Warning: Mature Adults only
January 3 6, 1815.
Sharpe had dressed quickly. He stuck the big knife in his belt. It stayed, but he would have to see about getting a sheath. Now he sat with Lafitte in the prow of the boat as his crew made their way swiftly through the bayous. Obviously, they knew their way. Sharpe had told Lafitte the details of Red Gators plan. The Creole had absorbed everything silently, nodding occasionally. Only once did he interrupt, to inform Sharpe that three more massacres had taken place since Napoleons Landing, two more villages and a riverfront estate. Red Gators bill was growing larger. Finally, Sharpes curiosity got the better of him.
"So youre a pirate, and yet you serve under General Jackson?"
Lafitte looked comically hurt.
"A pirate? Where did you hear such slander? I am a businessman, mon ami. I provide goods and services that are in demand in New Orleans. Sometimes, there are ridiculous duties and customs that must be circumvented, but what do I care if a few less bureaucrats pick my pockets? I serve General Jackson because this war is bad for business, particularly these massacres. The sooner all this is over and you British go home, the sooner I can get back to making a profit."
"And thats why youre helping me?"
"Oui. Ma belle Marie said that I must aid you in any way I can. I have learned to listen to her counsel, she has never steered me wrong. That, and my crew had family in some of the villages that were wiped out. We owe that swine Red Gator and his band of killers. And the Baratarian Brotherhood pays its debts."
Sharpe believed him. Crossing Lafittes pirates was obviously not a wise move. They pulled into a wider bayou, and then entered the Mississippi above Jacksons lines and started heading upriver towards the city. As they turned around the bend in the river, Sharpe got his first look at New Orleans.
It was an impressive sight. The harbor rivaled Liverpool, it could accommodate hundreds of ships, although comparatively few were tied up at the moment. Crowded along the quayside were long warehouses, and even now, in the middle of a war, thousands of people up and down the waterfront were conducting their business, buying, selling, loading and unloading. Sharpe could see bales of cotton, indigo, fresh fruit, and sugar cane, crates and hogsheads piled three times the height of a man, stretching as far as the eye could see. The breeze carried the scent of spices and ripening fish. Beyond the warehouses, Sharpe glimpsed fine two-story houses of red brick, balconied and gated with elaborately wrought ironwork bordering broad, straight streets. The general air was one of busy prosperity. It reminded him of some of the provincial ports he had seen in France, but on a much bigger scale.
The boat pulled away from the bustle and cruised along the length of the harbor, coming to a small, secluded jetty off to the side. Here, the Baratarians disembarked, Sharpe just behind Lafitte.
"How do you know Gators men will land here?"
"Ive been keeping a watch on one of my pilots. I suspect him of working with Gator to provide his men with boat transport. Hes not going to want to land a boat full of Redcoats in the middle of the harbor. This is where we usually unload cargo that we want to get into the city without arousing the interest of the authorities. And my hunch is that this is where hell land them."
Lafitte had evidently already prepared his reception. Another dozen of his men were waiting for him, armed and ready. A number of hogsheads, crates, cotton bales, and burlap sacks full of sand were arranged in an unobtrusive semi-circle around the jetty, about a hundred feet away. A careless look would not see anything but a random pile of goods. Several other boxes and crates were piled near the jetty.
They took up positions crouching down behind the semicircle of crates. Sharpe noticed with some surprise a three-pounder mortar on a naval mount, and beside it, a furnace for the round shot. He looked questioningly at Lafitte, who simply smiled.
"Wait and see, mon ami. Now, we need to get you a better weapon than that pig-sticker."
He handed Sharpe a short blunderbuss, its wide mouth holding a wad of musket balls, nails, and other jagged bits of iron, like a small stand of grapeshot. It would have almost no range at all, but this would be a close range fight. And for that it would be deadly.
And they waited. And waited. The sun rose high in the sky, and the noise of business grew less as people left the waterfront for the afternoon lunch break. In accord with the local custom, they would be gone for two or three hours, and then would work late into the evening.
At around one oclock, a small inconspicuous sloop veered off from the rest of the traffic and headed toward them. They crouched down, with only Lafitte peering cautiously above the crate he hid behind. The ship came closer, and he gestured to his men to make ready. It pulled up to the jetty, and a small, thin, dark faced man jumped out to secure the rope. He looked up and down the jetty, and then, apparently satisfied that the coast was clear, signaled to the ship. Men came out from the cabin and began to disembark. Sharpe counted twenty-seven of them, dressed as British soldiers. He noted with cold anger that several of them wore the uniforms of the South Essex. Their faces were dark, their hair black, there was no mistaking, they were the Brothers of the Swamp. They assembled in three lines on the quay, and one of them turned to talk to the pilot, who was now back in the ship. Lafitte called out.
"Henri, you disappoint me! I thought you kept better company. All of you, drop your weapons! You are covered from all sides!"
The fake Redcoats started, and then brought their rifles up to their shoulders and fired. The rifle balls plowed harmlessly into the crates they crouched behind, or whistled overhead. Some of Lafittes men returned fire, and two of the Indians dropped. Lafitte turned to Sharpe and shrugged.
"I was expecting this, but I was obliged to give them a chance to surrender."
The Brothers took cover behind the crates piled on the edge of the quay, and kept up a brisk gun battle with Lafittes men. Sharpe felt shots hitting his crate, but none penetrated. The pilot that Lafitte had called Henri had jumped back into his boat, quickly pulled away from the jetty and was frantically tacking out into the channel in the sluggish breeze. One of the Brothers noticed him and shouted angrily, but Henri didnt even look back.
Lafitte signaled the mortars crew, who seized one of the red-hot balls in the furnace with their forceps and loaded it. Apparently, they had ranged the gun before Lafitte had arrived, because the first shot was dead on. It arched through the air and landed on the wooden surface of a large crate, smoldered for a moment, and then burned through. Lafitte ducked down as he turned to Sharpe.
"Id take cover if I were you."
Sharpe saw that everyone else was doing so and ducked down. There was a thunderous roar and a flash of fire that was just too close, and Sharpe felt dozens of burning fragments striking the crate that formed his cover. He realized what had happened. Lafitte had loaded the crates on the quay with gunpowder, knowing that the Brothers of the Swamp would use them for cover. Then he had perfectly ranged a cannon on them and ignited the powder with a red-hot shot. Grimly efficient.
All firing had stopped. Burning fragments were still raining down from the sky as Sharpe and Lafitte stood. The Brothers of the Swamp were lying in a mess of gore and entrails all around the blast area. None had escaped. Those who had not been killed in the blast had been perforated with hundreds of splinters. An ugly way to die, Sharpe reflected, but no less than they deserved. Lafitte spoke.
"They were vermin, and not worth one of my mens lives. I dont fight vermin, I exterminate them."
Lafittes men rose and went forward. They walked among the dead, kicking at them to make sure. Occasionally, they shot a corpse that still had some fight in it. Lafitte stared off at the receding speck of Henris sloop.
"We used to call him Henri the Swamp Rat, because he acted like one. I never trusted him. Theres no place on the river where he can hide, so well get him sooner or later."
Lafittes eyes were on the ship, not behind him. He didnt see one of the Brothers of the Swamp lift his rifle in a single bloody hand from where he lay. His name was Cottonmouth, and he had been second in command to Red Gator. Now he was just a mangled lump of dying meat with dozens of shards of wood piercing him. But he had enough kill left to take one of the bastards with him. He lined up his rifle on the privateers back. His rifle was just a few inches off the ground, no one had noticed him yet . . .
Sharpe saw something out of his periphery moving low to the ground. He pivoted and dropped to his knee, bringing the blunderbuss up and firing in one motion. At fifteen feet, he could not miss. Cottonmouths gun hand was deflected up as a storm of iron tore him to red shreds, his dying shot flying harmlessly into the air. All of Lafittes men whirled and brought their weapons to bear, but there was no need. Cottonmouth would never be a threat to anyone again.
Lafitte, who had whirled just in time to see it, let out his breath in a sigh of close-escape. He clapped Sharpe on the shoulder.
"I owe you my life, mon ami. And Jean Lafitte does not forget."
Sharpe nodded and looked again at the bodies. A thrill went through his heart. One of the dead Brothers of the Swamp carried a Baker rifle slung across his back, and wore a Heavy Cavalry sword at his waist.
His rifle and sword. He bent to retrieve them.
But he could see that one important body was missing. Red Gator had not been with his men. He turned back to Lafitte.
"We need to get to Jacksons camp."
*******By the time they pulled up to the levee near the Macarte mansion at the extreme right of Jacksons line, the sun was dipping down in the west. A familiar shape in a commodores uniform with a dark-blond mop of hair was waiting for them there. Killick gripped Sharpes hand as soon as he jumped from the boat. The American was grinning.
"I knew youd get to the bottom of this mess, Richard. We found the records of sale, Old Hickory examined them and is convinced that your army had nothing to do with the massacres. Hes already prepared a report for the President and the Congress."
Killick handed Sharpe a leather bound journal, open to a marked page.
"I think you can find a use for this."
Sharpe looked at it and nodded in satisfaction. It was all there. On the left hand side was written "Lt. Col Morris." On the right hand side were a series of sum in pounds: 364.17.6, 491.11.5, 613.14.14, all in all, nearly two thousand pounds, dating back to August in Maryland. The evidence was damning. Morris was finished. Sharpe acknowledged the news with a quick smile, but he had something else on his mind.
"Wheres Red Gator?"
"Out on patrol. Were expecting him back anytime now, and General Jackson has detached a squad of the 7th to arrest him."
They made their way through the camp towards left flank and the tree line that masked the swamp. Sharpe wanted to be in for the kill. He hoped that Gator would kick for a long time with the noose around his neck before he died.
As it turned out, they were just in time to see what happened, because it happened very fast.
Gator had just come out of the tree line, accompanied by the last surviving Brother of the Swamp. He walked with the same smooth animalistic gait as usual, giving no indication that he suspected anything. He was wondering if Cottonmouth had gotten word to him yet of how things had gone today in the city.
Then he saw six blue-coated soldiers of the 7th advancing towards him, and beyond them, a green-uniformed figure he had thought never to see again.
In an instant, he realized that he was exposed, that his plans had gone terribly awry, that all he had now was survival. But that was what he was best at.
The soldiers who were sent to arrest Red Gator had not counted on his deadly fighting instinct and lightning speed. Sharpe would never have believed that such a big man could move with such blinding quickness if he had not been there to see it. It happened far too quickly for him to intervene.
Gators long black rifle was slung over his shoulder. Rather than grabbing it, he slipped behind his companion, who was carrying his rifle loose in his hands. Gripping the trigger, he hauled it up level with the Brothers hand still grasping it and he fired. One of the arresting soldiers was flung back even as he brought his own weapon to bear. The remaining soldiers opened fire. Gator seized his companion by the back of the collar and thrust him before him as a living shield. Before the man could even yell in protest, he was jerking and thrashing as five musket balls crashed into him. Now holding the dying man before him with his left hand, Gator unslung his own rifle with his right, pointed it, and fired it one-handed, and another of the soldiers fell with a bloody hole in his forehead. As the remaining four tried frantically to fix their bayonets, Gator re-slung his rifle, lifted the Brothers corpse above his head and hurled it at them, taking two of them down. He was charging the remaining two even as they stumbled back, his great spontoon tomahawk in his hand. Before they could lower their bayonets for the thrust, he was among them, and his weapon wove a glittering silver figure eight in the air, slashing high and low. Then he was past them, still running. One man clutched futilely at his severed throat, trying to stem the flow of blood. The other was staring in shock at the gray coils of his entrails as they spilled from the great slash in his waistcoat. Gators target was a horse being watered as his dragoon rider sat on him. A soldier stepped before the horse, his musket leveled. Gator hurled his tomahawk in an arc that ended in the mans skull with a meaty thunk! even as he fired, the spoiled shot going high. Gator ran to the horse as the rider plucked desperately at his saber. The giant grasped the dragoons head in his hands and twisted. Even at a distance, Sharpe could hear the sharp crack! as his spine snapped. Then Gator threw the dying man out of the saddle and leapt into it himself. Seizing the reins in one hand, he bent down to drag his tomahawk in a shower of red and gray out of the skull of the man it had killed. Then he was riding like the wind towards the tree line, soldiers frantically leaping out of the way of the lashing hooves. Several men pulled up their muskets to fire as he passed, but he slipped out of the saddle, clinging to the horses flank facing away from the guns. They hesitated for a moment, seeing only the horse, and not their target.
Sharpes cry broke them out of their hesitant shock, and they fired, but already, the horse was past them, and the shots went wide. Then the horse was among the trees and gone. From the swampland, came a last, departing scream of triumph and mockery, fading away with the distance.
Sharpe was astounded. Never had he seen a man kill with such terrible efficiency. It had taken less than ten seconds. And six men were dead.
Sharpe stared at the tree line where his enemy had disappeared. He knew it was not over. They would meet again. And then one would die.
Killick stood at his side, appalled at what had happened. Sharpe turned to him. There was one more enemy to bring down today. Morris.
"I need a safe-conduct to the English camp."
*******A squad of American soldiers from the 7th had escorted Sharpe as far as the burned-out ruins of the Bienvenue mansion. Some of the men remembered Sharpe from his earlier visit, and they were friendly now that they knew he proven the British army innocent. As he walked on toward the British lines, one of them called after him.
"Good luck, Johnny Bull! I sure hope I never get you in my sights!"
Fredrickson had been up with the pickets of the 95th Rifles, near the forward headquarters at the De la Ronde mansion, so he was the first to see Sharpe. He dropped what he was doing and ran towards his friend.
"Richard! We were sure you were dead! Whats been happening with you? Where "
Sharpe held up a hand to forestall further talk.
"Get me a squad of riflemen. Have them armed and ready."
"Why? Whats going on?"
"We have a traitor to arrest."
*******Lieutenant Colonel Charles Morris was a nervous man. He sat at his table in the mess of the South Essex and gulped some brandy from his silver hip flask. It stilled his fear somewhat. He had been drinking more and more lately. It helped calm his nerves.
They had been on edge ever since that day in Maryland five months ago when he had been kidnapped out of his bed by that half-breed devil Red Gator, taken to a secluded spot among the trees, and then presented with a proposition that Morris found highly interesting. Gator had made some discreet inquiries about what officers had large gambling debts to pay. Morris had been perfect for his purposes. All the Colonel had to do was have some articles discreetly removed from the regimental stores and delivered to Gator, and in return, he would get a sizable share of their plunder. As an earnest, Gator had given him two hundred pounds from his first job. Of course, if he refused, Gator would just kill him then and there. That decided Morris. After all, what did he care if some Yankee peasants died?
But he had not anticipated that Gator would start massacring British foraging parties. He never would have agreed to that. But he was already in over his head, if he refused, Gator would see to it that Morris was exposed, to his ruin. So Morris had closed his eyes and told his personal devil what he wanted to know, when and where new patrols would go out, and more and more checks from the agent in New Orleans found their way to him, and then to his bank in London.
But then, of all people, Sharpe had arrived, with full authority to investigate the massacres. He had been getting dangerously close. Morris had to sacrifice the foraging party of the South Essex, and his own co-conspirator Sergeant Bader to get rid of him.
He gave a sigh of relief. It was almost over now. Sharpe was dead, he could expose no one. This campaign would be done in a few days and he would be on his way back to Ireland, away from Red Gator forever, with full honors of war and sufficient money to pay off his debts and live comfortably. After all, he was worth more than a few common soldiers. He was a gentleman. Perhaps he would run for Parliament.
He tipped his flask back and took another drink. And he choked and spluttered on it as he looked out the window.
Less than a hundred yards away, and heading straight towards him was a squad of green jacketed riflemen, led by their one-eyed major.
And striding before them all
No! It couldnt be him! It couldnt! He was dead! Dead!
But there was no mistaking the tall, grim faced rifleman with his black hair and scarred cheek. And he was coming straight for Morris. A horrible picture flashed through his mind arrest, court-martial, disgrace, the hangmans noose!
No! Not that!
Sharpe was still ten feet from the door of the Souths mess when he heard the single shot from inside. He ran up to the door and kicked it open, rushing in with Fredrickson right behind him.
A silver flask lay open on the table, spilling its contents over the edge onto Morris face. The Colonel lay spread-eagled on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. A smoking pistol was gripped in his right hand. There was a small hole in his right temple, and a much larger one in his left. Blood was pooling around his head. Lieutenant Colonel Morris had chosen a fate far kinder than what Sharpe had had in mind for him.
Looking down on him, Sharpe didnt feel cheated, the mans life would only have soiled his hands. He had lived as a coward and a swine and died the same way. Sharpe turned to Fredrickson.
"Well need someone to clean up this mess."
*******January 8, 1815 Pre-dawn.
Sharpe fought vainly against a growing sense of impending disaster. Word had come down. At dawn, Pakenham was going to risk everything on an all-out attack against Jacksons line. It would be a two-pronged attack, on both sides of the river. It would start before dawn. Fourteen hundred men, two carronades and a battery of Congreves under Colonel Thorton would make a surprise assault on Jacksons gun emplacements on the west bank. The guns would be captured and turned against the American line and against the Louisiana in the river. A single red rocket would be the signal for Pakenham to begin his frontal assault. He had reoccupied his battery sites of the artillery duel with all available guns for the direct bombardment. Before the main force, men from the 44th would rush forward on the right to the American line and hurl fascines of sugarcane into the ditch. Then they would lean scaling ladders against the ramparts so it could be mounted. The British would advance in two columns. On the left, under General Keane, twelve hundred men, consisting of the 93rd Highlanders, the 7th and the 43rd minus their light companies, half of the 95th Rifles and half of the West Indian troops would move along the levee road and capture the batteries closest to the river. On the right, under General Gibbs, two thousand two hundred men, consisting of the 4th, the 21st, the 23rd, the 44th, and the remaining half of the 95th would hit the Yankee center while the remaining West Indian troops would go into the swamp and make a diversion against the far right. Jackson would be caught in a two-way crossfire and forced to withdraw. General Lambert would stay in reserve with the light infantry companies of the 7th and the 43rd, seventeen hundred men ready to exploit any breakthrough.
At Fredricksons request, Sharpe would command the 95th on the right, while he would take the 95th on the left. Sharpe had woken an hour after midnight and been unable to get back to sleep. His Baker was loaded and primed, his pouch was full of cartridges, and his sword was freshly sharpened and oiled. Now, with nothing else to do, he wandered up and down the sleeping camp and thought about the coming battle.
Everything depended on Thortons troops getting across the river and turning Jacksons flank. And they had to do it before dawn, when they began the frontal attack. Otherwise, they would be shot to pieces in the perfect killing field before Jacksons line. To get those troops across the river, Pakenham would need barges. And so Admiral Cochrane had put both sailors and soldiers to work around the clock for a week, cutting a canal two miles from Bayou Manzant to the river that would put those barges where they would be needed. It had been a backbreaking task that had rendered many of the soldiers well below their best for the coming battle. And it had been plagued by one disaster after another. The soft muddy soil simply would not hold its shape, especially under the constant rains, and the canal had collapsed in a dozen places every day, requiring still more labor to clear it. Thus, construction had gone far slower than anticipated and planned for. Now, the day before the attack, the canal was still two hundred yards short of the river. There was nothing for it, the barges had to be dragged through the knee-deep mud the rest of the way. This meant more backbreaking work that proceeded with agonizing slowness.
Now the attack was near. It was about five oclock in the morning. In half an hour, the light gray of pre-dawn would show in the east. And now, of the forty-one barges needed for the fourteen hundred soldiers that were supposed to have been ferried across, only thirteen were in position. Enough for five hundred troops only, with no artillery. Sharpe stood off to the side as Pakenham spoke to Thorton:
"Colonel, there is no turning back now. You must cross without delay or loose all hope of taking the enemy by surprise."
The Colonel cursed in frustration and waved the troops in. Sharpe watched as they began to set off across the river. He watched as the current carried them downstream, and they disappeared in the darkness. They would end up well south of where they had expected to land, and would have to march at least a mile more than they had anticipated to reach the Jonathans battery. Could they do it before the dawns light revealed their plan to Jackson?
Sharpe continued walking up the levee road, unable to shake the uneasy feeling. The potential for disaster was immense. Coordinating a two-pronged attack properly was tremendously difficult, especially with a river in between. And already, so much had gone wrong. There was a very real chance that he and Fredrickson would lead their men against a fully alerted enemy line, into the blazing mouths of Jacksons cannon.
In other words, there was a better than average chance that neither one of them would live to see the sunset. Surprisingly, Sharpe was not nervous. He felt oddly detached from the days doings. Perhaps that came of being the Dukes inspector, and not being officially attached to any unit.
But there was one thing that Sharpe was convinced of: he and Fredrickson had to have their talk now, before the battle began. They had to settle the matter of Lucille and their friendship before it became too late to settle it. Fredrickson had constantly put him off, saying that the time was not right. But time had run out. This time, Sharpe would force the issue if he had to hog-tie Fredrickson and sit on him until he agreed to listen. With firm determination, he set out for the 95ths camp. Fredrickson would be up and among the men.
The moon was sinking, but it still cast a chill light over the camp. In the pre-dawn haze, Sharpe could see the soldiers stirring, fumbling for their knapsacks and muskets, shivering in the cold. There were no fires, some of them munched dry ships biscuit. The faintest hint of pearly gray was showing in the east when Sharpe found Fredrickson sitting on one of the logs that ringed the cold fire pit of 2nd Companys bivouac. He was sharpening his sword on a whetstone. Sharpe wondered if they were going to fight a duel after they talked. Sweet William looked up, saw him, sheathed his sword, and waved a greeting. Sharpe came over and sat by him. Fredrickson was inordinately cheery.
"Wont be long now. The lads are ready."
Sharpe was in no mood for small talk. He got straight to the point.
"William, we have to talk. Youve been stalling me, but we have to talk now."
Fredrickson shrugged casually.
"All right, so talk."
Sharpe was a little surprised at Fredricksons cooperation. He stood, his friend looked at him quizzically.
"William, our falling out over Lucille has been eating at me for months. We need to make our peace. I almost didnt take this job, but the chance of clearing things up with you decided me."
"I want you to know that neither of us, Lucille or me, ever wanted to hurt you. I didnt know we were going to fall in love. It surprised both of us. For Gods sake, we thought we hated each other. She shot me! I was the enemy of her country. After Jane, I was almost ready to swear off of women altogether. And I thought Lucille would be the last type Id ever take up with. By the time we realized we didnt hate each other, it was too late. But I swear to you, I never tried to steal her from you, or convince her to choose me. She did that on her own, without my help. It was her choice, and hers alone."
"You and I have been friends for over two years now, battlefield friends, the closest type of friendship. Weve been through so much together, the Gates of Heaven, the Teste de Buch, Toulouse, Naples, and here. I dont want it to end like this. I want to go into this battle knowing that you forgive both of us, and that youre still my friend."
Sharpe had shot his wad, and now he scanned his friends face, searching for his response. Fredricksons face was unreadable for a moment. Then he shrugged and grinned lopsidedly.
"Well, she was too skinny for me, anyway."
Sharpe expression was one of surprise and confusion. Fredricksons grin widened.
"Over the months, Ive thought a lot about the two of you. Seeing you show up on the front door made me think a lot harder. Ive been putting you off for two weeks while I sorted out how I felt. I wont deny that my pride was stung back in France. Rejection isnt easy, and I do have my dignity. It probably took putting an ocean between us for me to put it behind me. But once I looked at it, I realized that distance and passing time had pretty much healed the wound."
"Im a little more cynical than you, Richard, and Ive figured out that its better to marry for money than love. I probably would have gotten bored trying to fix up that run-down chateau. But up north in Montreal, there are a lot of rich, ugly widows who would give a lot for a man of my charm and talents. When this is over, I plan to look one of them up. I need to provide for my future comfort."
"As for you and Lucille, I wish you every happiness. Ive no grudge, Richard, and there are no hard feelings. Go back home to France and be a farmer, and tell Lucille that I wish her well." Sharpe breathed a sigh of relief. Their friendship was restored. If he accomplished nothing else, this made the trip across the sea worth it. He held out his hand to Fredrickson.
Fredrickson looked at his hand for a second, grinned again, stood, and clasped Sharpes hand firmly.
Several things happened very quickly then, and it took Sharpe a few seconds to sort them out.
Fredrickson stumbled forward as if someone had shoved him violently from behind. Something whipped past Sharpes cheek. Sharpe caught Fredrickson and held him. A wet red stain was quickly spreading across his friends chest. Fredricksons one eye took on an expression of bewilderment, and he gasped. A distant crack! sounded.
A rifle . . .
As he held him, Sharpe felt the life leave his friends body in a sigh. The man he lowered to the ground was dead.
For a moment, Sharpe stared at his friend uncomprehendingly, his mind trying to take in what had happened.
Then he heard the scream, a terrible, bloodthirsty shriek of hate and triumph.
And the joy of killing. He looked up.
Standing three hundred yards away, at the edge of the tree line, outlined in the moonlight, was a giant figure in green-dyed buckskin and a cloak of scalps. A figure whose face was painted green, his jaw white, a figure with a crest of flame red hair. A figure who raised his black long rifle above his head and let out another mocking scream.
A scream of challenge.
Then Red Gator turned and ran into the tree line, headed towards the swamp.
Sharpe stared after him for a moment.
He looked at Fredrickson lying dead at his feet.
Then he caught up his Baker and ran for the trees where his enemy had disappeared.
The time had come. For Sharpe, nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed. Not the battle, not Lucille, nothing. Only this final confrontation. No matter what happened anywhere else, Sharpe was going to put Red Gator in the ground. For good.
Today was the day. One of them would die.