The Nature of Being a Necromancer

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone in a thankless job.... view prompt

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Fantasy Fiction

There were three Laws of Nature.

 One: Don’t change the natural order of things.

Two: Don’t expect the universe to play fair.

And Three: Never, ever try to cheat Death. 

A necromancer’s job was to violate all three rules (and get paid for it). 

Ashby wiped their forehead of sweat and leaned on the shovel, taking a deep breath as their stomach churned. They hadn't eaten before this but now it was coming back to haunt them. Digging up the grave of the deceased was the worst part of being a necromancer. One might think it was watching organs regrow or hearing the voices of the dead every time they slept but nope. It was digging them up. For some reason Ashby had yet to discover, the ritual wouldn't work if some strapping farm lad did the job. It had to be a necromancer.

They should have gotten an apprentice. They were too old for this.

(They were thirty five but that wasn't the point here.)

“Did you find them yet?” The knight peered over the edge of the hole. 

“Yep.” Ashby tossed them the shovel. “Pass me the brush.” The knight did so and Ashby knelt down, carefully dusting dirt and tiny rocks away from the partially decomposed corpse. They heard the knight throw up and they sighed. Maggots crawled over their fingers. As soon as they had freed the corpse, they climbed out of the grave. 

Something slimy and lukewarm greeted their hand as they crawled to their feet. 

Ashby glared at the knight. “Is this your vomit?” They demanded, holding up their hand. 

The knight shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry.”

Ashby groaned and rubbed it off on their cloak. It wasn’t like it hadn’t seen worse. 

“Let’s get this show on the road,” they muttered. They went over to their bag and took out what they would need. A book, a candle, and a bottle of black liquid that was cold to the touch. Cold as death, it was often said. Ashby hardly noticed the temperature, more than used to it after fifteen years. 

The Potion was to help recall the dead, and making it was next to impossible. To make it, one would need hair from a stillborn baby, blood from the corpse of a king who died of old age, a tear from a mermaid, an egg from a raven that had fed from a human corpse before laying it, and the melted silver from a bullet taken from a dead werewolf. Then it had to be mixed together under a new moon, steeped until the night before a full moon, and poured into a bottle made from the glass of a church’s windows. 

Ashby had only a single bottle, but they knew the bottle would last them until their own death. 

They carefully poured out three drops, lit the candle—made from the fat of a king who tried to cheat Death—, and opened the book to the right page. A cold wind picked up but Ashby hardly noticed. 

“I call upon the Ravens Who Guard The Entrance. I call upon the white steed He rides. I call upon the dead moon and the wings of Time. I beseech Him Who Takes to let go of Marion Rickchen, daughter of Carla Sawgrass, granddaughter of Raddian Athelesia. I invoke her name and her spirit. Bring her forth to the body she once inhabited and let her speak once more so we might answer the questions only she can answer. We have only one, and then we will return her to You. On this, I swear as your servant, O Death!” 

Nothing happened for a minute. Then the candle went out. 

“Brace yourself.”


From inside the grave, a deep moaning came. Then, the crack of joints. A wet, gurgling sound echoed. Ashby knew that it was the sound of organs regrowing and blood flowing once more. Over the side of the grave, a hand appeared, its flesh still regrowing. 

The knight threw up again, this time on Ashby’s boots. Ashby wondered if they could up their price. Or have the king’s personal cobbler make them a new pair. 

Finally, Marion stood before them, looking like what she was. Death warmed over. When she opened her mouth, a blue moth flew out. 

“What question do you have that is so important to wake me from my slumber?” Her voice was not hers. Rather, it was all voices. Every voice of everyone that had ever died. 

The knight passed out. That was a common reaction to the voice. 


“Who murdered you?” Ashby asked. 

The King’s Hall was impressive but Ashby hardly noticed. Their payment was handed to them by the Queen, wrapped in a blue silk pouch, embroidered with gold thread and tied with a silver ribbon. 

Ashby tucked it into a pocket next to their heart, where their potion lay. The safest spot of all. 

They stood in front of the king, his court, and several members of the nearest village. 

“You.” They pronounced, staring at the king. “You murdered the Queen Mother.”

Ashby was promptly thrown out and sent on their way. Again.

It wasn’t always a royal that needed their service. Their next job was for a midwife that hadn’t been able to complete her training and had accidentally killed a young mother and her child with her poor skill. 

Ashby summoned the mother and let the midwife apologize. 

They were then promptly sent on their way, this time sans payment as a cow and her calf had died mid calving. Which had also been while Ashby was working.

(It wasn't Ashby's fault. It never was. Nature took its course. But if Nature took its course while they were around, then they were an easy target for blame.)

Being a necromancer was hard. Ashby’s fingers ached when it got too cold out. Their knees always knew when rain was coming. People stared and whispered. 

Necromancers were easy to spot. They always had white hair and red eyes, wore pitch black cloaks, and always traveled on foot. 

No one trusted a necromancer. 

“They’re demons." Holy men would preach when Ashby set foot in town.

“They’ll kill the crops." Farmers would predict. 

“They’ll steal our babies and turn them into monsters!” Mothers would wail. 

Necromancers were born, not made, was what no one seemed to realize. They spent years in studying and apprenticeship, yes. But they were born with the gift to pry back the veil and look into the abyss that awaited. 

Ashby preferred the cities. Not because it was easier to get work there. It was harder actually. But because people were less likely to stare and throw stones. But cities were few and far between, so Ashby made do with the small villages and towns that were common to their homeland. 

The innkeeper stared, but they didn’t throw Ashby out at first glance. They paid for three nights and slept for a few hours before going out in search of the market. 

They bought bread, cheese, and several small fruits that would keep well on the road. When they passed by a horse seller, the horse reared up in a panic. 

Ashby grimaced and hurried on to the other end of the market where a young woman was selling new cloaks. Theirs was ragged and had seen much better days. 


“I can pay.”

“No.” The young woman’s mother yanked the cloak from Ashby’s hand. “We don’t sell to people like you.” 

“Please,” Ashby pleaded tiredly. “I need it. I can pay in King's gold.”

“From a tomb, no doubt.” The older woman shook her head. “Go!” She picked up a cup and flung its contents in Ashby’s face. 

Ashby gave it up as a lost cause and walked away. 

Half past midnight, their eyes flew open. 

Danger was coming for them. 

Ashby quickly got dressed and threw their stuff in their bag. Their potion went back to the pocket by their heart and they cracked open the door of their room, listening. They could hear voices downstairs. Angry voices. 

Ashby grimaced. Figures. The horse had probably died of natural causes and now they were getting the blame. Maybe a child had died of a fever. Or some maggots were found in bad fruit. They idly wondered if the villagers would try to hang them, burn them, or just throw them out. 

Rather than wait around and see, Ashby went out the back and set off through the dense woods. With any luck, they’d find a spot where they could wait until sunrise to start walking.

This time, they'd go west. They had never been west, but they had heard that their dear friend Ky was out that way. The ocean was out that way.

It would be nice to have someone be happy to see them.

November 27, 2021 04:39

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1 comment

Boutat Driss
13:40 Nov 30, 2021

a nice tale!


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