A Bargain

by Balance

- provided for use on SirJeff's Ponygirls.
- do not use without the author's permission.




Many people have heard of the wee folk of Ireland: the leprechauns. Many stories both false and true are told of these mysterious fairies. Some say that a leprechaun may grant a wish for a helpful man, others that following a rainbow to its foot will yield a pot of leprechaun gold. Some also say that you can bind a leprechaun by throwing your shoe. You may have heard that a leprechaun stands but inches high in his boots, while perhaps others have told you that they can reach a manís waist or more.

Of all the stories and folk wisdom of the little people, though, one thing rings truest of all: leprechauns are mischievous, and will delight in playing games of all kinds. One should always be careful when dealing with leprechauns, however sweet or simple their words may seem.

In fact, let me tell you a story, that may illustrate what I mean far better than aimless theory.

 

It so happened that, many, many years ago, there lived a farmer by the name of Sean Maguire. His wife was Nuala, a charming lady with a heart of gold and a smile to match. Their farm was small and not at all wealthy, but they were happy, living as they did in peace and calm and with the beauty of the land around them.

This story, however, does not concern them. Instead it is about their daughter, Molly Maguire. Molly was a beautiful girl of eighteen years with hair as red as flame, and she was as friendly and cheerful as could be, well liked in the little village down the track from the farmhouse.

Now it was Mollyís responsibility to feed her fatherís animals for the night before turning in, and to herd the sheep and pigs and goats from the yard into the barn. One night, just as she was locking the barn behind her, she was startled to see a leprechaun perched on the fence by the barn. He was clad all in emerald and jade shades, and a three-corned cap was atop his red-bearded head. He was grinning broadly as he smoked a tiny pipe, and he doffed his hat and bowed as Molly saw him.

"Hello," said Molly, who was surprised but did not wish to appear foolish.

"And good eveniní to ye, miss," he leprechaun. "I wonder if yeíd be so good as to aid a poor leprechaun with a little problem?"

"I can try, certainly," agreed Molly, for she always liked to help when she could.

"Itís like this: we leprechauns like our sport, and we like our gambling and drinking. It happens that every so often, a band of us get together to bet on little races we have, or on a game oí hurling. One of our favourites is collecting together some dogs, and sheep, and swine, and goats, aní all sorts; and riding them on races through the fields at midnight. All for small wagers oí gold, of course.

Molly nodded. "I have heard of such things," she said, "in the tales the old wives oí the village tell."

"Well, now, hereís me fix," the leprechaun continued. "Weíre having just such a meeting tonight, and I need to find something to ride. Youíre a farmerís daughter, so I wondered if youíd be so good as to let me borrow one oí your fatherís animals for the night? I imagine thereíll be a wee bit oí gold in it for your trouble."

Molly thought about this, and decided that it was an extremely generous offer. She told the leprechaun so, and he beamed a broad grin, his little pipe wobbling.

"Thatís most kind of ye!" he said. "Iíll get use of an animal from your farm for the night; youíll get a few pieces oí gold. The bargain is struck! Iíll be outside your house just before midnight; be sure to meet me, so ye can get the animal out oí your barn for me."

Molly agreed and said her goodbyes, and turned to leave.

That night, Molly waited until the candles in her bedroom were nearly burned down before creeping out of bed, tiptoeing across the floor, everÖ soÖ slowlyÖ opening her creaky door, and making her way down the bare wooden stairs. She stepped delicately along the cold stone floor of the kitchen, making her way to the mantelpiece where she knew the keys were hung. But when she arrived, she couldnít find them anywhere.

She felt around on the floor; they werenít there. She moved the plates to look behind them; but they werenít there either. Now somewhat forlorn, she bustled over to the table and moved the bowls back and forth hopefully; but the keys werenít there either. Molly realised that she had no idea where the keys could be. She would just have to tell the leprechaun that she couldnít give him an animal to ride.

She opened the heavy wooden farmhouse door and stepped outside. There was a nip in the air and a full moon in the sky. In a few minutes November would become December. Molly shivered as her nightgown waved in the cold breeze.

She quickly stepped across the courtyard, bare feet pattering on the stones, and made her way to the barn, where she saw the leprechaun waiting just as he had said, still smoking his pipe.

"Hello again, miss," he said. "Have ye got an animal chosen for me?"

Molly shuffled embarrassedly. "Well now, thatís the thing," she mumbled. "I couldnít find the barn keys. I canít get any of the animals out. Iím afraid thereís no animals for you to ride." She stared at the floor.

The leprechaun chewed on his pipe in a thoughtful manner. "Thatís not entirely true, now, miss," he said. "Thereís yourself."

"Cheek!" exclaimed Molly, her chest puffed out and her hands on her hips.

"Now, now, I meant in the strictest sense of the word," the leprechaun said. "I wasnít meaning to say that ye wallow in mud, or you were born in a barn. But you live and breathe, which makes ye an animal, of a sort."

"You mean to ride me around the fields? I wonít have it!"

"Iím afraid, miss, that you donít have choice in the matter. We had a bargain, that you provide me with an animal to ride. If the only animal to hand is yourself, then yourself it must be."

"I suppose youíre right," sighed Molly. "What must I do?"

"Just come with me to the next field," he said. "Iíll tell ye where to go." Suddenly he vanished, and appeared on Mollyís shoulder. "That way," he said, pointing with his tiny pipe. Molly set off.

 

When they arrived in the next field, a large affair with a hedge around it, Molly saw the strangest thing she had ever laid eyes on. A collection of animals of all kinds; dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, a few chickens and even a fox were milling around near the far corner.

"Thatís the way," said the leprechaun, "over there."

Molly headed towards the rabble, her bare feet already filthy from the dirt on the ploughed field, and as she drew closer she made out smaller figures, standing around, sitting on the animals, laughing and chatting, and drinking. Leprechauns! Lots of them! Molly was agog.

"Hello fellas!" the leprechaun called out, his voice suddenly so loud that it took Molly completely unawares and he had to grab on to her hair as she stumbled. The other leprechauns called back a semi-drunken greeting, which faltered slightly when they realised where he was sitting. As Molly reached the group, barks and squeals and clucks ringing out as the animals made way, one of the leprechauns addressed them.

"Ah, Seamus," he said. "Whatíve ye got there, then?"

"Hengis," Seamus called back from Mollyís shoulder. "This young lass is going to carry me in the races tonight." Molly curtsied, hoping it was appropriate.

There were uncertain murmurs. Hengisí hat wobbled as he scratched his head through it. "This is highly irregular, Seamus," he said. "I donít know if itís been done before. Using one of the Big Folk as your mount?"

"How do you do?" Molly said with a curtsey, wondering if perhaps she was expected to introduce herself.

Instead of replying, though, Hengis turned back to Seamus and gestured at Molly with his pipe, with an affirmative raising of eyebrows. "See now, when was the last time ye heard a dog say that?" he asked matter-of-factly.

"I know itís a little strange, Hengis," said Seamus. "But the lady has kindly agreed to provide me with an animal to ride. As it turned out she couldnít open her barn, so the only animal available was herself, poor thing."

Understanding slowly washed over Hengisí rosy cheeks like a sunrise. "Ah," he said, "ítwas a bargain. In that case, youíre welcome here, miss. Weíd offer ye a whiskey, but Iím afraid yeíd drink us dry in a few mouthfuls."

Molly assured him that was quite alright, and besides which whiskey made her ill, although she clasped her arms and rubbed them for the cold.

"It doesnít seem quite fair on the others, though," he continued, "if Seamusí mount has a few extra benefits."

"Benefits?" enquired Seamus. Such as?"

One of the other leprechauns, perched on a rooster near the back of the group, piped up. "For the fences!" he called out. "She has hands to climb with!"

"Quite right, quite right," nodded Hengis sagely. "We canít be having that."

He snapped his fingers, and Molly felt her arms whip around behind her back, and a length of twine wrap itself around them. She struggled but she was held fast.

"Just a minute!" she said huffily, but the leprechauns didnít seem interested. Indeed, another of them, a drunk-sounding fellow, pointed out a further advantage.

"None of our animals have clothing!" he barked loudly. "Seamusí has artificial means of keeping out the cold, but ours have naught but what nature gave them!"

"Aye, aye," said Hengis. Before Molly could say anything he had snapped his fingers again. Mollyís nightgown vanished into thin air, leaving her standing naked in the field, her delicate white skin bathed in the pale light of the full moon. Molly gasped with horror.

"Well Iíll be, fellas," mused Hengis to the other leprechauns. "Thereís hair between her legs! And itís as red as that on her head! Now thereís a thing." There were mumbled agreements that this sight was strange indeed.

Molly again tried to free her arms to cover herself, but to no avail. She tried to cross her legs, but that didnít cover up the source of Hengisí comment. She turned and twisted, trying to find an angle that presented as little of her as possible to public view, and settled on facing away from the leprechauns, her backside presented but her feminine parts hidden.

"Now hold on!" she cried, straining to turn her head to face Hengis. "I agreed to run your race, but not to be paraded like some town strumpet in a free house!"

"Padraigís right, miss," said Hengis, pointing at the drunken leprechaun. "Ye canít be having an unfair advantage. You agreed to run the races, and I say what goes in the races. Youíre still bound by youíre bargain with Seamus. Ye have no choice in the matter."

Yet another leprechaun, sat on the broad back of a sow, now raised his voice. "And another thing!" he called out. Molly began to fret. Could it possibly get worse?

The leprechaun continued. "She can understand words and suchlike!" he pointed out. "The rest of us have to use reins and bridles, and saddles and stirrups."

"Aye, heís right," agreed Hengis.

Molly protested. "Nnnnnng! Nnnnnng!" she said, for a bridle had just appeared around her head, and a bit between her teeth. She squirmed hopelessly, stretching her jaw this way and that trying to prise the ugly thing out, but in vain. A saddle to match sprang into existence on her shoulders, held in place with leather straps and buckles around her neck and armpits, and Seamus hopped into it, grasping the reins that led to Mollyís bit.

"Aye, this is grand," he said, bouncing up and down in the saddle to test its strength. He could only just see over the top of Mollyís flame-red curls but seemed quite satisfied.

"Nnnnnng!" said Molly, her eyes like thunder.

"Now Seamus," warned Hengis, ignoring her, "you have to promise not to tell her what to do with your words. Reins and spurs only."

"Thatís certainly fair," agreed Seamus.

Molly rolled her eyes helplessly, but she had made a deal and knew there was nothing she could do. She told herself that she would make the best of it, because after all, there was gold in it for her family.

 

Finally, after much bumbling, more laughing and even more drinking, the leprechauns managed to get things organised, once everyone was sure that Molly didnít have any more "unfair advantages." Seamus told her what she would have to do.

"Donít you worry about where youíre going, lass," he said. "I know the route. Just go left when I do this" Ė he tugged the left rein, pulling Mollyís head to the left Ė "and right when I do this." He tugged on the right rein. "When I want you to go faster Iíll do this." Seamus flapped the reins up and down, and dug his heels into Mollyís neck. She squealed with shock as she realised that he was wearing spurs. "And go slower when I do this." He pulled on both reins, and Mollyís head was jerked upwards.

She shivered as the cold in the air bit at her skin. It must surely be past midnight now, which meant that she was standing naked outside in the middle of the night in December. There were no clouds. The hairs on her bound arms stood on end, and her nipples were hard as rocks and poking forwards fiercely.

"Right everyone!" Hengisí voice rang out. "Itís time for the first race! Take your places please!" Seamus said nothing, but Molly presumed from the tug on the reins and the prick of the spurs that she was expected to run. She followed the strange instructions as best she could, and soon found herself lined up alongside five other animals: Seamusí fellow jockeys were riding a dog, a fox, two goats, and a chicken. Molly nearly laughed despite herself. Even without the naked farm girl in the line up, anyone seeing it would surely think it the strangest thing they had seen. Molly wondered how on earth this could be considered an even race; she was sure she could outrun a chicken over a distance, but how was she supposed to keep up with a dog? If the leprechauns had even considered this, they didnít seem to mind.

The contestants were kept waiting for several long moments, and Molly felt so self-conscious that she barely heard the starting order. "Go!" yelled Hengis.

Molly squealed again as Seamusí spurs jabbed her neck, and the racers took off into the night, to the cheers of the watching leprechauns. Molly felt ridiculous as she lurched through the mud of the field but could do little about it. The dog and fox soon moved into the lead, but halfway across the field Molly found to her amazement that she was in third place, the chicken still flapping around and the mud seemingly too boggy for the goats. Seamus didnít seem satisfied, though, and lashed away with the reins.

A few tugs at the corner of her mouth steered Molly towards a low gap in the hedge on the far side of the field, and as she saw the dog and fox up ahead run straight for the space, she realised with horror that Seamus meant to jump her over it!

Now Molly was used to hard work but not exercise of this nature. She was already huffing and puffing as she drew close to the gap, and her bare breasts were bouncing painfully. The two leaders sprang up and over with ease, but Molly realised she would have to speed up still more if she was to have a chance. She gritted her teeth against her bit and drove herself onwards. Mud flew up around her speeding legs as Molly gave it everything she had, and when she was within a few feet, she leapt upwards with all her might. She tucked her legs up underneath her, and prayed that she would clear the fence, but it was so high that she thought she must surely fall down. She screwed up her eyes, waiting for the crash.

But it never came. Molly sailed over the hedge and touched down on the other side without even breaking her stride. She was amazed. How had she done it? Was it some kind of magic the leprechauns had used? She had no time to consider the matter, though, because soon enough her leprechaun riderís spurs bit at her again, and the thoughts were driven from her mind. Behind her she heard the two goats coming over the fence and renewed her efforts, desperate to stay ahead of them, her strange two-limbed form speeding comically onwards.

Through two more fields the race went, and then into the woods. Molly begged every landmark to be the finishing post, but just when it seemed the race must surely be over, Seamus would pull on her reins and steer her on to a new leg of the contest. Over more fences she sprang, through muddy bogs, across vast fields, through hedges, over streams and between the trees of deep woods. Mollyís chest heaved and her lungs burned, her legs felt as heavy as anvils. Sweat poured from her in a most unladylike fashion, soaking her hair and sticking it to her face and dripping in several uncomfortable places. But she was forced onwards by the spurs and reins, her rider uncaring of her pains. All that mattered was the race.

After miles and miles of desperate running young Molly was a mess. Her shapely legs were caked in mud. All the way up to her bare hips, she had thorn-scratches and cuts. Many hedges and bushes now sported a clump of short red curls upon a branch, torn cruelly away from her own soft bush as she had ploughed through. But still she ran. She yearned to stop, but she could not help but do as Seamusí prods and lashes bade her. Up hill and down dale, on through the cold December night, Molly ran and ran and ran.

Finally, just as Molly thought she was about to faint dead away, she found herself back in the field they had started in. She almost cried out in thanks as Seamusí pulls of the reins steered her back towards that little corner of the field. As she crossed over a line drawn in the mud, Hengis waved his hat in the air, and to the cheers of the gathered leprechauns she flopped to her knees, gulping in air through her bit, steam rising from her body like a hot bath in winter-time.

"Well done Seamus!" he called out. "Ye finish third out oí six, a magnificent performance with such a strange mount!" There was no word of praise for her, Molly noticed as she panted away. One of the goats clattered across the finish line to more cheers.

"Thank you kindly, Hengis!" said Seamus. "It was tricky, to be sure, but Iím happy with her." Finally, at least a little recognition! Molly heard Seamusí voice again, this time softly in her ear.

"That was a fine thing ye did for me there, miss," he said. "As I promised, thereíll be some gold for your folks, enough for a whole herd oí swine." Molly sighed to herself, happy that she had done such a difficult thing to help her family in difficult times. It all seemed worthwhile now, despite all her cuts and bruises and tears in places where she would rather they werenít.

"Thereís one more thing," came his voice again. Molly pricked her ears. "If youíd do me one more favour, Iíll double the amount oí gold I give your family."

Molly gave a noise through her bit that she hoped sounded inquisitive.

"Run in the last race oí the night for me," he said.

An exasperated grunt escaped Mollyís bitted lips.

"Think of it though, lass!" Seamus encouraged. "A new bargain: let me ride you in the last race, and Iíll let you go with twice the gold. Agree?"

Now Molly was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sink in to her nice soft bed, but she knew that her family would need all the money they could get in the winter. She would just have to put up with it, she decided. She nodded.

"We have a deal, then!" exclaimed Seamus, "Grand!"

 

And so Molly waited and waited for the last race of the night. Hengis had insisted that her reins be tied to a hedge-branch as all the other animals were, "in the interests oí fairness", and Seamus had fastened them so high that she could not kneel down. So there she stood, roped like a horse to a post, for hours as the other races took their course. The cold was biting her with spiteful teeth, and as she stood shivering she wished the last race would come so she could warm up and go home. Finally, Seamus scampered over from where he had been drinking whiskey with the others. With great dexterity he hauled himself up Mollyís legs, then her belly, then her chest with handfuls of skin and flesh, and she yelped at each pull.

"Itís time for the last race," he said as he hopped into the saddle and untied the reins from the hedge. Molly breathed a sigh of relief. She was still tired from her first race hours ago, but she was freezing from head to toe and running would warm her up. "Letís go over and hear the rules," the leprechaun continued.

Molly was puzzled at this. What would she have to do? Surely there could be no more rules than simply running around a course as fast as possible. Regardless, she obediently trotted over to the gathering of leprechaun jockeys and mounts gathering around Hengis.

"Well boys," began the racesí organiser. "I think yeíll all agree weíve had a grand time this fair night!"

Lots of cheers. Several hats were thrown in the air, and several curses heard as they landed out of reach.

"As ye all know, the last race oí the night is usually a different affair, with a few extra bits ní pieces, for fun like. This time, Iíve decided that thereíll be a little contest to decide who gets to enter."

Murmurs of drunken confusion and speculation.

"The contest is this: the five of ye whose mounts can stand on three legs for longest will enter the race."

Molly was aghast. She didnít have three legs to stand on! How could she enter?

There was a roar of laughter and appreciation that far outstripped the wee folkís size, but when that had died down there were voices of complaint. The leprechauns riding birds, and Seamus, were voicing their concerns.

"Unfair!" exclaimed one of them, the same rider of a rooster whom Molly had defeated in her first race. "My mount only has the two legs, like!"

"Aye!" cried Seamus, his voice making Mollyís eyes cross with its loudness next to her ear. "How can we enter? We canít meet the rules!"

"Now now, lads," said Hengis. We all know the last race is just a bit oí fun. If you canít meet the rules, well, ye canít enter! Iíve made me decision."

Molly was relieved. She couldnít enter the race. Now at least she could go home, even with only half the gold, and warm herself in her bed. So, as the leprechauns tried to get their four-legged steeds to lift one of them from ground amidst much hilarity, Molly turned to leave, expecting her clothes to reappear and her strange horse-like apparel to vanish. But there it stayed, and her clothes were still nowhere to be seen. She tried to make a noise that suggested she wanted to be free of her harnesses, and to her relief the bridle at least vanished. She stretched her mouth awkwardly, pulling at the red marks where the straps had gnawed at her cheeks.

"I canít enter the last race, then," she said to Seamus.

"Indeed, miss," said Seamus.

"Well, might I have my clothes back, and be rid of this contraption? I know I shall only get the first amount oí gold, but Iím most grateful for that," Molly assured him.

Seamus paused. "I donít think thatíll be possible, lass," he said.

"Whyever not?" Molly demanded. "I did all ye asked! Tíwas no fault oí mine that I couldnít run in the last race."

"Thatís as maybe," replied the leprechaun, "but we had a bargain, and bargains among the wee folk are binding, whomsoever they end up benefiting. What was it I said again? Oh yes: Ďlet me ride you in the last race, and Iíll let you go with twice the goldí. Since ye didnít run in the last race, I can neither give ye twice the gold, or let ye go."

"But I did as ye asked!" Molly burst out, now rather worried.

"The second bargain annulled the first," Seamus told her. "Either I ride ye in the last race and let you go with the gold, which was my side oí the bargain; or you do not run, and so neither happens, and no change in the state oí things occurs. Since the state oí things at the time was that ye be my mount, thatís how things must stay."

Molly stood open mouthed in horror. "Ye meanÖ you canít let me go? Ever?" she asked.

"Aye," Seamus affirmed brightly.

"But, can we not make a new bargain? Iíll do something else for ye, and ye can let me go then?" asked Molly desperately.

"I suppose that might be possible," came the reply. "But truly, I canít think of anything ye can do for me. Iíve no call to make a new bargain."

"But nnnnnnng!" The bit had reappeared in Mollyís mouth. She shook her head, and wriggled this way and that, but neither it nor her harness nor Seamus would budge.

"Now, donít be like that, miss!" scolded Seamus. "Youíll be doing me a fine service. Iíll get about much faster, and in some style to boot!"

"Nnnnnnnnnnnnng!" she said again.

But poor Molly was stuck, and she knew it. She sighed as the reins lashed down and the spurs prodded her neck again.

"Come on!" Called Seamus. "Places to go! Things to see!"

Though she tried with all her might to resist, Molly could not help but spring forward at her riderís command. Speeding up as the reins came down again and again, the laughter of the leprechaun party fading in her ears as her poor tired legs bore her onwards. She sprang over the fence at the far side of the field for the second time that night, and on she ran, further and further away from her home, far off into the dark countryside.

 

So, now you see the perils of bargaining with the wee folk. Even the simplest thing can go awry, as poor Molly Maguire discovered to her cost.

What happened to Molly, you say? Well, after than night, no one who knew her ever saw her again, and there was much sadness in the village that winter, I can tell you. But though my story took place a hundred years and more ago, people to this day sometimes say that out of the corner of their eye, they catch a glimpse of a beautiful young lass, her hair red, her body as naked as the day she was born, and what looks for all the world like a little man on her shoulders, passing by the way as they travel the roads of Ireland. But by the time a second glance is made, she is always gone, leaving the travellers to wonder if their eyes are playing tricks.

Itís a well-known fact that should you see a swirl of dust as it whirls by you, you should always doff your hat, in case it should be the sign of the one of the wee folk passing. Maybe next time you make to respectfully bow or curtsey at just such a thing, you might like to aim your gaze a little higher, perhaps to the height of the eyes of a eighteen year-old farm girl.