In the spring, the ice thawed on the Withywindle. Goldberry felt the river swell as she woke, fed by snowmelt and early rains.
She woke hungry. The River slept while winter ruled, but she slept empty, with dreams of food and blood her companion during the long, dark months. A hare strayed too near the wild flood, trying for a drink, and was dragged in by the water, thrashing before the waves closed over him. A start. Goldberry needed more.
She swam out of the mossy house her mother still drowsed in, and moved upstream from the deepest hollow of the river. This was Goldberry’s time of power, the change from winter ice to spring flood. The waves captured another creature, and another, and she held them in her fine white hands and sang them raging water songs. Thank you for your life, she sang. Thank you for your blood.
She swam past Old Man Willow, his roots twisting down deep into her waters, his head sunk deep in slumber. He was close to waking, she felt, and swam on. Her mother had warned Goldberry of Old Man Willow.
“He sings a different song,” she said, “but no less power in it. Mind your stroke around him, girl, he’d eat you just the same as he would anything else.” And her goal was beyond his reach, so Goldberry left him to his lingering cold dreams and kept swimming.
Thank you for your sacrifice, she sang to a squirrel. Thank you for your flesh.
The flood gathered those unwary or unwise, and Goldberry fed and grew stronger. Thank you, she sang, and floated into the far, still pond she’d been seeking.
Water lily roots all around her, under her, and Goldberry took the life she’d absorbed, and sent it out to them. Stems grew to the surface and leaves appeared, and flowers budded on the leaves. Thank you for your strength, she sang, I will use it wisely.
In summer Goldberry and the river settled into calm waves and steady flow. She sang old river songs to the hummingbirds, and tended to her lilies. She gossiped with fish and water rats, and floated on her waves. She stayed far from Old Man Willow; he was awake now, and bitter at the world.
Goldberry lurked in the reeds, and followed Tom Bombadil, and listened to his singing.
He sang unlike any other voice she had heard. He capered and hummed, and made up words to tunes more than half in his head. He wore a hat with a bright feather in it, and Goldberry wanted to touch it. Wanted to touch him.
“Stay away from the Eldest, the Master, my daughter,” her mother had said. “He is not like us, and we are not like him. We should not mix.”
But Goldberry was young, and strong, and heedless. One day when he rested on the shore, his beard dangling to the surface, she reached up and pulled him under. She laughed at the look on his face, and the way he bubbled and floundered in her waters.
Then Tom stood in the river, water cascading from his beard and clothes, and that silly feather in his hat, and compelled her. Goldberry found herself moving to her bed in her mother’s mossy house, exhausted beyond measure. He’d sung her to sleep, with just a few rhymes.
Master of wood, water, and hill, she remembered, and laid her head down. I must have him.
In the spring Tom strode along the path to Goldberry’s favorite lily pond. The skies above were gray as his mood, and the song he half sang was old and full of grief.
Goldberry floated in the pond, surrounded by her lily pads and buds. Beside her floated a human lady, a blue brooch holding her cloak closed, her cloak holding her under. Tom shook his head.
“You should not have taken her, Goldberry, love. You should have let her go.”
Goldberry stroked a long white arm and looked down at her companion. “I was hungry. The winter is so long, and even the lilies were not enough this year.” She touched the face of the dead girl, and smiled up at him. “Besides, look how lovely she is. I had to have her for my own.”
“You must give her back, my love. Her kin will come a-searching with fire and steel if you don’t.”
She frowned at him, always so hungry and sharp toothed in the spring. “But she’s mine. She came to me, weeping and alone, and cast herself upon my waves. It would be rude to turn her away.”
Tom reached out a long arm, and drew the body to the shore. “She’s not a wild animal, Goldberry. She’s a King’s daughter, and they will want her back.”
Goldberry kissed the dead girl's face, and helped him draw the body down the river to where her kin would find it on the shore.
“She looks so peaceful now,” she said, and took Tom’s hand as they looked down at the fair corpse at their feet.
“Come, my darling,” Tom said, and led a dripping Goldberry back to their house. “The flood has fed too well this year. Enough.”
“Enough for now,” Goldberry said, and sang a raging spring tide song as they walked. Thank you for your youth, she sang. Thank you for your beauty.
The River loves you all, she sang. You’re such delicious food.