Telling Tales 15
The Copper River
I was not always as you see me now. Where I grew up, where we had no such things as kingdoms or tsars and where we had never heard the name of Koschey the Deathless. I lived with my parents at the edge of our small village at the edge of the water. I was of marrying age, but I was interested in none of my suitors. The handsome ones, the hunters, the warriors, none of them could turn my head. “Stay inside when the men arrive,” my mother warned me. “Do not greet them unless your parents are there with you.” I was not worried, for as I said, none of them were for me. So it was that I was surprised on my own by a man whom I had never seen before, a magnificent man, more beautiful and handsome than any I had ever seen before. We lay together and he left, promising that he would return with enough food for our entire family. One day passed and he did not come back. Two days passed. On the third day, my stomach began to ache, and at the end of the day I had given birth to seven eggs, glossy and white. They hatched that night, seven beautiful birds, but my parents would not stand for my disobedience. They cast me into the ocean and fled far from that place, inland to where they could not hear my cries. My children flew away and I was left alone in the water where the tide threatened to drown and kill me. I clung to the rocks. A mighty bird heard my cries but his sharp beak cut off my fingers, one by one. Instead of helping me, he weakened my grip. He soared over me, joined by the seven birds that had brought him to this place. He dove beneath the waves and emerged beneath me, and up we flew. Because my clothes were so wet, I was much heavier than you see me now. In spite of the bird’s strength, my feet dragged upon the earth and gouged out a wide channel all the way inland. When he landed, he transformed back into my husband. He called our seven children to us and sent them out hunting. “We must bring my parents the fat of bear and caribou,” I told him, “then they will understand that you are a good husband.” He and the children were fishers, not hunters, so I taught them all they needed to know. I had them bind my hands. The children had to grow different from their parents to hunt on land, and we love of all of them, even the youngest, who likes to play tricks and is often lazy. When we had enough for my parents, we continued inland. My fingers, lost in the ocean, did not want to be separated from me any longer, and became fish and seal and walrus and all manner of creatures and followed my path, taking the water with them in the channel. They followed me all the way to my parents, who saw that my husband and children were magnificent hunters of all of the creatures of the world. My husband returned to the ocean and my children flew far and wide and I, not wanting to be parted from any of my family, lay down and filled the channel so that I would always be near all of them.
Ah, and here my husband is arrived.