Authors: Jude Watson
They pedaled for some minutes in silence. Soon they saw another bicyclist heading toward them.
“Excuse me, sir? Which way is the village?” Amy called.
“Not too far,” he answered shortly, and pedaled quickly away.
They kept on pedaling. After a bit they saw a woman exit a cottage by the road and stop to water a pot full of bright red flowers.
“Excuse me, is this the way to the village?” Dan called.
“Sure, if you keep on, you’ll hit something or other,” the woman replied, and turned and walked quickly back into her house.
“Super McFriendly folks here in leprechaun land,” Dan observed.
But after about ten minutes of riding, the road dipped and curved, and the village appeared, a cluster of houses and shops. They jumped off their bikes and leaned them against the side of a grocery with a bright blue door.
The bell jangled as they walked in. A young woman sat behind the counter, reading a book. She didn’t look up.
Picking up a wicker basket, they filled it with food. They put the basket on the counter.
“It’s a pretty village,” Amy said. “Have you lived here long?”
“Long enough.” She totaled up their purchases.
“Is there a good place to eat lunch nearby?” Dan asked.
“Folks say Sean Garvey’s is good, but whether you’ll think it is I can’t predict,” the girl said.
“Can we leave our groceries here for now?” Amy asked.
“Suppose you can.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Dan said.
They walked out. Across the street they saw a sign for Sean Garvey’s and swung open the door. The bar was crowded with locals, and they all fell silent as Amy and Dan walked in. A pretty waitress with reddish hair and hazel eyes led them to a table by the window and put two menus on the table.
“I’m starting to get the feeling I’m not wanted,” Dan said.
“I guess they’re not used to strangers,” Amy said.
Dan studied the menu. “I think I’ll skip the bangers and mash. I feel like I’ve been banged and mashed enough already.”
They ordered sandwiches and observed the locals. Dan kept having an odd feeling, as though he was in a familiar place. He’d never been to this part of Ireland, or this village, yet he recognized something about it.
The waitress frowned as she folded napkins, and Dan felt a jolt.
She looks like Amy.
What was it? The way her mouth turned down? The shape of her face?
He looked back at Amy as she chewed her sandwich. Now she looked nothing like the waitress, really. He must be crazy.
After lunch they bought backpacks and spare clothes at a small store. Then they walked through the nearby churchyard. At least they didn’t have to worry about people staring at them.
Dan paused to rest, leaning against a massive rock streaked with moss.
“Dan, what are you doing? It might be a gravestone.”
“It’s not a gravestone, it’s just a rock.” Dan stepped away and ran his hands along the stone. “See? No carvings.” Just as he said that, his fingers traced a depression in the stone. He followed the line up, slightly down, up again, tracing a letter in the stone.
He scraped at the moss with a fingernail, clearing it away. “Amy . . . look at this.”
She leaned down. “I don’t see anything.”
Dan continued to work at the stone, scraping off the moss. Then he stepped back and they caught their breath.
It was the Madrigal
The girl was in the same position at the grocery, still reading a book.
“We were just walking in the churchyard,” Amy said in a casual tone, “and we noticed this gigantic rock there.”
“One of our more thrilling sights here in the village,” the girl said. She flipped a page in her book.
traced in the surface of the rock,” Dan said. “And it looks really ancient.”
“It’s just a rock,” the girl said. “I doubt there’s anything carved in it.”
Dan knew the girl was lying by the way she turned a page of her book. She hadn’t had time to read it. He held out the picture he’d taken on his phone. He’d snapped it and sent it to Nellie.
She flicked a quick glance at it. “I don’t see anything. Let me get your groceries.” She turned and leaned down to pick up the sack.
Dan gave Amy a sharp nudge. Tattooed on the small of the girl’s back was clearly a Madrigal
Amy took the sack in her arms. “If it’s just a rock,” she said, “why is the same
tattooed on your back?”
For the first time, they saw emotion on the girl’s face as her pale skin was splashed with pink.
“It’s a symbol of the village,” she said, lifting her chin and brushing a strand of dark hair out of her eyes. “Meenalappa.”
“Then why didn’t you say that about the rock?”
“Must I have chats about rocks with every eejit tourist that walks into my shop?” she asked defiantly. “Now get back to your tourist bus and kiss my Blarney Stone.”
“We’re not from a tourist bus,” Dan said. “We’re staying at a cottage nearby. Bhaile Anois.”
The girl stared at them. Her gaze moved from Dan’s face to Amy’s and then back again. Then the tenseness left her body, and she smiled.
“That Declan. He’s thick as a plank. You’d think your own brother would let you know who he drove to the cottage last night. I heard there was a tourist bus in the next village — they’ve a nice church there, it’s on the tourist track. Sometimes the folks walk down here for lunch at the pub. Sorry to bite your heads off. We’re very protective about our village, especially when there’s people staying at Bhaile Anois.”
“That’s okay,” Dan said. It was amazing how a grin transformed the girl’s face.
“There’s Cahill all over you,” the girl said. “I should have seen it.”
“We’re Grace Cahill’s grandchildren,” Amy said.
“Dan and Amy, of course. Anyway,” she said, “we have a saying in my house, and in the village. Anything for Grace. Now that includes you. Oh, where are my manners, I’m Fiona Kilhane. My grandmother was caretaker of the cottage — she was a good friend of Grace’s. I’m sorry about her passing.”
“Thank you,” Amy said.
“Tell us about the rock,” Dan said.
“It’s almost as old as the village itself,” Fiona said. “It goes beyond memory, back into folklore, I guess. The children of every generation tell the tales of the villager the rock commemorates. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, she was born here. She went away for a long time and returned to have a daughter, only to go away again. The children call her a good witch. It’s said that she protected the village from the plague, that she was a selkie from Atlantis, that she spun threads into gold. Her name was —”
“Olivia.” Amy breathed the name.
“That’s right,” Fiona said. “Grace must have told you the legend. Many years later, her daughter returned here. She carved an
in the stone.”
“Madrigal,” Dan said.
“Oh, yes — that name has come down to us. We call it the Madrigal rock. It’s a symbol of the village, I guess, our Madrigal.”
Dan felt Amy’s excitement match his. Fiona was talking about their ancestor Olivia Cahill. Her daughter Madeleine had been the first Madrigal.
This is our ancestral village
, Dan thought.
This is where Olivia Cahill was born.
Amy and Dan pedaled back to Bhaile Anois. Now the landscape looked fresh and meaningful to them. This is where they came from.
, though?” Dan asked Amy.
“Because she couldn’t put up a stone with her mother’s name on it,” Amy guessed. “It would have been too dangerous. Maybe the word
had a secret meaning to both of them.”
They pushed through the tall hedge, and the white farmhouse sat snug and bright in its hollow. Dan felt Amy next to him, her hands resting lightly on the handlebars. She, too, was looking at the house. He knew that she was thinking the same thing. It was that mind-meld that happened with them so often.
“Grace had a reason she wanted us to come here,” he said. “And it wasn’t just protection.”
They wheeled the bikes into the garage and brought their bags into the house.
“Whenever we’ve needed her, she’s been there,” Amy said. “Even after she was gone. She gave us McIntyre and Fiske and Nellie. And now she’s led us here.”
“It’s here,” Dan said. “Whatever it is. There’s something in the house.”
They exchanged the briefest of glances, then sprang into action. Amy headed to the small study off the kitchen. She searched the desk and the bookshelves. She pressed against floorboards and tapped against walls.
Dan headed upstairs. He poked around the rooms, moving dressers and examining floorboards for a telltale loose board. He scrutinized the gray stone fireplace in the master bedroom where Amy had slept. He crawled over the floors of the remaining small, spare bedrooms. He knocked on their walls.
Finally, he climbed the winding wooden staircase to the attic bedroom, so small it had room only for a bed and a small table. One high round window gave a faint glimpse of blue sky. There was no closet, only a row of pegs along one wall.
Frustrated, he started down the stairs again. He hit the landing and made the turn, pounding down the remaining stairs.
He walked up the stairs again.
Dan dropped to his knees. He examined every inch of the staircase, crawling up and down it. When he reached the bottom, he saw Amy standing in the hall, watching him.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m probably crazy. But there’s something different about the sound of the stairs at the top from the bottom. It’s just a little thing, but —”
He stopped. Amy had leaned right next to a candle sconce. It had a mirror backing, so that the candlelight would be caught and reflected. In that muddy reflection he’d seen it. The matching sconce on the other wall was slightly different. The metal scrollwork on the ledge was a different design. But in all other respects the sconces were a perfect pair.
He ran his fingers along the scrollwork. Carefully, he tugged on the sconce itself. It moved in his hand and he quickly tried to catch it. It hung steady, still anchored to the wall, but a few inches away. He pulled it all the way down, and the staircase rose into the air.
Beyond it was a secret room.
Dan walked up a few steps and peered in. Then he turned to Amy.
“After you,” he said.
Amy passed through the opening. She straightened and felt along the wall for a light switch. It turned on a pretty lamp with a blue glass shade that sat on a white table.
Dan followed. They were in a small, square room. The floorboards were painted white and the ceiling sky blue, perhaps to make up for the lack of windows. The room was tucked under the eaves. Amy guessed that it would be impossible to tell from outside the house that it existed.
Next to the white table was a wooden chair with a deep purple cushion on the seat. She could visualize Grace sitting in the chair with her straight-backed posture. There was a painting on one wall, and on the other an ornate gold mirror.
She walked closer to the table and leaned over to study the painting. The childlike forms depicted brightly colored woods and sky and a splash of yellow against a green field. She recognized it immediately. She had given it to Grace for her birthday when Amy was nine. She had worked on it so carefully — it was the view from Grace’s window seat in the library. The place they used to curl up together with a pot of cocoa and a plate of cookies. She had painted it in spring, when the giant forsythia bush was blooming. Grace had called the bush “George” because she had buried a favorite goldfish there years before. “Oh, I see George is ready to bloom,” she would say in early spring.
Dan walked over to a wooden filing cabinet next to the table. He opened the drawer and flicked through the files. Amy stood, looking over his shoulder. The files were marked by Grace’s strong handwriting.
Amy flipped through them. “These are duplicates,” she said. “These files are all downstairs in the study.”
“Why would Grace need two sets of files?” Dan wondered.
“Because these are a cover,” she said. She began to remove the files, stacking them neatly on the desk.
Then she reached down into the drawer. With some tugging and pulling, she found that there was a panel on the bottom. She lifted it up, then withdrew a metal box.
“This is what we’re meant to find,” she said.
Dan studied the lock. “An alphabet combination lock. So we need a word, not numbers.”
“Something only we would know,” Amy said. She bit her lip. “Whenever Grace has left something she hopes we’ll find, she also gives us a clue. There’s got to be a clue in this room.”
Dan looked around. “There’s not much here to go on.”
They went through the files carefully, but nothing leaped out at them. Then they examined the room, but it was as bare as it looked.
“There’s got to be something,” Amy said. Amy’s gaze rested on the painting. The blob of yellow bush was painted so badly. It was nice of Grace to hang it. Especially when she’d done much better paintings than this one.
Something only we would know . . .
She returned to the box. She spun the letters.
The lid opened.
Amy lifted out a notebook, and underneath that, another box, this one wrapped in kitchen twine. Dan hovered over her shoulder as she untied it.
She opened the top of the box. Inside sat an old journal, a little bigger than a paperback. It was leather bound, and she could see the ruffled, yellowed pages on one side. “It looks ancient,” she murmured.
ancient,” Dan said.
It was true. It smelled like old paper, musty and dry, but something else . . . something medicinal. Amy opened it carefully. There must have been plants or herbs pressed in its pages at one time — she could see the ghostly traces they’d left on the yellowed pages. There were beautiful ink renderings of plants and leaves and flowers. Carefully turning the pages, she saw a recipe for a poultice against “the ague,” the best method for bleaching stains out of muslin, a list of prices next to items like a bolt of linen, a cask of wine, tea. . . .
“It’s a household account book,” Amy said. “Definitely written by a woman. And a kind of diary. I mean, you can figure out her life by reading what she did every day. It looks like some of it is in Latin . . . or Italian? Both, I think.”
“Who owned it?” Dan asked. “And why did Grace hide it?”
Amy turned back to the inside cover.
A shiver ran down her spine. Dan let out a long exhalation.
“Whoa,” he said. “It’s Great-great-great-great et cetera grandma’s book!”
Amy turned to the back cover of the book. In a strong clear hand, faded over time, was written:
Ret’d for safekeeping to the care of the village of Meenalappa. 1526 M.C.
“Madeleine Cahill,” Amy breathed. “She brought the book back to Meenalappa in 1526. After her mother died. And somehow it survived, all these years! Amazing.” She carefully leafed through the pages. “Look, Dan — there is a gap here. Five pages completely inked out.”
“Why would someone do that? To cover something up?”
“Maybe.” The ink was dark and black, line after line bleeding into the next until it covered every bit of blank paper. There was something somber and chilling about it. Something that reminded her of the dark days she’d spent after the funerals of Evan, Alistair, Natalie. . . .
“Or maybe these pages are a memorial,” Amy said slowly. “Remember the story? That Gideon was killed, and her four children scattered. . . . These five pages are her grief. And then look, she doesn’t write anything until July 10, 1508. . . .” Amy counted on her fingers. “That could be the date of Madeleine’s birth! Look, here she drew the Madrigal
She pointed to the oversized, hand-drawn
in the middle of a page adorned with flowers and leaves. Again there were recipes and medicines, lists of ingredients and amounts. . . .
“Look,” Amy said. “She stops writing here — she has ten blank pages. And she’s copied out a poem. Then here — she writes,
I miei viaggi.
‘My travels,’ ” Amy translated. “After that the rest of the book is written in code!”
“I’m guessing we’re here to crack it,” Dan said.
“Maybe Grace already did!”
Excited, Amy picked up Grace’s notebook. Only about a third of the book was written in. There were lists of Latin words and translations of old Italian to modern Italian. Then there were notations that didn’t make any sense at all.
“I think Grace tried to break the code, but wasn’t able to,” Amy said.
Dan groaned. “Why isn’t it ever easy?”
As she flipped the pages, an envelope fell out.
Amy’s heart fluttered. “It’s from Grace,” she said to Dan.
The note wasn’t long.
“The secret is out in the world,” Dan said. “The serum.”
Amy touched the letter
, so bold, so strong. “She was afraid this day would come.”
“Somewhere in there,” Dan said, pointing to the book, “is the answer to our problem. Grace gave us a way to fight J. Rutherford Pierce!”
By the evening, they had to give up. Olivia’s book was a fascinating glimpse into life in Ireland in the early sixteenth century, but they couldn’t see how what she wrote could help them. And they could not break the code.
“There’s too much Latin and Italian,” Dan said sleepily from his prone position on the floor. “And if I have to read one more poultice recipe, I’ll tear my hair out.” He raised himself on his elbows. “You know who we need to call. Atticus and Jake know these dead languages. They could —”
“No,” Amy interrupted.
Dan sat upright. “While we’re sitting here, Pierce is gaining power every day with the serum. We’re the only ones who can stop him. We have to use everything we can, every
we can. You might want to protect everybody,” he said. “I get that. But if the whole world falls apart, what good did it do?”
Amy jackknifed to her feet. “Let’s just go to bed.”
Dan’s words pounded in Amy’s head as she tucked the book under her arm and followed him up the worn wooden stairs to their rooms. She wanted to tell him he was wrong. She wanted to say,
You don’t know what it’s like to be in charge.
She wanted to fling an accusation at him —
You’re the one who wants to run away! You don’t get to have a vote anymore!
But she was too exhausted to fight.
She pulled on the sweats they’d bought in town, brushed her teeth, and turned out the light.
Sleep wouldn’t come. She tossed and turned for an hour. When she closed her eyes, she felt herself falling, the dark, oily river rushing up at her. She felt Dan’s fingers weakening. Panicked, she reached for the light. She propped herself up on pillows and picked up Olivia’s book.