A 1019 word story written for the Fabulous Fantasy Contest, September 2019.
The Water Sprite's Queen
I guess I knew that my sister would be chosen. We all did. But the announcement still came as a shock, a blow that we had to cover with smiles. It was an honor, after all. One in which we would all share.
No space for grief.
Annaleine smiled, leaped in the air and whirled around in circles. I knew her laughter, could pick up on the false note; the tears in her eyes were genuine ones, but no one would suspect except me.
Annaleine was hustled away by the other contenders, girls that, like my sister, were several years my senior. I tried to join them, but they formed an excited circle from which I was firmly excluded.
"You are so lucky!"
"How I wish that they had picked me!"
The last comment was spoken from the safety of knowledge; it would not be them sailing on that boat, wrapped up in white, a bride to the ruling River Sprite. My sister would never return home.
I should be taking part in the preparations but first I needed to seek out my mother. I wanted her to comfort me, to console me, to reassure me that Annaleine would not suffer. There she is, with my aunt and my cousin. I wave to attract their attention but they turn away as though I have become a sprite myself.
No comfort to be found, I make my way to the river bank, stare into it's depths. The flicker of a fish draws my eye. The water near the surface looks clear and pure but the deeper parts are cloudy, murky.
A gasp catches in my throat as a body floats in to view. Not on the surface, but deep down. A girl with golden curls, her eyes closed, her hands clasped together. The white gown wraps and swirls around her. There is no doubt in my mind that it is Annaleine. And then her eyes open and I bite back a scream.
No body is there.
Whirling away, I make my way back to the gathering. 'Please,' I silently beg, 'someone, give me something to do!'
"Cressa." It is Vinja's voice. She is chief among the women. Not formally, but it is a position we all accept unquestioningly. "This is a great honor for your family, is it not." The statement was made with no hint of a question.
I nod to give myself a moment to compose my voice. "It is, Vinja. Annaleine, I could see, was delighted. Might I see her? Just for a moment?"
"You know that I cannot grant that, Cressa. It never happens, and I am always asked." Vinja's eyes are steely, daring me to argue. "Your job is to gather flowers. Lots of flowers, as many as you can. Remember, this is a celebration."
It's a good job for me. I race off to the meadows, the borders are full of summer blooms. Yellows, whites, reds, purples; there are even some blue ones. Bouquets from nature for a nature sprite who is going to steal my sister away. No! He will marry her, love her, cherish her.
By the time I have gathered up armfuls of flowers, the table has been readied for the feast. Tiny vases are scattered across its length, waiting for me to place the bouquets in water. Already they are bringing out dishes of delicacies reserved only for this day; those carrying the platters all decked out in their party finery.
My mother calls me over to her. "Go quickly, Cress. Your dress is laid out on your bed."
"But, Mother, I need to talk to you..."
I'm sure I see her lip quiver, but her voice is light, happy. "There's no time now. Run, make haste. Remember that this is a big day for everyone, not just for ourselves and your sister."
I want to defy her words, make a stand; I want to ask why we are celebrating sending my sister to what I am certain will be a watery grave. That's what I desire to do, but I do not have the courage.
The dress is there, white but speckled with leaves. So pretty, it is; much more so than the plain clothes I am used to wearing. I untie my hair, let the blonde curls fall about my shoulders. No shoes; my feet will remain bare as I make my way to the feasting, the dancing. On my way, someone places a garland crown on my head. Briar roses; I can smell their scent.
Today I am a princess while my sister is the queen. Her eyes are shining, her mouth is smiling, but still I can see the panic. She laughs, floats from one person to another, taking the goblet from each in turn and drinking the contents. I've seen this before, but had never quite understood the reality. They are making her intoxicated and not just by excitement.
Feasting done, the table is left, while the fiddles and pipes fill the air. A tune for him, the Water Sprite, telling him that his bride will soon be sailing towards him. She will be his forever more.
We are all caught up in the music now. It is as though we have strings that the music controls. Faster and faster go the notes; faster and faster we spin and we twirl, each of us spinning my sister, guiding her towards the waiting boat.
She trips, stumbles, falls in to the boat, and her limbs no longer obey her. A fleeting look of terror crosses her face as the young men step forward. Four of them, two of whom wade deep in to the water. Annaleine feebly tries to push their hands away as they work to wrap her, making her in to a parody of a bride, swaddled in to compliance. Their hands have been deft in ensuring that she will not be able to break free.
The gathered voices raise is song. I won't sing her away. My mouth opens but not one sound leaves my lips.
My sister, the Water Sprite's queen.