Home > The Chapel Perilous (The Iron Druid Chronicles #4.6)

The Chapel Perilous (The Iron Druid Chronicles #4.6)
Author: Kevin Hearne

Stories are sometimes born in fire, but regardless of origin they always live around fires and grow in the telling. If bellies are full and the veins pulse with a flagon or two, why then, all the better for the story. Sometimes, as a Druid, stories are expected of me. People just assume I’m a part-time bard as well.

"Atticus, tell us a tale we haven’t heard before," Oberon said. We were taking a break from training by camping on the Mogollon Rim near Knoll Lake. After cooking fresh trout over our campfire for dinner, we were relaxing with hot cocoa and roasting marshmallows.

“You want a story?” I said aloud. My apprentice couldn’t hear my hound yet; she was still four years away from being bound to the earth and practicing magic. To be polite and include her, I sometimes spoke aloud to Oberon by way of inviting her into the conversation.

“Usually he wants snacks,” Granuaile said. “I’d go for a story, though. It’s a nice night for one.”

"Listen to the clever apprentice," Oberon said.

“All right, what are you in the mood for?”

"I want one where a ne’er-do-well wolfhound meets the fluffy poodle of his dreams and they take a magic carpet ride to sing perfectly orchestrated duets until they land in a field of heather, and there’s a man there who looks like Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard and another man who looks like Hank Williams Jr. who says he’s got a pig in the ground and—"

Granuaile didn’t hear any of that, so she spoke over him and offered her own suggestion: “I want a story where you took part in an historical event—a famous one.”

“All right.” I paused to think and plucked a gooey marshmallow off a steel stake before answering. “How about the quest for the Holy Grail?”

"Nuh-uh!"

“No way!” my apprentice said. “You weren’t a Knight of the Round Table!”

“No, absolutely not,” I agreed. “But the Grail legends didn’t start out as highly Christianized tales about Arthur and Lancelot and so on. They were based on the adventures of one man—a Druid, as it happens—and then that story got changed, the way stories do, in the telling and retelling of it around hearthfires and campfires like this one.”

Granuaile crossed her arms. “So you not only know the original story of the Grail, you’re telling me you actually found it?”

“Yes. It was my quest.”

She still thought I was bluffing. “Who gave you the quest?”

“Ogma of the Tuatha Dé Danann.”

“All right, fine. And what was the Grail? I mean, it couldn’t have been the cup at the Last Supper or anything, right?”

“No, that whole business with Joseph of Arimathea and the cup of Christ was a later addition. Hell, King Arthur’s story was pulled almost entirely out of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ass. There were about six hundred fifty years separating the events themselves and the first written account of them that survived to the modern day. Plenty of time to screw everything up and fabricate large portions of it. What the poets eventually called the Grail was Dagda’s Cauldron, one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, which could feed an army and never empty—it was an all-you-could-eat forever sort of deal.”

"Okay, now that sounds interesting."

“You went on a quest to steal Dagda’s Cauldron and that got turned into the quest for the Holy Grail?”

“Sort of. Somebody else stole Dagda’s Cauldron. It was my quest to steal it back.”

“So who were you? Lancelot? Galahad?”

“No, stories about those guys got created later. I was the lad who went galloping around the country telling everyone my name was Gawain.”

Granuaile shook her head in disbelief. “Okay, sensei, let’s hear it,” she said.

"Make sure you don’t leave out what was in the cauldron," Oberon added. "And how the dogs got so full they almost exploded. Hey, there are dogs in this story, right?"

The Tuatha Dé Danann are loath to put themselves in harm’s way when someone else can be harmed in their stead. With this in mind, in 537 AD, Ogma approached me on the far reaches of continental Saxon territory with a task he thought I’d find attractive. It wasn’t the first time he had asked for my services; he’d asked me to raid the Library at Alexandria once because he’d foreseen its destruction.

“Some bloody Pictish git has stolen Dagda’s cauldron and taken it into the western territory of the Britons,” he told me. He was referring to what would eventually become Wales; at this time the Britons there were just beginning to form their Welsh identity. “But he’s spread some sort of arcane fog across the area, preventing us from divining his precise location and from shifting directly there. We need someone who can go in there and take the cauldron back.”

“And I was your first choice?”

“No, we’ve sent some others in as well.”

I noticed the “we” but didn’t comment. “Other Druids?”

“Aye, there are few enough of you left, but there were a couple willing to go.”

“Sounds bereft of entertainment or profit to me,” I said.

“Did you not hear me, lad? We can’t see into the area and can’t shift there. Considering that you’ve been on the run a good while now, does that not hold some attraction to you?”

He was hoping I’d jump at any chance to escape the eyes and ears of Aenghus Óg, the Irish god who wanted me dead, but I shrugged. “It sounds like I’m trading a god who wants to kill me for a mad Pict with a giant pair o’ balls and some magical talent. One’s not necessarily better than the other.”

Ogma laughed. “Fair enough. But you’ll be earnin’ my gratitude on top of it. The Dagda is me brother, you know.”

“I thought I earned your gratitude already for that favor I did you down in Egypt.”

“True. But this would be more gratitude.”

Unspoken was the certainty that my refusal would mean less gratitude.

“All right. Get me a good horse and a proper kit from Goibhniu so that I look like I deserve respect. Shift me as close as you can and point me in the right direction. I’ll make up the rest as I go.”

“Attaboy,” Ogma said and clapped me on the shoulder. “I’ll see you soon.”

It was a week before I saw him again, but he had the promised armor from Goibhniu and a fine horse for me to ride. There were also provisions for the both of us. I changed happily into my kit, feeling optimistic for the first time in months, and then we shifted through Tír na nÓg to a spot near the old Roman road leading west from Gloucester. It was raining heavily.

“I’d forgotten the rain here,” I said. “And you didn’t remind me, did you?”

Ogma ignored my complaint and pointed west. “Go that way.”

“How far before Aenghus Óg won’t be able to sense my magic or divine my location?”

“Not far at all. You’ll sense the change once you pass through it. My advice is to make friends with your horse before you do. I’ve heard they spook easily in there.”

“What can you tell me about the Pict?”

Ogma shrugged. “He’s mean and ugly.”

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