Many witches think it’s bitter, lonely work — all bone-foraging and bottling the dark stuff that seeps from caskets. But MARZANNA would tell you NECROMANCY can be a gentle art.
She’ll admit it does take a particular temperament to sit calmly beside a corpse as it jerks with breath again. Some apprentice NECROMANCERS go to pieces their first night at a deathbed, or a seance. But MARZANNA would tell you a NECROMANCER’S most cherished tool isn’t the coffin nail or the skull preserved in a jar of honey (it still spouts a prophecy every now and then), but the candle that guides a soul safely through the dark.
Mother Death, they call her in certain villages. They say she has a soft touch.
In her autumn-white home, her house of lilies, MARZANNA sits souls down to tea. She puts a record on the gramophone, and The Ink Spots fuzz comfortably in the background. She and the souls eat black bread (or she eats on their behalf; the dead don’t know whose mouth is whose, a full stomach from an empty one) and talk memories. The dead can talk for ages when you get them going. The parlor flutters with secrets carried to the grave, now set free. They take the form of moths, lighting on MARZANNA’S sleeves and tickling her ears with boneyard gossip.
Have you heard, whisper the dead, that the king’s second son really killed Emiljia and sank her in the bogs so long ago, because she turned all those emeralds to glass? It’s quite a scandal. If you looked inside of her, you would find the real jewels tucked safe and sound in her belly. Have you heard the oceans will foam red with blood before the century is out?
MARZANNA has lined her parlor with black mirrors, and in them she can see the many shapes of the dead all shimmering at once: youth and crooked age, corpses pearled with maggots, pure mist. She watches the reflections fondly as they chatter. She loves their company, she really does. She’s lonely sometimes with other witches, but never with them.
Marzanna has lined her parlor with black mirrors, and in them she can see the many shapes of the dead all shimmering at once: youth and crooked age, corpses pearled with maggots, pure mist.
Biscotti, darling? MARZANNA offers. Almond is frosted and anise is the one with dark flecks. She takes another herself, to be polite, and dusts the crumbs from her lap. Husks of flowers and leaves rustle where they’re strewn at her feet, the outline of a sacred circle. When they begin to stir, she knows it’s almost time for her guests to move on.
Move on — that’s a phrase the dead never like to hear. They try to linger, to hide, to wheedle and ply MARZANNA with more stories. But, sooner or later, she always gets to her feet and strikes a match.
Shall we? she says with a smile, lighting her candle, inclining her head to the door. Beyond the house a birch forest sprawls, a place euphemistically called “neither here nor there.” The souls shuffle and sigh, like children being pulled off to bed.
We shall... They know when to give up, mostly. The moths follow the candle, and MARZANNA leads them into the not-so-dark.
It isn’t always quite as easy as that. Every once in a while, a soul gives her real trouble. If a spirit sticks around for too long, it becomes a haunting, and MARZANNA has had to retire more than one teapot in which a ghost has taken up residence.
There’s a story she could tell you about a young ENCHANTRESS whose soul was stuck in a seashell and wouldn’t come out. She had been there for a year, curled in the dark, all alone, growing stranger by the day, ignoring the pleading of her sisters. MARZANNA had to spin her candlelight into thread and weave it through the canals of the shell to reach the stubborn thing inside.
Imagine you are that lost soul, clinging to something that isn’t yours any longer. A too-small shell. A poor echo of a body you miss only because you’ve never known anything else. And suddenly there’s this dazzling-bright thing in front of you, making rainbows of the dust — and you can’t think why you were ever so afraid.
This is the gentle part. The soft touch. A good NECROMANCER knows that her work isn’t really darkness, manipulating souls into telling their secrets, but making death soft and safe.