Kjell knows better than to go near the falls.
So do the sheep, for that matter.
This doesn’t stop them, of course, not when the sweetest grasses grow so close to the water—a tasty temptation even in a wide field free for the eating, bordered only distantly by trees and Kjell’s little wooden home. His ram wanders further and further away from the rest, following a verdant path towards the small overhang of earth down which the small river runs. Cropping plants between flat teeth, curly-horned head held low, the ram is near enough to the edge that Kjell has to move slowly to fetch it—too fast, and they’ll bolt, and considering the cleverness of sheep, it’s likely to dart right over the edge.
He sets his stave to the ground, the long stick held high to herald his coming. The water hisses, its sound trapped between walls of soil, until he and his ram are at the brink of it. Water fills the air, suspended, glistening in sun. Kjell’s thick linen cloak darkens. The glacier melt that fills the river near to bursting this early in the spring is still entirely too cold. Kjell’s jaw tightens against a shiver.
He approaches the disobedient beast from the side rather than behind. Boots slipping into the wet earth, Kjell pulls them sucking from the mud with cautious steps. The ram lifts its head and startles at Kjell’s stave when he waves it, blessedly bolting away from the falls and bounding almost victorious to join the rest of the flock again.
Brave ventures yield great rewards, Kjell reasons, so long as one survives them. Perhaps the same is true for sheep.
His foot digs deeper, and he steps back. The stories of places like this are known well, the haunts of wights and elves who will demand tribute for passing near their homes. Children’s stories, no doubt, to keep them from toppling down onto the rocks. Myths and fables from more superstitious times.
Surely, then, the strains of music are only his imagination.
Surely, the lilting of fiddle strings must be carrying on the wind across the fell.
Surely, Kjell must have just spent too much time afield alone, and his mind has wandered far as his stubborn sheep.
Curiosity pulls him towards the edge once more. With mistrust towards the stability of the soft soil and misgivings towards his own mind, Kjell slips closer to the falls. Dulcet tones rise in a familiar old song from Kjell’s childhood but whose words he can’t recall. The cascade of water is twice his height but no more than that, and when Kjell leans, only the edge of the shadowy pool beneath shows, foaming white beneath the spray. The bend of strings echoes louder from below, a sound so warm that Kjell forgets how wet his clothes have become in seeking the music’s source.
Kjell’s voice rings back at him after a pause, too long to be his own echo, and yet, it sounds much the same. His brow furrows at the strange delay. He draws a breath to call again and holds it when a voice responds:
Nervousness pulls a laugh from Kjell, held behind his hand. He squeezes his staff tighter, a weapon and means of grounding both. Trapping his bottom lip between his teeth, he hesitates. It must be his own voice, delayed among the jagged rocks and gushing water below. He tries again:
The music begins again, a different tune but equally familiar. He could walk away now, pretend not to have heard any of this, return to his sheep and his quiet life among those creatures who demand little more than to be kept from tripping into their own misdeeds. He should go, and his parents’ warnings echo in a way his voice did not, a direct resonance that coils his stomach tight.
He could go.
He does not.
Winding his way down the sloping hill to where the water runs towards the sea, Kjell leaves his sheep and his field, the sight of his home and the trees that keep it safe. Staff steadying his steps, he picks his way down alongside the water and towards the little waterfall.
A dark gaze meet his and blinks, as surprised as Kjell himself.
Megan McFerren enjoys exploring romantic notions through history and myth She grew up amidst the dust storms of West Texas and resides now in New York City in attendance to countless coy muses. She has contributed stories to Torquere Press.