Ceili Murphy winked at her husband as he built Guinness after Guinness. The pints flowed freely from hand to hand as they passed them down to the table reserved for the musicians. One played the fiddle with such bright clarity it stopped her heart. The concertina’s soft tones blended in well along with the pan pipe. The ballads tore tears from her as Liam sang.
Grandda and his friends sat together their wizened heads nodding time, thin reedy tenors adding harmony. Children ran freely between the tables as parents clapped and then Gaia stood up, her slender toes tapping in her clogs. The girl was barely out of childhood, in the wonderous stage before knowledge of what her body was becoming could color the gestures of her dance.
Already she was tall for a girl, and all who knew her wondered if she would follow her father. His feet flashed through the quick pounding steps and she joined him her head already past his shoulder although he towered over most men. Ceili wondered how her brother had been so lucky as to avoid injury during the war. Seeing him home now brought joy to her niece. Aine stood as well, tiny beside her daughter, and smaller still beside her giant mate.
As they danced the jig together, she noted the shadow of deep grief slowly drain from Liam’s eyes. Here in the tavern as the village gathered to celebrate his return, the comfort of home slowly eased the hurt of the horrors he’d been through.
“Does Cardamon have more stew in the pot?” Ceili knew there would be calls for meals. No one would want this magical afternoon to end.
Her husband’s blue eyes caught hers as they peered out from under strong black brows. He nodded, “Aye, a stor, he has a fine hand with the kitchen. I can smell his Shepard’s pie as well.”
Their son disguised his healing talent by taking the lessons he’d learned from his granny in the kitchen while her Tommy had been away and turning them into a fine ability to feed a crowd. She’d had the running of the tavern to keep a roof over their heads, and the old ones had raised her boy.
Could Cardamon help his father and uncle and ease the burden of what they’ve seen? Liam had only returned a week ago. Gaia had nearly fainted when he had walked though the door of the farmhouse where they lived. Aine had confided in her, her brother wasn’t the same man. The German prisoner of war Stalags were horrid. Even though the fighting had stopped, it had taken almost a year for Liam to find his way back. Skinny and haunted, he’d clung to his little girl and wife, barely speaking for the first days after he returned.
“Are you going to sing a ballad or two?” Ceili asked Tommy, as she swung through the door to the kitchen. She didn’t wait for answer, hoping the lively entertainment in the tavern would be enough to get him to raise his fine bass once more. He hadn’t sung a note in the months since he’d come home.
“Here mama, give papa some tea. I’ve added a few herbs to it, it’s good for what ails him,” Cardamon pushed the steaming cup toward her. A richly buttered scone balanced on the saucer, and her mouth watered as she realized she hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“What would we do without you?” She noted the glowing amulet dangling over the counter as he passed his concoction to her. Her son always hung it from the pan rack above the table where he chopped onions, mushrooms and other vegetables for his soups and stews. The blood stones, with their deep red and flecks of green shimmered throwing their light onto the gleaming copper of the pots surrounding them.
“Starve and suffer with every winter cold. I’ll make him well again. I swear. And Uncle Liam, too!” His voice quivered with determination. “And mama, send Gaia back. She’ll run the plates out for you for a few minutes. You need to eat too.”
She nodded, there was no use arguing with Cardamon. He could sense what ailed her before she knew herself. Here in the hills of Cork, where the mists clung to the pastures and ancient spirits walked among the living, his talent was appreciated. Even the young doctor had decided not to argue with him.
Gaia was another matter. The slip of a girl reminded her of her mother, her hair the identical shade of red, with the same curls waving down her back. And she was a seer. Not of the lost, but of souls who have crossed over. At first her brother and Aine had thought their girl was only speaking to imaginary playmates, but as she grew it was more than apparent the spirits were those who had passed on.
The most startling had been the tiny child Gaia had drawn, her crayons flying across the paper, of a black haired girl. Her curls so tight they would have wrapped around her little finger, with a red bow holding them off her face. She called her Maeve. And said she’d lived in the house and chattered about how she couldn’t find her mama. Her lips a tiny bow over a pointed chin with dimples winking in her cheeks.
Gaia’s eyes had gone deep fathomless blue as she drew, and when she finished after putting an impish nose and round grey eyes into the face, she slumped forward onto the kitchen trestle table, into deep sleep. Aine’s frantic call for help took Cardamon across the fields to their home.
He’d been able to rouse her, but only long enough to get some hot cocoa into her, and a bowl of chicken soup. He said, Gaia had been gone away. When they’d shown the picture to the constable in the village, he’d gone straight to the filing cabinet. His fingers looking for a file almost forgotten.
Gaia had talked to the missing daughter of an English earl. She wandered off during one of the wild wet winter rains and was never seen again. Gaia said look for her in Cork Lough below the castle ruins. Her niece would never be at peace here in Cork, for as soon as the story took wings, there were people who sought her out.
Ceili strode out onto the floor, put the tea down for her Tommy and went to talk to Gaia.
“Come girl, the folk will want their suppers,” she jerked her head toward the kitchen.
“Ceili, a spot of stew for us,” her Grandda called out.
“I’ll find out what they want, let Cardamon know about these three will you?” The fourteen year old girl walked from one table to the next. The requests came for stew, Shepard’s pie, chicken soup, and if there were roast beef to be had, was there Yorkshire pudding to go along with it?
Most of the folk were village folk, distant cousins, or families she’d known all of her life. The cosy comfort of padded benches and chairs had many staying for a meal. One family stood out, two children, a bonny lass, and a curiously short young man. His hair grew over his shoulders black as the finest India ink. His eyes the startling green of thriving shamrock, they followed Gaia’s every movement as she wove her way through the tables delivering plates she’d balanced along her arm.
Placing plates and drinks on their table, Gaia looked the young man right in the eye. They must be visitors, traveling from somewhere distant. Their voices rang strange with a slightly different rhythm, the burr of their R’s stronger, their vowels held a twang she didn’t often hear.
“You’re an odd one,” her voice held a hint of curiosity.
“I can’t deny it. My name is Harry. You’d be wise to remember it. We’ll meet again, for you are my destiny.”
Ceili thought, how bold. He’s far to short for such a tall lass a my niece.
“Harry, stop your nonsense. You’re but a lad.” His mother scolded.
“Nay, Sorcha, Harry has it right.” The silver eyed man agreed with his son. The hook at the end of his arm patted Gaia’s shoulder. “But they have a journey ahead, and life to live before. Leave her be, Harry. You will meet again.”
Ceili shivered, and the moment passed as Tommy dipped his head by her brother’s ear. His robust baritone began the sweet lonely notes of Cliffs of Dooneen and his brothers fiddle accompanied the heart rending lyrics. Liam joined his tenor to the chorus and the entire crowd sang along.
“Auntie what kind of daft was that?” Gaia slipped into the chair beside her.
“I have no idea, child. But put it from your mind. Sing along and forget his nonsense.”
“His eyes though. I saw his soul.”
“And if it’s destined, you shall see him again.”
Ceili had no idea how prophetic her words were for at that moment her husband was joined by the strange man with a hook for a hand, and Liam as their voices rose in song after song. The three of them brought shouts of more, and again, as they worked their way through all the old Irish favorites.
Three soldiers poured the pain of the great war into the melodies, releasing emotions a man should never admit plagued him. Ceili listened, grateful for her son’s skill as her husband’s voice vibrated along the beams of the ceiling and floated out through the thick thatch of the roof.
Cardamon manned the taps, drawing pints as his father sang. He caught his mother’s eye and pointed to the empty teacup on the shelf by the whiskey bottles. His herbs had worked their magic.
Small children crawled into their parent’s laps, drifting into dreams as music swirled and the tavern grew smoky from the peat fire. Gaia went to sit with her father, her head resting on his shoulder, and Ceili began to shoo patrons into the cool starry evening.
It was late, and as Harry passed by Gaia, her father playing a lively jig as the piper wove his clear notes between them, he bowed to her.
“You are mine, made for me, I’ll wait for you as long as it takes.” His voice cracked once, newly changed as it was.
“You’re mad,” Gaia shook her head vehemently. “But dream on, I cannot keep you from it.” Her words were rife with disbelief.
Harry turned one last time as his sister tugged his arm. An eerie glow peeked between his fingers before he tossed a crystal spear across the room.
“Keep it close to your heart, till we meet again.”
Ceili caught it by sheer luck, snagging the silver chain attached to it, and handing the deep purple amethyst to her niece.
The girl slipped it over her head, pulling her long titian locks free of the chunky links.
“A gift was after all a gift.” Gaia justified her actions, but the necklace settled on her chest as if it had lived there all her life.
“Perhaps we will meet again. I’ll give it back to him then.” Her wink was saucy, as her hand caressed the crystal.
Ceili pondered fate and its long arm. Her Grandda’s friends long since gone home, he’d laid his grey head on the table, snoring gently as Liam gave a final squeeze to his beloved concertina. Silence descended as she woke Grandda, gently sending him to his home, only two houses away.
Wiping the tables and taking dishes back to the kitchen to be piled into the cavernous farmer’s sink, she felt Tommy’s arms come around her.
“Love has stirred the air, leave them.”
She turned to meet his kiss. Her man was home at last, the past years lifted from his eyes thanks to Cardamon and music which healed the soul.