Tour: Hammer (The Iron Between #1) by Micheál Cladáin
Book Title: Hammer
Series: The Iron Between
Author: Micheál Cladáin
Publication Date: 31 January 2023
Page Length: 375
#TheCoffeePotBookClub, #BlogTour, #Hammer,
#HistoricalFiction, #Epic, #Fantasy,
Genonn's tired and dreams of a remote roundhouse in the Cuala Mountains.
However, sudden rebellion in Roman Britain destroys that dream because the Elder Council task him with delivering Lorg Mór, the hammer of the Gods, to the tribes across the straits of Pwll Ceris. Despite being torn between a waning sense of duty and his desire to become a hermit, Genonn finally agrees to help.
When his daughter follows him into danger, it tests his resolve. He wants to do everything he can to see her back to Druid Island and her mother. This new test of will means he is once again conflicted between duty and desire. Ultimately, his sense of duty wins; is it the right decision? Has he done the right thing by relegating his daughter’s safety below his commitment to the clans?
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Ireland, Southwest of Tara – CE 60 or 61
Genonn shuffled towards the closed gates of Ráth Iomgháin mumbling expletives under his breath. The settlement was not special; another ráth somewhere southwest of Tara, back from the road, trying to hide from marauders, a defensive strategy based on hope rather than something more practical.
He guessed he was not the only traveller who always found the settlements. In his case, he found them because of his experience built by years trudging the ways, meting out justice, binding couples in wedlock, law giving for kings and chieftains: the thankless tasks of all druids. On this occasion, it was the next ráth on a long list.
His outward breath steamed, and he felt a tightness in his chest each time he breathed in. He could not remember it ever having been so cold that breathing hurt.
Another woe to add to the many.
If asked, Genonn would describe his mood as despondent. It seemed like he had spent his life serving others and felt it was time to stop and find somewhere quiet to await Donn. Whenever he thought his dream of a roundhouse up the Cualu Mountains, away from the clans and demanding chieftains, was close, something else would happen.
Despite his despondency, Genonn smiled as he neared the palisade. He could not see a roundhouse, but he could smell food cooking. Unlike natural aromas, the snow could not suppress the scent of fat on the smoke of the cook fires. Oh, how he could do with a cup and a nibble. Bread and cheese would go down a treat. Perhaps a cup of mead or ale. A warm fire to defrost his toes and dry his clothes. Maybe a tanner to repair his boots, a seamstress for his robes. Like his toes, his boots had seen better days. The snow was leaking water into them, and he squelched each footfall as he trudged the back roads of Ériu, seeking the hammer.
It felt like his quest for the Sidhe-forsaken relic had started in a previous life. Or maybe he had done something to earn the Goddess Danu’s displeasure. Not that he believed the Tuatha Dé Danaan would bother with the likes of him. He was simply another old man feeling like life had led him in circles and abandoned him in this hole of a forest, full of snow and unfulfilled promises.
‘Ah, Danu, I would give my legs to feel warm toes,’ he said into the night.
He could not remember when he had lost feeling from the waist down and wondered if the digits were still attached to his feet. It would be ironic if his leaky boots were the only things holding his toes in place.
Is it old age, or are the winters becoming harder?
Genonn was not sure. He could not remember the snow arriving so early – even before the winter solstice. But then, he could not remember what he had eaten to break his fast the previous day, so there was no surprise. Some said the crucifixion of that strange tribesman on the east of the Inland Sea had brought the wrath of their One True God. The man crucified by the Romans had announced himself to be the son of this God, preaching love and peace and something called “turning a cheek”. Sounded painful to Genonn’s mind. The new followers of the dead man said that the recent changes in the weather were His punishment for the unbelievers — arrant nonsense. One True Gods and their offspring would not bother their holes with the likes of man. Not unless they were enjoying a bit of sport at man’s expense.
Like freezing off their toes when it is supposed to be spring.
Frowning — and squelching — he finally arrived at the gate and gave it a rap with his staff. ‘Open up. In the name of An Dagda, let me in to rest my bones and sup a cup of ale. Maybe nibble a little bread and cheese.’
The hatch in the gate opened, and a helmeted head poked out. ‘What do you want, old man?’
‘I need sustenance and a bed. I have been walking all day. You have a hostel?’
‘Course. Who don’t have a hostel? Mad question.’
Cúl an tí.
‘Well then, I would like to come to eat and drink. Nothing has entered my mouth but a little snow since yesterday, which was a hard slog followed by a cold night beside a miserable fire.’
‘Is that so? I better ask the Chief what he thinks.’
‘Well, get about it, bodalán. My toes have gone to sleep, and I feel my fingers starting to drop off.’
‘Alright, alright. Don’t get your triús bunched up yer crack,’ the guard said, slamming the hatch shut.
Genonn waited for a few moments, which felt like longer, much longer, before the gate opened. The guard ushered him in with a few mumbled words, waved him in the direction of the hostel and returned to his flaming brazier at the side of the gate. Genonn glanced at the fire for a moment, feeling the pull of the heat. However, the lure of mead proved more potent, and he shuffled in the direction the guard had indicated.
The road was up a slight incline, and Genonn was wheezing when he reached a squat blockhouse, which bounced with the sound of merriment. It seemed the settlement folk were still celebrating Imbolc, even though the snows should already be gone; the daffodils turning fields yellow. Still, who could blame them? What better way to fight the cold than in the hostel, the excess livestock butchered, and a central fire to roast the folk and the meat? Perhaps a little late, but no one would begrudge them that.
With a set of teeth that were no longer strong, Genonn contented himself with thoughts of sucking on bread and cheese. The picture of mead lifted to lips gave him a greater thirst, those of a slab of cheese atop a hunk of bread, a harsher hunger. Gone were the days when he would hop from ráth to ráth, from dún to dún, eating his fill, telling his tales so patrons would shower him in silver and drink. It now took much longer to move between watering holes, and the need became more stringent the longer it took.
Shuffling, it seemed, was slow work.
This time he had been scouring the Five Kingdoms on behalf of others. He could not recall how many moon cycles had passed since he started his quest — six at least. When he began, the days had been longer, the nights balmier. Sleeping in the forest had not been so much of a hardship.
Genonn’s slowing was also not a surprise. He was nearing the end. He could feel it in every part of his wrinkled skin. From his grey beard and baggy eyes to his hanging buttocks, age screamed at him, “Let go, you old fool! Let go!” He would soon, but there was time for a final flourish. He had not lied when he sent a messenger to the Elder Council telling them he would succeed if it killed him. Well, not intentionally. He thought himself close to death, yet he was far from achieving his task, far from a successful conclusion and, oh, so tired.
Get them the old relic, and then you can rest.
‘I was not lying,’ he told the door before pushing it open and entering the hostel.
Micheál has been an author for many years. He studied Classics and developed a love of Greek and Roman culture through those studies. In particular, he loved their mythologies. As well as a classical education, bedtime stories consisted of tales read from a great tome of Greek Mythology, and Micheál was destined to become a storyteller from those times.
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