“Fire!” the men defending the upstairs window bellowed it again and again as they tumbled down the steps. Gasping, they said the roof-beams were alight, from what source in the confusion of battle, they could not say.
Lazarenko opened the front door and stood back. A blast of musketry drummed on the oak. “No way out there boys!” In reply Bayazid Shah flung open the cellar trap door and leapt down. Within seconds all had followed him.
“Rats in a hole!” Lazarenko cursed. Then a desperate thought came. He dropped his musket and scrambled over crates of ammunition and canisters of gunpowder. With a leap he hurled his shoulder into the bricked-up archway in the corner. Despite the agony of the smashing blow, the Cossack could feel the bricks yield ever so slightly. Lazarenko shouted for help and in a flash the Cossacks attacked the wall with prying bayonets and smashing gun butts. It collapsed and the Cossacks tumbled down with it, crushing Lazarenko beneath them.
Scrambling madly to their feet, they found themselves in a tunnel. Without stopping to get their bearings they ran. Lazarenko dragged his hand on the wall. The wall dropped away from his touch as the men spread out. He had just enough time to realize they had entered a room when a flash of light and a blast of hot air slammed him to the ground. Dust and fragments of rock pelted him and his ears felt like nails had been driven into them. Blood flowed freely over his face. Stunned, Lazarenko sat on the stone floor.
As his hearing returned, Lazarenko mentally counted his men. Sasha was of course gone and they’d left two dead up in the house, one from gunshot and another hit by a cannon. With Bayazid Shah and himself they were eleven. A groan cam from nearby, and Lazarenko moved toward it.
“I’m done Stepan Sergeivich.” It was Nicolai. “I’m lying in my own blood. There’s so much of it.” It was soaking into Lazarenko’s clothes and coating his hands. But it had an odd odor. Lazarenko lifted his hand to his nose and smelled the rich sent of chikhir, new wine such as was drunk in the Caucasus.
“It’s not blood, it’s wine, Nicolai Alexandreivich.”
“Well that’s good news. I’m feeling better already, Stepan Sergeivich.”
Groping in the dark they found a ladder leading up and emerged from a trap door into a semi-ruined house. A glance in the dim light showed most of the cellar’s contents were smashed, but some remained intact.
“Jibrail Khan is a very bad Muslim to keep wine thus.” Bayazid Shah muttered.
Lazarenko glanced through a broken shutter. The storehouse was gone, only a column of smoke remained. The walls of the adjacent houses were shattered. Jibrail Khan’s men wandered up and down the street, seemingly dazed, corpses underfoot.
As Lazarenko wondered how they could escape, a bearded face thrust itself to the shutter.
“Why are you fools skulking here? Find the infidel dogs!” The abrek’s eyes widened in shock and he snarled. “By the Prophet! You are Urus!”
Lazarenko shot the man with his pistol and drew his saber. “They’re back boys!” He leapt through the window and fired his musket. He dropped the empty gun and drew his saber. Lazarenko no longer expected to escape, only to slay as many as he could before his foes cut him down.
He parried a blow and skewered the attacker on his point. A wildly stabbing bayonet grazed his leg and Lazarenko slashed the wielder across the face. Then he saw a familiar, grim visage.
Jibrail Khan leapt like a tiger on fresh meat. His sword was a flicker of deadly lightning in his hand. It took all of Lazarenko’s concentration and strength to parry the murderous blows. His body reeled from injury, fatigue, thirst and the piano wire-taut nerve strain of battle. Jibrail Kahn battered him back, scoring shallow slashes as his thrusts and cuts fell like hailstones.
“Now you will join your brother in Hell, Urus!”
“I’m no Russian, I’m a Cossack! And Allah keeps his deepest Hell for traitors like you!”
Jibrail Khan feinted to Lazarenko’s left and sent a whirling slash to his head that would have decapitated Lazarenko had he not parried at the last possible second. As is was the blow laid open his scalp and sent him stunned to his knees. Jibrail Khan raised his saber for the death-blow.