Where the rocks fell away the mighty river had to fall too. It became a place of magic and enchantment. As the water rushed over the edge it seemed to take on a life of its own. Beneath the waterfall and behind the waterfall was a cave. Inside the cave lived three creatures. There was Water Slug who crept about on the slippery rocks keeping the moss in order. He was a cheerful slug and minded not at all that other creatures thought him ‘odd looking’. He knew that his place in the grand order was vital to the cave’s equilibrium and so he was content. Another creature that lived alongside him in harmonious silence was Water Pippit. A bright green bird he flew in and out of the waterfall everyday. He loved the feeling of the water on his wings and he was happy just to exist in the small world of the waterfall. He was an unusual bird in that he never sang. He had long ago lost his voice at the time of the great storm when he never quite got dry. Since then he occasionally looked for his chirrup but, had as yet, not found it. Normally Water Pippit would sup off waterslugs but he was fond of the waterfall Water Slug and so they lived side by side without fear.

The waterfall was also the home of the famous Water Sprite. He was well known among all the creatures in the neighbouring forest and heath for his welcome and storytelling if their paths ever crossed. Once, particularly busy, Hare had travelled miles out of his way to avoid Water Sprite when he thought he had no time to stop and listen to one of the sprite’s magical stories. Whole days had been known to go by without either the teller or the listener being aware of the passing of time. It was well known among the local inhabitants that Hare had missed a particularly thrilling story that day and so no one ever again gave action to the thought of avoiding the sprite.

Water Sprite had a smile that lit up the sky. When he grinned the waterfall took on a hue so light that magical rainbows seemed to dance down with the water and up the waterfall and in through the water curtain and all along the walls of the cave. When he laughed there were no dark corners anywhere to be seen, not even in the deepest recesses of the rocks. In short he was a joy to behold. To be in his presence was to be blessed with happiness. Well, that is until one day, early in spring, Water Sprite woke up and felt strange. As he stretched he yawned and tried to sing as he usually did on first awakening. No sound came out of his mouth. He tried again, there was still no noise. Without even stopping to brush his teeth he rushed out of the cave, through the waterfall and stood in the morning light. The sun was beginning to come up over the horizon and it cast strange shadows on the ground. Water Sprite looked around for Water Pippit. He had also lost his voice and he wanted to talk to him about it. Gradually he realised that he couldn’t ask Water Pippit a question because he couldn’t speak. His shoulders dropped and he turned his back on the rising sun. Water Sprite felt so gloomy that he walked away from his waterfall and his cave. What a disaster! No one would come to hear his stories any more and he would be lonely.

Now it happened that a little girl was walking in the woods that very morning. She was an orphan and had no home and no family of any kind. Her name was Terpsichoria. She had not known who had named her or why but she did have a half remembered thought that the woman had been beautiful, graceful and kind. This thought she carried with her and every day when she found food in the forest or washed her clothes in the stream she smiled as she remembered. She had fended for herself for a long time and had grown accustomed to living out of doors. The leaves she used for bedding were warm and dry and she had never felt afraid of the woods or the heath. The last people who had taken her in had wanted a servant. They gave her many tasks every day but very little food or attention. Terpsichoria found that she didn’t mind the work so much as their indifference. They didn’t seem to hate her, they certainly didn’t love her, they just didn’t notice her. One day she walked down to fetch water and never went back. It did not take her long to discover that the birds of the air and the animals in the fields were her friends. She in turn helped them if they needed it. She helped sheep who were entangled in the briars. She helped birds who had hurt their wings. She had even taken a thorn out of the wolf’s paw.

The morning that Water Sprite lost his voice was a lovely morning, clear and fresh. Terpsichoria got up and ate her breakfast of berries and mushrooms. She drank clear water from the stream that ran through the wood. She bathed in the forest pool and then, as normal, she danced in the sunlit glade. Although she felt happy with her life she felt sometimes that it would be nice to have a friend. Someone with whom she could talk and share the happy moments, this she thought would bring her contentment. This day was just right for wandering afar. She had grown to know every tree in the wood and every plant on the heath. Her favourite flowers were forget-me-nots. They reminded her of the beautiful woman who had once given her love and her name. This morning she would venture further to find the way of the stream. She was curious so she walked along its course. She danced in the clear water and got rather wet. There was no one to tell her to stop so she did it again. The cool water ran over her feet and in between her toes and felt good. As she walked and danced her way along the stream she began to hear a noise that she couldn’t understand. It sounded like a rushing and gurgling but she had not known it before and so she became wary. She decided to go round away from the stream for a while so that she could see and understand what lay ahead. Terpsichoria had learnt that to understand the unusual and the unexpected made things less frightening. So she took her time and came to the waterfall by way of the heath. By this time it was well into the afternoon and she felt tired and thirsty. She sat by the waterfall and was enchanted by the music it made. She drank some of the water and dangled her dainty feet in the cool water. She slept in the warm afternoon sun.

Water Sprite wandered through the byways and highways of the forest and came to a clearing. In the corner of the clearing was a bed of leaves that obviously had been slept in. On the floor of the clearing were damp footprints that made a regular pattern on the dry earth. He was intrigued. He was still upset by his lost voice but decided that he would try to forget his problem and follow the footprints to see where they led. As he walked with his head down searching the ground for signs he fell over Hare who was taking a nap. Hare never again wanted to avoid him so he asked Water Sprite to tell him a story. At this Water Sprite only shook his head sadly, pointed to his throat, and walked on. This upset Hare so he followed Water Sprite to find out what was amiss. Further along the path they came to Very Wise Toad. He also asked Water Sprite to tell him a story. Again Water Sprite shook his head and pointed to his throat. Very Wise Toad joined Hare and they both followed the path Water Sprite was taking.

Water Sprite was surprised to find that the path led back to his waterfall. Even more astonished was he when he saw the young girl asleep on the bank with her head on a bunch of wild thyme that she had used as a pillow. Hare and Very Wise Toad were wary of anything human. They both ran behind a rock and crouched down to see what would happen.

Terpsichoria awoke to find a tall elfin figure staring at her. She was not afraid and sat up smiling. Water Sprite nodded in reply to her greeting and pointed to his throat and sighed. He sat beside her and looked so sad. Water Pippit flew down and he too, said nothing. This was not what Terpsichoria expected. Birds sang and sprites talked, everyone knew that. She looked at the waterfall and at the rainbows dancing in the sunlight. As she looked up through the rainbows she thought she saw a small fairy playing with musical notes. The fairy tossed the notes into the air and when they fell towards him he juggled with them and tossed them high again. Each time the notes fell towards him they made a different tune. Terpsichoria turned to Water Sprite and pointed to the fairy. “Can you hear the music? It sounds as if a water pippit was singing as he flew above the waterfall.” At that moment another fairy joined the first and he too threw musical notes into the air. These were of a deeper sound and almost it seemed as if the second fairy was talking. Once more the notes were thrown into the spray of the waterfall and as they dropped down to the fairy they took on the form of a poem.

The curious Hare and Very Wise Toad came to stand with Water Sprite and Terpsichoria. Very Wise Toad considered for a while then suggested that the fairies had taken the beautiful sounds from Water Sprite and Water Pippit for their own amusement. How would they get the voices back from the mischevious fairies? The four would need to think and perhaps employ some enchantments of their own for clearly the naughty fairies had taken the voices using magic.

They sat and thought. They sat and sighed and thought some more. Suddenly Very Wise Toad remembered some wise saying his father had taught him. If a fairy smells forget-me-nots they tend to forget what they are doing. The sensation lasts for a few moments but Very Wise Toad thought it may be enough time to get the voices back. Hare raced off to get the forget-me-nots while Water Sprite and Water Pippit made ready to stand under the waterfall and catch the notes as they fell. Very Wise Toad took the flowers when Hare came back and leaped up the waterfall. Water Sprite and Water Pippit went under the water, heads back and mouths open. Terpsichoria stayed on the bank and danced to divert the fairies. As the fairies noticed the dancer Very Wise Toad waved the flowers under their noses, they dropped the voices and Water Sprite and Water Pippit caught them. It needed only a little more magic to change the voices over as at first Water Sprite sounded like a bird and Water Pippit recited a poem.

Afterwards the group gathered in the cave and Water Sprite was able to tell Water Slug all about it. He was once again able to weave his magic spell when telling stories. Terpsichoria sat enchanted with the others. When the story was over she thought she ought to go back to her woodland bed. They all pleaded with her to stay and be part of their family of friends, and so she did. The fairies too became good friends and were always the first in line to listen to Water Sprite’s tales. They made amends for their mischief by helping Water Slug clean up the moss until it shone. As the days and years went by Terpsichoria became more of a sprite and less of a girl. They all lived very happily together and no one was frightened or lonely again. If, today, you stand by a waterfall you may just hear the tinkle of laughter or see a pretty sprite, dressed in forget-me-nots, dancing on water rainbows.

The End

Denny Bradbury

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