reed by the living pool by The Wavesinger

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Story Notes:

The title is from Frodo's song to Goldberry.

She cannot remember a time when she was not.

She knows she is of the river, but she does not remember a birth or creation. She remembers only waking in the river's embrace to the sunlight in her eyes, and feeling the world about her.

And so she drifts.

She wanders through the forest (though never beyond, and there must be something beyond the trees, she knows, but no matter how far she walks she can never get to the place where they must end). Hunger strikes her, and she learns to find berries and leaves which taste sweet in her mouth, to ask honey of bees.

But always, she comes back to the river.

She loves the shallows of the river, the reeds that come up to her thigh and the lilies that grow in the murky waters. But, too, she loves the deeps, drifting through the water sometimes from the setting of the sun to its rising. The forest is dark and dangerous, in the night, shadows looming. She can walk through it, if she must, and, she has learnt, no harm will come to her, but she much prefers the river.

She is of the river, and the river is part of her, running through her bones and blood and marrow. It protects her, and in its embrace, she does not fear.

She drifts, one moonless night, in the river, staring at the stars scattered across the sky above her, little dots of light almost swallowed by the deep blue behind them. The night-noises of the river surround her, and she is at peace.

And so she does not expect the tendrils of compulsion that creep to her. Her eyes drag shut even as the currents carry her closer to the bank.

But only for a moment. She is of the river, and she can recognize powers other than those of her own attempting to grip her, to take control of her, to lure her to—what, she does not know. And the river gives her enough strength to wrench herself away from the grip of the dark, malevolent force that she can feel on the banks, to wrap herself in a layer of safety and deafness to all calls of those that are—other.

The river carries her away from whatever had tried to call her, and she is glad.

When the sun rises, though, she makes her way back to whatever power had tried to entrap her, to catch her at unawares when she was in the river.

What she finds there is a willow tree, old and twisted and gnarled and massive, roots reaching deep into the earth and twisting into the river. There is a malice emanating from it that is wholly different from the sleepy darkness of the forest, and waves of compulsion, a heady, powerful call: sleep, come to me and sleep.

But she knows, now, and because of the knowledge the willow tree cannot find a way to grip her even for a moment.

“Willow-tree, willow-tree, save your wiles for someone weaker,” she taunts, and laughs at the impotent anger the tree exudes. The roots thrash and reach for her, the branches try to wrap around her, but the tree cannot touch her. She is of the river, and creatures fed by the river will not harm her. They cannot harm her even if they try.

And try the willow-tree does. It tries, again and again, every night, attempting now to lull her with false calmness, now to overwhelm her with its anger. And every night, and in the light the next day, she laughs at it.

“Willow-man, you cannot overpower me. As long as you drink of the water of the river, you cannot find a way to take me into your depths.”

The old rage and the wild anger amuse her. The willow snarls at her, and she revels in its fury.

She knows the trees of the forest are under its power. They have tried, sometimes, to grab her, to entrap her, to send her into unconsciousness with the whispered singing of their leaves blowing in the wind.

It does not work.

She is under the power of the river, and the river protects her own. And she, too, has her own power, power that comes from the river and the land both, power that she is only beginning to feel and learn of. The trees cannot harm her, but they amuse her. And, most of all, the willow tree amuses her.

“Old, old willow, you are tiring yourself for nothing. This is a game you cannot win.”

And slowly, the willow tree learns. It pushes only on some nights, now, and she can feel it slumber more and more often. The slumbers grow, and the taunting fades, until there is only an occasional attempt to overpower her, now.

Strangely, she finds herself missing the call of the tree. Utterly strange, but she enjoys the challenge, enjoys the chance to stretch herself. There is a strange disappointment now, every night the willow sleeps.

“Wake, willow-man, wake!”

She calls the willow, but even she is surprised when it stirs, the trunk swaying ever so slightly, shaking leaves onto her shoulders.

Then it settles back into its sleep. But when she called, it woke. That is enough.

It does not wake when she calls the next day, or the next, or the next.

And then, it wakes.

Only for a moment, and the only to attempt to trap her in its dark cracks, but it wakes, and that waking is, for her, joyful.

Sometimes it wakes for her. Sometimes it does not. Sometimes it attempts to snatch her up, and sometimes leaves her to walk or swim in peace.


Sometimes, she swears she detects a strange hum of fondness emanating from it, gone as quick as it appears.

The willow is angry and old and untameable. It is older than her and filled with a rage she cannot understand. But sometimes, sometimes, it allows stark white water lilies and whispering reeds to grow between those of its gnarled roots that dip into the water of the river.

Any passing living creature who tries to snatch a lily is swallowed into its depths. The only one who can gather the flower is the daughter of the river.

(And for herself, many days, the river-daughter finds herself sitting by the banks of the river under the shade of the willow as it slumbers. Sometimes, it attempts to snatch her up with its roots, and she laughs as she repels the old rage of the tree and sends it back to its sleep.)

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