To Hold the Lightning

MacNair

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Author's notes: I am NOT to blame for this! This is SO not my fault!

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせ

カせЁЙせカせЁЙせカせЁЙせカせЁЙせカせ互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互

They named me Podpah in the rainy season of my fifth year, when the heavens drowned the world with torrential rains that did not cease day or night. My father placed another layer of the enormous leaves from the gidagda plant on the roof of our hut while my nimucyiye [grandmother] barked directions at him with her shrill voice.

Podpah: the broken one. I was only three when I foolishly played near the river and a half-grown crocodile seized me. It hesitated at the edge of the dark water, with me screaming in its jaws, and my brother Muthali stabbed it through the skull with a spear. The grievous wounds took months to heal and I learned to bear the pain in silence while my nimucyiye [grandmother] picked maggots from the injury and massaged hiondo sap into the openings daily.

Podpah. The broken one. She will never walk again, they said when they saw my torn hip and thigh. Cast her to the God of the River and let him wash her away. But my father said, "No. The God of Lightening has smiled upon her, and she is his.

I don抰 remember any of this, of course.

The pain is gone, as well as the memory of it. And I remember nothing of meeting The God, for I was just a babe and barely looked up at him from my mother抯 naked breast. But they told me he walked through the throng of the dark people celebrating at the temple, looking his moon shaped straw hat shading the sun, his bare feet noiseless in the dirt. He came right to me, where I grunted and nursed, patting a tempo on the other breast with my free hand. He drew close and peered into my face so black and, for a moment, just watched my greedy indulgence.

My mother did not shrink away, for we had no concept of nudity. And he was The God. Nothing is hidden from God. Nothing. He stared, motionless and poised as only a God can and then smiled. My father smiled too, elated. So did my mother and brother, I am told. To have The God smile at you was a blessing to the whole family. We had found favor.

I know, now, the sorrow in that smile that all of them missed.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Connor MacLeod sat on the couch and studied the wall of the rotunda, sweeping his gaze around the circumference of the room and cataloguing each item. He could hear the water running somewhere in the spacious loft. Duncan must be in the shower.

He nursed his coffee and took tiny sips of the hot brew. He would heal if he burnt himself, but why endure the pain simply to get the jolt of caffeine a few moments earlier? The steam wreathed up around his face in the dim lighting.

The morning was barely awake, as was he. Duncan always thought he would be the first one out of bed after a long night of drink and stories and cards, but the elder man always found the means to be up and get the coffee on before the younger Scot tumbled from bed.

It wasn抰 hard, actually. Connor, more reclusive by nature, was more rested than Duncan to begin with. Duncan always came for a visit when he was weary of the constant flow of people through his life, with all their whims and needs and requests. Taking refuge for a few weeks with his clansman refreshed his soul.

Strong brew this morning, the elder Highlander mused. It will rip the hair off Duncan抯 chest or grow some more on it! His eyes landed on a clay pot with its colors faded to a wash in the corner. It was short and fat, squatted on a balance ring with a flared neck that swelled to a perfectly round O at the top.

揂kabindi, Connor said aloud. 揚ot.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I remember going to the temple when I was twelve rains old.

It was a long journey through heavy greenery and sliding serpents, chattering wildlife and calling birds. My brother, Muthali, worked with a long knife and staff beside my father to clear the way. It was muddy and the bugs were incessant, but I paid little heed to those trivial discomforts. I was going to the temple and The God was there. He would see me for the first time since I was a suckling. I was old enough to be offered to him, as was every girl was when we reached the age of our womanhood. I would serve him in the temple, however long he determined that I should, and be purified. And the longer he permitted me to worship him, the more holy I would become. I dreamed of passing many rainy seasons in his presence, though I had been told that seldom did any girl stay past two cycles of the moon.

On the last leg of our journey we halted at my second aunt抯 house to rest. They were not surprised to see my father and brother only surprised to see me. Iba and Ihde, the raucous twins I had not seen since I was two, told me that the dark people had secretly hoped I would fall to some predator before I was required to be given to The God. My brother denied such a thing but I saw the flicker in his gaze and knew it to be truth. I was not that young and foolish.

At that moment, I realized that my family should have been taking me with them every year to worship and leave offerings but because I was lame, I was left home in the care of others. I had always been told that when I came of age, then I would make the trip to the great Temple.

Suddenly, everything became clear. I was Podpah, the broken one. I had been favored by The God as an infant and yet had foolishly damaged the gift of my body before I was offered to him. He would not take me; he would not accept me. I was flawed. And no other man would have me, because I had not been purified first by The God. All the dreams of a young girl that lived in me died.

We continued our journey in the morning and my hitherto excited chatter ceased. I was afraid and silent and found myself hoping for some jungle creature to bound out and end my life. But none came and I struggled on to meet my fate certain to be rejected, and just as certain that my blood would be poured out on the temple steps as an offering unfit for the altar within.

My father lifted me bodily through the steep and rocky parts of the jungle, struggling against creepers and boulders that slid beneath his feet. I was so maimed that I had to have help to walk this great long distance that others could cover in three days.

At the river, we washed until our skin shown ebony and seemed to drink in the sunlight pouring through breaks in the canopy. I ran my hands all over myself to get clean, scrubbing hardest of all at the knotted length of scars that partially circled my left hip and thigh, the deep hollows near my knee where part of my leg had been torn away. It was numb there and I had to work at the twisted skin to get the dirt off. When I saw my reflection in the water, I was surprised anew at the scars that everyone else saw all the time. Gnarled and wrinkled as an old woman抯 hands, they marked my smooth skin like an ugly smear. I had not hated my crippling foot-dragging gait before I was used to it. I was as I had always remembered myself. But today, I hated the marks and my awkward stumbling.

揢mugisha uturuko kumana, [Blessings from God] my father said to me, as always. I often wondered which he meant: the scars from the God of the River or the fact that the God of the Lightning had once smiled at me.

Would he smile now at the mockery of the offering my family brought him, an imperfect girl?

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Duncan was wandering, quiet as a ghost, along the wall of the rotunda. He held his coffee in one hand and grimaced slightly with every sip. 揑 think a spoon would stand up by itself in this brew, he grumbled. He heard the cheerful chuckle of his kinsman and knew the elder Highlander had taken the jest well. He stopped at a painting and sighed. This was truly a work of art and one he had admired for hundreds of years. If Connor was killed and the loft emptied, the furor over this one piece would have every museum breathing down his neck for answers if they caught sight of the name it bore.

Connor had willed all of his estate to him many years ago, certain that Duncan would see to anything Rachel or John needed. His confidence is not misplaced, the younger Scot vowed internally. He stretched and rolled his shoulders stiff from being up too late and suddenly chilled. The thought of Connor dying always rattled him.

There was a story behind every object, every patch of cloth and trinket here in this circling room. While Duncan put everything in boxes and storage, Connor MacLeod put them all out on display in this secret place. It was overwhelming to enter at first until you focused your eyes on each small piece and realized what it was, and how and where it was placed. Duncan had started fifty years ago picking out one object and asking Connor for the story behind it.

揑f you intend to leave all of this to me, then you must tell me what each piece means to you, he had announced on that day long ago.

揔eep what you want and sell the rest, Duncan. Some of it is junk.

Duncan had turned like a cat in place, quick as thought, and was in Connor抯 face. The swiftness had caught the older man by surprise and he had grown still as stone, alert, peering into the dark eyes of his friend.

揑f it was junk, it wouldn抰 be in here arranged so carefully and without a trace of dust, Duncan had breathed the airy words softly. 揈very time we are together here, I want you to tell me about another piece. One by one, every single piece, until I know each of them by sight.

揟hey won抰 mean anything to you. They aren抰 tokens from your life, Connor had admitted quietly. 揂nd some of them are silly.

揂nd you will be dead, Duncan had whispered.

It was the painful truth, laid like a weeping wound between them. Connor had smiled very briefly, kindly, and put his hand on Duncan抯 shoulder. 揂ye. I will finally be at rest. The open wound had changed by his words into something slightly less painful, like a scar, a permanent reminder of loss. The younger man shivered, seeing that bleak image.

揧ou will tell me. Duncan had given it like an order: imperious, forthright, without room for negotiation.

Connor had nodded, his eyes gray-green and understanding. 揧ou choose and I will tell you.

Duncan spun back to the present, to this room and all its artifacts. What shall I choose today? What kind of story will it bring? Seemingly obvious objects on display often had an unexpected and convoluted history swords that were not about fighting and daggers that had never tasted blood. Simple sketches sometimes held so much suffering that Duncan staggered under the enormity of their symbolism and the retelling of their story left Connor trembling and sometimes sobbing. The dark immortal shivered all over and a scalding drop of coffee hit his hand and righted his focus.

揥hat is this, Conchobhar?

揑t helps if you tell me what you抮e looking at, Duncan, the other man replied.

揟his round pot over here in the corner almost behind this stand. It looks like clay and the colors are all washed out.

揟hat? It抯 just an old pot. You wouldn抰 be interested in that. Pick something else.

Duncan fixed him with a flat stare and Connor sighed, staring at his fingers wrapped around his mug. 揜emember the rules? I choose, you talk, reminded the younger Scot.

揇amn rules. I live with too many damn rules. Who made these damn rules and how did I get my ass roped into them?

The younger Highlander snorted fondly beneath his breath. This was the same tirade he had heard before. He waited it out on his feet, watching Connor turn and turn and turn the coffee mug in his hands. This was practically all the fidgeting Duncan had ever seen out of the older man and it only showed up under these circumstances. Sometimes he would turn the cup in his hands, sometimes circle the pad of his thumb around and around an object that wouldn抰 be harmed by the action. Sometimes the older man would just stroke the length of a lock of hair, or a feather, over and over until he was ready to tell the tale associated with it.

And you could never determine by Connor抯 behavior how distressing the tale would be. Light and carefree ones sometimes were retold calmly, while during others he paced around in the rotunda or picked the lint balls off the wool rug on the floor as if vexed his body actions completely opposite the true tension of the story. During intense tales he sometimes appeared so calm; growing still and stiller yet in his chair, until Duncan saw the sweat beading on his temples and registered the gallop of the other man抯 pulse as he relived the moment. Duncan hated those.

揇o you want me to bring it out here for you? Duncan offered.

揘o, it抯 too fragile. Leave it there. Connor looked up from the mug. 揑 doubt it will survive removing it from this room. I think it抯 broken already, actually in place right where it sits over there. But it抯 so well-balanced that it hasn抰 fallen.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

We reached the temple at the hottest part of the day and I was afraid when I saw the white steps that rose from the main platform up to the yawning interior. People worked around the square at tasks, but I paid little heed. The God was always at the temple at midday and I was to greet him and do his bidding, just as it had been for hundreds of rains. My hands had gone cold despite the shimmering heat and my throat was parched. The drape of coarse fabric covering my nudity clung to my skin and it itched.

My father removed the ornately carved ingabo [shield] from his back and put it bowl side up on the ground. It was the gesture indicating an offering had been brought. All over the clearing, the dark people stopped their work and stood. Two men near the temple began the short solemn tempo on the ceremonial ingomas [drums] announcing a presentation to The God. When it ended, it was still. Hushed. Like the calm before lightning. All my hairs stood on edge waiting for it to hit me.

A shape moved at the temple entrance and an old man appeared and walked down the steps towards us. This was The God? I thought, trying to reorient my internal perspective. My father抯 hand touched my arm and I looked back up the steps to see the true God and found him nothing as I imagined. But then, what does one expect a God to look like?

Long creamy robes that enfolded him completely in the oppressive heat, a heavy hood that shielded his face from the sun. And he was barefoot. Barefoot, as the common people. He walked with a long staff in one hand and it made a soft 憈chkt as he put it down on each of the steps. Other than that, there was no noise at all.

Until I took those first steps in my characteristic lop-sided gait to meet him then chaos broke out.

Shouts and cries and bedlam erupted in the square as those watching realized that I was crippled. Until then, they had not noticed my odd gait in the cluster of my family. Now, they were incensed that my father had brought a blemished offering to The God and their voices were harsh and full of quarrel.

揝he is unfit! Imperfect! You dare bring the imperfect to our God?

揧ou shame us all to offer her!

揝he should have been sacrificed to the God of War long ago!

The bystanders rushed us, as if by sheer numbers they could whisk me from the square before The God saw my deformity. I heard my brother cry out in alarm. My father whipped up the ingabo [shield] and coiled his arm around his long spear aiming it at the nearest man. The jostle of bodies shifted my center of gravity and I fell, hard, palms torn open on the rock of the square and my shift caught around the scarred limb that betrayed me.

揗wajya jhim bee!

The God抯 voice.

Everything in the clearing, the shouts and the wrestle of men, ceased. I could not move, could not raise my face from the stone. I had struck my mouth in the fall and the blood dripped sluggishly down and off my chin. It marred the white expanse like small explosions of crimson when it hit the rock. The ground was so dry that the moisture disappeared almost immediately and my fresh blood looked desiccated as if it had been there for weeks.

Tchkt, tchkt, tchkt, went the sound of the staff growing nearer until I saw it stop in front of me. His feet were dusty and pale. I was terrified, cowering, but from the ground I said the ritual greeting. 揗banje kubasuhuza murzina, we na Umugisha. [I greet you, my God.] My voice was quivery and I cringed, groveling, expecting a blow to fall. The judgment of The God was upon me.

揝o many men for such a small child? said a soft and odd voice above me. There was no answer, not even the shuffle of feet. 揜aise her.

Hands, not ungentle, but strong and hard nonetheless, hoisted me from the ground and set me back on my unsteady legs. I stared at the ground. Then stared at The God抯 feet for he was wriggling the toes of one just like a man with a foot cramp. It was a particularly un-Godlike action and in one unthinking moment, I raised my head and was captured instantly by the face of God.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Connor needed more coffee. Duncan brought the whole pot. Connor sighed and grumbled and wandered around in the room. Duncan just sat on the horseshoe couch and let him.

The entire day was ahead of him. He could be patient. The clay pot stood in its shadowy nook, a story untold and waiting. For some reason he could not fathom yet, Duncan felt sorrowful that the object could never be moved from this room lest it simply disintegrate in his hands.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

My people have no concept of nudity. Lovers couple wherever the urge strikes them: in the field, in the temple square, alone or in a throng. So when The God stripped the linen off of me in the courtyard that first day, exposing my budding body to everyone's gaze, I was only ashamed of the scars that ringed my hip and leg. The God studied the marks and ran his fingers across them while I braced myself for for what? A healing? A tingle? A jolt of pain? He was the God of Lightning, after all.

But there was no lightning. No healing, no tingling. No pain. Nothing. Just his eyes, dark in a face very pale even in the shadow of the hooded cloak. For a moment, I thought I saw a profound sadness in his gaze.

揗waka, [walk] he commanded.

I walked, lame foot dragging, my torso twisting to swing the half-controlled limb ahead of me to bear the weight for the next step. I knew how it looked. I was merely a gibalia bird: clumsy, ungainly and unattractive on the ground. But unlike the gibalia bird, I had no wings to lift me up, graceful and pleasing, to become an acrobat in midair.

Podpah, the broken one. Today, my spirit was broken also. O, father, why didn抰 you give me to the God of the River and let him sweep me away? Our whole family will be cursed, my brother forbidden to marry and sire children. We will be cut off from life and our name will cease with this generation. We will be forgotten all because you could not part with a maimed child.

I stopped my weaving gait after a short distance. My inability to get around was obvious and I waited for the rejection, the hands that would seize me for sacrifice, the banishment of my father and his name from the mouths of the dark ones for his audacity.

揂rabashimita mwigina lya yesu, [Special daughter] said the God of Lightning. 揑 accept her. The people were silent.

揢mugisha uturuko kumana, [Blessings from God] my father added softly and there was a note of triumph in his voice.

The God of Lightning did not look back to see if I followed him into the enormous temple. I stared after him, uncertainly. When I looked around again, my family was gone. As was tradition, I was considered dead to them until I was purified by The God and released. The dark people ignored me as if I was not there and I wasn抰. A virgin girl given to The God did not exist outside of him. I went to the temple. The old man, Tietyen, the Keeper, came to help me up the wide steps of stone and then left me to go alone into the dark recesses. It swallowed me whole and alive.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

[Tietyen tells the story of the God of Lightning and how He came.]

The stories of the Gods are not lost. They are spoken from Keeper to Keeper, entire lifetimes of stories told over and over in chant. That is why we are the Keepers.

I was not there when the old ones kept the temple. The great tribe of dark ones that came before us built it; the ones who died mysteriously and left the glistening temple surrounded by savage jungle. We were a small tribe. We could never build such a temple. My father抯 grandfather said they swept the wide steps and kept the grasses pulled between the stones year after year, waiting for The God depicted on the walls. The young men who came to the temple hacked the vines clear and repaired the clay that was weakened from usage.

The Keeper of the temple was very old and gray, with eyes like the took-took bird. He made it plain that he was not The God. He was only the Keeper.

Then a man came and seized the Keeper by the throat and told him he was The God and that we must worship him. All the old ones believed him because his skin was like the sun and so was his hair, while we were dark like the night. As the sun ruled the day over the night so he ruled us. And we worshipped. We had been waiting for The God.

He was wise and showed us many things, like how to build better huts and how to fashion the bow. He taught us how to channel the rain into hollowed jabotko limbs and make it carry itself where we wanted it to go. In the death of the drought season, our crops flourished. The toddlers ceased dying from starvation.

The God of Sun demanded offerings: the first of our crops, fresh meat when we hunted, the pick of our sons and daughters every year. He was often loud and he shouted at the dark ones. The lame, the sick, the old, sometimes the very young were sacrificed in ritual on the altar. At times, he demanded the strongest of our warriors, the ones that the people respected and honored, to be offered up. He relished it. He told us that he gathered power through the blood.

The virgins given to him to be purified usually wept for several days after spending a night in his inner chamber. As was fitting, if they resisted The God, they were beaten with rods until they obeyed his every wish. They did not stay long before he took them to the temple steps and gave them to the first man who came in sight. Sometimes he would demand that they also be sacrificed as a blood offering. The young boys, especially the comely ones, were silent and would not speak of their time of service to The God. We would find one of them now and then through the years who loved the God of Sun so much that they would sacrifice themselves on the altar during the night. We would find them with a dagger thrust through their heart or their wrists cut nearly through, as if they were uncertain if they had sliced deeply enough to fill the bowl of the altar.

The God did not seem pleased with those offerings of blood and the people did not understand his anger.

When the generations passed and The God did not change at all, the dark people ended even the faintest thoughts of disbelief. We brought our best crops and metalwork and pottery to his temple. Our daughters came first to his loins to be tasted and blessed before another could have them as wife. It was the way it had always been, unceasing. The dark people were born and lived and died and The God never ended.

And then a stranger came and his skin was pale and his hair white like the belly of the kinshi that runs along the forest trails. We thought him another God, for there are many, and cleared his path to the temple and stood aside while the Gods fought for possession of the dark people. They fought with bright shafts of lightning and the new God was faster and he smote the old God抯 head off with one blow.

And the wind rose wildly and the lightning came in a fury and leveled all the trees around the open place. We heard the new God calling it to him and it passed through him and around him and he remained after it was gone and we laid face down in the dust before this God of Lightning who had more power than the last God and worshipped him.

So the God of Lightning lived amongst the dark people.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

揟hey were a lost race. They knew nothing about the outside world and he had used and abused them for a hundred years. If it was not for that slave who liked to tell stories, I might never have known where to look for him.

揂nd you stayed.

Silence within the circle of walls. Connor stared at nothing. 揑 stayed, he slowly admitted. 揑 was tired and needed a respite. I was on holy ground and no one knew where I had gone. I was safe.

揂nd you made yourself into a God?

揑t wasn抰 like that.

Duncan sighed. He was approaching this all wrongly and he knew it. Impressions of other immortals that had made themselves into Gods colored his perceptions and now he was bouncing all of those prejudiced thoughts off of his clansman.

揝o did they sacrifice virgins to you and all of that?

揝ort of.

Duncan scowled. Maybe I am quite happy to have that pot crumble into dust, he thought.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I was a child and I loved The God from the moment I looked into his eyes. His face was calm and almost expressionless, framed by long white hair that he rinsed daily with the juice from the pounded bark of the ugabriaxio tree. We used the same juice to color the clay to cream and keep the stone glistening at the temple. His eyes were like windows to another world and when he looked at you, all of your soul felt laid bare. I thought he looked sad, but a God does not have grief they are Gods. What grief could they know?

He wore simple coarse garments of white and cream. The sleeves fell long to his wrists and the robe grazed the ground. He was completely hidden within it, as was fitting of a God. Trinkets and beads and coppery buttons were given by the basketful to the temple, but he permitted no ornamentation on what he wore. And no sandals for his feet.

He carried the tall staff everywhere he went and it sounded hollow. The top of it was set with a carving of an outlandish creature, the likes of which we had never seen. We were never permitted to touch it and none wished to, for it frightened us, this savagely snarling figurehead. Everyone serving in the temple learned to listen for the sound of the staff as it struck the floor of the great temple. In that way, we always knew where The God was as he roamed through the interior chambers.

We prepared his food and he ate it without complaint, wherever he happened to be at the moment. While I always thought it would be hard to serve The God, I found he hardly ever made demands or raised his voice. I discovered that the conflict when I was offered in the courtyard was the first time Tietyen had heard him raise his voice in twenty rains. It was quiet and peaceful within the expansive temple and, as I relaxed into the pace and learned the history of the God of Lightning, I loved him more and more.

Wherever The God was, there I longed to be also.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

[Tietyen tells how the God of Lightning changed the worship of the temple.]

The Keepers expected that the rate of sacrifice would go up to satisfy the power need of the new God when he cast down the old one, but he motioned for us to cleanse the altar and scrub the blood from the walls. He learned our tongue more quickly than the last God did. It was as if by destroying Him, the God of Lightning inhaled all of the old God抯 knowledge. It took many days to scrape the rock finally free of stain and then we waited for his first sacrifice. We brought the dark people to him to choose one the bravest, the most beautiful, the most perfect amongst us but he stroked his fingers down their faces and sent them away unharmed.

He rejected them all and we were afraid. We were not good enough to please this new God.

揑 do not need sacrifice to live, he finally said. 揑 do not need to rob you of life. It is a foolish God that asks that the people die in order to keep him strong. How is he a God if the people must die to give him power?

Thus, no more blood came to be poured on the altar.

The untouched girls were still brought to the temple to be purified and made holy. The God of Lightning was hungry for them and mated himself to them just as the previous God. He was gentler, however, and the purified girls did not weep or shrink back when they saw him in the temple.

This was short lived, however, and after one moon turn, The God would not lay with the new ones any more. He spoke their names and stroked their faces, kissed their palms and sprinkled them with water, when they came to his chamber nothing more. The Keepers were certain it was because the girls were not perfect enough, and yet The God did not send them angrily away. He released them back to their families after they had served their turn at the temple.

Sometimes The God would notice a young man had become besotted with one of the girls serving. He would watch from afar, observing the two of them. After their time of duty was finished, he would lead them both to the outer court and, in the sight of all, put their palms together in the old gesture of unity. He then blessed them and sent them from the temple. It forced the dark people, who sometimes clashed over status between families, to reconsider and compromise.

Thus, The God paired up the dark ones and blended the unity of the great families. The tribe was happy and stronger. His choices were good and no more virgins wept within the temple.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I swept and cooked and learned to weave. I tried to learn how to fashion clay into pots and plates and drinking cups, but I was not very adept. It was too difficult to cast the form in the shade and then carry it to the sun to bake and harden. My gait was too awkward and threw the soft bowls and basins from their perfect shape before I got there and, by then, the mixture was too stiff to rework. It angered me that I could not even make a simple pot to give to The God. I dropped a lot of pots. It made me furious, because a beautifully balanced pot was a wondrous gift.

He did not seem to notice my lack of ability. He smiled very fleetingly the first time I served him baked maize and sweet wine, for my hands shook so that a few drops of the drink spilled. He walked alone a lot, padding quietly along pathways near the fields and jungle around us with his wide moon shaped hat casting his face into shade. The dark people bowed low, exposing the back of their necks to him as he passed. He would only nod from beneath the round straw hat and keep walking.

He was not difficult to serve, this pale God of Lightning. He made no imperious demands of the people who worshipped him with their time and talents. He simply existed within our midst. And by not demanding anything of those who saw to his wants, it made all of us watchful for every indicator of what he might like, how we might make his path easy. We were keen to examine his face, his gait, the way he moved. By not giving us a host of orders to follow, the God of Lightning had servants who were attentive enough to read the unspoken language of his body to determine if he was weary or bored or hungry.

We worshipped him by being perfectly attuned to him.

I discovered that the loads of goods brought to the temple were usually given out again to the poor and needy the very next day, when a whole new swarm of the dark people came to tithe and pay homage to The God. Tietyen, the temple Keeper, had been instructed years previously to do this and, since he knew all of the dark people in our little tribe, he knew exactly their needs: who needed clothing or baskets, grain or corn. This benevolent God took all offerings, no matter how pitiful and told the Keeper to give them over to someone in need. Tietyen kept only what was required to feed and cloth those who were serving in the temple.

The dark people thrived beneath his care and lacked little. And The God never even had to lift a finger to make it so. It was simply so.

When I had been at the temple one moon抯 turn, Tietyen sent me to sleep with The God. I was not afraid, for I had seen his calmness and gentleness with the people. Even though I had not lain with a man before, I did not fear my God. He was my God. Why would I fear him? And if there was pain, who was I to balk at the necessity of sacrifice for my God? He had accepted me, a broken girl, and my life was his.

I had never been into the inner chamber. It was plain, the walls bare. Our God slept on a thick mat on the floor and I was not surprised. The God of Lightning lived much as we did. I assumed it was so he would understand how to rule us most effectively. I bathed his hands and feet when he entered, fixed his meal in an imbehe [dish] and sat while he ate. Waiting. He fed me bits of the meat from the bowl with his fingers. I watched the light in his eyes and the quick moves of his hands.

I loved him. I would do anything he asked.

He asked nothing. He kissed my palms very lightly where the skin was a shade whiter and flicked an arc of water from his cup over me. 揚odpah, he said, stroking the pads of his fingers down my face from brow to chin to the hollow of my throat. A responsive shiver followed that gentle path and then he sent me out of his bedchamber. I was not asked to return to it, though I yearned for that touch again and again.

I stayed at the temple a long time. The God kept me for eight rainy seasons; the longest that Tietyen could remember a girl ever stayed. By season number three, the men who served in rotation through the temple were vying for my attention because I had become so holy in the constant presence of The God. I had found special favor with him and my awkward gait and marred skin no longer mattered. Where others once dwelled on the savaged skin where I had been torn so long ago, now they remarked on all the beauty of my form around it. I, too, knew my own beauty, within and without but I was most beautiful when in the presence of the God of Lightning. And he was most content with me above all the other servants of the temple.

I knew The God better than any of the dark people, save Tietyen. I knew all his habits; all his likes and dislikes, the quiet laugh, the moments of utter silence, the times he murmured in the dreams of a God. I could talk freely with him, but at no time did I ever forget he was The God and I was one who worshipped. It became our habit that we would walk together and he would curl my arm through his so that my gait was less tiring. We traversed all of the surrounding areas and became a common sight; the two of us arm in arm. The Keeper commented often that The God laughed more with me than with any other. I brought him joy.

Through our day, I felt the burn of his casual touch. I was missing something, though I knew not what. In his company, I lost all track of the passing of the sun. When evening fell, I longed for him longed to just rest with him through the night. But he never called for me and there was a constant stream of new girls who came through his inner chamber to be blessed. I was sad to think I would never enter there again.

None of the other girls entered twice, either, and that was some comfort.

I practiced and practiced with clay, stubborn and determined to make at least one akabindi [pot] for the God of Lightning. When I wasn抰 serving, overseeing a celebration in the courtyard, walking with The God or gathering food for the temple, I was working with the rich red soil. The smell was fragrant and my forearms were strong from the constant kneading. I toyed with combinations of mashed berries and fruits for the most vivid colors. Some of them were terrible and Tietyen laughed when he saw them smeared on my face where I had carelessly wiped my hand.

It took me three years before I finally fashioned a perfectly balanced akabindi [pot]. I was delighted with the potbellied shape and the perfectly round mouth. I stained it soft green with red and blue bands, the rarest colors in the jungle. This time, instead of trying to carry it into the sun to bake to hardness, I left it in the shade where I made it. Two weeks went by before it was finally hard enough for my choppy gait to not throw its form on the way to the open sunlight to cure completely.

It was perfect. I hovered around it and checked on it almost every hour! Tietyen smiled and nodded at my delight.

揘o more akabindis [pots] for you, Podpah. They take too much time away from your duties, the old Keeper commented.

揧es, Pakure, [Teacher] I agreed without quarrel. Just one of these was certainly enough challenge for me. I would never make another.

The God of Lightning was pleased with the gift and turned it around and around in his hands examining it. There was not a single flaw. When he sat it down, it was perfectly balanced.

揟his took you a long, long time, Podpah. I will keep it, said The God, and I was happy.

It was in my ninth season of service to the God of Lightning that Muscci came to offer tribute and his required turn of duty in the temple. He was handsome and had a quick laugh. I was smitten with him as soon as we spoke the first time. It was a stressful time for me, being caught between my adoration of The God and the yearning toward Muscci. The God of Lightning seemed at ease with my fickle infatuation and encouraged it. He would walk alone and leave me in the temple and I would spend the entire time with Muscci, talking.

In the last rainy season, when Muscci抯 time was finished, The God put my hand in Muscci抯 and blessed us as he sent us down the temple steps into the burning sun. I shortly discovered what I had longed for from my God all those years and my crippled body did not hinder anything.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Duncan MacLeod sighed and put the coffee cup down on one thigh, focusing on the heat of the circle through his jeans to order his thoughts. Connor抯 eyes were far away and lost in memories that he had not revisited for many years. The simple old pot in the corner had conjured a crippled woman out of thin air and right into the room. Duncan wished it were whole and unbroken instead of so fragile that it could never be moved.

He couldn抰 imagine his clansman as a God. Yet, glancing at the tranquil face near him, he could readily see the image. As the elder man spoke, the planes of his face had softened and an odd calmness stole over him, cloaking his mannerisms. His movements became slowed and measured, like in the trance of deep meditation that Duncan used on occasion.

Yes, perhaps he could see his brother passing himself off as a God for some respite from the game. He could glimpse the persona, the quiet conduct. But why? A need for idolization? Slaves to service him? Did he fall in love with this lame girl and if so, why did he give her to another when it was plain that she loved him?

Connor would not lie. This was a true tale and Duncan believed him. Yes, he could see Connor in this role. That white hair, though, that抯 another story, Duncan shuddered.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

[Podpah remembers the words of The God.]

Care for each other. Your time is short in life and not to be wasted. If someone has lack and you have excess, give of your excess and both will smile.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I was happy with Muscci: living, laughing, and working the land. We came to the temple yearly and the God of Lightning was as I always remembered him. My heart would catch up into my throat and pound, just like a girl抯, as soon as I spotted him within the recesses of the great halls.

I had grown tall, as tall as he was, as the seasons passed. But never did I forget that he was The God and I was the one who worshipped. When at home, I loved my cheerful husband with all my life but when we came to the temple, Muscci sent me to walk with The God whom I had loved first. There was no jealousy in my man. Who would be jealous of a God that had made me such a holy prize? I was the one of whom every man upon seeing my faltering ungainly walk would say: 揟here is Podpah, the broken one, made holiest of all of the dark ones by the God of Lightning who kept her for nearly ten rains. My husband forbade me nothing concerning The God.

I spent ten happy years with Muscci before he died. A group from the fierce neighboring tribe raided our hut during the night and when I finally awakened from the blow that had felled me, my laughing dark husband was no more. It took me a week to struggle back to the village and be escorted to the temple. I had been The God抯 and I would return to him.

But when we came to the courtyard and I saw The God, there was a strange feeling that overtook me an ache within my skull like the scrabbling of tiny insects. And as he came closer and closer, the tall staff swinging in his hand, it grew more and more powerful until I was cringing before him as if it was my first visit to the temple all over again. His face was the same, his eyes fierce with balanced power and gentleness, the same creamy robes everything just as I remembered him and then the ache in my mind crushed in on top of my grief and loss. I fainted dead away on the white stone.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

[Podpah remembers the words of The God.]

揑 am not a God, only a man. Everyone has within them the reflection of God. It is up to them to nurture its growth and become more Godlike.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I listened to the words, but did not believe him. I was over thirty rains old and for the first time in my life, I refused to listen to The God. He was annoyed with me and it was plain to see, but he did not punish my audacity. He sat in the swathe of blue moonlight shining through the temple arches and the candlelight behind him made his image dance.

Life in the temple went on as it always had. I served as best I could with my lame leg and walked with The God whenever he went out, leaning heavily on his arm for stability and strength. It was something he did for no one else amongst the dark people, but, of course, I was the only one so profoundly crippled. I was the eldest of his servers and I grew used to the annoying headache that lingered whenever I was with him.

揧ou are like me, he said quietly.

揑 am not, I replied.

揝ee the mark of The God? and he cut his hand on an agisnin knife. I stared at the blood that welled up, stunned that it was as red and bright as our own then stared even more at the flickers of lightning that seamlessly smoothed the injury until it was naught.

I laughed. 揧ou are the God of Lightning. It lives in your blood.

He moved slowly and methodically to take my dark hand. 揑 am just a man and you are like me, and then he cut me so quickly that there was hardly any time to cry out at all. I stared at the same crimson welling up out of the wound. It was the first time my God had demanded my blood for any sacrifice. And then the same blue lighting flickered across the edges, sealing it closed, and my world swam and shifted. I had to sit down.

揧ou are like me, he repeated, and I shook my head in denial and rejected his words.

I was not very worshipful that day.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

[Podpah remembers the words of The God.]

揟here are many Gods with many temples and ceremonies. Find the one who brings you no harm and stay in his shadow. Live in his temple. Serve his people.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

揥e should try to salvage that old pot. Duncan spoke his inner thoughts very softly into the quiet pause of the story. Connor needed a break. He could tell it by the way his clansman抯 fingers trembled when he took them off his coffee cup and the way he swung his head as if something hurt him inside. The older man was deep in the retelling of the story, re-experiencing both the joy and pain anew.

揑 know, slowly responded the older man. 揑 thought about it when I unpacked and put it in here 180 years ago. But back then, they didn抰 have any way to preserve an old clay pot that was cured by the sun. Some things are not meant to last forever.

Duncan stared hard at his brother and waited. This was not his decision to make it was Connor抯. He picked at the seam of his jeans and waited.

揑 think we should try. If it shatters apart, then we know it wouldn抰 have lasted anyway. If it doesn抰 well then, bully for us for making the attempt in time to preserve it, the elder Highlander added after a moment.

揂re you sure? We might touch it and have it fall completely to pieces on us. Duncan fixed his old mentor with a piercing look. 揑f we just left it alone, you could enjoy it for a couple of more years before it capsized on its own.

Silence.

揑 think we should see if we can salvage it. Waiting will just make it more fragile.

揘ow or never time?

Connor grinned. He had heard that line between them on more than one occasion. Usually it was on some insane dare while half giddy with drink. 揑t抯 my pot I get to try to pick it up first.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

[Podpah remembers the words of The God.]

揑 will not be here forever. I will go away someday. You will stay behind in my place and care for the people who cherish the Gods. Care for the people, Podpah. The Gods have little need the people have many.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Day after day, The God reminded me that he was just a man. He pointed out that he got hungry, got sleepy, got too hot, laughed at jokes. His feet got dirty and he smelled of sweat. I giggled at the mental picture of a sweaty Lightning God.

He was The God. I could not see him any differently.

揝tay in the temple. You will know another God by the ache inside your skull and if you ever feel it, you must hurry as fast as you can to the innermost place of the temple and hide within it. Send someone fleet of foot to tell me another God has come.

揑 cannot stay in the temple all the time; I have work to do, I steadfastly protested. 揂nd why would I hide from another God? He certainly would find me, because he is a God. I did not understand and the God of Lightning was vexed. He paced back and forth, with the long creamy shift swishing around his ankles and the staff striking the stonework with a 憈chkt that held anger. I had never seen him pace. Never, in all the seasons I had dwelled in his presence, and it frightened me to see it.

He walked back and forth for a long time before he finally stopped and stared into my eyes. What I saw there made me tremble with an impending sense of doom. 揑 cannot save you, he said, and his voice held sorrow and grief. 揙thers will come and slay you and I will not be able to prevent it.

Bewildered now, I blurted: 揃ut you are my God!

揑 am not a God! he cried. 揑 am just like you! We are the same! And he caught my hand and drew a line with his finger across my palm where he had cut, reminding me of the lightning I had seen. 揘ot a God, only a man and unable to save you, Podpah, and he whispered my name as if it was farewell.

I turned my hand over and clasped his, bewildered and confused by his strange words. The Gods of old often demanded sacrifice the God of Lightning did not. It was proof of his strength. Now he said another God would come and demand my blood and he would not be able to stop him? 揟hen I will die if The God wishes it, I said dutifully.

He closed his eyes and his fingers tightened on my hand. For one terrible moment, I thought The God would weep. But after a fashion, he opened his eyes and the same calmness I had always seen was in them and my world was restored to order.

揑 do not wish it, Podpah. And then he smiled a very sad smile and ran his fingers down my face in benediction before turning away. I watched him go, for he had not summoned me with his hand wave to follow watched the ivory robes coast just off the floor, the wind toy with the white locks at his shoulders, until he was lost from sight. The feel of his fingers on my face lingered for a long time in memory.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

They spent a quarter of an hour just talking about how best to proceed, bent over together sketching on paper in the rotunda. Duncan suggested emptying the entire room of objects except the one in question and having a professional come in to try to rescue it. Connor looked at him incredulously.

揇o you know how long it would take to get everything out of here and not hit the damned thing in the process? And then to put everything back? And I would want everything put back!

揅onnor, you抮e such a packrat, Duncan chortled. 揧ou keep too many things!

揌eh, and the older Scot poked him with the blunt pencil. 揕ike I don抰 know about those five storage spaces in your name? He swung his face back to the page. 揥hy don抰 we try some of that expanding foam they hock at the hardware store? Spray it in and it would hold the pot together for a pro to have a look at?

揥ouldn抰 it shatter the clay? That foam is designed to fill in the cracks between solid wood, not fragile hundred-year-old pots.

揟ry 'several hundred' and I just won抰 spray so much in.

Duncan eyed his kinsman. 揑 don抰 know, Connor. I can抰 think of anything else that would work, but I just hate the idea that we抣l break it trying to salvage it.

Connor said it softly: 揑 told you, it抯 probably already broken.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I remember the day The God ran.

I was far from the temple when I felt the shivery presence of The God settle over me. I was sitting in the dirt, digging for young tubers, and looked up over the top of my partially filled agaseke [basket] to greet him.

And it was not him.

I would have spotted the rare white garments from a far distance and they were not there amongst the group of men on approach. The God of Lightning wore nothing else. 換uick, Xoco, run and tell The God that another God has come! I shouted in my native tongue. The boy with me sprinted away through the jungle. The men coming saw him dash away, but did not try to pursue a child who fled in apparent terror.

No, they were on a direct course for me.

I always sat down to work. Standing was exhausting when one limb was nearly useless and gave you no support, dragging like a dead piece of wood attached to your hip when you walked. Kneeling was nearly impossible and caused great pain unless I settled into that posture very, very slowly. The God of Lightning figured this out almost immediately, way back when I was barely a woman and new to his presence. He never required that I kneel never requested that any of the dark people serving him kneel for that matter, though all did, save myself.

This strange God cared nothing for my discomfort, however. He put me on my knees by force and ignored my cry of pain when the tendons rebelled in my crippled leg. His eyes were terrible and his smile was deceptive. I knew he was going to sacrifice me. I wondered what he was the God of the water? War? The moon? As if it mattered which God required my blood to be poured out on unholy dirt.

I heard a shout, and close behind it came the scrabbling itch inside my skull of another God. I turned my head at the same time as the one who stood over me did and there was the God of Lightning running.

Running, shedding the ivory wrap as he came, barefoot, ripping through the huge icya leaves in his way to reach me. And in his hand, where he had always carried the tall staff, was a terrible bright bolt of lightning. He slid to a halt in the clearing, chest heaving and his eyes wild with rage. The coarse shift was plastered to his body with sweat and mud and, as I watched stunned, my God hacked the bottom of it off and exposed his white legs for all to see.

He looked, for the first time to me, like a man. Just a man confronted with danger to one he cared for. Cared for. Loved. The thought brought my chaotic emotions to heel.

揝he is crippled and cannot fight you. She can barely walk! the God of Lightning spoke sharply to the God standing over me.

揑t doesn抰 matter if she can抰 fight or won抰 fight, whoever you are. She is immortal and I claim her.

揑 will fight for her.

揊or her? A lame pigeon who cannot ever defend herself? What? Is she that good of a fuck? he taunted. 揔ind of black for you, isn抰 she?

The God was still, poised in that frightening quietness that only a God can master, and his eyes were flat and deadly. I would have lain down on my belly there in the dirt if I could have moved, but the pain of my position held me captive.

揝he believes we are Gods. Their legends speak of us and she believes them. She will never try to kill one of us. She is harmless and blameless to the Game.

揟hen she will still die.

揌er quickening doesn抰 matter! And I抣l take you as soon as it抯 over!

揘ot very noble, if you ask me, sneered the strange God. 揟o not let me recover from even a pitiful quickening like hers?

揑t抯 not noble to kill a defenseless immortal either. Let the woman go.

揗y, you really want this dark bitch. He glanced down, his tone a mockery. 揝he must suck the hilt off a sword, eh?

The God of Lightning wore a malevolent face. 揝he has not agreed to the combat.

揝he抯 on her knees, like a good woman.

揚odpah, give me permission to fight for you, my God barked at me.

揥a kabiri yanyu, we na Umugisha! [Help me, my God!]

So the Gods fought and it was terrible. The lightning in their hands clashed and threw sparks. The ground was torn and the greenery trodden underfoot. It became clear to my terrified eyes that the God of Lightning was going to lose. He began to limp on one side, dragging his foot as if maimed just as I was so long ago. It went on forever and I could not rise and could not get off my knees. At one point, they both stumbled right over the top of my transfixed body and I felt the sharp bite of lightning on my shoulder. They knocked me over and I cried with the agony lancing through my savaged joints. The fight carried itself away from my position and then abruptly there was silence. I could not rise, I could not see. I feared for The God I had served and adored, loved, for so many seasons.

The dark people had gathered to watch from all over, drawn by the phenomenal spectacle of The God running to my aid. But when the furious assault of lightning began, the dwellers in our village fled from the scene in terror and left me behind where I lay.

I struggled to rise, to see what was happening, because I was quite certain to be killed by the New God or be slain by the trees that exploded above my head. Branches fell with their heavy burdens of fruit. The air felt on fire. And in the center of the maelstrom stood The God my God stretched on his toes, arms skyward as if enthralled in worship, washes of pain and pleasure streaming across his face as the coalescing lightning ran through him. He looked savage, tender, brutal, fragile, passionate and in agony a flow of impressions cascading through him. And when it finally ended, he fell in place without a sound.

The dark people came back and helped me to my feet. The God was dazed and weak after holding the lightning for so long in his hand and then drawing in all of the lightning that had come from everywhere. The headless body of the defeated God we gave to the God of River, which swallowed it without a trace. Two men of the temple ran and found the white robe of The God and put it on him. Thus we hid his naked legs from the eyes of the people.

揚odpah, he said wearily. I came at his call and he wrapped his arm through mine the same way he always did when we walked, so as to help my lame gait. We went back to the temple and I never told anyone, not even the Keeper, how the God of Lightning leaned on me for help the whole way.

He shut himself in his inner chamber for two days. We brought food, but he fasted. We fasted also. When he finally emerged and ate and walked amongst the dark people again, I could see the change in his eyes. There was loneliness there, a kind of aloneness that I had not seen before. And when he looked at me, every glance said goodbye. My God was leaving us, just as he said he would. He was leaving me.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

They were half the way to their goal.

Connor had taken photographs of the pot where it stood and then the two immortals went to work. Sword cases had been emptied and a full trunk had been picked clear of the floor so they had room to move around. Connor had all the lights turned up bright so they could see. Duncan could not remember a time when the two of them had moved so carefully and with such focus on one single item like this old clay pot.

It caught them both by surprise when it happened. Connor reached to move a stand holding some old canes and, as it slid across the floor, the pot fractured into pieces and tumbled with a puff of dirt into a pile of shards right in place. Duncan winced and was too vexed to even swear. The ancient item was so fragile that the simple vibration on the floor had broken it. He turned his head to view his kinsman. Connor was frozen in the act of reaching and was staring at the pieces of broken clay.

揅onnor.

Silence.

揅onnor?

揑t抯 okay, Duncan, finally said the other man. He squatted over the shattered pot and picked up a piece the size of a quarter. 揑抳e known it was broken. I kept trying to tell you it was. I knew it probably couldn抰 be saved. He turned his head, holding the clay in his open hand, as if it too would crumble to nothing if he touched it. 揑t was broken and couldn抰 be saved, just like she was.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I found my God in the sanctuary of the temple, staring out at the square. There was a feast going on and the ingomas [drums] sounded the beat and the laughing people danced. He had walked amongst them for a while and then retreated. Seldom did he stay long in the huge gatherings of the dark people, but they knew he observed from the open temple windows watching over them in their revelry. There were a couple of young lovers mating on the steps of the temple, naked and unashamed. The dancing and chanting, the stomping of many feet went on around their passionate coupling.

I know he knew I was there. I limped up behind him and waited quietly for him to speak.

揚odpah, I must leave this place. Tomorrow, I will go.

揝o you have told me. You will leave and I will stay and see to the dark people. I said it deferentially, my usual voice with my God. I was his servant and I would obey. My heart hurt. I missed him already and he stood right in front of me. 揧ou will come back to us someday?

揟he dark people do not need me. He turned and looked at me and his eyes were empty. 揟hey take care of themselves and share with those who lack. I have taught them that a God does not demand sacrifice or blood. You must see to it that they remember, for I will never return.

揃ut? I said, alarmed, 揧ou are our God! Why will you abandon us?

揑 am not a God, Podpah, he reminded me. 揑 am only a man. I am not a God any more than you are a God. The dark people do not understand what we are and in their simple faith, they make us to be Gods when we are not. He sighed. 揑 cannot stay any longer and you cannot come with me. Your place is here, with your people.

揟hey are your people too.

揘o, they are not. They never were. Their lives are simple and uncomplicated. I have enjoyed the peacefulness, but I must leave now. They have no need of a God anymore.

揂nd what about me? I asked, the impending loss of all I had known giving me boldness with The God. 揑 have been the most faithful of your servants, for all these years, and you will just leave me behind?

揚odpah, he whispered and his tone was broken. 揑 cannot save you and I can not carry you away with me. I am not a God who can save. Only the true Gods can save you and only if you stay in their midst and in their temples, on the ground that is holy. He reached a hand, his graceful fingers opening, and stroked them down my face in his familiar benediction. 揂nd you won抰 stay on holy ground. You walk and wander freely.

I did not close my eyes when he ran his fingers across me. This would be the last time he would touch me like this and I watched his expression, the closed eyes with lashes like the half moon, the full lips that I had never touched, the pale hair that fell long to his collar.

揑 love you, I said, summoning up all I had ever felt into words.

揑 know. His eyes were sad and haunted.

When did love injure like this? I questioned within. The God had taught us love and compassion between the people. Why was being loved painful? Why was the thought that I loved him painful? 揥hy does my love hurt you, my God?

揃ecause I am not a God, just a man. And he said it with a sigh and turned away from me, walking quietly back to the gap in the stone and viewing the happy throng below as if their joy was something he longed for and could not have.

Just a man.

I remembered The God running, the look in his face so terrible as he saw the strange God standing over me. I remembered his pale legs. I remembered the wriggle of his toes as if he had a cramp the first time I had seen him. All the moments of all the years. All the walks and talks and quiet contemplation.

And suddenly I saw the man within The God, hidden behind a strange power and fixed there beyond the reach of the simple people by their worship and adoration. We had held him there, aloof, alone, distant, through all the years. He was amongst us, but never a part of us. We would grant him every wish except the freedom to step down from his lonely perch. He could ask for anything and we would give it to him, as a God, but never freely as something given to merely a man. We could only see him as the God of Lightning never as only a man. Gifts out of duty were different from gifts given freely.

I loved him as The God and because he was not a God, he could not accept love on those terms.

揑 love you. I said it as I limped up to this God who was merely a man. I had lived many years with a man and knew the best way to comfort. And I wanted to be comforted by this man and had wanted him for as long as I could remember.

揑 know you do, Podpah. He did not turn. He had heard my profession of love for nearly twenty years.

揘o, I love you. I reached and gently took hold of the fringed cloak. I had it off of his shoulders before he stopped my hands with his.

揥hat are you doing?

揑 am finding the man. Tell The God to go away for awhile I won抰 need him for this. I only want to love the man, not The God.

揚odpah, he whispered into my face. 揧ou don抰 have to do this, now stop.

I looked at him. Our eyes were at the same height for I was as tall as The God. 揧ou are not a God and you do not command me. I am crippled and much is beyond my ability. But this, this is what I want and I will have what I want and you will not deny me.

揚odpah.

揂nd I want you,the man inside The God. I leaned to brush my lips across his, the briefest touch of heat. 揟ell me the man does not want me and I will stop.

揂hhh, he sighed and rested his forehead against mine. 揚odpah I cannot stay with you and you cannot come with me. You do not have to do this for me, like some sacrifice. We cannot have this.

揂 wise man does not tell a woman what she wants, especially one who is thirty rains old and crippled. Before you leave, I will have you. I let the fire of all the years of yearning for him into my stare. 揑 will have you until I am tired of you. Perhaps it is you who are being sacrificed.

He opened his mouth and then shut it.

I stripped him there at the inner wall of the temple, where the sunlight streaked through the window and the drums throbbed the tempo through the stone beneath our feet. He did not resist. He leaned against the wall and the creamy robe fell like spilled icyansi [milk] at our feet. His skin was so white and mine so black; I cannot forget the sight of my hand on his bare chest, the first sight of his body so young and whole, without a single scar to mar the perfect flesh. Our God was youthful as a boy beneath all the layers of the robes of The God! I stared at the stringy muscles through his arms, the lean chest, the long thighs, and the white staff of his desire that was already eager.

He leaned his head back with a groan as I touched him. I saw in him all the marks of passion that I had seen for ten years with Muscci, the same kind of eroticism that played out in the courtyard between the myriad lovers, and knew that I was right. He was just a man. A very lonely man.

A very hungry one, I decided, when I pulled my shift off and tossed it away. He slid down my front and was kneeling on both knees, hands around my buttocks and his mouth nuzzling immediately through the wiry pubic hair to lick at me, tasting greedily. I thought I would fall down in the riot of my sensibilities. And that wouldn抰 do, for I was lame and rising after a fall would be difficult. So I pulled his face from his wild pursuit and, squatting over the bend of his knees, settled down onto his proud horn with a satisfied grunt. He felt so good that my leg didn抰 even hurt, and he cracked his head with a dull thud against the wall and moaned.

I had him pressed against the wall, kneeling, pinned by my weight centered on his groin. He was stabbed deeply, exactly where I wanted him to be. I watched the way he turned his head, scrubbing his skull against the stone, desperate to move and having no leverage to do so. He was groaning, the sound pleading. His fingers dug into my back, urging me to move on him and I did not. I simply held him clasped within, waiting, watching his teeth clench and the trembling begin throughout his body.

If he were a man, I would undo him. If he was a God, I intended to undo him until I found the man that I had glimpsed.

I waited. And waited. My eyes stared into his dilated ones. The tension built and built and his hands hurt where he gripped so tightly and his moans became louder and deeper, cries of passion, the demands for release. I waited until I saw the tears gather in the corners of his eyes and then began to use all of my inner muscles to clench and release him. I was a broken woman, but my body was strengthened in curious ways by my deformity. The act of walking, using all the muscles of my torso to throw my lame leg ahead for the next step, gave me strength through the pelvis. I milked him like the cattle that the people owned and felt him shudder with pleasure.

He responded with kisses and my God kissed like none other, pressing open my mouth and searching through it with his. I had never known such desperate invasiveness, but I did not deny his search. He knew me and pressed into me, ravished me orally. I was plundered and known, revealed completely, but I did not hesitate to give over myself to anything he needed as a man, not a God.

He was frantic, breathing noisily and latched onto my mouth. I opened the doors of my body even farther to him, pushing, permitting him to spike still deeper than he already was and he shouted in ecstasy from just that faint motion within. His eyes closed and his body pulsed within mine. He pressed his head with all his strength against the wall and stayed in the pleasure for a long time before finally sagging. When I leveraged myself away and lay down on the cool floor, he crept into my arms still panting and trembling, temporarily undone.

Certainly just a man, I decided. One, who had gone without for so many years while all around him the dark people married and mated and brought their babies to the temple to be blessed. We had offered him virgin after virgin and he turned them all away with a blessing, refusing to pour their sacrifice out at the feet of a God who was not.

Just a man.

揗mmm, I murmured into his soft ivory hair and skin. 揌ow long as it been for you, man within The God?

揂 very long time.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Tietyen, the temple Keeper, padded silently away with a smile. He would return to his room and tell the story of how the God of Lightning had not mated with any of the dark people for many, many years until a broken woman dared to strip him in the temple and take him. Usually it was the other way around with the Gods.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

The man hidden within The God had me there on the floor of the temple soon after and I watched the concentration in his expression and the pleasure wash across his face in waves. He picked my hips up free of the floor as he knelt, driving hard, gasping my name. His exultation was exquisite and the milky seed dribbled on the floor when he climaxed again.

All night, we knew love and gave love. At one point, I drew him outside in the moonlight and we tasted all the passion again in the middle of the courtyard, alone. For a long time, he was hungry and slaked his thirst in me. When it tempered, he did my bidding without complaint for I had twenty years of longing to be satisfied. We bathed in the river and he led me to his chamber where I had never been since that night I was offered. During the night, I mouthed him to arousal and rode him for an hour just to feel his body with mine. He murmured sleepily at first and then just lay quietly beneath me, giving me the freedom to take the pleasure I could from him. I took and took and took and it was like mating with a God and I had doubts on which was real: the man or The God.

When it was over and he declared he was hungry, I knew he was just a man.

When he ate and was full of desire again, I thought him a God. When he wooed me into such incredible pleasure, I was certain of it.

Then he had the hiccups and I snickered to find that he was just a man again, being silly. I suckled his pale staff until he forgot his hiccups, and his sillies, and everything else in the world except for my mouth on him. When it was finished, he tried to explain what 搒ucking the hilt off a sword meant, but I did not understand and was painting circles and lightning bolts in imaginary lines on his flat belly until he was quiet again. His eyes were calm deep pools.

I never knew a man who could make love with every part of his body: his eyes, his tongue, the sides of his head, his neck. He covered me with kisses that burned, knelt between my thighs and licked the tender flesh until I twisted up his hair with both hands and threatened to yank it out if he didn抰 settle to one place. His laugh was childlike and he worshipped my broken body as if it was new and whole, telling me over and over again of the beauty existing inside the soul and that I had a full measure of it. He made my scarred flesh sing and was just as delighted as I in the sight of my dark skin against his white skin. Sunlight and shadow. The pattern of leaves on water. The bright fish in the dark cold river. Words and words and more words he told me, of what he saw and what he felt, blessings and benedictions and gifts from a man to a woman.

He was beautiful and I loved him long and hard and in the morning I handed him the unbroken akabindi [pot] that I had fashioned for him so long ago, filled with dried maize and meat. He was very solemn and still: the poised alertness of a God. His eyes were forlorn, but I knew he would not stay the God of Lightning had always held true to his word. He had told me he must go and I understood that I must let him. It was better now, after a full night of passion, to give him the freedom to go. He sat for only a moment or two in the inner chamber before rising soundlessly and taking up the akabindi.

I kissed his mouth on the temple steps. 揜emember me, I said, 揻or I will remember the one night of holding the Lightning God.

揘ot a God. Only a man.

揃oth, I said, and he was wise and did not try to argue with me. The wind stirred his ivory hair and the faintest trace of a smile quirked the corners of his mouth. 揧ou must show the people that I am one with you, I added solemnly.

He hesitated in view of all the dark people and then laid me down on the top step and jerked his linen shift up. I laughed at the flush on his cheeks definitely not a God. To be embarrassed by passion out in the open amongst people who enjoyed desire whenever they wanted? The dark ones cheered and clapped to see us in pleasure and at the very end, he whispered a name with odd sounds into my ear the true name of the man within The God. Then he took off his long creamy cloak and put it on me, kissed the palms of my hands one, two and walked away in his simple shift of white and never looked back.

Thus Podpah, the broken one, came to lead the temple, having been ridden by The God in the sight of all. And I ruled not as a God, but as a servant of the dark people.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

揝o you just left her? Immortal, untrained, unaware of what she was? Duncan asked. He watched the shadowy face of his kinsman, picking through the solemn visage for clues to comprehending. Connor was fidgeting with his fingers, still holding a fragment of the broken pot.

揝he was badly crippled, Duncan. There wasn抰 any point in training her when she couldn抰 even walk without something to hold onto. It抯 like all those people in Africa dying of AIDS right now, by the millions. The doctors, when they diagnose a new case, they don抰 even tell them that there are drugs that can treat them and keep them alive for twenty years or so. The older man turned his head from the scrutiny of the floor. 揇o you know why they don抰 tell them about the drugs? I抣l tell you why. Those poor people earn just a few dollars a week and the drugs cost 300 dollars a day. They can抰 pay for them; therefore they can抰 have them. The doctors never tell them of the hope because it抯 forever out of reach!

揝o you never told her.

揥hat would I say? 慪ou抳e got to train so you can fight in some battle to survive against someone else who is perfectly healthy and can move easily? She never had a chance, not since she was three and injured. And I almost lost that fight to that immortal because I had gotten so rusty with the sword! I practiced in my room, but that抯 not the same as against a real opponent! Fat lot of good it would have been for me to die trying to save her he抎 have killed her anyway.

Connor抯 tone was harsh and brittle. Duncan reached and put a hand across the fist that had clenched the bit of clay and crushed it into powder. 揅onnor, I understand, he soothed.

揝he was broken. Broken! I couldn抰 do anything about it and I spent years trying to figure out what to do. Do you know that I even contemplated cutting the scars off of her to see if she would heal back whole? Connor was angry now, stabbing a finger like a stake against the younger Scot抯 chest. Duncan knew the anger wasn抰 for him and he sat under that prodding digit and let his brother express his fury and frustration. 揂nd worst of all she would have let me! She would have let me carve pieces of her away as if she was some some goddamn sacrifice for some goddamn bloody God who. He choked and stopped, swinging his head, agonized.

揂hh, Conchobhar, and Duncan reached to hold him, feeling miserable right with him, listening to the nearly silent grief that sang through Connor抯 frame. His kinsman had stayed a long time in a forsaken place just to try to salvage a desperately crippled immortal woman. 揧ou couldn抰 help her and you couldn抰 hurt her, Connor. It抯 not your fault.

揥hat would you have done, Duncan? Connor抯 voice was choked, stifled with misery.

揑 wasn抰 there. I couldn抰 tell you what I would have done.

揓udge me, then, based on what you know, he pleaded.

揑抦 not your judge!

揧ou judge or God judges or that broken pot judges! Connor pulled away and looked intensely into his face. 揑抳e waited a long time for someone to weigh my choice.

Silence. Duncan was angered by the suggestion that he should judge his kinsman, but he did not allow the rage to reach his hands. He was certain his face reflected how he felt. Why did his brother demand this of him?

Because Connor filled the role of a god to these simple people and he made a choice over her fate just like a god. And he knows he is not a god. The pot is silent and God is silent, but I am not.

揝he was severely crippled and it was not your doing. You could not have bodily carried her all the way from where she was, even if you tried. And tearing her from all she knew and loved and bringing her into civilization would have been just as terrible as when we were torn from our clan. Slavery and prejudice were alive and well. Duncan抯 tone was sure, absolutely certain. He tossed the words like a lifeline to this man who had gifted him with his trust and the right to judge. 揝he had no hope to learn any fighting ability because she could barely walk. You could not stand guard over her life endlessly and lose your skill with the sword by lack of use. The word of you would have gotten out and more and more immortals would have come to see this 慓od of Lightning.

揧ou could not hurt her and you could not kill her. And by not telling her of the game, you allowed her to truly live, without fear, until someone finally caught her. She would have faced her death without fear, protected by her belief and faith in the Gods. Duncan paused, then pointed at the broken heap of clay on the floor and watched Connor抯 head turn to view it also. 揝he had always been broken, right in place, and she could not be saved or moved. You made the right choice the only choice there was.

Silence. Duncan watched his brother抯 face and realized that it was now, with the final collapse of the old clay pot, that Connor accepted the inevitable conclusion. While the pot was whole, the elder Highlander, in his simple vulnerable way, had been holding the dream of her life intact. Now, with its ruin, so became real Podpah抯 demise. Duncan experienced a pang so intense as to bid him close his eyes against it.

揑 loved her, softly said Connor.

揧es I know.

揑抦 sure she抯 dead.

揚robably, Connor. Duncan traced the tip of his finger through the red dust in Connor抯 open palm.

揂t least I have a picture of the akabindi [pot].

揧es. And now I know and I will not forget.

揘ow you know, and Connor抯 voice was sad. 揂nd you will not forget.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

~ Seven years later ~

He didn抰 want to go inside and Duncan had to quarrel with him a while about it.

All in fun, naturally, for quarreling with Connor was an art that he cultivated. He could argue almost without saying anything anymore just an askance look would do it. And he knew his clansman took just as much delight in the verbal skirmish as he did.

That middle-of-the-night phone call just to shout 揃OO! at him started all of it. Duncan caught the next flight on a whim and yelled "BOO! right back at the elevator door in New York. The elder Highlander, katana in hand, had to lean against the wall and laugh before he could open the gate to let his younger kinsman in.

They had lots to catch up on and Connor wanted to get out of his loft, so they ended up riding the subway, at midnight, on a lark. They occupied the space right behind the conductor, which the scuttling unsavory characters tended to avoid, and talked the miles away until they drew too much attention because they never got off. With no destination in mind, the two immortals strode off one train and onto an adjacent one without even breaking their conversation.

揥hat day is it anyway?

揇ay? Jesus, Connor, you need to get oriented, chided Duncan, flicking a peanut shell off the seat beside him. 揑t抯 Sunday. Church day. I bet you haven抰 set foot inside a church since April for Heather抯 birthday.

揘ope.

Conversation flowed on until they both realized it was morning and climbed up from beneath the streets to the dawning day. They were clear on the far side of town and laughed when they realized that it would take all day just to find their way back home again. It was like being loose in Europe when nothing constrained them except the weariness of the horses, and they would ride for miles just to see the shape of the land change, and with it, the language of the people.

They munched bagels and gulped coffee that was much too weak, wandering, laughing, and talking nonstop. A park bench took part of their time and the pigeons begged and finally flew away because they had nothing to offer.

They rounded a corner and Duncan halted, studying the great gray building with the tall spires and stained glass windows. It was huge and took up the entire city block along with two adjacent blocks, one of which had a parking garage on it and the other one, a bank of matching church buildings. 揥ow, must be Catholic, announced Duncan.

揗aybe. Lots of saints in the windows but look at the header board. That doesn抰 sound like any Catholic Church I've heard about, chuckled Connor.

Overstreet Powerhouse Spirit Filled Ministries.

Duncan chuckled too and then nudged his companion. 揕et抯 go in and see. Which is where everything started because Connor didn抰 want to go inside and Duncan had to quarrel with him a while about it.

揥e抣l just sit and listen to them. I抦 sure they sing, cajoled Duncan.

揂nd preach 慼ell fire and damnation and I get enough of that from the corner near the coffee shop!

揑t抯 holy ground and we can relax.

am relaxed, announced Connor. The rules were played fast and loose sometimes about taking someone抯 head while they were still weak from a quickening, but there were not too many immortals stupid enough to challenge one immortal walking with an immortal friend.

揥e can sneak in a nap if we sit in the back row.

Connor laughed. 揧ou抮e the kind of parishioner that preachers hate!

揂hh, but I tip well when the plate goes by.

揟hat抯 tithe, you idiot, twitted the older man, knowing full well that his kinsman knew the difference. Then the argument was over because Duncan was striding towards the heavy doors of the church. Connor sighed and followed him.

There was an immortal in here. They felt the faint trace of signature as soon as they got to the door and both men halted. Duncan looked at Connor and Connor looked back. An usher, who yanked open the door and greeted them with enthusiastic cheer, made the decision. He pumped first Duncan抯 hand and then Connor抯, managing at the same time to pull them across the threshold.

They sat in the only place left vacant, the middle, but knew there would be no nap taking even if they had scored the last pew. The church was crowded with boisterous people of every color and size and manner of dress, singing and clapping and peppering their singing with rousing 揂mens! Exactly what one would expect from a powerhouse spirit-filled church. There was a full band on stage, pounding out the beat with deafening enthusiasm, and there was an immortal somewhere in the throng. Neither Scot knew where they were and no single person looked around for them or seemed to care.

The sermon was over the top with many 揾ell fires and 揹amnations just as Connor predicted, and the older man nudged Duncan with an elbow that felt like a pointed sledgehammer for each one. The younger immortal just clenched his teeth and smiled. The preaching went on for almost two hours without a break. They never knew when to stand or when to sit and didn抰 know any of the songs except the closing one and Duncan was chortling too hard to even sing when it came up, for it was a foot stomping rendition of Battle Hymn of The Republic. The fact that there were three immortals inside the church made it almost too hard to bear.

Connor nudged him when they announced it and then nudged him even harder when they arrive at: 揌e hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.

Trapped in the middle, when the service was finally over, they still could not move. A steady stream of passersby had to talk to them and greet them and 揹o come again them. Duncan had never seen such an eclectic mix of people of all races and colors. The immortal was still within the church the aura of presence was still here. And, as the crowd thinned, the younger Scot scanned through the faces searching for one who was looking around searching themselves.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I would forgive the short hair.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

The numbers in the church dwindled and the two Scots debated if they should leave. If they didn抰 have to fight, they wouldn抰. A quickening clear on the other side of town in a strange place would lead to an interesting recovery. It wasn抰 pleasant taking a brutalized, clothing torn, nerve-jangled immortal across town to seek shelter.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I would forgive the clothing.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

揕et抯 go, Connor. They抳e obviously no wish to fight. The immortal signature washed around them, light and gentle like someone very new. Whoever the immortal in this church was, they were so weak that they couldn抰 be pinpointed unless they gave themselves away.

揥ait, Duncan.

揊or what? They would have come out by now if they wanted to accost us. Either to make peace or war.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

I would never forget those eyes that burned and carried so much.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

Duncan watched the crowd disperse on the wide platform. There was a pretty African American lady seated behind the piano and he never noticed her in particular until she stood and someone came with a quad-cane and she leaned heavily upon it to walk. He shook his head sadly. She was profoundly crippled and it took away some of her beauty when he saw the inelegant gait.

And suddenly Connor let out a gust of air with a whoosh and tightened on Duncan抯 forearm with a grip that was painful. 揙h my God! he blurted.

The younger man looked around for the source of Connor抯 exclamation, but couldn抰 pinpoint anything. Another group of parishioners was accosting him on the way out and he diverted his attention accordingly.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

No. I would know him anywhere. Lightning is not easily forgotten. The flash and fire lives on and on in memory.

互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互户Ё互猾せカせЁЙせカせ

The piano player from the stage made her way, limping grotesquely, through the crowd. The parishioners parted before her as if she was a modern day Moses, each of them smiling and nodding, obviously doting and indulgent. She looked in Duncan抯 face with eyes that were ebony, irises and all deep and fathomless eyes that weighed him gravely. Her expression was absolutely serene and composed, as if completely assured of herself amidst her deformity and unaware of how she appeared to others or how she was judged by it.

揌ello, I抦 Duncan MacLeod, he said warmly, kindly. 揙f the Clan MacLeod. Some old memory was plaguing him. There was something here he was missing.

揚leased to meet you, Mr. MacLeod. It抯 been a long time since you have been in a church. You were always sitting when it was time to stand and standing when everyone else had sat down, she said in a voice of honey warmth.

揢mm, yes, well, he stuttered. The sensation of an immortal was closer, but still vague and elusive. 揑 we, don抰 usually get over here on this side of town and it has been awhile since I抳e been in church.

She shifted her gaze to Connor and Duncan abruptly registered the frightening stillness of his companion, the absolute quietness about his person. Duncan felt a sudden thrill of thought as the two regarded each other.

揂nd you are? she asked, eyes fixed on the slighter man抯 face.

He hesitated for a brief moment. 揅onnor.

揅onchobhar: high will. Desire. She said it as if reciting from memory. 揟hey call me Mabel these days, short for Mehitabel: God makes happy. She leaned closer and said very quietly: 揂nd how long has it been for you?

Connor deliberated another instant: 揂 very long time.

Duncan grinned like an idiot and then tapped the elder Scot on one shoulder. Connor never even turned from his focused study of the elegant woman they stood eye to eye as if locked in some shared communion of silence. 揑抣l find my own way home, Connor, he said calmly. He left them standing in the same pose and made his way down the isle to the door. In his last glimpse, he watched Connor crook his arm and Mabel slip hers through it as if they always had walked together thusly.

It was a day or two before the elder Highlander returned to the comfort of his New York loft. He looked tired and Duncan let him drink coffee and wander around the room. The older man was staring out of the bank of windows when he finally spoke aloud. Duncan had to come up and perch his hip on the edge of the desk to hear him.

揟he missionaries found them before the conquerors did. Since they weren抰 offering human sacrifices, they didn抰 dismiss them as savages right off the bat and allow them to be turned into slaves or indentured servants. When the white men talked to them about God, Mabel kept pointing at the sky and they thought the people had rudimentary Christian faith. The older Highlander turned his head with a wry smile. 揗abel was only trying to tell them about the God of Lightning, but they couldn抰 understand her language. They saw how the people gave charity to each other and how they worshipped at a temple. By the time the language was straightened out in a score of years, her tribe had been cultured into the rest. Mabel taught them about the white抯 God, and since they already believed that there are many Gods in the world, it never presented a problem.

揝o, they weren抰 enslaved at all? questioned Duncan.

揘ope. Mabel was their form of priest and she was taken from church to church to talk about her faith and belief. Augusta discovered her as an untrained immortal, put her in the care of Rebecca who moved her safely from holyground to holyground until people regarded her as a spiritual leader. She抯 been all over the world, living, worshipping, and hiding out for a while before being taken somewhere else to serve. She抯 always escorted by a high priest of some faith that blesses every step of the way and there are immortals that watch her and protect her as she travels. She抯 never had a fight and never been challenged.

Duncan was chuckling, shaking his head. 揘either one of us thought she could have survived and here she is? I bet you抮e pleased with yourself.

揘ot really. Connor stared out at the New York skyline. 揑t was just a stroke of luck that I stayed and found her. Everything was chance. One lucky break after the next. His speech dwindled away to silence.

揙r maybe you were just a tool used by God, Connor.

揑f you believe in God.

揝ometimes things like this make you wonder, Duncan added quietly. 揂 慓od of Lightning used by a much bigger God? He eyed his quiet companion. 揙ne never knows.

揘ope.

揥hat will you do now about her?

揘othing. She serves God and the people who come to find God, surviving by grace alone. The immortals that know her keep their distance so they don抰 draw any attention to her. I can come and see her but not stay. It puts her at risk. She抯 safe on holy ground and stays right there at the church. He glanced aside to his kinsman抯 face. 揑t抯 too far for her to walk to live anywhere else so they built a little house for her. Every church she serves builds a home for her to stay in right on the premises.

揚retty lively church she抯 in. Why isn抰 she a Sister at a convent or something?

Connor smiled at this last, a sly look to his features. 揝he likes the drums and all that fire and brimstone preaching.

bet, laughed Duncan. He nudged his tired kinsman with an elbow. 揝he has a thing about lightning too, hmm?

揑抦 innocent, Connor protested, but his tone was soft thoughtful still regarding a miracle before his eyes. 揝he promised to make me another pot, this one fired and glazed so it would last. He turned to look in Duncan抯 face. 揝he survives by grace alone, Donnchaidh, and it just shines out of her face.

揝he抯 lovely, Connor, Duncan admitted, recalling that serene face. 揓ust as you said. Her beauty is all on the inside and the outside package doesn抰 matter at all.

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June 28, 2001 MacNair

This is NOT my fault, I keep telling everyone!

USTADAWN created montages specifically for this story. This talented lady抯 site is found here

Photos used in the montages are from various sources, but chief credit belongs to Celedon. Her site is located here.

MacNair抯 stories, sometimes with different photos and montages, are archived at: CDC main page, (look in the Library) Daire抯 Laire Connor抯 Rotunda

As ever, the biggest tip of my hat goes to a couple of spectacular beta readers, Sharz and lynnann. They give a lot of time and effort to make these stories shine!