Rivermaids or "ál'már'yonía" as they are called in Styrásh are seens as "the little sisters of the mermaids". They are said to live in all rivers of the Sarvonian continent where the winters are not too extreme, so that there is always some streaming water left and the creeks are not frozen to the ground. Though closely related to the mermaids, they show nevertheless some differences. All seem to be female, at least the gender cannot be distinguished. Unlike their seaborne relatives they are able to hibernate during the cold period in areas where ice covers the open water. They are sentient as well, but many claim that they are not as intelligent as the merfolk.
Appearance. The Rivermaids are beautiful. All individuals look splendid; even those who seem to be near the end of their lives have still a beguiling aura about them: Perfect bodies with slender limbs; enchanting faces with expressive eyes; small, but well rounded breasts; a nearly numinous grace when moving, be it in their element, the water, or under the bright sky. That makes them a joy to observe and their pulchritude is rarely surpassed by any other living creature.
Picture description. An artist spots a Rivermaid sitting near a stream and takes advantage of it by making a drawing of her. Image drawn by Seeker.
They are mostly much smaller than their sea sisters,
from as tiny as a Brownie till up to four
fores in size, depending on
the size of the rivulet or great stream they live in.
Rivermaids are humanoid above the waist and have a tail
similar to a dolphune, but with two
symmetrical flukes only. They share the gills, glands, fins and all other bodily
characteristics with the
(described in the Merfolk entry). Their colouration
however is different.
Dependant on their surrounding: the Rivermaids can partly camouflage and adapt their colours to the ground of the rivers they are inhabiting. People believe that their true colour can be seen only when they come out of their rivers and creeks to rest and play on boulders in the middle or at the rim of the water. Then their delicate upper bodies show a creamy white colour. The very young ones often shimmer in a slight turquoise shade; they seem to have a nearly translucent skin and their copper-based blood may shimmer through. Their tails come in all colours, from green to blue to a golden brown hue, but it is always somehow speckled, either tone in tone, but also with contrasting colours. Sometimes the hues of the tails vary during their rest above the waters. Common folks believe that the Rivermaids do it for fun, for a cheerful chitter chatter can be heard when the colour of such a tail has changed dramatically in a short time.
Rivermaid hair is very long, cascading down their back when sitting on the river boulders; when they swim it floats around them like a lofty dress, often reaching down to their flukes. It has at most times a dark hue, be it brown or nearly black; however, for it is always wet, the true colour can not be defined clearly. There are only some small populations which have fair hair, mostly found north of the Tandalas.
A Rivermaid in the water is hard to describe. Only when the light is right and the place of the observer chosen well can Rivermaids be seen swimming, hunting and playing. Most of the time the skin of upper body and tail take on the colour of the surrounding. Especially in smaller rivers or creeks they are able to hide perfectly, their skin taking on the most effective colours: the greys of the pebbles on the ground are displayed; the greens of water plants can be observed; the irisdescent white of a waterfall admired. The only hint an observer may get is the floating hair which needs longer to adapt to the surrounding. However, when they choose to come out of the water all those fabulous colours can be seen till the skin of the upper body has taken on the creamy white described already.
This beauteousness has caused fantastic tales of Rivermaids who seduced human men. However, most people who are telling those stories have rarely seen or closely met a Rivermaid. Of course they are enchanting, but everybody who was allowed to come close enough to admire the pretty faces and to see the sweet beginning of a smile knows that any seduction ends as soon as they open their mouth to a full smile or even laughter. For then their conical formed, sharp white teeth in all their horrible splendour are displayed and they persuade every young aspiring lover of a Rivermaid to quickly disappear. An admirer doesn't even have to look at their equally sharp fingernails. - So these stories are seen as viewiness of young men who grew up far from any river. More common is the ironical saying: "And yesterday (or last week) a rivermaid seduced you?" when people (especially young men) try to make (especially young women) believe incredible stories about their prowess and those addressed want to express, that they believe nothing of the said.
Territory. Rivermaids are found in all streams, rivers and creeks of Sarvonia which have a running water and don't freeze to the ground in winter. Those who live in the great streams tend to be taller. The biggest, at over a ped in size, are found near Vezash in the Thaehelvil River. The smallest ones, which have only the height of a Brownie, live in creeks and even rivulets. As long as the water is fast streaming and clear, you can be sure, that a tiny Rivermaid is hiding somewhere. They are only rarely found in still waters, like lakes and very slow flowing rivers. Those usually look ill and lack the radiance their sisters display.
Mode of Living/Habits. Rivermaids are the epitome of an easygoing life; they seem to be able to enjoy their life without ever having to work for it. All they do looks as if it is done effortlessly, even hunting - and what else do they have to do to sustain their living? Bathing, chasing and grooming each other, chattering while outside the water, their life seems an endless play.
There seems to be a certain rhythm in their daily life, though. In the early morning, about daybreak, they leave the sheltered places where they stay overnight and go hunting for a fish or two, taking some lémertía with them and hop on a bolder in the stream or near the bank. The plant or fish is quickly eaten and then the grooming begins. It is mainly their hair which they tend to, combing it with the fingers and finally adorning it with some plants. At times even wreaths out of the flowering waterstar are made and either set on the head or worn around the neck or whatever bodyparts suits them.
These times out of water occur regularly over the day in areas where it is possible. If there are no boulders or rocks available, the Rivermaids just float on the surface of the water. However, to prevent their body temperature rising too high, direct sunlight is avoided. So they spend extended periods out of the water in the morning or late evening, when the Injèrá's rays have lost their power or they seek shady places. On hot days they may stay in the water the whole day. After they have relaxed they glide back, to go hunting again, alone or in groups, or just chase each other in their wet element.
Sometimes they dance. There is no other way to describe it. Especially in places where a river widens to a pond like near Baveras' shrine in the Toran Creek or wherever there is enough space, a ballet of ethereal quality can be observed - if the conditions are right. Normally it is hard to see, with the reflections of the sun on the water surface. But there are a few reports where individuals of other races were allowed to join in their dance - or at least to observe it underwater. The probably most renown case is that of Ansird of Necoma, who was able to describe such a dance due to the special device he had developed (see more under Researchers).
However, closer research has shown, that this ease of life comes with a price. The Rivermaids live from day to day. There is no gathering or keeping a meal for the next day. They eat and when they are satisfied, they stop. And when the food should become rare for any reasons, they might find not enough to feed on. Especially in areas which are heavily populated (with other races, but mostly humans), it may well be that they have to compete for the fish. Though a Rivermaid will find a fish where no human fisher would succeed, it might be not enough.
Family, Society and Culture. There is nothing such as a basic family with mother-father-child in the Rivermaid‘s society. If a stream or creek is big enough to support many Rivermaids, they live in groups, sometimes up to thirty individuals, including all children, which make up about two thirds of the group. In smaller rivulets or in wells a single Rivermaid or just two can be found as well. These solitary individuals however are very shy and are seldom discovered. Ansird of Necoma claims, that there exist much more Rivermaids than one would expect, for those who live solitary just don't show up to protect themselves - a theory which has still to be proven.
Nobody has ever watched how a Rivermaid was born. Closely observed groups just had another additional child with them of the size of an adult's hand. They are breast-fed by every adult of the group till they have approximately doubled their size. There exists no mother-child relation, every adult looks after every child - if at all. Rivermaid children are quite capable of looking after themselves from the first day of their life. The breast-feeding just seems to give them a better start and it is probably not milk that they get. Rivermaid children don't look like human or elven children who have disproportionately large heads and other juvenile features, they are just the tiny image of their grown-up sisters. Therefore it is impossible to distinguish between an adult of one of the smaller varieties and a child of the bigger ones.
Rivermaids are a lively folk. They chitter-chatter and sing their strange songs, they laugh, they seem to be very friendly beings once one has won their trust. But despite all of these researchers claim, that they show no true emotion, that they do not have feelings like the other sentient races do. If a member of the group is in danger from a bigger predator, they will come to help to chase it away. But if there is no real chance to help or if it seems too dangerous, they watch seemingly emotionlessly as their sister is killed. They do not flee in fear, nor will they try to accomplish any heroic act. Often children are in dangerous situations - no one of the adults will jump into the water to rescue the little one from being caught by a bigger fish or drawn down a waterfall - they just sit on their boulders and watch - or not even that. Their chattering may stop for a short moment, but then it goes on as if nothing has happened.
The "visible" Rivermaids live in groups. The grooming, dancing and playing has already been described. Another group activity is hunting. Though every Rivermaid catches her small breakfast fish on her own, on the way so to say, bigger fish or schoals of fish are hunted and brought down in groups. Often a part of the group chases the prey towards the other group which catches the beast with the sharp and sometimes remarkably long fingernails. They then come from all directions out of hiding places and pull the prey down to the riverbed where all come and feast on it. Schoals of fish are caught in a way similar to how dolpholk do it by creating air bubbles and chasing the schoal in an area where the single fish can be caught easily.
Death. Nothing is known about what happens when a Rivermaid dies naturally. There have been found of course dead Rivermaids, especially smaller ones, after a very hard winter. Creeks frozen to the ground and rivulets dried out due to the amount of water bound as snow have often caused the death of an entire population of Rivermaids in a certain area. In spring Rivermaids from the valleys will claim those territories back, but it will take some time before there are as many as before. The deaths of these Rivermaids are seen as a bad omen by the people inhabiting those areas, for the dead bodies on the ground of the creeks turn extremely poisonous and many villagers have found their death during spring after drinking the water which contained one or more dead Rivermaids after thawing set in. Therefore during snowmelt the farmers climb up the hills along the creeks and rivulets to look out for the corpses. They are collected and buried at a place far away from any settlement, or thrown in a deep, bottomless cave.
If any Rivermaids are killed by humans during times of war or general detestation, the same problem arises. These dead bodies will turn poisonous very soon - and the slaughter of an entire group of Rivermaids will get back at those people living downstream and who are very dependent of the water of the river. They do not necessarily die, but many illnesses are caused when such a water is consumed or only used for washing.
Researchers are disputing unusually emotionally what happens if a Rivermaid dies out of old age. If the body would be just disposed somewhere - or not cared for as one would expect from the Rivermaids - a lot of poisoning would be expected to happen. Why is this not so? Ansird of Necoma, renowned and highly respected for his description of the Rivermaid dances, alienated his colleagues this much that they refused to talk to him after he published the following assumptions: Rivermaids feed on the dead bodies of their sisters. Shortly after the death, the bodies have not yet turned poisonous and with eating them, this will not happen, the water - living element of this race - is not polluted. Nobody has ever observed this, but nobody has found a dead Rivermaid either in times of peace.
It may have been the feature of their dead bodies to turn very poisonous which has led to the general attitude that Rivermaids are not to be touched, captured or even held in captivity. Old reports in the library of New-Santhala provide hints, that no Rivermaid lived for long in bondage and that her death brought a lot of trouble for the "owner".
However, that resentment not to touch them can not prevent young boys to go to chase them. And to encounter the sharp teeth as well as the equally sharp fingernails when they - what very rarely happens - manage to catch one of the smaller varieties for a short time. It is rumoured, that there is secret competition between young boys in many parts of Santharia who can trap a Rivermaid and hold her for a certain amount of time without getting too many marks from her teeth and nails. It is not sure what is more feared though - the hurting marks of the little Rivermaid or the beating of the parents if they discover what their children have done.
Housing. These people of the rivers and streams do not build homes to live in like we do in houses, no places to raise their young like the birds or other animals. What they construct is a kind of cage out of anything they might find in the rivers or near the bank of streams: the branches of the willows hanging in the water; any bendable branches and twigs of shrubs growing near a creek; waterplants long and tough enough to withstand tearing teeth; even an occasional Baveras' refuge might find the appreciation of the taller Rivermaids.
These cages allow the water to pass freely, but they are built tight enough so that no bigger predator can harm those who sleep inside. Their form depends on the material used for building it. Sometimes they are anchored at the bottom of the stream or at the water-touching branches of a willow. Very rarely the entrances of underwater caves are blocked by a construction similar to the cages.
Clothing. These women do not need clothes, their bodies are adapted to the places they live in. They love however to grace themselves decoratively with whatever they find: long green strands of the flowing waterpine; wreaths made out of the waterstar; any cheap jewels humans may have given them in the attempt to allure them to come closer.
Diet. Fish, crabs, any animal which can be found in the rivers serves as a meal; but waterplants are on their menu as well, though here they are more choosey. Rivermaids seem to know the properties of special plants, for they have been seen to put farmargrass, a plant with styptic qualities, on scars and wounds to stop bleeding.
There is one way how to win the heart of a Rivermaid - bring her some freshly picked salad! Then one might even be allowed to get as near as it is needed to throw it towards her. But one has to be careful to know which kind the Rivermaid prefers, otherwise you might see it flying back towards you. Flowers are welcome as well - as a nice meal! This practice of trying to tame the Rivermaids by providing them with greenery not growing in the water is quite dangerous though, for there are many plants which are poisonous to them.
Weapons. The Rivermaids have three effective weapons: their teeth, their fingernails and their tail, with which they can hit very hard. But they use tools as well, for example sticks or straight branches to fend off attackers. However, they do not use such advanced weapons as spears which would be the next step from using a staff-like equipment.
Relation to Other Races. In general the Rivermaid relations to all races are good. Though the Rivermaids are seen as irresponsible and without deep emotions, they are perceived as friendly, easy going neighbours. Shy, but not too shy to cause fear for nothing is known about them, they are often encountered as creatures which lift the mood due to their pleasant appearance and friendly, of teasingly and jokingly exchanges of meaningless actions and noises. In areas and at times, where they are seen with benevolence, they loose part of their shyness and lucky persons might even be able to interact with them. A ball thrown at them might well come back and gesturing at them might end with wet clothes. What is not recommended though is to go swimming with them, for they don't understand, that the other races are not able to breath under water.
However, they are hated as well. Humans especially often look at them with envy because of their beauty, and also because of their seemingly easy and sorrow free life. The freedom to do what they like, to come and to go as they please incorporates for many all what they will never have, never achieve. So seeing the loudly chattering and laughing Rivermaids often causes people who are already in a bad mood to fall into a dark pool of hatred towards them and unexpected violence may break out. Single events like a child who fell in the river and died under the eyes of the Rivermaids are told and spread widely to prove, that they are evil creatures and therefore have to be killed on sight. Nobody takes into account, that it is just the nature of them, that they wouldn't have saved a Rivermaid child either. So the population of the Rivermaids has decreased heavily especially in times of war. If evil was to kill human children and innocent people, then nobody could stand the Rivermaid's laughter. Though most would not have thought of hunting them, the few who were willing to kill innocent people just because they were laughing went for the Rivermaids.
Elves never had so close relations to them like the humans, they see them more like part of the nature, half-sentient children, not to be made responsible for anything. They rarely feel the envy of the human race, just pity when a severe winter takes the toll on them.
For dwarves, Rivermaids are mostly lore, though there is one story told at their hearths of dwarves with fishtails who live in underground streams. Researchers would love to know, if there is truly such a thing as an underground Rivermaid or if this is just a story a dwarven bachelor brought with him from the outside world.
Brownies and Rivermaids have rarely any interactions - with one exception. The Vale Brownies managed to influence (or tame) the Rivermaids living in their stream through the Vale in a way every researcher will simply deny is possible - until he has seen it with his own eyes. The Rivermaids help the Brownies to cross their river or travel stream-up by pulling rafts through the water - reliably! The secret of how they did it is not disclosed yet, but Ansird of Necoma assumes, that a remuneration is paid, maybe in form of special food (jokingly he proposed doch nuts) the Rivermaids have no access to.
The orcs see them just as delicate food.
Holidays, Festivals and Observances. Nobody can say, if the Rivermaids believe in a god or goddess, nor is known, if they have any festivities. However, there are gatherings of many Rivermaids who normally don't belong together two times a year. One is some time after spring has arrived and the Rivermaids have come out of their hibernation and one short before they go into hibernation. They meet in places where two rivers merge, in general where a place can hold enough of them. Plenty of food is brought to the place and little presents like wreaths of waterplants are exchanged. Researchers think, that the food exchanges serves the purpose to help weaker individuals to survive the winter or to have a better start in the spring, though it is an act contrary to their normal, not caring behaviour. So how it comes that the normally so emotionless acting Rivermaids exchange little presents however evades the explanation of the knowing people.
For as long as people can remember there have been Rivermaids.
They are mentioned in old books dating back to the ancient
elven-led metropolis of
Fá'áv'cál'âr or even older. There is no
story or lore which explicitly says that there was a time when Rivermaids did
not exist. There are several myths about how they came into being, dependent of
However, their quantity has varied over time. This had to do mostly with either food shortage or extreme cold winters, where many died during their hibernation.
Language. The Rivermaids have a language - without doubt. Similar to the merfolk tongue, as is described in the entry about the merfolk, "a primarily-whistled and sung language which carries for long distances underwater and is almost not reproducible in the human mouth" (Bard Judith, The Merfolk Tongue). At times, this singsong serves for communication - an instant reaction is observed; in other cases they just twitter in high pitches, whistling weird sounding - but nevertheless melodic - phrases and seem to listen to each other. In contrast to the merfolk language though no human or elf has ever discovered, what the subject of this conversation could be.
Like the merfolk Rivermaids are able to pronounce some human words (though it always sounds a bit strange due to their pointed teeth). They like to repeat words which are spoken to them, even quite difficult ones, but they don't seem to get the sense of a spoken word. They just echo them back - and all the efforts of human observers to get them to speak with sense the Rivermaids see as a big entertainment for them, for it is always accompanied with much twittering and laughing.
Researchers. Ansird of Necoma is the most renown researcher of the Rivermaids, but the most controversial as well. Born in Chondra around the turn of the century and raised on a farm near the Necoma River, just a day's ride north of the Grensa Post, he had the opportunity to watch Rivermaids early in his life. He had a liking for them from the day he saw the first as a young boy. Though this nearly brought him to death when he tried to swim with them, he always wanted to know more about them.
Ansird developed a device with which he could observe them underwater: glasses, set in a cloth, fastened watertight at his head which allowed him to see the Rivermaids more clearly. This made him so famous that he was offered the paid position of an official researcher for the Great Compendium in New-Santhala. From then on he passed in a report nearly every year. Tensions were high when he published first his essay about death-rituals of the Rivermaids, though he had later to admit, that he had based his writings on mere assumption. His most famous book however will always be "Dancing with the Rivermaids", published in 1657 a.S. Unfortunately he showed interest in the swamphags as well later in his life which led finally to his downfall. He died only recently during his studies, drowned in the Necoma River near the place where he was raised.