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Chapter 5

Sam ran pretty well for a man of his size, but he couldn't match Montgomery.

The major was a big man himself, as tall as Sam if not as heavily built, but he just seemed to bound through the hail of arrows and bullets now being fired at the oncoming Thirty-ninth by the Red Sticks forted up behind their barricade.

Sam took his lead and example from Montgomery, not knowing what else to do. There was something bizarre about the whole experience. It just didn't seem reasonable for a man to race through deadly missiles with less thought and concern than he'd give so many raindrops in a shower.

It wasn't that Sam was scared, really, although by all rights he should have been frightened out of his wits. This was easily the most dangerous thing he'd ever done in his life, and he wasn't a cautious man.

He'd been even less cautious as a teenager. Plenty of his Tennessee townsmen in Maryville had thought the sixteen-year-old boy had been a lunatic to run away from home and travel through sixty miles of wilderness to live with savage Indians for three years. But it had seemed a reasonable proposition to Sam, at the time, compared to working on his mother's farm or as a clerk in his brother's general store. Still did, for that matter. Clerking wasn't what it was cracked up to be, and farming was worse yet.

So, he'd enlisted and given his oath, even pressed for a commission as an officer. The government having carried out its part of the bargain, Sam was now obliged to make good on his end of the deal. And if that involved charging a log wall armed with nothing more than a sword and a pistol, well, so be it. The Red Sticks pelting him with arrows and bullets were just...

Irrelevant, he decided. Sam, who'd memorized two-thirds of the poem, conjured up something from Alexander Pope's marvelous translation of the Iliad to steady himself.

But know, whatever fate I am to try
By no dishonest wound shall Hector die;
I shall not fall a fugitive at least,
My soul shall bravely issue from my breast.

When Montgomery reached the wall he was ten feet ahead of Sam. The major clambered up the log fortifications using only his left hand, still waving his saber in the right.

He shouted something. Sam thought it was Follow me! but he wasn't sure. Between the gunfire and the screams of the Red Sticks on the other side of the barricade, he couldn't hear himself think.

Not that there was any thinking to be done, really. It all seemed very simple. Climb the wall, get on the other side, do your best to beat down your enemies before they did the same to you.

Montgomery reached the top of the wall and dropped into a crouch, ready to leap across.

Then he shouted again. It was a wordless cry, this time, nothing more than a dying reflex as lungs emptied for the last time. Sam was sure of that. He could see the blood and brains erupting from a bullet that passed right through Montgomery's head.

The major fell back to the ground, his body passing Sam as he clambered up the wall.

"Follow me!" Sam shouted. Pretty damn good and loud, too, he thought. But he didn't try to wave the sword he carried in his hand. He'd save that for when he reached the top.

Finally he was at the top of the wall. It had seemed to take forever. Since Montgomery's crouch hadn't done much good for him, Sam decided to emulate what he imagined an Achaean would have done. Achilles, anyway, if not Odysseus.

He started to rise. Started to raise his sword, ready to wave it about now and shout Follow me! again. The painted faces of the Red Stick warriors staring up at him from the ground below were just a colorful blur in his mind.

He never even saw the arrow coming.

Fortunately, his foot slipped just as he started to stand, and what would have been a heroic posture turned into an ungainly sprawl. Fortunately, because had he kept his footing, that arrow would have plunged deep into his groin. As it was, the missile simply sliced a gash along the outside of his thigh before caroming off to the side.

It didn't even hurt. Sam realized he'd been wounded only when he spotted the blood soaking his trouser leg.

But he just shrugged it off. He was a big man, there was a lot of meat and muscle there, and the wound wasn't spouting the way it would if an artery had been severed. It was, quite literally, nothing but a flesh wound.

Besides, Sam had far more pressing concerns. Sprawled across the wall the way he was, his head was now within reach of the enemy—and, sure enough, a Red Stick was trying to brain him with an atassa.

Frantically, Sam brought up the sword. By sheer good luck more than any conscious intent, the blade intercepted the haft of the club. There wasn't enough power in that awkward parry to do more than deflect the club, but deflected it was. Off balance, the Red Stick stumbled past.

Seeing nothing else to do, Sam threw himself off the wall and landed on his hands and knees on the enemy side of the barricade. Instantly, he came to his feet, feeling a rush of relief greater than anything he'd ever felt in his life. Whatever happened now, at least he'd be standing up to face it.

What was happening now was that the same Red Stick was trying to brain him again. For the first time since the battle began, Sam got angry.

That bastard was trying to kill him!

Stupid bastard, too. Most white men didn't really know how to handle an Indian war club up close. Guns and knives were a white man's weapons. But Sam had been trained in wrestling and hand-to-hand fighting by his Cherokee friends John and James Rogers. James, in particular, was a veritable wizard with a war club.

His reflexes took over. A sword wasn't quite as handy as a war club, but close enough. Sam parried the strike and returned the favor.


He discovered that a sword had both an advantage and a disadvantage over a war club.

The advantage was that it had a blade.

The disadvantage was that it had a blade.

Sam was strong, even for his size. He'd brained the Red Stick, sure enough. And now he had a sword stuck in the man's skull.

No time to work it loose, either. Two more Red Sticks were upon him, and still more were aiming their bows his way.

There was nothing he could do about the arrows that would be coming. He left the sword where it was, drew his pistol, and fired it at point-blank range into the chest of one of the two Red Sticks. Then, threw the pistol into the face of the other and grappled with him.

A good hip roll and the warrior was slammed into the ground with enough force to wind him and jar the war club out of his hand. Sam dove for it, eager to have a usable weapon. He didn't even notice that the headlong plunge took him out of the path of three arrows that sank into the wooden barricade behind.

He came up with the atassa just in time to see dozens of Thirty-ninth Infantry soldiers pouring over the wall. With their blue coats, they looked like a wave crashing over a too-flimsy dike.

The Red Sticks at the wall reeled back from the assault. Sam charged forward to place himself once again at the lead.

"Follow me!" he bellowed again, waving the war club.

Even at the time, he thought it was a silly war cry. He had no idea where he was leading them, after all. It just seemed like the right thing to do, under the circumstances.

When he was excited, Andrew Jackson's high-pitched voice was often unpleasant, even shrill. But it was a piercing voice on the battlefield, able to cut through almost any din of shouting and gunfire.

It was certainly doing so now. From his vantage point atop the hill, Jackson had acquired a perfect view of the storming of the barricade. There'd been a sharp pang of grief, of course, when he saw his good friend Lemuel Montgomery killed. But, as always with Jackson, grief would have to wait its turn when more pressing matters were at hand. Whatever else, the man was a fighter first and foremost. And, for him, the excitement of battle would always override anything else at the time.

He was excited now. Excited enough, even, to lapse into profanity.

"Goddamn me, but that's a soldier!" He snatched off his fancy hat and waved it like a sword. "Go for 'em, lad! Give the savage bastards Jesse!"

The men standing around him matched his grin. Most of them were artillerymen, and they were out of the battle now, so they had plenty to grin about anyway.

Jackson jammed the hat back on his head. Then, still grinning, he turned to one of his aides.

"Do remind me, however, not to call them savages in the presence of that fine young fellow. He might take umbrage, and I do believe he'd be dangerous in a duel."

The aide grunted. "Especially if he had the choice of weapons."

Jackson's grin became wider than ever. Wider, and more savage than any of the men killing each other on the field below, of whatever color.

Leading, Sam soon discovered, was pretty much indistinguishable from chasing. Once their fortifications were overrun, the Creeks seemed to have no idea what to do. Not surprising, really. It was unusual enough for Indians to have built such an impressive line of defense. Sam would have been astonished to discover that they'd prepared lines of retreat, as well.

But they hadn't, as he expected. The Creeks reminded him of the Icelandic clansmen he'd read about in Sturluson's stories, based on ancient Icelandic sagas. Endless clan feuds which produced a race of hardy, resourceful, and ferocious warriors.

But not soldiers, really. Certainly not in the modern sense of the term. They just didn't have the ingrained customs and habits that produced ranks of disciplined men who formed what could properly be called an "army."

Sam knew that it would have taken all of Chief Menawa and William Weatherford's authority and political skills to have gotten the Red Sticks to build that breastwork at all. There was no chance they would have gotten them to build a secondary line of defense—or even, for that matter, have developed a battle plan that provided clear contingencies in the event that the fortifications were overrun.

So, now, everything was confusion and chaos. As individual warriors, the hundreds of Red Sticks still at large on the peninsula were as feisty as ever. More so, probably, since desperation had been added to fanaticism and the ever-present Indian courage, to keep them fighting. But they were fighting as individuals, now. Or, at most, in small clusters gathered around the figure of one of the chiefs or war leaders.

Following that initial heady charge after the retreating Creeks, therefore, Sam called a halt to the pursuit. He also was discovering that battles were incredibly exhausting, something Homer hadn't mentioned in his poems. Despite being in better physical condition than most of his men, Sam was just about winded.

Houston's voice had none of Jackson's piercing qualities, but it was still a big man's voice—and that of a man who'd never been in the least bit bashful. So when he called out the order, it brought the soldiers up short, quick enough. And, soon thereafter he had their lines reformed. He even took the time to make sure that every soldier had reloaded, and done it properly. In the heat of a battle, it was common for soldiers to forget to reload, or to double-load—and it was by no means unheard of for an excited man to fire a ramrod instead of a bullet. Which left him with neither a ramrod nor the means to reload his weapon.

That done, he ordered the soldiers forward in a steady march, ready to fire a volley as soon as any cluster of Red Sticks large enough to warrant a volley appeared. They'll do so soon enough, he thought. He could hear the sounds of fighting on the other side of the high ground, and he was sure that by now the Cherokees had crossed the river in large numbers.

Coffee's cavalrymen, too, perhaps, but Sam suspected it was mostly Cherokees who'd crossed the river. Coffee and his cavalry were probably still on the opposite bank, chewing on the matter.

John Ross and James Rogers found The Ridge, ironically enough, only by circling around in the chaos of the battle and coming back to the riverbank. Some of the Red Sticks were trying their best to escape across the Tallapoosa, and The Ridge was just as determined to see to it they didn't.

He was in the water himself, in fact, when they found him. Standing thigh deep in the muddy current and battling it out with a Creek warrior.

It was an arresting tableau, and for a moment John was transfixed by the sight. Somewhere along the line, The Ridge must have lost his sword—indeed, any weapon he might have been carrying. He was grappling the Red Stick, hand to hand. The Creek was the taller man, though he didn't have The Ridge's width of shoulder and muscular mass, so it was a fairly even match.

But he was much younger, too, and didn't have The Ridge's experience. In a wrestler's movement too quick for John to follow, The Ridge freed one of his hands, snatched a knife scabbarded at the Red Stick's waist, and stabbed him in the belly with it.

The Creek warrior screeched in pain and fury. He grappled The Ridge all the harder, ignoring the blood spilling out of his body. He got a better grip on his opponent, since that quick knife thrust had removed one of The Ridge's arms from the wrestling match.

Despite his terrible wound, John thought the Creek might still have a chance to win the fight. Hesitantly, he raised his pistol. He was afraid to fire, though. He just wasn't a good enough shot, even at this short range, to be sure he'd hit the right target.

James's hand on his arm brought the pistol down.


Rogers had seen what Ross hadn't—yet another Cherokee warrior ready to jump into the river from nearby brush.

The new arrival went into the water and with three powerful and steady strides came up next to the two combatants. He had a spear in his hand, and the thrust that followed had all the cold and terrible precision of a wasp sting. The blade of the spear sank deep into the lower back of the Creek, well away from any part of The Ridge.

The Cherokee withdrew the spear with an expert and vicious twist of his wrists. The Red Stick was paralyzed by pain and shock, his back arched like a bow. The Ridge pushed him away and stepped back, leaving a clear target.

The second spear thrust went right through the man. John, paralyzed himself by the spectacle, saw several inches of the blade protruding from the Creek's abdomen. Blood poured off the spear, adding its burden to water already stained bright red despite the muddy current.

James's hand went to John's shoulder, and gave it a little shake. "Come on," he murmured. "Let's give him the warning."

John shook his head to clear the moment's horror. "Yes," was all he could say.

As soon as he'd gotten out of the water, they told The Ridge of Coffee's plan. He gave the opposite bank of the river nothing more than a quick glance. By this stage in the battle, John realized, the warning was almost pointless. Coffee's cavalrymen were already visible all along the riverbank. They were dismounted, and had brought their rifles up, ready to shoot any Creek who tried to cross.

And anybody else, most likely.

But The Ridge seemed more interested in Ross himself. He looked the younger man up and down, slowly and carefully. John was suddenly glad for his scuffled appearance. Even more, for the bruise on his cheek that he'd picked up when James hadn't deflected a war club quite in time. Most of all, for the blood spattered all over his American-style uniform. True, none of it was his; and, true also, the enemy blood had been spattered onto him by the efforts of his companion. Still, it was living proof that he'd been in the thick of battle; and, whatever else, he hadn't flinched.

The Ridge grunted, and looked to James. "How is he doing?"

James smiled, in his easy manner. "Well enough. I think he'll make a better politician than a warrior, though."

Honesty compelled John to speak, then. "I can't do much worse."

The Ridge was back to studying him. Then, after a few seconds, he grunted again.

"You're here," he said softly. "Good politicians are harder to find than warriors anyway."

For the first time since John Ross had met The Ridge, the older man actually smiled. The expression looked almost weird, on that blocky and fearsome face.

But John thought it might be the best smile he'd ever seen. He'd never doubted his own loyalties—nor did anyone, he thought—but his upbringing had always left him feeling like something of an outsider in the Cherokee world. In much the same way, he suspected, that the American ensign who was about his own age must often feel among white people. How could an adopted Cherokee feel otherwise?

Yet, somehow, though none of the blood covering him was his own, nor had any of it been put there by his own deeds, he knew that he had just crossed a final line this day.

The Ridge had smiled upon him. Every Cherokee knew that The Ridge almost never smiled.

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