First published in With Words We Weave THPW 2019 Anthology
Allison stared at the jewels on her left ring finger. An emerald cut into a heart shape, framed in gold, nestled between two silver hands, and topped with a crown of diamonds. Only yesterday she had turned the heart from pointing out to pointing inward during a private ceremony in the ancient Friary Chapel. The deep green stone rivaled the vibrant color that blanketed everything in Ireland.
“Friendship, love, and loyalty,” she whispered as she straightened the band on her finger. She thought back to the first time she met Jeremy. Just children. He had come to her rescue when the other children taunted her. Ginger-ginger, you have no soul! He’d taken her hand and led her away from the others. They’d been together ever since.
“What is that you say, Mrs. Abbot?” Jeremy asked.
“Just admiring my wedding ring, Mr. Abbot.”
Jeremy circled his arm around his bride’s waist and drew her close for a kiss. “The jewels in your eyes outsparkle any stone on a ring.” He pushed a fiery red curl back from her face and kissed her again. “And nothing is sweet to me since I’ve tasted your honied lips.”
Allison blushed and gestured toward the pub at the end of the narrow stone street. “Let’s get you that pint to keep you warm for our walk.”
Jeremy raised his brows and shrugged. “Perhaps we could go back to the inn, and you could keep me warm enough.”
“Plenty of time for that for the rest of our lives. We’ve only two more days in Ireland, and I want to see a bit before we go.” She led him up the steps of the century-old tavern and through the blackened oak door.
The dark pub smelled of ale and smoke. Allison struggled to understand the locals as they chattered and laughed over frothy pints. The couple took a table near the door and waited for service. Allison couldn’t help but smile. Jeremy looked like a jack-o-lantern, his broad grin glowing from one ear to the other. Pure joy.
A young man in a slouched beanie approached. “Can I bring you a pint?”
“Just one—Guinness,” Jeremy said with a nod. “And a cup of tea for my wife.”
The young man turned and raised his chin toward the bar. “Pint o’ Black and a Scald,” he yelled above the din. He twisted to face Jeremy again. “Give me a minute.” He didn’t wait for a response before jumping to the next table.
True to his word, though, Beanie was back in only a minute with Jeremy’s beer and Allison’s tea.
“Thank you,” Allison said.
Jeremy coughed his way through the stout ale at the same pace as Allison sipped her too-hot tea. “So where is this scenic trail we’re supposed to take? I didn’t see any signs outside.” He scanned the room. “Do you think anyone here knows it?”
Allison shrugged and gestured to Beanie as he rushed past their table. “Excuse me, can you help us?”
“What’s the story?”
Allison looked at the young man and drew an excited breath. “We were told there was a walking trail near here. One with a waterfall. Can you tell us how to find it?”
Beanie’s expression turned somber. He looked back to the barman and shrugged.
The old barman shook his head a fraction of an inch. “If the Yank goms want to go, let them.” He tossed a white towel over his shoulder and looked away.
Beanie leaned over their table and whispered. “The waterfall trail is up the road half a kilo and to your right. But it’s not much to see this time of year. I’d advise don’t waste the day. Stay here, and I’ll bring you afters. We have a nice pie in the back my maw made this morning.”
Jeremy shook his head. “No, thank you. We’re on our honeymoon. For my part, I got to visit a real pub and enjoy a pint of Guinness. For Allison, we’re taking a walk on this waterfall trail. Is it half a kilometer to the right or left from the door.”
Beanie looked at Allison and frowned. “It’s not a nice place, Miss.”
Jeremy pulled out money enough for the bill, and then a few Euros more. He pressed them into Beanie’s palm. “Right or left?”
The man tossed the bribe back on the table. “Left.” He nodded to them both and hurried away.
Jeremy shrugged and rose to his feet. He pulled out Allison’s chair and took her hand as they left the tavern. “Strange, wasn’t it? And I didn’t like the looks he was giving you.”
Allison took a deep breath of the cool April air. “You’re jealous, love.” She turned left, toward the west, as soon as they reached the road. “We’ve just enough sunlight left.”
Jeremy pushed his elbow out, and Allison looped her hand around it as they walked. In just a few minutes, they reached a clearing in the overgrowth to the right of the street. A sign labeled “Morrigan Falls Trail,” as well as something else in Gaelic, directed them down an ancient path in the green wood.
Jeremy helped Allison over several fallen logs and under the moss-covered gnarls of ancient tree branches. The stones underfoot became damp. After another ten minutes, they could hear the roar of falling water. And something else.
Coming around a blind corner, Allison could see the falls. White and gurgling and screaming with energy. It was more than just the water screaming.
“What is that?” Allison asked. “That dreadful screeching? Where is it coming from?”
Jeremy swiveled his head and shrugged.
Allison looked all around them. The pool at the base of the falls was at least fifty yards across at the narrowest point. The water was black as pitch once the ripples calmed. Across the pool from them was the falls. It was a wall of black granite divided by a white gash of liquid fire. The rush was so intense that Allison felt the force from the other side. Her stomach felt heavy. The screaming continued.
She scanned up the falls to the crest, where she saw a woman to one side, on her knees.
Allison grabbed hold of her husband’s arm and squeezed. “Jeremy, do you see her?”
Jeremy looked up, shielding his eyes from the last direct rays of the sun. “I see something. I’m not sure it’s a person.”
“It’s a woman. She’s upset. Can’t you see? We have to help her. There must be a way up.” Allison looked around for another path. She saw nothing along the trail from where they came. She hurried around the bend in the pool. “I think I found a way.”
Jeremy ran up after her. “Please don’t run off without me. There could be snakes or something.”
Allison shot him a flustered look. “This is Ireland. No snakes, remember?”
Jeremy smiled and stuck out his tongue. “I don’t know what you think we’re going to accomplish by going up there.”
“We can get her down. It’s dangerous up there. She’s obviously upset about something. Maybe we can help.” Allison was losing her breath as they climbed up the less-defined trail on the other side of the falls. As she looked back down to the pool, she saw clearly that the rushing column of water came down on a tremendous pile of jagged boulders, sheared from the cliff’s face centuries ago. Worry overtook her whole body. “We can’t let her fall.”
Jeremy scanned the trail ahead and took Allison’s hand. “Maybe we can help.”
As they came near the top, the trail disappeared into the rocks. Jeremy climbed ahead of Allison, pulling her up to the next tier. Where the rocks ended, a thick green forest began. Allison searched for the woman.
They both seemed to see her at the same time. From below, she was a gray silhouette, but from where they stood, just a few paces from her, she looked like a fairy. The woman knelt on a broad flat rock at the side of the river. Her long white dress was soaked and clung to her body. Her blonde hair was nearly as white as her dress and hung like a curtain over her face, and she keened back and forth, sobbing hysterically.
“Can we help you?” Allison asked.
The woman in white stopped her crying immediately and looked up at the couple with round black eyes, rimmed with scarlet from her tears. “None can help me.”
Jeremy looked at the young woman as though he was embarrassed to interrupt her mourning. He glanced toward Allison and then back at the woman. “We heard you crying. We didn’t mean to scare you, but we’d like to help.”
The woman seemed to respond to Jeremy’s voice. Her eyes softened. She stood and took slow, fluid steps in his direction. The translucent dress accentuated every curve of her body. She shivered.
Jeremy quickly removed his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. “You’re like ice.”
Allison raced to his side. “What’s wrong? Can we help you? I’m Allison, and this is my husband, Jeremy.” She emphasized husband. Jeremy was always eager to help anyone in need.
The woman continued to shiver, with her gaze locked with Jeremy’s. “It’s been a year, and I canna’ get over my loss.” Her Irish accent danced with her sorrowful tone. “I lost my bonny. He was tall and strong like you. With a soft heart. I dunna’ think I can live without him.” She shifted her eyes away to stare over the edge of the falls.
Allison shook her head, holding fast to Jeremy’s arm. “Please don’t hurt yourself. You’re young and beautiful. You have your whole life ahead of you.”
The woman looked back to Jeremy. “Do you think I’m beautiful?”
Jeremy fixed a dubious expression on his face. He glanced at Allison and then back to the woman. “Of course, you’re beautiful.”
“And you think I have hope to love again?” The woman pulled Jeremy’s jacket tightly around her.
Jeremy nodded. “I should think so.”
Allison stepped forward, reaching toward her. “Please, come back to town with us. We can get you help.”
As soon as Allison stepped forward, the woman stepped back like a frightened cat. She shook her head again. “I am alone. You will take me back and then leave me with strangers. I will be alone again.”
Jeremy reached out toward her. “No, you come back with us. We’ll do whatever we can to help. Come on, now. Please.”
Allison felt a knot growing in her stomach. She didn’t know if it was jealousy or something else. She wished she had listened to the boy at the pub. She wished they hadn’t come.
The woman stared at Jeremy’s outstretched hand. She took a tiny step in his direction. She held up her hand, just beyond his reach. Allison saw that she wore a Claddagh ring on her finger, too. It wasn’t as lavish as Allison’s, but the silver band gleamed in the dying sunlight.
Allison felt ashamed of her suspicion. Jeremy wanted to help this woman—at her request. The woman had lost the love of her life. Allison couldn’t imagine living without Jeremy. He protected her. He was there for her. He was her life. Her love. Her everything.
“Allison, stay back. The rocks are slick here.” Jeremy pulled his arm from Allison’s grip to take another step toward the woman.
“Be careful, love,” Allison whispered.
Just as Allison’s hand slipped from Jeremy’s arm, the woman in white flashed a wicked smile and lunged toward Jeremy. Allison screamed helplessly as she watched her new husband and the woman fly over the edge of the cliff and disappear into the raging foam below.
Allison searched through the thick mist but could see nothing. She could hear nothing but the screeching of the woman in white. But the woman in white was gone. Jeremy was gone. The screaming was all that remained.
She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. She had to get help, but she couldn’t leave. And who would come? Who could help her now?
Allison dropped to her knees, keening and wailing on the rocks at the head of the falls. She felt the color drain from her face. Her hair. Her soul. Amid the screaming, in the back of her mind, she thought she heard a whisper.
“Friendship, love, and loyalty.”