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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Page 8

Catherynne M. Valente

  When he landed, Saturday’s shadow saw her. He leapt nimbly across the room, laughing, and spilled September’s tea onto the couch when he clapped her up into his arms and kissed her right on the lips. September felt as though she had suddenly fallen off a great cliff, and at the same time, just as she had when she tasted Fairy food for the first time. Something sweet and frightening and mysterious had happened, and she could not take it back even if she wanted to.

  “Oh, September!” Saturday cried. “I knew you would come! I knew it! I have missed you so much!”

  “Saturday!” said September, and it did not matter that he was a shadow; her heart was glad. But her heart also saw that he did not apologize for spilling her tea, did not even seem to notice that he’d done it. Her heart was bruised by the kiss, smashed and surprised and unsettled by it. September thought kisses were all nice, sweet things asked for gently and given gladly. It had happened so fast and sharp it had taken her breath. Perhaps she had done it wrong, somehow. She put the kiss away firmly to think about later. Instead, she smiled at him and pulled a carefree mask over her face.

  “What are you doing here? Don’t tell me you are the Count of Something!”

  “Don’t be silly! But I do love hot chocolate and spiced milk, loyal talk and music and dancing—but you are here! Who needs any of that rot now? We shall have such fun together!” Saturday’s shadow laughed, twining her hands in his beautiful sloe-black fingers. “The games and songs we will play! The tricks and riddles we shall make! Oh, I want to show you everything, everything—the Redcaps’ iron castle, the Goblin Market, the Mole Circus, the wild Hippogryphes’ hunting grounds! I will show you how to climb up to the bottle-trees atop the Grapelings’ vineyard towers and we will drink under the woolly, waxen light of our jeweled moon!”

  “I don’t believe I have ever heard you put so many words together in one place,” said September, who felt a powerful shyness rise up in her, perhaps to replace the shyness Saturday’s shadow had left behind.

  “It’s only because I have waited so long for you, September! I have been saving up exploits for us! Wait until the Revel—you’ll never want to leave.”

  September put her shyness away and hugged him tight. He smelled just the same as she remembered, like cold sea and cold stones.

  “I’m not here for the Revel, Saturday. I’m not here for castles or Hippogryphes—only they do sound wonderful, don’t they? I am here to bring the shadows back into Fairyland. Things are not at all well there. Magic is being rationed! People are so frightened and lost! I know you don’t want people to be frightened; I’m sure you just haven’t thought of how they must feel, that’s all.”

  Saturday drew away from her. His expression fell into something more like what September knew—sad and sorry and hopeful, but not terribly hopeful.

  “But we don’t want to go back to Fairyland. We like it here. We have new friends and have been doing ever so much now that we’re free.”

  The Duke broke off from wrangling his brood into a rough luncheon of dark-purple frosted cupcakes and sugar-dusted scones to say, “They come in waves these days, but they do seem to be a jolly lot, just cracking with magic and savagely hungry for everything. Fairyland-Below has been a going kingdom for half an eternity, and all us Dukes and Ladies and trolls and bats and sleeping dreamworms and long-nosed tengus have tended our gardens and replaced burned-out stars since forever. The shadows are nouveau riche, of course, but we don’t turn anyone away.” His voice had gone oddly quick and nervous, as if he meant to prove something.

  “I thought about it,” mumbled Saturday, looking up at her with deep black eyes. “How they must feel. How…the other Saturday must feel. Confused, I suppose, and upset, and helpless. But I always felt helpless when I couldn’t do anything on my own and had to forever follow him and do everything he did. Sit in that lobster cage with him, even though on my own I could have just slipped through the bars and been free. Be quiet and shy all the time because he was, even though I didn’t feel shy at all! Wrestle you even though I didn’t want to. Maybe it’s his turn to be helpless and have no magic of his own! You don’t have to wrestle for wishes down here. Everything is easy—it just happens. And!” He took September’s hands again, breathless with excitement. “The best part is that I have you down here with me, and he doesn’t! The other Saturday doesn’t even know you’ve come back! I can hold your hands and kiss you just as he always wanted to and never had the courage. I have so much courage, September! Oh, I shall never go back! I shall be a free shadow forever and dance at every Revel, and you, you will dance with me!”

  September did not know what to think. A bashful Ell and a madcap Saturday—everything truly had turned upside down and slantwise. She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too—end up in their shadow.

  September, of course, didn’t have a shadow anymore. But she had worn most of her bravery and cunning on the outside. Her wildness though, her powerful colors, perhaps those she had not taken out often enough, to breathe in the sun. And though she did, very much, want to accomplish her great deed, she had missed Saturday so much, and somehow just being among the fay, dancing shadows made her skin prickle and her blood beat faster.

  “Well, I suppose I could have just a little look at a Hippogryphe,” she said finally, “I don’t have the first idea how to find Halloween, anyway, or what to do when I do find her.”

  “I do!” said the Littlest Earl, his mouth still half full of cupcake.

  September startled.

  “Don’t meddle in Politicks with your mouth full, dear,” said the Vicereine gently.

  “But I do know!” The Littlest Earl, his black-leaf hair bouncing, jumped up and put his hand over his heart, as if reciting poetry. “You’ve got to stick yourself back together with her. Girl and shadow!” He smacked his little hand against his chest.

  Saturday looked down at her teacup. She had guessed that much. She wasn’t a fool. But how do you stick a dancing, reveling shadow to yourself and hope to have her stay put?

  Scarlet-black grounds clumped and drifted on the bottom of her cup. They moved into a shape, growing sharper and deeper as the specks of coffee swirled and drifted. Finally, they formed a face, a sweet, gentle face September did not recognize. The leaves glowed with a dim, wet fire. The face was deeply asleep, its coffee-eyes shut.

  The Vicereine looked into the cup and gasped, her hand fluttering to the black bean at her throat. She seized September’s arm and turned her deftly away from the others. The lady inclined her head and her face grew dark, fear clouding in like cream. She whispered: “You mustn’t show anyone what your cup wanted to tell you. Especially shadows. We’re all Royalists here—we’re loyal! You see how we have parties and dance and sing just as the Queen likes it.”

  “Who is it?” September asked. “I’ve never seen that face before.”

  “That is Myrrh, the Sleeping Prince, who might have been King of the Underneath, but that he never wakes. He dreams at the bottom of the world, in an unopenable box in an unbreakable bower. You mustn’t speak of him, or think of him—Halloween is our Queen and we love her, we do. She says History is just a Rule ripe for breaking. We believe that, truly!”

  September trembled a little. The force of the Vicereine’s whispers made her do it, and she did not like it at all.

  The Vicereine leaned even further in, so that no one might possibly hear her. The music had struck up again, and Saturday was tugging Ell out of his couch to dance. “And now that we’ve taken you in and
given you back your friend and made you a nice coffee—made you a Fairy Bishop to top it all!—you’ll put in a good word for us with the Queen, won’t you?”

  “I hardly think I have any influence!” protested September.

  “You do though. You must. You are her, really, even if you don’t think so. Even if she doesn’t think so. You must vouch for us.” The Lady’s hand grew tighter and tighter on September’s arm. “Tell her we’re loyal. Tell her we make Baroque magic and throw Rococo fetes. That we were so good to you. Tell her to keep the Alleyman away from us, please, September. Please.”



  In Which Two Crows Called Wit and Study Leave Our World for the More Thrilling Climes of Fairyland

  Perhaps, being hungry for exciting tales of the underside of Fairyland, you have forgotten by now about the two curious crows who chased September into Fairyland. That is certainly forgivable! They seemed so ordinary, and who gives crows a second thought? But I have not forgotten them, and it is by far time to tell you what befell those two brazen birds who have broken into our story as if it were an unlocked house.

  Firstly, their names were Wit and Study. These might seem quite fanciful names for a pair of common crows, but those are the sort of names all crows have. All modern crows are descended from their royal Scandinavian progenitors, Thought and Memory, who got to fly about with a very fine fellow indeed and sit on his shoulders and tell him their opinions about everything. Most people would never listen to a crow who sat on their shoulder—they wouldn’t even know how. Still, those are the very highest and most respectful names a crow can earn, even today. All crows set aside a berry or a scrap of grasshopper for Auntie Thought and Auntie Memory at their suppers. It’s the family thing to do.

  Like all crows, Wit and Study found themselves drawn irresistibly to the glittering and glowing, and on the day September tumbled over the low stone wall in the glass forest, they glimpsed the tiny tear in the world that tripped her up. Nothing they had ever known had glittered or glowed or shone or shimmered the way that tiny tear did. First, they saw the rowboat with the man in the black slicker and the silver lady in it vanish through the tear, and then they saw the little girl disappear slightly less gracefully, and within two caws, they knew this was the thing for them. Wit and Study folded their wings in tight and darted through just as the world righted itself and the wheat resumed waving gently in the deepening twilight.

  Even birds long for adventure. Even birds who have gotten nicely fat on farmers’ seeds long for the world to be made of more than things to eat and things to nest on.

  “Where do you suppose we’re headed, Wit?” cawed Study to her brother in the secret language of crows.

  “I don’t know, Study! Isn’t it something?” keened Wit to his sister.

  They flew faster.

  And when they finally burst through the borders in a puff of feathers and slightly frostbitten beaks, they found themselves not in the glass forest in which September was even then trying so hard to make a fire, but in a peculiar city made of clouds. This suited them just fine, being creatures of the air. Cloud bridges and cloud houses and cloud roads puffed and blossomed around them. The two crows took turns somersaulting through garlands of cloud roses and seeing how many cloudhips they could fit into their feathery cheeks at once.

  They rocketed through the empty cloud cottages and cathedrals, not quite paying attention to anything but how delightful it was to find a whole town in the sky, all to themselves. They did not think at all about a girl named September, or her troubles beneath the ground, or where everyone who lived in that cloud village might have gone.



  In Which September and Her Friends Acquire Transportation, Learn a Great Deal About the Stock Market, Drive a Hard Bargain, and Get New Clothes and a New Companion Out of It, Both More Extraordinary Than They Look

  As they left the Samovar, saying an uneasy good-bye and walking out past the edge of the chocolate lawn to a tidy little road ribboning off into a broad twilit country, September and her friends were being watched—no, stalked. They had no notion of their hunters, of course. Saturday danced down the path, his black-turquoise feet leaving silver prints, singing about the times they would soon have. Ell stayed close to September, his great head drooping near her shoulder in case she spoke. She stared after Saturday, unable to get used to this boisterous, talkative shadow-boy.

  They did not know that a thing hunted them in the dark because between the three of them they actually had very little in the way of knowledge about formal magic. They knew it was delightful fun and rollicking, and had a rough guess as to how to make it happen, but that is like saying you know all about how airplanes work because you once rode in one all the way to the sea. There are many different kinds of magic in Fairyland. Light and Dark were just not enough to satisfy everyone’s needs. In the very old days, magic in Fairyland was like a blanket too small to cover everyone’s feet. So magic broke itself up obligingly into patchworks: Dry Magic and Wet Magic, Hot Magic and Cold Magic, Fat Magic and Thin Magic, Loud Magic and Shy Magic, Bitter Magic and Sour Magic, Sympathetic Magic and Severe Magic, Umbrella Magic and Fan Magic, Wanting Magic and Needing Magic, Bright Magic and Dim Magic, Finding Magic and Losing Magic.

  Marketplaces use Thin Magic to hunt and pounce. And a small, hungry Market moved just behind and beyond September and Ell and Saturday’s field of vision, for it had caught a whiff of their Thinness.

  You see, a Marketplace is like a lithe, hungry dog. It can sense when you need something and have even the littlest bit of money, just like a dog knows when a plump little rabbit is wriggling her nose in the forest. They can smell it when you have a great deal of money and very little sense, or when you need something very specific, but might be enticed by something enchanting and just beyond your reach. A Market can make itself any sort of shape or size in order to capture its quarry, fill itself with this or that, depending on how it has decided to have you.

  No sooner had they passed the rich brown grass of the Samovar’s estate and into a broad obsidian plain than music spun up all around them like sudden smoke and fire. Bright, pale tents unfolded and puffed up, long ebony tables full of glittering things and groaning with food rolled out, and long strands of starry colored lights spooled along tall spires. A little creature toddled from tent to tent, her eyes huge and luminous and moon colored, her ears long and heavy, her skin dark and mossy like a tree’s trunk, her hair decorated with every kind of jewel and feather.

  Saturday clapped his hands.

  “A Goblin Market! Oh, September, you see, I told you fabulous things were waiting for us just round the bend! They’re just the very best kind!”

  The little creature seemed to finally notice them. She bent double and slowly, deliberately somersaulted across the courtyard to September, turning over and over again like a determined boulder. She came up squat and green-black, her skin thorny and smooth in complicated swirling patterns. Agates, bloodstones, and tiger’s eyes stuck all about her hair and face, a dull, glinting mask.

  “Come buy, come buy,” she said beguilingly. Her long, pale lips drew up into a smile. She pushed her graceful, many-knuckled fingers into her heavy black waistcoat and came out with a bunch of shockingly bright carrots, shining as though they had been panned from a creek of gold, large and gnarled and pointed as knives. “Come buy, come buy, come hear my cry! Oh, hark, oh, hark, oh, heed and hark, sweet child of sun and fable, come rest your feet, come share your heat, and sup your fill at my table!”

  “No, no, none of that,” said A-Through-L as September looked at the vegetables calmly, without once reaching for them. She had learned her lesson with regards to tasting things without examining them thoroughly and asking a goodly number of questions. “You must look out for Goblins especially hard when they rhyme, September. Rhyming means up to no good!” He said the G very hard, so that September would know he knew what he was talking abo

  “But then again,” Saturday added thoughtfully, “up to no good may mean up to something interesting! The other Saturday got to ride a velocipede; I should at least get some carrots.”

  “Come now,” purred the Goblin girl. “Why do you malign my Goblin’s wares? My silk is fine, come sip my wine, and are not my prices fair?” The Goblin cleared her throat and gave them a bemused look out of the rims of her silvery eyes. “Forgive me, it’s a habit. And I durst say most folk appreciate a bit of effort! Patter isn’t easy, my great brute! It’s a fine bit of Loud Magic, and I learnt it well. Goblin universities are very competitive! Anyhow, if you’ll have it plain, I’m Glasswort Groof, and I’ve got such things, anythings, everythings, allthings, and nothings, whatever you’ve lost at the tiniest cost, just the thing you’re lacking—” Groof laughed at herself again. “Well. Everyone’s lacking. We could smell your lack over the hills and through the hanging stars. And my carrots would bring the flame to her cheeks, no doubt on it—his, too!”

  “No doubt,” huffed Ell. “And have her so full and fiery of living she’d dance till her heart burst and thank you for the song! Or forget her own name and lie down in a swoon? Or perhaps turn into a Goblin girl for you to look after.”

  The Goblin shrugged silkily. “Mayhap, mayhap! It’s only business, nothing personal. I wouldn’t Goblin her up though, thank you very much. I’ve quite enough on my plate with my Market all out of sorts!”

  A brisk wind plumped the iridescent tents and sent shadowy weeds rolling between them. Dresses fluttered, amulets rattled.

  “Why is it out of sorts?” asked September, who, while not overly fond of carrots, did feel hungry. Coffee is not much of a lunch. The Goblin did not seem nasty or frightening to them at all—and was she not here to sort out the out of sorts?

  Glasswort Groof beamed. Her tiger’s eyes twinkled. “Well, a Goblin Market isn’t like a usual sort of Market, that’s first and firmly. When a Goblin’s born, if she wants proper work and not to just lay in wait under bridges (which is sheer laziness if you ask me), she goes down into the Ten-Cent Forest with treats in her pocket and her best clothes on—and, of course, a Florid Flintlock or five. Those beasts aren’t tame, no, not in nature or name, not in tail or in mane—ahem. Well, your own humble Groof, sixth of that name, went down when she was but a slip of a Goblin maid of two or three hundred, guns in her slingers and coins in her hair. In the tin-bark trees of the Ten-Cent Forest many Markets came sniffing up to me—mostly fruit-selling fairs, that’s to be expected—but I’m no common Goblin, and all my sisters were in the fruit business already. I can’t stand the stuff. Strawberries have no depth, you know? Plums are insipid. But further into the Forest, where the Nickel-Briars wrangle and the Thruppence-Vines tangle, there you can find spice bazaars and tinkers’ carts, fishmongers’ barks and smugglers’ trade-posts, liquor-fountains and leather-and-iron houses just wandering around the wood on their thick owl-legs, pecking at last year’s leaves with the tips of their booths and roofs and counters. They hoot at the moon and gruffle at strangers—poor lambs don’t know how to whisper and wheedle come buy, come buy, they only know how to scrape and creak and buffle, and all but the bravest would run from their thundering displays. I knew a Goblin boy who tried to rope a Market too big for him, a linen-fair all full of damask and satin, and it threw him, just dashed him on the earth like a dog, whipping him with bolts of grosgrain. You have to know which one matches you—and which you’re strong enough to mount. I saw mine out in the Sixpenny Wilds, a fine cheeper with flags aflutter. I plied her with coins and rhyming, I wiled her with new wares and nimble timing, and then I shot her through the money-box and trussed her right there. We’ve been tight as tills ever since—only lately, only lately…” Groof leaned in toward September, avoiding the gazes of Marid and Wyvern. Her Market seemed to lean with her. “Only lately, with the shadows coming down, well, they’ve no money at all, and they need so much. And they just reek magic. They just shed it everywhere they go, and my poor Market gets buffeted in the wake of it. No one needs to buy magical items anymore. They just haul off toward something, and it happens for them. My Market can’t sleep at night; her bones have got brittle and her coat has no suppleness. She’s just falling apart, poor darling.”