Home > Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)(13)

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)(13)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“Bres, I think you’re missing something important,” I said, even as he brought his sword down with all his strength and I stepped out of the way to the right at the last instant. His glamour persona was still standing there, smirking, but I didn’t pay attention to that one anymore. The green one—the real Bres—had just tried to slay me. While he was hunched over awkwardly on his follow-through, I kicked at the nerve cluster in his wrist to make him drop the sword, then put another one in his face to make him stand back up. It didn’t get through his helmet, but any blow to the head is going to make you pull away. Then I pivoted on my left foot and spun clockwise, delivering a roundhouse into his solar plexus before he could set himself. He staggered backward and fell over Oberon in a tremendous clatter of bronze and hardened leather, still not hurt but pretty humiliated by this point. He gave up on the glamour, and the smirking Bres merged with the one on the ground, so that my faerie specs and my normal vision showed the same thing again.

I could have left it there. He was disarmed and no danger to me now, and if any of the Fae had been around to see him fall flat on his ass, he would be shamed in a legendary fashion. Except that he had tried to kill me with a glamour. He would never fight me fairly, because he could not win that way—he’d never been much of a terror on the battlefield. If I let him live, then he would send a series of assassins my way, just as Aenghus Óg had been doing for centuries. I didn’t need twice the headache I already had.

Plus, in the parlance of our times, he was a douche bag.

So I didn’t leave it there. While he was still on the ground, I whipped Fragarach out of its scabbard and plunged it straight through the center of his bronze cuirass, which offered no resistance to the magical blade. Bres’s eyes bulged and he stared at me in disbelief: After surviving the epic battles of ancient Ireland (in respectable armor), during which he could have died heroically, he was going to meet his end in a fight that lasted less than ten seconds because of his own overconfidence.

I didn’t gloat over him, because that’s how people get cursed. I yanked Fragarach out of him quickly, causing him to gasp in pain, and then I brought the sword down on his neck, severing his head before he could utter a death curse against me.

"When he said to give him the sword, I don’t think he meant for you to stick it in his guts," Oberon said.

He took a swipe at me with his sword, I replied.

"He did? I didn’t see that."

He didn’t see you either. Well done.

“Ye killed him,” I heard a tiny voice say. I turned to see the widow standing up, whiskey glass trembling in her hand before it slipped out and shattered on her porch. “Ye killed him.” Her voice quavered. “Are y’goin’ to kill me too now? Send me home to the Lord so I can be with me Sean?”

“No, Mrs. MacDonagh, no, of course not.” I re-sheathed Fragarach to remove the threat it represented, even though the blade wasn’t clean. “I have no reason to kill you.”

“I’m a witness to yer crime.”

“It wasn’t a crime. I had to kill him. It was self-defense.”

“Didn’t look like self-defense to me,” she said. “Ye kicked him and pushed him and then ye stabbed him and cut off his head.”

“I don’t think you saw the whole thing,” I replied, shaking my head, “because I was partially blocking your view. He tried to stab me with his sword. See it lying there on the ground? I didn’t pull that out of its scabbard. He did.” I stayed where I was and let her process it. When someone thinks you might kill them, the last thing you want to do is edge closer to them in an attempt to comfort them, but people always seem to do it in the movies.

The widow squinted at the dim outline of the sword, and I watched the doubt seep into her expression. “I thought I heard him threaten ye,” she said, “but I didn’t see him move until y’kicked him. Who was he? What did he want?”

“He’s an old enemy of mine—” I began, and the widow interrupted.

“Old enemy? Aren’t ye only twenty-one? How old could yer enemies be?”

Gods Below, she really had no idea. “He was old in the way I see things,” I said, and then I thought of a story to tell her. “He was really an old enemy of my father’s, so he’s been my enemy from the day I was born, if you see what I mean. And after my father passed away years ago, I became the target instead. That’s why I moved here, you know, to get away from him. But I heard a couple days ago that he had found me and was coming, so I started wearing this sword to protect myself.”

“Why didn’t ye get yerself a gun like all these American boys do?”

I grinned at her. “Because I’m Irish, Mrs. MacDonagh. And I’m your friend.” I modulated my expression to earnest pleading and clasped my hands together. “Please, you have to believe me, I had to kill him or be killed myself. And I hope you know that I would never, ever hurt you.”

She was still unconvinced but was wavering. “What was the nature of the argument he had with yer da?” she asked.

I couldn’t fabricate a plausible lie on the spot, so I told her a part of the truth. “It was about this sword, actually,” I said, jerking my thumb back to the hilt. “Da stole it from him long ago, but in a way it’s more like he brought it home. It’s an Irish sword, you know, but this bloke had it in his private collection, and it didn’t seem right, him being British and all.”

“He’s British?”

“Aye.” I felt ashamed for pushing the widow’s buttons like this, but I couldn’t afford to keep talking all night with a decapitated body in the street. Her husband had been in the Provos during the Troubles and was killed by the UVF, whom the widow had always assumed, rightly or not, to be puppets of the British.

“Ah, well then ye can bury the bastard in me backyard, and God damn the queen and all her hellish minions.”

“Amen,” I said, “and thank you.”

“Not at all, me boy,” the widow said, and then she laughed. “Ye know what me Sean used to say, God rest his soul? He said, ‘A friend will help ye move, Katie, but a  friend will help ye move a body.’ ” She cackled hoarsely and clapped her hands together. “Not that I can help ye move a big bugger like that. D’ye know where the shovel is?”

“Aye, that I do. I wonder, Mrs. MacDonagh, if you would have some lemonade or something in the house? I have a feeling I’ll need it.”

“Oh, sure, me boy, I can whip something up. Ye just get busy and I’ll come out with a glass.”

“Thank you so much.” As she disappeared inside, I turned back to Oberon, who was still in camouflage. . Night had fallen, but the streetlamps were coming on, and anyone driving down the street would see a slight problem in their headlights.

"Not much to grab on to with that helmet on. I guess I could nudge it along with my nose."

Good enough, I said. As I bent down to pick up the body and Oberon began playing a macabre game of snout soccer, the battle crow showed up. It took one look at the carnage and squawked angrily at me.

“I know,” I said in an urgent whisper. “I’m in deep trouble. If you will follow me to the backyard, we should be able to speak privately there.” The crow squawked once more before launching itself into the air and flapping over the roof.

I hauled Bres off the street and slung him over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry. I felt his blood oozing through the back of my shirt—I’d have to burn it.

When I got to the backyard, the Morrigan was already in human form, standing pale and silent with her hands on her hips. Her eyes were glowing. This wasn’t going to be a nice chat.

“When I agreed to your immortality, that did not give you permission to kill the Tuatha Dé Danann,” she spat.

“Surely I don’t need permission to defend myself?” I asked. “He tried to use his glamour to cut me down, Morrigan. If I hadn’t been wearing my necklace, I never would have seen the sword he pulled on me.”

“You would have survived,” the Morrigan pointed out.

“Aye, but in what condition? Forgive me if I do not wish to experiment with various levels of pain and disembowelment,” I said, as I lowered my shoulder and let Bres fall unceremoniously onto the widow’s Bermuda grass.

“Tell me precisely what happened, every word that passed between you.”

I told her, and she regarded me with stony silence, except for those red eyes. They finally dimmed when I told of how I had used a camouflaged dog to trip him and finish him off.

“Well, that was unforgivably arrogant of him. He deserved to die a fool’s death,” she said. “And look at that horrendous armor.” But then she looked at his head resting a yard to the right, and her eyes blazed red again. “When Brighid hears of this, she will want me to bring her  head! And I will have to tell her no! Do you know what position that puts me in, Druid?”

“I am sorry, Morrigan. But perhaps if you tell Brighid precisely how he died, she will be less inclined to demand blood for blood. Think of your own reaction to it: His death was the most dishonorable of any of the Tuatha Dé Danann. And why was he doing Aenghus’s bidding, anyway? Demanding restitution for one such as he would be almost ridiculous.”

Her eyes cooled down as she considered my words. “Hmm. You reason well. Perhaps we can avoid conflict if we present it to her properly.” She looked again at Bres’s headless body and his head sitting at Oberon’s feet. “Leave the body with me,” she said. “I will take care of it.”

I was only too glad to let her. “My thanks. If you have no objection, I will go wash the blood out of the street.”

“No, go ahead.” The Morrigan flicked her hand dismissively, her eyes still on the body, and I took off before she changed her mind. Besides, I honestly didn’t want to see what she was going to do.

I grabbed the garden hose attached to the front of the house and turned it on full blast. The widow came out with a glass of lemonade for me and a fresh whiskey for herself, surprised to see me back so soon.

“Have y’buried the fecking tea bag already?” she said.

“No,” I admitted, and tried to cover my shock at the widow’s language. “I just came back to wash the blood out of the street.”

“Ah, well, then, I’ll leave ye to it,” she said, handing me the glass and patting me gently on the arm. “I think it’s time for , y’know.”

“Good night, Mrs. MacDonagh.”

She swayed a bit as she searched for the door handle. “Yer a good lad, Atticus, mowin’ me lawn and killin’ what Brits come around.”

“Think nothing of it, please,” I said. “And it’s probably best if we kept this between us.”

“O’course,” she said, finally finding the door and yanking it open. “G’night.”

As the door closed behind her, Oberon said, "You know, I think the television might have desensitized her to violence."

That or living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I said.

"What were the Troubles about?"

Freedom. Religion. Power. The usual. Would you mind standing sentinel again on the edge of the lawn while I do this?

"No problem."

I took out Fragarach first to hose it down, then pointed the spray at the street to wash the worst of the gore away. I was just about finished when I heard Oberon’s voice in my head, sounding very tense. "Hey, you said to listen for heavy footsteps. Well, I hear a whole bunch of them, and I think they’re coming this way."

Chapter 10

“Time to go home!” I said, throwing down the hose and scrambling back to turn off the water. I hopped onto my bike and told Oberon we were going full tilt. I had to get away from the widow’s house or she could become a casualty.

"What’s making that noise?" he asked, his long stride keeping pace with my bike as I pumped furiously to get some speed.

Those are the Fir Bolgs, I told him in my mind, saving my breath for bike riding.

"I think they sped up. They’re running now."

They’ve spotted us. Don’t look back, keep going. Now, listen: These guys carry spears, but you won’t see them. Just trust me, they will have them. They’re not going to see you either. What I want you to do is go for their left legs, that soft spot above the ankles.

"The Achilles tendon? I remember that."

Good. But you need to go for their calves. These guys are actually a lot bigger than they look, and their Achilles tendons are going to be about where a human’s calf would be. I want you to bite them once and then get the hell out of the way before they fall on you or take a swipe at you.

"But what if they’re wearing armor?"

They won’t be. Anything you see is an illusion. They’re going to be barefoot, most likely. They have pretty tough hides. I risked a look back up Roosevelt as I turned the corner onto 11th. My normal vision showed me nine a**holes in Harley-Davidson riding gear running after me under the streetlights as if I’d just toppled their bikes outside the pool hall. My faerie specs showed me nine nearly na**d Fir Bolgs wearing nothing but breechclouts and woad. They carried spears in their right hands and large wooden shields in their left, and they were grinning in anticipation, because they were gaining on me.

When I got to my house, I rode up on the lawn and leapt off my bike, letting it roll, riderless, up to the porch. I heard a curse coming from the porch and I drew Fragarach from its scabbard, wondering who was lying in wait for me there.

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