From The Horseman's Word:

PROLOGUE

Gramercy Park, New York City, May, 1863

Lee had just won a decisive victory at Chancellorsville, and reports swirled that the Confederate Army that was marching up the Shenandoah Valley would succeed in invading the North this time. Anxious families along the Susquehanna had already begun to bury the family silver and board their windows. Those that could abandoned their homes and fled with what valuables they could carry.

The fear, however, had not yet stretched as far as New York City. At least, it had yet to reach the sheltered enclave known as Gramercy Park. The tall windows of the lofty townhouses had been flung open rather than boarded up, and the silver sparkled, along with the guests. The lamps were lit, the champagne flowed, and the music from a string quartet wafted across the cobblestone street into the quiet of the gated park. For, tonight, the well-known philanthropist Jonathan Adair was to sign the final papers that deeded his magnificent collection to the City of New York, and he was celebrating this singular contribution to the betterment of mankind by unveiling the contents of his priceless new acquisition: An ancient casket, beaten out of ancient bronze and chased with curious figures of horses that some said was Gaulish, and some said Phoenician. Some even said it had survived the cataclysmic Fall of Troy itself.

But such tales meant nothing to the desperate Fenian that Rose Adair confronted at gunpoint in the shadows of the gated park across the cobbled street. A true-born son of the Gael, Declan Sullivan had confided his own burning dreams on that fatal trip to Jones's Wood when she had fallen in love with him. Spun yarns of a mysterious society of horsemen with powers bestowed on them by Epona, the Horse Goddess herself, as they had swung together in a gondola suspended from a massive wooden scaffold. And whispered the powers of the priceless artifact he had risked his soul to steal from the goddess' sacred spring and now sought to sell, while they giggled at the finish line of a wheelbarrow race, and a daredevil walked a tightrope high above their heads.

All of those stories no more than words, as much of a cheat and illusion as the tales he had spun of Tir Na nOg, the legendary Irish land beyond the Western Sea. Or his love for her. For like the Fair Folk that populated those fabled lands, the man who faced her now might never lie, but he was incapable of telling the truth.

"Roisin," he said. "My sweet Roisin Dubh. My dark Rosaleen."

"Please do not call me that. For I have told you my true name often enough." She swallowed hard, trying to prevent her voice from shaking as badly as the pistol she held in both hands. "But I cannot say the same of you, Captain Fallon. Captain Tamerlane Fallon, I believe it is?"

A moment's silence, during which even the music wafting from the open windows seemed to still. Then, his jaw set. "Ah," he said.

"Indeed."

She lowered the pistol and turned to go, for there seemed little more to be said. But Fallon laid a hand on her arm to stop her. "I would have you know I bade you meet me here so that I might have a chance to explain myself. In fact, I am risking my life to do so."

"Then I regret to inform you that you have risked your life for naught."

"Oh, no, that was cruel. You were never cruel to me, Roisin." Rose thought she heard a genuine note of hurt in Fallon's voice.

No, Rose wanted to hear a note of hurt - wanted him to be as hurt and confused as she was now. "I told you my name was Rose."

"You will always be Roisin to me. My dark Rosaleen. The one woman who ever truly believed in me." He made to draw her closer. "Please. You did not hate me when you thought I conspired against the English. Can you not at least give me a chance to explain my true motives now?"

Wrenching herself free, she raised the pistol once more between them. "The authorities have already spared you that task. They say you have plans to spread Greek fire throughout the city tonight and burn it to the ground."

"And do you believe them?"

"Would you deny it?" she countered.

Instead of answer, he simply studied her - and the silver dueling pistol that was said to have belonged to Charles II himself. "Would you do it?" he mused. "Would you truly shoot me?"

"Why should I not? The police say you're a Confederate spy," she said.

"I am not," he said.

"Just an ordinary thief and profiteer, then?"

His face twisted. "Roisin, please. Just give me one moment to explain."

Explain what? That he had lied to her? Used her in the cruelest way possible? She shook her head. "This is no time. The police are searching for you everywhere. They seek to hang you."

And if what they said about him was true, it was no less than he deserved. She drew a deep breath, considering her options. In one hand she held the fate of Declan Sullivan, the only man she had ever loved. No, she amended herself furiously. In one hand, she held the fate of Tamerlane Fallon, liar, spy, and traitor, who had used her most abominably. In the other, the fate of New York City - or even quite possibly that of the Union itself.

She weighed them in the balance and made up her mind.

"Go," she said, lowering the pistol. "Go while you still can. Mayhap you can make it to Canada in safety if you ride all night."

He raised an eyebrow, as he studied her. Then his face softened. "Ah, my sweet Roisin. Beneath that sweet face, you have the spirt of Grainne Ni Mhaille, the Pirate Queen herself."

"My name is Rose," she said. "Now, go."

But her words were cut off by a flash of light that illuminated the entire gracious square in garish green. And she just barely had time to recognize the stunned shock that twisted Declan's - no, Tamerlane Fallon's - face, before the explosion was followed by a clap of sound and a gout of smoke from the shattered windows of her father's house. The music screeched to a halt. Feet pounded, men shouted. And her Cousin Preston in his evening wear flung open the front door, shouting, "Murder! Treason! The Fenians have just assassinated my uncle!"

Her father, dead? And by her own lover's hand? No, it could not be true!

She whirled on Declan - no, Tamerlane - who had gone sheet white. "No," he said. "No, no. This is all wrong."

Without another word, he dashed out of the park at a pace that belied the customary hitch in his gait, running so fast that, hindered by her skirts as she was, she just barely managed to grab his sleeve before he reached the park's elegant gate. "Stop!" she cried. "What are you thinking? Even if this is your doing, you cannot put it right. They will hang you, do you understand, you fool? Now, run. Run for your life."

For a moment, his face grew as wistful as her heart. Then his jaw set, and he reached under his coat and pulled out a thick envelope she incredulously recognized as her father's confidential correspondence file - the one even she was not allowed to touch. But Fallon simply ignored her outraged gasp and handed it to her, his face hardening with determination as he studied the mayhem that spilled from her own front door. "You say you want to set things right? Then I will tell you how you can best do that. Not by saving my sorry skin. Not now - although I confess I have hopes to finally explain myself to you later. But if you truly want to help me, you need to go to Jones's Wood as soon as you can, and find a man named Sammy Nunn. Tell him to give this to Declan Sullivan - in the name of the Society of the Horseman's Word."

Her eyes widened in exasperation. "Would you persist in this foolish lie, even at such a critical moment? Declan Sullivan is not real. He never was."

"Oh, Declan Sullivan is real enough. He simply is not me," Fallon assured her. The corner of his mouth pulled up in a wry smile, as he added, "And, if you have a chance to encounter the genuine item directly, would you be so good as to tell him... it was naught but a joke - my wretched sense of humor playing me one last foul trick. Or at least, so it began."

Which meant... what?

No, what could it matter right now? It cost her only a moment's hesitation before she tucked the envelope in her sleeve. "And you?"

He raised a shoulder with a nonchalance she was certain he was feigning. "I will face the fate many would say I so richly deserve," he said, then his face softened once more. "My sweet Roisin, you would do me the favor of saving my worthless neck, but I would ask another favor instead. Give me one last kiss before we part, my love, Roisin. One last kiss as a token you will not hate me when you remember me."

And without waiting for her answer, he kissed her deeply, sweetly, in a way that she knew, despite the fact that he was a liar, a spy, and her father's murderer, would ruin her for ever being kissed by any other man.

Then he sprinted across the street into chaos.

And straight into the path of a pair of New York City detectives, who were pounding down the street in a maelstrom of whistles and rattles, in response to Cousin Preston's frantic summons.

It took only a moment for Cousin Preston to recognize his quarry. "Seize him!" he cried, whirling on Fallon with a pointed finger. "For there is the spy you seek! A foul, Fenian assassin..."

"No!" Rose cried. "No, he was never..."

But as she snatched up her skirts in some last, irrational impulse to defend him, Fallon turned calmly toward the detectives and said, "Peace, I pray you, gentlemen. For I fear you are laboring under a dreadful misapprehension. For I am given to understand that you are seek to hang me as a Confederate spy, and I can I assure you that I am no such thing. I am in fact an English spy. And if I am to be hanged for that, so be it. But let us at least have our charges correct."

Roisin gasped. The detectives stopped, stymied.

"No more words!" Cousin Preston snapped. "You know your duty! Seize him!"

The policemen lunged, but Fallon stepped back easily. "Have a care, gentlemen! There is a little matter we must clear up before you kill me. For this fire is only one of a score that is set to go off around New York City tonight. And if you would not see that happen, I must speak personally to General John E. Wool, Commander of the Eastern District before my neck is to be broken."

Preston went puce. "Pay him no heed. The man is a liar who sought to sell my uncle smuggled antiquities..."

"Whose friends sought to end this war by the most reprehensible means necessary - and casting the blame for their deeds on a lot of ignorant, starving Irishmen," Fallon said, his eyes and voice suddenly cold. He turned back to the detectives. "And that is why General Wool needs to hear me - before more men die. For I promise you, it is a conspiracy so pernicious in its power, it could topple the Union."

The policemen - most likely Irishmen themselves - shuffled again, torn between displeasing a rich man and fear of the Confederate Army that was said to be drawing ever closer.

"Come, come, gentlemen," Fallon said, his voice suddenly as soft and persuasive as when he had cajoled Rose to accompany him to Jones's Wood that one fatal night. "Surely there can be no risk here. I am not denying that I am a spy and a traitor - and am willing enough to go along quietly to the scaffold. All I ask is that you clap me in irons in one of the forts in New York Harbor instead of in the Tombs. How could such a thing possibly hurt? You have my complete assurance that an Army gallows can hang me as thoroughly as a police gallows ever will."

© - Erica Obey
Photos © - George Baird