I let myself drop into an easy chair before the fire and waited for my freshly-poured Guinness to settle, glaring from the kerosene lantern on the table at my elbow to the loaded bookshelves that lined the walls of the sitting room/library. The room was the largest in my temporary new home. No one had told me that there would be no electricity or phone, or that the nearest village was a three-mile walk. What was I supposed to do here for a whole month, read myself blind?
I sat back with a sigh. Surely someone would take the place off my hands. It was a real Irish stone cottage with a thatched roof, and it stood on a small walled plot of land between a moor and a tiny lake. Maybe some businessman from Waterford or Dublin would want it for a vacation home. With some money put into it and an electric line strung from the village, it would be a nice little weekend getaway.
I had inherited the place from a relative I hadn't known I had, a cousin of a cousin who was the last of her line. Her lawyers had found me, an American, and explained that the will stated that I had to come and live at the cottage for at least thirty days before I could dispose of it.
At the time, a month in Ireland seemed like a wonderful break from the direction my life had been going in. The job I loved had been downsized out of existence after five years, and I had turned down another good job in the same field to be the office manager for a co-worker with grand ideas. He wanted to build a specialty business in gift items, greeting cards, and stationery, all with a golf theme. I worked my butt off for low pay for two years to help him get it going, and as soon as the business was well on its way he sold it to a corporation and moved to California, making himself a fine profit and leaving me high and dry.
Oh yeah; he broke our eighteen-month engagement at the same time.
Anyway, there was enough money left in the estate after assorted taxes and duties to pay my way to the Republic of Ireland and inland to the cottage itself, and to feed me while I was there. I still had enough in my savings account to get home again and go jobhunting once I could put the place on the market. I had nothing to lose.
When I entered the cottage for the first time I was amazed at the size of the rooms. They almost looked too big to fit inside it. The main room was lined with bookshelves and filled with small tables and large overstuffed armchairs. There was a smallish bedroom and a functional eat-in kitchen with a rather large pantry attached. The pantry was well stocked with wheels of cheese and long strings of linked sausages, as well as shelves of canned fruit and big bins of potatoes and onions. From the looks of things I wouldn't even have to buy food. Oddly enough, one whole side wall was filled with cases of dark beer. It looked as if my cousin might have been a bit of a drunk.
A rap at the door interrupted my thoughts. I wasn't surprised; I had stopped at the village post office to let them know I had arrived, and the woman behind the counter had smiled at me and said I might have visitors soon. I was amused by the idea of a group of sweet old biddies from the village braving the evening mist to scope out the new arrival. Wanting to make a decent first impression, I smoothed my hair and dusted my clothes on the way to let them in.
To my astonishment two tall men stood on the step, pale-haired, keen-eyed, dressed in ancient garb. "Fetch the woman of the house," one said, "and ask if she has room for some weary travelers."
"I--I--I'm the woman of the house, I guess," I managed. "But this isn't--"
"She knows us not," the other said, a slight frown pulling his black eyebrows together. "There is no welcome here."
"Nonsense." The first man put a hand out and pushed the door wide. "Woman, I am Finn of the Fianna, the protector of Ireland, and this is Midir of Bri-Leith, a Lord of the Daoine Sidhe. We've a mind to play a little chess together. I ask again, have you room for some weary travelers?"
Somehow "No" didn't seem to be an option. Stammering a reply, I got out of the way as they stepped past me into the room. They settled in chairs across from each other, and Midir pulled a small occasional table between them. Finn produced a beautiful chessboard of silver, with pieces of gold, and as he set up the board Midir looked up at me and asked for black beer for both of them. I hurried to the pantry and returned with two bottles and two glasses. I poured them out and set them before the strangers.
Midir lifted his glass to the light of the fire, gazing at its contents with a critical eye. "Heady is the brew of Erin," he said, "but the brew of the Great Plain is headier." He drained it in a few swallows and his brows rose. He smiled at me. "Ah, but this is close indeed!"
Finn quickly downed his and agreed with his friend. Feeling inordinately pleased, I went to the pantry for more, then settled back into my easy chair and sipped from my own glass as they fell to playing.
Another knock sounded at the door. Finn and Midir paid it no mind; I went to answer it again, wondering what the village ladies might make of my guests.
I needn't have worried. A tonsured monk and two more tall men stood on the step. "I am Patrick of Ireland," the monk said, "and these are my friends Caoilte and Oisín. We've a mind to argue a little theology, but no desire to stand about in the damp doing it. Have you room for some weary travelers?"
Patrick? Saint Patrick? "I--but you--"
"Da!" Oisín boomed over my head. "Well met! Are you letting that Danann rogue best you again?" Caoilte and Patrick both laughed as Finn growled and Midir grinned.
I shrugged, opening the door wide. "The more the merrier. I guess you all know each other." Patrick and his companions pulled up chairs near the hearth and settled down to their debate.
Two companionable hours later I was setting out plates of sliced cheese and sausage when there was another knock at the door. It was a bit late for the village ladies. I opened the door; there was a beautiful woman on the step. She was also dressed in ancient garb, and her wheat-colored braids hung almost to her knees.
Laughter and shouting rose behind me as Finn knocked over his king and Caoilte jumped up to make his point with his fist on the table. The woman craned past me to see into the room. "I'm looking for my husband," she said, in a low, musical voice.
Dead silence fell. I glanced behind me; the room was empty except for one man. Turning to the bright woman, I said, "There's nobody here but me and St. Patrick."
"Hmph." Her nose wrinkled and she eyed me up and down. "You're new; you'll find that lot are all the same. He'll likely be at home when I get back, pretending he's been there the while." With that she disappeared.
Somewhat dazed, I closed the door. Patrick surged to his feet and clapped me on the back, laughing and shaking his head. I staggered a little. "A sudden ending to a fine evening, my dear, but it was graciously provided and truly appreciated. We'll be back."
After he left, I was cleaning up the room when a flash of gold caught my eye. It was the king from Finn's chess set, on its side under his chair. I retrieved it and set it down on a nearby table, stopping to gaze out the window at the moon sailing above the mist.
I raised my half-full glass to my late relative. Thank you very much, I told her silently. I think I'm going to like it here.