Death Meets Binky

A tall, skeletal figure riding an equally skeletal steed sped across the sky of the Discworld. The horse was an impressive, flaming stallion; and its rider was covered in a cowl so black that normal, everyday blackness would be, metaphorically, green with envy that anything in any world could achieve such a feat of blackness.

The impressiveness of the pair lessened considerably when horse and rider landed on the ground, and the horse's skeletal head fell off.

OH BUGGER said Death, his voice the leaden tone that tombstones would make if they were gifted with speech.

He picked up the horse's skull, and examined it for a moment. It looked up at him with a slightly apologetic and embarrassed expression, although it was unclear to Death how exactly it managed this. He was then distracted by what remained of the rest of the skeletal horse - it had set fire to a nearby bush. Death shook his own skull - flaming skeletal horses might look impressive, but that was about the only good thing that could be said about them - it was the third time in as many days that something like this had happened, which was enough to irritate even the most patient of anthropomorphic personifications.

Death had always had a lot of work to do - indeed, this had been the case since the very first living being had reached the end of its life on the Discworld - and, in time, humans had given him his shape. Bones, skeletons, and black suited their notions of what death should be - and so had given Death himself the form of a six-foot skeleton. But that alone was insufficient, he also needed some kind of steed to carry the souls of the recently deceased onto whatever their fate was, once their time had expired. And so the need for the horse. Yet, very few people could actually see Death, at least until the time came when they themselves would require his professional administration. Wizards could see Death - and Death had to admit that most wizards would approve of the skeletal, fiery horses that he had taken to riding these past few millennia. Wizards always liked to make a fuss about everything - Death had been summoned to enough Rites of AshkEnte to observe the extent of the rituals that they enacted in order to get his attention. None of which were actually required - they could have managed the ritual easily enough using a small amount of mouse blood or a fresh egg - besides, they always seemed to disturb Death at the most inconvenient of times, when he had been involved in something else. Of course, the same could be said about death itself, but at least most people only experienced that once.

Witches could also see Death - and Death rather preferred their more practical way of dealing with magic, death, and, well, everything. Witches were involved in birth, death, healing, and generally doing what needed to be done. They lived on the edge, and, when, on the rare occasions that they summoned Death for help or advice, they tended to treat him as something of a trusted professional, as something approaching an equal. They, generally speaking, had little time for ritual, beyond sharing cups of tea and gossip, and would certainly not be impressed with skeletal horses, flaming or otherwise.

Cats could also see Death. Death liked cats (he had given all cats nine lives just so he got to spend more time with them). Small children, or people generally considered to be insane could also typically see Death - and Death doubted that any of these would care much about fiery skeletal steeds.

Death put the horse's skull down, and pulled an hourglass out of his robe of enviable blackness. He then stepped through the walls of a nearby stable, to perform the duty that he had performed so many times, in the long ages of his existence.

A young, male horse started to chew at his black robe in a friendly sort of way. STOP THAT said Death, turning to look directly at the horse with eye-sockets that blazed with a blue fire.

The horse stared back, completely unafraid, and continued to chew at the cowl. He nuzzled Death in a friendly sort of way. Death stared at the horse for a long moment.

It was pure white, the whitest horse that Death had ever seen - and Death had seen many, many horses. It looked like it had once been a fine animal indeed; but its owners had fallen on hard times, and, as so often happens in such circumstances, had been unable to care for their horse. And so the horse had been left to slowly starve, until, as Death knew only too well, the time had come for he himself to come, to give the poor creature the one kindness that could save it from the misery that life had become.

Death, despite what is commonly believed, is not cruel, just incredibly good at his job. And his job right now was simple - take the soul of the horse, as he had taken the souls of so many before.

He looked at the hourglass, and at the name etched on it: Binky. He watched the last of the sand fall in a steady, relentless flow from the top bulb into the bottom, and, just as the last of the sand was about to fall, raised his scythe to separate the soul of the horse - Binky - from its mortal body.

The horse stopped nuzzling Death, and reached out for the scythe, taking it in his mouth with a speed that Death would not have thought possible for a creature so near death - or so near to Death.

STOP THAT Death repeated. Binky merely grinned at him, and continued to hold the scythe in his mouth, just out of Death's reach.

Death tried to reach for the scythe, but the horse refused to let it go. The creature did not seem to be being intentionally irritating - indeed, he seemed to think that this was some kind of a game - but would not let Death retrieve his scythe, no matter what he tried to do.

Death's attention was momentarily distracted by the skeletal horse outside of the stable - it had set fire to another bush. Death turned back to Binky, who still would not let him retrieve his scythe.

Death stared at Binky for a very long moment. Perhaps this was an opportunity for a change, a chance to have a more practical type of steed, although he had to admit that names like 'Shadow' or 'Nightflame' might have been more appropriate than 'Binky' for a horse that carried Death...but Binky was clearly a very fine animal, and much more intelligent than the average horse - although, admittedly, that was not saying a great deal. And Death had to have a steed, a creature that would carry the recently departed souls, a creature with the tenacity that would, for an example taken completely at random, not allow Death to retrieve his own scythe.

There were rules, and Death knew as well as any andromorphic personification that they could not be broken - but he also knew that they could be...bent, at times. He had to take Binky back with him to his dark domain, but he did not, technically, have to cut the soul from the body in order to do this. Besides, Binky would still not let him get his bony hands on his scythe, and the skeletal horse outside would not be able to take him anywhere - skeletal flaming horses were more trouble than they were worth. Perhaps a living, flesh and blood horse could solve all of Death's troubles.

Binky did not seem to object as Death mounted onto his back, but still kept the scythe away from his reach.

VERY WELL, said Death, finally giving up trying to retrieve his scythe, YOU MAY KEEP IT, FOR NOW. BUT I WILL REQUIRE IT BACK WHEN WE REACH THE NEXT CLIENT FOR THE DUTY.

Binky seemed to understand, nodding slightly in agreement. And then he was travelling through time and space, his skeletal rider on his back, and onto, ironically enough, the time of his life.