Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five) (4 page)

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
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As we returned to the tree that would take us back to Tír na nÓg, I searched for a token of Flidais’s to follow to a certain point on that plane. It was a shortcut to follow within the realm; we’d shift to the same isolated spot in Tír na nÓg we’d used to get here, then hop over to the center, using her marker. I found said marker in the magical spectrum, a glowing green ribbon of knotwork that pulsed like a ready light.

“All right,” I said. “Weapons free, mouths shut.” I held on to my sword, Perun had his axe, and Granuaile held the blade of a throwing knife between her fingers.

We shifted to Tír na nÓg and found ourselves facing a small crowd of faeries on a field of heather. Simultaneous shouts of joy and dismay filled the air at our appearance, and pouches of gold or other tokens were exchanged in what was clearly a good-natured settling of debts.

“What are they doing?” Perun asked.

Flidais separated herself from the crowd and waved. “They were betting on whether you would show up with your weapons drawn or not. Come. Follow me.”

I began to follow, but I moved slowly and kept my sword out. The downside to paranoia is that you occasionally become the target of sport like this, but the upside is that you stay alive.

The slow pace allowed us to wonder at the scenery
a bit. Apart from ordinary
sidhe
, who were difficult to distinguish from humans at times, there were oak-men, dancing feeorin, Fir Darrigs,
geancanach
, brownies, and a small delegation representing the Blue Men of the Minch. Pixies flitted about excitedly, making snide comments about us, no doubt, and causing small pockets of Fae to erupt in laughter wherever they paused to whisper.

The sky above us was the precise shade of blue that travel agencies want on all their promotional materials, and I wondered, apropos of nothing, what its Pantone number might be back on earth. Here it was the illusion of perfection that Brighid wished to project: All was well in Tír na nÓg, because how could it be otherwise with such fabulous weather?

The Fae Court wasn’t the stuffy European sort, of course, with marble floors and gilt-framed portraits and human accessories like fops and fools lying about. It was, rather, this heather-kissed meadow in the middle of a carefully tended grove. So when Flidais had led us to “a tree directly outside the Fae Court,” she meant a tree on the edge of the meadow. Behind us lay the shade of impressive oaks, and eyes in there were watching us, I knew.

Judging by the sun’s position, we were on the southern edge of the Court; Flidais was leading us to the northern edge, where there was a small hill—a hillock, I suppose, a wee mound with hillish ambitions—upon which sat Brighid’s throne. I could tell she was there, but the distance was great enough that I couldn’t read her expression, and in any case it was far enough away that she didn’t represent an immediate threat. The crowd of faeries, however, which was parting to allow us through, would soon be on either side of us and then behind us, and I didn’t like that so much.

“Flidais, please warn them to stay clear of my friends
and me. We may interpret sudden moves as threats and respond accordingly.”

The goddess of the hunt stopped and turned to face us. “Do you truly feel we are so hostile?”

“I doubt Brighid is well disposed toward me right now. That is cause enough to be on our guard. The Fae take their cue from her; you know this.”

Flidais smirked. “If Brighid wishes you harm, she’ll deliver it herself, Druid. None of these would presume to steal her right.”

“She has no rights regarding me.” All the Fae within earshot gasped and went, “Oooooh,” in expectation that I’d be paying for that comment soon.

“Do please tell her that to her face.” Flidais turned to resume her walk to the throne and called back over her shoulder, “I can tell already that this is going to be an amusing audience.”


I have the same hope
. I checked on Granuaile, and she gave me a short, tight-lipped nod to let me know she was okay. Perun was okay too—rather, he was hopelessly in lust with Flidais’s backside. As long as she didn’t go invisible on him, he’d probably be content.

Fae were flooding into the Court—or the meadow—attracted by gossip that had no doubt circulated on fluttering wings. A susurrus of excitement swelled from all sides, and our audience was quickly building to the proportions of a spectator sport.

A small formation of pixies, goaded by their friends or perhaps genuinely clueless about who I was and how I’d react to Fae flying at me, swooped in for a quick playful welcome dance over my head—or so I was informed afterward. There were seven of them one second, and two seconds later, after a couple of quick shooing motions above
my noggin, there were only three left. The survivors, horrified by watching their companions disintegrate to ash in midair, stayed still enough for Perun to zap them with small fingers of lightning.

“Big mosquitoes here,” he said, as a roar bellowed from the spectators on either side, who had seen the whole thing.

“Those weren’t mosquitoes,” Granuaile said, as Flidais whirled, a scowl on her face.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Pixies,” I explained. “Maybe someone’s trying to establish my bona fides.”

Flidais raised her voice and spoke to the assembled Fae on either side. “I warned you he was the Iron Druid before he arrived,” she said. “Molest him at your peril.”

A three-note chorus split the air and sang menacingly, “And if the Iron Druid doesn’t kill you, I will.” It was Brighid’s voice. In her aspect as the goddess of poetry, she could somehow hit three notes at the same time when she spoke—and if she wanted you to hear her clearly from seventy yards away in the middle of an angry mob, she could do that too. The effect was that she could speak once and you’d be told three times; it gave her an authority among magic users no one could match. She couldn’t lie or tell half-truths when she spoke like that, so she didn’t employ it often and she chose her words carefully when she did. “Let him approach undisturbed, or I will have your life.”

Cowed, the mob of Fae quieted down and gave us a wider berth. Satisfied, Flidais turned and led us again toward the throne. It felt as if we were part of a very small parade, except everyone watching was sad because the flowers on the floats had wilted. The character of the buzz around us was not only muted now, it was resentful. Flidais was striding forward confidently, thinking that Brighid’s very loud words and her presence
were enough to guarantee our safety, but I was still wary. There were all sorts of Fae in the Court now, and some of them were bound to be descendants of Aenghus Óg. If those pixies had been sent by someone to confirm I was truly the Iron Druid, that someone was still out there. Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past Brighid or Flidais to have orchestrated it; I had supposedly been dead for almost twelve years, so one way to make sure I wasn’t an impostor was to watch some Fae turn to ash at the touch of my cold iron aura. And one of the best ways to absolve herself of responsibility for any further attacks would be to very publicly threaten everyone with death. She’d follow through on the threat, of course; couldn’t have her agents blabbing at the last minute that she’d sent them.

The Morrigan had told me after Aenghus Óg’s death that Brighid had conducted some sort of pogrom here in Tír na nÓg; there had been a rebellion in his name, lots of stockpiled magical weapons abruptly found their way into angry hands, and a whole host of Fae had died. Many—if not most—had been Aenghus Óg’s spawn, but I’m sure there were other factions represented as well. That meant tension among the Tuatha Dé Danann—and I had caused all of it.

Well. Maybe not all of it. The Morrigan had her tensions with just about everyone, but especially with Brighid, and I had not caused that so much as exacerbated it. Regardless, I couldn’t look for the same favor in Court that I might have enjoyed in the past. I might have even created some new enemies here, and until I could verify who was content to let me live and who would rather serve me a cold dish of revenge, suspicion was the best policy.

The crowd of Fae ended abruptly about twenty yards from Brighid’s throne. It provided a nice little area for subjects to feel small and weak during their audience. It
also provided some space, to either side, for some VIPs to sit and offer catty remarks or snide questions. To Brighid’s right sat the Tuatha Dé Danann, and to her left sat representatives of the various Fae factions.

A quick glance at the Tuatha Dé Danann showed me that nearly all of them were present. Manannan Mac Lir, wrapped in his cloak of mists, winked at me from underneath his bushy black eyebrows. His wife, Fand, sat next to him, small and delicate and ethereally beautiful in a white sheath with the same sort of knotwork designs Flidais had embroidered around the neck; since she was Flidais’s daughter, perhaps it was a family thing. There was a liquid grace to her, even when she sat still.

Ogma was there, tall and tanned and sporting a shaven head these days, along with two large gold hoops in his ears. He wore a golden torc around his neck and a kilt—nothing more. He’d always been a bit vain about his six-pack. His expression was one of polite interest, but you got the feeling it was a façade for his indifference. Next to him sat Goibhniu, the master smith and brewer who had made cold iron amulets for the Morrigan, Granuaile, and Oberon. Unlike Ogma, Goibhniu was riveted by the spectacle of an old Druid approaching Brighid with his friends. He sat on the edge of his seat, grinning with anticipation, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped together between them. Brighid was his mother, and he was therefore probably one of the few people who thought it was funny to watch her get worked up. His brothers, Creidhne and Luchta, lounged next to him, quietly exchanging words and not even paying attention to our passing.

There was another row of seats behind them, and a couple of these were empty. One seat was presumably for Flidais, and I noted that the Morrigan was conspicuously absent.

While most of the Tuatha Dé Danann had dressed
modestly and with very little ornamentation, Brighid had gone out of her way to look like a model for a Frazetta painting. Conscious of how it set off her red hair, she wore a sheer green sleeve on her left arm, bound at the top of the biceps and at the wrist with a circlet of gold. She had a golden belly chain holding up another sheer cascade of cloth between her legs, but it highlighted rather than concealed what was there. Aside from these purely ornamental accoutrements, she was naked, the tattoos on her right side—among other bits—proudly on display. She also had two wolfhounds lying at her feet, their heads up and watching our approach closely. They were black hounds with glossy coats.

No commentary now, Oberon
, I warned him.
Remember, she can hear you
.

I received the mental equivalent of a grunt in reply.

The last time I’d seen Brighid, she was similarly provocative. She’d asked me to be her consort, I refused, and then she tried to kill me when she found out I’d had sex with the Morrigan. Fragarach had helped me out of that fix, but I didn’t have that sword to get me out of this. Brighid’s eyes flicked down to Moralltach, so I sheathed it before getting any closer, thinking that might be a tad more diplomatic than pointing it at her.

Flidais halted before the wee knoll on which Brighid’s throne sat. It was made of iron she’d forged herself; originally a master of copper and bronze, Brighid had made a special point of becoming proficient in the magic-repelling metal when the Milesians had brought it to Ireland long ago. They thought they’d driven the Tuatha Dé Danann “underground,” but in fact they’d driven them to create a plane of magic, and so the Milesians were indirectly responsible for the birth of the vast panoply of magical “little folk” that plagued and blessed them and their descendants for generations afterward. Brighid’s throne was a palpable symbol of who
exactly was master of the Fae. It occurred to me, for the first time, that my cold iron aura
here
, in her place of power, was a challenge in itself. I had visibly mastered iron to a degree that she had not. And I could move around and stuff. Her throne just sat there. But judging by the hardness in her eyes, that particular issue was far down on her list of bones to pick with me.

“Majesty,” Flidais said. “The Druid Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin, as you requested.”

A tiny nod of dismissal gave Flidais permission to take her seat amongst the rest of the Tuatha Dé Danann. I found myself wondering with mad distraction who Perun was currently staring at. Would he follow Flidais to her seat or fix his eyes on Brighid’s bare breasts?

Brighid quirked an eyebrow at me, waiting to see how I would address her. It was the first of many challenges, I knew. If I called her Majesty, it would acknowledge her as my sovereign and establish her as someone who could order me about. Taking a knee would also signal submission, and I wasn’t about to do either of those things. Instead, I bowed quickly and courteously and said, “You wished for an audience, Brighid.” Conditioned by my years in the United States, I almost blurted out, “What can I do for you?” That would have been disastrous. Instead, I coughed once to cover my mistake and confined myself to stating the obvious: “I am here.”

“You delve quickly to the heart of the matter,” she sneered. The triple voice was gone; only the alto register remained. “I was told you died twelve years ago.”

“Whoever told you must have been mistaken.”

“The Morrigan is never mistaken about deaths.”

“Did she specifically say that I was dead?”

“Yes.”

“She used my name?”

“Yes. She said the Druid Atticus O’Sullivan lay chopped
to pieces in the Arizona desert. This was corroborated by several thunder gods.”

“Begging your pardon, Brighid, but that is not my name.”

Brighid’s eyes narrowed. “So I have been intentionally duped.”

I did not ask forgiveness. I stuck to the facts. “It was a necessary deception, liberally applied to all. I did not wish to be pursued by the aforementioned thunder gods forever.”

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
4.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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