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White towers

White towers blank in the lamplight, clustered on the table, a clump of them quite tall at the one end, lowering in the middle, and the one lone tower taller than the rest there at the other end, all spread along the bank of a broad blue curl of river painted along one edge. Delicate bridges of foamcore and thread span the blue, and a little white boat between a couple of them, and at the foot of one, just past the lone tower, a bloom of color, towers and blocks in red and yellow and blue instead of white. In her purple gown she leans over it, her hair wrapped in a fine black scarf. “I’d no idea,” says Lymond behind her, “you could get wine in cans.”

He’s sitting sideways in an overstuffed armchair, the only chair in that wide room, both legs hooked over the one arm, leaning back against the other, and in his hand a plain silver can that says Pinot Gris in clean black simple letters.

“Is his majesty pleased?” she says.

“What, with today?” he says. “Didn’t go too badly, I guess.”

“Better than the wine?”

“Oh,” he chuckles, leaning down to set the can on the floor with exaggerated care. “I’m not about to touch the wine.”

“Your sister,” she says, stepping away from the table, purple gown glimmering blue and green as it sweeps the polished floor, “did not seem too enthused.” The great wall of glass behind her filled up blankly black, struck here and there by reflections of yellow-gold lamplight, pools and whorls of warmth curled up above her and that little white city. His hands in his lap he’s poking at the ragged corner of a thumbnail. “How about you?” he says. “How’s your enthusiasm?”

“Do you really think you can do this?” she says.

“Well of course I do,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter what I think. Does it.”

“But I defer to his majesty’s judgment,” she says.

“Y’know,” he says, swinging his feet down, sitting up, “I gotta tell ya. You evince a remarkable equanimity, for someone who came to this city thinking she’d be Princess, Bride, and Queen.”

“And I may yet,” she says, and he laughs, and claps his hands together. “True!” he says. “Yeah. Failure mode’s pretty good for you, isn’t it.”

“It was a marvelous party,” she says, heading past him in his overstuffed chair. “A good evening, to your majesty.”

“Your highness,” he says.

Up an enclosed, spiraling staircase, the loud rustle of her gown, down a carpeted hall lit dimly yellow, photographs hung to either side, a mountainous cloudscape, a stretch of water dimpled by rain, a fog-shrouded copse. She opens a door at the end of the hall on a room almost entirely filled by a canopy of white netting, hung across a corner, a lamp shining within, and shadows fluttering against it. She closes the door, then undoes a couple of velcro fasteners, lifting a flap of netting, ducking within.

Butterflies, a dozen or more, lilt and lop about, white wings and yellow, black and yellow, black and red and brown and beige, unblinking eye-shapes of orange and black, lighting on the netting, the pillows piled at one end of a narrow bed, her hand, held up before her, and all but wonder smoothed from her expression, and her shining eyes.

On a little table by the bed a plate of cookies, a white cup of ruby tea, a little black notebook, a glossy black phone. She takes up the phone, thumbing through the menus to find a list of missed calls from a number beginning with 313. She sighs, taps the number, holds the phone up to her ear.

“Dina,” she says. “Dina, tell Mother it was just a – ” and she closes her eyes. “Party,” she says. “Yes, Mother. Of course. It was the King’s luncheon, for the mayor, and –

“Well, yes, it did run late.

“Yes, Mother. Did everything – yes. Did everything, arrive? As they said it would?” She absently waves a butterfly brown and gold from the tendrils of steam faint above the cup. “Good,” she says. “Oh, good.” Close by the end of the bed, netting rucked up about it, a glass tank rests atop a wrought-iron stand, and inside two white plastic pots, packed with dirt, and clouds of feathery green fronds on slender stalks. “So much,” she says. “That’s why – yes, Mother. Yes. I will try. I will, yes, I will. Good – goodbye, Mother. Dina? Dina. Is Nadia there? Is she, can she, oh.

“I see. Could you tell her. Would you tell her how much I miss her?

“Tell her how much I miss you all.”

Setting the phone down. Unwinding the black scarf from about her long black hair. Leaning over that glass tank. Caterpillars brown and black inch and hunch, ravenously nibbling the greenery shivering, trembling, but there, and there, hang still, rearmost leg-pairs sealed to branchlets by daubs of white foam, heads dandled in sleepily protective curls. “Oh,” she says, reaching for the notebook. 3/22 she writes, deftly, in blue-black ink. L. lorquini, L. lorquini, R. polynice. Capping the pen, setting the notebook down, she sits, and takes up the cup. A sigh, and a sip of tea.

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