Hundreds of years ago, the Selkies made a deal with the sea witch: they would have the sea for as long as she allowed it, and when the time came, she would call in all their debts at once. Many people assumed that day would never come. Those people were wrong.
When the Luidaeg--October "Toby" Daye's oldest and most dangerous ally--tells her the time has come for the Selkies to fulfill their side of the bargain, and that Toby must be a part of the process, Toby can't refuse. Literally. The Selkies aren't the only ones in debt to the Luidaeg, and Toby has to pay what she owes like anyone else. They will travel to the fabled Duchy of Ships and call a convocation of the Selkies, telling them to come and meet the Luidaeg's price...or face the consequences.
Of course, nothing is that simple. When Dianda Lorden's brother appears to arrest Dianda for treason against the Undersea, when a Selkie woman is stripped of her skin and then murdered, when everything is falling apart, that's when Toby will have to answer the real question of the hour.
Is she going to sink? Or is she going to swim?
About the Author
You can visit her at www.seananmcguire.com.
Read an Excerpt
March 8th, 2014
What's the unkindest tide?
-William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Some people believe the rise of the cell phone-and the associated rise of the cell phone camera-must have been a boon for the private detective. After all, when your camera isn't just handheld, but is also attached to a personal communication device, it seems like it should be easier to surreptitiously photograph people doing things they aren't supposed to do. Like cheating on their spouses, or money laundering, or trying to violate the terms of their custody agreements. All those charming, frustrating little ways that people like to break the rules, captured for the courts with a single press of a button. No fuss, no muss, no need to get anything developed. Swell, right?
Not so much. The trouble is, cell phone cameras have a long way to go before they'll match the capabilities of a good zoom lens or long-distance rig, much less exceed them-and that's where I have a problem. I still need my good lenses, but the more ubiquitous cell phones become, the more your classic camera stands out to the curious bystander. I used to be able to wander around with my trusty Canon slung around my neck and be confident that anyone who saw me would take me for a tourist. Not anymore. These days, people notice. People talk.
Some days I wind up taking lots of pictures of flowers and graffiti and showing them to anyone who seems too interested. It deflects suspicion, and it's surprisingly soothing, even if I'm not going to get a gallery show any time soon. More often, I use some of my precious magic to hide my camera behind a veil of illusion. It makes me look like some sort of bizarre mime whenever I take a picture, but somehow, this is less obviously weird, at least in San Francisco.
Humans are strange.
I'd been following a man around the city with my veiled camera for three days, trying to get pictures of him meeting with a group of "investors" who were planning to use underhanded means to buy shares in his company. I didn't fully understand why they didn't just call their stockbrokers, but the man who'd hired me was the first man's business partner, and he was paying me well for my time and expertise. I don't question the check, as long as it cashes.
I used to be a more or less full-time private detective. These days, knight errantry eats up a lot of time, leaving me with curtailed work hours. Knight errantry also doesn't pay, not when you're talking cash money, and I'd jumped at the chance to pad my bank account back to something resembling normal. I have a lot of mouths to feed at home, and that doesn't even go into the cost of veterinary cat food for my two geriatric Siamese.
My patience had paid off. Patience so often does. After three days, several near misses, and two false positions, it had all come together in a photo opportunity so perfect that I'd checked to make sure it wasn't being staged. I'd captured the pictures my client wanted without being seen by my target, and had dropped off the film in exchange for a lovely check, complete with hefty bonus. Not too bad for half a week's work.
Depositing the check had been quick and easy and best of all, gave me an excuse to pick up burritos from my favorite taqueria. The scent of them filled the car, making me drive a little faster. Burritos are best when they're hot, and I wanted to get these home to my family before they had a chance to cool.
Home. Family. Two words I used to think would never apply to me again, which just goes to show how much things can change. Sometimes they even change for the better.
My name is October Daye. I'm a changeling, which is a fancy way of saying "one of my parents was human, and one of them wasn't." It sounds simple. It's not. Being a changeling means never really knowing where you belong. It means always feeling like you're standing on the outside of two worlds, unable to commit to being a part of either one, equally unable to walk away.
It's even more complicated in my case. I was raised thinking I was half Daoine Sidhe on my mother's side, making me a descendant of Titania. Well, it turns out my mother, Amandine the Liar, is actually the daughter of Oberon himself. She's Firstborn, and I'm . . .
I'm not completely new, but I'm not all that old, either. There are only three of my kind of fae in all of Faerie. We're called the D—chas Sidhe. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that means.
To add another fun little wrinkle, my mother's mother is a human woman, Janet Carter. Yes, that Janet, the one whose interference with Maeve's final Ride led to the Winter Queen's disappearance and changed the course of Faerie forever. So that's something fun for me to live with. Janet is still alive, by the way. She married my ex-fianc after I disappeared for fourteen years. My daughter Gillian calls her "Mom."
My family tree has a lot of thorns, and a tendency to draw blood.
Being a changeling usually also means living on the fringes of Faerie's political structure, since the fact that we're mortal is seen as a sign of weakness. Again, things are different for me. Duke Sylvester Torquill of Shadowed Hills stepped in as my protector and patron while I was still a child. Thanks to him, when I got tired of living on the streets with the rest of the changeling kids, I had someone to back me up and take care of me. Under his protection, and after I'd discovered a new knowe for the then-Queen of the Mists, I'd been able to study for and eventually achieve my knighthood-something that was almost unthinkable for a changeling, even one with my bloodline.
Being a knight gave me a place in the Courts. It was a low place, sure, and many people regarded it as scarcely better than being treated like a particularly clever pet, but it had been enough to give me something to hold onto. I'm surprisingly difficult to shake once I have something to hold onto.
I started as a knight, became a knight errant-sort of a fancy way of saying "odd jobs person for the fae courts of the San Francisco Bay area"-deposed an illegitimate monarch, and helped the true ruler of the Mists claim her family's throne. It was a lot of work, and resulted in my being named a hero of the realm, which is sort of like being a knight errant, only more so. Heroes of the realm protect people.
And I have people to protect. Somewhere along the way, despite everything, I found my people. I have a squire. I have a Fetch. I have a man I love, who wants to marry me. I have a family, and they were all waiting for me to get home with dinner.
I drove a little faster.
The past three months hadn't been perfect, but they'd been surprisingly peaceful, despite presenting their own unique challenges. Gillian-who had been born a thin-blooded changeling and then turned completely human in order to save her from a painful, elf-shot-induced death-was finally part of Faerie. I'd been resigned to the possibility that I'd never see my daughter again, that one day I'd have to add her grave to the list of those I visited regularly, decking them with rosemary and rue.
Only it hadn't worked out that way. One of my old enemies, the false Queen of the Mists, had arranged for the kidnapping of my only child, and had nearly killed her by jamming an arrow dipped in elf-shot into her shoulder. Elf-shot is always fatal to humans. Gilly should have died. Gilly would have died if Tybalt hadn't reached her before the poison could stop her heart. He'd carried her onto the Shadow Roads, which are only accessible to the Cait Sidhe, and from there to the Luidaeg, the sea witch of legend, and my mother's sister.
Like I said, my family is complicated.
The Luidaeg had been able to give Gillian a chance to survive. She'd draped my daughter in a Selkie's skin, chasing the mortality from her bones for at least a hundred years. Most Selkies don't keep their skins that long, but in Gilly's case . . .
The elf-shot would linger in her system for a century. That's what elf-shot was designed to do. It puts purebloods to sleep, and it keeps them that way until the world changes around them, becoming something alien and strange. If Gilly set her sealskin aside before the poison faded, she would die. Her humanity was the price of staying alive. It was seeing her father, her friends, everyone she'd ever cared about grow old and die while she continued on. She'd chosen to be human when I gave her the Changeling's Choice, and then the false Queen and the Luidaeg had taken that away from her, one out of malice and one out of mercy, and I had to wonder whether she'd ever forgive any of us.
I haven't spoken to her since the day she woke up and realized her life had changed forever. I promised to give her whatever space she needed, to let her be the one to come to me. But really, I don't know what to say. "I'm sorry I saved your life" is a lie. So is "It's better to be fae." And "I didn't want this for you" just might be the biggest lie of all. Of course, I wanted this-or something like it. She's my daughter. I want her with me.
But I'm not the mother she reaches for when she's scared, or lost, or lonely. That honor goes to my own grandmother, Janet Carter, who stepped in and raised my child when Faerie conspired to take me away from her for fourteen years.
Sometimes I hate my biological family. Maybe that's why I've worked so hard to build myself a new one.
It was simultaneously late enough and early enough that traffic was light. The Market District was closed for the evening, sending its burden of businesspeople and their support staff scurrying back to their safe, secure homes, while the bars and clubs downtown had yet to hit their full swing. I passed Dolores Park and pulled into the driveway of my old Victorian-style house in nearly record time. The kitchen lights were on. I turned off the car, opened the door, and was accosted by the sound of classic rock blasting through the open window. May was singing along as Journey asserted the need to continue to believe. May, like me, can't carry a tune in a bucket. The effect was surprisingly charming. It said "you're safe here." It said "nothing is currently wrong."
It said "welcome home."
Since there were people home, the wards weren't set; all I needed to get inside was my key. I stepped into the warm, bright kitchen, where my Fetch was dancing in front of the counter as she mixed a bowl of cookie dough. She turned and grinned at me.
"I hope you got extra burritos," she said. "We have extra mouths in residence."
I raised an eyebrow. "How many?"
"Dean and Raj."
I raised the other eyebrow. "Raj got away for the evening?"
May nodded. "Uh-huh. Gin told him part of kingship is being able to delegate every once in a while, so he's our problem until midnight. That's why I'm baking cookies. They're working that poor boy to the bone."
"That poor boy is going to be King of Cats; he signed up for this." I swiped a fingerful of cookie dough as I headed for the hall. May laughed and hit me with her mixing spoon, getting more dough on my wrist. I grinned and kept walking, sticking my wrist in my mouth to suck off the sugary goodness.
As my Fetch-technically retired, since Amandine broke the connection between us when she changed the balance of my blood to save my life-May and I used to be identical. Now, years and quests and changes later, we still look like sisters, but we're not twins anymore. Her face is the one I had when she was called into existence, soft and round and human in ways my own face has forgotten. Her eyes are a pale, misty gray, and her hair is the no-color brown that drives a thousand salon appointments, a color she's constantly at war with, covering it in streaks of blue and green and purple and, most recently, flaming orange. It makes her happy, and I like it when she's happy. After all, she's my sister in every way that counts.
Her live-in girlfriend, Jazz, was in the dining room, sitting at the table and clipping coupons out of an advertising circular. She tensed and looked up at the sound of my footsteps, golden eyes briefly widening before she relaxed and offered me a somewhat weary smile. "Hey, Toby," she said. "Need me to move?"
"Up to you." I held up the bag of burritos. "As soon as I crinkle the foil, we're going to have an invasion of teenage boys. Salsa may fly. Your coupons could get royally wrecked."
"Yes, but I'll have salsa, so I'll live."
I watched her gather her coupons as I set my bag down and unpacked its contents. Fortunately for my ability to eat my own dinner, I always make it a point to pick up a couple of extra burritos these days. My house contains between one and four teenagers at any given moment in time-more if Chelsea's over and has decided she needs one or more of Mitch and Stacy's daughters to save her from being outnumbered by the boys. If there's one thing fae and mortal teens absolutely have in common, it's the ability to eat more than should be physically possible. I once found Quentin absently gnawing on a stick of butter while he was doing his homework. It would be terrifying, if it wasn't so impressive.
Jazz is a Raven-maid, one of the few types of diurnal fae. She and May make it work, mostly by spending their mornings and evenings together, then each doing other things while the other is asleep. For Jazz, "other things" usually means running her small secondhand store in Berkeley, on the other side of the Bay. Recently, though . . .
Recently, it's mostly meant staying in the house with the doors and windows closed, steadfastly refusing to look outside and see the birds in flight. My mother broke something deep inside Jazz when she kidnapped her from what should have been the safety of her own home. It had been part of an effort to blackmail me into bringing back her eldest daughter, my missing sister, August. As usual, Amandine hadn't cared who might get hurt, as long as she got her way.