It's almost St. Patrick's Day! Below is the beginning of KISS OF BLARNEY, my story about Ula, an Irish princess hidden in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Shay, the hero of the tale, is burdened by geise, a set of personal rules which must be obeyed. Otherwise misfortune or even death could result.
Shay could swear someone was watching his every move. A prickly sensation lingered along his shoulders, and he rubbed the back of his neck while standing at the bar in Paddy’s Pub in Green Creek, New Jersey--a half a world away from his birthplace in Ireland.
He now called Green Creek home, but he often felt as though his Irish heritage had followed him there. No doubt, the blame lay with his geise. His da had insisted that as a descendent of the Irish kings, Shay must be given geise--even though he happened to be living in the twenty-first century. All the legendary Irish kings had been given geise, a set of rules tailored for the individual, which must be obeyed.
If a man did not conform to the geise, it was said that misfortune or even death could result.
Most of the time, Shay considered his situation absurd. Being related to a bunch of illustrious, long gone--as well as bloodthirsty--Irish kings did not put bread on the table. Becoming a mason had been a far more lucrative career for him. Nevertheless, his father had ingrained the geise into his mind and Shay could not rid his thoughts of them. Since there was a blizzard outside, and he was in a pub, one commandment in particular came to mind.
Thou shalt not drink strong liquor when snow blankets the sod. Shay wiped the cold sweat from his brow as the echo of his father’s warning kept him on edge despite the fact that he opted to drink beer.
However, he decided his unease could also be due to the current situation at the pub. Tonight, stranded parade marchers jammed the largest Irish pub on the Jersey Shore. Green Creek’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled at the last minute due to the major snowstorm. As the white stuff continued to pile up, the marchers bided their time drinking whatever Paddy had to offer while his supply dwindled with each passing moment. The town’s electricity had gone off at one in the afternoon and everything had come to a standstill. Shay noted that several of the patrons were completely plastered, and he knew drink could bring out the worst in people.
...misfortune or even death could result.
Taking a small sip from his beer, he narrowed his eyes and glanced around at the tables now illuminated only by candles.
“What are you dreaming about, man?” Shay’s buddies, Trevor and Liam, slapped him on the back--none too lightly, but Shay’s muscles had been fused into steel by his years as a mason so it did not hurt.
“I’m dreaming of my one hundred twenty chimneys,” Shay lied. “Aye. I’d be out there now laying the footings if it wasn’t for this rotten weather.”
“You’ve a guaranteed fortune.” Trevor brightened. “It’s only fair you’ll be remembering your old friends with another round of beers--we who knew you when all’s you had was a shabby suitcase and a cockamamie story about being a descendent of kings.”
Shay glared at his friend and hardened his tone. “You’ll not be making fun of my father’s tale.”
From his stricken look, it appeared Trevor realized he had ruined his chances for a free beer. “It’s not everyday we have someone walking into this pub, getting drunk and telling us he’s related to royalty.”
“I was down on my luck that day and a wee bit homesick as well,” Shay admitted. “I’m thinking now you didn’t mean to get me drunk that day, but I hadn’t had a bite to eat.”
Liam shoved a bowl of pretzels right under Shay’s nose. “We were only helping out a newcomer to our fair town.”
Shay reached for the pretzels. His father had been an honest, hard-working man--and if he liked to tell fairytales he wasn’t much different from the rest of the Devlins. They all liked to think there was magic hidden beneath every blade of grass in Ireland. There were those in his clan who even claimed to be descendants of the Tuatha De Danaan. Funny thing was, most of the old Irish families believed the same nonsense.
Still, some nights here in New Jersey, so far from Ireland, when the moon was full and the air was soft with mist, even Shay longed for a bit of that old enchantment. However, there was no mist outside tonight--just snow--tons of it. The nerves bunched up in his shoulders.
“Too much time in the pub and we’ll all be seeing leprechauns.” Trevor gave a hearty laugh.
“Shay’s worked hard these past two years and a hard working man deserves to get drunk now and then. Especially, when he’s got his fortune made.” Liam grinned.
“You’re right.” Shay raised his glass toward his friends. “We’ll be forgetting the tough times today. Paddy, another round.”
Paddy, the owner of the pub, shoved a mug toward him. Shay glared at the green liquid inside. Squinting, he held his drink closer to the pale light coming from the battery lantern on the bar. “And what are you doing giving me this evil-colored potion?”
“That, me boy, is in honor of the day,” Paddy announced. “It’s green beer.”
Shay detected a stony look in Paddy’s eyes. However, with the feeble lantern light, the flickering candles and the two beers Shay had already consumed, his eyesight could be suffering from more than simple strain.
“I’ll be asking for a hearty pint of Guinness, if you want to be celebrating good St. Patrick.”
“In America, green is the color for everything reminding us of the old sod.” A note of annoyance came across in the pub owner’s words. To be sure, his reserves must be getting low.
“They’ll not be knocking back such a putrid looking beverage in Ireland today.”
“Then you can be going back there if you’re not liking the customs here.” Paddy’s jowls vibrated with an ominous tremor from his frayed nerves. The storm continued to rage while all the candles on the tables melted into small stubs that would soon burn out. Still, none of the patrons took the opportunity to leave.
“It tastes the same as any cheap lager,” Trevor licked his lips after downing a bit of the brew. “Close your eyes and you won’t be noticing any difference.”
“I’ve got some green bagels to stave off your hunger before you’ll be heading home.” Paddy’s meaning couldn’t be missed. “I’m having a sale on the bagels. Three for a dollar.”
“Must be getting stale,” Liam muttered low.
Shay shrugged his shoulders. His dog, Bran, would be wanting some company on this bitter evening and a hearty blaze in the fireplace would provide a great deal more warmth than the vile beer in Paddy’s Pub. At any rate, he’d be keeping himself out of harm’s way.
He turned, intending to bid his buddies goodnight when the door to the pub opened, letting in a blast of wind that blew out some of the candles and sent many of the others wavering. A cry of protest went up from some tartan-clad customers nearest the door when they were left in darkness.
Shay let out a laugh. “Maybe we have a banshee coming to haunt us for drinking such a foul brew.”
Clad in a long cloak, a petite figure moved toward the bar. The face of the stranger lay in shadow under a capacious hood, and at her side she carried a large, old-fashioned tapestry bag. Upon nearing the bar, her pale hand reached up and swept off the hood, unleashing a mass of rich red, curly hair that glinted in the candlelight. Dazzled by the sight, Shay blinked.
“I don’t think she’s a banshee,” Liam whispered with a note of awe in his voice.