Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five) (3 page)

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
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“You can’t figure out who to believe,” I continued, “so you wind up treating all the prophets like Cassandras, but some of them really are correct. Hitting on the right one before their prophecy comes true, though—that’s the trick. Worse odds than roulette.”

“You hit women named Cassandra?” Perun said, frowning. “Is not right to hit women, even if name is ugly.”

“What? Perun, I think you misunderstood.”

“Oh.” He looked crestfallen. “I am reminded many times. English is not best language for me.”

“I speak Russian now, though it’s not my best language either,” Granuaile said. “We could switch to that if you’d like, if you would talk slowly and pronounce everything clearly.”

Perun grinned. “
Da
, that would be wonderful!” We made the switch, and I tried to speak slowly for Granuaile’s benefit.

“I’ve been thinking for a while now,” I said, “that this prophecy about the world burning might be linked to Ragnarok, thanks to what we did in Asgard. That’s why seeing Loki free is seriously disturbing. His release was always the trigger of Ragnarok in the old tales.”

Granuaile frowned. “Yeah, but wasn’t he supposed to ride a ship of the dead up to the Field of Vigrid, and it was a ship made of toenails or something?”

“He was,” I said, nodding, “but nothing is going to go the way it was supposed to now. Regardless of any prophecies, a free Loki isn’t a good thing for anyone. How’d he get to your plane, Perun?”

The great Russian god shrugged, his impressive personal
thatching communicating the depths of his frustration.

“I don’t know. I was in Alaska in the form of an eagle, eating a trout I’d just caught from a river, when I felt that something was wrong. I went to my plane and found Loki there, setting fire to everything. I threw lightning at him and he laughed. He was not hurt at all, and he said he was waiting for me.”

“Why?” Granuaile asked.

“He was mad because I helped to kill Thor,” Perun explained.

“But he hated Thor,” I said.

“I know. He said that killing Thor himself became his dream during those years he was tied down under the great snake. Then he said, since I had taken away his dream, he would take away my people’s dream. He left me a harvest of ashes.”

“That’s terrible,” Granuaile said.

Perun nodded at her, grateful for the sympathy. “After that he said, ‘You are like Thor, so I will kill you instead.’ He attacked me, and he was very strong. Stronger than I thought he would be. I began to fear him, and I panicked. I asked the earth to find you.”

That didn’t quite compute. “You never heard that I died?”

Perun looked at me curiously. “When was this?” He poked me with a finger to make sure I was real. “You do not feel like a ghost.”

“No, I mean I faked my death. You never heard about that?”

The thunder god shook his head. “I have been an eagle for too long, I think. I lost track of the years.”

I knew what he meant; it was dangerous to spend too much time in animal form, because it became so easy to focus on the basic needs of survival and let all one’s other cares drift away. And once those cares left,
the memories began to drift away too, until even one’s identity faded to oblivion and nothing remained but finding the day’s meal in the forest. My archdruid had called it the “last shift.” It was how Druids committed suicide.

“So you have no idea who set Loki free?”

Perun grimaced in regret. “He did not say. I knew nothing until I felt my world … burning.”

Someone cleared his throat to my right. I turned to behold a faery—one of the flying kind, dressed up in the pompous green and silver livery of the Fae Court—hovering just out of throttling range. Gods below, how had he found me?

“Hail, Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin,” he said, his voice redolent of scorn and aristocratic disgust, enunciated with such precision that one could hear capital letters, “the Supposedly Deceased. Brighid, First Among the Fae, summons you to an audience in her Court forthwith, there to answer Certain Questions, among which are Why are you still alive? and More Importantly, Why did you not inform Brighid of this Rather Important Fact?”

I briefly considered making this messenger disappear. I could shake his hand—or otherwise make contact with him—and, as a creature made of magic, he would crumble to ash from the cold iron in my aura. But then Brighid would know something had happened to him, and she’d send more after me. Whatever displeasure she currently felt would only grow if I made her wait too long. Still, this was an extraordinarily inconvenient time to ask me over for tea—or whipping, or whatever else she had in mind.

“I see. I am indisposed at the moment to attend the Fae Court. Will you bear her a message for me?”

“No. I am to bear you to the Court or nothing withal.”

His tone—especially combined with Elizabethan
diction—finally annoyed me. Perhaps he needed to be reminded that I was not one of Brighid’s subjects. “Do you truly have the power to bear me there?” I asked him. “Are you immune to cold iron, sir?”

His confident, supercilious manner withered, and he gulped. “No,” he admitted.

“So this talk of bearing me hence is nothing more than bluster, yes?” I took a step toward him, and he back-winged. I gave him a thin smile.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good,” I said, and began to mock his affected accent and language. “It is most unfortunate that you may bear no messages back to your liege. Peradventure you may ask her a question, instead, the answer to which may speed my arrival thither. May I bring my companions—those you see here, including my hound—to Tír na nÓg under her personal aegis? I need a guarantee of safe conduct for us all to and from the Court. An affirmative answer will assure my immediate arrival.”

“I will inquire.”

“I will await her reply for five minutes only.”

The faery nodded, said nothing, and touched the same tree we had used to shift here. He winked out of sight, shifting away, and I drew my sword.

“Spread yourselves and be on your guard,” I said. “He may come back with friends. Or gods.”

Oberon asked,

Chapter 3

Granuaile didn’t say anything, but I caught a tiny smile on her face as she palmed a throwing knife. I couldn’t read her mind, but I could read her expression well enough: She was thinking, Finally, some action. After twelve years of training and sparring with no one but me, here was the possibility of a real scrap. She took cover behind a different tree and crouched down.

I hoped it wouldn’t come to any sort of fight. This was precisely the crucial period when I’d lost my last apprentice, Cíbran—at the end of his training but before I could get him bound to the earth and give him access to magic. Granuaile had trained both her mind and body extremely well, but she wouldn’t be able to survive the throw-downs I was used to fighting until she was able to speed herself up, boost her strength, and heal quickly using the magic of the earth.

Perun and I took up positions elsewhere, and Oberon lay down, sphinxlike, watching the tree bound to Tír na nÓg, ready to spring up and attack.

Stop wagging your tail. The movement will give away your position
.


Something much more powerful than a faery might
come through there, so don’t jump until you know what you’re jumping on, okay?


It was an excellent precaution, because the faery herald didn’t return. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, but when I whipped around, Moralltach at the ready, I didn’t see anyone. A soft snort of amusement was my only clue that someone was actually there.

“Calm yourself and be at ease, Atticus,” a woman’s voice said, and then Flidais, Irish goddess of the hunt, dissolved the binding that granted her true invisibility. “It’s only me. I’m to escort you and your companions to the Court. I am Brighid’s guarantee no harm will befall them in Tír na nÓg. Good enough?”

It was entirely satisfactory, even if Flidais wasn’t dressed in her customary fashion. She had made some effort to appear courtly; usually she was dressed in her hunting leathers, her bow and quiver were prominently on display, and her red hair was frizzy and wildly adorned with random bits of vegetation that could charitably be called camouflage. Now, however, she wore a plain woven tunic, cream colored, with a band of green embroidered knotwork around the neck and down the sides, underneath either arm. This was belted at the waist, and she wore a large knife there with a handle wrought in polished malachite and mother-of-pearl. I had never seen it before; it was either a recent acquisition or something she wore only to Court. Her hair had been recently washed and brushed, and the flowers in it were clearly put there on purpose instead of resting there accidentally. I noted privately that when she was cleaned up like this, she looked quite a bit like Granuaile. Instead of a skirt, Flidais wore loose cotton pants—like those from a martial-arts uniform—dyed brown to match her belt; she was barefoot. I suspected that the rest of the Tuatha Dé Danann would be
similarly dressed. The Celtic ideal for clothing was that it had to be easy to move in if you needed to fight and easy to take off if you wanted a quickie.

“Of course we’d be honored by your escort,” I said. “But why did Brighid send you rather than her herald to fetch us?”

Flidais arched an eyebrow at me. “You were lying in wait for him, were you not? You and your friends out there? Brighid didn’t want him to die.”

“I wouldn’t have killed him,” I said.

Flidais shrugged a shoulder, a wry smirk on her face. “Perhaps not. It was safer to send me invisibly to prevent an accident,” she said. She looked over my shoulder and called, “You can come out now; it’s safe.”

Oberon asked, rising from his position and trotting over to us.

Yes, but I’ll keep it simple: Don’t trust anyone except Granuaile and me
.


That was almost twelve years ago, but, yes, I remember. Better stick next to me, buddy
.


“Is this the same hound you had when last I saw you?” Flidais asked.

“It is.”

“Hello again,” Flidais said to Oberon. “Perhaps we will have occasion to hunt together soon.” After a small pause, she frowned, because she had just tuned in to hear Oberon’s thoughts in the same way I could.

“You forbade him to hunt with me?” A flash of temper sparked in her eyes.

“Forgive me, Flidais, but the last time we hunted with you, someone died. I’d rather avoid a second accident.”

“You accuse me?” she growled.

Oh, I could. I could accuse her of
murder most foul, as in the best it is
, but I have done my own share of reddish work and I do my best to eschew hypocrisy.

“No. I forbid my hound to hunt with you. There is no accusation of any kind there.” Flidais might have pursued the matter but was distracted by the large, hairy arrival of Perun.

“Is this faery?” he asked hopefully, speaking English. His eyes roved over Flidais and enjoyed the journey. He wasn’t subtle. Flidais, for her part, gave Perun an appraisal that was not a whit less wanton. He was, undeniably, a mobile mountain of musk and virility, and Flidais was rather famous for her appetites. I introduced them to facilitate their mutual seduction; I didn’t think either of them would have to work very hard at it.

As they continued their ocular foreplay, I spied Granuaile hanging back a bit, her face a grim mask. She’d met both Flidais and Brighid at the beginning of her training, and while she’d come to terms with the necessity of the
Baolach Cruatan
—the test of mettle—she didn’t have fond memories of the event. Or of Flidais.

The goddess of the hunt didn’t get so lost in Perun’s eyes that she forgot why she had come. Speaking to me but still looking at the thunder god, she said, “I’ll leave a marker for you to follow, Atticus. It’ll take you to a tree directly outside the Fae Court. I know you’re too paranoid to arrive without your sword drawn, but do try to be careful. I’ll make sure the area is clear.”


Some of this penetrated the almost visible cloud of lust hovering over Perun’s head. “What? You are leaving?”

“We will have occasion to speak more … at length,” Flidais promised. “Soon.”

“Very soon!” Perun said.

Flidais nodded to Granuaile, acknowledging her existence but saying nothing. My apprentice responded in
kind, and the goddess padded her way silently to the tree we’d all been watching. She winked at Perun as she laid her hand on it and shifted away.

“By axe and sky, she is fine woman!” Perun rumbled, and then a flash of white teeth under his beard made him appear young again. “Come! Let us go!”

“Rein in your nads for a moment, if you please, Perun,” Granuaile said.

The thunder god’s enthusiasm disappeared in a cloud of confusion. “What is nads?” he asked. “And why should I make it rain on them? Can you say this word in Russian?”

Granuaile ignored him and spoke to me. “Atticus, what’s this going to be like? What should I watch out for?”

I sighed. “I’m afraid I don’t have a helpful answer. You should watch out for everything. Though I’ve been to Tír na nÓg plenty of times, I haven’t been to the Fae Court since before I met Airmid—which was before I stole Fragarach. It’s been more than two thousand years and I was still in my normal human lifespan, so there’s no telling what it looks like. The Tuatha Dé Danann—however many of them are there—will be in their true forms. But I imagine every faery you see will be wearing a glamour of some kind, so don’t trust anything you see. Even the furnishings may be illusions, so don’t sit on anything and don’t feel secure just because you have your back to a wall.”


Probably not
. “Oberon just brought up a good point,” I said aloud. “Don’t eat or drink anything while you’re there. Accept no gifts, make no promises—don’t even say that you
will
do something, because you’ll be held to it. Words are binding in Tír na nÓg more than anywhere else. To be completely safe, if you’re addressed or asked a question, tell them that I speak for you. Don’t
let them cajole or threaten you into answering on your own—they’re trying to get you rattled so that you’ll make a mistake. Also, don’t get separated for any reason. You might see something attractive—don’t take a closer look. If someone wants to tell you a secret, don’t listen to it. There are those who would love to use any one of you as a hostage in order to control me, so don’t give them the opportunity, all right?”

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
2.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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