302: Princesses And Queens

on October 22, 2008 in Book 11

In Which A Winner Is Steff

There was a short break after the elimination round, and since none of us had had any food except the one cookie, which I’d already eaten, we decided to make a refreshment run and also see if we could spot Amaranth.

“Hey, you got here pretty fast, chicky-baby,” Steff said to Two as we followed the flow of warm bodies up the steps . “You must have really booked.”

“No,” she said. She made a face. “Kyle made me leave early since I had plans and there wasn’t much cleaning to do.”

“The rat bastard,” Steff said. “You know, I have a really good feeling about the evening. I think we’re doing really well.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Our team keeps winning,” she said.

“Yeah, but they also keep losing.”

“Well, you know what Amy would say… you have to take the good with the bad,” Steff said. “Baby.”

“I hope she’s okay,” I said.

“Ah, she’s resilient,” Steff said. She giggled. “Trust me on that.”

As it turned out, Amaranth hadn’t gone very far… just to the top of the pit and then over to the bake sale tables, where she’d either been drafted or volunteered. There was a very big crowd of people, a surprisingly large number of whom were actually buying stuff. She and a short girl with a pixie cut were handling the sales. A couple presumably gay guys were sitting behind her in chairs turned around backwards, and it looked like they were trying to plait her hair while she accepted coins and handed out cookies and brownies.

“I don’t know why this isn’t working,” one of the hair guys said. “Maybe I’m just off today?”

“No, I told you, my hair just likes to stay the way it is,” Amaranth told him. “Uh, an old friend of mine, we tried to put each other’s hair in pigtails once and by the time we did the second one, the first one always shook loose.”

“Well, I’m not ready to admit defeat,” the other one said. “Hey, is that your girlfriend?”

Amaranth turned her head and looked up, seeing me through the crowd. Her face lit up like the sun. I saw that she was wearing a shifting rainbow ribbon tattoo on her cheek, like the other people at the booth.

Seeing that made me pause for just a second… enough time to think, “Hey, that’s what Barley was covered with the first time I saw her”, wonder if I should be shocked or stunned or something, and then realize it wasn’t a big thing.

Amaranth had been right: nothing that had happened was enough to drag me down… not Puddy, and not Barley. I wouldn’t be in any hurry to face either of them again, but that’s because they weren’t pleasant people. That didn’t mean that they had power over me.

And, of course, she’d also been right about the fact that I wouldn’t even have her in my life if I hadn’t wound up on the same floor as those others.

Steff gave me a shove through the crowd, then followed in the wake.

“Hey, you’re awfully smiley, baby,” Amaranth said. “Having a good time?”

“Just thinkin’ about you,” I said.

“Oh, listen to her,” one of her new friends said. “She’s smooth.”

Amaranth and Steff laughed.

“That’s our Mack, smooth as a dwarf’s cheek,” Steff said.

“Sorry for running out like that,” Amaranth said. “It was… more… than I had imagined it would be. I’ll come back down when they get to the unarmed bouts, okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

“So how’s your pie selling, Amycakes?” Steff asked.

“Hey… that kind of talk is degrading to women,” an anemically pale and thin girl with a pinched-looking face said, elbowing up next to Steff.

“Oh, Khersis, here we go,” said the darker-haired of the two guys.

“Yeah, don’t feed her,” the other one said. “Do not engage, Steff… repeat, do not engage.”

“Oh, guys, it’s okay. See, I’m not actually technically even a woman,” Amaranth said to the newcomer. “I’m a nymph.” She hefted her breasts. “It’s an easy mistake to make, but we’re much harder to degrade.”

“Do you think what you do doesn’t impact how men view women?” she asked.

“Oh, no, I try to be very conscious of that!” Amaranth said. “That’s why, earlier today, I made sure to erase the ligature marks on my neck before I went outside.”

“Hey, just so we’re clear… did you mean the part about pie or me calling her ‘Amycakes’?” Steff said, not bothering to hide her smirk. “Because I really thought… I mean, they told me there would be pie. This is a bake sale, isn’t it?”

“It’s a joke, is what it is,” the girl said. “‘Gay bake sales’ serve no purpose but to reinforce the misogynist stereotype of gay men as being caricatures of women.”

“Well, they also pay for the Prism Prom,” the dark-haired guy said.

“But I’m sure she can tell us why that’s a bad thing, too,” the other one said.

She picked up one of Two’s iced sugar cookies and waved it around.

“Just look at this disgustingly cheery smiley face, complete with rosy little dimples and fluttery eyelashes,” she said. “You can’t tell me that the queen who decorated this isn’t just positively reveling in an obnoxious stereotype.”

“Excuse me,” Two said, squeezing her way through the crowd that was now gawking at the drama almost as much as they were at Amaranth. “You’re mistaken. I decorated that cookie, and I am not a queen.”

“No, honey, you’re a princess,” Steff said, and she grabbed Two and gave her one of their signature double-kiss hugs.

“That… is… disgusting,” the irate young woman said.

“Oh, look at the homophobe,” Steff said.

“Exploiting a created person,” she said. “Infantilizing her like that, dressing her up like a glamour doll…”

“Stop,” I said quietly.

“If the movement has fallen so low as to steal labor from the defenseless…”

“Stop it,” I said, louder.

The two of them… I mean, Steff and the angry woman… stopped and stared at me.

“You don’t know her,” I said. “She’s our friend, not a ‘created person’, and she’s not feebleminded, so don’t talk about her like she doesn’t understand.”

“I’m also not defenseless,” Two said. “I have a shock mace. And I know defense spells. And my friend Hazel says that if somebody attacks me, it’s okay to go for the stones. That means testicles.”

“Just for that, your friend Hazel’s a princess, too,” Steff said.

“She cooks because she likes to,” I said. “She helps her friends because she likes to. These things are big bright spots in what used to be a shitty fucking life, so don’t… make them into a bunch of… things that they aren’t.”

Okay, so it’s possible my eloquence kind of failed me at the end there, but on the positive side the beginning wasn’t very eloquent, either.

“Sorry, sweetie,” Steff said to the angry girl. “You just got told.”

“Hey, I’m not your ‘sweetie’,” she said. “Why don’t you back up and check your male privilege?”

“I’ll check my male privilege when you check your cis privilege,” Steff said. “And your human privilege, and your fullblood privilege, and for that matter, your lesbian privilege.”

Lesbian privilege?”

“Yuh-huh,” Steff said. “Lesbians have an established cultural identity. I’m bisexual. I’m a member of an invisible minority.”

“Whatever, trend whore,” she said, and stomped away.

“Who was that, anyway?” I asked Steff.

“Don’t even know,” she said, shrugging. “But I feel like we should introduce her to Shiel. Froshes who just discovered feminism are just a special kind of adorable.”

“What the hell was all that privilege stuff about?”

“Oppression Skirmish,” Steff said. “As a transgendered bisexual half-breed non-human, I win at losing.” She grinned wickedly. “I don’t actually give a shit about who has what privilege… it’s an ogre-eat-human world, chicky.”

“Not that I’m not happy seeing you, but as long as I’m working here, I am working,” Amaranth said. “Did you guys want to buy something?”

“Yeah, we thought we’d get cookies all around and then go to the concession stand to get some soda,” Steff said.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have lemonade?” Amaranth asked, tapping the big plastic cooler on the end of the table and smiling at me.

“Ooh, yes please,” I said.

“Oh, don’t,” the blond guy said. “We fucked it up and used like way too much sugar.”

“You guys don’t know my Mack,” Amaranth said. “Two?”

“Yes, please,” Two said.

“Yeah, I’m going to stick with Plan A,” Steff said. “If you two clowns think it’s too sweet, it probably qualifies as an illegal elixir.”

Amaranth gave us two cups. I let Two fill mine, because she made a whole big production of it. It was just a little spigot with a button, but… well, she acted like she was a hostess pouring tea or something. We got a bunch more of Two’s cookies and some fudge brownies and chocolate dipped pretzels, and then we settled up. The crowd had begun to reluctantly filter back towards the stands, as the break was almost over. Amaranth and I shared a long, lingering kiss… which led directly to me finding out how much of the crowd had not departed, and how much of my “oh fuck, don’t stare at me” reflex was still left.

“Been a while since I’ve seen you turn quite that shade of purple,” Steff said as we trudged back. She and Two had insisted on carrying all the food, along with my drink. “Feels like old times.”

“I hope not,” I said. “I’d like to think I’m past a lot of that stuff. I’m just not used to getting a full-on, sitcom-style catcall from the audience.”

“Meh, it’s a bunch of drunks and townies,” Steff said. “They’re just excited to see a celebrity.”

“A what now?” I asked, jarring myself as I missed the last step in the set in my shock.

“Careful, hon,” Steff said. “A celebrity. You were a passing item on the national news… what do you think that means for the local? Anyway, I’d bet money that’s part of the reason Dee didn’t want to come out tonight. She’s probably trying to avoid scrutiny.”

We made it back to our seats without me taking a worse fall.

“What were the names of the guys we were watching for?” I asked Steff as she and Two distributed the goodies around.

“I didn’t catch the other guy’s name, but Blake was the kind of portly white guy,” Steff said.

She flipped open her program and showed it to me. The entire block of names from the first round had shrunk, now listing a bunch of names under the heading “Eliminated”, and the chart for the second round of fights had filled itself in, including the listing for a heavy armed fighter named BLAKE, with a little representation of his flail and armor.

“Whoa, how’d I miss that?” I asked, holding out my hand and feeling the very weak enchantment on the paper. It was only tenuously bound, and wouldn’t outlast the evening… but of course, it didn’t need to.

“This is good lemonade,” Two said. “They made it like I do.”

I tried mine, and found that she was right. It was just like drinking candy.

The bouts in the second round were more serious, and some of them were captivating in their own right, the way the fight between the bearded Blake and his tall, dark opponent had been, so we mostly left off the game of cheering both sides on. Two kept it up, of course, though since there were only two people on the field at a time it was a lot less constant.

“Hey, that guy might be related to you,” Two said to Steff, when a fighter named Johnson came into the ring.

“Uh… I don’t think so, sweetie,” Steff said. “I don’t remember any seven-foot Argentis at the family barbecue.”

“Johnson’s a pretty common last name,” I said. “It’s right up there with Jones or Smith.”

“Smith is my creator’s name,” Two said.

“What was his first name?” Steff asked.

“Mister.”

I don’t think either of us really knew what to say to that, so we didn’t say anything.

In a way, the Blake fight was disappointing after having seen him warm up against an opponent who was his equal or possibly even his better in talent… it had been a close enough fight that the impact of luck could not be discounted. His first opponent in the second tier was a reedy-looking guy with an iron staff I hadn’t even noticed in the elimination round. Blake took him out quickly by faking like he was going to swing wide, and then pretty much punching the head of his flail straight ahead. The ball glanced off the iron shaft but still caught him in the stomach.

It wasn’t an immediately fatal wound, but it dropped him to his knees, and I closed my eyes to avoid seeing what happened next.

“Messy,” Two said as the roar of the crowd slowly died down, and I heard her chomp a pretzel.

Even with the worst of the fighters eliminated, a lot of the battles were going like that… one clearly outmatched combatant being eliminated, and the other advancing to the next round. The other fighter we were looking out for, the swordsman, proved to be named Tomaso. He was matched up with a short, stocky girl in gold armor, wearing a helmet with one of those scrub brush-like crests on it and wielding a battleaxe.

“Uh, Mack?” Steff said.

“Yeah, I know, it’s him,” I said.

“Take a good, hard look at the other one,” Steff said. She flipped her program around to face me. “Or just read ’em and weep.”

BANKS LABELLE.

“I think that’s Puddy down there,” Two said. “I’m not going to cheer for her.” Her face scrunched up, her eyes tracking back and forth as she thought it over. “Well, a little, to be fair. Go, Puddy.”


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11 Responses to “302: Princesses And Queens”

  1. ElectricHarpsichord says:

    “A couple presumably gay guys were sitting behind her…”
    Should this be “A couple *of* presumably gay…”?

    Current score: 0
    • According to most authorities, you’d be correct, but as a stylistic thing Mackenzie rarely includes the “of”.

      Current score: 1
  2. Adam Barnes says:

    If you have any mercy at all, please let Puddy be stomped into the filth

    Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      OK, now you’ve got me imagining Puddy squaring off against Mercy in the arena. 😛

      Current score: 2
  3. pedestrian says:

    …trend whore…Oppression Skirmish…

    almost half century of listening to this exact squabbling has left me rather blase about this entire range of subjectivity.

    Current score: 5
  4. Mugasofer says:

    DUN DUN DUN!

    The Oppression Skermish was great 😀

    Current score: 2
  5. Cadnawes says:

    Oppression skirmish drives me insane. I’ve been involved in far more of it than I care to have been. It seems like it’s usually an attempt to invalidate another’s argument based on who they are rather than what they said, and since when is that ok?

    Or invalidate their entire paradigm. I’ve been told that as a white person I don’t understand prejudice. That presupposes that I don’t care about another’s struggle. Also, as a disabled lesbian, I don’t know what anyone thinks I don’t get.

    But speaking of the struggles of others… as a mixed race bi transperson, Steff does, in fact, win. Those who are hard on Steff might uunderstand her better if they watch the news to see how OUR universe deals with such people.

    Anyway, I suppose I will stop ranting now.

    Current score: 3
    • Jechtael says:

      Huh. As a mixed-race, bi/pan/IDGAF/whaveryawannacallit transperson, whose primary ancestry is sometimes used as an allegorical template for elves, I just realized I have more in common with Steff than I thought. It’s a good thing I don’t play… what is the term? Oppression Roulette? Oppression Olympics? I’d probably get depressed at how often I win.

      On that note: I HATE how people started using “check your privilege” to mean “You don’t know me! You don’t know me! You can’t have an opinion because you’re not as oppressed as me!” instead of “Remember, since you’re part of [privileged category], your experiences aren’t representative of [oppressed category], so please consider the differences” almost as soon as the phrase entered common usage. The fact that “cis scum” is even a phrase, let alone a commonly used one in many circles, makes me wish the Point-of-View Gun from some of the Hitchhiker’s Guide continuities was a real thing with painful side effects.

      Current score: 3
      • Athena says:

        Oppression Olympics.

        Also, much agreement on wishing the POV gun existed. I dunno that it needs any effects apart from the main one, though.

        You could, however, simulate side effects by bashing particularly recalcitrant subjects over the head with it.

        Current score: 0
  6. Skylark says:

    This chapter finally made me realize why Two’s friends having public interactions with others concerning Two rings so true with me. It reminds me of how freely strangers feel to comment when you are out with a person with a visible difference or “disability”. It’s sad how many times I’ve had to tell people who insist on talking to me instead of a blind friend that my friend is neither deaf nor mentally impaired, or that my deaf friends can understand them and speak for themselves. When I worked as an aid to individuals with developmental delays, people felt that they had the right to jump towards all sorts of conclusions and judgements, and to come up and express those opinions uninvited. It’s sad the ignorantly hurtful things that people feel free to say in hearing of the person themselves, including the “it’s so cute you let them do that by themselves” that Two gets. I guess in this world being a golem is assumed to be a delay or impairment…

    Current score: 2