by David Butler
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The sheepskin-clothed mortal fell back against the rocks in fear as the magnificent, glowing creature appeared on the island before him. He had seen great eagles before, and his father had told him of the fearsome lions of the East. But who had ever seen them combined as one? He rubbed his eyes, wondering if he had drunk too much ddhridhi that morning. But somehow the creature looked familiar.
It fastened its glowing eyes upon him and spoke. Strangely, although it did not seem to open its beak, the man knew that the creature was speaking to him.
“Hail, Madog ap Morgain, Chieftain of the seaward clan. Fear not! Put aside your nets, for I come to bring you great tidings of great joy.”
“Borannan dealch!” whispered the man, wide-eyed and trembling. “It is surely one of the sea-gods!”
This seemed to irritate the amazing creature before him. A rumble came from deep in its lion-like chest. It raised its golden wings shook its neck feathers and glided to a closer set of tide-washed rocks.
“No! There are no true gods but the One! I am merely His servant, Zayad-Kanaph, the Winged Hunter – or so I have been named by my comrades-in-arms. But of names I have been given many by you mortals that wear true flesh. I am also called the Gryphon, the Karifanha, and other names. But I am not come to boast of them, nor do I desire worship. Rather I am come to tell you the news that the pilgrims of Iona have striven to tell you. Hope has come to mortal human kind. Elohim the One has become flesh in your likeness ……”
He was interrupted by a deafening screech. A huge dark shadow swooped over them both, knocking the unfortunate fisherman to the ground, and unsettling the Winged Hunter, who rose in the air in wrath and frustration.
“Hoyeb-Doah, the accursed! Begone, or my talons will tear you asunder!”
The newcomer was a horrifying creature in similar form to Zayad, but with the head of a large vulture and the body of a black, almost dragon-like creature of the great cat family. It wheeled back toward the man shrieking.
“He lies! He lies! He is a sea-god who would try to deceive and reign over you!”
Zayad flew at him with claws and talons bared, crying:
“You are the deceiver! Begone, black foe, and torment him no longer!”
But the cunning black creature took advantage of his enemy’s red rage, weaving and dodging before his assault, leading him away from the terrified man.
Suddenly he swung around unexpectedly and flew at the Hunter, sending him into an earthward spin. Taking advantage of this, he roared back toward the human who fell down at his approach, hiding his face. Hoyeb-Doah threw his head back and laughed mockingly.
“Yes! Bow before us, mortal worm! We demand to see blood! We demand sacrifice – human sacrifice - or you and your brood will all die! Heed not the golden god’s fair words. He will demand the same in the end. Beware of us all! Flee before us and tremble!”
The man had no need for further encouragement. He went for his life, with a terrible message to impart to the village folk and to his children’s children.
Zayad had meanwhile recovered from his tumble into the bowels of the earth. Like all spirits, the substance of the physical earth was no bar to his progress. Gathering himself, he judged approximately where poor Madog would be, and flew desperately back to the surface of the earth, anxious for the man’s safety.
He erupted into the air just as his enemy gleefully swooped down on the half-demented man, staggering and stumbling to get away. Without checking his momentum, Zarad caught the dark spirit squarely in his slimy chest, cutting him off in mid swoop. Shrieking with pain, fear and rage, the black one tore himself away and fled toward the cliffs, bleeding.
But the blood of spirits does not contain life as does that of mortal men. They are filled with the power of the passion that drives them. Hence Zayad the Hunter was almost overwhelmed by the stench of black malice, bitter hatred and overweening pride, causing him to retch and falter in his pursuit.
Seeing this, his enemy ducked in and out of the cliff-face and laughed mockingly, although he also gasped with pain.
“Ha! Fool! ……. I am victorious! The seaward clan is now …….. fortified against your precious gospel.”
He dived into the cliff as the Hunter sprang at him, then peeped out behind some rocks further up, sneering.
“We were once brethren, you and I. Do you no longer call me brother? No loss to me that you have chosen to be a slave rather than a god. Fool! You should have joined the Great Rebellion and tasted freedom. Freedom, brother Zayad! Now you are sent forever to wait on these pitiful, weak mortals. You could have ruled over them as we do. You have lost your power of choice – forever! May you have joy of your everlasting servitude!”
Zayad leapt from the rock face. He paused, hovering, the bristles on his back standing up, his tail twitching, ready for another swoop.
“Do not weary my ears again with the lies of your petty lord, the Father of Lies, Hoyeb-Doah! Never have I regretted my choice! I love these mortals, sinful though they be!”
Doah leapt up and sat on the cliff-top, shrieking with scornful laughter.
“Love? Love! The greatest of follies! You are as weak and pitiful as a human babe, Zayad the Hunter, the Strong! My master will defeat you time and again. He is the strong one. He will not succumb to such puking self-sacrifice as do you grovelling spirits, or the One you serve.”
He ducked down into the rocks again as the other darted at him. His head appeared above the rock pools at the base of the cliff, his head turned up in teasing mockery. He relished the game of baiting his enemy. But Zayad had mastered the worst of his wrath this time. He calmly spread his wings and glided down the cliff, remembering the strategy that his captain had taught him: wielding the Sword of Truth.
“Do you call it strength to be forever cast out of the light of Eternity? I serve an infinitely stronger and worthier Master than the tyrant of tyrants you serve. A fool you call me? You were a creature fair to see once. Look upon your image in yon rock-pools if you dare. Behold the once great brother-hunter! Do you not know the prophecies? Have you not heard what awaits you at the end of the age of the Kingdom? Have you forgotten your great defeat at the Cross?”
A terrible rock-splitting scream broke from the beak of the vulture’s head and he disappeared within the rocks to hide his fear and humiliation.
“Lies! I will not listen to your lies! The lord Satanas will rule the world of men – even in your teeth! I am a god! They shall bow down and worship Me…….!”
His harsh voice trailed away into the distance of the otherworld. He had gone for a season.
The Hunter turned his attention to the plight of the poor fisherman. Hiding his visibility this time, he sped off in the direction he last saw him, locating him as he stumbled into his own humble dwelling and collapsed into his wife’s arms.
The poor man gasped and groaned, ignoring the hooded guests who sat silent but concerned on the other side of the fire.
“Sacrifice!” he gasped, struggling for breath and for sanity. “They demand …. human sacrifice …. once again!”
His wife whimpered. “They …. have returned?”
He nodded weakly, and muttered “Two of them!”
She wept aloud. This was not new to her people.
The Hunter however, peeped through the thatching of the little hut, and sensed who the visitors were. He also saw a tall third visitor standing behind them, visible to only his eyes. The warrior-seraph, looked up at him and raised his hand in a salute. Another stood guard with sword drawn not far from the door of the hut.
Silently acknowledging the greeting, Zayad heaved a sigh of relief and withdrew.
The damage had been done, but at least the clan was in safe hands for the moment. Meanwhile, it was imperative to report in full to his captain.
Flapping and folding his wings, he soared up through the endless dark of the physical heavens into the endless light of eternity. But then he suddenly found himself transported out of his destination into the Hall of Judgement. He had been summoned to stand before El Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts Himself, in the presence of all the attendant host.
Angelic beings know of only one real fear: the displeasure of the One they serve. Not from fear of punishment, for the elect spirits were beyond that.
Zayad-Kanaph, the mighty Winged Hunter lay prostrate and trembling before the blazing glory of the Captain of Captains, wondering how he would report his failure, yet knowing that He already knew it all.
“Arise and speak, noble Zayad-Kanaph.”
The voice spoke gently, directly to his heart, although its underlying power caused small tremors throughout the hall. The voice was gentle, and full of understanding, giving him such honour that many earthly kings would covet. The Hunter felt confidence stirring in him again. He stood to his feet and folded his wings, but with head bowed. Even to angelic eyes, the brightness of His countenance was more than he could stand for long.
He reported his doings hesitantly, prompted by that silent voice to explain the reasoning and motivation behind his decisions. There was a murmur of dismay from the attendant beings as he unfolded his tale before them.
This made him realize the impetuosity of his actions as he spoke, and he hung his head in shame. But no words of condemnation came from the throne before him.
“Fear not. You have not sinned, my young hunter, for you were beyond that when you made your eternal choice to serve Me – even in the teeth of the Tempter. But errors of judgement you shall make until I have fully fashioned you to my will. What you have yet to learn is that the Great Commission of the Gospel is given to the Redeemed – frail and weak though they seem. Human-kind will listen more to the message of redeemed human-kind, if they walk worthy of their calling. Redemtion is still as much a mystery to angel-kind as is the grace and miracle of giving birth.”
Zarad silently acknowledged the truth of this, and rebuked himself for his misguided zeal. But then he sensed the empathy from the attendants for his feelings, both from the redeemed and angel-kind alike, and was comforted. Not all words need necessarily be spoken in the portals of heaven, for all hearts can be read as through clear glass.
At the mention of the word “Redemption”, a stirring and humming began amongst the redeemed saints in that great hall. It rose and rose to a glorious crescendo as a song full of beauty, passion and praise. It was the eternal Song of the Redeemed. The angelic beings listened spellbound, although they were unable to join in.
How could anyone refrain from proclaiming such glorious news, in the light of eternal values? But the angels had to acknowledged the wisdom of the commission being given to mortal men.
“Your actions were unwise and precipitous.” said the great Voice, in gentle admonition. “My servants from the Isle of Iona are sent by my servant, the apostle Columba Colmkille, to fulfil that mission. Your foe was vigilant and sensed your presence when you revealed yourself to poor Madog ap Morgain. Doah’s cunning barbs may distract the fearful souls of the Seaward clan from hearing the words of my messengers.”
Zarad wept in repentance for his folly. He would never be a hunter again, he was sure. He waited for more words of reproof.
“Nevertheless, even your errors shall be turned for good and for My eternal purposes. Your actions, unwise though they seemed, distracted the enemy from interfering with the seed sown in the heart of Madog’s wife by my handmaid, Maireagh MacCrinnheonn.”
Spontaneous cries of amazement and praise broke forth from the attendant host. That gentle lady’s humble but powerful exploits were renowned throughout the heavens, and the foundations of Hell shook when she prayed.
Zayad lifted his head in gladness and relief.
“Then command me, Lord! How may I amend my folly?”
But rather than the awesome human form of the King of Kings, to his amazement, he saw before him the familiar form of Lebaoth-Zahab, the golden lion, his immediate superior. He was reclining, cat-like yet alert on a low pedestal where the throne once stood. He glowed more brightly than ever Zayad had seen Him before, when they hunted the enemy together across the face of the earth. He gasped, overcome by the realisation of the privilege he had experienced unawares.
“My captain? My Lord God of Sabaoth …. also my captain! How endless are Your wonders! Do You humble Yourself even to the form of the Cherubim such as I? Even as the earthly beasts? My eyes have deceived me all this time.”
El Lebaoth rose, shook His mane and stretched His back in typical leonoid fashion, shedding His glory, fading to the subtle but drab shades of the earthly king of beasts.
“Remember, I have been born from the womb as a human babe, my son, and I rejoice in my humanity. But for now, I am your fellow-hunter once again. Your training is incomplete. Come! Let us hunt the enemy together once more.”
They left the Hall of Judgement together amidst the acclaim and rejoicing of the host. Then, with a roar of command from the mouth of El Labaoth, they sprang through the barriers of eternity into the dark, fallen world of men.
“Leave us! Go! Do not return! Leave us in peace!” shouted Madog ap Morgain in anger at the visitors. “Your coming has done nothing but to stir up the jealousy of the sea-gods! Now we must find a victim to appease their wrath!”
He curled up in a corner of his hut, his head in his hands in anguish. The two missionaries rose silently, preparing to leave, but Madog’s wife restrained them with a raised hand, looking anxiously at her tormented husband.
“I am thrice cursed!” he groaned. “The gods are stalking me to my death. First it was the Saeksen raiders, then the pirates of Eirrinn who stole my son – my little boy …… before my eyes. Now this! I had thought surely the gifts of food would appease them… The best .. the choicest we laid upon the altar…”
His wife tried to explain the situation to the dismayed visitors as best as she could through her own distress. The younger pilgrim, Briton-born, interpreted anxiously to the older woman. Mother Maireagh, as they called her, looked deeply concerned, but she kept her customary gentle calm as she listened.
Suddenly, Madog sprang to his feet, a fey look in his eye.
“I have born enough! I can bear my ill-fortune, this cursed life … no longer! I will be the sacrifice!”
A shrill scream broke from the lips of his woman, and she ran and clung to him with all her strength.
“NO! I could not bear it! I have lost my child, now must I lose you also?”
He took her head in his trembling hands.
“It is useless to resist the gods, Eilienna my bealiddh. You will find a better man than I when I am gone. You will bear him many sons for the one we have lost.”
“No! No!” she sobbed. “You are the only man I have wanted from my girlhood. Who will lead our clan if you are gone? Is there no other more worthy of death?”
“No, my beloved, that is not how it goes.”
He sat down wearily, exhausted by the terrors and sorrows he had suffered. Looking through the window hole in his dwelling, he could see the waves breaking against the rocks, sending white foam into the air. He sighed as though to say goodbye to the sea and lands he loved. Grey specks were beginning to show in his black hair. He turned back to look at the tear-stained face of the woman he loved and looked away again as he spoke.
“We serve cruel and heartless gods. They demand only the choicest from us. Has not your fathers told you that sacrifice is meaningless unless it is a sacrifice of great worth? If we drag Taffad the drunken one, screaming and weeping to the Caern of Offering … yes … we would be rid of a worthless layabout .. but what would be the sacrifice? The gods would demand more blood. I am a plain man, but I have now become the most skilled fisherman in the clan. I have led our folk ever since both my father and our chieftain fell before the cursed Saeksen invaders ….”
“… And you are destined to be our next lord chieftain!” wept Eilienna.
He shook his head. “Even if it were so…. the greater would my sacrifice be. Think, my bealiddh! I go as a willing sacrifice. Surely that is of greater worth again. Our whole generation may be saved from the displeasure of the gods for many years! Years of peace and prosperity!”
He felt strangely stirred by the direction his logic took him. He felt a foresight come upon him, as it occasionally did to his mother.
“Why, imagine the greatest, noblest king that ever lived. If he gave himself willingly to appease the gods of their wrath for the wrongs of mankind … would he not save the whole world?”
Eilienna suddenly ceased her tears in great astonishment. Hope rose in her heart, from a seed that had been planted earlier that day, before all her hope had died. Releasing the clutch on him, she spun around wide-eyed at her forgotten visitors. The young Briton was whispering to Mother Maireagh, explaining what was happening. The gentle old lady had her eyes closed in prayer.
“The message!” Eilienna ran to them and knelt, turning back with a desperate appeal to her despondent husband. “It is their message indeed. Madog, it is Brother Euannes ap Ffeiliodd and Mother Maireagh MacCrinnheonn, of the monastry of Iona. They tell us..”
But she reckoned without the stubbornness of her big husband. He looked at the visitors askance, his eyes narrowing in rising wrath.
“MacCrinnheonn? A woman from the dark land of Eirinn – of the pirates that stole my flesh and blood from me to be sold as a slave?”
“No, but listen to them, Madog! They speak of a god who became a man to die for the wrongs of the whole world – as you said! Madog! I plead with you!”
Madog strode to the door with tears of anger and anguish in his eyes. Prejudice and the bitterness of the past still rode him hard.
“I will not listen to a daughter of pirates and slavers, no matter how fair her words be! I have had my fill of foreign gods – enough to make me puke! They will all demand sacrifice in the end, as the black one said. I have had my fill of this burdensome life!”
He paused as she caught up to him, crying out his name. He embraced her for what may be the last time.
“You are the only one that has made my life bearable. I have made your life unbearable by my curst fortunes. I give you now to a happier man, whoever he may be. I look for nothing but rest and peace – that I may forget my sorrows. An eternal sleep in the eternal night. I will announce to the village men that I and Gorhiandh the druid shall go to the Caern this very night!”
She collapsed into the sand, sobbing with despair, as he stalked away into the gathering dusk.
There was a rattle of bat-like wings as the horrible dark creature landed upon the Caern. It was Hoyeb-Doah himself, revealing his presence at last. The Hunter, hidden from sight as he had been instructed, felt his patient watch had been rewarded. Had his enemy’s pride betrayed him or was it blood-lust? Perhaps both.
The Hunter knew that he must seize this opportunity without betraying his presence prematurely. He disciplined himself to suppress his darkest thoughts of hatred, lest he betray his presence again. Nevertheless, he could not help his claws digging into the earth in wrath as he watched his enemy gloating over the imminent sacrifice.
“O El Lebaoth, my Captain,” he prayed silently, “Grant me the skill to outwit the cunning of my adversary. I acknowledge the folly of my ways in the last skirmishes. I now await Your guidance.”
“Patience!” came the voice within his heart. “Restrain your zeal and righteous wrath until the given moment. A cub and a fledgling you are no longer. I send you a hidden regiment of the warrior-Cherubim and Seraphim, for there are foes you do not see. Watch your foe’s movements diligently and await My command.”
He relaxed his claws, shook the feathers of his wings and took up the crouching position within the thicket as he had been shown. El Lebaoth, the Lion, had the situation well in hand. Had he not trained him Himself?
“We have searched even to the horizons, Doah-Rosh, my captain,” rumbled the large demon-goblin, “but there is no trace of the enemy – Zarad the accursed the least of all.”
“This is strange news indeed!” croaked the vulture’s head, looking around him suspiciously in the dark. “It is not his wont to let this merry moment pass without some interference. Have you set your sentries?”
“Double them! Keep them well concealed.”
“Do we not then see the final blow nor drink of the blood?”
“No! Do you wish for the enemy to come down upon your necks unawares? Do as you are bid!”
The huge goblin went off grumbling to himself, in the manner of a thirsty soldier banned from the spoils of war by his commanding officer.
Doah himself chuckled gleefully. He couldn’t help salivating and stretching his wings in pleasurable anticipation. There were few times these days that he could indulge in a bloodfest. With the dangerous advance of the Gospel, he had been kept too busy. Now, for once, the enemy was completely absent. He couldn’t even sense their hatred – a sure sign of their presence. Even the new guardian-seraphim were confined to the village to watch over their charges.
Doah spread his wings and flew to the Caern as he saw two grim-looking men approaching, carrying their blazing torches and a large, ugly knife. He had not believe it at first, when he heard that it was to be a willing victim – even Madog himself.
A noble sacrifice? Would the gods be appeased? Doah threw back his ugly head and laughed out loud. What gullible, superstitious fools these mortal creatures were! He could smell the fear in the man. It was intoxicating. He could hear the gurglings and cackling from his hidden sentries, also sensing the moment drawing near. They were slackening their vigilance, but Doah was past caring. No-one could stop these events from coming to pass, thanks to his cunning and Zared’s folly. The power, the strength and the honour he would gain in the eyes of the lords of the dark kingdom when he had drunk of the man’s life-blood. He might even have the privilege of dragging the man’s soul into the Pit. He was beside himself.
What was that?
A tiny pin-prick of heat pierced his complacency for a brief moment. It had come from the thicket nearby. But that had been checked time and again by his warriors. He flew over and checked it himself.
He must have imagined it in his intoxication.
Hastening back to his perch on top of the Caern, he was just in time to hear the victim and the druid-priest invoking all the gods they could think of to witness their sacrifice and be appeased.
Madog lay down on the altar at the foot of the great Caern, still calling on the gods, but in great anguish and fear. Not wasting any time, the druid raised the knife. The chuckling and cackling of the demon audience rose to a crescendo.
Then it all happened so quickly.
Instead of hearing the explosion of a man’s life-force being released into the heavenly realm, Doah felt a strong pair of talons seizing his throat and beak. Huge paws grasped his hind quarters in a wrestling hold so strong, he could not move. He sent out a desperate mental command for his followers to rally, but no answer came. His bloodshot eyes searched past his captor, looking for the goblin hordes to come rushing to his rescue – but in vain. Everywhere he looked, his troops were fleeing or being cut to pieces by glowing heavenly warriors that appeared out of nowhere. Seraphim and Cherubim in all shapes and sizes. In one well-timed moment, the trap had been sprung.
A familiar and hated voice buzzed in his ear.
“Hail Hoyeb-Doah, the cunning, the slippery one! Do you wish to witness the sacrifice? You shall do so, but without the power to change the unfolding events. It is commanded that you witness your own undoing. Watch well, and learn.”
Doah struggled in vain, but he had forgotten the great strength of his erstwhile brother-hunter. The hunter had leapt out from within the Caern at that crucial, unguarded moment. In fear and impotent fury, Doah turned his attention to the altar as he was bid.
“Strike, fool!” cried Madog. “Have you not done this a-many times? Strike me before I change my mind, and all is lost! Do not torment me like this!”
Gorhiandh still had the knife raised, gritting his teeth and trembling.
Suddenly, he withdrew his knife and turned away, dismayed.
“I … I have lost the strength to do it! The gods have deserted me! Their power is gone! What is happening in the Otherworld?”
“Are you weakened with fear of a sudden, Goriandh ap Carogain, druid-priest? Very well. If you will not, I shall!”
Madog seized the knife and stepped back to the altar, still driven by his stark convictions.
“Hold! Stay that accursed knife!”
A number of villagers were approaching, running hard with many blazing torches. Two grizzled fisherman stood before them, arms folded.
“We will not accept your sacrifice, Madog ap Morgain, chieftain of the Seaward clan.”
A few young men ran and grabbed the knife from him and threw it aside. Eilienna ran up and hugged him convulsively. Madog sat down on the altar with her, relief and frustration fighting for supremacy. He lifted his pain-filled face to his two main counsellors.
“But Hew, Ifor, why do you continue this vain debate? Did you not agree that this was the only way to appease the gods? Chieftain, you call me? No! Call me rather the curse of our clan. Bad fortune follows me wherever I go. Do you wish for my curse to come upon you all? I shall be the Green Man as of old, but the wine and women I will forgo.”
His henchmen did not appear to yield, so he put his wife aside and faced up to them angrily.
Very well! Which of you would take my place, then? It is the only way, I tell you!”
“We believe these fables no longer,” said Ifor steadily, “thanks to your good woman and the blessed messengers that have come amongst us.”
“What? Have you also been bewitched by these Irish fables? Why do you think they are true?”
Goriandh the druid stepped forward in righteous wrath.
“So! I should have guessed it. The Irish witch has brought her own gods to overpower our own! Did I not warn you of them? They will demand a greater price from us, even as the Saeksens demand tribute. Cast them away from our midst, lord Chieftain! Your sacrifice must be made!”
An unfamiliar voice came from the back of the crowd.
“There is one who has already taken your place as willing sacrifice, lord Chieftain!”
The villagers parted to let the speaker through. It was Brother Euannes, the youngest of the two missionaries – barely out of his teens. He spake the Cymric tongue fairly, with only the slightest of accents. He was obviously a Briton who had seen the harder side of life. There was something likeable and honest about the boy that disarmed Madog’s anger. He was a fine-looking lad with dark hair, and a cast of countenance that looked vaguely familiar.
“Listen to him, my love!” pleaded his wife in his ear. Madog looked keenly at the young man.
“What is your meaning, lad? And why do you follow these foreign gods? Have you not tasted sorrow and pain enough, as have I? They will take all you have and give naught in return. They are all the same.”
“Not the One Whom I serve, lord Chieftain. Yes, and I have tasted such pain and sorrow. They say you have lost your son to the Irish pirates. I also have suffered at their hands. I was their captor for many years in my youth. I know not even who my mother and father was. I thought, as you, that I was merely a plaything of the gods. Bitter servitude to evil men was my lot. I prayed for death, if not deliverance.”
Madog felt ashamed. The young man who seemed older than his years, had suffered more than he did.
“Say on.” he said, forgetting life and death issues momentarily intrigued by the young man’s tale.
The young man gazed toward the sea, reliving his years as he spoke.
“I was rescued by an Irish monk from the blessed Isle of Iona, at the peril of his life. Not all Irishmen are evil. It was a miracle! For he came on board the ship as though the sailors saw him not. He took my hand and led me on shore, and none stayed us!”
Gasps of wonder came from his audience, although most had heard the story earlier.
“The good monk fed and cared for me, then took me back to my homeland. I was too young to remember from whence I came, so he gave me into the hands of kindly folk, Ffeiliodd ap Rhyndwal and his wife, who took me as their own son. The holy monk left with a blessing, and I asked my new mother who he was. She said his name was the blessed Columba Colmkille, Abbott of Iona. I never forgot him and what he did. My adopted mother and father loved me dearly and instructed me in the ways of the Lord Christ, Iesu, Son of the One true God and Our Heavenly Father. It is He Whom I serve. I felt the call to join the holy fellowship of Iona, from whence my first deliverance came, and learn much more of my Saviour and my God. It is He Who became the sacrifice to save the world of men from themselves.”
He raised his earnest young eyes and looked squarely into Madog’s.
“He died in your place and mine, lord Madog, but arose again victorious, for he is stronger than death itself. Justice is appeased. Love has triumphed. You need sacrifice no more.”
Madog struggled with the scepticism that had ruled his mind for so long. He wanted to believe, as he had prophesied himself earlier. But yet it all seemed too good to be true. There was such an honesty in this messenger’s face and manner, and there seemed to be a ring of truth that echoed in his heart. But then again, he had been deceived by the gods before. Doah had placed his darts of doubt too well. He spun around and faced the young messenger.
“Can you then show me the proof? How is your God greater and kinder than all other gods? Tell me that!”
The young man hesitated as though he was conferring silently with an inner voice.
“What would you wish to see to make you believe, lord Chieftain?”
Madog laughed bitterly.
“Let Your God restore my son to us if He can! Then I will not only believe, I will serve Him to the end of my days, as shall all my clan!”
With that, Madog folded his arms challengingly and sat down.
The young man looked daunted. This was clearly a situation beyond his own faith. He was in despair when he felt a frail arm upon his shoulder. It was Mother Maireagh. She whispered something in his ear that made him start. Tears came to his eyes and he faced Madog and his wife once again as though he saw ancient ghosts.
“What said she?” demanded Madog suspiciously.
The young man had trouble speaking through his tears.
“She said ... she said to me: Behold, your father and mother!”
Eilienna gave a cry of joy and would have sprung forward to embrace him had not her husband held her back with his arm.
“Impossible! How can I know this is true, and not another cruel deception of the gods?” But he was clearly shaken by the possibility of seeing his son alive again after twelve years of exile.
The young man pulled his cloak aside.
“Was there not a mark that you had scribed on your son’s chest?”
Madog started, still not daring to believe. “Surely! It was the image of….”
The shirt of the young man’s tunic was pulled apart, and – though faded – it was still clear enough to see. His grandfather, Morgain, had scribed it on his grandson's chest before the invaders had slain him, and before the pirates had taken the boy away.
It was an image of the Golden Gryphon.
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