When we were fifteen, Emma Lapham was on our crew team. I was the coxswain and she was our best oar. Her Anachole was a glossy little river otter who gamely paddled after us in sprints, but would chirrup with anxiety if we pulled too far ahead. At a meet after I’d known her three months, he was ruffled enough by my poor calls and lackluster steering (I was nursing my first hangover) to shout, “Oi, birdy, mind the turns!”
In point of fact, he was speaking to Ishihail, but I was so surprised I tumbled off the bow and cost us the race for good and all.
Anachole was the first daemon who'd spoken to us in ten years.
Improbably, Emma and I stayed friends, and when I was at Trinity (the first time), and she was at Oxford, she sent me rambling letters with mismatched sheets of paper, most often tugged out of study notebooks, marked up with burgundy-pink wine rings, theorems sketched in the margins and ruled pages ruffled on one side. We emailed, too, of course, but she likes longhand and I like checking the post.
Emma has a marmalade pixie cut and a constellation of liver-colored speckles drifting across her dark-eyed face. She’s round shouldered and broad at the hips, with heavy plastic cat-eye frames thick as jacknife handles. She likes a bottle of wine even more than I do but hates whiskey and bitches when I smell of it.
Anachole gets very chatty while Emma goes quiet in the last glass in the bottle. He waves his little black hands in lazy circles and hiccups and tries very gravely to explain things like supersymmetry to Ish, who dutifully pretends to pay earnest attention.
Once I was old enough to think about it, I borrowed my uncle’s prodigiously heavy video camera and ordered Ishihail to be an owl and do tricks for the camera. Ish never showed up on the tape at all, in shape or sound, even though we had gotten in a passionate row about his refusal to do a barrel roll, me shrieking at him until my throat was raw, and his calls so shrill and outraged I half expected the roof to cave in on us. My uncle nervously retrieved his machine, and the experiment was not repeated.
Daemons certainly behave as if they take up space, if there’s enough to be had, but I’ve found that if I look closely, they are often sitting, quite literally, in the middle of things. It’s a persistence of vision, a thaumatrope—that optical illusion with the card and string that promises a bird in an empty cage. Is Ishihail really sitting on my rucksack while I’m crammed on the bus, or is his head sort of peering out the top while the rest of his body is obscured? When I press him to my cheek, he’s warm, and his heartbeat is as tiny and rapid as the ticking of a lady’s watch. Boughs dip and gently wave when he lands in a hawthorn tree, and now and again he’ll help himself to a gulletfull of my coffee. But he doesn’t leave splashes on the counter, and he’s also never had a pee, as far as I know. I’ve heard Ish skitter papers on my desk, and tried getting him to stand on a scale, but he seems to weigh vastly different things and he won’t settle long enough to let me get a good reading. What's more, he won’t tell me why.
I did think to ask Emma, who teaches physics at a day school in Ranelegh while she tinkers with her thesis—or rather, her daemon, while she stared meditatively into the dregs of a glass of sticky red Beaujolais nouveau—but Anachole had only blinked at me softly and elbowed Emma until she made a space for him on her knee.
If it seems strange to you that I chatted with Anachole while Emma had never given me so much as a hint that she knew she even had a daemon, well. We were lonely, Ishihail and I. And before I met Frank, I didn’t know anyone else could see daemons at all.
When I first meet someone, their daemon usually looks up at me or even at Ish. On occasion I would see a daemon creep close to their person and whisper at them, but never had I seen anyone look round for their daemon to so much as consult with a glance, and I’d certainly never heard anyone talk to their daemon in front of me.
Mostly people, grown adults, anyway, have mammals for daemons, and hardly ever anything bigger than a beagle. Frank Mackey had a great golden-eyed hawk settled on the back of his shabby rolling desk chair, staring straight at Ishihail. She had a barred downy breast and she clacked her beak once before saying, “She’s a sea swallow, then. I told you she’d have wings.”
“Accipiter nisus,” Ish said from the bookshelf behind me. “We don’t see many of those.” He sounded very pleased, and I felt it, as if he’d brushed his sleek head against my temple.
Frank, looking solidly at ease in jeans and a tee, stood up from a stack of manila folders and crooked a grin at me.
“But sure she’s no angel. Cassandra Maddox.”
I blinked at him, not because he knew my name, but because he’d spoken to his daemon. Hadn’t he?
I didn’t risk a glance back at Ish before holding out a hand.
“Oh, you’re one of those,” said the hawk snidely, addressing Ishihail directly. “Latinate podgers chin-deep in library dust.”
“And what’s wrong with reading a book,” Ish snapped, too irked to note someone else’s daemon had spoken to us—or, technically, spoken to us first. Other people’s daemons will sometimes answer Ishihail’s questions if we approach them, but until I was 26, Anachole was the only one who’d spoken to Ishihail first, and then to me, since my parents had died.
The hawk blinked at him lazily before bounding over to settle on Frank’s shoulder and nibble his ear.
“Little Sterna hirundo thinks we don’t read, Frank. Snippy.” If Frank noticed her, word or deed, he didn’t show it. He merely cocked his head, eyes crinkling.
“Frank. ‘Sir’ is for desk jockeys.”
“Cassie,” I said, shaking his broad, scuffed hand.
“Says here,” he said, tapping my file, “you’re good under pressure.”
His hawk regarded me sternly with one aureate eye.
I was so off balance, had there been a bow to fall out of, I no doubt would have ended up in a lake. As I was on my own two feet and no longer fifteen, I frowned at Frank’s daemon and held her gaze for long, deliberate moments before meeting Frank’s keen blue eyes, “I hope so.”
The hawk drew herself up and made a raucous little call, eyes glinting; I could see her talons denting Frank’s tee shirt, and the muscles in his forearms tensed and shifted. Ishihail flapped to my shoulder in turn and raised his wings in warning.
“Well now, Halliope,” Frank said, and smiled like a knife. “This is new.”
Once we’d built Lexie and I was under, now and again I’d meet Frank at a pub to check in, him leaning against the bar with me perched demurely on a stool beside him. About four months into the operation, he strolled into a little upscale drinking hole called Beatty’s. There were all sorts of bankers and lawyer-types: starched shirts, heels, careful hair as far as the eye could see, with the women all done blonde.
I do blame the evening on skipping lunch, and maybe Frank had, too, because by happy hour’s last call we were both flushed and grinning at one another, locked in a battle of one upmanship.
“I did. I surely did. I had a cowboy!” I’d been on holiday, an ill-advised tour of the U.S., in those aimless, woebegone months after I left school and before I entered Templemore. I had an overnight stay in Houston due to a grounded plane, and I’d stopped in at the Museum of Fine Arts. “He was on the guided tour with me. He had a hat and all.”
“Fair play to you,” Frank said, toasting me with his pint.
“I saw DaVinci’s Lady with an Ermine while I was there. Have you ever seen it?”
“Maybe. Shawl on her head, and the thing looked more like a rat to me, I think. That it?”
I nodded, swallowing the last of my lager.
“The placard stated that it was a ‘breakthrough in the art of psychological portraiture’. Ish and I thought maybe Leonardo could see daemons, too.”
Frank could not be cajoled into romantic speculation.
“Speaking of rats, did I never tell you that The Snake’s daemon was a grimy great sewer rat?”
“Oh, boo,” I said, sticking my tongue out at him.
He snickered, and shared a glance with Halliope before insisting, “Hand to God, girl. Always preening her whiskers and skulking.”
“Ever slept with a mark?”
I’d been trying to catch him off guard, but he lied obviously, immediately and without an ounce of malice, “Nope. I’ve had a pediatric neurosurgeon, though. Those are a sight rarer than Texans.”
I nodded with exaggerated solemnity at his achievement.
“What’s—what’s your secret? You’re... you’ve got a—quality, sure, and I won’t say you’re not nice looking in your way,” I declared, giving him a speculative once over.
His dark hair looked—soft, downy. Good shoulders, defined arms, but not bulgy, so my money was on free weights and push-ups rather than a gym membership, and he could make the sharp glint in his blue eyes mellow into a right twinkle when he was of a mind to, but he wasn’t overly tall and he dressed as if he’d spent his last tenner on the jeans he’d grabbed up off the floor before wearing them that day.
“But such a spectrum. Nurses and barmaids, doctors and the hot, the hot accountant—“
“She’s a bank president now,” he reported primly.
“Of course she is. Is it the jacket, then? Bad boy appeal?”
Frank gave me a slanted smile that reminded me I was talking to a Harcourt Street legend, the best undercover agent Ireland’s ever had, who once bluffed an infamous gangster so completely, the fella bought him a fake Rolex, which Frank never took off.
“The jacket’s mainly to stave off the cold, and the ladies do like it, sure,” he said, tipping me a wink. “But it does help keep a knife going so deep.”
He bought me another round and by the bottom of that glass, Ish had become quite chummy, snuggling gamely up to Halliope, who allowed it, or at least didn’t feel the need to bother with violence.
“Tell me all your secrets,” I sighed. “I mean, I meant—your sage wisdom, your wisest... wisest advice. No, wait! Tell me how you pick up girls,” I decided instead.
“Looking to dabble with the home team, are you?” Frank leaned in, resting his chin on his fist, relaxed in the subdued, golden light of the Beatty. I batted my lashes at him and he tweaked my nose.
“Do you really want to know?”
“I dooooo,” I crooned. “Shall I sign a slip for confidentiality?”
“Well then,” he said, eyes warm and lively, “Here.”
With a graceful economy of motion so neat I hardly even saw it, Halliope bodychecked Ish, who got to his feet to prevent overbalancing, and then stumbled right into the back of Frank’s hand.
Ish and I, we both of us froze: in all our lives, no one, not a single person, had ever so much as accidentally brushed against Ishihail. Whether or not daemons could be recorded or filmed, people behaved as if they existed—I had seen it time and again. Every waitress dodged the customers’ daemons, every schoolchild skipped out of the way of her mate’s ferret or leopard or polar bear. Like they were stepping over a hole in the pavement that they could always see, whether or not they were paying any attention.
Catching my eye again, Frank moved his hand away from Ish, whose heart I could feel fluttering as if it was in my own throat, and deliberately extended a forefinger that he eased along the slope of Ishihail’s black skullcap—just a fingertip, barely grazing us. We shuddered, and I flushed hot all over, nerves ablaze.
“That’s not—that’s not fair,” I blurted, and something in us knew it was true. That it wasn’t done, and shouldn’t be, not without express permission. Permission, I realized, that of course hardly anyone could ever actually give.
“Only a cheat wins every hand,” Frank said, utterly unrepentant. But his smile was softer, and Halliope had edged close, eyeing Frank for a cue before stretching out her neck, her beak perilously close to the first two nails of my right hand. I met Frank’s eyes and he nodded, just a tip of his chin.
“It’ll square us, after all.”
Her feathers were as soft as Frank’s hair looked, and her eyes and Frank’s slipped shut at the same time; they were hardly breathing as I smoothed the ruff of her neck and shoulder, her feathers whispering against my skin.
“Jesus,” I murmured.
After long moments, Frank blinked his eyes, looking drugged, wide open and as if his hair was standing on end.
“So that’s what it’s like,” he said, as if to himself. “Jesus and Mary and every fecking saint.”
I folded a hand in his jacket and jerked him close, fitting my mouth to his. Aidan had long since give me up as a bad job, but I knew Frank was still married, for all Olivia had finally kicked him out of the house. I didn’t care. Kissing him was like closing a circuit; I couldn’t have let go of him if I’d tried.
“We can’t get a hotel,” he warned me, biting my ear. And it would have be nigh suicide to bring him to my grotty student bedsit.
It was late fall by then, but it was still hardly dark when I took him in the alley behind the pub, those careful-haired women picking past in their heels as I kicked off one leg of my jeans and let Frank crowd me against the wet brick, unbuckling his belt.
“Ah, fuck,” he muttered, pushing into me, thick and hot and gorgeous. I felt like I was full of buzzing white light, like my skin would fall away and leave me a glowing angel in that fetid, shadowy corner, far too close to the bins for comfort. But again, I couldn’t care, I could only dig my heels into the small of his back and urge him on, his panting breath hot on my cheek, both of us cursing and laughing, giddy and ridiculous, me half clawing his shoulders to stay up against the wall, winding tighter and tighter, locked to him and straining for that grasping, golden moment. He shifted so he could get a thumb between my thighs, and I bucked against him, came shuddering when he whispered my name in my ear, and clung to him while he finished inside me, petting my hair, rough cheek pressed to my throat.
For a stupidly long time, we just heaved for breath against one another, and I unhooked my legs to stand on jellied knees, Frank’s body angled to hide the worst of my undress.
Ishihail and Halliope were pressed breast to breast, staring at us intently, no eye out for us at all. It’s a miracle we weren't caught. When we finally started to feel truly awkward, we shuffled apart and I skinned back into my jeans, still sparking and shivery-delicious, for all my arse was cold and abraded from the wall.
“Halliope,” I called, and she came to me like a shot. I stroked her throat and her eyes went lidded, Frank cursing softly behind me.
“You little harlot,” he said fondly, to her or to me, I wasn't sure. “I really can’t be up for another go.”
I gave him a cheeky grin.
“I guess you’ll have to finish on your own, then.”
“Off with ye. Don’t call for three weeks,” he reminded sternly.
“I’ll write you a love letter, then,” and I blew him a kiss.
We met one more time before the op went sideways, Dealer Boy’s cheese sliding right off his cracker and his knife sliding right into me.
Frank had given me an address, and although I never asked, it was surely a safehouse he kept up out of his own pocket and therefore off the books.
I had brought whiskey and soda, and he had fair bricked the walls with cases of beer.
I dubbed it the Apocalypse Suite, and we spent the afternoon shagging like rabbits.
Later, sex-drunk and pleasantly sore, I played with Frank’s hair and told him about my parents.
“A week or two before the accident, our dad called us ‘you little minx’ and we thought it was ‘minks’, thought it meant he could see us. Ish started pouncing around as one after he said it, trying to bite Sufa's ears.”
Ursufa had been a wee thing, white and fleet as a ghost, and as sly. She was so fast, she flickered like a candle flame. She was forever standing at the top of my dad's head, like a little kite-eared gargoyle. A fennec fox.
My mother had Clémence, a genet who perched on her shoulder, wrapping his endlessly long, ringed brush around her throat like a feathered boa. He was a sight bigger than a cat, but she carried him everywhere as lightly as a silk scarf. One of my earliest memories is of forever reaching to grasp his tail, which he’d always flick away from me at the last moment, smiling.
Frank, in turn, told me about Rosie Daly.
“She was a bird, too, our Rosie. A puffin, strolled around like a gangster. She used to draw little cartoons of him with cigars in his beak. Never got tired of dick jokes, did Padraig.”
“Could she see daemons, too?”
Frank shook his head. “No, but Padraig, he came to us.”
“He used to almost literally pull our pigtails,” Halliope sighed. “He stole so many pinfeathers, he could have stuffed a feckin’ pillow.”
“So she couldn’t see them,” Frank continued, “But something in her knew us, and recognized daemons besides, because Padraig could chew the ear off a field of corn. He was nattering away at every bus stop, checking in with the baker’s hare, the bus driver’s cat. We used to think it was funny, because Rose herself could take or leave you, and at the end of the day, wasn’t especially friendly.”
“Hallie, she wouldn't leave, refused to, said Rosie'd never, that Padraig would have said something, so she stayed on, to look for them—but I was 19 and bullheaded and I got the ferry.”
Halliope flew to his shoulder and huddled under his chin.
“I can hardly let Ish out of my sight,” I said, flinching just to hear of it. “Let alone across the water. How did you manage it?”
He coughed a dry, humorless laugh.
“I don’t know how, I only know that we did.”
“What was it like?” I asked, not really wanting to know. Ish had tucked himself up under my elbow not long after Halliope had crossed the room, and burrowed closer.
“Well, to start, I thought my head would split. Jaysus, I thought I'd cough my heart out right there on that manky deck. I did think I would die of it. In a way I did, a bit, eh, Hallie girl?” She bit his fingers gently and said nothing. “And so we were parted.”
“Two days later, she was at the foot of my bed in the hostel I’d found, and we never spoke Rosie’s name again before today.”
“So... You can leave on your own whenever you like?” Ishihail gasped, wriggling out from under my arm to peer at Halliope like he’d never seen her before. She gave him a regal nod.
“It’s aces for undercover, sure,” Franks said. “We’ve tracked after many a little dodger, no man hours or warrants to mess with.” He stroked a single finger along the curve of his daemon’s skull. “Who needs a wiretap when Halliope can sit on his head while he’s chatting up his bit on the side. Never a door goes unwatched when I’m making skeevy corner deals.”
It explained his preternatural success rate.
“Self-reliance, the Frank Mackey way.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, but I directed my next question to his daemon.
“How… how far can you go from him?” Halliope considered me with gleaming eyes.
“As far as I need to,” she said shortly.
I’ve often thought that was our Frank through and through: sharp eyed, sharp tongued and nearly limitless when it came to the job.
Daemons always knew their names if Ish asked them, but if their people never talked to them, didn’t pay them any more attention than a breeze at the door, what did they need names for at all? I know Ish gets drunk if I do, but I also know he can sleep when I’m still awake, and he says the same. I know it’s profoundly unsettling to me if I can’t see a person’s daemon—and sometimes they’re quite small. A professor of mine had a buttery little moth that sat in her hair like a flower and a pensioner in my building had a dormouse I saw peep from his shirt pocket. One of our prosecutors wears a garden snake around her wrist like a bracelet, grass green scales and a curving yellow smile.
My first heady/awful days in Murder, I did my best to hold my ground and keep my head down. Older beat cops tend to be dogs. Detectives had more variety. O’Kelly had an anteater of all things; Mick Kennedy had an ocelot called Nils. Sam was my first friendly face there, really. His Betta, a badger, took to me, a sturdy little broc trundling around the Castle, merry and comfortable, motherly and always asking if my feet were wet.
As near as I could tell, Rob Ryan didn’t seem to have a daemon at all. It should have made it hard to look at him, a discomfort like noticing someone missing a limb, but Ish seemed both incurious and untroubled about it, and so I gave up thinking on it.
Until my petulant little cream-colored Vespa decided to sputter and die on me in rain so hard I felt like I’d been trapped at the bottom of a waterfall, and Rob offered to give me a ride home. We spent some useless time trying to fix the cracky thing before giving up, Rob stowing it in his stupid gas-guzzling beast. He was snarking about wet upholstery when a little brown bat with a face like a thumbprint in the mud peeped in at the half-rolled down car window, clawed hands hooked over the lip of the glass, and she said, “That fucker in holding is our man for sure.” He flicked his gaze at her and the corner of his mouth ticked up.
Oh. Oh! The hair on my arms stood up and I felt a hectic blush skate from my throat to my hairline. Even with the window cracked, the air in his land rover was dense and muggy with the rain, and felt like soup in my lungs.
“Can you see us,” Ishihail cried, swooping to the dashboard and hopping close, closer, a tremulous hairsbreadth from Rob’s thumb tapping the steering wheel. “Can you?”
The bat and the man together gawped at him, wide-eyed. Then he looked at me, leaning in to peer under my frizzing bangs, and said, croaked, really, “Jamie?”
Then we fucked off back to mine to eat cheese sandwiches and get quite spectacularly drunk very, very quickly.
“Is Pippa short for something?”
“Proserpina,” they replied in echoing unison.
“But—how do you know she’s called a daemon? How do you know her name if your parents didn’t name her? A baby wouldn’t call something Proserpina!”
“Our mother named us,” Rob said, looking baffled and blinking at us over his hot whiskey.
“Her Cerescilia named us,” Pippa countered, with a little drunken hiccup and a deep, yawning stretch as she settled into a nest of Rob’s hair. Her funny long legs and little crumpled-leaf face were dear to us already. “She used to tell us so, and sing us the names of all our aunts and uncles and cousins…”
Very near the bottom of the bottle, Rob told me, in fits and starts, about Adam Ryan and the woods.
“Jamie’s Muirchertach—Mew, we called him—liked to be birds. That’s partly why I—.” He sipped at his whiskey before speaking again. “Peter’s Glúniairn was usually a fox that summer. He wanted a dog and his mum was allergic, and foxes can climb trees like cats. My Pippa liked to be all sorts—squirrel and badger, she liked to dig. We were always shouting at Mew and Glu for fighting, and Mew liked to divebomb Pippa. Our parents thought they were nicknames we’d given each other, probably.
“We could all see daemons, always could, and it just never seemed like anything to explain to anyone when they were alive. When they were with me. After they disappeared, I never met anyone else who could see them. Until you,” he said softly, reverently.
Rosalind’s daemon is a mink, funnily enough. That first day we called at the house to tell them they'd lost a child who looked the spit of their Jessica, who'd been standing on the stairs when her father answered the door. Rosalind's Sidhe had held Jessica’s cowering woodmouse in her hard little hands. I know to Rob, it looked like a sisterly caress, a comfort, but I felt the threat of it like hot breath all along my skin, and Ish kept away from her as far as he dared, so far I could feel a painful tug of him trying to pull out of Rosalind’s line of sight.
I think now that Jessica’s daemon (he never gave Ish his name, or showed he heard him at all) who I glimpsed only a few times, was fixed as a woodmouse and had been, well before the anguish of Katy’s murder.
There are still people who won’t walk under a hawthorn at night, though they wouldn’t be able to tell you why.
The house was ringed in shivering hawthorn trees, but outside the gate stood one gnarled and splendid old granddad, standing far and away from its fellows. A lone hawthorn tree growing on a hill is thought to be a portal to the world of faery, and for me, maybe it was. Those few brief weeks of spring, time ran slower at Whitethorn House, where every bough drooped heavy with snow-white flowers, and a menagerie of animals talked to each other. It wasn’t hard to imagine that if you closed the gate behind you coming in at dusk and left again at dawn, you’d find you’d slept a hundred years in its peaceful keeping.
Abby’s daemon was a red hart. After Whitethorn House itself, he was really the first thing I saw, as they all four stood on the steps, waiting for me. He had towered over Abby, the splendid rack of his antlers spreading above her like the world tree, and half-eclipsing Daniel’s black, bearded little Bilberry goat, who gave a short, flat bleat that seemed to bring the other daemons to order: they all went stock still, listening.
Then the hart, whose name we learned was Caspian, dropped his head and nosed at Ish briefly. In the space of one breath and the next, Daniel and his daemon stepped forward, and Abby ran down the steps to hug me, a Holbein portrait sprung out of the frame, her delicate shoulder blades warm as life under my hands.
Caspian tended to rest his chin on her head when she did the dishes, and I’d caught her leaning against him a time or two, distracted and never noticing. She could have ridden him like a pony all over the campus if she’d really known he was there. He moved as gently as water lapping a flat lake’s shore and somehow never caught his horns in corners. Like Abby, Caspian always smelled faintly of dried flowers, lavender and chamomile, with a wild hint of crisp fall leaves.
Caspian attended Lerix constantly, herding him from room to room it seemed to me, and Alestine would nip at him and spring away. The daemons discussed music a lot, which made Ish and I nervous—taste in music is as individual as a fingerprint, and Lexie seemed the sort to hate certain bands or composers as passionately and randomly as she’d lived her previous lives. I lived in dread of the morning Abby would inevitably suggest we bake scones for breakfast. I object to them on principle—they don't taste like food—and would probably end up a favorite treat of Lexie's, somehow.
Rafe’s vixen Alestine slunk under chairs when his father called, napped on Rafe’s chest with her nose tucked under the white tip of her tail when he slept off his wine.
And then there was Lerix, Justin’s hedgehog. I once saw Justin asleep in his chair, with Lerix still turning the pages. Lerix almost always kept his eyes on me, as if afraid to blink lest I disappear, his little hands pressed together in some nameless anxiety.
I had been wondering if Justin might be gay. In my experience, if your daemon was the same sex, you tended to play for the same team, but it wasn’t a guarantee. In school, the truly startling art kids, the good poets and the best actors tended to have same sex daemons. Ishihail thinks it means they know themselves better than other people. Their daemons tend to look for Ishihail before they look to me, but I’m not sure it signifies anything.
Fraochán, Daniel’s nanny goat, was quieter than the others and spoke only occasionally to Ish, her pupils black bars of jet in a bed of gold, gaze something heavy enough to feel press against my skin like cool, polished stone. She would frequently stand companionably next to Lerix or Alestine, even Ish, and allowed the others to tug at her ear, curl up beside her, but she herself only ever initiated contact with Caspian, nudging him aside at the dinner table with her horned head, squeezing past him in doorways, their shaggy coats mingling.
Daniel and his daemon made me think of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s mother, convinced a pooka had stolen two children away from Knocknaree. According to legend, pookas are deft shapeshifters, usually described as a black horse with human speech, a flowing mane and eyes of blazing gold, but they also leap about the stories as cats and goats, men with rabbit ears.
When John Naylor had burned Whitethorn (for surely it was he), razed the house to the ground, I could only think of his grim, equivocal little smile, him saying, “The Whitethorn’s the fairy tree, d’you see? Belongs to the fairies.”
My greatest concern, and it had weighed on me long before I finally broke and asked Frank about it just before that Sunday afternoon drive to Glenskehy, was Ishihail.
“The others, their daemons... won’t they know?”
Frank answered so quickly I knew he must have been worried about that himself, and had prepped a pat, soothing reply.
“If you get made in the first blush, we’re just back where we were, no real harm done. Besides, I doubt they’d register it on a conscious level, after all. What can they do, other than point at you and screech ‘Imposter!’”
They could stab me again, and really put their backs into it this time, I didn’t say.
“They’ve no idea that our dead girl had a daemon at all, let alone what it was, so they can hardly balk when your Ishihail isn’t her lizard or lion,” he promised glibly. “The people who care about her,” Frank continued, “will want us to catch the guy who did this to her. Whatever it takes. That’s what I’d want.”
At the time, I thought it was just Frank being Frank, silver-tongued and willing to craft any pitch that might coax you to his side, but Sam has had a pint or two with Stephen Moran, and I know truly that when they found Rosie Daly’s body, Frank knocked down block after block of his own house, barehanded, his own blood in his teeth to find who killed her.
I held my tongue, deciding that if Frank and I (and Rob, and that vile thing, that Rosalind—not that I’d mentioned her to Frank, had never had a chance to tell Rob about the day I was wired) could see them, there was no reason to believe they couldn’t. Everyone had described them as odd. Maybe they were so odd, so strangely close because they could see daemons?
Meeting Frank and Halliope had made something settle in Ishihail and me, take root: our faith had been rewarded the day Frank saw us, sure as if a saint had risen from the dead to place a tender kiss upon our pious brow. My chats with Anachole might have been explained away as delusion—something Ishihail and I had steadfastly never dared discuss—but Frank always saw the same animals I did when we saw a daemon, which was proof of telepathy, if nothing else, and no one could have accused Frank of being fanciful. We were hardly soulmates, Frank and I, but I did (and still do) feel a tie to him that I can’t ignore.
That tie placed me in Whitethorn House, as much as Lexie’s echoing call.
“If I’m so much like Lexie,” I said, “what gave me away?”
“It wasn’t your daemon, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Daniel admitted.
I felt my bones turn to ice, and Ishihail burst from my shoulder, leaping into the air before landing safely out of reach in the nodding hawthorn tree at Daniel’s back.
Daniel tipped back another sip of whiskey.
“Lexie, for all intents and purposes, had an iron will. Somehow she disguised that fact by warning people off with sudden, childish tantrums, nudging you out of the way so she could continue her own private, changeable course. I’m not sure how old she was, now, but she was the only person I’ve ever seen out of secondary school whose daemon could still change to suit their mood.”
This made my ears ring, a heavy, belling deep-base thunderclap, thudding against my ribs, pressing on my heart. Of course, of course. I felt breathless, the tips of my fingers numb.
Then Fraochán spoke to me for the first time.
“We thought she’d settled, you see. That the trauma of it all had fixed her Ilarion as a bird.”
I’d seen it happen myself once, when I was nine. Sylvie Hyssop, in Mrs. Galley’s class, saw her father fall from the roof while hanging Christmas lights. When she came back to school in the new year, her Deacol was a slow loris, plastered to her side, blinking fretfully in the classroom fluorescents, and he stayed that way, when before he’d bounced about as rabbits and wallabies, sometimes a chickadee.
“She courted us,” Daniel said, plucking a white petal out of his whiskey glass. He had fallen blossoms in his dark hair as well, and he looked weary, wounded to the heart. An embattled king adorned for a funeral pyre. “I know it’s unusual for people’s daemons to talk to one another as ours do, and she saw it straight away. That, more than anything, must have drawn her. Before you came to us that first Sunday, she was the only one I’d ever met who clearly knew they had one at all, so that didn’t burn you, either.”
“She never knew you could see them, too,” I realized.
He smiled at me then, a fleeting, puckish look.
“She’d have hated me for knowing any secret of hers. Maybe in time we would have—” Clearing his throat, he stopped, started again. “We were eating lunch one day, and I caught her Ilarion as a fat orange cat, perched nearby on a crumbling wall and casually cleaning his face. I was fascinated, not just because he was plainly pretending not to eavesdrop, but because she must have been the other side of the field and still in the library. I know because she walked past us not ten minutes later with a book of Lenihan’s poetry under her arm, using her cardigan as a blanket to sit on the grass and read. We’d been talking about how he’d kept County Clare roadbuilders from plowing under a whitethorn tree, insisting that specific tree was a seat of the fairies of Munster.
“Do you know, people in Dunmurry still think the DeLorean factory there folded because they knocked down a whitethorn to build the complex?”
The whiskey must have been hitting him then, if he was rambling so.
He rubbed his damp thumb and forefinger against his shirtsleeve and said, “In that way, you’re like her, too. I’ve seen you on the lawn through the window, with your daemon asking us if we think damask is too old fashioned for new wallpaper in the kitchen. May I ask—how do you... We can’t get more than fifty feet or so.”
“It’s like we’re trying to wrench off our own arms,” Fraochán offered.
“Someone hurt me,” I said simply. Then I took a shuddery breath and said, “She. She touched Ishihail—tried to twist his head off, really. I did my best to snap her wrists, to wrestle him free.”
While I’d been choking out a confession trying to tempt Rosalind’s own for the wire, my distress had trumped Ishihail’s wariness, letting Sidhe spring from nowhere to snatch Ish from my shoulder, and hand him struggling to the taloned hands of that witch. It had somehow honestly never occurred to me that anything like that could ever really happen to us, and I had been already reeling from the blow of losing Rob for good, for ever. The entire hideous ordeal was probably something less than 60 seconds, but Ish and I still wake from dreams of it, panicked, panting.
Ish dove into my arms, an arrow to my heart.
“She took me from her, tried to pull us apart,” Ishihail whispered miserably. “We thought we’d die.”
I cupped Ish in my hands and held him to my breast.
Daniel had recoiled as if I’d slapped him, and Fraochán had crowded close, letting him loop his arms around her neck. Together they gave us a look of horror and terrible pity such as I’ve never seen since.
“But we didn’t, Ish” I reminded him, the two of us. “And now we can be parted without it feeling like we’re being scalded alive.” And I opened my hands and Ish returned to his waving bower.
This admission must have earned me truth in turn, because Daniel’s next words were, “She was unconscious when we found her. Ilarion wouldn't look at us. He was scrabbling at her jacket, keening, as if we didn't exist. And as we watched, he just… Disintegrated. A little shower of gold dust and then… Nothing.”
“We'd never seen anyone die before,” Fraochán said in a small voice.
“No, we hadn't,” Daniel agreed. “But I had to be sure. So I knew, you see, that it was impossible Lexie should be alive. I checked her pulse myself.”
We all of us shared a breathless moment of absolute stillness, where all I could feel was the beat of my heart and Ishihail’s.
Daniel swirled the last of his whiskey, voice hushed, thoughtful.
“You really did seem happy, you know. Nested back in among us as if you had never been away. I find it hard to believe that both my instinct’s and Abby’s could have been so wrong. The day you came back, Caspian, he recognized you. I thought, how can it be so? But then, for all I knew, your—Lexie’s daemon could coalesce and be whole again the way ice chips melt back to water in a glass, and maybe there really had been something to that coma story they’d fed us. I certainly wanted to believe it more than I wanted to believe you dead.
“That’s all that can be said, no matter what you learn if you stay.”
When I was little, it never struck me as odd that I could see things no one else seemed aware of, but I was still wise enough to notice that no one ever mentioned daemons, even in books, though it seemed nigh impossible to me that they hadn't somehow been featured in at least one cartoon (Rob had once claimed that both Belle and Sebastian and Scooby Doo are really about daemons, but he was very, very drunk when he said it).
After my parents died, I was sent to live with my father’s much older sister, Louisa. She has no children of her own; she works as an accountant and likes to play bridge. Her husband, my Uncle Gerard, has since retired. He’s an historian with a side interest in folklore, and a sense of humor so dry that as a child I believed many of the stories he told me outright. As I regularly saw creatures that were intangible to anyone else I knew (Aunt Louisa had Felian, a rawboned, fastidious hare who sighed a great deal, and Gerard had a bright-eyed red squirrel never far from his shoulder named Oudesa), this is hardly surprising. In fact, I once asked him about Ishihail, and since at the time I was safely five years old, he took him quite in stride as a child’s imaginary friend.
He told me that the Norse had stories of the fylgjur, spirits who accompany a person in connection to their fate, taking on the form of an animal that shows itself when a baby is born, and reflecting the infant’s true nature.
“Your Ishihail is very special, indeed. And what is he today,” he’d asked indulgently. We still missed our parents sharply, with me crying in the bottom of the garden until I heaved up my breakfast most days, and I usually woke to Ishihail as a genet in the morning, wrapped around my shoulder, hiding his head under my chin. As Ish had been spending much of his waking time mimicking Ursufa, I reported this. Uncle Gerard seemed impressed, and looked up fennec foxes in the encyclopedia for me (‘Ah, Vulpes zerda, there you are.’), launching Ishihail and me into a sort of mania for learning animal taxonomies that lasted well into our teens.
Although I spent most summers with a passel of raucous second cousins from my mother’s side in Corbeil-Essonnes, when I was eleven, my Uncle Gerard and Aunt Louisa took me on a walking tour of Scotland. His father, Douglass Cameron, had been born near Loch Lomond, and the tour brought us up into Inveraray. That morning, as we ambled along the Loch, appropriately shrouded in atmospheric mist, a man who looked very like my uncle, down to his stooped shoulders and squashy gray knit cap, hurried past us to catch a bus.
“A fetch!” He said, delighted. “And the sun barely up.” He nudged Aunt Louisa companionably. “I’ve a long life in store. Best cancel all those policies you’ve on me.”
Although my aunt and uncle frequently hold hands and generally behave as though they are quite cordially fond of one another, now and again my uncle hints that Louisa longs to be shut of him, whether it’s buying a palace in Thailand with his insurance money, or running away with the heavily eyebrowed electrician who lives next door. It seemed likely this was a great source of her Felian’s constant sighing.
Having browsed my Uncle’s library extensively growing up, I can tell you that although a sighting of a fetch is generally taken as a portent of its exemplar's looming death, it is told that if the double appears in the morning rather than the evening, it is instead a sign of a long life in store.
I can also tell you that the term "fetch" is sometimes glossed for the Scandinavian fylgja, who is almost always described as female.
It seems to me that in one way or another, Lexie Madison followed after me her whole life long, a waking echo, a glimpse into a different future, a parallel universe me with lives enough for a hundred Alexandras, a thousand Cassandras.
If Lexie warped my sense of self for a good long time, in one way she did reassure me. We found her at daybreak that April morning, posed as if an offering to a very old god, her altar a crumbled famine cottage—a stark debt paid in blood, the meaning clear to me now, in reflection: her life for mine. Perhaps Lexie had sprung full formed from where the blade gouged just under my left breast, a fierce, fickle Athena, fated to die of the knife that hadn’t killed us.
Lexie had been more than an uncanny likeness, a wayward twin. In the end, she’d been her own creature, belonging to herself and no one else, except perhaps the fairies—her only headstone a spray of bluebells and a hawthorn sprig.