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Authors: Claire Legrand

Winterspell

BOOK: Winterspell
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For Diana, and Isabel, and Brynn: I could not have done this without you

and

for Stowell and Sendak, who inspired me

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Winterspell
is a book many years in the making. From the moment I first sat down, tiny and wide-eyed, to watch
The Nutcracker
on PBS, I have been enchanted with this story. I have loved its pageantry and mystery, its bizarre dichotomy of holiday magic and something . . .
darker
, something secret and sly and sensual.

Helping this story grow from that early fascination to the book it is now has been a journey along which many people have helped me, and I thank them with all my heart:

First, my indomitable agent, Diana Fox—force of nature, fierce champion, friend—whose enthusiasm for this story and these characters was a constant encouragement.

My editor, Zareen Jaffery, whose insight, passion, and steadfast belief made it possible for me to mold
Winterspel
l into what it needed to be.

Diana, Zareen—words are not enough to express my gratitude.

The entire team at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, especially Justin Chanda, Julia Maguire, Rachel Stark, and Siena Koncsol.

Bara MacNeill and Brenna Franzitta, for their painstaking attention, patience, and care.

Lucy Ruth Cummins, art director extraordinaire and cover goddess, who gave
Winterspell
such a perfectly stunning design that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to stop staring at it.

Catherine Scully, who created the gorgeous map of Cane. I'm so glad this book brought us together.

The talented and kindhearted Marissa Meyer, for sharing your excitement about
Winterspell
with the world.

Writer friends and first readers Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar, Heidi Schulz, Kait Nolan, Susan Bischoff, Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Emma Trevayne, and Ellen Wright—for your cheerleading, honesty, and friendship.

Brittany, Beth, Melissa, Jonathan, and Starr—for keeping me sane and for loving me even when I'm on deadline (or just generally stuck in a writer's headspace and therefore a bit dotty).

Matt, for the times I'm not at the computer, and for reminding me it's okay to step away. For believing in my stories, and for asking all the right questions. I love you.

My family, for the tireless support, and for reading, and for spreading the word. All my love to you, near and far (mostly far, but never in my heart).

And I must give special thanks to my mother, who shares my undying love for a certain one-eyed, eye-patch-wearing, mysterious, swirly-cloaked magician. You know who to picture when you read his scenes, Mom.

Lastly, to Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak (to whom
Winterspell
is partially dedicated), and the past, present, and future companies of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, for their unique production of
The Nutcracker
—without which, it is safe to say, I might never have written this book.

O
ur stories say that when the human world was first made, not all of it fit.

Pieces fell off the whole, like too much dough being stuffed into a small pan, and those bits dropped into cracks and were forgotten. Our stories, the oldest ones, the ones most people no longer remember, say that my country, Cane, is one of those forgotten places, hidden away in some cosmic pocket of existence, for the most part separated from the human world, but not entirely. Tenuous links connect the two worlds—like certain traveling songs, and hidden doorways, and magic, if you're able to use it.

Not everyone in Cane believes that legend, though. Why would they? Their world is their world, and why would there be another? Most common folk don't like to think about unsettling things. Doing so disrupts their feeling that they are quite wise, thank you very much, or at least wise enough to get by, to have nice meals and a warm bed at the end of the day, and to know that there are no other worlds besides their own.

But I knew better.

The magic folk—the beings born, as our stories say, of the sea and the stars—knew better too. Once the magic folk fell from the skies and rose from the depths, they knew that we humans were from elsewhere, that the first of us had not been born here in Cane. But our blood surged with the land. We breathed, and it breathed. This connection, this kinship, was a gift
from the great native creatures that had adopted us as their own, because before our arrival there had been only darkness. The dragons had been small, white, and blind, and the sea serpents had been writhing in frothy muck; the wild horses of the eastern flats had been frail and brittle-boned, and the nightbirds had had no wings.

When the humans stumbled into Cane, we brought the light. That is what our stories say.

So the magic folk pledged us allegiance in honor of our blood, our blood infused with the life force of the land itself, and for many years the country thrived. The dragons were strong, and the nightbirds soared; the eastern herds ran savage, and the sea serpents lured ships into storms. The forests whispered secrets and songs, for the magic folk brought it out of them. More humans arrived, by accident or by design, for the first four human families needed fresh blood. Over time the families grew and prospered—one in the capital, the other three ruling the outlying provinces as lesser equals. And after many ages Cane crawled with life—with us, the humans; and with the magic folk; and sometimes with creatures even stranger than that, who slipped through the secret cracks between worlds without meaning to.

But the peace did not last.

It ended, as so many things do, with betrayal.

With a glance. A whisper.

A kiss.

PART ONE
The Crooked City

An eerie feeling came over them when dusk fell and, as usual on Christmas Eve, no light was brought in.

1

O
ne more hour and Clara Stole could turn criminal.

Could
, that is, if she managed to stand her ground until then, for every eye in the crowd was watching her, waiting for her to say something impressive, something to commemorate the day. And she was so tired of fumbling through grand words that were never quite grand enough for such hungry, thirsty people. Hungry for food, thirsty for a numbing drink—but even hungrier, even thirstier, for hope.

Hope.

What
would
Hope Stole have thought of Clara, on this strange, wintry day? What would she have thought of her elder daughter? She would have been proud of Clara, surely, for the speech Clara was about to make, and for keeping the Bowery Hope Shelter project alive despite the gradual decrease in funding.

And, just as surely, she would have been angry at Clara for what would come after—the criminal part, the part that would involve sneaking, thievery, breaking and entering.

The part Godfather had unknowingly inspired.

Yes, Hope Stole would have been disappointed, and her eyes would have flashed in that famously fearsome way, and she would probably have railed at Godfather about responsibility this and safety that. She
had always been worried about her daughters' safety, even more so than most mothers Clara knew, as if the world were full of dangers only she could see. Funny, that, as without her mother's influence, Godfather wouldn't have been brought into their lives, and without Godfather, Clara might not have ever thought of doing something like what she would do in—fifty-seven minutes, now?

And anyway, the daughter of a New York City gang lord is criminal by her very blood. Being
uncriminal
, Clara had decided—being good—would have been like snubbing her heritage.

Somehow she didn't think her mother would have been impressed with that line of reasoning.

But her mother was dead, and it was past time for Clara to find answers. If she could only, for this short while, manage to keep her head.

That was her credo these days, and an increasingly difficult one to follow:
Keep your head, Clara, while everyone around you loses theirs, or already has.

And when you yourself are close to doing the same.

Beside her, Leo Wiley, her father's secretary, cleared his throat. Her cue.

Clara approached the edge of the stone steps, breathing deeply to calm her racing heart. Anxiety nipped at her insides; as always, she shoved past it. There was no place for it here, not when she was playing the good, glamorous mayor's daughter. A tangle of red hair came loose from its knot and fell across her eyes, as though it knew her true state of mind. Before her the crowd waited, shifting, eyeing her—blankly, skeptically, and, a few, with hope.

“My mother loved this city,” Clara began, “and the people in it.” Her voice wanted to shrink and crack, and her hands were shaking. She wasn't good at this, but she had to be, so she pretended. She didn't like wearing this fine gown; even with its many layers and her winter coat, she felt bare, exposed, too prettied up to feel safe. But she had to look
the part, so she tolerated her raging discomfort. Not for the first time that day, she wished her father were up here instead. It should have been him dedicating this building in his wife's honor. But her father was different now; he had changed over the past year. Everything had.

“She, er . . .” Clara's voice trailed off. The crowd glanced around, uncertain. So many of them, so many mouths and fears and empty bellies, measuring her. Surely they could see through this lace and satin and velvet brocade to the shaking nakedness underneath.

Pull yourself together, Clara Stole. You can't afford not to.

“Pardon me.” She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, fingered the ebony cross at her neck. “She would have loved to be here today, you see.”

Ah.
The crowd nodded sympathetically, shared knowing glances, shifted forward to better see the dear, tenderhearted, motherless girl. Clara felt Mr. Wiley puff up with pleasure; he would be proud of her performance. There would be a warm, supportive summary of the event in tomorrow's paper. It would be fantastic press for the mayor's office.

Clara clutched the worn wooden podium. It was the only thing preventing her from running away to hide, preferably in Godfather's shop. There, no one's eyes were ever on her except his solitary, sharp gray one—and the stern black ones of the statue in the corner.

“Again, pardon me.” Clara cleared her throat; the sound of tears in her voice, at least, would be genuine. Fifty-five minutes now, perhaps. She clung to the estimate with slipping nerves. Only fifty-five more minutes. “My mother worked tirelessly for the betterment of our city,” she continued, addressing the bare black branches in the park beyond, avoiding the eyes in the crowd. “She dreamed of a place where the less fortunate could turn for shelter, warmth, and rest.”

Clara gestured at the narrow gray edifice behind her—the new Bowery Hope Shelter, the building stained here and there with ash from the 1879 fire that had left several east-side neighborhoods in ruins.

“My great hope is that this shelter will do justice to her memory, and help fulfill her dream of a city that provides a place for everyone.”

Clara smiled at the crowd and stepped back, allowing Walter Higgins, the Commissioner for Human Health, to take the stage. A Concordia lord otherwise known as the Merry Butcher, his skill with a cleaver was legend—but today, he was all respectable reassurance. As he spoke, some of the crowd's tentative smiles grew. Perhaps they believed his words—that the new shelter would provide a spot of relief for the growing number of people forced to live on the streets, and boost city morale in time for Christmas. Clara sighed; she knew better. Inside the shelter would be warmer than outside, yes, but the building was shoddy and flea-ridden, and instead of beds, poorly constructed coffins halfheartedly disguised with tarpaulins lined the walls. It was the only thing Clara had been able to persuade her father to provide.

BOOK: Winterspell
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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