But as soon as the wild winds of autumn sheered over her waters the river revealed another darker face. Then she cried out and blew her foam-topped waves upwards to the overhanging branches, sighing to grasp what she could not possess. She let her depths seethe and became as dark as the night. The innocent passer-by of summer no longer dared to approach her, and the skimming water beetles disappeared hastily into her darker undercurrents. She raged and stormed like a rejected woman, dragging everything along with her that in her wild anger she could grab hold of. She tore at the banks, shook with her hips until the young trees relented; let the mud from her underbelly swamp the boats of the playing children. She laughed and howled when a child clutched crying to the thin rope of the fragile craft. Then she tugged until the rope was forced loose... and dragging her prey to her secret place deep beneath the surface, carelessly tossed the rope back into the boat as a vain woman tosses her long hair behind her, as the last air bubble on her surface burst like a twig in a fire. Her bosom would rise and fall, rise and fall, with the wild need to destroy.
Until the winds died and the iron cold of winter forced her to silence with its smooth tongue of sleet, covering her body from the depths to the surface under a layer of ice, freezing every movement. Then she surrendered, allowing herself to be walked over. Sharp blades etched lines into her unfathomable soul. Now that the winter freed them from their fears, the villagers illuminated the sails of the windmill and the trees along her naked banks with lanterns. Wooden huts were set up on her ice where tired skaters, huddled over wood fires in braziers, could warm themselves with hot soup.
Sometimes she fought back. Then, just a little, she melted and opened her watery eye. But the people knew her ways too well. They did not allow themselves to be bewitched, but skated instead in a great arc around the gaping hole which had formed. Then she sputtered and spat. But her powers diminished, and instead her sputterings became something rather pathetic. And so with shrunken pride she closed her eye once more.
While she lay imprisoned in her own currents, the river waited confidently for the coming spring. The winter, she knew, would always lose its cold and silent grip over her. She had time. And once the ice had melted and she had regained her natural beauty, then saplings that lined her banks would see her fairness, give her a new sheen, and then she carried out her victory rite. She would sing once more, and let the mill wheels turn at full tilt. She would allow herself to be decorated with water lilies, and her water beetles would smooth the long tangles from her silver hair, and comb the dead branches and drifting boats out of her locks. The tears for those who had been lost would cleanse her banks, and she would flow, her bosom rising and falling, and her hips again would lure the stranger who would lie in her bed. Her dark undercurrents she would keep hidden until the moment when she once more needed to appease her hunger. And the valley dwellers feared that moment. Each year they braced themselves, and each year anew the river extracted her price, and they were not spared. Then there was talk about shutting down the mill and leaving the valley for good. But no-one took the first step, and they dare not look each other in the eye. Instead they gazed towards the dark water where the undercurrent was the strongest, the most invisible, and shook their heads with heavy hearts. Not only did she enchant the unsuspecting stranger. Nobody escaped her allure.
She gave life and she took it. And so they feared her. But stronger than fear was their love, and as uncontrollable. So they stayed and paid the price, for she flowed as blood through their veins.
Artwork: Water Goddess by Greg Spalenka