Encyclical

What with one thing and another he’d been separated from his hunting party and brother knights and though they were no more than a morning’s ride from King Mark’s castle Sir Gawain (of Arthur’s knights the very paragon of gentility) found himself lost yet again. “Some strange adventure is this,” quotha, “and dark these woods.” He spun a tale and eke another to himself before coming to the other side, and marveled to see a vast plain spread out before him and a court thereon assembled. “I will assay it, and bear report to Mark the king of what passes in his domain,” and, so saying, descended unto the court.

A strange court indeed. A young man of the most unaffected simplicity, whose face was the very index of his mind, sat a high bench against a woman of twenty-six or twenty-seven, bound hand and foot like a criminal, with the most noble, the most agreeable, the most interesting visage, rendered yet a thousand times more piquant by that tender and touching air innocence contributes to the traits of beauty. Sir Gawain marveled at the abuses piled upon her by the young man, and vowed in his heedless heart to rescue her, an he could.

“Oh, Monsieur,” she sobbed, “unbend, I beseech you; be so generous as to relieve me without requiring what would be so costly I should rather offer you my life than submit to it!”

“Tell us,” commanded the young man, “why so strange an animal as man was made? and if the Emperor of the Ottomans concerns himself with the comfort of the mice on board his ships?”

“I pray you, tell me what this means,” said Sir Gawain of a good old man standing off to the side, “and why she cries so.”

“I do not know,” answered the worthy man, “I am entirely ignorant of the event you mention; I presume in general that they who meddle with the administration of public affairs die sometimes miserably, and that they deserve it; but I never trouble my head¬†about what is transacting at Constantinople; I content myself with sending there for sale the fruits of the garden which I cultivate.”

And Sir Gawain was sore perplexed, and not a little outraged.

Even That Which They Have

NO DRINKING, NO DRUGS, NO DESPAIR

She watches the sign slyly, her pigeons awhirl around her, rubs a running nose with one dirty fist. They drove the teeth out of her head years ago, before she took to the streets, and her gums ache something fierce. The birds settle upon her, shoulders and back white with their droppings, their feet half-rotted away or swollen and sweet. Crowd parts before her, in fear of her birds; she catches more than one hopeful tongue, hands twitching to wring one succulent neck. “Peck out your eyes,” she hisses, and they draw further back. “Rot your feet away.”

Cleanhands behind her bulletproof glass is stone-faced at her approach, braced against the smell of alleys and mummifying garbage. “Checking in? You’ll have to leave your birds outside.”

She sneers toothlessly at the woman. Takes one of the birds, old, weak, sick, and blind, wrings its neck and pulls it open with her fingers. The mob groans, sways back and forth, hunger hollowing out their cheeks; cleanhands is bloodless as a rat. “Here,” she says, and snaps the drive down on the counter. “A year and a day’s worth of secrets. I want to buy me some teeth, new and clean.”

The counterwoman could swallow her tongue, looks like, but the drive disappears fast enough, for all the pigeon viscera still clinging to it. The door into the clinic opens soundlessly and they go in together.

She leaves the carcass for the crowd.