Nex Hath Plures Visio

THE SIGNS OF DEATH


HISTORY

According to Englishmen who had traveled in Arab lands, Death there took the form of a woman. A story was told of a merchant of Baghdad who was approached one day by his servant. The poor man's face was pale and his hands were shaking. "Master, " said the servant, "I saw Death in the marketplace today, a tall woman hooded in black. She looked directly at me and made a threatening gesture with her hand." The terrified menial begged for his master's horse, that he might flee to the city of Samarra and so escape the clutches of the woman Death.

The master agreed, and when the servant had left for Samarra - riding as fast as the horse could carry him - he went himself to the marketplace, to see whether Death would appear.

She did indeed, hooded in black as the servant had said, She idled among the stands, examining the fruits piled there; from time to time, she tapped a person on the shoulder, and that person turned pale and hurried away.

The merchant beckoned her to him, and she came willingly. He asked her with curiosity why she had threatened his servant.

"That was not a threatening gesture," answered Death demurely, "It was a gesture of surprise at seeing him here in Baghdad, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra, you see." And with a smile, she disappeared.

In Brittany, Death was a man known as the Ankou. Some said he was none other than Cain, eldest son of Adam, who was doomed to roam the earth forever as a collector of human souls. Others thought that he was the ghost of the last man to die each year, coming back to fill new graves before yielding place to his successor. Most people simply accepted him as Death.

All agreed, however, about his appearance. Tall and gaunt, often wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and sometimes visible as a whitened skeleton clothed in a ragged shroud, the Ankou was a night stalker, emerging when cautious folk were safely indoors. He walked the lanes of the region with a strange, awkward pace, his head turning painfully side to side with each step, smelling the air, for his eye sockets were empty. The Ankou was blind. Sometimes he carried a club or a sword, sometimes he went around with a scythe slung over his shoulder. He always was escorted by a cart drawn by horses or oxen, which he used to carry away those he had come to claim. This gave away his presence. Living folk in their houses could hear through the shutters the creaking of the cart wheels and the heavy steps of the death bringer.

Once, it was said, the Ankou could see; an eerie flame flickered in the eye sockets. But that light was put out by a being more powerful than the Ankou himself.

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