Inspired by the Brothers Grimm's "Godfather Death." Written for Elsanna Week.

One night, a baby girl was born to a family of paupers. At the time of the birth, a great plague was sweeping through the city. Young and old were being felled like wheat. The girl's mother trembled in her doorway, clutching her little daughter to her breast. She was sure that the child would perish.

As the mother huddled at her doorstep, looking out at the dying all around her, she saw a woman who seemed to be tending to the withered and the wasted, but to no avail.

"Let me see your child," said the woman, and the weary mother offered her baby up to her. The woman took the child softly in her arms and cradled her. She cooed soft songs of willow trees to the babe, rocking her gently back and forth. There seemed to be some secret sadness and regret in this woman's countenance. But as she sang, the child – who had been weeping bitterly – was soothed.

"Your child shall not die tonight," the woman pronounced. "In these hours, she has teetered between life and what follows. I have felt it. But she shall not die tonight."

With gentleness, the woman returned the girl to her mother. The mother marveled, for the shadow of the plague had faded from her daughter's face.

"Are you some fairy" asked the mother, awed, "who looks out for human folk?"

"I am Death," replied the woman. "I tend to all mortal folk equally. When their time comes, I take them. But your child's time has not come."

Now the mother was even more amazed, and started in shock. Yet, something emboldened her. Although the woman's words were coldly detached and unbiased by sentiment, her eyes bespoke sensitivity. Her eyes seemed to share the pain felt by victims of the plague. She seemed to have a kinship with them. And from kinship springs understanding and even sympathy.

"You say my daughter's time has not come," said the mother. "But is that the only reason you do not take her? Moments ago, she was withered in my arms. If she was fated to survive, her healing process should have been more gradual. Humans cannot heal so. You healed her. Not time. Not the turning wheel of fate. You. Why?"

Death said nothing.

"I thank you," said the mother simply. Then she said, "My child's christening is soon. If I am not mistaken, and you care for her even slightly, would you do me the honor of being her godmother?"

Death stood cautiously before mother and child. On her face was a struggling, searching look. At last she murmured, "Very well."

And then, soft as the whisper of the wind in a graveyard, she asked, "Has the girl a name yet?"

And the mother replied, "Anna."

As Anna grew into a beautiful young woman, her godmother taught her all the arts of healing and medicine. No one knew disease as well as Death. No one knew better how it took hold of the body. And thus, no one knew better how to fight it. Godmother Death took Anna often to the forest. She showed her the best roots and herbs to use in treatments. In time, Anna had the skill of a great physician.

"Go into the world, my child, with my blessing," said Death. "Tend to those that you can. But remember, some you will not be able to save. Those, I must take away over the mountains in the moon."

Anna nodded. "I understand, Godmother."

Death went on, "When you are with your patients, I will appear to you. If I stand at a sick person's head, you will know that you can heal them. If, however, I stand at a sick person's feet, you will know they are beyond help and must go with me."

And so, Anna went forth. Soon, she gained unparalleled renown as a physician, healing countless people. Anna was bright of spirit. She was chipper as the golden bee amongst the honeycomb. She loved seeing people rise from their beds, healthy and whole, to greet their families. It made her heart sing. Anna laughed with them, was jubilant with them. She adored seeing others happy and restored to hope.

Even so, Anna loved her godmother dearly and respected her. She remembered what she had been taught. When she saw death standing at a person's feet, Anna bowed her head. With great pity, she said she had come too late. There was nothing she could do.

One day, however, she was brought before the king. His daughter was beset by a mysterious ailment. His daughter Elsa, princess of the realm.

Anna was brought to Elsa's chambers. There she saw the princess, her golden hair spilling all about her, swathed in white as though already in her burial shroud.

She was so beautiful that Anna forgot herself.

"Hi," said the young physician awkwardly. "I'm Anna."

The princess smiled weakly. "I'm Elsa."

Elsa's voice was like the rustle of sleigh bells on the rooftop at Christmas. It was sweet and melodious – even when strained by sickness. It made Anna smile.

As Anna worked, she and Elsa talked and talked. Their hearts were like silver boxes and they opened them to each other. Such silver boxes are precious, but what lies within are even more so. The heart holds dreams and loves that shine like gems. Anna and Elsa poured the out contents of their hearts to each other, there in those secluded chambers.

When night had fallen, and they had spent the whole day together, the blush of life seemed to be again in Elsa's cheeks.

"Thank you," said Elsa softly. There were tears shining in her eyes. "I… I don't usually have anyone to talk to. Other physicians that come are old fogeys. They do not speak to me… and they are often the only people I see. My father, he keeps me alone in these chambers because I am sickly."

An emotion had been stirring within Anna since she began speaking to Elsa. This emotion grew beyond pity. It grew beyond caring and sympathy as Elsa's dreams and joys unfolded before Anna's eyes. Now, hearing the bittersweet words of Elsa's, that emotion crystallized in Anna's heart as love. She loved the princess. Anna loved Elsa. Anna wanted to see Elsa complete again, wanted Elsa to be able to go forth as Anna had gone forth, to see the world beyond her little gilded cage.

It was in the soft moment of that epiphany that Anna saw her godmother's mournful face at the foot of Elsa's bed.

Anna choked back a sob. She hurt whenever her godmother appeared in this way, but never this deeply. In anguish, she fled from the palace. Blindly, she ran to a quiet glade in the heart of the forest. This place had always been one of solace to her when her godmother had taken her on those long walks in the woods looking for herbs. But there was no solace for Anna now. She curled up beneath the trees and wept bitterly.


Anna felt the brush of her godmother's white fingers on her neck.

"She was getting better!" Anna cried helplessly, lost in grief. "I thought she was getting better!"

"Your feelings for her blinded you," said Death coolly. "I'm sorry, Anna. I'm sorry."

Anna lifted her head and looked at Death. Her eyes were red with tears. "Why?" she demanded. "Why her?"

Death's eyes were so forlorn. She held her goddaughter close, letting her cry…

At last Death said, "Come with me, Anna. I have something I must show you."

Her godmother took Anna by the hand and led Anna to a cavern below the surface of the earth. There, thousands upon thousands of candles were lit, flickering shadows upon the stone walls of the cave.

"These are the life-lights of humanity, my child," said Death. "The biggest candles belong to children, who have all their lives ahead of them… The ones of medium size belong to people in middle age. And the smallest, sputtering candles belong to the old. Mostly to the old…"

Death sighed.

"Alas, even young people can have a dying candle," Death went on. "Even children… Too many children…"

"And where is Elsa's?" Anna implored.

Death showed her a small candle, wisping and guttering, about to go out.

"And mine? Where is mine?" cried Anna suddenly.

Death drew her over to another candle, tall and white, still aglow.

"Take my life for hers," Anna pleaded. "Exchange our candles. Elsa has not known true happiness in so long. Let her live. Take me instead, into the shadow. Please."

At these words, Death looked almost ready to weep herself. She pressed her hand to Anna's cheek, and Anna saw that her godmother's hand was trembling.

"Oh, my child, my child…" she said. "I cannot… I must tend to all equally, peasant and princess alike… If it is the Princess Elsa's time…"

"My mother told me about when I was a baby," Anna interjected, "how it seemed you spared my life. I do not know if that was partiality, if you were punished for it. Perhaps you fear a reckoning from above if you refuse to reap another life. Godmother, if that is so, let me restore the balance. A life for a life."

Death stood frozen.

"Please, godmother…"

A long moment passed between then. Then Death took Anna's candle in one of her pale hands, took Elsa's in another, and exchanged them.

Anna slumped to the floor of the cavern. At that same moment, in her royal chambers, Elsa felt the breath of life fully restored to her. And Death crumpled beside her goddaughter, weeping for her as she had wept for Elsa, by the glimmer of candlelight.

Death wept alone in her cavern. Her sobs rang out and echoed in its hollows. She cast Anna's extinguished candle on the ground, shaking violently. Then, seeing it upon the ground, her face grew solemn, solemn with stern resolution.

Death lit another taper… and set it in Anna's place.

When Anna awoke, she was in the forest glade. Her godmother was nowhere in sight. Anna shook the sleepiness from her limbs and strode through the green of the wood. She kept walking, making her way to the city. There, the palace guards found her and brought her to court.

Seated by her father and mother's thrones was Elsa, looking more radiant than Anna could have ever dreamed. Her smile was like the first ray of sunshine that pierces the horizon at dawn. She thanked Anna graciously for healing her. Anna bowed her head in humility before the princess.

Then Elsa spoke again. Her voice was not regal, but soft and kind. She entreated that Anna stay at court, stay to be her confidante and companion.

And so it was so. They kept each other company for day after golden day. And eventually, Anna was so entwined with life at court, she and the princess were so inseparable, that no one batted an eye when Elsa kissed her deeply under the sun and Anna kissed her back with the same passion, neither believing their bliss…

Death kept on with her eternal labor. And if whatever god or power that holds mastery over her was angered by this miraculous flash of happiness among mortals… that was Death's affair…