An unexplained drowning...a muddy fall...
for this traditional Irish family, a chain of unexpected events leads them to uncovering ancient secrets about themselves and their place in the greater world. As the greed and ambition of an unfolding plan begin to threaten their very lives, what will become of their home and its hidden legacy? What will become of their sheep?
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The Books of Richard Sutton
The Red Gate, an Historical Fiction/Family/Fantasy novel, takes place in 1912, during the troubled days just before the Easter Rising and the establishment of the Irish Republic. It retells the story of how a very traditional, Western Irish farming family, the O'Deirgs, learn of an ancient secret holding them to their land and to an ancient promise.
In the process of discovery they must open up their lives to defend themselves from a devious plan that tries to reveal their secret to the world. A Dublin Trinity College Archaeologist is after the clue to their existence and the longevity of their tenure on their land. He sends out his henchmen hoping to turn the suituation to his gain. This they must prevent at all cost. They must put aside personal insecurities, anger and fears to meet this head-on, but they can't forget to take care of their sheep and their home.
With help coming from several directions, seen and unseen, the family mounts their defense of all they know -- all they hold dear and sacred. Will it prove sufficient to protect them against the power of unbridled greed, hubris and even murder? Their good humored manner of removing obstacles, both figurative and solid, reminds the reader that not all sources of strength are apparent.
The Red Gate will transport readers in its 366 pages, to a familiar "Land of Legend" and bring you laughter and tears while learning of the value of family, love and long memory. It is the first of a triad of books following the O'Deirg family through the Irish Civil War, and across the Western Ocean to America! The publish dates will be late 2009 for the second, and the third will follow in 2010.
All Rights Reserved
(c)2009, Huntington, NY USA
Ten months or so before the dismal funeral in Dublin, and many miles away, a solitary, grey gull soared high above Western Mayo’s rocky shoreline crags as the surf surged far below. The morning updrafts had thankfully buoyed it aloft and shoreward as the rain-heavy wind rushed along, carrying with it, a salty tang on its trip into the green heart of Ireland. Far below, a rough line of brush atop a series of jagged cliffs, defined the edge of a wide green pasture. It sloped gently between a pair of fieldstone walls running uphill from the cliff’s edge, about a mile apart. Closer in, a few other gulls were seen. Their cries could be heard as they played the updrafts, dropping breakfast on the rocks from high above. It had been a long journey, from many miles out to sea, and the bird felt its strength lagging. It needed a safe resting spot – not too close to the noisy rookery below (where it was a stranger), but still close enough to maybe steal some food.
It dropped down lower, surveying the enclosed pasture sloping up to meet an abrupt, grey stone outcropping. Below the stone, a few groups of sheep huddled together against the damp weather. The rocks seemed like a possible spot to land. It’s eyes followed the ground uphill, searching for any signs of trouble. The pasture ran further up the slope to another wall, much higher, where a rutted, dirt road made its way across the uplands. It noted are a few wet spots that probably held runoff water, small rain-fed streams and puddles dotting the pasture, a few more thorn bushes and quite a few more sheep grazing in small clusters as it sighted a likely perch atop the outcropping.
Across the road and uphill partly shrouded in the fine mist lay a small, whitewashed stone farmhouse with a ragged, thatched roof, single chimney and nearby, a little stone barn, with a walled-in, overgrown garden. A well-traveled path led up the hill behind the house. The path passed some boggy spots and reeds growing above the garden, then upwards, to another intersecting fieldstone wall, over a wooden stile into a higher pasture, before it’s top-most details became completely obscured in the foggy mists at the top of the ridge.
Rain slid off the seagull’s back and wings as it swooped down to hover above the crest of the great stones. It fluttered, momentartily in mid-air, then lightly touched down upon the soft, moss-covered turf. Below, it heard a low human voice, making anxious, repetitious noises, and glanced over the edge to where a sodden man stood motionless, up to his knees in a big, muddy puddle. Rainwater coursed in several rivulets into the pond from nearby, slowly increasing its size as the rain dappled its surface. The gull lifted its head and began to cry – or laugh aloud at the ridiculous sight below.
In the center of the puddle, near a rain-washed ring of small stones, Finn O’Deirg kept mumbling to himself as the rain fell about and upon him, “Stupid, stupid! Stupid eejit!” he muttered, bitterly. He should have seen it coming – all the signs were there yesterday! Hearing the croaking of a gull overhead, he glanced up to see the bird fly off away uphill, towards the top of the ridgeline. “That’s it – fly off! At least you can!” he called angrily after it.
This was fast becoming a critical situation, and he knew it. He couldn’t move, for fear of being drawn further into the sinkhole that had swallowed him up some hours before. His shins, ankles and feet, buried in the mud below had long since gone numb; but he was shaking all over, drawing his oilskin coat tighter about his chest and neck as he hugged himself to hold on to whatever warmth remained....
Yesterday – like the entire week before it, had dawned grey, wet and chilly – odd for bad weather this late in the Spring, to have remained so long. He thought of the spreading puddle below the outcropping that had swallowed up the entire flat depression below the rocks, eventually submerging his grandfather’s firepit and hearthstone. He’d left early, and returned home to warm up. The sheep had gathered below into a soggy white mass – he didn’t think they had the motivation to get into trouble if he took his leave.
This morning at first light, he’d hiked the half-mile down to the outcropping, planning to set up his watch further below, closer to the line of thorn bushes that protected the edge of the sea-cliff. But when he got to the outcropping, he saw that yesterday’s puddle had drained off and the flat area and firepit were free of water. He decided to stay – despite not having really noticed any obvious channel that had drained off the puddle. That was it! He cursed his poor observation. All for a pot of tea!
He remembered arranging his peat bricks, tinder and kettle when the rain had let up, to brew a pot. He had thought he’d seen a glimmer of sunlight pass through the clouds and strike a line of waves off shore, and honestly believed the worst of the weather was over. Striking at his flint, a shower of sparks flew into the dry moss. In a few moments, he’d laid twigs upon the moss, and a single tendril of smoke reached up towards the soot-streaked stone face behind him. Finn gently fanned the small flame in encouragement and with a sputtering confidence it began to burn with enough heat to ignite the peat, soon sending up its distinctive, earthy reek. Smoke rose along the main crevice in the rock face to the top, where the wind blew it off sideways.
After a few minutes’ time, with acrid peat smoke swirling around his head, he’d leaned over to move the kettle off the fire. The water was rolling in a furious boil that threatened to lift the lid right off. He braced himself with his free arm extended behind. Suddenly, with no warning, Finn’s hand and arm disappeared into the soggy ground up to his shoulder. There was a deep rumble, a gurgling sound, and he found himself prone on his side with his ear pressed into the muddy soil.
“Bollix!” he shouted as he tried to bring his legs up and pull his arm out, but it remained firmly in the grasp of the earth. Struggling, he realized he had dropped a bit lower into the ground, as a hole began to widen around him. He felt too, a sickening, sinking feeling as the ground beneath him grew softer and began to slip away. As he was drawn further into the earth, he pulled his arm free with a mighty effort, then slid his legs to a crouching position. He remembered that this boggy country was known for the occasional sink hole, and deliberately began to slow his movements, worrying that his exertions might trap him. After a bit more sliding, he came to a gradual stop in the mud.
Finn pushed gently with his knees to test the firmness of the earth below. Satisfied that it would bear him, he slowly shifted his weight to his feet and rose. His poor feet were completely buried in the mud below his knees, while his chest now rested even with the edge of a large sunken area leading down into the depths of a still-growing dark hole at its corner. He shuddered as some of the looser mud slid off and drained away beneath him, into the yawning darkness.
He knew he had to climb out of there – and quickly! He began to stretch his arms out wide across the earth at the top of the hole, to better bear his weight. Grasping at the clumps of long grasses which grew there, he tried to heave himself up and out, but the suction on his feet was too great to dislodge. He tried again, but this time, he felt his footing again soften, then fail. He clung to the grass as his feet were left dangling free of the mud, which fell away beneath them. The grasses too, failed and he slid down the bank another three or four feet clutching them uselessly, roots and all, in each hand.
Finn began to panic. A bitter taste was on his tongue, and his throat was closing fast. “Calm yourself, Finn” he ordered himself aloud. He reckoned he’d better count to a hundred or so to calm his nerves. He didn’t seem to be slipping any further, so he began to count aloud, in a quavering voice, barely audible above the rising wind. By the time he had gotten to “fifty”, his voice had deepened, and he had relaxed a bit. He felt stronger, and began thinking about how long it would take his father to come looking after him when he was late for dinner. By the time the gull flew off with a laugh, he’d begun to curse his poor judgement again.
Time passed, and a light rain began. The sunken area, by now had enlarged to just shy of 8 feet wide and probably seven feet deep. His head was well below the ground’s surface at this point. Just beneath where his legs emerged from the banks, a dark hole gaped ominously. He had managed to straddle the void, but how long would he be able to remain? He resolved to remain still: perfectly still. Stillness, he hoped, would protect him. He turned his thoughts back to Claire – and putting and end to a problem that had embarrassed him over the years as he grew into a man.
Boarding School had never given him much pleasure – he had missed his family, and the nuns and brothers were hard and humorless all the week long. Little laughter or stray smiles were found in any classroom. He shuddered when he thought of the punishment doled out to those poor unfortunate fools who came to class with a smile on their lips. He’d run to meet his father and mother (while she was alive, rest her soul!) on Friday afternoons when they drew up in their cart to retrieve him. He always carried an ear to ear grin to greet them knowing he’d be able to laugh again ‘til Sunday before church.
Once, he’d told his father that learning seemed to make people angry most of the time. His father had nodded, then replied “My boyo, knowledge is a good thing... but remember, it never comes without cost.” He recalled that his father went on to make a comment he’d heard almost every single day in the schoolyard “Better, anyway, to be born lucky than to be born smart.” He had always agreed with that and had neglected to finish his schooling after his mother passed away. He had hoped that now, with Claire’s help, he could show his father that it was possible to have both. At least that had been the plan. Under her tuteledge, his reading skill had improved steadily. He hoped he’d have the chance to continue his lessons, and acknowledged that he felt smarter, despite the sorry state he found himself in just now.
Finn glanced upwards towards the rocks, where generations of O’Deirg shepherds had taken meager shelter. The stone wall above him had been formed by two huge, crevice-scored, flat boulders which rose, rain slicked and soot-marked to a height of more than twice his, their tops buried beneath a blanket of moss and green turf. If a person stood at the edge of the pasture near the sea, and looked uphill, the looming stones couldn’t be missed, but they disappeared entirely into the seamless green of the pasture if viewed from the road above. Finn marveled at how a place at once so familiar could hold such an unseen threat. Improved learning had not helped him much today.
He turned his thoughts back, to Claire. She was the one brilliant excitement in his life, but he saw her so infrequently, he knew their friendship would never amount to more than that. Still, he enjoyed the little time he had with her, twice each month, on market days in Ballyfiggin, and as his mind lingered on their last meeting, a faint smile lit upon his face as he shivered in silence, save for the increasing rattle of the rain on the slick mud. So, he had become smarter, but he wondered where his luck was running.
The clouds overhead thickened and the wind gusted flatly. More than a few unwelcome drops of rain began to fall with purpose. He wiped his brow and put his hands through his coarse, black hair, wringing out the mud. His face under other circumstances, though old beyond his 26 years, might even be called handsome by some, but today, soaked and mud-caked, he had become a monstrous mess.
Finn waited, standing absolutely still as the faint sun tracked slowly across the sky above his head. The air grew cooler and cooler. As each miserable minute passed, the sky mirrored his mood, dropping down cloudier and darker. As the sun finally drew down beyond the shadows cast by the outcropping itself, it grew dark. With a prolonged gust of wind, rain began to fall again, and he saw in the last afternoon light, that water was running off the rocks again, down the muddy slopes and into the hole beneath him, widening it with each second.
Water now poured off the face of the outcropping, sending streams running into the hole. Deep ravines began to appear in the sides of the hole, sending water, rocks and mud disappearing into the darkness below him. His footing began to slip down, dissolving beneath his feet. Where indeed, had his luck gone?