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The Water Maiden and the Ogre's Ring

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Beyond seven mountains, beyond seven rivers, there bloomed a deep lake which was at that time governed by the Maiden of Many Waters. The Maiden of Many Waters was impetuous and free, and delighted in many things, whether passing through the swells on a stormy day, following the fish along the mountain streams, or chasing the sun on the crest of dappled waves with the foam caught upon her hair. But that which she loved most was the sight of the kingfishers as they passed above the water, for on those days she might climb up the piers of the limestone bridge that crossed her lake and find sitting upon its edge the Kingfisher Maiden, who would sing for her with a voice clear as birdsong, and bring her sweet persimmons and figs, and threads of golden reeds, and many such things found beyond the water’s edge. And when the Kingfisher Maiden and the birds with her would take wing as night fell, the Maiden of Many Waters would return to the depths of her lake and dream that the next day the sun might catch on the waters above and find her back again.

One day as she crept along the shoals, digging up treasures buried in the silt, she came across a ring that gleamed silver in the light of the sun. It was a pretty thing and more than a fair return for all brought to her by the Kingfisher Maiden, and so the Maiden of Many Waters was eager to make of it a gift on their next meeting. When the kingfishers next passed, she brought her white head above the water and rejoiced to hear the calling song of the Kingfisher Maiden from the bridge. Climbing up to her place next to her, they passed many hours in each other’s company, until the Maiden of Many Waters at last produced the ring which she had recovered from the sands. The Kingfisher Maiden thought it beautiful, and happily placed it upon her finger, only to vanish from sight!

The Maiden of Many Waters startled, reaching out to the empty space where the Kingfisher Maiden had sat, but no trace of her remained. The kingfishers flew about in a storm, scattering this way and that way in a confused cloud, and it seemed that the light above the water had dimmed and clouds were beginning to roll in. Many days she swam from the depths of the lake to its surface, and about the mountain streams, and from shore to shore, in reeds and silt, looking for signs of the Kingfisher Maiden in the grey skies and waters, but only her birds were anywhere to be seen. At last one day as she swam by the shore, she caught sight of the dark-haired Youth of Sighing Boughs, who was the Kingfisher Maiden’s own brother, standing sorrowfully at the water’s edge.

“Have you news of your sister and where she is gone?” the maiden called out, trying to climb the stones of the parapet, although they proved too difficult for her arms to grasp.

The Youth of Sighing Boughs bent himself downward. “Was it you who cursed my sister with the ogre’s ring?”

She paled to hear this news.

“I have had only rumours,” said the Youth of Sighing Boughs, “but they say that she has been locked away in the house of an ogre who lives in the sky-realm, a grotesque thing who places the heads of heroes on his gateposts and chews their bones for his meals.”

“Have none of the gods seen fit to turn him out?”

“What care for such matters have our begetters? He is no threat to them.”

“Then how shall I plead my case? I know not how to reach the sky-realm. I know not even how to walk,” the Maiden of Many Waters lamented.

“If I could reach my branches there I would give you a path to climb, but the boughs of my trees bend ever downwards.”

“Then let us think until we see the answer. My heart will know nothing but restlessness until she is returned.”

As they spoke, the kingfishers stirred about, and one especially regal bird came to rest on the parapet above. As it chirped, the sorrowful look of the Youth of Sighing Boughs relented and with hope at last he stooped down to her to tell its words.

“The kingfishers long for my sister’s return, and promise to become a path to the sky-realm if only you, who know the form of many rivers, will provide the shape of it and guide them. For my part, I will make for you a boat from the boughs of my trees, and let it bear you upon the sky-river. But in return, you must learn to walk, for I am sure you will not reach her by any means other than your own limbs.”

The Maiden of Many Waters took heart and agreed, and it was not long before she was fitted with a ship. By her strong arms she climbed onto its deck and waited for the gathering of the kingfishers before collecting the shape of all the waters she had known in her mind, forming a sky-river before them. The kingfishers beat their wings and exultantly brought the vessel into the air, now passing on either side of the ship, tirelessly bearing it along the path she had laid for them. She saw the Youth of Sighing Boughs standing below, receding in the distance as she ascended, but turned her gaze ahead. His aid was behind her now, and she could rely only on the kingfishers and her wit upon the road ahead. Within the shelter of the ship, she began to practice walking.

The path to the sky-realm led past many wonderful things as are only told in tales, and it strained her curious nature to pass them by, but she had ever fixed in her mind the plight of the Kingfisher Maiden, and sailed forward. At last the ship entered the ports of the sky-realm and there the Maiden of Many Waters abandoned her vessel, and bade farewell to the kingfishers.

As she walked the sky-realm’s winding roads, she realized she knew not where to go. It was not very long before she grew weary, for her legs tired easily under new strains and she had not the waters of her lake to replenish her energy. So she came to a stop on the road for a moment to rest.

As she sat there, a small dark figure approached, slinking along the road. When it caught sight of her, it paused warily, before circling in.

“What kind of creature are you?” she asked as it came to sit nearby.

“And what kind of creature you?” it said.

“I am the Maiden of Many Waters,” she said, withholding nothing.

“Ah, one of those godlings, then, and not from this realm.”

“I come from the middle-realm, where I guard the sacred waters of my lake. What sort of thing are you that I have never seen?”

“I will not reveal my name to those who have not earned it. I am a great beast of prophecy and omen. I have the strength of one thousand men, and cause even ogres to run away in fear,” it boasted.

“Then you are just the sort of creature I most needed to meet, whatever your name,” she said excitedly. “I come here on errand to defeat a monstrous ogre and rescue one from his keep.”

“I don’t know about the lower realms, but no help here is given for free,” the creature said. “What offer you me in exchange?”

The Maiden of Many Waters was troubled at this, but drew out from her clothes a pouch filled with a few precious things found in the sands or given her by the Kingfisher Maiden. The creature’s eyes lit up at the array of blue and orange feathers laid out.

“Give me those,” it said, “and catch me some fish when we pass any streams, and I will aid you most gladly.”

The Maiden of Many Waters considered the beast’s demands carefully, before putting all things away into the pouch. “Then the fish shall be the first payment, and the feathers only after you have helped me defeat the ogre,” she said shrewdly.

The creature tensed, and looked as if it might attack as the feathers were swiftly hidden away, but the moment passed and it agreed.

“But if it’s an ogre you’re looking for, you’re not in the right parts,” it said haughtily, and began walking the road ahead. The Maiden of Many Waters pushed past her tiredness and stood to follow it down roads she had no memories of such as the paths of her waters. By nightfall they came not far from a grand temple isolated in the evening mists.

Stopping short, the beast said, “Go ask to stay the night with the acolytes there, for, godling or not, it is obvious you cannot continue without rest.”

“Will you not come also?” she asked.

“I will not,” it replied, and ran off in the mists faster than she could follow.

She walked towards the lanterns of the temple until she reached the gate. Upon her knock, a woman with shorn hair opened it, and welcomed her inside.

“Where is it you hail from,” the acolyte said, “to be walking this way at such an hour?”

“I come from the middle-realm, where I protect many waters,” she said. “What temple is this, and to which of our begetters?”

“This is the Temple of Forgotten Time,” the acolyte replied, “and it is dedicated to She of Mercy. I am its guard and you are welcome to your rest.”

The Maiden of Many Waters thanked the acolyte and paid respects to the goddess, though she was now away, before settling to sleep within the temple’s shelter.

It seemed that night she dreamed as she had never dreamed before, dreams so vivid and real she felt she was once again journeying, exploring new things at every turn, all sorrow and longing removed, and the dream became indistinguishable from reality, ever upward. The only flaw appeared of a sudden: a dreadful, plaintive cry, repeated endlessly, reverberating throughout the world until she realized who and where she was and awoke. She ran for the temple doors, and spilling out the gate she found the creature sitting outside it, crying in its awful way.

“What treacherous place was that?” she said to the beast.

“What were you told?”

“The Temple of Forgotten Time.”

“Then you know. She of Mercy renders her gift in many ways.”

“You knew I would be trapped in dreams?”

“I believed I could take you from them. Anyway,” it said, “you should feel well rested.”

“I owe you my life, or at least, my years, and yet I cannot help but think you are very wicked,” the Maiden of Many Waters said.

“You should speak better of your betters,” it said, “for I am still your guide.”

“Do not lead me into such rest again, I beg.”

“Well, it isn’t my fault you tire so.”

“Then is there no way to lead to the ogre’s land by waters, for there I would be able to move without rest, and we might reach our goal sooner? I think I will not forget walking by just that.”

The creature looked at her gravely. “That is quite impossible for me.”

“But part of our bargain was that I bring you fish from the streams.”

“Perhaps I was rash, then,” it said. “I love fish, but I am careful of rivers, which would sap me of all of my powers.”

“How dreadful a curse!” said the Maiden of Many Waters.

“Very dreadful,” it lamented.

“Then lead, as before,” she said, “and I will do my best not to tire.”

So they went, and by and by, they came upon an orchard full of bowing persimmon trees, so beautiful that at last the Maiden of Many Waters could not resist their allure. “I will take one to the Kingfisher Maiden, so that I may offer something that might bring forth her smile on our meeting,” she thought. Before her companion noticed, she reached out and plucked a fruit from the tree, upon which the sound of thunder struck so loudly that she cowered to the ground and the creature ran clean away. From a cloud above her descended He of Plenty, who governed the rains and the fields and the fruits of the earth.

“Who dares to take of my orchard’s bounty?” he thundered.

She bowed and then stood so that he might see her face. “It is I, the Maiden of Many Waters.”

“Even you, I shall not forgive in this,” he said, “though you have cherished one small piece of my domain and rendered good service. Even you may not take freely from a god. You are too rash by far.”

“Let me atone,” she pleaded.

“And why have you come to the sky-realm, but that you have some other reason to atone?”

“You speak right,” she said, head hung even lower, “but I will set right all wrongs that I have done, if it takes the very hair from my head, the blue from my eyes, the water from my veins, I will set them right.”

“Then I give you three tasks and you must accomplish them with haste, for I have little patience for anything save the work of my gardens and rivers and skies. First, to deliver my sword from the Maiden of Holy Bronze; second, to collect the threads of one hundred prayer flags and roll them into a skein; and third, to rid the storerooms of my grandest temple of mice by any means you can.”

“I will do it, if you will spare me, for I have much to accomplish.”

“Then go,” he said, ascending once more, “and when you have done these things, strike the gong at the shrine in the midst of the orchard that I may know.”

The Maiden of Many Waters despaired, for the tasks seemed not impossible but very troublesome and the worse for someone lost in a strange land with no companion. However, it was not long before the creature wandered back.

“I know where the Maiden of Holy Bronze resides,” it said to her relief, “for she guards a temple of He of Contingency, not many hours from here. How you will get the sword is up to you, for she is a proud opponent.”

“Then we shall make haste, for it plucks at my heart to think of any delay.”

“You must learn some prudence,” it said.

“You run very often for a beast ogres fear,” she replied.

“It does not do to frighten everybody one meets on the road.”

Reaching the temple, the Maiden of Many Waters found her companion had disappeared again, and so she approached the altar quite alone.

“I call forth the Maiden of Holy Bronze, and beseech she return the sword of He of Plenty.”

The Maiden of Holy Bronze strode out of the temple, clad in strong armour and bearing the colossal sword of He of Plenty, and she spoke these words: “The sword was fair won in the last battle of our begetters, and belongs now to He of Contingency, and is such that only I among us may wield it. If you wish a contest, I will challenge you myself, but though we are of the same ilk, I think I will not lose.”

“If that is the only way to the sword, so be it,” said the Maiden of Many Waters.

The Maiden of Holy Bronze charged her down, wielding the sword with incredible strength. The Maiden of Many Waters had no weapons and no knowledge of fighting, knowing only the wrangling of the swells against the winds and the beating of waves upon the shore, and she was nearly bested in one blow, but for catching sight of the purifying well in the temple courtyard. Impulsively she reached out her mind and formed the shape of running rivers, and for every blow she swept the sword upon their paths, so that each swing was diverted far from its course. The Maiden of Holy Bronze grew only wearier as the Maiden of Many Waters strengthened, until at last the former fell gasping to her hands and knees in exhaustion.

“I wish for no such sorry contests ever again, but you have won the sword even so,” said the Maiden of Holy Bronze with anger upon her brow, for she loved arms and strength and the sacred pitch of battle and had no regard for an opponent who lands not a blow, but despite her stiff pride, the sword was given from her keeping.

The Maiden of Many Waters placed it upon her back and made to leave, before the Maiden of Holy Bronze spoke once more, struggling to her feet. “My god is He of Contingency, and prepares for all things. He ordained I give you this basket also if I should somehow lose.” The Maiden of Many Waters discovered in it many folds of cloth, but knew not what to do with them as they were.

As to be expected, once the Maiden of Many Waters left the temple grounds her beastly companion returned to her side.

“I see there are only two tasks left, and perhaps they might be done together,” said the creature. “Surely He of Plenty could not punish you for taking his very own prayer flags when asked for them. Go to the Temple of Flowing Fields not an hour’s march hence, and then rid it well of mice if you can.”

“You will not come,” said the Maiden of Many Waters.

“I may watch from afar,” said the creature. “I do have an interest in how you will cleanse the vermin.”

Accustomed now to the unusual habits of the beast, she made her way to the temple which was the grandest of his in the sky-realm, and decorated by many hundreds of flags. There was to be a great ritual that day, and so the acolytes all were busy with preparations.

“The days have been so dusty,” one complained, “that the colours of these flags which once arrayed the whole of the sacred host are hardly to be seen.”

The Maiden of Many Waters saw her chance and spoke. “Take them down and let me wash them for you, and restore their original colour.”

The acolyte happily agreed to this and gave a long strand to her, and she took it to the pond behind the temple. Jumping into the water herself, she whipped around the flags, fraying the them into loose threads using her watery fingers to unpick and separate the cloth. Task accomplished, she then bound the threads around a fishbone spool and left the waters of the pond. The acolyte who had come to look on her progress was shocked and dismayed, for there was no strand to replace that which she took. But the Maiden of Many Waters saw the contingency which the god had planned for, and offered the contents of her basket.

“No rain would fall upon the old flags, but if you cut this cloth and write upon it new devotions, surely it will then come. The skein I hold I will offer back to He of Plenty as is right.”

Though cross, the acolyte saw good sense in this and accepted the cloth. And so with the sword at her back and the threads in her basket, the Maiden of Many Waters set about her last task.

She entered the storerooms and saw the mice all about and puzzled at what could be done. She was not so fleet of foot yet to chase after each, nor did she think He of Plenty would take well at her flooding his storerooms, especially after her audacity with the prayer flags. As she pondered, she heard a clatter, and looked out the window to see her companion there jumping down from its perch on a tree, having caused the branches to strike together by accident. It came to her that if it would not come nearer temple grounds nor be casually seen by any, it was still a fearsome monster that could surely terrify or devour a host of vermin so long as they were sent in its way, and so drawing power from the barrels of wine and mead in the storeroom, she shaped for the mice a path outside the door and beneath the tree, where they marched all to the claws of the terrifying beast who was her boon companion, those that did not escape far away from the storehouse. Judging her work done, she went to meet the creature.

“That was a fine trick,” it said with a truly fiendish delight, “and may I never abandon you for having done it.”

“But I go to ring the gong in the orchard of He of Plenty,” she said.

“Well, I suppose that you can do alone,” it amended and wandered away.

Coming at last to the orchard, she entered its depths and reached the red-painted shrine at its centre, and rang the great gong there, which produced a sound so deep it reverberated through every tree, every fruit, every toadstool like a sigh.

He of Plenty descended once more and now judged all she had brought before him. At last he pronounced: “I hold you in good grace, and take only the sword for myself. The skein you may have to help your onward journey, for with the new strand of flags my acolytes have made I no longer have use of the old. Then only as a favour for your long service, I will give you also this warning: I know a companion aided your final task, and it is not the creature you think it is. You will not receive the aid you asked of so feckless a beast.” And He of Plenty ascended, leaving the Maiden of Many Waters alone at the shrine. She cast around searching for her companion, anxious at these words, at last catching sight of it hiding shamefacedly up a tree.

“What truth do his words have, and what creature are you indeed?” she asked.

“He is a god and in this he lies not. The truth is,” her companion said with great reluctance, “that I am only the creature they call a cat, and inspire no terror in ogres, or anything of that ilk. In the sky-realm I am but a messenger for She of Borders, and have been shirking my duty all this while and avoiding holy places—although it seems at last I came too close, or that the gods know overmuch.”

The Maiden of Many Waters was troubled to hear this, but felt compassion to her companion who seemed much chagrined. “I have heard of your kind, but you are the first I have seen, and so the first I have known. Even if you cannot terrify the ogre, you have been loyal through our travels in your own peculiar way, and I would not part from you now. I would defeat the ogre alone before I met you and so I would still do. Yet if I could have your company, and your wits, I would take you as you are.”

The Cat felt very embarrassed, but it was quick to take on the appearance of grace. “I know little of ogres, but I do know this: they are cruel and greedy, and they love games of chance and risk. When you meet this ogre, you must pledge to fulfill his tasks (the usual number is three) in exchange for one thing in his keep. I cannot know the tasks he will set, and whether they be of the possible or the impossible, but surely this is the best way.”

So with no more delay and full resistance to temptation, the Maiden of Many Waters and the Cat reached the grotesque manor of the ogre, decorated with heroes’ heads upon the outer walls and a foul stench all about. The Cat, still quite cagey, hid within the basket while the Maiden of Many Waters called out to the ogre within.

She heard the striking sound of a large staff upon stone and the angry muttering of the ogre as he appeared before her, indignant to be disturbed at supper.

“Who is it that calls and who is it that dares?” said he.

As the Cat advised her, she spoke, “Greetings, great ogre of this fine house. I am a water witch and I would you grant me a boon.”

The ogre appeared at first enraged, but his expression swiftly changed, as ogres’ moods are wont to. “Well, I’m not fond of witches but I love a good game, and besides, you’ve come at a time when I could most use some aid,” said the ogre. “Enter my domain and we shall make a deal.”

“I shall have the deal made first as is right among those newly met,” she said as instructed.

The ogre grumbled at this but agreed. “What is the boon that you would ask?”

“In exchange for three tasks, I would take but one thing from your keep, and mine is the choosing.”

“And I shall have you for supper if you fail but a one,” said the ogre. Hoping for no better terms, the Maiden of Many Waters acquiesced, and she and her Cat entered the ghastly house.

“You will stay here for every day that you are set a task and shall not leave these bounds until they are complete. As you wish for one thing in my keep, you may take nothing of mine in fulfilling your tasks. Rest for the night, for I shall set the first task when I leave before dawn.”

Try though she might, the Maiden of Many Waters caught neither sight nor sound of the Kingfisher Maiden as she was guided to the tower room. Fitfully she slept, but the Cat promised to stand guard in the night if she would stand guard in the daylight, and so before dawn she was awakened and received the ogre’s order.

“I require a cloak fit for a wedding, made of one hundred threads in all the colours of the sacred host. I will return at sundown and boil you in a soup for my dinner.” With that, he disappeared from sight before the sun’s light could reach the windows of his manor.

“This is the best task we could have hoped for!” the Cat said, once they were quite alone.

“Do you know how to weave, Cat?” the Maiden of Many Waters said, dispirited. “We hold just the threads to fashion such a cloak, but I never learned weaving within my waters.”

“You never learned walking there either,” the Cat said.

She let her lips lift into a smile, taking some heart, although it was shaken deeply by the fear she might never see the Kingfisher Maiden again, whether she had been boiled into soup or baked into the ogre’s bread, she was nowhere to be found.

However, it was in the stillness of this unhappy smile, she heard the faint sound of a voice ringing below her feet that could be none other than the song of the Kingfisher Maiden. She searched the house until she was led to a door beneath a rug of hide. Carefully she pried it open and with great wariness grabbed an oil lamp for light, though great cause had she to fear fire lest it steal away all the water from her veins, especially with nothing in the ogre’s house to replenish her.

Descending the steps below she saw many doors there with little more than a small grate to peek through, but the song led her to the one she most sought for and when the Kingfisher Maiden caught the light and in its glow the face of the Maiden of Many Waters, she rushed to the door and pressed her hands to the grate.

“How have you come here, or is it merely a vision that has come to fill my waking hours?”

“I am here, truly,” said the Maiden of Many Waters, clasping her hand, “and would make amends for the curse I foolishly brought down. I have struck a bargain with the ogre that I might set you free.”

The Kingfisher Maiden paled at that, for she feared that he was a spiteful creature who might trap the guileless Maiden of Many Waters easily, but the Maiden of Many Waters assured her: “I have endured the penalties of my own follies time and again, and have become better than you think. By any means I will win.”

“By any means I will protect you in return,” said the Kingfisher Maiden, “and pledge we share the same fate come the end. Name the first task, and I will do what I can.”

“To weave a cloak fit for a wedding, made of one hundred threads in all the colours of the sacred host. The threads I have…”

“…then the cloak, I’ll weave, as the finches who haunt my brother’s bowers taught me,” said the Kingfisher Maiden, and taking the spool from her, set to her work.

When evening fell and the ogre reappeared, the Maiden of Many Waters laid out the great cloak that he might inspect it. At first he was unkind, for he had looked forward to feasting that night, but in the end he praised her work, for she had saved him some trouble, and the cloak was very fine indeed. “A favour done is a favour that might come to be repaid. Rest for the night, for I shall set the second task when I leave before dawn.”

The Cat guarded her once more until before dawn she was awakened and received the ogre’s order.

“I require shackles that obey but one master, made of one hundred links that would bind even a bird. I will return at sundown and boil you in a soup for my dinner.” With that, he disappeared from sight before the sun’s light could reach the windows of his manor.

The Maiden of Many Waters made haste to the basement room, and told the Kingfisher Maiden of this new task. They fretted long, for to make a chain of nothing was one thing, to give it such power another.

“Ogres delight in finding loopholes in one’s words, but are often blind to those who would do the same,” said Cat, who was currently rooting out cellar mice.

“Then it must be ‘obey but one master’,” said the Kingfisher Maiden, “but I can think of no way to make chains of my feathers, or of your waters that would take any lasting form.”

“I know one way,” said the Maiden of Many Waters at last, “that will take nothing of his. Shear the hair from my head, and of it we shall make a hundred links of rope that will bind only so long as my will goes with them.”

And so the Kingfisher Maiden braided and sheared off the long white hair of the Maiden of Many Waters, which they hurried to transform into a chain made of one hundred links that would bind even a bird.

When evening fell and the ogre reappeared, the Maiden of Many Waters laid out the silver chain that he might inspect it. Immediately he asked it to bind the goose he had brought with him for supper, and the Maiden of Many Waters willed it to do as he wished.

He was delighted at once to see its work. “You have grown ugly as a crone since this day’s break, but you are most clever and useful. Tonight is the night which your aid has helped me prepare sooner for, so the last task I give you is simple out of gratitude. The hour before dawn you must enter my grand room and walk one hundred steps along the red carpet, for you will be witness to my wedding. I think I will not need to boil you for dinner. Or breakfast besides.”

The Maiden of Many Waters hid her countenance, for if there was to be a wedding, surely it could only be to the one who had unwittingly worn the ogre’s ring. But she knew she had but to hold out for this task, and then she would be free to unbind the Kingfisher Maiden from the trap she had impulsively set.

At the hour before dawn, she walked alone to the grand room, for the Cat still wished to remain hidden. She opened the door and saw before her a red carpet one hundred steps in length, and at its end the ogre in his marvellous cloak made of one hundred threads in all the colours of the sacred host, and the Kingfisher Maiden bound by shackles made of one hundred links that would bind even a bird, each before an altar.

The ogre greeted her heartily and bade her come to them, but being still a little canny first said, “Before your final task is complete, I would know what it is you will take from me.”

The Maiden of Many Waters answered, full ready, “It will be the Kingfisher Maiden, and no other.”

The ogre, who had begun to fancy her his friend, flew into a rage at that, slamming his great staff into the ground and transforming the carpet into hot coals.

“Cross these hundred paces, water witch, full red as promised, and you’ll have the Kingfisher Maiden, no doubt, and may I be struck by lightning on a cloudless dawn to see it done,” he cackled, thinking his trickery very clever.

The Maiden of Many Waters had only this to say: “I have endured the penalties of my own follies time and again, and have become better than you think. By any means I will walk.”

And so she brought her feet upon the fiery way, each step more agonizing than the last, until it felt her feet were stripped of their flesh, until the blue of her eyes dimmed grey, until it felt all water had left her veins and that her spirit would be wasted, she walked keeping only the Kingfisher Maiden in her sight. For her part the Kingfisher Maiden wept to see her pain, and as she wept, sang, that the Maiden of Many Waters might hear only sounds that recalled the flashing waters of her home. The stronger the song swelled, the heavier her footsteps fell, and it was on its final note, that, to the ogre’s fury, the Maiden of Many Waters staggered from the edge of the carpet, the one hundredth step leaving her nearly withered, but triumphant.

“I call on He of Plenty,” said Cat, making itself seen for the first time, and indeed the ogre was seized with true terror, for as he himself promised, he was struck by lightning though no cloud touched the sky as the sun rose. At last the Kingfisher Maiden rushed free from the chains, and clung to the Maiden of Many Waters tenderly, kissing the feet that had endured much for her sake. As she wept over them, the tears graced the body of the Maiden of Many Waters and replenished her spirit, bringing her back from the brink of wasting. In gaiety and relief, in tears and wonder, they embraced—soon joined by He of Plenty and She of Borders, who wasted the grotesque manor of the ogre, and sent them onward to their ship, that they might reach home sooner. With them was sent the Cat, from whom She of Borders took its voice as punishment (for no trustworthy messenger had it ever proved to be). It, nonetheless, was happy enough to receive its payment in fish and feathers, and learned to love waters if only a little for the sake of its dear companion, spending many hours resting on the branches of bowing trees.

So it is that today, even as long ago, if you go to that lake surrounded by sighing boughs and cross the limestone bridge, you might see (or think you see) two maidens sitting upon it, and hear (or think you hear) the kingfisher song or perhaps an awful caterwaul, and know (or think you know) the joy of the waters that run beneath, and feel (or think you feel) the heavy toll of wedding bells from the city above, for so it had been once and so such things must always be, and as the bell rings, so the tale comes to its end.