I let the water fall like silky rain around my shoulders, little lights flickered and small creatures flitted in and out of the liquid curtain. As spring crept shyly over the land, the sleeping world slowly came to life. My waterfall had been sleeping too in frozen, crystal peace. We had both awakened two days ago, all it took was the caress of a fallen apple blossom to wrest us from our deep winter dreams. Far upriver the raging waters had gathered and flung themselves like haunted thoughts down the steep hills and curved valleys, finally finding their way to my waterfall and the clear azure pool which lay far below. The torrent had gentled today, but I had not yet ventured out into the sapphire depths of the pool, the river had found many things on its way down… I waited for the current to carry them on and leave me and my waterfall as we had been for the last thousand or more years. I ducked back just in time to miss being hit by a large, strangely shaped log that seemed to bend as it was flung down the water chute. I was curious as the ‘log’ sank and did not resurface and deciding to risk the debris I dove cleanly into the broiling waters. My eyesight was as good under the surface; maybe even better than above and in the space of a few seconds I realized that ‘the log’ was no log… I had not seen one of the fabled creatures before, but this must be one of them, it was too graceless for an elf and lacked the pointed ears. We forest and river folk hardly ever came into contact with each other, but once or twice in a century we would meet and swap stories, mostly legends and myths picked up from sylphs and elves. They spoke of a creature, a mortal, unmagical being that lived far beyond the forest in strange boxes that they themselves made and enslaved everything they came in contact with. They caught the animals of the fields and made them work; they fought against the natural flows of streams and rivers making unnatural pools for their convenience, killing so many of my folk as their waterfalls dried up. They even managed to enslave the ground around them, forcing it to grow and nurture only plants the mortals wished for, killing all others that dared bravely raise their green heads. I pulled the mortal to the surface, not pleased that one of the ‘destroyers’ had found his way to my home, but the code of life that held unchangeable laws in our very beings would not allow me to leave something to die if I could help it. The human was a male, muscular and tall, his weight was immense and I hardly could lift him from the water. At last I managed to drag him clear of the pool and onto a soft cushion of moss. I then perched on a rock beside him and waited for his eyes to open. I had checked his heart and it still beat, I guessed he had fallen in not far upriver and fought a lot for he was covered in livid bruises. I was intrigued by the golden colour of his skin, it was such an unnatural hue to me, laying my hand on his arm I marvelled at the difference, mine – the colour of moonlight, his- the colour of sunlight. Drawing my hand back I leaned in closer, his eyelids fluttered and then flew open. The mortal sat up and then fell back onto the moss clutching his head in his hands, moaning from pain. I was confused, what was he doing? Leaning in closer, courageous as long as I had one of my toes in contact with the water I said,
‘What are you doing?’
The mortal had such a fright that I did too and leaped into the water, my reflexes faster than my thoughts. I dove down to the depths to gather my rattled nerves and then resurfaced beside the mortal. This time he was sitting up, his back against a rock, in his fist he held a sharp tool I had seen in his belt. It had a harsh silver blade that hurt my eyes to look at. He held it up facing me, but as soon as I had settled on the rock again, the weapon fell from his hands and his eyes crunched in curiosity, probably mirroring the same expression that was on my face.
I spoke again, but confusion replaced curiosity as he tried to understand. I realized then that he would not know the language of the creatures of the earth – he had been too long rebellious to her teaching. He then tried to speak, but I could not understand the hard angular words that came from his mouth. We sat like this for a while, but neither one knew how to speak to the other. He was motioning by making a cup with his hands and holding it to his mouth; I understood the direction and cupping some water in my hands, poured it into his. He drank and then attempted to stand, it was amazing that nothing was broken, but he seemed well enough besides suffering from a headache. He knelt in front of me and held his hand to his heart and moving it slowly as not to frighten me he laid it on my hand. I pulled back and half-stood, ready for a retreat into the protecting depths of the pool. He drew back and smiled, obviously trying to make me understand something. Reaching inside his shirt he brought out a small knotted rope with a smooth stone on the end. It was white and lustrous and I could not take my eyes off it, there was something about it that called to me. Then the recesses of my memory delivered the thought – it was a pearl, a gem of the sea. We river folk dreamed of such treasure, but I never had expected to actually see one. I craned my neck and even let my foot break my connection to the pool to see closer. The mortal’s smile grew to a chuckle and he held it out, I was entranced and leaping forward held back my hair so that he could tie the treasure around my neck. Natural caution didn’t allow me to linger a moment longer and as soon as I felt the steady weight secure I leaped back, halfway into the water. The mortal again touched his heart and then I understood – he was thanking me. I nodded and then froze. The mortal also jerked and looked around and shouted. I heard a reply and my heart began beating as fast as a humming bird’s wings – there were more! They were coming. One human I could easily evade, but more could catch me if they wished, I had heard stories from the fairies of such things happening to other forest folk. Fear clutched me and in a movement faster than sight I had disappeared into the silver lace of the waterfall. The mortal looked around and surprise showed on his face… if he told his companions of my whereabouts, I would no longer be safe in my home. I would be forced to leave, and that is something I would rather die than do. More shouts were exchanged and the mortal limped out into a clearing above the mossy water’s edge. This is where the others came into view. They were all solid and hard looking; there was no grace or rhythm of nature guiding their steps. They neither saw the gentle flower they trampled nor the weaver mouses’ carefully made home that their progress destroyed. I wished them gone, but the danger had not past. I saw the others look my way and gesture with their hands. My mortal looked long and hard at my waterfall; I almost thought he could see me for his gaze met mine for a few moments. His hand found its way to his heart and before his companions could interpret the movement he shook his head in response to whatever their question was and placed his arms around two of the other mortals. With that they all vanished from sight. It took me three days to come out of hiding, but by then I was sure that they had left for good and that I was safe – in his own way my mortal had paid back the debt. Fingering the snowy ocean gem at my throat I clambered to the top of my waterfall and leaping up, dove down, down, down into the frothy waters of the rock pool. Next time the elves and sylphs passed by… I would have a story to tell.