The Eye of Horus
Atticus shares this story early on during Granuaile’s training period, in between Tricked and the novella Two Ravens and One Crow.
I am often reminded how a small fire underneath a vast sky can bind people together like nothing else. For all that we are social creatures, we are too often shoved into solitary confinement by circumstance. The color of our skin isn’t like everyone else’s, or our language is different, or our religion isn’t the one that gets us invited to dinner by the neighbors. That last one has kept me alone for a long, long time. There are no more Druids walking the earth, unless you count the various neo-pagan versions, who are all operating on nineteenth-century reconstructions.
And despite the fact that I have an apprentice, I suspect she won’t be the same sort of Druid that I am—I mean believing in the old Irish gods as I do, paying them respect and offering them prayers, observing the holidays and the rites as the Irish used to do in the days before the invasion of the Christians. Gaia doesn’t require belief in any deity to be bound to her: She merely requires a highly trained mind and unswerving devotion to her protection. With Granuaile I think there is a willingness to see the divine, to acknowledge and appreciate both its wonder and terror, but a stubborn resistance to worshipping it.
But she liked staring into campfires well enough. Fires were warm cups of non-thinking serenity after the daily rigors of training. I had been exhausting her mentally with languages and headspace exercises and then physically with the martial arts. By the time the sun sank behind the baked sandstone cliffs of the Navajo Nation each day, she was ready to lose herself in the yellow and orange flickers of flame. And quiz me about my past.
“Ugh,” she said, flopping on the ground by our fire pit and popping open a bottle of beer with a hiss and clink as the top fell to the ground. “What a day. Wish I could just upload kung fu like Neo instead of learning it the slow way.” She leaned back against a rock padded with a bedroll and took a swig, winced at some ache or soreness in her muscles, then said, “Tell me about the old days, Atticus, when you were wee and had to walk both ways uphill in feces because no one had toilets.”
“You seriously want to hear about that?”
“Well, I’d like to hear about some old shit, but it doesn’t need to include actual shit, if that helps. I’m tired, damn it. Just tell me a story.”
Oberon said through our mental link. He was stretched out by the fire, lying across my feet, belly up for easy rubbing. Granuaile couldn’t hear him, but she could follow along because I spoke my part of the conversation aloud.
“What’s that, Oberon?”
“Oh, you mean Bast. Yes, I remember. Hard to forget something like that.”
“You already know why she was mad. She wanted me to return the book of her cult’s mysteries that I had stolen long ago.”
“Oh, I see. Heh! Yes, I suppose that would be a good story for the night. Wow, this is going way back to the third century. I was still haunting Europe at the time.”
“Wait, Atticus, hold on,” Granuaile said. “Is this going to take a while?”
“I’m not sure. Is there some hurry?”
“I don’t want to interrupt you in the middle of it. I should answer the call of nature first.”
“Good call, then. We’ll reconvene after a few words from nature.”
Some hiding places are better than others. The ones with friendly company are the best, and by friendly I mean people who don’t particularly care about your background or what your tattoos mean. They just want a name to call you by, a sense that you’ll pull your own weight and contribute to the group’s survival, and maybe the occasional joke or roll in the hay. I miss the days of easy anonymity, when I could just make up a name when I got to a village and stay there as long as I could keep from using any magic that would give my position away to the Fae. I met new friends, made myself useful, and disappeared for years at a time.
That didn’t mean I was impossible to find. The Morrigan could find me pretty much anytime she wanted. On this particular occasion, she found me hanging out with the Visigoths in what is now the southern tip of modern-day Moldova, since I was doing my best to avoid the Roman Empire. She lighted in a tree as I was collecting deadwood for the night’s fire, and her eyes glowed red to demonstrate that she wasn’t the average crow. I looked around. It was just me out there.
“Hi, Morrigan. Looks like the coast is clear. You need to tell me something?”
She flew down to the ground and shifted to her human form, the red coals in her eyes dying out. “Hello, Siodhachan. Yes, I am here to deliver a message. Ogma needs to see you rather urgently. You must go now to meet him in Byzantium.”
“Byzantium? But that’s a mess right now.”
The Visigoths I was staying with were a part of that mess, in fact. Byzantium—indeed, most of the Roman Empire—was suffering what historians now call the “Crisis of the Third Century,” dealing with various invasions from its borders while internally their currency was taking a gigantic shit on the tiled mosaics of their bathhouse floors, and they had a string of military leaders taking turns at being emperor. The Morrigan came to see me in 269, right before Aurelian came to power and started to piece the empire back together.
“It’s going to get worse, especially down in Egypt. I have seen it.”
“Seen what, exactly?”
The tiniest of smirks lifted one corner of the Morrigan’s mouth. “I have seen you in danger there. So clearly you must go.”
“Somehow your words fail to motivate me.”
“I’m not supposed to motivate you to go down there. Ogma will do that. I just need you to go see him in Byzantium.”
“You need me to? Why? What’s in this for you?”
“Favors. The finest currency of them all.”
That was less than subtle. I owed the Morrigan several favors, if not my life, and saying no to her was not an option. “Where in Byzantium?”
“There is a public house called Caesar’s Cup. Ogma will be waiting there.”
“It’s going to take me a while.”
“He is aware. But you had best get started.”
“Right. Farewell, Morrigan.”
“Until next time, Siodhachan.” She shifted back to her crow form and flew off into the dusk. I hauled my wood back to the village, got the evening’s communal fire started, then packed my few belongings and slipped into the darkness while everyone was eating their dinner.
Weeks later I strode into Caesar’s Cup, all my tattoos hidden to disguise my Druidry, pretending to be just another Roman citizen out for a drink. Ogma was indeed there, seated at the end of a bench table, his head shaven and his tattoos concealed as well, nursing a goblet of what passed for expensive wine at the time and a board of bread and cheese.
He bobbed his head at me and gestured that I should sit down across from him.
“No names in here,” he said. “Speak Latin with me. Have a cup?”
“Sure.” He called for one and poured me a deep red vintage before continuing.
“Well met. Did she tell you why I needed to see you?”
“Something involving Aegyptus, but no more than that.”
“Yes. The Palmyrans will revolt soon and Rome will answer in force. The great library in Alexandria will be in danger.”
I snorted. “It’s always in danger. Julius Caesar nearly burned it down a couple centuries ago.”
“We think this time it will be worse.”
Ogma’s eyes shifted down the table to a couple of men who had drinks but weren’t talking to each other. They were most likely listening to us.
“Myself, my sister, and the crow.” He meant Brighid and the Morrigan. “Much knowledge will be lost forever. And some of that knowledge should be preserved. I’m interested in a few specific scrolls.”
Shrugging, I said, “That’s great. Why tell me?”
“I want you to fetch them for me.”
I stared at him in silence for perhaps three seconds, then looked down at my drink. “I don’t understand. You have all of my skills and more. Surely it must be simple for you to do it yourself?”
Ogma chuckled and I looked up. He was grinning widely. “It’s far from simple. It’s rather deadly, in fact. These scrolls are well protected.”
“It must be fantastic information.”
“It is. And right now you are probably wondering why you would ever agree to do this.”
“I admit that had crossed my mind.”
“You will do it because there is truly wondrous information there. Anything you take beyond what I require, you are free to keep.”
I cocked my head to one side. “Can you give me an example of what I might be able to take that’s worth risking my life?”
Ogma checked on the men, and they were still making no attempt to converse. He gestured to the rear of the house. “There is a poor excuse for a garden in back. Shall we take in some sun and continue there?”
We rose, cups in hand, and strolled past tables and curious eyes. Being covered from the neck down stood out in the summer, especially in a culture where bare legs below the knee were common. Ogma changed his speech to Old Irish and spoke in low tones as we moved.
“Those men are inept but persistent. They have been following me since shortly after I arrived here. We’ll see if they abandon all pretense and come after us or not.”
The garden had only a couple of people in it, since it was hot outside and there was limited shade to be had; it was laid out in hedges and flower beds more than trees, and all were starving for water. The scant shelter afforded by the fronds of a lone thirsty palm was already occupied. We strolled to the far side opposite, in full sun but also far away from inquisitive ears. Ogma switched back to Latin and pitched his voice so that only I could hear, even though no one was nearby.
“To answer your question: In the library you will find the mysteries of gods far different from the Tuatha Dé Danann or others you may know. Rituals and spells and secrets long kept locked in the darkness, the kind of thing that might help you one day should Aenghus ever catch up to you. Wards that clumsy wizards can attempt only with great care and sacrifice but that you can adapt and re-craft into elegant bindings.”
“That doesn’t sound all that great to me.”
“Yes, it does. And besides, you are bored. You are, what, more than three hundred years old now? Living with the Visigoths for the last five?”
“They’re charming people and impressive open-air cooks. They know how to roast a rabbit on a spit, let me tell you. And they share amusing stories about their sex accidents.”
“Pfahh. You yearn for more than this, Siodhachan. You stole Fragarach from Conn of the Hundred Battles. You absorbed the most powerful herblore of Airmid and keep it close to your heart. You cannot tell me you are satisfied to live life as a drear pastoral, that you are content with all you know and will never seek to know more.”
“That may all be true. But that does not mean I am anxious to seek my death in Alexandria for your benefit, Ogma, begging your pardon.”
“It is for your benefit too, as I said. And if you do this for me, Siodhachan, I will owe you a favor. That is currency of far more value than any Roman coin.”
He spoke Truth with a capital T there. When a god says he’ll owe you a solid, unspecified, bona fide favor, you need to take time to consider whether you might not be passing up the opportunity of a lifetime. Or indeed something that might preserve your life later on: Some favors, called in at the right time, might equal a Get Out of Death Free card. Though it was clear that Ogma would not be around to get me out of any problems in Alexandria. Whatever he considered to be so deadly there would be doubly so for me.
“I’m not agreeing yet,” I told him, “but you have my attention at least. Tell me more. What am I after, where do I find it, and what’s in my way?”
Ogma smiled as victors do, drank deeply, and refilled both our cups before answering.
“There is a sealed room of treasures beneath the library, similar to the burial chambers of pharaohs in their pyramids. Inside there are some scrolls and even a few bound books. There may be some scepters and the like, remarkable for their power more than their beauty. I want a bundle of four scrolls sealed in a lacquered box marked with the eye of Horus. You are familiar with that symbol?”
“Yes. But it’s fairly common, isn’t it? There might be many such boxes.”
“There are not.”
“If the room is sealed, how do you know that?”
“The Tuatha Dé Danann have their own all-seeing eyes.”
“Ah. The Morrigan?”
“What’s so special about these scrolls?”
The god of languages shrugged. “I can’t be sure until I read them.” A transparent evasion that meant he’d rather not tell me.
“Who built the room and sealed it, then?”
“Whoever built it is no doubt dead. But at least part of it is supposed to be the private hoard of the Egyptian goddess Seshat.”
“I’m not familiar with her.”
“Goddess of writing and preserving knowledge.”
“Ah. Preserving knowledge. I imagine in this case she’s preserving it from would-be thieves.”
“Yes. You may reasonably expect some curses.”
“I have no idea.”
I threw up my hands. “This chamber is underground and sealed in dead, quarried stone, right? I’ll be cut off from Gaia and essentially powerless. I don’t see how it can be done.”
Ogma nodded at me, offering a small smirk. He’d anticipated the objection. “I have something that will help with that, at least.”
Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Hearne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.