched steel, this time,” says Ysabel. The corner before them blocked with flimsy orange fencing and a sign that says Construction Sidewalk Closed by City Permit, and up and up behind the fence a thicket of naked girders and beams. They jog across to the opposite corner as a red hand flashes, stop, stop, stop. Jo says, “Do you think he’s right, about the Duke?”

“Do you think he’s right about me?” says Ysabel. A sleekly low-slung chair isolated under a spotlight in the store window behind her.

“I don’t know,” says Jo. “What’s with the cramps?”

“I just needed fresh air, and a walk. I told you. I feel so much better now.” As Jo glaring turns to walk on, Ysabel grabs her arm, pulls her back. “I did, I really did see what will be, Jo. I saw myself as Queen. I saw you and your sword at my side.”

“So, when? Next year? A couple years from now? Five or ten?”

“I don’t – ”

“I mean, it changes a thing or two, you’ve got some kind of peephole to the future. Who’s King?” and as Ysabel’s saying “I don’t know” Jo says, “There’s usually a King in this sort of thing, right?”

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel again. “I didn’t see. But, Jo, you have to trust me. I did see us, together. It will be.”

Jo drops the cigarette butt to the sidewalk. “It’s not a question of,” she says, grinding it under her boot. Cocking her head.

“Not a question of, what? What is it?”

“That sound. The bottles.” Jo heads back to the corner. “The hell with the bottles?” Looking around down Twelfth instead of back up along Everett. “Ysabel, what the fuck?” The next block down a couple of blankly blocky buildings sheathed in corrugated white metal to either side and up between them crossing high over the street a slender conveyor belt, railed with metal, clanking empty green bottles from one open yellow-lit hatch to another. “The fucking brewery,” says Jo. Stepping out into the empty street. “It, they ripped this out. Tore it down. They’re putting up those,” and Ysabel’s saying “Jo” as Jo’s saying “condos, I don’t,” sniffing, “what the hell?”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, over the loudening clatter of glass, “Jo, it’s all, it’s all gone quiet – ”

But Jo in the street’s standing stock-still. A dark shape a block or more away against the light splashed from those bottles, a jacket shapeless about the shoulders, a long skirt, long hair lofted in an aimless gust. “Of course,” calls Orlando, his voice quite clear. “Of course she couldn’t stay. Of course I had to take her home. Of course I had to be here, now, to meet you, one last time.”

“Why did you do this to me,” says Jo.

“Why?” He’s walking toward them slowly, his left hand on the hilt of the sword he’s pulling like a curl of light from the air. “I didn’t want to deny the Axe her satisfaction, but I had to do something. Sending you to your death as you lamented again the death of your son?” He whips the sword before him. “It might have been amusing, had I not been too late. Still. Couldn’t let all that work,” and another whip of a cut, his jacket snapping over the clink of glass, “go to waste.”

“Why me,” says Jo, the word caught in her throat.

“I don’t like you,” says Orlando, stopping there, less than half a block away. “If you try to run again,” and he points his sword at Ysabel, “I will cut her down, first.”

“Remember your duty, Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel at that, and his laughter’s high and wild. “Duty? Not a quarter of an hour’s passed, Princess, since I saved us all by saying no. I’ve done my duty for the night. I trust, Gallowglas, you’ve remembered your sword this time?”

Jo’s dropped the duffel, the box upright before her. She’s opening the flaps at the top. “Jo,” says Ysabel, her eyes wide.

“I know,” says Jo, and she shucks her leather jacket. Her satiny red blouse quite dark in the dim light. She reaches into the box and draws her sword.

“Mark this, Princess!” calls Orlando, holding up his right hand wrapped in white. “I’m down an eye, and a hand. Let no one say this was an unfair fight.” Slinging his sword up and back over his shoulder head down skirt flapping he’s running headlong at Jo who says “Shit” and leaning stepping left foot back she swings her sword her hilt high a parry catching his savage one-handed cut with a shrieking scrape turning just as he runs past pushing his sword and hers up and up and out as he plants his foot and stops suddenly juddering his arm his blade turning down, back, ducking under her arm recovering from that wild parry as he pushes back against her and the wedge-shaped tip of that blade –

Ysabel’s hands leap to her mouth.

Jo trembling lowers her arm, her sword as Orlando turns there to face her. She looks down stupefied at the rip in her red shirt fluttering about the blade of his sword stuck there through her belly. Looks along it to his hand there on the hilt. Looks up. Tries to look up. She can’t quite lift her head. With a grunt he yanks his blade free and her blood splatters to the pavement as he steps back, throws his arms up, “La!” he cries. Jo’s leg buckles under a step she wasn’t about to take and leaning back she topples to her knees. He’s slinging her blood from his sword with a whipping jerk. Ysabel her hands trembling violently tries to catch a scream that just won’t come. “This, this isn’t,” says Jo, falling back, her head clopping against the pavement.

“You’re mine now, aren’t you,” says Orlando. Rubbing his right hand with his left.

Wavering a little her hands still trembling Ysabel walks past him to stand over Jo, trying a couple of times to kneel there beside her without falling. “Quickly, quickly,” says Orlando, as she smooths Jo’s wine-red hair. Kisses Jo’s lips once. Stands, a scrape of metal as she turns, Jo’s sword in her hand.

“Really, Princess,” says Orlando.

“Mooncalfe,” says Ysabel thickly, “I would no more have you in my court.”

“Your court?” he says, and then, “She’s off the field of battle, that will no more hurt me – ” and he steps to one side as she lunges at him, and snatches the blade with his wrapped right hand. Wrenches it from her grasp. Catching her hair in his left hand, hauling her back against him, and the sound of bottles has since stopped. An engine coughs to life, an orange car rumbling past, down Everett. “Let’s go,” says Orlando. He pushes Ysabel up onto the sidewalk, stepping after, Jo’s sword in his hand. “We’ll ask your mother what I’m to do with you.”

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