A Leprechaun’s Gold
Aed clambered over a gnarled root, and gazed at the entrance to Underhill. His home. Sugar milk, honey cakes and a soft bed of moss waited beyond the Door.
He touched his pocket. Without his gold coin, he could not pass the Door. Nor would any of his kin let him in. The Folk were an unsympathetic lot.
Aed leapt into the air and caught a tree branch in his nimble fingers. Ears perked, he leapt from tree to tree, in search of the coin thief he’d tracked since waking. Caught sleeping and robbed … by a human. He’d never live the shame down.
Distracted, Aed missed a branch and crashed to the forest floor. Muttering curses, he stood and thrashed dirt from his trousers. All his noise almost masked the shushing steps behind him.
Aed leapt just as a massive paw swiped, and caught his shoe. He snagged a branch, pulled himself up. He huddled, shivering against the tree, and glared at the forest lion.
The beast sniffed Aed’s shoe and licked her chops, then turned and strolled back into her lair.
Aed shivered again. Without his coin, he couldn’t turn invisible or see in the dark. In the night, he would be at the mercy of owls, rats and worse. He resumed leaping through the trees, toward his thief.
A gangly man, covered in tangled, black hair, blundered through the forest. A satchel bounced at his side. Inside, Aed’s precious coin glittered.
Aed stretched out on a branch, hands behind his head, and whistled.
The thief looked up and grinned when he spotted Aed. “Ah, manikin. Looking for your coin?”
“T’will bring you only trouble.” Aed tapped his shod foot. “For wherever you spend it, it will return to your pocket. You’ll be accused of thievery and witchcraft.”
The thief smiled. “I’m not looking to spend it. You want you’re coin back, take me to Underhill.” He glanced around and grimaced. “I can’t find it myself.”
Aed’s stomach twisted. Worse than his kin discovering he’d lost his coin; if he brought a human to Underhill, they might well throw him to lions. An idea struck him, but he hid his smile behind a look of consideration. After a moment’s thought, he nodded. “We have an accord. Follow me.”
The thief crashed through the undergrowth while Aed leaped overhead. They reached the cave, and Aed pointed. “Underhill is there.”
The thief gazed into the dark with a covetous look, then turned to Aed. “Come along then.”
Aed hopped to the man’s shoulder, and tried to still his shaking limbs. Forward, into darkness thick with the smell of beast.
“Wouldn’t be tricking me, would you?” the thief whispered.
Aed said nothing. Two yellow eyes loomed from the darkness, and the beast pounced. Aed jumped clear, and tumbled to the undergrowth, heart hammering away. The thief screamed for long minutes, then the only sound was the lion feasting. Aed waited, then crept into the cave.
His coin lay on the ground, and the lion asleep over her kill. Aed snatched up his coin, and bounded away, back to Underhill and home.