Home > Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)(17)

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)(17)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“I’m certainly the longest lived you’ve ever met.”

“Point taken. I’ll tell him.”

I showered and dressed, cast camouflage back on Oberon, and slung Fragarach across my back. I was anxious to visit the widow’s house and make sure she was okay.

Nothing looked amiss from the street. The blood had washed away or soaked into the asphalt sufficiently. Going around to the back, I saw nothing, not so much as a disturbed patch of ground. With a shudder, I considered the likelihood that the Morrigan had eaten him. Shaking my head to clear the grisly image, I walked back to the front, Oberon panting softly behind me. I knocked on the widow’s front door and she answered after a minute, looking spry and chipper.

“Ah, me dear boy Atticus, ’tis a pleasure to see ye again and that’s no lie. Have ye killed any more Brits for me?”

“Good morning, Mrs. MacDonagh. No, I haven’t killed any more Brits. I hope you won’t be talking about that with anyone.”

“Tish, d’ye think I’m daft? I’m not there yet, thank the Lord. It’s all due to clean livin’ and good Irish whiskey. Would y’be havin’ some with me? Come on in.” She opened the screen door and beckoned.

“No, thank you, Mrs. MacDonagh, it’s not yet ten in the morning, and it’s Sunday.”

“An’ don’t I know it? I have to be goin’ to Mass soon enough at the Newman Center. But the father can drone on at times, and he keeps preaching to the youngsters what go there, all those ASU kids, y’know, who have those merry sins of the flesh to worry about, so I find a finger or two o’ the Irish helps me bear it with patience.”

“Wait. You go to church drunk?”

“Mellow is the word I’d be usin’, if y’please.”

“You don’t drive there, uh, mellow, do you?”

“Of course not!” She looked affronted. “I get a ride from that nice Murphy family what lives down the street.”

“Oh. Well, that’s fine, then. I just wanted to make sure you were all right, Mrs. MacDonagh. I have to go to work now, so you can go, uh, get mellow, and enjoy your day. Peace be with you.”

“And also with you, m’boy. Are y’sure I can’t convince ye to get baptized?”

“Quite sure,” I said. “But thank you again for the offer. Bye now.”

"Um, Atticus?" Oberon said as he trotted behind my bike, once we were safely on the way to the store, "What’s baptized mean?"

It means a priest dunks you in some water and when you come out you’re reborn.

"Really? So if I got baptized I’d be a puppy again?"

No, you’re not literally reborn in the physical sense. It’s a symbolic thing. Your spirit is supposed to be reborn because you’re washed clean of sins.

Oberon took twenty yards or so to consider this, his nails clicking on the sidewalk as we turned right on University Drive. "But the water just gets your skin and fur wet, right? How can it wash your spirit clean? Especially without soap?"

Like I said, it’s symbolic. And it’s a different belief system.

"Oh. Like going to church drunk is really going to church mellow?"

I laughed. Yeah. Kinda like that.

I put Fragarach on a shelf underneath my apothecary counter, let Oberon circle around a few times and get himself settled, and then opened the door for Perry, who looked appropriately gloomy for a Goth guy this morning.

Sundays at the shop were usually decent business, as if all the non-Christians wanted to make a point of buying something pagan while everyone else was in church. You could always tell the ones who had been raised in a strict Christian environment: They’d put their books on Wicca or Aleister Crowley down on the counter and grin nervously, amazed at themselves for having the stones to buy something their elders told them not to buy. And their auras almost always churned with arousal, which I did not understand when I first opened the shop, but eventually it made sense: For the first time in their lives, they were going to read about a belief system where it was okay to have sex, and they could hardly wait for the validation.

By the same token, you could always spot the ones who were a part of the serious magical community. They had auras that shouted their mojo, for one thing, but they also wore one of three expressions on their faces when looking at the magical wannabes buying their first pack of Tarot cards: They either sneered contemptuously, grinned faintly in amusement, or looked nostalgic for a time when they themselves were clueless.

Emily the snotty witch was the contemptuous, sneering sort. She stormed into the shop dressed like a pampered horror from Scottsdale and promptly stuck her tongue out at me.

“Emily!” a voice snapped from the open door before I could say anything. A frowning woman stepped in after the classic parenting reprimand—just shout the kid’s name in public and let the tone do the work—and Emily’s eyes widened a bit. She knew she was in trouble.

Chapter 13

I assumed that the frowning woman must be Malina Sokolowski. She looked to be in her early thirties, but if Emily was the youngest of Radomila’s coven, then Malina’s real age had to be pushing a century or more. She was a true blonde, with pale yellow hair cascading past her shoulders in soft waves that shampoo companies like to put in commercials. It looked glossy, fragrant, and utterly mesmerizing. It fell onto a squarely cut red wool coat, which would be too warm to wear for another month or so but which provided a magnificent contrast in both color and texture.

At that point, my amulet shut the noise down and I snapped out of it. Whoa. She had some kind of beguilement charm on her hair. It was something the wards on my shop weren’t designed to take care of, but the cold iron of my amulet caused it to fizzle. That meant it was not the everyday sort of witches’ magic. Cool. Scary, but cool.

Her hair really did look good, but now I was able to look away from it and assess the rest of her. Pale eyebrows, just a shade or two darker than her hair and now drawn together in disapproval, provided a roof for a pair of startlingly blue eyes. She had a patrician nose and what looked like a generous mouth, but now it was drawn tightly down, lips painted to match the color of her coat. Pale skin—not the unhealthy pallor of Goths, but the white porcelain sheen of European nobility stretched over a faint blush—made a pillar of her neck, which betrayed a hint of a gold necklace before it disappeared underneath her coat.

Nonverbal signals are so powerful at times that I wonder at our need to speak. Without looking at her aura, I already knew that Malina was classy where Emily was not; far more mature, intelligent, and powerful; and was reluctant to give offense where Emily could not wait to give it. And I also knew she was more dangerous by several orders of magnitude.

“I thought I had made it clear you were to offer no offense to Mr. O’Sullivan,” she said. Her Polish accent was more pronounced than it had been on the phone, perhaps owing to her irritation. Emily lowered her eyes and muttered an apology.

“I’m not the one who needs an apology. It’s Mr. O’Sullivan you have insulted. Apologize to him this instant.” Wow. She was scoring points with me already. But then I remembered that she was a witch, and they might have planned this whole scene ahead of time. Still, Emily looked as if she would rather mate with a goat than apologize to me, so I was enjoying it, even if it was a performance. Other customers were looking around at Malina’s raised voice, their gazes lingering on the two women. They were difficult to look away from, albeit for very different reasons.

When Emily took too long, Malina’s voice lowered to a threatening growl so that only Emily and I could hear. “If you do not apologize to him right now, then I swear by the three Zoryas that I will measure your length on this floor and put you in breach of contract. You are in so much trouble already, you will be cast out from the coven.”

Apparently that was worse than mating with a goat, because Emily suddenly could not be more sorry for her behavior and hoped I would forgive her discourtesy.

“I accept your apology,” I said at once, and the tension in their shoulders eased.

Malina finally turned her attention to me. “Mr. O’Sullivan. I am so embarrassed by our entrance. I hope you will forgive me as well. I am Malina Sokolowski.” She smiled brightly and extended a hand to me—gloved, I noticed, in brown leather—and I shook it once.

“Forgiven,” I said, “though there is really nothing to forgive. You’re welcome to look around if you’d like, or if you’d simply rather wait for the tea, you can sit at one of the tables over there while I make it.”

“That’s very kind, thank you,” Malina replied.

“It will just be a couple of minutes.”

“Great.” She gestured toward the tables and gently pushed Emily in that direction. “After you, miss,” she said.

"I like the blond one. She knows how to show respect," Oberon said from behind the counter.

I busied myself making Emily’s tea and spoke to him through our link. Yes, well, she’s decided to take the high road, so I’ll be happy to walk it with her as long as she likes.

"You don’t trust her?"

Nope. She’s a witch. A polite witch, but still a witch. She’s got a charm on her hair that would have had me giving her anything she wanted if I hadn’t been wearing protection. Don’t take anything from her, by the way.

"You think she’s going to pull a sausage out of her coat or something? She doesn’t even know I’m here."

Oh yes she does. Emily has probably already told her.

"Okay, fine. But seriously. You think she has a magic sausage for me?"

How would you know the difference if she did? You think all sausages are magic.

Serving Emily her tea was quite nearly magical for me. I set it down in front of her and she drank it straight down, despite its heat, without making eye contact. When she was finished, she rose from her chair, said, “Excuse me,” and left the shop without another word.

“That was great,” I said to Malina. “Can you come with her every day?”

Malina chuckled throatily, then clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, I shouldn’t laugh. It’s just that I empathize with you. She is not well behaved.”

“So what’s she doing hanging out with you?”

Malina sighed. “That is a very long story.”

“Haven’t you heard? I’m a Druid. I like long stories.”

The witch looked around. There were still quite a few customers in the store, and someone scruffy had walked up to my apothecary counter and was squinting at the labels on my jars. “While you have a lovely place here,” Malina said, “I do not think it is the right time for such a story.”

“What? You mean the customers? Perry will take care of them.” I walked to the counter and put a CLOSED tent sign significantly in front of the scruffy man.

“Whoa, man. You’re closed?” He frowned at me but was not to be deterred. He had something on his mind. “Hey, dude, you got any medical marijuana back there?”

“No, sorry.” These guys just wouldn’t leave me alone.

“It’s not for me, I swear. It’s for my grandma.”

“Sorry. Try back next week.”

“Hey, really?”

“No.”

I turned my back on him, pulled up a chair next to Malina, and plastered an attentive look on my face. “You were telling me why you tolerate Emily in your coven.”

Scruffy Weed Man interrupted before she could answer. “You have really beautiful hair,” he said to Malina. She looked annoyed and told him curtly to go away, and he promptly turned and exited the store. Pretending to be self-conscious, she pulled at a lock of her hair near her shoulder and muttered something under her breath, no doubt dispelling the charm. She’d forgotten she had it on. I pretended not to notice.

She arched an eyebrow at me. “So. I was telling you all that? What if one of your customers hears us talking about covens and such things?”

“We’re in the perfect place to talk of them. They’ll assume you’re Wiccan. And if you’re going to go way back in history and anyone is rude enough to interrupt and ask you about it, like that guy who just left, we’ll say we’re part of the SCA.”

Her brow crinkled in confusion. “The Society for Cruelty to Animals?”

“No, I think you mean the SPCA, where the  stands for Prevention.”

“Ah. Of course.”

I shot a quick thought to Oberon. See? Witches.

"I see what you mean now. She’d probably give me a sausage and it would have broccoli in it."

Trying not to laugh at Oberon’s one-track mind, I said, “Yes, well, the SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronism. People get together and dress in medieval garb and actually have battles in armor and everything. Lots of these modern folk romanticize the old days and enjoy role-playing. It’s the perfect cover for talking about magic in front of average people.”

She scrutinized me closely for a moment, trying to decide whether I was lying or not. Apparently satisfied, she took a breath and said, “Very well. The short version of the long story is that she came with me to America. We were living in the city of Krzepice in Poland when the Blitzkrieg arrived in September 1939. I saved her from being raped, and she sort of became my responsibility after that. I couldn’t just leave her. Her parents were dead.”

“Ah. Your parents as well?”

“Yes, but the Nazis had nothing to do with that.” She smiled grimly. “I was already seventy-two in 1939.”

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