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High voices floated through the cracks of old stone, drifting into the cool air, attempting to reach for heaven itself. Through the arches of the tiny building, into the aisles, stood fifty or so figures, heads hung, listening conditionally to the hymn.

With each movement the wooden floor creaked, unable to hold the weight of such a large group of worshippers. Weak light crept through the glass windows, slithering across the floor, stamped out by the small choir who faced the congregation.

The few who weren’t at worship could be found at local taverns, gathered around rickety wooden tables, recklessly tapping full glasses together. In the soft light of the sun that dared to slip through, the ale glinted dangerously. A silent threat. The light dared not to go further.

Unaware of the hostility, the groups of men continued their festivity, arms slung around each other, slurred words slipping past their pale lips forming nonsensical revelry.

Ghostly choirs or drunken songs, both formed the sounds of celebrations that cloaked bloodshed. It rolled across lush, green hills, echoing across all of Ireland.

On a hill, just past the modest village, sat a small figure. She was only young, no older than fifteen, hunched beneath an ancient ash tree. It reached towards the sky, standing stubbornly in place. The trunk was wide, dusty grey bark scarred. Its deep green leaves worked as a shield for the girl, shading her from the warm sun. Around the girl lay scattered flowers. Small Bainne bó bleachtáin, bundles of aiteann gallda, glanrosc gaelach, sabhaircín, fearbán féir, and, most notably, surrounding a small, wooden bowl which held a dull blue paste, hundreds of seamróg. The small clovers were everywhere, in the grass, on the girl’s clothes, and even through her red hair.

A mumbled prayer left the girl’s cracked lips. Her hesitation was an evident reminder to herself of her own lack of confidence in her native tongue. She continued her attempt at an invocation she could faintly remember her grandmother using; gliding a thumb across her pale skin, leaving deep blue markings behind.

As the colour had begun to fade, she leant forward, gathering more of the woad dye on her fingers, swiftly continuing her design. The curved lines slid up her arm, merging together in a beautiful dance that resembled a serpent. While the original design was much more delicate, Deidre found her newer lines to be edgier. Angrier. Despite her original peace, as the celebrations grew louder, so did her displeasure.

She swiped her thumb across her arm, finding solace in her artwork. Though, to an outsider, it would appear to be innocent, to Deidre, the snake symbolised so much more. A reminder to everyone that she wouldn’t support the banishment.

Though a gesture that would be abhorred by the townsfolk, the view of such a simple act of defiance allowed Deidre’s heart to bloom. It granted her passion to take control, even if it was just for the small time she was given during the town’s St Patrick’s Day distractions.

She held her arm out, allowing for the woad to dry in the morning breeze. Lugh’s light crept through the branches of the uinnseann, curiously sliding past the regrowing leaves. She was wrapped in the sunlight, a blanket much warmer than the ones they could afford at home.

She observed her rushed artworks in disdain. Despite knowing she had little time, and that, truly, the quality of the artwork was not the goal, she still found herself agitated by the appearance of it. Though, she supposed it expressed the seeds of discontent that had been planted in her soul. Perhaps it was the shakiness of her hands, or her lack of practice, but she could never imitate her grandmother’s effortless artwork. No matter how hard she tried, Deidre struggled to match the royal blue colour her grandmother’s woad always was, instead being forced to settle with a dulled pigment.

While the wise woman had assured her that her mother would teach her, Deidre’s mother seemed more interested in church and her desperate attempt to fit in. ‘Pretend to be normal, just like everybody else.’

That was their safest bet.

Deidre gazed back on the snake once more. The image of her grandmother’s proud smile came to mind, faint, and shaky, but still there.

‘Don’t let them believe he succeeded.’ Her grandmother had whispered in her ear on this very hilltop, under this very tree. It was smaller back then, with less scarring, but still demanding of the same respect. Deidre had laid herself flat on her back, the sun creeping through the green leaves, glinting on her red hair. Her grandmother took her blue dye, creating an intricate pattern on Deidre’s bare stomach. ‘You’re a snake, Deidre. Don’t let them forget the real people of Éire.’

As her grandmother spoke, her hands moved with years of expertise, forming the Crann Bethadh, branches reaching towards Deidre’s heart.

Deidre ran her fingers along the soft grass to rid them of any residual dye, and then pulled the ageing cloth shawl over her thin shoulders. In the changing seasons of Ostara, the winter breeze was known to linger. Other inhabitants of the town opted to spend their mock celebrations indoors, while Deidre was prone to spending her festivities in nature. Where they were supposed to be. Her grandmother had ensured that Deidre grew up knowing that it was impossible to truly celebrate if you did not connect to the land.

She finished up the last whisper of her incantations, green eyes gazing out onto the town she reluctantly called home. She could faintly hear the psychotic songs, the bloodthirsty cheers, and she shrunk back. The quaint town had never been as safe as it liked to appear, Deidre had seen it first hand. Even though she had taken the precaution to sit away from the town in order to participate in the equinox, there was still a chance it wasn’t far enough. Despite her stubborn nature she had inherited from her grandmother, her mother’s worried voice still curled up in the back of her mind. Waiting, watching, reminding her that if she wasn’t careful, she too would end up in Tír nAill, the Otherworld, and be another soul taken much too young.

Perhaps her mother was right. Perhaps she was ‘ar shiúl leis na sióga’. Crazy, out of her mind. But she didn’t think she could fit in. The seeds of rebellion had been planted long ago, before she had been born. In the hearts of her ancestors, in the heart of her land. If the town wanted to fight, she would strike back.

It was like the Christians said. She was a snake, and she was venomous.