“Ahh, sure they’re pretty flowers!”
Mary jumped at the sound of his voice. She had been watching her dog, Rua. The Irish red setter had his head down a rabbit hole snuffling at a rabbit that had long gone.
“Hallo Michael.” she said looking down at the small man standing beside her. He was dressed all in green, from his cap to his knee high boots. The blue smoke rising from his pipe and his smiling face made him visible from the grass he stood on.
He was Caretaker of the mountain that Mary loved so much.
Above them, the peak held onto the last of the snow that glittered silver in the morning sun. Below, where Mary lived with her grandmother, grass, free from the winter frost grew a vibrant green. It swayed and waved to a cool north breeze.
Where they stood was a patchwork of snow drops, crocus’s and the first of the daffodils.
“I thought I’d come up and pick some snow drops before the snow washed them away.”
“Oh? I thought they just went back into the ground and came out next winter.” Michael puffed on his pipe, grinning up at her.
“Well!” Mary scolded, “It just go to show that Leprechauns don’t know everything, and in future could you please let me know when your around, instead of creeping up on me!”
Michael smiled and pointed with his pipe to where Rua was frantically digging. All that was visible through the flying dirt, was two back legs and a wagging tail. “He’ll not get anything down there.”
Mary laughed. “I know. There are four escape warrens and I saw rabbits come out of every one while Rua had his nose down that one! Anyway, I don’t think he’d know what to do if he caught one.”
Michael was silent. Mary became suspicious. “Michael, you show yourself to me, only when you want something. What is it?”
Michael turned and looked up at her with large innocent eyes. “That’s not true! Sit down will ye – I’m getting a crick in me neck!”
Mary sat, placing the bunch of flowers on her lap. Rua, realising his prey had gone withdrew from the burrow. He turned and gave Mary a disappointed look. Then, he noticed Michael. Shaking the dirt from his fur he bounded towards them.
“Keep that thing away from me!” Michael cried in alarm. “He’s stupid enough to think I’m a rabbit!”
Mary raised her hand. “Stop Rua! Sit. Good dog.”
Rua sat obediently two paces away from Michael.
Mary glared at Michael. “Rua is not stupid! He’s a very smart dog.”
Michael watched the warily. “So, what are ye getting fer yer birthday?”
“How do you know it’s my birthday. Only Grandma and the teacher know that.”
“And the mountain.” Michael smiled, putting his pipe away somewhere inside his coat. “Of course yer sister in the big city remembers.”
Mary sighed. “Kathy can’t even remember Grandma’s unless I write to her to remind her. Sometimes she’ll send a card.”
Michael sat and leaned against a tuft of grass, clasping his hands behind his head. “So, ye didn’t tell me – what are ye getting?”
Rua sneezed, clearing the dust out of his nose. Michael fell over, picked himself up and glared at the dog. Rua shuffled back two paces.
Mary laughed. “Grandma is making me something – I don’t know what it is but I’m not allowed into her bedroom! My teacher gave me a small box.
I can’t open it until tomorrow. I know what’s in it! She gave me the same thing last year, a bottle of very special blue ink. I hope there is a nib in there as well, mine only scratches now.”
“That’s grand,” said Michael as he settled back against the tuft of grass, “and will ye have cake and candles?”
“Oh! Grandma makes the best cake. Would you like me to bring you some?”
“That would be grand. What about candles?”
“I couldn’t bring you a candle. Grandma can’t afford them, but candles don’t matter! Anyway thirteen candles might set the house on fire. Why are you asking me so many questions about my birthday?”
Michael stood up and brushed some seeds off his coat. Mary was sure she saw him blush.
“‘Tis my birthday too,” he muttered.
Mary clapped her hands, spilling the flowers onto the ground. “It is! How old are you.”
“Do you ask yer Grandmother what her age is?” Michael sounded stern.
“Well – no. But she’s…”
“‘Tis not polite to ask someone older than yerself, what age they are.”
“Sorry. Are you having a party?”
Michael did not answer. He just faded into the grass and disappeared.
“I don’t know how he does that either,” she patted the dog and headed for home.
Her Grandmother was digging in the garden when Mary returned.
“Ah There you are. I thought I’d have to dig this up all by my self! What beautiful flowers. Run inside and put them in a jar and on your way back get the spade. You can break up the soil for me. The frost tonight will do it the world of good – kill all the weeds.”
Mary did as she was bid. With her Grandmother digging and her breaking the lumps they made good progress. Rua tried to help by creating big holes everywhere.
They stopped for a rest. As they leaned against the low wall of the garden, her Grandmother put her arm around Mary.
“I’m sorry you have to work on your birthday, but nature waits for no one.”
Mary smiled. “That’s all right Grandma, I don’t mind. Can I put a rose bush in this year?”
“Of course you can – will you look at that!”
Above them an eagle hovered. It slowly circled getting lower and lower. With a loud screech it landed on the roof of the house and folded its wings against its body.
At first it stared at them then, turned its yellow eye toward the mountain. It called again, tipping its head to one side.
“It looks as if it’s waiting…”
“Hush, child. Don’t scare it away. ‘Twill bring good luck on this house!”
With a whoosh, the eagle opened its wings. With hooked beak, it carefully pulled a long grey feather from the underside. Still holding it, the large bird did the same on the other side, then released them into the air.
A gentle wind picked them up and carried the turning feathers slowly to the ground. They came to rest near the front door. With two beats of its wings the eagle took to the air and very quickly became a dot near the mountain top.
Rua, like Mary stood open mouthed staring after it. He had even forgotten to bark!
“Well! In all my years I have never seen anything like that! Go get the feathers Mary, before the wind decides to take them away.”
“Look Grandma. One is grey and the other looks like gold.”
Mary held them so her Grandmother could inspect them. They reached from Mary’s finger tip to her elbow.
“I never knew eagles had gold feathers.” Mary’s Grandmother turned them over in her hand. “They are perfect for quills.”
“What are quills?”
“Quills are for writing! Better than that old nib of yours. Now you can write with a golden pen. The fairies must have sent the eagle, knowing it was your birthday.”
Mary laughed. “But Grandma, you said you didn’t believe in fairies!”
The old lady brushed the dirt from her dress. “Heavens, it’s time to get the dinner. The sun is going down and it will be a clear crispy night. Come, come, tonight’s your very special dinner!”
Before going inside, Mary turned to the mountain and waved the feathers above her head. “Thank you Michael,” she whispered.
When dinner was over, Mary thought she could not fit another bit in, her Grandmother walked from the bedroom carrying a cake.
“Happy birthday Mary.” She put it on the table and from her pocket she produced a candle. “I’m sorry I can’t put thirteen candles on the cake, but you can blow this one out.”
Mary hugged her Grandmother. “Thank you, thank you. I wouldn’t have enough blow in me for thirteen candles!”
“Now, you can open your presents. The small one first, the ink from your teacher.” They both laughed. Mary dipped the golden feather into the ink bottle and watched in amazement as the ink climbed slowly up the tube.
“Now you can write her a thank you note. Open my one!”
Mary gasped in surprise. A shawl of the whitest, softest wool with silver threads slipped into her hands. Gently she placed it around her shoulders rubbing on her cheek.
A tear formed in the corner of her eye as she hugged her Grandmother. “Thank you. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“For my favourite granddaughter, nothing is too good. Now, cut the cake!”
“Can I take a piece up the mountain? I might see the eagle and give it to him as a thank you.”
The door swung open, letting the crisp night air rush in.
“Oh dear me! I’m sure I closed it properly. I wonder…” Mary’s grandmothers’ words were cut short as she stared out into the night.
“Mary, will you come and look at this! Never in born days have I seen anything like this.”
Mary stood beside her grandmother and looked up in amazement.
Not a cloud blemished the sky. The face on the moon smiled down on them as it sat on the top of the mountain and, below it – a string of stars spread across like a necklace!
“Oh, it’s beautiful grandma.”
“Its a bit early for them but it must be fireflies.”
“Or the fairies Grandma?”
“Pishaw – fairies indeed. Come in or we’ll both be sick tomorrow.”
As they sat and ate their cake, Mary voiced a problem that had been worrying her.
“Grandma, if you believed in Leprechauns and it was their birthday – what would give him – them?”
“Fairies! Leprechauns! If there was such a thing there is nothing you can give them, they already have everything! Anyways, they don’t have birthdays.”
“No – they’ve always been, so they wouldn’t know if it was their birthday or not.” “She became thoughtful as she picked up the plates. “I suppose there is one thing they would like…”
“Good morning to you Mary, and how was yer birthday?”
Mary looked to her right to see Michael leaning against a small rock. Rua had disappeared over a rise.
She twirled, showing off her new shawl. Michael clapped in appreciation.
Thank you for the quills Michael and the candles.”
“Oh? you mean the stars strung out across the mountain. They were for my birthday!”
Mary smiled. “So your thirteen years old are you?”
Michael coughed. “Well, the fairies are not very good at counting.”
Mary scratched at the dirt with her wellington. “I brought you something for your birthday. Grandma said you have everything, but there might be something you might appreciate.” She handed him a piece of paper.
Michael held it up. The bottom of it touched the ground and Mary could just see his cap over the top of it.
“It looks very nice,” he said quietly, “but Leprechauns can’t read. We’ve no reason to.”
“Oh – give it to me and I’ll read it.”
Michael puffed on his pipe as Mary cleared her throat.
‘Happy birthday Michael Leprechaun. Thank you for being my friend.’
“There’s more.” Michael puffed harder, the smoke hiding his face.
“Only my name.”
“No, before that. It starts with ‘I’…”
“I – you can read!” Mary made as if to throw the paper at him. He was gone.
“Your a coward Michael Leprechaun!”
Somewhere behind her, he called. “What does it say?”
“It says I love you. I felt that way last night – not now! You’ve teased me and embarrassed me and if I ever catch you…!”
Rua sat on a mound, head to one side staring at his mistress.
She danced around in circles, her white shawl twisting with her red hair, looking like a cloudy sunset on a summers’ eve.
“Michael! Michael, come back here…”
Rua rested his head on his paws and waited.
This is the third of eight stories about Mary and her friend Michael the Leprechaun