“I need you to do this,” said Queen Sveta. “Sew a dress to make
my daughter beautiful.”
Leita, the dressmaker, glanced at Princess Aina. The girl sat on
a nearby stool, head bowed, hands folded in her lap. She was an
unfortunate creature, all stringy hair, coarse skin, and muddy
eyes. Despite years of training in maidenly graces, she was also
clumsy, as apt to knock over a chair as sit properly. Making the
girl beautiful would require more than expensive fabrics.
“I strive to make all my clients beautiful,” said Leita.
“There’s a prince . . . .” Sveta pressed her jeweled fingers against
her forehead in exhaustion. The northern queen’s renowned beauty
had faded during Aina’s difficult maidenhood. “Well, if
negotiations between our kingdoms go as planned, they’ll wed.
Suppose he despises my Aina? She’ll have to live surrounded by
his family, his retainers, his disdain . . . .” Sveta looked pleadingly
at Leita. “Parents want the best for their children. Surely you
Leita understood. Still, she feigned ignorance.
“I have a pale yellow velvet that will accent her complexion.
With blue ribbons, a bit of padding . . . .”
“Dressmaker.” Sveta’s voice became regal and stern. “You know
what I require.”
Leita considered her options. Say she denied the queen: she
could depart the kingdom at nightfall, abandoning her workshop
and clients. It would be difficult to start anew elsewhere, but
possible–if the king’s soldiers didn’t seize her first, on some
trumped up charge.
Or she could return to the sidhe . . . but what would they take from
her this time? More than she was willing to give.
“Your majesty—” Leita began.
Queen Sveta laid her hand on the dressmaker’s arm. “I could not,
of course, condone anyone breaking our kingdom’s laws. However,
my daughter needs a dress almost like magic. Very like magic
Leita held her counsel, thinking quickly. She avoided the
queen’s gaze, and looked up at the Princess Aina who had slipped
off her stool. She cradled a bolt of rose silk, swaying slightly
to private music. Over the years, Leita had come to feel
affection for the queen and her awkward daughter. She understood
the queen’s desperation. She, too, had once borne a child she’d
have done anything for.
“You’ll protect me?” Leita asked.
“Of course,” said Sveta, voice full of mannered grace.
Leita inclined her head. “I’ll bring the dress in seven days.”
Leita worked at night, moonlight peeking through her drawn
curtains. Not the yellow velvet. Such catlike softness would
show the coarseness of the princess’s complexion. Not the heavy
adornment of brocade, or the whisper of gossamer. Satin . . . yes, a
fall of satin, surrounding the princess in shine and rustle.
After a moment’s consideration, Leita selected a bolt of
She chalked a circle on the floor with as much reverence as any
magician sketching a pentagram, and knelt to cut the fabric:
flowing sleeves, close-cut bodice, skirt like petals. She’d
embroider the stomacher with gold-wrapped thread in a pattern of
leaves and roses. The sidhe had taught her embroidery magic,
though they exacted their price. They’d found her as a young
mother, sitting among the crocuses outside her cottage as she
sewed a new spring gown, her stitches eager and unpracticed.
Leita’s baby girl lay in a basket at her feet, but she forgot
her daughter amid fey promises of beauty and magic. “Come a
little way with us,” they whispered. “We’ll show you wonders.”
Would Leita have
gone if she’d known she’d be leaving for years, not hours? That
she’d return to find her husband beneath white poppies? Her
daughter middle-aged and hardened with toddlers tugging at her
skirts? One look at the woman who'd been her baby, now a
stranger, and Leita had fled, changed her name, taken up work in
the city. She'd lost so much . . . yet she couldn’t deny the
splendor of the magic that prickled like thorns through her
fingers as she began to stitch.
* * *
The queen sent a
carriage for Leita the day of the fitting. A lady’s maid took
Leita to a narrow, forgotten chamber that had been set aside.
Dust-coated tapestries hid the entrance.
Leita knelt on cold stone to pin the princess’s hem. “Have you
ever . . . been married?” asked Aina. Even her voice seemed changed
by the spell. It drifted lightly, like windblown petals.
“Are you nervous?” asked Leita, not looking up.
“Mama and Papa are very good to me,” said the princess
“Of course they are.”
“Mama says the prince will be good to me if he loves me.”
It was more words than the princess had ever favored her
dressmaker with before. Leita looked up.
Aina looked the same, only now her plain features seemed
beautiful. Her straggly locks appeared charmingly disheveled,
her muddy eyes sumptuous as molten chocolate.
Leita wished she knew how to comfort a young girl. When Leita
returned from the sidhe, her daughter was too old to want a
mother’s reassurance. “He’ll love you,” said Leita,
“What about everyone else?”
“You’re good to his highness your brother’s wife, aren’t you?
And she’s good to you?”
“That’s different.” The princess turned from Leita, her eyes
shy, spell or no spell. “I guess I’ll have to wear magic dresses
all the time.”
Enough of that, thought Leita. “Yes. I was married.”
“Did he love you?”
“He died, your grace. They tell me it was a wasting illness.”
“Couldn’t you use magic to save him?”
Leita felt a pang. But even if she had been there . . . “It’s not
my sort of magic, Princess, and it’s hard to get someone else to
make spells for you. These days.”
“I’m sorry,” the princess said.
Leita slipped a pin out of her mouth. “Hold still now . . . there.”
She slipped it into the hem.
“Why don’t you remarry? Your business must bring suitors.”
“Many men want only that, the money. My husband loved me.”
“You were lucky,” said Princess Aina.
“I was picky,” said Leita. But Aina would have no choice in the
matter. A princess’s life was bound, just as a peasant’s was,
though Aina’s constraints were woven of silk.
Leita rocked back on
her heels. “Let me unbutton you and I’ll do the hem, dear one.”
She caught her breath as the endearment fell from her lips. The
princess seemed not to notice. “You’ll look beautiful tomorrow
night. You’ll steal everyone’s hearts.”
Leita sewed overnight in the hidden room. In the morning, she
showed the dress to the queen.
“It’s beautiful,” said Sveta, examining the sumptuous folds. “I
hope it will be beautiful enough.”
“It will be, your grace.”
Queen Sveta only nodded, her gaze distracted as she departed.
Leita collected her sewing things and went to follow, but an
officer of the queen's private guard blocked her path.
“Dressmaker,” he said, voice polite but unyielding. “You will
attend the ball.”
Leita laughed. “I don't go to balls.” She tried to move around
Gently, but firmly, he restrained her. “The Queen commands your
maid dressed Leita in severe grey silk and brought her to the
kitchens to eat with the servants. She was given venison and a
pastry dusted with more cinnamon than Leita could afford by
sewing twenty gowns. Her guard lingered, unobtrusive but
Afterward, the maidservant brought Leita to dress princess Aina,
the guard waiting just outside the door. At first Leita didn’t
want to speak to the girl. She was too angry at being coerced
and confined. But it wasn’t the princess’s fault; Aina had
troubles enough of her own tonight. And Leita could hardly blame
the queen for wanting to secure her daughter’s happiness. Leita
hoped she’d felt that way about her own daughter, once.
The guard walked with her into the ballroom. He was handsome
and well-mannered, likely some nobleman's younger son. Perhaps
Leita should have appreciated having a noble escort, but she
liked damask prisons no more than the princess did.
Purple and red silks draped the royal ballroom, potentially
provocative considering the most heated negotiations between the
two kingdoms surrounded the duties on silk. Thankfully, the
roses were native; riotous armfuls decorated the ballroom in
pink, yellow, and creamy white. A small orchestra played as
long lines of elegant couples stepped, swayed, and bowed. The
visiting king and queen watched from a dais, their gazes showing
Leita and her escort passed a duchess who employed Leita on
occasion. “I must congratulate you. The princess and her mother
received me in her chambers,” remarked the duchess. “Isn’t it
astonishing what silk and perfume can do?”
“Isn’t it,” murmured Leita.
Leita moved toward the banquet table, to watch from the shadows
of the velvet curtains. She watched the dancers moving formally
through their patterns. Leita recognized some of the dresses:
satin and velvet dyed in vermillion, saffron, jade. Brocaded
coats adorned the men. Jewels sparkled everywhere.
“These things are always so dreadful, aren’t they,” said a
voice. Leita turned. A youth wearing a velvet coat in the
colors of the visiting king’s army, adorned with an impossible
amount of gold braid and medals stood at her elbow. He was
strikingly unattractive, with sunken watery eyes and acne scars
pitting his cheeks. Leita thought he must be barely twenty,
hardly old enough to have earned his array of decorations.
Despite his youth, his hair was already receding.
Leita looked for her escort; he stood a few paces away, watching
from the corner of his eye. “I like the dresses,” she said,
unsure what else there was to say.
“Do you,” said the young man. It wasn’t a question, but a
notification that she’d placed herself beneath his notice.
“I made some of them.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed. “The engine of local fashion. I thought you
didn't quite fit here. You must be planning next season’s fads.
Make silk unfashionable, would you?”
“It’s not that easy.”
“I suppose not. Look there.” He directed her attention toward
the visiting royalty. “Their majesties haven’t managed a trade
agreement. Perhaps tonight there’ll be a brawl.”
“You’re not amused? Good kings and queens throwing punches in
finery fails to entertain?”
"If not a brawl, there will almost certainly be a bransle,”
returned Leita. “Our king does enjoy a bransle.”
The young man raised his arms and struck the dance’s opening
pose. His grin did his looks no favors.
“I would love to stay and trade jokes, Madame Dressmaker, but I
must attend my father. Before I go, would you do me a favor?
Tell me, which one is the princess Aina?”
Horrible certainty gripped Leita. The medals he couldn’t
possibly have earned, all that gold braid . . . This must be Prince
Leita scanned the dance floor, trying to cover her dismay. “I
don’t see her. She’s in a blue dress.”
“Then I shall be sure to admire it.” The prince nodded
courteously and strode away, if not gracefully then at least
with creditable military carriage.
They danced of course, and of course Aina tripped over the
prince’s boots. He steadied her before she could knock the other
dancers off their slippered feet. Aina flushed with humiliation,
but under the spell it seemed no more than a becoming shyness.
Everyone – every dancer, every servant handing around water and
wine, even (it seemed) every mouse in the palace walls – focused
on the prince and princess. Leita fretted; had she made her
spell too strong? The prince whispered into Aina’s ear. The
princess looked at the floor and mumbled a monosyllable.
Vance offered his arm. Still looking at the floor, Aina took it,
He led her to a bouquet and plucked a single, blush-pink bloom.
Aina stared, appalled, at the flower, and rushed away as quickly
as her tumbling skirts would allow.
Murmurs rippled through the crowd. Leita watched Sveta across
the dance floor as the anxious queen glanced rapidly between her
distraught daughter and the whispering nobles. Her mouth
tightened, and she gestured for the orchestra to take up another
The prince made his way across the room to Leita. “Well,” he
said with raised brow, “Here’s an odd thing. Do you see that
lady over there? In the green velvet?”
“She thought my joke about the bransle the height of wit. The
gentleman she’s dancing with laughed so long and convulsively I
thought he’d got a pastry stuck in his throat. But Princess Aina
was not amused. Not the least little bit. Tell me, Madame
Dressmaker, what will amuse her?”
“Perhaps your highness ought to ask the princess.”
“Come, you’re her dressmaker. Don’t tell me she stares so
sullenly at the floor all the time you’re measuring and
Princess Aina stood at the opposite end of the room, surrounded
by a gaggle of nobles' daughters. It was true, few girls stayed
silent through a fitting. Leita knew none of them were truly
friends of Aina’s.
“Highness,” said Leita, “Ask her to dance. Be sure it’s her
you’re asking, not just a king’s daughter.”
Without sparing Leita another word, Vance strode toward the
princess. The noble girls parted before him as he reached for
her unresisting hand and set it on his arm.
He led her back into the dance. Aina followed without complaint.
When he bowed, she curtsied back perfunctorily.
“What shall I talk to you about?” asked the prince.
Aina said nothing.
“If I can only interest you, I’ll consider the evening
well-spent,” Vance continued. “If you’ll but smile, my happiness
will be complete.”
Abruptly, Aina halted. Dancers behind her came up short.
“Stop it!” cried the princess. “I’m not stupid! I know this is
about duties and trade and politics!”
“And a beautiful princess.”
“Beautiful?” cried Aina. “I’m not beautiful! Everyone here knows
“No!” shouted Leita, pushing forward to stop the girl from
damning her to a witch’s stake. Her guard moved more quickly,
pinning the seamstress’s arms behind her back. Across the dance
floor, queen Sveta froze on her husband’s arm.
The princess tugged at her dress. The quickly sewn seams began
to loosen. “You want beauty?” Stitches tore. The princess hurled
handfuls of silk. “Marry the dress!”
Princess Aina was suddenly herself. Tears left vivid streaks
across her blotchy complexion. Her weak chin and lusterless hair
had never looked so poor as they did in the wake of her
Prince Vance picked up a scrap of embroidered cloth. Suddenly he
seemed handsome: his thinness became rakish good looks, his
receding hairline mature and distinguished.
Whispers of “Magic!” coursed through the hall. Leita looked
desperately towards Sveta, hoping for assistance. The queen's
lips opened wide in mock astonishment as she pointed in Leita’s
direction and shouted, “Witch!”
As she sat in the rank darkness of her cell, Leita thought of
They’d told her the way back. Rub a candle with anise,
they said, then light its wick. Cast a lock of your hair into
the flame, to scent the magic with your flesh. Burn something
precious–a coin, a ring, a gem–and await the avaricious eye of
Leita had sworn she’d never return, and yet she kept anise at
the back of her cupboard. Sometimes she took it out and inhaled
its scent, imagining.
Now Leita would go happily. But she had no candle, no anise, not
even something to cut her hair . . .
The dungeon door groaned open. Light flooded from above.
“I’m sorry, dressmaker,” Sveta said in a harsh, hushed voice,
“for us both.”
In the lantern light, the queen looked changed. A homespun cloak
swept to her feet. Ashes of penance streaked her thin, drawn
face. No maidservants, not even a guard, followed her.
“My daughter has locked herself in her rooms,” she said. “She
plans to join a convent.”
Leita said nothing.
“I’ll be sent to a convent along her, or else confined to a
country estate like the king’s mad sister.” Sveta paced the
cell, footfalls echoing eerily. “Prince Vance won’t ride home.
His father threatens, his mother weeps. Vance says he won’t go
until Aina marries him, but Aina won’t agree. It’s only a matter
of time before someone claims the prince was bewitched along
with the dress. There will be war.”
Leita’s voice crackled with disuse. “I’m flattered your highness
sees fit to confide in me. But at the moment, I have more
pressing issues to consider.”
“I know.” The queen dropped the lantern to her side. Weird
shadows skittered across the walls. “I need your help.”
Leita laughed, incredulous.
“Hear me out. Aina won’t wed the prince because she thinks he
only loved her magic dress. Vance swears it’s not so. I believe
him. I must show my daughter that he loves her. It may be too
late for you and me, but the children will be happy.”
From her cloak, Sveta withdrew a bolt of the coarsest cloth
Leita had ever seen.
“Make three dresses. Dresses to make the wearer ugly and
unrecognizable. Aina and two maids will wear the gowns. Prince
Vance will speak to each in turn and then say which is the woman
Leita eyed the frayed, scratchy fabric. “Can you bring other
“I don’t need much. A candle and something to light it. Anise.
And something precious -- a gem perhaps.”
The queen’s mouth tightened. “You need them for your spell?”
The dressmaker held Sveta’s gaze a long moment. At last the
queen rubbed her fingers across her temple. “One of us must
trust the other.” She spat a small stone in her hand and held it
out to Leita.
“A truth stone,” Leita murmured. She remembered the pebbles from
her childhood, before his highness outlawed magic. They turned
peppery beneath the tongue when someone lied.
“My mother taught me a spell or two before I came here.” Sveta
slipped the stone back underneath her tongue. “Promise to sew
the dresses and I’ll send my maid with the candle and anise.
I’ll know if you lie.”
Leita shifted in her bonds. She couldn’t work her way out of
this trap. “I promise.”
The queen took a key from her pocket and unlocked the manacles.
Leita rubbed her wrists as circulation returned. Her ankles
Sveta withdrew a scrap of lilac silk from near her heart.
“Something precious. All I’ll have left of my daughter if she
goes to the convent.” She placed it by the seamstress. “My maid
will bring the rest.”
Sveta’s maidservant trembled, fearing the witch. Leita stayed
silent as she accepted the candles and spice, trying not to
spook her further.
When the girl was gone, Leita lit the candle. She snipped off a
lock of hair with blunted embroidery scissors, and dropped the
curl into the greedy flame. The stench of burning hair filled
the air. Leita worried as she held out the silk scrap. Would the
sidhe still want her, weary and forlorn?
tendril of smoke stretched across the air like a seam. It ripped
open to reveal a pair of lips, pale and narrow.
“Dressmaker!” exclaimed a voice like falling snow. “Why are you
in such a dreadful place?”
“It’s a prison,” said Leita.
“Is it,” said the sidhe mouth without recognition or dismay.
“I’m bound to the queen’s bidding. I need you to come for me
when I’m done.” Leita strove to keep desperation out of her
voice. The sidhe might decline a favor simply because it was
badly wanted. But lying was worse; they smelled lies like
predators smelled blood.
The lips pressed into a narrow line.
Voices thrummed from the prison walls, like all the strings of a
viol plucked simultaneously. “I would wear peacock feathers this
winter.” “Flames in summer.” “Tiger stripes and dragon claws.”
Finally: “We’re decided then.”
“We’ll return for you in three days,” said the lips, and
vanished with the smoke.
Leita sewed through and around time, as the sidhe had taught
her, sewing faster than any mundane seamstress. The magic took
its toll. Coarse cloth rubbed her hands raw. Her fingers bled
from needle-pricks. By the time she had stitched her hideous
designs onto the third dress, she shook with exhaustion.
Her stitches loped across the fabric, sketching thorns and
brambles, twisting into jagged whimpers of regret, shallow
sprawls of callousness. She draped the embroidered fabric across
her trembling arm and her skin thickened with warts and patchy
She heard the groan of the dungeon door opening as Sveta’s maid
came for her hourly check on Leita’s progress. Leita pulled the
fabric away, but not fast enough. The girl screamed and hid her
“It’s all right,” said Leita, sliding the fabric to the floor.
The girl quivered. Leita sighed. “Please tell the queen I’m
Queen Sveta arrived quickly. Aina followed, accompanied by two
maids, one dark-haired and the other fair. Both had a thickness
around the waist that suggested pregnancies about to show. The
dark-haired one clung to the fair, tears rolling silently down
“Hush. All you have to do is wear a dress for a couple of
hours.” Sveta spoke as one might to quiet frightened horses. She
handed the girls their dresses. “Small work to earn a dowry and
legitimize your bellies.”
The fair-haired maid accepted the dresses with a curtsy, but
glared at the queen when Sveta turned to address her daughter.
“Slip on the dress, dear heart,” urged Sveta.
The princess bit her lip. “Why? I don’t want him to love me
ugly.” Leita was startled and pleased to see the last few days
had emboldened the girl.
“We’ve discussed this,” said Sveta, impatiently. “We don’t have
time to argue.”
Sullenly, Aina removed her kirtle and slipped the coarse dress
over her shift.
This was a much stronger spell than the one on the ballgown. It
held anger and blood and fear. When the three girls donned the
dresses, they transformed. Jagged teeth distorted their mouths,
blackened tongues lolling. Seeping growths and parasites
festered on their skins.
Leita looked away, only barely stifling a cry like the maid’s.
“I’ll fetch the prince,” said Sveta.
The queen left. A tangible silence fell, broken only by one of
the creatures weeping.
When the door opened again, the prince stood on the threshold,
eyes owl-like in the lantern light. The girls turned to face
him. He did not flinch.
He entered the cell. Queen Sveta stood behind him in the
doorway. “The air here is foul, your highness,” said Sveta. She
held out something small and shiny."Remember what we discussed.
This boiled sweet will sweeten your breath.”
Leita inhaled. The truth stone! So that was why the queen was
willing to gamble on the prince’s discernment. Should she reveal
Before Leita could decide, the prince pushed away Sveta’s hand.
"I must decline, Highness. My breath is fresh enough.”
Sveta paled, furious, and returned the truth stone to her cloak.
It pleased Leita perversely to see the queen trapped, for once.
Prince Vance approached each girl in turn. He danced with them,
and then traded poetry and witticisms. He led them in a
conversation about riding and hunting and trade. He regarded
their hideousness forthrightly, without the least sign of
At last, he addressed all three. “I believe I know which of you
is my Aina. Before I choose, however, I have a final question.”
He clicked his heels together, as if about to begin a military
“A philosopher once stayed at my father’s court. He asked me a
question that I will now ask you. Suppose you thought yourself
happy, but only because you had insufficient experience of true
happiness. Suppose, in fact, you were no happier than a bird in
a golden cage who doesn’t know what it’s like to fly free? Would
you want to know? Or would you prefer ignorance?”
The first girl balked. “I don’t understand.”
“Try,” said the prince, dryly.
She threw her hands over her face and began to cry. “I don’t
know! I’m not a bird!”
The prince gazed with disdain at the girl as she shuddered with
tears. “You are not the princess Aina.”
Still sobbing, the girl tore off her dress, revealing her as the
dark-haired maid. She fled, Sveta standing aside to let her
through the door.
The prince turned to the second girl. “And you?”
“A caged bird is petted and fed delicacies. What does a free one
do? Peck after dry seeds and flee from cats.”
“So you wouldn’t want to know?”
“What does it matter? Tell me, sure. I’ll laugh. I can
appreciate a cage.”
The prince looked to the third. “What is your opinion on the
She spoke so quietly that Leita could barely hear her. “I’d
The prince stepped toward her. “Why?”
She shrugged again. “It’s better to know.”
“Even if you’re wildly happy? And knowing will destroy that
“A cage is a cage.”
The prince took her claw-like hands. “You are the princess Aina.
Remove the dress. Show me I’m right.”
Hesitantly, Aina removed the coarse garment, her movements slow
and deliberate. She clutched her shoulders shyly, the girl who’d
torn her silken dress to shreds in the ballroom a mere memory.
The fair-haired maid removed her dress as well, revealing her
pretty face and plump figure. The prince did not even glance
toward her as she shook out her blonde hair and departed.
At last Aina stood in her shift, her plain self once more. The
prince gave her a buck-toothed smile, and bowed almost low
enough for his balding head to touch the ground.
All at once, Leita realized what fascinated the prince. He,
arrogant and ugly, but intelligent enough to know flattery for
falsehood. She, a princess who preferred plain flesh and plain
truths to pretty lies.
Sveta lowered her lantern. Shadows swallowed the cell. “Enough
for now. We need to go.”
The princess turned toward Leita. “What about the dressmaker?”
“We can’t help her now.”
“But she helped us!”
“Be sensible, princess,” said the prince. “She’s been helpful,
yes. But she broke your kingdom’s laws. Criminals must endure
their penalty, or the rule of law would decay.”
Aina looked stricken. “Papa will have to call off the
execution. We'll explain . . . ”
Sveta looked desperate. “Are you mad? Do you want him to burn us
for witchcraft, too?”
“It’s all right, your highness,” said Leita, gently, looking at
With a sound like thread pulling through cloth, a sidhe seam
appeared in the air. It opened onto an eye green as stained
“We’ve returned for you, dressmaker,” called the distant voices.
Sveta threw herself in front of the two children as if she could
shield them. Aina stared, her mouth open. The prince looked
“Farewell,” said Leita, looking at Aina.
Slender fingers emerged from the air and tapped Leita’s manacles
which unraveled into iron thread. Gentle hands bore Leita away.
Between the sidhe lands and the mortal ones lay a realm where
time neither plodded nor leapt. The sidhe crossed it in a great
golden boat with the masthead of a swan. They lounged long and
languid across the deck, trailing their fingers into the
Leita knew she must speak before the boat reached sidhe shores.
She pretended confidence she didn’t feel. “I won’t go back with
you. Take me elsewhere in the mortal realm.”
The sidhe shifted and grumbled, frowns drawing down lovely
“We rescued you,” pointed out a woman clad in blood and
feathers. “You owe us.”
“I said I’d sew your gowns,” said Leita. “I didn’t say I’d do it
in the sidhe realm.”
“But you owe us,” repeated a pouting fox-eared boy.
Leita hoped the sidhe couldn’t hear her voice tremble. “It's you
who owe me. I need to return to the mortal realm to reclaim
something you took.”
“Really,” said an old man who sat on the gunwhale. Long silver
hair fell to his thighs. “And what did we take?”
“My daughter. Take me to my daughter, and I’ll call the debt
The old man smiled unkindly. “Your daughter?”
“Really? The woman your age with exhaustion in her face and half
a dozen children at her skirts? The woman you took one look at
and fled from, all the way to the city?”
Leita could barely find her voice. “Yes.”
“And what will you do when she throws you out? When she curses
you for leaving?”
The old man’s smile spread cruelly across his face. “Very well,
dressmaker. We’ll take you to your daughter. When you’re
miserable, call for us. Next time, we won’t be tricked.”
Leita woke in the mud. Her daughter’s cottage stood before her,
crocuses blooming beneath the window, just as she’d left it for
the sidhe realm all those years ago. Anxiety stirred in Leita’s
stomach. Suppose the sidhe were right? Suppose her daughter
turned her away?
No, Leita thought. She had to try. To run once more, or return
to the sidhe, would be like locking herself in a golden
She pulled herself up, the sun beating down to dry the mud on
her skirt. Crocus blooms perfumed the air with a scent like dry
hay. Playful voices drifted on the breeze. Children’s voices.
Resolutely, Leita approached the cottage door.
About the Author:
Ann Leckie has worked as a waitress, a receptionist, a rodman on
a land-surveying crew, and a recording engineer. She lives in
St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, children, and cats. Her
stories have appeared in Subterranean Magazine,
Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, and Science Fiction:
The Best of the Year, 2007 Edtion, edited by Rich Horton.
You can find more about her work at
Rachel Swirsky holds a
master's degree in fiction from the University of Iowa. She
recently married her boyfriend of five years in a backyard
ceremony at her parents' house, on an extremely hot and flower-fillled
afternoon. Her work has appeared in Subterranean Magazine,
Weird Tales, and Fantasy Magazine, among other
places. Her website is
Together, Ann and Rachel
run PodCastle, the world's first audio fantasy magazine,
which broadcasts previously published fantasy stories once a
http://podcastle.org. Rachel and Ann are both graduates of
Clarion West 2005.
Story © 2008 Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky.