then the land had peace for forty years
i. the palm tree is still there, between ramah and bethel—more wind-bent than the year before, the edges of the palm fronds curling and sere with the lack of rain. (it is like stepping into a place she thought gone from her, that she should return from war to still find the smooth stone on which she sat, the same jagged markings carved into the great trunk.)
yet here again does she take up her court, and to her they come with their disputes–petty peacetime squabbles over oxen and children, quarrels too small for the lord in heaven to take note. The silence of her lord is like the silence after thunder, and she is left waiting for the next peal to shake the earth.
in waiting, she counsels as best she might. at noontide she rests her head back against the thick trunk, and dreams of armies, dreams of a god who heard his children crying out and sent them a mother.
ii. yael comes in the cool of the morning, bloody tent-pin on a length of cord around her neck (extolled above all women, her hand to the hammer) and kneels before deborah, saying, I am yet willing, what would the lord god ask of me? what does he require of his servant?
it is already done, deborah answers.
but there is strength yet in my arms, yael protests, touching the tent-pin; the blood is blackened and old, flaking, it comes away on her fingertips. I am still willing. I am still here.
it is a gift, deborah answers, because it is kinder than saying, be not greedy, yael, you have been given more of the lord than Israel will know for generations–be grateful.
yael goes away, her heart heavy and the tent-pin cast at deborah’s feet.
iii. the idols slink back among the children of israel, inexorable as crawling things brought in by the tide—asherah with her cow’s hips, baal with lightning clutched in his fist, and hollow, hollow as the wind. deborah speaks against them to those who come to her for judgement, until none come.
lapidoth is still there when she returns to their tent, his hands rough with work and eyes dark and clever. how is the lord our god? he asks always, and deborah thinks her ancestress sarai must have laughed as he laughs, in those days when the lord did not go wandering away from his prophets.
he is quiet, deborah says, his children turn away from him, and he seeks one who is not an old woman to judge and lead them to him.
perhaps it is a gift, lapidoth says, and deborah goes still at the words; you have served him faithfully, and so to you he has given freedom.
deborah crosses to where lapidoth sits, and kisses his touseled hair, breathes in the smell of the goats and the sweat of his labor, the fennel-smell that permeates the tent. I was not in bondage, she murmurs, her throat thick. I was a beloved child in my father’s tent, and then I was alone.
oh, beloved, lapidoth says, taking her in his arms, that is a kind of freedom too.