This story takes inspiration from the Zuni tale of Kolowisi. It turned out much longer than I originally thought. It would take for her to tell her tale. I started intending a poem and the Water Bride wasn't having it for this iteration.
Long ago I went for water from the spring. This was my favorite place to go and I always treasured the time I could spend here. I was free to be myself, without eyes judging me, without the worries about who my parents would finally give me away to. I often tarried and sang by the water, and I always loved letting my fingers linger in the coolness. It was a dry walk then as it is now, and the heady smells of high desert scrub that lay over the land just as strong. That day when I got down and lowered my water pot to fill after I had performed my usual time enjoying the water I heard a low cry. How could a baby have been out all alone? Here?
I placed my pot down half filled on the bank and looked for what I heard. Gurgles bubbled up at me when I found him and chubby arms reached for me. He smiled toothlessly. I examined him as I picked him up. Why would anyone abandon such a strong and healthy seeming boy? Had he perhaps been carried off by a mountain lion and then dropped? Had one of the spirits stolen him for his beauty and then changed their mind?
The boy’s gaze shifted down and he began to cry again. Of course he would be hungry, but I was a young virgin and had no milk. Yet I felt strangely heavy and sleepy. I remember looking around to see if there was something I could perhaps chew up and process for him to tide him over. I could ask one of the mothers to help me feed my new son. I saw nothing suitable though.
“Hush. I have to think son. I don’t know what to feed you and I still need to finish getting the water for my own parents. I have nothing but we’ll figure something.”
The tiredness and heaviness continued to grow. His wailing had stopped when I spoke and when I looked at him he was staring at me intensely. Did he understand? I found a comfortable spot to sit and rocked him for a moment. I was so heavy, so tired, and my chest and entire body felt so strange and warm.
I had to have fallen asleep. When I woke my water pot was beside us instead of where I had left it. The heaviness and strangeness no longer weighed me down and muddied my thinking. I felt different but I could not be sure how. As I looked into the baby’s eyes I was unsure how I would deal with letting another mother nurse him until he was able to eat other foods. Was there perhaps some way to make my own milk come without taking a husband, who would surely disown the baby? I had to protect this small life.
My heart sank when I realized that for now I would need to hide him, and I still had no name for him either.
“Perhaps your name will come to me tonight. I don’t know how I’m going to hide you though. They may take you away.”
He cooed and reached for me, patted at me as if he was the one soothing me. With a sigh I nodded, fashioned a strap to keep him to my chest and against my heart the best I could, then carried my water home to my parents.
I don’t know how I was able to keep him hidden, how no one noticed the baby strapped to me. I was heavy and warm again, not sleepy this time, but definitely not feeling my normal self. I fully intended to tuck him behind some pots and parcels near where I normally sleep but I could not bear to take him off. My arms would not cooperate, so I stopped trying and went about the rest of my day. The only time the baby seemed to make any sort of fuss was when an unwanted suitor attempted to catch me in conversation.
My parents liked him well enough, but I never liked the way he seemed to brag. Being a wife would be difficult for him. I prickled inside. The baby actually hissed. Still, no one saw the little boy I bore baring his teeth except for me.
Finally the day was done and I could retreat into my bedcovers. I held the child close and fell into an exhausted sleep.
When I woke, I was here. The child I rescued, or thought I had rescued, was now a man and adjusting blankets fussily around me. There was the smell of water and earth. He noticed my now open eyes and stroked my cheek.
“I told you everything would work out. Now we can be happy. I’ve watched you so long now when you would come to my spring. Now, rest. You didn’t eat enough last night. I have a stew made if you think you are awake enough, wife.”
That night is how you came to be, child. That night is how we came to live in the cave the spring wells up from. If you go outside and look up sometimes you will see my people looking down as they scoop water. Your grandparents are the ones that drop in the wrapped sweet cakes.
“You will meet them when you are a little older.” My husband’s voice slides into the night now that the story is done. “You must be careful though. Even though they know now what happened, there are others of your mother’s people that are not so happy I brought her here. Some day though you will need a partner, and it is from your mother’s people you will find one. Then you will decide on what world you will raise your own family in.”
My husband reaches out to stroke our youngest’s face as he did mine so long ago. Though he wears a human form I feel one of his coils wrapped around me. I snuggle into this coil subtly, warm and happy.