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by Angela Slatter

I sit on my favourite rock at the edge of the lake and watch the girl with the clever fingers. She has come to ask a boon and knows there’s a price. I am uninterested, for they all fail.

A leather satchel is clasped in her arms. When she reaches the edge of the lake, she kneels down, heedless of grass and dirt stains on her skirts. She opens the bag, the metal clasp giving a snick that sounds loudly in the stillness of the night. She takes out an ancient book, the gold lettering on its spine reads Murcianus’ Little-known Lore.

Next: a pair of large silver shears; a small ball stuck with silver pins and needles; a spool of fine thread, silk, flax and spider’s web, bound by sheer dint of magic.

Blood covers the moon this night and there is both a weird clarity and a murkiness, shapes at once sharp and blurred.

I feel unaccountably excited.

The girl takes the shears. The water’s surface shines like quicksilver. She leans far out over it then proceeds to cut.

I can see the fabric of night and fluid ruche and crumple. She lays the pieces on the grass beside her. Reaching into the lake she pulls up long ribbons of water plant. The she begins to sew and continues for hours. Finally she bites the eldritch thread and holds the dress up.

It has long skirts and a tight bodice, fitted sleeves with bows made of lake-weed. It is the colour of my eyes, green and black and blue and all shades in between.

Once when maidens made offerings of dresses I marvelled over them looking so lovely up in the light. In the water, I would find that bereft of air and sun, they had somehow died. I could not swim in them.

She slips it over my head, laces the stays tight. The touch of it is cold and damp and it feels like a second skin. It moves ever-so-slightly with a current.

I dive in and my new dress does not hamper me; it flows and floats, part of the water and yet still separate from it. There is no gentle sluggish sensation of being wrapped in a wet winding sheet and thinking ‘So this is how they feel when they drown’.

Finally, I head to the surface. I have a wish to grant.

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