“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
- Richard II, Act 2 Scene 1
Here are the precepts:
- In Faerie, lord (or lady) and land are one.
- Space does not matter to a knowe; nor, always, does time.
- They are a little bit alive, and they know those who walk their halls.
The first thing the land knows—such that it is a thing that can know, more than simply ground and grass, growing trees and ever-twilight sky. The first thing it knows , as a thing that can know, is firm hands cupping soil, a smile that is content for just an instant before it is determined, and a whisper of “ Here ” that means mine .
Then standing, that dirt trickling from one hand, and the call, “Simon! Bring me that hammer, I found where I’m laying the first stake,” as daffodils and dogwood begin to rise and send out roots. They aren’t hands for dirt—the callouses are from swords, quick and bloodied from wars of yesteryear. But it is a hero’s sword (even un-, barely-claimed Faerie land knows some things) and the magic is full of fresh, growing things. A wooden stake and ancient words, drops of blood in the earth, and what matters more is the strength behind them, the willingness to grow and build anew. It matches the hills pushing ever-up from the earth, rising as their mortal cousins on ground prone to shatter. It keeps pace with the eternal, perfect twilight and the life already racing beneath it, the tall trees and strong grasses and wild, blooming roses.
Mine , the land agrees.
Once upon a time, Titania’s children lived in eternal summer and Maeve’s in eternal winter, and only Oberon’s chose one or the other or in between. The King and Queens ruled through their children, and even the land had to pick its sides, for what the rulers willed, the land was. The wise, they said, could tell the blood and very mood of a faerie simply by stepping onto their land and tasting the air.
The first thing the land knew was a claim, but the first thing it remembers is when the rose woman fell from her road. There was not a road and then there was, and then it snapped shut as she pulled her skin that last inch tight, choking with the constriction as she fell. The echo of a horn ended with the snapping-shut of the road, passing by to chase the path she had built from strands of hair torn desperately from her scalp and flung far ahead. She caught herself on hands and knees before she collapsed, and took a breath and screamed as she clutched her fox-furs even tighter, as thorns bound it to her flesh until it was so close that there was no room for them to grow.
So they grew around her, wild riotous roses from the drops of her blood as she wrapped her three clever tails around herself and buried her head in her arms. They grew and hid her flash of silver-orange fur, and hoofbeats passed on Roads nearby—but no more horns sounded.
They met when he was building a stone wall, which he planned to mark out a garden, and she was standing where he thought of as inside it. She was holding a wooden spade, shaped from a kind oak, for she had been growing roses in these hills for many years already. Some events in time happen literally, and some are only ways of turning a thought into a story, and in Faerie, many are both.
Shadowed Hills knows a great many words. It does not use them to speak—the hills greet with open doors and gentle wards; they whisper with the wind in leaves and complain with the twist of corridors. But Law is made of words and the land is informed by Law. All the Summerlands know bindings, oaths, what is a hero and the many ranks of royalty. And it may learn, if relevant, of the many degrees of family and alliance.
Husband and wife , duke and duchess , these are simple. These are intertwined. They met in the garden and spread the garden throughout the Hills, so they might never leave it. Father and mother are a little more complicated—there is another meaning, bitter and absent and sometimes twistingly empty. But that is secondary to the joy of budding life, the shine of shared growing and guarding and guiding. Together, family.
Sister was a beautiful thing, gracious and grinning and always there until she wasn’t.
Brother is a messy word, but a simple one. It means someone in your heart. Sometimes it means setting the very first beams, with quick wit and quicker helping hand. Sometimes it means strolling in and stealing away everything that matters most. Sometimes it means hidden away, sleeping helpless to all and safe from all but one. Always, always, in the heart, at the very roots of home.
Oleander de Merelands did not flee for the doors. She could not have. Shadowed Hills could not know every soul that passed through its halls, could not welcome only the pure and ward against all poison. Betrayal and loss in her wake, she walked the halls unseen.
Then their daughter who was a hero shouted, “ No! ” and the wine fell untouched and they knew .
Oleander de Merelands could never have found a door through which to escape.
Even in the bad old days, the land often changed. Especially in the bad old days. The Daoine Sidhe killed the Tylwyth Teg and snow melted in the burning light, flowers grew until they tore the dead to pieces. The Merrow rose to avenge their cousins and the flowers drowned, froze, shattered beneath icy waves. The Tuatha de Dannan arrived, their heroes’ swords flashing everywhere they moved, and oh the blood they took. Oh, the peace they brought.
The King and Queens went away but their children stayed, and still the land shifts to oblige them. By lord and lady alike, Shadowed Hills is summer land, and when they are content, so are the hills. Roses bloom in every garden, the scent of daffodils and dogwood mixed here and there; the air is warm and sweet. Could sun shine in the Summerlands, it would be gentle and bright.
When they are not content, the sky goes dark with snow.
It wasn’t long before the Rider and his Hunt came again. The wards were not all yet built. Three children disappeared in the night, before anyone so much as knew what terror had swept through.
Anyone but the rose woman, that was. Wrapped tight in her furs she wept, kept company only by the roses straining up to reach her. She didn’t stop even when the new duke found her, even when he cleared a place in the thicket and sat beside her, wordlessly wrapped his arm around her shoulders and offered his own to weep on, in place of her own hands.
She stopped when he continued to sit, when he continued not to ask. She stopped weeping and instead she tore at her skin and let the rose-white skin beneath shine through, the claws like thorns and hair like tendrils of petals. She needed someone to know, one person to understand that the tears were not sorrow but relief. The Riders had come and stolen and passed her by, and she was only glad.
He had learned, by then, that there were some things that even a hero can only run from. He did not fear her; he held her tight, and the hills wrapped them both in private shadows.
In Faerie, lord and land are the same. A wide open door that closes only behind an unwanted guest. Hallways that twist in defiance of staid laws of space, for the joy of wandering and sharing their beauty and the keeping of things so hidden that you could not tell they were there; all wound through with roses. Heart shown but shut, bright and full of love, and the first, fumbled parts, the ones dark and full of mistakes, kept precious and unseen.
“Me again. Sorry, but I need another favor.”
By blood she was nothing. Oberon’s child, power strong in her blood—but no blood of Shadowed Hills, of its Lord and Lady or any of its people. There was human in her blood, and Faerie was not welcoming to human blood. It could not be. Mortality was too weak and too strong at once.
Land in Faerie it very particular. It has those it loves, for whom it will do anything—rise and fall, freeze and burn, grow and die. And it has, for the most part, everyone else.
“Sorry about the interruption. Your Duchess is in danger. I know I’ve been asking a lot lately. But please, let us in.”
By law she was a niece, and on her own merit a hero. That came later—that was sprinting through hallways, covered in blood; coming and going with new saved children each time; a lent sword. First, she was a niece, and for that Shadowed Hills tried to be gentle each time she crossed from her mortal world (later, with a few drops of blood, they could blink the wards and let her through the wards.) In Faerie, the path through the woods to her mother’s house was always clear. She skinned her knees on it, ran laughing through the hills with friends borrowed from chores, and whispered a chanted, “ please, please, please ” as she hid with stolen tarts from the kitchen hobs at Yule. For her her legal relation and kind manners, the knowe tucked her closet away into a different hall.
Son-in-law could have meant something—it was a hope, a prayer, a peace. But it was never true, never part of what was home.
Niece is a tricky word. It bleeds into so many other things. It’s all mixed up with sister , beautiful and then gone. It can mean heir , a legal term that matters very much. It shades into daughter , which…
Daughter is the most wonderful word, and the most complex. It means the first shock of joy, the terror of blood, and the precious rosy tips of fingers. It means scraped knees, chiming laughter, and a trusting gaze. It means stolen tarts, fox-red hair flying, and not knowing when one word changes to the next.
It means searing absence. It means screams in the night and hiding away, flinching at touch and slamming door after door. It means the endless, frozen ache of guilt.
It means the flash of a blade that they taught her how to wield. It means a bier in the garden and blood on so very many sheets. It means leaving again and again to walk into danger, and saving those the world said could not be saved. It makes the Hills swell with pride, until they could nearly shake themselves to pieces once more.
A knowe knows things. Only in Faerie could an answer be so simple, and so well-hidden in such plain sight.
“It’s me, October. I really need to see Sylvester. It’s important.”
By the lord and lady of the knowe...
The girl stole tarts with none of her mother’s guile, none of her father-in-law’s cunning; perhaps her father’s wide grin but none here knew. She stepped her way from the mortal world with the concentration of a student, and kept her head high when it shook her. She was neither quick nor careful with a sword, but she did try.
When she was fourteen in mortal years, a child by any reckoning but her own, the hob’s changeling daughter brought a trick from the mortal world. A toy, a human charm, for finding traces of those no longer present. Her friend tired of it; she raced around the knowe demanding to learn every person’s mark. She laughed in delight when their rose woman left, in fact, roses.
She was not home (obviously) when she found a new royal knowe for the queen. She did not ask for a reward. She ducked her head and said, “Thank you,” as quietly as a changeling should, as quietly as a girl who had found a hidden knowe with barely a whiff of magic to trace, with wit and skill and finding patterns in tides that mortals had tracked but no faerie had thought to. When he stood forth and loudly suggested a knighthood instead, her fog-pale eyes were twinned dinner plates, wide with terror and bright with hope.
The land shook, and then streams ran as it wept. It had only meant to stretch, to dance for a moment like its smaller companions. It had not meant to bring the walls crashing down. It had not meant to kill.
Thrice the Sea Witch came to Shadowed Hills: once for a favor, once with a warning, and once because her sister has come to visit. Two of those times, she knocked before striding through the would-be-locked doors, which was perhaps the most that could be expected of a sea witch to a knowe set firmly on land.
If they had to choose, like, if the hills themselves were burning down, they would save their rose woman first. But then, she had merely planted her roses all through the land, not claimed it in blood and oath. So it was not as much her decision to make.
For twelve mortal years she was gone, and their daughters too, and they raged with sleet and sorrow.
For the girl was a hero. She found the Queen’s lost knowe, once and then again. She fought monsters that growled and snapped and slipped unseen through should-be-safe halls. She spoke, and the fate of kingdoms changed.
Thrice she left to walk the Roads to the Rider’s realm. First she went to the Sea Witch, for all the children who were hers. Second, she begged the lady’s Rose Road open, for the last one she could not save before. Third, she went for herself, by Blood as ever, and Shadowed Hills did not expect to see her return. They gave her a sword and readied to mourn, and, quietly, to wage a war of vengeance long overdue.
She came home anyway.
The gates of the ducal quarters were gilded and shut, against bright-painted brick. But they opened, of course they did—she was already in their heart.
She slept in the garden, surrounded by her mother’s roses, deep in her father’s hills. She slept and still her dreams writhed with the dark. Her could-have-been sister should have woken her, but there are some things that even a hero can not forgive. The flowers shrank and the air grew chill.
There are three ways the land of Faerie may know those who walk it:
By blood, Oberon’s children and Maeve’s and Titania’s. Firstborn and pureblood, changeling and merlin, they are all children in the land older than time.
By law, written into the fabric of the world by the King and Queens now gone. Richer and deeper, as ever, than its mortal cousin: ancient regal titles and prophecy of times to come; bindings of fealty and of hospitality; the many roads and who may walk them. The Changeling’s Choice and the Hero’s Quest; these are the laws of the land of Faerie.
By the lords and ladies who lay it claim. Last and least, for it is born only of the others: legal grants and ancient oaths and bindings spoken; blood spilled on the boundary marked, no matter the magic flower or water. Greatest and last, for only once claimed will the land let itself be shaped—hills raised and lowered, rivers turned, towers suddenly around a corner and forests dark with shadow or witchlight-speckled bright as a starry night. Eternal twilight turned warm and soft with summer’s joy or crisp and snow-bright with winter’s delight—or heavy and humid-slow with winter’s sorrow, or bitter and cold with summer’s grief. Before time, Oberon and Titania and Maeve made Faerie, and as time began, their children broke it into realms; only in the claiming of a mistress or master, in the marking out of borders and the digging out of doors between this world and that, does what remains become distinct. Become its own place, its own thing, enough to grow and change and choose a side in the endless battles of the Divided Courts.
Daughter , as it ever has, means the future. It means legacy. It means hope: that if one has come home again, so may the other.
The Summer Queen’s eldest daughter came to Shadowed Hills like a flame so bright it burned cold. They opened before her, oh yes they did, for she was older and stronger than they, and all that was her children’s was hers.
So they opened the doors and smiled and bent to her whims, and kept their heart hidden with their rose woman. When their daughter who was a hero came sneaking in, leal companions at heel, they slipped her through the walls as quick as possible to their good swordhand and his mortal bride, who stayed true now matter how the weather changed.
The snow and roses suited their Firstborn, but neither were there for her. Shadowed Hills had too strong a predilection for heroes, and they made their choice long ago.