He looked out on a beautiful morning. The road stretched ahead of him, winding its way through the valley towards a distant mountain which dominated the skyline. It was dry where he stood, but in the distance the sun was fighting its way through a mist-like veil of light rain, creating a stunning rainbow, which arced across the sky sharing wonderful vibrant colour with all who looked its way. He followed its curve with his eyes, marvelling at the simple natural beauty. Then something caught his eye and his heart raced. Where the foot of the rainbow's arc touched the mountain side in the distance, a golden circle shone bright and clear. Many times he had heard the legend but did not dare to believe it could be true. Yet there it was, shining bright. He waited for perhaps half an hour.
As the sun rose higher, the rain clouds evaporated. The rainbow faded and disappeared, leaving a clear blue sky. He felt the sun's warmth on his skin as he continued to look towards the distant mountain. Although the rainbow had gone, the golden circle remained shining bright, beckoning him. The road was long but he was young and he was strong. He knew he could make it. He filled a backpack with some provisions, pulled on his best boots and set out. All the while he kept his eyes on the distant mountain and the circle of gold, fearing that if he turned away for even a moment, he might lose sight of its position as the legend warned would happen to those whose focus was not constant and clear.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, he strode purposefully on. In his mind the voice of determination spoke loudly. "Keep on going. Eyes on the prize." Then into his nostrils came the scent of wild flowers, fighting for his attention. To his left appeared a beautiful meadow, dotted with flowers of many colours. A gentle breeze caused the flowers and the long grass to sway, creating waves which swept across the meadow like ripples on a pond. Yet he was oblivious to the wonder and on he marched, his focus fixed, his head unturning until he left the fragrances far behind him.
Some way further on, in his peripheral vision he noticed a slender feminine figure at the side of the road. She stepped out to greet him. Her beautiful face shone with delight as he approached but he noticed this not. She ran to hug him with passionate enthusiasm but his response was lukewarm and disappointing. He continued to stare ahead and neither her deep brown eyes, nor her soft lips against his cheek could draw his attention.
"What is wrong?" She asked.
"Nothing is wrong," he replied with a tone of irritation.
"Come sit with me a while," she said. She gently took his hand and lightly tugged him towards a large tree stump which sat at the side of the road. For a brief moment her gentle pleas and the wonderful feminine softness of her skin against his almost drew his attention, but soon the voice in his head spoke loudly once more.
"Not now," he said to her as he firmly pulled his hand away from hers and marched on towards the mountain leaving her crestfallen behind him.
Midday came and went and he decided to stop for some refreshment. With his eyes still fixed firmly on the golden circle, he shook of his backpack and held it in front of him. It seemed somehow heavier than when he had packed it, but he paid no attention to this as he reached inside and pulled out the lunch he had prepared before embarking on the journey. As he ate the voice of determination rested and he became suddenly aware that he could hear laughter not far away. The sound of children's voices rang out in the near distance, their natural melody creating a tune of pure clear joy for all who would listen. For a moment he was transported back to his own childhood and remembered the effortless enthusiasm with which he greeted every day. Then he heard light footsteps approaching and two small boys approached in front of him. With a vigorous arm gesture he waved them out of the way as he quickly moved his head to make sure he did not lose sight of his destination.
"Hey mister," said one of the boys. "Can you help us? We are building a dam down in the stream. If we get some of those big rocks I'm sure we can stop the water. But none of us can move them. Please can you help us?" The boy's eager voice and his unshakable confidence that he could achieve the impossible struck a chord. It reminded him of himself. For a brief moment he longed to feel such effortless enthusiasm once more. Then the voice in his head sounded again. It's was an altogether different kind of determination. Grim and unwavering, it urged him to dispense with such triviality and press on towards his target.
"Some other time, maybe," he said to the boys. With his eyes still staring ahead, he did not notice the looks of disappointment on their faces. He stood and lifted his backpack. Once again it seemed strangely heavy considering he had just emptied it of some of its contents, but he did not want to take his eyes off his target to search inside for the reason why. He pulled it around his shoulders once more and strode on towards the mountain.
He reckoned that he was now over half way and the road began to rise gently. For the first time on his journey he began to feel some fatigue. The straps of his backpack cut into his shoulders and his knees and ankles began to ache. The sun which had been welcome and uplifting in the early morning now seemed to beat down on him. He made a fist and carried on, his eyes still fixed on the circle of gold which beckoned him onward. Then to his right he passed a green field and out of the corner of his eye he could make out several figures running to and fro. Shouts and laughter rang out from time to time, then one of those shouts sounded out his name and one of the figures came running over to the road to intercept him.
"Hey, you're just in time," said the man. It was a voice he recognised of one of his very good friends since childhood. "We've got uneven sides. Come on, you can be on my team. We'll let you go in goal if you want. Smithy didn't really want to anyway, he just drew the short straw. I know it's your favourite position. We're only behind by 2 even though we're a man short. With you in goal we can beat them easily. Come on Big Hands!" His friend's description of the game brought back fond memories of epic matches played for pure pleasure on many sunny afternoons in which the score often reached double figures for both sides. The brilliant banter and camaraderie between the group of friends who all knew each other so well. It had been some time since he had seen any of them. The other players looked over and called out his name in unison as a celebration of his presence. Part of him yearned to throw off his backpack and take his place between the makeshift goal posts, but the voice of determination urged him on.
"I can't play now. There's something I have to do," he told his friend and continued on. Groans came from the other players as they watched him continue into the distance.
The road grew steeper and the sun continued to beat down on him. He reached over his shoulder, pulling a second bottle of water out of his back pack and finishing it almost in one go. He decided to save a little to drink later when he would stop to eat. As he was thinking about this, the enticing aroma of meat cooking on a barbecue drifted his way. He walked over a crest in the road and then became aware of its source. There was a house he had visited many times. There lived his brother with his wife and children. There was music playing and the garden was full of people standing in small groups chatting, sipping beer and wine and eating food from the barbecue while several children of varying ages charged around happily in between the groups. The long day's walking had made him very hungry and the smell of the cooking made him sharply aware of this. Maybe he could stop for just a while. He could still keep the golden circle in sight if he stayed at the edge of the garden. Maybe just a while.
"Hey!" His brother exclaimed as he looked over and noticed him. "We thought you weren't coming. You never answered the invitation." His two young nieces ran up to the gate and had he been looking at their faces he would have seen their expressions of delight at his arrival.
"What?" He replied, his mind clearly elsewhere. "Invitation? I don't recall....."
"Never mind, maybe it never reached you," his brother replied striding out of the gate towards him. "Anyway, you're here now. Come on in. I've got some of those sausages you like and there's plenty of beer. Help yourself. The girls have been asking all day if you were coming. What's up?" His brother noticed that he had looked at neither him nor his daughters as they greeted him.
"I'm sorry bro," he eventually said. "I can't stop. I must get on. I have to get somewhere. You all have a good time without me." Aware that the sun would soon be beginning to set, the voice of determination urged him to keep on lest he should not reach his goal before the growing gloom obscured his view. He strode on, once again oblivious to the disappointed faces which he left behind.
On he forged, his march had now become a trudge. The road continued to get steeper. He was now ascending the mountain and the road began to zig-zag as it climbed. He had to turn his head sharply and almost walk sideways at times to keep the golden circle in sight. He decided to stay on the road until he had climbed to a point level with where the circle shone. Then he would make his way over the rough ground along the mountain side to finally reach his target. Fatigue and hunger were beginning to wear him down, but as the light continued to fade, he dared not stop for a rest or some more food. He would rest and eat when he reached his destination.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a building in the near distance and as he got closer to it he could hear music coming from inside. He could make out a fiddle, an accordion, a tin whistle or flute and a deep, mellow male voice singing one of his favourite ballads from childhood. It reminded him of being a small boy when his father had played in such a band and had regularly taken him along to soak up the revelry. He found himself quietly singing along to the song as he approached what he now realised was a pub. Then out of the doors burst a young couple. The music became louder for a few seconds before the doors closed behind them. They danced a few circles before the man lifted his belle off the floor and kissed her with obvious ardour. He noticed the young woman's sparkling brown eyes and thought back to the beginning of his journey for a few moments. As he passed the doors of the pub he could smell and almost taste the beer that was being quaffed enthusiastically inside. With a mouth as dry as the dusty road beneath his aching feet, he was almost ready to crack when he heard the band strike up a new tune and the mellow tones of the vocalist told a familiar tale.
If ever the end of a rainbow you spy
And a bright golden circle it catches your eye,
Keep it in view and do not let it go
While you take yourself quickly to where it does glow.
When you get to the place where the gold circle lies,
Many wonderful treasures will then greet your eyes.
The reminder spurred him on and he pressed on past the pub and the lovers and on up the road. One last push. Soon it was time for him to leave the road. Slowly and carefully he scrambled along the mountain side towards his prize. The circle's brilliance was starting to fade as the sun began to set, but now he was sure he was going to make it and he called on his last reserves to complete the last part of his journey.
At last he got close enough to see what it was that had been shining so bright all day, urging him towards it. In front of him was an enormous circle made of polished gold. It was held in a stand by two huge pegs so that it could be tilted up or down. Exhausted, he fell to the ground in front of the mirror. As he looked at his reflection, he was shocked at what he saw. The face of an old man looked back at him. Grey haired and weather worn, with wrinkles which gave him a permanent frown. He pulled his arms out of his back pack, wincing with pain as he did so. He rummaged inside for his water and his remaining food. As he did so, his hand came across several unexpected objects. One by one he pulled out several large round smooth stones. He had no idea where these had come from, but now he knew why his backpack had felt so heavy. Each stone had a letter scratched on it. He pulled out two Es, two Rs, one T and one G along with his water bottle and his remaining provisions. He finished these off with ravenous urgency and then began to look around.
Behind the mirror he found a small opening which led into a cave. 'This must be where the treasure is!' He thought to himself and he ventured wearily inside, leaving his backpack and the stones behind him. He was surprised to find that the cave was lit by torches which hung on the walls. As his eyes became accustomed to the torchlight, he could make out a small figure sitting cross-legged on the floor. He was dressed head to toe in green and smiling mischievously.
"A-ha! Hello there! I thought you'd never make it! It's been such a long time since I had a visitor. There aren't many as determined as you! I suppose you'll be wanting me to show you where the treasure is will you?"
Without waiting for an answer, the little man leapt to his feet and skipped towards the cave entrance.
"Come come. This way!" He smiled as he beckoned the weary man to follow him. "Now, you stand there please." He pointed to a spot in front of the mirror. "Are you ready?"
"Yes! Yes!" The man answered, excitedly expecting a bit of leprechaun magic. Then the little fellow put his hand on the side of the giant mirror and tilted it slightly. Reflected beautifully in the shining metal surface, the whole of the valley below could now be seen. One by one the man recognised the places he had passed on the journey to the mountain.
A tear rolled down his cheek as he looked down at the stones on the ground and realised what the letters spelt out.
"Hee hee!" The leprechaun giggled and skipped back into his cave.
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