Catherynne M. Valente’s fantasy novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making broke the internet and then became a publishing sensation. Now the sixth and final Fairyland book is coming out, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home. And here’s an exclusive excerpt! This section is one of the “interludes” between the chapters in the book.
Interlude: Sisters Oughtn’t Keep Secrets
In Which Certain Ladies Make Their Own Way
Let us leave September to sleep for a little while. She has earned it—it’s ever so tiring to be suddenly in charge of a story when you have become quite accustomed to the story happening to you, rather than you happening to it. And besides, Kings and Queens are the most trying of people. There are far too many of them about for anyone’s comfort and peace of mind. Why, we have hardly gotten to catch our breath! Let us sit down together for a moment, and I shall pour you a glass of whatever you like best. You may hold my hand if you wish, I don’t mind. I shouldn’t want you to feel alone.
Now that we have made ourselves quite comfortable, I must tell you—we have forgotten about something important. I’m sure you did not mean to, and I certainly did not. It is only that so many exciting things have happened that we did not notice. Let us peer beneath the sofa cushions and beneath the bed for it. Let us jostle the curtains and lift up the tablecloth. We shall get ourselves into trouble if we do not find it. For this tale began in Nebraska, and we have not so much as glanced Omaha-way in ever so long. It is hard to remember to go knocking at a farmhouse door when so many palace doors await—but a door is a door, and a door is always an adventure.
In this particular farmhouse, which I expect you know nearly as well as I do by now, two women were standing in the kitchen. They looked terribly alike, as they always had, even as children. The same dark hair and dark eyes and fierce set of their jaws, just the same as September’s eyes and hair and jaw. Their names were Susan Jane and Margaret. They were sisters. And one of them had just said something very odd indeed. Margaret touched her sister’s cheek gently. She smiled, a smile that startled and teased and danced.
“Listen to me, Susie,” Aunt Margaret whispered, so that only they two could hear. “I know where September is.”
“How could you? Why wouldn’t you tell me at once?” said Susan Jane.
“Listen to me very carefully. Whatever I say, you must believe me, even if it sounds like the most ridiculous thing a person has said in the whole history of the world. Do you promise?”
“Yes,” said September’s mother.
Margaret found herself suddenly very afraid. There were words she had never said aloud to her sister before, or even to anyone in the state of Nebraska or the country of America. Words she knew weren’t safe to say, words more powerful than thunder. Aunt Margaret had led a life filled with secrets, and that is a very hard habit to break, even if you badly want to break it. So for a good while she said nothing, because she could not make herself say the thing she had kept hidden at the bottom of her heart for so long. Finally, she let a long breath out through her nose and wrestled her secret out into the little midnight kitchen.
“September is in a place called Fairyland. It’s very far away, farther away than any place you can think of, and then farther away still. It’s a storybook place. A place that’s met magic and shaken its hand. Now, I know this because . . . because I’ve been to Fairyland, too. All those times I said I was going to Paris or Turkey or Morocco or Mongolia? I’ve been lying up, down, and all around, Susie. Where would a woman like me get the money to visit Paris? No. I’ve never been to France. Never been to much of anywhere. Except this place. And I think you remember. I think you remember when I was little and I would run off into the woods and you couldn’t find me all day and into the night, even though you knew I’d run into the woods and the woods weren’t all that terribly big to begin with. I think you remember green shadows under the kitchen window, and the sound of a cat far bigger than ours purring at the door.”
“Fairyland. A real place called Fairyland.” And it seemed to Susan Jane that she did remember, a little. She did remember her sister whispering in the dark, chasing butterflies that weren’t butterflies at all, the shape of a man at the window in green jodhpurs and green snowshoes . . .
“Very, very real. The realest. The first time I went I was nine years old. A man all in green flew up to the second-story window in our old house on a flying leopard and said: You seem like a mad and mischievous enough child, how would you like to come away with me on the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the Tattersall Tundra that lies near the pole of Fairyland? And once he said it, I did feel mad and mischievous, and I did want to see what a Tattersall Tundra was, and I jumped out of that window as fast as you can say your own name.”
“Weren’t you afraid of a strange man at the window?”
“Well, I reasoned later that anyone who can win the love of a flying leopard has to be mostly all right. And he was. I rode on the back of a great arctic fox and wore trousers and fell in with the Tobogganeers, a band of snowy Stregas who keep their freezers stocked with magic. I learned to change myself into a polar bear and a manticore and a snow-scarab. And that was only the first time. I know it sounds mad but you promised to believe me. Time’s got its hat on funny over there, so I could play in Fairyland for months and still come home for dinner with new ribbons in my hair. Only it wasn’t play, exactly. I have another name when I’m there. I have a little house in the mountains. I’ve . . . done terrible things and I’ve done things so grand I wish I could throw a parade down Farnam Street in my own honor.”
“Has September done terrible things?”
“Oh, I’d imagine she has. And wonderful things. Fairyland has a weakness for the dramatic. I don’t know exactly; we’ve never been there at the same time. But I’ve heard her name whispered and hollered. I suspect she’s been there a few times by now. I know the look in her eye. It’s the look in my eye.”
“And is that why? Is that why September’s gone to this Fairyland, because you went? Did you take her there?”
“Oh no, Susie. That’s not how it works. Fairyland comes to you. I didn’t have a thing to do with it. It just happened that way. There’s . . . there’s a weak place in the world, I think. Near here. More people go through than you think. I used to always worry you’d stumble in somehow and I’d have to share. Oh, that’s terrible of me, I know, but all little girls are terrible, sometimes. Anyway, I always came back. September’s always come back, too, because you have to come back. Humans don’t much get to stay. They don’t even get to say when they come and go. Except me.”
Susan Jane looked at her sister as though she had never met the woman before. “Why you?”
Margaret smiled softly. A smile full of pride that didn’t want to seem proud. “I did Fairyland a favor once. I was rewarded.”
Aunt Margaret touched the ring on her right hand. It was an interlocking silver puzzle ring she’d brought back from Turkey when September was only little. It had four rings with ridges and engravings and patterns on them. If you turned and twisted them just right, they snapped together to become one single, complete ring.
“I promised I would believe you. I promised I would believe you.” Susan Jane said it a few more times, so that it would become true.
“Do you want to go to Fairyland, Susie? I should have asked you before, I know. Sisters oughtn’t keep secrets. Only it was such a good secret.”
“Oh yes,” breathed September’s mother.