By Bronze Wool
It was currently the late 17th century, the age of Enlightenment, and on a warm summer’s day in Northern Ireland, sitting between the Northern county of Louth and Mountain of Slieve Foy was the small coastal town of Carlington, or as it was known by the townspeople, the “Narrow sea inlet of the hag”. The merchants happily set up shop in the Market Square, where once a week farmers and craftsmen from all over the land would come together to sell their goods and livestock.
All in all, it felt today was going to be another perfect, boring day.
Not unless Fortuna lúchorpáin had anything to say about it.
“Catch me if ya can me laddies and I’ll give you me pot of gold!” A small woman with ginger hair and freckles laughed as she ran through the damp streets.
Fortuna was an unusual young woman even in a particular fishing village such as this one. Her mother was not native to these lands, brought over the North Atlantic Ocean she came from the homeland of Greek gods. She was an amazing woman and to this day Fortuna lived by her mother’s words, “The Blood of the gods runs through our veins, child. Much like how you can always depend on the wind to bring about the rain, you can also depend on the luck of the Gods to always be there by your side.”
She ran through The Tholsel and her pursers were not too far behind as they crossed the town’s gate, she headed straight for the town’s square where a few villagers gave her a curious looks as she ran by, clutching a sack of jingling coins in the fold of her coat.
“When I get my hands on you I’ll eat your head off!” One of her pursuers threatened.
“No one’s that lucky you no good cheat!” The second shouted, mostly likely his brother.
“I have you know I’ve never cheated in my entire life!” She laughed over her shoulder.
The stalls were still being set up and a few yards ahead of her she spotted an old couple setting up their weekly stall of fresh veg and fruit. Not even thinking twice, she sprinted over to the stall and jumped over the counter.
“You are making a holy show of yourself this morning, lass.” The old woman scolded nonchalant, setting down a crate of apples. “Shouldn’t you be helping your da set up shop?”
“Couldn’t be helped, Mrs O’Sullivan.” she grinned, edging herself underneath the counter. “I was out before sunrise running some errands when those brutes saw a defenceless young lass like myself and tried to rob me of my pa’s earnings.”
“Don’t give me your guff, I see right through your lies.” She wagged her bony finger accusingly and gave out a firm scolding.
“Now, now wife.” Mr O’Sullivan laughed around his pipe. “I’m sure it was all fair play.”
“Fair play or not, she’s acting the maggot as usual. The grief she must put that poor man through.” Fortuna flinched and lowered her gaze. “Now stay quiet girl while I sort all this out.”
The old couple turned their attention back to their produce, not paying the world any mind even as Fortuna heard the footsteps of two men approaching and practically felt the tremor with each angry step.
“How may I be of service this morning, gentlemen?” Mrs O’Sullivan asked, patting down her skirt and readjusting her already tight hair bun.
“Depends, did you see a midget run by here?”
Fortuna tensed and the old woman lifted an unimpressed eyebrow by the crude choice of words.
“Are you fluthered young man?” she sniffed, inspecting the man’s clothing for any traces of alcohol.
“I know she ran through here!” The brother intervened. “A small girl in red cheated us out of our money and ran off!”
“I’m sure she did,” Mrs O’Sullivan drawled, lightly kicking a giggling Fortuna with her pointy shoe.
“Maybe the young lads are telling the truth good wife,” Mr O’Sullivan chortled, twirling his bushy moustache. “I have heard stories of little people running about the mountains, perhaps they ran into a dwarf or gnome. You know how they are about precious metals?”
“Sounds more like bit of a horse’s hoof if you ask me,” she waved off disbelievingly. “Now would two kindly stop foostering about? You are holding up the stall.”
“Listen to me you right eejit!” A heavy fist pounded on the wood and Fortuna had to clamp her hands over her mouth to prevent a squeak. “I know she was here, so you tell that wench if I ever she her face around these parts again, I’ll reef her when I see her.”
Fortuna was visibly shaking from her hiding spot, Mrs O’Sullivan’s wrinkly hands clenched from within her apron and her nostrils flared with burning anger, but before she could spit out a retort her husband’s own withered hand patted her gently.
“If I ever meet this entrancing creature with my own eyes I’ll be sure to pass on the message,” He chuckled. “Now, if you would both be so kind,” the charming smile dropped and he glared coldly over his wire rimmed spectacles “Feck off.”
The two men stepped back cautiously and with one last glare they moved along, muttering foul curses under their breaths. Seconds passed by as the old couple watched the two men retreat with heated stares of their own. The brothers eventually disappeared from sight and the couple let out a relieved sigh before turning their attention to the creature hiding under their stall.
“My girl, what have I told you about this habit of yours?” He offered his hand and Fortuna gracious accepted it. “A young lass like yourself should not be wondering about at night without a proper chaperone.”
“And just look this skirt, it’s in a desperate state,” Mrs O’Sullivan scolded, patting down her backside of caked mud.
“I’ll change as soon as I get back, alright?” Fortuna whined.
“Don’t use that tone with me young lady, I practically helped raised you after your mother’s passing, not to mention your father when he was just a school boy himself.” Fortuna rolled her eyes at the lecture but kindly nodded her head every few seconds and muttering “Yes, Mrs O’Sullivan” before she was finally dismissed.
“Now, have some breakfast and get home before your old man worries his head off.” Mr O’Sullivan ordered, passing a basket of fresh fruit into her arms. “And I don’t want to see you around anymore of those headers, not unless you happen to be attached to the young fella’s arm.”
Fortuna face flushed and she held the heavy basket in front of her as if it were a shield “Mr O’Sullivan, don’t say such things!”
“Well its true, a girl your age should be having suitors by the dozen chasing you home each day.
Her face was now as equally scarlet as her hair.
“Quiet you,” Mrs O’Sullivan lightly swatted her husband across the arm. “Honestly, a man your age saying such things.”
“I’m only speaking the truth,” he winked teasingly.
“Enough of this nonsense,” she tut, ushering Fortuna out from behind the stall. “Her father will be very shook looking if he finds his daughter missing from her bed. Now, off with you girl.”
“Thank you Mr and Mrs O’Sullivan,” Fortuna curtsied graciously and would have turned to leave if Mrs O’Sullivan hadn’t cleared her throat.
“Right,” she sighed, reaching into her pouch and producing some of the coins she won from last night. “Thank you both for everything.”
“That a girl.” Mrs O’Sullivan praised, accepting the coins. “Now straight home with you and don’t stop for anyone along the way, you hear me?”
“Yes Mrs O’Sullivan.”
Hiding the rest of the coins underneath the apples and various berries, Fortuna supported the basket over her shoulder and jogged home with her skirt billowing about her ankles, not bothering to concern herself with proper etiquette when her skirt was already stained with mud.
Fortuna left the Market Square and Tholsel Street all together, navigating her way through the twisting pathways of Carlingford. Eventually, she could no longer make out the Market Square and only King John’s castle was looking down on her as she made various turns until coming across a familiar street of slanted cobble terrace houses with slated roofs and tiny windows. Each shop was identical to the last, except for the colourful signs hanging out front. She edged her way to one shop in particular, with various shoes and boots sitting in the glass front. The faded green sign above was shaped like a hammer and golden letters spelt out the name, lúchorpáin Cordwainers.
The shop still had the closed sign up, so carefully peeking through the murky window to make sure no one was inside the cobbler’s workshop, Fortuna produced a key from her skirt and unlocked the front door. A bell chimed throughout the shop and she held her breath for a good few seconds before pushing the door fully open and sliding inside. She shut the door as quietly as possible but couldn’t prevent the bell going off a second time. Again she froze, expecting her father’s angry footsteps to come charging down the rickety staircase, but still there was no sound. Sighing in relief she locked the door and edged her way around the counter and through the side door. The tiny hallway lead directly to the kitchen and backroom, whereas the staircase lead to the two bedrooms. Hopefully her father was either still in bed or just setting up the fire. Either way, all she had to do was silently get up the stairs, change clothes, and her father would be none the wiser.
“Out late again I see?”
She squeaked and dropped the basket and the apples rolled for freedom. One was stopped by a heavy steel toe capped boot and connected to that boot was a stout man with a heavy auburn beard, leaning against the wooden post as he rung a dirty cloth through his stained fingers. He was dressed in dark trousers and a leather apron wrapped around his middle, with various tools in his pockets and a golden four-leaf clover pinned to his shirt. His ginger hair stuck to the side of his face with sweat and he raised a bushy eyebrow at his daughter.
“Of course not papa,” she smiled innocently, eyes darting to the coin pouch, still hidden in the basket. “I was just out visiting Mr and Mrs O’Sullivan at the market place. They really should get a young lad to take over the stall for them, getting up so early cannot be good for their health.”
“Is that so?” Crichton lúchorpáin mused, seeing right through her. “You know I don’t approve of these night-time escapades, one of these days you’ll be asking for a puck in the gob.”
“No I won’t,” she exclaimed, even though her hand unconsciously rubbed her jaw. “Besides, look at my winnings papa. I never guess wrong.”
She scrambled to the floor and poured out a handful of coins into her palm for her father to see.
“You have a father to provide for you, you don’t need to go to some Mary Hick looking for trouble.” he frowned. “One of these days you’ll lose all your earnings and where will we be?”
“You forget papa, the luck of the gods runs through my veins.”
“Your mother used to say the same thing, but even her Gods could not save her from death’s hold, now could they?” Fortuna flinched away and his eyes instantly filled with regret. Sighing heavily through his nose, he walked up to his daughter and patted her on the shoulder. “A young lass like you shouldn’t be gambling away her future. It’s about time you settled down and found a husband.”
“I help run the shop and sew the leather soles in the back, what else could I possibly need?” she mumbled, slipping out from under his hold and kneeling down to collect the fruit.
“Nonsense,” He waved off. “You need children to continue the family line. You can’t possibly take care of yourself in old age without any young to take over the craft.”
Collected the last of the berries, Fortuna stepped around her father and shoved the kitchen door open.
“Look at me papa,” she twirled, holding her arms out wide for inspection. “No man has asked for my hand the moment I turned of age and no one has asked since.”
“Of course not,” he agreed. “No man wants a woman who never tames her hair and walks around with oil stains on her blouse. You cannot expect a young man to walk up to a woman who never makes an effort to grab his attention.”
“They still won’t ask even if I was the prettiest girl in the village,” she hissed, slamming the basket down on the table. “And I don’t need his work to support me, nor do I need his children.”
“Now you are sounding ridiculous.” Crichton sighed. “You will require your own house one day and you will not be able to afford one with just your own earnings. Besides, how will you continue supporting yourself after I leave this world without children of your own?”
“Why do you think I’ve been gambling all this time?” she exclaimed. “I just need to earn enough so when I can no longer work for myself I can rent my own place. That way I won’t be a burden to anyone.”
“You are not a burden,” Crichton growled. “I refuse to leave this world knowing my only child is left alone, wasting away in some flat with no one to love and take care of her.”
“But Papa, I never will marry,” she whined, but her father silenced her with a wave of his hand.
“Perhaps I am to blame,” he mumbled under his breath. “I have waited so long for you to find love by yourself when I should have been doing more to find you a potential suitor.”
“Papa, if you just look…” Still, the cobbler drowned out her words and was now pacing the kitchen, the floorboard creaking under his heavy boots.
“Of course, I can’t expect any respectable man to take an interest in the daughter of a lowly Cordwainer,” he ran a hand through his fuzzy beard thoughtfully, before an idea struck him. “I know, I’ll head to the office and place our savings in as a dowry price, that will surely turn some heads. Of course, I’ll have to take on extra work to earn it all back, but it’ll be worth it if it means you’ll be happy-”
“Look at me!”
Crichton jumped, tools falling out of his pockets and scattering over the wooden panels. Turning around to face his daughter, he was frozen solid by the heat of her stare, eyes ablaze like two freshly cut emeralds.
“Really look at me,” she whispered tiredly, eyes filled with unshed tears. “No man worth his wealth would want a wife like me. Children on the streets are taller than I am. No man in his right mind would offer a bride price for someone as ugly as me.”
And it was true. Fortuna was no prize by any stretch of the imagination. Her face was too rounded and chubby, freckles covered every patch of visible skin and they only spread like wildfire in the heat of summer. Her ginger hair was naturally frizzy and only endless hours of brushing and braiding ever seemed to tame it. She inherited nothing of her mother’s except her emerald green eyes. The only part of her worth noticing.
Worse still, the lúchorpáin family was infamous in all of Carlington for their shortness, even the name itself translated into “small body”. Her Great-grandfather Patric lúchorpáin, had been the tallest within the family and he had been no taller than five foot. Fortuna in contrast, stole the record for being the shortest, less than four foot. She had always been the smallest amongst her peers, teased for her petite frame, as her mother had called it. Her Legs too short to keep up in games of tags and her arms not nearly long enough to reach most door handles. She needed a special chair in class just to see over the desk as she got older, a fact her classmates never seemed to let her forget, and even at home she needed a box or stool to stand on just to reach the cupboards. Even the townsfolk, who had become so accustomed by her family’s oddness, still gawked at her whenever she walked down the street and treated her like an infant or a person of special needs, talking loudly and slowly as if she couldn’t understand them.
The tears finally fell and her father could only stand there as she broke down and openly wept. His bushy eyebrows were drawn together and he frowned furiously at the sobbing child before him. Without any warning, he grabbed her by the scruff of her blouse and pulled her into a hug.
“Now you listen here lass,” he said firmly, arms tightening around her shoulders. “Those other maidens are a ten for a penny. You are so much more than that and the most beautiful maiden in this village and the whole of Ireland.”
“You’re my papa,” she sighed and pulled away from his embrace. “You’re meant to say things like that.”
“That doesn’t make it less true,” he said firmly. “I did not raise a daughter just so I could trade her off when the best offer came along like some pig at an auction. I taught you my trade for a reason. You’re intelligent, brave, creative, good with money and people, and inherited the most beautiful smile from your mother.”
Fortuna thought back to her younger years when her mother held her in her arms, how her smile radiate with brilliance and brightened up every room on the cloudiest of days.
“There! There’s that smile!” Crichton crowed and Fortuna quickly clamped her hands over her mouth. “Any man that would turn down such skills and character in favour of a pretty face doesn’t deserve my daughter’s hand, and I’d beat his face in with a hammer if that was the case.”
Fortuna still felt dejected but even she couldn’t seem to wipe off the smile that seemed to have permanently plastered itself onto her face. This time she didn’t pull away when the burly man pulled her into bear hug and she happily buried her face in his chest.
“But if you won’t listen to any of that, then listen to this,” he clucked her under the chin so she was looking him in the eye. “When I first met your mother she thought I was nothing more than an ugly brute.”
“You still are.”
“Watch it.” He swat her around the head. “And sit down.”
Fortuna giggled and climbed onto one of the dining chairs, getting comfy for a story she had heard a hundred times but would never get tired of hearing. Crichton sat beside her and took a deep breath before continuing.
“Many a year ago when I was still but a simple cobbler’s apprentice, I had no time for maidens or raising families. Every month I spent all my time and energy trying to make a few pounds to pay the rent a help my parents take care of my other siblings.
“Then, one day I met the most beautiful woman in the land. Long raven hair and eyes that sparkled like two freshly cut emeralds. She was a wanderer from across the ocean, trying to find a place to settle and make a home. Naturally, a beautiful woman like that wondering into a village one day with no warning and a vast amount of wealth put everyone on edge, and rumours quickly spread, who she was and where she came from. Even back then your mother had always been a private person and refused to talk about her past in any length of detail, and I respected that until the very end.
I spent most of my time at the workshop, so I had only heard of her through rumours and took little interest in what my gossiping neighbours had to say, at least I did until the day she walked into the shop one day, barefoot mind you, asking me to fix her sandals. I fell the moment her eyes looked into mine and without even asking my master’s permission, I fixed the sandals myself and brought them to the inn she was staying at that exact same day. To say she was surprised to see me was an understatement and all I could do was hold the shoes in front of me like a shield and she gave me the most earnest smile.”
“Then you proposed to her,” Fortuna sighed dreamily with one hand propping her head against the table.
“Not at first,” Crichton explained. “I had never conversed with a woman socially, let alone court one. I thought there would be plenty of time to work these things, earn enough money to properly woo her, until I learnt she would only be staying in Carlingford for three works before moving on the next village.
“There was not nearly enough time for me to win her affection, so I had to act fast and as it turned out I was not the only one asking for her hand in marriage. For every suitor that came knocking on her door, my Tyche set them a challenge. In one month’s time the field of clovers surrounding the village would wither and die, and to the man who found a four leaf clover first, she would offer him her hand in marriage.”
“So it was an impossible task.” Fortuna mused.
“Of course it was,” he bellowed. “So naturally I had to accept. Like every other suitor I was out in the field the next day searching for that pesky four-leaf clover. I started at one end and ever so carefully, counted my way across one patch, inspecting every clover with care as your mother stood there watching. She conversed with the men every so often until nightfall when we all walked home with empty bellies with no clover in hand.”
“You didn’t give up though.”
“Aye, after work I was back out in the field searching and again your mother was there watching. Every day with little success I kept coming back and with every passing day another lad would drop out and go home. By the end of the first week there were less than half of us left. With fewer suitors to share her company with, your mother and I talked more and more with each passing day. I seemed to amuse her. As the days went by I spent less time looking for the clover and more time sitting with your mother in the field talking about the village. She enjoyed hearing about the people and our history, and slowly starting falling in love with Carlingford herself.
“By that point I was the only suitor left and a week before the deadline she took me aside and asked why I had not given yet? I simply told her that I could not back down from this challenge, to which she said that it did not matter if I went the whole week without food or sleep, Lady Luck was not with me and I would not find clover without her.”
“So what did you do?”
He smirked mischievously before saying “The day before the deadline, the straps of Tyche’s sandals had broken off again, and I won’t tell you how many times that shoe must have been repaired over the years. I offered to repair the sandal again, free of charge, and left early that night without another word. I did not show up at our regular spot on the hill for all of that day. She must have been waiting all that time because when I finally did arrive, she stood there alone under the tree with tear stained eyes. I walked up to her and she turned to me with this stunned expression, as if she could not belief her own eyes.”
“She must have been so happy.”
“Hardly, nearly broke my nose with that left hook of hers,” he roared with laughter. “Once she got a hold of herself she demanded to know why I did not come until moments before nightfall.”
Crichton undid the golden pin from his shirt and held it out her Fortuna to take, which she did eagerly but gently, holding the four-leaf clover in her hands.
“I stayed up all night making a new pair of sandals to replace the old pair and on one of them I made a buckle out of pure gold shaped like a four-leaf clover. She was both touched and confused by the gesture and when she looked at me all I said to her was - I make my own luck.”
Fortuna smiled fondly down at the metal piece and passed it back to her father. He shook his head though and closed his hands around her palm.
“She’d want you to have it.”
“You sure?” she asked with uncertainty. Her mother had few to no possessions, even after her marriage to her father, the pin must have been the only memento either one of them had left of her.
He nodded solemnly.
“Keep it as a reminder. There is no luck, only chance. Your mother always liked to think Lady Luck favoured her but the truth of the matter is Luck favours no one. It comes and goes at its own choosing, especially at the worst times.” His eyes filled with sorrow and she knew he missed mother just as much as she did. “But I promise you this, you are meant for so much more than you think you are capable of. Out there is a life meant for you, you only need to reach out and grasp it.”
Fortuna’s eyes filled with tears and wrapped her arms around her father. “Thank you, papa.”
He squeezed her tightly before stepping back “Now, since you thought yourself awake enough to stay up all night gambling, you can take care of shop until sundown!”
“Papa, you cannot be serious!” she exclaimed. “I am filthy and still wearing the same clothes from the day before.”
“Hurry up then, we should have opened five minutes ago,” he clapped his hand enthusiastically. “I will be in back working on new load.”
He turned his back on her and exited through the back door, into the workshop. She watched him leave before turning her attention to the four-leaf clover in her palm. She smiled fondly at the object and stroked the smooth metal tenderly before clipping the piece to her red coat, like a broach.
“Make my own luck?” she mused. “Thanks papa, I think I’ll just do that.”
She ran upstairs and changed out of her muddy clothes and into a clean maroon plaited skirt and a white bodice with puffy sleeves under a red sleeveless jacket. Since there was no time to tie her hair in a respectable braid like the one her mother would usually do for her every morning, Fortuna had to make do by wrapped a veil around. She inspected herself in the vanity mirror, tucking back a stray lock of ginger before turning to the four-leaf clover sitting on the dresser. She stared down at the object fondly and gently pinned the piece of metal to her jack as if it were a broach, and with one last inspection she got up and ran back down stairs to open the shop.
It started raining by noon and for the rest of the day Fortuna sat on the high stool behind the counter, polishing shoes and shining buckles, and occasionally lifting her head whenever the rare customer came in with some footwear in desperate need of repair. Fortuna would smile politely, inspect the damage of the shoes and give a rough time and estimate the price before handing a receipt and leaving the shoes in a box under the counter for her father to collect. It was hardly the most complex of jobs, but the simple act of picking up a worn shoe and polishing the leather for several hours brought her so much pleasure, especially when it shined brand new.
“Got a parcel for you me girl!” Crichton beamed as he came through the door and placed a pair of heeled shoes into her lap.
“They’re wonderful papa,” she praised, inspecting the shoe from every angle. “But I don’t think yellow is my colour.”
“Don’t get sleeven with me girl,” he chuckled. “These are for Lady Mac Carthaigh, very stern about them being ready before the end of the week that one, wouldn’t accept any later she said.”
“No doubt throwing another summer ball,” Fortuna mumbled under her breath. The woman was obsessed with parties and even though her husband was a wealthy merchant, Fortuna suspected there was not as much money to throw about as they would like everyone to think. It would certainly explain why they woman commissioned her father to repair her old shoes, rather than buying a new shiny pair. No self-respect upper-class lady would wear a ball shoe more than once.
“Regardless, Lady Mac Carthaigh offered extra if they were mended ahead of time,” he explained sternly. “The rain is about to let up, so I need you to wrap these up and get them over to the Mint before sundown.”
Dropping the oily rag, Fortuna reached underneath the counter and pulled out a long sheet of colourful paper and a pair of scissors. Carefully placing the gem crusted shoe in the cushioned box, she wrapped up the parcel and even placed a cute bow on top. Her father took the box and slipped it into the basket from this morning, now empty of all its fruit and passed it back to her.
“Now don’t you stay out too late, you’re no good to me in the workshop when half dead on your feet.” He clapped her around the shoulder.
“I promise papa, straight to bed after dinner for me tonight.”
“That a girl.”
Crichton waved her out the shop and flipped the open sign to close behind her. The streets were empty and the rain had calmed down to a light drizzle and humming a merry tune under her breath, Fortuna skipped along the deserted street and headed back to the Market Square. The smell of freshly showered grass blew over the mountain and on a nice afternoon like this nothing would please her more than heading to the pub for a pint and share stories, but her father was right she was exhausted from last night’s escapade and would no doubt make a terrible hames of her work tomorrow if she didn’t rest up.
She walked by a few of the neighbouring shops her father was good friends with and caught her reflection in Mac Liam’s hat shop. Fortuna was not one for clothes shopping, not when all of her dresses had been hand sewn by her mother, hats though were a differently thing entirely and a luxury Fortuna allowed herself to indulge in every so often, especially when it was a rare opportunity for her to try on women’s wear that was actually her size.
The front was decorated in a wide selection of hats, all in vibrant colours and from where she stood in front of the glass, Fortuna’s reflection dazzled by the wide brim red hat that sat on her head. She grinned with excitement and her hands hovered over the basket where the coins were still safely hidden away, itching to be spent.
“Look at me!”
The discussion with her father only a few hours ago came rushing back to her.
“No man worth his wealth would want a wife like me.”
She tried to take comfort in the memory of her father’s strong arms, the gushing praise of her virtues and the promise he made to her.
“Someone as ugly as me.”
She was stupid to think she would ever look nice in that hat.
Fortuna swallowed back a sob trying to escape and took in several deep breaths before the tears had a chance to flow.
She jumped at the voice and dropped a few of her coins as she spun around to face a scrawny boy in damp clothes pointing at the sky. The rain stopped and sunlight pierced through the clouds, causing a rainbow.
“And a penny!” He cried out and Fortuna turned her gaze back to the child who was now scooping one of her coins into his tiny hands.
“That is not a penny laddie,” she scolded.
The boy’s head snapped towards her and immediately his jaw dropped and he stood their gawking at her. Fortuna internally cringed at the familiar stare but shoved those emotions aside and marched towards him. “This my boy, is a rainbows cup.”
“A rainbow cup?” he repeated, now staring down at the coin with uncertainty.
“You heard me right, laddie. You see how the coin is shaped?” he ran a grubby finger along the metal, feeling how the middle dipped inwards as if it were a tiny bowl. “That means it’s a rainbows cup and they’re called that because they can only be found at the end of a rainbow.”
“A Rainbow, like the one this morning after the rain?” he awed.
“The exact same one I’d wager,” she winked. “Keep in mind, if you ever find the end of a rainbow they’ll be a pot of these just waiting for the picking.”
“I’ve never told a lie in my entire life,” she winked. “Why, I have you know I found a pot of gold just this morning.” She reached into her basket and grabbed of handful of coins and waved them in front of his face.
“You really found the end of a rainbow!” he breathed in deeply and stared down at the basket hungrily.
“But that’s not all,” she grinned and a wonderful idea suddenly struck her. “A rainbow cup by itself has a special type of magic; if you see one on the ground, pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck!”
“Really?” he asked, clutching the coin to his chest as if she would sweep in and take it back.
“Do I look like the lying type to you?” she grinned mischievously before readjusting her basket and walking off. “Let me know when you find the end of that rainbow, ok me boy?”
“I will, thanks lady!” he waved and ran off, no doubt to show off his new treasure to his parents.
Fortuna continued on her way to the Market Square where there were more people bustling about and children playing in the square, but there was still less than what would be expected on market day. The view remaining stalls were packing up their remaining goods into their carts and it looked like Mr and Mrs O’Sullivan had gone home early to avoid most of the rain.
She jumped and spun around at the call of her name, eyes darting back and forth on the streets, trying to find the owner of the voice, but no one seemed to be paying her any mind. Her eyes then snapped towards the archway where a hooded figure, dry as a bone, sat crossed legged on a dry silk mat, singing around a smoke pipe.
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
dissolvit ut glaciem.”
As if hypnotized by the words, her body unconsciously stepped closer. The voice was strong yet neither too deep nor too high pitched, completely genderless and perfect to her ears. Fortuna glanced down at the fine embroidery of the mat the person was sitting on and based on the design and unusual crafts they were selling, along with the strong smell of incense in the air, Fortuna guessed it was a gypsy.
Which begged the question, why was she the only one who seemed to notice the gypsy?
With only a slight moment of hesitation, she stepped through the archway and on the other side the figure stiffened and the tilt of the head showed the person was giving Fortuna their full attention.
“Yes my child?”
The voice sent a chill down her spine and Fortuna had to restrain herself from flinching away.
“That song you were singing just now, what does it mean?”
The person sat up straight now and even though the head was still lowered, she could feel the heat of the stare passing through the thick hood and into her very soul. The gypsy leant back and with a deep breath, began to sing once more.
like the moon
you are changeable,
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
it melts them like ice.”
The song ended and Fortuna remained standing, still enraptured by the beauty of the words and now stared at the mysterious figure with newfound curiosity. Strangers were never welcomed in small villages, especially those of unusual custom, but still the gossiping townsfolk continued to walk right by them without batting an eyelash. It was almost as if only Fortuna could see the figure.
“It’s a lovely song, but I’m afraid I still don’t know what it means?”
“It is a prayer written by the German composer, Carl Ormph in the 13th century.” The figure let out a smoke ring and it flew over Fortuna’s head like a drifting halo. “I believe it is a complaint about fate and fortune, and the concept of luck.”
“Aren’t they the same thing though?”
From within the darkness of the hood Fortuna could have sworn the person was not smiling at her with dark intentions. Reaching back into the folds of the robe, a glove hand pulled out a deck and placed it down on the mat between them. The elegant fingers drew the top card and flipped it over, revealing a wheel.
“And how fortunate that you should be the one to receive the Wheel of Fortune out of all others,” there was glee in the tone. “Pass my palm with silver and I will tell you more.”
Fortuna rolled her eyes and wondered how long the gypsy had been sitting in the streets, singing that same song until someone asked about it.
“I think I’ve heard enough, have a nice evening,” she curtsied and turned to leave.
“Do not be so quick to walk away from destiny, Fortuna lúchorpáin.”
A cold chill ran down her spine and despite the laidback tone there was a biting command for Fortuna to stay, and despite how badly she wanted to run and never turn back she could not stop herself from asking.
“H-how do you know my name?”
“The cards already foretold of our encounter, just as they told me the fate of your mother, Tyche lúchorpáin, formally of Athens.” The withered hand reached for the deck and pulled another card and placed it alongside the first.
The basket fell from her arm and Fortuna shook from where she was held by invisible arms. Her eyes darted about the now empty square, searching for anyone to call out to, but even if there was, she doubted she would even be able to call out a cry for help.
“How amusing, that a woman named after the Greek goddess of luck would choose to name her daughter after its Roman counterpart.” There was another exhale of smoke and it seemed to dance above their heads in ribbons before fading into the darkening sky.
“What do you want from me?” she demanded, thankful that her voice did not fail her this time.
“I? Nothing,” the figure shrugged. “Fate however? Now there’s a question only the cards can answer.”
The dark hold released, but there was a light stroke down the back of her neck, warning her not to try and flee. Against her better judgment, Fortuna stepped forward and looked down at the tarot deck with both fear and curiosity. The cards were not as beautifully crafted and elaborate as one would expect from a tarot deck or holy item. Instead, the cards were simple and bare, portraying only what they wanted to get across. The first card was nothing more than menacing eight-spoked wheel stared back at her with the letters inscribed around the edges, R-O-T-A. The second was a little more detailed with a man and a woman standing under two trees.
A hand reached snapped out in front of her face and Fortuna recoiled.
“My payment, if you would.”
Fortuna’s fear quietly melted into annoyance and with a deathly glare she reached over to the fallen basket and dropped a rainbow cup into the skinny palm. She was intrigued by the way a long finger ran across the metal and couldn’t tell if the figure was confused by the currency or just plain amused by it. Regardless, the coin was dropped into a shallow bowl, and the sharp clink of metal against glass singled the beginning of their session.
“Are you familiar with the story of the Major Arcana deck?”
“Not on your life laddie,” she chuckled, sitting crossed legged opposite the fortune teller.
“There are many paths and turns, but all stories begin with the same starting point,” the hand shot across the deck and drew another card before placing it underneath the two cards. “With nothing more than a fool.”
The picture held the image of a young man walking along the edge of a cliff. He was nothing more than a vagabond who didn’t even wearing shoes, just a set of tattered robes. He carried all his only worldly belongings in a sack tied to a stick that was slung over his back.
“So, I’m a fool now?” she mused.
“In more ways than you can imagine,” there was a spark of emotion behind that droll tone and Fortuna felt more at ease by their lazy banter. “The Fool marks the beginning of any story, when our hero leaves the place he considers home, walking down a path to where he knows not. He is filled with wonder of the unknown, but there is also uncertainty in the back of his mind. Countless questions and uncertainties whisper in his ears and he walks blind to the oblivious danger in front of his own two feet.”
Fortuna stared down at the card more closely, taking in the naïve and utter clueless face as The Fool carelessly walked along the edge of the cliff, and how just one miss step would cause him to fall to his untimely death.
“The Fool, the card of new beginnings and infinite possibilities.”
Uncertainty caused her stomach to churn with unease. She swallowed and asked, “Are you saying I’m going on some sort of adventure?”
“All of us are already on The Fool’s path whether we realize it or not, blind to where we are going with only hope and fear whispering in our ears.” The hand waved the card off in dismissal, now in favor of hovering over the two forgotten cards. “However, this tells card describes us all and tells me nothing of you as an individual. So, let us turn to your mother.”
“What does my mother have to do with any of this?” she demanded.
“Because without her part in this tale you would have never existed,” The Fortune-teller explained matter of fact. “Care to guess the name of this card?”
Fortuna had absolutely no knowledge of tarot reading and for good reason, such interests were an act against God and the discipline for practicing such arts was fierce. Still, she squinted down at the card for any hidden meanings, trying to recall the name of the few cards she had overheard in taverns late at night when tongues were not wound nearly as tight.
The image held two trees, one ripe with fresh fruit, the other blossoms. Underneath the two trees were a man and woman, with no special features or tiny details that drew in the eye, except for their faces. The way these looked at one another, as if a true bond had been forged between them.
“The Lovers,” she smiled.
“A common misconception, I assure you,” the fortune-teller waved her off. “While The Lovers is the cards newly adopted name, it was born with another, The Amorous One.”
“So basically, love?” If the hood had been drawn back, Fortuna probably would see the eyes rolling.
“The card is not about romance, but choice. Look more closely at the card; we do not see the two looking at one another with burning passion and desire, but understanding. A connection has been made and they are now in harmony. Much like Adam and Eve, your parents too chose to truly know one another but instead of an apple bringing together, it was a clover.”
Fortuna’s head shot up and her hand unconscious placed itself over her chest, blocking the broach from sight, even though she knew the Fortune-teller was staring at it with such intensity it practically burnt her lungs.
“Who are you and how do you know that story?” she demanded.
“I already told you how I learnt of your past,” the fortuneteller calmly explained. “But let’s not dwell on the past and focus more on the present.”
The hand swept over the rug and settled over the wheel.
“We are all at different stages of life and at this current point in time The Fool has just undergone hard times, but now is the time for him to rise once more. The Fool feels as if he has been snagged by the spoke of a rotating wheel, being pulled upwards and out from its shadow and into sunlight once more. The Wheel of fortune symbolizes a time of change, the twist of faith and life’s unexpected changes, with new opportunities and great wealth and good fortune, as if all the good deeds you have done in this lifetime have finally been paid off.”
Her fears forgotten, Fortuna allowed herself to be engrossed by the voice once more, completely absorbed by words, blind to how close she was leaning inwards until a warm breath whispered into her ear.
“You are now travelling down a path you cannot change,” it warned. “Destiny has already starting turning the wheel and you can only follow its unaffordable destination.”
“What’s going to happen to me?” she asked in a quiet whisper, keeping her eyes lowered, even as she felt the itchy fabric of the hood brush against her cheek.
“That remains to be seen.” The fortuneteller leant backwards and the hand hovered over the deck and picked up a third card. It was held by the corner between the thumb and index finger and placed it facedown next to the two other cards. “There is a quick answer to your question, you only have to take a peek and see for yourself.”
With a wave of the sleeve most of the contents in front of them vanished and the fortuneteller effortlessly rose to their feet, as if there was no weight under those flowing robes.
“Just remember, what goes around comes around.”
With a blink of an eye the figure disappeared from sight with nothing more than the purple blanket to prove the fortune-teller had even been sitting there at all. Fortuna took in an uneasy breath and stared down at the empty space, the empty bowl where her coin had once been and the four cards, The Fool, The Lovers, The Wheel of Fortune, and the mystery face-down card.
The words washed over her like waves and she could only grasp her mother’s clover for comfort. Surely none of this was real? No being could appear out of thin air, manipulate the human body and predict the future. Fortune-telling was just a cheap pallor trick.
Then surely there was no harm in looking?
Her hand reached out and hovered over the final card, as if begging for her to flip it over, to open Pandora’s Box and release the demons hidden inside. Her hand shook with anticipation and with closed eyes she took a deep breath.
She picked up the basket and climbed to her feet.
“Utter header, that one,” she mumbled under her breath.
Fortuna brushed down her skirt of any dust and was more than happy to pretend the entire conversation never happened. The now empty Market Square was filled with a loud noise and from the clock tower as the bell chimed six times.
“I’m late,” she gasped. “If I don’t to Mac Carthaigh before nightfall papa will bite my head off.”
She ran through the archway and back into the Market Square where she spot a familiar looking boy on the main street towards The Mint, surrounded by a small group of children all looking at something in his hand. She caught sight of the object in his palm and instantly recognised it as the rainbow cup she had given the boy only moments ago.
“No way!” said the tallest of the children.
“It’s true Conor!” the boy with the coin argued. “She told me it would give me good luck and everything.”
“You’re lying,” he waved off. “It’s probably not even a real penny.”
“No, it’s all true. The rain stopped and I saw a rainbow in the sky and then suddenly I found a penny on the ground and she there! A tiny lady in red with a basket filled with all these coins.”
“Wait, are you talking about the shoemaker’s daughter?” a young girl interrupted him. “My mama told me all about them! The entire family is weird and I heard the mother was a witch.”
“She’s not a witch!” Liam exclaimed and the children instantly backed off. “She was a fairy and she gave me this wonderful gift.”
“Yeah right!” the children laughed and Liam flushed red.
“I’ll prove it!” he shouted. “I’ll prove to it’s a rainbow cup.” Clenching the coin tightly in his fist he turned his back and his friends and ran through the streets, their laughter still ringing in his ears.
Fortuna watched the boy disappear from the Square and instead of a the boy, the memory of a small girl with tears flowing down her face flashed through her mind and the echoes of mocking children ringing in her ears.
“Very bold,” she hissed and marched over to the children and shouted out. “You all should be ashamed of yourselves!” but they couldn’t seem to hear her over the sound of their own laughter and in a fit of rage she reached out to grab the oldest of the children.
“Oy! I’m talking to you!” her hand passed right through him.
Fortuna staggered back as if punched in the gut and stared at the Connor in pure terror. He turned towards her and Fortuna expected the ghost to smile at her with a devil’s smile, but he stared right through and walked on by without a glance. The girl followed and she walked right through Fortuna, causing a cold chill running down her spine as the rest of the children followed.
“W-what was that?” she mouthed, unable to speak aloud.
Basket and coins forgotten, Fortuna fled from the town square and didn’t stop until she was safely inside the dingy shop. Bursting the door open, Fortuna ran into the back where her father was hunched over the dining table, nailing the sole of a gentleman’s shoes.
“Papa!” she crossed the kitchen in three steps and threw herself into his arms.
Only to pass right through him.
She tumbled to the floor and stared up in shock at the man who continued working, undisturbed.
“He can’t see me,” she whispered fearfully. “Why can’t he see me? Papa, why can’t you see me?!”
There was no reply and her father continued working, his eyes drifting to the grandmother clock against the wall every so often, unaware to his daughter’s plight.
“Papa, please look at me,” she begged. “Just look at me, tell me you can see me.”
He reached right through her to grab more nails and that familiar icy feeling returned.
“LOOK AT ME!!!”
He turned back to his work.
All energy gone, she collapsed on the floor and cried her eyes out, and for the longest time that was how she stayed, pleading for a man that could not see nor hear her, whose eyes kept darting to the clock ever other minute with increasing interest. When the clock chimed seven in the evening, he got up and grabbed his coat, mumbling something to himself that Fortuna could not be bothered to listen to. He marched out the house and although she wanted nothing more than to follow, her legs felt like they were filled with lead, so she remained on the kitchen floor.
“What’s happening?” she asked herself, looking at her own hands with increasing fear. “Am I a ghost?” She shook her head and rid the thought from her mind. If she were a sprit, then surely she would remember her own death? But if death played no part in her current condition, then what over explanation could there be?
She thought back to her mother’s bedtime stories, remembering old tale of fairies and spirits who lived between the land of the living and the realm of the dead. Every so often they could cross the borders between worlds and depending on the fae, they could be helpful guardians to humans or cause mischief. If she was indeed caught between two planes then it was by coming into contact with a such a creature.
With new found strength, Fortuna rose to her feet and ran out the house and back towards the town gate. It was already sunset by this point and she rushed by many townsfolk who were heading to the inn for drinks and songs. She spotted the gate up ahead and as she approached, Fortuna thought back to how the Fortune-teller only acknowledged her presence after she walked through the gate.
Was that when it happened?
Was it as simple as walking back through it?
She didn’t hesitate, she launched herself the gate and tumbled through to the other side. She turned in circle at her surroundings for any otherworldly creatures and inspected her own hands for any sign of change. She had no clue whether walking through the gate had accomplished anything or not.
“Fortune-teller!” she cried out. “Fortune-teller where are you?!”
She walked over to the abandoned mat, where the four cards were still there, the final card laying face-down and begging for her to flipped it over.
“I know you’re there, so you better come out before I puck you in the gob!”
There was no reply and with no other choice, Fortuna knelt down on the map and turned the card over.
“The Moon.” she read.
The image of a giant glowing orb hung in the night sky stared back at her as a wolf howled from underneath. She dropped the satanic card as if burnt and climbed to her feet.
“What does it mean?” she asked, hyperventilating. She spun around in circles, looking for any traces of a cloaked being with a drawn hood. “What does it mean?!” but there was no answer that night or any night after it, and she stood alone with only the rising moon’s light to keep her company.
(End of part 1)
I cannot believe this is over a week late and its STILL not finished!!!
I have to apologize again for this one folks. I gave myself a 20 page limit for each of these oneshots, but already the first one is over my page count and still nowhere near completed. I really had way too much fun writing Fortuna and her world, and already I have this story planned out for her, that it may take three parts to probably wrap this bad-boy up.
Again sorry, I was tempted to just keep on writing and post the entire thing once it was complete, but I don't want people to think I abandonned the project before it even began. So, I hope you enjoy this first enstallment!
- The Irish word for Leprechaun is lúchorpáin
- It was once believed that Leprechauns lived in the Carlingford Mountain and there used to be yearly Leprechaun hunts in Ireland…poor Fortuna...
- The earliest recording of the Leprechauns were always described wearing red not green (so, basically they're the opposite of Santa who originally wore green until Coca Cola got the rights to his image :P).
- Leprechauns are wonderful shoemakers and would make dancing shoes for the fairies, who loved to dance every night (its a wealthy business).
- I know nothing of tarot reading, only what the cards means by themselves. Sorry. But the Goddess Fortuna literally is The Wheel of Fortune. Fancy that!
- Fortuna’s Father is named after “Crichton Leprechaun” the name of the supposedly sighted Leprechaun in 2006 in Alabama.
- For those of you who have never heard of “O Fortuna” by Carl Orff…you have, trust me you have heard this song at some point in your life -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdIpoE2LEps
- If Fortuna and Jack Frost ever met face to face, the first thing she would do is make Jack a pair of shoes and force him to wear them…and fail. (On the bright side, I'm sure she would make a better pair then the ghastly ones the elves tried to make him wear)