What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?
“On the Death of a Favorite Cat”
The Shannon, Eire
August 31, 1995 (Lughnasadh)
Marina sat lounging in the cool waters of the Shannon, her favourite sanctuary in today’s world—the small lake in the middle of Sherwood had long ago dried up with no circle of willows to protect it. Not that she had spent much time there since her sister had left her immortality and office of Gaea centuries before that. In fact, the Shannon was pretty much her only sanctuary these days. Especially today. Since the age of Industrialisation and the rise of computers—and the Internet!—magick was being systematically eradicated throughout the world. She wasn’t much use anymore. It wasn’t quite high tourist season, so she was pretty well left alone most of the time to bathe in the comfort of the magick of Eire. Her few visitors, when she had any, were of the fey, and they didn’t stay long to chat with the Goddess of Water anyway. As she leaned her elbows back on the riverbank she let her eyes close against the warmth of the Sun and sighed contentedly, although a part of her mind wished for excitement once again. She sighed again, this time with resignation. She had to accept it—if it were possible, this perpetual state of inactivity would bore her to death. How she wished there were someone to talk to. She hadn’t heard a good story in ages.
There was a noise behind her, startling her into full cognition. She turned around to face inland, scanning the surrounding woodland for the source of the interruption. A rustle, from over there, somewhere in the bushes. Was someone spying on her? While she was bathing? How rude. ‘Come forth,’ she called. ‘I bid you not be afraid. Come forth and we shall talk a while.’
There was a few seconds’ pause, then her observer revealed himself: a leprechaun—No, she admonished herself. Luchorpan. They hate that. I’ve been around mortals too long. He was averting his eyes, his face a deep red.
‘Forgive me, m’lady,’ he said, visibly embarrassed. He raised his head to look at her face, making it a point to try not to look at her skyclad body. ‘I didn’t mean to intrude, really. I was only. . . .’
Marina smiled, and he suddenly lost his words. ‘It’s all right, halfling. Come closer. I would chat with you.’
The luchorpan hesitated, unsure what to do. He had only been out for some firewood (several hours ago) when he had overheard someone singing. It was such an enchanting melody, he had completely lost all reserve and approached, under cover. But who was this woman who bathed in the Shannon and called him by such a name? ‘I . . . uh. . . .’ he stammered. ‘I heard you s-singing.’
‘Come hither, little one,’ she said, still smiling. ‘I would talk with you.’ He started to sputter a reply, and his face turned even redder. ‘There is no cause to fear me,’ she laughed. ‘I don’t bite.’
This brought a nervous laugh out of him, and he stepped closer to the bank where she reclined. ‘Who are you?’ he asked, finally glad to get the question out.
Her smile slid to one side of her face, conveying perplexity. ‘Certainly you know me, little one,’ she said. ‘Come. Look into my eyes. Tell me what you see.’
He did so. Her eyes were the blue of the deep ocean, and shifted with the currents as well. Presently, as he gazed into the depths of her soul, he came to realise just who she was. ‘Lady Marina!’ he exclaimed, dropping to one knee, now staring at the ground—nothing else. ‘I had no idea.’ Then, as the implications came to him, his face turned an even darker shade of red. ‘Please f-forgive me. I had no intention to—’
She didn’t let him finish. ‘Relax,’ she said. ‘But I would truly like to know your name, now that you’ve watched me bathe.’
His mouth worked, but for a few seconds, nothing came out. He cleared his throat and tried again. ‘G-Graeme, m’lady. Graeme the Gold-Finder.’
‘If you would fetch my shift, Graeme the Gold-Finder, I would be grateful.’
He jumped to comply, glad to be out of the embarrassing position. ‘Of course, m’lady.’
‘I left it hanging on that big cork tree.’
‘Aye, I see it.’ But just barely. It was impossibly thin, almost transparent. It looked so delicate, he felt he had to be especially careful carrying it, lest it fall apart. When she took it, he turned around while she lifted herself out of the water, whether she wanted him to or not, and wouldn’t turn back until she told him she was decent.
‘Really,’ she smirked. ‘Your modesty is unnecessary. I gave up on mortal idiosyncrasies long ago.’
He had no response to that. So he changed the subject. ‘What was that you were singing?’ he asked. ‘It was . . . it had a dreamy quality that . . . it was lovely.’
She blushed, an incongruous action, considering the position he had been in. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘That was the Song of Evening. I’m really not that good at it. After all, I’m not the one that does it.’
‘It sounded wonderful,’ the Gold-Finder said, glad to have found a topic that pleased her. ‘I’ve not heard its like before.’
Marina shook her head. ‘No, Gaea doesn’t visit here often. Most of the time she slums around Sherwood—what’s left of it—and Stonehenge. I’ve heard that she is often sighted in America—Georgia, I believe—around the middle of May. But she rarely comes to Eire. She’s not much like the old Gaea . . . my sister. . . .’ She trailed off, looked away. It was obvious to Graeme that she missed her sister. He wondered briefly what had happened to her. Then she spoke again, pre-empting anything he might have said in consolation. ‘But that is all past now. Come.’ She patted the soft riverbank gently. ‘Sit. Tell me a story.’
He wanted desperately to cheer her up. He sat, and began his story.
Once upon a time (the luchorpan began) my clan dwelt in the thick of these forests virtually undisturbed by mortals. We had our fun in the woodlands by day and entertained at home by nite. I wish that were still true. Now, leave the hold for a few minutes, and we need to triple-lock the door. We learned that the hard way. Just last year, while my two brothers and I were out . . . um, entertaining some dryads, we had a break-in. There was this little girl . . . a streetrat from Limerick, I believe. What she was doing this far north, I’ll never know. Nevertheless, she was here, and she was doing some tourist stuff that’s not found in your average Fodor’s guidebook.
Like I said, my two brothers and I had just stepped out to pay a call on our favourite dryads. We had no reason to lock the door, of course not. Who would find the entrance to our hold, anyhow? I mean, besides being masked by a tangle of Gort, the door in the rock is only three feet high, and half that across. Even we luchorpans have to duck a little to get in. Mortals that stray into the thick of the forest to sniff out a luchorpan’s gold usually rely on superstition and fantasy to find it; they think they’ll find a big cauldron full of gold coins, hidden in the hollowed-out stump of a dead tree at the end of a rainbow. Like we would actually do something so inane. I won’t say where exactly it is that we keep our gold, but suffice to say, it’s safe from prying eyes. Well, ninety-nine percent of the time. Children are a special breed. They have a natural intuition we find very inconvenient. This streetrat, in particular. I’m guessing that she didn’t get much of a chance to commune in the forest, growing up on the street, so I’m still not sure how she found our hold. But she did.
That particular day, we were trying different recipes of chilli, to broaden our horizons a little. My personal favourite is Chilean Chilli, which we got after several more tries, but I digress. We had finished off one kind already, leaving three in the icebox for supper that night. And that was the first sign of her presence that we noticed when we got back: the microwave door open, and the empty bowl on the shelf with the spoon still in it. The other two had been replaced in the icebox, but they had obviously been tasted, probably rejected. The second thing we noticed was the broken chair. Well, to be fair, it was an old family heirloom, all ready to collapse in on itself—no one in our hold hat sat on it since the Inquisition. It even looked delicate. Our little intruder must have tried all the other chairs in the room first, found them unsatisfactory, tried her last option, and broke it.
‘Allan,’ says I—Allan’s always been the fast one in our family—‘Run into town and fetch a bobby. I’ve a feeling we’ve been robbed.’ And he did, without another word. That left Tommy and me to investigate. Mentally, I was creating a list of charges to file for so far: breaking and entering and destruction of private property. But if we found any of our gold missing, there would be no charges—we’d take action ourselves.
We tip-toed around the room, to make sure nothing else was missing, before heading upstairs. My heart was pounding in my chest at the thought of someone disturbing our wyrmload. We had earned that, personally . . . sure, the wyrm was already dead when we got there, but we didn’t know that. Daring the wyrm’s cave was bravery enough by itself. How dare some outsider come in and just take it? Or, was the wyrm not dead—merely sleeping? And now it had come to reclaim its treasure? No, we discovered the intruder was quite mortal—and human, as if that weren’t curse enough! Probably worst of all, can you guess what she was doing? We were prepared for anything—stealing our wyrmload, destroying more furniture, defiling the place with graffiti . . . but not what she was actually doing. She had the nerve to fall asleep on my bed! Three beds in that room, and she picked mine! And it wasn’t her first choice, either. The other two had been messed and inexpertly remade. The nerve! However, I must admit, her face had a certain appeal to it—in sleep, it wasn’t marred by lines of concentration. The way the light from our hold’s only window (open, at the time) played on her figure under the thin sheet was . . . alluring. . . . (Here, Graham shook himself from staring into space, blood rushing to his cheeks. Marina said nothing.)
‘It’s a girl!’ Tommy said quietly. I looked at him, offended that he had a smile of (dare I say it?) awe on his face. He didn’t notice. ‘It’s a little girl!’ I could have punched him right there. But he was edging closer to her.
‘Get away, Tommy,’ I said urgently, tugging at his arm. ‘You don’t know where it’s been. It’s a human!’ He shrugged me off, and continued toward the girl in my bed. I froze, unsure what to do next. What if she were dangerous? After all, she was asleep; we couldn’t fathom any kind of intentions from watching her REM.
Suddenly, her eyes sprang open to stare right into Tommy’s face. She opened her mouth to scream, but he deftly covered it before she could much more than peep. ‘Shh,’ he cooed. ‘I’m not going to harm you.’ She nodded, and he lifted his hand. She didn’t scream. He grinned, turned back to me. ‘Can we keep her?’ he asked, then turned back to look at her again.
My mouth hung open for a second or two before I could formulate a response. ‘She’s only a child!’ I finally said.
‘I’m 17!’ she retorted, hurt.
Not seeing the connection, I asked her the important questions: ‘Who are you? And what are doing here?’
‘I’m . . . lost,’ she said, deciding that would answer both questions well enough. ‘Where am I? Is this Limerick?’ I slapped myself on the forehead. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘The door was open,’ she went on, ‘so I came in, hoping to use the phone. Then I got hungry. The chilli was good, by the way. That other stuff tasted kind of funky.’
I was fuming. ‘Get out!’ I shouted. ‘You’re not getting any of our gold, and you’ve already assumed too much hospitality.’
Her eyes got really wide. ‘Gold?’
Tommy looked back at me, pain in his eyes. ‘Why can’t we keep her?’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘She doesn’t belong here! I want her out, before Allan returns with the police.’ Her eyes widened with the mention of authorities, and she sat up quickly. It was only then that I realised her blue jeans were hanging on the footboard. ‘Get dressed,’ I said. ‘And get out. And don’t come back.’ She nodded dumbly, stepping out of my bed. Unfortunately, Tommy wasn’t satisfied with my decision, especially after that glimpse of her coltish legs. He crept toward her, not unnoticed by her. The look in his eyes frightened her—frightened me, too; I’ve never seen that look again, neither before nor since. She snatched her blue jeans and backed off, toward the open window. I started to call a warning to her, but I was too late. She already knew about the window anyway, was heading for it on purpose. Three feet away, she turned and ran for it, jumping out into the forest.
The soft ground cushioned her landing. Unfortunately, she hit the ground yards away from Allan and the bobby he had dutifully retrieved. This one did not look particularly pleased. She was arrested on the spot for illegal entry, destruction of private property, squatting, indecent exposure, and attempted suicide. However, she decided to countersue Tommy for attempted corruption of a minor. She wants some of our gold for compensation. The case is still awaiting trial.
‘Good story,’ Marina said. ‘I didn’t want to interrupt, but it seems to me that I’ve heard it before. Was her name Goldilox, perchance?’
‘Actually,’ Graeme grinned, ‘her name is Karen . . . something. You wanted me to tell you a story. So I did. But I swear all I’ve told you is true.’
Marina smiled. This particular version of the old children’s tale was quite entertaining. She liked this luchorpan. She hoped he’d visit again, the next time she took a holiday just to bathe in the Shannon. The thought kept the smile on her face long after he’d bid her farewell and gone on his merry way, whistling his own version of the Song of Evening.
JAC is an American writer, who, before the ratification of the state of Facebook and the opening of the TransAmazon Railroad, used to make his home anywhere and everywhere there were silent places on the Wild West Web. They called it the Shadows. While there can be no shadow without light, eventually the light got too much, leaving no place quiet enough, so he settled in a rural county in The Middle of Nowhere. His writing style could be described as Not Dickens. Aside from writing, his talents include black humor, sarcasm, people watching, and an inability to avoid eavesdropping. His writing companion and sometime muse is a semi-feral cat, known to humans as Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Floyd has a tendency to bite, even the hand who feeds him well.