From afar Lazarenko thought he heard the drumming of hooves. “Death on his pale horse,” he thought. From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of Ivan on a wildly racing steed, galloping out of control. The Russian hurtled directly at Jibrail Khan and a steel shod hoof cracked the abrek chief viciously. Jibrail Khan writhed in pain and gave Lazarenko a second more of life. Lazarenko heaved his iron frame into a last all-or-nothing blow that blasted through Jibrail Khan’s guard and sent his had spinning from his shoulders.
“A head for a head!” Lazarenko spat. Wearily he looked around. The abreks re-doubled their attack. The Cossacks had their backs to a wall and Ivan was pinned under his mount, a bullet had felled the noble beast. A moment more and they would all be swept away in a red tide of slaughter.
“Urra!” rang out from a hundred throats. A solid mass of Russian infantry surged up the narrow lane, bayonets at the ready. Drums were rattling and the tramp of heavy boots rose above the din of battle.
The abreks fired a few shots and scattered. Their best defense against Russian infantry was fast heels and a well-hidden sniper’s perch.
Lazarenko leaned wearily against a wall as Colonel Golinkov rode up. “Well, I think I can expect another medal out of this. And you might even get a pardon. Tres joli, n’est-ce pas?”
“You took your time getting here.” Lazarenko grunted.
Golinkov shrugged. “Our guide took a wrong turn and we were lost. Then that chap of yours, Ivan, turned up. He took one look at the column and raced off like the devil was after him. He galloped straight here. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought he was trying to get away from us on an out-of-control horse.”
“Ivan, turn deserter? No, I can’t believe that. Just let him stay with my Cossacks, I want to reward him properly.”
Golinkov strutted and smiled, well pleased with himself. “Thanks to our gracious Father the Tsar, civilization has advanced today. Il faut elever les barbares.”
Lazarenko looked around at the smoking ruins and the corpses. “Urra for the Tsar and civilization.” Medical orderlies were treating his men, for nearly all were injured. “Hey brothers, whoever can walk, get back to that wine cellar and stand guard. If any Russian tries to drink before us Cossacks, punch him in the mug!”
“What about us?” Ivan gestured to himself and Bayazid Shah.
“Like it or not, today, you are brother Cossacks.”