Could you best a leprechaun?
“Aye! Halloo! Anybody home?”
Seamus followed the sound of snapping fingers back to the pub. The depths of thought weren’t a usual haunt, so it was just as well to have a guide.
“Oh, it’s Michael,” he blinked. “I was just havin’ a bit o’ a think. D’ye s’ppose I might catch a leprechaun with Granda’s coin?”
“I'd sooner catch another pint o' Guinness,” Michael Flynn replied. He drained his glass and signaled the barmaid before continuing. “It’s only wee children and gullible fools that believe in the little people.”
The two young men were seated at a worn and scarred table in Paddy’s Pony, one of the oldest establishments in the town. Sickly remnants of afternoon light filtered through the small, smoke-grimed window above them. There hadn’t been much light to begin with as the sun was obscured by a drizzle of cold spring rain.
Seamus Halloran II held up the dull gold-colored coin he’d kept in his pocket since his Granda passed. It was just a bit smaller than a shilling, with curious runes embossed on one side and a shamrock on the other.
“Guinness is good, to be sure,” he mused. “But it just goes down the drain, don’t it? And all ye have to show for it after is a whangin’ head. I need a change o’ luck and this coin might do the trick. Brigid McCleary says a leprechaun can’t resist the call o' gold.”
“Don’t be daft, man. That coin probably ain’t even real gold. It looks like brass to me.”
“Nah, it’s real, alright. Granda got it from a leprechaun and it brought 'im luck all 'is life.”
Michael gave him the pitying look usually reserved for hopeless fools and naive dreamers.
“What luck? Yer granda lived in a cottage and dug potatoes all 'is life. Where’s the luck in that?”
“Ye never really knew 'im, Michael, nor my grandma. They were married fifty years. All that time they never knew want nor went to bed angry. Granda was always ready with a joke or a song, and Grandma set the best table in the county. He never broke ‘is back with work, but they raised seven fine children and lived to see forty-nine grandchildren. There’s the true luck.”
Michael gave him a skeptical look and Seamus trailed off wistfully. His own life seemed sad and aimless by comparison. And, lately, it was even worse. Granda’s lucky coin didn’t seem to work for him. It didn’t sparkle the way it used to. Perhaps the luck had gone out of it, or maybe there was something in Granda’s cryptic last words:
“The coin must go back, Seamus. Ye can’t keep a leprechaun’s luck forever.”
Seamus, namesake and favorite grandchild, had taken the coin that his Granda held out to him.
“Fifty years at a time,” the elder Seamus had whispered and then closed his eyes forever.
Fifty years earlier, the man who would eventually be known as Seamus Halloran I trudged along a cold, muddy path. He had little thought for the future, an empty belly being the day’s foremost concern. The delightful scones in Annie O’Leary’s warm kitchen were a distant memory. She’d found the young rogue’s blarney charming, but her husband Tom had a different opinion. A small disagreement about the quantity and quality of Seamus’ work had put him out on the road again.
Will me luck never change? he wondered gloomily, shivering as a drop of cold rain found its way inside the collar of his shabby coat.
Lost in woeful thoughts, Seamus rounded Sullivan’s rock and ran smack-dab into a smallish figure coming the other way round. His hip banged the smaller man’s shoulder, knocking an old-fashioned top hat into the bushes. Seamus recognized the little man and reacted instantly. He’d been dreaming of such an opportunity for twenty-odd footloose years. As the leprechaun reached past him to retrieve the hat, Seamus quickly snared the little man by his other wrist.
“Faith an’ begorra, a leprechaun! I’ve found me fortune at last!”
“Leave off, won’t ye? I’ve no gold!” the little man exclaimed indignantly. “There’s nowt such thing as leprechauns, ye young fool!”
His curious clothing and diminutive stature gave the lie to his outburst. The dark green jacket made a pleasant contrast over a light green shirt. Striped hose showed between his knickers and a pair of black shoes with gold buckles. A top hat with a wide band and matching gold buckle was once again perched atop a round head with a fringe of reddish beard. A clay pipe, pointed ears, and piercing blue eyes completed a picture that was familiar from childhood fairy tales.
“Meanin’ no offense, sir, but I don’t think ye’re bein’ entirely truthful. I’ve caught ye fairly, and it’s my understandin’ that I’ve the right to ask a favor afore I set ye free.”
“A favor is it? I’ll show ye a favor ye’ll soon regret!”
Seamus suddenly found himself holding a squirming boar with wild red eyes and fearsome tusks. Its hot breath stank almost as bad as the mucky filth caked into the coarse bristles covering its rough hide. The urgent, grunting squeals were near deafening, and Seamus wanted nothing more than to drop the loathsome creature and cover his ears. Instead, he closed his eyes and tightened his grip. He’d paid attention to the old folk tales and knew that this was a typical leprechaun trick. The illusion of a fierce boar wasn’t really dangerous. It was more like struggling with a restive child. All he had to do was hang on and wait.
“Ah, but ye’re a sweet lad, after all. I’ve no desire whatever to leave these strong arms.”
Seamus was so startled by the pleasant words that he very nearly dropped the lovely young lass. She was beautiful in every sense of the word, and he was all too aware of the feminine allure that he held disturbingly close to his body. The petite form now cuddled in his embrace smelled of sunshine and dew-covered roses. Seamus was almost undone by a sudden desire to fulfill her every whim.
“Please, kind sir, if ye’ll just retrieve me lace, I’ll show ye what real gratitude can be.”
Seamus looked at the delicate scarf at his feet and began to put the lass down before reason intervened. Just barely in time, he ignored his chivalrous impulse and squeezed even tighter.
“I’m sorry to press ye, sir, but this ain’t a dignified trick,” he said with a red face. “Could we get on with the business at hand afore somethin’ happens to embarrass the both of us?”
“Alright, ye bothersome young pup, what is it ye’re after then?” the leprechaun asked, returning to his more usual guise. “I canna work miracles and I’ll not be givin’ up me gold.”
Neither of these statements was strictly true, but the leprechaun was determined to make the best of a bad situation and give away as little as possible. Seamus wasn't fooled. He'd heard the old tales of duplicitous leprechauns and greedy wishes gone bad. He'd thought long and hard while tramping the woods and living rough, and he had a ready plan.
“I’ll take nowt from ye, sir. I’ve no desire to steal yer fortune. All I ask is the loan of yer luck.”
The leprechaun, for the first time in four hundred years, was left speechless. He looked at Seamus blankly as cogs turned ‘round in his calculating brain. How could he poison such a simple wish and turn Seamus’ victory to ash?
“It’s only fer a time, sir,” Seamus added politely. “Us mortal folk don’t last forever. Fifty years would be an ample amount o' luck for any man. If ye’ll hand over just one gold coin as a token of our bargain, then I’ll be happy to set ye loose and go me way.”
Bewildered by the humble request, the leprechaun reluctantly agreed. He produced a sparkling gold coin and placed it in Seamus’ open hand. In the long run, the wish wouldn’t actually cost him anything. Still, it would be better to put a safeguard on what seemed a deal too good to be true.
“Mind then, this coin comes back to me in fifty years or the one what holds it will know the worst luck a man could ever imagine.”
“So that’s a leprechaun trap?”
Michael shook his head doubtfully. The large, wicker-like basket was woven from green holly branches and reinforced with steel wire. A string and stick were delicately arranged to prop the weighted lid open. The string was threaded back a few yards into the dense holly thicket behind Sullivan’s rock where Seamus and Michael were waiting in the dew.
“That’s how Brigid said to do it,” Seamus explained. “And this is where Granda met the leprechaun. The trap looks like the holly and hides us as well. He’ll go for to steal the coin, but can’t reach it without climbin’ in. Then I drop the lid and he’s mine.”
“Even if there is a leprechaun, he’ll not be fooled by holly twigs.”
“Brigid says he’ll fool 'imself into thinkin’ he can nick it without us seein’. The trap is supposed to look clumsy and foolish. But there’s another string at the bottom. Once he’s in, the lid comes down whether we see 'im or not.”
“She's a clever girl.”
“Aye, and easy on the eyes – shush, d’ye hear that?"
The two men went silent for a time, eyes straining in the pre-dawn gloom. They didn’t see the sly leprechaun who circled Sullivan’s rock and sneered at the basket of holly branches.
Simple minds! Do they think a child’s toy could deceive Darby O’Gill? Still, I can smell a bit o’ gold inside . . . it’ll serve ‘em right to lose their bait an’ go weepin’ home again.
A leprechaun-sized shadow fell over the edge of the basket and stretched toward the gold coin inside. It was just out of reach, but a surprised Darby recognized the runes.
Tis me own gold coin, found again!
His eager lunge to regain the only coin he’d ever lost to a mortal caused him to topple into the bottom of the basket. The crash of the lid as he clasped the coin brought a sudden realization that he’d been tricked.
“Darby, ye greedy fool, ye’ve done it again!”
The angry shout was accompanied by rustling thumps from the basket. Seamus rushed over and sat himself firmly atop the lid before Darby could right himself and make an exit.
“Ye're caught fair enough, leprechaun, and now ye’ll make me a bargain!”
“I’ll make no bargains, mortal, tis me own coin that was only a loan to Seamus Halloran, fifty years ago. I thank’ee for its return and I’ll be on me way. The bargain is complete.”
Seamus grinned at the dumbstruck Michael and decided to have a bit of fun at Darby’s expense.
“As ye say, leprechaun, yer bargain with Seamus Halloran is complete. He’s done fair by ye. But now ye’re dealin’ with Seamus Halloran!”
The basket bucked and bounced as the outraged little man thrashed inside. His indignant howls went on for some time. Seamus held firm through accusations of deceit, appeals for mercy, and dire threats. Darby finally gave in and quieted down.
“And what is it ye'll be after then, fame, fortune, or a way with the ladies?” he asked suggestively.
“I’ll not be greedy; I ask only the same bargain ye gave me Granda.”
Darby groaned inwardly. Not this again! Would he never be rid of these troublesome Seamus Hallorans? He still had one more trick to try, however, before giving up his coin for a second time.
“I’ll need to look ye in the eye to work the magic. Only raise this lid and the whole world be yours,” he said in a syrupy, wheedling tone.
Neither of these statements were exactly true, and Seamus knew better than to raise the lid. His Granda had told the tale many times and Seamus could recite his words from memory:
Seamus, me lad, to best a leprechaun ye need a bit o’ luck, grim determination, and a humble heart.
“We''ll keep the lid down till all business is concluded, thank’ee very much” Seamus told the little man. “Just put another 50 years luck into that gold coin and slide it out to me.”
Michael shook his head in wonder as they made their way home in brilliant morning sunshine. He still couldn't believe what he'd just seen. And he didn’t know if Seamus was a fool or a genius. His friend acted like he’d outsmarted the leprechaun, but where were all the riches? One small coin couldn’t change anything, could it?
Seamus flipped the sparkling gold coin in the air, made a lucky, eyes-closed catch, and slipped it securely into his pocket. Wisps of clearing fog rose into a blue sky above emerald fields. The air was sweet and fresh with endless possibility. He opened his eyes again with an eager smile, looking ahead to a snug cottage, fifty years luck, and a comely lass named Brigid McCleary.
“What a day to be Irish!”
Author's note: ▼