Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five) (22 page)

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
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“Exactly. So why risk antagonizing more Olympians?”

“It’s not about antagonizing anyone; it’s about giving us options and restoring our mobility. And shenanigans. But I’m willing to entertain alternatives. Do you have any?”

Granuaile sighed. “No.”


Not everyone can be bribed with meat, Oberon
.


No, they eat meat. It simply doesn’t sway their decision-making process
.


“All right. So we need to look for oak trees that are bound to dryads. It’s easy. The heart of the tree will be white.”

“So it’s okay to use magic now?”

“Well, it’s not exactly safe. We’re taking the calculated risk that we can get this done before the Bacchants or anyone else zeroes in on us. We had a couple of weeks
or more to work with the first two times. It’s probably okay to scurry around for a few hours.”


We hiked a quarter mile up the gentle lower slopes of Olympus, until we found a tree with a bright white center in the magical spectrum. Having explained the plan to Granuaile on the way, I created a tether to Tír na nÓg first, and we shifted there to scout a suitable location for our shenanigans along the river of time.

“That will do nicely,” I said, pointing to an unoccupied island pretty far upstream. “Time moves so slowly there that they’ll spend a century saying, ‘Wait,’ when they’re trying to say, ‘Wait, don’t leave me here!’ ”

“How do you use the islands?”

“See the obelisk at the edge of the shore with the Ogham script on it? That’s its address. Using that, you open portals to it wherever you are and shove stuff through. We have to use portals instead of trees because we don’t want to teleport ourselves into that timestream.”

“Nice thinking.”

“We learned from someone else’s mistake. I think the first person who used a tree on an island to shift is still stuck there. But word is he ought to be able to shift himself out of there in another decade or so.”


He’s been there longer than I’ve been alive
.


I memorized the Ogham address, and we shifted back to the oak tree with the white center—except we shifted to the one growing on the Roman plane. The dryad was nowhere in sight.

“Where is she?” Granuaile asked as she turned around, scanning the area.

I shrugged. “Nearby. Or maybe on the Greek plane.
She’ll let us know where she’s at once we start to unbind her from the tree.”

“Are you sure this won’t hurt her?”

“It’ll hurt a little bit. She has to feel it. But it won’t be life-threatening the way we’re doing it.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because while she’s frozen in time, her tree will be frozen too. When we bind them back together, it will be as if only a few seconds passed.”

Granuaile was unconvinced. “I think we’re going to be doomed.”


“Nonsense. Remember, you’re going to speak soothingly in Latin when the Dryad shows up, so I can cast the portal.”

“Got it.”

Focusing on the white light, I zoomed in my focus to examine the structure of the binding.

It was beautiful stuff. The Greeks approached magic differently than the Celts did, of course, relying on structures reminiscent of their architecture: lots of straight lines, sharp angles, triangles, and mathematical precision; columns of cubes that could be endlessly halved and halved again; and a bloody tesseract at the heart of it all, tying together an oak and a dryad. Funny thing about columns is the lack of redundancy one finds in more organic structures. Knock out a few columns and the integrity is seriously compromised. I unbound a triangle knot and felt a small tremor in the tree. I unraveled a column and felt it shudder more violently.

A cultured voice spoke from behind me in perfect Latin. “Please stop.”

I turned and beheld a woman who shone with white around her heart. It was clearly the dryad belonging to the tree, so I dispelled my magical sight and beheld her
as she hoped to be seen. She flinched upon seeing my burned features.

She had something akin to a soft-focus filter about her; gazing on her form was like looking at a Waterhouse painting, full of depth and pathos yet suffused with the visual silk of a rose petal, delicate and ethereal and inspiring anxiety in the viewer—I felt I mustn’t stare too intently or else I might crush her beauty forever, and I’d pine away until I died of guilt.

Her hair, dark and abundant and festooned with a flowering vine woven throughout, tumbled in a loose braid down her left breast until it ended at her waist. Another flowering vine circled her body, fastening a loose white tunic of thin material about her. Her legs and feet were bare; her eyes implored us to leave in peace.

Hers was the kind of beauty that, once glimpsed, convinced a person that divinity had a hand in it. I have often wondered if this might not be the answer to all of Granuaile’s philosophical questions: We are here to create and witness beauty. Gaia creates it every day, and as part of Gaia, it is our task as well. Beethoven saw the truth of it. Van Gogh as well, daffy as he was, and so many others.

“We will stop,” Granuaile said. “Thank you for coming to see us.”

“Who are you?” the dryad asked.

While my apprentice kept the dryad occupied, I quietly spoke in Old Irish to open a portal to Tír na nÓg directly behind her. Once it shimmered into existence, we didn’t even have to force her through. I merely smiled a half-melted smile at her and took a few steps forward, and she backed right into it, fearful of my intentions. I closed the portal once she was through and congratulated Granuaile.

“Well done.”

“How much damage did you do?”

“Hardly any. Easy to fix. Let’s go do some more.”

We kept moving and sent five more dryads away from their customary planes. The Olympians would not be able to divine their presence in Tír na nÓg. They’d worry that the dryads were dying, but both they and their trees were effectively frozen in time. Since the bond between them was only weakened, not broken, what was true for the dryads was also true for the trees.

On the last tree we left two notes—one on the Roman plane and one on earth. We purposely left out the Greek plane, to make it clear we knew who was truly responsible and we didn’t wish to involve Dionysus or Pan. With any luck, the Greeks would put pressure on the Romans to resolve the situation in our favor. It read thus:

My lord Bacchus is mad, and his actions have caused some dryads to go on vacation. If you wish them to come back unharmed, Lord Faunus, cease all pandemonium for three months. Rest assured that they will be returned in perfect health if you comply
.

I then asked Olympia to relay a simpler message through the European elementals to Faunus, wherever he was: “Some of your dryads seem to have disappeared.”

Granuaile, Oberon, and I shifted to Mag Mell, where I spent the night soaking in the healing springs at Cnoc an Óir and doing all I could to revitalize my skin. In the morning, the Fae were abuzz with the news that “Lord Grundlebeard’s Curse” had ended, and now they—and we—could shift anywhere in Europe.

Chapter 20

I spent World War II helping Jewish families escape Vichy France by sneaking them into Spain and thence to Portugal. I smuggled them through the Atlantic Pyrenees using one pass or another, and in the process I learned the lay of the land very well. Because of that experience, I knew of the perfect spot to bind Granuaile.

The Pyrenees—pronounced the French way, like
pee-ray-nay
—have some pretty fantastic caves. Cavemen left behind old paintings in some of them, much of it better than contemporary art. Underground streams and rivers flow through others. Some of them shrink down to nothing or to passages that only a banana could slip through, then open again into vast cathedrals of awesome limestone that no human eyes have ever seen—except mine. There was one place that truly belonged to me. I had privately dubbed it Green Man’s Retreat, because I was known as the Green Man when the Germans were hunting me.

The Morrigan had told me to keep my magic use to a minimum throughout WWII, because she was going to be damn busy choosing the slain and couldn’t shield me from Aenghus Óg. The Pyrenees elemental was sympathetic to this and was anxious to help; who knew when I’d ever make it back if I got chased out of the area?

I needed to keep my draws on the earth to a minimum;
both the Fae and the Tuatha Dé Danann could feel such draws if they were nearby, and thus I could accidentally be discovered. The Pyrenees helped me hide by doing plenty of things for me. If an elemental exercised its own magic, that was just the earth doing its thing, not someone exercising his binding to the earth.

An officer among the Germans had heard tales that someone named the Green Man was helping Jews escape, and he gave them enough credence to send a few squads looking for me. This was in 1941; they had France sewn up and the United States hadn’t gotten involved yet, so the soldiers were a bit bored and snipe hunts were a luxury they could indulge. Normally they would not have given me any trouble, but they caught me by surprise when they walked right into my camp while I was sleeping. They had automatic weapons, and I had skin that was fantastically vulnerable to bullets.

I cast camouflage right away and asked the elemental Pyrenees to help somehow. After a few seconds had passed, he caused a minor rockslide south of my position, during which the Germans thankfully did not hose the area with gunfire. They hadn’t yet determined I was the Green Man; I was just some crazy bastard sleeping in the woods. They shouted a lot, wondering where I went, and some of them stomped off to investigate the noise to the south. A few stayed in the camp, however, to see what they could turn up. They turned up Fragarach, and I almost broke my silence and begged them not to take it.

Sensing my distress, Pyrenees made me an extraordinary offer. On the other side of the rock wall I crouched against was a cavern with no outside access nearby. He’d grant me access by creating a door in the mountain and would disguise the whole business by massaging the crust underneath the soldiers’ feet for a minute. They’d think it was an earthquake.

I agreed and the chaos began. The ground near my campsite was suddenly unsteady, and one soldier squeezed off a round in surprise as he lost his footing. It took out one of his companions, then all the soldiers were falling to the ground on purpose and shooting into the forest, making the admirably paranoid conclusion that they were under attack. Fragarach was carelessly tossed to the ground, useless against machine guns. I created a binding between the leather of the scabbard and the skin on my palm, and it flew to my hand. I ducked into the darkness, and Pyrenees closed the door behind me. Good-bye, cruel world!

The darkness was so complete that casting night vision wouldn’t have helped. There was no light inside the mountain. The air wasn’t bad, though, so it was ventilated somehow. And it was damp in there—rather chilly too. Since I could not hear or see anything, I settled down to a fitful sleep. Pyrenees informed me when it was dawn.

I emerged from the side of the mountain, squinting, smelling pine, and listening to the morning song of birds. My camp was wiped out; the German soldiers had stolen all my stuff. It took me a week to resupply and get back there, but I had to make the trip; I wanted to see something no one had ever seen before. Pyrenees had kept this secret since before man roamed the mountains, and now he was sharing it with me.

I brought several lanterns and Pyrenees welcomed me back, opening the door for me once again. My breath caught when I saw what was inside.

There was no war and no genocide. No gods to please or offend. Just a cavern decorated by a few geological time periods. Keats wrote the perfect words for it, though he wrote them for something else: It was a
foster-child of silence and slow time
, filled with columns of slowly
accreted stone and fingers of future columns stretching toward one another from the ceiling and the floor.

Small pools of dark water reflected my lamplight, and Pyrenees asked that I avoid them. The water was fine to drink, but there were five undiscovered species living in there. As I moved carefully through the cavern, I discovered that air flowed in from several different holes in the back, all of which were too small to admit a human body. Pyrenees explained that these eventually opened up into caves on the Spanish side, and that’s why I was able to breathe. I didn’t stay in there for long, just an hour or so, admiring the artistry and the patience it took to create such a space. I thanked Pyrenees effusively for showing me.

Almost eighty years later, I still remembered how to get to Green Man’s Retreat as if I had made the trip the day before.

Granuaile and I took lanterns and food up there after we shifted to earth from Tír na nÓg. When we arrived, Pyrenees was ready to do his part for Druidry—that is, move some rocks and dirt around.

Thornbushes don’t grow in the absence of sunlight, and there weren’t any conveniently close by the cave, as we had found on the slopes of Olympus. We had to descend downhill approximately three football fields before we found one. Pyrenees messed with the slope a little bit, building up a berm on the far side of the thornbush, creating a sort of cradle that would keep us completely concealed from anyone looking up the mountain. In order to see us, someone would have to draw even or approach from above. Oberon would be able to watch all approaches and give us plenty of warning during the day, and we’d take breaks at night and stay in Green Man’s Retreat to let the “scent of magic” fade, even though I doubted the Pyrenees would be infested with Bacchants anytime soon. I just
wanted to ensure we’d be able to finish this time, and if that meant spending a little less time each day, so be it. I still kept healing my burns around the clock and already looked less frightening.

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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