It was such a shock having Ingrid able to see me! I couldn’t help but glance about me, just in case I was mistaken and she was actually speaking to someone who was still alive and for some reason right behind me.
“Yes, I’m speaking to you.”
I opened my mouth; the sound didn’t come easily. “M-Me?”
She sighed at me. “No, the other person standing right beside you.”
I blinked at her. But no one had seen me in years!
There was that tired expression on her face again. She looked fed up. “Listen, I’m not in service anymore, so you can go and find some other poor fool to run your errand.” When I didn’t move, she gestured at the horizon, in the direction Golde had gone. “Go on, begone! I don’t want some sad lost spirit tagging along after us, crying all night. I have enough trouble sleeping as it is.”
I looked towards where she’d gestured, and then back at her. My wrists tingled. I would have loved to follow her instructions and avoid upsetting her, but there was just one problem with her instructions. “I—uh—I can’t go.”
She gave me a hard look. “You most certainly can,” she said sternly. “Turn, face the other direction, and start walking. Shoo!”
I stood there uncertainly, barefoot in the snow. Ingrid wasn’t big and imposing like Golde, but she simply radiated grumpiness, and there was a furrow between her eyebrows like she had a permanent frown. I didn’t want to make her angrier than she already seemed. “I can’t. I tried, it doesn’t work.” I held up my wrists to show her the shackles.
She had been pushing herself to stand, opening her mouth and raising a finger to wag at me, but those words died on her lips as she saw my shimmering wrists. Her expression changed. “You must be kidding me!” Fuming, she began to approach me.
Rushing through the snow, I half-expected her to plough right through me as Golde had, but instead, she stopped in front of me. Then, as if I was just as solid as she, she snatched my wrists and held them up at eye level in a vice-like grip.
The air shimmered faintly around the ethereal shackles.
She made a strangled noise. “No!” Grasping desperately at the glowing chain that led from my shackles as if she couldn’t see it, she felt along it inch by inch, handful by handful, getting more and more agitated as she progressed until she finally traced it to her chest. Throwing the glowing chain dramatically into the snow, she turned her face and arms skyward and yelled.
“Why!” she shouted upward. “Haven’t you sent me enough torment?!” After she was done yelling at the sky, she slumped, ran her hands over her face and then—right in front of me!—she blurted out the most unholy string of blasphemous expletives the likes of which I’d never heard out of the mouth of a woman.
While I was still reeling from that explosion, she addressed me. “Look, I can’t deal with any more of you lot now,” she told me as if that settled something, and the turned away from me to walk slowly back to the fire and the horses, feet heavy in the snow.
It took me a moment to recover. I had a very strong suspicion that what I’d just witnessed was a display of incredible heathenism, and it struck me as very odd that I would be tethered to such a person when I was supposed to be journeying towards an afterlife in Heaven. I’d been a good God-fearing woman all my life, I couldn’t imagine I’d have anything to be punished for.
While I was puzzling on that, it occurred to me that perhaps that was why I’d been tethered to such a woman: to show her the Truth and bring her back to the Light? After all, the Last Journey was supposed to be your route to Heaven and eternal peace, so perhaps that was the act my God required of me in order to pass over?
As ironic as it seemed, it felt like the only person who’d be able to give me any sort of answer was the barbarian-kissing heathen woman. After all, she seemed to already know what the tethering was about. As much as I didn’t like to bother her, and as much as I’d rather not converse with someone who had shouted at me to leave, I felt as though I had no option. After all, I was literally chained to her.
So, as she sat heavily down by the fire again and sighed audibly, I took a few tentative steps towards her and stopped at the edge of the clearing they’d made.
It took me a good little while to work up the courage to say something, because she certainly wasn’t inviting me to. “I’m awfully sorry,” I told her. “But we’re chained together. I think I have to be here.”
She gave me a slow, tired look. “Can you not speak, please? I’ve had enough of people chewing my ears off when I just want to—oh, fuck me.” Her eyes were focused past me.
My eyebrows were up in my hairline as I twisted behind me. Through the mists, I could see a shadow approaching. A big shadow.
It was obvious who it was even before she spoke (“Ah, Ingrid…?”), but when she did and it was clear it was Golde, I thought she sounded significantly more subdued that she had when she’d been rushing towards the battle. When she emerged from the mist, she was shimmering in the same way I was.
She also had a long, heavy lance protruding directly through the centre of her chest, straight through the heart.
I gaped at her. She was dead?!
While I was staring wide-eyed at her, she noticed me. As if I was suddenly plain as day to her, and as if she didn’t care at all about the giant weapon poking out of her torso, she gave me a very cheery smile. “Hullo there!” she said, seemingly pleased to meet me. Then, putting one heavy dinner plate-sized hand directly on my shoulder politely so as not to be dismissive of me, she spoke to Ingrid. “It, erm, happened again.”
Ingrid lifted her head from her hands, looking like she’d aged about ten years in the space of a few seconds. “What an incredible surprise.” Her voice was thick with sarcasm.
“No matter what you’re thinking, my love, I was careful!” she promised Ingrid. “I didn’t fly into a rage like I normally do! I carefully chose each opponent based on a clearheaded determination of whether or not I could easily best them!”
Ingrid looked wholly unconvinced. “Sure. I believe you,” she said flatly, and then her eyes dipped to the lance in the middle of Golde’s torso. “After all, small and inexperienced foot soldiers regularly engage in close combat with lances.”
Golde looked down at it, too. “Well, it’s not what it looks like.”
Ingrid gave her a hard stare. “Golde. Did you try and duel a mounted knight?”
Golde grimaced a little. “No?”
Golde’s resolve cracked and she gave in. “Alright, yes,” she admitted, and then jabbed a finger in a very animated manner at Ingrid. “But! You have to understand this was a very small knight! And it’s not as if you can truly consider the horse to be part of the knight, can you? The horse probably would rather not have been there at all! So, all things considered, I believe my decision to duel the mounted knight was not such a terrible one after—”
Golde conceded that. “Well,” she said sheepishly, “at least the oppressors lost one of their weapons? I’m sure that was of great aid to the cause!”
Ingrid stared at Golde for a moment as if she couldn’t believe someone would say such nonsense, and then put her face in her hands and sobbed theatrically. “What did I do to deserve this?” she asked rhetorically. “Why have I been dealt such torment?”
Privately, I thought the constant blasphemy that kept spewing out of her mouth rather warranted whatever punishment she’d been dealt. I didn’t say as much, though.
Even though it was clear Ingrid was only pretending to cry because she was so frustrated, Golde took her hand off my shoulder and went to comfort her anyway. “There, there,” she said, and then reached down to try and lift Ingrid’s furs off the ground, presumably to blanket her. Her hand passed right through them. She laughed once. “Oh, yes, that’s right…” she said, and then just put a big hand on either one of Ingrid’s slender shoulders and massaged them instead. “It’s alright,” she said. “It will only take a couple of days’ backtracking to go and get me properly resurrected, and we can help this tiny southerner ghost-lady on the way. It’ll be alright.” She winked at me.
I wasn’t entirely sure how to take that wink, because she had a huge pole sticking out of her chest. Shouldn’t she be upset about that?! “You’re dead!” I blurted out.
Golde looked unmoved. “So are you.”
“Yes, but I’ve been dead for ages!” I pointed out. “You just died a moment ago, shouldn’t you be very upset that your life is over?”
Golde shrugged. “Well, I won’t be dead for long. Ingrid will sort me out.”
I had no idea what to make of that comment. “What on earth do you mean?!”
Ingrid butted in. “She doesn’t mean anything. ‘Ingrid’ is sick of this nonsense. Both of you can wander the earth forever for all I care. All I want is peace!”
Golde ignored her. “I mean she’ll resurrect me, of course!” She made a face immediately and waved a hand to correct herself. “Well, not herself, obviously! Look at her! She’s hardly a holy woman! But she’ll keep my soul in my body so that a priest can do it.”
It was too much information to process. “How she keep your soul in your body—?”
“Well, we’ll just wait a short while until the battle is over, and then we’ll both go and have a look around for where I accidentally let that tiny man get the better of my superior…” She was watching my face. It must have been apparent I was completely lost in this conversation, because she stopped speaking to frown at me. Finally, something occurred to her. “Wait, Ingrid didn’t tell you what she does yet, did she?”
When I shook my head, Golde ignored Ingrid’s warning, slapping her shoulders in rough affection again. “My wife is a necromancer!” she declared, sounding very proud. “The best necromancer! Sought after all through the realms!”
“Which is why I never get a damn moment of peace.”
I .listened, fitting all of it together. I’d heard of the word ‘necromancer’ before—in fairy tales, mostly. Like dragons, and mermaids and great wizards, everyone knew they didn’t exist. Except… well, ghosts weren’t supposed to exist, either, were they? I’d never heard of the Last Journey taking place on earth. The way our priest spoke of it, it happened somewhere else, somewhere between the earth and the sky. I was definitely on earth, though. The places they’d mentioned, the fact that Golde had correctly picked me as a southerner—I was on earth. Just apparently a part of the earth where necromancers and ghosts existed, and where women married each other like husband and wife. It was a lot to process.
While I was reeling from the information dump, Ingrid pounced on the opportunity. “Look, this is clearly a lot to take in,” Ingrid said, “so how about you wander off to the edge of your tether and think about things for a few days?”
Golde gently shoved her. “That’s rude. Whoever the god of small southern ladies is clearly sent her to us because she needs our help.”
“You can wander off for a few days, too.”
“Pfft! Don’t be so dramatic!” Golde told her, equally as theatrically. “What’s a few more days? It’s not that far to the Cathedral! I’m sure whatever this lady wants us to do isn’t too far south from that, either. We’ll go home for a rest after that.”
Everything they said was a little extra piece of jigsaw slotting in to place to make a full picture. Necromancer—well, that explained why she could see me and no one else could. Something about helping people and being in service, and resurrecting her friend who had just—
Wait, resurrecting people?
I took a big, hopeful breath. “Ingrid can resurrect people?”
Ingrid looked overjoyed to deliver me the answer. “Sure, if you died in the last couple of days and you happen to have your body handy.”
I deflated. “Oh.” I supposed it had been too much to hope for. “I was cremated.”
Ingrid pretended to be disappointed. “Then I guess I can’t help you and you’ll have to wander away from—”
This time, Golde just put a hand over her mouth. “She’s just tired,” she explained to me. “It’s been a long year, you see, and we were about to have a holiday. But don’t worry! We’ll help you do whatever you need to do before we relax.” She paused, considering me. “What are we doing to help you, anyway?”
I had no idea. “I was hoping you’d tell me what that is? I don’t even know why I’m here.”
Golde made an ‘ah’ shape with her mouth. “Well, these days there have been a lot of violent husbands who’ve needed their skulls split,” she offered helpfully. “Sometimes people were murdered and need their murderer taught a lesson. Or maybe it’s as simple as telling someone you love them? Honestly, we do all sorts. Usually there’s some sort of lesson that needs to be taught though, that’s why Ingrid and I make such a good pair. The ghosts tell Ingrid who needs their throat slit and I do it.” Winking at me again, she flexed one of her enormous biceps.
My eyebrows were in my hairline. “So you’re like a revenge service?”
“No,” Ingrid said, shooting Golde a sour look over her shoulder. “I help spirits pass. Spirits who are stuck here have unfinished business. I help them finish it.”
Golde nodded. “So what’s your unfinished business? Is there someone who’s done the wrong thing by you? Someone who’s betrayed you, or hurt you or, or stolen something of yours—”
As soon as she said ‘stolen something of yours’, I remembered.
I remembered my vile sister’s hands reaching out to touch my grieving husband’s chest. Pulling him close, opening her lips to him—their kiss. Her unbuttoning his top and leading him to our marital bed. Jerrik—my poor Jerrik!—I could see he hesitated, at least at first. He knew he was disrespecting me! But my sister… I burned with white hot rage thinking about her. She was there, making love to my husband, raising my children, stealing my life, and I—I burned as I remembered it.
I was white hot, blurring at my edges like I was consumed in flame. I felt as though I might lose track of my form all together, fading into flames of light and shadow, but the shackles held tight around my wrist, dragging in this world like an anchor along the ocean floor.
Golde must have been watching me. “Revenge it is, then!” she said emphatically, pumping a fist in the air, and then went back to massaging Ingrid’s shoulders. “Excellent! Who am I killing?”
“Yourself, usually.” That was Ingrid’s dry voice. Golde laughed openly as if the joke hadn’t been at her expense.
Killing? I wasn’t sure I wanted her killed per se… “My sister.” I felt uncomfortable saying it. “Perhaps not killing her, just…”
Golde was grinning indulgently. “…teaching her a lesson?”
That felt better. She could definitely use a lesson. “Yes, it’s about time Astrid felt some consequences.” My parents had certainly never shown her the belt.
Golde nodded, and then patted Ingrid again. “See? That won’t take long! You can get Lilly to resurrect me, we can do this tiny southern ghost-lady’s bidding, and then we can go home and have a big, long rest!”
Ingrid looked as if she was ready to be put to rest herself. “Fantastic,” she said, her voice dry as a bone. I’d never heard someone sound so incredibly disingenuous. “Fabulous. This is great. I love helping people.”