Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound: Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour
On a remote Gaelic farmstead in medieval Ireland, word reaches Alberic of conquering Norman knights arriving from England. Oppressed by the social order that enslaved his Norman father, he yearns for the reckoning he believes the invaders will bring—but his world is about to burn. Captured by the Norman knight Hugo de Lacy and installed at Dublin Castle as a translator, Alberic’s confused loyalties are tested at every turn. When de Lacy marches inland, Alberic is set on a collision course with his former masters amidst rumours of a great Gaelic army rising in the west. Can Alberic navigate safely through revenge, lust and betrayal to find his place amidst the birth of a kingdom in a land of war?
I was still young when the fulcrum began its pitch. Fortune’s wheel clanking around in its inscrutable way. It was the year that the sky ships were seen in Ard Macha. A silver host, spectral and gold illuminated the heavens, emerging from the cloud with their glistening sails and their ghostly hosts peering down, blazing with light on the men below who shrank from them in terror. And in that year also, the crozier of the bishop of Cluin Ioraird spoke to its owner, words of radiance and doom setting the kingdom alight.
Though we saw no such miracles to presage coming things, the Tiarna had a dream. He saw a great light rise from the mound on Cnuc Bán. A sídhe mound guarding the high pass over the valley and below – a stag belling, a wild dog of two colours devouring a heron’s nest and above, a sun rising in the west, spreading brightness over a darkened east. A weapon shining at the heart of the mound. A weapon of immense power.
The Tiarna ignored the words of his wife and councillors, he disregarded his ollamh, he closed his house to the monk and chewed his thumb long into the night. Night after night ruminating beside ashen fires, forging his resolve. Until, one darkening day, he sat on his horse commanding the unthinkable. Watching us scrabble and shift moss-thick stones from the ancient cairn. We worked in silence, frantic in our task, working to quieten the dread that rang out in each of our heads. To stave off the flesh-creep as hour after hour, we watched the sun pass its peak and begin to drop away westwards over the shoulder of the cairn. The mound’s passive bulk thrumming with threat, and the geis-breaking sound of stones rolling free, rising to swallow everything else. Swallowing the champ of the standing horses, the rare lilts of the wind through the woodland below, the keening of buzzards circling. We cast the stones out beyond the kerbing into the heather, hoping they would land soft. Flinching at each cracking strike as they collided with hidden rock among the furze. Dread and skeletal hands clenching slowly within our skulls as the darkness thickened in the east.
‘Ho,’ Lochru cried out – the first human sound in hours and he came around the curve of the mound, his palsied face white, his hands trembling. He motioned to the Tiarna who urged his horse onwards. Tuar, his ollamh and the monk, Milesius cantering on also. We all followed to where the youth Fiacra stood, unnaturally still, his eyes fixed upon something in the scree. With great reluctance, he raised his hand and pointed at an opening which showed amongst the loose stone. Two rough pillars leaning towards each other, forming a narrow doorway as wide as the span between fist and elbow.
We stood steaming in the cold. Shudders passed among us and Milesius, hand on the psalter hanging in a satchel at his side, mumbled Latin incantations. The Tiarna gazed coldly. He looked to where his son, Conn stood by, leaning on a spear. I saw the subtle question in the Tiarna’s eye. I saw Conn’s face lowering to the ground, refusing the wordless request and, to disguise Conn’s refusal, the Tiarna’s voice came sudden and barking.
‘Send in the Sasanach,’ he said without looking in my direction and my bowels dropped within me. I stared ahead at the terrible and absolute blackness, a blackness that inhaled the failing light, and did not move. Lochru came towards me, grabbing my arm and pulling me past him with a blow that cupped the back of my skull. I staggered forward, feet twisting among the stones, and fell to my knees before the doorway, backing instantly, as if from a wild beast. I looked to the Tiarna on his horse and Milesius at his side. Their faces as hard as the stone of the hill. I breathed through my nose, a forceful breath. Another. And another. I made the sign of the cross, rose, commending myself to God and the Saints Patricius, Féichin, Lasair and stepped forward.
I moved towards the dragging blackness. Towards the mouth of the underworld. Towards the realm of the sídhe. I approached as if approaching cold water, step by step, clenching something deep within. My hand reached out to touch a pillar and its frigid surface drew the warmth from me. I turned side-on, a welling panic, though I did not stop. I slid my shoulder into the gap and pushed my chest through, feeling the pillars scrape at once along my spine and breastbone. I dipped my head, without looking back and entered the dark.
The space within forced me to crawl and I advanced blindly, my bulk blocking the light from the opening. The stones pressed in all around so that I could neither stand nor turn. Pools of water splashed beneath me, a dead air, stale in my lungs. My eyes moved wildly around, though nothing changed in the depthless dark. Hands slipped and scraped and I struck my head frequently on the uneven roof. Yet I moved, and in moving there was hope.
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Paul Duffy, author of Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound (2022), is one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists and has directed numerous landmark excavations in Dublin as well as leading projects in Australia, France and the United Kingdom.
He has published and lectured widely on this work, and his books include From Carrickfergus to Carcassonne—the Epic Deeds of Hugh de Lacy during the Cathar Crusade (2018) and Ireland and the Crusades (2021). He has given many talks and interviews on national and international television and radio (RTÉ, BBC, NPR, EuroNews).
Paul has also published several works of short fiction (Irish Times, Causeway/Cathsair, Outburst, Birkbeck Writer’s Hub) and in 2015 won the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. He has been shortlisted for numerous Irish and international writing prizes and was awarded a writing bursary in 2017–2018 by Words Ireland.
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