The sun had not yet risen from behind its veil of misty clouds as Kyata made her way to her grandfather’s hut. It was early in the morning, and the village still lay in silence. Her bare feet made not a sound as she carefully placed them on the cold, hard ground. She stepped around the remains of the fire from last night, now a white pile of lifeless ashes. A few stalks of wet grass slid past her ankles, and she shivered.
Soon she was at the door of the hut. A gentle, rasping snore echoed off the mud walls, and Kyata smiled. Ducking under the deer hide flap, she padded over to the reed bed where her grandfather slept each night. He lay peacefully, wrapped up in his gray fur blanket. Kyata looked at the warm, fluffy covering and wished she was under it. No, not today, she reminded herself, today I have a mission. She knelt at his bedside and took his old hands in hers. They were rough and gnarled, like the bark of an ancient oak tree. They had seen many seasons of wear and use, and now retired along with their master. His dark, friendly eyes slid open, and beamed a new energy into Kyata.
They crept out of the hut, and into the village. Once they were away from the other huts, Grandfather spoke up.
“Where do you have to take me so early in the morning, little one?” he queried. His voice had a playful tone, but it was cracked with age all the same.
“It’s a surprise, down by the lake. You’ll see!”
As they walked side-by-side through the forest, the trees became alive with birdsong. It reminded Kyata of long ago, when her grandfather took her on walks, in search of the Naiads. However, for as long as he searched, they always eluded his watchful eyes. As his body wore down, he could spend less and less time out in the forest, until he was finally forced to retire to the village. His mind never lost its vigor though, and he still longed to hunt for the water-people.
“I dream of them, Kyata,” he had told her many seasons ago, “I dream of the water-lady of the lake, and meeting her. I will meet her one day, Kyata.” His words lingered in her mind like snow in early spring, never wanting to melt.
Soon the two came to the thick bushes that rimmed the lake. The thick leaves were like guardians, barring the lakeshore from unwanted company. Kyata took in a deep breath, smelling the mist that shrouded the lake in shadow every morning. The water lilies had just begun blooming, and their creamy, sweet fragrance laced the air around them. She slowly released the air, letting the steam spill out of her lips and over her chin like a waterfall.
“Ready?” she asked him.
“I’ve been ready for years beyond counting,” he replied, a smile etched into his deeply wrinkled face. “Lead the way.”
Kyata grinned, and pushed the leaves aside. She stepped through the bushes, and paused, waiting for her grandfather. He carefully picked his way through the leaves, not breaking a single stem. He slowly made his way over to where Kyata stood, and sat down on a smooth black rock. Kyata turned to the lake, and pointed. His gaze trained on the lakeshore, he followed her outstretched arm upward. The lake was utterly still, and the reflection of the island in the middle of the lake was clear as a mirror. On the island, there was a quick flutter of wings, and Grandfather looked up. His brown eyes widened as he looked at the island. Perched in a clump of ferns, there sat a woman, her skin as pale white as an ermine’s chest fur. She was enveloped in wings of mist, and her trails of golden hair reached down to the mossy ground. Her long arms were flawless, and her delicate muscles flexed in anticipation.
“A Naiad,” grandfather mouthed, staring at her. Her sapphire blue eyes sparkled like creek water as she fixed them to his wondering gaze. The Naiad’s pale pink lips slid open, and she began to sing in a language Kyata had never heard. The sweet words flowed out of her mouth like honey, and set gentle ripples across the lake. The melody swirled around the two humans sitting there, bathing them in unparalleled brilliance. But the song was meant for Grandfather. It beckoned him, urging him to go somewhere. Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds, and a golden ray struck the Naiad. As soon as it touched her, she disappeared into a airy wisp of mist. Kyata was silent, watching as the mist burned up instantly in the sun.
“Come on, Grandfather, let’s get back to the village.”
But Grandfather was already asleep, gone with the Naiad.