New York Times-bestselling October Daye series • Hugo Award-winning author Seanan McGuire • "Top of my urban-paranormal series list!" —Felicia Day
Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.
She was wrong.
It's time to learn the truth.
Release date: September 2, 2014
Print pages: 368
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The Winter Long
*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.
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