*Coming soon from DAW Books
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES —MARCA REGISTRADA HECHO EN U.S.A.
OCTOBER DAYE PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
All pronunciations are given strictly phonetically. This only covers races explicitly named in the first eight books, omitting Undersea races not appearing or mentioned in book eight.
Afanc: ah-fank. Plural is Afanc.
Annwn: ah-noon. No plural exists.
Bannick: ban-nick. Plural is Bannicks.
Barghest: bar-guy-st. Plural is Barghests.
Blodynbryd: blow-din-brid. Plural is Blodynbryds.
Cait Sidhe: kay-th shee. Plural is Cait Sidhe.
Candela: can-dee-la. Plural is Candela.
Cetace: sea-tay-see. Plural is Cetacea.
Coblynau: cob-lee-now. Plural is Coblynau.
Cu Sidhe: coo shee. Plural is Cu Sidhe.
Daoine Sidhe: doon-ya shee. Plural is Daoine Sidhe, diminutive is Daoine.
Djinn: jin. Plural is Djinn.
Dóchas Sidhe: doe-sh-as shee. Plural is Dóchas Sidhe.
Ellyllon: el-lee-lawn. Plural is Ellyllons.
Gean-Cannah: gee-ann can-na. Plural is Gean-Cannah.
Glastig: glass-tig. Plural is Glastigs.
Gwragen: guh-war-a-gen. Plural is Gwragen.
Hamadryad: ha-ma-dry-add. Plural is Hamadryads.
Hippocampus: hip-po-cam-pus. Plural is Hippocampi.
Kelpie: kel-pee. Plural is Kelpies.
Kitsune: kit-soo-nay. Plural is Kitsune.
Lamia: lay-me-a. Plural is Lamia.
The Luidaeg: the lou-sha-k. No plural exists.
Manticore: man-tee-core. Plural is Manticores.
Merrow: meh-row. Plural is Merrow.
Naiad: nigh-add. Plural is Naiads.
Nixie: nix-ee. Plural is Nixen.
Peri: pear-ee. Plural is Peri.
Piskie: piss-key. Plural is Piskies.
Puca: puh-ca. Plural is Pucas.
Roane: row-n. Plural is Roane.
Satyr: say-tur. Plural is Satyrs.
Selkie: sell-key. Plural is Selkies.
Shyi Shuai: shh-yee shh-why. Plural is Shyi Shuai.
Silene: sigh-lean. Plural is Silene.
Tuatha de Dannan: tootha day danan. Plural is Tuatha de Dannan, diminutive is Tuatha.
Tylwyth Teg: till-with teeg. Plural is Tylwyth Teg, diminutive is Tylwyth.
Urisk: you-risk. Plural is Urisk.
December 20th, 2012
For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savor all the winter long.
Grace and remembrance be to you both.
—William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale.
THE WOODS WERE DARK, filled with strange shadows. They twisted and swirled independent of any light source, making the space beneath the towering sequoias look treacherous and wild. Not much in the way of illumination could trickle all the way down through the tightly-laced branches to ground level; the few streaks of moonlight that had managed to reach us were washed out and thin, managing to seem almost darker than having no light at all. Everything was permeated by the smell of redwood sap and the sea.
We had arrived as a group, May, Jazz, and Quentin packed into the backseat like sardines, me behind the wheel, and Tybalt sitting rigidly next to me. He didn’t really like cars under the best of circumstances. He liked them even less when there were multiple other passengers, since that meant he couldn’t respond to an accident by yanking everyone safely onto the Shadow Roads. Call it a quirk brought on by being several hundred years older than the internal combustion engine.
I had parked the car in the mostly deserted Muir Woods lot, where May, Jazz, and Quentin had promptly gone on ahead, choosing retreat over dealing with my mood. This left Tybalt with the unenviable duty of trying to coax me into a party I had no interest in attending. I don’t like parties. Someone always tries to assassinate someone I actually like, and there are never enough of those little stuffed mushroom caps.
Right: this had gone on long enough. I stopped at the edge of the first trail leading up the slope, digging my heels into the dirt and refusing to be budged. “Nope,” I said. “I said I’d come; I came. These are the woods. I have entered Muir Woods. Now I’m going home. You have fun, I’ll see you when you get back.”
“Once again you underestimate my ability to move you, while simultaneously overestimating your ability not to be moved.” Tybalt caught my wrist, tugging me forward.
I dug my heels in deeper. “You’re the one who’s overestimating things here,” I said. “I don’t want to do this. I told you I didn’t want to do this. I told everyone I didn’t want to do this. Can we just go do something else? See a movie? Go out for a nice dinner? We could go back to the house and watch some BBC Shakespeare. I won’t even smack you for criticizing their pronunciation . . .”
Tybalt released my wrist and stepped back, looking at me with exasperated fondness. “October,” he said. “Do you consider me so easily bribed as all that?”
“I was hoping?”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Everyone else will be here,” I said, trying another angle. “We’ll have the house to ourselves.”
“Ah. That does put a different spin on things, and were the matter mine to decide, it might even sway my response in your favor.” My Cait Sidhe boyfriend shook his head, the moonlight glinting off his tabby-patterned brown hair. This late at night and this far from any human residences, neither of us was bothering with a human disguise. Not that he was in any way unattractive when he was pretending to be mortal—far from it—but I preferred his real face, complete with the malachite-banded green eyes that were currently narrowed in amusement over my predicament. “Alas, the matter is out of my hands. I will deliver you to the Queen, or we will both face her wrath.”
I crossed my arms and scowled at him. “Arden isn’t all that wrath-y. She used to be a bookstore clerk.”
“She is, as you say, ‘wrath-y’ enough. She is a queen. That is sufficient to lend teeth to whatever wrath she chooses to express.” Tybalt leaned forward and took hold of my wrist again, effortlessly unfolding my arms as he resumed trying to tug me into Muir Woods. “Come. The sooner we arrive, the sooner we can depart. Besides, you dressed for the occasion. Shouldn’t you take the time to at least pretend to enjoy it?”
I scowled, but I couldn’t pretend he wasn’t right about the last part. We were dressed for the occasion, thanks to my having raided my old bedroom in my mother’s tower, and his possession of a seemingly endless supply of leather trousers. He was wearing a pair in tawny brown, accented across the legs with strips of darker brown that managed to imply a tabby’s stripes without turning into a costume from the latest revival of Cats. His cream-colored poet’s shirt was unlaced enough to be tempting, but still modest enough not to cross the line into romance novel territory, and his brown leather vest and boots matched the stripes on his trousers. He looked basically amazing. No one could have looked at him without seeing the King of Cats he truly was.
I don’t clean up quite as well. My dress was one-shouldered and long enough that I had to lift it whenever I was stepping over anything—I wasn’t looking forward to climbing up the side of the hill between us and the Queen’s knowe. The whole thing was made of spider-silk, which would have put it well outside of my price range if it hadn’t been commissioned for me when I was still living with my mother. It gleamed in the moonlight like liquid silver. Stronger colors have a tendency to wash me out, thanks to my complexion: I’m naturally pale, made paler by my primarily nocturnal lifestyle. My hair is the kind of straight that refuses to take a curl, and a shade of no-color brown that’s moved a thousand boxes of Clairol. Veins of pale gold run through it, courtesy of my increasingly strong fae blood.
Still, I had to admit the dress was a good cut for me, and it fit like it had been stitched yesterday. May had done my makeup, choosing subtle metallic shades to make it look like my fog-colored eyes were actually worth gazing into, and my hair was pinned into an artfully messy updo, woven with strands of black opal that matched my necklace and earrings. No one could say I hadn’t at least attempted to get ready for a formal ball.
That didn’t mean I had the slightest intention of actually going.
Tybalt apparently realized he wasn’t going to make me move, because he stopped pulling on my wrist and stepped closer, placing a finger beneath my chin and tilting my head back until our eyes met. “Do you truly intend to waste all the work of preparing for this event? You look astonishing, October. Perhaps I am a proud man, but I did so look forward to seeing others seeing you and realizing that they had overlooked your beauty while allowing their eyes to be clouded by the woman who once ruled in this demesne. Smugness excites me. I was even more excited about the prospect of taking you home after the ball, and showing you exactly how much I appreciate that you have chosen me over all of them.”
“Flattery will get you a lot of places, kitty-cat, including into my pants, but it’s not going to get me to go to that ball.”
Tybalt nodded, smiling broadly enough to show the point of one sharpened incisor. “Oh, I know. But did you know that there is one place that flattery will always get me?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Where’s that?”
“Past your guard.” He dropped my wrist. Before I could object, his arms were locked around my waist, and we were falling into the shadows, where everything was cold and black and there wasn’t any oxygen.
We fell for what could have been forever. Intellectually, I knew it was only a few seconds. That didn’t help as much as it might have. My body had enough time to notice that I’d stopped breathing and send up an objection, and then we were back on solid ground, and the air around us no longer felt like it was made of pure ice. It was no surprise when I opened my eyes and found myself looking at the door to Arden’s knowe. It was standing open to the night air, and the trees around it were lit with pixies and fireflies. Of the two, the fireflies were more unusual—they’re not native to California.
“Dirty pool!” I pushed away from Tybalt, who let me go without a fight. I glared at him. At least he had the decency not to laugh at me, although I could tell it was a struggle. “That was dirty pool and it wasn’t fair, and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
“I am abashed by my own behavior,” he replied, deadpan. “I will spend a lifetime fighting to redeem myself in your eyes.”
“Damn right you will.” I glared at him as I adjusted the strap on my gown and reached up to check my hair for frozen patches. We’d been in and out of the shadows too quickly for any ice to form. Bully for me. I lowered my hand and sighed, finally giving up on the glare as I asked, “So what you’re saying is that we really have to do this.”
“That is precisely what I’m saying.” He offered me his arm. “If milady would do me the great honor of allowing me to escort her into the Yule Ball?”
“I hate you,” I said, slipping my hand into the bend of his elbow.
This vital exchange complete, we walked together past the guards at the door—who were smirking, having clearly eavesdropped on us the whole time—and into Arden’s knowe.
The door led to an enormous entry hall. The walls and floor were polished redwood, seamlessly flowing from one into the next, while the ceiling consisted almost entirely of stained glass panels representing a stylized, star-filled sky. Some of the panels were open, allowing us to see the actual sky beyond, a twilit wonder of purple mists and multiple moons. We had crossed out of the mortal world and into the Summerlands when we passed over the threshold. The seamlessness of the transition said something about how many people had come and gone through those doors since Arden had reopened her knowe. Like most things, passage between the human and fae worlds is easiest in places where it’s been done before, and the more often, the better.
No artwork or tapestries hung on the walls, which had been carved into a series of bas-relief panels retelling the history of the Kingdom of the Mists. Arden’s resident crafters had been hard at work since my last visit: panels had been added showing the death of Arden’s father, King Gilad Windermere, and the overthrow of the false Queen who had followed him on the throne.
The carvings of me were pretty flattering, even if they did get my nose wrong.
There were holiday decorations strung across the hall, anchored to the point where wood met glass, rather than being allowed to obscure any of the carvings. Wreaths of holly, ivy, and mistletoe competed with ropes of woven redwood branches, and everything smelled of sap and green things. My eyes were only for the hall itself. “It’s beautiful,” I murmured.
“Yes, it is,” Tybalt agreed, following my gaze to the nearest panel. “The artisans of the Divided Courts are capable of some monumental things, when they rouse themselves to try.”
“That was almost complimentary.”
“I’ll take more care in the future,” he said gravely, and began walking again, pulling me with him down the hall to the main receiving room.
If the entry hall was large, this room was vast, easily the size of the false Queen’s ballroom, which had previously been my gold standard for “why do you need this much space.” It continued the redwood-and-glass theme, now accessorized with people. Lots and lots and lots of people. At first glance, it seemed like the entire Kingdom had shown up to celebrate Queen Arden Windermere’s inaugural Yule Ball. Second glance confirmed that if it wasn’t the whole Kingdom, it was certainly close.
I started to step over the threshold, on the theory that it was best to get this sort of thing over with quickly. Tybalt’s sudden refusal to move pulled me to an unexpected halt. I turned to blink at him. I was still blinking when the herald to the right of the door announced, in a remarkably carrying tone, “Welcome to Sir October Daye, Knight of Lost Words, in service to Shadowed Hills, and to His Majesty, Tybalt, King of Dreaming Cats.”
Another herald blew a quick fanfare on what sounded like a brass horn. I turned back to the room, gaping at the crowd, which was now largely concerned with staring at us.
“Oh, sweet Titania, I am going to murder someone, and I’m not all that picky about who it’s going to be,” I said in a low tone.
Tybalt laughed, and we walked together into the chaos of the Yule Ball.
There are four major holidays in the fae calendar, the fixed points in the year around which everything else revolves. Beltane and Samhain represent the transfer of power between the Unseelie and Seelie Courts. Back in the days when every fiefdom had two regents, they would have traded places on those nights. Yule and Midsummer are more general holidays, meant for everyone to celebrate. Hosting one of those two parties is a pretty big deal. Since the false Queen of the Mists had never been much into throwing the kind of shindig that would attract common ruffians like me and everyone I knew, we hadn’t had a Kingdom-wide Yule celebration since King Gilad was murdered.
It looked like Arden was working overtime to make sure everyone knew that things were different now. A band played on one side of the room, and space had been cleared for the dancers, while tables had been provided for those who would rather sit and talk. Hobs and Brownies circulated through the crowd with trays of drinks and finger foods. I suppressed a shudder. The last time I’d been dragged to one of these large seasonal parties, my old enemy, Oleander de Merelands, had been disguised as one of the servants. She’d poisoned several people that way, and she’d drugged me. Not one of the high points of my career.
That had been a different time, in a different knowe, and Oleander was dead. I allowed Tybalt to hand me a tall flute of something that bubbled like champagne, but was the pale purple of lilacs. I sniffed it. It smelled, perhaps predictably, of blackberries. “Let’s find Sylvester,” I said. “I need to present myself to him before things get too hectic.”
Unsurprisingly, Tybalt made a face. “Must we?”
“Yes,” I said firmly. “We must.” Sylvester Torquill was my liege, and had been for most of my adult life. Civility said that if we were both at the same party, I should find him and make sure he knew I was there. Tybalt wasn’t bound by the same rules of fealty and propriety, which was a good thing, since he would have committed murder if he’d been forced to deal with Sylvester as often as I did.
Tybalt counted Sylvester as . . . not an enemy, quite, but definitely someone he wouldn’t think twice about leaving behind if the situation required it. That was because of me. They’d been almost friends before I came along and complicated things. Yet somehow I couldn’t feel too bad about it, since the “complication” had involved Sylvester refusing to let Tybalt stay with me when I was sick and on the verge of dying. Tybalt took that sort of thing personally.
He wasn’t the only one.
“Must I be pleasant?” he asked.
“Yes, unless he starts something.” I scanned the throng. “He’ll probably be near the refreshments. Come on, I think I see an ice sculpture this way.” Keeping my arm linked through his, I plunged into the crowd. If he didn’t like it, tough. Turnabout was fair play.
He didn’t fight me. He understood where my duty lay, just like I understood about his. Faerie is a feudal society: Kings and Queens, knights and lords and ladies. I’d earned my title. It was the only way for someone like me to get the honor, since changelings—human-fae crossbreeds—can’t inherit titles from our parents. It would have been a moot point in my case anyway, since my mother, Amandine, is untitled. I guess people figured that since she was Firstborn, she didn’t need a title to get respect. I did. Part of having that title was maintaining it, doing all the things that a good little changeling knight was supposed to do. And as much as I didn’t want to be at the party, it was nice to have an event that justified me and Tybalt attending together. Being a King of Cats meant that Tybalt’s responsibility to his people had to come first. Sometimes I didn’t see him for days. Other times . . .
I’d been in relationships before. One of them had been serious enough to result in my now-teenage, now-mortal daughter, Gillian. But what I had with Tybalt was something special.
The crowd fell away as we emerged into the bubble of empty space between the dance floor and a refreshment table laden with sparkling sugar desserts. Towers of cookies and less recognizable confections surrounded a huge gingerbread reproduction of Arden’s knowe as seen from the Summerlands: a palace that was half redwood forest, half fairy-tale dream. There were even tiny lights inside, shining through the stained sugar glass windows.
“Whoa,” I said.
A pointy-eared man with hair the color of fox fur was standing near the table, speaking earnestly to a slender woman of evidently Chinese descent. He was wearing the blue and gold of Shadowed Hills, as perfectly groomed as any fairy-tale prince. Her dress looked like it had come from fourteenth century China, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, except for the silver circuitry patterns stitched into the wine-colored fabric. They turned when I spoke, and their smiles were radiantly bright.
“October!” said Duke Sylvester Torquill of Shadowed Hills, my liege lord and lifelong friend. He stepped forward and enfolded me in a hug. I hugged him back, closing my eyes briefly as I breathed in the reassuring dogwood flower and daffodil scent of his magic. It was something that was uniquely his in all the world, and it had meant comfort to me since my childhood.
When he released me, I moved back a step in order to dip into a curtsy, at least pretending that I had retained some of the manners I’d had drilled into me. “Your Grace,” I said. “It’s a pleasure to see you.”
Sylvester laughed. “Oh, stop that. You and I both know that you’re not cut out for being respectful. I think it’s bad for your health.”
“Entirely possible,” I agreed, straightening and turning to his companion, who was still smiling brightly as she waited for my attention. “Li Qin.”
“Hello, October.” Li Qin was the current regent of Dreamer’s Glass, the Duchy that occupied much of the South Bay Area. Her only official claim to the land was a sort of “finders keepers” situation, since the previous Duchess had disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving Li Qin holding the keys. I knew exactly where Duchess Riordan was: stranded in Annwn, one of the deeper, sealed lands of Faerie. She wasn’t going to be coming back any time soon.
Every race in Faerie has its own magical talents. Li Qin’s race, the Shyi Shuai, bend luck. It was easy to wonder how much of Riordan’s predicament had been helped along by the woman who now held her fiefdom. It was also difficult to care. Riordan had dug her own grave; let her lie in it. Maybe my attitude toward “rightful rulers” is a little case-by-case, since I had no trouble with Li Qin holding Dreamer’s Glass, but I’d had major problems with the false Queen holding the Mists. Then again, Li Qin was a better regent than Riordan had ever been. If the line was drawn at “do your damn job, and I won’t mess with you,” well, there are worse standards to uphold.
“You look lovely tonight,” I told her.
She brightened. “As do you.”
“With that out of the way, I have a pressing question for October.” Sylvester turned to me and bowed. “I know you have come here with an escort, but may I have this dance, my dear?”
Tybalt scowled. He didn’t object. Having my liege offer to dance with me was a great honor, and one that I had no way to politely refuse. I pulled my hand from his elbow. “I’m a terrible dancer,” I said.
Sylvester’s smile grew. “Perhaps. But as you’re still sworn to my service, it would behoove you to indulge me.”
I handed Tybalt my drink, which he took without comment. “Fair enough.” I curtsied before slipping my hand into Sylvester’s extended one. “Tybalt, Li Qin, if you’ll excuse us?”
“Only momentarily,” said Tybalt.
“We’ll talk later,” said Li Qin, still smiling.
I turned back to Sylvester. “I’m all yours,” I said.
“No, you’re not,” he replied, as he tugged me gently with him onto the edge of the nearby dance floor. The dancers parted to let us in, recognizing the necessity of making way for a Duke. “But your loyalty remains mine to command, and that’s more than sufficient for me.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I settled for focusing on the dance, my hand resting lightly on his arm, his body guiding me through the steps. I’ve never been much of a dancer, but he made me look like I almost knew what I was doing. “So who else is here?” I asked finally. “We just got here.”
“Yes, I know,” he said. “Your squire, your Fetch, and the rest of your household arrived a quarter of an hour ago, and the party started at sunset. You’re very late. That’s something of a relief, actually.”
“Yes. It means you try to avoid everyone’s parties as if they were filled with flesh-eating monsters. I’d begun to worry that you only avoided mine.”
“Be nice to me, I’ve had a hard night.” I wrinkled my nose at him. “I meant ‘who else from Shadowed Hills is here’?”
“Ah. You meant, ‘did Luna come?’” Sylvester’s expression darkened. He spun me out and back in again, timing the motion to a flourish in the music that I hadn’t seen coming. “She stayed home with Rayseline. She didn’t feel it was meet for her to come out and celebrate the longest night of the year when our daughter would not be able to join the celebrations.”
Rayseline Torquill was Sylvester’s only child. She was currently deep in enchanted slumber, caused by an elf-shot arrow that had been intended for me. I felt a little guilty about that, but only a little. She had been trying to kill me, and she had killed her ex-husband—who’d been my boyfriend at the time—as well as wounding my little girl so badly that the only way for me to save her had been for me to turn her completely human.
Part of me knew that Raysel deserved whatever horrible dreams she was getting from her fevered brain. The rest of me loved her father too much to ever say that to his face. “Well, tell Luna I said hello,” I said awkwardly, trying not to let my dismay interfere with my dancing.
“I will. As for the rest of my household, we’ve loaned the better part of the staff to Queen Windermere for tonight’s fete, and all but the most essential of my knights and guardsmen are in attendance.” He smiled. “You really do look lovely tonight. I remember when your mother had that gown made for you.”
“Me, too,” I said. “It’s a good thing she invested so heavily in spider-silk when I was a kid. I’ve never really had much fashion sense.” Spider-silk is a uniquely fae material, and once it’s been cut and tailored to fit someone, it fits them forever, no matter how much they grow or shrink.
“I don’t know about that. You wear that dress in your own way, not as your mother would, and I’m proud to have seen you grow into the woman you’ve become.”
I reddened, blinking at him. “What brought that on?”
“Nostalgia, perhaps? It’s good to see you. That’s all.” The dance was coming to an end. He guided me out of the crowd and back to where Li Qin and Tybalt were waiting for us. “You have honored me with the pleasure of this dance.”
“You have honored me by asking,” I replied, reclaiming my drink from Tybalt, who remained silent and stone-faced. This time I actually drank some. It tasted like blackberries, with a crisp, almost floral aftertaste. I turned to Li Qin. “Sorry about that.”
“Never apologize for dancing,” she said. “It’s something everyone should enjoy, as often as they can.”
I grimaced, trying to make it look like a smile, and changed the subject. “So who all’s here from Tamed Lighting?”
“Everyone but Alex, since he still can’t go out at night. Even April, although she’s having trouble with some of the local redwood Dryads.” Li Qin sighed. “They’re a little snobby where she’s concerned, and she doesn’t handle it as well as she might.”
“Are we talking tears or declarations of war?” April O’Leary was the Countess of Tamed Lightning, and the world’s only nonorganic Dryad. Her tree had been destroyed to make room for a housing development, at which point her adoptive mother, January, had transplanted her into a computer server to save her life. The result had been a quirky, slightly alien individual with a strange sense of humor. She was doing an excellent job with her County, so far as I knew. That didn’t mean she was equipped to do an excellent job with a bunch of leaf-brained tree huggers who thought she was an abomination.
“A little bit of both,” said Li Qin. She sounded aggravated on April’s behalf. It was a natural response. Li Qin was January’s widow, after all.
There was a soft displacement of air behind me, accompanied by the smell of redwoods and blackberry flowers. I knew who was there even before Sylvester offered a shallow bow and a mild, “Your Highness,” to the new arrival.
I turned, already smiling, to face our new Queen in the Mists, Arden Windermere.
She was wearing a flowing gown in a shade of frosted white that matched the blackberry flowers woven through her purple-black hair. Her mismatched eyes—one brilliant blue, one mercury-silver—were striking enough that she didn’t need makeup to set them off. She looked like the Queen she was. She also looked profoundly uncomfortable. I guessed that was natural. Arden had been living outside Faerie for her entire adult life, spending more than a century hidden in the mortal world. She’d been back for less than six months, and in that time she’d become Queen and taken on responsibility for a whole Kingdom. Being surrounded by so many of her subjects at once had to be hard on her nerves.
“There you are,” she said, and grabbed my hands, pulling me with her into a gateway that suddenly opened in the air. The world shifted around me as her portal deposited us outside. I yanked my hands away, as much to get my balance back as in protest of her treatment.
We were standing on a slanted rooftop, the shingles beneath our feet ripe with healthy green moss. Redwood saplings had rooted on some of them, straining toward the Summerlands sky above us. I looked around. Adult redwoods grew on every side, some of them ascending from the forest floor far below, others growing from the palace on which we stood.
Arden herself was sitting on the roof when I looked back to her. I blinked.
“Uh, Your Highness?”
“What took you so long?” She hugged her knees, looking up at the moons overhead. “I thought you’d be here earlier.”
“I don’t like parties.” I paused. “And . . . I’m guessing neither do you.”
“I don’t know how to behave at something like this.” Arden shook her head. “Everyone’s looking at me, expecting me to be their Queen, and I just want them to tell me how long I’m expected to stay before I cut and run. I could barely make it through staff meetings at the bookstore without losing my cool. How am I supposed to be in charge of something like this?”
Cautiously, I moved to sit beside her. “Well, I don’t know,” I said. “You’ve been doing pretty well with the whole Queen thing. I can’t imagine throwing one party would be that much harder.”
“Then why don’t you do it and report back?”
I frowned a little, leaning on my hands as I looked at her. It occurred to me that Arden didn’t have that many friends. There was Madden, the Cu Sidhe from Borderlands, but . . . that was it, so far as I knew. She’d gone from being a bookstore clerk to being Queen essentially overnight, and she’d been outside Faerie since she was a child. When would she have had the time to make friends? “I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I hate parties. You hate this party. I’ll pretend to like parties if you’ll pretend to like this party, and maybe together we can fool the rest of the Kingdom.”
Arden gave me a sidelong look. “Really.”
“If nothing else, people will be incredibly impressed that you got me to stay for an entire Yule Ball, rather than escaping at the earliest possible opportunity.”
There was a long pause before, slowly, Arden smiled. “Will you sit at the high table with me during the banquet?”
“On one condition.”
“Tybalt comes, too.”
Arden’s smile grew. “Deal.”
SITTING AT THE HIGH table with Arden wasn’t so bad. Tybalt found the idea hysterically funny and was on his best behavior, while my squire—Quentin Sollys—not only joined us, but ate with a mannerly precision that put the rest of us to shame. It helped that he was the Crown Prince of the Westlands, the High Kingdom to which Arden and the Mists swore fealty, and had been trained on things like “which fork do you use with the second salad course” when he was in diapers. I caught Arden watching Quentin out of the corner of her eye, trying to mimic his motions. I smiled but didn’t say anything. Her own training had been disrupted by the years she’d spent in hiding, and if copying off my squire’s metaphorical homework helped her, that was fine.
May and Jazz sat near the front of the banquet hall, where they could make faces at us throughout dinner. I smirked and made faces right back, earning me a few amused looks from Sylvester, who was seated with them. For the first time in a long time, I was totally relaxed, sure that nothing was going to ruin my good mood.
I should really learn to stop being optimistic.
The Yule Ball went until nearly dawn. Dinner was followed by more dancing, several musical performances by vocalists from around the Kingdom, and even an animal act with a phoenix and a flammable falconer. It was all good fun, and I was a little sorry to see it end. But no party can last forever, and eventually Arden moved to stand in front of her carved redwood throne, holding her hands up, palms facing outward. Bit by bit, the crowd quieted, everyone turning to face their Queen.
“The Kingdom of the Mists has known great turmoil and tragedy since the death of my father, Gilad Windermere. I am truly sorry to have failed you for so long by allowing a pretender to hold my throne while I hid from your eyes. I will not fail you again. This is the longest night of the year, and the night when we make our pledges unto Faerie, swearing we will never freeze, never falter, but will continue to turn the wheel around. We will keep dancing. By the root and the branch, by the rose and the thorn, we will do our best in service to our unseen Lord and Ladies.”
The room cheered. Arden smiled but didn’t lower her hands.
“Now, before the night is done, I must make certain appointments . . .”
I’m not ashamed to say I tuned out as she began reciting proclamation after proclamation, all of them impeccably memorized and dead boring. Li Qin was named as official protector of Dreamer’s Glass until such time as Duchess Treasa Riordan could be found. Etienne’s impending marriage to his mortal lover, Bridget Ames, was recognized and sanctioned by the crown. This person got permission to use that land. This other person was given leave to take a squire. The head of Arden’s guard, Lowri, was recognized for bravery. I started silently reviewing the contents of the pantry at home, trying to work out whether I had enough cereal to get me through the week.
Tybalt’s elbow introduced itself to my side, none too gently. I managed not to yelp, turning to glare at him instead.
“What?” I hissed, voice dangerously low.
He didn’t answer. He just jerked his chin toward the front of the room.
I turned to find Arden looking at me, a mixture of amusement and annoyance warring for possession of her face. I winced. A path had opened through the crowd between us. That had happened every time she’d called someone to the front of the room.
Tybalt elbowed me again, clearly trying to urge me forward. Swell. I’d been summoned, and I didn’t even know what for.
Please not another County, I thought as I walked to where Arden was waiting. Or a Barony. Or a puppy. Or anything else I’d have to be responsible for. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting saddled with a Duchy. The only one that was even halfway available was Dreamer’s Glass, and Arden had already given that to Li Qin.
“October Daye, sworn to Shadowed Hills, you have done a great service to the throne of the Mists. I, and my household, stand in your debt.” Arden’s tone was calm and measured, as if there had been no delay at all between her calling my name and me getting a clue. “Your fealty is sworn to another, or I would offer you a place in this Court, to be yours forevermore.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. “I’m pretty attached to Shadowed Hills. Um. Sorry.”
“And Shadowed Hills is pretty attached to you,” she said. “I attempted to convince your liege to release you. He refused.”
I shot a startled glance to Sylvester, who was standing to the left of the crowd. Then I smiled. I should have known he’d never let me down.
Arden was speaking again. I wrenched my attention back to her. “But I cannot allow a debt to go unacknowledged,” she said. “October Daye, let it be known that on this day, you are recognized as a hero of the realm, with all the responsibilities and privileges that includes. You will be offered safety and succor in any noble household. All doors will be open to you. But all dangers will be laid before you, and we’ll call you as soon as we need something large and monstrous slain.” She smiled. “You’re already doing that part. It won’t be a big change.”
“Uh.” I stared at her.
Arden raised her eyebrows. “Uh?” she echoed.
“Uh,” I said again, before I grimaced and managed to say, “I’ll try really hard not to disappoint you?”
“I don’t think that’s the standard response, but you know what? Good enough for me.” Arden tapped me on the left shoulder. “Congratulations, Sir October Daye, Hero in the Mists.”
The applause of the crowd escorted me all the way back to where Tybalt was waiting for me. He didn’t look surprised. In fact, he was smirking, which told me he’d already known this little curveball was coming. “I hate you,” I informed him, and kept walking. With Arden’s proclamations done, the party was breaking up. The sun had finished rising in the mortal world. If we left now, we could be out of the parking lot before the human rangers started showing up for work. That would mean fewer questions all around since, technically, Muir Woods State Park was closed after sunset.
The fact that human law said the park was closed wasn’t a big deal: most fae don’t have a lot of respect for human law. Still, the hour was a good reason for me to hustle my little changeling butt out of there. If enough people got out before being seen by humans became a risk, we were more likely to escape without somebody getting arrested and Arden needing to have some poor innocent park ranger’s memory wiped.
Sometimes I think it must have been nice to be alive in the days where everyone knew that Faerie existed. Sure, bands of angry humans sometimes tried to kill us with iron and fire, but nobody questioned where we wanted to celebrate the seasons.
Tybalt followed me to the entry hall, where May, Jazz, and Quentin were waiting. May was holding a large canvas bag that smelled suspiciously like sugar cookies. When she saw me, she beamed, held the bag up as if for inspection, and announced, “I raided the kitchen!”
“Of course you did,” I said, with a weak smile. “I just got named a hero of the realm. Like, the actual title accessory pack kind of hero, not just ‘you do heroic things, gold star and try not to die.’”
“You were already a hero of the realm to us,” said my squire. He sounded so sincere that I couldn’t even poke fun at the statement. Not that I wanted to. Quentin and I have been through a lot since Sylvester first tried to use him as an errand boy. I refused the message he was supposed to give me, but I kept the messenger. It’s all part of my larger pattern of picking up strays.
Jazz yawned as she asked, “So are we getting out of here? Please? Because if we’re not leaving, I’m going to go sleep in one of the trees.” She was a Raven-maid, a form of skinshifter, and one of the few diurnal races in the primarily nocturnal landscape of Faerie. Things like Yule were hell on her internal clock.
“We’re leaving,” I said, turning for the exit. We were just in time: I could hear footsteps behind us, signaling the start of the exodus. “Sun’s up, and this is a pretty popular commuting route. If we want to make it home by a decent hour, we need to head out now.”
“Oh, thank Oberon,” said Jazz. “I can sleep in the car.”
My skirt made descending the hiking trail connecting Arden’s knowe to the main park difficult. I gathered it as high as I dared, exposing my calves, knees, and sensible black flats as I picked my way down the side of the mountain. Tybalt took the lead, offering his hand to help me keep my balance. I didn’t object. We’d both been working on accepting help more easily, and it was starting to pay off, at least as far as I was concerned. Jazz nearly fell twice before saying something unpleasant in a language I didn’t know, pulling the feathered band out of her hair, and transforming into a raven. She perched on May’s shoulder after that, and we made the rest of the descent in silence.
“Did everyone have a nice time?” I asked.
“I ate so much sugar that I think I qualify as an annex to Willy Wonka’s factory,” said May.
“I liked eating at the high table,” said Quentin. There was a hint of wistfulness in his tone, matched by a temporary strengthening of his Canadian accent.
It made sense that eating at the high table was something he’d have missed, coming from the family that ruled the entire continent. I flashed him an understanding smile. Quentin smiled back, and we kept walking.
Muir Woods was peaceful this early in the morning, empty of both the human tourists who would fill it in a few short hours and the swirling shadows that Arden and her illusionists had used to dissuade any illicit nocturnal hikers from setting foot inside. The redwoods stretched on toward forever, and everything smelled of sap, fresh running water, and the green.
This time, it was Tybalt who stopped at the edge of the parking lot. “I must return to the Court of Cats,” he said. “My absence from last night’s Yule festivities was forgivable, for it is a great joke for me to be invited to the gatherings of the Divided Courts, but my people need my attention for a time. Will you be well without me?”
“You mean will I pine and die wishing you were there? I think I’ll pass. Although you really owe me that ‘showing me how much you appreciate my choosing you’ thing.” I dropped my skirt and leaned up to give him a quick kiss. He slid his arms around my waist, pulling me closer and deepening the kiss into something more. The taste of pennyroyal and musk lingered on his lips, a sweet reminder of his magic.
“Get a room,” said May, and kept on walking.
I laughed, pulling away from him. “Okay, when my Fetch starts lecturing us on public displays of affection, that means it’s time to stop. I’ll see you tonight?”
“Count on it,” said Tybalt. He turned and walked back toward the trees. The shadows at the edge of the wood spread for him like a curtain, and he was gone.
I smiled a little goofily as I followed the others to the car. Quentin was draped over the hood, making exaggerated snoring noises. May was just standing there, watching me tolerantly. Jazz had apparently fallen asleep; she was stretched across May’s folded arms, still in raven form, not moving.
“Did you have a good Yule?” May asked.
“Not that it’s any of your business—”
“It’s totally my business.”
“But yes.” I unlocked the car, peering quickly into the backseat before I opened my door. “Quentin, stop faking being asleep and get in. You’re not fooling anyone.”
My squire grinned as he straightened up. Then he yawned and climbed into the front passenger seat. His eyes were closed by the time I slid behind the wheel.
May got into the back, setting Jazz on the seat next to her long enough to fasten her seat belt. Then she scooped her avian girlfriend back into her arms. “We’re good,” she said. Having significant others who spent a substantial amount of time as animals—mine a cat, hers a raven—meant we had adjusted the “everyone must wear a seat belt” rule to apply only to people who were currently in a seat belt-friendly form.
As expected, Quentin turned the radio to the local country station as soon as I started the car. Then he closed his eyes again, rolling as far to the side as the seat belt and a seated position would allow, and went to sleep. I smiled as I glanced at the rearview mirror. May was slumped over in the back, cradling Jazz like a stuffed toy.
“Peace at last,” I murmured, and started down the mountain separating Muir Woods from the nearest outcropping of human civilization. Don’t get me wrong: I was as tired as the rest of them, maybe more, since I was the one who found parties the most draining. The flip side was that escaping a party felt like a stay of execution, and that, combined with the comfort of being back behind the wheel of my faithful VW bug, meant I was more than awake enough to get us home.
We were almost to the base of the mountain when I realized none of us was wearing a human disguise. I swore under my breath and grabbed a handful of shadows from the roof of the car, gripping them between my nails as they tried to squirm away like eels. The smell of copper and freshly cut grass rose as I chanted, rapid-fire, “The trees they do grow high and the leaves they do grow green, many’s the hour my own true love I’ve seen, many’s the day I’ve watched him all alone, he is young but he’s surely growing.”
The spell, which had been building with each word, burst around me like a soap bubble, accompanied by a brief spike of pain at my temples. I breathed out, my shoulders relaxing. It was a simple blur, but it would do the job; as long as I didn’t get pulled over, we should be able to pass any cursory inspection by the other drivers on the road.
A “simple” blur. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to manage a blur spell at all, much less cast one on a carful of people, and I would have paid for the attempt with a lot more than a momentary pang of magic-burn. Then again, two years ago, I was more human than fae, and still trying to force my magic into a mold it was never designed to fit. It turns out that when someone isn’t Daoine Sidhe, yet keeps trying to scale their workings to Daoine Sidhe specifications, things sometimes go wrong. Who knew? Now, I was more fae than human—it was hard to say how much more, it being a matter of reading the balance of my blood, and not something that could be resolved with a scale—and I was more confident in the magic I did possess than I’d ever been in my life.
I blamed my years of uncertainty and confusion on my mother. She raised me to think I was Daoine Sidhe like Quentin and Sylvester, a blood-working descendant of Titania. The joke was on me. I was Dóchas Sidhe the whole time, only two generations removed from Oberon himself, and my skill set, while similar, didn’t follow the same rules.
Quentin started to snore for real. I grinned to myself and changed the radio station to 80s rock, letting the dulcet tones of Simple Minds fill the car as I hit the gas. Next stop, San Francisco.
Traffic was normally heavy at this hour of the morning, but we were saved by the season: everyone who could be off the road was off the road, using vacation time and sick days to stay home with their families or catch an early flight to Maui. I concentrated on the drive, and in what felt like no time at all, I was turning into the driveway of our two-story Victorian home.
Coming home to an actual house and not a rattrap of an apartment still felt like a gift every time it happened. Sylvester and Luna Torquill had been in the Bay Area for a long time, and they’d been investing in mortal-world real estate practically from day one. The house had originally been his. Technically it still was, since we’d never bothered to transfer the title, but in reality it was mine, and it would be mine for as long as I wanted it to be. It was home. I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted one until I had it.
“Wake up, sleepyheads,” I said, turning off the engine and releasing the blur spell at the same time. “I do door-to-door service, but I’m not carrying you to bed.”
Quentin mumbled something in sleepy French. I poked him in the arm.
“Wake up, go inside, and go to bed,” I commanded. “Come on, move it.”
“You’re lying.” I twisted to look into the back, where May was yawning and unfastening her belt. “Are you going to be able to coax Jazz back to human form?”
“She’s pretty easy to coax. She doesn’t like to sleep as a raven in the bed,” said May, cradling her still-sleeping girlfriend. “I’m always afraid of rolling over and squishing her, so I won’t cuddle when she does that.”
“Firm but fair.” I jabbed Quentin again. “Up. Now.”
“I’m up.” He sat up, opening his eyes, and glowered at me petulantly before pushing open his door and shambling toward the house like something that had just crawled out of its grave. May followed at about the same pace, Jazz’s head resting on her shoulder. I swallowed a laugh, yawned, and got out of the car.
The cats and Spike, my resident rose goblin, met me at the door, complaining in their individual ways about being left alone, neglected and unfed. By the time I finished scooping food into their respective dishes—Purina for the felines, fertilizer for the animate rosebush—everyone else was gone, vanishing into their respective rooms for the next several hours.
“You’re on your own,” I informed the pets, and turned to head for the stairs.
Going up a flight of stairs in my dress was about as much fun as doing anything else in it had been. The downside of wearing real formal clothing to a ball, rather than spinning an illusion and calling it a night: I actually had to worry about taking care of the thing. Spider-silk is difficult to tear, stain, or even seriously wrinkle, but it needs to be treated properly if you want it to keep looking its best. I went into my room, closed the door, and began the unnecessarily complicated process of getting ready for bed.
Fifteen minutes later, my dress was hanging in the closet, my hair was in a ponytail, and I was stepping into a pair of sweatpants. A little rummaging in the laundry hamper produced a nightshirt that wasn’t too filthy to wear.
“Bed,” I moaned, and pulled the blackout curtains over my windows, converting the room into a pleasantly artificial night. With this last chore accomplished and no demands on my attention scheduled until sunset at the earliest, I flopped full-length onto the mattress. I lay there starfished for about half a minute before I remembered how to control my limbs and started squirming under the covers. It would have been nicer to be going to bed with Tybalt, who always provided a pleasant source of warmth and a soothing purr, but sleeping alone had its advantages: for one thing, no one was trying to steal the covers. I nestled myself into a changeling burrito, sticking my head under the pillow for good measure.
The doorbell rang.
I pulled my head from under the pillow and turned to look at the clock, automatically assuming that I’d been asleep for hours and just hadn’t noticed. According to the digital readout, it wasn’t even eight o’clock in the morning. I’d been in bed for less than ten minutes.
The doorbell rang again.
“Oh, someone’s getting murdered today,” I muttered, rolling out of the bed. My bathrobe was on the floor near the door. I grabbed it and tugged it on.
The doorbell rang a third time as I was going down the stairs. “I’m coming!” I shouted, draping a human disguise around myself with quick, irritated motions of my hands. I would normally have worried about waking everyone else. Under the circumstances, I was more concerned about the doorbell waking them up if I didn’t get it to stop ringing.
I wrenched the door open and snarled, “What?” with a ferocity that would have made the Luidaeg proud.
Sylvester, who had been raising his hand to ring a fourth time, froze. I did the same, and for a long moment, we stared at each other.
He was wearing a human disguise, and had traded his party finery for a pair of tan slacks and a white cotton shirt with buttoned cuffs. He would have fit in with an amateur theater production of The Great Gatsby.
“What the . . . ?” I blinked, relaxing as confusion replaced my anger. “What are you doing here? Why were you ringing the doorbell? Don’t you have a key?”
“October,” he said. There was something odd about the way he shaped my name, like he hadn’t said it aloud in years. “You’re here.”
“Yeah. Look, it’s the start of the day. What’s going on?” I stepped to the side, gesturing for him to come inside. “You want some tea, or coffee, or something?”
“You are inviting me in?” He looked so perplexed that I was starting to wonder if something was really wrong.
“Ah. Then, yes; tea would be a delight.” He stepped over the threshold. I moved to shut the door behind him and froze, the scent of his magic tickling the back of my throat.
He smelled like smoke and rotten oranges.
This man wasn’t Sylvester Torquill.
THE WORLD SEEMED to slow down, turning crystalline around me. I automatically flipped the deadbolt as I finished closing the door, moving carefully and deliberately, like I was in a dream. Shutting myself in with my personal bogeyman wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done, but I didn’t think it would make a difference in the grand scheme of things. We weren’t both going to walk away from this. I was unarmed and effectively alone as long as the others were asleep—and I prayed they’d stay asleep. There was a chance Simon didn’t even know I had roommates. They’d be safe. Whatever he did to me, I just hoped it would be quick, and quiet enough that he wouldn’t wake anyone else before he left. I had no illusions about being able to defeat him. There was no way in the world Simon Torquill would have appeared on my doorstep if he didn’t feel like he somehow had the upper hand.
I turned to find him studying the hallway walls, his hands folded politely behind his back. His face was visible only in profile, still softened and humanized by the illusion plastered over it. I guess he didn’t dare release it. Most people couldn’t catch the taste of his magic just by walking past him, but any child of Faerie, however weak, would be able to smell the rot lurking inside him if they were standing nearby when he dropped the spell.
I’m not most people. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to the scent of magic, and I knew exactly who he was.
He really did look exactly like Sylvester, even down to the design of his human disguise. It made sense: they were identical twins, after all. They had the same sharp jaw, the same fox-red hair and golden eyes. But where Sylvester’s eyes were kind, always ready to smile or forgive, this man’s eyes were hard. He’d seen things, done things that even a hero of Faerie should never be called upon to witness.
“You’ve done an excellent job with the place,” he said. “It’s more untidy than I would have expected, given your upbringing, but it’s still good to see someone living here. I assume you haven’t moved the kitchen?” He took off down the hall, moving with the proprietary speed of someone who knew exactly where he was and believed he had every right to be there. I followed him, trying to swallow the dust-dry feeling in my throat as I scanned everything around me, looking for things I could use as a weapon if necessary.
If necessary. Ha. As if there was any chance weapons weren’t going to be necessary. I was alone in my hall with Simon Torquill, the man who’d turned me into a fish for fourteen years. I’d been lucky to survive our last encounter. Here and now, even changed as I was by the things I had experienced since then . . .
I couldn’t win this. I didn’t have the power.
Simon stepped through the swinging door to the kitchen, which swung shut behind him, briefly blocking his view of the hall. That was my chance to run, either for the front door or for the stairs, where I could grab my phone and call for help. But that would put May, Jazz, and Quentin in more danger. Even if I screamed for them to get out of the house now, they’d never go if they thought I was in trouble, and they’d be risking themselves for nothing. Simon could cast a spell before anyone would be able to reach me. I knew that from bitter experience, even if I didn’t know why he was there.
I stepped into the kitchen.
“Ah, good,” said Simon, who was putting a kettle on the stove. “I found your tea, but is there honey? I wasn’t sure.”
“Look in the basket next to the toaster,” I said. It was too domestic and peaceful to be real. I glanced around, hoping for a second that I’d see Karen, the oneiromancer daughter of my friend Stacy, come to help me through my nightmare. There was no one there but Simon and me. I was awake, Oberon save and keep me.
“There it is. Very good.” Simon held up two mugs. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No, that’s okay.” I dug my nails into my palms, fighting the urge to grab a knife from the dish drainer and start screaming for him to get out of my house. “I’m not a tea drinker. I keep it around for company.”
“Oh, yes. You’re more of a coffee girl, if I remember correctly.”
I opened my mouth to say that no, I wasn’t even drinking much coffee these days, and paused, eyeing him. “You’re not even trying, are you?”
“Excuse me?” Simon turned to face me. He had a squeeze bottle of honey in one hand. It was shaped like a bear. Somehow, that struck me as unutterably hysterical.
“I said, you’re not even trying. You haven’t done anything to make me believe that you’re Sylvester. You can drop the illusion, Simon. I know who you are.”
He blinked, disappointment flashing in his eyes. “I never claimed to be my brother, you know,” he said. “I actually thought you were inviting me inside.”
“I’d kiss the Luidaeg before I’d do that.”
“And she’d let you, assuming the stories are true.”
“What stories?” I asked, unable to stop myself.
Revue de presse
"There is a sense that Toby’s journey has started a new path with this book, with the launching of several new story arcs and the continuing evolution of her relationships, but the best elements of this series—the phenomenal worldbuilding, complex plots and fascinating characters—are still present in full force. Readers will no doubt clamor for more, and fortunately, the future is promising for this engrossing series." — RT Reviews (for Chimes at Midnight)
"Because this book is an epitome of everything that makes the Toby Daye novels one of the best urban fantasy series on the market, right up there with Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: tight and believable characters, a gorgeously realized universe, and so many unexpected twists it’s almost like they’re going out of style. Chimes at Midnight is definitely my most favorite Toby book to date." — The Ranting Dragon (for Chimes at Midnight)
"The narrative emphasis is always on the characters’ choices, their weight and their consequences, and I love that. It isn’t only magic that has consequences; choices do, too.... I want you to read the first six volumes in the October Daye series, every single book [is] worth your time." — Fantasy Book Cafe (for Chimes at Midnight)
"McGuire also effortlessly weaves in objects, events and characters from past books to add depth to her scenarios. All of her many talents combined makes it very easy for me to say this is one of my favorite urban fantasy series ever! ... Fans of Faith Hunter, Benedict Jacka, Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison will delight in Toby and her sidekicks. I, on the other hand, am left pining again for book eight." — SF Site (for Chimes at Midnight)