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The Fallon Blood
The English wind blew the dust of the road in Michael Fallon's face, as it had for miles past, and cut through his thin shirt and his flesh as well. He'd given up wishing he still had a coat. That had gone two days before for a stale loaf of bread and a small mug of beer. He had been lucky to get that much, and knew it. In this country there was more likely to be a kick and a curse for an Irishman than any sort of kindness.
Perhaps, he thought, he should have sold the contents of the bag he carried. Sold it long ago. He hugged the long, narrow sack tighter and grinned mirthlessly. It gave him a piratical look, with the high cheekbones and hook nose a long-ago Spanish ancestor had bequeathed him. Only startlingly blue eyes kept him from being one of the Black Irish, those other descendants of storm-tossed Spanish Armada survivors. His grin faded. The selling would have changed nothing. Some things were fated to be, and he had the feeling he had been fated to walk this endless English road, fated from the day he was born.
Ahead, around a bend in the road, an inn appeared. The brightly painted sign swung violently in the wind, but he could still make it out. A man knelt in front of a huge figure wearing a crown and holding a scepter. Below, in neat letters, it said THE KING'S MAN. It was the place he had been seeking.
He leaned against the rough stone fence along the side of the road. Frowning, he turned up his foot to examine the hole in his left boot, and the blister that had formed at it. He was stalling. He'd seen that blister fifty times before. This was the place he'd sought, but now, in sight of it, he wondered if he had the right to involve anyone else in his troubles, even for an hour.
The man bustling out of the inn shielded his broad face from the wind with one hand and headed for the barn, muttering to himself about eggs. He gave a casual glance up the road and slowly came to a halt. He stared hard at the dark-haired traveler.
"It can't be," he whispered. A smile spread across his face. "Michael! Michael Shane Fallon! Is it you, or is it your ghost I'm seeing?"
"It's me, Timothy Cavanaugh, me or what's left of me. I'd heard about the sign, but I didn't quite believe it. Have you become a good Englishman, then, bowing and scraping to their fat German king?"
"Don't be talking like that where people might be hearing you." Cavanaugh glanced around nervously, though there was no one in sight. "Come inside before you get the both of us arrested for sedition."
At the door Michael stopped for a last look down the road. His resolve hardened. If they came, let them come, and be damned to them. He turned and strode inside.
A dozen tables stood on a well-scrubbed floor, with chairs instead of benches at every one. The only other occupant was a barmaid, a pretty girl with coppery hair. And remarkable breasts, Michael noted. At their entrance she began industriously scrubbing at the bar with a rag.
"Out with you, girl," Timothy said. "Gather those eggs before I take a switch to you. And don't come back till it's time for the custom to come."
She trotted out, with an interested smile for Michael. He shook his head; he was sorry for that interest.
While Timothy drew two mugs of ale he laid his bag on the table. A quick tug at the drawstring revealed the hilt of a sword. He pulled two pistols to where they, too, lay just inside the opening.
Cavanaugh set the mugs and a plate of meat and cheese on the table, ignoring the bag and its contents. "Sit, man. Sit. Is it on your way back to the old country you are? I remember you were always talking about going back after we were mustered out."
"I've been there and left," Michael said, dropping heavily to a chair. He tried to keep his hand steady as he popped the first piece of ham into his mouth. And the second. God, but it was good.
"And how is it there now?"
"As it's always been. What the English haven't stolen already, they soon will."
Cavanaugh looked at him in surprise, then eyed the sword and pistols. "Tell me. I've heard tell of some men in Ireland, now. The Whiteboys, they call themselves. You wouldn't be having anything to do with them, now would you?"
Michael's back stiffened, and he kept a rein on his temper with difficulty. "Do you think I'd be riding around burning barns and harrying poor farmers while prattling about how I'm fighting the English?"
"No, lad. No, of course not." Cavanaugh sketched a line across the tabletop with one hand and gave a short laugh. "I mind me the first time I saw you. Not even beginning to shave, you were. Come to seek fame and fortune in King George's German war with a sword as old as my grandfather and a musket that must have been on the Ark. You remember? Riding all over hell and gone, never knowing who we'd face next. Austrians, Poles, French, Russians. And you, thinking it was such grand fun."
"I was young then."
"Eh? Yes, you were. So were we all. But tell me. Do you remember cutting your way into Freiholm to save my hide? A fine day. Three hundred pounds sterling a man from that paychest we took, and promotions all around. Aye, Captain Fallon?"
"The King of Prussia's Irish Hussars were long ago, Timothy."
Timothy sighed. "But it provided the money for your farm."
"Maybe it would've been better if I'd never gone. I said I've nothing to do with the Whiteboys, and that's true, but I'm still here under false pretenses, after a manner of speaking. But then, I think you've guessed I'm not carrying that sword to spit cabbages."
"I did think just that," Timothy replied, "and the pistols for shooting flies." The words were light, but his tone was forced and his face long.
Michael kept his eyes on the table as he began. "I went back after we were mustered out, as I said I would. I should have stayed away like you did, bought a tavern somewhere. But I'd that idea of getting a piece of Irish ground, of starting the land and the Fallon name. I got it, all right."
"Good land, was it, Michael?"
"Beautiful land, Timothy Not a mile from where I was born, just a short walk from the River Shannon. It was a fine life, for a while, quiet and calm. With the money I had, the rackrents couldn't pull me down. The first crop was mine, free and clear, with a second on the way. There were families in the village who remembered mine kindly. I even went up in a party with some of them to the fair at Ballinasloe."
He fell silent, and Timothy waited before prodding him on. "What happened, lad? What changed it?"
"There was a girl. No, Timothy, not what you're thinking. She was pretty enough, but I'd never looked at her twice until the day she walked past my door. An Englishman, a colonel staying at the big house above the village with the Fitzhuberts, was riding past the other way. He stopped her as if to ask directions. I saw it all from my cottage. The next I knew he was down off his horse, laughing and putting his hands all over her, and she was beating at him and screaming she was a good girl."
"And was she?"
"Would it have mattered?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I did the only thing I could. I went out and knocked him down. That was bad enough, I suppose, him being who he was, but he wouldn't let it end with that. He drew his saber." The man across the table shifted uneasily. "If I hadn't been a hussar, if I'd still been just a farmboy, I'd have grabbed the girl by the hand and ran away, to keep from being split like a sheep. But you see, by instinct, not even thinking about it, I'd grabbed up my own sword as I ran out."
"Oh, God, no, Michael."
A snarl twisted his mouth. "He said the Irish were only good for twothings. He'd demonstrate the first by killing me, then show the girl what the other was. He might have been fine at hacking at poor peasants with the thing from horseback, but the King of Prussia's Irish Hussars would've thrown him out for a butcher's apprentice. I ran him through on the second pass. I tell you, Timothy, I never meant to kill him, not even after we crossed swords, but I was that mad I could hardly see straight, and when he left himself open, I did it. The work of a second, and I couldn't call it back if I had a thousand years. Not that I'd want to. He deserved it, and likely more. But there I was, with him dead, and his horse off and running back toward the village, and the girl so white-faced scared she looked ready to drop dead on the spot. It's a charge of murder, no matter that he had a sword in his hand."
Cavanaugh puffed out his cheeks and nodded vigorously. "That it is. Murder for killing a man. Murder for killing an Englishman. Murder for killing an English colonel. Lord, man, they'd hang you three times over for it."
"So I knew. I started running, and I've not stopped or slowed till now." He paused, then went on quickly. "Hell, I'd best tell all of it. The flyers are out on me already, saying I killed him from behind, to rob him."
"So they'll hang you four times, do they catch you. Now, what can I do to make sure they don't?"
Michael's throat thickened. "Always ready for the troubles, aren't you?"
"Ah, lad, we went through a lot together. Now, what?"
"The name of a smuggler who'll let me work my way to the Continent. A meal. A place in the barn for the night. No, that's all, Timothy. If I'm discovered, you didn't know I was there, and you don't know who I am. I'll not be taking you down with me."
Cavanaugh studied the tabletop for a moment, his lips moving as if planning his words carefully. Finally he looked up.
"So you intend trying for the Continent, then. You'll be safe enough from the English law there. Of course, you'll have to stay away from the German principalities. There are still British soldiers there, I understand. And in the ports there'll be marines. Him being a colonel, they might have those flyers out to the Navy." Cavanaugh eyed him, and went on in an off-hand manner. "Of course, there's always the colonies. America."
"Do you still believe the stories about gold to be picked up off the ground there?" Michael laughed. "I remember that fat Brunswicker telling you those tales, and you lapping them up like cream and buying him more ale the while."
"I'm serious, lad," the other said quietly.
Michael regarded him soberly. "God's blood, Timothy! How do I get there? Have you asked yourself that? Everything I own, now, wouldn't stretch to cover a passage to America. And if it could, I'd certainly need more than my share of wits to prosper without two pence to rub together."
"There's a way, if you'll listen."
"I'll listen to anything."
Cavanaugh leaned over the table intently. "I know a man in Liverpool who's signing indentured servants for the colonies."
"Indentured" Michael leaped to his feet, knocking his chair spinning. "That's your idea? Selling myself as a slave to some Englishman?"
"It's not like that, Michael."
"They're close enough to making slaves of us in our own country. I'll not cross the ocean to let them do the same to me there. Better to go fight for the French, or the Russians or Swedes. I'd still be my own man!"
Cavanaugh's hand slammed flat on the table. "Will you sit down, Michael Fallon? You promised to listen. Will you go back on your word?"
Michael glared at him, then slowly bent to set the chair back on its feet with a thump. He sat down rigidly, and fixed the other man with a tight look. "I'm listening."
Cavanaugh eyed him uncertainly. Fallon could still react like a boy, he knew, if he didn't approach this correctly. "It's not like you're thinking at all. It's more like being an apprentice, almost." Michael scowled; Cavanaugh hurried on. "Your passage is paid, and you agree to work for the man who pays it for three years, or five. The jobs are clerk and bookkeeper and carpenter and brickmason and the like. I've seen the advertising for them. I've talked with men who've done it and gotten their freedom as promised. Now then, does that sound like slavery to you?"
"Perhaps not," Michael said grudgingly, "but even so, I've none of those skills."
"But you can read, lad, and write and figure. And you acted as quartermaster for our company that one whole year and did a better job of it than any we ever hired. If that's not clerking, then what is it?"
"And the capper, lad, the capper to it is when you finish your service, you get the land, forty or fifty acres of it, sometimes more, and every inch of it yours free and clear. Was what you had in Ireland as good as that, for all the rackrents you paid?"
"No. Not half so much."
"That's not the whole of it, either. I said I've heard of men rising. Well, some of those men began as indentured servants, and some of them became, not just men of property and substance, but men of wealth."
"And how many drinks did you buy for the hearing of those tales?"
Cavanaugh rose. "Not a one, lad. Not a one. But let me be getting us two more. These have gone and disappeared."
"You're not thinking of making me drunk enough to go to Liverpool, are you?" Michael asked with a quick grin. "I always could drink you down and carry you home after."
"Say you so?"
The second round went quickly, as did those that followed, until the barmaid returned to get ready for the first of the evening's regulars. She watched them navigate the stairs to Cavanaugh's private room with a shake of her head.
Cavanaugh rambled while Michael thought. America. The colonies were huge, stretching deep into an unexplored continent larger than all of Europe. It could indeed be a place for a man to grow and build, a land where there was such room.
Land of his own. That was no more than a dream to a man from Ireland. There he'd been lucky to rent a tiny patch from Murphy, who'd rented a larger piece from an absentee English landlord. If he could own land, his land, with no rents to be paid, no landlords to be beholden to, then he could do anything. He could build an empire. He could found a dynasty. By dark he was roaring the same toast over and over again.
"The American colonies and the Fallons, for a thousand years to come."
When the last customer had gone, more than one complaining of the drunken noise from above, the barmaid came up to help them to their beds.
She pushed Timothy into his room, barely waiting to see where he fell before hurrying Michael down the hall to another chamber. She was staggering herself by the time she had him seated on the bed. With a sigh of relief she pushed a strand of silken hair off her forehead and began pulling his shirt off over his head.
"A thousand years," he said fuzzily.
"Yes, love." She folded his shirt over the back of a chair, then started on his breeches buttons.
"Will you stop that, girl? I can do for myself."
She sat back on her heels and waited skeptically. Unsteadily he got to his feet and fumbled the buttons open. In one move he pushed the breeches down to his ankles and dropped back onto the bed.
Kneeling at his feet she finished removing the pants, first tugging off his boots. "A shame to waste all that," she said hopefully
Michael blinked away the fog and peered unashamedly down the front of her blouse. Rounded breasts with just a light sprinkling of freckles across the tops jiggled pleasantly every time she moved. She gave a startled squeal as he snatched her to his lap.
"You can't get a Fallon too drunk for that, lass." He tipped her back, his mouth coming down demandingly on hers, her tongue answering his.
Suddenly she sat bolt upright on his lap. "What are you doing? Do you think I'm a strumpet, to let any man as comes by give me a green dress?" He hugged her to his hard-muscled chest.
"I think you're an armful of the best. But you can go this minute if you've a mind to. I'll play no villain with you."
She gazed into his fierce blue eyes. "I'll stay." He smiled lazily, and pulledloose the strings of her blouse. Her breasts were free; he pulled her to him, his teeth catching a thick, brown nipple, tongue caressing it. Her fingers ran through his hair, pulling his head tighter against her. The hardness in his groin brushed against her thigh.
"Hurry," she moaned. "Hurry."
He rolled her down onto the bed, his hard body moving over hers. She groaned as he entered her, and her legs whipped tightly around him. He tangled his hands in her hair and rained kisses on her upturned face. Her arms and legs held to the flexing of his back and buttocks and thighs.
Small, breathy whimpers started in her throat, in time to the creaking of the bed's rope underpinnings, growing louder and louder. Her teeth sank into the side of his neck to stifle her cries. With a scream she couldn't fight back, she came. And then his breath rasped past her ear as he, too, reached release.
For just a moment he let his weight rest on her, then rolled over, pulling her over on top of him. He smoothed away damp hair from her forehead. "You've an angel's talent for making a man happy, lass. What's your name?"
She smiled against his chest. "Bess, sir. And if I may say so, you have a talent for making a woman happy."
Michael chuckled deep in his throat. "Well, I thank you, Bess. Did I by any chance ask you about going to America? And if I did, what was it you answered?"
"Oh, I don't want to go there, sir. They say the savages cuts off people's heads."
Michael sighed and settled deeper in the pillows. "Too pretty a head to be cut off. Still, could be, could be rich in America." His voice drifted drowsily. "Ought to come. Ought to"
The words trailed away, and she lifted up on his chest to look at him. His eyes were closed, and he breathed the long, regular breaths of a deep sleep.
She pushed at his shoulder, without much hope of success. He slept on. With a regretful sigh she clambered off him and shrugged back into her clothes. On impulse she gently kissed his lips. Then she pulled a blanket over him and tiptoed out, softly closing the door behind her.
Light shining through the window finally wakened Michael. He lay still for a minute, wondering which hurt more, the sun burning through his eyelids or his head reminding him of the night before. With an effort he pushed himself up. The mirror showed him in remarkably fine shape for a man who knew himself at least half dead. As he stared in the glass he realized he'd found a decision in the ale, and that decision still held.
Splashing water in his face he hurriedly dressed, wondering vaguely how he'd managed to fold his shirt so neatly and yet leave his pants in a heap on the floor. Then, pitcher in hand, he walked down the hall to his friend's room.Timothy lay sprawled on his back, fully clothed and snoring loud enough to rattle the windows. Michael held the pitcher over his head and slowly turned it upside down.
Timothy jerked erect, choking and sputtering. "I'll kill you. Friend or not, I'll break your head."
"I'm going to America, Timothy."
"I'll tear off your limbs one by one. And thenWhat was that you said?"
"I'm going to America."
"Praise be. Some sense at last. When?"
"As soon as you stop wallowing about there and tell me how to find this man of yours in Liverpool."
"Wallowing about, is it? IForget about telling you. I'll take you myself." He reared up out of the bed. "What are you waiting for? The horse won't hitch himself."
Fifteen minutes later they were on the road to Liverpool.
Copyright © 1980 by James O. Rigney, Jr.