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The Witch of Blacklion


Joy Ross Davis

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

World Castle Publishing, LLC

Pensacola, Florida

Copyright © Joy Ross Davis 2019

Smashwords Edition

Paperback ISBN: 9781949812657

eBook ISBN: 9781949812664

First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, February 11, 2019

Smashwords Licensing Notes

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.

Cover: Karen Fuller

Editor: Maxine Bringenberg

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Mordecai

Chapter 2: The Blue Butterfly

Chapter 3: Rory

Chapter 4: Richard

Chapter 5: Wedding Day

Chapter 6: Dinner at the Dunlavys

Chapter 7: Smitty

Chapter 8: The Great Ship

Chapter 9: Saved

Chapter 10: The Image

Chapter 11: Old Shelley’s Message

Chapter 12: The Survivors

Chapter 13: Tell Me

Chapter 14: Mother

Chapter 15: Rory’s Gift

Chapter 16: Mazey’s Hope

Chapter 17: The Visit

Chapter 18: The Potion

Chapter 19: Sleep

Chapter 20: Planting the Seeds

Chapter 21: The Painting

Chapter 22: Babes

Chapter 23: Revival

Chapter 24: The Helper

Chapter 25: Confrontation

Chapter 26: The Vial

Chapter 27: Friends and Enemies

Chapter 28: The Gala

Chapter 29: The Studio

Chapter 30 Eustace

Chapter 31: Clean Up

Chapter 32: The Painting

Chapter 33: Rory’s Wish

Chapter 34: The Move

Chapter 35: The Trick

Chapter 36: Richard’s Question

Chapter 37: Preparing for Waterford

Chapter 38: Designs

Chapter 39: The Painting

Chapter 40: Divine Intervention

Chapter 41: The Shannon Pot and the Great Tree

Chapter 42: Elena and Lana

Chapter 43: The Chat

Chapter 44: Homecoming

Chapter 45: Meeting

Chapter 46: Tremors

Chapter 47: The Journey

Chapter 48: Love

This book is dedicated to my friends in Ireland.

Author’s Note

Blacklion is a border village between Northern Ireland and the Republic in west County Cavan. It is home to the Medieval Killesher Church and to hundreds of natural lakes prized for the fishing of perch, eel, pike, and the famed brown trout. The village is named for the infamous Blacklion Inn, where Methodist John Wesley once sought refuge. The Night of the Big Wind in 1839, the potato famine of 1845, and the Great Trembling (earthquake) of 1930 claimed many of the original residents, yet the village of three hundred and fifty inhabitants has survived and thrived, now designated as a Historical Village of Significance.

Founded in the eighth century, Blacklion sits at the toes of Cuilcagh Mountain, from which swirl the waters of the catchment called the Shannon Pot. Legend holds that Shannon (Sionan), the beautiful granddaughter of the god of the sea, beloved by all, lost her heart to a young Druid and was exiled by her enraged grandfather, who refused to bless her union with a mere mortal. Shannon fled to the Tree of Knowledge—a tree planted by the Druids—to eat of its forbidden fruit, but as she ate, the waters of the pool sprang up and overwhelmed her. They overflowed across the land and formed the River Shannon.

The Old Ones whisper that Shannon’s tragic death provoked a group of Druid witches to roam the banks of the river ever after, and to keep watch over the sacred tree. Many have seen them, but none have lived to speak of it.

Chapter 1: Mordecai

Mordecai stood atop the mountains that encircled the small town of Blacklion and groaned. As a warrior angel—the mightiest in the heavens, the one who was always called first to lead battles against enemies, the one who reigned always victorious—he gazed at the small town with a sense of dread.

It had only one main street and less than five hundred people, and this—this was what he’d come to: a babysitter for mortals. What could possibly happen in this town that would warrant his protection?

He groaned again when he thought of it and covered his face with his hands. His shimmering white wings, tipped in deep blue, fluttered behind him.

“I’m wasting my time with mortals when I am needed elsewhere?”

“But you are the only one strong enough to do this,” his superior had said. “The only one. Our mightiest warrior will become the mightiest invisible guardian. Your two strong arms will keep them from harm.”

Mordecai played the words back again and again.

“It is a matter of grave importance, my brother,” his supervisor had said. “For the town and the earth at large, a matter of some concern.”

“The earth at large?”

Mordecai sighed, pulled a damson plum from a nearby tree, and eased his 7’2” frame onto a large boulder and sat. He brushed stray hairs from his face, untied the bun at the back of his head, and let his white-gold hair fall behind his uncommonly broad muscular shoulders down to his narrow waist. He stretched his arms in front of him, the same arms bulging with strength, rippling with muscles born from steady use and hundreds of victories in battle. Then he took a moment to sniff the damson, break it open, and taste it.

“Ah,” he said. “Such luscious fruit.”

He smiled, then his thoughts drifted back to the task at hand.

What would become of his warrior’s body now? What would become of them, those two strong arms, now that he’d been sent from his heavenly home down to earth to live in and guard this town?

Something caught his attention. It appeared to be someone walking on the dirt road far below him. An enemy perhaps?

Mordecai smiled and readied himself for battle. Then he wound his way through the large boulders of the craggy mountain, each step easing him more and more into his warrior mode, until by the time he’d reached a landing only a few feet above the road, he was armed and ready.

“I am Mordecai,” he whispered to himself, “mightiest of the warrior angels.”

The words of his supervisor echoed in his ears.

“These are humans, mortals. If you kill them, they will not rise again. Conquer by your wits and your strength, not by your sword. Your warrior’s body must now serve you in a different way.”

Mordecai sheathed his gleaming sword.

Looking down at the dirt road below, he saw a wrinkled, hideous looking old woman hobbling with the aid of a walking stick. Instantly he knew who she was: the old hag he’d been warned about.

He chuckled. “This is the fearsome witch who’s terrorized the town for years?”

He laughed out loud then, and even though no one should have been able to hear him, the old hag turned her head slowly in his direction and narrowed her eyes.

Mordecai watched as she stared into his space and then dismissed him with a wave of her claw-shaped hand. He followed her with his violet eyes until she disappeared inside a grand old house.

“A witch, she claims?” Modecai seated himself again. “Then she will be the first to go.”

Chapter 2: The Blue Butterfly

Old Shelley lounged on the Druid’s Chair in The Burren. She sighed heavily and leaned her head against the stone, turning her beautiful face—without blemish or wrinkle, cheeks rosy, eyes a brilliant sea blue, skin as smooth as silk—toward a beam of sunlight that filtered through the trees. Her long hair snagged on a bit of crag. She ran her hands through it and shook her head to loosen it and let it fall to her waist, dark, long, and luxurious.

Old Shelley felt drained, as if all the power and life had slipped out of her.

“I’m tired,” she muttered. “Tired of being the old ugly hag, tired of transforming, tired of having people hate me, and so very tired of being considered a baby killer.”

Old Shelley shook her head. She didn’t want to think about her task, especially now when she was worn out.

Thirty years ago, their affair had ended badly, and though he’d come back time after time and begged her to marry him, Old Shelley knew that a marriage would be disastrous. He hadn’t known all about her. All he’d seen was Shelley, the young and beautiful part of her. Oh, how she’d wanted to simply cast the rules aside and shout, “Yes, I’ll marry you! I’ll have this baby, we’ll build a nice home, and we’ll be blissfully happy.”

But even then she’d heard the constant grumbling and finally the angry uproar of the ancient Celtic deities, long forgotten by modern folk. She could not marry a mortal. In fact, she was forbidden any close relationship at all. Marriage was unthinkable, and quite costly since a shape shifter who disobeyed the rule was snatched back into the Otherworld immediately for penance.

She shook her head. A rumble of thunder sounded, just a rumble…or a grumble.

“Yes, I know,” Old Shelley said with a wave of her hand. “We are forbidden to love mortals. But love him I did, for better or for worse. The part of me that is human gave him my heart, my body, and my soul, and passed along to our child part of my magic.”

Yes, her son was like her. He had a hint of the ancient gods about him. Did he know she was his mother? No, for who would want the Witch of Blacklion as a mother? She dared not risk telling him, so she had sworn to herself at his birth thirty years ago that he would never have to know. She kept her love for him secret, knowing in her heart that it could never come to fruition.

She pulled herself up from the Druid’s Chair and brushed off her billowing white skirt. She made her way through the brambles and thickets, the heavy growths of purple orchids and red flowering valerian. Patches of fluffy white cotton grass grew amongst the flowers, and occasionally she would stop and run her fingers through the tufts. She inhaled the heady scents the wild flowers growing in huge clumps from the sides of the rocky outcroppings, often an indication that a stream flowed nearby.

She stepped carefully over the rocky landscape, and when she smelled the hardy fuschia, its sweet scent a balm to the whirlwind of emotions in her mind, she knew she’d almost reached her destination: the cliff at the west edge of The Burren.

A small red fox ran in front of her on his way across the path. A few feet ahead, Old Shelley heard a strange grunting sound. She followed it until she found the culprit, a brown badger who hissed and bared teeth as she approached.

Old Shelley shrugged and wandered back to the path. She knew that she would soon come to the beautiful stream that ran through The Burren, the stream that was home to a pair of white swans. As she struggled over more of the karst landscape, the rocky limestone outcroppings, and stones that filled every inch of The Burren, she gazed in wonder at the myriad of life around her: gorgeous blue butterflies, tiny green lizards, and brown frogs. Above her, she heard a cry that sounded like the words, “hawk, hawk,” and sure enough, a large Harris hawk zoomed above her with speed, majesty, and grace.

“You’re a lovely creature,” she called.

“Hawk, hawk,” came the response.

“And a fine hawk you are, sir,” Old Shelley said with a chuckle.

A few feet below her, Old Shelley gazed down at the pair of swans, creatures of pure white beauty. She scrambled down to the riverbank, and within a short time both swans swam so close that she could reach out and touch them. She stroked the feathered heads and crooned to them.

“You’re beautiful, yes, you’re beautiful. Thank you for gracing me with your presence. All these years, you’ve been a source of loveliness in my life. You’ve listened to my tales of joy and woe, and comforted me when I needed it.”

The largest swan edged closer to her and lifted his orange beak. He made a soft honking sound.

Old Shelley smiled at him.

“Such a good friend you’ve been,” she said, and kissed the tip of his beak. “When the people of Blacklion greeted me with nothing but fear and loathing, you comforted me.”

Old Shelley ran a hand down the swan’s slender neck, then sat back on the rocks.

“What else did I expect them to do about having a shape shifter in their midst, an ugly old woman who frightened their children and buried dead babies in her backyard?”

The swan honked again. Several little brown cygnets appeared from behind the other large swan.

Old Shelley smiled. “So you’ve brought your babies to show them off, eh?”

She put out her hand and the babies swam toward her, their short brown feathers belying the graceful beauties they would become. She tickled them under their tiny necks and stroked the downy soft gray and brown feathers on their backs. They responded in high-pitched squeaks that brought joy to Old Shelley.

“I thank you,” she said to the large swans, “for showing me your beautiful babies. I must go now.”

Old Shelley stood and bowed to the swans. They, in turn, dipped their heads.

Up she went over the rocks, determined to reach the cliff’s edge. After another hour of climbing, she saw the path that led to the cliff, a favorite viewing spot for tourists. At nearly three hundred feet high, it was the highest of the cliffs in The Burren. Below it a deep and dangerous river—All Souls River—foamed and rushed, the force of it tearing away anything that grew or lodged in its path. River banks and foliage that once grew there had disappeared. Even mighty trees had vanished, washed away over time by the force of the river.

Still, she climbed and climbed. She paid no attention to the heavy growths of thickets that tried to block her way, nor to the dense patches of stinging nettle that bit at her legs. By the time she reached the top, her white skirt was draped in shreds along her body.

Old Shelley sighed, sat, and draped her legs over the cliff’s edge. Though the craggy stone was uncomfortable, she sat and watched the River Shannon as it rushed far beneath her. As she contemplated the beauty around her, she almost lost track of the reason she’d climbed to the cliff’s edge. Being surrounded by the majestic flowers, trees, and animals sent her thoughts in a different direction, into one of gratitude instead of despair.

Old Shelley, she thought, the ugly witch, the frightening monster, the baby killer.

She pitched a tiny stone into the river below and waited to hear it splash, knowing full well that the roar of the rushing water would drown out any such tiny sound. She cast her eyes toward the sky.

“I’m tired,” she said. “I’m tired. Please, let me come back home where people are not terrified of me, where I am not the object of ridicule, not the one who strikes fear into the hearts of children, where young people don’t have to say, ‘Don’t go near Old Shelley’s house.’”

A tear formed in her eye and rolled down her cheek. Then suddenly, a large brilliant blue butterfly landed on her hand and flapped its beautiful wings. Old Shelley smiled then shooed it away, but the insistent creature came back and landed in her lap.

“What is it, little one?”

She shooed it again, but this time, the butterfly remained. Old Shelley frowned at her failed attempt to scare away the creature.

“I’m not in the mood for company, thank you,” she said, and fluffed her skirt to shake the butterfly off.

Failing again, Old Shelley stood up, her feet struggling to find a hold on the craggy surface of the cliff. The butterfly flew, but not far. It stopped in mid-flight and turned toward her, its antennae wiggling back and forth.

“Go away,” she said, and swatted at it.

She felt her feet slip along the stone, her toes dangling off the edge. She flailed her arms to get her balance and tried to take a step back, but the movement, rather than taking her backwards, propelled her forward.

She cried out. And then she fell, tumbling into the icy raging river below, her only thought, I can’t swim.

The river caught her, captured her, imprisoned her in its tumultuous spins, then finally spilled her toward its deep and cavernous floor.

She couldn’t breathe, and in an instant she remembered that her ancestors, those ancient Celtic deities, couldn’t die forever. Her partly human body might drown and Old Shelley might cease to exist, but the shape shifter would have a new life, perhaps a better one.

She had no skills with which to save herself, and so she let out her breath, let it all the way out, and accepted her fate. The freezing water rushed around her, pulled her, dragged her. She couldn’t see as she tumbled down under the surface, her limbs numb now from the cold. Panicking, she told herself to do something, anything, so she flailed her arms.

But the cold, the freezing cold, left her unable to move. The tumultuous Shannon dragged her down, down, down, until at last she jerked to a stop, her foot caught between two large rocks. She felt the pressure and with every movement, she felt the warm release of blood.

She was trapped.

One more time she tried to raise her arms, but her limbs would not move.

I’ll die here, she thought. Die in this freezing river.

Old Shelley opened her eyes, hoping against hope that she could see something, anything that would help her get herself back to the surface. But the muddy brown water offered nothing except darkness.

Her heart pounded now. She felt the drumming of it in her ears, the hammering of it in her chest.

Inhale, her voice said. End it.

And as she inhaled the water into her lungs and gave herself up to Death, two strong arms enveloped her, lifted her, and carried her up out of the raging waters.

When she next opened her eyes, she was sitting atop the cliff wrapped in a warm wool blanket. She shivered, her teeth chattering so hard she feared they might break. Her long jet-black hair stuck like strands of ice to her back. Still shivering and trembling, she wondered how she’d gotten out of the river, and then had a memory: two strong arms lifting her up.

After a few minutes, she spoke to the presence she felt.

“Tell…tell me who you are,” she said, as she wrapped the warm blanket more snuggly around her. She shivered again, her teeth chattering, and turned her head from side to side, hoping desperately to see the one who’d saved her from drowning.

“Please,” she said again through her still chattering teeth. “Please.”

But all she heard in response was a deep throaty chuckle and a single word.

“Mordecai,” the male voice said.

A brilliant blue butterfly lit on her lap.

Chapter 3: Rory

Rory Dunlavy was considered by many to be the most handsome man in all of Blacklion; indeed, perhaps in all of Ireland. At a towering 6’6”, with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, bright blond hair—smooth and fine as silk—and large, piercing sea blue eyes, he was the object of second looks wherever he went. His skin, tanned by working long hours under the sun, glistened with a golden sheen offset only by a glance at the wide shimmering gold band on his left ring finger. Sighs of disappointment from hopeful singles echoed through the town once they spied that ring.

Rory, oblivious to the disappointed singles, cherished the golden band. Each time he looked at it, he thought of his family; his beloved wife, Mazey, and his five-year-old son called Piglet, because of the grunting noise he’d made as an infant when he would eat. Rory’s heart filled to overflowing whenever he walked in and saw Mazey teaching Piglet another vocabulary word, or showing him how to tie his shoes, or any one of hundreds of other skills. But what he loved most was the look on Mazey’s face when she read to Piglet and showed him pictures of famous paintings. Her great love was art: paintings of the Old Masters set her passions aflame. And she was quite the talented painter herself, though she’d never admit to it. “It needs work,” she’d say when he complimented a painting. Rory would simply bend down, kiss her on the top of her head, and tell her she would be a great painter someday. Her reaction was almost always the same.

“No, my love, I won’t, but I’ll keep practicing all the same. Now, go outside and bring in some vegetables for dinner.”

Rory had a penchant for going barefoot, something that seemed to enhance rather than detract from his appeal, especially on those days when, shirtless, he worked the vegetable gardens across the road from his elegant cottage. He’d purchased the land for his gardens with some of the money he inherited from his father, Robert Dunlavy, a wealthy businessman from Dublin who’d summoned Rory one day almost six years ago and told him that he was his natural father. Since Rory had never known his parents, he was glad to become acquainted with Mr. Dunlavy. The man died only a few months later, and left Rory a small fortune and the name of a banker who would help him oversee the inheritance.

Except for buying these one hundred acres of rich farmland and purchasing the cottage outright, Rory invested a great deal of money into sowing the land, hiring friends and neighbors to help him make it perfect for planting a plentiful garden. Occasionally he would get a letter from his banker assuring him that the money had seen gains and that it was in good hands. Rory was content with that.

His passion lay in the fields before him. He spent hours every day tending the land. For some reason no one could explain, Rory’s gardens grew faster and more abundantly than anyone else’s. The potatoes grew long and fat—thick and tasty—while the tomatoes grew as big around as Rory’s own hand. Marrows, peas, beans, pumpkins, melons—the list of what he could grow seemed endless.

And part of the beauty of Rory Dunlavy was his kind heart.

Witnesses swore that every morning, Rory could be heard singing to his vast gardens in Gaelic in his deep baritone voice, telling them of their beauty and wonder, professing his love for the land and his joy at harvesting their fruits. He sang of the streams, the rocks, the rivers, and when he was swept away in his music, at times he seemed surrounded by a bright golden glow.

He had the magic, Rory did.

Neighbors filled their baskets with his harvests, stepping gently between rows gathering fruits and vegetables for their own families, Rory would be standing by, urging them on with a great smile on his face revealing the most glorious white teeth.

“Take as much as you need,” he’d call. “There’s plenty for everyone.”

Rory loved animals as well. Ten to twenty pygmy goats, two or three very small cows, and several wolfhounds and red foxes roamed the gardens, magically grabbing the food they wanted while managing, somehow, to avoid trampling a single plant. There was no fighting amongst the animals, and if there were, Rory caressed and whispered to them and ensured harmony.

At the outer border of the west corner of his vast lands lay the Shannon Pot, its crystal blue waters a catchment for the natural falls of Cuilcagh Mountain. Rory treasured this spot, and he could often be seen lying barefoot and shirtless beneath the tree—the largest and most sacred Tree of Knowledge, the one from legends of long ago. To Rory, it was simply the Great Tree.

Because the swirling waters of the Shannon Pot fed Ireland’s longest river, the River Shannon, when Rory sang his Gaelic love songs to the Great Tree, the sound of his voice carried for miles along the river. Many a restless infant, miles away in Cavan and Fermanagh had been lulled to sleep in the arms of a parent who paced within earshot of Rory’s songs.

“It’s like magic,” the parents would say. “That man has magic running through his veins.”

But to Rory, the magic lay in the glory of the crystal blue Shannon Pot, the serenity of the Great Tree, and the abundance of the land that fed him, his treasured family, and his beloved Blacklion.

He hardly ever thought about the fact that he’d been a foundling—an infant put on someone’s doorstep—and had no idea who his real mother was.

Hardly ever.

Chapter 4: Richard

As the newest resident of Blacklion, Dr. Richard Haynes, known for preferring black coffee over tea and white bread over brown, owned a grand mansion atop the highest hill in the town. Built since he’d moved from Dublin to Blacklion, Haynes Manor boasted four Roman columns across the front, a roof that appeared to touch the sky, and large glass windows—some with Irish-made stained glass—placed only four feet apart and circling the house, filling it with natural light in every corner. So many large windows were a rarity in Ireland, the British having levied a high tax on each one.

But in Blacklion, a famous but relatively forgotten part of the northeast of the Republic, Richard had built his long-dreamed mansion and cared not a whit about whatever tax might be imposed sooner or later. He could afford it.

Richard was a tall, elegant man who’d come from wealth, his father having been the founder of the world-famous Haynes Brothers Distillery, which brewed the best and only Irish bourbon in the country; a mixture of whiskey, barley, and rich oak combined to form the smooth and delicious drink. His father, a native of Kentucky, had met his British mother on a vacation to Dublin. Neither of them ever went home again. Instead, they made a home and business in Ireland. His father used his skills in brewing the heavenly elixir using a recipe he and his brother created, the Kentucky Irish bourbon now sought after by royals all over the world.

Though Richard was not a drinker himself, he appreciated his family heritage since it gave him the means to achieve his own dream of becoming a medical doctor. His father was especially pleased with his choice of careers. “People will always be sick,” he’d said. “And when they’re well, they’ll want a drink to celebrate. And if you tire of your medicine, then the distillery is waiting for you.”

His mother encouraged him to pursue medicine. “Having a doctor in the Haynes family will be a nice change. It’s a noble profession. Your father loves that distillery more than Peter loved the Lord.” She crossed herself. “But you’ll do well in medicine.”

Though he had no Irish blood in him, Richard felt through and through like a true Irishman, and technically, he was an Irish citizen, having been born and raised in Dublin. He’d never been to America, though he knew that his great grandfather had emigrated from France to America and had settled in Kentucky, and changed his name from Phillipe Dantone to Philip Haynes after a name he’d seen on a sign, a name that sounded American. When his father had been born, he, too, had carried the name Haynes, and so it went throughout the family. Their name was Haynes, pure and simple.

At twenty-three, Richard’s drive to succeed was evidenced when he became the youngest of the graduates from Dublin’s famed medical university, having completed his residency and exams earlier than his classmates. With his father’s help, he set up a private practice in his parents’ house in Dublin, and with the help of their society of wealthy friends, he became quite successful. He swam on an endless sea of patients, parties, award ceremonies, and conventions, and became a doctor to the high born of Dublin’s finest and most elite residents. For ten years he lived this life of a wealthy man of medicine, mostly content but too busy to think about it.

Distinguished, reputable, and handsome to boot, Richard lacked for little and took a different date to each function, a fact that delighted his father. His parents cared little for having grandchildren or seeing Richard married. All their efforts went into furnishing their home with lovely classical art and enjoying their only son, watching him thrive, and teaching him the basics of the medical profession, the distillery business, and instilling in him a love of fine things, especially art work by the Old Masters.

But when he turned thirty-three, an incident at the hospital brought about a profound change in Richard’s life. When his mother was diagnosed with advanced leukemia, his world nearly collapsed. There was little acceptable or effective treatment—his mother refused radiation and doses of arsenic—so Richard was forced to watch her struggle, her fatigue so great she could barely lift her hand. When her breathing became heavy and painful, doses of morphine eased her pain for a while. On one of these occasions, she pulled him close to her.

“Please, my darling, one last thing for Mama, just one last thing—a little too much of the morphine.”

Richard held her hand, her once-beautiful hand, now hardly more than skin and protruding bone. He caressed that hand and held it to his cheek.

“Mama,” he said. “I…I can’t. I’m a doctor, Mama.”

She turned her eyes from him. The look on her face, the utter hopelessness in her eyes, the slight choking sound from her throat broke his heart. He felt rent in two, helpless to cure or treat, and horrified at the thought of doing nothing to “help” his mother. That one last shot, a little too much morphine, would end her suffering. But to Richard, it was unthinkable.

He grabbed her up in his arms and, rocking back and forth, whispered over and over, “I love you, Mama. I love you so.”

She gasped in pain just as his father walked in, the grief at the thought of being separated from his wife evident in his red-rimmed eyes, his baggy clothing, and his extreme weight loss. He put a hand on Richard’s shoulder.

“Help her, son,” he said. “You’re the only one who can, and it’s the right thing to do. End her suffering, Richard.”

“But Papa,” he sobbed. “How can I do that? I’m a doctor.”

“How can you not?” his father hissed. “How can you watch her in such misery week after week and do nothing? What kind of doctor are you that you’d allow your own mother to suffer this way? The syringe is right there beside you. Use it. Help her, Richard.” His father’s face reddened, and he grimaced. “You’re no kind of son if you allow her to go on this way.”

“Father, please. You don’t look well. Sit down…for me.”

Still cradling his mother, Richard looked at the syringe. It was like a siren beckoning to him. He moved his hand to pick it up, but just at that moment, his mother wailed once, her body went limp, and she drew her last breath.

His father grabbed at his chest, moaned twice, and collapsed right there and then.

Richard gently lowered his mother down onto the bed and rushed to help his father. He called for the nurse, who was there almost immediately, but it was too late. Even though he knew it, Richard worked for almost an hour straddled atop his father, trying to force life back into him.

“Dr. Haynes,” the nurse finally said. “It’s no use, sir. He’s no pulse at all. He’s gone.”

“They died at the same time, just as they always said they would,” Richard whispered through his tears. “Just as they always said they would.”

Five months later, after being holed up in the grand home, Richard had turned into a recluse, his only company his beloved housekeeper, Smitty, and her husband, Mr. Smith, both of whom had worked for his parents since Richard’s birth. He saw no one else, talked to no one else, ate little, slept less. Instead, he wandered about from room to room. He smelled his mother’s pillowcases, wore his father’s jackets, dusted the hundreds of framed family photos, and occasionally looked out onto his mother’s prized flower gardens. He felt his sanity slip away with each mantra of his father’s words. “What kind of doctor are you that you would allow your mother to suffer? What kind of doctor are you? What kind of doctor are you?”

The very worst kind, he thought over and over. The very worst.

But early one morning a few weeks later, Smitty walked into his bedroom without even knocking, waltzed over to his bed, and shoved a newspaper clipping at him. Then she sat on the side of his bed and took his hands in hers.

“It’s time, Master Richard,” she said softly. “I love you like my own son, but it’s time to sell this house and move on. And no worries about me and Mr. Smith. Your father took care of us very well, and even left us a house close to our daughter in Galway. He set us up a healthy trust, so we’ll be just fine for the rest of our lives. Just fine. But you, Master Richard. You are not fine. You’ve given up on life, and Mr. Smith and I will not stand for it anymore. You’re a wonderful doctor, Master Richard. Inside you that wonderful, caring doctor lives. He lives, yearning to be useful and helpful again.”

Richard sat up and covered his face with his hands. When no words came, he patted Smitty’s hand and gave a thin smile.

“Up now,” she said, and tapped the clipping. “‘Tis time for you to start living again.” Smitty got up and went to the door. “Breakfast is in an hour. I expect to see you properly attired and seated at the table.”

From that moment, Richard took Smitty’s advice on every major decision. He put the grand old home on the market, and it sold within two weeks’ time for a sum his father would never have imagined. His new residence was being built in Blacklion, a grand mansion worthy of the Haynes name. He stored the antique furnishings in an empty Haynes warehouse, but first told Smitty that she and Mr. Smith could take whatever they wanted.

For the next month, the home saw a flurry of activity. Since Haynes Brothers belonged solely to him now—his uncles long dead and with no heirs—he pondered what to do with it. He could let it keep going and hire someone to oversee the production. But some part of him didn’t want to be responsible for what was, essentially, his father’s business. What would his father want him to do? he wondered. Though his inclination was to sell it outright, Richard decided that his father would want him to maintain the family’s thirty-year-old business, and so he promoted the vice president—a man who’d worked his way up the ranks for the last thirty years—to president, and told him to hire and promote as he saw fit in the best interest of the company. Richard hinted to him that if things went well for Haynes Brothers for the next few years, he might consider selling it. A broad smile came over the man’s face.

“Might,” Richard said. “For the right price and to the right man…but only if the Haynes Brothers name remains.”

The man nodded. “That can be arranged,” he said. “This will always be Haynes Brothers, the most renowned distillery in all of Ireland.”

Satisfied that he’d made the right decision, Richard said goodbye and rushed back home. With his bags packed and the business taken care of, Richard took out the folded newspaper clipping that Smitty had given him.

“Doctor needed in small town of Blacklion. See Laura Penney or Rory Dunlavy.”

He headed his new car northeast and, when he first laid eyes on Laura Penney, a young woman, tall and slender with long auburn hair cascading down her back, his heart flip-flopped, his pulse raced, and a huge smile spread across his face. He parked his car and walked up to the young beauty who stood with a notebook and pen, scribbling away.

“Excuse me,” he said to her. “Are you Laura Penney, perhaps?”

She looked up at him, narrowed her eyes as if unsure of whether to answer or not, and finally smiled. “Yes,” she said. “And you are?”

Richard held out his hand. “Dr. Richard Haynes,” he said.

“Ah, the new doctor. How nice to meet you.”

“Thank you,” he said, his knees trembling. “But I assure you that the pleasure is all mine. Might I say that you…you….”

“What? What is it?” Laura asked as she leaned forward. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no,” Richard said in a softer voice. “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Laura looked shocked.

“I’m sorry,” Richard said. “That was too forward of me, but you’ve overwhelmed me. Please forgive me.”

Laura blushed and tucked a stray hair behind her ear.

“Well, you certainly know how to make an introduction,” she said, and chuckled. “Perhaps you would like to see your temporary surgery office. Follow me.”

“Miss Penney, I would follow you to the ends of the earth, but could we stop for a cup of tea and a biscuit? I’m in need of some refreshment.”

“I’ll need to be quick about it. I must finish this article before my deadline this afternoon.”

Richard opened the door of the small café beside them. “What kind of article?”

“I’m a reporter for The Herald here in Blacklion. I’m writing on piece on the dwindling economy. Pretty boring stuff, actually.”

“Well, I’m certain that with your intelligence, you can produce something stimulating,” he said as they sat at a table for two.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Please, enough of the compliments already. It’s a boring assignment and it will be a boring piece, but I’m hoping for meatier and more interesting pieces next month.”

Richard put the napkin in his lap. “And may I ask what happens next month?”

Laura took a sip of water. “My promotion to lead reporter,” she said. “I’ve been with The Herald as a writer for almost six years now, and I’ve been promised a promotion and a raise.”

“And how, pray tell, did you come to work at a newspaper? Have you always been interested in writing?”

“Always,” she said, and dabbed at her mouth with the napkin. “My friend Mazey, her father is a minister, but he also serves on the board of the paper. Mazey and I have known each other all of our lives. Her father got me a job at the paper shortly after I graduated from business school. It wasn’t much of a job, but he told me to keep at it and I would eventually get to the place I wanted to be.”

“And where is that?”

“Well, of course I want to be lead reporter, and eventually the editor in chief.”

Richard smiled. “I’ve no doubt you’ll get there. Beautiful, intelligent, and ambitious…that’s a lethal business combination.”

Laura blushed again.

“But what about marriage?” Richard asked.


Richard nodded.

“I’ve not given much thought to it.”

“Well, first of all, you should,” he said as he leaned in closer. “Second of all, you need a working husband who can provide you with a beautiful home. And third, you need a husband who will support your work and assist in any way possible to make sure you accomplish your dreams.”

“I’m not sure such a man exists,” Laura chuckled.

“How fortunate for you, and for me, that I happened along today, because as it turns out, he’s sitting right across from you at this very moment.”

Laura looked to her right and to her left, then smiled. “Maybe I missed him.”

Richard chuckled. “I’m quite serious, Miss Laura Penney. I’ve fallen madly in love with you. Madly, I’m afraid. And really, how could you go wrong? I’m relatively…handsome,” he cleared his throat. “I’m wealthy. I have a good medical practice, I hope. And best of all, I’d give you anything you wanted. Anything.”

Laura’s expression grew serious. “But you just met me. You’re asking me to marry you, but we don’t even know each other.”

“Then, may I propose that you give me one month of your spare time. One month to get to know each other better. If I can’t convince you to marry me in that time, I’ll kindly back away.”

Laura took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Then she extended her hand to shake his, but instead, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it lightly.

“One month,” she said.

Chapter 5: Wedding Day

“Hurry up,” Elena said as she took one last look at herself in the mirror. “We can’t be late, not today of all days!”

Reverend Murphy chuckled. “I’ve been ready near an hour now.”

Elena stood in front of him and smiled. Then she turned a complete circle that showed off the full, swirling skirt of her blue taffeta dress, its long sleeves snug on her arms and coming to a point at her wrists.

“You look stunning, my dear,” Reverend Murphy said. “Simply stunning.”

She kissed him on both cheeks. “And you look quite…quite fatherly.”

“Well, that’s appropriate, I think, under the circumstances.”

“Come, come,” she said, and motioned with her hands. “I’m needed to help Laura with her dress. It’s such a gorgeous dress, isn’t it?”

“She’ll be beautiful bride,” Reverend Murphy said. “Richard and Laura make such a nice couple, don’t you think?”

“Oh, indeed they do.”

The reverend nodded. “Richard is beside himself with pride. Those two will last, Elena. They’re utterly devoted to one another, one of those true cases of love at first sight.”

“Well, any man with any sense at all would have fallen in love with Laura. She has that statuesque bearing, and such beautiful auburn hair trailing down her back. Those eyes so brown they’re almost black. She’s quiet and elegant, and at times when I’ve seen her walking along the street, I think for sure that she must be some reincarnated goddess.”

As they passed through the lobby of the Grand Watermont Hotel, the two of them smiled in wonder at the luxurious brocade and silk draperies that stretched almost to the ceiling, then fell in graceful waves to the floor and pooled out in beautiful five-foot circles. Antique pieces gleamed in the sunlight, and four enormous crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling.

“It’s almost like walking in a dream,” Elena said.

Elena stopped and took her husband’s hand.

“What is it, my dear?”

Elena put a hand on his cheek. “You’ve been the best husband and father I could have hoped for. I just want to tell you how glad I am that I married you.” Elena hugged him. “Let’s go check on Laura,” she said. “We’ve wasted enough time gabbing.” She winked at him as they made their way down the hall and into the bridal suite.

“Well, I was beginning to think you’d forgotten all about me,” Laura said with a smile. “You two lovebirds taking some time for yourselves in this fine palace?”

Elena smiled and kissed her on the cheek.

“You look lovely! The dress is perfect,” Laura said. “Twirl for me. Go ahead. I want the full effect.”

Elena twirled around, the blue taffeta swinging out in waves to just below her calves. “Well?” she asked.

“You are beautiful, Elena, and the dress is gorgeous. Blue is your color!”

Elena smiled. “Now, where is that mother of yours?” Elena asked. “I know she looks absolutely ravishing.”

Lana Penney walked into the room wearing a sumptuous long purple gown. “What do you think, Elena? I was a little afraid it would be too daring a dress to wear.”

“Oh my, Lana, you look absolutely gorgeous. Where on earth did you get that dress?”

“Go ahead, Mother,” Laura said. “Tell her where you got it.”

“Do you remember when our friends from America visited, right after Richard asked Laura to marry him? They stayed with me for a week or so in the dead of winter.”

Elena nodded. “I remember well. You came to dinner at our house.”

“Exactly,” Lana said. “She was a fashion designer from New York City, and when she heard that Laura and Richard were to marry, she said that she would be happy to design a wedding dress.”

“Isn’t that just wonderful? Our Laura and Lana in New York fashions!” Elena said.

“My dress came along with Laura’s,” Lana continued. “They sent it as a gift; said I needed to look as smart as my daughter.”

“What a gift,” Elena said. “And all because you let them stay with you?”

Lana shook her head. “Yes, isn’t it remarkable? We all got on so well, and she and I talked every day about fashion. When I found out that they owned a clothing boutique, I couldn’t stop asking her questions about the new designers, so I took her to my own humble boutique to ask for suggestions on how I might improve my business.”

“Ah, that must be how you found out about Coco Chanel.”

Lana smiled. “Are you really pleased with your dress, Laura?”

“I love it, Mother. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful before. The white lace, the pearl buttons up the front, the wide sash, the full flowing satin skirt. And that jeweled tiara with the long veil trimmed in the same lace. It’s really a work of art.”

Lana smiled. “An original Coco Chanel,” she said. “It’s my passion, you know. Fine fashion. Oh, how I’d love to be able to design and make beautiful clothes.”

“It is the most exquisite gown I’ve ever seen. It must have cost a fortune. I will cherish it always.”

“Now, let’s not talk about money today,” Reverend Murphy said. “You’ve only two hours before—”

“Where is Mazey?” Lana interrupted.

“She’ll be here,” Laura said. “She and Rory are probably trying to get Piglet ready. He can be a handful at times.”

“That he is,” Elena said. “Bless his wee heart, he’s curious about everything. And have you noticed that he’s beginning to look a bit like Rory?”

“Rory is still as handsome as ever, isn’t he?” Elena said. “I think being married to our Mazey has done nothing but make him even more handsome than ever. Marriage seems to agree with him, and he seems so happy—happier than I’ve ever known him to be. He adores little Piglet and our Mazey.”

“Did I hear my name mentioned?” Mazey said as she swept into the bridal suite. “Ah, there you are, you beautiful bride!” Mazey walked over to Laura and hugged her. “You look magnificent, doesn’t she, Mother?”

“She does, indeed,” Elena said.

Mazey chuckled. “Piglet and Rory are in the lobby. My two guys are looking ever so dapper today, even if I do say so myself.”

“And you, my dear, are a vision of loveliness,” her mother Elena said. “A true vision.”

“I agree, Mazey,” Lana said. “You look beautiful in that dress.”

“Well, anyone would look good in this dress,” Mazey said. “Lana, it was so kind of you to send it to me. I’d never have dreamed that I would have something this beautiful to wear, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“My American friend sent that, Mazey. It’s an original design. And that pale blue is simply gorgeous on you.”

“Every matron of honor I’ve ever talked to has hated her dress, but this one? I’ll keep it forever. I don’t know how I can ever thank you, Lana.”

“Oh, my dear, no thanks necessary. You’ve been my Laura’s best friend all these years. There’s no price you can put on friendship. Besides, my American friends charged me little to nothing for these beautiful gowns, and all because I didn’t charge them rent when they stayed with me. Can you imagine?”

“Is that true, Mother?” Laura asked.

“Of course it’s true, darling. I could never afford this luxury. But we became such good friends—it’s uncanny, really—that she asked if she could design the gowns for the wedding. She asked ME, and said it was repayment for all I’d done for them while they were here in Ireland. The only condition was that instead of paying for the gowns, I was to hire an expert reporter and photographer so that her designs would appear in all the Irish newspapers!”

“I saw a group of them in the lobby,” Mazey said. “I think they snapped a photo of me.”

Reverend Murphy stuck his head in the door. “You have one hour, ladies. So let’s get this show on the road.”

Elena blew him a kiss as he left.

“Mother,” Laura called. “Could you help me finish up with this dress? All these little buttons! And I don’t want to tear any of this beautiful lace.”

“Oh, Heaven help us,” Lana said. “We can’t have any of that Alencon lace torn. It’s needle lace, you know, made by hand in France. And just look at that bodice. The pearls are exquisite, the perfect complement to the satin and lace. They match your tiara wonderfully.”

“I love the wide royal blue sash,” Mazey said, “and the way the bow at the back trails into your satin train. It must be six feet long! Imagine all that satin flowing behind as you walk. It’s just glorious!”

Half an hour later, another knock sounded. “It’s just me,” Reverend Murphy called. “Hope you ladies are ready, since we’ve only a few minutes until time for the ceremony.”

Two housemaids scurried past him and out the door.

“We’ll meet you downstairs in five minutes,” Elena said.

“Just don’t be late,” he called back. “Remember, I’m doing double duty today. Giving the bride away and performing the ceremony.”

Elena poked her head from around the corner. “Don’t worry, my love. We’ll be there right on time, maybe even with a couple of minutes to spare.”

And when the organist struck the first few notes of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, the only bridesmaid, dressed in the palest of blues, made her way down the aisle, while behind her, the bride, escorted by her Reverend Murphy, walked slowly toward the altar.

As they arrived, the Reverend Murphy intoned, “God’s grace be with us. God’s peace surround us.”

But at that moment, the great double doors swung open. Old Shelley shuffled in and sat next to the wall, where a few chairs remained empty.

The wedding party watched in terror as the wizened old woman—the witch of Blacklion—took a seat as if she were an invited guest.

But Elena looked back at her and smiled.

Chapter 6: Dinner at the Dunlavys

A couple of weeks after the wedding, once Richard and Laura had had a chance to settle in to their grand home and their lives as husband and wife, Mazey invited the couple to dinner. She had a few surprises to share with them.

Rory gathered fresh vegetables from the garden and fresh flowers for the table. Mazey swept and cleaned every inch of the small cottage, and Piglet made his bed and put away his toys.

“Now then,” Mazey said, “doesn’t our little place look nice?”

Rory kissed her on the lips.

Piglet said, “Eww” and went back to his bedroom.

“You’re still the best kisser in all of Blacklion,” Mazey said.

“And you’d know that, would you? You’ve tried out all the other guys?”

“A few of them,” Mazey said and winked, knowing full well that Rory had been her only love since they were teenagers.

“Well then, I take that as a supreme compliment. I’m glad you chose me from the hordes of others that were after you.”

“Oh, you,” Mazey said, and kissed him full on the lips.

Rory looked down at her with that dreamy look that Mazey loved. “We’ve a full hour before they get here,” he whispered.

“Yes, we do,” Mazey said. “And what shall we do with our little Piglet?”

“I hear you,” Piglet called from his room.

Rory kissed her on the forehead and slapped her backside. “Ah, well, another time, my love,” he said, and called out to Piglet. “Come on, little man,” he said. “We need to feed the animals.”

Piglet was at the door in an instant. “I get the goats,” he said. “They’re my favorites, and I’m not little anymore, Papa. I’ll be as big as you pretty soon.”

“Hmm…then I guess we’ll have to stop calling you Piglet, eh? We’ll call you by your real name.”

“No, no,” Piglet wailed. “Not that, not Robert Michael. Ugh.”

“What’s wrong with your name?” Mazey asked. “You’re named for your grandfather Robert—may his soul rest in peace—and the Archangel Michael. Why, it’s a fine name.”

The five-year-old stood in front of them and pointed to his chest. “I am Piglet. That’s my always name. It’s famous from Winnie the Pooh, by…by…Mr. A. A. Milne. But now, it’s mine, and I want to keep it. Okay?”

Mazey chuckled. “I’ve certainly no argument to top that,” she said.

“Come on,” Piglet said to Rory. “Our animals are starving.”

Rory bent and kissed Mazey on the top of her head. “The captain has spoken,” he said, and walked out the door with Piglet’s hand in his.

“Don’t be long,” Mazey called.

A little over an hour later, just as dark descended upon Blacklion, Richard and Laura stood at the door.

“Come in,” Mazey said, and hugged them both. “Seems like an age since I’ve seen you two.”

“Oh,” Richard said. “It smells good in here. What are you cooking?”

“Poor Richard,” Laura said, and laid a hand on his arm. “He hardly ever gets a home-cooked meal. Between my promotion to fashion editor at the Herald and his practice, who has time to cook? We eat out most of the time, except when Mother cooks for us and brings us a meal.”

“You’ll get no complaints from me, my love. As long as I’m with you, I’d eat out of a trash bin if necessary.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Well, thankfully, it hasn’t come to that yet.”

“Sit down, you two,” Mazey said. “Dinner’s ready, and Rory will be starved. He’s a huge appetite, that man.”

“And where is Mr. Piglet?”

Mazey put a finger to her lips.

“In bed,” Rory whispered as he rounded the corner. “All tuckered out.” He shook Richard’s hand and hugged Laura. “How’s married life?” he asked.

“We hardly know,” Laura said and smiled. “We work all the time.”

“Laura, when are you leaving for America?” Mazey asked. “You told me, but I can’t remember the date.”

“Only a week from now,” Laura said. “Richard can’t go, but Mother says we’ll have a brilliant time visiting with her friends in New York City. They were so gracious to send us all those wedding clothes. I think she’s more excited about visiting with them than anything else.”

Richard leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Ah, how I’ll miss my lovely wife,” he said.

“And I’ll miss you, my love,” Laura said. “It’s only for a couple of months with the travel time. Then I’ll be back here in Blacklion and back to my job at the Herald. My mother says she’ll just die if she doesn’t get to see America. My uncle’s already bought our tickets, so we’ll visit for a week or so and then come home. I dread it something fierce.”

“Why?” Mazey asked. “Just think of all the latest fashions you’ll see. You’ll have writing fodder for months! Doesn’t Richard have one of the new Kodak Vest Pocket cameras? Take it with you, for goodness sakes. Someone will know how to use it.”

“Well, yes, we have a camera. But still, I dread this trip. For one thing, Richard can’t go, and I know that I’ll be so lonely without him.” Laura patted his arm. “And I’ve never been on a ship before, or to a place as big as America. What if something terrible happens? What if we’re robbed? Or worse?”

Mazey slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t be afraid, Laura. What if you have the time of your life? You could, you know. It might be the best trip you’ll ever take. And how often will you be able to go to America, all expenses paid? That’s a dream for a lot of people, only a dream, but you’ll get to live it. So, be grateful that you have this chance.”

The two young women hugged each other close.

“I’ll try to be brave,” Laura said. “Richard will be waiting for me on the dock when I return.”

“Indeed I will, and I know that you’ll love America. You’ll have such a grand time.”

“Can we go with you, Richard, to the dock to wait for Laura? Piglet is already so excited. He’s never seen a big ship sail out from the docks in Belfast.”

“Of course,” Richard said. “The more the merrier. I’ll pick you up, and we’ll have a good time on the drive to Belfast.”

“Well, now Rory and I have some news to share. But eat up. The food’s getting cold.”

Richard raised his eyebrows. “News?”

“Eat, Richard,” Mazey said. “Not that kind of news.”

Rory got up and opened a kitchen drawer. He took out a stack of rolled papers and went back to his seat. “Look at this,” he said as he spread them out. “Blueprints.”

“Blueprints?” Richard responded.

Rory nodded. “Our new house to be built at the top of the hill. Grand, isn’t it?”

“It’s huge,” Laura said.

“We want to have plenty of rooms for guests or people who might need a place to stay for a night or two. The foundation’s been laid, and the framing will begin next week.”

“It will be beautiful, Rory,” Laura said. “I’m so happy for you both.”

“But that’s not all,” Mazey said.

“Go on, then,” Richard said. “You’re keeping us in suspense, and we’re dying to know.”

“I have a commission,” Mazey said. “My very first commission.”

Laura squealed. “Oh, Mazey, it’s what you’ve always dreamed. Tell us about it.”

“An association in Dublin has hired me to do a painting for their group. It’s to hang on the front wall in their new building.”

“That’s wonderful,” Laura said. “But how did they see your work?”

Rory cleared his throat.

“My sweet husband, bless him. He sneaked one of my paintings out and showed it to the construction supervisor for our house, who asked if he could take it and show it to his best friend, the head of the Waterford Artists’ Association.”

“What a quirk of fate!” Laura said.

“So, what will you paint, and how much are they paying you?” Richard asked.

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