Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five) (23 page)

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
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When we reconnected with Gaia and were ready to continue the binding where we left off, Granuaile said nothing about removing her underwear. She pulled up the fabric high on her hip for as long as it was practicable, and then, when it was necessary, she moved it down on top of the raw wounds without comment. She winced but made no sound.

“Thank you,” I said quietly, hoping against all my prior experience that she would understand the wealth of meaning behind the two words. A few minutes passed in silence as I slowly filled in the knotwork, one agonizing stab at a time. When she spoke, long after I expected any response, it startled me a bit.

“You’re welcome,” she murmured. And that did it. I stopped filtering my magical sight and let myself take a good look at the bonds between us. They were rich and complex and numerous, and somehow, without me tutoring her about what they all meant, Granuaile had discerned their meanings.

I sighed and spoke in low tones. “I owe you an apology, Granuaile—no, fuck hedging and weasel words, okay? I apologize,” I said. “I just plain apologize. It’s been a long time for me—many normal lifetimes—since I haven’t had to pretend to be something I’m not. Once you pass fifty and you still look like you’re in your twenties, every moment you spend in another person’s sight becomes a performance. You never leave the stage, and people notice when you slip out of character. The last woman I loved who knew I was a Druid was my wife, Tahirah. But she never became a Druid, and so she couldn’t see what you’re seeing. I’ve never had
to deal with that. And she had no idea of the things I could see.”

“You must see so much more than I do,” Granuaile said. Her voice was small, as if she feared I’d stop talking if she raised the volume.

“No. If anything, I think it’s the other way around. The sight itself is the same for everyone; it’s how you filter and interpret what you see that matters, and it’s clear that you have an intuitive knack for interpreting what you see, now that you’ve had time to get used to it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have understood everything I meant when I said ‘thank you.’ ”

“It was more than keeping my pants on,” she said. “It was more than just us. It had something to do with the past. You’re afraid for some reason.”

That startled me. She’d seen even more than I suspected—it was akin to telepathy. Was that all it was, interpreting the bindings of consciousness? But I recovered and said, “Yes. I never got to bind my last apprentice, and I know I’ve told you that before. It’s just that we were interrupted and he didn’t survive the interruption. I don’t want history to repeat itself.”

“And you think a romance would be an interruption.”

“Wouldn’t it?” I smirked at her. “After twelve years of repression and denial, once we began, when would we stop?”

She chuckled softly. “That’s a fair point. Two people who can replenish their strength from the earth and heal the ravages of extended friction? It would be Homeric. Three books of
The Iliad
at least.”

I laughed at this, and she dissolved into giggles. I rested my forehead for a moment in the crook of her elbow and enjoyed the release of tension. Then, as we both wound down, I planted a soft kiss high up on her shoulder. She quieted and a question formed in her expression.

“Bear with my fears for a while longer?” I asked. “For your sake and mine?”

“Yes,” she said. Despite myself, I almost fell into the green of her eyes. Then she turned away and added, “Sensei,” and I shook myself and continued to bind her to the earth.

A month after that talk, unmolested by gods or men, we were past the merely painful part and into the part where a side dish of excitement came along with the pain. I’d faithfully stabbed every point of Gaia’s knotwork all the way up Granuaile’s side, past the curve of her breast, up to the top of her shoulder like a soldier’s braid, and then it began to fall to the shape-shifting loops around the biceps.

A Druid’s animal forms are chosen not by the Druid but rather by Gaia. During the process of the binding, Gaia gradually gets to know the Druid and determines for herself which forms would be most suitable. The first band at the very top of the biceps is always the human shape—necessary so that we can shift back to human form. Below that, the Druid gets a hoofed animal, a land-based predator, a flying form, and an aquatic form. Gaia doesn’t say ahead of time what the forms will be, so we both had to wait for the tattoos to take shape before we could tell what Granuaile could shift to.

She asked for updates about every three minutes once I began the second band on her arm.

“Can you tell what it is yet?” she asked.

“No, sorry.”

“How about now?”

“Not yet. A little anxious, are we?”

“Maybe a little. Can’t you at least guess?”

“You’ll have hooves.”

“I hate you.”

I smiled wryly. “No, you don’t.”

“No, you’re right.”

Gradually it became clear, the knots resolving into a shape. “It looks like it’s a horse,” I said.

“A horse! What kind? An Appaloosa? An Arabian?”

“A fast one.”

“Probably a red one. Chestnut coat, you know. Super gorgeous.”

“Without doubt,” I said, and continued my work as Granuaile’s eyes lost focus and she dreamed of running faster than she ever could as a human.

The next day began her predator stripe. It was a particularly dark one, requiring lots of ink and time. “I’m not sure what this is yet, but it’s going to be a dark coat,” I said, and that kept her guessing for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until the day after that I could discern with any certainty what the creature represented.

“Huh. It’s a black cat,” I said.

“A black cat?” Mild outrage colored her tone.

“A big one. Not a kitty cat. Won’t know if you’re a leopard or a jaguar until you shift.”

“Oh! That’s better, then.”

“I’ll say. It’s pretty badass.”

“What about a panther?”

“Black panthers are really black leopards. They’re not a different species. It’s just a recessive gene for melanism and a bizarre reluctance on the part of human beings to say the words
black leopard

“Hmm. What an interesting choice.”

“Gaia wants you to be dangerous in the dark, I suppose. Your flying tattoo will probably leave room for guessing as well. It’s tough to differentiate species from these stylized knots.”

“I’m not going to be a mosquito or something like that, am I?”

“No. Druids are usually one of the larger birds. Gaia never puts you very far down the food chain.”

Once her flying stripe was finished, I could tell Granuaile would be a raptor of some kind, but whether hawk or falcon or eagle I did not know. She wasn’t going to be an owl like me.

Granuaile’s aquatic form was probably her weakest; it was a sea lion, and while she would be desperately cute, she wouldn’t have the manual dexterity I had as a sea otter. She’d be a far better swimmer, however.

It took another week and a half to finish her forearm, which would allow her to shift planes, and the circle on the back of her hand, which would give her control over her own healing. On the last day in mid-afternoon, she sat up to watch me complete the circle, her hand in mine, doing her best to hold back any noises that would betray how thrilled she was. I was pretty thrilled too; I’d healed fully by then and looked like my old self, with the exception of two months’ beard growth.

When I inked the final bit and Gaia’s glow faded from my sight and from hers, she looked at me expectantly, beaming with excitement.

“Congratulations, Granuaile MacTiernan,” I said. “You are the first new Druid on this earth in more than a thousand years.” I grinned at her, relieved that it was finally over, and she laughed with wonder and a good measure of her own relief.

I laughed with her and then watched as a strange demolition took place on her expression, as if someone had struck out the supports of the scaffolding holding up her smile. Her lower lip trembled and she sniffled. “I can’t believe it’s finally done,” she said, examining the back of her right hand and wiping away tears with the heel of her left. “Twelve long years.”

“Oh, nonsense. They flew by!” I said.

“Yeah, whatever.” She sniffed one final time and wiped her cheeks free of tears. Her grin returned, but
this time it was mischievous. “So this means you’re not my sensei anymore?”

“That’s what it means.”

“Right. Well, I’ve waited long enough.” She grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me to her mouth. “Come here.”

I went there.

Chapter 21

Oberon, please. This is not the time

It’s not meant to mimic dogs barking! It’s mocking seventies’ funk music heard in pornographic videos, specifically the bass line. May we have some privacy, please?

Well, just don’t stare at us! I didn’t sit and watch and make comments while you were with Fifi, did I, talking about givin’ the dog a bone and such?

Chapter 22

We did stop eventually, but only because Oberon threatened to chew off his leg as the sun set for the third time since we’d begun.

Now, hold on! First, you didn’t have to watch, because I specifically suggested that you not do so, and, second, it wasn’t grody. It was the stuff Al Green sings about

No, Oberon, that was beauty

Nothing could ruin my mood right then, so I laughed and admitted he had a point.

How about a hunt, Oberon? Would that suit you?

My hound put his nose in the air.

Anything you want. Anywhere you want. Granuaile needs to practice shifting planes and shifting shapes

All right. Tanzania, here we come!

While Granuaile was now a full Druid, she still needed some coaching and practice on what had been theory until this point. She’d memorized the words and
the forms of the knotwork admirably, but because we’d been so … busy lately, she had yet to cast anything.

We thanked Pyrenees for his hospitality and help before we shifted to eastern Africa. Granuaile and I both placed our hands on a tethered tree, and I showed her amongst the myriad trees where to shift in Tír na nÓg.

“You go first. We’ll be right behind you.”

“What if I get lost?”

“You won’t. I’m going to follow wherever you go.”

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment, and shifted.

Oberon said.

Yep. Very soon

Aww, thanks, Oberon—

That’s … very generous of you

Oberon’s nose lifted in the air again, but not for the display of any attitude. His nostrils flared.

I frowned at my hound.

All directions?

So they would be French vampires. Perhaps the vampires from the Iberian Peninsula wouldn’t be far behind. After my conversation with Theophilus, I could well imagine that he’d given the command worldwide to hunt us—I certainly hadn’t ceased to train my apprentice, so I must assume that his promised pogrom had begun and the world’s vampires were sniffing us out.

It probably wouldn’t be all that difficult to find me, provided I stayed in one place; my ancient blood smelled
different from that of modern humans, and if they’d been told by their mysterious Fae connection that I was binding Granuaile to the earth, they’d know to search the wild places in Europe.

I had no desire to remain and take on an unknown number of vampires, so I shifted to Tír na nÓg and found a relieved Granuaile waiting for us. She did a couple of pogo jumps in the dark. “I did it!”

“Indeed. And now let’s go to Tanzania. Lead the way again.”

We spent some time finding an appropriate place to shift. We chose some acacia woodlands in Lake Manyara National Park, and then we went ahead as before, with Granuaile going first.

Oberon asked once she’d shifted.

Soon. I need to think about it a little bit. She has enough to worry about at the moment

When we reached Tanzania, which was humid and warm and full of animals eating one another, we both had our night vision on. Granuaile was giddy.

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub