The rains, which Father Gerard had called “God’s wrath on the ungodly witches that stalked unseen in our midst,” had swollen the small river that ran through her village into a raging torrent. Trees and other debris pushed downstream by the usually-tranquil river had taken out the small footbridge that connected the two sides of their small, close-knit community.
Isabel, the oldest daughter of the town’s tailor—and Father Gerard’s niece—had been designated the “watcher of the water.” The rains in the village had stopped the day before, but the river continued to rise. If the water hit a certain point, she was to run to her uncle so he could sound the church bell. The people had been trained—through many natural disasters and plagues—to gather what they could and leave the village when the church bells pealed for anything other than to call people to Mass. It was an important job, to be sure, but the 16-year-old girl knew she had been chosen to have this mind-numbing job because her father and uncle knew of her fascination with water and wanted to instill in her a fear of the element.
The longer she sat there, watching the water’s destructive power, though, the more Isabel fell in love with the river. It seemed to be calling to her. She wanted to swim in the frigid deluge, to feel the weightlessness she loved so much when bathing in the family’s small duck pond. The strength of the current did not concern her; she knew she could swim against the river if she had to, and she was just waiting for the chance.
When Isabel heard the splash and a panicked call for help from the other side of the river, she knew she had to do something. Squinting through the mist rising off the angry water’s, she saw the local badger’s daughter foundering in the swift current. The girl—Isabel seemed to remember her name was Mary—tried clutching at the weeds growing along the side of the river, but the swift current and the overly-saturated bank made the reeds and saplings give way under the strain of holding the small body. Mary was quickly being dragged through the water, battered on all sides by all manner of floating debris.
The girl’s brother, a boy she had seen around the village often doing odd jobs to help support their family, was running along the bank, trying desperately to get ahead of his sister. The boy was looking for a place to pull Mary out of the water. Isabel knew just by looking at the river, however, it was not going to give up its prize easily.
Without stopping to think, Isabel stripped out of the heavy jacket, skirt, and shoes she was forced to wear every day and slipped noiselessly into the churning water in just her shirt and hose.
In the silty water, she was not able to even see her hands in front of her face, and the dirty water stung her eyes. Taking a deep breath, Isabel, closed her eyes and allowed her other senses to guide her closer to the girl.
Isabel had always been a powerful swimmer. Her late mother had often joked that Isabel was part fish—though never in the presence of her overly-superstitious brother. Mama would always remind Isabel, in private, that the gifts she possessed were from God, to be used to help others. The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual gifts, and her ability to swim as well as she did was just one that he forgot to list, Mama said. Mama hadn't known everything, though.
Isabel had always been the one to bring home the largest fish from the river for dinner, catching them by hand. Though she never told anyone—the village would have branded her a witch without even thinking—she had befriended many of the local river otters, asking them to provide her with some of the goods she now used to feed her father and siblings. When in the water, too, Isabel was able to hold her breath for an extraordinary length of time, much longer than when she had contests with her older brother above the water’s surface.
Different animals in the water, she had learned over the years, created different ripples and waves than the water running over and around rocks. Now, she used her special abilities to find Mary, who was floundering wildly in the choppy and swift-moving. Going up under the panicking girl and wrapping her arms around her chest, Isabel’s head broke the surface a few yards from the shoreline.
Mary was still flailing around, splashing Isabel with water and trying, in her panic, to break free. Any other person would have been pulled under the surface, even in calm water, but paddling with one strong arm, Isabel was able to make it to shore fairly easily.
Mary’s older brother, Peter, was waiting anxiously for them on the riverbank. As soon as Isabel dragged both Mary and herself out of the water, Peter was at their side, pulling his sister away from the river as quickly as he could.
Peter and Isabel locked eyes for just a moment before Isabel, suddenly aware that she was severely under-dressed, leaped back into the water and swam back to the place she left her clothes. She thought that perhaps Peter may have called out to her as she dressed quickly and ran back to her house, but she prayed he didn’t. If her special abilities were made common knowledge, not even Most High would be able to save her from her uncle’s fear and wrath.
To Be Continued.....