An artist must avoid scandal. One poor decision, and you’re through. No more commissions from high wizards. No more interviews on the front page of the Divinational Weekly Chapbook. Regretfully, I have experienced such embarrassment.
I am, or rather was, Zauberfaden, master clothier. Do not imagine me re-attaching buttons on a prince’s breeches. Nay, I was Chief Tailor to the League of Magick. And it was not merely my skills at fitting and basting that made me the favorite to witches, gods, and fairies. It was my artistic vision as a designer of magical garments. I created masterworks onto which sorcerers could pour their spells.
I got all the best commissions. Some mer-creatures in the Irish Sea needed magic red caps to help them hold their fishtail form. That led to a contract to fashion a helmet of invisibility for Hades himself.
A guild of German dwarves hired me to make white tunics that could transport them instantly from one place to another. Mephistopheles needed magic boots so he could cover seven leagues with each step. My exquisite design hugged his sinful ankles in the hide of baby dragon.
And then there was Cinderella. Oh, I thrilled to hear Fairy Godmother’s words. “Z.F., I need a ball gown to transform a char girl into a princess.”
Despite my eagerness, I stood my ground. “You must let me make the whole look, tiara to slippers.” She relented, of course.
While poor Cinderella picked lentils from the fireplace, I did sketches of my nymphs modeling pin-tucked gold fabric.
Fairy Godmother visited my studio, practically squealing. “Well? What have you come up with, Z.F.? Tell me everything.”
I tried to sound nonchalant, starting with the more ordinary features. “There’s gold chintz.”
“And fur from an ancient llama’s chin. And a matching coach that appears out of a pumpkin.”
Fairy Godmother stood with her hands behind her back, nodding and gazing into the distance. She knew I had a surprise.
“There are shimmering glass slippers.”
Now she turned, gasping. “I didn’t think glass could hold a spell.”
I’d pondered this for many sleepless nights. “Be careful with the angle of your wand. Unlike fabric or metal, which absorbs magic, the glass will refract it.”
I could tell she hungered for the challenge. “It has often been remarked how perfectly I aim my wand’s beam.”
Knowing which side of my bread held the butter, I bowed courteously. “Of your skills, my dear, I have no doubt.”
“And once I’ve imbued the garments with magic, how long will it last?”
“Oh, I’d say until midnight.”
“Very well. I’ll cut it off cleanly at the stroke of twelve. Finish up this lot, and I will prepare a spell more powerful than any this kingdom has seen in centuries.” She’d flitted halfway out the door when she turned back to add, “If anything at all goes wrong, you’re finished in this business.”
As if I were not already anxious enough about the assignment, I doubled down on my assistants to be sure the dress and coach were flawless. The making of the slippers, however, could not be entrusted to an employee.
First I melted down a cask of the best opal sands. Then I blew the basic foot shape and sculpted the finer details. Soon I held the most stunning crystalline slippers ever made.
Too proud to let the evening pass unwitnessed, I followed Fairy Godmother, who followed Cinderella’s magical coach to the ball. The clothes and the shoes, I must admit, were beautiful.
But the shoes were not easy to walk in. One fell off Cinderella’s foot as she ran from the palace. That one abandoned glass slipper caused more trouble than a whole army’s worth of worn-through soles.
Prince Charming came chasing after Cinderella just at midnight. Fairy Godmother, hiding in the shadows, aimed her wand and let loose a spell of transformation. But the rays from her wand hit recklessly against the shoe Cinderella still wore. (Damn that woman: I warned her!) The magic bounced off and, even worse, struck the other shoe lying on the steps. Twice refracted, a thousand times the potency.
And who pranced directly into this geyser of scalding magic? Prince Charming.
He didn’t stay Prince Charming for long, but mutated into a cross between a mouse and a salamander. Quite reasonably, His Tiny-ness skittered away.
When Fairy Godmother marched into my studio next morning, she was not in a kindly mood. “All is ruined,” she wailed. “Cinderella is imprisoned, believed to be a witch. Unless she restores the prince to his proper form, she’ll be hanged.”
“You restore the prince,” I growled, furious over her careless wand-waving.
“And how shall I do that, when no one can find him? He’s burrowed somewhere under the castle.”
I had an idea. Calling to my assistants, I ordered ten furlongs of green cloth. “Where’s the shoe?” I asked Fairy Godmother.
“Here.” She drew it from her apron pocket. “What have you in mind?”
“An experimental combination magic-damping device and divining shawl. We tie the cloth around the castle. You enchant the shoe, which refracts the spell and shines it into the divining cloth. The cloth relays the magnified magic to the place where it senses the distressed prince.”
We put my plan into action. The result was explosive.
Happily, the prince emerged from the debris only slightly singed, in his princely form. Sadly, the castle was but a heap of kindling. And there I stood, holding the glass shoe in one hand and the edge of the divining cloth in the other.
His Highness, still with an instinct to twitch his nose, generously allowed me to live if I promised never to go near another practitioner of magic.
So I bought a little tailor’s shop, where I make beautiful clothes with no magical powers. The fool has turned wise. Sometimes, to see the value of simplicity, one must reflect life’s light through a priceless glass slipper.
Anne E. Johnson lives in Brooklyn. Her short speculative fiction has appeared in Urban Fantasy Magazine, Story of the Month Club, The Future Fire, Liquid Imagination, FrostFire Worlds, and elsewhere.