by Karen A. Romanko
"The plan is simple. You wait outside with the ride, the babe distracts the old guy, I grab the loot."
"I love it when you call me 'the babe,'" said Nora.
"All right. Nora distracts the old guy. Sheesh."
"What about this 'ride'?" Rollo asked.
"I'm meeting a guy tonight. So are you in or not?"
"Yeah, I'm in," said Rollo.
"Okay, Harry. The unicorn's out back. He'll guide you through the forest. What's the score this time? You're not making another run at the castle, are you?"
"I'm paying up front for the transportation. That's all you need to know."
"You're going after a troll's tolls! Probably the McNeff Bridge. That troll's a lazy bum."
"No trolls. I've got Rollo with me now. Professional courtesy and all."
"C'mon, Harry, I can keep my mouth shut."
"Oh, yeah. One drop of truth potion, and you'll be singing like a Siren. Now what about the unicorn?"
"Better let the babe handle him."
"Don't let Nora hear you. Fairy is okay, but she hates babe."
"Well, she's not here now, is she? The babe should ride the unicorn into the forest. You and the troll can follow on the horses. I got him a Clydesdale. That should hold him for a few hours."
"I'm sure Rollo will appreciate your thoughtfulness."
"Yeah, I'm a prince."
Rollo held the unicorn and the two horses at a safe distance from the cottage. Harry hid behind a tree. Nora made an aerial approach, landing softly at the front door. She could hear hammering inside.
Nora knocked -- the hammering stopped. No one came to the door.
Nora tried again. Still nothing. Finally she said, "You may as well answer the door. I'm not going away until you do. I just need some directions. I'm hopelessly lost in this forest."
The door opened a crack. "I can't help you, lady. How'd you get in here in the first place?"
"I thought I saw a unicorn and followed it in."
"Damn unicorns. Get more people lost."
The fairy jammed her foot into the opening, so the man could see her better. "Well, if you really can't help, perhaps you could spare some water?" She fluttered her lashes.
"Look, plenty of dollies come around here trying to distract me. It doesn't work."
Nora tried her faux pout. "I'm just lost, sir. Is it because I'm a fairy?"
"Lady, I don't like anyone." He stomped on her foot.
Nora howled. "Why you little son of a . . ." She pulled her foot out, the better to hop around with.
The leprechaun bolted the door. Then he yelled from behind it, "I'm giving you fair warning. Stay away from my gold! It's cursed."
"What happened?" Harry asked.
"That creep almost broke my foot."
"Are you kidding? What male, leprechaun or not, can resist a female fairy's charms?"
"Don't even think it."
"Well, you are kind of a looker -- for a human. Maybe he likes --"
"Forget it, Nora. I'm not going up to that cottage door. The old geezer is probably just too dried up to have any hormones left. Okay, the frontal approach didn't work. We need a new plan."
"All right, thinking, thinking."
"Can't you think quietly? What was the old guy yelling about anyway?"
"Something about the gold being cursed."
"Like we haven't heard that one before."
"Rollo's waiting for us. Let's regroup. "
"Well, I've brought my club," Rollo said. "I guess I could bust down the door and clonk him on the head."
"Let's call that Plan C," Harry said. "I'm more of a finesse kind of guy -- the less blood the better."
"But I think Rollo's on to something," suggested Nora. "We should knock out the old guy. But in a bloodless sort of way. He'll sleep like a baby."
"How are we going to do that?" Harry asked.
"First, we'll need a bellows. I noticed the old boy has one in the stable. I'll grab that. Then Rollo will use the bellows to collect some boar's breath. Are you up for that, big guy?"
"Piece of cake," said Rollo. "Wild boar! Wild, that's a laugh."
"Good . . . uh . . . man. Then we'll bring the full bellows back here and gas him! He'll be out for a couple of hours and we can toss the place."
"Beauty and brains. What a combo," admired Harry.
"Oh, are my brains showing? I'll have to watch that."
The fairy, the troll, and Harry approached the leprechaun's cottage under cover of darkness. Harry and Nora waited by the stable while Rollo went up to the front door. He inserted the nozzle of the bellows into a small opening in the wood and pumped boar's breath into the cottage. He waited a few minutes and then forced open the door.
The troll found the leprechaun slumped over a work table. Rollo felt woozy himself, but a strapping specimen such as he wouldn't succumb to a little gas. His head scraped the ceiling as he started to search for the leprechaun's gold.
"How's it going?" Harry yelled from outside.
"He's out cold," Rollo answered. "I'm looking now. Probably too soon for you to come in."
"Look for secret hiding places," coached Nora. "Loose bricks over the fireplace, floorboards . . ."
Harry and Nora could hear items falling and crashing.
"Nothing so far. I'm moving into the back room."
Rollo emerged after more bull-in-a-china-shop clatter. "Couldn't find it," he said.
"Well, it's got to be in there somewhere," said Harry. "Let me have a go. The air's probably cleared some by now."
Harry followed Rollo into the leprechaun's cottage. He emerged a while later empty-handed and looking a little green under the torchlight.
"Now what?" Rollo asked.
"I've got to get in there," said Nora.
"If you can stand it," cautioned Harry. "I know you think you're tough, but you're kind of . . . you know . . . delicate . . . gossamer wings and all."
"Delicate, schmelicate. Give me your bandanna, Harry. I'll put it over my nose and mouth -- all right?"
"It's your funeral."
The threesome marched into the cottage with a look that seemed to say, "We're not coming out empty-handed this time." The place was trashed: floorboards opened, bricks knocked down, furniture tossed.
"See, we've looked everywhere," Rollo said. "I don't know where he could have hidden it."
"Maybe we're going about this all wrong," Nora observed. "What if there is no secret hiding place? You know, 'hide in plain sight.' Did you look at his pots?"
"His pots?" asked Harry.
"Yeah, where he does he cooking."
Harry walked over to a wooden table by the hearth. "Just these: two empty pots and one full of pea pods. You don't think . . ."
"Well, you didn't look under the peas, did you?"
Rollo rushed over and started throwing pea pods into the air. Then he saw the first glint in a leprechaun's pot of gold.
"What the . . .? Oh, no -- not again!" The leprechaun raised his throbbing head from the table.
His eyes darted to the pot. He arose slowly and made his way over. As he expected, the pot was still full of gold. He looked around for something else, and then found it -- more pieces of gold on the floor.
The first of the floor pieces was pretty and perfect -- this he knew was the beautiful fairy he'd met earlier. The second was big and lumpy. He'd seen enough of this type to know it was a troll. The third was overly shiny. He couldn't be sure of this one, but whatever it was, it thought a lot of itself.
"Why didn't she listen?" he asked the air. "I tried to warn her! Where do they think my gold comes from -- selling those shoes I make?"
He continued, apparently comfortable talking to himself. "She seemed nice, though -- even if she was trying to con me. Maybe the kid had a hard life, who knows? I could turn her back, I suppose. Just her -- no one else. Not her friends -- or any of the others. I didn't make these rules. I'm stuck with 'em like everyone else. This is what a man in green does. Aw, I must be going soft . . . I'm getting too old for this."
Just then the pretty, perfect piece of gold started to shimmer. It gave off a pearly light, and an aura of wings appeared. Suddenly Nora stood before the leprechaun.
"Hey, what gives? I didn't turn you back!"
"I took the liberty of casting a protection spell before we came -- but your magic's pretty potent. Seems like my spell was a little pokey."
"And to think I was about to take pity on you!"
"No room for pity in this biz, bub."
A loud pop signaled Rollo's return. "Ow!" he yelled as his head scraped the ceiling one more time.
A sizzle announced Harry's arrival. "I guess the gang's all here," he said.
"Take it!" the leprechaun cried, shoving his pot of gold in Nora's face. "It's been nothing but a curse."
"Don't mind if we do," said Rollo. He stuck his club under the handle of the pot, slung it over his shoulder, and carried the pot of gold out of the cottage.
Harry, Nora, and Rollo rode their steeds through the enchanted woods. At the forest's edge, the sylvan sounds of birds singing and insects humming gave way to other noises: snaps, booms, creaks, groans, and rattles, all coming from behind them. They turned around to look.
One by one the gold pieces in the leprechaun's pot were transforming into every manner of two-legged creature: elf, banshee, goblin, brownie, troll, fairy, and human. They were the most motley group of beings ever to stagger out of a forest.
"Well, let's see what's left," moaned Harry.
The threesome peered into the pot.
A single piece of gold shone back at them.
"I guess that's all a leprechaun gets to start," Rollo said.
"Yeah, the guy was a real success story -- You realize that most of this last piece will go toward expenses," Harry grumbled.
"We should have enough left for a nice meal," Nora chirped.
"Great! Anyone else starved?" asked Rollo.
"No more magical mystery tours for us," Harry whined. "It's the king's gold -- real gold -- or nothing from now on. Whose idea was this anyway?"
"It's going to be a long night," Nora said, nodding in Harry's direction.
Rollo rolled his eye in agreement.
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