Across the ragged moorlands, over swollen hills sprouting dead and dying willows, between stone cairns piled high to mark the way, lies the peat bogs and the source of both McFarin’s ire and his wealth. The path he trods, centuries old, sports fresh tracks, his own, for he has made this journey day in, day out for years seeking the family’s legacy. This morning would have turned out no different had it not been for his sister’s son, Rory, who’d showed up, unannounced, the prior day, just as McFarin took his noonday repast.
“Who’r’n you again?”
“Oh, come on, Uncle. I be here to help ye look for yer treasure.”
“Who toll’ you there be any treasure? Peat diggin’s where the money’s at. And you’ll be doing plenty o’ that come tomorrow.”
“Have it yer way, then.” Rory waved to the barmaid. “I’ll have what he’s havin’.”
“I hope you can pay fer that.”
“You know I ain’t worked for a month. That’s why me mum sent me to spend the summer with you.”
Creeve McFarin set down his knife and fork, swigged from his pint, and rubbed his grizzled beard. “Oh, I know why Mary thinks she can pawn off her own on the likes o’ me. But know this, young Rory McGorran, you hav’n’d worked a dey in yer life ’til you dig peat bricks in the bogs of Lar’n Tule.”
McFarin stopped suddenly on the slim trail that threaded the moors. Rory, plodding haphazardly behind, mindlessly carrying the narrow shovel, nearly stabbed his uncle in the back. McFarin turned his head into his high collar, looked out over the moorland. “Mind your step, lad. The pools in these parts look shallow. They’re not. Evern’ year we lose a wee one or three to the swamp. Sucked right down. Hounds cain’t eve’ find ‘em.”
“It true what they say about them wisps? They be the ghosts of bairns lost in…”
“Aye. You see a will-o-the-wisp come askin’ yew to dance, yew split ‘er down the middle with yer shovel, ye hear?”
McFarin slowed his pace and Rory seemed to take heed to the fresh dangers. The old man continued to lead the way. As they rose up over a singular mound, isolated from the rest of the moor, McFarin held out a hand, turned, put a finger to his lips and whispered, “Beneath lie spirits of old.” He pointed to the earth below. “Wake them at ye peril.”
Past the pools and ghostly mounds, Rory risked breaching the silence. “Me mum said you be huntin’ these lands for half yer life. That true?”
“Diggin’ peat bricks be a habit, ye mark my words.” McFarin had marched them into a turned-up patch of the mire. “I’ll start yew here. Yew remember how to use that shovel? Straight down, lean it out…”
“I know, I know.”
“Well, then, get to it.”
A steady breeze blew across the Moors of Lar’n Tule. Patchy gorse heath, tucked into folds of the land, did little to abate the constant drone of the wind. Yet, the heavy wool cloaks the two men wore soon trapped the heat of their work. With their coats shed and laid in a folded pile, they returned in earnest to their task.
After three courses had been dug and arrayed, child’s bricks, tall and narrow, aligned in flat rows a dozen yards long, Rory slid his shovel down, tilted the handle away from the knee-high cliff and reeled back from the effort.
“Oy, what a stench!”
“What’s that, lad? You catch a wiff o’ something foul?” McFarin asked with eager eyes.
“Ew, come take a look, Uncle. This tain’t no mossy peat I ever’n seen before.”
McFarin buried his shovel and peered over his nephew’s shoulder. He flared his nostrils, seeking the mysterious odor. “Ooh, lad. Me thinks yew done it. Yew found the treasure.” The old man shouldered past his nephew, knelt and cautiously scraped a crooked finger across a caramel colored skid between the shovel and the embankment.
He held the slick goo beneath his nose, sniffed twice, poked out his tongue and gave the mess a lick. His eyes bulged and his crease of a mouth pulled taught in a rare grin.
“That’s the stuff, Rory me lad. This be the first in a vast cache of treasure, the likes of which I be searchin’, as you said, for half me life.”
Rory scrunched up his face and turned away as McFarin offered the glob to him.
McFarin cackled, “Oh, now. You tain’t lived till you have a wee taste o’ bog butter.”