The day Keenan Tomystikos turned eleven, her mother’s country went to war with her father’s. She spent her favorite day of the year in the basement of the alchemists’ cloister, hiding amidst bags of tin shards and ground allspice.
“Tell me the story again,” she whispered to Tamera in the dark. “My story. The story of my mother and the Fae.”
Tamera pulled her closer; Keenan was too tall now to fit on her knee, but she was determined to get as close as possible. “Once upon a time,” she began, “many years ago, the Fae were nothing but the shadowy monsters children whispered about around campfires. People knew, deep in their bones, that they were out there, but the doors by which they crossed from their world to ours were hidden, under hills and in the great clouds of fog sailors didn’t dare enter.”
“I’m a shadowy monster.” Keenan bared her teeth. “Grrr!”
Tamera laughed. “That changed,” she continued, “about a century ago. Great cracks opened in the hills, and the clouds of fog suddenly vanished. The borders of the Grey Realm opened.
“Still long ago, but not quite so long — about a dozen years ago — King William launched an expedition into the Grey Realm, to explore it as a realm of possible conquest. Never mind there were people already living there; that’s never mattered much to the British Empire. Accompanying them were the King’s own children: Crown Prince Albert, and Princess Calista.”
“And you were there too!”
“Yes, yes, don’t get ahead of me. I was there too. I wasn’t yet blind, in those days. I had just been named the Royal Head Alchemist, and I was eager to unlock the secrets of Fae magic. Albert was biting at the bit; he wanted a struggle for conquest. He wanted to lead the charge, to prove himself a warrior. Calista simply wanted adventure, but she got so much more than that. Midway through the expedition, they were joined by a native guide: a young Faerie of high birth named Jocosa. I think he was in love with Calista from the moment they saw each other, and she with him.”
Keenan made a face. “Ick.”
“You wanted to hear the story!”
“You don’t have to make it so mushy.”
“You’ll understand the feeling one day. Can I go on with the story?”
“Yes, yes. Go on with the story.”
“No more interruptions. Anyway,” Tamera continued, “yes, Calista and Jocosa fell in love. They talked of marrying. Political marriages, unions of nations, are common enough for princesses — Calista supposed she would have one anyway. Who, other than perhaps her bloodthirsty brother, would turn down the chance to unite universes? It seemed like a sure thing.
“They were not married, however, when Calista fell pregnant. She hadn’t even proposed the idea to the King. She panicked. And with good reason — it was a fine bloody mess when her brother found out, I don’t mind telling you that.”
A bell tolled faraway. Keenan buried her face in Tamera’s chest, clutching her skirts. Tamera stroked her hair as she continued the story. “Panic was not all she felt, though. She had hope, too. She still believed she might marry Jocosa — or any Fae noble, really, anyone who could make her child a legitimate prince or princess. She thought the very life of a prince or princess born of two bloods would be a peacemaking force, a catalyst for positive change.
“But that hope soon died. A cloud of greed covered Britain — greed, plus fear and disgust and all those things that mix to form bigotry. Those two things so often mix, and the results are never pretty. The British were no longer content that our Sun should never set on their Empire; now they wanted the Fae sun, too. Calista was brought home, as an expedition became an invasion. Her baby was born in secret: a daughter, largely human in appearance, but with the copper skin and gemstone eyes of the Fae. The King was displeased. Calista feared she might have to flee her father, to save her child’s life.”
Keenan looked up. “You’re changing the story.”
“I’m adding to it. I’m telling you the parts I never told you.”
“Because, Keenan, I think it’s time you understood who you truly are, as more than just a bedtime story. Listen, now.
“Calista’s fears were never realized, thank the Most High. The King wanted Keenan — the little girl’s name, chosen by Jocosa — kept close by. He wanted her out of royal life, but royal eyes on her as she grew. He offered the job of raising her to stablehands and blacksmiths, but it was an alchemist who accepted.”
“Why is he watching me?” Keenan asked in a tiny voice. “Am I dangerous?”
“You could be. He fears the same thing most kings fear of their illegitimate descendants: that you will try to take his throne. That you will turn the Country over to the Fae.”
“Is that why we’re hiding? Does the King want to hurt me?”
Tamera hesitated. “Yes, that is why we’re hiding” she sighed after a moment. “I can’t answer your second question. I don’t know if the King wants to take you away. I don’t know if…I don’t know if he wants to hurt you, to kill you.” She pulled Keenan into a tighter embrace. “But he isn’t going to. Do you hear me? No one is going to hurt you. Not while I’m alive, and Frost, and Taulman. If anyone wants to take you away, they’ll have all of us to get through first.”
The bell kept on tolling.
The day Keenan Tomystikos turned fifteen, she boarded a wagon train to the Grey Realm. It left from the farmlands miles outside London, in the middle of the night. The newly-forged cuff around Keenan’s wrist weighed her down; she wondered if she would ever get used to it. Iron, to dull her magic. Soften her heightened Fae senses. Make it harder for her to skinshift, to become someone else. She had made herself into a young boy for the journey — safer that way, Tamera said — and after only hours she had a headache. The thought of not being able to maintain the shape until they arrived in the Grey scared her. Skinshifting was a common thing in the Fae lands, an open defiance of the King’s attempts to colonize away their magic, but in England it was a crime.
“You have everything?” Tamera asked her for the third time.
She nodded. She carried all that she could fit in a trunk; clutched to her chest was a thick sheaf of papers — all her important identifying information, of course, things she would need to travel. (She wondered why she needed it, now that everything that really needed to be known about her was stamped into her cuff. Keenan Tomystikos, her name. Spring [Date Unknown], 1822; her birthday was a secret known only to her royal relatives, Tamera, and herself — in the streets of London, she passed herself off as an orphan rather than a bastard — but anyone could tell she was fifteen or thereabouts. Half-Blood.) There were other things, too: alchemy books missing their covers. Some revolutionary pamphlets, well-hidden. Years’ worth of letters from her mother. A letter from Tamera that she hadn’t opened yet, full of advice on what to do when she reached the Grey. Letters from her father, only a few; he hadn’t been writing as long as her mother. He hadn’t known where to find her.
“You’ll be okay, won’t you?” she asked. “The King isn’t going to come after you for helping me escape?”
Tamera smirked. “Once I tell Calista that her own brother tried to arrange for you to take a fall from the cloister’s roof? I think he’ll be too concerned for his own safety to come after anybody.” She shook her head. “An assassination attempt the day after his coronation. I can’t believe…. He must be truly afraid that you will try to take the throne. Even more than his father was.”
The papers dropping to her side, Keenan threw her free arm around Tamera’s neck. “I’m scared,” she said quietly. “I don’t want to go. I know I can’t stay, but I’m just as scared to go.”
You’ll come back. I promise you, you’ll come back, and soon. You’ll have to, when you come of age — the Choice, you know. You’ll have to return to England, either to swear loyalty to the Crown or to declare that you won’t. I know it seems a long time to you, but three years will pass in the blink of an eye.”
“And then what?”
Tamera sighed. “I’m afraid things are never going to go back to the way they were. You could return to the Grey, if you chose, and live out your life as a Fae warrior. Or live a perfectly ordinary life in London.
“Or you could return. Stand up to the King. You wouldn’t be the first royal bastard to demand the respect that’s your birthright.
“You’ll be grown then, Keenan. That choice will be yours to make.” She hugged her tighter. She smelled of magic. “All heroes,” she reminded her, “have to go on a journey at some time in their lives. To find out who they are. Who they want to be.”
Keenan pressed her face into Tamera’s shoulder. Hot tears ran down her face, in shocking contrast to the chill of the air. Tamera stepped back, running her hands over Keenan’s face. “Tell me what you look like, one more time. I want to remember.”
“I look like Calista.” It was the first time she’d admitted it aloud. “I look just like her, only my skin is dark and my eyes are green. A kind of green that doesn’t happen in humans. Like peridots. My hair’s so thick you could get lost in it —”
“That, I can tell.”
“And I’m getting taller. I’ve grown an inch already this year. I’m going to be six feet, I think.”
“I can tell that, too. It wouldn’t surprise me if you did.”
The wagon train’s driver called loudly for final passengers.
Tamera sighed heavily. “It’s time to go, my sweet one. It’s time.”
The day Keenan Tomystikos turned eighteen, she woke in the upper room of the Dragon’s Claw Tavern, a cramped space with books and inkwells stacked on every surface. Lying beside her, chest rising and falling in the rhythms of sleep, was Aki. Aki couldn’t shift, but she was a woman of many faces nonetheless: a tavern-keeper, a subversive writer, a female husband. Keenan’s husband, as it were.
Keenan ran her fingers through the other girl’s hair, whispering to her in the dark. “Once upon a time, there was a girl with dangerous gifts, born of two worlds. The princess of a kingdom without a name. A daughter of war. A demigod of the first generation.
“This girl had a boy’s name: Keenan. Keenan FitzClarence Tomystikos. Tomystikos, because her father was Jocosa Tomystikos, who is a general in the Grey Realm now; he wasn’t a general when he became her father, but he is now. FitzClarence, because her mother was Princess Calista of the House of Clarence, but her Clarence heritage was seen as lesser for being illegitimate. The most powerful man in the land feared her; he feared she would take what he thought was given him by God. He watched her closely, and when she grew up, he tried to kill her.
“She ran away. She ran to the other world that she belonged to, the Grey Realm, and found refuge there. Refuge, but never a home. That place was as much, and no more, her home than Britain had been.”
Aki stirred beside her. She groaned softly, and mumbled, “What are you talking about, koibito?”
“I’m telling a story.”
“Mmm.” She nuzzled her head in the crook of Keenan’s neck. “What kind of story is it?”
“A story Tamera used to tell me, about a girl who might have been a princess.”
“How does the story end?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t ended yet. I think it’s closer to ending than it was when Tamera told it, though.” She sat up and stretched.
Aki sat up, too, rubbing her bare shoulders. “You should get up,” she said softly. “Get dressed. You have a party to crash tonight.”
“I’m not crashing it.” She tapped the envelope on the nightstand, with its elaborate wax seal, with one finger. “I was invited.”
“Invitation or no, I’m sure you’ll cause quite a stir.”
“Oh, there’s no doubt.” Keenan swung her legs over the side of the bed, and stretched once more before she stood. “Tamera will be happy to see me, and I’m just thrilled about seeing her. I haven’t talked to her properly — in person — since I left the cloister. God, that was three years ago. I haven’t talked to her in three years.” Her face clouded. “And I’ll meet Calista, finally. I’ve never talked to her in person. Imagine that: I’m eighteen years old, and I’m only now meeting my mother. That, I’m not quite thrilled about.”
“I’m sure there’s a lot you aren’t thrilled about.” She took Keenan’s hand, placing it on her own wrist. Keenan ran her fingers over the letters stamped into her cuff. Aki Kawaguchi (Kawaguchi Aki, properly, but the British were so determined to make everyone else fit into their way of doing things). 12 December, 1820. Quarter-Blood. “I can’t shift anymore,” she said softly, “you know that. I can’t do much magic at all anymore. It’s a cruel irony, isn’t it? I make the Halfbreed’s Choice, and I lose my magic just after.” She sighed. “Not that it matters much to me. I refused to swear loyalty to the King as a statement, that’s all. They made me Fae under the law, but I think I’m human in every way that counts.” Aki ran her hands through her boy-short hair. “I’m sorry. I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
“I think I’m just as nervous as you.”
“Somehow I strongly doubt that.” As if on cue, a fearful pain shot through her stomach. “Oh, God, Aki, I don’t want to do this. I wish I could just…just run back to the Grey Land, where there’s no such thing as the Halfbreed’s Choice.”
“What’s stopping you?”
Keenan leaned her head on Aki’s shoulder. “You are,” she said. “If I left now, I wouldn’t be able to return. I’d be tracked down as a dissenter, if I did. I don’t want to leave you.”
Aki kissed her cheek. “I want you to be happy, koibito. That’s the most important thing. But, I don’t want you to leave, either. I want you to stay — forever, if you can.”
Keenan put her head in her hands. “I’m not so much scared of one choice or the other,” she said. “I’m scared of choosing. I’ve always had one foot in two worlds, Aki. Royal and commoner. Fae and human. Woman and man. The thought of being one or the other, forever…I can’t imagine it.”
“I know.” She squeezed her hand. “Tonight is the first step. Revealing your heritage publicly will make an impact, no matter what choice you make. If you choose to be English, you can seek power, and with power you can change things for the better. And if you choose to be Fae, you’ll inspire us all. You can spark a revolution from the streets up, or from the crown down. Yes, you have one foot in two worlds, Keenan, and that’s just where your power lies.”
The word came to mind again: catalyst.
Keenan rose. Her shirt hung over the back of her chair; she took it, slipped her arms in and began to button it, glancing over the scattered papers on Aki’s desk. “Can we expect another pamphlet from you soon?”
“Soon enough. My creativity is running a bit dry at the moment.”
“It’ll come back. Your creativity always does.” She finished dressing, tucking her hair under her cap. “Speaking of which….”
“Oh, of course.” Aki went to her desk. She rifled through the papers, staining her fingers with ink before she came to the one she sought. “I’m not confident in your ability to memorize this before evening, but….”
“I won’t need to. I’ll write it on my wrist, so it’s there the moment I trip up.” Aki handed her the paper, and she tucked it into her pocket. “If I ever become a Member of Parliament, or a viscountess, or something, I’ll make you my official speechwriter. I’ll keep you around all the time, to give me words whenever I need them. It isn’t like you ever run out.”
Aki flashed her a grin. “You’ll even have a key to my chambers, in case you need advice quite urgently in the middle of the night.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll often need advice in the middle of the night.” Keenan pulled Aki to her, and kissed her deeply. “When you see me again, I’ll be a new person. I don’t know who I’ll be, but —”
Aki cut her off with another kiss. “I love you. You know that. I’ll love whoever you become — don’t forget that.” She squeezed Keenan’s hand again, fidgeting with the ring on her third finger; she’d given her the ring the night before, a silver thing with a Fae stone the color of violets. “Go, now. You have other people to celebrate with, and a speech to memorize, and a party to attend, and a kingdom to shake to its core.”
“I have a story to end.”
Aki nodded. “Here’s my wisdom as a writer: you can’t write the beginning of your story. You can’t write your own once upon a time.
“You can write your own ending. Now, go, and write a happy one.”
Hailing from the Atlanta area, currently a full-time student at the University of West Georgia, K. Noel Moore is the author of a novella, Undertown, and short fiction forthcoming in Vulture Bones and X-R-A-Y. She knows in her heart that she is at least part Faerie. You can find her tweeting @mysterioustales, or blogging at theoutlawwrites.tumblr.com.