The River Venge is narrow. If you get a good, running start, you can jump right across. But if you don't get a good, running start, that's where your troubles end. No one who has ever fallen in has gotten out.
They use it for executions. Always have. Bind the criminals and give them a little push. There's nary a splash. The water just sucks them right down, all greedy-like. The bodies don't ever come bobbing back up. Nothing bobs back up. If you throw a piece of wood in, that misleading little ripple gulps it down, just like a starving dog with a gobbet of meat.
They say not to go upstream too far, either. The Venge slides its way from a thick black-green tangle of forest a few miles away. Strange folk live in the forest: cannibals, raiders, and mixers of strange poisons. They blacken their teeth and file them to points. Their skin and garb is mottled the black-green of the trees they live in, and the river is sacred to them.
Long, long ago, a sylphlike girl crept out from the forest and slunk her way along the riverside through willows and reeds until she came to a farm. No one knows why she left the forest. Perhaps she wanted to prove herself to her people. Maybe she wanted to steal a baby. Perhaps she was just curious.
In any case, she came to that farm and didn't leave. A family lived there, and the eldest son caught her fancy. Though forest people had never before been seen by daylight, she ventured out to the farmhouse one morning, palms held out, outspread, in a gesture of peace and supplication. But the children cowered at her strange appearance, and she was driven off the farmstead, disappearing into the undergrowth with an eerie, feline grace. Several times she attempted to befriend the family, sometimes making an offering of a deer or a brace of birds. Each time, she was driven off, and the gifts she offered were thrown into the River Venge. They may have been poisoned, after all.
Yet still she remained, though she no longer approached the farmstead. She only watched from afar. One night, the farm was beset upon by wicked men. The house was set afire, livestock driven off, money and jewellery stolen. From the cover of darkness, the girl raised her bow and fired off tiny, poison-tipped arrows. Though she killed two, and the others dragged them off in fear, she was too late, too late! The family lie dead or dying around the yard. She ran to the bleeding, battered young man and held him in her arms. His blood painted her mottled skin, staining her arms, her face, her lips. Though he was weak, he would live.
When the villagers came to investigate the cries and the orange column of smoke, they saw the bloodied girl with the young man. The farmers had told them of her, and how she had skulked in the shadows around the farm. They pulled her off him, and he did not stop them. They bound her wrists behind her back and placed a noose around her neck. She cried out to the young man, but he would not meet her eyes. He would not speak up for her. And so the villagers threw the rope over the branch of a big tree, and they hung her until she was dead.
Her body was thrown into the River Venge.
And for the first and only time, something came back out of the river.