She could have stayed out of it. She could have called the Torquills, reminded them who that little girl's father was in the eyes of Faerie law and made clear that the sea witch of legend and nightmares would hold them accountable for their kin. She could have reminded them of where they came from and asked them frankly if they could stand by while precious, thoughtless, heartless Amy did that to her own child…
But she didn't. She didn't stop to think when she saw her opportunity; she acted with the kind of impulsivity that, in future years, she would become convinced had leaked into her niece like an inkstain reminder of the moment. The Luidaeg saw her chance, and she took it.
October Christine Daye disappeared from a park one evening at dusk, just when the light of sunset was fading and her father had turned away, distracted by a noise. Her last act as a part of the human world was to look up at the woman leaning against the swingset and answer her question. There were only the two of them, and the woman - young and friendly, smiling kindly in a way that put little October at ease immediately - promised her that there was no right answer, only the answer that felt right. With no sense of the gravity of the moment, she made her choice, and by the time her father looked up the park was empty. There was only an instant of alarm before he shook his head and wondered what he'd been looking for. A changeling story just the way the humans would tell it, but a mercy left behind instead of a child.
The Luidaeg wondered if mercy was a fair price for the future. She didn't have an answer, and the not knowing didn't change her mind.
Amy was furious. Of course she was, and the Luidaeg might even have decided not to hold it against her if more of that fury had its roots in the abduction of her daughter than the obliteration of her faerie bride life. She wouldn't have stood aside if Amandine snatched October away from the temporary bed set up on the couch, but she would have understood.
"You had no right," her little sister hissed, and the Luidaeg chuckled.
"No right? You've had your taste of freedom, sister, you've played your little game and left your responsibilities behind. Did you think that choice wouldn't have consequences? They all do."
The Luidaeg didn't miss the glance towards the couch, the reminder of the choice that had been made only that evening. "You had no right." Her voice was weaker, now, less venomous. Perhaps even sad.
"Tell me the truth, Amy, because I can't lie to you - do you still want her now?" There was a weary sort of ache building in the Luidaeg's chest, as familiar as it was inescapable. "Would you be happy to have her follow you around in Faerie, live in your tower... be your changeling daughter?"
Amy frowned, and she wouldn't meet her eyes. "She shouldn't be a part of this world."
"That's her decision to make. And that's not what I asked you.”
"Am I supposed to just leave my daughter here?" She was back to fury, but there was something different about it, now - less power behind it, less biting. As if she was playacting the part of the enraged mother of a kidnapped daughter, and the Luidaeg would feel fury of her own if she wasn't so endlessly, deeply tired. "I'm meant to leave her with you, because you thought you could reach out and take what's mine?"
Would you care at all, except that I've taken your toy and you never learned to share, she wondered, but didn't ask. "I'm prepared to bargain with you," she said instead.
It pulled Amy up short. "What could you possibly have to offer me?" There was genuine curiosity mixed in with the skepticism of her question.
"Besides freedom from the task that is rightfully yours by your ability, that you refuse to accept?" There was no change in Amy's face - she was, as always, difficult to sway on things that didn't directly impact her. "Besides willingly housing and feeding the child you were willing to lose to mortality? How about not releasing that neat little piece of magic on your husband and sparing you the embarrassment and headache of a mortal making too much noise?"
Fury - true fury, the anger of a Firstborn - flashed in Amy's eyes. For just an instant, the Luidaeg wondered if Amy would actually try fighting her, the idea just possible enough to have her bracing herself to move in front of the couch if she needed to. But Amy didn't move. For a long moment, Amy didn't do anything at all, standing frozen in the middle of her sister's living room.
"Fine," she spit out finally, and left her daughter behind, peacefully asleep.
This was the world as October Daye knew it.
She lived with her aunt, in a small and well-hidden apartment. Everyone else called her aunt "Luidaeg" which was hard to pronounce, or "sea witch" which Toby told her, solemnly, wasn't much of a name.
"Oh?" Her aunt sounded amused, only glancing at Toby while her hands were occupied with something important on the kitchen counter. "And you're the expert, huh, October?"
Toby scowled. "It's Toby," she reminded her, and her aunt nodded.
"Yeah yeah, you've mentioned. So what're you planning to call me if my names aren't up to your standards?"
"Your real name. You must have one, everyone does."
Her aunt wasn't mean, but sometimes unexpected things made her upset. Toby started to think this was one of those times, her aunt strangely quiet, but before Toby could talk about something else she spoke up again. "Annie," she finally said. "You can call me Annie, I guess."
And then it was Annie and Toby, almost always just the two of them, and never with any visitors who stayed very long.
Annie sold her magic for favors. "Like a true sea witch," she'd said once in an explanation that didn't explain a thing, a wry smile on her face.
"What if they can't pay?" Toby didn't watch the transactions; she wasn't allowed, waved off to her room before the desperate of Faerie ever darkened the doorway. It was for her own safety to be out of the way when a bargaining tool is exactly what some lost souls would be looking for, there in their worst moments.
"Then they don't get what they came for. They can't shoplift a sea witch's magic - they could try, I guess, and give me a minute or two of entertainment - but it wouldn't help them."
Toby was still young, but not so young that she didn't know the world sometimes didn't work the way it was supposed to. If it did, she could visit her dad. If it did, she would see her mother sometimes, and Annie wouldn't seem so sad, and the problems people brought to her aunt that she heard sometimes when she listened at the door wouldn't exist.
The world wasn't perfect. But was it really too much to hope for, that they could make things a little better for each other?
"Just like that? You don't do anything at all to help them?"
There must have been something in her voice that caught her aunt's attention, because Annie looked at her with eyes so knowing and so sad that Toby shrunk back a little from the expression. "Spoken like a true hero," she muttered under her breath, before sitting down next to Toby at the kitchen table - all warm wood and welcoming to her, a place she knew and trusted where outsiders only saw rot and filth. "October, if I gave you everything you ever wanted, do you think that would make you happy?"
Everything she ever wanted seemed like a lot. Toby shrugged, and Annie smiled.
"I think it might, for a little while. But then you would think of new things to want. If I fixed your every problem for you, what would you do the next time you had a problem?"
"Ask you to fix it?"
Annie nodded. "And if you reached out to grab a lit candle, do you think I would let you? Just because you wanted the flame?"
Toby shook her head.
"I answer every request because I have to, but giving a person their wish can hurt as often as it helps. Sometimes, the world is just unfair because it is. Even if we fixed everything wrong, it would find new ways to hurt."
Toby could accept that; she could accept that no one ever got everything they wanted just because, that problems could not always be handed over, that some choices were wrong. To accept the unfairness of the world, though, seemed too much to ask.
"Shouldn't we still help, when we can?"
Annie was quiet for a very long time. Toby wondered if she was angry; when Toby looked up at her face, though, Annie just seemed terribly tired. "Maybe we should. And maybe you're better than me, because you think so - you're a kind soul, October Daye, and even if it gets you in trouble it's nothing to be ashamed of. But please, for my sake if not for anyone else's... don't let the world bleed you dry while you try to save it. You're worth too much for that."
Toby wasn't sure if Annie actually liked Devin or not.
She let him into the house, even after the first time Toby met him, when he smiled down wolfishly at her and promised he'd carry her off to his home eventually. She'd retaliated by hitting him with a pan. Annie laughed and laughed, telling him that was what he got for trying to mess with the niece of the Luidaeg, a tiny hero in her own right.
"Yeah, okay," he relented eventually; Toby was still too young to notice the dangerous glint in Annie's eyes as she rested a hand on Toby's shoulder, to see the way Devin shrank in on himself as if in the presence of something dangerous. "The princess doesn't go anywhere she doesn't want to. Got it."
Most of the time, they got along. Devin taught her to pick locks and make marshwater charms, told her stories about the way changelings lived out there in the wider world of Faerie, where fairness was even harder to find than it was in her aunt's home with its strange rules about favors. "No place for changelings on either side of the blood," he'd said, more than once during the years she knew him. "You'll see one of these days." Whether it was by design or just the way it was always meant to go, she ached and grew restless; a little seed of heroism, as yet mostly unnoticedMost of the time, Annie put up with him. She seemed to enjoy his biting commentary on the local gentry, and he never asked her for anything at all. He was very, very careful about that. It was those stories - steeped in gossip and judgement - that were Toby's first introduction to the knowes she'd never had reason to see, and the strange people who lived in them.
Annie answered all of her questions about those people, because Annie never told lies and never hid things from Toby. There were only "things Toby could know now" and "things Toby would know later, if she stopped pestering her aunt and showed a little patience." The secrets of Faerie were hers for the taking, if she could wait for them.
Devin always made the same offer when he left - a home, if the home she had now didn't seem to fit right anymore. Toby always turned him down, and Devin never seemed surprised.
Toby remembered her mother, her real one, the one who was so beautiful that for a while Toby almost thought she must have gotten it wrong. Almost - Annie had told her things about Faerie. They lived on the outskirts of any and all worlds, but Toby had learned enough to know that her mother's beauty wasn't something unrealistic, just overwhelming. She missed her. She missed her, and she stopped saying so because it always made Annie frown. She missed her, and she tried to stop missing her because it didn't take much effort to realize Amandine wasn't coming back.
Sometimes her Annie was very quiet and still, late in the evenings when Toby should probably have already gone to bed. She stared at something Toby could never see, one of those things that she would have to wait to hear about later - but if Toby had to guess, she would guess that Annie's eyes looked lonely and lost, that she was missing someone, too. So Toby would crawl into her lap, and even though her aunt wouldn't say anything, she would open her arms to give Toby room and then hold her tight for a very long time.
She only ever spoke once, when Toby was almost asleep and wasn't sure whether she remembered it or dreamed it in the morning: "I hope you never have to leave me."
“There’s no one else to teach you how to use your magic,” Annie told her. “We’ll just have to figure it out.”
“Figuring it out” might have been an overly-generous description for what their magic lessons were, mostly blind groping through the dark with the hope that Toby wouldn’t reach too far and no sense of where “too far” might be. Annie tried to guide her with her own magic, but it felt like trying to tie a delicate knot with tidal waves instead of hands - her power was too immense, too completely unsuited for the shape of what Toby’s magic could do, and even gentle attempts left Toby overwhelmed and confused.
But she needed to learn. She needed to know - Annie needed her talent, and Toby wanted desperately to be needed in a way that meant she would never be left again - and she wandered the dark with nothing more than intuition and her aunt’s voice to lead her.
Her own blood was the first blood she changed; not all the way, out of fear that she wouldn’t recognize herself anymore, but enough that she could stand firm with her magic. If Annie was surprised that Toby clung to her changeling heritage, she didn’t say. She didn’t seem to disapprove, either, though Toby couldn’t quite work up the nerve to ask her opinion directly.
Devin stopped in the doorway the first time he saw her with a slightly different face, hair just a few shades lighter. He asked her if she’d done this to herself, and when Toby nodded, he asked her if she would do this for anyone else.
Annie told her once that if she was good at something, she should never do it for free. Toby didn’t think she could live that way.
The changelings brought to the Luidaeg’s door were not given a price beyond silence and secrecy, and not every changeling was brought. But there were some - the desperate and the hopeless, the ones who missed their human families or who suffered under the unfairness of having blood that wasn’t quite good enough. The ones who suffered because Faerie had never considered their safety, and the ones who suffered because Faerie had never considered what blood shouldn’t be mixed. Those were Toby’s customers at the door - her practice runs, Annie muttered once under her breath, and Devin hadn’t disagreed - and they came to see her. They came for the whispers of the sea witch’s daughter, and the favor she might grant those who truly needed her help.
When she left the house - because she was not a princess locked away in a tower in need of rescue, just a little girl growing up and eventually in need of more space and more faces - people whispered. They called her “October” and “daughter of the sea witch” and “omen” but none of them asked what she would rather be called, and certainly none of them called her “Toby.”
It was silly to be afraid, she thought the first time she stood at the entrance of Shadowed Hills, instructed that she might as well meet her family. Silly and childish to fear anyone in that knowe, when they were her family and would almost definitely be afraid of her. The knight at the door froze at the sound of her name, but he didn’t turn her away. Duke Sylvester Torquill accepted her into his hall, his wife at his side and sitting very still while she walked closer to see him.
Like a fox, Toby thought as she approached. But he seemed to have kind eyes, even if their kindness didn’t seem meant for her. He was too nervous for his polite smile to reach them.
“Hello, Uncle Sylvester,” she said, and she smiled at him with all the warmth she could manage for a relative who had never showed up on Annie’s doorstep looking for her. “I’m October. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
The duke tried to smile; the expression wasn’t very genuine. But his voice, when he finally found it, was friendly enough. “Hello, my dear. It has been a long time - come, tell me about your adventures.”
Toby didn’t think she really belonged anyplace besides her Annie’s home, but the world was big and filled with interesting people; in time, she brought her own stories of the local courts back with her, to a warm and comfortable place where she would always only be Toby.
Sometimes they visited the Selkies.
As a child, Toby reveled in the chance to play with the other children, splashing at ocean waters that could only be like home when she lived with the feared Luidaeg, unconcerned with the balance of her blood or what she could do with it.
When she grew older, as she understood, she stood apart and next to Annie. They were still warmly embraced, greeted happily. It was the closest Toby ever saw her aunt come to telling a lie.
Sometimes the world was not fair. Sometimes even the enormous magic of a sea witch was not enough to make it so.
The King of Cats called her “little omen” and seemed to delight in the way it made her bristle. She didn’t know why he enjoyed her company - maybe it was because she made the Divided Courts nervous, and it was entertaining to him to see them caught off-guard and scrambling. And it was entertaining; Toby didn’t push her luck with their hospitality, but it was funny to see the guards at the gate hesitate, their instinct to keep anyone associated with the sea witch away from their door. Only Etienne had the benefit of no longer fearing her. Long exposure had changed the fear to exasperation as he attempted to teach her the proper rules of entering a knowe and presenting herself before nobility.
Tybalt had witnessed some of those lessons. Perhaps that was part of the entertainment.
Toby didn’t ask him for his reasons; she knew cats and the Cait Sidhe well enough to know that he wouldn’t give them, and direct questioning would only shut him up faster with a coy, knowing smile. He kept showing up, and she kept tolerating his presence, and in time there was almost an uneasy kind of friendship between them. “We are outcasts of the Divided Courts,” he’d told her, walking her home from Shadowed Hills a little closer to dawn than Annie would have preferred. “They don’t care for either of us, not with those manufactured manners of theirs; they would sooner have us out here, away from them and by ourselves, so why not indulge them?”
“I’m related to some of them,” Toby replied, a small smile on her face in spite of herself. “I think I’m a part of their courts whether they like it or not.”
“An absolutely delightful tangle for them to deal with, true,” Tybalt chuckled. “And yet you’re still here with me.”
“Only because you won’t leave me alone,” she said, and he laughed.
Duke Sylvester Torquill had no authority over her, but he begged a favor from her anyway. Maybe he thought she knew the Luideag’s secrets, or maybe he just knew that she was good at rooting out secrets - the gentry politely referred to it as a healthy curiosity, while Annie just snorted and told her she was too damn nosy for her own good.
Whatever the case, she was still Dochas Sidhe. She was as easy to transform as she would always be. And when Toby didn’t come home, Shadowed Hills earned the wrath of the Luidaeg.
It took too long to find her, but she was found. Found changed, and transformed, and haunted. A tabby led a teenager in overalls with electrical tape in her hair to a pond, and when no one was looking, they left with a single calico koi. In the safety of her own home, Toby was herself again and wasn’t.
There were days of silence, days when no one could manage a word from her even though Annie and Devin and Tybalt all tried. There were days when Toby had to be convinced to stand, to eat, to rest. Finally, so softly that anyone but Annie might not have heard, Toby asked: “Why are you doing this?”
“Because trauma means you need the extra help.” She was mixing something, releasing smells that were both strange and familiar into the air, and Toby could pick out every piece that came from her magic.
“No, I mean… why any of this? Why did you take me?” Why did you keep me, she didn’t ask, and she thought she knew the answer - because she was useful. Because there was something that Toby could do for her, that would pay for the time spent raising her.
Annie was quiet, focused on the ingredients of future favors yet to be asked. “Because you’re my family,” she said at last. “Whatever my reasons used to be, that’s my reason now.”