Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five) (6 page)

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
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Brighid nodded. “I hear you three times, Siodhachan.” She turned to her right and said, “Manannan. Ogma. Please see to our security and devise a plan to deal with Loki should he make his way here.” She turned to her left and addressed the dignitaries there. “The Lords of Faerie and their respective hosts will assist you.” They bowed in acquiescence and acknowledgment of the order. The hairstyles represented there, I thought, could start a revolution in Hollywood salons. I didn’t know much about the Lords of Faerie and their hosts, other than that they didn’t like me very much. I think that had something to do with the cold-iron-touch-of-death thing.

One of the lords cleared his throat to get Brighid’s
permission to speak. He was dressed foppishly in an Elizabethan kit, cursed with the physique of an anorexic mannequin, and had half-lidded eyes that communicated his disdain for the universe. She looked at him and dipped her chin, giving him the green light to pontificate.

“Majesty, perhaps the shuddering of Gaia reported by the Iron Druid may explain some recent disturbing reports coming in from the rangers throughout Europe.”

“Do share with us all,” Brighid said.

“Most tethers to Europe from Tír na nÓg are now inoperable. The death of the Slavic plane may explain this.”

“Begging your pardon,” I said. “Are you saying that it’s impossible to shift to Europe right now?”

The fop raised an eyebrow and sneered at me. “That is precisely what I am saying. Except for a small area in the south of Greece.”

“The tethers for the rest of the world still work?” Brighid asked.

“Yes, Majesty.”

“And the secret paths walked by the Fae?”

“Those still function admirably.”

“So your theory is that the death of Perun’s plane is causing this.”

“It is a possibility.”

“Where, precisely, in Greece may one still travel freely?” I asked.

“Anywhere in the vicinity of Mount Olympus.”

I snorted. “An Olympian wants to kill me and the only place I can currently bind my apprentice to the earth is under the nose of the Olympians? Doesn’t that seem odd to you?”

The faery shrugged indifferently. “The timing of the Slavic plane’s destruction coincides with the beginning of the tether disturbance. I realize that correlation does
not imply causation, but it is a plausible theory. Have you another to offer?”

I almost held back, but then thought better of it. I would never win the favor of any Fae host at this point, so I might as well enjoy myself and call it like I saw it. “I will offer the theory that you are an insufferable grundlebeard,” I said, much to the amusement of the audience behind us, who were not of that particular lord’s host. He’d always be called Lord Grundlebeard after this, and he knew it; his face burned red.

“Why is it that only the area around Olympus is free from this disturbance?” I asked, turning away from the Fae.

“It would make sense if you assume the Olympians are protecting their territory,” Flidais said, rising from her chair to address the assembly. “I’m sure the dryads are under their protection. If the reverberations of Perun’s plane are being felt worldwide, the Olympians would see it as their duty to prevent the creatures in their domain from suffering.”

“Then why don’t all the world’s pantheons do the same?” I asked.

Flidais shrugged helplessly. “Perhaps they don’t understand that there’s a problem. Few depend on the earth for travel as we do, and they might be entirely unaware. And they might also be too weak to do anything about it, whereas the Olympians still retain a decent measure of their old power.”

These were certainly possibilities. It would be as fallacious for me to assume that the world was out to get me as it would be for them to assume the world wasn’t. In their favor was the timing: How could the Olympians have known an hour ago—in time to orchestrate something like this—that I was still around? I had to admit that, though it looked like a convenient trap for
me, Flidais’s theory held much more water. The Olympians were looking after their own.

“Brighid, though the news of my return has probably spread already, as Fand noted, will you neglect to tell Olympus, or to officially acknowledge my return, until such time as I can finish binding my apprentice to the earth?”

She tilted her head slightly to one side. “Why should I do this?”

“So that the world will have another Druid. One,” I added with a wry smile, “who is perhaps not so annoying as myself.” Self-deprecation is an enduring social lubricant and should be applied liberally in cases like these.

Brighid broke into a full grin. “For that, I would do much more.” Her voice took on the three-note tone and she announced, “None of the Fae or the Tuatha Dé Danann are to speak of the Iron Druid’s return until after his apprentice is bound to the earth. Transgressors will be severely punished.”

I nodded my thanks instead of speaking it. “Will that be all, Brighid?”

“For now,” she said. “Your audience was not without excitement. But Fragarach is returned and we have a new Druid to welcome.” All was forgiven, then. At least in public. “Please inform us when she is successfully bound.”

“I will,” I said.

“Flidais will escort you wherever you wish.”

A soft but excited
“Da! Da!”
escaped Perun’s lips. As Flidais walked up to us, a coy smile on her lips for the thunder god, the assembled crowd began to murmur and discuss my audience. Flidais said the Tuatha Dé Danann all wanted to meet Granuaile; for them, she was the highlight of the day, for she represented something new. Watching them stand next to each other, I was struck
again by how similar they looked—at least, when Flidais was all “cleaned up” like this. They were the same height, and their hair was quite nearly the same shade; Flidais’s hair leaned perhaps a bit more toward auburn.

Granuaile had a slightly wild yet glazed look to her eyes, the look that graduates and brides get when they are congratulated by an endless train of well-wishers. Having your hand kissed by gods and your cheeks kissed by goddesses can set one’s heart aflutter, but I think she bore it well. She didn’t go all fangirl on anyone, but I suspect that’s only because none of them bore the slightest resemblance to Nathan Fillion. I’d taken her to Comic Con about eight years ago and she got to meet him; when he shook her hand and said, “Charmed,” she damn near swooned. Then she lost most of her language faculties.

“Am. Uh. I mean. Granuaile. That’s me. Oh, gods! Hi. So handsome. You, and. Wow. Sorry! Can’t breathe.”

I got a lot of mileage out of that one.

Manannan invited her to his house for a pint of ale; Fand seconded the invitation and included the rest of our party and her mother, Flidais.

“Yes, of course, ye must all come,” Manannan said. He looked expectantly at Granuaile, but she swung her gaze to me, which caused Manannan to raise a querying brow in my direction.

“I told them not to accept any food or drink while here,” I explained.

“Ah!” The god of the sea nodded sagely. “A wise precaution. I should have thought to be more formal and observe the proper manners.” He turned to Granuaile once more but addressed us all. “Granuaile and friends, I invite ye to enjoy my hospitality this day, expecting no favor in return and incurring no debts or obligations on your part. I keep a wholesome table.”
Wholesome
, in this case, was the Fae equivalent of Certified Organic; it meant he
personally guaranteed the food would be the simple sort, without any sort of bindings used before, during, or after its production.

“We will accept your hospitality for a couple of hours,” I said, “and then we must leave to begin binding Granuaile to the earth.”

Manannan grinned from behind his mustache. “Excellent. Please follow.”

Carrying Fragarach in his left hand, he walked hand in hand with Fand to a tree on the border of the court and shifted somewhere. Flidais followed, then we found the binding marker he left behind and shifted to a tree outside a large castle set on a cliff overlooking the sea. In the “real” world, this castle was a poor stone hut, seemingly abandoned. Here in Tír na nÓg, it was an architectural wonder set on breathtakingly beautiful grounds. The famous hogs of Manannan Mac Lir—the ones that re-spawned after slaughter, providing him with eternal luscious bacon—snorted fatly in their pen and radiated decadence. Kine lowed in the distance, black-and-white Rorschach blots on a green field. Wolfhounds trotted around creamy pincushions of sheep. The scene was edged with golden highlights, a pastoral the likes of which Thomas Cole would have dreamed. Some faeries were visible here and there—the airborne and the grounded—and while they looked at us curiously, none approached. The three members of the Tuatha Dé Danann were waiting for us and smiled a welcome, beckoning us inside. Manannan delivered Fragarach into the hands of a sleek servant who was no doubt the human form of a selkie. She bowed to him and bore it into the castle ahead of us.

Fand dismissed most of the faeries in the castle immediately, “for their comfort and yours,” she said to me. When I had last been a guest at Manannan’s estate, I wasn’t known as the Iron Druid, and the Fae rather
liked me. Circumstances were much different now, and, as such, we were treated to the singular privilege of being served by Manannan and Fand in the kitchen. It smelled of apples, and when I remarked upon this they mentioned a cider press through a door in the rear. They set out a platter of fruit, cheese, and bread, then poured us each a flagon of ale and toasted our health. They gave Oberon a ham bone with plenty of meat left on it.

Oberon said.

Yes, it’s okay
.

Oberon set his ears back and reared up on his hind legs playfully. he said, and pawed at it a couple of times before chomping down and trotting off to enjoy it elsewhere.

Manannan and Fand wanted to learn more about Granuaile since she was shortly to be a full Druid, so they encouraged her to talk about herself. Flidais and Perun quickly lost interest, however, and began conducting a hushed conversation of their own, every murmur vibrating with the frisson of sexual tension.

Before long, Granuaile was talking directly to Fand. The god of the sea had apparently been waiting for this development, because Manannan jerked his head at me to repair to another room, where there was an open window looking out on his sheep pasture.

“Fly with me down there for a moment?” he asked, pointing.

It was unusual, but it seemed a harmless request, so I shrugged. “Sure.” We stripped and shifted to our bird forms; he was a great shearwater and I a great horned owl. Manannan took his cloak of mists with him in his talons. We leapt from the window and coasted down to the sheep, where we shifted back to human. Manannan quickly shook out his cloak and used it, enveloping us
entirely in mist. Then he bound the air around us so that no sound could travel out of a bubble around our heads.

“Faeries and enchantments everywhere up there,” he explained with a jerk of his head toward the castle, “and some o’ them are quite talented at remaining inconspicuous while they eavesdrop. I just wanted to have a word with ye that wouldn’t be overheard, and I didn’t want our lips read either.”

“Okay,” I said, though his preamble made me curious and more than a little nervous.

“It’s not only Bacchus who wants to see ye dead,” he explained, “or who might suspect you’re still alive. There was an envoy from the Svartálfar a couple o’ years back, asking if ye might be alive after all.”

“Well, I suppose it had to happen someday,” I said, and sighed. “I actually have cause to blame the dark elves.”

“Blame them for what?”

I shrugged. “Whatever vexes me at any given moment. They have been my universal scapegoat for ages. The truth of the matter is I don’t know much about them.”

One of the stranger developments of modern times is that more people have heard of dark elves today than at any other time in human history. This is almost entirely due to the twin influences of role-playing and fantasy-based video games. Or perhaps more credit is due to the artists who depicted them visually with dark skin and fantastic white hair; they had impossibly magical manes, as if they’d found some eldritch concoction in the deeps that gave them +5 flowing locks.

Even literature got it wrong. There are only a couple of passing references to dark elves in Sturluson’s
Prose Edda
, but they’re a bit confusing since they seem to conflate the dark elves with dwarfs. I have often wondered how much of that was intentional; in my mind it’s
impossible to make such a mistake. They didn’t look a damn bit alike, if my sources were correct.

To be fair, Snorri Sturluson had priorities other than filling in the history of the dark elves. He wanted to preserve his country’s myths and culture without upsetting the Christian authorities of the time. He had to stretch like Mr. Fantastic to make the Norse gods descendants of the Trojans—and thus, to the Christians, not really gods at all, merely heroes—and he probably couldn’t figure out a way to explain the dark elves satisfactorily. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Svartálfar had paid him a visit while he was writing the
Edda
and encouraged him to elide their existence all he wanted—perhaps more than he wanted.

The reason that there is so little information about dark elves is that they tend to keep to themselves, and, in truth, from what little I have heard, this is rather kind of them. Any interaction they have with humans tends to ruin the humans’ day.

“I know a bit about them,” Manannan said. “I got the short version o’ their history from one o’ the Álfar.”

“The Álfar spoke to you? Why?”

“This was some time ago. I had the story from a treasure hunter who wanted my help in locating wrecks at the bottom o’ the Irish Sea. Since he wanted a map, I asked him for a map in kind. I never could figure out where the nine realms were located on the World Tree, so he gave me a map that he swore was truth and told me a story about how the Svartálfar were born. Would ye like to hear it?”

“Yes, I would—and I’d love to see the map as well. If the dark elves are actively searching for me, I’d prefer to be armed with as much knowledge as possible.”

BOOK: Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five)
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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