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The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, Page 28

Catherynne M. Valente


  “My father? Aunt Margaret?”

  * * *

  Let us say the world is a house.

  We have said so many times. We have gone up to the roof together and watched the moonrise among lost baseballs and kites. We have gone down to the cellar with our lanterns and we were not afraid. We have gone rummaging through all the rooms and out into the garden. We have eaten well together and not washed up our dishes nor made our bed, for we had ever so much more important things to do.

  A house shines its best when it is full. When all the people who are wanted have come bustling through the door, laughing and talking over one another and checking to see who has brought pie and who has brought fresh bread and who has forgotten the apple cider.

  It is quiet now, in our house. You and I have tidied our bed and our dishes and opened the windows in every room. It has been so lovely, making a house with you. We have done everything just so. And in any long year to come, we may always come back to this little house and see each other again, just as eager, just as glad as we ever were to clasp hands and sing songs and light all the lamps at once. This is my last magic trick, the curious wizardry of narrators. Come close, and I will whisper it, and then we shall have cocoa.

  Endings are rubbish. No such thing. Never has been, never will be. There is only the place where you choose to stop talking. Everything else goes on forever.

  I will always be here, in my old chair by the door, waiting for you, whenever you are lonesome. Our little house will always look just the same as when we first blew the dust off the bookshelves, and the kettle will always be just about to boil. Sometimes I will be young, and sometimes I will be old, and sometimes you will be young, and sometimes you will be old. But for as long as forever, I will keep a room for you. I swear by the sparkle in my eye and the spring in your step.

  It is time to start the feast. We have lit a fire in the hearth and put the kettle on. Company is coming, after all, and we have waited so long to see them smile.

  * * *

  In the most splendid room of the Briary, the Queen sat on her throne.

  Dahlias and roses and macadamia flowers burst from the walls in brilliant colors and deep, rich chairs and sofas lay all round, no higher than the throne, piled up with pillows for comfort. On one chocolate-colored sofa sat a troll in a leather jacket, and on either side of him lounged much bigger trolls—a magician named Hemlock and an enchantress named Hyssop, with their son Hawthorn squashed in the middle, quite, quite beside themselves with wonder at having found each other. Hemlock had made sure to scoot the sofa close to the window, so he could look down at the Barleybroom docks and see the fine pirate ship on which he and his wife had hitched a ride after that ridiculous wombat told them to come to Mummery, they must come, they must, no matter what. In a raspberry-colored chair sat a wooden girl, quite burnt, but smiling. Bits of green wick curled from her fingers, her eyebrow, her knee. A tree may come back from the flames many times, and the Matchstick Girl thought she looked rather rakish with her crisped bark.

  September’s mother stood by the window. She wore a bright, lovely dress of orange brocade and her long hair was braided with gold. She wore a fur cape not so very different from the ones at Brandeis & Sons. She fidgeted, and though she hadn’t told anyone, she still had her sensible jeans on beneath the gown, in case more running was called for. Owen, September’s father, lay on a chaise so that his leg would not ache—though truthfully it felt better this morning than it ever had. He looked like he had only just come home from college. The color rode high in his cheeks. Aunt Margaret wore her favorite dress, trailing white silk with a belt of opals and a high fur collar. A rather pretty young woman with short dark hair sat sprawled in a blue chair with her feet up over the arm. She wore sunglasses and smoked a long churchwarden pipe.

  A-Through-L stood at a long, empty bookshelf the vines of the Briary had thoughtfully made for him, set into the deep wall. He had put aside his turnip watch and got proper spectacles. He put The Mystery of the Blue Train on the shelf. He took it off again. He put it back. He could not decide.

  And on the throne of Fairyland sat a proud and beaming scrap-yarn wombat, wearing a crown of blue tongue berries and silver stars. The throne was a new one, extra-wide and made of the same night-stuff as the shops of Wom. Good Queen Buss surveyed all with a satisfied look on her woolly face.

  “Hello,” said September shyly.

  The room erupted. Susan Jane broke several new land-speed records getting to her daughter and wrapping her in a long, hard hug full of worry and wonder and the old terror of a child’s empty bed. Owen kissed his girl’s hair and squeezed her tight.

  “But how? How could you possibly be here?” September tried to say from under their squeezing. “Where did you come from? I thought I’d never see you again!”

  “As if we couldn’t find you, wherever you hid,” said her father, kissing her hair.

  “Mom, oh, Mom, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you, I’m sorry … don’t be mad, please!” September was crying in big, breathless gulps. “I thought I wasn’t ever coming home. I thought it was over. I thought you’d never know where I’d gone. And I’d never know what happened to you.”

  Susan Jane held her daughter. She laughed over her green hair. “We thought you were dead. We saw you fall. Your heart … you weren’t breathing. Oh, Tem, adventures are well and good but do try not to get killed again! I couldn’t bear it!”

  September’s father clung to his wife and his daughter, laughing and crying. “How could we be mad? Look at everything you’ve done!”

  “Everything?”

  “My girl,” her mother said proudly. Her father stood as straight as a man who had never been to war, and his leg didn’t pain him at all.

  “But how did you escape Tanaquill?” September protested. “Where is Saturday? Is that a crown, Buss?” And then the squeezing grew much heavier, for a Wyverary added his heft to it. They all said her name so many times she began to think of changing it.

  Blunderbuss gave a little wombat howl of triumph. “Too right it is! I’m Queen! Good Queen Buss! Actually, I’m Tobacconist. Met that Jacquard lady, she let me pick and I wanted to be a Tobacconist so I am! I’ve already chewed up a few laws—the Spitting Ceremony’s Tuesday! All of Wom is coming and most of Fairyland! Well. Not Mallow. Lye’s got her for safekeeping. Forgiveness is forgiveness but I’m a practical wombat. They say they’ll send their best luckfig tarts. She and Lye have got the ovens going again in that daft bathhouse of theirs.”

  “Oh, calm down you … you goofy-face,” Ell said, blushing furiously. It had taken all of his strength to say I love you in Wom. “Technically, September, you won,” A-Through-L explained. “Ajax said so, once he recovered from his shock. Oh—don’t worry! He’s quite all right. He’s only little on the inside. A Dandy, like he said. Tanaquill only nicked him. You brought the Heart of Fairyland to Runnymede Square. You won the throne. But then you died. And Saturday had collapsed again—the smoke, you know, very bad for ocean-folk. And the grief. And I … I was in no state. I couldn’t see anything but you being dead and Death begins with D but I couldn’t bear it, I couldn’t. So the crown rolled off your head and knocked up against Buss. Last wombat standing.”

  Aunt Margaret smiled and ruffled her niece’s hair. She felt no need to make a fuss. She’d never been the least bit worried that Tem couldn’t make her way. “I had to make a new throne for her, of course. Fortunately, I had excellent materials at hand.” September stared. Beneath the macadamia flowers, the throne was made of twisted iron buckles and horseshoes, just the same as the Prime Minister’s iron dress. Blunderbuss was all wool and cotton and silk, so it didn’t hurt her any.

  “You should have seen old Tanaquill beg!” crowed Hawthorn. “She went white as a surrender flag when your old aunt Maggie came hippo-ing in! Olly olly oxen free! I could live on that memory like a pantry full of potatoes!”

  “Don’t gloat so much, Hawthorn,” said his mother, whose name was Hysso
p, tugging on her own mossy hair. She actually thought gloating was devilish fun, but she had years of gentle scolding to catch up on.

  Tamburlaine leaned forward. A new green wick peeked out of her cheek. “She’s the one who did it to them. Your aunt Margaret, can you imagine? She turned the Fairies into tools all those ages ago. Time just runs around with its trousers on its head around here! They call her Pearl here. She’s the one the Yeti told you about. The thaumaturge who punished the Fairies for using everyone so terribly by turning them into pitchforks and typewriters and signposts!”

  September gawked at her aunt. She remembered the Yeti’s tale of the great thaumaturge Pearl who appeared from nowhere and taught the cruel Fairies her awful lesson. Margaret made a little mocking gawk-face back at her.

  “Don’t you look at me like that, Missy. It’s not like you told me what you were up to, either! Anyway, I think Tanaquill makes a fine chair! She always wanted the throne. Now she is the throne. And you are the Wind. Green suits you, dear.”

  “And you’ll stay?” September said. “You’ll stay. You see how lovely it is. You’ll stay and be happy here, with me. You’re not Ravished or Stumbled. You just came, because you were Needed.”

  They would. They all would. If we win, you’ll stay.

  “But … where’s Saturday?” September asked. “And what about you, Ell?”

  “I shall be Chief Librarian. I am starting a new library. It will have only books I love like brothers and sisters in it, so it will be the best library in the world. I’ve only got one volume so far, but you only need one, in the beginning. Mabry said you would be back, he promised us, and I didn’t want to start till you got here, but two days is so long to wait. Now you’re home I shall go and see my grandfather, the Fairyland Municipal Library, at last, and get his blessing. Oh, and I think I am King? Because of Buss and me, you know.”

  A-Through-L and Blunderbuss, being a Wyvern and a Wombat, had had to invent a new way of kissing. Love invents all kinds of things, and a new sort of kiss comes into the world whenever two people put their heads together. I think you’ll agree theirs was quite splendid. Buss spat a passionfruit into the air between them and Ell scorched it with his flame. They did it all the time, until their guests grew awfully annoyed. And they did it just now, splattering roasted passionfruit onto the ceiling.

  The Wyverary smiled with all his whiskers and teeth. “King consort, anyway. But you don’t have to call me King! I’m your Ell. Perhaps Grandfather will like calling me King.”

  “The Marid will be along, the sneaky little brigand,” said the woman in sunglasses. She puffed a smoke ring at them. “You’re only a little ways ahead of him.”

  “Who are you?” said September—though she looked awfully familiar, really.

  “You might not recognize me without my puffins,” said the old Blue Wind, who was hardly blue at all anymore, and certainly not a Wind. She was a young woman, pretty enough to be in the pictures, if she didn’t have such a petulant look around the eyes. She’d forgotten her real name years ago, after she’d stolen a pocket watch from an old man and turned into something quite different from a young woman, pretty or not. She seemed quite put out. “What is the point of life without puffins, I ask you? Your little boyfriend swiped one of my littlest puffins while I wasn’t looking. He snuck up on me in Mummery, the beastly thing! If there hadn’t been a battle on he’d never have gotten away with it. And now I’ve got civilian life ahead of me and who’s got a use for that? No one! And now your Saturday’s got all my things, and my job, and my house, and I hate him.”

  “Hullo, Wind,” said a deep, salt-sea voice. September whirled round.

  Saturday stood in the window of the Briary, leaning against the viny wall, one leg crossed casually over the other. He wore indigo trousers with as much silk to them as a skirt with ghostly pale blue stars peeking out from the folds. He had on turquoise gloves and sapphire-colored boots with crisscrossed icicle laces all the way to the knee. A long, beautiful sky-colored coat hung like a dress from a heavy silver belt at his waist, swirling with aquamarine stitching, trimmed in wild, woolly fur from some impossible, blueberry-colored sheep. His long, glossy black topknot coiled out its full length beneath a cobalt cap rimmed in the same blue shag. The cap had an ice-spike on top of it, like old pictures of the Kaiser. In his hand, the Blue Wind held a little baby puffin, cheeping cheekily at them all.

  September remembered the old Green Wind telling her how new Winds were made: The Red Wind had to be defeated in single combat, the Golden Wind had to be beaten in a singing competition—and you had to steal something from the Blue Wind. She laughed. Saturday leapt down from the windowsill and swept her into his arms. They kissed, and it was a new kind of kiss as well, for between them blew all the winds of all the worlds. Green and blue forever.

  CHAPTER XXIII

  EXEUNT ON A LEOPARD

  In Which Nothing Is Over

  Once upon a time, a girl named Rebecca grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same green and blue soup bowls and matching saucers every day, slept under the same patchwork quilt, and played with the same large and surly cat. Because she had been born in July, and because she had a mole on her right earlobe, and because her feet were very small and graceful, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. She was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.

  “You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said September. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes, and be delivered to the great sea that borders Fairyland? I shall take you safely all the way there, past a comet, over several stars, and through a very cluttered closet, whereupon I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”

  “Oh yes!” breathed Rebecca.

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  About the Authors

  Catherynne M. Valente, the acclaimed author of many books for adults, made her children’s book debut with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her husband. You can sign up for email updates here.

  ANA JUAN is a world-renowned illustrator known in this country for her wonderful covers for the New Yorker magazine, as well as the children’s books The Night Eater, and Frida, written by Jonah Winter. She lives in Spain. You can sign up for email updates here.

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  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Notice

  Dedication

  Dramatis Personae

  Chapter I. The Queen of Fairyland and All Her Kingdoms

  Chapter II. Something Not So Grand as a Gryphon

  Chapter III. An Audience with the Queen

  Chapter IV. The Once and Future Club

  Interlude: Sisters Oughtn’t Keep Secrets

  Chapter V. The Cantankerous Derby

  Chapter VI. The Man from Blue Hen Island

  Chapter VII. Everything Has a Heart

  Chapter VIII. Greenwich Mean Time

  Chapter IX. I Punish, You Punish, He or She Punishes

  Interlude: Abracadabra

  Chapter X. Journey to Mumkeep Reef

  Chapter XI. The Tattooed Penguin

  Chapter XII. A School of Saturdays

  Chapter XIII. Inspector Ell and the Case of the Hijacked Heartr />
  Chapter XIV. A Detour Through Voleworld

  Interlude: The Hourglass Waste

  Chapter XV. The Brave and the Bonkers

  Chapter XVI. A Troll in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush

  Chapter XVII. A Practical Girl

  Chapter XVIII. City of Fools

  Chapter XIX. The Girl Without Warning

  Chapter XX. The Heart of Fairyland

  Chapter XXI. Death Comes Round for Tea

  Chapter XXII. Winds of Change

  Chapter XXIII. Exeunt on a Leopard

  About the Authors

  Copyright

  A FEIWEL AND FRIENDS BOOK

  An Imprint of Macmillan

  THE GIRL WHO RACED FAIRYLAND ALL THE WAY HOME. Text copyright © 2016 by Catherynne M. Valente. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Ana Juan. All rights reserved. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

  Our books may be purchased in bulk for promotional, educational, or business use. Please contact your local bookseller or the Macmillan Corporate and Premium Sales Department at (800) 221-7945 ext. 5442 or by e-mail at [email protected]

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available

  ISBN: 978-1-250-02351-3 (hardcover) / 978-1-250-08026-4 (ebook)

  Feiwel and Friends logo designed by Filomena Tuosto

  First Edition: 2016

  eISBN: 9781250080264

  mackids.com