The girl who fell beneat.., p.22
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       The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, p.22

           Catherynne M. Valente
 
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  September had—and she was about to say so when the Red Wind yawned, bored stiff.

  “Oh, bother that, brother Black! Let’s talk about something interesting! I haven’t had a brawl like that since the Cloud War!” The Red Wind exulted. She shook her dark red hair and pulled a pair of carved crimson pistols from her belt, tossing them into the air, catching them by the barrels, and offering them handle-first to Prince Myrrh. “If you mean to be King,” she said, “you might as well start by ridding your kingdom of a villain.”

  Prince Myrrh stood up and gazed steadily at the Red Wind. He did look regal, for all his wolf ears twitched and his lip trembled. “I don’t mean to be King at all,” he said. “I have had a great long while to think about it, and I don’t want to. You can’t make me. I just got here. Anyway, being King is a fool’s game. You’ll only get toppled eventually, and in the meantime, all Kings seem to do is hatch schemes and plot. I’m a practical boy—I don’t see a need to scheme when I could just live my life and read books and learn magic and sit out in the evenings, perhaps make a friend who is not too interested in history. I just want to be a boy. I want to experience things like eating and jumping and running and dancing.”

  “A King may dance,” said the Black Wind, whose voice was deep and beautiful as a full well.

  “But not whenever he likes,” countered Prince Myrrh. “He may only dance when it benefits others, or when someone important wants to dance with him, or when dancing might accomplish some royal goal. I want to dance because I feel like it, because the water tasted sweet or the sun was shining—oh, how I would like to see the sun shine!”

  “You should go up to the other world,” said the Marquess. “We can go up together if it would make you happy. We can find her, if you wanted to. I just want to lie down on the earth again—let the other me worry over her child and Fairyland and be stared at by everyone. She was always stronger.”

  “Well, someone has to end this! End the Alleyman and Halloween and keep the worlds separate, or else we shall all have to get jobs in advertising, and I for one would rather blow out completely!” snapped the Silver Wind. “You are the Rightful King!”

  “What does that mean?” cried Myrrh. “Rightful how? Anyone can be King if they’re bloody-minded enough, or unfortunate enough, or want it enough. Or even if they’re just born with the right parents, in the right order. That doesn’t mean anything at all. Why should I be King and a poor changeling child should not? I don’t know a thing about Kinging, and I daresay I’d be just as good at juggling if you forced me to. But no one calls me the Rightful Juggler! They used to fish for Kings in a lake, did you know that? Nod told me all about it. Doesn’t sound like anyone cares about Rightful until they want to kick someone else out of the chair. So thank you very much, but I want my mother. I want to be alive for half a second before I’m meant to shoot somebody!”

  “Then who?” said the Black Wind, throwing up his hands. “If the magical object won’t do his work, what are we to do?”

  “It’s been me all along,” said September slowly. “Me who gave up my shadow, me who went down into Fairyland-Below and Fairyland-Lower-Than-That to wake up the Prince. Me who shot the poor Minotaur. You oughtn’t just hand the whole business over the moment a Prince comes on the scene. I’ve got to see it through, don’t you see? The Hollow Queen is hollow because she’s missing the part of her that’s me. We’ve got to come together again. And he can’t do a thing about that.”

  “Very well.” The Red Wind shrugged, turning the pistol handles toward her. It didn’t matter a whit to the Wind who did the deed, as long as it was done. She seemed to look at September fully for the first time. “You know, I do believe that’s my coat,” she mused. “And that is most certainly my cat.”

  Iago roared—a roar of love and remembering and recognition and regret. He did not leave the Marquess’s side, but the roar said that he was sorry about it.

  “I’ve never been able to bring myself to find another, since you left me.” The Red Wind sighed.

  The wine-colored coat wriggled with pleasure. “You may keep it,” said the Red Wind expansively. “I gave it up, after all, when I had to go Below a century ago to battle with a young upstart ogre-maid who wanted to take my place. I thrashed her soundly, of course. Don’t get to be a Wind if you’re faint of anything.”

  September took the wine-colored coat off anyhow, and gave it back to its mistress, who it clearly sorely missed. She could stand now, in her Watchful Dress, and not feel ashamed of her finery or herself. Nor did September take the pistols.

  “She has her own, Red,” the Silver Wind said admonishingly. She dismounted from her Tiger, whose eyes fairly glowed in the night. The crystal moon showed a bold II on its smooth face. The Black Wind left his Lynx as well, and both held out their hands to September.

  In one was a silver rivet, in the other a black one. The Red Wind sighed and reholstered her guns, joining her sibling Winds. She held a crimson rivet out on her palm.

  “Take one,” said the Silver Wind. “Take one and bolt yourself to your shadow once more. The Alleyman is blooded. We can hold him—or kill him as you like. We don’t mind. Winds are cold in that way—after all, storms have no hearts.”

  “I wish my Green Wind were here!”

  “The Green Wind and the Blue Wind are Topside breezes,” said the Black Wind. “They deal in fresh, growing things. Only we venture Below.”

  “What if I choose wrong? Are they very different?”

  “We can only offer you ourselves. The Red Wind is a War Wind. The Silver Wind is a Following Wind, to fill up your heart and blow it along. The Black Wind, and Banquo, the Lynx of Gentle Showers, is a Fierce Wind, to blow one off course. We do not know which you need.”

  September considered that she had been following the Silver Wind for so long, and it had brought her so far. She took the silver rivet and tucked it into the Rivet Gun’s tube, where the gun chortled and took it up. But she did not go down into the Trefoil—she could not yet.

  September marched over to the Alleyman, and the Rivet Gun rejoiced, for it felt sure it was going to be Used most delightfully. September stood over the red cap as it lay on the roof with nobody beneath it. What a wretched, horrid creature! How hideous he must be, to hide himself with whatever magic made him invisible! She hated him, with all her galloping young heart. Her face flushed with anger, and September reached down and snatched the two vicious, horn-like feathers from his hat, throwing them to the ground.

  The Alleyman shimmered and between two blinks, September could see him as clear as anything, bleeding from his shoulder, his dark face gone ashen.

  It was her father’s shadow.

  CHAPTER XX

  LET ME LIVE

  In Which All Is Revealed

  September bore the weight of her father’s shadow as they descended the steps into the Trefoil, leaving the Prince and his mother and the Winds above. Besides the wound in his shoulder, his leg seemed twisted and weak.

  “Papa, why? How can you be here? Why would you hurt all those people? I don’t understand, I just can’t understand!”

  But he could not speak. Shadow-blood seeped from the Black Wind’s arrow. When she pushed open a great dark door and let her father collapse against a column, a sharp, sudden cry cut off her questions.

  “Papa!” Halloween cried, and leapt up from her throne, a bright thing made all of pumpkin rinds and green gems. It rested beneath a chandelier hanging down into the chamber like a false sun, its curling bone arms holding bowls hollowed out of gourds and squashes and pumpkins and great huge eggs, all filled with liquid fire. Saturday’s and Ell’s shadows lounged nearby on their own plush cushions (rather a lot of cushions in Ell’s case). Aubergine stood a ways away, looking miserable, holding silent. “Who’s done this to you?”

  The Hollow Queen put her hands on his wound and shut her eyes. The arrow snapped and the blood vanished. The Alleyman smiled weakly and brushed back Halloween’s shadowy hair. Then he s
aw September and groaned.

  “Did I do it?” he whispered. “Am I home?”

  “What are you talking about?” said September, horrified.

  “Don’t you talk to him,” snapped Halloween. “He’s my father, I brought him here, you haven’t got any right!”

  “What do you mean you brought him here?”

  Halloween grinned. Her dark face glowed with triumph. “Government has its privileges. I’m sure that silly cow showed you her precious wall—well, a hole opened up in Tain long before it got all the way down there. Right in the current of the Gingerfog River. You could see all the way through. I figured it out—much faster than you! I started pushing—here, there—to see where I could get through, to see if I could…” September’s shadow broke off, throwing her arms around her father. “I just wanted everyone to be together and happy and to see how marvelous my kingdom is. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted him to see Saturday and my Wyverary and how grown-up and good I could be. You want it, too. You just tell yourself to be patient and everything will be all right. Well, I knew it wouldn’t be all right! I saw him through the water. He was fighting, and his leg had broken—just like ours did, do you remember? I took a deep breath and I grabbed him. I just reached through the hole in the river and I grabbed his shadow and pulled him through. At first he was so confused, he kept shouting, ‘Les Allemands viennent! Les Allemands viennent!’ Half the city heard it. They started calling him the Alleyman, because he said it so often. For weeks, he didn’t even know where he was.”

  “Les Allemands viennent,” whispered September’s father weakly. “The Germans are coming.”

  “Hush, Papa, it’s all right now. You’re safe. He didn’t even know where he was at first, September. I nursed him back to health. All by myself.”

  “I know where I am,” said September’s father, his voice a little stronger, a little more like his old self. “I’d been reading the books we found in an old woman’s house near Strasbourg. All fairy stories and old tales. One was about a Lutin—an invisible spirit who wore a red hat with two feathers. A house-spirit, who protected a home and made it safe. When she pulled me through, I was still thinking about how nice it would be to be invisible, to be able to pass through the lines without being seen. Then all of a sudden, I was invisible, and I had a red hat. Everything had changed. And my daughter was here, as if by magic—at least, something like my daughter. A shadow, like I am a shadow. Like we are all shadows down here. But at least I could hold her, and talk to her. She said it happened because I wanted it so much my wanting turned into magic, only when she said want the word seemed so much bigger than I imagined it could be. And she told me to take everyone’s shadows. I thought she was mad, and so cruel—how could I have raised such a cruel girl as that? But she said if I took all the shadows, everything would come rushing together, this world and Nebraska. And I thought, Maybe then I could go home. I could go home to my real daughter and my wife. And no one would be hurt, they’d only live in a different place, and it’s beautiful back home. It really is.” He swooned against the pillar; his shadowy eyes slid shut.

  “Stop that, Papa,” Halloween said. “I’m your daughter. I told you.” The Hollow Queen kissed his cheek and stood up. “Everything is nearly perfect now,” she said. “I’ve got my family, and I’ve got more magic than anyone’s ever had. It’ll keep us here while the ungrateful Top-siders float away. The shadows will have their country, and we will all be together. Soon I’ll be able to pull Mother’s shadow through, too, and then I won’t need anything else. I’ll have everyone and everything I could want—Saturday and Ell and Mother and Father. I don’t have to choose like you do.” Halloween grinned sweetly. “Saturday and Ell were always my dear ones and not yours, September. I mean, really. I told them to go with you and play along as long as they could bear it. I told Ell to go wait for you at the bottom of the stairs. I told the whole country to crouch down in the dark just to leap up and surprise you. But you must see that they’re shadows—they could never help you bind them into nothingness again. They want to live. I want to live.”

  “We’re sorry, September,” said Saturday miserably. “We do love you, but you want us to go back. We can’t go back. If only you’d just forgotten like you ought to have we could have lived together so happily.”

  “It won’t work,” September said. “You’ll float away, too. And we’ll all be home, only Fairyland will be gone forever, and we’ll be in Nebraska and that will be that. You’ll just be shadow and light again.”

  “You’re lying,” Halloween scoffed.

  “I’m not. And anyway, it doesn’t matter. You and I are taking Father home, right now.”

  “Come now.” Halloween laughed. “You can’t do a thing to me. I have everything and you have nothing. And the Revel will be starting again soon. You can hear the trumpets and the harps sounding.” Indeed, from far below, a sweet, wild music picked up.

  “Take my hand, shadow,” she said.

  “No, girl,” Halloween whispered.

  September leveled the Rivet Gun at her.

  Saturday and Ell cried out desperately.

  “Please, September!” Ell wept, his great heart heaving with the strain of being torn between two girls he did love so terribly. “Leave us alone,” he whispered. “We just want to live our own lives. We just want to keep on being alive.”

  “Where did you get that gun?” Halloween said fearfully.

  “Belinda Cabbage gave it to me.”

  Halloween’s face trembled. It was September’s own face, and it broke apart, tears trickling down and her voice shaking. “You can’t do this to me. I’m you. I’m your sister. I have been with you all your life,” she said. “I have only done what you’ve done—tried to think slantwise and be brave and ill-tempered and irascible, tried to make my family happy, tried to have an adventure and grab hold of magic when it came near me. Please, September. Please. Let me live. You get to live—no matter what happens, you get to live. Why is it so terrible that I want to live, too?”

  September did not shy away. She pressed forward, reaching for her shadow’s hand to bind them together, but Halloween slipped away. She fled into Saturday’s and Ell’s arms, and the three of them cowered from her, terrified—they had never had to be afraid for themselves, only afraid when their sunlit selves were afraid. It undid them. They buried their faces in each other and braced for some awful pain. Halloween kissed Saturday and then Ell, tried to smile for them, held them close.

  But Aubergine did not quaver. She stood very still. So very still, as still as only a Quiet Physickist can. And instead of fading from view, a cold, thin light flashed from her violet feathers, landing upon the tableau of the Queen and her friends, freezing them where they stood.

  “I didn’t know what they meant to do, September.” Aubergine whispered a whisper so light and gentle it could hardly be called sound. “You must believe I didn’t. You see? I’ve held them fast for you, because you are my friend. And I did it, I really did it. I controlled it. The Quiet came from me and did what I told it to.” The Night-Dodo could not help puffing her breast-feathers a little.

  “I do believe you, Aubergine, I do,” September answered softly.

  September looked at her frozen shadow, her frozen Marid, her frozen Wyverary. They were helpless now. She could use the Rivet Gun to socket them together and Halloween couldn’t do a thing to stop it. She could do whatever she liked. Yet somehow, she could not. She could not be pitiless and cold with her father lying behind her. She could not—because that was the power of the Marquess and of Halloween, too. To simply not care and do what you wanted.

  She had pitied the Marquess, but not enough to hesitate when she had to hurt her. Yet her raw, young heart beat boldly now, and as it looked on the shadows of the folk she loved best, it broke open. She could not call them wicked, could not see them only as selfish and savage as villains must be seen if they are to be fought without pulling punches. Halloween was her. A little girl had
gone after her father, breaking the worlds in two just to get him back. Wouldn’t September herself have done the same? But then again, perhaps she would not have even thought of a thing so daring and slanted and strange. That dark, still girl holding her friends close had done a hundred things September had not. She was a sister—she was not September herself.

  September lowered the Rivet Gun. She would not do it. Even though the weapon ached to perform its Use, the thing it had been made for, everything in its little mechanical heart yearning for this day—she would not. She would do something else. Something slantwise.

  “Aubergine,” September said. “Come and hug me and say hello. I’ve missed you.”

  “If I move, they’ll move too!” warned the Night-Dodo.

  “It’s all right. Don’t worry.”

  Aubergine fluffed her feathers and crossed the throne room in a few short strides. She pressed her soft head against September’s and flushed silver with relief.

  Halloween stirred. Saturday and Ell gasped as they came to with a jolt and a shudder.

  “Come here, Halloween,” September said. “Come here. Don’t cry.”

  Halloween stood, her face plainly saying she thought she still faced her executioner. A moment’s stillness couldn’t change that.

  September held out her arms to her shadow.

  “Surely, we can think of some other way.”

  Halloween hung back.

  “Surely we are clever enough, the two of us,” September whispered. “There are two of us, after all.”

  And the shadow-girl, with her need and her love and her terrible Want all held before her, flowed into September’s arms. They held each other. After a while, Saturday and Ell touched the girls’ shoulders, and hugged them, too, Ell’s tail snaking around them. At last, Aubergine nestled down beside them. September was completely covered in shadows.

  She smiled in the dark.

  The door of the throne room burst open. A creature came screaming into the room, greenish-silver, looking like a printing press with claws and teeth. It galloped around the room, startling the shadows apart. A woman stormed in after it, cursing and scolding.

 
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