Tell me a story before I go to bed” (For the very young)

Mary and the Princess

MARY pulled her coat closer around her body as the cold wind teased the new grass. Her red hair flared around her as she turned this way and that, searching for a lost sheep and its lamb.

Rua, her Red setter dog was nowhere to be seen. He was off on a hunt of his own.

With a sigh, she sat and leaned against a large rock wishing she was home with her Grandmother, in front of a large crackling fire. But she could not leave the mountain until mother and baby was safe.

“Michael, where are ye?” A gentle voice called in the wind.

Startled, Mary looked around. Who, she wondered, was looking for Michael. Mary thought she was the only one who knew him. Michael, a Leprechaun, Caretaker of the mountain and her friend.

Now, someone was calling him.

“Michael, where are ye?”

Mary thought It was the most beautiful voice she had ever heard. Slowly, she stood up and peeked over the rock. She gasped in surprise. Ten paces away stood a snow white pony, its long mane and tail blowing in the wind.

There was no-one else in sight.

Mary ducked behind the rock as the pony turned in her direction. Far below she could see Rua, nose to the ground, tail in the air, following a scent, jumping excitedly from one grass hump to another.

“Mary, have ye seen Michael?”

Startled, Mary banged her head against the rock. “Who said that?” She asked looking around.

A gust of wind lifted the pony’s mane as it came around the rock, reflecting white in the spring sun. “I did. I know Michael doesn’t talk much but, I’m surprised he hasn’t mentioned me!”

Mary’s mouth opened in surprise. “But – but. Your a horse…”

“My Princess! I’m sorry I didn’t come at yer first bidding but, There was something I had to complete. I apologise.”

The pony dipped its head to the little man that had suddenly appeared beside Mary. If he had not spoken, she would never have seen him. From his cap to his knee high boots, his clothes were green.

This was Mary’s friend, Michael the Leprechaun.

He turned and smiled up at Mary. “Mary, please bow to the Princess Luc Na Meala!”

Mary gaped at Michael, then at the pony. “But – Michael! Princess what’s her name is a – a. . ..”

“The most beautiful Princess in the world!”

“Ah, Michael, ye haven’t changed a bit,” the Princess spoke softly, “ye talked many times of Mary. How she loves this mountain, yet ye’ve not told her about me?”

Michael fell to his tiny knee’s. “Forgive me Princess, but I told the girl,” He looked sideways at Mary, “the young lady all she needed to know.”

Mary was sure the pony laughed. “Michael, ye’ve always been the cautious one! Mary, when we have more time,

“I will tell ye more about me. Suffice to say I can change into many things. This,” she swished her tail, “suits my immediate needs.

The Princess turned to Michael. “I travel in haste Michael, Caretaker of this mountain, what news?”

Before he could answer, they were distracted by the sound of panting. Rua, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth bounded over the hill toward them.

With a graceful step, the Princess went to greet him. “Rua! My champion. Peace to ye.”

Rua wagged his tail as he slowly lowered his body, resting his head on his paws.

Mary could feel the warm breath of the Princess standing close to her. Hesitantly, she raised her hand and touched the silken neck.

“I wish I had time to linger but, I must not delay. Now Michael?”

With the hand that held his small cap, he swept the air. “Behold, my Princess, the mountain awakes from its winter slumber. Soon the swallows will return and summer will be here. Below, I fear, things are not what they should be. I have heard movements. They tried the Gate just seven days ago. The rock held but, the cry of pain was terrible.” He puffed out his chest. “As long as I’m here, they’ll not succeed!”

Mary stared at Michael. What did he mean, rock crying in pain? Who are They and what movements? She had heard nothing and there were no gates on the mountain.

“It is as we feared. They have tried other places. They are getting stronger. Ye must come with me and report to the council.”

To Mary’s amazement Michael, who was standing beside her one second, in the blink of an eye was sitting on the pony’s back!

As they turned to go, Mary coughed. Michael looked at her then, leaned forward and whispered into the Princess’s ear.

“Michael has suggested that ye might like to come along with us.”

Mary stepped back. “I – I can’t! I have to find a lost sheep and its lamb, and Grandma would worry if I was gone a long time.”

Michael laughed. He pointed, “Ye mean that one?”

She turned to see Rua sitting beside a ewe with her lamb, who was busily suckling on its mother.

“Yer dog will take it down the mountainside. My Princess will have ye back before they reach the bottom.”

Mary was sure the Princess smiled. “Come. Not many humans have the opportunity to go where I will take ye.”

Rua barked once and turned the sheep for home.

That made up her mind. She stood on top of the rock and waited while the pony came alongside. Carefully, she slid onto the Princess’s back.

Michael crouched low. “Get a good grip Mary and don’t crush me!”

She took a handful of the long silken mane and suddenly, they were flying! Up into the air they flew, the ground beneath them a blur.

All the things Mary knew disappeared behind them, before lay fields of different sizes, some with black and white dots. She shouted in surprise when she realised they were sheep and cattle.

“Will ye shut that noise! Are ye trying to deafen me?” Michaels muffled voice came from under the flowing mane. Mary smiled as she looked at the half concealed figure, this was the closest she had ever been to Michael.

They passed over a large blue lake and slowly descended toward a cluster of trees. Gently, the Princess landed beside them.

Mary looked around in wonder. Tall pine trees stretched to the edge of the lake. Beneath them flowers in full bloom had their faces turned to the warm sun that peeked through the outstretched branches of the trees. Flowers, Mary knew, that only came out in summer!

“Where are we,” she asked as she slid to the ground.

“This is the entrance to Tir Na No’og the land of the young.” Michael smiled up at her. “I can see yer wondering about the flowers, the weather is like this all the time! I thought ye might like to see it. I can’t take ye inside without permission so, wait over there, under the tree.”

By the time Mary had reached the tree, Michael and the Princess had disappeared! She lay down on the soft pine needles and looked around. A swallow, silently swooped under the branches catching a fly in its beak. In the distance a curlew called, answered by another. She saw the white bob tail of a rabbit as it scurried through the long grass. The branches swayed above her bringing a cool breeze to fan her face.

Her eyelids grew heavy as the silence filled her mind.

Mary was awoken to the sound of someone singing. It was the most beautiful song she had ever heard.

“Ah, Mary, so yer awake at last.”

It was a voice Mary knew, “Princess Luc Na Meala?”

“It is. I hope ye slept well?”

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Mary stared at the tiny figure sitting in front of her. Not much bigger than Michael, she sat brushing her long silver hair. She had blue eyes, flecked with gold, faint lines creased her smooth skin when she smiled.

“I’m sorry to confuse ye, but ye see me in my true form.”

“Have I been asleep very long?”

“In our time, one day and one night. You must be hungry,” she pointed, “eat some food.”

On a tablecloth of the finest lace, Mary saw a jug of water bread and some berries and realised that she was very hungry.

“I can’t! My Grandmother will be worried about me. Please, take me back.”

Soft laughter attracted a Willy-wagtail. It flitted down from the branches and came to rest in front of the Princess. “Our time is different from yours. Michael promised ye would be home the same time as our brave Rua, and ye shall!”

Mary never tasted such bread, and the water! It seemed to put new life into her. She wanted to sing and dance all the way home – if she knew the way.

When she had finished eating she gave the crumbs to a small bird that sat happily on her lap. Mary felt a light touch on her arm.

“I do not have much time Mary, there are more places I must visit. Never fear, sometime in the future, we will talk. There is something I must ask of ye.”

“Anything!”

“Michael must stay here for a while. We know how much ye love the mountain, and the mountain loves ye. We want ye to take special care of it until he returns.

“Of course I will,” Mary matched the Princess’s solemn mood.

“Be careful, Mary, there are evil things afoot, for the moment they are safely under the ground, but they are trying to weaken the Gates.” She looked deep into Mary’s eyes. “If ye hear or see anything strange, I want ye to call me. Don’t try to find out what it might be. Time is important – call me.”

“What is the Gate? What am I to look for?”

“Ye’ll know – just call.”

Mary nodded, then something occurred to her. “How will I call you, I mean, I don’t know where this place is!”

“Just shout my name to the wind and I will hear ye. Now, rest and I’ll take ye home.”

Mary felt weary, she lay back and closed her eyes.

Rua’s rough, wet tongue woke her up. She threw her arms around him. “It’s good to see you Rua! You wouldn’t believe where I’ve been.”

Rua answered by licking her face some more. She sat up and looked around. The ewe stood close by, the lamb leaning against the warm wool taking shelter from the cold wind.

They were in sight of the house. Smoke billowed from the chimney only to be caught by the wind and swept away.

As she opened the gate to the back yard, she saw her Grandmother waiting by the door. “Hallo Grandma! Mother and baby are fine, I’ll just put them in the shed.”

“Good girl!” Her Grandmother shouted above the rising wind, “Not a moment too soon, we’re in for a blizzard tonight.”

Mary sniffed deeply. Thick, hot vegetable soup was her favourite. Taking a piece of warm crusty bread she dipped it in and ate with relish.

“Did you have any trouble finding them?”

Mary looked at Rua stretched out in front of the fire. “No, no trouble at all.”

Mary was sure Rua winked!

END

© John W. Kelly