Like everyone, Ella has heard about the old washerwoman spirit who will grant any one wish—for a price…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Beguiled by Cyla Panin, out from Amulet Books on August 23rd.
Ella is a 17-year-old weaver whose entire livelihood depends on her loom. She dreams of opening her own shop, but when her father died in debtor’s prison, she had to support herself by taking whatever clients she could get. In order to buy her supplies she goes into debt of her own, and when her loom breaks, Ella realizes she needs more help than a repairperson can give her. She, like everyone, has heard about the old washerwoman spirit called the Bean-Nighe who will grant any one wish—for a price.
But Ella is desperate, so she asks the Bean-Nighe to fix her loom. And it works. The loom is fixed, and she creates beautiful pieces she could have never imagined before. All she has to do is feed the loom a drop of blood each time she weaves—a small price to pay for such magnificent silks. And when she brings two bolts to a rich client, she meets a mysterious young man named Callum and bargains for an invitation to his exclusive party. At that party, he’s so mesmerized by her talent, he offers Ella a place to live and patronage for her art. It seems like Ella’s fortune is finally turning for the better… until she begins to notice the loom taking more from her than she offered.
As she becomes entangled in the lives of the city’s rich, swept into Callum’s allure, and trapped by the Bean-Nighe’s magic, Ella must figure out a way to secure her future while she still has a future at all.
I turned the necklace back and forth in my hand, wondering who might buy it. Wisps of white chased each other across the sky and parted long enough for the sun’s light to touch the silver. The clouds always looked higher here. They’d hung so much lower over my old village in the mountains. I used to play a game as a young child and run into the patches of grass lit up by the little bit of sun showing through a break in the clouds, trying to catch them before they faded away.
That was before I’d realized we were poor. Papa had somehow kept it from me, probably sacrificing his own portions of food for mine. I tried to remember how that felt, the levity of it, but it was always just out of reach. Like the sunlight.
The road kept on toward the market, but I slipped down the path to the river. A big rock beside the bank offered the perfect seat, and I was certain Gregory wouldn’t be here. I breathed in the rich smell of water plants and dampened earth and my stomach settled. Others were scared to come because of the Bean-Nighe haunting its edges. They were terrified they’d see her and she’d trick them into reciting a wish—then extract payment for it. To me, other people’s fear was actually all the more reason to come down to the water, since I often got to be alone here. The old, cursed washerwoman didn’t scare me, really. She only came through the veil if you called her in some way, and I was careful never to say anything out loud on the bank.
Two barges, rowed by four strong backs, made their way through the water on the other side of the river. They held mysteries from the rest of the world, items packed carefully in barrels from places I would never see.
Was there anything from Odina’s homeland? She’d told me she was Mi’kmaq from across the sea. Sometimes milliners would go through stacks of beaver pelts in the marketplace, looking for the best material for their hats, and I always wondered if there’d been beaver fur on her ship when she first traveled here. Odina had seen many places with her voyager mother before they landed at Eidyn Crag. She’d told me about some of the animals where she’d lived, huge horned beasts taller than any stag, and she’d once shown me a fruit from a warmer shore—deep red with seeds like jewels. A pomegranate. All the things she’d seen, the experiences she’d had, and yet she still hungered for more of everything. Perhaps after having anything you wanted, satiation wasn’t possible anymore. My throat burned as her hard smile flicked through my mind. She’d expected me to give in to her, and I had.
I wrapped my arms around myself. The smells of the city didn’t stretch down to the riverbanks, and neither did the harsh stares of people better than me wondering why I dared step into their path or breathe their air. My own clothes marked me out as not good enough to people like Odina. It was only because of what I could make—my fabrics—that I was allowed in her house at all.
Once the cold from the rock I sat on seeped through my skirt and petticoat, I stood and brushed away the dirt and pine needles clinging to my hem. It was time to go, but longing already sang in my heart. Here, I was safe from Gregory. Here, it was lovely and quiet. But I couldn’t stay.
There was only really one chance left to make the money back I owed, or at least enough of it to satisfy him for a while. A purple silk sat half-done on my loom, and I knew Odina would want it as soon as she saw it. I’d begun a floral pattern of the likes I’d never seen before.
It was late enough now, probably teatime, and Gregory would most likely be gone from the market, back in his little shop to be served a meal by his wife. I’d sell the necklace for something, anything, whatever I could get, then I’d go home and weave.
I grabbed a thick root and pulled myself up the side of the embankment, loose soil falling around my shoes. After one last look at the way the falling light rippled over the river, I started down the road.
Butchers and vendors with stalls of country-grown produce dominated the lower side of Greenmarket. I didn’t mind the tangy scent of blood or the way it pinched my tongue, and Gregory wouldn’t be in this part of town either. He had a housekeeper to do his shopping. Even so, my stomach was as riled up as a mouse caught in a glass jar.
Vegetables lined up in baskets on crude wooden counters soothed me, made me smile. All those colors… I loved to just look at them. Purple carrots and deep-red beets and orange turnips. Red and green apples. The colors of wool and silk skeins I dreamed about buying. But dye was expensive. Beautiful things were expensive. Like the necklace should be. But no one would believe it was mine, not with the dress I was wearing, so I doubted I’d get as much as it was meant to be worth.
I’d have to walk up the hill to find a jeweler. The road twisted as it climbed, the stone buildings pressing against each other on either side. A statue of our patron goddess, Nemain, stood in front of the big temple. A man left a sack of oats by her feet, no doubt praying for some gift he hoped to receive from her—a good harvest or healthy fruit trees. I stopped to look, hiding myself in the corner of a wooden gate. Gregory could be near here now, away from the blood and rotted vegetables that sour the air in the marketplace. I glanced over my shoulder, to the other side. Nothing. But that didn’t stop my heart hammering.
The foot of the statue wasn’t as crowded as I was used to seeing it though. Maybe people were frustrated with getting nothing back. Papa always said we were better off keeping our oats and honey than trying to give them to a god. Nemain was strong enough anyway, what with all the images of her carved around the city and all the prayers she received. We didn’t need to add to her strength with gifts she would never return.
I could use any help Nemain would give now though. Maybe she’d smile on me if I offered her something good enough. I stepped quickly to the gates and rubbed the necklace in my hand. I never had anything to gift the goddess—nothing extra. But the necklace might be appealing to her. Would her help be worth more than the coins I would get for it?
A woman dressed in a long robe of unbleached linen came through the temple’s doors. A Protector of the gods, not that they needed it. The gods were the strongest of the fae, and the fae were the only holders of magic. The lesser ones didn’t venture to this side of the veil very often—why would they? From what I’d heard of their world in the tales my father told me, the fae world seemed so much more filled with possibilities.
The gods came here much more often though. They needed to maintain and grow their power here, with our worship. Enough worship and they truly became immortal, unable to be killed.
But worship had to be willfully given or it wouldn’t work. Would Nemain feel my hesitancy if I gave her the necklace? Papa had been a bit bitter because Nemain didn’t stop my mother dying from a poison tooth when I was small, but he’d only given her a loaf of stale bread then. It was all he was willing to part with.
The Protector shuffled toward the statue in wooden clogs, a silver bowl cradled in her arms. She bent to pick up the bag of oats and emptied the sack into the bowl. I clicked my tongue. Instead of Nemain benefiting from them, they’d probably be the Protectors’ dinner. If she stole my necklace too, I’d be giving it away for absolutely nothing.
I dragged my eyes away from the temple and searched up and down the street again for the bulk of Gregory’s body. I needed to move further into the city. Faces blurred together as I tried to take in features, see him before he saw me. My heart thumped, heavy, in my chest. Sweat dampened the neckline of my dress. A swirl of people enveloped me, but no Gregory. I blinked and counted out three breaths. He probably wasn’t here—he’d be at home, eating something rich and delicious. If I could just calm myself, I’d do a better job of selling the necklace.
People crammed together, hems of dresses brushing against one another. This place always made me itchy. Everything was up for the taking here. I bent in on my own body, lowering my shoulders and tucking my fist away, the necklace safe inside.
Shops petered out into stalls on top of the Chieftain’s road. A woman stood behind a table glinting with stones and silver. A man leaned against the wall behind them and spat onto the cobbles. He watched the people going by, shifted his position, and reached out a hand to pinch the woman’s bottom through her dress. My blood flamed for a moment, but the woman smiled and batted his hand away before giving him a quick wink. Lovers, then. Husband and wife maybe. She drew the customers in and he kept an eye out for thieves.
A team. And I’d have to tackle them alone, hoping they’d take some kind of pity on me. My stomach churned.
The silver necklace didn’t catch the light this time because there was no sun to be had—it was swallowed up by those low, puffy clouds that look like wool before it’s been spun. I cursed them. The silver just looked better, more enticing, more expensive when it glinted in the light. I held it out to the woman anyway, nestled in my damp palm.
“Where did you get that?” The woman leaned her elbows on the counter, letting her dress pull against her breasts.
She wanted me to stare, but I darted my eyes back to the necklace in my hand.
“It was given to me,” I said, though I was certain she wouldn’t believe me.
“No stones or anything, just silver in the shape of a leaf… it’s not worth much.”
My heart fell. This woman had a table full of near-worthless stones, little more than polished rocks, and yet she glared at me like I’d brought a river pebble to her stand. I reached out a finger to touch one of the blue stones, feel the cold smoothness of it against my fingertip, and my sleeve caught one beside it. It slipped to the ground. The man behind the stall grunted. His eyes burned into my back as I bent to pick it up, heat creeping up my neck.
Another man stepped in front of me with shining brown leather boots while I was low down to the street. Next came a pair of heeled satin slippers utterly impractical for the cobbles beneath them. The hem of the woman’s blue silk dress landed just at her ankles to better show off her shoes and the purple feather fastened to them with a paste jewel. I sat back on my heels and stared at the couple’s legs.
I had a paste jewel of my own, and when it was given to me I’d thought it valuable. It was the day the magistrate came for Papa, when they dragged him loudly out into the square in front of our building. Every person on the busy street to the left stopped to stare. Papa went quietly, but the soldiers wanted to make sure everyone knew his shame. I was twelve and couldn’t help running after him, trying to memorize the lines of his face and touch the dry skin of the back of his hands.
Papa was never as successful as he wanted to be. There were many weavers in this city for the wealthy clients to pick from and Papa was rarely chosen. I hated that, because his fabrics were the most beautiful to me. When a young man grabbed me by the shoulder that day, he gave me the little purple gem and told me he was a Player. I was awed. I thought, if only he’d been here before, when Papa was selling his silks, the young man could have bought some and brought them before the Chieftain to show him how worthy my father’s work was. We could have had customers, too many customers to deal with. Demand. A shop. It was only after I went to the market that day, to try to sell the jewel to save my father, that I found it was quite worthless to anyone else.
But I kept the jewel to remember that the Players existed, and maybe one day they’d choose my work to wear to a party and make my business successful in a single night. They’d done it with others—the dyer who made the purple hue they favored and the lace-maker who’d done a pattern like a spiderweb that was so in fashion a couple years ago. Both of those craftspeople had had customers lined up outside the doors of their new shops. Neither would have had to face the thought of empty bellies or debtor’s prison. For now, I was still on the outside of influence. My name, my fabrics didn’t mean anything to anyone. Shame flooded me. I should have been further along by now, a better-known weaver. Papa would have wanted that for me. I wanted that. But as it was, I had to stand at this booth, hawking a bit of old jewelry for a fraction of the coins I needed to pay off my debt.
The necklace still in my hand, I pressed it down on the table and pinned the jewel-woman with my stare. She couldn’t shrink me. Not her. Not after Odina.
“How many silvers for it? And don’t try to play with me, I’m not green.”
“Two silvers, and it’s a fair price, so take it or leave it.”
I couldn’t leave it and this woman knew. Her tongue skittered over her yellowing bottom teeth as heat flared in my cheeks.
She smiled, revealing a missing upper tooth, which I suspected would soon be followed by others, and slapped two coins into my hand.
“Now, on with you. You’re bad for attracting customers.”
My underarms prickled and my dress grew damp there. I wrapped my arms around my body and slipped back into the crowd like a small stone sinking into the river. People flowed around me, busy, families to be getting home to. I’d sold the necklace; now I had to get back to work.
I hurried away, back down the sloping road, in the direction of the river, but a glimmer in a window caught my eye, and I moved toward it. Papa’s voice in my head told me I was being silly. We couldn’t afford things like little enamel buttons with purple flowers painted on them. But imagine if every coin didn’t have to go to survival. To Gregory, to the baker for the burned loaves. If I could buy those buttons, wear the purple of the Players, I might feel just a little bit special—like them. I even knew just the fabric scraps in my basket to go with them.
The leaded shop window sparkled as if someone had just scrubbed it with vinegar. Inside, the buttons leaned against an old velvet-bound book. The owner had placed a pick hat on a stand just above them—a suggestion.
See how lovely the hat and buttons look together? Don’t you want to look that lovely?
I knew the tricks, saw them plainly, even though they sometimes worked on me. My fingers were almost transparent in the reflection on the glass as I reached toward the pretty purple buttons.
A heavy weight fell on my shoulder and I glanced behind me, heart in my throat.
Gregory’s sour breath leeched over my shoulder. I’d let myself slip for one moment, let myself imagine I was a person who could stop and peer into a shop window like I had nothing else to do. Foolish. A cold sweat broke out on my hands and my upper lip. Men like Gregory could make decisions that would wreck my life. He could send me to the same prison Papa died in if he wanted to. I stuck my hand in pocket and rubbed the two silver coins together. It wasn’t enough. Not even close.
“Ella. What you looking at, girl? You can’t possibly have money for something in that window and not be paying me for that wool thread first.”
“I can give you a little now and more later,” I said, muscles coiled, ready to spring away. “I have something special, truly. I just need to finish it.”
He smiled. “I’ve been kind to you, Ella. Given you lots of chances. More than most get. I’m not interested in your promises. I want to be paid. Now.”
“I don’t have it! Not yet.”
Lying wouldn’t get me anywhere. I couldn’t magic coins out of thin air. He had to know there was nothing to gain from me now, but there could be. If he’d just give me time, I could make him back his money threefold.
“Listen,” I continued. “I have a client with lots of money and I’m making something just for her. She’s going to love it and she’ll pay a pretty coin for it. You’ll get your money back.”
Gregory shook his head, and my throat went dry. He took two steps toward me, pushing me against the wall of the shop. People moved past us, not even glancing in our direction. We were nothing, not worthy of attention. I wasn’t worthy of helping. Fear lodged in my throat, and I couldn’t get a yell out.
Gregory’s hot breath plumed over my face as he leaned toward me. “There’s another way to pay, you know.”
I squeezed my stomach muscles to stop the queasy writhing. “You like coin, don’t you, Gregory? I’m telling you, I can get much more.”
“You talk too much for your own good.”
He grabbed my upper arm in his thick fingers. In a blur of adrenalin, I jammed my elbow into his soft belly. Gregory gasped and grabbed at me as I ran away, but I wove through the crowd as expertly as I shuttled thread through my loom.
Adapted excerpt from the upcoming book Beguiled by Cyla Panin, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams; © 2022..