Politics have never been October “Toby” Daye’s strong suit. When she traveled to the Kingdom of Silences to prevent them from going to war with her home, the Kingdom of the Mists, she wasn’t expecting to return with a cure for elf-shot and a whole new set of political headaches. Now the events she unwittingly set in motion could change the balance of modern Faerie forever, and she has been ordered to appear before a historic convocation of monarchs, hosted by Queen Windermere in the Mists and overseen by the High King and Queen themselves.
Naturally, things have barely gotten underway when the first dead body shows up. As the only changeling in attendance, Toby is already the target of suspicion and hostility. Now she needs to find a killer before they can strike again—and with the doors locked to keep the guilty from escaping, no one is safe.
As danger draws ever closer to her allies and the people she loves best, Toby will have to race against time to prevent the total political destabilization of the West Coast and to get the convocation back on track…and if she fails, the cure for elf-shot may be buried forever, along with the victims she was too slow to save.
Seanan McGuire’s Once Broken Faith, the tenth book in her October Daye series, is available September 6th from DAW.
June 5th, 2013
For trust not him that hath once broken faith.
—William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part III
Quentin and Raj were in the living room arguing about who got to pick the first movie of the night. Loudly. The walls and doors between us were thick enough to blunt their voices—mercifully—but I could still hear more than enough to know that I didn’t want to get involved. I crossed my arms and leaned against the counter, casting a wry look at the kitchen door.
“All right,” I said. “Somebody remind me again why we’re doing this, and why I’m not drowning them both in the bathtub.”
“Drowning Quentin would be an act of treason against the Westlands, and you’d probably be executed,” said May. “Also, you’d miss him.” She never took her eyes off the tray of cookies she was removing from the oven. My Fetch had been baking since she got out of bed. She hadn’t slept much since she’d been elf-shot during our visit to the Kingdom of Silences—she got better, thanks to alchemical intervention—and that meant we had a lot of cookies. We didn’t have anything near enough for the nightmare that was to come, but still. A lot of cookies.
The oncoming disaster didn’t keep Jazz from snatching a cookie from the tray and retreating to the kitchen table, juggling her purloined treat from one hand to another the whole time. “Drowning Raj would be an act of treason against the Court of Dreaming Cats, you’d miss him, and Tybalt would look all sad and noble right before he put you through a wall.”
“Actually, I think if Toby drowns Raj, she’s just proving he was unfit to rule, which means it’s not treason, it’s natural selection. Sort of like you burning your mouth on that cookie is your punishment for stealing it. Tybalt would still probably be pissed, though.” May began shifting the remaining cookies to the cooling rack. Jazz stuck her tongue out. May laughed.
I stayed where I was, avoiding the danger of molten chocolate chips, and grinned to myself. “Oh, right,” I said. “I remember why I agreed to this.” After months—after years—of chaos and life-threatening situations and people stabbing me for no good reason, we’d somehow managed to find a moment to breathe. That didn’t just deserve to be enjoyed. It deserved to be celebrated, held up as proof that the world was a good place and didn’t actually need to be destroyed in order for me to have a nap.
It used to be that I could have all the naps I wanted. Of course, back in those days, I had few friends, no prospects, and the life expectancy of a stray dog. These days, I have plenty of backup, and no time to sleep. As a knight errant and hero of the realm, any time something goes wrong, it’s likely to become my problem. I’m the go-to girl for terrible adventures, whether I like it or not. Usually not. But things had been pretty calm since my allies and I returned home from overthrowing the puppet government of the Kingdom of Silences. Sure, we’d only been back for six weeks, but I’d take it. It was a hell of a lot better than nothing. I was safe and healthy, my chosen family was safe and healthy, and it was time to stop and smell the flowers.
Just not the roses. I have a bad track record with roses.
The argument in the living room was starting to get really heated. I was considering the wisdom of intervention when the doorbell rang. There was a moment of startled silence before both boys shouted, “I’LL GET IT!” in perfect unison. Then they started sniping at each other again. I pushed myself away from the counter.
“Let’s see if I can answer the door before they finish deciding which one of them gets the honor,” I said.
May snorted. “The future leadership of the Westlands, ladies and gentlemen.”
I left the kitchen and walked down the hall, laughing all the way. Maybe most people don’t have dueling princes in their houses, but this is my life, and I’ve had time to get used to it. I’ve even had time to learn to appreciate it. After all, the princes in question were my squire—Quentin Sollys, who will one day be the High King of the Westlands, the fae Kingdom that encompasses North America—and my fiancé’s adopted nephew, Raj. Since I can’t imagine the world without both those boys in it, I can put up with a little shouting.
My name is October Daye. My father was a human; my mother was, and is, a Firstborn daughter of Oberon, making her one of the more powerful people among the fae, and a definite pain in my still-mortal changeling ass. I was born and raised in San Francisco, which explains my willingness to stay in a city that’s historically been full of people who insist on trying to kill me at the slightest provocation. Faeries are real. Magic is real. My tendency to greet dangerous situations by plunging in headfirst and seeing how long it takes to get myself covered head to toe in blood is also real.
I live an interesting life.
The front door was warded to the point of redundancy. Had whoever was on the porch been human, the warnings about their identity would have reverberated through the house, giving the rest of us time to get any necessary illusions in place. May was the most human looking of our weird little band, and she’d be the one answering the door when the pizzas showed up. In the meantime, since the warnings hadn’t sounded, I was able to unlock and open the door without messing around trying to spin a passable disguise.
My friend Stacy was on the porch with her middle daughter, Karen. At fourteen-going-on-fifteen, Karen no longer looked much like her mother; in fact, the resemblance seemed to decrease year on year. Her skin was milky pale, in contrast to Stacy’s healthy peach, and her hair was the color of birch-bark, save for the tips, which looked like they’d been dipped in ink. Her ears were dully pointed, more like a bobcat’s than a Daoine Sidhe’s, and tufted with fluffy puffs of hair that followed the same black into white pattern as the hair on her head. She was clutching a pillow to her chest. In the interests of expedience, she was already wearing her pajamas, thin cotton patterned in colorful dinosaurs and flaming comets. She was also wearing a bra. That was still relatively new, and hence relatively unsettling. For me, Karen would always be the eleven-year-old I’d saved from Blind Michael’s lands.
Stacy beamed. Karen glanced upward through the fringe of her hair, flashed a shy smile, and went back to looking at her feet.
“Do I smell cookies?” asked Stacy.
I laughed and leaned forward to steal a quick hug before ushering both of them inside. “May’s been baking like a mad thing for hours. I think she’s afraid we’ll be stripped to the bone by a mob of wild teenagers if she doesn’t generate enough unhealthy snacking material.”
“Oh, she’s right,” said Stacy gravely. “I’m just glad you’re the one hosting the slumber party for a change. The last time Anthony played host, I wound up with an empty fridge and two broken windows.”
“I don’t understand why you always call them ‘slumber parties,’” said Karen, glancing up again. “You’re picking me up at dawn. That’s hours before bedtime.”
“Blame our terrible human upbringings, and enjoy the free cookies,” I said. “Do I get a hug?”
Karen smiled, less shyly this time, and moved to hug me. “Hi, Auntie Birdie.”
“Hey, puss,” I said, and kissed the top of her head.
Fae kids are like human kids in many ways. They need love, approval, protection, and occasionally to be sent to their rooms to think about what they’ve done. That doesn’t mean they are human kids. For one thing, fae kids tend to be nocturnal. Karen wasn’t shining a light on bad parenting when she said dawn was hours before bedtime: she was making a statement of fact. Like most of her contemporaries, she probably went to bed around eight or nine in the morning, and then slept for the normal teenage ten to thirteen hours before getting up and starting her “day.”
Karen’s hair smelled of off-brand shampoo, which I dismissed as irrelevant, and of the cottonwood and quince signature of her magic. The notes had only been becoming really clear over the past few years. Her father, Mitch, was a halfblooded changeling—human mother, fae father—and her mother, Stacy, was a quarterblood, which meant Karen had started with less than the normal percentage of fae blood. It made sense that her magic was weak enough to have taken a long time to clarify. What didn’t make sense was the fact that Karen was an oneiromancer, a dream-walker—one of the first to be seen in Faerie for centuries.
That’s the thing about fae. We’re always full of surprises. Karen tolerated my hug for a few seconds more before squirming away and asking, “Who’s here?”
“You’re the first to arrive,” I said. The boys didn’t count. Quentin lived with me; Raj was at the house enough that he may as well live with me. “Quentin and Raj are in the living room. Stacy? You want a cup of coffee or something before you head home?”
“Can’t,” she said apologetically. “Jessica has therapy.”
“Oh.” I nodded. “All right. Well, give the family my love, and call if you need us to get Karen home.”
“I will,” said Stacy. She hugged me quick, and then she was gone, ghosting out the front door without another word.
Karen and I exchanged a look. Karen spoke first. “Mom’s worried about Jess.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Is she getting any better?”
Karen shook her head. “No.”
“Damn.” I took a deep breath, trying to force my worries down. They didn’t go easy. “Well, let’s get you to the party, okay?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Karen serenely. “It’s not a party until I arrive.”
I laughed and pointed her down the hall. She trotted off, disappearing into the front room. A moment later the timbre of the ongoing argument shifted. I smiled. “A new challenger has arrived,” I murmured, and walked back toward the kitchen.
Stacy Brown and I have been friends since we were younger than Karen was now, two frightened changelings clinging to each other in the mercurial landscape of the Summerlands. I don’t know that I would have survived long enough to run away from home if it hadn’t been for Stacy. Her happy ending had always been about family: finding someone who’d love her and help her raise a house full of changeling children. Karen was the third of five. An impressive achievement by human standards; a virtually unheard of achievement by fae ones. Which had just made things worse when Blind Michael decided to Ride through the Bay Area, snatching three of the Brown children in the process.
Andrew had been so young at the time that he seemed to have emerged mostly unscathed. He still had nightmares sometimes, but having an older sister who could walk in dreams meant he never felt like he was alone. Karen had returned from Blind Michael’s lands quieter, more serious, and more aware of her powers. And Jessica…
In some ways, Jessica still hadn’t made it home. She was terrified of the dark. She was even more afraid of any sort of wavering or flickering light. She wet the bed, she woke up screaming, and she refused to be in a room with me. Even though she knew intellectually that I’d saved her, part of her had associated me so absolutely with Blind Michael that she couldn’t be near me. It was hard. I tried to understand, I really did, but… that didn’t make it easy.
It was almost a relief to step into the kitchen and find myself looking at a glittering portal in the air. The smell of sycamore smoke and calla lilies had been lain over the top of the more ordinary chocolate chip cookies. I blinked. Then I grinned.
“Guess that potion wore off, huh?”
“Hi!” A girl’s head popped around the edge of the portal, black-haired and copper-eyed and beaming. She looked pleased with herself. I couldn’t blame her. “Oh, gosh, it really worked, didn’t it? Dad! Dad, I opened a door to San Francisco!”
“What?” Etienne sounded equal parts bemused and concerned. He stepped into view, automatically centering himself on the portal. His expression turned nonplussed when he saw me. “Oh. Hello, October.”
I didn’t bother to muffle my grin, which was only getting wider. “Hi, Etienne. I see that everyone’s powers are back to normal.”
“Yes, the potion wore off as scheduled… I’m sorry about this. I thought we’d agreed that she would wait to open a gate to your home until after I had called to get your consent.” He slanted a quick, irritated glance at Chelsea—but all the irritation in the world couldn’t conceal his pride. He was still pretty new to the whole “father” gig, having only learned that he had a teenage daughter the year before. For most of that time, Chelsea’s natural abilities had been suppressed by an alchemical tincture. Now it was gone, and she was showing her dad what she could do.
“Raj invited me,” said Chelsea. “I haven’t been to a slumber party in years.”
“Chelsea?” As if the sound of his name had summoned him, Raj appeared behind me, standing straighter than normal, like he was trying to make himself look taller. His cheeks reddened at the sight of her, but his expression remained as imperiously calm as ever. “I see the homing stone I gave you has worked as intended. We have chips and dip in the front room.”
“Come on, Dad, can I go through? Please? Pretty please? The gate looks stable, it’s not going to snick me in half or anything, pleeeeease?” Chelsea turned fully to her father, expression pleading. Only the rolled-up sleeping bag under her arm spoiled the illusion of absolute need. Like Karen, she was wearing pajamas. Unlike Karen, her pajamas were patterned with spaceships and planets.
“It appears stable,” said Etienne. “First, you must ask Sir Daye for permission. It is never appropriate to use a gate to enter a knight or noble’s home without their consent.”
Chelsea sighed, looking briefly like the teenage girl she was. Then she turned to me, and said, with perfect courtly grace, “Sir Daye, may I answer your invitation and cross the threshold from my halls into yours?”
It took everything I had to swallow my grin. May was less successful, but as she was out of Chelsea’s line of sight, she probably wasn’t trying as hard. “Yes, you may,” I said. “Come on through. We’re going to order the pizza in about half an hour.”
“Yes!” Chelsea jumped straight through her transit gate, spinning on her toes to wave at Etienne and chirp, “Bye, Daddy! I’ll see you in the morning!” She waved her hand, making a closing gesture, and the gate slammed shut before Etienne could get another word in.
“I don’t know whether that was slick or rude,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Raj, grabbing Chelsea’s wrist and hauling her out of the kitchen without leaving her time to do more than wave to the rest of us. The argument in the front room changed timbre again only a few seconds later.
I looked at May. She grinned. I grinned back.
“Okay, this was a fantastic idea and we should do it every week,” I said. As if on cue, there was a knock at the back door. I crossed the kitchen to answer it.
Dean Lorden—slightly older than the rest of our guests in chronological terms, slightly younger in terms of experience with the world outside the Undersea—was standing on my back porch, a backpack slung by one strap over his left shoulder. He was dressed in his usual Court clothes, which meant he looked a little old-fashioned, like he’d just stepped out of the 1920s and didn’t understand the concept of “denim.” He looked unsettled.
“Marcia drove you, huh?” I guessed.
“She says I need to get used to riding in cars if I want to live in the human world,” he said, and stepped inside. He released the illusion making him look human as soon as he was over the threshold, adding a layer of eucalyptus and wet rock to the bizarre mix of magical scents already hanging in the air. His clothes remained the same; only his features shifted, becoming sharper and indefinably inhuman. He was a handsome kid, with his mother’s sand-colored skin and his father’s bronze hair, complete with a patina of verdigris highlights. His eyes were dark blue, like the sea at night, and his ears tapered to sharp points. He’d be a heartbreaker when he got a little older.
I was just hoping the heart he chose to start with wouldn’t be Quentin’s. Dean and my squire had been seeing each other for a few months. I wasn’t sure yet whether “dating” was the word. Dean had grown up in the Undersea, and I had no idea what their formal courtships looked like; Quentin was a pureblooded scion of the Daoine Sidhe, destined to become High King of the Westlands. He’d dated once before, a human girl named Katie. It hadn’t ended well. As long as he and Dean were being careful with each other, I was fine with their relationship, but the second I felt like someone was going to get hurt, I was going to…
Oak and ash, I didn’t know what I was going to do. This was all outside my realm of experience, and I was as confused as everyone else.
May handed Dean a plate of cookies. “Take these to the front room,” she said. “Everyone will be delighted to see you.”
He smiled shyly. “Okay,” he said. To me, he added, “You have a lovely home.” Then he was gone, following the sound of shouting toward the rest of the party.
I walked over to one of the unoccupied kitchen chairs and collapsed into it. “Five,” I said mournfully. “There are five teenagers in my house right now. Who thought this was a good idea? It can’t have been me. I have more common sense than that.”
“No, you don’t,” said May, setting a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie down in front of me. “If you did, you wouldn’t be you.”
“I hate you all,” I muttered, and reached for the cookie.
Someone knocked on the back door.
Slowly, we all turned toward the sound. Jazz spoke first. “I thought everyone was here already,” she said warily.
“And Tybalt doesn’t knock,” said May. “He just sort of shows up. Like the plague.”
“Tybalt is busy at his court tonight,” I said, standing. Being engaged to a King of Cats has come with its share of adjustments. Getting used to the idea that sometimes he wasn’t going to be available, no matter how much I wanted him to be, had been one of the bigger ones. Raj was his chosen heir. Because of that, for Raj to have an official “night off”—as opposed to all the nights he spent unofficially hogging the remote and eating all my food—Tybalt needed to be with his people. It was going to get interesting when the time came to go out of town for our wedding. Raj was going to be livid if he didn’t get to come, but I couldn’t see any way the Cait Sidhe were going to go for that.
“Should I get your sword?” asked May, eyeing the door.
“It’s in the car.”
“Again?” She shifted her gaze to me, now admonishing. “A sword won’t keep you safe if it’s in the trunk of your car.”
“True, but it won’t be used to gut me in my own home, either.” I pushed my shirt back enough to show her that I had my silver knife, and finished crossing the kitchen to the door. “Who is it?” I called.
“Um, Arden,” was the reply. “Can I come in?”
I glanced over my shoulder at May, wide-eyed. She and Jazz were staring at me, looking about as baffled as I felt. I turned back to the door and unlocked it, pulling it open to reveal Arden Windermere, Queen in the Mists, regent of Northern California, standing on my back porch. She was wearing a black T-shirt with the Borderlands Books logo on the front, along with a pair of dark jeans and battered white tennis shoes. A human disguise blunted her features and removed the purple highlights from her hair, although her eyes remained mismatched, one brown, one gray trending into silver.
“Uh,” I said.
She mustered a faint smile. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “Can I come in?”
It abruptly hit me that I had the Queen at my back door, asking for my permission to enter. The Queen, who was Tuatha de Dannan, and hence fully capable of opening a portal into my kitchen and stepping through without so much as a by-your-leave. This was not a situation my etiquette classes had prepared me for. To be honest, it wasn’t a situation I’d ever thought about. Maybe I should have.
“Sure,” I said, and stepped aside.
Like Dean, Arden released her human disguise as soon as she was inside, filling the air with the scent of redwood sap and blackberry flowers. Her hair turned the color of ripe blackberries, while her eyes lost their mortal hues, becoming pyrite and mercury instead of brown and gray. Her ears were pointed like Dean’s, but the shape of them marked her as Tuatha de Dannan as clearly as a sign would have. There was no mistaking her for anything but what she was.
She waited for me to shut the door before she said, “I’m here both as a courtesy, and to request a favor. Which would you like first? And where is your, ah, squire?”
Arden had learned Quentin’s true identity at the same time I had: when he convinced her that being a princess wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and that she owed it to her Kingdom to take the crown. That knowledge made her one of a small circle of people who’d been trusted with who he really was. May and Jazz knew, of course, and so did Raj. Dean might or might not; that was Quentin’s choice to make. But I knew Chelsea and Karen didn’t. Well. Karen might. She’d walked in his dreams, after all. “He’s in the front room. Should I get him?”
“Oberon’s eyes, no,” she said, her own eyes widening in alarm. “He can’t hear what I’m about to say.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I know I’m a hero of this realm and all, but if you’re here to plot sedition against the King of the Westlands, I want to be the first to say that it’s probably not a good idea. Like, it’s a really bad idea. I’m out of the king-breaking business. After getting stabbed in the heart the last time, I’m planning to stick with missing persons and the occasional murder for at least a year.”
“I’m not plotting sedition,” said Arden.
I started to relax.
I stiffened again.
“Maybe this is me being out of touch with the modern realities of life in Faerie, but last time I checked, you couldn’t be a little bit plotting sedition,” said May. “It’s like being a little bit pregnant. Sure, you think it’ll be fine, but next thing you know, it’s all diapers and daggers and who’s your monarch.”
Arden blinked slowly at her before turning back to me. “We’ve been waiting for High King Sollys to approve the use of Master Davies’ elf-shot cure before we woke anyone else.”
“I know,” I said carefully. In this context, “anyone else” meant Madden, Arden’s Cu Sidhe seneschal, and Nolan, her younger brother. “Because we’re trying to avoid destabilizing the region. You know. More than we already have.”
“He sent word at sundown that he won’t approve use of the cure until there’s been a proper conclave of local monarchs to discuss the matter. He’ll be here next week.”
“…Oh.” Quentin’s father was coming here? Quentin didn’t know. Quentin couldn’t know. He would have told me, even if he was trying not to. My squire was many things. Good at lying to me wasn’t one of them. He’d managed to keep the truth about his parentage secret for as long as he had only because there had never been any reason for the subject to come up: his being Crown Prince wasn’t going to impact me for years, if ever. His dad coming to town was something else entirely.
“I need you to come back to Muir Woods with me,” said Arden. “Walther is already there, but he says he won’t do anything without you.”
“Anything like what?” I asked. I knew, really. There was only one thing she could want badly enough to risk pissing off the King of the entire continent. She had come to me effectively hat in hand, dressed like the mortal she’d been living as when we met, because she wanted this so badly. And she knew that she couldn’t order me to help her do it.
“I need you to come back to Muir Woods with me,” she repeated. “I need you to be there, so that Walther will wake up my brother and my best friend before the High King gets here, realizes he left a loophole in his orders, and makes it illegal.”
I glanced to May and Jazz. They both nodded silently. I looked back to Arden and sighed.
“Let me get my coat.”
Arden had come in through the back door, but as soon as I got back to the kitchen, it became clear that she wasn’t planning to leave that way. She inscribed a wide arc in the air with her left hand. A portal opened in the air, accompanied by the sudden, sharp smell of blackberry flowers and redwood sap. Through it, I could see the entry hall of Arden’s knowe in Muir Woods.
Right. “I’ll be back soon,” I said, shrugging my leather jacket on and tugging the collar into place. It was always chilly in Muir Woods. Call it a side effect of being close to the sea. “Remember to tip the pizza delivery guy, and try to avoid anything getting stuck to the ceiling.”
“On it,” said May, with a brief salute. “You crazy kids have fun now.”
I didn’t have time to respond before Arden was stepping through the portal, grabbing my right wrist and hauling me with her. The world shifted, performing the dizzying dip and wheel that always seemed to accompany point-to-point transportation, especially when it involved moving between the mortal world and the Summerlands. I pulled away from Arden, bending forward to put my hands on my knees and breathe away the dizziness.
“Come on,” she said, making no effort to hide the urgency in her tone. “Get up, we have to hurry.”
“And I have to breathe, so hang on.” I pulled in a lungful of air. It went straight to my head, as Summerlands air often did. It was cleaner, purer than its mortal world equivalent: Faerie mostly skipped the industrial revolution, although we had our blacksmiths and tinkerers. Widespread air pollution just wasn’t a thing in the Summerlands. Sometimes I wondered if that was the cause of my dizziness when I made the transition. My body was still too human to deal easily with the lack of toxins.
Arden stayed nearby, shifting her weight from foot to foot in a way more reminiscent of the teens currently invading my home than of a Queen in her own Kingdom. Then again, Arden didn’t have much experience with Queenship, having been in the position for less than a year—ten months, at my last count. Prior to that, she’d been living a quiet mortal life, keeping her head down and concealing herself from the fae out of fear that she’d be assassinated or elf-shot by the imposter who was sitting on the throne that rightfully belonged to the Windermere line. Arden’s father, King Gilad Windermere, had never married, choosing to hide his consort and heirs for their own safety. I guess he’d assumed that he’d have time to claim them publicly, when they were old enough to deal with the slings and arrows of royal life.
It hadn’t worked out that way. He died, leaving them unprotected. Nolan had been elf-shot by the forces of the woman who was claiming to be Gilad’s rightful heir. And Arden had gone into hiding, where she’d remained until I tracked her down and dragged her, kicking and screaming, back to her birthright. She didn’t seem to be holding a grudge about that, but it was sort of hard to tell, given that since she’d taken the throne, she’d formally named me as a hero, sent me to act as a diplomatic attaché to a hostile neighboring Kingdom, and was now asking me to help her go against the wishes of the High King.
Okay, scratch that. She was definitely holding a grudge.
I took another breath, getting my balance back before I stood upright again. “Okay,” I said, tugging my leather jacket straight to cover the last of my dizziness. “Where are we going?”
“This way.” She spun on her heel and stalked deeper into the knowe, gesturing for me to follow.
Excerpted from Once Broken Faith © Seanan McGuire, 2016