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“He’s awake” – Breakfast – 3 Questions –

“He’s awake.”

Pewter beads at the ends of his mustaches clacking thump against his shoulder as Pyrocles turns, blue suit shining, away from the sword thrust upright in the middle of the room, floor charred in a circle neatly black about, toward Robin Goodfellow all in black in the archway under the stairs, and brusquely past him into a dark hall papered with overlapped labels from wine bottles, beer bottles, bottles of bitters and liqueurs, past the white door hung with a sign that says Employees Must Wash Hands, past three men sat upon the floor, heads drooped, lolled back, hands in laps or laid on the knees of ragged trousers streaked with drying paste, over and between their outstretched legs to where a puddle of light’s seeped past the jamb of a second door, pushing it open, stepping into a small room lined with books, and more books stacked on a couple of wing chairs, and the narrow tables to either side, “Becker?” says Pyrocles. “Are you within?”

Becker’s head appears above the high back of an oxblood leather sofa, what’s left of his hair slicked back, cheeks hatched with stubble. “I just,” he says, “I’m sorry. Woke up.” His shirt of berry-colored plaid unbuttoned, dark hair sparse about his clavicle. He pulls it closed, looks down, about, “I can’t find my phone.”

Pyrocles steps close, holding something out, “I kept it safe for you,” he says.

“Safe,” says Becker, sharply, taking the phone. “And you are?” But then he looks away from Pyrocles’ pale eyes, “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m a little, disoriented. I’m not – sure? Where I, am, or how I got. Here.”

“You’ve forgotten,” says Pyrocles.

“I must’ve had something fierce to drink last night,” says Becker, swiping at his phone. Frowning. “Is this some kind of joke?” he says, looking up. “How the hell is it already April?”

Tripping he staggers naked back through the garbage crumple of slithering pop of plastic crunch and she pushes herself upright, untwisting her dingy tank top, “What the fuck, Luke.”

“Lake!” he snarls, crouched there, dark beard lankly wet. “It should have been simple,” he mutters. “What have you done.”

“Me?” Jessie kicks garbage away, red Ked flopping unlaced on her foot. “Me?” Another kick topples boxes, scatters cans across what’s left of the gridded stacks, the ragged lines of garbage that stretch across to where he squats in a shallow crater of trash. “You got the name wrong,” he says. “Isadora. Lucette. Lizzie, Annabelle, Jezebel.” A sneer hunches his mustache. His hand shifts from knee to lap. “You never took this seriously.”

“My name,” she says, “is Jessica Vitaly.” Looking away, the floor-length curtains behind her. “I have a, father, and a mother, a stepmother, and a mother I haven’t seen in twenty years, I have two little brothers, but I do not have, I never had, a sister.”

“If you weren’t going to play, you shouldn’t’ve played. Who taught you,” raising his voice to cut her off, “who taught you, to drink? To smoke?” Getting to his feet. “Who showed you how to walk in heels, to shimmy those hips? Who first put on your lipstick?” Wide step over a berm of garbage, softening cock a-wobble. “Who taught you to yearn, to crave? Who else could’ve been the first you ever wanted, and wanted to be?”

“You’re not,” she says, her anger taken aback to bewilderment, “I don’t – ”

“You never answered the question,” he says. “And now the spell is broken. You could have been with me, up above the river, under the earth, where it’s three but not ten, and only ever,” she coughs, he blinks, “fourteen,” but she’s quivering giggles bubbling up abruptly hiccuping, a whoop leaping out of her, swallowing guffaws enough to say, “Shut up. Shut the fuck up, Luke.” Kicks back through the garbage toward the drapes, the sleeping bag spread open and the parka puffy pink and orange that she seizes, shoves her arms into the sleeves, laughter fled she’s trembling waving an arm about loose cuff flapping wet with something, “Shit!” Stoops to scoop up wads of trash, food wrappers and newspaper, plastic bottles whip and clanging cans flung at him, “God!” she shouts, and “You!” and “Fuck!” bouncing off his arm his hip he ducks a cereal box blue tape flapping smash of a glass jar, she’s screaming, hands on her knees now, twist of cellophane ghosting about her, still a thumping, rapid banging, someone’s pounding on the other side of a wall.

“Shit,” she says, when the pounding stops. Snatches up a crumpled sheet of paper, goldenrod stained dark at a corner, most of the pull-tabs at the bottom torn and gone, and the figure splashed across it in black ink. “You,” she says, she starts to say, but then she stuffs it in her pocket and sets off, too quickly, heedless of the garbage slipping underfoot. “What was that,” he says, lurching after, “where are you,” seizing her hand, “Jez!” yank and twirling stumble by the door, “Fuck you,” she snarls, grunts, hauls him into a levee of flattened cardboard crash, and the pounding starts again. He sits up, knocking coffee grounds from his beard. “Jessie,” he says. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She gets back on her feet. “That’s what you all say.” She opens the door. “Every single motherfucking last one of you.”

Leaned on push brooms, a mop propped in a bucket, tool belts about hips or shoulders, wiping a plaster-smeared trowel, hefting a spool of glossy blue cable or a dripping plunger, all of them looking to the raised stage at the end of the cavernous warehouse, the canvases displayed there, the dancing figure ink-splashed on each, and before them Gloria Monday, long black hair shining under racked fluorescent lights. “Is it the milk?” she says too quietly, and then, a bit louder, “We’ve been leaving out the milk.”

A man steps up, bouquet of wire-caged lightbulbs clutched under one arm, his other hand held out, a little plastic baggie, a nod, go on, take it. Gloria holds it up in the light, peering at the ashy dust within. “I don’t get it,” she says.

He turns away, bulbs chiming, they’re all turning away, someone’s ducking under the half-raised overhead door there, Marfisa, sheepskin collar upturned, white hair twig-matted, freighted with rain. They press close, tool-clank and step-scuff, and the flutter and crinkle of baggies, of glassine envelopes in hands outstretched, and all the dust within unsparked grey ash. She pushes through as they hurry hustle step back out of her way, past Gloria turning “Mar?” to the skeletal staircase footsteps clanging up to the walkway, where Anne Thorpe in her long black coat peers blearily at two men in smocks by a door freshly painted, purple and green, and baggies in their hands with wet brushes, past and up the ladder bolted to the wall, up and up to the planks laid over joists a ceiling up and over.

“Okay,” says Gloria, “it’s all right,” calling out, “she’s here, everybody! Marfisa’s here. She’s gonna,” there’s Anna, in a checkered nightshirt, and Petra B. in a wine-colored robe, slipping into the crowd. “She’ll sort this out,” says Gloria, and an anguished cry rings out from above.

The stillness that follows a breath stretched much too far until in a rush it’s all let out, a keening howl, and a shape’s whipped over them all from the shadows of that attic, shallow flat and tumbling a box, and the scramble as they hasten from where it will fall, push and scuffle catching help each other back and away from the splintering crack and cloud of what it held, of dust, softly falling through harsh light, shadowy flakes of dull sparkless ash that settle on the concrete, and still that horrid ululation.

“Oh, no,” says Anna, staring at the broken box.

A wincing grunt, he reaches for his lap, the head there tousled dirty-gold hair a-bob as his hips jerk on the dun-colored chaise. A yellow tie draped over his shoulders, his collar open, cheeks grizzled with stubble brownly shadowed in the low light of the dressing room, “Brother!” he calls, hips lifting, a spasmed grimace. “In here! Not a drop,” to the woman sat up between his knees, back of her hand pressed to her lips.

“You’ve seen it,” says the man stepping in, “have you? Haven’t you?” Blue dress shirt, salmon tie neatly knotted. “You spoke to Harfang. Dandyclaw? Dandyclaw saw what, yes,” holding a small but ornate brass headset to one ear, he’s nearly shouting into it, “All of it? You’re certain?” and, with a nod, he taps it, and looks down to the man on the chaise. “Mousely says the Champoeg vault’s still whole and hale, but everything else…”

The woman in her gauzy caftan gets to her feet, hand still over her mouth. “Break your fast, Rhythidd,” says the man on the chaise, buttoning up his trousers.

She plucks the headset from Rhythidd’s ear and pulls his mouth to hers, and with a lick he takes her kiss, leans into it, shovels his tongue in her mouth to slurp and swallow, and lets go. “Autophagy’s at best a short-term solution, Welund,” he says, and licks his lips.

“Any solution’s short-term, in the long run. Now let Wilolly be about her business, and you about yours, that we all might get on with our days.”

“M’lord,” she says, and reaches for Rhythidd’s hand, but he lifts it away, to the knot of his tie, “What news of the King, brother?” he says.

“He passed the night at Goodfellow’s,” says Welund, with a shrug.

“And her majesty?”

“Only that she has met the King, and they are to go to the house in King’s Heights,” says Welund, buttoning up his shirt, “to which, as soon as I’ve restored myself, I shall repair, and you to the Hound in Goose Hollow, and then, dear brother, why, then we shall know the news.”

“But what of her amanuensis,” says Rhythidd, as Wiolly looks over her nails.

“If you mean the Gallowglas,” says Welund, adjusting the drape of his tie, “she is as yet unfound; if you mean some other, why, we should know, soon enough, if you would not mind,” and he holds out a hand, an importunement, and after a moment Rhythidd nods. Wilolly sinks to her knees, and then the jingle of a buckle, undone.

Leaf-bladed shears part to bite the belt about those hips, saw through it, chew on down the seat of those grey trousers winey brown with blood. Peeling up she lifts out the sopping tail of a black T-shirt, gathered with the warm-up jacket in her blue-gloved hand, and slits her way up the broad back, more blood oozing from jammy clots with every cut. Gingerly through the collars of jacket and shirt, shying from the matted hair still tied in a stunted club of a ponytail, but despite her care the head does wobble on what’s left of the throat. “We’re going to have to strip the carpet out,” says the woman behind her, hugging a bolt of white lawn to her breast, “we’ll never get it cleaned,” stepping back, “not without,” but a crunch underfoot, she looks down, swinging the bolt of fabric out of the way, to see a pair of sunglasses dappled with blood, one purple lens intact, the other greenly shattered. “Oh,” she says, as the woman with the shears yanks cloth away from back and buttocks bared a mottled expanse of bruise, “oh, why are you still here!” and squats beside the body to unroll the snowy lawn.

Downstairs, Agravante still in his pale robe looks from the ceiling back down to the thin glass tube in his hand, capped with cork, sealed with dark blue wax. Holds it up in the sunrise streaming through the windows there, but the thread of dust within’s still coldly grey. A guffaw rumbles from the shadows well out of morning’s reach: “You’d weave another circle round me?” A bone clatters the length of the dining table between them, chunk of vertebra spangled dully silver, rolling a die to wobbled stop by the flared end of an ulna flaking green. “Better make it fast, this time.”

“You’ve had enough?” says Agravante.

“Enough?” growls the other. “What does that even mean, enough.” A lick of shadow, a hand perhaps, pressed to the table. “If I said no, would you offer me another? How many do you think I could eat, before they broke, took off, left you flat? Not nearly as many as it would take to finally get you on your feet yelling stop, you monster, enough.” Leaning close, to the very edge of the morning light, “You God damned idiot. The hell were you thinking, cuckooing me out of my egg like that?”

“Certain,” says Agravante, “oracular powers, are said to accrue to one such as yourself.” His gaze blank, his face slack, all framed by matted white hair. “Properly tended.”

“Properly?” That grinding laugh again. “Well somebody sure as shit kicked your plan in the toilet. And you, you were gonna dip your thumb in the cauldron – you went and put your foot in it!” Something in those shadows starts to swirl. “Well. Tell you what I’m gonna do: I’ll tell your future, here, now, for free. In a minute, after you’ve answered three questions, you and me, we’re gonna get up and go for a ride. How’s that for an oracle?”

Agravante says, “You’ll frighten the horses.”

“Ha! Okay. First: is there still a Court, and a Queen?”

“Insofar as I know,” says Agravante.

“Such a bravely ironical tone!” Whatever it is lurches, rears up to crumble in the shadows, but the voice without a trace of effort continues, “And would that be Queen Arabella? Queen Duenna? Or Queen Ysabel?”

“Ysabel,” says Agravante, leaning forward, squinting against the light, but he jerks back when the shadows fall over a chair, lean on it, splinter it to kindling. “Who’s the King?” that voice, quite cheerful as the whorling twisting suddenly stops. A floorboard creaks with a shift of weight. “Well?”

“Her brother,” says Agravante. “Lymond.” And then, with wonder in the word, “Grandfather?”

“Hardly,” scoffs the other, stepping into the light, shooting the cuffs of a crisp white shirt from the sleeves of a navy suit, the tie black, the belly round, the head pinkly bald, but for an ivory crown of hair. “Though I see how you could get confused. Now!” A sharp clap. “Get dressed. We’re off to see the neighbors.”

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