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The Hibernian's Revenge


giver of existential dread
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Western New York
Roman Province of Iudæa
The Ninth Year of the Reign of Emperor Nero (AD 63)

Ya’el stood alone at the empty tomb, her head bowed, her hands clasped together so tightly her nails drew crescent moons of blood from the backs of her hands. She wept openly, her tears cold as they made trails down her face, and murmured the prayers of mourning in Hebrew and Aramaic alike. Of all the tombs in Jerusalem, this particular tomb was not a safe place to be, not with the tensions between Nazarene, Jew and Roman rising by the day, but Ya’el didn’t care. She prayed and wept, ceasing only when she became aware someone – two people, in fact – were drawing near. Ya’el sighed and wiped away her tears before turning to the narrow path that ran around the foot of the low hill.

“Who are you that trouble me in the night?” Ya’el demanded. She knew half of the answer already, but her mood was sour and it echoed in her voice. She had come here in the depth of the night to be alone with her grief.

“It is I, Taddai,” one of the two figures just now coming into sight replied. And sure enough, the tall, slender boy was familiar enough to Ya’el. He was an orphan from Magdala, one who made a precarious living serving the Romans, the Jews and the Nazarenes alike.

But the one walking at his side was a stranger to Ya’el and, from the look of it, a stranger to Judea – if not the empire as a whole! Whoever she was and wherever she came from, she was a striking figure. The girl, sixteen or seventeen years old perhaps, was half a foot shorter in stature than Ya’el. She had blazing red hair and bright blue eyes, and her pale face was marked with vivid blue tattoos. Her garb was strange, with common cotton and hide hidden beneath a thick, colorful garment in a checkered pattern. She had a rough talisman on a leather thong about her neck and a thick hazel staff in hand.

“And who is this?” Ya’el asked, smiling a little as she saw the strange girl sizing her up in turn.

“This is Cóem,” Taddai said, struggling a little with the strange name. “She comes from a barbarian land far away.”

“And what is that to me?”

“She wanted to find you.”

“Does she not speak?” Ya’el asked.

Taddai shrugged. “Her Latin is bad. Worse than mine.”

“How did she find you?”

“She was asking the Romans about you. One of them is one of us, luckily, and he told her to find me, and now I have found you.”

“And how did you know where to find me?” Ya’el asked. She knew the answer to that, but she was still upset and prickly.

Taddai held up his hands. “Passover is near. Of course you would be here.”

“Well. Here I am. And here you are. What would your aunt say about being alone in the company of a maiden? Especially at night?”

Taddai scratched his chin. “When will you get married?” he asked in a passable imitation of his formidable aunt’s voice.

“Get thee gone, child,” Ya’el said to him.

Taddai grinned and retreated.

Ya’el turned back to this ‘Cóem’ but her questions died before spilling out of her lips. The barbarian girl stared at the tomb, the door-stone of which had long ago been put back in place. Her eyes were wide and her face pale as bone. “What is this? Who rests here?” she whispered in what was, in fact, very good Latin. The girl reached out to the stone, hesitated at the last moment, then laid her fingers against the hard reddish limestone. “Ai!” she cried out, jerking her hand back as if she’d just plunged it into boiling water.

Ya’el’s face was guarded. “What is it?” she asked the girl.

“The stone sings... it sings!” Cóem whispered, tears in her eyes. “I tell you, three times in my life, I have heard the whispers of awen, the holy muse. But this stone... it sings as loud as a great chorus of bards. I ask you again – what is this? Who rests here? Who do the gods honor with such a thing?”

“The tomb is empty.”


“Empty,” Ya’el said again, smiling a little. “But once, briefly, it held the body of a holy preacher.”

“He must have been as holy as the sun is bright,” Cóem said.

“And more besides.”

The girl shivered a little, but there was a bright light in her eyes. “I do not doubt it.”

“But did you come all this way to see and speak of such things?” Ya’el asked. She would have been delighted, but she doubted it.

“No... but when my work is done, perhaps...” Cóem turned away from the tomb, an act that was not easy, and looked Ya’el right in the eyes. “I come to you for help, Champion of the World’s Heart, as I was bidden by the Champion of the Twilight Isles,” she said, then thumped her heart with her right hand, three times, and hard enough to probably leave a bruise.

Ya’el raised an eyebrow. Those were not words she expected to hear. Her brothers and sisters in the service of the masters of She’ol seldom crossed her paths, even those who dwelt in and around the Empire. It took a moment for her to even remember the name of her Britannic counterpart – Gwydion. Yes, Gwydion. “And why did he bid you thus?”

“I seek vengeance, and my foe has fled to this part of the world. Will you aid me? This place is strange to me, and my enemy is clever and powerful – like you.”

Ya’el smiled again, but it was a weary one. She felt sick at heart suddenly. “Let us leave this place. Here is not where one should speak of enemies and battle.”

* * *

Soon enough, they were in Ya’el’s home in the Upper City of Jerusalem. Ya’el stood by a window, while Cóem sat on the floor. The candles and lamps around her made the girl’s hair seem to burn in its own right, and her facial markings almost shifted in the flickering glow and shadow they cast.

“Tell me truly why you have come all this way, child,” Ya’el said to Cóem.


“Vengeance for who?”

“For all my people. She slew them all, from king down to doorward.”

“And who is she? And for that matter, who are you, Cóem? Whence come you?”

“I am Cóem, daughter of Fáelán, son of Dubthach, King of Dáirine, long-child of the Red God.”

Ya’el said nothing, but she felt an ache of pity for the people who had forgotten the one true LORD. Soon, she hoped, the word of the Great Teacher would reach their lands and set them aright.

“More than that,” Cóem continued. “I am seventh daughter of a seventh son of a king. A king of what you might call Hibernia, but I know as Ériu. And that gives me the special sight.”

None of that meant anything to Ya’el, although it all seemed important to the fire-haired woman. “Very well,” she said. “That is who you are and that is where you come from. But why are you here? Who is it that did you this wrong, and what has she do to with Judea?”

“Who and what?” Cóem asked. She stretched out her hands and the candle flames seemed to flicker in answer. “Listen to me, Ya’el of Bethany, and understand. Listen. Understand.” And she spoke on, and it was if a spell came upon her, and she saw as clearly as she had been there, as if it was her indeed...

* * *

Light. So much light. Light from candles, light from torches, so many, so bright... I can see them flicker, I can feel their warmth. All of us here in the king’s hall can feel it!

And oh, I see their faces, Ya’el. Look there! The tall man, stern and strong, with hair black as coal and eyes green as emeralds, and a golden torc about his neck. That is Cathal, King of Dáirine. And at his side, wise and beautiful, with hair even redder than my own, is Áednat, his queen, and daughter of a king in her own right. See how bright and clear her eyes are? She was a seventh daughter, too.

Beside them, taller than Cathal, more slender than Áednat, his great white beard reaching to his belt, aye, that is Cerball the druid. You could travel for a year and a day and never find a man half as wise as him.

Ah, but look there, to the other side, and behold two even stronger, fairer and wiser. He of the white cloak and silver hair and black belt, that one is Fáelán, my own father, and second-son of the last king. And the woman with the blue gown and golden hair and silver belt, of course that is Muadnat my mother. And look again to the left, and see the big young man, bald and bronze and holding the rowan staff, that one is Ruaidrí, son of Cathal. We’re as close as brother and sister. He’ll be king one day, and I’ll be his bard, just as my teacher, Sadb, sister of Muadnat, is bard to Cathal. It is the way of things, and it has been the way since the Mhíle first crossed the seas from there to here.

Now look! The handsome young lad, red hair and ruddy checks, that is Cathán, second son of Cathal, and the beautiful maiden at his side, gold of hair and grey of eye, that is Derbáil, daughter of the High King himself, Fíachu Finnolach. If you think that Dáirine is blessed by such a pairing, you think rightly. They are wedded already, bound in life and beyond by their love, and the bond sealed by Cerball, who speaks for Findabair. Today, we feast and revel, we sing and dance, to hope their union is a blessed one, one of love and bounty. And from the light in the eyes of Cathán and Derbáil, it will be blessed with many sons and daughters, too. My heart is warmer than any candle, I tell you truly.

But what is that? Can you hear it? The hooting of an owl. No, many owls. And what is this chill on my skin? What wind runs through the hall, snuffing out candles and disturbing torches?

Who is it that comes unbidden?

What is this silence, this stillness, this fear?

The doors open without touch of the doorwards, and those four fall back, failing in their duty, but can you blame them? I cannot, for I was there, and I felt the fear, felt it more than they did, and could barely stay upon my feet. Nay, there was no fault in their frailty. For look! Who is this that enters? Tall and fair, and armored in black, but helmed not with the raven but instead with the owl, that wickedly wise bird. And there is a long blade girt at her side, and cold fire in her eyes.
It is Ethniu, and she brings death with her.

Cathal it is who speaks first, as is his right, and duty, as King of Dáirine. “Good lady, and fair, welcome to my hall,” he says, putting his hands together and bowing his head as one must in all dealings with the Tuath Dé. “You come on a day of joy, for Cathán and Derbáil are bound as husband and wife.”

“How can this be, though?” Ethniu asks. “Did not Dáire mac Dedad, first of your petty kings, swear to give to me the first part of his wealth, and so on down to the end of your line?”

“So he swore,” Cerball says. “And so we have done, and so your halls have been enriched by our oath-gifts, coin and kine alike.”

“I speak not of coin, nor of kine, but of treasure, druid,” Ethniu says. “And is there richer treasure in your kingdom than he who wears the groom’s lily crown and silver torc? I claim what is owed to me, and that is Cathán MacCathal. Come away with me, and be my love.”

The silence stabs me in the heart. An icy blade, I tell you.

“Good lady, fair lady,” Cerball says, “Cathán is bound already. Let us speak alone, and set a proper price of homage.”

“Speak alone? I have spoken already,” Ethniu says, and the chill deepens among us all. “Give me what I ask.”

Oh, my heart! It still might have gone otherwise, but Derbáil spoke then. And I cannot blame her, for she was wedded wife of Cathán. “Good lady, fair lady, is thy asking in accord with the will of Findabair, who is Highest Queen over thee and we alike?”

“I am my own mistress,” Ethniu says, her tone colder than winter snow. “Give me what I ask.”

“Good lady, fair lady, what you ask has already been given,” Cerball says. “Come, let us speak, and set a goodly price that you are owed.”

“Thrice I have asked for what I am owed, and thrice I have been refused,” Ethniu says. “No more will I speak, for I am answered only with dishonor. Now let ye learn the wrath of the owl with red talons.”

She brings death with her, so I said, and so she does.

Cerball, she slays first, for he alone among us all might have turned the tide.

And then fall the doorwards, and Cathal’s guards, and Fáelán’s, too, and then Cathal and then Fáelán, and then Ruaidrí...

And in the end, when all else is done and all else are dead, Ethniu lifts me up from the bottom of a pile of the slain, and she smiles at me. “You, last of all, I will let live. You, least of all, I will let remember.”

And so she did, and so I do.

Farewell Fáelán and Muadnat, farewell Íte, farewell Bébinn, farewell Aífe and Áine, farewell Aíbinn, farewell Damnat, farewell Cathal and Áednat, farewell Ruaidrí, farewell Sadb, farewell Mathgamain and Odarnat, and farewell all ye of Dáirine. Findabair will guide ye to Tír na hÓige.

My tale is over, my sorrow remains. No more will I speak of it...

* * *

“No more will I speak of it...”
Ya’el recoiled. She had never felt anything like it. Cóem was something – someone – she had never met the like of. The Hibernian girl had drawn her into the past, as if she had been there in the flesh, or at least the spirit. “What is it you wish of me, though?” Ya’el asked once she’d recovered. “You are here because she is here?”
“She is. I have chased her for two years. Always she escapes me!”

Ya’el pursed her lips. Two years... you were a child when this happened!

Cóem frowned fiercely. “You think I am hapless.”

“Not at all,” Ya’el said. “But they are powerful, the people of Sheol.”

“Are you not one of their champions?”

“I am, as is Gwydion. Did he not go to them when you came to him?”

“He did, but...” Cóem hissed and threw up her hands. “Their laws. Hospitality, the right of a guest to be protected by her host. She exploited it! And when she finally left, she was too fast for me to find her. At first.”

Ya’el smiled a little. The girl couldn’t help but be a storyteller, complete with dramatic pauses. “Go on...”

“I found her in Gaul, and fought her! But she laughed. Her skin is stronger than iron, and my blade broke against it,” Cóem said. She looked at Ya’el with earnest, silent pleading on her face.

“And what am I to do?” Ya’el asked.

“Gwydion said you would know!”

That made Ya’el raise an eyebrow. She had never met Gwydion – had never met any of the seven Champions of Europa. Again, it took her a moment to recall their names. Gwydion, or Uidugenus, of Britannia, Deuognata of Gaul, Gudruna of Germania, Wainamoinus of Fennia, Aeneas of Italia, Targitaus of Sarmatia and Medaurus of Illyria. “If he said that, then he saw deeper than I can. Give me a moment, I beg you,” Ya’el said to the bard.

Cóem stared at her, her blue eyes a flinty hue now, but she said nothing.

“You need a stronger weapon,” Ya’el said after some thought. “Iron will not do, and I doubt Noric steel will be any keener.”

“What, then?”

“Aurichalcum, maybe,” Ya’el said. “The alloy of Atlantis.” Her voice was frigid with contempt.

“Atlantis? What is that?”

Ya’el’s blood burned in her veins as her oaths blazed within her. “The great western island of the sea-kings. The mighty damned people.”

“Is it Í-bres you mean?”

“Perhaps. I do not know that name. But long ago, it was a mighty realm, mighty and proud. Their kings sought to conquer not just the living world, but Sheol as well, and they were laid low by the LORD for their pride. Imagine a great tapestry, torn and burnt, of which a few threads survive.”

“It is Í-bres you mean. But I do not know aurichalcum.”

“There are few who do,” Ya’el said. “The sea-kings devised it, but the lords of Sheol perfected it, and gifted it to some of their champions.”

“Some? Such as you?”

“No, not me. I have a different weapon.” She drew her weapon for Cóem to see. It had a long, narrow blade, almost like an iron thorn, and it was carefully carved with a verse from the Sibylline books of prophecy. “

“Then will that slice her skin?” Cóem asked. Her eyes were bright blazing blue.

“Like as not,” Ya’el said. “But first we must find her, and second we must treat with her.”

“Treat with her? Is that what you say? Treat her to your dagger in the gullet!”

“If it were so easy, Gwydion would have done that, and spared you much grief!” Ya’el said. She quoted the holy writings then. “But, let every thing be done with form, and with order.”

“I don’t understand,” Cóem said. “Give me that dagger, if you cannot cut her down yourself because of your own oaths.”

“That I cannot do,” Ya’el said. “The blade is given to me, and to my heir, and no one else.”

“Name me your heir, then!”

“LORD, no!”

Cóem blanched in the face of that invocation, but only a little. She was made of sterner stuff. Ya’el wasn’t surprised. Anybody who could hound one of the ladies of Sheol across the entire Empire for two years wasn’t likely to be intimidated like that.

“No. I would not condemn you to such a fate, maiden Cóem,” Ya’el said. “Let us make a deal. Set aside aurichalcum. This is the only such blade to be found between the river and the sea. But there are some within the walls of Jerusalem that might slice through this Gordian knot of ours. If none of them can offer a worthy solution, I will pass my blade to you. What do you say to that?”

“I say – yes.”

Ya’el nodded, but her blood ran cold. Holy LORD, save her from my burden. Let me find a better way.

* * *

Morning came all too soon, and Ya’el prepared a modest breakfast for her guest. She was no great cook, and for her part, ate only enough to keep herself on her feet. Her Adamic gifts sustained her more than bread and water. But Cóem showed no disappointment, and indeed seemed glad to have such meager fare. How poorly she must have eaten in her journey from Hibernia to Judea!

“Is this city always so crowded?” the girl asked Ya’el as they set out. “It feels like half the world has come here!”

“No, not always. It is nearly Pesach – Passover.”

“And what is that?” Cóem asked.

“One of the holy days of my people. We remember our slavery in Egypt, and how the LORD delivered us through Moses the prophet.”

Cóem looked down at the table before her, then up at Ya’el. “Your people do not seem to be delivered.”

Ya’el bristled and then exhaled. “We are fettered in this life, but One greater than Moses has set us free in the world to come.”

“What is that? There is only one world... isn’t there?”

“There is this world in which we walk, but another, more glorious world will come in which all the broken things will be made right.”

Cóem shook her head. “You speak strangely.”

“It may sound strange, but it is true, I tell you.”

“Perhaps, but that is not my business,” Cóem said. “I am here to avenge my kin.”

“I will do what I can to see justice done. But what will you do if we succeed?”

“I will go home and make a living as a bard in one court or another.”

“You could do better than that,” Ya’el said.

“What is wrong with being a bard? You know nothing of our ways.”

“How many other Hibernians have been afflicted by the night people? By creatures like your Ethniu? Perhaps you can come to their aid. You have many gifts.”

First Cóem said “Perhaps.” Then she said “Let us be on our way.”

“Yes, let it be so,” Ya’el said. Again she prayed Holy LORD, save her from my burden. Let me find a better way.

* * *

The ones who Ya’el must trusted for guidance in such esoteric matters, Yaron ben Shimon and Victoria of Alexandria, could not be consulted. Yaron was a priest of the Sanhedrin, and with Passover nigh at hand, he was far too busy. And even if it was a quiet time of year, it was still dangerous for a priest to be seen in the company of a Nazarene. Ya’el almost smiled at how Yaron’s wife, Zillah of Tiberias, would react if she appeared to demand an audience with him. As for Victoria, she had gone home to her city to see an ailing aunt into the next world. But fortunately, Ya’el had one last learned friend.

Their destination was in the darkest depths of the sprawling Lower City. There was a certain archway at the mouth of a certain alley, and at the end of it, a young Arab boy sat by a darkened doorway. He looked at Cóem for a moment, then turned to Ya’el and held out his hand.

Ya’el tugged a coin out of a leather pouch hidden in her garments and dropped it onto his palm. As always, she took care that her flesh did not touch his. The boy didn’t blink and rarely breathed.

“Go, then,” the boy said before turning away to stare at nothing in particular.

“How is it you speak Irish?” Cóem asked.

Irish? Ya’el wondered. She heard Aramaic.

The boy only smiled.

“Pay it no mind,” Ya’el said before stepping through the doorway into a cool, dark room. The oil lamp hanging from the ceiling gave off a dim, greasy sort of light. The door faced west, and it was well past noon, but no light fell on Ya’el or Cóem from behind.

That didn’t surprise Ya’el. She was in the house of Abd al-Aad, and things were different here.

Abd al-Aad had been living in Jerusalem as long as Ya’el had been the Champion of Gaderel, and that was a long time – far longer than threescore years and ten. For another thing, she had her doubts he actually was an Arab, as he claimed. And if that was the case, what else was he lying about? And what was he, really?
Ya’el looked around the shadowy room. As always, it was full of clutter and trinkets. Those who had eyes to see would spot stranger things, too. Skulls of various sizes and sorts. There on the wall to her left, the striped hide of some beast Ya’el could not name. Scrolls, so many scrolls. And more than a few bottles and lamps, some wood, some clay and some brass, all bound with wax or cork or other things. All of them rattled noisily as those that were sealed within reacted to Ya’el’s presence. This was nothing new. The things sealed within them knew Ya’el, and feared her. She knew them, but did not fear them.

“Master Abd, where are you hiding?” Ya’el called out.

“Here I am,” came an answer. The language was Arabic, an archaic form, and the voice was a sepulchral whisper. The speaker emerged from an impossibly small bit of shadow. Abd al-Aad was a small man, old, rheumy-eyed and perpetually stooped over. He made a complicated gesture of greeting with his withered right hand. “Lady Ya’el. Why is it you have come to me?”

“I need your wisdom.”

“Of course you do.” Abd al-Aad smiled and somewhere in the city, a dove died at that very moment. “Three answers were promised in payment of the debt. Two were given. Will this be the third?”

“Wait, what is this?” Cóem asked.

“Once your friend did me a great favor, and I promised three answers in... gratitude.” He smiled again, and a dog went blind just outside the Temple.

“Is this worth the price?” the Hibernian whispered, doubt in her eyes. This was not a man, but a Fomóir, a demon that looked like a man. She knew little of the Nazarene religion – there were only a few of them in Ériu, mainly in the eastern ports that saw Roman merchants come and go from their territory in Breatain.

Ya’el nodded firmly. “Yes, it is.” She turned to Abd. “And yes, it will.”

Abd smiled yet again, and not so far away, an old leper went down to his eternal rest. “Then ask your question.”

Ya’el was silent for a moment. She remembered the last time she had asked Abd a question, and how carelessly she had phrased it. “The Hibernian seeks vengeance upon a matriarch of Limbus. I support her cause. Where in Judea a weapon can be found to slay a matriarch of Limbus, and what price must I pay to take hold of it?”

“Ah, ah, ah, Ya’el. That was two questions,” Abd said. “But you remind me of women I don’t remember, so I will answer the second question. The price is your soul given to you by your LORD.”


“Yes, that is my name. Say it again, or a hundred times, and nothing will change. The debt is paid and I owe you nothing, Nazarene.”

“You filthy cheat!” Cóem snarled. She swung her hazel staff at Abd, but Ya’el caught it before it struck the old Arab.

“Let it be,” Ya’el said.

Cóem’s eyes blazed with wrath.

“Let. It. Be.”

“By Brigid, you’re a strange one,” the Hibernian hissed. “But it’s your business, if you insist. Now what do we do? I’ll not have you sell your soul on my behalf.”

“My soul doesn’t belong to you, or to me. But be silent and let me... think...” Ya’el stopped short as she left Abd’s shop.

The boy from before was gone. In his place was a girl of the same age. She was dressed in ragged garb, had no shoes, and her face and hands were coated with dirt.
“Good day,” Ya’el said. She drew a coin from her bag but the girl shook her head and held up a hand.

She wagged a scrawny brown finger at Ya’el. “Why is it you have come here?”

Ya’el froze. “What did you say?”

“Why do you seek answers in the serpent’s hovel? Is this how you would spend this day of all days?”

Ya’el’s blood ran cold. She reached out with her Adamic senses and – saw nothing.

The girl smiled at her. “Go now. I need not tell you where.”

* * *

There was no one at the tomb, which didn’t entirely surprise Ya’el. Nazarenes came here sometimes, as she did, but cautiously. And after the encounter with the girl, she expected the hillside to be free of pilgrims. Even so, it felt like there were many people present.

Ya’el sighed, remembering a day on a hill off the shores of the Sea of Galilee, when He had laid forth His new teaching to a great multitude. But she had felt joy and hope on that day, and felt only guilt and worry now.

“Ah, look at you frown,” Cóem said. “It’s me that’s got the deadly business ahead of her.”

Ya’el looked down at her. “If it comes to that, you won’t fight alone.”

Cóem looked up at her. “You’d do that?”

“It is my sworn duty.”

“You’re not like the Nazarenes I’ve heard of,” the girl said as she looked around.

“No, I’m not,” Ya’el said after a moment.

“I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

Ya’el pursed her lips. She’d been trying to answer that question for decades. Instead of answering, she looked at the tomb. He would have known the answer. And as it had for years, it felt like the answer was just out of reach.

Before she could spend more time considering it, though, Cóem reached out and laid hand on the weathered stone. This time she didn’t start, but tears welled up in her eyes.

“What do you hear?” Ya’el softly asked after several minutes.

“Not words... just a feeling,” Cóem said. “A message all the same.”

Ya’el looked at her in silent question.

“My fire will burn us both,” the bard whispered. She clenched her fists. “Your god counsels me to forsake my right, and my kin.”

“Ethniu acted within her right, as she saw it.”

Cóem’s rage resurfaced. “You compare the deeds?”

“No. I ask you only to consider the cost to yourself, child,” Ya’el said. “That, I think, is His message.”

“I have my own gods, and they have different messages!”

Your gods are lies, or worse, liars, child, Ya’el thought, not without some pity. When would the day come when the LORD was again known by all people? “Different, yes, and dangerous. You live only because it pleased Ethniu.” Ya’el tensed. “She comes,” she said to Cóem, but some bardic skill had already warned the girl, and she had a Roman blade in hand, a sharp and sturdy replacement for the one she’d broken against Ethniu’s skin.

The woman was just as she appeared in Cóem’s word-vision – tall, beautiful and proud. She was wearing black robes instead of black armor, and there was no sword at her side. If Ethniu was surprised to see a Champion, she gave no sign, just nodded at Ya’el.

“Ya’el of Gaderel.”

“Ethniu of Sheol.”

“And Cóem of Dáirine,” Ethniu said to the girl. “You’ve hounded me a long way.”

“Bare your throat to the hound and the chase will be done.”

“I recall you tried to cut my throat not long ago. How went that for you?”

Ya’el ignored their words and stared intently at Ethniu. The woman was sweating, just a little. Two hundred years in Gaderel’s service and Ya’el had never seen such a thing. “Be silent, both of you. This is a holy place.”

Cóem bit down on her lower lip, brutally so, but it stilled her tongue.

Ethniu simply stood there in silence. Bemused... but sweating still. And there was a hint of tension around her eyes, too.

Ya’el was sure now. She felt the power of this place. How could she not? But would it be enough? Ya’el had the beginning of an idea, and it was Cóem who had shown her the way. “Already you have tried violence, Cóem of Dáirine,” she said to the young bard. “It will not avail you.”

“What, then? I must have justice!”

“You will have it,” Ya’el told her. She turned to Ethniu. “If you will heed my words. You are an outlander, and I am steward of Gaderel’s domain.”

“You are...” Ethniu said. The tension on her face increased, as Ya’el had hoped.

“More than that, I am a disciple of the Great Teacher. You are doubly fettered by my words, here especially.”

Ethniu would have spoken but Ya’el swiftly raised her right hand and said “Be silent! This is my hour. I shall say how it will be.”

Cóem’s eyes and even her tattoos blazed with wrath, but she held her words. Even so, Ya’el felt her thoughts and her rage. If this goes poorly, you too will suffer.

No doubt, but have patience, if not faith.

As you say... for now.

That settled, Ya’el turned her attention back to the lady of Sheol. “Lay your hand upon the stone, kin of my king,” she said to Ethniu.


“Lay your hand upon the stone.” Ya’el pointed at the door-stone of the empty tomb.

The servant of the owl hesitated.

Cóem laughed in mockery of the ancient one, and that was enough. Ethniu thrust her hand out and laid it, fingers spread, against the warm stone. Then she wailed and jerked her hand back. There had been a flash of light at the same time.

“Ai!” Ethniu shrieked and rent her ebon robes. “I heard the voices of my faithful kin, mourning and rejoicing all at once... What is this?” she hissed, even as her salty sweat turned to blood. “What is this?”

“This is the empty tomb of the Great Teacher,” Ya’el said. “Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the LORD. The Messiah who was promised, and more besides.” It was she who was speaking, and yet another who spoke through her at the same time. It was not the first time this had happened to Ya’el, but never like this. The cold weight of Gaderel’s wrath had been replaced by the warmth of Another’s justice. She wept, just as Ethniu was.

Ethniu sank to her knees and covered her eyes with scalded, scarred hands. Cóem watched in silence, her expression troubled and awestruck alike.

Ya’el spoke in a voice like thunder. “Hear me well, Ethniu. There is a woman of Bethany, the same village where I was born, who is named Martha. She follows the Great Teacher, as I do, and went away to Gaul many years ago to spread His good news. I have heard strange tales from that country lately, tales of a mighty serpent tormenting the folk. Go you there, Ethniu, and lend Martha of Bethany your aid, and heed what she teaches you. Would that satisfy you, Cóem?”

“She could slay a hundred dragons and I would still not be repaid,” the bard said. Then she sighed, the fire fading from her eyes – a little. “But if you stay on the true road, then maybe one day you will make amends for all you have done.”

Ethniu was silent, but the tears in her eyes were genuine enough. For once, Ya’el’s Adamic gifts could penetrate the power of Sheol and see the grief and regret in her heart.

“Go,” Ya’el said in a commanding voice, her spirit blazing for those with eyes to see.

“I’ll go with her,” Cóem said.

“You will?”

“I don’t want to spend another second with her, but I need to see that she does what she said.”

Ya’el nodded. “Good luck to you.” She raised her right hand, which was clenched tight around a scrap of pine wood fixed to a leather cord, in a gesture of blessing and farewell.

And so they went, two pilgrims of a sort.


Six months later, word came to Ya’el from her sister-in-arms Deuognata of Gaul. All was done as vowed, and afterwards, Ethniu had taken ship all alone and set sail into the north, beyond Hibernia, beyond Thule, away, away, away into lands beyond knowledge of all mortals. But Cóem turned south and made her way to the learned city of Alexandria, and there, as far as Ya’el knew, she ended her days, either in the heat of battle when Marqos was the eldest Nazarene there, or in the peace of advanced age during the days of Justus.