“I don’t know what to say,” she said to give herself more time. She looked across the river. A bunch of lights moved about on the bank; probably guards looking for the prince’s stolen barge. Would the arrest her if she showed up without the prince or with a wolf instead of a prince? Obviously the spell didn’t break when Fenris got in the water.
She turned to the handsome man beside her and said, “It is kind of sudden. Perhaps you could tell me more of yourself, so we can get to know each other better.”
The man smiled, his white teeth almost glowing in the moonlight. “What do you want to know?”
“Let’s start with your name. The old man told us his name was Thana–”
“Thanatos. It means Death.”
Death, she thought, oh shit. We’ve really stepped in it now. She glanced at the wolf, who slunk closer, its belly to the ground.
“Death. Wow. So in addition to being the evil undead faerie witch king, you’re Death – as in the harvester of souls and ender of suffering?”
“And you want to marry me?”
“Yes, dear lady. I wish to marry you.”
She shook her head. “Why?”
“Because you’re beautiful and kind and I’m lonely.”
Not, she thought, because you love me. Interesting.
“Well, what would happen to me – a mortal, marrying Death?”
He pondered that for a moment. “I suppose you would become Death also.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Sure. I have many siblings. Death is everywhere. We are legion.”
“But I’m not ready to die.”
“No one ever really is.”
The wolf whined softly, but the man didn’t take notice. He glanced at the lights across the water. “What’s going on over there?”
“Guards probably. Coming to find the prince or at least his magic barge.”
The man spared a look for the barge and then looked back at Nova. “Let them come. I will end their interfering lives.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Of course, because you are kind and beautiful. But perhaps it is their time.”
“How do you know?”
“Oh, there’s a spreadsheet. But I don’t want to talk about that. What else do you want to know?”
“Why are you both Death and the evil undead faerie witch king?”
“Those are my aspects.”
“Aspects?” she said, noting that the wolf had crawled past them and now stood pointing like a hunting dog at the barge. She couldn’t grasp what it was trying to tell her.
“Yes. Parts of my job.”
“But what do they look like? I mean, you’re very handsome in this form. What does evil look like?”
His laughter, rich and deep, echoed off the water. “Oh, Novanna. You know what evil looks like. Besides, evil is in the eye of the viewer.”
“Okay. But undead? Is that your skeleton form?”
“Show me, please?” So the man transformed into the skeleton with the burning eyes. The visage gave her the shivers, but also an idea. She spared a quick glance at the wolf and a short nod. He wanted her to get the old man – it was most comfortable to think of him as that – on to the barge and over the water.
“And faerie? Why faerie?”
He suddenly had gossamer butterfly wings sprouting from his shoulders.
“I also have duties in the faerie realm. They are much smaller though,” he said, shrinking down to the size of her foot for a moment. He returned to his normal size.
“Can you fly?”
“For short distances.”
“Could you fly across the river?”
“Oh, no. That’s my sister’s territory. She’s a fanatic for the rules.”
“There are rules?”
He nodded. “The spreadsheet I mentioned. It’s a time table for harvesting souls and, unless a person gets there early, she sticks to it. I’ve more of a random way of managing my quota.”
“You have a quota?”
“Oh yes. Don’t you – in your job?”
He spread his hand to indicate his “job” was the same.
“And your witch form?”
“Witch king, probably hyphenated. Another aspect. There’s a cult of death-worshiping witches deep in the forest.” He gestured toward the dark forest. “I’m their leader.”
He stood and transformed into a tall dark figure, a skeleton, wearing a cloak of swirling green and purple – literally swirling with the colors moving independently like mists caught in a fan – and a cowl pulled up. Nothing – just creepy darkness and a sense of doom – could be seen in the cowl. On top of the cowl, growing out of it, a spiky crown that looked like it had been used to spear something bloody.
Nova cried out in fear and scrambled away.
“No need to fear me, my dear,” the witch king said in an echoing voice.
Nova tried to get a hold of herself. She managed a nod.
The witch king morphed into the old man.
“What do you look like normally?” she asked, gathering up the blanket and her bag and walking toward the barge. He followed her.
“I can look like whatever you want me to.” He changed himself to look like handsome Fenris.
“No. I mean, when no one else is around, what do you look like?”
“Oh,” she said, feeling sorry for him. She reminded herself that she had to get rid of the old man in order to save Fenris. She climbed on the barge, saying “Before I can even consider marrying you, you have to meet my parents.”
The old man stood on the bank, looking up at her.
“Because it’s polite and respectful. If you had a daughter, would you want her to run off and marry someone without you meeting that person?” Nova made sure her wording did not imply that she would marry this creature.
“You are so considerate,” he said and joined her on the barge.
As she pushed the barge away from the bank, she said “My mother is going to thrilled at the idea of my marrying a king, which is better than a prince or a king’s counselor, or a wool merchant.” Her voice sounded false to her.
The old man stared at the water between him and then bank and said absently, “I didn’t think you cared about those things.”
Nova watched the wolf jump into the water and swim after the barge. She sighed. She felt bad about the fib she’d generated. She didn’t actually want to hurt the old man, because he’d been kind to her in the past.
“Is Death immortal?” She asked.
“It’s a constant, certainly. If I were to die, I’d be reassigned to another area and become whatever aspect was needed of me. I was a man once, you know, before becoming Death.”
“I had no idea.”
He looked at the water again.
“Mr. Thanatos, I’m sorry.”
He looked at her, his eyes large.
“This isn’t a magic barge is it?”
As the current dragged them away from the bank, Death – in his aspect of the evil undead faerie witch king – started to shrivel.
“You should marry Fenris,” he said right before he shriveled into a small ball that made a strange reverberating moaning sound that ended in a pop.