Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound
By Paul M. Duffy
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?
Publication Date: 11th October 2022
Publisher: Cennan imprint of Cynren Press
Page Length: 342 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
We saw signs of the fall. Of the havoc wrought far from our lands by the Engleis. Dishevelled bands of exiles travelling north on the slíghe. Fires beyond our borders and reports of silhouetted horsemen furtive on the hills. The Tiarna kept vigil, the kelt ever in his fist. Then the poet came and his approach heralded destruction. That itinerant wizard. That unholy satirist. He signalled the reckoning, whether he knew it or not. He signalled the intrusion of the outside world. The small fruit of my existence bursting open, its rind splitting and wasps spilling from galls to crowd the opening and feed on the juice.
Lochru saw him first, late that next day. He came to fetch me from the monastery and bring me back to the Tiarna’s farmstead, the lad Fiachra with him leading a donkey, his eyes full of suspicion. On our return past the low meadow, we stopped to try our hand with the winter geese and saw the poet wandering at the edge of the bog that ran away eastwards from our borders.
‘There’s a crane yonder in the meadowland,’ Lochru said in that archaic way he had of speaking, his dropsied face muffling his words and his snout pointing over the sedge. We lay on our bellies behind a crisping brace of fern. On the flat before us, a riot of geese clamoured and fouled the ground with their black excrement. Slings in our fists, we lay still, watching the birds rooting at the damp earth for whatever it is that gives them sustenance.
‘Crane?’ I whispered and Lochru snorted, letting me know that my youth had betrayed me. That there was no crane. That there was something strange somewhere. Something out of place in the sloping scene before us. I said no more, but studied the foreground where the great tumult of geese jostled. My eyes ranged further, beyond the limits of the river, marked by a line of bulrush rising from the grass. And beyond that, a glistening wet ground, full of the swollen river overspill with willow and elder un-coppiced and growing wild. I saw nothing to remark upon. Lochru waited still, his satisfaction that his old eyes had seen what I could not, competing with his mounting impatience.
Then I saw him, stooping as he moved slowly around the tree roots, navigating the edge of the wide bog. His head covered with a bolt of cloth which fell around his shoulders and beneath, a green cloak skirting his knees. The colour of his cloak announced him as a man of status. A man that should be on the slíghe with a retinue and a horse, not travelling alone, slopping through the turf.
‘Exile?’ I whispered, remembering the Tiarna’s cousin, hounded into the wastes, fleeing from dispute before his eyes were cut from his head.
‘File’ said Lochru. Poet. A man to traverse boundaries. A man of twelve years’ learning who would know by heart the endless genealogies, the forms of praise and of redress. A man respected and feared who, if the words were with him could raise up a tiarna in noble verse or destroy him with satire, break his power, throw doubt upon his legitimacy. If the skill was with him, his words could raise a blemish or even slander a man to the doors of death.
‘Stay low and watch,’ Lochru said, ‘and tell me all that he does. Do not move or follow until the stranger has gone.’
Lochru surged forward in a swift but awkward movement, letting loose a stone from his sling before landing heavily on his knees, crying out with the effort. The geese erupted, taking flight in competing panic, brewing upwards in such a cacophony that my eyes rose with them, watching their combined bulk empty into the grey sky. When my gaze returned to scan the edge of the bog, I could no longer see the poet. At length, I picked out his stooped form behind a hummock. As the geese cleared, his distant, shaded face searched in our direction looking for the source of the fright. Lochru stood up then with great effort groaning and pressing on his knee to rise in the manner of rheumatic man. He walked down the slope, towards the river, mumbling expressively to himself. Bending, he came up with a gander, shivering in his hand. He made a great show of inspecting the bird before pulling its neck and hooking it under his belt, lustily clapping dirt from his hands. He turned, making his way back uphill towards the eaves of the Tiarna’s wood where Fiachra waited, cutting withies by the donkey.
The poet watched all of this from his hiding place. He watched as Lochru, with his uneven gait, made his way upslope through the furze bushes. Lochru played his part, well, and from where I lay, I watched him re-join Fiachra, holding up the bird in triumph. The poet waited for a time, crouched low, waiting until he was satisfied there was no danger. He stood out from behind the heather and took up his labouring tread into the south. I watched until his slow progress took him from view.
When I reached the treeline, the withies were cut and piled up in great stacks beside where the donkey was tethered, waiting dourly. A fire smouldered under cover of the dark wood and the goose was roasting on a sharpened ash rod with sprigs of smoking plumage sticking from the carelessly plucked skin. The light waned as I settled in beside the fire and the time when our absence would be noted was approaching. Lochru took the bird from the spit, pulling it apart with his broad fingers and he shared it out in three ways according to our status, and we sat back from the fire swallowing hot gobbets of the flesh and gazing up at the small parcels of the dying day through the canopy above, savouring the moment as a breath of freedom.
‘And MacMurchada dead,’ said Lochru, repeating the news that was on all lips.
Fiachra did not speak and I filled the silence.
‘A tyrant they say, though the Tiarna liked him well enough.’
‘True,’ Lochru said. ‘Raided with him into Osraige in the days of Toirdelach. And MacMurchada never came here seeking vengeance with his foreign mercenaries.’ Fiacra spoke up hotly.
‘They say his body rotted around him while he still drew breath. A great putrescence coming out of him.’ He looked to me, his dark eyes glinting. ‘A curse, surely, for bringing the foreigner.’
‘But will his foreigner soldiers leave now that the old bear is dead?’ Lochru said, his fingers thick within the gnarl of his beard.
‘Ask this one,’ Fiacra said, his regard sly and lips glazed with grease as he tossed a bone in my direction, ‘the worst foreigner of them all.’
‘They say at the monastery that King Henri is come to Yrlande to lay his hand on MacMurchada’s land.’ I said this to stop Fiacra’s windpipe. ‘And that there is a man with him – de Lacy, to whom Míde has been promised.’ Lochru erupted in a high brash laugh.
‘Haah…now Christendom’s most powerful king comes to claim our lands. Well lads, will I live to see such wrongness?’
‘He will sweep this way surely and who is there to stop him?’ I said.
‘And you and your father will be there to welcome them with arms wide having buried knives in all of our backs,’ Fiacra said with vehemence. ‘But the foreigners have not heard of our own king – Ua Conor and his war dog Ua Ruairc. They will be sent back over the sea with spears in their backs.’
‘So that is our choice – Ua Ruairc of Breifni or the Engleis?’ Lochru said loudly, casting his eyes upwards. Fiacra spat into the leaf litter as Lochru laughed. And that settled the matter. Not a word was spoken of the poet.
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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