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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


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PART THREE

VIVAR

The embers were gathering. Reinforcements arrived from the northern provinces. They were not many, and none was officially despatched by the republic's government in Santiago, yet still they came. A few owed Lord Cochrane for past favors, but most were adventurers who smelled plunder in Chile. They arrived at Puerto Crucero in small groups; the largest were brought back on Cochrane's pinnace, but others came by land, all daring the forests and the savages as they skirted the Spanish-held territory to gather at Puerto Crucero. After two weeks the newcomers had added just over two hundred volunteers to Cochrane's meager forces, but Cochrane was convinced that his war would be won by just such small increments. At least half of the newcomers had fought in the European wars, and more than a few recognized Sharpe and hoped he would remember them. "I was in the breach at Badajoz with you," a Welshman told Sharpe. "Bloody terrible, that was. But I'm glad you're here, sir, it means we're going to win again, does it not?"

Sharpe did not have the heart to tell the Welshman that he believed the attack on Valdivia to be suicidal. Instead he asked what had brought the man to this backside of the world. "Money, sir, money! What else?" The Welshman was confident that the royalists, having been defeated in Peru, Chile, and in the wide grasslands beyond the Andes, must have carried the spoils of all that empire back to Valdivia. "It's their last great stronghold in South America!" the Welshman said, "so if we capture it, sir, we'll all be rich. I shall buy a house and a farm in the border country, and I'll find a fat wife, and I shall never want for a thing again. All it takes is money, sir, and all we need for money is this battle. Life is not for the weak or timid, sir, but for the brave!"

The Spaniards were making no effort to recapture Puerto Crucero. Instead they had pulled all their forces back into the Valdivia region, abandoning a score of towns and outlying forts. Cochrane's volunteers arrived at Puerto Crucero with tales of burning stockades, deserted customs posts and empty guardhouses. "Maybe," Sharpe suggested, "they're planning a complete withdrawal?"

"Back to Spain, you mean?" Cochrane scorned the suggestion. "They're waiting for reinforcements. Madrid won't abandon Chile. They believe God gave them this empire as a reward for slaughtering all those Muslims in the fifteenth century, and what God gives, kings keep. No, they're not withdrawing, Sharpe, they're just planning more wickedness. They know we're going to attack them, so they're drawing in their horns and getting their guns ready." He rubbed his hands with glee. "All those guns and men in one place, just waiting to be captured!"

"That's just what Bautista wants," Sharpe warned Cochrane. "He believes his guns will pound you into mincemeat."

Cochrane spat. "The man's useless. His guns couldn't kill a spavined chicken. Besides, we'll be taking him by surprise."

The surprise depended entirely on the Spaniards being deceived by the two disguised warships. The O'Higgins, brought into the inner harbor, was being disguised with tar so that her gunports were indistinguishable from any distance. She looked, by the time Cochrane's men had done with her, as drab and ugly a ship as had ever sailed the ocean. The fine gilrwork at her bow and stern had been ruthlessly stripped away so that she resembled some unloved transport ship. The Kitty, the erstwhile Espiritu Santo, was being similarly disfigured. She was also being made seaworthy, and Cochrane chivied his carpenters unmercifully, because every day that the Kitty spent careened on the sand shoal was a day lost, a day in which Lord Cochrane worried that the two real Spanish transport ships might reach Valdivia, or that some Spanish spy might report back to Valdivia just what preparations the rebels were making.

Even a half-witted spy, Cochrane grumbled, could have guessed his plans by just looking at the work being done on the two warships. In essence Cochrane was repeating the trick that had won him Puerto Crucero. That trick had enabled the Scotsman to take his men to the very edge of the defenses before their presence was detected, yet if the Spaniards had been alerted to the trick and had opened fire on the Espiritu Santo as soon as she had shown at the harbor mouth, blood would have poured thick from the frigate's scuppers and Cochrane would have earned his first defeat.

The Spaniards could easily inflict that first defeat in the massive harbor at Valdivia. Valdivia's six forts contained far more guns than Puerto Crucero's one fortress, and Valdivia's guns were spread out so that a surprise assault on one bastion could only serve to alert the others. It was that dispersion of enemy guns that worried Sharpe. Five of Valdivia's forts were on the harbor's western shore, while the sixth, Fort Niebla, was on the eastern bank and guarded the entrance to the River Valdivia. Cochrane, if he was to capture the town with its citadel and reputed treasure, had to capture Fort Niebla, for with the river mouth in his hands he could prevent the garrisons of the remaining fortresses from reinforcing the town's defenders.

Cochrane's plan to capture Fort Niebla was unveiled at a council of war that he held in the high arched room of Puerto Crucero's citadel. He spread a map on a table and weighted its corners with bottles, of Chilean brandy, then, in a calm voice, spoke of sailing the disguised ships past the silent guns of the Spanish forts. Sharpe, like the other dozen officers in the room, listened to Cochrane's confident voice, but saw on the map the terrible dangers that the Scotsman so blithely discounted. Most of the forts had been built high on the hills that surrounded the harborso high that, while they could plunge a lethal fire down into Cochrane's ships, his own cannon could never elevate enough to return the fire. "But no one will open fire if they believe us to be the long-awaited transports with Colonel Ruiz's guns and men!" Cochrane said confidently. He would keep his false ensigns flying until his two ships actually reached the quays in the river's mouth. There, sheltered from all the western fortresses, as well as from the guns on Manzanera Island, he would launch a sudden landward assault against Fort Niebla. "And when Niebla falls, the whole thing collapses!" Cochrane said again. "Niebla controls the river! The river controls the town! The town controls what's left of Spanish Chile!"

"Brilliant! Genius! Superb!" exclaimed Major Miller, his eyes glowing with admiration for his hero's cleverness. "Superb, my Lord! Quite magnificent! Worthy of Wellington! I applaud you, 'pon my soul, I do!"

"I believe Major Miller trusts our plan!" Cochrane said happily.

"I don't," Sharpe said.

"You don't believe it will work?" Cochrane asked sarcastically.

"I believe it will work, my Lord, just so long as not one Spanish soldier can tell the difference between a transport ship and a warship. It will work so long as the real transport ships haven't arrived yet. It will work so long as those real transport ships weren't supplied with a password we don't know. It will work so long as not one single officer of Colonel Ruiz's regiment isn't carried out to the arriving ships to check their cargoes. Good Lord! You think the Spaniards won't be suspicious of every ship that comes into sight? They know how you captured this fortress, my Lord, so they'll surely suspect that you'll try the same trick again! How do we know that the Spanish aren't inspecting every ship before it's allowed to enter the harbor?" Sharpe spoke in English so that his pessimism would not be obvious to every man in the room, but his tone was more than enough to give it away. Even those who did not understand his words could look at the map and imagine the hell of being caught in the harbor, at the center of a ring of heavy guns that would be splintering the ships into floating charnel houses.

"If we attack at night," said Miller while surreptitiously trying to coax his precious watch into life, "the Spaniards will be asleep!"

No one responded. Miller tapped the watch on the table and was rewarded with a ticking sound.

"How many defenders will there be?" The question was put by Captain Simms, who had skippered the O'Higgins during Cochrane's absence.

"Two thousand?" Cochrane suggested airily.

Someone at the table took a deep loud breath. "We have three hundred men?" the man asked.

"Close to," Cochrane smiled, then, in Spanish, he challenged anyone to suggest a better scheme for capturing the harbor. "You, Sharpe? Can you think of a way? My God, man, I'm not rigid! I'll listen to anyone's ideas!"

Sharpe, given a choice, would not have attacked at all. Three hundred men against two thousand were not good odds, and the odds worsened appreciably when the two thousand defenders were safely ensconced behind ditches, palisades, walls, embrasures and the wickedest array of cannonfire assembled in all South America. But it was no use expressing such defeatism to Lord Cochrane, and so Sharpe tried to find some other weakness in the Spanish defenses. "I seem to remember there was a beach here when I sailed into Valdivia." He leaned over the map and pointed to the very tip of the headland around which the attackers would have to sail.

"The Aguada del Ingles," offered Fraser, Cochrane's elderly sailing master. "Aguada means a watering place," and the old Scotsman explained that Bartholomew Sharp, a seventeenth-century English pirate, had landed on that same beach, right under the Spanish defenses, to fill his barrels from a freshwater spring.

"There's an omen, eh, Sharpe?" Miller said happily. "Your namesake, eh?"

"It rather depends on whether he got away with it," Sharpe said.

"Aye, he did," Fraser said. 'They called him a devil in his time, too."

"Why don't we land there ourselves," Sharpe suggested, "and attack the forts one by one? These forts aren't designed to defend themselves against a landward attack, and if we take Fort Ingles, then the very sight of the defeat may demoralize the other garrisons."

There was a few seconds' silence as the men about the table stared at the map. Part of Sharpe's solution made sense. Most of the westernmost forts had not been built to defend against a landward attack, but merely to threaten any ship foolish enough to sail unwanted into Valdivia's harbor, but Corral Castle and Fort Niebla were both proper fortresses, built to resist ships, artillery and infantry, and even if Cochrane's men could tumble the defenders out of Fort Ingles, Fort San Carlos and Fort Amar-gos, they would still need to capture the far more formidable Corral Castle before they marched around the southern side of the harbor to lay siege to Fort Niebla.

Cochrane rejected Sharpe's halfhearted ideas. "Good God, man, but think of the time you're taking! An hour to land our men, that's if we can land them at all, which we can't if the surfs high, then another half hour to form up, and what are the Spaniards going to be doing? You think they'll sit waiting for us? Christ, no! They'll meet us on the beach with a Hail Mary of musket balls. We'll be lucky if ten men survive! No. We'll risk the gunfire, hoist the ensigns, and run straight for the defense's heart!"

"If we make a land attack at night," Sharpe persisted in his less risky plan, "then the Spanish will be confused."

"Have you ever tried landing men on an exposed beach at night?" Cochrane demanded. "We'll all be drowned! No, Sharpe! To the devil with caution. We'll go for their heart!" He spoke enthusiastically but detected that others besides Sharpe doubted that the thing could be done. "Don't you understand?" Cochrane cried passionately, "that the only reason we'll succeed is because the Spanish know this can't be done! They know Valdivia is impregnable, so they don't expect anyone to be mad enough to attack. Our very chance of victory comes from their strength, because their strength is so great that they believe themselves to be unbeatable! And that belief is lulling them to sleep. Gentlemen! We shall lance their pride and bring their great forts down to dust!" He picked up one of the bottles of brandy and eased out its cork. "I give you Valdivia, gentlemen, and victory!"

Men raised the bottles and drank to the toast, but Sharpe, alone in the room, could not bring himself to respond to Cochrane's toast. He was thinking of three hundred men ranged against the greatest fortress complex on the Pacific coast. The result would be slaughter.

"There was a time," Harper had seen Sharpe's reluctance and now spoke very softly, "when you would have done the impossible, because nothing else would have worked."

Sharpe heard the reproof, accepted it, and reached for a bottle. He pulled the cork and, like Harper, drank to the impossible victory. "Valdivia," he said, "and triumph."

Eraser, Cochrane's sailing master, opined that the repaired Kitty might stay afloat long enough to reach Valdivia, but he did not sound optimistic. "Not that it matters," the old Scotsman told Cochrane, "for you'll all be dead bones once the dagoes start their guns on you."

The two ships, both clumsily disguised as unloved transport hulks, had sailed four days after Cochrane's council of war. Cochrane had left just thirty men in Puerto Crucero, most of them walking wounded and barely sufficient to guard the prisoners and hold the fort against a possible Spanish patrol. Every other man sailed on board the Kitty and the O'Higgins. The two warships stood well out to sea, traveling far from land so that no stray Spanish vessel might spot them.

The Kitty's, pumps clattered ceaselessly. She was repaired, bu't the new wood in her hull had yet to swell and close her seams, and so, from the moment the frigate was refloated, the pumps had been manned. Despite her repairs she was proving a desperately slow ship. Some of the men in Cochrane's expedition had declared her an unlucky ship and had been reluctant to sail in her, a superstition that Cochrane had lanced by choosing to sail in the fragile Kitty himself. Sharpe and Harper also sailed on the erstwhile Espiritu Santo, while Miller and his marines were on the O'Higgins. "I'll salute as you sink," had been Miller's cheerful farewell to Sharpe.

"If we don't sink, we'll die under the guns," Fraser opined, and the nearer the two ships came to Valdivia, the gloomier the old man became, though his gloom was always shot through with an affectionate admiration for Cochrane. "If any man can do the impossible, it's Cochrane," Fraser told Sharpe and Harper. They were five nights out of Puerto Crucero, on the last night before they reached Valdivia, and the ships were sailing without lights, except for one shielded lantern that burned on the faster O'Higgins' stern. If the O'Higgins looked like it was going too far ahead in the darkness, a signal gun would be fired from one of the Kitty's two stern guns which were still the only heavy armament that the frigate possessed. "I was with Cochrane when he took the Gamo," Fraser, who was steering the Kitty, said proudly. "Did you ever hear how he did that?"

"No."

"It was in 01, off Barcelona. His Lordship had a brig, called the Speedy. The smallest seagoing thing in the Royal Navy, she was, with just fifty-two men aboard and fourteen gunsseven guns a side and none of them more than four poundersand the mad devil used her to capture the Gamo. She was a Spanish frigate of thirty-two guns and three hundred men. You'd have said it couldn't be done, but he did it. He disguised us with an American flag, ran in close under her side, then held her up against the frigate as he blasted his seven popguns up through her decks. He held her there for an hour and a half, then boarded her. She surrendered." Fraser shrugged. "The trouble with Cochrane is that every time he does something insane, he gets away with it. One day he'll lose, and that'll be the end of him. Mind you, whenever he tangles with the lawyers, he loses. His enemies accused him of defrauding the stock exchange, which he didn't do, but they hired the best lawyers in London and His Lordship was so sure of his own innocence that he didn't even bother to turn up in court, which made it much easier for the bastards to find him guilty and put him in prison."

"And they hurled me out of the most noble Order of the Bath." Cochrane himself, who had crept up behind them, intervened. "Do you know what they do when they expel a man from the Order of the Bath, Sharpe?"

"No, my Lord."

Cochrane, who clearly relished the story, chuckled. "The ceremony happens at dead of night in Westminster Abbey. In the chapel of Henry VII. It's dark. At first you hear nothing but the rustle of robes and the scratching of shoes. It sounds like a convocation of rats, but it's merely the lawyers and lords and pimps and bum-suckers gathering together. Then, on the stroke of midnight, they tear the disgraced man's banner from above the choir stalls, and afterward they take a nameless man, who stands in for the villain, and they strap a pair of spurs on his heels and then, with an axe, they chop the spurs off! At night! In the Abbey! And all the rats and pimps applaud as they kick the man and the spurs and the banner down the steps, and down the choir, and down the nave, and out into the darkness of Westminster." Cochrane laughed. "They did that to me! Can you believe it? We're in the nineteenth century, yet still the bastards are playing children's games at midnight. But one day, by Christ, I'll go back to England and I'll sail up the Thames and I'll make those bastards wish their mothers had never given birth. I'll hang those dry bastards from the roofbeams of the Abbey, then play pell-mell with their balls in the nave."

"They're lawyers, Cochrane," Fraser said sourly, "they don't have balls."

Cochrane chuckled, then cocked his face to the night. "The wind's piping up, Fraser. We'll have a blow before tomorrow night."

"Aye, we will."

"So do you still think we're doomed, Sharpe?" Cochrane demanded fiercely.

"I think, my Lord, that tomorrow we shall need a miracle."

"It'll be easy," Cochrane said dismissively. "We'll arrive an hour before nightfall, at the very moment when the garrisons will be wanting to go off duty and put their feet up. They'll think we're transports, they'll ignore us, and as soon as it's dark we'll be swarming up the ramparts of Fort Niebla. By this time tomorrow night, Sharpe, you and I will have our feet under the commandant's table, drinking his wine, eating his supper, and choosing between his whores. And the day after that we'll go downriver and take Valdivia. Two days, Sharpe, just two days, and all Chile is ours. We will have won."

It all sounded so easy. Two days, six forts, two hundred guns, two thousand men, and all Chile as the prize.

In the darkness a glimmer of light showed from the stern lantern of the O'Higgins. The sea hissed and roared, lifting the sluggish hull of the Kitty, then dropping her down into the cold heart of the wave troughs. Beyond the one small glimmer of light there was no other sign of life in all the universe, neither a star nor moon nor landward light. The ships were in an immensity of darkness, commanded by a devil, sailing under a night sky of thick cloud, and traveling toward death.

They sighted land an hour after dawn. By midday they could see the signal tower that stood atop Fort Chorocomayo, the highest stronghold in Valdivia's defenses. The signal tower held a vast semaphore mast that reported the presence of the two strange ships, then fell into stillness.

Three hours before sunset Sharpe could see the Spanish flag atop Fort Ingles and he could hear the surf crashing on the rocks beside the Aguada del Ingles. No ships had come from the harbor to enquire about their business. "You see," Cochrane crowed, "they're fools!"

Two hours later, in the light of the dying sun, the O'Higgins and the Kitty trimmed their sails as they turned east about the rocky peninsula that protected Valdivia's harbor. They had arrived at the killing place.

The great clouds had gone, torn ragged by a morning gale that had gentled throughout the day until, in this evening of battle, the wind blew steady and firm, but without malice. Yet the sea was still ferocious. The huge Pacific rollers, completing their great journey across an ocean, heaved the Kitty up and down in a giant swooping motion, while to Sharpe's right the great waves shattered in shredding explosions of foam off the black rocks. "You would not, I think, want to make a landing on the Aguada del Ingles in these conditions," Cochrane said as he searched the shore with his telescope. Suddenly he stiffened. "There!"

"My Lord?" Sharpe asked.

"See for yourself, Sharpe!"

Sharpe took the glass. Dim in the gauzy light and through the shredding plumes of foam that obscured the sea's edge like a fog he could just see the first of the harbor's forts. "That's Fort Ingles!" Cochrane said. "The beach is just below it."

Sharpe moved the glass down to where the massive waves thundered up the Aguada del Ingles. He edged the glass back to the fortress which looked much as he remembered it from his earlier visita makeshift defense work with an earthen ditch and bank, wooden palisades, and embrasures for cannon. "They're signaling us!" he said to Cochrane as a string of flags suddenly broke above the fort's silhouette.

"Reply, Mister Almante!" Cochrane snapped, and a Chilean midshipman ran a string of flags up to the Kittys mizzen yard. The flags that Cochrane was showing formed no coherent message, but were instead a nonsense combination. "In the first place," Cochrane explained, "the sun's behind us, so they can't see the flags well, and even if they could see the flags they'd assume we're using a new Spanish code which hasn't reached them yet. It'll make the buggers nervous, and that, after all, is a good way to begin a battle." At the Kittys stern the Spanish ensign rippled in the wind, while below her decks the pumps sucked and spat, sucked and spat.

The gaunt arms of the telegraph atop Fort Ingles began to rise and fall. "They're telling the other forts where we are," Cochrane said. He glanced down at the waist of the ship where a crowd of men lined the starboard gunwale. Cochrane had permitted such sight-seeing, reckoning that if the Kitty were indeed a Spanish transport ship, the men would be allowed on deck to catch this first glimpse of their new station. Also on deck were four nine-pounder field guns that had been manhandled on board from Puerto Crucero's citadel. The guns were not there for their firepower, but rather to make it look as if the Kitty was indeed carrying artillery from Spain. Cochrane, unable to hide his excitement, beat a swift tattoo on the quarterdeck rail with his hands. "How long?" he snapped to Fraser.

"We'll make the entrance in one more hour," Fraser spoke from the helm. "And an hour after that we'll have moonlight."

"The tide?" Cochrane asked.

"We're on the flood, my Lord, otherwise we'd never make her past the harbor entrance. Say two and a half hours?"

"Two and a half hours to what?" Sharpe asked.

"One hour to clear the point," Cochrane explained, "and another hour to work our way south across the harbor, then half an hour to beat in against the river's current. It'll be dark when we reach Fort Niebla, so I'll have to use a lantern to illuminate our ensign. A night attack, eh!" He rubbed his big hands in anticipation. "Ladders by moonlight! It sounds like an elopement!" Below the Kitty s decks were a score of newly made ladders which would be taken ashore and used to assault Niebla's walls.

"There's a new signal, my Lord!" The midshipman called aloud in English, the language commonly used on the quarterdeck of Cochrane's ship.

"In Spanish from now on, Mister Almante, in Spanish!" If the Spaniards did send a guard ship then Cochrane wanted no one using English by mistake. "Reply with a signal that urgently requests a whore for the Captain," Cochrane gave the order in his execrable Spanish, "then draw attention to the signal with a gun."

The grinning Midshipman Almante began plucking signal flags from the locker. The new message, gaudily spelled out in a string of fluttering flags, ran quickly to the Kitty's mizzen yard and, just a second later, one of the stern guns crashed a blank charge to echo across the sea.

"We are spreading confusion!" Cochrane happily explained to Sharpe. "We're pretending to be annoyed because they're not responding to our signal!"

"Another shot, my Lord?" Midshipman Almante, who was not a day over thirteen, asked eagerly.

"We must not overegg the pudding, Mister Almante. Let the enemy worry for a few moments."

The smoke from the stern gun drifted across the wildly heaving swell. The two ships were close to land now, close enough for great drifting mats of rust-brown weed to be thick in the water. Gulls screamed about the rigging. Two horsemen suddenly appeared on the headland's skyline, evidently galloping to get a closer look at the two approaching boats.

"Nelson was always seasick until battle was imminent," Cochrane said suddenly.

"You knew Nelson?" Sharpe asked.

"I met him several times. In the Mediterranean." Cochrane paused to train his telescope on the two riders. They're worried about us, but they can't be seeing much. The sun's almost dead behind us. A strange little man."

"Nelson?"

"'Go for them, he told me, 'just go for them! Damn the niceties, Cochrane, just go and fight! And he was right! It always works. Oh, damn." The curse, spoken mildly, was provoked by the appearance of a small boat that was sailing out of the harbor and was clearly intending to intercept the Kitty and O'ffiggins. Cochrane had half-expected such a guard boat, but plainly his disguise would have been easier to preserve if none had been despatched. "They are nervous, aren't they," he said to no one in particular, then walked to the quarterdeck's rail and picked up a speaking trumpet. "No one is to speak in any language but Spanish. You will not shout a greeting to the guard boat. You may wave at them, but that is all!" He turned sharply. "Spanish naval dress, gentlemen!"

Blue coats, cocked hats and long swords were fetched up from Cochrane's cabin and issued to every man on the quarterdeck. Harper, pleased to have a coat with epaulettes, strutted up and down. Fraser, dwarfed by his naval coat, scowled at the helm while Cochrane, his cocked hat looking oddly piratical, lit a cigar and pretended to feel no qualms about the imminent confrontation. The third Lieutenant, a man called Cabral who, though a fierce Chilean patriot, had been born in Spain, was deputed to be the Kittys, spokesman. "Though remember, Lieutenant," Cochrane admonished him, "we're called the Nino, and the O'Higgins is now the Cristoforo." Cochrane glowered at the approaching boat which, under a bellying red sail, contained a dozen uniformed men. "We'll all be buggered," he muttered to Sharpe in his first betrayal of nerves, "if those two transport ships arrived last week."

The guard boat hove to under the Kittys quarter, presumably because she was the ship showing the signal flags, and was therefore deemed to be the ship in command of the small convoy. A man with a speaking trumpet demanded to know the Kitty's identity.

"We're the Nino and Cristoforo out of Cadiz!" Cabral called back. "We're bringing Colonel Ruiz's guns and men."

"Where's your escort?"

"What escort?" Cochrane asked under his breath, then, almost at once, he hissed an answer to Cabral. "Parted company off Cape Horn."

"We lost them off Cape Horn!"

"What ship was escorting you?"

"Christ Almighty!" Cochrane blasphemed. "The Sanhidro." He plucked the name at random.

"The Sanhidro, senor," Cabral obediently parroted the answer.

"Did you meet the Espiritu Santo? the guard boat asked.

"No!"

The interrogating officer, a black-bearded man in a naval Captain's uniform, stared at the sullen faces that lined the Nino's rails. The man was clearly unhappy, but also nervous. "I'm coming aboard!" he shouted.

"We've got sickness!" Cabral, prepared for the demand, had his answer ready and, as if on cue, Midshipman Almante hoisted the yellow fever flag.

"Then you're ordered to anchor off the harbor entrance!" the bearded man shouted up. "We'll send doctors to you in the morning! You understand?"

"Tell them we don't trust the holding here, we want to anchor inside the harbor!" Cochrane hissed.

Cabral repeated the demand, but the bearded man shook his head. "You've got your orders! The holding's good enough for this wind. Anchor a half mile off the beach, use two anchors on fifteen fathoms of chain apiece, and sleep well! We'll have doctors on board at first light!" He signaled to his helmsman who bore away from the Kittys side and turned toward the harbor.

"Goddamn it!" Cochrane said.

"Why don't you just ignore the bugger?" Sharpe asked.

"Because if we try to run the entrance without permission they'll open fire."

"So we wait for dark?" Sharpe, who until now had been dead set against any such attack, was now the one trying to force Cochrane past the obstacle.

"There'll be a gibbous moon," Fraser said pessimistically, "and that will serve as well as broad sunlight to light their gunners' aim."

"Damn, damn, damn." Cochrane, usually so voluble, was suddenly enervated. He stared at the retreating guard boat and seemed bereft of ideas. Fraser and the other officers waited for his orders, but Cochrane had none to give. Sharpe felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the tall Scotsman. All plans were nothing but predictions, and like all predictions they were likely to be transformed by their first collision with reality, but the art of war was to prepare for such collisions and have a second or a third or a fourth option ready. Cochrane suddenly had no such options on hand. He had pinned his hopes on the Spanish supinely accepting his ruse, then feebly collapsing before his attack. Was this how Napoleon had been on the day of Waterloo? Sharpe wondered. He watched Cochrane and saw a man in emptiness, a clever man drained of invention who seemed helpless to stop the tide of disaster flooding across him.

"We've two hours of fair water, my Lord." Fraser, recognizing the moment of crisis, had adopted a respectful formality.

Cochrane did not respond. He was staring toward the harbor entrance. Was he thinking of making a dash for it? But how could two slow ships dash? Their speed, even with the tide's help, was scarcely above that of a man walking.

"We'll not get through, my Lord." Fraser, reading His Lordship's mind, growled the warning.

"No," Cochrane said, but said nothing more.

Fraser shot a beseeching look at Sharpe. Sharpe, more than any other man in the expedition, had counseled against this attack, and now, Fraser's look seemed to be saying, was the time for Sharpe to urge withdrawal. There was just one chance of avoiding disaster, and that was for the two ships to turn and slip away southward.

Sharpe said nothing.

Fraser, desperate to end the indecision, challenged Sharpe directly. "So what would you do, Sharpe?"

Cochrane frowned at Sharpe, but did not countermand Fraser's invitation.

"Well?" Fraser insisted. The ship was still creeping toward the harbor mouth. In another half mile she would open the entrance and be under the guns of Fort San Carlos.

Cochrane was a devil, Sharpe thought, and suddenly he felt a smaller imp rise in himself. Goddamn it, but a man did not come this far just to be challenged by a toy boat and then turn back! "If we anchor off the beach," Sharpe said, "they'll think we're obeying their orders. We wait till it's dark, then we send a boat or two ashore. We can say we're looking for fresh water if anyone questions us. Then we'll attack the nearest fort. We may only capture a few kegs of powder, but at least we'll have let the bastards know that we're still dangerous."

"Magnificent!" shouted Cochrane, released from his torpor. He slapped Sharpe's back. "Goddamn it, man, but magnificent! I like it! Mister Almante! A signal to the O'Higgins, if you please, ordering them to ready anchors!" Cochrane was suddenly seething with energy and enthusiasm. "But bugger snatching a few kegs of powder! Let's go for the whole pot! We'll capture the western forts, then use their guns to bombard Niebla while our ships work their way inside. That'll be at dawn, Mister Fraser, so perhaps you will work out the time of the morning's flood tide for me? I don't know why I didn't think to do it this way from the very start! Mister Cabral? Order a meal served below decks. Tell the men they've got two hours rest before we begin landing troops."

"Now you've done it," Fraser grumbled to Sharpe.

"You spoke, Mister Fraser?" Cochrane demanded.

"Nothing, my Lord."

"As soon as we're at anchor," Cochrane went on, "you'll lower boats, but do it on the side facing away from the land! We don't want the enemy to see we're launching boats, do we?"

"A hole in each end, my Lord?" Fraser asked.

"Then suck the damned egg dry!" Cochrane, knowing he had given Fraser an unnecessary order, gave a brief guffaw of laughter.

Behind the Kitty the sky was a glorious blaze of gold touched scarlet, in which a few ragged clouds floated silver gray. The sea had turned molten, slashed with shivering bands of black. The great Spanish ensign, given an even richer color by the sun's flaming gold, slapped and floated in the fitful wind.

The two ships crept toward the shore. Sharpe could hear the breakers now and see where they foamed white as they hissed and roared toward the sand. Then, just when it seemed that the Kitty must inevitably be caught up in that rush of foam and be swept inexorably to her doom, Fraser ordered both anchors let go. A seaman swung a sledgehammer, knocking a peg loose from the cathead, and the starboard anchor crashed down through the golden sea. The port anchor followed a second after, the twin chains rattling loud in the dusk. Then, with a jerk, the Kitty rounded up and lay with her bows pointing toward the setting sun and her stern toward the mainland. The headland, on which Fort Ingles stood, was now on her port side.

The O'Higgins anchored a hundred yards further out. Both ships jerked and snubbed angrily, but Fraser reported that the anchors were holding. "Not that it will help us," he added to Sharpe, "for the boats will never land on that beach." He jerked an unshaven chin toward the Aguada del Ingles where, in the last slanting light, the foam was shredding spray like smoke. Cochrane might believe a landing to be possible, but Sharpe suspected that Fraser was right and that any boat that tried to land through that boiling surf would be swamped.

Cochrane stared up to where his topmen were efficiently gathering in the Kitty's sails. "The wind's backing, Fraser?"

"Aye, my Lord, it is."

Cochrane fidgeted a second. "We might leave the spanker rigged for mending, Mr. Fraser. It will hide your boats as they're launched."

Fraser did not like the idea. "The wind could veer, my Lord."

"Let's do it! Hurry now!"

The orders were given. Fraser offered Sharpe an explanation. The wind, he said, had been southerly all day, but had now gone into the west. By leaving the aftermost sail half hoisted he turned the ship into a giant weather vane. The wind would then keep the ship parallel to the beach, leaving the starboard side safely hidden from the fort. Cochrane could then launch his boats in the last of the daylight, safe from enemy gaze.

"Why not rig the sail full?" Sharpe asked. The sail was only half raised.

"Because that would look unnatural when you're at anchor. But half rig is how you'd hoist her for mending, and a half-collapsed sail hides the far side of the quarterdeck a deal better than a fully hoisted sail. Not that I suppose anyone up there understands seamanship."

Fraser had jerked a derisive thumb toward Fort Ingles above the beach. From Sharpe's position on the quarterdeck the fort's ramparts formed the skyline, clearly showing six embrasures in its grim silhouette. The guns were less than a half mile from the Kitty. If the Spanish did suddenly discover that the two anchored ships were hostile, the guns would wreak havoc in the crowded lower decks. Sharpe shuddered and turned away. Harper, seeing the shudder, surreptitiously crossed himself.

The sun was now a bloated ball of fire on the horizon. Ashore the shadows were lengthening and coalescing into a gray darkness. On the Kitty's quarterdeck, behind the concealing folds of heavy canvas, the ship's four longboats and two jolly boats were being lowered overboard. The Captain's barge was the last boat to be launched. Each boat held a single seaman whose job was to keep his craft from being crushed as the frigate heaved up and down on the swells. "Another hour," Cochrane spoke to Sharpe and Harper, "and it'll be dark enough to land troops. Why don't you get something to eat?"

Harper brightened at the thought and went below to the gun-deck where the cooks were serving a stew of goat meat to the waiting men. Sharpe wanted to stay on deck. "Bring me something," he asked as Harper swung off the quarterdeck.

Sharpe, left alone, leaned on the rail and gazed at the fort. A sudden gust of wind came off the land, ruffling the sea and forcing Sharpe to snatch at his old-fashioned tricorne hat. The wind gust billowed the loosely rigged spanker, driving the canvas across the deck and occasioning a shout of alarm from Lieutenant Cabral who was almost thrown overboard by the gusting sail. "Stow that sail now!" Fraser ordered. The longboats were safely overboard and the spanker no longer hid any suspicious activity.

A dozen topmen scrambled up the ratlines and edged out on the mizzen yard to haul in the spanker. The wind was still pushing the sail, driving the stern of the Kitty away from the beach.

The wind gusted again, sighing in the rigging and making the boat lean seaward. Some of the men in the longboats feared being trapped under the hull and pushed off from the threatening Kitty with their long oars. The boats were all tethered to the frigate with lines, but now, as the heavy warship with its clanking pumps continued to blow toward them, the boat-minders pushed themselves as far from her tarred hull as their tethers would allow.

The Kitty kept turning so that her bows were pointing almost directly at Fort Ingles. Fraser knew that the fort's garrison must be able to see the longboats and even the dullest Spanish officer would realize what such a sight portended. Innocent ships waiting for medical attention did not launch a fleet of longboats.

"Close up, damn you, close up!" Fraser shouted at the boat-minders. The topmen had furled the sail and the Kitty was swinging back again.

Cochrane came running up from his cabin where he had been eating an early supper. "What the hell is happening?"

"Wind veered." Fraser decently did not add that he had warned of just such a danger. "It drove us around."

"Sweet Jesus!" Cochrane, a leg of chicken in his hand, stared at the fort. The longboats were hidden again. "Did they see?" He asked the question of no one, merely articulating a worry.

The fort's silhouette betrayed nothing. No one moved there, no one waved from the ramparts. The gaunt semaphore gallows stayed unmoving.

Cochrane bit into the chicken. "They're asleep."

"Thank God for that," Fraser said.

"Thank God indeed," Cochrane said fervently, for the only thing that had kept the Kitty safe from a murderous bombardment was the Spaniards' inattention. Cochrane bit the last meat off the chicken leg. "No harm done, eh? The silly buggers are all dozing!" He hurled the chicken bone toward the high fortress as a derisory gesture.

And the fortress replied.

For the sentries on the ramparts of Fort Ingles had seen the longboats after all. The garrison had not been dozing, and now the gunners opened fire. Sharpe saw the smoke, heard the scream of a cannonball, then felt the shuddering crashes as the first two shots slammed into the Kittys weakened hull.

The Spaniards had been ready, and Cochrane's men were trapped.

Screams sounded from the gundeck. The Spanish shots had hit with a wicked exactness, slicing through the Kittys disguised gunports and into the crowded deck where Cochrane's assault force had been snatching its hasty meal.

Two more guns fired. One cannonball smacked into the sea, then bounced up into the frigate. The other slammed into the hull, lodging in a main timber.

"The boats! Into the boats!" Cochrane was shouting. "Assault force! Into the boats!" The sun was a flattened bar of melting light on the horizon, the moon a pale semicircle in the cloud-ridden sky above. Powder smoke drifted from the fort with the land wind. A signal rocket suddenly flared up from the fort's ramparts, its feather of flame shivering up into the darkling sky before a white light burst to drown the first pale stars.

"Into the boats! We're going to attack! Into the boats!"

More shots, more screams. Sharpe leapt off the quarterdeck just as a cannonball screeched across the poopdeck, gouging a splintered trench in the scrubbed wood. He twisted aside from the roundshot's impact, scrambled for the officers' companionway where, disdaining to use the ladder with its rope handles, he slithered down to the gundeck. "Patrick! Patrick!"

It was dark below. The lanterns had been extinguished as soon as the first shots struck the Kitty and the only illumination was the day's dying light that seeped into the carnage through the ragged holes ripped by the incoming roundshot. Those roundshot had ripped across the deck, flinging men aside like bloody rags. The wounded screamed, while the living trampled over the bodies in their desperate attempts to reach the open air.

"Patrick!"

Another roundshot banged into the deck. It cannoned off a ship's timber to slash slantwise through the struggling men. Splinters felled three men close to where the shot struck, while the shot itself sliced down a half dozen more. A spray of blood drops fogged the light for a foul instance, then the screams sounded terribly. Another ball cracked into the tier below. The pumps had stopped, and Sharpe could hear the gurgle of water slopping into the bilges. "Patrick!"

"I'm here!" the voice shouted from the deck's far end.

"I'll see you ashore!" There was no chance of struggling through the demented pack of panicking men. Harperl and Sharpe must get themselves ashore as best they could and nope that in the sudden chaos they would meet on land.

Sharpe turned and hauled himself up to the poopdeck. Men were scrambling down the starboard side into the longboats. The O'Higgins was returning the fort's fire, but Sharpe could see the warship's roundshot were falling short. Gouts of black earth were erupting from the slope in front of Fort Ingles, and though some of the balls were ricocheting up toward the defenders, Sharpe doubted that the naval gunnery was doing the slightest good. The O'Higgins herself was wreathed in cannon smoke so that, in the day's death light, she looked like a set of black spidery masts protruding from a yellow-white, red-tinged bank of churning smoke. The fort had turned two guns on the O'Higgins. A great splash of water showed where a shot fell short inside the bank of smoke, then Sharpe was at the rail, a rope was in his hands and he shimmied desperately down to a longboat already crammed with sailors. The sailors had cutlasses, muskets, swords, pikes and clubs. "Bastards," one man said again and again, as if, somehow, the Spanish defenders had broken a rule of war by opening fire on the two anchored ships.

"Fast as you can! Fast as you can!" Cochrane was in another longboat and shouting at his oarsmen to make the journey to land as swiftly as possible. For the moment, shielded by the great bulk of the Kitty, the longboats were safe from the fort's gunfire, but the moment they appeared on the open sea the cannon would surely change their aim.

"Let go!" yelled Lieutenant Cabral, who had taken charge of Sharpe's boat. "Row!" The oarsmen strained at the long oars. Sharpe could see Harper in another boat. A cannonball whipped overhead, making a sizzling noise as it slanted down to slam into a green wave.

"Row!" Cabral shouted, and the longboat shot out from behind the Kitty's, protection. The coxswain turned the rudder so the boat was aimed for the shore. "Row!" Cabral screamed again, and the men bent the long oar shafts in their desperate urgency to close on the beach. A roundshot slapped the sea ten yards to the left, bounced once, then hammered into the Kitty's stern where it sprang a six-foot splinter of bright wood. Sharpe glanced back at the frigate to see a bloody body, dripping intestines, heaved out of a half-opened gunport. Gulls screamed and slashed down to feed. Then Sharpe looked back to the beach because a new sound had caught his ear.

Muskets.

The Spaniards had sent a company of infantry down to the beach where the blue-coated soldiers were now drawn up at the high-tide line. Sharpe saw the ramrods flicker, then the muskets came up into the company's shoulders, and he instinctively ducked. The splintering sound of the volley came clear above the greater sounds of guns and booming surf. Sharpe saw a spatter of small splashes on the face of a wave and knew that the volley had gone wide.

"Row!" Cabral shouted, but the port-side oars had become entangled in a mat of floating weed and the boat broached.

Behind Sharpe the O'Higgins fired a broadside and one of the balls whipped through the Spanish company, slinging two men aside and fountaining blood and sand up from the beach behind the soldiers. Sharpe stood, his balance precarious as he aimed his pistol. He fired. Muskets flamed bright from the beach. He heard the whistle of a ball near his head as he sat down hard.

"Row, row, row!" Cabral, standing beside Sharpe in the stern sheets, shouted at his oarsmen. "Row!" The oars were free of the weed again. There were a dozen men rowing and a score of men crouching between the thwarts. The oarsmen, their backs to the land and the muskets and the surf and the cannon, had wide, frightened eyes. One man was gabbling a prayer as he tugged at his oar.

"Bayonets!" Sharpe shouted at the men crouched on the bottom boards. "Fix bayonets!" He said it again in Spanish and watched as a dozen men, those who had bayonets, twisted their blades onto their muskets. "When we land," he called to the crouching men, "we don't wait to give the bastards a volley, we just charge!"

Off to the left were a dozen other longboats. Some had come from the O'Higgins and were carrying marines. The attacking boats were scattered across the sea. Sharpe flinched as he saw a great gout of exploding water betray where a cannonball had slapped home beside one of the laboring longboats, and he was certain that the roundshot's strike had been close enough to swamp the fragile-looking boat, but when the spray fell away he saw the boat was still afloat and its oarsmen still rowing.

The Spanish infantrymen fired again, but just like the fort's gunners, their own powder smoke was now obscuring their aim. Nor were they being intelligently led, for their officer was just telling the men to fire at the boats. If they had concentrated their fire on one boat at a time they could have reduced each longboat into a screaming horror of blood and splinters, but instead their musketry was flying wild and wide. Yet the Spaniards held the advantage, for the longboats still had to negotiate the murderous tumbling of the breaking surf. If a boat broached in the breaking waves and spilled its cargo, the waiting infantrymen would be presented with a bout of twilight bayonet practice.

The sun was gone, but there was still light in the sky. Sharpe crouched in the stern sheets and made sure his borrowed sword was loose in its scabbard. A broadside from the O'Higgins crashed overhead, twitching a skein of powder smoke as it slammed above the Spanish infantry to shatter the further slope into gouts of soil and grass. A gull screeched in protest. Another signal rocket whooshed into the sky to splinter into a fountain of light. It was too dark to use the semaphore arms, so Fort Ingles's defenders were rousing Valdivia Harbor's garrisons with the bright rockets.

"Row!" Cabral shouted, and the oarsmen grunted as they laid their full weight into the oars, but another great mat of floating weed impeded the boat, slewing it round. A man in the bows leaned overboard and hacked at the weed with a cutlass. "Back your oars!" Cabral screamed, "Back!" A bullet smacked into the gunwale, while another shattered an oar blade. Cochrane was shouting off to Sharpe's left, screaming at his men to be the first ashore. Cabral beat at the side of the boat in his frustration. One of the oarsmen shouted that it was too dangerous, that they would all drown in the surf, and Cabral drew his sword and threatened to skewer the man's guts if he did not row, and row hard! Then the longboat was free of the clinging weed and the oars could pull again. One or two of the rowers looked nervous, but any thoughts of mutiny were quelled by the sight of Cabral's drawn sword. "Row!" he shouted and the crest of a wave lifted the boat, driving it fast, and one of the rowers jerked forward and collapsed, blood slopping out of his mouth.

"Overboard!" Cabral shouted. "Heave him over! Juan, take his place! Row!" They rowed. Another wave took them, hissing them forward, driving them up to its white crest, then the wave was past and they slid down into a scummy, weedy trough, and the oarsmen pulled again, and the sky echoed with the thunder of guns and the crackle of musketry and the beach was close now, close enough for Sharpe to hear the sucking roar as the waves slid back toward the foam, then another breaker plucked them, bubbled them about with surf and hurled them fast toward the beach, and suddenly Sharpe could see the whole expanse of sand and the dark, smoke-fogged shapes of the waiting Spaniards at the top of the beach, then those dark shapes blossomed with pink flames as the muskets flared, but the strike of the musket balls was drowned in the sound and fury of the shattering surf's maelstrom that was now all around the shivering boat. Cabral was screaming orders, and somehow the coxswain was holding the bow straight on to the beach as the oarsmen gave a last desperate pull and then the bow dropped, bounced on the sand and drove on up. Cabral shouted at the men to jump out and kill the bastard sons of poxed whores, yet still the longboat was sliding up the beach, driven by the wave, while ten yards to the left another boat had turned sideways and rolled so that the welter of white water was littered with men, weapons and oars. Cabral's boat jarred to a halt. Sharpe leaped off the gunwale and found himself up to his knees in freezing water and churning sand.

He drew the borrowed sword. "Charge!" He knew he must not give these enemy infantrymen a chance. The Spaniards, if they did but know it, could have calmly shot each landing boat to hell, then advanced in good order with outstretched bayonets to finish off the poor wet devils at the sea's edge, but Sharpe guessed the infantrymen were scared witless. The devil Cochrane was coming from the sea to kill them, and now was the time to add blood to their fears. "Charge!" he shouted. His boots were full of water and heavy with sand. He floundered up the beach, screaming at the men to follow him.

The rest of Cochrane's assault force scrambled ashore. The boats landed within seconds of each other and the men shook themselves free of the sucking breakers to charge the enemy in the maddened rush of men who wanted to revenge themselves for the terrors of the recent moments. The last of the light gleamed dully on the steel of swords and cutlasses and bayonets and boarding pikes. One man carried a great axe that was designed to cut away the wreckage of fallen rigging, but which now, like some ancient Viking berserker, he whirled over his head as he ran toward the Spanish company.

The Spaniards, seeing Cochrane's devils erupt from the sea like avenging fiends, turned and fled. God, Sharpe thought, but this was how pirates had assaulted the Spanish dominions for centuries; desperate men, armed with steel and stripped of scruples, erupting from small ships to shatter the perilous crust of civilized discipline that Madrid had imposed on the new world's golden lands.

"Form here! Form here!" Cochrane, tall and huge in the dusk, stood at the edge of the sand dunes behind the beach. "Let them go! Let them go!" Sharpe would have kept pursuing the fleeing Spaniards, but Cochrane wanted to make order out of the chaos. "Form here! Major Miller! You'll make the left of the line if you please!" As if in answer, one of Miller's drummers gave a rattle, then a flute sounded feebly in the twilight.

Harper, safely ashore and carrying a cutlass, ran behind the attackers to join Sharpe. "This is a rare business, so it is!" But the big Irishman seemed pleased, as though all the uncertainties of the last few weeks had dropped away.

Cannons roared from the fortress above them. Sharpe saw the flames stab pale across the sandy slope, then writhe and shrivel away inside the smoke. The roundshot crashed past Cochrane's men to spew sand up from the beach. The abandoned longboats and their clumsy oars rolled and jerked at the surfs edge, while out to sea the skeleton crews left aboard the two warships had abandoned the boats' anchors and, with just their foresails set, were taking the two boats out of range of the fort's guns.

"Down!" Cochrane would shelter his men behind the dunes while he organized his assault. "Get down!" He paced along the front of his ragged attackers. "Did anyone bring ladders? Did anyone bring ladders?"

No one had brought ladders. Three hundred wet and frightened men clung to a beach beneath a fort and all they had to fight with were their hand weapons: muskets, pistols, swords, pikes and cutlasses.

"Did you bring a ladder?" Cochrane asked Sharpe.

"No."

Cochrane slashed his sword at the dune grass. "We're rather buggered. Damn!"

The gunfire from the fort changed sound. Instead of the short percussive crack that denoted roundshot, there was suddenly the more muffled sound betraying that the defenders were loaded with canister or grape. Now each of the fort's cannons was like a giant shotgun, spraying a lethal and expanding fan of musket balls toward the attackers. Cochrane, as the rain of shot whistled overhead, ducked down. "Shit!" He peered over the sand dune. Even through the smoke, and in the last of the daylight, it was plain that the earthen and wooden facade of Fort Ingles could not be assaulted without ladders, and even with ladders it would be suicidal for men to rise and walk into that gale of grapeshot. "Shit!" Cochrane said again, even more angrily.

"They'll only have guns on this face of the fort!" Sharpe shouted.

Cochrane nodded confirmation. "Facing the sea, yes!"

"We'll flank them! Give me some men!"

"Take the starboard Kittys," Cochrane ordered. The 'Kittys' were the men from the Kitty who were divided into two companies, port and starboard.

"Keep them busy here!" Sharpe told Cochrane. "Fire at them, make a noise, let them see you here. And when I shout for you, charge like hell!"

Sharpe called for the starboard Kittys, then ran right, along the beach, under cover of the dunes. Fifty men followed him. Harper was there, Lieutenant Cabral was there. The rest of Cochrane's attackers fired a volley up toward the fort as Sharpe, safely out of the cannons' line of fire, turned uphill. The moon was bright on the sand, bleaching it to look like heaped snow. The sea was crashing loud behind.

Jesus, we're mad," Harper said.

Sharpe saved his breath. The hillside was steep and the tough grass stems slippery. He was working his way to his right, trying to stay well out of sight of the fort's defenders. With any luck the Spaniards would be mesmerized by the shrieking crowd of men crammed with Cochrane on the beach. Why had the Spaniards not charged down with more infantry? That question made Sharpe wonder whether the signal rockets were intended to summon infantry from the other forts. Behind him the defenders' cannons crashed their loads of canister and the attackers' muskets crackled a feeble reply. More muskets fired from the fort and Sharpe tried to gauge how many infantrymen were defending its ramparts from the noise of those muskets. He reckoned two hundred men, say three thin companies? That was more than enough to finish Cochrane's two hundred fifty invaders, many of whom had damp powder and whose muskets were therefore useless for anything except clubbing men to death. One good bayonet charge by three companies of Spanish infantry would finish Cochrane. The whole affair could be over in fifteen minutes, and the Chilean rebels would be bereft of their Admiral, and probably of their navy. Valdivia would be safe, Cochrane could be carried back to Madrid for a humiliating trial and a public execution, the Royalist provinces in Chile could be reinforced, the Spanish Navy would blockade the northern ports to starve out O'Higgins, and in two years, maybe less, the whole of Chile, and probably Peru as well, would be Spanish again. For Captain-General Bautista it would be total triumph, a vindication of all his theories of defensive warfare, and for Bias Vivar, if indeed he still lived and was a prisoner in the Angel Tower, it would mean death, for no one in Madrid would dare punish Bautista for a mere murder if, in exchange, he won them back their God-given empire. And all it would take for all those things to happenfor Vivar to die, for Bautista to triumph, for Cochrane to be humiliated, for Spain to win this war and for the whole history of the world to be nudged into a new coursewas three companies of infantry. Just three! And surely, Sharpe thought, those three companies, and more, were being assembled for the charge at this very minute.

Jesus, look at that!" Harper, panting beside Sharpe, was staring at a wooden fence that had been built across the headland and which now lay between Sharpe's small force and Fort Ingles. The fence was as tall as a man and made of split palings that formed a solid barrier, but what purpose such a fence served Sharpe could not understand. It hardly seemed defensive, for he could see no loopholes and no embrasures.

"Come on!" Sharpe said. There was nothing to be gained by gaping at the fence. It had to be approached, and a reconnaissance made of the ground beyond.

The strange fence lay on the far side of a crude ditch. It seemed to have been built to stop a flanking attack like the one Sharpe was making, but as no defenders manned the fence it had been a waste of effort constructing it. Sharpe's men rested at the bottom of the ditch while he peered through a chink between two palings. The fort lay two hundred yards away across open ground. There were no cannon embrasures on this western wall of the fort, though there was a deep ditch and the wall itself was steep enough to require ladders. A sentry was visible in the moonlight, standing on the wall's flat top.

Sharpe slid down to the ditch's bottom and stared up at the fence. It seemed to have been prefabricated in sections twenty feet long which had been fastened to thick posts sunk into the turf. Each section of fence would make, if not a ladder, at least a ramp. "Patrick? When I give the word I want you to knock out two sections of fence. They'll be our assault ladders." Sharpe was speaking in Spanish, loud enough for all the fifty men to hear him. "There's just one sentry on this side, everyone else is looking at the beach. The Spanish are scared. They're terrified of Cochrane and terrified of you because you're Cochrane's men. They think you're demons from hell! If we attack them hard and fast, they're going to crumple! They're going to run! We can take this fort! Your war cry is Cochrane! Cochrane! Now get your breath, make sure your guns are loaded, and be ready."

The men whose powder had been soaked when their boats overturned at the sea's edge were denoted to carry the fence sections. Those men would lead the charge. The rest would follow behind and, once the twin makeshift bridges were in place, stream across to bring terror to a fort. It would be a desperate throw, but better than being trapped on the beach by three companies of infantry. And, despite Cochrane's avowed intention to carry every fort tonight, Sharpe knew that just this single strong point would save the expedition. If Cochrane possessed just one fort then he would have guns and walls with which to defeat a Spanish counterattack, and so make a stand till the men left on the ships could arrange a rescue. Lord Cochrane might yet live, if this one fort would fall.

The fence sections had been nailed to their posts, and each nail needed nothing more than a strong wrench with a bayonet to be wrested free. Sharpe experimented on a couple of naiW, then, satisfied, he slid down into the ditch's bottom where he reloaded the pistol he had fired from the boat. He checked that his other pistol was primed, then nodded at the men standing by the posts. "Go!" he said.

The men ripped the fence nails free. There was a splintering sound, the wavering of two great sections of wood, then the fence was falling. "Take hold of it!" Harper shouted. "Together now! Lift it, turn! Now go!"

"Charge!" Sharpe shouted, and he stumbled up the ditch side into the moonlight. Behind him the sea was a flicker of silver and black, while ahead of him the fortress walls were shadowed dark. The two pistols were in his belt, the sword in his hand. "Cochrane!" he shouted, "Cochrane!"

The men carrying the fence sections were lumbering across the tangle of ferns and grasses. The charge was slow, much slower than Sharpe had anticipated, made so by the weight of the cumbersome timber ramps. The carrying parties were advancing at scarcely more than a walking pace, but without the ramps the attack must fail, and so Sharpe knew he must hold his patience.

The single sentry on the fort's western wall gaped for a second, unslung his musket, decided that there were too many attackers for his single cartridge to destroy, and so turned to shout for help. His cry was drowned as the cannons cracked the night apart, slitting the moonlit darkness with their sharp stabs of flame. The wind carried the smoke toward Cochrane, away from Sharpe. The sentry shouted again, and this time he was heard.

"Cochrane!" Sharpe shouted, "Cochrane!" And suddenly men began to appear at the wall ahead. "Spread out!" Sharpe called. The first stabs of flame showed dark red on the ramparts. A ball fluttered near Sharpe, another flicked through the grass, a third cracked off one of the fence sections. The men carrying the makeshift ramps were running faster now, but the other men, unencumbered with the heavy burdens, were outstripping them, sprinting across the headland as though there would be security in the deep black shadows of the fort's ditch. i Sharpe ran with them. There were just fifty yards to go. The muskets crashed from the wall ahead. A man fell cursing to Sharpes left, his hands clutching at his thigh. Sharpe could smell blood in the nightblood and powder smoke, the old and too familiar smells. Thirty yards, twenty, and another volley whipped overhead. The Spanish were firing highthe error of all inexperienced troops. The first of Sharpe's men were at the ditch. "Take aim!" Sharpe shouted at them, "Aim for their bellies!"

He put his sword into his left hand as he dragged one of his two pistols free. He cocked it, dropped to one knee beside the ditch, and took aim. The defenders were silhouetted against the moonlit sky while the attackers were dark shapes against the darker ground. Sharpe found a target, lowered the muzzle to the man's belly, fired. Sparks jetted bright and the recoil jarred up Sharpe's arm. The smoke blossomed, but when it was snatched away by the wind the man was gone, plucked off the fort's ramparts. Those ramparts were ten feet above Sharpe and twelve feet away. Then the first of the fence sections arrived and Harper was yelling at the men to plant its leading edge at the side of the ditch, then to lever the whole thing up and over, like a giant trapdoor that swung in the night to crash sickeningly against the sloping earth wall. The makeshift ramp lodged some three feet below the parapet, but that was close enough. "Come on!" Sharpe shouted. "Follow me!"

He ran across the makeshift bridge. The wooden palings bounced under Sharpe's boots. A musket flamed ahead, then with men on either side of him, he leaped for the rampart's top and the Spaniards were backing away, terrified of this sudden assault. Sharpe was screaming like a wild thing, his sword chopping down hard, and a defender was at his feet, squirming and screaming. Harper swung his cutlass like a bullock-killer, almost decapitating a man. The second bridge thumped into place and yet more men swarmed up its palings. Sharpe was leading the assault toward the cannon. An infantryman lunged with his bayonet, and Sharpe knocked it aside and rammed the hilt of his sword into the man's face. The rest of the defenders, terrified by this horror that had sprung from their flank, were running away, leaving the ramparts open for Sharpe and his assault party to reach the fort's northern bastions where the guns faced out to sea.

"Cochrane! Cochrane!" the attackers shouted, and to Sharpe their ragged chorus of voices sounded desperately thin, but it was enough to terrify the gunners who turned and bolted from their embrasures. The defending infantry, swept off the wall's top, were milling uncertainly in the courtyard beneath, and now the gunners added to the panic. Sharpe dragged his second pistol free, aimed it down into the melee, and pulled the trigger.

"Cochrane!" He turned and bellowed the name into the darkness, down toward the white-fretted beach where the abandoned longboats still rolled and crashed in the tumbling surf. "Cochrane!"

"Sharpe?" Cochrane's voice sounded from the dark dunes.

"It's ours! Come on!" Christ, Sharpe thought, but they had done it! They had done it! His men were flooding into the first embrasure, hitting the captured gun with their cutlasses so that its barrel rang like a bell. "Come on, Cochrane! We've won!"

"Reload!" Harper was bellowing. "Reload!" He jumped down into the gunpit beside Sharpe. "Those bastards will counterattack." He nodded toward the fort's courtyard.

"Let's go for them!" Sharpe said.

Behind him the slope was suddenly swarming with Cochrane's men. Sharpe did not wait for them to reach the fort, but instead shouted at his men to attack the panicked Spaniards in the fort's courtyard. An officer was trying to rally the fugitives, and if he succeeded, and if the gunners recaptured their weapons, then Cochrane's men would be cut down in swaths. Sharpe had less than fifty men, and there were at least two hundred in the courtyard, but they were demoralized and they must not be allowed to recover their wits. "Come on!" Sharpe screamed. "Finish them off!" He charged.

Harper and a flood of maddened men came with him. Cutlasses chopped down, swords stabbed, pikes ripped at frightened men, but suddenly the enemy was melting away, running, because the panicked Spaniards had thrown open the fort's gate and were fleeing across the moonlit heath of the headland. They had left the Spanish flag flying on its staff beside the semaphore gallows, had abandoned their guns and were now running toward another fort that was visible from the ramparts of the captured Fort Ingles.

"After them!" Sharpe screamed, "After them!"

This was an added madness. One fort had fallen, and one captured fort was enough to guarantee Cochrane's survival. A hundred determined men could hold this fort by manhandling the guns to the land-facing ramparts and blasting away the Spanish counterattacks while Cochrane ferried his men off the beach to the waiting frigates, but suddenly Sharpe saw a chance to take a second fortress and so he took it.

He took the mad chance because he remembered a horror from long ago, a horror he had witnessed in Spain when, riding with German horsemen, he had seen a French square broken.

The survivors of that broken square had fled toward a second square which, opening its ranks to let in their fellow Frenchmen, had also opened themselves to the crazed horses and blood-spattered swords of the King's German Legion. The big horsemen had been riding among the fugitives and had broken that second square. The survivors of the second square, together with the few men who still lived from the first, had run for a third square which, rather than let itself be turned into a slaughterhouse, had opened fire on their own men. They had still gone down, ridden into hell by big horses and screaming cavalrymen.

Now Sharpe reckoned he could work a similar effect. The demoralized fugitives from Fort Ingles were running toward Fort San Carlos which, not more than four hundred yards away, was opening its gates to receive them. In the moonlight, and in the confusion, he reckoned his men would be indistinguishable from the fugitives. "On!" he shouted at his fifty men, "On!"

They ran with him. A broad beaten track led from Fort Ingles to Fort San Carlos which, unlike the north-facing Fort Ingles, looked east across the neck of the harbor. Sharpe pushed a running Spaniard in the back, driving the man down into a ditch beside the road. He was among the Spaniards now, but they took no notice of him, nor of any of the other panting seamen who had infiltrated their ranks. The Spanish infantrymen cared only about reaching the safety of Fort San Carlos. The defenders of that second fort were standing on their ramparts, staring into the moonlight and trying to make sense of the confusion that had erupted on the headland's tip.

Some of the fleeing Spaniards at last understood their danger. An officer shouted and lashed his sword at a seaman who calmly rammed his pike into the man's ribs. Some of the running infantrymen broke off the road, running south toward the headland's farther fortresses. Cochrane had reached the first fort and, understanding what was happening, had already launched his men along the path behind Sharpe. The defenders of Fort San Carlos, seeing that second wave of attackers, assumed them to be their only threat. Muskets stabbed flame into the gathering darkness and the balls whipped over the heads of Sharpe's men.

Sharpe reached the bridge over the ditch of Fort San Carlos. The gateway was crammed with desperate men. Some, trying to escape their pursuers, clambered up the sides of the ramparts and Sharpe joined them, pulling himself up the steep earth slope. The defenses facing inland were negligible, designed to deter rather than hold off any real assault, perhaps because the fort's builders had never really expected an enemy to attack from the land. These forts were designed to pour a destructive cannonade down onto attacking ships, not to repel a madcap assault from the land. Corral Castle, the southernmost fort on the headland, had been built to resist such an assault, and Chorocomayo Castle, high on the headland's spine, was equipped with field artillery designed to keep a land attack from reaching the headland's neck, but no one had expected a landing on the Aguada del Ingles and then a crazy shrieking assault in the blood-sodden darkness.

Sharpens boots flailed for a grip on the earth slope, and a Spanish defender, assuming him to be a refugee from Fort Ingles, reached down to help. Sharpe let the man pull him to the summit, thanked him, then tipped him down into the ditch. He swung his sword back, slicing at another man who wriggled desperately away. Two sailors from the Kitty ran past Sharpe, driving forward with fixed bayonets. The Spanish defenders did not wait for the challenge, but just fled. "Cochrane!" Sharpe shouted, "Cochrane!" He drove his attackers toward the men firing at Fort Ingles who, nervous of being trapped, were already abandoning the ramparts and edging backward. Harper was in the gateway, slashing and screaming at the men who blocked the entrance.

Then, with a suddenness that bespoke their desperate and fragile morale, the defenders of Fort San Carlos shattered just as the garrison of Fort Ingles had broken. The gunners, who were in their embrasures overlooking the moon-washed waters of the harbor, turned to see a churning mass of fighting men silhouetted on their western ramparts. They saw more men scramble onto the walls and they feared that the flood of men would wash down to swamp the courtyard and bring bayonets to the gunpits, and so the gunners fled. They leaped from their embrasures, scrambled up the ditch's far side and ran south toward the third fort, Amargos, that lay a half mile away and, like San Carlos, faced east onto the harbor.

The Spanish infantry, seeing the gunners go and realizing that there was nothing left to defend, broke as well. Sharpe, still on the western ramparts, cupped his hands and screamed toward Cochrane's men. "They're running! Go south! South!" he shouted in English. "Do you hear me, Cochrane?"

"I hear you!" the voice came back.

"They're running for the next fort!"

"Tally-ho! Tally-ho!" And Cochrane, throwing all caution to the wind, turned his men off the track to charge south toward Fort Amargos. The headland echoed with the yelps and cheers of the hunting rebels. Miller's drummers were trying to beat a quick tattoo, but the pace of the advance was too swift for such formal encouragement. The defenders of Fort San Carlos, denied the use of their gate, spilled over their earthen walls to flee toward safety. Now two sets of men were running for Fort Amargos whose defenders, thinking they were all loyal Spanish forces, opened its wooden gates to receive them.

Sharpe, his men disorganized and exhausted by their attacks on the first two forts, did not join the assault on Fort Amargos. Instead he jumped down to the courtyard and crossed to the flagpole that was nothing but a thin tree trunk skinned of its bark. He sawed with his sword till the flag fluttered free. Lieutenant Cabral, foraging through the fort's buildings, found a thin horse shivering in a stable. He offered to ride after Cochrane and bring back news of the night, an offer Sharpe gratefully accepted. Then, when picquets had been set on the captured ramparts and search parties sent to find the wounded, Sharpe sheathed his sword and walked to the gun embrasures.

Harper joined him. Most of the Kitty's sailors were ransacking the fort, hurling bedding out of the log huts and hunting for coins in abandoned valises and rucksacks. A Midshipman, deputed by Sharpe to bring a butcher's bill, reported that he had found just three dead Spaniards and one dead rebel.

"God save Ireland," Harper said in amazement, "but that wasn't a battle, it was more like herding cattle!"

"They think we're devils," the Midshipman said. "I spoke to a wounded man and he said their bullets can't kill us. We're charmed, you see. We're protected by magic."

"No wonder the poor sods ran," Harper made the sign of the cross, then gave a huge yawn.

Sharpe sent the Midshipman to find Cochrane's surgeon, MacAuley. There were six men badly wounded, all Spaniards. Some of the Kitty's men had sword cuts, and one had a bullet in his thigh, but otherwise the injuries were paltry. Sharpe had never known a victory to come so cheap. "Cochrane was right," he said to Harper. Or perhaps it had been the Spaniards who had defeated themselves, for men who believe in demons can be defeated easily.

Sharpe leaned on a gun embrasure and stared at the moon-glossed water of Valdivia Harbor. A score of ships, their cabin lights like cottage windows bright in the night, lay in the great bay, while across the water, perhaps a thousand yards away, a blaze of torches shone in Fort Niebla. Beside the fort was the entrance to the River Valdivia, leading to the town where supposedly Bias Vivar was a prisoner.

"We could give those bastards a shot or two?" Harper nodded toward the lights of Fort Niebla.

"They're out of musket range," Sharpe said idly.

"Not with muskets. With these buggers!" Harper slapped the nearest cannon. It was a massive thirty-six pounder, a ship-killing lump of artillery that had a depressed barrel in expectation of enemy ships coming through the harbor's entrance channel. The gun's roundshot would be held in place by a rope ring rammed against the ball to stop it rolling down the inclined barrel. A quill filled with a finely mealed powder stuck from the cannon's touch-hole, and a portfire smoked and fizzed inside a protective barrel at the back of the gunpit. All the gun needed was to be re-aimed, then fired.

"Why not?" Sharpe said, then turned the cannon's elevating screw until it pointed to a spot just above the far Fort Niebla. Harper had already levered the trail around. Sharpe plucked the portfire from its barrel and blew on its burning tip till the fuse glowed a brilliant red. "Would you like to do the honors?"

"You do this one," Harper said, "and I'll do the next."

Sharpe stood to one side, reached over, and touched the glowing match to the quill in the touchhole. The fire flashed down to the charge, the gun crashed back on its carriage and a cloud of smoke billowed to hide the harbor. Men cheered as the ball screamed away across the water. Burning scraps of wad floated down the hillside and started small fires in the grass.

Harper fired the next gun, and so they went down the embrasures, sending the heavy shots toward the distant fort. Sharpe doubted that the cannonfire would do any damage, for he had no training in aiming such big guns, yet the shots were an expression of relief, even of joy. The defenders at Fort Niebla, doubtless confused by the noises and alarms of the night, did not fire back.

As the sound of the last shot echoed around the confining hills of the harbor, Sharpe looked south and saw that Cochrane's men were swarming across the ramparts of Fort Amargos. The fort's Spanish defenders were a fleeing rabble, the gate gaped open, and its flag was captured. Others of Cochrane's men, diverted from the newly captured Fort Amargos, were scrambling up the headland's central ridge to attack the gun emplacements of Fort Chorocomayo. Musket fire splintered the night as the attackers climbed. Cheers sounded from the ridge, a bugle called, and out in the harbor the nervous crews of neutral ships displayed bright lanterns in their rigging, advertizing to any attackers that they had no part in this night's fighting.

The fighting was ending. High on the ridge, under the bright sparks of the stars, musket flashes and cannon flames showed where Fort Chorocomayo briefly resisted Cochrane's assault. Chorocomayo had been constructed to stop an attack from the south, not the north, and the firing flared for only a few minutes before there was a sudden silence and, through the moonlit mist of powder smoke, Sharpe saw the silhouetted flag drop. Chorocomayo, like Amargos and San Carlos and Fort Ingles, had fallen. Three hundred wet and frightened men, coming from the sea, had ripped Valdivia's outer defenses into tatters. "Bloody amazing, is what it is!" Harper said.

"It surely is," Sharpe agreed, though he knew the worst was yet to come, for the most formidable of the Spanish defense works, Corral Castle, Fort Niebla, Manzanera Island and Valdivia's Citadel, were still in enemy hands, and all those strongholds, save only the gun batteries on Manzanera Island, were stone-walled and properly supplied with glacis, ditches and revetments. Yet those more taxing defenses would have to wait for daylight. Lieutenant Cabral, coming back on his horse, confirmed that Cochrane had called a halt for the night. The attack would continue in the morning, and till then the rebel forces were to stay where they wereto eat, sleep and rejoice.

Sharpe washed his sword blade clean in a trough of water, then joined Harper by a brazier where they ate Spanish sausages and a great loaf of bread, all washed down by a skin of harsh red wine. Harper had also found a basket of apples, and their smell reminded Sharpe of Normandy, for an instant, the homesickness was acute as a bullet's strike. He shook it away. The smell of the battle, of powder smoke and blood, was already gone, blown southward by the salty sea wind.

Major Miller, excited and proud, brought a further message from Cochrane. In the morning, Cochrane said, they would bombard the stone forts while the Kitty and the O'Higgins came into the harbor. Once Fort Niebla had surrendered the rebels would make the fourteen-mile journey upriver to attack Valdivia itself. Cochrane clearly had no doubts that the forts would surrender. "They're rotten!" Miller spoke of the defenders. "They've no heart, Sharpe, no belly for a fight!"

"They're badly led." Sharpe felt sorry for the Spaniards. In the French wars he had seen Spaniards fight with fantastic bravery and enviable skill, yet here, with only a corrupted regime to defend, they had collapsed. "They think we're devils," Sharpe said, "and that we can't be touched by bullets or blades. It isn't fair to a man to have to fight demons."

Miller laughed and touched the spiky tips of his moustache. "I always wanted a forked tail. Sleep well, Sharpe. Tomorrow will bring victory!"

"So it will," Sharpe said, "so it will," and he hoped the morrow would bring so much more besides. For tomorrow he would reach Valdivia where his sword and his money and his friend all lay captive. But all that must wait for the morning and the new day's battle. Until then, Sharpe slept.

The morning brought clouds and a thin mist through which, in an uncanny silence, Cochrane's two ships slipped like ghost into Valdivia Harbor. The wounded Kitty was low in the water with a list to starboard and her pumps spitting water. She kept close to the western shore and to the protection of the captured guns of Fort San Carlos, while the O'Higgins, larger and more threatening, sailed boldly up the center of the channel. The O'Higgins's gunports were open, but Fort Niebla did not respond to the challenge. Cochrane had ordered the fifty-gun ship to hold her fire, daring to hope that the Spanish would thereby be lulled into quiescence, and now, astonishingly, the harbor's remaining defenders simply stared as the enemy ships passed through the lethal entrance. It was almost as though the Spanish, stunned by the night's events, had become mere spectators to their empire's fall.

It was falling with hardly a shot, collapsing like a rotten tree in a brisk wind. Corral Castle was the first stronghold to surrender. Cochrane ordered one shot fired from Fort Chorocomayo, and within seconds of the roundshot thumping harmlessly into the fort's earthen glacis, the gates were dragged open, the flag was hurried down, and an artillery Major rode out under a flag of truce. The castle's commander, the Major told Cochrane, was drunk, the men were mutinous and the castle belonged to the rebellion. The artillery Major surrendered his sword with indecent haste. Just send us home to Spain," he told Cochrane.

With the fall of Corral Castle every gun on the western side of the harbor was aimed at either Fort Niebla or at the batteries on Manzanera Island. The Kitty had been run aground to stop her from sinking, while the O'Higgins had anchored so that her formidable broadside was aimed at the guns on Manzanera.

Cochrane had summoned Sharpe to Fort Amargos, the stronghold that was closest to Fort Niebla, where His Lordship was dividing his attention between a tripod-mounted telescope aimed at the enemy fort and Fort Amargos's drunken commander's collection of pornographic etchings. "What I plan to do," he said, "is demand Niebla's surrender. Do you think it's possible for two women to do that? I wondered if you would be willing to go to Fort Niebla and talk to the commander? Oh, my word. That would give a man backache, would it not? Look at this, Miller! I'll bet your mother never did that with your father!"

Miller, who was shaving from a bowl set on a parapet, chuckled at the picture. "Very supple, my Lord. Good morning, Sharpe!"

"The commander's name is Herrera," Cochrane said to Sharpe. "I'm assuming he has command of Manzanera Island as well, but you'd better check when you see him. That's if you're willing to go."

"Of course I'll go," Sharpe said, "but why me?"

"Because Herrera's a proud man. Good God! I think I'll keep these for Kitty. Herrera hates me, and he'd find it demeaning to surrender to a Chilean, but he'll find nothing dishonorable in receiving an English soldier." Cochrane reluctantly abandoned the portfolio of pictures to pull an expensive watch from his waistcoat pocket. "Tell Herrera that his troops must leave their fortifications before nine o'clock this morning. Officers can wear side-arms, but all other weapons must be" His Lordship's voice tailed away to nothing. He was no longer looking at his watch, nor even at the salacious pictures, but was instead staring incredulously across the misted harbor. Then, recovering himself, he managed a feeble blasphemy. "Good God."

"Bloody hell," Sharpe said.

"I don't believe it!" Major Miller, his chin lathered, stared across the water.

"Good God," Cochrane said again, for the Spaniards, without waiting for an envoy, or for any kind of attack, were simply abandoning their remaining defenses. Three boats were rowing hard away from Manzanera Island, while the flag had rippled down over Fort Niebla and Sharpe could see its garrison marching to the quay where a whole fleet of longboats waited. The Spanish were withdrawing up the river, going the fourteen miles to the Citadel itself. "Christ on a donkey!" Cochrane blasphemed obscurely, "But it rather looks like complete victory, does it not?"

"Congratulations, my Lord," Sharpe said.

"I never thanked you for last night, did I? Allow me to, my dear Sharpe." Cochrane offered Sharpe a hand, but continued to gape in disbelief at the Spanish evacuation. "Good God almighty!"

"We still have to take Valdivia," Sharpe said cautiously.

"So we do! So we do!" Cochrane turned away. "Boats! I want boats! We're in a rowing race, my boys! We don't want those bastards adding their muskets to the town's defenses! Let's have some boats here! Mister Almante! Signal the O'Higgins.Tell them we need boats! Boats!"

In the first pearly light of dawn Sharpe had seen a Spanish longboat beached beneath the ramparts of Fort San Carlos. He presumed the boat had served to provision the fort from the main Spanish commissary in Fort Niebla, but now it would help Cochrane complete his victory. Sharpe, knowing it would take time to fetch boats from the O'Higgins, ran back to the smaller Fort San Carlos where, shouting at Harper and the seamen to bring their weapons, he scrambled down the steep cliff path which led to a small shingle beach. A dozen startled seals flopped into the water as his hurried progress triggered a score of small avalanches, then his boots grated on the shingle and he began heaving the boat toward the sea.

The first thirty men to reach the shingle gained places in the boat. Sixteen seamen took the oars, the rest crouched between the thwarts. They carried muskets and cutlasses. Sharpe told them their task was to overtake the fleeing Spaniards and stop them from reinforcing Valdivia, then he encouraged the oarsmen by saying that the fugitives were bound to be carrying Fort Niebla's valuables in their boats.

The boat, fueled by greed, fairly leaped ahead. Cochrane, still waiting at Fort Amargos for his own boats to come from the O'Higgins, bellowed at Sharpe to pick him up, but Sharpe just waved, then urged his oarsmen on.

They passed the O'Higgins. What was left of the warship's crew gave a cheer. The coxswain of Sharpe's boat, a gray-haired Spaniard, was muttering that the sequestered Spanish longboat was a pig, with a buckled keelson and sprung planks, and that Cochrane would soon catch them in his superior boats. "Row, you bastards!" the coxswain shouted at the oarsmen. It was a race now, a race to snatch the plunder from the demoralized enemy.

Far off to Sharpe's right a warship had raised the Royal Navy's white ensign. The name Charybdis was inscribed in gold at her stern. A nearby merchant ship flew the Stars and Stripes. The two crews watched the odd race and some waved what Sharpe took to be encouragement. "Nice to see the navy here," Harper shouted from the bows. "Maybe they can give us a ride home!"

The longboat reached the strait between Manzanera Island and Fort Niebla. The gun barrels that should have kept Valdivia safe now stared emptily from abandoned embrasures. The gates of Fort Niebla hung open, while the remains of a cooking fire dribbled a trickle of smoke from a hut on Manzanera Island. A small, rough-haired dog yelped at the passing boat from the beach beneath the earthworks that protected the island's guns, but there were no other signs of life. The Spanish had deserted a position as strong as any Sharpe had ever seen. A man could have died of old age before he would have needed to yield Niebla or Manzanera, yet the Spanish had vanished into the morning mist without firing a shot.

The oarsmen grunted as the boat slammed into the turgid current of the outflowing Valdivia River. Harper, in the boat's bows, was watching for the fugitives, but Sharpe, in the stern, was looking for Cochrane. Some of the men in Sharpe's boat were bailing with their caps. The old boat had gaping seams and was leaking at an alarming rate, but the men were coping and the oarsmen had found a good, steady rhythm. Sharpe could see Cochrane's boats striking out from the far shore, but they were still a long way behind.

"What do we do if we catch up with the bastards?" the coxswain asked Sharpe.

"Say boo to them. They'll surrender."

The coxswain laughed. They were rowing past the quays at the river's mouth. A group of bemused families had come from the fishermen's cottages to stare at the morning's events. Sharpe wondered what difference any of this would make to such pitiably poor people. Bautista's rule could not be easy, but would O'Higgins make life better? Sharpe doubted it. He had talked once with an old man in the village of Seleglise, a man ancient enough to remember the old French king and to remember all the other Paris governments that had come through bloody revolution or coup d'etat, and the old man had reckoned that not one of those governments had made the slightest difference to his life. His cows had still needed milking, his vegetables had needed weeding, his corn had needed cutting, his cherries needed picking, his taxes needed paying, the church had needed his money and no one, neither priest, politician, taxman nor prefect, had ever given him a penny or a thank-you for any of it. No doubt the Chilean peasantry would feel the same. All this morning's excitement meant was that a different set of politicians would become rich at the country's expense.

The boat was in the river valley now. The hills on either side were thick with trees. Two herons flapped lazily down one bank. The oarsmen had slowed, settling to the long haul. A fisherman, casting a hand net from a small leather boat, abandoned his tackle and paddled furiously for the safety of land as the strange boat full of armed men appeared. Harper had cocked a musket in case the Spaniards had set an ambush beyond the river's first bend.

The coxswain hugged the right bank, cutting the corner and risking the shallows to make the bend swiftly. The oars brushed reeds, then the river straightened and Sharpe, standing to get a clear view ahead, felt a pang, for there were no boats in sight. For a second he thought the Spaniards must have such superior boats that they had somehow converted a two-mile lead into four or five miles, but then he saw that the Spanish longboats had stopped altogether and were huddled on the southern river-bank. There must have been twenty boats there, all crammed with men and none of them moving. "There!" he pointed for Harper.

Then Sharpe saw horsemen on the river's bank. Cavalry? Had Bautista sent reinforcements upriver? For a second Sharpe was tempted to turn the boat and seize Fort Niebla before the Spaniards, realizing how hugely they outnumbered Cochrane's puny forces, made their counterattack, but Harper suddenly shouted that the dagoes on the riverbank were flying a white flag.

"Bloody hell," Sharpe said, for there was indeed a white flag of truce or surrender.

The oarsmen, sensing Sharpe's momentary indecision, and needing a rest, had stopped rowing and the boat was beginning to drift back downstream. "A trap?" the coxswain asked.

"God knows," Sharpe said. Cochrane was forever using flags as a trick to get himself close to the enemy, and were the Spaniards now learning to use the same ruse? "Put me ashore," he told the coxswain.

The oars dipped again, took the strain, and drove hard for the southern bank. The bow touched, and Sharpe clambered over the thwarts, then jumped up onto tussocky grass. Harper followed him. Sharpe loosened the sword in its scabbard, checked that his pistols were primed, and walked slowly toward the horsemen who were a half mile away.

There were not many horsemen, perhaps twenty, and none was in uniform, suggesting that this was not a cavalry unit. The men carried two flagsone the white flag of truce, and the other a complicated ensign bearing a coat of arms. "They look like civilians," Harper commented.

The horsemen were cantering toward Sharpe and Harper. One of the leading riders had a large black hat and a scarlet sash. He stood in his stirrups and waved, as if to signify that he meant no harm. Sharpe checked that the longboat with its cargo of armed sailors was close enough to offer him support, then waited.

"There's that bastard Blair!" Harper exclaimed.

"Where?"

"White horse, six or seven back."

"So it is," Sharpe said grimly. The merchant and British Consul was among the horsemen who, like himself, were mostly middle-aged and prosperous-looking men. Their leader, the man wearing the scarlet sash, slowed as he neared Sharpe.

"Are you Cochrane?" he called in Spanish.

"Admiral Cochrane is following. He'll be here soon," Sharpe replied.

"We've come to surrender the town to you." The man reined in his horse, took off his hat, and offered Sharpe a bow. "My name is Manuel Ferrara, I have the honor to be the alcalde of Valdivia, and these gentlemen are senior and respected citizens of our town. We want no trouble, senor. We are merely merchants who struggle to make a poor living. As you know, our sympathies have always been with the Republic, and we beg that you will treat us with the respect due to civilians who have taken no part in the fighting."

"Shut up," Sharpe said. He pushed past the offended and astonished Mayor to reach Blair. "You bastard."

"Mister Sharpe?" Blair touched a nervous hand to his hat.

"You're supposed to look after British interests, you bugger, not suck Bautista's tits because you're frightened of him!"

"Now, Mister Sharpe, be careful what you say!"

"You shit-faced son of a whore." Sharpe took hold of Blair's right boot and heaved up, chucking the Consul bodily out of his saddle. Blair gave a yelp of astonishment, then collapsed into the mud on the far side of the horse. Sharpe steadied the beast, then mounted it himself. "You!" he said to the Mayor, who was still protesting his undying loyalty to the ideals of liberty and republicanism.

"Me, senor?"

"I told you to shut up. I don't give a fart for your republics. I'm a monarchist. And get off your damned horse. My friend needs it."

"My horse? But this is a valuable beast, senor, and"

"Get off," Sharpe said, "or I'll blow you off it." He drew one of his two pistols and cocked it.

The Mayor hastily slid off his horse. Harper, grinning, heaved himself into the vacated saddle. "Where's Bautista?" Sharpe asked the Mayor.

"The Captain-General is in the Citadel. But his men don't want to fight."

"But Bautista wants to fight?"

"Yes, senor. But the men think you are devils. They say you can't be killed!" The Mayor crossed himself, then turned fearfully as a shout from the river announced the arrival of Lord Cochrane and his boats.

"All of you!" Sharpe shouted at the Mayor's nervous deputation. "Off your horses! All of you! Now!" He kicked his heels to urge Blair's white horse forward. "What's this flag?" He gestured at the ornate coat of arms.

"The flag of the town of Valdivia, senor," the Mayor answered.

"Hold on to it, Patrick!"

Cochrane jumped ashore, roaring with questions. What was happening? Who were these men? Why had Sharpe tried to race ahead?

"Bautista's holed up in the Citadel," Sharpe explained. "Everyone else in Valdivia wants to surrender, but Bautista doesn't. That means he's waiting for your boats and he'll fire on you. But if a small group of us go ahead on horseback we might just fool them into opening the gates."

Cochrane seized a horse and shouted for others of his men to find themselves mounts. The remainder of his piratical force was to row upriver as fast as it could. The Mayor tried to make another speech about liberty and the Republic, but Cochrane pushed him aside and dragged himself up into his saddle. He grinned at Sharpe. "Christ, but this is joy! What would we do for happiness if peace came?" He turned his horse clumsily, rammed his heels back, and whooped as the horse took off. "Let's go get the whores!"

His men cheered. Hooves thumped mud into the faces of the Mayor's delegation as Sharpe and Harper raced after Cochrane. The rebellion was down to a spearhead of just twenty men, but with a whole country as their prize.

They rode hard, following the river road east toward the town. On the horsemen's left the river flowed placidly toward the sea, while to their right was a succession of terraced vineyards, tobacco fields and orchards. There were no military posts, no soldiers and nothing untoward in the landscape. Bautista had put no pickets on the harbor road, and had set no ambushes in the trees. Cochrane and his men rode untroubled through two villages and past white-painted churches and plump farmhouses. Cochrane waved at villagers who, terrified of strangers, crouched inside their cottages till the armed horsemen had passed. Cochrane was in understandably high spirits. "It was impossible, you see! Impossible!"

"What was?" Sharpe asked.

"To capture the harbor with just three hundred men! That's why it worked. They couldn't believe there were so few of us. My God!" Cochrane pounded the pommel of his saddle in his exuberant enthusiasm, "I'm going to capture the Spanish treasury and those prickless legal bastards in Santiago will have to grovel at my feet to get the money!"

"You have to capture the Citadel first." Sharpe reminded him.

"Simplicity itself." In his present mood Cochrane would have attacked the Rock of Gibraltar with just a boat's crew. He whooped with delirious joy, making his horse prick its ears back. The horses were tired, breathing hard on the slopes and sweating beneath their saddlecloths, but Cochrane ruthlessly pressed them on. What did it matter if he lost horses, so long as he gained a country?

Then, two hours after they had encountered the Mayor's delegation on the riverbank, the road breasted a low ridge and there, hazed with the smoke of its fires and dominated by the great Citadel within the river's bend, lay Valdivia.

Sharpe was about to ask just how Cochrane wanted to approach the Citadel, but His Lordship, seeing the prize so close, had already scraped back his heels and was shouting at Harper to hold the flag high. "We'll go straight for them! Straight for them! The devil take us if we fail! Go! Go! Go!"

"God save Ireland!" Harper shouted the words like a war cry, then he too raked back his heels.

Jesus wept," Sharpe said, and followed. This was not war, it was madness, a race, an idiocy. An Admiral, a Dublin publican, an English farmer and sixteen rebels were attacking the biggest fort in Chile, and doing it as though it were a child's game. Harper, his horse pounding alongside Cochrane, held the flag high so that its fringed symbol streamed in the wind. Cochrane had drawn his sword and Sharpe now struggled to do the same, but pulling a long blade free when trying to stay aboard a galloping horse was not the easiest task. He managed it just as the horsemen funneled into the town itself, clattering onto a narrow street which led to the main square. A woman carrying a tray of bread tripped in her frantic effort to get out of their way. Fresh loaves spilled across the roadway. Sparks chipped off the cobbles from the horses' hooves. A priest shrank into a doorway, a child screamed, then the horsemen were in the main square and Cochrane was shouting at the fortress to open its gates.

"Open! Open!" he shouted in Spanish, and maybe it was the sight of the flag, or perhaps the urgency of the horsemen that suggested they were fugitives from the disasters that were known to have occurred in the harbor, but magically, just as every other Spanish fortress had opened its gates, so this one threw open its entrance.

The horses crashed across the bridge. Cochrane and Harper were in the lead. Cochrane had a drawn sword, and the sight of the bare blade made the officer in the gateway shout in alarm, but it was too late. Harper dropped the tip of the flag and, at full gallop and with all his huge weight behind the flag's staff, he drove the tip of the pole into the officer's chest. There was an explosion of blood, a crunch of bone, then the officer went down with a shattered chest and a blood-soaked flag impaled in his ribs, while Harper, letting the staff go, was through the archway and into the outer courtyard.

"Surrender! Surrender!" Cochrane was screaming the word in a demented voice, flailing at panicked soldiers with the flat of his drawn sword. "Drop your muskets! Surrender!"

A musket fired from an upper window and the bullet flattened itself on the cobbles, but no other resistance was offered. The gate to the inner courtyard, hard by the Angel Tower, was closed. All around Sharpe the Spanish soldiers were throwing down their muskets. Cochrane was already out of his saddle, hurling men aside to reach a door into the main buildings where, he supposed, the treasury of a defeated empire would be found. His sailors followed him, abandoning their horses in the yard and screaming their leader's name as a war shout. It was the sound of that name that did the most damage. The Spanish soldiers, hearing that the devil Cochrane was among them, dropped to their knees rather than fight.

Sharpe threw himself out of the saddle. He knew the geography of the fort better than Cochrane and, with Harper beside him, he ran into the corridor that led to the inner guardroom. Footsteps thumped on floorboards above as men tried to escape the invaders. A pistol fired somewhere. A woman screamed.

Sharpe pushed open the door that led to the inner courtyard. A nine-pounder cannon stood there, facing the gate, and with it was a crew of four men who clearly had orders to fire the gun as soon as the gate was opened. "Leave it alone!" Sharpe shouted. The gun's crew turned and Sharpe saw that Captain Marquinez was its commander. Marquinez, as exquisitely uniformed as ever, saw Sharpe and foolishly yelped that his men should slew the gun around to face Sharpe.

There was no time to complete such a clumsy maneuver. Sharpe charged the gun.

A second man turned. It was Dregara. The Sergeant was holding a linstock to fire the cannon, but now dropped the burning match and fumbled to unsling the carbine from his shoulder.

"Stop him!" Marquinez screamed, then fled to the door of the Angel Tower. Sergeant Dregara raised the carbine, but too late, for Sharpe was already on him. The cavalryman backed away, tripped on the gun's trail, and fell. Sharpe slashed down with the sword, driving the carbine aside. Dregara tried to seize the sword blade, but Sharpe whipped the steel hard away, ripping off two of the cavalryman's fingers. Dregara hissed with pain, then lashed up with his boot, trying to kick Sharpe's groin. Sharpe swatted the kick aside with his left hand, then drove the sword with his right. He plunged it into Dregara's belly, then sliced it upward, using all his strength, so that the blade tore through the muscles and cartilage to pierce the cavalryman's chest cavity. The ribs stopped the slashing cut so Sharpe rammed the blade down, twisted it, then pulled it free. Dregara gave a weird, almost feminine, scream. Blood welled to fill his belly's cavity, then spilled bright onto the cobbles of the yard where so many rebels had been executed. The other two men of the gun's makeshift crew had tried to flee, but Harper had caught them both. He felled one with a fist, the other with a cutlass stroke.

The dying Dregara twitched like a landed fish. Sharpe stepped across the cannon's trail, around the puddling blood, then ran at the door of the Angel Tower.

He hit the door with his shoulder, gasped in pain and bounced off. Marquinez, safe inside the tower, had locked its door.

Behind Sharpe, Dregara gave a last gasp and died. The inner courtyard gate scraped open and Cochrane stood there, triumphant. "It's ours! They've surrendered!"

"Bautista?"

"God knows where he is! Come and help yourselves to the plunder!"

"We've got business in here."

Harper had seized a spike and now, with Sharpe's help, he turned the heavy cannon. It was a British gun, decorated with the British royal cipher, evidently one of the many cannons given by Britain to help Spain defeat Napoleon. The trail scraped on the cobbles and the ungreased axle protested, but finally they succeeded in swiveling the gun around until its bronze barrel, which Sharpe suspected was charged with canister, faced directly at the door of the Angel Tower. The door was only ten paces away. According to Marcos, the soldier who had told Vivar's story at Puerto Crucero, this door was the only way into the mysterious Angel Tower which, like a castle turret, was a fortress within a fortress. This ancient stone tower had withstood rebellion, war, earthquake and fire. Now it would meet Sharpe.

He plucked the fallen linstock from beside the disemboweled body of Sergeant Dregara, told Harper to stand aside, then touched the linstock to the quill.

The gun's sound echoed in the courtyard like the clap of doom. The gun had been double-shotted. A canister had been rammed down on top of a roundshot, and both projectiles now cracked in smoke and flame from the gun's barrel. The gun recoiled across the yard, crushing Dregara's body before it smacked brutally hard against the guardroom wall.

The door to the Angel Tower, struck by the exploding load of canister, simply vanished. One moment there had been a heavy wooden door reinforced with iron, and the next there were empty hinges and charred splinters of wood. The cannonball whipped through the smoke and wreckage to ricochet around the downstairs chamber of the tower.

When the noise and smoke subsided Sharpe stepped cautiously through the wreckage. He had the bloody sword blade in his hand. He expected to encounter the fetid stench of ancient dungeons and recent death, but there was only the acrid smell of the cannon's smoke inside the tower. The lowest story of the tower was a single room that was disappointingly commonplace: no barred cells, no racks or whips or manacles, nothing but a round whitewashed room that held a table, two chairs and a stone staircase that circled around the wall to disappear through a hole in the ceiling. That ceiling was made of thick timber planks that had been laid across huge crossbeams.

Harper had scooped up Dregara's carbine. He cocked the gun and edged up the stairs, keeping his broad back against the tower's outer wall. No noise came from the upper floors of the tower.

Sharpe drew a pistol and followed. Halfway to the gaping hole in the ceiling he reached out, held Harper back, and stepped past him. "My bird," he said softly.

"Careful, now," Harper whispered unnecessarily.

Sharpe crept up the stair. He carried his sword in his left hand, the heavy pistol in his right. "Marquinez!" he called.

There was no answer. There was no sound at all from the upper floors.

"Marquinez!" Sharpe called again, but still no answer. Sharpe's boots grated on the stone stairs. Each step took an immense effort of will. The butt of the pistol was cold in his hand. He could hear himself breathing. Every second he expected to see the blaze of a gun from the trapdoorlike hole that gaped at the stair's head.

He took another step, then another. "Marquinez!"

A gun fired. The sound was thunderous, like a small cannon.

Sharpe swore and ducked. Harper held his breath. Then, slowly, both men realized that no bullet had come near either of them. It was the sound of the gun, loud and echoing, that had stunned them.

"Marquinez!" Sharpe called.

There was a click, like a gun being cocked.

"For God's sake," Sharpe said, "there are hundreds of us! You think you can fight us all?"

"Oh, by Jesus, look at that, will you?" Harper was staring at a patch of the timber ceiling not far from the stairway. Blood was oozing between the planks to form bright droplets which coalesced, quivered, then splashed down to the floor beneath.

Sharpe ran up the stairs, no longer caring what noise he made. He pounded through the open trapdoor to find himself in another, slightly smaller, but perfectly circular room that took up all the rest of the space inside the tower. There had once been another floor, but it had long fallen in and its wreckage removed, and all that was left was a truncated stair which stopped halfway around the wall.

But the rest of the room was an astonishment. It was a sybaritic cell, a celebration of comfort. It was no prison, unless a prison would be warmed with a big stone fireplace and lit by candles mounted in a lantern which hung from the apex of the stone roof. The walls, which should have been of cheerless stone, were draped with rugs and scraps of tapestry to make a soft, warm chamber. The wooden floor was scattered with more rugs, some of them fur pelts, while another pelt was draped on the bed, which stood in the very center of the circular room and on which lay the remains of Captain-General Miguel Bautista. Or rather what Sharpe supposed had been Captain-General Miguel Bautista, for all that was left of the Captain-General was a headless body dressed in the simple black and white uniform that Sharpe remembered well.

Bautista's head had disappeared. It had been blown away by Harper's seven-barreled gun with which Bautista had committed suicide. The gun lay on his trunk that had spilled so much blood onto the floorboards. Some blood had matted in the fur of the bed's coverlet, but most had puddled on the floor and run through the cracks between the ancient boards.

All around the room's outer edge were boxes. Plain wooden boxes. Between the boxes was a corridor which led to an open door. Sharpe had been told there was only the one entrance to the tower, but he had found a second. The stone around this second door had a raw, new appearance, as though it had only recently been laid. Sharpe, still holding his weapons, walked between the boxes and through the new doorway, and found himself in Captain Marquinez's quartersthe very same rooms in which the handsome Captain had received them on their first day in Valdivia.

Marquinez was sitting on his bed, holding a pistol to his head. He was shaking with fear.

"Put the gun down," Sharpe said quietly.

"He made me promise! He said he couldn't live without me!"

Sharpe opened his mouth, did not know what to say, so closed it again. Harper, who had stepped into the room behind Sharpe, said something under his breath.

"I loved him!" Marquinez wailed the declaration.

"Oh, Jesus," Sharpe said, then he crossed the room and lifted the pistol from Marquinez's nerveless fingers. "Where's Bias Vivar?"

"I don't know, senor, I don't know." Marquinez was in tears now. He had begun to shake, then slid down to his knees so that he was at Sharpe's feet where he wrapped his arms around Sharpe's legs like a slave beseeching for life. "I don't know!"

Sharpe reached down and disengaged the arms, then gestured toward the tower. "What's in the boxes, Marquinez?"

"Gold, plate, pearls, coin. We were going to take it back to Spain. We were going to live in Madrid and be great men." He was weeping again. "It was all going to be so wonderful!"

Sharpe gripped Marquinez's black hair and tipped the man's tearful face back. "Is Bias Vivar here?"

"No, senor, I swear it!"

"Did your lover ambush Vivar?"

"No, senor.

"So where is he?"

"We don't know! No one knows!"

Sharpe twisted his grip, tugging Marquinez's hair painfully. "But you were the one who took the dog to Puerto Crucero and buried it?"

"Yes, senor, yes!"

"Why?"

"Because he ordered me to. Because it was embarrassing that we could not find the Captain-General's body. Because Madrid was demanding to know what had happened to General Vivar! We didn't know, but we thought he must be dead, so I found a dead dog and put that in a box instead. At least the box would smell right!" Marquinez paused. "I don't know where he is! Please! We would have killed him, if we could, because General Vivar had found out about us, and he was threatening to tell the church of our sin, but then he vanished! Miguel said it had to be the rebels, but we never found out! It wasn't our doing! It wasn't!"

Sharpe released Marquinez's hair. "Bugger," he said. He released the flint on his pistol and pushed the weapon back into his belt. "Bugger!"

"But look, seriorr Marquinez had climbed to his feet and, eager as a puppy for approval, edged into the tower room which had been his secret trysting place. "Look, senor, gold! And we have your sword, see?" He ran to a box, opened it, and drew out Sharpe's sword. Harper was opening other boxes and whistling with astonishment, though he was not so astonished to forget to fill his pockets with coins. "Here, senor." Marquinez held out Sharpe's sword.

Sharpe took it, unbuckled the borrowed scabbard, and strapped his own sword in its place. He drew the familiar blade. It looked very dull in the dim lantern light.

"No, senor! Marquinez thought Sharpe was going to kill him.

"I'm not going to kill you, Marquinez. I might kill someone else, but not you. Tell me where Bautista's quarters are."

Sharpe left Harper in his Aladdin's cave, went through Marquinez's rooms, across a landing, down a long corridor, and into a stark, severe chamber. The walls were white, the furniture functional, the bed nothing but a campaign cot covered with thin blankets. This was how Bautista wanted the world to see him, while the tower had been his secret and his fantasy. Now Lord Cochrane sat at Bautista's plain table with two pieces of paper in front of him. Three of Cochrane's sailors were searching the room's cupboards, but were evidently finding nothing of great value. Cochrane grinned as Sharpe came through the door. "You found me! Well done. Any news of Bautista?"

"He's dead. Blew his own head off."

"Cowardly way out. Found any treasure?"

"A whole room full of it. Top of the tower."

"Splendid! Go fetch, lads!" Cochrane snapped his fingers and his three men ran out into the corridor.

Sharpe walked to the table and leaned over Cochrane's two pieces of paper. One he had never seen before, but he recognized the other as the coded message that had been concealed in Bonaparte's portrait. Bautista must have kept the coded message, and Cochrane had found it. Sharpe suspected that the message was the most important thing in all the Citadel for Cochrane. The Scotsman talked of whores and gold, but really he had come for this scrap of paper that he was now translating by using the code that was written on the other sheet of paper. "Is there a Colonel Charles?" Sharpe asked.

"Oh, yes, but it wouldn't have done for anyone to think that Boney was writing to me, would it? So Charles was our go-between." Cochrane smiled happily, then copied another letter from the code's key.

"Where's Vivar?" Sharpe asked.

"He's safe. He's not a happy man, but he's safe."

"You made a bloody fool of me, didn't you?"

Cochrane heard the dangerous bite in Sharpe's voice, and leaned back. "No, I didn't. I don't think anyone could make a fool of you, Sharpe. I deceived you, yes, but I had to. I've deceived most people here. That doesn't make them fools."

"And Marcos? The soldier who told the story of Vivar being a prisoner in the Angel Tower? You put him up to it?"

Cochrane grinned. "Yes. Sorry. But it worked! I rather wanted your help during the assault."

Sharpe turned the coded message around so that it faced him. "So this was meant for you, then?"

"Yes."

Cochrane had only unlocked the first sentence of the Emperor's message. The words were in French, but Sharpe translated them into English as he read them aloud. "'I agree to your proposal, and urge haste. What proposal?"

Cochrane stood. An excited Major Miller had come to the door, but Cochrane waved him away. His Lordship lit a cigar, then walked to a window that looked down into the main courtyard where two hundred Spaniards had surrendered to a handful of rebels. "It was all the Emperor's fault," Cochrane said. "He thought Captain-General Vivar was the same Count of Mouromorto who had fought for him at the war's beginning. We didn't know Mouromorto had a brother."

"'We'?" Sharpe asked.

Cochrane made a dismissive gesture with the cigar. "A handful of us, Sharpe. Men who believe the world should not be handed over to dull lawyers and avaricious politicians and fat merchants. Men who believe that glory should be undimmed and brilliant!" He smiled. "Men like you!"

Just go on," Sharpe shrugged the compliment away, if indeed it was a compliment.

Cochrane smiled. "The Emperor doesn't like being cooped up on Saint Helena. Why should he? He's looking for allies, Sharpe, so he ordered me to arrange a meeting with the Count of Mouromorto, which I did, but the weather was shit-terrible, and Mouromorto couldn't get to Talcahuana. So we made a second rendezvous and, of course, he arrived and he heard me out, and then he told me I was thinking of his brother, not him, and, one way or another, it turned out that I was fumbling up the wrong set of skirts. So, of course, I had to take him prisoner. Which was a pity, because we'd met under a flag of truce." Cochrane laughed ruefully. "It would have been easier to kill Vivar, but not under a flag of truce, so I took him to sea, and we stranded him with a score of guards, six pigs and a tribe of goats on one of the Juan Fernandez islands." Cochrane drew on the cigar and watched its smoke drift out the window. "The islands are three hundred fifty miles off the coast, in the middle of nothing! They're where Robinson Crusoe was marooned, or rather where Alexander Selkirk, who was the original of Crusoe, spent four not uncomfortable years. I last saw Vivar eight weeks ago, and he was well and as comfortable as a man could be. He tried to escape a couple of times in this last year, but it's very hard to get off an island if you're not a seaman."

Sharpe tried to make sense of all the information. "What did Napoleon want of Don Bias, for God's sake?"

"Valdivia, of course. But not just Valdivia. Once it was secure we'd have marched north and taken over Chile, but the Emperor insisted that we provide him with a secure fortress before he'd join us, and this place is as fine a stronghold as any in the Americas. The Emperor thought Vivar was his man and would have just handed the fortress over!"

"To Napoleon?"

"Yes," Cochrane said, as though that was the most normal thing in all the world. "And why not? You think I fought these last months to watch more Goddamned lawyers form a government? For Christ's sake, Sharpe, the world needs Napoleon! It needs a man with his vision!" Cochrane was suddenly enthusiastic, full of the contagious vigor that made him such a formidable leader of men. "South America is rotten, Sharpe. You've seen that for yourself! It's an old empire, full of decay. But there's gold here, and silver, and iron, and copper, and fields as rich as any in Scotland's lowlands, and orchards and vines, and cattle! There are riches here! If we can make a new country here, a United States of South America, we can make a power like the world has never seen! We just need a place to start! And a genius to make it work. I'm not that genius. I'm a good Admiral, but I don't have the patience for government, but there is a man who does, and that man's willing!" Cochrane strode back to the table and snatched up the coded letter. "And Bonaparte can make this whole continent into a magical country, a place of gold and liberty and opportunity! All that the Emperor demanded of us was that we provide him with a secure base, and the beginnings of an army." Cochrane swept an arm around in a lavish gesture that encompassed all of Valdivia's Citadel, its town and its far harbor. "And this is it. This is the kernel of Napoleon's new empire, and it will be a greater and a better empire than any he has ever had before."

"You're mad!" Sharpe said without rancor.

"But it's a glorious madness!" Cochrane laughed. "You want to be dull? You want to live under the rule of pen-pushers? You want the world to lose its fire? You want old, jealous men to be cutting off your spurs with a butcher's axe at midnight just because you dare to live? Napoleon's only fifty! He's got twenty years to make this new world great. We'll bring his Guardsmen from Louisiana and ship volunteers from France! We'll bring together the best fighters of the European wars, from both sides, and we'll give them a cause worth the sharpening of any man's sword." Cochrane stabbed a finger toward Sharpe. 'Join us, Sharpe! My God, you're the kind of man we need! We're going to fight our way north. Chile first, then Peru, then up to the Portuguese territories, and right up to Mexico, and God knows why we need to stop there! You'll be a General! No, a Marshal! Marshal Richard Sharpe, Duke of Valdivia, whatever you want! Name your reward, take whatever title you want, but join us! If you want your family here, tell me! I'll send a ship for them. My God, Sharpe, it could be such joy! You and I, one on land, one on sea, making a new country, a new world!"

Sharpe let the madness flow around him. "What about O'Higgins?"

"Bernardo will have to make up his mind," Cochrane was pacing the room restlessly. "If he doesn't want to join us, then he'll go down with his precious lawyers. But you, Sharpe? You'll join us?"

"I'm going home," Sharpe said.

"Home?"

"Normandy. To my woman and children. I've fought long enough, Cochrane. I don't want more."

Cochrane stared at Sharpe, as though testing the words he had just heard, then he abruptly nodded his acceptance of Sharpe's decision. "I'm sending the O'Higgins for Bonaparte. If you won't join me, then I'll have to keep you from betraying me, at least till he gets here or until I can find you another ship to take you home. I'll bring Vivar here, and you and he can sail back to Europe together. There's nothing you or he can do to stop us now. It's too late! We have our fortress, and we just have to fetch Bonaparte from his prison, then march to glory!"

"You'll never get Bonaparte out of Saint Helena," Sharpe said.

"If I can take Valdivia's harbor and Citadel with three hundred men," Cochrane said, "I can get Bonaparte off an island. It won't be difficult! Colonel Charles has found a man who looks something like the Emperor. He'll pay a courtesy visit, just like you did, and leave the wrong man inside Longwood. Simple. The simpie things always work best." Lord Cochrane mused for a moment, then barked a joyous yelp of laughter. "What joy you are going to miss," he said to Sharpe, "what joy you will miss."

Cochrane was unchaining Bonaparte. The devil, bored with peace, would open the vials of war. The Corsican ogre was to be loosed to mischief, to conquest and to battle without end. Bonaparte, who had drenched Europe in blood, would now soak the Americas, and Sharpe, who was trapped in Valdivia, could do nothing about it.

Except watch as all the horror started again.


Bias Vivar arrived in Valdivia Harbor three weeks after the fall of the Citadel, three weeks after the collapse of Spanish Chile. He refused to step ashore. It was bad enough being on board one of Cochrane's ships, without riding Cochrane's roads or sleeping in Cochrane's citadel or taking Cochrane's hospitality. Sharpe went to the harbor and found his friend full of an understandable bitterness. "The man broke his word," Vivar spoke of Cochrane. "He betrayed a truce."

"You called him a devil, remember, so why be surprised when he behaves like one?"

"But he gave his word!" Vivar protested painfully. He had become a pale, gray figure; the man Sharpe remembered was shrunken, beaten down by a year's imprisonment and saddened by his failure. That failure, Vivar now knew, had done more than lose Spain's divinely ordained Empire, it had released the horror of war across a whole continent, perhaps a whole world. "I thought when Cochrane wanted to meet me that he would talk terms of surrender! I thought I had won. I thought they would offer me the southern half of Chile and plead to keep the north. I was not going to accept, but I wanted to hear their terms. Instead they asked me to surrender Valdivia. For Bonaparte!"

On the eve of their departure Cochrane entertained Sharpe and Harper in the captured Fort Niebla where he laughingly recounted how the government in Santiago was begging him to send Valdivia's captured treasury north, but Cochrane was pleading time to count the coins before he released them. The truth was that he was holding the treasury against the arrival of his new master. "Bonaparte knows you can't fight wars without cash."

"How long before he gets here?" Sharpe asked.

"A month? No more than six weeks. Then, my dear Sharpe, we shall set this world ablaze!"

Cochrane had already returned Louisa's money to Vivar, and now he insisted on Sharpe and Harper taking a share of the plunder. He filled two sea chests with coins that he ordered carried down to the wharf. It was cold. Snow flurries whirled over the blazing torches that lit the quay and a strip of black water. Cochrane, caped in a naval cloak, shivered. "Why don't you stay here, Sharpe? March north with me! We'll become rich!"

"I'm a farmer, not a soldier."

"At least you're not a lawyer." Cochrane gave Sharpe a bear hug of farewell. "No hard feelings?"

"You're a devil, my Lord."

Cochrane laughed at the compliment. "Give General Vivar my apologies. I suppose he'll never forgive me?"

"I fear not, my Lord."

"So be it." Cochrane hugged Harper. "Go safe home. Fair winds to you both."

They sailed in the dawn, beating south against a cold sea and a freezing wind. They were traveling in a brig that was carrying hides to London. She made heavy weather of Cape Horn, but at last began to beat her way north.

Vivar brooded. He was a wise man, yet his understanding could not encompass a man who would break his word. "Is the world changing so much?" he asked Sharpe.

"Yes," Sharpe said bleakly. "The war changed it."

"So that results justify methods?"

"Yes."

Vivar, cloaked and scarved against the bitter sea wind, paced the brig's small poop. "Then it's not a world I want a part of."

Sharpe feared his friend was contemplating suicide. "You have a wife and children!"

Vivar smiled and shook his head. "Not that, Sharpe. I mean that I shall retire from service. I shall go to Orense and look after my estates. I, at least, shall be honorable. I will read, work, pray, and watch the war from a distance."

And there would be war, Sharpe was certain of that. Europe would not stand idle while the ogre ravaged the Americas. Sharpe imagined the troops sailing from Portsmouth and Plymouth, traveling across a world to catch Bonaparte one last time. Only this time, he supposed, they would hang the Emperor, because Bonaparte would have caused one mischief too many.

The weather was becoming warmer as the ship sailed north, but just when Sharpe was beginning to count the days until they reached home, a series of vicious westerly gales beat the brig hard toward the east. She shortened sail, battened her hatches, and clawed against the weather's spitefulness. For six days and nights the gales came, one after the other, until Sharpe began to believe that some malevolent spirit was intentionally keeping him from ever seeing Lucille again.

Then, after a sixth night of storm, the weather gentled and the ship wore on to a new tack. Clothes and bedding were brought up to dry on lines rigged between the masts. The Captain of the brig, an elderly and courteous Chilean, came to Sharpe. "I don't know if any of you gentlemen are interested, sir, but we'll not be far from Saint Helena. We don't need to put in there, our supplies are plentiful, but if you want to see the place, sir?"

Sharpe suspected that the Chilean wanted to see Saint Helena for himself, or rather he wanted to discover whether Lord Cochrane's conspiracy had worked, and so Sharpe sought out Vivar and tentatively suggested the visit. He half expected Vivar to be adamantly opposed to any such exploration, but to Sharpe's surprise Vivar was as eager as the brig's Captain. "I'd like to know what happened," Vivar explained his interest. The worst thing about being on board a ship is that you never know what's happening in the world. Maybe Cochrane failed? That's something worth praying for."

"He's not used to failure," Sharpe observed.

"Maybe no one has prayed hard enough. My God, Sharpe, but I've been praying these past few weeks."

The brig put into the harbor at Jamestown three days later. It was a hot day. The Captain ordered a boat lowered, then accompanied Vivar, Sharpe and Harper toward the small town that was hardly more than a row of houses above a stone quay. The hills, green and lush, climbed to the cloudy summits. A semaphore station stood with drooping arms at the foot of the road where Sharpe had climbed to meet a defeated Emperor.

The brig's longboat landed them at the water steps where a very young Lieutenant waited to receive them. It was the same young officer who had greeted Sharpe at his first arrival on the island. "It's Colonel Sharpe, isn't it, sir?" The Lieutenant seemed pleased to see Sharpe again.

"Yes." Sharpe could not remember the boy's name, and he felt guilty. Napoleon never forgot a soldier's name. Soon, no doubt, the Emperor would be welcoming his veterans to Chile by name, but for the life of him, Sharpe could not recall this one soldier's name. "I'm sorry," Sharpe said, "I don't remember your"

"Lieutenant Roland Hardacre, sir. The same name as my father."

"Of course," Sharpe said. "You remember Mister Harper? And this is General Vivar of the Spanish Army."

"Sir!" Hardacre offered Vivar a smart salute.

"We came here, Lieutenant," Vivar said, "to discover what happened when the O'Higgins called here."

"The O'Higgins?" Hardacre frowned as he tried to recall the particular ship, then his face cleared. "Ah, yes! Our first visitor from the Chilean Navy! She called here a month ago." He shrugged, as though he could recall nothing significant in the O'Higgins's visit. "She reprovisioned, sir, then sailed away. To be honest, none of us were very sure why she came this far. There can hardly be any Chilean interests in this part of the world."

Sharpe felt an immense relief. Hardacre had treated the query very casually, which suggested to Sharpe that nothing important could have occurred during the Chileans' visit. "So Bonaparte's at Longwood still?" Sharpe asked.

"At Longwood, sir?" Hardacre repeated the question, but very hesitantly, and this time Sharpe knew something was wrong. The Lieutenant blushed, then frowned. "You haven't heard, sir?"

"Heard? Heard what?"

"The Emperor's dead, sir. He died last month. He's buried in the hills. The grave isn't far from the house. I'm sure if you'd like to visit the grave we can find some mules. Not that there's much to see there. Some people like to visit the house and take a keepsake."

Sharpe could say nothing. He was not sure he had heard right or, if he had, that such news could be true. Napoleon, dead? He touched the locket about his neck, suddenly glad that he possessed it.

Harper crossed himself.

Vivar, whose prayer had come true, also crossed himself. "How did he die, Lieutenant?"

"The doctors said it was a cancerous ulcer, sir."

"It sounds painful," Vivar said. He gazed up into hills, to where a mist clung to the high green slopes. "Poor man. To die so far from home."

"Would you like to visit the grave, sir?" Hardacre asked.

"I would," Vivar said.

"And me," Harper added.

"But not me," Sharpe said. "Not me."

Vivar, Harper and the brig's Captain rode mules up into the hills to see the plain grave where an Emperor lay buried. Sharpe waited on the quay. The wind blew fresh from the south and an Emperor was dead, his mischief stilled forever. Sharpe wanted to laugh, for it had all been for nothing, for absolutely nothing, and nothing had changed despite the banging of guns and the clangor of swords, but even that did not matter, for he was full of happiness, and he was at peace, and he was going home. For good and forever, he was going home.


PART TWO COCHRANE | Sharpe's Devil | HISTORICAL NOTE