Home > The Grimoire of the Lamb (The Iron Druid Chronicles 0.4)

The Grimoire of the Lamb (The Iron Druid Chronicles 0.4)
Author: Kevin Hearne

People today think ancient Egypt was ineffably cool. I blame this misconception on hieroglyphics and (to a lesser extent) on the Bangles.

The truth is that the ancient Egyptians regarded most people as chattel for the ruling class and practiced some of the blackest magic history has ever seen—or, rather, hasn’t seen, because they were deadly serious about keeping their secrets. But they wrote such happy tomes as The Book of the Dead and illustrated joyful kids’ books like Little Scarab Shat Blood and Anubis Eats the Hearts of the Disobedient. I’m not kidding; I saw them before the Library of Alexandria was ruined by Emperor Aurelian.

I saw plenty at Alexandria in its heyday. In fact, I saw quite a few things I never should have seen, which is why I now avoid the country when I can. My logic, if it could be called that, suggests that if I never think about the country again, the old deities of Egypt will forget that I once snaffled their sex rituals and necromantic tomes. Calls from Cairo, therefore, automatically excite more than their fair share of suspicion. When I picked up the phone in my shop and the voice in my ear identified himself as “Nkosi Elkhashab from Egypt,” I toyed briefly with the idea of hanging up before he could even state his business.

The problem was this: Long ago—in what I suppose I must now call my “youth,” even though I was already a couple of hundred years old at the time—I raided an extremely restricted section at Alexandria. It was at the behest of Ogma, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, so to please that particular god I wound up vexing several others in the Egyptian pantheon. Not so much that they would take the trouble to hunt me down, but neither am I precisely welcome in their territory anymore. Bast, in particular, has several bones to pick with me, aside from the fact that I’m not a cat person. I have a book of hers—or, rather, a book that belonged to her cult—that contains some fairly lurid descriptions of her “mysteries.” It is physical evidence of the old saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat: The parchment itself is made of catskin—a fine quality bordering on vellum—and the cover is a thicker, tanned catskin leather to protect the contents from minor water damage. I’d thwarted a couple of attempts by her agents to steal it back or assassinate me, but I could also say the same for most of my Egyptian collection. Almost all of it had been cursed or enchanted in some fashion and had given me more trouble than it was worth. I held on to it now just to be stubborn, to say “Neener neener!” to all those ancient mages and gods who thought they could scare a Druid into giving away his hard-earned (if ill-gotten) library. I tended to hoard magical tomes the way dragons hoarded treasure—and protected them with the same ferocity.

Mr. Elkhashab, however, wanted what amounted to a cookbook. “If you are the rare-book dealer Atticus O’Sullivan …?”

“I am.”

“Then I am told you have a collection of extremely rare works from Egypt,” he said, his voice rich with the lilt of an Arabic accent. I could easily speak Arabic with him, but it was better for now to let him assume I was an American and, therefore, statistically speaking, limited to English and two years of another language in high school.

“Are you from the Ministry of Antiquities?” I asked. These days, admitting you had old stuff from Egypt would earn you a visit from men with mirrored sunglasses.

“No, Mr. O’Sullivan,” he chuckled in surprise. “My relationship with them is rather strained. In any case, I doubt they even know of the existence of the particular work I’m looking for. Nor are they likely to care, since it has nothing to do with the pharaohs. It’s simply a book written in Coptic, either first or perhaps second century, and it contains a collection of recipes for cooking lamb. Might you have anything remotely resembling such a book?”

I did indeed. Privately I called it the Grimoire of the Lamb, because it was otherwise untitled. It had somehow been shelved incongruously amongst some darker works at Alexandria—including Bast’s catskin collection of sexercises, which I now called Nice Kitty! This was the first time anyone had ever asked about the grimoire, however. The number of people who could speak Coptic today, including myself, was probably only a few hundred. I’d kept the book as a curiosity, but this man’s inquiry raised a whole new line of questioning.

“I might,” I said, and fished for more information. “Can you give me any more clues about what this might look like?”

“I have never seen it or read any descriptions of its physical appearance. But it was thought to have been in the Library of Alexandria at one time.”

Affecting my best clueless-American tone, I said, “Didn’t that burn down?”

“Yes, but the book I seek was removed prior to that.”

“It’s pretty old, then. Papyrus or parchment?”

“Parchment of unusual quality.” He’d nailed it. What was his source?

“It’s probably severely degraded by now; might be unreadable. Would that be a deal-breaker for you?”

“No, not at all, sir,” he said.

I walked out from behind the tea station to the rare-book case on the north wall of my shop; the sale of something like this could ensure a profit for the year and maybe the next one as well, recession or no. Not that I couldn’t afford to take a loss. The sale of rare books and antiquities was just one of many get-rich-slow schemes I’d come up with throughout my very long life. The slow part was living until pop culture aged long enough to take on the luster of dignity and the physical product deteriorated to the point where it could whisper of a halcyon epoch before the buyer’s time.

My rare books were heavily secured for both the mundane and the magical world. I didn’t need to unlock the bindings and disable the wards just to check on the grimoire—I could look through the bulletproof glass. It was still there, sitting amongst my Egyptian goodies.

“All right, I have it. Thirteen recipes for lamb.”

“Excellent!” The excitement in his voice carried across the Atlantic very well. “How much? I can wire you the money immediately.”

“No, you’ll need to purchase it in person.”

A pause on the other end of the line. “Can you not ship internationally?”

“I can, but I won’t. This is a magical text. I don’t trust them to the mail.”

“Magical? It is an ancient cookbook.”

I couldn’t believe he was trying to play dumb now. I had that market cornered. “Mr. Elkhashab. Where did you hear of this book and where did you hear that I might have it?”

“Your store is world famous for antiquities,” he said, not answering either question. “I’m simply contacting as many rare-book dealers as I can.” I gave up trying to be patient. Normal customers don’t look for ancient Coptic texts that should have been burned long ago.

“Please do not insult my intelligence. Earlier you said you had heard that I might have it. So you were either lying then or you are lying now. I do not need to sell this book, Mr. Elkhashab. I am quite content to keep it, because I think we both know it is the only copy in existence. If you wish to purchase it, you will need to make a trip to the United States and negotiate with me in person. I will not deal with representatives, lawyers, or even familiars.”

He didn’t splutter or feign ignorance of familiars. He merely said in a stiff voice, “It will take me some time to get there.”

“I’ll be here,” I said, and then added, “Most likely,” since I didn’t know what kind of time he was talking about.

“Then I will see you soon,” he said, and hung up. I promptly forgot about him and prepared a blend of Creativi-Tea, since I had some fantasy role-players coming in for their weekly dungeon crawl, and the DM always wanted a little something extra to keep him on top of his players. It was similar to Mental Acui-Tea, which was my most popular blend around midterms and finals. During those weeks, students from Arizona State would file into Third Eye Books and Herbs and buy plenty of sachets to get them through the week—their rationale being that one week of real studying would make up for a semester spent staring at the bottom of a red plastic kegger cup instead of their books. Word of my “sick tea”—where sick had somehow been transmogrified into a positive adjective rather than an indicator of disease—had spread throughout the Greek societies after it helped one frat member pass his finals. This testimonial, along with some others, had given my shop the nickname of “Sick Hippie’s” amongst the wasted dude crowd, as in, “Bro, I need to pass or I’ll be cut off from my trust fundage. Let’s go get some tea at Sick Hippie’s.”

For the record: I am not a hippie. But I guess in today’s world a knowledge of herbs and a counterculture vibe was enough to earn me the label.

I happily lost myself in the daily needs of the shop and thought nothing more of the Egyptian, until he walked in a week later.

When he crossed my threshold, I knew immediately, because the wards on my shop warned me that a magic user had entered my personal space. That’s about all they did, though; I hadn’t set up anything to shut down Egyptian magic systems—the odds of having to deal with that in Arizona were pretty slim.

He was a middle-aged man with a lengthy but well-groomed beard; it was forked and fell below his sternum. He had wrapped the “tines” of the fork in strips of leather, allowing a puff of hair to explode out the ends. An unabashed unibrow protected deep-set eyes, which flicked about nervously. His hair was hidden underneath a rounded white brimless hat halfway between a skull cap and a fez, the sort commonly seen in North Africa. His kaftan and pants were similarly white, though the kaftan was embroidered with gold thread around the neck and the buttons in the center, and also around the edges of his sleeves. It was a look, in other words, that suggested he was a devout Muslim. I suspected that was a convenient disguise for him, though, or he wouldn’t be tripping my alarms as a magic user.

After a quick scan of the shop, during which he determined that I was the only employee currently working, he looked disappointed and approached me at the tea station. “Pardon me,” he said in his accented English. “But I am looking for Mr. O’Sullivan.”

“That’s me.” A twitch of the unibrow indicated his surprise. I look like I’m twenty-one and far too young to be an expert on anything, much less rare books. But he recovered quickly.

“Excellent! I am Nkosi Elkhashab. We spoke on the phone about the Coptic book full of lamb recipes.”

“Ah, yes, I remember,” I said. “I assume you wish to see it.”

“Yes. If it is indeed the book I seek, I hope we can come to some profitable agreement.” He was all smiles and charm.

“I’ll be happy to show it to you,” I said, “but after lunch.” His face fell. “The book is not currently on-site,” I lied, “but in a secure location. If you come back this afternoon, I will have it ready. Enjoy Tempe, in the meantime. Mill Avenue has many diverting places to shop and eat.”

The unibrow dipped in the middle, signaling his displeasure, but it smoothed out as he realized that anger would do him no good under the circumstances.

He nodded curtly and said, “Until this afternoon, then.”

I nodded back. “See you.” I watched him leave and then picked up the phone to call one of my attorneys, Hal Hauk. As a lawyer, he had his hands in more than a few kinds of pies. As a werewolf, he had his paws in some additional pies made with supernatural ingredients. Some of them were shady. Seedy, even.

“Hey, Hal. It’s Atticus. Need everything you can dig up on a character calling himself Nkosi Elkhashab out of Egypt.… As soon as possible.… Yep.”

Hal would hire a private investigator and they’d do what they could from this end, then they’d hire someone in Cairo to find out more. In the meantime, I had my own methods of finding out the truth, and that’s why I needed some time before I sat the grimoire down in front of this guy. He couldn’t be simply a gourmet out to find a gastronomic miracle. Modern recipes for lamb have come a long way. Look at what those guys on the cooking shows can do with mint jellies and mango chutneys.

I closed up the shop a few minutes before noon and hopped on my bicycle for the short ride home to the Mitchell Park neighborhood. I waved at the widow MacDonagh as I passed; she was cradling a glass of Tullamore Dew and serenely perusing the pages of a gory British crime novel. She was a sweet lady from the old country for whom I occasionally did some yard work, and who always enjoyed harassing me.

“Ye should wear a helmet or some knee pads, ye know,” she called from the porch. “It’s dangerous to be that sexy ’round here, heh heh.”

At home, a couple of barks came from indoors: my Irish wolfhound announced that he was guarding the place before he realized it was me. Through the special binding I’d created between us years ago, I heard his thoughts in my head: "Atticus, is that you?"

Yep. Home for a quick bite and to pick up something. Think you can handle some tuna salad for lunch? I opened the front door and he was there, tail wagging. I gave him some love behind the ears and chucked him under the chin.

"Maybe if you subtract the salad! It will make my breath smell like ambrosia to cats. Or even like catnip to cats."

Sorry, Oberon, they’re not going to get stoned on your tuna breath.

"I suppose that would skew things unfairly to the dogs if that were true, wouldn’t it? Well, can we chase the tuna with a slice of turkey or something?"

Sure. I opened three cans of tuna—two for Oberon and one for me—and mixed up a quick salad with some celery, chives, chopped grapes, and mayo. I slapped this mixture between fresh bread with some romaine lettuce and called it lunch. I took it with me into the garage, where I had a large iron trunk bound shut in several ways. Only one of them was a traditional, mundane padlock. It took me about ten minutes to unbind everything, but once the lid was free to lift up on its hinges, I extracted a scabbard with a very special sword inside.

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