Everyman: O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.”

From EVERYMAN, a medieval mystery play

In an ancient city, long gone and forgotten, there lived a widow who was adept at bringing babies into the world. She midwifed to her own kind, the poorest of the poor, until a day came when fate intervened. A beggar woman birthed an infant still closed inside its own caul. This the Midwife recognized as a sign of deep magic. She lied to the young mother and declared the child dead. Then the Midwife sold the babe to a Witch who was glad to procure such an apprentice. The Witch paid with a valuable charm.

She instructed the Midwife: "Carry the charm hidden on your person, and you will see the figure of Death as it walks among the living. By your observations you will learn who is to live and who is to die. But," the Witch warned, "never use your knowledge to deceive Death, lest you turn its face toward you."

Now, Death has many faces.

The Midwife did not know which one might be revealed, so she secured the charm about her neck and hurried home, looking in all directions for a sign. As soon as she neared her own door, a kindly neighbor greeted her. He was a robust and hearty man. He inquired about her health, then bid her good-day.

Rudolf_Schiestl_Der_Tod_auf_dem_Feld.jpgBehind him trailed a stranger, a woman crooked with extreme age. The crone wore black, and her eyes were white as milk.

Next morning, the Midwife wakened to cries and laments from behind that neighbor's walls. His children wailed, having discovered themselves changed to orphans.

The Midwife thought, Ah, Dame Death! I know you.