The Maiden and the Leprechaun
by Sarah J. Herbison
Sarah J. Herbison writes horror, fantasy, and science fiction. She has had one short story professionally published in the anthology After the Kool-Aid is Gone. You can find her work on Reddit under r/Saraphim663 and on her website at dreamsandnighmares.com
Briana was a beautiful lass with nut-brown hair and wide blue eyes. She sang a tune to herself as she strolled through the emerald green hills of the country. Following the road, she neared the Sweeney’s farmhouse.
A loud crash sounded in the distance, followed by a chuckle and a high-pitched squeal. Briana ran into the barn to investigate.
Angus Sweeney’s arms wrapped around a creature the size of a chicken. It was a wee fellow in a green suit with a red buckled hat and boots.
“You’re going to drop all your gold if you want to be set free,” grumbled Angus.
“Oi!” yelled Briana.
Angus dropped the leprechaun in surprise, and the creature flashed behind a hay bale.
“Bria, you just cost me a fortune. I hope yer happy,” Angus’ crossed his massive arms and pouted in silence.
“What did the little man do to deserve to be jostled so?”
“He has all the gold, mountains of wealth. You only need to catch them.”
Briana folded her arms. “So you capture them against their will until they drop coins? Sounds like robbery to me.”
“They’re not human. They’re Sidhe.”
“That doesn’t make it right,” sighed Briana, shaking her head.
Angus rolled his eyes and stormed out of the barn. “I didn’t come here to be nagged by a woman. I have important work to do.”
He huffed and plodded out of the barn. By the bale of hay where the leprechaun was hiding, Briana saw a tiny shoe. It was the most exquisite little thing she laid eyes on. The leather was as soft as butter, and the buckles shone of pure gold in the broken sunlight.
“Tank you very much, my lady,” he whispered.
The little fellow came out of hiding and kissed her hand and bowed.
“For rescuing me, I owe ye one wish. “
Briana thought for a moment and handed him back the shoe he was working on.
“I want to learn how to make shoes like that,” she said.
The leprechaun raised an eyebrow. “To teach a human such a task would take ages. I can offer you gold, a handsome husband, land, or a mansion.”
“If I learn how to make shoes as thus, I will earn my old gold. I can buy the land and mansion myself and won’t need a husband, no matter how handsome he is.”
The leprechaun sighed and shook his head.
“Very well, woman. We meet at daybreak past the green hill with the stone circle. Your days will be long, and your toil will be great. I wish you had asked for something else.”
“You are Sidhe. You must keep your bargain.”
“As I shall,” said the little man before vanishing.
Briana woke by the cocks crow the next dawn. She packed herself a small lunch and headed past town toward the fairy mound. Underneath the hill, she found a tiny workshop.
“Hello?” she called.
The little man came out of the shop and snapped his fingers, and Briana shrank to his size.
“You kept your promise and came at dawn,” he said, putting a corn-cob pipe in his mouth.
“I work on a farm. Waking up early is nothing to me.”
He nodded and led her into his workshop. There was a bench full of little shoes and a hearth with a little pot cooking over the flame. They had a meal of porridge and tea in complete silence.
“Tank you for the food, but I want to start the lessons now,” said Briana.
“Well, you can start by soaking the hides.” He pointed his hand toward a mountain of rabbit pelts.”
“The leather is from rabbits?” asked Briana.
“How else would it get so soft? The hides need to be soaked and cleaned. Now ye best get to it.”
Briana lifted the pelts and soaked them in a small peat bog. She dredged the heavy skins from the drink and squeezed them dry. She took a little round knife and skinned off the fur and flesh.
The leprechaun came by and picked through all the hides. He tossed them into the bog after finding one solitary hair on the leather.
Briana took a deep breath and soaked the skins again. She wrung and scraped the hides for a week, only stopping for meals of rabbit stew, brown bread, and tea. She slept short nights in a thatched bed. Eventually, after the cool spring breezes turned into the beating summer sun, the hides felt like silk under her hands.
The leprechaun came back and checked the leather and nodded in approval.
“I didn’t tink yea had it in you. Now we make the sole.”
The following day, he took her to a patch of forest with an enormous oak log. Briana spent the next week sawing the log into planks. She carved the wood into soles and sanded them smooth.
The leprechaun would inspect the soles and throw the ones that were too splintery into the fire. Her hands were rough and full of splinters. But as her hands grew rougher, the soles grew smoother.
The leprechaun came to the working mill with the soles and inspected them once more. He whistled as he saw the number of soles lying before him.
“Aye lass, these look fine. Yer next task is the fitting and sewing.”
As the summer sun turned to the crisp wind of autumn, Briana learned how to fit the leather to the sole and hammer the shoes together. She painstakingly fit each piece over the sole and hammered it to the wood. Once again, the leprechaun would inspect the shoes and threw the ill-fitted ones into the fire. As the warm colors of fall turned to the frost of winter, the leather fit the soles exquisitely.
“Last, I shall teach you how to make the buckles.”
He led her toward a large pot of gold coins. He showed her how to melt the coins using tiny bellows, the coals’ heat fending off the chill of winter.
After they melted the coins, she would cast the slurry into molds. When it cooled, Briana would polish the gold until her arms ached, and it still didn’t shine enough for the leprechaun. It wasn’t until the frozen ground thawed back to spring did she had the buckles polished to perfection.
In that year, Briana had helped the little man makes dozens of shoes. She now knew the craft of cobbling and could go back to the world of man.
The leprechaun looked at Briana with a forlorn expression as she left the workshop. His debt paid for. He let her take all the shoes that she had made.
All the times he had thrown the shoes into the fire or griped at her, she did not get angry or lash out. At worst, she would sigh and begin the same task again. He wished her well and drank a glass of ale the same size he was.
Briana grew to normal size as she returned to town. She sold the shoes for a handsome price and opened her own shop. She worked day and night tirelessly to keep her shelves stocked.
Rabbit pelts were a bit too small for humans, so she did her best with the skin of a stag. She couldn’t reasonably afford gold buckles but could buy the best brass and polish it to a blinding shine. Instead of giant oaks, she settled on good cork.
Her hands became rough and her slight frame filled out with muscle. Her face was still comely, and her chestnut hair was still silken, and her blue eyes were bright. Briana relished in her work and sang the most beautiful songs.
Angus Sweeney was now town mayor, and Briana’s craft and beauty caught his eye. He swaggered into her shop and plucked one shoe off the wall.
“I had thought you were a goner when you left town a year ago. It was as if you vanished. All of us thought the Sidhe had taken you.”
“I went to them of my free will. One of the little folk owed me a bargain,” Briana looked around her shop. “It looks like l succeeded.”
“I think you’d be happier as me, wife, ” said Angus, his broad shoulders blocking her door.
“I tink not, I earned everything here, not to have it ripped away by some bully.”
“You’ll have all the riches and never have to work again in your life.”
“I earned this right to work. I have honed my craft for a year straight. I belong to no man,” she spat.
“You did not learn this talent by natural means. You’ve consorted with fairies, and the devil touches you.”
Angus grabbed Briana and dragged her into the street to the courthouse.
“As mayor, I accuse this woman of witchcraft!”
Angus threw Briana into a small cell and locked the door. She curled up into a ball and cried through the night on the cold stone floor.
They called the priest to town the next morning. The people who had been in awe of her shoes the week before now reveled in the burning of her shop.
The mayor dragged her to a river, and the priest tied her hands together.
“If she sinks, then the Lord and will forgive her in heaven,” said the priest as he threw Briana into the rushing stream.
Before she could sink, a giant green salmon swam up to her and led her to the shallows. It used its colossal tail to knock to safety on the rocky bank.
“The woman consorts with the fairies. She is not of God’s creation,” said Angus, pointing at her.
Briana refused to let tears fall as they brought her to the pyre. They tied her to a stake. Before the townsfolk could light the stack of firewood, a bright green light dazzled everyone. When the townsfolk rubbed the sting from their eyes, Briana had vanished.
She was underground by the most beautiful palace she had ever seen. Walls carved out of crystal met shining silver doors and windows. By the gate stood the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He had copper hair and eyes of emerald green. His ears came to a point. He wore a beautiful green cloak fastened by a gleaming gold buckle.
“I owe you my life,” said Briana.
“I thought this would happen if I taught you. The crafts of the Sidhe weren’t meant for man. They are so often lost to jealousy and greed.”
“Do I know you, sir?” asked Briana, her head tilting toward the side.
“I know you. I saw you every day in my shop for a year. I know your rough hands and your calm temper. You could be a swan or a salmon, and
I’d know who you are, Briana.”
“You’re the leprechaun,” said Briana, her mouth falling open.
“I cannot thank you enough, Mr. Leprechaun.”
“Call me Lugh.”
“I still owe you me life, Lugh,” said, Briana.
“Then you’ll agree to marry me and be my queen. It’s been lonely since ya left.” Lugh knelt before Briana.
“But you taught me how to make all those shoes,” she said.
“You worked your fingers to the bone day and night to make those shoes.
I trust you more than any woman I’ve ever known to help me run my kingdom. I love you, and it’s been so quiet since you left.”
Briana kissed him and took his hand as Lugh led her to his crystal castle.
The locals to this day can hear the sounds of little hammers when they walk near the low hill with the yew trees and stone circle.