It was all kind of an accident.
I worked as the Winter Knight for a while and used the power given to me for my own work as well as the tasks Mab lined up for me. With the mantle upon me mixed with my own reputation for being unable to turn away those in need, I became the sort of person people came to with their problems.
Not just people. Creatures of the Nevernever who didn't have a Court to go to for help sought me out. Apparently the Knight Dresden was said to be as kind as he was tall, and I am pretty tall. Being a liason of the Winter Court gave me more respect for the lesser Fae, who just wanted to follow their nature. They were the working Joes of the Nevernever, and I could relate to that.
It snuck up on me. I always offered aid where I could. A few months into my tenure, I got a tip from Toot-toot about some other pixies who'd been captured in a circle by a warlock and left there, trapped. I went, had a few words with the mage, and released the faeries. No big deal.
So a few took to following me around afterward. Nothing to worry about. They stayed out of the way and sometimes warned me of nearby dangers. I got used to a few tiny pixies circling me or napping in my robes and hair, little warm motes of light.
Maeve once caught me at an Accords meeting talking to them and gave me a venomous, inhumanely pissed look I didn't understand. But I rarely understood Maeve's moods anyway.
Toot-toot got bigger. I traveled in a cloud of sparkling pixies. Mouse made friends with some Winter Hounds that I found would come when I called. Some trolls living under one of Chicago's drawbridges left town just because I asked.
I had dinner in the Erlking's hall and he laughed in a rumbling basso, warning me, "You upset balances, little Knight."
Then, a year into my Knighthood, I was fighting a hoard of demons alongside Kincaid and Ivy, and I called on Toot-toot. He brought the cavalry, a platoon of Wyldfae who I protected or helped at some point, and we vanquished evil and saved the day. Business as usual.
Ivy gave me a long, unreadable look afterward. "They are not of Winter."
"No," I confirmed. "Just some friends of mine."
She tilted her head and stared at me. "I see. Be careful, Knight."
That year, the winter was mild, moreso than any Chicago winter I could recall. I thought it was just my new icy imperviousness, but by January we still hadn't gotten any snow.
I didn't connect it to my actions. Why would I?
Like I said. It was all kind of an accident.
"You're firing me?!"
My Queen tapped her icicle nails against the frozen throne she sat upon. "I am releasing you from your servitude. I have selected a new Knight."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Why? What'd your game, Mab?"
She shook her head. "Knight, you excelled in your work. A Queen could not hope for a stronger, more valiant champion. Perhaps too valiant, though."
"I don't get it. You hounded me for years. Now you don't want me?"
"You wield your power too well. Every task I give you, you accomplish. And yet, you fight on, taking many broken birds under your wing. You garner loyalty. The precarious balance between ice and fire teeters."
The last time the balance was threatened, I had to stop a war between Summer and Winter in the Chicago in the clouds. Yikes.
"So... I can go?"
Mab smiled, then ripped the power of Winter from my magic, and threw me out of Faerie.
I lay on the shore of Lake Michigan, weak and soaked through, feeling the cold for the first time in a year, reeling. There was a huge gap in my spirit where cruel ice had been. I couldn't get my head together in its sudden absence.
I shivered and curled up, coughing weakly as I got myself together. Around me, my entourage of pixies swirled, humming unhappily.
"Hey," I croaked. "I'm not the Knight anymore, guys. You can go."
They didn't though. Many glowed brighter and floated down to lay over my skin, radiating heat and keeping me warm.
Curious thing about the Fae. If you take something from them, they expect payment. And the opposite is true; if they take something from you, they need to repay you. But I never asked for any gifts from the Wyldfae I helped. With no other way to even their debt, they gave me their favor.
I lost my mantle, but I hadn't lost them. Their favor was not with the Winter Knight but with me, Harry Dresden, somewhat short-sighted wizard.
I sat in the kitchen of a Knight of the Cross, drinking tea and breaking apart a shortbread cookie into tiny pieces. I took the pieces and put them in my hand, holding them out for the faeries to snag and munch on.
Murphy watched me curiously. "So they just... hang out with you."
I shrugged. "I'm used to it. Must be leftover Winter mojo. A lot of them I saved from one monster or another. I guess they figure they're safer around me."
She smirked. "Harry Dresden, big ol' faerie."
"Ha ha," I said sardonically, not really thinking anything of it.
It took another run-in with Ivy for me to really pay attention to what was going on. She was in town for an Accords meeting and asked me to cover for Kincaid as he was busy on another job.
Ivy looked me up and down and nodded. "As I expected."
"What's that, kid?"
She waved to the pixies following me. A few had grown since they first began nesting in me like I was some overgrown tree. If you leaned close, you could see the light motes on my shoulders and head had vague humanoid shapes, a bunch of little people relaxing amid my clothes. It was hardly the weirdest thing to happen in my life, so I didn't worry about it.
Ivy, though, said, "You have a connection to the unaffiliated fae. No wonder the balance between the Courts began to tip. You're growing too powerful."
I laughed. "It's just a few pixies, Ivy."
She shook her head, smiling ruefully. "We'll see."
Weird things began to happen. I caught frisbee with Mouse in the park and a few Hounds leaped out of the Nevernever to play along. I woke up some mornings to little bundles of rare herbs tied with ribbon on my kitchen table, great potion ingredients. I stopped having to invite Toot-toot over my threshold for him to enter my house (he was huge, nearing three foot). When I needed help on cases or Warden investigations, one of my pixies always knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who could totally help out. More Fae got referred to me, and not just pixies. Beings that weren't lesser Fae, but were by no means Sidhe.
I helped when I could. A lot of things ended up living in my tiny brownstone. Some former Summer Fae tended to the windowbox and kept my fireplace going. The refugee Winter Fae made sure my icebox never defrosted and kept my place spotless. I started to like having my little group of Wyldfae around, supporting me in my day to day.
"It is quite unusual," Marcone pointed out during one of our more civil conversations. One of my pixies was investigating him, floating around his body and flashing whenever she found a weapon. She flashed a lot before flying up and sitting on Marcone's nose.
Marcone's eyes crossed to look at the purple light resting on him and I chuckled at the sight. "Yeah, but kind of neat, right?"
"I have attended soirees of the Unseelie Court. Many Sidhe experience this. But I've never seen it happen to a human, I must say."
I tipped a grin at him. "Jealous they don't like you best, John?"
"No," he replied coolly. "You look like you're being stalked by lightning bugs. It's ridiculous."
"Jeeeealous," I sing-songed at him, getting an eye-roll from the Baron.
When Mab and Titania got into a slapfight, I was the last to know it. I heard from my hairdresser weeks later.
Thomas had closed the shop for the night and shed the French gay charade to give me a trim. He'd actually gotten pretty good over time and set to making me look less like a shaggy dog.
"It was a big part of the last Accords meeting," he told me. "How did you miss that?"
I shrugged, and Thomas bapped my upside the head for moving. "I'm not best friends with any of the Signatories and I don't have to sit in anymore."
Thomas sighed and waved a few pixies away. "Guys, out of the way or I'll break out the cold iron," he told them.
"Hey!" I turned to glare at him. At the same time, I pulled open a fold of my new duster and my pixies rushed in to hid amid the leather. "Don't threaten them, they're just curious."
Thomas gave me the weirdest look, jaw dropping a little. "Okaaaay. Question, Harry."
"Seeing as you're kind of the guardian of the Wyldfae now, how the hell did you not know about the brouhaha in Faerie?"
That was a very good question.
I found Toot-toot in my kitchen, eating a slice of pizza and watching some elves and goblins play... Hell's bells, it looked like they were playing Arcanos, rolling d20s and talking excitedly in low voices.
"Toot-toot," I said, walking over to lean on the counter where he was perched.
"Watching game, Lord."
"Yeah, since when did you guys do that?"
"Peaseblossom and Elidee saw you play this wondrous game with the hound-humans." He got to the cheesy crust of the pizza and folded it in half before shoving the whole lot in his mouth. He was tall enough to look like a giant Troll doll, but that just meant he was learning to call the pizza place himself. I'd be fine with it if Toot also understood human currency and the concept of paying the poor confused delivery guys.
"Hey, you heard about the throwdown with Summer and Winter a few weeks back?" Toot-toot bobbed his head yes, still watching the game. "Well, what happened there? I thought you'd get called to pick a side in major conflicts?"
"We did Choose, Lord."
"Did I miss that? Because as I remember it, while this was all going down, you were with me and Molly. Helping the Changelings get free of that Sidhe bitch?"
Again, Toot nodded. I growled. "Don't make me ask three times. Or take your pizza away."
He snapped to attention. "Za Lord, we Choose Harry Dresden, Lord."
I blinked. "Come again?"
Toot shrugged. "Many Fae would Choose you over the Queens of Ice and Fire."
"I..." I looked around. Fae were all over the place, lounging around, making dinner for the household in the kitchen, telling stories around the fire, a few cobbs mending a tear in my jeans-- Stars and stones, when had this happened? "Okay, I get that I let you guys stay here, but this isn't like a Court or anything."
Toot gave me a long, hard look. Then got up, put the pizza down (holy crap), and tore a hole between this world and the Nevernever.
I followed him through, and found myself in an open glade that had been turned into a Fae campsite of some kind. Fires burned, surrounded by big Fae, talking and laughing in booming voices. A few orges were stacking stone and wood together, building a little house as pixies flew around, instructing them. In a nearby pool, some kelpies swam laps, singing burbling songs.
One of the house-building orges dropped the boulder he was carrying and waved to me.
I looked around. "Empty night, I'm in trouble."
I called the only lawyer-type guy I knew who had a working knowledge of the supernatural.
"Want me to owe you a favor?"
"Oh, always, Mr. Dresden," Marcone purred over the line. "What do you need?"
"Can you come over to my place? I need some legal consultation."
Marcone stepped into my brownstone and was visibly taken aback by the crowded state of my home. "You've become a den mother for the Fae."
"I have more in the Nevernever," I told him. "What the hell do I do with this?"
He arched an eyebrow at me. "I assume your rigid morals prevent you from making some sort of profit on them?"
"I thought they were just a bunch of pizza-eating freeloaders. Now I'm... they call me Lord and help me out on the job and check this out," I went over to the windowbox and placed my hand on a spare bit of soil. "Floris, floris auctus."
I lifted my hand and a bottle blue forget-me-not pushed out of the dirt as we watched. I pointed at it. "I could not do that a month ago."
Marcone looked around, taking it all in. "You're a Sidhe lord."
"I'm a mortal wizard, scumbag."
He waved a hand. "I don't mean-- you have all the trappings of such a being. You have Fae allied to you and your power is growing due to their belief in you. You are as close to Sidhe as a human could be."
I boggled a bit. Just rescuing a few lost pixies had lead to this? "What should I do?"
"There is hardly precedence for this, Mr. Dresden." He smiled slightly. "I would advise you to cultivate this. You may not become so powerful a being as the Erlking, but there is no doubt you are on that path. Perhaps have your faeries swear fealty to you, something concrete."
I grimaced. "No thanks. If they want to... do all this, okay, but I'm not going to force them into anything. If they want to leave, they can leave."
Marcone sighed. "Such an opportunity is wasted on you."
"Knew you were jealous." A thought occurred to me. "You're not going to come at me now, are you?"
"Unlikely. If they are not sworn to you, I cannot take them by right of conquest. Simply stay out of my way and don't hurt my city."
"Tell the truth, John, you've always wanted to be a Faerie Queen. Like how little girls all want a pony. It sets your maiden heart aflutter."
Marcone chuckled, shaking his head. "Well, your majesty," he said sarcastically, "I have other things to attend to."
"Yeah, I figured. Thanks."
"Don't thank me. You owe me a favor now, Harry." He went to the door, then stopped. "One last piece of advice for you: read up on the Accords."
"I'm not a part of them."
"Not yet," he corrected, and left.
The annoying thing about Marcone was that he tended to be right.
A fomor sorcerer apparently heard about my little den of Wyldfae and wanted that nexus of power for his own.
I lost several good Fae that day. My Fae. An ogre died shielding me from a blast of water magic that would have killed me if it connected, and I kind of lost it, breaking out a spell I didn't normally toss around. Starts with p, ends with yrofuego.
I'd been upset.
I called up Marcone afterward and said, "Want another favor?"
Marcone, Ivy, and Donar Vadderung were my co-signatories, making it legal for me to add myself as a Free-holding Lord. Marcone already had claim to Chicago itself as his domain, but generously decreed that me and my followers could stay in his city. So, three favors. Great. Judging by Marcone's pleased grin, he knew it too.
Once it was all nice and official, I went to explain things to my subjects (stars, that was weird). I gathered everyone in the calm, homey scrap of Nevernever that existed on the flip-side of my house. They had a miniature village going there. It was so goddamn weird.
One troll picked me up and set me on one of the houses so I could see everyone. "Okay, so. Um." I waved. A bunch of Fae waved back. Weird. "I've signed onto the Unseelie Accords. I'm Baronet, apparently. But just call me Harry or whatever you want."
There was a resounding cheer across the crowd.
"This bit of Nevernever is ours, but Chicago still belongs to Marcone. We're guests and I owe him for this, so if he asks something of you and you want to help, go for it. Unless it's drugs or murder or something--" I shook my head. "Use your judgement. Do... warm things when you can, that's all I ask. If you want this to be home, that's fine by me. You can leave whenever you like. You can bring more Fae in too if you have friends in the other Courts. You're all welcome, so long as you play nicely. I'm a signatory now, so if you do bad-- cold things, I have to answer for you. So don't, all right?"
I rubbed the back of my neck sheepishly. "That's all, I think."
It was by no means a good speech, but I hadn't exactly practiced, had I?
So I sat at my first Accords meeting between Marcone and Ivy, watching Mab glare icy daggers at me across the table. Titania had shown up as well, and looked equally pissed at me. I guess their people were jumping ship to me. So long as things were balanced, I didn't mind.
Ivy started giggling quietly as Elidee and some of my pixie entourage made friendly with her, pulling her blonde hair back, weaving it into a delicate French braid. I felt Marcone lean over to watch, looking fondly at the Archive, as he always did. I nudged him and gave him a private look, which he returned with a faint smile. The Baron of Chicago, secretly a big kid-loving softie.
"Baronet Dresden, have you anything to add to the record?"
I jumped and looked around. "Um... What?"
"Tithing regulations," Marcone whispered helpfully.
"Oh. I don't do tithing, so no opinion." Everyone murmured at my answer, surprise flitting through the room.
"You are a singular man, Baronet," Marcone whispered to me.
"Don't I know it."