JB & BJ Grim
A bridge spanned a turbulent river. It was a stone bridge that had been made before memory. Some said it had been made by their own ancestors who used it to expand their domain in wars against other tribes. Others said it had been made by conquering tribes who had invaded them. At times it had been a fiercely contested bridge and the sight of gruesome slayings, but that was all in distant history. It was now just the bridge that connected the two sides of the river where Samuel lived on one side and Sarah the other.The river itself was impossible to cross except for the bridge. The swift current and submerged rocks made any attempt in a boat dangerous and fatal. Even the bridge seemed to arch high out of fear of the river. However, when the churning and swirling water swelled after a heavy rain, it never rose as high as the bridge. Therefore, the bridge was never washed away.
Samuel and Sarah crossed the bridge every day to see each other. They gave little thought to the rocks and current below because the bridge was so strong that not even a fierce wind could shake it. They thought the bridge would stand forever. When it became their plan to marry, they decided that Sarah would join Samuel on his side of the river. Sarah’s people warned her against crossing the river to live, but she assumed that they were merely afraid of what they didn’t know.
One night while everyone slept, a sorcerer (who holds quite a different job by day) crept around the bridge on the side that Sarah lived on. He raised his arms and spun around and shouted out some vile sounding words, and all at once, the bridge vanished. The next morning, the town people gathered at the water’s edge, troubled by the disappearance of the bridge. They felt that it was a warning for Sarah who was thinking of crossing it — not for commerce or necessity — but to live on the other side. Since she was the first in many generations to have made such a plan, the town people shook their heads from side to side, declaring that this is what happens when young people with fool-headed ideas ignore sound advice.
The people dispersed from where they had gathered, leaving only Sarah looking across the raging waters to where Samuel stood. Till then, neither had really noticed just how swift the current was. Each tried to speak to the other, but the rush of the river drowned out their voices. They tried hand signals but had no way to give meaning to their motions. In frustration, they waved as meaningfully as they could and turned to go to their own work.
Sarah’s parents pretended to sympathize with her as she pined for Samuel. In actuality, it was they who had called upon the sorcerer to find a way to prevent the union. They were embarrassed that their own daughter would join the other side. Samuel’s parents, on the other hand, truly did sympathize with him. In his desperation to get across, his father and brothers tried to help him navigate the river in a boat. But the boat quickly capsized, and they all swam back to shore, barely saving their lives.
Daily, Samuel and Sarah stood on the opposite banks, waving to each other, trying to express unrelenting love in each wave of their hands. The people on Sarah’s side called her wicked for bringing this catastrophe upon them and held her responsible for their loss of business with the other side of the river. Poor Sarah was harassed by them day upon day.
Sarah’s parents implored her to give up her ideas about marrying Samuel and to consider the offers of the young men on her own side of the river. The daily scourges of the town people and her parents’ appeals were wearing her down. Her youthful face grew lined and drawn, and her once ready smile was only present when she stood on the banks of the river and looked across at Samuel. Her parents kept insisting that she marry one of the young men on her side (and they had one in mind), because if she did, the bridge would surely reappear and the town people would stop assailing her and her family.
In the meantime, Samuel was not idle. He was always thinking of a way to get across the river. He knew that with time he would find a way. Then one morning while Sarah was waving to him and he was trying to make out if she was smiling or crying, a stern-looking man came up to her and said something that made her turn away. Although Samuel couldn’t hear what was said, he could make out by the slump of her shoulders that Sarah’s will was being worn down, and Samuel didn’t like the way the man had taken a hold of her arm and moved her away from the shore.
That vision troubled Samuel all day and all night. He forgot his work and he couldn’t eat and he couldn’t sleep. He deplored his lack of knowledge about crossing rivers or building bridges. When he did fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning, he had a nightmare, a nightmare of Sarah being lead to the altar with another man. Awaking just before dawn, he went to the edge of the river to ponder. But as he paced near to where the bridge had once stood, a bird flew out of the bushes, hopping here and there looking for food. Suddenly, watching the bird, Samuel’s heart leapt into the air with shock and wonder.
Meanwhile, the stern man who had led Sarah away the previous day was none other than the Judge (he was also, as we met earlier, the sorcerer). His son had proposed marriage to Sarah, but when she turned him down in preference for Samuel, the Judge had been humiliated and her own family mortified. At the river bank in view of Samuel that morning, the Judge had told Sarah to forget her worthless ideas about changing sides of the river and instead marry his very worthy son which would most certainly elevate and honor her family. If she didn’t, the Judge promised, her parents would always suffer in the shame of her poor judgment. All day long the Judge and her parents implored her to think of others instead of just herself. They took turns casting doubt on the affections of Samuel, pointing out that if he really loved her, he surely would have found a way to get across the river by now.
Just before dawn, she yielded to their relentless pressure and agreed to marry the Judge’s son, whom she had never been able to abide. Upon her acquiescence, the conspirators left quickly to make wedding preparations for that very day. Sarah fell into an uneasy sleep.
She dreamed a string of sorrowful dreams of forever being separated from Samuel. But then, in one dream, he came and tapped on her window and motioned for her to follow. She took only her shawl and followed him to the river’s edge. The water churned and swirled and she wondered if this dream would end with both of them jumping into the deadly current. But in the dream Samuel picked her up and they seemed to climb into the air.
It was just as Sarah was acquiescing that Samuel had made his way to the river and was watching the bird. The little bird, hopping to and fro in search of a worm, had hopped — to Samuel’s utter amazement — into thin air! Yet it seemed to be hopping on something solid, for it’s wings were still tucked. All at once, Samuel realized that the bridge was there, just invisible. Without a moment’s delay, he set foot upon the place where the bird had hopped and found that his foot struck hard unseen stone. By placing one foot after the other, he made his way up to the highest point of the bridge, and there, gladness and trepidation competed for his heart — gladness because he was halfway across, and trepidation because nothing visible separated him from the raging waters below.
Reaching the opposite side and marking the bridge with a stone, he quietly sped to Sarah’s house while the town still slept (her parents and the Judge being otherwise occupied and unsuspecting). Samuel was so relieved to find her there, alone. Motivated by the horror of his nightmare where she was marrying another, he took her away while she was still in the stupor of sleep and even had to carry her across the bridge.
When Sarah’s town awoke and found her gone from her bed, there were many speculations about what had happened. Some said her disappearance confirmed that she was wicked and had caused the bridge to vanish. But one person claimed to have seen someone who looked like Sarah on the other side of the river walking with the young man named Samuel, but when the Judge heard about that, he had that person locked away for being a liar and a rumormonger (both considered serious crimes in that town). The bridge never reappeared. Every now and again, however, a young girl from Sarah’s side would disappear in the night and reappear on Samuel’s side. And that is how it happened that the town on Sarah’s side eventually died away, and the town on Samuel’s side prospered and increased.