The Knowledge of the Queen: Chapter Seven

By Juan Ersatzman

The Knowledge of the Queen is a serial novel, debuting with chapter one in January 2016 and slated for release chapter by chapter over the coming months.

Previous chapters:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

In this matter, as in almost all other moments of crisis and impending catastrophe in a life that consisted of little else, Lumi Maltin displayed her tragic flaw: incurable, incorrigible, willfully ignorant optimism. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, she held unwaveringly to the belief that if only she pretended it was so, all would be well soon enough.

The strain between the Duke of Maltin and the young king continued to build, and express itself in skirmishes along lines of policy (both foreign and domestic) and protocol. The duke, endlessly proper in all he thought and did, at first weighed down the king with private audiences in which he implored the young man to conduct himself in a manner more commensurate with his office, as indeed, the duke repeated desperately, he had conducted himself at first upon his inauguration.

In their first meetings, the king agreed on every point raised by the duke, affecting a serious cast and assuring the duke that he would strive to improve himself, and that the duke’s experience and insight regarding policies were of tremendous value to him, and would be taken into account immediately.

Of course, neither policy nor performance was altered in the least as a result of the duke’s entreaties, and in short time, he became aware that the king was carrying on a grand game of humiliation — endlessly inviting his counsel in order to make a show of disregarding it.

Traditionalist though he was, the duke was an aristocrat from a long, long line of noble blood. He was no stranger to Machiavellian politicking. So he began to quietly spread rumors — some true, some less true — about the king’s excesses and incompetence, and at the same time, to display a great interest in the forms and systems of democracy.

In short, he began to undermine the king.

— From A History of Trevendland: Chapter 3, “Hiram I, and the Dissolution of the Monarchy” by E. Kodrave

 

MARIGOLD sprawled on the cold cobblestones, craning her neck to see past the bowed heads of kneeling mountain villagers and tourists at the specter of the madman who had declared himself their king. The reverent silence that had fallen at his declaration had begun to stretch to discomfort. King Hivelgott seemed to become aware that the power of the moment was fading with the comfort of his people’s knees. He placed the shining amulet back inside the collar of his white military dress suit, and stepped to the microphone.

“My dear Trevenlanders,” he began, and Marigold was surprised at both the gravity and warmth of his voice, “doubtless it shocks, it astounds, it overwhelms you to process the events of this night. I understand.”

He allowed himself a small smile. “I, too, am overwhelmed. It beggars my faculties to stand before you, bereft of youth, vigor, wealth, and the weight of law which were my one-time advantages by birthright.”

The sky was now faded almost wholly to black, and Hivelgott’s eyes glittered in the brilliance of the floodlights. Marigold’s elbows and torso ached against the stones, but she found she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the spectacle of Hivelgott. Only a scratching and puffing at her side alerted her to the prophetess’s presence.

“Damn,” whispered the older woman, “damn it all to hell.”

“I chose, two endless decades past, to forsake those advantages to which I had become accustomed,” went on Hivelgott, “believing it to be for the good of my people, my nation, my world, and even myself.”

“Liar,” said the prophetess, so loudly that Marigold was afraid she’d be heard again, “mellifluous conniver.”

“In an effort to separate my person from what glittering triumphs, stirring advances or bitter failures would be the denouement of popular rule, I resolved that I must reject all invitations of continued luxury and title, and must live out my life in the guise of the lowest of the low — in short, my dearest subjects, to become to you as a madman.

“In the two decades of my pilgrimage, I have continued to hope, I have clung to my deepest wells of optimism, and I have been …” his voice now rose to tenor quaver, “… in all ways bitterly disappointed.

“I had hope, such hope, such innocent, endless, naive hope that in time the ship would right, and I could see the sons and daughters of my beloved land navigate the treacherous seas of turbulent times to land on the limitless shores of prosperousness. Alas. I see those charged with the care of all my people concerned only with the care of themselves and those whom they took to be particularly useful. For twenty-two years, I held hard to hope as the wind rose and the sails strained. But in that selfsame time,” he went on, darkly, “I knew all along that could and would the grim day come, that I must keep about me those evidences which should prove in uncertain times the truth of my identity, should indeed, the ship of state begin to list, and sink.”

“The nautical metaphor,” hissed the prophetess, “sweet heavens. He hasn’t changed.”

Marigold stole a moment from staring in disbelief at Hivelgott to stare in disbelief at the prophetess.

“You —” she started.

“Shh!” answered the prophetess, waving down the queen.

“I know that my appearance has changed in the intervening years, I know that my manners are those of a man who has lived by stealth and secrecy, not in the comfort and ease of royal living. I have come to know in a new way how a king depends on the kindness and charity of his loyal, benevolent, generous, kind, guileless and goodhearted subjects.

“It is,” he said, wheezing a little in the crisp air, “from a desire to repay that magnanimity with certainty of trustworthiness that I present these little proofs, these trifling, small, incontestable evidences of my royalty.”

“Oh …” breathed the prophetess, beside Marigold, as though the fragments of a thought were coalescing in her mind.

“First, the amulet of succession, that magical metal medallion, whose lights leap to life at the touch of the royal hand.”

“… shit,” finished the prophetess. Somewhat cryptically, she drew back the hammer on the revolver.

Marigold ignored her, trying to fathom what was taking place before her eyes.

“Second,” said Hivelgott, his voice receding into his nasal passages, and taking on a tone of pompous self-importance, “I present to you the incontrovertible evidence of personal reflection, I present to you … my wife.”

The people were still kneeling, and as the speech carried on, had begun to shift uncomfortably in search of relief for their hard-pressed knees. At Hivelgott’s announcement, the distracted shuffling of knees stopped.

Lumi Maltin had been a popular favorite of the people as the daughter of the Duke of Maltin. Her sympathetic personality, optimism and beauty had endeared her to the nation. Indeed, Hiram’s treatment of the people’s favorite — although the details were known only in the form of grim rumor — was a primary factor in his precipitous fall from grace.

More to the point, it had been widely assumed, and indeed, published, that the long-suffering royal consort was dead. It was astounding, though not perhaps, so astounding to a market square full of sore-kneed subjects whose village idiot had revealed himself as their exiled king.

A waifish figure was ushered up the stairs and onto the stage. She hesitated, shrinking back from the crowd, her hands clenched into fists.

To most onlookers, as noted, the declaration that the king’s wife was alive and among them was little more than a startling footnote to the supremely staggering surprise of his return. An unexpectedly living king can bring almost anyone back from the dead with him without exciting much additional comment.

To Marigold, though, this was the true moment of disorienting shock, even as disparate pieces of impossible reality clicked into a cohesive whole.

It was her mother.

“Oh, shit,” said the prophetess again, gritting her teeth, “oh, shit.”

Marigold had often wondered what it meant to have eyes that flashed — eyes do not in themselves have the power to do anything but reflect light, not produce it. But she could’ve sworn in that moment that the prophetess’s eyes flashed. Marigold herself was numb, unable to cope with the volume of questions without answers and answers without explanations she was witnessing in the square.

If Hivelgott was the king and Ma Gnowker was Hivelgott’s wife … she refused to countenance the thought. But if the prophetess’s eyes were flashing on Ma Gnowker’s behalf, and if she said “he hasn’t changed” about Hivelgott … Marigold turned to the prophetess, whose eyes were narrowed to slits. Marigold thought better of asking a question. She turned back to the stage.

Ma Gnowker stepped hesitantly forward, her eyes wide, looking around in terror. Marigold’s heart pounded against her sternum, which was, itself, creaking on the cobblestones. Beside her the prophetess was growling.

“Many of you, my dearest villagers and tourists — many of you have known me,” said Hivelgott, delighted in the stir he was causing, “known me, and mistaken me for a vagabond. And just so have many of you taken my dearest, most beautiful and precious wife Lumi for a simple seller of vegetables and singer of sweet songs. A farmer’s wife, a simple woman.”

Marigold was breathing in gasps. For the second week in a row, she was reeling in the marketplace, staring at the leering face of Hivelgott.

“My dear,” he said, his voice as soft as he could contort it to be, “tell us. Reveal to us the truth — are you my long-lost and forgotten and thought-to-be-dead wife Lumi Maltin?”

Ma Gnowker looked right and then left. Her eyes were large. She appeared to be weighing her options,

“Come on,” murmured the prophetess, “come on.”

“Yes,” said Ma Gnowker. Her harsh, shrill voice was subdued.

The prophetesss let out a rush of breath. Marigold drew a gulp of air in.

“Thank heavens,” whispered the prophetess.

“Thank heavens?” asked Marigold.

The prophetess was unequal to any response stronger than a nod. Her eyes, recently of the flashing-and-glittering variety, were now dull. She let her head fall to the cobblestone, and she lay there for a moment.

While it was apparent that the strings that bound the prophetess up tight had been cut, Marigold felt no corresponding easing of tension. Nor, it seemed, did Harrison. He’d said nothing throughout Ma Gnowker’s appearance, but his face was pale.

The prophetess raised her head.

“We need to go.”

They scrambled out from beneath the wagon, and crawled on their hands and knees backwards through the alley. Once, Marigold blundered into an abandoned fruit crate that scraped and bumped and rattled. They froze in the frigid shadows, staring into the luminescence of the square that spilled over the wagon and into the alleyway, but no one in the square, it seemed, had been listening for would-be queens bumping into fruit crates in the dark. When they reached Louisa at the far end of the alley, all three were panting.

“Okay,” hissed the prophetess, turning to her companions imperiously, “this is what we’re going to do —”

She stopped for breath, and then continued to breathe, somewhat loudly. Finally, she said, “Damn.”

“What?” asked Marigold, panicking. “What’s wrong?”

“No plan,” sighed the prophetess.

“What do we need a plan for?” asked Louisa.

“We’ve got to steal her mother from a village madman-turned-king who’s supported by the K,” said Harrison.

Louisa nodded, and thought for a moment.

“Wait!” hissed Marigold, “wh-”

“No.” The prophetess regarded her with stern seriousness.

“But what —” started Marigold, inflamed by the prophetess’s unblushing hypocrisy.

“No.”

“But I’m —”

“You’re entitled to answers, highness, yes,” said the prophetess, “but not now. You can wait fifteen damn minutes while we save your Ma. Your peace of mind isn’t worth her life.”

Marigold bit her lip, feeling — neither for the first, nor the last time — badly mistreated and deeply misjudged.

Louisa had said nothing in the interim, but now she spoke, addressing her question to the prophetess.

“We can’t wait?” she asked.

“We have no idea when she’ll outlive her usefulness to him,” said the Prophetess. “I won’t see her with them for a moment longer than I can help.”

“Too many of them for us to take on?” asked Louisa.

The prophetess nodded.

“Okay,” said Louisa. She mulled the problem over for a moment, eyes unfocused.

“Okay,” said Louisa, snapping back. “We need a funnel, a diversion and a getaway that’s reliable and fast.”

“Diversion I can do,” said the prophetess.

“I believe it,” said Louisa, “but I need you fighting. You —” she said turning to Harrison, “— you’re our diversion.”

If the prophetess was piqued at not being permitted to stage a diversion, Harrison seemed wounded by the implication that the prophetess was a superior fighter.

They both scowled, and Louisa ignored them. She turned to Harrison. “Can you drive a bus?”
MUCH later, Marigold was able to piece together a rough account of what took place in the square.

Despite his seemingly warm reception from the people of Valeview, it was apparent that Hivelgott wasn’t sufficiently confident to take up residence in easy-identified and targeted locations. Immediately following the speeches, a tight posse of his Kemizeze bodyguards — it was confirmed through the events of subsequent days that the black-clad bodyguards were, in fact, members of that dreaded anarchist deathmob — gathered around him and began to usher him through the press toward the parking meadow.

They proceeded toward the edge of town along King’s Avenue, followed by a crowd made up partially of curious villagers, and more of tired tourists and bus drivers who were following not so much out of curiosity and respect as out of a desire to go home and sleep. The crowd was silent outside of the occasional whimpering child, and the king was silent, loping along in the center of his heavily armed posse.

The foremost group passed through the arch at the end of King’s Avenue into the wide, flat grassy space on the edge of the buspark. There, they came to an abrupt and wary halt. The tall pole lights along the hedgerow that divided the buspark from the village were out, and the whole parking meadow was concealed in darkness. Somewhere in the murky obscurity, a bus engine was idling.

One of the K barked an order — or, given the group’s anarchist antecedents, a suggestion — and a gaggle of flashlights flicked on. The lights scanned randomly for a moment, and then came to rest, across the grill of a bus, some twenty yards away.

A loud exclamation went up from the crowd, followed by a collective shriek of terror. With a blare of its horn, the bus’s headlights flashed suddenly full on the crowd, and the enormous vehicle lurched forward.

For a moment, the king and his entourage were frozen in astonishment. And then, springing to life, they turned and scrambled backwards toward the safety of the arch, slipping and scuttling, dropping guns and flashlights as they careened through the frost-slick grass. The king was cackling with an insane terror as he fled. Behind the arch, the crowd of tourists had also shrunk back against itself and turned to bedlam.

As the first of the guards reached the apparent safety of the arch, there was a crack like the report of a cannon, and a flash of flame. In the monochrome headlight glare, a stumpy, gray-haired woman with an enormous pistol stepped from the shadows on the far side of the arch, scowling.

Ma Gnowker had been half-herded, half-carried by two of the K behind the king, and was not far from the arch when the bus came to life. She was perhaps three steps away from the arch when the prophetess stepped out. Seeing the gun, her captors hesitated. The prophetess raised her gun and fired. One of the K fell lifeless to the ground.

The other guard, recognizing that he had only an instant before the gun was cocked and raised again, lunged forward toward the prophetess, who was stepping backwards through the arch, away from him.

A number of things happened so quickly that they appeared simultaneous to the onlookers.

Another person, dressed in the midnight costume of the Kemizeze, burst from the shadow of the arch and caught Ma Gnowker by the shoulders in a flying tackle, dragging her out of the path of the bus. As they fell away to the side, Hivelgott — bobbing unsteadily in a petrified stagger — slipped, shrieked, and was crushed. The remaining K flung themselves clear of the path of the vehicle or dove through the arch to the relative safety of the other side. The prophetess fired again. And the bus slammed into the arch.

The sound of the collision ricocheted through Valeview and against the mountain slopes above the town, and for a moment, even the crowd was silent.

Then the pop of a small explosion, followed by a fast-moving cloud of manufactured smoke that stung the eyes and nose and throat. Automatic gunfire clattered in the haze, and the crowd set up a shriek. The bus lurched into reverse, paused, and then swung away in a long curve toward the parking meadow.
INSIDE of the bus, Harrison swayed over the wheel with the peculiar motion of a burning tree. The windshield had been crushed to uselessness; the world beyond its cracks and shards was a mess of orange flames and scurrying shadows, then, as they pulled away — a kaleidoscope of grass and mud and metal, lit by one remaining headlight.

Ma Gnowker was curled in the second seat, moaning softly with her hands around her head. The prophetess was kneeling in the aisle, one hand on Ma Gnowker’s head, the other clutching the pistol. Her eyes were set on Harrison.

Louisa was outside in the darkness, using the bus as cover, and flitting around the corners to rattle fusillades of bullets across the wreckage of the arch in hopes of stretching their head start, but as the bus accelerated to a grumbling, smoky trot, she was obliged to run along beside it, firing blindly over her shoulder. Between the speed of the bus, the shock of the ambush and the confusion of the smoke, they estimated they would have between thirty seconds and a minute in the carpark to locate Danny and Marigold, and escape, before their enemies caught up to them. Return fire clattered against the bus and pinged through the windows.

Harrison’s face was drawn, and pale. Dark currents of blood streamed from gashes in his scalp and cheek. He glanced back, into the eyes of the prophetess.

“Drive!” barked the old woman.

He looked back to the shattered windshield, cursing under his breath and dragging the wheel of the bus to maneuver to the lee side of the row of stabled buses. The bus wobbled, reeled and crashed over hillocks. Again, Harrison darted a glance at the prophetess. Again, eyes impassive as a cat’s, she was watching him, and again she roared at him to keep driving.

“You knew,” he said, hoarsely, and then he shouted, “YOU KNEW!” His fingers tightened on the wheel. The bus bounced on a mound and crashed against the yellow rope that served as a barrier between the bus and car lots, pulling it along. Bullets pinged against the bus. Louisa’s gun offered another pert response.

“Drive,” said the prophetess, again, in a flat voice, “or we’ll all be dead.”

They were rushing between rows of parked cars, now, and Louisa’s gun had gone silent as she sprinted to keep up. Harrison compressed his lips for a moment. He darted a glance across the rows of cars, and then twisted the wheel hard to the left. The long-suffering joints of the bus’s body gave a scream of eager mortality, and the whole of its hull wobbled like a ship caught broadside by the waves. A deluge of the tourists’ trinketry, daypacks and snacks, some shattered by bullets poured into the cabin from the overhead bins. The bus teetered on the crest of the wave, and with a sigh went toppling over.

Ma Gnowker and the prophetess were sent pinwheeling every which way, entangled with each other and the seats and the luggage. Glass geysered from windows and metal screeched.

The bus rolled over twice, and came to a grinding, shrieking halt on its side, crushing the hoods, trunks and hatches of a row of cars. Flames billowed up eagerly on the engine compartment to consume the fuselage.

The firearm-wielding parties still sorting themselves out in the smoke at the arch, some hundred-and-fifty yards away, paused in their random firing, unsure of what the crashing, grinding and bright light indicated.

As the bus crossed into the carpark, Harrison had accelerated hard, leaving Louisa falling further and further behind. The yellow rope had continued to drag behind the bus, uprooting fence-posts fashioned from rebar. Freed from the earth, but not the ties that bound them to the rope, the rebar bounced along murderously in the bus’s wake. Dodging through a field of unexpected spears, while trying to catch up to a runaway motor coach and keep her head low, Louisa tripped over the rope and sprawled in the grass.

As she lay winded in the cold, prickling grass staring up into a pristine field of stars, she saw the flash and heard the thunder of the wreck. She rolled back over, panting and gasping, and willed herself to her feet.

The bus was lying on its right side, with the door trapped against the row of parked cars, and the windshield resting in an elevated position on top of a car that had gone through an unfortunate process of compression. Louisa was obliged to climb up the unrecognizably squashed vehicle before she could get into the bus. Having mounted the ruins, she remarked that someone had already kicked through the glass of the windshield, from the inside. She noted the fact, and moved on into the interior.

Inside the coach, the fire had already claimed the rear three rows of seats. Scorching breezes whipped forward from the blaze, carrying smoke and the smell of burning oil and plastic. Harrison was gone. The prophetess and Ma Gnowker were lying in the aisle, pressed against the base of a seat, groaning and coughing. The prophetess’s staff was gone, but her head was raised, and she was pointing the revolver at Louisa.

In the distance, the K fired another hopeful salvo.

“It’s me,” Louisa told the prophetess, “let’s go.”

The prophetess gave a wordless, gurgling moan of agreement, and raised herself on her free arm against the sloping floor. Ma Gnowker remained in place, moaning.

Louisa bent down and pulled Ma Gnowker’s arm across her shoulder. She raised her back beneath the burden, and turned back to the windshield,

“Wait,” gurgled the prophetess, “got to — got to hold on to you, dammit.”

She reached up, found a fold in Louisa’s black disguise, and clutched it. “Okay,” she said, and coughed.

The party inched back through the windshield, then slipped and tumbled down the other side of the row of cars, away from wreckage and the fire. If their head start was thirty seconds, it was gone. If a minute, it was nearly past. Still, the bus wreck was an unexpected boon. More smoke and fire meant more uncertainty for the pursuers. Uncertainty expressed itself in plodding progress across the parking meadow. The voices of the K were echoing from the bus park, some eighty yards away.

Having made a precipitous and bruising descent from the bus, Louisa and the prophetess crawled on their bellies, still dragging a gradually awakening Ma Gnowker around the edge of the car. They inched past another four cars as the voices neared to forty yards, and then twenty.

When she estimated the K were only twenty yards away, Louisa tilted her head sideways, and the women took shelter between the cars. They huddled cross-legged, with their knees pulled tightly in, and their heads low beneath the windows.

Ma Gnowker had recovered enough to be staring at her companions in slack-jawed wonder. She looked first from the prophetess to Louisa, then back again. Finally, she settled on the prophetess and examined her face with an intensity that struck Louisa almost as simple-minded.

“Anida?” she asked, softly.

The prophetess, too, seemed to be recovering. She sighed, and her face grew less hard.

“At your service, as I always am, Lumi,” she whispered, and dipped her gray head.

“Thank you,” said Ma Gnowker, “thank you.”

“What next?” asked Louisa, her voice betraying a hint of tension for the first time.

“Right,” said the prophetess. She gathered up her face into a dense knot of skin as she considered the question. “We need to get to Danny and Marigold, before Harrison without dying.”

The fire was consuming the bus, and though the women were couched in shadow, the world around them was lit in a red glow, and all the frost was melting to steam.

“I know. But we’re out of time,” said Louisa, “and we can’t take them all on.”

“Too true,” said the prophetess. She looked back to Ma Gnowker, now dry-eyed and alert.

“Lumi,” she said, “you’re a goddess of this shrieking thing they go in for up here, yes?”

Ma Gnowker nodded.

“Okay,” said the prophetess, having carefully considered for roughly ten seconds, “this is what we’re going to do — I’m going to throw a bomb into that fire, and then you’re going to scream for Marigold and Danny, and we’re going to try to bust our way out of this mess.”

“Three,” said the prophetess, “two —” she slipped a small, dark object the size and shape of a pinecone out of the pocket of her pants.

Ma Gnowker drew in an enormous breath,

“One!” said the prophetess, and rising, flung the object back toward the fire.

There was a flat, thudding sound, and a concussive wave of air. All three women were thrown back violently. They struggled forward, hacking and wheezing. The prophetess gesticulated frantically at Ma Gnowker, who was struggling to breathe.

Ma Gnowker nodded, coughed, threw back her head and let loose a ragged scream. It was a far cry from her finest effort, and a poor substitute for her most polished and penetrating shrieks, but it was high and piercing, the sort of sound that left blisters on ears and vocal cords.

“DANNY!” she screeched. “MARIGOLD!”

On the far side of the ruined bus, the pursuing soldiers responded with an emphatic helping of gunfire, all of it scattering harmlessly into the night like drops of metal rain.

Away down the line of cars, near the end of the parking lot, headlights flipped on.

“Oh,” said Louisa, “here we go.”

The prophetess grunted.

The station wagon swung into the aisle and came bouncing and wheezing toward them.

“Damn, damn, damn,” said the prophetess. “Run!”

Run they did, through the dense cloud of smoke, and shrouded by a row of cars. It was impossible for their pursuers to achieve a successful bead on the car, but the guns did turn toward the obscured glow of headlights, and rain a liberal hail of bullets down around them. They reached the car out of breath and off-balance, scrabbling at the door handles.

“Get in, get in!” bellowed the prophetess, as she and Ma Gnowker toppled into the back seat.

“Gosh,” said Danny, shrinking back into his seat, as a bullet caught the upper corner of the windshield. Cracks spiraled in all directions across the glass.

“Drive, drive, drive, drive!” roared the prophetess, “get us out of here.”

In the passenger seat, Louisa wordlessly rolled down her window and leaned out of it with the submachine gun to return fire.

“Oh, heck,” said Danny. The car jerked into reverse, and lumbered rearward through the aisle of cars. Another sprinkling of bullets perforated the cars around them.

It appeared to make up Danny’s mind. He swung the station wagon, still in full motion, into a sharp turn. Louisa made a sudden whoofing sound as the motion of the car dragged her against the window. Scrabbling to stay inside, she dropped the machine gun into the outer darkness.

“Darn,” said Danny, “sorry.”

Louisa was not yet equal to a response. Danny turned the wheel again, launching the car forward, and she collapsed against her seat, sputtering and gasping.

“No, for real,” said Danny, straightening the car and roaring forward toward the yellow ropes that marked the back of the parking lot, “I’m so sorry.”

Louisa, leaning out of the window with her bruised midriff on the sill, gritted her teeth and cut the rope, and Danny swung the car left onto the dirt track that skirted the edges of the forest, running down into the valley. Bullets, their constant companions of the evening, made a papery whisper in the trees overhead.

They sped down the track, away from the parking meadow. When they came to a fork in the road, Danny turned right, into the forest, switched off the lights, and proceeded at a cautious crawl.

The prophetess, Louisa and Ma Gnowker were still breathing deep, ragged gasps of exhaustion and relief, but as they wound deeper into the forest, they subsided into silence. Danny, true to his level nature, forebore to interpose.

At last, when all sound but the wheeze of the engine and the rustle of the woods at night had died away, he said, “What is all this?”

After waiting in vain for a reply, he made a second attempt. “I’m glad that whatever danger you were in Ma, that you’re safe. But I’ve just spent an hour sitting alone in the car while all of Valeview went to pieces in explosions and gunshots and bus wrecks, and I want to know what’s going on.

“Also,” he went on, warming to the role of interrogator, “where’s Marigold?”

He broke off, suddenly, as though sensing the sudden deepening of the silence.

“My god,” said the prophetess. Her voice was hoarse as tree bark, and hopeless as the coming of winter.

To be continued

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