Home > Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(10)

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(10)
Author: Kevin Hearne

The bear is Owen. Just bust in there with me and look threatening; get the werewolf to back off but try not to engage it seriously.

I began to run toward the circle, drawing power to leap over it and into the center. "I don’t get what you mean. You want me to engage a werewolf in combat jokingly?"

No, just—don’t engage, but growl a lot.

"Okay."

Using some of the energy I’d drawn, I vaulted over the crowd and into the ring, where the bear was circling to keep the werewolf in front of him and the werewolf was trying to flank and leap up onto the bear’s back. A few onlookers tried to shout warnings, but they weren’t in time. I delivered a kick to the rear left leg of the werewolf, hard enough to wipe him out and spin him out of range of the bear’s claws.

“That’s it! It’s over!” I yelled, and I got defiant roars from all directions, including that of the bear. Oberon nosed his way through the crowd and planted himself by my side, snarling at the werewolf as he rose to his feet and showed us his teeth.

“Damn it! Ty, stop!” Sam shouted, but the werewolf—presumably Sam’s husband, Ty—either didn’t hear or pretended not to. He gathered himself to leap at me, and that was way more threat than Oberon was going to allow. Oberon threw himself at the wolf as he jumped at me, and when they collided and fell to the ground, I dog-piled onto the werewolf’s back, wrapped my hands underneath his front legs, and gave him a hug.

Hugs are not normally part of my martial arts. However, in this case, it brought my silver charms into contact with the back of the werewolf’s neck, and the pain of that caused him to howl and rear back from Oberon, which was precisely what I wanted. Locking my arms across his chest, I stood up, yanking the werewolf away from Oberon and telling my hound to Let him go, then forced the struggling creature to turn and face his alpha. I released him, giving him a less-than-gentle shove in the proper direction. The general tenor of the noise around me changed from jeers to angry shouting when they smelled the silver burn and saw the mark on the werewolf’s neck fur. Everybody’s back was up and they were making a lot of noise, but Sam restrained Ty from charging again, and that meant the fight was over. I tasted victory for maybe two seconds, long enough to ask Oberon if he was okay and for him to answer in the affirmative. And then my archdruid informed me that I had cocked everything up again.

“Is this how it’s going to be from now on, Siodhachan?” he said in Old Irish, his tone querulous in my ear. He’d shape-shifted back to human and now stood with his hands on his hips, na**d and bleeding from multiple scratches. “Every time I try to have a little fun, you’re going to come along and ruin it?”

“Fun?” I said. I pointed at the werewolf. “He was trying to kill you.”

“No, he wasn’t. We were having a friendly match until you showed up. We can both take a lot of punishment and heal from it, and we agreed to leave throats, spines, and balls alone. And we did all that without you here to interpret for me. I think ye owe us all an apology.”

I could have pointed out that my intention was to save his crotchety ass and there had been hardly any time to ask politely if he was in true danger, and erring on the side of his safety was actually a much wiser course of action at that particular crisis point, but there was no way that I would come out looking good by pursuing that argument. My best option was to admit that I had screwed up and beg forgiveness.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Sam. “I misunderstood what was going on here and thought it was a death match instead of a friendly fight.”

“We’re a pack, Atticus,” Sam replied. “If it had been a death match, he would have been facing the entire pack, not just one of us.”

“Fair enough. Again, I apologize. I acted without knowing what was going on. If there’s a way I can make it up to you, I will.”

The forest grew quiet as everyone looked to Sam to see how he would respond. “Apology accepted.” The tension visibly leaked out of the pack’s shoulders at those words. “You didn’t break the skin, and Ty will heal. Let Owen come back and play with us some other time and we’ll call it square. It’s hard to find good sparring partners.”

“Easy enough. He’s free to do as he wishes, honestly. I just have to teach him the language and he’ll be fine. Do you have everything you need to send to Hal Hauk?”

“Yes, it’s already done, already sent. You can pick up his ID in a week to ten days.”

“Thank you. We’ll be going, then.” I turned to Owen and asked him where his clothes were.

“They’re around here somewhere, waiting for you to apologize.”

“I did.”

“Not to me.”

No one could exasperate me like he could. Drawing on my dwindling reserves of patience, I repeated my apology to him in Old Irish and said it was time to leave. He dawdled and delayed, but eventually he was dressed, his scratches were closed up, and we skipped around the world to the French Pyrenees, where he would restore my ability to shape-shift.

Chapter 6

Siodhachan says it’s great to have a name like Owen Kennedy in this modern world. A Kennedy was President of the United States not so long ago, which I guess means he was fecking important. I should be proud that someone of my family name rose to be a great leader.

“Of course,” says he, “John Kennedy was a Catholic. And Catholics were the ones who drove the Druids out of Ireland.”

“Stab me in the tit, why don’t you,” I says.

But then Siodhachan says this JFK was a good sort as far as leaders go. All the Kennedys were while they lasted.

“While they lasted?” I says.

“John was shot to death, and so was his brother. They never caught the bastards who did it.”

“Well, now you’re just throwin’ rocks at me stones,” I says.

“Life must be a kick in the head for you right now,” he replies, and he’s not far off. It’s more like a bucket of cold water every few seconds. The cars and the buildings and what the hell people wear on their feet these days. And fecking plumbing! Siodhachan introduced me to that modern miracle after he took me to the woods to drink his thrice-damned tea. I never would have thought that taking a dump could be a luxury instead of gambling with your arse every day. And when I asks him why he didn’t let me use one of those toilet things to begin with, he says it’s because everyone knows that a bear shits in the woods, and then he laughs like he’s fecking funny. I don’t know what my bear form had to do with it, but I told him a bear kicks arse in the woods too, and he’d be finding out personally if he messed with me any more.

“You should write all of this down,” he says. “It will help you learn the language faster and process everything.”

“Druids don’t need to write anything down,” says I.

“And how did that work out for us?” he says. “The Romans were able to wipe us off the earth and we never got to tell our side of it to history. Most of your time—most of my youth—it’s all gone because no one wrote it down. All the world knows is based on what someone dug up out of the earth, and rocks with a few scratches of Ogham script on them marking land boundaries tell the world very little about how things really were. But the world knows about Julius Caesar and all the Caesars that followed, because they wrote everything down and it survived. We need to write if we want the world to know about us. I’ll do it with you. We’ll write together.”

He has a point. He’s still an enormous cock-up, mind, but I have to admit that Siodhachan has the occasional moment of competence. If I ignore the embarrassing side effects, that tea of his did me more good than a week of sex in a cave. I have all me dark hair and muscles again, and the ache in me knuckles is gone like he promised. And protecting himself with that cold iron aura so the Fae can’t touch him—that was a clever idea.

I suppose, when I see such things, that he’s done me proud. But he’s also done some other things so stupid that if all the other Druids weren’t already dead I’d have to kill them before they blamed me for it.

I’m told this language is English, which wasn’t around in my day. Kind of a great soup of a tongue, with influences from all over Europe. He’s teaching me to speak it with a modern Irish accent and spell words according to British rules. “The Americans adopted a bunch of nonsense, thanks to a bloke named Noah Webster,” he says. “And, besides, the Americans don’t swear as much as the Irish do, so having an Irish accent is the best fit for you all around.”

“And I suppose ye think I should get an Irish wolfhound like you?”

“Can’t go wrong with a hound. I know a good breeder.”

“I say balls to that, lad. You get a hound and people always want to pet them. I’m going to get a monkey and let it throw shite at people. They’ll clear the feck out of me way right quick.”

I didn’t really say that. I didn’t know what a monkey was until one threw shite at me a couple of days ago, and now that I’m remembering this conversation and writing it down after the fact, I wished I’d known about them in time to be clever.

Instead, I told Siodhachan I wasn’t ready for an animal companion yet. I had so much to learn right then that I’d be a poor friend to it, and I never was one to form such relationships anyway. I suppose I’m ornery. Siodhachan tells me that’s the English word for my character. Or my disposition. Or some other big fecking word for the same thing. English is full of words like that.

And it’s full of fancy words for the ache in your knuckles and every other pain ye might have. Siodhachan warns me that I have to watch my health and heal infections in the blood as soon as they appear. Tells me I’ve never been vaccinated and I don’t have any antibodies or immunoresistance to modern disease and I’ll be dead shortly if I don’t monitor myself closely and break down infections. All those big words require lengthy explanations, and eventually I cut him off when he gets to modern drugs people take with side effects worse than the problem they’re supposed to fix.

“Ye could have stopped at ‘watch your health, nasty diseases around here,’ ” I says.

Siodhachan has taken me to some place in Gaul—which they call France now—to touch up his tattoos. Says manticore venom is evil brew, and he isn’t lying. His skin is a mess even after he’s had time to heal, and I’ve never seen a wound like it.

“It’s the strongest poison I’ve ever encountered,” says he, “and I’m not sure I even got a full dose, because I removed the thorn before it was finished pumping the toxin into me.”

“So where did you run into the manticore?” I asks him. “Because we’d heard about them and how to tame them from Druids on the continent—they were supposed to be monsters from the east somewhere—but none of them ever showed up in Ireland.”

And he says, “You probably won’t believe me. It was in Tír na nÓg, in the home of Midhir, where it was chained up and waiting for me. One of the Tuatha Dé Danann put it there. And I figure it was the same member of the Tuatha Dé Danann that strung up Midhir in iron chains and cut his throat so that he’d bleed out, separated from the earth.”

“Gods below, lad, that’s a terrible way to go. Who would do such a thing?”

“That’s what I can’t figure out. Someone is playing me for a fool, but I don’t know who. They didn’t just kill Midhir at Brí Léith, but they conspired against me with the Fae, a good number of vampires and dark elves, and the Roman gods as well. I bet they told Loki where to find me a few times and sent those Fir Darrigs after us too. And it’s not only me they’re fooling. They’re also keeping it secret from all the rest of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Either that or they’re all in on it, but I seriously doubt that.”

“What have ye been doing for two thousand years to make someone hate ye so bad?” I says.

“Hiding out, mostly. I could use your help figuring out who’s after me. You’d bring a fresh perspective to the problem. And by spending time in Tír na nÓg, you wouldn’t have to deal with all the shocks of modernity right away.”

It’s taken me a while to figure out what to call Siodhachan in this new language, but I think I have it figured out: He’s a bullshit salesman. You’ll walk away thinking you got something for free, but Siodhachan’s a buy-now-and-pay-later sort, and the coin you pay for buying his bullshit now is grief later. I knew right away that this talk of me spending time in Tír na nÓg would be for his health and not mine. “What do you expect me to do, lad? Go ask the Tuatha Dé Danann one by one if they’d like to stick a sword in your guts?”

“Perhaps you could be a tad more subtle than that.”

“What’s that? I don’t know the meaning of subtle.”

“No, you never have. Might suit you, though. No one would expect it.”

“I don’t have enough information to make a rational decision. It’s like you’re asking me to order a drink according to how me ni**les are feeling instead of telling me what they’re ready to pour. Why don’t you tell me who’s killed who and why, and how they’ve been trying to kill you. Take your time; we have plenty. And keep teaching me this new language.”

We had at least a week of work ahead of us. Most of that would be getting in direct touch with Gaia, and we could do that in one headspace and keep talking in another.

The story he told me, which he swore he’d write down soon, took up the largest part of that time. All about how he killed Aenghus Óg, then cocked up everything with the Norse, except now they had an uneasy alliance against Hel and Loki, and the Greco-Romans were standing by too, and meanwhile he was financing a shadow war against vampires and dodging the occasional batch of dark elves who were being financed to kill him.

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