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An Irish Roadblock

Liam is on his way to his family's annual Halloween gathering.
He'll have a welcome break from school, and Janet will be there.
The pleasant drive to County Wicklow has its glitches, however.


The man driving the oncoming minivan stopped and blasted his horn. Because he did, and because he and his female passenger were headed north toward Dublin, Liam Boru guessed they weren’t country folk. If they were, they’d know that even an air raid siren couldn’t dislodge Irish sheep when they chose to block a road. In true ovine style, the cottony creatures meandered and munched, ignoring both the van and the southbound sedan in which Liam rode.

The flock, it seemed, had escaped their mountaintop pasture through a hole in a broken fence. Kieran Dacey, the Duke of Munster, inched his blue Mercedes through the bleating nuisance. Behind him, Liam sat on the soft leather seat with his cousin, Kevin Boru, whose lethargic expression and folded arms conveyed bored annoyance.

Fidgeting in the seat beside Kieran, his wife, Lady Breege, muttered an unladylike curse. “I hope we get in before dark,” she said. “I hate driving these roads at night, especially in the rain.”

The showers that had dogged them from Dublin had fizzled out, though the random click of the windshield wipers dispatched occasional drips that trickled down from the roof of the car. Liam peered through the rain-streaked windows. To his right, a ridiculously low stone wall warned travelers of the sheer drop only inches away. He inspected the rising ground to his left and saw neither shepherd nor dog to remove the sheep. Outside intervention seemed in order. Kevin wouldn’t be bored for long.

Kieran shifted the car into park and glanced in the rearview mirror. “We can’t have Breege worrying about tumbling into Devil’s Glen. Be good lads and go shoo them off.”

The mirror framed Kieran’s hawklike squint. A web of fine lines etched the skin beneath his rust-brown eyes. Silver had lightened the thick copper eyebrows above them. Despite his age, no one could deny that he and Liam were hooligans from the same tribe. Dark red hair and copper eyes marked most of the Borus, including Liam’s father, King Brian.

Kieran and Brian looked more like brothers than first cousins. They were, in fact, as close as brothers, but Brian had only one sibling, Liam’s uncle, Prince Peadar. The fiendish Boru genes had marked Peadar too, though his sons, Neil and Kevin, had inherited their mother’s blue-black hair and sky-blue eyes.

Kevin rolled those blue eyes now and groaned.

The eyes in the mirror cut his way. “Never mind your grumblin’, Kev. We’d already be there if we didn’t have to wait for a pair of Trinity College lover boys to finish trick-actin’ with those girls on Nassau Street.”

Kevin glanced at Breege, whose presence undoubtedly curbed his intended retort. Nevertheless, he shot Kieran a look that would sour the milk for sure. “We were not! Those girls were lost. We were seeing them to the right bus stop, is all.”

“And a pig’s arse is pork! I was seventeen once, bucko. Now get out of the car. And don’t be comin’ back with your shoes all manky.”

Kevin huffed, but he obeyed. Liam grinned and opened the car door. “Ah, youth has no care where it sets its foot,” he said, cheerfully quoting an old Irish proverb.

And why wouldn’t he be cheerful, knowing Glensheelin and freedom lay on the other side of the pass? No classes for one whole glorious week. No bells, no lectures, no quizzes, no pandering teachers or personal aides fussing to turn him out in his princely best for tedious formal affairs. Jeans and sweatshirts awaited him. Fresh air, hikes and horses, Lil’s good food, and fun with the sister and cousins he hadn’t seen for weeks.

And Janet was coming.

Her long blond hair and heart-shaped face sprang from his cherished memories. He intended to steal a kiss or two over the weekend, and he meant to ask her grandparents to let her stay a few extra days.

Dodging sheep droppings and puddles of unknown depth, he sauntered down the road with Kevin. They waved their arms and growled and snarled at the four-footed blobs of wool. The bleating grew louder. One by one, then abruptly en masse, the disgruntled sheep galloped off through the broken fence and up the grassy hillock. Their thick white wool, dyed blue or pink on their backs or rumps to indicate ownership, made a colorful show in the fading afternoon light.

The minivan’s driver rolled down his window. “Thank you, boys. My wife and I didn’t know what to do.” His deeply grooved forehead stretched to a thin gray hairline that waggled as he spoke.

“Yes, we’re glad you were here,” said his very loud wife. “Say, why are those sheep painted pink and blue?”

Their clipped accent drew Liam’s gaze to the car’s rental sticker. They weren’t only city folk; they were Yanks. He homed in on them like a mischief-seeking missile. “Why, the pink tells you which sheep are girls, and the blue are the boys. Everyone knows that.”

Kevin groaned again. Why was he being so sulky?

The man’s bushy eyebrows arched in suspicion. “Are we on the road to Dublin?”

Liam glanced over his shoulder, as if he could see the city right through the Wicklow Mountains. “You are indeed.” He pointed vaguely north. “Go straight on up and you’ll get into town by the tail of the day. Mind yourselves, now. The sheep in Ireland can be fierce.”

Exchanging dubious glances, the couple waved and drove off. Kevin shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and turned toward the car.

Liam grabbed his sleeve. “What’s with the moanies, Kev? You were in fine fig when we left Dublin. Don’t let Kieran annoy you. You know he’s just twisting hay.”

Kevin shrugged and studied his leather trainers. “I don’t care about Kieran. It’s just…I’m not looking forward to spending the weekend alone while you’re off with Janet.”

Ah. “You won’t be alone, Kev. We aren’t going to abandon you. Anyway, your brother and Aidan are coming. Talty too, if the navy gives her leave, which I expect they will, her being Talty and all. And there’ll be the bonfires Sunday night and our usual Halloween hooley.”

“Right.” Kevin trudged off.

Disinclined to let his cousin spoil his good mood, Liam pivoted toward the west. Clouds hid the sun, but from the angles of the shadows and the glow of the light, he guessed it was two o’clock. His watch showed him off by a mere ten minutes. At this time of year, night fell earlier each day, but so what? Liam loved autumn in Ireland. He scanned the rolling woods and darkening glens and thought that no lovelier tapestry graced the walls of his father’s castles. The lush evergreens and golden leaves accented the bronze and amber grass that coated the hills like a lion’s mane.

Just then, the sun broke free of the clouds. Its candlelight beams slanted over the hills, forming mysterious shadows. Yet another of Ireland's rainbows pulsed above him, too weak to shine, too late to steal the show, or perhaps too afraid of Kieran.

The old fella’s roar boomed over the empty road: “Liam!”

Contentedly weaving through puddles and dung, Liam returned to the car.



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