Needle and Thread
by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky


“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 understand.”

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 indeed.”

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 shimmering blue.

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 evasively.

“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, inadequately.

“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?”


“What happened?”

“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 him.

Gently, but firmly, he restrained her. “The Queen commands your presence.”

*     *     *

A 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 ever-present.

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 ambivalence.

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.”

 Leita shrugged.

“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 Vance.

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, reluctantly.

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 song.

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?”

“Lady Eloise.”

“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 fitting.”

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 it!”

“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 ensorcelled beauty.

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 the sidhe.

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 faerie.

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 he loves.”

Leita eyed the frayed, scratchy fabric. “Can you bring other things?”


“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?”


“You’re lying.”

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 remained shackled.

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?

A 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 growths.

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 face.

“It’s all right,” said Leita, sliding the fabric to the floor.  The girl quivered. Leita sighed.  “Please tell the queen I’m done.”

*     *     *

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 her cheeks.

“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 Sveta’s deception?

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 distress.

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 speech.

“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 matter?”

She spoke so quietly that Leita could barely hear her. “I’d rather know.”

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 happiness?”

“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 Aina.       


With a sound like thread pulling through cloth, a sidhe seam appeared in the air. It opened onto an eye green as stained glass.

“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 appalled.

“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 between-waters.

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 brows.

“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 paid.”

The old man smiled unkindly. “Your daughter?”

Leita nodded.

“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?”

“Withstand it.”

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 cage.    

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. Her grandchildren.

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 week at Rachel and Ann are both graduates of Clarion West 2005.



Story © 2008 Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky.