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A Frame of Mother-of-Pearl
    by Cat Rambo

A Frame of Mother-of-Pearl
Artwork by Emily Tolson

Hattie Fender was spring-cleaning. It wasn't that the household particularly needed it, but something about the day, the fair weather, the smell of plum blossom and lily of the valley floating in the parlor window, had demanded sparkling windows and the banishment of dust.

Some days she wondered if these duties simply served as distraction from the endless progression of days, the days of her state, not widowed, but worse. She fitted the minutia of housekeeping into a pattern to fill the hours, the ones she didn't spend studying magic theory in order to keep her skills fresh.

Another woman might have sighed, moved by the thought, but Hattie considered it pragmatically, abandoned it in favor of thinking over how many preserves were left over from the long winter, and kept on with her duties.

She rubbed away the last bit of soot from the hood of a whale-oil lamp and moved to dust the contents of the curio cabinet beneath the window.

Behind cloudy glass, keepsakes jostled in the cabinet's interior. When she was a child, two decades earlier, her mother had hidden coins among the figurines for her to find while cleaning. A fox with a penny in its paws, a Chinese maiden with silver treasure beneath her base.

As Hattie lifted the dolphin-shaped latch and reached inside to take out a Spanish dancing doll, a spark stung soft skin between thumb and forefinger. A briery spell, full of ginger and bite.

She recoiled. Nursing her hand, she searched the cabinet with her eyes. A frame pebbled with mother-of-pearl was missing. She knelt in a rustle of skirts to look closer, careful not to touch the doors.

On the second shelf, movement at the back caught her eye. She peered past a scrimshaw walrus. At first it was so still she thought herself mistaken. The gilded scorpion, a Siamese souvenir, crouched on golden legs. Then it shifted. One claw clacked. She closed the door as it rushed forward. The tail's tip skittered across the glass in metallic complaint.

Her hand burned but she could not afford to have the creature slip away and sting some other household member. She considered the drapes, but near the fireplace was a horsehide glove used for handling logs. She drew it over her injured hand and used the other to swing the door open.

China figurines scattered and crashed as she seized the scorpion. It squirmed against the leather, trying to drive its metallic sting through it, but she held it so it could get no room to swing.

Carrying it into the kitchen, she dropped it in an empty butter churn. It scuttled across the container's floor, scraping its claws against the sides.

She stared down at it, thinking.

On her fifteenth birthday, Hattie Fender contracted a fever that led to the loss of her hair, which until that point had been long and glossy and black as licorice. Her mother nursed her through the illness, then died herself of a fish aspic that had gone off.

Upon recovery, Hattie mourned her mother and resorted to patent hair restoratives, full of poisonous sugar of lead, sulphur, and copperas. The medicines forced a relapse, driving her back to fevered bed rest for three months more.

At seventeen and a half, she had become bantam egg bald and just as hard-shelled. At twenty-two, she daily polished her scalp with bay rum and bergamot oil, which left a perfumed trail behind her, so you could track her by smell up the stairs and out along the walk that watched the gun-metal waves lick at the clouds above the sea.

On her twenty-fifth birthday, two days after her true love's disappearance, Hattie had her scalp tattooed with the twelve celestial houses. They marked off her head in long pie-shaped wedges, Scorpio over her left ear and Taurus over the right. When she stood still, no matter the location, she chose to stand in alignment with the sky, so the spidery black demarcations reflected the patterns of the stars.

Sometimes, when her brain felt too full of feverish thoughts, too aboil with heavenly influences, she made her twin cousins, Lucius and Claudius, help apply leeches to her temples. Against her skin, the parasites looked like clinging alder leaves.

To get rid of them, she licked her fingers and dipped them in salt before touching the tip to each leech so it would recoil and drop away, soothing her overly energetic brain.

As today, when her thoughts seethed with the idea of what she'd lost.

The cook stood at the squat iron stove, stirring chowder.

The cook was a servant Hattie's father had brought back from his voyages, a peculiar, scale-skinned creature, with green hair and sharp teeth, that considered itself a woman, and served the family for over a decade, living on fish and sleeping in a barrel of brackish water in the coal cellar.

"A picture's missing from the curio cabinet," Hattie said. "The one Jemmy gave me before he set sail the last time. And magic is being thrown about till things that shouldn't be walking are." She tugged the glove away to reveal the magical bite swelling and red and sore.

The creature-cook turned to regard her with a narrowed gaze. "My magic is not for things like cabinets and pictures, like yours," she proclaimed, her voice a sing-song hiss. "Mine is the Deep Magic, and someday the waters will swallow this house so I may return."

"I am a sea witch," Hattie said calmly. "No waters will come to this house." She wished her magic had been stronger, had kept Jemmy here in the house to love her, rather than off to sea to vanish with her heart, two years ago. But certainly it was enough to keep the house in order and contain the cook and other servants. Certainly it was enough, when that was all you had.

The cook snorted, a sound like a hard rock hitting sand. She was cranky, for she lived a thankless existence. Like most fairy creatures, she would vanish if offered gratitude.

"Those twins been in there," she said. "Playing." She made the last word sound like "fornicating" despite the disparity in syllables.

"They don't know magic," Hattie said.

"Everyone in this house knows magic," the cook said. "Look to the twins. Or your sister. Or maybe someone come snooping into the house. Some peddler came to the door yesterday. Your sister talked to him."

Frustration crawled across Hattie's scalp like angry rain. The smell of bergamot, normally so soothing, seemed acrid and irritating to her nostrils.

"Where is Madeleine?" Hattie said. She doubted her sister's meager magics lay behind the scorpion, but Madeleine might have purchased something that had caused the mayhem or made the picture vanish. Hattie had thought once or twice, after finding alchemical ingredients missing from her room a few years ago, that Madeleine might be trying greater spells, but the disappearances had stopped. Madeleine had shown no sign of magical mastery since.

Hattie could see the frame in her mind, so clearly she almost could touch it. A rectangle set with mother-of-pearl that had crackled with age. In the center, a more modern illustration, the daguerreotype showing her and Jemmy, his arm around her in a daring, possessive pose. The only picture she had of him. The thief could have stolen nothing more precious. That fact made her think the act a declaration of war.

But on whose part? Few others in the village knew much of arcane things. Sailors sometimes brought charms back from foreign ports, but that was usually cheap and showy yet ineffectual magic. Reverend Hosiah left magic alone except for the enchantments that everyone knew came from the devil. He was always ready to exorcise a possessed pig or bless a child to remove the shadow of the evil eye.

Hattie prided herself on being more scholarly-brained than the old priest. This was almost the twentieth century, and magic was a thing of logic and proofs, something to be possessed by trained minds more educated than Hosiah's.

The cook said, "Did you want me to prepare a dish from this?" as she peered into the churn.

"Don't be a fool!" Hattie snapped.

"Can't make butter with that in it," the cook said. "The twins like butter on their flapjacks in the morning."

"Make them porridge," Hattie said. She carried the churn off to confront her sister.

Madeleine was in her room, brushing her long golden hair. She was seventeen, vain as a popinjay, and usually as brightly dressed. Hattie loved her sister dutifully, but she did not like her much. The feeling was reciprocated. Madeleine was fond of brushing her hair when she knew Hattie might be watching.

Hattie thumped the churn down in the doorway.

"What did you do to your hand?" Madeleine asked, ignoring the churn. The scorpion scuttled, and she shrieked.

"Hattie! What a vile thing!"

The scorpion hissed in the churn's depths.

"Madeline," Hattie demanded. "What did the peddler you spoke to yesterday want?"

"That old man? He wanted broken things to take away and repair. And he was magic, he knew every broken thing in the house. He said there was a pair of scissors whose blades had come apart in the kitchen drawer and there were. And a lamp with its wick-holder rusted solid in the pantry. He even knew that a bit of mother-of-pearl had come off your picture frame."

"Oh, Madeleine," Hattie said. "What have you done?"

Madeline gaped at her. Hattie reflected unkindly how vacuous her sister's expression was, despite her beauty. Still, that beauty had brought many suitors to the house. It had even brought Jemmy, once upon a time, before Hattie had claimed him as her own, had scraped a bit of frosting from her sister's already overly full bowl.

She'd beguiled him with stories of magic at first, then had consented to show him little tricks, each one binding him to her a twist closer, bonds as fine as silk thread, as unbreakable as steel hawsers, until one night they sat until sunrise in the garden, smelling the blooming heliotrope, and exchanging words of love.

He had asked her to marry him.

Then Jemmy had been lost, and there was pity instead of rancor in Madeleine's eyes. She hadn't really wanted him after all, but Hattie suspected it had piqued her sister to have lost him. But foolish Madeline should have known better than to deal with a peddler, no matter what he had known about broken scissors or lamps with rusted wicks.

When Hattie went downstairs, the twins were there, both blonde and angelic looking. Chaos followed in their eight-year-old wake with the inevitability of stones rolling downhill.

Hattie decided to say nothing about their clothing. Instead she said, "Lute, Cloudy, did you see a peddler come to the house yesterday?"

Claudius stood on one foot, hopped experimentally, as though he hadn't heard her. She looked at Lucius.

He shrugged and spread his hands helplessly. "We was playing inside, soldiers in the attic."

She found that difficult to believe. They were sharp children, as hard to fool as foxes.

"What did he give you?" she ventured at a guess.

The two exchanged looks and she knew she was right. She pounced. "Show it to me!"

Up in the attic they demonstrated the wonder the peddler had given them, a set of lead soldiers that were, marvelously, animate. In the box, the tiny figures wheeled and marched in tireless formation.

"He said we wasn't supposed to show it to anyone or the magic would go away," Lute said. "But you're magic, so I figured if you saw them, it wouldn't matter."

It didn't seem to. The tiny first lieutenant raised his pin-sized sword. The platoon wheeled, marched to the other side of the box as Hattie watched.

Her scalp crawled with premonition. Were the soldiers some evil magic? She imagined them loosed, creeping through the house in the night, scaling bedclothes and slashing the vulnerable throats of the sleeping giants around them. But when she spread her long-fingered hand, wearing only the tiny diamond ring Jemmy had given her, over the box, murmuring a spell, she could sense no malignity. A toy, created to amuse and delight, the sort of marvel a sorcerer might create for a favorite son or nephew.

"What did he look like, the peddler?"

Again, a set of simultaneous shrugs. "Like an old man," Lucius said. "His beard hung down like a billy goat's. And his eyebrows had tufts!"

Both boys hooted with laughter at the last.

"How was he dressed? Did he have anything out of the ordinary?"

Claudius pointed at her hand. "He had a ring like that!"

Anyone could have a diamond ring, but you wouldn't expect to see it on an impoverished peddler, a rag and bone man going from door to door.

"Where else did he go?"

For the rest of the morning, Hattie traced the peddler's path. He had visited the Reverend Hosiah to swap a set of religious tracts for a pair of battered fire irons the Reverend's grandfather had wrought. In exchange for a sheaf of old household lists, the Parkers had received a miracle cleaner that had left everything in their house so sparkly you could barely stand to look at it. They said if Hattie found the peddler, they'd sure like another bottle. Widow Smart had traded a quilt from her ragbag for a device that brushed her three Persian cats till they looked like dust mops walking across the floor. Everyone had something wonderful. Everyone wanted to know where the peddler had gone.

So did Hattie. Every household had lost something irreplaceable but not valuable, it seemed, and while she loved the picture, she knew its value was only to her. In every case, the exchangers were content with whatever they had received.

Had the twins' soldiers been a simple trade? But then why leave a spell to harm her, an angry, vicious spell? Try as she might, testing every house (even the Reverend's, as surreptitiously as she could), she found no other malignant spells.

Down in the public house, she asked after the peddler. He'd slept in the stable loft, they said, and showed her the wind-up bird with an endless supply of songs that he'd paid for his bed with. But in the morning, he had gone, disappeared without a trace.

Hattie went home. She put on her lavender walking dress, a sturdy pair of shoes, and a hat with a veil to keep the sun from spoiling her skin, and packed a satchel with necessities. She left instructions with the cook on what to do in her absence, and told Lucius and Claudius as they sat grumbling over their porridge to obey the cook and to mind their manners.

She thought about telling Madeleine the same, but she knew that whatever she told her sister, Madeleine would do the opposite, out of sheer contrariness. Hattie didn't bother to knock at her sister's door, just carried her satchel past in order to lay it beside the front door.

In the garden she cut lavender and lemon balm and sprigs of St. John's wort, which was almost in June blossom. As her last act, she removed the scorpion from the butter churn and put it in a tin box, where it rattled and rustled as menacingly as it possibly could, while she paid it no mind whatsoever.

She closed the front door, set with its brass anchor knocker, behind her and went clack clack click down the front steps. It was mid-afternoon. She nodded pleasantly at the ladies out in their front gardens, but did not pause to gossip.

At the crossroads three blocks away, she took a downy white feather from her satchel. Whispering to it, she tossed it upwards.

The feather hung motionless for a second, swirled as the breeze took it. It circled, once, twice, and again, and with a jerk, swept southward as though seized by the wind.

Hattie watched it with a sigh. Southward lay Serenata, another port town, not large, prosperous and historically significant like her own town of Vailport. A mean, poor one where brigands and pirates were known to come to procure whiskey and women and opium from far lands. Still, it was a direction, and she had lacked such a thing before. She cut a walking stick from a nearby clump of birches and set out.

It was, as noted before, a fine day, and a good one for walking. From time to time a wagon or carriage trundled past. The wagon drivers waved at her and ask if she wanted a lift; the carriages rolled past in a rumble of hurried wheels. She declined the offers, thinking she might miss some sign along the road. If she walked reasonably quickly, she'd make the other town by sunset, and be able to put up in the inn there. She wasn't sure what they'd make of her - an unaccompanied gentlewoman, but she trusted her magic to keep her from harm.

When dusk was beginning to think about settling, she caught a white flash among the trees. A deer's tail, perhaps? But she couldn't afford to ignore any signs.

She picked her way along a scant trail, pausing to listen, now and again. She came to a clearing centered around a pool, a stone stele beside it. On it were graven these words:

Here lies Penelope Martin,

Darling of our hearts,

Who came to a sad end,

Caused by Cupid's deadly dart.

Hattie paused, considering the stele. The darkness was beginning to gather. She had underestimated the length of the journey and she didn't know where she might shelter.

A bird spoke in the gathering shadows. Hattie paused to listen to the liquid, changing rills. A mockingbird, singing the songs it had overheard. It switched to a tumbling series of notes, an evocation Hattie knew. She gathered her cloak around her and sat down against the stele to listen.

Perhaps she dozed, despite the cold stone's bite. When she opened her eyes, a ghost hung in the dark air in front of her, a sad thing, all drowned weeds and burbling ectoplasm.

She had seen ghosts before, but tamed ones, the sort who lived in attics or old pantries, who only ventured out when it was quiet or when desired for table tipping or play with spirit writing. This was a wild ghost, capable of anything, and so she froze.

"Did you come for more questions?" the ghost asked. Its breath squeezed out the question so slowly that Hattie almost could not understand it.

"More questions?" she echoed.

"Speak to me of love lost," the ghost said.

Hattie thought of Jemmy, of waves covering his face, of his body swaying with the tide's motion. An involuntary moan escaped her. Ghosts had a way of amplifying the emotions around them. Sorrow raked her as solidly as any cat o' nine tails.

But she was a sorceress of the Fender line. Her grandmother many times removed had come over with the first colonists, and the house Hattie had grown up in was steeped with her lineage's magic. It had soaked into her bones, which held her upright now when she might have lapsed into tears.

As though tasting her sorrow, lapping it up like a cat, the ghost pushed closer. But even as its clammy chill touched her, Hattie jerked back, fingers flashing to shape a sigil in the air between them. The ink on her scalp writhed as though redefining itself, and for a moment, just a moment, physical laws changed, and became a place where the ghost could not, did not exist.

And so it was gone.

Hattie reached for restorative in her satchel. In its place, she found a bottle of vanilla, presumably mischief worked by Lucius and Claudius, who she remembered lurking around the front hall when she had come in from the back garden. She sighed, sniffed it, and downed it. It was fragrant but bitter, and she coughed, feeling it all through her lungs. She breathed a great sweet exhalation into the air, and listened to the night. The full moon wobbled in the tree-tops, winking at her fitfully.

The bird she had heard before spoke again, as though the presence of the ghost had silenced it, and she tilted her head, listening. She knew that spell - it took the souls of those who had passed and bound them to a magician's service. That must be why the peddler had taken the objects he had, searching for loose ghosts that he might snare.

It was a clever strategy. She frowned. Would it be possible for him to summon Jemmy's soul? But no, all of her efforts in that area had failed. He had sunk beneath the waves, where her magic was ineffectual at best, and was lost entirely. She presumed he was in Heaven, but the thought pained her enough that she habitually avoided it.

When morning first began to filter through the trees, she rose, burped a last fragrant burp, and set on her way to Serenata.

Half a mile on, she ran into a merry little wagon, painted bright blue and white, with golden pennons dangling from its roof, and bells set on the two ponies' harness, so that she heard it coming long before she saw it top a hill and roll down the slope towards her.

The driver hailed her, from the seat where he sat with two fellows. They were young and cheerful men, clean-shaven as though just come to port.

She looked hard at the first one. "I know you!" she said. "You were on Jemmy's ship."

He'd come to her door, along with the Captain and First Mate, to tell her of her loss. Even now, she saw sadness in his face as he returned her look.

"No, isn't that a strange thing!" he said. "But a night ago, I was thinking I saw someone enough like him to be his brother, and now here you are, bringing him to mind again."

"His brother? But he had no close relatives," Hattie said.

The man shrugged. "A trick of the light, miss."

She asked what had set them to traveling and learned that they were newly-landed sailors, who had chosen to leave the sea and use the funds from their last voyage to collaborate on the wagon and its accompanying enterprise: to travel from town to town providing instructive but entertaining lectures on the art of knot-making.

"Let us show you!" said the driver, and they all hopped out of the wagon. They took an enormous rope from where it was slung around the wagon back; they set about demonstrating their act, one hopping in and out of enormous loops as another constructed an illustrative knot and the third solemnly discoursed on the finer points of his companion's actions.

It was, she thought, commentary on the nature of things, how everyone was all tied together in one way or another. Tug on one person's heartstring and it leads to someone else who loves or hates them. Discovering this web was part of life. And part of magic, the strings that lay underneath the universe, patterns more complex than anyone could conceive.

One performer caught another in a knot and tried to apologize and untangle him, managing to ensnare the third in the process. His expression was so droll and his language so lively that Hattie laughed until her face hurt and she was forced to sit down on the grassy bank to catch her breath. Concluding, they arranged themselves in a row before her and made a synchronized bow.

She applauded and congratulated them. She made to take out her purse and compensate them for the performance, but they insisted that it had only been a rehearsal, as well as their first performance before someone other than their fellow sailors. One pressed a knot on her, made of silk cord, as a pretty souvenir. Taking it, she waved them out of sight as they went jingling on their way.

The encounter had cheered her up, and the fairness of the day expanded her mood even further. She walked along and toyed with the knot in her hands, figuring out how a spell might interlace the same way, a twist here, a twist there. It would serve to bind winds, and she amused herself catching breezes and tying them into the knot.

She put it away in her pocket when she topped the hill to Serenata. The port stretched out in front of her, two big merchant ships and a host of smaller vessels in its harbor. Smoke rose from dwellings, and she could hear the distant clamor and clatter. As she approached, she saw more and more people, but most of them said no more than "Good day."

An old man was the exception. He tottered up and said, "Beg pardon, miss, will you help an old fellow to the apothecary?'

He seemed in earnest, and was clean and well kempt. She observed that he was indeed tottery on his feet, and so she took his arm and walked him to his destination. He chattered to her as they walked along, and taught her an old sea-charm she'd never heard before, one that might coax a mermaid into giving up her comb.

"If you ever spot one, mind you!" he said. "They are few and far between these days. Their waters have been spoiled by whalers and pleasure cruisers, even the ones along the coast."

Hattie thought of cook back home and sighed. Mermaids always sounded so pleasant in legends, full of singing and combing their hair, but in reality their teeth were pointed and their breath stank of fish. Still, she committed the charm to memory, accepted the old man's thanks, and went about her morning.

She spent it combing the docks, trying to find news of the peddler. She encountered salesman selling snake oil, magnetic bracelets, and poultices of bran and narwhale horn; seers and fortune-tellers; sailors looking for drink or women or worse; a man selling a fighting dog; children ready to run errands or steal a purse with equal alacrity; explorers, sail makers, and parties carrying thick tubs of tar; a penny pamphlet preacher; washwomen and prostitutes; women going to market with their maids behind them, and maids going to market with no one but their shadow behind them.

But no rags and bones peddler. Not a sign of him.

In a junk shop, though, she spotted a familiar pair of fire irons. Upon investigation, she found almost all of the traded items, apparently discarded now that they had been stripped of their ghosts.

But the picture frame was not among them. No matter how she coaxed, the shop owner could not remember such a thing being among them, much less the description of the man who had sold them to him. She took comfort in the fact that he didn't remember the frame. But why had the peddler held onto that alone? Her mind boiled, trying to put together puzzle pieces.

At noon, she paused and bought food in the open market: a roasted sausage in a roll, lemonade, and spiced nuts. She found a seat on a bench near the town square and, after dusting it off with a handkerchief, for the splotches on it were somewhat suspect, she settled down to watch the boats as they played on the water, and the arching, swaying loops of the gulls, and the sailors from a multitude of ports going about their business.

She was lulled by the warm sun and the hubbub around her. A half dream, mockingbirds and knots and mermaid charms, usurped her thoughts.

A shadow fell across her and she opened her eyes.

A man stood before her. In appearance he was unremarkable, so much so that she could sense magic about that very presence.

He meant her no good, she could tell that in an instant. She sprang to her feet and he fell back a step.

"I hear ye been askin' after me," he said.

She looked harder. This was the peddler?

"I want my picture back," she said without preamble.

He squinted at her. Magic rippled around him.

"What for?" he scoffed. "A trophy of the man you destroyed?"

Tears sprang to her eyes. "You have no right to say such a thing!"

He did not reply, but cast a spell.

He assailed her with ghosts, and she drew a pair of silver shears from her satchel and cut the cords that tied them to him. They went crying away into a great spirit wind that blew her clothes about even though the air in the market was still.

He tried to quench the wind, and she untied her knot, loosing the breezes she had captured. They pummeled him and blew him about, but he maintained his feet.

He was stronger than she was. She could feel it pressing in the air around her. But they wavered back and forth, trading ectoplasmic blows, until she shuddered and went to her knees, head falling forward. Her cap slipped aside and her scalp was bared, the black tattoos crawling like wormwords over her skin.

She expected him to strike then, to destroy her as he desired, but he was still.

She raised her head with an effort. He was staring at her.

"What markings are those?" he said roughly. His voice was thick, choked with emotion.

"The stars on the day my true love died," she said. "I had them graven there, for I will live under their shadow all my days."

"You lie! You sent your lover to sea with a spell laid in his sea chest, condemning him to wander."

"I did no such thing," she said. "Someone has told you lies." She closed her eyes, weary to the bone. "Go ahead and finish me. At least I will be reunited with him."

But he did nothing but reach forward to touch her shoulder, and when she looked, Jemmy stood there. The ring on his finger was twin to her own.

He helped her up but when he released her, she stepped back, feeling the awkward past between them.

"There was a spell in my chest," he said. "When I was swept overboard, it dragged me down, hung like chains about my feet. I was rescued by a mermaid."

"I did not lay that spell," she said with conviction.

"Until it is broken, I will always be forced to wander. I thought if I killed you, it would disappear. How could I think anyone but you had put it there, when you packed the trunk with your own hands?"

She had. With new clothes she had sewn him, and necessities for his trip, and a dried spray of heliotrope to remind him of her and the night they had spent talking in the garden.

Who in the household would have been able to put a spell in the trunk while her back was turned?

"Madeleine," she said.

"Your sister has no magic."

"I think she does."

He eyed her. This was not her Jemmy, but some stranger, transformed from her lover by suspicion and doubt. It broke her heart.

"How can I prove it?" she pleaded with him. "Why else would I keep the picture of you in such a treasured place?"

He looked at her with sad and confused eyes. "I don't have the picture - I never did."

And so they went to confront Madeleine.

They took a coach back to Vailport, but when they disembarked at the house, there was no one there except the cook, who showed no surprise whatsoever at Jemmy's reappearance, but rather eyed the pair as sourly as ever.

"Miss Madeleine took the boys out for a picnic," she said. She snorted derisively.

It was not a typical gesture on Madeleine's part. Hattie felt a flare of worry for the twins. If Madeleine was, as Hattie suspected, enmeshed in dark magics, she would be losing her connection to humanity, and with it all bonds of love and duty. Nothing would prevent her using the twins in a spell.

The family's favorite picnic ground lay on the outskirts of town, a creek-edged glade full of willows. Jemmy and Hattie saw signs of Madeleine and the twins' passage: crumpled flowers, a discarded sandwich wrapper, and a cairn of pebbles.

Did Madeleine know she was in pursuit, Hattie wondered. And what did her sister intend?

When they reached the glade, they saw the twins playing beside the creek, catching minnows in the shallows. Madeleine sat on the bank on a quilt she had spread out. Hattie noticed with annoyance that it was one of her best, the one that usually sat atop her own bed, a pattern she'd invented herself called Starling's Wing.

Like the cook, Madeleine showed no surprise.

"How did it come to this, Madeleine?" Hattie said sorrowfully.

Madeleine threw her head back in the air, letting her golden locks flow like water, and laughed. "Silly Hattie," she said. "You showed me the way."

"How?"

"Reverand Hosiah preached on the perils of sorcery," Madeleine said. "And I came home that day, thinking that I would never do such a thing, only to find you'd stolen something out from under my nose."

"Be honest, Madeleine," Jemmy said. "I was never anything to you but a foil to use to set other men to jealousy and fighting."

"You were mine," she said. "And if I couldn't have you, no one would. Hattie never guessed I set the anchor for the spell on the picture she so treasured. And lacking that, you will never break the curse."

Hattie thought that perhaps that was the same way Jemmy had intended to break it, back when he'd thought she'd done it, but she put aside the thought. Following it would only lead her down the same path her sister had taken.

"What do you intend with Lute and Cloudy?" she said.

"They've troubled me once too often," Madeleine said. "They put a snake in my bed last night, and that was the final straw. They'll make lovely little suckling pigs, don't you think?"

She reached out as though to make a gesture, but Hattie fingered the almost unraveled knot in her pocket. The quilt billowed up around Madeleine, enwrapping her until she looked like a mummy.

It was over quicker than Hattie had expected, but it drained her to the bones. She drew a deep breath, glanced at Jemmy. Now it was over, now she had him, and life would be different.

But the twins stood in front of her. A tiny smile, so small it could have fit on a tin soldier, hovered at the corner of Lucius' mouth. It was not the smile of someone who had just been rescued from the fate of being turned into a suckling pig.

"You." Hattie asked the twins. "You put Madeleine up to this, didn't you? Why? How?"

Claudius shrugged. "It was easy. Simpleminded Madeline, so full of herself. There's no one so easy to manipulate as someone in love with herself."

"But why?" Hattie demanded. She was physically drained, but that didn't prevent a sense of righteous rage from growing inside her.

"We were just tired of being treated like children," Lucius said. He studied her, still smiling.

"I'm not stupid," Hattie said, as furious with their incessant smiling as their abominable actions. "Don't waste my time with trite answers. I asked a serious question and I deserve a serious answer. I've never been anything but good to you. Why would you do this to me? To the man I loved?"

Lucius and Claudius looked at each other, seeming to communicate without speaking a word.

"Now that your magic is drained," Lucius finally said, "it will be easy to dispose of you. So why not? Why not tell you? You're not the best sorcerer in the family, even if you might wield the most power. When you don't have much power, though, you learn to use it in subtle ways. Small spells that lasted a long, long time, a push here, a nudge there, a touch of wanderlust, a breath of wind. And then when Madeleine cursed your Jemmy to wander, we used that. A curse anchored to our own home proved especially potent. Then you went and got those astrological tattoos all over your head, which only focused the magic on our house even more. Too perfect.

"So now, dear cousin, I'm afraid it's time for you to assume your rightful place. A suckling pig is an excellent suggestion, by the way, since it will keep the tattoos right on your ugly head, right where they will continue to do us the most good."

Hattie felt the twins' magic washing over her, carrying her to another shape, like a wave overcoming a weakened swimmer, carrying her away. Pulling her down.

Jemmy's fingers slipped into hers. "Draw upon my strength," he said.

She hesitated. "But you don't know what that will do . . ."

"Yes, I do know," he said. "Did you think I'd been fooled into thinking myself alive, despite Madeleine's magic?"

Lucius and Cladius both stared, focusing. On another day, she might have been able to resist them without help.

She almost didn't want to. It had been too hard to lose Jemmy once; losing him again would be too much.

Claudius grinned in triumph. Lucius just leered. Both of them standing there with their stupid, evil smiles.

Hattie had no choice. She took Jemmy's fingers between hers . . .

And she unknotted him. Unmade him. Unwove him, turning him into threads of magic as thin and bright as wire. And then she took up that weave and wrapped it around the twins, a net as fine as a knife blade, so sharp that lines of blood stood out on their skin.

In the air beside Hattie, all that was left was a glimmer of Jemmy, the shape of an absence, a thought like a recollection.

His shape wavered beside her as she plucked away the last of the twins' magic, as she bundled them and Madeleine up into the cart like helpless statues.

It was painful seeing Jemmy as nothing more than a shadow. She knew it was even more painful for him to exist that way. All she had to do was unwrap that last knot, the knot that held all that he was still, the knot of the spell that had called him out of the ocean to torment her.

At least this time she would be able to say a proper farewell.

Lifting a hand toward his glimmering, shimmering form, she mouthed the word, Goodbye. She couldn't bring herself to say it aloud, but it was enough. Jemmy lifted a hand to meet hers. Then he melted away.

In the kitchen Hattie confronted the cook.

"You know where it is, don't you?" she said.

The cook showed far more teeth than any human could. "Mine," she said.

But Hattie was already whistling the charm the old man had taught her. Reluctantly, the cook went to her barrel and removed the picture, shaking brine off the surface.

Hattie took it with gentle hands, picking away the spell embroidered around it, like a needle teasing out the last scraps of stitches, plucking away tufts of thread.

Jemmy was gone.

"I cannot thank you enough," she said, despite the tears thickening her voice.

The cook's face twisted with hope and anticipation. Hattie said it again. "Thank you."

They would have to find a new cook, certainly, with the mermaid gone. But Hattie already had a few ideas in mind, and in the meantime she could make the soup herself.

In the parlor, she replaced the picture in the cabinet. She paused, as though waiting for some sign from the silent house, but there was no answer.

In the morning, she thought, it was washing day. Perhaps the weather would be fine again.

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