Chapter One

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In the lavender mist of a dawn not yet risen, the lake was mirror-smooth and silent. No bird skimmed its surface, hunting insects or unwary fish. Even the weeping reeds stood still—grassy sentries on the mossy bank.

The old man and his son were as silent and still as their surroundings. They sat among the reeds, bows across their knees, arrows at their sides; waiting. They had been there since first light had begun to bleed into the sky.

Experience had taught the old man that patience was the greatest tool of any hunter. The boy was still learning this skill. He fidgeted every now and then, casting his eyes about for any sign of skimmerfowl or nestlebreen. Normally, they would already have shot down something for Nan's cooking pot.

He was on the verge of a murmured suggestion that they try their luck at the other end of the lake when a movement on the water caught his eye. He nudged his father in the arm, but the old man had already seen it. He motioned the boy to silence with a raised finger.

Something was moving beneath the water.

They remained sitting side by side, watching rings continue to spread from the center of the lake, slow and silver in the pale light—until at last, she rose.

She was tall, pale, and beautiful. Her hair was endless woven moonlight, her eyes piercing honey gold. She stood waist-deep in the lake and turned, slowly, to gaze at them.

She lifted one slender hand, and beckoned.

The boy was first to stand. His bow and arrows fell from limp fingers, but he didn't notice. He stepped forward, eyes wide and enraptured.

His father reached up, grasped his wrist in a silent plea to stay, to stay and sit with him, sit silent and safe in the reeds until their prey arrived and they could bring Nan something for her cooking pot...

The woman in the lake beckoned once more. She smiled, tenderly.

The old man's hand fell away from his son's wrist, and he stood. Together, they walked into the deep, cold water—into her embrace, her black-tongued kiss, and an oblivion of sweet, airless evermore.

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