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On Top Of Nashega

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On Top Of Nashega
by katirene (XMP)

"And they say that the phouka haunts the ruins of Nashega to this very day, guarding the the secrets of Brian Boru and stealing away any mortals foolish enough to approach the entrance too closely." The gnarled, old man stopped and lifted his mug, his face assuming a comical expression of dismay when he found it empty. Immediately one of his listeners called out to the enthralled pub owner to give him a refill, He must be that parched after telling the story, so. The spell broken, the barkeep hurried to comply.

Lonnie Henderson looked around at the smoky, dark Irish pub, The Fourth Wish, shivering appreciatively at the story and enjoying the ambiance. Jim Brody and Jonathan Ford might as well be back onboard the deep submergence vehicle, SeaQuest, for all the attention they had paid the man. And he had noticed, too. In spite of their low tones, a couple of times he had glared in their direction, trying to compel them to listen to him.

Picking up her heavy mug of dark ale, Lonnie continued to scan the room. It wasn't really smoky, just old with the ghosts of past fires brought out of the ancient heavy beams and grey stones by the fine, heavy mist that had been falling for that past few days. The small shot glass standing in the place of pride above the bar elicited a small grin from her. The locals actually claimed that the king of the leprachauns had drunk whiskey from that very glass. Taking a sip of the smooth brew, she eyed another table of her crewmates, one that had seemingly been almost as distracted as her two table companions. But the old storyteller hadn't given them his evil eye. Lonnie grinned again, more widely this time.

Trust CPO Miguel Ortiz and Lt. Tim O'Neill to ask two of the prettiest new ensigns out on this unexpected liberty. The sub crew was up here in the North Sea Confederation researching the re-establishment of seal colonies, and Lonnie had to admit, the four of them had been working overtime on the project. Ensign Irene Adler, usually called Ari because she hated the American pronounciation of her given name, was studying marine mammal communications while her friend and associate, Treysa Barlow was an anthropologist concentrating on determining the societal and cultural patterns of the same colonies. Miguel and Tim as sensor operator and head communications officer respectively, were natural partners in their endeavours. They seemed to want to be their partners in other endeavours, as well.

As she watched, Miguel leaned over and whispered something into the ear of Ari, who shook her head vehemently and replied. Whatever she said, the handsome, dark Cuban found it amusing and started laughing. As the woman pressed her point, Lonnie's eyes narrowed and she watched Ari closely. They'd been roommates for a while, and Lonnie felt certain that the other girl was up to something. But this didn't seem to be one of her usual practical jokes.

Turning around, Lonnie made some excuse to the two men, who barely even noticed her departure, and stood up. The tall, slender, almost elvan helmswoman looked down at the two oblivious men for a moment, her lips tight with pique, then she shrugged and her mouth twisted up into a wry grin. It wasn't as if she wanted either of them to be particularly attentive anyway, but they could at least make the effort. Putting them out of her mind, she began to weave through the tables toward the others.

She moved through the forest of chairs crowding the pub, most of them occupied by local fishermen, but a few filled with self-consciously stylish young people dressed in retro-finery. One young man, wearing an antique tux, actually had a top hat to finish off his outfit, but it kept falling off, so he left it sitting at his table. Lonnie spied him standing over the odd jukebox, choosing a tune. A ballad began to play, something about wind blowing through a field of grain. Lonnie noticed Adler stiffened, her eyes seeking the source of the music before coming to a rest on the figure of her date He didn't seem to observe her momentary distration, still intent onpersuading her to do something. As the curious helmswoman approached, she heard him scoff, "Oh, come on, Ari! You don't believe that story he was spouting, do you?"

Snagging a chair from a neighboring table, Lonnie turned it around, sliding it between Miguel and Tim, and sitting down. "So, what's up?" she asked brightly, looking from Ari to Miguel and back.

"Ari says that there really is a place called Nashega, not too far from here. But she doesn't want to go."

"Tis in the middle of a bit of property," she said, the soft burr that was usually barely detectable in her voice strengthening to a soothing brogue. At the sound of it, Lonnie suddenly remembered that the young woman had lived several years near here. "There are no roads to the hill, and none up to the peak. We'd have to hike in and up. And the ruins aren't much, at that. The rocks are tumbled down and only a few walls remain. All I'm saying is that it really isn't worth it." She paused, adding wistfully and under her breath, "Though the view is magnificent."

"Oh-ho!" Miguel crowed. "So you have been up there!"

The small ensign shrugged uncomfortably. "Once, when I was a child visiting here with my parents. My aunt nun was horrified when she found out." For a moment, her face twisted with sorrow, then she continued. "There's something powerful unchancy about Nashega. T'is long been a place of misfortune," she murmured. He leaned forward, tugging on a curl persuasively.

"We can go in the full daylight, up to the top, look around and come back down. What do you say? If only to prove that there's nothing else there."

"I say it sounds great," Tim added his voice to the discussion. "I want to look at the ruins up there."

"Sure! We can hike up to the top, maybe have a picnic, and hike back down again," Miguel said heartily.

"I agree," Lonnie declared enthusiastically. "It's better than hanging around a pub all the time. What about you, Trey?" Trey shook her head thoughtfully, her heavy, straight brown hair rippling in the indirect light. She was looking much better than she had when she'd first been assigned to the deep submergence vehicle as a resident anthropologist. Lonnie remembered her first sight of Trey. She'd been pale and unsure of herself, far too thin and intense. Oddly enough, it was the concentrated attention from the other thin, pale, uncertain and overly intense crewmember that was inspiring the change in her. Tim reached over to touch the woman's hand as she voiced her opinion, encouraging her.

"I don't know. Hiking in this weather isn't my idea of a good time." She faced Tim and smiled secretively at him. With a small blush, he started to look down, then smiled back.

Ari snorted derisively. "This? This is nothing. A gently kiss from heaven. You should see it when it's really coming down."

Tim leaned over and murmured something into Trey's ear. Sitting back, he added, "And I would like to see it."

"Suit yourself," she replied. "I've spent enough of my life in the cold. I'm not going out into the rain unless I have to."

Another voice joined the debate as Jim Brody, his conference with Commander Ford over, grabbed a chair from another table and pulled it up between Ari and Trey, sitting down without turning it around forward. Crossing his hands over the back of the seat, he leaned onto them and asked, "Have to what?"

Barlow gave her immediate superior a wary glance. Over the past few weeks, when she hadn't been in the water with Ari and Darwin, he'd been drilling her in security procedures, determined to make her into an effective security officer. While she agreed with the idea in principal, his enthusiasm and dedication had a habit of interferring with her liberties.

She swept her hand outward, indicating the others at the table. "Can you believe these idiots want to go out in this weather, hiking who knows how far up an unknown hill to see a bunch of rocks that no one even knows who put up there for some long forgotten reason."

Ari leaned forward. "Nashega is little more than a mile up, and there are paths all over it. The sheep go up there frequently," she answered quietly. "And Brian Boru had a tower built, to watch for Vikings."

"Now that's where ye're wrong, lass." a deep, burring voice corrected her gently. "King Brian did rebuild the tower on yon hill, sure enough. But he used stones already there from another time. The Tuatha de Danann had a fortress there, but the place was already old then. T'is said that when Tara fell, the harp was brought to Nashega for safety, as well as other treasures, too many to tell. And some say the selkies trade there the jewels of the sea for eggs and the liquor and the like." Tim snorted suddenly.

"Selkies, indeed!" he scoffed, nervously. "Next I suppose you'll be telling us that there are leprachauns up there." The old man looked offended.

"Now why should I be telling the likes of you anything of the sort. T'isn't likely you'd be seeing anything there at that. But I tell you, young man ..." Whatever he was going to say was cut off by a cry from the bar. One of his cronies yelled out, "Hey Darbie, get o'er here. Seamus is standin' a round." With a bob of his head and a tug at his cap, he took his leave of them. Lonnie noticed that his hand patted Ari on the shoulder as he passed and the small smile that little woman tried to hide.

Sitting back, she regarded the woman carefully. SeaQuest had been a much livelier place since she'd joined them. Her flair for practical jokes almost matched the sensor chief's, and the two of them together were impossible. Luckily, they both cultivated a professional attitude on duty or the captain would have to step in, but ... Lonnie shook her head. This didn't seem to be one of her jokes, though. There was no air of suppressed excitement about the ensign. Rather, the opposite, in fact.

Brody had been considering the matter carefully, stroking his chin in a gesture he'd borrowed from Captain Bridger. Thoughtfully, he nodded, "I think I know where it is," he said. "If I'm right, then it's about three miles inland. That'll make it four miles up and four miles down, huh? Sounds like perfect training conditions to me, Barlow." He looked around at the faces of his friends and grinned evilly, "In fact, I'd say that several of you are getting a bit flabby. I'll talk to Commander Ford about it. Tomorrow morning, 0600 hours." As he stood up and pulled the chair out from under him, several voices rose in protest.

"No! Oh, come on, Jim. You can't do that."

Looking down at them from the advantage of his six foot plus height, he replied, "I can and I am. And keep that in mind, the next time you think about reprogramming my sleep alarum to play the ride of the Valkyrie at 3 in the morning." With a small nod of satisfaction, he walked away. Lonnie saw the satisfied smile creep into one corner of Ari's mouth, then it disappeared and her eyes appeared lost. The dimunitive ensign leaned over, her hand on MIguel's shoulder and kissed his cheek.

As he responded by turning his face and replying in kind, Lonnie stood up herself. "Well, if I'm going on a hike tomorrow, I want to get to bed early. Who's with me." Miguel gave his companion a mischievious side glance.

"We are, but I guess we should get to sleep, instead." Instead of acting outraged, as per her usual, the woman laughed and hugged him close. Tim stood up and tossed money on the table.

"Lonnie's right. Let's settle the bill and go." As they put on their rain gear, Lonnie found herself wondering curiously, just what was Ensign Adler up to, and why she didn't seem all to happy with the success of it. She paused to look back into the public room of the old tavern, her eyes seeking the old storyteller. But he was gone, and there was no sign of his presence at all.

******

After grounding the inflatable, Lonnie picked up the fifty pound backpack that Lt. Brody deemed appropriate for the outing and started to shrug it on, wishing that he hadn't noticed how close the hill was to the shore. If he hadn't horned in on the conversation, they could have driven to the base of the rise and climbed up from there. Well, at least it wasn't raining, or misting or whatever you wanted to call it. Craning her head upward, Lonnie could see the stars fading as the sky lightened toward dawn. Miguel, already wearing his pack, was holding another one just out of Ari Adler's reach, suggesting something to her. Curious, Lonnie moved closer.

"I think that you'll have enough to do with your own," the young woman answered, nose in the air. Lonnie could have predicted what would happen next. Dropping the pack, Miguel lunged forward and swept the girl off her feet carrying her a few feet, singing a song from the previous night about a girl worth her weight in gold. Ari twisted in his arms and managed to get him to slip and fall on the green clover covering the field by the landing. He kept his grip around her, twisting so that he landed shoulders first, and not on top of her.

Using the impact to break free, Ari rolled away, pulling up a fistfull of greenery on the way. Laughing with gleeful triumph, she shoved thup the discarded pack up and on. By the time Brody turned around, he found her standing demurely beside him, waiting to begin, while Miguel had take off the heavy load and was undoing his top, trying to get the grass and leaves out.

"That will be enough, Ortiz," he ordered. "This isn't a pleasure walk. Get yourself in order and let's move out." With a glare split between the dimunitive ensign and the burly lieutenant, the Cuban sensor chief obeyed. But Lonnie heard him threaten his tormentor in a quiet voice as they started off.

"You just wait, Irene Adler. I'll get you back for this." She turned her face down, flirting her eyes up at him through her lashes.

"I'm sorry, chief. I don't know what came over me." With a grin that was half devilment and half promise, she added, "But I'll help you get it out later, if you want."

"You'd better," he added, leaning forward as if to touch her.

"Ortiz!" Brody called back. "Get up here and keep your eyes open!" With a good-natured shrug and a grin, he hurried up. As he left the young woman, her smile faded, and the veneer of happiness disappeared, leaving a look of sadness and resolution behind. Then Trey Barlow caught her up, and the two scientists began a low-voiced conversation based on some computer projections they'd been working on. Lonnie shrugged and held back to talk to Tim.

Before too long, they were at the base of Nashega hill. Despite the storyteller's tale, it wasn't all that impressive a formation. They had a clear view all the way to the top. As Ari had claimed, it was about a mile high, and a fairly easy slope, with well defined paths. They started up, checking their instruments and following proper landing procedures. Brody was confirming his compass readings as they went.

About halfway up, a mist began to rise from the rocks beside the rude path they followed. With each step, the haze rose higher and higher, until they could barely make out their hands in front of their noses.

"Maybe we should head back down, lieutenant?" a voice called out.

"Come on, Miguel, where's your spirit of adventure?" Brody ragged back. "Going to let a little fog get to you?"

"I didn't say anything," the CPO protested. "I thought it was O'Neill."

"Not me!" that worthy claimed. "And you know it."

"Of course it was you, Tim," a woman's voice insisted.

"Trey!" his voice was full of disappointed betrayal. "You know that wasn't me!"

"I didn't say it was," Trey answered.

"Now you're going to claim I said it?" Lonnie's voice charged unpleasantly.

"You guys, stop fooling around!" Brody ordered. "You're making too much noise."

"What's the matter, lieutenant? Afraid we'll get captured by a bunch of sheep?" Lonnie insinuated snidely, then immediately followed the comment with the question, "Who said that?"

"You should know," the sensor chief's voice insisted.

"No she wouldn't," the Trey seemed to correct him. "No man told her."

"What's going on here?" Brody yelled. He was immediately answered by a mocking chorus, echoing his question in the voices of his companions. "What's going on here? What's going on here?"

"Stop that!" he ordered. The choir in the mist responded, "Stop that! Stop that!" With a startling suddeness, Lonnie stumbled out of the obscuring haze, to find Lt. Brody standing a few feet ahead, looking back with an expression of perplexity. She turned and found what looked to be an entire cloud, descended from the sky to to ring the hill.

Turning back toward Jim, she shrugged and started to say, "Well, at least we climbed above ..." but then she realized that she was looking down the mountain, not up. "Oh, no we didn't." Somehow, in spite of their instruments, they had gotten turned around in the fog and ended up back where they'd come from. Brody was shaking his compass, trying to get it to work properly. Lonnie looked back toward the cloud bank.

Frowning, she realized that she and the lieutenant were alone. "Jim, where are the others?" Quickly, he looked up and around. Taking out his PAL, he called in. "O'Neill, report your position. Ortiz, where are you? Adler? Barlow? Report! Come on you guys, speak to me!" But there was no answer.

Looking at the sole representative of his team, Jim Brody strode forward, shrugging his heavy pack to a more comfortable position on his back. "They aren't answering. We'll have to go in after them." So saying, he plunged into the mist, and with a wry twist of her lips, Lonnie followed. Immediately, they were surrounded by hostile, unearthly laughter, fingers pinching, buffetting and spinning them around, finally shoving them back out of the fog. Lonnie picked herself up and sat down on a good-sized rock, dropping the load and checking for bruises. Those pinches had hurt.

"Jim, hold-up," she advised as the officer, with an expression of pig-headed stubborness, made a move back toward the wall of grey mist. "If we go back in, we'll only get the same again. Let's make a circuit of the hill, see if there's any other way up and keep calling them. Maybe they worked around to the other side, and something in the soil is keeping the signal from them?" He halted on the limit of the mist and nodded.

"Good idea, ensign. Let's do that." With a sigh, Lonnie resumed her pack and trudged after him.

 

Chapter 2 by katirene (XMP)

Miguel heard the arguing voices, including his own, fade behind him as he tracked the wisps of breeze that were the only sign of Ari's passage through the grey pearlescent fog. As soon as the first snide comment had been spoken, he'd felt her step away from his side, and had decided to follow her silent withdrawal, curious as to her reasons for wanting to climb this hill in the first place. He knew her well enough to tell when she was trying to pull one over on them, but had decided to go along with the game just to find out what she was up to. A single step carried him out of the dimness through to clear space with a startling suddeness that left him blinking in the bright light. The clear, empty space.

Puzzled, he looked around, peering at the openings in the mossy green weathered piled-up stones, the remains of ancient fortifications. Insided the old building, surrounded by the best preserved of the structure, was an old uncovered well. From the looks of the remaining foundations, the well head must have been located inside the fort, maybe even inside the keep, itself. The trained fighter in the young sailor approved, even as the worried lover looked about anxiously for signs of his girl. He prowled around, looking for some indication of where she might have gone. He'd been right on her heels, she couldn't be very far.

Once outside the circle of free standing walls, he took a few moments to look down the hillside, approving of the view. Anyone trying to defend this spot could easily see attackers long before they got within striking distance, and firing down the gravity well was a lot easier than trying to get missiles up. He noticed Brody and Henderson wandering around about half-way up the slope. The fog must have dissipated, he thought, wondering why they didn't join him. He waved and called out, but they trod on around, ignoring him. He went to the other side. No sign of Ari. None of Tim or Trey either, for that matter.

Shrugging his muscular shoulders a little, he approached the well. Putting both hands on the waist high, stone barrier, Miguel leaned over cautiously, trying to peer down the dark hole. Stooping to pick up a pebble from the ground, he dropped it in, listening for the splash, trying to estimate the depth of the shaft. Instead, he heard, "OW! What're ye think ye're doing up there? Ye could have brained me, at that!"

Like a ball shot from a cannon, a small projectile came barreling straight up out of the opening, right up under the sensor man's nose, causing him to fall over backwards onto his bottom with surprise. It stood on the top of the well lip and resolved itself into a little, man-like figure, regarding him with as much confusion as Miguel felt at the sight of it.

The small figure recovered first, bending forward to peer suspiciously at the sensor chief. "Ere now, where is it ye be coming from, eh?" he asked. Miguel just sat there feeling dumbfounded, wondering how the trick was done.

It looked like an old man, about 50 years old, wearing a pair of brown tweed knickers with a matching cap, a plain shirt under a fawn corduroy coat with leather elbow patches and biting down on the stem of an illegal pipe, the smoke from it puffing out of his mouth. That is, if such a man could be only two feet tall and tough as the shillelagh in his hand. "Weel then, explain ye'sel!" the gnarled, querulous figure demanded around the obstruction of the pipe.

Miguel got to his knees, reaching up to touch the manniken with one hand. It immediately somersaulted over the well opening and balanced easily on the other side. "Ah, ye shan't be gettin me pot o' gold that easily," he crowed. "Ye'll need to be a might more canny than that!" Miguel sat back on his heels.

"You're supposed to be a leprachaun?" he asked dubiously.

"No! I'm supposed to be the tooth fairy," the wee man mocked him back, adding indignantly, "Of course I'm a leprechaun! What did ye think?" His tone of voice expressed doubt that the man before him was capable of the exercise.

Miguel looked around skeptically, now certain that he knew where his friends were. "All right Ari!" he yelled, secure in his knowledge as to whom the ringleader would be. "Tim, Trey! You can come out now! I'm impressed. I'm very impressed. And when I get hold of you, Ari Adler, I'll do some impressing of my own. Now, drop the joke and come show me how you're doing it!"

"Ahhhh!" the small figure looked enlightened. "So, ye're with the other pore souls lost in the fog," he said sanctimoniously. Leaning forward on his cane, he asked with malicious curiousity, "How'd ye escape the traps? Ye've no smell of the charms of the white Christ aboot ye and none yet of cold iron. How'd ye do it?"

"Look, I don't know what you're talking about. My crewmates and I were hiking to the top of the hill when we got lost in some fog, like you said. One of us took off in the wrong direction, and I followed her. Have you seen her? She's very short and ...." He stopped, suddenly realizing that to a being of less than a yard in height, Ari would be enormous. "She's about yea tall," he held his hand at his shoulder height. "With soft, short, light brown curls and bright blue eyes. She's dressed about the same as I am."

"Naw, I've seen naught like that," the soi-distant leprachaun denied, but his eyes flicked down into the darkness of the opening. It was done so quickly that if Miguel hadn't been watching him closely, he would have missed the glance.

"She's down there! Did she fall?" Alarumed, he stood up, taking out his flash and using it to probe the depths, playing it along the sides, checking for foot and hand holds. The leprachaun jumped away. Satisfied that it was possible, Miguel opened the heavy hiking pack that Brody had insisted on, and took out a length of rope.

The supposed leprachaun seated himself on a nearby rock and stabbed the air in his direction with the stem of his pipe, fingers curled loosely about the bowl. The smoke floated toward the intent sailor. "So, this is one ye'd follow even into the bowels of the earth? I hope she's main worth it."

Tying one end around the trunk of a tree that had sprouted next to the well, Miguel answered abstractly. "Oh, she's worth it all right. She's the bravest, truest, smartest girl you can imagine. Anyway, I'd do the same for any crewmate." He was beginning to feel a trifle light-headed, and wondered just what the pipe was burning. Did tobacco really make you feel this way?

"Oh, aye." the figure agreed sarcastically. "Of that I'm sure ye would." And he laughed. Miguel ignored him, shining the light around inside one last time. With a dubious look at the lounging, laughing figure, he dropped the free end of the rope down the hole and climbed over and inside, feeling distinctly odd and floating. Concentrating with more effort than he usually needed, he began to let himself fall down into the darkness.

It was easy going, and Miguel was congratulating himself on that point when the rope became slack in his hands, undone at the top, and he was falling. The bottom rushed up to meet him and he knew no more until ...

******

Awareness arrived with pain and the sound of voices arguing. More arguments. Eyes closed, he identified Ari Adler's voice, but her opponent was no one he'd ever heard before. Either a woman with a very low voice or a man with a high tenor. It sounded untrustworthy, sly and tricky, with an underlying laughing tone to it as if nothing was quite real.

"You didn't grant either of my two wishes, you little fraud! And I won them fair and square!" Ari was stating vehemently.

"Now, Airenay Adler, child. That's just not true. I did give your uncle a pot of gold now, didn't I?" The voice argued persuasively.

"You did not!" she contested hotly. "And anyway ..."

"Sure and I did. A lovely little pot, decorated with sapphire and pearl daisies. And he'd been keeping it in the best guest room now, hasn't he? Inside the matching dry sink." Ari gasped.

"The Marie Antoinette chamberpot? You sent that to Uncle Paul? Why you little cheat!"

"Now, why would you be saying that, lass. It was a pot of gold, now wasn't it?" the laughter was very near the surface.

"And anyway!" Ari repeated her earlier words loudly, as if trying to get the conversation on some determined track. "What about my family?"

There was a moment's silence. During this time, Miguel opened his eyes and focused blearily on the arched ceiling, decorated with vaults and columns. The dry, hard surface beneath him proved to be a flagstoned passage. Trying to push himself up, to find out from where the voices were coming, he discovered that he was tied, hand and foot, with his own rope. Somehow, that last seemed to be the ultimate insult. His head hurt, but the headache seemed to be more of a hangover than a blow.

"You said that you would keep them safe," Ari's voice continued after the pause, with a suppressed sob. Miguel began to work at his bonds, trying to undo them, to get to her.

"Now, child, I tried ... Yes? What is it?" Miguel heard the buzz of a quiet exchange. "The prisoner's awake. Good, good. Keep an eye on him."

"What prisoner?" Ari demanded trenchantly.

"Nothing to do with you, my dear Airenay. Nothing to do with you." Miguel raised his head and yelled as loudly as he could.

"ARI!" He heard her gasp, and call back, "Miguel?" Opening his mouth to answer, it suddenly snapped shut against his will and his eyes closed tight. Small hands started to pick him up, but he heard running footsteps and felt himself dropped as she knelt beside him.

"Oh, Miguel! What are you doing here?" she asked, starting to untie the knots at his wrists.

"I came looking for you, fell down a hole in the ground. Are you all right? Why'd you wander away like that?" Ari removed the last of the bonds at his hands and sat back preparing to move down to untie his feet. But he grabbed her hands before she could entirely withdraw them and sat up, drawing her close for a passionate kiss. For a moment, they lost themselves in their awareness of each other, then a voice called them back to the madness that was currently passing for reality.

"Or maybe it does," the amused voice corrected itself from somewhere down around Miguel's feet. He looked toward it. A small, roly-poly, jolly-looking male figure stood there, no more than two and a half feet tall. His red beard was a neat roll around his jaw line, otherwise, his face was clean-shaven. The little gold crown on his head rested upon a soft cloud of hair the same colour.

He wore an ornate green coat with tails, and green knee breeches with white silk stockings, a white shirt and an elaborately figured waistcoat. A gemmed gold chain encircled his neck and his shoes had decorative gold buckles on the tops of them. Miguel stared at the sight, but his companion seemed unimpressed, shoving the tiny man out of the way unceremoniously so she could get to the bindings on the chief's ankles. Miguel bent down to help, but got his hands slapped away as well, much more playfully. He began coiling the loose rope, eyeing the little man with a speculative eye.

"Well, Airenay, child. Introduce me to your young man," the leprachaun ordered. Ari waited until she'd finished her task, gathering the rope up and handing it to Miguel. He knew that she was delaying her answer to emphasize her dislike for the wee person. Standing up, Ari offered her hand to Miguel and they both stood, looking down at the tiny figure.

"King Brian of Nog Nashega, this is Senior Chief Petty Officer Miguel Ortiz. Miguel, this is Brian, King of the Leprachauns, con man extraordinaire, liar, fraud and cheat."

Laying his hand to his heart with an expression of pain on his face, the king responded, "Ah, lass, you wound me to the quick you do." To Miguel, he added, "Pleased to make your acquaintance, young sir."

"Ari, what's going on?" Miguel asked quietly, bending to speak into her ear.

"What's going on, Miguel Ortiz, is that the lass has one last wish to make and she has come to claim it." King Brian leapt straight up to an outcropping in the wall, about four feet high, putting them on level with one another. "Isn't that right, my dear."

"No, it isn't and I'm not your dear. You may have filled one wish, your Majesty, but you can't wiggle out of the other. You said that you would save my family." He looked extremely sad at this.

"Ari, where are we?" Miguel persisted. She turned to him, opening her mouth to answer, but the leprachaun again responded before she could speak.

"You're inside Nog Nashega, the hollow hill, itself. In the realm of Faerie and my very own kingdom." The resplendant figure bowed his head slightly. "And here you'll stay."

"Oh, no we won't," Ari contradicted. "We're leaving. We might as well go now. Miguel, I'm sorry if I led you into this. I don't even know why I wanted to come. There's nothing here for me." King Brian looked alarmed.

"You can't do that!" he protested. "I've waited eight years to grant your third wish, you can't make me wait another ten!" The small ensign turned viciously on him.

"I can make you wait an eternity, you wee caitliff!" she hissed at him. "You cheated me! You robbed my family from me! I hope you suffer!" Turning back to the perplexed sensor operator, she said, "Let's go, Miguel."

"I'm afraid that he can't be going with you, my dear. As a full mortal inside the hill, he's subject to the rules. He must stay and serve us for seven years." Miguel ignored him, taking Ari's elbow.

"Do you know the way out?" he asked. "I was unconscious when I was brought in." She nodded her head.

"You can't leave. I won't let you." Miguel spared the small, glittering figure a brief glance. One of the leprachaun king's subjects was bouncing about below him, trying to get the attention of his sovereign. But the tiny tyrant ignored the gesticulating figure. Miguel eyed the smaller figure for a moment, wondering why it looked familiar.

"Just try to stop us," he challenged, then turned back to Ari. It occured to him that the frustrated messager was probably the one who had untied the rope and dropped him down the well.

Before the king could respond to the challenge, a rolicking violin tune began to play and King Brian perked up his ears, his face brightening. "The Fox Hunt!" he cried gleefully. "Sound the horns." To the young couple, he said with dignity, "I'll discuss this matter with you when I return. At my convenience." The music rose, crescendoing and a hunting horn cried from the depths of the earth. A troop of miniature horses, no larger than greyhound dogs galloped past, parting around the legs of the SeaQuest sailors and King Brian leapt from his high perch and landed in the saddle of the lead horse. Yelling and calling, he urged it onward.

Miguel exchanged a wondering, curious glance with Ari and reached out to take her hand before following the last of the steeds into a large hall. It was filled with objects crafted of glowing gold and shining silver, decorated with glittering gems everywhere. An odd cannon or two stood here and there, and a huge throne was set in the centre, up on a podium. The place of honour in the great hall, though, was reserved for a beautiful golden harp, shimmering with a light all of its own. The music came from a violin played by of a old, human man standing up next to the throne. After a few moments, Miguel recognized the storyteller from the pub.

As he bowed and sawed, the herd of miniature horses swirled around him wildly, and leprachauns leapt from the perimeter into the saddle, following their cheerful ruler. As the last one took up the reins, a large crack opened on one side of the room and the hunt rode out with yelling and calling, horns crying and dogs, before now unseen, baying the prey. Wearing a smile of sly satisfaction, the old man played until the last had ridden through, then nodded toward the opening.

"Better hurry, you two," he advised. "It doesn't stay open very long. Go on, then, go!" Ari looked toward Miguel, gently disengaging her hand from his and approaching wizen musician.

"Come with us, Darby," she offered. "You don't belong here. You should be with your own kind." But Darby shook his head sorrowingly.

"Nah then. This is where it is I belong, now, lass," he claimed. "Wi' me Katie dead and gone, I've no one out there. Besides which, without the magic of Brian of Nog Nashega, I'd be dust and gone mesel' before the day was out. But the two of ye don't belong here. Ye belong up with the air and sunlight." Ari began to smile at the irony of this statement when, as if to punctuate the thought, the opening snapped closed with a loud crack.

 

Chapter 3 by katirene (XMP)

Darby looked at the young couple with sad eyes. "Looks like ye've lost ye're chance. That was t'only way out wi' no spell guarding it."

"What about the well I fell down?" Miguel asked. Ari nodded her agreement.

"There's no way up to the opening," the old storyteller claimed. "Tis a good eight feet up before ye get to walls around ye. But ye may be right about it." Miguel shrugged.

Looking down at his companion, he avowed, "We can do it."

"I know where it is," she claimed, taking his hand again and picking up her pack. The old man darted away, returning staggering under an identical pack. Miguel hurried to relieve him of the weight. Then, after getting it settled on his back, returning to retrieve the hand he'd dropped. Darby followed as they entered one of the passages.

"Tell me lad, how did you follow yon lass through the fog? I mean, once she'd gotten so far, no power on the third path could have turned her from her goal, but ye? The wee ones have traps set for the ordinary mortal." Miguel shrugged, not understanding the question.

"I wondered about that myself," Ari interjected. "You aren't wearing your Christopher today, are you?" He shook his head.

"Nay, that'd not do it," the canny old man contradicted. "Tis a simple thing for one of the Good Folk to turn a religious medal aside. They mislike them too much. Are ye carryin' cold iron or bread or salt?" Miguel shook his head, feeling more and more bewildered by the conversation.

"I have no idea what you two are talking about," he said. "All I know is that Ari moved away from me and I followed." Ari shrugged, dismissing the question as unimportant, having found what she was looking for.

Pointing up, she said, "There it is." Miguel knelt down, removing his pack and rummaging inside. He took a grappling gun out of it. Ari pulled another coil of rope from her bag, handing it to him as he reached for the one he'd used earlier. "Better use this," she advised. "They cut that one when they tied you up." Nodding, he accepted it and secured one end to the hook.

Taking aim at the small bright circle far above them, a little off from straight up, he pulled the trigger, and moved to one side of the opening, urging the others out of the way as well. It was good that he did, because the hook fell back down. Adjusting the power setting, he fired again. This time, it stayed up and the chief began to carefully pull in the slack, stopping and tugging when the rope grew taut, testing the hold.

"Ok, you go first, Ari," he advised. "I'll hold it steady down here." She gave him a worried glance, then nodded.

"Wait until I give it three tugs," she said. "I want to make sure it's secured properly before you climb up." Before she took hold of the cord, though, she turned to the old man. "Goodbye Darby O'Gill, and thanks for everything. I don't think we'll be meeting one another again." She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

With tears in his eyes, he patted her shoulder. "Ye take care, lass." The two men watched her swarm up the rope and disappear into the black opening. Darby faced Miguel and said, "She has me Katie's own eyes. Ye be good to her, hear." The young man nodded in return his eyes straining to follow her ascent.

Half an hour later, he put his own leg over the stone wall of the well, and dropped to the ground on the other side. Looking with approval at the end tied to the tree trunk, he gave the rope two tugs and began to pull it rapidly up. Ari untied the other end and helped to coil the length as it appeared. She had her pack open beside her, waiting to receive the line.

Finally, everything packed away and secure, they turned from the well, ready to start the descent, they found the way blocked by a circle of the wee folks, seated upon their horses at all of the openings in the broken stone walls. The king of the leprachauns sat upon his own stead watching them with sad eyes, no trace of laughter dancing in his eyes.

"Darter," he said. "Will you be making your last wish." Ari shook her head stubbornly.

"I came up here, eight years ago, with one simple wish. I asked you to take my nightmares away. You refused to do that, said that you could keep it from coming true. You didn't."

"I couldn't remove your dreams, lass, no more than I can be removing the blue from your eyes or the curl from your hair. It's as much a part of you as anything in you." He sighed. "If I could, though, I'm not sure I would. T'is a blessing as well as a curse." Ari shook her head, negating the idea.

"As for your mother, your father and the wee ones. I tried, lass. To be honest, I tried. I never dreamed they'd be going on a pleasure outing with one child sair sick."

Ari sighed and looked down at her feet. "Then it was my fault, after all. I'd been trying to stop us from going for more than a week. They thought I was pretending to be ill to force them to stay here." She looked so unhappy that Miguel couldn't bear it. He reached out to touch her, but a scream rose up behind them and he twirled around, eyes wide open and seeking danger. He felt, more than saw, Ari doing the same.

A female figure, dressed in long, pale, filmy tatters, her face covered with a shroud, hovered above the mounted figures blocking the paths. The leprachauns stared up at her with expressions of consternation and fear, struggling to control their rides without removing their eyes from the unexpected threat. Screaming, crying, wailing with unbearable sorrow, she floated there, her hands wringing a bloody piece of cloth betweent them. Looking up, only her eyes visible in the shadow beneath her viel, pools of dead blackness ripped from the fabric of eternity, she pointed toward the two SeaQuest crewmembers, holding out the fabric, her voice rising with the pain of loss and betrayal. Ari whirled back around, confronting King Brian.

"It's the Banshee, isn't it? How long? How long until my dreams come true again?" Miguel glanced back momentarily, wondering what she was talking about, then turned to face the danger again.

King Brian's voice was heavy with sorrow. "I'd say you have a month, maybe less. Best you enjoy the time you have, lass."

"No! Not again! I won't be left behind again. All right, King Brian. You want me to make my final wish. Here it is. I don't want to survive him. Do you hear me. When the black coach comes for him, I want your word that it will return for me, as well. Promise me this."

Miguel heard her words and a sick apprehension filled him. The thought of Ari contemplating death deliberately, for whatever reason, sickened and frightened him. Fearing this new threat, he spun around away from the hovering, wailing spirit, reaching out to pull her close and protect her from this new threat. His eyes dared anyone to try to pull her from his arms as Brian of Nog Nashega, a note of surprise in his voice, asked, "He means that much to you." She nodded, the tears filling her eyes spilling out onto her cheeks. Miguel wiped one from her face, catching it on his forefinger.

"Yes, he means that much to me. I can't contemplate a life without him."

"Ari, no!" Miguel pleaded, looking down at her with Care. He remembered after he'd been shot, how she'd been so convinced that he was dead that she'd turned her face to the wall and retreated into a coma, refusing consciousness, willing herself to death. "I told you before, I won't leave you, as long as you need me! Never. You can't get rid of me that easily."

His eyes lighting slightly, the merry twinkle reasserting itself, King Brian nodded slowly, a small, odd smile on his face. "Granted." he said. At this word from the king of the leprachauns, the banshee faded away, leaving on last wail of sorrow hanging in the air. Then he added, "But I warn you, if you take up arms against yourself, there will be nothing I can do. In truth, I will consider myself bound to save you, for the sake of the wish."

As Ari nodded her agreement to this condition, King Brian studied the sensor chief closely. "And you? Does my Airenay mean as much to you? Is this the reason you would brave the black fog and descent into the dark hole? Would you, yourself, face death to bring her back."

Miguel nodded. "Yes, she does and I would." Brian of Nog Nashega dismounted and walked toward them. With each step, he seemed to grow, until he was almost as tall as Miguel, although a great deal broader.

"Then be kneeling, the both of you, for my blessing," he ordered. Feeling a sense of wonder, Miguel obeyed, tugging Ari down to her knees as well. The sidhe lord began to speak, a sonorous, rolling speech in a language that Miguel couldn't identify, but guessed was Gaelic.

Glancind down at the woman beside him, he found her looking up at the standing figure with an expression of stunned comprehension on her face. She met Miguel's gaze with a quick glance of pure, delighted mischief before bowing her head hiding her reaction. That mischief reminded Miguel very strongly of similar ones worn by the king. A small suspicion occurred to him, and he pressed the stud of the recorder on his belt. Finally, Brian put his hands down on their heads.

"You can get up and be on your way," he advised them kindly, giving Miguel a surreptious wink. "My subjects will not hinder you. And my dear, for your sake, you will find all your friends returned to you below the fog, relatively unchanged by the experience. I do not advise you to continue the climb." Ari nodded agreement.

"Thank you, King Brian. And I'm sorry for the things I said about you." He backed away, growing smaller again rapidly.

"Tis fine, darter, I do well understand." She nodded, this time with an air of finality.

"Good bye. Come on, Miguel. Let's go home." Miguel, shaking his head in confusion at all the undertones of the exchange, allowed the small woman to tug him down the slope. He looked back briefly, but there was no one there. Even so, he had the feeling that the leprachaun king was watching them from the vantage point.

Matching his steps so that he was striding beside the ensign, he asked curiously, "What was that speech he was giving back there?" Ari awarded him a brief, twisted grin.

"That? Oh, that was just an old blessing. A poem of sorts, nothing important. It was in ancient Gaelic, not modern Irish. If I had a recording of it, Tim or I could probably give you a translation, but," she shrugged. "Anyway, it was just his way of apologizing for things. Nothing to worry over."

"I wasn't worrying. I just thought that it sounded like some kind of ceremony." He snorted with amusement. "It almost sounded like a priest celebrating a marriage." Ari laughed at the thought and dropped his hand and running ahead.

Over her shoulder, she treacherously laughed back at him, "I'll race you to the bottom." Laughing and whooping, Miguel chased after, confident that he would catch her before much longer.

********

Sitting on a boulder, rubbing her sore feet, Lonnie heard the yells first. Her head shot up and she saw Miguel and Ari burst through the heavy fog.

"Ortiz! Adler! What do you mean, running like that in that murk? What if you'd fallen and broken something?" Brody yelled, finally finding an outlet for his worry and frustration.

"What murk?" Ari asked innocently, turning around, her eyes widening with surprise. "Oh, that murk. Umm, it's not so heavy on the other side?" Her explanation seemed lame to Lonnie and from the looks of it, Lt. Brody didn't find it any more satisfying.

A few moments later, Tim O'Neill and Trey Barlow exited the grey bank as well. With a last glare at the barrier, Brody nodded and gave the order to return to the launch. None of the four who were missing would give any explanation of what had occurred, a fact that Lonnie found highly aggravating. And three of the four seemed pleased rather than otherwise, in spite of the wasted time. But Miguel appeared somewhat worried and watched the small ensign anxiously when he thought no one was looking, as if expecting her to disappear at any moment.

*******

Ari paused when she heard the knock at the door to her quarters. "Enter," she called out, pulling her robe back on rapidly. As she'd expected, Miguel Ortiz stood there, looking bemused. "Well, come in."

"Ummm, perhaps I'd better come back later," he suggested, his eyes lighting up at the sight of her state of undress.

"Don't be silly. Come in. Come in, we'll do the best we can," she sang laughingly, sitting on the bed and patting the space beside her in an inviting fashion. "I won't attack you, you know." She laughed at his heartfelt sigh of regret and mock-sorrowing agreement.

"I know. I know," he mourned jokingly. "The story of my life."

"Well, what is it you're wanting to be saying to me?" she asked, the Irish lilt strong in her voice after the days of hearing it in her ears. She'd have to be watching that, she thought.

"I found something interesting when I was preparing for my shower," he said. Ari grinned impishly.

"Oh, aye now? And ye brought it to be showing me?" she arched her eyebrows at him coquettishly. Miguel laughed and nudged her knee.

"Are you sure you aren't planning on seducing me?" he teased. She moved a little away from him, still smiling.

"So, what would it be?" Wordlessly, he pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it.

"This," he replied simply, dropping the slightly wilted four leaf clover into her palm. "You dropped this down my back this morning."

"Oooohh!" she breathed, then burst into a merry peal of laughter. "And this it is that kept the Good Folk from harming ye. Oh, Miguel. I'm so glad." And she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. Pulling away, she adjusted the edges of her robe together again, before opening her palm and looking at it again. "If you aren't minding, I'd like to enclose it in preservative and make of it a pendant."

"I'd like to keep it, actually," he apologized, kissing her forehead. "Sort of the bride's gift to the groom." Feeling shocked, Ari looked up into his twinkling dark brown eyes. "I did get a recording of his so-called poem, after taking a look at your face when he started. I missed some of the beginning, but there was enough there for Tim to figure out what it was. According to him, it's the marriage ceremony performed by the ancient kings of Ireland when giving away their female relations." Ari dropped her eyes.

"Oh!" She felt that there should be something more to say, but for once, her facile intellect wasn't working. A finger applied pressure to her chin, forcing her head up.

"So, you did know what it was. Why didn't you tell me the truth. Why would he try to join us in marriage like that? Was it just another one of his tricks?" He paused and took a deep breath before asking the important question. "And what about these dreams that have you so worried?" Ari licked her dry lips, an act that the disturbing man beside her apparently took as an invitation, because he leaned forward and kissed them.

When she could, she tried to explain. "I was thinking all these years that it was a dream, only. A fever dream, brought on by the illness and my guilt at surviving. But then, there was Darby O'Gill at the Fourth Wish, as real as ever I remembered. I got to talking to him, while you and Tim were trying your hands at darts and he reminded me. See, when my family was visiting my aunt, I met Darby O'Gill then, in the village and started listening to his stories. I told him about this horrid nightmare I was having about a car accident, how it was that I was seeing my whole family die, one by one before my eyes. He advised me to climb to the top of Nog Nashega. He said that the leprachauns up there could be helping me with that."

She sighed. "It was like a dream at that. I tricked the king of the leprachauns into giving me three wishes. And I wished for them to take the dreams away, but you heard his answer to that. He was after saying that I was his great grand-daughter. Can ye believe it? That he'd seduced my great grandmother when she was in Ireland, after one of her divorces. My great uncle Paul and my grandmother Honor were the result."

Despite himself, Miguel snorted with laughter. "Not very likely, is it?"

Ari shrugged. "Well now, it is true that the two of them were born after she left her second husband, and Uncle Paul always did say that he was a bastard. But, as you can imagine, it's a page of me family history, me mother prefered not to talk about."

"Anyway, I wished for King Brian to save them from the crash. And then, because I'd won three wishes, I asked for him to give Uncle Paul the traditional pot of gold. That was supposed to be a joke. I was fooling around, because I really couldn't think of anything else to wish for. After that, I was feeling a bit light-headed, so I left."

Shrugging, she concluded, "And that's that."

"Not entirely," Miguel corrected, raising her hand up and kissing it, holding it after. "What about the last thing, the blessing. The joining?" Ari smiled sadly.

"You don't have to worry about that, Miguel. I wouldn't think of trying to hold you to it." She gave a little laugh. "That ceremony hasn't been used for the last four or five centuries, I doubt it's legal anywhere in the world, now."

"Ok," he agreed pleasantly. "But I intend to hold you to it, Ari. Will you repeat it in a Catholic Church, with me beside you?" Ari tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat, staring blankly at the serious sensor chief. He shook her hand gently, then slipped down onto one knee. "Will you marry me, Irene Adler? This time with a priest presiding." Dumbly, disbelieving, Ari stared.

"Oh, I don't mean now, or even soon," he continued. "I don't want you to give up your career for me. But after I pass the officer's test. I know that means that we won't be able to serve on the same vessel anymore, but if that's what it takes," he stopped when she put her hand on his soft, warm lips.

"You don't really know anything about me, Miguel, about my past. You've never met any of my people, and I haven't met yours. I'll marry you, Miguel Ortiz, if you're sure that's what you're wanting, but we have to find out, first, if it is what we're wanting." She smiled sadly at him and sighed. "I do love you, you know. Silly of me, but there it is." He stood up and grinned down at her.

"Well, actually, I think that's the first time you've said it. But I love you, too, so I'll try to keep reminding you. And, yes, I'm very sure that this is what I want." Reaching down, he raised her up and Ari leaned into his embrace, her arms stretched up to encircle his neck and bring his face down to her level. "And I think you do, too," Miguel murmured, his lips seeking hers. At that moment, Trey Barlow, pushed the door open.

"Ooops, sorry, excuse me," she spluttered with embarassment, backing out. Miguel and Ari turned around and began to laugh.

Miguel called out happily, "No, come on in. You've got to congratulate me!" he demanded. "She said yes."

 

end