Sunday, 17 April 2005

The Adventures of Dougal and Derry

The Adventures of Dougal and Derry is Michael Pierson's first novel. Michael Pierson was born on the West Coast of New Zealand, is 40 years old, and has been happily married for 18 years. His ambition is to put in writing the stories he has been telling his nieces and nephews over the years.

Michael has kindly given Secret Attic permission to publish the first chapter of his novel. His work is currently unpublished.



PROLOGUE

As the two men climbed the seemingly endless stairway they joked and laughed happily, content with the knowledge everything they had worked for was falling into place. One of the men was tall by pixie standards and thin, almost skeletal. His shoulder length hair was jet black as was his long waxed mustache and goatee beard. The man’s eyes were dark and just a little too close together. Behind his back they called him ‘the weasel’ not just because of his looks but for his cunning as well. He always dressed in black leather and was never seen without his long sword and rarely without the other man currently at his side.
This man, William by name, was short and over weight, his features were rather nondescript and he looked quite harmless. Looks however can be very deceiving, for William was anything but harmless. He was the most powerful wizard in the pixie kingdom maybe even in all of Connaught.
Rupert, king of the pixies, was about to achieve something his ancestors had dreamed of for hundreds of years. For centenaries pixie kings had systematically conquered most of Connaught but none had dared to take the fight to the fairies, the only race capable of resisting the pixie conquerors. It would not be long however before the fairy kingdom would be his followed closely by the remaining nations of Connaught. Soon very soon he would rule an entire world.

As the two men finally neared the single door at the top of the staircase, the highest point in the castle, the two guards heavily armed and armoured, bowed in a mix of servitude and fear. The guards parted and the king took the only key to that door from his pocket, then unlocking the door he and the wizard entered the small room.
The woman sitting on the small bed did not even look up when the two men entered. William waved his hand and from out of thin air a platter of food and a pitcher of wine appeared on the table in the centre of the room.
‘ Have you changed that pretty little mind of yours yet?’ Rupert asked mockingly as he looked at the woman. She looked him in the eye rebelliously and answered, ‘marry you, a pixie,’ adding defiantly, ‘never!’

Chapter 1

CAER GORIAS

As Dougal pushed his little wooden barrow that was filled with flour for his mother he wished the flour mill was not on the opposite side of town to his house or at the very least his friend Phil was there to help him, but he wasn’t, so Dougal headed for home by himself.
As the sixteen-year-old leprechaun travelled on he looked about the picturesque little town, a town founded by his famous ancestor Seamus O’Farrell many hundred years before. Most of the little houses were old brick of various shades of reds and browns and all had thatched roofs. The houses were mainly single story about three feet tall but there were a few two-story houses for the more important families of Caer Gorias. In all the windows hung brightly coloured curtains, reds, blues, greens, yellows and every colour you could imagine. All had neat little gardens growing beautiful roses (that would be miniature to a human but to a leprechaun they were huge) and many other flowers. More importantly the leprechauns grew their own vegetables, which they stored to get them through the long cold winters.
Dougal continued along the cobbled lane greeting many of the town’s locals that he passed on his journey and even on occasions stopping for a conversation or two.
One of the leprechauns he stopped to talk to was his friend Fearghus Murphy. Both friends wore traditional leprechaun clothing that consisted of black hobnail boots (Dougal’s made by his father the towns best cobbler), knee length emerald green pants, matching knee length socks, and a thick black leather belt with a gold buckle. Their vests and coats were made from the same emerald green material and had little golden buttons and like all leprechaun males neither would be seen dead without their hats, wide brimmed (to keep out both the sun and rain, more of the latter if the truth be told) the same emerald green colour as the rest of their clothing but for a black band and a big golden buckle.


‘Top of the morning to you Fearghus,’ called Dougal.
‘ And a good day to you Dougal,’ replied Fearghus.
After a brief discussion about how each other’s families were and what they had been doing, Fearghus asked Dougal, ‘ Now Dougal, do you still play that fiddle of yours?’
‘ Of course,’ replied Dougal, ‘why do you ask?’
‘ Well, my band is playing at The Harp and Hare tonight and Sharon’s mother won’t let her play in the tavern at night. I thought you might like to take her place, after all, between you and me you’re a better fiddle player than she is,’ said Fearghus.
‘ Yes I am,’ laughed Dougal, ‘ but I’m nowhere near as pretty as that girlfriend of yours, am I. So what time should I meet you tonight?’
‘ About eight o’clock outside The Harp, ‘answered Fearghus.
‘ Right,’ said Dougal, ‘I’m off home, see you at eight sharp,’ and with that Dougal lifted the handles of his barrow and headed for home.
Dougal decided to stop for a rest and a wee drink when he reached the town centre. He looked for and found an outside table overlooking the square, ordered a dandelion tea and relaxed.
As he looked around the square his eyes came to rest upon the town church. Just the sheer size of the building had always amazed him. The church was at least twenty feet tall and twice as long. It was made from huge grey bricks as long as he was tall and half as high. The windows were stained glass each made from dozens of individual panels. According to legend the windows were not made of glass at all but of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and many other rare gems.
Statues of famous leprechauns, real and legend were carved into the church’s walls. Dougal hoped one day his image would stand beside them.
Two huge five foot polished wooden doors marked the entrance to the church and down the far end of the building stood two turret topped towers. From these towers it was possible to see the whole town and all of the surrounding area all the way to the woods anyway.


The church was supposed to be nearly as old as the town itself and apparently had taken over a hundred years to build. Dougal did not believe this. He could not see how leprechauns could have ever built a building of such immense size. His theory was that the big people built it for them. He keeps the theory to himself these days because in the past whenever he mentioned it everyone he told laughed at him. All the same he still believed he was right.
With his tea almost finished he turned his attention to the building that stood next to the church. It was dwarfed by the church, only one story high, but where most buildings in Caer Gorias were built from brick, this one was made from pure white marble. It was always kept so clean that you could see your reflection in the polished marble surface.
A six-foot tall statue of Seamus O’Farrell stood on the cobble stone courtyard in front of the building and a two-foot tall white rung iron fence surrounded the courtyard itself. At present the gates were open but two leprechauns in full armour, armed with pikes, stood guard.
This building was infact the Caer Gorias council chambers and the two guards (only there for show) meant that the council was in session. The council met on the first Monday of every month and mainly settled disputes between neighbours, decided whom the town would trade with and other such matters. However, in times of emergency the council would convene for special meetings. The council was made up of about twenty councillors all direct decedents of Seamus O’Farrell and council word was law.
Dougal’s father was on the council as was his father and his father before him. Infact there had been an O’Shea on the council since the day it had first formed. Dougal knew that one day he would be expected to take his fathers place on the council. This thought alone was enough to make him shake his head and sigh. Dougal was nothing like his father. He neither wanted to be a cobbler or a councillor, which was already beginning to cause tension between father and son. Dougal’s father liked to be the big fish in a small pond. As for Dougal he believed that a big fish in a small pond was still a relatively small fish and more than anything Dougal hated the thought of spending his entire life in such a small pond with such a vast ocean to explore. So with this unhappy thought, he finished his dandelion tea and headed for home.

Finally Dougal turned the corner into the street where he lived and as he did he looked up and saw Cait O’Shaunessy.
Cait had always lived in the same street as Dougal. She was a couple of months younger and a little bit shorter. She had shiny light auburn hair in long ringlets that fell down around her shoulders, eyes as blue as the ocean and the face of an angel. The instant Dougal saw her he felt his heart start to race, his face flush and his breathing quicken. Cait was looking more lovely than ever thought Dougal. The long blue dress she wore (where leprechaun men tended to where traditional emerald green clothing, leprechaun women had a fondness for bright colourful clothing) highlighted the eyes Dougal always found himself lost in. By Seamus she’s beautiful he thought. Then before he had time to compose himself, there she was almost next to him.
‘ Hello Cait,’ mumbled Dougal looking down at his feet as he spoke, trying desperately to breath and clear his head.
‘ Hello Dougal and how are you today?’ she replied giving him one of her most dazzling smiles, the type of smile she reserved for Dougal alone.
Breathe and don’t look into her eyes he told himself, ‘I’m very well,’ he answered starting to feel more composed. Then he asked Cait how she was and they chatted away for a while. He told her about his playing the fiddle later that night at The Harp and Hare and she promised to come along and watch.
As they went their separate ways he risked a quick glance into her deep blue eyes and smiled. He had taken about two steps before he froze in panic. She was going to be at the tavern tonight. He didn’t know if he could play with her watching. Dougal then forced himself forward on towards home only a couple of doors away.


It was with relief when Dougal finally wheeled his little barrow through the gates to his house. It had been a long trip to and from the mill and had taken him most of the morning. His younger brother Aedan, who was weeding the garden, poked his head over a rose bush and said, ‘You took your time didn’t you. Come and give me a hand with the garden’.
‘I’ll be out soon,’ Dougal replied.
Aedan was fifteen months younger than Dougal and already an inch taller. This upset Dougal but he would not admit this to anyone, especially Aedan. Dougal and Aedan looked nothing alike, where Dougal's hair was red like his father’s his brother’s was jet black. Aedan was of slight build compared to the stockier Dougal but if Aedan looked like his mother it was fair to say it was his father’s personality he had inherited.
Dougal found his mother Brianna in the kitchen making Curach. This delighted him, as Curach (a dessert made from fresh raspberries, oatmeal, heavy cream, a little whiskey and runny honey) was his favourite. His mother was a short, slight woman even by leprechaun standards. She now had the odd grey hair showing which seemed only to highlight even more just how black her hair really was. She had one of those ageless faces looking neither young nor old and always wearing a smile. Her dark piercing eyes revealed both her intelligence and zest for life. It was from his mother that Dougal inherited his love of music and thirst for adventure and knowledge.
Dougal left the kitchen after discussing his morning with his mother. He was encouraged by his mother’s interpretation of why Cait was coming along to the tavern that night. Somehow the thought that Cait was only going along to be with him warmed his heart. He knew now that he would play his fiddle better than ever before just to impress her.
On his way to the garden to help his brother, Dougal heard his sister playing her tin whistle. Dougal couldn’t help but to applaud as Derry finished her first tune. He truly believed his sister was the only person he knew who was more musically talented than himself. Dougal and Derry were twins and as close as twins could be. Derry was fourteen minutes older than Dougal and loved to play the part of the big sister. He on the other hand considered himself her protector. Although she was a pretty girl, there was unfortunately not a male under twenty who was not scared of her father, so Derry had plenty of spare time to practice her music.
Although short and slight like her mother, that was were their physical likeness stopped. She had the same bright red hair (which is why her parents named her Derry meaning redhead) as Dougal, just longer and slightly curlier. Her eyes were the same bright emerald green as Dougal’s and they were as alike in looks as any male and female could be.
But if they inherited their father Connor’s looks it was definitely their mothers personality they possessed. They both believed that one day they would out grow Caer Gorias, it was a large world and they both wanted to see it all.
There were no secrets between them. Derry even knew about Dougal’s friend Phil and infact she had even met him a couple of times. She really liked Phil but could see why they had to keep him a secret even from Aedan and their parents.
They decided that Derry would go with Dougal to the tavern later that night. This was to make sure that when Dougal and the band were playing no one else tried to dance with Cait. If they did, Derry would scare them off making sure no one came between Dougal and Cait because that was what big sisters were there for.
Dougal spent the next few hours working in the garden with Aedan. The O’Shea garden was one of the largest in Caer Gorias and without doubt the finest. Leprechauns from all over town would invent reasons just to walk past the garden to see the colours and smell the fragrances of its hundreds of flowers. Behind the house was their vegetable garden and fruit trees. In the vegetable garden grew baby new potatoes, peas, beans, carrots and other plants that they needed. They also grew apples for cider and pies and various other fruits including strawberries and of course Dougal’s favourite raspberries.


As well as having the finest garden in town, the O’Shea’s house was a mansion by leprechaun standards. It was two stories high with a thatched roof and white walls. Both the front and back doors were bright red as were the entire window trimmings and shutters. There was a chimney at each end of the house both currently unused as it was the height of summer, had it been winter they would have been smoking merrily away.
Not long after Connor returned home from the council meeting the boys were called inside and told to wash up for dinner. Brianna had prepared Colcamon, a dish made with potatoes, cabbage, butter, salt and pepper. The Colcamon was a side dish made to accompany the Cheesy Fish Toss she had also prepared. Cheesy Fish Toss is a salad, made from smoked and white fish, traditional salad vegetables, cheese just for good measure and finished off with zippy green sauce. There was also Irish farmhouse loaf, still warm enough for the butter to melt into the bread. The meal was accompanied with cider that Brianna had made herself using apples from their own garden. For dessert they ate the Curach that Dougal had seen his mother making earlier in the day. It was the first time the whole family had been together all day so they used this time to catch up with each other’s comings and goings. This was a common practice for the O’Shea’s during their main meal.

Later that night after the Harp and Hare had closed Dougal and Derry headed home. Musically it had been a very successful evening. Dougal didn’t think Fearghus was too happy though when Derry joined in with the band playing her tin whistle (far better than Fearghus). Turloch, the bands singer, on the other hand encouraged her to sing duets with him and even do a couple of solos. Although the O’Shea’s didn’t realise it they were the patrons’ favourites. Fearghus had noticed and couldn’t make up his mind whether to never ask Dougal to fill in again or to ask Derry and Dougal to join the band full time. The problem with latter was with their talent and Derry’s looks it wouldn’t be his band for long.
The only thing that stopped it being a perfect evening as far as Dougal was concerned was that Cait had not been able to come. Her parents had gone out and she had to look after her younger brother Lorcan and Sinead her younger sister. As much as she wanted to she knew she could not take a five and nine year old to the tavern. So just after supper she had gone to the O’Shea’s to tell Dougal she couldn’t make it.

As the twins walked home they talked about how much fun the night had been. The conversation had been light hearted until Dougal said hesitantly,
‘ Derry’.
‘ Yes Dougal,’ she replied when it looked like he wasn’t going to say anything else.
‘ Derry tonight was fun, but,’ he paused for a few moments,
‘ Derry, I need to get away for a while, a temporary change of scenery. I can almost feel the walls of Care Gorias closing in on me and if I don’t get away from our father I might say or do something that might destroy our relationship permanently. So I’m going to spend some time in the woods, maybe with Phil.’
‘ You know I’m going with you, don’t you?’ said Derry, who like her brother longed to see more of the big wide world.
‘ I hoped you would,’ answered Dougal, ‘we’ll leave first thing in the morning and try and find Phil. It could take us a couple of days this time of the year as he tends to live further from the town in summer to avoid the extra people in the woods. He’ll most likely be in the caves to the southeast. We’ll have to leave a note for ma and da so they won’t worry.’
‘ Dougal,’ Derry cut in, ‘let’s go tonight, I’m not tired are you?’
‘ No,’ he replied.
‘ Good,’ said Derry as she continued, ‘it’s settled then. We’ll go home, pack some food and clothes, a lantern and some oil because there are no streetlights where we are heading. I will write the note to tell ma and da we are going a roving for a while. Ma will understand, da won’t be too happy but he can’t stay mad with his little girl for long. He’ll think you are coming along to protect me so that should keep you out of trouble for when we get back.’
With that the twins excitedly hurried home. A few of the homes they passed still had lights on but most were in darkness with their owners tucked up in bed asleep for the night. They both stopped dead in their tracks when several downstairs rooms in their house were glowing with light. If their parents were up it would delay their departure until the morning.
When they crept through the front door and went room by room it was with sheer delight they found their mother had left the lights on for them and infact no one was awake.
They quickly went to their rooms and packed the clothing that would be needed for the journey. Derry changed out of the clothes she wore to the tavern earlier that night and into more appropriate travel clothing. By the time Derry came back downstairs Dougal was already packing food for their adventure. Derry wrote the note to their parents explaining their need to get away for a while and how they would return before winter set in. With the note finished they walked through the front door and on to the lamp lit street beyond. Their adventure had begun.
‘ Derry, have you got your whistle with you?’ asked Dougal as he pulled his out of his pocket and began to play an old Irish tune.
‘ Of course,’ she answered joining in with his tune.


They walked for the next half hour, sometimes talking, sometimes playing but passing no one as they arrived at the southern exit of the town. Both stopped while Dougal put his whistle back into his pocket and unhooked the lantern from his belt and lit it. They both took a deep breath as they left the safety of the city lights behind them. Dougal lit the way with his lantern while Derry continued to play well-known tunes from famous bards of the past. Dougal even sung along to some of the more heroic songs, the ones he knew the words to anyway.
After a couple of hours and at least a mile travelled they left the road and looked for a
campsite for the night. It was not long before they found a small cave on the sheltered side of a small grassy knoll. They soon realised how cold it had become so Dougal collected some twigs, lit a fire and there they stopped for the night. Once warmed by the fire they pulled out their travel blankets and settled down for what was left of the night. Both were asleep in an instant neither realising how tired they really had been.



Michael H Pierson