The Witch’s River

Prompt: I should have drowned, but the river took pity on me and carried me home written 4 January 2020

I don’t remember what I’d been running from. All I remember is that I didn’t hesitate to fling myself off that cliff to get away from it.

I should have drowned. More than that, I should have crashed into the rocks and been crushed below the waves. This I remember clearly. The river rose up to meet me as I fell, slowing my descent and carrying me safely downstream.

I don’t know how long it carried me, but when it set me down I was in a forest I didn’t recognize. At first, I was hesitant to stray too far from the banks, but something in the trees beckoned me further. I had never before felt so safe, surrounded by trees, the ground covered in moss that was soft on my bare feet.

I hadn’t walked far when I found a stone path curving through the trees. The same thing that called me into the forest drew me onto the path, and soon I was approaching a cottage that sat in front of an immense weeping willow. I walked to the door cautiously. After a moment’s hesitation, I knocked.

The door was answered by an unkempt man with a cane. He gave me a warm smile when he saw me. “Ah. From the river, I see. Please, come in. I was just about to eat.”

The inside of the cottage was lined with bookshelves that spilled over with books and journals. There was a table by the fireplace that was just as cluttered, and a set of four plush chairs on the far side of the room.

“How did you know the river brought me here?” I asked as he closed the door behind me.

He smiled. “The river is an old friend. It brought me here, too. Every few years it finds a lost soul and brings it here. Not everyone stays, of course, but some of us find ourselves more at home here than anywhere else.” As he spoke, he spooned stew from a pot on the stove. He passed me a bowl and sat down in one of the chairs, gesturing for me to sit. I picked the softest looking chair and took a spoonful of the stew. It warmed me from the inside out and I sighed, trying not to down the whole thing at once.

“It’s delicious.” I said.

“Thank you. I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the recipe. I found it in one of the journals of the previous residents.” he said. “You can read any of them, if you’d like.”

I thanked him, and we ate in comfortable silence before the crackling fire. He refilled my bowl twice before he offered me a fresh set of clothes and pointed me towards a spare bedroom.

The days that followed were the most peaceful days of my life. The man’s name was Kalon, and he taught me all about the forest and the spirits in it. Eventually he told me about the cottage, and the witch who had built it. The oldest of the journals were her notes, and everyone who stayed took up her work, helping anyone who came to the cottage for spells or shelter.

Then, late one night as we set out bowls to collect rainwater, he asked me if I would stay.

“If I do, what happens to you?” I asked. He smiled.

“I will stay to teach you until you’re ready. Then I will leave.” he answered, setting out the next bowl.

“You told me this place was your home.” I reminded him. “Why would you leave it?”

“There is an entire world beyond this forest. I made two copies of all my notes so I could take them with me. I want to share the knowledge I found in my time here.” he helped me stand once I set out the last bowl. “I’ll be fine.”

I pulled Kalon into a tight hug. “I’ll miss you.” I said. “Come visit if you’re ever in the area, ok?”

He laughed as he returned the embrace. “I’m not leaving yet, my dear.” he rest his chin on my shoulder and whispered, “I’ll miss you too.”

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