Choosing Godfather by Tarale Wolffe

When Nevio learned he was to have a child, he froze. His family didn't have the best history with children. Of his seven siblings, Nevio was the only to survive to adulthood. His wife, Luca, was much the same, though she had a brother in Arvasi, a day's journey east.

Despite this, Nevio knew he'd have to do his best for the child. That started, as everyone knew, with a godfather, someone meant to help, strengthen, and teach a child not of their blood in ways the child's parents couldn't.

Most people - and indeed Nevio started there - looked among their own village. What good was a godfather that couldn't be there for the child? Alas, after a month of observing his fellows, he knew none of them would do.

The men he'd grown up with were of farming folk, or hunters who traversed the nearby forest when food was scarce. They were good men, and would likely do their best by his child - male or female - but they wouldn't be much help to them.

His fellows saw his conflict and appointed him the task of taking harvest to their lord.

"Perhaps," they'd said, "you'll see there ain't much better than us out there."

So, kissing Luca farewell and entrusting her to his parents, he climbed into the overburdened wagon and rode out of town. It would take a week to get to Venta - the city their lord lived in - and back. A great many things could happen in a week, he knew, especially to a woman not three months pregnant.

The roads weren't busy in mid-fall. Few people wished to travel then. It got too cold at night to sleep under the stars, and towns were too far apart for a walker to get from one to another in a day. With a cart he'd get to them at, or just after sunset most days. Cost of rooms were given to the man taking their tithe, so he'd at least be warm every night.

It wasn't until midday that he saw another person. They were walking, but wore a hooded cloak of brilliant blue, which glistened in the sunlight. There was no one else in sight.

Curiosity warred with caution, and finally won as he pulled even with the figure. The shadowed face turned to him. He caught just enough, combined with the slender but tall stature - to know the proper greeting.

"My lady," he said, for no peasant could afford a cloak so fine, "'Tis not safe to walk out here."

"Oh, I don't think anyone would bother me." She answered, voice light, flippant of her own safety.

"Perhaps I could offer a ride, m'lady?" he asked, hoping she took it. Otherwise, he'd slow to match her pace, and they'd both be caught after dark.

The woman stared at him, the cloak hiding her eyes, though he could feel them weighing him.

"Very well," she answered, accepting the help he offered her onto the wagon.

Once she settled, Nevio flickered his reigns and the horses continued forward.

Movement turned his attention to her as she let the hood down from her face. He stared in wonder. Her skin was pale. The light danced across her face, glittering with every motion. Her hair, silver as any noble's goblet and twice as brilliant was braided back and piled atop her head.

She glanced at him once more, finally allowing him to see those eyes: the palest periwinkle he'd ever seen. He stared, speechless at the being before him, and she gazed back, lips upturned in sympathy. But, she said not a word.

"Who are you?" he managed, finally.

Her smile widened. "I am Magic," she said. "And you could not have seen me less you were looking for something beyond your reach."

"Beyond my reach?"

"Tell me, good sir, what do you seek?"

"Nothing," he told her, hesitant to prove her wrong, but needing nothing she might be able to offer.

"Nothing?" she asked, loosing a laugh delicate as morning chimes. "I've never met a mortal who needed nothing before."

"Nothing I could ask of you, M'lady," he corrected.

"Why not?" Her head cocked to the side, eyes wide with curiosity as she gazed at him.

"Well, you're ..." he hesitated. Not a god, obviously. No one ever prayed to magic for solutions, but she was a being of power regardless. "You."

"She arched an eyebrow, as silver as her hair, as delicate as the rest of her appearance.

"I mean," he stammered, "it's nothing that deserves your attention."

"Many things garner my attention." She twisted to face him, resting her elbow on the back of her seat, and her head on that hand. "Tell me, stranger, what ails your heart. Perhaps a solution could be found."

He hesitated once more, but the look in her eyes was kind and curious. Gazing at her, he knew she wished to help. So, he told her of his coming child; of his fears; of the task to raise it; and the need for a godfather that would strengthen it.

When he finished, Magic was silent. She gazed passed him to the fields beyond. He said nothing to draw her attention back, and for a time silence reigned.

"Does it have to be a godfather?

Nevio blinked. "What?"

"Because I could be their godmother," she continued. "My gift would be one of magic, obviously. He could be a strong sorcerer. Not the strongest - that spots already claimed in the days to come - but strong enough."

He blinked.

"He would be well taken care of, and well protected from any minor inconveniences."

"No."

She blinked once, blue eyes meeting his brown.

"I apologize, Magic," he said, turning his attention back to the road. "You give your gifts where you would, choosing who is worthy and who isn't at a moment's notice. I would have my child's mortal life given more thought than a whim."

"There is more to the choice than whim," she chided, her tone gentling the words. "But, I understand your meaning, if not the words you speak. Very well." She reached out, laying a hand over his. "I hope you find a godfather worthy of your son."

Son.

His head whipped toward her, but she was gone. The only clue she'd ever been there was the light sprinkling of sparkling dust across the seat where she'd sat.

***

Two days later, four fours outside Venta, the sun was setting. Nevio huddled inside his cloak, staving off the growing chill to the best of his abilities. Tomorrow would be spent unloading and sorting, and then he could return home still without a clue who his child's - his son's - godfather would be. Try as he might, no one in his village seemed right, and Magic certainly didn't have the lessons he wanted his son taught.

"Well, Magic isn't your only option."

Nervio jumped, almost falling out of the wagon. A hand snapped around his arm, jerking him upright. His arm ached from the momentum, and the grip. It was sure to bruise, but it was better than the crack his skill would have had otherwise.

The man, still clearly visible in the dimming light, was as pale as Magic had been. The setting sun didn't hide the glittering perfection that was his face. His hair, so dark it might have been black was slicked back, leaving his face free of obstruction.

His eyes were blue, Nevio thought, but whether as light as Magic's, he couldn't say. The man wore no cloak, or cape. Nor did he huddle under a blanket. He sat beside Nevio as though he didn't feel the cold.

"Who-" Nevio tried. "How-?"

Magic hadn’t gotten this reaction from him.

"I am Chaos, my dear man," he replied, giving a bow and a grin. "And I agree that Magic wouldn't be a good fit for your child. Too orderly. She doesn't know how to have fun, or when to break the rules."

"I suppose," Nevio answered.

"I, on the other hand, could give your child a far broader view of the world."

Nevio shook his head. "I don't understand."

The man, Chaos, frowned. "No, I suppose not. Magic gets far more recognition than I do."

He wasn't sure what to say to that. Surely magic - the ability - was thought of in a more positive light than chaos - the actions - but Nevio had never heard they might be real. Or, that they might have thoughts and feelings of their own.

"I think Chaos is uncomfortable for most people," he said, finally, as Chaos gazed at him.

"Of course it is." He waved a hand in the air. "Chaos begets change, and nobody likes change."

"Well-"

"Oh, they'll accept changes they deem are good, but anything beyond that is vilified," Chaos interrupted. "So, I get the blame."

"Sure," he said, agreeing if only to keep the being from becoming angrier than he already was.

Chaos huffed. "Listen, I can give your kid power beyond understanding. Magic may have her picked, but I haven't. I can free him from society's constraints and make him more than any mortal could dare dream. He could be a god among men."

"No," Nevio blurted, wide eyed in his horror.

"What?" Chaos demanded, smile sliding from his lips.

"I don't want power for my kid. Society's constraints are what keep us humble. They're what keeps us honest, and good. Taking those away won't do my child any good. And, with all due respect, Sir, I don't think a life full of chaos is good for a man's moral obligations."

Chaos scoffed, the man's jovial expression fading faster than the lingering light around them.

"You think you can keep your son from me? I am everywhere. Everyone faces me eventually, but now, it will not be as an ally."

"That's fine," Nevio said, hands gripping the reigns to keep the tremble from being noticed. "As you said, change isn't always bad. It's when we fear chaos that lives unravel."

Chaos made a noise at the back of his throat, eyes flashing red, bright and glowing. But, he didn't attack. Between blinks, the man vanished from sight.

Nevio released a slow breath, forcing his breathing even. His hands shook, but it had nothing to do with the cold. He had faced danger this night, and he'd proved himself no ally.

There was a reason people liked Magic more. It - and she - was more temperate and forgiving than Chaos would ever be. Perhaps he should have accepted Magic's offer. But, even meeting Chaos didn't convince him that she was the right choice.

***

His mind focused on Chaos all the next day while he unloaded the wagon and let it be counted and packed away for their lord. He thought of Chaos on the trip back, worried every evening that the man would return. He was still thinking of Chaos the night before his return when someone screamed across the room.

Nevio jumped to his feet. A woman, old and nearing the end of her life, lay on the floor, unmoving. A man of the same age knelt beside her, calling her name. None of that kept his attention.

Beside the woman, opposite her husband, was a figure covered in a black cloak. He carried a scythe similar to those used in the fields during harvest. He knelt beside her. No one reacted to his presence.

Nevio's breath caught as the figure's hand reached into the woman's chest and pulled out a small, glowing orb. It was pulled close to his chest, tenderly held in a hand pale as death.

People rushed around, moving the woman away, calling for a healer that might do some good. He knew better. Death had collected a soul, and once taken it could never be returned.

Death paused, staring at him, head cocked. At their distance, Nevio couldn't tell if he looked in curiosity or anger. All he could see was shadow.

"You can see me," Death said, voice soft but echoing through the room in a thousand voices. He didn't sound angry.

Nevio nodded once, refusing to speak. No one else reacted to Death's presence. Death himself was surprised at his sighting. If he spoke, Nevio suspected he'd be thought insane.

"Curious," Death murmured, coming closer. "I must take this soul across, but after ... I would like to speak with you, if you agree."

Nevio found himself nodded again, unwilling to refuse Death this. Death's was silent a long moment. Then, he gave a short bow.

"Thank you."

Thank you? Nevio wondered, staring after death as he turned and glided through the wall. Letting out a breath, he sank back onto the bench.

Death wanted to speak with him.

Well, he decided, it couldn't be weirder than meeting Magic and Chaos.

Except it was, and he knew that. A man could go his whole life without seeing magic, or running into any of her chosen. A man could go his whole life without seeing the worst Chaos had to offer, or any who followed him. No man went their life without facing Death. It was the great equalizer of all men. The one being to whom all bowed eventually. No being could escape him.

It was several minutes before Nevio rose. He didn't want to speak with Death in a crowded room. It was better for all, his sanity included, if this conversation happened in private.

The candle at his bedside flickered when Death finally arrived. The man came through the wall and stared at him.

"You feel of Magic and Chaos," Death said, gliding closer.

"I've met them."

"They wanted something from you."

Nevio nodded.

"Interesting. They rarely make an actual appearance anywhere."

"They needed my approval," Nevio told him.

"Did you give it?"

He shook his head. "Neither felt like a good fit."

Death cocked his head. "For what?"

"My child needs a godfather. They wanted the job."

"I see. Few who follow either live to see old age," he warned. Being Death, he would know.

"I figured."

"But," he continued, "it does explain why you can see me. Your desire for a proper godfather allows you sight beyond most mortals. Until you make a choice you will see us, and we will know."

"As soon as I make a choice, I won't see any of you anymore?" Nevio asked.

Death nodded. "That's correct.

"Then I should choose someone quickly."

"You don't wish to see us anymore?"

"Honestly?" Nevio asked, shaking his head. "It's a little much."

Death fell silent. Then, he nodded. "If I recall correctly, you mortals place value in these godfathers. They are to help, correct?"

Nevio nodded once more.

"If you seek someone other than human," Death continued thoughtfully, "then I would recommend Growth. She would help your child become the best they could be with what they're born with. Perhaps Time would also be a good choice. He could teach your child to make the most of what time they're allotted. Justice might be an ideal choice as well, though your child would be called to keep the balance between sides and stop vengeance."

"What about you?" Nevio asked, astonished that at least three others had been mentioned. How many of these beings existed?

"Me?" Death asked. "Why would anyone choose me? I ferry the dead. Mortals fear me."

Nevio rose, crossing to stand before him. Death was taller by a foot, causing him to stare up at the being.

"Yet you, of everyone, prove we are all equal in the end. You, of everyone, treat all mortals the same. That's a lesson I would like my son to learn."

Death fell silent, staring. This time, Nevio was close enough that he could see the shadows covering his face. None knew what Death looked like until he came to collect their souls. It seemed Nevio would not be the exception.

"Death would you be my son's godfather?"

"Are you certain?" Death asked.

"Yes."

Death inhaled slowly. "I would be honored."