January 5th, 1177AD
Dún Dá Leathghlas (Downpatrick), Ulster, Hibernia
Orlagh breathed deep of the fragrant smoke, concentrated on her magical brooch, and willed her Vision to begin.
Her chief’s voice broke in. “What do you See?”
“Patience, my chief. It has barely begun. Let me See something first.”
The incense wasn’t necessary for the Vision. They were part of the trappings, along with the wooden cross. It was all an attempt to defend against hostile cries of her magic as something demonic. Still, it helped her concentrate, at least when her chief didn’t interrupt.
The mists parted, and her chief stood on a barren desert, surrounded by nothing. He stood tall and proud, dark blond hair and multi–colored cloak whipping in the wind. She spoke as a new detail appeared. She was always careful to tell exactly what she saw, lest any detail be lost.
“You are standing in an empty field. A crimson river flows past your feet, roiling with bloody chunks.”
He grunted. “Bloody chunks of what? Pig? Cow? Those Ui Neill bastards?”
“How could I possibly tell? Do be silent for once. I see something on the horizon. A great host arrives. Hundreds, no thousands of men. They are well–equipped and carry a banner.”
“What’s on the banner? Describe it for me!”
“It is white, with three scarlet eagles, the same color as the river.”
She relished his silence as he digested that information. Willing herself to See more, she cast out beyond the plane. The soldiers didn’t end, but trailed off into the mists. Ravens swooped but didn’t harry the soldiers. Instead, they attacked her Thigerna, Chief Ruaidrí mac Con Ulad Mac Dunn Sléibhe, known as An Dunn Sléibhe, Chief of the túath, and her distant cousin.
A loud bang shattered her Vision and brought her back to the chief’s rooms in Dún Dá Leathghlas. Someone had slammed open the door and yelled. She shook her head to clear the incense fumes and looked through the smoke to see the intruder.
“My chief! I’d heard, but I didn’t wish to believe! Thank our dear Lord that I arrived in time to save you from this wicked hedge–witch!”
The man was of medium height with a tonsure, neatly dressed in clerical robes. This must be the new Bishop. She’d heard he was on the excitable side.
With a deep sigh, An Dunn Sléibhe said, “Bishop Malachi, your concern is touching. May I introduce Orlagh íngen Gobhann?”
The bishop’s eyes barely flicked in her direction, but he shuffled a few steps away. Confronting this ignorant arse was the last thing she should do at the moment, as much as she’d love to give him a piece of her mind. Who did he think he was, the pope in Rome?
She tried hard not to laugh. Fighting off the incipient headache that always came after a Vision, Orlagh trusted her chief to handle this. Anything she said was likely to add fuel to the zealot’s fire.
An Dunn Sléibhe stared at his bishop. “You’re a stranger here, so I’ll ignore your accusation. She’s kin and my trusted advisor, Bishop Malachi. I trust her with my life.”
“You know the scriptures almost as well as I do. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’.”
Lovely. That’s just what she needed. A self–righteous churchman was always trouble.
An Dunn Sléibhe stood. He was shorter than the bishop, but much broader across the shoulders. “Cack. She’s a Seer and an honored advisor. We share a grandsire, so she’s within my dearbhfhine. For heaven’s sake, if she were male, she could be elected tánaiste and succeed me as An Dunn Sléibhe.”
“That’s as may be, my chief. It’s all very good and honorable to stand by your kin, but the fact remains—the woman is still a pagan hedge–witch.” The bishop paced.
Hedge–witch, indeed. God’s Bones, but her head pounded.
“Scorching and burning upon you! Orlagh is a good church woman, Bishop Malachi. She attends every evening for Mass. She uses a cross in her rituals, for heaven’s sake!”
The bishop looked down at her. “She may act like whatever saint she likes, she’s still a false prophet. God does not sanction prophecy.”
Orlagh had had enough. It was time to speak. “And what of your own predecessor, then?”
The pacing stopped, and he glared at her with burning eyes. “My predecessor?”
“Máel Máedóc predicted all the popes for almost a thousand years to come.”
The bishop gasped. “That’s not prophecy!”
Orlagh stood, crossing her arms. “Then what is it? Poetry? A love song? A bawdy ballad?”
“That’s not… the archbishop refuses to acknowledge such writing exists.”
As if simply wishing something away worked in this world.
An Dunn Sléibhe’s chair scraped against the flagstones as he rose. “Well, regardless of your internal politics, my seer has done well by me these last forty–five years. Her gift is a true blessing from God, according to several other bishops. I shall not dismiss her, nor burn her, nor even chide her for her help over the years. In fact, I believe she’s due a gift for her continued help and support. Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve work to do before the noon meal.”
The new bishop spluttered for several hilarious moments before he stomped out of the room. An Dunn Sléibhe rolled his eyes, and Orlagh chuckled as she gathered her implements. She heard another door slam and glanced out the window to see the bishop leaving the royal hillfort.
The last bishop assigned to Dún Dá Leathghlas had accepted her as a spiritual colleague, and the one before that had studiously ignored her influence with the chief. Orlagh must convince this one she represented no threat to his own power. That’s all most of them cared about. The prior Bishop had been a cut above the rest. He had a talent for prophecy himself, and it nearly got him excommunicated from his church. However, the old man wisely died before the decree could be made, and this new feisty pup now threw his weight around. Well, she refused to be bullied, and he’d best learn that and right quick.
With a nod to An Dunn Sléibhe, she left his rooms and walked down the curved hallway.