Wonders of the Invisible World
an eel clamped to a writhing fish.
    Don’t let go.
    And then the pain spilled through her, burst out of her until it must have filled the world, for she felt nothing else, not water nor motion nor the coarse mane, long and wet as sea grass, in her fingers. She closed her eyes at last, and drowned in pain.
    She woke again, at which she felt vaguely surprised. Drenched and limp as a bundle of beached sea kelp, she lay on sand in what must have been the bottom of the world. A hollow of rock rose around her; a cave, holding air like a bubble. Beyond it, she saw the gray-green glimmer of water, shadowy things moving among trailing weeds.
    The great horse loomed over her, its long white head with its onyx eyes and great dark nostrils swooping down as though to bite. Its mouth stopped an inch from her cheek. It only scented her, once, fastidiously, as though it were uncertain what she was.
    “Am I dead?” she asked. Her voice had no more strength than a tendril of water moss.
    “You should be,” its eye told her, or its thoughts; she couldn’t tell exactly where the voice came from.
    She sat up slowly, pulling herself together in piecemeal fashion, bone by bone off the fine white sand. It crusted her hair, her clothes; she tasted it on her lips. The horse backed, stood watching her motionlessly. She saw a glimmering, moving reflection in its eye, and turned stiffly; her bones might have been there for centuries, they felt that creaky.
    A man entered the cave. Some manlike creature, at any rate, if not truly mortal. His skin seemed opalescent, wavery gray-green, like the water; his green hair floated like sea-grass around his head. He wore a coronet of gold and pearl and darkly gleaming mother-of-pearl. In his tall grace and beauty, in his eyes the shade of blue-black nacre, he bore a startling resemblance to Bram Wilding.
    She sighed. “Out of the frying pan...” she whispered. Her throat hurt, as though she had tried to scream under water. “Who are you?”
    He gave her a look she couldn’t fathom before he spoke. “You are in my realm,” he answered, a lilt in his voice like the lap of waves against the shore. “This water is my kingdom.”
    “How do you understand me?” she asked with wonder.
    “I am as old as this water. I have been hearing the sounds that mortals make since before they learned to speak.”
    “What happens now?”
    He gave a very human shrug. “I have no idea.” She stared at him. “No one has ever ridden my kelpie and lived.”
    “I’m still alive?”
    “So it seems.”
    “I wasn’t sure. I feel as though I have gotten lost in someone else’s dream. Why did the kelpie come to kill me?”
    “It’s the way of things,” he answered simply. “To ride the kelpie is to drown.”
    “But I didn’t.”
    She thought a moment; her mind felt heavy, sluggish with water, thoughts as elusive as minnows. “You could,” she suggested finally, “have the kelpie take me back.”
    He scratched a brow with a green thumbnail; a tiny snail drifted out. “I could just leave you in here; you would die eventually. But the kelpie kills, not I. Perhaps you were not meant to die. Every other mortal dragged underwater lets go of the kelpie to swim. It swims too deep, too quickly; they can never reach the surface again before they drown. But you would not let go.”
    “I think I got my tales confused,” she answered fuzzily.
    “Are there rules for such things?” the lake king asked curiously. “What happens in other tales at times like this?”
    She tried to remember. Her childhood seemed very distant, on the far side of the boundary between water and air, stone and light. Inspiration struck; she felt absurdly pleased. “We might bargain,” she told him. “You could ask me for something in return for my life.”
    He grunted. “What could you possibly have that I might want?”
    She felt into the pockets of her smock, came up with a soggy handkerchief, some crumbled charcoal, sand, an

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