Home > Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9)(3)

Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9)(3)
Author: Kevin Hearne

They followed Bingo to Dúghlas and brought him inside and cleaned him up, bandaged his head. These were the Mayfields, and at that time a cousin of theirs was visiting, young Kimberly Mayfield, and she thought Dúghlas handsome and Bingo adorable. She gave Bingo some sausage topped with gravy, in fact, for being such a good hound. And when Dúghlas woke up, he found Kimberly to be kind and beautiful and clearly well loved by his dog, so there was no hope for it: He fell in love again. The next verse of the old song went like this: “The farmer loved a pretty young lass, and gave her a wedding ring-o.”

And it provides few details after that, but he also stopped drinking and became his old happy self again. So that’s why Bingo got immortalized in song. He protected the delicious chickens, saved his human’s life, and helped him find love once more. But much of the original story’s been lost over time until we have the bare-bones song that children sing and clap to today.

* * *

Orlaith had questions. <How do you know all this? Did you know Dúghlas?>

“No, I met his son—one he had with Kimberly—years later in America. Lots of farmers came across the ocean during the Lowland Clearances, as they call it now.”

<Atticus, I’m seeing some pretty significant parallels here,> Oberon said.

“You are?”

<Well, yeah! I’m good at protecting you and I’m also very handsome. Right, Orlaith?>

<He’s right, Atticus. He is very handsome.>

<See? I’m just like Bingo! Except I don’t have a song about me yet, and I think that’s a gross oversight. Maybe we can make one!>

“Maybe. How would it go?”

<“There was a hound named Oberon,

 And he loved sausage gravy!

 G-R-A-V-Y! G-R-A-V-Y!

 G-R-A-V-Y!

 And he loved sausage gravy.”>

<Yes food!> Starbuck said by way of applause. They amused themselves by making up additional verses and then taking turns sticking their heads out the window for the rest of the drive.

When we got into Eugene, the hounds agreed to stay in the bed of the truck while I went to get the meats and necessary gravy ingredients. I sent them mental pictures of what was available and they chose what they wanted, and I did make them choose instead of buying everything. That was for practical reasons; I didn’t have all the time or sufficient kitchen space to make everything. But I did want to spend some time giving them a memorable meal, since I didn’t know when I’d next be able to come home. I lost some time staring at the ground beef, packaged in red undulating waves, realizing that I might never come home and might lie somewhere beyond the aid of my soulcatcher charm to help, food for worms, packed up in some skin instead of Styrofoam and cellophane but otherwise little different from the 90 percent lean on sale. Oberon had made clear that he wanted to go with me, regardless of the danger, but I told him I couldn’t bear it if he was hurt. I needed a home to come back to. I teared up at the mere thought of him living without me or me without him; we’d be so lonesome and hangdog, not to put too fine a point on it. And neither of us would be thinking of a feast like this. We’d probably not want to eat at all without the other one around to enjoy it with.

<Atticus, there may be a slight drool problem developing in the truck,> Oberon said, interrupting my maudlin reverie. <You might want to pick up a roll of those paper towels. The super-absorbent kind. Hurry up.>

<I have puppies to feed, you know,> Orlaith added. They really are the best hounds.

Earnest pitched in once we got home, and we had five hounds underfoot in the kitchen until I demanded that they vacate to the perimeter, where they could slobber and comment on the smells without tripping us up. We had a pot roast going, Cornish hens roasting, dry-cured sausages to slice, ribs on the grill, and four different gravies simmering on the stovetop. We had fish cooking in lime juice for a ceviche too, swordfish steaks sharing grill space next to the ribs, and charcuterie sliced thinly and layered on cedar planks.

When it was ready, we set it all out on the dining room table, lacking an actual bar, and put the gravies in tureens. Earnest and I had the hounds sit before it, their hungry excitement plain, and took some pictures. We then fixed each hound a plate, giving them the option to choose but knowing they’d try everything once and then come back for seconds of whatever they liked best.

<Oh, wow, Atticus, this is just the best day of food ever,> Orlaith said.

<I agree. Yes. There was that bison bonanza we had one time in South Dakota, but this even tops that.>

<Yes food!> Starbuck chimed in.

Cleanup was a major chore but Earnest and I got it done, and I managed to catch a few hours of sleep before giving them lazy belly rubs in the wee hours of the morning and kissing them on the head and telling them they were loved. I slipped out the back door, relieved to know that they were safe as I began to work on cleaning up my mess. I had a nine-ton albatross about my neck to remove.

* * *

The Morrigan had been less than specific during her visit to me; she’d said only that Loki was going to act soon but hadn’t said precisely when or where. I needed more details to counter him effectively, and I knew precisely where to get them. Casting wands wasn’t going to get me the specifics I needed; I needed a seer without peer who could read details in the future. Mekera the tyromancer had helped me on a couple of occasions before, and I hoped she could do so again.

She had most recently been living on Emhain Ablach—one of the nine Irish planes, and nominally ruled by Manannan Mac Lir—since I’d helped her escape from the attentions of some vampires. That threat was over with now, the vampires in question all sent to their final deaths, and she could return to earth if she wished.

She certainly wished it. She looked a bit harried when I found her. “What’s the matter?”

“There are ghosts here. I mean they’ve arrived recently. Very strange.”

“Are they attacking you?”

“No, but they don’t need to attack to creep me out.”

“Hmm. It might be because Manannan Mac Lir has given up on his duties as psychopomp. The Morrigan has as well, so the dead are going wherever they can instead of where they should.”

“Well, I want out.”

“I’ve come to offer that very thing. And ask for a cheese.”

Her shoulders slumped. “Of course you have. What is it you want to know this time?”

“I’ve been told Ragnarok is about to begin. I’d like to know precisely when and where the first attacks will occur.”

“All right,” she replied, her voice deadpan. “Something nice and light as usual. Where do they make great cheese these days?”

I shrugged. “Lots of places. How does France sound? Ever been there?”

Mekera’s face lit up. “Ah, the fromage of the French! Let’s go there. I think I’d like to learn from them and maybe teach them a thing or two.”

I helped her gather her few belongings and we shifted to a small stand of trees outside Poitiers, in the goat-cheese region of France. Mekera might prefer a different region in the end, but I thought the area winsome and it would be a good place to find what she needed without the madness of Paris to deal with. She was used to being a hermit, after all; Poitiers would be a mighty shock to her system as it was.

“My French is somewhat rusty. Perhaps very rusty.”

“It’ll come back to you. And you’ll be able to get along in the meantime with English.”

“You think?” She looked doubtful as her gaze wandered around the streets. We were heading for a supermarket where she could purchase some basics for cheese-making. “I don’t see anyone who looks like me. This might have been a bad idea.”

I grinned because I’d expected her to have second thoughts. “Let’s go to the store and make a cheese, at least. If you don’t feel more comfortable by the end, I’ll take you elsewhere.”

Mekera agreed to this, her eyes darting around and her arms hugging herself. Once inside the store, however, with a basket in her hand, some of her social anxiety drained away as her professional interests took hold and she searched for ingredients. She also noted the faces of some other shoppers who weren’t white, and she exchanged tight nods and smiles with them as she passed. But at the dairy case she had cause to do more than that. She had pulled a few quarts of goat milk out of the refrigerator and turned to discover a woman dressed much like her, in Eritrean fashion, wearing a light tunic with a gold-and-black embroidered neckline that then fell in a vertical line down the center to her midriff. Mekera’s was embroidered in blues and blacks, but otherwise they were almost identical. Recognition flared in their eyes. The other woman, whose skin was a deep umber with cool undertones, like Mekera’s, spoke first.

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