Authors: Lila Dubois
For my beloved.
Tá mo chroí istigh ionat.
P.S. I have no idea if that’s right, because you’re my English-Irish translator.
For Amy, who took a chance both on this series and on me. Many thanks.
Glenncailty Castle appeared between the trees, the road to its front door following the curve of the land, sweeping visitors down into the embrace of the three-hundred-year-old estate. Stone and glass were silver and diamond against the woodland green of the glen. The three-story castle rose strong and square from the shadows of the valley, flanked by shorter east and west wings. The structure was sturdy but elegant as anything that could be found in this wild part of County Meath, the ancient seat of the Kings of Ireland. The wood tumbled down the sides of the valley and pressed in on Glenncailty, casting long shadows and reminding those who came to the front doors that this valley was still more wild than tame.
Glenncailty’s history was lost, the name of the English lord who’d built it to oppress the people of the glen erased. Stories of families who’d owned, held and eventually squandered the power of the castle were gone too, but whether forgotten or erased, no one knew. Now the castle had a master as shadowed as its walls, but he hoped for its future, even as he’d given up on his own. The time had come for Glenncailty Castle to throw open its doors, invite the world in, and let life and laughter drown out the shadows.
What the master did not expect was that the castle would draw those who bore shadows of their own—that in the end, perhaps Glenncailty would save those who entered, rather than them saving Glenncailty. There is a place for everyone in this world, and for some who search, who wander, who carry heavy sorrows, there is Glenncailty—Valley of the Lost.
Welcome to Glenncailty Castle.
Céad míle fáilte.
The Fiddle Meets The Harp
At the edge of the castle grounds, where the gardens gave way to mowed grass, but before the wild tangles of bramble that skirted the tree line, a large stone barn with a pitched roof and dovecote stood tall and proud in the afternoon sun. It was called Finn’s Stable, though no one knew or remembered why. It simply was. It had been half fallen down when Caera took on the job of special events manager at Glenncailty Castle. Two years ago, the castle had been a crumbling and dilapidated private residence. Now the castle was renovated and the outbuildings of the estate were coming to life, starting with her love, Finn’s Stable.
Today the gravel and stone path than led to the concert and event venue was clogged with trucks from RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, as film and sound crews hauled equipment in through the heavy wood doors. RTE was going to film a special event in Finn’s Stable tomorrow night. Free Birds Fly was a concert with some of the best young Irish musicians in the country. They’d be performing traditional songs as well as their own original music. There were even guest musicians coming from America and Australia, both countries that owed much of their musical inheritance to their Irish immigrants.
Between now and the doors opening tomorrow night there were plenty of details for Caera and her team to oversee, not the least of which was the layout.
“I could change it to a smaller stage in the middle and have the audience seated all around. They’d be the background.” Caera eyed the space as she mentally set up the theater in the round.
“I don’t want to be forever editing the tape looking for someone with fingers in their nose.” The producer from RTE looked both bored and irritated. He’d made it clear that he thought it was a waste to bring the event out to Glenncailty, rather than hosting it in Dublin.
“What if you took down the drapes and filmed during the day? The glen is beautiful.”
When they repaired the crumbling walls and added a new wood roof, she’d opted to replace one of the short walls with glass, offering an unrestricted view of the woods behind the stable. She wanted a way to let in the late summer sun and allow people see the wild beauty of the unmanicured wood. Normally the windows were a prized backdrop, providing either a view of the green glen or the black of night. Finn’s Stable had become the choice for
and parties for those not only in the local village, but in the surrounding parishes. Currently, the stage was placed in front of the windows, opposite the stable doors. It had never been a problem, and Caera had been applauded for her choice, but according to the producer, windows were a difficult backdrop. The RTE team had put hideous matte black curtains over the windows on a frame of PVC pipe. Caera had to bite her tongue as they dulled her sparkling gem of a venue.
“Neither of us wants the headache of changing the time of the concert.” The producer for RTE, the national broadcaster, crossed his arms. Caera pressed her lips together and took a few steps to the side, resting her hand against the stone wall of the stable-turned-event space. She was working very hard to be polite to the man who hadn’t had a good word to say since he got here.
“Maybe we can use the windows.” The producer considered the pipe and drape. “We could light the trees outside and angle the interior lights to minimize the reflection.” The producer wandered away to talk to the lighting director he’d brought.
Caera hesitated, wanting to go with him and give her input, but knowing that to the Dubliners—Dubs—she was just a country girl and what she said wouldn’t matter. It was hard to step back and let them decide what to do. Tomorrow would be Finn’s Stable’s first time on TV. She didn’t want them painting her baby in a bad light.
“How’s it?” Rory Mac Gabhann, Caera’s assistant director, asked. He was carrying two chairs, and behind him his younger brother, Gerard, carried a few more.
“They’re going to take down the pipe and drape over the window, I hope.” Caera pointed to where she wanted the chairs. It seemed they’d be using the regular stage, so it was time to get the chairs in place.
“Just as well, those black curtains look hideous.” Rory smiled, his brown eyes sparkling.
“You’ll be quiet,” Caera said, giving him a push towards the storage area, a strange cone-shaped addition off one side of the stable that had once been a dovecote.
“It does look stupid, Miss Cassidy.” Gerard tossed his head, the floppy waves of hair that covered his face flipping back for a second, revealing eyes as melting as his older brother’s. At fifteen, he was gangly and awkward, with none of his brother’s finesse and smooth talking. Something for which all the teenage girls in Cailtytown should be grateful.
“Well, don’t be saying that so loud,” she admonished, tapping Gerard on the shoulder with the back of her hand. “We wouldn’t want to offend them.”
“Offend the Dubs? Impossible. They’re so thick nothing gets through to them.” Rory carried two more chairs in.
“Rory Mac Gabhann.” Caera looked at the television crew, who were a safe twenty feet away. “What would your mammy think to hear you talk like that?”
“Want me to tell on him, Miss Cassidy?” Gerard said, helpfully.
“Watch yourself, boy-o.” Little brother darted out of the way of Rory’s swat, grinning.
“You watch, or I’ll tell Ma.”
“Both of you, stop.” Caera crossed her arms, wishing once again that she were taller and more commanding. At five-foot-four, she was shorter than everyone, even teenage Gerard, and Rory towered over her. “Can we pretend we’re running a real event venue, and not some country tra-la-la?”
Gerard had the grace to look sheepish, while Rory just grinned. His gaze lingered on her a second too long, his smile a fraction too intense. Caera turned away from it, as she always had.
The wide double doors opened and Elizabeth Jefferies, manager of Glenncailty and Caera’s boss, slipped in. Cold winter wind whirled in the door along with Elizabeth, catching a few pieces of her blonde hair and making them dance.
Caera checked the TV crew, then made her way to Elizabeth. As always, her boss carried what looked like an old, hard-backed book but was really a case hiding her tablet computer.
“Is everything in order?” Elizabeth’s words were clipped, her English accent pronounced.
“We’re getting on well enough.” Caera checked her watch. “We have twenty-four hours before the doors open.”
“And ticket sales?”
“Sold out this morning.” With ten brilliant musicians participating, selling the three hundred tickets Finn’s Stable could seat shouldn’t have been a problem—if Glenncailty was in a major city. They were in the countryside, two hours from Dublin despite the new motorway, with only small villages nearby. Cailtytown was the local village, and had a population of only five hundred. Finding three hundred people out of those five hundred who would pay the nearly €100 ticket price would be impossible. Caera had thrown a lot into local advertising and marketing, and it had paid off, with not a moment to spare.
“I’m pleased to hear it.” Elizabeth zipped open her book-like case and started tapping on the flat screen of her tablet. “Are there any other details I can assist you with?” With her head bent over the tablet, Elizabeth seemed older than the thirty-five she was rumored to be. Caera didn’t know much about the Englishwoman, who never shared anything about herself or her life. Whatever her personal story, she was a brilliant hotel manager and had, in two short years, overseen the renovation and grand opening of Glenncailty. She was also, as far as Caera knew, the only person to ever have an actual conversation with Mr. O’Muircheartaigh, the owner.
“Everything’s ready. Parking, signage, photography for our website and promotional materials, and accommodations for the musicians. The TV crew is handling the tech work.”
“I spoke with Sorcha—it seems most of the musicians have arrived and are checked in.”
Caera nodded. “Paddy Fish and the American, who Paddy is picking up, are the last two. They should be here—” Caera looked at her watch, running through the mental timetable she’d been working out for months, “—in the next hour.”
“Brilliant job. I’m going to check with the kitchens. I want everyone to have a choice of eating in the dining room or the pub. If you see any of the performers, please apprise them of our amenities. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth.”
Caera watched her boss heave the one-hundred-year-old wood door open, letting in another swirl of February wind. It would rain tonight. She could smell it. She turned back, tipping her head to the exposed rafters two stories above. A combination of nerves and sadness filled her—nerves that the event would go smoothly, that Finn’s Stable would show well on television. Sadness because she could almost hear the music that would fill it—the rill of fiddle, strum of guitar and the passion of voices singing of times both good and bad, lost and hoped for. Singing of the free birds that fly beyond prison walls.
“I want to do a pre-sound check test, to make sure everything’s working. Go get one of the artists from the hotel.” The producer, who was clearly talking to his sound tech, was speaking just loud enough for Caera to hear. She was in her office, a large square room off the dovecote-turned-storage, which she shared with Rory and an odd assortment of supplies.
Jumping from her desk, she hurried into the main building. “I have a few instruments here. I can test the sound for you.”
Please, just for one moment, let me pretend.
The producer and technician both looked over. “Good enough, then we don’t need to bother anyone until sound check tomorrow morning.”
Caera hustled back into her office, grabbing an acoustic guitar. The wood was smooth and cool in her hands, the tiny ribbing of the strings familiar but almost unfelt under her heavily calloused fingertips. Pushing back the sleeves of her sweater, she followed the technician’s instructions, moving between the seats they’d set up on the stage, angling her body towards the guitar-height mics so they picked up the simple tunes she strummed out.
The mics were barely necessary. For a rectangular building, Finn’s Stable had excellent acoustics—she’d even had acoustic tiles strategically placed on the backsides of the rafters to stop the sound from echoing. Since they were recording the event for a TV special, they had to have the mics, but Caera always liked it best when the music was natural, filling the old stone walls with pure sound, unfiltered by electronics.
“Everything’s working. Thanks, Caera.”
“Happy to help.”
“You play well. Going to audition to play backup for some of our stars?” The producer grinned at her. Caera tried to return the smile, but it felt more like she was gritting her teeth.
“No, I play for myself.”
The TV crew headed towards the door and Caera took her guitar back to her office. When she heard the door close, she carefully lifted her harp from the space of honor and carried it into the stable.
Tim looked up from where he knelt behind the last row of chairs, his fiddle case open on the floor in front of him. A dark-haired woman emerged from a side entrance, carrying a harp. He rose, prepared to offer his help, but she carried it easily, curled arms cupping the sides as she walked sideways. She set it on the stage and took a seat. Now it was slightly taller than her, but not nearly as tall as the massive orchestral harps. Interested, he moved up the aisle that bisected the audience chairs, focused on the shape of the harp and the intricate roses carved into the base.