The Petty Mage
When the spells were muttered and chanted and done, the incense burned down to sticky brown lumps that no longer warded off the spirits of plague, the potions sipped and spat out again, the magician sat at the young soldier’s bed, and held her hand.
When the moon hid itself behind the clouds at night, the imps of disease took notice of a scent in the supernal wind and flew off, and the spirits bright and dark which had loomed over the sickbed turned and fled before a power greater than their own, the magician did not smile, but with steady voice and clear eyes looked at the newcomer and said with utter formality: “Hello, grandmother.”
A figure like the shadow of a queen in mourning gave a wordless nod.
“I have no bargains for you, nor charms to ward you off.” the magician said, caressing one of the soldier’s pale cheeks. “For I am poor in the ways of magic, though I paid dearly for what I know, and there is little enough left of me to buy or to sell.”
As she spoke the shadow took on definition, the darkness deepening in some places and lightening in others. The magician saw that this was no queen in funeral veil or shawl, though she held herself with all the silent dignity of the inevitable and the bereaved.
“I have heard that some know to charge you to fulfill your duties, to take her past the dangers that lie beyond this life, but I am not wise enough to give such an order, nor the authority to do so, nor would I ask of you any favors.” The magician laid her hand then on the soldier’s spear, which lay by her side. “Nor the favors of any who might have power or authority over you.”
Now the shadow spoke, and her voice was that of a woman speaking in the dark of night, clothed in shadows, as a grandam might speak to a child she rocked to sleep in the wee blue hours as the stars fell to the coming dawn.
“Granddaughter.” she spoke, and seemed to consider another word, but instead bent down over the magician instead and kissed her on the left eye. Then the shade reached out her hand, and the soldier opened her eyes and grasped it. With her one good eye, the magician watched the pale shadows descend into the waiting darkness. Stupid tears dripped down the right side of her face, as she looked at the cooling corpse on the bed.
There were funeral chants and small incantations to be said, to guide the shade and to guard it, herbs and spices to stave off the grave worm for some borrowed time, and a stone to be engraved with an image and a name, lest either be forgotten. These at least were in her power, and would do until the next time Grandmother came.