Monday, August 16, 2010

Obscure Octavo: River Queens

From an undated letter signed by Praxel Nevarran:

I am not certain what to make of this latest, Grodari. Even to my ears, well-tuned as they are to the unbelievable stories that sprout in secluded villages, the most recent tale I’ve collected seems likely born from the fumes of strong spirits, yet I admit that there is something to it that strikes a faint but undeniable chord of truth. Perhaps your encyclopedic knowledge of folklore might pour more light on this story.

While staying at a drafty roadhouse located in the Stremenfold Valley, I overheard three of the local goodmen loudly discussing a recent death in the village. It seemed that three days prior to my arrival in the hamlet, the body of a young man was found in the reeds along the local riverbank. Although from the facts it seemed as if the lad was simply a victim of accidental drowning, certain wise folks—you know the sort—insist that his death was much more insidious. It was from the lips of these codgers that I first heard tell of the “river queens.”

At first, these local boogities seem to be of the same vein as the nixies and the rusalka, both of which we’re well acquainted with. But as I pried more of the tale from these men, the particulars diverge from ones associated with those entities, leaving me to believe that there is either nothing more to these tales than pastoral imaginations run amuck around a winter’s night fire or that this creature is something scholars have yet to document. Here is what I could get the men to divulge:

A river queen seems to be a hitherto unknown type of vampiric elemental, one tied to a local body of water as the name suggests. Yet, despite this connection, the creature is encountered away from her sodden den and is most commonly found in the midst of the local community—candidly, of course, for if her true identity was known, she would be unable to feed and be driven off. (I use the feminine pronoun when referring to this creature, but this is simple convenience. If truly elemental in nature as the tales suggest, gender is likely neuter or simply not applicable.)

A river queen appears as a human woman, one of slight, almost boyish frame, and frequently with short, dark hair. She is unremarkable of form, being neither too comely nor too plain to attract the notice of anyone other than her victim, and she bears the physical traits most common to the region—again so as to attract no attention to herself. Although elemental in nature and aquatic as well, there are no telltale signs to alert observers to this fact. Amongst those who have survived the attentions of a river queen, a few report that her body bears marking similar to those worn by Etrani sailors or northern savages. In these cases, the marking were all located in places upon the body covered by clothing and only became visible when the river queen disrobed.

A river queen’s prime purpose to walk amongst civilization is to feed, and it is in this aspect of her diet that she resembles the wampyr or succubus, for she draws sustenance from mortal energy. However, unlike the wampyr who drinks the blood of its victim, or the succubus who sustains herself on sex and the fluids associated with that act, the river queen feeds on the creative energies of her victim. She is a negative Muse, drawing power on the very act of creation, much to the detriment of the creator.

She does this by attracting the attentions of one with an abundance of creative power, typically an artist, musician, writer, or performer, but in times of severe hunger, an over-imaginative farm hand or dreamy eyed dairy maid will suffice. Such creative individuals are often shunned by less imaginative peers or have removed themselves from society to pursue their chosen art form, making them easy prey for a river queen who comes with attentiveness and flattery. She works herself into her chosen victim’s confidence, often striking up a friendship or even more intimate relationship with the subject. In many cases, this newfound attention is enough to cause the victim to embark on a sudden binge of creativity with the river queen serving as his or her Muse. This obviously is to the elemental’s boon as she feeds on this torrent of imaginative energy.

Over time, the river queen’s feeding outstrips her victim’s ability to produce, leaving the artist uninspired and desperately grasping for the touch of inspiration. It is during this period that the river queen’s attentions become most obvious, for the victim begins suffering from insomnia and the physical traits of that affliction begin to manifest themselves on the subject. The subject may begin to abuse alcohol or other intoxicants at this time, leaving them with the physical signs of that decline as well. All too often, the artist, sensitive soul that he is, will ultimately take his own life in depression over the loss of his creativity. The river queen, her food source exhausted, now moves on to her next meal.

Although both the wampyr and succubus are nocturnal entities, the river queen seems unaffected by such restrictions and has been encountered both day and night by her victim and his or her associates. It is known that a river queen often removes herself from the presence of her victim, often for days at a time, but the purpose of these absences is unknown. It is possible that she must return to her watery lair to reinvigorate herself in her natural element, but it is also just as likely that she only engaging in a form of conservation, allowing her prey to recharge their own creative energies in order to prolong the duration of her feeding.

These absences are often the sole indicator that a subject is being victimized by a river queen. According to folklore, some friends of a river queen’s victim will seek out the creature during a time when she is away from her prey. Believing that the river queen is nothing more than an over-controlling paramour, these good intentioned acquaintances hope to beg the creature to leave the subject alone, but their efforts to locate her home or find anyone else who knows her always comes to naught. Her inaccessibility applies to her victim as well. Many victims of a river queen become enraptured with their victimizer and miss her destructive attentions when she’s away. These poor souls wander about in search of their poisonous Muse to no avail. If they were of sound mind, this vanishing might alert them to the identity of their quarry, but alas the victim’s judgment has been compromised at this stage.

(There is an exception to the above in a singular tale. In this one case, the victim of a river queen attempted to contact his fiendish lover during one of her absences. While his attempts to locate her were unsuccessful, he did encounter a fellow of crude appearance and rough manners who claimed to be acquainted with the river queen—in her mortal identity. He agreed to pass along a message to her and vanished himself soon after. The river queen reappeared the next day but whether this was a result of her victim’s message is inconclusive. This exception to the normal behavior of a river queen remains suspect, but, if it is true, it could suggest that some river queens are served by human or human-seeming servants much in the way that some wampyr are.)

Unfortunately, there seems to be no known way to destroy a river queen. Some old folks swear that salt will burn a river queen like lye and that the blessing of the river queen’s watery den by a faithful soul will cause it to flee the area, but, as far as the tales go, there is no known case of a river queen’s death being witnessed. In most tales, she simply disappears when sated and returns after a long period has elapsed to hunt again.

As one last point of interest, some of the oldest tales imply that the river queen’s unassuming human form is not her real one but merely a glamour that hides a more hideous appearance. Unfortunately, those tales imply rather than describe this horrid guise, giving no clues as to what a river queen might actually look like when its true shape is assumed.

I am most anxious to hear your thoughts, Grodari. I have posted this missive through the local lord of Aldwater, the master of this valley hamlet where the lad’s death occurred and I am currently residing. I hope to pry deeper into this matter and see what more there might be to learn. The identification and proper classification of such a creature would be quite a feather in my unadorned bonnet, old friend. If you can find nothing on this creature or one like it in the Grand Archive of Tvar v Tvarax, it confirms my thought that this could be an unclassified entity. Send word to the lord of Aldwater whatever your results might be.

1 comment:

Pallando said...

we've seen her at Beltane... I at first wondered if thehaggard servant you mentioned could also have been an earlier victim, looking to warn other young artists but then not having the strength to do so.