They started up the hill slowly. As they came to the church a shadow detached from a gravestone and a figure approached.

Allie grabbed Maggie’s hand in warning. They stopped in their tracks. Who was it? What did they want?

Maggie squeezed Allie’s hand and moved forward slowly, “Hello?”

From the shadow, “Hello, O’Neills. Ye’ve come back, I see.” The voice was soft and raspy.

“O’Neills? I’m sorry but you’ve made a mistake. I am Maggie McGill and this is my daughter, Allie.”

“Sure and that may be so, but there’s O’Neill blood in ye. There be no mistake ‘bout that. It shines through so plainly na’one could miss it. Me son, Eamon, he told me. He told me ‘bout your green eyes. Can’t mistake them green eyes. But I had t’see for meself. Tonight I saw it.”

Allie said, “Now see here. My mother’s eyes are green. But many people have green eyes. It doesn’t prove a thing. Besides, if we did have O’Neill blood would that be such a bad thing?”

The clouds moved across the sky and the moon appeared. The shadow stepped into the moonlight and revealed a tiny bent body and watery eyes in a wrinkle-creased face, “Nae, no bad. But the castle is occupied and they are good people. Ballybeoc does no need more troubles.” The watery eyes closed and then opened, “I ‘member what it was like when the O’Neills was here. I was a child but I ‘member.”

“You know our names. What is yours?”

“Ye want me name? Sure and you can call me whatever ye want. Some say I’m a cailleach. Some call me Aíne. But most call me Máthair.”

Maggie drew closer to the old woman, “Which of those would you like us to call you?”

A cackle erupted from the tiny old woman, “Aye and you’re O’Neill for sure. Maggie O’Neill, I’ll call ye.”

Maggie waited patiently.

Finally, “As for me, ye may call me as ye like. Maybe Máthair is best.”

Allie repeated, “Máthair.”

“Yes, child. That will do.”

Tentatively, Maggie reached across to take the old hand. It rested in hers, all rough skin and bones, lightly, “Máthair, we are happy to know you. Would you honor us by coming for tea? We are at the lodge at the castle.”

“Aye, and I know where you be. And it’s kind of you to ask me. I will come one day but you will not know when. I will choose the time.”

“We will look forward to that time, Máthair. It will be an honor, indeed. Maybe you can tell us about the O’Neills and the old days.”

Another soft cackle. The hand withdrew and the woman became a shadow again. A raspy voice faded with, “The old days...” The clouds again covered the moon.

Allie and Maggie both exhaled long sighs. Allie sought her mother’s hand and whispered, “Wow.”

As they continued up the hill a soft misty rain began to fall and they pulled the anorak hoods over their heads.

The Care of Goats and Ghosts, a Maggie McGill Mystery Series book by Sharon Burch Toner
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