There were two very important people in my life before everything turned bad. Hera was one of them – and the other was Narcissus.
I know the stories have been changed over the centuries, but really, what sort of person falls so madly in love with a person they’ve never even spoken to that they waste away after that person dies?
It wasn’t love at first sight. I met Narcissus two days after I met Hera; so I was still a child at the time. And I wasn’t really supposed to be at the river. Water gives life to the forest, but as a wood nymph, I was always warned away from large bodies of water. I think it was always because my sisters were worried that we’d be taken by the sprites and other creatures who lived by the water.
But I was never very good at following orders.
I chose a time when a new baby was being born to sneak away from my caretakers. I moved quietly through the forest, slipping between tree trunks as their branches brushed against my hair and skin. I knew that a few leaves had attached themselves to my hair, but I didn’t really care about it.
The river stretched just outside the forest. I couldn’t see where it ended, but I could see how the surface of the water sparkled in the sunlight. I sneaked a look to either side of me and then stepped over to the water, though I remembered enough to be careful. I wasn’t sure anyone would come if I needed to call for help.
But I was really thirsty.
I didn’t realise I wasn’t alone until after I’d crouched down to lower my cupped hands into the water and drink from them. I felt someone watching me and lifted my head, looking across the river.
He was standing on the other side of the bank and didn’t look that much older than me. He was tall and thin with that kind of gangly look that meant he still had a lot of growing to do. His white-blond hair swept down to his shoulders, tied back with a simple piece of rope.
“Haven’t you seen people before?” I asked, wondering why he was watching me.
“You’re not a river nymph.”
“I’m a forest nymph.” I gestured towards the forest behind me. “That’s my home.”
“You don’t look like a forest nymph.”
“What does a forest nymph look like?”
“They have twigs in their hair and wear dresses made out of leaves…”
I looked down at the robe I was wearing and then at him. “Of course not. Leaves wouldn’t be very comfortable. And how would you stitch them together?”
“What’s your name?” the boy asked.
“Do you live here?” I asked.
“I live in a cave a short distance up the river.” Narcissus pointed in that direction. “My mother’s there now. Would you like to meet her?”
Sometimes I wonder why I said yes.