She couldn’t leave the river, and she was malevolent. They’d bound the curse in iron wrapped around the bones of dead boys and staked it across the mouth of the river. To swim near the sea was to have their curses seared into her flesh. She retreated up the river, tested her palms against the land, but they’d barred her from the banks with the hair of weeping mothers and the blood of fathers. Trapped. Her rage grew. Two lives or ten, they thought they could bind her. Starve her. Her lips curled. Tame her. Chain her in a pen and keep her from their kin, watch the monster so she cannot get you. She screamed her defiance to the stars and dove beneath the white water. The people shivered and shook, but she did not emerge from the river and so they were relieved.
The moon waxed to full and no sound, scale, or claw emerged from the river. The town recovered. The story moved to boasts from the young and cautionary tales from those who had spilled blood to make the binding. She bided in the water. Waiting. Weighing.
Fog stole out of the river and over the town. No moon brightened the dark. She rose from the water onto a thin rock in the center of the river. Her gaze raked down the river to the sea and she began to sing. Wordless and quiet, the new sound wove under the fog. Slowly, people ceased their talking and turned their heads toward the windows. Her song beckoned, the soft shush of waves against the shore, the promise of cool dark relief, the play of light along waves that hinted at wealth and pleasure. Yet none felt called to the water. They heard the song and thought of danger, of treacherous rocks, of ropes and lives and caution. The song paused, an interlude of fog and water and smug satisfaction that the siren was still trapped.
The next notes rang out as clear and sharp as a war cry on a still morning. A series of notes the merging of a call to arms and the rumbling rise of thunder. This was no defiance. The song that poured out of the woman in the river was made of war and wicked weather. Her sisters answered. Voices rose from the sea and sinuous scaled women stepped from the waves. Blades of coral and bone held loose at their sides. Men who woke to the danger and sprang to defense were cut down as waves crash against a shore. Mothers gathered children and lovers close and guarded their doors. The sirens ignored those smart enough to cower before the storm and joined their voices to their sister’s in the river as they rent the bindings caging her.
When the sun rose, none could remember if there had been a true storm or if it was the only way to comprehend the voices of raised together in violence. The river ran red with the blood of those fool enough to try and fight the sea. Of the sirens there was no other sign. Except when storms roll in from the sea they carry the voices of war.