The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way HomeCatherynne M. Valente
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SEPTEMBER, a Girl
SUSAN JANE AND OWEN, her parents
MARGARET, her aunt
AROOSTOOK, a Model A Ford
SATURDAY, a Marid
A-THROUGH-L, a Wyverary
AUBERGINE, a Night-Dodo
HAWTHORN, a Troll and a Changeling
TAMBURLAINE, a Fetch and a Changeling
BLUNDERBUSS, a Combat Wombat
SCRATCH, a Gramophone
THE STOAT OF ARMS
JACQUARD, a Mantelet
AJAX ODDSON, a Dandy
MERIDIAN, an Ancient and Overgrown Library
GREENWICH MEAN TIME, a Security System
FIZZWILLIAM, a Bathysphere
HUGGER-MUGGERY, an Octopus Assassin
SEPIA SIPHUNCLE, a Cuttlefish
BROTHER TINPAN, a Monkfish
BRUNHILDA, the Greatvole of Black Salt Cavern
CONKER, a Wombat
BLUESTOCKING, also a Wombat
TUGBOAT, a Tobacconist
HEMLOCK, a Troll
HYSSOP, a Troll
LYE, a Golem
MAUD, also a Shadow
THE WATCHFUL DRESS
CHARLES DARWIN, an Englishman
REBECCA, a Human Girl
CHARLES CRUNCHCRAB I, King of Fairyland
THE MARQUESS, Deposed Ruler of Fairyland
PRINCE MYRRH, her Son
GRATCHLING GOURDBONE GOLDMOUTH, a Clurichaun (formerly a Baseball)
MADAME TANAQUILL, Prime Minister of Fairyland
TITANIA, a Fairy Queen
HUSHNOW, the Ancient and Demented Raven Lord
HALLOWEEN, a Shadow and Queen of Fairyland Below
WHIPSTITCH, the Elegant Emperor
CURDLEBLOOD, the Dastard of Darkness
PINECRACK, the Moose-Khan
THRUM, the Rex Tyrannosaur
CUTTY SOAMES, the Captain of the Coblynows
THE RED WIND, a War Wind
THE BLUE WIND, a Sneaking Wind
THE SILVER WIND, a Following Wind
THE BLACK WIND, a Fierce Wind
THE GOLD WIND, a Blustering Wind
THE GREEN WIND, a Harsh Air
IMOGEN, the Leopard of Little Breezes
IAGO, the Panther of Rough Storms
CYMBELINE, the Tiger of Wild Flurries
PEASEBLOSSOM, the Puffin of Sudden Blizzards
BANQUO, the Lynx of Gentle Showers
CAPULET, the Jaguar of Soft Showers
Numerous Gorillas, Orangutans, Flaming Badgers, Wombats, Octopi, Toads, Spaniels, Ponies, and one Polar Bear
THE QUEEN OF FAIRYLAND AND ALL HER KINGDOMS
In Which We Begin Just Precisely Where We Ended, Far Too Many People Talk All at Once, an Emperor Gets Himself Stabbed, Queen September Makes Her Inaugural Speech, and a Wondrous Race Is Scheduled for Thursday Next
Once upon a time, a country called Fairyland grew very tired indeed of people squabbling over it, of polishing up the glitter on the same magic and wonder and dashing dangers each morning, of drifting along prettily through the same Perverse and Perilous Sea, of playing with the same old tyrants and brave heroes every century. Because she was quite a large and opinionated country, and because she was as old as starlight and twice as stubborn, and because she had a mountain range on her left border that simply would not be bossed about, Fairyland decided to do something about it one day in March just after her morning tea.
A vast and hungry country takes tea somewhat differently than you and I. Fairyland’s teatime consisted of a dollop of rain in the Autumn Provinces, a particularly delicate icing of clouds over the Painted Forest, a healthy squeeze of blazing sun in the Hourglass Desert, and a fresh, green wind blowing wild through the streets and alleyways and secret corners of Pandemonium.
The Green Wind sailed through the tufted wool cupolas and brocade bridges and taffeta towers of the capital city. He banked off felt and bombazine memorial statues, twirled on his left toe on the copper silk tip of Groangyre Tower, and stopped to kiss every black lace gargoyle on every rooftop and balcony in the place. He was a handsome thing, with a neat little pointed green beard and dancing green eyes. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs—but he had left behind his green snowshoes in his flat in Westerly and swapped them out for green winklepicker boots. Fairyland is warm in March, which is not called springtime, but Bideawhile, for Fairyland has not four seasons, but five and one quarter. In Bideawhile, the bare winter trees put forth tiny paper buds, and on these buds are written secrets, memories, tales only trees can tell.
The Green Wind finished freshening up every curtain and front stoop in town. He straightened his green cravat and soared over the Janglynow Flats, through Hallowgrum and Seresong, stopping only for a short coffee at his favorite crinoline café, and then, without further dawdling, straight through the satin green of Mallowmire Park, to a certain window in a certain palace. The certain palace was called the Briary; of all the lovely towers and castles in Pandemonium, it alone was not made of silk or wool, but of living vines, briars, trellises, and flowers that bloom all year long. The certain window belonged to the Queen of Fairyland.
Pink and yellow peonies chased each other round the window frame. A bluish yellow light fluttered over the walls of the Queen’s bedroom, where wild dahlias of every color crowded together, as close as wallpaper. The light came from a hard-working hurricane lamp on the Queen’s table. The room stood quite bare except for that humble table, two armoires, and the Royal Desk. The Royal Desk was carved out of a single enormous crystal tree that some brave window-maker cut down long ago in the Glass Forest. It still glowed with fiery hot colors though it was a thousand years old and counting. Rich green and violet and scarlet and orange blankets towered on a small thin bed like an embroidered mountain, for the work of a Queen often takes all night long, and even monarchs need naps, from time to time.
But the Queen was not asleep in her bed or at work at her desk. In fact, the Queen had not yet even seen that bed, nor jumped up and down on it even once. The room stood quite empty and prim and full of anticipation, waiting to be useful. The Green Wind made his apologies and sailed out into the sunny sky. He swirled down the buttercup and begonia walls of the Briary, past the tearooms and the coffee-rooms and the saucer-rooms, to quite another window.
This window was round the back, very tall and thin and serious, like a church window, but it offere
d a far more interesting view than an empty desk and a hurricane lamp at the end of its oil and its wits. The Green Wind put his green eye to the window and saw several alarming things inside: a broken Dodo’s Egg (along with its Dodo), an enormous scrap-yarn wombat, a talking gramophone, a great red Wyverary, a Marid, a troll, a girl carved out of wood, a Redcap, and about a hundred people, animals, Fairies, and other assorted creatures with the power of frowning and shouting, all drenched in jewels and velvet, all expressing those powers of frowning and shouting as hard as they could. In the midst of it all stood the Queen, looking as baffled as a goose in calculus class.
And so the final dish in Fairyland’s tea was a heaping, hideous, unruly platter of shouting, stomping, and rather unskilled fisticuffs.
“You shut up!” screeched Hushnow, the Ancient and Demented Raven Lord, who collected all the bright and shining things from all the worlds and hoarded them in Fairyland before the days of the week had names. Warm sunshine danced through the blooming walls of the Briary’s great hall. Light bounced off the Raven Lord’s onyx-armored wings.
“Emperors do not shut up!” roared Whipstitch, the Elegant Emperor, who ruled Fairyland with a silken fist five hundred years before your grandmother learned to dance. The golden buttons on his peacock-blue cloak trembled in fury.
“Has anyone got a rowan branch?” trilled Titania sweetly—and I’m sure I needn’t tell you who she is. She stared down a certain pale giant by the name of Gratchling Gourdbone Goldmouth, with angry red stitches running all up and down his tattooed skin and SPALDING written on his back in a lovely hand. “It’s just the thing for giving jumped-up sporting equipment a good hiding.”
Goldmouth bellowed rage at the palace hall.
“And you I’ll have for a coat,” Titania purred to Reynaud the Fox, a King so old the word hadn’t been invented when he pounced upon the crown.
“What did you say to me?” the fox snarled, his tail puffing up ferociously, the smell of his wrath filling the crowded room. The room was so crowded, in fact, that some Kings and Queens and duchesses and lords and presidents and empresses and sultans and ancient foxes from before a noun was a noun had begun to spill out into the street. They all wore such fine clothes and finer voices and the very, very finest of tempers that it hurt to look at the great, rude, noisy lot of them all crammed together like a pack of businessmen trapped in an elevator. Everyone who had ever ruled Fairyland, even for the littlest moment, poured into the grand hall of the Briary. More and more came all the time, some still wearing the robes they’d been buried in, others, respectably retired, caught in their dressing gowns, still others, like Reynaud and Horace the Overbear wearing no more than their own good fur.
“You are all despicable fools and if you do not cease your whining I shall cease your faces,” seethed Madame Tanaquill, Prime Minister of Fairyland, and, to her mind, the only one in the room with half a right to speak. The buckles and horseshoes and blades of her iron dress clanked against one another.
“Please!” cried a girl in a blue dress, wearing a crown of glittering jeweled keys. “Everyone please be quiet!”
We know this girl awfully well, you and I. She was born in May, and she has a mole on her left cheek, and her feet are very large, but no longer ungainly at all. Her name is September. She is seventeen years old. She was born in Nebraska, she has not seen her parents in ever so long, and she rather wishes her dress was orange.
She is the Queen of Fairyland and All Her Kingdoms.
In short, everything was just as you and I left it not so very long ago. The world had gotten itself turned on its ear and couldn’t hear itself think for the braying and honking and see here, young goblins of the royal mob.
The trouble was, only a few moments ago, September had been a stately middle-aged woman languishing in a prison that looked very much like a rum cellar. A Moon-Yeti had taken the years of her youth from her. A Dodo had given them back. And somewhere between the Yeti and the Dodo, she’d forgotten what it was like to have a seventeen-year-old voice, a voice that didn’t know its own strength yet, a voice that Grown-Ups felt very safe ignoring completely. No one paid her the mind they’d pay a bus ticket.
“A-Through-L, would you?” September said, looking up, with the impish sort of love that occurs between a girl and a reptile, into the shimmering orange eyes of a towering scarlet Wyvern.
“Oh yes!” A-Through-L cried. After all, he was aces at shhhing, being only half Wyvern. His father was a Library. A powerful shhh is the final test of any Great Librarian, and Ell had been practicing.
The Wyverary opened his long red jaws and roared fit to deafen the moon. A stream of indigo fire erupted from behind his wicked teeth, twisting and crackling over the heads of the furious Kings and Queens of Fairyland. Thrum, the Rex Tyrannosaur, roared right back in Ell’s face. But as he was merely an extinct lizard and not a Wyverary, his roar had no fire in it. No one else so much as took a breath between insults. Half of them had gone red in the face, the other half green, and at least a third had begun to cry.
A great stone strode up to the rear of the crush of Fairies and foxes and gnomes and ravens. It had legs and fists but only the barest beginning of a face. It did not even have a name. It was the last to arrive, but the oldest and strongest of them all—the First Stone of Fairyland, laid down before one seed of glowerwheat, before the first luckfig root went searching in the soil for water.
“HELLO,” said the First Stone politely. It sat on the grass, carefully trying not to crush the violets.
September, Queen of Fairyland and All Her Kingdoms, waved back shyly. She hadn’t the first idea how to be a Queen. She could be a Knight, or a Bishop, or a Criminal, or a Spinster, but what could she possibly do with Queen? She thought of the Marquess and Charlie Crunchcrab. She thought of the Whelk of the Moon. She thought of everyone she’d ever met who was in charge of anything. She thought of her mother bossing around her engines, of her father keeping peace in his classroom—and September knew what to do. After all, in chess, the Queen does whatever she wants.
Queen September put her hand straight up in the air as though she meant to ask a question in class. She waited. It always took a while when her father did it. The Changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine understood right away, having been in middle school only last week. They raised up their hands immediately. Hawthorn’s huge, mossy troll fingers and Tamburlaine’s dark, slender wooden palm shot up into the air. Saturday extended his long blue arm. Scratch and Blunderbuss, being a gramophone and a wombat, respectively, could not quite work out how to manage it. They sat up as straight as they could instead, stretching scrap-yarn nose and gramophone bell toward the ceiling.
It was no good. September was not as tall as the First Stone or Gratchling Gourdbone Goldmouth, or even the Quorum of Quokkas wrenching their tails in anxiety.
“May I?” she asked Blunderbuss. The scrap-yarn combat wombat was nearly the size of A-Through-L, made of a hundred different colors of leftover yarn, and, September judged, quite comfortable for standing on. A Wyverary’s back is rather knobbly and pointy—good for riding, but a terrible podium.
“You’d do my fuzzy heart happy,” chuffed Blunderbuss, and got down on her huge knees to let September up. Saturday thatched his fingers together to help her hoist herself. He kissed her cheek as she put her toes into his hands. “Ha!” barked Blunderbuss, when September was safely aboard. “I always thought a Queen would weigh more! I could carry a hundred of you, if you’d all sit still, which you wouldn’t, but I’d make you!”
Once again, Queen September put her hand into the air. She did not say a word. And now, slowly, the others began to notice September and her friends and their funny fingers pointing at the sky. A duchess here, a pharaoh there, a brace of congressional banshees in the corner.
“What’s she doing?” asked Pinecrack, the Moose-Khan. “She looks quite, quite stupid. I shan’t have the first pang of guilt about impaling her with my doom-antlers.”
t’s some new gesture of power at court. We had many in my day,” considered Curdleblood, the Dastard of Darkness, a shockingly handsome young man dressed like a minstrel, if only minstrels wore all black and had long, sharp teeth hanging from his hat instead of merry bells.
“Your day was a thousand years ago,” snapped the Headmistress, who had ruled only a short while before King Goldmouth swallowed her whole, and was extremely unhappy to be teleported from her tidy ghost-crosswords into this intolerable clutter.
“And it was a wretched day, I must say,” said a sweet young lady with candy-cane bows in her hair and a dress all of butterscotch and marshmallows. When she conquered Fairyland, folk called her the Happiest Princess, though at the moment she felt quite cross. But she didn’t stop smiling, even as she spat at Curdleblood: “You painted the whole country black! I was still scrubbing behind the mountains when I lost my crown!”
“Still,” the Moose-Khan mused, “we shouldn’t like to appear ignorant. Much may have changed since the age of hoof and snow. I don’t want the Queen to think me old-fashioned.”
Pinecrack sat back on his haunches and lifted one hoof into the air. The Headmistress, ever conscious of manners, followed suit.
“Her?” snarled Charlie Crunchcrab, who had been King Charles Crunchcrab I only ten minutes ago. It’s very hard to make such a quick adjustment, and we ought not to think too harshly on him for behaving as poorly as he is surely about to do. “Her? She’s not the Queen. That’s just September! And that name is a Naughty Word, you know. She’s the Spinster. She’s a troublemaker. She’s a revolutionary and a criminal and a dirty cheat. She’s a human girl! She hasn’t even got wings! If she’s the right and proper Queen, then my hairy foot is the Emperor of Everything!”
“Sir, I beg your foot’s pardon, but I am the Emperor of Everything,” a young boy in a dizzying patchwork suit interrupted. Though he was a child, his voice rolled deep and sweet across the floor, like cold chocolate poured out of a dark glass. “At least I was,” he finished uncertainly. And he raised his hand in the air.