Home > Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9)(7)

Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9)(7)
Author: Kevin Hearne

Normally Flidais is a hardcore soldier type, based both on what I’ve seen and what Atticus has told me. She’s intensely loyal to Brighid, even taking Brighid’s side against her own daughter, Fand. But she has a mercurial disposition, and any reading of her emotions you take in one instant can be null and void the next. Atticus says the thing about Flidais is you never know whether she’s going to want to fight or fuck. Sometimes, he says, it’s both. You simply have to tread carefully, mind your manners, and be prepared for either.

“So,” I say to her as I put the third pint down and then switch languages again to Old Irish, so that we can talk in front of Maciej in complete privacy. If I had to guess, I’d say the two of us are currently the only speakers of that language in all of Poland. “Tell me in the old tongue, just between us Druids. If you are in the mood to share, that is. What troubles you?”

I count nine seconds of intense glaring before Flidais replies. “I will tell you, even though you are young and unprepared: Men. Are. Shit.”

“Oh! Yes,” I say, giving the empathetic bartender nod of acknowledgment, which is not actually the same as agreement, but people who drink a lot tend to miss the nuance. “I’ve actually heard that one before.”

“Of course you have.” Flidais chugs her third pint and demands another in an utterly sober voice, and it’s at this point that Maciej starts to look a bit scared. I can see that part of him wants to leave, but his desire to see what happens next keeps him firmly planted in his seat.

Pint four. Flidais curls her hand around it, hunches over somewhat, and only now, it seems, will she nurse it and tell me what happened. But first she delivers a belch that’s long and robust, supporting and sustaining the note from the diaphragm like a trained singer. Maciej nearly swoons.

“Perun broke up with me,” she announces in English.

“What?” I’m truly stunned. Perun had been completely besotted with her. “When did this happen?”

“Couple days ago in Scotland. Some faery stole his thunder and I destroyed her with cold iron and he got mad and turned into an eagle and flew away and now it’s done. All my fault too.”

“No,” I say. I have so many questions and I can see that Maciej does as well, but job number one here is reassurance, and I throw a warning look at my regular. If he opens his mouth now, it won’t end well for him. “It can’t be all your fault.”

“Yes. Yes, it is. Because. You know. I betrayed him.”

“You…did?”

“Yup. Uh-huh.”

“How did you do that?”

“Well, that faery who stole his thunder, I knew she was going to do that. And I knew he was going to get it back! Because I’m a huntress. I hunt shite down, right? Including faeries. Perfectly safe. Kill her”—Flidais brings her fist down so hard on the bar that the wood splinters and Maciej flinches—“and he gets his thunder back. That’s exactly what happened. I had a plan and that plan worked, mostly.” She raises her fist and waggles a finger at me. “But see, I didn’t tell him first.”

“Oh.”

“Oh is right. I didn’t get his consent. I used him.” She turns to Maciej and leers at him, switching from Old Irish to English. “Usually men like it when I use them.”

Maciej gulps and slides his eyes over to me for a cue. I give him a tight nod.

“I can…see how they would,” he manages to say in English. Flidais chuckles, her eyes appraising him, and I quickly step in before she can take it any further, pointedly using Old Irish.

“But Perun didn’t like it, I guess?”

That draws her attention back to me. “No! He said he had a good time with me but now the time is over.” She raises her left hand in the air and her fingers flutter in it. “He flew back to Russia or somewhere Slavic, I don’t know. And it happened so fast I didn’t even understand what I’d done wrong. I was still standing there, thinking I’d done the right thing because that faery had been violating treaties with the Scots, and it was only the result that mattered…but he was gone. I didn’t have time to process it, to step outside my own stupid headspace and look at what I’d done from his perspective. I didn’t…I didn’t even get to say I was sorry.”

Her voices catches at the end and I can see her eyes filling and I am struck by so many thoughts at once: Here is a truly ancient person feeling heartbroken and rejected and it’s no different from the heartbreak someone would feel who was born twenty years ago; and, Oh, baby, you done fucked up bad; and, Oh, honey, at least you know it and you’re going to be a better person from now on; and, Oh, shit, if I say the wrong thing right now, she will kill my ass. I should probably not say, for example, that if Atticus ever did something like that to me, I would most likely do the same thing as Perun. No matter what I say, though, she might pay me a visit later if she feels embarrassed about opening herself up to me, and I think Flidais is probably that sort. It had taken her sixty ounces of beer to relax the tight control she kept over herself, and once she sobered up, she might not want there to be any living witness to her moment of vulnerability. I need to bring my A game.

I lean over the bar, get as close as I can without touching her, and say, “If you still want to tell him you’re sorry tomorrow or a hundred years from now, you’re going to get that chance. Because you’re going to be around. And maybe when you say it there will be forgiveness and it will be good. And if there isn’t forgiveness, then it will still be good, because you will have done what’s right: He deserves that apology. And in the meantime, there is beer and blood and the songs of bards, the great wide world to live in, and all the planes too.”

Flidais nods, a tear escapes and runs down her cheek, and she raises her glass. “Beer,” she says, and I rear back, horrified, while she chugs that fourth pint, swaying in her seat as she does so. I have made such an awful mistake. I flick my hand at Maciej and whisper at him urgently in Polish to run.

“Go, just go. Run! I’m serious!”

Thank the gods of all the pantheons he trusts me. Maciej slides off his stool and backs toward the door, keeping a wary eye on Flidais. And as he moves away and the goddess of the hunt puts down her glass unsteadily and it topples over, her motor skills deteriorating rapidly, some douchelord moves up on her left and offers to buy her another drink. He even puts a hand on her shoulder. Every word he says is in Polish, but that doesn’t matter. His tone is condescending. He’s clearly a predator. And because I love poetry and alliteration and all the ways in which words can sound delightful when strung together, I had unthinkingly given Flidais the worst possible advice.

“Blood,” she says, and she promptly spills his by smashing her fist into his nose, a sharp left-handed backhand like she was signaling a right-hand turn on a bicycle. It’s casual so she doesn’t kill him, but he’s knocked out and bleeding on the floor and there are plenty of witnesses. It’s pretty clear I’m going to be fired and quite possibly sued for serving so much alcohol to a customer so quickly.

Flidais frowns at the man sprawled on the floor. “That was disappointing,” she says. “I was hoping for a spirited fracas.”

“If you’ll forgive me, I think we should have discussed your goals a bit earlier. I was hoping not to have a fracas at all. I’m going to have to change the sign in the back to DAYS WITHOUT A FRACAS: 0.”

Flidais hears me but does not care, because the man’s friends have lurched from wherever they’d been watching to hurl some choice Polish epithets at her. She can’t understand them—I’m not sure I understand half of them myself—but she can read their aggressive postures well enough. She smiles, sets herself, and beckons them forward. There are three of them, none especially in shape, and I think at least one of them is aware of it. But two charge forward, unable to resist a good goad, and my pleading shouts to stop go ignored. Flidais purposely stops them with a flurry of quick jabs to the face, and when they raise their hands, she sternly rebukes their groins with a powerful fist to the junk. They wilt like cabbage in boiling water and collapse on top of their unconscious friend. The third one prudently decides to preserve his procreative package and backpedals into the bar crowd, which is now aghast and staring.

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