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April 4, 1815
New Orleans, Louisiana

"You sent for me, sir?"

Jackson looked up from his desk in the Cabildo. "Sam! I wasn't expecting you so quickly." The general rose from his desk and, with a wave of his arm, invited Houston to take a seat in a nearby chair.

Once they were both seated, Jackson clasped his hands in front of him on the desk. The bony double fist rested atop a small pile of papers.

"I'm leaving the day after tomorrow, you may have heard. Now that Rachel's here, I see no reason to stay. Especially since, ah..."

"Yes, sir. I know that Mrs. Jackson hasn't found the city to her liking."

Jackson himself might be something of a freethinker, like Sam—though not as much as Driscol, of course; almost no one was—but his wife Rachel was pious to the point of religious fanaticism. She'd taken to New Orleans about as well as she would have taken to Sodom or Gomorrah.

"No, she hasn't. And I've been relieved of my duties here by the War Department anyway, so..."

He opened his clasped hands and gazed down at the papers. "I'm going back to Tennessee, at least for the time being," he said abruptly. "My plantation needs looking after, and, well—"

He held up one of the papers. "I received a letter from one of my close friends in Nashville just yesterday. He's urging me to run for governor or senator of the state."

"You'd win either post handily, sir." That was the simple truth, not a polite fabrication. For all that Jackson had bullied and abused his Tennessee militiamen, they were intensely loyal to him. The militia formed a tremendous political power in any state, and a frontier state more than most. Those plebeian nobodies and roughnecks had confidence in Jackson. He was their champion, and they'd sweep him into office.

Might even, someday, sweep him into the presidency.

Somewhat regretfully, Jackson shook his head. "Duty calls, Sam. Always duty. I'll see the Dons driven from our soil before I turn my ambition to anything else. If I took state office, I'd have to resign from the army. Active duty, at least. And it'll be the army—you watch and see—that deals the Dons as they deserve. No blasted politicians in Washington, much less Nashville."

"I understand, sir."

Jackson eyed him from beneath lowered brows. "Come on, Sam, you're not that innocent. If I can't run for office in Tennessee, there's no reason you can't. Young as you are, after the Capitol and New Orleans, you'd win in a landslide. The militia would support you just as readily as they would me."

Jackson laid down the letter and picked up another. "This is from—well, never mind. Just take it from me that I can get you an appointment as a brigadier general in the Tennessee militia."

He held up yet another. "And this letter's from another old friend, in response to a query I sent up there some weeks back. One of our state's finest judges. He tells me he can see to the completion of your education and making you an attorney-atlaw. It'll take a few years, but you're still too young to run for a lot of offices, anyway. Thereafter, between that and the brigadier generalship—"

He flashed Houston a grin. "I won't even talk about your own natural gifts for orating and such. Sam, you are pretty much guaranteed a splendid public career. I'll back you every step of the way, too. We frontiersmen need people of our own in Washington."

Jackson could grin very well, when he was of a mind to do so. "You'll need to get married fairly soon, of course. But a man should get married anyway, and—ha!—you'll certainly have no lack of choices. I'd recommend a Tennessee belle, myself, but who's to say? One of those girls from the East Coast would do as well. For that matter, as good as your reputation is, you could probably get away with marrying one of these New Orleans Creole beauties, if you found one that caught your fancy."

Sam stiffened a little, at the mention of "Creole beauties." He'd gotten himself into something of a jam, on that subject. Especially with—well, and also—

His intentions were good, damnation! Still, it was very difficult when—especially after drinking too much—perhaps he should start listening to Patrick's nattering on the subject of whiskey and rum—

But his scattered and nervous thoughts were dispelled, the moment he spotted the thick, official-looking envelope that was also there on Jackson's desk. He hadn't noticed it earlier, because it was lying at the bottom of the pile.

"Yes, sir. I'll give it some thought, sir. But..."

Jackson spared him the awkwardness of asking. As if surprised, he looked down and spotted the envelope himself.

"Oh. This?" His fingers rummaged through the stack, for a moment. "Yes, I suppose I should raise it with you, also, even though I'm sure you'll decline."

He held up the envelope with two fingers, as if afraid it might be unclean. "This is a letter from Secretary of War Monroe. He's apparently decided to create a new post for handling Indian affairs—special commissioner to the secretary, or some such silliness—and wants to know if you'd be willing to accept the position. Your duties would start immediately. The salary's pretty wretched, I can tell you."

Jackson let the envelope fall to the desk. "You'll decline, of course."

Houston stared at the letter.

Jackson's eyes widened, as if in disbelief. "Sam, be serious. You know what a miserable job it is, being an Indian agent. Unless you're a crook, which you aren't. You'll always be caught betwixt and between. Satisfying nobody and making nothing but enemies on all sides. I can't think of a surer way for a young man to wreck a promising career before it's even gotten started."

That was all true enough. It was also—

Probably beside the point.

Not thinking of the discourtesy that might be involved, Sam rose abruptly from his chair and went over to the window. From that vantage point, he could look down onto the city's main square.

Patrick Driscol was down there in the Plaza de Armas, sitting at a table with Tiana and General Ross. That had become something of a midday ritual, so Sam wasn't surprised to see them.

James Rogers was there, too. That was a sad sight, because his brother John was absent. The two of them had been well-nigh inseparable since they were little boys.

Sam felt a little guilty about that. He and the Rogers brothers had spent a lot of time together, in the years he'd lived on John Jolly's island. If Sam had never showed up there, John Rogers might still be alive today.

John Ross also was sitting at the table, however, which wasn't usual. Still, Sam wasn't surprised to see him either.

Why should he be? He'd told John that Jackson had summoned him. Ross had probably made the same guess Sam had made—that, whatever it was about, it would most likely have some bearing on their mutual fate.

The young Cherokee glanced up, spotted him in the window, and nodded.

Sam would never know why that simple nod triggered it off. But, suddenly, standing at a window in the Cabildo, he finally understood why he so loved the Iliad. It had always puzzled him, a bit. The hero, Achilles, was a repellent fellow in so many ways.

But that didn't matter, he now realized. Homer had used such a hero to make a point. A short glorious life is preferable to a long and meaningless one, certainly. But how do you measure glory in the first place?

"It occurs to me, General," he said to Jackson, turning his head to face him squarely, "that glory is a thing properly measured by duty. Not the acclaim of others."

Jackson's face went blank. "Yes," he replied.

Sam nodded. "That's what I just figured out. So I'll be accepting the secretary's offer, I think."

"Well, it's your decision." Jackson twisted his head, in a little gesture Sam couldn't interpret. Then he held up the letter. "You'll want to read it, and make your own reply. But I'll inform the secretary of your decision."

"Thank you, sir."

Jackson escorted him personally out of the office, gracious all the way. The general did that extremely well, too, when he was of a mind.

"Please give my regards to Mrs. Jackson."

"Oh, certainly. And come visit us at the Hermitage, Sam, whenever you can manage it. Rachel was quite taken by you."

In the corridor, after the door was closed, Sam paused for a moment. Jackson's last words, he realized, were the general's way of making clear that no bridges had been burned.

Good. Sam had a feeling he'd need to cross that bridge— many times—over the next few years.

Outside, he took a seat at the table.

"Well?" John Ross asked.

Sam held up the envelope. "It's done. Step one, at any rate."

Driscol said nothing. Tiana smiled. General Ross shook his head.

"Cousins," he murmured, blowing on his cup of tea. "Why is it that all families have mad cousins?"

"The English," Driscol stated. "Trace it all back, and you'll find a Sassenach to blame."

"Probably," Ross allowed. "Though I do think the Scots have some sins of their own to answer for."

"Oh, aye, to be sure. But we learned all the great crazed ones from the English. Our own native sins were too humble to scatter mad cousins across half the world, like so much gunpowder."

When Coffee came into the general's office, he found Jackson at the window, gazing down into the square below. The general had an odd, crooked little smile on his face.

Coffee came to join him. "Huh! Don't they look like a cozy lot of plotters."

"Don't they just? I told you he'd refuse the rose."

Coffee shook his head. "Andy, there are times I think you'd rather lose a fight—rather die, come down to it—than admit you were wrong to start it in the first place."

Jackson's face went blank. "Of course."

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