Little Knife (The Grisha 2.60) - Page 3

“Little Knife!” cried Semyon. “What do you do?”

A voice spoke, terrible in its power, rumbling with the sound of rain-choked waterfalls, of tempests and floods. “I am no blunt knife to cut your sorry bread,” it said. “I feed the fields and drown the harvest. I am bounty and destruction.”

The people fell to their knees and wept. The Duke clutched the priest’s hand.

“Then who are you?” begged Semyon. “What are you?”

“Your tongue is not fit for my true name,” the river boomed. “I was once a spirit of the Isenvee, the great North Sea, and I roamed these lands freely, tumbling down through Fjerda, to the rocky coast and back again. Then, by unhappy accident, my spirit was trapped here, bound by this dam, free to run but doomed to return, forced to keep that cursed wheel spinning, in endless service to this miserable hamlet. Now the dam is no more. Your greed and t

he Prince’s axe have seen to that.”

It was Yeva who found the courage to speak, for the question to ask seemed simple. “What do you want, river?”

“It was I who built the tower of trees,” said the river. “And I who earned the mirror from Baba Anezka. It was I who found the magic coin. And now I say to you, Yeva Luchova: Will you remain here with the father who tried to sell you, or the Prince who hoped to buy you, or the man too weak to solve his riddles for himself? Or will you come with me and be bride to nothing but the shore?”

Yeva looked at Semyon, at the Prince, at her father standing beside the priest. Then she tore the veil from her face—her eyes were bright, her cheeks were flushed and glowing. The people cried out and shielded their gazes, for in that moment she was too lovely to look at. She was terrifying in her beauty, bright like a devouring star.

Yeva leapt from the banks and the river caught her up in its waters, keeping her afloat as her jeweled kokoshnik sank and her silken gown billowed around her. She hovered there on the surface, a flower caught in the current. Then as the Duke stood stunned and quaking in his wet boots, the river wrapped Yeva in its arms and carried her away. Through the woods the river thundered, leaving trees and fields drenched by her eddying skirts, smashing the mill to bits in her wake. The waterwheel snapped free of its moorings and rolled wildly down the banks, knocking the Prince and all his retainers to the ground before disappearing into the underbrush.

The townspeople trembled against each other and when the river was finally gone, they looked upon the empty riverbed, its damp rocks glittering in the sun. Where the millpond had been only minutes before, there was just a muddy basin. There was quiet, no sound but the croak of lost frogs and the slap of gasping fish flopping in the muck.

* * *

The river was the heart of Velisyana, and when it went silent, all that was left was for the town to die.

Without the river, there could be no mill, and without the mill, the Duke lost his fortune. When he begged for relief from the King, the Prince suggested that his father set three tasks and that the price for failure be the Duke’s head. The Duke left the capital in disgrace but with his head still on his shoulders.

The shops and houses of Velisyana emptied. The grates lay cold and the clock on the belltower chimed its hour for no one. The Duke remained in his crumbling palace, gazing out from Yeva’s window onto the empty stones of Suitors’ Square, and cursing Semyon. If you keep very still, you may see him there, surrounded by stone lilies, awaiting the water’s return.

But you will not glimpse lovely Yeva. The river carried her all the way to the seashore, and there she stayed. She said her prayers in a tiny chapel where the waves ran right up to the door, and each day she sat by the ocean’s edge and watched the tides come and go. She lived in happy solitude, and grew old, and never worried when her beauty faded, for in her reflection she always saw a free woman.

As for poor Semyon, he was driven out of town, blamed for the tragedy that had befallen it. His misery was short, however. Not long after he left Velisyana, he withered to a husk and died. He would not let any drop of water pass his lips, certain it would betray him.

Now, if you have been foolish enough to wander from the path, it is up to you to make your way back to the road. Follow the voices of your worried companions and perhaps this time your feet will lead you past the rusting skeleton of a waterwheel resting in a meadow where it has no right to be. If you are lucky, you will find your friends again. They will pat you on the back and soothe you with their laughter. But as you leave that dark gap in the trees behind, remember that to use a thing is not to own it. And should you ever take a bride, listen closely to her questions. In them you may hear her true name like the thunder of a lost river, like the sighing of the sea.

* * *

Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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