“What do you seek here, daughter?” he asked in a softer tone of voice.

Fidelma tried to control her smile. Daughter! The young religieux was hardly older than she was. But the New Faith was importing a lot of new phrases and concepts to their language. Priests of the New Faith were now being called Athair or Father, which was an affectation brought in from the Faith in Rome. A few even preferred the term RÃinid, confidant or counsellor.

“Are you Brother Mongan?” she asked.

A frown passed the young man’s brow.

“This is my chapel,” he acknowledged in reply.

“My name is Fidelma. I am…” she hesitated slightly, “I am a lawyer from the college of the Brehon Morann, which lies not far from here.”

“I know of it,” the young man replied, the frown deepening. “What do you seek here?”

“I would have thought that obvious.” Fidelma could not help her automatic retort. “I have been asked to come here to verify that the sanctuary you have given to the fugitive who now resides in your chapel has been accorded in strict adherence to the law.”

Brother Mongan sniffed slightly. “Had it not been, I would not have given it,” he replied with equal curtness.

“It is a legal requirement that this be checked,” Fidelma responded, trying not to make her voice sharp, as was her inclination. She did not wish to irritate Brother Mongan, realising that impatience was one of her faults.

“And I confirm it,” replied the religieux.

“I am glad to hear it,” smiled Fidelma, and swung down from her horse so that she could stand facing him. “However, there are still formalities to be gone through.”

Brother Mongan was clearly unhappy.


“Of course,” she replied, tethering her horse to a nearby bush and glancing around. There were two other horses grazing nearby among the trees. “I suppose one of those belongs to your fugitive?”

Brother Mongan glanced in the direction she was looking and nodded quickly. “But what formalities?” he pressed again.

“Sanctuary has to follow certain legal requirements,” she replied. “When the fugitive came here, did he properly identify himself?”

“He said he was Ulam Fionn of the territory of the shy; Echach Cobo. That he sought protection because he was being pursued and sought to escape impending harm.”

“That harm coming in what form?”

“He said that his life was in danger. He was falsely accused of murder. He told me that he had caused the death of someone but in self-defence. He said he was attacked by this person and had to defend himself. Those chasing him would not listen to reason and meant him harm.”

Fidelma regarded Brother Mongan thoughtfully. It was a different side of the story from that told by Faichen Glas.

“So you offered sanctuary to Ulam Fionn and accepted that you were legally entitled to act for him?”

Brother Mongan nodded but did not speak.

“You are prepared to confirm and guarantee that Ulam Fionn will not take advantage while dwelling in this sanctuary, that he will engage in no unlawful activity? That he will not use this as a base to ride out to bring harm or loss to anyone?”

“Of course.”

“And, as in the manner you have already informed me, all who come here are informed that the chapel has become a sanctuary and they must abide by the laws appertaining to that provision?”

“Yes,” agreed Brother Mongan impatiently.

So far, Fidelma thought, it seemed straightforward enough.

“Then I simply need to see this Ulam Fionn and speak with him.”

Brother Mongan hesitated and seemed about to protest. Then he shrugged.

“Wait here. He is nervous, so it is best that I speak with him first.”

He turned and made his way into the church. Fidelma turned and absently patted her horse’s muzzle. With a thoughtful frown she turned to where the other two horses were grazing.

Brother Mongan’s voice called from the door of the chapel.

“You may come in, my daughter.”

She walked up the path and entered the doorway of the chapel, halting for a few moments to get used to the darkness of the interior. There were a few high windows and the place was lit with candles, but it was still gloomy; shadows danced everywhere in accordance with the dictates of the flickering flames.

“You want to see me?”

Ulam Fionn was a short, thin man with close-set eyes and a beak of a nose. His voice was sharp. Fidelma could not help disliking him and then she felt guilty. She was allowing her personal prejudices to form judgments. Brehon Morann had long taught that those practising law should be free of forming such ridiculous intolerant bias.

“Ulam Fionn, I am sent here to ensure that the proper laws relating to sanctuary have been observed. I understand from Brother Mongan that they have.”

The fugitive stood without movement. He did not reply.

Fidelma sighed. She glanced around quickly.

“You have come seeking sanctuary for yourself only?”

“I am alone here.”

“So what do you intend to do?”

“Intend to do?” a slight frown crossed the man’s face.

“Sanctuary cannot be granted indefinitely. Faichen Glas, who has pursued you here, can now appeal to the abbot in whose authority this chapel comes for permission to plead your case before him and his Brehon…. You cannot stay here forever.”

“What…?” Ulam Fionn shot a startled look at Brother Mongan. Fidelma saw the religieux was looking bewildered.

“I thought the Faith guaranteed that no person could violate sanctuary,” he said stubbornly.

“Faichen Glas has to bring his witnesses and his own Brehon to argue his case in the presence of the abbot. Abbot Sionna,” explained Fidelma. “The abbot has to decide, together with Faichen Glas’s own judge, whether there is a case to be answered. He can set a time limit to the duration of the sanctuary or hand you over to Faichen Glas for trial immediately.”

“Then I am done for,” Ulam Fionn said with bitterness. “I have no witness to support me. I will be condemned on the word of the widow of Nessán, whom I killed in self-defence. And it is Nessán’s own cousin who pursues me.”

“You killed the man in self-defence? Tell me your story,” Fidelma said.

“I was taking a shortcut across Nessán’s lands, near his farmhouse, when he suddenly appeared and started to attack me. I sought to defend myself and in doing so Nessán was killed. I heard his wife start screaming ‘Murder!’ I hid, for I knew Nessán had many friends in the area and I did not. Then word came that Faichen Glas said he would cause me to pay for what I had done. He was a rich and powerful noble. I fled south.”

“But why would Nessán attack you?”

Ulam Fionn shrugged indifferently. “Give a dog a bad name. He and his kind have always disliked me. They accuse me of all sorts of things of which I am innocent. The whole world is against me.”

Fidelma had a slight feeling of guilt that she could dislike the man simply because of his looks. If she was going to be successful as a dálaigh, a pleader before the courts of the Brehons, when she left Brehon Morann’s law school, then she would have to curb any emotional prejudice such as judging on people’s looks. Looks were no measurement. What was it Brehon Morann often told his students? The tree that has handsome foliage often has a bitter fruit. The reverse was also true.

“The law is not there to take sides but to seek the truth,” she placated, feeling sorry for the man. “You

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