You think you know this story. You do not.
You think it comes from Ireland, from Norway, from Spain. It does not. You have heard it in Hebrew, in Swedish, in German. You have read it in French, in Italian, in Greek.
It is not a story, though many mouths have made it that way.
It is true.
How do I know? Death, herself told me. She told me in that whispery voice she saves for special tellings. She brushed her thick black hair away from that white forehead, and told me.
I have no reason to disbelieve her. Death does not know how to lie. She has no need to.
It happened this way, only imagine it in Death's own soft breeze of a voice. Imagine she is standing over your right shoulder speaking this true story in your ear. You do not turn to look at her. I would not advise it. But if you do turn, she will smile at you, her smile a child's smile, a woman's smile, the grin of a crone. But she will not tell her story anymore. She will tell yours.
It happened this way, as Death told me. She was on the road, between Cellardyke and Crail. Or between Claverham and Clifton. Or between Chagford and anywhere. Does it matter the road? It was small and winding; it was cobbled and potholed; it led from one place of human habitation to another. Horses trotted there. Dogs marked their places. Pig drovers and cattle drovers and sheepherders used those roads. So why not Death?
She was visible that day. Sometimes she plays at being mortal. It amuses her. She wore her long gown kirtled above her knee. She wore her black hair up in a knot. But if you looked carefully, she did not walk like a girl of that time. She moved too freely for that, her arms swinging. She stepped on her full foot, not on the toes, not mincing. She could copy clothes, but she never remembered how girls really walk.
A man, frantic, saw her and stopped her. He actually put his hand on her arm. It startled her. That did not happen often, that Death is startled. Or that a man put his hand on her.
"Please," the man said. "My Lady." She was clearly above him, though she thought she was wearing peasant clothes. It was the way stood, the way she walked. "My wife is about to give birth to our child and we need someone to stand godmother. You are all who is on the road."
Godmother? It amused her. She had never been asked to be one. "Do you know who I am?" she asked.
"My Lady?" The man suddenly trembled at his temerity. Had he touched a high lord's wife? Would she have him executed? No matter. It was his first child. He was beyond thinking.
Death put a hand up to her black hair and pulled down her other face. "Do you know me now?"
He knew. Peasants are well acquainted with Death in that form. He nodded.
"And want me still?"
He nodded and at last found his voice. "You are greater than God or the Devil, Lady. You would honor us indeed."
His answer pleased her, and so she went with him. His wife was crouched under a rowan tree, proof against witches. The babe was near to crowning when they arrived.
"I have found a great lady to stand as godmother," the man said. "But do not look into her face, wife." For suddenly he feared what he had done.
His wife did not look, except out of the corner of her eye. But so seeing Death's pale, beautiful face, she was blinded in that eye forever. Not because Death had blinded the woman. That was not her way. But fear — and perhaps the sugar sickness — did what Death would not.
The child, a boy, was born with a caul. Death ripped it open with her own hand, then dropped the slimed covering onto the morning grass where it shimmered for a moment like dew.
"Name him Haden," Death said. "And when he is a man I shall teach him a trade." Then she was gone, no longer amused. Birth never amused her for long.