The Story of the Water Hag

By Amelia Brown

There’s a tremor in the water of a river bank where a hag sits alongside it, letting her knotted fingers soak in the coolness of its gentle flow.  Against the homespun cloth that cloaks her aged body brush the bulrushes and the cattails and the water grasses.  Memories flicker in her mind as small daisies press against her.  She looks with longing at the water lilies, or rather the water beneath them, for, once upon a time, it had been her home.
             She had been a young naiad then, indeed the youngest of them all.  This was the doing of the river master, who saw the naiad’s youth and delighted in her childish ways.  But a naiad is not always so young.  It is in engagement with humans that raises up their years and fills them with a melancholy so pernicious, that quickly they begin to drown those who come upon them.
            Seeking to save her from this fate, the river master protected her.  But he did not see the harm in the visit of a small human child.
            It was not long after the child approached the water that she became tangled in the stems of the water lilies, which dragged her down into its murky depths.  But for the water creature, the child would have drowned.
            When the child found herself upon the river bank, gasping and hanging on to life with a sudden fervor, she fled the river without a second glance nor a murmur of thanks.
            Bereaved of loss and of ingratitude and of the nature of terror, the naiad turned to melancholy and a hatred consumed her—a desperate desire to drag all such unthankful wretches down into a watery grave. 
And that would have been the naiad’s fated life, had not a second thought pierced through her abhorrent misery: to what end?  Would she remain in such sullen anger for century upon century—for twice as many years as she had remained an innocent child-like sprite?  What a waste to live a life of vengeance, she thought. 
It was that thought that made her suddenly and fully wise—and old and bent upon the instant.
            On aged, withered limbs, she stepped away from the river, and stone by stone, she built herself a cottage.
            And there she has lived, all these long years, old in body, young in mind, healing all who come across her path, and remaining, often, unthanked. 
But that was never the point.

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