The Legend of the Waterfall

by Nofret Hrist

February 2000

Many years ago in Cairnfang, near a huge waterfall shaped like the letter S, there dwelt a tribe of sylvans and their chieftain, Basajaun. Basajaun was a wily and selfish old man, and as cold and unforgiving as winter itself. He had but one child, a daughter named Ama-Lur, and it would have been better had he had no daughter at all.

Now, Ama-Lur--despite being clever and spirited, and possessing rich rippling mahogany waves and eyes the color of wet leaves--had no suitors. Oh, many were the warriors and wizards who had contested for her favor, but they had learned too late that it was Basajaun they had to please, and he was pleased by none of them. For Basajaun had looked on his daughter with an unclean eye, and--though he had not yet acted on his thoughts--had found her wondrous fair.

So calling the suitors' protestations of love mere frivolity, he set impossible and often humiliating tasks for each one. A giantman warrior was challenged to fight a duel with the youngest child from Basajaun's tribe. A cleric fanatically dedicated to Koar was commanded to repudiate his god and to vow eternal loyalty to Marlu. Over and over this happened, until the suitors decided that there were other women just as fair, with more reasonable fathers.

But the goddess of love will not be cheated, and one autumn, at the Festival of Imaera, Ama-Lur met someone from a neighboring tribe, a wealthy and famous warrior bard named Mendi. His face and body seemed to have been sculpted from marble, and his blue eyes were both wise and merry. Soon it became apparent that they suited each other remarkably well.

One day the two pledged their troth to each other by drinking a type of nectar with a sweet and bitter flavor. As they drank, they pledged, each to the other, to sacrifice the world if need be.

Now, despite the fact that the affection between Ama-Lur and Mendi grew more obvious every day--for the two were forever visiting each other's families, and neither was out of the presence of the other for more than a minute--Basajaun refused to accept that there was anything meaningful in this. All that changed on the day that Mendi went to Basajaun and asked the old chieftain to bless their marriage.

Basajaun was outraged. That this young upstart should try to steal his daughter, no, his woman...! He fell back on his old tricks. He commanded that the youth stand on his head in a nest of scorpions and recite backward a long boring list of spells and prayers. he demanded that Mendi bring Ama-Lur's weight in rubies as her bride-price. Mendi did everything successfully, and without complaint.

t looked as if Basajaun would have to grant his daughter's hand in marriage after all, and the old chieftain was sickened by the thought. After much consideration, he came up with one more challenge, one so mad that no sane man would agree to it. Leaning forward, his eyes glittering with malice, the old sylvan smirked at Mendi and said:

'One more test, a test of your courage. In three days' time, at sunrise, before me and all of my people, you must walk across the very edge of the waterfall until you reach the opposite shore. You must do it alone, without using any magic to aid you. Fail to do this, and you must give up all hope of wedding my daughter. Do you agree?'

Three days later, the village turned out--at Basajaun's command--at the rim of the waterfall. No one believed that Mendi would appear. Imagine their astonishment when Mendi pushed his way through the crowd, and, trying to appear nonchalant, stepped into the icy water. Slowly, slowly, he crept toward the opposite shore; carefully, cautiously, he pushed forward, bracing himself against the relentless current. More than once, he almost slipped, only regaining his balance at the last minute.

Finally, he reached the bank on the other side, and stepped shakily to solid ground once more.

A cheer of relief burst from the sylvans as they saw this. Ama-Lur was laughing and weeping with joy. Even Basajaun was unwillingly impressed by the courage it had taken to fulfill this task, and realized that whether he willed it or no, the gods were smiling on this match.  He called out to Mendi, 'Well done! Come down the mountain, and I shall give Ama-Lur to you in marriage.'

Dripping wet, but still bearing himself like a warrior, Mendi faced Basajaun.  For a moment, he smiled bitterly; then fury at being cheated yet again swept over his face.  Everyone there, with the exception of Basajaun, realized that Mendi had finally reached the breaking point. He would endure no more insults or offenses from Basajaun. Ever.

Mendi glared at the old chieftain, and addressed him in a loud clear baritone.

'Your daughter is no longer yours to give,' he said disdainfully. 'I have sacrificed all for her--yes, even offered my life. Ama-Lur is not some toy to be promised to all and taken back when you wish it! She is a woman, and I love her. We have pledged our hearts and souls to each other already. And I claim her now!'

Slowly, slowly he started back across the rim of the waterfall. Slowly, slowly, he crept toward his love and her tribespeople. Ama-Lur stretched forth a trembling hand, desperate to pull her lover to safety

Mendi's hand was just brushing hers when it happened.

He stumbled....

...and fell.

Mendi screamed only once. For a moment, his white, despairing face appeared above the waves. Then it vanished, and there was only silence.

Ama-Lur, frantic with fear and love, tore herself from her father's grasp, and dove in, in a vain attempt to save her lover. She didn't even have a chance to scream as she too was swept over the falls. There was much weeping in Cairnfang that day.

In memory of the lovers parted by a foolish old man, the sylvans of both Ama-Lur's and Mendi's tribes renamed the falls "Cascade of Tears."

Legend has it that so long as there is opposition to love in this world, the Cascade of Tears will continue to flow, and the spirits of Ama-Lur and Mendi must content themselves with singing sad songs of love to each other from the opposite banks of the falls. But someday, when harmony, peace and joy are brought into this world to stay, the Cascade of Tears will cease, and the two lovers will be reunited at last.

[Note: This story won second place at the Snowflake Festival in Icemule in February 2000.]

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