Once upon a time, a young woman lived by the shores of a magical lake – the waters were broad and she could barely see the opposite shore, Only her view of the mountaintops told her that something else was out there.
Even through all her needs were met as soon as they arose – was she hungry, food appeared; did she thirst, sweet cider and mead were her drinks along with the sweet water of the lake; did she want conversation, the magical creatures would join her on the shore or in her home or along the forest paths to engage her with story or song or long, deep talks. She seemed to have all she required, and yet she felt called by mystery.
One day, she was walking along the shore of the lake when she spied someone riding toward her on the back of a pure white horse. As the figure came closer, she saw that it was Death. Death carried the banner of the white rose and wore armor of black enamel. The figure stopped when it reached the young woman’s side and spoke her name.
She trembled, fearing that the calling was toward her own death, but the figure shook it’s head slowly and reached its hand down to her. Was this the calling of mystery that she had heard? To travel with Death? She paused a moment to listen to the wisdom of her heart who, though a little afraid, encouraged her to take Death’s hand and ride away from this place where she had rested for so long that she no longer remembered when or how she had arrived.
She reached her hand toward Death and she was lifted onto the white horse, sitting astride behind the black armor, under the banner of the white rose. And they rode away.
She joined Death on their journey through thronging cities and isolated hamlets. She learned the mystery of Death – she never heard them speak again after the calling of her name. Instead, Death would ride up and gently pluck a strand from the fiery red plume upon their helmet and lay the strand across the palm of whoever was called to step beyond the veil.
Each time she saw the gifting of the strand, a vision came over her and in the distance she saw two white towers and a setting sun. There were times when the strand was rejected and Death simply nodded and continued on their way, leaving the strand behind on city street or forest path or abbey wall.
Over the months, and then years, that she rode with Death, she learned that those who accepted the strand went peacefully and sometimes joyfully along the path to those two towers. Those who rejected the strand were lost in a dry desert where they wandered, thirsty and alone.
And one day, she was surprised to discover they had returned to her lake. It was not the same, it never could be, because she was not the same. It was still a lovely place of peace and plenty but she realized it was empty of the contrast between Life and Death. They were not enemies but comrades and often rode together, side by side. If they conversed, it was silently from heart to heart.
Death assisted her down off the white horse, bowed to her, and rode away. For a few days she wandered, dusting and sweeping out cobwebs from her home, walking along the shores of the lake and gazing at the mountains across the waters, and renewing friendships with her magical companions. Still, she felt the call of mystery.
One day, as she was walking along the forest paths, she heard the sound of hoof beats coming toward her. She stopped to wait. It was not Death – she knew the sound of rhythm of those hooves. She waited patiently, without fear. Soon a pure white horse emerged from the trees. It shook its silvery mane and placed its soft, fine muzzle in her hands as she reached up. Saddled and bridled in the finest leather, there was a pack tied on to the saddle with a note peeking out.
Taking the bridle she led the horse to the lake for water and rich green grasses. She took off the pack and saddle, brushed the horse down, and led it to her home. Her hand trembled as she unfolded the note but there was nothing written there. Holding it in her hands, she closed her eyes, and heard the voice of Death,
“I offer you this companion to travel with you as we traveled together throughout the land. You have a different task than mine and you may accept or deny it.
“I will offer you no strand of red to carry you off until you call me to you. In the meantime, prepare yourself for the journey, you will know when it is time to leave.”
She folded the note and put it aside. Opening the pack she discovered a light, silver suit of armor and a surcoat of finely embroidered scenes of waters and fish. She realized that she would carry the lake with her now wherever she went and sensed that she would be able to return at will. So the young woman began to prepare for her journey, not knowing where it might take her.
… to be continued …