"But there is one thing I cannot understand. Why in heaven's name would Brighid's own father want her sacrificed?" Diego pounded a fist on the table before him. The strange tales of this pagan religion of magic and myth was interesting but still made no sense when he remembered the way a young girl had been so threatened, mistreated, and abused. "You said he does care for her."
"Yes, I believe he does in a way. Their ways are not ours, Diego, nor are they anything like them. I believe he is just resigned to her fate. After all, he has known this must happen from the moment she was adopted."
Professor Murcia laid a restraining hand on Diego's shoulder. He could sense a rising frustration in the young man and knew just how prone to leap into action he was. "Diego, we had better both realize that our 'heaven' has nothing to do with any of this. This religion of theirs is embedded deep in ancient customs and rituals that are as foreign to our way of thinking as--"
"As those of the Far East or the darkest reaches of Africa." His son finished the sentence for him.
"But, the British Isles are civilized-" Diego began.
"But the hold of some of these Celtic beliefs is a strong one, and the need for secrecy binds them together in a way that is hard to understand. Her father is only part of a long line of chieftains. Some would call him an earthbound god, if you will. And it is a rite of succession that has been practiced for centuries. Only by Brighid's sacrifice will the next leader be allowed to take over. It is her death, and only her death, that will open the portals of the next afterlife for her father's soul when he relinquishes his power to his successor."
"And just who is this successor. I would think he'd have a very real interest in Brighid's whereabouts just now."
"Oh, I don't think we need to concern ourselves about him--" Carlos began.
"Why not? It is he who stands to gain the most from Brighid's death. And I'd very much like to know all my enemies before the fight begins." Diego leaned back in his chair, trying to keep his impatience in check. He knew the necessity of being prepared and knowledge about this whole affair seemed to be coming to him in dribs and drabs at a time.
"Well, he is a warrior of sorts. He took the name of Dubh-Dedach. She never speaks of him so I don't know all that much about him."
"Then tell us what you know." Diego said simply. Was it his imagination or did Carlos seem very nervous all of a sudden?
"It was probably he who hired Fuentes to find her but I doubt seriously that he would ever leave the homeland himself. He might, however, have others in his service. He would indeed want her back. For he is, in effect, her betrothed."
"But what a brief marriage they would have." The professor mused sadly. "He marries her on one day and sacrifices her the next."
"Well, that's not going to happen." Diego shot a stern look at Carlos. He's definitely nervous about this Dubh-Dedach person! "But tell me more about the ritual, the sacrifice itself. Can it take place anywhere? Or must it be in a temple of some kind? I don't suppose we would be lucky enough that it could not happen in this country?"
"No, it could happen anywhere. That is not the preferred way, of course, but these people have established an almost nomadic existence. They have had to, to survive. If the right incantations and rituals were served up, this sacrifice could take place anywhere." Carlos rubbed his chin in thought. "I would think it would have to be in a woodland setting though. These people were highly fanatical about the magical qualities of trees. It was one of their ideas I found most nonsensical."
"So! There's Fuentes on the one hand who will only sell her to the highest bidder, be it religious zealot or foreign traders. And on the other hand, her own people who would seek to destroy her for the continuity of their existence as a tribe." Diego could almost feel the presence of evil surrounding the house. He shivered in spite of himself. "Professor, is there anything in your readings of these peoples that would give us a clue as to what they fear? Surely, one with an affinity for such beliefs as these must have something that would inspire an unreasonable, holy fear?" Diego smiled at the thought. He'd very much like to return to them some of the same that they had inflicted on Brighid.
"Now that's an interesting idea, Diego. Use their fears! Of course! Let me look. There's bound to be something." The professor started grabbing volumes from the bookshelf behind him.
"What about fire?" Carlos offered. "It would be the elemental fear of woodland creatures."
"True. We'll keep that in mind. Perhaps-" But Diego's was cut short by a shriek of exclamation from the professor.
"You'll never believe this! I've found it. I knew I'd remembered something .Look at this, Diego!" He shoved the book in front of him. "No, here. Read!"
"What is it, Father? Something we can use?"
"Most definitely." Diego looked up with a brilliant smile. "It seems there is a being that does strike fear into their hearts."
"Yes, remember Carlos, we discussed her once before. The female warrior Scathach. A powerful Amazon type that wielded a magickal sword? Remember?"
"Oh yes. It's supposed to have all kinds of powers. What was it called? The Gae" Carlos searched his memory for the name.
"The 'Gae Bolg'." Diego read aloud. "'Possessing the Gae Bolg has been the dream of every Celtic warrior for centuries.' It says here it's from a place called the Isle of Shadows. What a beautiful name."
"Yes, Scathach means "shadowed one" or "one who strikes fear". But the best thing about this is-"
"Yes, this should do nicely. Of course, I am not female, but the idea of 'the shadowed one" is giving me all kinds of ideas. I think-"
"But Diego, listen! The best thing about this is that the Gae Bolg is here!"
"Here?" Diego and Carlos spoke in unison.
"Yes, at the University! The legendary sword is in the keeping of none other than Hernando Barerra! He's been studying it for the past two months to authenticate its heritage."
"Señor Barerra has the sword!" Diego was incredulous. His head fencing master was in possession of the very weapon that might help them end all this. It was almost like fate had stepped in to help them. "Is it valuable? I mean monetarily?"
"Priceless, I would hazard to guess. Especially if it can be authenticated in any way. That's always an uphill battle, of course, with anything of a legendary nature, but if anyone could well" The professor made a sweeping gesture in the air.
"Then getting Señor Barerra to loan it to us might be a trifle difficult. But, no matter. Do you think it will really instill the right amount of fear should we come up against some of the tribe?"
"A sword such as this in the hand Diego de la Vega would instill fear in any man with half a brain!" The professor laughed. It was clear he thought the coming battle nearly won.
"But there is one thing you should know, Diego." Carlos said very quietly and the two men turned in expectation.
"The name, Dubh-Dedach, well, it's a very ancient name. No one has taken it upon himself in a long time. No one dared."
Diego and Professor Murcia exchanged glances. "And why that is bears some significance?"
"Sí. Some. The original Dubh-Dedach was a warrior who reputedly could be harmed by no known weapon. I'm not sure he ever faced the Gae Bolg in battle or if it would have affected him. We must hope that he does not choose to come here to fight for her. He would be a formidable foe."
"Carlos, I doubt that the 'original' is going to come here. It's only his namesake, no?" Diego grinned.
But Carlos could not face Diego as he answered. "Maybe you should ask Brighid about this. You should know exactly what you will be facing."
"Carlos, what is it? What are you afraid of? What are you not telling us?" His father stepped forward and grabbed his shoulders. It was plain that the young man had become more upset with every mention of the warrior.
"Because I saw him! In the clearing, one day, as I waited for Brighid. I can only hope that it was the mists and the other-worldly feel of such a place as that forest, but the man I saw looked like he'd stepped out of another time. He was everything the myths say about him. Brighid believes - "
"Brighid believes what?" Diego's patience was at its end.
"She believes he is the real Dubh-Dedach returned from the netherworld! And the name, Diego, is - very important. It means 'invincible ."