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She sits – what has Been Lost – All is Well

She sits leaned back in a nubbled green armchair, Marfisa’s sheepskin coat about her shoulders, bare knees scuffed, gleaming under the too-bright fluorescent light, hands restless in her lap. “It’s all right,” murmurs Marfisa, knelt before her on the grimy carpet. “Petra’s coming. She’ll be here in a minute. You’ll see.”

“It hurts,” says Ysabel, her voice quite small.

“I know, lady.” Stroking once those short black curls, and here and there a sprig of silver. “But you’re safe. Everything’s going to be fine.” Pressing a folded towel to Ysabel’s throat, her cheek.

“Everything hurts,” says Ysabel, green eyes blinking, dull.

“I know, my lady.”

The freshly painted green and purple door flies open, Gloria bursting into the little windowless room, “What the fuck,” she’s saying, “what the absolute fuck, you brought her here?”

“Not so loud,” says Marfisa.

“Fuck loud,” growls Gloria, “fuck you, fuck this, this, this this is why we, this is the whole reason, this is,” but Marfisa’s lifting one of Ysabel’s hands to the towel, pressing it close, to hold it, getting to her feet, “she’s, she is why,” Gloria turns to follow her, “we’re here, in the first place,” as Marfisa gently shuts the door. “If you keep on like that,” she says, hand still on the knob, “everyone will hear.”

“Fuck everyone,” snarls Gloria. “What were you thinking.”

“You died,” says Ysabel, letting the towel fall wetly heavy to her lap.

“What?” says Gloria, after a moment. Staring. “Jesus Christ,” she says. “That’s fucked up.”

“Yes,” says Ysabel.

“It’s fine,” says Marfisa, kneeling, taking up the towel. “Nothing’s wrong.” Pressing it back to the seeping white-lipped gash. “It’s going to be fine.” The door she closed cracks open. Anna slips within, closing it behind her. “My lady,” she says, ducking her head. “You’re hurt.”

“We jumped out a window,” says Ysabel, but “Stop doing that!” snaps Gloria, rounding on Anna. “That deferential bullshit. You’re gonna undo everything we’ve worked for, here.”

“There’s no need to be so strict,” says Anna, adjusting her glasses. “Yes, there is,” snaps Gloria.

“She has nowhere else to go,” says Marfisa. “That’s not our problem,” snaps Gloria. Anna’s hand leaps to her mouth. “Do you love me, Gloria?” says Ysabel.

“No!” snaps Gloria. “What the hell kind of,” and then, “question,” she says, and stops. “Oh,” says Gloria Monday.

“So,” says Ysabel. “There it is. That’s it.” Holding the towel to her throat. Smiling nonetheless.

“The hell it is,” says Gloria. “You don’t get to wave away everything you did to us like that, you have to,” but “Stop!” cries Marfisa, still kneeling before the nubbled green chair. “Ladies,” says Anna, “you mustn’t,” but Gloria, looming over Marfisa, “The fuck do you know?” she says. “You never took the work seriously. Always sneering, at the art, you roll your eyes every time Addison leads a session, you don’t give a shit about what we’re trying to do here – ”

“I’m not here for the work,” says Marfisa, quietly. Looking up. “You bought that. When you came. I was here already.”

“This is my building,” says Gloria Monday.

“Ladies!” cries Anna.

“Jessie,” says Ysabel, looking past them all. “Hello.”

“Hey,” says Jessie Vitaly in her pink and orange parka, her back to the door she’s just swung shut. “Good to see you.” She’s looking down, at the carpet.

“And I am happy to see you,” says Ysabel. “I’d thought you’d left.”

“Where would I go,” says Jessie. Looking up then, to Gloria, to Marfisa. “The crowd, out there. I think they maybe know you’re here?” A glance at Ysabel, then back to Gloria. “Thought maybe somebody should let you know.”

“Like she gives a shit,” mutters Gloria. Marfisa surges to her feet, “Take that tone once more, child,” she growls, but “My ladies, do not do this,” says Ysabel, and Marfisa stops.

“Our world ended today,” says Ysabel, wanly pale in that green chair, sodden towel pressed to her throat, the flank of her chemise translucently stained, still smiling. “Let’s not fight,” she says.

Click of the latch, and Jessie steps away from the door swinging open again. Petra B. steps inside, the almost empty garbage bag in her hand. “My lady,” says Marfisa, and sits on the arm of the chair, “my queen, it’s as I said.” Petra kneels before them unselfconsciously, unwinding the throat of the bag. “All is not lost,” says Marfisa. The too-bright light in that cramped room takes on a faintly golden tinge. Anna gasps. “Holy shit,” says Gloria.

Ysabel bends down, dropping the towel to the carpet. Reaches into the bag to lift out a shining pinch that she presses to her cheek, her throat, draws her smearing fingertips down, erasing the gash, eating up the sticky sheen with crawling sparks. Spreads what’s left across the palm of her other hand, and the dry white-crusted scab flares up a sunly bright that leaves them blinking. Stretches, tips her head this way, that. “Well,” she says, sitting back.

“It’s from that night,” says Petra B.

“Your first gleaning,” says Marfisa. “Almost a full portion, as strong and bright as when it first was turned,” but Ysabel’s shaking her head, with a sigh, “And there will be no more,” she says.

“You can’t know that,” says Anna. “Not for certain.”

“Of course I can.”

“So now you’re completely useless,” says Gloria, and Marfisa braces herself to get to her feet, but Ysabel lays a hand on her knee. “The paintings,” she says, “on the stage, below. Those are yours?”

“Yeah,” says Gloria, after a moment.

“You have a good line,” says Ysabel, sitting up. “You should find a new subject. There is a crowd below?” she says, to Jessie, who shrugs. Ysabel gathers up the garbage bag, “May I?” she says, to Petra, who nods, sitting back on her heels. “My lady,” says Anna, “I did for your mother, I’ll do for you,” as Ysabel gets to her feet, “any of us might stand amanuensis for you, ma’am, we can,” reaching for her, “ration out what’s left, a pinch at a time, and try again, until we get it right – my lady!” as Ysabel opens the door. “Please!” At that, Marfisa closes her eyes.

“There will be no rationing,” says Ysabel, looking back to them all from the doorway. “No husbandry. This,” hefting the almost empty bag, the weight of it swinging about, “this is extravagant,” she says. “Or it is nothing.”

Out onto the walkway, above that cavernous warehouse, the dozens of them below all turning to look up at the ring of her footfall in the sudden, echoing silence. “My people,” she says, too quietly, and a crack in her voice, she takes a breath, “My people! All of you. All of you who, who could. Be here. My, people.” Looking down. The heavy bag still turning slowly in her hands. “Today,” she says, “has been a terrible day. We have lost our King, my brother. We have lost a peer, our Hound the Count Pinabel, two,” she says. “Two peers. We’ve lost our Huntsman. The Duchess, of Southeast. And we’ve lost,” closing her eyes, “ourselves, the part of us that makes this, this world,” looking up, “this unbearable world,” out over them all, “worth the bearing.” The thick-necked man in grey coveralls, Brether Ned, the woman by the tables, Meg Mullach, paused in the act of adjusting her wide red suspenders, Thorpe in her long black coat, her little grey hat, and Cherrycoke beside her, tool belt slung from a shoulder, and sharp-chinned Jenny Rye.

“I have failed you,” says Ysabel, the Queen.

From the room behind her Marfisa steps out onto the walkway, and Petra B. “I have, done things,” says Ysabel. Gloria pushes past Anna, stood there in the doorway. “Terrible things,” says Ysabel, “unforgivable, things.” Jessie, arms folded, head bowed, behind Anna. “But my one regret,” looking to them beside her, behind her, “is what I could not do.” A briefly bitter smile. “I failed you. And tomorrow, you will go,” Cragflower in his red apron, blinking quickly, “you will find another queen,” Offa beside him, taking his hand, sky-blue polo and chinos, “another court,” Lustucru in a grease-stained T-shirt, Trucos and Getulos in their paint-smeared smocks, “another city, a finer one, than this,” they’re all looking down, shaking their heads, “No,” says Templemass, and “No!” cries Big Jim Turk, “My lady! No!” She grips the rail before her with her free hand, “I am sorry,” she says, not loudly, but the cavernous room falls silent. “I am sorry,” she says, again. “But that is what may come. But what may come will come tomorrow, and tomorrow,” her smile is bright now, “tomorrow is not tonight!” She lifts a handful of light from the garbage bag. “Tonight!” she cries, and the whole room takes a breath. “Tonight, we once more say what’s never once been said. Tonight we shine a light that never once was seen. Tonight!” Her hand too brightly full a sun above her head. “Tonight, we tell them,” a deep breath, “we tell them all,” she says, terrible and stern, “we are. Still. Here!”

Hurling the light, reaching for another handful, hurling that, again, soundless sunbursts into countless wheeling sparks that, burning, fall, that falling slow, that float, cinders of light, billows of brilliant golden smoke, arcing comet trails of morning light that softly overwhelm the harsh white buzz of the fluorescents, that seep into upturned faces, reaching hands, that dazzle eyes, and then the shouts, the laughter, the scraps of song, whoops that break out as she hurls another handful, and redouble as she hoists a bare leg over to perch half-sat upon the rail she clutches with her light-soaked hand. Marfisa starts toward her, but the sound that’s rising from them all, louder and more loud, a nameless shapeless vowel lifted to meet those drifting settling stars, then slipped into a dizzying ululation that rings up and up to meet her as she steps out into the air, onto those skerries of light.

Laughing, singing with them as they take up another swooping pass of that simple phrase, throwing back her head as it climbs to its keening peak, throwing back herself as it croons away again, pillowed in all that glorious light, and the ribbons of her ruined chemise twine loosely languidly weightless, the garbage bag in her lap spilling light. She wrestles it open, and a galaxy’s unleashed, a milky gold too bright to look on swirling all about her in curling threaded arms that drooping sag even as those hands, those faces, those mouths below begin to rise, and every color tumbling from the stalls so richly weight full to overflowing glimpsed through all the light. Marfisa reaches after her, Jessie ducks her head, Anna beside her an arm about her, and Gloria halfway down the stairs, agog at her canvases on the stage, and Petra B.’s already lost in the crowd, the crowd, Luchryman and Umlauf, the Buggane, Charlichhold, Iemanya, Gordon there by Hilda in her chair, still dubious, even now, and Manypeny, Sweetloaf’s got an arm around the Blue Streak’s shoulders, both of them lustily singing along, and Carol with them trying to keep up, and little Sproat twirling with Addison, Herwydh with blossoms in her hair, and Bobbi just looking, looking about, hands folded over her heart, hands, so many hands, that pluck stars from the air, that swing plastic baggies like nets through roiled and coiling light, hands that brush those floating ribbons, let them trail through their fingers, a slipper caught as it falls, hands that yearning touch her, ankle, elbow, knee, her hip, her shin, her shoulder, hands that take her settling weight, that ease her down, hands she kisses each in turn, hands full of light. Another round of that simple phrase vaults up, and Ettie looks up after it, and Chrissie still in black, leaned back in her arms, smiling small and somber, reaching out to Ysabel among them, Ysabel her chemise undone, limbs splashed with light, Ysabel her green eyes shining, Ysabel her kiss, and Ettie’s laugh of delighted shock muffled by another, the three of them pressed together among them all, four, the Starling not so tall, hood pushed back by shining hands, her short hair silver-shot, her green eyes shining and her wet cheeks in the light about them all that swells so bright, that chorus soaring up and out, away over the streets, across the river, up even into the hills the faintest echo of it, and kneeling the other looks up at the sound of it, from the remains of the throne broken on the grass so far below, just in time to see a bloom of golden light smudging the night so far away, above the streetlights and shadowed trees. Standing, stepping back from the precipice edged with broken glass, a gust of wind tousling that crown of ivory hair. Scowling at them all arrayed there, knights in blue suits and fleece vests, weapons put away, some stood waiting, some sat upon the polished floor, some on their knees. “I thought you said it was all gone,” growls the other.

“It was,” says Rhythidd, in his blue shirtsleeves. “It is,” says the Gaffer, knelt in his dark pea coat. “Turned to ash in our hands,” says Agravante, and Pyrocles beside him.

“Well, she got more,” says the other, stumping back toward them, crack and pop of glass underfoot. “We’re gonna have to do something about that.”

“But my lord,” says the Serpent, his denim stained. “If her power is restored, then all is well!”

“Restored?” snarls the other. “Restored? You think, after what’s happened, after we did what we’ve done, we can just, what, kumbaya ourselves back to, back to,” one pink hand waving about, “normal? After this?” That pink hand slung back, at the empty wall, the shattered, glass, the missing throne. “’Cause let me tell you, boys and girls, normal ain’t coming back. Normal’s toast. Welcome to the brave new world.” That hand swung back around, those fingers crooked, “C’mere,” to Ray, there at the one end of the crowd. “C’mon, come here. I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

Ray lets go of Annisa’s hand and sets off, hesitantly, across the room. As he nears the other he lifts up his dark hood over his bright hair, but then almost immediately lowers it again. “I, um,” he says, but, “It’s all right,” says the other, that pink hand lifted, turned to clap Ray on the shoulder. “Go on. Tell them. Tell them.”

“My lord!” cries Iona, on her knees before Agravante. “Your grace,” someone else, Euric.

“Tell them who you are,” says the other, not unkindly.

“Ray, Ray Miller,” he says, and a quick look back at them all. “Look, I just, want to go. Okay? I’m done, I’m done with all this, I can just, walk away. Okay?”

“Okay? Okay?” says the other, pitched mockingly high, and then, “You’re done. Done with what?” A shake of his shoulder, gasps and murmurs from the knights and peers, “Tell them,” snarls the other.

“I, um,” says Ray, but Welund steps from his brother’s side, “My lord,” he says, “enough. Whatever has happened, whatever has been done, this,” reaching out to them both, imploringly, “was your King. Is, our King. We must respect that.”

“Yeah?” says the other, lifting that other hand, the one not clamped about Ray’s shoulder, whipping it suddenly across the margin between them, but not a sound of a slap. Instead, as the other holds that other hand high, Ray takes a gurgling retching breath, a bubbling cough, and a look of such disappointed shock as he tries to catch the blood that falls from the line across his throat. The other lets go his shoulder and Ray sags, legs folding, torso toppling, head hitting the polished floor with a thunk, a splatter.

“Do kings do that?” says the other, turning away from them all, lifting that hand to lick, quickly, the blood from the wicked shard of glass pinched between thumb and fingers. A shudder of delight. Deftly tucking the glass in the breast pocket of the navy suit coat, adjusting the knot of the narrow black tie, turning back to them all, the body between them, crumpled, still, but for the flickering darkness of spreading blood. “Somebody,” says the other, “clean that up.”

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