“The River’s Calling”
The young man walked alone upon the path as he had every day for a year. The townsfolk watched as he stumbled and fell countless times along the banks of the rumbling river, and sometimes into. His expression, the townsfolk agreed, was the visage of misery as time slowly crept its way across his face.
No one in town had expected the prince to succumb the way he had. His clothes were stained by his many falls. Blood and sweat permeated the fabric usually drenched by his tears, spittle, and mucous.
His wailing sobs indicated his presence long before he appeared on the path. One word stuck to the wind, “Delilah.” She was to be Prince Valerian’s betrothed.
“How long do you think he’ll carry on like this?”
“I can’t rightly say, but I hope not too much longer. The sight of him is depressing enough! It’s just awful what happened to the poor dear.”
“I heard she was ravaged alongside the river, her face held under the waters as the deed was done.”
“No, I think she was on the way to the wedding when she fell and landed face first into a rock. I guess she rolled the last bit into the water and drifted down to the church there.”
“She couldn’t stand the sight of ’em! Look’it ’em all blubberin’ like a wee babe. She did ‘erself in, she did.”
Valerian heard every tale there was to hear about how the love of his life tragically died. It’s true she had shown up on their wedding day as a river corpse. The priest immediately blessed the body and the prince fearing the ill omen would spread further. Every day since, the prince had walked the river, hoping to find any clue as to what had happened to Delilah.
“Valerian,” whispered a familiar voice on the trickling stream.
“Delilah?” As soon as he spoke her name, he regretted it. He knew she was gone, and any who might hear him could argue against his sanity, but he was alone. “Who’s there?” He sniffled, wiping his filth stained arm across his bedraggled face. “It is unkind to play tricks on a heart as tormented as my own. I am still your prince,” he shouted through his whimpering at the empty path as though it could hear him.
“Valerian, come to the water’s edge,” the voice gurgled up from the waters beside him. His expression changed, as he just knew it was his Delilah speaking to him again.
Prince Valerian instantly arose from where he had fallen and wept. He tripped over his own feet as he rushed to the embankment; he fell just short of taking his first bath in months. As his body settled on the grass his vision fixated on the eyes that met his gaze.
“Delilah!” He chirped as he recognized her face immediately. “You’ve come back to me!” Life began to return to his appearance as his eyes sparkled and his cheeks blushed. The torment he had worn like a curse had suddenly lifted off it’s weight. A man defeated by life and deflated by time emerged from his own personal hell to stand before the one he treasured most as she last remembered him: poised, confident, merry, and strong. “My love,” he started, but was hushed by her cold, wet finger on his lips.
“Valerian, I’m so sorry to have left you. It must have been agonizing for you. Can you forgive me?” Delilah’s eyes searched deeply into Valerian’s as his gaze softened and his chin quivered. “I’ve watched you from the river’s depths every day you walked by,” she continued, knowing how hard it would be for him to speak. “So many times I reached out, even screamed your name, but you could not hear me.”
Her own eyes began to gloss over and swell. “I watched you become something you should have never been. I watched you fall, stumble, and wander around day after day.” As she spoke her voice began to tremble. “You searched the river, and I swore every time you looked in you looked through me..” She paused, bringing her arms to her sides and her hands over her chest as if holding her heart steady. Tears streamed down her cheeks, landing upon her hands. Quietly she continued, “Today would have marked our first year as husband and wife.”
Before she could say more, Valerian had her hand in his, and his other caressing her tears away. “How could I not forgive you? You were, and will always be my greatest treasure.” He began to pull her into himself and she gasped in both surprise and terror.
“You mustn’t,” she warned, fearful of what yet lurked below the waters. “The veil is thin, and death awaits below as it did a year ago. I..” She was not given the chance to finish speaking as Valerian, prince of the kingdom of Rolaan, pulled her from the water’s cold embrace. He wrapped his tattered cloak around her exposed form as she shivered. He kicked the skeletal hand that still gripped Delilah’s ankle back into the water. A deep, rumbling murmur escaped the depths of the river as the water’s flow hastened and began to rise.
The prince stepped between Delilah and the river. “I am Prince Valerian Roeland of the Kingdom of Rolaan.” He spoke with the conviction of a general going to war. “This lady here was to be my bride. She was taken from me the very morning of our vows.” Valerian’s voice cracked as memories and emotions leaked through his solid composure and he waivered for a moment.
The river gushed forth a gurgling reply as the voices of countless souls mourned in unison, “And who do you think took her? I called out to her, I embraced her as none ever shall. She belongs to me!” The wailing dead started to reach out moss covered, boney hands. Skulls with bits of waterlogged flesh emerged, their mouths agape in eternal agony, beckoning Delilah back to their cold, wet grave.
“She was lost to me once. She shall not be taken again.” Delilah’s frightened gaze softened as she locked onto Valerian, and she relaxed as she hid behind the prince. “You will depart from us, or you shall have me to deal with now and in the life after! I can assure you, it shall be anything but peaceful.” Valerian’s stance hardened, the air surrounding him felt thicker, warmer, as though it was charged with a greater purpose. Delilah thought she was about to faint before her prince’s words startled her.
“Do not think for a moment that you, or anything else can stand in between a man,” he paused briefly to look back at Delilah with a smile, “and the one for whom he exists solely to love. For I will, if I must, fight with a force greater than myself.” The weight of the air grew heavier still. Delilah watched as the grass around them began to flatten. The prince emitted a faint glow while the air grew dark as his speech continued. “Whether I win or lose you will not have her this day! You will depart from us, NOW!” The final words boomed from his lips as though they were fired from a hundred cannons. Birds and other wildlife fled the area they were in, leaves had shaken from their trees, and ripples issued from the embankment Valerian and Delilah stood upon.
Moments passed and the river began to recede while the flow returned to it’s usual pace. The ground was still and the murmur silenced, all had returned to normal once again. Valerian turned to Delilah, who was shivering and cold, and pulled her into him once more. Within his embrace she felt the first beat of her heart and wept tears of joy.
© T.A. Rindler The River’s Calling 2015
© T.A. Rindler Short Stack Story Time 2015