She walked for days. Dragging the sledge far out into the savanna. She did not stop to sleep, drank sparingly, and ignored the flies buzzing around the burden on the sledge. She glanced back only once to see the smoke still rising from the destruction behind her. It stole too much of her breath so she turned back and walked on. Heat, then chill. Sunrise sunset. She traveled until one day, deep in the grass, she came upon a lioness guarding the limp bodies of her pride.
The woman halted and unhooked her sledge. “Sister,” she said to the lioness. “I too have suffered loss. My sisters are on the sledge behind me. I asked the reaper for vengeance, but he has not answered me. Perhaps together, we can demand an answer.”
The lioness inclined her head. The woman drew her knife and spilled a few drops of blood from her palm while chanting the invocation to the reaper. The lioness roared and roared and roared. Until the power of their anger and grief summoned the reaper from his black halls.
He appeared between the women, a black boned skeleton in grave shroud wrappings, a sickle in one hand, his other hand held out to halt them. They fell silent. “Who calls?” He asked, his voice the sound of shovels sinking into the earth.
“Sisters of those dead before their time. Those who did this fill your halls with youth and questions. They walk uneasily in your halls.”
“And why should I care if they walk uneasy? All come to my halls in time.” The reaper tied his sickle to his rope belt and crossed his arms. The lioness growled and he turned to her for a few moments. Then he turned back to the woman.
“What is it you seek from me?”
She looked up and met his eyes, eyes set back in his skull and deep like shadowed water. “Vengeance for those who lie slain. Those who fall in battle have peace as they defended their life. These new weapons, the invaders bring, they steal life before we are aware they are there. They act as only you should. Coming in the dark, we greet you as an elder, not a thief. Should this continue, all will grow to loath you as a coward.”
The lioness roared her agreement. The reaper weighed the matter before him. “Your argument holds water. But I cannot let you become what they are. I will not make you thieves.”
“No,” the woman said, “I want them to know you’re coming for them. I want them to know we are for you.”
“Then you shall be.” He answered. “You know this is a step that will keep you from my halls and those you seek to soothe. Every act has a price.”
“Swear me to your service so that I may enter and leave the halls as you do and I will rove the earth for as long as dead are sent uneasy to your halls.” The woman turned out her palm and offered the blood that remained as a red streak on her palm to the reaper.
He nodded and looked at the lion who growled her agreement. He placed a hand on the lioness’s head and took the woman’s hand to seal the bargain. Then he showed them how to open hidden ways to his realm. Walked with them down the paths of the dead. Gave the woman a staff of ebony and ivory. He cloaked the lioness in shadow. Together they returned to the savanna where the woman and the lioness performed the rituals he showed them to open paths for the uneasy dead. They finished as dawn broke. Their sisters rising from sledge and ground, their bodies still torn and broken, but walking, and their eyes shone green with the reapers gift.
Leaving the savanna, they found the invaders and the sun left the sky to their terrified screams as lions with the strength of the grave and women with no care for pain sent them to the halls of the reaper. Of the living woman and the lioness, they still roam the grass, hunting thieves for the reaper.