“This is a map to where I live,” said the leprechaun, struggling furiously to escape, as he drew spidery lines on a crumpled piece of paper using a stick and some strange liquid he had taken out of his coat pocket.
“And you’re expecting me to let you go in exchange for this?” Daniel held on tightly to the little man’s legs. “You must think I was born yesterday.”
“Well that’s all yer getting so ye can make the most of it,” huffed the leprechaun, going suddenly limp, then trying to bolt for freedom, but finding his legs still clamped in an iron grip by Daniel.
“So what will you give us if we do find our way to your house?” asked Patrick, “a wish or a bag of gold?”
The leprechaun waggled his head; it was impossible to tell if he was agreeing or disagreeing.
“You’re supposed to give us the gold now,” growled Daniel, “we caught you fair and square.”
He shook the leprechaun in the air just to prove it, provoking squeals of terror from the captive; whether real or imagined the boys could not tell.
“Well I can’t give it to ye if I don’t have it, now can I?” wheedled the little man. “Be reasonable. What sort of creature goes out to breakfast lugging a great big sack of gold around? Gold’s heavy, you know; can’t be just taking it all over the place for walks. Anybody might get a-hold of it.”
“Yes, but we’ve got a-hold of you instead, and you’re going to tell us where the gold is,” said Daniel, bringing the leprechaun’s face right up to his own so that they could see the whites of each other’s eyes.
“Like I said, there’s the map. Ye’ll be alright if ye follow the road I marked.”
The little man threw the map to the ground and crossed his arms around his chest. Patrick and Daniel reached out for the map at the same time, causing Daniel to loosen his grip on the spindly leg. It was enough. The captive wriggled free, and was gone in an instant.
“Hey! Come back!” shouted Daniel, but all he heard in reply was the wind swishing through the grass. “I should never have looked away,” he muttered and turned angrily to the map.
“What’s this? I can’t see anything!”
The liquid was evaporating, removing all trace of the drawing. The map was swiftly becoming just another crumpled piece of paper.
Patrick reached down, scooped up a handful of sand and threw it onto the paper. The grains of sand stuck to the liquid, and remained in place even after the inky substance had completely faded away.
“Hey, that’s cool – where did you learn that?” asked Daniel, staring at the still incomprehensible drawing, which now looked like a worn piece of sandpaper.
“We’re dealing with the little folk here,” said Patrick, “no telling what they’ll get up to so as to trick you out of their gold.”
“So let’s get going.”
The two boys looked at the map. A series of lines, criss-crossing each other, filled the paper, with no other markings, and no start or end point.
“That little rascal has tricked us!” said Daniel.
“Wait,” said Patrick, “we know leprechauns live in hollow trees, and we know that they are shoe-makers. Maybe that will give us some clues.”
“This map doesn’t look like a tree or a shoe,” said Daniel, gazing around the field, “and we’ll never find him again in this long grass. I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off him when I had him. Leprechauns vanish if you stop looking at them.”
Patrick didn’t say anything. He turned the paper over and over, then folded it and unfolded it, and then rolled it up, all the time looking around the field.
“Just my luck,” muttered Daniel to himself. “Nobody will ever believe I really caught a leprechaun and I don’t even get a wish.”
“Hey,” said Patrick, “I think I’ve solved it!” He had rolled the paper into a tube and now held it out in front of Daniel. “Look, the little fellow did give us a map. I think these markings are the bark on his tree.”
Daniel looked closer. With the paper rolled up, the trails of sand really did look like cracks in bark, with bumps for the knots and branches.
“Great,” he said, shrugging, “and how do you propose we find the right tree? There must be over forty around here!”
“Easy,” said Patrick, digging around in his pockets, “leprechauns love shiny objects, so we just lay a few around, like this watch with an alarm, which I will now set. When the leprechaun takes the watch we just listen for the alarm and then we’ll know which tree is his. While we’re waiting we can check out the bark patterns on the trees.”
Daniel shook his head, but as he did not have a better idea he went along with his friend’s plan. Patrick set the alarm for one hour, then left the watch on a stone, together with a couple of bottle tops and a shiny coin. The two boys retreated to the edge of the field and began to study the bark on the trees. It was boring work. The bark all looked the same to Daniel, and as the morning wore on the map looked less and less like bark, and more and more like a messy piece of paper, but as Patrick was diligently working his way through the line of trees he felt he ought to do the same. Every ten minutes one of them would go and check the rock for the bait.
On his third trip Daniel found the rock bare.
“It’s gone!” he shouted to Patrick.
“Shh, we don’t want to give the game away,” said Patrick.
Daniel thought the leprechaun was probably watching their every move but he was too excited to care.
“How long before the alarm goes off?”
“Um, I’m not sure,” said Patrick slowly, “that was my only watch.”
The two boys looked at each other then burst out laughing.
“Come on,” said Patrick, “let’s stand in the middle of the trees so we’ll be sure to hear it.”
The boys moved farther into the trees and Patrick continued examining the bark patterns while Daniel looked anxiously around. It seemed an age before they heard a faint ringing sound from somewhere to their right. Both boys dashed through the trees until they stood under the one the noise was coming from. There was no hollow at the base, but the noise seemed to be coming from high up the tree.
“I didn’t know leprechauns could climb trees,” said Daniel.
“Me neither,” said Patrick, “but I’m about to find out.”
Gripping the trunk firmly, Patrick climbed up the tree and was soon high up, hidden among the leaves.
“Wow! There’s a real hoard up here!”
Daniel hopped around on the ground, wanting to climb the tree too when suddenly he heard a squawk, and a loud beating of wings. A large bird swooped down into the tree at just about the same height as Patrick. Daniel heard sounds of a scuffle and a moment later Patrick crashed down through the foliage, one hand grabbing at branches as he fell, the other clutching his watch.
“What happened?” asked Daniel, glad that he had not climbed up after Patrick.
“It was a magpie,” said Patrick, “not the leprechaun, and he nearly had me.”
The boys sat in the grass, feeling despondent. Daniel imagined how close he had been to getting the gold, if only he had not looked away. He poked idly at the map with a stick, then he rolled over onto his stomach. The map lay on the grass in front of him, and he could see the line of trees beyond it.
Suddenly he sat up.
“Patrick, look!” Daniel jabbed his finger at the map. “Lie down here, with your head level with the top of the long grass. Now look at the map and the line of trees – what do you see?”
“You’re right! These lines aren’t bark markings but the trees in their right position, and the one at the end must be-”
The boys set off at a run, bent over double to keep their heads level with the top of the grass, so as to check their progress against the map. They slowed when they approached the last tree and Daniel was sure he could hear the soft tap-tapping of a hammer. He lunged forward towards the sound and a flurry of green showed they had been right.
“You weren’t expecting us, were you?” asked Daniel, reaching to grab the leprechaun’s leg, but this time the little man was too quick and he darted out of the way, behind the tree. Daniel made sure not to take his eyes off him.
“Sure I did, jest haven’t had time to put the kettle on for the old cup of tay yet.”
The leprechaun lifted a big heavy kettle from a hollow in the tree trunk, waved it around until steam came out the spout, and set it back on the ground, where it sat, bubbling happily without any obvious source of heat.
“Been too busy counting the gold have you?” asked Daniel. “Where is it then?”
“What about the wish?” asked the leprechaun, “have you forgotten about that?”
Daniel and Patrick looked at each other. They had not forgotten.
“I think we’ll take the gold,” said Daniel.
“Ah, sure they all say that,” said the leprechaun, “they all think the gold will buy them everything they want, but they don’t know what trouble it is to spend leprechaun gold. No sir. Can’t just walk into a shop and buy fries and a drink with a solid gold piece – ye’d be arrested for counterfeiting. No, ye have to go and change it all at a bank, good and proper, and then they’d want to know where you got it from, in case you were laundering it, and they’d charge you commission.”
The leprechaun shrugged and turned away, “then the old historians and archaeologists and anthropologists and journalists would all want to see it – ye’d be lucky to keep a tenth of it. Ye’d be better off making a wish – then you could ask for paper money, like you’re used to. But if gold is what you want…”
The little leprechaun was hopping from foot to foot, just out of reach, but he did not run away while Daniel continued to glare at him. The boys had a hurried conference.
“What do you think?” asked Daniel, “I think he’s cheating us.”
“Maybe,” said Patrick, “but he has a point about the problems we’ll have with the gold.” He turned to the leprechaun. “If we ask for a wish can we make one each?”
The leprechaun put his hand on his hips and glowered. “Is it torturing me ye are?”
“A wish each or the gold,” said Daniel.
“Very well,” sighed the little man, “make your two wishes and then close your eyes and count to ten.”
“And have you disappear again? No way!” said Daniel.
“Fine, make the wishes, then shake hands on it.”
Daniel though for a moment. “I want a thousand, no a million dollars,” he said, “in notes of ten,” he added, to make quite sure.
“And I’ll have my own car,” said Patrick, “a red, sports one.”
The leprechaun screwed up his face for a moment and appeared to be concentrating hard. “Now shake each other’s hands,” he said.
Daniel and Patrick turned towards each other with hands outstretched, and as they did, their eyes moved off the leprechaun for an instant.
The little man vanished.
“Hey!” shouted Daniel, “what about our wishes? We’re entitled to them – fair is fair!”
The grass around the tree tinkled with laughter.
“Nothing is fair!” came the leprechaun’s voice from somewhere in the air. “I said you could make a wish and you did – so what are you complaining about? I never said I’d grant it for you! Hee, hee!”
And the grassy glade exploded with peals of laughter.