Mary's voice echoed across the mountainside. A cool Autumn breeze rattled the dry seed pods of heather. The long grass, turning brown crackled under her wellington boots as she dashed from one place to another in search of her dog.
Swallows, swooped toward her, then glided away as they bade farewell to their home, before following the warmth of the sun, south.
Out of breath, Mary stopped and looked around. Under a mass of red hair, her keen eyes searched his favourite stones and holes, where Rua loved to hunt. She cupped her hands round her mouth and called, "Rua!"
Carried on the wind from the valley floor came the lowing of cows. It was milking time. A Kestrel, hovering high above her head, answered with a screech.
"With a voice like that Mary, ye could wake up half the countryside."
With a sigh of relief, Mary swung around. "Michael - where are you?"
"Don't move, or ye'll put yer great foot on me!"
Mary stood still and looked down. Beside her left foot stood Michael - the Leprechaun.
He barely reached the top of her boot. The colour of his clothes had changed since Mary last saw him. Then, jacket and pants were green, now they were grey the same colour as the grass. The purple hat and knee high boots, changed to brown, the colour of the pods.
Between puffs of smoke from his pipe, Michael grinned up at her. "'Tis a long time since we last met Mary, and haven't ye grown!"
Mary dropped onto her stomach so she could look him in the eye. "It has been a long time, and I haven't grown one bit! It's good to see you - have you seen Rua?"
For some moments Michael remained silent, he seemed to take a great interest in a seagull, that had landed nearby. "Rua?"
"My dog! The one your scared of."
"Scared? - scared! I've never been scared of anything, above or below this earth. Its just that dogs think we're something to play with."
"Where is he Michael."
Michael puffed on his pipe. "He's gone on a message."
Mary jumped to feet. "Message? Where - When, for who?"
"Mary! Will ye stand still - ye nearly tramped on me. Sit down nice and quiet and I'll tell ye."
"Tell me!" Mary sat down, her eyes flashing.
His hands behind his back, Michael paced up and down in front of Mary.
"I sent yer dog, Rua, on a message for me. I couldn't go meself and leave the mountain unguarded, it'd be too dangerous."
Mary studied Michael's small serious features and suddenly felt afraid.
"What do mean dangerous. Is the mountain in danger? Why did you send Rua - dogs can't talk."
Michael threw his hands in the air. "Ye ask so many questions. Of course dogs can talk! Ye've got to listen the right way. Don't worry, he'll be back by tonight."
Mary stood up and towered over Michael.
"Mind where yer standing!"
"Tell me everything Michael Leprechaun, or I'll - I'll dance on your head!"
All that was left of Michael was a ring of blue smoke He had disappeared!
Frantically, Mary searched everywhere, under tufts of grass, behind rocks but there was no trace of Michael anywhere. Grimed faced and with a worried mind, she set off for home.
"Did you find him?" Her Grandmother stood at the front gate wiping her hands on a towel.
Mary shook her head.
"Never mind. He must be off with the fairies. When they've finished with him they'll send him back."
Mary looked up at her Grandmother's smiling face and wished she could tell her the truth, but she didn't believe in Leprechauns.
That night as they were washing the dishes, Mary heard a faint scratching at the door. As she opened it, Rua fell onto the floor at her feet. "Grandma, Rua's been hurt!"
The dog lay on his side whimpering his red coat matted with blood. He held out his front paw as if it were broken.
They carried him gently to the front of the fire and while Mary cradled his head, her Grandmother, very carefully washed him.
"He's never hurt anyone in his life Grandma," tears ran down Mary's face, "who could have done this."
"I don't know child, but he's very sick - there now Rua, gently now."
Rua tried to lick Mary's hand.
With soothing words and gentle hands they cleaned him up. The bleeding stopped and they wrapped him up in a blanket. The flames from the fire threw dancing, figures across the ceiling as they settled him down. Mary held his head on her lap, her hair blending with the dog's coat.
"Come child, there's nothing more we can do, time for bed."
Mary looked up at her Grandmother with tear stained eyes, "Please, let me stay with him, he might want something to eat - he hasn't eaten anything since he came home."
Her Grandmother gave her an understanding smile. "I'll get a pillow and blanket."
Wrapped in the blanket, Mary looked around the quiet dark kitchen. Dying embers of the fire cast long shadows across the floor as she hummed a tune, gently stroking Rua's head. She could feel his slow heartbeat and she prayed. "Please God - please make Rua better."
Mary slept fitfully, disturbed by Rua's whimpering. The first rays of sun touching her head brought her wide awake. Rua did not move and for one fearful moment Mary thought he was dead.
Then she felt his heart thump.
Gently, she lifted his head off her lap and stood up. Stiff legged she walked to the door and quietly opened it, and ran as fast as she could up the mountainside. She ran until she could run no more and fell exhausted to the ground.
"Michael - where are you?" Mary looked around. It was close to where she had last seen him. "Please show yourself. . .." Her shoulders shook. "Please."
"So - he's back!"
She lifted her head and came face to face with Michael. Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Michael, he's been hurt - he's very sick - I think he's going to die!"
Michael, puffing on his pipe nodded. "He's a brave dog, the dangers have been great. Now, Mary, listen to me - did he tell ye anything, did he say anything?"
Mary's fist thumped into the ground beside Michael, making him jump. "You haven't been listening! He's sick, maybe dying, and your asking me did he say anything. Dogs don't talk!"
"Think Mary, 'tis very important, please."
She saw the concern on Michael's face. "Well - I did have this dream - I think it was a dream."
"Yes - yes, go on!"
"I saw Rua being attacked by some sort of monster. It was a terrible fight. Four times bigger than Rua, it could jump and turn all at the same time," Her voice faltered, "Every time it landed, it's claws dug into Rua's back, drawing blood. Then, as if something was calling it, the monster turned and ran away. Oh yes, there was something else. I heard a voice, it said - 'When the moon is full, we will be there'. That's all I remember."
"Good girl! That's all I wanted to know."
What's happening, please tell me. Is it true that Rua had a fight and he gave me that message? What does it mean?"
Michael grinned up at Mary. "Ye have a right to know. Yer dog did talk to ye," He became serious, "In this mountain there's an entrance to the underworld - a place where terrible things are kept away from this world."
"What do you mean?"
"Of late, I've heard some strange disturbances, sounds I don't like. I had to get a message to the Gatekeepers and I couldn't go meself - so I sent yer dog."
"You sent him to his death, You killed him!"
Out of nowhere a small pouch appeared in Michael's hand. "Shake this powder into a dish of water and in no time at- tall he'll be up and running. Go on now!"
Mary stood, holding the pouch. "Who are the Gatekeepers?"
"Another time, another time! Go girl."
"Michael Leprechaun! I've told you before, I'm not a girl!"
Michael held up his hands. "I know, I'm sorry, yer a young lady and 'tis not often ye'll hear a Leprechaun say sorry."
Mary glanced back. "And another thing, never ask Rua to go on a message again."
But Michael was gone.
* * *
An angry voice greeted Mary at the door.
"And where have you been! I come out to the kitchen, the fire has gone out and Rua lying cold on the tone floor - I think the poor thing is dead."
Mary's blood ran cold. She ran to Rua, who lay stiff and still in front of a fire that crackled with new life. She held her breath as she put her head to his chest.
It was faint, but she could hear his heart beat. "Grandma, he's alive! He needs a drink of water."
"You'll have to go to the well and get some, there's none in the bucket - goodness gracious! look at that, it's full. I'm sure I emptied it when I filled the kettle."
Mary filled a bowl and shook the powder from the pouch into it. She placed it beside his head, dipped her fingers and rubbed them around the Rua's mouth. His nose twitched and he opened one eye. Slowly he lifted his head and drank thirstily from the bowl. Finished, he licked Mary's hand.
Her Grandmother kept staring at the bucket, shaking her head. "The fairies are working overtime," she said.
"Maybe it was the Leprechauns, Grandma."
Her Grandmother scoffed, "Leprechauns! Who believes in Leprechauns!"
Mary looked at the slowly recovering dog. Under her hand she could feel him quietly breathing.