Home > Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9)(10)

Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9)(10)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“What kinda help do you think I can give, Mr. Druid? I ain’t some mighty warrior who’s gonna come in there and rally the troops to charge or whatever.”

“I know. You’re not gonna pucker up and blow the horn of Helm Hammerhand. I want you to do something that you’re uniquely qualified to do. I want you to assassinate Hel.”

“What? Are you talkin’ ’bout that half-dead woman who showed up to recruit you here that one time and because of her Frank Chischilly summoned Monster Slayer?”

“That’s the one. She’s the Norse goddess of the underworld, the daughter of Loki. And she can raise the dead. So once they start killing some folks, she can add them into their army, and you can see how that’s going to quickly grow out of control. Removing Hel’s the key to keeping the fight manageable, if just barely.”

“If she can raise the dead, then can’t she raise herself if I kill her?”

“Well, no. Because she has to be alive to do that, and in this hypothetical, thanks to you, she’d be dead.” She would still be ruler of the underworld and she would have an existence there, but, like the Morrigan, she would be a shadow of her former self. She wouldn’t be able to manifest on Midgard again in time to make any difference in Ragnarok.

“Huh. Is she going to be stomping around all twelve feet tall and stanky like raw chicken gone bad?”

“She might be, but she might be in disguise too. You can see through those, right?”

Coyote smirked. “Yeah, I know a thing or two about disguises, Mr. Druid.”

“Well, I hope you’ll consider it. Because she has been here before and she won’t forget about you if they make it to this side of the world.”

The trickster sniffed, hawked something up, and spat in the fire. “Sure. I’ll consider it.”

“Good.”

“I imagine you have other places to be, other folks to see.”

“I do.”

“Fires to put out and whatnot. Don’t worry about this one here. I’ll take care of it.”

I got to my feet, slapped the red dust off my ass, and nodded to Coyote. “Thanks. See you around.”

“Maybe, Mr. Druid. But probably not. Tell your dog I said hi, though.”

a fen is not really a synonym for a bog, though it is rather wet and something of a mire. Its chemistry is different, though, so ye get a different set of plants growing there. Mostly grasses and the occasional scraggly tree, thin and fragile things. Ye might think it’s a handsome plain, until ye step in it and the mud hugs your foot like a hungry python.

The Morrigan’s Fen looks fine, just fine, until Coriander and I step away from the bound tree and see we have to cross it to get to the structure where Fand and Manannan Mac Lir must be hiding. I don’t rightly know what to call it: It’s not a castle or a manor or even a house, more of a gothic nightmare of architecture, like if the Morrigan had found a mason wandering in an opium haze and said, “Make it all foreboding and ominous, maybe a splash of drooling madness and a dollop of gibbering batshit.” Dark and writhing shapes in some bits, pointy parts in others, and sometimes the black shines with a high gloss, and sometimes it lies flat like old standing coffee ready to grow a layer of mold on top. The low gray sky doesn’t help to cheer it up any. Nor do the croaking crows.

It’s just me that has to wade through the fen, it turns out. Coriander floats above it, and he does so just a wee smidge ahead of me so that I can see how easy it is for him. I mutter curses at him and he smirks, enjoying it.

Halfway across, me legs all slimed and squidgy, I see some upright lads with wild hair approaching in the distance. A bit closer and I see they’re not lads. They have swords and dead eyes. Bark instead of skin. A mobile set of roots instead of feet, poling them across the fen like so many stilts. Yewmen.

I put on the brass knuckles Creidhne gave me, fully charged with energy. They let me shatter stone; should work just fine on a hardwood. That is, if I can get close enough to punch them without being sliced into cutlets. The Morrigan’s yewmen aren’t fooled by camouflage, and I’m not going to be terribly speedy in a fen.

“Go sic ’em, Fuckstick,” I says to the Herald Extraordinary.

“I can do no more than accost them, sir. I am incapable of instigating violence.”

“Give yourself some credit, lad. Just go talk to them and I bet they try to kill ye.”

The Herald Extraordinary rolls his eyes at me and sighs like a phantom squeezing out a vengeful fart, but he floats toward the yewmen without fear. Once he reaches them and starts talking, they treat him like an obstacle in the landscape—that is, they don’t engage, they just go around him. Coriander floats back, plants himself in front of one or the other, but they know the score. Just patiently flank him and keep advancing to the target. Me.

“That’s not working, damn it!” I holler at him. “Get back here, Fuckstick. I have a better idea!”

He speeds back to me, frowning in disapproval, and the yewmen keep coming at their measured pace. “I really must protest your abusive language, sir—”

“I know, I’m a right bastard. But like I said, save me arse and I’ll take the trouble to use four syllables. I want ye to float right in front of me, hear? Just a bit to me left, though, because it looks like they’re right-handed. We’re going to let ye take their hits and I’ll counterpunch. Speed up with me now, we’re flanking to their left, make them adjust…aye.”

I move to the right and the yewmen have to respond. There’s no way I can allow them to surround me; I won’t have a defense against blades coming from all directions. If I move and strike and move again, I should be able to survive and outrun them once I’m past. I’d simply shift to a kite and fly over them were it not that three in the back have bows, waiting for just that. I’ll have to make sure the herald covers me arse if I make it past the phalanx here.

For about six seconds I think maybe I’ll outrun them. And then they find another gear somewhere, or just have no trouble in the muck like I do, and they take a good angle. They’re going to have a shot at me.

The leader whips one of his long arm-like branches out in front of me low to the ground, and it’s a fine gambit: Trip me up in this muck and I’m probably not going to get up again. But I see it coming and hang back just a wee bit, letting Coriander float into it first, and those kinetic wards of his do the trick. The branch rebounds off them and spins the yewman away. But reducing me speed like that has its cost.

The second yewman thrusts his branch around the back of Coriander, and I duck just in time. It opens a searing lash of pain across me shoulder blades and I curse the faery for being an incompetent shield.

“Do ye know how angry Brighid’s gonna be if ye let me die?” I say, trying to keep up my speed.

“It is difficult to quantify, sir. Mildly vexed at the short-term inconvenience, for sure. But life is long, and her anger, like her fires, tends to die out after a while.”

That response chills me guts five degrees or so. He really could let the yewmen have me and shrug it off. It’s not like the yewmen don’t have a reputation for being damn fine murderers; he’d have no trouble suggesting that they were more than a match for the two of us.

As he’s talking, though, two of the yewmen make incidental contact with Coriander while trying to get to me, and they are both blown back like a hurricane uprooted them.

The one that sliced up me back is going to try again, but I’m watching the bastard and waiting. Let Coriander deal with the lads out front trying to trip me; I can handle this one who’s hoping to pull off a deadly reach-around.

That thick branching arm of his with sharp stick fingers whips out again and I lurch to a halt, letting it pass in front of me. A claw scrapes across me chest and a flight of arrows from the archers passes in front of where I was going to be, two of them flying through and one rebounding off Coriander. I grab the yewman’s woody wrist with me right hand and then punch straight through the bough with the knuckles on me left, splinters gouging me arm. Yewmen are silent, but I can tell he feels it. He stops the chase and I pick up speed again, taking his hand with me. One more yewman is denied in his attempt to trip me and he’s spun out of the pursuit, leaving one that we haven’t passed yet plus the archers, and I’m careful to put Coriander between us now.

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