Home > Sleep No More (October Daye #17)(6)

Sleep No More (October Daye #17)(6)
Author: Seanan McGuire

There were rumors, whispered in servants’ halls and in supposedly private rooms, that some changelings fled Faerie altogether, choosing to live fierce, feral lives in the human world, where they would be forever alien and outside, but where their thin, attenuated powers would make them gods among the mortals. People who passed such rumors along had an unfortunate tendency to disappear, which made them all the more likely to be true.

Even with the dangers presented by my life as I now lived it, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever choose to leave Faerie. Here, at least, I was understood, even if I would never be an equal to those around me. Here, I was cared for and supported. Why would anyone throw that away to struggle and scavenge under the guise of freedom?

“Where did you send them?” she asked.

“The briars beyond the swamp,” I said. “The soil is good enough to grow sweet fruit; they’ll be able to rest their roots there, and maybe make it to Golden Shore before the span of the festival is finished.”

“Clever,” she said, with a nod. “No hospitality offered or assumed, and well off Mother’s land, but still far enough from the common path that they may have a chance. You gave them a chance, October.”

“A chance and my supper,” I said. The words were bitter in my mouth. “It wasn’t enough.”

“I know.”

We walked quietly after that, August allowing me time alone with my thoughts, me trying not to dim her excitement for our small and socially permissible adventure.

The morning air was crisp and cool, late summer trending into fall. It grew colder as we walked, and snow appeared alongside the road: transition into true winter. Our Uncle Sylvester has never been a joyful man, and allows the seasons to run as they will on his land. Somehow, this means early snow and late thaw every year.

Father says it is because our grandparents stopped their dancing when he and Sylvester were young, and then their only sister followed, and by then he had settled with Mother to fill their tower with light, while Uncle Sylvester had only the cold comforts of a ducal coronet to keep him warm.

“Romantic love is not required to live a full and happy life, my seedlings,” Father had told us, watching carefully to be sure we took his message to heart, “but if you cannot love one who loves you truly in return, find friends, find companions, find people who will tell you the truths you cannot carry and unveil the lies you cannot see. Most of all, cleave to each other, for you will be the only sure support you have in all this world.”

“Why isn’t Uncle joyful, then, when he has you?” It had been August who was bold enough to ask, August who had looked up at him with wide, trusting eyes.

Still, Father had offered his answer to both of us. He was always so careful in that regard, to be sure no further walls were built between us than the unbreachable wall of our blood.

“He thought to court your mother once,” he’d said, solemn. “He came before her as a hero, and reminded her that her father prized heroes over scholars, that he would be the better match for her affections. And she refused him. Three times he asked, as was his right, and three times she answered no, and then she married his worthless baby brother in his stead. He loves me, but he has never quite forgiven me for winning a greater treasure than all his heroics have done.”

In that moment, I had been grateful that my status as a changeling meant I would never be expected to fall in love or marry. If such things could come between sisters, then they were not meant for me.

On we walked, into the snow and the cold, as the sky above us darkened, the sunlight chased aside by our uncle’s preference for an endless night. The open fields and briars gave way to trees, close-packed and towering, creating a dense forest that swallowed all light. It wasn’t threatening, but it wasn’t welcoming, either.

Pixies flitted through the trees, wings chiming in soothing, subdued tones, and I flashed them a grateful smile. I have always been fond of pixies. Like me, they belong to Faerie and are held apart from it at the same time, never quite included, never able to step away. Changelings and pixies are both considered pests in certain circles, ones which I would do well to continue to avoid.

Eventually, the well-loved shape of the great manor came into view ahead of us. It seemed smaller than it actually was, so hemmed-in with trees that the structure scarce had space to breathe. When I dreamt of Shadowed Hills, I always dreamt it surrounded by gardens and carefully cultivated fields, open, green, and growing. Not closed in and oppressed as it was now.

August squeezed my hand and broke into a run, dragging me in her wake, and for a moment, I forgot to be tired or hungry or discontent, preoccupied with the need to keep hold of my sister’s hand as we wove between the trees. She didn’t care if my human heritage made me slower and clumsier than she was. She only cared that we were sisters, and I was there for her to pull onward, to adventure.

Our running came to an end, as it always must, when we burst out of the trees and were met with a detachment of our uncle’s knights, Sir Etienne at their front. He was dressed in full armor for the patrol, sword ready in his hand, and he looked us over with no warmth in his eyes or his expression.

Sir Etienne, like many among the pureblooded, frowned upon the existence of changelings. We were weak and lessened, we brought no brightness into Faerie; our presence was tolerated only because Titania ordered it, and because we could be forced into performing the tasks that true fae would prefer not to perform. August would have been acceptable if she had kept me at arm’s length, as was right and proper. Her refusal to do so when we were younger meant she was little better than I was, and worthy of his scorn.

“What do we have here?” he asked.

“We’ve come to help with the cleanup from the Moving Day party,” said August. Injecting a sneer into her voice, she continued, “Or she has, anyway. I’ve come to steal leftover cake and sip cordials with my peers as we watch the changelings clean the ballroom.”

It had been my idea for August to seem less enamored of my company when in the presence of our uncle’s knights. She hated playacting as if their prejudices carried any weight with her, but if it kept them from eyeing us with suspicion, it was worth the slinging of a few sharp words.

“You know Uncle Sylvester has given us free passage of his lands,” she continued. “You’ve no more right to turn us aside than you have to order our mother to do your bidding. Will you let us pass?”

Etienne hesitated, his pride clearly stung by her facile dismissal. Then he straightened, and looked to his detachment. “We have better things to do than worry about some ill-mannered maids,” he said. “See to it that you make no mischief, for we are very close to Moving Day.”

“We’ll be good,” said August, and grabbed my hand again as he turned and marched the other knights away into the wood.

She kept her word to one degree: she swallowed her giggles until they were out of sight, and that was good enough for me.

“Come on, we’ll miss the cake,” she said, and squeezed my hand again, and broke back into a run, me running alongside.





THE REMAINS OF THE previous night’s celebration were spread out across the grand balcony like the aftermath of a very cheerful, bloodless battle. Untied pennant strings waved listlessly in the breeze, and garlands of wilted roses slumped down the sides of columns, drooping toward the cobbled ground. Various servants, mostly household fae and changelings, picked through the remains, collecting the specific items they had been tasked to retrieve.

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