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Sunlight, bright & clear – his First, his Second – his Particular end – the Least little Thing –

Sunlight bright and clear pours through snow-dusted branches, through leaded glass, through venetian blinds lowered but louvered open, striking sharply from the silvery coffee pot, the spoons, the fork laid on a pristine white plate, the untouched glass of tomato juice, the upright console of the telephone, silver and black. Black cords plugged here and there wound together into a single hank that dangles over to the bulky headset clamped about his ears, over the unruly dreadlocks, a dully fuzzed white touched with gold. “I’ve no doubt of it, Welund,” he says. Somewhere in the room a toy piano’s tinkling a line of a fugue beneath a sticky chorus of saxophones. “But do recall,” he says, “this career as coinsmith and debt-minter’s but a hobby? You serve the court as lawright, first and foremost. Forge me a thing of clauses and parentheticals that I might use to cut away this ludicrous guarantee.” His crisp shirt salmon-colored, with collar and cuffs of smooth pale blue. His fitted boxers blue printed with a pattern of little dogs and fishes. “Nevertheless,” he says. Sipping black coffee from a thin bone china cup, careful of the microphone. His other hand he’s pointing to the map pinned up over the sideboard, touching an intersection in Northeast, sliding west and north, up and along the horn of the city above the river, stopping just short of St. Johns. “I understand that,” he says, “I do.” The slender man standing next to him wears a blue suit tight over broad shoulders, and his pink tie’s so pale it’s almost white, and he reaches past Agravante, over the river, to tap another intersection, in Northwest, near a little blob of color that says Civic Stadium, not more than a block from the long clear line of Burnside.

“Our situation,” says Agravante, leaning over the table then, the platter of scrambled eggs, the dish of salsa picada, the tortilla warmer, “is, to use your word, fluid. Liquidity is called for.” He lifts a thin tube from a rack of them, each capped with cork and sealed with dark blue wax, each sparkling with threads of golden dust. He hands it to the man in the tight blue suit, who nods, then leaves, stepping past another man, younger, his pale hair elaborately braided, his sweater a pattern of jagged, angular blues. “Hold a moment, Welund,” says Agravante, tilting the microphone away from his mouth. “Well?”

“Returned to his temple with the last of the snow,” says the man in the sweater. “Since dawn. Hasn’t left.”

“But where was he between here and there?” says Agravante, quietly.

“We don’t yet know.”

After a moment Agravante tilts the microphone back. “Welund?” he says. “I need to – I must go.

“Yes, they’ve been sent. All three. If there’s a response –

“If there’s a response.

“And a good morning to you.” He presses a button on the phone, then opens a green binder there by the rack of glass tubes, and the fiendish little basket-box, carved from a single chunk of dark red wood. He takes up a pen. “Forget the Duke,” he says, scribbling an amount on a check, signing it with a broad flourish. Folding the check precisely along its perforations and ripping it neatly loose. “This to the American bank,” he says, “not the Trapezuntine. Exchange it for fiat money.”

“But the snow,” says the man in the sweater, taking the check.

“Find one that is open,” says Agravante. He plucks up another tube from the rack. “Then take the valuta to a store, and purchase bicycles.”

“Bicycles,” says the young man.

“As many as that will buy. At least a dozen. You’ll need the truck.”

The man in the sweater takes the tube, and nods, and leaves. Agravante turns back to the phone, punching in a number. “Tell me you’ve found her,” he says, into the microphone, and then, looking toward the door, frowning, he bellows, “Where are my trousers?”

The crash of a gong as he opens the door. He holds it open so she might push past him, knapsack slung from her shoulder, bat in her hand, into a foyer stacked with boxes. To the left a pinched doorway, more boxes and stuffed garbage bags piled up to either side. He follows her into a showroom lit by what daylight makes it through the dusty windows lining the one wall. More boxes yet line the other, and more garbage bags, and a rolled rug set on one end and a plump sofa piled with coats and other clothes, a stool leaned against it, a table upended, and laid against them a stack of paintings, the foremost a sheet of black velvet in a baroque frame, pricked with unlit stars, smeared with spaceships in a blur of battle. And the floor before them empty but for scraps of paper, a blue silk rose, a scatter of tickets, all of them red and not one torn in half, the remains of an orange clay bowl smashed there, under the window.

“This doesn’t,” says Marfisa, turning about in her sheepskin jacket, and “I know,” says the Mason, rubbing the back of his neck. “It looks like,” she says, and “I know,” he says. She strides to the front corner, pulls from the window a sign, holding it up. Orange letters on black say For Rent. “So where’s Miss Cheney?” she says, putting it back.

“Your questions,” says a sour croak of a voice, “I don’t have to answer.” She’s there, by the counter at the back of the showroom, a fleecy pullover the color of plaster dust, her yellow hair held back by a black band, and cradled in her arms a little rabbit.

“Why?” says the Mason.

“She broke her bond,” says Miss Cheney. “To city, brother, court and Queen. Your questions?” She’s nodding. “That was your first.”

The Mason opens his mouth, looks away, snapping it shut. “You’re breaking your bond,” says Marfisa, and a gesture toward the boxes, the bags, the furniture stacked. “Where do you mean to go?”

“I’m breaking nothing,” says Miss Cheney. “I’ll still take the questions of those who care to find me. Case in point.”

“Jo was here,” says the Mason. “You gave her answers.”

“Can’t answer what isn’t asked,” says Miss Cheney.

“What did you,” says the Mason, and “Luys,” says Marfisa, and he holds up a hand, “when you spoke to her,” he says, “to Jo, what did you see?”

“I didn’t see anything,” says Miss Cheney. “That was your second.”

“That’s not what he meant!” snaps Marfisa.

“You think I want to leave?” cries Miss Cheney, squeezing the rabbit rigid to her chest. “Is that it? I love this city. You dolts.” Turning away, letting the rabbit scrabble from her arms to the countertop.

“Then help us,” says the Mason. “Please.”

“We all want the same thing,” says Marfisa.

“Do we,” says Miss Cheney.

“What did you,” says the Mason, and “Luys,” says Marfisa, quickly, “think. Carefully. Ask her – ask where we must go, to find Ysabel. Today! To find her today.”

“What did you learn – ”


“ – from answering the Huntsman’s questions that has frightened you so?”

And Marfisa closes her eyes.

“The Mooncalfe,” says Miss Cheney, stepping away from the counter, “has taken the Queen, and means to sell her to the highest bidder he can find.” Her hand out, brushing the wall of boxes with her fingers.

The Mason smiles, relieved. “Then somehow, this once, you are wrong, Miss Cheney. The Queen is safe at Goodfellow’s; her son, the Prince, is returned, and took her there himself. The Duke – ”

“She doesn’t mean Duenna,” says Marfisa.

“But,” says the Mason, “the Queen,” and then, a hand to his mouth, “oh.”

Miss Cheney says, “Even if I might answer a fourth question, or a fifth, about where or who or when,” the sound of her fingertips sweeping down cardboard, “don’t think for a moment I could. The geis only goes so far.”

“Melanchlœnidon,” says the Mason.

“There can’t,” says Marfisa, “there can’t be that many wizards in the city. We could – ”

The gong sounds, and as they all look to the pinched doorway framed in stacks of boxes and bags “Hail me!” cries a voice. “Hail and blast me, in a breath.” From the foyer steps a figure in a shapeless grey jacket, a long dark skirt, and his black hair long and straight, and his feet bare. “I went back to her,” says Orlando, the Mooncalfe, “I let her stay, she stayed, and I killed her,” marching the length of the showroom, “I killed her, and she would not die.” Past the Mason, past Marfisa staring. “I slew her father, and the snows came, just as you said, so tell me,” the Mason lunging after him, “where do I,” the Mason grabbing his arm, his shoulder, hauling back, to the side, the Mooncalfe stumbling swung into the wall of windows shivering crash.

“Hold!” cries the Mooncalfe, arms up before his face, the Mason pulling a flare of light in that dim room his sword back for a thrust and Marfisa grabbing his elbow, “Luys!” she shouts. He holds. She doesn’t let go. “He knows,” she says.

“By my troth,” says the Mooncalfe, “I do not.”

“You all want the same thing,” says Miss Cheney, and then, stalking back to the counter, “One blow lands and I’ll find a goddamn King to exile the lot.”

“Where is the Bride,” says Marfisa, her hand still in the crook of the Mason’s arm still cocked, the tip of his blade aimed squarely for the Mooncalfe’s throat, that’s bulging in a swallow. “I let her go,” he says, the one eye blinking.

“Just like that,” says Marfisa.

“You said you killed her,” says the Mason, his voice gone rough.

“Gloria,” says the Mooncalfe. Shaking his head. “Suzette. Don’t worry. She’s fine.” He reaches out to push the Mason’s blade aside. “If I might be about my business,” he says.

“You,” says Miss Cheney, comforting her rabbit, “you have questions.”

“Oh, I do,” says the Mooncalfe. Marfisa’s let go of the Mason’s arm. “Orlando,” she says. The Mason’s lowering his sword. “Will I ever see my blades again?” says the Mooncalfe.

“No,” says Miss Cheney.

“Barely a knight,” murmurs the Mooncalfe. “Down to my spurs.”

“Orlando,” says Marfisa. “Please. Ask about the Bride. The, the Queen.”

His bare feet whisk him aimlessle out into the middle of the room. “Will I,” he says, then, “no – I’ll raise the stakes. Will anyone in this room ever kneel before another King?”

“Not a one,” says Miss Cheney.

The Mooncalfe lifts up his smiling face, and the Mason looks down at his empty hands. “Orlando,” says Marfisa, once more. “Ysabel. Please. You let her go, you left her, alone? Your third. Please. Ask – I beg you. Ask where we must go to find her. To help her.”

“Help,” says the Mooncalfe. “The Princess. Surely,” turning his back to her, “surely she might help herself. My third!” Sweeping away from them down to Miss Cheney, the little rabbit in her arms. “I’ve closed the door on the King, all Kings. I’ve cut the last rose from its cane and left its petals in the snow. I will not be forgotten. So. Answer me,” and he closes his eyes, “where must I go to meet my particular end?”

And Miss Cheney, the rabbit clutched rigid to her chest, opens her mouth to speak.

A mechanical cursive, the letters slender, spells out Crown Imperial between two simple windows above and below in the buff-colored wall. The window above festooned with Christmas lights blinking red and red and green. The building’s a long and shallow U-shape enclosing a parking lot rutted and marred by sludgy dikes of melting snow, and in the shrinking shadow of the stubby eastern wing a litter of snowmen no higher than a knee, or a shin, some with the twigs that were their arms already fallen to the ground, one with a top hat askew on its slumping head-shape, and water dripping everywhere, from eaves and steps and sills. In the middle of the lot stands Jo her hand up against the brightening sunlight, peering at the numbers next to doors shadowed by walkways and awnings. “Over there,” says Roland, pointing across and up. “Okay,” says Jo. Sword slung from her shoulder, mask in her hand, she sets off across the lot boots crunching and splashing to mount the sidewalk and then one of the long lines of stairs. Roland follows, his steps long swoops from one island and bank of snow to another, careful of the meltwater.

Jo presses a yellowing plastic doorbell taped to the frame under black metal numbers, 1917, and when Roland catches up to her she presses it again. Clack of the handle under her thumb, croaking wrench of the hinge as she opens the screen door, props it with a boot, leans in to rap on the front door, and there’s footsteps on the other side, rattle and thunk of locks. The mane of the mask in her hand shivers and ripples. The front door opens. Becker’s wrapped in a maroon robe, over pyjamas in a Stewart Dress tartan. “Jo?” he says.

“I, ah, tried the bell,” she says.

“It doesn’t, yeah, I’ve been meaning to replace that,” he says.

“I tried to call,” she says. “Before we, headed over here.”

“We, well, I guess I was busy,” says Becker. Taking in the sword she’s carrying, and the quivering mask. “Am.”

“Can we, oh, this is, Roland,” nodding over at Roland beside her. “Hi,” says Becker, without stepping back, without opening the door any further. “Can we come in?” says Jo. “It’s important. About Ysabel. You, remember Ysabel. Right?”

“Of course I remember Ysabel,” says Becker.

“Okay,” says Jo. “It’s hard, sometimes. Knowing what you remember.”

“I remember Ysabel.”

“But you remember forgetting, right?” she says, and he shifts at that, a short step back, a quick look back over his shoulder. “You remember the party? Thursday? Thanksgiving?”

“The old accustomed feast,” he says, and then, “I think, it’s not a good time, really, so, if you could,” and Roland’s putting a bicycle-gloved hand on Jo’s shoulder, there by the hilt of her sword, “Jo,” he says, as Becker’s saying “I’d really appreciate” and then she says “Pyrocles,” and they all stop.

“Pyrocles,” she says again.

And Becker asks, “What does that have to do with Ysabel?”

“Can we come in?” says Jo.

He steps back, and opens the door wide.

The living room inside is coolly dim, blue carpet, white walls blued in the light that drifts through gauzy curtains drawn. A piano ringing softly from little speakers on a low shelf, and if they ask if I’ve seen Casablanca, someone’s singing, I’ll answer a resounding no. “Ysabel’s missing,” says Jo, “and, we’re looking for her. And I got this clue, this, which,” and she stops, hand to her head, and takes in a deep breath, “it was, I went to the wrong one first. And I thought meant I listened to the Duke when I shouldn’t have, because I went where he said to go first, but that doesn’t make any sense because then I went where I would’ve gone first if he hadn’t which was Guthrie’s, to talk to his girlfriend, who couldn’t have helped me even if I had gone there first because she can’t see this stuff anyway, and you have no idea what it is I’m talking about.” The mane of the mask in her hand lashes out, the ends of it pattering against the low glass-topped coffee table there by her knee. “It’s been the two of you, all this time, is the thing,” Jo’s saying, “even before all this, before you got promoted, but then, that night, it was both of you who went with us, me and Ysabel, to Goodfellow’s house, and then the boar hunt, and the church, and when the Duke said to ask whoever I wanted to his, to that feast, I called you, I called both of you, just the two of you.” She looks at Becker then, his robe gone darkly purple in the dim room. “But it was Guthrie’s I went to first, last night, and that was the wrong one. I should’ve come here.”

“I don’t,” says Becker, eyes wide, mouth pinched.

“It could be anything,” says Jo. “Something you saw, something you remember. Something you’re about to say.” He doesn’t say anything. She’s looking about. “Something in this room.” On the glass tabletop, a phone, two coffee cups, a white paper bag, the bottom of it translucent with grease. “The least little thing. Could be enough to, to get us to. The next step.” Becker blinks, looks down, away. “To finding her,” says Jo. “Ysabel.”

“I,” says Becker, and his jaw trembles. Roland a dark shape in the open doorway, sunlight behind him, and the drip and trickle of melting snow. “Jo,” he says.

“Wait,” she says, a crack running through the word.

Becker lets out the breath he’s holding, blinks quickly, eyes shining, and asks, “What’s Pyrocles?”

“I think I can help,” says someone else, and they look up, look around, turn. He’s there in the passageway leading further back into the apartment, tall, grey dress slacks and a blue and white striped shirt half-open over his blackly furred chest, his hair an untidy mop of black curls. “Sorry,” he says. “I overheard a little of that. Well. Most of it.”

“Help,” says Jo, and “David?” says Becker, his voice gone far away.

“That call, I had to take?” says the tall man to Becker. “The day job. Well. The twenty-hour hour a seven-day job.” He sucks his teeth. “I don’t know where the Bride is,” he says, to Jo, “but,” and he holds up the phone in his hand, a platter of black glass in a white frame. “I’m pretty sure I know where she will be. Tonight.”

“Bride?” says Becker.

“She’s the Queen, now,” says Jo.

“Even so,” says David Kerr.

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“Grandpa's Hands,” written by Blue Cranes, ©2010. “Halley's Comet,” written by Chuck Coleman, copyright holder unknown.

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