Jewels of the Sun



  great hall of the castle under the deep green grass. And if you walk over one, you take the risk of being snatched by the faeries themselves and becoming obliged to do their bidding.

  She stopped, smiled. Of course that was all too lyrical and, well, Irish a beginning for a serious academic paper. In her first year of college, her papers had been marked down regularly for just that sort of thing. Rambling, not following the point of the theme, neglecting to adhere to her own outlines.

  Knowing just how important grades were to her parents, she’d learned to stifle those colorful journeys.

  Still, this wasn’t for a grade, and it was just a draft. She’d clean it up later. For now, she decided, she would just get her thoughts down and lay the foundation for the analysis.

  She knew enough, from her grandmother’s stories, to give a brief outline of the most common mythical characters. It would be her task to find the proper stories and the structure that revolved around each character of legend and then explain its place in the psychology of the people who fostered it.

  She worked through the morning on basic definitions, often adding a subtext that cross-referenced the figure to its counterpart in other cultures.

  Intent on her work, she barely heard the knocking on the front door, and when it registered she blinked her way out of an explanation of the Pisogue, the Irish wise woman found in most villages in earlier times. Hooking her glasses in the neck of her sweater, she hurried downstairs. When she opened the door, Brenna O’Toole was already walking back to her truck.

  “I’m sorry to disturb you,” Brenna began.

  “No, you’re not.” How could a woman wearing muddy work boots intimidate her? Jude wondered. “I was in the little room upstairs. I’m glad you stopped by. I didn’t thank you properly the other day.”

  “Oh, it’s not a problem. You were asleep on your feet.” Brenna stepped away from the gate, walked back toward the stoop. “Are you settling in, then? You have all you need?”

  “Yes, thanks.” Jude noticed that the faded cap Brenna squashed down over her hair carried a small winged figure pinned just over the bill. More faeries, Jude thought, and found it fascinating that such an efficient woman would wear one as a charm.

  “Ah, would you like to come in, have some tea?”

  “That would be lovely, thanks, but I’ve work.” Still, Brenna seemed content to linger on the little garden path. “I only wanted to stop and see if you’re finding your way about, or if there’s anything you’d be needing. I’m back and forth on the road here a time or two a day.”

  “I can’t think of anything. Well, actually, I wonder if you can tell me who I contact about getting a telephone jack put into the second bedroom. I’m using it as an office, and I’ll need that for my modem.”

  “Modem, is it? Your computer?” Now her eyes gleamed with interest. “My sister Mary Kate has a computer as she’s studying programming in school. You’d think she’d discovered the cure for stupidity with the thing, and she won’t let me near it.”

  “Are you interested in computers?”

  “I like knowing how things work, and she’s afraid I’ll take it apart—which of course I would, for how else can you figure out how a thing works, after all? She has a modem as well, and sends messages to some cousins of ours in New York and friends in Galway. It’s a marvel.”

  “I suppose it is. And we tend to take it for granted until we can’t use it.”

  “I can pass your need on to the right party,” Brenna continued. “They’ll have you hooked up sooner or later.” She smiled again. “Sooner or later’s how ’tis, but shouldn’t be more than a week or so. If it is, I can jury-rig something that’ll do you.”

  “That’s fine. I appreciate it. Oh, and I went into the village yesterday, but the shops were closed by the time I got there. I was hoping to find a bookstore so I could pick up some books on gardening.”

  “Books on it.” Brenna pursed her lips. Imagine, she thought, needing to read about planting. “Well, I don’t know where you’d find such a thing in Ardmore, but you could likely find what you’re looking for over in Dungar-van or into Waterford City for certain. Still, if you want to know something about your flowers here, you’ve only to ask my mother. She’s a keen gardener, Ma is.”

  Brenna glanced over her shoulder at the sound of a car. “Well, here’s Mrs. Duffy and Betsy Clooney come ’round to say welcome. I’ll move my lorry out of your street so they can pull in. Mrs. Duffy will have brought cakes,” Brenna added. “She’s famed for them.” She waved cheerfully to the two women in the car. “Just give a shout down the hill if you’ve a need for something.”

  “Yes, I—” Oh, God, was all Jude could think, don’t leave me alone with strangers. But Brenna was hopping back in her truck.

  She zipped out with what Jude considered a reckless and dashing disregard for the narrow slot in the hedgerows or the possibility, however remote, of oncoming traffic, then squeezed fender to fender with the car to chat a moment with the new visitors.

  Jude stood mentally wringing her hands as the truck bumped away down the road and the car pulled in.

  “Good day to you, Miss Murray!” The woman behind the wheel had eyes bright as a robin’s and light brown hair that had been beaten into submission. She wore it in a tight helmet of waves under a brutal layer of spray. It glinted like shellack in the sun.

  She popped out of the car, ample breasts and hips plugged onto short legs and tiny feet.

  Jude pasted a smile on her face and dragged herself toward the garden gate like a woman negotiating a walk down death row. As she rattled her brain for the proper greeting, the woman yanked open the rear door of the car, chattering away to Jude and to the second woman, who stepped out of the passenger side. And, it seemed, to the world in general.

  “I’m Kathy Duffy from down to the village, and this is Betsy Clooney, my niece on my sister’s side. Patty Mary, my sister, works at the food shop today or she’d’ve come to pay her respects as well. But I said to Betsy this morning, why if she could get her neighbor to mind the baby while the two older were in school, we’d just come on up to Faerie Hill Cottage and say good day to Old Maude’s cousin from America.”

  She said most of this with her rather impressive bottom, currently covered by the eye-popping garden of red poppies rioting over her dress, facing Jude as she wiggled into the back of the car. She wiggled out again, face slightly flushed, with a covered cake dish and a beaming smile.

  “You look a bit like your grandmother,” Kathy went on, “as I remember her from when I was a girl. I hope she’s well.”

  “Yes, very. Thank you. Ah, so nice of you to come by.” She opened the gate. “Please come in.”

  “I hope we gave you time enough to settle.” Betsy walked around the car, and Jude remembered her from the pub the night before. The woman with her family at one of the low tables. Somehow even that vague connection helped.

  “I mentioned to Aunt Kathy that I saw you at the pub last night, at Gallagher’s? And we thought you might be ready for a bit of a welcome.”

  “You were with your family. Your children were so well behaved.”

  “Oh, well.” Betsy rolled eyes of clear glass green. “No need to disabuse you of such a notion so soon. You’ve none of your own, then?”

  “No, I’m not married. I’ll make some tea if you’d like,” she began as they stepped inside the front door.

  “That would be lovely.” Kathy started down the hall, obviously comfortable in the cottage. “We’ll have a nice visit in the kitchen.”

  To Jude’s surprise, they did. She spent a pleasant hour with two women who had warm ways and easy laughs. It was simple enough to judge that Kathy Duffy was a chatterbox, and not a little opinionated, but she did it all with great good humor.

  Before the hour was over, Jude’s head swam with the names and relations of the people of Ardmore, the feuds and the families, the weddings and the wakes. If there was something Katherine Anne Duffy didn’t kno
w about any soul who lived in the area during the last century, well, it wasn’t worth mentioning.

  “It’s a pity you never met Old Maude,” Kathy commented. “For she was a fine woman.”

  “My grandmother was very fond of her.”

  “More like sisters than cousins they were, despite the age difference.” Kathy nodded. “Your granny, she lived here as a girl after she lost her parents. My own mother was friends with the pair of them, and both she and Maude missed your granny when she married and moved to America.”

  “And Maude stayed here.” Jude glanced around the kitchen. “Alone.”

  “That’s the way it was meant. She had a sweetheart, and they planned to marry.”

  “Oh? What happened?”

  “His name was John Magee. My mother says he was a handsome lad who loved the sea. He went for a soldier during the Great War and lost his life in the fields of France.”

  “It’s sad,” Betsy put in, “but romantic too. Maude never loved another, and she often spoke of him when we came to visit, though he’d been dead nearly three-quarters of a century.”

  “For some,” Kathy said with a sigh, “there’s only one. None comes before and none after. But Old Maude, she lived happy here, with her memories and her flowers.”

  “It’s a contented house,” Jude said, then immediately felt foolish. But Kathy Duffy only smiled and nodded again.

  “It is, yes. And those of us who knew her are happy one of her own is living here now. It’s good you’re getting around the village, meeting people and acquainting yourself with some of your kin.”

  “Kin?”

  “You’re kin to the Fitzgeralds, and there are plenty of them in and around Old Parish. My friend Deidre, who’s in Boston now, was a Fitzgerald before she married Patrick Gallagher. You were at their place last night.”

  “Oh, yes.” Aidan’s face immediately swam into Jude’s mind. The slow smile, the wildly blue eyes. “We’re cousins of some sort.”

  “Seems to me your granny was first cousin to Deidre’s great-aunt Sarah. Or maybe it was her great-granny and they were second cousins. Well, hardly matters. Now the oldest Gallagher lad”—Kathy paused long enough to nibble on one of her cakes—“you had your eye on him at one time, didn’t you, Betsy?”

  “I might have glanced his way a time or two, when I was a lass of sixteen.” Betsy’s eyes laughed over her cup. “And he might’ve glanced back as well. Then he went off on his rambles, and there was my Tom. When Aidan Gallagher came back . . . well, I might have glanced again, but only in appreciation for God’s creation.”

  “He was a wild one as a lad, and there’s a look about him that says he could be again.” Kathy sighed. “I’ve always had a soft spot for a wild heart in a man. Have you no sweetheart in the States, then, Jude?”

  “No.” She thought briefly of William. Had she ever considered her husband her sweetheart? “No one special.”

  “If they’re not special, what would the point be?”

  No point at all, Jude thought later when she showed her guests to the door. She couldn’t claim he’d been her great love, as John Magee had been to Maude. They hadn’t been special to each other, she and William.

  They should have been. And for a time, he’d been the focus of her life. She’d loved him, or had believed she loved him. Damn it, she’d wanted to love him and had given him her best.

  But it hadn’t been good enough. It was mortifying knowing that. Knowing how easily, how thoughtlessly he’d broken still fresh vows and dismissed her from his life.

  But neither, she could admit, would she have grieved for him for seventy years if he’d died in some heroic or tragic fashion. The fact was, if William had died in some freak accident, she could have been the stalwart widow instead of the discarded wife.

  And how horrible it was to realize she’d have preferred it that way.

  What had hurt more? she wondered now. The loss of him or the loss of her pride? Whichever was true, she wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen again. She wouldn’t simply fall in line—into marriage, then out again, because it was asked of her.

  This time around, she would concentrate on herself, and being on her own.

  Not that she had anything against marriage, she thought as she loitered outside. Her parents had a solid marriage, were devoted to each other. It might not have had that cinematic, wildly passionate scope some imagined for themselves, but their relationship was a fine testament to a partnership that worked.

  Perhaps she’d pretended she would have something near to that with William, a quiet and dignified marriage, but it hadn’t hit the mark. And the fault was hers.

  There was nothing special about her. She was more than a little ashamed to admit that she’d simply become a habit to him, part of his routine.

  Meet William for dinner Wednesday night at seven at one of three favored restaurants. On Saturday, meet for a play or a film, followed by a late supper, followed by tasteful sex. If both parties are agreeable, extend evening to a healthy eight hours’ sleep, followed by brunch and a discussion of the Sunday paper.

  That had been the pattern of their courtship, and marriage had simply slipped into the scheme of it.

  And it had been so easy, really, to end the pattern altogether.

  But God, God, she wished she’d done the ending. That she’d had the guts or the flair for it. A torrid affair in a cheap motel. Moonlighting as a stripper. Running away to join a motorcycle gang.

  As she tried to imagine herself slithering into leather and hopping on the back of a motorcycle behind some burly, tattooed biker named Zero, she laughed.

  “Well, now, sure that’s a fair sight for a man on an April afternoon.” Aidan stood at the break in the hedgerows, hands comfortably in his pockets, grinning at her. “A laughing woman with flowers at her feet. Now some might think, being where we are, that they’d stumbled across a faerie come out to charm the blossoms to blooming.”

  He strolled toward the gate as he spoke, paused there. And she was certain she’d never seen a more romantic picture in her life than Aidan Gallagher with his thick, rich hair ruffled by the breeze, his eyes a clear, wild blue, standing at the gate with the distant cliffs at his back.

  “But you’re no faerie, are you, Jude Frances?”

  “No, of course not.” Without thinking she lifted a hand to make sure her hair was still tidy. “I, ah, just had a visit from Kathy Duffy and Betsy Clooney.”

  “I passed them on the road when I was walking this way. They said you had a nice hour over tea and cakes.”

  “You walked? From the village?”

  “It’s not so very far if you like to walk, and I do.” She was looking just a bit distressed again, Aidan mused. As if she wasn’t quite sure what to do about him.

  Well, he supposed that made them even. But he wanted to make her smile, to watch her lips curve slow and shy and her dimples come to life.

  “Are you going to ask me into your garden or would you rather I just kept walking?”

  “No, sorry.” She hurried to the gate and reached for the latch just as he did. His hand closed over hers, warm and firm, so they lifted the latch together.

  “What were you thinking of that made you laugh?”

  “Oh, well . . .” Since he still had her hand, she found herself backing up. “Just something foolish. Mrs. Duffy left some cakes, and there’s still tea.”

  He couldn’t recall ever having seen a woman so spooked just by speaking to him. But he couldn’t say that her reaction was entirely displeasing. Testing, he kept her hand in his, continued forward as she walked back.

  “And I imagine you’ve had your fill of both for now. Truth is, I need the air from time to time, so I go on what people call Aidan’s rambles. Unless you’re in a hurry to go back in, we could just sit on your stoop awhile.”

  His free hand reached out, pressed her hip and stopped her retreat. “You’re about to step on your flowers,” he murmured. “A shame it would be to crush them underf
oot.”

  “Oh.” Cautious, she edged away. “I’m clumsy.”

  “I wouldn’t say so. A bit nervy is all.” Despite the odd pleasure of seeing her flustered, he had an urge to smooth those nerves away and put her at ease.

  With his fingertips curled to hers, he shifted, turned her with such fluid grace she could only blink to find herself facing the other way. “I wondered,” he went on as he led her toward the stoop, “if you’re interested in hearing the stories I know. For your paper.”

  “Yes, very much.” She let out a relieved breath and lowered herself to the stoop. “I started on it this morning—the paper—trying to get a feel for it, formulate an outline, the basic structure.”

  She wrapped her arms around her knees, then tightened them as she glanced over and saw him watching her. “What is it?”

  He lifted a brow. “It’s nothing. I’m listening. I like listening to you. Your voice is so precise and American.”

  “Oh.” She cleared her throat, stared straight ahead again as if she had to keep a close eye on the flowers so they didn’t escape. “Where was I . . . the structure of it. The different areas I want to address. The fantasy elements, of course, but also the social, cultural, and sexual aspects of traditional myths. Their use in tradition as entertainment, as parables, as warnings, in romance.”

  “Warnings?”

  “Yes, mothers telling children about bog faeries to keep them from wandering into dangerous areas, or relating tales of evil spirits and so forth to influence them to behave. There are as many—more actually—grotesque legends as there are benevolent ones.”

  “Which do you prefer?”

  “Oh, well.” She fumbled a little. “Both, I suppose, depending on the mood.”

  “Do you have many?”

  “Many what?”

  “Moods. I think you do. You have moody eyes.” There, he thought, that’s made her look in my direction again.

  Those long, liquid pulls started up again in her belly, so she looked away again. Quickly. “No, actually, I’m not particularly moody. Anyway, hmmm. You have babies being snatched from their cradles and replaced with changelings, children devoured by ogres. In the last century we’ve changed passages and endings in fairy tales to happy-ever-after, when in reality their early forms contained blood and death and devouring. Psychologically, it mirrors the changes in our cultures, and what parents want their children to hear and to believe.”

  “And what do you believe?”

  “That a story’s a story, but happy-ever-after is less likely to give a child nightmares.”

  “And did your mother tell you stories of changelings?”

  “No.” The idea of it had Jude laughing. “But my grandmother did. In a very entertaining fashion. I imagine you tell an entertaining one, too.”

  “I’ll tell you one now, if you’ve a mind to walk down to the village with me.”

  “Walk?” She shook her head. “It’s miles.”

  “No more than two.” Suddenly he wanted very much to walk with her. “You’ll work off Mrs. Duffy’s cakes, then I’ll feed you supper. We have beggarman’s stew on the menu tonight, and it sits well. I’ll see you get a ride home after a bit.”

  She slid her gaze toward him, then away again. It sounded wonderfully spontaneous, just stand up and go, no plans, no structure. Which, of course, was exactly why it wouldn’t do.

  “That’s tempting, but I really should work a little longer.”

  “Then come tomorrow.” He took her hand again, drawing her to her feet as he rose. “We have music at Gallagher’s of a Saturday night.”

  “You had music there last night.”

  “More,” he told her. “And a bit more. . . structured you’d say, I suppose. Some musicians from Waterford City, the traditional sort. You’ll enjoy it and you can’t write about Ireland’s legends, can you, without its music? So come down to the pub tomorrow night, and I’ll come to you on Sunday.”

  “Come to me?”

  He smiled again, slow, deliberate, delightful. “To tell you a story, for your paper. Will Sunday in the afternoon do for you?”

  “Oh, yes, that would be fine. Perfect.”

  “Good day to you, then, Jude Frances.” He strolled to the gate, then turned. His eyes were bluer, more intense when they met hers, held hers. “Come on Saturday. I like looking at you.”

  She didn’t move a muscle, not when he turned to open the gate, not when he walked through and down to the road. Not even after he was well beyond the high hedge and away.

  Looking at her? What did he mean by that? Exactly.

  Was that some sort of casual flirtation? His eyes hadn’t looked casual, she thought as she began to pace up and down the narrow path. Of course, how would she know, really, when this was only the second time she’d seen him?

  That was probably it. Just an offhand, knee-jerk flirtation from a man used to flirting with women. More, when you considered the situation, a friendly remark.

  “ ‘I’d like to see you in the pub on Saturday, come on by,’” she murmured. “That’s all he meant. And damn it all to hell and back, why do I have to pick everything apart?”

  Annoyed with herself, she strode back into the house, closed the door firmly. Any sensible woman would have smiled at him when he’d said it, flirted back a little. It was a harmless, even conditioned response. Unless you were a neurotic