Back before humans settled the fertile lands around the Willamette River, but after the dragons had left this realm for their own, a king ruled. A mighty king was he…simply going by the name “The King of the Willamette,” (or simply, The King). His reign stretched for tens of thousands of years. What did this king rule over? Well…everything. The King of the Willamette ruled over the rocks, the trees, the birds, the bees…anything and anyone The River touched (both directly or indirectly) was The King’s domain. That is until one fateful day.
Before we get into The King’s story, it is important to understand what, and who, The King was. The King was not a human, dragon, or any other kind of animal. The King was more spirit and essence than anything…existing without corporeal form. The King could be seen….if he so desired, but usually The King liked to stay invisible to his subjects.
The King of the Willamette valued justice. If a rock fell onto a deer, The King would cast the rock into The River. If The River flooded the grasslands of what humans would call “the clearing,” The King would hold the flow from the River’s source as to weaken The River. The King wanted all to live equally in his kingdom, and that would be his downfall.
One day, The River was exceptionally cranky….its waves bashed against the rocks of the shore hard and fast. The King observed. There was no damage, but he appeared to The River regardless.
“River! Calm yourself,” The King rumbled, “or you will be calmed!”
The River obliged, but oh….The River was still cranky. The River, felt it should, after all, be king. Why should it not be? After all, the kingdom was built around The River. The kingdom was defined by everything The River touched, indirectly and directly. Why should it submit to the ruling of this ethereal spirit any longer? Why should The River not control what needed The River to live?
The answer of course, was simple. The king had the raw power to dry the River up, if he so pleased. Of course, if The River was gone, so would the kingdom be gone. All the fish and animals who relied upon The River would die. Oh, the mud and the mountains and the rocks would be fine. The trees and the plants would survive as well…..but so many animals would perish. This would go directly against the fairness The King of the Willamette so cherished. For even if The King punished the guilty, the innocent would be harmed – thus The King would need to harm himself in fairness.
The River pondered the possibilities. Would The River be the same once the waters eventually filled itself again? Is The River just the water itself, or is The River more than a fluid which eventually merged with another river? After all…every drop of water that passed through The River eventually ended up in The Great River to the north, and then The Ocean. None of its water, not even a molecule, has been in The River from the beginning. Why…even the water that drenched its shores evaporated eventually. The River had to be more than just its existing water.
So, The River came to a conclusion. If The River made The King angry enough to drain The River in its entirety, The River would return with nothing missing.
“Oh who, mighty King, has the power now. Who?” The River sang to itself.
The next week, The River decided to test The King. The River flooded the clearing, violently. The King, of course, responded by restricting The River’s input. The River shrank to about three fourths of its volume. A few months later, when The River recovered, it smashed its waves against a series of cliffs. Rocks fell and trees and plants fell from the top of the cliffs into the water. The King once again restricted the volume of The River. This time, to two thirds the volume.
Six months later, The River decided to both flood and destroy. “Let’s see what The King will do when I get that violent!” The River schemed.
The River threw itself against rocks, trees, shores, and anything along its banks it could. The River flooded every plain and clearing on its banks. The King was furious.
Why must you continue, River!? Why must you destroy time and time again?
The River blurted out….”I should have domain on what my water touches. Not you!”
The River knew this would infuriate The King. Still, would The King be infuriated enough to evaporate The River? The King hovered, half visible, over the River for what must have been hours. But The King did not act upon the river….The King just left. As he disappeared from site, The King sighed a hopeless sigh.
The next day, The King appeared to The River…”will you behave?”
“Why should I?” barked The River?
“Because….I need you to. You are the heart of my kingdom. Without you….there is no kingdom.”
“You need me, but I don’t need you!” With that, The River flooded everything it could flood….”Now what, oh mighty King? What will you do now?”
The King was so mad, his visible essence glowed red. The King had no choice….he had to do something drastic. The King drained The River of all the water….until The River’s bed was dry. Nothing left but rocks, debris…and dying fish. As he watched the dying fish, flop around on the muddy bed, The King realized what he had done. In his anger, The King had not just punished The River, but also the fish and the other creatures in The River, and even the land creatures who drank from the water. The fish had done nothing…the crawdads were innocent. A grave injustice had been done….and thus justice must be served. The king must punish himself in the most severe of manners. As The King looked over the empty banks of The River, he willed himself out of existence. This was his punishment for his harmful behavior. The scales must balance….and this was the only way to do so.
The river returned as rivers do. At first, just a trickle of water flowed through the otherwise dry bed, and then a stream. After a year, the river flowed modestly. After five years, the river was at full strength. The river’s consciousness awoke once more….fully aware of what transpired. Yet…something was missing. The river knew all was not well. The river was not whole, despite its full banks.
The river had no passion…no spirit. The river was….and that was all. The river remembered having emotions and feelings, but now the river didn’t know what or who it was….nor did it care. Eventually, the river forgot about the once King of the Willamette. The river just flowed….almost monomaniacally in nature. When The River contrived its plan it did not know…The King shared his spirit with The River. When The King ceased to exist, so did the river’s personality. The river did indeed need The King….and now it will never know.
The King of The Willamette Will Return!
The King might be gone….but he could come back. The King has long since served his time, and the humans who live around the river have done terrible things. They just might feel The King’s wrath if they aren’t careful. Why, The King has even made himself manifest in a small way….by inhabiting the mind of an artist. For on the very spot where the King of the Willamette disappeared, sits a giant sculpture of a king’s crown. The King orchrestrated this as a sign…..he is coming back, and he will not be pleased with what he finds.