Just a bit of imagery practice, really, nothing fancy, but I really like some of the twirls and embellishments of the language, so they needed a home.
The stream gurgles wild and free, inviting pebbles to dance along the bed. Their little treads call up puffs of sediment, murky footprints in the crystal clarity of the water. They don’t make the journey in haste. Keeping the pace of the ancient mountains they once were, they are certain they will reach the great water at one point or another. It matters little to them. Time carries a different meaning for stone than man.
The trek of the stones downriver is a natural rhythm, part of the stream’s life as much as the insects zipping over the quiet, swirling pools or the tiny brook fish filling its waters. They’re all watched over by a splendid, busy sprite, who takes her duty rather seriously.
She studiously directs the water into beautiful swirls and curls around the big boulders and nudges little clumps of larvae out of the quickest currents, lest they get dashed on the stones. Everything has its place in her world of natural art and she flits up and down the stream constantly to keep it in order.
Today is much the same, but for one thing.
One of the great disturbers has found their way into her waters. She immediately hears the discordant splash of the fall and rushes uphill from where she was just braiding the underwater ferns into flattering patterns. Normally, when one of the human-folk shatters her peace and quiet, it’s with great fanfare – waving about with their arms, stomping with their legs and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
This one is different though, silent after the initial spatter, bobbing and weaving in her currents without the usual ruckus. She finally reaches the place upstream where his human intruder floats. It’s one of their men, face smooth with youth and hair brown as river mud, flowing around this head like a crown.
She swims along beneath him for a moment, watches his closed eyes and the tiny bubbles of air that slip past his lips to escape to the surface. The metallic sting of life blood she tastes in her waters makes her shy away. She is not one of the gods who take blood for sacrifice after all. But the fluid that leaves a faint trace in the water for only seconds as it leaks, combined with the motionless drift of the body, let her know that this young man will not survive in her charges embrace.
She flits around him indecisively a few times, wondering whether she should let him die, take the sacrifice to strengthen her stream with the power of a life. But the stubborn human heart keeps beating, raging against the fleeing air with force and she finds her nature to protect and cherish stronger than the temptation.
She cannot touch him, once he is out of the water, so this endeavor will have to be successful on the first try. She feels ahead, finds a spot just in front of the downstream rushes, where a large, flat boulder quiets the water into smaller swirls before it makes its path past the narrows and picks up speed on the slope. She lets the water flow through her hands when he floats towards that boulder and waits for just the right moment to tug the currents up so a surge of water lifts him up to the slab of stone and cascades into the rapid on the other side.
For a moment, she fears that he will slide back down, but his legs just bob a little and settle in the quieter waters. She waits, brushing off the currents that caress her and call her to a joyous play of fetch down the river rapids. The human is still, silent as she does not know them and quiet trepidation creeps up on her as she can’t see him draw a breath.
More seconds tick by and with each one, the water grows colder with her fright. Finally, his chest shudders and heaves, some stray drops of river water escaping with a cough. She welcomes them gratefully back as they trickle down over the moss and granite surface. She hears the air rattle cruelly in his chest, taking back her natural domain from the water that invaded and makes to leave the young man, now that he can fend for himself.
Before she can sweep away, however, his eyes open – light amber, like the gems that come tumbling down to her depths sometimes from the mountain – and pin her there, as if he sees her image, fractal and blurred, not meant for mortal eyes to gaze upon.
He weakly moves his hand to sign the cross of the new jealous god and she flinches, ready to flee. But he follows the gesture with a kiss to his thumb, bringing it up to the center of his forehead, a druids greeting that strikes a chord inside her.
“Thank you,” his voice is thread and hoarse. “Thank you, noble spirit, for your kindness.”
He worships the old gods and the new and he sees her, even though she’s not meant for mortal eyes. What a very peculiar fellow, indeed. So, for the first time in her long life, she wants to answer one of those humans who have never been more than a nuisance to her. She doesn’t have a voice he will be able to hear, but her river does.
The stream rises about her, water swirling over plants and gurgling over stepping stones in a new melody. He smiles down at her like he understands before turning his face into the warm embrace of the sun.