Before the world was made, Claire Clarice Clarene wandered the world with packs of wolves and dogs, with tall horses and dozens of women. She saw the seasons pass - hundreds of them, seasons no man has ever named - and walked to the very edge of the worlds, where the mists of Faeryland fell like falls upon the crisp world of humans. She walked to the very edge of the worlds, where a River ran full of silver and stones.
She could see in the worlds of humans a blanket of white, piles of snow weighing upon trees, the slick ice spinning disaster for cars and carriages. The mists of Faeryland sparkled with crystals and cold.
But the River ran strong, untouched by snow, and as she dipped one cloven hoof into the waters, the heat of the River flooded the Clarene and she cursed aloud.
"Who enters the River at the end of the world?" a voice called. the Clarene was trapped by river weeds and watery fingers, and the voice spun and bubbled from the River into a woman that rose up, up, and up - taller than the Clarene herself, taller than the mountains, tall that her hair reached the stars themselves.
the Clarene had known love, but gazing upon the shuddering form of the River above her, she felt ruin. A great beast howled in her. But the River held her still, and she could only shake in the grasp of the woman towering in the sky.
"Who enters into me?" the River asked again.
"Clarice - the Clarene," the young god called. The River shuddered and shrunk, and before the god now stood a woman dressed in blue and bleeding from her heart an endless stream of tar and stone. "I step into you, o' River..."
"the River Ophelia," the River replied. Tar spat forth from her chest, and black water ran from her eyes, and though great wounds appeared in her watery flesh, she did not shake or shiver. She stared at the Clarene and did not let her pass.
But the Clarene did not wish to pass the River, nor build above it, and held forth her hand til the River walked to her and let her rough calloused fingers brush the wound on her chest.
"You have been wounded."
the River Ophelia placed her hands on the Clarene's own.
"I dwell alongside mortals and men, faeries and fae. Tar has filled my heart, toxins bled into my blood, bile into my body."
"Let me heal you," the Clarene said. And with saying, she dug her claws into the heart of the River. Too hot bile and poison splashed against her hands, and she felt her flesh burn to bones, but still she pushed until at last her skeleton hands wrapped around the struggling heart of the River and she pulled it forth.
the Ophelia fell dead, and all heat and water in the River fell dry.
the Clarene, as she had been taught, sewed the body of the River tight with threads of silver. As she had been taught, she took the poisoned heart and, with one great gulp, swallowed it whole.
She had eaten many hearts and made many whole again, but the heart in her writhed and sputtered. She had known ruin when she gazed upon the River, and now the ruin was eating her alive, a blue fire rising in her until she could only pull it forth from herself - all pain and degradation transformed into bright waters that burned like flames, the water running over her hands and bringing flesh to them again, the water running into the Ophelia again with thunderous waves.
But the River did not run again, and the Ophelia lay still - dead - at the edges of the world.
Blue lava dripping from her lips, hands shaking in pain and hope, the Clarene grasped the branch of the tree closest to her and she grasped the rod of mortals closest to her, and she thrust them beside the body of the River, and it was then that the world was made.
In the world that blossomed and bloomed around them, the dozens of women the Clarene had wandered with ran free. The hounds and wolves raced to the mountains and cities that cracked toward the sky. But the Clarene remained near the gate, near the branch and steel as they twisted into new forms and flowers, and she waited.
"I have made a world for love," she said softly. "So, please, my love, be with me."
And with her hands upon the stitches of silver, her words of hope spoken, the Ophelia blinked her eyes open and clean, clear waters came to the world of the West.
But, as these things go - and we know how these things go, even for the gods - the Ophelia and Clarene grew apart, and with each season that passed the two grew farther, and farther, until there came a day when the Clarene sat in her kitchen and realized she had been weeping jet-jem tears into her peppermint cakes.
There came a day when snow fell across her world of love, ice crackling across her windows, fires warming her hearths, and she was lonely.
She spoke with her lovers and warmed their beds. She played with her children and taught them her crafts. She built towers of color and skyscrapers of bone. But her tears would not stop, and eventually her son - the bright child-god of flame she had rebirthed from the soil of her world - took her hand and said,
"You are missing someone."
"Who could I miss?" the Clarene asked. "I have all who I love near."
Her child the Laetha shook his bright head. "Who did you meet in winter? Who is within you but without you always, Holy Mother?"
And the Clarene fell silent, and her tears dried, for she could not comprehend having forgotten that woman who had made her soul sing and burn and drown - the River that dwelt in her world, the River that had become so far from her.
She left her home and her cities and her fields, and she walked through the forests full of snow and slick until she came to the River - steam and hot water bubbling as always. She walked to the River and let her cloven hooves dip into the warm waves, and she said, "It is wintertime."
the Ophelia sat across the bank, and she looked up from her fabrics of silver and blue. She was silent, and though her waters were warm her gaze was cold. She stared, river stone eyes unflinching, before saying, "I am aware. You wear your curved horns and carry snow in your hair."
"You noticed," the Clarene said.
the Ophelia had noticed, with each winter. She had noticed, and sometimes in her noticing had neglected to keep the ice that crawled along the River's edge at bay, had sometimes felt the cold seep into her bones, and only with glares and firmly placed kicks displaced the winter that curled along her skin. She had noticed the forward curved horns the Clarene donned, had noticed the snow and spiraled ice that the King of the West wore. She had noticed but kept it far from her mind, because the world moved and as these things go - and we know how they go - they had drifted apart.
"Come with me. Let the River freeze. Let it go," the Clarene whispered, holding out her hand.
"I have duties. So do you," the Ophelia said. She felt cold seep into her fingers, and only with a sharp jab did it retreat from her waters.
"This is not a world of duties. It is built for love," the Clarene said, wading deeper into the River. "You run, you run, you run - you are the one. You are the soul, the whole of my heart. My home is hollow without you. There is no hale or health within me without you."
But the Ophelia remembered waking to the god of the West dripping blue lava and shaking in a thousand horrible pains, and she said, "I am too much. I will bruise you in love. I will hurt you - I am far, for close I will wound you again and again."
the Clarene sank deeper into the waters. "That is love. Let the River freeze. Let your fears die beneath. I will sew every wound." She held out her hands, but the Ophelia stepped away.
"I have torn my heart open and bled for an age. I will not tear you open," she protested. "I have burned you. I cannot burn you again."
"I am already open. I carry already a wound. But needles will not heal, bandages will not fix - beloved in blue, lend me your waters. Lend me your strong hands. I shake without you near." And her hands did shake, for the poisoned heart she had touched had changed forever her whole self.
"Alone you are safe," the Ophelia said. But her heart showed her longing, and great blue flames flicked through her stitches, her old wounds. Her heart showed her longing, and ice crept upon the surface of the River as she could think of nothing but the god before her.
"Alone I am lonely," the Clarene said. She stepped farther, her hooves finding the other bank, stepped closer to the Ophelia who no longer retreated. "Let the River freeze. Come back to me."
The last wave of the River fell solid and icy, and cold engulfed the Ophelia's body, but it was then that she felt the winter that the Clarene wore. She felt the winter and understood for the first time the love the Clarene had for the time when snow fell to the ground. She let the cold sink into her bones, and her fires turned cold and changed to bright light.
"All responsibility, all duty - it is useless without you by my side," the Clarene said. "I do not wish to be far from you."
And as these things sometimes go, the Ophelia stepped into the Clarene's arms, and they were lovers again.