Too Much of Water

February 4, 2011
“Too much water hast thou poor Ophelia…” – Hamlet, IV.vii

They all thought I drowned myself. They were wrong. Laertes was right in saying that I had too much of water. It was true that I drowned. It was, however, not intentional, nor was it exactly my fault. I may have been a simple girl, but I was certainly not so stupid as to take my own life.

Queen Gertrude, relating the story of my death to my brother, correctly told him that I had been weaving various floral wreaths and chains by the brook beneath the willow, just beyond the walls of Elsinore. It was mindless work, but I reveled in it, feeling quite as I did as a young girl when the political troubles of Denmark had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Now, I found I was somewhat at the center of political turmoil because of my many connections to the throne. My father was advisor to the king, and my sweetheart the prince of Denmark. While I made my wreaths, placing some of them on my head as crowns, the thorns and sharp-edged leaves had sliced my palms and fingers. I often rinsed my hands in the stream, letting the cool water slide over my skin.

In the late afternoon, the sun had given a dusty quality to the air. Specks fluttered in the air and I reached out to touch them. When I raised my hand, I sliced it rather deeply on a rose thorn. I crawled to the water and dipped my finger into the brook, swirling it around and humming one of my favorite lullabies.

It was then I saw a pair of horse’s ears just on the other side, protruding from the water. The brook was about four widths of me across and so I was unsure that I had actually seen what I had perceived. I rubbed at my eyes and then stared again, holding my eyes on the spot. This time, a pair of eyes accompanied the ears. For a moment, they seemed to observe and consider me. Then they floated closer. The eyes never left mine. I waited for the creature’s approach, my hand frozen in the water, nailed to the spot. I was nearly shaking. I wondered if this was how Christ had felt on the cross, quite stuck and unable to do anything about it. I did not fear the animal as Christ surely feared his fate, however.

As the horse neared me, it rose from the water. I then saw the flora in its black mane. Strings of the willow and sorts of sea weeds tangled within it, as well as weeds disguised as beautiful flowers. The horse stopped when it was near half-way out of the water and I drew my hand from the brook, drying it in my skirts with some violence and hurry. While I adored horses, I understood they could be unpredictable. I observed the unkempt state of the horse and decided this one was most likely even more unpredictable.

“Come ride on my back, girl.”

I laughed. Yes, I had seen the horse’s lips move and heard the voice, but it could not belong to the horse. No, it had to be a mere coincidence. Then again, I had heard whispers within Elsinore walls that said I was mad, due to the recent death of my father. I had denied the madness, at least in secret to myself – no one would believe the fool Polonius’ simple daughter – but perhaps there was something to the diagnoses. The doctor had attended to me, as had Queen Gertrude and King Claudius. I expected, however, they had other motives, especially King Claudius. Hamlet had a suspicion of him, though there was little he would tell me.

Still. A speaking horse? I must have been crazed. Perhaps there was something in the water. Though I had not sipped it once. Maybe it was some sort of poisonous plant I had brushed against while gathering my wild flowers. But again, no; I was familiar with the area and had never before encountered a poisonous plant here. And the words had been spoken so clear.

“Come ride on my back, girl,” the horse repeated. “I shan’t throw you off. Yes, I shall behave as a good little pony. Come ride on my back.”

I stood, steadying myself against the bank, dazed and dizzied by the event. The horse took a step closer then hesitated at my flinch.

“You can’t talk,” I assured it as much as myself, crossing my arms over my stomach in a protective manner.

The horse whinnied. “I can,” it protested. “Come ride on my back. What horse is safer than one with whom you can communicate?”

“None at all,” I retorted, stepping back. I gathered my crowns of flowers to my breast, clutching them as a kind of item of security. “Return to your dwelling, beast,” I said, pointing over the creature’s shoulder. I adopted the best posture of authority I could manage, holding my head high and keeping my shoulders back.

Again the horse came closer. My shoulders slackened and my arms fell to my side; the wreaths littered the ground.

“Come ride on my back, girl.”

I shook my head slowly, my eyes wide and dazed once again as I took in the near entirety of the horse. The animal was huge, broad and menacing. Its hide was black like its mane, slick and shiny. The horse’s tail floated in the water, catching the weeds which drifted by. So enraptured by the creature, I had forgotten the water was moving – everything around me had stilled, and the horse ruled all like a tyrant. It stared me down and I was even more nailed to the spot than before, my muscles in a lazy, lethargic lock.

“Come ride on my back, girl. It is perfectly safe.”

I raised my arm again, this time reaching out to the horse. I held my palm to its nose and shivered. Its hide was freezing, but I could not pull my hand away.

“Just around the meadow, then?”

“If that is what you wish, so will it be,” the horse said, jerking its head. It emerged entirely from the water and stood on the bank patiently as I looked around for a stump to help hoist me up. I found one and walked to it.

“If you come over here,” I said, “I can climb on.”

The horse whinnied again and, still dripping, approached me. It lined its broad side with the stump and I stepped onto the crumbling tree stump.

“Grab hold of my mane,” the horse said. “I shan’t throw you off.”

I did as I was told and flung myself onto the horse as gracefully as I could manage. The animal was huge, almost too big for me to mount. Despite this, I trusted it, just as I had trusted Hamlet, who was always serious and gloomy and suspicious, but had a calming quality about him. Beneath me, the horse scuffed at the ground and took a few high steps in place. It turned in a circle once, allowing me to adjust to the feel of its muscles creeping under its still-cold hide.

“You’re so cold,” I commented, running my hand along its neck.

It made no response except for a harsh blow of air through its nostrils. The water from its hide was seeping into my skirts, but I ignored it, still strangely calmed by the creature. I lowered my face to its mane as I embraced it and inhaled deeply. My nose crinkled and I nearly gagged – it smelled of rotting flesh and ice. Not wishing to offend the animal, I hid my disgust.

Then it turned to the water.

“I thought we were going to take a turn around the meadow?”

“A shortcut,” the horse said, looking at me over its shoulder. It waded into the water gently, going deeper with each step. My skirts drifted on the surface as the horse’s tail. Soon the water was up to my breast. I could feel the hide of the horse bristle beneath me, somehow colder than the brook.

“The water’s so deep,” I commented.

“Yes,” the horse agreed. Its voice had somehow gotten gruffer, lowering to a sort of grunt and growl.

“I think I’d best get back to shore,” I said.

“No, rather not.” In a violent turn, the horse rolled over, pushing me into the water. I was on the floor of the brook, water weeds and small fish tickling my cheeks and forearms. Without thinking, I coughed and inhaled suddenly as the horse’s hoof stomped on my chest.

Then it occurred to me: this horse was not a horse. This was a kelpie.

Despite the stories I had heard of survival being impossible when in the grip of a kelpie, I struggled against its strength. The dust at the bottom of the brook’s floor stung my eyes and flew into my mouth, causing me to cough more. The pressure of the kelpie’s hoof on my ribs made me feel about to burst. I imagined my blood and innards leaking from orifices in my body and even splitting me at the seams, then tainting the water. Although I knew I should not, I could not help myself from inhaling again. Murky water filled my lungs and I gagged. Above me, the kelpie continued to trample my body, bruising and breaking me in every way.

In the violence, my head broke the surface for moments at a time, always just short of enough time. At each opportunity, I gasped and gulped at the air, coughing up what water remained my lungs. I pulled at the kelpie’s mane, tearing some of the weeds from it. This strategy turned on me, however, as the plants tangled around my wrists and arms, and it became more difficult to fight. In addition to this, I was slowly becoming exhausted.

Eventually, it was easier to just let the water wash into my lungs. My eyes became heavy and dark. Above me, through the surface of the water, I watched the kelpie snort and whinny once victoriously before trotting off.
Not long after, my body was found, tangled and floating among the flowers and weeds, some of which I had braided only hours earlier. My death was reported to the queen, who in turn related the event to my brother. I never became privy to my dear Hamlet’s reaction.

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