It was a thousand leagues from Salem to the city of Adan, and after hyz defeat Lord Zadkiel did not hurry home overmuch, for hy knew hyz life was almost certainly forfeit. Yet hy had never seen Keter delight in cruelty for its own sake. Hy could not say as much for the Eyes.
So Zadkiel did not flee, which would lead to a far more wretched death, but rather made hyz ponderous way to the capital, where Bezaliel, a large scum bubble who had oozed to the top of the Eyes of Keter, warned Zadkiel of what hy could expect in the Lord’s audience chamber.
‘Samael will receive you now, but hy is not alone. Seated on a throne at hyz right hand is the Lord Israel. Hy has the appearance of a young dirk, but no mistake, even as the Seraph Samael is the living avatar of Keter, so the Seraph Israel is the living avatar of Daat.
You will not, in any event, see the great lords, for you must enter the audience hall on all fours like a dog and keep your gaze ever on the floor before you. Now prepare yourself to enter, Hashmal Zadkiel, and may the ever-merciful gods of the house of Gerash forgive you.’
So Zadkiel crawled into the chamber with the same lack of haste that marked his ride from Salem to Adan. Israel bounded off his throne toward him with a sword that hy never sheathed. ‘Come no closer, worm,’ hy said, ‘Speak, but spare us any war stories from last year.
My Lord Israel,’ hy stammered, ‘if any angel in Heaven told me the daughter of Melchiyahu was so warlike I might be excused for dismissing them. Yet the Lord Samael hymself told me this, and I did not believe hym. Thus hyz army was destroyed in detail and the fault is mine.’
Israel said, ‘For your unbelief, worm, you are forgiven. But your absolute incompetence as a commander demands a remedy.’
Then with a single stroke Zadkiel received the clean death hy had hoped for. Hyz only surprise was how long hy could still see after being decapitated.
Israel hurled the blade across the audience hall. It tumbled end-over-end, yet it was perfectly timed and embedded itself in the massive wooden door at the entrance. That was the signal for Bezaliel to stroll in. Not crawl. When hy reached the body hy didn’t even bow.
Keter and Daat knew who they were and needed no human acknowledgment of that. Samael said, ‘This mess is the result of one of my thralls dwindling in unbelief.’
‘I shall send to have it cleaned at once, Lord Samael.’
‘Do that. When they have finished return once more.’
I will speak to you of the daughter of King Melchiyahu, and how you must never take har out of your consideration when you head my army to bring Salem to heel. I tried to impress this carrion with just that, but hy thought I was having hym on. You see the inevitable result.’
The Adanite army led by Bezaliel had blocked and garrisoned all the roads leading to Salem from the north, south, and east. Salem itself lay on an island within a large lake fed by meltwater from a place where the northern and southern sheets of ice came together as one.
During the days of mourning for the father of King Melchizedek the Seraph Michael spoke in council of the movements of the Adanite army hy had discerned with the avatar of Chokhmah. ‘The forces now moving in the field are five times again what came against Salem before.’
‘Five, or half, or a hundred times greater,’ said Melchizedek, ‘it makes no difference. So long as I reign over this city, none shall face the enemy in the field.’
‘My brother and lord,’ said Lilith, ‘we have ships, and time enough to carry all the people of the city away.’
‘But where would they go, Lil? There’s a hundred rustic coves scattered around the Sea of Aramel where little clans of fisherfolk barely survive from what little they catch and what lesser still they trade. The vale of the Dashok is too rocky. No crops will grow there.’
Even so Your Royal Highness,’ said Michael, ‘I beg you to release to me one seaworthy craft, at least. I would send spies to the very source of the river Dashok. Samael maintains a fortress in an ice cave there and supplies it by fold-door. It blocks any escape to the west.’
‘Where are your thoughts leading, Michael?’ asked hyz wife.
‘Your brother is very wise, Lil. Hy knows Samael’s quarrel is really with the ruling family and your Fallen Angels, not with the ordinary subjects of Salem. There is a way out of this. Salem can live in peace.’
King Melchizedek said, ‘Do you think the Fallen Angels can win through the cave?’
‘As things now stand, Sire, that is impossible. Samael has me at a disadvantage. Hy knows precisely where the cave lies on the surface of Heaven and I do not. Lilith’s spies can remedy this.’
Azarael and Jael would be perfect for this job,’ Ophan Lilith said. ‘They’re ghosts. They could travel light and live off whatever supplies they find in the cave.’
‘Then they shall have their barque,’ said King Melchizedek, ‘and what provender and weapons they might need.’
It could not be hidden that the full might of House Gerash was drawn up against Melchizedek. As Salemites mourned Cherub Melchiyahu for the full twenty-five days, forces led by Bezaliel closed in until Salem stood isolated on the island that was coterminous with the city.
Melchizedek considered abdicating the throne, but no one believed Samael would seat Princess Lilith on the throne to succeed hym, and a successor more to the liking of Samael was unthinkable to everyone who was now dwelling in Salem. Yet a siege would be even worse.
Hy said, ‘Beloved sister, the time has come for the Fallen Angels to quit Salem or renounce the sword for so long as they dwell within the city walls.’
Lilith replied, ‘Sire, this is a bitter edict, for my yen have already sworn their hand shall ever cleave to the sword.’
‘And where shall they go, Lil?’
‘Sire,’ Michael said, ‘I propose to call together a council of royals with the aim of uniting all Heaven against Samael. I will fly Lilith and Leliel to Anshar but Raphaela will lead the Fallen Angels and all who would go with har to Rumbek.
‘And Raphaela? Where is sha? Let har stand forth.’
Lilith’s second-in-command approached the throne and dropped to one knee. Melchizedek waved for har to stand. ‘Do you, Hashmal Raphaela, understand the task that lies before you?’
‘I confess that I do not, Sire.’
‘There are no towns between Salem and the Ice other than a few scattered hovels and not a single road. You will ford the river many times and find little provender fit for angels along the way. Even the forage for your horses will fail as you trace the Dashok to its source.’
‘I have made arrangements, Sire, to make it more likely that Raphael will prevail.’
‘Excellent,’ said the king. ‘Then if by good fortune sha safely passes to the lands held by the House of Larund, sha will find the Brown Beards are no friends of the pursuing Adanites.’
Michael said, ‘Sire, King Metatron boasts hy will welcome any refugees departing from what hy terms ‘the unlovely lands ruled by Keter’. So steadfast is this enmity that I plan to commit Queen Aurra and King Uriel to the council before I even meet with the Larund king.’
‘We shall see if Metatron is willing to stand by hyz boast when the first refugees arrive to accept hyz hospitality. But I think you are overlooking something, Michael. If you can send me to Earth through a fold-door what stops Samael from sending yeng to hyz fortress?’
Michael said, ‘The king knows that elohim are living suns but perhaps hy does not know, and indeed hy could scarcely imagine the crushing forces that exist in the heart of suns. There is a dark light made by elohim that stays this pressure and allows their life to endure.
The body of Daat is really a layer in the cold sun thinner than the finest gold leaf. It takes a full seven days for Daat to make sufficient extra dark light to fatten his bridge to Keter such that a yang could use it. If this were not so Salem would have fallen long ago.’
‘Lord Michael, you have made me come to believe the Fallen Angels will win through to Rumbek after all. I thank you.’
‘And I thank you also, King Melchizedek for your years of service to me in the other world. I have made far greater demands on you than you ever did of me.’
‘There has been a spring in this city,’ said Melchizedek. ‘It has lasted far longer and tasted far sweeter than anyone dared to dream. But if winter must now come to Salem, Michael, may the flowering we have known take root outside of the lands trampled by House Gerash.’
‘Will you reconsider your rejection of the Change so that your sister may not be parted from you forever?’
‘The King saw Lilith grew supremely unhappy as hy spoke. ‘It is tempting, yet as the centuries wore on I think would become like a stone smuggled into a nest of eggs.’
‘Then Sire, think on the refined cruelty of the Eyes of Keter, and what you may suffer should you fall into their hands. Your sister accepted the Change and not even the pains of childbirth made har blench. At the very least you could die at the moment of your own choosing.’
Melchizedek said, ‘I have no fear of that. Every moment that I remain alive in their captivity the Eyes will fear I will be snatched out of their hands by my sister. They do not know sha will be whisked off to Anshar instead. No, Michael, my end will be quick and sure.’
Melchizedek saw how Lilith was allowing har tears to flow freely. Hy was moved to drop the airs of a king, step down from the dais, and embrace har one final time as any brother would the sister hy loved. Hy said, ‘I regret the years I had to admire you only in my thoughts.’
But Lilith could find no words other than to merely sob, ‘Oh, Deck, this parting is bitter. Bitter!’
Hy held har gently apart from hym and said, ‘Michael told me your darling Leliel is the firstborn of the B’nei Elohim. The Children of the Gods! How fortunate you are, Lil!’
And suddenly, like the shadow of a cloud passing over the white sun, the King grew terminally fey. He realized in one instant how they were inflicting torment upon themselves as cruel as anything devised by the Eyes of Keter by letting the necessary parting linger too long.
At hyz command Melchizedek was arrayed in hyz finest raiment, and hy donned a jeweled cloak. Then hy led hyz weeping subjects to the lower levels of the city, and Princess Lilith longed to follow, but Michael gently stayed har, and together with Leliel they went another way.
Two hours later a lone craft neared a dark shore thronged with the enemy after making a nighttime crossing from Salem, but no darts flew, since it was yet too dark to see the identity of the boatyang. Lord Bezaliel passed through the ranks to properly receive the visitor.
Suddenly night became day as the avatar of Chokhmah rose over the walls of Salem on a pillar of flame. Lord Bezaliel was not distracted as the other yeng were. Hy recognized Melchizedek and ordered weapons free. As the Cherub foresaw hy perished quickly in a storm of arrows.
The avatar’s light diminished as it bent to the north and picked up speed, becoming lesser in light than the orange cold sun that reigned over the night, then finally nothing more than an ordinary star as it raced out of sight. Never again would Salem know a ruling monarch.
As the Sarim Azarael and Jael of the Fallen Angels slinked their way through the ice tunnels west of Salem only three of Samael’s soldiers ever discovered them. Their bodies were left to be discovered in such a way that their deaths could be explained as entirely accidental.
The two yen found the location of the enemy’s main storeroom of meat and grain. Not even Chokhmah knew the exact position of that space where it sits under the ice, but she knew the position of Lilith’s headband, the one capable of casting a bright light, at all times.
Azarael left the gift inside a container near the center of the ice cave in such a way that it would not likely be discovered and moved, even if the storeroom were actively being drawn down, which to har eyes it was not. After that sha and Jael moved some distance away.
They moved far down one of the tunnels radiating from the central space like wheel spokes, there to remain until such a time as they detected, as Michael put it using what hy warned was extreme understatement, a disturbance. ‘This is not a suicide mission,’ hy explained.
They would never starve amid the bounty of stores but it was always cold. Fortunately they had a good remedy that never seemed to get tiresome. In the cozy little rat’s nest they made for themselves Jael slipped nude between fur blankets and purred to Azarael to come to har.
Ice pinched the Belt of Heaven in three places, leaving three unfrozen swaths. Each of these lands were about two thousand leagues long but only a hundred leagues from north to south. The Adanites styled their own the Middle Land. In practical terms it was the East Land.
The ice bridge between the Middle and East Lands was the thinnest of the three, and given much time it would be the first to melt, but it was four hundred leagues across and not smooth by any means. The earliest travelers despaired of reaching the end, and turned back.
The few travelers who did cross the ice found themselves wading through a swampy tulgey wood that may have run for another four hundred leagues for all anyone knew, since none found the one trickle emerging from the vast bog that was the ultimate source of the River Loenna.
Long before the humans of Heaven became angels or nephilim they migrated west, beating back the lethal native flora as they founded Salem and points beyond. They crossed two more barriers of ice. Ultimately they reached a fertile land they called Rammon and went no further.
In Rammon far from any interference from Keter the Gold Beards of the House of Sala developed an enduring culture unique in Heaven. It was based on the Ringhouse, a single common wooden dwelling of about eighty people at the center of a small circle of cultivated fields.
Along the rim of this circle one or two dozen footpaths entered the forest, but only four to six of these trails led to another Ringhouse some five or so leagues away. The rest petered out to game trails or (more likely) dead-ended in a grove of lethal whipping trees.
When girls were of age they were married to a fellow in a neighboring Ringhouse. Most people were born, lived, and died without seeing more than a dozen or so Ringhousen, yet it was very peaceful. No Adanite invaders would cross the ice and the swamp for such meager loot.
What combat, such as it was, came against Saharad, the sole city in Rammon, in periodic raids from the adjoining land of Gerazan by the Red Beards of House Bellon. From time to time Samael appeared to both sides with the latest Adanite weaponry and left with their gold.
And yet in the main the Gold Beards of Family Sala embraced Michael’s revelations of Chokhmah to an extent that rivaled the angels of Salem. To a man they were the proud subjects of a powerful queen, Aurra Firegem, which would be absolutely unthinkable to the Adanites.
When the avatar of Chokhmah made landfall nigh to Saharad it did not inspire the fear that once overcame Salem, for this was the third such appearance. The first had been with Michael alone, in the second Lilith had joined hym. Now Leliel was present, just two years of age.
Queen Firegem canceled what audience her courtiers had prepared for that day to receive instead her unannounced visitors. With her husband Duke Evandr the two made an imposing pair, but the queen was not beautiful in the eyes of many men, as she was broad of face and frame.
Upon har introduction Leliel had sufficient discipline to render the Queen a parody of court etiquette before being allowed to roam free, yet neither Aurra nor Evandr were offended, so taken were they with the lovely child. But Aurra guessed that Michael’s news would be bad.
‘Your Highness,’ Lilith began with a husk in har voice, and even as sha spoke sha was surprised at the depth of har emotion two weeks after the event. ‘Your Highness, my brother King Melchizedek is dead, and even now the city of Salem is being trampled by the Adanite army.’
Dismay edged the Queen’s voice. ‘Why, Princess Lilith? How did this happen?’
‘Your Majesty, the people of Salem embraced Michael as a teacher, even as you and your people have done here in Rammon. Lord Samael would not, nay, hy could not allow that to continue unchallenged.
‘And for hyz part my brother saw how a siege was immanent. Hy deemed that no edict Samael would likely impose upon the angels of the city for their defiance could be worse than their starvation, so hy went willingly to the enemy camp and Michael assures me hy died quickly.’
The Queen glanced then at Michael. ‘And what did befall Salem, do you know?’
‘Your Majesty, Samael appointed a governor over the city who levies a heavy tax. The Eyes of Keter multiply almost as fast as do the mournful ordinances and road checkpoints, and none may depart.
And yet for all that, Your Majesty, Samael has utterly failed, because a daughter and a granddaughter of King Melchiyahu remain alive, and both have slipped away from hyz grasp. I hold Lilith to be a Cherub and the Queen of Salem in exile. Samael will come for har.’
Duke Evandr Firegem said, ‘Are you seeking asylum for Queen Lilith, your daughter, and yourself, Lord Michael? If so you are entirely welcome, indeed we are eager to have you live here in Saharad, and if the city is not to your liking you may disappear anywhere in Rammon.’
‘I thank you, Sire, but leaving myself and my family aside, Samael is pursuing other exiles from Salem even into the land of the Brown Beards. Were I to do nothing to stave off the war that must follow King Metatron would no more welcome them in Rumbek than Samael in Salem.’
He said in reply, ‘Lord Michael, if, perchance your best efforts to bring peace fail, and war does come to House Larund, know that we humans of Heaven hold ourselves to be exiles also, and Chokhmah to be our only God. We of Rammon will never turn away any who embrace her.’
I thank you and Queen Aurra, Sire,’ said Michael, ‘but if war comes it will hardly stop at Rumbek. Samael means to overawe the kingdoms of heaven one after the other before they can unite to stop hym. Think on this when next hy appears before you as a merchant of arms.’
After conversing more with Evandr and Aurra on many things of lesser import Michael healed some of the incurably infirm in Sarahad before returning to Anshar with Leliel. But Lilith went on to rejoin the Fallen Angels who had reached the dwindling upper stream of the Dashok.
As Melchizedek had warned the cache was strongly defended. After the Fallen Angels forced the entrance the garrison commander ordered a slow retreat to the central chamber while dealing out fire. There the bulk of hyz troops made a stand that seemed impossible to break.
As Lilith’s forces emerged from one tunnel or another hy shifted soldiers to meet the threats when they appeared. Lilith found it impossible to attack the core simultaneously from more than a handful of tunnels since the cross tunnels were few and the enemy knew them well.
Raphaela spied a drop of water rolling down Lilith’s cheek, and har lieutenant was shocked at first, then sha steeled harself up to rebuke har Queen. It was one thing to feel despair during a battle, it was quite another to allow that despair to be visible to underlings.
But a large drop of water landed square on Raphaela’s head. Sha looked up to see many such drops were falling from the dimly-illuminated ceiling of ice far overhead. The drops became a true rain. The ceiling began to glow with a light of its own and a deep thunder grew.
Lilith ordered the Fallen Angels to disengage and fall back in the tunnels. None witnessed the ceiling of the ice cave glowing orange before exploding, with the more fortunate Adanite defenders killed by house-sized chunks of ice and the less fortunate ones boiling alive.
Only the dying yeng saw the avatar of Chokhmah drill into the chamber of ice with all six engines skewed, some pointing up, some pointing down, others turning from side to side, all six motors spouting fusion fire from the heart of Sol and turning the water to steam.
The water boiled away and the bodies of the yeng were crisped by the raw flame until even their ashes were scattered away. Lilith and har lieutenants walked to the ragged end of several tunnels trying to comprehend the chaos of the scene below. The avatar fell silent.
Far across the chamber at another tunnel stood Azarael and Jael, both quite safe. The applause of the two yen echoed across the now quiet space.
Lilith dropped to the lowest level and spoke to the inert avatar. ‘Michael, if Leliel is in there with you, you’re dead.
And if you left har alone in Anshar where Keter or Daat can get at har by fold-door you’re twice as dead!’
The avatar of Chokhmah began to shrink before har eyes until it was a white faceless figure with a head, arms, and legs. It said, ‘Do give me some credit, Lil.’
Lilith had quite forgotten that Chokhmah could fly her avatar perfectly well without Michael inside. In fact, there were nothing like reins inside for Michael to steer it. Chokhmah marched out of the Adanite supply cache with every footfall sounding like an avalanche.