Barak expected little as they rode into the Kanite’s camp, for there was peace between Hever the Kanite and King Yavin of Hatzor. The boys and the maids scattered before the riders; no man approached them; Hever was absent.
A woman beckoned them from across the camp. She stood tall and proud and her dress better than the girls’; this was Hever’s wife.
Barak motioned at the men to stay put. Dvora and himself made their way to Hever’s wife at the tent’s closed flap.
She told them: “The man you seek is here.”
Barak balked, hesitating, then remembered Dvora’s words after he’d asked her to stay by his side: I will go with you, but your path will not lead to glory, for the Lord God will give Sisera to a woman.
Hever’s wife's hands were bloody.
Barak dismounted. “Show me.”
Hever’s wife pulled the flap aside. The stench of death spilled out, followed by the sight of Sisera’s body: his head had been bashed in, smote through the temple with a tent’s stake that Hever’s wife had made no effort to remove.
Hever’s wife waited, silent, proud and hard.
Sisera’s body lay on the best rug just so. The silent voice within Dvora’s mind pointed that out, as well as every single stain on him and on his killer. Dvora faced the woman still standing at the tent’s opening, eying Barak and herself with eyes as sharp as a good blade.
Dvora wondered if it was not the Lord God who had weakened Barak’s heart when Dvora had summoned him to war, so that this woman will come into Dvora’s domain.
Dvora stated: “You are Yael, wife of Hever the Kanite.”
“I am,” Yael confirmed. “You are Dvora, Judge of Israel.”
There was speculation in her words. It added up to everything else that Dvora was fast learning of this woman who was now hers to judge. It was in consideration of that, that Dvora replied: “I am. You have done the Children of Israel a great service today, Yael. I present to you our gratitude, and that of our Lord God.”
There. And see what Yael would make of it.
Yael’s smile was sardonic and bitter. “I will deliver your words to my husband.”
“I will speak to him upon his return,” Barak said.
Yael inclined her head. “My lord.”
The silent voice became a command. Dvora stepped away from the death-tainted tent; Barak followed; Yael let the flap drop closed. “Give me your hands, Yael,” Dvora ordered.
“They are yet bloody,” Yael replied.
And blood was not the only thing that stained them. Dvora held out her own hands, palms up, and repeated: “Give me your hands.”
Yael placed her hands in Dvora’s. Her hands rested lightly in Dvora’s loose grip. Dvora could feel the weight of her gaze.
She lifted Yael’s hands. “Blessed be the hands that killed Sisera,” she declared for all to hear – Israelite and Kanite alike – and kissed each hand.
Barak turned away, barking orders at the men to deal with Sisera’s body.
Dvora lowered Yael’s and her hands, but did not let go. “I will wash your hands,” she said quietly, a request rather than an order.
“I will show you to the water-hole,” said Yael.
Dvora drew the water, and made Yael sit. She also summoned one of the girls and sent her to fetch her lady some clean dress. Only then did Dvora sit next to Yael and began to work out the crusted filth with wet cloth.
“Hever will not be pleased,” Yael said. She spoke far more quietly than was necessary; they were well out of earshot.
Dvora nodded. She was careful to look at Yael’s hands rather than her face as she said: “I gather that he rarely is.”
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Yael’s smile, sardonic still but also rueful now, as she replied: “Aye.”
The Kanites were kin to the People, but not of the People. Yet Yael had acted in the Lord God’s will, and the Lord God had placed his blessing on her. Yael Hever’s wife and her House were now Dvora’s to judge together with the People.
Dvora said: “That need not trouble you any longer,” and looked up.
Yael’s eyes were already waiting for hers as she replied: “You are the Judge.”
“That I am,” Dvora agreed. She was the Judge of this time, Yael was the Lord God’s and Dvora had no need for men and their swords for Hever to be no longer inscribed for life. Briskly, she asked: “Have you any children?”
“Three. Two sons, now, and one daughter.”
Yael was not what men would call young, but she was yet young enough to bear more children, which Dvora no longer was. Dvora put the dirty cloth down and picked up a clean one with which to dry Yael’s hands. “You are a Hero of Israel. Come with myself and with Barak, Avinoam’s son.”
Yael’s hands relaxed into Dvora’s. She said: “You are the Judge.”
Dvora placed Yael’s hands in her lap and reached for the back of her head. She pressed a kiss to the younger woman’s forehead, only her own spirit behind her lips this time. Speaking as softly, she replied: “I am your friend, and you are mine. Be my sister, Yael, Hever’s wife; and I, Dvora, wife of Lapidot, will be yours.”
They will need to repeat those words again in front of a quorum, and before that in front of Dvora’s husband, but Lapidot was as good a man as there was, and the quorum would be a mere formality, given who and what Dvora was.
Yael stirred as if to pull back. Dvora let her. It was good to see her face not tight with bitterness. “I am your sister, Dvora, Lapidot’s wife, Judge of Israel.” She kissed Dvora on both cheeks. “And you are mine.”
And in Dvora’s mind, the silent voice declared: Amen, amen.