A delicate rainbow wavered in and out of view as thick, black smoke seeped from behind the waterfall. Across the wide pool, Clancy sat scowling on a small, mossy boulder. He pulled his long-stemmed pipe from the pocket of his red velvet jacket and clenched it between his teeth. He knew without looking that the sun was nearly overhead. Once it reached its peak the cliffs would block its rays and the rainbow revealing the doorway would fade. By his reckoning he had fifteen minutes—if that.
Before Clancy knew what was happening, two hands pinned his arms to his sides and hoisted him into the air. The stranger spun him around and Clancy looked down to see a boy, no more than nineteen, holding him up like a game day trophy. The boy’s pale, freckled face stretched wide in a triumphant grin.
“Where better to catch a leprechaun than a place called Rainbow Falls. Ha! You, sir, owe me three wishes.”
Clancy squirmed furiously, his pride stung at being caught so easily.
“Very well, you clever scamp,” he sighed when all his kicking came to nothing. “What are your three wishes?”
“Tell me where your gold is,” said the boy at once. With his pipe still tight between his teeth, Clancy grimaced, almost disappointed by the predictable request.
“Fancy you being clever enough to catch me but fool enough to waste your first wish. My gold’s at the end of the rainbow, lad.” He tried to point with his arm, but when the young man wouldn’t loosen his hold to allow even that, he jerked his head over his shoulder to indicate the cave hidden behind the waterfall.
Greed gleamed in the young man’s green eyes. He tucked Clancy under his arm like a football and started wading across the waist-deep pool.
From behind the falling water came a deep, rippling growl that scattered their reflections and sent the water’s surface shivering. The boy froze.
Suddenly, a roar erupted from out of the dark. The boy was so startled he slipped and went under. For a moment he lost his grip on Clancy but managed to catch hold of his sleeve again before Clancy could swim free.
“What kind of trick are you trying to pull?” he demanded angrily. Soaked from head to toe, it was easier to see his thick, stocky build beneath the gray, skin-tight t-shirt. Clancy smiled, the picture of innocence.
“You asked me to tell you where my gold’s at. It’s in there. As you can see, you’re not the only treasure hunter that’s plagued me this morning.”
The young man’s face went momentarily green before a cunning look came into his eye.
“I’ll wish it away then. I wish to get rid of the dragon.”
Clancy snorted and crossed his arms.
“If I could just snap my fingers and will it away d’you think I’d be soaked to the bone out here while he’s warm and dry in there? There’s only one way to get rid of a dragon, son.” And before the young man could alter his wish, his wet jeans and t-shirt transformed into a shining suit of solid gold armor. He staggered under the unexpected weight and nearly went down again.
As the gold flashed in the noonday light, a long red snout parted the curtain of water falling down the cliffside. The water hissed and turned to steam where it landed on the jewel-bright scales. The suit of armor rattled with the boy’s terror.
“Y-y-you expect me to f-f-fight that? I don’t know how to s-s-slay a dragon,” he stammered, clutching Clancy to his chest like a teddy bear. Clancy glanced up at the sky.
“Then I suggest you make your last wish,” he said. “And be quick about it. As soon as the sun starts to sink the rainbow will fade and with it your chances of getting that gold.”
For a moment the boy glared at him, realizing that he’d been tricked. He could easily have taken the gold armor away and been a rich man, but now that the dragon had seen it the beast was not about to let even an ounce of the precious metal get away. Already the snout had grown into a long, triangular head that tapered back into two sharp horns on either side. Glowing amber eyes fixed upon the boy and the leprechaun, and the dragon let out a low, rattling breath that smelled of charred meat and sulfur.
“Fine, I wish I knew how to fight like the bravest knight that ever lived.”
“Done.” Clancy agreed quickly. The boy waited, but nothing happened.
“I don’t understand,” he said, his voice rising in panic as the dragon’s neck, chest, and left foreleg appeared. “Nothing happened. W-wait! Why can’t I move?”
“Skill is not the same thing as courage. You asked me to make you brave. The bravest knights stand and fight no matter how the odds are stacked against them.”
“You tricked me. You didn’t grant my wish!” By now, two-thirds of the dragon’s spiny body had emerged. Its leathery black wings were folded tight to its sides, but the moment it cleared the cave mouth they sprang wide with a flap that made the cattails sway and the water lilies dance.
Clancy tore himself free of the now-knight’s gauntleted grip.
“That’s three wishes! You have no more hold over me,” he crowed. He dove under the water and swam for shore. With the gold knight in its sights the dragon paid no attention to him.
“You can’t just let him kill me!” called the boy as Clancy clambered onto the bank.
“If anyone’ll be letting that happen it’d be you. You’ve a sword and a shield and a clever brain. They’ll serve you well now that you’ve the courage to use them.”
Just then, the end of the dragon’s tail slithered out of the cave. At nearly the same moment, the smoke curling from its nostrils and the steam rising from its wet scales rose high enough to block out the light of the sun. Clancy dove behind the waterfall just as the rainbow faded from sight. The doorway snapped shut so fast that the tails of his velvet coat got caught in the hair-thin crevice where the two halves joined.
Shrugging, he slid his arms out of his trapped jacket and rubbed his hands together at the sight of the treasure that lay before him. Through the wall of rock he heard the clang of metal on scales as the two would-be thieves fought their bitter fight over who would walk away with the suit of gold armor.
After taking a long, thoughtful drag on his pipe, Clancy snapped his fingers.
The activity outside ceased. There was a roar, and then came the sound of giant claws raking at the wall of solid stone. With one last bellow of rage the dragon flapped its enormous wings and took flight. The ground shuddered as the powerful hind legs kicked away from the earth.
Clancy strained his ears, waiting.
Finally, after what felt like an age, he heard a faint knock.
“If I’d known it was just a suit of leaf and twigs I’d have let him have it, you sly old dog.”
Clancy roared with laughter.