How Zelda Married Death - Excerpt
Death was interrupted mid-work, a most remarkable occurrence, as centuries had passed since it had happened last.
Or at least Death imagined it had been centuries. While their labour intertwined closely with Time, Death had little sense of its passage during their own activities, of which there was only one. The Work. The cutting of threads, the reaping of souls. It had kept Death occupied as always until a Grim had requested their attention, like a child tugging at a sleeve.
Of course the Grims were not Death’s children. Long ago—Death could not recall the age—the mortal world had reached levels of population that Death could not administer alone. Or rather they could have, but they’d experienced a certain tiredness in their bones and an unwillingness to overexert themselves. With that in mind, they’d achieved something they’d never done before, for they had never tried, and split their essence into fragments, creating lesser mirrors of themselves that could perform the Work. At first Death had closely supervised, but the Grims had not required instructions for centuries. They flowed from the Underworld mechanically while Death kept the metaphorical gears turning, overseeing the Work from what mortals might have called a lair, a refuge, or an office.
The Grim that had interrupted Death looked just like the others, a cloaked and hooded figure that seemed more shadow than bone. Death was sometimes shadow themselves, but on most days they were a skeleton in a robe and cape, with black boots that made no noise, and a black scythe that manifested at their side at will.
“Source.” It was the way the Grims addressed Death. “I was unable to complete my share of the Work. I am…” It trailed off, its wisp of a voice wrapping around the next word with the unease of novelty. “...sorry?”
Death was as uneasy as the Grim, for they could not recall this happening before. “Unable?”
“Yes, Source. I have returned with twenty-seven souls, but the twenty-eighth proved problematic.”
“Yes.” The Grim’s hood deepened into a contrite shade of black. “She would not come with me, Source. Would not allow the threads to be cut.”
“Would not allow the—” Death paused, opposed to further parroting. “I am confused. You say this mortal would not allow the threads to be cut?”
The Grim gave a slight nod. “As soon as I appeared, she protested and told me I was not allowed to fetch her yet.”
Death could not believe their hearing. They were silent for a long time, if only to examine the words and ensure they’d not misheard. “She… refused to die?”
“Ah. I see the problem. Perhaps you are new.” Of course this was impossible, as all Grims had started the Work at the same time, but Death had never berated a Grim before and thus felt disinclined to start. “You see, mortals do not get a choice in the matter.”
“It is a fact I tried to explain to her, Source, but she would hear nothing of it. She…” The Grim swung its ghostly sleeves in something like shame. “She made some compelling points.”
This was hard for Death to understand. It was as if someone had run into a kitchen only to tell the cook they’d not brought any parsley, for the plant had argued convincingly against being cut. “Ah?”
“Yes, Source.” The Grim sounded a bit out of breath, which was odd, given that it did not need to breathe. “She used her mortal voice to tell me many things, and at one point she even laughed. There is this word she said a lot, which I think must have been a spell strong enough to impede the Work.”
Whether witches existed or not—a topic that did not concern Death—they could not avoid the Underworld, that much was certain. “Which word was it?”
The Grim’s voice quivered as it answered, “Berrybee, Source.”
Death did not have the brows to frown, but they experienced a frown-like sensation. Much knowledge was stored in the tortuous and dusty halls of their consciousness, and it took them a moment to locate the word in question. “It is not a spell,” they explained to the anxious Grim, “but a word used by the current youth to signify various things, such as…” A dauntingly long list of meanings unfolded in Death’s mind, too long to share. “It is odd,” they said instead, “that the mortal saw you before you severed the threads. Did you wish to be seen?”
The Grim shook its head. “No, Source. I pointed the oddness out to her as well, but she had an explanation.”
“She said she had very good eyesight, Source.”
Death considered the Grim. It looked back at them blankly, but with a certain endearing innocence. Death decided not to blame it for its failure, as Grims were imitations of Death, and if failure there had been, then the failure must have come from Death themselves. It was an irksome thought, one that demanded correction. “I shall return shortly,” they said to the Grim.
And for the first time in a very long while, Death departed from the Underworld.